Mark Cofta’s theater picks: Swimming, dating, secrets, and more

'A Billion Nights on Earth' returns to FringeArts this month. (Photo by Johanna Austin.)

December jingles with holiday entertainment, as you can see in my holiday roundup, but area companies offer many alternatives to traditional Christmas favorites and family-friendly musicals. We’ve seen many of this December’s theater events before in some fashion, so they’re like seeing old friends for the holidays.

The ‘Week That Is’ is back, plus your secrets

1812 Productions offers its 12th annual This Is the Week That Is (through December 31; here’s my review): the company’s first Trump-era political comedy revue, resulting in many hilarious moments but also some soul-searching about who we are and where we’re going. Jen Childs, Dave Jadico, and Seth Close return playing old characters (Patsy from South Philly! Chris Christie!) and new ones, joined by Susan Riley Stevens, Jenson Titus Lavallee, and music director Rob Tucker.

Tongue & Groove, Philadelphia’s unique unscripted theater company, presents Secrets for the Holidays on Friday, December 8. Since Bobbi Block and her talented ensemble improvise every Tongue & Groove performance, this show using randomly selected anonymous audience suggestions on cards will, as usual, be completely new. A holiday secret might be funny — “I literally dropped the entire turkey on the kitchen floor, picked it up, and served it” — or poignant, like “I was my aunt’s Secret Santa when she was ill, and to this day she doesn’t know it was me, and often refers to that as ‘the magical healing time.’”

Pizza, beer, Bad Dates, long nights

Tiny Dynamite’s A Play, A Pie, and A Pint series returns for its seventh season under new artistic director K.C. MacMillan, with The Art of Swimming (December 6 through 17). The format’s familiar: we get an early-evening one-act play, a pie (pizza), and a pint (beer or soda) for one low price. This play, written by Lynda Radley and performed by Lee Minora, is a timely one-woman show about Mercedes Gleitze, the first woman to swim the English Channel, and the men who blocked her ambition and doubted her achievement. Daniel Ison performs live music at every performance, which will be at a new venue this month: Headhouse Café at 122 Lombard Street.

Act II Playhouse brings back Bad Dates (December 12 through 31), Theresa Rebeck’s one-woman dating comedy that was a big success for the Ambler theater in 2006, winning Susan Riley Stevens the Charlotte Cushman Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play. In this new production, Elaina Di Monaco, who directed Theatre Horizon’s hit one-woman show The 2.5 Minute Ride (here’s Cameron Kelsall’s review), works with busy actress Karen Peakes, one of my favorite Philadelphia performers.

A Fringe hit returns for a limited run: A Billion Nights on Earth (December 15 through 17; here’s Toby Zinman’s Fringe review), Thaddeus Phillips’s collaboration with visual artist Steven Dufala, stars real-life father and son Michael and Winslow Fegley on a magical-realist adventure. Searching for a lost toy, they embark on a quest through space and time, accompanied by Columbian pop star Juan Gabriel Turbay’s cinematic score — and, for the audience, hot chocolate. 

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