Whether you’re a seasoned theatergoer or a newbie to the scene, it’s easy to see that our local theater companies are doing exciting work. Drugs, racism, identity issues, gay rights. These are just a few of the issues being tackled—both seriously and not—on stages across the city in the new year.
If you like controversy, check out Philadelphia Theatre Company’s local debut of the Tony-nominated musical The Scottsboro Boys (Jan. 20-Feb. 19). The final collaboration from the legendary musical team John Kander and Fred Ebb, the show caused outrage among some who objected to the musical’s minstrel show format. Others found it to be a daring exploration of racism in the U.S. judicial system. Love it or hate it, few have come away indifferent to the provocative story about nine black teenagers falsely accused of a horrific crime in the 1930s.
When done badly, Shakespeare’s plays can be as dull as a Mitt Romney stump speech. Not so at Lantern Theater, where artistic director Charles McMahon is mounting The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (March 1-April 1). McMahon’s production focuses on the timeless story of two young people who, in his words, use “all the power of their wills and imaginations to try to create a better world for themselves and each other.” One of the city’s most promising young actors, Sean Lally, stars as Romeo.
Perhaps the biggest event this spring is InterAct Theatre’s ambitious new festival “Outside the Frame: Voices from The Other America” at the Adrienne (March 27-April 22). InterAct’s artistic director Seth Rozin says the festival’s goal is to give voice to communities rarely covered by the mainstream media. The festival features eight small touring productions including a solo piece by queer performance artist Tim Miller called Lay of the Land, and Najla Said’s Palestine , a humorous story of a Palestinian-American princess who rediscovers her Arab-American identity when she travels to occupied territories.
Philly’s best gay theater troupe, Mauckingbird Theatre Company, returns with the local premiere of Jon Marans’ The Temperamentals (April 11-29) at the Skybox at the Adrienne. Set in the early 1950s—when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness—the play explores the origins of the Mattachine Society, America’s first gay-rights organization. Artistic director Peter Reynolds plans “a highly intimate performance” that focuses on the organization’s founders, who risked everything in their attempt to achieve equality for America’s gay community.
First Baptist Church Azuka Theatre presents Hope Street and other Lonely Places (March 15-April 1), the anticipated new work from Philly playwright Genne Murphy. Hope concerns a heroin junkie’s attempts to stay sober on the mean streets of Philadelphia. (Director Kevin Glaccum says the city figures so prominently in the story it is “almost a character in the play.”)
The Wilma Theater concludes its season with Tony Kushner’s masterpiece Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches (May 23-July 1). The first play in Kushner’s two-work masterpiece focusing on the early days of the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the gay community, the Wilma plans to stage Angels ’ second play, Perestroika, to open its 2012-13 season. Wilma spokesman John Van Heest says the company hopes to present an opportunity for audiences to view both parts of Kushner’s epic tale on the same day at selected performances. Each play can stand alone, but when viewed together on a single day, Angels is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you grasping for words.
And finally, 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 24-July 1). Tulipomania is set during the Dutch tulip craze in 1636. More than six years in the making, Ogborn says the musical travels to a dark place “where values and reason are compromised.” Director Terrence J. Nolen’s cast includes award-winner Ben Dibble.