Cloud 9

18010569_10155290370617171_8852994147793860716_nCloud 9 is a peculiar, challenging play. Its title brings to mind feelings of euphoria and images of paradise. On the other hand, Throughline Theatre Company’s production of Caryl Churchill’s controversial and unorthodox examination of the social and sexual aftershocks of British colonialism—under the unfocused direction of Edwin Lee Gibson—conjures feelings of befuddlement and images of purgatory.

To be fair, Churchill’s script is a real high wire act. The play is staged in two acts. The first is set in 1880 while the second is contemporaneously set in 1979, when it premiered at Dartington College of Arts in southwest England. But, while a century has passed for the world the characters exist in between acts, only 25 years have passed in the lives of the characters themselves. To add Brechtian insult to Brechtian injury, nearly every role in both acts is played by an actor of the opposite gender or opposite race than what the character would typically be. On top of that, the actors all play completely different characters in the second act than they do in the first.

This choice wasn’t a preemptive strike by Churchill to take advantage of the The Man in the High CastleConfederateBlack America-led alternative history craze gripping pop culture by the throat at the moment. It’s an attempt to force the audience to give familiar characters (a unappreciated wife) in familiar circumstances (a mother coming to terms with the choices made by her adult children) a second look and, more importantly, a second thought.

Unfortunately, Gibson’s work here steers clear of any of this potential for resonance thanks to the countless tonal shifts that take place throughout. In Act I, some of the wise cracking characters appear to be straight out of a 1970’s sitcom like The Jeffersons while others fret about like they’re straight out of a BBC period drama like Downton Abbey. He handles some of the more frank and frankly disturbing moments where the characters act on their sexual desires with a complete lack of sensitivity.

That leaves it up to the ensemble to get to the heart of Churchill’s message and, thankfully, Gibson has assembled a very capable group of actors.

When the play opens in an English-colonized African nation in turmoil, we meet Clive, a colonial administrator played hilariously by Malic Williams—an African-American male actor. In the wake of protests from the local people, Clive does his best to strategize and protect his wife Betty (Liam Ezra Dickinson, a white male actor), their son Edward (Jalina K. McClarin, an African-American female actor), their daughter Victoria (a crude prop), and Betty’s mother Maud (Tracey D. Turner, an African-American female actor). It is soon revealed that both Betty and Clive have wandering eyes and their own unique, complicated relationships with their “boy” Joshua (Victor Aponite, a white male actor).

It also becomes clear early on that there is a strange coincidence involving Ellen (Betty and Clive’s governess) and Mrs. Saunders (Betty and Clive’s widowed acquaintance). The striking and versatile Maeve Harten plays both women to great comedic effect thanks to a few well-timed entrances. She turns from downtrodden to determined at the drop of a curly red wig.

While the first half of the show is definitely its weakest, it is anchored by Shannon Knapp’s atmospheric and ominous sound design. The more surefooted second half is conversely muddled by Paige Borak’s distracting and obvious lighting design.

One hundred/twenty-five years after Act I, Victoria (McClarin) is all grown up and in an unfulfilling marriage of her own. She meets a lesbian single mother named Lin (a soulful and earnest Turner) in a park in London and eventually embarks on a sexual awakening. Along for the ride is Edward (Williams), who is at odds with the gender politics of his relationship with his lover Gerry (a sultry Dickinson). Looking on in prim disapproval is Betty (a once again scene stealing Harten), widowed and grappling with loneliness.

In trying to prepare you to grapple with all the pleasures and pitfalls of Throughline Theatre’s Cloud 9, I am also reminded of the game where people gaze up in the sky and compare their ideas for what the clouds rolling by up there most closely resemble. This production is proof that, no matter how hard a person might try to impose their vision on it, a cloud is ultimately just a distant, amorphous blob.

Cloud 9 plays at the Henry Heymann Theater in the Stephen Foster Memorial through August 19th. For more information, click here.

In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play

Vibrator PlayWomen’s bodies, women’s pleasures, the heavily scrutinized relationship between women and the nature and autonomy of their arousal and desire is the object, either directly or indirectly, of countless texts and pieces of media and literature. The notion that women may control or be the source of their own pleasure, or that women may contain multitudes of stimuli that they can engage separate from heteronormative sex has a long standing history of being regarded with near-flabbergasted dismissal. The origins of autonomous female pleasure, which of course are long-standing but rarely explored properly, and the essence of female arousal is at the core of Sarah Ruhl’s 2009 In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play), which uses female pleasure and the inadvertent creation of the vibrator as a fulcrum for discussing larger social and behavioral issues. The play uses the repressive, austere Victorian social mores and behavioral conditions as mechanisms of evaluating the origins of the vibrator within the greater contexts of class, gender and social dynamics.

Throughline Theatre Company’s production of In the Next Room, which is electrified by the meticulous direction of Abigail Lis-Perlis, has put forth an admirable restaging of Sarah Ruhl’s multifaceted vibrator dramaturgical aubade. The play, which benefits from a masterful use of very limited space, takes place primarily in a series of small rooms in a haughty Victorian home of a well-intentioned if not slow-witted physician, Dr. Givings and his wife Catherine. The stage design highlights the fixation with the apparatus created by Dr. Givings intended to “release juices” inside of women that cause stress and impedes fertility and pregnancy. Of course, the apparatus designed is effectively a cumbersome vibrator, and much of the clunky comedy of the show centers around Dr. Givings’ over-intellectual misconstrual of his apparatus’ actual use of a clitoral stimulus for the women he uses it on.

Perhaps if the shows only focus was this confusion and disparity between men’s conception of women’s pleasure versus the actuality and their surreptitious enthrallment with this pleasure, In the Next Room would have been a bit more even-footed. While the performances are consistent and generally convincing—the most deliberately impassioned and extremely vivacious being Moira Quigley as Catherine Givings, whose dissatisfaction with her husband’s ineptitude and her own biology is radiantly palpable—the show often reads as too discombobulated or heavy handed. There are at least three micro-narratives happening simultaneously with the various central characters that demand the same level of audience involvement and attention. Some of these micro-narratives, like the burgeoning romance between two women (one of Dr. Givings’ patients and his female nurse/house servant), could have been compelling stories on their own, yet do not get to flourish properly because of helter-skelter narrative construction.

Although the play is satisfying in portraying a discovery and embracing of (somewhat) autonomous female pleasure in an era that such a thing was unfathomable, In the Next Room, has lingering infiltrations of heteronormativity and male-centrism. The entire story is premised on the notion that men are too intellectual and removed to understand the intuitiveness and inchoate physicality of female desire and pleasure. Though this is intriguing, it creates a clear demarcation between women and men that does nothing to challenge stereotypes. While an incredibly enjoyable play with impressive performances, the show at times comes off as too out of touch with the edginess it purports to depict.

In the Next Room continues at the Henry Heymann Theatre through June 24. For tickets and more information, click here. 

PITR’s Top 5 Picks for Summer 2017

Let’s dive right into our Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this summer!

Marcus Stevens (2)#5 – An Act of God – Pittsburgh Public Theater: A relatively new play, premiering on Broadway in 2015, An Act of God is a one-act comedy that originally started out as a series of tweets that evolved into the book of which the play was adapted from. Point Park University graduate Marcus Stevens plays God, joined by his sidekicks: angels Gabriel and Michael (John Shepard and Tim McGeever), in this comedy opening at the Pittsburgh Public June 9. For tickets and more information click here. 

#4 – Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play – 12 Peers Theater: Once you catch 12 Peer’s current production of Thom Pain: Based on Mr. Burns ImageNothing starring Pittsburgh’s own Matt Henderson, we’re sure you’ll be itching to see what else they have to offer. Opening August 3, Mr. Burns shoots us some years into the future after the apocalypse where we meet a handful of survivors trying to recreate a particular episode of “The Simpsons”. Fast forwarding into the future for Act 2, and even further for Act 3,  these reenactments become main forms of entertainment and eventually myths decades later. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#3 – Hot Metal Musicals – Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP):Since Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyits creation, MTAP has set out to help create and promote new musicals and the artists creating them in Pittsburgh. The incubator was established in 2011 by Erik Schark and is now currently led by executive director Stephanie Riso, managing director Jeanne Drennan, and advisor Steve Cuden. The first Hot Metal Musicals showcase in 2015 was one of our first major events of that year, and after seeing the talents Pittsburgh had to offer then, we’re sure this year’s showcase on July 17 will knock our socks off. For tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Momentum Festival – City Theatre Company: City Theatre, known as yt17-momentum-featurePittsburgh’s home for new plays, delivers on their promise to keep things fresh and new again this year by finishing out their season with their annual page-to-stage festival: Momentum. Featuring 5 different staged readings, this year’s lineup will include not one, but two shows in progress that will be fully produced in their 2017-2018 season. Hop in for a meet and greet and a staged reading this weekend starting June 1! For more information, click here!

18556456_10155486793559873_589745343035013449_o#1 – WordPlay – Bricolage Production Company: Sure, for the second year in a row, we’ve named Bricolage’s storytelling show WordPlay the #1 show we’re looking forward to this summer. But this time, WordPlay is no ordinary WordPlay. This time, Bricolage as team up with PERSAD CENTER, the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ community. Featuring tunes by Tracksploitation and stories by Nyri Bakkalian, Brian Broome, Cindy Howes, kelly e. parker and Ciora Thomas. And, as usual, hosted by Creator and Co-Producer Alan Olifson. Don’t miss out on this special edition WordPlay this weekend, starting June 2. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Summer Preview 2017

Summer Logo

A Letter from the Editor,

I would like to wish a happy unofficial start of summer to our marvelous readers! Because of you, we made it through another year here at Pittsburgh in the Round! As a special treat, we’ve put together one of our best season previews yet, including updates from old friends like MTAP and the Pittsburgh CLO, new friends like Split Stage Productions, and not one, but two Artist Spotlights!

Summertime is one of the busiest times of year for the Pittsburgh theater community, making it one of the busiest seasons for us here at Pittsburgh in the Round. There will be no shortage of reviews and articles and you may even see a few PITR exclusives!

With the release of this Summer Preview 2017, we’d also like to announce our latest Site Sponsor, the newly renamed Pittsburgh Festival Opera (formerly the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh). To find out more about their upcoming season, keep scrolling! If you or your theater or business would like to be featured in any of our advertising spots, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@pghintheround.com!

Our team here keeps on growing so we’ll have plenty of content to keep you busy this summer. We would love to take this opportunity to thank all of you who continue to read the content we work so hard to bring you, engage with us on social media, and support all of these local theaters and companies that help the arts grow and thrive in Pittsburgh.

Here’s to another great summer,

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


Let’s dive right into our Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this summer!

Marcus Stevens (2)#5 – An Act of God – Pittsburgh Public Theater: A relatively new play, premiering on Broadway in 2015, An Act of God is a one-act comedy that originally started out as a series of tweets that evolved into the book of which the play was adapted from. Point Park University graduate Marcus Stevens plays God, joined by his sidekicks: angels Gabriel and Michael (John Shepard and Tim McGeever), in this comedy opening at the Pittsburgh Public June 9. For tickets and more information click here. 

#4 – Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play – 12 Peers Theater: Once you catch 12 Peer’s current production of Thom Pain: Based on Mr. Burns ImageNothing starring Pittsburgh’s own Matt Henderson, we’re sure you’ll be itching to see what else they have to offer. Opening August 3, Mr. Burns shoots us some years into the future after the apocalypse where we meet a handful of survivors trying to recreate a particular episode of “The Simpsons”. Fast forwarding into the future for Act 2, and even further for Act 3,  these reenactments become main forms of entertainment and eventually myths decades later. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#3 – Hot Metal Musicals – Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP): Since Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyits creation, MTAP has set out to help create and promote new musicals and the artists creating them in Pittsburgh. The incubator was established in 2011 by Erik Schark and is now currently led by executive director Stephanie Riso, managing director Jeanne Drennan, and advisor Steve Cuden. The first Hot Metal Musicals showcase in 2015 was one of our first major events of that year, and after seeing the talents Pittsburgh had to offer then, we’re sure this year’s showcase on July 17 will knock our socks off. For tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Momentum Festival – City Theatre Company: City Theatre, known as yt17-momentum-featurePittsburgh’s home for new plays, delivers on their promise to keep things fresh and new again this year by finishing out their season with their annual page-to-stage festival: Momentum. Featuring 5 different staged readings, this year’s lineup will include not one, but two shows in progress that will be fully produced in their 2017-2018 season. Hop in for a meet and greet and a staged reading this weekend starting June 1! For more information, click here!

18556456_10155486793559873_589745343035013449_o#1 – WordPlay – Bricolage Production Company: Sure, for the second year in a row, we’ve named Bricolage’s storytelling show WordPlay the #1 show we’re looking forward to this summer. But this time, WordPlay is no ordinary WordPlay. This time, Bricolage as team up with PERSAD CENTER, the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ community. Featuring tunes by Tracksploitation and stories by Nyri Bakkalian, Brian Broome, Cindy Howes, kelly e. parker and Ciora Thomas. And, as usual, hosted by Creator and Co-Producer Alan Olifson. Don’t miss out on this special edition WordPlay this weekend, starting June 2. Tickets and more information can be found here

If musicals are more your style, don’t worry, George has our 5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss this Summer here. 

Learn a little more about the people you’ve been hearing about for all these years in our Artist Spotlight series. This time around we’ve got two for you! Get the scoop on costume designer Tony Sirk and musical theater actor Quinn Patrick Shannon. 

Our opera expert George is always a regular at the Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s summer shows so he’s got the inside scoop on their upcoming season hereThey’ve even commissioned a new opera they’ll be debuting this year, Nicole went a step further and got us some more information on the new show A Gathering of Sons. 

Throughline Theatre Company has a new home and a new season to tell us about! Ringa even got a sneak peak on their 3rd show, check it out here

If our Top 5 Musicals article wasn’t enough to meet your musical needs, George caught up with Split Stage Productions and the Pittsburgh CLO!

Kinetic Theatre Company has some fun planned for us this summer and fall, check out Stephen’s preview here. 

In preparation of MTAP’s upcoming Hot Metal Musicals this July, reacquaint yourself with the Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh here. 

And last, but not least, a group of young Pittsburgh artists have come together to produce a cabaret night to showcase female talent in the industry to support Planned Parenthood, find out more here. 


 

Missing something? Here are some review highlights from the last few months!

Watch: A Haunting by Real/Time Interventions

The Philadelphia Story at Little Lake Theatre

La Rondine by Undercroft Opera

Anything Goes at McKeesport Little Theater

Falstaff by Resonance Works

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Prime Stage

Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre

Sive at PICT Classic Theatre

Tarzan by Pittsburgh Musical Theatre

Wife U at Carnegie Mellon Universtiy

The Summer King at the Pittsburgh Opera

What’s Missing?  by Corningworks

4.48 Psychosis at off the WALL

Collaborators by Quantum Theatre

Baltimore at the University of Pittsburgh

Sweet Charity at the Pittsburgh Playhouse

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson by the Duquesne Red Masquers

Who’s Afraid of iVirginia Woolf? by Cup-A-Jo Productions

Throughline Theatre: Heading to New Places

The Fair SexIt’s shaping up to be an innovative year for Throughline Theatre Company. After producing four shows a year at the Grey Box Theatre for the last five years, they’ve had to find a new space. Michael McBurney, Throughline’s Public Relations Director, says the company is excited about being in a new space. They will be performing their shows this year at the Henry Heymann Theatre in Oakland. Due to the space switch, they will only be performing two mainstage shows this season, but there will be a third show with a fun new format!

Throughline’s theme for this season is “The Fair Sex,” which follows up their 2016 theme of “Can You Trust the Government?” When asked if current events have been inspiring their recent themes, McBurney says they’ve definitely been taking the cultural environment into consideration. This year, theatre goers can expect to see shows about gender, sex, and equality. And while there will be comedy throughout each show, the underlying message will be easy to spot.

Both mainstage shows will run over two weeks on a Friday/Saturday then Thursday/Friday/Saturday schedule. Each Saturday will have a matinee performance as well as an evening one. The first Saturday of each show will be a “pay what you can” day for those who are tight on money. Throughline is also working on new ways to engage groups related to the theme. “We’re trying to branch out for what Throughline can offer to folks,” McBurney says. If you have a group that would be interested in working with Throughline on a special evening or group engagement, you can email him at mcburney@throughlinetheatre.org.

Vibrator PlayIn the Next Room (Or the Vibrator Play) by Sarah Ruhl

Set in the 19th century, this show tells the story of a family who is struggling with intimacy, as was the case for many families in the era. The husband, a doctor, has created a wonderful new invention that runs on electricity and can cure women of “hysteria.” The play provides heartfelt moments as well as spotlighting the lives of several women who are affected by this new machine.

In the Next Room will be directed by Abigail Liz-Perlis, who also directed the company’s acclaimed version of Everyman a few years ago. The show will run June 16-24, and there will be a talkback on Friday, June 23rd, immediately following the show.

Cloud 9 ImageCloud 9 by Caryl Churchill

This is a story of sexual exploration, social and racial roles in society, and soap opera-esque flip-flopping of relationships. The play is set in British colonial Africa for the first act and London for the second. Twenty-five years pass between the acts, and the actors all play different roles in the second act. It’s a highly amusing tale of men and women and their scandalous exploits, and ultimately about accepting people as they are.

Cloud 9 will be directed by Edwin Lee Gibson, who is a new member of Throughline’s board. The show will run August 11-19.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

For the third show of Throughline’s season, they’ll be delivering an exciting one night only live-read podcast recording of Shakespeare’s classic comedy. This well known show about love and deceit will be read by Throughline actors for a live audience as it’s recorded to be released as a podcast.  This event will be happening at the Glitter Box Theatre sometime in September, so stay tuned to Throughline’s social media outlets for news about this event!

For more information about Throughline and what they’re up to, check out their website here

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 #SummerwithPITR.

And don’t forget to sign up for our email blasts here. 

Artist Spotlight: Sean Sears

Sean Sears
If you listen closely enough, you can hear the North Carolina in Sean Sears’ speech. We met for tea last week, and over our hour-long conversation I could just barely discern a drawl at the end of a few words. After spending both his adolescence and college years down south, Sean and his wife, Ursula moved to Pittsburgh to help found the Throughline Theatre Company with some of Sean’s college friends in 2009. You may recall the U.S. was in an economic recession then. He noted that there is never actually a good time to start a theater company; “No one ever says—you know what’s a money maker? Theater arts.”

Since its founding, Sean has held a number of roles in the company: Director of Development, President of the Board of Directors, and Associate Artistic Director. Currently, the Company is going through a staffing transition on a few fronts, and Sean is taking the helm of Artistic Director for the upcoming season. The founding mission of Throughline is to, “demonstrate the existence of common themes throughout literary history that bridge generations and bring into perspective the constancy of the human condition”. This season’s theme is the “Fairer Sex” focusing in on the stories on of gender equality. Sean, so far, has settled on producing two plays, Cloud 9 about shifting identities and power structures and In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) a play examining traditional women’s roles. He has not settled on the third play that Throughline will be staging later in the season.

Some have identified the forthcoming presidency of Donald Trump as a rejection of multiculturalism. This may be true but Sean continues to support that ideal. He said, “the arts are the cutting edge, so you work backwards from the arts.” When focusing in on the theme of gender equality Sean acknowledged that you have to explore the actual construct of gender. For Sean, “It can’t just be shows of women about women’s rights. That isn’t enough. You aren’t really diverse if you do that.” I questioned if Throughline’s audience was ready for Sean to push the envelope. He believes that to have empathy for your audience is the key to your audience enjoying the show. “You can’t beat up on them and then ask them for donations,” he said. Still he believes theater can be an excellent tool for change. It’s a medium like no other where an audience is living and breathing with the art unfolding in front of them. Theater is the ultimate shared experience, he believes. He elaborated on the theme of empathy, “[audiences] need to have themselves reflected at themselves so they can either learn or say, absolutely—thank you. We can be a release for people that struggle and are in pain. That is what theater is.”

He admits that he is still learning how to best be an Artistic Director practicing his ideals. He wants to act with an open mind. He offered me this caveat, “I’m a cisgender, heterosexual, white guy, so a lot of things I say come with a big dollop of privilege. My job as I see it is to learn and to shut up when other people who actually experience these things are talking. I can’t just take for granted that I’m an artist that I can tell anyone’s story. Some stories aren’t meant for me. Those aren’t my stories to tell, but they are still worth telling.” In that case Sean is going to put someone with a more authentic perspective in front of that production.

Returning to the theme of empathy, he noted that half of the arts is empathy. You can portray on stage situations you haven’t personally experienced, but you also need to be willing to take a step back and ask yourself if what you are doing is authentic. Is your production true to the mission and message that the piece is trying to convey? If you find that you are being inauthentic, then it is time to take a step back.

He sees the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council as vanguard for these conversations. This December he will be attending a forum about equitable casting hosted by GPAC. The forum, December 12th is free and open to the public. He strives for equitable casting in Throughline’s Productions, but he does see limits. If one is doing a show about family and the family portrayed is by a multiracial cast, he believes it would behoove the story to offer some kind of background or context in that case. If the particular role you are casting is racially neutral then there is no reason to explain the casting decision. According to Sean, if an audience member leaves a show wondering why a role was played by an actor with a specific racial make up then that is a fail of the Artistic Director because the real message of the play was something else entirely.

Sean’s work with the Throughline Theatre Company is truly a family affair; his wife currently holds the position of Marketing Director. Maybe we’ll even see his young child, Rowan, step onto the stage in the near future. Watch out for the launching of Throughline’s season later this autumn.

 

Yankee Tavern

ragrgA certain part of me thrives off of conspiracy theories. I’ll admit–it’s a malignantly nefarious part of me, one which dwells in the gallows of my brain and entertains tomfoolery that by all standards is ludicrous, if not downright harmful. Did the government manufacture or benefit from 9/11? Was LBJ a key player in the assassination of JFK (if, at the very least, to give him initial only name preeminence)? Was crack dispersed into lower socioeconomic communities by the government to fuel a war against poor African American men (this seems entirely to real to be pejoratively considered a “conspiracy,” but I digress)? These hypotheses fester, they gnaw, and ultimately, they never get resolved. Which is what makes them so masochistically enticing–they are the unsolvable puzzle, always teasing us with that one missing piece.

 (left to right): Bob Rak, Malic Williams, Ursula Asmus Sears
(left to right): Bob Rak, Malic Williams, Ursula Asmus Sears

And therein too lies the strength of Throughline’s Production of Yankee Tavern, an adaptation of oft-lauded playwright Steven Dietz’s 2007 work. Yankee Tavern functions as an intensive introspection into the minds of individuals who steadfastly believe–or have been directly impacted by those who steadfastly believe–in the cosmos of conspiracy theories which encircle American history and lore. What is all the more compelling, though, is that this dramaturgical analysis of conspiracy theory phenomena is enveloped in a much more intimate framework–one in which a snapshot of a young couple’s harried engagement/wedding plans serves as a parallel for the distrust of American government and cookie-cutter history.

Much of the impact of Yankee Tavern is derived from the performances of its small but exquisitely talented cast. Malic Williams is sensational as Adam, the Masters student and soon-to-be-betrothed protagonist who has inherited his fathers pub as well as the oft-inebriated blowhard (a delightfully grandstanding Bob Rak) who frequents it (and was Adam’s father’s best friend before he passed). Williams is jocular when called for–informing his future wife Janet (an impassioned Ursula Asmus Sears) that the reason his wedding invites were all returned was because he made all of his past family and friends up to placate her is touchingly hilarious. But more importantly he is subtly ferocious and vulnerable–necessary qualities for the young man basing his thesis on 9/11 conspiracy theories as he is haunted by the ghost of what may have killed his father.

Malic Williams, Ursula Asmus Sears
Malic Williams, Ursula Asmus Sears

The acumen of the cast is tantamount to the play’s success, as it is, at times, a play that doesn’t quite find it’s cadence. This is certainly not to say that the play falters or fails, rather, the fervor of the narrative often gets carried away or misfires. The cast is impeccably relatable, though, which helps to reel the dialogue–particularly Sears, who’s painstaking assertiveness and scrutiny are so realistic, they evoke a very specific emotional response.

Begging to ask the question of which is more odious, the conspiracy or the invisible machine that propels the conspiracy, Yankee Tavern is a worthwhile 90ish minutes for anyone seeking entertainment with an aching sense of curiosity.

Special thanks to Throughline Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Yankee Tavern runs through November 5th, tickets and more information can be found here.

Photos courtesy of Throughline Theatre/Rick Moore.

The Censor

static1.squarespace.comOften disheartening fodder for plays, films and other creative works, the concept of a world in which art is subjected to critical sanitization and scorning approval from a dispassionate demagogue is one which reasonably breeds discomfort and queasy responses.  Perhaps now, in a time where artistic production is at its most scintillating and provocative, yet the strictures of conservative, suffocating powers-to-be seem more and more draconian, more omnipresent, this idea of a censor who regulates what art is acceptable or must be bowdlerized seems all the more daunting and starkly realistic.

David L. Williams’ The Censor stiflingly and inventively captures the anxieties of living in a world in which the titular cultural overseer is omnipresent, feared and (seemingly) ruthless.  The play, staged by the Throughline Theatre company in Lawrenceville’s intimate Greybox Theatre, is a disquieting but never off-putting telling of The Censor, Charlotte, as she visits an art gallery and takes a keen interest in the work of a radical visual artist, Nellis.  Problematizing Nellis’ already perceivably incendiary art is the fact that Nellis is a transgendered man, which relegates him to a life of secrecy, castigation and intense discretion.  Charlotte, however, is not all that her ostensible persona would seem—she expresses that she is willing to allow certain themes or artists deemed insidious by the Commonwealth—the loosely defined, but clearly strictly regimented government super-structure that dictates which art is permissible and what is passable as quality—slide and allow standards to be more flexible.  Charlotte’s involvement with Nellis’ artistic world becomes more fascinatingly complicated as he agrees to commission a portrait of Charlotte to assuage her feelings of being disregarded by the patriarchal figures in the Commonwealth.

It is from this point that the evolution of Charlotte’s fierce humanity, especially in relation to the art and the dire need for personal expression that Nellis depends upon, that drive the rest of the dramaturgical action.  The at first obfuscated but gradually revealed poignant sensitivity that permeates Charlotte’s spirit is what is truly evocative, as the play’s plot unfurls into one of artistic liberation at the hand of Charlotte’s machinations for the sake of undermining the Commonwealth’s regime.  Maura Underwood is striking as the titular censor, establishing the appropriate amount of austerity and snarling authority in her first few scenes that makes her eventual vulnerability and conviction in later scene all the more heartfelt.  A show filled with truly robust performances, the interactions between Nellis—a soft-spoken, delicately powerful Liam Ezra Dickinson—and Charlotte convey a certain viscera, a certain understanding of nuanced human relationships that they are remarkably worth remaking upon, as they carry the tension and suspense of the play.

The Censor is a play whose importance is obvious but never redundant or pedantic—the beautifully articulated trans narrative; the imperative role of art in society and the ramifications of the limitations on art; the wariness of overpowering government.  Much of the power of the play and immense feeling of masterfully crafted anxiety comes in the casts subtle performances and the intimate setting of the theatre.

Special thanks to Throughline Theatre Company for complimentary press tickets. The Censor runs at the Grey Box Theatre through September 24th. For tickets and more information, click here.

Julius Caesar

static1.squarespace.com1“Et tu, Brute!” You may recall that line from your high school Latin class. Until I attended the Throughline Theater’s opening night of Julius Cesar last week, I was convinced that I hadn’t retained any lessons from my years of high school. Well, good job on me. I not only pulled that line out 20 years since my last Latin lesson, I realized that I could even say Marc Antony’s speech along with him, “Friends, Romans, countrymen…”.  In a note in the program, Liam Macik, Throughline’s Artistic Director, explained why he chose to stage the play as part of the their season’s theme, “Can you trust the government?” Macik wrote, “ [Julius Cesar] calls into scrutiny the motives both of the ruler and the conspirators.” In light of the recent leaked DNC emails, I believe we all can get something out of Throughline’s production.

I did not learn that the production was employing gender-swapped roles until I read the program. I could be wrong, but I assume the motivation behind the gender swapping was an effort to allow women to access more theater roles. I commend Throughline for the attempt, but I think it would be more meaningful to actually tell the stories of women rather than have them perform traditional male roles.

Now, on to the actual production—Jessie Wray Goodman, the actress who played Marcus Brutus, is a treasure of Pittsburgh. I first had the pleasure of attending one of her performances during last spring’s Pittsburgh Fringe Festival. She has great presence, and I found myself watching her even when she was not delivering her lines. Another performer of note was Lydia Gibson in the role of Mark Antony. I believe she should be commended specifically for her scene weeping over the body of Caesar. Her acting was emotional without being over wrought.  Lastly, Susana Garcis-Barragan brought a special, impish energy to her depiction of Lucius.

The scenery of the show was bare bones. For the most part this worked in regards to the depiction of the town square and Brutus’ dwellings. These were mostly made of wood and cement blocks from what I could tell. I do think the Throughline’s choice to include a folding tent in their scenery was not the best idea. It did not aesthetically go with the rest of the set design, and it made the opening scene of Flavius and Marrullus look as if they were hosting a yard sale.

In my time reviewing plays for Pittsburgh in the Round, I don’t believe I have ever been so moved by the enthusiasm of a cast. What really struck me, other than the political relevance of this play, was the way in which the actors invested everything they had into their performance from the minor to the pivotal roles. These are people that really take their work seriously. What I witnessed last Friday night was real passion for Shakespeare and all that he still has to tell us. Great job, Throughline Theatre Company.

Special thanks to Throughline Theatre Company for complimentary press tickets. Julius Caesar runs through July 30th. For tickets and more information, click here. 

 

Judgement at Nuremberg

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In the years following the end of World War II, most of the Nazi high command has been tried and sentenced for their crimes.  Now, in the days that will mark the beginning of the Cold War, the former Justices of the Third Reich’s highest courts face judgement by military tribunal for their role in the most notorious regime in modern history.  In the face of mounting political pressure, the need to win the hearts and minds of the German people, and the ghosts of the recent past crying for revenge, the tribunal struggles to find responsibility for the atrocities that would scar the world for generations.

For tickets and more information click here