Arts & Culture

HOAGIES FOR THE HOLIDAY: Darryl Hall and John Oates return to Philadelphia for their HoagieNation Festival along with Train, Fitz and the Tantrums, Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers and more, for a day of music and sandwiches, 3 p.m. May 26 at Festival Pier, 601 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd. For more information, call 215-922-1011.

Heather Raquel Phillips creates art that brings marginalized identities to the forefront

“(S)Extra: Bait & Switches” is a playful, provocative new exhibit by Heather Raquel Phillips, a local artist whose work focuses on kinksters, queers and people of color, whether cisgender or trans.

Phillips, a former Ms. Philadelphia Leather as well as a lecturer in Penn’s Fine Arts Department, said her work is about breaking down the barriers around social constructs, “representing underrepresented and marginalized identities.” The people depicted in this exhibit are friends.

“(S)Extra” offers a generous sampling of Phillips’ recent work, including photography, videos and what she refers to as objects. Viewers see examples of her “Flagging” series, comprised of pennants, and also her “Non-Binary History of Heels.” Much of the work was completed in the past few months, a fact that lends it an immediate feel.

As amusing and revelatory as those objects are, photography forms the foundation of Phillips’ artistic practice. Eight photos from her “SpeciMan” series are on view. They are extreme closeups focusing on body hair — a recurrent image in her work. In these photos, the lush whorls and thickets of hair appear to symbolize the unruliness of our animal nature.

Elsewhere in “(S)Extra,” body hair might be an object of disgust or sometimes a fetish. It can even be a potent symbol of female power, as in “ManAkin, The Matriarch.” This piece, which hangs on the gallery wall, is constructed from part of a dress form and synthetic hair. In this object, a thick shock of dark hair twisted into a luxurious braid sprouts abundantly from the hot-pink pubic area. It’s an arresting image, beautiful and unsettling.

There are also several photographs from Phillips’ “Reclining Nude” series. These vivid, colorful images simultaneously refer to art history and pop culture. They also toy with ideas such as appearance, reality and looking, especially the male gaze.

In “The Shining (Homage to Scatman Crothers),” a feminine-looking person with a lush Afro is seen kneeling on top of a dark purple bedspread. Her body faces sideways and her head is slightly tilted, as if looking toward viewers. Her posture is neither seductive nor submissive. At first glance, she appears to be naked, but on closer inspection it’s apparent that she’s wearing a “nude” body stocking. It’s just one of the “bait and switches” referred to in the exhibit’s subtitle. That photograph also nods towards Phillips’ videos. Initially, she explained, she was wary of the medium of video. While working on her MFA, however, something clicked. “My subjects were always in a state of performance,” she said. “So somebody challenged me: Why aren’t these moving pictures?”

“(S)Extra” presents three responses to that initial challenge: “Hair Cycle,” “Sextra Curricular Activity” and “Thirst Trap.” They’re all interesting to watch, but “Thirst Trap,” which is projected in a large room and runs almost 35 minutes,
is particularly intriguing. The video is surreal and nonlinear, but it still has a story of sorts, albeit one told primarily via images. What little sound there is comes out slightly out of sync, emphasizing the oddness.

“Thirst Trap” presents an off-kilter world inhabited by eccentric characters, including “adult babies,” a “human pup” and a jaunty fellow in a captain’s hat and yellow ascot. Recognizable locations around Philadelphia add to the feeling that we’re glimpsing an alternate reality, one that exists alongside the so-called straight world, albeit unknown to most.

What will viewers make of this video? Phillips wisely leaves it open-ended, allowing people to form their own opinions.

“To me, that’s what art is for,” she said. “It’s to expand someone’s mind on their own and let them figure out the questions they want to answer and throw up things from their subconscious mind that they want to connect with.”


“(S)Extra” is on display at the James Oliver Gallery, 723 Chestnut St., through June 16. It includes an artist’s talk on May 31. To learn more, visit


Drag star, comedian and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” 2014 winner Bianca Del Rio brings it in her new book.

In the pages “Blame It On Bianca Del Rio: The Expert On Everything With An Opinion On Everything,” the author (the alter ego of actor and costume designer Roy Haylock) is every bit the comedy fireball she is on stage, delivering commentary on topics including romance, health, friendship, sex, family, style, work and more. Which, she is quick to add, you probably shouldn’t follow.


“Mrs. Harrison” is out playwright R. Eric Thomas’ latest production with Azuka Theatre: a one-act dialogue between two women in a bathroom at their college reunion. Aisha is a successful black playwright, Holly a floundering white comic. Between them is a misremembered history.

STIRRED AND READY TO SHAKE: Whether you see it as a large band or a small orchestra, Pink Martini is bringing its entertaining blend of jazz, classical and old-timey pop music to the ears of the area 8 p.m. May 19 at Keswick Theater, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside. For more information or tickets, call 215-572-7650.

“There she is, Miss America

There she is, your ideal

The dream of a million girls who are more than pretty can come true in Atlantic City.

For she may turn out to be the Queen of femininity.”

This week’s Portrait is Anesha Robinson, the reigning Miss Southeastern, PA who was crowned this past March. Robinson will soon be competing for the coveted title of Miss Pennsylvania. Robinson started off her competition life in pants and a jacket and has continued to defy the odds and convention ever since. We made an appointment for a FaceTime chat, and I was surprised to see her in full pageant regalia, tiara and all.


Out actor Lawrence Arrigale, director Mariangela Saavedra and  playwright Paul Rudnick at Allens Lane Theater, for a start

Before Paul Rudnick became both a critics’ choice and the gay voice of a generation, the young Rudnick wrote hilarious novels (“Social Disease,” and “I’ll Take It”) and a quietly quirky play (“Poor Little Lambs,” about a female Yale student joining the Whiffenpoofs, an all-male singing group.)

Then he wrote “I Hate Hamlet.”

“There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness, and generosity.”

~Nathaniel Branden

This week’s portrait, Bobby Glorioso, certainly knows the value of Branden’s words. Not long ago, he was facing self-esteem issues and addiction. With the help of an old friend, he managed to turn things around. In just a short time, Bobby G. has risen from a low point to a new outlook where he is, as he says, “sitting on top of the world.”

LET THE HEALING BEGIN: Out country singer Brandi Carlile hits the road for her new album, “By The Way, I Forgive You,” stopping in Philadelphia for a performance 7 p.m. May 18 at Kimmel’s Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, call 215-893-1999.

Voice of Equality Productions is opening the summer season with the modern gay-theater classic “Love! Valour! Compassion!”   

The Tony Award-winning play, written by Terrence McNally, follows eight gay men who spend three summer weekends together at a vacation house, where they end up hashing out their passions, fears and differences. The play originally opened off-Broadway in 1994 and quickly became a social and critical touchstone for the LGBT community.

 Philly went from winter to summer in less than a week. One Monday we were all shivering in our hoodies and, by Friday, everybody was in flip-flops and yoga pants and reserving sidewalk tables at favorite restaurants.

The point is, we’ve all but missed spring. Suddenly, it’s almost beach-body time. Fuel, the city’s healthier casual-food outlet, has a slew of new dishes under 500 calories.

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