We sat near Inquirer theater critic Toby Zinman at the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective’s (PAC) production of Mary Stuart, Friedrich Schiller’s 1800 play about two warring queens, and sensed that she was going to give the Dan Hodge-directed work a high grade. It’s talent that counts, not the theater space. PAC is in a far more humble space than the Wilma’s rustic beginning theater on Sansom Street. The Broad Street Ministry (PAC’s home base when the company is not using other venues) might as well be a basketball court sans stage. It must be difficult for actors to have an audience so close to their field of action. We were seated in the front row and had to be careful not to stretch out our legs and possibly trip Queen Elizabeth (Krista Apple-Hodge) or Mary Stuart (Charlotte Northeast) as they paced and gestured. More leg shifting occurred when the ensemble of Elizabethan characters came and went in a flurry of busyness. The Tudor-evoking interior of BSM was more than suitable for this particular play even if we had to pay close attention to the Elizabethan dialogue. A quick recitation of Elizabethan English can produce indecipherable language puzzles. Act II was so dazzling, we didn’t even hear the police sirens on Broad Street.
Are some events in the city considered too grand for press coverage? We’re thinking of the Grand Season Finale Gala and Concert honoring Marguerite and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest at the Kimmel Center. Though we put our press bid in early, ticket sales for the cocktail dress attire soiree, which included dinner and a concert in Verizon Hall, soared so high we were informed that there wouldn’t be enough food to feed working staff or event organizers. We sat this one out but were happy to learn that the Gala raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Curtis. Of course, the best way to avoid a food planning glitch is to invite press before ticketing begins or, barring that, invite press to the opening cocktail party, but not the dinner.
We did eventually find a cozy welcome at Art Unleashed 2014, the University of the Arts’ fundraiser that supports student-artist scholarships with the sale of artwork from students, faculty and alumni. No food shortages plagued Hamilton Hall. We didn’t find writer Camille Paglia (a UArts Professor of Humanities and Media Studies), but we met the very open, Harvard-bred president, Sean T. Buffington, the Pope Francis of academics who hosts student events like Pizza with the President.
Don Juan made us think of the “large cast” anti-conformist, anti-Hollywood Robert Altman films. In this Blanka Zizka-directed work, a Mother Divine character appears when Don Juan arranges to spend a night in the Divine Lorraine Hotel. Later, Mother Teresa appears to the beleaguered vet, only in Vogel’s world she is a “Missionary Position” atheist. The play, while hugely engaging, is not without a feminist catechism lesson or two regarding the soldier’s treatment of women. The poignant ending—Don Juan holding a handmade cardboard sign, Help a Homeless Vet—was sadly all too familiar.
Vogel’s Mother Divine reminded us of our visit to Mother Divine’s Gladwyne mansion several years ago when we were guests at a banquet. The white banquet table sat about 60 people. A swan on a lake of glass was the centerpiece. Women outnumbered men about ten to one. Mother sat at the head of the table; beside her was a setting for (the long dead) Father Divine. Dinner began when she rang a large hand bell. A female cook in a white uniform produced the platters from a small kitchen. Platters holding salads, vegetables, condiments and sauces set the pace for more complicated dishes offering meats and fish, rice, potatoes, breads, and more vegetables and meats. When platters are passed from one diner to another, they must never touch the table. Diners must also not hold two platters at the same time, so the synchronization of the plate passing had the movements of a dance. While this was happening, we listened to an old audio tape of a Father Divine sermon. The mostly elderly crowd—men in suits and women in Peace Mission uniforms with a beret and a jacket embossed with a V—combined eating with the singing of hymns. A few elderly white women, European by birth, clapped their hands in sing-song fashion between mouthfuls.
The city’s official Benjamin Franklin impersonator, Ralph Archbold, greeted us at the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Franklin-Lavoisier Prize Ceremony. We hadn’t seen Archbold since his stroke in June 2010. This got us thinking about “unofficial” Franklin impersonators who seemed to multiply when Archbold was out sick. At the CHF affair (which honored chemist/historian Fred Aftalion), we also met (impersonator) Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), called the Father of Chemistry, who at the age of 28 in 1771 married the 13-year-old Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze. When we shook Monsieur Lavoisier’s hand, we warned him that times have changed, and that there are now retroactive laws that make one liable for prosecution for courting underage children. When Lavoisier asked if he could be arrested today for his 1771 marriage, we said that anything was possible, and that even Franklin, given his licentious behavior in France, might be put on a list. At that, Lavoisier shook his head and said he was just thankful that his wife, Madame Paulze, did eventually grow up to become an excellent assistant in his lab and that she had also done a marvelous job publishing his memoirs.
At the Veni Vidi Lantern Theater Company’s 20th anniversary party, we chatted with Nick Stuccio, President & Producing Director of Fringe Arts, and then spoke with a nice couple about poet Walt Whitman’s intense dislike of Shakespeare. We mention Shakespeare because we were part of the audience at a Lantern town hall discussion (The Social Canonization of Past Political Leaders) based on the company’s February production of Julius Caesar. Shakespeare, of course, is a writer that people either love or hate, but the lovers were out en masse that evening, as most of the lengthy questions from the gallery reminded us of the art of the monologue. Audience interjections started early, barely ten minutes into the start of things. What happened to the tradition of the moderator opening the floor for questions? Are we a city of aggressive talkers? We’re looking forward to the Lantern’s production of Tom Stoppard’sArcadia, but in 2015 it is back to Shakespeare again with The Taming of the Shrew, when, we’re sure, the talkers will be back in force.
There’s nothing like spring in Manayunk (or Paris), especially when it’s the grand opening of a new gallery. The Bazemore Gallery (4339 Main Street) is so smartly Feng Shui we felt comfortable the moment we walked in the door. Owner/artist Lenny Bazemore was all smiles as he arranged photo ops, introductions and kept the champagne flowing. We joined Philly artists Keith R. Breitfeller and Brian David Dennis while checking out acclaimed Hong Kong artist Justin Y’s first U.S. solo exhibit. There are no art galleries in Old City or Center City quite this beautiful. Bazemore, an artist himself, has installed a small, live garden on the wall. It’s framed like a painting to complement an iconic large woodcut of the Manayunk canal salvaged from the basement.
Legendary Philadelphian Miss Emily Bache, a great-great-great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin who often appeared in Ruth Seltzer’s Inquirer Society columns, is no longer on the scene, but if we could bring her back we’d take her—like Dante took Beatrice—to see The Art Gallery at City Hall. The occasion was a Bike Racks and Bicycle Art exhibition with a special Bike P’ARTs exhibit in room 116 and on the upper floors. In a City Hall that once had about as much ambience as a Prussian work camp, it’s nice to see a touch of the Parisian. Though the art in City Hall concept began in 1984, it was largely a forgotten affair, attracting only city employees. In 2010, Mayor Nutter transformed the space into a full-scale art gallery. The current exhibit (until June 2014) emphasizes themes of sustainability in the urban environment. We found two admirable works by Regina Kelly Barthmaier and Kendall Wilkens. Wilkens’ piece is a Victorian ball gown made out of chains and other bicycle parts. Though it’s doubtful that Miss Bache would wear the Victorian bicycle chain ball gown (much too Marquis de Sade for a sedate lady), she’d certainly be impressed with the gallery’s first class reception. We urge The Print Center to swing by and pick up party pointers.
We ended the month at the Philly Farm & Food Fest at the Convention Center where we went from food demos, to samplings and lectures. The event is a project of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Philadelphia Fair Food, the latter co-founded by Ann Karlen and Marilyn Anthony. We sampled vegan scrapple, cheeses, nuts, and gourmet coffees. There was a Local Libations Lounge offering tastings of Dad’s Hat Rye Whisky, Asian Pear Wine and other alcoholic treats. This was easily the most popular event, but participants had to listen to an extended talk before being allowed to go to the tasting table, and then they were only treated to a thimble-size sample. Because of antiquated (and never-to-change) Pennsylvania liquor laws, only very small amounts of spirits can be distributed by exhibitors.