Results tagged “james sugg” 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. 

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(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. 
June 18, 2009 1:10 AM | | Comments (0)
jamessugg.jpgHere'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. 

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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.



May 19, 2009 8:14 PM | | Comments (2)
mickey-mouse-arrest_791131c.jpgThis week I'm macking on: Vacation! I'll be out of town from tomorrow until after the new year, so don't expect to see any posts until then. However, I do plan to take in some Florida theater. Strangely enough, just like last time I went away, when Sarasota's Florida Studio Theatre hosted a Philly show--James Sugg and Aaron Posner's A Murder, A Mystery and A Marriage--this time FST is producing Michael Hollinger's Opus, an Arden Theatre baby. So if I can't resist, maybe I'll sneak away to a computer for a quickie review or something (I'll probably need the alone time anyway). And also, I'll be in Disneyworld for a couple of days, which should, I don't know, be really freaky, and then up to Savannah, Georgia. If anyone has theater recommendations along that route, please send them to me. Any time I'm on vacation and have a legit excuse to get a babysitter is a good time.

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This week I'm hating on: Finite print space for reviews. I reviewed 1812 Productions' Cherry Bomb, a new, full-length musical about the Cherry Sisters--a family act widely considered "the worst act in vaudeville" for today's Philadelphia Inquirer. (p.s., the link takes you to a piece written by WFMU mad genius Irwin Chusid, whose compilation album and companion book Songs in the Key of Z are the definitive primers on outsider music.) I managed to do an okay job, I guess, in a mightily compressed way, of conveying what the show was about, giving some history and throwing forth my likes and dislikes. But I sure could have used some room to stretch out.

Some productions make every syllable of their 420-470 alloted review words into a Sisyphean torment. (Spoiler Alert: ever read a review whose plot synopsis is way longer than the reviewer's analysis? A sure sign it was one of those shows.) Because sometimes, you see a conventional and adequate but unexceptional production of a frequently produced show--in keeping with the spirit of the season, let's say A Christmas Carol. Well, what is there to discuss? It was good, everyone knows the story, and I don't know, I guess you could complain or champion the tradition of mounting it every season. The end.

But in the case of Cherry Bomb and all its incidentals--the rising local talents among the cast and creators, its subject matter, its historical importance, the sisters' place in the pantheon of outsider music, the show's dramatic context, its sociopolitical elements, its conceptual strengths and faults, its music, direction, script, lyrics, none of which have been reviewed before--well, that's where a nice, flexible website would really come in handy. 

Considering all the time invested in the show's development, the grant money involved, and the sheer enormity of producing ambitious new work now, when the city's economy is imploding (Let's just ignore the rest of the world's imploding economies, shall we? ), it is almost a disservice to give Cherry Bomb such a cursory review. And that didn't used to be the case. For example, take Frank Rich's 1993 review of the Broadway premier of Angels in America, which clocks in at a well-padded 1443 words, not including the cast box. Ben Brantley's review for the current revival of American Buffalo is shorter by almost a third at 960 words. My word count at the Inquirer has shrunk by 100 or so words just since 2006. 

Considering the disappearing ranks of paid critics these days, I guess a cursory review is better than none at all. At the same time, with these halfway useful, halfway explored ideas, is print media, in its efforts to remain afloat in its current, tangible, deliverable form and refusal to adapt to an online model, subsequently hastening our demise? I guess we'll know soon enough.

December 19, 2008 8:33 AM | | Comments (3)

rocky_steps.jpgThis week I'm macking on: Philadelphia. We're hosting a free Bruce Springsteen concert/rally for Obama on Saturday. Gary Steuer is wrapping up his first week as head of Mayor Michael Nutter's re-opened Office of Arts and Culture and the Creative Economy (that last part was added by the mayor for the office's new incarnation) even as the Wall Street economy proves how much less worthy it is of financial assistance than our artists. In Conflict is featured in this month's issue of American Theatre (I just reviewed the article's author, Krista Apple, here) going strong Off-Broadway and there are murmurs of its potential for a larger house. The 2008 Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, kick off on Monday night. And finally, I'm headed to Sarasota, Florida this weekend--host of the 2009 American Theatre Critics' Association conference--and figured as long as I'm down there, I'd  get a head start on checking out the drama scene. So what's playing at the Florida Studio Theatre? A Murder, A Mystery and A Marriage, with book and lyrics by former Arden Theatre Artistic Director Aaron Posner (the Arden will premiere Posner's new adaptation of Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev later this season) and music by Pig Iron member James Sugg, whose original production The Sea (Tom Waits fans, go on and click. The songs are very Swordfishtrombones, in a good way, and the show stands on its own.) was one of my all-time Fringe Festival favorites. And, oh yeah, didn't I hear something recently about the Phillies? So while visitors might pour on the haterade and call us fat, unfriendly, unstylish, ugly, a crappy vacation destination, dirty, noisy, dangerous and boring (things got worse for us since the last survey), all I have to say is dontcha wish your city was hot like ours?

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This week I'm hating on: Clowns. Specifically the clowns of the San Francisco Clown conservatory, who came up with this idea: a "Naked Clown Calendar" as an MS fundraiser. I know it's for a good cause and maybe you can pay the Judy Finelli Fund to not send you a calendar. Because really, this has to be the worst idea since last week's announcement of American Psycho, the Musical. Ever think about a clown's nipples? A clown's hairy belly? No? Of course not, and you know why? Because it would make you cry, not laugh. Because only John Wayne Gacy's victims had to do that, and they didn't want to. I couldn't upload any of their pictures as they're protected, and, um, they're scary. No need to thank me.

October 2, 2008 8:07 PM | | Comments (5)
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