4.48 Psychosis

17523703_1389815077723503_6902056036399418031_n4.48 Psychosis opened 4.21.17 at Carnegie Stage.  The black box theater is the perfect space to host an experience which invites the audience inside the mind of someone mentally ill.  The play is a dramatized confession oozing sadness, confusion, anger, lust, fear and desperation, presented as a stream of consciousness narrative. Director Robyne Parrish quickly absorbs the audience into a position of bystander by amalgamating the private and personal pain of emotional illness with the public’s reproach to victims through an intricate portrayal of agony.  With a cast of 3, each playing one dynamic part of a scarred psyche, none of whom are named, lead many people to assume 4.48 Psychosis is a first hand account of playwright Sarah Kane’s plummet toward suicide. This show is not for someone who could easily be triggered by a theatrical execution of mental illness, or representation and discussion of symptoms such as self- harm and suicide. Written by British playwright Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis is often interpreted as an actual account of her intimate relationship with her own mental illness.

Off The Wall Productions at Carnegie Stage presents "4.48 Psychosis" by Sarah Kane; directed by Robyn Parrish; choreographed by Moriah Ella Mason; starring Siovhan Christensen, Erika Cuenca, and Tammy Tsai. Running April 21-30, 2017. For more information, go to www.insideoffthewall.com

off the WALL Productions have cast Erika Cuenca as the lead/ego, and supporting actors, Tammy Tsai as the superego and Siovhan Christensen as the id.  Cuenca recites the raw and unapologetic dialogue with sincere professionalism.  At times I found her stage presence conflicting with her character;  she wasn’t accurately disheveled, and consistently delivered her lines with confidence.  None of these traits spoiled the role but produced moments when I wondered how comfortable she is imitating someone with a severe emotional disease.  Regardless, the majority of her performance steadily portrays a horrified and frightened victim of derangement.  

Tsai, remains stoic through her sobering representation as superego and doctor. Charged with guiding the ego toward healing, teetering between the superego and a sound and grounded medical professional Tsai delivers the disarrayed and disturbed mind most accurately.  As doctor, she asks her patient, “Have you made any plans?”  The ego responds, “Take an overdose, slash my wrists then hang myself.”  Tsai matter factly states, “That won’t work”,  seamlessly blending her role as superego and psychiatrist both cold and isolating.   448-206

Each character is dressed simply in white and this costume design suits Christensen, the id, most appropriately.  She is simply just there; aloof, mercilessly depicting the need for desire, love, and lust.  Like the audience, the id is merely along for the ride through an unhinged mind. She does not flinch when ego screams, “Fuck you for rejecting me by never being there.  Fuck you for making me feel like shit about myself”.  Christensen’s id unintentionally taunts ego with a natural femininity and moves like a dancer. 

4.48 Psychosis is an exhibition of art. The exchange of dialogue between the psyche is intentionally desperate and charged with self-doubt and self-loathing. It is the cold and calculated approach to treatment, specifically pharmacology that instigates anxiety in me, as a witness and audience member.  After admittance into a hospital, and yielding to medication, Cuenca, Tsai and Christensen adapt their roles to include uncontrollable physical restlessness, pacing, twitching, shaking, anxiety, panic, and paranoia.  This is hard to watch.  I was compelled to glance away; to momentarily divert my senses, stealing a minute to process what I was seeing and hearing. It may be cliche to say this production of 4.48 Psychosis is ‘edgy’, but it is.  It is moving and troubling and thought provoking.  In the typical manner of off the WALL Productions, 4.48 Psychosis challenges my way of thinking and exposes me to ideas I would not necessarily choose to explore.  This is a theatrical embodiment of madness and an attempt to drive awareness.  The play is sad and disturbing.  It will make you uncomfortable.  It will challenge your perceptions and force you to reevaluate your ideas of mental illness and treatment.  I purposely left out a  synopsis of the play because it is Kane’s poetically scripted chain of experiences, voiced through the talented and driven cast, that will entice theater goes to Carnegie Stage to be a witness to Kane’s final outreach through art.  

4.48 Psychosis runs at Carnegie Stage through April 30th. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Special thanks to off the WALL Productions for complimentary press tickets.

Photos courtesy of off the WALL’s website here. 

Wild With Happy

YT17-Feature-Wild-With-HappyThe situation playwright Colman Domingo presents us with in WILD WITH HAPPY is rather straightforward.  Gil, a struggling black actor, has left New York City to deal with the death of his eccentric mother Adelaide.

The show opens with Gil reflecting on being raised by a struggling single mother and the time she took him to church when he was ten to hear Elder Bovane and “Get some Jesus”. He hasn’t been to church since!

If you were wondering how dealing with death, funerals and grief were going to be funny, wonder no more. Elder Bovane sets the tone for just how zany this thing is going to become.

Gil arrives at the funeral home before his Aunt Glo, and his friend Mo, who were supposed to join him there to finalize the arrangements.  Gil, on his own and with no desire or patience to deal with the myriad of expensive choices opts for cremation, the simplest and cheapest of the options.

While waiting for coffee and the arrangements to be completed, Gil recalls one of the last phone conversations with his mother.  She talks about having just received from QVC one of her proudest possessions, a Disney Cinderella princess doll. Adelaide and Gil had been to Disneyworld thanks to a contest the year before and she was hooked on the Magic Kingdom.

170404_CityTheatre_WildWithHappy_001
Corey Jones as Gil (background: C. Kelly Wright as Adelaide)

Once Gil has decided on a minimalist cremation with no services, followed by a grief-quenching quickie with Terry the young new age funeral director, he heads to Adelaide’s apartment.

After Gil gets to his mother’s apartment his zany Aunt Glo arrives and begins to rummage through Adelaide’s closet, selecting the things she wants for herself. Aunt Glo has an outspoken opinion on everything including Gil’s choice to “burn up” his mother.  Glo is angry that he is not giving her the opportunity to grieve in the customary community way. Gil just wants to put this all behind him and get back to New York. The dialog is flowing back and forth like a game of verbal tennis just as Gil’s friend Mo arrives on the scene. Mo, by all outward appearances and behaviors, might be thought of as a little bit off center, but he does have a solid yet unannounced plan to help his friend grieve.

Once he and Gil pick up Adelaide’s ashes, they start the drive back to New York. Mo then takes a surprise detour; a road trip to Disney World with Terry and Aunt Glo in hot pursuit.  Thanks to CPTS (Colored Person Tracking System) placed in the Cinderella doll by Mexicans at the request of Aunt Glo, they have no trouble following them.

Once the fireworks begin at the happiest place on earth everything turns out happily ever after!

Corey Jones as Gil, C. Kelly Wright as Aunt Glo
Corey Jones as Gil, C. Kelly Wright as Aunt Glo

City Theatre’s Lester Hamburg Studio is an intimate three quarter thrust performance space seating around one hundred and twenty five people. It’s the perfect venue for Wild With Happy. The comedy is in the style of Robin Williams, Lucille Ball or Dick Van Dyke delivered in both physically and the verbally with jousting between the characters.

Director Reginald L. Douglas’ casting choices create a perfect ensemble for Wild With Happy in terms of style, physical presence, and comedic timing.

Corey Jones’s Gil is the comedic foil and the reality balance that grounds all the other performances. Gil may be the one who’s struggling with grief but the rest of them are genuinely crazy.  Jones brings the action forward through the process of dealing with the logistics of the non-funeral and disposal of her assets. He conveys Gils’ desire to just get on with it and yet reveals the difficulty Gil has in dealing with his mother’s passing.

Point Park alum Monteze Freeland delivers physical comedy with perfect timing as both Elder Bovane and Mo. The latter is a sort of multi-gender character who possesses all of the required practical wisdom to resolve any issue in the best theatrical tradition. Freeland’s characters keep the audience laughing whenever he is on stage.

Pitt alum C. Kelly Wright plays both Adelaide and Aunt Glo. Adelaide while being a funny character has a required seriousness for the audience, she just died after all. Glo, on the other hand, is over the top opinionated and thirsty. She is that zany relative that seems to live in everyone’s family. She’s generally correct but can make you crazy while getting her point across. Wright’s portrayal of the two characters so different that if you didn’t know by the program it was the same actor you wouldn’t know. There is a brilliantly done moment at the end of the play when she literally morphs before your eyes from Aunt Glo to Adelaide.

Corey Jones as Gil, Jason Shavers as Terry, Monteze Freeland as Mo
Corey Jones as Gil, Jason Shavers as Terry, Monteze Freeland as Mo

Pittsburgh native and Point Park alum Jason Shavers portrayal of Terry, the fourth generation funeral director, has just the right amount creepiness for a guy who deals with dead bodies all day yet with a degree of sensitivity that isn’t fake.

Tony Ferrieri’s scenic design elements are minimalist yet cleverly executed including the cars for the road trip and the pop out bench. Costume Designer Karen Perry’s suit for Gil is classy and expensive looking, but a tad misfit, subtly reinforcing the perception of Gil’s less than successful acting career.

Douglas’ directorial vision brings all the elements and timing together perfectly in a show that’s both fun filled and a joy to watch. Not bad for a show about death and grieving, it is a small world after all and a Cinderella story too!

WILD WITH HAPPY by Colman Domingo, Directed by Reginald L. Douglas At the City Theatre’s Lester Hamburg Studio now through May 7, 2017  For tickets and more information call 412-431-2489 or click here.

Thanks to the City Theatre for the complimentary tickets.

Photos courtesy of Kristi Jan Hoover.

The Three Musketeers

ThreeMusketeersImage2The playbill for Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama’s aggressive and successful challenge of Andre Dumas’ timeless classic The Three Musketeers employs much space dedicated to “adaptation” – its meaning and its role in the theater. In “Theory of Adaptation” featured in the playbill, director Andrew William Smith states “adaptions accomplish a few things; they bring the source to life in an immediate and kinesthetic way and they transform it to the specifications of a distinct medium such as theater….The audience experiences the transformed source text through the production, tailor-made to and influenced by the political, social, and cultural currents running through its world….An adaptation from 1978 might not be engaging for a 2017 audience; therefore, adapters change the story again and again [however] preserving what they find useful and relevant and revising what they don’t….”

Smith and his extraordinarily talented cast of actors pull off a seamless performance by employing adaptations that leaves the audience quite fulfilled. The use of a musical background score set to match the mood and action, the addition of women as Musketeers, freeze frames that allowed two or even three scenes to be moving on at the same time on the stage, and slow motion action scenes during several of the sword fights all add to the success of this entertaining piece.

This group of talented young actors pulls off realistic slow motion action (we’re used to seeing this on the big and small screens with film editing), but to see a slow motion, vicious, and deadly sword fight take place in real time performed in front of you is something extra to behold. Kudos to Smith and his cast for pulling this off brilliantly. It is a sight that theater-goers should actively seek out when looking for a drama with true entertainment value.

Additionally, Smith’s use of women, Aramis (Lilli Kay) and Captain Treville (Victoria Perdretti), as Musketeers basically are directed and performed so well that it is barely noticeable, coupled by the fact that this ensemble cast is so strong and the pace of the play so quick that the audience doesn’t have time to really allow that adaptation to be of concern, however extraordinary it is.

In this strong performance, it is difficult to select one or two cast members to single out as being “more powerful” and “more persuasive” than any other cast member. This gang of fearless thespians moved fluently on stage and between scenes that, again, the audience barely has time to notice Smith’s adaptations. Musketeer “dandy” Porthos (Freddy Miyares) – truly a diamond in this cast with his ability to stay in exact character during his time on stage – Milady (McKenna Slone), Planchet (Alexandra Miyashiro), Cardinal Bonacieux (John Way), beyond arrogant Rochefort (Isaac Miller), and brave and righteous D’Artagnon (Siddiq Saunderson) put on standout performances in this talent-rich cast.  Pollard even recovered from a minor wardrobe malfunction and continued the scene without missing a line, block, or bit of action. That’s how well prepared this cast is.

To wit, not one of Dumas’ original intentions to set up this entertaining and suspense-filled drama is missed or left out, and that is a credit to Smith and his cast.

Adding to the continuous action taking place on stage is an original and “modernist” multipurpose set (scenic design director Sarah Keller and assistant designers Henry Blazer and Adryan Miller-Gorder) offers a stage designed for multi-purpose usage, moving from a cathedral-type “stained glass” window made out of wood that also transforms into a royal residence, a ship, a secret hiding place, and several other uses.

Even with all of the other aforementioned “adaptations,” this serious play adds a continuous supply of dry humor when necessary.  In a play that contains deceit, death, and betrayal, the actors and audience seem to enjoy the witty one-liners riddled throughout.  Even the ever-brooding Athos (Andrew Richardson) has his moments of providing the audience with an occasional heartfelt and humorous one-liner.

Rounding out the cast are Daryl Paris Bright (Queen Anne), Henry Ayers-Brown (King Louis), Isabel Pask (Constance), Joe Essig (Buckingham), and Spencer Pollard (Richelieu).  All play multiple roles as guards, thugs, thieves, innkeepers, and assassins. Again, this cast trades roles so seamlessly and that the audience has no time to notice who is playing each role. Even if the audience is paying attention to the “other minor roles” each actor plays, it would be difficult to notice these transformations.

Finally, but not less important, a special hats off has to go to fight director Michael Rossmy whose time spent on the plethora of swashbuckling, sword fighting scenes riddled throughout the play, again, is well worth the cost of admission. The sword play is convincingly realistic. Sitting in the front row, I had to, on several occasions, be prepared to jump out of the way with no less than 10 characters engaged in a full out brawl, swords, and candelabras flying through the air. Additionally, designer Marla Parker’s costumes are beautifully specific to the time era.

Once again, CMU’s School of Drama defines why it has garnered so many successes. The direction and design (on all fronts) and the smooth acting ability of the student/actors in The Three Musketeers will hold up as one of their more engaging and entertaining offerings.

Special thanks to the Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama for complimentary press tickets. The Three Musketeers runs at the Philip Chosky Theater through April 29. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Collaborators

unnamed (11)Playwright meets tyrant. What could possibly go wrong?

In a former slaughterhouse behind Bakery Square, Quantum Theatre takes audiences into the world of John Hodge’s Collaborators. Certainly a Pennsylvania premiere, the production is one of few staged since Collaborators won the 2012 Laurence Olivier Award for best new play produced in Britain.

Some have asked why theaters didn’t produce this play about a Soviet dictator who advocates artistic censorship, fake news, and forceful control of his citizens back in 1938. In 2017, how can an American theater company resist sharing this unfortunately timely dark comedy now? And as audience members, you should not resist the urge to see Collaborators at Quantum through April 30.

In the hands of Pittsburgh master director Jed Allen Harris, Collaborators shines with terrifically satisfying laughter, tears, and truth. It’s not a menu just anyone can capably serve up. But just as one scene where the planked stage becomes a big dining table for all of the stellar cast suggests, Harris’ artistic team knows how to create a theatrical meal you’ll be telling your friends about.

A struggling but talented playwright merits the attention of Joseph Stalin, head of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party. The writer is strong-armed to write a play for the tyrant’s 60th birthday. While the premise is fictional, the “surreal fantasy” is based on the real experiences of Mikhail Bulgakov, a former physician who suffered censorship when writing for the Moscow Art Theater in the 1930s despite Stalin’s appreciation for his work. The play implies that the writer’s wife Yelena will be endangered if Mikhail does not comply.

Dana Hardy and Tony Bingham
Dana Hardy and Tony Bingham

In Collaborators, screenwriter Hodge (Trainspotting, T2) melds fact and fantasies in captivating and sometimes short scenes. Harris seamlessly moves the action through the entire playing space and there’s never a dull or unengaging moment. Indeed, Collaborators is that good.

More than even Bulgakov himself might ever have dreamt, Collaborators is both timely and chilling in these early months of 2017. This is a significant production in this Pittsburgh theater season. Well-matched to Collaborators, Harris employs what he loves about making theatre that invites us to imagine and be provoked–and maybe even to be moved to action. (See our interview with Harris). He’s recreates a story from the past century that uncomfortably resonates with the present. Expect to be both moved and changed by this visit to the paranoia and fear of Stalin’s historical rule.

Through his connection to his fan Stalin, Mikhail wrestles with his conscience even as he aims to survive with Yelena. What would happen if he and Stalin switched jobs becoming the collaborators of the title? In the imagined and dangerous game, would Mikhail find himself creating policy decisions while Stalin happily writes a play praising himself? When the Communist party line seems to hold more weight than free expression, Bulgakov confronts stunning realities as he begins to lose health friends, and what he once held as the truth.

As Bulgakov, Tony Bingham is the good guy manipulated by circumstances beyond his control–a sort of George Bailey, struggling to live a good life with integrity. Nimble and charming, Bingham draws a likeable hero who experiences the best and worst of times in a stand-out performance during which he is on stage much of the time.

Olivia Vadnais, Joe Rittenhouse, Nancy McNulty, John Shepard, and Ken Bolden
Olivia Vadnais, Joe Rittenhouse, Nancy McNulty, John Shepard, and Ken Bolden

Dana Hardy is Yelena, his smart and concerned spouse who sweetly cares about friends and neighbors. She is strong and supportive while her husband is swept into surreal dreams and an even more surreal reality. Hardy captures how one look out for a loved one while disguising the genuine concern about their serious condition. (It’s notable that Hardy and Bingham draw on their own marriage for their work on stage.)

It’s fun until someone gets hurt, so two of the most “evil” characters are indeed delightful. Ken Bolden relishes Soviet secret police officer Vladimir, a mean bully who later gleefully insites on staging the commissioned script; he’s that guy who’s always wanted to direct. Bolden shows off his lovely range in this delightfully nuanced and engaging performance.

A merry Stalin is portrayed by Martin L. Giles. Give Giles something as multifaceted and comedic as a dictator who sees himself a playwright for results are both oddly endearing and fascinating. Giles shifts from boyish delight at offering Vodka shots in his subterranean office under the Kremlin. He joyfully clacks on the typewriter then coldly explains his job with its ridiculously long bureaucratic title.

If Bingham’s scenes with Bolden are dramatic appetizers, those with Bingham and Giles are the main course–from the opening Keystone Cops style scene when Stalin chases Bulgakov with his typewriter to their underground meet-ups along the writer’s hapless path from hope to despair.

Tony Bingham and Martin Giles
Tony Bingham and Martin Giles

Joe Rittenhouse as Stepan, Vladmir’s silent and lurking henchman, is a scary presence, mostly watching the action through his shades. His very presence at times characters may think they are alone is eerily physicalized when Stepan moves a prop they need, for example.

The entire ensemble of 11 shines in multiple and important roles as colorful friends and colleagues who support the loving couple’s turbulent journey. There are several visits to doctors–one rather inept (or dishonest?) doctor and another seemingly more capable physician both played by John Shepard. Mark Stevenson marks a strong return to Pittsburgh stages after a long hiatus. Dylan Marquis Meyers, Nancy McNulty, Olivia Vadnais, and Jonathan Visser complete this accomplished and versatile cast.

Harris’ design team from his Quantum production of The Task (2010) makes wonderful choices for the bricked wall warehouse space found Quantum setting as all the design elements support the storytelling. Scenic designer Narelle Sissons sets central action on a raised rough stage with properties and chairs stashed underneath. Stalin’s office at one end and a chair mounted on the wall at the other end provide clever spaces and options Susan Tsu’s costumes are well suit the period with a splash of theatrical robes and masked headpieces for the Moliere play scenes. Well placed lights by C. Todd Brown establish both well-lit and dark spaces, with sound by Joe Pino.

Collaborators closes Quantum’s 26th season and runs through April 30 at 6500 Hamilton Avenue, Pittsburgh (15206). Tickets are priced from $38 to $51. Varied special events and dining tips (including a dinner you may pre-order to enjoy onsite) are detailed on Quantum’s website.

Tips: Arrive early for lot parking or just find a convenient street spot. As temperatures vary, do dress in layers; the space can be chilly on some April evenings. May Quantum’s setting be as warm as the potential for this adventurous play programmed by Karla Boos, artistic director.

Photos by Heather Mull and Karla Boos.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or The Most Popular American Play You’ve Never Seen

SlidersUNCLETOMPoint Park University’s Conservatory Theatre production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or The Most Popular American Play You’ve Never Seen is an adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin first published in 1852 and George Aiken’s stage production of the same era.

Stowe’s book was the most popular novel of the 19th century. Aiken’s production was the most popular play in England and America into the 1920s. The book is also the first widely read political novel in the United States.

The story centers on the life of Tom, a very responsible, kindly and forgiving black man trapped as a slave in the south. His owner is a Kentucky farmer named Arthur Shelby. To repay a debt, Arthur is forced to sell Tom and a baby boy named Harry, the son of Arthur’s wife’s housemaid Eliza.

Eliza learns of the plan to sell Harry and decides to run away with him to Canada. Tom is sold and placed on a riverboat that sails down the Mississippi. We learn on the trip that Tom has saved a young white girl, Eva St. Claire from drowning when she accidentally fell off the boat. Augustine Saint Claire, Eva’s father, subsequently purchases Tom and takes Tom to his home in New Orleans to help raise Eva. Tom and Eva become fast friends, she refers to him as Uncle Tom.

The story of Eliza, Harry and her husband George’s escape to freedom in Canada is intertwined in the story line.

Augustine later purchases a young slave girl, Topsy, and gives her to his northern cousin Ophelia, to raise and educate. Augustine hopes by that by raising Topsy, Ophelia will realize her opinions of black people are wrong. Eva and Topsey play together and become good friends.

Several years later Eva falls ill and on her deathbed asks her father to grant Uncle Tom his freedom. Augustine agrees to this, but dies tragically several days later before he has signed Tom’s papers. Augustine’s wife goes against his will and sells Tom to the vicious plantation owner Simon Legree as she settles the estate. This is Tom’s first experience with an evil Master and things do not end well for Tom.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the plays it has inspired have fallen out of favor due to what is seen as condescending racist characteristics in the portrayals of the black characters. Unfortunately, the book’s popularity served to reinforce those stereotypes with the public.  Once out of favor, the importance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an anti-slavery tool leading up to Civil War has been lost.

This adaptation by co-directors Jason Jacobs and Tome Cousin attempts to address some of those concerns, regretfully those stereotypes of both blacks and white southerners still come shining through.

This is not a reason to ignore Uncle Tom’s Cabin today. Slavery is an important part of this country’s history that, as horrible as it is, cannot be forgotten. We continue to struggle with the implications of slavery in a country where “all men are created equal”. Uncle Tom’s Cabin reminds us just how evil and reprehensible slavery was; human beings are not critters like farm animals or property to be sold.

The book’s plot involves a lot of characters and sub plots, which makes it a challenge to create a stage adaption that fits neatly into two hours. The Jacobs – Cousin adaptation struggles with the story’s complexity and disjointed at times in its flow.  Set Designer Tony Ferrieri’s one-piece stylized log cabin is beautiful to look at but doesn’t always help the audience follow where the story is taking place. Sometimes it feels as if there are too many people crowded into the cabin.

The concept for the staging of the two young girls, Eva and Topsey, was problematic to me. The Directors chose to have two adult women play the characters as puppeteers with children’s baby dolls. This is too Avenue Q like. Eva and Topsey’s dialog is not baby talk; it’s that of maturing young girls struggling to find their place amongst their differences and in the process becoming friends. This relationship between two young girls who have not yet learned to hate ends tragically with Eva’s death at a young age. But it represents the hope for future generations.

There are two standout performances: Kendall Arin Claxiton, in spite of the puppet situation, beautifully captures the “wicked” nature of Topsey, her growing friendship with Eva, and her winning over of Ophelia.

Lamont Walker II’s Tom casts an imposing figure and crushes all the typical stereotypes of a slave. Walker brings out Tom’s reserved, kind and gentlemanly nature without sacrificing his personal humanity.  In Walker’s portrayal, all manner of indignities coupled with slavery are endured by Tom, yet he never becomes an “Uncle Tom”.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an important part of America’s literary, cultural and political history and it deserves another look today as we continue to struggle with racial issues. The Jacobs / Cousin adaptation reminds us of how far we have come in one hundred seventy five years and how much further we have to go for true equality to be realized. Though I felt at times this production got in the way of that important message.

Point Park Universities Conservatory Theatre production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or The Most Popular Play You Have Never Seen plays through April 16th at the Rauh Theatre at Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland.

For tickets visit: http://www.pittsburghplayhouse.com/tickets or call 412-392-8000

Thanks to Pittsburgh Playhouse for the complimentary tickets.

Lights Out

hamburg-1050643_492-300x200Setting controls a play.

It’s its backbone.

This is particularly true when the setting contains an entire plot within a singular space.  Also,  particularly true when the audience feels forced into it, packed into the confined atmosphere that’s suddenly been created.

This describes the claustrophobia and intimacy of Lights Out, Pittsburgh Playwright’s exhibition of Pittsburgh writer Steve Hallock and Director Cheryl El-Walker’s care, coldness and warmth while capturing a particular setting.

A bunch of anybodys are caught on a train under Mt. Washington.  Suddenly, their lives begin to mesh because they can’t help but share things about themselves.  This mutates into empathy, projection, and blame.

“It offers a unique and artful look at Pittsburgh life” says Mark Clayton Southers, Pittsburgh Playwrights’ Artistic and Executive Director.   And remember, the lights are out for the audience too.  They become part of this, stuck in this dilemma-facing world, as well. Distracted people carry their baggage onto a train concealed.  But what happens when the transience becomes semi-permanence.  Suddenly,  you’re in a room.  When the train stops, everyone suddenly looks at the situation (and everyone else) closely.

What if people combusted into their stories like colorful bouts of expression poured out from the anxiety of being trapped?  What is the threshold for anxiety in this situation?  How does one deal with an annoying passenger?  How does one manage grief that suddenly creeps into the mind?  Or the emotions of an actively failing relationship?  Or even the randiness of a brand new one!

They look like anybodys, but with a smidgen of focus you begin to unravel searching, human souls.  It’s like watching the interactions come forward from an Edward Hopper painting.  These people are haunted.

Sandy Zwier’s Florence along with John Michnya’s Stanley speak to their significant others throughout the play.  They share a florid familiarity within the conversation, a familiar communication or the apparent lack thereof.  They are two people who are haunted by grief or unhappiness.  And their partners are mannequins, literal mannequins.

John Michnya
John Michnya

This directorial choice struck me as a strange one, an absurd set-piece given to the display.  Though, it focuses the characters who are live.  By talking to mannequins, we are forced into the lens of their perspectives. The woman who is thrown into this conundrum of her anxiety, asking herself about her 8-year old girl dealing with bone marrow treatments.  Asking “what reason is there for this?”  Zwier captured the restraint of this character well.  I felt for her motherliness, the sad longing that very much showed the shadow she carried in her expression.

And then there’s this man, complaining to his wife about the theatre they’re returning from:  “The lines are cliché, the lot is predictable.  It was overly convoluted and complex.  Faux existentialism.  You know what that means?”

He’s mansplains to a mannequin and is none the wiser that he is eating his words on the stage, a nigthhawk on display for the sake of us: flies on the wall penetrating the stillness of this sudden play that he’s in.  Is this self-reflection, a writer’s wink?  Maybe then this is a play on plays, and he’s the wise fool.

A great theme of this piece is that in a claustrophobic environment, we all descend into archetypes.  ‘Who are you?’, it asks.  But more importantly, ‘who do you become within this setting?’

What’s bizarre about Lights Out is that it doesn’t subscribe to the standard construction of a plot.  It leaves much unresolved.  Some characters end on low notes, others on high notes.  There is no arching resolution, only painful or exciting revelations.

Some characters end wanting nothing but a cold beer, like Sam Lothard’s Manny.  Lothard plays a coolly, composed everyman; really locking on the fast-thinking coolness of the character.  The setting changes, and his demeanor changes with it.  There are choices to be made in the story, and you can see these choices made.  His growth as a character is palpable.

Connor Mccanlus‘s Sam Alec is the clown, the entertainer.  He prompts the darkened train car into community by playing out music from his computer.  He asks the other passengers questions, or interrupts their private conversations.  He pulls the train car into the narrative that he wants to be there.

Mccanlus’ edge for this role is rather impressive, touting the line of a curiously obnoxious provocateur.  While Sam Alec riles the interaction out of people, it’s Mccanlus’ timing and ferocious smarminess that creates the punctuation within the role.

Some characters suddenly find themselves in a trapped situation, forced to grip their personal demon and wrestle with it on the floor of a darkened train car.  It can get messy.  It can get vulnerable.

But it can also get romantic with Jenny Malarkey’s Nadine and Michael Lane Sullivan’s Mick just being two characters who are horny and suddenly there’s this black-out and they’re like ‘fuck it’ and then they’re just making out for a while.  Meanwhile, there’s this drama brewing in the background and they’re just sort of messing around.

That’s the treasure of a setting.  It’s a habitat.  It’s alive with unfocused environmental figures, acting autonomously or interacting.  It’s a painting come to life.  There’s also Melissa Franklin’s Anita, just muttering to herself nothing but bible verses.  She’s not frightened, but strengthened and yet still; she’s essentially incommunicable and obsessed.  Just a strange part of this situation.  The Setting crawls with itself, its habitat.   The anxiety is set dressing for the people who are suddenly simply there.

This play’s satisfaction is caught up with the inescapable madness that some people are dealing with sisyphean tasks in their lives: failure, grief, love, alcoholism.  It’s burrowed into a sudden plot, under a mountain; that reveals strengths and weaknesses, unknown warmths, truth and coldness.  But there’s much humanity in it, which is sometimes obnoxious or hard to see; and sometimes beautiful.

It’s a strange, lonely trip to take suddenly becoming part of this environment where people are forced to reveal themselves.  It’s naked and it’s fascinating.

Special thanks to Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company for complimentary press tickets. Lights Out runs at their space downtown through April 15. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Photo by Monteze Freeland

Baltimore

Baltimore 8.5x5.5 2nd[2]College campuses in America are a hotbed of cultural discourse. As they should be. However, unlike the last hundred years of existing as a space for entire generations to generate a stance on progressivism, collective academic discourse has become confusing. If student bodies aren’t being accused of being violent anti-extremist extremists, they’re instead accused of too quickly retreating into safe spaces.

As national conversations of race shift and boil over, so too does the world of academia. Baltimore, a play by Kirsten Greenidge, places a diverse cast of characters with a diverse range of opinions into this impossible noise machine/puzzle box. Fiona (Gabrielle Kogut), a white, female student, draws a racist caricature on the whiteboard of Alissa (Tyler Cruz), who is black. Fiona, who grew up in a primarily black neighborhood and is dating a black student, claims her experience grants her immunity to the ‘r’ word and refuses to take responsibility for her actions.

Yet, it would be unfair to say that Pitt’s production is a dry, self-serious affair. Director Ricardo Vila-Roger is more than happy to reinforce Greenidge’s moments of levity, particularly in the easily overwhelmed Shelby (Daria M. Sullivan), a black student who refuses to identify or be identified by her race. She’s a likable person with some questionable beliefs; she is also a reminder that trying to out-debate a college dean before you’ve even attained your BA is a categorically awful idea.

Shelby’s intentional absence from most of the show’s more explosive conversations is in itself worth dissecting. It is her inalienable right to choose how she defines herself, but exactly how little space does that grant her in a conversation about wider cultural conversations? And when does a strict, colorless perspective become active oppression?

Just as Shelby is an excellent window into racial ethics that go beyond simple good vs. evil paradigms, she is also an unfortunate stand-in for the play’s moments of thematic weightlessness. Baltimore is a series of monologues in its second act, many of which stand up to scrutiny in the moment but start to feel like a series of belabored pontifications as they begin to accrue.

There are so many moments of revelation and reflection that characters quickly begin losing their humanity and instead become interactive embodiments of cultural perspective; we learn a lot about demographic identity but the all-important notion of individual identity is lost. That Shelby’s role is to be a pre and post arbiter of the ‘I don’t see race’ perspective makes sense on paper, but in practice her re-emergence into the play makes her feel oddly out of place. Baltimore ceased to be about these specific people an act ago, so we’re basically left waiting for her larger monologue about why her perspective has earned saliency.

Baltimore, rather uniquely, is a play in which the problem is also the solution. How else can one solve conflicts that emerge naturally from charged racial discourse other than with more charged racial discourse? In this way, Greenidge’s play doesn’t suggest a solution so much as it urges us to remain present, and with an open ear. Even Fiona, a character that very easily could descend into outright villainhood, is at worst an ignorant bully; maybe she’s not so easy to relate to, sure, but she isn’t so bad as to warrant an outright dismissal, either.

I exited the Henry Heymann Theater feeling totally in my head, mentally digesting the play as a kind of unsolvable Rubik’s cube with way too many of one color. Baltimore is a thoughtful play and as a result, it will generate thought in those who choose to attend it. Still, its perspective may be too ‘forest-for-the-trees’ to also leave you with a feeling.

Special thanks to Pitt Stages for complimentary press tickets. Baltimore runs at the Henry Heymann Theater through April 9. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Peter and the Starcatcher

17620182_1831228916903076_1273660694744146106_oHow does one continue the timeless story of a boy who never grows up?

Steven Spielberg’s Hook notwithstanding, the obvious answer to that question is to explore his past.

And that’s just what Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson did in the 2006 YA novel Peter and the Starcatcher. Their incredible success with the book series (surely due to their respect for the incredibly rich source material) led playwright Rick Elice to adapt their work into a charmingly meta and humorous stage play of the same name. Since its 2009 premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse, Starcatcher has wowed New York and national audiences with the wit of its craftsmanship and the universality of its themes.

Pitt Stages’s current production, docked at the Charity Randall Theater, may torpedo Wayne Barker’s musical score but it undoubtedly soars straight on ‘til morning in almost every other aspect.

Before the green getup—in the 1885 British Empire—Peter Pan had no home and no name. Still reeling from a traumatizing stint in an orphanage, the Boy once again finds himself trapped by circumstance. This time, he’s a prisoner on a ship called Neverland with his two best friends, Ted and Prentiss. Little do they know that, above deck, the ship’s captain Bill Slank has masterminded a devious switcheroo that mistakenly lands a great treasure on his vessel rather than on the majestic Wasp.

This is good news for no one. Not for Lord Aster who was tasked by the Queen herself (God save her!) to protect the mysterious and mystical “starstuff” that lies within the treasure chest. Not for the bumbling band of pirates, led by the silly and sinister Black Stache, who commandeer the Wasp to steal the treasure.

As a starcatcher-in-training working to safeguard the power of starstuff (the ability to realize the dreams of anyone who possesses it), Aster’s young, confident, and wildly adventurous daughter Molly takes it upon herself to complete her father’s mission. After she ditches her shrieking governess Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly begins to explore the ship. There are horrors and delights aplenty aboard the Neverland but nothing like the company of her peers, alike in age and disposition. Jockeying for leadership of the team all the while, the lost boys and Molly work together to thwart Black Stache’s dastardly plans.

Eventually, the stage is set for J.M. Barrie’s classic tale to play out. But a litany of unexpected starboard and port twists and turns will leave you and our heroes on the edge of the plank throughout.

While the magical exploits of the Aster family are dazzling, I strongly believe that the real starcatcher at the center of this production is director Kathryn Markey. She has assembled a spirited crew of actors brimming with talent and infectious enthusiasm. It’s rare to see performers clearly having so much fun while expertly navigating such intricate design and staging.

Imagine my surprise when I perused my playbill and found out that several members of the diverse 19-person ensemble were making their Pitt Stages acting debuts. That’s proof that these actors aren’t just stars on the rise, but also shooting stars.

Brightest among them are Tanner Prime, Molly Balk, and Dennis Schebetta. Like the play, their performances truly set sail in Act II. Prime’s adorable pluckiness and vulnerability make his character’s wish to never grow up seem like something we should all aspire to. As the Boy’s most colorful adversaries, Fighting Prawn and Black Stache, Balk and Schebetta showcase their unmatched charisma and sense of comedic timing.

Zachary Romah, Sabrina Rothschild, Alex Knapp, and Sean Gallagher also shine as pairs of Lost Boys and unlikely lovers, respectively.

In addition to crafting a versatile landscape evoking equal parts childlike wonder and workmanlike grit, scenic designer Gianni Downs should also be credited with providing Markey a lively canvas on which to paint her various thrilling stage pictures. Their work goes hand in hand—more like hand in rope, in this case—during all the show’s most action-packed moments. Markey channels the inherent whimsy of Starcatcher most potently when she seamlessly transforms her actors into doors, animals, and crashing ocean waves. Downs’s creative combination of hand-painted and hand-built pieces more than live up to Donyale Werle’s Tony-winning Broadway sets.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sound design by Tyler Bensen or the costume design by KJ Gilmer. Both are plagued by a troubling sameness. It’s a problem when you can close your eyes and not be sure if you’re listening to the hiss of an angry housecat or the growl of a hungry crocodile. It’s a bigger problem when the iconic swashbuckling style of the man who will become Captain Hook is watered down to the point of resembling poor Captain Jack Sparrow cosplay.

Still, there is tons to admire in Pitt Stages’s Peter and the Starcatcher. Growing up doesn’t seem so bad if it means just aging the two and half hours of this energetic and touching production’s runtime. Believe me and fly your way over to the theater.

Peter and the Starcatcher runs through April 9th at the Charity Randall Theater. For more information, click here.

Thank you to Pitt Stages for the complimentary tickets.

 

 

Oedipus Rex

oedipus-cutAlan Stanford’s new adaption of the classic Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex is a modern day masterpiece.

Sometimes you just know within the first few minutes that this is really going to be good. That first inclination comes not from the play itself, but from that initial exposure to the actors, setting, and direction. Admittedly, you know the story written by Sophocles some twenty-five hundred years ago has to be pretty compelling to have held up over the long haul.

Chances are, you are aware of the main story, much of which transpires before the play actually begins. Queen Jocasta of Thebes has just given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Her husband King Laius learns from the oracles that he is doomed to die at the hand of his son. That doesn’t really leave the King a lot of options, either kill the baby boy now or be killed by him later.  The King figures he might as well nip this in the bud and after injuring the child’s feet he orders his servant to take the baby to the mountains and leave him there to die.  Instead, the servant gives the child to a shepherd who names him Oedipus (Greek for swollen feet).

Justin Wade Wilson as Oedipus, Shammen McCune as Jocasta
Justin Wade Wilson as Oedipus, Shammen McCune as Jocasta

The servant takes the boy to his home country of Corinth, where he gives the child to the barren Queen and King of Corinth and the child is raised as their son. He becomes the handsome, educated and articulate Oedipus. He learns from another oracle that he is destined to kill his father and mate with his mother, which horrifies him. He doesn’t realize he is adopted, and because he wishes his parents no harm he leaves Corinth.  While on his travels he gets into a scuffle with another group and in a fit anger of kills some men. Unbeknownst to Oedipus, one of the men was King Laius and the first portion of the oracle’s prophecy has come to pass.

Our play begins with Oedipus arriving in Thebes as the city is under siege by the Sphinx. Oedipus solves the riddles of the Sphinx and as his reward is given the kingship of Thebes and the hand of Queen Jocasta (his biological mother) in marriage. None of the main characters know this, which sets the stage for the resulting drama.

If you have seen Oedipus or read one of the literal translations from the original Greek, it’s pretty difficult to get through the long speeches and endless choruses.

In this production Director Alan Stanford has adapted the original to a more modern style of speaking yet still retains the timeless sense of the original. Stanford has created an Oedipus Rex for our time. This adaptation and production serve to reinforce Sophocles’ reminder that humanities flaws haunt us generation after generation. Corruption is self-delusion that leads to the belief that only one person has all the answers to cure our ills.

Oedipus is not an inherently flawed or bad fellow, he doesn’t yet know he murdered his father or married his mother.  After all, he’s the hero that saved Thebes from the curse of the Sphinx.  Once rumors of the truth come out, his human failings take hold.

Karen Baum as The Sphinx
Karen Baum as The Sphinx

The Union Projects’ performance space is long and linear, with audiences on either side. Stanford’s staging has he townspeople on one end of the stage with the castle and ruling people on the other. The action flows back and forth like March Madness. Madness it is as, Oedipus and the townspeople come to grips with the conundrum of Oedipus’ lineage, the oracle’s prophecy and what it means for them.

PICT’s cast is a mix of veteran actors with prolific resumes and those early their careers.

Twenty nine year old Penn State alum Justin Wade Wilson’s powerful performance as Oedipus presents both a likeable and admirable leader as he saves Thebes. He skillfully transitions to a much darker and intriguing Oedipus as he searches for the truth that when revealed will bring his ultimate downfall.

Pittsburgh’s Shammen McCune is Queen Jocasta. Watch her performance closely as her initial meeting with Oedipus turn into romantic love. Through the course of the play she beautifully portrays the realization of horror; she has married her son, born him children and yet still loves him as both a son and husband.

Central to moving the story forward is the blind prophet Tiresius played by Pittsburgh’s James Fitzgerald. Tiresius is, against his own objections, the first to tell Oedipus that he killed his father and married his mother, facts that Oedipus refuses to believe.  Fitzgerald’s strong performance is pivotal in unleashing the carnage to follow.

Johnny Lee Davenport plays Oedipus’ brother-in-law Creon. Davenport has the perfectly imposing stage presence to counter Wilson’s Oedipus. There is quite an interesting bit of clever stage direction as Oedipus demands Creon be executed for supposedly attempting to undermine him.

Shammen McCune as Jocasta
Shammen McCune as Jocasta

Stanford’s Oedipus Rex is set in North Africa. Set design by Johnmichael Bohach is simple in form and nearly monochromatic in color, conveying a sense of warmth, royalty and the bloodshed ahead. Michael Montgomery’s costume design relays the African theme with a touch of Egyptian motif. The actors transition between chorus members and main characters with their costumes effectively supporting their dual roles.

Almeda Beynon’s Sound Design underscore the tension and drama very effectively, subtlety appearing ghostlike as needed and disappearing just as subtlety. Her compositions serve to give the mind a pause and as a means to gather your thoughts as an audience member.

This production through Stanford’s direction and adaptation brings to audiences a timeless Oedipus Rex, a modern take on the human condition. This is a powerful and yet entertaining classic drama full of conspiracy theories, distrust, intrigue and, yes, love.

Oedipus Rex by PICT Classic Theatre at the Union Project in Highland Park playing now through April 3rd. Tickets at picttheattre.org or by calling 412-561-6000

Thanks to PICT for the complementary tickets. Photos courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons.

Turandot

TurandotGiacomo Puccini’s final opera, Turandot, was presented for the first time this season Saturday night at the Benedum, and a gratifyingly large crowd packed the auditorium to enjoy a truly resounding rendition of the composer’s swan song. The work is staged on a grand scale, with impressive sets and costumes, careful attention to the massive choral and orchestral effects the score offers, and impressive singers, and that the audience was pleased with the results was expressed with unusual enthusiasm after each of the first two acts, and a deafening ovation at the final curtain. For once, those stampeding the exits were in the minority, while those who lingered as long as possible to express their appreciation were the distinct majority. The warm spring evening brought out a long demonstration of applause and cheers that must have pleased all concerned in the performance.

The opera’s title is frequently pronounced with the final “t” being silent, even by many of its greatest interpreters, but as Puccini’s descendants have pointed out, the correct “Italianization” of the name would be something like “Turandotta,” and the name should be pronounced as written. Unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death in 1924, this musical masterpiece is set to an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni. Franco Alfano used a sketch of Puccini’s to finish the opera (although a few others have tampered with the ending, with mixed results), and it was first heard at La Scala, Milan, in April 1926, with the mightily gifted Rosa Raisa in the title role (her husband, baritone Giacomo Rimini, taking the role of Ping), the light-weight, lyrical tenor, Miguel Fleta, as “The Unknown Prince,” Calaf, and the famous Arturo Toscanini wielding the baton. Saturday night, Antony Walker was back at the podium for only the second time this season, and in the orchestra pit, in addition to the large group of gifted instrumentalists that are always on hand, were the very gongs Puccini himself had handcrafted in Italy when he was orchestrating the opera. In an amusing and engaging pre-show talk by Christopher Hahn, General Director of the ambitious company, the audience learned that one of the gongs bore the signature of the late Luciano Pavarotti.

Prince Calaf (Thiago Arancam) and Princess Turandot (Alexandra Loutsion) do a little trash-talking to each other about whether he’ll be able to solve her riddles
Prince Calaf (Thiago Arancam) and Princess Turandot (Alexandra Loutsion) do a little trash-talking to each other about whether he’ll be able to solve her riddles

The plot is a grim one, set in ancient China, and tells the story of the Princess Turandot, who has been raised to grind an ancient ax to avenge a wronged ancestor, and who is so determined to be claimed by no man that she sets before potential suitors a series of impossible riddles. One wrong answer costs the loser his head, and she has caused the deaths of countless would-be mates. As her latest victim is about to be executed, the bloodthirsty mob in its clamor for a better view knocks an elderly blind man (Timur, the vanquished King of Tartary) to the ground, and a devoted young slave girl (Liù), cries out for help to lift her master back to his feet. In the crowd is a handsome young prince (Calaf), who recognizes the old man as his long-lost father. Timur explains to his son that only Liù has remained devoted to him, and when Calaf asks her why, she explains that he once smiled at her, shyly betraying her unrequited love for the prince. But Calaf is so obsessed with winning Turandot that he resists the discouragement of all and bangs a large gong to summon the cold-hearted princess.

To Turandot’s horror, Calaf answers her riddles correctly. As she begs her father, the Emperor Altoum, to rescue her from the mysterious stranger, Calaf tells her that if she guesses his name by dawn he will forfeit his victory and sacrifice his own life. It is commanded that no one shall dare sleep until Turandot learns his name. Ping, Pang and Pong, Turandot’s ministers, try to coax Calaf to flee while he has the chance, since she is determined that Timur and Liù know his name, and is willing to torture it out of them. Liù tells the mob that she alone knows his true identity, to save Timur, and she breaks away from her tormentors and slides her own neck along a soldier’s sword. As the grief-stricken old man follows the crowd that carries her body away, Calaf and Turandot are left alone for a stand-off. Succumbing to Calaf’s kiss, Turandot’s heart of ice is melted by a new, unknown emotion – love – the populace rejoices, and the story comes as close to a “happy” ending as the plot can possibly get.

 Ping (Craig Verm) burns Liu (Maria Luigia Borsi) with a red-hot poker in a futile attempt to get her to reveal Prince Calaf’s name
Ping (Craig Verm) burns Liu (Maria Luigia Borsi) with a red-hot poker in a futile attempt to get her to reveal Prince Calaf’s name

 

It was (to me, at least) a foregone conclusionthat Mark Trawka and his magnificent chorus would make the most of the colossal ensembles the opera calls for, since they have been kept in the dark silence since La Traviata in October. And indeed, they did. With great sonority and precision, this large, talented group poured out a glorious torrent of sound that thrilled time aftertime through the course of the three-act evening. They well deserved the roar of approval they received at the opera’s conclusion. Antony Walker has a sure grasp of the score, and the orchestration flowed for the most part quite smoothly throughout, rising to thrilling massiveness in the crashing ensembles in which the chorus and principal singers were  also giving all they had to give.

Thiago Arancam made his Pittsburgh Opera debut in the role of Calaf. He’s a fine looking young tenor who presents an impressive stage appearance, and the audience was clearly smitten with him. He relied on the strength and ringing qualities of his voice, and poured out the famous “Nessun dorma” aria with tremendous vehemence, but little attention to the more delicate shadings and nuances the piece offers. Still, at its conclusion, the crowd erupted in a roar of approval, all but drowning the beautiful orchestration that follows. If his intent was to make a good first impression, he more than succeeded. Alexandra Loutsion, a former Resident Artist with the company, assumed the title role for the first time, and presented an imposing figure and a strong soprano voice quite capable of meetingthe trying demands of the score. She will have the opportunity to add finishing touches to her portrayal in the upcoming repetitions, but for a first performance, she sang and acted the role impressively.

Princess Turandot (Alexandra Loutsion) and Prince Calaf (Thiago Arancam) receive Emperor Altoum (Joseph Frank)’s blessing​
Princess Turandot (Alexandra Loutsion) and Prince Calaf (Thiago Arancam) receive Emperor Altoum (Joseph Frank)’s blessing

 

Wei Wu returned as Timur, and gave the finest performance he’s offered with the company to date. The smaller roles were in the hands of competent singing actors who rounded out the ensemble. Andy Berry (the Mandarin), Joseph Frank (Emperor Altoum), Samantha DeStefano and Meghan DeWald (Handmaidens) all added to the general excellence of the production.

Somewhat of an error was made in thrusting Ping (Craig Verm), Pang (Julius Ahn) and Pong (Joseph Hu) into cartoonish costumes and comedic antics that distracted and over-emphasized the prominence of the roles. They sang well individually, but the beautiful blending of the voices in the first scene of the second act was missed entirely. Even had it not been, three men in white union suits emblazoned with the Chinese character for “Love” would have distracted from its effectiveness. Despite the impression that they were members of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta troupe who showed up at the wrong theater, they were audience favorites, and when all is said and done, the pleasure of the paying customers is what matters most.

The most artistically satisfying singing of the evening was done by Maria Luigia Borsi in the comparatively small and somewhat ungrateful role of Liù. Her beautifully pure soprano tones throbbed with emotion in her two arias, and she brought out the devotion and timidity of the character in a manner that was heart-rending. Her most delicate singing carried through the expanses of the Benedum most exquisitely.

As a whole, the opera is being presented with a colorful grandeur and pageantry that shouldn’t be missed. For tickets, a complete synopsis and much more, visit Pittsburgh Opera.

Special thanks to the company for the complimentary press tickets.

“The Artistic Team” for Turandot

Antony Walker, Conductor; Renaud Doucet, Original Stage Director and Choreographer; Kathleen Stakenas, Stage Director; André Barbe, Set and Costume Designer; Guy Simard, Lighting Designer; James Geier, Wig and Makeup Designer; Roxanne Foster, Assistant Choreographer; Glenn Lewis, Assistant Conductor; Mark Trawka, Chorus Master; James Lesniak, Assistant Coach/Pianist; Frances Rabalais, Assistant Director; Cindy Knight, Stage Manager.

Photography – David Bachman.