March brings another busy month in Philly theater. I count at least 25 separate openings—far more than I could ever consider in a single column. Rest assured: there will be something to fit every taste.
August Wilson and South African drama squared
Fans of the late, great American playwright August Wilson (1945-2005) have two chances to experience his work this month, courtesy of Arden Theatre Company. On the Arden’s main stage, local Renaissance man James Ijames directs the haunting, lyrical Gem of the Ocean (February 28 through March 31), chronologically the first work in Wilson’s Century Cycle. Set in 1904, the play features several of Wilson’s most enduring characters, including the venerated 300-year-old spiritual healer Aunt Ester (played here by Zuhairah McGill), who watches over the African American community in Pittsburgh. Arden’s production includes a host of fine local actors, including Akeem Davis, Steven Wright, Danielle Leneé, Brian McCann, and Brian Anthony Wilson.
At the intimate Bob and Selma Horan Studio Theatre, Malika Oyetimein stages How I Learned What I Learned, a one-person exploration of Wilson’s life, work, and dedication to leaving behind a theatrical legacy. Wilson wrote and performed the monologue himself in 2003, but it has grown in prominence in the years following his death. Kes Khemnu, who previously appeared at the Arden in Wilson’s Two Trains Running, inhabits the playwright in this production, which runs from March 7 through April 14.
EgoPo Classic Theater winds down its season of South African drama with repertory productions of Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold”…and the Boys and Matsemela Manaka’s Egoli (March 19 through April 7). The South African government banned both plays, which deal with the racial and social inequity under Apartheid. Theatre in the X joins EgoPo as a co-producer of Egoli, which stars company co-founders Carlo Campbell and Walter DeShields. Lane Savadove directs Damien Wallace, Juspin Jones, and Aidan McDonald in Master Harold.
Choice, Y2K, and a familial take on Romeo and Juliet
The acclaimed live-performance group Lightning Rod Special brings its latest devised work, The Appointment, to FringeArts as part of its High Pressure Fire Service Festival, running March 20 through 31. Previously developed at Painted Bride Arts Center under the title Unformed Consent, The Appointment considers the politics and perceptions surrounding abortion and birth, along with who gets to shape the public narrative on these issues. Company stalwart Alice Yorke serves as lead artist and the cast also includes Lee Minora, Scott Sheppard, Brett Robinson, and Jaime Maseda.
Out in Norristown, Theatre Horizon presents the local premiere of Samuel D. Hunter’s The Few, from March 14 through April 7. MacArthur fellow Hunter made his name chronicling the quiet desperation of losers and loners in his native Idaho, and this 2014 work proves no exception to his grim but often sympathetic worldview. Set on the cusp of Y2K, it explores the complicated shared history of two small-town newspaper editors and a young man who throws their ecosystem into chaos. The cast features Steven Rishard, Suli Holum, and current UArts senior PJ Barth, making his professional debut.
The month concludes with another rarity from the intrepid Philadelphia Artists’ Collective (PAC): John Ford’s revenge tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, presented at Philadelphia Boys’ Choir from March 28 through April 14. I won’t say much about the salacious plot, but just consider this: What would Romeo and Juliet look like if the titular pair were also brother and sister? Catch the production and find out. Trevor Fayle and Stephanie Hodge lead a 13-member ensemble as the scheming central couple, Giovanni and Annabella, under Jessica Bedford’s direction.
And those who can’t wait for some PAC action can also catch the latest offering in its Venture Reading Series: Sophocles’s Electra, featuring company co-founder Charlotte Northeast in the title role, March 4 at the Drake.