Play featuring Mt. Airy actor aims to spark discussions about child sexual abuse

 Ahren Potratz & Allen Radway on stage at the Walnut Street Theater. (Courtesy of Daniel Kontz)

Ahren Potratz & Allen Radway on stage at the Walnut Street Theater. (Courtesy of Daniel Kontz)

Mt. Airy-based artistic director and actor Allen Radway has always been a fan of Neil LaBute’s “In a Dark Dark House.” Soon, his journey to get it on stage will culminate at Center City’s Walnut Street Theatre.

The play about two brothers working to overcome the emotional and sexual abuse that plagued their childhood opens in the theater’s Studio 5 on Friday night and will run through June 1.

The 48-seat auditorium is the “definition of cozy,” said Radway, but in the end, he added, the intimate space adds to the production. 

“The audience is really part of the story,” he said. “You strive for that connection in any play, so when you get the right [space] for that, it really transforms everything.”

Tying theater to the community

His theater company, the Simpatico Theatre Project, prides itself on teaming up with local nonprofits for each of its productions whose work relate to the core issues the play addresses. 

For this production, the company has partnered with the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance — a nonprofit dedicated to promoting “healing and justice for victims of child sexual abuse in Philadelphia,” according to its website.

The nature of the partnership varies each time, but Simpatico’s involvement ranges from advocacy to offering volunteer hours, depending on the needs of the organization.

The play’s run at the theater will include two panel discussions with adult survivors of sexual abuse and representatives from PCA, the city’s Department of Human Services and the Special Victims Unit.

“[The partnerships] are geared toward making Philly a better place through conversation,” said Radway. “If it speaks to you, if you want to get involved or if it opens up an opportunity for you to get help, we can say, ‘Here’s how to do it.’ We consciously choose organizations that are in areas of the city that tend to need more support or don’t have much exposure to the arts.”

Radway added that it simultaneously offers an avenue to the arts for those utilizing the services, while exposing upper middle class Philadelphians to some of the issues the city faces. 

‘Opening the door’

The play presents Radway with his most challenging role yet — the elder of the two brothers at the center of the tale. The role of his younger brother is portrayed by Ahren Potratz.

While an intertwining story of child abuse and the relationship between two brothers remains at the center of “In a Dark Dark House,” by the end of the play, it’s about a “broader spectrum of abuse,” opening the door to many stories and experiences. 

“It’s really fun,” he said. “The language is some of LaBute’s sharpest. It’s so exquisitely crafted.” 

While LaBute’s work often evokes strong feelings from theater buffs — “either you love him, you hate him or you love to hate him,” as Radway put it — he implores people to check out the play, which is making its American premiere with a revised script in this production, regardless. 

“It’s LaBute like you’ve never seen,” he said.

In a Dark Dark House,” directed by Harriet Power, runs from May 9 through June 1 at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Studio 5. Panel discussions on child sexual abuse will take place following the May 14 and May 18 productions.

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