Reviews

4.48 Psychosis

By: Megan Grabowski
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

By: George Hoover
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. [caption id="attachment_4633" align="aligncenter" width="656"]170404_CityTheatre_WildWithHappy_001 Corey Jones as Gil (background: C. Kelly Wright as Adelaide)[/caption] 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! [caption id="attachment_4636" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Corey Jones as Gil, C. Kelly Wright as Aunt Glo Corey Jones as Gil, C. Kelly Wright as Aunt Glo[/caption] 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. [caption id="attachment_4637" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Corey Jones as Gil, Jason Shavers as Terry, Monteze Freeland as Mo Corey Jones as Gil, Jason Shavers as Terry, Monteze Freeland as Mo[/caption] 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

By: Stephen Arch
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

By: Yvonne Hudson
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. [caption id="attachment_4616" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Dana Hardy and Tony Bingham Dana Hardy and Tony Bingham[/caption] 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. [caption id="attachment_4617" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Olivia Vadnais, Joe Rittenhouse, Nancy McNulty, John Shepard, and Ken Bolden Olivia Vadnais, Joe Rittenhouse, Nancy McNulty, John Shepard, and Ken Bolden[/caption] 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. [caption id="attachment_4618" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Tony Bingham and Martin Giles Tony Bingham and Martin Giles[/caption] 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

By: George Hoover
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

By: Jason Clearfield
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. [caption id="attachment_4605" align="alignleft" width="656"]John Michnya John Michnya[/caption] 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
By: Mark Skalski
Peter and the Starcatcher
By: Brian Pope
Oedipus Rex
By: George Hoover
Turandot
By: George B. Parous
The Guard
By: Mark Skalski
Sweet Charity
By: Yvonne Hudson
Daddy Long Legs
By: George Hoover
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
By: Alex Walsh
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By: Ringa Sunn
Dreamgirls
By: Kellie Gormly
Polish Joke
By: Stephen Arch
Forever Plaid
By: Mark Skalski
1984
By: Jason Clearfield
Findings
By: Brian Pope
Patience
By: George Hoover
Ragtime
By: Jason Clearfield
Big Love
By: Stephen Arch
Rust
By: Ringa Sunn
As One
By: George B. Parous
The Pink Unicorn
By: Mark Skalski
The Complete History of America (abridged)
By: Stephen Arch
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
By: George Hoover
Pump Boys and Dinettes
By: Victor C. Leroi
Woody’s Order!
By: Kellie Gormly
Twelfth Night
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Royale
By: Jason Clearfield
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
By: Mark Skalski
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
By: Kellie Gormly
Cabaret: The Musical
By: George Hoover
Richard the Lionheart (“Riccardo primo, re d’Inghilterra”)
By: George B. Parous
Into the Woods
By: George Hoover
A Christmas Carol
By: Mark Skalski
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical
By: Victor C. Leroi
A Musical Christmas Carol
By: Megan Grabowski
The Nutcracker
By: Claire Juozitis
A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas
By: George Hoover
The Lion in Winter
By: Isaac Crow
Unbolted
By: Eva Phillips
Lungs
By: Victor C. Leroi
Midnight Radio Holiday Spectaular
By: Kellie Gormly
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
By: Mark Skalski
Mr. Marmalade
By: Jason Clearfield
Between Riverside and Crazy
By: Steven Bick
The Rover
By: Mark Skalski
Three Days in the Country
By: George Hoover
The Sea
By: Eva Phillips
The Music Man
By: Megan Grabowski
Hair
By: Jason Clearfield
12 Angry Men
By: Mark Skalski
How I Learned to Drive
By: Meredith Rigsby
The Merchant of Venice
By: Yvonne Hudson
Salome
By: George B. Parous
To Kill a Mockingbird
By: Kellie Gormly
Yankee Tavern
By: Eva Phillips
Giselle
By: Chloe Kinnahan
Feeding the Dragon
By: Victor C. Leroi
Midnight Radio’s Night of the Living Dead N’at
By: Claire Juozitis
Barefoot in the Park
By: Victor C. Leroi
Prometheus Bound: A Puppet Tragedy
By: Yvonne Hudson
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By: Mark Skalski
Carrie: The Musical
By: Eva Phillips
The Who’s Tommy
By: Isaac Crow
Pride and Prejudice
By: Yvonne Hudson
Jekyll & Hyde
By: Kellie Gormly
An Accident
By: Yvonne Hudson
Trial by Jury and Gianni Schicchi
By: Nichole Faina
The River
By: Mark Skalski
Intimate Apparel
By: Eva Phillips
The Fantasticks
By: Isaac Crow
La Traviata
By: George B. Parous
The Playboy of the Western World
By: Jason Clearfield
Avenue Q
By: Eva Phillips
I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard
By: Victor C. Leroi
Hand to God
By: Yvonne Hudson
Titus Andronicus
By: George Hoover
The Toxic Avenger
By: Isaac Crow
PNWF Program D
By: Chloe Kinnahan
The Censor
By: Eva Phillips
Next to Normal
By: Mark Skalski
PNWF Program C
By: Victor C. Leroi
Beauty and the Beast
By: Mark Skalski
PNWF Program B
By: Eva Phillips
Wig Out!
By: Isaac Crow
Remains — A One Woman Show
By: Jason Clearfield
Shirley Valentine
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Comedy of Errors
By: Jason Clearfield
PNWF Program A
By: Megan Grabowski
Floyd Collins
By: Nichole Faina
A History of the American Film
By: Eva Phillips
This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
By: Megan Grabowski
Loot
By: George Hoover
Driftless
By: Mark Skalski
Peribáñez
By: Jason Clearfield
The Birds
By: Mark Skalski
Seven Guitars
By: Yvonne Hudson
South Pacific
By: George Hoover
Aida
By: Drake Ma
American Idiot
By: Isaac Crow
Jesus Christ Superstar
By: Drake Ma
Julius Caesar
By: Nichole Faina
The Hound of the Baskervilles
By: Isaac Crow
A Pirate’s Tale
By: Megan Grabowski
The Silent Woman
By: George B. Parous
Night Caps
By: George B. Parous
Come Back, Little Sheba
By: Jason Clearfield
Shrek: The Musical
By: Isaac Crow
A Midsommer Nights Dreame
By: Mark Skalski
Julius Caesar
By: George B. Parous
Anything Goes
By: Nichole Faina
Anna in the Tropics
By: Mark Skalski
Eff.UL.Gents
By: Megan Grabowski
Kiss Me, Kate
By: George B. Parous
Damn Yankees
By: Isaac Crow
Krapp’s Last Tape/Not I
By: Jason Clearfield
Church Basement Ladies
By: Mark Skalski
Bloody Hell
By: Mark Skalski
SummerFest’s Tour of “Carmen the Gypsy” is On!
By: George B. Parous
Judgement at Nuremberg
By: Jason Clearfield
Venus in Fur
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Theatre Festival in Black and White, Delivering Fantastically
By: Jason Clearfield
The Consorts
By: Victor C. Leroi
The Spitfire Grill
By: Isaac Crow
The 39 Steps
By: Isaac Crow
Undercroft Opera Sinks Its Teeth into Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
By: George B. Parous
The Lion
By: Drake Ma
Assassins
By: Drake Ma
The Giver
By: Yvonne Hudson
Cock
By: Drew Praskovich
Two Tales of Terror
By: Chloe Kinnahan
The Musical of Musicals
By: Drake Ma
Autism and the Arts: Bricolage Creates Sensory-Sensitive Immersive Experience
By: Jack Lake
Spring Awakening
By: Isaac Crow
Tru
By: Drew Praskovich
The Rake’s Progress
By: George B. Parous
Grease
By: Drake Ma
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
By: Isaac Crow
Laws of Attraction
By: Chloe Kinnahan
The Last Match
By: Isaac Crow
White Rabbit Red Rabbit
By: Drew Praskovich
The Master Builder
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Flick
By: Isaac Crow
The Barber of Seville
By: George B. Parous
Sister Act
By: Drake Ma
Sex with Strangers
By: Drew Praskovich
The Drowsy Chaperone
By: Isaac Crow
Disgraced
By: Isaac Crow
Miss Julie, Clarissa, and John
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Pirates of Penzance
By: Megan Grabowski
The Bluest Eye
By: Jack Lake
Sister’s Easter Catechism
By: Jack Lake
The Full Monty
By: Drew Praskovich
“27” (“Twenty-Seven”)
By: George B. Parous
First Date
By: Isaac Crow
Saturday Night Fever
By: Drake Ma
Guys and Dolls
By: Drake Ma
Some Brighter Distance
By: Yvonne Hudson
Mother Lode
By: Megan Grabowski
Ciara
By: Isaac Crow
Little Women
By: George B. Parous
The Sisters
By: Megan Grabowski
Oliver Twist
By: Drake Ma
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
By: Nathaniel Quinn
Macbeth
By: Drew Praskovich
Scared of Sarah
By: Megan Grabowski
Yinz’r Scrooged
By: Nathaniel Quinn
Chickens in the Yard
By: Nathaniel Quinn
The Rocky Horror Show
By: Megan Grabowski
Sunset Baby
By: Isaac Crow
A Servant to Two Masters
By: Isaac Crow
The Wild Duck
By: Drew Praskovich
Così fan tutte
By: George B. Parous
1984 (Midnight Radio)
By: Isaac Crow
Oliver
By: Drake Ma
Brainpeople
By: Drew Praskovich
Into the Woods
By: Drake Ma
The Night Alive
By: Jack Lake
Iolanthe
By: Drew Praskovich
Nabucco
By: George B. Parous
Altar Boyz
By: Drake Ma
Death of a Salesman
By: Megan Grabowski
The Diary of Anne Frank
By: Drew Praskovich
Dulcy
By: Drake Ma
Stand Up Horror
By: John Nau
Choir Boy
By: Isaac Crow
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Program D
By: Drake Ma
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Program C
By: John Nau
The Winter’s Tale
By: George B. Parous
Games of the Mind
By: Drake Ma
Dead Accounts
By: John Nau
King Lear
By: John Nau
Educating Rita
By: Isaac Crow
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Program B
By: Drew Praskovich
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Program A
By: Megan Grabowski
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Staged Readings
By: Megan Grabowski
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Staged Readings
By: Drake Ma
The Light in the Piazza
By: Isaac Crow
Exit Laughing
By: John Nau
Be My Baby
By: John Nau
The Heart of Shahrazad
By: Drake Ma
The Winter’s Tale
By: John Nau
The Merchant of Venice
By: Jack Lake
Kinky Boots
By: Isaac Crow
Outside Mullingar
By: John Nau
It Could Be Any One Of Us
By: Chloe Detrick
Capriccio
By: George B. Parous
The Wedding Singer
By: Isaac Crow
Strength and Grace
By: Chloe Kinnahan
Sharon’s Grave
By: Isaac Crow
Medea
By: Isaac Crow
“New Kind of Fallout” – World Premiere
By: George B. Parous
The Drowsy Chaperone
By: Megan Grabowski
How To Be a GoodPerson™
By: John Nau
Sherlock’s Last Case
By: Isaac Crow
Much Adoe About Nothing
By: Chloe Detrick
Damn Yankees
By: George B. Parous
Gypsy
By: Isaac Crow
The Marriage of Figaro
By: George B. Parous
Brewed
By: John Nau
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
By: Chloe Detrick
Man of La Mancha
By: Isaac Crow
Lucky Guy
By: John Nau
Out of This Furnace
By: Dale Hess
The Ruling Class
By: Chloe Detrick
Mary Poppins
By: Isaac Crow
Buyer and Cellar
By: Isaac Crow
How the Other Half Loves
By: John Nau
The Best of Everything
By: Justin Sines
Knickers
By: Tyler Plosia
Midsummer
By: Corey Hawk
The Last Five Years
By: Isaac Crow
Fences
By: Chloe Detrick
Saints Tour
By: Isaac Crow
Detroit
By: John Nau
American Falls
By: Justin Sines
Someething’s Afoot
By: John Nau
Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
By: Mara E. Nadolski
“Daughter of the Regiment” (La fille du régiment)
By: George B. Parous
The Whale
By: Sarah Beth Martin
My Way
By: John Nau
Peter Pan
By: Mara E. Nadolski
Othello
By: Isaac Crow
A Streetcar Name Desire
By: Jack Lake
Lunch Lady Cabaret
By: John Nau
Lovecraft’s Monsters
By: Chloe Detrick
All the Names
By: Chloe Detrick
The Rocky Horror Show
By: Isaac Crow
Oblivion
By: Justin Sines
Endless Lawns
By: Tyler Plosia
The Disappearing
By: John Nau
Carmen
By: George B. Parous
How I Learned What I Learned
By: Jack Lake
Animal Farm
By: Dale Hess
Elemeno Pea
By: Jack Lake
The Mikado
By: Mara E. Nadolski
Young Frankenstein
By: Isaac Crow
Ghosts
By: Isaac Crow
The Boyfriend
By: Isaac Crow
The Wiz
By: Chloe Detrick
For the Tree to Drop
By: Jack Lake
Wolves
By: Dale Hess
Boeing, Boeing
By: Isaac Crow
Existence and the Single Girl
By: Justin Sines
Prussia: 1866
By: Jack Lake
Brahman/i
By: Isaac Crow
Mr. Joy
By: Chloe Detrick
My Fair Lady
By: Jack Lake
The Little Mermaid
By: Chloe Detrick
Rodelinda
By: George B. Parous
Or
By: Isaac Crow
Christmas Star
By: Chloe Detrick
Urinetown
By: Isaac Crow
It’s a Wonderful Life
By: Jack Lake
The Santaland Diaries
By: Isaac Crow
A Streetcar Named Desire
By: Isaac Crow
L’Hôtel au Purgatoire
By: Isaac Crow
Evita
By: Jack Lake
Avenue Q
By: Isaac Crow
As You Like It
By: Isaac Crow
Otello
By: George B. Parous
Murder for Two
By: Justin Sines
SCarrie: The Musical
By: Jack Lake
The Last Day of Judas Iscariot
By: Justin Sines
The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs
By: Jack Lake
Outside Mullingar
By: Isaac Crow
The Glass Menagerie
By: Jack Lake
Macbeth
By: Isaac Crow
Sons of War
By: Isaac Crow
Doubt: A Parable
By: Justin Sines
Of Mice and Men
By: Isaac Crow
Bus Stop
By: Corey Hawk
Parade
By: Isaac Crow
Tamara
By: Isaac Crow
Romance
By: Isaac Crow
Fixing King John
By: Corey Hawk
“Ariadne on Naxos” (“Ariadne auf Naxos”)
By: George B. Parous