November 3-9, 2005
Arts & Culture
These are curious times for the arts in Philadelphia. Times of unrest and chaos! Oh, the things we've seen. Exhumed Films came alive! John McEnroe divided and did battle with himself! Lord Whimsy came out! Skeletor swore to destroy us all! What madness is it that stuffed animals are being lynched in the street and improv troupes are actually making us laugh? Our very culture is in tumult, dear readers! And it all sounds like Fischerspooner.
Best Feet Forward Award
He's still dancing (fantastically) in the background with PAB's corps, but Matt Neenan's choreographic talents are putting him stage front. The big company reprises his critically acclaimed 11:11 this season; his Phrenic New Ballet transformed itself into the very dancey, downright-elegant BalletX. Then: Wow! Matt was awarded one of only four nationwide choreographic fellowships from New York City Ballet's Diamond Project. Talk about having a great year. A simple case of being Xtra talented. www.balletx.org
Silliest Stunt Men
Two skinny South Jersey guys took a clever idea and made it hilarious -- sweatbands, short-shorts and all. The team behind the Fringe show Man or McEnroe, Michael Bodel and Chris Kaminstein, hurled insults, faked injuries and wrestled -- with themselves, racquets and chairs -- on the floor of MYX Gallery in Old City. Mac himself would approve of the profanity-laden double-talk, ref-baiting and ego-driven squabbling.
Best Reason to Get Dusted and Head to the Manhattan Room
Alex Strang and Scott Purcell of Waiting for Cable did for puppets what Stanley Kubrick did for the bomb: Made me stop worrying and learn to love. How? Puppet Karaoke -- a monthly series of competitive puppetry. Even if they happen to fall under the guise of sock puppet, each of Strang/Purcell's creations breathe. Oddly accented carrots, polyps and aliens -- all hosted and roasted by their Mr. Green Jeans, David Cassanova -- take to an R&B/new wave catalog with drunken bravura. Whee. 15 W. Girard Ave., 215-739-5577, www.cybergecko.com/wfc/pk.htm
For years, the only thing scarier than local horror mainstay Exhumed Films´ movies was the places they showed them: one just-shy-of-condemned theater after another, scattered in places even the Jersey Devil might pass by. But at long last, the dark gods have smiled on them: Exhumed has put down roots at International House, with macabre programs booked into the new year. Earlier start times mean that even generous triple bills end at reasonable hours, and they're close enough to home to take a cab rather than hitching a ride with that mysterious stranger. www.exhumedfilms.com
Best Gallery (That No One Knows About) for Local Artists
When Eric Kephart opened Zonk Arts Gallery, he had a vision of showcasing his dot art, digital images and omart, which is inspired by religious art. Nestled right around Fifth and South, Zonk has been around for three years, but not many people are hip to the quaint little spot. It's not just a platform for Kephart; many local artists get their start here. 622 S. Fifth St., 215-733-0540, www.zonkarts.com
Most Ubiquitous Actress
It wasn't so long ago (1998, to be exact) that Elizabeth Banks (then going by Elizabeth Casey) was playing the hapless girlfriend of a fork-fucking transvestite in the local feature Surrender Dorothy. But Banks, a '96 Penn grad, has been turning up in far fancier company of late, and with alarming regularity. After small roles as Paul Rudd's tongue-hockey partner in Wet Hot American Summer and Philly-born secretary Betty Brant in all three Spider-Mans, Banks turns up in no fewer than five 2005 releases, most memorably as the randy bookseller to whom Steve Carrell nearly loses it in The 40 Year Old Virgin. Look for her next in the just-wrapped Invincible, starring Mark Wahlberg as unlikely Eagles QB Vince Papale.
Actress Who Can Make You Like Even the Least Bit of Mime
While her mothership, Pig Iron Theatre, fiddled with hermetically sealed atmospheres (Pay Up) during 2005's Live Arts fest, Emmanuelle Delpech-Ramey became the sad-clowning Madame Douce-Amère of Fins for Wings' take on the quietude of widowhood. With violinist Claude Ferrie, Delpech-Ramey's was a constant ache. Yet as forlorn and teary a theatrical moment it was, there was color and cheer.
With his slo-mo scurrying and backpack shell, actor Joshua Lamon stole the show as the adorable, sniffly, desperate-to-be-efficient mail-delivering Snail in the Arden's A Year With Frog and Toad. Toad may look funny in a bathing suit, but getta loada snail.
Carmen Martella III could have coasted on kitsch value and settled for a few laughs when he decided to reinvent He-Man's bony arch-nemesis Skeletor as a lounge-singing despot. But hell no, he does this thing whole ass. In full costume -- glowing skull face, blue skin, dangling loin-armor, ram's-head staff and all -- the dude belts out Bowie and Elton tunes with the pipes of a pro and heartfelt, psycho retooled lyrics about killing you with his mind.
Gift shopping? Everybody loves wood. The nonprofit, recently expanded Wood Turning Center exhibits fine art incorporating wood. It also has a super gift shop offering unusual and traditional handmade wooden things from all around the world: bowls, cutting boards, spoons and knives -- what you'd expect -- plus charming music boxes with revolving figures, walking canes, jewelry and ornate bottle stoppers. From inexpensive multicolored bookmarks to Rudiger Marquarding's silver-inlaid ebony vessels, if you find it impossible to choose, buy a book about wood. 501 Vine St., 215-923-8000, www.woodturningcenter.org
Most truly "surreal" exhibition
Forget the man with the twirly mustache so ubiquitous not long ago. The most surrealistic exhibition this year was certainly the ICA's "Springtide." If you took a look around, you may have thought you'd got lost on an abandoned movie set. In the middle of the room, up on wooden slats perched Berlinde De Bruyckere's two life-size, faceless horses (made of real horsehide!) with flowing manes and tails. Turn around and there was Erick Swenson's icicle-laden fawn thawing on a swath of cobblestones. Too realistic for you? What about Patty Chang's video on the far wall, where she tumbles around on a lawn that becomes soft and squishy under her unsteady legs (neat trick: it was really a water bed covered in grass). And surrounding you on all the walls: Louise Bourgeois "wrote" her autobiography in fabric, while Troy Brauntuch's haunting black-and-white paintings fooled you into thinking they were long-lost photographs. Dalí would have run out onto 36th Street clutching his lobster phones.
Best Pairing of Coffee and Theater
Right off, any performance done inside a greasy spoon rocks. But The Maya Project's site-specific Fringe production of Balm in Gilead, a play about whores and junkies drinking joe and wreaking havoc in an all-night diner, went one step farther: The waitstaff at Sulimay's served bottomless cups of coffee to the audience. A constant flow of the liquid laced every bit of dialogue with excitement and possibility -- as any trip to a diner should. www.themayaproject.com
Bestest Newest Sets of Breasteses Not to Be Found in a Strip Club (Well, Not on a Pole)
Promotion by bawdiness? Marketing in parade form? This has, ostensibly, become the mission of the "info blasters" and "social superstars" of Rachel Inc. While they've certainly got their straighter-laced moments, The Bawdy Girls are at their best when blossoming forth from corsets, frilly pantaloons and the like. The B-Girls appear at the most photogenic of Philth mag's events, ones where the Bawdiest bob-maned moll, Jenny Balls, has doffed her top and wrestled Dalí impersonators who happen to also be impersonating fashion designers. Sacre bleu! www.rachelinc.com
Best Birds of a Feather Award
Let's toss some big bouquets to the 17 Swans who performed flawlessly in PAB's triumphant Swan Lake both here and at the Edinburgh International Festival. They danced at every performance, three hours, three acts. There was no alternating second swan flock. Some folks go to this classic just to see perfect fluttering swan corps work, and most big companies have several flocks of 50 or more. Yet, even doing curtain calls, the ladies were impeccable. www.paballet.org
Lamest Way to Criticize an Art Exhibition
It was only a cluster of stuffed animals whose little looped voice boxes were activated when viewers walked by or stood in front of the piece. Harmless enough, right? Well, someone found Jody Sweitzer and Chris Vecchio's installation Now That We Have Your Attention offensive enough to torch it. The conceptual installation, comprised of a dozen or so plush monkeys, bears, dogs, etc., was set on fire last month, leaving only a charred pile of materials at Bird Park outside Gallery Joe. It was an interesting riff on stuffed-animal memorials and roadside tributes, and while some may have found the whole sight/sound compendium a little creepy, it was unarguably fun to look at. Too bad the vandals didn't have as much heart -- or sense of humor -- as the toys.
Most Encouraging Signs From Local Comedy
Along with the opening of Helium (on Sansom Street), the best development in Philly comedy has been how good its improvisationalists have become. With 1812 Productions as their generous model, contemporaries (the film-dabbling Minor Prophets) and spiritual scions (The N Crowd) fill the city with needed smart giggle, ranging from hip-hoppish and rude (the TDtF troupe) to dippy and litty (Chapin's Kids).
Finest Author With the Ponciest Hats
Allen Crawford, aka Lord Whimsy, was once upon a time nothing but a divine mouthpiece for Matt Schwartz's Philadelphia Independent -- a craven dandy with a mind for purplish prose on all manner of manners and some fine cravats to match. Rathah, say we. Actually, Whimsy's well-turned phrases (to say nothing of his illustrative graphs) are, though distanced and quaintly arcane, sweetly smart and modern. The author of the forthcoming The Affected Provincial's Almanack is something of a Rex-Bernard-Harrison-Shaw type: An old boy in young 'un's britches. www.lordwhimsy.com
Most Bearable Cultural Outing for People Who Can't Stand Museums
If anyone tries to tell you that the zoo is juvenile, you tell them they're just jealous, because while they stand fighting off yawns in front of yet another painting of a plump woman with her arm extended, you'll be watching baby monkeys make mischief and hippopotamuses, well, just be hippopotamuses. Seriously, are you really too sophisticated to be amused by a hairless, three-ton beast with enormous teeth and short, stumpy legs? 34th St. and Girard Ave., 215-243-1100, www.philadelphiazoo.org
Best Grand Cru Performer Award
If jazz tap were a more popular theater form, our own Germaine Ingram would be a household name -- not just here but nationwide. She's been tapping locally for years, accompanying herself with her fine jazz voice. In her spare time she's a lawyer and an advocate for children. Watching Ingram perform is like sipping an ultra-rare glass of champagne. The clarity and bubbles are there, as well as the sharp bite. Vintage stuff indeed.
Strangest Coincidental Resurrection of a Song From 2002
Who knew art-schooly band Fischerspooner's "Emerge" would resonate so long after its 2002 hitdom, so much that a few separate experimental dance companies used it during this year's Live Arts Festival? The song's theatrical, techno-poppy gurgles and beeps seemed more suited to the minimalist-futuristic sets and movements of Reactionaries/Bald Mermaids collaborative piece New Slang, but the kitschy retro playground that was Brian Sanders' Patio Plastico made fine, whimsical use of it as well.
Soft and velvety to the touch and absolutely gorgeous to look at, Minna Aaparyti's handmade books are glorious artworks that celebrate paper. Using materials like paste paper and unique images she collects in random places, including the bushes in her own back yard, Aaparyti's crafts become diaries, wedding albums, baby scrapbooks, photo repositories and address books. They're so special that Oprah Winfrey picked up a few from Aaparyti's planetary series last year. www.handbound.8k.com
Least Supportive of Other Arts Communities
With many eateries and arts spaces packed in tight by a load of students, it makes sense for the Lancaster Avenue Corridor to focus on a monthly arts night. But it has to be the second Friday? Noche de Arte en el Barrio has had that spot for years! Why make arts lovers choose?
Most Bearable Cultural Outing if You Absolutely Have to Go to a Museum, Like if Your Mom Is in Town and Really Wants to
The Rodin Museum, located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the shadow of its bigger, boring-er brother, is free (though there is a donation box) and very small -- there are like two rooms. It is hard to imagine even the most pretentious of bastards spending more than a half an hour there. Sources tell me Rodin was a sculptor, which explains why the museum is filled with head replicas. 22nd St. and the Parkway, 215-763-8100, ww.rodinmuseum.org
Best Place to See a 6-Foot-Tall Man With a 5 O'Clock Shadow Chain-Smoking and Wearing a Dress
Fringe is usually a great place to see elaborately dressed drag queens do their thang, but this year one show, the Fabulous Theater Company's Fairy Tales, featured a huge, hairy guy dressed in a lime green nymph-from-Neverland costume that looked like it came from the kids section at a Halloween store. Best of all, he was wearing heels so ill-fitting he changed into tennis shoes for the big finale.
Best Play That Shouldn't Have Been in the Kimmel Basement
All praise to Tony Braithwaite and Ben Dibble for getting the two-man musical marathon The Big Bang into the Kimmel. If you ask us, though, forget the black-box theater. This laugh-so-hard-you-cry story of two guys trying to produce an unproducable musical tracing the history of the world (songs include a dirge about the Irish potato famine, sung lovingly to a potato, and "Free Food and Frontal Nudity," where the boys portray fig-leaved Adam and Eve) -- is mainstage material. These big voices could certainly carry the house.
Best Miserable Couple
Proving once again that sometimes the best dramas are to be had not on big stages with elaborate sets but in the most intimate and creative of spaces, Brat Productions set Eugene O'Brien's Eden at Fergie's. And Madi Distefano and Bill Zielinski, as the troubled Billy and Breda, managed to evoke the dissolution of a marriage and its attendant emotions from their bar-stool perches. Awesome, sad and awesomely sad.
Fowl-est Academy of Music Moment
In an amazing feat, several Pennsylvania Ballet dancers maintained a regal appearance and moved beautifully in, of all costumes, chicken suits. Despite looking like they could leave the elegant Academy of Music stage and shill for KFC, these feathered friends of PAB's French comedy La Fille Mal Gardée were charming, funny and still a marvel to watch.