Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Hand of Gaul, Permanent Collection
and Pinocchio

The Hand of Gaul is a new comedy by Jared Michael Delaney about three Irish layabouts who become outraged when they witness one of the most controversial soccer matches of the past decade. It takes place in November 2009, when France eliminated Ireland from World Cup contention after French superstar Thierry Henry slapped down the ball to setup a goal. Henry won the game for France, but he did it by breaking soccer's "One Cardinal Rule: Do Not Touch the Ball With Your Hands" (as an onstage video projection here puts it). The referees didn't catch Henry's violation, and the results were allowed to stand. But for these three Irishmen, the loss is a blow to their national pride: "Ireland's honor is gone. Stolen from us." Their solution: hire an assassin to kill Henry. And how do you find an assassin for hire? "We Google it, of course."

The Hand of Gaul plays this all for laughs: for instance, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Irish President Mary McAleese make appearances via video, but in comically exaggerated caricatures (played by Leonard Haas and Megan Bellwoar). The three Irishmen—Dave (Adam Altman), Paul (Harry Smith) and Declan (played by playwright Delaney)—are all buffoons; Declan is the smartest, although that's like saying Moe Howard was the smartest Stooge. And things turn even more ridiculous when the assassin shows up: he's Le Falcon (Damon Bonetti), a suave Belgian with an Inspector Clouseau accent who has his own reason to dislike Henry.

Alas, while it starts out strongly, The Hand of Gaul ends up more tiresome than funny. It's so cartoonish that it's almost weightless; it's hard to buy the trio as outraged because there's no one to care about and nothing seems at stake. Delaney's script depends on repetitive shtick: the three mates keep getting sidetracked by petty arguments, and Le Falcon keeps reacting to Henry's name by making a weird sneering/gurgling sound that gets less and less funny.

And as with Jeff Coon and Ben Dibble Must Die, last fall's fringe festival offering about actors who plot to assassinate their rivals, the laughs start drying up once the assassin appears onstage. Maybe it's time we agree that even when you couch it in an absurd premise, assassination just isn't that funny a subject. (I caught The Hand of Gaul two days after the Boston Marathon bombings, which may not have been the ideal time to see a comedy about a planned killing at a sporting event.)

Under Tom Reing's direction, the actors give suitably broad performances, and the video projections (by Janelle Kauffman) and the fight choreography (by J. Alex Cordaro) are impressive. Musicians Rosie Langabeer and Josh Machiz, who play their lively score on a wide variety of instruments (including accordion, string bass, banjo and jaw harp), are the most consistently entertaining part of the show.

The Hand of Gaul runs through April 28, 2013, and is presented by Inis Nua Theatre Company at the Off-Broad Street Theater at First Baptist Church, 1636 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $20 - $25 and are available by phone at 215-454-9776 or online at

Maureen Torsney-Weir, Tom McCarthy and Frank X
Photo by Kathryn Raines
Thomas Gibbons' play Permanent Collection has a lot of resonance for Philadelphians, since it's a fictionalized version of the controversies that rocked The Barnes Foundation, one of the region's most famous art institutions, in the 1990s. That alone gives Gibbons a lot to work with, because the scandals at the Barnes involved art, commerce, finance, privilege, gender and, above all, race. It's a juicy subject for a play, but Permanent Collection never feels exploitative. Instead, it's a quietly riveting piece that examines the issues from all sides and, thanks to some restrained but forceful monologues, lets us see what motivates the characters to take their controversial positions (and to compromise those positions).

InterAct Theatre staged the world premiere of Permanent Collection in 2003, and it's since been produced around the country. InterAct's revival reunites most of the cast of the original production, including Frank X, who's commanding as Sterling North, the embattled new director of the "Morris Foundation" (as it's called here), and Tim Moyer, who shows a wide range as a longtime staffer who turns into a crusader when he clashes with North over what should be displayed. What motivates these two men? As North says, "There's the reason given, and there's the reason." Both actors are persuasive, which helps make Permanent Collection so interesting.

Also returning are Tom McCarthy as the foundation's late founder, who observes from the shadows in (mostly) silent judgment, and Maureen Torsney-Weir as a reporter who manipulates the story and gets manipulated in return. Seth Rozin's direction is as vibrant as the art hanging on the walls of Nick Embree's set. Peter Whinnery's lighting shines spotlights on individual paintings during scene changes, which focuses the audience's attention and helps the show seem to move quickly.

The characters in Permanent Collection are smart, proud, opinionated and wounded—all of which makes for excellent theatre. Even if you never followed the controversy in the press, it's hard to deny the way the play makes the story so compelling.

Permanent Collection runs through May 5, 2013, and is presented by InterAct Theatre Company at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets start at $20 - $25 and are available by phone at 215-568-8079 or online at

Anthony Lawton and David Raphaely
Photo by Mark Garvin
"He gets eaten by the whale? Who wrote this story?! That is messed up!"

Bet you never expected to hear those words in a production of Pinocchio. (It is a pretty dark story at times—how many times do we need to see our innocent, gullible hero face death and get cheated out of his money?) But while Greg Banks' adaptation of the classic children's tale may seem irreverent, it takes the story seriously. And by setting the play in a theatre under construction, with a quintet of construction workers playing all the parts, the Arden Children's Theatre's dynamic Pinocchio, directed by Matthew Decker, reveals what makes all great children's stories special: the power of imagination. The equipment that the workers use for their job becomes the equipment they use to tell the story. So a mop becomes a makeshift wig, a paintbrush becomes a magic wand, a paint-spattered drop cloth becomes a gown, and stilts are used to simulate flying; put them all together, and suddenly a construction worker is transformed into Pinocchio's fairy godmother. With imagination, anything is possible.

This Pinocchio is ingenious and witty. And it's easy for kids to relate to: it teaches lessons about responsibility, how to deal with schoolyard bullies, and how to deal with the yucky medicine your mom sometimes forces you to take. The cast is versatile and engaging: David Raphaely as a wide-eyed Pinocchio (in a Phillies cap), Anthony Lawton as an affectionate Gepetto, and Doug Hara, Maggie Lakis and Brian Anthony Wilson as an ever-changing array of characters. Tom Gleeson's construction site set design looks authentic, but has hidden treasures (like the carnival lights that magically appear when Pinocchio visits Playland).

The Arden's Pinocchio is sweet, spirited, and a lot of fun.

Pinocchio runs through June 23, 2013, at the Arden Theatre Company, 40 North Second Street, Philadelphia. Ticket prices range from $16 to $36 (with group discounts available) and are available online at or by calling the box office at 215-922-1122.

-- Tim Dunleavy

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