Jane M. Von Bergen rounds up news, notes, and deals from the theater scene in and around Philly.

What if you grow up and you’re just a nothing in a nothing town?

You strive to set a world record for longest fingernails. Shridhar Chillal, of Pune, India, would be the man to beat — one of his was six and a half feet long.

But what if you even fail that? Then what? That’s the navigational theme of Ship, an Azuka Theatre production at the Drake. Nell, back in town and fresh out of rehab, seeks out a former classmate, the one growing the nails. Both are a little obsessed. “It was kind of funny. In writing this play, I just went down this weird rabbit hole,” said playwright Douglas Williams, a Temple grad who lives in South Philly.

Michael A. Stahler (Jeremiah) & Annie Fang (Nell) in Azuka Theatre's production of Ship.
All images by Johanna Austin/AustinArt.org
Michael A. Stahler (Jeremiah) & Annie Fang (Nell) in Azuka Theatre's production of Ship.

Williams describes Ship as a redemption story. The play’s two main characters “are both striving to find out what’s special about themselves,” he said. As are we all.

Through March 15 at the Proscenium at the Drake, Azuka Theatre, 302 S. Hicks St., pay what you decide after seeing the play, 215-563-1100, azukatheatre.org.

At West Side Story, a protest

When West Side Story opened on Broadway at the end of February, Megan Rabin, 20, of West Chester, was outside for the red-carpet event — but not as a fan.

Rabin, a student at Northeastern University in Boston, was among 70 to 100 protesters demanding that Amar Ramasar, starring as Bernardo, be fired because of his alleged role in a 2018 scandal involving male New York City Ballet dancers, and a donor, who shared nude and compromising photos of ballerinas they had dated.

Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening night of "West Side Story" at The Broadway Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in New York.
Greg Allen / Greg Allen/Invision/AP
Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening night of "West Side Story" at The Broadway Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in New York.

When that news first broke, Rabin said, “it made me sick to my stomach to read.” Bernardo was fired from the ballet company but reinstated following arbitration and has since apologized in a letter to West Side Story cast members, according to the New York Times.

Not satisfied, Rabin made the trek to New York for the musical’s big opening night to be part of the protest. Some of the theatergoers at the red-carpet event “seemed conflicted,” she said. “I think it was difficult to walk by us.”

This May 24, 2017 file photo shows ballet dancer Amar Ramasar when he attended a screening at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, in New York.
Brent N. Clarke / Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP
This May 24, 2017 file photo shows ballet dancer Amar Ramasar when he attended a screening at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, in New York.

Rabin had already done more than hold a sign. Last year, she instituted an online change.org petition, “Get Amar Ramasar Off The Stage.” Addressed to Ivo van Hove, director of the long-anticipated gritty remake of West Side Story, and its producer, Scott Rudin, the petition had drawn more than 49,500 signers by Monday morning.

“The ultimate goal is for Amar to lose his role in West Side Story,” Rabin said. “Even if we can’t remove Amar, just showing that there will be repercussions” is worth it.

A spokesperson for the production did not return Inquirer emails requesting comments from Ramasar or Rudin. The production has stood behind Ramasar, describing his work as “brilliant.”

How did a 20-year-old behavioral neuroscience major from the Philly suburbs become involved in a musical theater protest on Broadway?

As a girl, Rabin had dreamed of being a ballerina. She followed favorite dancers and ballet companies on social media, including the New York City Ballet and student-ballerina Alexandra Waterbury. “My dream was to dance with the New York City Ballet, so I followed them,” she said. “I felt like I had this connection.”

It was Waterbury who brought the picture-sharing allegations to light when she filed a civil lawsuit against the ballet company, one of its donors, its ballet school, Ramasar, and two other dancers, one of whom is a former boyfriend.

What makes the Ramasar protest especially interesting is that it has been led by young women. Paige Levy, the driving force on social media behind the opening-night protest is a 17-year-old high school senior from New York City.

Waterbury and Levy were both on hand with Rabin for the opening night protest outside the Broadway Theatre.

"I do feel heard,” Rabin said in a statement last week. “They tried to ignore us and tried to brush us off, but we have made our voices heard and forced them to recognize the gravity of our stance on Amar.

Friends, frenemies, foes?

In The Agitators, Susan B. Anthony, a white suffragist wanting to win the vote for women, meets black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who wants to win the vote for African Americans.

Allies? Mostly. Icons? Always.

Well, maybe not always. “What we see is the alienation of black women from both their crusades,” said Cheyenne Barboza, directing Mat Smart’s play at Theatre Horizon through March 22. Black men gained the right to vote in 1870; women gained their voting rights in 1920, but it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed that all black women were able to exercise their rights to vote.

Charlotte Northeast (who plays Susan), Steve Wright (who plays Frederick), and Director Cheyenne Barboza at Theatre Horizon, preparing for THE AGITATORS.
Daniel Kontz
Charlotte Northeast (who plays Susan), Steve Wright (who plays Frederick), and Director Cheyenne Barboza at Theatre Horizon, preparing for THE AGITATORS.

Barboza says Douglass and Anthony, who were friends and had tremendous respect for each other, deserve their pedestals in history, but we also need to see “how problematic both of them were.” The question Barboza has for the audience is, “How do take our American heroes and learn from them? How do we learn from their mistakes? I want us all to examine: Does the ends justify the means?”

Coming soon

Oedipus El Rey, a bilingual production of the Sophocles Greek tragedy, set in Los Angeles, runs March 7-22, at the Arden Theatre Co., produced by Teatro Del Sol, now in residence at the Arden.