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Archive: July, 2012

POSTED: Thursday, July 26, 2012, 5:56 PM

By Howard Shapiro

'Lord, what fools these mortals be!" Shakespeare writes in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and given how he operated in the theater of his day, he could have been referring to the way plays are done today. A costume designer!? Whoever heard of such a thing? Someone to plan . . . what is that word . . . lighting? Preposterous! And what is this director? Another foolish piece of nonsense, methinks.

The theater now has plenty of, as producers say, "creative-team members," but even the idea of a director would have been foreign before the 19th century. So it's an act of professional courage (plus a declaration of machismo) that the 17 cast members of King John, which opens Thursday at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival near Quakertown, signed on to do the play the way they did it back then.

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POSTED: Monday, July 23, 2012, 12:57 PM
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Christopher Patrick Mullen (left) as Mr. Hart, Michael Doherty as a reporter and Richard Ruiz as Mr. Brown in the People's Light & Theatre production of "Mr. Hart & Mr. Brown."

By Howard Shapiro

The only thing I hate about Bruce Graham’s new play, Mr. Hart & Mr. Brown, is that I can't really tell you much about it without giving away its several surprises. And if you see it at people Light & Theatre Company, where it's getting a remarkable world premiere and is an engrossing story for a summer's night, you shouldn’t either.

Let everyone be as pleasantly surprised as you’ll be. Graham, the prolific Philadelphia-based playwright who gets better with each new work, takes Mr. Hart & Mr. Brown straight from a footnote to American history — like many footnotes, quirky and hard-to-believe and about a character well-known for a time and now completely faded from the national psyche.

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POSTED: Monday, July 23, 2012, 4:02 PM

By Howard Shapiro

Here’s something that might happen with a play, but not with a movie: You go to see it again and because of a different interpretation, or the way an ensemble clicks, or maybe a fresh staging that literally moves the play in a new direction, it’s as if you’ve never seen it before. The production you’re watching has given it a new and different life.

That’s what’s happening at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, where Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, an American classic, is playing out as if our besotted, bewitched and brilliant playwright of the last century had written it last night.

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POSTED: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 1:31 AM
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Caroline Crocker, as Titania, falls under a spell with Adam Altman, as Bottom, in Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo by Alexandra Orgera.

By Howard Shapiro

Oh, those crazy, mixed-up Athenian kids of yore. In the spirited telling of the Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they are tricked by the magic of the forest, and in a setting that suits their many confusions well: Wilmington’s Rockwood Mansion Park.

There, bookended by two willow trees, the able cast plays out Shakespeare’s  popular comedy, and also bows to the festival’s history. Midsummer was the first production of the festival 10 years ago.

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POSTED: Monday, July 16, 2012, 1:19 PM
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Shakespeare's dueling couple Beatrice, played by Eleanor Handley, and Benedick, Rob Kahn, in "Much Ado About Nothing," at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival in Center Valley. Photo by Lee A. Butz.

By Howard Shapiro

Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare’s comedy built on tricksters at every turn, is much ado about making good theater at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, where it opened Friday night in a greatly entertaining production.

James J. Christy’s version sweeps fluidly through the plot, one of Shakespeare’s simplest, which he spun by getting mileage out of a successful play he’d already created — The Taming of the Shrew. Acrimonious lovers do well on stage, he’d found, and set up Much Ado’s Beatrice and Benedick as bickering opposites who’ve known each other a long time and eventually  come to see that they’re not so opposite after all.

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POSTED: Friday, July 13, 2012, 2:21 PM
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Eric Scotolati (left), Paul Parente, Kristen Egermeier in "Our Town."

By Howard Shapiro

Our Town
is one of the most delectable old chestnuts of the American stage and also one of its great paradoxes — a thoroughly life-affirming play that when it’s done best, makes you feel sad.

Some productions of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 masterpiece sweep happy-go-luckily through the cycle of life in little fictional Grovers Corners, N.H., and even the third act, in a cemetery, comes off soft. But the finest Our Towns make you cry, or want to. They accentuate the life-changes when every gain means something lost — for instance, the young bride and groom, about to march down the aisle, realize they are giving up their protection and a part of their youth.

That scene in Act 2 is especially nicely played in the Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company production of Our Town that opened Thursday night on the grounds of the Abington Arts Center in Montgomery County, and will travel to areas parks and public spaces, changing venues nightly over the next two weeks. Except for a cloud cover that blocked the real stars referred to in the third act, opening night was beautiful and the verdant location was perfect for the show, done with a bare-bones (a little too bare-bones) set of two ladders, chairs and a clothesline.

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POSTED: Friday, July 13, 2012, 3:18 PM

[/BYCREDIT][DROP3]Opening night at the intimate Wilma Theater always seems a bit like a family reunion, and never more so than when it involves BalletX<NO1>cq<NO>, the Wilma’s resident dance company. Theater and dance crowds are loyally supportive and talkative, and I don’t doubt that many friendships, even romances, evolve during lobby chats like those that took place Wednesday evening<NO1>11<NO>.
BalletX r[KERN+3]egularly conceives scintillating programs — mysterious, sexy, funny, and surprising. Tobin Del<NO1>cq<NO> Cuore’s [/DROP3][ITALIC]Beside Myself, [/ITALIC]premiered by the company in 2010, looked totally different against Matt Saunders’ talcum powder-white set for the Wilma’s Blanka Ziska-directed [ITALIC]Angels in America[/ITALIC] ([ITALIC]Part One[/ITALIC] closed last week<NO1>7/1<NO>; [ITALIC]Part Two[/ITALIC] opens in September).
[/KERN+3]The set’s doors offered dramatic shafts of light that gave the work the feel of a paperback pulp novel cover. Accenting that feeling were the Ben Frost score’s suspensefully held chords and the spooky, squat-legged entrance of Colby Damon and Jesse Sani, who wore hoodies over Martha Chamberlain’s turquoise leotards. They could have been casing the joint for a robbery — or looking for robbers. Then Anitra N. Keegan and Allison Walsh came on the scene. Walsh was alluring in a duet with Damon, whom I may have underappreciated in the past. Either that or he has developed heightened expressiveness and precision. Their lyrical pas de deux was the crux of this piece.
[KERN+3]Damon excelled in all the works, most especially with self-deprecating nerdiness in the world premiere of Adam Hougland’s comic[/KERN+3][KERN+3][ITALIC] Mashup[/ITALIC]. His antic impishness was a foil for the more deadpan Tara Keating, Adam Hundt, Willy Laury, and Jaime Lennon as they all jammed themselves onto one sofa and then squeezed each other off.
[/KERN+3][KERN+3]Keating took the spotlight when she flung open a door announcing herself as the femme fatale she is. In high-top black platform boots and black bustier and panties, she blithely kicked Hundt and Laury away before tossing them a long-stemmed rose from between her thighs. Lennon was also marvelous as the kinkily clueless librarian-type “virgin” in fishtail glasses. Again, Chamberlain gets the costumes spot-on, matching them to Big Daddy’s spoofs of such ’80s tunes as “Like a Virgin.”
[/KERN+3]Differences in [ITALIC]Sections[/ITALIC], another world premiere, by Darrell Grand Moultrie<NO1>cq<NO>, featured a meltingly beautiful solo by Walsh in a Chamberlain-designed persimmon full-length gown. Walsh, who excited me last spring when I first saw her, wore the same color kneepads for the violent falls she took after some very Martha Graham-inspired contractions.
Color informed the choreography here as much as the gorgeous piano/violin music of Kenji Bunch: deep cherry reds on Keegan, Keating, and Lennon. Moultrie found ways to re-inform the space by working with company lighting designer Drew Billiau to throw shadows of William Cannon, Sani, Damon, and Hundt on the white walls, creating a sculptural, museum feel. Give artists a canvas and they will fill it with beauty.
[SHIRTTAIL][10PTLEAD]Additional performances:[/10PTLEAD] Through Sunday at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. Tickets: $22-$35. 215-546-7824.

By Merilyn Jackson


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POSTED: Thursday, July 12, 2012, 12:41 PM


By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

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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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