Theater Companies Closing the Season With a Few Can't-Miss Productions

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 30, 2012

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Masterpiece theater: Aubrey Deeker (left) and Ben Pelteson in the Wilma Theater’s production of Angels in America, a powerful story that focuses on the early days of the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the gay community.

Six of Philly’s most respected theaters are pulling out all the stops this week in a bonanza of season finales that will give local theatergoers a final chance to see some wonderful theater before packing up and shipping out to the Jersey shore.

The Wilma Theater ends its season with Tony Kushner’s landmark work, Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches (May 30-July 1, wilmatheater.org). Millennium is the first part in Kushner’s two-play masterpiece focusing on the early days of the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the gay community. Audacious in its scope, Angels captures life in all its messiness. Gloriously moving, incredibly funny and appropriately enraged at the Reagan administration’s response to a disease that has killed millions, Kushner’s play is more than an examination of sexual identity; it is an exploration of the past, present and future of humankind. The Wilma has already announced plans to stage Angels’ second part, Perestroika, as the first production of its 2012-13 season. Public Relations Manager Johnny Van Heest says the company hopes to present both parts of Kushner’s epic on the same day at selected performances next fall. Each play can stand alone, but when viewed back-to-back on a single day, Angels is an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be at the top of every theatergoer’s bucket list.

The Wilma isn’t the only company producing the words of Kushner. For the grand finale of EgoPo Classic Theater’s season-long Festival of Jewish Theater, artistic director Lane Savadove is mounting Kushner’s adaptation of A Dybbuk (May 31-June 17, egopo.org). Originally written by S. Ansky in 1914, the seminal Jewish tale exploring race, gender and sexuality concerns a young man who dies and the possesses the woman he loves on her wedding day. The only Philadelphia company to annually create a season-long festival dedicated to exploring a distinct genre or playwright, Savadove views each season as a unique journey shared by EgoPo’s artists and audience. “We always like to end our seasons with a big finale; something that is more ambitious, complex and extremely exciting,” Savadove says. “We want to leave our audiences with a conclusion that brings the festival full circle so they can be ready to and eager to join us for next year’s journey.”

The Arden Theatre Company concludes its season with the world premiere of local composer Michael Ogborn’s “modern morality tale” about obsession, fear and greed, Tulipomania (May 30-July 1, ardentheatre.org). Set during the Dutch tulip craze that sent Holland into a profound economic swoon in 1636, Ogborn says the musical journeys to a dark place “where values and reason are compromised.” Inspired by the dot-com bubble, the musical reveals surprising parallels between Holland’s 17th-century economic woes and the causes of America’s subprime-mortgage crisis. Focusing on six strangers huddling in an Amsterdam hash bar on a rainy afternoon, Ogborn (who previously drew fascinating parallels between the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the Lindberg kidnapping in his astute study of celebrity Baby Case) says Tulipomania began its long road to production seven years ago with an idea by local playwright Michael Hollinger. Described by Ogborn as perhaps his most passionate work to date, director Terrence J. Nolen’s cast stars Barrymore award-winners Ben Dibble and the always thrilling musical powerhouse Joilet F. Harris.

Regardless of your gender, you can have a girls’ night out at 11th Hour Theatre Company’s The Marvelous Wonderettes (June 1-24, 11thhourtheatrecompany.org). A snappy jukebox musical from Roger Bean, the story concentrates on two memorable nights in the lives of four BFFs. Award-winning song leaders at their high school, Act I transports us back to 1958 when the girls are performing at their high school prom. In Act 2, it’s a decade later and once again the quartet is performing at Springfield High—only this time, the occasion is their 10-year senior class reunion. Between the two acts, we’re treated to some of the best female pop hits from the ’50s and ’60s including fabulous throwback numbers like “Mr. Sandman,” “Lollipop,” “Dream Lover,” “It’s in His Kiss,” “You Don’t Own Me” and the classic summertime sizzler “Heatwave.” Producing artistic director Michael Philip O’Brien says the company enjoyed a huge surge in subscribers due to the success of last season’s concluding production The Great American Trailer Park, and they hope for similar results with Wonderettes, which O’Brien describes as funny, entertaining and surprisingly touching.

Perhaps the most unconventional of the season finales belongs to InterAct Theatre Company, which is mounting the world premiere of Kara Lee Corthron’s Etched in Skin on a Sunlit Night (June 1-24, InterActTheatre.org). Commissioned by InterAct, director Whit MacLaughlin says Etched defies categorization. MacLaughlin (who is best known as the artistic director of the experimental theater troupe New Paradise Laboratories) describes Etched as a “fantasy social realist play that takes place in a fairy tale Iceland after the 2008 economic crash. Her best friend is Jonsi, the actual lead singer of the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros. And it has an S/M subplot.” InterAct artistic director Seth Rozin calls Etched “epic and expansive,” adding that “it is without a doubt the riskiest play—both thematically and in its newness—of our season.” An unusual play that challenges the director and the designers, the story concerns a black painter who exiles herself to Iceland and suddenly discovers her suppressed racial demons unleashed when Barack Obama begins his run for the White House.

Philadelphia Theatre Company puts the finishing touches on its successful season with director Maria Mileaf’s production of Neil LaBute’s drama Reasons to be Pretty (May 30-June 24, PhiladelphiaTheatreCompany.org). The final installment in LaBute’s trilogy about America’s obsession with appearance (following The Shape of Things and the critically acclaimed Fat Pig ), the catalyst for this story of treachery and self-deceit is a cruel, off-hand remark that disrupts the lives of two couples. PTC producing artistic director Sara Garonzik says she always hopes the final production of the season will be memorable, and while the play boasts LaBute’s trademark wicked sense of humor and great storytelling instincts, it is Pretty’s tender conclusion that makes it a tough play to forget.

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