PW's Picks for Summer Theater

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 15, 2011

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Dancing with the scars: Diana (Alice Ripley), a struggling, bipolar mom, shares a moment with son Gabe (Curt Hansen) in Next To Normal.

Photo by Craig Schwartz

Years ago, local theater companies closed up shop in mid-June and headed off to the beach, the mountains or wherever theater folk go during the summer to inspire their creative juices. Thankfully, times have changed and stages are busy this summer with an abundance of exciting productions.

One of the summer’s highlights is the arrival of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal at the Academy of Music (June 21-26). The winner of three Tony Awards, Normal focuses on a suburban family trying to cope with the consequences of mental illness. Featuring an electrifying rock score by composer Tom Kitt, the touring production stars Alice Ripley, who reprises her stunning Tony Award-winning performance as a bi-polar mom.

New City Stage concludes its season with Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama ’Night Mother (through July 3), which focuses on a woman named Jessie, who nonchalantly informs her mother that she plans on killing herself in a matter of hours. As the clock ticks, Jessie spends the evening casually cleaning the house and putting her affairs in order. A disquieting but involving play, ’Night Mother is a heart-wrenching drama that stays with you long after its chilling conclusion.

For the sixth consecutive season, you can enjoy free Shakespeare in Clark Park; this time around it’s Much Ado About Nothing (July 20-24). One of the Bard’s rowdiest comedies, the story centers on the perpetually feuding couple Beatrice (Victoria Frings) and Benedick (Allen Radway). Frings and Radway are two of the city’s most delightfully unpredictable actors, and with the innovative Alex Torra directing, expect a bold take on one of Shakespeare’s most popular tales.

People’s Light and Theatre Company gets silly this summer with its staging of David Wiltse’s door-slamming farce Hatchetman (June 15-July 17). A six-character comedy that takes nothing seriously, the story is set in the offices of the golf magazine Putts. A rumored corporate takeover throws the bungling staff into a state of panic as the employees desperately try to keep their jobs. Guest Director Steve Umberger steers a cast led by stalwarts Pete Pryor and Tom Teti.

One of the more recent additions to summer theater in Philadelphia is Temple Repertory Theater, which launches its second season with rotating productions of two wildly different plays: Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winner Buried Child (June 30-July 31) and Moliere’s classic Tartuffe (June 23-July 29). A dark drama about family secrets, Shepard’s play is a must-see for anyone with a serious interest in American drama. Tartuffe is an amusingly insightful investigation of religious hypocrisy. Temple’s stable of actors includes a host of award winners and the plays’ divergent styles should provide a fascinating test for their considerable talents.

HBO darling Colin Quinn hits Philly with his one-man comic manifesto, Long Story Short, at the Philadelphia Theatre Company (June 29-July 10). Directed by Jerry Seinfeld, the show offers commentary on such pressing topics as Jersey Shore and the not-so-effective handling of the nation’s economic slump.

On a blistering summer day there is no nicer spot to watch a show than Hedgerow Theatre, which is staging Ray Cooney’s Two Into One (through Aug. 7). Housed in an 1840 grist mill that remains cool and comfy even in triple-digit temperatures, Two Into One marks the 10th consecutive summer Hedgerow has mounted a Cooney comedy. His farces are masterpieces of construction and with the hilarious Zoran Kovcic leading a strong ensemble, Two Into One is bound to be one of the summer’s funniest productions.

The Wilma Theater just announced that it will present writer and monologist James Braly’s Life in Marital Institution: 20 Years of Monogamy in One Terrifying Hour, (July 5-16). A co-production between the Wilma and Meredith Vieira Productions (a new organization helmed by the former- Today Show anchor), the autobiographical monologue takes place in a hospice housing Braly’s dying sister. An unusual comedy that includes a deathbed wedding, Institution ponders which is worse, marriage or death.

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