The 2017 Suryas! Bonaly’s Recognition of Work That We Loved This Season

Bonaly Reviews is named for Surya Bonaly, a French figure skater. Bonaly was an excellent skater, but she was also unique. She was a black skater with her own powerful style. She had a particular magic. She never broke any of the any rules of the sport, but she did go against the unspoken expectations.

Figure skating is a sport with judges- human judges with ideas about how skating should look. Surya wasn’t it, and she always came up short in competition. Not because she wasn’t an incredible skater, but because she wasn’t what the experts expected.

At Bonaly we wanted to respond to theater in a way that doesn’t pretend to be objective. We acknowledge that expectations based on race, class, gender and personal experience all influence how we experience art. Our writers acknowledge “what’s in their pockets” when they talk about a show, and we try to have conversations instead of bringing verdicts. We have expertise (all of us work in the field) but we’re not speaking as experts. We try to respond to work on its own terms rather than on our own.

At the end of the first year, we are joyful about so many things that we experienced throughout the season, and we want to share our love by acknowledging some of that amazing work. We also realized that so much happened this season that we weren’t able to see, so we reached out to the community for their nominations of Unsung Heroes who make Philly Theater great in less visible ways.

‘Surya’ Awards – Recognition for May 2016 to May 2017

Bonaly Recognition for Game-Changing New Play

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Time is on Our Side, Simpatico & R. Eric Thomas

“I felt like it was a gay fantasy because it was exactly the kind of play that I wanted to see.  It wasn’t about people failing to find happiness and it could so easily have been. Not that anything, for any of them, was perfect, but it wasn’t failure or misery. I found that so moving and inspiring as a playwright as well as an audience member.”

 

Bonaly Recognition of a Healing Performance

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Hello! Sadness!  Mary Tuomanen at Fringe Arts

“It’s a play that reminded me I’m allowed to be a complicated, complex human. I can, in fact, contain multitudes. I can feel small and know speaking up is of the highest imperative.  I can think theatre is stupid but also love it and want to create it. I can hurt and feel strong. I can want myself to be better and know I’m doing the best I can.”

 

Bonaly Recognition of Creation of Community Joy

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A Night with Theater in the X, Theater in the X

“Theatre in the X breaks down a huge cultural barrier that prevents POC from entering theatres. They are a necessity. They make theatre accessible. Period. They need to be uplifted encouraged and funded to bring theatre to all major parks in the city.”

 

Bonaly Recognition of an Excellent Devised Performance  

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SHREW, Reject Theater Project

“These women are what so many collaborative and devising groups try to be. They were mature enough, skilled enough and generous enough to get a message across clearly, and to challenge their audience without alienating us.”

 

Bonaly Recognition for Excellent Stage Management

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Patreshettarlini AdamsConstellations at The Wilma Theater

“Adams skillfully managed an insane series of light cues and made the work invisible”

 

Bonaly Recognition for Meaningful Children’s Theater

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The Stinky Cheese Man,  The Arden Theater

The Arden treats Theatre for Young Audiences with great respect, giving them the same budgets and designers and performers that they use for their mainstage Theatre. Even if you don’t have kids you’ll be changed by it.”

 

Bonaly Recognition of an Excellent Ensemble

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Breathe Smoke, Orbiter 3

“The actors were all so invested in their characters. There was an awesome ownership there. It’s really exciting to watch actors speaking lines that they have a personal relationship with.”

 

Bonaly Recognition of a Theatrical Reality Check

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#SuiteReality– TS Hawkins for ReVamp Theater Company

TS Hawkins is incredibly deft with words, and her cast understood them in their bones. #SuiteReality follows knowingly in the tradition of for colored girls. This play understood not only the political context that it exists in but also the theatrical context. The staging from Kalif Troy was bare and effective, nothing distracting from the words and emotions.”

 

Bonaly Recognition for Brilliant World Creation

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Sans Everything, Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor

“This design was so specific, so evocative. Masha Tsimring’s set & lights resulted in an incredibly cohesive aesthetic world that allowed lights and scenery to play off each other so beautifully. These artists know how to evoke the nature of a thing without being representational.”

 

Bonaly Recognition for Thoughtful Exploration of a Tough Issue

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I Am Not My Motherland, Orbiter 3

I am struck by this novel way of handling of the divide caused by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I was surprised by the lack of bias; no judgement was passed on either side, which was refreshing and thought-provoking. I root for shows with obvious socio-political content, because I want challenging art that examines the stuff that makes us uncomfortable”

 

Unsung Heroes

We received about 100 nominations for unsung heroes. These names came up again and again.

 

Erin Washburn, Dramaturg

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“Erin Washburn is a force of nature and ubiquitous part of the up-and-coming theatre scene in Philadelphia, from her work at InterAct, with Orbiter 3, PTC, and so many other companies, she adds her signature dramaturgical insights, good humor, and finely-hewn logistic sense to every project — she absolutely devours all of the productions in the area with a seeming infinite capacity to understand the ramification of each on the larger goals of arts in the city.”

 

Mel Leeds, Stage Manager

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“Mel is so focused, so calm, so collected, so incredibly capable.  She maintains complete control while also having the best sense of humor and a smile and laugh that lights up the rehearsal room.  She’s a goddam star.  When artists walk through our doors, Mel often has only a couple of days to tech them into the room.  Many of these artists don’t have finished shows, much less a cue list, and she has patiently shepherded many of them through this process.  She works tirelessly, and without judgement, tantrums, or finger-pointing, to help these artists achieve their vision.”

 

Cat Ramirez

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“Cat Ramirez is an up and coming director who has used her immense talents to push InterAct’s ability to engage with our community on a socially responsible level. In addition, she is a tireless advocate and has moved an agenda of inclusiveness from being an internal mission of InterAct’s toward becoming a citywide initiative. In addition, her work for Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists is nothing short of herculean.”

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Lauren Tracy

“Lauren does it all, and she does it in pearls, and she does it with a bottle of bourbon tucked away just for you because she knows you will need it. From crazy producer led productions gone awry, to actors gone wild – she does it all. She is not only a force to be reckoned with in the technical theatre community, she is also a great friend and a port in the storm when the going gets rough.”

 

 

Other Unsung Heroes Nominated:

Amanda Hatch (Avista)

Annelise Van Arsdale

Annie Halliday

Asaki Kamura

Becca Austin

Becca Rose

Beckah Smith

Ben Levan

Brenna Geffers

C Ryanne Domingues

Carrie Chapter

Christine Freije

Christna May

Craig Wolfgang

Dan Ison

Dylan Jamison

Elaina DiMonaco

Georgia Schlessman

Hallie Martenson

Heather Helinsky

Ian Rose

Jamel Baker

Janelle Caso

Jason Linder

Javier Mojica

Jess DeStephano

Jessica Darling

Joe Daniels

Joe Wozniak

John Kolbinski

Karina Banks

Kate McSorley Fossner

Kelsey Hodgkiss

Lena Barnard

Lisa Sullivan

Lori Aghazarian

Lucas Nguyen

Maria Shaplin

Mark Andrews

Matthew Nitchke

Meg Morris

Meg Walsh

Melissa Erlick

Melody Wong

Meredith Sonnen

Michele Volansky

Noelle Johnson

Pat Adams

Phoebe Schaub

Sally Ollove

Sam Wend

Sara Marinich

Shannon Zura

Shayna Freed

Terry Mittelman

Thomas Shotkin

Tiffany Bacon

Val Dunn

William “Dustin” Holloway

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Peaceable Kingdom- Orbiter 3

Evelyn is a playwright and theatre-maker.

Jane is a director and dramaturg

E

So, what was in your pockets?

Jane

I was in love with Hello! Sadness! so I went in there ready to love this, too

E

I’m a big fan of Orbiter and have pretty much enjoyed every single thing they’ve done so I was in that same frame of mind.

Jane

I agree,  I feel really positively about what Orbiter does for the community and new work.

E

I also went to a reading of this play a few months ago.

Jane

How did you like the reading?

E

The reading was a snippet of the chorus, and a truncated version of the play without the final scenes, so it gave a good sense of the play, leaving me excited to see the full production.

I’ve been anticipating this show for a while I suppose. Which is inherently probably not a good thing since it is not the best idea to have your expectations set too high before seeing something.

Jane

So let’s look at the design. Does anything jump out at you?

E

I thought Apollo Weaver’s set was enchanting. I loved this wide open space that feel like a whole world. It felt almost like a Dr. Seuss book.

Jane

I loved how the trees were illuminated from inside.

E

Yes!

Jane

Before the lights came up, they looked kind of paper mache, but they had this woven, fabric depth and when the light came through they looked really magical.

E

That was a favorite.

Jane

And I liked how everything was made out of quilting fabric. It really pointed to the homespun nature of Quakerism and the interplay between that homespun-made-of-scraps aesthetic with deep idealism.

E

Yes! Didn’t think of that. I don’t know much about Quakerism. I was also particularly impressed by the chorus as trees. They were a big part of the set.

Jane

I would have liked for there to be less of a hard edge on the scrim, though.  All of the pieces inside the set fit together, like you said, in a kind of cozy Dr. Seuss world but the hard edges on the scrim, and being able to see up into the grid took away from that for me.

E

Hmmm I didn’t actually notice that! Maybe it depended on where you were sitting. Also I might not have been as observant.

Jane

Something that I thought was really impressive about Rebecca Kanach’s costumes is that they evoked the animals but still give the animating power to the actors.

E

Yes, I agree. The actors didn’t have anything to hide behind.

Jane

And the costumes were scrappy, like for a kids school play which was theme-appropriate and funny, but when shit got real, they didn’t make it seem silly. So that was really fitting. Kanach walked a really fine line between whimsy and practicality.

E

It was almost like these were real people, but they all had this animal nature hidden just beneath the surface.

Jane

Yeah, I loved the way both the costuming and the acting worked together to make these fully-human animal creatures. How did you feel about sound?

E

Honestly I don’t remember much about the sound. That always falls through the cracks for me. I’m learning how to be a better listener. However, I remember learning once that if you don’t notice the sound that is actually a good thing. However, if the chorus is included in the sound here then I loved it. They added so much to the show not just physically as the trees, but also with the absolutely beautiful and haunting choral interludes.

Jane

I completely agree.  There’s just nothing like live music on stage. The sound of the drum in that big, echoing Christ Church space was also haunting.  I really love when all sound is practical, especially in a piece like this that feels like a fairy tale or a children’s story.

E

Well this basically is a fairy tale isn’t it? “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”

Jane

I really appreciated the way Mary Tuomanen wove the original text into the script. It was seamless and brought that style and therefore that idealism into our time.

E

I don’t know much about Quakerism at all. But I feel like a learned a little bit about the values of that religion from this production, even though I wouldn’t consider it a religious piece.

Jane

And the founding values of Philadelphia.  I am a big Philly history nerd, and also love Quakerism as part of that history, but I didn’t feel like you needed to know that much about it to understand this play.

E

You probably had a little bit more context than me then, but yes you are right. I don’t think it took away from the play to not know. However, I imagine someone like you who has more context may have gotten a little bit more out of it.

Jane

What did you think about the script overall?

E

I thought the play flowed mostly well with a few stumbles. The squirrel scenes lost me sometimes. I didn’t learn until later that they were representing the Invader and the Native.

Jane

Oh the squirrel scenes were my favorite! They were completely devastating!

E

Perhaps if that hadn’t gone over my head I would have been able to make more sense of their motivations. But I was left confused a few times as to why they were behaving they way they were. Particularly the Invader who was behaving so irrationally most of the time.

Jane

To me the squirrels showed the trajectory of an abusive relationship perfectly. The way the irrational abuser holds the victim hostage by moving from sweetness and manic joy to cruelty and dismissal. And the way the Invader kept appropriating from the native. Like when, the native shows the invader how to tenderize the oak nuts, and the invader completely ignores it and then  later, the invader says that he came up with this “new way” to tenderize the nuts and expects praise from the native for coming up with it.

E

They were very cute and sad. Yes, the abusive relationship part definitely came through. I guess I was just wasn’t fully connecting them to the rest of the piece.

Jane

I thought that was a really cool way to tie the personal to the political. The relationship between the native and the invader is so similar to the relationship between a victim and an abuser.

E

Hmmmm I did not make that connection. But I’m glad to have made it now. Interesting. This play is definitely one that sparks conversation.

Jane

To me, that was the heart of this play. Revolution and making a better world are not about big lofty ideals. It’s about how we treat each other. As a person who has spent a lot of time in activist and social work circles, this really hits home. You can be part of an organization that claims to be fighting for justice and peace, but enacts daily inequality and violence on its’ employees or participants or even those it claims to serve.

E

For me the heart of the play was the fight against our baser instincts. I believe we have a spiritual side that is inherently good, but there is also this animalistic nature about us that makes living in peaceable kingdom almost impossible.

Jane

I think it’s also about telling the truth and how ideals can stifle people. In the play, everyone has bought into this “Peacable Kingdom” idea which makes it impossible for those who are unhappy to say that they are unhappy.  They can’t betray the ideal. That happens in squirrel-type relationships too. You can’t betray the relationship by saying that you’re unhappy in it.

E

Yes, like the Sheep played by Eliana Fabiyi.

Jane

That was so heartbreaking. I was definitely crying when she gave her final speech.

E

She is so unhappy and uncomfortable but there is no one to talk to about it because it is not allowed. I just wanted to hold her poor thing.

Jane

The scene with the leopard and the kid was especially difficult for me.  If you’ve ever been in an activist group, you know that guy.  “Of course I’m a feminist, but if I weren’t this is what I’d do to you”

E

Ugh. Yea.  That was uncomfortable.

Jane

But even though this is supposed to be a place of perfect equality and justice, the Kid has no choice but to run away. He can’t report the leopard because he can’t betray the ideal. Everything about this play reminds me of being part of well intentioned groups with other white people

E

Haha oh no. I can’t imagine that is a good thing.

Jane

It just skewers all of our failures.

E

Well, the weak points of humans.

Jane

Does it feel universal to you? I was feeling a lot of insight about white saviors and male feminists. But that might be in my pockets.

E

It could also just be your perspective which is the genius of this piece in the end. I think anyone could see this and walk away with an important yet distinct take away.

Jane

My friend and I were arguing about the lion. I thought the lion committed an act of mercy by killing the sheep but my friend thought it was cruelty. How did you see it?

E

It did seem merciful. It was sort of slow and sensual when he killed her and it didn’t feel violent.

Jane

No, almost maternal. It had a “there there” feeling to it.

E

But I think the Lion killed her because it was the only thing to be done. There was this inevitable quality about it. However, I did know it was coming since I was at the reading.

Jane

Oh, I was totally surprised! I had no idea what that lion was up to!

E

I was just waiting for when The Lion was gonna finally snap.

Jane

Do you have any thoughts about why he does? Or what he means? This is a place where I was really foggy. It took me until about halfway through the show to get what was happening but this part never quite became clear.

E

Well I interpreted it in a sort of depressing way. The lion eats meat. The lion is in this kingdom where everything is ‘perfect’ ‘for everyone else but he can’t eat. In the end he decides to end the facade.

Jane

I see.

E

Which brings me back to my initial thoughts you know about our baser instincts.

Jane

Yeah, now that you mention it, the predators did say how hungry they were.

E

Yes hungry for food, hungry for conflict…

Jane

So in the larger metaphor, who is the Lion? I get who the squirrels are and I get who the sheep are. The leopard I am unfortunately very familiar with. Is the play saying that some people are just going to be that way? That all social groups will have predators? That IS depressing

E

Well, I think that in order to appreciate anything wonderful or beautiful we must also know horrible and ugly things.

Jane

To be realistic, do we have to accept that the world is made of predators and prey?

E

I don’t know. I hope not. I hope there is something better than that out there but… Humans derive our energy by inheriting the life force from other living things. That’s the sad truth.

Jane

I guess the play is an observation.  It doesn’t owe us any advice on how to move forward. I think because I took so much life from Hello! Sadness! I was kind of expecting a similar path from this one.

E

Well Mary Tuomanen is quite versatile. I don’t think the ultimate message is depressing though. I’m saying even though depressing things happened. And we saw the peaceable kingdom experiment fail in this iteration doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep striving towards something better. But I’m an optimist.

Jane

We should talk about actors! Because wow!

E

Stephanie Walters had me laughing my pants off.

Jane

Oh she was just fantastic. How did she sustain that level of high-energy innocent charm without getting annoying as an actor? It is a gift from the gods.

E

She really tickled me as the sheep. She was also super annoying and lovable which was an interesting balance to strike. Chris Davis was supremely creepy in the way only Chris Davis can be.

Jane

Ha! I guess I have in my pockets that I’m not always a big fan of his work but he completely won me over with that pitch-perfect leopard. His comedic timing was fantastic.

Eliana Fabiyi was heartbreaking.  All of us were breathless when she was giving that final speech and her guarded interactions with Stephanie Walters were perfectly timed, too. They had a great chemistry.

Carla Rae was also a real grounding presence in the show. She was like an ambassador from reality.

E

I wanted to watch her without blinking whenever she was present. However, I did have a hard time understanding her sometimes.

Jane

Oh, really? Do you think it was a matter of where you were sitting? Acoustics are weird in there.

E

Yes, she brought her overall volume seemed lower to me, however I was on the opposite side of where her scenes usually were.

Jane

I also thought Daniel Park was really endearing.

E

Alexandra King made a lovely debut as well. I thought she portrayed William Penn as this gullible outsider in a way that was both frustrating and endearing.

Jane

Yes, I agree

E

Ah. Endearing twice.

Jane

Lots of endearing creatures! I have to say that my favorite performance in the show was from Thomas Choinacky. The subtlety of his squirrel and the full-body way that he played very complex emotions. The deep subtext to whatever he said and did. That performance just wrapped around my heart.

E

It was a very well rounded performance.

Jane

John Jarboe was probably equally good, but I was too in my pockets about it.  I was like “fuck you, gray squirrel.” Which is a credit to him as well I guess.

E

UGH. But John Jarboe as the Gray squirrel was so sweet and sad… and absolutely unstable.

Jane

That’s how they get you! THAT IS HOW GREY SQUIRRELS GET YOU!

E

HAHAHA.

Jane

So overall a precise and ENDEARING cast with no weak links. Just solid. I wanted to watch everyone exactly as much as I wanted to watch everyone else.

E

And Funny. We can’t forget funny.

Jane

When the scene changed it was always like, ooh, now you! A buffet!

E

A smorgasbord. If you include the trees.

Jane

That all points to incredible direction from Becky Wright. Excellent pace, unity of theme. All the actors having their absolute best brought out.

E

Yes Becky Wright had a lot of pieces to put together for this.

Jane

And she nailed it

E

Heck yea.

Jane

This is incredibly impressive direction. And it would have been so easy to get wrong.

E

Yes, she clearly had a deep connection to the play in order to be able to tell Mary’s story so well.

Overall, go Orbiter!

Jane

Yes! Go Orbiter and everyone on this project!

The White Devil- PAC

Lola is a good theatre artist who loves to play bad

Valancy is an actor who wishes she were in everything

Nan is made really uncomfortable by all white casts

 

Valancy

I’ve seen most of the PAC’s shows over the years, sometimes loving them, sometimes feeling less enthusiastic, so I feel like I came in with a pretty open mind this time. Although I probably was biased in wanting to love it and everyone in it.  What’s in your pockets?

Nan

This is actually the first full show I’ve seen of the PAC’s, though I’ve been to a couple of their readings. I’ve worked with a few of the actors in the show. I have a good feeling about the company though so I definitely came in really wanting to like the show.

Lola

I’ve only seen two PAC shows (Mary Stuart and He Who Gets Slapped), but I know and love a lot of people involved in the production. And I always have high hopes, for better or for worse.

Valancy

They had a really strong design concept for The White Devil, even with their minimalist set.

Nan

I know that the Broad Street Ministry space is really powerful on its own and I had heard/seen from photos that their design choices tend to be pretty character-driven and simple, and I was definitely really satisfied by the design, all around.

Lola

That space really is beautiful. And it’s very poignant for the PAC to let the space be the star in their last production before they move out of the Broad Street Ministry.

Nan

I thought they used the space really beautifully (though of course they would have a close relationship to it after all this time), what with the action on the second level and the use of the double doors upstage center in a way that was very reminiscent of the Blackfriars

 

Valancy

The lighting in particular, with the film noir mood and characters popping in and out of red curtains and up on the balcony, really enhanced the experience for me.

 

Lola

Definitely. I almost wish the balcony had been used more, because I loved those little surprises so much.

 

Valancy

It always helps, with so many plot twists and hidden entrances, to have your eye directed to the important moments by careful lighting choices, and Robert Thorpe and James Lewis succeeded beautifully.

Lola

So. Many. Plot. Twists.

Nan

I didn’t think to look up and see what kind of lighting situation they had to work with but the lighting was so successful in doing what was dramatically necessary and also made sense with the film noir approach

Valancy

I’m a huge film noir fan, so I appreciated the concept, although I thought it might have overpowered some of the romantic relationships in the play, especially in the beginning, between Jared Reed and Charlotte Northeast.

Nan

It did feel like they put their relationship away a bit to focus on the overall drama of the show. And the “everyone is a terrible person” thesis.

Lola

I enjoy noir, but I was also very confused for 80% of the play.

Valancy

There was confusion I think in the multiple casting; it was difficult to track who the actors were at any particular moment.

Nan

I was only a little confused about David Pica’s doubling, but only because his second character doesn’t really get introduced? So I found myself wondering if it was the first character in disguise.

Lola

Noir is a hard genre on stage because it is so performative, so if you’re trying to craft relationships, you have to be hyper stylized for it to ring true or not feel weird. And yeah, that is true. He just showed up wearing glasses.

Valancy

I found myself confused by Adam Altman’s final character as well, but it was at the end of the evening, and I may have just been addled by so much bloodshed.

Lola

Oh yeah. Hortensio shows up for no reason, just because Hortensio shows up in every play from that time. The leads need SOMEBODY to talk to! That being said, Adam Altman did everything he could to differentiate his characters. I thought he was clear and specific every time he was onstage.

Nan

Yeah, agreed.

Lola

I wasn’t confused by the doubling so much as I just didn’t see the story through the clouds.

Nan

I think it might just be one of those plays where there isn’t that much story behind the clouds though. If we’re talking about confusion though can I just bring up the dream/murder/dumbshow sequence?

Lola

Ooooh yeah. That dumbshow…

Valancy

The dramatic intensity really did begin at 11 and stay there, which is true of the Jacobean “revenge tragedy” in general, I think. I did love that they just opted to make it full-fledged hilarious; they chose a strong style with stylized characterizations and used the pantomime moments to highlight the ridiculously over-the top shenanigans of the plotters.

Nan

Though I did really really enjoy it, I was really confused about the dark room/voiceover premise. I had no idea whose voice that even was?

Valancy

Yes, at first I was thinking “what the hell?”

Nan

In retrospect I think maybe it was JJ Van Name’s doctor character explaining how she finished off her victims? But it really reminded me of those weird Michel Gondry style dream sequences, which I adore, but it was such a big jump thematically and textually from the rest of the play.

Valancy

It was discordant, that voiceover, and difficult to hear the text.

Nan

I think it could have been more successful if the voice had been recognizable?

Lola

It just seemed out of place. And I’m all about showing off and style over substance, but I dunno. When you can’t hear the text and it just kind of happens? Meh.

Valancy

I thought it was Charlotte Northeast, but what she was saying didn’t make sense for her character.

Lola

I think it was Charlotte. Maybe it was supposed to suggest she did kill him and was acting while on trial or she’s the brains or something? I’m confused. 

Nan

But then the trial scene is powerful because she apparently hadn’t heard until that moment that her husband was even dead? It was just not specific enough and generally too big a digression, I think, even though it’s a more interesting choice than just having someone come onstage and tell us how they did it.

Valancy

What did you think of the music? I was sitting on the ground level, and that live cello went through the floorboards and vibrated up through my chest. I thought it was really gorgeous and scored the play perfectly. Congratulations go to composer/performer, Stefan Orn Arnarson.

Nan

I loved the music! I thought it was really successful.

Lola

I also loved the music. Provocative, for sure.

Nan

I also thought the costuming was really impressive.

Lola

Everybody on stage wore the period and style really well.

Valancy

Oooh, yes, I loved how Charlotte’s hat symmetrically echoed her 1940’s do.

Nan

Big big hi fives to Katherine Fritz for doing all that on what I can only imagine was not much budget. That’s really not easy to pull off. There were so many suits onstage, and changes for almost every actor! It’s a lot.

Lola

She created 4 different looks for Giovanni, who isn’t even a large part. That’s dedication.

Nan

The only outlier I think being JJ Van Name.  I’m sympathetic because I know it can be a challenge to costume actors who have physical needs that affect what they wear–– but her super contemporary shoes really bugged me, and her “mother” character’s outfit didn’t quite seem in period or even to fit her well.

Valancy

Yes, those flats really stuck out; maybe if they’d been the same color as the rest of her costume, it would have been less of an issue. Lexie Braverman did a great job in her double role, particularly as Giovanni, the son. She had just the right energy and stance, without shouting out “I’m playing a boy!”

Nan

Agreed! I was really impressed by her work overall. I was really interested in this ensemble, actually–– obviously it’s a show with a ton of characters and they had a bunch of doubling to deal with, but there was such a range of what seemed like confidence or understanding of the show.

Lola

I just found it funny that we were watching The White Devil when there were a whole bunch of white people onstage. I wonder if that was purposeful? Although I’m not too sure….

Nan

Yeah. I mean they kept putting Jared Reed in that white tux jacket, which seemed pretty pointed. But it is a thoroughly white cast, and I feel like that’s pretty unforgivable.

Valancy

I adored the commitment from the entire cast. One thing about some of PAC’s shows in the past is the unevenness in the casting, particularly when they had an apprentice program. So it was great to see everyone fully ON. And yes, I just looked again at the program and saw all those white faces, which just isn’t good enough in 2017 in Philadelphia. There’s no excuse.

Nan

So I saw the show probably like a week and a half ago, and it didn’t really seem like everyone was “on” then.

Valancy

I saw it on closing night, so it could be they ratcheted it up a notch or two.

Lola

Dan Hodge is built for this sort of work. Performative yet grounded? Done. And Adam Altman is truly one of the greatest actors in the city.

Nan

Adam Altman is a really fantastic actor. Really beautiful work and big kudos for playing supporting roles so unselfishly.

The thing about Dan Hodge that sort of bugs me is his tendency to pepper in non-textual sounds. It feels like he doesn’t trust the text to do the work for him.

Lola

Ah, Yes. “The actor at work” kind of thing.

Valancy

I loved Dan’s inappropriate sense of humor in this one, which probably is when he ad-libbed the most sounds. I found it really ridiculous and funny, and it gave his conniving character much more relatable humanity.

Nan

He definitely seemed to be trying to keep the energy high, which I appreciated when everyone else was playing super slick noir villain.

Valancy

I want to say, while we’re talking about acting, that John Lopes was the best I’ve ever seen him. He usually plays the doddering father; so it was great to see him embrace the evil in this, and with complexity.

Lola

Definitely a presence on stage. I’ve actually never seen him before.

 

Nan

The great thing about the PAC, for me, is that they’re such a tight knit group of friends and compatriots and clearly they are really passionate about putting up the work come hell or high water. But I think there were a few casting decisions that didn’t quite work out well, and I found myself wondering if it was because they mostly seem to cast their friends, and it ends up limiting them, even with the fact that it was an all white cast aside. I guess that’s the double edged sword of creating your own company and casting your friends. Everyone’s clearly so passionate about it, and that is what’s so appealing about it most of the time, but it also means you don’t or can’t always cast the right actor for the role.

Lola

The other thing I’m a little unsure about is why they picked this play? I know they are dedicated to little seen classics, which I love and appreciate, and it is such an awesome mission statement to have, but some classics aren’t seen for a reason.

Nan

I was actually surprised to find it’s a pretty good play, in terms of functionality, at least. But I’m not a fan of the fact that they’ve been marketing it with Charlotte’s face and she is only in like three scenes. It’s clearly Dan’s play. It felt a bit disingenuous, in a play that is so chock full of fantastic men’s roles–– as if they were trying to downplay the inherent sexism of the work.

Nan

Like, I do appreciate doing underdone classics. But you have to own up to the fact that they’re shitty and sexist, and ideally really COMMENT on it. Anything else feels like it’s endorsing it by omission.

Valancy

Their mission to produce the unknown classics definitely limits them. One of my ongoing complaints about PAC is that the material they choose is not always the strongest, and so the actors and designers have to fight against the writing and create something wonderful out of it. Although, I was struck on multiple occasions by how modern some of the language felt here  — particularly the use of metaphor.

Nan

I’m just really tired of doing classics at face value. It feels too much like the “Well things were actually historically shitty like this, so we’re just being historically accurate, enjoy your blast from the past, minorities!”

Lola

Yes, Yes. A million times yes.

Valancy

Too many theatres in Philly cast from a small pool of friends, and that’s why there so often seems to be such a lack of diversity, as we saw here.

Nan

It just ends up feeling so masturbatory. I honestly did enjoy the show but if you’re not being inclusive it’s not for everyone to enjoy.

Lola

All very true.

Valancy

I thought setting it in the 1940’s gave the women more power than they might have had originally. At least they got to fire pistols.

Nan

Yeah. I think there was a small attempt to minimize the sexism there. And the fact that across the board EVERYONE is terrible and gets comeuppance, rather than it all being on Vittoria’s head? But it felt pretty half-hearted to me.

Valancy

I did have a really fun time, but I did also notice that I was the only one guffawing, which probably means I have a sick sense of humor and like to see Dan Hodge kill people and then die.

Lola

I kind of wanted them to be more shitty. I have a high pain tolerance for bad people, and I like to see them behave badly as opposed to being told they are behaving badly. It kind of felt like actors playing at being bad people? Which, of course, if always better than hiring legitimately bad people.

Valancy

I agree about it seeming like actors playing at being bad, but I put that down to the film noir artifice of it. Barbara Stanwyck definitely plays at being bad in Double Indemnity, but it’s fun to watch her do it.

Lola

She’s so good at being bad.

Valancy

One question about staging. What did you think of the sword fight? Michael Cosenza is a fight choreographer I always hear about, but I thought the fight was predictable and not as menacing as I wanted it to be.

Lola

Cosenza is really great at creative fights, but maybe this one was based on actor skill? I’m usually impressed with him, but I agree, I thought the work in this was a little predictable.

Nan

The sheer amount of hair pulls in this show! There were like five or six! Maybe it’s a staging thing with trying to get heads up in the thrust, too? I don’t have beef with the simplicity of the fights but I don’t think they were sold well. Also there were some issues with blood.

Lola

Yeah, the blood was kind of weird and lame. I want a Carrie situation at the end if you’re going to market it as a bloodbath.

Valancy

Now, I’m not a fighter, but even I recognized all the moves. I wanted to be surprised. I thought Jared was good at showing the poison seep through the mask to his brain though. It was a really fun moment to track, to see how long he could hold it together before collapsing in a final death throe.

Nan

I mean, you can’t go getting fancy suits bloody on the reg unless you have like three of them and the budget to do a lot of cleaning, but if you’re going to do blood sometimes, you kind of have to do it every time. Pica’s death just didn’t land without blood, especially when they had already used blood before that.

Lola

Of course. Damn logistics.

Nan

And yes, not nearly enough blood at the end.

Valancy

More blood!!!

Nan

I think they must have had trouble with blood packs that could survive that whole scene before without being obvious, but it just doesn’t work with less.

Valancy

I got spoiled by all the blood at Quintessence! Now, The Broken Heart was a blood bath! Is there anything else you two want to talk about with White Devil?

Lola

Did I mention how confused I was by the play?  I loved the space and the atmosphere, but I do encourage the PAC to reach beyond their comfort zone in the future. I think they’re on the edge of something great, but I’m not sure they’ve hit on it yet.

Valancy

Loved the design, lights, music and costumes… had some issues with the design overpowering the play, but had a fun time at the show.

Nan

I really love the spirit behind what they’re trying to do, I just wish they would hold themselves more accountable in terms of casting POC and good women’s roles.

Valancy

Yes, I know Dan Hodge prides himself on non-gender specific casting. He didn’t direct this one, but I think they can go much, much further in that direction.

Lola

Maybe some new blood onstage is the answer?

Nan

Ooooof, okay punster. Gotta end on that note, for sure.

Shuttlefish- Eva Steinmetz

Maura is a director, producer and dramaturg

I am becoming increasingly drawn towards theatre and performance with a small footprint. It is hard to define what I mean by that in a comprehensive way or with a set of rules, but I know I mean living room plays that are meant for an audience of no more than 15-20. I mean shows that have a set of ambitions or an experiment clearly defined. I mean shows that have limited design resources but waste nothing and draw a world all the same. I guess most of all I mean shows that instead have the joy and precision of the people that made them at their center.

 

Eva Steinmetz’s Shuttlefish was one of these shows. Everything about it felt specific and full of care to me, from the performances to Biko Koenig’s visual design to the fascinating use of a live string trio. I think it is a piece that is meant to be interpreted differently by each audience member, but for me, it was about navigating relationships with both loved ones and the inside of one’s own head in the face of grief or inalterable circumstances. It mattered to me to see an ensemble full of women burrowing into caregiving and the creeping emotional violence of certain kinds of intimacy. Like with a lot of ensemble-created work, I did have the feeling that I missed something, that the ensemble knows the piece and its layers inside and out in a way that is impenetrable to me. But in this case, I kind of liked that feeling, perhaps because the core exploration felt so clear that it has snuck back into my thoughts and warmed me for the past week.

 

One of the strengths of the piece for me was the very different way each performer took up space. Sarah Knittel’s chatty direction-giving monologue brought us into the piece easily, ending on a surprise dark note. Lillian Ransijn and Johanna Kasimow’s scene of domestic dialogue was choreographed to be still with the occasional tense cross in a way that very much evoked the inability to communicate during a hard time. Alex Tatarsky’s hilarious turn as a whiny, needy character being tended by the other women cracked me up, and also skewered me in my own memories of being a brat when other concerns were pressing on the people around me. Throughout the piece, these four moved like they were selectively tethered to each other, creating images and body language that always fed into the center of the moment. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mark Andalyn Young’s ability to be expressive and magnetic while seated for almost the entire show, doing a controlled and magnetic slump circle dance in her chair.

 

From a design perspective, the show felt spare, taking place in the elegant wooden box of a long yoga studio. A collection of Ikea (or Ikea-esque) lamps provided most of the lighting, and the operation of them was carefully worked into the performer’s choreography. Pristine yellow raincoats (all but one) hung on the wall, creating such a sense of satisfaction for me when they were finally used. But, the most exciting thing for me about the show was the use of the live string trio. There was a direct contrast between the use of recorded symphonic music and the performance of the trio, which played up how much these real human musicians aren’t meant to be background. They were part of the show, related to the momentum of the piece, pausing to address their dynamics as a group, cut out of relevance and then required back by one of the performers. While I’ll admit that Bach is fraught music for me for personal reasons, I deeply felt the music as an emotional score that startles, misbehaves; one that is compassionate and flawed and measured and chaotic. It made me think of the inside of my own head.

 

I guess I am rhapsodizing a little, but I’d rather dwell on the things about a piece like this that nourish me, rather than the few instances that I drifted away or was lost in a slightly frustrating way. I want to honor the skill and generosity that Eva brought to crafting this piece, and I want to remind audiences to go to the less showy, extravagant pieces sometimes. It sounds corny, but it’s so enlivening to really be able to see the beating heart of something. It’ll be a while before the impressions from Shuttlefish pass out of my head, especially the image of four women in yellow raincoats tightly together, conducting and rowing and battling an invisible storm all at once.

The Arsonists- Azuka Theater

Alix is a writer, dramaturg, and actor.

Erlina is playwright and theatre maker.

Alix

What was in your pockets?

 

Erlina

In my pockets… Well I had to break my vow that I won’t see shows that don’t have at least one person of color. Because I’m an Azuka supporter, and enjoy Jackie Goldfinger as a person. How were your pockets doing?

 

Alix

My pockets were pretty dang full for this one! I’ve worked with Jackie and director Allison Heishman before, and I’m an Azuka supporter; I wrote an article about Azuka’s Pay What You Decide initiative in the Fall. Also, my mother recently passed away, so I knew that this piece was going to be tugging on my heartstrings in a pretty major way.

 

Erlina

Oooo wow, I’m definitely interested in your perspective then. I have a very unremarkable relationship with my father so I didn’t relate much to their relationship. But I enjoyed the in depth look at these two very distinct souls.

 

Alix

I do believe that I was primed to have a deep connection to the play because of where I am emotionally. Witnessing a young woman having to reconcile with being alone in the world after losing the person she had the richest bond with was difficult to watch, but putting my own feelings aside, I do believe that Jackie illustrated that journey in an achingly beautiful way.

 

Erlina

I was struck by the chemistry between the two actors. I have seen Sarah Gliko and Steven Rishard in many other things and this was the best thing I think I’ve seen them both in.

 

Alix

I agree that their chemistry was spot on. This was my first time seeing Steven on stage because I’m still fairly new to Philly, but I’ve gotten the chance to see Sarah in a few things now. I’ve noticed that she has a kind of sharpness to her approach, but she had an ease here that really settled in once she engaged with the music. And Steven provided such a calm yet powerful presence…a truly great pairing.

 

Erlina

The way they held each other and sang together felt so sweet and natural. Even the rabid hate that we sometimes harbor for our nearest and dearest.

 

Alix

Kudos should be given to Allison here as well. She found some stage pictures that accentuated the rapport that Steven and Sarah had, making that relationship even clearer.

 

Erlina

Very true. I loved the staging of this. The thrust stage made the audience feel like we were floating in the swamp. I think Allison used every corner of the stage beautifully. However I have to say that I was slightly distracted by how many times they put their guitars away and took them back out again. I’m sure there was a technical reason, who knows maybe they don’t want one of the guitars to catch on fire. But it felt clunky sometimes.

 

Alix

It looked to me like their storage boxes had some kind of protective lining in them, which might have been why they were always kept in that upstage corner. I agree that having the actors always go back to retrieve the instruments from that location lacked a certain efficiency, and I’m not sure what the solution might have been here; their space was limited, given the way the thrust was constructed. It was enough space for them to move freely once they had the instruments, but perhaps not enough room to leave instruments lying around in various locations.

 

Erlina

What did you think of the music?

 

Alix

I loved the quality of the music (I’m a sucker for acoustic guitar!) but I sometimes questioned the motive behind the singing. In musicals, characters sing because the emotion becomes too powerful for “regular” speech. I would argue that the same can be said for the songs in this show, but at times I didn’t see that same kind of need for song. That being said, I did note when songs were used as a means to reach out, for the characters to calm themselves, to revel in present joy. It was just inconsistent. What were your thoughts on the music?

 

Erlina

I enjoyed the music to a certain extent; they both had beautiful voices. However, I had to tell myself half way through to pretend I was at a little concert so that the music wouldn’t bore me (sometimes it just went on too long, and yes I wasn’t always sure WHY they were singing). I thought when “M” (Sarah’s character) was singing at her mother’s grave it was effective, and private. I also have to say some of the Greek stuff they were talking about was going way over my head. It was kind of like the music. These two people had a very difficult time talking to each other and they used music and Greek mythology  to communicate, but the message was lost on me sometimes. I did understand the Fates cutting the string, and that represents how a life can be cut short though and I enjoyed the activity of hanging the string and cutting it etc.

 

Alix

I’m glad you brought that up! I’m a big ol’ theatre nerd and studied Greek theatre and culture in school, so I was ready to find the ways in which Jackie drew on that part of Western theatre. But I did wonder how someone who wasn’t prepped on the history would take in all of the references. They didn’t include a dramaturgical note in the program, which might have aided in clarifying things.

 

Erlina

Ehhhhh Interesting. Yea I wasn’t prepped and sometimes while they were talking it was all Greek to me (Budabump!). A dramaturgical note would have been helpful, but also maybe some clarity on why this father and daughter arson team were so obsessed with Greek mythology. Anyway, I’ve been critical enough. I wanna talk about how much I loved the uses of the big hole in the middle of the stage! When the dad climbed out of there, I was enthralled. And when he climbed back in and M lit the hole on fire, I was blown away. I thought it was such a clever use of a small space. The lights under the house that burned red at the end…that’s an image I will have in my mind for a while.

 

Alix

I was enamored with the set as soon as I walked into the theatre. The designer, Dirk Durosette, played with perspective in an exciting way. It had just enough of the fantastical to let me know that this was going to be outside of the realm of strict realism. The dilapidated wood, the way the space opened from the center and moved outwards to open up the room…really eye-catching. How did you feel about the design elements?

 

Erlina

I commented on some of them above, but I also think sound by Andrew Nelson was spot on. There was crickets and fire crackling, and it just REALLY helped set the atmosphere, but it did not draw away from what was happening on the stage.

 

Alix

Yes! The design elements came together cohesively, and they all crafted this very specific and detailed world. That theatre WAS a shack in the swamplands of Florida.

 

Erlina

I don’t have much to say about the costumes (Becca Austin). But I loved the red jacket representing M’s mom.

 

Alix

The mother, even though we never see her, had a presence that permeated that whole play. Having a costume piece that acted as a tangible connection to her character was striking, especially because M wears it for most of the show.

 

Erlina

Overall, it was an engrossing production, and it was the perfect length for a two-hander.

 

Alix

Agreed! A gorgeous first production. It’s so exciting that it’s got a rolling world premiere! It’s an opportunity to keep finding new things in a short-ish amount of time. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the play’s future!

Swallow- Inis Nua

Jane is a director and new-play dramaturg

Valancy is an actress and producer

Jane

Pockets! I have actually never not liked an Inis Nua show. I think they are great, and mostly because they know their mission.

 

Valancy

Yes, they really know how to stick with story as opposed to big-budget design and Tom Reing is great when it comes to casting, which I think is a good 75 or 80% of the secret. I also have really been intrigued by Inis Nua since seeing Bedbound years ago, and I was in a reading they did not long ago.

 

Jane

Also I’m a diehard Corinna Burns fan. As we talked about, one of my major confusions about Philly theater is why she isn’t in everything.

 

Valancy

Oh yes, that’s in my pockets — I have an actor crush on Corinna Burns; she is, in my opinion, the greatest working actor in Philly and really should be in everything. I never doubt her commitment and focus.

 

Jane

She’s so honest.  Also in my pockets that there was a controversy a few years ago when Inis Nua did a show called Radicalisation of Bradley [sic] Manning where the trans community called them out for some insensitive dramaturgy.

 

Valancy

That’s an interesting aside, because Swallow also has a trans character, and looking at the actor, Samy el-Noury’s bio, it says that he is an outspoken transgender activist.

 

Jane

So that represents learning and growing for the company.

 

Valancy

Yes, I think we’ve seen other theatre companies get defensive when criticized for insensitivity and then go out and make the same mistakes, so it’s really refreshing to see Inis Nua take stock and do better. Not just better, but great!

 

Jane

We also noted when we were at the show that this is almost all-female production team.

 

Valancy

Yes, I was so excited when I looked in the program and saw female name after name. It’s so rare to have such a female-centric design and production team, from the stage manager to lighting and scenic design. So many accomplished artists who should be getting more recognition and work in the city.

 

Jane

I have been thinking since we saw the show about whether knowing that changed the way that I saw it, because the production felt negotiated and harmonious at a time when at Bonaly we’ve been talking about a number of shows in which the design elements seem to be fighting each other.  I might be talking out my ass, but I wonder if because women are so used to having to empathize and negotiate, that when we work together our collaborations are more seamless.

 

Valancy

That’s an interesting observation. It’s true that all the design elements seemed to work toward the good of the play. I have to admit that monologue shows are not my favorite kind of theatre, but between the set, which offered wonderful levels for the different “worlds” of the play, and the lighting, which focused the audience’s eye on the shifting scenes, the production really grabbed me.

 

Jane

I think Angela Coleman’s lighting really served the play.  And I agree, I am not a huge fan of monologue plays, but the direction and the light kept it moving and focused.

I have to say that the set was my least favorite part of the production, for a couple of reasons. I agree that the levels were great, but the set was stranded in a no-man’s-land between general and specific. The window of the coffee shop didn’t indicate any specific type of establishment but it also had too much character to NOT belong to a specific place.

I could have used that specificity, because the script gives us a coffee shop where you can both be crammed next to a stranger on a bench AND have space to slow dance.

 

Valancy

I do think that part of why I was so riveted by Anna, aside from her mesmerizing focus. Her apartment felt like a much more specific and grounded place than the outside world and changing scenes of the other two characters.

 

Jane

And I think that that was because of the actress. Corinna made that into a real place in the way that she looked at things and with help from lights, which let her illuminate what she cared about. Still, the physical set for her apartment itself was specific and vague at the same time. The paneling, the stairs- they were choices but they weren’t sufficient tools for building a picture in my mind.

 

Valancy

I never had a strong sense of where the others were, it’s true. When Rebecca smashed the television and then escaped her apartment, I never felt the division between what was her living room and what was the stairwell.

 

Jane

I totally agree. I had no sense of where they were in relation to each other. And why make a platform with a huge empty space underneath if it can’t be used as playing space? It just creates a huge hole in the stage picture.

 

My final gripe is with the ceiling, which was an arch with broken glass. I get that this was a reference to all the literal and metaphorical shattering in the play, but it was the wrong kind of shattered. The glass looked like the neglected windows of a warehouse, but the shattering in the play is intentional and violent. It muddied up the story.  Those two types of broken glass tell a very different stories with no narrative link

 

Valancy

Yeah, they were definitely hoping to underscore the broken glass and shattered lives imagery. Hmmm, now I’m wishing they had made a mosaic ceiling out of broken glass.

 

Jane

I feel the color had the same issue. White means something, black means something. Realism in color means something. Even a flat grey might have pointed to concrete city loneliness. But the brushed-on layered gray on many different wood textures and going in many different directions didn’t seem to reflect the story.

 

Valancy

I didn’t even register the colors! I was going to let you gripe even more to try to jog my memory!

 

Jane

I’m done griping now. When all you have is bodies in space, I just think you need to make extremely specific choices about the space.

 

Valancy

Everything about the set could have been far more intentional and specific. I did like the levels though. One thing that I had a problem about the set that tied into the script is when actors enact what they’re saying. So when Corinna descended the stairs and her words were very specific in telling us where she was in the space, but her body on the staircase wasn’t where it should have been, I was taken out of the wonderful drama of the moment.

There were a few moments when I wished the characters didn’t speak the subtext or the stage directions, but simply lived in the moment and showed us what it was.

 

Jane

Yeah I agree. I know it’s a style, but it’s not one that I love. I don’t understand what it adds and I think it indulges playwrights who want to  avoid finding theatrical solutions to narrative problems

 

Valancy

I also think a danger with this particular style of play, where there are multiple stories happening at once, in view of the audience, is that I always have a favorite character or am more caught up in one of the stories and I feel cheated when the playwright drops the more compelling one to move to the other. It was hard to take my eyes off Corinna’s Anna and focus on the other drama unfolding.

 

Jane

Definitely a limitation of the style. What did you think of costumes?

 

Valancy

I thought their purpose was to give an impression of dress rather than be a realistic portrayal of what these people are wearing. It almost felt like a memory of what something was like. It was pretty obvious that Anna is naked by the end, which would have seemed gratuitous in an intimate staging like this, so having her describe it while being sloppily dressed in men’s shorts was a nice way to handle it I thought.

 

Jane

I loved her sloppiness! It looked like something a woman who didn’t give a shit would actually wear. That’s what I wear when I don’t give a shit.

 

Valancy

Yes! And her makeup was spot on.

 

Jane

I agree!  I also liked the way I discovered Rebecca’s scar.  It took a few minutes and then I got to wonder about it for just the right amount of time before I heard about it in the text.

 

Valancy

Makeup in general was really great. I thought the scar was beautifully rendered. At first I thought it was a mic’s wire across her face, it had so much depth to it. And then I thought perhaps Felicia Leight , the actress, had had an accident. So it was a lovely, unfolding bit of story.

 

Jane

I liked the calculated casualness of Sam’s costume, also.  Natalia de la Torre is a genius. She just serves the hell out of whatever she’s costuming instead of imposing a personal style. She’s a design chameleon. She always plugs right into the ethos of the show she’s working on and then manifests it. It’s easier to see when she’s doing something flashy (like she’s famous for Heavy Metal Dance Fag), but on a show like this she’s just as sharp and successful.

 

Valancy

I’m always excited to see what she comes up with. I wish I could have been part of those production meetings to hear what they talked about and how the style of the play evolved.

 

Jane

Do you have anything to say about sound? I was confused about the sound that started the show before the lights came up.  A sound like that usually either summarizes or lands you in the world of the play but I never connected that sound with the story.

 

Valancy

So now we discover that I not only blocked out the painting of the set, but the sound… because I don’t remember the sound design at all! Was it throughout or just at the top of the show?

 

Jane

Throughout, but very subtle. Atmospheric.

 

Valancy

I have to give great props to Len Kelly, who is one of the great dialect coaches in Philadelphia. It was a difficult dialect and everyone had a consistency that I credit Len with instilling.

 

Jane

Yes! I have no authority to talk about accuracy in this dialect, but they certainly all came from the same place. It never distracted.

 

OK, I think we should carve out a minute to fangirl on Corinna, since we only touched on it talking about deisgn. But she really brought it.

 

Valancy

To me, it felt like it could easily have been a one woman show. I kept thinking throughout how easy it would be to adapt it into one where she simply tells about these other people who come into her life.

 

Jane

And it would have allowed us to go more into depth about Anna’s story, which was pretty compelling and the most fleshed out.

 

Valancy

Corinna created an entire world for us to inhabit with her; everything was so tangible, from the bird who lives in the nest she builds to the destruction of her apartment.

 

Jane

I agree. I don’t know how much of this is just personal preference, but a breakup story in which the leaver is an uncontested jerk is pretty low stakes for me, so it was hard to connect to Rebecca. And I feel like Sam’s story just skims the very surface of what most of us already know about the trans experience.  The fact that Anna’s story had one foot in the metaphorical made her more universal somehow.

 

Valancy

I did think, however, that one of the great dramatic moments of the play was when Rebecca flees her abuser and tries to get Anna to open the door. I was actually a little let down when the thug simply leaves without forcing more action from the women.

 

Jane

I totally agree.

 

Valancy

They both did a wonderful job there of creating the right level of tension. I could see the door, even though none existed.

 

Jane

Yes, and the mail slot. The actresses filled in what the set left vague.

 

Valancy

I wanted them to revisit it, or for the refusal to have consequences for their relationship. The very next scene has them being confidantes to each other, and that didn’t feel right. Why was Rebecca so ready to let that betrayal go?

 

Jane

I was also not very convinced by the romantic love story between Sam and Rebecca. But that was the script, not the actors.

 

Valancy

Sam was definitely the least fleshed out of the characters. I think the actors did their best with something implausible.

 

Jane

Getting to see a fully realized trans character is a rare and important opportunity.  It was a let down that the play seemed just to hit the bullet points of a generalized experience without creating a more complex character.

 

Valancy

It is, and I wanted to feel more attachment to him. The meeting in the coffee shop felt too contrived. What would make someone as sensitive as Sam approach a seemingly morose unfriendly woman? I think he made some excuse like “I thought you could use the company,” but it felt weak to me.

 

Jane

Me too. This was another case of generality where specificity should have been. It seemed like the story Stef Smith really wanted to tell was Anna’s

 

Valancy

The story I wanted to see was Anna’s too! I wish she’d talked to me before writing the play.

 

Jane

I think that the actors, as is always the case with Inis Nua, did a really thorough, serious and professional job with what they had.  There’s nothing I would change about the performances

 

Valancy

No, nothing at all. And again, I think that’s a great strength with Inis Nua. They really assemble the best people for each play they do, so that even with shakier material, you feel like you’ve had a full theatrical meal.

 

Jane

I totally agree! In theater there are things that don’t totally work on stage that kill me, and those that I’m fine with

There were parts of this that didn’t work, but it was an overall solid production and a good night at the theater.

 

Valancy

Nope, I think that’s it. Great job, Inis Nua, at producing thought-provoking new work from the British Isles, with the best talent in Philly, and creating a really satisfying night of theatre. Keep up the good work!

The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary- Curio Theater Company

Stella is an actor/director/comedian.

Valancy is an angel among mortals.

 

Valancy

Shall we start with what we had in our pockets for Madame Bovary?

 

Stella

Sure! I didn’t have much. I’ve never seen a show at Curio, but I am familiar with Madame Bovary and I’ve seen a lot of (director) John Bellomo’s work. Yourself?

 

Valancy

I had a bunch of stuff going in. Madame Bovary was one of the first French novels I read in translation and inspired me to study French in college so I could read the original. I also have worked with Curio in the past a few times.

 

Stella

That’s pretty badass. I read the novel a long time ago and have seen the 2014 movie and wasn’t a fan.

 

Valancy

 

I haven’t seen the 2014 version, but I saw the French one from 20 years ago, and both loved and hated it. It’s hard to adapt something that deals so much with the inner psychology of the protagonist. 

 

Stella

How was your experience with The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary, since you know the source novel so well? I’ll come out and say I’m not a fan of “look at us being actors in a play” style that’s trending in theatre right now. It never seems clever enough to be successful.

 

Valancy

I thought the idea of using the new characters of the rat catchers to give an outside view of the story was interesting , but I agree that the breaking of the fourth wall and the actors commenting on the action is over-used now, and only draws attention to the acting and invites you to judge it. I was particularly conscious of actors playing actors in this one, and maybe that’s because another theatre company created it. I wonder if it seemed more natural in the original Peepolykus production.

 

Stella

Same. The self awareness was a bit distracting. Which is a shame, because all of the actors were present and seemed to be having a blast.

 

Valancy

 

Yes, it was such a high energy production and they were giving their all, so I felt bad that it wasn’t more successful than it was at carrying me away.

 

Stella

 

I know Bellomo is extremely well versed in commedia de’ll arte, and while I love the repetitive nature of commedia, the bits were distracting (and a tad overlong) in this piece. But, like you said, I wonder how much of that is Peepolykus and how much is directorial.

 

Valancy

I was particularly aware when Aetna Gallagher dropped her Madame Bovary persona and expressed the feelings of the actress, that it wasn’t what Aetna truly felt; there was an artifice to it. And that made the feminist ideas she expressed seem absurd, which really bothered me, because it should have been more powerful than that.

 

Stella

Oooooh. Yeah. I kind of hated that. Looking everybody in the eye and being like “I’M THE GIRL IN THE SHOW. GET IT?”

 

Valancy

It made me wish Curio had chosen to drop the “improv” style of the piece or simply improv their own “actors within a play” storyline. What you said before was spot on. It just wasn’t clever enough.

 

Stella

For sure. I’m not sure what the structure of the script is, and I’m kind of interested in that, but I’m assuming it can be altered to fit each specific cast? They clearly added a little jab at EgoPo’s production of Anna in the second act, referencing an actress “stopping the play” if I remember correctly (Which felt kind of weird, but specific) So why not adapt the “actor” characters, if you can improvise other dialogue?

 

Valancy

Yes, exactly! I liked the reference to EgoPo, which seemed in keeping with the commedia style, but it did stick out as being the one moment when they specifically altered something to make it their own. Apparently the original did reference Anna Karenina, strangely enough, but in a hypothetical sense. “It would be like stopping the train from hitting Anna by throwing leaves on the tracks!”

 

Stella

Really? That’s a fun thing to know. Also, acting wise, I do think Andrew Blasenak did a really great job navigating his actor character and his actor character acting, if that makes sense? It never felt forced or obvious. And the last moment with the confetti cannon was some top notch tragic silliness. I’ve been saying it for years: EVERY SHOW NEEDS A CONFETTI CANNON.

 

Valancy

Haha! Yes, you can never have too much confetti. I agree about Andrew — he was wonderfully grounded throughout. Sympathetic as Dr. Bovary and at ease as the actor playing him. I’d love to see him in more!

 

Stella

I agree! I actually saw his as Petruchio years ago at the Maryland Shakespeare Festival. Top notch performer. Which brings us to the design elements. Anything stand out for you?

 

Valancy

I thought Aetna, who doubles as costumer, did a great job of creating easily layered, versatile costuming for those quick changes.

 

Stella

Definitely. Sturdy and specific. And I thought Paul Kuhn’s set was magical.

 

Valancy

Paul Kuhn is the best and most unsung set designer in the city; he completely transforms every space he works in.

 

Stella

He really is. I felt like I was watching a Punch and Judy puppet show. And the rain scenes! He made it rain! On stage!!! Beautiful!!

 

Valancy

I thought the chalk boards were an excellent way to travel through time and location, and that rain trough was inspired. That was one time when I actually loved having the actors break character to manipulate the set. Rain over, slam the lid down on the rain gutter!

 

Stella

Or “Hey, we’re at le bar. Jay kay, cross out bar and put cafe.”

 

Valancy

Yes, super cute!

 

Stella

I thought Robin Stamey’s lights were practical and solid, but not flashy. I love some good string lights around a space.

 

Valancy

Oh, one thing I just thought of about costuming that I wish they had incorporated more gracefully, or intentionally, was that Madame Bovary’s skirt was so voluminous that she kept knocking chairs over and things off shelves, which should have been hilarious, but just seemed like the actress was having issues with her costume. I thought the choreography there could have been more comedic and polished.

 

Stella

It says something that the only woman onstage is wearing the largest, most unwieldy, costume. Might as well make it say something more.

 

Valancy

I should have added Robin Stamey in my list of things I had in my pockets going in. I’ve worked with her a few times at various theatres and love what she brings into the designer conversation. The lights here were really understated until that final moment with the confetti and the projections. She’s really good at creating mood with her lighting.

 

I do have to say that with all that final music, confetti, projections and death on stage, I felt like I should be leaping to my feet, and the fact that I wasn’t made me sad… because everyone put so much into the production.

 

Stella

Yuuuuuuup. And I know I’m not the easiest to please when it comes to comedy (or most things), but I really wanted the play to be funny. Like you said, they had all of the right tools and intentions, but something just didn’t seem to click.

 

Valancy

Yes, something… and I always want to put my finger on it. Do you think it was any one thing (direction? script?) or a combination of things?

 

Stella

I think it’s hard for devised work not to exist in a vacuum.  

 

Valancy

I did find it particularly hilarious, probably because I’ve tried to pronounce “Rouen,” that the conductor (Doug Greene) said “Last train to Ruin!” I thought there should have been a whole lot more plays on words and faulty pronunciation.

Yes, it makes me wonder how successful another company would be at taking a Pig Iron or a Brenna Geffers production and making it their own. I have a feeling you can’t take someone else’s devised piece and not struggle when trying to restage it.

 

Stella

That’s a pretty good bit, and you’re definitely smarter than me, because I didn’t even think about that! I liked the absurd things that kept happening (fake legs flying, actors visibly fatigued from running around the set, Chase Byrd’s “magic” tricks), but I think those were director choices? Question mark? Maybe we need to look at more Peepolykus work. PEEP at more PEEPolykus, as it were.

 

Valancy

Ha! So silly, but yes!! Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share? I guess it says something that I saw the production a couple of weeks ago and still have such a strong impression of it.

 

Stella

I don’t think so. I was kind of unsatisfied when I left the theatre (mostly because it was SO LONG) but as I’ve been thinking about it I think I liked the parts, but not the sum? If that makes sense?

 

Valancy

Yes, I agree that it felt like it should be an 85 minute, no intermission, foray into silliness with some profundity mixed in. And nothing was as silly or as profound as it needed to be. I applaud the effort and the desire, but hope for more from Curio.

 

Stella

We’re definitely on the same page.