Who deserves to be recognized? Send us your unsung heroes!

Do you know someone who makes Philly theater amazing, but is rarely recognized?

A stage manager? Production manager? Front of house person? Dramaturg? Fight choreographer?

As Bonaly is putting together our recognition of outstanding work from our first reviewing season, we don’t want to leave out the people whose work is hard to see from the house.

Please let us know if there’s someone that should get recognition for their contributions to Philly theater by emailing bonalyreviews@gmail.com by May 6th. Thank you!

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The Broken Heart- Qunitessence Theater

Valancy is a producer and actress

Sarah Grimke is a theater maker, administrator and producer

Valancy

Shall we start with what was in our pockets?

 

Sarah

Sounds perfect! I don’t really have anything in my pockets for Quintessence. This was my first show there. You?

 

Valancy

 

I had just seen ” Love’s Labor’s Lost” earlier in the week.

 

Sarah

I was sorry to miss that one.I do want to say that if people thought it was crazy hard to get to- that’s not true! Go see a show there!

 

Valancy

I agree; it’s a lovely walk from Allen’s Lane station!  I had had a really hard time with “Love’s Labor’s”, particularly with the length, so I went to this one with some trepidation knowing it was another 3 hour long production.

 

Sarah

It. was. so. Long. Had you seen this show “The Broken Heart” before?

 

Valancy

No, I’d never seen or read it and know nothing about John Ford’s plays. I do love a good revenge tragedy though! Had you ever seen it before?

 

Sarah

I’d somehow never seen or read it. I’m so glad I did though. I  definitely got lost in the show at times in a really beautiful way.

 

Valancy

Me too! I have to say the three hours flew by with this one for me. Seeing a fluffy comedy like Love’s Labor’s is totally different. It’s easier for me to get swept away by the drama of the characters and the plot of a tragedy.

 

Sarah

There was definitely a pacing/exposition problem at the top of show and I was a little worried for a bit, but it picked up and I really got invested. I will say, the credit for my rapture can be given to the performers, because the directing, lighting, sound and the costumes left something to be desired

 

Valancy

That’s really interesting because I really thought the dramatic intensity of the lighting and original music worked well together. I do wonder if my criticisms of the earlier Shakespeare play made me look more favorably on the design of this one. I thought they were aiming to make The Broken Heart very cinematic in its moments of intensity.

 

The beginning pantomime, during Orgilus’s first speech, although it slowed the pacing down really helped me understand who all the players were and where we were dramatically at the start of the play.

 

Sarah

That’s true. The Pantomime at the top was very useful. After seeing the whole show, I wasn’t sure if they could have sped up the beginning without losing audience on the plot/characters.

 

Valancy

It’s a very complicated plot!

 

Sarah

It was worth it to me. When I didn’t like a lighting choice, it was usually because of a directorial choice that put someone in a really hard place to light easily. However, that space has a very limited setup for lighting, so I was also just impressed with what they were able to do overall.

 

Valancy

I agree with that. I did notice that when Orgilus was hiding in the seating area, they managed to light him with a well aimed spot, which was impressive. I love that space though. It’s very Art Deco and grand.

 

What did you think of the play itself? Everyone always compares 17th Century playwrights to Shakespeare, and I was really interested in how some of the imagery or plot devices mirrored him, particularly “Hamlet,” I thought.

 

Sarah

Oh definitely,  But I was also pleasantly surprised to feel how different a verse play could be.  It did feel more timeless somehow than some Shakespeare? Maybe that was just some expert verse delivery (especially from Mattie Hawkinson who played Penthea), but it didn’t feel as Elizabethan as I expected.

I wonder if that’s because I’ve never read/seen/studied The Broken Heart. I got to go in with a clean slate in a nice way. Plus, I didn’t notice the cuts. Sometimes with the famous verse plays, we keep in scenes or speeches that we shouldn’t because people expect them, and I have a feeling there was none of that preciousness with cuts in this one. They did a great job making it move.

 

Valancy

It really was great to just go on the journey with this one; something we never really get to do with Shakespeare because we have so many expectations about how it should be performed. It felt very accessible to me too; and some lines popped out as moments of incredible truth and I found myself wondering why we don’t wander around quoting John Ford all the time.

 

The old man sitting next to me kept muttering “that’s a great line!”

I’m looking forward to carting out “you look not like the ruins of your youth, but the ruins of those ruins!”

 

What did you dislike about the costumes? Again, I had such a problem with the costuming in Love’s Labors that I was relieved to see costuming I didn’t hate and that seemed to fit the performers adequately. It was very lush. I loved the rich fabrics.

 

Sarah

I felt like it was all over the place. It was just generically “old.” The dresses spanned the Romantic period to Elizabethan and I was confused as they ranged at least a couple of different centuries. I guess they weren’t trying to really place it in a specific time, but there was a while where I was trying to figure out “when” we were.

 

Valancy

I see. I felt like the comedic bits could have been cut. I didn’t feel the need for comedic relief and some of it felt forced and like it prevented us from continuing along on the journey.

 

Sarah

Yes, and they weren’t funny-but more rapey or at least more street-harassment based than I need in my life in 2017.

 

Valancy

Yes, rapey… which we certainly don’t need, particularly when there are strong female characters to be had, like the Princess and Penthea. The “comedic” bits also forced actors into being double cast, which required a bit more versatility than the average person has. I just wanted to get them over and done with. Sometimes they came at moments of drama and felt even more inappropriate.

 

Sarah

Yes, I felt like they were covering  a costume change and not good for anything else.

 

Valancy

Good point; maybe that’s true!  I felt a bit confused, like perhaps a scene had been cut, between Penthea reconciling with her brother and her final madness. It seemed like a huge jump had been made, but that’s often the case in Shakespeare’s tragedies too, so maybe nothing was cut and it was just the playwright trying to finish the play in a hurry.

 

Sarah

I felt that way too.. but then i just chalked it up to Ophelia syndrome- “she’s sad and then she’s totally nuts.”

 

Valancy

Yep!

 

Sarah

You know.. like a lady!

 

Valancy

And soaking wet too!

 

Sarah

As is always the case.  I was really blown away by some of the text work in this one. They were able to race through verse, and I just ate it up by the end.  If I don’t see Ebony Pullum (Calantha) and Mattie Hawkinson (Penthea) in more shows, I’ll be so disappointed.

 

(Sidenote– Get your monologues here! Great new classical monologue and scene material to be had. You don’t have to do the ring speech one more time!)

 

Valancy

Yes, it was pretty universally well-done, and their investment in the text and the meaning was really apparent. I made a point of sitting in the front row for this one so that I could see facial expressions, which enhanced it for me as well.

 

I was so happy to see Ebony Pullum with a meaty and emotionally complex role after what she was given to do in Love’s Labor’s, which was very little and terribly sexist. I reveled in her final scene of this one. What a performance.

 

Sarah

Ebony was so amazing in that final scene and that choral music made me cry!  What a wonderful use of chamber music in those final moments!

 

Valancy

Oh yes, that final, beautiful music, with the multiple harmonies! Just gorgeous. The audience demanded more bows from the performers than they had planned to give.

 

What did you think of the staging itself? I thought they avoided many of the pitfalls of playing to a three-quarter audience and I didn’t notice anyone really blocking anyone else from view or getting trapped in a corner or anything. And I loved moving out into the gorgeous, cathedral-like inner lobby for the final ballroom scene, although I think some of the older people in the audience had some difficulty. But what a dramatic and beautiful ending to the play.

 

Sarah

You are totally right! Alexander Burns did a great job of ¾ staging, which is no easy feat. He really used the entire space and minimal props to transport us to multiple settings.  I also really loved the choice to have us move to the second space for the last scene. It really felt like a party in the lobby.

 

Valancy

I felt like the actors were about to ask the audience to dance with them, and I’m pretty sure I would have done it. It looked like such fun!

 

Sarah

I absolutely would have danced with them.  2 minutes after a bunch of death on stage, I think moving the audience allowed for some necessary separation.

 

Valancy

Yes, it was such a smart move to have us leave the scene of double death, and the fact that actors were still weeping softly over the corpses made me feel torn about leaving. Like I was glimpsing something secret and deeply personal. It was a beautiful way to stage it.

 

Sarah

It did all feel so personal.  I also want to give a solid shout out to the 2 actors who were dead on stage for forever, one in each separate space. That is HARD and I saw you and you deserve hugs.

 

Valancy

Yes, particularly those actors who were panting and emoting seconds before death! How did they stop breathing???

 

Sarah

It was magical.

 

Valancy

Mattie Hawkinson’s Penthea made a gorgeous corpse, I must say. She looked like she was made of marble. Beautiful.

 

Sarah

The deaths were excellently staged. I think that killing someone that close to an audience with blood is incredibly hard, and they did a good job from where I was sitting.  Much admiration for Ian Rose’s fight choreography.

 

Valancy

Yes, Ian Rose is truly a master.  Did blood splatter on Josh Carpenter (Orgilus’) face when he killed Ithocles the night you saw it? It was amazing.

 

Sarah

Yes, and then he was just bloody forever- which was a little strange in the party scene. I kept wondering when someone was going to be like “Did you cut yourself shaving? Did you just murder someone?” But again, because I didn’t know the play, I wondered whether it was on purpose and then watched it unfold which was such a treat in a classical play.

 

Valancy

Oh, he was better at cleaning himself up the night I saw it.

 

Sarah

I thought that Gregory Isaac did a remarkable job of making Bassanes not as 100% unlikeable as he should have been. I’d like to say I don’t always like dramaturgical packets in a program but the explanation of how serious it was to break an engagement was incredibly helpful to my watching the play and understanding motivations.  Since they gave that so much weight in the exposition- it kept me from feeling lost because of how strongly people were reacting.

 

Valancy

Yes, they really did think it was a contract as strong and binding as marriage itself.

 

Sarah

My only complaint about this play as a script is that without that summary and info, I would have had a hard time following.  That could have been a cutting issue, but mostly i think it’s a time-period issue. God knows Shakespeare/Moliere/Middleton etc. were no less convoluted.

 

Valancy

I almost wish I could have a do-over and go back knowing nothing about the play and not having read the program to see how much I could have followed. But I think you’re right; there are so many story lines and so many people who are vaguely related to one another, that it was difficult to remember who was whose father sometimes.

 

Sarah

In general, I was really happy with the dramatic performances, unhappy with the “comedic” bits, and really delighted with discovering this not-so-new play. I’ll have really positive memories of seeing this show for a long time, and I’ll definitely be back to Quintessence to see more. Maybe just not their Shakespeare, because I loved seeing something new.

 

It makes me wonder how many other amazing verse-plays are out there languishing in Will’s shadow.

 

Valency

I agree with all of this; I love Shakespeare, but I’m a little tired of productions of his plays and attempts to make them “new” again. Mostly, I’m thrilled to discover a playwright who is new to me and to know there is a trove of these undiscovered plays with strong female characters in them. I can’t wait to see more!

 

The Light Princess- Arden Theater

Sarah Grimke is a Philadelphia producer

Espie is a queer mixed race director and producer

 

Sarah

So did you see an evening show or a school matinee?

Espie

I saw a Sunday matinee so the audience was almost entirely parents and their children

Sarah

Pockets- I’ve worked for and with the Arden before, and while I have some questions about the work environment there, and I’m not always in love with their season choice- I am always 100% in love with the work they do for children. So, I wanted to like it.

Espie

I didn’t have a ton in my pockets other than working with a few of the actors.  I’ve actually never seen a show at the Arden before and was really excited to see their children’s theatre.  Also, it’s been awhile since I had seen a musical, and I was really ready and looking forward to getting swept up in song.

Sarah

Do you want to start with design? It was upstairs in their smaller stage, the Arcadia theater, and in the proscenium setup for that space. I’m always amazed what they do in that room, ’cause I can tell you from experience there’s not much to work with. very little grid height, very little- if any- wing space.

Espie

I thought having the clouds on the pulleys was such a smart way to communicate flight.

Sarah

They used the height they did have really well. There were ladders hidden on the sides of the stage so that the lead character, who is supposed to fly, could be “on the ceiling” while everyone else was below. That plus the pulleys gave some great effects. Nick Benacerraf did set, and this made me want to see what else he can do. I hope to see his work again soon.

Plus, with puppets and these kinds of effects- it just made me feel like I was looking inside a kid’s imagination. I just immediately felt like kids were going to go home and use sheets to represent water and climb trees to pretend they were flying.

Espie

I didn’t think about that, but that is so true. At times, I got distracted by the amount of blue sheets that were used to represent the lake.  There were a few points where I found myself thinking about how swallowed up the actors were by all of that blue as opposed to what was going on in the scene.

Sarah

That didn’t happen for me, but I could also tell that the staging was pretty sight-line dependent so I might have just had a good seat for those moments. I definitely didn’t have a great seat for some, so that makes sense.  Were you high up or lower down? The Arcadia has a very steep bank of seats.

Espie

I was low – in the second row.

Sarah

I was a little more than midway up and I could tell that my height was a real advantage to the swimming scenes. I feel like a raked stage might have helped them with sightlines, but again they would have lost some playing space. 

Those seats are just so steep that the difference between views is massive for each person, and Steve Pacek, while a wonderful performer, is relatively new to directing and that’s a hard space to direct in.

Espie

I agree about the raked stage. It is a tricky space – I wished that the area that was used as the Light Princess’ window was used for more than one song

Sarah

That’s true. I feel like this show needed more playing area. I would love to see remounted with more space and some script changes. Since they were pressed for space,  have a playing space only be used once seemed like a wasted opportunity.

Lighting did a good job in that I didn’t notice it and I think that was the point in this one. The smooth transitions and allowing for difference in multiple settings totally worked!

Costumes (Jill Keys) were pretty and functional but there was a super awkward moment in our talkback where the actors playing the King and Queen explained that because the queen was “more in charge” she “wore the pants” and that’s why her costume had pants and that the king “was more emotional and wimpy” and that’s why his coat resembled a dress.  I almost leapt out of my chair.

Espie

Woof, that’s unfortunate.

Sarah

Don’t say that stuff ever, but absolutely not to children!  I hope that was just an actor gaff and not a costume designer idea that hung around the entire process without objection.

In that vein, there was one character I found problematic: the witch. I think having the evil character a woman played by a man is a distinct choice-especially in this social moment. Plus, the main characters all had a Christian practice of christenings and churches while the witch said “Mazel Tov” at them and all of that just rubbed me the wrong way.  One of the reasons I really love the Arden’s work with Children’s Theatre is that they work really hard to make sure their plays are filled with diverse casts and that they aren’t filled with damaging ideals. So, I was sad to see all of that slip through

Espie

Yeah, I didn’t understand why that character was a woman beyond upholding stereotype. The tweed coat having breasts so clearly sewn in made me a bit uncomfortable – it was not necessary and it enforced the gender binary.

Sarah

There were some cool moments and ideas that were created by the “hero” and the “villain” being played by the same person, and there was just no reason to make the “bad person” appear to be dressing up as a woman.

I don’t want to walk away from that topic all together but I do want to talk about the music– which I generally found charming and to say that the kids at my show were having the time of their lives, especially when anything “magical” seemed to happen. Plus seeing a black princess was obviously just making the audience I was with explode with pride

Espie

I did too!  Again, since I hadn’t seen a musical in a while, this is the area that I feel least able to articulate, but I did leave the theater humming the last song.

This was the first show I’ve seen with an equal parent to child ratio, and it was really awesome watching all of the kids tug on their parents sleeves when magic happened.  Also, it was really cool seeing parents and children be equally invested in the show.

Sarah

I frequently tell people that when they are sad they should try to go to a Arden Kids’ show. you’ll leave humming and inspired by the youth.

I liked this one particularly because I think it was like a live-action Disney musical and I sometimes worry that “kids these days” don’t get their imaginations exercised with dragons and magic and alternate universes. Yes, I’m old and I say “kids these days.”

Espie

Yeah, I really appreciated how even though the story took place in this one kingdom – it felt like you were going on an adventure.

Sarah

Yes! And the performances were really joyful. Brett Robinson, who played the princess, made me want to explode with glee.

Espie

YES to Brett’s performance, she really tapped into the emotional through line of the piece.  Every time the princess was happy, I was smiling and every time she was sad I had tears in my eyes.

Sarah

She just embodies effervescence. I was just googling the character names for the show and I realized that the queen has a name but the king doesn’t and the queen’s name is “Queen Humdrum”- WHY?

I wish my job was to go into a rehearsal room when a script is being finalized– and just be like “here are three really easy things you could do that would make this less offensive.”

Espie

I wish the name thing surprised me more, I did find myself thinking about how undeveloped the king and queen were as characters during the show.  It was great that the queen was strong and logical, but she only used those qualities in support of the king. I didn’t know why she wasn’t running the kingdom.

Sarah

Yes! Or at least why they didn’t have a more balanced relationship in which they were both real people. I know it is a kids’ show, but I think you have to be careful about showing relationship dynamics where each person has only one trait and the couple doesn’t work together.

I think children’s theatre has a large responsibility. Most children aren’t going to think critically about whether or not the king and queen were a good couple. It will just get filed away in their examples of what couples can be and they will add it to their algorithm. They are developing critical thought right now, so what you provide them has so much more weight to it. I wish the Arden had taken that responsibility as seriously as they did the music or the scenery.

Espie

Yes.  I felt like the simplicity of their relationship also took away from the ability to complicate their feelings around the Princess’ lack of emotional gravity.  For the most part, they only communicated exhaustion, as opposed to sadness or anger.

Sarah

Yes. And it also bothered me that there was no upside to her weightlessness after she aged- only sadness.

Espie

Yeah, I kept expecting for her to discover something through her honesty or ability to use language (there’s no way that she would ever lose an argument!) or the fact that she could fly.  I was disappointed when the discovery, I guess, was that a prince loved her.  

Sarah

Ugh. 

Espie

She also never expressed wanting to change!

Sarah

I wanted more layers throughout. There were some amazing things in there, but my major beef with a lot of kids’ scripts is that they don’t put in the work, because they think kids don’t need it, but that is so wrong. Kids need the layers more, because you are shaping their world view.

Espie

Yes!  Also when you’re working with music – which I think manipulates emotions more easily than any other medium – you have to be extremely responsible about the stories that you’re cultivating.  Despite all the qualms I have regarding the princess’ autonomy, I was still crying during her and the prince’s duet as the prince  forced her to watch him die by ransoming her happiness.

Sarah

ME TOO!  It was just like every time I’ve watched any romantic comedy ever, where I’m like “THAT’S EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION AND STALKING- GET OUT!” but then I cry when they get married.

I guess I was just hoping for better than that.

Espie

I agree.  

Love’s Labors Lost- Quintessence Theater

Valancy is an actress and producer in Philadelphia

I hadn’t seen anything at Quintessence since Othello, which I enjoyed, although I have a problem with the artistic director’s seeming problem with women and how he portrays them in his productions (in the case of Othello, they were played by men.) Still, I came to Love’s Labor’s to have a good time.

Many of my impressions are tainted by the length of this production of Love’s Labor’s Lost. There’s not a Shakespearean comedy in the world that should be three hours long. It’s a souffle, a quick and dirty battle of wits and charm. It desperately needed an editor. Some of the length might be attributable to the well-choreographed (by Kaki Burns) dance scenes, but many actors seemed to make up for that time by racing through their speeches. I would have preferred fewer dances and more love and savoring of the language.

Director Alex Burns always has a strong sense of style and choreography in his productions, even with limited space, and the scene changes in this were among the finest I’ve seen: precise and powerful, like a well aimed punch in the face.

The lights (David Sexton) and sound (Daniel Ison) worked beautifully together to create a very stylish and stylized framework for the play; quick blackouts followed by sudden light and dance music illuminating the actors on stage as they struck a pose or, in the case of Armado, played by Josh Carpenter, came on dancing or strutting.

The costume design (Christina Bullard) was unfortunately not linked to any other design element of the play and felt chaotic. I’ve tried to think what the overall design concept was, but am still confused. Seeing the men first, in their collegiate sweaters and ties and wingtips, I was excited to think they had chosen to set the play in the 1920s and thought the women would likely be dressed in fringe and sequins and feathers. Instead, my heart dropped when the sudden blackout and big reveal came and the women, mirroring the former pose and staging of the men, were in tight, “sexy” modern dresses and dangerously high heels. Once again, despite the wit and intellect of these powerful women of the French court, they have been reduced by the theatre and the designer to sex kittens. They will never be at the level of the men while hobbled by their tight skirts and stiletto heels.

But the design didn’t stop there, and instead of remaining consistent, each scene only added to the confusion of time/place/personal style. The women are later revealed in hunting attire which seems to be a nod to the Edwardians. They sport top hats and riding pants, the princess in leather… and still later, we find them in evening wear, which turns out to resemble 1980’s prom dresses. Why? I’ve no idea.

The set had two levels, the lower one a large rectangular playing area covered in astroturf, and the upper level decorated with potted cypress trees, and behind them both was a blue painted backdrop giving the impression of a deep, limitless sky. Seeing it, I liked it. It threw the actors in strong relief and, with the audience sitting on three sides of the playing area, allowed the actors to move freely to be seen by more of the audience, although by the end of three hours, the actors and director had exhausted most of the options for blocking and interesting stage pictures and I, in turn was exhausted as I kept seeing the same ones repeated.

My love for the large green rectangle ended as soon as the actors began to move over it, some of them shuffling their feet and creating a sweeping sound that competed with the text for my attention, and the women sometimes seemed to move with difficulty over the turf in their unforgiving shoes.

The acting was uneven and not everyone seemed comfortable or emotionally connected to the language, which is problematic in a play about wooing and sparring with words. What might be overlooked in a shorter play, after three hours seems less forgivable. However, there were some lovely performances too. Among the men (and it seems right to separate the men and women, because their attraction for each other never seemed clear to me) Lee Cortopossi made the language his own as the King of Navarre, and Ashton Carter’s lovely resonance and stage presence as Longaville were wonderful to see. Josh Carpenter made the boldest choice of the evening by making his Spanish Don Armado actually incomprehensible, with a thick accent and imaginary speech impediment. Once I gave up trying to decipher Shakespeare’s language and accept that it was performance art at its finest, I delighted in his comedic, highly physical performance.

Among the women, Dana Kreitz as Rosaline had a vocal variety that was welcome to my ears and a feisty charm that made her appeal to Berowne more than understandable.

It’s obvious from the program that Alex Burns likes to work with the same people consistently, as do most of the artistic directors in Philadelphia. The result is that his pool of diverse players is relatively small. For someone known to cast men in women’s roles, he doesn’t ever seem to do the reverse, and this play, like all of Shakespeare’s plays, would not suffer in the slightest by some non-traditional casting, particularly in the roles of Moth, Don Armado’s companion, and Boyet and Constable Dull. And out of a cast of 15, there were perhaps 4 actors of color represented, which is not good enough in 2017.

 

Flesh, Flesh, Flesh: a Ghost Play

 

Maggie is a cis, white woman and a theatre artist.

Lola is a theatre artist and a new play advocate.

 

Maggie

What’s in your pockets?

 

Lola

A connection to some of the actors in the piece, as well as genuine curiosity. And I’ve been to the Bok Bar before and it is one of the spookiest places I have ever entered. Yours?

 

Maggie

Same. I’m friends with a bunch of the creators/performers, and I think the Bok space is really cool. Also, I work at a job where I get asked about ghosts almost everyday and it makes me feel kind of crabby.

 

Lola

Did that enhance or detract from your experience in the play? Kelsey Hodgkiss’ character, Shelly, must have struck a familiar nerve.

 

Maggie

Totally. I think it actually really enhanced it. One of the things I was most interested in throughout the piece was this idea of museum curation and interpreting history, especially when it comes to people who can’t speak for themselves. It made me more sympathetic to the impulse to look for ghosts and to try to communicate with them, but also more skeptical of the results people get from their attempts at contact with those ghosts.

 

Lola

Yes. I was so into Kristen Norine’s ghost (although I am always into Kristen Norine as a performer) Because of course she’s remembered for being beautiful and because of that her husband killed her, because that’s way prettier than somebody who was hurt so bad they took their own life.

Makes for a better ghost tour story.

 

Maggie

Yeah! I was really into the overall ghost dramaturgy, actually. I liked the idea that the stories they retold may or may not have been their own, and I liked the little details we got to know about them throughout the show. It felt like the creators had a really clear idea about the world that they occupied.

 

Lola

Definitely. I felt a little less compelled by the “Real people” part of the story. I think we could have acted as our own guides through the “museum” and joined while the puppet eating the lady moment was happening and been surrounded with the ghosts acting out their BEAUTIFUL movement segments. I would have been so in.

 

Maggie

I very much agree. I was so interested in some of the weirder elements of the piece that I felt like I didn’t fully understand (the princesses, the monster puppet, the ghosts) and I had a much harder time connecting to Amelia Williams’s living, human character. I was surprised that the end of the play focused so much on her character’s emotional state–I didn’t feel like I was totally set up for that as an audience member.

Also, hard agree on the movement. So good. And so specific and beautifully performed.

 

Lola

  1. LOVED. THE. PRINCESSES.

Also, was Amelia Williams’ character (I missed her character name and I feel terrible about that) the monster? Was she a murderer? Did she kill her frenemy? I was confused. The acoustics were rough.

 

Maggie

I was confused about whether she was the monster. And there were some elements of the play that I felt unsure about but kind of comfortable about being confused, but that confusion felt more isolating.

Acoustics WERE rough. Which is a shame because the space otherwise was really cool and worked well for the piece. But it was really hard to hear the performers.

 

Lola

I dig that isolation, but only if it’s purposeful, and it didn’t always seem purposeful.

So hard to hear. Which stinks, because it was dark and cozy and you can feel yourself drift a bit. And then the Princesses storm back on and you’re like I’M BACK!! I AM IN THIS PLAY.

Serving Over Caffeinated Evil Queen realness.

 

Maggie

Agreed. I loved them so much. I loved them bringing a different dynamic to the undead world.

I found myself wishing that we as the audience were given a little bit more to hold onto in terms of where we fit in the world of the play. I liked the whole set-up of having us “going on a tour” of the collection, but then when we entered the space it became clear that Kelsey’s character was just giving a tour to Amelia’s–it didn’t feel like we were a part of it.

 

Lola

Yes yes yes yes. I heard there was another iteration of the script that didn’t have a promenade part and I actually think it may have worked better without it.

Or directly involve the audience. Because why not.

 

Maggie

Yeah, I wish it was one or the other. Although it was cool to have the ghosts moving around behind us as we were standing. And it was fun to discover the princesses in the space, that was a nice spooky treat.

 

Lola

So spooky! And the picture of a stoic Jennifer Summerfield as Dr. Frank. I loved that. Overall, it was a super solid little piece. With some tightening of characters and motives, it will be even better. And I’m actually quite interested to see if this whole museum mythology gets flesh flesh fleshed (I’m the worst) out into more than one play.

 

Maggie

OH boy. Crushed it. Totally agreed. I hope this play continues developing–I want to know more about this world.

Also want to shout out Sara Outing’s performance. I know her mostly as a designer, but I found her so lovely and grounded and easy to watch.

 

Lola

Yes! Did she also design the exhibits? Because I loved that ghostly waiting room.

 

Maggie

Yeah! I don’t know who was responsible for the design, but i really dug it.

Anything else you want to talk about?

 

Lola

I don’t think so. I hope to more from this group and now I wanna do all of the ghost plays. Yourself?

 

Maggie

Want to know more and perhaps a Princess spin-off show. Yay!

 

Lola

They get the sequel.

Sweat Sweat Sweat: A Princess Play.

Hire me.

 

 

 

Mia is a cis dramaturg/actor/artist. White.

Becca is queer, a Native-Philadelphian, and a child of Egyptian Immigrants.

Mia

Pocket time! I walked in with relatively little for Playland. I’ve read some of Athol Fugard’s work before, but I have never seen it staged. I’m drawn to plays that have more of a political bent to them, so I was hopeful going in.  I don’t personally know the artists who were on the team for this one, so relatively blank slate. That being said, I saw Richard Bradford in The Birds at Curio, and I enjoyed his work then.

 

Becca

I had honestly no idea what the play was about until I got there and read the postcard. I happened to be planning on going to this show on Sunday because my friend Rich Bradford, who played Martinus, invited me. Although I didn’t know this was the same show until already in the theatre. I worked with Rich on The Just this past Fringe and, as shown in this, he is always a very giving performer. Also in my pockets I hold my identity as a light passing Black woman of native Egyptian descent.

Mia

So without knowing what you were in for, what did you think of the play?

Becca

Well, when I read the postcard I got really excited. I hadn’t remembered hearing of Fugard’s work before but am always excited about pieces that unpack Black experiences, especially in colonized Africa. Although I thought the direction was great, the performances were powerful, the lights gave a off a chilling mood, the sound built a sad and nostalgic tone, the set created a dynamic landscape- with what we both called an “adult sandbox.” The thing is- based on the phrasing of the postcard I thought the story was going to be about the black nightwatchman, but the show did not feel that way at all. It was, to me, about a regretful white man who has killed many black people and now needs this black man to forgive him and somehow this will bring about unity.

Mia

I appreciate that that was where the story ended up going, though. I think it would have been strange for Fugard, a white African man, to try and speak on behalf of the black people experiencing colonization. It made sense to me that we end up seeing Gideon LeRoux being this example of what happens when white people impose themselves on black bodies.

Becca

See YES! I wanted that to be what the show was about. That this white man came all up into this black man’s space and pestered him, even threatening him at some points. And yet we are reminded that this black man will always have to be the scapegoat for forgiveness, but will be punished more harshly for the death of one- then this white man with his many actions.

Mia

But perhaps that’s one of the points that Fugard is making? The inequality?

Becca

I don’t think that Furgard was NOT trying to point out the inequality- but here’s the thing. The people in control of that process were white. As a POC- I FELT that while watching. I couldn’t remember hearing of Athol Fugard before but I could tell the white narrative, I saw the white world, even subtle stage directions that (although looked beautiful) pushed a power dynamic that made it feel (to me) that Martinus was a minor character in this white man’s journey through mental illness.

 

In the set for example I particularly liked the scattered popcorn, the tarp flaked with Gold paint, the hanging lights, the carnival signs- it made it feel whimsical but also made it seem as though the play is set in a long lost world. For example- in the opening scene, the white man is on stage in what is supposed to be Martinus’ area way before we get to build a relationship between Martinus and the space- which would have made it it HIS space. I’m not saying that when the white man enters he can’t have stage directions where he asserts his white power, which fits the character of Gideon, but he didn’t feel like a enough of a nuisance for me.

 

Mia

That’s so interesting! And as a white woman, I was really aware of how skewed towards Gideon’s story we were, and I was made uncomfortable by that fact. His presence, his impositions on Martinus, his assumptions about who Martinus was, his privileges as a white man….I felt all of it, and I thought that the production did a nice job of making sure I was aware of the inequalities. They leaned into that, so that I, as a white person, could be aware of my own privileges as well, if that makes sense.

 

Becca

Yes, I feel that. It felt like a show about white guilt and black peoples “obligation” to forgive them. I felt very aware that the show was written for white people.

 

Mia

Which is perhaps a failing of the play, in a way. I’m here for pieces that make white people check our privileges and then perhaps recalibrate, but I don’t love it when a play makes people of color feel excluded or exacerbates the experience of marginalization.

 

Becca

I don’t think pieces about race should be made without AT LEAST an equal number of each race included in the process, especially if you’re talking about  marginalized people. If that were true, even with this script- a black eye on the process (or multiple) could have possibly had a chance at preventing my feeling this way. Their perspectives would allow the narrative of Martinus’s perspective to be amplified.

 

Mia

In terms of the production, what were your thoughts on Mark Cairns’ and Rich Bradford’s work? I think they both delivered strong performances.

 

Becca

I thought Rich and Mark were both phenomenal. Mark’s piercing eyes and Rich’s expressive face were made for black box theatres. I really loved the PTSD flashback scenes where Mark danced with the tickets, he really made it look fun and it made Gideon a likable character despite all odds.  

 

Mia

Mark’s physical work was particularly striking in its specificity. He never seemed comfortable in his own skin (in a good way!), which was in nice balance with Rich.

 

Becca

The contrast in speed between them was powerful to me- with Rich’s slow dragging of his body and Mark’s quick, military jolts. AND we must not forget that this was just a preview! I heard they had their first full run that day!

 

Mia

Oh yes! That was something I was trying to remind myself of as I watched. I felt some inconsistencies in the design, and I wondered if some of that had to do with glitches during the preview.

 

Becca

Like what?

 

Mia

All of the design elements had some moments of brilliance. The set was beautifully constructed with careful attention to detail, but it was a small set packed into an already small space. As a consequence, the actors did not have a lot of room to move. Certainly useful when you want a kind of “boxing ring” effect, but I felt like the actors didn’t have room to stretch, which led to some energy dispersal that wasn’t always useful. Sometimes I wanted the physical tension to reflect the emotional tension more. And then with the lighting, the moments of PTSD for Gideon were lovely to look at, but I wasn’t sure if a separation of space was always achieved (especially when the lights were the thing that were supposed to take us to a different part of the park).

 

Becca

I agree the box could have been a little deeper, but I did feel the small space was one of the only things that gave it a sense that this was Martinus’s space- this tiny little corner in the back. I would have liked maybe an even smaller sandbox and more playing space around the box. But I do know there were a few cues missed or were late in the PTSD switches- which is normal for a preview.

 

Mia

Overall the design choices were effective, but they were a bit clunky in execution for the performance we saw.

 

Becca

Indeed. I really enjoyed the natural foley effect of the boots against the stones of the sandbox. The hollow sound of the big tin when Mark banged against it. The sound of the big plastic canopy being folded. They maybe weren’t done for the sound necessarily, but they felt very in the world for me.

 

Mia

Yes, that was a nice touch. It seemed like we were supposed to be in a fully realized space, so all of those “extras” like gravel, realistic prop pieces, etc. were all helpful to get us immersed in that world.

 

Becca

Exactly. Which made the carnival sounds feel more whimsical and the PTSD lights seem more ominous. Because it was so out of the world of the box. It was hard to believe there was even a Carnival at all really. Don’t you think? Just with the way it felt so decrepit.

 

Mia

That was where I wondered if some of the design could have helped pick up the slack, especially because we just had that one set to work with. More flashing lights or carnival/crowd sounds could have transported us more effectively.

 

Becca:

Yeah, maybe. There was something about the way it was that still made the carnival feel kind of empty. Which was actually powerful to me in the parts where he tried to talk to other people that weren’t there  and everyone ignored him. Felt so much more alone. But I agree that more carnival elements could have made the flashbacks sharper.

 

Mia

And how did you feel about C. Ryanne Domingues’s direction?

 

Becca

I thought there were some small awkward moments but for the most part- especially for a small stage with only two actors there was a lot of dynamic movement, interesting levels, and the graphic language really shone through, so I don’t want to be misconstrued in saying that her work wasn’t strong. It was.

But from a personal perspective, if white people want to learn allyship, if they want to unpack privilege- then they need to put POC in positions of power. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I was supposed to feel bad for Gideon. As if their sufferings were equal somehow. And the text definitely didn’t help avoid this. Gideon’s racism was not subtle, and yet it still felt like a white voice saying “we have problems too!”

 

Again, that is not to say I didn’t like the direction. I only say that to say that in cases like this- if allyship is the goal- hire a Black AD and let their voice be loud in the room. Actors can’t see the full outside picture, so Rich couldn’t have done anything to prevent me from feeling like he was just another prop in the white man’s narrative.

 

Mia

I agree with you there. Aside from the clumsy transitions (having Mark walk around behind the audience to make entrances was an awkward shift) and some of the blocking being stagnant during quieter moments, I thought Domingues teased out some harrowing, wordless beats between Martinus and Gideon that were powerful. As far as white allyship, it goes a long way to bring in people of color either onto your team, either as a designer or another outside eye (dramaturg, AD, etc.). Domingues is a fine director, but going that extra step to diversify her team a bit would have perhaps enriched the production more.

 

Becca

Yes, agreed. One last thing I wanted to mention: the dramaturgical note in the playbill. It briefly described the South African Border War- the war Gideon fought in (that I just had to google the name of because I think the name was actually mentioned little to no times in the play itself) was the Vietnam war of South Africa and many people in the area that is now Namibia were killed. I found it strange that it was the only dramaturgical note in the playbill at all. In the script itself, within the long line of racist jokes and commentary from Mark’s character, there was a long list of particularly Asian slurs.

 

Mia

My memory is failing me a bit; do you remember what they were, specifically? I’m not sure if was something I clocked.

 

Becca

There were many references to Japan and “the Japs” and nuclear bombing.

 

Mia

Right. What struck you as odd about it?

 

Becca

I just found the dramaturgical note odd because now that’s information I have in my pockets because I read it while I waited for the show to start. Then I started wondering if he served in WWII. I knew little to nothing about the South African Border War so I already felt a bit lost- with words like “dominees” and “Swapo”. It just added a bit to my confusion.The dramaturgical note could have been more detailed about the war itself. I didn’t understand the importance of SWAPO or the impact of the war until I got home and googled it.

 

Mia

That’s fair. My understanding was that Gideon used the atomic bombings in Japan just as reference – they’re so much in the collective, international consciousness. And in terms of the racial slurs, I wasn’t surprised that Gideon’s racism extended beyond slights against black people to include racism towards Asian people as well. He seemed programmed to view any non-white person as “other,” and therefore “lesser.”

 

Becca

Totally. I see that. I just thought the brevity of the note and that being the only fact we needed was confusing.

 

Mia

Certainly useful to note for any future productions of this piece. More historical information beforehand for the audience might arm them better going in.

 

Becca

Totally. Overall, I am really excited about this group of artists and can’t wait to see what will come from each of them next.

Anna – Ego Po

Nan is an actor.

Espie is a queer mixed-race director and producer.

 

NAN

Shall we start with pockets? I know a couple of people in the cast, and I saw Machinal last season, but that’s pretty much the limit of my connection with EgoPo

ESPIE

Yeah, I knew a few folks in the cast as well, but I hadn’t seen any of Brenna Geffers’ work before.  I was really excited going in as I’ve only heard great things.

 

NAN

For sure. She has a great rep as a deviser. I also haven’t read Anna Karenina or seen any other adaptation before this one

ESPIE

Me too, my knowledge of Anna Karenina going in was that it’s long and Russian, and I was really nervous about being about to follow the story

 

NAN

For sure! I was also really interested in how the adaptation itself would go, especially in terms of going from classic novel to stage? It seems like a big shift and I was curious as to how expressionistic it would be.

ESPIE

Same on my end.  I thought the set design did a really incredible job of bringing us into a new world.  I really enjoyed being about to walk through the tapestries – it felt very welcoming.

 

NAN

Agreed! I loved that they began easing you in as you even climb the stairs to the space, starting to introduce the draped textiles and light. I was really impressed with how thoroughly the space was transformed. It was really unrecognizable as the Latvian society

ESPIE

Yes!  I had seen The Seagull there s few months ago and I never once thought about that production’s set. I thought the rugs and tent vibes also made it feel like you were about to be told a story which was really pleasing!

 

NAN

It was really appealing and built a great atmosphere. On the other hand though, by the end of the show, I didn’t feel that they really used the set all that much. It felt like the action was not very integrated with the set which was not ideal. But it was beautiful. I thought the lights were also great in their simplicity, though there were a couple instances in which I lost peoples’ faces in dappled light?

ESPIE

There were definitely a few moments during the movements that involved the full ensemble where I weren’t sure if the lights were trying to highlight the ensemble or the character(s) whom the event was directly affecting. I agree with the use of the set too.  I was confused by the stagehands putting out the extra tapestry to start Act 2.  I understood that it signified a picnic blanket outside, but there was so much in the space already.

.

NAN

Mostly I just found myself wondering if they’d had time to play on the set much before opening. The costumes were also a really solid effort for what I expect they were working with in terms of budget

ESPIE

In general, I really enjoy all of Natlia de la Torre’s work as a costume designer.

 

NAN

It absolutely contributed to the visual spectacle of the show. Really lovely.

ESPIE

Overall, I really enjoyed the full design.  It was so fun and warm and lighthearted and totally not what I was expected going into a dark Russian story.

 

NAN

For sure. It’s also very difficult to costume that kind of thing when time has to pass, people have to change characters with only a few pieces, etc. It was very well done. 

ESPIE

Agreed.  What did you think about the ensemble work?

NAN

I enjoyed it. Having seen Machinal, I thought it might be more movement-y than it was, and I was interested to see that it didn’t give me a strong “devised” feel? You?

ESPIE

I thought the ensemble work was really strong though I’m not sure how much it served telling a story with only a few main characters.  I really struggled to connect with Anna (Colleen Corcoran). There were so many moving parts at all times, and it make it hard to focus.  I never believed that she was as charismatic as everyone implied

NAN

Agreed. I think in attempting to maintain some of the beautiful original prose they lost something in terms of character development because it ends up adding distance to characters when you mostly hear about them instead of seeing them in action.

ESPIE

Yup.  I really appreciated the narration for the first 20 minutes or so as I really needed that for set up, but after a while I started feeling like I was being spoonfed the story.  I tend to react pretty negatively when I feel like I’m being condescended to so I left the show feeling a bit irked.

NAN

Yeah. I think they could have done away with it as they went on. Which they sort of tried to do as they gave some characters extended monologue sequences later in the show. But I think they could have certainly gone farther with that sooner and just shown and not told.

ESPIE

I also think that having so much narration really detracted from being able to fully connect with their characters.  Lee Minora in particular comes to mind.  I think the work she did particularly as Vronsky’s brother was really strong but because I saw her as one of the main purveyors of narration that I was increasingly checking out of, it was hard for me to snap my focus towards her characters.  

NAN

I was just confused as to why a designated “narrator” character was needed when the rest of the cast was also doing a lot of narration. I guess the intention was to make sure the storyline stayed consistent and that we didn’t get lost in the different story arcs/character changing/potential confusion there, but I think their storytelling was quite clear and I would have liked to see them break the format they set up at some point?

ESPIE

The format was broken at the very end but I felt like that was way too late.

NAN

Yeah. I would have really loved for that to happen or start happening sooner in the show.

ESPIE

Yeah, I was really excited to see Colleen break character and was then really let down when it just ended.  It cheapened the experience for me.

NAN

Yes! I was really excited about the fact that this piece occurred at the intersection between feminism and love of classics, but I would have loved to have seen them go deeper into that. That final breaking off was a great choice but it was disappointing that it was so short lived. It ended up feeling a bit like an afterthought. Especially when Colleen’s entire performance seemed predicated on the boundary between maintaining her reservation and unleashing her real feelings. The moments when she did really lose her shit and shout were really fantastic, especially when she spends so much of the show being very placid and reserved, and then coming off as being even more distant because of the buffer of the many layers of narration between us and her.

ESPIE

I agree that the moments that she broke down were really clear.  I also thought that Amanda Schoonover’s work did a great job of highlighting both outright and internalized misogyny.  I wish that I had felt the same about Kitty (Maria Konstantinidis), but her storyline felt less complex.

NAN

Yes, I think her storyline did get a bit muddy. I also wasn’t quite sure what the intention was in keeping that arc in the play?

ESPIE

I think it’s interesting that she was the only woman designated as physically beautiful in the show, but I wish that was mined more.

NAN: Agreed!! Yes. I really enjoyed Amanda Schoonover’s monologue sequence, I thought she did fantastic work.

ESPIE

I think Brenna did a great job of highlighting misogyny as perpetuated by the male characters and how this wreaks havoc on everyone’s lives, but it didn’t really go into how misogyny is not solely male-perpetrated.  One of my favorite moments in the play was when Amanda Schoonover’s character called out Colleen Corcoran (Anna) for encouraging her to stay with her cheating husband a few years prior to Colleen’s refusal to go back to her own husband. I wanted to see more of that.

NAN

Yes! Completely agreed

ESPIE:

On a slightly unrelated note, I loved the cross-gender casting.  I thought it established that this interpretation of Anna was going to live in a place that wasn’t going to align with the original intentions of the text.

NAN

YES. And I loved that when actors played cross-gender roles there was no preoccupation with that, and it was simply conveyed with a simple costume piece or two and didn’t try to get into re-gendering the actors. There were definitely a lot of nice choices that showed that they were not going for a traditional telling of the story. I liked that Vronsky was clearly a bigheaded, foppish sort of character from the start. and I also liked the choice to include male nudity at the end of act one. That was a great tableau, with Anna poised over him in such a possessive way. I appreciated the attempt to prioritize the female gaze

ESPIE

That was such a great ending.  In a way, the ending of Act 1 broke from with the introduction of the nudity in such an aggressive way – it got real sexy real fast!  And, similarly to the end of the show, it was really exciting!  I wish they had more of those moments or if Act Two somehow devolved into the debauchery that the last moment of Act 1 seemed to suggest for me.

NAN

Absolutely. I feel in a way like it was their commitment to the original text that held them back from going as far as I wanted them to go, in several cases. If their intention was to tell the story as well and thoroughly as possible, they certainly did that, but I found myself wanting them to break some of those walls down more than they did.

ESPIE

Yes.  I felt like the actors who didn’t have to deal as much narration really shone. Shamus McCarty in particular did a great job with driving the pace and using humor to highlight how fucked up many of the situations in the play were.

NAN

Yes!

ESPIE

Overall, I think this production succeeded in showing Anna in a completely original light, but I just wish it had gone a bit further in its content.

NAN

Agreed.