Friday, February 5, 2016

Archive: January, 2012

POSTED: Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 3:34 PM

A memorial service for Jiri Zizka, co-founder of the modern Wilma Theater who died last week at his home in Philadelphia at age 58, is set for noon Monday.

The service, open to the public, will be at the theater, Broad and Spruce Streets, a Wilma spokesman said on Tuesday.  

howard shapiro @ 3:34 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 3:12 PM
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Steve Pacek (left), Erika Rose and Josh Tower in the Arden Theatre Company production of "Clybourne Park." Photo by Mark Garvin.

By Howard Shapiro

Clybourne Park, a provocative and funny play about the way people discuss race — has become a magical stage property, its rapid trajectory unstoppable.

The play, set in the same Chicago house that figured in Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, premiered just two years ago Off-Broadway, hit London 18 months ago, and then Washington. It got legs, as they say — and quickly — with recent productions in Toronto and Germany. In March, Clybourne Park won Britain’s prestigious Olivier Award, in April the Pulitzer Prize. A production that opened in Los Angeles last week moves directly to Broadway in the spring.

howard shapiro @ 3:12 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, January 30, 2012, 1:59 PM
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Amanda Damron (left) and Julia Frey try to support Kate Brennan in Luna Theatre Company's "Bachelorette." Photo by Aaron J. Oster.

By Howard Shapiro

The in-your-face play Bachelorette has one major element in common with the hit movie Bridesmaids — it’s about nasty gals who include a bride and her maid of honor on the eve of the wedding.

But Bachelorette, which opened Saturday night in a production by Luna Theater Company that purrs along in a super-dark funniness, has tons more drugs, booze, pills, sex, petty jealousies, gross dialogue and general excess — in other words, an altogether edgier script than the movie.

howard shapiro @ 1:59 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Sunday, January 29, 2012, 7:28 PM

By Howard Shapiro

Soon after Black History Month became a February fixture in the mid-1970s, professional stages in big cities around the country began to pick up on it, and for a time it seemed as though a growing canon of African American-themed plays would be available — but only in February.

As that collection of work has become richer and audiences have become more diverse, February has become a less visible month for such productions. Indeed, many artistic directors say they believe that relegating plays about race or African Americans to one month a season minimizes not just the work but the talent pool of black theater artists.

howard shapiro @ 7:28 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, January 26, 2012, 12:54 PM

By Wendy Rosenfield

Let’s make one thing clear: The Scottsboro Boys is not a minstrel show. It’s a musical, yes, the last by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb (book by David Thompson). It revives the characters and conventions of minstrelsy — there’s even a tap dance — and it’s plenty entertaining. But the difference is, this tale about a very real miscarriage of justice uses every element of the minstrel form, including that gruesome tap dance, performed before an electric chair, to highlight the viciousness and humiliations of racism.

Philadelphia Theatre Company, producing the show’s first post-Broadway incarnation, brings with it six members of the original cast, Susan Stroman’s arresting original direction and choreography (re-created by Jeff Whiting), Beowulf Borritt’s minimalist set (three wooden frames and a tangle of metal chairs), and Toni-Leslie James’ rough-hewn costumes. It also features some homegrown talent — including Eric Ebbenga, who provides sharp musical direction, and several Philly-based actors, including Forrest McClendon, a standout among standouts, returning to his Tony-nominated role as Mr. Tambo. This is handy, because I fully expect the show to sweep the 2012 Barrymore Awards, and it’s always gratifying when the cast is around to accept in person.

So, who were the boys? Well, for starters, they were indeed boys, nine of them, ranging in age from 12 to 19. All had the misfortune to be riding a train through Alabama in 1931, at the same time a pair of white prostitutes talked their way out of a solicitation charge. The women accused them of rape, and despite eight trials, significant public outrage, and one recanted accusation, the boys grew into men behind bars.
Fans of Kander and Ebb will recognize elements of their other work here, not just in its challenging subject, but also in the way the rousing “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!” recalls Cabaret’s “Willkommen,” or “Alabama Ladies” references Billy Flynn’s manipulation of Roxie Hart in Chicago’s “We Both Reached for the Gun.”

Wendy Rosenfield @ 12:54 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, January 26, 2012, 12:46 PM

The trouble with Kenneth Lin's Fallow, receiving its world premiere at People's Light & Theatre Company, begins at the beginning. Elizabeth Hayes (Mary Elizabeth Scallen), on a quest to visit her son Aaron's murderers in prison, first travels to California farm country, where Aaron was a migrant worker after dropping out of Cornell University. Upon her arrival in the Golden State -- helpfully, she's wearing a T-shirt that reads "California" -- Elizabeth immediately encounters Happy (Robert Montano), a Mexican gypsy-cab driver, who may know more about Aaron than he admits.

Lin never clarifies whether Elizabeth's meeting with Happy occurs by chance or design, though his play seems to claim both. But that's only the first problem in a drama so overstuffed that its plot devices have to jostle for attention with its bloated metaphoric flourishes. Think I'm exaggerating? Here's Elizabeth's description of a strawberry's flavor, which she claims tastes like leather: "Imagine you are riding through an orchard, and your horse's hooves are smashing rotten apples and you come to a stream and you stop and smell your hands. Isn't that it?" Well, no, not in real life or in its scripted naturalistic approximation, anyway.

Wendy Rosenfield @ 12:46 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, January 26, 2012, 8:30 PM
Jiri Zizka

By Howard Shapiro

Jiri Zizka defected from Czechoslovakia, joined a small Philadelphia theater company, and, with his then-wife Blanka Zizka, transformed it into the Wilma Theater — one of the city’s largest stage companies. On Tuesday, Mr. Zizka, 58, died of liver complications at his Philadelphia home.

The first news of his death appeared in a banner with his picture across the Wilma’s website late Wednesday, offering only his years of birth and death. That was all that remained on the site Thursday as his former wife, the Wilma’s artistic director, began to make plans that will eventually include a memorial service in Philadelphia, a theater spokesman said.

Howard shapiro @ 8:30 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, January 26, 2012, 12:15 AM
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Jiri Zizka

By Howard Shapiro

The Wilma Theater posted a banner across its website late Wednesday to announce that Jiri Zizka — a cofounder of the modern Wilma on Broad Street and a major force in Philadelphia’s evolution as a vibrant city for live theater — had died.

No details were posted and no one was reachable at the theater after 10:30 p.m., when word of the posting began to spread. Zizka, with his wife, Blanka Zizka, came from Czechoslovakia and formed a relationship with the theater company they would take over and move into new directions. Blanka Zizka continues to lead the company, among the city’s largest, which is currently presenting the play Body Awareness.

howard shapiro @ 12:15 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
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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