Dance, Music, Theater / Performance

FOUR Philadelphia “ART” reviews in ONE POST! (April-May 2017)


Below you will find varied-quality blurbs encompassing:

  • Sherlock Holmes, the Final Adventure
  • Faust 3
  • On The Water
  • Fronteras: A Door in the Desert

I apologize for the truncated and mishy-mashy nature of this post, but hey–the day we see a dime from this nerdy BLOG is the day I’ll start worrying more about quality control….BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure

(Beacon Theatre Productions, 21 Apr2017)

What they say it is:

The world’s greatest detective has seemingly reached the end of his remarkable career when a case presents itself that is too tempting to ignore: The King of Bohemia is about to be blackmailed because of a notorious photograph, and the woman at the heart of this crime is the famous opera singer, Irene Adler. With his trusted companion, Doctor Watson, at his side, Sherlock Holmes pursues first the case, and then the affections of Miss Adler and in doing so, marches right into the lair of his longtime adversary, that malevolent genius of crime: Professor Moriarty. In this spirited, fast-moving and thoroughly theatrical adaptation, Steven Dietz presents Holmes at the height of his powers surrounded by all the elements that fans of his exploits have come to expect: danger, intrigue, wit, humor and surprise. “The game is afoot, Watson and it is a dangerous one!”

NEW Clay Says graphic Ernie

Attended this on a whim on a quiet Friday night.  I actually didn’t expect Tara to want to go to this.  The show was staged in the rec-room/basement area of the Olivet-Covenant Presbyterian Church.  I’m not trying to be intentionally snarky—sincerely, I’m not—but perhaps this should have been something of a warning sign.  Great art, I admit, can happen in any space.  However, the atmosphere of a play in the classic church basement (it was a fine room—don’t get me wrong—but it’s exactly what you’re imagining), complete with the rows of folding chairs and makeshift snack table—certainly affected the vibe of this show.  I can’t help but make the obvious Waiting for Guffman comparion—the show had heart, the show was reasonably well produced and acted—but the room wasn’t exactly right for theater, and we both felt slightly awkward being there, for whatever preconceived reasons or biases.

The show was fine in several respects. The actors were comical in several scenes, the staging was humble but interesting (the shadow play in particular, utilizing character’s reflected images to play out off-stage events) and the dialog was passable.  Unfortunately, I did feel like the show needed a little something extra to make it a bit more unique—it was straightforward Sherlock Holmes narrative, and the familiar beats, including the routine demonstrations of Holmes deductive prowess (i.e. mud on your shoes?  You were obviously in a cemetery today, etc  etc)  made it seem almost unimaginative, though passably competent.

I’m not sure what else to say about the show.  I’d have liked it better if it was, frankly, a bit shorter—I’ve only read a small handful of Holmes literature, but the show felt overlong, as though a few scenes could have afforded cutting.  Seated in folding chairs for around 2 hours was a bit much, and my overall experience would probably have been a bit better if the show’s length was a bit less.

NEW Tara Says Graphic

I am struggling with this review.  Based on what we saw when we walked in, I thought we were in for a real amateur production (no wings to the stage, a one room presentation area with blackout curtains along the sides, in a basement,  with folding chairs).  Sherlock’s study was on risers and set fairly far away from the audience, and a prop street lamp was on the same level as the chairs . . . I thought for sure I would not be able to see or hear much of the production.  I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to see and hear everything well during the show, and that the staging worked.  I thought this company did a great job with the space it was provided and I was pleasantly surprised that the acting was well done too.  However, I lack the words to describe what “magic” was missing though from the play.  Like Clay stated, maybe it was long?  It seemed to be missing that “oomph” factor that suspends one’s disbelief and allows the audience to escape for an hour or two.  Maybe I’ve been ruined by the BBC production of Sherlock on Netflix? And now just have such a crush on Cumberbatch as Sherlock that I am unable to appreciate any other media without him?

I guess it fits with having the show in the church basement, but I found it interesting that the producer/director had a church verse in his bio.

I enjoyed looking at the print outs pinned to the black curtain during intermission.  It was here that Clay and I debated staying for the rest of the show or leaving, but I told him we could not review and blog about the show if we left- so he was a good sport and stayed for the whole show.

The company was polite and kind,  letting me take pictures of their props that were laid out in the back of the room.  There was an actual photo of the “couple” (the Bavarian king and singer) as part of the props- it was neat that they went into such detail as to take an “old timey” looking photo even though there was no possible way you would see this from the stage.

In the words of Triumph the insult comic dog I don’t want to “poop” on this production, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to others or go back for this particular show, I would check out this theatre company again to give them another chance to shine.


(Bread and Puppet Theater, Panorama West Philly, 22Apr17)

What they say it is:

FAUST 3, a proletarian study on displacement, heaven, and satisfaction in the tradition of Medieval Faust puppet shows and Goethe’s epic drama.  B&P founder/director Peter Schumann describe Faust 3: “After Faust 2’s contract with the Devil came to an end—because the guest had been fulfilled and satisfaction had been achieved—Faust 2 died. But the demand for more light which Goethe issued at his own death requires a new model of Faust, an actor in the history of light, a conspirator who pursues the disordering of the existing order of life, and sides with the Proletariat’s demand for the radicalization of leisure. Gargoyles are employed to manage the uneasy masses. Both devil and angel, disguised as undercover agents, accompany Faust 3’s journey through the mess of the modern empire all the way to the glorious final appearance of the Here.”

NEW Clay Says graphic Ernie

Faust 3 had everything going for it, and then sort of fizzled, at least for me.  A warehouse puppet show in West Philly?  Check.  Ambiguously odd advertisements and ‘pay what you want’ pricing?  Definitely.  A coherent plot that keeps you riveted and entertained?  …..not so much.  Not for this viewer.

I really did want to like Faust 3, and spent a fair amount of the show struggling with my perspectives on it.  Perhaps—to be as fair as I know how–I might not have focused on the right aspects, or maybe I brought along conventional expectations that interfered with my enjoyment.  But, honestly—and I truly don’t like giving bad reviews—Faust 3 struck me as an artwork devised by bright and creative minds, but untempered with any consideration of the audience.  Put another way, Faust 3 felt like the sort of art experiment that is great fun for the director and cast to create and act, but doesn’t put much of a premium on the audience perspective.  The show was flashy and neat to look at, yes, and it had fun moments of comical nonsense (oversized puppets, shouted choruses, parades of people doing silly things and spouting Dadaist pronouncements).  Yet, across the entirety of the two hour show, I never discerned any sort of cohesive narrative . . . and beyond a general sense of a politically proletarian message, I couldn’t even really tell you what it was about.  Certainly, there seemed to be a sense of sarcastic anger and mockery of conservative politics, along with a fight-the-power sensibility—but frankly, I’m not even sure if I got that right.   There were large puppets, yes.  The audience was full (overflowing, in fact) with cool sorts of people and sympathetic, respectful art-fans of all ages and persuasions…but I can’t deny I felt underwhelmed by the show itself.  If I had any advice for the producers of Faust 3, it would be to remember that their DIY aesthetic and presentation are excellent tools for bringing people together, but perhaps in the future, give us something in the way of plot to latch onto.  I’m not saying dumb it down—I’m just saying help me out, at least a little.

NEW Tara Says Graphic

Things I saw:

A Punch-like puppet that was our narrator?

A large puppet with its mouth open, spitting out word signs and sometimes children.

A huge multiperson puppet that maybe represented “human kind or race” (?) that gathered the masses together to comfort them? Or perhaps to show us that we are all one and we shouldn’t put people in jail or have borders or immigration issues?

Walking into the entrance of the show there was a school bus adored with many pictures and images.  There were also three people (who turned out to be cast members) playing instruments in front of the show building.  Upon entering the show- the infamous Morgan Fitzpatrick Andrews was taking donations (happy birthday Morgan!– thank you for organizing fun things for all of us on your birthday!).    We then walked down a hall decorated with prints from the theatre company with various slogans.  The art was for sale and nice to see, and I bought some postcards.  The air was deliciously scented with garlic (the production was completed with bread and a seasoned oil distributed to the audience from the company) . . . i.e. ‘bread and puppet’ theatre.

Bread & Puppet Performs Faust 3

image from next stage

I am really happy that I had the experience of seeing this show.  However, it challenged me throughout the entirety of the production to determine what message was being conveyed.  The company even addressed this once during the show stating something to the effect of “you don’t know what is happening, that’s okay”—not an exact quote, but I recall them making some comment to the effect that ‘it’s okay if you are confused by what we are doing’.  There was a part where people were in “jail” and I think there was a part that expressed concern for workers’ rights (if I remember correctly there were workers in a factory that were eaten up by the corporate machine?).  There was also a piece that seemed to be mocking well-to-do people who try to “help” others? (this was a predominately female “dinner” party at a restaurant?  I wish I could be more specific…..  I should really not procrastinate and write these sooner.

I am really happy that this type of art is being made.   I didn’t mind feeling like I had to “work” for it….it’s ok for me to need to concentrate to grasp the message, or even debate if there was a message for me to grasp.  This show was unlike other media I consume on a regular basis and I even liked that it made me think that it was mocking me personally a little bit and made me uncomfortable- because I had to then reflect why I was uncomfortable and why they might have been mocking aspects of me (not personally of course, but some choices perhaps I make).  I would definitely see another production from this company, and I would recommend it to friends who would be open to this type of experience.

On The Water

(Eris Temple, 22Apr, later that night)

What they say it is

(per band website, )

Strange folk from West Philadelphia.   Too weird for the mainstream.

NEW Clay Says graphic Ernie

I think I’ve seen this band before; they may have played shows with another great, fond Philadelphia act S.T.A.R.W.O.O.D. ( ).  However, I may not have given them enough attention in past outings, or perhaps the band has evolved, or perhaps I myself have changed and grown.  Impossible to tell, these things.  However, although Eris Temple was pretty crowded (architecturally speaking, a temple in name only–the venue is less like the grand monument you’re probably envisioning, and more like an appropriately odd, inevitably crowded west philly house show), I managed to snag a spot for On The Water’s set . . . and boy, I was impressed.

I wanna give a shout out to The Secret Admirer for hyping this show–it’s the specific reason we went.  We even saw the editor of the paper there–but we didn’t talk to him.  At least, not directly.  Wink nudge wink.

on the water

Of the 4 miniblog art reviews in this post, OtW was my favorite by several lengths.  Their music is moving, full of uplift and downbeats, flavors of country campfire sing-alongs and rocking all-together-now vibrations, a delicious pairing of bliss and tragedy and heartfelt, even daring, song composition.  I really liked the show and am simply trying to be a bit creative in the way I describe it, because the band really deserves it.  At moments, the music felt better than this tiny space could contain—like an imminent explosion of passion, dark magic–and yet, just a few bars later, the same sound would turn a corner and masquerade like a secret show we’ve stumbled into, together, this little crowded room, just the band and you and I, a private thing for now and never again.

Not being overly familiar with their music, I was lucky to experience that sense of freshness and the flavor explosion one gets when parachuting into a veteran band’s full-fledged concert experience, the newbie eye opener, the “hey these guys are really good, where have I been?” kind of moments I live for.  Recommended.  On the Water.  See them now in their native habitat, the world.

NEW Tara Says Graphic

I lack musicality and musical training.  I can say that I also enjoyed listening to this On The Water band, I also enjoyed the band who played a couple acts prior to On The Water (I remember, they had horns….).  I do need to confess- I was really interested in catching up with some of our friends that were at the show that night- we stopped our gum flapping to watch On the Water and I was impressed by their musicality but just as the dancing (next review) is more my wheel house, the music blog is Clay’s area of expertise.

Fronteras: A Door in the Desert (Fringearts, May 5)

What they say it is:

Fronteras: A Door in the Desert is an acrobatic journey through transcendence and back, one that questions why we divide and label ourselves.   How you get there isn’t the point. Unlock the door, and for a moment you and it are one, fused together in a non-social space with some cows around. You tumble past cactuses. Unfamiliar faces greet you, but their unknown language is not an obstacle. Not all who are lost wander. Not all who are tired sleep.   Abstract shapes made of human bodies, movement that twists the rules of what is possible and what is expected. Circus mats fall like big walls on top of people. A Door in the Desert physicalizes the identities we build for ourselves and the layers upon layers of beliefs and ideas. What does it take to tear down our own walls?

NEW Clay Says graphic Ernie

Tara picked this one.  I was interested, given the odd description.  As I’ve noted before, I’m not the world’s HUGEST fan of dance-related arts—this is much more her thing—but I’m game when it’s a little off, unique, circuslike, whatever.  Just not straight up ballet.  Not traditional dance.  Not my thing.  Am I clear?  Weird dance yes. Normal dance, no.  Are we cool?  We’re cool.

This one, as you can see from the advertisement above, sounded abstract, unusual.  It delivered.  I wasn’t floored—but the show was neat, and the dancers/acrobats/performers were just dandy.  There were a number of routines (forgive me if I don’t use correct terminology) and phases to the show.  It began with people rolling around in the floor.  I couldn’t tell how many there were (people, that is—there was only one floor) which was ‘pretty cool’.  When they untangled themselves, there turned out to be 6.  They then proceeded to do all sorts of dances and movements.  Many of them featured a comical donkey head!  A burro, if you will—there was a Latino flavor to some of the performance, such as a man (apparently) attempting to cross an international border, accompanied by a suitcase and, as mentioned, a human-donkey hybrid.

Am I doing an excellent job of describing this show?  I am not.  There is, however, truth in what I am saying—there was a man (and sometimes woman) clad in a mask-like donkey head.  Many sections of the show included revels in which people did tumbling and tossing of the other troupe members.  A dancer would try to cross the room, and others would leap upon them, tossing them in all sorts of crazy leaps, somersaults, flips, and goofy poses.  In particular, one of the thinner gentlemen was sort of amazing, able to pull off the quickest leaps and spins in seemingly dangerous, rapid-fire succession.  There were a bunch of sections of the show where the performers leapt high into the air off of each other’s shoulders.  And then did flips.  Or falls.  Or caught each other.  It was kool.  Da coolest.

another rehersal

internet photo of the rehearsal

Ha, can you tell I’ve written enough of these reviews?  The show was $20. That was a pretty fair price for what we got.  The house was packed, Tara gets quite excited for the acrobatics, that makes me happy, it was just the right length.  We had end seats.  We saw men and women leaping.  Winning.


NEW Tara Says GraphicThis show was I believe sponsored by the Mexican cultural center, there were some certificates that were passed out at the end of the production, and you can surmise that the Mexican cultural center might be interested in shows that raise awareness about borders, (cough, cough orange buffoon and nonsense talk about some ridiculous walls).

I may be lacking some information about the show due to some of the dialogue being in Spanish (which I unfortunately do not speak).

The show opened as described by Clay with the troupe enmeshed and rolling across the stage (I thought it looked a lot like a tumble weed).  I appreciated the intimacy that this troupe must have developed to be able to so intimately touch as they wriggled and writhed and slithered between and around each other and how much trust must be developed when I watched the acrobatics of the troupe as they lifted, caught and supported each other during the routine.

One scene stands out in my memory – because it is sooo relatable.  The troupe creates an outsider moment- it could be about us/Mexican borders or it could be that playground moment when your friends decided you were the outsider that day.  The actors created a border between the larger group and a revolving “outsider”.  The “outsider” would perform throws, twists and tumbles while they were trying to enter the group or when they were literally being tossed out of the group.  I don’t know if it was functionality (i.e. one performer should not do a large number of tricks for the whole scene) or they were making a specific point about the arbitrariness of the being the outsider by rotating the actor who was playing the outsider role.

Another clever part of the show was when the performers would create a wall or archway or passage or door with their bodies during the production that other performers would then pass through.   What a lovely metaphor as well as excellent use of staging.

There is a lovely duo performed with such love and intimacy.  The two performers stay in contact during the whole scene, and (a bit like the genie from Pee Wee’s Playhouse) they keep contact with the head of the performer during the dance.  I say genie because the movement focuses on the head of the performer and the head floats and keep contact with the other dancers’ body.—this is very poorly described but was beautiful to watch.


rehearsal shot from instagram

I personally was having a great deal of fear relating to performer safety during a scene where one performer stood on the shoulders of another performer and then they proceeded to complete a number of actions across the stage.  I was so worried that they would lose balance and there was nothing but the hard ground to catch them, but, in the end, in spite of my fears, all the performers were well trained and no one lost their balance.  It looked extremely challenging  to balance on the shoulders of another person.

Lastly, there was a scene in which a number of people (and the person with the donkey helmet) passing through security.  The burro passes right through security at the airport but the man is stopped and made to continue through a number of further security points.  I am not sure what the statement was here?  That discrimination is random and therefore ridiculous (ie a donkey gets through?), or as likely, it was also for comic effect.



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