The Busy Body

22539000_1625142317538422_1922857777296597990_oPeople, in a singular sense, can change. According to centuries of written narrative, however, people collectively tend not to. No matter the time or place in human history, we have our tropes. There is always the young couple deeply in love, but forced apart by a more powerful exterior force. There is always the selfish, wealthy old man who takes advantage of the less fortunate. There is always the lustful idiot. Crucially, in-between it all, there is also always the Marplot.

The Red Masquers’ production of Susanna Centlivre’s The Busy Body, a farcical comedy originally penned in the 1700s, is a fun, breezy take on a generally under-looked play. Any production of a classic runs the risk of feeling stuffy, but thanks to some free-flowing performances and John E. Lane Jr.’s almost casual sense of direction, The Busy Body is able to be both accessible and occasionally even prescient in its comedy.

Like a lot of similar works, we follow two young couples whose love is restricted by their society; there are also a ton of characters and motivations to keep in mind at any given moment. There is Sir George (Nathaniel Yost), who sets the play’s tone by waxing poetic to Charles (Evan W. Saunders) about his visible erection. These men are fairly stupid, unflappably earnest, and desperately horny for Miranda (Amy Dick) and Isabinda (Sadie Crow) respectively.

Miranda is crafty, and spends the play’s opening act inventing a second persona to attract Sir George intellectually as well as physically. There is a plot reason for this, but in reality the entire purpose for her to do this is to create situations in which we laugh at George, because he is, like I said, fairly stupid.

Isabinda, meanwhile, is about to be married off to an anonymous Spanish merchant because her father happened to enjoy a trip there. Sadie Crow’s performance here is the most complete interpretation of matured teenage angst. When explaining her situation to others, she adopts this detesting thousand yard stare and shudders at the potential reality of the forced marriage, the Spanish merchant, and the very idea of Spain as an entity itself; the word “Spain” is not spoken so much as it is expelled from her like a sickness.

These four are not the most original protagonists, but Centlivre’s satire is built on wit that’s as blunt as a hammer, to the point of genre deconstruction. The play’s antagonists are two Seussian rich, old white men literally named Sir Gripe (Jay Keenan) and Sir Jealous Traffick (Nathan Freshwater). Gripe has no other intentions than to be the richest and most powerful individual in the play, and therefore has little to nothing in terms of complexity. As played by Jay Keenan, he is also one of the best parts of this production. Keenan imbues the character with an inexhaustible smarmy energy that breaths a lot of energy into scenes that are too dense with plot otherwise. He leans almost entirely into the character’s shrewdness, and we therefore never see the him as physically imposing to Miranda, which lightens up scenes that would otherwise significantly darken the play’s tone.

Jealous Traffick, meanwhile, is a more imposing figure, and his psychotic determination to maintain his daughter’s sexual purity are a grim if hilarious reminder of the effects of sexual repression. I quite liked Nathan Freshwater’s take on the character, who plays Jealous Traffick like a devout social conservative who has never reflected on his beliefs until this very moment in which he’s being challenged, like a sheltered kid during his first week in a college dorm or a far-right radio talk show host.

Tim Colbert’s bubbly, well-intentioned Marplot is The Busy Body’s greatest character. He is the titular busy body, and creates an endless amount of chaos via his need to help. Marplot, despite being utterly and infuriatingly hapless, is so warmhearted and abused that it’s hard not to root for him through each and every awful mistake he makes. He is the play’s weird little brother, and, sure, a little Marplot goes a long way, but The Busy Body would be painfully straightforward without him.

Like many of the more classically-minded farces, The Busy Body inevitably gets buried under its own plot. This is an area where Red Masquers’ production favorably compares to other restoration era shows. The intent isn’t so much to slavishly devote itself to period detail or to dynamically reinterpret its source material, but instead to extract as much of the play’s inherent sense of fun through performances that are big and goofy, but also smart. There are a lot of ways to interpret these characters, and the cast never makes choices that take away from the show’s inherent playfulness.

That said, there’s little in the way of extra flavor. Stage design is as minimal as humanly possible, and the play is paced rather quickly for its density. The Busy Body is good at what it does, but what you see is what you get, too. Theatergoers new to the era might have some trouble keeping up without a Wikipedia article at the ready during intermission, but seasoned veterans will enjoy a production that thoroughly understands what makes Centlivre’s comedy work.

They Busy Body runs at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theatre through November 12. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Collegiate Preview 2017

Collegiate LogoIt’s THAT time of year again ladies and gentleman! Time to settle back into your daily routine of books and classes for some of you, which means, rehearsals are starting soon! If you’ve been with us for a while, you’ll remember our first annual Collegiate Preview from 2016 but if you’re just joining us, welcome to the second annual Collegiate Preview 2017! We’ve got the inside scoop on our old friends at Pittsburgh’s four major universities, plus a check-in with our new friends at Carlow University!

Duquesne University’s student-run Red Masquer’s open their 105th season with Orphie and the Book of Heroes, followed by The Busy Body and some One Acts for Charity this fall, then starting the Spring semester with Macbeth and Equus just to finish it off with a weekend of new plays with Premieres XLI! Find out more in George’s article here. 

The 2017-2018 Subscription series at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama includes The Matchmaker,  Love’s Labor’s Won, The Drowsy Chaperone, and A Bright Room Called Day. Don’t forget to check out their Director’s and New Works series throughout the school year. For more information on what CMU Drama will be bringing to the table, check out Robyne’s article here. 

We’ve got 8 shows for you from the Pittsburgh Playhouse, home to Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre Company and their professional company The REP. Season offerings include The Scottsboro Boys, Kiss Me, Kate, Uncle Vanya, 42nd Street, You On the Moors Now,  The House of Bernarda Alba,  Gift of the Maji, and A Devil InsideClick here for Brian’s article about their upcoming season.

The University of Pittsburgh Stages brings us a clever mixture of musicals and straight plays in their 2017-2018 season. With classics like Little Shop of Horrors and Parade, to Our Town and Marie Antoinette hitting the stage this year, you’ll be sure to see the season closer Recoil, an original play written and directed by Cynthia Croot. Don’t forget to come back for their Student Lab shows too! Check out Mark’s article here for more details on what Pitt Stages has for us.

Last, but certainly not least, our new friends at Carlow University are presenting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead this October. Be sure to check out Carlow alum Ringa’s piece about their theatre department here. 

Follow along with our Collegiate adventures on our Facebook, Twitterand Instagram with the hashtag #PITRUniversity! Sign up for our email list while you’re at it!

True West

Screenshot (16)The incessant, nagging chirp of crickets.

It’s the iPhone noise that never reached the popularity of the classic marimba ringtone. It underscores many a painful, unending awkward silence in our imaginations and in TV and film. Crickets also supply the unofficial soundtrack for much of the Duquesne Red Masquer’s milquetoast production of True West. Unfortunately, that is not solely as a recurring component of Nick Cipriano’s overbearing sound design but also as the audience’s prevailing reaction to the show.

Director Michael Makar chisels some striking tableaus out of Sam Shepard’s solid-as-a-rock, Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-nominated script. In True West, Shepard ignites fireworks by repeatedly smashing beer can-shaped circle hole Lee (Evan W. Saunders) into Ivy League-educated square peg Austin (Max Begler). While screenwriter Austin is away from his own wife and children, house sitting for his mother, his brother Lee blows in like a tumbleweed to disrupt his creative process and repeatedly ask to borrow his car.

Their five-year estrangement makes the tension between the brothers positively palpable. The arrival of flashy Hollywood agent Saul Kimmer tacks on a professional layer to the bitter blood feud. When Kimmer is unexpectedly intrigued by Lee’s half-baked concept for an authentic story about men in the west, Austin’s world begins to crumble. As they question all the choices they’ve made in life, they have only the fickle and dangerous call of the wild to give them answers.

Whether the characters are embroiled in heated face-to-face conflicts or unable to look at each other in the eye, many of the images, created by Makar’s occasionally meticulous hand, are dying to be photographed—pre-show, anti-cell phone announcement be damned. Despite the literal extended setup of the toaster scene in Act II, the punchline, like the bread, truly popped as a refreshing bit of slapstick.

Makar wears not one but two cowboy hats with the production. But his works as a set designer is anything but picturesque. He deploys an enormous swath of white fabric against the back wall that succeeds only in cannibalizing the rest of the simple scenery and accentuating Antonia Gelorme’s garish, unfocused lights.

With his casting of the two leads, Makar emphasizes the ways in which Lee and Austin are more alike than they’d care to admit. They share something thicker than blood or water—an all-encompassing desire for what the other has.

If you thought it was hard to direct and set design for a single production, be prepared to marvel at Saunders’s ability to manspread, smize, pout, and constantly shrug hair out of his face all in a single performance. He’s not always convincing when he talks tough or takes a physical jab at Austin, but he most definitely looks the part of the hard-bitten desert drifter in a Canadian tuxedo and black tank top designed by Clare Rahill. Saunders’s chops aren’t strong enough to chew on any scenery, but he makes easy and hilarious work of a prop with his teeth. It is in such moments of mild mania that he embodies Lee’s truth most honestly.

Begler too relishes the chance to unleash Austin’s id in the character’s increasingly violent and desperate outbursts. For much of the first act, he relies too heavily on hands-in-pocket acting to appear uptight. But, as if he got a jolt from sticking a fork in one of Austin’s beloved toasters, Begler plays drunk and downtrodden almost too well.

I instantly remembered hearing about a production of True West where Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly occasionally alternated in the roles of Austin and Lee. I think Begler would be more than up for the challenge. As Lee attempts to begin writing a screenplay, Begler hurls insults across the room like darts and hits a bullseye every time. No matter who has the keys to Austin’s car, the actor who portrays him is firmly in the driver’s seat of this production.

You’ll find Hayden Lounsbury and Christina McElwee riding in the back playing two small, yet pivotal roles. As Saul Kimmer, Lounsbury more than holds his own with the strong lead actors. McElwee, who plays Lee and Austin’s mother, is upstaged by a dying plant in the corner.

In the pursuit of truth, the Duquesne Red Masquers are on the right track. But they’ll need a stronger compass (along with more polished design elements and a more cohesive cast) to locate true west.

Thanks to the Duquesne Red Masquers for the complimentary tickets.

True West runs at the Genesius Theater until Sunday April 30th. For more information, click here.



Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

BB andrew jThe Duquesne Red Masquers could not have asked for better timing for their production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. A show about a populist President who rides to power by claiming to represent the will of “The People,” only to find himself in over his head? There’s really no way that could get any more on-the-nose, right? Well… on its opening day, Donald Trump visited Jackson’s grave. And then talked about how he disagreed with a court ruling about people he didn’t want in the country. Although written prior to 2008, the themes of populism and racism explored in the show sometimes feel eerily relevant to the current moment. The Red Masquers actually decided to stage this play before the election, but its result obviously influenced director Jill Jeffrey’s choices in developing the production.DSC_0535

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a musical satire written by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, provides a not-quite-sympathetic chronicle of the life of the seventh President from his origins in rural Tennessee to his clashes with Congress and the courts in Washington. Depicting Jackson as a swaggering rock star, the show embraces the DIY aesthetic and breakneck pace of a punk show. Jackson himself is one of the only constants on stage, portrayed by sophomore Michael Tarasovich. The rest of the cast cycle through multiple characters, donning simple additions to their costumes to identify each one. The effect can be jarring at first – especially as the plot rockets through Jackson’s early life without a lot of recurring characters. But with Jackson’s entry into politics, the show finds a steadier pace and it becomes easy to identify actors with characters.

For most of its runtime, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson refuses to rest for more than a few seconds. Although the minimalist set remains mostly static, the cast successfully draws attention to one area while the others are being re-furnished to accommodate new scenes. Cast members move into the audience when Jackson is addressing the people, or speak from behind the fence that divides the stage in half (see, I told you it was topical) when breaking the fourth wall is called for. It is only late in the production, when the consequences of the President’s increasingly erratic behavior begin to catch up with him, that the action slows down to dwell on his legacy with the song “Second Nature.” Jeffrey accentuates this moment with images of the modern America Jackson helped to create and the people he hurt along the way.DSC_0879

The Red Masquers are a student theater group at Duquesne University, but Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is an alumni show, featuring returning members alongside current students. Although the cast members’ experience levels vary widely, they work well together. “The Corrupt Bargain,” a number featuring the plotting of the Out-Of-Touch Coastal Elite, demonstrates this range:  John Beckas, who plays soon-to-be-former President James Monroe, is a first time actor, while Justin Sines – a hilarious John Quincy Adams – is a veteran of multiple local theater companies and is the Technical Director for the very Genesius theater in which this show was performed.

In addition to leading man Tarasovich, who captures the posturing hotheadedness that is Jackson’s defining characteristic here, the show features notable performances from Lauren Gardonis and Katheryn Hess. While individual singers can sometimes get lost in some of the larger ensemble pieces, these two stand out shine in songs that focus on their voices  – Gardonis in the dark “Ten Little Indians” and Hess as Jackson’s wife Rachel in “The Great Compromise.”IMG_2322

This is a lively and relevant show that seems to be as much fun for the cast as the audience. But it should come with a bit of a content warning. Remember, it is a punk show. First of all, there’s a few f-bombs. Some dick jokes. A very-nearly-too-old reference to the Tea Party movement that takes a while to register if you weren’t active on Daily Kos in the early years of the Obama administration. (I guess that’s a dated reference, too? My bad.) But the controversy that has followed this show through multiple productions is its treatment of Native Americans. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is not subtle in its portrayal of its title character as the villain – the phrase “American Hitler” is actually used at one point – but any piece that deals with genocide in a broad satirical tone has to be careful. Especially when relying on simple visual cues to identify characters. Masquers alum Jeff Johnston, who plays Black Fox, the most prominent Native American character, made it clear in a post-performance talkback that the company was very aware of this and did their best to avoid stereotypes. As long as you’re comfortable with all that, the Red Masquers’ production is an enjoyable way to spend an evening.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs through March 19 at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theater, with shows at 8:00 and Midnight on Friday and Saturday, and a 2 PM matinee on Sunday. Visitors unfamiliar with the Duquesne Campus would also be well-advised to make sure you know where the Genesius Theater actually is. Hint: it’s not at 600 Forbes. I totally knew that.

Special thanks to the Red Masquers for complimentary press tickets. For tickets and more information, click here

Photos courtesy of Dale Hess and Morgan Paterniti.

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Spring

Pittsburgh theatregoers have a great mix of musicals to choose from this spring. Our preview features five shows that offer a mix of style, period and contemporary relevance. Two of them are new to Pittsburgh, Daddy Long Legs from the Public Theatre and Violet from Front Porch Theatricals.  The classic Cole Porter musical Anything Goes will be offered by the McKeesport Little Theatre and the contemporary hit Dream Girls from Pittsburgh Musical Theatre. Rounding out the mix and out of today’s headlines is the Duquesne Red Masquers’ production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.Layout 1

Pittsburgh Public Theatres second musical of the season is Daddy Long Legs, the story of Miss Jerusha Abbott, who is the oldest resident of a New England orphanage. When she turns eighteen, a mysterious benefactor, Jervis Pendleton, decides to pay for her college education. There is one condition, she must write him a monthly letter and not expect any reply.

During the course of her education, Jerusha begins to imagine the woman she could become which leads to critical thinking about religion, the social issues of the day, and politics.

The story is set between 1908 and 1912 and Daddy Long Legs is a story of emotional growth told in song by both characters – as she’s composing and he’s reading her letters.

Pittsburgh’s own Allan Snyder plays Jervis. Audiences will remember him from PMT’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and the CLO’s 39 Steps. Danielle Bowen plays Jerusha.

The New York Times described Daddy Long Legs as “a great treat,” and Variety called it “a wholesome tuner in tune with the times.” Daddy Long Legs has been touching hearts for more than 100 years. Ted Pappas’ new production at the Public is “guaranteed to continue the tradition.”

Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s Daddy Long Legs

Playing March 9th through April 9th at the O’Reilly Theatre

Tickets 412-316-1600 or online at girls

American music has undergone many changes from the big band sound of the forties to rhythm and blues, to the new American sound of Motown. In 1962 even though Elvis was king and we listened to the Beatles, American’s were dancing to the new beat of The Supremes and other girl groups. Dream Girls tells the story of the The Dreamettes, a hopeful Black girl group from Chicago who enter the famous Amateur Night talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

The musical explores the relationships between the girls, their boyfriends and managers as the chase their respective dreams.

It is also about the behind-the-scenes reality of the entertainment industry that made this cultural phenomenon possible. The subject matter of this play deals with a musical contribution to America of such importance that only now — decades later —  we are beginning to understand.

“And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” and “One Night Only” are just two of the great songs from Dream Girls that have become part of the canon of modern musical theatre.

Dream Girls from Pittsburgh Musical Theatre with performances at the Byham Theater March 9th to 19th. For tickets call 412-456-666 or at andrew j

Pittsburgh’s oldest amateur theatre company, The Duquesne University Red Masquers certainly had excellent foresight in picking Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as their Spring Musical. After all, our President considers himself a modern day Andrew Jackson.

The shows opening song, “Populism Yea Yea”, reflects the desire of Jackson to bring political power back to the public and away from the elite. The subject of immigration today is a topic of much discussion. In Jackson’s era it was native Indian lands. At first, the citizenry meets Jackson’s exhilarating cowboy-like governing tactics with great enthusiasm. But, as the problems grow tougher, the public begins to resent him.

Jackson decides he must take ultimate responsibility for the nation’s choices and autocratically declares that he alone will be the one to make the difficult policy decision.

At the Broadway opening in 2010, The New York Times noted “there is no show in town that more astutely reflects the state of this nation than Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Duquesne University Red Masquers playing 

March 15-19.

Tickets at goes

Are you are looking for a lighthearted break from reality with quirky characters, great songs and fabulous dance routines?  The McKeesport Musical Theatres production of the classic Cole Porter musical comedy Anything Goes is just your ticket.

The S.S. American is sailing between New York and England with a comically colorful assemblage of passengers: Reno Sweeney, a popular nightclub singer and former evangelist, her pal Billy Crocker, a lovelorn Wall Street broker who has come aboard to try to win the favor of his beloved Hope Harcourt (who is engaged to another passenger, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh), and a second-rate conman named Moonface Martin, aka “Public Enemy #13.” Song, dance, and farcical antics ensue as Reno and Moonface try to help Billy win the love of his life.

Anything Goes features s some of musical theater’s most memorable standards, including “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “You’re the Top,” and of course, the title song.

According to Linda Baker, President of MLT “This is one of the classic musicals that unfortunately not enough millennials have had the opportunity to experience.” So disconnect and go see it.

Anything Goes at McKeesport Little Theatre May 5th to 21st. Tickets available at

Acclaimed Director Robyne Parish has returned to PPrintittsburgh to live after spending five seasons as the Artistic Director of the Gilbert Theater in North Carolina. Her second directorial assignment since returning is the Tony nominated Violet presented by Front Porch Theatricals.

Violet is a scarred woman who is traveling across the 1964 Deep South toward a miracle. She is looking for the healing touch of an evangelist that will make her beautiful. Though she may not succeed in being healed, Violet is able to repair those injuries that lie deeper than her skin. On the way she meets a young, African-American Soldier whose love for her reaches far past her physical “imperfections”.

I asked Robyne about her approach to the production. “One of the most interesting themes in this play, besides the complicated relationship Violet has with her Father, are the parallels between Flick and Violet. A black man in the south judged by the color of his skin and a white woman being judged by her scar. As an audience we will experience Violets growth, discovery of love, beauty, enlightenment and ultimately redemption.”

“Patrons will discover themselves in the characters in Violet. It’s the story of family, of first love, of desperation and of hope. They will identify with these folks and recognize them in an intimate way some shows may not allow. This is an intense and uplifting play about real people with real hopes, dreams and desires and real loss, failure and disappointment. This is a play about life.”

Violet from Front Porch Theatricals is in performance May 19th to 28th at the New Hazlett Center for the Performing Arts located in Pittsburgh’s historic North Side


The spring of 2017 promises something for every theatregoer to enjoy.




Rust promoEven steel rusts, and that is the underlying theme, and title, of the new play currently in production by Duquesne University’s Red Masquers. The play, written by Duquesne alum F.J. Hartland, neatly ties the name of the show into the general premise as well as the emotional undertones of the characters. Even steel rusts, but metal isn’t the only thing that can wear over time.

Set in 1983 Pittsburgh, this play tells a familiar story to many who grew up in the area. The mills are closing and unemployment is high. Families are struggling to make ends meet. The world is changing. Desperation sometimes leads to greeting those changes with violence, and frustration often leads to ending the day with a trip to the bar. Pittsburgh’s always been a drinking town, after all. Scene changes are covered by radio announcements keeping the audience up to date with current affairs as the play goes on. It certainly helped me put myself in the mindset of these characters, being let down by the daily flood of tedious news.

For the Strnad family, dealing with the unemployment of Marek (Neil Donaldson), the husband and father of house, is the main stressor, but certainly not the only one. Luckily his wife Verka, played well as a tired yet persistent strong woman by Raquel Isabel Millacci, is employed. This makes it slightly easier on the household of the couple and their three children. The oldest child, Pavol (Evan W. Saunders), is in college but with substantial struggles of his own that find their way back into his parents’ home. And we can’t forget Marek’s elderly Slovak mother, Zuzana. The banter brought to the show by Alex McLeod’s Zuzana, or “Babka” as the family calls her, was delightful and familiar. While she was there mostly for her dry humor, McLeod’s Babka supplied the play with several little nuggets of wisdom. She’s a constant reminder that this is a story of the development of immigrants, despite tribulations. It’s a timely message.16804196_1368597823192874_1286359514723108611_o

Another firm reminder of the family’s roots is the mysterious imaginary friend that the Strnad Family’s youngest son, Matus, always has by his side. Matus is played by fourth grader Mark Henne, and he is a pleasure to watch on stage. The curiosity of his foreign mill-working friend (Byron Stroud) that only he can see is explained as the show plays out, and it puts a little twist on the imaginary friend trope. The humor found with this duo is a nice subtle compliment to the over-the-top hilarious Lauren Bostedo, who plays the middle Strnad child, Lenka. She’s struggling to find herself, and the attention of her family, and perfectly embodies that 80s high school girl cliché that we all know so well.

Director Lora Oxenreiter has a long history in theater, and her craft is evident in this new work. The characters move about the set fluidly and naturally. It was easy to feel like I was a guest at the Strnad house, observing dinner from afar. For the most part, the players were a great fit in their roles. Even the secondary characters stood out and had their moments. It was evident that Oxenreiter cast the show fittingly, playing to the actors’ humor and strengths. There was only one problem I had with the cast.

As the story played out, I wanted to sympathize with Marek. I’ve been through the unemployment runaround. It’s frustrating and can certainly make you want to throw things. Marek’s constant need to count to ten to settle himself spoke volumes to me. However, I was constantly distracted by the age of the actor playing Marek. Not to say that a younger man can’t play older, but with the rest of the cast so spot-on, this main character stood out. A beard would have gone a long way in transforming this college student into a father of a college student. Even some slowing of the speech, something to age his movements… It was hard to commiserate when I was thoroughly unconvinced.16797426_1370119506374039_180358350129153447_o

That being said, the show as a whole was highly enjoyable. The story is solid, and there is plenty of humor laid throughout to break up the gravity of the situation. The set and technical elements of the show were modest, bringing you into the scenes without stealing from the characters. And given that I saw the opening night of a brand new show, the cast and crew did a fantastic job bringing this show to life. The play is intriguing, especially because of the local interest piqued by Hartland. Rust reminds us to think about the hardships that paved the way for where we are now. That as things corrode, it takes work and time to make them sturdy again. Something we could all benefit from remembering now and then.

Rust runs at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theater through February 26th. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Special thanks to the Duquesne Red Masquers for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of their Facebook page.