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

THE INFLUENCE OF THE MONARCHY ON THE THEATRE AND PLAYWRIGHTS OF THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE by Gregory Isaac

Last week, we began rehearsals for Quintessence Theatre Group's Spring Repertory, Shakespeare's LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST and John Ford's THE BROKEN HEART.  Both products of the English Renaissance, their careers spanned the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I.  Our director, Alex Burns, politely suggested that someone in the company do a little research and explore a bit about what it might have been like to work in the theatre under each of those Monarchs, what the social climate was like and how that influenced the fortunes of the playhouses and playwrights of the time.  As it turned out, I got a day off from rehearsal while blocking began on the first act of LOVE'S LABOUR'S, so I spent a few hours assembling this little geek-fest overview of historical things.  Enjoy!

(Oh, yes, and the rep will open on March 15th and run through April 23rd.)
 

HENRY VIII – 1509-1547

In the 1400s, the Renaissance begins in Italy.  Its progressive cultural ideals help to lead, not indirectly, to the Protestant reformation in 1517.  A decade later in England, King Henry VIII also declares England’s independence from the Catholic Church and establishes the protestant Church of England.  England embraces a progressive cultural mind-set, and the English renaissance truly begins.  Art and Science and Ideas are embraced in new ways, and Henry VIII embraces them as well, because of how it ultimately validates his greatness and his decision to split from the old ways of doing things.

This graph is lifted from the " English Renaissance Theatre " wikipedia page.

This graph is lifted from the "English Renaissance Theatre" wikipedia page.

ELIZABETH I – 1558-1603

During the second half of the 16th century, under the reign of Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, the English renaissance is in full swing.  Whereas the Italian renaissance was focused primarily on visual arts, in England, the focus has been on literature and music.  As the theatre is a natural marriage of these two disciplines, its prominence, too, begins to grow swiftly.

BUT, as the theatre becomes more popular, the members of the Church hierarchy begin to work more fervently to suppress its influence.  Actors are considered a nefarious sort of people.  Gypsies, Homosexuals, all of the reasons the Church has always disliked theatre-types.  Although there are also legitimate concerns:  The plague is still a problem, and large public gatherings facilitate its spread.  Rioting was always a concern for the local municipalities where performances would take place.  And so there were common concerns, both legitimate, and simply superstitious about the perpetuation of the art form.

Nevertheless, by 1576, in London, the popularity of acting troupes – and the plays that are being written for them to perform - had grown so great that James Burbage is able to build the first permanent venue for theatrical performances.  It is named simply, “The Theatre”.  The city of London has decreed that no playhouse may be built within the boundaries of London-proper, but this stipulation does not stymie the ambitions of the theatre companies just outside the city limits. The Curtain Theatre opens a year later in 1577.  The Rose Theatre is built in 1587.  The “Theatre” will be taken down in 1597 (when the landlord owning the property it is built on decides not to renew the lease on the land), and is rebuilt alongside the Thames, opening a year later, and renamed The Globe Theatre.

Elizabeth I – and perhaps more specifically, the noble hierarchy beneath her – fully indulge the fashionable art form.  The rising skills and talents on display are evidence of England’s successful cultural Renaissance, and that in turn exalts the successful reign of the Queen.   It is common for the learned nobles to financially endorse their favorite actors or acting troupes, even licensing their names to the troupes, and protecting their business interests.  “Queen Elizabeth’s Men” were established in 1583.  “The Admiral’s Men” and “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” would soon follow.  Occasionally, certain nobles will even become playwrights themselves. 

The church and the city governments remained resentful, but the protections of the Queen and the nobles were rather difficult to overcome.  The playhouses had a very healthy place to grow and thrive during the latter years of Elizabeth I’s reign.  (Apparently the ideological struggle could result in some interesting back and forths.  At one point the playing of public performances was banned around London.  The Queen decreed that the giving of a play would be regarded as a "rehearsal" for a royal production at the palace. Of course these "rehearsals" could be as numerous as the manager wished, and the public could be, and was, admitted.)

JAMES I – 1603-1625

When James I took the throne upon Elizabeth’s death in 1603, there was a subtle shift.  James I was Elizabeth I’s cousin.  As she had no children, he was next in line to the throne upon her death.  James was also King of Scotland and had been so since his 1st birthday in 1567.  When he became King of England as well in 1603, it unified the two kingdoms.  James I was incredibly well educated.  He also had a very deep belief in the God-appointed and God-like status of the king.  He was very much a child of the renaissance and reveled in how England’s cultural dominance exalted both the country and his position as King.  (His greatest legacy was his commission of a new English language translation of the Bible, which remains in frequent use and is the most published book in the history of the world.) He was a great supporter of the playhouses, and The King’s Men quickly became the dominant entity in the London theatre scene.

His passion, though, did tip a certain balance, and during his 22-year reign, his indulgences set the stage for much darker times in England.  He became known for spending lavishly on the things that amused him.  And he saw little need for any balances of power across the English government.  He was appointed and ordained by God, therefore he often treated parliament as an obstacle and a nuisance -- and parliament responded in kind.  In 1610, after continued squabbles over how much money parliament would approve for the royal budget, James I briefly dismissed them.  In 1614, after a similar aggressive dispute, he disbanded them altogether and ruled without a parliament at all until 1621.  All the while, his indulgent spending on pursuits of pleasure, and on bribes and paying off his “favorites” increased and spiraled.

In addition, the early years of his reign were marked by a series of plots against him, culminating in the famous Gunpowder plot of 1605, in which a small band of Jesuit priests intended to blow up parliament during a session in which James I was scheduled to be present.  Though he survived each of the political and murderous plots against him, they fueled a great tendency he had toward paranoia, and he was always suspicious of schemes against him, both corporal and supernatural.

As the political climate began to shift, the playhouses and the theatre community found themselves in a curious position.  They were operating in a time of unprecedented success for the art of the theatre.  They were aware, even in their time, that they were performing the greatest works of literature in the history of the English language, if not the world.  It was possible to achieve a real measure of fame and wealth within their profession – to legitimately rub elbows with Kings and Queens – when their spiritual ancestors a generation or two before were little more than bawds and gypsies. 

King James I (and later his son Charles I) often commissioned spectacular private performances called 'masques' which involved music, dance, opulent costumes and extraordinary scenery and special effects. They were performed once or twice at one of the royal palaces and were only seen by members of the court. Such lavish court entertainments were fashionable throughout Europe as an expression of princely power.

Masques were often used to celebrate royal occasions such as a wedding or birth. Design and visual symbols played an important role in masques which called for lavish costumes and sets. Nobles and royalty would take part, often playing gods or heroes while the other roles were played by professional actors.

Court entertainments were far more opulent than those of the public playhouses, but professional actors and writers crossed over between both. Masque-like elements began to be included in popular plays. (There are masque scenes in Thomas Kyd's 'The Spanish Tragedy' and Shakespeare's 'Cymbeline' and 'The Tempest'. Ben Jonson wrote masques for the court as well as drama for the public playhouses.)

And so, the playhouses (and the actors and playwrights who worked in them) owed much of their success to the patronage of the nobles and -- especially under James I -- the crown itself.  So by default, the vast majority of actors, playwrights, and theatre owners were Royalists and devoted to the king.  This during a time when the more puritanical elements in the country - the conservative, religious, populist elements – were very much on the rise.

CHARLES I – 1625-1649

Were James I died, and his son Charles I assumed the throne, the societal rifts in England grew deeper.  He tried hard to embrace his father’s ideals of an absolute monarchy, but lacked his father’s charisma.  Charles had a bad habit of levying taxes on the population without the prior consent of parliament.  At the same time, he also continued to live the lavish lifestyle his father had displayed.  He and his parliament were constantly, vehemently at odds with each other.  His standing grew even worse when he chose to marry Henrietta Maria of France, a Catholic.  This angered and riled the suspicion of the Puritans in England, a group that had gained a great deal of support in the country.  In addition, it was perceived that he had failed to lend proper support to the protestant armies fighting in the Thirty Years War, and when he tried to force the Church of Scotland to adopt their practices, it sparked what was known as the Bishop’s wars.  All of this lent greater and greater influence to both the Scottish and English parliaments and led directly to the English civil war when each parliament raised an army against the King.

Most of the major English playwrights of the first half of the 17th century (at least those whose works have survived the pass of time) had long completed their careers by the time of James I’s death.  Ben Johnson was still at work during Charles I’s reign, but the bulk of his output was behind him by then as well.  John Ford wrote primarily under Charles I, but even most of his work (at least that which survives) was during only the first 7 or 8 years of Charles I’s rule.  It is perhaps also not a coincidence that Ford’s work is said to show a strong influence from Robert Burton’s pseudo-medical text, “The Anatomy of Melancholy”. 

Beyond the early/mid 1630s, the playhouses seemed to be in a state of decline, as England become more and more embroiled in what would become an all-out civil war, in which the nation’s parliaments, with the support of the many of the people and led primarily by the Puritans, would successfully overthrow and oust Charles I, in spite of support from a strong royalist faction in England. 

CIVIL WAR, OLIVER CROMWELL, THE PURITANS, AND BEYOND

In 1642, the civil war broke out and all of the playhouses were closed to prevent public disorder.  The Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell, opposed theatrical performances and were at loggerheads with King Charles I who promoted theatre at his court. (In 1632 William Prynne had lost his ear for denouncing dancing as a 'Devil's Mass' and women actors as 'notorious whores' in his book Histriomastix. This was seen as a personal attack on Queen Henrietta Maria who loved the theatre and often performed in masques.)

The theatres remained closed throughout the war.  Charles I was captured by the Scottish army in 1646, and turned over to the English parliament in 1647.  There was a brief resurgence by the royalist army in 1648, but it was put down and Charles remained in captivity.  He was tried for treason against England in January of 1649, found guilty, and beheaded several weeks later.

In total, the playhouses remained permanently closed for 18 years, throughout the control of Cromwell’s Puritanical government rule.  Many theatres were not only closed, but torn down, including The Globe in 1644 (It now exists, near the original site, in a replica built and opened in the late 1990s), and were not reopened until the Monarchy was reestablished with the crowning of Charles I’s son, Charles II, in 1660.  At that time, a man named William Davenant, who was rumored to be an illegitimate son of William Shakespeare, was, along with Thomas Killigrew, granted a theatrical patent from Charles II, giving them a virtual monopoly over the London theatre scene.  Davenant immediately opened the Duke Theatre and began to reestablish the playhouse by presenting adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays set with music, like operettas.


Primary Internet Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Renaissance_theatre
http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/0-9/17th-century-theatre/
http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-globe-theatre.htm
http://www.theatredatabase.com/16th_century/condemnation_of_elizabethan_theater_001.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_monarchs
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_VIII_of_England
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_England
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_VI_and_I
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_I_of_England

MOTHER COURAGE - Reviews and Photos by Gregory Isaac

Last night we began our final week of performances for MOTHER COURAGE at Quintessence Theatre Group.  There's no doubt that the show has been a massive undertaking, but the hard work feels like it has paid off, and the audiences have been incredibly responsive throughout the run.  (Each of our two post-show discussions have started out with the usual, tentative talk-back fodder, and then escalated into very thoughtful exchanges about a boatload of current event topics - a testament, perhaps, to both the "timelessness" of the play, and to how deeply it taps into so many of the things on everyone's mind's nowadays.)

On a personal note, it's been lovely to work with this ensemble, all of whom have worked very hard to bring this piece to life every night.  But I'm am especially pleased to share and observe the work of Janis Dardaris, Forrest McClendon, Leah Gabriel, and Leigha Kato, each of whom I find myself watching intently every night in my quieter moments, both on and back stage, trying to learn better how to do what they do, how they seem to succeed so effortlessly.  They each offer, in their separate ways, a little master class on a daily basis, and I am deeply grateful for that.

Anyhow, if you want to come see for yourself, you currently have four more chances.  We close this Sunday, November 6th.  Tickets are still available, but that may not remain the case for long.  (You know how we all procrastinate until closing weekends.)

Tickets can be purchased via the Quintessence Theatre website.
But once again, don't take my word for it.  Here's a little bit of what the press has had to say about us...

"Quintessence Theatre brings to life a beautifully staged, truly epic production of Bertolt Brecht's MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN."  - Phindie.com

"Janis Dardaris [as Mother Courage] plays the role in a way that Brecht himself would have admired."   - The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Kattrin, the dumb daughter, suffers greatly in the story, and Leigha Kato's exquisite expresssiveness shouts it out loud. Leah Gabriel gives Yvette Potter, the camp prostitute, some glorious moments and a fabulous voice."  - Phindie.com

"The best number is comic extravaganza led by Forrest McClendon, who gives a sly, cutting performance as a military cook."  - DC Metro Theatre Arts

"Gregory Isaac and Forrest McClendon - the Chaplain and Cook, respectively - give strong performances and their acerbic dialogues are a highlight."  - TalkinBroadway.com

Janis Dardaris and Forrest McClendon (Photo by Shawn May)

Janis Dardaris and Forrest McClendon (Photo by Shawn May)

Leigha Kato (photo by Shawn May)

Leigha Kato (photo by Shawn May)

Gregory Isaac (photo by Shawn May)

Gregory Isaac (photo by Shawn May)

Forrest McClendon and the Ensemble (photo by Shawn May)

Forrest McClendon and the Ensemble (photo by Shawn May)

Up Next: MOTHER COURAGE at Quintessence by Gregory Isaac

Things are in the works! My '16-'17 season is starting to shake itself out - and I'm incredibly grateful that after less than a full year based in Philly, that I've been able to fill out my work calendar.  That's never a guarantee, and I know how fortunate I am that things have gotten off to a strong start here.

I'm superstitious about looking too far ahead, but my Fall project is already a lock, and I'm happy to report that I'll be on the boards again with Quintessence Theatre Group, as the "Chaplin" in MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN. Long-time Philadelphia actress, Janis Dardaris will take on the title role.  Word has it that Janis is a bit of legend in Philly, and I'm very much looking forward to working with her on this project. 

In addition, as a personal treat, I also get to share the stage, once again, with one of my very best friends, Leah Gabriel, who will be playing "Yvette". Leah and I originally met while working on a production of Bercht's SAINT JOAN OF THE SLAUGHTERHOUSES in New York, and now we get to return to Brecht together.

Finally, a bit of trivia that will, perhaps, interest only me: After Gene Wilder's death earlier this week, I was reminded that he originally met Mel Brooks while working with Anne Bancroft on Broadway in 1963.  What I did not know was that the play was MOTHER COURAGE, and the role he was playing was the "Chaplin".  Apparently, he liked to tell the story about that meeting  by first explaining that he was "miscast" in that show.  (I highly recommend you click through this link and listen to Terry Gross interview Wilder for NPR's "Fresh Air" in 2005, before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.)

The Quintessence production will run from October 12th - November 6th, 2016 at the Sedgwick Theatre in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

(Below are a couple of production photos from that Broadway version of MOTHER COURAGE with Wilder and Bancroft.)

Art by Lee Cortopassi

Art by Lee Cortopassi

HAPPY DAYS - Reviews & Photos by Gregory Isaac

I haven't trumpted my work on HAPPY DAYS at Quintessence Theatre Group because, in all honesty, it felt a little presumptous to toot about being the second person in what is, essentially, a one-woman show.  Samuel Beckett wrote this odd little tale about a "Winnie," a middle-aged woman submerged in a mound of earth, unable to move, or avoid the harsh glare of sun.  Yes, her husband, "Willie," lives behind her, and is a constant target for her eager conversation, but he rarely engages her, and, indeed, is barely seen by the audience throughout the nearly two-hour show.  

It is E. Ashley Izard who, as "Winnie,' IS the show, in every conceivable way.  For two acts she bravely explores the optimism, courage, and frailties of her onstage persona.  It is extraordinary, rare work from Ashley, which has, understably, taken quite a bit out of her during the process.  "Willie," on the other hand, has but 19 verbal responses in the script, composed of 21 sentences and 53 words.  But his presence is felt in other ways, and not all of them by the audience.  For the first time in my career, I feel like I am truly playing a "supporting" role in a show.  My work has been as much for Ashley's benefit as it has been for the audience, and it was very exciting to build that reality with her and our director, Alexander Burns.  As fulling, in it's way, as playing "Faustus," or "Heathcliff," or any other.

Ashley truly gives a tour de force performance.  I'm honored to have been a small cog in that process.  We continue our brief June run, through this coming Sunday, June 26th at the Sedgwick Theatre in Mt. Airy.

(Also, Random Triva: It may be the only time in my career when I'm working in a show when everyone in the cast has five letters in their last name and the first letter is "I".)

Bill Chenevert for THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER:
"In the Quintessence Theatre's honed, sophisticated production - again timeless - E. Ahsley Izard, who takes on the central figure of Winnie with an impressive, tour-de-force performance, commands.  She wrings humor, pathos, and helplessness from her part in a hypnotic performance."

Tim Dunleavy for DC METRO THEATER ARTS:
"HAPPY DAYS is a strong showcase for a great performer, and Izard, with her expressive face and patrician bearing, rises to the challenge.  No matter how worn down she is, WInnie perseveres.  And watching Izard persevere is a pleasure."

And, Rebecca Rendell for TALKIN' BROADWAY:
"Izard is absolutely riveting despite scripted physical limitations that would challenge even the most skilled thespian.  [In the second act], Isaac utters only a single word, but his brief performance is utterly heartbreaking and curiously cathartic."

Photo by Shawn May

Photo by Shawn May

Photo by Shawn May

Photo by Shawn May

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

SAINT JOAN - Reviews & Photos by Gregory Isaac

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly two weeks since we opened SAINT JOAN, as the ensemble has been deep in the work of teching and prepping DOCTOR FAUSTUS since the moment JOAN was fully on it's feet, but nevertheless, here we are.  Not only have the reviews been very kind to us, we also have some gorgeous production photos from Shawn May to entice you to see the show for yourself.  Here's a dose of both:

Jim Rutter, for the Philadelphia Inquirer, calls it, "a powerhouse, actor-driven production," and adds, "Leigha Kato's Joan inspires. [Her performance] is beyond compare, a singularity of passion and energy."

David Fox, for Philadelphia Magazine, lauds, "Rebecca Wright's staging reinforces the core sense of the play as an arena for vigorous philosophical debate," and adds, "The ensemble deserves congratulations, with special praise to Sean Close and Josh Carpenter (who are best at the Shavian banter), and Gregory Isaac, (whose performance as Peter Cauchon is heartbreaking in it's emotional directness)."

And Mark Cofta, for the Broad Street Review, notes that, "Brian Sidney Bembridge's powerful lighting sculpts the action," along with sound designer Adriano Shaplin's "artful" underscoring, and Nikki Delhomme's "bold" costumes, but concludes, "Most impressive about SAINT JOAN is how it relates to today's world, nearly a century after Shaw wrote it."

SAINT JOAN is scheduled to run through April 22nd, and is produced by the Quintessence Theatre Group at the historic Sedgwick Theatre.  Tickets range from $15-$34.

Leigha Kato as JOAN (Photo by Shawn May)

Leigha Kato as JOAN (Photo by Shawn May)

Andrew Betz as the Dauphin, Leigha Kato as Joan (Photo by Shawn May)

Andrew Betz as the Dauphin, Leigha Kato as Joan (Photo by Shawn May)

John Basiulis as the Inquisitor, Alan Brincks as Brother Martin, Gregory Isaac as Cauchon (Photo by Shawn May)

John Basiulis as the Inquisitor, Alan Brincks as Brother Martin, Gregory Isaac as Cauchon (Photo by Shawn May)

Aaron Kirkpatrick as LaHire, Josh Carpenter as Bluebeard, John Basiulis as The Archbishop

Aaron Kirkpatrick as LaHire, Josh Carpenter as Bluebeard, John Basiulis as The Archbishop

THE GOOD GIRL at 59E59 by Gregory Isaac

I don't boast about it much, but I am one of the producers for a small NYC theatre company fondly named Joyseekers Theatre, and right now, we have a powerhouse little show enjoying a limited run at 59E59 Theaters.  THE GOOD GIRL, by Emilie Collyer, directed by Adam Fitzgerald, is a dark comedy, sci-fi piece about a woman who works as a madam to a sex robot, the maintenance man who is hired to make repairs, and what happens when the robot begins exhibiting unusual -and illegal - human-like behavior.

(PURCHASE YOUR $18 TICKETS HERE)

My friend and colleague, Leah Gabriel, has shouldered the vast majority of the work getting this project off the ground and running so smoothly - including being featured onstage in the show alongside Giacomo Basessato (with the off-stage robot voiced by Tamara Sevunts).  I'm truly in awe of the size success of her accomplishment.  I'm not the only one.  Glowing reviews have poured in from the critics...

THE NEW YORK TIMES:
"A feminist sci-fi comedy that darkens considerably as it goes along...Ms. Collyer has written a clever examination of sex, longing, memory, gender roles and violence."
THE HUFFINGTON POST:
“Adam Fitzgerald's fast-paced direction and the high-key acting keep the audience riveted.
NY THEATER GUIDE:
“Leah Gabriel gives a commanding performance as Anjali, providing the perfect measure of conscience and calculating ambition to make her character’s course of action believable. She shares a natural chemistry with Giacomo Baessato that effectively serves the momentum of the plot.”
THEATER PIZZAZZ:
“Collyer’s play with the expert acting and direction keeps us off-balance, riding the seesaw with the characters, tense for the next moments of revelation.”

This is, currently, the final week of performances for THE GOOD GIRL.  It must close at 59E59 this Sunday, February 28th.  Tickets are only $18, and with limited seats available, they are selling fast.  If you are in New York, please go see the fine work on display.

And Finally, a plaintive request: Producing Theatre in New York City - even on the modest scale of THE GOOD GIRL - is incredibly expensive.  Sadly, even strong ticket sales are not enough. Please take a moment, click through this link to the Joyseeker Website and make just a $20 charitible donation to help us defray the costs of the production.  This helps us not only pay rent for the performance space, but also provide reasonable salaries to production staff and designers.  We cannot thank you enough for your support!

Up Next: FAUSTUS and Quintessence's Spring Rep by Gregory Isaac

I'm excited to be returning to the Quintessence Theatre Group on the north side of Philadelphia this spring.  They have invited me back as part of their ensemble for their upcoming Spring Rep.  I'll appear, first, in George Bernard Shaw's SAINT JOAN (beginning March 16th), and then will perform the title role in Christopher Marlowe's DOCTOR FAUSTUS (beginning on March 30th).  Both shows will then run in rep through the end of April.

I am thrilled to be back again at QTG, but confess that FAUSTUS presents a daunting task.  The character and the language are both incredibly layered and complex, but more than that, Marlowe is a particular favorite of artistic director, Alexander Burns.  (It's a fact that his Instagram handle is actaully @marlowephl, but you didn't hear that from me.) The ensemble will be helping him bring Marlowe to the Quintessence stage for the first time.  I'm honored to have been asked along for that ride. 

SAINT JOAN will be directed by Rebecca Wright.  Everyone was still buzzing about her recently completed production of THE METAMORPHOSIS when I first arrived at QTG for THE THREE MUSKETEERS a year ago. I'm really looking forward to being in the room with her.  The rest of the rep's ensemble will include folks either very familiar or completely new to me: John Basiulis, Andrew Betz, Alan Brincks, Tom Carman, Josh Carpenter, Sean Close, Ife Foy, Anita Holland, and Leigha Kato.

AND, it's true, I let out the metaphorical equivelent of a serious SQUEEEEEEEEE, when I discovered that not only has Brian Sidney Bembridge been enlisted to design lights for both shows, but Nikki Delhomme will also create costumes for SAINT JOAN.  Both are incredible talents that I had the pleasure of working with on several different occasions in Chicago some years back.  It's always a pleasant surprise to be reminded how small the theatre community real can be.

It's already less than a month until first rehearsals.  I've got a lot of memorizing to do before then...

M O O D with Lloyd Mulvey by Gregory Isaac

Last month I arranged a little photo shoot with the handsome and talented, Mr. Lloyd Mulvey at his Harlem studio.  We didn't have any terribly specific goals in mind other than, as Lloyd subsequently summed up:  M O O D.  

We took a couple of hours and fooled around in the room.  I changed clothes a few times along the way.  I shaved for the first time in three months.  We got some fun stuff.  (And by the way, did I mention that Lloyd Mulvey is a talented fellow?)


THE MANDRAKE Production Photos (& reviews!) by Gregory Isaac

THE MANDRAKE is open! And we've been running in repertory with ROMEO & JULIET (featuring the same cast of 9 actors) for more than a week.

Our notices for both shows have been very good.  Rachel Beecher, for DC Metro Theatre Arts calls our MANDRAKE "a humorous theatrical home run."  Rebecca Rendell, for Talkin' Broadway calls it "a laugh-out-loud funny and downright dirty evening of theater." 

Review for ROMEO & JULIET have been just as good.  Jim Rutter, of the Philadelphia Inquirer calls it "a superbly acted production," with "phenomenal performances from the entire cast."   Kelli Curtin, for Theatre Sensation, states that ours is "an exceptional production of the show." 

Finally, Mark Cofta, reviewing the repertory as a whole, calls MANDRAKE "Inspired lunacy," and says that "witnessing this capable ensemble perform two demanding classics," is a feat that is, "a credit to not only the cast, but also to Alexander Burns, the director of both plays."

The Repertory runs through, at least, November 8th! You can check out the rep schedule and tickets sales here, at Quintessence's website, and a sample of Shawn May's production photos of THE MANDRAKE are below.

Connor Hammond as Siro, Alan Brincks as Callimaco

Connor Hammond as Siro, Alan Brincks as Callimaco

Gregory Isaac as Nicia, Josh Carpenter as Ligurio

Gregory Isaac as Nicia, Josh Carpenter as Ligurio

Gregory Isaac as Nicia

Gregory Isaac as Nicia

Sean Close as Brother Timothy, Emiley Kiser as Lucrezia

Sean Close as Brother Timothy, Emiley Kiser as Lucrezia

Connor Hammond as Siro, Josh Carpenter as Ligurio, Gregory Isaac as Nicia, Sean Close as Brother Timothy

Connor Hammond as Siro, Josh Carpenter as Ligurio, Gregory Isaac as Nicia, Sean Close as Brother Timothy

Romeo & Juliet Production Photos by Gregory Isaac

We are in the thick of everything at Quintessence now.  The Fall Rep is now half up, with ROMEO & JULIET having opening a week ago, and the opening night of THE MANDRAKE still a week away.  It's been both awesome and exhausting.  R&J is really starting to hum and I've got a few production photos shot by Shawn May to whet your whistle.  More to come, my friends...

(And you can see more of Shawn May's production photos in Quintessence's Facebook Album by clicking HERE.)

Connor Hammond and Emiley Kiser

Connor Hammond and Emiley Kiser

Gregory Isaac and Josh Caerpenter

Gregory Isaac and Josh Caerpenter

Connor Hammond, Jahzeer Terrell, and Alan Brincks

Connor Hammond, Jahzeer Terrell, and Alan Brincks

Jahzeer Terrell

Jahzeer Terrell

Emiley Kiser and Gregory Isaac

Emiley Kiser and Gregory Isaac

Anita Holland and Emiley Kiser

Anita Holland and Emiley Kiser

Gregory Isaac and Emiley Kiser

Gregory Isaac and Emiley Kiser