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Harrowgate neighbors have shaped Shakespeare to fit their own time and place | Philly Theater Notes

Also in our weekly roundup of Philly theater news: Theatre in the X mounts "The West Philly Meeting" in Malcolm X Park and Theatre on the Verge presents "As You Like It" at the Abington Art Center.

A "Peril's Island" rehearsal with (from left) Dennis Payne, Kalea Prosser, Monica Wright, Nyla Roberson, and Rachel O'Hanlon-Rodriguez.
A "Peril's Island" rehearsal with (from left) Dennis Payne, Kalea Prosser, Monica Wright, Nyla Roberson, and Rachel O'Hanlon-Rodriguez.Read moreDan Kontz

Pirates kidnap the daughter of Pericles, take her to an island kingdom, and sell her to a brothel. That’s just one element of the many plot twists and turns in William Shakespeare’s Pericles: Prince of Tyre. But it’s the element that captured the imagination of a team of community artists from the Harrowgate neighborhood who are staging an outdoor version of the play in Harrowgate Park this weekend.

Monica Wright, who owns the neighborhood restaurant Mango Bahia and plays Peril in the adaptation of the play, Peril’s Island, says the Harrowgate rendition combines her neighborhood’s two most notable characteristics: chaos and caring.

Harrowgate, near Kensington, is “a perfectly mixed-up neighborhood where people take care of each other in the midst of every type of chaos,” she said.

“We have chaos, but it’s organized chaos.”

In the play, neighborhood children gather materials to restore a beloved fountain that once existed in real life at the park. Meanwhile, pirates come by and tear apart their work.

But, because both pirates and kids gather at the park, they build relationships — as Harrowgate’s neighbors do in real life with people living with addiction or selling drugs. The pirate/brothel thread of the play generated a conversation about how the neighborhood’s economy coexists with the illicit economy, said Kittson O’Neill, Shakespeare in Clark Park’s artistic director.

Peril’s Island is directed by Sam Tower and was written by Alexandra Espinoza and people from the community in collaboration with the Shakespeare in Clark Park organization.

Wright, who is in the play with her two granddaughters, called the process of developing the play and rehearsing with the group ”extremely peaceful. … I love going, and I’m looking forward to performing.”

Free performances begin at 6 p.m., Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Harrowgate Park, 3455 Kensington Ave. Audiences will move around the park scene by scene in groups, at 15-minute intervals. Sign up for a slot at Masks encouraged but not required.

Another version of Shakespeare’s “Pericles,” “Germantown Plays Pericles,” will be performed Aug. 27-29 at Vernon Park in Germantown.

‘The West Philly Meeting’

Two significant periods in West Philadelphia history — the 1985 MOVE bombing and the 52nd Street police teargassing and confrontations in the summer of 2020 — are the foundation for the new play The West Philly Meeting, written by Dwayne Alistair Thomas and presented Aug. 15, 22, and 29 at Malcom X Park by the innovative Theatre in the X.

The play arose from two years of conversations between the theater company and West Philadelphia neighbors, at first about what people liked about their neighborhood and what they wished would change.

The conversation went beyond that, said Theatre in the X Executive Director LaNeshe Miller-White, to what people would like to see on stage, with a split between those who thought themes of racism and injustice offered important lessons and those who wanted to see more joy and more tales of ordinary life.

That same dichotomy shows up in the 1985 part of the play, Miller-White said, when two female characters who are friends (modeled after two West Philly friends who showed up for the meetings) disagree strongly with how to address the legacy of the MOVE bombing.

They push each other — one pressing the importance of lessons to be learned and the other pressing the importance of moving forward and enjoying life with her family.

In both halves of the play, there are characters who step in and try to unite the community, Miller-White said. “It is truly amazing how Dwayne has crafted a set of characters who all have differing opinions, but at the end of the show you somehow agree with them all.”

The West Philly Meeting had originally been set for production last summer, but the pandemic forced its postponement.

Performances at 5 p.m. Aug. 15, 22, and 29 and Malcolm X Park, 5100 Pine St. Free, bring your own chair, online donations encouraged at

Free beer for thespians

To celebrate the return to live theater, My Local Brew Works, a nano-brewery in Frankford, is offering free beer to theater folks — light crews, actors, ticket booth staff, and more — who register on its website. Four-packs can be picked up from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11, at the Wilma Theater.

More outdoor Shakespeare

A new theater troupe, Theatre on the Verge, is presenting As You Like It on the grounds of the Abington Art Center. The shows go on at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free, donations encouraged.