Results tagged “Hedgerow Theatre” from Drama Queen

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.

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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.

December 1, 2009 2:12 PM | | Comments (0)
pattiandmandynew.jpgI reviewed An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin for today's Philadelphia Inquirer, which normally wouldn't be so remarkable, except for three things: 

1.) Inquirer critic Toby Zinman and I both managed to shoehorn the word "schmaltz" into reviews on the same day.

2.) Apparently, Mr. Patinkin is a fairly close cousin through marriage, which means relatives keep asking me to say hi to "Cousin Mandy," which I might, if he had any idea who I--or they--were.
  
3.) I reviewed Patinkin and LuPone when they performed together at Philly's Prince Music Theatre last season. 

A few folks have asked about the difference between the two shows, but I can't seem to locate the printed version of that review in the Inquirer's online archives. So in the interest of giving the people what they want, here is a link to today's review, and below is the unedited version I turned in to my editor last season. But just FYI, one difference that didn't make it into print is the addition of a heck of a lot of vintage microphone stands dotting the stage, all wired and fitted with colored lightbulbs. Not sure about the purpose for this design adjustment, but its result was, unfortunately, a far more restrained version of their rolling-office-chair pas de deux.

Our weather finally has an autumn snap in the air, and there is hardly a better way to get cozy than to spend time with old friends. And we literally get "Old Friends," via Sondheim, and a host of other songs by Broadway's boldest-faced composers in the Prince's production of An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. LuPone and Patinkin made their names (and garnered Tonys) as Eva and Che in Webber's original Broadway production of Evita, and they seem to have a true affection for one another. The pair radiates their warmth all the way to the theater's back rows, bringing a bit of Lincoln Center to Chestnut Street, as they tear through medley after lovesick medley. From South Pacific, to Merrily We Roll Along, Carousel and more, the duo stops only for a line or two of dialogue from the musicals and a brief intermission. 

Directed by Patinkin, the performance is suffused with a sense of ease, but also of rebellion. LuPone once famously sued Andrew Lloyd Webber (and won), while Patinkin recently walked away from his day job on the television show Criminal Minds, citing "creative differences." And both still have an air of the scrappy independent about them. The show feels intimate, as though they simply decided together that they'd rather be doing nothing else, invited longtime Patinkin collaborator and pianist Paul Ford to come along, and grabbed bassist John Beal on their way out the door. There are no fancy sets or big dance numbers, only the singers, their songs, a pair of chairs and the musicians' unobtrusive accompaniment. Still, it seems a waste to have the great Ann Reinking as your choreographer and then to under-utilize her talents. There is a bit too much sitting while singing, perhaps a concession to the performers' age. But when they get moving, particularly during an April in Paris/April in Fairbanks medley, they channel the Fringe Fest and swing each other around the stage perched atop a pair of rolling office chairs, and we enjoy it as much as they seem to. There is little concession to age regarding the choice of tunes, however, with an abundance of ingenues dotting the song list, and both reprising their signature Evita roles (and LuPone's signature song, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina") without a care for the intervening years. They may croon "Baby, It's Cold Outside," but inside the Prince, Patinkin and LuPone keep the house nice and comfy.

There you have it. Feel free to compare and contrast, and let me know if your reviews differ/agree. Also, I've been remiss about posting my recent reviews here, so if you've got a little extra time and any interest in a snapshot of Philly's early spring theater season, here's what I've reviewed in the last two weeks, and what I thought about it: Honor and the River at the Walnut Street Theatre's Studio 3; the national touring company of Cats at the Merriam Theatre; Arms and the Man at Hedgerow Theatre. 

March 12, 2009 10:40 AM | | Comments (0)
workers_15b.jpgBush the Elder once said he'd "do the right thing at the proper time." Well, Hedgerow Theatre, in mounting Looking Over the President's Shoulder at this time, has certainly done so. Either way the American people played the election, this production would have made the impact for which Hedgerow had hoped. 

The play is about African-American White House chief Butler Alonzo Fields' 21 years of service, and if we'd had a McCain presidency, it would have served as a sad reminder of what might have been, and those for whom time was running out on the dream. But that isn't the case, and though I had a quarrel or two with James Still's script, it's a pretty remarkable piece of work for right here, right now. 

Fields also harbored dreams of becoming an opera singer, and the script recalls the sole time he was invited to sing, for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and though they applauded, they also laughed. It's just too bad Mr. Fields didn't make it to the staff of this White House, where he could have sung his arias and, one imagines, no one would have laughed.

January 20, 2009 1:24 PM | | Comments (0)
My most recent review, Delaware Theatre Company's Master Harold... And the Boys, got me thinking. It seems like there's a burst of African-American issues-related shows in Philly this season--Driving Miss Daisy, Gee's Bend (which, if anyone cares, I thought had a really clunky script but some excellent acting by Kala Moses Baxter and one of my new favorites on the scene, Kes Khemnu), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, Resurrection, Day of the Picnic--just about every major theater has one show in its season with this theme.*

I suppose part of the reason for the change is that everyone's capitalizing on the election, but really, it started with a recent thrust of nontraditional casting before Obama became the clear presidential candidate and has just sort of snowballed. And while this mass shift in programming focus is certainly long overdue and welcome, well, it begs the real question: why can't Philadelphia, a city whose population is 45% African American, support a dedicated professional African American theater? Since Walter Dallas' departure and Freedom Repertory Theatre's demise (and that's a whole 'nother long story) no one has stepped in to fill the void, and I'm going to guess it's not because Philadelphians are okay with leaving the issue of inclusion to the whims of the city's various white artistic directors, or catching the random touring urban theater production. 

Mind you, I'm not knocking the efforts at diversity being made by any of these other companies. I think it's great for the city and even better for expanding everyone's audience base. But honestly, what is going on here, and why? 


*By the way Philly folks, I'm omitting InterAct from inclusion and discussion on this post, as their commitment to programming diversity has been part of their mission since the company's inception.


October 23, 2008 10:51 AM | | Comments (5)
Here's another reason why a critic might be inclined to go easy on a theater: guilt. In the case of today's review, there's a company in the Philadelphia suburbs I feel like I've been hammering just about every time I visit. Sometimes it's their choice of play, others it's the level of performance or direction, but lately it seems that every time I go, this lovely little house situated inside an old grist mill ends up with a spanking that pains us both. 

I don't believe in critical boosterism, nor do I think it's my job to keep theaters in business, but there comes a point when a critic has to ask herself if perhaps the problem is a difference in taste, rather than simply a dearth of quality. So no, this wasn't the best Sherlock Holmes I've ever seen, and though it was an uneven production, it was good enough to deliver at least part of the experience I wanted when I left the house that evening. This time, rather than chastising the company for my perception of its comfort with mediocrity, I sat back and accepted it for what it was: a suburban theater with pretty conventional tastes. And that night I had a pretty good time.

This doesn't mean I'll always cut them slack; after all, I'm worried about my credibility, not theirs. But still, it's a lesson in context, which is important for everyone to remember, whether reading or writing a review. When McCarter stumbles--as I believe they did in their latest production--it's one thing. But judging a small local house by the same standard is another. They don't get a pass, of course, because that would be irresponsible on my part, but they do get credit for knowing what their audience wants when they leave the house, even if it might not be exactly what I'm looking for.


P.S., the first line contains a typo. It should read, "our collective anxiety," not "collection anxiety." And no one deserves slack for letting that slide.
October 21, 2008 10:26 AM | | Comments (5)
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