The Philly Fringe Festival and the Live Arts Festival have been running concurrently in Philadelphia for the past few weeks. This usually means that there is an abundance of cutting edge theater, dance, performance, readings going on throughout the city, and this year it seems even more so.
For the past three years we have had a friend, Pia Agarwal, who worked for the festivals and always gave us a heads-up on what to see. And she was never wrong.
But she’s moved to Austin, so we were on our own.
Fortunately, I know Nick Gillette, who is finding some success in the local theater scene. This year, for the Fringe Festival, he directed one play, Myths and Monsters, at the Adrienne Mainstage and performed in another Hackles at the Crane Arts Old School White Space.
On Saturday night I went and saw Hackles. I have been in this venue twice before and each time have been wowed and impressed. This night was no different.
“Devised” by the Groundswell Players–students at the Pig Iron School for Advance Performance Training–the play features four actors who take on a variety of roles. The main roles however are a blind old man, his daughter, his cockatoo, and Death itself. Scott Shepherd, who played the cockatoo–incredibly well by the way–also played the daughter’s hesitant boyfriend. The other additional roles–teacher, fellow students, policeman–were negligible and merely stock figures to keep the plot moving.
When the cockatoo dies, the daughter–played by Martha Stuckey–believes she sees Death come and take the bird’s soul. Later, she witnesses an accident (off-stage) and sees this female incarnation of Death (played by Alice Yorke) more clearly and more definitely.
She tells her blind father (Nick Gillette), who is fascinated by what she relates and who believes that the dead continue to contact us through the holes in the static of his off-station transistor radio.
There is still more death, in the past and yet to come, but there is also great hope: the play ends with the awkward daughter and her boyfriend figuring out how to slow dance while Al Green’s version of ”How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” plays on the father’s no-longer-static radio.
The set was very cool–pure white walls with clear plastic opened umbrellas suspended from the ceiling. There was minimum furniture–the father’s table and chairs and a cabinet-like piece that was spun around–and great lighting. There were two or three scenes with a scooter and roller-blades which could have been discarded, but as for the rest, it was perfect.
The play combined physical performance, comedy, metaphysics and domestic drama in a piece that was entrancing, engaging and thoughtful.
But the play was not what raised the “hackles” on my neck!
After the play, a number of us met in the parking lot, going over what we were doing and where we were going next. Someone had an iPhone and asked someone else to take a picture of us all gathered.
No one, however, invited the ghost, who appears behind my head.
I have now studied this picture backwards and forwards, have enlarged it as much as I could and still see clearly, and it doesn’t make sense. Granted, the play dealt with death and the afterlife and the conviction that spirits communicate with us regularly, but I didn’t expect them to come out to an abandoned grammar-school parking lot. She seems to be in period costume–and our play was in modern dress; In fact, Death was dressed in a sexy black cocktail dress. So she’s not from the play and she isn’t from the audience; her proportions seem larger than those walking out of the building; and she wasn’t with us.
So where do we go with this?