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Friday, December 19, 2014

                   ICON MAGAZINE City Beat Column December 2014

We spotted people falling asleep during Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn at the Wilma, and wondered how this could be given the play’s good reviews. Things got worse when, at intermission, some audience members walked, proving that even critically acclaimed works can generate nay sayers. Can a “juxtaposition of feminist theories with messy human desires” ever be funny? How about a comic version of Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics or Simone de Beauvior’s The Second Sex; would these be immune to walk outs and audience narcolepsy? Rapture’s stellar record-- a 2013 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama--suggests that nobody should be nodding off, even if  the play would have benefited from a 30 minute dramaturgical cut. The promotion around Rapture was stellar, however:  postcards advertising the play could be found all over town: in Center City restaurant and pizza parlors, and on random city buses and trolleys.       

 The Barrymore Awards used to go on for hours, so that by the time it was over you had Charley Horses in both legs and one, big primal urge: to tie a long scarf around your neck Isadora Duncan-style and drive off in a fast convertible. This year’s Award ceremony was much better (and shorter) than in years past, though we discovered this only after deciding not to attend. We didn’t want to sit through hours of theater minutia, like Award for Best Theater Usher Wearing Blue Contact Lenses, etc., etc. We’ll get our Barrymore act together in 2015.   

We marveled at all the tall hunky Israeli furniture guys in pointy European shoes at the grand opening of the Cella Luxuria Furniture superstore at 1214 Chestnut Street. Deputy mayor Alan Greenberger said he saw some furniture there he really liked, while HughE Dillon worked overtime photographing the city’s furniture subculture elite. The five floors of beds, sofas, desks and bookcases meant lots of styles and options, from modern minimalist to warehouse-rustic to the comfortably traditional. The Bauhaus style configurations on the first floor included an orangutan- colored recliner that had us thinking of the beach chaise lounges in Wildwood’s Doo Wop motels. Brulee Catering, Zavino Wine Bar and Pizzeria and Abbey Biery Cake Design provided the food. Since the bartenders told us that red wine was banned from the serving queue (it stains furniture), for a fix of deep, rich color we had to turn to Kory Zuccarelli’s lavish photography, which was featured on the walls.

 Philadelphians may love Rittenhouse Square with its “meet me at the goat” ambience, but for out-of-towners like Connie Willis (who came here to three years ago to land a job in broadcasting), the picture’s not so pretty. Willis’ bird’s eye view of the Square from her fifth floor apartment enabled her to see more rats than goats scurrying from bush to bush. She was soon calling Rittenhouse Ratinhouse Square, though she later dropped that after the furry creatures were exterminated. She added another name soon enough, -- Rittenhouse Dog Park—because everyday from her bedroom window she saw Chaplinesque replays of people putting picnic blankets on sections of grass that moments before had been a dog toilet: German Sheppards, Greyhounds, dachshunds, poodles and boxers would squat, and then after their owners dutifully bagged, another cycle of picnickers would sit directly over the spot, on and on all day long-- from picnic to poop to picnic and then back to poop again. Those without blankets would relax directly on the soft, fertile grass, never suspecting (or caring) that dogs had been there before.    

We spoke with filmmaker Nancy Kates, whose film, Regarding Susan Sontag, had its Philadelphia premier at the Jewish Museum. The effervescent Kates describes meeting Sontag years ago at a Meet Susan Sontag Night on the campus of the University of Chicago. Kates, who had been struggling with a paper on Jackson Pollack, found the artistic answers she was looking for in Sontag’s essays in Against Interpretation, but when she went to tell Sontag this she says that the diva looked at her “with utter disdain,” as if she were thinking, “I have better things to work on than helping a hapless undergrad.” Sontag, of course, could be hot or cold. We felt the cold years ago when Sontag spoke at the Free Library on Sarajevo and greeted us with a slightly hostile bark when we attempted to speak to her at the reception.   

Everybody’s an expert on architecture these days.’s stories on proposed buildings in Center City and elsewhere generate hundreds of inflammatory and passionate comments from readers who want their opinions to count. We related this fact to Radical Traditionalist architect Al Holm recently when he called to say that there were few registrants for an upcoming ICAA-Philadelphia seminar at the Franklin Inn. “How do we get the word out?” he wanted to know. “Does anybody care?” We suggested he try and recruit the passionate readers of whose online comments often get censored or deleted because they don’t know how to handle all their pent up architectural insights.  

We leave you with this: A revamped, reformed Vince Fumo has advised all good citizens in an Inky Op-Ed never to give money to the homeless. Lessons from a teacher—indeed!