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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

  The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy. Theology in five easy
pieces is the subject of this comedy by Scott Carter, which means a lot of back and forth about religion and
 Jesus Christ. These three willful men from history, stuck in a room in the after life
 (like the characters in Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit), have all written their own version 
of the New Testament minusthe “superstitious parts” they’ve rejected. They argue with one another but nobody 
emerges as winner of the debate. Carter’s script has the snappy, irreverence of his work as writer for
 Real Time with Bill Maher. Andrew Criss as Tolstoy is powerful and peasant-like 
while Gregory Issac lends the right ‘aristocratic touch’ to his portrayal of Jefferson. Brian McCann as Charles
 Dickens has the zany wild writer thing down pat so that Dickens comes across as the most 
contemporary-seeming man on stage. Unfortunately the play ends with a preachy condemnation of 
Jefferson’s having owned slaves while “hypocritically” writing so eloquently about human rights
and equality. Carter’s script obsesses on Jefferson’s sins despite the fact that in the
 18th Century the notion of equality did not apply to slaves. The tiresome practice of judging famous
people of the past based on contemporary standards and values should die a quick death.
  (The Lantern Theater, until July 2)  

Red Velvet. Not the cake, mind you, but Lolita Chakrabarti’s drama of intrigue and riots on the streets of London
 protesting the Slavery Abolition Act as the first black man to portray Othello takes to the stage. This 
September 7- October 8, 2017
 Lantern production will set the tone for the fall season which will include two additional politically oriented
dramas, the WW II Nazi-German play, The Craftsman by Bruce Graham and Copenhagen
 by Michael Frayn. Lantern’s spring 2018 program brings some fresh air into the house with its production
 of the delightful French comedy, Don’t Dress for Dinner.
Souvenir, A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins.  Don’t believe it when they say that
 money can’t buy everything or that persistence can’t win out over talent. A big Cash Cow certainly
 opened doors for the highly untalented but charismatic socialite, Florence Jenkins, who achieved international
 fame as a coloratura soprano.  The productions at Walnut Street Theater’s Independence Studio on 3 just keep
 getting better and better. (September 12-October 15, 2017). 
American Canvas. Whatever happened to this potentially marvelous play about Philadelphia painter
Thomas Eakins? Philadelphia Theater Company had it all planned out but then substituted
 The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
 at the last minute. Will there even be a Thomas Eakins play on a Center City stage?
HIR. This disturbing play, directed by Jarrod Markman, shows what can happen when an abused wife, Paige
(Marcia Saunders) becomes an abuser herself after her husband’s debilitating stroke. 
She feeds husband Arnold (John Morrison) mind altering tranquilizers, spanks him, dresses
 him in a woman’s nightgown and then hoses him down like an animal when it’s time to give
 him his shower.  Her life of domestic revenge borders on the diabolical as she systematically 
destroys the lives of her two children, Max (Eppchez!), a transgender male and her normal, ex-Marine
 son Issac  (Kevin Meehan), just home from a war zone.

 Playwright Taylor Mac, who describes himself as “genderqueer, or a little bit of everything,” casts a satirically
 hard look at the ‘revolutionary’ world of gender identity with its 52 genders and ‘anything goes’ philosophy. 
He does this with as much harshness as he critiques the rabid All in the Family roots that once 
defined Paige’s family life. Eppchez! is charming as Max and Saunders is so convincingly horrible as 
Paige that this reviewer had to fight fantasies about dousing her with eggs or containers of potato salad. Mac, 
in commenting about HIR, wrote that “there’s this whole generation of older, white men who are filled
 with rage right now, because they watch Fox News all day long and they feel like they’re not part 
of the culture…” But in HIR it is the men,albeit their faults, who are the sane ones.