The Dresser

By: Tiffany Raymond
Screenshot (29)Ronald Harwood’s 1980 play, The Dresser, is the inaugural production in Little Lake Theatre’s 70th anniversary season, and it’s the first time the theatre has staged this play. It’s ultimately a poignant production. The play traces the intricacies of the relationship between Shakespearean stage actor, Sir (Mark Stevenson), and his dresser, Norman (Art DeConciliis). The relationship between the two men is intensely intimate as Norman helps dress Sir and prepare him for his near-nightly stage performances. Director James Critchfield is careful to never portray this as a relationship of equals; there’s a clear hierarchy. Norman washes Sir’s sweat-soaked undies and fusses over the intricacies of Sir’s life. He laps up the scraps of his employer’s self-interested attentions, which vacillate from verbal outbreaks to doting affection, each place on the spectrum failing to recognize Norman as an individual. Norman is a failed actor, so Sir is his proxy to theatrical success. If Sir succeeds, he succeeds, which makes Norman willing to tolerate a certain level of abuse to live in his shadow. The play instantly establishes its World War II British setting. It opens in pitch darkness with the disconcerting sound of an air raid warning. While Britain is being rocked on a macro level, this dramatic opening also doubles as a warning for the aging Sir’s own imbalance and decline, which Norman almost immediately narrates to actress Her Ladyship (Joyce Miller). Norman happens upon Sir progressively undressing in public and shuttles him off to the hospital for evaluation. Her Ladyship is a faded beauty queen, still playing King Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, even though she’s more grandmotherly than on the brink of being a bride. Miller is adequate in the role, struggling a bit to find the right cadence for Her Ladyship. Both DeConciliis and Miller, unfortunately, fail to maintain a British accent. Despite the British setting, Critchfield would have been wise to not pursue the accent. Stevenson’s Sir executes flawlessly as a Brit, but the variable accent quality and consistency makes it more of a distraction than an enhancement to the overall production. [caption id="attachment_6859" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Mark Stevenson as Sir and Art DeConciliis as Norman Mark Stevenson as Sir and Art DeConciliis as Norman[/caption] Critchfield does a great job of pacing the first act in particular, which anticipates the raising of the curtain on King Lear. The anxiety is palpable regarding first, whether or not Sir will return and then, whether or not he’ll be ready to go onstage for his 227th performance as Lear given he’s still doddering. You find yourself rooting for him and for the show to go on, even as there’s a broader recognition that may not be the wisest choice. Aside from DeConciliis’ struggle with the British accent, he is well cast as Norman. As the lesser dresser, he is appropriately nondescript, yet he clearly takes pride in his tidy appearance. Costume designer Lauren Gardonis manifests Norman’s type A tendencies with a well-starched blue buttondown shirt and paisley tie topped with a taupe sweater vest, and the whole ensemble is covered with an apron for most of the performance. The apron’s deep pockets provide a convenient stashing place for Norman’s flask that he tipples from throughout the play. As the play progresses, it’s clear he has a drinking problem. He furtively tries to hide his sequence of sips from the flask. Like most drinkers, he thinks he is getting away with it until Sir boldly calls him out. However, it’s not an olive branch to offer help but a berating at Norman’s booze-laden breath. It’s ultimately one more instance of Sir typifying the self-involved artist who can only perceive the world through the lens of how things impact him. DeConciliis has Norman’s face fall, and you can read him masking his hurt for the thousandth time in the nipping cadence of their 16-year relationship. [caption id="attachment_6860" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Joyce Miller as Her Ladyship, Mark Stevenson as Sir, and Art DeConciliis as Norman Joyce Miller as Her Ladyship, Mark Stevenson as Sir, and Art DeConciliis as Norman[/caption] Ultimately, Norman is fiercely protective of Sir not only because he headily drafts off of Sir’s success but because he is in love with him. DeConciliis struggles with making Norman’s homosexual identity fully authentic, and that believability is necessary given it motivates his character’s ongoing tolerance of Sir. It’s unrequited love, and doubly so as Sir exhibits a dismal dose of homophobia with references to pansies and nancy boys. While perhaps era-appropriate, it makes the play dated, especially considering it takes place in the more progressive theatre space. Sir considers himself a playboy, and that uncomfortably plays out with a young actress named Irene (Elizabeth Glyptis) who brings him his crown to play Lear. Glyptis captures a youthful spark that lures him by stoking his ego, resulting in some cringe-worthy #metoo behaviors from the aged Sir. He asks her to raise her skirt so he can evaluate her legs before lifting her in the air, revealing his darker side while also tweaking his back. Stevenson is nearly flawless as Sir, easily transitioning from primadonna performer to needy child to creepy predator. The flirtation infuriates Norman who reams the young Irene, but his ire is fueled by the fact she can elicit that which he wants for himself. It’s a play where everyone is looking left and right at what they want and can’t have, and Little Lake does The Dresser justice. Little Lake Theatre’s production of The Dresser continues through May 5th. Check out Little Lake’s newly relaunched website where you can also purchase tickets online. Photos by James Orr

The Elixir of Love

By: George B. Parous
HeaderPittsburgh Opera gave the first of four performances of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love last night, and a large audience seemed to be so taken with the “potion” offered that the applause was loud and lingering, and everyone seemed reluctant to go home. They had every reason to feel this way, for the production is colorful and highly entertaining, and superb sights and sounds had been coming at them from every direction for about two and a half hours. With each successive offering this season, Pittsburgh Opera has managed to top the preceding one – which is saying much – and last night was no exception. Lovers of opera will want to take advantage of savoring this final work of the 2017-’18 season, and those who might be new to the art form couldn’t pick a better starting point than this production. [caption id="attachment_6851" align="aligncenter" width="648"]A gaggle of tipsy women, led by Giannetta (Shannon Jennings), learn that Nemorino has just inherited a fortune from his recently-deceased uncle, and see an opportunity A gaggle of tipsy women, led by Giannetta (Shannon Jennings), learn that Nemorino has just inherited a fortune from his recently-deceased uncle, and see an opportunity[/caption]

The photographs included here can only hint at the vividly colorful and lively spectacle that unfolded; it truly has to be seen and heard to be fully appreciated. From the conductor and wonderful orchestra to the excellent soloists and chorus – all concerned out front and behind the scenes earned superlatives. The greeting Christian Capocaccia received when he appeared at the podium made it obvious that he was well remembered for his work with La Traviata in 2016. Singers new to Pittsburgh (or not heard here in a number of years) made excellent impressions. The set and costume designer, lighting director, choreographer – each and every one contributed to the success of the evening.

Mr. Capocaccia displayed a thorough command of Donizetti’s engaging score, and the instrumentalists responded to his baton throughout the evening with great precision, making the subtle nuances which abound in the music count for as much as the frequent grand climaxes. The chorus, under Mark Trawka, were a much welcomed feature of the evening, since they have not figured to any large extent in any of the other operas given this season. They were a tuneful, comic and well choreographed group of singers, and their voices and antics played a major part in the fun of the evening. [caption id="attachment_6849" align="aligncenter" width="432"]Belcore (Zachary Nelson) whispers sweet nothings into Adina’s ear (Ekaterina Siurina) Belcore (Zachary Nelson) whispers sweet nothings into Adina’s ear (Ekaterina Siurina)[/caption] Ekaterina Siurina, in the role of Adina, appeared for the first time with the company, and made a remarkably fine first impression. Her soprano is of a pure and silvery quality, carries well over the most massive ensembles, and possesses a limpid loveliness that suits her role perfectly. She has an exotic beauty, and she glided gracefully about the stage in a delightful manner. Tenor Dimitri Pittas, last heard as Rodolfo in La Bohème in 2003, returned as Nemorino (the “little nobody”), and he, too, sings effortlessly and made the most of the comic and tender elements of his role. He was at his best in the first of the two acts, but the audience was quite impressed later in the evening with his delivery of “Una furtiva lagrima” (“A furtive tear”), probably the best known aria from the opera. [caption id="attachment_6850" align="aligncenter" width="432"]Giannetta (Shannon Jennings) and other village women fawn over Nemorino (Dmitri Pittas), who assumes that Dulcamara’s Elixir of Love is working Giannetta (Shannon Jennings) and other village women fawn over Nemorino (Dmitri Pittas), who assumes that Dulcamara’s Elixir of Love is working[/caption] Zachary Nelson, as Belcore, Nemorino’s rival for Adina’s affection, was another newcomer, and sang with a strong baritone of warm, rich quality, and his acting made the most of the strutting, comedic elements of the role. Paolo Pecchioli, bass, returned to the local stage as the swindling “snake oil” peddler, Dr. Dulcamara, and made his entrance and exit in a very cleverly staged hot air balloon. He was heard to best advantage in the second act, and acted the role with acrobatic agility, while his young, silent but lively assistant, Simon Nigam, probably took home a tiny piece of every heart in the audience. [caption id="attachment_6852" align="aligncenter" width="648"]The crowd bids Dr. Dulcamara (Paolo Pecchioli) and his assistant (Simon Nigam) a fond farewell The crowd bids Dr. Dulcamara (Paolo Pecchioli) and his assistant (Simon Nigam) a fond farewell[/caption] Shannon Jennings, as Adina’s friend Giannetta, proved the old saying about “there are no small parts” in grand fashion. Her flair for comedy is excellent, and she sang the too short passages given to the role with a voice of much beauty. Her second act scene with the partied out chorus women was one of the most engaging features in an evening that was packed with them. Only three performances remain, and shouldn’t be missed. For tickets, full production details and more, visit Pittsburgh Opera. “The Artistic Team” for The Elixir of Love – Conductor, Christian Capocaccia; Stage Director, Daniel Slater; Set & Costume Designer, Robert Innes Hopkins; Lighting Designer, Simon Mills; Wig & Make-up Designer, James Geier; Choreographer, Timothy Claydon; Assistant Conductor, Glenn Lewis; Chorus Master, Mark Trawka; Associate Coach/Pianist, James Lesniak; Guest Pianist, Luis Hernandez; Assistant Director, Frances Rabalais; Stage Manager, Cindy Knight David Bachman Photography

Milo de Venus

By: Eva Phillips
29060761_2077975419140696_5205919052367512895_o (1)Mimesis, inspiration, and authenticity are notions constantly scrutinized and thrown into tension when the artistic process is endeavored upon. When the artistic process grows intertwined in romantic desire and anxieties and self-deprecations that are perpetuated by a capitalistic, competitive culture, mimesis, inspiration, and authenticity are exploded—so to speak.  The artistic spirit and the sense of self-collapse into each other in an often violent, messy way, exposing the artist and the individual on a visceral level as not what either (the artist or the art) purported to be. The recent Non State Actors production, Milo de Venus (written by fellow PGH in the Round contributor Brian Pope), posits a scenario in which these phenomena are examined in a thoroughly fraught scenario that is even further intensified by the complications of association and disassociation inherent to our hyper-mediated culture (think the veneered intimacy of “knowing” someone on Tinder, Grindr, Facebook, etc.). While relying a bit too heavily on certain tropes at times, the end result is a play which dynamically (and often hilariously) explores the unanticipated deconstruction and reifying of self and art that comes from unconventional artistic pursuits. Milo de Venus is a show framed, no pun intended, simply enough—three pointedly unique aspiring (and not-so-aspiring) artists, Venus (Jalina K McClarin), George (Mike Zolovich), and Dot (Hazel Leroy), sign up for a two-week intensive drawing class with esteemed, eccentric artist Jules (Joanna Getting), to vie for a chance at creating the most provocative piece of art that will earn a place in her studio. The three personalities, already diametrically opposed in their yearnings and principles—exquisitely particular George is Venus’ most rabid fan; Jules is seeking to finally get her “big break” as an artist; curmudgeonly retiree Dot is attempting to show the triviality of producing art—are thrown into even more striking opposition by the nature of the competition and the question of whether or not legitimate art can be generated under the constraints of such a competition. To further exacerbate the tensions of the environment, Venus, whose phone is electrified with an inundation of Tindr notifications when we first meet the trio of artists, unceremoniously discovers that the man she has been interacting with consistently on Tindr for the past few weeks is the model for the class. [caption id="attachment_6835" align="alignleft" width="200"]From L-R: Max Reusing, Jalina K. McClarin From L-R: Max Reusing, Jalina K. McClarin[/caption] Mimesis, inspiration, and authenticity are dramatically called into question, as both the aspiring artists, acclaimed artist, and artistic muse destabilize and refortify themselves throughout the course of the weeks’ immersion. Pope deftly introduces the use of and dependency upon social media, especially apps like Tindr, and the artifice of identity these apps create as a complication to art. At one point after their initial, outrageously uncomfortable first interaction, Milo (Max Reusing) remarks upon the profile of Venus he has crafted in his mind and what he believes her interests and idiosyncrasies must be given his invasive investigation of all of her publicly viewable social media accounts. Venus is flabbergasted, to which Milo responds by stating she allowed the information to be public and then provides his phone so she may reciprocally pry through his personal information. The disintegration of actual self through the faux-intimacy and faux-informativeness of social media, and how that disintegration of self consequently influences and impedes (or, sometimes, galvanizes) the artistic process. Venus allows her fear of closeness to another human (or what she believes to be fear) to alter how she interacts with other humans (i.e. dating apps) and thusly impact her art; George cannot escape his conception of self as an artist defined through his enraptured worship of another artist (Jules), which mars his vision and disallows him to see the reality of the individual he idolizes; Dot sardonically sees art as a frivolous endeavor, but her scornfulness and self-castigations are rooted in the deep disappointment felt by her family decades ago; Jules has lost her vision through the ruthlessness of a capitalistic world and the hyper mediation around her. Milo, fascinatingly, works as a purposeful inverse of the female muse to be a fulcrum for the artists’ unanticipated and complex processes of epiphanies and self-discoveries that culminate in an emotional final interaction. [caption id="attachment_6838" align="alignleft" width="656"]From L-R: Hazel Leroy, Joanna Getting, Max Reusing (on floor), Mike Zolovich, Jalina K. McClarin From L-R: Hazel Leroy, Joanna Getting, Max Reusing (on floor), Mike Zolovich, Jalina K. McClarin[/caption] Pope does an exceptional job at allowing each character—and, in turn, each actor, who all do astronomical work at portraying the characters with organic vibrancy—to reach a denouement in which their fraught, artificial selves are shattered and signs of regrowth can be seen. While the caricatured nature of some of the characters can at times be a bit heavy-handed, the actors, particularly Leroy and Zolovich, conveyed the characters’ emotional and artistic journeys with phenomenal balance and tenderness. Milo de Venus is a ribald and slyly insightful look at looking, art, and the sense of self that portends great promise for all involved. Milo de Venus runs at the Glitter Box through April 21. For tickets and more information click here. Photos by Amy Wooler

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