Holidays 2009: Philly Theater Gifts

This season, there’s a show for everyone.

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 1, 2009

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This year thrill everyone on your list with theater tickets to one of the city’s many promising productions.

Your in-laws from Hicksville arrive unexpectedly for the holidays and you don’t have a gift. Luckily the Walnut Street Theatre is mounting Red, White and Tuna (Dec. 3-Jan. 3, $30. Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St. 215.574.3550. walnutstreettheatre.org), the perfect show for your country relatives. Another installment in the popular Tuna series, the production stars Bill Van Horn and the hugely talented John Zak. Between them, Van Horn and Zak portray 24 characters from the small town of Tuna, Texas, where there’s a church on every block and a NRA bumper sticker on every pick-up truck.

If you need a gift for a friend desperately trying to postpone adulthood (or you just have a kid to shop for), the Arden Theatre Company is presenting Douglas Irvine’s new stage adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (Dec. 2-Jan. 24. $16-$32. Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St. 215.922.1122. ardentheatre.org). Director David O’Connor’s production employs puppets, live actors (including the marvelous Frank X as Captain Hook) and magical effects to bring the story of the charismatic Peter Pan and his mischievous fairy companion Tinkerbell to life.

There’s one joyless relative in every family who spends the holidays drinking themselves into a stupor. Flashpoint Theatre Company offers a solution to these hard-to-shop-for relatives with David Sedaris’ yuletide classic The Santaland Diaries (Dec. 3-Dec. 20. $12-$18. Second Stage at The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. 215.665.9720. flashpointtheatre.org) which concerns a cynical elf fed up with the Christmas season.

If your dad loves Obama but your mom favors Sarah Palin, you can avoid a great deal of unpleasantness over the holidays by giving your parents an evening of theater at 1812 Productions’ popular holiday offering This Is The Week That Is: The New Administration (Dec. 3-Jan. 3. $20-$35. Plays & Players Theater, 1714 Delancey St. 215.592.9560. 1812Productions.org). A politically-neutral mix of song and skits, and featuring a wildly funny parody of television newscasts, the show is updated daily.

It can be hard shopping for transgender relatives. If your aunt has recently become your uncle (or vice versa) treat them to Scott Turner Schofield’s insightful solo comedy Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps (Dec. 4 and Dec. 5. $25. Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St. 215.925.9914. paintedbride.org). A sensitive and playful look at male stereotypes, Schofield draws on his personal experience to explore a wide range of issues relating to gender, sex and identity. The show’s “choose your own adventure” format allows the audience to select that evening’s performance from among 127 different variations.

For the idle rich, gift giving can be a cumbersome task. If you’re having trouble deciding on presents for your household staff, the butler and maid are sure to enjoy Lantern Theater Company’s production of the witty comedy, Scapin (Dec. 3-Jan. 3. $20-$35. St. Stephens Theater, 10th and Ludlow sts. 215.829.0395. lanterntheater.org). Adapted by Mark O’ Donnell and Bill Irwin from Moliere’s tale about a cunning servant, director Aaron Cromie combines live actors and puppets in a production that promises vaudeville-style amusement.

If your grandmother has a fondness for Russian tragicomedy and an interest in neuroscience (or she just happens to be into alternative theater) take her to Pig Iron Theatre Company’s exploration of the human mind in its radical theater piece Chekhov Lizardbrain (Dec. 10-Dec. 13. $25-$30. Arts Bank, Broad and South sts. 215.627.1883. pigiron.org). Featuring one of the finest performances to ever grace a local stage from James Sugg, the bizarre and provocative Lizardbrain is perhaps the most daring production from the intrepid local dance-clown-theater collective.

If you’re on good terms with your ex but can’t think of an appropriate gift, the Wilma Theater offers a solution with its production of Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw (Dec. 30-Jan. 31. $18-$65. Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. 215.546.7824. wilmatheater.org). An amusing comedy about relationships and our need for emotional security, the play focuses on the consequences of a calamitous blind date between two imperfect but oddly endearing social misfits.

There’s no reason your visually or hearing impaired friends should be left off your gift list. Independence Starts Here, a collaborative initiative spearheaded by Art-Reach and VSA Arts of Pennsylvania to help cultural organizations make their programming more accessible is partnering with PhillyFunGuide to offer a number of performances accessible to the visually and hearing impaired. Included on the extensive list is the touring production of the musical blockbuster Wicked (ASL performance Jan. 13) and an audio- described performance of the Pennsylvania Ballet’s The Nutcracker (Dec. 20).

Need gifts for members of your book club or that reclusive aunt with a purse full of library cards? The Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s Capote/Baldwin Repertoire (Jan. 8-31. $15-$20. Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. 215.923.8909. mauckingbirdtheatreco.org) is the perfect gift for any bibliophile. The double-header features two solo works focusing on the literary giants Truman Capote and James Baldwin. In Tru, terrific local performer Chris Faith inhabits the psyche of Capote as the famed author is shunned by his elite Manhattan friends following the publication of an especially “gossipy” chapter in the author’s never-completed work Answered Prayers . Performing in repertory with Tru is the world premiere of The Threshing Floor. Written by and starring James Ijames, the new play spans four decades as it reflects on the life and career of the influential Baldwin. ■

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