The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Sep 11, 2012

Philadelphia Theatre Company's back-to-season reading list

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Carrie Chapter Philadelphia Theatre Company

At Philadelphia Theatre Company, our PEP (Patron Enrichment Programming) events could be described as the goodie bags distributed at a birthday party – tasty diversions reminiscent of the core celebration, as well as a sweet way of saying, “Thank you for coming!” At least, this is how I picture our kick-off event, Book Club. It occupies a special place in my heart for several reasons: 1.) it’s the lone pre-show event in the PEP schedule, 2.) its meeting is held the day after Opening Night, so it rides on the ripples of that preceding splash, and 3.) the Club features my favorite combination of books and cookies.

For our 2012-13 season, I, along with PTC Board Member and author, Alice George, compile a towering list of possible book selections to highlight each production. This year has been particularly challenging. We found scores of titles all worthy in artistic merit and thematic accompaniment, and it was incredibly hard to choose just one book per show. After we watched our consultations undulate and vacillate quite enough, we pared down our list accordingly. (However, I often have such a difficult time letting go of book titles, though, I will frequently go out and get our “finalists,” anyway…I did so just last month.)

The spines of the PTC Book Club," photo credit by Carrie Chapter

Our first book out of the gate is Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, which will be paired with PTC’s world premiere production of the new musical, STARS OF DAVID. Our thinking in this selection was to choose a book which touches on the Jewish-American experience, but ultimately delves deeper into the intricacies of the family dynamic. Tropper’s highly acclaimed novel orchestrates this domestic chaos remarkably well, in my opinion. This is also the case for the libretto of the musical, whose protagonist is struggling with the idea of faith both professionally and at home.

Next on the Book Club roster is a short but powerful book entitled, The Trumpet of Conscience, by Martin Luther King, Jr. With a foreword by Coretta Scott King, it is the book of Dr. King’s final statement on racism, poverty, and war. The selection is working in conjunction with PTC’s production of Katori Hall’s THE MOUNTAINTOP, a play that re-imagines the final hours of Dr. King’s life on Earth. Given the finality the play captures, we thought it would be moving and fitting to also present his last words to us as a nation and as a people.

Our last two book selections, for Theresa Rebeck’s SEMINAR and David Ives’s VENUS IN FUR, are juxtaposed in one’s striking familiarity and the other’s defiant incongruity. For SEMINAR, we will be reading Michael Chabon’s fantastic novel, Wonder Boys, which works in sync with the play’s character structure of a writing class gone awry. Our readers will be most familiar with its equally brilliant film adaptation, but it deserves a good read, too! On the other hand, our readers will not be so well-acquainted with our selection for VENUS IN FUR: Melissa Febos’s memoir, Whip Smart: The True Story of a Secret Life, which details the S&M subculture and its practitioners. It makes for a provocative exit at the close of the season, for sure!

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