'Philadelphia Phiction' Opens At Walnut Studio

Posted: March 16, 1990

The Arden Theatre Company's season finale, which opened last night in the Walnut's fifth-floor studio space, consists of 14 pieces by eight writers who live in the Philadelphia area or have some connection thereto, whose work - short stories, poems, one-act plays - was picked out of some 300 submissions and adapted to an omnibus format by Terrence J. Nolen and Aaron Posner, producing and artistic director, respectively, of the Arden, and free-lance director-choreographer Deborah Block.

This "eclectic collage" has been whimsically titled "Philadelphia Phiction." Fiction it is, but little of it, beyond a very brief piece on ''Philly Summer Fountains," seems to have a significantly Philadelphia flavor. And I say, thank heaven for the omissions. There isn't a trace of a whisper about our quaint vernacular, cheese steaks, Schuylkill punch, the Mummers or the mayors we have known and loved.

I would not, in fact, have thought that such a wide selection of smart contemporary material had been flowing from local pens - but then the Ardenites are continually showing us that they are capable of small miracles.

The evening opens with a bright and amusing bit of doggerel from one Hank Schwemmer about "Jeremy Jason McDaniel McGrath," a boy who dreads mightily taking a bath, and trips its way merrily through Donald Barthelme's winning little saga of oneupmanship featuring Maggie and Hilda on the steps of the

conservatory (plus a sequel in Act 2), a trio of fed-up young wives composing nasty pink slips to their mates - that, by Kim Jennings Powell - and Paul Kolsby's witty rondo of sexual musical chairs, "I'll Take Margo."

The pick of Act 1 is another Barthelme piece, "The School," in which a feckless teacher, played with consummate wryness by Tim Moyer, reviews a term in which class projects involving trees, snakes, salamanders, tropical fish and so on, have ended precipitately with the deaths of the flora and fauna involved - a jinx that extends inexplicably to a number of parents and grandparents and even a couple of the pupils themselves. The surviving pupils choose, as their next project, a classroom demonstration of sexual mechanics by the teacher and his female assistant. A knock on the door and the entrance of a stray gerbil rescues the demonstrators in the nick of time.

Act 2 commences with the longest piece of the evening and the core of the production, "Paint," which was adapted by Nolen from a short story by Rachel Simon in a collection soon to be published by Houghton Mifflin.

In "Paint," a promiscuous 15-year-old vagrant goes to work as an artist's model and discovers that she, herself, is going to be the canvas in a continuing seven-part environmental work. In a reverse Pygmalion twist, the work of art transforms the artist from an indecisive scapegoat into a man sure of his gifts and his worth. Murph Henderson and, again, Moyer, give sensitive performances as the girl and the artist, respectively, and provide a palpable solidity for an evening that is otherwise determinedly though entertainingly lightheaded.

PHILADELPHIA PHICTION

Arden Theatre Co. presents the world premiere of an eclectic collage of poetry, prose and drama by Philadelphia writers, including Donald Barthelme, Paul Kolsby, Linda Y. McCree, Michael Norris, Michele Osherow, Kim Jennings

Powell, Hank Schwemmer and Rachel Simon, adapted and directed by Deborah Block, Terrence J. Nolen and Aaron Posner. Set by Melinda Oblinger and Meg Hyatt, lighting by Ellen Owens, costumes by Jilline Ringle, sound by C.E. Slisky.

The members of the ensemble are Robert Christophe, Grace Gonglewski, Murph Henderson, Tim Moyer, Dan Olmstead and Hayden Saunier.

Playing at: Studio Five of the Walnut Street Theatre, 9th and Walnut streets, through April 8.

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