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Race (Mamet by Phila. Theatre Company)

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Race by David Mamet
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Extended Through Feb. 20, 2011
Review of Feb. 5 matinee
WRTI, 90. 1 FM., Feb. 9

If you’ve seen David Mamet’s Race on Broad Street you’ll be talking about the Philadelphia Theatre Company production. If you haven’t, the play has been extended so there’s time for more talk on a topic that’s always prickly and always worth our time. The production is a fine achievement by actors able to take on the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright.

A white man is accused of raping his black girlfriend. A three- member firm, consisting of one white and two black lawyers, deliberate, then take the case. The dialog is punchy- smart with scene breaks swift as Law & Order. Mamet aims for the funny bone with his ugly- slick disturbances. Jordan Lage as Jack, the white defense lawyer is a brilliant cynic. Henry, his black partner, has that been-there-done-that-weariness and suppressed anger. Ray Anthony Thomas shines in his Seer role. During the first half, Jack’s cynicism reigns. He instructs Susan, the black associate to forget about guilt with Charles (played with depth by John Preston, who reveals layer after layer of privilege, cluelessness and conscience.)

The right defense will entertain the jury, Jack says. “Distract them.”

But Jack talks three and four sides of his mouth. Challenged by Susan, suddenly he’s talking about the white man’s innocence. Do all whites stand together?

It’s a Rubik’s Cube, a friend said. You think you have the point, the point changes. Prejudice is like that. We’re complex. When the play opens, it’s hard to like any of the men. By the play’s end, there have been so many revelations, you may find these guys human. Ah, but there’s the bad apple. That surprise.

Race, the play is ugly and poignant and comic. It’s also a polemic. Mamet plays loose with some with legalities. And he doesn’t know much about a woman’s sequined dress. Mostly it’s all too real about the lies we tell ourselves. Race presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company does a good job showing our shame.


Written by Lesley Valdes

February 8, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Macbeth: The Wilma’s first Shakespeare

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The Wilma
Oct. 7-Nov. 7, 2010

The Wilma‘s first foray into Shakespeare is Macbeth, The theatre has done itself proud with a production that features a handsome score by Czech composer Pavel Fjat (pronounce Fight) and sound design by Daniel Perelstein (it includes birds, street and battle noises.) There is aerial choreography Philly’s gifted Brian Sanders. Mimi Lien’s two-tier set evokes the menace and modernity that suits a monarchy edging toward its doom.

C.J. Wilson as Macbeth is convincing in his ambivalence; the warrior’s ambition at war with his morality and fear. As the play moves forward, the evil of his seductive spouse takes hold. I found Jacqueline Antaramian compelling as the self- centered Lady Macbeth, a character as determined in joy with evil – and sadly truer than even the wonderful Iago of Mark Delavan heard recently at the Opera Company’s Otello. These Macbeths are very modern. The interpretations are fascinating: the way the couple switch gears, his growing misdeeds give him power –and madness. Her evil dissolves into a lunatic despair.

The women who play the three weird sisters – or witches – are riveting. Some silly supernatural masks could go in the boil- and- bubble scene; the Sixties’ references in London seems unnecessary whimsy. But the handling of the ghost of Banquo is well done and Macbeth’s hallucinations; also the battle in the Burnham forest.

Least successful is the inconsistent delivery of the iambic pentameter: A challenge for the ensemble unpracticed in Shakespeare. The Bard must not be stilted or sound like poetry. Still: more lines and characters work than don’t: MacDuff, Banquo and Duncan also held my interest.

The beauty of this production is its momentum; the dramatic thrust. Director Blanka Zizka has made a good and oddly suitable operatic start with her first Shakespeare. The Wilma’s Macbeth until Nov. 7.

Written by Lesley Valdes

October 11, 2010 at 3:42 am

Mauckingbird’s “Dream”

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file0580Midsummer Night’s Dream
Mauckingbird Theatre Company
Aug. 20-Sept. 12, 2010
Randall Theater at Temple University

Mauckingbird Theatre Company views the classics through “a queer lens,” says co-founder and artistic director Peter Reynolds, who is (among other titles) also assistant chair of Temple’s theatre department. Mauckingbird, usually at the Adrienne, has new endeavors underway at Temple, including Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Temple professor Lynne Innerst joins Reynolds as co-director. One pleasure of this large scale but intimate production is casting Temple students as the mechanicals and fairies. Danielle Pinnock has a key role as Nick Bottom and Pyramis in the play within the play.

The staging also benefits from Mike Long’s video design and Chris Colucci’s invigorating sound track. The story’s been updated to Athens Academy where everyone’s texting. The Duke about to get married is a headmaster; a patron wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius. But Hermia has eyes only for Lysander, who in this production is a girl. And unlike the original, Helena, is a boy, which at first is unsettling. However, actor Patrick Joyce does so well with the role he overcomes even the confusing name. Times have changed! Mauckingbird’s mission with a few surgical incisions to the script makes it easy to see Shakespeare’s jousting love struck couples in the magic forest as two girls and two guys together and why not.

The play runs without intermission.

Unfortunately, the fairy queen and king are not so well matched as their attractive statures. Charles Illingworth’s Oberon exudes authority and compassion. Not so, Sean Thompson’s Titania who starts with a snippy attitude that ultimately undercuts the persuasion (and magic) of his better lines during Titania’s extraordinary dream scene with Bottom.

Pinnock’s Bottom overplays the comedy; the girl has promise; we’ll be seeing her again. She lights the black box.
Shakespeare’s Dream foreshadows The Tempest. He’s juggling imagination, the highs and lows of love, life, art. Bravo to Emily Letts and Erin Mulgrew; Brent Knobloch who plays Puck. Lauren Perigard’s costumes enhance the nonsense.

Written by Lesley Valdes

August 30, 2010 at 3:06 am

Sunday at the Arden

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Sunday in the Park with George
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Arden Theatre new production
June 2 – July 4, 2010

Arden director Terry Nolan’s got a way with Sondheim. His second time out with Sunday in the Park with George at the Arden now is a top notch. Music Director Eric Ebbenga (PRO: Ebb-an-gay) does well by the full out original orchestra and the 15-member cast of singing actors works like a true ensemble. They don’t shout or screech as happens at several houses here where the amplification is routinely over the top and (still) doesn’t disguise inferior singing.

Sunday in the Park at the Arden is not Sondheim at the top of his game no matter that it’s the one for which he got the Pulitzer. It is a sweet musical making good points and platitudes. Given all the ones we love, you come away feeling this Sondheim doesn’t have enough music.

Jeff Coon’s the perfect lead as George Seurat he really can sing and he looks the right age and painterly

As Dot, Kristine Freilich’s singing is superb, superior to her acting. She’s a pretty woman but the mousey wig and makeup scream for a makeover. This role walks in the shadow of Bernadette Peters and Dot’s supposed to be the face George paints on every woman!

As Jules, a Seurat rival, Scott Greer is capable of stealing any scene he’s in and almost does as. Greer’s a marvel of tone and gesture. Maureen Torsney -Weir does well with the role of Seurat’s mother; later the imperious critic. Michael McKinsey makes a salty boatman. It’s a pleasure watching all these characters come to life on the Grand Jatte on the Arden stage. Sound and video designer Jorge Coiseneau ‘s hard-working projectors and laptops accomplish a feast for ear and eye. Images not of Parisians’ Seine but ours – on Kelly Drive. Sunday in the Park with George runs until 4th of July.

Written by Lesley Valdes

June 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Sierra Premiere at Revamped Baptist Temple

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Mendelssohn Club Chorus:
Roberto Sierra’s “Missa Latina”
Alan Harler, conducts,
guest soprano, Heidi Grant Murphy,
Concerto Soloists Chamber Orchestra,
Inauguration of newly renovated Baptist Temple at Temple University
Saturday, April 24, 8:00 pm
$20 and $30
Phone: (215) 735-9922

Rose Window & Stairs at Baptist Temple

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Yussef El Guindi’s “Language Rooms”

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Sevan Greene and Nasser Faris (Photo: Jim Roese)


Language Rooms (Yussef El Guindi)
The Wilma (world premiere)
March 9 – April 4, 2010

The price of a better life is higher than we think. That’s one lesson of Language Rooms at The Wilma. Yussef El Guindi’s ferocious 15th comedy which tackles issues of immigration close to the bone. Here, Arab- American tensions in an unidentified government workplace, also becomes a stirring father-son drama. The focus of the world premiere early on is the bureaucrat who tries the soul as he undermines a young Arab-American played by Sehvan Greene. Peter Jay Fernandez is the snark with the perfect smile. Who can you trust? Fernandez is superb as Kevin the egregious employer who plays his Arab employees against each other. Ahmed’s best bud is played by J. Paul Nicholas. The boss spouts psycho- babble and religion. Takes out the ironing board to press the creases out of his shirt. He’s on the way up: no wrinkles for Kevin. Ahmed’s full of wrinkles and worries.
Ahmed’s one of only two Arab translators working offshore for a U.S. agency. The time is now, the work is spurious; loyalties are questioned. Paranoia in Ola Maslick’s dental- bright space. Ahmed’s in denial about the trouble he’s having fitting in. The self hate beneath the surface.
Language Rooms, keeps the audience laughing in the first act act but it lumbers. Things shift in the second act, which is still pretty funny – torture by milk for those lactose intolerant Muslims – but the drama intensifies. L.A. actor Nasser Faris as Ahmed’s father gives a terrific performance. After unconvincing work in the first act, Greene as Ahmed begins to shine, anger is a powerful tool. The laughs stop; there is pathos. The plot, which has been predictable, delivers a surprise; then Faris lingers over lines, spinning nostalgia.
El Guindi, who has been a citizen almost as many years as his 15 plays, aims for the view of the 2nd generation. (Though he himself was born in Egypt, educated at the University of Cairo, as well as in the Stages.) Language Rooms at The Wilma disturbs and it is funny. The play feels structurally uneven but brings a welcome voice to Philadelphia. Blanka Zizka directs.

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm

The Breath of Life (Lantern Theater)

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Ceal Phelan (Madeline) and Cheryl Williams (Frances)

The Breath of Life
by David Hare
Lantern Theater Company
Feb. 4-28
This one’s not so compelling as the Englishman’s Skylight, which is also about intimacy and betrayal and which the Lantern (2008) pulled off so brilliantly two seasons back. David Hare can’t write a play without talking about smart things. Here, not just a love triangle but Americans vs. the English. Why he finds the novel reductive, why work is the only thing that sustains.

The Breath of Life has only two characters –onstage. Ceal Phelan and Cheryl Williams put their all into a play that even Maggie Smith and Judi Dench couldn’t entirely pull off . If only The Breath of Life had more life, more show than tell, a flashback, perhaps, an audience member offered at the Lantern’s Sunday talkback, or one more character, though that would destroy the tete-a-tete conceit.

It’s damned hard to pull off two hours moaning over a man. Phelan as Madeline, the retired curator of Islamic art, and Williams, as Frances, a late- blooming novelist, almost manage. The women are the ex-es of Martin, who has gone off with a third.

Martin’s former wife, has come to the isle of Wright to get the backstory on Martin’s longtime lover. As the play progresses there are lines about love and family I just don’t buy. More than just contradictions.

Still Phelan and Williams, who are on the Temple Theater department, play the characters very well. Madeline, acerbic, ungiving, a pro at hiding her needs; Frances, warmer, courageous despite her desperation for comfort – and closure – ultimately providing a bit of each for both. There work Hare’s shifts and swerves to let us see the flashes of pain or wit or insight.

Kathyrn McMillan directs. Dirk Durosette’s staging hits the right tone for Madeline’s frugal retreat. Christopher Colucci’s sound design is built on cello and hammered dulcimer solos he composed himself.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 15, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Posted in 1, Community, Drama, Theater