Monday, May 25, 2015





By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer 

“We're quarter-ton clowns.” That’s how Crazy Train Sligo sums up his career as a professional wrestler in Adam Rapp’s American Sligo.  New City Stage’s production is both hilarious and chilling, as Aaron Cromie directs this brilliant cast who can turn the mood on a dime.

The play has little to do with literal wrestling but much to do with metaphoric wrestling, as this family wrangles and squabbles and finds new and improved ways to be mean to each other; we watch the family fall to hideous pieces before our eyes, but not before we’ve spent a good deal of time laughing.

Rapp—whoseheartwrenching Nocturne and wild and disturbing Red Light Winter have been seen in Philadelphia—is a young fierce playwright. He  begins American Sligo as dysfunctional family dramas usually begin, at a dinner table. This one is covered with a faux lace cloth and with a little action figure at the place setting of their guest, Bobby (Jordan B. Mottram), the hero-worshipping young man who has come to see the historic last Pro Wrestling match of Crazy Train (the enormous and impressive John Jezior).  The set (designed by Cory Palmer) is wondrously cluttered

Aunt Bobbie (Susanne Sulby) cannot remember Bobby’s name; she has a kind of  Mrs. Malaprop malady, confusing words but chattering on so earnestly that we feel sympathy for her—especially when she’s told that her eyebrow makeup makes her look “like a surly wench at a Renaissance Faire.” Everybody’s got issues: a sacroiliac that’s out of whack, diabetes, cocaine habits, and the heebie-jeebies.  This crowd could give anybody the heebie-jeebies.

The two brothers (almost required for an intense, competitive, violent American family drama) are both very smart and very cruel in very different ways. Kyle (the terrific Sam Sherburne) is the seemingly sane if spiteful one always simmering on a slow boil; he is pitted against his degenerate brother Victor (the terrifyingly louche and despairing Allen Radway whose performance anchors the show). The brothers’ girlfriends (Francesca Piccioni and Ginger Dayle) round out the cast, and their characters function mostly as expository devices.

You don’t have to care or know anything about the weird and ugly world of Pro Wrestling to find this show both entertaining and unsettling. Russ Widdall’s curtain speech (cell phones off, blah blah blah) is done in high WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) style, and launches the evening on just the right mock-scary note.


New City Stage at the Adrienne’s Skybox, 2030 Sansom St. Through June 23. Tickets $10-35.  Information: or 215-563-7500.

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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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