All Quiet on the Western Front

quietThere are times you’re acutely aware that while yes, you’ve faced hardships, you’ve also led a life of privilege simply by having a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in. All Quiet on the Western Front razor sharpens that realization in scene after scene, numbing you with war’s relentlessness in just two hours, a microcosm of life for the play’s German soldiers of B Company. They head off to World War I as jovial, adventure-seeking youths only to die or be aged in time-lapse by war’s atrocities.

All Quiet on the Western Front marks the inaugural production of Prime Stage’s 21st season as they continue their rich tradition of bringing literature to life on the stage. Impressively, this is also the play’s U.S. premiere. It was adapted for the stage by Robin Kingsland from Erich Maria Remarque’s famed 1929 novel of the same title, a novel that was subsequently banned by the Nazi party.

Despite the World War I setting, the play’s main characters are not heroes. They are boys persuaded by patriotism. The lure of wartime adventure proves more tantalizing than their humdrum, small-town life. The play starts with a metal door noisily rumbling up, and you hear the soon-to-be soldiers singing before you see them roll onto the stage aboard a large cart. The door’s sound is jarring, and director Scott Calhoon brilliantly uses the disconcerting sound to foreshadow the more jarring sounds of war ahead. You feel the anticipation and bursting eagerness of youth as they spill out onto the stage. The main character, Paul Baumer (Connor McNelis), an aspiring poet and lepidopterist, aptly describes the boys as “coiled shoots under the earth.”

The utter arbitrariness of war is a recurring theme. There are no playing favorites on the battlefield. The town’s champion gymnast, Franz, almost immediately loses a leg and dies slowly post-amputation. Projection designer Joe Spinogatti thoughtfully utilizes subtle projections of a wartime hospital floor in the background. They remind us that while we trace Franz’s story, he is one in a sea of many. But war also makes one an opportunist, even as one realizes the contemptibility of it. With supplies already in short order, Franz’s hometown compadres whisper bedside and contemplate taking his nice boots. They rationalize he won’t need them, and besides, they’ll just get taken by an officer. Paul ends up witnessing Franz’s death alone and walks away, then scurries back for the boots. McNelis never shies away from authentically conveying Paul’s struggles and sorrows. His face collapses with pain as he furtively departs, hugging the boots to his chest, both token and tear-stained battlefield advantage.

Normalcy proves to be an ever-shifting bar. The scene with the boots is at the war’s start. Later, the remaining men of B Company slip on blood and blown-up body parts as they scramble for shelter post-bombardment. In fellowship, they review the spoils each accumulated, including corned beef and cognac. One man casually breaks off a blood-spattered chunk of French bread. It’s grisly, but the shared sustenance and palpable relief in realizing the majority of their community has returned alive create a lightness amidst the gore. The four bottles of cognac were pilfered by the Company’s de facto leader, 40-year old Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Stefan Lingenfelter). Lingenfelter plays Kat with heart, a sort of gruff papa bear complete with 5 o’clock shadow who, like the others, is civilian turned soldier. Father-like, he puts the needs of his charges first, slyly conjuring up food and supplies when others can’t. As they move towards shelter, gripping their spoils, the actors keep their eyes forward and move as if they are walking over waves, shaking off the almost-dead who claw at their ankles crying for help. Thanks to Calhoon’s careful direction, it’s as if we see those ghosts in the elegant, grisly dance steps of the soldiers that leave you raw and aching.

Scenic designer Johnmichael Bohach’s towering set is an omnipresent reminder that the individual is minuscule in war, but the boxes the boys sit astride on the cart ride in the opening scene are Bohach’s masterpiece. They smoothly transform to classroom chairs, then take on a darker tone. After the boys sign up for war, Calhoon exchanges their casual poses for military postures as they face each other in two straight rows. The boxes too stand erect on their ends, revealing straps and becoming backpacks. Uniforms are pulled from a hole in the center, and the boys slip them on over their regular clothes, reminding us soldier is just a thin layer over their civilian identity. The boxes later morph again, laying flat in a circle, holes up, becoming toilets the soldiers race to after a potent wartime dinner of beans, and they laugh at their comfort with communal crapping. The ever-elusive bar of normalcy has shifted once again.

As I walked back to my car after the show, a nearly full moon hung low in the sky, and the cool night air stung my nose. In one scene, a new recruit is crazed for fresh air after weeks of bombardment in covered trenches. The crispness of the night air seemed magnified after the play, and I felt as if I needed to breathe more deeply, finding the air they couldn’t. I shivered, registering that I should have brought a warmer jacket, yet almost immediately chided myself for the thought; it felt selfish after hearing the “grim music of the shells” and watching such suffering. Theatre has the power to help us both confront our humanity and connect with humanity. Breathe deeply for those who can’t, and don’t miss All Quiet on the Western Front.

All Quiet on the Western Front plays through November 12th at the New Hazlett Theater. To reserve tickets and for more information, click here.

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 info@pghintheround.com.

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 Perks of Being a Wallflower

perksPrime Stage Theater’s adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a sincere, though sickly-sweet interpretation of the Young Adult Literature phenomenon. To enter the New Hazlett Theater and revisit this oft-remembered, rarely revisited story is to yet again come of age and recall that high school is, generally speaking, really crappy but also really important.

Charlie (Peter Joseph Kelly Stamerra), who is alternately stoic and desperate, is a lonely high school freshman who’s had a tough life. He divides his time between being ridiculed by his peers, struggling with his mental health, obsessing over any of the half-dozen awful tragedies he’s experienced, and generating phrases people will want to get tattooed on themselves in his journal. He is, in other words, the Alpha and the Omega of YAL protagonists. Your ability to enjoy the play will likely hinge on your capacity to enjoy Charlie.

Wallflower is not a play about journaling and wallowing, however, and the story’s pace picks up significantly once Charlie strikes up a friendship with the extroverted, scene-stealing Patrick (Logan Shiller) and Sam (Julia Zoratto), an adventurous young woman intent on pushing Charlie out of his comfort zone who Charlie immediately falls in love with to no one’s surprise.

More heavily influenced by the film than the original novel, Wallflower director Jeffrey M. Cordell’s adaptation is too direct with its drama and too flippant with its supporting cast and sub-plot to quite capture what made the original work so compelling.

Stephen Chbosky’s original script is a comprehensive course on how delicately a writer must balance a plot built on nostalgia, teen drama, and abuse. This is partially because Chbosky’s bittersweet-ness is less perfectly balanced than it is nearly imbalanced; for every awkward first kiss or pot brownie there are two ham-fisted quotes about what being alive feels like. To be fair, many would argue that’s part of the novel’s/film’s authenticity.

Prime Stage Theater’s work, which utilizes Hailey Rohn’s script, is by contrast too eager to orbit the story around the big moments (think the famous (infamous?) bridge sequence), and turn what was awkward yet complex into something melodramatic yet sincere.

To dismiss Wallflower as overdramatic would be unfair, because when it hits those heavier, more intimate moments, I did find myself consulting with my inner teenager the same way as I did watching the film. Stamerra possesses that very necessary contained desperation inherent to his character, and he really nails the whole ‘ahhhhh did I say the wrong thing???’-ness of his character. On that note, Shiller’s Patrick is full of the posi-vibed buoyancy one would expect, and Zoratto’s Sam has a palpable subdued confidence. Many quiet moments pass between these three that are as vulnerable as you’d ever want.

Unfortunately, the play’s various explosions – be they sequences where silhouettes of lost loved ones or abusers loom over the cast, or moments of sudden violence – too closely stick to the film’s aesthetic, and can feel a little bloodless. Scenes in which Charlie narrates his journal entries feel almost unnecessary the way they’re sped past, and important characters like Charlie’s sister’s boyfriend Derek (Connor Bahr) and the well-meaning English teacher Mr. Anderson (John Feightner) are played too broadly and are too peripheral to justify the stage time they do manage to get.

The supporting cast often interacts with Charlie as they adjust the objects on set, which is a fun twist, but that and the dramatic use of silhouettes in lieu of flashbacks make up most of The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s theatric adjustments. The ingredients for a great adaptation are all here, but too much focus on recapturing the magic of a less intimate medium make the play feel more like a greatest hits of its progenitor than an out and out creative success.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower runs at the New Hazlett Theater through May 14. For tickets and more information click here. 

Special thanks to Prime Stage for complimentary press tickets.

1984

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Prime Stage Theatre’s adaptation of George Orwell’s 1949 classic, 1984, is ambitiously loyal to its original text.  It attempts to extrapolate the inner story of one man inside of a paranoia machine, and does so with many attributes reminiscent of the original if only lacking a bit of the fervor.

It is the story of Winston Smith, a forlorn citizen in a world made up of enemies; or a world where every area of the world is under surveillance.  Government agents have the right to surreptitiously stalk and hunt and arrest any citizen on a whim.  Neighbors are forced by fear of their own unannounced imprisonment to all work as deputy spies against one another.  Everyone is scared of everyone.

1984 holds a lot of very relevant themes that should be explored more.  The main focus of this story is to expand on an idea that history is merely the story of the victors, and how nefarious that idea might be in an information age.  This is a story that ties the insidious pull of propaganda, the neuroses of a surveillance state, the anxiety of a police state and the challenging eventuality of what could be the inevitable progression of nationalism as a belief structure.  It is a book that foretells of a civilized society becoming an entire prison-like world filled with lies and terror.

Prime Stage’s adaptation has done a fine job achieving certain aspects of the original: the storyline is barely changed, the leads fit their character types, the world is somewhat surreal, sterile, ominous and oppressive.

1984 is a horror story.  It’s about a man living under the oppressive circumstance of an all-controlling fascist government, yes.  But it’s also so much richer in horror than simply that.  It’s horror in the details.  1984 explores how a futuristic fascism could, as it’s said in the play, “narrow the range of thought.”

It’s an entire world that is creepy, overarching, dim, and terrifying.

My favorite aspect of this show was the video design, which I suppose are attributed to Artistic Director Wayne Brinda.  These contain uniform images dotting the landscape of what seemed to be droll, oppressive institutional walls, as well as creative uses of CCTV-style display.  For a show that really deals in a story that accurately predicted a kind of futurism, I feel that this aspect was handled in a very strong manner.  It was captured perhaps best in what was the climactic moment of the show: a truly agonizing physical assault.  To hear Winston scream in unrelenting terror captured exactly what this story is: an unflinching, freakishly frightening nightmare.

Justin Fortunato’s Winston comes off as an awkward, bumbly Englishman.  He’s squeamish, cautious and his anxiety shines through his stolid mannerism.  I was irked by watching the actor, thinking how little I’d like to be his character.  He delivered in sturdily displaying his hidden well of apprehension.

This is a surreal, horror story.  I can’t say that enough.  Prime Stage does eventually achieve the mood that I believe makes the book what it is: riveting, institutional terror.  However, they don’t get to this point of swollen emotional piercing until the third act.

When they do get there though, what an amazing job of reflecting the horror of torture and interrogation.  My god.  Combining imagery of relevant torture iconography (Abu Ghraib, anyone) with the insanity of a power who doesn’t offer solutions: What do you want me to do?  How can I do it, if I don’t know what it is!  The last leg of the play ends on a great note.  Not a high note.  But a note that carries with it the right weight of troubledness.  (Though the use of modern music in both the scene changes and for the last bit of the play are pretty awful and don’t fit with the loyal adaptation at all.  I literally cringed at the last lights out from the tacky use of a certain song).

One place that delivers rather well is the linguistic conversation had by Michael Lane Sullivan’s Syme.  I always understood this character as a weaselly intellectual sort, with a nuanced ignorance in decimating the exact thing that made him intelligent: the breadth of language.  Sullivan’s ability to play this part with the candor of confidence, not too annoying and not not annoying; but just annoying enough.  (I guess “double-plus un-annoying”?)  It’s a well-realized character.

Another stand-out is Samantha Camp’s Parsons, who does a good job of taking a robotic, creepy churchliness to a monstrously sterile level.  She reminded me of an HR lady on a strict diet of amphetamines and fake news

This production does utilize many of the original details and the script fully utilizes the prose from the original.  The problem is it’s a bit boring.  There’s a great attention to detail, but not the detail’s detail.  This story contains the aggravating encapsulation of an intelligent man repressing by necessity all of his human instincts and surviving within survival mode amongst a seemingly mundane, or inconspicuous set of factors.  It’s a boring outside world (save for the people disappearing every so often, and the routine projections of forced, constructed violence (more to come on that)).  We see the inner man in an outer world in the book of 1984.  In the stage play, we see this strange outer world but don’t get as much of a sense of the true arc of suspense, recoiled reaction, and ghastly, disturbed awe that creates such an emotional arc for Winston.  There are great hints of it, sure.  But not the impact of a world so turned on its head, it’s impossible to be sane.

I’m mostly conflicted about the direction.  In some regards, I really appreciated the choreography and the staging.  The “Two Minutes of Hate”, for instance, is a surreal episode where the government employees are forced to watch a speech by a terrorist (who was previously known as a revolutionary for the state, a la Trotsky or someone of his ilk), and then they are watched and rated for how fiercely they deject and boo the screen on which he talks.  The book characterizes this episode so well, I personally recall the vitriol in detail.  It’s such a captivating moment to be captured.  To quote the novel:

People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen…

A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp….

To me, this scene has lasted within my head for the last seventeen years since I first picked up this book.  The sheer animosity and vivid nature of the scene strikes me like the chaos in an auditorium during an air raid.

What this production lacked was the hysteria.  We saw the characters from the show lob words of hate, stamp their feet.  Even the moment when one of the workers throws a shoe at the telescreen happens.  But I think this moment lacked the visceral nature of Orwell’s intention.  I think the power of it comes from the madness.  It wasn’t really brutal, it was just a little tense.  Orwell wanted to show an emotional outlet in a deranged, mindwashed people.  I think Prime Stage only gets a glimpse at the surface.  I was craving a theatricality that was much more severe.

The same could be said for Winston and Julia’s relationship.  Jessie Wray Goodman’s Julia looks the part of Winston’s counterpart.  Orwell described her as young, pretty and sexless.  Goodman does a great job of approaching the part with a pent-up air, a shrunken tenacity.  She looks like someone who would obsess over a uniform, and this makes her reveal all the lovelier.  When they are finally allowed a life together, her contentedness and excitability is mousy and comes in small, gleeful gestures.  She plays this character well.

And yet, there was an issue with their arc too.  What makes Winston and her relationship so lovely is that it comes after a long, turbid set of doubts and reveals.  I know that prose is much different than a stage play, but the difference between saying “I love you” versus receiving the note and poring over its authenticity in a context where any sort of conviviality could easily be a trap set by a sociopathic compatriot….it just spells a different kind of inner turmoil, a slushy force of trusting in a distrustful environment.

I’m nitpicking.  I apologize.  But there’s something to the swish and sway of the neurotic Winston in Orwell’s 1984 that gets to the modern reader.  It’s a reason why it’s regarded as probably the most influential modern novel.  It is still cited constantly by people using its terms, its themes and the probably cheaply, overused (and ironic, therefore) “Orwellian.”  It’s because this story really gets inside the head of a paranoid person in fear of surveillance.

All said, 1984 is a cool trek through a classic.  It falls short in reaching some of the ecstatic buzz of both terror and overwhelming relief I believe the original achieves, though it does get the point of the original novel across sincerely.  I believe this show was made with an earnest enthusiasm for the content and sums up the book nicely, including even the wracked fear and anxiety of its meat.  And it’s testament to a future that, especially at this particular time, seems all the most relevant.  Read it.  See it.  Whatever.  Know it.

Ignorance isn’t Strength, comrade.

For ticketing information visit Prime Stage Theatre’s website here.

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

 

To Kill a Mockingbird

mockingbirdPrime Stage Theatre has kicked off its 20th-anniversary season with a not-to-miss production of the beloved literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which continues to play for two weekends at the New Hazlett Theater in the North Side.
One of the best parts of this two-act show, which runs two hours plus an intermission, comes with the double-casting of the Scout character. One actress – Samantha A. Camp, who recently returned to Pittsburgh after 11 years in the Tacoma, Washington area – plays the adult, who goes by the proper name of Jean Louise Finch. The adult Scout serves as a reminiscing narrator whom the other characters don’t see. With a good Southern accent reflecting the story’s 1935 Maycomb, Alabama setting, she talks to the audience as she looks back on this dramatic time in her life, and sometimes – like during the trial of Tom Robinson – she sits quietly and watches for long stretches of time.
The tomboyish child Scout – played very well by double-braided, overalls-clad sixth-grader Grace Vensel – captures and brings to the stage the spunk of the literary character. During the opening and closing scenes, the adult and child Scouts face each other across the Finch’s front porch and hum a sweet tune.
Author Harper Lee’s bestseller – adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel, and directed for Prime Stage by Scott P. Calhoon – comes to life on stage in this condensed version and captures the feel and theme of the novel. The theater did a good job of creating a stage scene with little room, portraying three house fronts in a Maycomb neighborhood, with an American flag hung off the Finch’s porch, and a spooky look at the Radley house. Strings hung from the ceiling over a mock tree, depicting the Spanish moss trees common in the South. A tire swing hung near the Finch porch. Then, in the second act, the central stage scenery changed to depict a courtroom with a witness chair and lawyer tables.
Actor Brian Ceponis – a former professional volleyball player who has acted in TV shows including “NCIS” – gives a solid performance as the gentle, patient, smart and moral Atticus Finch, who sets an example for his children and the townspeople. Brian Starks gives a moving performance as Tom Robinson, the man falsely accused of sexual assault by a white woman.
The To Kill a Mockingbird story contains a timeless lesson that is just as relevant today: Don’t judge and hurt people who have done nothing to hurt anyone else. The mockingbirds in this story are the African-American Tom Robinson, who tragically is convicted of a rape he clearly didn’t do because of his skin color; and Arthur “Boo” Radley, the mysterious neighbor thought to be a monster. But as it turns out, the hermit Boo is just a socially awkward but harmless character who saves the lives of Scout and Jem when they are attacked at the end. If we look around us, it wouldn’t be difficult to find metaphorical mockingbirds in our world.
To Kill a Mockingbird continues through Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Special thanks to Prime  Stage for complimentary press tickets. Tickets are $25 to $30 for adults, $20 to $25 for age 63 and older, and $12 to $17 for kids under 18. Details: 724-773-0700 or primestage.com

Twenty Years of Prime Stage

Prime Stage Logo-2015Wayne Brinda has his wife to thank for giving him the push to start the Prime Stage Theatre Company in 1995. Brinda, had been working for a grant funded company that was facing financial hardship and Wayne’s wife, Connie pointed out that he had always wanted to start his own company—why not do it now? In its twentieth season, the Prime Stage Theatre Company is still going strong. This year’s season will feature the plays: To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, and the exclusive premiere of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Prime Stage Theatre Company has a unique relationship with Pittsburgh’s mockingbirdschools; the company produces plays based on the student reading lists and teacher curriculum. In order for a play to make it to the company’s stage it has to meet the approval of a teacher advisory committee. As demonstrated by this year’s productions, Prime Stage takes on both classic and contemporary work.  These upcoming shows, Brinda pointed out, are stories in some way about integrity, either integrity in the face of unjust systems, such as To Kill A Mockingbird or 1984, or integrity in the face of carving out an identity such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Prime Stage has hosted exclusive premieres in the past including a very popular production of The Westing Game. To produce to a work that has never 1984been done before is a process that can typically take up to two years. Brinda first approaches the author of the book he wants to stage as a play. If the author concedes, Brinda then begins negotiations with the author’s agents and attorneys. After a contract is secured, he then goes about finding the right playwright to bring the book to life.  Once a play is written it than goes through script readings and additional drafts before it’s ready for Prime Stage’s audience. A Penn State College student who is friends with the book’s author, Stephen Chbosky, wrote the script for The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Currently, Brinda is in talks to acquire the rights to Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory, which is a story about youth, parenting, and coming to grips with one’s traumatic past.

The stories that Prime Stage chooses to tell are challenging. Last year, the perkscompany put on A Lesson Before Dying, which is a story of a young black man, who is an innocent bystander to a murder, is sentenced to death. Brinda noted that the play took on special significance in the context of real-world killing of unarmed black men by police officers, and the resulting protests. He added, “We are not afraid of doing things that are provocative.” Brinda finds real joy in his work as Producing Artistic Director. His drive is simple—to get audiences excited about reading. One powerful way to do that is to stage compelling stories. That, he says, is his one and only agenda. He’s not pushing any kind of mindset or political framework. He aims to “focus on the story and let people become affected by it”.

When it comes to thought-provoking, well-produced theater, audience goers have much to look forward to this year. Catch the season’s opener, To Kill a Mockingbird, opening November 4. Followed by 1984 opening March 3, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower opening May 5.

For tickets and more information about Prime Stage, check out their website here.

Check out the rest of our 2016 Fall Preview here! Follow along with our autumn adventures with the hashtag #FallwithPITR on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

A Lesson Before Dying

lesson

“I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.”
Jefferson, an African-American young man is condemned to death in a small-town Louisiana for a murder he didn’t commit. His godmother persuades a teacher to visit Jefferson and teach him to die with dignity as a man. Many lessons are learned in this powerful drama on the value of human life adapted by Romulus Linney from Ernest J. Gaines’ celebrated novel.

A Lesson Before Dying

lesson

“I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.”
Jefferson, an African-American young man is condemned to death in a small-town Louisiana for a murder he didn’t commit. His godmother persuades a teacher to visit Jefferson and teach him to die with dignity as a man. Many lessons are learned in this powerful drama on the value of human life adapted by Romulus Linney from Ernest J. Gaines’ celebrated novel.

A Lesson Before Dying

lesson

“I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.”
Jefferson, an African-American young man is condemned to death in a small-town Louisiana for a murder he didn’t commit. His godmother persuades a teacher to visit Jefferson and teach him to die with dignity as a man. Many lessons are learned in this powerful drama on the value of human life adapted by Romulus Linney from Ernest J. Gaines’ celebrated novel.