Results tagged “toby zinman” 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 |
I've been asked by about 10 people to weigh in on Spring Awakening, whose national tour is currently writhing through Philly's Academy of Music. However, rather than write a review, which my colleague Toby Zinman has already done very nicely in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, I'll just say that I loved it, and instead, offer a list of 10 thoughts (one for each of you) Spring Awakening awoke in me.

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10: Northeast Philly got something right. I know, I know, it's the "Great Northeast," but so far, the greatest contribution they've made to the performing arts landscape is Blake Bashoff (at left, with Kyle Riabko as Melchior), a Washington High grad who plays the troubled (ok, they're all troubled) Moritz. Maybe I've forgotten some great Neezer (besides my cousin AJ Slick, who happens to be the best Stevie Ray Vaughn cover artist ever to sling on a Gibson). If I have, I'm sure someone will remind me.

9: The Spring Awakening song "Totally Fucked" sounds a lot like the Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson song "Life Sucks." In fact, both shows share a similar theme. A rock musical about 19th century adolescents? An emo musical about the adolescent behavior of a future president? Same diff.

8: I was surprised to see how closely the musical stuck to Frank Wedekind's source material. A season or two ago, a local company (Or rather, local now. They arrived in our fair city from New Orleans by way of a gal named Katrina.), EgoPo Productions, did an expressionistic rendering of the original, complete with masks. It was startling stuff, and I'm pretty psyched that we regional viewers came in on the later end of the musical's run, if only because it gave the locals a chance to capitalize on Broadway's fortunes while simultaneously supplementing and enriching our overall theatergoing experience. More, please.

7: I'm on board with Sheik's/Sater's decision to intensify Martha's suffering in "The Dark I Know Well," changing her abuse from merely physical to both physical and sexual. Why? In a play about children's victimization by the adults charged with their care, incest is one of the few secrets Wedekind avoided, but its inclusion makes perfect sense.

6: I'm not on board with Michael Mayer's decision to make Wendla such an obviously willing participant in her... What is it? Seduction? Rape? Sexual baptism? The original take ain't pretty, but neither are the ragged emotions of Wedekind's kinder. When you're 14, sometimes no really does mean yes, and even when it doesn't, you spend years wondering if maybe it did after all. That confusion, particularly in light of Wendla's begging Melchior to beat her, also made perfect sense.

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5: If you follow my Twitter/Facebook feed, I apologize for repeating myself, but I still think my favorite emotion is whatever attaches itself to a minor chord. I guess it's something between yearning and anticipation, maybe both. The best way to maintain that feeling is to make your own Duncan Sheik station on Pandora. It's like listening to the cast recording, but quieter.

4: Melchior's philosophical transformation and friendship with Moritz, among other things, reminded me of Leopold and Loeb, which reminded me that there's yet another take on their story opening here in August. Mauckingbird Theatre's production will mark the third show I've seen about those two nasty little sociopaths. Why, after all these years and crimes, do Leopold and Loeb still fascinate? 

3:  While discussing the show over a drink with my pal Jim Rutter, the Broad Street Review's dance/theater critic, I asked him why he liked this one so much, but disliked Rent. He answered that Rent glorified its characters, while Spring Awakening's characters (and emotions) were so much more genuine. That's true, even if it sort of misses Rent's point. But I'd wager there wouldn't be a musical Spring Awakening if Rent hadn't taken on La Boheme first.

2: What kind of a moron would bring their little kid to see a show like that? And if parents are too lazy to do their own homework, can't we at least help those kids out so they're not stuck sitting between mommy and daddy watching a sexy teen proto-Nazi masturbate onstage to Desdemona's murder? People love theater, they love turning their kids on to theater, just not necessarily, you know, turning them on. Why do movies and video games require ratings, but not theater? Sure, it's an imperfect system, and I'm not in favor of policing people's parenting, or censorship, or ignorance, but since, as Spring Awakening so deftly illustrates, parents are clueless, and more important, theaters aren't looking to alienate anyone these days, why not offer them a big fat clue right on the ads?  

1: To protect the innocent, I'm keeping the year of my own forest-heavy "Purple Summer" to myself. I will say this, though: the music and circumstances may be slightly different, but it's both terrifying and comforting to know that for 118 years--at least--the lyrics to those songs have remained the same.



June 24, 2009 11:41 AM | | Comments (1)
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 |
I know I'm late checking in this week, and I apologize. Again. But hey, at least I showed up for dessert. 

This week I'm macking on what I'm also hating on: Theater about technology. So many playwrights use an old-fashioned linear narrative to tell an internet-based tale, a method that has so little to do with the actual use of the internet that it's almost infuriating. Okay, sometimes it's actually infuriating. But when techno-drama's done right, it makes you feel like you're surfing the crest of a rogue wave, allowed to see higher, farther and deeper than any human ought to be allowed. And that's a beautiful thing.

This reflection all came about because I saw Theatre Exile's production of Carlos Murillo's Dark Play last night and though I'm not reviewing it (you'll have to wait a day or so for Toby Zinman's assessment), I can't help but weigh in, since it deals with the same technological issues Brat Productions' User 927 tried to wrestle into submission earlier in the season. (My review of that play is here.) What's so interesting to me about these two plays is the way they attempt to capture the mercurial nature of the internet, which is essentially missing the point. Like mercury, the internet shape-shifts almost as soon as it's touched, let alone committed to old-fashioned paper. Remember chat rooms? Remember AOL, from the days when people used to pay for e-mail? Both plays do, and both playwrights are alarmed by the internet's most notorious episodes (waiting for the production about this next), and use them as the vehicle for Victorian-style cautionary tales. But the internet's a slippery creature, and a year or so after their respective premieres, both plays already read like time capsules. 

During an interview today on a totally different subject, New Paradise Laboratories' Whit MacLaughlin--whose Fatebook, a performance about, yes, Facebook, is slated to premiere at the 2009 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival--summed up everything wrong with this type of drama. "People tend to gravitate toward the hysterical, but people were probably hysterical when Gutenberg printed the first bible." Exactly. Hysteria is generally only worthwhile when viewed in hindsight. It's why Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible without a role for Joe McCarthy, but plenty of room for the inhabitants of Salem, Mass. 

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So how ironic is it that the production I've seen that best expresses the banality of internet evil and its detached menace was Wooster Group's Hamlet? That's right, Shakespeare, once again, bitch slaps his pretenders and proves his enduring relevance (sorry Mr. Tynan, I know how you hated that term). He's really the only logical match for the internet, Godzilla to its Mothra, and he's the only playwright who could survive being refurbished from an analog relic into a prophet of the digital age. 

Rather than spelling out technology's cold front for an audience, Wooster chooses the more elegant route. Their actors' eyes never meet, so busy are they tracking the multitude of screens and monitors surrounding them. It's the dramatic equivalent of teenagers who sit side-by-side texting one another. Hamlet's questions of identity were sent centuries ago, long before middle-aged men were IM-propositioning teenagers by pretending to be their peers. To be or not to be? That has always been the question, but online, it's even tougher to answer. Instead of picking a side, the best contemporary tech-based theater will function as an elastic exchange of information, adaptable, fluid, and impervious to hysteria.
November 20, 2008 11:00 PM |
Interesting article in the New York Times this weekend by Patricia Cohen about the lack of female playwrights on the city's major stages. On Monday night, those women's voices will be much harder to ignore, when a standing room only town hall meeting at New Dramatists convenes to discuss the issue.

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Though some New York artistic directors, such as Lincoln Center's Andre Bishop, might scoff at the problem, well, that attitude really just serves to underscore its depth. [CORRECTION: Please see Mr. Bishop's comment below.] By playwright Gina Gionfriddo's own observation, the O'Neill and Humana new play festivals are "dominated by women." Mind you, this meeting will examine New York's Off-Broadway houses and nonprofits, where men's work is produced four times more often than women's. Broadway is in even worse shape.

(At left: the Wilma Theater's production of Eurydice, a play written by a woman, produced and directed by another woman. Hear them roar?)

So how do Philly's major theaters compare? I took the top 14 area houses--"top" meaning they're professional, they've been around a while, mostly have a permanent location, have at least a three-show season that's readily accessible on their website, and are not solely Shakespeare-centric--and did a little comparing of my own. Here's the list: The Wilma Theater; Theatre Exile; Delaware Theatre Company; Interact Theatre Company; Walnut Street Theatre; Lantern Theatre; Philadelphia Theatre Company; People's Light and Theatre Company; Hedgerow Theatre; Arden Theatre; Media Theatre; 1812 Productions; Act II Playhouse; and Bristol Riverside Theater.

In New York, of the 50 plays by living playwrights being produced Off-Broadway and by nonprofits,10 were written by women. In Philadelphia, this season's grand total (which happens to include a few dead guys) comes to 64 shows. Of these, 13 were written by women, and of those 13, one is responsible only for a show's music, one for lyrics, and two are collaborations with men, so really the total's more like nine, but I'm willing to let everyone slide on this point. Still, the results aren't encouraging: on Philadelphia's major stages men are being produced at five times the rate of women, a fact that makes us quantifiably worse than New York, which in itself is a fact that really pisses me off. 

However, the productions are only one facet of the issue. While in New York female artistic directors might be, as the article says, a rarity, six of our 14 theaters are headed by women, so that's better. Of the season's 64 shows, 17 do not list a director. Of those remaining 47 shows, 19 are directed by women, and though that's not a perfect division of labor, it's not terrible, and most likely a result of Philly's nearly equal number of female artistic directors. Still, it remains to be seen how those percentages hold up when the rest of the season's directors are announced.

It's also worth looking at who's reviewing these plays. I don't know the New York numbers, but here in Philadelphia, among regular female critics, freelance or otherwise, there's Toby Zinman, me, and that's pretty much where the list ends. P.S., we both work for the same paper, whose fine arts section is edited by a woman and overseen by a female arts editor. Wonder if there's a connection? 

If nothing else, having women equally represented among the writing, producing, directing and reviewing ranks would, at the very least, affect the amount of David Mamet plays that get revivals each year, and for that, I think everyone would be just a little bit grateful.

October 26, 2008 7:54 PM | | Comments (6)
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