World Premiere at Philadelphia Theatre Workshop

by Walter Bender

The Philadelphia Theatre Workshop opened its new season with the world premiere of a comedy by local playwright Kathy Anderson, FRONT ROW SEAT. Taking place in Texas, November 1963, this is the tale of the Flannery family and their efforts to get to Dallas in time to see the President in the parade. From the outset the family encounters a series of problems getting there, from Frannie’s “killer girdle” to car crashes, strange encounters and other mishaps.  The people the Flannerys encounter are played by three very talented actors who change characters and accents as quickly as the scenes change around.

Members of the cast of FRONT ROW SEAT the Philadelphia Theatre Workshop productions running at the Walnut Studio 5 through December 12.

Billy Flannery (Peter Zielinski) is the father, and has a serious man-crush on the President. It is he that wants to see the parade, to be in the front row, and to shout out to the President. Zielinski plays Billy with the eager naïveté of a country bumpkin, excited at the opportunity and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. His wife Franny (Janine White) is the whiney yet agreeable spouse who will do almost anything for her family…yet her character borders on paranoia, finding things to worry about at every turn. Ms. White does a terrific job with the character, never missing a step as she alternately complains, whines and criticizes. Also coming on the journey is Perdita (Kelly DelDuca) their teenage daughter who doesn’t want to go, doesn’t want to have anything to do with her parents…in short, the typical rebellious teen. Perdita, however, is the most level-headed of the group. Ms. DelDuca shines as the teen who comes to embrace the adventure. As the journey unfolds, they are joined by Inez (Susan Moses), Franny’s widowed mother who (together with Perdita) conspires to make sure the family gets to Dallas on time. Ms. Moses is an absolute hoot as Inez…her character is hilarious, and Ms. Moses doesn’t miss a beat in keeping the laughs moving. Amy Acchione, Greg Bell and Matt Dell’Olio fill out the cast as the characters they meet along the way, all of whom give the Flannerys a lot to work with.

The actors in the show gave terrific performances, and director Bill Felty keeps everyone moving at breakneck speed as the parade time gets closer and closer. The set, designed by Stephen Hungerford, gives the country feel and what appear to be random items become set pieces as the family moves along in their journey. The music and sound enhance the show, both in helping the feeling of urgency and providing additional comedy at times.

The performances in this show were wonderful, and well worth the trip. The show itself will (in time) undergo some streamlining, I believe. At times the show felt like a Saturday Night Live sketch that runs too long…a couple of the roadside encounters feel almost repetitive. And the last scene (no spoilers here!) is a total departure from the rest of the show and required a couple very large leaps of logic. Perhaps a transitional scene before the last one would help to iron out those inconsistencies.

All in all, FRONT ROW SEAT is a fun evening of entertainment. And, the Philadelphia Theatre Workshop is to be commended for doing new plays. They are the only company that does exclusively new material by Philadelphia-area playwrights. The cost is minimal, the evening enjoyable. Head over to Walnut Street to see what’s happening in the local theatre world.

by Kathy Anderson
Directed by Bill Felty
November 20 – December 12, 2010
Philadelphia Theatre Workshop
Walnut Street Theatre’s Studio 5
825 Walnut Street
Philadelphia PA

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