By RITA CHARLESTON
For 21st Century Media
As Pennsylvania embraces gay marriage and marriage equality, Iron Age Theatre brings a new play by Andrea Kennedy Hart to life that shares the stories of one of Philadelphia’s pioneers in the world of gender rights: Smiling Jack McConnell.
The play, directed by King of Prussia’s John Doyle, runs through June 29 at Luna Theater, located between Bainbridge and South streets, opposite the Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia.
This is a true tale of a woman, Florence Gray, who lived as a man in the 1920s in Philly and who rose to be one of the most powerful gangsters in town. According to Doyle, this lanky lithe mortal was Jack McConnell, until a tragedy hit and one day it was discovered that this tough man was really a girl.
“Kennedy weaves together the historical incidents with a fanciful tale,” says Doyle. “This production is quite an adventure for Iron Age Theatre, mixing our penchant for masculine, action-based drama with our soft spot for social issues and empathy.”
Doyle adds that the playwright expands her thematic exploration to include women’s rights, absentee parents, and class struggles as they influence the issue of gender identity and human rights.
With a cast of all women playing men playing women, the challenges that presented themselves were multi-faceted. Said Doyle, “One of those challenges was finding male clothing that fit the women well but still looked masculine. And as the director, that was up to me. “Another challenge,” he continued, “was working with a play that was constantly being re-written. And another challenge was the fact that we are a small company, and because this play is so prop heavy, our work was cut out for us.”
But being involved with such an exciting play, Doyle said that he never minded any of the challenges because he enjoyed working with it every single day.
Doyle, who co-founded Iron Age with Randall Wise in 1993, says that while there are more and more companies being started in Philadelphia, Iron Age, which is the “resident company at the Centre Theater in Norristown,” occasionally takes its production to Philly to broaden its horizons.
Over the years, Iron Age has received Barrymore nominations for a number of their productions including a Best New Play nod for the world premiere of the boxing comedy, “Molumby’s Millions,” and the football drama, “Maroons.”
This production is the last of the season, but Doyle says he looks forward to next season with some wonderful plays to whet audiences theatrical experiences.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Toughest Boy in Philadelphia”
WHEN: Through June 29.
WHERE: Luna Theater, on 8th Street, between Bainbridge and South opposite the Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia.
TICKETS: Tickets are $20 for all performances and are available online at Iron-Age-Theatre.ticket leap.com.