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Philadelphia Spotlight: September 2006

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James Ijames and Leah Walton in Voices Underwater
at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe
(© Rana Sindhikara)
Philadelphia is a very busy theater town this month, thanks to the enormous Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe (September 1-16, various venues). One of the festival's hottest tickets is Headlong Dance Theater's Cell (September 1-16). Staged for a single audience member at a time, the show begins with a call on your cell phone. A voice will direct the audience member to a variety of locations along the streets and alleys of Old City, where the e viewer will not only watch a performance but participate in it.

Geoff Sobelle and Trey Lyford, who have wowed audiences and critics across the country with their innovative 2003 work All Wear Bowlers, return to the festival with the world premiere of their site-specific piece Amnesia Curiosa (September 7-16). Staged within the nation's oldest surgical amphitheatre at Pennsylvania Hospital, Sobelle and Lyford's exploration of 19th-century science looks to be one of the festival's more unique offerings. The creators of the 2005 Fringe sleeper hit Anna Bella Eema, the promising young company Gas & Arts Electric, returns with a staging of Abi Basch's provocative Voices Underwater (Adrienne Theatre, throughSeptember 10). The expressionistic work focuses on an interracial couple that encounters a pair of troubled ghosts in the attic of an old Alabama home.

The Fringe encourages experimentation and few works were more adventurous than Lars Jan's mind-bending 2004 Fringe production [Psycho] [Cosmo] [Nautics]. Now Jan is back with /// Auto Pilot /// (September 2-9). Described as a "radical re-imagining of The Little Prince," Autopilot is the story of a downed American pilot marooned in a world where memories and mirages become intertwined.

In addition to the Live Arts and Fringe, a host of established companies are kicking off their seasons as well this month. The Walnut Street Theatre begins their 2006-7 campaign with a new production of Windy City (September 5-22), a musical adaptation of thje classic comedy The Front Page. Meanwhile, the Arden Theatre Company opens their new season with Simon Bent's adaptation of John Irving's acclaimed 1989 novel A Prayer for Owen Meany (September 14-October 15). Irving's tale concerns an unusually small child who accidentally kills his friend's mother. For the Arden's production, artistic director Terrence J. Nolen has assembled an impressive cast led by Broadway veteran Doug Hara and acclaimed local actor Ian Merrill Peakes.

The Lantern Theater Company opens their 13th year with South African playwright Athol Fugard's drama "Master Harold"...and the boys (September 15-October 8). The play concerns a white youth and his elderly African friend and while the racial inequities in South Africa have improved since boys first appeared, Fugard's tale of conflict among friends and family remains relevant today.

If you relish hard-hitting drama, the scintillating Roundabout Theatre Company staging of Twelve Angry Men (September 26-October 1) is paying a quick visit to the Merriam Theater. The touring version features the astute direction of Scott Ellis, who helmed the show on Broadway, and stars Richard Thomas and George Wendt.

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