The Matchmaker

22221720_10155166726051859_7469565685554816557_nCarnegie Mellon University (CMU) School of Drama 2017- 2018 Season opens with Thornton Wilder’s classic comedy The Matchmaker.  One of  America’s favorite farces, The Matchmaker experienced many adaptations before becoming a success on Broadway and eventually taking credit for the wildly popular mid- century musical, Hello Dolly!  

Set in 1880’s Yonkers, NY, The Matchmaker is the story of Dolly Levi, a marriage- broker and friend to Horace Vandergelder’s late wife. Vandergelder, a wealthy shop owner has arranged for his niece, Ermengarde, to relocate to the city in hope of separating her from Ambrose Kemper, an artist she has fallen in love with.  As final preparations are made to get Ermengarde on a train, Vandergelder receives a visit from Dolly, whose services he has secured for himself.  Dolly overhears Ermengarde and Ambrose discussing their dilemma and secretly agrees to help them.  Vandergelder reveals to Dolly his plans to propose to New York widow, Mrs. Irene Malloy.  Dolly interjects, telling Vangergelder she has found him the perfect wife, in an attempt to delay his marriage proposal. Meanwhile, Vandergelder’s employees, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, upon learning their boss is leaving them in charge of the store, decide to have an adventure in New York City.  From start to finish, ridiculousness ensues as the gregarious, outspoken and nosy Dolly meanders her way into the life of every character, attempting to help all find love and prosperity, including herself.  

The performance is a splendid orchestration of absurdity. Each character under Dolly’s spell, falling prey to her matchmaking antics and easily swept up by her zany schemes. The Matchmaker, in typical farcical fashion, is fast paced, physical comedy which highlights Anthony McKay’s direction especially during the cafe scenes which is finely tuned chaos.  

Chantelle Guido, cast as Dolly Levi, is charming. Guido flawlessly delivers her lines but it is her cherubic face rendering a sly and manipulative personality, that really sets her apart; her smirks and sideways glances speak almost as much as the delivery of her dialogue.   William Brosnahan, cast as Horace Vandergelder, has a strong and confident command of his voice.  Despite makeup, and wardrobe, at the beginning of the performance I struggled to see past his apparent young age.  By the time he finished masterfully executing Vandergelder’s monologue in Act 1, I felt completely different.  Kevin William Paul and Scott Kennedy, playing the parts of Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, have some of the best energy on the stage.  Both are cast to play the naive and innocent type. Paul as Cornelius, the older of the 2 shop clerks, and initiator of mischief and adventure is daringly handsome and engaging.  Tucker as Barnaby is Cornelius’ side kick who portrays a cute and innocent boy with perfection. Together Paul and Tucker create a memorable team.    

The whole cast is polished and professional, as well as the scenery and lighting.  I didn’t expect anything less knowing the caliber of the artists the university graduates.  I love the way the cast engaged with the audience, taking as many cues from the applause as the audience took from the dramatic irony and comedic timing.  This level of engagement was not something I was expecting and it was surprising. The Matchmaker is a strong opening production by gifted students, just one step away from stardom.  

The Matchmaker runs at CMU’s Philip Chosky Theater through October 14. For tickets and more information, click here. 

CMU Drama Pulls Out All the Stops this 2017-2018 Season

With the announcement of the 2017-2018 season, the CMU drama department is brimming with excitement about special guest artists in the line-up. The season will boast a Tony-Nominated Guest Director, as well as a Guest Director from the highly acclaimed Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Professor Peter Cooke AM Ph.D., head of the School of Drama at CMU said of the impending season, “I think what we’ve come to again is a season that is very exciting and very socially aware. It’s got strong political underpinnings, joy, drama and great music.” When asked what she looks most forward to on a personal level, Erin Scott, Communications Coordinator said, “For me, every new season is exciting because I love to see how inventive and brave our students are in their work. The fearlessness with which they approach their visions is inspiring to me.”

Ranked as one of the world’s top theatrical training Conservatory’s, Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama is expected to produce the finest theatrical and learning experiences for both students and patrons alike. By exposing students to professional artists who currently work in the field, CMU continues to provide immersive experiences that not only build skill set but create connections and inspire future endeavors. “The school’s conservatory program within the university is one that prepares students intellectually, artistically and practically to be leaders in their chosen professions, whether on stage, in film, television, or within the expanding realm of new media.” – CMU School of Drama. Faculty member Jed Allen Harris said of the season, “It’s a wonderfully diverse season that should both entertain and challenge the school and its audience. This season, as always is designed to provide a valuable and enriching experience for our students. I feel that the student directed productions for the upcoming season will especially provide a wide variety of performative challenges for the actors and designers.”

The School of Drama presents three different series in the season: the Subscription series, the Director series, and the New Work series. The productions in the Subscription Series are all directed, choreographed, and musically directed by professionals. The sets, lights, and costumes are all designed and created by the School of Drama.

Season-Background-images-4The Subscriber Series will open Oct. 5-14 with Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, directed by faculty member Anthony McKay. The play’s most famous adaptation is the renowned musical Hello Dolly.  Turn back the clock to 1880s Manhattan. In a bustling world of cobblestone streets and horse-drawn buggies, Yonkers natives mingle with stylish New Yorkers in search of love and adventure, each one getting more than they bargained for. The Matchmaker is a charming, poignant farce about risk and reward —and, of course, a meddling matchmaker. Director Anthony McKay described the piece thematically in this way: “…the play is a warm humorous exploration of money. What’s it’s real value and what place should it have in our lives? Given our current president, his preoccupation with money and his measuring everything by it, the play seems exceptionally timely.” He added, “…it’s also a rollicking farce of mistaken identities, disguises and narrow escapes accompanied by the clip clop of horses pulling handsome cabs through 1880’s Manhattan. It’s a romantic piece that takes place on that special day, that hopefully happens to us all, when we go a little bit mad, fall in love and, like it or not, have the adventure of our lives.”  When asked why he chose the play to direct, “Peter Cooke,, wanted to do a farce. First, to expose the students to as many comedic styles as possible, but also because he’s always looking for balance in the season and the next show Love Labor’s Won while light hearted has some dramatic threads to it. I had a couple of farces to choose from but when The Matchmaker was offered, I seized on it. I love Wilder’s tolerant view of humanity as well as his humor. Vandergelder’s mirroring Trump’s values gave the play extra relevance. The action takes place in the1880’s but it is a universal story: it happened then, it’s happening now, it will happen in the future. I love the play’s innocence, its love of humanity and, in among all its frolics, its poignancy–watching fools, from two centuries ago who turn out to be very much like us, trying to figure the whole thing out.”

Love’s Labor’s Won, a sequel to Shakespeare’s Loves’ Labors Lost will follow Season-Background-images-3Nov. 16-Dec. 2. The piece has been written and will be directed by Scott Kaiser, the director of company development at the prestigious Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “I imagined the outbreak of a European war that separates the lovers, not for just a year, but for four years of hardship,” Kaiser said about his piece. “I imagined that each of these lovers suffers a terrible loss, that the crucible of war changes them all, irrevocably. Then, as the fighting subsides, I imagined the couples coming together again, in Paris, for a much-delayed reunion. Will their relationships survive?” The play ends abruptly with the death of the King of France, crushing the romantic endeavors of four young couples. Will their love survive? And, if so, how? Love’s Labor’s Won answers these unresolved questions. After four turbulent years, the lovers meet again in Paris at the signing of an armistice that will end the bloody European War that separated them. The couples soon discover that war has drastically changed their love. But can their love alter the course of the war?

Season-Background-images-5The Drowsy Chaperone, Feb. 22-March 3, will be choreographed and directed by Tony Award-nominated guest director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, with music direction by Thomas Douglas. “When Peter Cooke invited me to CMU to direct and choreograph the show, I jete-ed at the opportunity,” said Milgrom Dodge. “What fun to find the next generation of talent who can keep this genre alive. I look forward to working with the talented students to create our unique production.” Imagine being in the audience awaiting a new Cole Porter show, or one by the Gershwins… Entertainments that transport the hum-drum details of daily life to plotted tales of love in crisis—tales involving gangsters, show people, millionaires, servants and tap dancing. Well, that’s exactly what happens in The Drowsy Chaperone.

The 2017-2018 season will close with Tony Kushner’s timely play, A BrightSeason-Background-images-2 Room Called Day, April 12-28, directed by faculty member Jed Allen Harris who said, “I love plays that concern themselves with questions of politics and art in a theatrical manner.” In this play, you will find yourself in Berlin, 1932 during the twilight months of the Weimar Republic. While fascist forces move to seize control of the government, a group of communists, artists and intellectuals gather to trade stories and drown their fears. Tony Kushner’s poetic and incendiary play follows these women and men as they strive to preserve a world that is tearing apart. In A Bright Room Called Day, the demons of the past are the prophets of the future.

The Director Series, named for Hollywood producer John Wells, a 1979 graduate of CMU’s Drama School, provides students within The John Wells Directing Program with the opportunity to direct and mount plays. This year they will direct the following productions:

  • How to Put on a Sock, adapted from Franz Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, adapted and directed by Fellow Rachel Karp. November 1-3.
  • Medea/Shulie, written and directed by Fellow Sara Lyons. November 29-December 2.
  • Alkestis by Euripides, translated by Anne Carson, directed by Fellow Philip Gates. February 21-23.
  • The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Jennifer Wise, directed by Fellow Stephen Eckert. April 25-28.
  • Smitten devised and directed by Jack Dentinger. February 21-23.
  • I’m Sure I’ll Figure It Out written and directed by Burke Louis. March 21-23.
  • Stumpy Legs Too Short by Katja Brunner, directed by Bronwyn Donohue. April 25-27.
  • Teaching Yourself How to Die Fast, an original film written and directed by Grace McCarthy. Screening Date TBA.

The CMU Drama Department describes the New Works Series as “…the cauldron in which new ideas, concepts and performance practices are presented to our audiences by the next generation of dramatic writers.” The series will take place Nov. 15-18, April 25-29 and is, as yet, TBD. Writers to be showcased are: Gillian Beth Durkee, Ryan Hudak, Lauren Wimmer, Jordan Barsky, HyoJeong Choi and Anderson Cook.

Perhaps a lesser known or unsung highlight of the Drama Department, well worth noting, is the Dramaturgy Program, which will host talkbacks with the audience, casts and crews throughout the season on Tuesday evenings, directly following performances. These informative discussions will cover play background, research and story line development. The dramaturgs also are available to discuss the plays with classes, student groups and public organizations. Interested parties can contact Wendy Arons, dramaturgy option coordinator, at warons@andrew.cmu.edu to schedule a session with a dramaturg.

The CMU season is bursting with delicious possibility.  One wonders just how the school will pull off such a monumental procession of intense and inspiring work. It is this dedication to artistic excellence that keeps CMU at the top of the game.

For package options or to place a subscription order, call the box office at 412-268-2407 between noon and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Special discounts are available to all Carnegie Mellon alumni. All Subscriber Series performances are at 8 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturdays   in CMU’s Purnell Center for the Arts. For more information about the School of Drama, visit www.drama.cmu.edu.

**Play descriptions were taken mainly from the CMU school of Drama website.

Wife U

WIFE-U-WEB-COVER_Page_1A great word for adaptation is “knock-off”.  Like ‘cheap’; ‘pegged-down’; an insinuation that’s just a bit crappier.  The ill craftsmanship of a poorly made, get-rich-quick impostor, aesthetically just as pleasing as it needs to be to seem classy.

We’re in Disneyland, the gift shop, and there’s this knock-off of a Molière play.  It pulls the same strings, the plot is basically intact, it’s got a veneer of plasticky faux-gilding and an over-saturation of color whose sheen is a little too contrasting to be considered subtle or clean.  Oh, and it’s full of irony: like it’s made to look that cheap.  The way of Disneying the icon is to pull it out of its regal, self-centered and dated 17th Century aristocratic French flare and slap it with the 20th Century sweatshop stickiness of facsimile.  But then also show it for what it is: indulgent, quick-buck garbage.

This is CMU fellow director Sara Lyons and writer Eric Powell Holm’s adaptation of Moliere’s School for Wives as Wife U taking the fructose out of a satirical french fruit and putting it into laffy taffy.

I’m not saying this wasn’t good.  It was very good.  Perhaps I should highlight that after so many negative words: THIS WAS VERY GOOD!  It was strange, it was very talented and entertaining and it was provocative.  But it was a take on a classical play that needed a cultural updating.  It’s as director Sara Lyons said in a press release for the show:

“Going all the way back to School for Wives, the way that I’ve described it to people is that it’s Taming of the Shrew-level messed up.  It’s really frightening and problematic in terms of its treatment of women.”

So, this is an adaptation that cheapens some of the aspects in that ‘problematic’ play, issues with sex and class.  Importantly, they do that on purpose!  They lathered up the old scheme of a classically contrived plot concerning a beguiling villain, commentary on the nobility and lines that lick the air of assonance in cleverly lain verse.  And then they add green-screen with photoshop; faux-gilding on tacky baroque chairs.  And the star, Clay Singer’s Arnolphe; the lanky shit eating grin, of an Eric Trumpesque skeezball with a misogynist bent and leading man likeability that fits him right into the scheme.   Classic story, classic villain.

Wife U attempts to give more to the women, the classic shill who are consistently harangued in stories that use them as the buffer.  As, again, Lyons said, “Holm’s adaptation maintains Molière’s style in terms of rhyming and wit, but it’s contemporary language and criticizes the play for its violence. I wanted to push this further and make an effort, in the production, to shift the point of view, actually inside of the play, from Arnolphe’s to Agnes’.”

Amanda Fallon-Smith’s Agnes has all the poise of a debutante and the levity of a flower.  She’s a beautiful woman, and this is an undeniable aspect of the plot from either perspective.  Her beauty though is not a begetting of her grace, rather within Lyons and Holm’s adaptation the depiction of woman’s beauty is a scourge of defiance and consciousness rather than simply conclusions.  They wanted to make a feminist show and so they gave the thing over to the women.  Fallon-Smith’s evolution in character, from vapid to alpha has a resonance when she holds her coldness.  Her pain is felt in realization.  She’s the only character who stops rhyming.  She transcends trope for humanity very well.

Shining within the trope though are the comedic duo of Iris Beaumier and Lea DiMarchi, whose chemistry in spinning the speed and timing of their characters’ spoofiness really lends itself to the slapstick usually reserved for male parts.  It’s important that they shine so silly, that these actresses also play uppity men in a cheap drag as well.  It’s the energy, I feel, of these two actresses that makes the momentum of this play feminist.  Its comic heels are set upon women’s timing.

That isn’t to denounce Singer, though.  He mesmerizes with his ability to play the villain.  Comic chops that very much reel and succor at the loose ends of opportunity.  Every bit of silence is met with a glance and every bit of smug tirade is met with a smirk.

And finally John Clay III’s Horace exudes a very exciting frankness which carried so heartily a great theme of Molière’s play that is then subverted in Lyons and Holm’s adaptation.  This is the idea that earnest and honest passion is deserving of true love.  It’s a certain amount of entitlement that’s shoved in the face by the adaptation.  It’s a bizarre subversion because it takes what it wants of the original and leaves the rind to rot on stage.  This is nuanced by the very thing that makes this play unique: it’s palpable postmodern imagery.

Media Designer Sylvie Sherman and Scenic Designer Trent Taylor created such a masterful commentary on the frivolous embracing of wealthy imagery.  As I’ve said before, the entire play is laden with knock-offs: photoshop, green-screen, karaoke, midi-made muzak.  The posh decadent cheapness of gilded furniture in an era where we seem to be in the throes of a rich man’s ego representing the cultural more of success.  Would we forget that Molière’s audience at the Palais-Royal represents an aristocracy with cultural values needing not only the insightful critique of theatre, but perhaps the revolutionary candor of a societal revolt?  Even the satire sometimes needs to be satirized when the reality is too absurd.

I’ll give it to this fine ensemble which tied the comedic chops and absolutely astonishing command of verse into followable and electric banter.  I’m not sure this play delivers the insightful call-to-arms, riot-grrrl style it promises.  For instance, nary a riot grrl song is included.  Tsk tsk. Though, I do believe within its creepy critique of wealth culture and wannabe ego-driving; it hits on another nerve: disgust.  Like so much that this play critiques, examines, and glorifies: it powerfully substantiates the idea that, in this reality-tv, society of the spectacle-cluttered culture right now: stupid can be smart and we love what we hate.  This is banality on ecstasy.  I hope they can stage it at Mar-A-Lago sometime soon.

Wife U closed Friday night April 28, 2017. For more information about the Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama, click here. 

 

Ragtime

Ragtime-JPEGThis musical has so much;  it is so rich.  It is a cascade of characters who are fully drawn, with captivating arcs.  It’s a litany of singing performances, CMU’s great bastion of talent loading all of their guns at once and firing three-part harmonies and swelling solos up and through the soul again and again and again.  It’s cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and by that I mean: rich, camp and unrelenting.  It’s saccharine and tangy, but also somber and fierce.  It is a musical with everything.  Everything twice.  And it’s exhausting, but tremendous.

This is a show meant to excite, challenge, enrage and instill a sense of empathy for the common man.  This show examines the life of an individual through the scope of their experience in American history.  It is an expansion of what a life is like in a broader context, but it is also a treatise on what it is to be American: the saga of hope and the potential for defiance against stereotype and bland trajectory.  It is a mission statement for what music can come from opportunity.

This piece is also wholly relevant in confronting an oppressive obelisk in this country’s patterned and horrible xenophobic and racist foundation; dealing with its citizens, both new and native, with unconscionable indignities redeemed only by perseverance and solidarity.

It’s not every day you see a pro-socialist play.

It’s not every day you see anarchists blaze the stage as protagonists, with bombs bursting in air.

It’s not every day you see the archetype of a white woman who fiercely defends inclusion and empathy towards people of other races.  This is a feminist play.  It is also aggressively liberal with its determination towards equal rights and representation.

Let me back up.  This play is about ragtime:

“Small, clear chords hung in the air like flowers. The melodies were like bouquets. There seemed to be no other possibilities for life than those delineated by his music.”

The play follows three sets of tribes: white people, black people, and immigrants; as they collide and intersect amidst a roaring scape of American hardship and prosperity, celebrity and history; in the early part of the 1900’s.

It is a songbook.  Following the rag of John Clay III’s Coalhouse Walker Jr., a pianist whose illustrative interpretation of how music, simple and sublime, can give the nation a new syncopation.  Clay does an outstanding job bringing the weight of the character’s strong hold on the zeitgeist to his leading role, his belting sustained notes carry the auditorium.

As previously mentioned, there are a litany of solos.  Many songs that share the gorgeous bigness of CMU’s voices.  Hanna Berggren’s Mother withholds such a tightly strung presence for a seemingly conservative early 20th Century white woman, and though her movements are pensive and ladylike her voice booms out an emotional reckoning which scintillates an era of strange empathy denoting the epitome of American humanity.  This is fully realized in Berggren’s “Back to Before”,  a crucially emotional and swelling song that builds, binds and destroys.  As a friend put it, “makes for a full-on ugly cry.”

CMU has to be acknowledged for their “ballsiness” in going head first into accents.  Following this year’s full-cast doting Northern Irish brogues for Playboy of the Western World; this play sees Latvian, Hungarian, Russian, and German accents.  Perhaps none stands out as much as the Caribbean accent donned by Arica Jackson’s Sarah.  She holds this voice with such esteem, and carries the raw, visceral emotion for tear-jerker songs like “Your Daddy’s Son” And “President” without so much as a sliver of reveal that it’s all of the act.  It’s a truly captivating performance.

The same could be said for Clay Singer’s Tateh.  He really brings this role into a masterfully starry-eyed composition.  More than any other character, I empathized with his struggle.  I believed him.  I believed his humor, his optimism and the piercing, glowing hope that sang his songs for him.  Accolades to Singer, for his talent seems to be a treasure lotted to him by surname.  He embodies this role.

There were so many amazing performers.  So many top-notch songs.  Amanda Fallon Smith’s Evelyn Nesbit had me swooning in my seat.  Her comedic timing is a gift, and the choreography was excellent.  Lea DiMarchi’s Emma Goldman truly found the punchy, antagonistic severity of Goldman’s bite and was able to place it in song.

The set was outrageously cool.  A trio of three story spinning platforms unfolding the different settings with like the gears of a clock twirling buildings.  The choreography stung as well.  This show pulled out all the stops and really flew into an exhaustive sway and array of musics, emotions and displays of pure talent.  I left the theater with stars twirling around my head.

I think the relevance of this play really shines in thinking of resistance as an option.  An American ideal is self-affirmation, but then there are other selves.  This is a nation of others, and of sovereignty betrayed by neighbors sharing space.  What can that mean except for a choice between accepting outsiders as brothers and sisters, or defying the creed of democracy and spiting a people for their alien identity?  To put it musically: How does a lyrical revolutionary deal with injustice?  How does a black man who creates lyrical music deal with white racial exploitation?  How does a Mother share her empathy beyond her children, to all those in need of help and saving?

This musical turns the bleeding heart into a firework.  It’s brilliant and catchy and honest, though perhaps I should acknowledge it’s pretty historicized fiction.

Regardless, it’s a brocade of floral ribbon painting the whole picture of integration with red, white, blue; and through and through, the whole rainbow.  What is ‘America’ as a theme?  It’s klezmer, brass bands with the gentle parlor music and the Harlem rags versus the Tin Pan Alley Rags of Atlantic City.  It’s Harlem meets Irving Berlin.  It’s a nation on the precipice of profound change.  It’s a world where there was suffering and now there’s penitence.  It’s grand, and I’d hope you see it.

Special thanks to the Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama for complimentary tickets. Ragtime runs through March 4 but it has managed to sell out in advance. For more information about CMU Drama’s season, click here.

Artist Spotlight: Leah de Gruyl as “Richard the Lionheart”

Richard HeaderWith each passing year, Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program productions seem to maintain or excel the high standards of those of the past. At first glance, this season’s offerings give every reason to look forward to them with keen anticipation. First up this winter is George Frideric Händel’s Richard the Lionheart, an ultra-rarity nearly three centuries old. It took a very long time for the work to receive American attention, with the United States premiere taking place as recently as 2015, when Opera Theatre of Saint Louis performed it during their summer season. Pittsburgh Opera’s production will mark only the second time the opera has been heard on this side of the Atlantic.

Leah de GruylAs the company’s brief synopsis of the opera states: “King Richard I of England travels to Cyprus to retrieve his shipwrecked fiancée Costanza. But Isacio, the Governor of Cyprus, wants her for himself. Betrayal, greed, love and war – all the ingredients for a thrilling opera.” Adding to the interest of the production is the fact that a woman – Leah de Gruyl, the talented, promising mezzo-soprano, is assuming the title role. Ms. de Gruyl is a familiar face and voice to Pittsburgh Opera patrons; so far this season she has appeared in both La Traviata and Salome, and made her debut with the company in Little Women last year. But in Richard the Lionheart her much larger part will offer greater opportunity for the display of her talents.

Leah de Gruyl as Flora Bervoix in La traviata
Leah de Gruyl as Flora Bervoix in La Traviata

A recent graduate of the Masters and Artist Diploma programs at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, Ms. de Gruyl’s appearances there included solo work in Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” and Symphony No. 3, Verdi’s “Requiem,” and Adams’ “El Niño,” as well as the title role in La tragèdie de Carmen (Peter Brook’s adaption of the Bizet classic), Mother Marie in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, The Third Lady in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Aloés in Chabrier’s L’Étoile, Mother Goose in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, and Eboli in the C.C.M. Philharmonic’s concert presentation of the five-act French version of Verdi’s Don Carlos.

With the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, she has sung as soloist in Dvorák’s “Requiem,” and with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra in Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass.” In June 2015, she made her Carnegie Hall debut as soloist in Maurice Duruflé’s “Requiem.” She sang the title role in Carmen in the touring reduction with Cincinnati Opera as well as the full-length version with the Rome Festival Opera.

Leah de Gruyl (left) makes her Pittsburgh Opera debut singing the role of Aunt Cecilia March in Little Women (with Laurel Semerdjian)
Leah de Gruyl (left) makes her Pittsburgh Opera debut singing the role of Aunt Cecilia March in Little Women (with Laurel Semerdjian)

She was at Sarasota Opera as a Studio Artist during the winter of 2015, covering the role of Eboli in Don Carlos. As an Emerging Artist at Virginia Opera, she sang the role of Juno in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, and covered the role of Mary in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in the spring of 2016. This past summer she appeared as Madame Flora (Baba) in Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium, with PORTopera (Portland, ME).

“I first knew that I wanted to pursue a singing career when I was about 16 or 17,” was her answer to one of my favorite questions for vocalists. “I had always sung rock with my dad, but I had been taking voice lessons from my piano teacher for a couple of years by that point, and was learning how to sing with a totally ‘new’ voice.”

Chatham Baroque will be on hand with their marvelous period instruments and talented musicians for the performances of Richard the Lionheart, which open Saturday night, January 21, at the CAPA Theater. Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama has collaborated with Pittsburgh Opera to create custom sets for the performances.

Leah de Gruyl performs as the Page of Herodias in Salome (with Jonathan Boyd)
Leah de Gruyl performs as the Page of Herodias in Salome (with Jonathan Boyd)

“This is my first Händel opera,” Ms. de Gruyl said of the production, “and one challenge was applying my voice to the very quick fioritura passages in a few of the arias. I have never sung anything this fast! I’m used to lyricism, so learning the style and the proper articulation has been very beneficial and enjoyable. Michael Beattie, our conductor, has taught me so much in the past couple of weeks, and I learn something new in every rehearsal. The other obvious challenge is playing a man. This role was written for a castrato, which means lower mezzo-sopranos now sing it. I have to be mindful that I’m embodying a ‘kingly’ posture during the staging process, and I think it becomes more accessible to me with each rehearsal. Crystal Manich, our director, is brilliant, and gives me a lot of suggestions for how to make it happen that work very well. Her concept is beautiful, the music is stunning, and it is very well cast. My colleagues all bring something special to the table.”

For tickets, cast information, a full synopsis, and much more, please visit Pittsburgh Opera. The company’s Resident Artist Program has been providing excellent productions, and Richard the Lionheart promises to be a very rare treat – figuratively and literally.

Photography: David Bachman

Mr. Marmalade

MarmaladeOpeningNightInvite_Page_1Perhaps the most compelling aspect of CMU’s production of Mr. Marmalade is the actors’ ability to take on the roles of children.  Specifically, a four year old.  Aleyse Shannon, as the character Lucy, becomes a child in such a subdued, but critical way.  She approaches the role with genuine curiosity and the unfettered brashness of a confident, precocious little girl.

The play is about this child’s odyssey to reconcile her own distraught emotional path with the archetypes of dysfunctional relationships she has learned.  Her world is a mix of dissonant real people and exuberant imaginative ones.  You get to see them all play.

It’s an important thing that the actors nail these roles.  This play manages such gravity, such restrained heartache and the knowledge of trauma within the trope of what should be ebullient youth.  When this paradigm (of being four years old) becomes compromised, it’s so important that the character is so grounded in her explorative, easy-going self.

I also want to compliment Asa Gardiner’s five-year-old Larry.  He has mastered the little kid walk and quizzical, awkward eyes.  He tackled the odd confoundedness of a self-aware shy boy. 15252669_10154274215356859_8296366513766404236_o

This play tackles themes dealing with the horrors of real life: abuse, suicide, heart attacks, molestation; that through the eyes of a child are through the lens of fun and exploration.  How does a girl who fights with rejection understand love?  The girl understands the world through role models: a lover.  A lover is a source of codependence, abuse, prizes and undefinable desire.  The girl sees a role model.  She sees this representation like a deity.  She worships him.  And be he the devil, a mother or a father; he is the aspired identity.  It’s shaking, very shaking; to be struck by how impressionable children can be.

Lucy is too young to understand the horrible implications of her abusive role-models.  She is just full of an impressive knowledge and confidence.  To her, life is a combination of games like “Doctor” and “House”.  The consequence of any game can have dire consequences way out of the scope of a child’s expectation.   What is a game that has the potential of destroying innocence in such a seemingly innocent way?  When a game unwittingly becomes  an act of molestation or violence; what does the child see?  It’s horror, but is it immediately horror?  The crux of this question is the manifestation of Mr. Marmalade.

Her models become her mother, the babysitter, an absent father and a slew of presumed lovers; all with a trek of negligence and problems illustrated only through the metaphor of her imagination and games.

Jada Mayo was so talented in her split roles of the mother and the babysitter that I thoroughly did not believe it was the same actress.  I checked over the program three times to make sure.  Her mastering of the babysitter character: the pop of her mouth , the walk.  It was all teen pomp: pure two snaps and nuh-uh-uh.  As the mother, she commanded the role which really is the story the little girl is telling.  As the only visible role model, Lucy’s actions and representations are the mirroring of her mother’s actions as well as her mother’s lovers.  Mayo truly breaks into an essence that gathers a mother’s love, neglect, harshness and strange sympathy within only a few short scenes.

Scenic Designer Chen-Wei Liao also needs to be recognized for creating such a magnificently sterile and horrifying set.  A veritable vortex of bleached children’s toys represents a sort of cold stillness mocking the representation of play.  Before the play began, so many of its themes became clear.

This play is disturbing and dark, though rich with humor and spells into the imagination.  The use of inventive lighting and media stood out, to make this surreal adventure even darker and stranger.  It is a twisted, eerie, wonderful play.

Carnegie Mellon University’s production of Mr. Marmalade ends its run tonight in the Helen Wayne Rauh Studio Theater. For tickets and more information, click here.

Special thanks to CMU for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of CMU.

 

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter

The selection of which musical to produce in any given season can be a dilemma. There are many factors to consider that include casting, designer, director and performance space. These decisions need to be made many months before the show opens; sometimes the producers get lucky and pick shows that have relevance to today’s world.

We got very lucky this year.

This winter ’s musicals are a diverse mix of offerings that range from a Disney musical to two classics that are surprisingly pertinent today and two musicals just for fun.hunchback

Pittsburgh Musical Theatre is celebrating their 25th season with a production of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is based Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel and the 1996 Disney animated film. Its music is by Alan Meken with lyrics by CMU grad Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote lyrics for Pippin, Godspell and Wicked.

The main character is Quasimodo, the deformed bell/ringer at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 15th century Paris. He is held captive by an evil archdeacon and his own perception of self loathing. He escapes for a day to join the rowdy crowd at the Feast of Fools only to be treated cruelly except for Esmeralda, a beautiful free spirited gypsy.  There is a plot brewing to destroy the gypsies but Quasimodo saves the day and the gypsies.

Well-known Pittsburgh native Quinn Patrick Shannon plays Quasimodo. Quinn recently appeared as Nicely Nicely Johnson in the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of Guys and Dolls, and is currently in playing the role of the White Guy in the Toxic Avenger at the CLO Cabaret.  “Pittsburgh loves Quinn and he should be a big draw for the show” according to PMT’s Rodney Burrell.

The choice of The Hunchback of Notre Dame this season “continues PMT’s tradition of producing challenging musicals with a realistic gritty slant” said Burrell. The baseline of Victor Hugo’s story is the “realization of ones self-relevance” and a reminder to us all never to judge a person’s worth by their appearance.

This show is co-directed by Colleen Doyno and PMT founder Ken Gagaro, and it retains its powerful message particularly in today’s climate.

Performances are at the Byham Theatre; it opens on Thursday, January 26th and runs through February 5th, with Sunday matinees. Tickets and more information can be found here. 

Spellingbee3-FINThe University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts presents their second “just for the fun of it show”, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Putnam Valley Middle School is hosting their 25th annual spelling bee competition, and there’s a quirky cast of characters on either side of the microphone. Word pronouncer Douglas Panch returns to the Bee after a long hiatus due to a mysterious incident.  Grade schooler William Barfée spells words with his feet. There are many more special friends who spell out H I L A R I T Y with H E A R T.

Tensions run high as the words become multisyllabic, and the pressure mounts. What could possibly go wrong?

Annmarie Duggan, new Chair of the Department at Pitt, says Spelling Bee was chosen because it is funny and heartwarming good time intended to counter the winter doldrums.

The cast is made up of completely Pitt undergraduates and reflects Pitt’s increased focus on musical theatre. “It is the strongest cast show this season” says Duggan.  This show marks the Pitt directing debut of Rob Frankenberry, one of our city’s most often seen directors and performers. “The beautiful and adorable set, costume and lighting design are all by Pitt undergrads.”  It plays at the Henry Heymann Theatre on the Pitt campus, February 9th through the 19th, with Sunday matinees.

For tickets and more information click here.pumpboys

Pittsburgh CLO takes us on a fun all-American road trip of southern-fried rock, rhythm and blues with Pump Boys and Dinettes at the CLO Cabaret, which runs January 26th to April 15th.

Two friends wrote the musical about their experience working in New York’s restaurant scene. The ensemble of six friends sings of joy and heartbreak while they play away on a variety of musical instruments just shy of the kitchen sink in this Tony nominated musical.

Tickets are available now, for more information click here.

The Carnegie Mellon School of Ragtime-JPEGDrama, subscription series presents Ragtime,
based on E.L. Doctorow’s acclaimed 1975 book.  The story is a window to many cultural and social classes and with a discerning eye addresses race, economic disparity and immigration.

This is a story of opportunity and oppression, Ragtime reflects on the limitations of justice, hope for the future, and humanity’s interconnectivity; ideas as important today as they were 100 years ago.

Director Tom’e Cousin says “Ragtime had always been on the list to try and do.  It just happened that this years seniors are a great fit with a few additional roles to be played by juniors.  The work is extremely timely but that was not planned.”

“Ragtime is a new American classic and given the highly charged political and social comments embedded within CMU’s high caliber performances are not to be missed. I personally have a creative reputation for unique interpretations and original concepts.”

Ragtime runs at The Philip Chosky Theater on the CMU campus February 23rd to March 4th.

Tickets and more information can be found here. 

cabaretSplit Stage in Westmoreland county presents the multiple Tony award wining Cabaret at the newly restored Lamp Theatre in Irwin, co-directed by Nate Newell and Rob Jessup

Cabaret takes place in Berlin at the seedy Kit Kat Klub as the Nazis are rising to power.  It revolves around the relationship of an American writer and a young cabaret singer just as alarming political developments take hold in pre-WWII Germany.

When asked Why Cabaret?  Co-Director and Split Stage Co-Founder Rob Jessup said  “The decision to produce Cabaret is very relevant now with the election and current political climate.  There is an opportunity to shape our production to create the desired impact for today.”

While this musical was first produced on Broadway in 1966, Rob promises his Cabaret will “be much more topical & gritty: and will have a more “beat up and weathered look” than the recent revivals. Sally the English singer will be more “stark and grounded having been through the ringer….the Lamp Theatre is the perfect venue for our Cabaret.”

For more information about Split Stage and their upcoming production, click here. 

Winter 2017 is shaping up to be another great season for musical theatre, come enjoy!

The Rover

RoverJPEG-1Perhaps more than in any other western country, citizens in America view the seismic shift of cultural norms as a result of the last 100 years of progress. Before the sexual revolution of the ‘70’s, the world was all corsets and anti-masturbatory devices, right? Of course, this is incorrect. People are people, complex and simple all the same, and we’ve been fretting about whatever sexual ‘normalcy’ should be pretty much forever.

The Rover, an English 17th Century comedy by Aphra Behn (which is itself an adaptation of The Wanderer by Thomas Killigrew) is a play about many things: romance, patriarchal abuse of power, friendship, wealth and poverty, all knotted together by sexual politics. There are two groups of friends at the play’s center: 3 women of refined social status who sneak out during carnival festivities to party, and four soldiers out to do the same, most of whom seem content to enter into literally whatever sexual encounter they can stumble into. Everyone wants a sexual relationship, but the difference in the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ create dozens of raucous, mostly lighthearted comedic subplots with familiar outcomes.

Despite the familiar trappings of what on the surface may well resemble an older, posher version of Porkies, CMU’s The Rover strays far from expectation thanks to some explosive stagecraft and clever direction. Adapted by John Barton and directed by David Bond, The Rover easily navigates the very uneasy line between faithfulness to the original text and dynamic critical interpretation. The ingenious mixture of period appropriate and bombastic contemporary design is remarkable and exciting. There is a certain hugeness to this production that’s lovable: the opening of the play features a servant wheeling in the three sisters, who are contained in a massive box of T.N.T that explodes them out of it. These choices are reckless yet precise, and satiate the need for bold interpretation and theater-nerd attention to detail.

The characters are all familiar archetypes, especially where the men are concerned. There will be little new for audiences to discover within the gallant nice guy, the rugged seducer, and the fool. The women, too, are archetypes, but there is a certain heart in their expression that can be disarming for a centuries-old work; or, maybe, it’s the lack of pretense. The women in this play are more acutely aware of the why of patriarchy than any of the men who unconsciously participate in it, and as a result are more easily relatable than one might expect.

Of all the characters, we arguably get to know Florinda (Hanna Berggren) and Hellena (Victoria Pedretti), the sisters, better than anyone else. Florinda is in love with Belvile (Henry Ayres-Brown), but is trapped by the designs of her respected, conservative brother Don Pedro (Isaac Miller) who does his best to force her into marriage with his friend, Don Anotonio (Freddy Miyares). Berggren’s Florinda is quirky and charming more than anything, but she doesn’t let the character’s vulnerability get buried overmuch by her humor. Florinda is a woman who absolutely knows what she wants, but is left at the mercy of the men around her to achieve her goal. There is an anxiety underneath this performance that bubbles up exactly when it needs to, and to great effect.

Similarly, Hellena is kept under Don Pedro’s lock and key (i.e. he spends a whole lot of time thinking and worrying about her virginity). In spite of her inexperience, she more than anyone embodies the box of T.N.T the characters spawn from. Pedretti’s Hellena is a kind of comedic beast. Her performance is simultaneously brainy and aggressively physical. Her romantic fascination with Willmore (Andrew Richardson), the sexual deviant and manipulator the play is named after, is a major highlight of the production. Any feminist interpretation of a play originally written under strict rules guide-lining the sexual conduct of women requires some kind of huge move to empower its female leads. As such, there is much satisfaction to take from the fact that it’s the ever-experienced Willmore who can’t keep up with Hellena, and not vice-versa.

The reading of The Rover as feminist text is all over the direction of this play (not to mention the playbill, which very directly asks “Aphra Behn and Feminism?”). The underlying need for dominance from the male characters is unmissable, and it rears its head in some ugly and unexpected ways that go largely unaddressed – although, the word I’m looking for here may actually be ‘unpunished.’ It’s likely the audience will chafe at characters like Blunt (Spenser Pollard), the afore-mentioned fool, who comfortably lashes out sexually at innocent women to attempt to gain some kind of justice for the put-upon straight guy with an unfair grudge.

Aphra Behn’s original script manifests its feminism not dissimilarly to an author like Jane Austen. The women in the works of these authors are always the smartest and most human characters with which to relate to, and while the men are never subjected overly to any oppressive sexual gaze, they are, at times, rightly robbed of their dignity. However, unlike Austen, the characters in this play enter into physically dangerous situations they generally have no defense against, which gives Behn’s work a rawer, uncomfortably cutting edge, and I really appreciated how little that edge was dulled in this production. Sexual politics vary wildly depending on the time and space the people in question exist within, and deeper conversations about forced patriarchal dominance from centuries past should not be limited to disagreements with pedantic British gentleman anchored by their prideful egos, no matter how often we forget our female writers throughout history.

CMU’s The Rover is a massive success. Besides the excellent performances and inspired stage design, this is a complex and energetic production that intuitively closes the gap between the precision of recreation and the creativity of re-invention.

Special thanks to Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama for complimentary press tickets. The Rover runs in the Philip Chosky Theater through December 3rd. For tickets and more information, click here.

The Playboy of the Western World

Playboy-JPEG-2It’s 2016, America.  A time of vigilant political correction, when we can look at the follies of our past faux pas and indict our recent ancestors for insensitivity.  That’s the game, right?  Look at the past and say, ‘no.’ The past is racist, the time for reform is now.  Yes?  Well, use this lens to judge CMU’s interpretation of The Playboy of the Western World; an audacious performance complete with practiced West-Irish accents and a beautifully composed direction.  But, is it offensive?

Has this play always been offensive?  Is that the point?

It’s pretty much impossible to survey the immediate picture of the play without looking at it’s storied past.  Like the “Rites of Spring”, an experiment in showing a crude, natural, existential question that causes crowds to riot: does art have to be feel-good?  Can it be vulgar and nasty?  Even if it’s honest?

Here we see the story of insanely Irish stereotypes: a play littered with the Irish constantly drunk, women swooning over murderers and an almost apostate inversion of Catholic identity.  And according to the author, all of this done to “portray the western Irish for who they were: raw, unabashed, and slightly backwards in their thinking.”

The stuff is honest.  That’s the beauty of the play, the reason the program spends 4 of its 5 pages qualifying the play.  To look at the world through “rose-colored glasses”, be it the noble wiseness of the American Indian or the resplendent neatness of a stereotyped Orientalism; it is a disservice to class a people through the fog of romanticizing them, despite the generosity of these stereotypes being positive.

A play that is canonized because it incited a conservative culture with a romantic view of its brethren to be toppled by the honesty of the true vulgarity of the culture….well, that’s just fascinating.  It’s fascinating to lift up the porcelain and see what’s inside.  Hell, it’s honest.

And perhaps the qualifying, discerning nature of PC culture has something to learn?  If this play is relevant, maybe there’s something to be observed in its course of rejection leading to canon…

But enough diatribe.  Let’s talk performance.

The choice to use authentic dialect was reason to be skeptical.  But director Don Wadsworth’s dialect coaching was rich and consistent.  Invoking a century-old manner of speech from across the ocean is a feat. CMU’s actors did a tremendous job of living up to the challenge.  And this play is a challenge in a number of ways: from the colloquial banter and the poesy of Irish-speak, as well as the esoteric jokes and all over the hurdle of speaking with the ol’ brogue.

I feel that a big distraction in an “dialect” show is error-watching.  A compliment I’d like to give to the entire ensemble is that the dialects were so captivating, it was possible by after the first 20 minutes of the play to be legitimately drawn into the plot.  This may sound like a banal criticism, but hey, bad dialects can definitely screw up the experience.

Particular credit should be given to leads McKenna Slone’s Pegeen and Joe Essig’s Christopher Mahon.  A gigantic onslaught of West-Irish poesy was put upon their plate, and they lapped through it with the wild eloquence needed for the roles.  I appreciated Essig’s ability to spit while he talked and Slone’s tangle-haired, strong-eyed gleaming incisiveness.  She’s fierce: a brunt necessity for the role.  They created an air of gumption that cut through the eloquence one would expect for those projecting on stage.  Like I’ve said before, this play is vulgar.  Vulgar in the sense that it captivates various parts of our animal brains to be entertained by the drunk, obnoxious and tittering fools that create great stories.  They did a compelling job of moving like pub animals, reminding me of the dangerous but charming anecdote-worthy fiends which you can still find at low-lit bars to this day, in this country, that country, and presumably everywhere.

I’d like to give Lilli Kay’s Widow Quin a nod for assuming the dialect carefully drawn and still remaining eloquent enough to understand the words.  And hell, to the spinster-trio of Kennedy McMann, Diyar Eyuboglu and Eleanor Pearson.  Though bit parts, they upheld a well-managed characterization that fit the roles and created distinct identities from a limited scope of lines.

I want to also give credit to Petr Favazza, Nathan Salstone and Dylan Bright for executing their characters’ physical comedy with bite.  Salstone plays a coward with the perfect amount of sheepish chagrin, which moves well against someone like Favazza’s boastful drunk speech-giver.  Within the entire ensemble, every piece is a bit of the picaresque.  I would call it satire if it wasn’t intended to be an honest, unabashed rendition.  Ha.

A particularly sharp bit of direction comes with a mule-race which was tactfully choreographed.  Credit should be given to Timiki Salinas’ Jimmy and Will Brosnahan’s Philly as well as Kay in this scene.  A palpable performance as we’re watching their faces watch the race; and yet, the excitement is right there vicariously lain throughout the audience.  I’ve never seen that kind of transference with an objectively lame performance: as if their watching of a race invoked the feeling of the race to us.  It helps that it was well-directed, carefully choreographed so they all spun on the same arm of the clock, same movements capturing the movement of said race.  It was legitimately exciting, and we’re merely watching actors move their heads on-stage (though the bit of noise coming from the outside might have helped).

At the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll say again: the entire ensemble executed their roles and dialects tremendously.  A+.  The cast had a vehicular amount of energy and inflection, despite the challenges of the brogue, and could be understood quite well and captivated within caricature the seemingly nasty themes of the play.  It was like a who’s who of the despicable: the coward, the murderer, various idiots, various drunks and a few fools.  We fall into their arc of gullibility and violence and we fall out of it as a single day passes with enough excitement to create new love, new hopes and new vengeance.

Is this the caricature of the West-Irish identity that J.M. Synge wanted to expose to the world: that common-folks are fools with poetic banter and impulsive decisions?  Perhaps it is his own personality vicariously working through his protagonist, meeting his betrayal of this honest statement with the indictment: “if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse maybe to go mixing with the fools of earth.”

Though would we respect his play today if it hadn’t been rejected by the very people he was trying to impress; i.e. the posh east-Irish crowd of the Abbey Theatre?  Political correctness only goes so far as the fiction it wants to create.  Reality is scary and dumb, true and beautiful.  It probably needs to be rejected before the acceptance of cruel, ugly nature transcends stereotype for truth, noble or ig-.

Or as his titular character, the Playboy of the Western World himself, says in his own rejection of the West Irish people he was both enchanted and rejected by: “Ten thousand blessings upon all that’s here, for you’ve turned me a likely gaffer in the end of all, the way I’ll go romancing through a romping lifetime from this hour to the dawning of the judgment day.”

Perhaps, after a frenzy, we can respect the better ill-natured angels of our character.

And “…by the will of God, we’ll have peace now for our drinks.”

Special thanks to the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama for complimentary press tickets.

The Playboy of the Western World runs at Philip Chosky Theater through October 15th. For tickets and more information, click here.

CMU Drama to Engage and Challenge in 2016-2017 Season

Playboy-JPEG-2At the 70th annual Tony Awards, seven alumni of the Carnegie Mellon University school of Drama were nominated for various awards from Best Costume Design of a Musical to Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. Of those seven, two actors, Leslie Odom Jr. and Renée Elise Goldsberry went on to win for Best Actor and Best Featured Actress respectively. The span of the nominees is decades long the earliest being 1960 to 2004. The CMU School of Drama presence has a strong grip in the theatre world from Pittsburgh to Broadway. The competitive and rigorous conservatory program is still putting on seasons aimed to challenge and inspire their students like it’s upcoming 2016-2017 season.RoverJPEG-1

The School of Drama presents three different series in the season, the Subscription series, the Director series, and the New Work series. Each series accommodates a different branch of students within the school. Erin Scott, the Director of Marketing and Communications for the School of Drama, spoke to the selection of the season. At the beginning of each year the CMU faculty gathers a committee to select the season where they consider material that will engage and challenge their student body, particularly the juniors and seniors, who will be the constituency that performs, directs, designs and manages the shows. The whole School of Drama community is welcome to propose plays and musicals they are interested in producing. After proposals have been submitted, they compare what we discussed relative to the needs of the student body to what the community is interested in producing and go from there. Scott said, “We really keep the students at the center of the process.” The Mainstage productions in the Subscription Series are all directed, choreographed, and musically directed by professionals, the students still have lots of power in making creative decisions. The sets, lights, and costumes are all designed and created by the School of Drama. The Subscription Series includes four Mainstage shows, The Playboy of the Western World, The Rover, Ragtime, and The Three Musketeers. Ragtime-JPEG

The Playboy of the Western World directed by faculty member Don Wadsworth will run Oct. 6-15. Written by John Millington Synge is set in early 1900s Ireland uses heavy amounts of poetic and evocative language in telling the story of a young man running away from his farm claiming he killed his father. A comedic play, The Rover, from Aphra Behn, the first known female playwright runs Nov. 17-19 and Nov 29 – Dec 3. Dave Bond, head of acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, Wales, will direct the hilarious and lustful adventures of a group of Englishmen. Ragtime will be the only musical helmed at the School of Drama this season from Feb. 23 – March 4, just like last season’s The Full Monty directed by alumnus, Patrick Wilson. Ragtime and The Full Monty couldn’t be more polar. Ragtime, composed by Pittsburgh native, Stephen Flaherty, depicts the racial and classist struggles at the turn of the century in America. With diversity as one of the most pressing topics in the theatre community, Erin Scott added, “We in the School of Drama are very keen to represent all of our students and their varying backgrounds and identities in the work we create, so yes, this always factors into our season selection.” The poignant and sweeping drama will still have plenty of relevancy today. The School of Drama turns to gender for inspiration for their last show, The Three Musketeers. This production directed by Andrew Smith will become unapologetically feminist when dramaturg Megan Monaghan Rivas re-writes one of the Musketeers to be a woman. “This season is particularly interesting because it explores a number of really salient political issues through different historical lenses,” said Scott.ThreeMusketeersImage2

The Director series allows students within The John Wells Directing Program a chance to mount plays. The series includes, Mr. Marmalade, a black comedy about how a four-year-old girl views adult life. Wife U is an adaptation of Moliere’s School for Wives, I’m Very into You a piece created through the emails of two people 7,500 miles away from the other, Edward II is one of English’s earliest plays, Gruesome Playground Injuries which follows the relationship of two childhood friends, boom where a scientist turns his apartment into a shelter for the imminent end of the world in the hopes he can remake humanity, and “Hybrid” a music video/documentary by Joe Hill. The New Works Series, which highlights the work of graduate student playwrights, will be Oct. 26-29, and again in the spring, April 12-15. Professor Peter Cooke, head of the School of Drama, said, “A cavalcade of societal and theatrical fireworks drawn from 400 years of dramatic invention lies ahead in the 2016-2017 season.”CMU season

For more information about Carnegie Mellon University and their theatre department, please click here.

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