FORREST: A RIOT OF DREAMS
By Armen Pandola
* Winner of the Walnut's Edwin Forrest Playwrighting Competition!
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edwin Forrest, the Walnut Street Theatre hosted a playwriting competition to honor Mr. Forrest, who made his debut (and his final appearance!) at the Walnut Street Theatre. Playwrights from across the U.S. submitted original works about the life of Mr. Forrest. The winner was Philadelphian Armen Pandola.
Edwin Forrest was America’s first superstar. Forrest: A Riot of Dreams is a celebration of the man that brought passion, drama and larger-than-life stories to his American public. Forrest’s divorce made headlines and the battle that ensued mirrored a country that was hungry for passion, intrigue, independence and fame. This new play is a class war that only an actor could wage.
Philadelphian Edwin Forrest was America's first real superstar. Fans were passionate about his Shakespearean performances and riots ensued when rival actor, Macready, dared to perform Macbeth in New York City. In Forrest: A Riot of Dreams, new battle lines are drawn when the demure and reserved Brit, Catherine Sinclair, decides to divorce Forrest. The press is there to report every angle of this sordid, spectacular divorce. This is an historic battle of class, love, sex and money that would make Shakespeare proud.
Forrest: Dan Olmstead / Catherine: Emma O'Donnell / Judge: John Morrison
Ferry-Wright: Scott Greer / Truscott-Paxon: Peter Schmitz
Written by Armen Pandola.
Directed by Bill Van Horn. Scenic designer Rob Kramer.
Lighting designer Shelley Hicklin. Sound designer John Mock. Costume designer Mary Folino.
Presented by the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio
Edwin Forrest, after whom Philadelphia's Forrest Theater is named, was the first superstar of the young American stage. So passionately partisan were his fans that they rioted at a performance of his English rival, William Macready, in New York City in 1849.
This tumultuous cultural context is brought to boisterous life in the world premiere production of Forrest: A Riot of Dreams, at the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3.
South Philadelphia playwright Armen Pandola's witty, well-constructed play centers on the tempestuous relationship between Forrest (Dan Olmstead) and his British wife, Catherine Sinclair (Emma O'Donnell). Both are headstrong, egotistical and selfish, and two decades later they're in divorce court. The culture war, celebrity divorce trial and media madness at the heart of Forrest make the play abundantly topical. And Forrest also resonates because of its deeper themes: ambition, jealousy and the struggle for power in relationships between men and women.
The latter emerges as the most compelling element of the play, so much so that by the conclusion the character of Catherine has eclipsed that of Forrest. As written by Pandola and portrayed with an abundance of sly wit by O'Donnell, Catherine seems far more complex and interesting as an individual than her larger-than-life husband.
That Forrest is more concerned with the historical phenomenon of Forrest than the man himself seems intentional. But the playwright inadvertently gives the actor playing Forrest too few nuances to work with. Olmstead's presence is commanding and his theatrical chops are robust. Yet his performance seems black-and-white amid the colors (cleverly orchestrated by director Bill Van Horn) erupting around him.
The three other actors are effective in their dual roles: The volatile Scott Greer as an Irish newspaperman and Catherine's attorney and the elegantly long-faced Peter Schmitz as a British theater critic and Forrest's lawyer. But it's John Morrison's imperial, infantile divorce court judge who gets the biggest laughs in the rollicking and thought-provoking, tragi-comedy that is Forrest.
Dan Olmstead and Emma O'Donnell as Edwin & Catherine Forrest