These are the shows that Philly theater insiders can’t wait to see this spring
Playwright James Ijames' world premiere, 'Fat Ham,' a new comedy from 1812 productions, and a virtual festival from the Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists are just a few of the highlights.
In any year, Philly Theatre Week is an extravaganza. And this year, the over-the-top celebration of the region’s theater chops is more heartening, more poignant, more brave.
Stages have been dark, curtains down. Hundreds of actors, producers, costume designers, stage managers, box office workers, lighting crews, and musicians have lost their livelihoods.
And yet the show is going on. Or rather, the shows are going on — hundreds of performances, some live outdoors, over 11 days from April 22 through May 2, at ticket prices of $30, $15, or free. (Details for all at theatrephiladelphia.org.) One play is being presented as a drive-in.
“It’s saying, ‘We are still here. We are still creating,’ ” said LaNeshe Miller-White, executive director of Theatre Philadelphia, which organizes Theatre Week.
And this spring’s theater offerings don’t stop there. Wilma Theater’s Fat Ham, premiering as part of Theatre Week, continues through May 23, for example. Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists (PAPA) debuts its virtual festival, Come to Papa, on June 10.
We asked some of the region’s directors, producers, and actors what’s on their must-see list this season.
Her projects: Theatre in the X and Theatre Exile are coproducing Pass Over, a modern twist on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Two young Black men stand on a street corner, passing time, talking trash, and waiting for their circumstances to change. Starts June 10. Miller-White is also curating a May performance, Black Femme Magic, presented by Bearded Ladies Cabaret Company’s Beardmobile. “It’s pop-up and outdoor theater” from a truck, that will be appearing in parking lots around the city.
Spring theater picks:
“I saw my very first drive-in movie last summer, so I’m looking forward to drive-in theater — Nocturne by EgoPo Classic Theater — feeling safe and contained and seeing live art. Walter DeShields is an amazing actor and someone I always enjoy watching. (April 27-May 9, drive-in or lawn chair seating at Sedgley Avenue, across from Reyburn Park at Sedgley Avenue in North Philadelphia, details at egopo.org.)
Fat Ham. “I love James Ijames’ work. I love everything he has written. Brennen S. Malone, whom we had [at Theatre in the X] inThe Wiz, is amazing. He is dedicated to his craft.” A Wilma Theater production. (April 29-May 23, filmed and streaming on demand at wilmatheater.org.)
A Doll’s House 20/20. “The characters are going through COVID-19 like us, so them talking through Zoom is not a stretch. It was built for Zoom.” Produced by Laurel Tree Theater and based on Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 classic. (April 22-May 2, prerecorded and available on demand at adollshouse.net.)
Tom Reing, founder and artistic director, Inis Nua Theatre Co.
Projects: Inis Nua is producing the American premiere of How to Be Brave, by Siân Owen. Funny and joyous, the Welsh play tells the story of a mother who goes on an odyssey in her hometown of Newport, Wales. She steals a bike, falls into a river, confronts her school-age bully, and finds courage. (Through April 25, recorded and streaming on demand at inisnuatheatre.org).
Spring theater picks:
The Way I Walk at 1812 Productions. “I trust Jen Childs, the producing artistic director, that it will be funny, and we need a good laugh right now.” (April 28-May 23, streaming live at 1812productions.org).
The Niceties. “I’m a big supporter of InterAct Theatre. They do social and political theater, and this is a political piece, so I’m engaged with that. I’m a big fan of KC (Kathryn MacMillan), the director.” Eleanor Burgess’ play is a riveting two-person drama about a Black student and her white professor who hold different views on the student’s paper on slavery and the American Revolution. (through May 9, presented as a free video at interacttheatre.org).
Zoo Motel, Theatre Exile. “Thaddeus Philips [who directs and stars] is a great artist. It has magic, apparently, and who doesn’t like that?” (Broadcast live in eight performances April 22-May 2 at theatreexile.org).
Projects: Jain is directing No Child, by Nilaja Sun for the Arden Theatre Co. “This story takes a deep dive into the overlooked life of a teaching artist in a NYC public school.” (April 27 -May 9, streaming as part of the spring digital season at ardentheatre.org). He is also directing Jaedto Israel’s Overgrown, an online choose-your-own-adventure musical comedy video game from the University of the Arts Ira Brind School of Theater Arts. (Coming in May at uarts.edu/brind-virtual-seasons.)
The virtual festival Come to Papa from the Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists (PAPA), which “will celebrate the ingenuity and necessity of our Pan-Asian performing arts community,” Jain says. “As an Asian-American theatre artist, part of my mission is to raise our visibility on Philadelphia stages and in our rehearsal rooms. For many years early in my career — I came to Philly in 2000 — the professional landscape didn’t have many seats at the table for me. This festival is important to support, these voices vital to uplift.” (June 10-20, details at phillyasianartists.com).
Arden Theatre Company’s Cabaret with Joilet Harris and Mary Martello. “The singers the Arden has curated for its Cabaret Series are not only stellar, award-winning performers but also incredibly magnetic and generous people you’ll want to spend time with.” (May 24-June 6, donate to stream at Arden Theatre Co.)
Fat Ham. I’ve been looking forward to this production since my dear friend and playwright James Ijames lent me a first draft to read years ago. This contemporary take on Hamlet is set in the American South and explodes the family drama at a cookout in ways I’ve never before seen onstage nor film.” (April 29-May 23, filmed and streaming on demand at wilmatheater.org.)
Brennen Savon Malone, actor and teaching artist
Projects: Starting next week, he plays the role of Juicy in Ijames’ Fat Ham for the Wilma Theater. (April 29-May 23).
Picks for the season:
Ignite from the Strides Collective: “I am a vehement supporter of this company. They always produce amazing, engaging, and thought-provoking work, and Ignite is no exception,” Malone says, citing its “stunning turns, excitement, and complex relationships. This blossoming company, helmed by Jonathan Edmonson, never ceases to amaze me with its commitment to diversity and inclusion.” (April 22-May 2, free audio production via Spotify, details at stridescollective.com)
No Child at Arden, with “a ridiculously talented creative team,” including actor Taysha Marie Canales. “I’m incredibly excited to see what this show has in store because I trust and believe it’s going to beautifully done,” Malone says. (April 27 -May 9, streaming as part of the spring digital season at ardentheatre.org).
Birth. Sparkle. Death. A New Music Spectacular. This experimental short film for Theatre Week starring Hannah Parke follows a woman diagnosed with a rare brain disorder through the stages of grief. Parke has “one of the most magical voices that I’ve heard as well as the acting chops to move the soul,” Malone says. “I am so sure that this performance will … fill my heart and so many others.” (Available digitally at 7 p.m. April 22-25, and through May 2 via theatrephiladelphia.org)