The Impresaria and Djamileh

.kljhgdtsetdrfykhuIt has been said that musical theatre and opera are the two most collaborative art forms. Actors, singers, dancers, designers, musicians, choreographers, and directors must work together in real time to create the work of art. If your passion is opera, you must find a like-minded group of individuals to collaborate with, unlike the more solitary work of a painter.  For those whose passion has not become a professional career, community theatre and opera community provide a vehicle to express their art and passion. Undercroft Opera’s mission is to “create a community for singers and orchestral musicians by offering performance experience to emerging and seasoned local artists and developing audiences through both innovative and traditional operatic productions.”  Closing out Undercroft’s 11th season with a wildly varied and unique offering of two one-act operas, The Impresaria and Djamileh, display both their commitment to the mission and the company’s versatility.

The Impresario, or Der Schauspieldirektor was composed in a day as part of a contest by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who is arguably the most renowned figure of late 18th-century opera. Mozart describes it as “comedy with music” and it is viewed as one of the most playful of his works.  Undercroft has updated and adapted the story and characters to the 1950s. The traditional male role of the impresario has been switched to be a woman, hence the title shift to Impresaria

Set in post-war Vienna, famed soprano turned director Francesca Zeller is starting a new theatrical company. But funds are tight and her assistant Buff comes up with a tried but true solution. Get an eager actresses’ sugar daddy to finance the tour! The said actress is the not so young anymore Alura Pierce. She auditions with a long Noel Coward piece. As she finishes, an aspiring young singer arrives to wow Francesca and Buff, but she comes with way too many demands for a wannabe. This sets off a seemingly endless parade of aspiring actresses and actors all who desire a larger and larger cut of the non-existent budget pie. Finally, two sopranos arrive, duel it out with different arias that, turn into a catfight for bragging rights as to who really is the diva. Once that is “settled”, the fight over salaries breaks out again. Francesca, who cleverly demonstrates why she is The Impresaria, turns it all around and the company comes together to celebrate their art in the final song.

As operas go, this interpretation of The Impresario is heavy on dialogue and light on singing. That’s too bad as the auditions involving singing are entertaining and well done as opposed to those that are just belabored readings.  No schauspieldirektor worth their salt would let those take up so much of their time in auditions.

Anna Singer (formerly WQED host and recently seen in Pittsburgh Festival Operas’ Sweeny Todd) makes an excellent Impresaria and gets to show off her singing chops in the opera’s first scene.

Rob Hockenberry’s and Mary Beth Sederburg’s direction can’t quite find purpose the growing masses of hopefuls on stage with little to do as the auditions wind their way to the dueling soprano’s in this “odd duck” of an opera. The singers all have strong voices, clarity is sometimes difficult to discern in the acoustically live auditorium in Seton Center. Conductor Hyery Hwang (Ball State University) has an excellent command of her musicians and brings out the beauty of Mozart’s score. The orchestra is marvelous and underutilized in this performance.

The second presentation of the evening is Djamileh is an opéra comique in one act by Georges Bizet.  The opera begins at the end of the day the caliph Haroun (William Andrews) reclines and smokes a hookah in his Cairo palace, with his servant Splendiano (Zach Luchetti). The conversation turns to Haroun’s lover Djamileh (Mary Beth Sederburg), who is actually his slave girl. As is his standard practice, Haroun trades in his lover at the end of the month for a new model.  Djamileh’s month is up and therefore she must go. Splendiano confesses to Haroun that he loves her and would like to keep her for himself. Haroun says not to worry; “he is not in love with her, only with love itself.” Djamileh however loves Haroun.

The slave merchant, Mervin, brings the prospective new girls in to dance for Haroun, and he chooses his new concubine. Splendiano comes up with a scheme to confirm Heroun is not in love with Djamileh. He will dress her as the new girl. If she fails to win Heroun’s heart, she will be available to Splendiano. Heroun eventually recognizes her and therefore Splendiano has lost out.

Undercroft calls this is a “stylish evening of one-act operas galvanized by Diva Dynamism.” Are slave girls taken as lovers on a monthly upgrade cycle truly representative of girl power?

There were some interesting glitches with the auditorium lights during the Impresaria, but the actors, singers, and musicians paid it no heed. It was distracting but not disastrous.

Tonight’s evening featured excellent singers, a great conductor, and an accomplished orchestra, a tribute to the quality of opera and musical talent in the Pittsburgh area.

Undercoft Opera’s performances of The Impresaria and Djamileh are at the Seton Center Auditorium, 1900 Pioneer Ave in Pittsburgh on  November 17th and 18th at 7:30 pm and November 19th at 2:00 pm. For tickets visit https://www.undercroftopera.org/community/tickets/

Thanks to Undercroft for the complimentary tickets.

The Silver Theater Project Presents Mother Tongue

MTThe Silver Theater Project presented the third of their 2017 inaugural fall season’s Salon Readings with F.J. Hartland’s Mother Tongue on Saturday, at the Glitter Box Theater. Most readers will be familiar with the staged reading of a play, where the actors are still “on book” with perhaps a costume piece or two and a couple of props with generally no scenery. The Salon concept originated in Italy in the 1600s as “a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, it serves partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.” The Silver Theater’s Salons are on book and more un-staged, with the readers seated or standing. The important added feature over a staged reading is the opportunity for the audience to interact with the author, readers and each other before, at intermission and after the reading. This serves as a valuable tool for playwrights to try out scripts and revisions. For the audience, it is an opportunity to let your imagination roam, conjuring stage directions, scenery, lighting & costumes in your mind. It also brings the dialogue to the forefront unencumbered by the trappings of a partial or full production.

It has been said that “Love conquers all.” Hartland’s Mother Tongue adds the tincture of time as an essential element of the equation. Bertie, read by Marianne Shaffer, is living in Seattle and divorced from her husband who left her for a younger woman. He later passed away rather suddenly without her seeing him before he met his end. The combination of anger and an admitted tinge of grief sends her into therapy. The solution for her to deal with her “issues” is to become a standup comedian so she can vent and unleash every mean-spirited joke about men and relationships to help her cope with her loss.

Bertie has a gay son in his mid-twenties, Matt (Ezra Dickinson) who is living in New York City and struggling to get his artistic painting career off the ground. The play opens with Matt “under the sheets” with his new love interest, an older gentleman named Cale, (Randy Oliva) who tries to distract himself from Matt’s oral skills by reciting the multiplication and periodic tables out loud. During one tryst as the scene nearly reaches its climax, Bertie, forgetting the time zone difference, rings up Matt. She guesses from Matt’s curt answers that he has a man over and persuades Matt to put him on the line.  Let the grilling begin!

Mother Tongue juxtaposes Bertie’s comedy club routines with scenes of the budding relationship of Matt and Cale as we learn their backstories and the impact of Bertie’s standup career on Matt and his own unresolved issues with his father and his sexuality. The full and complex story of the relationships reveals itself in an emotional and touching fashion as the play comes to an end.

In rehearsal: Randy Olivia as Cale, Liam Ezra Dickinson as Matt and Marianne Schaffer as Bertie
In rehearsal: Randy Olivia as Cale, Liam Ezra Dickinson as Matt and Marianne Schaffer as Bertie

Allison Weakland (BA – Seton Hill) directs the reading as well as delivering the stage directions to the audience. Weakland takes her readers to near performance level acting particularly, the scenes between Matt and Cale. The intimacy of the Glitter Box makes this an ideal venue for Salon Readings, it’s as if you are a fly on the wall listening in without distractions. The facial expressions and body language between the men make their mutual attraction, that turns to love, all the more believable. You can see the Bertie character evolving to become more of a female George Burns or Don Rickles type, or perhaps the attitude of an older Sara Silverman in a more fully developed performance.

Playwright F.J. Hartland (MFA – CMU) has sixteen appearances in the Pittsburgh New Works festival to his credit along with over one-hundred stage directing credits and twenty-six years as an Equity actor. His newest full-length work, Rust, had its world premiere at Duquesne University this past February. Keep Mother Tongue on your radar, I expect to see a full production premiere in Pittsburgh’s future.

Founder and Artistic Director Michael McGovern (BFA – Point Park, MFA – CMU) created the Silver Theatre Project as a venue for actors and authors over forty.  For an enjoyable and affordable evening watching new works come to life in an intimate setting coupled with some nosh, a glass of wine and good conversation, the Silver Theater Projects’ Salon Readings are hard to beat.

The Silver Theater Project takes a winter hiatus (Florida anyone?) returning in the early spring. Follow them to learn of the next reading at https://www.facebook.com/TheSilverTheaterProject/

Salon Readings are one night only events on Sundays at the Glitter Box Theatre in Oakland with a $10 suggested donation per person.

Thanks to the Silver Theater Project for the complimentary tickets.

The Crucible

crucible-logo-300x287Arthur Miller’s classic, The Crucible, is a dramatized and partially fictionalized play based upon the Salem Witch Trials during 1692/93.  When taken at its simplest form, the plot centers on a love triangle between John Proctor (Eric Leslie) his wife Elizabeth (Jennifer Sinatra) and their young and quite attractive former servant girl Abigail Williams (Elizabeth Bennett). When his wife suffered from a period of sickness, he committed adultery with Abigail. John generally views this as an unfortunate indiscretion not to be repeated, but Abby feels as though a much deeper relationship has developed between them. She plots to get Elizabeth out of the way and marry John.

Abby’s scheme to secure John as her husband takes advantage of the growing fear of witches. She convinces the colony’s clergy that she and other young girls have seen the older village women commit witchcraft and cavort with the devil. The young girls were caught dancing in the moonlight and claimed they were possessed as a diversion from their activity. Abby frames Elizabeth with a doll and accuses Elizabeth of using the doll to hurt her. This sets up Elizabeth to be hanged, so John Proctor would then be available to marry Abby.

(left to right) Jennifer Sinatra, Eric Leslie and Elizabeth Bennett
(left to right) Jennifer Sinatra, Eric Leslie and Elizabeth Bennett

In the English system of justice in the late 1600s, both the courts and church together established the standards of justice and prosecution. The easiest way for the court to gain a conviction and an execution for charges of witchcraft was a confession.  As it turns out, in reality, none of the accused Salem witches who confessed were convicted or executed. However, all of the women and men who refused to confess to consorting with the devil were found guilty and executed.

As the suspected witches watched the other’s trials progress, they become faced with a moral choice; confess to witchcraft and most likely you would be spared from the gallows. Then you would only answer to God upon your death and have your soul damned to hell. Miller’s play asks us think about how we would handle ourselves if we were to find ourselves in this situation, would we lie to save ourselves and our family?

(left to right) Sophia Englesberg, Lindy Spear, Isabella Englesberg, Elizabeth Bennett, Martha McElligott, Amanda DeConciliis-Weber, Heather Dressel, Moriah Hathaway
(left to right) Sophia Englesberg, Lindy Spear, Isabella Englesberg, Elizabeth Bennett, Martha McElligott, Amanda DeConciliis-Weber, Heather Dressel, Moriah Hathaway

While The Crucible appears to be totally about the Salem Witch Trials, Miller wrote the play in 1952 as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the rallying cry of the era was “Are you now or were you ever a member of the Communist Party?” How different is that from with the question that haunts The Crucible: “Did you see Elizabeth Proctor or Francis Nurse with the Devil?”

The intimacy of the Little Lake Theatre should be just perfect for this type of soul searching drama. However, as seems often the case at Little Lake, actors and directors fail to take advantage of the intimate setting to create a nuanced and sublime performance, instead resorting to shouting to accentuate the drama. By the end of the second act, Director Jena Oberg’s over the top delivery style becomes tiring. This is regretful just as the simple love triangle story transitions to the more complex morality play that requires our full attention.

(left to right) Joshua Antoon, Eric Leslie, Warren Ashburn, and Jeff Johnson
(left to right) Joshua Antoon, Eric Leslie, Warren Ashburn, and Jeff Johnson

That is not to say that this production doesn’t have its moments. Standout performances are delivered by Elizabeth Bennett for her portrayal of Abigail, Jennifer Sinatra as Elizabeth Proctor and Ina Block as the elder Rebecca Nurse. John Reilly is the perfect representation of the self-perceived totally infallible and yet totally evil Judge Hathorne.

The resurrection of witch hunts seems to be common practice in today’s political environment.  The Crucible takes us back in time to America’s original witch hunt, the questions raised then are just as relevant today.

Arthur Miller’s classic, The Crucible, at Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15317. Performances Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, November 2-4, 9-11 & 16-18 with all performances at 8pm.

For tickets visit https://www.showclix.com/event/the-crucible

Photos by James Orr

Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers

21558947_1589498057738984_6722449227359433515_n“Everyone deserves one song.” Author Molly Rice has provided just that in her work Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers. Performed as a cabaret-style concert, it features the impressive vocal and instrumental talents of Milia Ayache accompanied by Zorahna on guitar and bass and Murder for Girls Michele Dunlap on drums.

Rice’s songs attempt to explain the rationale behind the eight-featured killer’s behaviors.  At the same time they ask the audience, “How is this possible for a human being to do such evil things to others?” .  What is the motivation?  Is it personal abuse or social inequity that simmered and festered resulting in violence or is it just some strange personality quirk?  As we reflect on our world today, these questions are even more relevant given today’s capabilities to inflect serial death in “rapid-fire” succession.

Aftershock Theatre is a new to the current cultural scene performance space. The Venue is located in a historic Slavic social hall in upper Lawrenceville.  The property is undergoing major renovation, and it is a good match for this concert play by Real/Time Interventions. Director Rusty Thelin uses the raw space on the main floor as his performance space. Walls are draped in plastic, chairs with white slipcovers and the band in white nurses’ dresses. It’s an appropriate gritty space that is enhanced by the fresh smell of old plaster dust and the hum of a portable propane heater. There is the feeling of a being in a haunted house as you enter the performance space, perhaps the ghosts of the killer’s victims are in the audience as well seeking the explanation for their fate?

Since the social hall is under renovation and possesses the barest of essential accommodations, it creates essentially a pop-up performance space. In spite of the lack of any formal theatrical infrastructure at this point, the tech team has created an intimate venue with an accompanying intimate cabaret sound.

In a typical cabaret performance, there is usually some banter between the performer and the audience. In Rice and Thelin’s collaboration, there is no verbal banter, just pantomime involving objects selected to reflect the killer’s persona, and their photo pulled from a bulletin board. The audience is left to read their backstories in the program. (Hint- do so before the performance begins.) I would have liked the performer to have introduced each song, making a more direct connection to the evil events that the songs attempt to explain. There is a precedent for this within the show as Ayache does introduce the last number as intended for those who have yet to kill.

The band, lead by Ayache as the lead vocalist, is really quite good. Once the break of character leading to the curtain call, it would be fun to listen to them jam for a post-curtain encore, complementing the inclusive nature of the Aftershock Theatre’s mission.

Theatre is a constantly evolving art form, Pittsburgh is fortunate to have companies like Real/Time Interventions and spaces like Aftershock Theatre to push that evolution ahead.

For more, read our Nichole Faina’s insightful preview click here. 

Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers by Real / Time Interventions at Aftershock Theatre, 115 57th St. in Lawrenceville, now through November 11th with performances Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. On-street parking is available but needs to be looked for, so allow time for this. Price: $20 for a ticket (includes one adult beverage with each ticket).  Tickets at www.realtimeinterventions.org

Kiss Me, Kate

21764740_10155741717919464_1515833096864313073_nPoint Park University brings a delightful mix of Cole Porter and William Shakespeare to their final season at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland with the backstage musical Kiss Me, Kate.

Winner of the first-ever Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949, Kiss Me, Kate takes place during the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.  Tensions mount when the egotistical leading man, director, and producer Fred Graham (Jeremy Spoljarick) is forced to play opposite with his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Katie Weinstein). As much as they hate each other, they still appear to be in love.

One could initially fault that notion, as Graham, has more than his eyes on Lois Lane (Hailie Lucille). She, however, is “So in Love” with her gambling boyfriend Bill Calhoun (Kurt Kemper). Lilli is also engaged to General Harrison Howell (Pierre Mballa) who promises to take her away from all the fame and adoration that comes from a life as a famous actress in theatre and the movies.

Bill is late to the rehearsal, as he has been out gambling and lost ten grand. In order to leave the game, Bill signs a marker in Fred’s name for the balance due! Just before the opening curtain of opening night, two loveable gangsters (Kevin Gilmond and Beau Bradshaw) show up in Fred Graham’s dressing room to collect the dough.

The Company of Kiss Me, KateWhile this is going on, “the show must go on”. Taming of the Shrew is an old story. The oldest unpleasant daughter (Lilli Vanessi) must marry before the sweet younger sibling (Lois Lane) can wed.  This musical Shrew shares the same similarity as Romeo and Juliet does to West Side Story.

Kiss Me, Kate is the winning combination the irreverent humor of two brilliant writers: Cole Porter and William Shakespeare. As with any Porter musical, the show’s tunes send you home humming and include the “So In Love,” “Wunderbar,” “Tom, Dick or Harry,” “Too Darn Hot,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “I Hate Men,” “Always True to You (In My Fashion)” and “Another Op’nin, Another Show.”

Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein seemed to be in a bit of a competition in their day, each creating shows with the newest techniques. R&H developed the integrated musical, Oklahoma. where the songs were actually connected to the script. Kiss Me, Kate was Porter’s response. It proved to be so popular that it won the first Tony Award for best musical and was the only Porter show to run for over one thousand performances in its first presentation on Broadway.

Katie Weinstein (Lilli) & Jeremy Spoljarick (Fred)
Katie Weinstein (Lilli) & Jeremy Spoljarick (Fred)

The real story here, however, is this production by the Conservatory Theatre of Point Park University. It is practically perfect in every way. If you went into the Rockwell Theatre thinking you were going to see a college level production with mostly undergraduates, that conception goes out the window within the first couple of numbers. This is first-class musical theatre in every way. Point Park has fact-based a reputation for producing “triple threats” actors who can brilliantly act, sing and dance.

This show only further reinforces that reputation. Lucille, Weinstein, Kemper, and Spoljarick have strong voices and can belt with the best hitting and sustaining those high notes. Lucille’s Lois Lane shows off her dancing skills as well in the fun numbers “Tom, Dick or Harry” and “Always True to You in My Fashion”. There isn’t a single number that the four leads perform that leaves you feeling it could be any better than this. A special kudo to Jordan McMillan who plays Lois Lane’s assistant Hattie, she gets the signature “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” number and delivers to the cheers of the audience. Mel Holley’s vocals and Gabe Reed Saxophone skills in “Too Darn Hot” put the second act opener over the top. Just when you think it can’t get any better or funnier, the two gangsters, who have developed their own love of theatre, deliver a comedy gem in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”.

Kurt Kemper (Bill) & Hailie Lucille (Lois)
Kurt Kemper (Bill) & Hailie Lucille (Lois)

Director and Choreographer Zeva Barzell has executed a brilliantly crafted unified production that really brings the skills and talents of her cast to the forefront. The entire ensemble of singers and dancers cannot go without mention, each had a fully develop and realized character, no one was lost or just going through the motions here. Musical Director Camille Rolla brought out the best in the singers as well as ten other musicians in the on-stage pit.

I mentioned a “unified production” early where all the elements of design fit seamlessly into and support the director’s vision. Barzell shows off the skills of Pittsburgh’s designers. Johnmichael Bohach has created a multilayered set, beautifully detailed in the theatre’s backstage area and suitably stylized for the Taming of the Shrew scenes. Bohach has a very long list of design credits and you can see why. Andrew David Ostrowski reprises his role as Pittsburgh’s busiest Lighting Designer enhancing Bohach’s design and sculpting the dancers with light. Steve Shapiro helms Sound Design for his eighth season which settled into a nearly invisible mix and a very realistic siren sound accompanying the General’s arrival.  This show has a lot of costumes as characters have their streetwear, rehearsal clothes- and Shrew costumes. Veteran Point Park Costume Designer Cathleen-Crocker Perry misses no detail in any character’s costumes, the women’s gowns are gorgeous and the state of undress in “Too Darn Hot” conveys the double entendre beautifully. Kudos as well to the Stage Managers and run-crew, opening night as spot on.

Point Park moves its theatre companies downtown to their new Pittsburgh Playhouse adjacent to our Cultural District next season. Kiss Me, Kate is on par, perhaps better than anything you might choose see down the street at another theatre. The Playhouse will be a welcome and well-earned addition to our world class cultural scene downtown.

Point Park University Conservatory Company’s production of Kiss Me, Kate, runs now through October 29th at the Rockwell Theatre at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland. For tickets click here. 

Photos by John Altdorfer

Orphie and the Book of Heroes

oatbohPittsburgh’s oldest amateur theatre company, The Duquesne Red Masquers opens its 105th season with Orphie and the Book of Heroes. This season’s selection of shows co-ordinates with The National Conference of 18th Century Women Writers that will be hosted by Duquesne University, and what better way to kick off the season than a girl-empowering musical by Duquesne alumnus Christopher Dimond?  The playwright wanted to focus on a teenage girl in ancient Greece since there are little or no female heroes in ancient Greek mythology.

The musical follows the story of Orphie (Samantha Espiritu), a spunky young girl who is obsessed with the stories that her guardian Homer (Max Begler) has told her. She longs, though, to hear a story about a Great Girl Hero.  Orphie has to put her own powers to the test when Homer is taken from her by the god of the dead and riches, the sinister song-and-dance man Hades (Grant Shadrach Jones).

The quest to rescue Homer takes her from the heights of Mt. Olympus to the depths of the underworld. As the journey progresses, she realizes that the girl hero she’s been looking for is closer than she thought.

Orphie and the Book of Heroes offers fun mash-ups of Greek Culture and our modern world filled with humor and unexpected character twists, geared for a preteen audience. Not only does it strive to empower young girls by example, it makes classical Greek mythology fun.

This is the fourth production of Orphie and the Book of Heroes. It was originally commissioned for and premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2014. One of Dimond’s goals was to create a “producible” musical for family audiences. Productions of Greek mythology conjure up grand adventures on an epic and inherently expensive scale beyond the resources of many theatre groups. The production is intended to be colorful yet simplistic in its design and presentation.

Director Jill Jeffrey (Executive Director of Pittsburgh’s Gemini Children’s Theatre) succeeds in creating an intimate epic on the Genesius Theatre stage with a slightly larger number of actors than Kennedy Center, still with many playing double or triple roles. Standouts go to Samantha Espiritu’s energetic and enchanted Orphie, Grant Shadrach Jones’ evil Hades and Max Begler, channeling a younger John Stewart, as Homer. Typical of Red Masquers productions, the cast and crew come from a variety of majors, not just theatre arts. Choreographer Katheryn Hess does a nice job of scaling the choreography to the scene design and performance space, engaging but not over done.

The cast clearly enjoyed performing. However, theatre pieces aimed at children and preteens are best enjoyed when they make up a large portion of the audience. Their enthusiasm and excitement is contagious for both actors and audience. That would have helped put this production of Orphie and the Book of Heroes over the top.

Orphie and the Book of Heroes is playing at the Genesius Theatre on the campus of Duquesne University from September 29th – October 15th with performances Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm.

Tickets can be purchased at http://www.duqredmasquers.com/purchase-tickets

Note: Parking can be a tad expensive on Penguin home game nights.

Thanks to the Red Masquers for the complimentary tickets.

Everything Old Is New Again: The Silver Theater Project

stpPlaywright Michael McGovern has founded the Silver Theater Project to create an opportunity for older actors and playwrights to have their voices heard. When one takes into account the age demographic of the theatre-going public at large there seems to be logic in this concept.

Silver Theater launched this past Sunday with a Salon Style (actors seated) reading of two short plays. McGovern’s vision calls for readings monthly to garner support for the project and start serious fundraising as a newly sanctioned 501c3 non-profit. On the horizon, a February fundraiser, spring cabaret and fully staged production next fall.

Retrospect by Kim El started the evening’s performance. Three African-American women. Two nieces and their matriarch aunt gather for a Mother’s Day Brunch. One niece is a stay at home mom, the other a hard-driving career woman. As the brunch progresses, with lubrication provided by a few Long Island Ice Teas, the two young women open up about their life choices and their envy of the life they did not choose.

For an actor, reading seated removes some of their tools, both powerful and subtle, forcing the audience to concentration on the playwright’s words above all else.  In this piece’s staging, the actors were on floor level with the audience, creating a “play on the radio” feeling for the audience

The second play of the evening was founder McGovern’s Coffee and Kisses, a short play in four scenes set in a coffee shop. A man meets a woman and flirts, the man asks the woman out. The woman counters with an invitation to a cocktail party. The man accepts if dinner follows, but asks if a friend can join him. The initial connection felt at the coffee shop refocuses at the party which occurs between scene three and four. The outcome is not as expected, but none the less if both funny and cute in the style of an old Carey Grant / Kathrine Hepburn screwball comedy. In this presentation, the actors were mostly seated and visible by the audience, creating a more engaging experience for all.

Retrospect is the more serious of the two, read by Jacqueline Flowers as the sassy Aunt, Katy Cotton, Dominique Briggs as the nieces and Bria Williams as the helpful waitress. Pittsburgh-born poet, playwright, actor and director Kim El has her BA from Duquesne University and has written fifteen plays.

Coffee and Kisses dialogue and situations generated generous laughter throughout as read by Cindy West, Brian Czarniecki, Jane Scuteri-Tinker, Randy Berner and Janet Pazzynski. Michael McGovern received his BFA in Theatre from Point Park College and his MFA in Playwriting from Carnegie-Mellon University. His work has been seen in New York and Pittsburgh.

The Silver Theater project is a great opportunity be both entertained and to be exposed to a different set of veteran actors and playwrights in the Pittsburgh region on a regular reoccurring basis. Bravo for an enjoyable first event! It will be fun to follow the Silver Theater Projects evolution

The next Silver Theatre Project event will be Sunday, October 22nd featuring a Salon Reading of the play Be Still My Heart. The performance is at 7:30 pm at the Glitter Box Theatre on Melwood Avenue. A donation of $10 per person is requested at the door.

For more information, connect with The Silver Theater Project on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheSilverTheaterProject

Some Assembly Required

14115451_1191442517544819_6699403742598873564_oAttack Theatre’s twenty-third seasons opens with Some Assembly Required, an engaging hybrid composed of dance, music, and visual art. Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza engaged the audience to embrace the creative process, think outside the box, and explore individual choices that lead to the development and premiere of a new work of art.

Normally a review would be giving you a short synopsis of the story. In this case, the synopsis is largely irrelevant. The ultimate performance we saw on opening night will never be repeated. Some Assembly Required gets much of its narrative from the venue, the art within and you the audience.  Different locations, different visual stimulation and a different audience input will yield a unique piece of art different from every other performance past and future.

For this creation, about fifty of us have gathered at Contemporary Craft gallery in the Strip District. (Other gatherings will be here and at UnSmoke Systems Artspace in Braddock.) We sit on benches, a few random chairs, the floor or stand in a circular configuration as de la Reza and Kope lay out our collective assignments. The directors, two musicians, and four dancers have created a skeleton, a framework, for the dance composition that we are encouraged to collectively work on developing. After watching and listening to the core framework, we move across the gallery to examine and dissect a piece of artwork.  This one is a sculpture of a woman’s head.   Just above the nose, the sculpture transitions to what might be a cityscape. We are asked our impression of the sculpture; what is it, what does it mean? What could it represent?  Kope takes copious notes as del la Reza leads the discussion. After a few minutes, we are asked to return to the open space where we first saw the dancers. Now the creative juices begin to flow.  Kope’s notes from our thoughts about the sculpture encourage the four dancers and two musicians to spontaneously improvise a dance segment around our impressions that ultimately will be fit into the skeleton or base dance sequences. This is the fascinating part as steps, moves, and sounds are created by the performers on the fly. We, the audience, are given a unique opportunity to peer into creative minds at work.  As the ideas are processed into segments, the transitions to make them fit seamlessly as they are worked through by the ensemble.

We will repeat this process again, in a different part of the gallery, this time by evaluating and discussing a large painting that calls to mind a neighborhood in disarray, perhaps after an encounter with an earthquake or hurricane. After we analyze and dissect the painting, the dancers and musicians under Kope’s guidance begin to improvise and create music and dance that conveys our thoughts about the visuals we see in the painting.   This segment is more musically focused, as the percussionist and cellist get a chance to interpret the new ideas with their gifts of sound.

We again return to our original space and watch as these additions are made to the skeleton, flushing out the overall piece, fine-tuning the transitions, smoothing out the rough edges. Finally, we settle in for a performance of the finished piece; from beginning to end. Clearly, there is improvisation going on. There are pieces of the skeleton still there but the work has been transformed into something almost completely different.

This last segment is the most compelling. We have gotten to know a bit about the talents, and the creative gifts that the ensemble has brought to the gathering. The final performance is as much about watching them dance and play music, interacting and emoting.   We are blessed to be able to observe their talented minds work as they pull the piece together in real time.  They seemed to enjoy sharing the finished work as much as we enjoyed the journey.

Before you go, I urge you to visit Some Assembly Required at https://www.attacktheatre.com/attend/date-range-2/some-assembly-required-2017  Be sure to scroll down to the performer’s bios. Note both the breadth and depth of creative tools each brings to the process as well as their previous work together. They, Kope and de la Reza truly work as a collaborative ensemble, each adding character, and perspective to the original skeleton. The final work is a sum of the talents and inspiration of each gifted ensemble member. Dancers Kaitlin Dann, Sonja Gable, Dane Toney, and Anthony Williams along with Percussionist Ian Green and Cellist Simon Cummings convey the joy of creative expression.

Some Assembly Required is a unique opportunity to explore the creative process and learn how individual artists contribute to the creation of a work of art. An added plus, the audience contributes to the process.

Performances of Attack Theatre’s production of Some Assembly Required can be seen at Contemporary Craft in the Strip District on Friday, September 22nd at 7:00 pm and at UnSmoke Systems Artspace in Braddock on Saturday the 23rd at 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

All performances are “pay what moves you,” which means audiences pay as much or whatever they can to see and support the show.

For tickets visit https://www.attacktheatre.com/attend/date-range-2/some-assembly-required-2017

Boeing, Boeing

21427438_10154733323486976_7798150765565575284_oA funning thing happened when I got home from the airport!

Set in a Paris flat, this Mad Man era play was written by French playwright Marc Carmoletti. The lying lothario Bernard (Justin Mohr) has managed to acquire three fiancés with associated benefits. How do you ask? They are all flight attendants and by carefully studying their flight schedules, Bernard has gotten engaged to all three without them knowing about each other. Yet.

His not so willing accomplice in this misrepresentation is his housekeeper, Berthe (Shelly Spataro). She dutifully changes out the pictures and cooks their regionally appropriate meals in step with Bernard’s master schedule, complaining all the while.

All this seems to be working out perfectly until Bernard’s old college friend Robert shows up unannounced for a visit at a most inappropriate time.  All three of the stewardesses have short layovers in Paris the same day. Not to worry, Bernard and Berthe have the liaisons planned out like clockwork. If you are wondering where the title Boeing Boeing comes into play, the dawn of the jet age and speedier travel looks like it could throw a monkey wrench into this well-orchestrated scheme.

First to arrive is Gloria (Sarah McKee) a Savanah girl in search of a husband. She’s no sooner out the door than the spirited Italian Gabriella (Ashley Harmon) arrives for lunch and a quickie, before her flight out. Scheduled for dinner is the German fräu·lein Gretchen. The well-laid plans start to fall apart as Robert becomes increasingly unable to keep the women and their schedules straight in his mind and he starts to slip up in front of each of them. Despite Robert’s best efforts to run interference, once their flights start to get delayed, arrive early or are flights canceled, the prospect of the three women meeting each other becomes inevitable.

As the catastrophe looms, director Ron Ferrara ramps up the physical comedy in this charmingly funny farce. By playing up both the historical stereotypes of the characters and the innocent physical comedy, Boeing-Boeing won the Best Revival of a Play Tony in 2008. Ferrara continues that approach in his direction. Ten years after the Broadway revival, the sweet and sexually adventurous southern girl, sexy Italian babe, German dominatrix and complaining servant could be considered offensive stereotypes. Ferrara and the cast navigate that concern with the right mix of silliness that doesn’t quite get to the level of slapstick.

At the end, everyone comes out very happy, by means you wouldn’t have imagined. The journey to resolution is what makes this farce so satisfying.

The are several standout performances.  Shelly Spataro as Berthe brings great gestures and facial expressions to the extremely competent, frustrated and underappreciated housekeeper. Her interplay with Bernard is priceless.  Chris Patrick’s Robert is the perfect combination of hapless innocence, fascination, and envy. His kissing scene with Gloria is perfection, not to mention his lust for Gretchen.

Chris Patrick as Robert carries the bulk of the dialogue. There are a few tongue twisters there that caught him on opening night but recovery was good.  His character is believable in part because he comes across as actually caring for each of his fiancés. Sarah McKee, Ashley Harmon and the over the top Pamela Farneth, as the three stewardesses, all capture the essence of their characters.

Richard Caugherty set design serves the production well. Clark Stewarts lighting is perfect in its functional simplicity. Matt Mlynarski’s costumes capture the stylized airline uniforms of the day. All the design elements support the production without distracting from it.

For a nostalgic and fun look back at the pre-feminist 60’s, this production of Boeing-Boeing is a great trip. Fasten your seatbelts, turbulence is expected!

Boeing-Boeing by Orchard Performing Arts Company is at the Apple Hill Playhouse in Delmont with evening performances at 7:30 pm on September 15, 16, 21,22, 23 and a matinee performance September 17th at 2 pm

For tickets e-mail boxoffice@applehillplayhouse.org or call 724-468-5050

PNWF – New Works from Around the World: Part 3

This third post covers the Pittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) Programs C & D! Six new one-act plays will be produced during this portion of the festival, all performed at the Carnegie Stage in Carnegie. If you missed the first post on PNWF check it out hereand the second one here

“One of my favorite parts about the festival is that since they are all new plays, the stories are all a surprise.”

Andy Coleman, PNWF Communications Director

Detailed ticket information follows at the end of this post. For more information about the festival visit http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/about-pnwf/

Program C is presented on September 14th, 22nd and 23rd at 8pm, the 16th at 4pm and the 17th at 2pm.

destinyDestiny is a Careless Waiter

by Julie Zaffarano

Broomall, PA

Produced by R-ACT Theatre Productions

 

Sean invites Emily to dinner to propose marriage. He brings his grandmother’s engagement ring to the restaurant and instructs the server to place the ring in Emily’s dessert. Justin invites Bria to the same restaurant at the same time, planning to break up with her. When the engagement ring intended for Emily ends up in Bria’s dessert, the chaos begins.

Julie Zaffarano is an emerging playwright in the Philadelphia area. Her play, The Play Makers, was named the Winner in the 2016 What If? Productions Annual Playwrights Festival. Julie holds two Masters Degrees: MA in Classical Studies and an MS in Organization Science from Villanova University.

Romeo and Juliet:  Epiloguer and j

by William Sikorski

Birchwood Village, MN

Produced by Actors Civic Theater

 

The subsequent criminal investigation of the multiple homicide at Juliet’s tomb. Detectives Davis and Stanley interrogate Friar Lawrence at the Verona 41st Precinct Police Station.

William H. Sikorski lives in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, where he works as a laboratory manager for 3M. In his (limited) spare time he writes (very) short plays. He has had several 10-minute, 1-minute and even a 1-second play produced.

branniganThe Wrong Brannigan

by Lezlie Revelle

Olathe, KS

Produced by McKeesport Little Theater

 

Mistaken identity and bad timing wreak havoc on a family full of secrets!

Lezlie Revelle is a playwright, author and singer-songwriter from the Midwest. Lezlie’s plays have been produced and won awards across the United States, including New York, Kansas City, and San Diego.


Program D’s performances are September 15th, 1th and 21st at 8pm, the 23rd at 4pm and the 25th at 2pm

When You Are a Little Bit Olderolder

by Matthew Weaver

Spokane, WA

Produced by Thoreau, NM – A Production Company

 

Cooper and Ava have a hot date at the movies, but Cooper’s younger brother Owen tags along. Everything’s going as well as can be expected until Owen runs out of popcorn …

Matthew Weaver is a Spokane, Wash., playwright and screenwriter. His plays have been performed in Washington State, Canada, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia.

bernieBernie

by Fred Perry

Roswell, GA

Produced by The South Hills Players

 

Bernie Heller has always been a bit of a schmo. And his life hit bottom today. Miserable, divorced, and a brilliant but failed artist, Bernie finally decided to end it all by getting smashed, then hanging himself – with a child’s skip rope. But when he jumped off the ladder, the thin rope snapped, the fall resulting in two broken ankles. Now three sheets to the wind and totally helpless, he calls the only person who can get him back on his feet: his renowned brother, Doctor Sid Heller.

Fred Perry is a produced playwright and screenwriter authoring six feature films for Omega Entertainment. Fred’s plays have been performed in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Georgia, where his two-act comedy, The Ascension of Twyla Potts premiered last October at the Rome Little Theatre.

Story Roadstory

by Mark Cornell

Chapel Hill, NC

Produced by Stage Right Pittsburgh

 

Directed by Joe Eberle, winner of the 2016 Donna Award for Outstanding Director

Cleveland is a struggling singer-songwriter and, after losing their house, has taken his 15-year-old daughter Ellie on the road. One night, tired of the hard life they are leading, Ellie decides to run away.

Mark Cornell has had more than 70 of his plays produced in theatres around the world, from England to Australia to Singapore and all across the U.S.. He has an MFA in playwriting from UCLA.

The Pittsburgh New Works Festival is a great opportunity for you to checkout new plays as well as the work of our region’s many talented actors, directors and companies.


For tickets:

Visit https://www.showclix.com/events/14074 or 1-888-71-TICKETS (1-888-718-4253) to reserve your seats by phone.

Main Stage Festival passes are $40. Pick your own dates with the Flex Pass or select one of the pre-built packages for a specific day and time. Either way you can experience every new play in the Festival and save a few bucks over single ticket prices.

Show times are Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm

Single Tickets Prices $15 Regular Admission ($17 at the Door) $12 Students and Under 25 ($14 at the Door)

Carnegie Stage is located at 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA  15106.  There is plenty of free parking and a great variety of restaurants and shops within easy walking distance of the theater

A final note: The final dress rehearsals of Pittsburgh New Works mainstage shows are open to the public and feature American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and live audio description for our guests.  Learn more and reserve your seat for an accessible final dress rehearsal at http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/visit-2/accessibility-2/accessible-final-dress/