Trey Lyford – The Accountant


The takeaways

  • Stunning visual experience, from intricate physicality to magical theatrical effects
  • Clever references to Krapp’s Last Tape but ideologically slight overall
  • Have we seen this before? Are we learning something new?


In my pockets

I worked on Krapp’s Last Tape in college and so have some familiarity with the source material, and with Beckett’s oeuvre. I attended the final, sold-out performance of The Accountant in the middle of a rainstorm. 



Lights: Robin Stamey’s lighting design was what the play needed. Fluorescent lights dominate the stage, accented by sickly greens that round out the drabness of the Accountant’s limited existence, and create a feeling of dankness on Eric Novak’s otherwise pristinely designed set. I was struck by the alluring lavender light swelling through the space when the outside world broke through.

Sound & Music/Composition: Cole Kamen-Green’s original music–a muted trumpet, some kind of electronic device, and live mixing–blend with Lyford’s own manipulations of fluorescence and hold music to create a swelling, searing score. Kamen-Green’s orchestrations are particularly impressive, elegantly transforming from a mind-numbing drone into a Romantic, light-hearted tune and back as Lyford’s Accountant reminisces about life outside of work.

Costumes: Tara Webb’s costumes are simple and pinpoint-accurate. Lyford’s drab suit blends into the world around him, foreshadowing his climactic transformation. Bass’s crisp blue suit connects him to the grey-green world of Lyford’s office while clearly marking him as something of status. And Holum-Lyford’s orange frock distinguishes her as something outside of this place–something warm, and maybe unattainable in the confines of Lyford’s prison.

Set/props: Meticulously drab, meticulously cramped with paper, meticulously designed to become off-kilter. But where Eric Novak shines is his kinetics design. His kinetic effects are fascinating–a banana you eat that has a wadded ball of paper inside! Pouring hot water into a cup that becomes upturned and produces only sugar! Unfortunately they’re so magical against a piece that lacks cerebral stimulation, so rather than these oddities being immersed in the world, I caught myself wondering how these objects were made.

Fight Choreography: Movement in this piece is everything you would expect from Trey Lyford. Specific and compelling, the piece contains everything from quiet vaudevillian clowning to gorgeous contemporary dance to brutal brawl.



Trey Lyford is a professional. He navigates the stage and his own body with complete ease and control; his emotional range is endless. Meanwhile, capitalism itself is embodied by Ben Bass. He struts around alternatively grinning, sneering, barking, and howling. Bass is completely committed to this stereotype, and his physical work–snapping in and out of contorted, violent posturings–adds edge and complexity.

Coralie Holum Lyford doesn’t have much to do, but her presence is so starkly different from Lyford and Bass’s that it becomes notable–both her physical stature (a small girl) and her fresh, non-performative actions on stage. Watching Lyford play off of her is rich.



FringeArts’ tagline for the piece–“When you take stock, does it all add up?”–is appropriate. A middle-aged man is trapped in a purgatory of tax forms, fluorescent lights, and hold music. His torture is punctuated by absurdity, and wonder. Gorgeous as the production looks, as a message, The Accountant isn’t saying anything necessarily new. The program tells us this is inspired by “the disorientation that death can bring into our lives,” but the ideas confronting us were much less subtle: money is nothing without love, capitalism is crushing us, what matters are people not products.



Production-wise, The Accountant is stunning. It’s theatrical, it’s visually lush, the performances are absolutely incredible (I will be thinking about Bass’s contorted masculinity dance for a long time). But as a piece of contemporary theatre, this new play feels strangely dated. In many ways, I was reminded of popular depictions of 80s economic angst – the working man downtrodden, longing to reconnect to his family, ultimately corrupted by the ravages of greed. These themes are never not urgent in a world where we have to work to live, even as that work compromises our lives. But the economic woes of a mid-level bureaucratic employee are woes we’ve seen before, and capitalism’s woeful reach is wide. It’s unrealistic to expect art to be all things to all people, but, if we can separate the content from the form, The Accountant gives us well-worn lessons from experiences that apply to only some people.

On the Rocks – Wolfcrush: a Queer Werewolf play

The takeaways

  • A queer coming-of-age anthem. Shamelessly and deliciously hot.
  • Strong performances and ensemble work.
  • Clear cultivation of a queer space, although occasionally overlooking more marginalized identities within the community.


In my pockets

I know and have worked with a handful of people in the cast and creative team. I’m very much an East Coaster and have just a basic understanding of what it’s like in the American South. I couldn’t drink the night of the show, and, knowing the culture of drinking that On the Rocks fosters, I was nervous that I would feel left out, but, as a QPOC, I was really pumped to see some representation.



Lights: Alyssandra Docherty’s strung light bulbs throughout the space occasionally made me feel like I was in a coffee shop rather than a horror movie, but the payoff of them during the Law and Order SVU interrogation sequence was incredibly satisfying and isolating. Overall, the lighting made the piece feel sexy and dangerous.

Sound/music: Meghan Reed’s use of 2000s era song choices, while fun, left me feeling a bit confused in juxtaposition to the use of what looked like more modern technology and Junyce’s on-trend costume choices. I was a little confused about what time period we were in. Meghan did a great job clearly defining the world of the woods, and the sound created for the werewolf transformation raised the stakes of the experience.

Costumes: Corrie Meehan’s costume design expertly defined each character both in the world of their high school and within the world of the werewolves. Beecher, Junyce, and Kyle all had a textural calling card for their werewolf, which helped tell each character’s story of how they came to this form.

Set design: Julia Montante created an simple and effective set paired with loud and hilarious props that helped communicate the heightened world of the play. The woods’ constant presence served as a reminder of the looming danger throughout.

Choreography: Kevan Sullivan fostered a language of tender intimacy, animalistic lust, and painful transition that created an engaging other-worldly quality to the expression of sexuality on stage.

Also, a shout out to Stage Manager Scout Cox, who called this fast-paced show amongst an awesomely rowdy audience.



Syndey Banks as Junyce was a standout for me. Her energy demanded that time slow down whenever Junyce appeared. Campbell O’Hare (Kyle) and Josh McLucas (Huck) navigated characters with internalized systemic sexism, racism, and homophobia with humanity, each portraying specific and heart wrenching character arcs. José Raúl Mangual’s Beecher communicated a universal experience of unrequited teenage love that often got vocal reactions from the audience. Jenna Kuerzi moves through multiple adult male characters with ease and amazing comedic timing.



Elaina Di Monaco’s direction was crisp, fast paced, and brought out the best in her ensemble. It was clear that she created a room that empowered the ensemble to explore messy topics with boldness.  At times, I felt as though the piece focused more on psyching the audience up rather than pushing the plot forward or baring the teeth of the systemic issues presented in the play. Mayor Crabapple was a bumbling conservative clown, which was hilarious to watch, but a moment or two of unbridled and terrifying racism or homophobia would’ve helped to raise the stakes as the wolves closed in on White Coon County, or communicate the undeniable power of government at play here. I particularly appreciated the time taken on the first sex scene between Kyle and Junyce, which so clearly illustrated a sexual coming of age for Kyle and a softening of Junyce’s hard exterior and celebrated consent. Queer womyn don’t get this kind of representation on stage and Elaina utilized this as an opportunity to take space and cover it with queer joy.



At the core of Haygen-Brice Walker’s piece is a connection between queerness and danger and beauty that crystalizes in different ways for each character and drives the plot forward. The piece really sings when examining this connection either within the queer relationships or juxtaposed by the straight white maleness that is presented as it’s foil. The scene between Principal Roman interrogating Juynce in Act 1 geniusly portrays a meeting of two equals – one in power and one empowered – that rolls all of these things into one.  Act 1 runs long and gets lost in portraying the nostalgia of high school. Characters making comments on Junyce’s race but not necessary Beecher’s led me to believe that the play was trying to comment on the white passing experience, but I wished that had been more explicit.



Wolfcrush was unapologetically for hot queers with one or two drinks in them, and Eliana and Haygen, or On the Rocks, created an atmosphere that not only welcomed this audience but embraced and encouraged them to be their fullest selves during the show. This led to an amazingly engaged and vocal audience here for every twist, turn, and removed item of clothing in the play.  

The director’s note of the show states that “Wolfcrush is for every queer, everyone who loves a queer, anyone that might be queer, and everyone in between,” and it is truly amazing to see queerness so loudly represented on stage. But, when Principal Roman repeated jokes about his (unseen) wheelchair-bound wife requiring medical assistance, but there isn’t a disabled person on stage to undo the myth of victimhood, On the Rocks’ definition of queerness shrinks. When the play treats fatness as entitlement, references eating disorders, and puts an actor in a fat suit to get laughs on stage – On the Rocks’ definition of queerness shrinks. When the producers encourage drinking excessively in an overheated space but don’t make their water free and don’t provide non-alcoholic options or shout outs to the sober buddies who can’t or don’t drink – On the Rocks’ definition of queerness shrinks. I really appreciated the production, but these instances tainted an otherwise joyous night. I have no doubt that On the Rocks will continue to grow in visibility, and I am excited how they continue to represent.

Renegade Company – (Kensington) Streetplay

(Kensington) Streetplay

The takeaways

  • Non-theatrical, but that hardly mattered
  • Pressing and moving monologues from the performers
  • A beautiful, urgent way of getting to know a neighborhood


In my pockets

I live in West Philadelphia, and hardly have a reason to go up that far north in Kensington (the show starts at the Allegheny MFL stop). In general, I don’t like traveling up to Kensington or Fishtown. The only reason I have had to go in the past is to visit friends, and they live in the parts of the neighborhood that feel like Brooklyn (and I don’t want to be in Brooklyn). I’m also a white, educated young woman, and have varying degrees of comfort walking around in a city (in all parts). This was an illuminating piece for me.



There is no real design in this show, unless we think about it geographically. The “play” starts at the Allegheny stop on the MFL, in the parking lot of a Walgreens. This part of Kensington is busy – there are people waiting for folks to step off the train in order to sell them wares and trinkets, or folks waiting for buses down on the street – it’s a bustling intersection, and obviously a really interesting place to start a theatrical experience. From there, the audience is split up into groups, led by a facilitator in a blue shirt (a Renegade Company member) who takes you on a walk down Allegheny Ave. Occasionally, they will bring you to a stopping point (a lamp post outside of a gas station, a fence by an abandoned lot, a church yard gate), where two performers will share the monologues they have developed over the two-year course of this show. After this walk, the performers and facilitators bring you to Campbell Square, a beautiful park in a part of the neighborhood where gentrification’s effects are extremely visible. The design of this second half of the piece is more like an outdoor fair – each performer invites you to join their station where they lead you through an interactive activity of their design as the sun sets.



The monologues the performers deliver all have the same theme: “when you look at me, you see one thing. But I am so much more than that.” The performers – most of whom do not consider themselves performing artists or folks who have a performance background – obviously feel great ownership over this piece, this process, and the writing they have chosen to share with you. Their personhood is so magnetically visible in these monologues, and range from poems, songs, or, in one spirited performance, a message about Jesus Christ’s love for every single one of us. Regardless of the form, the monologues open up these people to visitors of a neighborhood, and challenge all of us to get to know the Kensington streets through the people who live on them.



Mike Durkin directed this beautiful experience, and what is clear is not necessarily how he crafted the performative quality of each resident, but rather the effect of the overall theatrical process he led with these folks for two years. Even though this play is not necessarily very theatrical, and it is hard to talk about it like it is a show, it is clearly an event and experience that is deeply informed by theater and performance. It’s a wonderful example of what kinds of collaborations and community experiences can be created with the tools that performance gives us.



This play was for me, a transplant to Philadelphia from another place, with economic mobility and privilege. It’s for the gentrifiers, essentially. As we move into neighborhoods with cheap rent, we draw arbitrary real-estate lines to make us feel safer about the people that we’re pushing out. There’s a whole host of politics in the question of what distinguishes Kensington from Fishtown, and where those lines are drawn. As we entered the park, one of the performers shouted, “We’re in Port Richmond now! Addiction doesn’t exist here!” Regardless of the sarcasm, you could tell that there was more money going into this half of our walk than the other, more gentrification, more denial.

That the show asks you to engage with the material by walking through a city landscape is incredibly potent, and a very personal experience. There are a lot of preconceptions that I was asked to abandon at the start of the play, and by abandoning them, I noticed what they were – preconceptions about the kinds of people I was likely to encounter in (Kensington) Streetplay, about the performers, and about the neighborhood itself. For a lot of white women, there’s an old narrative about walking around urban (i.e. black and brown) neighborhoods, and how are bodies affect and are affected. But it’s not true that only in poorer neighborhoods do I experience more harassment. I was shouted down on Saturday night on UPenn’s campus by a frat boy to suck his dick, and at (Kensington) Streetplay, one of the male performers hugged me tightly for way too long and thanked me for being adorable. Neither was great, to be honest. The thing that (Kensington) Streetplay illuminates so beautifully is that people are really just kind of the same everywhere – families love each other, people strive to succeed, everyone loves food. The difference between the residents of (Kensington) Streetplay and I is that the geopolitical effects of our country have affected us in deeply unequal experiences. Gentrifiers have to own up to that shit, especially because we are the first steps in a wheel of development that will eventually price us out of these neighborhoods as well. Our desire to live in Brooklyn no matter where we are has a deep impact on the kinds of services that come into a neighborhood, and who they’re for. A necessary reminder in a necessary new form.

Revolution Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida

Troilus and Cressida

The takeaways:

  • Clean cut design with clever subversion of traditionally masculine garments.
  • Can a misogynistic play written with patriarchal influence also be a commentary on misogyny?
  • Badass ensemble work


In my pockets:

I’m a white cis woman, and I was very excited about a Shakespeare production sans men. I’ve never worked with Revolution Shakespeare before, but I know and have worked with the designers in the past, and I’m friends or acquaintances with members of the company. I started the show a little distracted, which made it difficult to focus in the expansive outdoor arena. 



Lights: It’s tough to make a meal out of lights when you’re working outside, but Andrew Cowles’s lights helped us seamlessly transition from day to night.

Sound: The trouble with working with sound on an outdoor production is so much gets eaten up by expansive space. I’ve loved Daniel Ison’s work in the past, but I just couldn’t hear much in the outdoors. That being said, the soundscape provided by the actors was electric, swiftly and effectively establishing the tone of the show.

Costumes: The black bases did make it slightly trickier to remember who was who when I was still learning all of the characters (especially when some cast members played multiple characters!), but I loved the use of ties. Given that this was an ensemble of femme-presenting folks, using something associated with masculinity was a fun subversion. Doug Greene’s costumes were streamlined with just the right flourishes to reinforce characterizations.

Set: Doug incorporated the ties into the set as well, which was made up of two tents on opposing sides of the stage and a structure in the center. The structure in the center was not particularly visually striking, and I had a hard time figuring out why it was there, but I also didn’t pay a lot of attention to it during the show. I personally love basic sets, especially for Shakespeare, because it allows for an audience to use their imaginations to build upon what’s given. Doug did a great job of creating consistency between design elements.

Fight Choreography: Jacqueline Holloway’s fight choreography was clean and engaging. Her knowledge of working with varying audience perspectives is clear, as the fights were brutal and had enough “stage magic” to be believable in the moment. I’m not sure if it was Jacqueline’s idea to have the actors do sword fights without weapons (they still moved as if they were holding them) and have the weapons be held by non-fighters to be used for sound effects, but I loved it and was excited by the unexpectedness.



The ensemble members as a whole were thrilling, but there were a few standouts for me. Tai Verley is always a revelation, and her Pandarus stole the show whenever she came on stage. Her text work was crystal clear, and she had such an ease with text that is difficult to achieve and all the more impressive. Similarly, Meg Rumsey-Lasersohn’s Troilus had tremendous range, but I found her work the most compelling when she was in direct address with the audience. Overall, really solid work by everyone and I wish I could go through each actor and dole out individual praise.



Troilus and Cressida is one of the tougher Shakespeare plays to lift up, but Brenna Geffer’s staging helped to amp up tension in a relatively static narrative. Her guidance along with Krista Apple’s text direction gave stark clarity to the story and text. I’m guessing that she was the one who made the cuts to the script (which was considerably pared down), and I greatly appreciated her choices — this play is a dense one. Her condensing of characters and hacking away at the tangential infused the piece with necessary urgency. The downside of significant trimming is the loss of what could provide depth. For instance, Cressida’s father (who was absent in Rev Shakes’s production), is the reason that she is traded to the Greek Camp; he had defected, and he trades a Trojan prisoner in order to be reunited with her. Without that, Cressida’s treatment as a pawn has a different spin on it. I could really see Brenna’s influence throughout the show, and while that was mostly exciting, it was at times a bit overbearing.


Accountability – why this show now?

Troilus and Cressida is a difficult piece to stage, because it’s a lot of scenes of negotiations and men sitting around talking about other men. And for that reason, it’s a particularly difficult piece to revive, especially with the men also saying terrible things about women, posturing, and making rash decisions that affect the course of a war. I’m personally struggling with how I feel about Shakespeare these days, because it is really difficult to make something that’s steeped in misogyny and was written with a patriarchal lens be anything but a misogynistic relic — even if you stage it without men in sight. But I’m also a believer that we can look to pieces of the past to help give us context to what’s going on socio-politically in the now, so I can see how Troilus and Cressida is timely and a smart choice by Rev Shakes.

Ants on a Log – Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline

Pipeline of Fun: Ants on a Log Reach Kids through Humor and Music

The takeaways

  • The performers did an expert job of using props and costumes to differentiate characters
  • Much of the content went over the heads of the children in the audience
  • As an adult, I found the story clever


In my pockets:

I attended the show with a four year old. I acknowledge that she was younger than the recommended age so her reaction to the show does impact my opinion.



The musical elements of the show were lively, and were the most engaging moments of the show to the audience, especially the children. I wish there had been more musical numbers that incorporated audience participation.

Although there were only two performers, the show featured multiple characters (in past iterations of this show, there have been 12 performers!). The creative use of props really helped to distinguish between the different characters. The performers used costume layering and simple props for quick changes between characters that were very clear. My favorite was the pencil!  The smog filled city line backdrop served the show’s theme and message quite well.



I enjoyed Ants on a Log’s performances. They were animated and engaging throughout both the scenes and musical numbers.  



The message of the show was clear – increasing civic engagement around pollution, working against corrupt politicians and corporations.The stereotypical characters in the play are the corporation CEO and the politicians, but to be honest, I think that’s necessary in the world of the play and in a show for young audiences. Although the performance space was small, the two performers created a very distinct setting throughout the space that helped the the flow of the show. It is succinct, just about an hour, but the characters were able to take the audience on a full journey.


The writing:

I think the show as it stands is good for young audiences, but older than their suggested age (5+). It feels more suited for 8+. Some of the references are too referential to adult political pop culture to land with the kids, and there isn’t enough simple sight and sound entertainment for younger children. For example, in order to engage the children more effectively, characters could have integrated broader lessons about pollution in general (as opposed to pollution from the play’s oil refinery).

Lee Minora – White Feminist

White Feminist

The Takeaways

  • Minimal yet effective design did just enough to create the talk-show world
  • Minora’s daring, cheeky performance made her Becky equally rich and revolting 
  • The material might be upsetting for some, but if you can get into the room, nothing says community like collective laughter followed by a knowing groan.
  • Brutal satire covered in a perfect sheen of lipgloss.


In my pockets

I’m a white cis woman, so I expected that this piece was about to come for me. I was super excited about it, but in that stomach-churning “let’s get uncomfortable/weird” way.



Lights: The plot in the Skinner Studio at Plays and Players is pretty basic, so this is mostly a “lights up/lights down” situation.

Sound: Adriano Shaplin designed an appropriately cringe-worthy soundtrack, using popular music at just the right moments to make me squirm in my seat. One particularly pleasurable moment during the show was a callout of 90s Gwen Stefani for cultural appropriation, which then led me to remember that “I’m Just a Girl” was included in the pre-show incidental music. 

Costumes: Minora’s Becky costume is perfectly evocative and self-aware enough to keep it from being frustratingly on the nose. Her white dress/cape combo, flawless jewelry, neatly coiffed blonde wig, and alarmingly perfect manicure are the right ingredients for a solid lampooning. And yeah, there are pussy hats.

Set: this show has been on the move, so I imagine the set needed to be pretty spare and utilitarian. But there is just enough gauzy fabric and subtle touches (like a present yet unobtrusive B for “Becky” that rests on the floor) to create a white lady’s dream talk-show set. It’s not always easy to transform the Skinner, but I was given just enough. It helps that the way the risers are constructed is reminiscent of the kind of seating you might see on a morning talk show when the camera pans to the smiling, clapping viewers.



Minora is dynamic and I want to commend her on how well she listens to an audience and how quickly she can adapt and shift within her own material. Her swift comedic timing is undeniable (even when you want to strangle Becky with the good wig).



Though clear that Lee is the master of her own concept and craft, Alice Yorke’s direction helped to further refine the edges of an already sharp play (aside from a clunky initial transition between the prologue and main act that accommodates a costume change). White Feminist reflects a solid partnership between Minora and Yorke.



Minora is an economical writer, and she plays with comedic length in the fun and slightly dangerous way that the best comics do. She had a lot of material to work with, but the pace clips along beautifully, keeping things from feeling overfull or under-explored. Though the message stays pretty consistent throughout, there were just enough surprises to keep me from being certain that I had it all figured out. I question the incorporation of food into this piece — Becky takes bites of cookies and cupcakes a couple of times, leading to brief (and of course, humorous) bouts of almost vomiting in front of the audience. I couldn’t quite make out the significance of the moments, other than perhaps a metaphor for choking on your own bullshit. I’m not convinced it enhanced the piece. But this is just being picky in the face of an otherwise complex and achingly funny show that finishes with a satisfying kick in the stomach.



I’ve been turning it around in my brain since I saw the show, and I honestly can’t tell for whom it is intended. The easy answer is that White Feminist is meant for the well-meaning but deluded white liberals who do more harm than good in their activism and, potentially, any white conservative who accidentally stumbles into the theatre and has no clue what they’re in for. But sitting in my seat, I considered myself for a moment: a white woman whose blend of gendered socialization and political values has bred me to feel nothing but constant guilt. I knew this about myself before the show began. And looking around the audience, I wonder how many other people identified this way. Did I learn something new about the potential and realized horrors of white women who unknowingly step on the heads of the oppressed to get power? Not really, because I wasn’t totally oblivious before seeing White Feminist. So, in a room of white people who might be aware of their flaws, does a play that rebukes the power-holders have much traction? The answer is of course it does, because we’re still working to do right by those we have harmed, and we sure as hell haven’t figured it all out. This show does have so much to teach someone who desperately needs the education, but it also serves as a much-needed reminder of how much work still must be done, even if you think you know what’s up.

Heiner Goebbels – Songs of Wars I Have Seen

Image result for songs of wars i have seen

The Takeaways

  • Concert, not a theatre event
  • Nice lighting design and impeccable musical performances
  • Problematic concept


In my pockets

I’m an inter-disciplinarian artist down with the historical avant-garde. I’m also Jewish, and was curious about what a famous German artist wanted to communicate about World War II.



The lights were effective, with a soft ambiance and nice shifts. The orchestra members were individually seated next to vintage lamps. There was a nice mix of blues and indigos that filled the stage midway through the performance, and the finale of the piece was striking with a single hanging bulb lighting a trumpet solo. This moment seemed a good meld of content and meaning. The lighting was great.

The set was basic and consisted of two platforms; a raised staged where the brass and keyboard musicians played, and a half circle orchestra below. Drums flanked each stage on opposite sides, and the conductor was central. To my knowledge, just basic, conventional concert formation. It was pretty fantastic to see a female musician wielding a powerful drum and xylophone set-up, which was a great image in itself. The conductor was also female-identifying, and it was nice to see her at the helm of this power structure.

This was more of a concert than a theatre event, and nowhere near a conventional play, so costuming was simple, and worked to not distract from the music itself. The male-identifying musicians wore all black and the female performers wore solid neutral colors, which may have reflected the gender-based theme the performance was trying to explore.



The performance was a musical composition collage layered with American Jewish modernist writer Gertrude Stein’s World War II memoir, which she wrote in occupied France while living with her partner, Alice B. Toklas. The memoir itself is problematic, as noted in the program, because of Stein’s emphatic support of the anti semitic Nazi collaborationist Philippe Petain. The performed excerpts I heard highlighted her apathetic view on the war, (described in the program as “neutral and meditative”). Deliberately executed in dispassionate, blasé fashion by the musicians, it felt like the performance was asking the audience to channel Stein’s neutral voice as “Art Critic” in our own observations on war. The music was a pastiche of baroque works, modernist harmonies, director/composer Goebbels’ own work, and ambient sound sculpture.

There were a few moving moments, like Stein’s strange but astute definition of war which as time, where “the years and months are long, but the weeks go quickly.” Similarly, other moments struck close to home. I couldn’t help drawing parallels between her description of “disappearing bodies” and what is happening with ICE. In a performance without characters, the musicians became stand-in symbols of lost populations, whose solos echoed in the space hauntingly, particularly in the last moment of the trumpet finale. The musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tempesta Di Mare were strong and skilled.



There seemed to be some effort in empowering women, from the marketing to the orchestra musicians and conductor. Goebbels also chose to highlight Stein’s description of “the 19th century as a white man’s world”, so clearly there was an direct effort. And yet I never felt this this production transcended that world in any clear, definitive way, outside of quoting Stein and staging gender division. The “gendered experience of war” (as found in a lot of the supportive materials) was never really unpacked. Also, the full-house audience I saw was only made up of older, white people.

Personally, I had a volatile, triggering experience. I found the work indulgent, where Stein served as puppet figure/token-Lesbian Jew, further complicated by her sympathy for Petain. Her writing was never deconstructed – it became the authoritative voice on war because it was never challenged. To me, this piece functioned as an experiment in old school avant-garde collage, and Stein’s perfunctory voice underscored a performance about war while avoiding any direct reference to its devastations or the forces that perpetuate it. Why does the piece feel like war needs a neutral exploration? What can we contemplate neutrally anymore? After all we know – dramaturgically, personally, philosophically – and especially now – why should we try to be neutral?

maura ampersand doug – Bon Iver Fights a Bear

Image result for bon iver fights a bear

The Takeaways

  • Gorgeous, immersive design
  • Delightful, plucky moments
  • Inconsistent tone


In my pockets:

I don’t have a collaborative relationship with any of the artists working on this show, though I do know them from around the scene and have seen some of their work before. I am also very familiar with ArtChurch as a space.


The design:

As usual with pieces at ArtChurch, I am always so impressed and delighted by how artists make use of the space in their design. In Bon Iver Fights a Bear, the basement of ArtChurch was converted into a forest cabin, complete with mulch underneath our feet and leaves and sticks strewn around the space (scenic design by Emily Schuman and Doug Greene). With original sound design from Cat Ramirez and lighting design from Maura Krause and Doug Williams, the cold West Philly basement really felt like a chilly outdoor space. I couldn’t help getting the same feeling from the design as I get when I listen to Bon Iver – warm and cozy, minus the angst. The original songs by Emily Schuman were a satisfying new texture to Bon Iver’s dramatic self-pitying.



Emily Schuman was a dependable performer who lent Bon Iver (or Justin)’s depressed hipster boy language a specificity that didn’t feel too mocking or too serious. My ability to engage in Doug Greene’s performance as the Bear was shaded by my experience with the writing. Even though I had a hard time with the way the Bear was written, Doug Greene was still fun to watch.



Maura Krause and Doug Williams are long-time collaborators (previously in Orbiter 3), and this play is the first production for their new company, maura ampersand doug. Though I enjoyed myself and was oftentimes invested in the story and the performances, I had trouble with the way the bear was written, which ultimately made me curious about some directing choices. The Bear’s voice never seemed to land in any one world, which was a stark contrast from Bon Iver’s deeply specific hipster bro-speak. Where the Bear was most interesting to me was when he revealed a magic that Bon Iver longed for to help him write his album. This felt like the heart of the play – a bear and a musician in a cabin talking about how to really listen to the world around them. It took us a long time to get there, though, and because the Bear traveled back and forth from one tonal mode to another, I was left craving a landing point for the character that never came. Regardless, I enjoyed my experience, and knew I was in the hands of artists who had lovingly crafted a small and cozy piece in the woods.



I got the sense that this was a play made by folks who both appreciated and were simultaneously annoyed by Bon Iver’s story and his music – which I think is the right balance. It would have been unwatchable if the makers were only annoyed by Bon Iver. That being said, this play is for Bon Iver fans, who also have the ability to laugh at themselves and at him. That so much of the Bon Iver fanbase culture is stereotypically white and male was an element that the play was quite aware of, and certainly made use of. In the end, the piece chronicled a sad hipster boy’s growth – from a place of selfishness and self-pitying to selflessness and compassion, which is a journey we could all stand to go on.

Hannah Parke & Seamus Hunter-McCarty – Close Your Legs, Honey

Image may contain: 3 people, including Claris Park, people smiling, people dancing, people standing and shoes


Update: this review originally mistakenly listed the set and lighting designer. This mistake has been corrected.

The Takeaways

  • Hannah Parke & Shamus Hunter McCarty have created one hell of a musical
  • A new take on an unfamiliar world
  • Fun and campy


In my pockets

I had nothing to unload going into this show. I didn’t truly know what the show was about, I was just going to support my fellow theater makers. I’m almost glad I didn’t dig too deep into the subject matter because it was pleasant to let it all unfold like a surprise.


The design

The night that I saw the show there were lightning difficulties, so I won’t comment on the lights (Robin Stamey), but I will commend the performers for working expertly with the technical difficulties, so much so that I wasn’t sure it was a mistake. By the end of the show, however, the lighting problems had leveled and we were back on track.

I’m not sure if the performers were mic’d or not, but during some of the more intense dance numbers I couldn’t hear the singing as well. I am sure I missed some witty lyrics. Yet all the design elements, especially the costumes (Blair Thompson), sets and props (Artur Almeida), created a great representation of the pageant world. The backstage areas were simple yet nuanced in creating the world of the play and the fringe backdrop set the stage for the pageant performances sections. 


The writing:

What an absolutely witty and funny script and lyrics. This is the first time I’ve seen the issues of the child pageant world tackled in live performance.The action of the play is very clear. The structure is strong, taking the audience through each segment of the pageant, while interspersing flashbacks of Mama’s life. The pageant girls all have nice character arcs. The host and Mama seem more like props to lead the girl’s stories along, but that didn’t bother me. While the audience got a great look into why Mama was how she was, her character didn’t change or resolve her arc at the end, but not everyone changes! The message was clear. The final and most hilarious number shows the pageant girls rejecting the pageant system and their parents to rebelliously embrace who they are.


The performances:

The performances were strong across the board. The cast held together a funny show, singing and executing their dance performances very well. The choreography (Dana Kreitz) really complimented the songs. Hannah Park as Honey rocked the whole show with great energy and dedication. She made us want her to win. The pacing was tight and I was engaged from beginning to end.

Brian Sanders’ JUNK – Plunge



The Take-Away

  • Awesome space to have a performance
  • Humor and athleticism
  • A look into the past…from the future


In my pockets:

The first JUNK show I ever saw at Fringe Festival was “Flushdance” several years ago. I’ve been a big fan ever since. I’m also a fan of circus dance and its opportunities for poignancy and humor. I will also say that I personally find dance shows hard to review. I find the things dancers can do with their bodies amazing and worthy of high praise, and sometimes dance isn’t made with a “message” for anybody to “get.”


The design:

Plunge is immersive and mobile in a small space. I couldn’t help remembering last year’s walking tour through Forgotten Bottom’s Schuykill Banks Strand – it was so expansive, and in contrast, this year is more intimate. 

In Plunge, we have gathered at a party celebrating the future’s past, complete with Go-Go Dancers and “ancient ruins” (ruins, in this case, is a rock installation with cushions on it). The performance space is The Patio at Spring Arts, a pop up bar under the train tracks (open until Halloween!).

Lights flashed and spun, which is great for a 1960s Boogie Nights-esque themed piece. The costumes were layers of stark white that revealed colorful 1960s bathing suits underneath. The soundtrack was lively, and a hilarious voiceover led us through a tour of “ancient artifacts” from the past and even some made up Philadelphia history.


The performances:

What I appreciate about Brian Sanders’ work with JUNK is the marriage of playfulness and loose narrative structure with the amazing physical feats his performers are capable of. 

Plunge features only three performers (Laura Jenkins, Alyssa Kennedy, and Rimaj Todd) and one go-go dancer during the 50 minute show. The most impressive vignettes included a thruple dance exploring old-time gender roles and abuse, clad in white, to Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea.” It’s a fairly dark piece in the middle of a darkly humorous evening, and it stands out. Another highlight is a tank dance above the audience and an aerial act from the train tracks above.

I believe their opening night was rained out, so there were still some technical hiccups (to be expected when performing outside, in a site-specific space. Things happen). However, the dancers recovered gracefully.

There are two “intermissions” in the 50 minute piece so patrons can get more drinks at the bar, which breaks up the action a bit, but may be necessary for performers to catch their breath in such a demanding piece. Overall, it was a lovely diversion. Some of the images from Plunge will live in my mind forever and I’ll continue to make JUNK a must-see company on my Fringe list since few folks do it better.