The 27th annual Pittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) Program B offers is a mixed bag of theatrics. On stage, three world premiere one act plays, produced by local theater troupes. I reviewed the line up beforehand on PNWF’s website and just knew my dramatic pallet would be well attended to.
Program B features The Heritage Players, longtime PNWF contributors, the artists collaborative, Cup-A-Jo Productions, and The Duquesne University Red Masquers, the oldest amateur theater company in Pittsburgh. Each company, with their own unique cast, offers a dramatic illustration of the playwright’s characters, a time and place showcased in their new works; gently breathing life into the story.
First up for review, Exit Strategy by Fairbanks, Alaska playwright Tom Moran, is produced and directed by Jay Breckenridge and Nicole Zalek of Pittsburgh’s South Hills troupe The Heritage Players. Love dating? Hate dating? Either Way, Exit Strategy offers insight on improving your date worthiness, navigating the desires and intents of the opposite sex and being true to yourself. This one act consists of a simple set; a high top bar table and a couple of glasses. Lead character Sean, played by Connor McNelis, experiences a series of dates, each one propelling him to tweak his ‘style’. His dates played by Nicole Zeak, Elena Falgione and Renee Rabenold help McNelis deliver Moran’s dialogue, which is ordinary and familiar, often fast paced and 100% natural. Sean’s evolution of self- awareness is comedic, mainly because it’s an honest representation. The dialogue keeps the audience engaged and Sean’s attempts to improve his dating skills are anything but cliche. The end offers a pleasant surprise, sometimes a happy ending is the icing on the cake.
The second play, All Sales Final, by New York City playwright John Yarbrough, is presented by Cup-A-Jo Productions and performed by a seasoned cast of actors. The play takes a subject typically considered delicate, sacred and often sensitive and introduces financial exploitation and the callousness of greed through the absurdity of a ponzi scheme and characters with questionable personal boundaries. The comic relief flourishes from actors Mark Yochum, as Mr. Festerberger and Megan May cast as Mrs. Wilkinson. All Sales Final has a lot of ‘one liners’ that seemed to challenge the cast into keeping a straight face. I enjoyed seeing the actors reactions to each other as much as I enjoyed watching them perform. Director, Nick Mitchell’s stage direction requires the cast utilize the whole stage and is high energized, both appropriate and appreciated. Produced by Joanna Lowe for Cup- A- Jo Productions, together Mitchell and Lowe present a cast who brings Yarbrough’s one act melodrama, a rendition of a price tag on life to the stage with passion.
Program B’s final performance, The Sparrows, written by Pennsylvanian playwright Evan W. Saunders and presented by The Duquesne University Red Masquers. An introspective plot offering a brief examination into the memory of Will, played by Ian Brady. Will struggles to accept a memory or the way the event actually occurred. The memory includes Holly, played by Angela Trovato, and he relives a moment in time, playing out many different angles and possible outcomes. Holly sometimes shows compassion, other times frustration and boredom all while Will remains reticent. This one act is an interesting perspective and constructs a somewhat surreal reflection on life. The dialogue is repetitive but with each imagined scenario the actors deliver in a different manner. I really enjoyed The Sparrows being placed at the end of the series. I enjoyed the sentimentality Saunders created with a visit down memory lane.
Remaining true to their mission and style, Carnegie Stage, once again hosts the month long PNWF. Always a hospitable staff, beverages, ample parking, accessible location to tri county roadways and ample restaurants and bars within a few short blocks from the theater and innovative and unique theater experience with every visit. PNWF is a great opportunity for the theatrically adventurous audience, writers, and performers to explore Pittsburgh’s theater community.
For tickets and more information about the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, click here. Stay tuned for more coverage of the festival coming soon!