I’ll be in Atlanta this weekend, but if you’re in Illy you should have plenty to do.
FIRST OF ALL, for the sophisticated reader, there is Regency & Revelry, the Lantern Theater Company’s Jane Austen festival, a celebration of the author, her world, and Pride and Prejudice‘s bicentennial. Attractions include tea and dance lessons, book clubs, panels by local experts (who knew there were so many?), and a charming, infinitely watchable, three-hour-long adaptation of Emma. If I were in town, I’d be dragging my girlfriend to the tea thing. Check out my preview on Phindie: http://phindie.com/the-perfect-company-in-the-perfect-city-regency-and-revelry-at-lantern-theater-company-207/
SECONDLY, if you haven’t seen Do Not Push, you should consider it. It’s a constantly-engaging clown/slapstick show, Vladimir and Estragon without like all the sad and stuff. Consistently inventive and surprising for the 50 minutes it runs at Plays and Players upstairs theater. My full review: http://phindie.com/do-not-push-gdp-clown-symphony-205/.
THIRDLY, if you don’t like any of that, I can’t help you. Go out for brunch. I’ll be in Atlanta enjoy the last of the 75-degree weather. Have fun in the rain.
By the time the federal government shutdown was made official, most people already knew it was going to happen. I was dreading it – it meant that 70 x 7 The Meal, act XXXIV, which I was working on with Philly’s outrageously well-known Mural Arts Program, wouldn’t be able to happen.
A 900-person meal featuring food designed by Philly’s top chef Marc Vetri, it was to be the 34th in a series of massive, all-inclusive, community-oriented dining experiences formulated by Paris-based artists Lucy + Jorge Orta; the coming-together of so many people, and the discussion focusing on specific issues important to Philadelphia’s community, is a work of art in and of itself. The plates and the table runner were designed specifically for this event, and everyone who sat at the table was to be part of a piece of visual and performative art. But it was meant to be set at Philly’s historic Independence Hall National Park – a manicured lawn spanning more than two blocks in front of Independence Hall, and also a federal park.
Luckily, at very much the last minute, a relocation was green-lighted: to the Thomas Paine Plaza at the Municipal Services Building overlooking City Hall. Few Philadelphians know the name of the space, but everyone knows the space, with its oversized statue of Frank Rizzo tripping down the stairs, and its even more memorable (and massive) Monopoly hat and wheelbarrow, Sorry pieces, toppling dominos, and bingo tokens scattered about. An odd space clustered somewhat fecklessly with public art gone to rust (beside the graffitied game pieces and Rizzo, there’s also an oddly-proportioned Ben Franklin at a Gutenberg press, as well as the blubbery Covenant of the People), it’s at least as eye-catching and Philly-centric as Love Park across the street, if less famous and well-loved.
Honestly, the Thomas Paine Plaza is the kind of space I adore: I have no idea how it was every green-lighted, it’s bizarrely accessible and yet not. It also makes for a pretty fantastic setting for a dinner on a sunny day:
My role in the project was to coordinate RSVPs and oversee recruitment and training of the 130 volunteers needed to make things run smoothly. All told, a successful event. Everyone seemed pretty pleased, and because of the considerable amount of support I had in that role, the volunteers were well-oriented and knew what they were doing.
The tables took some time to fill up. They never did, not completely. Though every seat was RSVPed for, some didn’t show.
Which was cool, because that meant that we got to invite the general public in – people who otherwise would never have heard about the event, despite Mural Arts’ publicizing it pretty broadly, or may never have thought of themselves as the kinds of people who would sign up for it.
Volunteers, too, all got to take places at the table and enjoy the beautiful food.
And some people who wanted a more intimate dining experience could have it.
When the tables filled up, they made for gorgeous images.
In some cases, we were very successful:
Then everyone went home, and City Hall presided over the breakdown:
Coolest project I’ve worked on in a while. My bosses were talented and dedicated, my volunteers, particularly those from the staff at Mural Arts, were devoted, creative and straightforward about performing their tasks. Our partners were wonderful to work with. And as much as The Meal would have been gorgeous at Independence Mall, the gritty inner city setting, not to mention the last-minute scramble, added an extra layer of meaning which I would have been absent otherwise. After all, as a space that’s normally clustered with Philly’s homeless community, it was the site of a public memorial for homeless citizens last winter, and in 2011 was the site of a minor scuffle between police and Occupy Philadelphia.
Also, my girlfriend came in at the last minute and worked for nearly twenty hours on the project as a sort of Chief Volunteer, making mine and a lot of other people’s jobs a hell of a lot easier. So go her.
My previous article about Victor Fiorillo’s review of A Doll’s House – and the larger responsibilities of reviewers – was reposted on Phindie. Fiorillo responded – succinctly – and I have since submitted a response. Hopefully this will be a discussion rather than a duel, cuz he’s cleverer than I am.
I can’t even keep track of what I’ve posted here and what I haven’t. I love and hate Fringe right now. I’m excited to go back to something like normal time, if that ever every happens.
Thing is, I have to admit, walking out of Pay Up both my girlfriend and I were disappointed. I’m not gonna explain the show here, because so many people have, but there is a lot going on, and as an audience member, you often find yourself latching on to one element of a show to find meaning. And the one that both of us grabbed was the little shows – the eight beautifully performed little dramas, only six of which you get to see.
Well, in the end, these are a bit sparse, even – it places – a bit predictable.
In a weird way, I think that this show is about disappointment, and anger, and irritation and impatience, and other negative emotions. Since life is a constant disappointment and irritation, we can hardly say it’s unfair. Art often attempts to create negative emotions – but the problem is that the initiated theater-lovers smile wryly, nodding to show that they get it, but only aesthetically – like a cheesy horror movie, we know what’s going on. And the non-initiated don’t come back, or just say vaguely that they didn’t like it, but they aren’t sure why.
Give into the negative emotions, treat every moment of Pay Up as part of the drama, and you get a whole different story.
Also worth commenting on is this review of A Doll’s House by Victor Fiorillo.
From my experience so far, Fiorillo is not anti-small theater nor is he the kind of reviewer who patently enjoys destroying companies and shows, so it is a bit puzzling to me how he could write some of the stuff in here. Lines like “[the audience’s] lukewarm (that’s generous) response at the end of the performance” seem to be completely fabricated; the audience around me seemed to enjoy the show even more than I did.
But “this show is not fit for public consumption”; I wonder if a reviewer should ever pen this. Does anyone reading this paragraph think that it’s an okay thing to say? Particularly for a show that has a lot of value in it. I wouldn’t say that this is the best show in the festival, nor near EgoPo’s or Brenna Geffers’ potential. However, it’s still great in a lot of ways and I think that any general audience (not one with Fiorillo’s or my high expectations) will enjoy the shit out of it.
“. . . not fit for public consumption.”
Not to be snitty, but maybe “consumption” is too much on Fiorillo’s mind. His article starts with two paragraphs of lamenting an empty belly and the anxiety of getting to his next show on time. That can make me like a show less than I should. I’d rather not chalk it up to lack of professionalism. But I wonder if anyone reading this can tell me: is it the reviewer’s role to say that a show is absolute shit?
Particularly when it’s actually pretty good?
It exists in the between-area; it’s not fully realized dramatic orgasm, like Ajax: the Madness; but it is surely not worth the panning Fiorillo gave it. Yet that review, which is the first that comes up on Google when you search for EgoPo and A Doll’s House, is surely going to cut down on audiences until the end of the run. Cheers to those audience members who, in the comments below, give their own opinion. Notice that no one in the comments agrees with Fiorillo’s opinion.
This is part of a larger discussion on the role of the reviewer, which I am slowly learning about. Here are two much more well-thought-out discussions about it.
So it’s been a while, but FringeArts is going on at a frantic, impossible pace, and I will have reviews going up. My general article on the Fringe and how it works was posted at Art Attack last week: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/art_attack/The-living-breathing-arts.html. I’m very happy to say that no Philly.commers have commented on it yet – everyone is keeping their bigoted mouths shut. That, or no one is reading it – but I welcome your informed opinions and feedback!
If there had been nothing of worth this year besides Attis Theater’s Ajax: The Madness, then I would have called the festival a success. Nearly every year there is one Presented show which changes the way I look at theater and the world around me, and this is the one. Unfortunately, it was also my first show, and though I will try not to let its excellence color the way I see every other show in the fest, it may somehow alter my perspective until next year’s Fringe. My brief review at Phindie is here.
And of course the incomparable Aaron Cromie and Mary Tuomanen have created their Saint Joan: Betrayed.My preview piece is a bit out of date now (and, I later learned, a little bit untrue). This will be one of the front-runners in the Neighborhood Fringe. Cromie said in our interview that Tuomanen is “a chameleon” and that “people will really dig that she can become so many things.” This is absolutely true. It is a constantly pleasant experience, and there are some shocks and laughs that come out of Cromie’s toy theaters, as well.
What should you see that’s still going on? Well, definitely check out On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God at the Suzanne Roberts Theater. That’s just this weekend. It isn’t pleasant, but it is insanely powerful. It’s one of those plays that will actually change you. Pig Iron’s Pay Up is really interesting, and The Quiet Volume is a must-see. I have reviews of all of them coming . . . eventually . . . at Art Attack’s whim, really.
In this article I’m going to talk about three shows I’ve reviewedthis week; Noir by GDP Productions, The Homosexuals as part of Quince Productions’ GayFest!, and Two Noble Kinsmen, a free Shakespeare production of The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. I will also offer a series of images which show different ways in which one play—in this case, 2NK—could be designed, as alternatives to the relatively basic design of PST’s show.
A very exciting theater company (I’d like to say “new” but just unknown to me and, it seems, the internet), GDP Productions, put together a show called Noir, featuring five local playwrights offering homage to that genre. It wasn’t uniformly great . . . but it definitely offered something new. The company makes “quick, twisted, cool, cheap” theater. I got to do a brief review on phindie, and there’s an interview on Art Attack with the head honcho, and director of Noir, James Kiesel. I didn’t do the interview.
In the slightly more main-stage world, Quince Productions is presenting The Homosexuals, Philip Dawkins’ much-acclaimed comedy about relationships and American gay culture in the 2000’s, and The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s annual free production, Two Noble Kinsmen, is closing this weekend.
I wrote about one for Phindie and one for Art Attack already. Both plays are worth seeing for different reasons. Dawkins’ award-nominee play is certainly a modern masterwork, the kind of play which could be taught in the classroom (in thirty years’ time, of course) for plotting, character-design and structure. It’s pretty mainstream in all of these aspects. Thematically it is slightly blue, considering itself with homosexual relationships and showing a few raunchy same-sex encounters, and the relationships are portrayed so honestly and fairly that the play is easily relatable to a straight audience, even one not interested in gay culture – though of course this easy relatability between the two worlds is what makes the play truly powerful.
What strikes me about this play are A) the steady breakdown of the friend group and, with it, the dissolution of youthful naiveté (20-year-old Evan arrives in Chicago hoping to find a “family”; over the course of ten years he sleeps with most of the people in that family, and they all end up talking behind one-another’s backs; by 2010 he breaks up with the last of them), and B) the depiction of 20’s careering and carousing.
These days, with everyone wanting to have their own career – that’s right, women too – and with jobs being unreliable and unstable, the 20’s are spent drinking box wine in one-another’s living rooms, reading books or watching Netflix in your own house, and working jobs you aren’t particularly happy about.
The Homosexuals is honest about this. Evan has a job, but it is clear that he doesn’t feel at home there, and he never seems to become much of a professional. Tam quits her promising university career to follow the idealistic route of serving underprivileged kids in urban schools; she quickly loses that idealism. Peter directs fringe theater for a living, and is broke; only British Mark seems to have a good career and a solid paycheck. No one looks like much of an adult, nor, as Evan spends an entire decade trying to find himself, is there much of an idea of what an “adult” is.
Two Noble Kinsmen is worth seeing, if not only for the fact that it is at times very funny, also for the unusual choice of play (will you ever see Two Noble Kinsmen again? would you read it on your own?) and the inventive direction of Aaron Cromie.
That’s not to say that there are no good performances. There are great scenes here, like all of The Jailer’s Daughter’s monologues. More often, this play, as it is part of a teaching series, is more of a pleasure in that you see the artists in-process; these are not accomplished actors dancing through a masterwork, but recent theater initiates struggling with a bizarre text and its weird characters. There are delightful moments and interesting choices, daring ones which accomplished actors might not go for.
In summer 2012 at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre Aaron Cromie directed Titus Andronicus, another rarely produced Shakespeare, though for different reasons. Two NobleKinsmen is unpopular because there is little in it which isn’t done better in other Shakespeares. Titus productions are scant because it is so wildly violent that most companies don’t know what to do with it.
Cromie knew what to do with Titus; also an accomplished puppeteer and designer, he studied up on France’s Grand Guignol, crafted some incredible puppets, hired Natalia de la Torre as his costumer, and bought a shit-ton of fake blood to spray all over the audience. He also cut it down to an absurdly short length of two hours, pulled laughs out of the poetry like loose threading out of an H&M t-shirt, and only then dug into the emotional reality and sickening violence of Shakespeare’s swaggering first tragedy.
Two Noble Kinsmen felt like it could have done with a bit more cutting, and a more focused concept. Cromie shot for a straight-forward production here; an admirable shot at invigorating a not-great script yielded mediocre results. Most of his jokes play very well, and the production is worth going to for laughs alone. But the drama is not always such a hit; it is at times laughable itself, and at times simply drags.
This one here is about breastfeeding. A local Philadelphia photographer, Tammy Bradshaw felt drawn to add some reality to her work.
Specializing in family photography, Tammy is often asked to photograph women breastfeeding their infants. “But never in public,” says Tammy – always at home, or in beautiful green landscapes.
Tammy, who had struggled with doubt over whether or not it was okay to beastfeed her daughter Rayna in public, has created an exhibition of black-and-white woodprint photos of women feeding their children. The women are in some well-known Philadelphia locales, and her gorgeous images point out that there is nothing controversial about feeding a child.
Pay attention to the comments at the bottom. Unlike on the articles I have published about gay theater, when the trolls came knocking, some less bigoted readers went to bat for the piece, and seem to have won a rational battle. Compare with the stream of distasteful comments which followed this one.
Meanwhile, talking about GayFest!, I have a review of their opening production here, at Phindie.com. Phindie, whom I’ve just hooked up with to cover the huge influx of theater coming over the next couple of months with GayFest! and FringeArts, is a bright, fresh, new blog created to review and support Philly’s independent theater. They’ve re-posted some of the articles from this blog, too. Which is nice.