Philly theaters heat up the 2014 spring performance season

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Mar. 19, 2014

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Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq

That old adage that the show must go on was truly put to the test during this harsh winter, as ice-covered roads forced the cancellation of numerous performances. But now that spring is dawning, Philadelphia area theater companies are heralding the new season with excitement—and an abundance of exciting new productions to share with hungry audiences.

Paula Vogel, who stunned audiences with her Pulitzer Prize-winning portrait of a pedophile uncle in How I Learned to Drive, unveils her new work Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq at the Wilma Theater (March 19-April 20). Commissioned by the Wilma, the world premiere production is a result of a two-year collaboration between Vogel, director Blanka Zizka and a local team of actors and designers. Drawing on interviews from American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the exceptional drama is described as “a surrealistic tour through the streets and history of Philadelphia.”

Walnut Street Theatre continues its successful 2013-14 season with its current revival of the wonderfully wacky humorfest Arsenic and Old Lace (through April 27). Featuring an A-list cast led by the terrific Mary Martello, Joseph Kesserling’s most successful play tells of Mortimer Brewster, a theater critic whose elderly aunts have a peculiar habit of charming their male guests to death. Revived numerous times in numerous countries since its 1941 Broadway debut, Arsenic is the kind of classic, well-crafted comedy at which the Walnut excels, and if you’ve only seen the wonderful film version starring Cary Grant as the flustered Brewster—played at the Walnut by the appropriately handsome Damon Bonetti—you should definitely take this opportunity to experience Kesserling’s irresistible comedy live on stage.

The Arden Theatre Company is a veritable beehive of activity, with three enticing productions that highlight the company’s diversity of offerings. Running March 20 through April 20 on the F. Otto Haas Stage is artistic director Terrence J. Nolen’s world premiere staging of Curt Columbus’ Three Sisters, a new translation of Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece. In collaboration with the esteemed Trinity Rep Theatre from Providence, R.I., the production boasts a large ensemble of Philadelphia’s top actors, including Scott Greer and Sarah Sanford. Aiding Nolen in this epic endeavor is brilliant local composer James Sugg; talented, award-winning sound designer Jorge Cousineau and legendary set designer Eugene Lee.

Following Three Sisters on the Haas stage is the revival of local playwright Michael Hollinger’s hugely funny Incorruptible (May 22-June 22). A hysterical romp that established Hollinger as one of America’s most promising playwrights following its world premiere at the Arden over a decade ago, director Mathew Decker’s revival takes place at a monastery where the monks are struggling to make ends meet. Frenetically paced and featuring loads of outrageous physical humor, Incorruptible should suit the talented Decker, who is the frontrunner to capture the Barrymore Award for best director for his dazzling work in Theater Horizon’s Circle Mirror Transformation.

Meanwhile, on the Arden’s intimate Arcadia Stage is Katie Mitchell’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s classic The Cat in the Hat (April 16-June 22), which won rave reviews when it debuted at the National Theatre of Great Britain. Part of the Arden’s acclaimed Children’s Theater series, five actors—led by the delightful Charlotte Ford—bring to life the story of the big feline with the cool chapeau who takes over the house “on a rainy day when mom is away.”

Philadelphia Theatre Company, the city’s top presenter of great contemporary American drama, continues its winning season with Bucks County playwright Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (March 21-April 20). Starring local treasure Grace Gonglewski and directed by James J. Christy—who earlier this season helmed Act II Playhouse’s inventive staging of Woman in Black—Durang shrewdly celebrates the work of Anton Chekhov in his surprisingly poignant comedy capturing a previously tranquil Bucks County home thrown into a hilarious state of domestic chaos.

The provocative programming of InterAct Theater Company continues with the world premiere of Philly playwright A. Zell Williams’ Down Past Passyunk (April 4-27). Inspired by the controversy that arose when the owner of Geno’s Steaks demanded that a customer “speak English” when ordering a cheese steak, the play focuses on the owner’s efforts to keep his South Philly neighborhood “all-American.”

Theatre Exile concludes its 17th season with the Philadelphia premiere of Sharr White’s Annapurna (April 17-May 11) at Exile’s tiny Studio X in South Philly. It stars Pearce Bunting and Catharine Slusar as a couple whose marriage is ripped apart by a horrific event two decades earlier that the husband can’t—or won’t—remember and the wife can never forget.

Following their brilliant production of Circle Mirror Transformation, the ambitious Norristown company Theater Horizon continues its stellar season with the sly stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film The 39 Steps (May 15-June 8). A joyously theatrical show that wildly engages the audience’s imagination, Horizon’s production should solidify its reputation as one of Montgomery County’s top artistic troupes.

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COMMENTS

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1. Ted said... on Mar 19, 2014 at 02:41PM

“Would be nice if you could lend some attention to some of the city's many smaller theater companies, rather than those like the Arden, Wilma, and Walnut, who certainly get plenty of press as it is. This update is very welcome, but I'd appreciate a wider look at the many offerings by small companies like Egopo Classic Theatre, New City Stage, Simpatico Theatre Project, and many more. Thanks!”

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2. a theater lover said... on Mar 19, 2014 at 05:53PM

“Interact and Exile are smallish;-) I do see your point and must see Azuka and New City Stage. I'm also excited about Luna Theater Company.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Mar 19, 2014 at 07:08PM

“Missed as well is Iron Age Theatre celebrating its 20 anniversary this year and always overlooked by the Weekly. The company produces 6 shows a year in Philly and Norristown and has three nationally touring productions. Buried Child opens March 21.”

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4. J said... on Mar 19, 2014 at 09:25PM

“Bright Invention, Azuka, Plays and Players, Egopo, New city, Simpatico, Luna, Iron Age, 11th Hour, 1812, The Lantern, Mauckingbird, New Paradise Laboratories, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, Pig Iron, REV, Secret Room (and though they are listed in this article Interact and Exile are often underrepresented)...the list goes on and on. And while some of these theatre produce far less often, many of their mission statements alone or coupled with track records of innovative, interesting, or thought provoking work makes them worthy of far more press and notice than they often get in comparison with the big houses. Which is, of course, odd for the city with the largest burgeoning community of artist run collectives in the nation.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Mar 20, 2014 at 09:41AM

“Theatre Horizon is a small theater company and they received well-deserved attention. Way to go!”

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6. Theater Student said... on Mar 20, 2014 at 12:09PM

“I think it is kind of embarrassing that our city is excited to see "Arsenic and Old Lace" at the Walnut. THAT is a show not to miss?
Or "The 39 Steps"-- don't miss that show, in case you missed ALL the previous productions in our city.
I am not saying that it is bad for anyone to do these scripts, I just think it is a little tacky to hail these scripts as being the ones "not to miss"”

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7. Anonymous said... on Mar 20, 2014 at 11:04PM

“A. Zell Williams is actually based in New York. He lived in Philly for a year as InterAct's NNPN Playwright-in-Residence.”

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