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Kenzo, Ready To Go: A New Theater and Cheap Guys in Kensington

Posted August 31st, 2010

“It’s exciting and terrifying to have my own space,” says playwright and director John Rosenberg as he shows me around the spacious first floor of the Papermill Theater, where his company, hellafresh theater, is in residence. “It used to be such theater dork talk, you know ‘wouldn’t it be awesome to have your own space.'” His collection of six short plays, Cheap Guy HOF, Class of 2010, will be the first performance to take place in the newly converted theater when it premieres at the 2010 Philly Fringe Festival.

The play, which coronates six cheap Americans into an imagined hall of fame, was largely inspired by a story that John read in the newspaper a few years ago about a judge masturbating in court under his robes. “I was like ‘WTF?!’ and that gave birth to the idea of chronicling cheap guys.”

Cheap Guy HOF‘s debut will also be John’s theater debut in Philly. He’s a recent transplant from San Francisco, where he worked with a company called Sleepwalkers. He broke off with them to form hellafresh, a name he says “gives people an idea of what your shit is.” Then his “lady friend” wanted to moved back to her native Philly.

“I said ‘Hooray!'” and in January they relocated to Philly, where they now live in Center City. So far John’s found the theater scene in the City of Brotherly Love to be thriving.

And he’s working hard to expand where theater happens in the city. With the Papermill Theater, John says, “We are throwing our lives into this project up in Kensington.” This past week, construction finished up, lights went in, and Cheap Guy HOF is ready to go.

“San Francisco has a huge music scene, but as big as music is there, theater is here,” he says. “What blew my mind was all the bus stop posters for theater performances, because other cities don’t have that.”

Two months before the Fringe he was doing readings of Cheap Guy HOF on top of converting the space that was once a paper mill and then an illegal nightclub into a theater. “I really love workshopping a play until it goes on.” He doesn’t work “by the book,” he says, because he doesn’t like to talk that much. Plus as a playwright he says the actors continually surprise him.

“One of the plays I thought would be a dirty, nasty play,” he says. “But when I read with an actor who a combo of like Jimmy Stewart and Jack Lemon, the play changed for me to be about this all-American, go-getter guy who just lost his shit.” In this way, when John says “cheap guy,” he’s not necessarily referring to a man who won’t foot the bill.

“It was a derisive term from when I was growing up in L.A. Me and my sister use to use it to describe like an old guy who kept gold buried in the background or someone who discharges firearms,” he explains. “Like guys who are ‘allergic to condoms.'”

Cheap Guy HOF, Class of 2010 opens on Saturday, September 4 and runs every Saturday and Sunday throughout the Philly Fringe. Papermill Community for the Arts, 2825 Ormes Street, Kensington. Times vary, $10. For details and tickets, click here

–Ellen Freeman

Photos courtesy of John Rosenberg.

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