Philadelphia has a thing for actresses and the hard accents of this city’s working-class neighborhoods. Karen Scioli’s Stella, Jennifer Childs’ Patsy, Kate Winslet’s Mare and Tina Fey’s retinue of Upper Darby voices immediately spring to mind when it comes to the phrasing of water as “warder,” more than a few nasal ‘no’ sounds, and liberal f-bombing as a punctuation richer than an exclamation point.
To this illustrious order of women, welcome Katierose Donohue Enriquez – or just the mononymous Katierose, like Cher – and her Kathleen Burke. Stuck to a Fishtown front stoop and proud of it, this old school Irish-American, on the cusp of 40, is leery of the fact that Forbes Magazine has called her blue-collar area, initially built-up by German, Polish and Irish immigrants, one of the most up-and-coming neighborhoods for gentrification in the United States.
“Take it easy, Forbes,” says an incredulous and highly-doubtful Burke early on withing the comedy of Katierose’s one-woman, multi-character stage show, Queen of Fishtown.
Unraveling at the Skinner Studio at Latimer Street’s Plays & Players in Philadelphia for a limited run July 21 through 24, Queen of Fishtown will set sail for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (London at the King’s Head Theatre, a pub owned by a Philadelphia native) and NYC’s Off-Broadway (the United Solo Fest) as soon as Katierose gets off the stoop.
Schooled and companied-up far outside of Philadelphia – from the Alumnus Groundlings Sunday Company, the MFA program at Harvard, the American Repertory Theater and the Moscow Art Theatre – Katierose’s roots are as local as they come. At least when you consider that the longest branch of that tree’s roots is more connected to the South Jersey area than Philly.
“Here’s the shocker: I’m not from Fishtown,” says Katierose from Los Angeles, in preparation for her arrival to Philly for this week’s run of shows. “This fictional character of mine comes from the fact that my parents were from the Kensington and Fishtown neighborhoods,” says Katoerose of her public-school teaching parents, Dad on Tioga Street in Port Richmond-Harrowgate, Mom from West Oak Lane, and later on, Frankford Avenue.
Though she spent most of her youth’s weekends playing in the Amber Playground, Katierose’s parents left Port Fishington and moved the family to Jersey during her childhood. “My parents were ushers at the Glassboro Center for the Arts and for every two shows they worked, they would get complimentary tickets, so I saw everything, as did my siblings. Same thing with Bobbly Clarke Daycare Camp – our parents finagled ways to get us into everything… So. I knew I was going to be an actor early on. And I never lost my respect and love for my Fishtown youth… Besides, South Jersey is kinda the same as Fishtown when it comes to that dialect, isn’t it?”
And though she attended high school in Pilesgrove Township, in Salem County, (Woodstown High), Katierose got her acting chops, first, by performing and studying at the Walnut Street Theater before getting her Actor’s Equity card at the Bristol Riverside Theater.
Katierose was already working in California, away from the Philly fray, when her closest cousin decided to buy a house in Fishtown in 2005. “Everybody in the family thought that she lost in ever-loving mind, you know,” says the actor. “When my family left that area, it had been a dangerous neighborhood, you know, for about 80 years. Yet here was my cousin, Stephanie Seifel and her husband Rich telling us how Fishtown was on the come-up. They have breweries. They just knew. And they weren’t wrong because in 2018, Forbes called it one of the hottest neighborhoods in America. What used to be this really rough area was now where million-dollar rowhomes sat.”
Again. Take it easy, Forbes.
As everyone in Philly was cozying up to Fishtown, Katierose was becoming a performing creative, studying and performing as a child, working through several university theater scholarships and master degrees. “After studying in Moscow and doing Brecht, I was desperate for comedy,” she says of working her way through Amy Poehler’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre program in New York, then the Groundlings sketch and improv group in Los Angeles.
“Bringing the levity and getting really real – that’s my sweet spot,” says Katierose of her strengths. “I was looking to have fun”
Along with making audition tapes for Saturday Night Live as many great sketch comic actors do, Katierose begins writing out her own original characters. Then screenplays. Then television pilots.
“Queen of Fishtown started as a television pilot,” she says. “I finished it last spring, was confident it was one of the best things I’d written, and sent it out for feedback and producer notes. What I got back was a lot of notes calling what I had done interesting and how they loved the dialogue.”
“They liked everything, but the main character who they found unlikeable,” she says with a laugh regarding “Kathleen” and her story. “I was curious if they would have said that if the main character was a man because men in television are allowed to be unlikable. Is Jerry Seinfeld likeable? Is Walter White likeable? No. But we love watching them.”
Frustrated by the notes (“and because I think she’s lovable”), Katierose set about putting forth Kathleen the best way she knew how: by herself. “I had to show them I was right,” she says.
With humor as a defense mechanism, the sweatshirt-wearing Kathleen’s solo show began taking shape on the stages of Los Angeles. Never seeing women work out their anger issues on stage, director Corey Podell took on the job of helping Katierose turn the Queen into theater piece gold. Podell has her own deep, long resume of comedy credits including her self-devised one-woman clown show, Gutterplum, and roles as an actress in Transparent, 2 Broke Girls, The Comeback, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!
“Katierose and I met in 2006 in an improv class at The Groundlings Theatre in LA and went on to start a sketch comedy troupe together,” says director Podell. “Katierose is as authentic as they come. Her writing and acting are full of heart without being corny, and she consistently brings humanity to a certain type of woman that is either ignored or written off by society at large. Women some might consider “too much” – she even had a sketch show she did years ago called “That Woman!”
To Podell’s way of thinking, Katierose treats her characters with dignity and takes them seriously even when they’re comedic. “She is a master at finding the balance between being really funny while also bringing depth and gravitas to the very real characters she creates,” says Podell. “She’s just a total pro.”
It didn’t take long after reading the Queen of Fishtown’s character monologues for Podell to sign on as a director. “I was an outside eye helping shape the structure, arc, and pacing so that the wonderful main character she created in Kathleen Burke – along with her nine other distinct characters – could shine. And it is not so hard when the script is good and the talent is as strong as she is.”
For her money, beyond a dynamic theater piece, what Podell got from Katierose was an education in the minutiae of Philadelphia iconography.
“I didn’t know what Scrapple was, and I’m dying to try it,” says Podell of our favorite mystery meat. “A ton of the local colloquialisms were new to me – I find myself referring to everything as a “jawn” these days. Seeing this show night after night has only made me want to immerse myself in Philadelphia life. Anyway, youse got to see Queen of Fishtown.”
Several successful stagings and festival showings in before she heads home to Philadelphia, Katierose believes she should have written Queen of Fishtown sooner in her life. All the tools and the background were there. The influence of workperson-like comic heroes such as Lucille Ball (“that line between laughter and tears”) have forever been in place. And once Katierose got over worrying that she’d have to compete with HBO’s Mare of Eastown (“that was a shocker that that character was on television with that Philly dialect”), the central character of Kathleen Burke took off.
“I remember doing one of the Groundlings’ Sunday showcases and I had this character based on my aunt from Fishtown who got upset when her family threw her a birthday party. I had several actors who were from Philly in the piece as well. It was just this piece that everyone loved and asked me to develop. Seriously ten years later, people would tell me how much they loved ‘that Philly sketch.’ She is loveable. She’s all heart. I let the creative juices take the wheel, and there she was. That’s when I saw the Mare of Eastown billboards. ARGH. What is amusing though is that, in London, they’re selling the Queen of Fishtown showcase as a Mare of Eastown, only funnier and without the murder.”
The look of the Queen of Fishtown?
Definitely comfortable clothing. “Kathleen is a mom and she’s exhausted,” says Katierose. “But she’s hip. And she can work it when she wants.”
Rather than focus on the old school crime-and-death-filled Fishtown, Katierose touches on the gentrification of Fishtown and the struggle to maintain authenticity through the future’s inevitable change. “We start with Kathleen on her front stoop, talking with her new hipster neighbors about what the block used to be like. She makes fun of the new changes they’ve made. She’s not thrilled with the amount of change going on around her, but the neighborhood is a mirror to the changes going on within her, too. Her kids have grown up, she’s gotten older, and so the new neighborhood winds up being a helpful solution and embracing the inevitable. Because she’s fricking great.”
Spoken like a true Queen of Fishtown.