West Mt. Airy resident Charles McMahon, co-founder of Philly’s Lantern Theatre, is bringing a Shakespeare comedy to people in their own living rooms.

By Rita Charleston

Shakespeare once told us that “All the world’s a stage.” But Shakespeare never lived through the coronavirus, when all of our stages have been closed down and all of our actors are looking for different ways to display their talent. Well, West Mt. Airy resident Charles McMahon, co-founder of Philly’s Lantern Theatre, 923 Ludlow St. in Center City, has implemented a new way to continue to bring theater to the people.

On Friday, April 24, for the first time, McMahon initiated and directed a virtual play reading of the Bard’s comedy “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Featuring a total of 13 actors, they were all connected intermittently by computer hosted by Zoom. And with good feedback, McMahon has plans to do more.

In 1994, McMahon, a graduate of NYU’s Theater Program, was, he recalls, “keen on starting a theater company. I had a big backlog of plays I wanted to do but realized I was never going to do them and create those productions unless I was running them through a company.”

And so Lantern Theatre Company was born. “Starting a theater company is a very rough, very stressful thing to do,” McMahon said. “At the time we started, there weren’t that many companies in town, and the ones that were here were fairly small. Our goal was to do plays that focused on deeper human truths, the kind of things that are always true from one age to the next. And so in our early days we did a lot of Beckett, Shaw and Shakespeare.”

Lantern Theater Company has staged more than 100 plays since its 1994 founding. Recent world premieres include “The Craftsman” by Bruce Graham, “Minors” by Kittson O’Neill and Robert Kaplowitz, and an original adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” by Anthony Lawton, Christopher Colucci, and Thom Weaver, which returns to the stage this coming December.

Hoping to get back up and running by September this year, McMahon admits he and his fellow actors have been hard hit by this pandemic. “Actors are a very social group and used to performing in front of a live audience,” McMahon said, “so being locked up at home alone or with their significant other has been quite challenging. That’s one of the reasons we thought it might be interesting to reach out to others. With the theaters completely closed, that means one income source for actors is completely gone until who knows how long. And even though a lot of actors have second jobs to try to make a living, a lot of those jobs are gone, too. So it’s really been a very challenging time.”

So it’s been a tough time for everyone, “but what I really worry about is the physical interactions between people. Seeing friends is out of the picture. Every human interaction is potentially dangerous.  It feels like the world is a hospital.”

Still, McMahon, 58, who grew up  in West Mt. Airy, as did his father, feels lucky to still be here. “It’s a lovely section of the city, so even with all that’s going on, I’m able to enjoy walks while taking every proper precaution.”

Growing up, McMahon’s schooling was a bit  scattered. “I first went to the Henry School, then to Norwood Fontbonne Academy. Then we went to England for a year; then it was back here to attend Germantown Friends and finally on to NYU.” 

Eventually, McMahon decided New York was not for him and that Philly was the place he wanted to be. He first moved to Germantown, then Rittenhouse Town and finally to West Mt.Airy. “Frankly,” he insists, “this is a great place to live. It’s got beautiful old houses; it’s close to Center City and much less expensive than other places. And you’re right next to the Wissahickon Valley, so you can take a beautiful walk or  just stay home and listen to the birds.”

Another reason he enjoyed the move was the peace and quiet compared to his apartment in New York. “Not only was Mt. Airy more affordable,” he said, “but I had spent so many years living in loud, bustling places so that’s what I was used to. I remember my first night back in Mt. Airy, I woke up and thought I had gone deaf. It was so quiet I was sure I had lost my sense of hearing. But when I finally heard a bird singing, I realized I had not lost my sense of hearing, but I had just gotten used to all the noise in New York.”

For more information: lanterntheater.org or 215-829-0395.

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