I spent Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia and Baltimore, seeing Arden Theater’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and CenterStage’s production of Crumbs from the Table of Joy, a 1995 play by Lynn Nottage. I caught up with Nottage (along with most of the rest of the New York critics) in 2004, when two of her later plays, Intimate Apparel
and Fabulation, were premiered in the same season. Seeing them in such close succession made me a fan, which is why I went out of my way to catch Crumbs from the Table of Joy in Baltimore.
My travels began with a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I took in Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic. Wyeth is an odd case, a self-evidently gifted artist whom few art critics take seriously save as a technician. I am, for the most part, one of their skeptical number, though I do like his splendidly accomplished drybrush watercolors, a few of which are to be found in this crowded (in all senses) retrospective. I don’t care at all for the large-scale paintings, which have always struck me as essentially false, all but quivering with an embarrassed romanticism poorly concealed beneath a cloak of pretended austerity. It’s the paintings that most people love, though, and I wish I could agree with them. Dr. Johnson said of Gray’s Elegy that “I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtlety and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours.” I agree–but not when it comes to Wyeth.
From there I took myself to Old Town, Philadelphia’s historical district, which is full of excellent sights to see, most of them very close indeed to the Arden (it’s next door to Christ Church, where Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross worshipped, and around the corner from Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest residential street in America). It’s also full of excellent restaurants, and I had an unusually good meal at one of them, a place called Fork that I commend to your attention should you find yourself in that famous part of town. Alas, I spent an exceedingly disagreeable night at the Independence Park Hotel, which put me up in a room that was hot, stuffy, and noisy, then served me a continental breakfast that bordered on the inedible. I won’t be back, save at gunpoint.
As for the two shows, you’ll have to wait until Friday to hear about them. In the meantime, I’ll be off again very early Wednesday morning, this time to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where I’ll be seeing five plays in two and a half days and partaking of whatever other delights the city of Ashland, Oregon, may have to offer me. I plan to bring along my trusty iBook, so it seems fairly likely that I’ll be blogging at some point or points during my stay, but don’t be surprised if my postings are erratic between now and week’s end.