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Sunday, June 18, 2017


Gypsy. Often cited as the greatest American musical, this rollicking bio epic is loosely based on the life of famous striptease artist, Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s at the Arden stage (till June 18) with all of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics intact, including classics “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” and “Let Me Entertain You.”  Five-time Barrymore Award winner Mary Martello plays Gypsy’s mother, the tyrannical Mama Rose, who will stop at nothing to ensure that her kids succeed in show business. The great American poet Hart Crane (The Bridge) was Lee’s New York City neighbor for a while and, inspired by Lee, wrote the following lines about his favorite burlesque house: Outspoken buttocks in pink beads/Invite the necessary cloudy clinch/Of Bandy eyes. The Arden should resurrect other forgotten but equally famous musicals like Richard Rodgers’ famous 1943 Broadway hit, Oklahoma!   


 Uncle Vanya. When it comes to Russian plays, Philadelphia’s usual answer is: Chekhov! Hedgerow Theater did Uncle Vanya in February 2107, and the Lantern Theater did its own version of The Seagull in 2010. Chekov’s Seagull came up again in EgoPo Classic Theater’s amazing February production. As a short story writer, Chekhov rarely disappoints (Chekhovian wisdom: “If you are afraid of loneliness, don’t marry”), but city theaters would do well to look into other Russian playwrights like Pushkin, Gogol and Solzhenitsm. Uncle Vanya is the story of a celebrated professor and his complicated family. Quintessence Theater Group (215-987-4450). Till June 18.  

BalletX.   Three innovative works opened BalletX’s Spring Series 2017. In Schachmatt (Cayetano Soto, choreographer) a delightful but all too short French themed, J’attendrai by Rina Ketty set the stage for a dynamite dance Peter Gunn Theme by Jack Constanzo. The less than enthralling Cuban Mambo by Perez Prado (we wanted more French numbers) was enhanced by dancers like Megan Dickinson and Gary W. Jeter II who kept all eyes glue to the stage. Often when dancers express elemental states of joy, suffering and desire there’s not much of a need for an accompanying narrative but sometimes only words can bring the abstract into focus. This was evident in segment two, the world premier of In Between the Passing (Tommie-Waheed Evans) which played into a raw, athletic sensibility while exploring expressions of time and mortality. Symphony No. 3 Op. 36 by Henryk Gorecki had this writer making up his own internal narrative to go with the dancers’ footprints. The last segment, The Last Glass (Matthew Neenan) was a slightly more complicated piece reminiscent of the drama and cacophony of Philadelphia’s streets. Throughout this BalletX opener, I kept hoping for costume changes—bicycle pants, yellow flowered vests with poka dot ties or even a procession of umbrellas and red balloons to break the monotony of the sackcloth-like dancer’s tunic.   

The White Devil.  When John Webster’s play premiered on a dreary, cold winter night in London in 1612 there was no standing ovation. The London audience was less than thrilled and Webster’s work, including The Duchess of Malfi, faded into obscurity until the 1920s. The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective production at the Broad Street Ministry was a genuine theatrical implosion.  Webster is Shakespeare unhinged. Murder, betrayal, more murder, random stabbings, a fencing match and poisoned helmets, not to mention a penitent home for whores and a liturgical fashion show (a la Fellini’s Roma) showcased the corruption and savagery of the male dominated English Court. Act I was a tangled mass of confusion as the play’s 101 plots and subplots slowly came into focus but Act II was as invigorating as the classic B film, Faster Pussycat! Kill Kill!”  Charlotte Northeast (Vittoria/Conjuror) is a natural in any Elizabethan setting; Dan Hodge (Flamineo) might as well be called a one man SNL; David Pica (Lodovico/Marcello) was almost too comfortable with the diabolical while the forceful J.J. Van Name (Cornelia) dominated the stage with her classic  authoritativeness.  Damon Bonetti’s direction showed artistic verve although if I had one wish it would be that the trend of women (Lexie Braverman as Giovanni) playing the part of boys would come to an end.  

 The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.  Pelkey, a 14 year old flamboyant gay teen is the victim of a hate crime. He wore rainbow sneakers, was a makeup artist and advised women four times his age how to dress. Written and preformed by James Lecesne and directed by Tony Speciale, at times the script has a contrived “activist” feel as if co-produced by the Human Rights Campaign. There are also moments when it veers off course as if a dramaturge advised Lecesne to “stop talking about the boy so much.” Lecesne’s immense talent makes this theatre experience worthwhile. He’s mesmerizing to watch and the 70 minutes goes fast. (Philadelphia Theatre Company until June 4)