Theater on the Cheap

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

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If you enjoy theater but are a little short on cash, here are three events that won’t cost you a dime. Or a penny!

PlayPenn: Philly’s leading professional play-development organization is concluding its seventh annual New Play Conference with staged readings of eight new plays from some of America’s and Philadelphia’s top playwrights. Two of the eight have local ties: On July 18, you can sample Philly playwright Quinn Eli’s comic fable Chasing Waves; July 19 features The Edge of the Promised Land, a drama about communism and organized crime in 1950s America from local playwright/actor Jesse Bernstein (who now resides in Los Angeles). Among the new works receiving readings are acclaimed Chicago playwright Lisa Dillman’s tale of a cupcake entrepreneur American Wee-Pie; Brian Quirk’s Nerine, which concerns a gifted teenager and her mentally unstable mother; and playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger’s Slip/Shot (slated for a full production from Flashpoint Theatre Company next season), which focuses on a couple whose lives are suddenly altered by a tragic shooting. If Goldfinger’s name rings a bell, her play the terrible girls was produced last spring by Azuka Theatre. Azuka’s producing artistic director Kevin Glaccum says of Goldfinger: “I love her voice. It’s smart and funny and can strike to the heart of a character with the smallest turn of phrase.” According to PlayPenn Artistic Director Paul Meshejian, 42 plays developed at the conference have gone on to have full productions (including several area productions), and the readings give theatergoers the opportunity to perhaps witness the birth of the next great American play.

Free. July 18-24. Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. 215.253.8838. playpen.org

Shakespeare in Clark Park: There’s nothing like watching Shakespeare under the stars in West Philly wilderness. This summer’s production is Much Ado About Nothing, helmed by the resourceful Alex Torra (who directed Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors for SCP in 2008 and is perhaps best known for his work with Pig Iron Theatre Company). Bringing a dance-clown-theater aesthetic to Shakespeare’s story about love and the gender divide, Torra’s playful production explores “the thrill and vulnerability of falling in love.” Starring the exciting Allen Radway and the hot, young actress Victoria Frings (fresh off a terrific performance in People’s Light and Theatre Company’s Dividing the Estate) as the bickering couple Benedick and Beatrice, Much Ado’s setting in West Philly’s pastoral paradise means the production can be enjoyed not only by human theatergoers but their canine companions as well.

Free. July 20-24, 7pm. Clark Park, 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue. shakespeareinclarkpark.org

Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater’s Classical Acting Academy: If West Philly isn’t your thing, there’s free Shakespeare in Rittenhouse Square, too, where the Academy will be presenting the Bard’s outrageous farce The Comedy of Errors. Starring the Academy’s student performers, the production is directed by REV Theatre Company Artistic Director Rosemary Hay. Hay’s concept transplants the play’s action (which revolves around two pairs of identical twins) to a Mediterranean tourist town in the swinging 1960s. “The 1960s celebrated youth, exuberance, energy, optimism, freedom from the old order, and a new and exciting kind of music,” Hay says. “The play also deals with relationships and marital and sexual love, and the sexual freedom of the 1960’s is a natural fit for exploring these themes.” Hay says Errors is a good fit for her enthusiastic cast of young adult actors. “I wanted to make the production festive and celebratory along with balancing the serious and deeper themes of finding one’s true identity,” she explains. “The challenge is to hold the play’s absolute hilarity and corresponding seriousness in complete balance.” History suggests that Hay’s young actors should be up to the challenge. Last summer, the Academy staged the challenging Henry V in a surprisingly well-acted production that ranked among the season’s most innovative and entertaining shows.

Free. Aug. 3-21. Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St. 215.496.9722. phillyshakespeare.org

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