Theatre Review: Worth the hangover!
Let me get one thing off my chest: I hate writing reviews. As a performer, I often feel uncomfortable when trying to speak critically of other people’s work in a public forum. You want to know what I think? Give me a call and we’ll talk it through. You want me to actually write it down? Hard pass. That being said, I had the opportunity to attend Juniper Productions’ #CocktailPlays at Philadelphia Distilling on Monday evening, and this is an experience that I will gladly share with anyone willing to listen in any forum.
From the moment I arrived, I was captivated by the venue. The exposed brick, the gratuitous copper accents, and the mesmerizing view into the distillery was gorgeous. The space found that delicate balance between historic charm and modern aesthetics that I believe much of Philadelphia exemplifies. What better place to celebrate world premiere works of four local playwrights? The venue was so inviting that I even found myself making small talk with strangers (I never do that…). This might have been aided by the signature cocktails offered as pairings with the plays which, to put it simply, were delightful.
The venue and cocktails aside, it was an excellent evening of theater. The first play, What We Talk About, written by Mark J. Costella, began without introduction, which was incredibly effective. It set the mood for an intimate, immersive evening. The dialogue was at times campy but humorous, completely believable and engaging. I even found myself reminiscing about recent conversations I have had with friends over drinks that started off in similar ways. From the very beginning the actors: Tyler S Elliottt, Grayce Hoffman, and Taiwa Sokan were mesmerizing in their authentic portrayals of these colorful and distinct characters throughout the evening.
My main takeaway from the first play was that it was a story about realizing what you feel you need out of life and allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to get it. Interestingly, the second play, Binders by Alisha Adams, continued with this theme, albeit in a completely different voice and narrative style. Here we find a new set of characters yearning to discover what exactly it is they want out of life and battling with exactly how much they are willing to give up in pursuit of that goal. As in real life, it is rarely that easy and we find ourselves with a collection of antiheroes by the end of this play, but nevertheless we are still rooting for them.
Out of an evening of excellent theater, the third play, Distill: A Rally Cry for the American People, was spectacular. Somewhat abstract in its narrative, it tells the story of us, who we are as Americans, and helps us to reflect on the internal and external trappings that we must overcome to make America Great (but actually for real this time). I could talk about this play for hours, but seriously: go experience it for yourself!
The evening ended with Disclosure, written by Bill D’Agostino, and was a riveting tale about people confronted with contradicting views of morality and the difficulty we face when confronted with the consequences of doing what we believe is right over what is clean and easy. This was a perfect conclusion to the overarching themes of the evening. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the thoughtful and brilliant direction of Marcia Ferguson. As each play had an interesting and unique voice, the distinct styles of staging for each play helped to elevate those voices to song. While I was hesitant to go out on a Monday evening (I guess I really am getting old…), this experience was worth any hangover I may feel Tuesday morning.
In conclusion, I would like to share Juniper Productions’ mission statement. I have taken the liberty of highlighting a few key phrases that this evening exemplified:
Inspired by the deep talent of Philadelphia theater artists, Juniper Productions distills an original, independent spirit to the making of performance work that’s extraordinary, exciting, and relates to everyday life. We focus on building new work from the ground up. We engage new audiences in non-traditional venues. And we infuse deep artistic integrity and broad strategic thinking through all our work. Our vision is forwarding Philadelphia as a creative hub for new works of performance.
Juniper Productions may be in their first season, but it is clear to me that they have a very bright future ahead of them, and I for one will be excited to see what comes next.
If you go, but seriously, you should:
Juniper Productions presents #CocktailPlays
World-premiere works by Alisha Adams, Josh Campbell, Mark Costello, and Bill D’Agostino
Monday, September 18 at 8PM
Tuesday, September 19 at 6PM and 8:30PM
Wednesday, September 20 at 6PM and 8:30PM
Tickets: $20 General Admission
$30 for “4 Plays and a Cocktail”
Featuring: Taiwo Sokan, Tyler Elliott, and Grayce Hoffman
Directed by: Marcia Ferguson