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Saturday, May 7, 2016

"Proust on a Night Out!" - Maralyn Lois Polak

                                         "Proust On a Night Out!"   --  Maralyn Lois Polak

City Beat May 2016

   BalletX’s The Premier Party 2016 honoring Philadelphia arts and culture philanthropist  David Haas at the Top of the Tower was a prelude to the Company’s Spring Series at the Wilma. BalletX’s new Marketing Coordinator Josh Olmstead, greeted press and guests on the grand 50th floor space. We chatted with PAFA’s Heike Rass, writer Carol Saline, Michael Norris of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and BalletX cofounder and executive director, Christine Cox. The marathon celebration was a cost cutter’s nightmare: lavish hors d’ oeuvres, a sumptuous sit down chicken dinner and exuberant dancing performances between mouthfuls (a Russian Cassock dance had the wait staff hopping). The live auction following the dances was better than the polished deliveries we’ve heard at the Freeman’s Auction House on Chestnut Street. The big door prize of the evening wasn’t a collection of DVD’s, season tickets or a weekend for two at The Sheraton, but an $8,000 diamond necklace. The winner: A bespectacled redhead in a black and white dress who clasped her bosom in operatic shock when her number was announced.

    Other parties that evening included Art Unleashed at U of Arts, and PGN’s 40th anniversary party at PAFA, which we almost attended thanks to Laura Krebs Miller of Cashman and Associates.  The PGN celebration toasted the newspaper’s four decades in journalism. It also honored the writers who helped to create that legacy. “City Beat” was a major PGN contributor in the 1980s and 1990’s. When we arrived for the PGN party organizers were still setting up, so we headed for Top of the Tower.

   We admire the Wilma’s Blanka Zizka and her post- Eastern European communist bloc verve, but An Octoroon, which opened March 16, and praised by The Inquirer’s Toby Zinman, failed to move us.  The heavily juxtaposed time period play about race relations on a southern plantation was at times inspiring, funny and poignant but in the end, far too preachy and too long. Why does smooth narrative always get the boot in plays earmarked as cutting edge or avant garde? The play’s “arty” timeline juxtapositions made us long for work that inspired the production, a 19th Century melodrama entitled The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault.  (Bring back melodrama!) On a positive note: Less noticeable was the Wilma’s canned laugh track, or inappropriate audience laughter.  The standing ovation at the end of the evening was no surprise: Wilma audiences give standing ovations to any play with the Wilma brand, proof that the Cult of the Wilma is gaining traction. The Millennial-heavy audience was quick to huddle in peer group cliques during the post show reception, causing older but no less ardent Wilma supporters to exclaim “I’m not feeling this reception at all!” Perhaps the real octoroons that evening was the over 35 crowd.     

Journalists, gossip writers and paparazzi flocked en masse to the much anticipated April 6 Philadelphia Festival of the Arts (PIFA) black tie opening. We avoided the official red carpet but entered through a side door and went straight to the bar.  PFIA’s inaugural 2011 celebration included a multi story Eiffel Tower in the Kimmel lobby, but this year’s Golden Calf was an IKEA invoking tree (The Kinetic Tree) done up in partial lights with moveable stick branches that had us thinking of Peggy Lee’s, Is That All There Is? The apex of the evening for many was watching the tree come alive (to the sound of a thunderstorm), but first there was cocktails and dinner. We got comfortable at a spectacular table with donors and organizers of the event when a nice woman asked to sit upstairs in the segregated press area where a number of scribes munched on hoagie bits, chips and soda. Cashman and Associates assured us that this was not their doing, so we made the best of an Upstairs/Downstairs situation.  After dinner, full equality was restored when the press was invited to join the wonderful after party, which made us forget our third floor segregation.

We headed to the offices of Cashman and Associates for a look at their new Wallsome décor. The intimate, small press event brought us face to face with Keith Leaphart’s brainchild, large format wallpaper that can be peeled off the wall for last minute design changes. Wallsome can change any image into oversized wall art, theoretically turning a blank Cashman wall space into the Grand Canyon, the Vatican Museum, a garden in Tel Aviv, or a scenic beach on the island of Hawaii.