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Philadelphia Spotlight: April 2005

A Will of Their Own logo
Will Gartshore, Michael Rupert, Donna Migliaccio, Sherri L. Edelen,
and Keith Byron Kirk in Elegies: A Song Cycle
(Photo © Paola Nogueras)
Philadelphians go all out for their favorite holidays. But whereas Thanksgiving, New Year's and Easter are celebrated with parades, Shakespeare's birthday on April 23 is recognized with plays. This month you can find no less than five productions of the Bard's works, including two separate stagings of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In Philadelphia alone we have seen tiny Ninja warriors performing Macbeth, a Henry V with toy soldiers battling at Agincourt, and The Tempest staged by a lone actor in a kiddy pool. Now Mum Puppettheatre takes on Shakespeare's magical comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream in a production that mixes a variety of theatrical styles. Showcasing the timelessness of Shakespeare's tale of passion and deceit, director Robert Smythe's staging combines commedia dell'arte, contemporary music, and both bunraku-style and hand puppets. You can find the other Midsummer at People's Light & Theatre Company in Malvern where guest director Nick Olcott has fashioned an imaginative, movement-based production. The play is set in late 19th century innocence. It's a time of innocence and strict social roles, but as the play progresses the production evokes the sense of a carnival, a strange and freeing place where the rules don't apply.

Green Light Theatricals presents the world premiere of Armen Pandola's Hedda Without Walls, a contemporary re-thinking of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. Using Ibsen's biting and involving play as inspiration, Walls focuses on a group of actors whose lives are oddly intertwined with the fictional characters from Hedda Gabler. One actress in particular is desperate to break free from her artificial persona, but her solution is both extreme and unsettling.

It is not especially startling that James Joyce's daughter Lucia would suffer from more than a few emotional problems. What is shocking is that she would turn out to be such a rocker! The life of the highly strung Lucia is the focus of the Pig Iron Theatre Company's ambitious rock musical James Joyce is Dead and So is Paris: The Lucia Joyce Cabaret. Composed by James Sugg and highlighted by a skillful performance from Emmanuelle Delpech-Ramey, the show first appeared in 2003. The production has since been reconstructed, and if the company has sharpened the show's book while maintaining Sugg's creative score, Paris could be the latest in a string of hits for the adventurous Pig Iron group.

Recent Tragic Events by Craig Wright centers on a blind date that takes place on Sept 12, 2001. Produced by 1812 Productions and directed by Pete Pryor, Wright's play looks at how we use humor to deal with the tragic moments in our lives. Events garnered encouraging notices when it premiered in New York, and the play would seem the ideal vehicle for 1812, which in recent years has emerged as one of the city's most entertaining companies.

At the outset of W. Somerset Maugham's 1927 comedy The Constant Wife, Mrs. Culver opines that fidelity applies to wives only. A somewhat antiquated view certainly, all the more so considering Mrs. Culver has just heard that her daughter Constance's husband John (Greg Wood) is a philanderer. What's surprising though isn't the mother's obsolete view of marriage (it is the 1920s after all), but that Maugham should ultimately take a firmly feminist position. Initially it appears that Constance echoes her mother's view of marital fidelity. She looks the other way at her husband's indiscretions. But Constance is a practical woman. She enjoys John's company, but wants to pursue her own interests, which include not only a job outside the home, but also vacationing with other men. She doesn't wish to leave her husband; she simply desires financial independence. Wood's comic timing is exceptional and Nancy Dussault is slyly amusing as Mrs. Culver. But any production of Wife relies on a strong Constance and Roeper's supremely entertaining performance is alone worth the price of admission.

It's difficult not to have high expectations for the Philadelphia Theatre Company's production of Elegies: A Song Cycle. After all, the composer William Finn is the man who penned the superb Falsettos. In addition, Elegies features Tony award-winning performer Michael Rupert (who starred in the original production of Falsettos). And the show reunites director Joe Calarco and lighting designer Chris Lee, who together made PTC's production of Jason Robert Brown's song cycle The Last Five Years one of the company's finest efforts. If you think the presence of the word "Elegy" in the title suggests an evening of mourning, the musical is not about death. Instead, Elegies concerns the "infinite joy" of life. Calarco has cast the production with strong actors who happen to be accomplished and versatile vocalists. Rupert's quiet, warm delivery is magnificently effective and often touching, and Donna Migliaccio shows impressive vocal maturity with her interpretation of "Looking Up," Finn's commentary on the 9/11 tragedy. In this original and poignant production, the pioneering composer uses his own experiences with death to reflect on the wonders of life.

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