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Philadelphia Spotlight: January 2006

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Emmanuelle Delpech-Ramey and Quinn Bauriedel
in Gentlemen Volunteers
The Walnut Street Theatre is renowned for their mainstage productions of Broadway fare, and they are kicking off 2006 with Neil Simon's 1991 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning hit Lost in Yonkers. This is the third co-production between the Walnut and Florida's Coconut Grove Playhouse (including last year's impressive staging of The Constant Wife) and the fourth consecutive year that the Walnut has produced a Simon work. Yonkers concerns two young brothers who -- following the death of their mother -- begin a new life with their extended family in Yonkers. It's funny, touching, and loaded with memorable characters (January 17-March 5).

In the Walnut's small Independence Studio on 3, you'll see Emmanuel Schmitt's Enigma Variations, which concerns a Nobel Prize winner whose new novel blurs the line between fact and fiction. Directed by Sam Semoy and starring Tom Markus and Craig Bockhorn, Schmitt's psychological drama is ultimately a complex exploration of passion and the unspoken rules that guide our relationships (January 3-22).

Although the Pig Iron Theatre Company has provided theatergoers with an abundance of thrilling productions in recent years, their 1998 work Gentlemen Volunteers remains the gold standard. A romantic tragedy created by the company from a script by Suli Holum, this story of two young soldiers and nurses is played out against the backdrop of World War I. Director Dan Rothenberg's production of this environmental work, in which the actors create scenes ranging from a blood-filled battlefield to a Red Cross hospital, is sure to be an example of physical theater at its very finest (The Armory, January 4-22).

The Act II Playhouse is staging James Hendman's two-hander Pete n' Keely, the tongue-in-cheek story of a singing duo who were once trumpeted as "America's singing sweethearts" but haven't spoken to each for five years. Can the two put their differences aside for the big television reunion or will their animosity towards each other thwart their comeback? With the delightful Todd Waddington and Denise Whelan playing the couple, it should be fun either way (January 6-February 5).

Before embarking on a career as a dramatist, local favorite Michael Hollinger was trained as a classical violinist. He turns again to musical pursuits with his new play Opus at the Arden Theatre Company. Hollinger's tale concerns a world-class string quartet preparing for an important performance of Beethoven's majestic Opus 131; as the concert draws near, the group's rehearsals become increasingly fretful, leading the musicians to question themselves, each other, and the transient quality of their chosen art (January 12-March 5).

In her new play American Sublime, Patricia Lynch introduces us to a seemingly typical American couple living in Norman Rockwell-type tranquility in their pleasant, well-groomed neighborhood. But the couple's world was shattered when they lost their only son in the September 11th attacks, and desperate to reconcile their frustration and pain, the two demand justice for their son's death. (InterAct Theatre Company at the Adrienne, January 20-February 19).

Finally, the most famous Philadelphian of all time has been getting the royal treatment this winter as seemingly the entire city is celebrating Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday. Not one to miss out on the festivities, the Philadelphia Theatre Company is hosting Josh Kornbluth's solo play Ben Franklin: Unplugged. Structured as a detective story of sorts, the show focuses on the troubled relationship between Franklin and his son (a royalist who opposed the American Revolution) as well as Kornbluth's difficulties with his own eccentric father. Kornbluth (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Franklin) was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his autobiographical play Red Diaper Baby, which was also an exploration of father-son relationships. The play isn't for small children, but Unplugged provides a perspective on Franklin that older kids won't discover in history books (January 10-21).

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