Total Pageviews

Popular Posts

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 2014 City Beat ICON MAGAZINE——————————————————— by Thom Nickels

Every Philadelphia theater company has its cultish following. The Wilma crowd looks different from the opening night audience at Suzanne Roberts, while Walnut Street Theater people are worlds away from Theatre Exile. We visited Plays and Players recently to see Theatre Exile’s performance of Sam Shepard’s “True West,” a black comedy about what happens when two deranged writer brothers compete to win the attention of a fast talking producer. We had hopes for this play before things went Animal House. One brother attacked the stage set with a golf club before turning it on a typewriter. The scene made us think of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar-smashing. Applause at the end was tepid, though one person stood up and cheered as if intent on igniting a standing ovation. The shoe-box structure of P&P makes the flow of large crowds there painful at best. At the reception (three flights up narrow stairs) patrons helped themselves to fabulous food, though not many were able to get a drink at the dollhouse bar. Unlike opening nights elsewhere, P&P has a one-drink ticket policy. We spent twenty minutes trying to get the bartender’s attention, but even flashing money like those rammy
dudes at Delilah’s Den didn’t work. We looked (in vain) for a golf club to use as an attention-getter then decided to call it quits. On the way out, we noticed the dedicated staff working hard to clean up the Shepard’s pie on stage.

When the Center City District announced plans for a redesign of Dilworth Plaza, we wondered what would become of Emlen Etting’s public sculpture, Phoenix Rising, a memorial to former mayor Richardson Dilworth. Etting (1905-1993), a Philadelphia blueblood bisexual married to the former Gloria Braggiotti, lived on Panama Street, and knew everybody from Hemingway to Henry McIlhenny. It’s not often that the home of a Philadelphia gentleman artist gets raided, but that’s what happened in 1958 when Emlen hosted a party for the cast of The World of Suzy Wong, and a neighbor called police to complain about noise. Etting contacted then-Mayor Dilworth about the “Gestapo tactics of Center City police,” implicating Capt. Frank L. Rizzo, who wrote the original police report. Not only did Rizzo insist that the police had been polite, but after his election as mayor he turned a deaf ear when the artist needed City Hall’s help around the time of Phoenix Rising’s installation. We visited the Rizzo statue recently and saw that it was holding up well… aside from pigeon droppings on the shoes. We found that the most intricate part of the sculpture is the shoelaces. They are so authentic looking it’s easy to imagine a passing toddler trying to unlace them. When tourists are not photographing the sculpture, they’re positioning themselves (for selfies) with their arms draped around Frank’s thighs. The statue must be the least vandalized sculpture in the city, even if its frozen wave is anything but benevolent, at least for Etting. We see the Rizzo wave as a get lost gesture to Phoenix Rising, moved last year to an area near Society Hill Towers. Etting would not have wanted that since the piece was designed for the Plaza, not condos in the sky.

We headed over to painter Elizabeth Osborne’s house for a party and met former Inquirer cartoonist, Tony Auth. The winter soiree massaged our spirits and brought news that the Grand Dame of Philly painters is also the daughter of architect Paul Cret. While munching on tasty edibles, we followed Liz’s suggestion to rotate seats so we could chat with everybody present. Auth, who appeared months ago at a public lecture with Charles Croce at the Philadelphia History Museum, mentioned where his papers would go when he’s no longer around. “We’re getting to the age now where you have to think of these things,” Liz added. It’s not possible to talk to Auth without bringing up the old Inquirer, so the comments drifted to that hybrid Inquirer-Daily News creation,, which has evolved into a salacious, tabloid-like broadside where breaking news amounts to the misadventures of a so-called Swiss cheese ‘pervert,’ or random teachers caught having sex with students. How does the spawn of a Pulitzer Prize-winning empire wind up in the sewers? Auth suggested it might be because Inky-DN head honchos have staffed with twenty-something “editors” who think the tabloid style is way cool. We were relieved to hear this, since we didn’t think it was the handiwork of Daily News Editor Michael Days, who seemed fairly respectable when we met at the Franklin Inn some time ago.


Poet Frank Sherlock has been selected to succeed Sonia Sanchez as the city’s 2014 Poet Laureate. We wish Sherlock well in putting together a public face even though we’re surprised to hear so many say that they’ve never read his poetry. Poets are the opposite of politicians: The raw, unfiltered juice from the Muse caused Ginsberg to take to the harmonica, W.H. Auden to begin wearing bedroom slippers, and Hart Crane to jump
into the sea from the stern of the Olympia. We’re sure Sherlock is more the Wallace Stevens type, stable and constant, though we’re pretty sure he knew he was the winner when we saw him at Dirty Frank’s the night before the announcement. He had a different look on his face then. Was it a shadow cast from the weight of City Hall?


Is the Nutter administration determined to leave its design mark on the city? Like the re-make of Dilworth Plaza—where a plastic cheese grater structure that makes us think of patio furniture is slowly rising—JFK Plaza (LOVE Park) is headed for a redo.
The 15-million rehab job (city tax dollars) will rid the plaza of the (slippery when wet) terraced surfaces, add more greenery, and add one or more food concession stands. Something’s wrong when the city has to sell assets in order to pay current expenses. The impetus behind the rehab is the poor condition of the parking garage underneath the plaza, so to “do” the bottom you have to “do” the top—despite the fact that the Plaza has just been rehabbed. We say bring back the skateboarders. Skateboarders provide entertainment and keep the homeless to a minimum. Both
Mayor Nutter and City Council President Darrell L, Clarke want food courts on the Plaza, but just as every blank wall doesn’t need a mural, so LOVE Park doesn’t need a café or a food concession stand. LOVE Park can do without an overpriced Stephen Starr commissary, or a mini-Rouge with a lineup of fancy dogs (in sunglasses) eating alongside their owners.


We like the Barnes Museum as much as the next person, so when we heard that there’s a rule there against visitors doing sketches (in notebooks) of the paintings on the wall, we wondered why. Sketching makes no noise and it is an intensely private endeavor, and yet to be caught sketching in the Barnes is tantamount to lighting up in front of a Degas. No such taboo exists at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We know that Barnes was a fussy curmudgeon, and that many of his in-house Merion rules were of the “stick-in-the-mud” illogical kind. While it’s true that a case can be made for our friend Katharine being asked to leave after photographing a painting there, even at PMA they
would first ask you to put the camera away before kicking you out. We somehow imagined that the Barnes would be so grateful for having sidestepped Albert’s will that they would err on the side of generosity when it comes to the little stuff.

At any City Hall press conference, broadcast journalism always sets the tone with its cameras, testing of lights, and the constant moving of cameras to different angles in the room. We were constantly switching seats at the last press event as different broadcast cameramen (they are usually men) kept moving their cameras, blocking all views of the podium. This game of musical chairs continued until we found a safe haven toward the front. Observing other journalists in the room, it was easy to locate the talking heads with their stamped NBC 10 jackets. Compared to the invisible notepad-holding print journalists, who wore no jackets or name tags and who for the most part had no identifiable “faces,” the broadcasters seemed like first class Titanic passengers as compared to we print ruffians in third class.
The big moment in any press conference comes when the mayor’s entourage enters the room. Then it is a single file procession of bigwigs, faces you’d recognize in
the news, the usual suspects in dark suits. Like a chorus line, they know how to assemble around the podium near the speaker. Since this announcement was about the new Mormon construction at 16th and Vine Streets, the city officials were up front with most of the Mormon delegation standing off to the side.
The mayor spoke first. He’s a good public speaker. We like speakers who make eye contact with the audience. Standing directly beside the mayor was City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, in his trademark Clark Kent glasses. Clarke’s speaking style isn’t as forceful as the Mayor Nutter’s. In fact, it has an “aw shucks” shy, self-effacing quality to it, as if he was insecure about speaking in public. At the Q and A, the mayor’s tone was politician sharp. There’s a knack to delivering one word answers, like “Yes” or “No,” and doing this in a way that makes the delivery sound like the crack of a whip. We call it press conference-speak, something that most seasoned politicians have learned to master. (Clarke is also a very tall man, so seeing him standing beside the mayor made us think—for the first time—about the mayor’s height.)
The end of a press conference is always anti-climactic. The political suits disappear first; journalists scatter to the four winds, and the cameramen are usually the last to leave.

March 1, 2014
Emlen Etting with self-portrait.
Tony Auth.
Frank Sherlock.
Featuring Jeb Kreager & Brian Osborne with Joe Canuso & E. Ashley Izard. Directed by Matt Pfeiffer
Plans for Dilworth Plaza.
Barnes Museum.
Mormon Temple.
March 2014