Thursday, October 27, 2011

An overview of the Philly theater scene

I wrote this for the Philadelphia theater page at Arts America, where I'll be a regular theater blogger (visit my author page for the latest). They had to cut it down a bit, (here it is) but I thought I'd post the unedited version.

Philadelphia theater is rich in its diversity and output, with over 100 companies presenting thousands of performances every year. The city boasts a long-standing tradition of theatrical production—Center City’s Walnut Street Theatre is the nation’s oldest continuously operating playhouse, having recently celebrated its 200th anniversary.

The Walnut is joined by a number of other major resident theaters in putting on shows of a quality in scope to match almost any in the county. Old City’s Arden Theatre Company is lodestar of this group, presenting consistently high-quality seasons of new and classic works. Along Broad Street, known as the city’s Avenue of the Arts, the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s stylish Suzanne Roberts Theatre hosts an array of major theater events, including many world and national premiers by contemporary American playwrights.

A generous offering of smaller spaces and non-resident companies add flavor to the Philly theater scene, each filling their own unique niche. Stalwart Plays and Players has now been in its elegant historic space for 100 years. InterAct Theatre, resident at the multi-stage Adrienne Theatre (a good place to look for top small local companies), produces mostly new work of a politically conscious hue. The city’s only all-comedy company, 1812 Productions is guaranteed for humor fests. The Lantern Theatre, which stages in the rear space of a Center City church, is the place for quality classics—their Shakespeare shows are regularly the best in town. (Also look to the resident Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre if the Bard’s your thing.) Other top independents such as Theatre Exile, BRAT Productions, and Simpatico Theatre Project can be seen on the second stages of the city’s theaters and other smaller spaces around town.

Cutting-edge theater in Philadelphia reaches a peak every September, when the annual Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe presents a smorgasbord of commissioned and independent productions. Experimental works by the best regional companies combine with visits from national and international groups and small venue shows by the city’s up-and-coming performers for a unmissable two-week citywide event.

At the other end of the spectrum, Broadway comes to Philadelphia under the auspices of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts’ Broadway Series, which presents touring shows at the Merriam Theater, Forrest Theatre, and elsewhere. The University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center also hosts national tours of a high quality.

Beyond Center City, West Philly’s Curio Theatre, Kensington’s Walking Fish Theatre and Papermill Theater, and Mount Airy’s Sedgwick Theater, are within easy reach of public transportation—and well worth the trip. In the city’s suburbs, Malvern’s People’s Light and Theater boasts the best production values of a number of high-quality theater venues that includes Media’s Hedgerow Theatre, Ambler’s Act II, and Pottstown’s Tri-County Performing Arts Center.

Recent theater articles:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Best of Philadelphia Theater, 2010-2011

The Barrymore Awards ceremony is tonight, and I'm not there, but that doesn't mean I don't have my own opinions about the best actors and productions of last season. I didn't see a bulk of the Barrymore nominees (for one thing, I didn't go to the much-nominated Wilma; for another, I rarely go to musicals), but I did make it to over 50 shows last season, many of them short runs, staged readings, or other productions not eligible for the awards. Here are my picks from those I saw and remember:

Best Play: El Conquistador, (Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental)
Honorable mention: Blasted (Luna Theater Company); Lydia (Amaryllis Theatre Company); A Moon for the Misbegotten (Arden Theatre Company)

Best Actor: John Jezior, Blasted (Luna)
Honorable mention: Leonard C. Haas, Vigil (Lantern Theatre Company); Thaddeus Phillip, El Conquistador, (Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental); Eric Scotolati, Great Expectations (Curio Theatre)

Best Actress: Grace Gonglewski, A Moon for the Misbegotten (Arden)
Honorable mention: Mary Tuomanen, Hamlet (Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre), Anna Deavere Smith, Let Me Down Easy (Philadelphia Theatre Company)

Best Supporting Actor: Jerry Rudasil, Titus Andronicus (Plays and Players Theatre)
Honorable mention: Brian McCann, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Curio)

Best Supporting Actress: Johanna Carden, Lydia (Amaryllis)
Honorable mention: Ceal Phelan, Vigil (Lantern),

Best Director: Matt Pfeiffer, The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Exile)
Honorable mention: Matt Pfeiffer, A Moon for the Misbegotten (Arden); Allen Radway, The Cryptogram (Simpatico Theatre Project)

Best Original Script: John Rosenberg, California Redemption Value (Hellafresh Theater)
Honorable mention: David Stratten White, Simulations (Plays and Players); Catherine Rush, Main Line (BCKSEET Productions [reading]); David Robson and John Stanton, Playing Leni (Madhouse Theater Company); John Rosenberg, Queen of All Weapons (Hellafresh Theater); Josh McIlvain, Carter's Play (SmokeyScout Productions [reading])

Best Ensemble: Lieutenant of Inishmore (Exile)
Honorable mention: Dublin by Lamplight (Inis Nua), Lydia (Amaryllis)

Best Set Design: Daniel Krause, Losing the Shore (BCKSEET)
Honorable mention: Kevin Depinet, Superior Donuts (Arden)

Best Lighting Design: Thom Weaver, A Moon for the Misbegotten (Arden)
Honorable mention: Dan Ozminkowski, Let Me Down Easy (PTC)

Best Sound: John Moletrass, The Crucible (Tri-PAC and Village Productions)
Honorable mention: Ryan Rumery, Let Me Down Easy (PTC)

Best Costumes: Alisa Sickora, Carrie (BRAT Productions)
Honorable mention: Richard St. Clair, Wanamaker's Pursuit (Arden)

It was fun to think back on all the shows, thanks to all the performers and production artists who entertained me over the year. See also: my picks from the 2009-10 season

Recent theater articles:
9/6/11 A Voyage of Wonder: WHaLE OPTICS at the Live Arts (Stage Magazine)
9/1/11 Arts Alive! picks for the 2011 Live Arts and Fringe (Where Magazine Philadelphia)
9/1/11 10 Picks for 2011 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe (
8/31/11 Neighborhood Picks for the Philly Fringe (Spirit newspapers)
6/4/11 Madhouse Theater Company's PLAYING LENI is Spellbinding (Stage Magazine)
6/1/11 Bringing Women’s Voices To The Stage: an interview with Polly Rose Edelstein of Crack The Glass Theatre Company (Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority)
6/1/11 Cracking the Glass Ceiling with AN EVENING OF ONE-ACTS (Stage Magazine)
5/30/11 'Vigil' and Older Audiences at the Lantern (Broad Street Review
5/23/11 Why's Everyone Such A Critic? Theater People vs. Theater Critics (Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority)