I attended Peaceable Kingdom, a new play by Mary Tuomanen, last night at Christ Church Neighborhood House. I am already checking my calendar for a day when I can see this unique and riveting production again!
Peaceable Kingdom was developed by Orbiter 3, which bills itself as “Philadelphia’s first producing playwright’s collective.” It is one of the most original and innovative plays that I have caught this season. Furthermore, its subject has special resonance in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. Directed by Rebecca Wright, Peaceable Kingdom combines art, music, philosophy, history and drama, and serves up a cohesive, well rendered fantasy that delights and intrigues for 80 minutes.
Peaceable Kingdom draws from the famous paintings of the same name by Edward Hicks, a 19th century Quaker artist and minister. It includes live a cappella choral performances from Randall Thompson’s Peaceable Kingdom, also based on Hicks’ paintings. The main characters include animals from the paintings, Pennsylvania founder (and Quaker) William Penn, and the Lenape Chief Tamanend. The set, designed by Apollo Mark Weaver, recreates a forest with tall trees out of textiles. The lighting design by Maria Shaplin creates atmosphere and supports the action. For example, I found the light in the trees to be a strong symbol for the Quaker concept of inner light and the indigenous view of trees as sentient beings. Costumes by Rebecca Kanach were colorful, beautifully crafted and appropriate for each animal, as well as for Penn, Chief Tamanend and the chorus.
The acting by all in the ensemble was phenomenal. Even though animals do not speak in our world like they do in this play, each was absolutely believable. Stephanie N. Walters was hilarious as Lamb 1, while Eliana Fabiyi, as her sister, Lamb 2, was a perfect contrast — despondent and troubled. Alexandra King as William Penn, with her expressive face and sincere delivery, showed a more human side of Penn than the hero status he often commands in historical accounts. Carla-Rae totally embodied Chief Tamanend, who is savvy, sarcastic and assertive in this play.
I loved all the characters in Peaceable Kingdom, but my favorite was the Native (a squirrel), interpreted by Thomas Choinacky — a generous yet very vulnerable soul. Rounding out the cast as villains of some sort are Cathy Simpson, Chris Davis, John Jarboe and Daniel Park.
Justin Yoder effortlessly conducted the a cappella chorus, comprised of 8 voices — 4 male and 4 female. The chorus blended and enunciated well, and Asha Lindsey (soprano 1) stands out with a clear and resonant voice in her brief solo in one of the excerpts. The chorus was dressed as trees and their presence and singing further personified the forest. The musical selections punctuate the philosophical and spiritual issues that Penn was confronting during his “Experiment.”
Peaceable Kingdom is a must-see for those interested in Philadelphia history, Quakers and Native American cultures. There are several post-show talks by local experts on various related subjects on May 12th, May 19th, May 21th, May 24th, and May 27th.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Peaceable Kingdom plays through May 28, 2017 at Orbiter 3, performing at Christ Church Neighborhood House – 20 North American Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 922-1695, or purchase them online.