Summer is here, and it's time to get out of the house and smell that delicious Pittsburgh air! Whether or not that sounds appealing to you, Shakespeare in the park definitely should. You get all the fun of a theatrical experience, but you can take your shoes off and eat Swedish Fish while you're watching it! What's not to love? Steel City Shakespeare is undertaking one of my personal favorites of the Bard's- The Tempest. Something we can all relate to here after the weather this past week. They set their stage in the Troy Hill Citizen's Park, but no worries! If a literal tempest comes along, they have the church across the street as a backup location. And Shakespeare in the church would also be pretty cool, right? Even though I love this play, Shakespeare can sometimes get a bit dull after seeing the same show throughout the years. Luckily, SCS has provided its audience with a fun twist for this production. The play has over twenty characters, but director Jeffrey Chips is presenting fifteen of them portrayed by only five actors. Slight costume changes signal the transition from one character to another, which works sometimes well and sometimes hilariously as a few characters jump between personas within the same scene. This was generally successful, especially for the most obvious change: the charismatic Sandee L. Rollins' transition from magic-dealing Prospera to that character's own brother, Antonio. The only times characters were kind of jumbled were when smaller characters switched around quickly. Much kudos to the actors of this show, who not only memorized the lines of multiple characters but could also keep them straight and change bits of wardrobe and set at the same time. My personal favorite of the dual characterization was Miranda and Ariel, both played by Anne Rematt. In a brilliant move on Chips' part, Miranda seems to sleep or "disappear" every time Ariel pops up, giving the impression that Ariel is a spirit dwelling inside Miranda, only coming out when her mother Prospera needs help with trickery. Rollins and Rematt have a wonderful chemistry on stage, both as mother and daughter and as master and servant. The shift in their relationship as Rematt's characters changed was obvious but natural. I'd also be remiss not to mention that fan favorite trio of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano. These characters make up the drunken fools of the show and were brought to life comically by David Loehr, Paige Borak, and Ryan Bergman respectively. Each of them also had several other characters to take on. Bergman stood out especially, switching from climbing trees and playing an accordion as an inebriated Stephano to mourning his presumed dead son while enduring a strange and frightening land as the solemn Alonso. The magic of the storm and the island were worked about as well as could be on a very sunny day in a park in the city. Everyone watching is expected to use their imaginations to create the scenery not provided. There were a few instruments used, and some practical sound effects, but for the most part, the acting seems to be what Chips meant to highlight in this production. It was incredibly reminiscent of a traveling theatre troupe. The costume pieces and props not in use sat just off the side of the playing area, and the actors not in a scene did as well. Having everything exposed and obvious as part of the craft of theatre was a fun aspect that is not often seen. And it absolutely made viewers feel more connected with the art, somehow involved with the things normally only found behind black curtains. Of course the script was cut down in some places; the entire performance, including a small intermission, lasted only about two hours. This was a welcome change, as sitting in the humidity could have been exhausting if the entire show had been performed. Thankfully, they housed the audience in shade, making the heat easier to bear and taking the sun out of our eyes. All the actors were easy to hear, despite the occasional children playing in a backyard or camera shutter clicking behind the spectators. Steel City Shakespeare is suggesting a $15 donation to come see the show, and they sell some snacks and drinks there as well. The area offers plenty of free street parking, and the area itself is easy to find, even for someone like me who had never been to Troy Hill before. If you've never been to a performance in an outdoor setting, it's really something you should experience. And if you have, you know how new and special it feels every time. SCS only has two more performances left of The Tempest, and I highly recommend getting out to one! The Tempest runs two more times June 24 and 25 in the Troy Hill Citizens Park! For more information click here. Photos courtesy of Ringa Sunn!
Women’s bodies, women’s pleasures, the heavily scrutinized relationship between women and the nature and autonomy of their arousal and desire is the object, either directly or indirectly, of countless texts and pieces of media and literature. The notion that women may control or be the source of their own pleasure, or that women may contain multitudes of stimuli that they can engage separate from heteronormative sex has a long standing history of being regarded with near-flabbergasted dismissal. The origins of autonomous female pleasure, which of course are long-standing but rarely explored properly, and the essence of female arousal is at the core of Sarah Ruhl’s 2009 In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play), which uses female pleasure and the inadvertent creation of the vibrator as a fulcrum for discussing larger social and behavioral issues. The play uses the repressive, austere Victorian social mores and behavioral conditions as mechanisms of evaluating the origins of the vibrator within the greater contexts of class, gender and social dynamics. Throughline Theatre Company’s production of In the Next Room, which is electrified by the meticulous direction of Abigail Lis-Perlis, has put forth an admirable restaging of Sarah Ruhl’s multifaceted vibrator dramaturgical aubade. The play, which benefits from a masterful use of very limited space, takes place primarily in a series of small rooms in a haughty Victorian home of a well-intentioned if not slow-witted physician, Dr. Givings and his wife Catherine. The stage design highlights the fixation with the apparatus created by Dr. Givings intended to “release juices” inside of women that cause stress and impedes fertility and pregnancy. Of course, the apparatus designed is effectively a cumbersome vibrator, and much of the clunky comedy of the show centers around Dr. Givings’ over-intellectual misconstrual of his apparatus’ actual use of a clitoral stimulus for the women he uses it on. Perhaps if the shows only focus was this confusion and disparity between men’s conception of women’s pleasure versus the actuality and their surreptitious enthrallment with this pleasure, In the Next Room would have been a bit more even-footed. While the performances are consistent and generally convincing—the most deliberately impassioned and extremely vivacious being Moira Quigley as Catherine Givings, whose dissatisfaction with her husband’s ineptitude and her own biology is radiantly palpable—the show often reads as too discombobulated or heavy handed. There are at least three micro-narratives happening simultaneously with the various central characters that demand the same level of audience involvement and attention. Some of these micro-narratives, like the burgeoning romance between two women (one of Dr. Givings’ patients and his female nurse/house servant), could have been compelling stories on their own, yet do not get to flourish properly because of helter-skelter narrative construction. Although the play is satisfying in portraying a discovery and embracing of (somewhat) autonomous female pleasure in an era that such a thing was unfathomable, In the Next Room, has lingering infiltrations of heteronormativity and male-centrism. The entire story is premised on the notion that men are too intellectual and removed to understand the intuitiveness and inchoate physicality of female desire and pleasure. Though this is intriguing, it creates a clear demarcation between women and men that does nothing to challenge stereotypes. While an incredibly enjoyable play with impressive performances, the show at times comes off as too out of touch with the edginess it purports to depict. In the Next Room continues at the Henry Heymann Theatre through June 24. For tickets and more information, click here.
Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a darker version than the Disney classic that will send you on a rollercoaster of emotions. The musical featured an outstanding addition of a thirty-person choir above the stage, and seventeen-piece orchestra in the pit. This musical is the conclusion to the Center’s ten-year celebration. Justin Fortunato, a new artistic producer who has been there for two years, brought a new air of creativity to the theater. He has pushed the boundaries and brought on more risqué and adventurous musicals/plays to the stage. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is about a young bell-ringer, Quasimodo, who is a deformed hunchback that has been secluded in the bell tower of a church in Notre Dame. He longs to go outside from his sanctuary and interact with others. But when he finally gets the chance, the people were crazed at his hideousness – except a gypsy called Esmeralda. Esmeralda captures the heart of Quasimodo, along with the archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo, and a returning soldier, Phoebus. The admiration of this girl is what drives this tragic story. [caption id="attachment_5201" align="aligncenter" width="656"] Zachary Medola as Quasimodo[/caption] An amazing part of the final portion of the introductory number, “The Bells of Notre Dame” was LPPAC student Zachary Mendola walked out on stage in just an undershirt and pants. He smeared black paint across the side of his face and transformed into Quasimodo right before our eyes! We saw as he put on the hunch and threw a green cloak over himself, turning from an ordinary man to a hideous monster. In the song, they give the audience a riddle saying, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” which is revisited later in the musical. I give special kudos to Mendola in his role as Quasimodo. In the more startling fragments, such as the whipping or when Esmeralda died, Quasimodo cried. But Mendola had me believe that he himself was crying, not just the character. Quasimodo is a hard-hitting character to play. The actor must go through losing their incorruptibility in the most disturbing of ways, all-the-while having to act less-human. Esmeralda, played by Annemarie Rosano, is the driving force in this whole story. She is what makes Frollo, Quasimodo, and Phoebus dynamic characters. Rosano did a wonderful job at displaying Esmeralda’s innocence and how she wanted to fit in, too. Her singing through Esmeralda contained the strength and independence that the character possessed. [caption id="attachment_5202" align="aligncenter" width="656"] Annemarie Rosano as Esmeralda[/caption] Although the character of Esmeralda has some virtue, she is also a gypsy, and gypsies can tend to be seductive. The other gypsies along the side did good work with this characteristic – the swaying of the hips and pulling the men in. But, I would have liked to see Rosano go a little further. I would have liked to see her fall into the rhythm of the music and let her body sway with it. From the start, you could see the submissive relationship Quasimodo had with his uncle/master, Dom Claude Frollo (Tim Hartman). Hartman did a splendid job with portraying Frollo’s holy yet sinful demeanor. His song, “Hellfire,” truly chilled my bones. Very clearly, you could see how Hartman made apparent the spontaneous change in Frollo’s manner, abusing his power saying that he would hunt down Esmeralda for her committing witchcraft. When Frollo asked for forgiveness of both him and Esmeralda, Hartman really expressed how Frollo can feel guilt for his actions, and that there may be some sense of a man in him. Hartman did an exceptional work at showing Frollo’s split feelings with his duties with God, and love for Esmeralda. A moment that trapped me was when Hartman and Rosano were in the prison cell together: Frollo gave her one last chance to save herself and be with him. At a point, Frollo flung himself onto Esmeralda and screamed at her to love him. Hartman very much portrayed the desperateness Frollo felt towards Esmeralda, driving him mad. Phoebus, played by David M. Toole, hit the classic “frat boy” appeal to this character. Regardless of Phoebus’s troubled past, he seemed more interested in playing around with the gypsies. It would have been interesting to see more of his disturbed war background affecting him. We see a moment of this during “Rest and Recreation,” but never again. It could have added an even profounder depth to this character if that past was brought through a bit more. Midway through the first act, the song “On Top of the World” the cast cleverly used foam railings to represent the balcony of the church, and later prison doors and the streets of Paris in other songs. It was a great use of limited props to extend the imagination of the audience. It was astounding how the actors and actresses altered into other characters by changing their costumes right on stage. Either by throwing on a cloak or taking off a small piece of garment. The gargoyles, though, could have been a bit further realistic. The actors and actresses still wore their townspeople attire but added on a light gray shawl over their shoulders. There could have more elaboration, such as horns or wings, or even make-up. An absolute favorite part of mine was when Quasimodo carried Esmeralda and placed her on the ground. The townspeople flanked the sides of the stage and imitated the actor at the beginning when he distorted into Quasimodo: pretending to smear their face with paint then contorting their bodies. Some may have seen it as imitation, but I saw it as a sign of respect and admiration for the creature that was finally being a man. You can see The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Pennsylvania from June 23-25. Tickets range from $15, $18, and $20 and can be purchased online at lincolnparkarts.org. Special thanks to the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of LPPAC