The National at the Mann Center
Fri., June 7. manncenter.org
Overall vibe: A bunched of aged, disenfranchised hippies and lovers of sad bastard rock came together to wallow in the sounds of the Brooklyn-based great-album machine.
Most memorable moment: On their records, the National come across like a patient buzzsaw: steady, destructive, loud. There is no sense of things coming unravelled. At their shows, they play with a proud ferocity, living in each other’s heads, but all that control their songs showcase disappears. Frontman Matt Berninger guzzles wine and barks his lyrics at the audience, and they just smile. I would love to see these guys in a smaller venue, where the volume of noise would make your eyeballs shake in their sockets.
Scene stealer: During the encore song, the raucous “Mr. November,” Berninger left the stage and barreled through the crowd with a glass of white wine in hand, screaming the chorus in sharp defiance. (Michael Brady)
First World Theatre Ensemble’s Muralista
Through Sun., June 16, C.E.C., 3500 Lancaster Ave. firstworldtheatre.biz
Overall vibe: Brechtian sedition. Zuhairah McGill, the artistic director of First World Theatre Ensemble, Philadelphia’s only African-American repertory theater company, greeted her rain-drenched audience on the tempestuous opening night of Joseph Blake’s Muralista declaring, “We are a socially driven self-sufficient company who can only present you the problem. But are you going to be a part of the solution?”
Most memorable moment: At the epicenter of Muralista is a recent art school graduate, played by Keith Illidge, who is offered his first $2,500 commission. Arriving to the painting site, he wrestles with the question: To paint or not to paint the mural? The artist may have difficulty applying his paint roller to the neighborhood wall, but playwright Blake, with his fearless application of language, leaves his play stocked with elaborately painted verbal sketches of the residents in the neighborhood. Illidge describes to a reporter played by Miranda Thompson: “A teenage mother struggling to get on a SEPTA bus. Juggling two children in her arms. She gets thrown off the bus on the same crack vile littered block seconds later because she lost her only token.”
Scene stealer: Or Muralista’s major blemishes: The demonized “Nice White Woman” (Elizabeth Michaels) and the nameless corporate-funded agency she represents need to be more specifically drawn. In order to ignite social change with this play, Blake needs to address “the program” his characters obsessively refer to by its actual name: the Mural Arts Program. (Jessica Foley)