Welcome to me

Philly is such a great theater town, with its own history, its own flavor, its personalities and stories. And more than 40 theaters. Time for a column about that world. Philly theater.

Why me? Flash CV: lifetime theater devotee; scholar of Shakespeare and Renaissance/ Jacobean theater and culture for years before I came to the Inquirer; art editor 2016-just now. I've seen hundreds of plays, as I hope you have. I know a lot of Philly theater folks, and they know me.

Listen, if you hear something, know something, see something great (or not) on a stage around here, send me an email with THEATER BEAT in the subject field. There's my cue. Away we go. . . .

Dangling by a string

Is it just me, or have the puppets taken over? Not a political joke - I'm just noting two productions in which puppets play huge, crucial roles.

The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium is doing the adult fairy tale The Enchanted through March 5 at the Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5. Puppets play large parts. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Theatre Company is working up Hand to God (runs March 31-April 30), involving Tyrone, who's a despotic puppet, and a boy named Jason.

At the Mask & Wig Club on Quince Street, I sat in on a coaching session between puppet master Robert Smythe and actor Aubie Merrylees, who will play Jason. They used puppets, mirrors, and improv to work out how, in Smythe's words, "you make the audience think this thing on your hand is alive, with intentions and motives." One fascinating exercise: OK, the puppet bites your nose, so now how do you get your nose out of its mouth? Answer: You have to pull it out, he's not going to let go.

Mary is everywhere

Last year, Mary Martello played Mrs. Warren in Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession at the Lantern Theater. Over the weekend, she sang "Songs My Mother Taught Me" at the Studio Theatre, Hamilton Family Arts Center, part of the Arden's cabaret series. In her near future are stints as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, March 14- April 30 at the Walnut Street Theatre; and, not stopping to breathe, Mama Rose in Gypsy, May 18-June 18 at the Arden.

"I look back a year ago, when I first said yes to this," she says, "and I think, 'What in God's name am I getting myself into?' "

Comings and goings

A homegrown Broadway star returns to the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival this summer, when Dee Roscioli plays the lead in Evita, running June 14-July 2. An Easton native and DeSales University grad, Roscioli is best known as Elphaba in Broadway and touring productions of Wicked. . . . Well done, Shannon DiStefano. Her Holocaust play First They Came For debuted Feb. 10-12 at the Asian Arts Initiative, produced in partnership with Found Theater Company. DiStefano, a freshman at Central High School, won last year's Philadelphia Young Playwrights annual playwriting festival prize.

We can't wait to see:

S-heads, a play about riding bikes, Wednesday-March 12 at Azuka Theatre.

The Gift, about a woman with writer's block and her friend, a writer with few boundaries (as in Harper Lee and Truman Capote), Tuesday through March 19 at the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3.

215-854-4406 @jtimpane