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.