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Philadelphia Spotlight: May 2006

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Hazel Bowers in Agnes of God
(Photo © Gregory Scott Campbell)
If you don't live in Center City you can still enjoy great theater, as the area's city and suburban companies are both offering an assortment of enticing productions.

The always-interesting Luna Theater Company concludes its season with John Pielmeier's taut drama Agnes of God (Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, May 5-21). A mysterious death in a religious community and a young almost child-like woman are the focus of Pielmeier's involving play, which was a big hit on Broadway and in Hollywood. Local treasure and Barrymore winner Hazel Bowers stars as the thorny Mother Superior.

In 1995 the Philadelphia Theatre Company produced the world premiere of Terrence McNally's Master Class. Now PTC re-teams with McNally to produce the world premiere of the playwright's Some Men (Plays and Players Theater, May 12-June 11). Set at a same sex wedding, the show examines the tumultuous history of gay men in the 20th century from the early days of the Harlem renaissance to the contemporary battle for equality. The top-notch cast includes Stephen Bogardus, John Glover, and Barbara Walsh.

If you couldn't beg, borrow or steal a ticket to the recent record-busting visit from Wicked, you can catch Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz's spirited musical Godspell at the Walnut Street Theatre, beginning May 9. In director Bruce Lumpkin's production, the action is set beneath the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, where a ragtag group of artists and musicians gather to celebrate the Gospel According to Mathew with such Schwartz classics as "Day by Day" and "By My Side."

Also on the musical front, Jonathan Larson's urban rock musical Rent arrives at the Merriam Theater, May 16-21. The city's premiere presenter of all things Stephen Sondheim, the Arden Theatre Company is staging the lyricist/composer's riotous comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (May 18-June 18). And Sondheim's spiritual ancestor, Cole Porter, is represented with the Prince Music Theatre's production of The Pirate (May 6-28), based on the beloved MGM musical starring Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. This freewheeling new adaptation, which features a slew of Porter standards, stars Sean Martin Hingston, Andrea Burns, Pamela Myers, and Cheryl Freeman.

While most companies are presenting small plays with few technical requirements, 1812 Productions bucks the trend with the world premiere of Evan Smith's Daughters of Genius (The Adrienne, May 19-June 18). Billed as the most expensive production in 1812's nine-year history, Genius boasts seven-characters and a host of special effects. Spanning the days before the near-blind John Milton completed his masterpiece Paradise Lost, Smith's comedy focuses on the author's three daughters as they seek to discover themselves in a fiercely patriarchal society.

This month you have two chances to enjoy the work of playwright Tracy Letts. In the city, Theatre Exile's production of the playwright's Killer Joe is up and running. In the burbs', the People's Light & Theatre Company is presenting Letts' Pulitzer Prize nominated entry The Man from Nebraska, beginning May 24. The resourceful director Ken Marini helms this play, which concerns a man who goes in search of himself far from his mid-American home.

Interact Theatre Company closes its season with the Philly premiere of Mia McCullough's Since Africa (May 26-June 25). The play focuses on a widow-socialite and African-American clergyman who aid a young Sudanese man in moving to America.

Interestingly, the most-anticipated new musical created by and starring Philadelphia artists is taking place not in our home city, but in Wilmington, Delaware. A Murder, A Mystery and A Marriage, based on Mark Twain's short story, is the brainchild of Pig Iron Theatre Company member James Sugg and Arden Theatre Company co-founder Aaron Posner. A co-production between the Delaware Theatre Company and Roundhouse House Theatre (where it will also appear later in the month), the down-home, foot-stomping musical features a bluegrass score by Sugg and a venerated cast led by Barrymore Award winner Scott Greer.

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