Let’s Dance—Allens Lane Season Ender About Isadora Duncan: WHEN SHE DANCED

Mt. Airy’s Allens Lane Arts Center is closing out their current theatrical season with WHEN SHE DANCED by Martin Sherman. Directed by Maurizio Giammarco, the play deals with the later life of iconic dancer Isadora Duncan, and will run in the Center’s cabaret style theatre from May 2nd to the 16th.

Angela Isadora Duncan was born in California in 1877, the daughter of banker and arts connoisseur Joseph Charles Duncan. She was the youngest of four children, two brothers: Augustin (an actor) and Raymond (an artist), and a sister, Elizabeth—also a dancer. Shortly after Isadora’s birth, unfortunately, Joseph Duncan lost the bank; he was publicly disgraced and the family fell on hard times financially. Following her parents’ divorce, Isadora’s mother and siblings moved to Oakland, CA, where her mother worked as a pianist and music teacher. Feeling stifled by the regulations, Isadora dropped out of school at an early age; she and her sister gave dance lessons to young girls to help support the family. Even at this early stage, her approach to dance was unconventional—she preferred to improvise movements as the music moved her. In her teens she became restless and wanted to travel; she soon arrived in Chicago where she auditioned for a number of theatre companies, finally securing a spot with Augustin Daly’s group. Duncan travelled to New York City with Daly’s group, but unique approach to dance clashed with the conventions of the day. Feeling stifled in the US, Isadora moved to London in 1898; she soon found work dancing in the drawing rooms of the wealthy. These engagements enabled her to start her first dance studio.

Soon Duncan was in Paris, where she opened another studio and began touring Europe. The outbreak of World War I brought her back to New York, and she started becoming more politically active shortly thereafter. In 1921, her leftist sympathies took her to the Soviet Union where she founded a school in Moscow. Her support of the Soviets would lead to her being banned from the US.

Sherman’s play deals with the later part of her life in exile; WHEN SHE DANCED examines her relationship with Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, whom she married in 1922. Duncan was considerably older and things between the two were quite volatile. The story covers one particular day in 1923 when Isadora is trying to figure out how to get money to return to Russia. But Sherman can’t seem to decide if he’s written a farce or a drama.

I happen to love plays that walk that tightrope between making me laugh and making me cry—that’s life. And some playwrights are wonderful at creating that balance; I don’t think Sherman is one of them. To me, the script is very unfocused. Add the fact that one character speaks only Russian, one only French, another only Swedish and a fourth only Italian. It was hard to feel vested in these characters. The cast, led by Susan Chase as Isadora, was credible, the accents believable…but I just couldn’t care.

The tech work by Giammarco (set), Mike Lucek (lights) and Browning Sterner (sound) was well done, as was David Ward’s build. The remainder of the cast (Thomas Braun, Susan Mattson, Elliott Rotman, Kathleen Sink, Sharon Sigal, Glenn Kraft, Heloise Wilson and Abdel Pena) are decent actors who made the best of the material. Giammarco’s direction was relatively well executed, but the story was such a mish-mash. I kept wishing for more. I don’t know what of, but I knew this wasn’t really going anywhere. This is just my reaction to what I viewed, I’m always open to hearing other people’s impressions of the work…

by Martin Sherman
Directed by Maurizio Giammarco
May 2—16, 2014
Allen’s Lane Center for the Arts
Allen’s Lane & McCallum Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19119


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Ellen Wilson Dilks

Ellen Wilson Dilks

EA reviewer with STAGE for several seasons now, Ellen recently took on the role of Project Coordinator for the site, handling the scheduling of our many writers and serving as their liaison with our member theatre companies. She has been active in the Philly theatre community for over three decades as an actress, dialect coach, dramaturg and director. Past directorial credits include PERMANENT COLLECTION, OUR TOWN and ALMOST, MAINE for the Players Club of Swarthmore, CHILDE BYRON at Allens Lane, STRING OF PEARLS at Widener University and THE LARAMIE PROJECT at Celebration Theatre. In addition, Ellen served as Assistant Director for VANITIES, RUN FOR YOUR WIFE and DEATHTRAP at Hedgerow Theatre. As a performer, she has appeared in Shakespeare (HAMLET and KING LEAR), Mamet (THE CRYPTOGRAM), Wilde (THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST) and Wilder (OUR TOWN), to name a few. Ellen was a Barrymore Nominator for three seasons and served as Assistant Director for two productions of the Adult Theatre School Ensemble at People's Light & Theatre Company.

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