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World Premiere of Concrete Dinosaur at Plays and Players Theater

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Cast of Concrete Dinosaur, photos by Trevor ReynoldsIn the heart of Center City Philadelphia is a precious theater called Plays and Players. The space is warm while a bit dated, but exudes an air of class and novelty that foreshadows what takes place inside its walls. Organizations that like to perform at Plays and Players Theater include 1812 Productions, Theatre Exile and ArcheDream for HUMANKIND. And, five times a season Plays and Players will produce its own theatrical productions, often including a musical, a drama, and world premieres. The small, Skinner Studio on the third floor –adjacent to the bar—is perfect for premiering new works; and one such performance, Concrete Dinosaur, opened last weekend and runs through January 24. 

Concrete Dinosaur tells the story of an affluent family living on the Main Line: Wynnewood, to be specific. The play dabbles with conventions of high society and through a series of meetings of the “Bryn Mawr Historical Society,” games of croquet, and pitchers of dry martinis, the truth behind a scandal unravels involving (of all things) a desperate housewife and a sexy gardener (played by Armando Batista). 

While the storyline was a bit predictable, the dialogue and character development were an exciting mix of dark humor and wit. A commandeering matriarch, Angelica Busso (Peggy Smith), invites her friends (played by Polly Macintyre and Lora Mirigliani) over for a game of croquet, as her over-rationalizing daughter, Marta (Aileen Goldberg), comes home for spring break. The game quickly becomes a match of wit and relationship issues as more and more cocktails are served, and topics of money, infidelity, and intelligence are approached. 

The play takes place in a garden, for which a beautiful, though crowded, set (designed by Lance Moore) appropriately revolves around a concrete dinosaur, as much a metaphor for its consistent presence as, well, whatever you make of it. 

“I don’t want to address what the dinosaur stands for,” said playwright Nicholas Wardigo at the opening night reception, “I want to let people decide for themselves.” 

Nicholas Wardigo is a recipient of the Roger Cornish Award, as well as Fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts and the Pew Fellowships in the Arts. His previous projects include writing the script for The 2006 Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. His play Exit, Corpse, which premiered last season at Plays & Players, was well received by audiences and critics alike. 

When asked about his style of writing, Wardigo explained, “I don’t have a theme or a style. I never want to write the same play twice.”

I asked if he often wrote dark comedies, to which Wardigo replied, “is that what you call this?” and smiled. He continued, “I write to crack myself up.” 

Set of Concrete Dinosaur, photos by Trevor ReynoldsAnd clearly, it worked, because Wardigo and the majority of the opening night audience enjoyed Concrete Dinosaur. The enjoyment stemmed as much from the production as the manner in which Plays and Players Theater presents new works: the accessibility, the openness and the ability to interact with the playwright, the director, and the entire production team. Often presenting readings of new plays, talkbacks and receptions to coincide with each performance, Plays and Players is a great place to get more involved in theater, hone skills, and learn about the production process. For more information, check out www.playsandplayers.org. 

Concrete Dinosaur is directed by Carol Laratonda, founding member and Producing Artistic Director of Simpatico Theatre Project. In the past, she has lent her special vision to programs with Theatre Catalyst, Philadelphia's Eternal Spiral Project, Theatre Exile, Luna Theatre Company and Wilma Theatre Company among others. In March 2009, she will direct Eugene O'Neill's "Long Days Journey Into Night" for Simpatico Theatre Project. 

Concrete Dinosaur stars five local Philadelphia actors, Aileen Goldberg, Polly MacIntyre, Peggy Smith, Lora Mirigliani and Armando Batista. 
Performances are slated for January 7 - 24, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door for adults, $15 student rush, and $10 for groups of 10 or more. January 7 and 8 are special preview performances, and regular priced tickets will be $5 off. All performances will be given in Plays & Players Skinner Studio on the third floor at 1714 Delancey Place (between Spruce & Pine Streets). 

Tickets may be purchased at www.playsandplayers.org or by calling (800) 595-4TIX. For further information, call (215) 735-0630.

Photos of Concrete Dinosaur by Trevor Reynolds, for R&R Creative, LLC.