Time Stands Still

On Saturday, February 25, at 7:25pm, my friend Leah and I got onto the regional rail from Temple University toward Doylestown to see a play. 30 minutes later, we got off at Ambler station. Had we not taken a wrong turn first, it would have only taken us  2 minutes to reach our destination, Act 2 Playhouse.

We went inside and were immediately handed the two tickets that had been left for me at will call. We were about ten minutes late, but the show had started promptly and everyone was already seated and engaged as we were shown to our row. The theater seats 130, and it was sold out (mostly with adults over 40). Instead of making us climb over everyone, the entire row scooted down so that we could have the end seats and didn’t even glare. I was already impressed.

After shuffling around getting my coat and over-stuffed bag situated, I finally focused on the stage, and was sucked in almost immediately. First of all, the set was awesome. Set up like the inside of an apartment that was decorated by grown-up hipsters (who, instead of thinking they’re too cool to care about material objects actually don’t care and just happened to end up with an assortment of furniture from Ikea and the Middle East). My favorite touch was that the kitchen sink had running water. (The “rain” that actually left the window panes wet was a close second).

Time Stands Still is a Broadway play that is making its Philadelphia debut at Act II Playhouse before moving on to the People’s Light and Theater Company in Malvern later this Spring.

The story follows a middle-aged couple who were brought together by their shared experience as journalists in war zones. After the woman is almost blown to pieces in the Middle East and the man has a meltdown after seeing other people blown to pieces one too many times, they are forced to re-evaluate their careers and decide if documenting suffering is what will ultimately make them happiest, or if they want a more conventional life. I won’t give it away, but I will say that the story is woven together beautifully, and that the mixture of anger, angst, tenderness, and humor feels effortless and makes the two hours fly by.

As a journalism student, the heated discussions about the true merit of journalistic work hit home for me in a profound way. My favorite scene in the show, however, was the dinner party discussion about whether seeing a play about world issues and educating oneself is a valuable use of time. It was as though the writers were winking at the audience the entire time, saying, “you’re not off the hook, here- it’s not just the characters who are going to have to think about the tough questions- you’re in this too”.

The acting was well executed and the leads, Susan McKey and Kevin Kelly, looked vaguely reminiscent of Amy Pohler and Jason Bateman, which was entertaining in and of itself.

Overall, I thought the show was very well done, and definitely worth the trip to Ambler. Though my friend and I ended up making our train back to Temple, we were crunched for time at the end of the show, so I would definitely recommend getting tickets for a matinee showing and then making an afternoon of hanging out in Ambler (which is adorable).

Act 2 Playhouse offers discounts in your PEX passport, and Time Stands Still is only running until March 11, so buy your tickets now and go see the show over spring break!

SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE

She did it again, ladies and gentlemen. She said she was going to something, she got really excited about it, and then it fell through. Such is life. Luckily, not doing something still won’t stop me from writing about it, so here’s the deal with Slaughterhouse 5 at Curio theater

What: Slaughterhouse 5 (the play!)
Why? Because Curio is that cool. Honestly, I would seriously doubt their judgement for attempting to adapt a novel like Slaughterhouse 5 to the stage, but their acute awareness of how strange of an idea it was(“How are we going to present Vonnegut’s classic story?  Come and See!”) is precisely what gives me confidence in their ability to pull it off. In my experience, when people take calculated risks, that’s when genius comes in. This show has been getting buzz from a slew of local press outlets, and I have high hopes for the outcome of their bold choice.
When: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm from February 2nd – March 3rd
How much: $15.00- $20.00 (+ the discount in your PEX passport!)
Where: Curio Theater, 4740 Baltimore Avenue
Transportation: Is tricky, because it’s in a weird part of West Philly that’s kind of far from Temple (as far as city distances go). Google maps told me that it would take me a bus and a trolley to get there (or a subway and a trolley), so I recommend inviting someone with a car and making your life a hell of a lot easier.
I still hope to make it to the show before it closes since a large part of my heart is occupied by Vonnegut, but even in the event that I don’t, I still heartily encourage you to make the trip. The PR staffer at Curio was amazingly kind to me, which, interestingly, has so far (in my year and a half of doing this job) been a pretty good indicator of how fun a place is.
Go. Be cultural. Your parents will be proud.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts AKA That Building With The Paint Brush

Here’s the deal: PAFA is really old and really prestigious in the fine art world. Their two buildings at 118-128 N. Broad St. (spitting distance from the Race-Vine subway stop) host a diverse collection of 19th and 20th century art in mediums ranging from sculptures to oil paintings to drawings.  I was pretty skeptical about checking this place out, since I’m much more of a contemporary art kind of girl (something about portraits of dudes in wigs just doesn’t quite do it for me), but I decided to go in with an open mind (after all, the $12 fee is waived for Temple students).

Here’s what I saw (and loved):

  • Gorgeous marble sculptures with perfect movement in the fabric of their draped togas
  • A Georgia O’Keefe painting (a nice surprise)
  • Pieces so old that the paint was cracking (I’m mentioning this as an awesome fun fact rather than a judgmental comment).
  • Lots of extremely realistic landscapes and portraits
  • One huge room full of stunning African-American art
  • A cell-phone guided tour led by Hennessy Youngman, a gangster rapper, and
  • Informational signs written by art critic Nathanial Snerpus. (To give you an idea, the first line of his explanation on “Why Fruit?” are chosen for still life paintings was, “Because they’re still, silly”).

What I learned:

  • Children in art are almost always creepy. Children in sculptures with big wide eyes and rolls of baby fat are particularly unsettling.
  • I can appreciate realistic art best when it’s a landscape painted on a huge canvas and looks out at some sort of vista, so that I feel like if I were there, that’s the angle I would be viewing it from. Before today, I had never been able to appreciate realistic art, but it was amazing to walk around the room of landscapes and feel like I was being transported between seasons and locations every time I took a step to the left.
  • I don’t care about portraits unless they are of people wearing particularly fabulous clothing (which some of the ladies featured definitely were).

I definitely recommend taking a trip to PAFA if you have an hour or two available. It’s free, it’s close, and it’s a good size (big enough to have something for everyone, but small enough to be able to get through) for a quick trip.

NOTE: PAFA currently has an exhibition featuring the work of  Henry Ossawa Tanner, who was admittedly quite talented, but not at all to my taste, so I’m not going to waste your time tip-toeing around compliments and my real opinion. If you’re into religiously themed work, go check it out. If not, don’t run too fast.

Behind the Scenes of Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind The Walls

First of all, Happy Halloween! I hope everyone has had a safe and shenanigan-filled Halloweekend.

Second of all, I have a confession to make in the spirit of journalistic full disclosure. I know I promised to go to Terror Behind the Walls, but then I remembered that I hate being scared, and decided not to. Luckily, my roommates all made the trip and thus enabled me to compile a list of tips and highlights for those curious about the experience. And just think, now you have a whole year to chew on these hints before deciding if you want to subject yourself to the terror behind the walls next Halloween. (See what I did there? I think I’m pretty clever). On to the list!

  1. Go with people you aren’t afraid to look like an idiot in front of. This is not a good first date idea. Yes, you’ll end up clutching them for dear life, but you’ll probably also end up crying and panicking, which isn’t cute.
  2. Bring a guinea pig who’s brave enough to take the lead. They’ll take the majority of the hits on being grabbed by surprise, giving you a little relief.
  3. Don’t caffeinate before you go. You’ll just end up giving yourself a heart attack or an anxiety attack or something which isn’t worth it.
  4. Try as hard as you can to avoid driving. Parking is challenging, particularly as you get closer to Halloween, and it’s a much better idea to just take the trolley, a bike, your legs…pretty much anything other than a car.
  5. Reward yourself afterward. Fairmount Pizza and Philly Water Ice are less than a block away from the Penitentiary, and are a satisfying way to end a night of fright.

Even with these tips, I’m not sure I’ll be woman enough to make the trip next year, but at least I feel a little more prepared for it and hopefully you do too. The most important thing at any haunted house type of experience is to remember not to take yourself (or your surroundings) too seriously and to have fun. As long as screaming is followed by laughing (which it definitely was for all of my friends who went), it’s well worth the trip.

The Love Letters Tour

What is the Love Letters tour?

I’m glad you asked! It’s 50 rooftop murals that tell the story of a man who was madly in love with a SEPTA worker, who refused to talk to him after he was sent to jail for graffiti writing. In order to get her attention, he attempted to speak to her through a series of murals along her route on the L-train.

This series was done in collaboration with Stephen Powers (a graffiti writer originally from Philly who now makes his living as an artist in NYC).

The cost is $10 with your PEX passport, which may seem steep but is well worth it for the experience. Of all the PEX activities I’ve attended since I was hired here, this ranks in my top three. I’m a sucker for art, culture, graffiti, and romantic gestures, so this one hit all my soft spots.

Hints:

I definitely recommend bringing a companion for this one, since the romantic nature of some of the murals could be a little depressing if you’re by yourself. The tour moves quickly and many of the murals are hard to see, so bring a camera but don’t be attached to the idea that you’ll be able to document the entire journey. Also, avoid drinking too much before you go, as bathrooms will not be easily accessible during the 90-minute tour (a lesson I learned the hard way).

For departure information and other tours, visit the mural arts website.

Special thanks to the Mural Arts Program for comping me tickets and to the owner of the pharmacy next to the gas station outside of the 63rd street L-train stop who let me use his private bathroom.

An Intro To Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program

What is the Mural Arts Program?

What do you do when your city is covered in graffiti (and I’m talking about “this-is-my-gang’s-drug-territory” graffiti, not just artistic “this-could-hang-in-a-gallery” graffiti)? If you think like the founders of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program then you convert the energies of young, vibrant artists from destructive to constructive, and invite them to use real paint (as opposed to spray paint), as well as their creativity and comfort with heights to participate in the creation of huge mural installations all over the city.

Mural Arts is responsible for some 3600 murals in the Philadelphia area, and has enlisted everyone from young volunteers to famous artists, to be a part of the movement. The murals cover a wide range of topics, and anyone can propose ideas for an installation. The whole point is that walls are for the people, and should be as beautiful as possible.

The societal implications are also huge- in lots where murals are present on an adjacent wall, there is a marked decrease in littering, and almost zero instances of graffiti on the walls where murals are featured.  “There’s a lot of respect for these murals,” explained my guide, on the Love Letters tour, “people have a lot of reverence for them and don’t mess with them once they go up.”

To support its artistic endeavors, the Mural Arts Program runs a wide range of tours, including the one that I went on this past weekend, the Love Letters tour. CLIFFHANGER! (The LLT post will be up this weekend, just to keep you on the edge of your seat!)

Shofuso Japanese Teahouse

Where: Intersection of Lansdowne and Horticultural Drives in West Fairmount Park

What: Shofuso Japanese Teahouse. Features a 17th century Japanese house that overlooks a perfectly manicured garden and private lake.

When: Sat & Sun 11am to 5pm during October. Visiting season closes October 23, so get there soon!

Who: The house was designed for the Museum of Modern Art by Junzo Yoshimura in 1954.

How to get there: Philly Phlash bus or Septa bus

Price: $6 per adult, $3 for students, $0 with PEX passport

Tip: Go before it’s freezing, and on a day when you have time you’re trying to kill. This is a lovely trip, but not an event, or something to shove into a packed day

My favorite thing: The lake feeds in behind the house, making water an integral part of the layout of the space. Natural elements are not presented as separate, which reminded me of the connectedness of myself to nature. As a person with heavily transcendental tendencies, being able to sit on the porch and see a creek and a lake made my experience at the house feel particularly sacred.

Alone at Eastern State Penitentary

I’m going to preface this by saying that this would be an awesome date location. Since, however, I’m currently single and had no friends available to strong-arm into going with me, I ended up on an excursion to the very famous, very sinister, Eastern State Penitentiary all by my lonesome.

In case you weren’t aware, Eastern State pioneered the system of solitary confinement based on principles and penitence rather than punishment. Operational from 1828 until 1971, the prison is built like a castle, and is currently being kept as a “stable ruin,” such that it maintains its dilapidated charm while remaining structurally sound. Eastern State has housed numerous famous criminals, gangster Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton among them. The design for the building was chosen from a $100-prize contest and was the largest and most expensive public structure to date at the time of its construction.

The model for some 300+ other prisons worldwide, getting to tour the facility and actually sit inside of the cramped cells was an excellent motivator for me to avoid getting sent to prison. Equipped with a bed, a toilet and a skylight that was designed to allow prisoners to “let God shine through” as they thought about their crimes, these rooms are creepy, and require stepping over the doorway to enter, almost as if prisoners are in display boxes (without glass doors).

On my tour, I was given a headset and a map and was encouraged to explore the grounds. Going out of order, I found a number of cool sites. Art installations are incorporated throughout the prison, and provide interesting commentary and insight into prison life, how we view penitence, jail crimes etc. I had the pleasure of going on a five-minute mini-tour during which my guide showed me instances of grafiti or “inmate art” hidden in one of the cell blocks.

Of all the places I visited at Eastern State, the only one that truly made me shiver was the “hole” or punishment cell. When I walked in, I could feel suffering and suddenly found my heart feeling tight and my breath getting more shallow. I can’t quite describe what was so creepy about the experience, but I can tell you that I bolted out of there pretty quickly (did I mention that this is a great date location!?).

I definitely recommend this spot. The best ways to get there are either via trolley or bike (the latter if you can) which are both cheap and time-efficient. Also, Fairmount is a really cute area to hang out in- peppered with lunch spots and an adorable bookstore across the street from the prison, it’s possible to visit for an hour or a whole afternoon.

Moral of the story? Go there!

Note: I’m going back for Terror Behind the Walls, Eastern State’s famously freaky Halloween tour. Anyone interested in joining me can contact me at vmarchiony@temple.edu. Also, I apologize that there’s no video to accompany this post. My beautiful flip cam ran out of battery ten seconds after I arrived. Story of my life.

National Constitution Center

Hey there, history fans- this one is for you.

If you make it through four years of college in Philadelphia and don’t make it to the National Constitution Center at least once, you have done something terribly wrong and should plan on moving to Canada because you clearly have no interest in your nation’s history. (How’s that for incentive?)

Aside from being a right of passage, (and being really easy to get to via subway) the NCC actually has some cool stuff. With a ton of permanent exhibits and feature exhibits, you’ll get a huge dose of history from all over the world (Diana and Napoleon are featured right next to George Washington) in what is likely the most engaging format you’ll come across.

Since the NCC is a huge deal, they get huge endowments, meaning that they have money to spend on things like enormous interactive exhibits, a movie theater, special events (and have you seen how gorgeous that building is?).  An added bonus to going soon is that Independence Mall is beautiful, and the perfect place for a picnic (coughdatecough).

Highlights (for me) going on right now include the “Spies, Traitors and Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America” as well as Posters for the People: Art of the WPA”. Check out everything else the NCC has going on here.

Get your geek on, Temple.


Art Museum Part 2

I recently dragged my mom to round two of the Philadelphia Art Museum and I am sad to say that this excursion was significantly less impressive than my previous one. I went specifically to check out the “Unsettled: Photography and Politics in Contemporary Art” exhibit because it boasted work by my all-time favorite artist, Barbara Kruger.

Though the exhibit was designed to cover all social-political issues in the last 40 years, it lacked a distinct message, which made the pieces feel disconnected and the “meanings” behind the images contrived. Without proper context, a portrait of a gay couple performing fellatio is less a powerful statement and more pornographic. If you’re not an obsessed Kruger fan like I am, I wouldn’t bother make the trip.

Other exhibits on display in the Tuttleman building are “The Peacock Male: Exuberance and Extremes in Masculine Dress” and “Collab: Four Decades of Giving Modern and Contemporary Design“. The former boasts an array of flamboyant articles of clothing ranging from beautiful ivory vests to Phillies tracksuits. The latter exhibit is kind of like going through a high-end Ikea showroom. Though it was an interesting visual experience, unless any of these exhibits fall under the umbrella of one of your specific passions, I would recommend satisfying your curiosity with photos in the gallery below.