QTG

MY FAIR LADY - Reviews and Photos by Gregory Isaac

We've just about hit the mid-point of our run of MY FAIR LADY at Quintessence Theatre Group.  Attendance continues to swell, and I think there is actually a palpable buzz around the production here on the northwest side of Philadelphia.  An extension week (through December 23rd) has already been announced, and I have been approached by many patrons who have bragged eagerly about attending the show multiple times.

The materials we have to work with - both George Bernard Shaw's original text (from his play, PYGMALION, of course), and the score composed for the musical by Lerner & Loewe - are iconic and legendary for a reason, and it is a real joy to play it with such a talented and committed ensemble of performers. I cannot imagine a better group of people to be tackling this show with.

It is a testament to Shaw's genius that the plot he conceived, and the characters who move through it can still evoke such a strong response with our audiences.  Many of the issues it presents and wrestles with are even more vital today than ever.  I have, understandably, spent a great deal of time in the last few months, pondering Professor Higgins and his point of view.  First, I must say that I am incredibly grateful to Mr. Shaw for granting us (and me) a character packed full up with both brilliance and flaws, virtuosity and deplorability, who delights and disgusts in both extraordinary ways and equal measure.  He feels incredibly human to me, three-dimensional and so very, very real.  He is not a collection of randomly assigned character traits, but a HUMAN, whole and true, whose wit, and fears, and triumphs and failings are all tightly interconnected and constructed by a playwright who was not only better than most, but at the height of his powers. While I cannot fault anyone in this particular moment of our social and cultural history who chooses to write him off as a simple misogynist, I find I cannot fully agree with that distilled assessment.  Henry Higgins is every bit the titan of personality that his counterpart, Eliza Doolittle is (and I like to think that my performance is coming something close to doing him that justice).

But regarding Higgins and Eliza, there is no doubt in my mind that one entity is greatly diminished without the other, and I am incredibly grateful to be sharing that task with Leigha Kato.  She is a "tower of strength, a consort battleship," and brings to her Eliza not only a full-voiced glory, but a fire and intelligence that I greatly admire.  She is the best of all possible scene partners.  Marcia Saunders, Doug Hara, Bradley Mott, and Lee Cortopassi are each giving their own master classes on stage every night as well, and the game just keeps getting better every time we play it.  It hasn't been easy, this one, but I've found it incredibly rewarding, and I look forward every night to walking into the theatre with my co-workers to try the whole thing all over again.

But enough of me blathering on, and on.  Here's what a few of the professional opinionators had to say...

"MY FAIR LADY gets the Quintessence treatment: intimate, stripped down, concentrating on character, language, and action. It's a success.  An evening full of heady emotion, the spectacle of people changing before your eyes, and a profound closing truth, all the more profound right now."  - John Timpane, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Quintessence Theatre's MY FAIR LADY is a jubilant mix of beautiful songs, dancing, magic, social politics... and elocution.  It's a splendid show, a holiday gift"   - Kathryn Osenlund, writing for phindie.com

"Kato's Doolittle has the perfect insufferable Henry Higgins to teach her how to be a lady with proper English: Gregory Isaac.  He plays the nasty know-it-all linguist with a smirk that seems to be born to the character."  - Howard Shapiro, writing for WHYY

And finally I want to share a thought that Amanda Morton, our incredibly talented 2nd piano player (though really it's more like Piano 1, and 1A), posted on Instagram about the show just before our opening night.  I found it very thoughtful and insightful:
"I grew up loving this show, then discovered problems with it as i got older, but have somehow fallen back in love with it thanks to [director] Alexander Burns' thoughtful, intelligent hand in revealing the complexity of a dynamic that, at first glance, can be repugnant.  However, it seems to me that Eliza and Henry are looking to be understood, and perhaps find a more evloved kind of love that acknowledges its flaws from the get and doesn't mind a lively verbal spar.  It is not our commecial vision of relationships, but it's deeply human and for that reason, touches me."

We now run until December 23rd.  PLEASE come to Mt. Airy and check us out.  You won't be sorry that you did.

Gregory Isaac as "Higgins" and Leigha Kato as "Eliza".  Photo by Shawn May.

Gregory Isaac as "Higgins" and Leigha Kato as "Eliza".  Photo by Shawn May.

Doug Hara as "Col. Pickering".  Photo by Shawn May.

Doug Hara as "Col. Pickering".  Photo by Shawn May.

The Ensemble in the Ascot Gavot.  Photo by Shawn May.

The Ensemble in the Ascot Gavot.  Photo by Shawn May.

Leigha Kato as "Eliza," and Gregory Isaac as "Higgins".  Photo by Shawn May.

Leigha Kato as "Eliza," and Gregory Isaac as "Higgins".  Photo by Shawn May.

Coming Up! - 'IPHIGENIA' and 'HOPE & GRAVITY' by Gregory Isaac

My summer months have been anything but quiet, and my 2017-'18 season continues to get clearer and clearer as it quickly approaches.  

I'm already in the thick of rehearsals for Philadelphia Artists' Collective's fall production of IPHIGENIA AT AULIS, the 2,500 year old Greek tragedy by Euripides. Dan Hodge, one of P.A.C.'s founders, is directing.  I've admired his work in various capacities around the city since I got here, and I'm really happy to finally be spending some time in the same room with him on IPHIGENIA.

The show is being produced in conjunction with FringeArts as apart of the annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and will be performed on board the U.S.S. Olympia at the Independence Seaport Museum, underneath the Ben Franklin Bridge.  It's my first Greek play, and I'll be trying my hand (and left foot?) as "Achilles".

--> IPHIGENIA AT AULIS will run from September 7th - 22nd, 2017

ALSO:
I've been cast in 1812 Productions' spring staging of HOPE & GRAVITY, a comedy by Michael Hollinger about the curious ways that nine people's lives intersect when an elevator crashes in an urban high-rise.  Jennifer Childs will direct the five person ensemble, and the show will run at 1812's home, the historic Plays & Players Theatre in Center City.

--> HOPE & GRAVITY will run April 26th - May 20th, 2018

And, yes, I'm still on target to appear at Professor Higgins in Quintessence Theatre Group's holiday production of MY FAIR LADY.  That show will, I'm sure, be right on top of me before I know it.  I am still thrilled and appropriately daunted at the prospect.  I'll soon be growing very re-accustomed to Leigha Kato's very talented face, as she prepares what I'm sure will be a star turn as Eliza Doolittle.

--> MY FAIR LADY will run from November 15th - December 17th, 2017 at the Sedgwick Theater in the Mount Airy Neighborhood of northwest Philly.  

IaA Postcard.jpg
hope - gravity image final small.jpg
QTG MFL.jpg

My "Fair" Holiday Plans... by Gregory Isaac

Quintessence Theatre Group, the company I've come to think of as "home" here in Philadelphia, revealed their eighth season this past week.  It's a big, bold line-up of classics, new and old.  

It also includes one big "first" for the company. Quintessence will stage it's first full-fledged musical, and I will be playing a crucial part.  I am pleased to announce that I'm set to appear as Professor Higgins in MY FAIR LADY, directed by Alexander Burns, and running from November 15 - December 17th, 2017.

I think the show fits in very nicely with QTG's usual fare, as the book draws almost exclusively from George Bernard Shaw's PYGMALION, and features some of Lerner and Loewe's most memorable song writing.

In addition to an expanded Family Series, the Quintessence season also includes Eugene O'Neill's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, Beckett's WAITING FOR GODOT, and a spring repertory of Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR and Henrik Ibsen's THE WILD DUCK.

More details about the coming season, including a spate of guest directors, casting and ticket sales, will soon be available on the company website.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to stretching a few acting muscles I haven't tested in a few years.  And I'll have more to tell about where else you'll find me in the '17-'18 Philly theatre season very soon! 

LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST and THE BROKEN HEART - Reviews and Photos by Gregory Isaac

We are entering the final week of the "Love and Longing Repertory" at Quintessence Theatre Group, a 17th century double bill, of Shakespeare's LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST and John Ford's THE BROKEN HEART, (both set to close this weekend on April 23rd).

Working in repertory can be a maddening challenge.  You spend weeks in rehearsals, but with two full productions to attend to, both time and focus is split, making the production process feel lean and rushed. This is only more true when working on what some refer to as "true" rep, when the full cast and crew are working on both shows.  Mentally exhausting at times, yes, but once the machine is up and running, and has momentum, it is one of the most satisfying experiences I've had as a performer.  This, now, is the third time I have been a part of the process at Quintessence, and the highs and lows are just as tangible as ever. 

I like to think that the true effect of repertory is best experienced by an audience who sees both shows - perhaps on the same day, if possible - but I'm pleased to say that both LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST and THE BROKEN HEART stand as artistic achievements each on their own merits.  There are only six performances remaining before we close (two of LLL, and four of TBH), and one chance left to see them both, back-to-back, tomorrow, Wednesday the 19th.

Here's is a sample of some reviews and photos to entice you...

"Quintessence artistic director, Alexander Burns, excelled with large-scale classical dram in his first six seasons, but LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST reveals a confident comedic approach exceeding his earlier efforts."
   -Mark Cofta for the Broad Street Review

"The words and wit of Shakespeare are wonderfully, ofttimes wickedly (in the best way) delivered by a superb acting ensemble... All of these warring courtiers of amour vivify the romantic comedy with superb pop and sizzle."
   -Lisa Panzer for DC Metro Theater Arts

"THE BROKEN HEART richly rewards attention paid to it. Quintessence actors skillfully meet the twin challenges of subtleties of dialogue and grotesqueries of action as the present John Ford's exquisite poetry, hot drama, and cold blood."
   -Kathryn Osenlund for phindie

"Best reader among the actors is Gregory Isaac as the insanely jealous Bassanes.  With his beautiful voice and mastery of the poetry, he creates a Bassanes reminiscent of Leontes of 'The Winter's Tale'."
   -John Timpane for the Philadelphia Inquirer

Mattie Hawkinson, Josh Carpenter, and Gregory Isaac in THE BROKEN HEART Photo by Shawn May

Mattie Hawkinson, Josh Carpenter, and Gregory Isaac in THE BROKEN HEART
Photo by Shawn May

Kristin Devine, Mattie Hawkinson, Dana Kreitz, and Aneesa Neibauer in LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST Photo by Shawn May

Kristin Devine, Mattie Hawkinson, Dana Kreitz, and Aneesa Neibauer in LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST
Photo by Shawn May

John Williams, and Christopher Garofalo in LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST Photo by Shawn May

John Williams, and Christopher Garofalo in LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST
Photo by Shawn May

Dana Kreitz, Aneesa Neibauer, and Mattie Hawkinson in THE BROKEN HEART Photo by Shawn May

Dana Kreitz, Aneesa Neibauer, and Mattie Hawkinson in THE BROKEN HEART
Photo by Shawn May

Gregory Isaac, Michael Gamache, Daniel Miller, Josh Carpenter, John Basiulis, and Josiah Jacoby in LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST   Photo by Shawn May

Gregory Isaac, Michael Gamache, Daniel Miller, Josh Carpenter, John Basiulis, and Josiah Jacoby in LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST   Photo by Shawn May