Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

12301521_10153309778377709_8715195894179439698_nDanny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley is a torrent of frustration, confusion, and kindness as two socially bereft characters make an awkward attempt at finding happiness. Adrift in their drinks Danny, played by Andrew Yackel, and Roberta, Rachel Noderer, begin their night together at the bar. Snappy dialogue and an intense game of one-ups set the tone as to who is crazier. As the water of life becomes more turbulent the two characters recognize each other as a safe place to weigh anchor.

Director Justin Sines has helped shape a beautifully turbulent show. The desperation for safe harbor exuding from Yackel and Noderer is so thick I felt like I should be able to reach out and touch it. The trio has taken the time to fully understand the flow and rhythm of the dialogue, and create a wonderful melody that crescendos and decrescendos as smoothly as ship riding a wave.

Sines has clearly created an environment where in the actors trust him, and I wish he would have used that trust to go farther with the show. It bordered on safe, and a show like Danny needs to be completely unmoored and set to drift. While the dialogue had a wonderful musicality to it, it often felt like two pre-teens flirting instead of two members of society who are so socially inept that this is best they can do. Yackel, and Noderer understood the need to have someone, to not be crazy and alone, but  that drive needs to be balanced. Several moments in the show, I felt Danny, or Roberta already knew the outcome, and had no more fear or concern of what may be coming.

As beautiful and grounded as the actors were in the performance, the technical elements were not. Some of this may have been my seat choice. Performed in a three-quarter thrust, I will take a seat on the side every time. In the case of Danny it was a mistake. Clearly blocked for a proscenium space, I saw the back of Danny’s head more than anything else.

The lighting design was confusing, and messy, that created strange and awkward shadows on the stage. Light color and intensity often abruptly changed. Times when I wanted so badly to be invested in the moment with the characters, I was instead pulled back by a change in light.

At the end of the show I felt as though I had been tossed around on the deep blue sea myself. Between the wonderful performances by the actors, and the confusion of tech, I felt at odds with the show. I would have liked to see some bigger risks being made by the director, pushing the cast farther, but overall I quite enjoyed what I could see of the production.

Special thanks to Justin Sines for complimentary press tickets. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea has one more performance tonight, December 12th at 8pm at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theater. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Yinz’r Scrooged

CTy5A2VWUAAUycS (2)For my second big show in Pittsburgh I had the great fortune to see Bricolage Production Company’s Yinz’r Scrooged Friday night, which is part of their Midnight Radio series. I don’t think this could have been a better way for me to begin my first holiday season in Pittsburgh. I have a special place in my heart for both A Christmas Carol, and radio shows.

I remember as a little boy a local radio station would play reruns (I’m not old enough to remember the originals) of classic radio plays at 10 pm. I was (and still am) awed at how clearly a story could be created from just sound. With no visual pictures, I was able to create the world around me be simply closing my eyes and listening. Such great memories create high expectations for current radio productions.

Tami Dixon has adapted the Charles Dickens classic so that it holds all of the personality of Pittsburgh. From speech patterns and slang, to everyday behavioral Pittsburghian stereotypes. Even being new to the ‘burgh, the comically driven stereotypes resonated with me. I may not have understood all of jokes, but those that I have experienced had me rolling with laughter. Most importantly, Ms. Dixon not only managed to parody Pittsburgh well, but her adaptation holds the weight of the original.

Of course the wonderful work Ms. Dixon provided wouldn’t be as potent without a voice. Lissa Brennan, Howard Elson, Michael McBurney, Connor McCanlus, and Sheila McKenna make up the cast. Each member not only brought to life multiple characters, many of whom are ironically Pittsburghian, but provided a majority of the Foley work as well. The sound that wasn’t created by the cast, was created by the musicians. Musical director James Rushin, clarinetist Kira Bokalders, and guitarist George Elliot not only created a chilling assortment of instrumental sound effects, they created a subtle, yet powerful ambiance for the world. I would also like to tip my hat to Stage Manager Brandon Martin, for keeping track of hundreds of moving pieces (quite literally) that go into a radio play.

The space itself was comfortable and cozy. Since nothing was hidden from the audience, my excitement came from being able to see and hear how everything was going to be used to create sound. As when I was a child, I often found myself closing my eyes to listen to the show. Voices and actors that I was watching onstage disappeared into the uniqueness of each character’s sound. Nostalgia hit me from several sides. Part of me was 10 years old again lying in the dark listening to the crackle of an AM station, and just like then, vivid scenes of what I was hearing played on the back of my eyelids.

With the warm, cheerful, and inviting staff, and activities in the lobby, the heartfelt, and powerfully funny adaptation, and wonderful nostalgia Yinz’r Scrooged was definitely a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Special thanks to Bricolage for complimentary press tickets. Yinz’r Scrooged runs through December 19th. Tickets and more information can be found here.

 

Chickens in the Yard

Chickens-Websquare

Walking in to see my first Quantum Theatre production ever I had no idea what to expect. Chickens in the Yard by playwright Paul Kruse has given me a unique style to continue to look forward to from Quantum, and the Hatch Arts Collective. From the moment I entered the space in Lawrenceville I was invited not just to watch but to participate in a theatrical event. The space, what appeared to be a small gutted machine shop, had been designed by Britton Mauk to feel/look like both a back porch, and a recently built chicken coop. Basing wholly on the title of the play, the corrugated sheet metal, simple pine set, and warm lights strung across the rafters, it made me feel like I was inside a home-made chick incubator. The simplicity of the set, acceptance of the performance space, and the fact that elements blended together throughout the span the entire house made me feel welcomed and invited to this world.

Playwright Paul Kruse has created a wonderful set of characters in his writing. This play features several story arcs that all weave tightly together, like chicken wire, closely wound together at points, spreading apart only to tightly wind around another. The play opens with three chickens, Lucille Two (Laurie Klatscher), Bruce Lee (Joseph McGranaghan), and Eleanor Roosevelt (Alec Silberblatt) strutting around the yard in hen-peckingly precise stylized movement. While I was a little nervous at this opening action, wondering how a play about chickens was going to keep me engaged, I was quickly, and carefully shown.

The transition between movement of chickens, and the entrance of human characters was created in a delightfully simple convention of stepping slightly off and on stage. Through these carefully and clearly observed conventions chickens became humans as the characters who seek out discovery of self and family.

The scene begins Tom, also played by Silberblatt, and Joyce, played by Klatscher, having a discussion of concern that it’s been almost a year and none of the hens have lain any eggs, and an apologetic Tom admitting that he’s forgotten to by chicken feed on his way home from work. Instead, he brought home a fourth chicken. The fourth chicken, Anne Hutchinson (Siovhan Christensen) timidly joins the brood. Within minutes Anne Hutchinson is fighting with Bruce Lee.

The scene progresses as Joyce’s son John, Tom’s partner, played by McGranaghan, arrives home from work. Hints of tension are revealed as the young hospital administrator is asked about his day with his reply of “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Amidst the excited clucking of approval and uncertainty, John is let off the hook as Abby, Tom’s sister, whom he hasn’t seen since he left his family’s farm when she was four, appears at the door. Abby, played by Christensen, arrives at the house under the guise of researching colleges in the city. She enters the space as timidly as her fowl counterpart did minutes ago. Abby’s surprise visit, puts all previous conversations on hold, allowing them to incubate, and grow throughout the show, at the same time creating a fantastic tension as her own problems add to the mix.

Laurie Klatscher, who plays Joyce Park, proved to be a great mother hen for the cast. She has developed a powerful balance between a seemingly aloof hippy raising chickens in the city, and a woman who is incredibly sharp. In group scenes, she is seen to be incredibly caring and free spirited, encouraging creative thought and gentle banter. In moments alone with other characters, Klatscher uses these elements to powerfully inform Joyce’s maternal instincts, revealing a woman who is truly grounded and protective of those around her. Klatscher has developed a character who has accepted who she is, and what she wants.

McGranaghan and Silberblatt’s characters spend the most time searching for their identities. John, the more down to earth of the couple, spends much of his time trying to discover who he is. While Tom, an out of work artist, is searching to understand their identity as a couple. The two cluck and coo as feathers get ruffled, when John, unsure of who he is, struggles to understand Tom’s selfless need for John to be happy.

Watching Ms. Christenson craft Abby is as intense as it is unsettling. She comes off as incredibly shy and quiet, kind and polite. Much like her counterpart, Abby is quick to avoid conversations that get too close to the truth. It is clear that she is telling a different story to each character, her way of struggling to discover who she is. More important is her own self-discovery of why she lies.

It was evident to me throughout the show how careful and clear director Adil Mansoor was with his intentions. There never seemed to be a moment that wasn’t well thought out and crafted as discovery of self unfolds for each character in the show. However some of the stylistic choices didn’t always make sense to me. In several flashbacks during the show several actors at once would appear as a memories of a single character, moving and speaking in beautifully crafted moments, but I was not sure of necessity of the stylistic choice.

Patrick Hayes lighting design, and David JM Bielewicz’ sound design were great conceptual aids to the show. While in the present moments, the lighting was warm and inviting, and the live music gentle and caressing to the ear. In the more stylistic moments, such as the memories, lights were utilized in a simple shift to a much cooler tone, as did the music. Much like the actors transformation into chickens, this simple convention only aided in the story telling.

So what does it take to “…want the things you want?” And how does one decide who they are? I think Chickens in the Yard explores these questions wonderfully, while not offering a definitive answer. After leaving the theatre, and driving home I wondered that myself. Am I who I will be? Do I want what I want? For now, yes to both questions, but I also expect both answers to change over time. I hope that when they do, I am ready to see, and accept the change.

Special thanks to Quantum Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Chickens in the Yard runs through December 6, tickets and more information can be found here.