Monday, October 19, 2009


Seeking respite from the Kanye Wests, Serena Williams, Joe Wilsons and Glenn Becks of the world, Aisle Say traveled to The Walnut Theatre this week, the oldest continuing running theatrical venue in America.

The Walnut produces Broadway quality shows that are often higher quality than touring shows. This “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” delights -- and does not take itself nearly as seriously as the aforementioned scoundrels.

Walnut Street Theatre presents Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Through Oct. 25

$10 - $70


Two shameless con-men, (Ben Dibble and Paul Schoeffler) have very different styles. They take a winner-take-all wager over the fortunes of a naïve American soap heiress (Jessica Rush). The first one to "clean her out" can make the other clear out and keep the French Riviera and its unsuspecting tourists to himself.

Dibble's Freddie Benson channels his inner Stan Laurel in some of the most hysterical sight gags Aisle Say has enjoyed. His malleable face and physicality had the audience doubling over.

Schoeffler's Lawrence Jameson was the elegant and suave grifter. In one scene, he donned the mantle of a German psychiatrist and sang “Ruffhousin Mit Shufhausen” with the finely honed accent – quite an accomplishment.

At the helm as director and choreographer is Richard Stafford. The music pulls from a variety of genres, similar to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Production values at The Walnut are consistently superior. The sets, the costumes and lighting are superb. The female dancing chorus was talented and, to these eyes, the most beautiful array of chorines in the region.

Arts supporters, be vigilant

Continuing the "scoundrel" theme, Aisle Say must make mention of the 11th hour slight of hand by the Pennsylvania legislature to clinch a budget deal. In the end, the agreement hinged on a ticket tax on museum, concert, dance and theatre tickets.

What's that you ask about sports and movie tickets? Oh, they remain untouched.

The announcement came a day after the world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra pleaded to the public to cover a $15 million shortfall.

Ironic juxtaposition. One of the most vulnerable – yet most vital – sectors of society is dealt another blow. This is a significant tax that hits arts organizations squarely in the gut. Cultural venues had already lost significant state and local funding. This additional tax will further depress the sector.

The Walnut Theatre, for example, now has a budget deficit. It generates $10 million in ticket sales annually. The sales tax would amount to $700,000, and Walnut President Bernard Havard said it would mean all educational programming will be eliminated, and called the move retrograde and destructive.

This news is important for Delawareans to know. We cannot allow our own legislators to even consider such shenanigans.

WHYY watch?

Aisle Say was the first to report on the outrageous salary of WHYY's CEO. This information came on the heels of the decision to close the Wilmington studios. WHYY now has a weekly news review at 10 p.m. Fridays, just when everyone wants to sit down and watch a rehash of week-old news.

Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf told me that “he raised hell about this man's money when he was on the Joint Finance Committee.” The $500,000 Grant in Aid WHYY received last year has thankfully been reduced to $100,000.

U of D REP serves up best theatre in the state

Newark, Del. —

The University of Delawares Resident Player's Ensemble begins its second season with a stirring and contemplative one-man tour de force, “I am my own Wife” by Doug Wright.

For 90 minutes, professional actor Michael Gotch transfixes the audience in his portrayal of 35 characters including Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transvestite who lived and survived in East Germany during the oppressive regimes of Hitler and Communism.

It's a true story, leaving the audience to decide for themselves the virtues and vices of this alleged Stasi (Communist secret police agent) von Mahlsdorf. His renditions include SS officers, American soldiers, German news anchors, Japanese, Indians and a motley crew of fellow travelers of this “amasser of antique gramophones, records, clocks and furniture” in Germany's Golden Age.

Aisle Say normally rolls its eyes at one-man productions, “Mark Twain Tonight” being the exception. But Gotch had his characters and their voices so tightly woven and focused that the recent packed house at the intimate Studio Theatre of the gorgeous Roselle Center for the Arts was totally absorbed.

Ninety minutes of seamless characters changes (with an intermission) did not deter.
In 1934, at age six, Lothar Berfelde realized he was born in the wrong body and “escaped” the stirrings within him by listening to and collecting gramophones and records. At age 15 he changed his name to Charlotte and managed to avoid the Nazi's sweeping arrests of nearly 100,000 homosexuals.

Charlotte's home became a museum and an underground meeting place for the East Berlin gay community for three decades. In 1993 she was recognized by the German government with the prestigious Order of Merit, in honor of the cultural contribution of her museum.

Gotch first performed this show at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from whence Sandy Robbins snatched this consummate actor for UD REP. Gotch was an MFA grad of the Professional Actors Theatre Program here in Newark.

The entire second season of REP and its Professional Theatre Training Program deserve our joyous support. Aisle Say said last year, that this group is unequivocally the greatest production company in Delaware.

With each opening curtain, they sustain this mantle.

This year some of America's beloved classics will be produced at below standard prices, through the production values are those of Broadway shows. Case closed.

Sandy Robbins, the visionary behind the program, synthesizes why live theatre is so invaluable.
“Live theatre offers us a great many important, even necessary experiences,” she says. “It allows us to see issues of the day in a new light. A play can touch the hearts and remind us of the blessing of being alive when nothing in our daily lives occurs as uplifting.”

President Harker has created the concept of a “Path to Prominence” for all things UD.
One can only imagine his auditors' collective paroxysms when they analyze the costs of the production versus the revenue generated. Yet there is no greater tribute to this man's vision than each and every production of Sandy Robbins' players.

Upcoming shows include “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Death Of A Salesman,” “Dancing at Lughnasa” and “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

Aisle Say plans to have an aisle seat.

For more information, call 302.831.2204, or visit

Greer Firestone lives in Brandywine Hundred. He draws from a half-century of involvement in Delaware's theatre scene to write about arts and the business of art in the First State.