The Best Gift of All
I know, it's been a long time, and I've missed you too. But it's not like I was just sitting around ignoring theater. In fact, I've been in graduate school working on a paper about classical performance reception theory and Lysistrata. Wanna see it? No? Fine, I wouldn't either.
Here's something I very much want to see: a gift guide for lovers of Philadelphia theater. Broadway bundles abound, and that's great, especially when they benefit fabulous organizations such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
But giving one of these gifts is practically like giving your loved ones a backstage (or green room) pass to street cred, that street being the Avenue of the Arts, of course. Best part? When you've finished snapping up and doling out all the merchandise, your friends and relatives might just take the hint and get you a subscription of your very own for next season. Even out-of-towners can get in on the action with a few of these, and perhaps sporting/owning some Philly swag might inspire others to get here and check out the theater scene (hint: September = awesome), which is still under the radar enough to have an entrant in the Under the Radar Festival, but appreciated enough on its home turf to make a hot ticket something of a commodity.
1. Read all about it: The nation's oldest theater, the Walnut Street Theatre, just celebrated its 200th birthday and put out a pretty cool little tome about it. In fact, it's sits prominently placed in my guest bathroom today, and judging by how often I have to straighten things up in there, it sees much leisure-time riffling by visitors. Don't want to play favorites? Try Philadelphia Theaters, a Pictorial Architectural History, which traces all 200 years of our sawdust-coated, gaslit stages. The American Theatre Wing's (ATW) The Play That Changed My Life has both a great premise and a local connection; it includes a chapter by Philadelphia-born Pulitzer-winning playwright Charles Fuller. Finally, if, like me, you're annoyed that ATW cut journalists from its Tony voting ranks this year, then go on and support your local critics--we don't get paid enough anyway. Philadelphia Inquirer critic and University of the Arts professor Toby Zinman wrote Edward Albee last year, and though yeah, I know, it kills you to do something nice for a critic, American Theatre magazine gave it a great review, and they don't care what you think of her. Go on, maybe you'll learn something.
2. Someone still wants A Christmas Carol, right? Otherwise there wouldn't be an entire section in my paper devoted to places you can see it. Rose Valley's Hedgerow Theatre hosts tea parties before performances on the second Sunday of every month, and they don't cost anything extra, which is nice, because even though your kids/grandma might be having the time of their lives, you're probably thinking Hedgerow owes you big. Have a scone and consider the debt paid. Jews, however, generally don't care for Scrooge and his tsouris, so Hedgerow has wisely brought them an offering, and it's better than frankincense: a bus trip to New York to see The Addams Family musical. And no, a bus trip to New York doesn't defeat the whole purpose of Philly theater gifts, because lookit, for some reason Jews always want to take bus trips to New York, no matter what you try to tell them, so at least this way a local theater still gets to make a buck off them.
3. Screw Teams Jacob and Edward. Romance-minded adolescents and teens need to get with Team Romeo. The Arden Theatre offers a full-day Shakespeare workshop--yes, it includes stage combat--for kids in 6th through 12th grades. Philly heartthrob Evan Jonigkeit (he also recently finished a successful run as Dakin in the Arden's production of The History Boys), who just happens to play Romeo in the company's Romeo and Juliet later that afternoon, leads the workshop. Also included? A ticket to the show and all the raw materials for weeks of copious swooning, parries and ripostes at the dog, and sudden cries of "Alack the day!" No teens? That's okay, the Arden's date night package gets you a pair of Romeo and Juliet tickets and a $25 gift certificate to Serrano restaurant, and you can do your own swooning afterward, in private, where it won't annoy anyone.
4. You may have noticed that I think Pig Iron Theatre Company is pretty dope. Chances are, you do too, but even if you don't, there's no denying their steampunk-ish, Edward Gorey-esque, line-drawn, Trey Lyford-designed logo looks great. It's compelling on a t-shirt or tote bag without being too obvious, but recognizable enough to elicit appreciative nods when you're trolling the Piazza for hipster camaraderie. Best of all, they're both so cheap that if you stuff the bag with the t-shirt and toss in a copy of the company's indie-pop Lucia Joyce Cabaret CD, you will reap all the benefits of being cool and generous even if you're neither.
UPDATE: Apparently Sens. John McCain (You remember him, right? Old guy, has a thing for crazy backwoods ladies?) and Tom Coburn think Pig Iron is JUST LIKE SHAKESPEARE! Sort of, anyway. Like, because they both drain the public coffers (See items #25 and #26). But I guess that's even more reason to buy their stuff; get 'em off the dole and into your hearts.
4. Relive the glory days when every crappy play that didn't make it to Broadway met its maker right here, and a couple of decent ones lived to see another day. Yiddish theater's mammeleh Molly Picon in How to Be a Jewish Mother? Nah, never heard of it. Orson Welles' "Around the World," with music by Cole Porter? Why haven't I heard of it? Today, there are 38 Playbills available on EBay from these lost treasures. Tomorrow there might be more. Wait until the 7th day of Chanukah or the night before Christmas, and who knows? You might never learn how to be a Jewish mother. Not that that seemed to bother anyone who watched Ms. Picon when she was doing the teaching.
5. Go back to where it all began. Philly owes much of its theatrical genetic code to the Barrymore family (insert your own comment about our alcoholic actors here), as evidenced by our naming the city's theater awards ceremony after them. This item might not do much to enhance the family's reputation, but it sure would make a swell gift for someone.
If all else fails, go to the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, get a few gift certificates, and let your friends/lovers/family to pick their own damn show. Just make sure they take you.