Almost Pregnant – A play by Lisa Grunberger

In Lisa Grunberger’s play Almost Pregnant you will meet Becca, a 40 something woman who has to creatively adapt to her condition of infertility. Joined by her alter egos, Estrogen and Lucky, two live puppets, who serve as the chorus, wise fools, and comic relief, the play is full of stories, tragic and funny, about motherhood, fate, the transmission of identity, nature vs. nurture and God. Almost Pregnant gives you an unexpurgated insider’s view of the art and science of, what’s been called, “sex without reproduction and reproduction without sex.” The play wil run on November 11, 15, and 25th and each performance will be followed by a Q&A with the playwright, director, and cast. Almost Pregnant is written by Lisa Grunberger, directed by Hamutal Poslinsky, and stars Claire Drake, Kellie Cooper, and Marc C. Johnson.

Love, Lenny (OR Bernstein’s Kaddish): A reading of a new play with music by Steven Fisher

“You’re going to die a bitter and lonely, old man,” predicts Felicia Bernstein – a shocking curse to place on America’s most beloved musician.  We discover the reason for her curse at the climax of an enthralling journey through the fascinating life of Leonard Bernstein. Lenny, as he’s affectionately called, is prompted to take us on this theatrical ride when his friend Aaron Copland postures that – in the end – composers are remembered for one piece and one piece only. Which piece will that be? Why is Bernstein vehemently against it being his sensational West Side Story? And why does Felicia think it should be Bernstein’s little-known Kaddish Symphony? The answers lie in a dark secret that is revealed along the way, forcing Bernstein to come to terms with betrayal and regret and seek forgiveness from Felicia, with the hopes of finding within himself what the Jewish prayer Kaddish pleads for – peace.

The Roses in June (Closing Performances)

The Roses in June closes its Philadelphia run with two performances today at Plays & Players Theatre in Philadelphia. This new play, written by Timothy M. Kolman, tackles two difficult subjects through the lives of The Rose Family, who fled Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, escaping to what they hoped would be a better life in London. There is the life-long fear associated with being a refugee and the anguish of bullying and anti-Semitism since their son Paul was a victim of this, even after moving to London. With striking resemblance to contemporary times, the play brings the audience face-to-face with the past, but in frightening reality with the present.

There is a matinee today at 2 pm and an evening performance at 7 p.m. Tickets are $47 for orchestra seating and $35 for balcony seating. To purchase tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.therosesinjune.com. For groups of 10 or more, call: 267 299 8822. Students and Seniors can purchase tickets at 50% discount at the theatre box office one hour prior to show time. For information, call: 844 – 7ROSE67  (844-776-7367).

The Roses in June (Press Opening)

Tonight is the press opening for The Roses in June, a new play written by Timothy M. Kolman, which will run through July 1, 2017, at Plays & Players Theatre in Philadelphia. The play tackles two difficult subjects through the lives of The Rose Family, who fled Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, escaping to what they hoped would be a better life in London. There is the life-long fear associated with being a refugee and the anguish of bullying and anti-Semitism since their son Paul was a victim of this, even after moving to London. With striking resemblance to contemporary times, the play brings the audience face-to-face with the past, but in frightening reality with the present.

Since tonight is the press opening, the show will begin at 7 p.m. Otherwise, it will run Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm. Each performance will be followed by talk-backs featuring the playwright, director and actors.

Tickets are on sale now and are $47 for orchestra seating and $35 for balcony seating. To purchase tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.therosesinjune.com. For groups of 10 or more, call: 267 299 8822. Students and Seniors can purchase tickets at 50% discount at the theatre box office one hour prior to show time. For information, call: 844 – 7ROSE67  (844-776-7367).

The Roses in June (Premiere)

The world premiere of The Roses in June, a new play written by Timothy M. Kolman, will make its debut in Philadelphia on June 14, 2017, and run through July 1, 2017, at Plays & Players Theatre in Philadelphia. The play tackles two difficult subjects through the lives of The Rose Family, who fled Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, escaping to what they hoped would be a better life in London. There is the life-long fear associated with being a refugee and the anguish of bullying and anti-Semitism since their son Paul was a victim of this, even after moving to London. With striking resemblance to contemporary times, the play brings the audience face-to-face with the past, but in frightening reality with the present.

The Roses in June will run Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm. Each performance will be followed by talk-backs featuring the playwright, director and actors.

Tickets are on sale now and are $47 for orchestra seating and $35 for balcony seating. To purchase tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.therosesinjune.com. For groups of 10 or more, call: 267 299 8822. Students and Seniors can purchase tickets at 50% discount at the theatre box office one hour prior to show time. For information, call: 844 – 7ROSE67  (844-776-7367).

What Does Normal Feel Like


Christopher Durang’s Why Torture is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them

New City Stage Company’s 2011-2012 season began on December 10th at the Adrienne Theatre Main Stage with a Philadelphia premiere of Christopher Durang’s satire Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, directed by Michael K. Brophy.   The play is part of season called The Terror Within, a body of work that considers political and ethical questions posed a decade after 9/11.  What does it mean to live in a world of terrorists?  

More after the jump.

Why Torture is Wrong is a fast-paced comedy/tragedy about America’s ongoing “war on terror.”  A young woman, Felicity (played beautifully by Ginger Dayle, the founder and Producing Artistic Director of New City Stage) wakes up to a strange man, Zamir (perfectly cast Sam Henderson) – to discover that at a drunken evening at Hooters she married this would-be terrorist, or alcoholic or man on parole.  Seeking comfort at her parents New Jersey home, we encounter her crazy mother Luella (played magnificently by Marcia Saunders) and her alleged butterfly raising Republican, Jane Fonda hating Father, Leonard (played by Paul L. Nolan).   Durang doesn’t stop there but pushes us to a dark place where our fears of the sociopath next door make us squirm in our seats.  

The play deftly explores how political issues like terrorism and torture get played out in the private space of home.   At one point, Luella puts down her needlepoint and retreats to the kitchen to make French toast: You can postpone angry exchanges until your stomach is nice and full.   Leonard, who we learn is involved in a Shadow Government plot to overthrow terrorists – wants to rename French toast Freedom Toast.  Head to the Adrienne if only to meet the “porn again” Revered Mike in a superb performance by Russ Widdall and Hidegarde, aka Scooby Doo, played by Sonja Robson, and The Voice, played by Ed Swidey.  The acting and pacing of this production are spot-on.  The sets, designed by S. Corey Palmer also deserve mention, as they are understated and effective.  

Durang, who currently co-chairs with Marsha Norman, the Playwriting Program at the Juillard School, has a large body of work which have received Tony nominations and Obie awards, including A History of the American Film, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, and Durang/Durang.    

In an otherwise provocative two hours of theatre, the final scene seems to want to end on a lighter, sweeter, more hopeful note than the previous 90 minutes we’ve spent with these zany, lost, disturbed characters who “identify with bullies.”  In the final scene, Felicity returns to the scene of the crime at Hooters, in an effort to reverse time.  This is part of the play’s clever internal commentary about the theatre itself, linear time, and “unspeakable things that happen at night.”    Luella says: “I go to the theatre to learn what normal is.”   Durang’s play asks us to consider what is normal is a post 9/11 world.  

The play runs through January 8th.
Adrienne Theatre Main Stage
2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA

“They Were Our Neighbors”: Our Class at the Wilma Theater

The Wilma Theater begins its season with the United States Premiere of Our Class, written by Polish playwright Tadeusz Stobodzianek (translated by Ryan Craig) and directed by the Wilma’s Artistic Director Blanka Zizka.   Based on true events in the Polish village of Jedwabne and inspired in part by Princeton History Professor Jan T. Gross’ controversial book Neighbors, Our Class chronicles the lives of ten classmates from their childhood in the 1920s to the beginning of the new millennium.   While it is difficult not to be moved by the tragic subject matter, the play’s overwrought writing, full of sensational and clichéd plotting, does not, finally, succeed in translating the events that happened in Poland into an artful, engaging evening of theatre.  

More after the jump.
On the sparse set, designed by Marsha Ginsberg, you witness the haunting barn inside which 1600 Jews were murdered, burned to death not by the Germans, but by their fellow Polish citizens.   Slobokzianek’s play raises important questions: how can neighbors be moved to murder neighbors, and how does one survive the aftermath of such atrocities?  How do individuals and societies lives with or bury the memory of such deeds?   Unfortunately, the story itself is not told in a compelling, original manner but too often falls into clichéd writing.  For instance, at the opening of Act 2, Wladek, a Pole who must clean up the burned Jewish bodies describes how the bodies were chopped up: “It was horrific.  It made me wretch. I threw up.”   This kind of writing does not add anything to either our understanding of the events nor, more importantly to the character’s development.  

The characters remain wooden and empty vessels – types — who are not fleshed out human beings who one grows to care about.   Torture and brutality and murder and rape – we are well aware of the atrocities of crimes committed by Stalinists and Fascists; good theatre is powerful because it tells us a compelling story with particular details in an engaging way.  Unfortunately, by the time the fourth rape is graphically enacted on the stage I am repelled not by rape, but by the sensationalistic, unaesthetic depiction of actors on a stage.  This could be any rape anywhere and loses its power to move us.   Rather than making the murder that happened in this barn more real, more intimate, more personal, this piling on of characters and rapes effectively dulls us to the events.  It becomes an all too familiar and general tale of life gone very bad for a young group of class mates.  

Are these class mates – Catholic and Jewish, men and women —  the victims of historical circumstances or did they make choices? Unfortunately the play only hints at such questions but its focus seems to want to make us as uncomfortable as possible.   At the performance I attended a group of women left during the intermission.   I had the opportunity to talk with them and the director briefly.  Ms. Zizka, the director, explained that the play does not provide easy answers.   It depicts Jews who sympathized with Stalin as well as local Poles as being responsible for the crimes that occurred.   She said “The characters’ individual memories are subjective and even contradictory.  I admire Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s resolve to ground the play in moral rather than ideological concerns and to leave it to the audience to create their own picture, their own understanding of the events from this choir of disparate voices.”   The audience members with whom I spoke thought the play to be “too much.”  When pressed to state too much of what – they effectively said that the writing was not engaging, that the story was not told in an original manner.   “The characters are not individual, it’s not that the subject matter that is difficult, for I’ve seen many depictions of the Holocaust, but that the writing did not engage me.”  

Despite all of this, the acting is strong, with excellent performances by Kate Czajkowki, who plays Rachelka, a Jewish woman who converts to Catholicism; Michael Rubenfeld, who plays Abram, a Jewish member of the young Polish class who emigrates to America and becomes a rabbi; Ed Swidey who plays Wladek, gives a striking performance.  

In the end Our Class becomes a soggy tale with too much talk of vodka, beatings, hookers and broken fingers, and too little character development to make the play engaging which is a shame as the subject is an excellent one for dramatic adaptation.   Do we really need to know that “eels had eaten off his face.”  In the end, while I admire Our Class’ political and moral engagement with historical material, (for anti-Semitic vandals recently defaced a Polish monument that commemorated where the Polish Jews were killed, writing “they were flammable” and a swastika on the memorial) it fails to make it new, to give new expression to the Shoah.  This does not mean we shouldn’t see the play, and discuss it amongst ourselves — Jews, Poles, Catholics, priests and rabbis.    

After almost three hours of theater, I am left with a lot of chatter — song, dance, and a deluge of words in Our Class, but not what the quiet gravitas that great art may give us by knowing what to leave out.  I wish Our Class had left more restrained silences, more brokenness in its telling of the story of this Polish village.   The German poet Paul Celan’s ambiguous, often sparse poems, in their quiet, mystical restraint, are humble meditations about the Shoah:  “Count the almonds/count what was bitter and kept you awake/ count me in.”  
*  
On Tuesday, November 1st: “America as Haven,”  A program of The Wilma Theatre and the National Museum of American Jewish History.  This program will examine the idea and reality of this country as a place where immigrants can find a new life.  Director Blank Zizka, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia, will discuss her own experience alongside others with expertise of 20th Century immigration.  Actor Michael Rubenfeld from the production of Our Class, will read letters from the Museum’s collection written across continents between immigrants and their families.  Complimentary reception follows the discussion..   Held at the National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall East.

Our Class: October 21 – November 13, 2011
Where: The Wilma Theatre   265 South Broad Street   Philadelphia, PA 19107
Tickets: range from $39 to $66, available at the Wilma Box office 215 546 7824, visiting www.wilmatheater.org or at the theater.

   

Is This A World to Hide Virtues In? Phil. Live Arts & Philly Fringe

Live Arts Festival.  Live. In a world of the virtual – walk down a city street like Philadelphia these days and you will not see the whites of people’s eyes, but the tops of their heads, a world of television and film and staring at computer screens for hours– the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival is balm.   The Live Arts Festival is taking place right now, through September 17th at various venues throughout the city.   I attended Canyon, Twelfth Night, and Namasya, an Indian dance performance this weekend and urge you to run, don’t walk to at least one show this coming week.  You will be infused with live art, in real time – raw, alive, unexpected, and vibrant.

More after the jump.
Canyon

I had the opportunity to interview John Jasperse, an abstract choreographer from NYC, whose new work, Canyon, was performed at the Wilma Theatre September 9 -11th.   From the program: “Six dancers, including Jasperse, create a space where the supremacy of the intellect is humbled into a state of awe, where you lose yourself in the transformative power of pure visceral experience. Integrating an evocative musical score and striking stage design, Canyon plays with engineered disorientation, sensory overload, spaciousness, fractured connectivity, and rapture.”  

A mysterious white box moves on the stage (and veers off the stage as well) throughout the performance.  An attentive spectator figures out that the box moves because there is a person underneath it.   But what purpose does the box serve?   What does the box symbolize?   After the 70 minute show, I asked audience members what the box meant to them:  Here are some of the responses:  A void,  space, a trace, life, funny.  And. . . . a box.   I was drawn to a little girl and asked her what the box meant: ” it’s a magic box.”   As it turned out she was the seven year old daughter of one of the dancers – James McGinn.   She spelled out her name: Madeline Lemi    McGinn explained that through their long rehearsal process, dancers engaged in an investigation of kinesthetic space.   He said the show was “very enjoyable to perform but exhausting.”  

Responding to what is the box question, choreographer Jasperse notes, “I’m interested  in leaving that space open.  I don’t want to impose a verbal language.  Things start to get juicy where language fails.”  

I asked him if any poets, whose very material are words, have inspired his work.  He said he loved John Ashbury’s use of language.  “It’s a refractory usage of language and images.”   “The box marks the passage of time.  It’s constant but doesn’t recognize the delineation of time and space.  It doesn’t register boundaries such as fence, lawn, lobby, room.”    In this way, the box disorients and destabilizes the space around us.  

Twelfth Night, or What You Will

In the Pig Iron’s dazzlingly innovative production of Shakespeare’s the Twelfth Night, or What You Will (playing through September 17th – tickets still available!) the Fool says “Nothing that is so is so.”   Directed by Dan Rothenberg with music by Rosie Langabeer and whimsical costumes by Olivera Gajic, the production is one of the most innovative renditions of Shakespeare I have ever seen.   The show begins with music – a live band enters with funky hats, bottles of booze and begin to play Balkan-gypsy-klezmer music whtat never stops.   The musicians will follow the actors around the amazing set, designed by Maiko Matsuhsima, complete with a roller-blade type curved space upon which the actors silde up to a balcony and down again.  The Philadelphia based Pig Iron, which began in 1995, is known for their experimental, physical theatre.   Twelfth Night marks the Pig Iron’s first full-on engagement with a “classic” script.    

A story about mistaken identity, doubles, that features dueling musicians, jesters, religious zealouts and much erotic misunderstanding this production is a flawlessly paced, superbly acted production.   Sarah Sanford, who plays Viola and James Sugg who plays Sit Toby gave mesmerizing performances.  The costumes become part of the fun, from the Duke’s seersucker suit and purple socks, to Sir Toby’s fuschia suit and gold chains.   The Duke is played by Pig Iron theatre’s co-founder and co-artistic director Digo van Reigersberg who performs as his alter ego, Martha Graham-Cracker, the tallest drag queen in the world, at L’Etage in Philadelphia.  

Where:  Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street (at Lombard).  Wheelchair accessible.   Student discounts available for all shows!

Livearts-Fringe.org    (215) 413-1318