A well-interpreted script at Papermill Theater


John Rosenberg's intense new play is set on his birthday in 1976, but has nothing to do with him, only with the era. A week before his October birth, the leaders of Germany's terroristic Baader Meinhoff gang killed themselves in prison, and Rosenberg's Queen of All Weapons takes place in San Francisco, in the immediate aftermath.

In its 75 minutes, the play considers a number of themes - deceit, jealousy, revolution, the American involvement in Vietnam and Cambodia - by looking at the lives of two wasted black addicts and the white German woman terrorist (or revolutionary, if that's how you see it) who appears at their apartment door because one of them has misled her.

It turns out that long ago and far away, she bedded with one of the two men when he was in the service, and he has been writing her deceptive letters over the years, posing as a revolutionary. Now that her German colleagues have killed themselves, she has come to join him. She slowly discovers - but never grasps - that the '60s power-to-the-people movement is supplanted. It's now a culture of dopers.

That's the striking insight of Rosenberg's play, which is being performed on weekends at Papermill Theater in Kensington, where Rosenberg heads Hella Fresh Theatre.

The play, as a whole, doesn't rise beyond the level of a curiosity; its drug-snorting, heroin-shooting guys have little cogent to say and say it mostly in repetitive expletives.

After a short while, all this would be easily dismissed, but Rosenberg manages to trump his script as the play's director; he makes the interpretations of the characters likable, and uses three actors who flesh them out and make them seem everyday-natural.

Sebastian Cummings is the man whose letters attract the woman to appear at his door; James Tolbert is the snorter who shares the apartment (he has an easy laugh that drives his character), and Anna Watson - a German-born actress who lives in Philadelphia - is the woman.

All are compelling and serve up an example of how a script, well interpreted, takes on extra value.

Queen of All Weapons

Presented on weekends

by Hella Fresh Theatre

at the Papermill Theater,

2825 Ormes St.,

through July 19.

Tickets: $10. Information: www.hellafreshtheater.com.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Follow him on Twitter at #philastage. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.