Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Dance Theater: Review

A physical theater work that asks all the right questions.

Dance Theater: Review

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By Merilyn Jackson
FOR THE INQUIRER


Director Anisa George interviewed more than 50 women for Animal Animal Mammal Mine, which opened at Underground Arts on Wednesday night, and I wondered if it might be too academic to make it one of my Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts picks. But despite George’s lofty pedigree — Jack Kent Cooke Fellow, graduate of Columbia University and the London International School of Performing Arts — I chose it, and am pleased to report that it’s a thoughtful, funny show.

In line with PIFA’s time-travel theme, Animal Animal is pegged to May 11, 1960, when the FDA approved the birth control pill. George focused on women without children in her interviews, which involved the questions that slosh like amniotic fluid around the decision to have, or not have, a child — from overpopulation and global warming to fertility problems and will I be a good mother? Take “Can I afford it?”

That question must have accompanied the genesis of this play, since PIFA gives minimal financial support to its artists. But George and her crew of co-creators worked miracles with sticks and stones, plastic and 2-by-4s, dirt and sandbags to create maximum effect.

Amy Rubin transformed the grungy cabaret theater into a rustic field of brush with a small structure in the middle that served as glacier, home, fertility lab and United Nations chamber. Sculptor Martha Posner' created elements of the costumes completed by Marah Carpenter.

The intensity of the five-member cast was spot on. As a toy helicopter flew over, Lindsay Browning drily showed us how the glacier — a lamp, refrigerator and table covered in crumpled plastic sheeting — was melting. Hannah de Keijzer snaked nude across the table under the plastic and later, as a spidery creature, tried to scale a wall with Posner's hive-like sculpture on her back. Browning snatched the sheeting away and soon the stage became a living room — for starters. Beginning with mitosis, words projected on the back screen showed snapshots of evolution.

Peggy Pettitt is the dignified Berta, petitioning the United Nations to lower carbon emissions to save her island country from drowning — and not in real estate jargon.
Rachel Hynes is the first woman to undergo fertility treatments; Kate Raines is her doctor (doubling as the female half of a couple who want a baby).

There is cleverly enacted cataclysm and renewal. Her torso nude, and wearing Posner’s winged arm, a crouching de Keijzer slowly, terrifyingly, winds her outstretched arm over the space like the Owl of Minerva, the symbol of wisdom and vigilance.

PIFA 2013, through April 20, Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St. Details at http://pifa.org/events/11

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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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