Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Confusing, Dated, Mundane: 3 Wishes

A take on 50 Shades of Gray that's not quite spoof or serious commentary.

Confusing, Dated, Mundane: 3 Wishes

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Michelle Pauls as Cornella Jennings in 3 Wishes
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Gerald van Wilgen wrote his play 3 Wishes in response to E.L. James’ novel Fifty Shades of Gray. But whether Wilgen intended it as satire or homage (or something else) still escapes me after seeing B. Someday’s staging. 

Like Fifty Shades, 3 Wishes deals with a sexual awakening, in this case, of Cornella Jennings (Michelle Pauls). But unlike James’ 22-year old paramour, Wilgen gives us an uppity middle-aged, sexually repressed executive, circa 1958. She’s followed everywhere by Voce (Sarah Braun), who represents her inner lust. When Voce causes Cornella to inadvertently grope a plumber (Matt Shell), he demands three wishes, each a bit more erotically escalating, from G, to PG to PG-13.

Themes of misogyny (via Cornella’s boss) and gender disparity in the workplace cloud this  fantasy, at times making 3 Wishes feel like a history piece culled from 50’s home-ec education reels. The dated language and lame double entendres add to the historical distance, whether referring to a toilet as the “crapper” or having Cornella respond to a plumber’s question about her leaky sink with “oh, yes, my wet spot.”

 Wilgen also throws in an element of mystery about the new owner of Cornella’s company, but the surprise is spoiled in the program (four characters, all on stage from the first scene, who else is it going to be?).

 If I hadn’t read Fifty Shades, little of Wilgen’s work would have made sense as spoof or serious commentary. Director Stan Heleva mines humor in Braun’s performance and Heather Cole’s choreography (did I mention the two lip-syncing dance numbers?), but he does little else to untangle this new work’s aspirations.

--Jim Rutter 

3 Wishes. Presented by B. Someday Productions at Walking Fish Theatre, 2509 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia. Runs September 21-23 at 7PM. Tickets: $10 215-427-9255

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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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