Jane Von Bergen rounds up news and notes on the theater scene in and around Philadelphia.
You may remember Mara Isaacs, of Princeton, as the Broadway producer The Inquirer tagged along with for a whirlwind day in New York during Tony Awards week.
Or maybe you remember her as the Hadestown producer who gave the “change is possible” speech that brought the house down at the Tonys ceremony after her play won best musical (along with seven other Tony Awards — this season’s biggest haul).
Now Isaacs, head of Octopus Theatricals, has another piece of Hadestown hardware: a Grammy Award for best cast album. She shares the Grammy glory with Hadestown songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, performers Reeve Carney, André De Shields, Amber Gray, Eva Noblezada, and Patrick Page, and co-producers David Lai and Todd Sickafoose.
It’s that time of year. Or maybe that time has already passed. Still sticking to your diet resolution?
Actress Renée Taylor, currently appearing in Amazon’s Gown and Out in Beverly Hills, feels your pain. Or maybe it’s your gain. Or maybe it’s your pain because of your gain. Either way, it might be your loss if you miss My Life on a Diet, Taylor’s award-winning autobiographical solo comedy, running Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope.
Taylor, who describes herself as a “diet junkie” with an advanced degree in fad diets, wrote the play with Joseph Bologna, her partner of 52 years in work and life. Expect ample servings of stories — and weight loss tips — garnered from Hollywood legends such as Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, and Barbra Streisand, as well as Taylor’s weighty and not-so-weighty insights about her own highs and lows, in pounds and in life, as well as in love, with Bologna.
The show made its New York premiere with an extended off-Broadway run at the Theatre at St. Clements. Together, the couple has created 22 plays and four films as well as nine TV movies and series.
Philly Theatre Week, a celebration of everything theater, starts Feb. 6.
For 10 days, 75 participating theater companies will produce 300 events , including plays, workshops, and more. Tickets are affordable, at three price points: $30, $15, and free.
What does Rachel, a young African American woman trying to make her way in a northern city at the turn of the century, have in common with Eleanor Roosevelt, spouse of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Each provides a perspective on history that calls out to audiences today.
Director Alexandra Espinoza says Rachel, playing at the Quintessence Theatre in Mount Airy from Jan. 29 through Feb. 23, should serve “as a wake-up call” for regional theater, which, she said, continues to cater to mostly white audiences. To broaden their audiences, theaters need to produce more works like Rachel, she said, and include more people of color among decision-makers.
For Espinoza, Rachel has personal significance. “I am a black queer woman directing a play written by a black queer woman 100 years ago,” Espinoza said.
When the play, by Angelina Weld Grimke, opened in New York on April 25, 1917, it was the first play by an African American author with an all-black cast to be performed for an integrated audience, Espinoza said. It tells the story of an African American family with Southern roots striving to pursue the American dream in a northern American city.
The lead character grapples with whether it makes sense to mother a child in world tainted with racism, illustrating a cycle of “hope, despair, and action” that Espinoza said "is a very large part of the black experience in this country — learning how to be real with what causes despairs and learning how to use action to cut it away.”
In Media, the Media Theatre Co. launches Eleanor, An American Love Story, also Jan. 29 through Feb. 23. “She was a woman before her time,” Jesse Cline, artistic director, said. “We have women running for the presidency, but that would have never been part of the Roosevelt White House.”
Media Theatre Co. just wrapped Elf, the Musical and is gearing up for a two-month run of Mamma Mia April 15 through June 15. Eleanor, “is not, obviously, foolproof at the box office,” Cline said. “It’s not Mamma Mia, so to speak.”
But it does resonate, given the time and today’s politics.
“If you want to run a theater that you want to make a contribution, you have to do pieces like this. This is what makes you relevant,” he said. “This is an obligation we have as a theater company to our audience.”
The theater is marketing the show to students and historical societies, with early ticket sales going to people like Cline, 67, who remembers his grandmother, a North Carolina textile worker, talking fondly about Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts to help working people to attain better wages and a shorter work week.
Next up at the McCarter Theatre Center is a concert reading with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra of The Big Time, a new musical comedy from Douglas Carter Beane, author of Broadway’s Sister Act, Cinderella, and Xanadu. It opens Jan. 31.
Staff writer Becky Batcha contributed to this article.