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BETRAYAL Reviews & Photos by Gregory Isaac

We’re just past the halfway point now of our six week run of Harold Pinter’s BETRAYAL at the Lantern Theater Company. Earlier this week we had our final scheduled post-show audience talkback. I’ve been really excited by the intelligent discourse initiated by our audiences, as inspired by the play.

The plot deals with a seven-year affair that Jerry (Jered McLenigan) has with Emma (Genevieve Perrier) despite the fact that her husband Robert (myself) is his best and oldest friend. (Ryan Hagan also has a delightful cameo as an Italian waiter in Act Two.) But Pinter doles out the plot of BETRAYAL in reverse chronological order, twisting Time and showing us the “end “ of the story at the beginning of the play and working backwards to show us the “beginning” in the final scene.

Gregory Isaac & Genevieve Perrier - Photo by Mark Garvin

Gregory Isaac & Genevieve Perrier - Photo by Mark Garvin

Our talk-back questions often began with this particular story-telling device, and an interesting observation emerged: Even though we learn how the story “ends” after the first two scenes of the play (the backwards time jumping first occurs before scene three), an audience can still only discover the full course of the story in real, forward time. As such, Pinter has ensured that in every scene, there is something new for the audience to learn about the narrative, sometimes by way of adding unexpected, new information, sometimes by finding surprising ways to subvert what the audience thinks they know already. I believe, at it’s heart, this is largely what BETRAYAL is about; exploring who knows what and when they know it, how they use that knowledge to hold power over others, and the lies they are willing to tell (or the truths they are willing to omit) to maintain that control. These revelations are spooled out gradually with each successive scene, and so the multi-layered discovery process - for the audience in real time, and for the characters in backward time - is very much part of the pleasure of watching the show.

The play is also populated by interesting characters who make a collection of very interesting choices - and not all of those characters are even seen onstage during the play. Judith is Jerry’s oft mentioned, but never seen wife. She is discussed directly or referred to in every scene of the play except the very last one. She is not only Jerry’s wife, but the mother of their two children, and has a full career as a medical doctor (in 1960s/70s England, no less!). She is clearly an impressive woman, and none of our talk-back audiences failed to bring her up. They openly wondered many things about her; her unseen exploits, wondering if and with whom she might be having affairs of her own, pondering if she really might have known all along about Jerry’s affair with Emma. I like to think that generating that much curiosity in a character we never even see is a strong endorsement for the show - or at least for the strength of Pinter’s writing.

(As a bit of side trivia: Pinter liked to send the first drafts of his plays to Samuel Beckett to get his thoughts and advice. After first responding to Pinter how much he liked the text, Beckett then followed up several weeks later to say, “I think of BETRAYAL. Strange poor present Judith throughout as if invisible watching it all.”)

The audiences’ curiosity was in no way limited to Judith. They frequently asks us why we thought our characters made the decisions they did, what we thought might have happened next, whether or not it was possible that some of the characters STILL hadn’t been entirely truthful about what they had done or when, and so on.

Genevieve Perrier & Jered McLenigan - Photo by Mark Garvin

Genevieve Perrier & Jered McLenigan - Photo by Mark Garvin

So each of those conversations proved to be extremely thoughtful and engaging, but honestly that dialog essentially exists during the performance every night. It’s a very satisfying play to perform, as Jered, Genevieve, Ryan and I navigate the revelations and omissions with each audience. Even Becca Smith, our stage manager, has said it’s the rare show that even she feels she must “perform” each night, feeling out the house’s responses and reactions and judging when to hold or execute certain cues from the booth (especially ends of scenes) in order to direct and give space for their discovery of the play each night.

A friend who saw the show recently asked afterwards what I thought was the message that Pinter wanted the audience to take away from the play. I honestly don’t know if I know the answer to that. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe there is. I think it’s entirely possible that Pinter’s impetus to write was simply a personal examination of his own experiences, as he himself had a seven year affair with Joan Blackwell until only a few years before he wrote this play. But I think there is more in the fabric of the play than just that: A study of memory, the passage of time, and why we love the people we love, and perhaps the ways in which we are willing to compete in order to attain or retain them.

Suffice it to say, though this has been my first opportunity to work on one of Pinter’s plays, I hope the next opportunity comes around soon.
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I’ve realized lately that reviews are less and less important to me, but I do still read them, and the reviews we’ve received for this production have been largely very positive:

-Toby Zinman, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, described our production as “A subtle, powerful rendition of Harold Pinter’s delicious, sinister love triangle.”

Genevieve Perrier, Gregory Isaac & Jered McLenigan - Photo by Mark Garvin

Genevieve Perrier, Gregory Isaac & Jered McLenigan - Photo by Mark Garvin

-Howard Shapiro, for WHYY, wrote that the show, “comes off with a quiet passion; directed with precision; and performed with enormous reserve.” He says he once thought he never wanted to see the play again, but, “Lantern’s satisfying production makes me glad I did.”

-Rebecca Rendell, writing for Talkin’ Broadway, offered me a special shout out, writing that, “Isaac’s passionate stoicism is a thing of beauty and reason enough to see this production before it closes,” adding that the production is, “Frequently funny, consistently engaging, and marvelously enigmatic.”

And yes, we also got one review from a once notable reviewer which was so full of venom and snark that I could barely take it seriously. I offer it to you here with no shame whatsoever.

Our BETRAYAL will continue through February 17th, for 8 performances a week at the Lantern Theater Company here in Center City, Philadelphia. I hope you’ll get a chance to see it for yourself.

HOPE & GRAVITY - Reviews and Photos by Gregory Isaac

Somehow, we're already entering our final weekend with HOPE & GRAVITY with 1812 Productions.  Time definitely flies when you're having fun!  It's been a really great process from start to finish and from on stage to back.

It's been a good while since I have worked on a piece with the playwright in the room with us, let alone one with the success and clout that Michael Hollinger has.  I can't say enough about the the amount of trust he gave us while he allowed us to work out his words in front of him every day.  He was gracious and lovely and supportive and patient.  No actor could ask for more.

I can also confirm, the rumors are true: Jennifer Childs is kind of a genius, kickass, director/human.  I learned a LOT from her in this process, and, as I told her on opening night, there is a great deal of her work in my work on this show.  I really don't know if I would have been able to find the right place for Hal and Peter without her help.

Plus, Suli, Jessica, Sean, David, Grace, Jess, Julia, Lindsay, and Tom BRING IT every night down there at the Plays & Players Theater on Delancey Street.  You've got 'til just this Sunday to come and see it before it's gone!

Here's a little bit of what they've been saying about us...

"Michael Hollinger’s title, Hope and Gravity, refers to elements in opposition: hope raises us up, gravity pulls us down. In his comedy, locally premiered by 1812 Productions, hope prevails — not only in the play’s themes but in Jennifer Childs’s entertaining production."
---Mark Cofta, Broad Street Review

"Producing artistic director and company cofounder Jennifer Childs directs a strong cast with broad strokes and high energy, nailing the laughs and most of the darker moments."
---Julia M. Klein, Philadelphia Inquirer

"There’s a thrill in chasing this plot — it’s always tantalizingly ahead of you — and finally nailing it. The thrill extends to witnessing five agile actors, some in dual roles, as they lay out this story that happens in the past, or sometimes in the future, yet also in the present."
---Howard Shapiro, WHYY

Gregory Isaac, David Ingram, Sean Close, and Jessica Johnson - Photo by Mark Garvin

Gregory Isaac, David Ingram, Sean Close, and Jessica Johnson - Photo by Mark Garvin

David Ingram, and Suli Holum - Photo by  Mark Garvin

David Ingram, and Suli Holum - Photo by Mark Garvin

Suli Holum and Gregory Isaac - Photo by  Mark Garvin

Suli Holum and Gregory Isaac - Photo by Mark Garvin

DOCTOR FAUSTUS - Reviews and Photos by Gregory Isaac

We got good news this morning from the theatre:  Buzz and tickets sales have been so strong that we are extending our "Devils and Saints" rep at Quintessence Theatre an additional week, through May 1st!! A really powerful, and very well received production of SAINT JOAN got us going a few weeks ago, I'm pleased to report that DOCTOR FAUSTUS has lived up to that high standard, with another round of rave reviews and audience enthusiasm.

As I'm tasked with the title role in FAUSTUS, I'm bashful about the warm reception the show is getting.  So, let me just give you the press:

Jim Rutter, for the Philadelphia Inquirer:
   "The Doctor Faustus of Christopher Marlowe's play sought all the pleasures and knowledge that mortal life could offer. Quintessence Theatre's production equals his quest by showing all the magic that a tremendous cast and imaginative staging can provide.
   "Isaac’s Faustus performance begins humble and frustrated, and by turns of his newfound power, turns devilishly charming and pitiably unrepentant.  Through his performance, Quintessence’s staging creates a lifecycle. If Marlowe’s play acknowledges friendship as the chief of earthly pleasures, then watching performances like Quintessence’s Doctor Faustus certainly stands a close second."

Mark Cofta, for the Broad Street Review:
   "Quintessence Theatre Group's "Devils and Saints" repertory is devilishly good. This fast and furious production [of DOCTOR FAUSTUS] puts a premium on spectacle, but is also remarkable clear verbally and easy to follow.  At the center of it all, on stage nearly the entire play, is Isaac's fascinating Faustus, led to ruin by his ego."

And, Neal Newman, for DC Metro Theatre Arts:
   "Add all of this into one magical cauldron and The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus gets this critic's highest recommendation. Raves all around for this one."

Both SAINT JOAN and DOCTOR FAUSTUS are now set to close the weekend of May 1st.  Performances have already begun to sell out.  So don't dilly-dally, my friends.  Reserve your tickets today and get yourself out to the Sedgwick!

Gregory Isaac as Faustus - Photo by Shawn May

Gregory Isaac as Faustus - Photo by Shawn May

Gregory Isaac as Faustus, Josh Carpenter as Mephistophilis - Photo by Shawn May

Gregory Isaac as Faustus, Josh Carpenter as Mephistophilis - Photo by Shawn May

Josh Carpenter as Mephistophilis, Leigha Kato as Evil Angel, John Basiulis as Lucifer, Gregory Isaac as Faustus - Photo by Shawn May

Josh Carpenter as Mephistophilis, Leigha Kato as Evil Angel, John Basiulis as Lucifer, Gregory Isaac as Faustus - Photo by Shawn May

Gregory Isaac as Faustus - Photo by Shawn May

Gregory Isaac as Faustus - Photo by Shawn May

The Historic Sedgwick Movie Palace by Gregory Isaac

Exterior of the Sedgwick Theater in the 1940s

Exterior of the Sedgwick Theater in the 1940s

Quintessence Theatre Group is housed in the historic Sedgwick Theater in Mount Airy neighborhood on the far north side of Philadelphia.  It was designed by noted architect, William Harold Lee and opened in 1928 as a true “Movie Palace”.  The Sedgwick was a landmark of art deco design, and very much a centerpiece for the neighborhood.  The theatre itself was a 1600+ seat venue and designed with a full stage beneath the large projection screen which was capable of hosting a orchestra to sit and play along live to the silent movies of the day.  (An event which, apparently, happened only rarely, as the “talkies” became commonplace not long after the theatre was opened.)

The massive screening room was fronted by not one, but two large and ornate lobbies which welcomed moviegoers as they entered the building. This, after they passed under a grand, lighted marquee and through the recessed, open-air box office off the sidewalk.  Each room featured high ceilings, chandeliers, deco detail, and the presentation of general grandeur. 

My understanding is that the “average” number of seats in any given screening room at a modern movie house is about 250.  The Sedgwick had more than 1,600, and if a planned balcony had actually been constructed (it was scrapped early on while the theater was still being built), the capacity would have been more than 2,000 seats.

The Fox Theater in Atlanta, which is primarily a venue for concerts and live performances, still offers a movie series most summers.  Capacity there is more than 4,600, and the movie screen is massive.  They have occasionally used the full 75mm prints for certain movies featured in those summer programs.  I was lucky to see 2001, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, STAR WARS, and CITIZEN KANE there in that massive venue.  The Sedgwick lacked the extra balcony seating, and the house was not as wide as the Fox, but the depth of the house and the loft of the ceiling would have been comparable.  How amazing to have a structure like that as your local neighborhood movie house.

The Sedgwick today

The Sedgwick today

The Sedgwick was one of 20 such theaters build in the late 20s in Philadelphia. They all had the great misfortune to open just before the country was buried in the depression and movie palace extravagance began to seem frivolous and unnecessary.  Their presence never fully took hold, and they gradually faded, failed and shuttered their doors.  Only two of them still remain, and although the Sedgwick is one of those two, both exist now in an altered state.

The Sedgwick closed as a movie house in 1966, and the building was split into two halves.  The massive screening room was largely gutted and sold as a warehouse space.  A cinder block wall was erected, cutting it off from the double lobbies that led to it.  My understanding is that the deco ceiling, with the relief for the chandelier, and a large portion of the archway over the proscenium still remain.  The lobbies remained shuttered and dormant for several decades until the building was purchased and repurposed in the mid-90s by David and Betty Ann Fellner.  At that time, the open-air box office was enclosed, and what were originally lobbies became the venue for a cultural center in Mt. Airy. 

What now remains of the original theater, since converted into warehouse work space.

What now remains of the original theater, since converted into warehouse work space.

A series of performance companies have taken residence there in the 20 years since, but none were able to successfully root, until Quintessence moved in five years ago and has grown a strong, expanding local audience. The now-enclosed box office is a modest lobby and rehearsal space.  The original entrance lobby offers some storage and still serves as an audience passage-way, and what was the grand, second lobby is now a large, very versatile “black-box” performance space.  There is a great deal of decay, but the architectural archways between the lobbies still exist.  The ceilings are still intact and a beautiful deco, glass chandelier still hangs over what is now the house, but the space below is large and highly convertible into whatever look Quintessence chooses to give it for each production. (THE THREE MUSKETEERS will be performed in the round.)

One of many iterations of the Quintessence performance space in what used to be the Sedgwick's inner lobby.

One of many iterations of the Quintessence performance space in what used to be the Sedgwick's inner lobby.

Hopefully, before our run is over, I’ll find a way to take a peek inside the remnants of the old theater, maybe snap a few photos.  But even if I don’t, it’s still really cool to be working in this space. It’s a big part of the character of the company as a whole, and I think it has a very unique impact on this production.