Our Town

OurTown-Poster-WebThornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town, marks the opening of the mainstage season for University of Pittsburgh Stages in the newly renovated Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre.

Our Town is a deceptively easy play to produce, famously requiring a minimal set and easily understood dialogue. But don’t let the surface simplicity fool you; this is a production that to be fully realized requires nuanced acting, a firm control of pacing, and obsessive attention to detail.

The problem starts with the director’s note, which focused on the casting choices for the show, explaining casting was not based on “physical appearance,” but instead on “who seemed to inhabit the character in an interesting and/or compelling way.”  The director’s note went on to explain how the casting affected the interpretation of character and dialogue. All well and good, but the result of this self-conscious emphasis on the casting was to draw focus away from the play itself and onto the actors, not the story. In practice, director Ricardo Vila-Roger seems to have attempted to create a production that allowed for racial diversity and gender equity. Commendable goals, and I applaud the attempt, but he “over-corrected” sometimes from my perspective.

He was most successful at building an ethnically diverse acting company, who worked well as an ensemble, giving committed, balanced performances. In fact, I think this production was more successful at providing a racially diverse cast than most of the productions I’ve seen in Pittsburgh in recent years. Kudos for that! What I didn’t like was the inauthentic use of Spanish for some of the Webbs’ dialogue. To my admittedly limited ears, it didn’t sound like any of the actors were actually native Spanish speakers; the accents were off, and so the addition of Spanish in the play didn’t seem organic. I didn’t mind the idea, but the execution was clumsy, which took away from the performances in the end.

Mr. Vila-Roger was less successful in his decisions around gender in the casting. He did not cast traditionally with the gender of the actor matching the gender of the character in all cases. Nor did he use gender-neutral casting to fill the roles, where actors don’t necessarily play characters that match their own gender. Instead, he cast several females as male characters, and then changed all of those characters to females. (Side note: he did not cast any males as female characters.) For me, this just didn’t work. It created too many anachronistic moments that simply did not mesh with the period dialogue of the play. This was especially egregious in the case of “Editor Webb” — Mr. Webb in the original script. The decision was made to play “Editor Webb” as a female character, leaving us in the audience to reconcile the idea that an openly lesbian couple would be married and have children in 1901 small town New Hampshire. While it’s a nice thought, it stretches the bounds of verisimilitude past the breaking point. It takes you out of the play too much. Not to mention that Editor Webb’s dialogue, particularly that between him/herself and George before and during the wedding simply didn’t work with a female Editor Webb. The dialogue, written in the 1930’s about the early 1900’s, wasn’t built for that kind of a stretch.

Let me be clear, I have no problem with actors of any gender playing characters of any gender. There is a long history of this practice, and it works quite well. But this changing of the character’s gender to match the actor’s gender seems almost regressive, as though women can’t play male roles. And, ultimately it takes the audience out of the world of the play.

In the end, by focusing the audience so much on his casting, by trying to be everything to everybody, and by trying to make an early twentieth century play fit the model of a twenty-first-century ideal, the director created a tortuous framework that distracted the audience from the simple meditation on ordinary life and death that is Our Town.

Despite all of these concerns, I commend Mr. Vila-Roger on this production, because it does what good university theater should do – it experiments with the form; it reimagines traditions; it allows a space for both professional and casual theater practitioners to expand the limits of their work.

This production of Our Town was a pleasant, university level production with good production values. I especially liked the directorial/design choice made at the end of the play when Emily’s ghost returns to her past to visit her family, and we see the colors and details of the world that Emily missed in life (you’ll have to see it to understand what I mean). The show was moving, bringing several audience members to tears in the third act. And best of all, the actors were emotionally brave and committed to their performances.

Our Town is playing at The Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre on the University of Pittsburgh’s Oakland campus, through October 15, 2017.  For tickets, call 412-624-7529 or visit www.play.pitt.edu

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. 

Orphie and the Book of Heroes

oatbohPittsburgh’s oldest amateur theatre company, The Duquesne Red Masquers opens its 105th season with Orphie and the Book of Heroes. This season’s selection of shows co-ordinates with The National Conference of 18th Century Women Writers that will be hosted by Duquesne University, and what better way to kick off the season than a girl-empowering musical by Duquesne alumnus Christopher Dimond?  The playwright wanted to focus on a teenage girl in ancient Greece since there are little or no female heroes in ancient Greek mythology.

The musical follows the story of Orphie (Samantha Espiritu), a spunky young girl who is obsessed with the stories that her guardian Homer (Max Begler) has told her. She longs, though, to hear a story about a Great Girl Hero.  Orphie has to put her own powers to the test when Homer is taken from her by the god of the dead and riches, the sinister song-and-dance man Hades (Grant Shadrach Jones).

The quest to rescue Homer takes her from the heights of Mt. Olympus to the depths of the underworld. As the journey progresses, she realizes that the girl hero she’s been looking for is closer than she thought.

Orphie and the Book of Heroes offers fun mash-ups of Greek Culture and our modern world filled with humor and unexpected character twists, geared for a preteen audience. Not only does it strive to empower young girls by example, it makes classical Greek mythology fun.

This is the fourth production of Orphie and the Book of Heroes. It was originally commissioned for and premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2014. One of Dimond’s goals was to create a “producible” musical for family audiences. Productions of Greek mythology conjure up grand adventures on an epic and inherently expensive scale beyond the resources of many theatre groups. The production is intended to be colorful yet simplistic in its design and presentation.

Director Jill Jeffrey (Executive Director of Pittsburgh’s Gemini Children’s Theatre) succeeds in creating an intimate epic on the Genesius Theatre stage with a slightly larger number of actors than Kennedy Center, still with many playing double or triple roles. Standouts go to Samantha Espiritu’s energetic and enchanted Orphie, Grant Shadrach Jones’ evil Hades and Max Begler, channeling a younger John Stewart, as Homer. Typical of Red Masquers productions, the cast and crew come from a variety of majors, not just theatre arts. Choreographer Katheryn Hess does a nice job of scaling the choreography to the scene design and performance space, engaging but not over done.

The cast clearly enjoyed performing. However, theatre pieces aimed at children and preteens are best enjoyed when they make up a large portion of the audience. Their enthusiasm and excitement is contagious for both actors and audience. That would have helped put this production of Orphie and the Book of Heroes over the top.

Orphie and the Book of Heroes is playing at the Genesius Theatre on the campus of Duquesne University from September 29th – October 15th with performances Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm.

Tickets can be purchased at http://www.duqredmasquers.com/purchase-tickets

Note: Parking can be a tad expensive on Penguin home game nights.

Thanks to the Red Masquers for the complimentary tickets.

The Scottsboro Boys

20863574_10155638855594464_1555720063175253618_oAs we began to write The Scottsboro Boys, it was immediately apparent why it was so important to tell their story.  Behind the headlines, the spectacle, the ongoing trials, the histrionics of politicians and lawyers was the story of nine young African American boys, determined to prove that they mattered…

–Composer, John Kander

Black lives matter.  Let’s consider also that the immensity of any individual life has to be looked at directly to show how and why—to enable a life to sing.  Pittsburgh Playhouse’s production of The Scottsboro Boys traps you into looking with its first breath, it opens on the silent chorus: an African-American woman, beginning to hyperventilate.

From the start, this is a violent twist of emotions.  It rings with the insanity of a culture whose proud integrity has been entirely and hypocritically forsaken.  It brings us to face nine individuals who are smacked suddenly with the fake virtue of a fiction called Justice and the humor of nonsense as horror.

The bitter irony of displaying this trial as a minstrel mimics the level of absurdity existent in Alabama’s justice system in 1931—Everything is a righteous farce.  Everybody is a clown.

Ivy Fox as The lady
Ivy Fox as The lady

We get to see this reflected in the eyes of that silent muse; the one woman chorus, Ivy Fox’s Lady.  Her silent acting does something for this show that manages it, conducts it.  It’s a powerful and strange tool, to have an emoting chorus who says almost nothing and yet says absolutely everything with her emanating presence.

Welcome to this world, a psychotic other dimension led by superstar showmen Billy Mason and Jr Whittington as Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo.  These hosts are exceptionally powerful guides through the odyssey.  They fill ironic roles: the minstrelsy, fools.  Mason’s side-eye as he performs the tasks of Sheriff WhiteMan or Whittington’s haphazardness in his role as lawyer Johnny Walker; they are a strew of characters, diving into a critically injured American psyche that is in denial until satire can see it.  And they both lead sensationally.

Susan Stroman, the original Director and choreographer, remarks,

Typically minstrelsy uses white actors to portray African Americans in ways that are negative and disrespectful.  But we asked ourselves, ‘What if it were a group of African Americans playing white people?’  It would allow these nine actors to play white women, white prison guards, white sheriffs, white judges: it would allow them to play parts they would otherwise never play.

21457457_10155695876934464_8669559662130794580_oThis power gives credence to a performance like Joseph Fedore’s Eugene Williams, a 13-year-old boy who was sentenced to death for a crime he doesn’t even understand; tap dancing a song about the electric chair as he suffers the terror of having persistent nightmares about it.  The twisted and beautiful take on a holocaust moment where a terrified teenage boy and two corpses (Steven Etienne and Scott Kelly) can suddenly breakout into truly whimsical movement reflects a splendid, musical softness within such a deep, destitute lostness:

Hey little boy

look over there

that’s what they call

an eleca-tric chair

Or perhaps the same minstrelsy is reflected in performances like Jared Smith and Lamont Walker II’s as two Alabama ladies who accuse the Scottsboro Nine of a false rape.  So there are two of the Scottsboro Nine, then also playing their villainous false victims: what a quandary.  This preys upon the mercy for rape victims and satisfies the salvation of one at the expense of the many others who, with this false testimony, did not matter.  How to perform this on stage and yet still execute the joke of the substance, the sickness?

It’s done camp, with panache and with diva flare.  Charles Weems plays the hoot of his Victoria Price, the hammed up damsel in distress, playing on the rich cream of a woman’s successful acting causing nine men to be imprisoned and tortured for nothing.  The haunt of her success story is the catastrophe of these innocent men.  Or Walker II’s Ruby Bates, who within her song “Never Too Late” attempts to retract her testimony only to be met with a justice system who refuses her repentance.  Oh, how Lamont Walker II plays this woman up!  He brings her fully fledged, over-the-top to a place which takes the drag of it to a new level: he divas this woman, this false, redemptive victim into her breach into the mythology of the story: women are victims too.  It’s society that’s not real, that allows for this breach of trust.  And it’s a sorrowful farce, that rape culture can immediate the dramatic purging of nine black men, but the reality is we live in a cruel world with no clear answers and no promise of true justice.  So what do you do?  You sing.

21367051_10155695876799464_1080342176479291535_oThe entire ensemble carries so much precision and talent.  This show truly empowers in a creepy, disturbing way.  It irks to the point of inspiration.  It compels by getting under your skin.  Director and Choreographer Tomé Cousin leaves not a second of this two-hour show untapped for its active involvement with the audience.  It is so well-played, well-cast and harrowing.

I give special credence to Lighting Designer Andrew David Ostrowski whose seamless touchings of the characters provides a wealth of world within the limited stage frame.  The set was absolutely stunning within its minimal capacity, in that with almost nothing it does nothing but provide.  The brilliance of the chair set pieces, which construct and deconstruct so many levels of staging, show the capacity for a musical to be simple and so contained.  I loved those damn chairs.

This was an amazing, aggravating, horrifying and explosively powerful show.  I just wish it didn’t feel so relevant too.  I’ve never seen a tragedy so comedically charged, ironic and desperate; and so beautiful and horrifying as this.

The Scottsboro Boys plays at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland through September 24. For tickets and more information click here

Photos by John Altdorfer.

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!

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.

Carlow University Presents Alumni Show This Fall

528219_10151395835667183_921612747_nFall is approaching, and students are already moving back into the dorms. That means fall semester auditions are about to start at local universities. And although Carlow University in Oakland doesn’t have a theatre degree program, they have an impressive drama group putting on several must-see shows every year. Maybe I’m a bit biased because Carlow is my alma mater and I have spent many hours upon that stage, but Carlow’s shows are consistently underrated. Because there is no dedicated theatre major, all the work that goes into each show is on a volunteer basis. The students that come together to spent hours rehearsing, building sets, and performing are all doing it because they love the art. They give up their free time to make these shows happen, and it really shows in the craft they present.

The cast of the 2008 alumni production of Much Ado About Nothing
The cast of the 2008 alumni production of Much Ado About Nothing

Carlow’s theatre director and professor Steve Fatla has overseen the theatre group at Carlow for many years now, and his enthusiasm for the art is what keeps the group alive and thriving. I can personally say that working with this group is always a fun and rewarding experience, even if we all have the urge to drink many alcoholic things after the shows. Carlow’s theatre group has a kind of closeness that I don’t often see in other theatrical organizations I’ve worked for in Pittsburgh. It’s not a job, it’s a passion.

One great example of how this group bonds is the annual alumni show. Once a year, all alum are invited to come back and audition for a show or to work on the crew in some aspect. This fall will be Carlow’s tenth annual alumni show. The first was Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in 2008. It was an all-female cast, which was intentional! Carlow is a mostly female campus, but this theatre group has its share of men wandering through. Since then, every year has seen a different alumni show, mixing roughly half veteran Carlow thespians with current students, both on stage and back stage. Everyone helps build the sets, and everyone helps tear down the sets before a cast party on the final night.

The cast of the alumni production of The Tempest in 2013
The cast of the alumni production of The Tempest in 2013

This year’s alumni show will be Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, the hilarious and dark take on what happens to Shakespeare’s characters when they’re not on stage during Hamlet. Steve Fatla will be directing, and as always there will be a mix of alum and student actors and crew. Auditions will happen shortly, and the show will run Oct 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, & 21 at 8pm in the Antonian Theatre on Carlow’s campus. For those of you who never seem to know where that is, get on Fifth Avenue in Oakland going away from Pitt towards town. You can’t miss it! The theatre is in the first building on the hill, but there will be signs. Tickets are $15 for this show, with discounts for students and seniors. If you want to make a reservation for this show, or if you have any questions about the show or the group, you can call the box office at 412-578-8749 or email Steve directly at sfatla@carlow.edu.

After the alumni show, the Carlow University Theatre Group will also be presenting their annual show of one acts. These shows are free to attend, but the material and casts have yet to be determined. You can find out more information on this show by seeing Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in October. And keep your eyes open for future Carlow performances. You might just be surprised with what you see!

For more information about Carlow University’s Theatre Minor program, click here. 

Duquesne Red Masquers’ Ambitious 105th Season

105Pittsburgh’s oldest amateur theatre company, The Duquesne Red Masquers has quite the ambitious upcoming 105th season. Orphie and the Book of Heroes, The Busy Body, Macbeth and Equus would be a challenge for any professionally staffed company let alone a university company. Nathaniel Yost, Red Masquers’ President says “This upcoming season is going to be fantastic!”

The Red Masquers’ roots go back to the late 1800s. The company provides an opportunity for students to learn about and participate in theater regardless of their major, background or experience.

I asked Yost how they picked their choices for such a challenging season. “The Red Masquers, as part of a university theater program, has several missions to fill. The group presents plays from a wide spectrum of historical eras, styles, and types of drama. We try to choose plays that will be incorporated into class offerings in the semester that the works are being presented. We are also committed to developing and promoting new works of art, and we usually produce one world premiere a season. This year’s season was selected to showcase our talented seniors and alumni, as well as, co-ordinate with The National Conference of 18th Century Women Writers that will be hosted by Duquesne University.”

dasfefeOpening this season is Orphie and the Book of Heroes! a new musical by Duquesne alumnus Christopher Dimond.  Orphie was commissioned for and premiered at the Kennedy Center. This will be only the fourth production of the new musical. Jill Jeffrey who is Executive Director of Pittsburgh’s Gemini Children’s Theatre directs. The musical follows the story of a young girl in Ancient Greece, who is obsessed with the stories that her guardian Homer has told her. She longs, though, to hear a story about a hero like her, a Great Girl Hero. When Homer is taken from her, Orphie sets out on a quest to rescue him from the Underworld, and discovers that the hero she’s been looking for might be closer than she thought. This one-act musical is filled with humor, unexpected character twists, and fun mash-ups of Greek Culture and our modern world. Orphie and the Book of Heroes is an entertaining musical for all ages.

Next is The Busy Body directed by John E. Lane, Jr., Director of Duquesne University’s Theatre Arts program.  Susanna Centlivre’s play is a fast-paced comedy with a good measure of wit. It is a laugh-out-loud, one-of-a-kind, social satire about people who can’t mind their own business. The Busy Body comes from one of the great female playwrights of the 18th century and is simply one of the most successful comedies of intrigue from its time.

The Busy Body, will be offered for The National Conference of 18th Century Women Writers.

The Red Masquers will produce One Acts for Charity. This is a group of one act plays directed and performed by the students of the university. The money donated during these shows benefits a local charity that will be revealed at a later date.

The second semester starts off with Shakespeare’s Macbeth which is directed by Duquesne senior Dora Farona! The “Scottish play” is a classical masterpiece of the macabre. Macbeth transforms as he resists and gives way to his ambitious urges, which lead him to be tempted into committing heinous acts. It is a dark and bloody show, filled with rage, grief, and an unquenchable thirst for power.

Macbeth will be the senior thesis project for several of the Theater Arts majors, Director Dora Farona, actor Nathaniel Yost (Macbeth), and Sound Designer, Anna Cunningham.

Following Macbeth, is Equus written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Justin Sines who also Serves as Technical Director of the Genesius Theatre at Duquesne and who also directs for Pittsburgh’s Summer Company. This stage show, which won winner 1975 Tony Award for Best Play, tells the story of a psychiatrist who attempts to treat a young man who has a pathological religious fascination with horses.

Equus rounds out the season as a thought-provoking, modern play that challenges young scholars about both social structures and the nature of passion.

Finally, the Red Masquers close off their season with Premieres XLI! Premieres offers a time for any current student or faculty member to see their work on stage. After the plays are chosen by the directors, productions will begin with a collaborative process between the actors, directors, and writers. This will be directed and performed by students of the university.

The Red Masquers have a jam-packed season, everyone is invited to come enjoy some interesting theatre.

Tickets can be purchased at http://www.duqredmasquers.com/purchase-tickets

All productions are at the Genesius Theatre on the Duquesne University campus.

Finding New Solutions in Old Problems: Pitt Stages’ Upcoming Season

10547577_925614320797878_2778221222100940625_nFor an extraordinary variety of reasons better cataloged elsewhere, it is a confusing time to be a young person in America. Thanks to a blame game-y media environment, one needs only type in the phrase “Millenials Are Killing” into Google’s search bar to admire our various war crimes against chain restaurants and department stores (or whatever). This generational hostility has created a kind of disinterest in what Millennials actually feel about the world around them to older generations – which is what makes college theater a more important space than it has been in a long time.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Theater program features an unusual amount of agency for its student body. Besides playing host to a series of shows that are entirely student run, the program also allows its students to have a say in what mainstage shows, which are typically directed by theater professors, will end up making the cut. This season features an eclectic mix of classics with a twist and unconventional works by contemporary writers, and will likely be an opportunity to hear young voices in a raw creative setting.

OurTown-Poster-WebFirst up at the University of Pittsburgh Theater’s fall season is Our Town. Originally written by Thornton Wilder, Our Town is primarily about the complexities of small town life in early 1900’s America. However, Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama isn’t your average slice of life Americana. Rather, it is a dark, complex reflection on life and death. The play is a working definition of minimalism in theater, featuring performances that, on the whole, are voice-less, and an omniscient narrator who directly addresses his audience.

Despite its familiar old-school trappings, director Ricardo Vila-Roger stressed to me that Pitt’s production would be immediate, and prescient.

“[Our Town]…is possibly even more important today, in that everyone is kind of rushing to get to the next thing,” Vila-Roger said. “Our main character [doesn’t realize] all she’s missed because she’s not paying attention to what’s in front of her. It’s the same today with cell phones.”

The production will also, unlike Wilder’s original production, feature a diverse cast.  “We’re telling the story of a lot of people, not just one kind of person. If I’m going to create a town on stage, I’m going to create the town I’d want to live in.”

Our Town will run from October 5th to the 15th at the Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre.

Parade-PosterNext up is Parade, a musical based on a true story that was originally written by Alfred Uhry with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, this time directed by Rob Frankenberry. Of all the shows in Pitt’s upcoming season, Parade is easily the story that most encapsulates contemporary social discourse. Our main character is Leo Frank, a Jewish American accused of murder whose wildly unethical trial was a keystone moment in the founding of the Anti-Defamation League, as well as an inciting action in the reformation of the KKK.

The musical, set in 1913, follows several characters of some historical import, including an opportunistic journalist who capitalized on the event, a jury fueled by the distrust of outsiders, and the hapless man at the trial’s center.

Vila-Roger described the musical as “important, and very difficult,” It is also a potential moment for reflection for its audience and cast. “The music is beautiful, and I think the message – good Lord – is so important right now.”

Parade will be performed from November 9th through the 19th at the Charity Randall Theatre.

Besides Pitt’s mainstage shows, the theater also produces Student Lab shows, which are almost entirely directed and produced by students. The first student lab show is [title of show], an extraordinarily meta musical that is about its own creation and execution. Originally written by Jeff Bowen, [title of show] is quite literally a work in progress, beginning with the cast – all playing themselves in the show’s initial production – discussing what the opening of their new show should sound like as they’re performing their initial brainstorm. Pitt’s production will be directed by Alex Ditmar and will run from October 18th through the 22nd at the Henry Heymann theater.

Next comes Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck!, directed by Chloe Torrence and originally written by Jay Torrence. The play is a fictionalized retelling of a real tragedy that befell the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in 1918 when a train collided with the circus’ caravan, resulting in many of the performers’ dwellings being set ablaze. More than 80 lives were lost, and over a hundred more were injured. Roustabout, however, focuses on the colorful lives of those affected, and seeks to extract something more from the senseless accident. It will run from November 15th through the 19th at the Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre.

Those looking for more originality and thematic complexity in their night at the theater will find that there’s plenty more to discover in Pitt’s Student Lab Show’s upcoming productions. There’s The Lifeboat is Sinking, a Shel Silverstein one act comedy about a woman who forces her husband to imagine their bed is a sinking ship and the boat’s dead weight his mother. The show will premiere alongside a production of An Oblation, a short one act written by the ever-inventive Taylor Mac, which is a comedy about two women who catalogue the deaths of friends and acquaintances at their own version of the last supper. Ann Amundson will direct both. Then, there is Victory on Mrs. Dandywine’s Island, written by Lanford Wilson and directed by Zev Woskoff, which is an Oscar Wilde-style spoof of high society. All three of these shows will be performed simultaneously on January 31st to February 4th at the Henry Heymann Theatre.

Pitt’s final Student Lab show will show will be Suddenly Last Summer, an underappreciated Tennesse Williams drama about a woman whose mental instability hides a dark family secret. It will be directed by Nic Bernstein and will run from April 11th through the 15th at the Henry Heymann Theater.

Meanwhile, the remaining Mainstage Productions will be a mix of the classic and contemporary, continuing with a production of Howard Ashman’s well-revered musical adaptation of the B-Movie cult classic, Little Shop of Horrors. The show will be performed on February 8th through the 18th at the Charity Randall Theatre and be directed by Reginald Douglas. This will be followed by a production of Upton Sinclair’s Marie Antoinette, directed by LeMil Eiland and running from February 15th to the 25th. The mainstage’s final production will be an original play written and directed by Cynthia Croot named Recoil. It will run from April 5th to the 15th.

At its best, university theater is a space in which people can essentially attend a show to see what’s next in American drama, and the University of Pittsburgh’s upcoming season has the potential to be particularly potent.

For tickets and more information about the University of Pittsburgh’s upcoming season, click here.

Point Park Gets to Work on Another Eight Shows at the Pittsburgh Playhouse

11391480_10153367774739464_1509896223937134191_nSummer may be ending, but things are about to heat up at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland.

The home of Point Park University theatre— The REP Professional Theatre Company and the Conservatory Theatre Company—is about to welcome eight exciting new productions into its hallowed halls for its 2017-2018 season. Artistic Director Ron Lindblom confirms that the amount of enjoyment the audience receives from the high-quality productions is equal to the educational benefits that the student cast and crew members receive.

“The Conservatory is geared towards training young artists and these classics really give the students the opportunity to get the training they need,” he said. It’s a win/win situation for anyone who steps foot in one of Point Park’s theatre spaces with the only variable being the shows in question that are chosen.

WebPosterBOYSKicking things off for Point Park’s season is a critically-acclaimed musical, authored by one of musical theatre’s most prolific and iconic writing teams. Making its Pittsburgh premiere, The Scottsboro Boys with music and lyrics by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb tells the dramatic true story of nine African-American teenagers falsely accused of sexually assaulting two white women on a train riding through Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. The media circus and infamous series of trials that followed were plagued by extreme prejudice against the defendants and unfair judicial practices. If you’re expecting the fun conventions of musical theatre to make the dark subject matter more palatable, you’re out of luck here.

As they did with shows like Cabaret, Chicago, and Curtains, Kander and Ebb have brilliantly framed this tragic narrative in a distinct and unique theatrical style. Rather than using vaudeville or golden age musical comedy as its structure, The Scottsboro Boys is built as a minstrel show. In the early 19th century, these performances featured mostly white actors in blackface mocking African-Americans. In Kander and Ebb’s musical, originally directed on Broadway by Susan Stroman, the tropes of the minstrel show are employed to underline the countless injustices that ruined the lives of the titular characters. Lindblom laments that he finds “great relevance” for a story about black men being discriminated against in the legal system in the headlines of the modern world. Fortunately, this production is being helmed by Tomè Cousin whose frequent collaboration with Stroman makes him “perfect” director for this piece. The Scottsboro Boys plays at the Rauh Theatre from September 8-24.

Thankfully for patrons looking for musicals that provide some level of escapism, there are productions of Kiss Me, Kate and 42nd Street in the pipeline following The Scottsboro Boys.

WebPosterKATEBoth are “backstage musicals” that tell stories of two troubled theatre productions. Original Tony Award-winning Best Musical Kiss Me, Kate—featuring a classic score by Cole Porter and a book by Sam and Bella Spewack—introduces us to divorced couple Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi who are co-starring in a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Although it’s clear that love still lingers between them, they simply cannot stand each other. They’re surrounded by a host of wacky characters, including a pair of gangsters with a bone to pick with Fred, who prove against all comedic odds that the show must go on. Kiss Me, Kate runs at the Rockwell Theatre from October 20-29.

WebPoster42Wide-eyed ingenue Peggy Sawyer is the heroine of the tap-tastic musical 42nd Street. The only thing bigger than her dreams of stardom are the show’s numerous dance breaks supplied by Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s score. Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book is the tale as old as time in show business of what happens when an inexperienced understudy takes over for a seasoned star. What happens is musical theatre magic that has been enchanting audiences since legendary director Gower Champion’s original 1980 Broadway production. 42nd Street also plays the Rockwell Theatre from March 16-25.

As usual, Point Park offers as much variety in genre, setting, and subject matter in their play selections for the season as they do in their musical selections. Whether contemporary or classic, the scripts illuminate points of views of a diverse group of characters.

WebPosterMOORSIn the case of Jaclyn Backhaus’ You on the Moors Now, playing at the Studio Theater from November 10-December 3, those characters are rather well known. Jane Eyre, Lizzy Bennet. Cathy Earnshaw, and Jo March are no longer just well-established fixtures of high school English class syllabi. Backhaus imagines the four 19th century literary leading ladies running away together and comparing notes on what their experiences in life have taught them. The women exist in a sort of timeless state where modern references and profanity are fair game for their epic girl talk session.

WebPosterALBAThe five women in Frederico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba would most likely also benefit from a vacation from their dissatisfying lives. They are all sisters who spend their time dreaming of getting out of their mother’s house and truly experiencing life. Their routine is broken by the appearance of town hunk Pepe el Romano and his flirtation with the family’s eldest sister. Desire under the Bernarda Alba’s roof proves to be a dangerous thing that sets the stage for a frank look at the ways in which members of the opposite sex relate. The House of Bernarda Alba plays at the Rauh Theater from February 23-March 11.

WebPosterDEVILRussian literature served as the inspiration for Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s black comedy A Devil Inside. This gory romp sees Gene receiving far more than just cake on his 21st birthday. His mother finally reveals the truth behind his father’s death—he was murdered!—and insists that it is Gene’s duty to avenge him. He’s simultaneously disturbed by the request and distracted by his infatuation with Caitlin, who lusts after her Russian literature professor who lusts after the blood of his nemesis. For the non-squeamish, A Devil Inside runs at the Studio Theater from February 2-18.

The final two shows are either adaptations or translations of well-known works and living, breathing proof that theatre is an ageless, universal language.

WebPosterMAGIThe Gift of the Magi, adapted by Jon Jory, opens at the Rauh Theatre just in time for the holiday season. From December 8-17, you can learn the valuable lesson at the center of the story of Della and Jim Young. They are a young couple struggling to make end’s meet, but who are still determined to make Christmas special for one another by purchasing the perfect gifts. As with most stories set around that time of year, the true meaning of the season is explored to touching effect.

WebPosterVANYALast but not least is Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya playing from April 6-15 at the Rauh Theater. It’s an example of one of Chekhov’s estate dramas that features as much unrequited love as you can fit on a single stage. The enchanting Yelena is the object of two men’s affections. Unfortunately, they are crippled by profound existential crises exacerbated by the facts that she’s married and the estate, on which Vanya, one of the men, lives, is about to be sold. It’s all in a day’s work for a Chekhov character.

Along with The Scottsboro Boys, Kiss Me, Kate, and A Devil Inside, one performance of Uncle Vanya will be followed by a lecture in a completely new series called Freud on Forbes. Representatives from the Pittsburgh Psychoanalytic Center will take audience members into the writers’ brains armed only with the text of the script. These talks are sure to take your post-show conversations with friends to the next level. And that’s fitting because Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse 2017-2018 season of shows seeks to do the same thing for theatre.

For tickets and more information on the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s upcoming season, click here.