Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mad Forest by Carnegie-Mellon University

"Mad Forest" by Caryl Churchill is an exploration of the Romanian Revolution which took place in 1989. Largely eclipsed by the more peaceful revolutions of Eastern Europe, including the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Romanian Revolution resulted in the death of thousands of men, women and children.

The Carnegie-Mellon Production, as the play was intended, is a naturalistic production. After all, the bizarre reality of Communist Romania is fascinating enough on it's own, however, this does make for a very slow-moving production. The play itself is honestly built to be slow-moving, some scenes are little more than images, some are just episodes from everyday Romanian life and the plot switches direction frequently. This is not a statement on the quality of the acting, which is superb in it's realism, but honestly, if someone in real life would actually linger in taking off their shoes after a long day of work, do we really have to watch it onstage?

The ensemble cast never rests, playing a constantly growing band of characters. As stated, the entire production is steeped in realism. However, there is multi-media section of the play where the performances really stand out - and they are extraordinary. The play breaks for interviews Churchill took with actual Romanian students who were there at the outbreak and aftermath of the revolution. The actors onstage portray the students onscreen telling their stories. These film segments were the most riveting part of the entire evening because of the sheer reality the actors were able to bring to the characters.

As whenever a show is set in another country, someone inevitably asks, "Well, how were the accents?" When accents are utliized in ther performance, they are superb. However, it seems very unfortunate that when the characters are "speaking Romanian" to each other they drop any accent and speak with an American dialect. It seems a waste, and somewhat takes the audience out of Romania.

The set at the Carnegie-Mellon University's production reflects the concrete cinderblock uniformity of the Communist era. However, what is really fascinating about the show is the sound design. Communist anthems, sometimes remixed, are heard throughout - as they surely were by the Romanian people - but, at key moments, gives way to heartbeats, crowds, which all enhance the feelings of panic, suffocation, fear portrayed by the actors onstage. Lighting elements keep Communist imagery held high over the heads of the actors, even in complete darkness, reminding everyone what the ever-looming threat is.

The cast, as stated before, are every amorphous, and brilliant performances are seen throughout. Some particularly memorable performances, which often were made in a very short amount of time include Annie Heise, as the Girl Student and Dead Grandmother, Denver Milord as Boy Student #2 and Patient and the constantly fluctuating Abdiel Vivancos as the Priest and Vampire.

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic keeps a second home in Moskva. Which, granted, is not Romania and is about three or four countries away, but is close enough to make Epony an expert on least by comparision to most theatre critics.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Three Decembers" from the Microscopic Opera Company

"Three Decembers" from the Microscopic Opera Company is a chamber opera (this means "short") which follows a mother, daughter and son together through three Christmases in three different decades. The mother is a famous stage actress. Her daughter is a pinot noir-slugging housewife with two kids. And the son is caretaking his boyfriend who has contracted AIDS. The story unfolds as the children come to discover their fading memories may not be the only reason they have trouble remembering their father.

The magical nature that the Microscopic Opera Company establishes cannot be overpraised. The set is made up of simple white furniture, reminiscent of the delicate nature of a dollhouse, and surrounds the excellent ten-piece orchestra. The production is top-notch, directed by Lise Ann Goldsmith. It is at times haunting, hilarious, heart-breaking, all the while being an honest portrayal of family life. The actors command the complete set and beyond, making use of the entire space. The entire production is so well put-together that small movements, intricate moments here and there let you know that characters are connected even if they are seperated by time and space.

If the performers of the Microscopic Theatre Company are any indication, the days of opera singers singing without acting are either numbered or already dead. Every member of the three-person cast rises to the occasion creating, not just characters, but believable human beings. Mary Gould as the mother, Madeline Mitchell, is the quintessential diva constantly lamenting her children or behaving like a child herself. Daniel Teadt, who is about to make his New York City Opera debut, plays Charlie, the son, whose veneer of wit and charm covers his need for his mother's long-overdo acceptance of himself and life partner. And Beatrice (actress's name not included in program) the sister whose drinking intensifies as she searches for guidance from a dead father. While all these roles could fall into the chasm of stereotype, the polished and savy actor/singers keep their performances grounded in honesty while reaching the heaven with their voices.

As stated before, the orchestra is excellent and lend a depth to the piece that simply cannot be captured without live music. The music is so at one with the performance onstage that the audience is free to "forget" they are there and absorb the performance. All the elements of the stage - lights, set, sound- stand together beautifully. In particular, costumes, by Richard Parsakian, are actually incredibly period-specific, so the audeince knows what decade we're in before someone actually has to say the date.

   "Three Decembers" is a piece not just for opera connoisseurs but for anyone desiring to witness a night of great theatre. Best of all, the cast performs unmiked, so the power and subtlty of their voices shine through and enhance the story. While the mother constantly laments why life is so hard, the Microscopic Opera Company is music to the ears.

Tickets for "Three Decembers" may be purchased here: *

*Purchases made AT the theatre are cash only.

-The Eponymous Theatre Critic marches to the beat of an entirely different drum. ENTIRELY different. So different in fact that it is actually a banjo. It is a difficult life, only marching to string instruments...

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir" from City Theatre

"Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir" by Keith Bunin follows Sam Bendrix, a bartender/crooner who, for one night only, has been given the time onstage to perform a nightclub act all his own...for someone who may or may not show up.

The City Theatre manages to set up a convincing lounge atmosphere, complete with (fake) smoke clouding and swirling around the lights. There are two and four-seat tables set up on risers so parties can sit together comfortably, and guests are even encouraged to bring their drinks with them. After all, it is a nightclub. The lighting stays ambiant, and the music from the band is clear and engaging without being overpowering.

The show is...fine, in every good and bad sense of the word. Luke Macfarlane, of some television acclaim, plays Sam and uses the audience as any good nightclub comic, basically as a second character or straight-man for his one-liners. Macfarlane's voice is like velvet, and he wears the character of Sam Bendrix like a dinner jacket - tailor-made. The musicians, while subtle, are great, really coming across not as actors (which they aren't) but as musicians there to support their lead. All in all, the show has the appeal of a good, low-key date night or something to bring your visiting grandparents to for nostalgia's sake.

However, those looking for a "something more"  night of theatre may want to look elsewhere. Basically, "Sam Bendrix..." is another "my life as a gay man" one-man show. And, while this one has the distinction of being set in 1958 New York City, it is pretty much the same-old, same-old. Macfarlane is affable, friendly, pretty darn virtuous and very nice to look at, and in the little over an hour and a half he's onstage we get to hear snippets about his childhood, his move to the Big Apple, his loves and subsequent heartbreaks, his tender relationship to his mother and a lot of forgotten classic songs. But then, try to find a one man (of any gender) show that doesn't involve music or tales of ex-boyfriends or that life in New York City was/is harder than it seems. Maybe less songs and more history? Maybe higher stakes and less affability? There needs to be something to take this particular show out of it's already well-worn path.

There is one moment where Sam and the band look nervous, after all, it is 1958 and the mere mention of homosexual practices are grounds for a police raid. But, rather than the tension mounting as the story becomes more and more intimate and overt, everything melts away to more relaxed singing and talking. Similarly, the play suffers from several anachronisms. For one, the play is set in 1958, Sam mentions buying a Chatty Cathy doll for a friend's daughter several years before...which is miraculous, as the doll was only available in stores in 1960. Similarly, The Cat in the Hat only came out in 1957...also, the blender they pull out at one point is decidedly not vintage, but now Epony is just being picky.

As stated before there is nothing "wrong" with the show. It is enjoyable, takes a few low-key suprising turns and is willing to make you laugh and send you on your merry way. And there is nothing wrong with that, but some innovation in the form may be the shot in the arm this show needs to truly distinguish itself.

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic does is fact know when the Chatty Cathy doll was made because Eponymous was the one standing at the front of the line at Macy's in 1960 buying five of them for reasons which, as of now, seem very silly and far away. Yes, Eponymous is old.

"Red" by Pittsburgh Public Theatre

"RED" is a play by John Logan, who is most famous for his screenplays, about real-life artist and larger-than-life personality Mark Rothko and his struggle to create a series of four paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City in what was one of the largest paintings commission ever at it's time.

Dramaturgy is the unappreciated art of theatre. In case you don't know, and there's no particular reason why you should if you're not in the down-and-dirty of theatre making, dramaturgs are the bookworms who research the time period, historical facts, etc. of the show. So, random lines that may make no sense to us not familiar with say, the 1800's, 1970's or small town in Nebraska during the great depression, are researched extensively by the dramaturgs so that may find some way to impart the necessary information that the director, and often the audience, needs. The fruits of their labor are usually reduced to the program. So, it's rare that dramaturgs get any sort of accolades in a review. Well, prepare for history in the making:

The program of "RED" is about the size of a slim child's reader. In it are fun facts, interviews, timelines, etc. all about the life and work of Mark Rothko. There are even pictures of various classic works, exhibiting not just the use of but the feeling of the color "red", which are listed off by the characters in "RED". You can tell the Public truly desires to make sure the audience follows, and also has their own intimate connection, to the constant shop-talk of two artists that is, in essence, the entire play.

The set is so realistic and inviting, it's a temptation to get out your chair and just walk around it, observing all the minute details so elaborately set up. While it's never mentioned, the space where Rothko paints is a converted sports gymnasium - and you can tell by the remnant backboard of a basketball hoop still hnaging on the wall. Similarly, the sound design of the Public was amazing! Sound erupts for key moments and set changes and then is brough back down to actually sounding like it is eminating from a record player on the floor. Sometimes the transition was so spot-on, Epony didin't realize it was happening until it changed again.

Jack Cutmore-Scott as Ken, Rothko's assistant (who is completely imagined by the playwright) and Jeff Still as Mark Rothko, share a similar review - particularly because this is a two-person play and their interaction is constantly and only with each other. Both actors never quite convince the audience that they are real people. In Still's case, Rothko enters the story and yells at his assistant. In subsequent scenes he instructs his assistant, through yelling, berates his assistant, through yelling, and when finally Ken has the nerve to argue back, Rothko answers - through yelling. Ken, similarly, tells us about one horrific defining moment in his life, but is almost faceless personality-wise. This is basically because every aspect of him is supressed and overshadowed by Still's Rothko, and Scott fails to assert himself as anything more than an eager art student.

That being said, it is usually useless in reviews to comment on the actual script, which, in this case, won the 2011 TONY Award for best play. However, since this is to the defense of the actors, it must be said. The script of "RED" is not very playable. Believe you me, Epony was rarin' to go for a great night of Tony-Award winning theatre, but Logan's script proved to be just too one-note for the actors. Logan states: "I ...what really moves them is the father-son relationship between these two men. To me the play is really not about art or painting at all; it's about fathers and sons." This is ironic, because practically every line in the play is about art...and I mean, ART. It's theory, it's history, what and whose is good, etc. in an unrelenting, often consistent tirade that just grows...tiresome with still an hour to go in the production. Again, this is not the fault of the actors, who valiently keep the energy up no matter what.

However, Logan fails to even mention that Rothko, in real life was a father - twice. He was also a husband, and an art teacher for many years. And while this would have been fascinating to learn about, all the family history we hear about is Ken's, a completely made-up storyline for a completely made-up character. Rothko, actually did have two assistants near the end of his life, when he was too physically ill to actually paint his own canvases. Rothko, in essence, would sit a chair and tell them what to paint - again, a much more fascinating story than the one hour and forty-five minute art lesson that is "RED".

Tickets for "RED" can be purchased here:

-EPONYMOUS enjoys long blues down the beach, sipping pink out of a green-sized flute glass and, of course, beige days made lipid by celestials oranges. Today is the color purple.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" by University of Pittsburgh

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is a Sondheim musical built upon a British urban legend of a deranged barber who, seeking revenge on the world for the cruel fate of his beloved wife, slits the throats of men who come looking for a shave. Also embroiled in the story is a sexually deviant judge, a ruddy sailor and the female owner of the pie shop that would cannibalistically get rid of the bodies.

Eponymous will begin with the bad so to end with the good. Richard Teaster, who plays the titular character, has one of the FINEST Sweeney Todd voices Epony has ever heard. Truly, it is amazing to hear with all the low notes but not an ounce of gravel. However, his acting is abysmal. Teaster comes across like some deposed Lawrence Olivier who has a nose in the air as self-righteous as those he despises. We are presented with a Sweeney who has no actual passion when killing, no grief, madness, rage or desire - just the arm motions of it.

Worst of all, this seems to bring down the performance of Theo Allyn, Mrs. Lovett. While Allyn seems to strain for the alto role, it was fascinating to see the usually bouyant, outrageous character of Mrs. Lovett played so humanly. Instead of the instigator, Allyn shows us a woman not equally mad as Todd, but a conflicted woman - who is basically good - getting pulled down by her love for Todd. However, since Teaster's Todd isn't that imposing or manipulative, she seems to fade into the background for most scenes.

The production itself is quite interesting, completely minimalistic with a practically bare stage populated only by actors and some small furniture pieces. However, this acts as a double-edged sword as it sometimes makes way for absolutely wonderful ensemble numbers and other times leaves the actors nothing to do but stand and sing to the audience. It's almost as though this is a more feminine production of Sweeney Todd; it focuses heavily on the women and gives them more depth (Joanna is actually shown as clever and sexually curious despite her attachment to a doll), but, unfortunately, this also seems to mean a lot less killing and completely unconvincing fight/death choreography. Even the shaving of Mr. Todd, supposedly the best in London, is done with little conviction. There isn't even a scream when a woman is thrown into FIRE.

Now for the good: the director, Lisa Jackson-Schebette, truly takes the show into new territories. As stated before, the women on the show are given whole new identities, there is brilliant staging of the ensemble cast and silent moments that are completely new to the story. Joanna's predicament in "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" is wonderfully demonstrated by her stage movements being constantly shadowed by a Victorian-house birdcage (also beautifully sung with a bell-like voice by Ashley Krysinski). The program even list several female swings for lead male roles - which this Eponymous reviewer would personally love to see. And whole new spins are put on songs. For instance, "A Little Priest" is turned into a fantastic seduction between Lovett and Todd (or, at least, it would've been had the actors been more into it.)

 Not enough great things can be said about the ensemble cast. They have a fantastic sound as a chorus, are constantly invested in their action, and basically a joy to watch throughout. Tara Velan as the Beggar Woman truly distiguishes herself (in a very small amount of time) as a fantastic singer and brilliant performer who makes the most of every second she's onstage. In Velan's character is where we truly get to see the madness and passion that should be throughout the entire show. Similarly, Rocky Paterra as Toby is magnanimous with a beautiful voice, high energy and charisma that wins everyone - again, he makes the most of a much smaller role. Andy Nagraj as Judge Turpin truly commits to the seedy role and truly "goes there" - physically, emotionally - in respect to the depravity of the judge.

Much has been made about the live University of Pittsburgh Symphony Orcherstra that accompanies the production - and it truly does bring an amazing depth to the production and should probably be adopted as the standard for the Mainstage shows (provided the sound system can be made to not "pop" continuously.) But on the whole, an amazing supporting and ensemble cast coupled with a truly inventive production are what make this Sweeny Todd one to see.

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic lives,breathes and can currently be found at the top of a very steep hill producing snow by the constant snip, snip, snipping of Epony's balpoint-pen hands on reviews sculpted entirely from ice. Ice sculpted reviews available upon request and refridgeration.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"A Chorus Line" from Pittsburgh Playhouse

At it's best, "A Chorus Line" is an actual audition with tension and hunger bubbling just under the surface of the performers while they at first present their smiling faces to the director and then gradually are broken down until we see their true, human selves. At decent, "A Chorus Line" is a nostalgia show of the 70's with great songs and spirited dancing. The production at Pittsburgh Playhouse never quite reaches "A Chorus Line"'s best.

Now let it be known, "A Chorus Line" is a marathon for it's cast. It's almost two solid hours of dancing and singing, with almost all of the characters onstage all the time - and no intermission. However, what should also make it a marathon is the emotional journey these characters, who were developed in workshop with actual 1970's New York dancers, make. The cast, while extremely charismatic, has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer when it comes to crafting actual human beings. Take Sheila, played by Andrea Weinzierl, obviously an audience favorite, but her performance resembles Norma Desmond the entire show and doesn't stop - even after the director yells at her to drop the act and be real.

Unfortunately, that's about the tone for the rest of the cast made up of young Point Park performers. Not that this necessarily makes it a reason to avoid the show; it's still a fun night full of great songs, dancing, etc. There are, of course, stand outs, often found in the supporting roles. Among these are Sarah Meahl as a believably bubbly Judy, and Jordan P. Haskins as a disturbingly charming Bobby. Maggie, played by Sarah Chybrynski, drops audition pretenses for a beautiful solo in "At the Ballet". Richie, Marquis E. Johnson, is amazing in his short solos as he seemlessly connects his voice to the dance. Jessica Ruane as Diana ultimately ends up being the heart of the show with "What I did for love". And finally, Lily Davis as Cassie must be cited for her fine dancing and voice while Jerreme Rodriguez as Paul will have anyone who has ever questioned who they are in tears with his final monologue (and ultimate fate).

The costumes are believable to time period and the individual characters and really tell you something about each one, that goes for hairstyles too. However, Val, played by Nicole Soriano, has a great singing voice, but comes off almost as a demented Shirley Temple with babydoll-blond ringlet pigtails and tits SO fake-looking they are borderline distracting by their immobility through the bounciest of dance numbers. (It's interesting to see Val played for laughs instead of sex, though. Bold choice.)

In theory, the audtioners of "A Chorus Line" are in an empty theatre, playing to an audience of one - who is going to decide whether they have a reason to exist for the next six months or so. However, what may have stopped the cast from reaching the intimacy that comes from playing to an empty house may have been the rather bizarre sound system set up. The stage was miked, but the speakers were behind the audience, making voices, dance steps, etc. sound as though they were coming from the immediate back of the theatre. Also, at a point when Cassie is dancing with her back to the audience for a long period of time, the mirrors she faces are so cloudy, we the audience are completely cut off from the emotion of her face.

Truly bizarre,  but Eponymous begs the question why the stage was miked at all. The main stage of The Pittsburgh Playhouse is not that big considering most proscenioum stages, and there was no live orchestra as far as Eponymous could see (or read in the program). Perhaps the fact that the cast had to keep up with a pre-recorded track lent to the unnaturalness? Either way, the cast all but yells the entire show when they probably don't need to if the music was just turned down for dialogue. Worst of all, in fantastic ensemble numbers like the series of Montages ("Hello, Twelve", "Mother", etc.) great lines are muffled by said mikes and some characters are barely heard at all.

All in all Pittsburgh Playhouse's "A Chorus Line" is a nice night of nostalgia. The audience is invested in the show, and the actors obviously love what they are doing, so most everything else can be forgiven and is.

Pittsburgh Playhouse website -

- Eponymous has a note to other students of Point Park: We know your friends are singing and dancing, but stating their names out loud and "whoo-hooing" in an obnoxious A-flat does not enhance the viewing experience for those sitting next to you...or aid the actors. Simple, rabid hand-clapping will suffice in conveying your overwhelming joy and delight at seeing people you know onstage. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Good Person of Setzuan" from Carnegie-Mellon University

Those hoping for a quiet, inconspicuous night of sitting anonymously in a dark room watching people onstage may be suprised by moments of Carnegie-Mellon University's production of "Good Person of Setzuan" by Bertolt Brecht. The play is the story of Shen Te, a prostitute commisioned by the gods to "be good" and the parasites who latch onto that goodness, sucking it dry for all its worth.

Now, rest assured, Eponymous did homework. Brecht's original play featured actors speaking to the audience and random outbreaks of song, all of which are held true to in this version, albeit modernized and specialized for Pittsburgh audiences. The songs are best when staged naturally, rather than everyone running to the front of the stage for ten bars and then retreating, and when they are used to reveal how desperate the lives of the citizens of Setzuan really are. (i.e."In Our Country" and "The Song of the Day of St. Never To Be") A point which, given the humor of the performances, doesn't really come across when the actors are just talking about how miserable their lives are.

The set looks skeletal, with visible rigging and bare scaffolding so that you never forget you're in a theatre, watching actors - who you can see changing upstage if you're into that sort of thing. Costumes hang on racks in plain sight and seem like they've been lovingly pulled out of several designer dumpsters (shoe enthusiasts will be thrilled throughout). The rag-tag effects, along with the music and use of black underwear, make the overall effect "The Beggar's Opera" meets "Cabaret"/"Chicago". Video elements are used sporadically and beg the question, "Does it really amplify the message of the play to have close-ups of the actors on screen as they play onstage like a black-and-white movie?" Eponymous says no, but it does look nice.

Spoiler Alert * (If you're not up on your Brecht)

The female/male lead, Shen Te, is played transformatively by Ava DeLuca-Verley. She plays Shen Te, the ex-prostitute, as the picture of soft, do-gooding feminity. On the other hand, her Shui Ta, the "cousin" of Shen Te who appears when dirty work needs to be done, looks like Bob Dylan with the street-smart, masculine energy of Lou Reed, complete with New York Accent. Annie Heise as the perpetually shaky Mrs. Shin is also unforgettable, but the show is such a well-built ensemble show, everyone will have their favorite character/actor, with all characters/actors worthy of being called favorite.

The entire ensemble cast really shows a remarkable talent seldom seen in large theatres. You see, there's a reason most shows do not involve actors instigating a dialogue directly with the audience. The reason is it's flipping hard to do. A bad house gets only silence, which can be unnerving. Or one too-rowdy patron can easily make the whole room shuffle uncomfortably. But, the entire cast gives off the impression of adept control, putting the audience at ease to respond or not. Corey Cott as Wang evokes a young Hugh Jackman and is fortunately just as charming in his daring interactions with the audience.

 The actors radiate freedom onstage, even free to go back after a missed line or comment on a wardrobe malfunction. And this gives the audience freedom to laugh, relax and listen to what could become an unforgiving critique on humanity, but never does - although you probably will find the ending heartbreaking, or disturbing, or hilarious, or some potent combination. - Link to the Carnegie-Mellon School of Drama Box Office

- Eponymous admits a certain bias. After all, Eponymous was President of Carnegie-Mellon University until a coup of belligerent lawn gnomes forced Epony to abdicate and retire to the North Hills of Albuquerque. But, it's all right. There are hot air ballons here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

"Lost Boy Found In Whole FoodS" from Pittsburgh Playhouse

Eponymous's first visit to The Pittsburgh Playhouse proved a fruitful one. "Lost Boy Found In Whole Foods" is the story of a middle-aged, white divorcee who takes in a Sudanese refugee, one of the infamous African "Lost Boys" and the emotions she, her biological family, and the unexpected family she acquires, experiences through trying to help just one person.

Lights rise on a decpetively simple and organic set. The lighting design on panels around the stage give off beautiful colors and emotion of sunsets, rain and even the grey of sorrow. The sound design using "Dinka" music almost seems to set the pace for show with the short scenes and swift progression of time echoed in the music that switches to American rap when the emotional situation calls.

The middle-aged white divorcee, Christine, played by Laurie Klatscher, is the classic middle-aged white American. She wears khaki and carries a leather explorer bag but never goes anywhere in an SUV that only sees paved roads. Even her sixteen-year-old daughter, Alex, played by an angelic-looking but fire-tongued Connie Costanzo, points out that her mother's recent shopping at Whole Foods is just some fad.

On one said shopping trip, Christine meets Gabriel, the Sudanese refugee from the title. He is charming, friendly, angelic even, which is what the character calls for and is played with remarkable attention to accent, language and mannerisms by David Anthony Berry. Much to the chagrin of her daughter, Christine decides to bring him into their home, in a sincere but near-sighted attempt to help.

Klatscher brings an honest earnestness to Christine, as someone who wants to help but also wants the problem to be fixed right now. Castanzo's first appearance on the stage as the frustrated-at-the-world Alex is so convincing as an actual teenager, most parents in the audience will have their teeth on edge at the familiar sounds and door slams of a hormonal morning battle.

What no one forsees is that Gabriel comes with baggage. The personification of this baggage, which includes death, lonliness, isolation, survival and shame, comes in the form of Panther, Gabriel's imposing friend who Christine never expected to have in her house. Jamil A.C. Mangan reprises his role from the original production in New Jersey and gives a silent, powerful performance as a man who saw too much, much too young. As sullen as Panther is, Berry makes Gabriel as friendly and open. The two talented actors standing side-by-side effectively demonstrate that suffering can be cover with a smile as well as a sneer.

A great performance was turned out by Shammen McCune, who plays the social activist  Segel Mohammed, a woman who works in the trenches, so to speak, managing and aiding the everyday lives of refugees who've made it to America. McCune takes the stage with both hands and is magnetizing every second she's on it. As Segel, she is a woman of authority who is always right, who always fights and doesn't take an ounce of crap. It is a shame we have to wait till Act II to see her, and Eponymous feels for the people who had to sit behind her back for her wonderful performance.

The slow moments of the play are when Christine meets with another middle-class white American volunteer, Michael played by Ben Blazer. With the rest of the play being such a rich mix of inter-racial politics and language, the scenes about two white Americans discussing the white American perspective with their similarly white American sense of humor just felt unneccessary. The entire Michael character could probably be sacrificed for more scenes with the much more dynamic character Segel or with the daughter, Alex.

Now let's talk about emotion, to anyone in the audience, particularly the parents, this play is going to resonate. There is no way it can't. "Lost Boy Found..." is all about orphans, mothers, lost children, lost parents and displacement, and, on opening night, there were several wet eyes in the house. This wasn't out of horrible imagery or torturous details of human suffering, but out of a gentle, honest and strong connection of the audience to the people onstage over a shared point of reference, family.

But there are some flaws in the play that the skilled actors work around rather than play. When Christine walks into Whole Foods she is inexplicably looking for something to change her life, and the barrier between her and this stranger is non-existent. There is a massive confrontation between Gabriel and Panther that is resolved a bit too easily considering the magnitude of the event. Christine and Alex's relationship stops being explored in Act II. The play resolves itself emotionally, then continues for two more scenes and a twist that doesn't really feel earned.

But, the work avoids many cliche's of "plays with a message". Monologues addressed to the audience are kept to a minimum, making the ones that are there stand out with a special reverence. The characters are warm, there is no clear "bad guy" we are meant to hate. The antagonist of the piece is the problem, which is too large for seemingly anyone to really do anything about.

But there lies the magic of "Lost Boy Found..." We are inspired to do something. The play is a love story to the individual volunteer, doing what you can, when you can. What it takes Christine the majority of the play to discover, is that what little she can do is enough -- as long as she doesn't do less.

-Eponymous can spell "Eponymous" from memory after years of study with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, not to be confused with The Ramones. Eponymous enjoys daschunds, but only from a distance, and small, round-shaped things named Earl.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mr. Cattivo AKA Drag King Competition AKA A Night of Firsts.

Eponymous will be honest with you, any drag shows previously attended have little to no kings involved. However, last night at a local hot-spot known infamously as "Cattivo", a new "King" was crown. (and keep in mind that this a DRAG show, so when a KING is crowned, yes, you follow) Yes, three hyper-rehearsed and hyper-talented men competed to be this year's Mr. Cattivo.  You're probably morbidly depressed now, as I would be, to know that you missed the coronation/competition. A small distinction here, "Cattivo" is the top floor where dancing and strobe lighting occurs. The downstairs, "Cattivo Sotto" is where shows and events take place (before being used for dancing and strobes), but it's all the same building. Added bonus is that you can get a standard menu of bar food in addition to the full bar.

So morbid depression is a legitimate way to feel (as all ways of feeling are permitted/accepted/encouraged at Cattivo Sotto). But the good news is this feeling can be easily eliminated. As it turns out there is quite a vibrant Drag King scene all over Pittsburgh. It turns out that every First Friday of the month, a gender performace troupe called "Hot Metal Hardware" pulls it out at Cattivo. There's a "gender performance" workshop at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center on Grant Street (So Drag for Dummies?) and a pretty darn well-organized network of other "contests" such as 2011 Mr. Pittsburgh Pride Drag King.

The tickets to get in are more than reasonable, especially considering the performers aren't just some chicks who decided to eye-liner a 'stache and drunkenly lip-sync. Armed with names like "Maxwell Girth" (most of whom you can like/friend on facebook by the way), the performers come out swinging, each trying to out-strut, strip, grind, pop, lock, what-have you, each other for nothing other than your entertainment and pride...and the prizes, but mainly your entertainment.  As an addition, the show also includes a series of cabaret acts ranging from belly-dancing, burlesque, "hooping" (uber-cool), balancing, and a series of professional drag queens losing their wigs and hitting the high notes. Let it be known that the cabaret acts are a bit of grab-bag. Some are epic, some are epic fails, but all add to the sense of the party.

So let's say you've never been to drag show of any kind, whether it be out of lack of opportunity, lack of companions or lack of interest (if that's how you choose to live your life). The drag shows at "Cattivo Sotto" are a good place to pop your cherry. This is because the spirit of the place is good for anyone. As last year's former "Mr. Cattivo" winner JJ COX kept stating, "There's a lot of love in this room." The place just has a nice quality for standards and newcomers alike...and lots of dick jokes.

There's no real love in the room without dick jokes.

146 44th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 (Lawrenceville)

Cattivo website:

Pittsburgh Drag King Scene:

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic was born on the boundary line of New York and one of the other states that touches New York. Eponymous has since left the great state of "Adjacent-To-New-York" and now resides here is Pittsburgh.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Camino" from the Hiawatha Project

"Camino", directed and written by Anya Martin, follows characters through privatized prisons, a reality in America, and hell which the system inflicts upon its prisoners and their family. Private prisons have been around since 1983 and generate billions of dollars in profit, typically cutting costs by denying prisoners basic human amenities like water or enough food. Prisoners can also be moved from prison to prison, practically un-regulated, so even locating a husband or father, can be extremely difficult (let alone getting them legal help or documents).

"Camino", as it stands now after about three years development is large in scope. Sharing the stage with the prisoners is a flock of intrepid birds, played by humans in cultural Spanish dress, which gives a mythical air to the piece. The bird scenes may actually be too indulgent in the many psychological ideas they present. But the idea of connections being cut off, whether geographical, emotional or physical, actually disrupts the pattern of nature itself is extremely relevant to the piece.

The play definitely stands cohesively on its feet. It possesses inspired lighting, beautiful sound design, a deceptively simple-looking set and a superb multi-media setup of camera and graphics at a level of expertise seldom seen actually working on cue in a theatre, let alone a converted theatre space. The Dance Alloy Studio Theatre is expertly used to its fullest extent, giving the actor levels and boundaries to play and react to. Any audience seeing "Camino" will know they are watching a combined effort put on by professionals.

It is difficult t o mention all the great performances of a cast of twelve, but special note should be made of Monteze Freeland delivers us what is arguably the most heart-breaking character and then becomes the childish comic-relief, often in back-to-back scenes. His performance as the Congo refugee "Kenney" is so powerful it devours the first act, and makes you think perhaps Kenney should be the subject of his own play. Claudia Duran also turns in strong performance as Estrella, the intrepid wife of an illegal alien behind bars. Again, these are two of a VERY gifted and remarkable ensemble cast.

Much has been made about the true story inspiring "Camino", at the play's heart is the true story of Milton Mejia and his wife, Stephany. Milton, an ex-student of Martin, was separated from his wife and deported. His only crime was that he had entered the US illegally. While the basic description of the play, "Two Men Missing. Two women risking everything to find them", eventually comes to fruition, it takes about an hour into the two-hour, ten-minute run for that point to be reached.  

It’s sad it takes so long to get the ball rolling, because great performances such as Gab Cody as Renee, the American archetype who is not cruel but ignorant of the world outside of her own, don’t get seen or explored until much later – probably when the audience is already emotionally drained from the beginning of Act 1. Act 2, by comparision, is almost sparse. Pacing like that points to “Camino” not quite being out of development just yet. The reason the play takes so long to get started is that "Camino" spends a lot of time setting up a Skynet-meets-Big-Brother world of ID bracelets for even legal aliens, and a "Government Private Sector" in the Southwest where even American Citizens can be thrown into illegal alien detention.

The reason for this is clear, Martin wants to heighten all the paranoia, regulation, sea of red-tape to a proportion where we, the audience, might begin to feel the claustrophobia of the hunted. I will not say it corrupts the message of “Camino”, but it does broaden it considerably. However, one has to think that if the state of privatized prisons are so inhuman and the situation of the prisoners already so dire, wouldn't an accurate portrayal of the horror of privatized prisons are now be more sufficient? Being steeped in our real, immediate world might inspire its audience to rise to actual action instead of leaving the theatre glad that the world of "Camino", with ID bracelets and the like, does not exist…


"Camino" by Anya Martin
Sept 15th - 24th

Alloy Dance Theater
5530 Penn Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15206

 Tickets may be purchased at:

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic graduated from the Moscow Art Theatre in 1943 after founding the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898. Now retired, Epony enjoys white-water rafting and breeding peacocks competitively.