Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: "Pardon My Invasion"

So here's a real surprise: On the third floor of Plays and Players Theatre, there's a world premiere by an under-the-radar local playwright -- Joy Cutler -- filled with amateur actors, directed by a relative newcomer. All outward signs indicate a hot mess; instead, says, Wendy Rosenfield, it's a blast.

Review: "Pardon My Invasion"

By Wendy Rosenfield
FOR THE INQUIRER

So here’s a real surprise: On the third floor of Plays and Players Theatre, there’s a world premiere by an under-the-radar local playwright -- Joy Cutler -- filled with amateur actors, directed by a relative newcomer. All outward signs indicate a hot mess; instead, it’s a blast.

Cutler’s oddball black comedy, Pardon My Invasion, features an AWOL Iraq war soldier hiding, Exorcist-style, inside the body of Penny, a 13-year-old American girl whose single mother Rita (Jennifer Summerfield) writes pulpy detective novels for a living. And that synopsis only covers the first few scenes.

Last season, director Cara Blouin created Dan Rottenberg Is Thinking About R@ping You, a sharp comedic, feminist response to the Broad Street Review editor’s article blaming CBS News reporter Lara Logan for her own sexual assault. Blouin’s the right woman for this job too, blowing up Cutler’s surreal take on sexual politics into Roy Lichtenstein territory with big, bright cartoons whose primary-colored confidence threatens to either saturate the mere mortals around them or smother them. 

The Army, particularly tough-as-nails moustachioed Sarge (Joe O’Brien, who literally somersaults onto the stage and maintains that momentum throughout), teaches men to kill or be killed; Rita’s novels show women, particularly her main moll Honey Babe (an outrageously busty, lusty Angela Smith), as red-dressed, red-lipsticked carnal dynamos.

Meanwhile, Rita and Penny -- along with that body snatcher, Pvt. Mack Jack (Emily Gibson, both vulnerable and hilarious in each role) -- exist much further down the charisma spectrum, sorting through their own personal trials the way regular people often do: clumsily, with poor judgment and mostly good intentions. 

Third Amendment issues aside, Jack’s unlawful occupation of Penny takes Cutler’s whacked-out fantasy in continually unpredictable directions. Like the bastard child of Charles Busch and Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, she mixes camp and crisis with gender identity and contemporary anxieties, and emerges with a work eclectic enough to keep it moving onstage, but rooted firmly enough in its humanity that the wheels are still turning afterward. Even the play’s many -- very funny -- dirty jokes have a double edge.

With Cutler’s pen, Blouin’s eye, the all-out cast of pros (amateur or not) and Lance Kniskern, whose red-walled, askew-angled set prepares us for Cutler’s off-kilter tone while hiding a few secrets of its own, this production runs like a well-oiled military machine. In a fall season loaded with heavy themes and full-frontal realism, Plays and Players’ left-field entry is a welcome respite, and a sneaky contender. 

Through Nov. 19 at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place. Tickets: $20 to $25. Information: 800-595-4TIX or www.PlaysandPlayers.org

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.

Philly Stage
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
Stay Connected