One of Pittsburgh’s most treasured annual events, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival has successfully bestowed upon us another year of marvelous original work! I had the pleasure of viewing their fourth round of original one-acts at the lovely Carnegie Stage (home to Off the Wall Productions). Program D included Brotherhood by Garry Kluger, Influence by Jennifer Tromble, and Once Upon a Mattress Store by Stephen Engel.
Gary Kluger, a notable author of books, plays, and television contributed his play, Brotherhood to the festival, which was produced by The Theatre Factory. A piece rooted within the buried complexities of the past, Brotherhood revolves around the unusual reunion of two brothers. Due to a mutual business deal of sorts, the brothers are seeing each other for the first time in years, in rather unexpected (and unpleasant) circumstances. A conflict between the two that begins based on business dealings, branches into an expression of the family conflict they never confronted. Not only did the actors (Terry Westwood and Tom Kolos) convey a realistic and relatable struggle between brothers… but they lead us into a clear and thorough exploration of the characters’ inner conflicts.The collaboration in writing and acting very eloquently interwove elements of inner struggle, hardships in relationships, and the stress of life’s consequences. After seeing the show, I was impressed and surprised by how well I felt I was able to get to know each character, despite the short length of the piece. Brotherhood brought drama while still illustrating relatable struggles through a unique and well executed plot in which I felt fully intrigued and involved in. I loved this piece because it had a clear sense of closure, yet still left me wanting to find out more.
Influence by Jennifer Tromble, presented by the Heritage players, continued the thematic thread of the inner-workings of family. I absolutely loved Influence; a piece showing us a conflict between mother and son, but truly about the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. In the play, a son is confronting his mother, Marie, about his suspicions that she is a “bad influence” on his young daughter. Through discussing why this is not so, a very clear picture is drawn of the strong, positive relationship between the granddaughter and her grandmother… despite the blue-collar harshness of Marie’s attitude. It is suggested that perhaps this little girl’s father isn’t truly looking at the reality of what’s going on… pointing out the importance of accepting reality in order to progress. The part of Marie was executed so, so well by Linda Anschuetz– she reminded me in so many ways of some very strong, wonderful Pittsburgh ladies that I know and love. Shining light on the importance and necessity of deeply examining what is really going on with your loved ones, and with yourself, Influence was a heart-warming piece full of strong character and truth.
Lastly, we saw Once Upon a Mattress Store by Stephen Engel produced by Stage Right Pittsburgh. This was the perfect finale to the night- an incredibly hilarious piece with a majorly impressive twist at the end that I won’t give away here! The play takes place in an LA mattress store, during closing time. The presumed manager of the store, Larry, lets in one last customer for the night, who in fact ends up being a robber. Despite some initial weirdness, Larry and his late night robber get to talking, or rather the robber gets to listening to Larry’s odd perspective on life. George Saulnier (Larry) gave a performance to die for- hilarious beyond words; his character taking absolute control of a commonly negative situation in a quirky, off the wall fashion. Playing the role of the thief, Connor McNelis offered an extremely captivating performance, exuding some big energy. Together, Saulnier and McNelis created a character chemistry that carried an already glowing script into a very high level of comedic gold.
A truly enjoyable evening, I was very taken not only by the brilliant writing, direction, and acting of all that I saw, but also by the supportive, warm energy of the event as a whole. Not to mention the phenomenal venue, the Carnegie Stage, brought to our fair city by Off the Wall Productions. Make sure to check out the next New Works Festival!
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh New Works Festival for complimentary press tickets. Program D runs just one more time tomorrow, September 25th at 2pm.