The Best of Everything

Best of Everything

This past weekend I was given the opportunity to see Little Lake Theatre’s newest production, The Best of Everything which is running through June 13.  I was excited to see Little Lake’s new Artistic Director’s debut, and how the new production team has taken to the space.  I was particularly interested in understanding how Roxy MtJoy was going to transition Little Lake from the legacy created by the Disney family.  However, if Thursday’s opening night performance of Julie Kramer’s area premier is any insight into the future, MtJoy and her production team have some work cut out to get back to the high production value and attention to detail that Little Lake audiences have grown accustomed to over the last sixty six years.

Julie Kramer adapts The Best of Everything from a book by Rona Jaffe, and details the lives of New York publishing secretaries in the 1950s.  Billed as ‘Mad Men meets Mayhem,’ Kramer’s script tries to demonstrate the struggles of the modern working woman, but just falls flat.  MtJoy directs a truly uneven script (although it does have a few great moments) that labors to float between the dramatic and the comedic. This lack of balance never really allows the audience is to decide how it feels about the characters.

The true stand out of the show is the portrayal of May Agnes Russo by local actress Teresa Madden Harrold in her Little Lake debut.  She was one of the few actors that understood the idiosyncrasies of the script, and was able to demonstrate the efforts a working woman must fight with—love, money, and careers.  There were also some nice moments out of Jane Joseph, who played the lead character of Caroline Bender. We also get a lot of great comedic relief from Mary Brodland as the small town girl in a big city, April Morrison. The rest of the cast struggled with bringing one note characters to life.

Where this production was truly unsuccessful was its technical elements.  Little Lake was never known for their over the top tech, but previous Lake designers were able to create a nuanced show that blended seamlessly with the actors on stage.  The stage was always subtly decorated to give the illusion of a fully realized set but this weekend’s show was quite the opposite.  The set was sparse, just three bland metal desks and a couple of standard metal filing cabinets and all the props were brought on during excruciatingly long scene changes.  Although the music choices were perfect for the ambiance of the scenes, it would have been great for the music to fade in and out and not just start and stop abruptly.  And then we have to discuss the lights—they were abrupt, jarring, and sometimes were not even doing their most basic job of lighting the actors.

As with any new position, there is always a learning curve and I think that MtJoy has a bit of growing pains to work out in the next few months.  She needs to turn around the struggles of this production and bring back the fully realized productions and that ever so important attention to the smallest details that Little Lake has been doing for the last sixty-six years.

The Best of Everything runs through June 13, with all performances at 8PM with the exception of the Sunday matinee on June 7 at 2PM.  Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for children and can be purchased online at or by calling 724-745-6300.

Thanks to Little Lake Theatre Company for two complimentary press tickets for Thursday’s opening night performance.

Performance Date: Thursday, May 28, 2015

American Falls


Billed as a ‘modern day Our Town,’ barebones productions opened Miki Johnson’s American Fallsthis weekend to multiple sold out audiences.  Johnson’s story tells the small town of America Falls, the tragic tale of a misguided family and how it becomes connected within the whole community.  Eight characters help to tell the grim account, and provide a true idea of what it is like to live in a small western town.

Billy Mound of Clouds (Leandro Cano), a Native American shoe salesman, is featured as the narrator and community busybody. Billy sets the story in motion and gets you acquainted with the rest of the ensemble cast, a bartender, a local drunk, and the town sociopath.  Through a series of monologues each character gets to give their own description of the town and the own place within the community.  Johnson uses poetic and striking imagery to give life to a town we never see.

Patrick Jordan, founding Artistic Director of barebones productions and director of American Falls, brings together a magnificent cast and pairs it cohesively with the simplistic design that barebones is known for.  Connor McCanlus (Samuel) captivatingly brings to life a man on the edge of a breakdown, and allows the audience to follow every calculating word he mutters to his son.  Liz Hammond (Lisa) simply informs the viewer that she has recently committed suicide and delicately enlightens us why she made such a tough decision leaving her son alone with her abusive husband.  Cary Ann Spear (Samantha) does a wonderful job at shedding light on her son’s upbringing and tries to justify his later actions.

Jordan, also billed as the production’s set designer utilizes small snippets of rooms to give the illusion of five different locales.  Andy Ostrowski brings life to Jordan’s set with his lighting design and helps to create the distinct spaces with simple isolation.

American Falls is the premiere show at barebones new black box space in Braddock.  Although the space is not quite completed, it was a great insight into what is to come for barebones as whole.  The show (and all Friday and Saturday productions) featured a preshow reception with food by soon-to-be restaurant Superior Motors and libations by local companies.

American Falls runs through May 31st at barebones new space at 1211 Braddock Ave, Braddock.  Tickets are $30 for Thursday and Sunday performances and $55 for Friday and Saturday shows with the preshow reception.  Please go out and support this great show, and get some great snacks while you do. Tickets can be purchased at

Thank you to barebones productions for the two complimentary press tickets for the May 15 performance of American Falls.

Performance Date: Friday, May 15, 2015


Oblivion_573x437_revA wannabe novelist, an aspiring young filmmaker, an extremely liberal HBO executive, and a 17 year old fighting with her identity and religion bring together the cast of City Theatre’s production of Oblivion by Carly Mensch.  This incredibly quirky and ultramodern script tells the struggle of a family when their high school basketball star daughter brings home the news that she wants to become a Christian.  Oblivion runs through April 26 at City Theatre.

We begin in the Brooklyn apartment of the self-proclaimed hip parents Pam (Lisa Velten Smith) and Dixon (Quentin Maré) questioning their daughter, Julie (Julia Warner), where she had been the weekend prior.  We learn later at the laundromat, that Julie had gone with her Korean friend Bernard’s family to their annual church retreat.  Julie strives to keep her curiosity in religion from her socially yet non-practicing Jewish father and overtly agnostic mother.  After some snooping by Pam and investigating of Bernard (Christopher Larkin) by Dixon, the family finds out Julie’s secret, and they wrestle over how to deal with her want to find a higher power.

Through the devoted friendship between Bernard and Julie, we realize that Julie only looks to religion to find a larger meaning to her teenage life.  Julie serves as Bernard’s muse for his first film, a silent black and white project portraying Julie as herself in her daily life.  Bernard hopes this film will convince his family to let him live his dream of going to film school.

The kids truly outshine their adult acting partners, and Larkin was the outstanding performance of the evening.  Larkin commandeered the stage as the soon to be high school graduate and brought to life the subtle nuances of a boy growing into his own grandeur.  Warner, a 2013 graduate of Point Park, brilliantly gave us a portrayal of a young woman wanting more from her existence on Earth.  Velten Smith and Maré did an amicable job at showing us a couple being torn apart during a rough spot in their marriage.  Even if their characters lacked full depth, they did their best to pull together a compelling performance.

Director Stuart Carden brings together a wonderful production and a great night in the Southside theater.  Gianni Downs, set designer, deftly alludes to locales but lets the words of the characters fully bring those sites to full life.  Truly a sight to behold, the set features a scoreboard, a stained glass window, satellite dishes, a working dryer, and a handful of lamps, yet never distracts from the characters’ words.  Elizabeth Atkinson created an original score that paired nicely with the projections created by Jordan Harrison.

If you get the chance please see Carly Mensch’s new play Oblivion at City Theatre.  A cute and quirky play that turns the tables on parent/child relationships.  With a fantastic cast and a superb production team, you are sure to enjoy the evening on Pittsburgh’s Southside.  Oblivion runs now through April 26.  Tickets range from $36-$56 and can be purchased online here.

Thank you to City Theatre for two complimentary press tickets.

Existence and the Single Girl

Existence and the Single Girl

Existence and the Single Girl, by Pittsburgh playwright Matt Henderson and produced by 12 Peers Theater, opened last week at The Maker Theater in Shadyside. This world premier production doesn’t lack energy or ideas (or pink), but could use some major editing and a ton of focus.

The story centers around Ashley, a 12 year old girl, who instead of having sleepovers with her girlfriends and sending love notes to cute boys like she’s “supposed” to do can’t stop thinking about her place in the world is and spends her days pondering the meaning of life. Her frustrated mother, who can’t deal with a moody and depressed daughter calls in a psychologist, who turns out to be so much more—a TV sitcom director, a music video producer, a drug pusher, a janitor—to try to help her daughter become what she believes to be normal. This begins Ashley’s journey to fame, where she starts as a wholesome tween sensation and becomes a hyper sexualized pop star. If you don’t live under a rock, and the names Lohan, Cyrus or Bynes mean anything to you, you already know this part of the story. Along her journey, Ashley meets another budding young star named Blaine, but they don’t have the relationship you’re expecting.

Director Todd Betker and the cast keep Henderson’s script moving along at a solid pace and get a few good laughs from the audience along the way. Dianna Ifft’s ever changing costumes and personalities as a psychologist/TV director/music producer/janitor add a nice freshness and energy to the show. As Ashley, Alyssa LaVacca (pictured below) does her job as an angst-filled pre-teen and has no problem playing awkward. Valentina Benrexi is the mother and plays up the comedy in the beginning and transitions soundly into a more sympathetic role as she slowly realizes her mistakes. The most human moment of the entire show comes from Ross Kobelak (with help from LaVacca) in a scene toward the end of the show where Ashley and Blaine share something genuine and real.

existence tea party

The set, designed by Betker and Vince Ventura, is… pink. Very, very pink. But it works for the show and is complimented by lighting designer Alex Stevens. And with a mix of pop music and orginial music by IMD2music, the transitions don’t feel too long or drawn out. The production takes place at The Maker Theater, which has its own issues. Pillars create sight-line issues for some of the audience and pipes from above can be very distracting. The performance I attended, there was about a 15 minute period where all I could focus on was the sound of rushing water.

Even though the actors and production team provide some solid work, the problematic script is hard to overcome. It is full of ideas, so many ideas actually, that none of them truly come through. It seems that Henderson has a lot to say about fame, pop culture, feminism and gender in society, but unfortunately it’s hard to decipher any of it. It’s also difficult to care about these characters because they are more cartoons than fully realized people. I do think there is potential here; it just needs a red editing pen and the insertion of some real human emotions.

I will always applaud theater companies who choose to do new works and works that are both interesting and innovative. The danger lies, however, in making sure the work you choose the right scripts to produce. Choosing scripts that are new is a wonderful thing, but is always a risk, so it’s imperative to find the ones that are truly ready for fully realized productions.

Existence and the Single Girl continues through February 21 with Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 8PM performances at The Maker Theater. Tickets can be purchased here or at the door. Special thanks to 12 Peers Theater for the complimentary press tickets.

Performance Date: February 5, 2015

Murder for Two


This week I was given the opportunity to see the regional premiere of Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair’s whodunit musical, Murder for Two at the Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret Theater. Filled with fabulous characters, wonderfully talented actors and a beautiful design, Murder for Two is a wonderful night of theater that everyone should take the time and see. The show begins with a surprise party that goes horribly wrong—the guest of honor is murdered. Officer Marcus, the wannabe detective (Ian Lowe) happens to be in the ‘right place at the right time’ and hopes that if he determines who the murderer is he will get the promotion that he been wanting.

The Suspects are all played by the show’s writer, Joe Kinosian. Kinosian plays over ten characters, each with its own physicality and distinct voice, all of which are suspected killers in the death of Arthur Whitney. Lowe and Kinosian portray all of these characters while singing and accompanying themselves on the piano. Director Scott Schwartz brings his fabulous production from New York City’s New World Stage and Second Stage Uptown to the intimate Cabaret Theater in Pittsburgh’s Theater Square. Schwartz brings along with him his talented scenic designer Beowulf Boritt to take the CLO Theater and turn it into an industrial chic Whitney mansion. Murder for Two also showcases the talents of Andrea Lauer (costume designer), Jason Lyons (lighting designer), Jill Bc Du Boff (sound designer), David Caldwell (music director), and Wendy Seyb (choreographer).

All aspects of the show flow so seamlessly together you forget that you are in the theater and you get swept up into the show’s intrigue. Murder for Two is a fabulously written musical with a great conceit: Two actors, four hands, 13 characters, one piano, 90 minutes, two murders, and one killer. Beautifully designed, magnificently acted, and flawlessly directed, Murder for Two is a show that I suggest you don’t miss. Running through January 18, 2015, you have plenty of time to check out this fantastic night of theater. I do suggest the show before November 22 to catch Kinosian and Lowe, because a second cast takes over the run on the 23rd. Tickets range from $35.00 to $50.00 and can be purchased from, and are worth every penny. Shows are Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30PM, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00PM. For a full list of show times, be sure to check out the CLO’s website. Special thanks to the CLO for two complimentary press tickets.

Performance Date: October 30, 2014

The Last Day of Judas Iscariot

Judas Title

This weekend saw the opening of Throughline Theatre Company’s final installment of their 2014 Mortality and Divinity based season.  Directors Kaitlin Kerr and Liam Macik turn the 2005 script by Stephen Adly Guirgis into a beautifully acted and designed piece.  The Last Days of Judas Iscariot runs through November 1 at the Grey Box Theatre in Lawrenceville.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a fictional telling of the appellate court case determining the guilt of Christianity’s biggest sinner Judas (Casey Cunningham) and his involvement in the plot that lead to the historic crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth (Luke Bruehlman).  Prosecuting Attorney, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Ursula Asmus Sears), and Defense Lawyer, Yusef El-Fayoumy (Parag S. Gohel), call many notable witnesses to the stand to prove to the Judge (Everett Lowe) and jury their cases.  Historical witnesses include Caiaphas the Elder (Lowe), Pontius Pilate (Keven H. Moor), Sigmund Freud (William Yanity), Mother Teresa (Amy Portenlanger) and even Satan himself (Ricardo Vila-Roger and Emily Swora).

Scenic Designer, Sabrina Hykes, turns the Grey Box into a grungy courtroom in Purgatory, and uses recycled items to give that rundown feel.   The main feature of Hykes’s set, the Judge’s bench and witness stand, is created by stacking wooden pallets to resemble a desk.  Piled cinder blocks and an old metal trashcan with a board across the top form El-Fayoumy’s desk and soapbox while Cunningham uses an old school lift top desk as his home base.  None of the Jury’s seats match one even being an old filing cabinet and another an old gas stove with a pillow on top for comfort.  Wendy Baxter and Joseph Ryan Yow, the lighting designer team, do their best with the capabilities of the Grey Box to delineate between the courtroom, character flashbacks, and the cell in which Judas is holding himself.

Overall, Throughline’s Kerr and Macik have done a wonderful job leading a talent ensemble of actors and well matched artistic team.  However, the overly verbose script does not lend itself to getting to the point very swiftly.  After three hours and ten minutes, including intermission, you are left wondering what the verdict was.  It all leads to one line and what the audience knows about Christian history to direct us to the ending.

If you do get a chance, please make sure to check out The Last Days of Judas Iscariot presented by Throughline Theatre Company at Lawrenceville’s Grey Box Theatre.  The show runs now through November 1, with shows Thursday and Friday at 8PM and Saturday at 2PM and 8PM.  Tickets are $15.00 for adults and can be purchased from or at the door.

Performance Date: October 24, 2014

Doubt: A Parable


This week begins the second of a three week run for Little Lake Theater’s production of the 2004 play by John Patrick Shanley, Doubt:  A Parable. The show, turned movie in 2008, illustrates the struggles of a Bronx parish priest and his effort to bring the Catholic Church to a more modern era with the opposition from the school’s principal.  As one could imagine, uncertainty (aka doubt) is the main theme that binds these characters together, yet they each struggle with it on different spectrums.  Each character seeks ways to remove the ambiguity in their daily structure to uncomplicated their lives, but that proves too difficult–causing more problems and more internal doubts.

Art DeConcillis directs a tremendously talented cast to bring Shanley’s commanding words to life.  Don Digiulio powerfully plays the conflicted Father Flynn, Lynne Franks expertly expresses Sister Aloysius’s mistrust of everyone, and Laura Barletta adeptly demonstrates the true naivety of the young nun—Sister James.  Rounding out the cast is a newbie to the Pittsburgh acting scene, Lauren Kelley who stunningly steals the show with her portrayal of Mrs. Muller.

Martha Bell, the Lake’s resident designer, and Leigh Ann Frohnapfel, properties manager, alongside TJ Firneno, as set designer, bring life to the set.  They truly utilize Little Lake—a theater in the round—to give us every side of St. Nicholas Church School:  the garden, Sister Aloysius’s office, and Father Flynn’s pulpit.  And on each side of the stage featured a hand-made stain glass window that created beautiful designs on the Lake’s floor.

DeConcillis brings together every element of the stage to create a wonderful night of theater.  He showcase’s a wonderfully written script by presenting four fantastic actors in a beautifully designed and decorated set.  Doubt, runs about an hour and forty minutes without an intermission—so be sure to order your fruit and cheese plate or your hot fudge sundae before the show starts!

Doubt:  A Parable, by John Patrick Shanley runs through September 20 at Little Lake Theater in Canonsburg.  Tickets range between $12 and $20 and can be purchased by calling the Lake at 724-745-6300 or by visiting

Special thanks to Little Lake Theater for two complimentary press tickets.

Performance Date: September 6, 2014

In case you didn’t know…


Pittsburgh Fringe Festival

For all of you that don’t know, last night kicked off the inaugural Pittsburgh Fringe Festival and will continue through Sunday.  This year’s festival features 22 shows by 22 different companies in five separate venues across Shadyside, all mostly off of Ellsworth Avenue.  Although it’s almost impossible to see every show this weekend, you can certainly take in your fill of experimental theater.

This festival will bring Pittsburgh into a collection of cities like San Francisco and New York to bring new and experimental theater to life all together at the same time.  However, since Pittsburgh is not equipped with multiple theater venues in such a close proximity our Fringe has looked to other spaces to bring together this extreme amount of theater.  For example, last night I had the opportunity to see [best imitation] by the No Name Players.  The show is a scaled down musical featuring a keyboard, ukulele, violin and guitar, but was presented in a classroom at the Winchester Thurston School.  Maybe not the best place to do a musical, but the performance was extraordinary.  The biggest take away should be to focus on content not venue. The shows The Pittsburgh Stage crew saw last night include 40 Minute Divorce, Women Say F*ck Too, The Accordion Monologues, and This Betrayal Will Be Our End.

Do you best to at least take in one show of the first ever Pittsburgh Fringe Festival running now through Sunday.  All tickets are $12 plus the one-time fee of $3 for a festival button (Think of it as $15 for the first show and $12 for each show after, plus the button gets you in to certain events—for free—as well as other discounts).  With the volume of shows the festival is doing, on such a tight schedule, make sure you get to each show 15 minutes early because there is no late seating.

The full schedule can be found on the Fringe’s website:


Until Next Year…

Darling CoreThis past weekend I got to partake in the inaugural Pittsburgh Fringe Festival.  Over the course of three days I got to see six of the shows that were presented throughout Shadyside, and here are my insights into those shows:

First, I got to see “Women Say Fuck, Too” produced by the Pittsburgh Lab Project.  The show, written by C.S. Wyatt, tells us the story of three women’s daily lives as they graduate from college and move on to bigger and better things.  The show’s director, M. Reagle, does her best with the space (Steel City Improv) to differentiate between the local bar, a yoga studio, and the girl’s backyard as the women tell of their sexual explorations and desires.

The same night I got to see the No Name Player’s production of [best imitations] by Jeremy Richter and directed by Don DiGiulio.  Taking place in a Winchester Thurston classroom, the show featured a songwriter at a bar with his muses.  The muses soon become self-aware and begin fighting the creative process.  [best imitations] was a fabulous show, but the classroom created a few challenges that limited the small scale musical from reaching its full potential.

Across the weekend I was also able to take in “If There Were Such a Thing as Happiness” by Jenniffer Schaupp and produced by the Kaleidoscope Collective. This show had the best space of any of the shows that I saw across the weekend, in the Courtyard Theater of Winchester Thurston (aka the playground).  Erby, the show’s main character, is bathing in her backyard when a newly religious man comes to return the ashes of Erby’s father that he had stolen.  Erby uses this time, while still bathing, to get to know the man and discuss means of happiness and the reasons for religion.

Our next show took me to the Boys and Girls Club of Shadyside to see the Brawling Bard Theater’s world premiere of “The Compleat Guide to Murder and Mayhem by Will Shakespeare.”  This theater company uses stage combat to retell Shakespeare’s stories, and ‘Murder and Mayhem’ is no different. The show was written by Alan Irvine and features Tonya Lynn’s fight choreography to show how Shakespeare found the inspiration on a large portion of his famous stories.

Later that day, after lunch I might add, I got to see a company from Scranton PA’s show, “The Darling Core,” also at the Boys and Girls Club.  The show was devised by The Vintage Theater and starred Simone Daniel and Conor O’Brien (Pittsburgh Stage’s pick for best festival actor) as two Vaudeville traveling actors and their backstage problems.  This Pittsburgh premiere was a dark comedy that uses classic vaudeville techniques that are incorporated with ‘modern convention and tone.’  One of my favorite shows from the festival.

After taking a little bit of a break—I will say seeing this much theater in one weekend can be overwhelming—I was able to take in Thoreau, NM-A Production Company’s show “Hell with the Lid Taken Off.”  This world premiere was a collection of monologues from various Pittsburgh playwrights (Robert Eisenberg, F.J. Hartland, John Zygmunt, and quite a few others) dealing with bigger themes that were set in our local communities.  The ensemble cast featured a ton of great Pittsburgh actors, Joel Ambrose, Barb Sawatis, Magie Mayer, and Robin Beruh (Pittsburgh Stage’s choice for best festival actress).

Overall the first ever Pittsburgh Fringe Festival was a great weekend of theater.  I look forward to reporting on next year’s event, and seeing how new companies take the struggles of non-traditional theater spaces and using them to their advantage to create new and interesting pieces of theater.  Until next year…

SWAN DAY Pittsburgh 2014



There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”-Maya Angelou

March 29th will mark the No Name Players 6th annual presentation of the Support Women Artist Now (SWAN) Day event.  According to ‘SWAN Day is an international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women’s creativity.’ Founder and Artistic Director, Don DiGiulio, and Producing Artistic Director, Tressa Glover, are proud to say that they have brought together more than fifty local female artists including musicians, dancers, theater artists, filmmakers, poets, visual artists and fashion designers to showcase the truly talented women of Pittsburgh.  As with previous years of SWAN Day Pittsburgh, this year will be featuring world premier works that are to highlight the artists’ own stories which they’ve never told before.

Digiulio and Glover were inspired to bring SWAN Day to Pittsburgh when they were introduced to it while living in Chicago.  According to DiGiulio, The No Name Players realized that there is ‘so much amazing work being done by women artists, especially in Pittsburgh’ and they ‘wanted to provide an opportunity and outlet to Pittsburgh’s women artists to join in the worldwide celebration.’  Over the course of their six years of presenting SWAN Day Pittsburgh they have had the great pleasure of sharing the stories of countless women presented by hundreds of Pittsburgh’s women artists.  For the past three years they have sought to inspire the artists by filming stories of local women along a similar thread, and this year they have inspired their artists with a quote from Maya Angelou:  “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  With this theme they hoped to pull stories that have remained untold until the show.

This year the No Name players have sought to bring even more awareness to their SWAN Day event by continuing their SWAN Day Jr. for the second year.  This smaller show will be at 1:00 PM the day of the main event and will feature up and coming female artists from the Act One Theatre School, The Ellis School, Hill Dance Academy Theater and more.  Don and Tressa hope that SWAN Day Jr. will be the support and encouragement that young artists need to ‘cultivate an appreciation for the arts in a younger audience.’  And for the first year SWAN Day will be expanded to SWAN Week, with free performances throughout the city and discounted admission to Pittsburgh’s Toonseum.

The No Name players have brought together for the past five years five great shows featuring hundreds of women artists from the Pittsburgh area, and SWAN Day Pittsburgh 2014 is looking to be no different.  Through SWAN Day and the rest of their regular season DiGiulio and Glover strive to work with artists from many different artistic genres and with this spirit of collaboration hope to ‘create a fully supportive and all-encompassing artistic community.’  SWAN Day Pittsburgh 2014 is a one night only event that will open March 29, 2014 at 8:00 PM at The New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh’s North Side.  Tickets are $25 ($30 at the door) for the performance, or $35 for the show and the preshow reception and can be purchased via  Visit for more information about SWAN Day Pittsburgh, SWAN Day Jr., or SWAN Week Pittsburgh.