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Monday, July 25, 2016

                                             ICON Magazine Theater July 2016

    The Secret Garden (by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon and directed by Matt Pfeiffer) packed them at the Arden, proof of the popularity of fantasy escapism, But does this musical really work? The story of ten year old Mary Lennox (Bailey Ryon), a cantankerous girl who is sent to live with her wealthy Uncle Archibald (Jeffrey Coon) after cholera claims her parents, Rose (Sarah Gliko) and Albert (James Stabp), has the perfect Disney ingredients: a haunted mansion, a secret garden, and a spoiled prince type, the shut-in son of Uncle Archibald, little Colin (Hudson Orfe), who thinks he’s growing a hunchback.  Mary’s life in the mansion is monitored by the strict house mistress, Mrs. Medlock, played to the dour hilt by Sally Mercer. Life changes for Mary when she discovers the key to the garden and Colin’s “off limits” bedchamber, where Archibald has him locked up because of his eerie resemblance to his deceased wife. While Ryon is believable as the contrarian Mary, her saucy attitude is so coquettish and unchildlike that even her technical polish— every line is delivered with robotic perfection—comes across as creepy. The story ends on a happy note when Mary manages to bring Colin back to health, proving that when misery meets misery, good things sometimes happen.   

   Playwright Lucas Hnath’s marvelous Hillary and Clinton at the Suzanne Roberts Theater closed out PTC’s 2015-16 season. While this satiric look at gender and power within the Clinton marriage is supposed to take place in an alternate universe, most everything that happens onstage would seem real to Clinton watchers. The washed out ex-prez (John Procaccino) is presented as a tired, bored-to-death retiree offering to help his wife (Alice M. Gatling) win the 2008 New Hampshire primary. Tension builds as the complex intricacies of their marriage surface. Hillary refuses Bill’s help campaigning but she’s conflicted, deferring to her mega-mouth, Bill-hating campaign manager Mark, adequately played by Todd Cerveris.  Gatling as Hillary is completely believable: she shows the right amount of stubbornness and independence while segueing into more vulnerable emotions, such as when she collapses on the hotel room bed after hearing that she won New Hampshire because Bill secretly campaigned for her.  Procassino’s Clinton captures the spirit of a man who has climbed life’s highest peak but who is now aimlessly wandering around the mountain’s base. The play is a potpourri of Hillary witticisms and Bill philosophizing,  the best being the latter’s admonition that Hillary needs to appear less cold and show the public just how warm and fuzzy she is on the inside.   

What was playwright Young Jean Lee thinking when she wrote Straight White Men (Interact Theatre Company)? The play’s title indicates she was thinking about race but only in a labeling sense, since the four men, Ed (Dan Kern) and his three sons, Jake (Tim Dugan), Drew (Kevin Meehan) and Matt (Steven Rishard) who celebrate Christmas together, are all white. The play’s straight label is also a misnomer because for race or sexuality to be framed this way there should be thematic follow up. The family banter that Lee creates might as well have been lifted from the movie, Animal House. All these immature sons do is slap one another around and dive into the furniture while laughing at their own jokes. The highpoint occurs when Matt bursts into tears, causing Drew to exclaim, “Is Matt gay?”  Of course he’s not gay; he’s just a depressed white straight guy, nothing that more diving into furniture and a dose of psychotropic drugs won’t cure. Inappropriate audience laughter throughout the performance got me thinking that it wasn’t Matt who needed psychotherapy, but the audience.   


  Sister Act at The Walnut Street Theatre might seem like a tired has been, but not this Riverside Theatre production, directed by Bernard Havard.  Here’s Broadway at its finest, an intense over the top razzle dazzle cacophony of song and dance that’s much funnier and better than the Whoopi Goldberg original. Havard gives it a Philadelphia setting, so we hear names Like Cardinal Krol and the Philadelphia Police Department. Dan’yelle Williamson as Deloris Van Cartier, the racy girl who goes undercover at Holy Angels Convent, has the talent of a Diana Ross, and the numerous singing and dancing nuns are as polished as The Rockettes at Rockefeller Center.