All Things Entertaining and Cultural

News from the Avenue — Latin Flavor Prevalent in January



     The second installment of Central High graduate Quiara Alegria Hudes’s Elliot Trilogy, “Water by the Spoonful”  runs from January 16 to March 16 at Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre. The first play in the trilogy, “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue,” appeared in 2012 as part of the Independence series at the Walnut, where Hudes’s award-winning musical, “In the Heights” played earlier this season.

      As in “A Soldier’s Fugue,” Elliot is a Puerto Rican veteran of the Iraq War who works in a Philadelphia sandwich job. As he deals with his experience in the military, he thinks about his grandfather and father who fought in Korea and Vietnam. He also copes with civilian life.

      Lucie Tiberghien directs. The role of Elliot goes to Armando Batista, whose own play, “City Boy,” was done by Walking Fish Theatre in 2012. Other characters represent people Elliot meets on a chat room populated by drug addicts. The always reliable Brian Anthony Wilson plays a guy called Chutes and Ladders, lively Bi Jean Ngo is cast as Orangutan,  Maia DeSanti, from West Philadelphia, plays Yaz, and Tuhran Cayalak is a ghost, a policemen, and a professor.




     Anastasia Korbal may be age 14, but she has toured with the national companies of three shows, “Les Miserables,””Annie,” and “Little House on the Prairie,” and has also been in “The Secret Garden,” “The Miracle Worker,” “Gypsy” and “Oklahoma!” Quite a resume for someone who still looks forward to high school.

     Korbal has another challenge in her young career. She has been chosen by Media Theatre artistic director Jesse Cline to play Anne Frank in his staging of “The Diary of Anne Frank” which begins on January 29.

     Cline is using Wendy Kesselman’s 1997 update of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s script for the Media production that features Paul Dake as Otto Frank, the father who survives the Nazi concentration camps of World War II and returns to Amsterdam to find his daughter, Anne’s, diary, which he publishes. Kesselman’s adaptation takes account of information that was unavailable to the Hacketts in 1955 when their play made its Broadway debut. “The Diary of Anne Frank” was the Tony-winning drama in 1956. Shows also nominated that season were Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and William Inge’s “Bus Stop.”

       Cast as Edith Frank is Margaret DeAngelis. The van Daans, with whom the Franks share the hiding place above the business Otto Frank managed before “disappearing” with his family, are Anne Connors and Scott Langdon, whose performance as King Arthur in the Media’s production of “Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot'” earned him a place on the Philadelphia Theater Critic’s Award Top 20 list for 2013. Connors and Langdon also played a couple, the Upsons, in Cline’s 2013 production of “Mame” for Media and the Bucks County Playhouse. Shelley Winters earned a 1959 Oscar for portraying Mrs. van Daan in the film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

       Peter van Daan, the young man on whom Anne and her sister, Margot, have a crush, is played  by two alternating actors, Owen Mannion and Austy Hicks, who made an impression as Benjamin in another Cline production, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Margot will be played by Dana Gillin.

        The role of the dentist, Mr. Dussel, who takes refuge with the Franks and van Daans, goes to P. Brendan Mulvey, who started his career later in life but who has worked constantly in local and touring productions since becoming an actor. Sarah Lynn Dewey plays Miep, the secretary who assists Mr. Frank. Terrence Gleeson plays another employee who aids the families in hiding, Mr. Kraler.




      Marina Pardo plays the pivotal role of Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca when Osvaldo Golijov’s 2003 opera touching on the playwright’s politics, death, romance, and inspiration, “Ainadamar”  is presented by Opera Philadelphia at the Academy of Music for five performances from February 7 to 16. Golijov’s work, conducted by Corrado Rovaris, will be sung in Spanish. The composer, who studied at the University of Pennsylvania, translated the libretto to Spanish from an English script written by David Henry Hwang. Rovaris recently conducted “Ainadamar” in a three-city tour of Spain.

     “Ainadamar” is Arabic for a “fountain of tears. The title has several references in the opera, including its literal one, the name of a spring in the Spanish hills outside of Grenada.

     Golijov’s choice to make Lorca a trouser role, a man played by a woman, is interesting. It gives the composer a chance to blend voices more subtly and underscores Lorca’s homosexuality.

      In addition to Lorca, a central figure in “Ainadamar” is his muse, Margarita Xirgu, who met Lorca in their mutual days as young artists in Spain and originated some of his most important roles including that of the 19th century Spanish woman who was killed for refusing to identify rebels for whom she sewed a flag, Mariana Pineda.

       Golijov uses the theme Lorca composed for his play, “Mariana Pineda,” to introduce the three parts that make up his 80-minute opera.

        The story is told in reverse. Xirgu, who will be sung by Maria Hinojosa Montenegro, like Xirgu a Catalan, reminisces about Lorca many years after the playwright’s 1936 death. Xirgu saw what would likely occur is Francisco Franco’s Falangist regime came to power in Spain and fled to South America where she stayed in exile for the rest of her life, preserving the works of Lorca which Franco would not permit theaters to perform in Spain. The dictator also forbid Xirgu entry to her native country during his decades in power.

       As she tells her story to her protégé, Nuria, sung by Sarah Shafer, Xirgo recalls her youth in Spain, her exciting artistic  times with Lorca, and the legend of Mariana Pineda.

       The second of the three sections is called “Federico” and concentrates on Lorca. It depicts the playwright’s artistry and the partisan’s rebellion. Lorca was one of the first people executed during a three-year reign of terror Franco staged in Grenada. He was killed, without trial, as a rebel.

      In the last section, Xirgu’s earlier years are visualized.

      Opera Philadelphia says, “Golijov’s score fuses traditional Jewish and Arabic styles with Spanish-influenced flamenco and rumba rhythms.” The company also quotes a New York Magazine review that praises Golijov for writing music that is both contemporary and lyrical.

      The Opera Philadelphia production includes  a flamenco sequence by the Antonio Gades Company, choreographed by its artistic director, Stella Arauzo.




       Lola Arias was born in 1976, at a time when Augusto Pinochet was in his third year as a Fascist dictator in Chile.

       In the manner of Anna Deavere Smith or Moises Kaufman’s “Laramie Project,” Arias interviewed people of her generation whose parents were the adults who lived and, in many cases, experienced oppression under Pinochet’s stern, dictatorial rule. These were gathered and assembled into a documentary play, “El an͂o  en que nacì,” which translates to “The Year I Was Born.”

        Part of the set for the show, which will be performed from January 17 to 19 at the FringeArts Theatre at 140 N. Columbus Boulevard (Delaware Avenue) in Philadelphia, is a row of lockers, each of which has a year on it. The years represent the “an͂o” when one of the 11 actors in Arias’s piece was born.

        “El an͂o en que nacì” is performed in Spanish with English subtitles. The 11 actors reconstruct their families’ histories. Humor and original music leaven the stories of repression, but reviews of the play say deep emotion and touching passages dominate. Letters, photographs, and clothing from the actors’ parents are an integral part of Arias’s multi-media production.




       The first time I saw Greg Wood, he was playing a character in a mystery weekend I attended in the Poconos. (I was a guest assigned to be a German count, and I spoke with an accent and figured out a major clue by knowing, unrelated to  my character, European date notation.)

       That was 1987. Since then, Wood has established himself as one of the true stars of the Philadelphia theater firmament. His next role is in the Walnut’s production of Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities” as the father of a young author who, during a holiday visit to Palm Springs, informs her family he is about to publish a book that draws liberally on all of their lives.

       The plot is often used, but Baitz is an artist of quality, and his spin on the situation earned “Other Desert Cities” significant off-Broadway and Broadway runs.

        Joining Wood’s character in the home that has become his desert retreat are Susan Wilder as his wife (and the author’s mother), Krista Apple as the author, Ann Crumb as an eccentric aunt, and Matteo Scammell as the son and brother. Kate Galvin directs. Judith Light received a 2012 Tony for playing Crumb’s role.

       The cast Galvin assembled is impressive. Like Wood, Susan Wilder has given many memorable performances in the more than 25 years she has balanced her career in the Philadelphia area with roles in New York.  Both she and Wood cut their local teeth at People’s Light & Theatre Company. Wood also studied at Hedgerow.

        Ann Crumb has mesmerized playing Florence Foster Jenkins in “Souvenir” and Maria Callas in “Master Class” at the Media Theatre. She was listed among the performers on the Top 20 that accompanied the Philadelphia Theater Critic’s Award for her turn as The Lady in the Lake in “Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’ for Media. She was given the Philadelphia Theater Critic’s Award for both “Souvenir” (2008) and “Master Class” (2010). Ann has ties to Media. Her father is the lauded contemporary composer, George Crumb.

       Krista Apple has been impressive in several roles. Matteo Scammell is new to me.

       “Other Desert Cities” runs at the Walnut from January 14 to March 2.

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