Now playing at Theatre Horizon in Norristown, A New Brain is an autobiographical musical comedy written by Tony Award winners William Finn (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and James Lapine (Into the Woods) that explores one man’s response to a life-threatening medical diagnosis. The 1998 play based on Finn’s own experience of finding out that he had a potentially deadly “arteriovenous malformation” – a tangle of blood vessels – in his brain, and having little choice but to go through a risky neurosurgery to save his life.
Becky Mode’s Fully Committed – now playing at Theatre Horizon in Norristown – is a one-person show with nearly 40 separate roles. It’s a true tour de farce. Our reviewer Wendy Rosenfield said it was a great reason to stay in Philly to see the show rather than travel the New Jersey Turnpike up to New York to see it. Michael Doherty is, by all reports, hilarious in the athletic role of Sam the chef and 36 others. Here is a clip from the show, provided courtesy of Theatre Horizon:
A NOTE FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Injustice in America’s justice system is nothing new, but horrifying police brutality captured on iPhone videos has raised consciousness across the country. Racial bias, and arguably unjust rulings by judges and juries, has galvanized the nation and launched the Black Lives Matter movement. Meanwhile, sexism in the workplace continues to simmer just below the radar of the national media…a prejudice so familiar, apparently it’s not worth covering.
So, it’s critical for us to consider how we will behave in an unjust world. Should I follow the rules even if they are unfair? This is the central question posed by Lobby Hero.
I first came across this play while auditioning for the role of Dawn in a Walnut Street Theatre production of the play nearly a decade ago. I called Matt Decker who was then living in New York city, and said, “You have to read this script right now!” Because we were too broke to buy a copy, he read the play at a Barnes and Noble in Manhattan while I thumbed through the Walnut’s copy in Philly.
What hooked us on the play ten years ago, and why it’s more timely than ever, is that every character feels he or she has been wronged. I think many of us feel that way right now.
Injustice is something we can all sense for ourselves, felt first like a punch to the gut that then works its way up to the heart. What the playwright asks us to consider is, once you feel that pang of injustice, what are you willing to do about it? And how will you know you were right?
In loving memory, we at Theatre Horizon are dedicating our production of Black Nativity to Diana Millner.
DIANA AUBOURG MILLNER was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on February 26, 1975 to Joseph Amerlin Aubourg and Marie Immaculee Aubourg. Diana departed this life surrounded by her husband, parents, siblings and brother-in-law on August 12, 2015, after a four-year struggle with breast cancer.
Diana was the third of four children, and the first girl born to Joseph and Marie, Haitian immigrants to America. When Diana was two-and-a-half, her parents feared that she would never talk. She remained silent, quietly observing other people’s conversations, but never saying a word. One Labor Day weekend in 1977 the family went on a road trip to Montreal. While driving on a busy road in Montreal, Diana suddenly stood up from her seat and started singing and never stopped until they got to their destination. This was only the beginning Diana’s amazing journey in becoming a phenomenal woman.
Raised in East Cambridge, Diana attended St. John’s the Evangelist School, graduated from Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School in 1993. Diana attended Syracuse with a bachelor’s degree in policy studies, earned a master’s degree in international development planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Working with a variety of service organizations throughout her career, Diana spent almost 15 years working to improve systems and inform public policy, in service of vulnerable children.
Her career highlights can be read in detail on Norristown’s Patch.
Marlon Millner and Diana married on Sept. 16, 2006 at Memorial Church at Harvard University. They made their home in Norristown, PA, where Diana gave birth to a son, Edouard Josef, in 2007 and a daughter, Immaculee Jeanette, in 2009. Diana was always a devoted and supportive wife and mother.
Diana loved the arts. A gifted dancer, Diana moved into philanthropy but used her understanding of fundraising to help worthy causes in the arts. One such cause was Theatre Horizon, which was founded by Erin Reilly and Matthew Decker in Norristown around the same time Diana and Marlon also moved to the town. Diana, Erin and Matthew came to Norristown for the same reasons – they saw that the needs in Norristown were great, and wanted to make a difference.
With educations from the finest universities, Diana and Marlon could have gone anywhere, but they chose Norristown. They quickly became leaders in the town, Marlon on Municipal council, and Diana behind the scenes and definitely at Theatre Horizon.
When Theatre Horizon constructed and opened our new theater on DeKalb Street in 2012, Diana and Marlon both worked tirelessly to make sure our first show there — PRETTY FIRE, a play about a charismatic young black woman and her family — was a success, bringing out dozens of people to our first play.
When Theatre Horizon needed funding in 2013, Diana helped us craft a winning pitch to a large Philadelphia foundation that has sustained their funding ever since. When we launched a Diverse Voices Reading Series to present stories by and for black actors, playwrights and directors, Diana became an honorary producer of the year-long event. When we produced a play called OUT OF HARM’S WAY through Weed and Seed (another worthy Norristown program Diana helped get funding for) to give parents tools to keep their kids safe from guns and drugs, Diana was there, participating and moving the conversation forward. She shared statistics with the theatre about the appalling risk factors our town’s children, especially young black men, were facing.
One gorgeous fall afternoon a few years back, Diana and Erin took their kids to Diana’s favorite playground in Chestnut Hill for a playdate. That afternoon, as they dug in the sandbox with their kids, they talked of their hopes and dreams for Norristown. They discussed ways of combating the entrenched problems of poverty and racism. They talked about who might help subsidize arts education for Norristown children, and how could they make it possible for Norristown kids to get free access to arts education.
Diana would be so glad to know that after three years of planning, that plot she and Erin hatched for a class for Norristown children finally became reality this year, as Theatre Horizon begins teaching a weekly drama class for children on public assistance. The class is a partnership with our upstairs neighbor at 401 Dekalb Street, The Willow School. Thanks to Diana, the lives of kids living at the poverty line will be deeply impacted this year.
It only took that one afternoon for Diana to make a deep impact on Erin’s life, too.
That afternoon at the playground, Diana and Erin watched their kids play together, their lucky children from 2-parent families with resources, and they talked about the Norristown kids who aren’t so lucky.
At Diana’s funeral on August 22nd, Erin addressed the mourners and said, “When one mother passes from this earth, it is the duty of other mothers to pick up her work for her, and carry it on. And that is what I plan to do at Theatre Horizon and beyond, with love and in partnership with Diana’s Norristown friends and neighbors.”