Late Renoir / Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival Double Shot

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So dig it, MLD: you know I like theater. It’s in my “likes” category, but due to my performance schedule with ComedySportz Philly, I don’t get out to see as much live theater as I oughta. After my less-than-stellar culinary experience Friday night, my wife reminded me that we were seeing the Late Renoir exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Good deal, but what’s more, we’d also bought tickets to Irish playwright John Millington Synge’s most famous play “The Playboy of the Western World“, playing up in Center Valley, PA, at DeSales University as part of this year’s Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.

The Renoir exhibit was not nearly as well-attended as previous trips we’ve made to the PMA. It’s really too bad, as Renoir deserves just as much attention as some of the other masters who’ve had retrospectives in the last few years, like Andrew Wyeth, Picasso and Arshile Gorky. In fact, I daresay that aside from a reference made by a Russian hair-rock band from the late 1980’s, I would have no idea who Arshile Gorky was. (Although, to be honest, that band, and park, is named after Maxim Gorky, but I digress). Still, it was actually nice to walk into the massive exhibition space at PMA, and NOT be choked with wall to wall people, jostling to look at artwork, and shuffling from painting to painting like they had an appointment.

That being said, I’ve never been a huge fan of Impressionism, but this Renoir retrospective had me thinking differently. I was able to take in the soft images, vibrant with color, that Renoir did late in his life, that showed an artist in his declining years and health. Make no mistake, though, this isn’t like Monet’s Water Lillies. Renoir was still sighted, but his hands were terribly constricted and painful from rheumatoid arthritis. In a wheelchair, and already famous and well-off from his previous periods of his career, Renoir continued to paint not because he needed the money, but because it gave him such joy. The audio tour quoted him as saying, “the pain passes, but the joy stays”. When I consider all the complaints I make about why I don’t engage in some of my artistic pursuits because I’m bored or tired, I should keep Renoir in mind. So should everyone who creates. We do it because we need to. Check out Late Renoir, now through September 6, 2010.

Another guy who did things because he needed to is Christy Mahon, the title character in “The Playboy of the Western World”. I’d read some of Synge’s plays this past semester, and wanted to check out a live production. PSF was doing it, and my wife suggested we go, not only because I’d wanted to see it, but because she had worked the festival (and gone to DeSales back when it was called Allentown College)  years before and could attest to the quality of the productions.

She was spot on! The company putting on “Playboy” was terrific, and the set design allowed for an Irish band to play above the bar-room setting of the play at key points in the 3 acts of the play. The only thing marring the play was the final keening by actress Ellen Adair, playing the part of Pegeen Mike, the barmaid who falls for Christy Mahon, played by Shawn Fagan, during the play. It seemed somehow out of place with the rest of the comedy, and while true to the script, the effect was just… puzzling.

No matter, though! The missus and I got there early to see the Green Show, a free theatrical amuse-bouche that plays before each of the productions during the festival. One of my former directees, actor and recent DeSales grad Christopher T. McGinnis, was part of the Green Show and I got to talk to him. On top of that, I was able to buy an awesome new t-shirt that quotes from Romeo and Juliet, which plays later in July. The quote? “Tempt not a desperate man”.

Sound advice. Check out the rest of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival if you can. Through August 8, 2010.


Oh, and in case anyone needs something to eat on the way up to PSF? Stop at Bubba’s Potbelly Stove on the way up to Center Valley. Truly great French Onion soup, sandwiches and entrees, prepared with love, in a place that looks like a varnished log cabin on the inside. Put a little kitsch in your kitchen.

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