Monday, April 21, 2014
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Live Arts Festival: Food Court

By Wendy Rosenfield. Australia's Back to Back Theatre perform with The Necks in a dark, meditation on power, disability and exploitation.

Live Arts Festival: Food Court

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By Wendy Rosenfield

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and for Australia’s Back to Back Theatre, making its second Live Arts Festival appearance (the first was 2009’s Small Metal Objects), in the land of Food Court, the simple capacity for speech determines ruler and subject. Performed by disabled actors--some with intellectual disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome, others with both physical and intellectual challenges--to a haunting score improvised each night by a live musical trio called The Necks, Food Court raises troubling questions about human nature and exploitation.

This production requires patience from its audience, plus a willingness to visit the soul’s darkest corners and remain there for about an hour, but even then it’s rough going. Much of the action occurs behind a scrim that serves to suffuse the setting with a murky haze, and supplies a surface on which to project each line of dialogue; the actors’ speech is difficult to understand unaided. The Necks’ skittery bass-plucking maintains an undercurrent of anxiety, and the cruelty in Bruce Gladwin’s script is basic and streamlined: two obese women wearing aerobic leotards encounter another woman in a food court whose cognitive and physical functions are even more compromised than their own. They bully her, call her fat and stupid, drag her into the woods, force her to endure vicious humiliations and abuses. And even among these three there’s a hierarchy.

Brutal like a Diane Arbus photo or David Lynch film, Food Court has a similar objective: to shine light on the grimy underside of our smoother surfaces. After all, it begins in a mall. In a final scene, director/devisor/designer Gladwin equates the victim with The Tempest’s Caliban, and this, too, adds another level of inquiry. How much are we--and the performers--being manipulated? Food Court’s questions are indeed tough, but for all the right reasons.

Sept. 20-22, 8 p.m. Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St.

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


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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