Text by Paul Rome; Music by Roarke Menzies; Directed by Mark Jaynes
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs Through 2.21.15
Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street
by Sarah Weber on 2.14.15
Paul Rome and Roark Menzies in Philadelphia and other Stories.
BOTTOM LINE: An evening of stories and music. It truly is that simple. (Is it?)
It feels strange calling this piece “theatre” in the traditional sense. Yes, Philadelphia and Other Stories is theatre in that it behaves like an elaborate staged reading. But it also feels like watching an arts and literature podcast. Or maybe it feels like attending a Dead Poets Society meeting where Robert Sean Leonard reads aloud a collection of modern short stories instead of 19th century romantic poetry. However you wish to define this production, Paul Rome and Roarke Menzies have assembled a spectacle-free evening of literature and music that challenges the audience to listen. We often say we are going to see a play, but whenever do we say we are going to hear a play?
Philadelphia and Other Stories is a collaboration predominantly between Rome and Menzies who share narratives inspired by events in their own lives. In developing this piece they also invited performers Katie Schottland, David Kammerer, and Kate Mullins who contribute to the many sounds and stories. There are some characters and relationships that are emphasized more than others, but each story shares a poetic style that freely travels to-and-fro through time. In retelling a spur-of-the-moment trip to Philadelphia with an ex-lover the musician might re-remember even older stories that seep through how his mind pieces together the past. Time, art, relationships, and the creative mind; these stories share their own perspective on how people navigate the world and how we make art of it all.
Rome, Menzies, and Schottland rotate reading aloud their narratives, sometimes lasting pages and pages at a time. There is no dramatic action. No intricate choreography. They simply sit or stand in a spotlight and tell a story. In between each narrative, after listening to words poetically strung together, Mullins or Kammerer offer our minds another kind of music to process. Though the stories are beautifully told, being able to just listen to a ukulele or a guitar offers a much needed diversion. After training yourself to constantly “watch” stories my brain felt like it had completed a triathlon -- it was a welcomed exercise.
The stories Rome and Menzies have woven together are creative and the writing style is no less than fascinating. The dramaturg in me kept begging for a copy to bring home and read so that I could dissect every word. It is so rare to find a production that actually forces an audience to pay attention to language; it is even rarer to find the audience actually listening.
That being said, Philadelphia and Other Stories is for a very specific kind of audience. Anyone who has ever studied dramatic literature, literature in general, or is simply interested in literature will find this show an interesting change of pace. Yes there is plenty of music but it feels like the emphasis is on the stories themselves; the music carries over the theme and style from one narrative to another. Otherwise, if you are the type of person who needs visual stimulation, or you simply have a difficult time just listening to stories and music for two hours, Philadelphia and Other Stories may prove tedious.
(Philadelphia and Other Stories plays at Walkerspace at 49 Walker Street, through February 21, 2015. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM. Tickets are $20 and are available at brownpapertickets.com)