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What’s New and What’s Not — Summer Theater Roundup and 2010 Barrymore Nominations

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August 8, 2010   ·   13 Comments

Barrymore Awards statues, 2009.  Photo by Hugh E. Dillon.

by Debra Miller

Theater in Philadelphia is flourishing, and that’s good news for all of us who don’t take a summer break from our love of the arts!

Charlie DelMarcelle in Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company’s The Miser. Photo by Andy Hazeltine.

In July, Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company gave the public Free Theatre in the Parks with Moliere’s 17th-century farce The Miser, reset by director Kathryn MacMillan to 1920s Paris, and performed at open-air locations throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. Despite the noisy traffic, shifting passersby, and assorted gawkers at the performance I attended in Love Park, lead actor Charlie DelMarcelle commanded the audience’s attention and stole the show with his physical transformation as the elderly tightwad. It was gratifying to see children, and adults, who generally don’t have access to the arts or can’t afford tickets, enthralled by the makeshift theater and captivating performance.

People’s Light and Theatre

Pete Pryor and Christopher Patrick Mullen in Richard Hellesen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, adapted from the tale by Hans Christian Andersen, at People’s Light & Theatre Company. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Among the highlights of the summer were two engaging productions at People’s Light and Theatre Company in Malvern. The retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes was a hit for all ages; kids loved the slapstick, and adults the clever wit and physical comedy, derived in part from the panto tradition that the company has adopted for its holiday shows of the past six years. Pete Pryor as A Rogue Who Talks and Christopher Patrick Mullen as A Rogue Who Doesn’t were outstanding as the madcap leads in an all-star cast that transported its audience to the magical world of a fairytale.

Peter DeLaurier and Mark Lazar in Jeremy Paul’s The Secret of Sherlock Holmes at People’s Light & Theatre Company. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Acting also reigns supreme in The Secret of Sherlock Holmes (extended through August 15), with Peter DeLaurier as the eponymous detective and Mark Lazar as Dr. Watson. The accomplished two-man cast is supported by sumptuous Victorian costumes and set, and black-and-white video projections that evoke the mysterious Professor Moriarty.

Temple Repertory Theater

Kate Czajkowski, Geneviève Perrier, and Yvette Ganier in Temple Repertory Theater’s Three Sisters. Photo by Michael Persico.

In its inaugural season, Temple Repertory Theater presented new interpretations of classics by Chekhov (The Three Sisters) and Shakespeare (Measure for Measure), employing an artistic staff affiliated with Temple University, and a troupe of actors currently working towards their Master’s degrees. Temple’s large-scale Tomlinson Theater was reconfigured into an intimate space, with audience members seated onstage, up close to such award-winning luminaries as Dan Kern and Geneviève Perrier, and within feet of Dirk Durossette’s sets and Millie Hiibel’s costumes.

Gregg Almquist, Rob Kahn, and Dan Kern in Temple Repertory Theater’s Measure for Measure. Photo by Michael Persico.

Already one of the most respected theater departments in the region, Temple’s new repertory endeavor can only enhance its reputation, with faculty, alumni, and students that read like a Who’s Who of Philadelphia’s theater community.

Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre

Another important training ground for young actors is Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s Classical Acting Academy, now in its second year of presenting free summer productions with talented student casts. A brilliantly re-invented Henry V, directed by the ever-imaginative Aaron Cromie, runs through August 15. Cromie uses the premise of a play-within-a-play; for their final exam, students in a classroom portray the historical characters, to learn their life lessons and Shakespeare’s universal themes.

Ensemble in Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s Henry V. Michael Gregory, holding composition notebook, as king Photo by Tracy Ramone.

The ensemble is consistently excellent; they are the emerging talents to watch in Philadelphia. Especially noteworthy is Michael Gregory as the king, whose regal and imperious attitude, and total mastery of the Elizabethan language, display maturity beyond his twenty years. Victoria Rose Bonito and Bethany Ditnes are also standouts, in a hilarious scene of the French princess attempting to learn English. This production should not be missed; free tickets are available on a first-come-first-served basis three hours before each performance.

This year’s Barrymore Nominations

Barrymore Awards statues, 2009. Photo by Hugh E. Dillon.

Also this summer, the highly anticipated nominations for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre for 2009-10 were announced by the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia (TAGP). Foremost was a Special Recognition Award for the incomparable Pete Pryor, who seemed genuinely thrilled by the honor and the enthusiastic standing ovation he received. Pryor, who has been nominated for a record 17 Barrymore Awards, recently participated in the prestigious Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program, a highly visible national distinction for the top regional theater actors in the country.  No one deserves the accolades more; we are very fortunate to have him in Philadelphia.

Before announcing the nominees, Theatre Alliance stated its goals of doubling ticket sales by 2020, and shifting public perception of theater in Philadelphia “from elitist to accessible.” Considering our country’s economy, these will be daunting tasks, perhaps realized only by promoting the outstanding small companies with affordable tickets that have enlivened the scene over the past two decades.

Kes Khemnu in Arden Theatre Company's Blue Door. Khemnu is nominated for a Barrymore in the competitive category of Best Supporting Actor. Photo by Mark Garvin.

With few exceptions, the Barrymore nominations evinced much of the same consistent taste and local favorites of past years, to the exclusion of many of the best new companies doing first-rate work on shoestring budgets. Nothing for the remarkable seasons of EgoPo or Inis Nua, nothing for New City Stage, nothing for BCKSEET or Amaryllis or Flashpoint or Luna, nothing for Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, though all were among my top picks for the most compelling, intelligent, and imaginative productions of the year, with stellar performances by their casts (see my post of June 25, 2010).

Among the mainstays were 21 nominations for Walnut Street, 18 for Arden, 12 for Philadelphia Theatre Company, 9 for the Wilma. Am I the only one who has noticed a direct correlation between annual budget/age of company and number of nominations? This is not to imply that the nominees shouldn’t be congratulated for their accomplishments, but simply to question if the smaller, newer companies can compete on equal ground against such financial disparity and longtime establishments?

Scott Greer and William Zielinski in Theatre Exile’s Shining City. Photo by Jorge Cousineau.

After last year’s controversial snubs, Theatre Exile and Lantern Theater Company were recognized this time. Exile’s five nominations were spread equitably among its three exceptional productions, and included two of my selections for acting nominations (Pete Pryor for Best Supporting Actor in Any Given Monday, co-produced by Act II Playhouse; and Scott Greer for Best Actor in Shining City). Lantern’s twelve nominations were not as well balanced, coming up short for Shakespeare, with only a single nod to its superb acting (Andrew Kane for Best Supporting Actor), one for J. Alex Cordaro’s masterful choreography, and one with Da Vinci Art Alliance for New Approaches to Collaboration.

Andrew Kane in Lantern Theater Company’s Henry IV, Part I. Photo by Mark Garvin.

I’m happy that two of my other top picks were nominated: Dave Jadico for his well-designed rustic set for Delaware Theatre Company’s The Foocy; and Kes Khemnu for his stirring story-telling in Arden’s Blue Door, as Best Supporting Actor—perhaps the most competitive category this year.

I hope that the rest of my top picks feel honored by the critical acclaim and audience response they received, and by the personal gratification their outstanding talent brings them; I look forward to more of their excellent work in 2010-11. Winners of this year’s Barrymores will be announced at the awards ceremony on Monday, October 4.

[In the interests of full disclosure, I serve as President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance, and as a Barrymore voter for 2010-11].

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13 Responses to “What’s New and What’s Not — Summer Theater Roundup and 2010 Barrymore Nominations”

  1. Deb, After a year of being a Barrymore Voter you are getting to the heart of how the system works. Good work. They are lucky to have you…
    Tricia

  2. maria keane says:

    Debra, Your contribution to the blog is so appreciated. A great review of wonderful productions with some of my favorite actors. We are so fortunate to have major talents blessing these productions. I only wish I had seen more of them. Thanks for your comments; I wish it was a syndicated column so more people could enjoy. maria keane

  3. Stacy Dutton says:

    Deb – great round-up of our wonderful summer of theater in Philly. You are spot-on about the Barrymore’s with one small exception to your observation about budget = nominations, and that is Lantern Theater Company’s 12 nominations, a huge achievement given a modest budget (full disclosure – I serve as president of the LTC Board). You are so right that it is such a shame that Charlie DelMarcelle and Amaryllis were not recognized for the achingly beautiful “I Am My Own Wife”. Here’s to October 4th!

  4. Deb Miller says:

    To Stacy Dutton

    That’s why I said “with few exceptions”–Lantern is one of those, about which we’re both happy!

  5. Deb Miller says:

    To Tricia O’Halloran

    I haven’t been a Barrymore voter for a year, just beginning now for the 2010-11 season, and very much looking forward to it!

  6. Deb Miller says:

    To Maria Keane

    Very happy to know that readers of theartblog are interested in theater as well as fine art. As Voltaire said, “All of the arts are brothers; each one is a light to the others.”

  7. jordan ramos says:

    Hi Deb,
    In reading your posts about 3 Sisters at Temple Rep you wrote about “award-winning luminaries” such as Dan Kern and Genevieve Perrier. All true. But the actress, Yvette Ganier, fresh from Broadway, is also an award winner. She won an OBIE in New York in 2002 for a play called Breath Boom at Playwrights Horizons. I was just wondering if there is some reason why you did not give her a mention as well. Thanks!

  8. Deb Miller says:

    Only because of space restrictions; the cast was outstanding, I wish I’d had room to mention everyone.

  9. jordan ramos says:

    Too bad. Coming from Broadway’s The Miracle Worker (spring) and then straight into Temple Rep (summer) seems worthy of a mention. Kudos to Temple for having her. Add an OBIE on top of that along with the fact that she is a native Philadelphian, I just don’t see how those credits don’t add up to a mention. The press dropped the ball! Her name is recognized by theatre people all over the country. She was a muse of August Wilson’s and her name is published in a few of his works. And she gets no mention in the press? She had the most national and international credits and was the biggest “star” on that stage! SMH! (shaking my head)

  10. libby says:

    Hi, Jordan, First of all, thanks to you for adding Ganier’s name here in this thread. That will have to serve for now. We did ask Deb to cut the piece by 1/3, which means that all kinds of amazing folks she wanted to include and name got taken out of the list. I have to back up Deb here and defer to her judgment on who she chose, when pushed to the wall by us.
    As a writer, I know those decisions sometimes have other reasons than excellence. Sometimes people are exemplars of a point so they get included. Deb has a right to her tastes and her decisions. And so do you. I love that you are so impassioned in your support for Ganier. I must say it sounds like she is extraordinary!!

  11. jordan ramos says:

    Thanks for responding, Ms. Libby. As an avid theater-goer I was simple surprised that an artist of Mr. Ganier’s experience and name-recognition in the American theatre, would not get merely a mention, but the fact that she was not interviewed prior to the opening was also a misdoing. She was passed over by the Philadelphia mainstream press which I find annoying to say the least. This is a blog and Deb is indeed entitled to her “taste” in her own blog. I’m not annoyed with Deb I’m perhaps informing her. And, in consideration, my response and the information about Ms. Ganier’s career might be news to you as well. But this is not a matter of taste but rather a matter of fact that an artist of Ms. Ganier’s caliber, in most places, gets recognition for the tremendous body of work which precedes her. I am particularly curious about this because Philadelphia is her hometown. Whats different about Philadelphia? Things that make me Shake My Head.

  12. libby says:

    I get your point, and I will pass your comment along. Again, thanks for raising the issue and clearing the record.

  13. jordan ramos says:

    Thanks, Ms. Libby, for your understanding!

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