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.