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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Philadelphia 2013 Fringe Festival Roundup:
Saint Joan, Betrayed
Completeness
Modern Playground


Mary Tuomanen
Photo by 3 Plate Photography
If you don't think a persuasive theatrical world can be conjured up by one gifted performer and a few suitcases full of props, Saint Joan, Betrayed will make you a believer. Tuomanen, with an assist from director/co-writer/designer Aaron Cromie, uses puppets, masks, and her own intense physicality to take the audience into the mind of Joan of Arc. She plays all the characters—including Joan, a prince, a bishop and, in the show's most striking piece of staging, a pair of soldiers who talk out of both sides of a double-headed mask. The design elements are endlessly inventive, and they combine to make the oft-told story seem fresh.

Running less than an hour, the show seems too short; the story of Joan's trial needs to be given as much attention as the battles she led. And the prologue that Cromie performs—the stories of the saints Joan saw in her visions (Saints Catherine, Margaret and Michael), told via paper cut-outs and storyboards—needs some polish. But even in what appears to be an early stage of development, Saint Joan, Betrayed is already captivating.

With her angular cheekbones and short, blunt hairstyle, Tuomanen looks like she's stepped out of a 15th century triptych. It's fitting that she's playing Joan of Arc. And when you see Saint Joan, Betrayed, you will, like Joan herself, see many wonders.

Saint Joan, Betrayed runs through September 14 at Theatre Exile's Studio X, 1340 South 13th Street, Philadelphia.


Itamar Moses' Completeness is a smart, wordy, and funny comedy about Elliot and Molly, a couple of grad students who discuss molecular biology and computer algorithms with fluency, but only as a way to impress each other—and to get each other in bed. Elliot and Molly can analyze any piece of data that comes their way, but as they scientifically scrutinize their own actions, they find that human behavior is not as predictable as they'd like it to be. Jonathan Silver and Clare Mahoney are charismatic and convincing as the lead couple, while Mary Beth Shrader and Sam Sherburne have affecting moments as their past (and possibly future) loves.

I first saw this play when it ran Off-Broadway two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. So I'm sad to report that Daniel O'Neill's direction here for Round Table Theatre Company doesn't hit all the heights Completeness is capable of. The scene where Elliot dumps his previous girlfriend plays more like melodrama than comedy, robbing Elliot of much of the audience's sympathy. The decision to restrain the eroticism in the sex scene doesn't work either; the contrast between the characters' sexual and intellectual sides doesn't seem as stark as it should. And the scene that revolves around a supposed technical breakdown (the script's only significant misstep) doesn't seem plausible in a low-budget production with no large moving sets.

A bold play like Completeness needs a bold staging. Round Table does a good job, but let's hope a local company gives this sharp, edgy comedy the treatment it deserves soon.

Completeness runs through Saturday, September 14, 2013, and is presented by Round Table Theatre at the University of the Arts' Caplan Studio Theatre, 211 South Broad Street, 16th Floor, Philadelphia.


In Modern Playground, a group of student actors from the University of the Arts portray first graders—and the play is set in 1999, when most of these people really were first graders. In a room filled with colorful toys and discarded computer monitors, we see the girls obsess over which boys like them, while the boys obsess over skateboards and Star Wars. It's kind of like when you were in first grade, but with a soundtrack of No Doubt and Sugar Ray tunes.

Savanah Knechel's repetitive script doesn't have much insight about what makes young kids tick, and there's not much wit either (except for one funny passage that parodies a movie from 1969). But director Jessica Schwartz gives the hour-long show a good amount of energy, and the cast is attractive and enthusiastic.

Modern Playground runs through September 14, 2013, at the Arts Bank, 601 South Broad Street, Philadelphia.


The 2013 Fringe Festival, presented by FringeArts (formerly the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe), runs through September 22 at venues throughout the city. For tickets and information, visit fringearts.ticketleap.com.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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