Monday, October 15, 2012

"Maple and Vine" from City Theatre

"Maple and Vine" by Jordan Harrison is the story of a wife and husband who are more than frustrated by modern life, they're harried, isolated and genuinely unhappy. But, when a well-dressed stranger with a hat and a briefcase invites them to relocate to a special gated community where it's perpetually 1955.

"Maple and Vine" follows Katha, played by Robin Abramson and her Japanese husband Ryu, played by Nelson Lee (who also played the character at A.C.T. in San Francisco). As their normal-era selves, Abramson and Lee seem almost come across as desensitized to their real world (but not necessarily first-world) problems. It's not that they're smiling through the pain, but rather slightly bemused by the simultaneous oppression and isolation of their modern-day life.

Abramson and Lee in their 2012 New York City apartment are modern day "free" - they order in, they sit on the back of sofas, they have oral sex and wear poly-blends - but they're still anything but happy. Dean, the man with the hat, introduces the couple to the "S.D.O.", the 1955 Society of Deliberate Obsolescence where people create their dossier (in concordance with 1955's politics and history, of course) and start living the life of a beatnik, milkman or, as most women in the day, a housewife.

When Abramson and Lee enter the S.D.O., it  seems more like a game than the last act of two desperate humans on the brink. And while, in essence, they are everyone in the audience - better educated, more socially aware, able to rise above social oppression and racism - what is fascinating is how easily and well the couple switches to the 1955's game. Stereotypes are embraced as jokes, domestic fights are applauded and blackmail is attempted.

But the game does change for the current residents. Greg McFadden, a charmer from the second he steps onto the stage, plays Dean, one of the pillars of the communities. Caralyn Kozlowski is his statuesque Stepford-like wife Ellen who brims with a carefully controlled power beneath a flawless exterior of button wrist gloves and pot roast. Ross Beschler, who juxtaposes a modern and 1955's version of a homosexual with alternating humor and realism, gives a real voice to the pain of repression. All give tremendous performances that overflow with humanity once the 1950's veneer is shattered, or eroded, away.

While the 1950's are pictured today as a simpler, nicer, better time, the world isn't a brainwashing operation. Once inside, you live and partake everyday as a human being in the 1955 microcosm - complete with all the complexities and secrets that were kept hidden behind the floral-print curtains. The costumes by Robert C.T. Steele are deliciously flawless with all the beautiful constraints of the inherent in the un-budging fabrics.  Under Kip Fagan's direction the work is funny, tender and an honest study of what we will do to achieve happiness.

Tickets for "Maple and Vine" can be purchased here: http://citytheatre.culturaldistrict.org/production/33010/

The Eponymous Theatre Critic is involved in a life-long role-playing game where players involve themselves in key positions in society and seek to disrupt the normal, American way of life by enhancing our dogma. The game is called: Veganism.

"Suspicious Package" from Future Tenant

"Suspicious Package" is an interactive role-playing theatrical experience that has been to New York, Edinburgh and recently closed (to far less fanfare than deserved) in Pittsburgh. A sugar-substitute heiress, hard-boiled detective, a glamorous showgirl and a cast of other noir archetypes are played by the theatre-goers who are directed their lines, inner monologues and footsteps via iPod.

The Hostess, Creator, Writer and Video Performer Gyda Arber has created an experience that is both entertaining and completely accessible. Most multi-media works push the threshold of audience/performer relationships - sometimes uncomfortably so - but "Suspicious Package" is just fun! Any fan of noir films, Raymond Chandler novels or just pretending are in for a treat if this show moves on to another venue.

"Suspicious Package" takes a group, six at most, and assigns everyone a role: Detective, Heiress, etc., then a hat (or feather boa), and a Personal Video Player. Participants walk around the block, visiting secret locations as music, their character's voice overs and actions that must be accomplished are piped in through their perfectly-synced earphones. The audience/actors are given just enough to structure the story: The Showgirl flirts with the Detective, the Reporter snoops, the Doctor has a bright red bag, but the "how" things get accomplished, i.e. the fun bits are up to the spur-of-the moment, and off-the-top-of-the-head.

The Pittsburgh version only covered a single block and had only three locations (which is good for the directionally-challenged but can be repetitive in terms of the story). But it's honestly impressive how well the system works, considering the mixture of the two most unwieldy components of the theatre: Audience & Technology.

For future information on her shows, Gyda Arber's Website can be found here:
http://www.gydaarber.com/

The Eponymous Theatre Critic is gypped out of a lot of birthday presents. It's not the placement of Epony's birthday in the calender, but Epony's gambling addiction.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"The Rivals" by Carnegie Mellon University


"The Rivals" by Richard Brinsley Sheridan is a comedy of manner in five acts. Mistaken identities, meddling parents and rhyming couplets abound as Jack Absolute struggles to win the heart of Lydia Languish who believes him to be Ensign Beverly, his own rival for her hand in marriage.


A beautifully rendered set featuring a giant letter suspended above the English city of Bath opens "The Rivals" currently playing at CMU. Bath, is best comparable to an 18th century English Las Vegas, is a city where anything can happen - most of which does over the course of the three hour performance. "The Rivals" is best compared to a modern "Ensemble Rom-Com". It's fun, it's funny but there are so many characters doing so many things (and talking so much) audiences may feel a bit unfilled to some character's arcs.


But, despite some character's short stage time, what is anything but unfulfilling are the performances rendered. The diversity of the young cast onstage is amazing to behold. Alexandra Spieth as Mrs. Malaprop and Lachlan McKinney as Sir Anthony Absolute steal the show as the aged parental figures who insist on marrying the mischievous Jack to the girl he already has plans to elope with (under his assumed identity).

Joseph Maddox as Bob Acres, a simple country man in search of a Bathian bride, exudes energy and down-home humor as another rival for Lydia's hand. Similarly, Jon Jorgenson and Grace Rao as Faulkland and his fiance Julia Melville deliver what is perhaps the only heartbreaking moment of the night, but with such honesty and quiet strength it really seems the play might not have such a happy ending after all. (Don't worry, it does)


The costumes by Albulena Borovci are gorgeous to behold, with the men just as beautifully and pictorially done as the women. In the midst of so many words, it is wonderful to see the ingenious physical comedy that emerges throughout the play - corsets, three-cornered hats, pantaloons and all.


Visiting director Annie Tyson clearly knows the world and where to find the comedy in even the most dense of vocabulary. It is easy to see that, when it comes to uniting beautiful language and physicality the students of Carnegie Mellon University are without Rivals.

Tickets for "The Rivals" at Carnegie Mellon University can be purchased here: http://www.drama.cmu.edu/calendar/day_view/day:October+9,+2012


-The Eponymous Theatre Critic was waiting the entire review to make that last "rivals" joke. Just be impressed at the restraint to not fill the entire review with similar attempts.          

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"RABBIT: An Original Rabbit Tragedy" by Eternal Cult

"RABBIT: An Original Rabbit Tragedy" by Jon Mac Cole and Savannah Reich is a tale of a runt-born rabbit named Jonathan who dreams of being a great magician...or just having a family of his own. But, when a hawk picks up the unsuspecting hare, Jonathan is set on a journey that we are told can only have a tragic end.

"RABBIT" is a traveling Do-It-Yourself theatre show by Eternal Cult, currently touring with stops all along the East Coast. Besides great writing, the show boasts all the ingenuity of a indie band music video with the cast transforming themselves in simple but effective homemade costumes. Similarly, the group travels the country with a van and a set that is assembled and dissembled at each venue.

Jon Mac Cole stars as Jonathan, the tragic rabbit who - often through no fault of his own - ends up down Aristotle's structure more than up it. Savannah Reich is his hipster daughter with dreams and desires but not enough maturity to actually make a viable life plan. Rounding out the uber-talented cast is Patrick Costello, Flora Mahaffy, James Jordan and Anna Young as a cavalcade of characters from a hipster badger, a free-range shyster Guinea pig, a pretentious sci-fi novel writer, and the operatic Black Rabbit Queen of the Dead (among others).

At first glance, the play seems ripe for a children's production - if a few curse words could be removed. But, in the dawning of the second act proves what the Greek Chorus revealed at the top of the show - that the show is indeed a tragedy and can only end as such. Not a bloody, bloody, funny "tragedy", but an existential crisis of self-worth, the cages we can and can't escape and whether the choices of out lives matter.

Don't neglect to wear your ears. It is imperative that the show only be seen by squirrels.

Dates for the show can be found here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/278963

The Eponymous Theatre Critic is a highly-spirited, competitive sould who enjoys a rousing game at any point of the day or night - particularly with the hat game piece.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

'ROPE" from Pittsburgh Playhouse

"ROPE" by Patrick Hamilton is a suspense drama where apathetic intellect meets an unthinkable action when two undergraduate lovers kill a fellow co-ed and plan a pompous dinner party around the concealed corpse. And yes, it is basis of the same-titled Hitchcock film.

The production currently playing at Pittsburgh Playhouse begins with an expert use of darkness, shadows and natural light. It's not often that one sees the technical aspects of theatre use so simply with such stunning effect. Lamps provide lamplight, open doors flood with hallway light, dimmers are controlled by actors and work the way lights do in your own home - only the set by Gianni Downs belongs on a Better Homes & Garden catalogue.

The skill seen in director Elmore James's staging of the first ten minutes prepares everyone for a night of fantastic, complete and polished theatre. Nicholas J. Browne as Charles Grinaldo is the perpetrator of the unseen but much-discussed crime, and John Steffenauer is his Argentinian boyfriend who helped in the motiveless murder of their fellow student. Browne appears to hold all the cards as the ever charming, cool-headed mastermind and the tension between his hand pulling the strings and Steffenauer's unraveling counterpart adds so much to the show.

On the other side of the chessboard, the reluctant and almost unrecognizable as a hero Rupert Cadell is played with stylish and linguistic mastery by Ryan K. Witt. Witt manages to make the purposefully unlikable, jaded character rise to the challenge, become the hand of justice which the character does not even believe exists in the start of the play. Witt also manages the character's verbal gymnastics, one-liners and mocks with aplomb.  

In fact, every character is well-defined in the show. Some have less than 20 lines, some are onstage for less than 20 minutes, but all leave a real, often empathetic imprint on the mind of the audience. The stellar cast includes: Rebecca Knowles as Leila Arden, Kevin Daniel O'Leary as Sabot, Sean Sears as Professor Jonathan and Jennifer Tober as Mrs. Deben.

While many plays try to stuff as many variations of action and events that can possibly fit,  what is fascinating about "ROPE" is the way the simply-constructed story unfolds. We see the detective become interested and disinterested in the case (largely dependent on how much or what he drinks), leading the audience - who always knows where the body is - to constantly be waiting for the excitement of the reveal or the horror of the unreveal - both of which seem constantly inevitable.

Tickets for "ROPE" can be purchased here: http://www.pittsburghplayhouse.com/Tickets/ordertickets

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic finds leopard print in a variety of colors and styles, from electric blue to radioactive pink to verisimilitude lime green. From carpeting to bathrobes, leopard print in available at any time, day or night.    

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick" from Caravan Theatre

"800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick" wades into the arcane mind of the often misunderstood science fiction writer as he struggles to live through his last days, his experience with meeting God, and the transformation of one of his novels into the film Bladerunner."

Let it be said, "800 Words" is a play about ideas, just as Philip K. Dick was a lover, transcriptor of psychedelic, scientific and religious epiphanies. That being said, the play moves in an out through episodes of Dick's life to dissertations on theology and art to the fragile strings of his psychology, where even time is anything but linear. That being said, the play has a tendency to ramble and repeat with the actors going along for the ride rather than creating new explorations of some scenes that are ultimately the same.

Philip K. Dick is played by John Gresh who brings the complex character into the most human light imaginable. The "SF" writer is affluent in language and affable in demeanor. You instantly want to share one of his beers and listen to Linda Ronstadt with him, making all his triumphs and failures all the more personal. Also another high point of the show, Tony Bingham as Stan Lem, a Polish, Marxist book publisher and Secret Agent Man brings an amazing mix of comic timing, energy and physical prowess to his quick-switching roles.

Pittsburgh up-and-comer Lily Davis plays several female roles and makes a lot of what could be seen as simply "jail bait" characters like Philip's underage grug supplier and a Marxist "incentive" named Gertrude. Likewise, Diana Ifft brings a lot in one of the play's most random tangents, although the entire scene could be cut from the piece with little or no reprecussions.

There are some problems with the show. The video aspects of the show are dismal to say the least, with random words flying by - mostly illegibly - and a "VIDEO" projection box in the right hand corner popping up on set. Similarly, there is lack of sound design (which is very different from just playing a song as background music) leaves some scenes feeling empty and oddly quiet, and puppetry of the piece is sloppy at many points - including some puppets being left dead onstage with their insides poking out.

Despite the unimpressive technical aspects of the show, there are a hundred reason to see Caravan's Theatre latest work. Lovers of Philip's work will be delighted with the piece, and noy-yet-fans will definately leave inspired to pick up one of his 44 novels or 121 short stories. Open-minded audiences will also be treated to a theatrical experience that asks dynamic questions of which the only answer is, there are more questions.    

Tickets for "800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick" can be purchased here: http://caravantheatreofpittsburgh.com/Caravan_Theatre_of_Pittsburgh/Welcome.html

-The Eponymous Theatre Critic is alone on a smoldering planet surrounded by nothing but stacks and stacks of books and a single broken pair of glasses at Epony's feet.   

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Riders to the Sea" and "Lizbeth" from Microscopic Opera Company

"Riders to the Sea" follows a small Irish family on the night the last man of their family, as all the men before him, dies at seas. "Lizabeth" is an operatic exploration into the life and motivations of Lizzie Bordon, the infamous 19th century woman who allegedly killed off her father and stepmother with an ax.

It is completely possible that the general confusion of the audience at "Riders to the Sea" may be coloring this section of the review. But, let it be known, the Irish one-act that starts off the evening is actually shown in two ways. The first half is the non-musical play by J.M. Synge, and, immediately after, the actresses of the piece switch roles, and the operatic version by Ralph Vaughan Williams begins.

While it is interesting to see the two version put side by side, and even more exciting to see a company willing to take the risk, the two versions are a) virtually identical in terms of lines and b) virtually identical in forms of staging. The effect, instead of having one piece illuminate the other's, or show different aspects of certain revelations, is more watching one show and then watching it again, this time with music.

However, while the concept and staging seems a bit off, the performances by the various leads stand strong. Laurie Klatscher, Tressa Glover and Brandi Welle deliver an honest portrayal of women who have lost everything only to find the cliff where they can push off more. While Mary Beth Sederburg, Gail Novak Mosites and Leah Edmondson Dyer sing their way through the journey with grace and amazing voices.

However, the real meat of the night comes in the second act with the short opera "Lizabeth". While "Rider's to the Sea" features no suprises or changes between the two version, "Lizabeth" shows off the staging prowess of director Gregory Lehane. "Lizabeth" shows not only the murderess Lizzie, but her elder and younger version, showing all sides of her split psyche at once.

Anna Signer as Lizabeth, the eldest, is refined, friendly and creepily engaging as a woman who has spent the majority of her life trying to escape her own name. Is she caught in a web of self-delusion? Dementia? Is she using one to cope with the other? Jillian K. Marini as Young Lizzie captures the stubborn face and physical body of Lizzie's young, frustrated side. And, rounding out the gruesome trifecta, Erica Olden plays the Lizzie that is pushed to the brink as a woman, due to stress and affection that has always been just out of reach, finally breaks.

As always, the live orchestra of Microscopic is a perfect addition to the evening, never overpowering of the actors and beautifully underscoring both selections with melodies that uplift or haunt you long after the show is over. Again, Microscopic Opera provides a night of theatre that is unique and bloody good.

Tickets to "Riders to teh Sea & Lizabeth" can be purchsed here: http://microscopicopera.org/Home.html

- The Eponymous Theatre critic enjoys lambasting* with olive oil and oregano.

*Editor Correction: I believe the term is "Lamb Basting". If you want people to know you're a chef, just write it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Ivanov" from Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre (PICT)

"Ivanov", one of masterful Russian playwright Anton Chekov's early works, catches the titular middle-aged character as he tries to wade through his midlife crisis with a wife dying of tuberculosis, a farm rapidly falling into bankruptcy and himself being the key subject of gossip in a comedy only a Russian could write.

While most American adaptations of Chekov are given the death-wish description of "boring" the production of "Ivanov" currently running as part of PICT's "Chekov Festival" plays with all the verbal fast-paced wit of a Noel Coward play with all the heady melancholy of Hamlet. This achievement is largely due to the expert hand of director Andrew S. Paul, who stages the piece as farcefully as possible, and succeeds.

Truth be told, the supposrting characters steal the show. Alan Stanford as Count Shabelsky is a great commanding presence coupled with a downright graceful command of the language. If the play was named for the character with the most work done, it could very well be called "Lebedev", played by Martin Giles. Giles creates a blustering, put-upon father figure and friend that shakes with hilarious comic tension. While young talent Katya Stepanov gives a great performance as Sasha, the "other woman" who is more young and naive than malicious. Stepanov gives the veteran actors, or even a stage full of actors, a brash, brave challege to overcome.

That being said, Ivanov himself, played by David Whalen is a bit of a quandry. While it's probably silly to expect that every character in a Russian comedy be funny, Whalen's Ivanov all but sucks the comedy out of the room every time he appears. His anger isn't fun, but scary. His sadness isn't convincing, but wallowing.  And, seeing someone throwing themself a two-hour pity party doesn't inspire empathy, but more annoyance.

Granted, "Ivanov" is a bit of a crapshoot for an actor. We see the character talking more than actually doing anything. But, one of the good things about the ambiguity of "Ivanov" is that it leaves a lot of room for strong choices. Is Ivanov a master manipulator who started believing his own lies (as the townspeople say)? Is he a great man who really is misunderstood (As Sasha says)? Is he too stupid or self righteous or bumbling to be either (As various others say)? Any interpretation would be acceptable, and hilarious.

And maybe that is why the character of Ivanov in PICT's production falls flat, he's not enough of any. Fortunately though, the rest of the play moves with witty banter, hilarious characters and enough "comedy-of-manners" type situations to suit any comic needs. If you have never seen a Chekov play, or still need convincing as to their entertainment value, the "Ivanov" at PICT should not be missed.

Tickets for PICT's production of "Ivanov" can be purchased here:
https://picttheatre.secure.force.com/ticket/

-The Eponymous Theatre Critic, like most theatre critics, can be found staying up too late and drinking far too much. But, eight glasses a day takes some doing if you have to squeeze them in all before midnight.

Monday, July 30, 2012

"Henry V" by Bakerloo Theatre Project

"Henry V" is one of Shakespeare's most performed history plays. It chronicles the war led by the formerly-infamous playboy Henry "Harry" the Fifth to regain the crown of France and follows the growth of Harry into manhood.

To call the recently-closed production of the Bakerloo Theatre Project "Henry V" is a bit of a stretch. The play is cut down to a two-hour show where the scenes seem to have been chosen fro either a) comedy or b) infamy. All the funny scenes are present, and all the famous speeches included, meaning Bakerloo has created an almost "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern" style show where Henry V himself is almost an afterthought.

Certainly the best performances from the ensemble cast come in the descriptive monologues - often cut from modern productions - where Shakespeare invokes the audience to imagine the locations and create the scenes of horses, pomp, war, etc. The cast shows a remarkable and beautiful connection to the language and, in these moments of directly connecting to the audience - in fact, whenever the gifted cast is given a large monologue to revel in - succeed where other points of the show fall flat.

The ensemble cast consists of Lauren Diesch, Parag S. Gohel, Brittany Proia, Jake Staley, Aaron Jefferson Tindall and Joseph McGranaghan as Henry V.


In chopping the play apart, or showing only the "greatest hits" of Henry V - in its original form a five-act all-night affair - director William Addis upsets the emotional journey of the play without providing a new outlook or constructing the play to make it something new.

It's not so much that the audience doesn't know where in the geography of Europe they are, but where we are supposed to be emotionally in the story. We barely saw Harry in the first act, why should we care about him in the second? What is Harry's journey if his second-act persona is equal to the first? These funny characters in the first act, where are they in the second? Why were we shown them at all?

The production also lends itself a certain un-earned pomp. The traveling memorial "Eyes Wide Open" (see picture) is channeled in the opening and closing moments of the play. But, within the performance, the horrors of war are kept remarkably...light?

We see funny soldiers -sometimes nervous- but not horrified or shell-shocked. A dialogue where a captain irefuses to speak up for a soldier about to be hanged is done in a comical lisp and pleasant demeanor. The production ends with a happy, hopeful marriage arrangement between the love-sick Harry and the charmed princess Katherine of France, and then everyone begins to remove their shoes and line them up.

There is a true disconnect between what actually happens on the stage and the storyline that was pieced together. Similarly, in a production where everyone dresses in fatigues and Iraq memorials are discussed in the program, there were no battles, no choreography and no use of sound. The entire production was less than bare-bones with no set and barely any props. The entirety could move to a field and be performed largely unchanged.

And the sin in all this is, rather than use the absence of things to make inpirational, relevatory choices that illustrate better than physical objects ever could, the production simply chooses to ignore them, leaving us with a disjointed, slow-moving, almost stream-of-conciousness "Henry V".

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic can be found using words aren's used in High Society - outside of a kennel. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Candida" from Bakerloo Theatre Project

"Candida" by George Bernard Shaw is a love triangle dramady set between a Socialist preacher, his upstanding wife Candida and a young poet who thinks he has what Candida truly needs to be happy.

Bakerloo is a new theatre company in town. Recently transplanted from NYC, the company seeks to bring young artists (of all types) from across the country to re-interpret classic works. Their inaugural season consists of "Henry V" and "Candida" and is currently being housed at Future Tenant. They offer free tickets to any middle-school or high school students.

There is a great sense of ensemble and comic timing in the cast. The genius of the performers comes acorss in the little intricacies and movements that everyone involves in whether they are the focus of the scene or not.

In particular, Parag S. Gohel as the young poet with a nervous conidition but a love-lorn heart, Eugene Marchbanks. It is wonderful to see an actor inhabit the language, emotions and physical body of a character. Gohel's Eugene is a sweating, somewhat blubbering near-adolescent who somehow manages to completely threaten and disturb Candida's husband (played by Jake Staley...who looks a dead-ringer for a reincarnated Anton Chekov). And, what's more, the audience believes this physically weak specimen when he does it.

Similarly, Lauren Diesch , provides a precise portrayal as the put-upon secretary Proserphine Garnett.  The character is professional and pointed in her language and restrained in her actions and Diesch succeeds in giving the character a whole body as well as rich inner fantasy life we know exists but the character never gives voice to.

The titular role, played by Brittany Proia, is either fully revealed to us or fully realised in the play's final scene, but for the most part Candida herself seems to walk on a cloud. Whether this is because she has two men constantly referring to her as "angel" or because Candida is trying to purposefully stay above it all is up for debate, but it might do well for her to come down and let herself be seduced a bit.

The play on the whole takes awhile to get rolling, but builds to an intimate, honest exploration of marriage, need and purpose in life. Although maybe it is that the world of the play has a little trouble finding itself. The opening moments involve characters reading Shaw's detailed stage directions from a prompt book about other characters, a convention that disappears and the play proceeds as typical plays do. And two randomly choreographed scene changes to top 40 hits are amusing but seems misplaced and a bit distracting (if not obvious).

However, the play moves. The two-hour show glides by with lots of laughs and, if the worst criticism involves the questioning of a dance sequence with overcoats, then Bakerloo is on a great start to asserting themselves in the Pittsburgh community.

"Candida" closes tonight 7/28/2012, but tickets for Bakerloo's "Henry V" can be purchased here:
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/254839

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic has been on a government-induced hiatus. It seems there is a limit on how many times one can use the word "avocado" before having to pay the piper...  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Private Lives" from Pittsburgh Public Theatre

"Private Lives" is the quintessential Noel Coward romp through "only hurt the one you love" antics set in high-society mannerisms. Amanda and Elyot, divorced, end up in the same hotel in adjacent rooms with their new spouses, Victor and Sibyl (respectively). Upon seeing one another again, Amanda and Elyot realize they are still very much in love...or in "love to hate".

As always, the Pittsburgh Public turns out a fantastic team of acting professionals. There's a lot of zany antics in "Private Lives", and the result threatens to de-rail at any moment. But, even when they're chasing each other around the room hurling furniture decor, the cast's performance is clean and precise. It makes the comedy, largely a show of clever one-liners, all the more funnier for their skill.

Michael Brusasco (Elyot Chase) and Victoria Mack (Amanda Prynne) 's pairing turns out to be the basically amoral and ultimately selfish couple. However, the performers are so adapt at their charming sophistication, the audience ends up rooting for them no matter what their characters do. We're happy if they're in love one minute, and equally happy with her smashing a gramaphone record over his head. Quite frankly, there's no absolutely terrible couple we'd like to see end up together more.

Laird Mackintosh (Victor Prynne) and Amanda Leigh Cobb (Sibyl Chase) also round out the excellent ensemble as the unlucky in love civilians who get caught up in the tornado that is Elyot and Amanda. These performers create whole, individual characters that stand opposite of yet perfectly in sync with their more overt (though maritally short-lived) spouses. Each provides their own comic flair in roles that could simply be outshined by the leads but never are in this fantastic ensemble gambol.

In a play manners, the set can sometimes be neglected, leaving the actors with little to play with but the words. Thsi production avoids that gaff, giving even the simplest scenes lots of doors and props and obstacles that must be jumped over or cuddled on or evaded when thrown. This creates unique and intricate staging that feeds into the energy of the language - meaning the massive amount of talking never gets boring and we can't wait for the next line.

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic runs through a meadow of memories. And, wheverever you are, don't despiar. Today is the color purple.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

"Dutchmen" from Bricolage Production Company

"Dutchman" by LeRoi Jones (now known as Amiri Baraka) finds two people, a black man and a white woman, on a subway. The two begin a seduction dance that escalates into a bitter dissection of race and manhood.

Bricolage Production Company has arguably the most exciting atmosphere in all of Pittsburgh theatre. From the moment you walk in, one can tell that the volunteers are excited to have you participate in the graffiti wall, the ticket girl is thrilled that you came, the concessions lady is happy to talk for awhile. The atmosphere of the lobby is one of pent-up exhiliration (They've made theatre! You're going to see it! Isn't that fantastic!?) and for that reason alone Bricolage should be wildly applauded and attended.

The set of "Duthcmen" is a monument to what decently-funded theatre can do. (Please take this sentence to donate to a theatre) Audiences are treated to a subway car that extends from one end of the room to the other, giving plenty of area, handrails, and interesting seating for the characters to explore. On that note, when you enter the theatre, sit to the right as most of the action is aimed there. The lights/projections are used masterfully to really give the specific sense of movement that a subway car has. In addition, the sounds help to complete the illusion and set up the world "Dutchmen" is speeding through. 

That being said, there are several things about "Dutchmen" that simply come off as...odd. Maybe it is an age thing. Tami Dixon's Lula is older than the script dictates, but she is definately a seductress. However, her performance, at points, seemed to suggest that she was playing a 20-year-old? Seducing as a 20-year-old would? But then, wouldn't a MILF act like a 20-something even though she clearly is not? Is she on Vicodin? After all, two middle-aged (or even similarly-aged people) will try and seduce each other differently then say, a 20 year old tries to seduce a 30 year old, or vice versa.

Jonathan Berry as Clay, the black man in question, is also not the script's designated age, and maybe that's what throws off the dynamic. Does Berry's Clay really want to sleep with Dixon's Lula so much that he puts up with that much obvious abuse? Director Mark Clayton states in his Director's Notes that "Dutchmen" "...is Lula's game". This seems to translate into Berry largely being one-note as the Great Acceptor until he cracks into violence. Also, there is usually a conceit that, if a stranger is harassing you, you can always leave. One can go to the next subway car if someone hurls racial slurs at someone else. Why Berry's Clay doesn't is never quite clear.

At the start of "Dutchmen" the audience is told they may sit onstage in the subway car for the performance (Don't). Also throughout the play, various other subway riders enter throughout...and then inherently do nothing. They sit and, like the audience members who choose to sit onstage, try to be transparent/ Why have someone onstage if they're not going to do anything? The other actors as passengers take no one's side emotionally. Neither do they encourage or shame the main characters into their extreme reactions. This leaves Lula and Clay to largely perform as though they are alone in the car - which again, comes off as odd in such a realisticly set-up world.

That being said, support Bricolage Theatre. When a theatre's mission statement includes the words "Adventurous Theatre"  that "alters perceptions", you know it's something you want to be a part of.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"The Electric Baby" from Quantum Theatre

"The Electric Baby" is a drama about the interconnections between children, parents and the stories that bind us. When a couple have a child who shines like the moon, like the moon the boy attracts awe, stories and people in search of light in the darkness.

There is an odd complexity to "The Electric Baby" that makes it fascinating. If you enjoy reality, there are cab drivers, lottery tickets, car accidents, etc. If you enjoy magic, there are babies that glow like the moon, folk tales that tell the future and a whole lot of Fate. However, the "magical realism" that the show amounts to is something unique (and probably not what the term "magical realism" means to you). And "unique" is what Quantum Theatre does very well.

Robin Abramson as the Romanian wife and mother Natalia is captivating. From her first lines to the heart-breaking conclusion, she magically spins home remedy yarns, the Romanian interpretation of African fairy-tales and theatre rules with strength and ingenuity.

Her Nigerian husband, Ambimbola, played by Monteze Freeland is also a charmer. Alternate funny-man and philosopher, Freeland steals scenes with his graceful performance. Through amazing skill, Freeland and Abramson pull off an amazing feat and form one of the strongest bonds in the production - one that can be felt although the characters almost never meet onstage.
The supporting cast, Laurie Klatscher and John Shepard as Helen and Reed Casey, an older couple who lost their eldest daughter years ago, Ruth Gamble as the young waitress/call girl with a heart of formica and a poison tongue, and Nick Lehane as an ever-changing series of male characters, also work with great ability, but the play is at it's best when it centers on the mystical foreign parents and the stories they use to cope with their "electric baby".

The set is hypnotic and clunky all at the same time. Quantum Theatre is a roving theatre company that utilizes found spaces. The room, a found space at the Waldorf School in Pittsburgh, features hand-painted walls decorated in an assortment of birds and mythical figures while the ceiling is done up like the sky all set against tall windows that reveal the actual night sky. What makes the site clunky are the series of "mini-stages" that were built. These provide levels and some set locations. However, the virtue of a found space is that it is located, not created for a production - altering it to include a set "stage" playing space seems - in this eponymous opinion - to take the "found" out of the "found space".

When all is said and done, "The Electric Baby" is a great reminder of the "magic" of theatre. There are no projections, on-stage tricks, "magic" that requires lots of technical aptitute - just a mystical use of language and relationships that hits on something fantastical but real all at the same time.

Tickets for "The Electric Baby" can be found here:
http://www.quantumtheatre.com/season/the-electric-baby/

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic writes for a variety of seedy, low-reputed, forgetful, fact-negligent Marxist papers that are heavily circulated through car wind-shield wipers in Portland, Oregon.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"M.I.A." from Pittsburgh Playhouse

"M.I.A" follows the family of a soldier who is currently "Missing In Action", but is most likely dead. The soldier's 40th birthday lands on the weekend his conservative, patriotic father is accepting a "Man Of The Year Award" from the local VFW. While the family has in many ways moved on from the death of the eldest brother, when the youngest son declares his desire to enlist, the family is torn between patriotism and keeping a child safe.

The show, while "emotional" is labored. The script is populated with lots of talking over miniscule, low-stakes events - some of which have nothing to do with the story. Characters ask the most obvious questions about each other. Because why would a father, on the weekend he is receiving an award from the VFW M.I.A. Commitee, on the birthday of his son who went M.I.A., seem distracted?

And it's not that the performances are bad. Larry John Meyers as Frank Schooler - the father who might have taught his boys too well - and his real-life wife Holly Thuma as Emmy Schooler bring the chemistry and are believably married onstage. Justin Mark DeWolf delivers a young man who is torn between allegiance to his family and allegiance to what he believes makes a man (and delivers what could be the best monologue in the show). The supporting cast, Tommy LaFitte and Daina Michelle Griffith are equally skilled in their craft.

What makes everyone suffer is that the characters are basically archetypes. There's the housewife who cooks well, the career woman growing distant from her husband (but who never seems to leave her parents' house...), the wise-talkin' Democratic black man who keeps the Republican white man in check with witty banter. However, the play does succeed in keeping the focus off the politics and on the humanity, even if the characters are clear-cut from the first scene.

Also characters talk about two things: the father and the missing brother. There's also no real discoveries revealed throughout the piece, so there's very little driving action that propels the story forward. And the "surprises" can be seen coming from a mile away. The ending becomes some version of "A Christmas Carol" with the ghost of the dead son appearing - played by Justin Fortunato - in a performance that makes you wish the character had been used better than "The Ghost of Christmas Past".

One consistently nice thing about Pittsburgh Playhouse is the attention they give to set design. Even in the studio space, whenever you go to see a production there you know the stage is going to be unique and transformed for every given show. In "M.I.A", the set is a sand colored and textured blank slate with benches, tombstones and dinner tables seemingly growing from the sandscape.

What really transforms the space are the lighting elements. Fantastic visuals of sand flowing and wind whistling help disorient the audience and the characters so dream sequences, nightmares actually have a complete change from the "real world".

 Now, let it be said that "M.I.A" is NOT the worst constructed show to be given a full production in Pittsburgh this year - not at all. But, it seems to be a plague among Pittsburgh theatres that shows which have a strong connection via writers, marriages, professional relationships to the theatre/people involved are the ones being performed.

That is fine, it really is. It's a part of having a theatre community, but is it too much to ask that these world-premieres - which are on the road to becoming full-fledge, well-paced, stand-alone shows - get a few staged readings? Maybe some developmental workshops? Just so someone has the chance to say, "Hey, the first 45 min of this show is nothing but exposition to set up the Act 1 curtain...maybe we could integrate that better?"

TIckets for "M.I.A." can be purchased here:
http://www.pittsburghplayhouse.com/Tickets/ordertickets

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic enjoys aliens, but only half as much as robots. That being said, robots are liked only one fourth as much as mutants, but hey, no one is perfect.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Monster In The Hall" from City Theatre

"Monster In The Hall" follows Duck, a sixteen-year-old girl Scottish girl on what could be the most stressful day of her young and stress-filled life. The house is a mess, her Hell's Angels retiree father has finally been struck blind by his Multiple Sclerosis, her could-be-gay/would-be-boyfriend drops by for a proposition and her Mom is still dead, leaving Duck to juggle it all on her own - all with the woman from Social Services planning to stop by for lunch. There's also a small amount of Socialism.

"Monster In The Hall" by City Theatre could be one of the best shows you see this season. Best described as a "play with music" rather than a full-out musical, half the play is sung in rock/punk style by the energetic cast who dance and sing with all the enthusiam of teens alone in their bedrooms. The energy and comic skill of the cast keeps the high-energy show of ever-growing stakes constantly moving. They sing. They dance. They have motorcycle chase scenes.

Melinda Helfrich as Duck is as endearing as she is awkward - which is what the character demands. Her Duck is a girl whose strength is abundantly clear to the audience, but who can't see it in herself. Helfrich makes what could be a tragic, put-on young woman into a heroine who has our support by never dreaming to ask for it.

Sheila McKenna as ALL the other female roles is domineering, then endearing, then a Norweigian punk star, all while being hilariously funny. The same can said for Matt Dengler as Lawrence (and as various Game Show Hosts) and David Whelan as her motorcycle-minded father, Duke. With a cast of four, everyone is consistently onstage signing, dancing, pantomiming all in a joyous mix that tries to mask the piss-stained, weed-filled home that Duck and Duke have cobbled together. All this is accomplished not with brazen sarcasm, but real tenderness that makes life, no matter how hard, tolerable.

The set is a series of child-decorated doors and cupboards that fill the stage, opening and closing without rhyme or reason. The lighting and video elements are brilliantly done, with the motorcyle crash that took Duck's mother popping up, much like tragic events keep recycling through our own mind. A fantastic lighting and sound scheme keeps the energy of the play going in perfect sync with the performances.

While the play could be called hodge-podge, it's structure makes sense. "Monster In The Hall" is all about coping. Music helps you cope, so there's music in the play. Fantasies help you cope, so the play is filled with them too. So do video games, game shows, stories about the past, and the production manages to mesh all these things together in a fantastical but honest spectacle of theatre. "Monster In The Hall" should not be missed.


Tickets for City Theatre's "Monster In The Hall" can be purchased here:
http://citytheatre.culturaldistrict.org/production/28075/the-monster-in-the-hall

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic does not believe the slanderous rumor that Greenland in filled with ice while Iceland is green; neither should you. Such an irony could not be cooked up by a people as barbaric as the Vikings.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"M33" by Pittsburgh Playhouse

"M33" is a slice-of-Americana play about the the Depression Era national craze known as "marathon dances" where everyday folks, ex vaudvillian performers and anyone looking for a free meal would dance until they dropped, were sabotaged, were disqualified or won.

It is rare to find an effective, narrative-driven dance show that is not also a musical. And, while "M33" may be begging to be made into a musical at some point, it really works well as it now stands. Don't be mislead, there is definately music involved throughout, but the dialogue and the dancing are what really drives the story forward.

The lead is perfectly cast Heidi Friese as the so-much-more than plucky June Havoc, who traverses the valleys and mountains of her past and self throughout the show. Friese takes the character through the physical and emotional trials so effectively, the audience can feel June's exhaustion, and determination to work through it, even though it is obvious the actress is physically onstage for a mere two hours or so.

Fantastic character performances feed the rollicking show. Reed Worth and Kristen Sherman as married clown performers Bozo and Helen Bazoo steal hearts with their honest chemistry and comedic adroitness. Audra Qualley is an understated but deliberate dirty player who's seen the bad side of the dance hall a few too many times. Kassie Doherty is quite charming as the "local" entered in the contest. Brandon Taylor as Patsy McCarthy provides a nice, relaxed juxtaposition to Friese's energy. And Sarah Meahl as The Mick who is so evocative physically her character does not need too many words.

The set, apparently, is supposed to be "a boardwalk along the seashore". It never really evokes that (sure there's water shown outside, but it's never as specified as a shore), but is realistically executed and fits the stage action perfectly. Locations like the sleeping quarters of the dancers (only eleven minutes every hour) and June Havoc's flashbacks are completely at home on the two-level set above the dance floor. The costumes are also perfectly period, and make-up really transforms the talented young cast into a believable array of ages and character types - not an easy feat for young performers.

The only note might be a problem in the play itself. Late in the game, the play tries to set up a physical antagonist, like the Mob or one of the dancers, but these are largely distracting plot-wise, never resolved and uneccessary. After all, the marathon is the antagonist which forces the dancers into constant conflict with themselves and one another. Also, there's a strange use of life-sized rag dolls early on? At first, you think it's a gag used to get pennies from the spectators, and then it is revealed that, yes, the dolls on the stage are meant to be real people - supposedly to fill the stage more for the beginning of the dance marathon? But, the human cast makes up about 21, so maybe this is also a bit superfluous/confusing. Confusing being the bad part.

Even though the characters drop out in increasingly more psychologically damaging ways, the triumph of the play is that it manages to keep the mood light but blindingly realistic. This is not a plastered-on smile and apple pie slice of Americana, but one about endurance, metaphorical and physical. The play has as much dirt on its face as the contestants dancing for their lives. Moments are particualrly surreal just because they are true: violence from other dancers in the sleeping room, a couple having sex under a blanket while dancing upright on the floor, exhausted women warned about being kidnapped or drugged and sold right off the floor and the constant threat of "going squirrely" from a mixture of sleep and sun deprivation. Don't worry though, the play never stops being a good time.

But, after over 1000 hours, (that's over 41 days, to keep it in perspective), there's the light at the end of the tunnel of glorious prize money. Or, at the very least, there's another dance marathon.

Tickets for "M33" can be purchased here:
http://www.pittsburghplayhouse.com/Tickets/ordertickets

-The Eponymous Theatre Critic has been a longtime believer in, "Sadism is sexy. Masochism is talent." It is, in fact, the only tatoo Epony has on eastward side of Epony's back.    

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" by Carnegie-Mellon University

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is a fan-favorite 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 and daughter, 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.

The production currently running at Carnegie-Mellon University is a dynamic mixture of spectacle and gore set in a gothic wonderland. That is to say, it is not to be missed. Director Joe Calarco takes the often-done production and transforms it into a complete departure from all that's known, making even entrances and exits unexpected and exciting (setting the tone for the entire night). However, while extremely innovative and new, nothing is neglected, from the opening stage picture to the final terror, to this whole, complete production.  If you can get a ticket, that is.

The most dynamic performances in the show go to the supporting roles. Marrick Smith gives new depth to the sailor, Anthony, as a young man who is impestuous and easily taken by passion instead of simply a Dudley-Do-Right. Corey Cott as Tobias captures the innocence and paranoia of a boy raised in abuse. Noah Plomgren as a scene-stealing Pirelli that makes you wish the character lived for a just a few more numbers. And Jessie Ryan Shelton as a sweet, docile, but ultimately very funny Johanna. Another sign of the production's level to detail, the Male and Female Ensemble steal the show at their various interludes and transformations as the town people of London, Pie devourers and, ultimately, Sweeney's victims. What is fantastic is that the Ensemble and Supporting roles (even those not mentioned here) are just as powerful, evocative singers and performers as the leads, making every moment of the production mezmerizing.

That being said, the most sucessful performances are the ones that give over to the extreme emotion that is within the music. Denver Milord who plays Sweeney Todd, while a flawless voice, seems to be holding something back. Also, he and Abdiel Vivancos, Judge Turpin, do not carry the work-weary/older bodies or age of their respective characters. However, Vivancos goes to the depravity of the controlling Judge while Milord's rage seems flimsy. Lucia Roderique, however, carries the age and world-weariness of Mrs. Lovett as epically as she sings.

Someone once said that a good set is one that you don't even notice, and this similarly goes for costumes, lights, sound, any production aspect. However, in this production, all these elements are an intractable piece that, where any of them altered or removed, the entire production would not be the same. It may still be a good production, maybe even great, but it would not be this production of Carnegie-Mellon's "Sweeney Todd". And this production is fantastic. In the interest of spoiling, the specifics will not be discussed here. Also, the running time is NOT two hours but, including the intermission, clocks in at about three. However, if you are unable to attend, don't let anybody tell you about it. It's better if you don't know what you miss.

Tickets for "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at Carnegie-Mellon University cane be attempted at here:
http://www.drama.cmu.edu/50/box-office

Please Call the Box Office for Wait Listing Procedure.

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic enjoys a good tot of gin in front of a roaring fire of a chapel in which the harmonium will only be partially singed.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"The Elephant Man" from Prime Stages

"The Elephant Man" is the stage adaptation of the life of John Merrick, a man who's physical deformities made him an outcast for most of his life. The play, which was originally done on Broadway where Merrick was at one point played by Mark Hamill and David Bowie. The play follows not only Merrick's journey, but the journey of the Victorean-era Londoners that surround him.

The play at the beginning is a fast-moving trek through London society circa late 1800's. The doctors, most importantly Dr. Frederick Treves (Justin Fortunato), stand very straight and speak elegantly about the fortunateness of being a British male at this point in history. Meanwhile the lower rungs of society are cruel and heartless to those even lower then themselves, as in the case of Merrick's manager, Ross (performed despicably by Brian Czarniecki). Basically, at the start of the play, it is very clear who we are meant to root for and loathe against as we are introduced to the titular character.

As we spend more time in the clean, sterile world of upper Victorean society, the play becomes almost allegorical. Merrick breaks through the facade of Victorian thinking, chastity and rules that "are for your own good" not with a sledgehammer, but with questions. What is great is that the play is not a "My Fair Lady" story where Merrick struggles alone, but how everyone struggles around him. Fate propels the play as light-up placards read foreboding messages about Merrick's future. And the shift as the question of "why are we helping him" rises is almost imperceptable until it becomes a moral land mine to Dr. Frederick Treves (played by Justin Fortunatoto in a role which transforms almost as much as the Elephant Man). After all, we want to like the nice people helping Merrick (for example Mrs. Kendal played by Maggie Ryan as the force-of-nature actress of the time) and dislike the bad people hurting him, but when the nice people's motives are called into question, it makes you go back rethink their interactions with Merrick from the start.

Sean Sears, who plays Merrick, steals the show. Yes, it is by virtue of being the main character, but it is also by the physical discipline Sears exerts onstage. "The Elephant Man" by Bernard Pomerance specifically calls for the actor to wear no prostetics. In truth this is probably to ease the production aspect as much as it is "see the humanity" of the Elephant Man, but it means many actors perform the role as physically normal, or with a slight speech impediment. However Sears goes to the necessary extreme, contorting his face and body not in general, but with extreme attention to what actual part of his body is deformed and how to move with it. On top of the physical, Sears moves a character through emotional maturity and discovery - which may not always be for the better.

The only complaint of the show would probably be that there are a few characters whose roles are so small/unimportant to the arc of the story that when they appear, speak a few lines, and disappear, the audience is distracted as to their point. Also, while the show is staged in the round, the best seats are really the main seats to the front - that is where the actors emote, speak and turn to most, particularly in monologues.

The great set over which hangs a chandelier and projection screen is a single-ring circus, Merrick's first cage, to his London Hospital room full of books , which may or may not be his second. Circus music feeds the set changes and dream sequences. Everyone stands tall and proud in their Victorean garb while Sears, notably, never dresses above a working man's suit - even when meeting a Countess.

If you are looking for a hidden treasure in Pittsburgh theatre, then "Prime Stage Theatre" might be what you are looking for. The company boasts a constantly moving, circulating group that regularly features new directors and actors. On top of it all, they have a great educational program benefiting the children and teens of the Pittsburgh area.


Tickets for "The Elephant Man" can be found at "Prime Theatre Stages" website at:
http://www.primestage.com/

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic's clothes are woven from coarse camel hair, and features a leather belt around the waist. Before a show, Epony enjoys locusts and wild honey and visits from the people of Jerusalem, all of Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"The Gammage Project" by Pitt Rep and The Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company

"The Gammage Project" is the exploration of the tragic 1995 murder of Jonny Gammage by police in the Pittsburgh suburb of Brentwood. A cast of almost 30 report "the circumstances and the aftermath of his violent death" at the Henry Heyman Theatre of the University of Pittsburgh, but is produced in conjunction with Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.

My gosh, this play is boring.

Here are the reasons why:

The framework of the play is completely bizarre. It is a fragmented mix that begins in a classroom and then moves on to various locations, but for the majority of the time lingers in the most tedious place imaginable - a court room. That's right, 90% of this play is exposition. We, the audience, get presented minor lessons on the role of the NAACP (in general), how law enforcement jurisdictions work, and a whole, whole lot of facts that are true - completely true and horrifying in their reality - but completely un-theatrical. Who knew that police brutality could become boring - even after being drilled into your head for over two and a half hours.


"The Gammage Project" is begging to either be a straight play (with a set beginning-middle-end, cause and effect story arc, etc) or a documentary/monologue show that delves into the personal lives of the people involved (beyond the headlines i.e. most famously The Laramie Project). As it stands now, the show wavers in between the two, creating an ungratifying hodge-podge effect. And what's sad is that the play does show us places where an actual play could start! Maybe we inhabit the funeral of Jonny Gammage for two hours, maybe it's the coroner's inquest where the red flags of innocence were first realized, maybe it's even the bar of the bad cops, the misnomered "Good Ole Boys", where we follow the bad guys as they don't even bother to get their cover stories straight.


What makes it boring is that the play presents the facts in the very beginning. There is never any doubt in our minds who the bad guys are and that they are very bad. Not just bad, but so devoid of any natural humanity that nothing bad they do could honestly surprise us. But they are presented as bad, immoral, untrustworthy, and then that information is repeated and recycled the entire play. Nothing is left for the audience to discover. There are no surprises in the entire show, no revelations and no real driving action that makes us want to follow the story, just lots and lots of talking. This personification is accurate, by the way, but accuracy does make it theatrical. (Theatrical here meaning "interesting to watch".) What if there actually was doubt in the audience's mind that was progressively shrunk until we decided they were guilty. Wouldn't the tragedy of the piece be magnified when the cops go free?


And maybe this long-windedness of the never-ending courtroom scenes and facts could be forgiven if the play were straight transcripts, but the playwright's notes indicate that, "The Gammage Project is more relaxed in its use of found dialogue than many documentaries, but at 80% of what you will see is sculpted out of a great mass of data..." So not only do we have to watch this amazingly dull inquest (an inquest and three trials and part of a civil suit among others things) most of it is paraphrased.


All this being said, there are seven minutes of this play that are not only watcheable, but brilliant. The actual re-enactment of the murder (which we finally get to see rather than get informed of) is visceral and terrifying, crossing a line (maybe dangerously) into the audience and is one of the best examples  realistic stage violence Epony has ever seen. It's brilliant, and you can vault from your chair right after because it's right before intermission and downhill from there. Later on, the actor actually playing Gammage returns for the most human part of the show - a final conversation between him and his mother that drips with sad irony and hope that will never be realized. Things like, the fact that Gammage was engaged, would have fed the story so much. These two moments add volumes more than the hours of talking about it. Why the actual human element of the show was pushed to the tail-end of both acts is a complete mystery to the entire piece's detriment. This can only be credited to director Mark Clayton Southers, who shows he can make great when presented with good work.


While somewhat loathed to, the character of "The Joker" (played by Rico Romalus Parker) must be remarked on. While the character, who is supposed to act as "comic relief" and an alternate point of view for the horrendous event, is a nice burst of energy to a show with very little action, his jokes aren't particularly funny, and they eventually stop being jokes. Rather than the charm of Pryor or Cosby (who the character is suppose to emulate) that could attract anyone of any color, The Joker stops presenting as a comic and starts with a thinly-veiled animosity that makes the show heavier rather than relieving tension. Because everyone white in the audience wants to be lumped in with the Good Ole Boys.   


A word on the technical aspects. The lights are all right. The sound is good. The use of the movie screen is sporadic, but occasionally brilliant (The Juror who Declined Being Named), but honestly as long as the play is a shambles, nothing technological is going to make it anymore watcheable. Of the massive cast, a few notable actors actually manage to make the exposition interesting: Larry John Meyers as Cyril Wecht M.D., J.D. , Joseph Martinez as Bobby Del Greco Jr., Laci Mosely as Jonny's mother Narves Gammage (in a role far her elder), Ken Bolden as Anthony Krastek and finally, the man we saw far too little of Correy Talley as Jonny Gammage.


Apparently, there are lots of people who support the cops in question and the sneaking suspicion is that this play was written for them. It is a calm (for the most part) collection of the facts and how they were skewed to protect the white cops who killed a black man. However, the Joker  adds to the thread of dripping sarcasm throughout the piece directed at the rascist cops. For court scenes, two reporters sit as a peanut gallery and are "witty" at the blatant lies of the cops in court, despite the fact that these guys commited murder and are about to go free. They invite the audience (metaphorically) to point fingers with them at their ignorance, and anyone who supports them. And none of those people are probably going to see something called "The Gammage Project".

We, as an intellectual theatre-going audience, are already on Gammage's side. So give us something new to the story, give us the other, human side so the facts are not just facts, but actions by or against a man, community and/or race.

Tickets for the February performances of "The Gammage Project" (it moves on to the August Wilson Center in March) can be purchased at: http://www.play.pitt.edu/content/gammage-project

 - The Eponymous Theatre critic laments the closing of Kiva Han on Craig Street. Don't worry Kiva Han, Starbucks took over Pluto's role as a planet too.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Elder Hostages" from Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre

"Elder Hostages" is a collection of three short by local prolific Pittsburgh writer Ray Werner. The three pieces, all featuring "older" casts, explore the complex relationships, love and tenacity of everyday people who have been old enough to "find the jug, go 'round it, and find the handle several times".

The most striking quality of "Elder Hostages" has to be the brilliant performances of the cast. About two out of the three short plays, Mum's the Word (featuring marathon performer Roger Jerome and David Crawford) and Wandering Angus (Jerome, Crawford and the thoroughly worth-waiting-for Stevie Akers) tend to drag and go in circles that are enjoyable, but grow tiresome through flat plots, and "Why are we here?" situations. However, what makes these short plays more than worthwhile is the brilliant level of performance put out by the casts. While the writing may be thin, the relationships are thick as thieves. Whether the characters have known each other their whole lives or just met at the bus, the expert cast creates whole human beings that are great to watch.

The third piece of the night, Night Song, is dedicated to all Alzheimer sufferers and the people who love/care for them. In it, a husband (played by Jerome who is featured in all and excels fantasically as three very different characters) struggles to under is wife's disease as she (played so convincingly by Susie McGregor-Laine) struggles to understand him and be understood. While the piece has fantastic performances, what sets it apart is the way the story unfolds. The scene is a puzzle and the couple's past in the final picture. The writing is intriguing in its single-mindedness and portrays a beautiful juxtaposition of two people reliving the same past, but from two different perspectives, all in an attempt to discover the elusive "B" (See the show and insert own metaphor here).

The set is something seldom seen in small, intimate theatres, a full-stage revolve that is used extremely well to relaistically transform wherever the actors are supposed to be (all three scenes take place in drastically different locations). Adding to this is fantastic set dressing that really makes the space seem alive and lived-in. Adding to the charm are classic tunes that serenade the audience in between plays.

Every Sunday features a talk back with notable Pittsburgh members of the "Revivement" (this generation's uplifting replacement for "retirement") community. And come early any performance day to experience the lobby of the dowtown theatre which doubles as a gallery, featuring phorographs of some famous (and other just amazing) human beings who have made their old age another notch in the belt of an amazing life. Well done, as this is the tone of "Elder Hostages".

Tickets for "Elder Hostages" may be bought here: http://www.pghplaywrights.com/

 - The Eponymous Theatre Critic is over six feet tall and lanky. Epony was born in a log cabin, the 16th President of the United States and an Illinois state legislator though failed in two attempts to be elected to the United States Senate. Epony can be seen in move theatres later this year killing vampires...which is a bit of an irony.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Through the Night" from City Theatre

"Through the Night" is a spoken word journey through one night in the projects of Ohio. The stories of Six African-American men, united by family, friendship and hope, converge in one night as each man faces a life-changing event.

"Through the Night" is a much-lauded piece that deserves ever bit of the laud placed upon it. What is unique about the piece is that, unlike so many spoken-word, monologue or "character-driven" one man shows, "Through the Night" is propelled through an actual storyline by the interlocking stories of the characters. So, rather than just be introduced to random neighborhood faces which make us either laugh or cry, the audience is given a plot to follow and invest in.

Daniel Beatty is the author, director and performer of the remarkable work which has appeared Off-Broadway. Beatty himself has been trained as an opera singer, actor and writer and uses every aspect of himself in the development of real, fully-formed characters. One character blows us away with his voice, another rises us to our feet with his words while Beatty alters and changes his own body to fit into the well defined characters.

The ease with which Beatty slips from one character to another, sometimes in the middle of intense conversations, is astounding. Female characters also abound, though his performances as the male counterparts - the husbands, the fathers, the sons - are the meat of the play.

Even beyond the actual performance of the piece, the heart of "Through the Night" is the play's ability to demonstrate life from a perspective theatre-going audiences rarely get to see. The work is inspiring without being insipid, moving without being heavy-handed, and hopeful with the ever-present threat of despair. While this review is admittingly a love-letter to the piece, a one man show that is this polished, this well-performed, and this touching should be loved.

However, if you still need convincing:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrfOJxPHuCc

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic has had a lovely time abroad and wishes you all a safe and happy end times! Please look for more reviews as this will probably be the last year to ever see theatre.