When playwright Derrell Lawrence was 14 years old growing up in South Philadelphia, his sister died of murder in a murder-suicide. It rocked his world, inflicting emotional and spiritual wounds that are taking a lifetime to heal. He took to the streets. “I was hustling,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
He couldn’t turn to friends or family — that kind of vulnerability could be dangerous, and his ego was too big. So, one day, in despair, he picked up a pen and wrote out his feelings in a torrent of words. Long story short, those feelings turned into a play, Life Isn’t Fair, on stage Sunday, Nov. 21 at the Met Philadelphia.
Damien J. Wallace, who has performed almost everywhere in Philly, directs an all-star lineup: Clifton Powell from Ray, Menace II Society, and Dead Presidents; Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from The Wire; American Idol finalist Paris Bennett, and gospel Grammy nominee Jekalyn Carr. Lawrence joins the cast on stage, playing the main character as an adult.
Lawrence roughly based the play on parts of his own life. (After the main character’s sister and mother die in a car accident, the character, then 14, turns to the street.) In the show, the main character winds up in prison and is later released to adjust to a changed world and changed expectations.
“He starts working in a detail shop and finds love, but his past comes back to haunt him. It’s a very personal and spiritual story — deals with good and bad. Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t the best thing and sometimes the best thing isn’t the right thing,” Lawrence said.
“When people ask if it’s a true story, I tell them it’s a real story.”
Life Isn’t Fair started its life as a movie after a friend happened to pick up Lawrence’s writing about his experiences and started reading it. “He said, `Man this should be a movie,’ ” Lawrence recalled.
Lawrence produced the film in 2007, which went on to win prizes, among them the Silver Award and the People’s Choice Award from the Philadelphia International Film Festival. It became a play in 2015 and Lawrence said it will go on the road to Atlanta, Houston, and Detroit next year.
Lawrence describes his path in the world of film and theater primarily as happenstance — meeting the right people at the right time, being mentored, and also being unwilling to sell his work to others so they’d reap the benefits of his creativity.
“I don’t go along with what everybody else does,” he said.
Nov. 21, 6 p.m., the Met Philadelphia, 858 N. Broad St., Philadelphia. Masks and printed proof of vaccination required. For ticket information: eventbrite.com.
‘The Chinese Lady’
There’s still time to catch The Chinese Lady by Lloyd Suh at Interact Theatre. In 1834, Afong May was the first known Chinese female immigrant to the United States, brought here by traders Nathaniel and Frederick Carne. Exhibiting her as “The Chinese Lady,” they used her as a marketing ploy to promote goods from China, although she had dreams of bridging the two countries’ cultures. The show made a stopover in Philadelphia in January 1835, where a panel of physicians unbound her feet and examined them, verifying that they were indeed 4 ¾ inches, according to research from The Library Company of Philadelphia. Such an examination would have been unthinkable in China, raising questions of exploitation. Justin Jain directs Bi Jean Ngo in the title role and Dan Kim, as Afong May’s interpreter.
Greystone Hall stars in ‘The Manor’
Even though Velda Jerrehian Moog got married at the magnificent Greystone Hall in West Chester, raised her family there, and still lives there, she was hard-pressed to remember how many rooms her mansion has. “There are 50 rooms with windows,” she guessed, noting that some were just closets or dressing rooms.
Now the manor is the setting for The Manor, a play about money, madness, and marriage based on the rise and fall of a wealthy California family caught up in the Teapot Dome scandal. The original play, by Katherine Bates, was first staged at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, where the events that inspired the original script took place.
Produced by community theater actors from Colonial Playhouse in Aldan, the East Coast version brings the audience together for the first act, but then divides into three groups to move around the mansion, seeing different scenes in different rooms — all simultaneous developments in the play. They regroup for the final act, and the publicists promise a “shocking conclusion.”
Moog’s father came to the United States as a 15-year-old and, with his family, built a successful rug business, Jerrehian Brothers Rugs. When Greystone Hall, completed in 1907 for wealthy Chester County businessman Philip M. Sharples, came up for sale, her father bought it along with 500 acres. Most of those acres have been sold off or turned into a park, but Moog is determined to keep the house and the 35 acres around it available to the people in the Philadelphia region.
“This house costs a lot of money to just live in,” she said. “Many places will get torn down because they can’t keep up the taxes and they can’t keep up the upkeep. But if you don’t do that, you’ll lose the house.”
The mansion, with its gracious gardens, now serves as a wedding venue. “It’s magical,” said Moog who was the first in her family to be married there in 1960. Moog says sounds don’t carry, so she hears nothing in her part of the house when wedding guests are celebrating below. (Moog’s daughter lives in an apartment in what was once the servant’s wing.)
Even though Moog couldn’t remember at first, she later emailed an accounting of some of the rooms in the mansion: 14 first-floor rooms, nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, three powder rooms, nine rooms on the third floor including a bowling alley, 15 fireplaces, and seven chimneys.
Through Nov. 28 at Greystone Hall, West Chester. Masks, which are required for a part of the performance, will be provided. For information, greystonehall.com/the-manor or colonialplayhouse.net, 610-622-5773
‘Two Outta Three’: One Empty Nest
“Hello. I think I know you.” It’s disconcerting when suddenly, after years of a couple being joined in the partnership of parenthood, their children leave home and it’s just the two of them. It’s weird. It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s a time when the new (just the two of us) hearkens back, with so many changes, to the old (Remember? Just the two of us).
All this and more forms the basis for Two Outta Three, the comic and heartfelt return-to-theater cabaret offering from 1812 Productions, Philadelphia’s all-comedy theater company. Philadelphia actors Scott Greer and Jennifer Childs, who is 1812′s producing artistic director, are funny people in general and Two Outta Three is their story morphed into a show. The two are married and sent their only daughter off to college in the pandemic.
Nov.19-21 at Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. Masks and vaccine proof required. A live performance will be captured for digital presentation Dec. 6-19. For tickets, information 1812productions.org.
Playwright Tennessee Williams is best known for A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie. But in between works, he’d retreat to hotels all over the world and write short sketches, experimenting with form, style, and tone. In Hotel Williams, Temple University’s student actors present a half dozen of these works — none of them long enough to create an evening of theater, but powerful as a package.
Through Nov. 18, Randall Theater at Temple, 2020 N. 13th St., Philadelphia. Masks required; vaccinations encouraged. Tickets at onthestage.tickets.
Also on stage
Through Nov. 20, Wedding Band from Old Academy Players. This play, written by Black playwright Alice Childress in the 1960s and set in 1918, centers on two themes: an interracial relationship and a pandemic. (OldAcademyPlayers.org, 3544 Indian Queen Lane, Philadelphia 215-843-1109,) Through Nov. 21, The Book of Moron. Brainwashed by Kardashian worshipers, a man sees his IQ drop from IQ to Q. (Montgomery Theater Co., 124 N. Main St. Souderton, 215-753-9984.)