Philly’s New Rocky is a Girl 

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click to enlarge Rocky Philly at the Bushwick Starr

I was immediately struck with feelings of recognition as the play opened and the characters’ movements and interactions copied the motions of the corresponding scenes within the movie exactly. I felt as though I was back in front of the television watching Rocky for the hundredth time. The blocking, turns of the head, subtle motions of the hands in the film had been meticulously studied and transcribed to the stage at the Starr. But there were also crucial differences: Rocky was being played by a female, the very capable and very scrappy Rebecca Lingafelter (in fact all the film’s gender roles are reversed in the play) and instead of punching through the sparse dialogue of the film, Adrian, played flawlessly by Bushwick Starr Managing Director Noel Allain, was giving Rocky driving directions from the heart of Manayunk to South Street. Initially I was enthralled and laughed out loud at the characteristic Philadelphia-isms such as the terrors of the Skuykill Expressway and growing up in commune-like row homes, but I soon realized that if one wasn't intimately familiar with the film, or had a cursory knowledge of Philadelphia, then many of the play's jokes and comedic turns might be missed, especially with the rapid-fire scene changes and tonal shifts.

The play runs for 90 minutes with no intermission (stock up on beer beforehand) and the actors are moving the whole time, quickly; they were visibly sweaty and fatigued by the end, much like Rocky by the 15th round. They jog from place to place on the medium-sized stage to make the changes happen and my heart started to beat a little faster just watching them. I gave up trying to keep real-time notes as we were whisked from Rocky's apartment to the slaughterhouse and back in the space of 2 or 3 minutes. It wasn't until Mick's (Marty Brown) slow walk up Rocky's apartment building steps that the audience was given a chance to breathe, and this was a good three quarters of the way through the play.

If the dialogue in the vignettes within the play was of the semi-mundane, contrived and pointless Resevoir Dog variety I might not have faulted the choppy scene switching and just immersed myself in the fun of the fast paced production. Because it definitely is fun to watch and the smile never left my face–listening to Adrian talk about her first foray into lesbian experimentation while Rocky looked on earnestly, hanging on her every word, had the audience in stitches. But the dialogue has been culled verbatim from real people and is important for that very reason. The true stories touch on everything and anything that a Philadelphia native–and American for that matter–might want to talk about and were recorded on the street, almost at random, with speakers not knowing why they were being interviewed.

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