Out of This Furnace, adapted for the stage by Andy Wolk from the novel of the same name by Thomas Bell, is currently in its second revival at Unseam’d Shakespeare. Having been produced by the company in both 2008 and 2011, it’s clear to see why this is a hometown favorite—it tells the story of strong Pittsburghers. We get to see the fictional tale of three generations of the Kracha/Dobrejcak family trying to create a better life for themselves and their children after arriving in America and settling in the small town of Braddock, Pennsylvania to work in the steel mills. We follow their journey from arrival, through much struggle and suffering, and finally to triumph.
It’s quite an epic story. And at times, the melodramatic and “soapy” elements, coupled with the overwhelming sense of tragedy bog the audience down. Director Lisa Ann Goldsmith does well with the script and keeps all of the different elements cohesive, but could have pushed this story along at a much, much quicker pace.
The cast tends to shine during the upbeat moments of the script, but falter a bit with the sadness, sickness and death. And there is a lot of sadness, sickness and death. In some ways, this is a memory play and Max Pavel acts as our narrator—he plays Dobie Dobrejcak, who leads us along the journey of his grandfather coming moving to a new country and trying to find his way, his father and mother continuing that same struggle to make ends meet while living off the mill, and his own efforts to unionize and get fair wages to live the America Dream with his family. Pavel is electric and you can’t keep your eyes off of him. He’s one to watch.
The design elements of this show are masterful. In the small black box theatre, Scenic Designer Gordon R. Phetteplace created a simple and neutral playing ground for the actors, just a series of industrial platforms and walls that transition us to many different locations. The set is complemented with sound by Mark Whitehead and lighting by Michael Boone. Whitehead has the noises and “music” of the mill underscoring every scene and it mimics the theme of the steel industry looming over and controlling the lives of this family for three generations. It’s never distracting, but it’s always there to remind you. Boone, who also serves as the production’s Technical Director, uses lighting to help move us from place to place and forward in time. The moods he creates are wonderful, but the timing of some of the cues could use a bit more finesse.
Andy Wolk tells a wondering, interesting and important story in his novel. And although this version for the stage could use some editing, it is worth seeing for the story and fight of these strong Pittsburghers and for Pavel’s brilliant performance.
Out of This Furnace continues by Unseam’d Shakespeare in the Studio Theatre on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh until June 27, extended from the original end date of June 21. Tickets range from $15-30 and can be purchased at 412-621-0244 or athttp://unseamd.com/box-office/.
Special thanks to Unseam’d Shakespeare for two complimentary press tickets on June 11th.
Performance Date: Thursday, June 11, 2015