All Things Entertaining and Cultural
OK, so short form is not my metier. Not so much writer’s block — Find me speechless, and look for a murderer. — as needing a vacation from the keyboard has been a culprit in keeping me way behind in my opining. So here goes, another exercise in brevity, doomed no doubt to fail miserably, Fasten seat belts. The lightning is coming.
Shows with asterisks before their titles will receive longer reviews.
*I WILL NOT GO GENTLY, 1812 Productions at Plays and Players, 1714 Delancey Street, Philadelphia, through Sunday May 15 — The myriad advanced talents of Jennifer Childs, a consistent candidate for the best theater mind in Philadelphia, are on ample display in this entertaining production that keeps one amused, admiring, and listening but might not say all it wants to about women and aging. Accentuating the positives, Childs creates and portrays several characters who are realistic and satirical at once. The focal character is Abby, who shares an age with Childs, 47, and who can revisit her youth at the sound of the right lyric or guitar chord but who is overshadowed in terms of interest by the performer she idolized as a teen, Sierra Mist, her adolescent daughter, and her 90-year-old standup-comic grandmother. Greatness comes in watching Childs animate these figures. Beyond the cheeky British patois she gives Sierra Mist and the crackerjack Dilleresque timing she gives to the grandmother, the coup is the current teenager who has her own idol, one Sierra is suing for belated plagiarism, but who is surrounded by an assortment of PC’s, tablets, smart phones, and gizmos that keep her in touch with her entire social circle at once. Including one “friend” who supplies the answers to math homework. Childs is the consummate actress. Her Sierra accent may come and go, especially at the ends of phrases, but all the characterizations are true and have both edge and warmth to them. Sierra, who is suing Coca Cola for co-opting her name, can be tough-minded and straightforwardly honest, but she reveals a vulnerability and a need to be famous. Abby may seem in control, but she is of the generation that would rather be cool by capitulating to their children’s whims, demands, and judgments and has no anchor of her own. The 12-year-old is a prime example of today’s rampant obnoxious, and the grandmother goes for broke as a comic and as a wise voice of age. Timing and line reading have always been Childs’s gifts, and she uses them here to give her original script humor and panache. That humor can be offhand and observational, in the style of several of the comedians, Childs being a venerable scholar of comic persona and joke structure, and is enough to keep “I Will Not Go Gently” vibrant and deserving of attention. Harriet Power has been a shrewd collaborator. The staging works both to keep Childs’s show flowing and to focus the characterizations and keep them sharp. Each character, but particularly the middle-aged Sierra and Abby who realize with bemused chagrin their lives are mathematically half over, has an engaging story to tell and a fight to be noticed and useful to wage. Sierra is having a comeback that frankly, disappoints Abby, a lifelong fan. Abby doesn’t know whether she wants most to tend to herself as an individual or please her daughter and grandmother. The teen is just a selfish glob of entitlement. Only the grandmother has learned to joke to see if anyone’s laughing while not giving a genuine hoot about whether anyone does. The point is striving, but it’s human striving. “I Will Not Go Gently” reveals an idea, one it realizes in its characters, but it doesn’t coalesce to a strong statement or theme. Childs’s women are not archetypical and don’t stand for anything or have much to say, despite Abby being an Everywoman of sorts, that is universal. The “what” — script, acting, timing, comedy, putting on a show — works well. The “why” is unclear or, at least, doesn’t register. For me, entertainment is enough, and Childs provided plenty of that. If there was a deeper ambition, an idea to sound or consideration to provoke, it doesn’t take shape. Sierra is not so much a survivor as she is a great stage diva who has the command of a star and the who-cares-what-you-think attitude of one who’s been around the block more than once and isn’t putting up with guff, even when it’s advantageous for her to practice toleration. Especially toward the younger who may believe they matter more than they do. Abby is making do. Her daughter is a social media impresario who can orchestrate her friends into a virtual pajama party with none of them having to leave their respective rooms.. If only Abby had the confidence or lack of self-consciousness to be as bold and creative. Grandmom just waited her turn and realized at age 90, the best point of view is ‘what the hell!’ Kernels of wisdom and insight come through, but there’s no sum, only individual parts. Those parts engage you. You like Childs and her show. The diva and the dowdy each have something to impart. But “I Will Not Go Gently” is content to report the random buffets of life rather than depicting people who are waging a more than a routine battle to overcome them. Childs and Power make a good team. Power’s direction is taut and helpful. Video nicely enhances live action, with Jorge Cousineau’s projections being the closest thing to another character. Childs astoundingly adds another dimension to her panoply of talents. She has written about a half-dozen songs that can be taken simultaneously as authentic and parodic, with lyrics better than what you’ll hear in most of today’s musicals. The well-conceived music is by Christopher Colucci. Grade: B+
KRISSY FRAELICH, Cabaret performance at the Arden’s Hamilton Family Arts Center, finished now but, with luck to be repeated — For someone with genuine theatrical accomplishments and star status to the small but committed community that follows Philadelphia theater and knows its personalities, Krissy Fraelich remains unspoiled and seems to radiate not only a rational sense of reality but an honesty I don’t think she could hide. Or want to. This open, sincere trait comes through in her acting, but it adds significant luster to a cabaret in which Krissy is singing songs she likes and telling stories that illuminate who she is and why certain numbers mean something to her. Opening with Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t,” going on to serenade her husband, Nick, with David Friedman’s “Listen to My Heart,” performing with her daughters, Zoë and Becca, mourning the parts she’s aged past playing in a parody of “What I Did For Love,” reprising songs she aced as an actress, such as “Some People” from “Gypsy” and “I Miss the Mountains” from “Next to Normal,” or showing wide vocal range and song vocabulary, Fraelich proves her mettle as a singer who can move as much as impress you. Without revealing effort, she finds and expresses the story in every song. Simply and by letting her reliable vocal instrument do the work instead of going into fancy trills and overembellishing. Though I worried Krissy would talk more than she sang, those fears were allayed in the second half of her show. Besides, her stories were engaging and shared the personal and meaningful. Peter Hilliard did an excellent job accompanying Fraelich. Justin Yoder added some fine touches on the cello. Kudos also to Matthew Decker for directing and the woman who assisted Fraelich in putting together her patter. Grade: A
MACBETH, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, through Saturday, May 21 — Carmen Khan does the best thing a director can do for Shakespeare. She lets him speak for himself and concentrates on character and story, instead of grand theme or effects, in this marvelously direct, deliciously straightforward, deftly affecting production of the Bard’s lauded Scottish Play. Khan and her ensemble aim for clarity in detail and achieve their objective. Nuances of “Macbeth” that are lost in busier, more stylistically high-concept productions, come forth to give Khan’s production richness that lets you savor all that Shakespeare put into this work. “Macbeth” has been frequently stages these last few years. Khan’s production for Philadelphia Shakespeare joins only Patrick Mulcahy’s equally unadorned “Macbeth” is showing the play’s full majesty and making it both thematically telling and theatrically exciting. Others, including Jack O’Brien’s staging at Lincoln Center, relinquished parts of the play in their attempt to dazzle or impress. Khan knows the real ticket and puts forward the genuine article, a play that lets you see a man in doubt and turmoil as he’s persuaded to act to hasten his advancement and becomes suspicious of all who may know his foul deed and see how ill-fitting his crown is and how timorous his days are since he acquired it. By putting story first, Khan’s production shows you the tragedy of Macbeth and makes you wonder what might have happened if he’d followed his better nature and waited to see if the witches’ prophecy of his becoming Scotland’s kings comes to be. Adding to Khan’s achievement is her ability to build suspense and provide texture while letting Shakespeare’s words and her cast’s fine readings and characterizations do the heavy lifting. Small touches, such as having the witches dance in ritual but limiting their makeup to just enough to convey haggardly misshapenness, or having John Zak’s Duncan look concerned for a badly wounded soldier even as he delays him to hear of Macbeth and Banquo’s battlefield exploits, go a long way. Khan even knows where to edit. As much as we may love the witches’ entire “Double, double” speech, Khan uses only its refrain and leaves the “recipe” (eye of newt) on the page instead of on the stage. She also made a good, and rather daring, choice to keep Banquo corporally off-stage and have Macbeth react to imagined appearances of him during the banquet scene that follows Banquo’s murder. Khan is distinct in her work. She interprets little but decisively. You see Macbeth pondering the witches’ words on the heath where they pronounce them. You see his many waverings, back and forth, until he decides he will participate in the assassination of Duncan. Robert Kahn is excellent at showing Macbeth in his confusion about what to do and in involving you in his quandary. You see this Macbeth as human. Honor and gullibility exist together in the man. Resolve and agreeing to Lady Macbeth’s plan to kill Duncan are definitely at war in Kahn’s face and in the tenor of his speeches. You feel for this Macbeth, have pity for him, and believe he may do the correct instead of the expedient thing in regard to his being the host and safeguarding the safety of Duncan. In Khan’s production, which even makes the speed in which Lady M. receives Macbeth’s news-filled letter plausible, it is clearly Annabel Capper’s Lady Macbeth who is both the catalyst and the driving force for Macbeth’s ambition and murderous ways. Kahn’s Macbeth may be influenced by the witches and drawn to thinking about how he can become the king they say he shall be, but it is Capper’s scolding, unyielding Lady Macbeth who will brook no other way to the Scottish throne than the “nearest” way, murdering Duncan. The nobles of both Duncan’s and Macbeth’s retinue are well defined. Khan’s is a cast skilled in classic diction, and everyone does well by Shakespeare’s verse as well as in playing his or her role. Kahn is especially strong in showing the change in Macbeth after he is king and insecure in his role. Capper is a curious but effective Lady M. From the first time we see her Lady Macbeth, she seems on edge and perpetually nervous. You suspect she’s had some kind of breakdown, perhaps from the loss of her child from her restless pacings and her worn, worried look. Capper’s Lady M. perks up during the murder scene, its immediate aftermath, and the banquet festivities, but she reverts to what seems like a depressive torture as Lady M. declines. Another admirable part of Khan’s production is the sense of time she provides between major occurrences. For once, you perceive there’s been intervals between Duncan’s death, Macbeth’s investiture, Macbeth’s onset of paranoia and tyranny, and the occasion of the banquet in which he sees the slain Banquo’s ghost. Rarely does a production so clearly give the impression of time passing. Doing so enriches the text and makes all seem more logical. Khan made a good choice of actors, Robert Kahn elicits pity and terror as Macbeth. Annabel Capper is the right kind of frightening as the early Lady Macbeth and sadly vulnerable in her later scenes. Capper is particularly arresting in the famous sleepwalking scene. John Zak is a Duncan that conveys why Scottish subjects are so loyal to and affectionate towards their king. His performance adds to the dilemma Macbeth has in deciding whether or not to kill his monarch. Eric van Wie is a magnificent Banquo. He establishes himself as a reasonable, yet daring, man in his first scene when he inveighs the witches to say something of his fortunes, He exudes the honorable nature of Banquo and neither seems pompous and jealous nor fades into the Inverness stone, only to emerge when the script calls for it. Van Wie makes you care for Banquo and rue his impending murder. Van Wie speaks as clearly as others and gives an estimable performance, but his voice is flatter than his castmates’ and one wishes the excellence of his reading was matched by a more classic catch to his voice. That last comment is a cavil considering van Wie’s grand work and is mentioned more as construction than as criticism. Josh Kachnycz is an attractive, trustworthy Malcolm and, again, this production makes the prince’s fleeing after Duncan’s murder more reasonable than the mere plot device it generally seems to be. Kachnycz’s scene with William LeDent’s Macduff, in which the two test each other to see if they should ally and if Scotland is the better for their rebellion/resistance against Macbeth, is a highlight of the production. LeDent, as Macduff, shows as many sides to his character as Khan brings out the various themes and leitmotifs of “Macbeth.” You see him as a skilled statesman, a devastated husband and father, and as a fierce, committed warrior. Michael Gamache, as usual, efficiently establishes his character, Ross, endowing him with personality and giving depth to the production, while relinquishing the stage when appropriate to the principal characters. Elise Hudson is a touching Lady Macduff. Eric van Wie compounds his excellence as Banquo with a fine and funny turn as the porter. Adam Kampouris makes a mark while doing well in several roles. Alexander Eltzroth does a fine job as Fleance, whom Khan has envisioned as bordering on adulthood, a good choice on several levels, including Fleance’s ability to fight to get away from the murderers who were supposed to kill him along with his father. Bethanie Wampol’s set serves all situations well. Grade: A