Tuesday, August 4, 2015





By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer


Azuka Theatre’s production of Hope Street and Other Lonely Places by Genne Murphy is exactly the kind of show I want to like. A small theatre company, a new script by a local playwright, and  under the direction of Kevin Glaccum who runs the company.  I arrive with my cheerleader pompoms at the ready.

And then the play began. About halfway through Act One, I whispered to my friend in the next seat, “Did it start yet?”  Hope Street is a play is built on  so many clichés, so much inaction,  with so pointlessly inconclusive a plot, and performed in a style of acting so naturalistic that it seems to be anti-acting, that the answer to my question was both yes, obviously, and no, not really.

Six characters come and go, in many scenes, in a messy set divided into thirds to indicate several locales. The pivotal and absent character is Denny who has died of an drug overdose before the play begins. His mother, Jeanette (Kimberly S. Fairbanks) is nearly wrecked with grief; his younger brother Sam (Delante G. Keys) is angry and desperate with worry about his mother. An old friend of Denny’s, Frankie (Mary Lee Bednarek) is a junkie, trying her best to stay clean. It will also turn out that Frankie and Jeanette were lovers when they were girls.

Meanwhile, back at the apartment stage right, we meet Jack (Joe O’Brien), a dedicated social worker involved in a needle-exchange program who dabbles in heroin himself. And then he turns his girlfriend, Megg (Leslie Nevon Holdon) onto the drug.  Jack feels somewhat responsible for Denny’s death.

Because Jeanette works in a library, there are many references to books, none of which seem to make any sense or develop the play’s themes, except for one undeveloped conversation about history and the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia’s past.

There are photos taken and flashed up on two screens onstage, showing us views of Philadelphia streets as well as the wellworn images of fireworks on the Fourth of July. As one character says, “I’ve lived my whole life in this city and I didn’t know we had a Hope Street.”  Forget Hope Street. Forget Hope Street.  Forget the pompoms.


Azuka Theatre at the First Baptist Church, 1636 Sansom Street.  Through April1. Tickets $15 - $27 Information: azukatheatre.org or (215) 563-1100.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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