A Musical Christmas Carol

Hero_53915When I walked into the Byham Theater to see Pittsburgh CLO’s A Musical Christmas Carol for the very first time, I let out an involuntary “Wow!”. The impact of D Martyn Bookwalter’s set is nothing short of breathtaking. Antique artifacts and various ornate furnishings cover the stage painting an incredibly authentic portrait of Dickensian London with equal shades of squalor and grandeur.

It’s like stepping into a music box. But this music box is a well-oiled machine that has been entertaining generations of families in Pittsburgh for 26 years. Like the four seasons, A Musical Christmas Carol comes around every year and ushers in a change in climate. While this production’s magical powers don’t extend to banishing the below freezing temperatures outside, it will surely fill all who see it with enough warmth and light to carry them through the many cold winter nights to come.

Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella has been adapted so many times in so many different media that the list of adaptations has its own Wikipedia page. But don’t expect to see any Muppets or Bill Murray onstage at the Byham because Pittsburgh CLO serves up the classic story straight with genuine English accents and absolutely gorgeous period costumes by Mariann Verheyen.

Original director and choreographer David H. Bell also adapts Dickens’s work here and effectively uses the myriad of tools and tricks that the theatre provides to maintain the heart and horror of the original story and to establish the town and all of its inhabitants as fleshed out characters. He incorporates a handful of (frustratingly) truncated Christmas standards that existed when the story takes place like “Silent Night”, “Good King Weneslas”, and “Deck the Halls” that function more to transition between scenes and underscore the action than to propel it forward.

DSC_4112-RETOUCHFortunately, the only thing you truly need to get you from one moment to the next in A Musical Christmas Carol is anticipation for each of its source material’s famous moments and lines. It’s of course the story of the miserable miser Ebenezer Scrooge who meets every tiding of comfort and joy extended to him with a venomous “Humbug!”.

On Christmas Eve, he berates and belittles his nephew Fred, his employee Bob Cratchit, and innocent citizens soliciting donations for the less fortunate before being visited by the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley. This specter warns Scrooge that he will soon meet three more ghosts who will show him the error of his greedy, malevolent ways.

The Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come journey through time with Scrooge present him with shadows of his past and present follies and how they put his future in mortal danger. Although in the short run it might seem that Scrooge uses money to right the wrongs he’s perpetrated, it’s clear that his heart really did grow three sizes after his time with the ghosts when he embraces and is in turn embraced by his fellow man.

And then there’s Bob Cratchit’s adorable, handicapable son Tiny Tim (even more adorably portrayed by Daniel Frontz) who ties the universal themes of the story together with four immortal words: “God bless us, everyone”.

Another wonderful thing about the time-honored tradition of A Musical Christmas Carol is the way it brings actors of all ages and experience levels together in service of spreading holiday cheer to the masses. Alongside newcomer Frontz, you’ll see Broadway veteran Patrick Page in the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

Patrick Page and Daniel Krell
Patrick Page and Daniel Krell

Page is no stranger to being the villain (see his dark turns in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), the Christmas villain (he played the titular role in the musical adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas), or even Scrooge (this is his second year with AMCC), but he does not rest on his laurels here. His Scrooge’s pain comes from within whether he’s bearing witness to his cruelty through the memories or presently committing acts of avarice. Page does not get to sing much unfortunately, but he performs each of his monologues with a Shakespearean edge that elicits uproarious applause. In this performance, he effortlessly exudes gravitas and proves that reacting on stage can be just as compelling as acting.

 

Surrounding and supporting Page is a large ensemble with seriously big talents. Just about all of them play upwards of 2-4 roles including everything from simple carolers to frightening phantoms. When they start singing, you’ll be calling them the angels we have heard on high.

Among them, Lisa Ann Goldsmith (Mrs. Cratchitt), Erika Strasburg (Young Scrooge’s first love, Belle), and Luke Halferty (Young Scrooge himself) stand out most, but it’s clear that no one is having as much fun as Tim Hartman (Mr. Fezziwig and Ghost of Christmas Present). Hartman is a 25-year veteran of AMCC whose booming voice, towering height, and great comedic timing make it impossible to take your eyes off of him.

After 26 years, this old chestnut is still roasting and nipping at the hearts of mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons in Pittsburgh and showing no signs of stopping. Pittsburgh CLO and Bell have created a dazzling and sentimental tribute to the true reason for the season. A Musical Christmas Carol might only play in this city, but I know that, as it touches the people who see it and they go out and live their lives, that this production truly brings joy to the world.

A Musical Christmas Carol plays at the Byham Theatre through December 23rd. For more information, click here.

Photos by Matt Polk.

5 Christmas Shows To Put On Your Nice List This Holiday Season

Snowflake 6When the weather outside is frightful, there is no place more delightful than the theater. Companies all around the city of Pittsburgh are offering up holiday-themed shows of all genres to give anyone craving it an extra dose of yuletide cheer. Most of these titles will ring a jingle bell for Christmas-obsessives who grew up watching them on TV with family. All of these wonderful upcoming productions will surely be an early Christmas present for everyone able to see any one of them.

“Unsung” is definitely not the word to describe American composer Irving Berlin’s contributions to the Christmas season. But it strikes me as odd that the person who penned the music and lyrics for the world’s most recorded Christmas song isn’t up there with Santa, his elves, and Ebenezer Scrooge as a face of the holidays. I’m of course talking about “White Christmas” which was first sung by Bing Crosby in the 1942 film Holiday Inn, but eventually grew to even more prominence in its 1952 namesake film also starring Crosby.

white-christmas-marcus-center-show-detailThe stage adaptation of the movie White Christmas, with a book by David Ives and Paul Blake, premiered in 2000 at The Muny and will soon be dancing its way into the Palisade Playhouse. The story, set to a fantastic assortment of Berlin standards including “Happy Holidays”, “Blue Skies”, “Sisters”, and “I Love a Piano”, introduces audiences to two World War II soldiers turned song-and-dance men, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, as they reenter civilian life to become the toast of Broadway. Two beautiful, talented sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes, catch Bob’s and Phil’s eye. Romantic hijinks land the foursome at a lodge in Vermont with no other way to process their feelings for one another but on stage and in song. When the curtain and the snow finally fall, the poetic refrain of the title song echoes through everyone’s hearts.

White Christmas plays at the Palisade Playhouse from November 30 through December 9. For more information, click here.

MDRchristmasStoryFINAL3-890x420If you’re such a huge fan of the classic Christmas comedy A Christmas Story that waiting until Christmas Eve for its 24-hour marathon on TBS is unbearable for you, then you’re in luck this year. In addition to Fox’s presentation of A Christmas Story Live!, The Theatre Factory and Bricolage Production Company are serving up their own unique versions of Ralphie Parker’s hilarious coming of age tale.

Rather than taking a cue from the broader elements of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s A Christmas Story, the Musical, both The Theatre Factory and Bricolage are using Philip Grecian’s straight play adaptation of the 1983 movie (itself an adaptation of Jean Sheperd’s semi-autobiographical short stories) as their source text. All versions of A Christmas Story center around nine year old Ralphie Parker’s relentless quest for what he sees as the ultimate Christmas present, a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. He faces nightmarish pink bunny pajamas, disapproving parents, and disappointing mall Santas along the way, but no obstacle is more persistent than the warning that upon receiving his coveted BB gun he will “shoot his eye out”.

cache_899459874Catherine Kolos is directing The Theatre Factory’s staging of A Christmas Story while Bricolage will be presenting their production as an installment of their live radio play series, “Midnight Radio”. Both companies promise to give fans of the property all the moments from the movies they love from the reveal of the leg lamp to the sticky situation with a child’s tongue and freezing cold metal pole.

The Theatre Factory’s A Christmas Story runs from December 7-17. For more information, click here

Bricolage’s Midnight Radio: A Christmas Story runs from December 7-23. For more information, click here.

If you’re looking for a palate cleanser for all the movie-turned-play/musical productions happening in the area, Little Lake Theatre has you covered with their A Tuna Christmas.

TunaChristmasJaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard’s play might not be as well-known as other shows on this list, but A Tuna Christmas does have a rich history in its own right and with Little Lake Theatre specifically. The show is the second in a trilogy of plays about the fictional town of Tuna, Texas.  For the citizens of Tuna, the holiday season marks the return of their annual Christmas Yard Display Contest. A mysterious vandal known as the “Christmas Phantom” aims to thwart Vera Carp’s 14-year winning streak and ruin the contest for everyone involved. The real twist of A Tuna Christmas is that those characters and a host of others, including everything from a DJ to an aspiring taxidermist to a UFOlogist, are played by only two people.

This raucous comedy is making its return to Little Lake Theatre after several successful engagements in the past. It’s living proof that Christmas classics don’t just live on our television and movie screens.

A Tuna Christmas plays at Little Lake Theatre from November 30 through December 2 and December 7-9 and 14-16. For more information, click here.

002026edbc72d33b4ffddc3b85e9c322_750x600Our fifth theatre recommendation for the Christmas season is, you guessed it, an adaptation of a movie. It’s probably the most famous Christmas story not written by Charles Dickens. It’s being put on at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. It’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story “The Greatest Gift” inspired Frank Capra’s 1946 movie version of It’s a Wonderful Life, which in turn used George Bailey’s existential crisis to inspire people around the world to be thankful for all that we’re given and all that we give.

When George contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve after a day of mounting frustration with his business and family, a guardian angel by the name of Clarence Odbody intervenes. After seeing proof that George is a good person who has been helping people his entire life, Clarence, at George’s request, shows George what the world would be like if he never existed. That alternate reality is anything but wonderful, but the poignant lesson that George learns and the reward Clarence receives for helping to teach him that lesson are truly timeless and universal symbols of the season.

It’s a Wonderful Life runs at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center from December 1-3, 7-10, and 14-17. For more information, click here.

Don’t be a Grinch, please check back with Pittsburgh in the Round throughout the month of December for our coverage of each of these shows! Until then, Happy Holidays!

You on the Moors Now

WebMOORSIt is an interesting phenomenon when the storytelling trends currently dominating the television and film landscapes creep up in the theatre world.

Every new project announced nowadays, whether it’s for the big or small screen, seems to be either a reboot of a previously successful property or some sort of crossover event that brings together fan favorite characters for an epic adventure. This year alone, we’ve seen the first installment in the third incarnation of the Spider-Man film franchise and, later this week, the Justice League will assemble for the first time in a live action movie.

On the other side of the genre and content spectrum from those blockbusters, Point Park’s Conservatory Theatre Company presents a surprisingly physical and universally stunning production of Jaclyn Backhaus’s play You on the Moors Now

Backhaus’s script operates as a reboot/sequel to some of the 19th century’s greatest novels that have since become staples of high school syllabi around the world. The play opens as the worlds of Jo March (from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women), Jane Eyre (the titular character in Charlotte Brontë’s novel), Catherine “Cathy” Earnshaw (from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights), and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennet (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) collide during pivotal moments in all their lives. They have each received marriage proposals from their respective love interests and, to their surprise, they’ve all said no. Now, they are all left with an even bigger and more difficult question to answer: What’s next?

Julia Small (Elizabeth Bennett), Madeline Watkins (Cathy), Aenya Ulke (Jane Eyre), & Shannon Donovan (Jo March)
Julia Small (Elizabeth Bennett), Madeline Watkins (Cathy), Aenya Ulke (Jane Eyre), & Shannon Donovan (Jo March)

Their decisions to abandon their homes and families and strike out on their own have disastrous effects for the people in their lives. It’s definitely a four way tie for who handles this the most poorly between the young women’s jilted suitors Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff, and Mr. Darcy. With the help of some colorful supporting characters from each of the novels, the men hunt down our heroines. Their search leads them into the mysterious world of the moors where Jo, Jane, Cathy, and Lizzie have set up camp.

An all out battle of the sexes ensues between the gendered factions. It takes disfigurement and death on both sides to bring the conflict to an end. Even though it’s not until ten years after the end of the war that we meet our characters again, it’s clear that those who survived are still dealing with the pain of their psychological scars. In one way or another, our four heroines find peace within themselves and with the choices they’ve made in their lives.

Bryan Gannon (Fitzwilliam Darcy), Evan Wormald (Mr. Rochester) & Micah Stanek (Heathcliff)
Bryan Gannon (Fitzwilliam Darcy), Evan Wormald (Mr. Rochester) & Micah Stanek (Heathcliff)

I’m sorry to be purposely vague on the plot details of You on the Moors Now, but I think the best way to experience the show is knowing as little as possible. There are tons of twists, turns, and Easter eggs for fans of the books. But, if you’re like me and you got stuck reading Ernest Hemingway and Aldous Huxley in high school instead of Alcott, Austen, and the Brontë sisters, you’ll love getting to know these bright, quirky young women and easily identify with their struggle for independence

While I maintain that on paper this play sounds like a television or movie pitch waiting to happen, I credit director Sheila McKenna with employing thrilling movement and combat sequences to give the piece an impact that only theatre can achieve. As the play skillfully subverts our expectations and perceptions of these classic characters, she along with dance captain Meghan Halley and fight captain Shannon Donovan raise the stakes of what could be considered by an especially cynical viewer as simply feminist fan fiction. The way that the opening line dance and the fight scene that ends Act II echo each other is truly poetic.

It is a story 100% by and about women that is truly feminist for the way it establishes women and men as equally fearsome adversaries on the battlefield and equally able to make and learn from their mistakes.

Unfortunately, for all of their talents, McKenna, Halley, and Donovan are not able to rescue the production from its tidy and tedious ending in the play’s third act. That task is left to the show’s designers Tucker Topel (sets), Terra Marie Skirtich (costumes), and Heather Edney (lights), whose work was a beauty to behold for the entire show but definitely shone brightest in its final moments.

Meghan Halley (Nelly Dean, Beth, Jane Bennett) & Adam Rossi (Joseph, Marmee)
Meghan Halley (Nelly Dean, Beth, Jane Bennett) & Adam Rossi (Joseph, Marmee)

The actors literally wore their characters’ emotions on the sleeves in outfits that looked like they were ripped from the runway of a 19th century-inspired Urban Outfitters collection. You’ll truly feel like you’re in the world of a book with the walls painted to resemble scorched parchment pages and where you can be transported from deep in the woods to high in the stars in an instant.

It will be hard to witness a more energetic and charismatic ensemble than the one featured in this production. They are led by the aforementioned Ms. Donovan (Jo), Julia Small (Lizzie), Madeline Watkins (Cathy), and Aenya Ulke (Jane), who all combine the classic elegance and strength that made these characters iconic with a modern wit that makes these worlds worth revisiting today.

Their bond is indestructible and sweet (without being sappy) as in the scenes where Cathy hilariously bemoans her sister-less state and her three friends reassure her that she’s never without a sister as long as they’re around. Point Park’s You on the Moors Now makes sisters of all this revisionist riff. Regardless of age, gender, or era, we’re all just fighting to be heard and have our dreams respected.

You on the Moors Now runs through November 19 and from November 30 through December 3rd. For more information, click here.

Photos by John Altdorfer

Xanadu

HomepageCarousel_740x420_XanaduThe burning question at the heart of Xanadu is simple. What is Xanadu?

Merriam-Webster defines it as “an idyllic, exotic, or luxurious place”. According to Wikipedia, Xanadu is both a 1980 flop cult classic film featuring Olivia Newton-John and hit songs by Electric Light Orchestra and a 2007 Tony-nominated Broadway musical comedy that originally starred Kerry Butler and Cheyenne Jackson. They both take their title from the Chinese province that was the capital of Kublai Khan’s Yuan dynasty, originally dubbed Xanadu by a Samuel Taylor Coleridge epic poem.

But when it comes to Pittsburgh CLO’s Xanadu, I tend to agree with book writer Douglas Carter Beane’s definition of Xanadu told to us by Melpomene early in the show. Their Xanadu is “a gift so grand none of us truly knows what it is.”

If you do venture to CLO’s intimate cabaret venue to figure out what Xanadu means, you won’t leave disappointed if the answer still eludes you. Like ignorance, this show is pure bliss.

Lara Hayhurst, Olivia Vadnais, and Drew Leigh Williams
Lara Hayhurst, Olivia Vadnais, and Drew Leigh Williams

Xanadu opens with artist Sonny Malone (Reed Allen Worth) humorously lamenting his inability to create while finishing up a chalk mural of a group of muses from Ancient Greece. Eventually, having heard his cries for inspiration, they burst into reality, and we are introduced to leader of the muses Clio (Olivia Vadnais) and her eight sisters including Melpomene (Drew Leigh Williams) and Calliope (Lara Hayhurst).

Clio, initially mistakenly believing that she has arrived in Venice, Italy in 1780 as opposed to the artistic wasteland that was Venice, California in 1980, decides to inspire Sonny to reach his creative destiny. So as not to break one of the cardinal rules of musehood by revealing her true demi-goddess identity, Clio disguises herself as “Kira”, a roller skating, leg warmer-wearing, young woman with a very thick Australian accent.

Jealous of their sister’s inevitable granting of Xanadu by Zeus, Melpomene and Calliope place a spell on Clio that will make her fall in love with Sonny (another big no-no). Further threatening her secret identity and relationship with Sonny is the appearance of Danny Maguire (Tim Brady). He’s the owner of the titular theater that Sonny hopes to turn into a roller rink and the last mortal that Clio inspired.

If the plot sounds convoluted and wacky to you, then you’re in line with most movie critics in the 80’s who raked the film over the coals for its ludicrous setup.

Lara Hayhurst, Tim Brady, and Drew Leigh Williams
Lara Hayhurst, Tim Brady, and Drew Leigh Williams

But, likely by the grace of the synth-tastic tunes by ELO including “Evil Woman”, “Don’t Walk Away”, and the title song, Xanadu lived long enough to get a meta parody facelift by Beane. His script, originally written for a cast of nine, is overflowing with winning punchlines that run the gamut from groan-worthy to clever quip to laugh out loud funny to the unfortunate use of Ebonics. The score, with music and lyrics by ELO Member Jeff Lynne and Olivia Newton-John songsmith John Farrar, slightly overstays its welcome with a (spoiler alert!) post-curtain call encore medley, but every song is so joyous that you’ll feel nostalgic for the 80’s even if you weren’t alive then.

Director Kate Galvin has given the show another facelift by reducing the cast from nine to the amazing quadruple threat (singing, dancing, acting, AND roller skating) quintet of actors I named above. This innovation allows for tons of imaginative doubling and fun interactions with the cast, the audience, and the band.

Five actors may be playing upwards of double that amount of roles, but there is not an ounce of strain evident among them. Each member of the company was superlative in their own special way.

Olivia Vadnais and Reed Allen Worth
Olivia Vadnais and Reed
Allen Worth

Vadnais and Williams are the undisputed standouts of the group. Vadnais nails every musical note and comedic moment all while gliding around the cabaret on roller skates. She leads the cast just as Clio leads the muses, with an infectious twinkle in her eye. Calliope may get the joke about chewing the scenery, but it’s truly Williams’s Melpomene that is making a five course meal out of Britton Mauk’s (literally) flashy and graffiti-covered set. Whether she’s perpetrating strange magic or leading her siren daughters in mean-spirited melody, she is deliciously evil and impossible to take your eyes off of.

Reed Allen Worth fits perfectly into the goofy dude persona and tiny neon shorts (credit to Stephanie Shaw for those and all the show’s other tight and bright ensembles) that make Sonny the sweet, down to Earth romantic lead we all wish existed in real life. On their tracks as Calliope and Danny respectively, Lara Hayhurst and Tim Brady carry off the show’s broadest and most heartfelt moments with tremendous ease and skill.

Similarly, Galvin and choreographer Mark Burrell toned down some of campier aspects of the Broadway production for their Xanadu but spared none of the smile-inducing silliness inherent to the show.

Musical comedy heaven is indeed a place on Earth. And that place is the Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret.

Xanadu plays at the CLO Cabaret through December 17. For tickets and more information, click here.

Photos by Matt Polk

Equus

equusWhodunnit? This question has been posed to audiences for centuries of storytelling. Whether it’s a murder mystery or a comedic caper, there’s nothing better than finding out the truth by the journey’s end.

With his Tony Award-winning 1973 play, Peter Shaffer presents an intriguing variation on the genre. Equus is a chilling whydunnit that delves deep into the troubled mind of a man delving deep into the troubled mind of a teenage boy.

With its paramount production of Shaffer’s modern classic, Pittsburgh Public Theater gallops into its 43rd season with the force of a thousand charging stallions.

Holding the reins as director here is, of course, Pittsburgh Public’s artistic director Ted Pappas. Much to heartbreak of many local theatregoers, this season marks his last with the company. Luckily, Equus is a high note in Pappas’s PPT swan song. He delivers a perfectly paced and deliberately acted two hour and twenty minute evening in the theater.

Like any whodunnit, Equus opens with characters learning of a horrific crime. Like any whydunnit, the culprit’s identity is known to all from the beginning.

Spencer T. Hamp as Alan and Daniel Krell as Dr. Martin Dysart
Spencer T. Hamp as Alan and Daniel Krell as Dr. Martin Dysart

Psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Daniel Krell) speaks directly to the audience about a case that has come across his radar. In a fit of mania, seventeen year old Alan Strang (Spencer T. Hamp) brutally blinds six horses with a metal spike. Dysart’s discussion of the Strang case is no longer abstract when court magistrate Hesther Salomon (the always compelling Lisa Velten Smith) basically drops the boy on Dysart’s doorstep.

In an effort to discover the method behind Alan’s madness, Martin turns to Alan’s parents, Frank (Timothy Carter) and Dora (Nancy McNulty). Martin quickly unearths Frank’s utter intolerance for the religion that Dora constantly thrusts upon Alan and the damage it has done to Alan’s mental state. After resisting for a while, Alan too opens up about his first real life experience with a horse outside of staring into the eye of the horse on the poster his dad gives him to replace one depicting Jesus’s crucifixion.

The experience of riding a stranger’s horse was transcendent for Alan and the start of his journey down an increasingly dark path. We learn that Alan meets a young woman named Jill (Jessie Wray Goodman), who works at a local stable and offers Alan a job there. Their instant attraction sparks something in Alan that brings his obsession with horses and his carnal desires to their inevitable violent conclusion.

Before you pick up the phone to call PETA, know that there were no horses harmed in this production of Equus.

The animals are portrayed by a sextet of strapping male actors (including Ben Blazer playing Nugget, Alan’s favorite horse) wearing elaborate foot and headpieces realized by costume designer Tilly Grimes. Pappas beautifully balances the pageantry of the horses’ many thrilling entrances with the grotesqueness of Alan’s twisted relationships with them.

Spencer T. Hamp as Alan and Ben Blazer as the horse, Nugget
Spencer T. Hamp as Alan and Ben Blazer as the horse, Nugget

The psychological cat and mouse game between Alan and Martin is made all the more exhilarating by the fact that, at any given moment, it is unclear who is the cat and who is the mouse. Pappas ratchets up the tension and finds tremendous meaning in the play’s gray areas. He pushes his audience and his actors to their very limits.

Equus is probably most famous for the 2007 Broadway production featuring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to find discussion of Radcliffe’s performance in the show than it is to find discussion and photographic evidence of Radcliffe’s nude scene in the production. While that scene is pivotal to the show and, in this production in particular, spellbinding to behold, it shouldn’t distract from the incredible amount of work that the actor playing Alan must put in before then to make that scene land.

It certainly does not distract from Hamp’s beguiling work because he is laid bare before the audience long before he removes his clothing. His Alan is a horrifying reminder of what can happen when parents attempt to craft their children’s minds in their own image. Carter and McNulty have separate vicious moments with Hamp, but their anguish in their roles as confused parents is unmistakably sympathetic.

Hamp fills the stage (an elegant metaphor for the industrial, prison-like recesses of Alan’s and Martin’s minds created by scenic designer James Noone) whether he’s in the fetal position under a blanket in the corner or commanding center stage riding high on Nugget’s back.

At times, it feels like Martin Dysart is the audience’s patient. A lot about Martin’s personal life and nightmares are revealed via monologue, but Krell very effectively uses the silences between them divulge the most about his complicated character. It is a tour de force role and he delivers a truly tour de force performance to match.

I left the O’Reilly Theater an even bigger fan of Equus than I was when I went in. It is a play that is relevant not because its subject matter is ripped from the headlines but because the various characters’ searches for deeper meaning in life and its ugliness resonate.

Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production (literally for me) brought that point home. It’s no Trojan horse, it’s the real deal.

Equus plays at the O’Reilly Theater through October 29th. For more information, click here.

Photos by Michael Henninger

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City

CT1710_FunnyThing_573x437City Theatre’s dynamic production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City may not be for the faint of heart, but it is about the faint of heart.

This mounting marks the opening of City’s 43rd season and the Pittsburgh premiere of Halley Feiffer’s fizzy and caustic comedy. Unfortunately, these forces are at war here. Fortunately, the impeccable set design, quartet of wonderful performances, and precise direction that City Theatre brings to the table overpower Feiffer’s funny albeit inert script.

Four characters—a mother, her daughter, another mother, and her son—sit or lay in a hospital room aggressively, vulgarly, silently, and desperately in search of release.

Jenni Putney as Karla and
Jenni Putney as Karla and Helena Ruoti as Marcie

A young aspiring comedian named Karla (a sweet and salty Jenni Putney) furiously scribbles in a notebook as her mother snores alongside her tethered to the hospital bed by an IV and nose cannula. Marcie (Helena Ruoti, not letting her limited mobility get in the way of her excellent comedic timing) remains asleep through her daughter’s entire rundown of a new bit she wants to incorporate into her act.

I won’t go into specifics of the bit because its controversial content clearly lost a lot of audience members right off the bat. Luckily, the humor in the play only improves from this low point on.

Middle-aged, disheveled Don (Tim McGeever) enters halfway through Karla’s impromptu rehearsal and is horrified by the indelicate nature of her jokes. But he too is tethered to this room by his own ailing mother Geena (Kendra McLaughlin), who is in much more dire condition than Marcie, and by the dissolution of his family thanks to his wife’s desire to leave him and his son’s penchant for stealing money from his bank account.

170919_CityTheatre_FunnyThing_044Unlikely as it may seem, tech multi-millionaire pessimist Don and down-on-her-luck pessimist Karla share far more than a pair of sick mothers. They form a messy, unorthodox bond that will have you rooting for them against all the imaginary odds they try to put in their own way. It’s as much a love story between those two people as it between them and their mothers and between them and themselves.

If you don’t know playwright Halley Feiffer’s name, it’s not for lack of trying on her part. She and this play, in particular, have been taking the theatre scene across the country by storm in recent years. 

Off-Broadway company MCC Theatre staged the world premiere of A Funny Thing Happened… in the spring of 2016. As you can imagine, it wasn’t difficult for word of mouth for a play with a title that long to spread fast. On the momentum of that successful New York run (including the coveted designation of New York Times Critic’s Pick), A Funny Thing Happened… made its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse (starring Feiffer in the lead role) this fall.

While I found A Funny Thing Happened… to be somewhat of a disappointment as a script, I was not immune to its crowd-pleasing qualities. Framed by a rocky start and an unsatisfying ending, it has lots of laughs and a few moments of genuine emotional impact to offer. Director Joshua Kahan Brody gets the most of the comedy and pathos eliciting the best kinds of chuckles and tears, those that sneak up on you.

The first interaction between Don and Karla is less meet-cute and more hilarious sliding-curtains farce. Brody knew just when to make the chemistry between the characters combust and when to let it mellow out.

What’s missing on the page is a logical arc outside of the inevitable tragic fate that befalls characters waiting for tragedy in a cancer ward.

170919_CityTheatre_FunnyThing_014While still mostly a mystery, we learn the most about Don and how his choices have landed him here wearing sweatpants and a ripped jacket, despite his exorbitant wealth. Tim McGeever’s defeated body language lays it all out for us before Don even has a chance to explain his plight. His charming and adorkable performance is the big, beating heart of this show. When Don does eventually let his walls down for Karla, it feels like he’s entrusting his own big, beating heart to all of us as well.

If you have to sit in a hospital room while your loved one’s health deteriorates, there’s probably no better companion than Don. That is entirely a credit to McGeever’s remarkable work.

If hospitals do make you uncomfortable, you’re still in for a treat with scenic designer Tony Ferrieri’s uncanny realization of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City. From the dry erase boards listing the nurses on duty (stage hands cleverly costumed in scrubs by Michael Montgomery) to the various pieces of hospital equipment, there is not a single detail overlooked here.

Ferrieri simultaneously grounds City Theatre’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City and allows it to fly.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City runs through October 15. For more information, click here.

Photos by Kristi Jan Hoover.

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company Represents In Its New Season

15202584_10154240854639482_3157747837221990337_nIf you enjoyed the historical gravitas of The Homestead Strike of 1892, get ready for a whole group of productions spearheaded by that show’s playwright, Mark Clayton Southers. He is the artistic director and founder of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, and is responsible for bringing more diversity, representation, and originality to the city’s theatre scene. It’s not normally a compliment to call something “more of the same”, but when it comes to PPTCo’s 2017-2018 season in comparison to the company’s acclaimed past productions, that statement is a compliment and the truth.

An exciting regional premiere will set the tone for another unforgettable year of shows. Eugene Lee’s East Texas Hot Links opens on September 29th and plays at PPTCO’s downtown penthouse theater space through November 5th.

21728303_10155106170854482_5179045031400984274_nThe play takes place in 1955 but, unfortunately, the insidious actions of the KKK that underscores the daily lives of black Texans who congregate at Charlesetta’s Top o’ the Hill Cafe in the play still underscore the lives of Americans today. The violence has even cost some young men in the town their lives. A man named Delmus blows into the cafe one night determined to celebrate good news in his life, but his friends find it harder to get in the spirit. They all strive to make a normal night like any other, but their efforts are in vain. East Texas Hot Links comes to Pittsburgh after earning raves in multiple Chicago productions in 1995 and 2016.

heat-of-the-night-IMG_7327-300x216PPTCO’s next production, In the Heat of the Night, is also a resurrection of an established property. John Ball’s novel has inspired an Academy Award-winning film starring Sidney Poitier, an Emmy-winning television series, and this stage adaptation by playwright Matt Pelfrey.

This thriller takes place in Argo, Alabama in the dead of summer 1962. When the body of a dead white man is discovered, the blame for the murder quickly lands on the mysterious Virgil Tibbs. Much to the chagrin of the people that judged him solely based on his skin color, it turns out that Tibbs is himself a homicide detective. With all the town’s judgmental and fearful eyes on him, Tibbs agrees to take on the case., but finds that he may have met his match this time. Solve the mystery alongside Tibbs as In the Heat of the Night plays from February 16th to March 25th.

joe-turner-IMG_7329-300x171Iconic Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Pittsburgh native August Wilson chronicled the life of African-Americans in each decade of the 20th century with his 10-part series called “The Pittsburgh Cycle”. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone takes place during the 1910’s and sees its characters still reeling from the aftershocks of slavery.

A Pittsburgh boarding house is the destination for many descendants of slaves migrating from the south to the north where they can fully embrace the freedom they won in the Civil War. Father and daughter Herald and Zonia Loomis are not only trying to escape their past but are also pursuing their long lost wife/mother. When the Loomises reach the boarding house, they (Herald specifically) immediately butt heads with owner Seth Holly and eventually warm up to his wife and fellow owner Bertha. The Hollys, Loomises and other transient residents of the boarding house all rely on each other to come to terms with the fact that an era of their lives and of their race has come to an end.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone marks the return of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company to the historic home of August Wilson at 1727 Bedford Avenue after last season’s production of Seven Guitars. Joe Turner… runs from April 27th to June 3rd.

Don’t worry about Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company’s downtown space being neglected while Joe Turner’s Come and Gone takes over August Wilson’s former home. Overlapping that run from May 31st to June 10th back at Liberty Avenue is the 13th Theatre Festival in Black and White.

This signature annual event is no longer just a PPTCo tradition but also something that all avid theatre patrons in the city look forward to every year. The goal of the festival is to produce a collection of short new plays by up and coming and established writers alike. PPTCo’s twist on this familiar formula is the pairing of white directors and black playwrights and black directors with white playwrights to create theatre that combines those two unique points of view.

energy-1024-300x169This year’s theme is “Energy”. A play that I wrote was featured in the festival a few years ago, and I can’t say enough how culturally and artistically enriching the experience was for me. I can definitely in good faith promise the same for audiences who attend the upcoming festival.

Whether your theatrical preference is for time-tested classics, inventive adaptations, or intriguing new works, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company has you covered.

For tickets and more on Pittsburgh Playwright’s upcoming season, check out their website here. And stay tuned for our reviews throughout the year!

Photos taken from PPTCo’s website.  

There’s No Place Like City Theatre’s 2017-2018 Season

FB_IMG_1504555887586“We are one City for this city.”

There are tons of leaders and movements that launch their campaigns on platforms of unity. Some are genuinely attempting to heal insidious schisms in society while others say and do whatever it takes to curry favor even if it means lying about what they believe in. The slogan above belongs to City Theatre, which has proven over the last four decades that, as a company, it is a prime example of the former.

Their upcoming 43rd season boasts six shows, all of which are Pittsburgh premieres and two of which are world premieres. Artistic Producer Reg Douglas bills this “standout year” as a “celebration of bold storytellers who are creating timely and thrilling plays that entertain and enlighten”. It’s a feast for anyone with an endless artistic appetite.

CT1710_FunnyThing_573x437If I had to describe City Theatre’s first show of its 2017-2018 season in one word…I couldn’t. I would need at least 21 words to tell you about Halley Feiffer’s black comedy because that’s how many words are in its title. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City may be an extremely lengthy title that “barely fits in a Tweet” according to City’s marketing director Laura Greenawalt, but no one can fault it for lack of specificity. Greenawalt jokingly warns that there a “no refunds” for patrons who walk into the theater expecting to see Stephen Sondheim’s musical romp A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Feiffer’s play sets the stage for the most unlikely meet-cute for Karla and Don. She’s an up and coming comic. He’s in the throes of a messy divorce. They’re both visiting their ailing mothers in the titular gynecologic oncology unit. Somehow flirtation, provocative conversations, and, most of all, laughs ensue. In its Off-Broadway run, A Funny Thing Happened… received enthusiastic acclaim and I’m sure the same will happen when it takes Pittsburgh by storm from September 23 through October 15.

CT1711_Tomatom_573x437The opening of PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Old Man and The Old Moon marks a triumphant homecoming for this band (in every sense of the word) of storytellers. Alex Falberg, Arya Shahi, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Dan Weschler, Matt Nuernberg, and Ryan Melia began their journey together as students at Carnegie Mellon University in 2007 and made stops along the way including various stages/critics’ top pick lists across the country and beside Meryl Streep in her film Rick and the Flash.

The Old Man and the Old Moon, playing from November 11 through December 3, is an all-ages show that combines an indie-folk score, thrilling movement, and puppetry in a way that defies genre to tell the story of the Old Man. His simple life of keeping the moon bright is interrupted when his beloved wife goes missing. The Old Man embarks on an epic and enchanting journey of his own to find her sailing across the seas and into the audience’s hearts.

CT1712_AbsoluteBrightness_573x437Disappearance is also the spark for The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey. Audiences can search for the missing teen with the help of a host of colorful characters all played by one actor from January 20-February 18. Academy Award winner  James Lecesne (and co-founder of the LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project) gives life to the struggles Leonard faces being out in a less-than-accepting New Jersey town. The detective assigned to search for Leonard uncovers much more about the impact Leonard’s spirit has on the people in and around his life before Leonard’s own fate is revealed.

For anyone who attended City Theatre’s Momentum Festival this past June, the next two shows will definitely ring a few bells. The 2017 Momentum Festival included workshops and readings of new works including Citizens Market by Cori Thomas and The White Chip by Sean Daniels. City’s Director of New Play Development Clare Drobot takes pride in the company’s proclivity for “foster[ing] new work at a variety of stages” and these two productions embody that initiative.

CT1713_CitizensMarket_573x437The first, Citizens Market, playing from March 3-25, is one of the aforementioned world premieres. In this story of New York City at its finest, immigrants from around the globe staff a local supermarket. As Hamilton taught us, they do indeed “get the job done” but the work doesn’t stop when the store closes. They must navigate a world that discriminates against them with all the hope they can muster. Luckily for them, that’s quite a lot.

Drobot worked closely with playwright Thomas and director Douglas all summer and will continue to revise the script throughout the rehearsal process to make it the best it can be. “It’s exciting to share those changes with audiences and there will be noticeable differences between the spring readings and the March premiere,” Drobot teased.

CT1714_WhiteChip_573x437-1Fresh from his thrilling direction of Benjamin Scheuer’s deeply affecting autobiographical musical The Lion, Sean Daniels returns to City Theatre as a playwright with a raw look inside his own life. As this is The White Chip’s second production, its script will only undergo some minor refinement during this production process.

The white chip signifies a milestone in Sean’s (the character and the writer) ongoing struggle with alcoholism. Even with a strong support system and goals to live for, Sean sometimes finds himself just barely hanging on. The play is a comedy, but it provides no chaser for the harsh and bitter realities that addicts brave to maintain sobriety. The White Chip plays from April 7 through May 6.

CT1715_NomadMotel_573x437The world premiere of Fear the Walking Dead writer Carla Ching’s Nomad Motel, opening on May 12 and closing on June 3, definitely ensures that this season will end on a high note. Alix, her twin brothers, and her friend Mason find themselves away from home not because they’re rebelling or avoiding chores. Their parents’ neglect (motivated by wildly different circumstances) forces the children to fend for themselves and make a life out in the wild. And, by wild, I mean a series of motel rooms in California.

If you can’t wait for late September for the opening of A Funny Thing Happened…, City is presenting a return limited engagement of Late Night Catechism by Maripat Donovan, featuring Kimberly Richards from September 7-17. A devout nun is your host, teacher, and conscience for an evening that will tickle your funny bone as much as it enriches your soul. Who doesn’t need that nowadays?

City Theatre has thrived for so long on Bingham Street in Southside (and in Oakland before that) because it consistently presents well-rounded, well-produced, and responsible entertainment. They keep audiences and artists coming back for more every year because, according to Douglas, those “who call Pittsburgh home can call City home”.

For tickets and more information about City Theatre’s upcoming season, click here. 

Point Park Gets to Work on Another Eight Shows at the Pittsburgh Playhouse

11391480_10153367774739464_1509896223937134191_nSummer may be ending, but things are about to heat up at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland.

The home of Point Park University theatre— The REP Professional Theatre Company and the Conservatory Theatre Company—is about to welcome eight exciting new productions into its hallowed halls for its 2017-2018 season. Artistic Director Ron Lindblom confirms that the amount of enjoyment the audience receives from the high-quality productions is equal to the educational benefits that the student cast and crew members receive.

“The Conservatory is geared towards training young artists and these classics really give the students the opportunity to get the training they need,” he said. It’s a win/win situation for anyone who steps foot in one of Point Park’s theatre spaces with the only variable being the shows in question that are chosen.

WebPosterBOYSKicking things off for Point Park’s season is a critically-acclaimed musical, authored by one of musical theatre’s most prolific and iconic writing teams. Making its Pittsburgh premiere, The Scottsboro Boys with music and lyrics by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb tells the dramatic true story of nine African-American teenagers falsely accused of sexually assaulting two white women on a train riding through Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. The media circus and infamous series of trials that followed were plagued by extreme prejudice against the defendants and unfair judicial practices. If you’re expecting the fun conventions of musical theatre to make the dark subject matter more palatable, you’re out of luck here.

As they did with shows like Cabaret, Chicago, and Curtains, Kander and Ebb have brilliantly framed this tragic narrative in a distinct and unique theatrical style. Rather than using vaudeville or golden age musical comedy as its structure, The Scottsboro Boys is built as a minstrel show. In the early 19th century, these performances featured mostly white actors in blackface mocking African-Americans. In Kander and Ebb’s musical, originally directed on Broadway by Susan Stroman, the tropes of the minstrel show are employed to underline the countless injustices that ruined the lives of the titular characters. Lindblom laments that he finds “great relevance” for a story about black men being discriminated against in the legal system in the headlines of the modern world. Fortunately, this production is being helmed by Tomè Cousin whose frequent collaboration with Stroman makes him “perfect” director for this piece. The Scottsboro Boys plays at the Rauh Theatre from September 8-24.

Thankfully for patrons looking for musicals that provide some level of escapism, there are productions of Kiss Me, Kate and 42nd Street in the pipeline following The Scottsboro Boys.

WebPosterKATEBoth are “backstage musicals” that tell stories of two troubled theatre productions. Original Tony Award-winning Best Musical Kiss Me, Kate—featuring a classic score by Cole Porter and a book by Sam and Bella Spewack—introduces us to divorced couple Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi who are co-starring in a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Although it’s clear that love still lingers between them, they simply cannot stand each other. They’re surrounded by a host of wacky characters, including a pair of gangsters with a bone to pick with Fred, who prove against all comedic odds that the show must go on. Kiss Me, Kate runs at the Rockwell Theatre from October 20-29.

WebPoster42Wide-eyed ingenue Peggy Sawyer is the heroine of the tap-tastic musical 42nd Street. The only thing bigger than her dreams of stardom are the show’s numerous dance breaks supplied by Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s score. Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book is the tale as old as time in show business of what happens when an inexperienced understudy takes over for a seasoned star. What happens is musical theatre magic that has been enchanting audiences since legendary director Gower Champion’s original 1980 Broadway production. 42nd Street also plays the Rockwell Theatre from March 16-25.

As usual, Point Park offers as much variety in genre, setting, and subject matter in their play selections for the season as they do in their musical selections. Whether contemporary or classic, the scripts illuminate points of views of a diverse group of characters.

WebPosterMOORSIn the case of Jaclyn Backhaus’ You on the Moors Now, playing at the Studio Theater from November 10-December 3, those characters are rather well known. Jane Eyre, Lizzy Bennet. Cathy Earnshaw, and Jo March are no longer just well-established fixtures of high school English class syllabi. Backhaus imagines the four 19th century literary leading ladies running away together and comparing notes on what their experiences in life have taught them. The women exist in a sort of timeless state where modern references and profanity are fair game for their epic girl talk session.

WebPosterALBAThe five women in Frederico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba would most likely also benefit from a vacation from their dissatisfying lives. They are all sisters who spend their time dreaming of getting out of their mother’s house and truly experiencing life. Their routine is broken by the appearance of town hunk Pepe el Romano and his flirtation with the family’s eldest sister. Desire under the Bernarda Alba’s roof proves to be a dangerous thing that sets the stage for a frank look at the ways in which members of the opposite sex relate. The House of Bernarda Alba plays at the Rauh Theater from February 23-March 11.

WebPosterDEVILRussian literature served as the inspiration for Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s black comedy A Devil Inside. This gory romp sees Gene receiving far more than just cake on his 21st birthday. His mother finally reveals the truth behind his father’s death—he was murdered!—and insists that it is Gene’s duty to avenge him. He’s simultaneously disturbed by the request and distracted by his infatuation with Caitlin, who lusts after her Russian literature professor who lusts after the blood of his nemesis. For the non-squeamish, A Devil Inside runs at the Studio Theater from February 2-18.

The final two shows are either adaptations or translations of well-known works and living, breathing proof that theatre is an ageless, universal language.

WebPosterMAGIThe Gift of the Magi, adapted by Jon Jory, opens at the Rauh Theatre just in time for the holiday season. From December 8-17, you can learn the valuable lesson at the center of the story of Della and Jim Young. They are a young couple struggling to make end’s meet, but who are still determined to make Christmas special for one another by purchasing the perfect gifts. As with most stories set around that time of year, the true meaning of the season is explored to touching effect.

WebPosterVANYALast but not least is Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya playing from April 6-15 at the Rauh Theater. It’s an example of one of Chekhov’s estate dramas that features as much unrequited love as you can fit on a single stage. The enchanting Yelena is the object of two men’s affections. Unfortunately, they are crippled by profound existential crises exacerbated by the facts that she’s married and the estate, on which Vanya, one of the men, lives, is about to be sold. It’s all in a day’s work for a Chekhov character.

Along with The Scottsboro Boys, Kiss Me, Kate, and A Devil Inside, one performance of Uncle Vanya will be followed by a lecture in a completely new series called Freud on Forbes. Representatives from the Pittsburgh Psychoanalytic Center will take audience members into the writers’ brains armed only with the text of the script. These talks are sure to take your post-show conversations with friends to the next level. And that’s fitting because Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse 2017-2018 season of shows seeks to do the same thing for theatre.

For tickets and more information on the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s upcoming season, click here. 

Cloud 9

18010569_10155290370617171_8852994147793860716_nCloud 9 is a peculiar, challenging play. Its title brings to mind feelings of euphoria and images of paradise. On the other hand, Throughline Theatre Company’s production of Caryl Churchill’s controversial and unorthodox examination of the social and sexual aftershocks of British colonialism—under the unfocused direction of Edwin Lee Gibson—conjures feelings of befuddlement and images of purgatory.

To be fair, Churchill’s script is a real high wire act. The play is staged in two acts. The first is set in 1880 while the second is contemporaneously set in 1979, when it premiered at Dartington College of Arts in southwest England. But, while a century has passed for the world the characters exist in between acts, only 25 years have passed in the lives of the characters themselves. To add Brechtian insult to Brechtian injury, nearly every role in both acts is played by an actor of the opposite gender or opposite race than what the character would typically be. On top of that, the actors all play completely different characters in the second act than they do in the first.

This choice wasn’t a preemptive strike by Churchill to take advantage of the The Man in the High CastleConfederateBlack America-led alternative history craze gripping pop culture by the throat at the moment. It’s an attempt to force the audience to give familiar characters (a unappreciated wife) in familiar circumstances (a mother coming to terms with the choices made by her adult children) a second look and, more importantly, a second thought.

Unfortunately, Gibson’s work here steers clear of any of this potential for resonance thanks to the countless tonal shifts that take place throughout. In Act I, some of the wise cracking characters appear to be straight out of a 1970’s sitcom like The Jeffersons while others fret about like they’re straight out of a BBC period drama like Downton Abbey. He handles some of the more frank and frankly disturbing moments where the characters act on their sexual desires with a complete lack of sensitivity.

That leaves it up to the ensemble to get to the heart of Churchill’s message and, thankfully, Gibson has assembled a very capable group of actors.

When the play opens in an English-colonized African nation in turmoil, we meet Clive, a colonial administrator played hilariously by Malic Williams—an African-American male actor. In the wake of protests from the local people, Clive does his best to strategize and protect his wife Betty (Liam Ezra Dickinson, a white male actor), their son Edward (Jalina K. McClarin, an African-American female actor), their daughter Victoria (a crude prop), and Betty’s mother Maud (Tracey D. Turner, an African-American female actor). It is soon revealed that both Betty and Clive have wandering eyes and their own unique, complicated relationships with their “boy” Joshua (Victor Aponite, a white male actor).

It also becomes clear early on that there is a strange coincidence involving Ellen (Betty and Clive’s governess) and Mrs. Saunders (Betty and Clive’s widowed acquaintance). The striking and versatile Maeve Harten plays both women to great comedic effect thanks to a few well-timed entrances. She turns from downtrodden to determined at the drop of a curly red wig.

While the first half of the show is definitely its weakest, it is anchored by Shannon Knapp’s atmospheric and ominous sound design. The more surefooted second half is conversely muddled by Paige Borak’s distracting and obvious lighting design.

One hundred/twenty-five years after Act I, Victoria (McClarin) is all grown up and in an unfulfilling marriage of her own. She meets a lesbian single mother named Lin (a soulful and earnest Turner) in a park in London and eventually embarks on a sexual awakening. Along for the ride is Edward (Williams), who is at odds with the gender politics of his relationship with his lover Gerry (a sultry Dickinson). Looking on in prim disapproval is Betty (a once again scene stealing Harten), widowed and grappling with loneliness.

In trying to prepare you to grapple with all the pleasures and pitfalls of Throughline Theatre’s Cloud 9, I am also reminded of the game where people gaze up in the sky and compare their ideas for what the clouds rolling by up there most closely resemble. This production is proof that, no matter how hard a person might try to impose their vision on it, a cloud is ultimately just a distant, amorphous blob.

Cloud 9 plays at the Henry Heymann Theater in the Stephen Foster Memorial through August 19th. For more information, click here.