Tuesday, July 7, 2015


The North Plan


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The North Plan

By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Think Martin McDonagh without the accents. Think Quentin Tarantino without the cars. Think, in other words, about stupid people with foul mouths, big guns, and big ideas. What you have is Jason Wells’ The North Plan, a very scary and very funny political satire, which just opened at Theatre Exile.

The place is a jail in a tiny town in southern Missouri. In one cage is a self-justifying drunk named Tanya Shepke (Madi Distefano at her Yeehah!, motor-mouthed best). If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s: Do not mess with Tanya Shepke.  In the other cage is Carlton Berg (Dan Hodge) who has been arrested with a list of millions of names of “enemies” of the “provisional government,” a military cabal which has declared martial law in the U.S.  and has the Marines and the Army facing off on Pennsylvania Ave.

The sheriff (Mark Cairns) and his office assistant Shonda (Aime Donna Kelly) have to cope with two armed and dangerous morons from the Department of Homeland Security (Robert DaPonte and Carl Granieri).  They’re not “Feds” since you need a “Federal” for that.

Under Joe Canuso’s nifty direction, the hilarious pauses and mistaken identities and classic bits all end up in bloody mayhem.  He never compromises the dire political warning in favor of getting laughs—although this very skilled cast can mine the material for every paranoid laugh it can yield.  The clever set—an office replaces the cages in Act Two-- was designed by Meghan Jones with lots of farcical doors and drawers.

Wells’ point, as the program note explains, is that REX 84, a Reagan-era plan that would suspend the Constitution and instate martial law (the “North” of the title refers to Oliver North), bears a striking resemblance to the current Patriot Act.  The play suggests we may all be echoing Shonda’s tremulous line: “Everything’s gonna be all right. Right?”


Theatre Exile at Latvian Society, 7th & Spring Garden Sts. Through March 3. Tickets $10-37. Information: 215.218.4022, or theatreexile.org,

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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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