Saturday, February 6, 2016





By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

It’s hard to imagine a better production of Philip Dawkins’ lovely, bittersweet play, Failure: A Love Story . Directed with great delicacy and imagination by  Allison Heishman for Azuka Theatre, it is a triumph for this superb cast of young actors, some working professionally for the first time. 

The plot would be a straightforward one about falling in love if it were told forwardly, but since it’s all flashback, and since it takes place in the Twenties, and since it’s set in a clock shop, the Fails’ family business, it’s really about time. And how, when you’re remembering, the past seems to be present, just as it does onstage.

The events of the play are both narrated (the story’s already over when the play begins and everybody’s dead) and enacted (it’s happening in the moment before our eyes). So we hear/watch the immigrant parents arrive in Chicago; three daughters are born: the watchmaker Gerty (the luminous Isa St. Clair), the obsessed swimmer Jenny June (Tabitha Allen) and merry Nelly (Mary Beth Shrader) whose “first word was yes, her second ‘hooray’.” When a baby floats down the river to them, the family is completed by John N (the outstanding Brendon Dalton) who will become a veterinarian and fill the house with creatures.

When Mortimer Mortimer (Kevin Meehan) walks into the clockshop, the love stories begin, as do the tragic events. Eventually, all the clocks run down (“Where did the time go?”).  The play moved me In surprising ways and with the smallest of gestures—a knot in the corner of a drape unties and the bird flies out the window.  The simplicity of the performance style—and the unobtrusive skill of the acdtors--relinquishes the theatrical burden of realism, and lets us fill in the space with our imaginations.  It’s tempting to mention Beckett and it’s tempting to mention Proust, but I won’t.

The set, designed by Lindsey Mayer is elegantly austere and the cast is costumed to perfection by Amanda Sharp.


Azuka Theatre at Off-Broad Street Theater, First Baptist Church,17th & Sansom Sts. Through May 26.  Tickets $18-27. Information: or (215) 563-1100.

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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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