Archive for November, 2010

Lancaster County Commissioners Repeal Human Relations Ordinance

November 17, 2010

Religious groups joined the effort to keep commission. With microphone, Rabbi Paskoff addresses crowd last fall while The Committee to Defend Civil Rights in Lancaster organizer and activist Adanjesus Marin looks on.

In a 2-1 vote this morning, Lancaster County Board of Commissioners voted to abolish its 40-year-old countywide Human Relations Ordinance.

Calling the measure an effort at “cost containment,” Commissioners Scott Martin and Dennis Stuckey approved abolishment. Commissioner Craig Lehman voted against closing down the operation. In a long, public dialogue that drew people to public meetings with signs and forged coalitions, commissioners’ vote had been long awaited.

“While I know that the Lancaster County ordinance was not lgbt-specific, a civil right is a civil right,” explained Equality Pennsylvania board president Brian Sims. “Any protection against discrimination is a benefit for everyone in a community. Today the commissioners claimed their actions were driven by a simple need to save money. Let’s hope that argument isn’t a precursor to what may happen in Harrisburg when the General Assembly starts wrestling with the budget challenges faced by the state come January 2011.”

Cost containment also plagues capital city Harrisburg. Will the city be the next local governmental entity to drop its human relations commission?

As reported in the Sept-Oct 2010 issue, Central Voice discovered a recommendation by Management Partners, Inc. that the financially beleaguered capital city eliminate its Human Resources Commission and forward all complaints to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The recommendation is on page 244 of a 257-page document prepared last January, originally a 29-page document, and expanded in April to 257 pages by Management Partners. The consulting firm had been asked by Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson to prepare a financial management plan for the city to consider as it seeks ways to pay down $288 million in debt.

Although the report is now thought of as no longer “in play,” cost containment never goes out of fashion. Harrisburg city controller Dan Miller in a formal report to city council forecast income of $54 million for 2011, about $6 million less than recent years’ annual budgets.

Like Harrisburg, the Lancaster County Human Relations Commission is a taxpayer-funded agency started in 1962 to resolve local conflicts. Supporters have said it’s more in touch with the Lancaster community than a similar statewide agency, but those who backed the proposal to cut the agency have said it’s redundant.

Equality Pennsylvania partnered with and supported the efforts of leading repeal opponent, The Committee to Defend Civil Rights in Lancaster. Led by activist Adanjesus Marin, the group began its work in March 2010 when they initiated a public campaign to add lgbt protections to the county ordinance. Their efforts began after a public forum on a similar statewide initiative in which about 250 Lancaster residents expressed strong support for such protections.

“Today’s vote once again demonstrates the inherent unity of the lgbt equality movement with the broader civil rights movement. This attack on all civil rights was in part a reaction to our community’s demands for inclusion. The enemies of lgbt rights and civil rights are the same and as we move forward to win protection against lgbt discrimination we will continue to fight side by side to restore the protections taken away today,” Marin commented.

John Waters’ Mink Stole & Band at Stage on Herr Dec. 17

November 17, 2010

Best known for her work in the films of close friend John Waters, Mink Stole is considered one of the Dreamlanders, Waters’ ensemble of regular cast and crew members. Along with Mary Vivian Pearce, she is one of only two actors to appear in all of his films to date.

Dec. 17 in Harrisburg, she and her band will entertain. Before the show which begins at 9 p.m., John Waters’ star Susan Lowe (Desperate Living) will be opening a month long showing of new paintings at The Mantis Collective, 1306 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg

“On Dec. 17, I’ll be with my band – my Wonderful Band, that’s what I call them – at Stage on Herr. A full-on Xmas Show. Fun all around,” she tells Central Voice. She’s excited about her upcoming album. “I’m excited. I’m getting ready to go into the recording studio with my band. It’s the first album I’ve ever done, so I’m looking forward to that.” She’s excited because “the album is basically mine, not something that someone else is doing. I’ve chosen all the songs myself.”

She loves Harrisburg’s burgeoning Third Street Corridor. “It’s trying – and succeeding – to be a cultural center in the region.” She’s so familiar she names venues. “I loved going to the Historic Harrisburg Association. You have Moviate and Mantis Collective, and Midtown Cinema.”

Who: Mink Stole and Her Wonderful Band
What: John Waters’ Dreamland Superstar performs a Xmas Cabaret Act
Where: Stage On Herr, 268 Herr St., Harrisburg
When: Fri., Dec. 17, Doors open 7 p.m., Show 9 p.m.
Presented by MOVIATE and STAGE ON HERR

SPECIAL: Before the event at 6 p.m. John Waters’ star Susan Lowe (Desperate Living) will be opening a month long showing of new paintings at The Mantis Collective, 1306 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg.

DEVELOPING NEWS: DADT Opponents Arrested Yesterday, Protest Again Today

November 17, 2010

Pressure Mounts, Vets & Advocates Arrested Yesterday, Tonight Protest White House’s “Quiet, Low-Profile” Common Purpose Meeting

Some Say Secret White House Meeting Meant to Enforce, Crack Down on Progressive Organizations and Messaging

Washington, DC. – This evening, seven of the original 13 LGBT veterans and advocates who were arrested yesterday at the White House fence, stood outside of the Capital Hilton (1001 16th Street NW) in Washington, DC to protest the White House’s “Common Purpose” meeting, a mostly secret, low-profile gathering of White House officials and institutional, progressive organizations aimed at controlling the agenda and messaging around those issues, which includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.

The invite-only meeting, first launched back in 2009 by White House Chief of Staff Rahmn Emanuel, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and others, has been previously criticized by liberal, progressive bloggers and advocates for its attempt to shut-down any resistance to the White House’s strategy by instilling fear of retribution amongst the organizations invited.
Video of this evening’s Common Purpose meeting protest will be available shortly at:
The group of seven LGBT veterans and advocates stood outside the Capitol Hilton tonight in the rain, greeting attendees with a simple, direct message: “There’s No Common Purpose Without Equality.” Amongst the list of attendees to the Common Purpose meeting tonight were: David Smith, VP of the Human Rights Campaign and Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force – two of the nation’s largest LGBT organizations; and officials from the Center for American Progress (CAP), including Winnie Stachelberg, Senior Vice President for External Affairs, who has claimed credit for drafting the compromise legislation and strategy on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, putting in grave danger the chances of repeal happening this year – despite numerous promises to the contrary.

David Smith, Vice President of Policy and Strategy for the Human Rights Campaign, Winnie Stachelberg, Sr. VP for External Affairs for CAP; Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, were greeted tonight by the protestors and asked to stand with the LGBT community and not attend the meeting. All three of them chose instead to cross the protest line and enter into the hotel. Smith refused saying, “I’m running late.”

Also, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and White House Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement Brian Bond were also in attendance and greeted tonight by protestors who chanted “What’s Your Plan?” and “Tell Obama to Keep His Promise!”

“We stand outside in the rain tonight because we have a simple message to deliver to the White House and those attending this meeting, ‘there is no common purpose without equality’,” said LGBT veteran Evelyn Thomas, twice arrested at the White House fence for protesting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and a former Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. “From the White House fence to the steps of the U.S. Capitol or outside the entrance of the hotel holding your secret, low-profile meeting, we are prepared to go anywhere, at any time of day, until you deliver on your promise of equality for all Americans.”

The group of LGBT veterans and advocates held signs at tonight’s protest reading:

• There’s No Common Purpose Without Equality;
• Messina DADT “This Year”?;
• What’s the Plan?(referring to the recent answer President Obama gave to LGBT blogger, Joe Sudbay, that he had a plan to pass the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the lame-duck session)
• Human Rights Campaign Stand With Us!
• DADT C.A.P. Compromise – What Did It Get Us, Winnie?

Yesterday afternoon, three generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans and advocates – including the seven protesting the “Common Purpose” meeting tonight – went to the White House fence to call for the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and President Obama to make good on their promises to secure the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the abbreviated, lame-duck session of Congress that started on the same day. Photos and video of the White House fence protest and arrests can be viewed at:

The seven LGBT veterans and advocates participating in this evening’s “Common Purpose” meeting protest outside tonight include:

• Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cpl. Evelyn Thomas – both were arrested back in April during the GetEQUAL“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” act of civil disobedience at the White House fence demanding President Obama show leadership on repeal;
• Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL and a lesbian mother of two who has been arrested three times and organized dozens of actions in an effort to gain equality.
• Former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Elzie who, in 1993, became the first Marine ever investigated and discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. Elzie was also the first soldier to be discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to fight his discharge and win – resulting in his service as a Marine for four years as an openly gay man.
• U.S. Army Veteran and Repeal Advocate Rob Smith, who was deployed to both Iraq and Kuwait before being honorably discharged after deciding not to re-enlist in the U.S. Army due to the added pressure of living under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
• Scott Wooledge, a New York-based LGBT civil rights advocate and blogger who has written extensively on the movement to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at Daily Kos and Pam’s House Blend.
• Dan Fotou, GetEQUAL’s action strategist and one of the group of 13 arrested at the White House yesterday.
GetEQUAL is a national, direct action lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization. Thje newly-formed group emphasizes direct action.

Celebrate Holiday Season with Show in Philly

November 15, 2010

by Debra Miller
Central Voice Phila. Arts Correspondent

MORE PHOTOS BELOW – A great way to celebrate the season is by enjoying holiday-themed plays with family and friends. Not only do you get to spend quality time together, but theater tickets make fabulous presents, and your purchase also helps to support Philadelphia’s cultural community. That’s three gifts in one.

Among this year’s top picks are premieres of new works and remounts of old favorites. Lantern Theater Company celebrates one of Philadelphia’s most compelling actor/playwrights in a three-play extravaganza, Between Heaven and Hell: The Anthony Lawton Festival, comprising C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, Shel Silverstein’s The Devil and Billy Markham, and Lawton’s autobiographical Heresy. If you haven’t seen these works before–or even if you have–be sure to catch this “spiritual theater for a secular audience,” performed in repertory at St. Stephen’s Theater, December 3-19. Lawton is the master of intense one-man shows, intimate self-examination, and pondering the virtues and vices of organized religion. He will make you think, make you laugh, and make you very uncomfortable, as a great performer should.

Now in its seventh successful year, Flashpoint Theatre Company offers a new take on David Sedaris’s autobiographical The SantaLand Diaries, with Flashpoint’s own Noah Herman directing. Chronicling the author’s true stint as a Macy’s elf during the Christmas shopping season in Manhattan, company founder Derick Loafmann reprises his hilarious role as Crumpet, Santa’s smart-mouthed helper, from December 1-19, at Philadelphia’s Adrienne Theatre.

Back by popular demand, 1812 Productions makes its annual foray into political comedy with its fifth installment of This Is the Week that Is, which runs December 2-31, at Plays & Players. Written and performed by the popular Week ensemble (including Tony Braithwaite, Scott Greer, Dave Jadico, Susan Riley Stevens, Steven Wright, and 1812 co-founder and director Jennifer Childs), this perennial favorite has a script that changes nightly with the evening news. Local, national, and international events are all fair game for parody, in a show designed to laugh at, instead of lamenting, the present state of the world. What better holiday gift?

For family-friendly entertainment, from November 9-January 9, Philadelphia’s historic Walnut Street Theatre presents an all new production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, based on the Paramount Pictures film classic of 1954. Song, dance, and nostalgia reign supreme, so if you love reminiscing about an old-fashioned holiday, let cast crooners Jeff Coon, Ben Dibble, and Paul Nolan take you there. Bing Crosby’s version of the title song remains the best-selling single of all time, with over 50 million copies sold worldwide. Walnut Street’s show is also likely to sell out fast, so get your tickets soon.

People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern mounts its seventh annual holiday panto–the British tradition of winter musical comedy based on familiar fairytales and children’s stories, injected with contemporary references and audience participation. Pete Pryor, whose direction of Cinderella earned him a Barrymore in 2009, returns again this year for The Three Musketeers (The Later Years), both as the director, and the villain. Other returning cast members from past pantos include Kim Carson, Chris Faith, Andrew Kane, Tom Teti, and Mark Lazar, playing Queen Agnes of Malvaria. The raucous comedy, set in the swashbuckling world of the 17th-century court, runs November 17-January 9, and promises fun for all ages.

Last but not least, a newly penned show by the Berserker Residents, commissioned for Theatre Horizon, premieres December 10-31, at the Centre Theatre in Norristown. The Very Merry Xmas Carol Holiday Adventure Show follows the arctic escapades of a snowman, a red-nosed reindeer, and a man from London-town through a wacky world of confused Christmas tales. As the last-hope heroes battling a malevolent force that threatens to destroy the very spirit of Christmas, the unlikely trio experiences talking objects, time travel, and a howling villain intent on devouring every Christmas story ever told. Bring the whole family for this inventive comic delight, featuring Fringe Festival alumni and Berserkers Justin Jain, Dave Johnson, Brian McCann, and Bradley Wrenn.
Come with your family, come with your friends, come with your partner, or come alone—but do come to Philadelphia for some terrific seasonal entertainment. Why not make it a holiday tradition?

Philly: Run, Mourner, Run at Flashpoint Theatre Company

November 3, 2010

by Debra Miller

Run, Mourner, Run – Performances run through November 20, at the Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia.

I just attended the opening of a stunning play at Flashpoint Theatre Company on Friday night: the premier of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Run, Mourner, Run, adapted from Randall Kenan’s Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, and directed by Matt Pfeiffer (a five-time Barrymore Award nominee and recipient of the F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist in 2008).

Set in rural North Carolina, the story revolves around homophobia, racism, poverty, and greed, but offers no easy resolution, no happy ending.

The one-hour production is very stylized; its eight-person ensemble cast acts, sometimes sings, and sometimes its characters speak the narration, verbalize descriptions, and deliver their own stage direction. The unique writing is pure poetry, effectively referencing African-American storytelling, southern Gospel, and Greek tragedy, and giving insight into the protagonists’ “internal landscape” (a fundamental concern for Kenan).

Both McCraney (b. 1980) and Kenan (b. 1963) have focused their writing on what it means to be gay, and black, in the South, where their characters’ race and sexuality are at odds with the predominant Christian Evangelical beliefs, but whose lives are so deeply rooted in the community that they remain there, albeit stuck in heartbreaking hopelessness. Flashpoint’s production is sensitive to the plights of these people—good men who make bad decisions, not out of malice, but out of desperation.

Achingly subtle performances by Keith Conallen and Gerard Joseph as the tragic lovers (Dean Williams and Raymond Brown), Aimé Kelly as his sincerely decent wife (Gloria Brown), and Brian McCann as the chillingly hateful instigator (Percy Terrell) left the opening night audience, composed largely of theater professionals and critics, moved to tears and virtually speechless.

Lead actor Conallen explained the appeal that this production, and his character, held for him: “In terms of Run, Mourner, Run as a gay-themed play, I’d have to say that it isn’t really gay-themed, but rather populated by a number of gay characters, two of which use the sexual orientation to progress their own selfish agendas. The process of choosing to betray this man, Raymond Brown, and then falling in love with him, leading to the tragedy of Ray and Dean’s downfall, was a wonderful storyline to explore. I’m a big fan of emotional story arches and raw emotion. Being allowed to tap into those feelings of desperation, lust, love, and selfishness was a great exercise for me.”

As a director, Pfeiffer acknowledged that he was particularly interested in Tarell’s writing style: “I’ve worked on a lot of language-heavy plays–Shakespeare, Mamet, McPherson–but this was a unique way of taking such vivid poetry and using it both as action and narration. I also love simple stories about outsiders, people living on the fringe of the American dream. I think we don’t often look to people like Dean Williams to explore many of the issues that his story raises.”

According to Pfeiffer: “I think great plays ask great questions–I think great questions cross divides. So I would hope that people interested in exploring the complexities of the human condition would be attracted to stories that challenge held beliefs and create new ways of seeing the world, regardless of sex, race, or creed.”

Run, Mourner, Run is a work that should resonate with everyone, and should be seen by everyone, with its important human subject matter, its haunting language and staging, and its brilliant cast and direction. This is as good as theater gets—socially relevant, emotionally complex, supremely provocative, and exquisitely artistic.

Performances run through November 20, at the Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. For information and tickets, call 215.665.9720, or see Either way: do not miss this!

Phila. Theater Offers Shakespeare to the Enlightenment

November 1, 2010

by Debra Miller

PHOTOS BELOW – Performance dates for shows reviewed here run until Nov. 21. Each show, different dates. See show-specific dates below.

Those of us who love Shakespeare and period drama are relishing the new season in Philadelphia, with its abundance of thought-provoking productions in 2010-11. The range from purist approaches to original reinterpretations, from tragedies and histories to comedies, offers something for all tastes and to stir all emotions.

Rightfully, the talk of the theater community has been John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, presented as the first full production of the two-year-old Philadelphia Artists’ Collective. Under the inspired direction of co-founder Dan Hodge (who thanked the audience for leaving their virtual media for an evening of real human interaction), the biographical Jacobean tragedy was performed in the Gothic-style community space of the Broad Street Ministry, with its floor and balcony serving as stage and set. The historical characters were exquisitely costumed in attire not specific to their period, but, tellingly, to their classes and positions, while an original live score for cello and percussion evoked the musical interludes of the play’s 1614 London premier.

Artfully framing his actors in the arches of the Ministry’s architectural space, placing them on diagonals at varying levels of depth, and lighting them with strong chiaroscuro contrasts, Hodge’s scenes captured the sensibility and beauty of a Baroque painting. The stellar lead cast (featuring bravura performances by Charlotte Northeast as the eponymous proto-Feminist duchess; Damon Bonetti and Brian McCann as her ambitious murderous brothers; and Jared Michael Delaney as the brutish mercenary malcontent Bosola) all masterfully reached the heights and depths of emotion with power and nuance. The supporting cast, including rising stars Doug Greene and Melissa Lynch, was equally compelling. This incomparable production, employing only a chair and rope for props, and daring to present one scene in total darkness, proved that theater at its very best does not require a huge budget or elaborate accoutrements, but an astute focus on superlative writing, acting, and direction. Rarely does a work of art achieve such perfection.

Quintessence Theatre Group, now in its inaugural season at Germantown’s Sedgwick Theater, presented an equally bare-staged, in-the-round production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, designed to focus on the Bard’s unparalleled language. To help establish historical context, scenes from Henry IV, Part II and Henry VI, Part I were inserted at the beginning and end of the complex play, while the all-male cast adhered to the Shakespearean practice of actors performing even the female roles.

Though Shakespeare traditionally has been the most popular playwright in the English language, it does not imply a redundancy among Philadelphia’s productions. Extended beyond its run in the Fringe was the rarely staged Titus Andronicus, directed by Liam Castellan at Plays & Players, and also featuring cross-gender casting (with women playing some male roles, in a reversal of Elizabethan men-only casts). Set in ancient Rome, Shakespeare’s early work is a bloodbath, with double-digit murders, rape, dismemberments, and cannibalism. But the most chilling moments in Castellan’s production were the decollated heads presented in zip-lock bags, the Emperor addressing the crowds as “Gentle Romans,” and an unsuspecting audience member pulled onstage to be sentenced to hanging—effectively giving an immediate sense of the shockingly indiscriminate violence that is not limited to Antiquity. Caught the news lately?

The Wilma Theater made its first foray into Shakespeare with Macbeth (extended through November 13). Reset in the 20th century, director Blanka Zizka synthesized her own experiences in Communist Czechoslovakia with the duplicitous intrigues of the Scottish play, thereby reaffirming the universality and timeliness of its themes. Standouts in the supporting cast were the always outstanding Krista Apple, in her dual roles as a “weird sister” and Lady Macduff, and Ed Swidey as Angus. A clever staging of the witches’ cauldron scene, usually set in a cave, substituted a soup tureen on the castle’s dining table, thereby allowing for a more fluid transition in the action.

Even A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, set in Manhattan in the 1980s, and presented by the Delaware Theatre Company through November 7, referenced Shakespeare. Quotes from Hamlet, Henry IV, Part I, and others underlined the characters’ emotions in a touching comedy about an English teacher whose husband unexpectedly brings home a stray dog–played with perfect comedic timing by Maggie Lakis. Rounding out the skilled ensemble were Kurt Zischke as the canine-loving husband, Hollis McCarthy as the stressed-out scholarly wife, and Dave Jadico, hilarious in a trio of male, female, and sexually ambiguous roles, again paying homage to Elizabethan casting convention. As the happy conclusion reminded us, All’s Well that Ends Well!

People’s Light & Theatre Company went beyond Shakespeare to the Enlightenment, with Karen Zacarías’s new historical fiction Legacy of Light (closing November 7), about Voltaire, Émilie du Châtelet, and her imagined 21st-century descendants. The intelligent, Stoppardesque script moved smoothly between 18th-century France and present-day America, while offering lessons in both science and life. An inventively celestial glass-installation backdrop and period-style costumes visually supported the fine performances by Stephen Novelli, Susan McKey, Emilie Krause, and the entire cast.

Running from November 9-21 at Villanova Theatre is George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem. First produced at London’s Haymarket Theatre in 1707, the comedy was adapted by Thornton Wilder in 1939, and finished by Ken Ludwig in 2006. Offering hilarious and astute observations about society and gender, Villanova’s production, complete with authentic costumes and musical flourishes (including a live harpsichordist, violinist, and flutist), promises to blend the 18th-century period piece with a contemporary comic romp.

Still to come this spring, the two most consistent producers of Shakespeare in Philadelphia will return with their annual offerings; Lantern Theater Company presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre will perform Hamlet and As You Like It in repertory. In a bold move of casting, Hamlet director Carmen Khan will feature Mary Tuomanen, known for her acrobatic/physical style of acting, as the Danish prince. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lantern director Charles McMahon plans to avoid specific references to ancient Athens, and to create, instead, a world of contrasts between rational control and the magical abandonment of reality. Both should prove to be highly original visions.

It’s interesting to note that in these economically and politically troubled times, theater companies are now, more than ever, presenting the time-honored classics, historical periods and figures, and the moralizing values they embody. Perhaps the common thread is: Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it?