In the Company of Oscar Wilde

Company-of-Oscar-WildeThe thing we seem to forget about legendary creative radicals like Oscar Wilde is that they were, in a word, radicals. Oscar Wilde may have been a student of literary history, but his work was prescient. To Wilde, society was a solved puzzle box of obvious illusions masking desires that were even more obvious. He may have been inspired by the great authors who came before him, but he wasn’t the kind of artist who often looked back.

PICT’s In the Company of Oscar Wilde takes, in a very literal sense, exactly the opposite approach to storytelling. At the play’s open, two high society women (Marsha Mayhak and Karen Baum) approach the stage and commiserate about the party they’re attending and the men within it. Two of these men (Martin Giles and James Fitzgerald) enter mid-conversation and strike up a discussion about Oscar Wilde with the women, who have primarily only heard rumors about him.

This, I feel, is an unfortunate framing device for a story. I do not want the entirety of a narrative to be expressed by a pair of men interrupting women at a party to explain things to them; I also don’t want the women to express gratitude in return, because even a fantasy demands some context in reality when put onstage. I could very well be wrong, but if I remember correctly, there is at least one “well, actually…” moment early on that drives the point home.

I digress. All four participants begin speaking about Wilde’s life and written works at length – or, to be more precise, they begin to quote him directly ad nauseum. We learn Wilde’s real-life biography via these people, and nothing more, because they do not exist to be known. They are flesh-vessels of Wilde’s timeline, vague shadows of nineteenth century caricature energetically performing dozens of the man’s one liners before disappearing off into the ether.

They’re effective at being that, to be fair, as I learned a thing or two about Wilde I didn’t know before I entered the theater. I’m a fan of Wilde but I’m no expert, and some of In the Company’s greatest insights come from a dramatic reading of his diary, which was written while he was imprisoned for (more or less) his love affair with another man. When I call this moment a dramatic reading, I mean it literally: Alan Stanford, who both directs the show and acts as its contextual narrator, offers up insights and quotes from Wilde’s life his four protagonists cannot, in this case by simply reading Wilde’s diary to us. Stanford’s voice is effective, one I’d gladly sit with it in the context of an audiobook, but his narrative technique here reveals a lot about the show in general, too.

In the Company is an elaborate act of hero worship. It does not exist to explicate Wilde’s illustrious career – it just wants you to know the rough outline of it. There is a somewhat odd scene in which the well-loved Lady Bracknell (Ingrid Sonnichsen), a human brick wall of indecipherable high society judgement written for The Importance of Being Earnest, relieves the play of its reality by generating a corporeal form and reciting the dialogue from her most beloved scene in its entirety.  This sort of ‘fictional guest star’ role is exclusive to Bracknell, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. It’s no surprise that Stanford would refrain from fan fiction-ing new lines for the character, but she is the only of Oscar’s creations we get to see for ourselves. While I suppose it’s a particular kind of delightful to get a Bracknell-for-Bracknell’s-sake scene, as an isolated moment it’s jarring, and begs an obvious question: why don’t more of Wilde’s characters make an appearance? I don’t necessarily need to see Dorian Gray walk onstage and be a sociopath to everyone for a few minutes, but there are a lot of Wilde characters worth reading who are rarely read or studied. If there was ever a place to explore Wilde’s lesser-known work, this would seem to be it.

In the Company of Oscar Wilde is fine for newcomers or diehards with an unquenchable thirst for any and all things Wilde, but as it stands the show doesn’t engage in conversation with the author it is inspired by so much as embody the echo of his voice. It’s rather like a cover band of a group that broke up decades ago; your relationship with it will almost certainly be dictated by your pre-established relationship with its progenitor. In either case, you will at least have a few extra quips in your back pocket the next time a man at a party begins explaining things about your favorite author to you.

In the Company of Oscar Wilde has unfortunately already closed but you can check out what PICT is up to hereCompany-of-Oscar-Wilde

Romeo and Juliet

rj-431x500In the close quarters of Little Italy, old New York is an appropriate volatile and steamy backdrop for the feuding families and young love in PICT Classic Theater’s new production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, playing through Nov. 4 at the Fred Rogers Studio, WQED.

Like “fair Verona”, there’s little room for a Capulet not to bump into a Montague on a hot day, igniting a knife fight. The subtext in Alan Stanford’s production is that these families may be, you know “families”–perhaps immigrants who moved from Italy and Sicily to find their way through whatever means in America.

The concepts plays well, especially on Jonmichael Bohach’s versatile and multi-purpose set, which spans the room’s width and height. His scenic elements conjure the streets of New York, an outdoor cafe, the play’s interior settings, and even the infrastructure of an elevated train–heard once as a critical climax of street violence erupt.

As the show opens, Stanford welcomes the audience and segues nicely into the prologue, describing the story of his own production, one he contends “everyone should watch now and again–especially if you have children.” His cast of 17 reminds us of the urgency at every turn. These outstanding artists comprise a solid and entertaining crew.

“Two households both alike in dignity.” The hot headed young people on the steamy streets of downtown Manhattan bite their thumbs and rough each other up. Even the women get into the action as they try to quell the violence.

Adrianne Knapp’s Juliet captures the innocence and yearning of a girl dreaming of true love and womanhood. She’s idealist yet dreamy–absolutely the smart Juliet of Shakespeare’s play and, here, savvy in the times her story is now set. Knapp is versatile and shifts her thoughts and moods thoroughly as she considers her options at every turn.

Her Romeo is sweet-faced Dylan Marquis Meyers, every bit the fickle and eager teen. He conveys a resolve that overshadows his tears upon his banishment. Meyers is both endearing and engaging. His smart Romeo is strong in his resolve and a fine match for Knapp.

The couple is sweet, lovely and empathic as they are not unlike kids through the ages, experiencing first loves that are powerful, hurtful and full of anticipated joy. By the play’s end they have grown up and take their fates into their own hands, recognizing what they cannot change and resigned to how their community and family have essentially turned against them.

Stanford supports Shakespeare’s lesson: feuds and misunderstanding over even the least important things can take our time and take lives. Adults too often shut out the pain of young people with tragic results. Romeo and Julietremains a timeless journey through family dynamics, parental posturing, pride, and stubbornness.

Martin Giles swaggers and asserts machismo as Lord Capulet, running the household and eventually steamrolling Juliet to marry Count Paris. He’s boisterous and one of the flames that ignite the ongoing conflicts. You sense he was likely on his good behavior when the Prince called him in while muttering about the Montagues on the way out. However he displays wisdom when he tells Tybalt not to cause a scene when Romeo crashes his party. There are important business and agreements on the street and there’s no time to disrupt them with petty arguments.

His nemesis Montague is Matthew J. Rush, who plays Romeo’s father as less impulsive, balancing the hot Capulets.

Shammen McCune is Juliet’s determined mother, a solid presence in any production, including as Jocasta in PICT’s Oedipus. She journeys from calculating in her plans her daughter’s courtship to Paris to frustrated angry as Juliet defies her father’s order to marry. McCune carves a classic figure, perhaps someone who moved from Italy for a new life in America to be ruled by family protocols and patriarchy. In this setting, Juliet’s life would not have been much better, but Lady Capulet at least has the security her husband dictates.

It’s Lamar K. Cheston as Romeo’s friend Benvolio who takes the reins as a young man perhaps wise beyond his years. Cheston, most recently seen as in the title role of Henry V at Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks and at PICT in Oedipus, brings thoughtful choices to a character that if often less integral than in this production. He keeps things together when all others are awry and he reports on the misdeeds of the streets. Cheston is a strong and focused young player from whom we may expect much. In this sequel to this Italian-American story, we see him as the >consigliere advising Montague.

PICT vets Karen Baum and James FitzGerald are the Nurse and Friar Laurence, confidants of the young lovers, but forces who contribute to their downfall. Their good intentions fail, of course. Baum draws a nurse who is practical, knows her place and has some fun with the comic bit. Moreover, she looks out for her girl and provides structure in the unstable Capulet household. A delightful jewel in every cast, Baum brings authentic care and wisdom to the unpredictable sea of fighting and family dynamics. Her nurse is spot on.

Likewise, FitzGerald’s stalwart Friar is essential alongside Romeo. Bringing depth and craft to every performance, FitzGerald is always wonderful to watch and a joy for listening to the poetry of this play.

Art Peden debuts at PICT as the Prince, presiding over the neighborhood more as moderator than ruler. He brings focus and reason and is an artist we’ll look forward to following here. Jonathan Visser, always compelling, is Paris, here an attentive and mature courtier.

The fiery Tybalt is Daniel Pivovar, insisting on the brawl. Alec Silberblatt is a drunken Mercutio–taking his bawdy tales and gestures to the max.

The always charming Matt Henderson is Sampson and Pete, drawing giggles as he wrestles with lists and street bullies. Eric Freitas portrays both Friar John and Abram in his first PICT appearance. The strong women of the neighborhood, Sarah Carleton and Sandi Oshaben apt support, evening jumping into the fray as needed. Christopher Collier appears as Gregory and the Apothecary in his first PICT outing.

Aside from bawdy bits, this is a wonderful “first Shakespeare” for all ages. Mercutio’s gestures are no less than what we see daily in media or on the street, so don’t hesitate to bring some young people to this engaging classic–and to talk about the show before and after.

PICT Classic Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet runs at WQED’s Fred Rogers Studio through November 4. For tickets and more information click here. 

PICT Teaches Romeo and Juliet Lessons in the Neighborhood

rj-431x500When a door opens to create new productions in a historic spaces, creative opportunities are revealed. Now, PICT Classic Theatere brings classic stories to two of Pittsburgh’s most storied settings–the Fred Rogers Studio of WQED-TV in Oakland and The Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze.

This season, Artistic Director Alan Stanford leads as key storyteller to stage classics that fill an important niche in our regional arts menu. He will direct both Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Oct. 20-Nov. 4, and his own adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, April 5-28, in the studio where Mister Rogers was produced. Between adventures in production at WQED, the company takes up residence at the Frick Art & Historical Center for a week of Oscar Wilde programming, Dec. 6-10, in the museum’s lovely and intimate theater.

While many Pittsburghers already relate to the Rogers’ Studio as home of  “The Land of Make Believe,” PICT will bring it’s own versions of imagined stories to life.

Stanford considers the space one of the best block theaters in the city. Equipped for versatile television production, the studio will accommodate a 160-seat audience configuration.

PICT’s 100th production, this R&J takes a modern approach in playing out the timely themes Shakespeare explored via two teens whose affections cross the lines of feuding families. As this play is set in Italy, Stanford moves the action stateside to an Italian-American community suggesting New York’s Little Italy in the 1930s.

“You could set this play anywhere in the world at any time,” says Stanford. “The important point about the play that is true and has been true for over 400 years is that it’s a play about the damage that families and their feuds can do to their children.”

Stanford usually produces one Shakespeare play each season and he realizes the popularity of Romeo and Juliet might cloud the audience’s’ view of its importance for revisiting the play and often.  “This is one everyone should watch now and again–especially if you have children,” he says.

He points to the prologue’s clear foreshadowing: “Two households both alike in dignity. Shakespeare tells you that the two protagonists die and that they are not superior to one another.”  

Stanford is excited about the young pair he is directing in the title roles. Adrianne Knapp is Juliet and Dylan Meyers is her Romeo.

The meddling Nurse and Friar Laurence are played by PICT regulars Karen Baum and James FitzGerald. Art Peden is Prince of the turbulent neighborhood.

Cast in the Capulet house are: Martin Giles, Lord Capulet; Shammen McCune, Lady Capulet; Daniel Pivovar, Tybalt; Jonathan Visser, Paris; and Christopher Collier, Gregory. Portraying some of Romeo’s friends on the Montague side are: Alec Silberblatt, Mercutio; and Lamar K. Cheston, Benvolio. Rounding out the cast of 15 are: Matt Henderson, Sampson/Peter; Eric Freitas, Friar John/Abram; and Sarah Carleton, Girl 1.

PICT’s seasons continues on the East End moving from Shakespeare to writers Oscar Wilde and Charlotte Bronte as the company moves to Point Breeze and back to Oakland.

At the Frick for “Wilde at the Frick”, PICT presents a week-long exploration of Oscar Wilde and varied aspects of his life and works. Stanford loves the Center’s ambiance and its popular cafe, saying, “Afternoon tea is one of the secrets of Pittsburgh!”

On the work to be done, “I’ve been an Oscar Wilde fan all of my life. Oscar was majestic with language.” Stanford points out that while audiences enjoy many of Wilde’s works as English comedies, that “he really wrote a lot of Irish satires about the English.”

Stanford’s describes the dramatist as “a philosopher” who, like Dickens, wrote “brilliant articles” on the unjust imprisonment of children and social issues.

The play In the Company of Oscar Wilde has its US premiere with just five performances beginning on  Dec. 6. Crafted from Wilde’s words and writing, the dramatic piece draws a portrait of the brilliant writer who created some of the most enduring plays of the Edwardian era and a man who was imprisoned for homosexuality around his affair with a younger man, Bosie Douglas.

On Dec. 10 only, the company presents a rare dramatic evening about Wilde’s third trial based on the scarce documentation of the events as reconstructed by the writer’s grandson Merlin Holland. PICT describes the program as: “A recreation of the final cross-examination of Wilde by Sir William Carson at the famous trial of the Marquis of Queensbury, a dramatic exchange that cost Oscar his freedom and reputation.” A post-show discussion follows.

Coincidently, the Frick’s current exhibit is “Undressed”, on the history of undergarments, and open at times coinciding with some PICT events. Consult The Frick website for details.

For families and all ages, the company also performs two of Wilde’s beloved fairy tales, The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant, written for his two sons. The one-hour program takes place only on Sat., Dec. 9 at 2 pm, with tickets at just $10.

PICT returns to the Rogers Studio for Jane Eyre, April 5-28, with the adaptation Stanford originally wrote on commission for the Gate Theatre in Dublin. An audience favorite at companies including the Guthrie Theater, the story of a governess and the secrets that haunt her beloved and his family.  

Stanford expects to share more news from PICT as the season continues. Watch for updates and visit the website to guarantee tickets as seating capacities for these intimate and compelling events:

Fall Preview 2017

Fall Logo

A Letter from the Editor,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tickets and more information can be found here. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annie at the Paliside Playhouse

Big Fish by Front Porch Theatricals

Cloud 9  by Throughline Theatre Company

Little Shop of Horrors at Comtra Theatre

Mr. Burns by 12 Peers Theater

Spamalot at Stage  62

Avenue Q by the Alumni Theatre Company

The Liar  by Kinetic Theatre

Seussical the Musical at the Apple Hill Playhouse

Pippin at The Theatre Factory

One Man, Two Guvnors at Little Lake Theatre

Sweeney Todd by the Pittsburgh Festival Opera



The cut-away of an Irish cottage that serves as a set for PICT’s production of John B. Keane’s Sive (pronounced sigh-ve), looks a quaint place, if sparse and threadbare, but it will house a destructive tableau of hungry, grasping poverty.  What befalls because of it prompts Nanna Glavin’s (Sharon Brady) bitter comment, “Women must pay for all happiness.”  And it certainly is the women who must suffer the most for even the few scraps of comfort left to them.

The play takes place in County Kerry, a southern region of Ireland, in the 1950’s at the home of Mike Glavin (Michael Fuller).  He lives there with his wife, Mena (Karen Baum), his mother, Nanna, and his young niece, Sive (Cassidy Adkins).  Mike and Mena scrape together a meager living while Sive goes to school at the local convent, but they are presented with a chance to escape their poverty when the local matchmaker, Thomasheen Sean Rua (James Fitzgerald) sneaks in to tell Mena that an elderly farmer with money to burn wants to marry Sive, and will even pay to have her instead of demanding the usual dowry from the family.

James FitzGerald, Karen Baum - SIVE

James Fitzgerald as Thomasheen and Karen Baum as Mena

To Mena’s initial credit, she scoffs at the match, but the lure of money proves too much of an enticement.  Fitzgerald as Thomasheen, under Alan Stanford’s most commanding direction, plies and plies at Mena, at first keeping his distance, letting the idea sink in, then moving in ever closer as she succumbs to his persuasion.  He even leans over to whisper in her ear, the image of a serpent charming her with temptation.  When she is finally convinced, he closes the distance to clasp her hand, and it seems the devil’s bargain is struck.  Thomasheen continues to hover about the cottage like a dirty vulture, overseeing his work in order to get his cut of the bargain.

But it is not easy work convincing the rest of the family.  Mike vehemently rejects the match when Mena first brings it up, leaping from the table and pacing the small space between the door and the table like a caged animal.  He comes around doubtfully, just as hungry for money (an image made literal as he dumps his day’s profit on his dinner plate) as his wife, although his qualms never go away.  Sive is left to flounder with the increasing pressure from her family.  She tries to protest the marriage quietly, ignoring Thomasheen and her intended fiancée, Sean Dota (Charles David Richards) when they come to call and telling Mena she cannot go through with it, but she can do little to truly defend herself.

Michael Fuller, James FitzGerald - SIVE

Michael  Fuller as Mike Glavin and James Fitzgerald as Thomasheen

In fact, though the play is named for her, it is not Sive’s play.  She stands out from the other characters in her clean, fresh appearance against their dirty and ragged clothing, but she seems a creature apart.  The satchel of books she carries instead of water or farm equipment reinforces this.  She is not often on the stage, but her name is thrown about constantly.  Really, it is Mena and Thomasheen’s play.  They dominate the stage as they plot to marry off Sive and lift themselves out of abject poverty.  It is also a play about all the events that transpired before Sive was born, including her mother giving in to youthful passion and having Sive out of wedlock.  Sive’s marriage is as much a punishment for what her mother did as it is a means to an end, even though the girl has not made any error herself.

It would be easy to hate Mena if Baum had not played her with so much humanity.  She criticizes and snaps at anyone and everyone in the house at a moment’s notice, but she is also a woman frustrated with living side by side her critical mother-in-law who wastes no chance to remind Mena how unwelcome she has been since Mike brought her home.  She has lived a life of constant labor with nothing to show for it and could not afford to wait for a better husband when she was young.  In spite of that, there is still some warmth and even poetry buried deep down inside of her.  She only wants the means to live, instead of constantly surviving.

Karen Baum, Sharon Brady - SIVE

Karen Baum as Mena and  Sharon Brady as Nanna Glavin

Thomasheen is harder to forgive.  The roguishness that Fitzgerald brings to the role can be alluring, and he is not without his own misfortune, but his single-mindedness to sell Sive into a marriage she does not want just to save himself is appalling.  He bends and bows to seem subservient, but he is the one with all the strings in hand and he will pull them to whatever end to keep control.  Thomasheen is a man who makes his living off of the suffering of women, and yet he scorns the roving tinkers Pats Babcock and Cathalawn (Martin Giles and J. Alex Noble, respectively) as beggars.

Alan Stanford makes a timely choice in performing Sive, as we stare down a new healthcare plan that threatens millions struggling with poverty in the U.S. and a president whose policies at large target women and minorities who already have to fight daily for their very existence.  It has long been government policy that “Women must pay for all happiness,” in some way or another.  Sive may take place in 1950’s Ireland, but it could easily be set in present day America, and it is a frightening to think what may happen to our own country if we ignore the little people hurting right now.

Sive runs through May 20th at the Union Project on North Negley Avenue in Highland Park and ticket information can be found here.

Oedipus Rex

oedipus-cutAlan Stanford’s new adaption of the classic Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex is a modern day masterpiece.

Sometimes you just know within the first few minutes that this is really going to be good. That first inclination comes not from the play itself, but from that initial exposure to the actors, setting, and direction. Admittedly, you know the story written by Sophocles some twenty-five hundred years ago has to be pretty compelling to have held up over the long haul.

Chances are, you are aware of the main story, much of which transpires before the play actually begins. Queen Jocasta of Thebes has just given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Her husband King Laius learns from the oracles that he is doomed to die at the hand of his son. That doesn’t really leave the King a lot of options, either kill the baby boy now or be killed by him later.  The King figures he might as well nip this in the bud and after injuring the child’s feet he orders his servant to take the baby to the mountains and leave him there to die.  Instead, the servant gives the child to a shepherd who names him Oedipus (Greek for swollen feet).

Justin Wade Wilson as Oedipus, Shammen McCune as Jocasta
Justin Wade Wilson as Oedipus, Shammen McCune as Jocasta

The servant takes the boy to his home country of Corinth, where he gives the child to the barren Queen and King of Corinth and the child is raised as their son. He becomes the handsome, educated and articulate Oedipus. He learns from another oracle that he is destined to kill his father and mate with his mother, which horrifies him. He doesn’t realize he is adopted, and because he wishes his parents no harm he leaves Corinth.  While on his travels he gets into a scuffle with another group and in a fit anger of kills some men. Unbeknownst to Oedipus, one of the men was King Laius and the first portion of the oracle’s prophecy has come to pass.

Our play begins with Oedipus arriving in Thebes as the city is under siege by the Sphinx. Oedipus solves the riddles of the Sphinx and as his reward is given the kingship of Thebes and the hand of Queen Jocasta (his biological mother) in marriage. None of the main characters know this, which sets the stage for the resulting drama.

If you have seen Oedipus or read one of the literal translations from the original Greek, it’s pretty difficult to get through the long speeches and endless choruses.

In this production Director Alan Stanford has adapted the original to a more modern style of speaking yet still retains the timeless sense of the original. Stanford has created an Oedipus Rex for our time. This adaptation and production serve to reinforce Sophocles’ reminder that humanities flaws haunt us generation after generation. Corruption is self-delusion that leads to the belief that only one person has all the answers to cure our ills.

Oedipus is not an inherently flawed or bad fellow, he doesn’t yet know he murdered his father or married his mother.  After all, he’s the hero that saved Thebes from the curse of the Sphinx.  Once rumors of the truth come out, his human failings take hold.

Karen Baum as The Sphinx
Karen Baum as The Sphinx

The Union Projects’ performance space is long and linear, with audiences on either side. Stanford’s staging has he townspeople on one end of the stage with the castle and ruling people on the other. The action flows back and forth like March Madness. Madness it is as, Oedipus and the townspeople come to grips with the conundrum of Oedipus’ lineage, the oracle’s prophecy and what it means for them.

PICT’s cast is a mix of veteran actors with prolific resumes and those early their careers.

Twenty nine year old Penn State alum Justin Wade Wilson’s powerful performance as Oedipus presents both a likeable and admirable leader as he saves Thebes. He skillfully transitions to a much darker and intriguing Oedipus as he searches for the truth that when revealed will bring his ultimate downfall.

Pittsburgh’s Shammen McCune is Queen Jocasta. Watch her performance closely as her initial meeting with Oedipus turn into romantic love. Through the course of the play she beautifully portrays the realization of horror; she has married her son, born him children and yet still loves him as both a son and husband.

Central to moving the story forward is the blind prophet Tiresius played by Pittsburgh’s James Fitzgerald. Tiresius is, against his own objections, the first to tell Oedipus that he killed his father and married his mother, facts that Oedipus refuses to believe.  Fitzgerald’s strong performance is pivotal in unleashing the carnage to follow.

Johnny Lee Davenport plays Oedipus’ brother-in-law Creon. Davenport has the perfectly imposing stage presence to counter Wilson’s Oedipus. There is quite an interesting bit of clever stage direction as Oedipus demands Creon be executed for supposedly attempting to undermine him.

Shammen McCune as Jocasta
Shammen McCune as Jocasta

Stanford’s Oedipus Rex is set in North Africa. Set design by Johnmichael Bohach is simple in form and nearly monochromatic in color, conveying a sense of warmth, royalty and the bloodshed ahead. Michael Montgomery’s costume design relays the African theme with a touch of Egyptian motif. The actors transition between chorus members and main characters with their costumes effectively supporting their dual roles.

Almeda Beynon’s Sound Design underscore the tension and drama very effectively, subtlety appearing ghostlike as needed and disappearing just as subtlety. Her compositions serve to give the mind a pause and as a means to gather your thoughts as an audience member.

This production through Stanford’s direction and adaptation brings to audiences a timeless Oedipus Rex, a modern take on the human condition. This is a powerful and yet entertaining classic drama full of conspiracy theories, distrust, intrigue and, yes, love.

Oedipus Rex by PICT Classic Theatre at the Union Project in Highland Park playing now through April 3rd. Tickets at or by calling 412-561-6000

Thanks to PICT for the complementary tickets. Photos courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons.

Winter Preview 2016

Snowflake 6
A letter from the Editor

To our beloved readers,

The countdown has begun; there are just 21 days left until the first day of Winter and we have put together a preview sure to prepare you for a holiday season of new and exciting theater experiences. Even though things start to slow down in the winter, there are plenty of things to keep you entertained during the cold, dark evenings as Pittsburgh’s warm theater community invites you to step in from out of the cold and catch a show. There is plenty of holiday themed fun and even a few new plays to choose from this Winter season!

Beyond this preview, stay tuned for continuous coverage of Pittsburgh theater. We will be checking in with local companies, some new to the scene and some seasoned veterans. We will also continue to introduce you to the people that make up Pittsburgh’s vibrant theater community through our artists spotlight series.

On a business related note, we are officially a legal entity (LLC) recognized by the government (AKA the IRS, OMG!). Remember, if you would like to sponsor the site or purchase advertisements on the site, contact

Again, we want to thank those of you that have and continue to support us through your donations to our previous fundraising campaign, your engagement with us, and simply being readers. Most importantly, we want to thank you for supporting local theaters and companies and helping the arts grow and thrive in Pittsburgh.

We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #WinterwithPITR.

Happy holidays from all of us here at Pittsburgh in the Round, now get out there and enjoy some theater!

Mara E. Nadolski


Let’s start off with the Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this winter!

#5 – Eugene Onegin by Undercroft Opera: Usually sung in French, 10 year oldOneginPoster Undercroft Opera will be presenting this Tchaikovsky masterpiece in Russian as a concert. Originally premiering in Moscow in 1879, this story of unrequited love and regrets was last produced in Pittsburgh by the Pittsburgh Opera in 2009. Undercroft, a company known for giving performers “opera-tunities”, brings many opera veterans to the stage in this one night only event. Last seen in the Pittsburgh Savoyards’ production of Gianni Schicchi,  Eugene Onegin will bring Ian Greenlaw and Katie Manukyan together on the stage once again. For tickets and more information, check out Undercroft’s website here. 

#4 – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Cup-a-Jo Productions: On the heels of their innovative 404501_10150601331240797_648691161_nproduction of Titus AndronicusCup-a-Jo brings us another twist on an old classic. A not-so-fun night of drinks with new colleagues turns dark and disastrous in the late Edward Albee’s absurdist drama. Starring company founder Joanna Lowe and Brett Sullivan Santry, Cup-a-Jo will drag us into an immersive universe complete with signature live music and of course, cocktails. Literally set within a living room, this production will give audiences “ultimate uncomfortable voyeuristic experience” says Lowe. Dates and more details to come, but for more information about Cup-a-Jo, click here.

#3 – The Lion in Winter by PICT Classic Theatre: The classic Christmas tale of King Lion-Final-WebHenry II and his dysfunctional family weaves through politics, conspiracies, and ruthlessness. The cast includes Pittsburgh favorites like Karen Baum and Tony Bingham, even PICT’s Artistic Director Alan Standford graces the stage as Henry himself in the company’s third production in their new space at the Union Project in Highland Park. As always, PICT is “committed to the creation of high-quality, professional thought-provoking theatre of substance” and we’re confident this production will be no different. The Lion in Winter begins previews Thursday December 1, for tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Lungs by off the WALL: In the second production of their Mainstage scaled_256series, off the WALL brings us more of the quick-witted dramas the company is known for with Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs. On a mostly bare set, no costume changes, and little accoutrements, Sarah Silk and Alec Silberblatt will force audiences to focus on the important themes of the text, rather than superfluous theatrics in this production. This two person drama takes us on a ride over the course of a relationship as they battle with questions about their families, their aspirations and each other. Opening December 2 at Carnegie Stage. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#1 – The Royale by City Theatre: City Theatre continues to uphold its mission YT17-Feature-The-Royaleto be Pittsburgh’s home for new plays with their January premiere of The Royale. Known for writing and producing television shows like Sons of Anarchy and Orange is the New Black, Marco Ramirez’s Broadway debut play The Royale is inspired by the true story of turn of the century boxer Jack Johnson. DeSean Terry plays Jay “The Sport”Jackson in this drama about fighting more than just the other person in the ring. Jackson has eyes on the heavyweight championship but with the racial tension of 1905 that might be easier said than done. The Royale runs on City Theatre’s Mainstage January 21 – February 12. For tickets and more information, click here.

While we’ve got you, check out our Top 5 Musicals you don’t want to miss here!

In the mood for something a little more festive? Claire rounded up the Top 5 Holiday shows for you here.

Throughline Theatre Company has gotten a new Artistic Director! Meet Sean Sears here.

Speaking of new things, check out one of Pittsburgh’s newest theater companies, Jumping Jack Theater.

Curious about something a little more than theater? Check out Jason’s articles featuring slowdanger and The Space Upstairs.

Even Attack Theatre is loosening some screws in their upcoming show Unbolted.

We’ve been pretty busy this fall too! In case you missed anything, here are some highlights of the last three months:

Between Riverside and Crazy at the Pittsburgh Public Theater

Three Days in the Country by Kinetic Theatre

The Music Man by Stage 62

12 Angry Men by the McKeesport Little Theater

How I Learned to Drive by the Duquense Red Masquers

Salome by the Pittsburgh Opera

To Kill a Mockingbird by Prime Stage Theatre

Giselle by the Pittsburgh Ballet

Barefoot in the Park by The Theatre Factory

Prometheus Bound: A Puppet Tragedy at the Irman Freeman Center for Imagination

Pride and Prejudice by Steel City Shakespeare

Trial by Jury & Gianni Schicchi by the Pittsburgh Savoyards

The River by Quantum Theatre

The Toxic Avenger at the Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret


Shirley Valentine

Shirley-Final-WebKaren Baum infuses the title character of Shirley Valentine with the spunkiness we’ve come to expect from this versatile Pittsburgh-based actor in PICT Classic Theatre’s season opener, running since Labor Day weekend at the Union Project. What better time to throw off last year’s worries and disappointments and start anew with Shirley as she leaves the drudgery of typical 1970’s Liverpool kitchen and has new adventures on the Greek island of Crete. It’s over-the-top delight that we travel with with only Baum as she takes Willy Russell’s heroine through a full range of emotions in this witty solo show, running through Sept. 17.

Baum has proven her wide range in many PICT productions, most recently in another Russell play, Educating Rita, in which she shared the stage with only the amazing Martin Giles. Now, Russell’s words are all hers and Baum expresses Shirley’s frustrations and joys over two acts.

Baum’s energy and charm is winning in this challenge of going solo.

In her kitchen, Shirley shares the disappointments of her life and marriage. She even cooks a meal on stage and makes Shirley’s kitchen her own by hoisting herself up to share confidences while seated on the kitchen counter.

Her husband Joe takes her for granted and “likes everything the way it is.” He is “not bad,” she offers.  “He’s just no blazing good.” Joe even throws the eggs and chips she’s cooked at her when their dinner routine seems a bit “off”. “Marriage is like the Middle East,” says Shirley. “There’s no solution”.unnamed

At 42, Shirley is left unfulfilled in many ways, wondering what happened to the dreams of her youth. She decides to take a bold move, accepting her friend Jane’s invitation to take a holiday in Greece. She describes Jane as a feminist who “hates men” having discovered her own husband in bed with the milkman.

Shirley admits she is “afraid of things beyond the wall.” Her daughter pushes her over the edge, moving back home unannounced just as Shirley decides to go to Crete. “I’m going to Greece for the sex,” she yells to her daughter as she moves out as quickly.

Baum creates two Shirleys as initially her character is somewhat trapped but seizes a chance for change–or at least a view of the possibilities. Baum’s subtleties infer that Act I Shirley could be drinking too much wine for the wrong reasons; her Act II Shirley is free, independent, and enjoying life–with or without the wine–and in the company of a charming local man. Baum is particularly moving when she shares Shirley’s profound recognition “the waste of life” and how she can change her own course.

Baum creates Shirley’s conversations with her kitchen wall in Liverpool and fgrgrgfbfswith a beach rock and the sea in Greece. Her storytelling wonderfully recounts her memories and dreams with moods that range from sweet introspection to full outrage as she imitates her family members, friends, and nosey neighbors.

Baum makes great choices with Russell’s insightful script, her voice and accent, a strong flavor of Liverpudlian speech that let’s the audience into Shirley’s world. The time and culture differences in Russell’s script are noted, but not a concern as it’s Shirley we grow to care about. Baum’s excellent characterization and diction serve Shirley well with a wide variations that suit the story. So Baum is genuine whether in monologue or conversations she recreates with Joe and the other people in her life. Costumer Designer Michael Montgomery effectively dresses Shirley in simple and 1980’s outfit and an apron then a travel dress without taking a vintage look too far. Her white beach casual is topped with a silk robe–significant for it’s a gift from the very neighbor she feared would tell Joe about the Greek sojourn–and Baum’s lovely red hair provides Shirley with colorful options throughout.

Alan Stanford, PICT’s artistic director, directs Baum to take full advantage of the long, linear playing space. At one end of PICT’s new alley stage at the Union Project is Shirley’s kitchen; the other end is her surprise vacation dfagrgwervsdestination. Johnmichael Bohach’s inventive settings lie are at either end of a 35 foot long and 10 foot wide stage. The floor elevation is only 8 inches from the room’s floor, so sightlines will vary depending on the action and where patrons are seating. Generally the set and Stanford’s direction accommodate for variables, but with a solo show in alley-style only provides so many movement options for Baum, short of her spinning constantly or breaking the fourth wall (not an option played out here), so she is often in profile.

The acoustics work well enough, considering the production is acted in just one voice; Baum’s voice and great diction support her words being clearly heard with few exceptions. Steve Shapiro’s well-placed sound cues ranges from  hits of ABBA and other 1970s and ‘80s to Grecian seagulls.

Wherever you sit in PICT’s new venue, be ready to adore Karen Baum in Shirley Valentine. This show is indeed a love letter to every woman and inspiration for that power for transformation that lies within each of us.

PICT Classic Theater’s 2016-17 “Classics in the Raw” season begins Shirley Valentine, running through Sun., Sept. 17. The Union Project, 801 North Negley Ave (15206), is an accessible ramp building with ample street parking. For more accessible entry, use the Stanton Ave. entrance as the main entrance in on the Highland Ave. side of the building with steps. Note that the Union Project has two unisex restrooms for pre-show and intermission stops, as the curtain speech notes.

With a house capacity similar to the Henry Heymann (around 160 for each production), order your tickets early for this PICT season at Union Project. Each production of the PICT season has a three-week run (with several matinee options) with a post-show Q&A session, pre-show lecture, and a post-show Irish Nightcap (consult the calendar).

For tickets, seating charts, and more information check out PICT’s website here.

Special thanks to PICT Classic Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons.

A New Day for PICT Classic Theatre at the Union Project

web-banner-2It’s a new day and a new venue for PICT Classic Theatre.

“If you want immediacy, you have to change,” says Artistic and Executive Director Alan Stanford.

Now the 19-year-old company moves from the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland to the Union Project in Highland Park, “a mile away is East Liberty, Stanford notes.

It was a rainy day when Stanford first came to Pittsburgh on a tour of Waiting for Godot 10 years ago, but he loved the city immediately.

“Pittsburgh has a wonderful history. You can feel it.” As he’s taking PICT into its second decade, “the city is changing, it’s growing. It’s like a bud that’s ready to burst.”

PICT’s Artistic and Executive Director, Alan Stanford

Finding a new venue opened new production approaches for Stanford. “When you walk into a theater space the space must inform the audience about itself. When someone is cooking dinner, the first sensation must be in the nose. It whets your appetite.”

Stanford found such just a space and is taking PICT’s “Classics in the Raw” season of five plays to the Union Project’s Great Hall at 801 North Negley Ave (15206).

In a new partnership with PICT, the Union Project builds on its success as an active community venue and space that already engages some 20,000 individuals annually. The Great Hall is an intimate venue with the natural acoustic advantages of a former church worship space. While there’s a reverent vibe similar to PICT’s longtime former spaces in the University of Pittsburgh’s Stephen Foster Memorial, the Union Project seems more woody and resonant–and is even more intimate than the Charity Randall and Henry Heymann Theatres.

Photo courtesy of the Union Project's Facebook page
Photo courtesy of the Union Project’s Facebook page

Stanford calls the Great Hall (pictured above) “a perfect theatre space.” An alley-style stage will place audience members closer than ever to the company members of Pittsburgh’s leading classical company.

“This is a classic theater format, says Stanford. “Plays have been done like this much longer than on the proscenium stage. The format is much more ancient. The action takes place in a central alley with the actors playing to one another instead of 15-35 feet from the stage. Many UK theaters use this style.”

What does that look like at the Union Project? Picture two banks of audience members, facing the central “lane” and one another. Ticket buyers can select seats in four to five rows on either side of the stage area, as shown on the PICT website. The capacity of around 160 seats will vary with each production, more akin to the former Henry Heymann Theatre at Pitt. (True PICT fans may want to secure seats before the reviews for this season as PICT is known for delivering strong productions and acting that garner critical praise.)

“Classic theatre, in its purest sense, is exquisite actors telling enduring stories,” the actor-director states in the season announcement emphasizing how the Union Project fuels the actor-audience connection.

“Our job isn’t to just to entertain–and we hope we do–but that we give the audience the opportunity to examine the play in a fresh way,” Stanford says.“The fact that we are doing five very different plays is going stretch us.”

However, PICT audiences expect “stretching”. The company has never shied away from the rich language of the Irish masters, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and even David Mamet since its first season in 1997.

Stanford, who will direct most of the productions and acts in one, says “I’ve promised to build PICT as a company-based theatre. As much as possible, we use Pittsburgh talent.

“One of the beauties of Pittsburgh Theater is that all the companies have their niches. We aren’t in competition but we complement one another.”

Thus, you won’t likely find these classic plays elsewhere in town this season, only at the Union Project where PICT opens its 19th season of “Classics in the Raw” on September 1 and running through May 20. Themes of self-discovery and identity ripple through the five scripts.

Shirley-Final-WebShirley Valentine by Willy Russell, September 1- 17, showcases the versatile artistry of Karen Baum who was recently seen in Russell’s two-person jewel, Educating Rita. This time she goes solo as Shirley, a disillusioned housewife who is transformed after a life-changing adventure on a Greek island. Alan Stanford directs this season opener. Delightfully inspiring, Shirley is indeed a valentine to every woman and a one-person show filled with humor and the power of being true to oneself.Merchant-Final-Web

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, November 3-19, moves the action to the 1930’s when Jewish moneylender Shylock demands a pound of flesh as a loan repayment. At times misunderstood and always one of the Bard’s best-known plays, Merchant tells interesting and provocative stories of business, loyalty, and love. PICT favorites James FitzGerald as Shylock and Gayle Pazerski as Portia lead the cast in what director Stanford calls “a chamber play.” The audience, seating almost like jurors, may indeed expect to hear timeless words anew.

Lion-Final-WebThe Lion in Winter by James Goldman, December 1-17, invites play-goers to come home to a royally dysfunctional family, led by Stanford himself as King Henry II of England with John Shepard directing. A contemporary classic about a throne up for grabs, an imprisoned queen, and three ambitious sons, Goldman’s play provides some delightfully witty arguments and outrageous maneuvers by the residents of Chinon Castle. Stanford calls the play both beautiful and biting; PICT promises to deliver “just in time for the peace and goodwill that the holiday season brings.”

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, March 23-April 8, may be the oldest play in the season, but Stanford considers his “a Oedipus-Final-notextworld premiere version. I’m doing my trick of reinventing it.” Fate and the tragic wheel will turn in that what Stanford describers as “a play about hubris” . A diverse cast including many Pittsburgh actors is featured  Resonant with lessons from the human story, Oedipus should be part of every theatre-goer’s collective experience.

Sive by John B. Keane (Sharon’s Grave), May 4-20, brings Keane work back to Sive-Final-text-02PICT. This story was inspired by the real hardships and choices of those struggling mid-century County Kerry where the play was first produced. (The title character’s name is the English version of an Irish name meaning “sweet” and rhymes with “hive). Sive is a young woman who might save her family from poverty by marrying an old man, but she loves another. Her story may be derived from ageless tales of star-crossed lovers, but echoes with the true dilemmas of women across cultures.

Appropriately, Stanford conjures the wisdom of a great Irish playwright when discussing PICT’s new season and venue. When George Bernard Shaw wrote his Saint Joan for Sybil Thorndike, he inscribed the script to “Saint Sybil” from Saint Bernard and observed:

“We must always change. Change is everything in the theater.”

Taking personal inspiration from the classics and embracing the possibilities change creates, Stanford concurs: “I’m an old man in a hurry!”


PICT Classic Theatre opens its 2016-17 season with Shirley Valentine, previewing Sept. 1 and 2, opening night Sat., Sept. 3, and running through Sept. 17. Each production of the PICT season has a three-week run with on post-show Q&A session, a pre-show lecture, and a post-show Irish Nightcap (consult the calendar).

Options for five-show subscriptions (opening nights, standard, and young adult for ages 19-30) and a flexible  pass (for 4 to 14 tickets) are on sale. Also available are single tickets ranging generally from $15 for audience members age 18 and under) or $25 (for age 19-30) to $45 or $50 (depending on day/date of performance). A senior ticket is offered at $35 for those age 65 and over for select shows, as are a family four-pack, group rates and student matinees.

Tickets may be purchased online or call the box office at 412-561-6000. See the PICT website for all details and view a seating chart when you select dates and tickets.

Two Tales of Terror

2E14A3B3F-B1B4-515B-57DFBC1885C2FFA5The Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater (PICT) is currently showing “Two Tales of Terror,” an excellently executed adaptation of the famous Edgar Allen Poe stories, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher. Adapted for the stage by Alan Stanford, the performance utilized minimal actors, props, or set pieces…however, vibrant and vivid imagery continued to flow through the reels of my imagination throughout the entire show. In the first segment of the 85 minute show, I found that the actor, Justin Lonesome, telling us story of The Tell-Tale Heart had such clear and apparent intention. Drawing the audience in through specific and captivating blocking and a manipulation of the voice that you might hear in your nightmares, I felt myself on the edge of my seat despite the fact I know very well how the story goes. I felt more like I was being told a story one on one, rather than seeing a performance in a room full of people.

The Fall of the House of Usher was the second segment of my night of terror. This adaptation of Mr. Poe’s work introduced us to three characters. Usher himself, portrayed by Jonathan Visser, was just as I had imagined him, looking like royalty. The uptight saunter Visser gave the character may seem like small detail, but this was one of my favorite parts of the show. The way in which the narrator and Usher’s sister Madeline (James Fitzgerald and Karen Baum), used their movement to bring not only words to life, but imagery and props as well.

Also, absolutely fabulous job on the makeup and costume design, especially in the House of Usher. Usher and his delusional sister look truly gaunt, truly terrifying, truly how Poe would have wanted them to look. I would have to say my favorite part of the show was the revival of Madeline, in which there was a flash of lightning, then darkness, and then as the lights rose, Madeline appeared covered in blood!. I jumped, but in a good way! Working beautifully with the movement of the actors and flow of the words throughout the whole show, I felt the lighting offered a heavy contribution to the creepy, haunted-house feeling of the show.

If you are faint of nerve or prone to nightmares, this may not be the show for you, but for those of us who enjoy a good ghost story, or a gnarly horror movie…. This is a must see!

Special thanks to PICT Classic Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Two Tales of Terror runs through Friday May 20th at the Henry Heymann Theatre. For tickets and more information, click here.

*Please note, the performance that was reviewed was a preview.