I’m always surprised at Philly’s arbitrary scope on “classics.” Shakespeare’s got a strong hold here, even just with the Philly Shakes (who does three per year) and the Lantern’s one. (I frankly don’t need to see more than four Shakespeare plays per year). Somehow Gogol’s made a comeback (which I love), and Gombrowicz pops up from time to time (which is a treat).
I’m reminded, though, of the huge gaps in our repertory when one is, briefly, filled. Next month George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man is playing at Quintessence Theatre. Despite the fact that Shaw has written about 60 plays, had a particular propensity for both witty and insightful dialogue, and a body of work which ranges from the hugely popular Pygmalion (famously adapted into the musical My Fair Lady) to the dense, verbose, difficult to grasp, 260 page-long (over 400 pgs with the prefaces) Back to Methuselah (my favorite), I’ve absolutely never seen a Shaw playing in Philly before now.
Down and dirty contemporary theater gets a satisfying breadth of expression, and a lot of new shows are created right here. There are a number theater groups staging readings of new plays, or creating their own shows from scratch. There is an exclusivity developing here, including world-renowned institutions like Pig Iron and FringeArts, which make me happy to be located here rather than anywhere else.
Philly’s homegrown shows often feature an intriguing combination of arts, hitting on painting, sculpture, improv, puppetry, and music on their way to theater. Some, like the Plato’s Porno Cave programming at Little Berlin, promise to incorporate performance or film into a multidisciplinary event with its focus on visual arts or even philosophical titillations.
Here’s a brief calendar of shows/events to see between now and April 1st.
Now-3/28: A Play, a Pie and a Pint – Tiny Dynamite. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays this month (check site for specific dates and performances) Tiny Dynamite is continuing their A Play, a Pie and a Pint series. This concept combines your love for pizza and beer with your loves for low-key theater and cheap nights out.
Now-3/29: Plato’s Porno Cave – Little Berlin. This month-long project is curated by Philadelphia artists/performers/writers Gus Depenbrock and Marshall James Kavanaugh. The programming, which ranges from musical folklore to shamans to movie nights to acrobatics, freakshows and knife-throwing, ushers in a New World of expression, being, and alternative finances. Really, though – Depenbrock, Kavanaugh and their collaborators have invented a space and a reality in Kensington which defy your normal expectations of a night out, and will disorient, charm, entertain and maybe unsettle you.
Now-4/14: Henry V – Lantern. This is on here mainly because Henry V is definitely Shakespeare’s best history, though I will say that the Lantern does a good job with their Shakey.
3/18: Bad Monster – Theatre Exile. Staged reading, part of a new play development series.
3/20 – 4/7: The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini – EgoPo. EgoPo has put on some of the best productions I have seen in Philadelphia: Woyzeck, Marat/Sade, Endgame. Unfortunately, none of these landmarks productions have been recent. However, that doesn’t mean that Houdini won’t be fantastic – after all, it’s directed by Brenna Geffers, who doesn’t shy away from the grim and violent.
3/27-4/6: Wide Awake: a Civil War Cabaret – Bearded Ladies Cabaret. Cross-dressing and bawdiness ensured. The last show I saw by the BLC was their homage to German expressionism and Marlene Dietrich featuring re-workings of songs by Paul McCartney, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and Mr. Rogers. Absolutely over the top, bizarre, charming and unpredictable. Expect more of the same.
4/1: Scratch Night – Painted Bride. Gritty, personal, and interactive. One of the most exciting developments in Philadelphia theater, the The Live Arts Festival – now called FringeArts – gives two or three artists, on the first Monday of every month, the space to show a working chunk of whatever it is they’re developing. Followed by a question-answer session.