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Philadelphia Spotlight: October 2004

Political Stages

Jeffrey Coon and Scott Greer in The Underpants
(Photo © Mark Garvin)
After a September full of light comedies, Philadelphia Area Theater turns a bit more serious in October with a large number of political plays gracing local stages. Carl Sternheim wrote The Underpants as a sociopolitical play intent on chastising what the author viewed as the hypocrisy of German bourgeois society in the early 1900s. However, in Steve Martin's witty adaptation, the sociopolitical commentary is buried beneath an avalanche of laughs. Featuring Kris Stone's resourceful scenic design and a superb cast, director Aaron Posner's rollicking production at the Arden Theatre Company in Old City is currently one of the ten most popular shows in the company's 16-year history. It's already been extended twice, so you should move quickly if you want a ticket before the show closes November 14.

The Wilma Theater, which has long enjoyed a personal relationship with playwright Tom Stoppard, opens its season on the Avenue of the Arts with Stoppard's provocative comedy Night and Day (which runs thru October 31st). Starring Scott Sowers and Richard Sheridan Willis, the play, which concerns journalistic freedom, is set in a nation on the brink of revolution. Several of the most memorable productions in the Wilma's history have been penned by Stoppard (the award-winning The Invention of Love and Every Good Boy Deserves Favor to name but two), and there is every reason to believe that director Jiri Zizka's production will add only more luster to their already fruitful collaboration.

Originally staged by 1812 Productions in 2001 and now returning to open the troupe's 2004-5 season, Jilline Ringle's solo-play Mondo Mangia (which is playing through October 31at the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3) is a tender tribute to Ringle's family. A charismatic storyteller with a commanding singing voice, Ringle is a powerhouse performer who is more than capable of carrying an entire production on her ample shoulders.

Christopher Trumbo's Trumbo focuses on the author's screenwriter father Dalton (Spartacus) and his appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Philadelphia Theatre Company's production (running October 8-November 14 at Plays and Players Theater) stars Bill Irwin, a unique performer known primarily for his original brand of new vaudeville, but an actor who is equally proficient at performing satire or drama.

At the recently announced Barrymore Award nominations recognizing the best in Philadelphia Area Theater from the 2003-4 season, the Prince Music Theater led all local companies with a total of 16 nominations. The Prince looks to continue their winning ways when their 2004-5 campaign opens with Gemini, The Musical. Written by Albert Innaurato based on his Obie award-winning play, Gemini concerns the larger-than-life characters that comprise a South Philadelphia family. The show, which stars South Philly natives Robert Picardo and Anne DeSalvo, runs at the Prince's 1412 Chestnut Street home from October 9-31.

A couple of out-of-town productions highlight the third week in October. Visiting from Ireland with their production of J.M. Synge's classic The Playboy of the Western World is the legendary Abbey Theater. The touring production plays in West Philly at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center October 12-17. At the Merriam Theater on the Avenue of the Arts Whoopi Goldberg appears October 13-17 with a new production of her 1984 solo-show Whoopi. An intimate evening with one of theater's most original entertainers, Whoopi launched the always-political comedienne's career two decades ago. The production, presented by the legendary director Mike Nichols, begins on Broadway November 6, so why not catch it here first?

Fresh off their first-ever Barrymore Award nomination, the Azuka Theatre Collective presents Jane Martin's unabashedly political romp Laura's Bush just in time for the November elections (October 11-29 at The Playground). Raunchy and pointed, the satire features a kidnapped First Lady, a lesbian affair and an African-American ghost who happens to be Bill Clinton. Martin makes her political leanings very clear and while Kerry backers will love it, supporters of the President's may not find the comedy quite as appealing.

Stuart Flack's Homeland Security (October 22-November 21 at The Adrienne) opens the new season at the Interact Theatre Company, which for years has had the reputation of being the city's top political theater. Starring Barrymore nominee Michelle Courvais (Rosemary), Flack's timely drama concerns a seemingly routine airport investigation that may be more sinister than it first appears.

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