With the announcement of the 2011 Barrymore nominations slated for September 6, a review of the past season’s new works by local playwrights brought recollections of holiday cheer and thought-provoking issues. Among my top picks for Best New Play/Musical were three holiday comedies that more than delivered on brightening the season, and a drama that referenced important lessons from the recent past.
For Norristown’s Theatre Horizon, The Berserker Residents’ Justin Jain, Dave Johnson, and Brad Wrenn, joined by Brian McCann (a fifteen-year veteran of Philadelphia’s ComedySportz), offered up non-stop laughs with THE VERY MERRY XMAS CAROL HOLIDAY ADVENTURE SHOW. The original script cleverly intertwined Dickens with Pop culture, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a vitriolic Little Drummer Boy, and a brand new Xmas villain named Gary. The energetic actors mastered quick costume changes, sidesplitting musical numbers, shadow puppets, and audience participation; the whole cast was impeccable in its comic timing, multiple characterizations, and consistently wacky sensibility (e.g., when the ghost of Marley appeared to Scrooge, it was reggae legend Bob Marley, not Jacob). These extremely talented Fringe Festival favorites bring their unique brand of absurdity to New York’s Ars Nova through September 24, with their latest work, THE LAPSBURGH LAYOVER.
1812 Productions’ THIS IS THE WEEK THAT IS presented a light-hearted look at the news of today, and of past decades, in a time-traveling edition of the popular yearly offering. The all-star ensemble (featuring Scott Greer, throwing up his hands in a recurrent lament of “unemployment, unemployment, unemployment, unemployment,” and Susan Riley Stevens, spot-on as a clueless Sarah Palin) tackled current events with insight and wit, and noted that our present political and economic problems have all plagued us before—just “not all at once!” Video clips of director Jennifer Childs as South-Philly’s stoop-philosopher Patsy were hilarious, though loyal fans missed her live appearance, ad-libs, and audience interactions. The upcoming pre-election installment, running November 25-December 31, promises to be another WEEK not to be missed!
People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern continued its ongoing series of engaging holiday pantos with THE THREE MUSKETEERS (THE LATER YEARS). Merriment abounded in Kathryn Petersen’s follow-up to the 19th-century French trilogy by Alexandre Dumas, imaginatively directed by Pete Pryor; even the pre-recorded curtain speech was delivered with a faux French accent. Rachel Brennan was a delight as Henrietta the Chicken, mimicking avian movements and voicing her approval with “abso-cluckin’-lutely.” In keeping with the panto tradition, the script was sprinkled with local references; a cross-dressing Mark Lazar played Queen Agnes of Malvaria, and Pryor, as the greedy villain Lord Guido Mazarotti (proclaiming “None for all and all for ME”), was sentenced for his crimes to the overcrowded King of Prussia mall during the busy holiday shopping season—a fate worse than death! Look forward to the eighth annual panto this year, with Petersen’s original take on TREASURE ISLAND.
Along with the comedies, a new historical drama of note revisited the past with insight and substance. Catherine Rush’s LOSING THE SHORE, commissioned by BCKSEET Productions, offered a well-crafted and well-acted fictionalized account of a cruise taken by Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson in the aftermath of his 1952 presidential defeat by Eisenhower. Enhanced by an excellent ensemble, elegant costumes by Peggy Walsh, and a sleek shipboard set by Daniel Krause, the play raised serious moral issues about public service and personal accountability, during an era of repression and secrecy that stifled even the most privileged in our country.
All four productions were award-worthy and deserving of recognition, and each reaffirmed the wealth of talent we have in the Philadelphia theater community; hoping to see these talented artists at the Barrymores!
Barrymore Awards: www.theatrealliance.org/barrymore-program-2011
Theatre Horizon: www.theatrehorizon.org
Berserker Residents: http://berserkerresidents.com
Ars Nova: http://arsnovanyc.com
1812 Productions: www.1812productions.org
People’s Light & Theatre Company: http://peopleslight.org
BCKSEET Productions: http://web.me.com/backseat13/BCKSEET_Productions/HOME.html