Jane Von Bergen rounds up news and notes from the theater scene in and around Philadelphia.
As a young mother, playwright Rachel Bonds did what young mothers do. She opened Margaret Wise Brown’s classic Goodnight Moon and began to read it to her infant son.
Page by charmingly illustrated page — “Goodnight clocks and goodnight socks. Goodnight little house. And goodnight mouse. Goodnight comb and brush" — Bonds kept reading. Then, suddenly, there it was: One empty page, nearly blank but for the words, “Goodnight nobody.”
“I thought, ‘What the hell is this? I just found it so creepy,’ ” Bonds said. “There’s some loneliness, some eeriness. It’s a blank page. It’s very existential.”
Creepy, lonely, and existential? Bonds had been looking for a title for a play she was writing and, bingo, “that page from that book just sort of presented itself as the right title for the show.”
Her play, Goodnight Nobody, a world premiere, is now at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center (through Feb. 9). It stars TV’s Dana Delany (China Beach) and is billed as a comedy about “adulting.”
The McCarter had commissioned Bonds, of Brooklyn, to create what she described as “the largest project anyone had ever asked of me.” The characters in her play, some of whom are mothers, meet each other at “moments of deep crisis” and are “feeling very lonely in their lives.”
Motherhood can be like that, Bonds said. “I would say the whole first year was really challenging. My sense of self was completely fragmented. I kept trying to get back to the person I had been while knowing that person no longer existed and trying to grieve for that person and trying to figure out who the new self was.”
Temple Theaters has also commissioned a play that’s being staged this month. Lauded Latina playwright and poet Marisela Treviño Orta wrote Somewhere, a thrilling sci-fi exploration of climate change and what it means to live and love in a world with an uncertain future. It opens Jan. 29 and runs through Feb. 9 at the Randall Theater on campus, at 1301 W. Norris St. Tickets: $25 ($10 for Temple students).
Philadelphia actor Johnnie Hobbs Jr. has played countless roles in his 34 years on stages in Philadelphia and elsewhere, enough to win a Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.
His current role “is an honor and a challenge,” said Hobbs, 70, and now on stage at the Walnut Street Theatre (through Feb. 9) in a one-man performance as Thurgood Marshall.
“Here I am playing such an iconic man from the 20th century,” Hobbs said of the celebrated lawyer and civil rights activist who became the first African American Supreme Court justice.
“He got so much done under such harsh conditions," Hobbs said. "His life was threatened so often. One night he was stopped on the road, he was taken to a tree where there was a rope. Luckily, it was averted. I am just amazed at his resolve in his ability to work through that.
“I’m trying to capture that resolve,” he said.
Hobbs sees the production Thurgood as a call to action. If Marshall were alive today, he’d probably have this message to deliver to America’s people, Hobbs said: “Stay active. Stay committed. Stay relevant. Get to know what’s happening. I think Thurgood Marshall would advise, ‘Let’s not sit on our tushes.’ ”
Tennessee Williams’ classic Glass Menagerie runs through Feb. 2 at the Phoenix Theatre’s performance space at Salt Performing Arts in Chester Springs. This fledgling company dedicates itself to reenvisioning and reinvigorating theater classics.
Why has Russian President Vladimir Putin been able to grab so much power? Perhaps audiences can gain insight from Describe the Night at the Wilma Theater (Jan. 28-Feb. 16), an award-winning epic set in Russia over the course of 90 years. Winner of the 2018 Obie Award for best new American play, it explores the blurred lines between lies, history, and conspiracy theories.
An unexpected friendship and love triangle inspired playwright Rajiv Joseph and intrigued Blanka Zizka, the Wilma’s artistic director. “A friendship between an artist and politician tends to be treacherous, but in Rajiv’s play the winner and losers are not at all predestined,” Zizka said. “Rajiv is an extraordinarily skillful and imaginative storyteller.”