(Photo credit: Mark Garvin)

THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE (Walnut): A 60-Second Review

Some of life’s biggest journeys begin with that one small voice in our heads, telling us to take an unexpected leap of faith. As a painfully shy young girl channeling bold songstresses of the past through her deceased father’s record collection, Ellie Mooney delightfully shows audiences how to find the power within, as the star of THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE.

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Photo courtesy of Bucks County Playhouse

IN THE MOOD (Bucks County Playhouse): 60-Second Review

IN THE MOOD is more than a music revue—it’s a concert, a musical, a history lesson, a show of patriotism, and a celebration of one of the most important times in American history. The 1940’s was a time of significant change. In music, the whole nation was listening to the same big bands. Swing music, romantic ballads, and dancing shaped an entire cultural movement and most importantly became a prevailing icon of hope as we faced the reality of World War II. Proudly, the show takes a segment to recognize and honor the veterans in attendance. In its 20th year of touring, IN THE MOOD is an international success.

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Image courtesy of GPSBodies

#GPSBODIES (Marcel Williams Foster): Tweet the Rainbow

Marcel Williams Foster turns social media and performance upside down, and spontaneous performance, situational intimacy, and social media are the tools you have to curate your own audience/performer experience.

Using theses and other techniques to activate the audience, theatermaker/scientist Marcel Williams Foster takes us on a self-referential tweeting goose chase. How ‘meta.’

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Alex Keiper and William Zielinski in DOWN PAST PASSYUNK. Photo by Kathryn Raines.

DOWN PAST PASSYUNK (InterAct): Theater ‘wit’ a taste of South Philly

I once heard then-governor Ed Rendell give some cheesesteak advice: for the real deal don’t go to one of the big name line-around-the-block places, go to a food truck or your local deli and get one made-to-order. I was thinking about this truism and our prevailing infatuation with authenticity as I watched A. Zell Williams’s world premiere production of DOWN PAST PASSYUNK at InterAct Theatre.

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Krista Apple-Hodge as Queen Elizabeth I. (Photo credit: Plate3Photography)

MARY STUART (PAC): The Prison of Power

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.

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Photo by Mark Garvin

DEAR ELIZABETH (People’s Light & Theatre Company): Kindred Spirits in Poetry and Depression

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.

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THREE CHEKHOV SISTERS: From left, Sarah Sanford (as Olga), Mary Tuomanen (as Irina) and Katharine Powell (as Masha) as the 'Three Sisters' in the Arden Theatre Company production of Anton Chekhov's play. (Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin)

THREE SISTERS (Arden Theatre): Does the gimmick stick?

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.

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Mark Nadler in I'm a Stranger Here Myself (photo courtesy of The Prince Music Theater)

I’M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF (Prince): Intimacy, Song, and Rage in Weimar Germany

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.

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Arlen Hancock in Ellie Brown's DEAR DIARY, BYE. Photo: Ellie Brown.

DEAR DIARY, BYE (Ellie Brown): Schoolyard scraps and crushes galore

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.

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Keith J. Conallan in DON JUAN COMES HOME FROM IRAQ, Wilma Theatre, photo by Alexander Iziliaev

DON JUAN COMES HOME FROM IRAQ (Wilma): A Disparate Jigsaw

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.

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BE/LONGING I: LIGHT/SHADOW (Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers): A review of the world premiere

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.

View More BE/LONGING I: LIGHT/SHADOW (Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers): A review of the world premiere
Grace Gonglewski as Masha, Kraig Swartz as Vanya, and Deirdre Madigan as Sonia in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE (Photo credit: Mark Garvin)

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.

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Alex Bechtel's The West

THE WEST (Alex Bechtel): Billy the Kid Reimagined

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.

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The fault, dear Brutus, Act II: Interview with Makoto Hirano about “Super Racist” Julius Caesar

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.

View More The fault, dear Brutus, Act II: Interview with Makoto Hirano about “Super Racist” Julius Caesar
Gina Martino (Shelly) and Luke Moyer (Bradley) in Iron Age Theatre’s BURIED CHILD (Photo credit: Randall Wise)

BURIED CHILD (Iron Age): Decay and Dysfunction in America’s Heartland

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.

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Benjamin Lloyd (on floor), Bruce Graham, David Edwards, Carl Wallnau, and George Deihl (back) in Bristol Riverside Theatre’s LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR (Photo Credit: BRT Staff)

LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR (Bristol Riverside Theater): The Humor and Hysteria of 1953

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.

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Walnut Street Theatre, Arsenic and Old Lace, Damon Bonetti and Jennie Eisenhower

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (Walnut Street Theatre): Macabre Madcap Comedy Classic

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.

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