All Quiet on the Western Front

quietThere are times you’re acutely aware that while yes, you’ve faced hardships, you’ve also led a life of privilege simply by having a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in. All Quiet on the Western Front razor sharpens that realization in scene after scene, numbing you with war’s relentlessness in just two hours, a microcosm of life for the play’s German soldiers of B Company. They head off to World War I as jovial, adventure-seeking youths only to die or be aged in time-lapse by war’s atrocities.

All Quiet on the Western Front marks the inaugural production of Prime Stage’s 21st season as they continue their rich tradition of bringing literature to life on the stage. Impressively, this is also the play’s U.S. premiere. It was adapted for the stage by Robin Kingsland from Erich Maria Remarque’s famed 1929 novel of the same title, a novel that was subsequently banned by the Nazi party.

Despite the World War I setting, the play’s main characters are not heroes. They are boys persuaded by patriotism. The lure of wartime adventure proves more tantalizing than their humdrum, small-town life. The play starts with a metal door noisily rumbling up, and you hear the soon-to-be soldiers singing before you see them roll onto the stage aboard a large cart. The door’s sound is jarring, and director Scott Calhoon brilliantly uses the disconcerting sound to foreshadow the more jarring sounds of war ahead. You feel the anticipation and bursting eagerness of youth as they spill out onto the stage. The main character, Paul Baumer (Connor McNelis), an aspiring poet and lepidopterist, aptly describes the boys as “coiled shoots under the earth.”

The utter arbitrariness of war is a recurring theme. There are no playing favorites on the battlefield. The town’s champion gymnast, Franz, almost immediately loses a leg and dies slowly post-amputation. Projection designer Joe Spinogatti thoughtfully utilizes subtle projections of a wartime hospital floor in the background. They remind us that while we trace Franz’s story, he is one in a sea of many. But war also makes one an opportunist, even as one realizes the contemptibility of it. With supplies already in short order, Franz’s hometown compadres whisper bedside and contemplate taking his nice boots. They rationalize he won’t need them, and besides, they’ll just get taken by an officer. Paul ends up witnessing Franz’s death alone and walks away, then scurries back for the boots. McNelis never shies away from authentically conveying Paul’s struggles and sorrows. His face collapses with pain as he furtively departs, hugging the boots to his chest, both token and tear-stained battlefield advantage.

Normalcy proves to be an ever-shifting bar. The scene with the boots is at the war’s start. Later, the remaining men of B Company slip on blood and blown-up body parts as they scramble for shelter post-bombardment. In fellowship, they review the spoils each accumulated, including corned beef and cognac. One man casually breaks off a blood-spattered chunk of French bread. It’s grisly, but the shared sustenance and palpable relief in realizing the majority of their community has returned alive create a lightness amidst the gore. The four bottles of cognac were pilfered by the Company’s de facto leader, 40-year old Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Stefan Lingenfelter). Lingenfelter plays Kat with heart, a sort of gruff papa bear complete with 5 o’clock shadow who, like the others, is civilian turned soldier. Father-like, he puts the needs of his charges first, slyly conjuring up food and supplies when others can’t. As they move towards shelter, gripping their spoils, the actors keep their eyes forward and move as if they are walking over waves, shaking off the almost-dead who claw at their ankles crying for help. Thanks to Calhoon’s careful direction, it’s as if we see those ghosts in the elegant, grisly dance steps of the soldiers that leave you raw and aching.

Scenic designer Johnmichael Bohach’s towering set is an omnipresent reminder that the individual is minuscule in war, but the boxes the boys sit astride on the cart ride in the opening scene are Bohach’s masterpiece. They smoothly transform to classroom chairs, then take on a darker tone. After the boys sign up for war, Calhoon exchanges their casual poses for military postures as they face each other in two straight rows. The boxes too stand erect on their ends, revealing straps and becoming backpacks. Uniforms are pulled from a hole in the center, and the boys slip them on over their regular clothes, reminding us soldier is just a thin layer over their civilian identity. The boxes later morph again, laying flat in a circle, holes up, becoming toilets the soldiers race to after a potent wartime dinner of beans, and they laugh at their comfort with communal crapping. The ever-elusive bar of normalcy has shifted once again.

As I walked back to my car after the show, a nearly full moon hung low in the sky, and the cool night air stung my nose. In one scene, a new recruit is crazed for fresh air after weeks of bombardment in covered trenches. The crispness of the night air seemed magnified after the play, and I felt as if I needed to breathe more deeply, finding the air they couldn’t. I shivered, registering that I should have brought a warmer jacket, yet almost immediately chided myself for the thought; it felt selfish after hearing the “grim music of the shells” and watching such suffering. Theatre has the power to help us both confront our humanity and connect with humanity. Breathe deeply for those who can’t, and don’t miss All Quiet on the Western Front.

All Quiet on the Western Front plays through November 12th at the New Hazlett Theater. To reserve tickets and for more information, click here.

Fall Preview 2017

Fall Logo

A Letter from the Editor,

Our dear readers, we’ve made it through another summer season! After 40 reviews and 14 features this summer, we’re ready to dig out our sweaters, put on the kettle and continue to keep you up to date with everything local theater. We’ve got some pretty big things coming up for us in the next three months and we can’t wait to share it with you! In addition to everything in this Preview, we’ll also be giving you the scoop on Bricolage Production Company’s latest Immersive Encounter Dodo , The Pittsburgh Playwrights upcoming season, checking in with off the WALL, and  giving you Part 3 of our coverage of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.

There is plenty to keep us busy this fall and we don’t want you to miss a thing! We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your autumn theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Email List and by using the hashtag #FallwithPITR.

If your theater or business would like to feature any advertising on the website for any of the upcoming content this busy season, don’t forget to reserve your spot well in advance! Please don’t hesitate to contact us at about rates and packages at info@pghintheround.com.

Here’s to looking forward to another busy Fall season,

Mara E. Nadolski
Editor in Chief, Pittsburgh in the Round


 

Let’s start off with our Top 5 productions we’re looking forward to this Fall!

quiet#5: All Quiet on the Western Front – Prime Stage: Prime Stage Theatre is known for their productions of shows adapted from literature and this season opener holds true to their nature. Prime Stage honors veterans and those serving our country by partnering with Soldiers and Sailors Hall for this US premiere of the classic World War I novel by Erich Maria Remarque. All Quiet on the Western Front opens at the New Hazlett Theatre November 4.

Tickets and more information can be found here. 

rj-431x500#4: Romeo and Juliet – PICT Classic Theatre: After bringing us productions of Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice in previous seasons, PICT is taking on one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies this season with their 100th show! The classic tale of two star-crossed lovers and their clashing families comes to life in a new location at the famous Fred Rogers Studio at WQED in Oakland. PICT has chosen the 1930’s in New York’s Little Italy as the setting for this rendition of Romeo and Juliet which officially opens Saturday, October 21st. For tickets and more information click here. 

Attack Theatre's presentation of "Assemble This" at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh. © Martha Rial 2/17/2010

#3: Some Assembly Required – Attack Theatre: In their 23rd season opener, Attack Theatre will be performing another round of original performances in their second production of Some Assembly Required. In this unique series, dancers tow the line between dancing, visual art, music, and even a bit of improv. This show requires input from the audience as to where the performance will go next, thus creating unique  performances with each show. Some Assembly Required opens at Contemporary Craft in the Strip District September 21. Tickets and more information can be found here.

DODO-1-880x420#2: Dodo – Bricolage Production Company: Bricolage’s latest immersive theatre adventure partners with the Carnegie Nexus initiative to bring us a sensory-based experience that brings together art and science while exploring public spaces. Held in the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History in Oakland, adventurers will embark on an experience that navigates through behind-the-scenes areas normally off limits to traditional museum visitors! Adventures being October 13 – find more information here. 

21055136_10155550641940797_7827704986490740316_o#1: Unhinged – Cup-a-Jo Productions: On the heels of their production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf inside an actual home, Fringe Festival veterans Cup-a-Jo brings us a new undertaking with Unhinged. Part haunted house, part immersive experience, the highly experimental project promises to have something for everyone. Unhinged starts performances October 13 in an empty bowling alley in Etna. Cup-a-Jo advises we keep a close eye on their Facebook page for ticket links and performance updates.

Next stop on your Fall Preview tour is 5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Fall, click here to learn more!

Mark Clayton Southers brings a little history into the mix with his one-act play The Homestead Strike of 1892 in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the clash between steelworkers and mill owners, opening September 15. Find out more in Yvonne’s article here. 

The New Hazlett Theatre will be starting up their 4th Community Supported Art Performance Series on October 26! See what they’re up to this season here. 

The Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Artistic Director Ted Pappas will be starting his final season there this year. Yvonne sat down with him to get the scoop on what he’s envisioning this season! Click here to read more!

Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks is at it again this year with Henry V, find out more about their 13th season here. 

Quantum Theatre may be in the middle of their run of Red Hills but how much do you know about Rachel Stevens, the director of their next production The Hard Problem? Check out our latest installment of our Artist Spotlight series here. 

See what else the Steel City has to offer this year with a few season previews of City Theatre from Brian, the Pittsburgh Opera from George, and the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center from our High School Correspondent Emily!

The Pittsburgh New Works Festival is already in full swing, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this year’s preview with Part 3 coming soon!

In case you missed it, check out our 2017 Collegiate Preview too!

We were pretty busy this summer, you might have missed a show or two. Don’t worry, here are some highlights from Summer 2017:

Annie at the Paliside Playhouse

Big Fish by Front Porch Theatricals

Cloud 9  by Throughline Theatre Company

Little Shop of Horrors at Comtra Theatre

Mr. Burns by 12 Peers Theater

Spamalot at Stage  62

Avenue Q by the Alumni Theatre Company

The Liar  by Kinetic Theatre

Seussical the Musical at the Apple Hill Playhouse

Pippin at The Theatre Factory

One Man, Two Guvnors at Little Lake Theatre

Sweeney Todd by the Pittsburgh Festival Opera