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Saturday, September 3, 2016

                                           My ICON Magazine Theater Column September 2016

Philadelphia’s 2016-2017 theater season will be big. PTC opens Sept. 23 with RIZZO, directed by Joe Canuso, produced just in time to counter the demands of an insane radical group to replace the Rizzo statue at the Municipal Services Building. The Wilma opens with Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling. Directed by Blanka Zixka, Bovell’s play has been called an “intricate fabric of overlapping connections,” a “sorrow-sodden family drama [where] the forecast is continually gloomy.” Rain charts the fates of two families through several generations and was Time magazine’s Best Play of the Year in 2010.  “This play is like a fine port, a peaty scotch or a long-form piece of music; it’s meant to be taken in slowly,” wrote Alan Katz in a DC Theatre Scene review.  

   The Lantern Theater Company gives us George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, a play banned by the British government for three decades because the profession in question is prostitution. Mary Martello will play the hard working Mrs. Warren whose goal in life is to move out of London’s slums. Feminist Germaine Greer, writing in The Guardian, said that when Shaw created Mrs. Warren, “his uber-whore, the bodies of real-life prostitutes had been found in London streets, brutally dismembered by Jack the Ripper.” Greer insinuated Shaw had no heart because a prostitute’s chance of reaching her 50s healthy and wealthy was about as great as winning the lottery.  Philip Graham countered Greer in the same publication when he penned, “Greer is apparently unaware that Shaw wrote that year to the Pall Mall Gazette about the appalling lives of prostitutes.”     

 The 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival (Sept. 9-24) will be an artistic implosion of the good, bad and ugly.  Some of this year’s offerings include The Deep Blue Theater Collective’s “radical re-imagining” of the American classic, A Streetcar Named Desire, which means that Blanche Du Bois will probably fall into an absurdist abyss.  Sexual high jinks is the energy behind Carried Away (Brian Sanders’ Junk), or 50 minutes of male on male “skin against skin” and “disco within punk” that will attempt to raise audience body temperatures with cutting edge choreography (think BallettXXX). Classic literature takes the lead in The Duende Cycle theatre collaboration’s staging of  Bodas de Sangre/I Only Came to Use the Phone. Bodas (Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding) takes place in Miami while I Only Came was inspired by a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story. Classic Fringe absurdity kicks in big time with Antihero by Tribe of Fools at the Painted Bride Arts Center where “comic book nerds turn vigilante against the Philadelphia Parking Authority.” An even more absurdist theme here promises to be a “feminist critique of comic book culture.”  (Greer again?) Festival goers will have the opportunity to bang their head against the wall with a beautiful insane woman with long hair who shows a lot of leg while dressed in a skimpy hospital Johnny when they attend the Manayunk Theatre Company’s Bedlam: Shakespeare in Rehab. Come, and immerse yourself in “a world of mental health!”  There’s also The Elementary Spacetime Show by Cesar Alvarez at the Arts Bank that will show us what happens when a young girl attempts suicide and “wakes up” in a universe filled with vaudeville absurdities—everything, of course sans angels on Pogo Sticks or talking sardines, but who knows? 

    Yoel Wulfhart, aka Philly’s Samuel Beckett, has written the epic play of the 2016  Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Cat-a-strophe, is Wulfhart’s own version of the real Samuel Beckett play of the same name. Wulfhart describes Cat-a-strophe as “what would happen if Samuel Beckett, Dario Fo and Hannoch Levin co-wrote a sitcom.” Wulfhart says the play is about the human experience.  “As children we all have great hopes, but then many of those hopes do not come to fruition.  It’s a farcical play, not funny but sad, but only funny on top. It’s a play about repetition, about how we repeat something over and over again hoping for something different.” Cat-a-strophe is Wulfhart’s first play and the first production of his company, Fail Better Productions at The Papermill, a multi-disciplinary artist community at 2825 Ormes Street. Born and raised in Israel, he’s been in the States for 30 years.  “The cast of Cat-a-strophe can’t get through rehearsals without the entire production crew falling to the ground in peels of laughter,” he says.