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.