You on the Moors Now

WebMOORSIt is an interesting phenomenon when the storytelling trends currently dominating the television and film landscapes creep up in the theatre world.

Every new project announced nowadays, whether it’s for the big or small screen, seems to be either a reboot of a previously successful property or some sort of crossover event that brings together fan favorite characters for an epic adventure. This year alone, we’ve seen the first installment in the third incarnation of the Spider-Man film franchise and, later this week, the Justice League will assemble for the first time in a live action movie.

On the other side of the genre and content spectrum from those blockbusters, Point Park’s Conservatory Theatre Company presents a surprisingly physical and universally stunning production of Jaclyn Backhaus’s play You on the Moors Now

Backhaus’s script operates as a reboot/sequel to some of the 19th century’s greatest novels that have since become staples of high school syllabi around the world. The play opens as the worlds of Jo March (from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women), Jane Eyre (the titular character in Charlotte Brontë’s novel), Catherine “Cathy” Earnshaw (from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights), and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennet (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) collide during pivotal moments in all their lives. They have each received marriage proposals from their respective love interests and, to their surprise, they’ve all said no. Now, they are all left with an even bigger and more difficult question to answer: What’s next?

Julia Small (Elizabeth Bennett), Madeline Watkins (Cathy), Aenya Ulke (Jane Eyre), & Shannon Donovan (Jo March)
Julia Small (Elizabeth Bennett), Madeline Watkins (Cathy), Aenya Ulke (Jane Eyre), & Shannon Donovan (Jo March)

Their decisions to abandon their homes and families and strike out on their own have disastrous effects for the people in their lives. It’s definitely a four way tie for who handles this the most poorly between the young women’s jilted suitors Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff, and Mr. Darcy. With the help of some colorful supporting characters from each of the novels, the men hunt down our heroines. Their search leads them into the mysterious world of the moors where Jo, Jane, Cathy, and Lizzie have set up camp.

An all out battle of the sexes ensues between the gendered factions. It takes disfigurement and death on both sides to bring the conflict to an end. Even though it’s not until ten years after the end of the war that we meet our characters again, it’s clear that those who survived are still dealing with the pain of their psychological scars. In one way or another, our four heroines find peace within themselves and with the choices they’ve made in their lives.

Bryan Gannon (Fitzwilliam Darcy), Evan Wormald (Mr. Rochester) & Micah Stanek (Heathcliff)
Bryan Gannon (Fitzwilliam Darcy), Evan Wormald (Mr. Rochester) & Micah Stanek (Heathcliff)

I’m sorry to be purposely vague on the plot details of You on the Moors Now, but I think the best way to experience the show is knowing as little as possible. There are tons of twists, turns, and Easter eggs for fans of the books. But, if you’re like me and you got stuck reading Ernest Hemingway and Aldous Huxley in high school instead of Alcott, Austen, and the Brontë sisters, you’ll love getting to know these bright, quirky young women and easily identify with their struggle for independence

While I maintain that on paper this play sounds like a television or movie pitch waiting to happen, I credit director Sheila McKenna with employing thrilling movement and combat sequences to give the piece an impact that only theatre can achieve. As the play skillfully subverts our expectations and perceptions of these classic characters, she along with dance captain Meghan Halley and fight captain Shannon Donovan raise the stakes of what could be considered by an especially cynical viewer as simply feminist fan fiction. The way that the opening line dance and the fight scene that ends Act II echo each other is truly poetic.

It is a story 100% by and about women that is truly feminist for the way it establishes women and men as equally fearsome adversaries on the battlefield and equally able to make and learn from their mistakes.

Unfortunately, for all of their talents, McKenna, Halley, and Donovan are not able to rescue the production from its tidy and tedious ending in the play’s third act. That task is left to the show’s designers Tucker Topel (sets), Terra Marie Skirtich (costumes), and Heather Edney (lights), whose work was a beauty to behold for the entire show but definitely shone brightest in its final moments.

Meghan Halley (Nelly Dean, Beth, Jane Bennett) & Adam Rossi (Joseph, Marmee)
Meghan Halley (Nelly Dean, Beth, Jane Bennett) & Adam Rossi (Joseph, Marmee)

The actors literally wore their characters’ emotions on the sleeves in outfits that looked like they were ripped from the runway of a 19th century-inspired Urban Outfitters collection. You’ll truly feel like you’re in the world of a book with the walls painted to resemble scorched parchment pages and where you can be transported from deep in the woods to high in the stars in an instant.

It will be hard to witness a more energetic and charismatic ensemble than the one featured in this production. They are led by the aforementioned Ms. Donovan (Jo), Julia Small (Lizzie), Madeline Watkins (Cathy), and Aenya Ulke (Jane), who all combine the classic elegance and strength that made these characters iconic with a modern wit that makes these worlds worth revisiting today.

Their bond is indestructible and sweet (without being sappy) as in the scenes where Cathy hilariously bemoans her sister-less state and her three friends reassure her that she’s never without a sister as long as they’re around. Point Park’s You on the Moors Now makes sisters of all this revisionist riff. Regardless of age, gender, or era, we’re all just fighting to be heard and have our dreams respected.

You on the Moors Now runs through November 19 and from November 30 through December 3rd. For more information, click here.

Photos by John Altdorfer

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 info@pghintheround.com.

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

 

Pride and Prejudice

10056_603131693050020_111564996_nA new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is playing at one of Pittsburgh’s most charming landmark settings. Marsha Mayhak created her stage version for Steel City Shakespeare Center’s singular production at Heathside Cottage, a cozy Victorian home in Fineview. From the hillside perch over the Northside, audiences can take in the city below before stepping inside a venue that is indeed a private home.

It’s a rare treat and compact experience for theater and literature lovers who enjoy relishing the text over spectacle. The cottage interiors–likely the original library, parlor, and dining room–provide the set and the audience its imagination. Here, we eavesdrop on the Bennet family and some of Elizabeth and Darcy’s most endearing exchanges. If you love Austen, do secure tickets now for the final weekend.

Alan Irvine directs a cast of six women who play 13 of the novel’s characters. That’s enough to tell the familiar story.

Yes, Austen is talky; narration from her 1813 book assists the action as actors make swift transitions from exposition to characters. Each cast member proves to be an adept storyteller (as is their stage director Irvine); they perform many monologues and conversations. Virtually every word is audible. While there’s a feeling some more cutting might benefit the pace, the story was best told when the actors resisted the urge to speed up the descriptive passages.IMG_3517

Rare intimacy and well-spoken text in a lovely space makes up for the need to employ more imagination. Irvine moves the actors as well as can be expected in such close quarters while costume elements are simple and props sparse. This immersive theater requires suspending disbelief, supported capable accents and amazing focus, given the actors’ proximity to audience members. The action is no more than one to four feet from most patrons.

The result supports that each cast member bring much nuance to their roles. Irvine wisely lets the cast discover what makes their characters tick. The women playing men don’t overreach for masculine attitudes or postures. This is more about personalities, conventions, and social classes. Mayhak’s dialogue is straight out of Austen and plays very nicely.

The Bennet family is close knit, but lacks means. In the 19th century, the fate of women with no dowries and the inability to inherit land left women like the Bennet sisters with limited choices in life. So Austen’s novels may foreshadow feminism but are wrought with the realism of class hierarchies.

Marsha Mayhak’s Elizabeth Bennet is charming, smart and capable–just as Austenites like her. Mayhak is certainly a lovely match for this role and provides a strong center for the action even as she makes some prejudicial assumptions about Fitzwilliam Darcy. She sweetly questions the trappings of the more fortunate and sometimes haughty individuals around her and Mayhak’s expressions and quiet reactions are just right.IMG_3453

Elizabeth Glyptis is Mr. Darcy, considered the proud lead character of the title–or is he really? Glyptis manages this challenging role well, capturing Darcy’s opaque nature, showing little while she must indeed convey the most important elements of Lizzy’s cryptic and intriguing acquaintance.

Mayhak and Glyptis relish the couple’s famous moments, the ones fans anticipate: Darcy arriving home unexpectedly when Lizzy is touring his country estate; his rescue of Lydia (the wayward Bennet sister); and the eventual proposal and the pair’s banter about how it all came about.

As Lizzy’s closest sister Jane Bennet and clergyman Collins, Anne Rematt brings a lovely presence and grace to both roles. Her subtle choices belie Jane’s concern that she may never marry and wind up an old maid.

Angela Anderson wonderfully distinguishes each of her three characters–Mr. Bennet, the affable father; the disposable friend Charlotte; and the pompous Lady Catherine. Anna Gergerich has fun with Mrs. Bennet, snobby Caroline, and deceptive Wickham, making some entertaining choices. Mary Pochatko displays great range from the likeable friend Bingley to the thoughtful Aunt Gardinier to the silly Lydia Bennet. (Several Bennet sisters didn’t make it to this version, but the central ladies are well intact.)

At a sold-out opening weekend performance when capacity of 22 was exceeded by five, amiable and courteous patrons moved between rooms, often taking the smaller stools along to guarantee a perch. You can expect more ease this weekend. Moving around instead of sitting for two acts and an intermission (2 hours and 45 minutes total) isn’t a bad thing–a nice change when so many days include our sedentary viewing. Outside a fire pit was lit, so intermission was equally charming with some warmth to take off the chill.

However, Heathside isn’t really handicapped accessible and there are a few steps inside. The tight quarters, movement, and varied seating could  be challenging for some, so inquire in advance if this is a concern.

Heathside Cottage is located at 416 Catoma St., in Pittsburgh’s Fineview neighborhood (15212). Driving, take the route from Federal Street from central Northside rather than East Ohio Street to avoid hills and potholes on the more eastern route.

Performances feature “extras” (like a National Aviary falcon show and tell on the night I attended), so you can choose an added value. With tickets at $10-15, it’s a great deal for an intimate adventure and some fun extras like a talk back, Jane Austen trivia, and Regency dancing. Details for remaining performances on Thurs., Sat., and Sun., Oct. 27, 29, and 30 only are found on the SCSC website.

Thank you to Steel City Shakespeare Center for providing a complimentary admission on a sold-out night and a close-up falcon experience.