Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

The 5 th Annual Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival host a myriad of plays. The Arden Theatre on June 28 th gave audiences THEATRE DISTRICT, written by Richard Kramer.

Set in New York City, a male couple George (Mike Dees) and Kenny (Paul McElwee), are being asked a lot of questions about homosexuality by Kenny’s son, Wesley (Nicholas Park).

Dees plays the role of the sort of gay man everyone would love, and he is closer to the son than his mother or father. Dees was natural in all he did on stage. His delivery of lines would remind you of any brunch in the Gayborhood, he was splendid.

McElwee, the lawyer and dad, tries hard to be a good man in the play; he should try even harder to be a better actor in the play. McElwee and his ex-wife in the play, Lola (Janice Rowland) just didn’t seem to fit in this production. The play seemed more like an after-school special because of this.

A very dreamy Jake Gyllenhaal-y looking Park, was the show stealer as the son with many questions. This teenager role was played to the hilt, believable and genuine.

Other players Gene D’Alassndro and Fred Anderson made-up for the casting of McElwee and Rowland, with their one-liners and facial expressions.

Set design and lighting, the stage directing of the play, Katie Driscoll, were very important as scene changes took place during the play. I hate to see this as I find it cheapens the actors, but they moved smoothly.

THEATRE DISTRICT could’ve been a very complex play. A young man questioning sexuality, but not HIS sexuality, is always interesting to view. Any person finding their way in the world would enjoy it. The scenes stopping so actors could speak directly to the audience to basically explain the history of relationships of the characters is what really didn’t work. I could see how it would be tertiary for the story line however it missed the mark. The actors turning to the audience, with a spot light on them explaining things is too much like a reality TV show.

Another production in the theatre festival, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at the Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, tackled Oscar Wilde in a brave way. Jennifer MacMillan directed and adapted this classic play in the most unusual way. Half the time I kept thinking, this is what wacky Brits are… totally absurd, but then I kept thinking of Oscar Wilde oscillating wildly in his grave.

Benny Hill would’ve been proud of this submission. Brazen and wild, actors Kristen Norine (Algernon), Ben Stanley (Lane/Merriman/Rev. Chausable), Jamie Branagh (Jack), Alex Bechtel (Lady Bracknell), Adam R. Deremer (Gwendolyn) and Sarah Milici (Cecily) should all be very tired after their performances. Like hyper puppies fresh from a nap they ran around the stage like maniacs.

Changing and twisting the genders and completely ludicrous costumes took away from the dignified and witty play. MacMillan is a hardcore enthusiast for her rendering of Wilde’s work. Props for Bechtel for the drag ensemble complete with big purple hair like Marge Simpson, Oscar Wilde’s words have never been gayer.

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