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Theatre Exile’s ‘Today is My Birthday’: A play about isolation and connecting

Lead character Emily creates an alter-ego for a radio dating show. Now she’s communicating nonstop – by phone, by text, by voicemail, by radio broadcast, even by intercom. But is she connecting?

Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters portrays Emily in Theatre Exile's "Today is My Birthday" production.
Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters portrays Emily in Theatre Exile's "Today is My Birthday" production.Read moreRobert Hakalski

Playwright Susan Soon He Stanton’s stage directions — prominently noted on the front page of the script of “Today is My Birthday” — posed a challenge director Cat Ramirez could not wait to meet in the Theatre Exile production beginning April 28.

“No characters are in the same physical location,” Stanton wrote.

“It felt like a huge challenge and really fun,” Ramirez said. “How do you illustrate how people connect when they connect over the phone? That’s something the play talks about as well — isolation and struggling to connect with people.”

Actor Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters leads as Emily, an out-of-work journalist who returns home to Hawaii after a trying time in New York City. Lonely and frustrated in Hawaii, she creates an alter ego for a radio dating show. Now she’s communicating nonstop — by phone, by text, by voicemail, by radio broadcast, even by intercom. But is she connecting?

The play has 54 scenes — some just one line long, others stretching over four pages of script. To keep track of it all, Ramirez created a huge, color-coded spreadsheet that has held a place of prominence on Ramirez’s breakfast table.

The play “is such a relatable story after these past two years. It’s funny. It’s zany and it pulls on your heartstrings,” Ramirez said.

It’s also personally relatable to Ramirez, who grew up in Delaware County, went to New York, and now is back — working in Philadelphia’s theater community. Like Emily, Ramirez also grappled with what it means to return home.

Here, in Philadelphia’s theater community, Ramirez found family and home.

“I can’t stress enough how happy I am to be working with these incredible artists right now,” Ramirez said, speaking of the cast of 10 who together perform more than a dozen roles in Today is My Birthday. “I consider them a part of my home in the Philadelphia community. It’s great to be working around that central question with people who feel like home to me.”

April 28-May 22, Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th St., Philadelphia, 215-218-4022 or

From grief, a musical: ‘Grieving Aaron’

By all accounts, Aaron Hirschhorn was a remarkable man. A Philadelphia native, he attended Central High School, graduated from Swarthmore University, and started his own business, connecting dogs and dog sitters. He hawked merchandise on QVC and appeared on TV’s Wheel of Fortune. Beyond that, he was a loving son, brother, husband, and father of three young children. So, in March 2021, when he died suddenly in a boating accident at the age of 42, his family was devastated.

Everyone copes with grief in their own way. Aaron’s father’s way was to write a musical, “Grieving Aaron.”

“The musical starts with the moment when I first learn of his death in a boating accident, one day after the Passover Seder, when the gifts of my life appeared abundant,” wrote consultant Larry Hirschhorn, principal of CFAR Inc., a management consulting firm with offices in Philadelphia and Boston. (His other son, and Aaron’s brother, is Dan Hirschhorn, an assistant managing editor at The Inquirer.)

“It ends at that moment when my wife and I, by compiling a photo album for Aaron’s three children, begin to mitigate our sorrow with the sweetest memories of our son.”

Larry Hirschhorn had never written a musical or the serious poetry included in this work. “This is a story how grief mobilizes working with your talents, some of them untapped, to master trauma,” he said.

April 29 at 7 p.m. Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center, 7 Lock St., Philadelphia. Admission is free and by reservation only. Parents grieving the loss of a child are particularly welcome. Email

‘Richard III’

Forty-four years before the abolition of slavery in 1865, a group of Black actors created the African Grove Theatre in New York. Despite obstacles, the group produced commercially successful works by William Shakespeare, particularly “Richard III” and “Othello.” West Philly’s Theatre in the X offers an homage to African Grove with its production of Richard III. “They laid the track for us and through their work and now with this production of Richard III, we honor them,” the company said in a statement. The play is adapted by Caroline Devlin and directed by Carlo Campbell.

April 28-May 7, Theatre in the X at the Curio Theatre Company, 4740 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia. Pay what you can. 484-326-2596 or

‘This Is the Week That Is’

Yes, this is a newspaper filled with news. Sometimes it’s a bit much — more than a little sad, more than a little upsetting. But what if it were funny?

That’s the premise behind 1812 Productions’ perennial favorite, “This Is the Week That Is.” You can count on the day’s events delivered by an experienced comedic troupe of professionals who riff off each other and the news a la Saturday Night Live and the The Daily Show. Then add music. This Is the Week That Is had been a 16-year staple on the Philadelphia theater scene until the pandemic. Now it’s back live.

This Is the Week That Is continues its signature mission to tell the truth and make it funny with a performance ensemble that is also a writers’ room,” 1812′s producing artistic director Jennifer Childs, who created the concept, said in a statement.

There’s even a documentary about the show’s creative process commissioned by American Theatre Wing, a nonprofit dedicated to theater education. You can watch it here,

April 28-May 22, 1812 Productions Company at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, 215-592-9560 or

FringeArts Blue Heaven Comedy Festival

Speaking of funny, this weekend promises two days of laughs at the 2022 Blue Heaven Comedy Festival from the folks at FringeArts. Among the artists at Friday’s Stamptown show are Ashton Womack, a writer on The Daily Show, and Marcia Belsky, cowriter of “Handmaid’s Tale: The Musical.” Zach Zucker is Friday’s leader of ceremonies and hosts a clown workshop on Saturday afternoon. Saturday’s show, titled “Squirm,” features Saturday Night Live cast member Sarah Sherman, performing as Sarah Squirm. Philadelphia’s own Crossroads Comedy Theater copresents with a lineup of the locally funny.

In the burbs, laughter is a team sport when two groups of seasoned improvisers face off and compete for the most guffaws at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center. Presented by Philadelphia’s longtime comedy improvisers, ComedySportz, in a format just like a sports competition — complete with referees, sideline commentary, and lots of fouls, is in fact, the more the merrier.

April 29-30, Blue Heaven Comedy Festival at FringeArts, 140 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia. 215-413-1318 or and April 29, ComedySportz at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, 226 N. High St., West Chester, 610-256-2787,

Because COVID-19 mask and vaccination rules are changing so rapidly and vary significantly by location, please check your theater venue for protocols close to the performance date.