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Top 5 Performances… Ever

Ok, let’s do this thing. 

If you’re reading this blog, you want to know more about what makes me tick, why I’ve loved certain pieces, hated others, and what makes me think my opinion is any more valid than yours. 

So here’s some background, inextricably linked (and hyperlinked) to the performances–in the order in which I’ve been able to remember them–that made me the critic I am today, for better or for worse.

Eastern State at night5: Nothing, Big House (Plays and Spectacles). This site-specific show, directed by Mark Lord and designed by Hiroshi Iwasaki, was based on Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing and staged at crumbling Eastern State Penitentiary. Mounted in 1996, it may well have been the spark that lit the inferno blazing under Philly’s current site-specific performance scene. I can still see Maggie Siff hanging from the stone entrance, beckoning the audience inside. Beckett himself would have resolved then and there to mount every subsequent production inside an abandoned prison.

Wooster Hamlet4: Hamlet, The Wooster Group. I saw this show during my 2008 NEA Fellowship, which makes it the most recent addition to my hit list. Though the performance received mixed reviews (just who do those critics think they are, anyway?), its combination of Richard Burton’s impassioned 1964 Hamlet as a backdrop to Wooster’s curiously detached live actors, shoved Shakespeare into relevance yet again. To be or not to be? When reality has become virtual and Second Life has grown an actual economy that’s probably stronger than our own, who can freakin’ tell anymore?

Draper's Icarus3: Icarus, SCRAP Performance Group. At least I think it was SCRAP, but I know this was the Brainchild of Philly Fringe Fest founder Eric Schoefer. The performance ushered in our very first Fringe Fest, in 1997. Ed Rendell was still mayor, the Avenue of the Arts was blossoming, Philadelphia shook off its inferiority complex, and I was pregnant. The sight of all those winged dancers suspended over our heads as the El rumbled past Smoke (an abandoned factory-turned performance hub) might not be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but it sure felt like it at the time.

 

Bardem as Chigurh2: True West, Lantern Theater. Before the American West was No Country for Old Men, there was Sam Shepard’s True West. This 1997 production featured an on-point Anthony Lawton and William Zielinski as the prototype for Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic drifter with the loose magnetism of his own moral compass. I saw the 2000 Broadway version with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly, and still, Lantern’s–and Zielinski’s–are the standards by which all future productions will be measured.

Pete on PETA1: The Author’s Voice, Bennington College. Directed by Jonathan Marc Sherman, featuring Peter Dinklage in one of the most inspired casting choices ever, as a terrifying little id who lives in a closet. This could have been in 1989, 1990 or 1991. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (again!) did it in New York, but I’ll bet Pete did it better. These were heady days at Bennington. Peter Hedges was teaching, and hadn’t yet published What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Ethan Hawke was hanging out on weekends, and there was some rumor about him peeing in our bathtub. Justin Theroux may have had something to do with the production, even if it was just to watch during rehearsal. My roommate was Anna Gaskell, Kiran Desai was in my writing class, Bret Easton Ellis recently graduated but Jonathan Lethem was still there. I had a wicked (and briefly requited) crush on Marc Spitz, Tom Sachs was calling himself “Tommy Gunn,” and we were all pretty sure we were going to be famous. Enough namedropping for you? I probably still forgot a few, but never forgot this show.

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3 Responses

  1. Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future,
    And time future contained in time past.
    If all time is eternally present

  2. Alas how poor is wisdom should it profit only the wise….

  3. Fitzgerald once said ‘The artist is the only person who can hold two fundementally opposite positions and still function’

    Liberalism is political position, not a philosophy. The liberal who defines his or her positions ontologically, so allowing his or herself to operate outside the sphere of their convictions, is at best a deluded realist.
    It is interesting to note that many liberals define themselves as fiscal conservatives, whilst extoling the virtues of state spending.
    On the flip side of the issue,those conservatives who see present systems as functional need only look at the financial mess the current government has spawned to realise that they themselves are also part of the artistic group defined by Fitzgerald.

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