Theater in Philadelphia: September 2017

ICON Magazine Theater Sept. 2017

Tommy and Me. This football sports play by former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ray Didinger played to packed audiences at the Fringe Arts Building on Columbus Blvd. Theatre Exile’s production about Philadelphia Eagles legend Tommy McDonald and Didinger’s long struggle to get McDonald into the NFL Football Hall of Fame brightened up a ‘theater-zero’ August. Tommy and Me audiences applauded wildly as if the Fringe Arts stage had been transformed into Franklin Field. Directed by Joe Canuso with script input by playwright Bruce Graham (Minor Demons, Coyote on a Fence, Desperate Affections), Didinger’s play captured McDonald’s (Tom Teti) elfin quirks. Ned Pryce as Young Tommy (in football gear) had the right macho ambience, and Matt Pfeiffer was believable as the ‘always sensible, eternally patient Didinger who never lost faith in his childhood sports hero. Seventh grader Simon Kiley as the young Didinger—children don’t always come across well on stage—had a maturity that made you forget that he was a child except when he leapt into the air to give or return a ‘high five.’ The post-play panel discussion erupted into howls of laughter when the moderator told an inordinate number of politically incorrect jokes. One was a monologue on midgets and how their small hands and feet evokes images of Philly sports legend, Howard Eskin, who stands at 5’4”.  

Fishtown – A Hipster Noir.  Do hipsters consume ‘cool,’ rather than create it, as one writer quipped. Here we have obscure music, a blinding blast of social media, stuffed ‘turkey’ backpacks, detached discontent and pumpkin spice lattes. Tribe of Fools presents this virtual reality conspiracy when “a new app allows you to live out your wildest fantasies.” The play’s pop up question is: What really constitutes reality?  Director Peter Smith says, "We wanted to tell a story about social media and how statuses, tweets and photos make the internet a stage for the world to see us; but you can't tell the story of tech and social media without grappling with Sexism.” You be the judge. Caitlin Weigel’s play is a Fringe Festival offering at the Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake, Sept. 8-23.

Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes. Diner en le blanc meets Cirque du Soleil at the Painted Bride Arts Center when weirdo acrobats dressed all in white sit on a sofa and attempt to be “exceptional in every moment.” Sometimes the forced comedy of slapstick and barb trading can loose the most attentive observer. I hope that’s not the case with these zany couch potatoes when they sit and fantasize about sailing on the high seas. Don’t forget to bring Dramamine. Presented by the Almanac Dance Circus Theater and directed by Annie Wilson, Sept. 6-23.  

The Bald Soprano.  Called an anti-play, this Eugene Ionesco work was first produced in 1950. Unlike Ionesco’s Exit the King, this absurdist work does not call for humans to put off lusts and desires in order to be free. What it does do is begin all over again as soon as it ends, making one think of the endless circles of Ravel’s Bolero. It’s a conversation between two couples, a maid and the maid’s fire chief lover. Ionesco wrote the play when he was leaning English. In the best tradition of the French Avant-garde, it’s full of non-sequiturs and mutilated aphorisms. Ionesco hated strict realism in theatre (he had a special contempt for Berdolt Brecht). The production stars Tina Brock, co-founder/Producing Artistic Director of The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium. Sept. 5-25, Bethany Mission Gallery, 1527 Brandywine Street, 215-285-0472) 

Cabaret. The stage of the Arden Theater will be transformed into Berlin’s notorious Kit Kat Club that novelist Christopher Isherwood wrote about in his 1945 book, Goodbye to Berlin. The 1972 film, described as “gay and gender bending,” starred Michael York as the bisexual Brian Roberts who has an affair with Sally Bowles while dating men on the side.  How will the Arden ever duplicate Joel Grey’s majestic performance while wearing a corset, fishnets and stiletto heels? Directed by Matthew Decker and written by Joe Masteroff, Cabaret will usher in the Arden’s 30thanniversary season.  Sept. 21-Oct. 22.    

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