In this election year, New York City isn't the only town where theatres are taking on politics. Come Sept. 27, Philadelphia's Wilma Theatre started its 2000-01 season with a biting political satire: Spin, by Robert William Sherwood. The show, which officially opened Sept. 27, ends its scheduled run Oct. 22.
Spin tells of two spin doctors locking horns on the night before a major presidential debate. One, a campaign manager, feels his candidate has an insurmountable lead -- until a rumor threatens to turn into a full blown scandal. Wilma co artistic director Blanca Zizka directs the piece, which premiered at London's White Bear Theatre. The play also received an Oct. 16 reading at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre.
Sherwood, author of The Last True Believer, Absolution and Thugs, said in a statement that, "increasingly, we want to know everything, and I mean everything, about our public figures, and about each other... no detail is too private for our curiosity... How much are we entitled to know about each other's pasts?"
Gordana Rashovich, last seen on Broadway in Conversations With My Father, was set for the cast but left the show and was replaced by Barbara Gulan (The Knee Desires the Dirt Off Broadway). The cast change was "A mutual decision between Gordana and Blanca [Ziska]," production spokesperson Damian Sinclair told Playbill On-Line (Sept. 1). "It just wasn't working out, and Barbara was still available."
Adam Grupper, late of Broadway's The Wild Party, is also among the five-person ensemble cast, alongside Steve Brady, Jennifer Child and Janis Dardaris. Designing the show are James Kronzer (set), Janus Stefanowicz (costumes), John Stephen Hoey (lighting), Elaine Tague (sound) and Tobin Rothlein (video). Though the voting season hasn't launched a full slate of political plays, Manhattan has seen more than its average share of shows on the subject, from the spoofing of Capitol Steps to a Broadway revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man to a look at the ramifications of politically incorrect behavior in Spinning Into Butter to the political comedy of High Infidelity.
Wilma spokesperson Damian J. Sinclair told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 22) that Spin promises to be "an edgy look at behind the scenes at American politics. The author's inspiration was Clinton's run against Bush, but it's not about any specific party or political people."
For tickets and information on Spin, which started previews Sept. 20 at the Wilma Theater, between Broad & Spruce Streets, call (215) 546 7824.
Also scheduled for the Wilma season:
• Nov. 22-Dec. 31: the one-acts Black Comedy, by Peter Shaffer, and The Real Inspector Hound, by Tom Stoppard. Co-artistic director Jiri Zizka will direct the two zany pieces, the first about a party where all the lights go off (though the audience sees the reverse), the second about a pair of critics who stumble into an Agatha Christie style mystery play.
• Feb. 28-April 1, 2001: Perfect Pie gets served up by director Blanka Zizka. Canadian playwright Judith Thompson’s drama tells of childhood friends reuniting, one having become a wife and mom and the other now a famous actress. Other Thompson plays include Lion in the Streets and White Biting Dog.
• May 16-June 24, 2001: Passion, Steven Sondheim’s last Broadway musical to date, tells of a handsome army captain wooed, and ultimately won, by a gloomy, homely woman. Jiri Zizka directs this somber work by the composer of Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and Assassins.
As for the second-stage, Wilma 2 series, two well-received New York solos will make their way to Philadelphia: Velvetville (Jan. 10-14, 2001) and The Gimmick (April 4-15, 2001).
Velvetville which played at OOB’s P.S. 122 in January, features "an array of cheesy black velvet paintings." These artworks, commissioned by Zaloom and featuring such kitschy characters as the Smurfs, trolls and card playing dogs (as well as the obligatory Elvis), occupy one of the arenas in Velvetville's three-ring circus, which promises "breathtakingly cheap special effects."
In ring one, Zaloom's stage is an overhead projector, on which he works a menagerie of puppets made out of food products and "99-cent store junk." Ring two spotlights the velvet paintings, an art form which Zaloom claims is 2,000 years old. Finally, in the third ring, a puppet drama is enacted in which rubber rats play humans and an L.A. bus is represented by a gas mask.
All of the above somehow has to do with a bad dream Zaloom had one night. As for Zaloom, the star of TV's "Beakman's World" -- he’s dressed at each performance in mismatched pajamas and a nightcap.
Performance artist Dael Orlandersmith’s The Gimmick has played at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre (July-August 1999) and New York Theater Workshop (April 1999). The Gimmick tells of two childhood friends from East Harlem. Together they dream of careers as artists and the elusive "gimmick" that will take them out of their current surrounding into the life they desire. With the help of a kindly librarian, the young girl poet sees a light at the end of the tunnel. Her friend gets his chance through painting, but the siren song of drugs too often pulls him in the wrong direction.
Orlandersmith's past works include Monster and Beauty's Daughter.
For subscription information for the Wilma Theater call (215) 546-7824.
-- By David Lefkowitz