Secret Show with Josh Campbell- The Painted Bride

Steele is an actor, producer, marketer, and creator in Philadelphia.

What was in my pockets? I’m associated with the Painted Bride, I’ve been to other Secret Shows, and I’ve worked with Josh before.

I was intrigued from when I entered into the lobby and was instructed to get a wristband and go through “security.” At security I was checked and my FitBit was confiscated. Even though I knew that was part of the show and that I’d get my property back it did make me uncomfortable, which I’m sure was the goal of those pre-show activities.

Everyone was split into one of five groups and separated. In my group, which was located in the cafe gallery, we were instructed to read through some text that was provided before hearing a monologue about oppression and uprising of oppressed people. We were then led to the main theater where the full audience eventually convened.

I found the design a little bit underwhelming in the auxiliary spaces, but very well put together in the theater. It had a really rough look that complimented the piece. Unfortunately, the music became very distracting at times. Perhaps the volume just needed to be lowered or for instrumentals to be used, but I felt myself struggling to hear the actors over the lyrics of the music. The use of projections was really well done. They definitely enhanced the world of the show, especially the portion where the audience was eating popcorn and watching TV (shown via projection) of the Baltimore Uprising.

I felt like the acting was strong. The one point where I was disengaged was with Jordan’s final monologue as it seemed very long in comparison to the length of the rest of the monologues in the show.  The direction was also strong. The actors moved throughout the space, entering from all parts of the building, in great coordination.

Overall I really enjoyed the show. I was impressed how the performers were able to really engage the audience and create a situation which allowed for the audience’s willingness to volunteer to do uncomfortable things. The concept of uncomfortability was a through line throughout the show, I’m sure on purpose. The audience needed to recognize and feel the uncomfortability that oppressed people feel on a regular basis.

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Ironbound- Simpatico Theater

Laura is a director. Alma is a playwright, performer, and educator.

 

 

Alma

So what was in your pockets at the start of the show?

 

Laura

Honestly, not a ton. I knew basically nothing about the play, and I think this was the first Simpatico show I’d seen. So I was coming in pretty blind. How about you?

 

Alma

I’d never seen anything at Simpatico either, and I’ve never seen Ironbound before. But I did read this play last year and LOVED it. So I was really searching for the things I remembered during this performance.

 

Laura

How did this production live up to your experience of reading the play?

 

Alma

Well, I think the play is so strong and so potent. So the things that I had loved about the script were definitely there – Darja’s constant negotiations with the men around her, and the contrasts between these mens’ lives and this woman who has a real eye for the future. I think the Julianna Zinkel was certainly able to lift up those nuances.

 

Laura

Agreed.  Zinkel gave a really strong performance. And I felt like, even coming to the material with no background, the storytelling was consistently very clear.

 

Alma

I’m glad you had that experience. That makes me feel better about having seen those details in her performance.

 

Laura

I think it’s a challenging play to stage in some ways, because it’s made up of a few pretty long scenes, all with the same setting. It can be hard to make that dynamic. There were a few moments I thought it dragged a little bit, and I couldn’t really tell if that was because of the text or because of the challenges of staging.

 

Alma

OH yeah. I mean, that’s the kind of sticky situation you get into with a character who keeps saying “I’m leaving, I’m leaving, I’m walking home, I’m going right now”, but the stage is only set for one place…there were a few moments where the justification to get her to stay didn’t really land for me.

 

Laura

Yes, for sure. I think the set design also didn’t help that aspect of it–the bus stop was balanced out by fencing and junk stage right, but everything onstage was kind of on the same plane, so there was not a lot of opportunity for anything but horizontal movement.

 

Alma

That’s so true and smart. Yeah I wasn’t particularly distracted by the set design, nor was I crazy about it. It really only enhanced the character study I was watching, so I ended up not noticing it. I will say that on the first page of the script, there was a picture of two enormous factory towers in a pretty stark concrete world, which I think totally framed my reading of the play originally. I sort of long for a design of this play that is less about disrepair or dinginess and actually more about flat, dull, concrete, forgotten America.

 

Laura

Yeah! Wow, that’s really interesting. I think something more stark like that is a smart suggestion for the playwright to make–the desperation and poverty are already so present in the dialogue.

 

Alma

Exactly. It’s suggesting that there’s a pretty broad experience of poverty in this country that isn’t as much about ugliness as much as it is about emptiness – something that Darja’s first husband was suggesting. He wanted to fill that emptiness with music and this dream of fame.

 

Laura

Speaking of him, I found myself with all kinds of complicated feelings about the men in this play. Which I think was the playwright’s intention. But one of the most emotionally affecting parts of watching the show was watching the way that Darja continually tries to claim power through bargaining or stubbornness in her relationships, and the men around her just have this freedom to leave her high and dry over and over again.

 

Alma

God I know. Yeah, I was actually with a friend at this play who isn’t involved in theater, and she actually let out a soft “no!” when Darja refused to get on the bus with Max to go to Chicago. It made me think about the ways in which the playwright sort of lays bare this narrative of which-guy-was-right-for-her and instead puts the emphasis on this exchange. Like a literal exchange: with every guy, no matter what they represent (her past, her son, America), she still has to leverage her future with them. So yeah, I don’t love any of them, but I also don’t hate any of them either. None of them are villains. They all just have a privilege of mobility.

 

Laura

Right. I guess part of the sadness I experienced watching it was that Darja’s whole life becomes about her son, in some ways. Anytime she can leverage any power with Tommy, she is trying to figure out how to find her son Alex, how to get him back. Max goes to chase this music dream that may or may not be waiting for him in Chicago, but the thing Darja is chasing keeps running away from her. I found myself really kind of hating Tommy, but I appreciated that their reconciliation at the end was really messy and not a bit cutesy or satisfying. There was this moment when he was trying to get her back where he just grabbed onto the elbow of her jacket really awkwardly, both of them looking out. That felt real.

 

Alma

I think to your first point – yeah I mean, Max went off to find this music dream, but I don’t imagine that his experience was in any way dissimilar from Darja chasing after a son who couldn’t find in her what she found in him. This time watching it it became so clear to me that her son filled the emptiness of poverty that Max had tried to fill with music. Is music going to pay Max’s rent? Maybe, one day. Is Alex going to appreciate Darja and her love for him? Hopefully. But that doesn’t make their pursuit of these two things any less intense.

 

About her and Tommy’s reconciliation at the end: yeah, there’s one level of it that feels so desperately gross, because no actual problem has been solved; they’re both still dishonest, and they’re both still only operating out of their places of dysfunction. But at the same time, for me, that ending felt really nice, because they were actually negotiating on real terms for once.

Tommy is probably going to keep sleeping with other women, and Darja is probably never going to love Tommy. But the two of them feel enough warmth for the other to communicate honestly about what their partnership might look like in the future.

 

Laura

Yeah–it’s a complicated dynamic. If she were even a little bit less aware, a little bit more susceptible to his bullshit, his attempted manipulation of her would really play like emotional abuse. But I think you’re right, they both end up negotiating on their terms to get what they want.

 

To get back to design for a minute, I really appreciated the simplicity of the overall look of the show, even if I think the set could have been a little more effective. And I loved having Darja change costumes onstage, it felt right and really intimate to have her present the whole show, so that was a nice choice from director Harriet Power and designer Natalia de la Torre.

 

Alma

Yeah, it made her transformation very clear. I liked de la Torre’s costumes a lot. I think they were actually the most effective design pieces of the show. I more or less felt okay about sound, but the only thing that took me out was Max’s harmonica walk across the starry night, right after he had left for Chicago. It felt both too on the nose/corny and also out of place for the tone of the show. I totally believe that Darja needs to be reflective and nostalgic in that moment, but she’s just too officious for theatricality like that to work for me.

 

Laura

Agreed. The stars especially felt out of place to me. Especially then contrasted with Darja’s impromptu “Fuck this bus” song that I found really sad and sweet.

 

Alma

Oh that was such a good moment! Yeah, there were a couple moments of directing that took me out of the piece, but I think the strength of the script coupled with the actors’ solid performances made it a really enjoyable piece of theater.

A Midsummer Nights Dream- Arden Theater Company

Valancy is a Philadelphia area actress and producer

As for what’s in my pockets, I came in with some mixed emotions. I’ve been in two productions of “Midsummer” and have seen several others over the years, and so the idea of seeing yet another production felt more like work than enjoyment. I didn’t think it could possibly hold any surprises for me, and I generally find the fairy world far too cutesy to be charming. However, I always really enjoy Dan Hodge’s work as a comedic actor and have a great deal of respect for Matt Pfeiffer’s directorial work, and they were enough of a draw for me.

The emphasis of this production was on the acting and original music, composed by sound designer, Alex Bechtel. The rest of the design was largely minimalist, particularly the set, designed by Paige Hathaway, which was a large open space with a piano and an upstage balcony, with chiffon drapes hanging from it. From my seat, I could glimpse a faux dressing room, with props and costume pieces artfully arranged for the players. The simplicity of the design gave the audience the opportunity to focus on the text and individual performances.

It seems to be fairly standard practice now in Philadelphia’s Shakespearean productions to find the actors already on stage performing or warming up before the play begins. I admit to feeling initial dread when I walked into the theatre and found the performers gathered around the piano on stage in mid song. I couldn’t help but feel I was interrupting a private party; were they the characters in this moment or the actors, did I have a responsibility to make eye contact and smile my approval? My discomfort was quickly allayed by the sheer virtuosity of the performers, which you might expect when Rachel Camp and Mary Tuomanen take turns leading the music, and it certainly set the tone for the rest of the evening, where lovelorn women sing out their innermost feelings as they wander through the wings, and Titania’s fairy (there’s only one in this production, thank goodness,) accompanies herself with the violin, invisible to wandering Puck.

The costumes, designed by Olivera Gajic, while part of me wished for a bit more opulence, particularly among the mortals, who represent the highest strata of Athenian society, served the purpose of indicating who each of the characters was and how they interact with the world. I particularly loved Helena’s (Rachel Camp) glasses, which she used to great effect, and the stunning golden chiffon drapery that trailed behind Titania as she moved slowly across the stage on her first entrance, giving the impression she was a celestial body moving across the nighttime sky. It took me half the play to realize that the four lovers were beautifully and subtly color coded in various degrees of peaches and blues, which I consider a mark of thoughtful design.

Gljic had the added responsibility, which she executed well, of helping the audience to differentiate between the lovers and the rude mechanicals, who were, for the first time in my experience, double cast. One of the many surprising choices which paid off well.

There were two components to the lighting design (Thom Weaver) that struck me, and both were tied directly to the set and staging.  Strings of white lights hanging over the stage, reminiscent of a garden party’s decor, were lowered when we entered the fairy world, giving the sudden impression of intimacy, magic and romance; and Puck pulled the lit moon up to its zenith on a pulley system, which let the audience peek behind the imaginary curtain at the theatrical mechanics and yet added to the sense of magic by showing how Puck and Oberon control and manipulate the world around us.

As well as I know this play and assumed I had seen every possible choice there was to be made, the actors illuminated the text and brought the comedy to life in ways I had never imagined. The lovers are usually played as the thankless “straight men,” and the comedy is generally left to the mechanicals and the play within the play. In this production, the comedy never stopped, even when the lovers seemed to have reached utter despair, and their physicality and guttural groans, sudden realizations and snap decisions, fights and counter fights all added to the hilarity of the play. One such moment came when it suddenly occurred to Hermia (an energetic Taysha Marie Canales) that she has been betrayed by her friend Helena (Rachel Camp.) Walking away, she removes her earrings and pockets them, and the audience hasn’t a doubt about the violence she intends to unleash.

Lindsay Smiling exuded power and sexuality as both Theseus and Oberon, but quickly turned into the chastised child in the hands of Hippolyta/Titania, played by understudy, Paige Farestveit, in the performance I attended. Knowing she was the understudy made me even more impressed at her handling of the unforgiving trailing chiffon and the incredible physicality of her relationship with Bottom. It’s a testament to the strength of the production and individual performances that I now want to return and see Katharine Powell in the role.

I have never seen a stronger ensemble of actors tackle the rude mechanicals, who, 400 odd years on, have a daunting familiarity bordering on the cliche. We all think we know Bottom and all his tricks and bellows, and Snout’s portrayal of the stoic wall couldn’t possibly have any revelations for us. I was gratified to find all of my preconceptions forgotten as soon as the  players were introduced by Quince, delightfully played by Doug Hara, who brought a rare and simple genuineness to the role and brought into focus the fact that he is, after all, a director trying to manage the many egos of the actors in his employ, with opening night fast approaching. He quickly elicited the audience’s full sympathy.

One of the unexpected moments of humor among the mechanicals came when Starvling (Brandon J. Pierce) was assigned the role of Thisbe’s mother in their play. His wordlessly eloquent response was to wilt ever so slightly, from face through the core of his body, and then with resignation nod his head slightly and return to his place in line. Beautiful simplicity that tells you everything you need to know about him.

Dan Hodge’s Bottom was a revelation in comedic timing and theatrical bravery. He held the longest sustained pause I have ever witnessed in the theatre, a science turned into art, and the audience’s response swelled from a slight titter to growing waves of hysteria as we waited to see if he really had the iron to maintain the pause past the point of no return to its required conclusion. I’m now hungry for more moments like this on our stages, moments the public will never forget because of their unique and unflinching power.

I deeply appreciated the racial diversity and gender bending nature of the casting, and the fact that it was an aspect of the production that did not draw attention to itself, but simply was, made it even more obvious that it’s a practice that should be universal. All the couples were mixed race, two of the mechanicals were women, including Snout/Wall (Taysha Marie Canales) and Snug/Lion (Rachel Camp) and Puck was played with blue haired mischievousness by Mary Tuomanen. Her rapport with Smiling’s Oberon turned them both into delighted children planning and plotting their capers, observing all from the overhead balcony while smoking a hookah.

In his director’s notes, Matt Pfeiffer says he loves the sense of abandon and play in “Midsummer,” and that is certainly apparent in his staging of it. It’s fun to watch and I think, probably, just as fun to be in. It struck me that even in the precision of the performances, there was a sense of danger and improvisation in them, and the collaboration during rehearsals between director and actors must have been free and open. Perhaps that’s what Pfeiffer means when he says that he’s deeply interested in figuring out how Shakespeare’s company would have worked on this play with the tools they had available to them… namely themselves and each other. I am always thrilled to see productions where the actors and what they bring into the room are respected and encouraged to take huge leaps. And when a play as old and tired as “Midsummer” often seems to be is suddenly made modern and immediate, we have reason to celebrate.

Period Play: Eight Anachronisms from the Future Past- The Philadelphia Women’s Theater Festival

Laura is a director.

  • Note- this production was initially and erroneously listed as being produced by ReVamp Theater Collective. It was, in fact, presented by The Philadelphia Women’s Theater Festival. We regret the error.

I’ll start with what’s in my pockets: I’ve worked and am friends with several of the people involved in this production. I’m also a director who is really struggling right now to figure out how to make art that feels important and meaningful in this political climate.

Period Play was presented as a staged reading for International Women’s Day by the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival. The show was essentially a series of short vignettes imagining encounters between historical and contemporary figures, from different fields and walks of life—athletes, artists, suffragettes, women’s marchers, Biblical figures, playwrights, authors—all exploring issues of feminism and public female identity.

The play was co-conceived by lead artist Lani Skelly and director Randi Alexis Hickey, and written by Hannah van Sciver. Van Sciver is a really smart writer, and I appreciated the beauty and tension of some of her encounters (like Emily Fernandez as Frida Kahlo and Nicholas Scheppard as Banksy) and the weirdness and joy of others (like Amber Orion as Tig Notaro and Nick Hatcher as Frederick Douglass). These imaginary relationships between real, historical characters were fanciful and sometimes really illuminating. I did, however, find myself wishing for a little bit more conflict or messiness in some of the encounters. Navigating modern, intersectional feminism can be challenging precisely because it means fighting for women and people whose experiences may be radically different than one’s own, and that can be uncomfortable. There were definitely moments that explored intersectionality—the conversation between Babe Didrickson (Jenna Kuerzi) and Tiger Woods (Nick Hatcher) shed some light on the ways that the struggle of a queer “unfeminine” woman in the public eye relate to the struggle of a black man navigating a historically white field—but many of the scenes played out without the tension that is so often a part of learning to grow in awareness of others’ perspectives and experiences. And though the play did feature a diverse cast, in gender and race, I found myself wishing that black women were represented in it. At a time when black women are leading Black Lives Matter and are essential to the leadership of the Women’s March movement, and at a time when white women are being asked more than ever to expand their sometimes flawed feminism, I think their voices are important to hear in a work like this.

This piece was shown as a staged reading, and I think that presents a challenge. Any kind of blocking is tricky to navigate with scripts and music stands. However, more focus could have been given to the script itself, rather than the staging. Some of the use of the space turned out to be more distracting than anything else—there was a big beam in the middle of the playing space, for example, that blocked some of the upstage action. The ensemble was onstage the whole time, and were cast as riders on the Broad Street Line during most scenes they weren’t featured in. The concept gave a nice continuity to the piece, but I often found myself getting distracted from the main action of the short scenes. On the flip side, I felt like I sometimes couldn’t hold on to the thread of the dialogue itself—it seemed like the arc of each scene, the rhythms of the language and the punctuation of the moments of comedy and tension were not always given the attention they needed to sing.

The program notes that this piece was created as part of an effort by the creators to “claim a space for ourselves that doesn’t sound like another production of The Vagina Monologues.” I think that goal—creating feminist and female-centered theatre for today—is great and important. I hope that PWTF, the creators, and playwright continue to develop this piece into something more challenging, more expansive, and even more inclusive and intersectional. They’re off to a good start.

Shitheads- Azuka Theater

Nan is a cis actor/maker, an intersectional feminist, queer, and debatably white/nonwhite? These days, she has trouble watching fresh work that doesn’t address the current political climate and/or its repercussions for minorities.

Rutledge is a queer man of color involved in Philly theatre

Nan

What do you have in your pockets?

Rutledge

Disclosure: I worked on the production side of this show, and have worked with many of the design team and Azuka in the past. I also have a barely-above-nil knowledge of bicycles, or roughly where a man becomes dangerous with knowledge. What’re in yours?

Nan

I’ve seen a couple of Azuka shows, and I’ve worked with a couple of the cast members. And I also know just about nothing about bikes. I also saw the final preview.

Rutledge

I attended the opening night performance.

Nan

What was your first knee-jerk response to the show?

Rutledge

My initial response once the house lights came up was that I had a decently fun time watching really pretty excellent performers doing a solidly play-shaped play.

Nan

Agreed. I was happy that such a thoroughly well-written new play came from Philly. I don’t think there was anything objectionable in the production for me at all, other than the fact that it solidly fails to pass the Bechdel test. If there’s a test based on people of color talking to each other about things other than race, it didn’t pass that either. But other than that it was solidly good work and certainly enjoyable.

Rutledge

Same. Nothing was particularly out-of-joint with our current times, though no special effort was made to address them, either.

Nan

I actually just googled, and it’s referred to as the “race bechdel test”, apparently. And, correction on my part, one of the criteria is POC talking about something other than white people.

Rutledge

Oh, good to know. I hadn’t known that.

It is a male-dominated play, and the interactions between the characters are marked by that between all the men, between Izzy and all the men, etc

Nan

For sure.

Your point about not addressing current events is really interesting though. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt a little strange seeing something that’s here and now (though I’m not sure it was set in the present day?) that really didn’t address any contemporary issues?

Of course new plays don’t always have to, but I guess in the absence of that, I found myself wondering what exactly the playwright really wanted to talk about that made them create the work, if that makes sense.

Rutledge

According to the playbill, it’s set in 2012. A simpler time? Although the number of seasonal changes suggested to me it should have spanned two calendar years. I’m also curious as to what story the playwright wanted to tell, and we can’t divorce its current production from the times in which it was produced.

Nan

Gosh, I didn’t connect the dots on the seasonal changes. Two years is a longer time than it felt like.

I really enjoyed the work, but I’m not sure exactly what the heart of the piece is: Balancing money and one one’s own ideals? Being true to yourself as a human but also having a job and a boss and having to make money?

Rutledge

The struggle of honest, small business versus the forces of vulture capitalism?

There’s quite a bit people can pull from the overarching story based on what feels like a sharply-focused, character-driven comedic drama.

Nan

Of course they start out really interested in identity and belonging in terms of insiders/outsiders of small social groups. I was actually really interested in Kevin Glaccum’s director’s note as far as “why do this show here/now”? I feel like he was sort of saying that these are in fact difficult times, especially to be in the arts, but that he’s going to keep “doing what he does best” and I guess in light of that the show felt a little bit like an elaborate distraction from the real world.

Rutledge

Azuka’s basic mission is to show stories of underdogs. Shitheads basically fits that. But how are they defining underdogs? Which underdogs’ stories are they trying their best to tell?

Nan

Mm. I guess ideally it would be the small business owner/boss, the underdog of vulture capitalism, as you say.

Rutledge

Here’s a fun-loving group of kinda-messed-up-but-not-really folks toiling away in a Chelsea bike shop, but they all kinda end up fine anyway?

Nan

Yeah. I ended up feeling like the piece was much more concerned about the characters themselves? There’s a lot of meat to the play but I really think it’s Akeem Davis’ play, so I guess he would really be the underdog.

Rutledge

Though (spoiler alert) Spider’s final act could be easily seen through a lens of racial violence. Except that Spider’s motivations for attacking and robbing Alex (Akeem Davis) is kind of unclear and a weird twist.

Nan

Yeah. It’s interesting, I did not see that coming at all.

Rutledge

Like, Spider’s not mad that a black bike mechanic has a nice bike he’s trying to sell.

Nan

But I saw the show with my partner, and he said he totally saw it coming?

Rutledge

Is that moment supposed to be a “you never can tell where danger’s a-comin’ from?” I suppose one can see it coming, but I don’t find it dramaturgically sound/interesting.

Brandon’s plot to steal the bike for themselves and “fuck the shop” was, I suppose, made to be a head-fake on how the bike gets stolen. But with such an unclear picture of who Spider is or what he wants, as built up in the preceding scenes, his robbing Alex feels like a twist for twist’s sake–to me, anyway.

Nan

Yeah. I feel like the choice to have Spider assault Alex and then fast forward to corporate drone misery was sort of the defining choice of the play. It was set up as if there was going to be a more traditional peak in action and then denouement, but instead there’s the “out of nowhere” twist and then complete change of tone, scene, everything. And then what follows feels more like an epilogue, in terms of content.

Rutledge

This was a world premiere, and I also know that changes to the text occurred throughout the rehearsal process. Maybe more can change? Does it need to?

Nan

I think if anything were to change I would have liked more insight into Spider? But I think the dramatic structure, though unusual, is very successful.

Rutledge

Yeah, I still had a good time with the whole experience.

Nan

For sure.

Rutledge

We’ve delved into the text quite a bit; is there anything else you’d like to add, or should we move on to design?

Nan

Let’s talk design! I thought the set was really lovely.

Rutledge

The set was astounding. I loved it

Nan

Talk about really successful distressing, too.

Rutledge

The most ambitiously-realized set design I’ve seen at Azuka. At the opening night performance’s curtain speech, Kevin Glaccum (artistic director) specifically thanked by name Joe Daniels, Azuka’s technical director and builder of the set [Ed note: Also Amanda Hatch, props master, who helped dress the set with all the bikes and tools and things]. I thought that was a wonderful gesture, to acknowledge the workers whose actual labor went into supporting the creation of art

Nan

That’s awesome! I’m so glad he did that. It’s so rare to have specific acknowledgement of that kind. Good. I also think the play would not have been as successful with anything less fully realized, so I’m glad it worked so well.

Rutledge

Yeah! And Apollo Weaver made really smart design decisions on top of the aesthetic beauty of it. The placements of exits and entrances helped with dynamic staging and also felt really true to the world the characters inhabited.

Nan

Absolutely. And it felt very Manhattan.

Rutledge

I’m not as familiar with the boroughs of NYC myself.

Nan

I lived in NYC for a while and admittedly didn’t spend a lot of time in Soho but it felt very successful to me. I also felt the costumes did their job very well.

Rutledge

Yeah! They easily revealed much about the characters and also their tracks through the story

Nan

One pet peeve: in Izzy’s first entrance the night I was there she had one clip-in hank of green hair going completely the wrong direction from her own hair. But other than that, the rest blended fairly well, and I appreciated the choice.

Rutledge

Oh no! I didn’t catch that on opening night. Actually I don’t remember Izzy having unnaturally-colored hair at all. Either that was cut for opening or my eyes are really going.

Nan

It was a nice subtle mossy green, it’s possible that it wasn’t noticeable when styled a little more carefully. Do you have any other design thoughts?

Rutledge

The lighting design was competent, I thought. I really liked the use of templates for texture on the large stage-right wall for transitions. For such a straightforward play as Shitheads, there’s not a lot of opportunity for whiz-bang flash, nor is there really any need for it.

Nan

Mm. It was very functional, which I appreciated.

Rutledge

It did successfully solve the problems of a diagonally-oriented set for lighting

Nan

For sure. Sound?

Rutledge

It was also fine. I liked the choices of music for transitions. Maybe it was subtle and I didn’t catch it, but I felt like I could have used some more city soundscape every time the front door opened.

Nan

Agreed. The moment in which Spider was trying to demonstrate the sound his bike was making– I think they used a small special under the counter, and it was a bit noticeable. But I also can’t imagine a better way to do it, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

Rutledge

Yeah, that was noticeably a Sound Cue. But the stage manager did a great job of calling it.

Nan

I’d just like to say how fantastic I felt Akeem’s performance was. Really beautiful honest work.

Rutledge

Oh yes, Akeem is a force on stage. And Charlotte Northeast for me also. She gave so much humanity and truth in her portrayal of Izzy, and was also just consistently hilarious.

Nan

Absolutely. She really brought a lot of herself to it, I think. Really lovely work. And the rest of the cast as well.

Rutledge

I’d only seen David Pica in some readings before, but he did great work with Spider (in spite of my personal criticisms of this character from a textual standpoint)

Nan

Absolutely. Pica is ridiculously talented. I think a lesser performer would have struggled with the role because there’s not much to it, but he navigated it really beautifully.

Rutledge

He’s definitely one to watch for in the future for me

Nan

Agreed. He’s always a tremendous pleasure to watch. And I haven’t seen Harry Watermeier before but he tackled the self-consciousness and then complicated problem with authority twist really elegantly.

Rutledge

Yeah! This was an excellent cast. They worked together so well

Nan

Yes! Really beautiful work all round.

Uncle Vanya- Hedgerow Theater

Annie

So what was in your pockets?

Leeds

I think that Kittson O’Neil, who directed, is an amazing dramaturg. I worked on a show where she was the dramaturg for a new play and I think she has an amazing ear for structure and writing.

Annie

I’ve worked with Hedgerow before and had an ok experience. It doesn’t really bias me one way or the other, but I have worked there. I think more importantly, I don’t get Chekhov. I know that it’s supposed to be important, but I don’t get it. And I think it’s really boring.

Leeds

I really love Chekhov. I guess that’s in my pockets, too.

Annie

Do you want to start with design?

Leeds

Sure. The design really bothered me, actually because it seemed to be coming from so many different directions. The chairs were in a modern style and mint green, while the tables were rustic wood, except for the red chair that Serebryakov slept in…

Annie

I have a lot of questions about that chair! In addition to being bright red, which would make me think that it’s very important- maybe symbolizing a throne or something, it had a weird…almost a cancer on it?

Leeds

Right! It had been deliberately altered but in a style that didn’t match anything else on stage, and I couldn’t figure out why. And there was also that table of green medicine bottles that was interesting to look at but had a very modern, intentional look that didn’t fit with the other items on stage. And all of this was framed by long, gauzy curtains which, again, were of a totally different style from everything else.

Annie

And the tree.

Leeds

Right, and the tree. Which seemed to be decaying, almost? The fact that the tree motif extended around the ring that the gauzy curtains hung from made me confused about where this play was taking place. In the house? In a garden?

Annie

There is no set designer credited for the show. Maybe that’s the problem? Sebastienne Mundheim is credited as Visual Director, but I’m not sure that’s the same thing.

Leeds

One more thing I want to say about the curtains. This play is about people who are confined, cramped and can’t escape. It’s totally counterintuitive to set it in an environment which is all about openings, escape routes and flexibility. It did a really poor job of creating the world.

Annie

I agree with that, but I was more bothered by the set changes themselves. The set changes were preset, like for a dance.

Leeds

Right and the house lights went down before the scene change that happened during intermission, so we were definitely supposed to be watching them.

Annie

Right, but they didn’t feel like they were in the world of the play. The singing did, I guess, in that it was Russian, and the (stagehands? actors?) who were doing the scene changes were in costume, but they weren’t doing the changes in character. They were doing them with the efficiency of a normal scene change. And clipping large carabiners onto a curtain definitely doesn’t belong to the world of the play. So I was really confused about why our attention was directed to the scene changes, because it didn’t seem to add anything to the story. And like you said, when they were up, they made the place look like a beach vacation paradise, not the last crumbling asset of a trapped academic.

Leeds

Regardless, using those big poles to push the curtains was a beautiful visual.

Annie

I agree! It was really pretty! It just didn’t belong to the play. I think that about the curtains in general.

Leeds

One more picky thing about the set dressing, I really wish we hadn’t been able to see the maps that Dr. Astrov had made. I would have much preferred to imagine them. Looking at his artistic style and level of talent left me to judge him in a way that I don’t think was intended.

Annie

How about costumes by Sarah Mitchell?

Leeds

I thought they were thoughtful and appropriate. They were true to the period, they represented the characters well. Elena’s clothes clearly distanced her from Sonya in class and position. The color palate separated the country people (browns) from the city people (graysale.)

Annie

I loved Astrov’s clothes. I thought they were the perfect balance of nitpicky and disheveled.

Leeds

I agree. I didn’t love Vanya’s costume, I felt it was a little too put together for someone who is falling apart. However, that was my feeling about the portrayal of the character altogether, so I don’t think that’s on Sarah Mitchell.

Annie

Do you want to say anything else about design before we move on to that? We didn’t talk about lights and sound.

Leeds

I’m pretty neutral on both.

Annie

I was very distracted by the strip of LEDs at the top of the stage. They got in my eyes a lot and also looked busy and distracting over that beautiful old wall they have at Hedgerow. And I found the sound to be a pretty pedestrian. Indication- like carriages leaving- wasn’t really necessary.

Leeds

It’s what the script calls for, though.

Annie

Sure, but I hate it when design tells you exactly what the script tells you. And the sound was so naturalistic when the other design was more suggestive or symbolic.

Leeds

Yes, that is my big complaint overall about the design in this production. There’s no clear vision of how it’s supposed to look and feel. It feels like the designers didn’t work together, or more to the point like the director didn’t have a clear idea of the style the show was supposed to be in. It ended up feeling thrown together.

Annie

I know you want to talk about directing.

Leeds

I do. I was really frustrated with the direction of this play, and I admit that might be because I love it so much. In addition to the lack of stylistic and visual unity, the production itself didn’t have a clear vision. In her director’s notes O’Niell says that the play is truthful and relevant, but neither the notes nor the production say how or why.

Annie

Yeah, we talked about this a little, and I thought this had to do with the acting. I thought that Adam Altman as Vanya started really high, and then had nowhere to go, for example.

Leeds

To me, that’s a directing problem. I don’t think this play knew who its Vanya was. And that came out in a lot of ways. The staging continually put people in straight lines and all at the same level. The same happened with the pacing, which led to a feeling of lack of throughline to the scenes and especially to the monologues.

Annie

That’s Chekhov, though! It’s just a bunch of monologues. It’s people saying how they feel. At length. With nothing happening.

Leeds

Again, that’s in the direction! Chekhov is all about subtext, what characters AREN’T saying.

Annie

How can there be subtext when characters constantly hold forth in this declaratory way?

Leeds

That’s the challenge, though. To play the tension of the situation. This play is about inevitable circumstances. Saying how you feel does not, can not, change the situation. That’s where the stakes and drama come from. Admitting that you love someone, unrequited, or don’t love them, and then being forced to live out your days with them. Wanting to leave and not being able to. This stuff has to be delicately staged and directed so that it doesn’t end up looking like a melodrama.

Annie

I really don’t see it.

Leeds

That’s a shame, though!

Annie

Maybe. But I did enjoy some of the performances. Jared Reed was compelling as Astrov.

Leeds

And I think that’s because he found that tension and desperation and played it. He had his own internal world. His words always felt like they were coming somewhere deeper.

Annie

Maybe. I loved any scene he had with Sonya (Jennifer Summerfield.)

Leeds

Me, too. I think that she used her whole body to tell the story of her longing, and her desperate optimism in a way that transcended the words she had to say.

Annie

I thought you loved Chekhov!

Leeds

I do! I do! But the story is under it, you know? If you just stage it, you miss the point.

Annie

Isn’t that just saying you have to direct your way out of a bad play?

Leeds

Look, this story IS very relevant right now. It’s about an underclass of people whose labor props up an elitist in a fantasy world that they wish they could have. They resent the man who seems to get all the benefit (who is also misterable!) and they hook their longing onto the woman who he chooses. Their anger and resentment becomes dangerous. The way it plays out in terms of class and gender is a perfect parallel for the election. You could choose to tell the story that way. Or you could choose to focus on the emotions of the characters and do a straightforward period piece. But this production does neither. The lack of clarity makes it confusing at best and boring at worst for people like you who already don’t like Chekhov.

Annie

I will take your word for it.

Leeds

Trust me.

 

Cover Photo: Ashley LaBonde

doug greene Secret Show- The Painted Bride

June is a white, cis, female theatermaker here in Philly.

Steele is an actor, producer, marketer, and creator in Philadelphia.

June

What was in your pockets at the start of the show?

Steele

I am connected to the Painted Bride, but I haven’t seen any of doug’s solo work, that’s about it. What was in your pockets?

June

I’m aware of the Secret Show process, and I’d seen the Tuesday Boys Experience. I didn’t really enjoy myself, so I was curious to see doug’s show. But I don’t actually know him.

Steele

I missed the Tuesday Boys but have seen other Secret Shows so I was excited for another one. As two people who don’t personally know doug greene, how did you feel that impacted how you enjoyed the show?

June

That’s a great question. I’ve been feeling really on the outside of Philadelphia Theatre lately, because so much of it is predicated on inside jokes. But doug’s show was a great example of a piece that is intimately connected to a singular subject, without alienating the people on the outside. At least, it didn’t alienate me. I think that’s probably because, while the piece was “about” him, it was actually about the process of celebration/grieving. Celebration as grieving, and vice versa.

Steele

I have similar feelings about the Philly theater community. I think the opening portion and the final auction portion were great looks into just living a better life in general. The middle portion I felt a little more left out of the inside jokes, but could relate to the things that most actors can relate to – passion projects, not being paid enough, etc. There were people all around me who were close to doug crying so I felt like I wasn’t as connected as others in the audience, but it was a great production overall.

June

Oh wow. I was sitting towards the back of the house without a lot of people around me, so I had no idea people were crying. When the actors gave their eulogies, I just continued to be struck by how mischievous this whole premise is. In that way I thought that doug’s reading of Tom Sawyer was very on the nose (maybe a little too on the nose)?: how sneaky it is to attend your own funeral, and watch the complexity of relationships be simplified for posterity! Mostly that’s where I was – watching people perform and wondering how much of it was what they would actually say and how much of it was hyper conscious of the fact that doug was sitting right there. I kept coming back to this frequent mention of doug being a Professional Mourner – that he had lost so many people in his life, so he knew how to mourn well. I started to get a very melancholic sense of who he was.

Steele

Yes! I got into that melancholic sense during the pre-show when someone told me that the people represented in the suitcases were actually people he lost.

June

And that two of his brothers died when he was young?

Steele

Yes. That was very hard to hear. How did you feel about the pre-show?

June

I really loved the pre show – I loved his artwork and the actors who helped us understand the premise – that we were attending his funeral. I had a friend ruin it for me, though, so I wonder how long it would have taken me to come to that organically.

Steele

I did know the premise ahead of time so that wasn’t shocking, but the execution of the premise was great. The ending in particular – the auction segment – was very impactful to me and not something you usually have at a funeral. I was encouraged to go out and live life and live life in a better way.

June

Ooh I loved that! Questioning the value of “things” after someone has died, whether we should discard them and invest in something else. I thought the whole construction of the evening was very smart. How different all of the actors’ tributes to him were? That was great.

Steele

Absolutely, from the pre-show to the “repast” it was very well thought out. Yes! The diversity in the tributes was really really good.

June

Did you bid on any of the auction items?

Steele

Yes, I bid on defriending 10 people from Facebook that aren’t really your friends. Did you bid on anything?

June

I bid on looking a homeless person in the eye for that $800 pashmena blanket. But I was outbid pretty quickly for that one.

Steele

Wow! That was a steep one. I really appreciated how people really invested and thought about the stakes and what they were willing to commit to.

June

Totally. The spookiest one for me was him auctioning off his deceased brother’s shirt. That was another moment when I thought about how smart his construction was – he had a lot of people say a lot of different things about him, and about the artist’s relationship with death, but there was still so much of his life that I don’t know about.

Steele

Yea that was very eerie. So well constructed. I feel like he made the audience feel how he intended. And I left feeling like I knew him more at the end.

June

Totally. I was consistently impressed by how I didn’t need to know him to enjoy the piece, how really it was about funerals and memorials, rather than about doug himself.

Steele

Yes, and about life.

June

Totally. The food was really good, by the way.

Steele

I had to run before the food! I’m sad I missed it.

June

Very tasteful vegan food. What about the design? Did you feel strongly about it one way or the other?

Steele

I thought the gallery was AWESOME. I feel like there was a little too much stuff on the stage.

June

Mmm yeah. I was waiting for all of it to be activated – I think that it was once he said that we could take anything that spoke to us, or anything whose value seemed important to us. Again, inviting us into the question of the value of things after death – but I can see how all of that business might have been distracting.

Steele

Yeah a little less would have been good. But what a thought to offer your personal items to the audience? Did you take anything?

June

I didn’t! Again, I was wondering how much of that invitation was genuine! And then, of course I just felt timid and reserved at the thought of calling his bluff – even though there were several things on the stage that I thought were beautiful and I would more than likely have put in my home.

Steele

Yeah I also wondered how much was show and how much was an actual invitation to take his items. But with the structure of the show I’m thinking it was probably genuine.

June

Same. I just got scared someone would find me out and be like, you didn’t know him, that’s rude. Like when you attend the funeral of someone you don’t really know!

Steele

True!

June

How are you feeling about the experience as a whole?

Steele

I really enjoyed it and I felt inspired to live life MORE and better. That stayed with me in the evening afterwards and is still with me today. How about you?

June

Oh that’s awesome! It made me think a lot about using your life as a vehicle to a larger exploration in theater. I’m often afraid in my own art that I’m going to get so lost introducing the audience to me that I’ll forget what I had originally wanted to say.