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photo by Robert Hakalski
Beginning April 28, South Philadelphia-based theater company Theatre Exile will present the Philadelphia premiere of Today is My Birthday by award-winning screenwriter and playwright Susan Soon He Stanton. The final show of Theatre Exile’s 25th anniversary season will run through May 22 and feature actors Stephanie Kyung-Sun Walters, Joseph Ahmed, Daniel Kim, Rachel O’Hanlon Rodriguez, and Twoey Truong, with Cat Ramirez (they/he/she) directing. Tickets are available here.
Today is My Birthday is a quirky and timely tale about the universal struggle to stay connected in the digital age. The play’s 2017 Off-Broadway production at Page 73 was praised by The New York Times, which noted Stanton’s ability to cleverly dramatize the main character’s journey with “great humor and poetry.” In addition to her prolific career as a playwright, Stanton is an accomplished television writer and screenwriter known for her Writers Guild of America and Peabody Award-winning work on HBO’s hit series Succession.
The show is an eccentric comedy that follows an out-of-work journalist named Emily (Walters), who returns home to Hawaii after her life in New York City falls apart. Feeling unfulfilled, Emily creates an alter-ego for a radio dating show in a desperate attempt to turn fantasy into reality. At the same time, Emily struggles to stay in touch with her best friend Hamlia (O’Hanlon) and grapples with the sudden news of her parents’ (Kim and Troung) separation. Told through a unique blend of live radio broadcasts, voicemails, and phone calls, this topical and adventurous show highlights Emily attempting to break free from her self-imposed isolation.
“Theatre Exile picked Today is My Birthday because we’ve all been so isolated for so long, and it’s become so difficult for us to come back out and connect with the world in a vibrant way,” said Deborah Block, Theatre Exile’s Producing Artistic Director. “There’s a youthful buoyancy in the way the story depicts Emily trying to figure out her life that feels contemporary and relevant.”
Ramirez was drawn in by Stanton’s story of a 29-year-old who, over the course of the play, works to find a renewed sense of connection and self in the last place she ever imagined. Stanton’s play also presents the unique challenge of depicting scenes where the characters never interact face-to-face, which further underscores Emily’s isolation.
“I remember turning 30 as someone born and raised in Delaware County and questioning why I had stayed in the area, and if I was living up to the expectations I had set for myself in high school,” said Ramirez. “Susan Soon He Stanton has created a wonderful artistic playground, never having any of the characters in the same space as Emily. To tell Emily’s story, we will use the element of surprise and lean into what it means to talk to someone who can’t see you; sometimes that experience can be liberating, but sometimes it can feel deeply lonely.”
For the 2021/22 season, Theatre Exile requires audiences and staff to wear masks and show ID with proof of vaccination. The 22-performance production at Theatre Exile’s reconfigured theater limits capacity to provide additional spacing between audience seating.
This season represents Theatre Exile’s 25th year of presenting gritty, provocative plays. Theatre Exile’s artistic team selected three playwrights who use hope and humor to tell compelling stories of characters finding salvation through human connection.