There are plenty of things to thrill over in Quintessence Theatre Group’s stirring, and impressively-performed, MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA. Director Alex Burns and his well-picked ensemble continue to impress.
Philadelphia Artist Collective’s tightly-corseted production of Frederich Schiller’s Mary Stuart, starring the earth-shattering Charlotte Northeast and the finely-tuned Krista Apple Hodge will leave you white-knuckle-gripping the edge of your seat. Sitting in a severe theater-in-the-round circle, the audience itself forms four oppressive walls seemingly trapping the actors on the Broad Street Ministry’s cherry wood floor. If Schiller were alive today, he would raise a thumb in approval of director Dan Hodge’s minimalist approach.
Is a play told solely through the extant letters of its real-life characters really a play? Sarah Ruhl’s DEAR ELIZABETH, which traces the friendship between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell through their thirty years of correspondence (1947-77), seems more of a pedantic academic exercise in hero worship by a playwright who began her writing career as a poet and an admirer of Bishop’s oeuvre.
THREE SISTERS is the story not only of its title characters—the sisters Olga (Sarah Sanford), Masha (Katharine Powell) and Irina (Mary Tuomanen)—but also of the various characters who shuffle in and out of their country home over the course of a few years. It’s a soap opera on wheels as nearly everyone falls in love, gets caught up in adultery and waxes philosophical, all while sinking deeper and deeper into the exact sorts of lives they never wanted to lead.
I’M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF, created and performed by Mark Nadler and directed by David Schweizer, is both a lament and a celebration of Weimar Germany and the bohemian lifestyle celebrated by the young during this time. Incredibly impoverished, pincered by a swiftly inflating currency, stabbed by the growth of hate and, underneath that hate, a creeping fascism; yet this impossible position also gave rise to an incredibly fertile undergrowth and the arts mecca which Berlin became.
And maybe that’s what makes Ellie Brown’s DEAR DIARY, BYE such a fascinating show. The play, directed by Seth Reichgott, presents her 1984 diary. Brown wasn’t so different from any other ten year old – she liked boys, she got sick of her parents, she was teased, and she liked more boys. There’s a pleasure in this kind of uncensored presentation, a la Nature Theater of Oklahoma.
Multimedia theater designer Jorge Cousineau is moving abstract objects under the rustic dance studio in the Maas Building in Northern Liberties. Niki Cousineau is rehearsing with her Subcircle dancers for new piece All…
Call it Don Juan or Don Giovanni, the Don Juan story, handed down through time, is pre-loaded with a mix of serious and comic elements and a supernatural dimension. DON JUAN COMES HOME FROM IRAQ, from theater luminaries Paula Vogel (playwright) and Banka Zizka (director), has the gravitas down and doesn’t lose sight of humor, but extra pieces lodge within this puzzle’s slippery treatment of time and reality.
We could be at a yoga studio, or a modern dance class, or even just Whole Foods (which might explain why everyone is so good looking and in such great shape) but the tableau onstage at Drexel’s Mandell Theater is the latest creation of choreographer Kun-Yang Lin. Be/longing: Light/Shadow is a world premiere based on a summer of research in Indonesia.
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE (Philadelphia Theatre Company): Absurdist Farce on Russian Angst
The angst-laden work and gloomy characters of Anton Chekhov provide funny fodder and apropos appellations for Christopher Durang’s VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, now in production at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. The Bucks County playwright set his Tony Award-winning comedy where he lives, making for a decidedly quirky yet familiar combination of current local references and recurrent allusions to the Russian classics in a zany family reunion filled with adult sibling rivalry and childish temper tantrums.
Alex Bechtel’s world-premiere production THE WEST is packing the house at the Off-Broad Street Theater in its short six-performance run. The ensemble-devised work, with Bechtel as the lead creator and director, features a cast of twelve emerging Philadelphia theater artists and an absurdist reinvention of the last days of the notorious Western gunman Billy the Kid.
You may have seen the Lantern Theater Company’s JULIUS CAESAR, which recast Shakespeare’s political tragedy in Feudal Japan. You may also have seen the open letter that local playwright and performer Makoto Hirano hand-delivered to The Lantern on “How to Stage Your Show Without Being Super Racist,” which he signed “Makoto Hirano, Dance-theatre artist, actual Japanese person, and actual Samurai descendent,” reposted on Phindie with Hirano’s consent.
From the moment you arrive, Iron Age Theatre’s production of Sam Shepard’s BURIED CHILD, directed and designed by John Doyle and Randall Wise, thrusts you into a deeply disturbing world of grime, decay, and depression. Mounds of barren dirt, wood chips, and dried-out stalks surround and invade a tumbledown farmhouse with a rusted old mailbox that hasn’t seen a delivery in years. Inside, a filthy stained sofa with torn-up upholstery and torn-out stuffing is held together by black duct tape, as huge gaps between the rough-hewn wall slats let in the pouring rain and dreary darkness of a relentless storm.
Neil Simon’s autobiographical comedy, LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR, offers an intimate, insightful, and uproarious glimpse into his experiences as a junior writer for Your Show of Show—the influential TV program that ran on NBC from 1950-54, and was the first to incorporate sitcom sketches into the traditional variety-show format.
The historic Walnut Street Theatre celebrates two milestones with its mainstage presentation of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, written by New York playwright Joseph Kesselring in 1939: the play’s 75th anniversary and its own 205th landmark season. Directed by Charles Abbott, the Walnut Street’s crackerjack production (in association with Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA) whips up the perfect concoction of murder, mayhem, and misplaced “mercy,” topped with a large dollop of macabre madness, in this delectable recipe for hilarity.
Upon entry into the theater space, I was directed to a setup off to the side with slips of paper and pens. Little placards told us to write a NOTE TO SELF and drop it in the metal can, examples offered including “get donuts for the office.” I had received the inside scoop from one of the other theatergoers that they’ll be used as a formative part of the show. As NOTE TO SELF is improv comedy, I didn’t want mine to be too mundane to work with so I chose a simple, sadly relevant, yet ripe for humor note: stop eating in bed. The conversation and jokes with strangers, all ruminating on what their contribution would be, set a fun, friendly and upbeat tone for the performance.
What better way to welcome the coming spring than with flamenco? Flamenco, which means “flame-colored,” is a genre of Spanish folk dance and music traditionally characterized by sensual choreography and bold, complex guitar rhythms. In Philadelphia, dance company Pasión y Arte is bringing the spirit of modern flamenco to the Philadelphia Flamenco Festival, which runs from March 1st through March 16th.
The National Asian American Theater Festival and Conference is coming to Philadelphia this October, and Philadelphia’s Asian Arts Initiative and InterAct Theatre laying the groundwork with a reading series of new plays this Spring. Directed by visiting artist Rick Shiomi, founder of Minneapolis-based Mu Performing Arts, “The Way Home” features contemporary works exploring what “home” means to Asian Americans.