Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Staged Readings

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Sunday evening, August 30thPittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) launched their second set of staged readings for an audience review.  The free recitals are an opportunity for theater lovers, supporters of written word and overall artistic devotees to plunge into a rawer cultural channel.  For 25 years, PNWF has been enticing playwrights, from across the globe, for a chance to display, be heard, observed, listened to and studied.  The opportunity for authors to debut their dramas, commence a new comedy or try out a tragedy has become a time honored custom among artists and local thespians.  PNWF has ascertained a niche in the Pittsburgh arts community and now, on their 25th anniversary they can kick back in their permanent home, the charming and intimate Carnegie Stage, as well as celebrate their new local elite sponsor, WQED. The PNWF has proven to be an integral part of Pittsburgh’s art scene, not to mention an asset to Carnegie.  For the first year ever, Carnegie city council has named September PNWF Month.  Needless to say, the 2015 season is off to a monumental start.

This year hundreds of submissions were received but only 18 plays chosen for debut.  The selected plays are then performed by 18 regional theater companies bolstering local talent and visibility for area troupes as well as offering budding playwrights a platform to promote an original one- act play. The author biographies are impressive, each playwright is distinguished within their community, having received numerous recognitions and awards from various companies, conferences and contests.

Sunday’s production lineup consisted of The Girl in the Washroom by Bella Poynton, directed by Mike Nelson, of R-Act Theater Productions, The Turning of the Screw by Warren Holleman and directed by Nancy Batko of PNWF and Town Hall Incident by Fred Perry, directed by Laura McCarthy- Blatt of University of Pittsburgh Stages.

The Girl in the Washroom was read first.  Having glanced at Ms. Poynton’s biography prior to the start I was expecting polished dialogue, well-tuned characters and a hearty plot.  Instead, the story of Daisy and Stanley, two women who meet by happenstance, and are hiding out in a motel room together after witnessing a traumatic incident has poorly developed character relationship between Daisy and Stanley; there was very little cohesiveness.  I don’t mind suspension of disbelief but I must want to like or care about the characters before I can let my mind go there.   I sensed no connection between the two and the idle chit- chat like dialogue slowed the story down to a yawn.  All was not lost because Washroom has some strong elements; first and foremost, the plot.  The story is unique and just a little creepy, which is cool.  In fact, the ending was so unexpected that by the evenings conclusion Washroom was by was my favorite performance.

The Turning of the Screw proves author Holleman is not just an accomplished playwright but a masterful poet as well.  The play, written in iambic pentameter, carries a rhythm that is linguistically appealing as well as an auditory adventure.  The plot was clever, two newlyweds on their honeymoon and a Jester who through witticisms and cunning language attempts to assist the couple with their ‘conjugal conflicts’. This style of writing is a lure, keeping the audience enticed with tempo.  Furthermore, the audience is kept in stitches from the sexual innuendos and banter between husband and wife.  There were farce like moments that helped to make Screw a fun and lighthearted performance.

Third show of the evening, Town Hall Incident, is tried and true and somewhat generic.  I really want to separate the presentation of the written material, from the actors performance, after all this is a review of the script, so in trying to keep with the task at hand, I will say, the plot, far from an unfamiliar, tells a snippet of a story about anywhere at any time USA.  Big Brother starts sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong and ‘Average Joe America’ fights back.  In Town Hall Incident,Sheriff Jack Burns is preparing to call to order a committee meeting when suddenly Welsh, EPA representative and attorney Eckert waltz into the meeting.   The two federal employees have stopped by to confirm all the new laws are being enforced.  There is a happy ending, which manages to send the audience away with a sense of hope or accomplishment or at the very least a drive toward advocacy.  Unfortunately, the plays comedic moments fell short of the big laughs due to a lack luster cast, but this should have no bearing on Perry as a playwright or Town Hall Incident.

PNWF upcoming season continues Thursday September 3, 2015 with performances running every weekend through September 13 at Carnegie Stage in Carnegie, PA. For more information, check out their website.

Performance Date: Sunday, August 30, 2015