East meets west in a play over the phone for audiences in Philly and L.A.

Listen in with Anna Michael, the Philly star of 'But Next Not This.' (Photo by Travis the Great.)

Philadelphia’s Hum’n’bards Theater Troupe is bringing the West Coast east this month in the cross-country play But Next Not This.

The play will be held simultaneously in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, where it will be performed by Hella Fresh Theater. In it, two sisters, Juanita and Bonita, each in a different city, argue over the phone in real time. The unconventional play stars Jill Gilbraith as Juanita, the serious cancer survivor living in Los Angeles, and Anna Michael as the self-righteous, pot-loving Bonita in Philadelphia.

With the unexpected return of a mutual acquaintance, the sisters “get into a huge fight, not really, but yeah, really.”

The concept originated with John Rosenberg, writer, director, producer, and stage manager of Hella Fresh. “The idea of the play itself came from this thing that happened when I was young and on drugs and lost. There was a dude I knew who had brain cancer and beat it. I thought if I spent time with him, someone who lived through something fucked up, his experience or wisdom would rub off on me,” he says.

That didn’t happen, Rosenberg says, but it did give him the idea for But Next Not This. Originally the play was going to take place exclusively in L.A., but Rosenberg, who worked in Philadelphia for four years running the Papermill Theater in Kensington, decided to tap into his connections in the city to create a bicoastal show.

Three performances in one

He initially reached out to Philly actor Sarah Knittel, whom he had worked with at Automatic Arts. The two brainstormed ideas for a bicoastal production for a few years, but Knittel wasn’t available, so Rosenberg tapped Michael for the Philly role.

The play, Rosenberg says, is really three separate performances: the Philly performance, held in Bonita’s living room; the L.A. performance, in Juanita’s living room; and the phone call that connects them. “The audience will be listening to both sides of the phone call via headphones, but witnessing only what is happening in front of them,” Rosenberg explains.

“In each location there are things happening that the audience in other city isn’t aware of. Also, each location has two very different atmospheres, so people in L.A. are going to experience a very different type of show than in Philly,” he adds.

Owning the unexpected

The phrase “technical difficulties” seems made for a production like this, but Rosenberg embraces the unexpected. “Something has gone wrong with every show I have ever done,” he says. “What I love about theater is watching talented actors respond and react to shit they didn't see coming with courage and valor… Actors take control, own it, and do what should be done.”

“I believe this is known as passing the buck,” he laughs.

Technical difficulties or not, whatever happens, it is bound to be exciting. But Next Not This is happening at 5pm on October 21, 22, 28, and 29 at 1318 Crease Street in Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood. In Los Angeles, that’s 2pm at 3826 Mentone Avenue, Culver City, on the same days. You can get your tickets ($10) for Philly or L.A. online, or with a $5 “phone ticket,” you’ll receive a dial-in number to eavesdrop on the whole thing from anywhere in the world. 

At right: Jill Galbraith plays Juanita in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Rosenberg.)

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