These huge arts festivals can be overwhelming — how to figure out what's worth seeing? CP's sending someone to nearly every event PIFA's putting on over the next month to help you decide, so check back with Critical Mass all month long for comprehensive, ongoing reviews.
GROUP: No Face Performance Group
ATTENDED: March 30, 8 p.m., AUX Performance Space
CLOSES: April 14
TICKET PRICE: $20
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: “It’s code red in the situation room as President Reagan lies on a gurney, waiting for the mask to drop. Who’s responsible? ... A Washington manhunt turns into a cosmic fever dream while the fate of the free world hangs in the balance.”
WE THINK: Directed by Gedney Barclay with a choreographer’s eye for movement and synchronized image, From the Swamp to the Stars is not so much about the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan as about cultural transition, lost faith, new idealism (and cynicism), media saturation and American hysteria. It’s a mélange of late-Cold-War-era miscellanea, vintage Hollywood and GE footage of The Gipper, musical interludes, outbursts of pop culture ranging from David Byrne to Paul Schrader to Prince, and surreal hallucinations which remind one of what Robert Plant affectionately called “the deep and meaningless.” All of this is given levity by Justin Howe and Jaime Maseda, who ham it up gleefully as Reaganite suits, Russian underground nightclub impresarios, and, in Maseda’s case, Travis Bickle/John Hinckley Jr.
But the real stakes are embodied in Mark McCloughan’s Caroline and Anna Szapiro’s Red, one a washed-up chanteuse and the other a true believer so convincing she nearly turns Reagan’s farewell address into catharsis. But soon the play returns to where it began, four thanatoids framed inside Droste inducing rectangular prosceniums, sitting in thrall to the tube where they might very well be watching us watching them watching themselves…
PREVIOUSLY IN PIFA: A Houdini bio only scratches the surface.
LOVE NOTE RECIPIENT: Franklin Square
I AM: “Philly homegrown.” Born and raised in the 215, I spend my days entertaining tourists and locals at the official visitor center of Philadelphia.
MY LOVE NOTE:
What kid doesn’t love going to Franklin Square? Mini-golf, carousel rides and the promise of a Cake Shake are enough to make even the oldest kids, myself included, get excited about playtime. But the lure of a sugar high or a hole in one wasn’t always guaranteed. Growing up in Chinatown, I didn’t know what grass looked like. I’m not saying I was deprived, but everywhere I looked, I saw blacktop. Baseball field? Yeah… a parking lot outside my house. (It’s amazing how fast your legs can take you when you’re being chased by your neighbor in his underwear.)
Those wings of mercury would eventually show me the way to “Bum’s Park.” Oh wait — you know it as Franklin Square. My mistake. Unfortunately, there was nothing there at the time that deserved the honor of being named after a Founding Father. Yellow grass. Broken pavement. Faulty playground equipment. It was a dump, both literally and figuratively, but it was a park nonetheless. If anything, tackle football felt a little softer here. The soccer ball would actually travel — not much, but it was still good for a roll or two. The homeless were on one side and my friends and I were on the other. Never did we engage or intermix, but then again, we never had to.
There’s a song by Madonna aptly called “This Used to Be My Playground.” Although I never kissed a girl there or was ever really victorious in any of my sporting events, Franklin Square was still a park surrounded by blacktop. I often watched as the senior citizens of Chinatown practiced their Tai Chi every morning without fail and scratch my head as to why more people didn’t take advantage of this amazing space.
Little did I know that change was coming. Historic Philadelphia Inc., the historic arm of tourism in Philadelphia, vowed to keep the promise of William Penn’s Green Country Towne with plans to restore the grandeur of Franklin Square. A beautiful carousel, an 18-hole mini-golf course celebrating Philadelphia’s cultural icons and monuments, brand-new playground equipment that kids of all ages could enjoy and turning on a fountain that I frankly never even knew was there (maybe because the it was covered in grass). And if that wasn’t enough, restaurateur Stephen Starr would add a small eatery specializing in burgers and milkshakes. Oh, sweet Jesus, they even have green grass and picnic tables.
To paraphrase a line from my parents when we feasted on our eyes on the newly renovated Franklin Square: “Holy s*** !" Was this the same spot where I used to waste away my summer days?
No, it’s not the same place that I fondly remembered. It’s better. On my commute to work (all of 4 minutes) I still see the seniors practicing their Tai Chi and kids running through the grass playing all sort of sports. Families love it, and I’ve heard that even Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny make yearly appearances at Seventh and Race during their respective seasons. Rittenhouse Square may be the best people-watching place in the city, but you tell that to the family who just sank a hole in one.
I love Philadelphia...
Have a favorite spot you'd like to write a love note to? Send it to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every year, there's hundreds and hundreds of performances at the Philly Fringe and Live Arts Festival, and unless it's one of the big shows, it's sometimes hard to tell what you're going to get. Here at Critical Mass we're sending writers to as many shows as we possibly can for 75 pocket-sized reviews over the course of the fest. Check back in with us at On The Fringe every day for real talk on what these things actually are!
SHOW: Food Court
GROUP: Back to Back Theatre with The Necks
ATTENDED: Thu., Sept. 20, 8 p.m.
CLOSES: Sun., Sept. 22
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: Part concert, part theater show, FOOD COURT follows a near death experience in a suburban mall by the Asian Hut and the Juice Bar. Played out in a psychological space constructed from light and sound, the stage transforms a mundane seating area into a shadowy void, where the edges between floor, walls, and ceiling become indistinguishable. This majestic canvas then moves its performers into a forest, a place of nightmares where the moral and ethical framework keeping our fragile civil existence together no longer exists. FOOD COURT features the remarkable vision of Australia’s Back to Back Theatre and the live music of The Necks, who create a new score for each performance.
WE THINK: Hard to watch and hard to shake, Food Court first forces viewers to watch a brutal act of bullying and its aftermath, then to examine their own experiences and expectations. We meet two women, played by Nicki Holland and Sonia Teuben, in the midst of a seemingly banal conversation about food. Eventually, they belittle a third woman (Sarah Mainwaring) about her weight and lack of speech; their taunts turn to sustained ritual humiliation and physical abuse. That all of the actors have perceived intellectual disabilities only ramps up the tension and transcendence, as does The Necks’ unsettling improvised score.
All Black Female Pantera Cover Band SEARCHING for MEMBERS. (Philadelphia)
Seeking drummer and guitar player for band.
If interested shoot me an email.
Reclaiming those Confederate-flag guitars! We would like to see this made a reality, and also to mumble something about Dimebag Daria.
Spotify recently compiled a list of Philadelphia's top 10 favorite songs for the month of May.
Philadelphia's top 10 in May:
1. "Call Me Maybe" - Carly Rae Jepsen | This ubiquitous little ditty worked its way into our hearts, our introductions, and onto some very unoriginal college grads’ business cards. And we’re eternally grateful for that, Carly Rae. Stay golden.
2. "Somebody That I Used To Know" - Gotye, Kimbra | This song literally sneaks up on you. The pitter-pattering intro in no way prepares you for the tidal wave that is Gotye’s anguish. Somewhere out there, Gotye’s ex feels like an asshole.
3. "Payphone" - Maroon 5, Wiz Khalifa | “All those fairy tales are full of shit / One more fucking love song, I’ll be sick.” Choice words from a band that made a career off love songs for girls with broken smiles. Hmmm.
4. "We Are Young" feat. Janelle Monae – Fun. | Fun.: giving twentysomething-year-olds license to get melodramatic and weepy at bars since 2011.
5. "Wild Ones" feat. Sia - Flo Rida | This song has chart-topping down to a science: feature a female vocalist making vaguely intelligible noises and insert Flo Rida occasionally rapping.
6. "What Makes You Beautiful" - One Direction | One Direction ensures itself a lifetime of good karma with this feel-good number about making someone feel better about themselves.
7. "Boyfriend" - Justin Bieber | In which a baritone Bieber proves he finally started puberty.
8. "Starships" (explicit version) - Nicki Minaj | We are actively seeking someone to decipher the complex imagery of Nicki’s lyrics. Are the starships a metaphor? For what? PLEASE EXPLAIN, NICKI.
9. "Glad You Came" – The Wanted | Did you catch how the last word of each line in the chorus reappears at the beginning of the next? Nifty lyrical footwork, guys! Guys, is that why the song is so good? Good thing — alright, we’ll stop.
10. "Some Nights" - Fun. | As the only band with two singles on the Spotify Top 10 list, Fun. may prove itself as more than just a one-hit wonder. Or it may just prove Spotify’s “Artist Radio” option is really popular among Philadelphians.
Every Monday, Brittany Thomas rounds up the week's sure-bet live shows. This week: Toy Soldiers, Sweatheart, Dan Sartain and more.
TUESDAY: Yes, they’re named after the creature from Gremlins. But don’t confuse Mogwai's lighthearted name and nature with the raw intensity of its heavy, elaborate, distorted instrumentals. When you take that and put it beside guttural yet soft Scottish vocals, you have yourself a beautiful rock ‘n’ roll lullaby. 8:30 p.m., $20, Union Transfer. 1026 Spring Garden St., 215-232-2100.
Every Monday, Brittany Thomas rounds up the week's sure-bet live shows. This week: Antisect, Devin, The Ridden Fifths and more.
TUESDAY: A night of pure fun and catchy rock 'n' roll featuring London brothers band The Cribs and Brooklyn’s Devin. Both draw influences from some of the classic greats — Devin often mentions Iggy Pop while The Cribs invoke likeness to more modern-day rockers like The Strokes. 9 p.m., $15, Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave., r5productions.com.
Every Monday, Brittany Thomas rounds up the week's sure-bet live shows. This week: The Veda Rays, Cheers Elephant, The Spinto Band and more.
Tuesday: The final week of The Spinto Band’s residency at KFN will feature Philly faves Cheers Elephant along with Langor, a relatively new Philly indie-pop ensemble fronted with charming vocals and backed by a style that is whole-heartedly unique yet reminiscent of early Of Montreal. 8 p.m., $8, Kung Fu Necktie, 1250 Front St., 215-291-4919.
Chris Brown digs into our listings bin and pulls out a little something-something to do every day of the week. This time around? Get electrocuted at the Wagner Institute, drink for ART/GAGE and our Ultimate Summer Fun Guide's out this week!
Start off the week with your thinking cap on as the Wagner presents yet another edition of their "Weeknights" series. Tonight, Dr. Aaron Wunsch delves into the work it took to get this town lit with electricity. Wed., May 23, 5:30 p.m., Wagner Free Institute of Science, 1700 W. Montgomery Ave., 215-763-6529, wagnerfreeinstitute.org.
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