Results tagged “Geoff Sobelle” from Drama Queen
Right now, Philadelphia's greatest cultural export appears to be the loosely collected members of Pig Iron Theatre Company, whose newest work, Welcome to Yuba City, will premiere at September's Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival. According to them, the troupe officially consists of three artistic directors and five company members, but I don't buy it. Some members have been around since the group's founding in 1995, but other newer performers fit in seamlessly, and once someone is involved, they seem to organically break off into solo projects or new companies as though Pig Iron is some kind of Philly-wide petri dish swimming with constantly replicating, ambitious, creative amoeba.
(We've got an archetype convoy. Pictured from left: James Sugg, Dito Van Reigersberg, Alex Torra, Geoff Sobelle. Photo by Jason Frank Rothenberg.)
The Pig Iron hallmark is a dance-physical theater blend of non-traditional narrative and staging, and their stamp shows up in just about every side project undertaken by one of its "members." Even Geoff Sobelle's Hamlet, at the generally tradition-minded Lantern Theatre, was somehow transformed into an acrobat-trickster. Lately, Rainpan 43, a Pig Iron splinter group, has been getting a lot of press, what with the successes of All Wear Bowlers and Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines, but Chekov Lizardbrain won Pig Iron proper an Obie award. Not that they needed New York to vindicate their efforts--after all, they've been Barrymore Award favorites many times over and always premiere new work here at home--still, it doesn't hurt.
While critical acclaim from the New York Times might be a signal to some for a well-deserved break, Machines' cast members Quinn Bauriedel, Sobelle and its director Charlotte Ford are clearly spending their down time up and about. Tuesday night, the group hosted a preview performance for Welcome to Yuba City, directed by Bauriedel (who settles into the director's chair for the first time since 1998's The Tragedy of Joan of Arc) and featuring Sobelle, Ford, Sarah Sanford and Van Reigersberg.
While still in its infancy, the show offers a clown's eye view of the American West. So far, the piece explores some mythic western archetypes (long-haul trucker, leader of a "compound") that populate the sort of diner whose parking lot is usually filled with more tumbleweeds than cars. To this end, the company trained with Giovanni Fusetti in an effort to locate their "inner clowns," and will perform on a set that fills 10,000 feet of a 20,000 foot warehouse.
So why devote all this blog real estate to a preview? Because even though the Live Arts Festival imports some phenomenal artists from off the Schuylkill Expwy (this year's crop includes Mike Daisey and ex-Luna members Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips--though Phillips might not count, since she's originally from Bucks County), Philly's homegrown bounty makes this festival a destination event instead of a drive-thru window. It's why last year I couldn't even get a ticket to another Pig Iron splinter show, Emanuelle Delpeche-Ramey's Oedipus at FDR. Seriously. Never saw it. (Note to festival organizers: let's work on that this year, mkay?)
I'm not saying the local productions are perfect, or that Pig Iron doesn't stumble. (They do. It took me years to get over their 1997 Fringe show Cafeteria.) However, I do believe that Philly is about ready for its closeup, and since I'm holding one of the lenses, I might as well use it to zoom in.
Here's how talented last night's Obie Award winner James Sugg is: he got me a job as the Philadelphia Inquirer's theater critic without even knowing it. In fact, we've never even spoken face-to-face, but I should probably have thanked him a few years ago anyway.
Sugg is a member of Philly's own polymorphous and occasionally perverse troupe Pig Iron Theatre Company. Pig Iron and its people have won much acclaim here and elsewhere, this, for Sugg's performance in Chekov Lizardbrain, being their second Obie (the first was for 2004's Hell Meets Henry Halfway), along with who knows how many other awards--Sugg already has 4 Barrymores of his own. The group's work is as eclectic as their multiple personalities. Dito Van Riegersberg often hosts cabarets as his much-beloved, hairy-Hedwigged, Bowie-channeling alter-ego, Martha Graham Cracker. Geoff Sobelle rocked both coasts with his critically hailed Buster Keaton homage All Wear Bowlers. As a collective, they've skewered Quinceaneras, turned Joan of Arc into a French clown, and revisited Measure for Measure in a morgue, with puppets. And if you're tempted to say, "Nice. Sounds pretentious," well, yeah, sometimes they are, but mostly they're not. Somehow they pull it off nearly every time and leave you basking in their awesomeness and ever-expanding potential. The company's dozen or so members come and go, and even when they're together don't always appear as expected. Sugg won his Obie as an actor, but he's just as comfortable behind an accordion, pen, or soundboard.
Sugg first showed up on the local stage in 1998 and astonished audiences as a sort of one-man-band in Gentlemen Volunteers, (At right: Dito Van Riegersberg and Gabriel Quinn Beauriedel) a musical-ish examination of World War I ambulance drivers, Ernest Hemingway included. But the reason I'm thanking him here is because at the 2006 Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival, he premiered an original musical work called The Sea. It's the story of a drowned sea captain and his lost daughter, and watching it was like sucking down a saltwater Waits and Weill cocktail from deep below decks.
I wasn't working at the time, which meant I actually had to pay for my tickets, and yet I was still disappointed he wasn't selling recordings of the show. As in, I would have gladly shelled out for that, too. Anyway, upon reading the next day's Philadelphia Inquirer review, I was shocked--Shocked!--to find the assigned reviewer considerably less impressed. That week, I called up the paper, asked if they were short a critic, e-mailed some clips, and got myself a new job. I hadn't realized how much I missed being moved by a piece of theater, and having the privilege of telling the city about it, until I found myself powerless in the face of unfair, unenlightened criticism (ok, it was neither unfair nor unenlightened, but I totally didn't agree with it). And yes, I get the irony here, but that's another discussion for another time.
So I'm declaring my love openly, for all to read: thanks Mr. Sugg, for being the kind of artist whose performances inspire action, and thanks Pig Iron, for keeping your work in Philly and giving us first dibs on everything you do.
For more on James Sugg, read this article by my colleague Howard Shapiro, from today's Philadelphia Inquirer.
This week I'm macking on: Dueling Hamlets. There was this one in New York, that made Christopher Isherwood go all dreamy, and then there's this one in Philly that opens on Tuesday night with one of our golden boys, Rainpan 43's Geoff Sobelle, in the titular role. I don't know how Sobelle will measure up to New York's Camargo, but I'll be judging him against my last, favorite Hamlet, Bill Zielinski, a fine actor formerly of this city, and currently residing in Amsterdam, which is fairly close to Denmark. Zielinski's Dane stalked the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's stage back in 1999, and I can still recall the wild look in his eyes, as a Hamlet who has been shaken to his very core and stands on the precipice of an unjust fate, staring down an unjust descent into madness.
Sobelle, in this interview, plans to play it cooler, a Hamlet as Tom Waits or Bob Dylan. Well good for him, and good for us. If Isherwood says Camargo plays it soft, all the more reason to check out both and be astounded by the continuing malleability of the painted clay that makes up Shakespeare's men. (At left: Waits illustrates the difference between a hawk and a handsaw.)
This week I'm hating on: unpaid blogging. I've got a lot to do, and so do you, but you're probably getting paid for it. I post out of love, and lately, I just haven't been feeling it. However, if you or your organization is interested in throwing a little coin the way of my highly-targeted audience, well, just that little bit would make it all worthwhile. Please consider advertising on Drama Queen or purchasing a package that graces several ArtsJournal blogs at once. There is, of course, a larger post in here about critics as an endangered species, the disappearance of paid arts journalists, and the necessity for online publications to place a monetary value on their arts writers, but I don't know, maybe I'll get around to that once someone pays me to discuss it.
Here's what I've noticed lately in Philadelphia theater, and you can tell me if you've seen the same thing in your town: children's theater rocks. I'm working on a feature on the subject, and can't really get too far into it without tipping my hand, but damn.
I remember the days when taking your kids to see a show meant some slapped together summary of a fairytale that usually ended in a bunch of people skipping through the aisles in plushie suits, singing something inane about love and friendship. I'm sure there are companies around Philly still milking that same cash cow, but in the past few years the bar for family theater has been raised so high that the shows are often worth seeing without going to the trouble of bearing/bringing a kid.
Today's review of Cinderella, this year's incarnation of People's Light and Theatre's annual holiday panto, takes notice of this new trend. Because not only wasn't the panto all that panto-like (it was structured more like a vaudeville show), it also engaged the talents of some of the area's most creative theater minds and brought in an unapologetic Fringe sensibility while simultaneously tipping a bowler to other successful and cutting-edge Philadelphia artists.
And what better audience for the avant-garde, for surrealism, for the marriage of drama and technology than children? Kids are completely non-linear thinkers (at least until their innate absurdism gets instructed out of them), and willing to swallow whatever they're given as long as it provides an interesting flavor--otherwise, they'll spit it right back out at you, and never taste what you're offering again. They're the roughest critics and the most loyal customers, and if you win them over, you're not only helping yourself, you're shaping the future of the arts.
The long-term result of companies throwing major resources behind family programming is a generation that grows up with a lifelong appreciation for challenging theater. The short term result is, of course, money in the bank during rough economic times, since--aside from the packed school, birthday and scout audiences--most parents will justify taking their kids to a play, if not themselves. But it's pretty sweet that in this genre at least, making money and making substantial, worthwhile art aren't at odds.
It's been a hell of a long week both personally and professionally, so I apologize to my regular and faithful readers for not posting more. I'll try to hit you back next week.
In the meantime, this week I'm macking on: Philadelphia's steadily growing reputation as a hotspot for new play development. If you missed it, this New York Times feature hardly has enough room to mention all the opportunities available to playwrights here. It mentions many of our best beloved artists as well, people whose names--based on their steady and consistent output alone--certainly deserve to be circulating on the national stage, and on national stages. Bruce Graham, Michael Hollinger, Jennifer Childs, Geoff Sobelle, all outstanding Philly playwrights, and only a fraction of the total. In addition, so many of our established houses are dedicated to incorporating new work that just about every major company and some of the minors include at least one piece making in its world debut on a local stage.
This unique environment is thrilling for critics as well. I'm happy to review The Music Man or Chazz Palminteri's touring production of A Bronx Tale, as I did this week (click either to see the reviews), because they're known entities and easy writeups. But nothing will quite put you on your game and make you contend with the weight of your words like reviewing a brand new production. At that point, it's all you, baby, and you stand or fall on your own merits. As a critic, all you can do is hope that you're not the writer history remembers as the one who almost sunk our next Beckett. It's an exciting and terrifying environment in which to write, and one that probably comes closest to mimicking the opening night excitement and terror felt by those whom we critique. The way I figure it, that's only fair, and it ought to be a more frequent part of every critic's experience, though far too often, it's only a tiny portion.
This week I'm hating on: The way life keeps getting in the way of my theatergoing. I had to cut a deal with my husband last month: no more going to shows that I'm not reviewing and no more features. Of course, I've worked out a complex system of justifications to get around that, like: no more than two shows a week, and if I go to more than that it's only because I'm reviewing three or so that week, but if I don't have any reviews, then only two. And I'll only do features if my editor asks me. Or if I have a really great idea.
No, my husband's not a total a*hole. He's actually a really great guy who never shied away from a dirty diaper, helps coach our son's soccer team, and takes our daughter to horse shows even though he's really, really allergic to horses. It's just that the theater critic's schedule (out at night and writing every weekend) is not conducive to family life, at least not if you take either theater or family seriously. I'm guessing that's why there are so few mothers of young children in this gig, and it's certainly why I took a five year sabbatical from the job after our second child was born. Also, with the news industry being the way it is, and most critic spots going freelance and paying a pittance, this isn't the job of a primary breadwinner, and yet its importance and the necessity of being an expert on the topic of what's going on in theater in your town if you're writing about theater in your town hasn't lessened any. I don't know the answer, but I can certainly take up your time bitching about it here. Thanks. I feel better already.