I am consistently impressed by unique staging techniques, and each of the three short pieces at the New Works festival managed to pack a unique idea into a small running time. While it is certainly not mandatory for playwrights to pack an original concept into a one act, doing so certainly helps the play quickly grab the audience’s attention and remain memorable long after the curtains have closed.
The premise of Key Ring, the first of three one act pieces presented at the Carnegie Stage certainly succeeds at breathing depth and life into four keys on a key ring. Kaitlin Kerr in the role of “Her” serves as the cornerstone of the play, a performance which is made all the more impressive by the few words that Kerr says in the brief but powerful piece.
Towards the end of Key Ring, the tone of the play turns from amusing to a much darker note. When the main lights begin to dim, we start to feel sentimental about the lives of four keys. By the time the darkness of the stage is total, we’re left with a great deal of compassion towards four ordinary keys. Somehow, each of the four actors in the piece manage to personify unique and strong depictions of various keys: Car (Tom Kolos) is troubled, Mailbox (John Henry Steelman) is neurotic, House (Steven F. Gallagher) is tough, and Her is the character that sets the world in motion. One might even say that the entire arc of a much longer piece is nicely compressed into the short play.
Following Key Ring was the slightly longer Thread, which is a play about relationships or more accurately, the dissolution of romantic relationships. Actually, there are two staging techniques utilized in Thread, one concept has to do with the humorous and friendly narrator (Victor M. Aponte) while the other unique concept has to do with the author’s dramatization of how we remain connected in relationships. While Thread is a very much about one particular young couple, the writing works on such a universal level that Thread could very easily about many couples. The stage direction is particularly strong and manages to make several location changes with a few scant pieces of scenery that the audience is more than willing to follow. Both in its unique narrative technique and setting Thread asks the audience to make several imaginative leaps, which much of the audience takes because we care about the play’s two central characters, the emotionally engaged Isaac (Charlie Wein) and the slightly distant Amanda (Lyric Bowman). Thread is the first produced work by the playwright Evan W. Saunders, a junior at Duquesne University. I anticipate that if Saunders can continue combining original theatrical concepts with engaging characters he will continue to produce interesting work.
The evening concluded with Your Princess Is In Another Castle, which was slightly less serious in tone than the other two works but I think will be the most memorable piece for many individuals who attended that night’s performance if merely gauging by the large number of belly laughs that resonated throughout the audience. In its depiction of how pervasive the roots of popular film and video game culture have been, the play manages to crystalize the peculiar stranglehold that Pokemon, Star Wars, and Super Mario has had on society. But the real reason that the play delivers the depth that it does is due to the particular strength of the play’s two main actors: Chuck Hayes (Alex Manalo) who dresses up as Yoshi, Super Mario’s horse-like dinosaur, and Skip Whitaker (Andy Coleman). Andy Coleman’s performance as Skip Whitaker was not just the highlight of the play but the performance. Short on rent and dressed up as Super Mario, Skip Whitaker follows in the vein of the sad clown character depicted in many other works. Skip Whitaker’s world is a streetlight and a trash can which become a literal portal to another dimension as Whitaker does his impression of Mario in the hopes of gathering stray coins from passer-by’s. While remaining in one location Your Princess.. manages to make the most out of a few props through some initiative use of sound and unique arrivals onto the stage. While I was worried for a few minutes that the play was going to make nothing more than comedy out of the play’s characters and situations, Your Princess… manages to find depth in the humorous world of the play; thanks in no small part to the ability of the actor’s to maintain straight faces and serious tones when required.
So in a piece about a key ring, the end of a romantic relationship, and performers doing cosplay, Program C of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival managed to deliver a few laughs and some strong moments of drama. But, what I will remember most are the unique staging elements executed in each play and the strong performance by Coleman, who I will keep a particular eye out for in future performances.
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh New Works Festival for complimentary press tickets. For tickets and more information about the remaining performances, please click here.
**A previous version of this post credited George C. Montgomery as Car in Key Ring. We apologize for any confusion.