Chuck Darrow: Friends taking the stage to benefit ailing playwright

Posted: January 25, 2013

IF YOU CAN measure a person's fortune by his or her friends, then Ed Shockley may be one of Philadelphia's richest people.

Shockley, who turns 56 Saturday, is the award-winning author of about 80 plays. In September, he suffered a serious stroke. While his physical rehabilitation has proceeded apace, he is still suffering some cognitive and communication problems that have seriously cut into his ability to earn income and pay bills.

Saturday, a number of his friends in the local theater community are rallying at Queen Village's Shubin Theatre to celebrate Shockley's career and, more importantly, raise some money to help relieve the financial pressures he's facing.

The program is the first in what event organizers hope will be a series of fundraisers under the umbrella of the Ed Shockley Project. It will feature readings from three of Shockley's works ("The Woodcarver's Band," "The Misadventures of Cat and Mouse-Bird," "The Greatest Life That Never Was") directed and performed by members of the regional theater scene. Between segments, friends and colleagues will offer testimonials to Shockley's talent and importance to Philly's theater community.

"Everybody loves Ed and wanted to be part of this," said playwright Kate McGrath, chairwoman of the Shockley Project. "All this rallying is because he gave so much, not just as an artist, but as a mentor and an administrator and founder of several" theater-related entities, including the Philadelphia Dramatists Center and American Concert Theatre.

"It's sort of what Ed represents and what he champions [that] we're rallying around, as well as our concern for him as an individual, and his family."

McGrath noted that although neither Shockley nor his wife, Terri, executive director of the Community Education Center in West Philadelphia, a nonprofit arts organization, has health insurance, the money raised Saturday will go toward nonmedical expenses.

As noted, McGrath and other Friends of Ed are hoping Saturday's presentation is just the beginning of an ongoing campaign to benefit Shockley.

"There was a letter sent out to all of the area's producing companies who we think might be able to do a benefit performance. The Shubin is one small event, but then after that, we're really hoping that anyone who knows Ed or has a connection to him - maybe managing directors or artistic directors - will understand this is a unique situation and consider doing maybe an open dress rehearsal or industry night.

"Sometimes those are discounted-ticket, pay-what-you-will [events]. Almost all the companies do this. Those are very often done for a variety of nonprofits and charitable organizations.

"So, we've been trying to say, 'If you guys can have this be for the Shockley Project, that money will go Ed's family and that will be great.' "

Shubin Theatre, 407 Bainbridge St., 7 p.m., $25 (suggested donation), 215-592-0119 (Ext. 1; reservations required), Facebook: Friends of Ed Shockley Assistance Page.

Adrienne premieres 'Assassin'

During a 1978 preseason football game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, Raiders safety Jack Tatum tackled Patriots' receiver Darryl Stingley. It should have been a routine play in a meaningless game, but the hit, although legal, wound up paralyzing Stingley for life.

Wednesday, Center City's Adrienne Theatre raised the curtain on the world premiere of "Assassin," an 80-minute, single-act play by localite David Robson that fictionally what-ifs the long-term aftermath of that event.

The somewhat ambiguous ending of the two-character program - a co-production of InterAct Theatre Company and Act II Playhouse - makes it difficult to ascertain Robson's point. Tatum may have been known as a particularly brutal player, but it's unlikely he sought to cripple any opponent. But as it turns out, that doesn't really matter, for the payoff in "Assassin" - which crackles under Seth Reichgott's surehanded direction - is in the often-electrifying work of its two performers.

Set in a generic hotel room realistically rendered by set designer Dirk Durosette, the piece - which runs through Feb. 10 - is built around the verbal parry-and-thrust between Frank Lucas, a bullish, long-retired Raiders' defensive back, known in his playing days as "Assassin" who, 25 years earlier, permanently put an unseen receiver in a wheelchair, and the younger-by-a-generation Lewis Turner, a lawyer who has more skin in the play's tragic aftermath than we first suspect.

The script dictates that Lucas physically dominates the stage. But a hulking physique and menacing, shaved-head visage aren't Brian Anthony Wilson's only cards to play. His Frank is a fully rendered, ever-changing mass of machismo and wounded vulnerability, incisiveness and oafishness.

As the lawyer whose agenda is not what it first appears to be, Dwayne A. Thomas' performance is similarly nuanced and shape-shifting. Together, the two give a master class on acting, and make "Assassin" a most worthy endeavor.

Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St., show times vary, $37, $35, $31 and $30 (based on date), 215-568-8077,

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