off the WALL Opens 2017-2018 Season with I Won’t Be in on Monday

22221868_1114709611993019_4043785944263293857_nProvocation. Undaunting steadfastness. Ruthless, feckless talent. Unwaveringly, emboldened authenticity.

These are descriptors which cling to one’s thoughts when one considers the works and mission of innovative theatre Pittsburgh theatre company, Off the WALL productions. Fiercely committed to not only supporting but rapaciously pursuing the cleverest, most scintillating, and quintessentially groundbreaking feminist pieces of dramaturge, Off the Wall is a theatre company which prides itself on an unwavering commitment to portraying the equality and complexity of human experiences. To date, the company’s productions have explored the viscera of fractious, cobwebbed relationships (Lungs); the rueful and joyful experience of a woman learning excavating her deepest self in a one-woman-show (Mother Lode); the agonizing and labyrinth-esque unending process of accepting and bestowing love amidst the myriad vexations of existing as a woman (Tunnel Vision); and a one-woman physical memoir of life as a stripper Sex Werque. While every unique and vivaciously performed piece is characterized by either a distinctly feminine voice/perspective, or an indomitable female character (particularly notable in the company’s fascinating season-project of staging a collection of one-woman shows), the shows are not necessarily feminist manifestos or creeds translated into theatrical productions. Rather, off the WALL is responsible for theatre that highlights and emphasizes the everyday woman and the extraordinariness of the banal or everyday in a way that challenges the viewer to reconceive of entire worlds through a feminist-minded lens.

When corresponding with Virginia Wall Gruenert, Executive Artistic Director for off the WALL and frequent onstage presence for the shows, the aim of the company’s upcoming season and the fascinating new show I Won’t Be in on Monday is to carry on this exhilarating tradition of presenting pieces with multidimensional and robust women. As Gruenert explains, I Won’t be in… “tells the story of a troubled yet optimistic woman with dreams (delusions?) of a better life. She is strong and vulnerable at the same time. She is hopeful. She is real.” To rely on the perhaps trite adage, the female lead of I Won’t Be in… encompasses multitudes, but maybe not in the way that demands people directly interact with a feminist narrative. Rather, her complexities and the vicissitudes of her selfhood in the face of a curious circumstance are astoundingly feminist in their own right. This is to say, the play’s plot—a high-powered financial worker (Nikki) is interrogated by a detective after the disappearance of very expensive rings—and the clever snark that courses through it, embody a feminism that should be apparent in the everyday. I Won’t Be in… capitalizes upon and carries on off the WALL’s strident commitment to narratives in which seemingly irrelevant or aberrant occurrences nestled within the mundane act as a catalyst for larger thought or dialogues, specifically thoughts and dialogues pertaining to women and female voices. Directed by Austin Pendleton, who has worked extensively as an Off-Broadway director as well as in film and television, I Won’t Be in… is written by Anne Stockton, whose creative candor and relationship with off the WALL ensures a production which will immerse viewers in a theatrical reconceptualization of feminine voice and experientiality.

In Gruenert’s own words, I Won’t Be In… and plays of that ilk epitomize and carry on the company’s mission of heading “forward, forward, forward, with no looking back…to many, it’s controversial to us, it’s the right thing to do.” Indeed, many of off the WALL’s productions have raised obdurate eyebrows, particularly Ella Mason’s aforementioned one-woman show Sex Werque chronicling the performer’s stint as a stripper. The show, which Gruenert eloquently describes, captures the “emotional and economic forces; the movement vocabulary; the masks; and the moments of authentic connection” that are involved in the very complicated and emotional line of work. The show perhaps best typifies the company’s mission—a piece that does not put experience or gender on a hierarchy, but portrays a human experience in its most raw and intimate fashion (and elevates the female voice throughout). However, the show was not without pushback (and some sensational rebuttal from the show’s stupendous defenders). But perhaps, in a time as dishearteningly draconian as our current socio-political climate, provocation and pushback in theatre are absolutely necessary for fundamental progress and change. As Gruenert notes, the disparity in female and male-authored dramaturgical pieces are staggering. The Theatre Communications Group indicated that of the 1,946 productions from the 411 theatre members in the group, the male-to-female author ratio was 63-26. Thus, off the WALL’s dedication to “recognizing, respecting, and honoring the female voice in American theater” is of the utmost importance. Given their recent ICWP 50/50 Applause Award, off the WALL is continuing their monumental efforts in both the theatrical realm and the realm of social attentiveness.

I Won’t Be in on Monday opens at Carnegie Stage on October 12. For tickets and more information, click here. 

PNWF 2017: Program D

PNWF LOGOFor 27 seasons, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival has brought new one act shows to the stage from playwrights both local and from far away. Last weekend, I got to check out three non-local writers’ new shows during Program D of the PNWF’s four program run. As always, the shows are more focused on bringing the story to life, showcasing the acting and the words over staging and effects. I was pleased to see that all three of the shows I saw excelled in performing their scripts with limited sets and props.

olderThe first show, When You are a Little Bit Older, was an interesting presentation. I was warned to sit on audience left in the theatre to get a better viewpoint, as the characters were actually sitting in audience right during the show. This show, written by Matthew Weaver, was presented by Thoreau, NM- A Production Company. It featured three teenagers at the cinema watching a movie. At least, one of them was watching the movie. The other two spend the show trying desperately to make out but are continually thwarted by the younger brother, played by Korey Grecek. Grecek repeatedly makes his older brother (Peter Kelley Stamerra) go out to concessions for more snacks, upon the threat of telling his girlfriend’s father what’s they’re up to during the movie. Stamerra had a limited role in the show, spending most of his time crawling over actual theatre goers to get out of the aisle, but his exasperation at Grecek is well played, making me guess he has younger siblings of his own.

The show is really about the younger brother wanting a chance to chat up his bro’s girlfriend, played convincingly by Sophia Rose Englesberg. Grecek spends the time waiting for his brother to come back asking Englesberg about her past relationships, and eventually advice for the future of his own. Director lance-eric skapura did a great job with staging the show and blocking the kids, even if I wondered several times why these kids weren’t kicked out of the movie theater for constantly talking during the film. I thought the show could have been slightly shorter. There would only be so many times I’d be willing to return to concessions before I’d lose it, no matter what the threat was. Aside from that, this show is a cute, light-hearted piece with lots of humor. A very nice way to open the evening.

bernieThe South Hills Players presented the second show, Bernie, in my opinion the funniest of the evening. It was full of dark humor, involving themes of suicide, death, failure, and hopelessness. Despite all that, writer Fred Perry is skilled at making the audience laugh out loud time after time. Most of the laughs came from Steven F. Gallagher, who played the titular role. Bernie is the dictionary definition of cynical, having experienced loss, frustration, and constant setback. Losing his beloved dog is the last straw, and he decides to kill himself. Except he’s not very good at that either. Gallagher’s delivery of the lines is exceptional, clearly having a lot of experience with comedic timing.

Playing wonderfully alongside Gallagher is Dave Malehorn, Bernie’s brother Sid. Sid is called upon when Bernie’s suicide goes south, and Malehorn spends the show exasperated at his brother’s recent behavior. This is another theme, that goes along with the first and last show, of being there for family no matter how ridiculous or annoying they can be. Gallagher and Malehorn play extremely well off each other. Major kudos to director Jennifer Luta for her casting choices and direction of tone.After an intermission for

storyAfter an intermission for set change, the last show of the evening was presented: Story Road. While Stage Right Pittsburgh did a nice job bringing out the humor of playwright Mark Cornell’s piece, it was about conflict and unhappiness. A young girl was running away from her father, not because she didn’t love him, but because she’d had enough of his on-the-road-musician lifestyle. Ellie, played by Marybeth Herman, only wanted a normal life, with a house and friends and a family, all grounded in one location. Since her mother died, it’s been her and her father on the road while he performs his songs, which she reminds him several times are not very good, at different bars and clubs to make a living. Herman is great in her role of dramatically-annoyed teen girl, and you certainly get a sense from her that even if her father hadn’t caught up with her, she wasn’t really going to go anywhere.

Andrew Lasswell played Cleveland, a man who is struggling to provide for his daughter and himself the only way he can. The chemistry between Herman and Lasswell was earnest and heartfelt. And while there was a lot of humor, there was a lot of pain and frustration as well. Director Joe Eberle also cast this duo very well for each other, and he knew exactly when to play up the humor and highlight the serious moments. I may have even shed a tear or two at the ending.

While shows this brand new often have a few imperfections, all three shows of Program D have enough humor and talent to beyond make up for the newness of the pieces. These seven actors have done fantastic jobs at bringing the shows to life, and I hope all the writers are proud of their work.

The Pittsburgh New Works Festival runs through September 24 at Carnegie Stage. For tickets and more information, check out their website here. 

PNWF 2017: Program C

PNWF LOGOThe 27th season of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival at Carnegie Stage continues with a trio of new one-act plays in Program C.

The first show is Julie Zaffarano’s Destiny is a Careless Waiter, as presented by R-ACT Productions. The stage is set with two café tables. Flowing red tablecloths drape the tables like melted red wax on the sides of a Chianti bottle. Champagne flutes on each table reinforce this is a destination of romance.

destinyOf course, things are not always what they appear. However, the romantic restaurant seems fitting when the show opens with the high-pitched squeals of Bria (Brittany Bara). She shrieks with excitement after discovering a ring atop her dessert. Bria possessively pushes on the ring, not even pausing for her newly betrothed to slip it on, extending her arm and admiring her finger, all while rattling on incessantly. Her new fiancé, Justin (Spencer Whale), looks befuddled, and one suspects he’s just the inert type.

It’s an intimate restaurant where tables almost kiss. The couple at the next table reacts to the engagement. The man (Sean, played by Travis Ascione) finds it sweet and tries cajoling his girlfriend (Emily, played by Carley Adams) into the same response. Emily’s nonstop texting and cynical eyeroll indicate she is not impressed by the trite textbook proposal. Beyond that, she casts dubious glances at Bria, clearly finding her overzealous reaction extreme.

While it’s a play of couples, the women assume the primary roles, and their costuming establishes them as opposites. Emily is tall and willowy, a brunette with severe bangs who wears a classic little black dress. Adams plays Emily with a resting bitch face when she’s dealing with Sean, but it’s not a one-note default as she warms and softens in other interactions. Bria’s evergreen perkiness is made manifest by a colorful floral skirt and vibrant fuchsia cardigan. Bara’s energetically fresh interpretation of Bria is a pleasure to watch, and Bara flips some cynicism when needed, not limiting herself to an always on mode.

It turns out Justin’s confusion is genuine. He had no plans to propose. It’s a madcap rush, reminiscent of a 1930’s screwball comedy, but director Mike Nelson is careful not to speed through the plot twists. The play ends with Justin and Sean making eye contact as they simultaneously shout “Server,” although it sounds more like “Serve her,” advice we learn both men failed to take.

r and jRelationship drama, albeit offstage, also forms the cornerstone of the second play, the Actors Civic Theater’s presentation of William Sikorski’s Romeo and Juliet: Epilogue. Director James Critchfield’s set choice is appropriately austere for an interrogation room: a folding table and three chairs. The play opens with Friar Lawrence (Eric Mathews) slumped over the table in his brown habit.

There’s immediate juxtaposition. Two modern detectives come into the room, one clutching a donut bag. They start rapid-fire questioning the startled-looking friar. Just when one thinks it’s because he’s a man of God who’s wrestling with being questioned by the police about his role in the dead bodies found in a tomb, he responds in Elizabethan English.

Detective Sam Davis (Candice Fisher) bristles offensively at the Elizabethan response. Fisher plays the detective with limited range; Fisher’s two modes are smartass and shrill as she gets in the friar’s face. Detective William Stanley is played by Joel Ambrose who brings more nuance to his performance and pushes beyond stereotypes. However, Stanley is like an American abroad who speaks more slowly and loudly, hoping that will solve the communication gap.

Sikorski’s narrative misses the mark and is tied up a bit too abruptly and neatly. Ultimately, the detectives’ forceful abrasiveness seems questionable, but Critchfield doesn’t explore that thread, which is a missed opportunity for relevance given ever-present stories on police brutality. Instead, the two detectives just break into the donuts. Cops will be cops.

branniganDomestic drama provides a through line connecting the third and final play, Lezlie Revelle’s The Wrong Brannigan (presented by McKeesport Little Theatre) to its two Program C predecessors. The action unfolds in a living room, lived in but warmly pleasant. A champagne-colored brocade couch behind a green area rug provides the focal point of the room. A chair nestled on each side and a wet bar across the room completes a scene of domestic tranquility.

This tranquility is reinforced by the play’s opening as occupant Ronnie Brannigan (Randy Berner) enters the room. Berner perfectly channels a very nice, but immediately forgettable, mid-50s male. He enters the living room with an open book and settles on the couch to read. His tranquility is short-lived as a man ringing the doorbell ever more incessantly breaches Ronnie’s peace. The breach turns out to be of more than just solitude. The man, Bill (Chris Cattell), pulls a gun on the perplexed Ronnie. Ronnie’s wife Jerri (Jane Scutieri Tinker) arrives home to a tense scene as the gun-brandishing Bills faces off with a confused Ronnie who’s wrestling with the tension between spousal loyalty and troubling new revelations. Tinker struggles to make her character believable throughout, leaning towards the comedic easy laugh as an escape valve.

Relationship drama continues to escalate when the Brannigan’s college-age daughter, Katie (Kaitlin Cliber) arrives home for the holidays. Her costuming marks her as a girl still trying on identities, dark hair chopped short with blonde tufts and a long burgundy sweater with swinging fringe. The number of secrets and twists unravels at a near-dizzying frenzy. Director Catherine Gallagher fails to still the pacing at critical moments, leaving one feeling a bit like a hapless passenger on a roller coaster ride. While the tone remains comedic, Ronnie clearly surprises himself when he taps into his own dark side a bit, raising questions about the lengths we’ll go to in protecting the ones we love.

Program C of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival runs through September 23 at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106.

For more details, click here.

PNWF – New Works from Around the World: Part 3

This third post covers the Pittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) Programs C & D! Six new one-act plays will be produced during this portion of the festival, all performed at the Carnegie Stage in Carnegie. If you missed the first post on PNWF check it out hereand the second one here

“One of my favorite parts about the festival is that since they are all new plays, the stories are all a surprise.”

Andy Coleman, PNWF Communications Director

Detailed ticket information follows at the end of this post. For more information about the festival visit http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/about-pnwf/

Program C is presented on September 14th, 22nd and 23rd at 8pm, the 16th at 4pm and the 17th at 2pm.

destinyDestiny is a Careless Waiter

by Julie Zaffarano

Broomall, PA

Produced by R-ACT Theatre Productions

 

Sean invites Emily to dinner to propose marriage. He brings his grandmother’s engagement ring to the restaurant and instructs the server to place the ring in Emily’s dessert. Justin invites Bria to the same restaurant at the same time, planning to break up with her. When the engagement ring intended for Emily ends up in Bria’s dessert, the chaos begins.

Julie Zaffarano is an emerging playwright in the Philadelphia area. Her play, The Play Makers, was named the Winner in the 2016 What If? Productions Annual Playwrights Festival. Julie holds two Masters Degrees: MA in Classical Studies and an MS in Organization Science from Villanova University.

Romeo and Juliet:  Epiloguer and j

by William Sikorski

Birchwood Village, MN

Produced by Actors Civic Theater

 

The subsequent criminal investigation of the multiple homicide at Juliet’s tomb. Detectives Davis and Stanley interrogate Friar Lawrence at the Verona 41st Precinct Police Station.

William H. Sikorski lives in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, where he works as a laboratory manager for 3M. In his (limited) spare time he writes (very) short plays. He has had several 10-minute, 1-minute and even a 1-second play produced.

branniganThe Wrong Brannigan

by Lezlie Revelle

Olathe, KS

Produced by McKeesport Little Theater

 

Mistaken identity and bad timing wreak havoc on a family full of secrets!

Lezlie Revelle is a playwright, author and singer-songwriter from the Midwest. Lezlie’s plays have been produced and won awards across the United States, including New York, Kansas City, and San Diego.


Program D’s performances are September 15th, 1th and 21st at 8pm, the 23rd at 4pm and the 25th at 2pm

When You Are a Little Bit Olderolder

by Matthew Weaver

Spokane, WA

Produced by Thoreau, NM – A Production Company

 

Cooper and Ava have a hot date at the movies, but Cooper’s younger brother Owen tags along. Everything’s going as well as can be expected until Owen runs out of popcorn …

Matthew Weaver is a Spokane, Wash., playwright and screenwriter. His plays have been performed in Washington State, Canada, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia.

bernieBernie

by Fred Perry

Roswell, GA

Produced by The South Hills Players

 

Bernie Heller has always been a bit of a schmo. And his life hit bottom today. Miserable, divorced, and a brilliant but failed artist, Bernie finally decided to end it all by getting smashed, then hanging himself – with a child’s skip rope. But when he jumped off the ladder, the thin rope snapped, the fall resulting in two broken ankles. Now three sheets to the wind and totally helpless, he calls the only person who can get him back on his feet: his renowned brother, Doctor Sid Heller.

Fred Perry is a produced playwright and screenwriter authoring six feature films for Omega Entertainment. Fred’s plays have been performed in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Georgia, where his two-act comedy, The Ascension of Twyla Potts premiered last October at the Rome Little Theatre.

Story Roadstory

by Mark Cornell

Chapel Hill, NC

Produced by Stage Right Pittsburgh

 

Directed by Joe Eberle, winner of the 2016 Donna Award for Outstanding Director

Cleveland is a struggling singer-songwriter and, after losing their house, has taken his 15-year-old daughter Ellie on the road. One night, tired of the hard life they are leading, Ellie decides to run away.

Mark Cornell has had more than 70 of his plays produced in theatres around the world, from England to Australia to Singapore and all across the U.S.. He has an MFA in playwriting from UCLA.

The Pittsburgh New Works Festival is a great opportunity for you to checkout new plays as well as the work of our region’s many talented actors, directors and companies.


For tickets:

Visit https://www.showclix.com/events/14074 or 1-888-71-TICKETS (1-888-718-4253) to reserve your seats by phone.

Main Stage Festival passes are $40. Pick your own dates with the Flex Pass or select one of the pre-built packages for a specific day and time. Either way you can experience every new play in the Festival and save a few bucks over single ticket prices.

Show times are Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm

Single Tickets Prices $15 Regular Admission ($17 at the Door) $12 Students and Under 25 ($14 at the Door)

Carnegie Stage is located at 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA  15106.  There is plenty of free parking and a great variety of restaurants and shops within easy walking distance of the theater

A final note: The final dress rehearsals of Pittsburgh New Works mainstage shows are open to the public and feature American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and live audio description for our guests.  Learn more and reserve your seat for an accessible final dress rehearsal at http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/visit-2/accessibility-2/accessible-final-dress/

PNWF 2017: Program A

PNWF LOGOThe Pittsburgh New Works Festival kicked off this past weekend with a trio of original one acts: CCAC South Campus Theater’s Roosevelt’s Ghosts, The Summer Company’s The Pivot and The Theater Factory’s Doing Time. None of them are quite what you’d expect.

Roosevelt’s Ghosts, written by Aaron Scully and directed by New Works rooseveltFestival Managing Director Lora Oxenreiter, is a reflective presidential fantasy with a quite literal title. We see a 25 year-old Theodore Roosevelt (Corwin Stoddard) speaking with Thomas (Mike McCarthy), an aide, about his wife Alice’s (Megan Grocutt) failing health. This is an important moment for the future 26th President: after losing his mother and wife in less than 12 hours, Roosevelt would go on to live a series of different lives that would culminate in two of the most consequential terms in office in American history, and this was the tragedy that propelled him to do so. “Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough,” he once wrote.

I digress. The lights go out, and come on again. Mittie’s (Samantha A. Camp), the ghost of his mother, stands suddenly in the room. After a familiar ‘I must be out of my mind’ exchange and a few accusations about Theodore’s lifestyle from Alice, it becomes clear that we’re quite literally watching Roosevelt’s own personal A Christmas Carol.

As someone who studies American Presidents as a hobby, I had a good time watching CCAC’s production weave in and out of history. Corwin Stoddard, whose performance portrays both confidence and exhaustion, actually replicated Roosevelt’s odd, squinty smile once or twice, which in turn put a huge smile on my face. The fascination with Roosevelt is obvious in Scully’s script, and you get a sense of the entire emotional arc of his young adulthood in just over thirty minutes, which is impressive.

However, despite the fact that I can’t say I’ve seen this exact riff on Charles Dickens’ perennial classic, the pace and dialogue are too familiar for the play to make a stamp of its own on this oft-retold story. I couldn’t help but feel that any figure in history could supplant Roosevelt and the experience of the play would be more or less the same. If the history is unfamiliar to the audience, plot points certainly won’t be.

pivotNext up is The Summer Company’s smart and succinct The Pivot, written by Seth Freeman and directed by Justin Sines. A man named Walter (Brett Sullivan Santry) waits alone in an office for job applicants to enter. Two women named Cindy, identical but for the color of their skin, take their seats.

We watch the interviews occur simultaneously. The women share lines and have the same resume. For the first woman (Krista Graham), who is white, the interview is cordial, even complimentary. Walter silently pivots (aha!) his chair to the second woman (Meleana Felton), who is black, and the interview seems colder somehow. The longer we watch, the more the divide Walter has created for the women becomes apparent.

The Pivot couldn’t have been more than six or seven minutes, but like any good short work, it has a certain intellectual catchiness to it. What I liked best about it was the play’s focus on the actual act of pivoting. When Walter moves, his face becomes stone cold, and the stage falls silent. He really takes his time getting there, too, and it creates an unsettling atmosphere to sit in.

Lastly we have The Theater Factory’s Doing Time, written by Mary Poindexter timeMcLaughlin and directed by Scott P. Calhoon. This was easily the conversation starter of the afternoon. The play follows an old man (Tom Mirth) and a young man (Steve Gottschalk) who represent a different philosophical approach to life, each brought about by what appears to be a generational gap.

The play begins in a nearly vacant space, equipped only with a couple chairs, a table, and a window. Mirth’s Older Man is in a tattered suit and seems to have lost his shoes. He has a flute and plays it as much as humanly possible – importantly, he only actually knows a single six or seven-second riff. For a while, we’re just sitting with this man.

Without warning, the younger man, whose outfit is pristine, explodes into the room and spills a small novel’s worth of papers onto the floor. He reveals that they’re the pages of his autobiography, which he must write perpetually, or he will die. The play then becomes a physical comedy, as the slightest sound from the older man causes the younger man to spiral into a fit.

I really liked Doing Time visually. There’s a great contrast between Mirth’s older man and Gottschalk’s younger man. Mirth’s movement is fluid and unhurried. He’s always contorting himself into odd, almost ape-like positions (think Andy Serkis in front of a green screen) as he navigates the stage, and he’s a lot of fun to watch. Meanwhile, Gottschalk is rigid efficiency personified.

Suffice to say, the older man has a few things to teach the younger man about smelling the roses. I won’t be too descriptive in terms of plot here, but the older man is prepared to sacrifice a lot for the younger man’s addiction to chronicling himself, which gives him a revelation. There’s a clear analogy for social media consumption here, and like many works pleading with millennials to stop it with the cell phones already, I think its heart is in the right place but its message isn’t exactly comprehensive. Like any issue worth discussing, social media overconsumption as a problem deserves a solution more complicated than “have you tried just not doing it?”

I won’t pigeonhole McLaughlin’s work any further, because I think its entirely possible to walk out of this with wholly different conclusions. This is a memorable experience, warts and all, and is the kind of self-contained, imaginative play one would hope to find at the New Works Festival. It’s unique and worth engaging with.

If I’m to judge The New Works Festival based on its ability to show me what I haven’t seen before, it’s off to a good start. I’m looking forward to what’s coming up next.

Program A runs at Carnegie Stage through September 9. For tickets and more information, click here

*A previous version of this review had Samantha A. Camp and Megan Grocutt’s character’s mislabeled.

PNWF 2017: Program B

PNWF LOGOThe 27th annual Pittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) Program B offers is a mixed bag of theatrics.  On stage, three world premiere one act plays, produced by local theater troupes.  I reviewed the line up beforehand on PNWF’s website and just knew my dramatic pallet would be well attended to.  

Program B features The Heritage Players, longtime PNWF contributors, the artists collaborative, Cup-A-Jo Productions, and The Duquesne University Red Masquers, the oldest amateur theater company in Pittsburgh.  Each company, with their own unique cast, offers a dramatic illustration of the playwright’s characters, a time and place showcased in their new works; gently breathing life into the story.  

exitFirst up for review, Exit Strategy by Fairbanks, Alaska playwright Tom Moran, is produced and directed by Jay Breckenridge and Nicole Zalek of Pittsburgh’s South Hills troupe The Heritage Players. Love dating?  Hate dating?  Either Way, Exit Strategy offers insight on improving your date worthiness, navigating the desires and intents of the opposite sex and being true to yourself.  This one act consists of a simple set; a high top bar table and a couple of glasses.  Lead character Sean, played by Connor McNelis, experiences a series of dates, each one propelling him to tweak his ‘style’.  His dates played by Nicole Zeak, Elena Falgione and Renee Rabenold help McNelis deliver Moran’s dialogue, which is ordinary and familiar, often fast paced and 100% natural.  Sean’s evolution of self- awareness is comedic, mainly because it’s an honest representation.  The dialogue keeps the audience engaged and Sean’s attempts to improve his dating skills are anything but cliche. The end offers a pleasant surprise, sometimes a happy ending is the icing on the cake.

finalThe second play, All Sales Final, by New York City playwright John Yarbrough, is presented by Cup-A-Jo Productions and performed by a seasoned cast of actors.  The play takes a subject typically considered delicate, sacred and often sensitive and introduces financial exploitation and the callousness of greed through the absurdity of a ponzi scheme and characters with questionable personal boundaries. The comic relief flourishes from actors Mark Yochum, as Mr. Festerberger and Megan May cast as Mrs. Wilkinson.   All Sales Final has a lot of ‘one liners’ that seemed to challenge the cast into keeping a straight face.  I enjoyed seeing the actors reactions to each other as much as I enjoyed watching them perform.  Director, Nick Mitchell’s stage direction requires the cast utilize the whole stage and is high energized, both appropriate and appreciated.  Produced by Joanna Lowe for Cup- A- Jo Productions, together Mitchell and Lowe present a cast who brings Yarbrough’s one act melodrama, a rendition of a price tag on life to the stage with passion.  

sparrowsProgram B’s  final performance, The Sparrows, written by Pennsylvanian playwright Evan W. Saunders and presented by The Duquesne University Red Masquers.  An introspective plot offering a brief examination into the memory of Will, played by Ian Brady.  Will struggles to accept a memory or the way the event actually occurred. The memory includes Holly, played by Angela Trovato, and he relives a moment in time, playing out many different angles and possible outcomes.  Holly sometimes shows compassion, other times frustration and boredom all while Will remains reticent. This one act is an interesting perspective and constructs a somewhat surreal reflection on life.  The dialogue is repetitive but with each imagined scenario the actors deliver in a different manner. I really enjoyed The Sparrows being placed at the end of the series.   I enjoyed the sentimentality Saunders created with a visit down memory lane.  

Remaining true to their mission and style, Carnegie Stage, once again hosts the month long PNWF.  Always a hospitable staff, beverages, ample parking, accessible location to tri county roadways and ample restaurants and bars within a few short blocks from the theater and innovative and unique theater experience with every visit.  PNWF is a great opportunity for the theatrically adventurous audience, writers, and performers to explore Pittsburgh’s theater community.

For tickets and more information about the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, click hereStay tuned for more coverage of the festival coming soon!

PNWF – New Works from Around the World: Part 2

This second post covers the Pittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) Programs A & B! Six new one-act plays will be produced during this portion of the festival, all performed at the Carnegie Stage in Carnegie. If you missed the first post on PNWF check it out here.

“One of my favorite parts about the festival is that since they are all new plays, the stories are all a surprise.”

Andy Coleman, PNWF Communications Director

Detailed ticket information follows at the end of this post. For more information about the festival visit http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/about-pnwf/

Program A performances are on August 31st September 8th and 9th at 8pm and September 2nd at 4pm and September 3rd at 2pm.

rooseveltRoosevelt’s Ghosts

by Aaron Scully

Warresnburg, MO

Produced by CCAC South Campus

 

On February 14th, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt suffered the loss of his mother and his wife within hours of each other. Legend has it that Roosevelt spent time in his study alone and when he came out he hardly ever spoke of his mother or wife again. This play explores one idea of what may have happened during that time in his study.

Aaron Scully is a playwright, director, actor, teacher and scholar. Most recently he was awarded an Outstanding Achievement in Dramatic Writing from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

The Pivotpivot

by Seth Freeman

Pacific Palisades, CA

Produced by The Summer Company

 

In this very short play’s genre-bending structure, an apparently well-qualified job applicant simultaneously faces and doesn’t face unexpected obstacles.

Seth Freeman’s plays have been presented at over a hundred fifty theaters and festivals around the world. He has received multiple Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, Golden Globes and numerous other honors for screenwriting, fiction writing, and journalism.

timeDoing Time

by Mary Poindexter McLaughlin

East Aurora, NY

Produced by The Theatre Factory

 

Confined in an undefined time and place, a young man attempts to write his “Book of Life” amidst the interruptions of an old man. Together, they argue about the significance of memory and the consequences of an undocumented life, ultimately helping each other learn the greatest lesson of all: the freedom of letting go.

Mary Poindexter McLaughlin holds a BA in English from Stanford University, where she was the recipient of Stanford’s Golden Grant Award for playwriting. Her plays have been finalists in the Samuel French One-Act Festival.


Program B runs September 1st, 2nd and 7th at 8pm and the 9th at 4pm and 10th at 2pm.

Exit Strategyexit

by Tom Moran

Fairbanks, AK

Produced by The Heritage Players

 

Sean has a brilliant strategy to avoid getting dumped: hit ’em with paperwork.

Tom Moran has been produced 33 times in 19 different cities in 13 states Tom holds a bachelor’s in English from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

finalAll Sales Final

by John Yarbrough

New York, NY

Produced by Cup-A-Jo Productions

 

When a dying man puts his life insurance policy up for sale to the highest bidder, all involved prepare to meet their maker.

John Yarbrough is a playwright in New York City. His plays have been performed throughout the country, and his play Petra was a selection for the Best American Short Plays 2014-2015.

Sparrowssparrows

by Evan W. Saunders

Nanticoke, PA

Produced by The Red Masquers

 

Two friends wait for a train, trapped in a memory on repeat. Only the truth will set them free, but in this strange world of changing conversations and bagel-carrying sparrows, what if one doesn’t want to leave?

Evan W. Saunders’ plays have been performed as a part of the 2016 Pittsburgh New Works Festival and the Duquesne University Red Masquers’ Premieres Festival. His first full-length play, All in the Numbers, is currently in development.


Stay tuned for more information on Programs C and D in Part 3 coming soon!

For tickets:

Visit https://www.showclix.com/events/14074 or 1-888-71-TICKETS (1-888-718-4253) to reserve your seats by phone.

Main Stage Festival passes are $40. Pick your own dates with the Flex Pass or select one of the pre-built packages for a specific day and time. Either way you can experience every new play in the Festival and save a few bucks over single ticket prices.

Show times are Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm

Single Tickets Prices $15 Regular Admission ($17 at the Door) $12 Students and Under 25 ($14 at the Door)

Carnegie Stage is located at 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA  15106.  There is plenty of free parking and a great variety of restaurants and shops within easy walking distance of the theater.

A final note: The final dress rehearsals of Pittsburgh New Works mainstage shows are open to the public and feature American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and live audio description for our guests.  Learn more and reserve your seat for an accessible final dress rehearsal at http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/visit-2/accessibility-2/accessible-final-dress/

 

PNWF – New Works from Around the World: Part 1

PNWF LOGOIf you are a regular reader of Pittsburgh in the Round I’m sure you have realized that the Pittsburgh area has quite the active theatre scene. From productions at the Cultural District theatres, to small professional theatres, university theatres and community theatres there is a lot going on here. It also means there are lots of opportunities for directors, choreographers, actors, designers and crew to practice their craft.

There is no better place to see many of our non-Equity actors than the Pittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) which runs August 20th to September 24th. There will be eighteen new one-act plays produced during the six weeks of the festival all performed at the Carnegie Stage.

“For our 27th season we have playwrights from around the world.”

Dek Ingraham, Festival Director

For playwrights, workshops and staged readings are an important step in the process of the development of a new play. Until a playwright can put their work in front of an audience the script is merely words on paper. To test the plays emotional connection an audience is required. At the PNWF audience members have an opportunity to provide valuable feedback to the playwright, actors and directors. The festival environment gives all participants a unique chance to see several plays in one sitting. One can compare the works of emerging and establish playwrights and observe trends in topics. Lastly any theatre town worth its salt needs to contribute to the development of new works.

“One of my favorite parts about the festival is that since they are all new plays, the stories are all a surprise.”

Andy Coleman, PNWF Communications Director

The six-week-long Festival opens on Sunday August 20th with two consecutive Sunday’s of different plays branded as LabWorks followed by four programs of one-acts rotating over the course of four weeks.

Detailed information regarding tickets is provided at the end of this piece. For further information visit http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/about-pnwf/

The following play descriptions and playwright bios are courtesy of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.

This first post covers the LabWorks portion of the festival. To help the playwrights continue to develop their work, the Festival invites the audience to give feedback and ask questions at the end of the performances. Tickets for LabWorks are “Pay What You Want” and include drinks and light refreshments as well as the talkback after the performance.

“The LabWorks format is designed to allow our production companies the most flexibility to present their piece in a truly lab setting. Some will choose to have actors on-book with full staging, others may choose to operate under a “readers theater” style with someone reading stage directions.” 

Andy Coleman

The plays on Sunday, August 20th at 7pm are from three different playwrights, each produced by a different Pittsburgh area theatre company.

WILDERNESS

 

Wilderness Survival

by Hamilton Kreeger

Baltimore, MD

Produced by The Bobcat Players

An incident on a wilderness survival camp out brings secrets to light and forces difficult choices on those trying to uncover the truth.

Hamilton Kreeger is a lawyer and playwright living in Baltimore, Maryland. His play Sleeping Aide was a previous main stage production at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.FORERUNNERS

Forerunners

by David Healey

Toronto, Ontario

Produced by Little Lake Theatre

Forerunners is a comedy that focuses on storytelling and incorporates some of the folk tales from my home province of Nova Scotia. It takes place in Nova Scotia in the late 1960’s and it is non-traditional in the sense that it foregoes the usual advancement of the story through plot and instead the play is propelled forward by the use of relationship, character development and storytelling. The play revolves around Donald and Jamie who compete to be the best story teller.

David Healey studied as an actor and improviser before turning to writing. His one-man shows have played at numerous fringe festivals.

GOLDEN

Golden Land

by John Adams

Richmond Heights, MO

Produced by Prime Stage Theatre

 

Freddy and Emma meet on a front stoop of a tenement in a New York City’s lower east side, circa 1904. Freddy is a barber and innkeeper with a wife and a daughter. Emma is a reflective, seminal thinker and writer, a former sweatshop seamstress. Freddy intrudes on Emma’s moment of writing and forcing her to listen to stories about his life and success, as he prepares to return to Germany with his wife and newborn daughter…

John Adams was awarded the Ontario College Graduate Certificate in creative writing from the Humber School for Writers. During the past summer, his full-length play In The Shadow of a Dream was staged during the New York City Midtown International Theatre Festival.

On Sunday August 27th, LabWorks presents the second series of three plays, authors and companies.

WILD ONES

Where the Wild Ones Play

by Job Ethan Christenson

New York, NY

Produced by Stage Right

 

A man delves into his past and discovers more than he can allow himself to remember. David recounts his childhood friend, Rachel, a mother figure, friend and delves into a past that brings them together.

Job Ethan Christenson has written The Theist, Mfundo, Out of the Human Town, Where the Wild Ones Play, The Living Trees, In Bed, and Therapy. Job was recently published by Indie Theatre Now.

ENHANCEMENTSEnhancements

by Sean Lenhart

Pittsburgh, PA

Produced by Split Stage Productions

 

A husband and wife argue over the new addition to their family, the husband’s robotic arm. While he sees it as a medical necessity, she views it as symbolic of his trust in long-term relationships. Everything comes to a head when the husband brings in the doctor who installed the arm, exacerbating the whole situation, and leading to a unique solution.

Sean Lenhart is a graduate of Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts with a degree in Musical Theatre, Sean has been seen on stages across Pittsburgh, Sean acted in the 2016 Pittsburgh New Works Festival.

Chinese PuzzlePUZZLE

by Kate Kasten

Iowa City, IA

Produced by Retro Red Productions

 

A woman sits in a friend’s kitchen. The woman is upset and tells her friend the story of what’s happened. She’s afraid she’s been banned from the Mennonite second-hand clothing store where she buys much of her wardrobe, especially her beloved “June Cleaver” dresses. After inadvertently breaking store rules on several occasions and incurring the disapproval of the retirees who volunteer there, she commits a further crime by disemboweling a down coat while trying to make it fit.

Kate Kasten is the co-author, with Sandra de Helen, of a musical satire of the Nancy Drew mystery genre, The Clue in the Old Birdbath. She is also the author of three novels (The De-Conversion of Kit Lamb, Ten Small Beds, and Better Days) and Wildwood: Fairy Tales and Fables Re-imagined a book of fairy tales for adults.

The Pittsburgh New Works Festival is a great opportunity for you to checkout new plays as well as the work of our region’s many talented actors, directors and companies.

Check out our next PNWF post for Program A, B, C, and D details.

For tickets:

Visit https://www.showclix.com/events/14074 or 1-888-71-TICKETS (1-888-718-4253) to reserve your seats by phone.

Tickets for LabWorks are “Pay What You Want” and include drinks and light refreshments as well as a talkback after the performance.

Carnegie Stage is located at 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA  15106.  There is plenty of free parking and a great variety of restaurants and shops within easy walking distance of the theater.

PITR’s Top 5 Picks for Summer 2017

Let’s dive right into our Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this summer!

Marcus Stevens (2)#5 – An Act of God – Pittsburgh Public Theater: A relatively new play, premiering on Broadway in 2015, An Act of God is a one-act comedy that originally started out as a series of tweets that evolved into the book of which the play was adapted from. Point Park University graduate Marcus Stevens plays God, joined by his sidekicks: angels Gabriel and Michael (John Shepard and Tim McGeever), in this comedy opening at the Pittsburgh Public June 9. For tickets and more information click here. 

#4 – Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play – 12 Peers Theater: Once you catch 12 Peer’s current production of Thom Pain: Based on Mr. Burns ImageNothing starring Pittsburgh’s own Matt Henderson, we’re sure you’ll be itching to see what else they have to offer. Opening August 3, Mr. Burns shoots us some years into the future after the apocalypse where we meet a handful of survivors trying to recreate a particular episode of “The Simpsons”. Fast forwarding into the future for Act 2, and even further for Act 3,  these reenactments become main forms of entertainment and eventually myths decades later. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#3 – Hot Metal Musicals – Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP):Since Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyits creation, MTAP has set out to help create and promote new musicals and the artists creating them in Pittsburgh. The incubator was established in 2011 by Erik Schark and is now currently led by executive director Stephanie Riso, managing director Jeanne Drennan, and advisor Steve Cuden. The first Hot Metal Musicals showcase in 2015 was one of our first major events of that year, and after seeing the talents Pittsburgh had to offer then, we’re sure this year’s showcase on July 17 will knock our socks off. For tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Momentum Festival – City Theatre Company: City Theatre, known as yt17-momentum-featurePittsburgh’s home for new plays, delivers on their promise to keep things fresh and new again this year by finishing out their season with their annual page-to-stage festival: Momentum. Featuring 5 different staged readings, this year’s lineup will include not one, but two shows in progress that will be fully produced in their 2017-2018 season. Hop in for a meet and greet and a staged reading this weekend starting June 1! For more information, click here!

18556456_10155486793559873_589745343035013449_o#1 – WordPlay – Bricolage Production Company: Sure, for the second year in a row, we’ve named Bricolage’s storytelling show WordPlay the #1 show we’re looking forward to this summer. But this time, WordPlay is no ordinary WordPlay. This time, Bricolage as team up with PERSAD CENTER, the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ community. Featuring tunes by Tracksploitation and stories by Nyri Bakkalian, Brian Broome, Cindy Howes, kelly e. parker and Ciora Thomas. And, as usual, hosted by Creator and Co-Producer Alan Olifson. Don’t miss out on this special edition WordPlay this weekend, starting June 2. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Summer Preview 2017

Summer Logo

A Letter from the Editor,

I would like to wish a happy unofficial start of summer to our marvelous readers! Because of you, we made it through another year here at Pittsburgh in the Round! As a special treat, we’ve put together one of our best season previews yet, including updates from old friends like MTAP and the Pittsburgh CLO, new friends like Split Stage Productions, and not one, but two Artist Spotlights!

Summertime is one of the busiest times of year for the Pittsburgh theater community, making it one of the busiest seasons for us here at Pittsburgh in the Round. There will be no shortage of reviews and articles and you may even see a few PITR exclusives!

With the release of this Summer Preview 2017, we’d also like to announce our latest Site Sponsor, the newly renamed Pittsburgh Festival Opera (formerly the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh). To find out more about their upcoming season, keep scrolling! If you or your theater or business would like to be featured in any of our advertising spots, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@pghintheround.com!

Our team here keeps on growing so we’ll have plenty of content to keep you busy this summer. We would love to take this opportunity to thank all of you who continue to read the content we work so hard to bring you, engage with us on social media, and support all of these local theaters and companies that help the arts grow and thrive in Pittsburgh.

Here’s to another great summer,

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


Let’s dive right into our Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this summer!

Marcus Stevens (2)#5 – An Act of God – Pittsburgh Public Theater: A relatively new play, premiering on Broadway in 2015, An Act of God is a one-act comedy that originally started out as a series of tweets that evolved into the book of which the play was adapted from. Point Park University graduate Marcus Stevens plays God, joined by his sidekicks: angels Gabriel and Michael (John Shepard and Tim McGeever), in this comedy opening at the Pittsburgh Public June 9. For tickets and more information click here. 

#4 – Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play – 12 Peers Theater: Once you catch 12 Peer’s current production of Thom Pain: Based on Mr. Burns ImageNothing starring Pittsburgh’s own Matt Henderson, we’re sure you’ll be itching to see what else they have to offer. Opening August 3, Mr. Burns shoots us some years into the future after the apocalypse where we meet a handful of survivors trying to recreate a particular episode of “The Simpsons”. Fast forwarding into the future for Act 2, and even further for Act 3,  these reenactments become main forms of entertainment and eventually myths decades later. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#3 – Hot Metal Musicals – Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP): Since Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyits creation, MTAP has set out to help create and promote new musicals and the artists creating them in Pittsburgh. The incubator was established in 2011 by Erik Schark and is now currently led by executive director Stephanie Riso, managing director Jeanne Drennan, and advisor Steve Cuden. The first Hot Metal Musicals showcase in 2015 was one of our first major events of that year, and after seeing the talents Pittsburgh had to offer then, we’re sure this year’s showcase on July 17 will knock our socks off. For tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Momentum Festival – City Theatre Company: City Theatre, known as yt17-momentum-featurePittsburgh’s home for new plays, delivers on their promise to keep things fresh and new again this year by finishing out their season with their annual page-to-stage festival: Momentum. Featuring 5 different staged readings, this year’s lineup will include not one, but two shows in progress that will be fully produced in their 2017-2018 season. Hop in for a meet and greet and a staged reading this weekend starting June 1! For more information, click here!

18556456_10155486793559873_589745343035013449_o#1 – WordPlay – Bricolage Production Company: Sure, for the second year in a row, we’ve named Bricolage’s storytelling show WordPlay the #1 show we’re looking forward to this summer. But this time, WordPlay is no ordinary WordPlay. This time, Bricolage as team up with PERSAD CENTER, the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ community. Featuring tunes by Tracksploitation and stories by Nyri Bakkalian, Brian Broome, Cindy Howes, kelly e. parker and Ciora Thomas. And, as usual, hosted by Creator and Co-Producer Alan Olifson. Don’t miss out on this special edition WordPlay this weekend, starting June 2. Tickets and more information can be found here

If musicals are more your style, don’t worry, George has our 5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss this Summer here. 

Learn a little more about the people you’ve been hearing about for all these years in our Artist Spotlight series. This time around we’ve got two for you! Get the scoop on costume designer Tony Sirk and musical theater actor Quinn Patrick Shannon. 

Our opera expert George is always a regular at the Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s summer shows so he’s got the inside scoop on their upcoming season hereThey’ve even commissioned a new opera they’ll be debuting this year, Nicole went a step further and got us some more information on the new show A Gathering of Sons. 

Throughline Theatre Company has a new home and a new season to tell us about! Ringa even got a sneak peak on their 3rd show, check it out here

If our Top 5 Musicals article wasn’t enough to meet your musical needs, George caught up with Split Stage Productions and the Pittsburgh CLO!

Kinetic Theatre Company has some fun planned for us this summer and fall, check out Stephen’s preview here. 

In preparation of MTAP’s upcoming Hot Metal Musicals this July, reacquaint yourself with the Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh here. 

And last, but not least, a group of young Pittsburgh artists have come together to produce a cabaret night to showcase female talent in the industry to support Planned Parenthood, find out more here. 


 

Missing something? Here are some review highlights from the last few months!

Watch: A Haunting by Real/Time Interventions

The Philadelphia Story at Little Lake Theatre

La Rondine by Undercroft Opera

Anything Goes at McKeesport Little Theater

Falstaff by Resonance Works

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Prime Stage

Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre

Sive at PICT Classic Theatre

Tarzan by Pittsburgh Musical Theatre

Wife U at Carnegie Mellon Universtiy

The Summer King at the Pittsburgh Opera

What’s Missing?  by Corningworks

4.48 Psychosis at off the WALL

Collaborators by Quantum Theatre

Baltimore at the University of Pittsburgh

Sweet Charity at the Pittsburgh Playhouse

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson by the Duquesne Red Masquers

Who’s Afraid of iVirginia Woolf? by Cup-A-Jo Productions