off the WALL Opens 2017-2018 Season with I Won’t Be in on Monday

22221868_1114709611993019_4043785944263293857_nProvocation. Undaunting steadfastness. Ruthless, feckless talent. Unwaveringly, emboldened authenticity.

These are descriptors which cling to one’s thoughts when one considers the works and mission of innovative theatre Pittsburgh theatre company, Off the WALL productions. Fiercely committed to not only supporting but rapaciously pursuing the cleverest, most scintillating, and quintessentially groundbreaking feminist pieces of dramaturge, Off the Wall is a theatre company which prides itself on an unwavering commitment to portraying the equality and complexity of human experiences. To date, the company’s productions have explored the viscera of fractious, cobwebbed relationships (Lungs); the rueful and joyful experience of a woman learning excavating her deepest self in a one-woman-show (Mother Lode); the agonizing and labyrinth-esque unending process of accepting and bestowing love amidst the myriad vexations of existing as a woman (Tunnel Vision); and a one-woman physical memoir of life as a stripper Sex Werque. While every unique and vivaciously performed piece is characterized by either a distinctly feminine voice/perspective, or an indomitable female character (particularly notable in the company’s fascinating season-project of staging a collection of one-woman shows), the shows are not necessarily feminist manifestos or creeds translated into theatrical productions. Rather, off the WALL is responsible for theatre that highlights and emphasizes the everyday woman and the extraordinariness of the banal or everyday in a way that challenges the viewer to reconceive of entire worlds through a feminist-minded lens.

When corresponding with Virginia Wall Gruenert, Executive Artistic Director for off the WALL and frequent onstage presence for the shows, the aim of the company’s upcoming season and the fascinating new show I Won’t Be in on Monday is to carry on this exhilarating tradition of presenting pieces with multidimensional and robust women. As Gruenert explains, I Won’t be in… “tells the story of a troubled yet optimistic woman with dreams (delusions?) of a better life. She is strong and vulnerable at the same time. She is hopeful. She is real.” To rely on the perhaps trite adage, the female lead of I Won’t Be in… encompasses multitudes, but maybe not in the way that demands people directly interact with a feminist narrative. Rather, her complexities and the vicissitudes of her selfhood in the face of a curious circumstance are astoundingly feminist in their own right. This is to say, the play’s plot—a high-powered financial worker (Nikki) is interrogated by a detective after the disappearance of very expensive rings—and the clever snark that courses through it, embody a feminism that should be apparent in the everyday. I Won’t Be in… capitalizes upon and carries on off the WALL’s strident commitment to narratives in which seemingly irrelevant or aberrant occurrences nestled within the mundane act as a catalyst for larger thought or dialogues, specifically thoughts and dialogues pertaining to women and female voices. Directed by Austin Pendleton, who has worked extensively as an Off-Broadway director as well as in film and television, I Won’t Be in… is written by Anne Stockton, whose creative candor and relationship with off the WALL ensures a production which will immerse viewers in a theatrical reconceptualization of feminine voice and experientiality.

In Gruenert’s own words, I Won’t Be In… and plays of that ilk epitomize and carry on the company’s mission of heading “forward, forward, forward, with no looking back…to many, it’s controversial to us, it’s the right thing to do.” Indeed, many of off the WALL’s productions have raised obdurate eyebrows, particularly Ella Mason’s aforementioned one-woman show Sex Werque chronicling the performer’s stint as a stripper. The show, which Gruenert eloquently describes, captures the “emotional and economic forces; the movement vocabulary; the masks; and the moments of authentic connection” that are involved in the very complicated and emotional line of work. The show perhaps best typifies the company’s mission—a piece that does not put experience or gender on a hierarchy, but portrays a human experience in its most raw and intimate fashion (and elevates the female voice throughout). However, the show was not without pushback (and some sensational rebuttal from the show’s stupendous defenders). But perhaps, in a time as dishearteningly draconian as our current socio-political climate, provocation and pushback in theatre are absolutely necessary for fundamental progress and change. As Gruenert notes, the disparity in female and male-authored dramaturgical pieces are staggering. The Theatre Communications Group indicated that of the 1,946 productions from the 411 theatre members in the group, the male-to-female author ratio was 63-26. Thus, off the WALL’s dedication to “recognizing, respecting, and honoring the female voice in American theater” is of the utmost importance. Given their recent ICWP 50/50 Applause Award, off the WALL is continuing their monumental efforts in both the theatrical realm and the realm of social attentiveness.

I Won’t Be in on Monday opens at Carnegie Stage on October 12. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Boundless

20933841_1520003164724181_4169740321440382889_oBefore the sensational sensuousness of Boundless even begins, a sort of breathless anticipation imbued the spacious yet cloistered theatre at New Hazlett Theatre. The dancers, pacing about with frantic delicateness, could be sensed in the wings and un the fibers and nerves of the skeleton of the stage. Nearly inexplicably, their ineffable yet unshakeable elation to enact the evocative and narratorial movement that unfolded throughout the dance performance was palpable in such a way that it prefaced the show with profound prescience. The kinetic energy that surged before the show even began was characteristic of the unique performances throughout the show.

Boundless, produced by Texture Ballet with the collaborative efforts and insights of visiting choreographer Robert Poe—The Big Muddy Dance luminary and COCA mainstay—was put forth as a collection of dance pieces meant to challenge the conceptions of bodily conventions and expectations. As a viewer who is constantly in awe and somewhat befuddled by the majestic physical power demonstrated by dancers—particularly ballet performers—any dance staging I watch or review appears to me as a challenge to conventions of physicality. Boundless, unlike other choreographed pieces I have seen as of late, began with very little introductory verbal or spatial explanation or deconstruction. Instead, the show commenced, with melancholically vibrant accompanying music swelling into the bones of the sparsely accented stage and the dancers engaging in complex yet not distracting beautiful “entanglements” with another. Entanglements is perhaps the best way to describe the movements and physical interactions that unfold on stage. While the dancers were astonishingly talented, conducting their bodies with unreal poise and outstanding muscle precision, they encountered one another on a stage with a certain degree of entangling.  The physical movements of the dancers, seamless and exquisite, perfectly syncopated with the musical accompaniment to evoke the entanglements that we most often find ourselves ensnared in—emotional memories; fleeting thoughts that seemingly come without provocation and redirect our entire day or train of focus; echoes of past feelings for lovers or haunting spasms of old physical touches. Boundless is extraordinary in executing choreography that achingly and eerily captures the entangles we find ourselves often unable put words to.

In addition, Associate Artistic Director Kelsey Bartman’s new ballet was presented to Max Richter’s “Infra” music. Both Bartman and Poe—friends from performances past—channeled the unique, physique-esque space of the New Hazlett Theatre and the sensuous elocution of the memories and emotions that often are trapped in our subconscious.

Boundless has unfortunately closed but you can find out more about Texture Contemporary Ballet on their website.

Jekyll and Hyde

20108255_1597843823593695_7924084507636953916_nThere is something to be said for the succulent, somewhat indulgent wave of hyper-camp that is necessary to successfully execute a musical adapted from seemingly unfitting source material. Musicals like Carrie, Batboy!: The Musical, Heathers and others of that ilk must evoke and maintain a certain degree of precise ludicrousness and poignancy to be enjoyable (or even bearable). The cast and crew responsible for McKeesport Little Theater’s musical adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde—originally conceived by Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden for the stage based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s infamous novella “The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”—are certainly aware of the level of camp necessary for reproducing something as absurd as a melodramatically symphonic, at times vaudevillian, reconstruction of a story of the prototype “mad” scientist on his blind quest to reveal humanity’s dichotomous spirit. While on the whole enjoyable and self-reflexive, some of the finer points of the execution could have been strengthened in the staging.

Certainly, the musical, as is the case with the book, is heavily dependent on strong individual performances that give life to characters who are intensely caricatured. Director Edward Bostedo clearly took this to heart, making sure characters like Jekyll/Hyde, Spider, Lucy Harris, and the lecherous Minister were illuminated in extraordinarily seedy light. Eric Sciulli, responsible for playing the dangerously transcendentalist titular doctor, is very aware of the dramaturgical task he is beset with—and his impressive vocal range and power helps to give the doctor an air of unbridled passion that makes the familiar character feel unique. Additionally, Randi Walker, portraying the sex worker Lucy Harris (a character that is woefully sublimated in most iterations of the story) is an absolute scene stealer. Having seen Walker in other performances, it was by no means a surprise to be thrilled by her impassioned performance, but she truly did revitalize some of the slower moments of the play. At times, the play would rely too heavily on hackneyed or absurdist performances or quirks rather than character development or cohesion, but a great deal of credit should be given to the ensemble interactions and the expertise of the stage manager, Elizabeth Civello, and director and other crew members for guiding these interactions from behind the scenes. Set designer Edward Bostedo deserves a tremendous amount of credit for capitalizing on a very small, fairly limiting space and creating entire, compelling settings on a macro and micro scale in each scene.

Jekyll & Hyde at times falls short of the balance of consistent preposterousness and subtle poignancy that is necessary to keep the play going on all cylinders at all moments. That being said, the actors and crew impressively translate the essence of the source material while adding their distinct flair to the show that captures the audience and highlights their individual talents. The play shows promise for the ongoing caliber for the staggering 57th season of McKeesport Little Theatre.

Jekyll & Hyde runs at the McKeesport Little Theater through September 24th. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Red Hills

19679103_10154706553307997_7852742964293851959_oMultidimensional, quasi-interactive plays are gradually becoming a phenomenon in theatre, in which evocative themes and transgressive or incredibly sensitive subject matter can be portrayed and explored with more efficacy, vitriol, and immersive sensorial touches that allow for greater intimacy. Moreover, the nature of multidimensional/interactive plays challenges the talents of the actors by trying their ability to maintain an aura of performatively while committing to the realness that is created by the disassembled fourth wall.

Quantum Theatre’s recent production of Red Hills is an exercise in this sort of theatrical staging, incorporating a multitude of elements, disciplines, provocations and narratives into a story of identity, memory and representation ensconced in the Rwandan genocide. Told through multimedia flashbacks, and intensive interpersonal dialogue, Red Hills tells the story of a David (Scott Atkinson) who is confronted with a letter from an individual from his past who challenges the veracity of the book he wrote chronicling his tumultuous time as a student in the Mirama Hills, wedged between Rwanda and Uganda in the former country’s most bleak chapter. The buildup to the play is phenomenally atmospheric: half of the audience is sent to meet God’s Blessing (Patrick Ssenjovu) and understand his back story, the other half (as I was) was ushered off to meet David, giving a lecture to introduce his potentially problematic memoir. Atmospherically, the opening bifurcation of the audience is a bit misguided, as the elemental intrusions disrupt the introductory narratives provided by the characters that are necessary to connecting the purpose of the plot. That being said, speaking for Atkinson—and Ssenjovu as well, I assume, given his performance throughout the majority of the show—performed admirably and enthusiastically in spite of the unpredictable conditions in which they were besotted. As a general assessment of the piece, a tremendous amount of praise should be afforded to the Atkinson and Ssenjovu, as their performances were simultaneously unwaveringly engaged with one another, and thoroughly committed to audience interaction. Much like their contending with the elements of their outdoor stage, the two men demonstrated versatility in terms of switching between one-on-one interplay, and unique audience conversations.

There is indeed much to be lauded about the production of Red Hills. The grit and realness of the set is incomparable relative to most stagings I have seen of late. Deceptively barebones, the well-sculpted dirt mounds, the derelict vehicles, the small, subtle props thrown here and there exquisitely capture the essence of the war-threatened environment as well as evoking the landscape of memories charred by the traumas of war, conflict and loss. Additionally, the physical set and the multi-media dimensions of the play (specifically the pre-filmed “memory” dialogues) are perfectly executed to coexist and interact with each other in a way that challenges and grips the audience. And while the script was a bit awkward at times, the fluidity of the dialogue was such—and the confidence of the actors was steadfast enough—that the clunkier parts of the play could be disregarded.

That all being said, it is vexing to take part in a play centering on a cataclysmic, emotionally fraught moment in history–one which very critically examines the essence of race, violence, memory, appropriation and potential harmony—from the perspective of two men, with a distinctly masculinized tone. Before seeming too tendentious, I should say that any narrative that focuses and brings to light this type of story, this period of time, is absolutely necessary, and should be valued for the important work it is doing. I certainly do not intend to rob the show of its fantastically conveyed message. However, it is challenging to sit through a play in which women are reduced to tertiary references or digital faces. While innovative, the play’s reduction of non-patriarchal or non-masculine voices is disheartening, given the incredible paucity of female perspective in the media that centers on this period of time. This is not to say the actors and creative team did not do a phenomenal job of working with their material. It is simply to implore that as a theatrical community, given the incredibly troubling times, we want for more in our theatrical representation.

Red Hills runs at Recycling Building on the corner of 32nd Street and Smallman Street through September 10. For tickets and more information click here. 

The Audience

LLTC_TheAudience-300x268There is a sort of unintentional impracticality to presenting a dramaturgical narrative that focuses on the heavily romanticized (and even fetishized, to some extent) monarchical dynasty of the United Kingdom. More specifically, a narrative focusing on the emblematically stodgy and seemingly cantankerous Queen Elizabeth II seems like an almost esoteric subject, ossified by her crusty austerity and connection to the monolithic, pristine regime. Theatrical or cinematic pieces—like, say, The King’s Speech—while masterfully crafted, bear traces of being out of touch, particularly in intensely heated socio-political climates. Chronicling and dramatizing nuances and details of a royal family so entrenched in traditions steeped in Victorian sensibilities seems superfluously fey.

Allison Cahill as Queen Elizabeth II and Eric Mathews as the Archbishop
Allison Cahill as Queen Elizabeth II and Eric Mathews as the Archbishop

And yet, in Little Lake Theatre’s recent production of The Audience—originally penned by Peter Morgan, with, appropriately, Helen Mirren as the envisioned Elizabeth II—the inherent austerity and stodginess of the British monarchical family is upstaged by the exquisitely sensitive construction of characters and plot, and artful commitments to the archetypal, historicized figures that lead the very dialogue-centric action of the play. The Audience is a play that thrives on the intimacies and intricacies of private conversations and self-introspection manifested through intensive interactions and distorted self-perceptions. Thus, the play is one which relies heavily on the elemental design of the stage and the impassioned immersion of the actors to their characters. In terms of setting, Little Lake is a theatre—that houses a company who wisely and meticulously selects productions that behoove the innovatively in-the-round structure of the company’s space—that commands attention through its circular structure and unique seating. To complement this, the actual set design for The Audience, while minimalist, is appropriate and befitting for the degree of inwardness that dictates the story.

The Queen and her Prime Ministers: Allison Cahill (seated) as Queen Elizabeth II, (standing: left to right) Rick Bryant as Tony Blair, David Hoffman as Gordon Brown, Eric Mathews as Winston Churchill, Joe Macerelli as John Major, Patricia Cena Fuchel as Margaret Thatcher, Bracken Burns as Anthony Eden, Joe Eberle as Harold Wilson, and Nate Butler as David Cameron
The Queen and her Prime Ministers: Allison Cahill (seated) as Queen Elizabeth II, (standing: left to right) Rick Bryant as Tony Blair, David Hoffman as Gordon Brown, Eric Mathews as Winston Churchill, Joe Macerelli as John Major, Patricia Cena Fuchel as Margaret Thatcher, Bracken Burns as Anthony Eden, Joe Eberle as Harold Wilson, and Nate Butler as David Cameron

As an audience, we are visually connected throughout most of the play to Queen Elizabeth II’s “office” (and/or bedchambers), which is the center of not only Elizabeth’s professional and intimate dialogues with various members of British government and parliament, but is also the externalization of her memories, fears, anguishes and need for composure. In addition to the smartly structured stage, the performance of Allison Cahill as Elizabeth is the appropriate balance of muted self-awareness, quieted rage at the anticipatory nature of her queenly demureness, and sly snarkiness. Cahill manages to fill the space and manipulate it to be an extension of her performance. More specifically, Cahill introduces the cracks in Elizabeth’s demeanor with the right amount of suddenness to convey the difficulty of Elizabeth’s aura. Additionally, the array of actors ensembled to play the various Prime Ministers and other dignitaries—like Thatcher, Blair and others—channel the proper characteristics to pique, endear or vex Elizabeth at various moments in time and personal development, all of which Cahill presents masterfully. While the stage movements and accents could be a bit clunky, the eloquence of the portrayal of the complexities of Elizabeth exceeded expectations.

Though the play is moored by the seeming irrelevance of British monarchy in a time of furious politics and international relations, Little Lakes thoughtful presentation elevates the play a well-done examination of human interactions and introspections. The Audience carries on Little Lake’s tradition of sensitively crafted theatrical pieces that defy expectations.

The Audience plays on the Little Lake stage through August 26. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Photos courtesy of James Orr.

Mamma Mia

20292706_10154800983161696_6800590976824145690_nAny fairly seasoned or routine theatre-goer has a certain expectation for crowd makeup at certain shows. The niche, hyper-baroque, perhaps one person piece—the crowd is replete with art majors, the wandering scraggly dude wearing overalls with nothing underneath as a form of expression. Edgy musicals, potentially featuring puppets or Andrew Jackson will have crowds stacked with the more avant-garde choir nerd who discovered themselves in college. And then, there’s the crowd that flocks to Mamma Mia!  Typically, overly giddy hordes of folks who rocked out—with various manifestations of their groove things shaking—to the sex-laced disco/pop hits of ABBA in their bedazzled prime in the 70s flock to see Mamma Mia! The Pittsburgh CLO’s recent production of Mamma Mia! was in no way an exception, as the Benedum was filled to the breaking point with ebullient, giddy beyond compare, dressed-to-the-nines,  ready to practically claw their way on stage to follow the musical journey set to ABBA’s greatest hits.

Lori Hammel, Sally Ann Triplett, and Michelle Dawson
Lori Hammel, Sally Ann Triplett, and Michelle Dawson

And indeed, a massive factor in the success and excitement that goes with witnessing Mamma Mia! on stage is the enthrallment of the crowd and the participatory element that feeds the actors rapture conducting their performances. The story is simple and enjoyable convoluted: Sophie, a beautiful young girl about to wed the love of her life, mails out three wedding invitations to three men, one of whom she assumes to be her father based on her pillaging her mother’s old diary. As the wedding preparations reach a frenetic pace, and her unwitting mother’s eccentric friends (and also, importantly, former band mates) descend upon the scene, the twists and turns of Sophie’s mother’s relationships with the three men—and the truth behind Sophie’s real father—is divulged and unravels, moments up to the “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.”  There is nothing particularly emotionally wrenching or complex in the characters’ interactions, nor does the plot demand a great deal of attention from the audience. Thus the songs, the exquisite grandiosity of the stage direction and choreography, and the pure performative spectacle of the show can command the rapt audience’s full attention.

Ryan Vona and Erika Henningsen
Ryan Vona and Erika Henningsen

Resounding critical applause should be given to the all those in charge of and involved in the choreography of the show.  Beyond flawless and matching the pacing and throbbing, feverishness emotions of each song, the choreography and the supporting cast of dancers were—and this is a characterization I hesitate using—utterly transcendent. The stage motion and dance accompaniments were so spot on, so spirited, and so technically precise that they would have awed perhaps the more skeptical audience member (and there were certainly several fourteen year old boys who needed convincing). While the younger members of the cast certainly held their own—as well as the pleasantly caricatured men playing the three potential dads—the spotlight, as it is meant to, was claimed gloriously by the three women playing Donna (Sophie’s mother) and her two best friends/former band mates, Tanya and Rosie. While the characters are certainly archetypal, veteran stage and screen actresses Lori Hammel (Rosie), Sally Ann Triplett (Donna) and Michelle Dawson (Tanya) were every bit as luminescent as they could have been. And most importantly, they had the utterly wild and thrilled audience in the palms of their hand, thus making CLO’s production of Mamma Mia the ultimate, incredibly fun guilty pleasure delight that it was intended to be.

Mamma Mia has unfortunately already closed but there’s still more fun from the Pittsburgh CLO this summer, for more information, click here.

Photos courtesy of Archie Carpenter.

Macbeth

19466329_1710954552531860_4629879117822679369_oAn appreciation for the true essence of ensemble theatre, the electricity of enthusiasm and kinetic nerves that can pulsate through members of a troupe, is something that is not often considered or discussed in modern dramaturgy. While there are certainly a preponderance of awards specifically honoring the strength of ensembles, the actual spirit of ensemble acting or the dynamics which emerge from the productions put on by troupes, is somewhat lost on modern audiences. In the New Renaissance Theatre Company’s recent outdoor production of Shakespeare’s Tragedie of Macbeth, actively challenged and both the conventions of modern theatrical staging and the conceptions of ensemble interactions.

This recent staging, which was paired with the Company’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew, was designed specifically to capture the Shakespearean vision for theatrical productions, specifically of his own works (if, of course, you believe they were indeed his own). This staging of The Tragedie of Macbeth was prefaced—after an impressive, charmingly anachronistic sonorous introduction by two of the company members singing a very impassioned rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Trouble”—by the prompter for the show explaining the historical precedent for an outdoor, unrehearsed performance of Shakespearean theatre. Explaining the fear of creative theft and wanton reproduction in the absence of copyright laws, the prompter emphasized the importance of spontaneity in performance style and the irreproducibility of the scripts that the actors would work have to work with in their nightly stagings. Not only would actors not have the chance to rehearse their lines and stage directions for the highly demanding pieces they would have to perform each night (and often in a different locale every night), but each actor would be dependent upon a scroll that would only contain their own lines, in the hopes of preserving the integrity of the whole play. This production of Macbeth, part of the innovative Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project, forced the actors to rely on not only just a scroll of parchment with only their lines transcribed upon it, but was also completely unpracticed (or, at least, relatively “unpracticed,” given the inability for a modern thespian to exist in a vacuum which Shakespeare or Macbeth cannot permeate) rendition of the play. Moreover, the Company’s production braving the element outdoors added to the purist authenticity of the production.

The results, while at times anxiety-inducing given the precarious weather, were invigorating if not a little a disjointed. Granted, a fair amount of the disjointedness of the production can be attributed to the show’s lack of rehearsal—and, to the Company’s credit of authenticity, the actors relied impressively on a prompter for the entirety of the show as performers in the Shakespearean era would have. The production of Macbeth, while occasionally interrupted by modern disruptions like helicopters and planes, was enlivening, and the actors’ stamina and commitment to their cohesion, remarkable. The interconnectivity of the actors truly highlighted the potential of ensemble acting to be a beautiful beast in its own right—though, forced to single out, the Duncan, Lady Macbeth, and beloved witches truly stood out. The New Renaissance Theatre Company aptly lived up to the challenged they set out for themselves. And what is more, getting to hear a grown man with a beard belt out Kesha’s “Tik Tok” as a way of distraction from an interrupting plane was a delight, and probably had Shakespeare (or whoever actually penned Macbeth) sneering from his grave.

The New Renaissance Theatre Company’s productions of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew sadly have both already closed but if you’d like to know more about New Ren and their Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project, click here. 

The Triumphant Return of Hot Metal Musicals

17309516_1245988655455569_2654319705563916058_nIn their ongoing commitment to diverse, vibrantly talented and symphonically-centered productions, Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP) is putting forth its second-ever, groundbreaking Hot Metal Musicals. Coordinated and initiated by MTAP’s creative mastermind, Stephanie Riso, Hot Metal Musicals was designed to appeal to the plethora of multi-talented artists within the greater Pittsburgh community, often most ardently calling upon those individuals with minimal experience or previous limited opportunity to perform and create musicals or staging theatrical acts. Hot Metal Musicals, like MTAP, seeks to be a bastion of inclusivity within the musical/dramatic sphere in Pittsburgh, encouraging innovation, wonderful ludicrousness, provoking ideas and unique talents to join together to generate a fascinating decoupage of musical performances.

This year’s Hot Metal Musical features a bevy of blissfully irreverent and compelling original and reimagined songs from a number of different creative talents. Fantastically, this year’s Hot Metal Musicals is helmed by Steve Cuden, working as Production Director. A Pittsburgh native and Point Park graduate, Steve Cuden gained recognition and fame for co-creating the Broadway sensation Jekyll and Hyde (with Frank Wildhorn), and brings his distinct, storied perspective to the Hot Metal Musicals lineup.

19884286_1355807177807049_8221852933777404775_nAdditionally, Cuden is joined by fellow MTAP member Douglas Levine, who serves as Musical Director. The two are leading up a compelling gamut of eclectic, eccentric and intriguing works. The musicals and amalgamated songs traverse a spectrum of topics and themes, challenging the conventions of musical theatre and standards of musical expectations. One such example is Stephen Flaherty and Lyn Ahrens’ collaborative effort piece, “I Was Here,” a powerful song from their well-received, Italian renaissance-based, commedia dell’arte-centered musical The Glorious Ones.  Connected to Pittsburgh, the musical enjoyed its off-Broadway, world debut in Pittsburgh at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre in 2007. Another song, posing an equally existential stance, is “Can It Be,” from  Jeanne Drennan’s recent musical Juiced! An active member of the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, Drennan, a widely published playwright and librettist, has put forth several other plays and musicals, such as 12 Dogs, a post-apocalyptic play focusing on the efforts of a resilient teacher. Juiced! is an enjoyably irreverent musical highlighting the bizarre experiences of high school,  and her input in the Hot Metal Musicals adds to the complexities and multifaceted nature of the series.

MTAP and Hot Metal Musicals showcase are positioned as the pioneering vanguards of welcoming, multi-voice theatre and musical work with the realm of Pittsburgh drama. Given the wild selection of songs, spanning from WWII musicals and off-the-wall thigh-slapping comedies, MTAP and Hot Metal Musicals seem to be tremendously living up to their promise to provide audiences with the most varied selection of talents, perspectives and voices. Moreover, the newest installment of Hot Metal Musicals holds true to the MTAP mission of giving a stage and a performance space for works in progress, as well as works from individuals at massively different stages in their careers. MTAP will premier Hot Metal Musicals on July 17th, for free to the public, at Cabaret Theatre at Theatre Square. The evening portends exhilarating, multidimensional and raw works.

To reserve your tickets, click here. 

A Night of Mini Splendors at the Glitterbox!

19105814_1322589221193706_4873730140287932710_nThe spirit of communities can often be captured and conveyed through gatherings centered around theatrical communing. Much like agoras and church meetings (though often a bit more rowdy, to be certain), theatrical performances serve as a meeting place for members of unique communities, and a convergence area for perhaps otherwise disparate individuals. The Glitterbox Theatre, a creative dramaturgical space in the Blumcraft building in Oakland, much like the Prototype creative space/collaborative workshop, that seeks to foster not only a certain creative attitude but serves as a beacon of community expression.

On June 23rd, the Glitterbox hosted an evening of short plays as part of Pittsburgh’s Original Short Play Series that called upon and welcomed the talents of a myriad of diverse individuals. I tend to have a tenuous relationship with theatrical festivals—the energy and ardor tend to be very much in the right place to begin, but often the stamina or cohesiveness fail to hold throughout the plethora of short pieces. This short play series and the individuals responsible for putting them on, while relying on some tropes and safe pieces/safe performance techniques, were refreshingly revitalizing. Much of the success of the pieces and the evening overall was based upon the palpable, vivacious energy of the folks curating the space. The Glitterbox theater sits in a small, almost cove-like portion of the Blumcraft building, situated around the dark, intimate stage.

The audience and the individuals running the evening inhabited a sort of gritty yet welcoming, punk-rock yet drama nerd persona that permeated the room and created an enjoyable merging of eccentricities that redefined the space and the tenor of the evening. Perhaps the standout, and the most indicative of the distinct vibrancy of the evening, was the re-staging/re-envisioning of the classic tale of the writer visited by his snarky muses, Comedy and Tragedy, as he attempts to write the ultimate (ultimate meaning, of course, most profitable) play that captures either comedic or tragic spirit. As the vignette proceeds, the writer is conflicted with Comedy and Tragedy’s endless critiques on the authenticity of his material, his intent and his sentimentality—all while guests like writer’s doomed characters and Satan herself traipse in and out—until he is meets his “ultimate” fate. This is a short play I have seen restaged and reconceived countless times, and yet this version by Point Park students seemed new and electric, dripping with sardonic chutzpah that gave the piece a new twist. While the performances were spot on—Comedy and Tragedy being rapid-fire, superb hits—a great deal of the enjoyment and newness of the old classic was the imbedded queer take on the piece that resonated beautifully with the atmosphere and environment of the Glitterbox theater.

Glitterbox provides a marvelous creative space for talents and interest levels of all levels, and provides a rehearsal space as well as performance area. The space often doubles as a social-gathering spot for theatrical, community-minded folk and even allows for a self-defense workshop venues.

For more information about Yinz Like Plays, click hereOr, if you’d like to know more about the Glitterbox, click here

In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play

Vibrator PlayWomen’s bodies, women’s pleasures, the heavily scrutinized relationship between women and the nature and autonomy of their arousal and desire is the object, either directly or indirectly, of countless texts and pieces of media and literature. The notion that women may control or be the source of their own pleasure, or that women may contain multitudes of stimuli that they can engage separate from heteronormative sex has a long standing history of being regarded with near-flabbergasted dismissal. The origins of autonomous female pleasure, which of course are long-standing but rarely explored properly, and the essence of female arousal is at the core of Sarah Ruhl’s 2009 In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play), which uses female pleasure and the inadvertent creation of the vibrator as a fulcrum for discussing larger social and behavioral issues. The play uses the repressive, austere Victorian social mores and behavioral conditions as mechanisms of evaluating the origins of the vibrator within the greater contexts of class, gender and social dynamics.

Throughline Theatre Company’s production of In the Next Room, which is electrified by the meticulous direction of Abigail Lis-Perlis, has put forth an admirable restaging of Sarah Ruhl’s multifaceted vibrator dramaturgical aubade. The play, which benefits from a masterful use of very limited space, takes place primarily in a series of small rooms in a haughty Victorian home of a well-intentioned if not slow-witted physician, Dr. Givings and his wife Catherine. The stage design highlights the fixation with the apparatus created by Dr. Givings intended to “release juices” inside of women that cause stress and impedes fertility and pregnancy. Of course, the apparatus designed is effectively a cumbersome vibrator, and much of the clunky comedy of the show centers around Dr. Givings’ over-intellectual misconstrual of his apparatus’ actual use of a clitoral stimulus for the women he uses it on.

Perhaps if the shows only focus was this confusion and disparity between men’s conception of women’s pleasure versus the actuality and their surreptitious enthrallment with this pleasure, In the Next Room would have been a bit more even-footed. While the performances are consistent and generally convincing—the most deliberately impassioned and extremely vivacious being Moira Quigley as Catherine Givings, whose dissatisfaction with her husband’s ineptitude and her own biology is radiantly palpable—the show often reads as too discombobulated or heavy handed. There are at least three micro-narratives happening simultaneously with the various central characters that demand the same level of audience involvement and attention. Some of these micro-narratives, like the burgeoning romance between two women (one of Dr. Givings’ patients and his female nurse/house servant), could have been compelling stories on their own, yet do not get to flourish properly because of helter-skelter narrative construction.

Although the play is satisfying in portraying a discovery and embracing of (somewhat) autonomous female pleasure in an era that such a thing was unfathomable, In the Next Room, has lingering infiltrations of heteronormativity and male-centrism. The entire story is premised on the notion that men are too intellectual and removed to understand the intuitiveness and inchoate physicality of female desire and pleasure. Though this is intriguing, it creates a clear demarcation between women and men that does nothing to challenge stereotypes. While an incredibly enjoyable play with impressive performances, the show at times comes off as too out of touch with the edginess it purports to depict.

In the Next Room continues at the Henry Heymann Theatre through June 24. For tickets and more information, click here.