1812 Productions’ An Evening Without Woody Allen, now onstage at Plays and Players

 “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.” — Woody Allen

An Evening Without Woody AllenWoody Allen might be the preeminent comic mind of our time, as Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain were in years past. “We forget how revolutonary he was when he first started stand-up” says Jennifer Childs, director of 1812 Production’An Evening Without Woody Allen, now onstage at Players and Players Theatre. “No one was talking about psychotherapy or neuroses in the way he did.”Indeed, generations of neurotic teenagers and college students have found their intellectual heroes in Allen’s cinematic alter-egos —memorable characters like Alvy Singer in Annie Hall and Isaac in Manhattan. But it was not these acclaimed movies that first attracted Childs to the comic. Instead, she fell in love with the humorous essays she found in issues of the New Yorker and in a copy of his collection Without Feathers, which she found in a used book store. Childs was reading his play God in the collection with an eye to staging it, when she decided to reread one of his stories, “The Whore of Mensa.

“I found myself laughing out loud and reading lines to my husband and I thought, maybe there’s something here.” She picked out a few other pieces of Allen’s prose, and wrote a letter asking for permission to stage them. When she received a positive response, from Irwin Tenenbaum of the firm Loeb & Loeb, she thought someone was playing a joke on her. “It’s a great name isn’t it?” But the firm was for real, and soon she had Woody Allen’s signature of approval.

The resulting world premiere — dramatized versions of six of Allen’s essays and stories — is a celebration of his comic genius. “He is a jazz musician, and I think you feel this in his comedy,” Childs says. “The rhythms he explores feel like an improvised jazz riff with a landing.”

1812 ProductionsThe production is sparse, featuring three talented actors (Thomas E. Shotkin, Charlotte Ford, and Dan Hodge) playing over two dozen roles— including story narrators. “We wanted to keep it simple,” says Childs. “We’re approaching it as ‘here’s the cannon by a great man,’ like a orchestra presenting the work of a composer.”1812 Productions is the perfect company to curate Woody Allen in this way. Now finishing its 13th season, 1812 is the only all-comedy professional troupe in Philadelphia, perhaps the only one in the entire country. It’s through such imaginative and bold productions as this that they’ve built critical acclaim and a solid following.

Fan’s of Allen’s films will recognize his major themes in the night’s dramatizations. Several pieces feature a married man looking for extramarital satisfaction. Others contemplate death, sex, religion, and the funny side of existential despair. Surprisingly, although Allen’s distinctive narrative voice is evident throughout, none of the characters are straight versions of the comic. “I chose the pieces that made me laugh the most,” says Childs. “But ones were the narrative voice didn’t have to be Woody Allen.”

It is, as the title suggests, an evening without Woody Allen, but one that will surely delight his fans.

Published by Philly2Philly

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