Passage Theater Artistic Director Ryanne Domingues — who also co-founded and served as former producing artistic director of Simpatico Theater in Philadelphia — has a clear vision about staying fresh and connected to the audience and the community she serves. “I think it’s important for people to understand that going to theater is truly a conversation. All of the shows chosen for this season are my reaction to something happening in our community, and our programming is shifting as we see what people are looking for.”
Staying fresh can mean a lot of things as it does in the first main stage production of the season, “Salt Pepper Ketchup.” In this play by Philadelphia-born Josh Wilder, a layer of bulletproof glass won’t protect Superstar Chinese Take-Out from the gentrification consuming the Point Breeze neighborhood in South Philly. When a trendy food co-op opens nearby, the Wus and their customers initially see it as a hipster annoyance, but as tensions mount they begin to recognize the intrusion as an act of war. It is currently on stage at the Mill Hill Playhouse through Sunday, October 14.
“We have a lot of competition nowadays with television and the internet. People want to stay home, tune out, and turn on Netflix. A major part of what I do every day is to try to gently remind people that interaction and engagement with their community is not only healthy, but the only way things will change our society. We have to talk to each other face-to-face.”
That face-to-face is considered in the other main stage production of the season: “Morir Sonyando,” from May 2 through 19. In Erlina Ortiz’ play a mother and daughter confront long-buried pain when the mother is released from prison.
“At Passage, we are doing our best to make that face-to-face interaction an exciting one. We are doing shows that we think will both challenge and entertain our community,” says Domingues, who is excited about introducing “Theater for Young Audiences.” It will be inaugurated Friday and Saturday, November 2 and 3, with a staged reading of “The Real Life Adventures of Jimmy de las Rosas,” about a telekinetic 13-year-old as he struggles to save his neighborhood from a rash of disappearances.
Reflecting on the growing number of social issues and a desire to address them on the stage, Domingues says “I feel like there is so much happening right now that many people have a tendency to want to fight or hide their head in the sand. How do we keep the stamina we need to have the tough conversations that enable progress?
Addressing that are the other plays “To My Unborn Child: A Letter from Fred Hampton” by Richard Bradford about a Black Panther murdered by the Chicago police (February 8 through 10) and “Bicycle Face” by Hannah Van Sciver, about a feminist theory class taught 150 years in the future (February 15 to 17).
Of special interest are free events such as community dialogues and talk back sessions. “All of our Sunday matinee performances this season will be followed by a talkback conversation. We really want the experience to be a dialogue,” says Domingues.
“My challenge,” she continues, “has been to find work that can provide our audiences with opportunities to both laugh and reflect. We want people to leave the theatre inspired, not drained. In a country that is incredibly divided, it can be hard to find shows that will speak to everyone. My hope is that whether a person likes a show or not, they find ways to discuss and dissect why they felt that way. That is where the conversation begins.”
Salt Pepper Ketchup, Passage Theater, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street. Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Through October 14. $13 to $33. 609-392-0766. www.passagetheatre.org