Photo Flash: Meet the Star of the Philadelphia Premiere Of EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL
Philadelphia Theatre Company continues its 45th Anniversary season with a powerful drama about forgiveness set in Amish Country in Pennsylvania. PTC is thrilled to begin the year with the Philadelphia Premiere of The Kilroys List Honorable Mention, Everything is Wonderful, by Chelsea Marcantel. Directed by Noah Himmelstein, who helmed the play at the Everyman Theatre in Baltimore last year, this beautiful new work about a nearby community runs February 14 to March 8, 2020. Opening Night is February 19th at 7pm. Tickets are on sale now for $25-$69 at philatheatreco.org, at the box-office, or by calling 215-985-0420. All shows are performed at Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre (480 S. Broad Street).
"Everything is Wonderful deals with contemporary issues like consent, but also explores timeless topics like family fissures and unmet expectations," said PTC Producing Artistic Director Paige Price. "I saw Noah Himmelstein's production at the Everyman Theatre in Baltimore, where he is the Associate Artistic Director. It took my breath away, it was so moving and rendered so beautifully. This is a very "PTC" play that embodies all that we love about theatre - it's character-driven and lays out clear conflicts for the audience to consider. There are surprising revelations through the course of the play that offer a chance to change one's mind about a character, thus upending who you've been 'rooting' for. And the play sneaks up on you. It doesn't feed you everything in an explicit way, making the second half even more impactful."
In this heartfelt new work, an Amish couple exhibits an act of unfathomable forgiveness after their two sons are killed in a car accident. Upholding the tenets of their faith, they take in Eric, the wayward young driver of the car. But the accident brings home their eldest daughter, Miri, who was excommunicated five years earlier, and Eric's presence cracks open the family's secret history. As the family struggles to cling to their way of life, they are forced to find a way forward inside their insular community, practicing mercy and forgiveness to heal the wounds of the past.
Price said, "The catalyzing event is a car crash where a drunk driver kills the Amish family's two sons. What is unusual is that we spend time in the aftermath with both the family and the driver of the car. In fact, the play explores how the driver seeks forgiveness from this family and so humanizes both parties in a way that is painfully real and honest. The consent issue in the play is also one of the biggest reasons I feel the play is important now. When the family's oldest daughter experiences an assault that she cannot forgive, she is expelled from the community. In this way, the play explores what happens when the tenets of a faith are at odds with the needs of a young woman who feels violated and then also unsupported. Her sense of betrayal is palpable. Obviously in this #MeToo era, victim-blaming and shaming are a real consequence of the brave acts of women speaking out."
Everything is Wonderful is directed by Noah Himmelstein, who makes his Philadelphia debut. He directed Andrew Lippa's I Am Harvey Milk (Lincoln Center with Kristin Chenoweth; also in San Francisco with Laura Benanti, Los Angeles and Denver: NY Magazine, LA Magazine Critic's Picks, Playbill's Unforgettable Experience of the Year).
"I love Philadelphia and I am delighted to direct here in the City of Brotherly Love," said Himmelstein. "My dad grew up here and I am looking forward to spending time in this exciting city. I have loved working with Paige. She has a terrific vision for PTC in the kinds of stories she believes are vital to conversation and community. She has great trust with fellow artists and ideas and I have felt inspired and supported in the design and casting process. I am particularly excited to be directing Everything is Wonderful in Pennsylvania where many of those who come to see it will have traveled to and potentially had relationships within Lancaster and the Amish community."
The cast is made up of local favorites, returning PTC favorites, and actors making their PTC debuts. J. Hernandez, who returns to PTC after performing in Sweat last season, is Eric, the wayward young driver of the car responsible for the death of the family's sons. He is a multiple Barrymore nominee and this season was a nominee for the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Artist. William Zielinski, an eight-time Barrymore nominee who has been a member of four Barrymore winning ensembles, returns to PTC after appearing in Hand to God, to play Jacob, the Patriarch of the family. Philadelphia based actress Stephanie Hodge makes her PTC debut as Ruth. She recently appeared in Hamlet at the Seaport Museum. Lucky Gretzinger makes his PTC debut as Abram, reprising the role he originated in the show's world premiere at Contemporary American Theatre Festival. Katie Kleiger is making her Philadelphia Theatre Company debut as Miri. She recently was part of the Helen Hayes Award-winning Ensemble of The Wolves at The Studio Theatre in Washington DC. Recent Philadelphia transplant Blair Sams makes her PTC debut as Esther. She has Broadway and extensive regional credits and just finished working with Jon Stewart on his upcoming film Irresistible. She has also appeared on Chicago P.D., The Americans, Boardwalk Empire, The Following, Law & Order: SVU, Ed and The Guardian.
Himmelstein brought in three members of the creative team from his Everyman Theatre production of Everything is Wonderful. Daniel Ettinger, Scenic Design; Cory Pattak, Lighting Design; and Pornchanok Kanchanabanca, Sound Designer and Composer are working with Himmelstein for the PTC production. He gave the creative team the goal of creating something handmade, yet ethereal. Ettinger's wooden barn structure is hand painted to feel like antique furniture. Chairs and other household objects manipulated by the cast will form different interior spaces with grace and ease.
"The play is also very cinematic in that it is continually going from kitchen to barn to a field to other locations within the community and it's written in such a way that the scenes often blend into each other, overlap, or happen simultaneously," said Himmelstein. "Even more miraculously, often the scenes that are overlapping are in the past and juxtaposing what we are seeing in the present."
Pattak's lighting will appear through the slats in the barn to highlight different times of day and indicate where we are in time. Track lights will swipe and dissolve as scenes or time periods in the show change.
Janus Stefanowicz returns to PTC as Costume Designer for Everything is Wonderful. For PTC she designed Outside Mullingar, Detroit, Tribes, reasons to be pretty, Ruined and Intimate Apparel, for which she received the Barrymore Award for Outstanding Costume Design. She is the costume shop manager, resident designer and an adjunct faculty for Villanova University's Theatre Department.
Thai artist Pornchanok Kanchanabanca is the Sound Designer and is composing original music for the show. She has worked with theatre companies across the United States including Lincoln Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Steppenwolf, McCarter Theater, Rattlestick, Geva Theatre and Milwaukee Repertory Theater, among many others.
Rounding out the team is Neill Hartley as the Dialect Coach, Colleen Hughes is the Intimacy Coach and Eli Lynn is the play's Fight Coach. Stage managers are Allison Hassman and Tori Heikenfeld.
Himmelstein added, "I am fascinated by this community that in one hand is so spiritually evolved that they shine a light for all of us to embrace forgiveness in our lives and live with a kind of inner spaciousness and presence, and yet is so also deeply intolerant of any subtle shifts in their way of thinking. At the core of this play we have a family who, in the name of their teachings, embrace the man who caused the death of their two boys, yet is unable to accept the pain of their own daughter. This play deals with a family within a closed religious community following centuries of beliefs that have kept them safe and ensured their survival at a moment when our world and the conversations we are having about consent force them to adjust and see each other anew. That makes for remarkable drama. The structure is also thrilling; the play is told as a kind of mosaic of time that is put together before our eyes which makes for great suspense and theatricality."
Two-play subscriptions are on sale and start at $35. Tickets are $25-$69 at philatheatreco.org, at the box-office, or by calling 215-985-0420. All shows are performed at Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre (480 S. Broad Street). Tickets and subscriptions are available at the box office, online at philatheatreco.org or by phone at 215-985-0420.
Photo Credit: Anthony Werhun