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Philadelphia Spotlight: March 2005

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Robb Spath in Angels in America:
Millennium Approaches

(Photo © Greg DeCandia)
Theater history is full of priceless treasures. Some can be admired often. With others the sightings are far less common. This March in Philadelphia a surprising number of local theaters are presenting plays (several in co-productions -- another rarity in Philadelphia) that have been absent from the area for far too long. Some are well-known, but many are from among theater's hidden gems.

August Wilson's family drama Fences, which has been conspicuous in its absence in recent seasons, is receiving not one but two productions this month when both the Arden Theatre Company and Bristol Riverside Theatre present new stagings featuring national artists. The Arden's co-production of Fences (March 3-April 3) with the Actors Theatre of Louisville is led by guest director Timothy Douglas. After helming Fences, Douglas will direct the world premiere of Radio Golf, the final installment of the playwright's decade-by-decade exploration of the 20th century African American experience, which is having its world premiere April 22 at Yale Rep. Of equal interest is Bristol Riverside Theatre's version of Wilson's masterpiece. Directed by Wilson associate Keith Glover, the Bristol production (March 15-April 3) features costumes by Tony Award winner Ann Hould-Ward (Beauty and the Beast) and scenic design from David Gallo, whose designs for the Philadelphia Theatre Company's world premiere of Bunny Bunny and the national tour of Angels in America were spectacular examples of minimalist design.

It has been awhile since Tony Kushner's brilliant "Gay Fantasia on National Themes" Angels in America touched down on a local stage. In a bold move for a young company, Backseat Productions presents the play's sprawling Part I: Millennium Approaches as part of its inaugural full season in Philadelphia at the Society Hill Playhouse's intimate Red Room Cabaret (March 3-19). Mike Nichols's film was marvelous and director George C. Wolfe's Broadway production remains the definitive stage version of the play, yet Angels can be a completely different and vastly rewarding experience when seen in a small space.

According to a 2001 article in The Washington Post, over 5000 women worldwide have been killed by their relatives for bringing dishonor to their family. In developing countries, young girls are being murdered for little more than talking to boys in public. Termed "honor killing," the atrocity is the focus of Catherine Filloux's searing drama The Beauty Inside, which is having its local premiere at the Interact Theatre Company (March 9-April 3).

Last time we encountered Dael Orlandersmith at the Wilma Theater, it was for the world premiere of Orlandersmith's drama Yellowman, an enthralling work that went on to become a hit in New York and garner a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Now the Wilma is presenting the world premiere of Orlandersmith's new play Raw Boys (March 9-April 10). A coming-of-age tale focusing on two Irish brothers, Boys signals a departure for Orlandersmith. Not only is it the first of her plays not to focus directly on the African-American experience, but it also marks the first time the multi-talented playwright/actor will not appear in a premiere of her own work.

Ambler's Act II Playhouse and Center City's Interact Theatre Company are teaming to produce Joe Penhall's award-winning drama Blue/Orange. Running first at Act II March 11 through April 10 before moving to Interact's Samson Street theater in late spring, Blue/Orange uses a young man's impending release from a mental institution to debate the struggle to balance individual rights with the protection of society. Director Seth Rozin's production stars Tim Moyer, Johnnie Hobbs Jr., and Barrymore winner Scott Greer.

If you can't get to the Philadelphia Flower Show during the second week of March, fear not: The following week a plant arrives at the Merriam Theater far bigger and meaner than anything the Flower Show has to offer. The plant is Audrey II, the carnivorous star of the Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors (March 15-20). Charming and filled with tunes you won't get out of your head for days, if you are looking for an evening of silly fun, Little Shop is the place to go.

Typically the Walnut Street Theatre presents Broadway blockbusters. But in a rare move the Walnut is co-producing W. Somerset Maugham's delightfully witty comedy The Constant Wife (March 15-May 1) with Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse. Wife centers on a London woman caught in a "durable" marriage. Due to her meddling mother and the arrival of a previous flame, the woman eventually strikes a blow for female independence, an unusual concept when the play was penned in 1927. The production's star Alicia Roeper received splendid reviews when the show opened in Miami, and with stalwart local actor Greg Wood on board, the Walnut may have a hit with Maugham's rarely-produced treasure.

William Finn, the composer of the magnificent musical Falsettos, is being featured at Plays and Players Theater when the Philadelphia Theatre Company stages the local premiere of Finn's Elegies: A Song Cycle (March 18 through April 17). A musical love letter to the dearly departed, the production features Michael Rupert, whose gut-wrenching performance in Falsettos was rightly hailed by critics. Joe Calarco, who helmed PTC's dazzling production of Jason Robert Brown's musical The Last Five Years in 2003, directs.

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