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Thursday, December 8, 2016



    The Legend of Georgia McBride on the Arden’s Arcadia Stage is so funny the play has been extended into December. Matthew Lopez’s rollicking musical farce about Casey (Matteo Scammell), a broke heterosexual Elvis impersonator forced to become a drag queen to provide for his pregnant wife, has sent Center City audiences into non-stop laugh track mode, Ditto van Reigersberg of Martha Graham Cracker fame stars as queen diva Miss Tracy Mills who teaches Casey how to lose the macho and take pride in his hidden femininity. Casey’s metamorphosis from wooden Marlboro man to a faux woman in sequins makes this one hour and 45 minute production seem much shorter. The somewhat contrived plot twists, such as when Casey’s wife, Jo (Jessica M. Johnson) experiences a meltdown after discovering her husband’s new profession (she later embraces Casey’s high heels) have so much charm and gaiety that we hardly notice their hackneyed roots.  

When a fish falls from the sky, you can either fry up some chips or ask the universe what’s up with the weather. In Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling (The Wilma) the effects of climate change forms the backdrop of a centuries old family drama delivered in Tom Stoppard time lapse fashion. While time juxtapositions can be tricky in a Tower of Babel kind of way, director Blanka Zizka has created a structurally elegant narrative that is really poetry in motion. Actors Keith Conallen, Nancy Boykin, Sarah Gliko and Steven Rishard deliver outstanding performances, while Matt Saunders’ set and projection design transforms the Wilma stage into a transcendental canvass that helps makes coherent what is in fact fragmentary.  While Wilma productions generally tend to err on the side of existential angst, When the Rain Stops is a work that once seen will not soon be forgotten. 

While the Center City theater world tends to steer clear of populist plays like The Road: My Life with John Denver,” (billed as a “rare glimpse of the man behind the music”), Driving Miss Daisy or Jesus Christ Superstar, it does cater to plays about politics, personal alienation, the meaning or truth and all things  post-apocalyptic. City dwellers, in fact, love to be intellectually challenged when they are not in a Martha Graham Cracker mode. Consider InterAct Theatre Company’s 2017 Marcus/Emma (working title) at The Drake’s Proscenium. Marcus/Emma will mash together the legacies of anarchist Emma Goldman and black nationalist leader Garvey “to spin their legacies in the desperate hope of regaining prominence in our increasingly inequitable society.”  But is ‘inequitable’ really the correct word here? Will Marcus/Emma be an onstage continuation of the 2016 election? Perhaps it’s time to reach for an axe and head over to the 11th Hour Theatre Company at Christ Church Neighborhood House for its January production of Lizzie, a rock’ n roll retelling of the life of Lizzie Borden. Watching Lizzie take an axe and give her mother forty whacks might be this season’s perfect post-election cathartic release. If an axe isn’t your thing, try 1812 Productions opening of Jennifer Child’s play The Carols (with Mary Martello and Anthony Lawton, till December 31) for an oddball comedy about a trio of sisters and a jobless Catskills comic.  

  The Lantern Theater’s production of An Iliad is a tour de that captures the spirit of theater’s storytelling roots in 100 intense non-stop minutes. It also showcases one of Philadelphia’s best actor’s, Peter DeLaurier, as The Poet, an eternal voice who relates the story of Achilles and Hector at Troy from a script that includes masterful and funny contemporary asides. While the text (written by Director Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare) could be shortened, the power of An Iliad will keep your eyes focused on DeLaurier. If you see nothing else this winter, make sure you head to The Lantern before the play closes on December 11, although the production is likely to be extended.