Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hans Brinker and The Silver Skates: Lessons about life for young people

Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates shows how young people can cope with making hard choices and standing up to their peers and their parents. It is also a very egalitarian play in which boys and girls are treated as equals in their abilities to persevere and to succeed.
Lauren Hirte as Gretel, Ciji Prosser as Heidi, Steven A. Wright as
Carl, Matteo Scammell as Peter, and Brian Ratcliffe as Hans
Photo by Mark Garvin. 
I remember Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates from my childhood. The book held a special place in my library, not because I liked the story, but because the book itself had a special cover that differentiated it from most of the other books I owned. While I could tell you the story of almost all the other books I read from that time, I really didn’t remember more about Hans Brinker than that it had to do with a race along the canals in Holland.

The production of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates at the Arden Children’s Theatre brings the story to life in a enchanting way that makes me think I had never fully appreciated the original. The ice-blue scenery with windmill blades rotating in the background and a floor that serves as an ice rink (Scenic Designer David P Gordon) makes us feel the cold of the Dutch Canals in winter. The cast members, in period costumes (Rosemarie E. McKelvey), glide across the specially-treated stage on “skates” (shoes with felt and rubber soles) so effortlessly that we believe we are watching them skate on ice.  
Lauren Hirte as Gretel. 
Photo by Mark Garvin. 

Set in Holland, the story is about Hans Brinker (Brian Ratcliffe) and his sister Gretel (Lauren Hirte) who have grown up in poverty because their father Raff (Ed Swidey) fell off a scaffolding while trying to repair the dykes during a storm ten years earlier. Since that time he has been “a living man with the mind of a dead man,” who needs to be taken care of by his wife Dame Brinker (Rachel Camp). Now, there is a to be race on the canals with the prize of a pair of silver skates. Hans and Gretel would like to participate, but they only have wooden skates, carved by Hans, to wear on the ice. They don’t stand a chance against the rich kids who regard them as “rag pickers.”

However, Heidi van Gleck (Ciji Prosser) and her friend Peter von Holp (Matteo Scammell) are moved by their story and try to help them by giving them old skates in return for Hans’ carved necklaces. After some persuasion by Hans, grumpy Doctor Boekman (Steven A Wright) agrees to operate on their father as much for his ego as a matter of charity.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NextMove: Complexions Contemporary Ballet: Classical Athleticism

Andrew Brader and Ashley Mayeux in Amazing Grace; 
Photo by Bill Hebert
Dance Affiliates presents NextMove opened their new season at their new home, The Prince Theater in Philadelphia, with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the company founded by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. 

It was an evening of diverse dance styles that both honored and challenged traditional forms. The music traveled from Bach and Vivaldi to Metallica, with stops along the way by Odetta, Prince, Jimmy Scott, and the traditional “Amazing Grace.” By the end of the evening the audience was thrilled and almost as exhausted as the dancers.

The evening begins with Ballad Unto... in which seven couples swirl across the stage in pairs and triplets. The Balanchine influence is apparent, classical line and movements, and yet it is so not Balanchine, a total awareness of the dancer’s body as anatomical sketch—all muscle and sinew and strength. The bare chested men preen, the ballerinas primp, as they come together and part. This is classical ballet and yet it isn’t. An awkward knee, a slight twist interrupts the smooth flow and makes us pay attention.

While the first act is classical, the second explores a variety of forms beginning with the modern athleticism of Gone (dancers: Kelly Marsh IV, Greg Blackmon, and Timothy Stickney) set to Odetta’s “He Had a Long Chain On.” The mood turns sultry in Cryin’ to Cry Out (dancers: Melissa Anduiza, Nehemiah Spencer, Jillian David, and YoungSil Kim) to Jimmy Scott’s vocals, followed by Choke (dancers: Doug Baum and Addison Ector) set to Vivaldi, then Terk Lewis Waters, who towers over the other dancers when he is with the company, here, dressed in red, undulates across the stage to a ballad by Prince. The act ends with an excerpt from Testament, a dance of passionate longing set to “Amazing Grace.”

Group image from Strum; Photo by: Bill Hebert
For the last act, Strum, the dancers, clad in metallic silver, move mechanistically across the stage as Timothy Stickney struts and stumbles around and through them to the seemingly endless music of the heavy metal band Metallica. Whenever there is a lull, a darkness with silence, the audience claps not realizing there is more to come. It’s a compelling performance that leaves the dancers almost as breathless as the dancers.

What makes this program additionally special was that it marks the inaugural season for Dance Affiliates in their new home. Founded in 1979 by Randy Swartz, Dance Affiliates started out at the Walnut Street Theater, then, in 1983 moved to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and now after 32 years it has relocated again to Center City Philadelphia.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hooked!: It all depends on how you look at it

We tell stories so that we can justify our actions. Even two people who lived through the same event, can see it differently. When we hear all sides of the story, we can begin to piece together something approximating the truth.

Rachel Brodeur and Corinna Burns
Photo by Katie Reing.
Inis Nua Theatre Company, which presents “Contemporary theatre from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales,” has found a charming play about small town secrets and invites us into a pub to hear the participants tell their sides of the story. It’s filled with a hint of violence and lots of unfulfilled sexuality, and goes perfectly with a pint of whatever you’re drinking.

Mary (Corinna Burns) and Tom (Charlie DelMarcelle) are married, although they seem happier apart. Even their daughter, a never seen Jessie, has moved away. Meanwhile Lydia (Rachel Brodeur), whose husband has left her and taken their child with him, moves into the house next door, a house that once belonged to an old woman that Mary considered a witch, and the potential for misunderstandings and a hint of French farce ensue.

Tom and Lydia are plagued by secrets which Mary is determined to uncover, whether by spying on her neighbor from her kitchen counter, or badgering Tom until he just can’t take it anymore.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mothers and Sons: How long does anger last?

Michael Learned, Hugh Kennedy, Jacob Wilner, and James Lloyd Reynolds
Photo Credit: Mark Garvin
Homosexuality was not only forbidden it was dangerous. How long does it take for those wounds to heal?

Mothers and Sons. By Terrence McNally; Wendy C. Goldberg directed. Philadelphia Theatre Company production through March 8, 2015 at Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St. (at Lombard), Philadelphia. 215-985-0420 or

Drama shows us both our better and worse selves. Sometimes it shows us how heroic we might be, imagining ourselves as superheroes who can save the world. Sometime, as in several recent works, it shows us how dreadfully we have behaved in the not too distant past. Selma reminds us how we treated blacks in this country, The Imitation Game and Oscar remind us of how we have treated homosexuals.

Watching these semi-historical stories I am amazed at the progress we have made and yet how those same prejudices are still with us. We still have segregation; we still struggle with homosexuality, although now the discussion, in this country at least, focuses on gay marriage, while in other places, such as Russia, it’s still a crime to be gay; we still don’t have gender equality; in Europe anti-Semitism has re-emerged. And now we have someone new to hate, the Muslim population is something to be feared and demonized.