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Bricolage Production Company’s 12th Annual BUS!

By: Jason Clearfield
general5-474x224Bricolage's BUS is an amazing compilation of talent.  They do a great job of mixing together spontaneity and creative ability.  It's a challenge.  Playwrights are asked to put themselves on a 90-minute bus ride and to submit to the experience in such a way that they are inspired to write a play.  That's it.  Just a little fun, a bit of the unexpected and weird, and a surge of forced inspiration. It's impressive how this experiment works.  And it does.  It works very, very well.  You have 36 performers (24 actors, 6 playwrights, 6 directors) and they all bring something diverse, impressive and original.  They make tangible, real, accessible theatre in the span of 24 hours.  I was FLOORED by how great the actors were in these shows.  They not only memorized their entire part within the span of a workday, but they delivered on so many emotional and driven levels. What the process of BUS relies upon is that things will happen when provocation occurs.  Creative Talent + Inspiration = Creation.  The actors' parts are created for them, for something exhibited from their personality.  And thus plays are created truly spontaneously, with a driving force of talent and a whirl of inevitable luck. Bricolage, I believe, is attempting to create a flare within theatre that is alchemical.  It's like theatre, but it's an admixture of something more unexpected: spontaneous participation.  It seems like the kind of thing that improv works off of, but I believe it's a little more experimental.  For one thing, it invokes the audience.  You have only to look at how the handling of BUS 12 began.  A technical difficulty involving the keyboard's connection to the house speakers inhibited the host's opening performance.  So, Programming and Artistic Directors Jeffrey Carpenter and Tami Dixon (respectively) were secluded to their spots offstage.  An awkward moment started with an awkward silence.  But their mics still worked.  They asked for patience.  Then Tami's voice saying, “You'd think after 12 years...” The audience laughed.  Then a random heckler chimes in: “Get a Casio!” Another voice over the mic, “Oh great.  Just what we need: hecklers.” A guy in the balcony yells, “Well, at least it's better than Senator Toomey's Town Hall!” Another laugh. Jeffery Carpenter asks back, “Does anybody know how to juggle?”  And Dixon seconds, “Does anybody know how to hum?” The whole audience begins humming. The audience is roaring from a malfunction that should have been devastating.  But the feeling of the evening, this rich celebration of Pittsburgh's talents is exactly what BUS, and therefore Bricolage, is all about.  The creation of the spectacle at hand is key in fomenting a new vision of what could be the theatrical moment.  The mistake is probably the most authentic form of seeing something real happen on stage.  It's up to the maturity and skill of the actors to handle the mistake responsibly.  The entire spirit of Bricolage's “making artful use of what is at hand” happens in these moments.  It's like Arthur Miller once said, “The theater is so endlessly fascinating because it's so accidental. It's so much like life.” LBS_1540 BUS shows a cavalcade of different kinds of emotions.  The heartfelt broaching of loneliness and memory in Gayle Pazerski's “This Call May Be Recorded.”  Or the almost philosophical nostalgia of four people talking to themselves of how they remember buses being friendly before smartphones in Mark Clayton Southers' “People Don't Talk on the Bus”  Or perhaps the madness of four cartoonish version of DSM-IV style mental disorders banding together to save themselves from a bus that crashed because of a suicidal bus driver in Sloan MacRae's “Normal”. The gamut of talent is shown by experimenting with how people think on a bus.  Pazerski's content contains nothing about buses, but it allows for an emotional depth which surely comes out of the script and perhaps a lonely bus drive just outside of town.  In her play, we see a very visceral relationship being unveiled by the act of Brett Goodnack's Tom calling Quinn Patrick Shannon's Mark at his job at a stressful call center.  Shannon's ability to show the facial breaking of a frustrated man on the brink of both redemption and insanity was palpable.  I was also a fan of Elena Alexandratos and Julianne Avolio's comic chops on the side. LBS_1693 Pair that with Kim El's “Get Off (The Bus)” a Twilight Zone-like tale about a professional white woman who boards a bus and is suddenly confronted with mystical black deities who force her to confront her privilege by subjecting her to live a day as an African-American woman.  Shakara Wright's Faith and TaeAjah Cannon's Joy were appropriately creepy and stunning in their roles, veritable goddesses, and demons in the same body.  Director Teisha Duncan did a great job at taking us onto the bus and taking us out of this ethereal plane with minimal special effects. It's a variety of performance, very festive, unpredictable and a great sampling of what kind of active subject matter is happening amongst playwrights in this town.  What makes Bricolage such a fountain of strange possibility is that they covet the experiment.  They try things, and they create an environment where trying things is protocol.  It's minimal, but it's audacious. You wind up with stand-out performances like Wali Jamal's Clown in Dave Harris' “Mythical Creatures”.  Always a pleasure to watch his bottled volatility shake itself up, pure baking soda and vinegar; this man spews rawness up in a rage.  Or Gab Cody's “Misoneism”, a tricky play about AI that's really all a prop for stand-out performances.  Missy Moreno's Betty pops onto the stage with firecracker power and delivers a potpourri of Robin Williams and Animal from the Muppets. LBS_1586 Bricolage does something.  They don't do the rote, mechanical straightforward delivery.  They make you work, they make their players work and it's an appreciated work.  There's power in trying.  I think that's the aspect of theatre that's washed with such an abundance of entertainment in the digital age.  To make artful use of what is at hand, you must be willing to go out into the world and grab whatever's near.  Pittsburgh is a slew of odysseys, and thank god a company is ravenous for what it has to offer.  This was a hell of a cabaret. For more about Bricolage Production Company and what they have for us coming up, click here.  Photos courtesy of Louis Stein.

Sweet Charity

By: Yvonne Hudson
17309529_10155119503499464_6508762438322067663_nThe girl who couldn’t hold on to a guy is the victorious heroine of Sweet Charity, on stage of the equally spunky and iconic Rockwell Theater at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland. The colorful and groovy Broadway and film hit showcases Point Park University student talent under the savvy direction of returning Michael Rupert in a Conservatory Theatre Company production. The mind-blowing 1960’s are calling! Sweet Charity opened on Broadway in 1969 and has almost been continually produced by leading international companies. At the Playhouse, the spot on professional band, ensconced on the second level of Johnmichael Bohach’s inventive set, is led by frequent Playhouse musical director Camille Rolla. A huge arch echoes both the Rockwell mid-century interior and Central Park’s tunnels while a gritty framework and understage evokes the city’s dark corners and elevated train trestles. Costumes range from everyday to evening wear, so there’s no shortage of flower power, fringe, mini-dresses, sequins, and outrageous wigs in Michael Montgomery’s designs.The Cast of Sweet Charity2 Charity Hope Valentine’s very name reassures us that all will be well and even failed romances and turbulent times are wrought with lessons that strengthen us. The “It Girl” and shining star of Sweet Charity is graduating PPU senior Jasmine Overbaugh. As resilient and charming as the venue itself, Overbaugh takes a classic role of a Times Square “taxi-dance” girl (who provides other “services”) and runs with it from the moment she steps on stage--and almost immediately is pushed into the Central Park lake by male companion who runs away (for the last time) with her cash. Still, she writes off such incidents off as the “fickle finger of fate.” As Charity explores the wilds of New York City, Overbaugh is on stage during most every scene.  Her engaging singing, outstanding dancing, and comic pratfalls connect with the audience and we look forward to what this young artist does next. The Neil Simon book and the 1960’s style of Sweet Charity supports a story as old as (real) time: The girl doesn’t always get the guy. Or perhaps any guy. The story is one of self-exploration and experiences that inform Charity’s life journey. On a first date, she winds up at a “church of the month,” a hippy, cultish group meeting under the Manhattan Bridge. She even stays overnight in the apartment of a dashing Italian movie star between getting dumped. However, she struts and taunts with “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Despite tumbling into bodies of water--twice--and suffering the sexism, pay inequity, and stereotyping that fueled the “women’s movement,” she picks herself up and starts all over and over again as young single woman trying to find her way. [caption id="attachment_4451" align="alignleft" width="656"]Jasmine Overbaugh as Charity Jasmine Overbaugh as Charity[/caption]   One wants to rewind or request more reprises as the show is so jam-packed with hits by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields including “Big Spender,” “There’s Gotta be Something Better than This,” and “I’m a Brass Band.” Choreographer Jim Cooney has an imaginative blast with most all the numbers. On two classics he pays homage to Bob Fosse’s original choreography. He summons the show’s original moves for the iconic “Big Spender” featuring the dance hall  “taxi girls” and the fascinating postures of “Rich Man’s Frug”. The cast expertly executes Fosse’s signature shoulders, wrists and hips with his obligatory knee and ankle angles. Jasmine’s fellow cast members are superb, too, singing and dancing their way to graduation, auditions, and the next show. Gianni Annesi (Helene) and Jane Zogbi (Nickie) both make their PPU musical debuts and stand out in their duet “Baby, Dream Your Dream”. When Overbaugh joins them in “...Better than This,” this triple threat of strong women owns the show with their song and dance acumen. Lauren Lerant, also a senior, leads the cast in “Rich Man’s Frug” with all those Fosse moves and high-style hair swinging. Atiauna Grant steps out of the ensemble as The Good Fairy with some fine attitude as she doesn’t settle on a typical “happy ending” for the ingenue. [caption id="attachment_4452" align="alignleft" width="656"]Nikky Robinson, Lauren Lerant, Kurt Kemper Nikky Robinson, Lauren Lerant, Kurt Kemper[/caption] When the entire 31-member cast is dancing, it’s just delightful with rising stars in the spotlight conjuring their future stage careers. They depict sardine-like straphangers on a subway car, self-absorbed New Yorkers who try not to “get involved,” haughty party-goers, and the city’s working class cops, waiters, as well as the Fandango dance hall girls. Now, here’s to all the boys--solid and charming characterizations and performances by: Michael Joseph Krut as Charity’s boyfriend Oscar; Kevin Gilmond as Charity’s boss Herman; Russell Badalamenti as sauve film actor Vittorio Vidal; and David Gretchko as the Rhythm of Life congregation leader Daddy. Ensemble charmers included Daddy’s assistants Nikky Robinson and Ben Northrup, who also appears as Marvin, a dance hall regular who fancies Charity.   In deference to the entire and almost constantly moving and costume-changing cast, it’s only right to list all the others for their energy, artistry, and many roles here. Caroline Hitesman is cool and classy as Vittorio’s Ursula. Ladies of the ensemble include: Sierra Barnett (dance captain), KellyAnn Coyle (Alice), Halle Mastroberardino (new girl Rosie), Hailie Hagedorn (Frenchy), Sarah Martinez (Carmen), Sophie Ankin, Mackenzie Manning, Maddy Miller, and Kyra Smith. [caption id="attachment_4453" align="alignleft" width="656"]Kurt Kemper, Halle Mastroberardino, William Bureau, Micah Stanek, Jasmine Overbaugh, Ben Northrup, Peter Brannigan, Atiauna Grant Kurt Kemper, Halle Mastroberardino, William Bureau, Micah Stanek, Jasmine Overbaugh, Ben Northrup, Peter Brannigan, Atiauna Grant[/caption] The gentlemen are also impressive in many multiple roles: Kurt Kemper (solo tenor), Eric Freitas (Monte the Cop), Liron Blumenthal, Peter Brannigan, William Bureau, Jared Thomas Roberts, Austin Sultzbach, and Jacob Wasson, and Austin Trynosky (swing). It’s always joyful to again find PPU students still singing and dancing their hearts out. And it’s bittersweet, too, as the university will brand its new Playhouse facility downtown within a few years. (This alumna and writer proudly discloses that I wrote my first reviews for The Globe, the student newspaper there, so the Playhouse is in my DNA, too.) Sweet Charity has five more performances, March 23-26 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Take a friend, someone you love, or, better yet, go it alone. You’ll be just fine! Guarantee you’ll dance onto Craft Avenue as you head for home and add the 1969 film version to your watch list. Check out the production details and great ticket prices of $10 to $24 at: PittsburghPlayhouse.com. Photos courtesy of John Altdorfer.

Daddy Long Legs

By: George Hoover
Layout 1The Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of Daddy Long Legs under the direction of Ted Pappas, once again demonstrates theatre at its best. This subtle and nuanced production is the perfect balance of all the elements of theatre that combine to present in an evening of theatre magic. The story of Daddy Long Legs celebrates the connection of lives brought together by unlikely circumstances. The cast is only two but the connection between the characters fills the stage. It is set between 1908 and 1912 in a time when there was no instant communications by email, text or tweet or phone.  Letters were written and you yearned for a response that sometimes never came. Daddy Long Legs is the story of Miss Jerusha Abbott, the oldest resident of The John Grier Home, a New England orphanage.  When she turns eighteen a mysterious benefactor decides to pay for her college education. There is one condition, she must write him a monthly letter, express no gratitude and not to expect any replies.PPTdaddylonglegs024 Prior to learning her good fortune, she notices from her window a man leaving the orphanage. She sees him in shadows and imagines him to be a very tall distinguished older gentleman. In her first letter, she begins to identify him as Daddy Long Legs and over time treats him more and more as the father figure she has never known. Through her letters we see Jerusha transform from a sheltered and naive orphan girl into a confident and independent college educated woman. As he reads her letters, Daddy Long Legs becomes more enamored with this enchanting young woman. She reveals to “Daddy” a developing relationship with Jervis Pendleton, a well to do younger uncle of one of her roommates. What makes Daddy Long Legs so compelling is what we in the audience have known all along. Jervis is actually her benefactor. His mother passed away when he was eleven and his father is absent from his life.  As Jervis reads her letters aloud we learn he is a surprisingly kind and caring man.  Although their circumstances are very different, he feels a strong connection to Jerusha and yet struggles to tell her the truth of their connection, never replying to her letters until….PPTdaddylonglegs096 Jervis and Jerusha are the only two seen on stage; the other characters in the story are brought to life by her letters.  Allan Snyder (recently relocated to our fair city) and Danielle Bowen are perfectly cast as Jervis and Jerusha.  Snyder is the more accomplished actor and Bowen is early in her professional career, that perspective and their age proximity gives them great chemistry on stage. He gives just the right amount of angst to Jervis as he struggles with what to do about his increasing affection for Jerusha. Bowen's Jerusha conveys the right enthusiasm of a teenage girl along with with the wisdom and longing of a person who has never really been outside of the orphanage her entire life. Ted Pappas once again he proves his directorial skills and sensitivity in Daddy Long Legs. The transformation of Jerusha from eighteen-year-old orphan is subtle and nuanced; a different dress, a different hat, a more confident carriage. The show is two hours, but it seems like we have been with her every day.PPTdaddylonglegs062 The orchestra made up of piano, cello and guitar under the direction of long time Public collaborator Wade Russo perfectly underscores the vocals. The musicians are on stage, and yet you almost forget they are there. The transition into the musical numbers is so natural and easy you almost don’t notice. Be it solos or duets Snyder and Bowens performances are first rate. Pappas uses Michael Schweikardt’s scenic design to its optimum, but subtlety again rules. Jervis’ office is elevated upstage. It is decked out like a proper gentlemen’s library, a safe perch from which he “watches” Jerusha. Hers is an open more simple space, as it would be in the orphanage or college dorm and her letters are what connects them. Theatregoers left the O’Reilly last night reminded of what makes life special, the connection we celebrate that develops between two people. Might as well change the name to Pittsburgh Perfect Theater!  Thanks Ted for another night of theatre magic. Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Daddy Long Legs is playing now through April 9th at the O’Reilly Theatre. Tickets 412-316-1600 or online at https://ppt.org/calendar Photos courtesy of Michael Henninger

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