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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Icon Theater August 2017

                                      ICON THEATER AUGUST 2017

Saturday Night Fever.  When this musical drama hit the big screen in 1977 audiences were mesmerized by John Travolta’s dance moves. The Bee Gees soundtrack went on to become the best selling soundtrack of all time. This Walnut Street Theater production starring Jacob Tischler as Tony Manero, a Brooklyn teen in a dead end job with a talent for disco dancing, has packed the house since May.

 The dancing is as good as anything you might see at BalletX.  Tischler, like Travolta, glides across the stage like an undulating rubber man on crack, spinning out moves with Annette (Nicole Colon) while simultaneously holding her romantic overtures at bay. Enter sultry Stephanie Mangano (Alexandra Matteo), hard to get and even harder to please but with Tony’s persistence (and wiggles), who can resist? Annette’s whinny clamor for Tony’s attention is the blueprint for the death of one of Tony’s friends on the Brooklyn Bridge even if the tragedy is blithely danced away. Richard Stafford is responsible for the engaging and beautiful choreography. It’s no wonder that SNF was designated “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress.

The Humans. The Walnut’s 2017-18 season will include Stephen Karam’s Tony Award winning play about family tensions over the Thanksgiving holiday. Originally an off Broadway production, The Humans went on to win six Tonys. Walnut President and Producing Artistic Director Bernard Havard announced that the Walnut is the first theater to acquire the rights to produce this play.

 BalletX, Summer Series.  In the first dance piece, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s, Castrati, presents elongated human forms reminiscent of the alien beings in Whitely Strieber’s Communion. The dancers portray the last seven living castrati in the 16th-18th centuries.

Ochoa has the dancers move in such a way that we can actually feel the castrati’s pain of being locked in a genderless world despite their beautiful voices.   Castrati was easily the best segment of the production. In the second set, Matthew Neenan’s Let Mortal Tongues Awake, explores the relationship of individuals to authority through militarized movements of ‘The Citizen’ as dancer. The Kraftwork- style soundtrack evolves into patriotic songs as the dancers, in ironic opposition to the lyrics, appear with tape over their mouths, a not so subtle reference to imprisoned or silenced citizens in a fascist state.  The subliminal reference to Trump’s America is obvious although this reviewer saw it more as the face of fascism in the academic world where the silencing of Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter has become common. BalletX is now off to the Breckenridge Music Festival in Breckenridge, Colorado and then the International Dance Festival in Vail, Colorado.       

Tommy and Me. The world premier of sportswriter Ray Didinger’s autobiographical account of his push to have his football player boyhood hero, Tommy McDonald, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Certain to be the chief draw of Fringe Arts 2017. The play was read to a sold out audience at Plays and Players in 2015. Didinger, the author of 11 books, excavated the myth of “the dumb football player” on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2014.

 Playpenn, new play development 2017. Here’s where true theater lovers gather. Free and open to the public the scripts of six new plays were read in July: Terence Anthony’s The House of the Negro Insane; Brent Askari’s Hard Cell; Christine Evans’, Galilee; C.A. Johnson’s Thirst; Carter W. Lewis’ With and Jonathan Norton’s Penny Candy. The Conference included an online workshop with playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger and a class called Writing the Issue-Based Play (IBP). Playpenn’s Artistic Director, Paul Meshejian, wrote: “PlayPenn was founded because of what I considered a paucity of new play production in Philadelphia. The impulse was a local one. Since our founding, and by no means only because of PlayPenn, Philadelphia has experienced an explosion in the production of new work. That PlayPenn has supported work that has gone on to have a more prolific national presence is a welcome added benefit. “