CMU Drama to Engage and Challenge in 2016-2017 Season

Playboy-JPEG-2At the 70th annual Tony Awards, seven alumni of the Carnegie Mellon University school of Drama were nominated for various awards from Best Costume Design of a Musical to Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. Of those seven, two actors, Leslie Odom Jr. and Renée Elise Goldsberry went on to win for Best Actor and Best Featured Actress respectively. The span of the nominees is decades long the earliest being 1960 to 2004. The CMU School of Drama presence has a strong grip in the theatre world from Pittsburgh to Broadway. The competitive and rigorous conservatory program is still putting on seasons aimed to challenge and inspire their students like it’s upcoming 2016-2017 season.RoverJPEG-1

The School of Drama presents three different series in the season, the Subscription series, the Director series, and the New Work series. Each series accommodates a different branch of students within the school. Erin Scott, the Director of Marketing and Communications for the School of Drama, spoke to the selection of the season. At the beginning of each year the CMU faculty gathers a committee to select the season where they consider material that will engage and challenge their student body, particularly the juniors and seniors, who will be the constituency that performs, directs, designs and manages the shows. The whole School of Drama community is welcome to propose plays and musicals they are interested in producing. After proposals have been submitted, they compare what we discussed relative to the needs of the student body to what the community is interested in producing and go from there. Scott said, “We really keep the students at the center of the process.” The Mainstage productions in the Subscription Series are all directed, choreographed, and musically directed by professionals, the students still have lots of power in making creative decisions. The sets, lights, and costumes are all designed and created by the School of Drama. The Subscription Series includes four Mainstage shows, The Playboy of the Western World, The Rover, Ragtime, and The Three Musketeers. Ragtime-JPEG

The Playboy of the Western World directed by faculty member Don Wadsworth will run Oct. 6-15. Written by John Millington Synge is set in early 1900s Ireland uses heavy amounts of poetic and evocative language in telling the story of a young man running away from his farm claiming he killed his father. A comedic play, The Rover, from Aphra Behn, the first known female playwright runs Nov. 17-19 and Nov 29 – Dec 3. Dave Bond, head of acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, Wales, will direct the hilarious and lustful adventures of a group of Englishmen. Ragtime will be the only musical helmed at the School of Drama this season from Feb. 23 – March 4, just like last season’s The Full Monty directed by alumnus, Patrick Wilson. Ragtime and The Full Monty couldn’t be more polar. Ragtime, composed by Pittsburgh native, Stephen Flaherty, depicts the racial and classist struggles at the turn of the century in America. With diversity as one of the most pressing topics in the theatre community, Erin Scott added, “We in the School of Drama are very keen to represent all of our students and their varying backgrounds and identities in the work we create, so yes, this always factors into our season selection.” The poignant and sweeping drama will still have plenty of relevancy today. The School of Drama turns to gender for inspiration for their last show, The Three Musketeers. This production directed by Andrew Smith will become unapologetically feminist when dramaturg Megan Monaghan Rivas re-writes one of the Musketeers to be a woman. “This season is particularly interesting because it explores a number of really salient political issues through different historical lenses,” said Scott.ThreeMusketeersImage2

The Director series allows students within The John Wells Directing Program a chance to mount plays. The series includes, Mr. Marmalade, a black comedy about how a four-year-old girl views adult life. Wife U is an adaptation of Moliere’s School for Wives, I’m Very into You a piece created through the emails of two people 7,500 miles away from the other, Edward II is one of English’s earliest plays, Gruesome Playground Injuries which follows the relationship of two childhood friends, boom where a scientist turns his apartment into a shelter for the imminent end of the world in the hopes he can remake humanity, and “Hybrid” a music video/documentary by Joe Hill. The New Works Series, which highlights the work of graduate student playwrights, will be Oct. 26-29, and again in the spring, April 12-15. Professor Peter Cooke, head of the School of Drama, said, “A cavalcade of societal and theatrical fireworks drawn from 400 years of dramatic invention lies ahead in the 2016-2017 season.”CMU season

For more information about Carnegie Mellon University and their theatre department, please click here.

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Momentum 2016: New Plays at Different Stages

CkRyhUpWUAAeQNqThis past weekend, June 2- June 5, City Theatre held its annual Momentum Festival: new plays at different stages. Momentum is another way City Theatre focuses on its mission of new play development. Though it marks the end of their 2015-2016 season, artistic director, Tracy Brigden says, “Momentum is not a consolation prize for our playwrights. It’s called new plays at different stages for a very specific reason.” This festival grants audiences access to staged readings of new plays, with the ability to have conversations with the playwrights after in an effort to polish the piece.

Five plays were chosen for Momentum 2016, and I had the chance to witness the Saturday program. The day included two staged readings and a playwright’s panel. Jackson Torii Bart’s scrapmetal/scars kicked off the day. Bart is a City Theatre Young Playwright’s Festival Alumni from 2010. City Theatre aims to foster playwrights, and scrapmetal/scars is a perfect example of this. The company allows playwright’s they’ve worked with in the past time to grow, and use City Theatre as a refuge and base for developing their skills. The reading was directed by Stephen Santa who said “scrapmetal/scars is a lyrical and fluid piece about the dynamics in the Hunts Point community in The Bronx where beauty and tragedy do a dizzying dance.”

Later in the night, was the “City Speaks” Playwright’s Panel. The panel, led by Clare Drobot, Director of New Play Development, included Momentum playwrights’ Sharon Washington, Liza Birkenmeier, James McManus, and Benjamin Sheuer who just closed his run of The Lion. Each writer had the chance to speak on their craft and the opportunities that exist as an active playwright. On Friday, Washington had a reading of Feeding the Dragon, which will be fully produced next season, about her coming of age in a New York Public Library where her father was the live in custodian. She spoke to the unique experience of being both playwright and performer, as Feeding the Dragon is a one woman show, and her comfort in referring to herself as more of a storyteller than a writer. McManus who’s reading of his play Dry Bonesm was held on Sunday, said how much of an impact his childhood and general life experience has had on his voice. He never found himself to be a “theater” person; growing up Irish Catholic, he would find himself at bars with his relatives where he witnessed some of the greatest storytellers. As an observer, he watched as bar patrons would repeat the same stories over and over but change small details while gauging the audience in order to tell the most impactful version of the truth. He also cited seeing August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at the Pittsburgh Public Theater when it was still at its Northside location. “I knew those people on stage,” he said, Wilson’s play showed him that theater was just an extension of humanity, and the more relatable it is, the greater power a story has.

Birkenmeier emphasized the importance of getting herself into writing groups, and being around her contemporaries who are also hard at work. She herself is a 2016-2017 emerging writer’s group member at the Public Theater in New York. Her play Radio Island was the final reading of the night. Radio Island is a blend of bending theatrical conventions and traditional black comedy. Birkenmeier’s writing is sharp, idiosyncratic, and consistent. The most interesting facet of Radio Island is the character of “The Operator”, the stage directions of the piece turned into a character, as if they were an operating manual to an extremely precise machine of government conception. The precision of her language aids to the plot of Ellen, a woman taking care of her ailing mother, who now takes a job as an international hostage negotiator currently bargaining with Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Radio Island is taut full of intrigue, character, humor, and depth. With the goals of Momentum, Birkenmeier will be able to take Radio Island and polish and craft it more strongly after feeling the audience react to the piece and give their own feedback.

Momentum is an expression of moving. With multiple plays at different stages, it is City Theatre’s hope to give insight to playwrights on a personal and interactive way. Momentum also works to establish solid relationships with playwrights, in the hopes of working with them in the future. Like next season with Feeding the Dragons, it would be no surprise to one day see a season featuring a play written by Bart, Birkenmeier, or McManus. With another busy season of ahead of itself, City Theatre continues its tradition of introducing Pittsburgh to bold, new plays.

For information about City Theatre’s 2016-2017 season, click here

Cock

PrintCockfighting is illegal in all 50 states (and the District of Columbia). Kinetic Theatre breaks the law and replaces the roosters with sharp performances in a production that is just as blunt as it’s title- Cock.

British playwright Mike Bartlett puts extended emphasis on the dramatic situation of the piece. John is having wavering feelings for his long time boyfriend after having fallen in love with a woman. The story is told in series of rounds, without exposition, and incendiary scenes between the characters. Director, Andrew Paul takes into consideration the importance of Bartlett’s premise. The entire show takes place within a cockfight ring designed by Johnmichael Bohach, and is done without any props or full actualization. Rather, the audience watches the characters hungrily like they have their bets placed.

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Ethan Hova, left, Thomas Constantine Moore, right

Every performance in Cock is so intrinsic and compelling. Thomas Constantine Moore is doe-eyed, vulnerable, and allows the audience to watch his character’s discoveries and conflicts in earnest. His indecision is infuriating but wildly empathetic. This indecision lays between Ethan Hova and Erika Strasburg, the two lovers. Ethan Hova is a marvelous bundle of sarcasm, quip, fear, and enough pity to make you fall in love with him. Strasburg holds solid ground in the fight, she pulls John towards her with longing and strength. Sam Tsoutsouvas’ appearance as the father shouldn’t work as he isn’t introduced until the late third act, but this play is so good it wouldn’t work without it. This cast goes for blood, creating such a naturalistic space within their ring that Cock feels like such an improvised and honest work.

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Thomas Constantine Moore and Erika Strasburg

Andrew Paul’s direction lies within Cock’s indirection. Characters rarely touch, and relies on the dialogue to create the actualization. The direction heightens the drama. By not seeing what the character’s discuss it only makes it more beautiful, more ferocious, more erotic. Alex Stevens lighting design is a persistent addition that grows in drama with the production. The harsh, hot lights above the center of the ring are almost like a heat lamp glowing over incubating chicken eggs. This heat is a constant element that causes sweat to roll from the cast’s pores, most compelling in Thomas Constantine Moore’s final moment of decision.

Cock is gripping and exciting and wonderfully original. Kinetic Theatre lives up to it’s name, giving the perfect amount of energy for their dynamic production.

Special thanks to Kinetic Theatre Company for complimentary press tickets. Cock runs at Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theater until May 29th. For tickets and more information, click here

Tru

truThe only thing that would be more interesting than being Truman Capote, would be being Truman Capote’s switchboard operator. Capote was a famed novelist, screenwriter, and socialite known for In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Tru at the Pittsburgh Public Theater presents Capote in all his telephone line twirling and gossiping goodness, but also delves deeper into his psyche the week before Christmas in a one-man show led by Eddie Korbich.

Before Capote walked into his room, you were most likely to hear his voice first. One of the most iconic aspects of his persona was his high pitched and expressive voice. Korbich embraces Capote effortlessly. He carries a sense of buoyancy with him in the first act, almost like he himself is another flourish to the eclectic décor of his Manhattan apartment. Capote gives us a more personal view into his life. What’s so interesting about him is the fact he is so engaged with the gossip and celebrities of the time, but this activity is inherently as the role of the observer. Because of this, when the audience becomes and observer to an observer there is a more poignant sense of contemplation which lends itself to the monodrama format.

Photo credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Photo credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Korbich never lets Capote slip away from him even as his clear alcoholism begins to take hold. Korbich adds a necessary weight to the perceived levity of Capote. This is aided by Jay Presson Allen’s writing. The script is riddled with references as Capote spouts about Ava Gardner and his high society milieu. Though it makes sense and helps give a stronger foundation to the character, it seems to bog down the real meat and what had the potential to be a compelling exploration of Capote as a person. No surprise, Tru finds its strength when Capote begins to talk about himself, describing personal moments from his youth and his mother. Korbich’s brings an honesty that makes these moments tactfully gripping.PPTtru036

Ted Pappa’s direction has just as much of an understanding of Capote as Korbich. It meanders with purpose as Korbich litanies over the struggles of being a writer, a homosexual, a cultural sensation. The Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of Tru is just as small as Truman Capote’s voice. There is definitely strength behind it, but only once the façade of it all is taken away.

Tru

Presented by The Pittsburgh Public Theater

Directed by Ted Pappas

Written by Jay Presson Allen

Starring Eddie Korbich 

Special thanks to The Pittsburgh Public Theater for complimentary press tickets. Tru runs through May 22nd, tickets and more information can be found here.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

White Rabbit Red Rabbit Text - CopyTwo glasses of water sit on a table. One glass is pure, the other poisoned. Richard Keitel reads Nassim Soleimanpour’s words for the first time with revelation, by the end of this performance he will have to drink one of the glasses. 12 Peers Theater’s production of White Rabbit Red Rabbit walks a tenuous line of gimmick and astoundingly provocative experimental theater. The water glasses ripple with tight tension on the table, reveling in possibility, underscore the show which is an astonishing feat.

Each show of White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a completely different experience. For its 18 show run, one actor will take to the stage performing a script they have never seen and are given for the first time as the show begins. Richard Keitel opened the white envelope on April 8th. Soleimanpour uses the actor to escape the bonds of time and space that restrict him. During the time he is writing the play, he is living in Iran, where the arts are strictly observed and censored, but White Rabbit Red Rabbit gives him freedom. Now, he is present in the Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theater. The presence of the writer is essential in all theatrical works, but Soleimanpour forces the audience to address how much power the writer truly has. The audience becomes just as active as the actor in the show, but dynamically as passive. Through his words, Soleimanpour begins a sort of mind control, the actor conforming to his every demand along with the audience. This control becomes a commentary on the conformity that exists in Iran. The actor has the power to stray from the script, the audience to leave the theater, but there is such an inescapable gravity to the piece, something I’ve never felt before in a show, that everyone felt.

It’s a hard task to describe the show without giving out spoilers, because the experience is what is so impactful. I’ve never been faced with such a sense of possibility, of questioning, of fear, of wonder quite like White Rabbit Red Rabbit showed me. It is layered with metaphor and personal testimony. Sometimes it begins to lean towards the pretentious, but when filtered through Keitel’s grounded and equally curious voice, every word hits the ear and the mind.

12 Peers is taking such a risk with White Rabbit Red Rabbit, so much relies on the actor, not only to be a catalyst for Soleimanpour’s words, but also to add excitement and fill the seats. However, it goes without noticing that some diversity in their line-up of 18 actors is lacking. Beyond the performance I witnessed, diversity would increase the force of Nassim Soleimanpour’s words by potentially showing he has the ability to transcend things like race and gender to create his own presence.

Two glasses of water sit on the table. One is full. The other is empty. The contents of the empty glass are now inside Richard Keitel. But what of the contents of the glass still full- pure or poison? I urge you to see 12 Peer Theater’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit at Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theater, it will leave you unsettled and full of awe.

Special thanks to 12 Peers Theater for complimentary press tickets. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit runs at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater through April 24th. For tickets and more information, check out their website here.

Sex with Strangers

SWS_playSex with Strangers is an examination of anatomy, not solely the physical intimacy that the two characters’ share, but also the anatomy of a writer’s work, how once purely exposed is someone’s craft a reflection of their internal spirit or rather a tool to create intrigue and character.

Laura Eason’s intentions seem rather clear, she plays heavily with dichotomy, putting the old and new into constant opposition. Olivia is a cautionary and calculated novelist on retreat in a snowy lodge to work on her new novel. She enjoys the tangible connections that the printed word holds as she hoards her favorite books. Ethan who finds himself at the same lodge is a younger, cocksure, and questionable blogger who rose to fame with his book Sex with Strangers, a sometimes sensationalized story of his exploits of sleeping with strangers. Ethan is also an app developer and attached to technology and his social media presence.160315_CityTheatre_Sex_110

This opposition is instantly apparent, but Eason doesn’t repel their connection. Christian Parker’s direction is eddying, Olivia and Ethan counter each other, but begin to circle the drain, and find themselves in moments of passion that are paired excellently with Andrew David Ostrowski’s subtle lightning that follows the rhythms of the character’s rising and falling heart rates.

Things become complicated once Olivia and Ethan begin digging deeper into who the other is. Strangers no longer seems to suit them, but Olivia can’t help but put her mindset back into her first question “Who are you?” Megan Byrne and Nick Ducassi’s chemistry makes the show’s sometimes strained themes worth watching, they bring an attraction to the surface that is quite irresistible and forges more deeply the complexities they will go on to share.

Sex with Strangers is topical and relevant, but in the current malaise of people deciphering the impact of technology in our lives, it’s hard to find a thought that is truly original. Eason’s own voice sometimes overpowers that of her characters, but regardless her dialogue tends to be smart, quippy, and when it becomes incendiary, the fire catches. Byrne’s performance embraces all of Olivia and is discerning, sensitive, and quite an actress to watch. Ducassi has great control of his charm, poise, and surprising modesty when depicted against his charismatic and arrogant nom de plume, Ethan Strange.160315_CityTheatre_Sex_069

Ethan is quite the provoking catalyst to Olivia. She discovers he has found himself in this lodge due to a friend’s recommendation who also exposed him to Olivia’s first and failed novel. This novel plummeted Olivia’s self-esteem, and her writing though a passion is now something for herself, despite still craving the public gratification of her work. With his current fame and romantic connection to Olivia and her work, Ethan pulls favors to get Olivia the attention she deserves.

This connection begins to unravel in act two. Cabin fever has evaded them, and Tony Ferrieri’s scenic design sleekly takes us to Olivia’s Chicago apartment. Olivia and Ethan in isolation were strongly intertwined, but in the context of life and functioning WiFi, they begin to view one another differently, estranging each other.

The climax of Sex with Strangers rests on the pivotal virtue Olivia struggles with, faith; faith in her own work, faith in the real Ethan. City Theatre understands the topical nature of Sex with Strangers and successfully creates a relatable and engaging contemporary drama.

Sex with Strangers

Presented by City Theatre

Directed by Christian Parker

Written by Laura Eason 

Designed by Tony Ferrieri (scenery), Jessica Wegener Shay (costumes), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting), Elizabeth Atkinson (sound), Kristi Jan Hoover (photos)

Starring Megan Byrne (Olivia) and Nick Ducassi (Ethan)

For tickets and more information, check out City Theatre’s website here.

The Full Monty

ZAw91yqqTo all eager readers, yes you get a glimpse of naked men, but the surprising strength of The Full Monty isn’t in the stripping of clothes, but rather in the stripping of the pride and dignity of it’s unemployed and emasculated steelworkers. This blue collar group, lead by Nick Sacks as Jerry, carries the charisma of a faded high school football star, decides to regain their respect, money, and self-worth they will transform themselves into strippers for a one-night only event. I don’t know what it is about steel working and stripping that go so well together (I’m looking at you Jennifer Beals), but I’m not complaining.

The Full Monty is a wildly underrated show that’s cunningly effective in it’s ability to make you root for these characters. The CMU School of Drama’s production had me rooting. Any taboo feelings are dispelled immediately as a rowdy Erika Olson, one of the few but electric women, emcees a “professional” striptease. This leaves the audience enticed to follow the men from chumps to small-town Chippendales.

Each actor does a succinct and individualistic job at crafting their characters. They play to their own strengths as a means to enhance their impact. Josh Grosso as the still-lives-in-his-mom’s-basement, Malcolm is pure, warped, and triumphant with soaring vocals even after extreme carbon monoxide inhalation. The renaissance of disco finds itself in Avery Smith’s portrayal of Horse, the oldest yet funkiest member of the group. Molly Griggs is a crotchety comedic wonder as their piano player, Jeanette. The sheer power of the production resides in it’s pop-rock and jazz influenced musical numbers like “Big-Ass Rock”, “Big Black Man”, and “Michael Jordan’s Ball” conducted by Thomas W. Douglas.

Patrick Hayes’ lighting design when paired with Lex Gernon’s scenic design propels their underdog, industrial reality to a rock star fantasy. The scenic design works as a stationary image, the powerful work lights and steel beams, but the conveyor belt used to move set pieces hinders the transitions, causing them to lose steam. Nina Bova’s costumes cement the late 1980s vibe in an effortless manner.

Director and CMU Alum, Patrick Wilson, understands the tone of the show immensely well. Reasonably so, as Wilson lead the original production on Broadway. His own experience of once being where the cast is, enhances the personal moments of the show.

Authenticity is what makes this show so powerful. Having college students play these adult male and child roles, lowers the intensity of their examination of masculinity and pride in the face of how far they will go (or take off) to get it back. Micheal Leadbetter as the overweight Dave is restricted by a seemingly deflated fat suit, that turns his potentially compelling arc into a cheap, coarse joke. Regardless, The CMU School of Drama’s production of The Full Monty knows where its limitations are and works even harder to have you blushing, cheering, and sincerely entertained.

Special thank to the Carnegie Mellon University’s Drama department for complimentary press tickets. The Full Monty runs at CMU until February 27th. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Macbeth

10552391_526851517492035_7353070900835718677_n656Red is the color of passion, energy, and action. Macbeth is fueled by these same psychological elements on his prophetic and treacherous path to the throne of Scotland. The Pittsburgh Classic Player’s production at the Maker Theater falls on the paler side of the spectrum of Macbeth’s own blood stained hands.

To do Shakespeare requires one to DO Shakespeare. Whether this be to fully envelop the production in it’s original setting or to reinvent his timeless work, it requires steadfast commitment. The Pittsburgh Classic Players find themselves walking this line and not knowing which side to fall upon. The set was bold and provocative. The stage fittingly painted a rich crimson while around the space grew the expansive web of packing tape where in it’s center lay Macbeth’s own throne. I was excited for this metaphor, the sticky oppression of his unabashed desire to become king, to be carried through the rest of the production. But, it slowly lost it’s resonance with the character’s falling toward a more classical interpretation of the piece.

Leading Scotland as Macbeth and Lady were Brett Sullivan Santry and Hilary Caldwell. They each surpassed what some might perceive as the inaccessibility of Shakespeare’s language today and let their emotion drive their words. Santry was vigorous, callous, and pained while Caldwell’s Lady Macbeth felt more perceptive, cunning, and refined making the pairing a success.

The scenes had good momentum as they moved throughout the space, but felt tentative. Exits were immediately followed with entrances making the stage a multi-dimensional area that intertwined the characters and their plots. Once the scenes took off in their modern, interpretive surroundings there was an apparent incongruity. It seemed the Classic Players wanted to both remain faithful to the work while also trying to tackle a contemporary rendition. This contemporary aspect was developed during the weird witches’ Act II scene. With the head witch, Hecate, played by director, Johnny Adkins, joining the sisters, Macbeth’s prophecy was delivered in an unnerving and clever way. It was moments like these that would’ve bolstered the strength of the show that was left spending the majority of its time unsure of how to define itself.

The Pittsburgh Classic Players allow the sins from Macbeth’s hands to wash away too easily. They need to command the show’s passion, energy, and action into a more lasting stain to truly call their production “The Feel-Bad Play of the Holiday Season”.

Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Classic Players for complimentary press tickets. Macbeth runs at the Maker Theater through December 19th. For tickets and more information, click here.

The Wild Duck

WildDuck

Sight is arguably one of the most essential senses. With sight, one is able to perceive texture, color, and light. The Conservatory Theater Company at Point Park University brings each aspect of this to life, but succeeds in the most dynamic aspect of The Wild Duck, what we can’t see has just as much power, if not more.

The translation by Richard Nelson of Ibsen’s original, Norwegian work is smart. The language feels modern but preserves the authenticity and depth to the story. The Wild Duck is about the Ekdal’s and the Werle’s revelations as to how their families are connected. Ashton Guthrie is a virtuoso. His performance as Hialmar Ekdel is a powder keg of nuance from when he starts off as unsuspecting and reticent, only to be turned to fury after he comes to understand how he has been manipulated to certain beliefs by those around him. What so sensational about Guthrie is even in the first moment on stage you’re already captivated. Hialmar connects with his old friend Gregers Werle. Austin Sultzbach’s performance as Gergers is close to finding the charm needed to make his character empathetic, but close still never makes his influence on those around him feel attested.

Guthrie is given strong support by the rest of his family. His wife, Gina and daughter, Hedvig played by Hayley Warfel and Ashley Ball are submissive, but not due to weakness, rather vulnerability and devotion. Conner Gillooly as Relling, a tenant of the Ekdal house, gives one of the most natural performances, as the catalyst to the slow burning tension in the family. His delivery of the final line in the show left me covered in goose(er, duck?)bumps.

The running time of the show is long, but Point Park Conservatory manages to tackle this robust drama with intrigue and skill. The greatest scenes in the show garner so much momentum, but often found themselves ending with a fizzle rather than the cathartic bang they deserved.. Luckily, the production gives deserving breaks with an appropriate use of projections designed by Jessi Sedon-Essad and a scenic design by Stephanie Mayer-Staley that supplies the production a richer tone to the time period of the show.

The vagueness and foreshadowing is handled well by director Shirley Tannenbaum who never makes it a mantelpiece to the production, but setting it up with enough deliberation in the exposition heavy act one that makes act two a sweeping storm of high drama and disclosure.

In The Wild Duck sight is lost and gained. You would lose nothing from seeing this production.

Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Playhouse for complimentary press tickets.The Wild Duck runs through November 22nd. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Brainpeople

Judas+Title

Judas+Title

If given the choice of eating tiger meat to receive $20,000 or not, I’d eat the meat. In José Rivera’sBrainpeople brought to you by Throughline Theatre however, the characters at a dinner party must not only deal with what they are eating, but what is eating themselves.

An elite, macabre woman, Mayannah, played by Maura Underwood and her unrelenting, ferocious eyes hosts an anniversary dinner to commemorate the last meal she shared with her parents. The main dish is the tiger who’s mother killed Mayannah’s parents. That’s why this dinner is going to be special, she has a theory where you are what you eat. The tiger absorbed her parent’s memories and souls, which was passed onto her daughter, and now with two strangers Rosemary and Ani, she can fulfill her dream of reliving this dinner.

Rosemary and Ani are just as fractured as Mayannah. Although Rosemary is on stage the entire production we don’t actually meet her until the end. Amy Portenlager’s performance can be describe nothing less than transformative as she manipulates herself through Rosemary’s dissociative identity disorder (split personality disorder). Her skill of dialect and posture allow her to seamlessly become a posh underground rock star, an old school teacher, and painfully her own sexual abuser. Her performance is fascinating and heartbreaking, even when she sits silently uttering the words to the refrain, “my life was ruined by poverty.” She also opened the show by eating butter and I’ve never been more affected by anything in my entire life.

The other guest, Ani, has intimacy issues and appears to be slightly manic depressive after many painful encounters with men. Kaitlin Kerr’s own command of her character is surprisingly cunning and slow-burning. From afar, her large eyes analyzed the others but whenever drawn close to another they would waver avoiding any real contact. But, whenever Ani is taken over by the spirit of Mayannah’s mother, she was electric, seductive, and alluring.

What Brainpeople lacks however is an anchor. Rivera’s writing establishes conflict in the world outside of these women and inside their psyches but never between them. The scope of his work is great, but he shows us too much of it. Even though these women appear to be unstable, we trust them enough to give us information more subtly. This trust is reinforced by Sean Sears direction. He orbits the woman around one another often pushing them closer together when their bonds are strengthened through oppression but successfully pulls them apart giving them their necessary platforms to speak. The strongest moments for each actress being in their own isolation and self examination that sometimes left me shocked and compelled.

Brainpeople are those little things in your head you just can’t control. Luckily, Throughline’s production finds this control amongst the convoluted script with its gripping performances and attentive direction.

Special thanks to Throughline Theatre Company for complimentary press tickets. Brainpeople runs through October 31st, tickets and more information can be found here.

Performance Date: Friday, October 23, 2015