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Now & Then

By: Rachelmae Pulliam
Now & ThenSouth Park Theatre is a bit of a drive from Pittsburgh proper, but I recently caught their production of Now & Then by Sean Grennan. This show, directed by Allison M. Weakland, was an interesting combination of some of the different possibilities in theatre. The show itself is predictable, with the lines almost saying themselves as situations arose, putting the audience into a state of thinking, “ah, well, this is probably going to lead to this,” and then that situation would go exactly where I expected it to go. I don’t think the show is going to be revolutionary to any audiences, but there were plenty of folks who do stand out in this production. The set, designed by Amber Kocher, dressed the stage beautifully. Upon entrance to the theatre, I knew the exact bar this show was channeling; that quasi-Irish themed pub that had an arcade machine and could exist in any timeframe, be it nouveau or retro. Although the set worked in the show’s favor, some other elements were left to be desired, things that would elevate this potentially weird and interesting piece of theatre. Now & Then is, at its core, a classic time travel story, including the strange technology and deep regret that accompanies all time travel storylines. Time travel isn’t something shocking in this show; it’s picked up almost as soon as young Jamie, played by Erick Rigby, interacts with his future counterpart, played by Brian Kadlecik. This essential element is obvious and weird, and I wished some sound had accompanied the initial lighting cue for the time travel. As it was, the very sci-fi concept that defines the show was underwritten, and I feel like if you’re committing to a sci-fi script, you might as well lean into it. Now & Then exists in a space that doesn’t realize what it could be. If you were to make it that B-horror flick we’ve all seen, full throttle time travel theatre, that would be something new. In my experience, few stage shows include a device which shoots you back in time forty years, and if you are choosing to do that show, don’t shy away from the wackiness. It’s hard to do camp without any camp. The women in the cast were bright spots in the show, with Chelsea Bartel appearing as the younger Abby and Joyce Miller playing the elder Abby. The first act sets up the reasons for all the time travel and, the pitfalls of the script notwithstanding, we find that Jamie of the future is dissatisfied with how things turned out. He has come back to fix things to the best of his ability and at the end of the first act, his wife, the future Abby follows him to the past to reprimand him. Joyce Miller shines in this role, after getting through the first act, she is spunky and full of vigor, something the show benefits from. She and Bartel seem like the glue of this cast, without them it might just all unravel. Bartel plays the optimistic young Abby and creates a wistful dream of the future with this character. We know her, the sweet twenty-something with big dreams and stars in her eyes, and Bartel delivers. That being said, the show is slow and plodding, we need these bright spots because without them the over-simplified script would be impossible to watch. This production of Now & Then almost feels like it doesn’t quite know how to navigate being science fiction, as though it thinks it’s a sitcom without much else going on. There’s so much potential with a script like this, to make it something you haven’t seen, but I didn’t get that feeling from this show. The show was fun, it has a fun premise and funny characters, and it wants to tell you not to waste the time you’re given. And maybe that’s enough. You can catch Now & Then at the South Park Theatre, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm until September 29th.

Macbeth

By: George Hoover
MacbethLittle Lake Theatre opened their modern version of Shakespeare's classic Macbeth Thursday evening. The production, directed by Little Lake's Artistic Director Jena Oberg, uses the campus and theater to bring Shakespeare's masterpiece of ambition, deceit, and madness to life. Shakespeare wrote Macbeth sometime around 1606–07. It is the shortest of his tragedies. The play chronicles Macbeth's blind ambition, the quest for power and subsequent end. Director Oberg has chosen to give her production a more contemporary flair in terms of dialect, sounds, and costumes. (No Scottish brogue in this production.) Macbeth and Banquo, who are generals serving King Duncan of Scotland, meet the Wayward Sisters, three witches who prophesy that Macbeth will become king and that Banquo will father a line of kings. When King Duncan chooses this moment to honor Macbeth by visiting his castle, Macbeth and his equally ambitious wife carry out their plan to murder King Duncan and take the Scottish throne. Worried by the witches' prophecy that Banquo's heirs instead of Macbeth's sons will be kings, Macbeth arranges the death of Banquo and his son. Macbeth orchestrates more and more murders to protect himself from suspicion. The once honored general has become a tyrannical ruler. His guilt and paranoia that results from never-ending bloodbath and ensuing civil war drive Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to madness and their ultimate demise. [caption id="attachment_8066" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Jared Pfennigwerth as Macbeth and Eric Mathews as Macduff Jared Pfennigwerth as Macbeth and Eric Mathews as Macduff[/caption] Oberg has chosen to flip genders of several of the characters. (The cast would have been made up of all men in the Shakespeare's days.) Kathleen Regan is cast as King, now Queen Duncan. Oberg's most brilliant casting decision is the choice of Rachel Pfennigwerth to play Banquo and Rachel's real-life brother Jared Pfennigwerth as Macbeth. The natural chemistry between them is a perfect match for the relationship between Macbeth and Banquo and coupled with their extensive acting experience, adds a most intriguing and modern dimension to this four-hundred-year-old drama. Unlike the main character is many of Shakespeare's dramas, Macbeth is powerful ambitious, sexy and happily married which makes his downfall even more tragic. Lady Macbeth (well played by Samantha Rund) is one of the theatre's most hated characters.  Jared and Samantha’s powerful portrayal of the Macbeth's passionate relationship transcends their lust for each other into their mutual desire for power for their family Eric Matthews portrays Macduff as the steady, unassuming, strictly business kind of guy. Matthews' McDuff is the perfect foil to Macbeth and brings the madness to an end. [caption id="attachment_8067" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Kathleen Regan as Hecate, (Frontrow) Carina Iannarelli, Patrica Cena Fuchel and Alana Landis as the 3 witches Kathleen Regan as Hecate, (Frontrow) Carina Iannarelli, Patrica Cena Fuchel and Alana Landis as the 3 witches[/caption] Jessica's Kavanagh and Emmaleigh Plevel's costumes follow the theme of contemporary yet historical in nature. The use of a mix of full kilts and a different half kilt that is more like a sash over jeans covering one leg. In keeping with the Scottish tradition, the kilts colors and patterns are associated with a specific family. One very nice design element is the red kilt pattern that runs up the sides of Macbeth's dress jacket, not a flat panel but one that narrows from the waist up, a very fresh look. The Witches (Alana Landis, Carina Iannarelli, Patricia Cena Fuchel) have an airy ghost-like flowing costume that matches their ethereal nature perfectly. Malcolm (Brendan Karras) wears "supper checks," outlined squares with white borders that coupled with Karras' stage presence signify a change in leadership. Kudos to the designers for creating these unique looks. Sound Design goes uncredited, as it so often does at Little Lake. It this production of Macbeth the "sounds are an integral element of the contemporary style. There are many, all are well executed and integral to this staging. I must mention the fight scenes, brilliantly staged by Fight Choreographer Michael Petyak aided by Fight Captain Rachel Pfennigwerth. Fight scenes on small stages are awkward at best and even harder to look real when the audience is close enough to feel a sword swoosh by. These scenes are entirely believable, almost to the point where you worry about the actors. Bravo to all involved. [caption id="attachment_8068" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Jared Pfennigwerth as Macbeth and Rachel Pfennigwerth as Banquo Jared Pfennigwerth as Macbeth and Rachel Pfennigwerth as Banquo[/caption] Both Shakespeare and a production of Macbeth are challenges for any theatre company to present and many audience members to enjoy. Little Lake's contemporary production of Macbeth has met those challenges well.  An experienced group of versatile actors in the lead roles, great chemistry between Macbeth, Banquo and Lady Macbeth along with really cool costumes and brilliantly stage fight scenes make for an enjoyable and entertaining performance. But alas, all is not well in this land of Macbeth. We arrived at 7 p for the pre-show talk as suggested, ordered our intermission dessert and secured our preshow beverage. Before the conversation we were broken into two groups, we are in the second of the two. Director Oberg's talk was not so much about the story but more about her artistic approach to this production. This was clearly of interest to Shakespeare aficionados and informative not to mention helpful for this reviewer. At the conclusion or Oberg’s talk, Group One was called to the lobby. While they were milling around and talking, those of us in the second group remained in our seats and saw the opening three scenes staged inside. When those scenes were over, those in the lobby were directed outside and to the first three scenes. We waited in the theatre before we were escorted outside to see the opening three scenes, again. That left us in the second group with a collective "Huh?" (Mind you, Group 1 did not see these scenes twice.) The outside staging was a nice touch and more interesting than when we saw it when performed inside. The need for two groups was necessitated by the size of the outside performance spaces. Showing the three opening scenes twice was perhaps in error? Little Lake's sound separation between the lobby and theatre itself is non-existent, which made paying attention difficult when Group Two was watching a performance, and Group One was mingling and talking in the lobby. I assume this gets sorted out in subsequent performances. I would strongly recommend you read the online pre-show guide as many of Little Lakes tradition and conventions are different for Macbeth performances including the 7:30 start time instead of the usual 8 pm.  As always, it never hurts to "brush up on your Shakespeare” before the performance. For more information, visit www.littlelake.org/macbethguide Macbeth, at the Little Lake Theatre, has performances now through October 6th. Showtime is at 7:30. This production is recommended age: 10+ For tickets and more information click here Photos courtesy of Little Lake Theatre.

Sordid Lives

By: Ringa Sunn
41734741_2085071964870876_8408138762483138560_n When I first walked into the McKeesport Little Theater to see Sordid Lives, I thought I was in the wrong place. Mind you, I went on press night, so there wasn’t the usual hubbub that you’d see on an opening weekend. But the set seemed so plain and desolate, I was confused for a moment. After seeing the show, I understood that it was meant to signify the kind of lives these characters are leading as well as simplify the set changes (some of which felt as long as the scenes themselves), but what it really did was set the audience up for the underlying theme of this production- minimal. And minimal is not really what you want when producing a play about white trash, death, drinking, and drama. If you’re not familiar with the play or movie, the story follows the family of a woman who has recently died accidentally in a scandalous way involving a motel, an affair, and wooden legs. This, of course, gets the small town they live in buzzing with gossip. Sissy, aptly named sister of the deceased, tries to wrangle her family and friends during the grieving in hopes everyone can be peaceful during a time when emotions are running wild. Sissy is played by Anna Marie Colecchi, who seemed much too young for the role. She wasn’t the only questionable casting choice as far as age is concerned, but she certainly stood out the most. Next up are the three children of the deceased. LaVonda (Elaine M. Lucas-Evans) is a law-breaking lush who could have been a more risque version of Naomi from Mama’s Family. Latrelle (Apryl L. Peroney)- is a good Christian mother who doesn’t approve whatsoever of the scandal surrounding her mama’s death and Earl, aka Brother Boy (Karl Rice) a gay transvestite who is so controversial to the family that they’ve sent him away indefinitely to a mental hospital. These three by far stole the show. They had some issues, but these actors were the ones who really made their characters genuine and humorous. Peroney’s first appearance had me in stitches over a costume mishap that lasts an entire scene. Without these three, especially Rice’s sass and comedic timing, this show would have been a lot harder to watch. I’m not sure if the issue was in Rob Connick’s direction or just that the cast was thrown off by having their first audience, but much of the show just didn’t work. Accents came and went, lines were clearly mangled, costume pieces didn’t quite fit, and a lot of the physical comedy ended up sloppy. Alexandra Wilson (as Bitsy Mae Harling) sang songs during most set changes (which were already distracting), and while her voice was lovely, it was soft and hard to hear. And I remain confused about why the second black sheep of the family, Ty Williamson (Lukas Gerlach), was delivering his therapy monologues in the dark. It seemed like they were going for some symbolism that ended up being just another distraction that took away from potential humor and meaning. All this being said, there were many moments I really enjoyed. Some of the over-the-top comedy worked well, and a lot of the serious messages delivered by Gerlach resonated with me. Mostly I was confused by the way the good and the bad came so concurrently and yet didn’t create a smooth flow of theatre. I’m hoping that the cast just had some first-night jitters and that they’ve worked them out by the time you’re reading this. It was a show with potential, but it felt like it needed another week of tech runs. I think anyone who’s done theatre has been in this position once or twice, so I wish the cast and crew nothing but wonderful performances through the rest of the run. The play is about death, but what this show needs is a bit more life. Sordid Lives runs now through September 23rd at the McKeesport Little Theatre. For tickets visit https://www.showclix.com/events/20987    

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