Contemporary commentary

When preparing the contents for his senior year recital at Eastern University, music composition major Daniel Ison incorporated theatrical elements but dubbed them as “filler” for his 60-minute endeavor. Having audited classes following his graduation from the Delaware County-situated institution, he came to gain regard for stage-centered creativity and has become a curious chronicler of nuance and committed courter of know-how, with Commonwealth Classic Theatre Co. captivating the resident of the 700 block of Reed Street through its production of “Tartuffe.”

“It’s already such a valuable component of my professional progression,” the 27-year-old said of the Media-based entity’s Free Theatre in the Parks offering of the Moliere masterpiece. “It reminds me of what so many interactions have encouraged me to do, which is to enjoy getting back to being a kid and playing pretend.”

The Passyunk Square inhabitant is playing Valere in the 1980s-set take on the 1664 comedy, with fellow South Philadelphian Allison Heishman directing. An accompanying release for the show, which runs through July 23 at numerous green spaces, notes the work’s particular relevance to contemporary society, with the upcoming general election as a link based on the title character’s clandestine identity and commandeering persona. The material added that our daily existence yields questions such as “Who can you trust?” and “What do you believe?” and that Moliere’s brainchild reminds us that those whom we often bill as saviors are commonly hypocrites, imposters, liars, and cheats. Ison especially encounters that through his task, as Valere must deal with the prospect of losing his love, Marianne, to Tartuffe, played by West Passyunk denizen J Hernandez, at the behest of her patriarch.

“My character definitely serves as a counterpart to Tartuffe because Valere is an honest, earnest, straightforward guy,” the thespian said. “He doesn’t need to be brash and arrogant to stand out. I think it’s his integrity that carries the day for him.”

Recalling his amazing professional preparation thanks to the late Mark Hallen, who had served as Eastern University’s Director of Theatre, Ison is taking his mentor’s advice to “throw strikes” and “say it truthfully” as he meshes with the cast, which also includes Barrymore Award-winning South Philly occupant Amanda Schoonover. Happy to help his acting peers to mesh the 17th and 20th centuries, he is also intensifying his appreciation for the piece by serving as the production’s sound designer, his second such task for Commonwealth. Striving to “keep it simple, stupid” through each assignment, Ison loves having the open-air opportunity, with eight performances left, including today’s 7 o’clock venture to Brookhaven Municipal Park, and he, unlike Tartuffe, has nothing but truth to speak concerning his fortune.

“It delights me to be involved with this project no only because of what it’s doing for me as an actor and sound designer but also for its ability to put me in contact with great, great people,” he said. “There’s so much life to this community, and as I grow older and, hopefully, have much more work, I’ll really look back on this set of experiences and smile.”

The Wildwood-reared figure made music his initial joy, with playing the guitar enhancing his pluck. With enthusiasm for church tunes, he did not let a revered listener’s comment about his being far better at academics than music dissuade him from following his dream.

“I went there out of spite,” he laughed of matriculating at Eastern University. “Seriously, though, I wanted to prove that I could occupy that world somehow because music really spoke to me as a wonderful way to communicate.”

He switched from guitar concentration to music composition as a sophomore, with an affinity for “beautiful sounding things,” noting regard for composers such as Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Thoroughly impressed with the music program at his St. Davids alma mater, he called on the aforementioned theatrical guides to complete his recital and found that new universe a supreme influence, too.

“There’s usually room in everyone’s life for more than one passion, so I’m incredibly lucky to have added theater to my journey,” Ison divulged. “There’s a different level of expression through a play, and even though we’re doing stuff involving make-believe, to use an old term, I believe those who pretend are some of the most genuine and forthright people that I have ever known.”

As his career has unfolded, the actor has concluded that all that can ever hold someone back is his or her siding with negative self-talk and doubt, as those scourge urges for distinction. Blessed with unwavering confidence (“I’m an egotist,” he chuckled), Ison has reveled in rewriting his resume to reflect his music-infused, acting-centric, and videography-inclined gigs, with employees such as the Arden and Curio Theatre companies, New City Stage Co., the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, White Pines Productions, and Temple University happy to part with pay in exchange for passion.

“I love Philadelphia because there’s a whole life possible here, especially South Philly,” he said, with September to mark his first anniversary in Passyunk Square following two years in Point Breeze. “I knew that wherever I would turn up that I would need time to make connections, and I’m thrilled that I’ve come to know many of the great theater practitioners in this city. Everything helps me to scratch a creative itch, so that’s a delightful position to be in.”

Ison is on a mission to gain more exposure through two upcoming sound design and music composition assignments for Temple and will kick off his videographer/editor chores for the South Philly-heavy Orbiter 3 tonight through its “I AM NOT MY MOTHERLAND” presentation. Having recently secured an agent, too, he is hoping to score non-stage-centered roles, but no matter the location or type of work, he will be as sincere as Valere.

“It’s all about being willing to do the work,” he said. “I want to continue to be someone who’s always up for a challenge.” ■

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Contact Editor Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.

Photo by Tina Garceau

Production Photo by Allison Heishman