The Hunchback of Notre Dame... A Mute Play

“Not a single word of the 512 pages of Victor Hugo's novel is spoken in The Hunchback of Notre Dame...a Mute Play, since it is performed as mime, which sometimes works to great effect...

Renegade Theatre Company snagged the perfect venue for this famous tale of the grotesque hunchback Quasimodo (Dan Higbee) who loves the gypsy Esmeralda (Lee Minora) with a hopeless love, and the various lustful creeps who pursue her, including a swaggering Captain Phoebus (Doug Greene) and a tormented priest (Steve Wright). The cast includes plenty of les miserables, which is, as we all know, a Victor Hugo speciality.

There are two real stars of the show; the first is the First Presbyterian Church playing Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; the stained glass windows are magnificent, the soaring Gothic ceiling and black pews are imposing, with an ornate pulpit. All this is put to excellent use in this production, particularly as the lighting design (by Eric Baker) creates some of the drama which would otherwise be supplied by dialogue.

The second star is the percussionist Adam Vidiksis who provides all the music—some he wrote, some was composed by Joo Won Park-- and a wild array of Foley sound effects, including, inevitably, the tolling of the cathedral bells.

toby zinman, Philadelphia inquirer

"Victor Hugo's passion-filled story about the love and a devotion of a hunchback for a beautiful woman is a perfect vehicle for site-specific work, and the city's Renegade Company brings it off in great style – as a silent movie set inside the handsome sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church in Center City.

Michael Durkin conceived and wrote the script and Mason Rosenthal collaborated with Annie Wilson and the ensemble to devise the all-important movement, which shows off the church's interior by using it to tell the story in dramatic and meaningful ways. The highlights of this story about the bell-ringing hunchback at the famous church in Paris are all here – set to rousing music and a frequently soulful soundscape by Joo Won Park and Adam Vidiksis. To the audience's left of the playing space in front of the altar, Vidiksis operates a Foley system and plays percussion."

Howard Shapiro, Philly News Works

Bathtub Moby-Dick

"Durkin and Swidey used the original text of Moby-Dick, including Melville’s hidden and not-so-hidden eroticism, which hit a raw nerve for his contemporaries, not to mention many people today. Consider this classical Melvillean confession, uttered by Captain Ahab, splashing around in an old fashioned bathtub:

'Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! All the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me, and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules.'

With an honesty rare during the mid-1800s, Melville presented the vivid details of his erotic encounters with the sailors, which to him was inseparable from his positive outlook on life:

'Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally, as much as to say, —Oh! my dear fellow beings¦ let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.'

No wonder that readers of Moby-Dick, and especially the viewers of Bathtub Moby-Dick, were intrigued by the external and internal happenings that they witnessed.

Bathtub Moby-Dick ought to travel all over the English-speaking world, to be experienced by anyone interested in the sea, whaling and American literature— even those who may be afraid to tackle a long, involved novel published in 1851 might be willing to venture out to sea through this extraordinary production."

Henrik Eger, Broad Street Revie


Damed Dirty Apes!

"Take time to smell the flowers, rub on the essence of their therapeutic leaves, and eat the blossoms along the way (courtesy of local flower farm Jig-Bee), as an overly zealous and anxious ranger (Lizzie Spellman) leads you on a wacky, mucky, theatrical expedition through the wilds of South Philly’s neglected FDR Park. Conceived and directed by The Renegade Company’s Mike Durkin, and written by Chris Davis and Sam Henderson, this imaginative mash-up of Tarzan the Ape Man, The Planet of the Apes, and King Kong presents a farcical history of America through a series of exhibitions, re-enactments, and unexpected disruptions, in which humans and apes face off to become the dominant species.

An original sound composition by Adam Vidiksis underscores the action, as homosapien and simian storytellers (Richard Chan, Rob Cutler, Lisa Fischel, Kristen Norine, Zoe Richards, Sam Sherburne, and Steve Wright) weave a comical tale with a serious moral about human nature versus natural instincts. The immersive mile-and-a-half trek begins at Broad & Pattison and concludes near the American Swedish Historical Museum, so come prepared with sturdy shoes and bug spray, and then expect the unexpected. "

Debra Miller, Phindie

In The Community Garden of Earthly Delights

"Upon entering the community garden, we were greeted with the first of several cocktails from the craft cocktail makers of Spirit Forward, and encouraged to roam around the garden as we wished. Wandering around on a gloriously sunny and breezy Sunday evening, all the flowers were in full bloom. After the recent rains, the earth was soft and everything smelled of green growing things and Spring itself. This celebration of nature’s fertility finds obvious parallel in the imagery in the central panel of Bosch’s triptych, which depicts happily naked men and women in a garden setting, cavorting with one another–and with bizarrely oversized fruit and flowers.

In the center of the garden, a pair of vignettes actively implicated us as audience members in the sins of the garden–a bowl of grapes labeled “feed me” rested next to a woman dressed in a white t-shirt and trousers, who came to life only after being fed by a member of the audience. After an elegant series of movements, including running a crystal ball between her finger like David Bowie’s character in Labyrinth, the actor turned to feed us each a grape.

Between the warm sun, tasty cocktails, and sweet fruit, the whole experience was a sensory delight–but, as in Bosch’s painting and his moral universe, God was watching. Nearby, a woman dressed in pale gray leggings and a white shirt with heavily painted eyes stared out at us like the owl in the center of the opening panel of the triptych, observing our behavior without comment.

Mike Durkin and the performers of The Renegade Company offered an amusing and thought-provoking interpretation of Bosch’s medieval masterpiece. The deliberately loose and open structure of the performances allowed us as audience members to pick and choose our sins, and gave us space to reflect on their meaning. A small, friendly group of people, including a couple of the gardeners and the cats who live in the garden, came together at the conclusion of the performances to nibble on cheese and cupcakes."

Flora Ward, Philly Art Blog