‘Suburban Motel’ checks in to an urban theater

When Stan Heleva, co-artistic director of Walking Fish Theatre, went to the Central Library to research the works of George F. Walker, there were none in stock.

“That made me want to do his plays even more. I was like, ‘How could no one know this guy in Philadelphia?'” says Heleva.

As a member of the Order of Canada (similar to being knighted), Walker is generally considered one of Canada’s leading cultural figures, yet he is not widely known among American theater artists.

When Heleva read Walker’s 1997 series, “Suburban Motel,” he knew it was perfect for his intimate space on Frankford Avenue. And he didn’t hedge when he bought the rights, either: Walking Fish signed on for four plays in the “Suburban” cycle, starting with “Featuring Loretta” and “The End of Civilization.” The productions are two of the most expensive and ambitious to date in the 50-seat theater.

“We always have to consider the size of our theater when we’re thinking about plays. And here were a cycle of plays that all took place in one room,” explains Heleva, who is directing both productions. “It’s a kind of nondescript motel room, about exactly the size of our stage — a really perfect fit.”

“Loretta” is the tale of a down-on-her-luck young woman being pressured into the porn industry. In “Civilization,” a couple attempts to regroup after the husband loses his job, but only finds terror and scheming in their motel hideout.

“In Walker’s plays, characters are defined by these gaping holes they’re trying to fill. They all have so much need, and they’re trying to get people to fill that up,” says Heleva. “I love that for its own sake, but it also makes drama and comedy really zip along.”

If you go

“Featuring Loretta” and “The End of Civilization” will run through June 30 at Walking Fish Theatre (2509 Frankford Ave.).

For a complete list of dates and times visit www.walkingfishtheatre.com.

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