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Saturday, September 3, 2016

My Icon Magazine Theater Column August 2016

                                          My Icon  Magazine Theater Column August 2016
   Playwright R. Eric Thomas of Philadelphia’s William Way Community Center is well schooled in local homosexual history. His play, Time is on our Side, skillfully directed by Jarrod Markman, puts much of that history into play in this swift moving story about pod casters Claudia (Brandi Burgess) and Curtis (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) who do an ‘XPN style radio show focusing on gay issues. Brandi, the show’s mega mouth (she likes to cut Curtis off in mid-sentence) discovers her grandmother’s diary with its lesbian references. Curtis is eager to read the diary on air but Brandi protests, citing discretionary issues. Curtis insists on ‘outing’ the diary so that listeners can hear the story of how Claudia grandmother’s marriage was a front that allowed the couple to operate secretly as homosexuals. The play’s many references to historic Philly gay bars and personalities, such as Mary the Hat, is a trip down memory lane. Thomas can be forgiven his few highlighted references to his employer, although the actual dates of the diary, the late 60s and ‘70s, seem a bit too recent to be perceived as anything archival or historic.     

BalletX’s Summer Series 2016 showcased the choreography of Matthew Neenan and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. These world premier dance pieces were savvy techno lighting projection spectacles creating the illusion of multi dimensional space into which dancers appear and disappear.  Neenan’s piece, Identity Without Attribute, had definite Kraftwerk influences: the repetitious electronic music transformed the dancers into robots. While the Bolero-like repetition of this stuck in the vortex beat was delightful for a few minutes, it soon morphed into a fixed chaotic state without variation, leading ultimately to boredom, much like watching paint dry. While the beauty and agility of BalletX dancers cannot be denied, Identity did not deserve the standing ovation that it received. The second dance, Ochoa’s Bonzi, was much better. This whimsical narrative with dancing doors (and knocking on doors) recalled the films of Federico Fellini and the best of Cirque du Soleil.  Here was BalletX at its best, the story of a salesman (dancer Edgar Anido) who sells something that nobody wants. What happens when Anido is drawn behind the doors he’s knocking on is narrative dance at the highest level.    

Founding Artistic Director of New City Stage Company Ginger Dayle says the play Roseburg is really an ongoing political conversation about gun control, “whether you’re pro or anti restricting these weapons.”  Written by Dayle and the Voices for a New City Ensemble, Roseburg is one play written by committee that works. This compelling yet overlong narrative presents two case scenarios, the events leading up to Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 assassination and a 2015 school shooting in Oregon by Christopher Harper-Mercer, played to the creepy hilt by Jackie DiFerdinado who takes us inside the Asberger’s tortured teen as he thrashes about in psychological pain while telling his mom, Laurel Harper (Kayla Tarpley) that cockroaches are attacking him in his bedroom. Russ Widdall as RFK gets the Boston accent right even as he recites long passages from the senator’s early speeches in support of gun control. Widdall also illuminates RFK’s  bumbling side, or his goofy tendency to find any excuse—“I have to watch the kids”—in order to evade his serious as stone, nitpicking speechwriter, Richard N. Goodwin (Joshua Tewell), who’s always chasing him down with script changes. RFK bodyguard Rosey Grier (Andre M. Evers) adds a biracial element to this innovative production in which both arguments of the gun control debate are presented intelligently and fairly.    “We recently rewrote our mission to focus on political theater and that refers to more than just political figures but the politics of everyday life,” Dayle has said of her work. 

   Be sure to catch the 2nd Annual Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival at the U of Arts Ira Brind School of Theater Arts. Plays like Molly’s Hammer by Tammy Ryan, about a Pittsburgh housewife who stood alongside Daniel and Philip Berrigan in King of Prussia when the group, known as Plowshares 8, took hammers to the nosecones of nuclear weapons. Then there’s Simone by Amanda Coffin, about intellectual existentialist philosopher, Simone Beauvoir, who saw nothing existentially wrong about procuring young female lovers for her partner, Jean Paul Sartre. (