Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Romance at Kinetic Theatre Company

Posted By on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 10:45 AM

The first production by this company — originally scheduled as the second show by Phoenix Theatre Co. — isn’t for everyone.

Andrew Swacckhamer (left) and Matt DeCaro in Romance
David Mamet’s knowingly offensive 2005 courtroom farce is quite funny at times. And this production is smartly acted, and directed with lightning dispatch by Kinetic Producing Artistic Director Andrew S. Paul (who co-founded the now newly renamed Phoenix last year).

With its feckless judge hopped up on allergy meds, an anti-Semitic lawyer with a weaselly Jewish defendant, and a character who’s a flaming gay stereotype, Romance — at one act, and 75 minutes — is as over-the-top as they come. But though one woman who saw the performance I saw last Saturday guessed that Mamet wrote it as a joke, there was definitely more on his mind than yuks.

Paul clearly thinks so: Why else would he provocatively round out the show’s printed program with a long excerpt of Mamet’s infamous 2008 essay “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal?”

You don’t insert a subplot about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks into a comedy set in New York City unless you’ve got something to say about it. In the essay, Mamet’s brief for his newfound conservatism, he notes that he used to refer to NPR as “National Palestinian Radio.” So while everyone in Romance is mocked, it’s a lot easier to imagine that the play reflects real disdain for the Palestinian cause, for instance, than it harbors about Jews, Episcopalians and gay men.

To be fair, Mamet's mockery of lawyers and judges is quite forthright. As the play’s defendant asks his lawyer, “Why did you go to law school if you don’t want to lie?” (Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for CP .)

And perhaps, as Paul himself himself notes in the program, the play’s really meant as an antidote to political correctness, and a “fiesta of forbidden laughter.”

Romance has three more performances, tonight, Friday and Saturday, at The Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Ave., in Friendship. Tickets are $30 and are available here.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Conversation with Roy Wood Jr.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 9:00 AM

TBS sitcom Sullivan & Son is in its third season, and so is the Sullivan & Son Comedy Tour. Pittsburgh-area native Steve Byrne stars in the series, set in the South Side neighborhood bar his character runs. But on the national tour, Byrne shares the marquee with on-screen co-stars Owen Benjamin, Ahmed Ahmed and Roy Wood Jr.

Wood recently spoke to CP from his home, in Los Angeles, about getting to know Pittsburgh over the years and about blowback from his famous prank phone calls, some of them collected on CDs like I’ll Slap You To Sleep.

This interview is an expanded version of an item that ran in this week’s print edition.

What was your image of Pittsburgh before you came here with the earlier tours?
The only thing I thought [about] Pittsburgh — I used to love the Dolphins so much growing. I thought, ‘If I ever get to Pittsburgh, I wanna see Dan Marino’s house, because that’ll make me a better athlete!’”

You grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. How is it different there?
I don’t think we’re as melted together [as a country] as we want to believe. Case in point, state of Alabama, in Birmingham, we’ve never had an NFL team. So we still love college football on a level that I don’t think anyone else in the country can relate to. … We’ve had spring practices sold out. … There’s nothing funnier than watching two fans of Alabama and Auburn argue over a school that neither one of them had the grades to get into. … In the north, I just don’t think people are fighting and murdereing. I mean, family members get shot over SEC football. There’s guys in jail for poisoning trees on Auburn’s campus over SEC football. That isn’t something you hear much about in the Big East.

What was it like finally coming here after shooting a show set in Pittsburgh?
The only thing that was weird was my first time drinking in a bar in Pittsburgh, because we had been on the set of Sullivan & Son for a year. You gotta remember, that was the first time I’d been exposed to any kind of Pittsburgh culture. So when I went to bars in Pittsburgh, I was automatically expecting them to all be like Sullivan & Son. I was like, “Oh, no, wait a minute, there’s different types of bars. Don’t be an idiot.”
I just wish there was an episode where we had a Primanti Brothers open up next door. And then that way we’d have to have authentic Primanti Brothers on set all day. That would be awesome.

There are a few Primanti’s franchises out of state, I hear.
There’s a Pittsburgh-style-sandwich food-truck running around LA. It’s pretty good, and it’s probably the closest thing we get to Primanti’s this side of the Mississippi. It’ll have to do until I get back to pgh and get the real deal.
Structurally it’s the same sandwich, but it’s defintiely not Primanti’s. It’s probably some dude named “Framanti.”

Funny you say “structurally.” It is kind of architectural, for a sandwich.
Every Primanti Brothers sandwich should come with a dude rubbing your belly at the end of it, telling you, “Life is gonna be OK. I know you just stuffed your face.”

Your prank calls — are you surprised more people don’t get really mad at you when they learn it’s a prank?
I’d say in my career — and my career in radio spans 13 years now — I’d say out of 800-plus calls that I’ve ever done, only two people have ever been legitimately upset. There’s probably two people in this country that if you brought my name up right now, they’d probably go get a gun permit and go look for me.
But for the most part, people are good sports about it. Plus, it helps that their friends are the ones that put me up to it. It’s not like I’m calling strangers.
One that went south, I called a father and I told him that his son had my son selling marijuana for him. Both kids were in the first grade. I threatened to fight the father, he threatened to fight me. He hung up in my face and drove to the school, thinking that I was gonna be at the school. Thankfully he never got out of the car. I told him who I was and we kinda laughed it off. … Fast-forward four months later. I’m performing in Cleveland. After the show, a man just comes up to me — he doesn’t shake my hand, he just leans in — he goes, “I just want to show you that if I wanted to touch you, I could touch you. Have a good evening.” ... That guy, not a big fan of prank phone calls.

What’s the Sullivan & Son standup show like?
In a lot of ways, it’s your standard-issue four-comic comedy show. … We usually change it up near the end of the show and do a few things different. We definitely come out and we’re very much interacting with the crowd for the entire back end of the show. That’s’ what I’m most excited about.

The Sullivan & Son Comedy Tour starts at 8 p.m. Thu., July 17. It's at the Rex Theater, 1602 E. Carson St., on the South Side. Tickets are $18-20 (18 and over) and are available here.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Final weekend for Orlando at Unseam'd Shakespeare

Posted By on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 at 11:11 AM

I haven't read the Virginia Woolf novel on which this new stage version is based. But Unseam'd's production of acclaimed playwright Sarah Ruhl's adaptation is a rare combination of winsome social commentary, lyrical depth and theatrical fun.

It's a 90-miinute show about a Briton who somehow manages to live for several centuries, starting during the reign of Elizabeth I as an aristocratic youth and at some point turning bodily into a woman, as which she lives into the present day.

Woolf and Ruhl have plenty to say about gender roles, love and the literary and theatrical arts — not least that gender itself is a form of theatrical play. But Orlando is mostly a love story, and it's done with such a light and witty touch that you might not notice you've been enlightened until later.

The excellent cast includes Amy Landis in the title role, Lisa Ann Goldsmith as his/her lover in two guises, and a terrific "chorus" of Andy Kirtland, Brett Sullivan Santry and Jonathan Visser taking a variety of small roles. Robert C.T. Steele's direction is delightful.

Unseam'd is one of those small Pittsburgh companies that do good if largely unheralded work year in and out — in its case, for an amazing 21 years, all under artistic and executive director Laura Smiley.

There are three more performances of Orlando: tonight at 8 p.m., and at 3 and 8 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $15-30 and are available here.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Comedy game show seeks contestants for tomorrow

Posted By on Tue, Jun 17, 2014 at 2:06 PM

Tomorrow night, Arcade Comedy Theater hosts a tour date for Loser., a two-hour audience-interactive comedy game show.

Actually, Loser's creators — comedian Jeremy Essig and writer Chris Ward — prefer the term "shame show." Which makes sense, given the outrageous and ever-so-slightly humiliating gauntlet of challenges it presents to applicants.

But even if you don’t want to apply as a contestant (which you can do here), you can still sit back, relax and laugh at a friend’s expense.

The evening will be split into four parts. First, a music-trivia segment and a humorous take on “Don’t Forget the Lyrics.” Then, a pizza-roll-fueled video-game competition. Following that, a contest will determine which contestant is most capable of drawing superheroes in mundane, everyday scenarios. To top things off, there's something called Inter-Gender Sitcom Theater.

Loser originated in St. Louis but became so popular that it now tours the country, with founders Essig and Ward acting as hosts and pop-culture encyclopedias each night.

For more information, check out Loser.’s Facebook page here.

Arcade Comedy Theater is located at 811 Liberty Ave., Downtown. The show starts at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

48 Hour Film Project deadlines approach

Posted By on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 12:57 PM

The early-registration deadline for the 48 Hour Film Project is this Monday.

The Project, a global institution since 2002, comes to Pittsburgh for its eighth consecutive year, July 11-13.

The worldwide competition challenges filmmakers to write, shoot and produce an entire short film over the course of a single weekend, given a genre, a character, a prop and a single line of dialogue. The films must be from four to seven minutes long.

Each year, local winners are selected to compete globally. And this year, that means screenings at the 48 Hour Film Project's Filmapalooza festival in Hollywood and even the 2015 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner. In addition, the grand prize winner receives a cash prize, a trophy, and some brand-new film gear.

This year, the Pittsburgh judges include La-Aja Wiggins, an in-house editor for CBS, and Nicholas Brendon, whom you may know as Xander from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In addition to the coveted Best Film award, awards are also given out to the audience’s favorites, as well as for acting, writing, music and much more.

The kickoff event will be held at 6 p.m. on July 11 at Chatham University's Eddy Theater (Woodland Rd., Squirrel Hill), and the screenings/award ceremonies will be held on the weekend of July 18 at the Hollywood Theater, in Dormont. Sponsors include Sony, the Pittsburgh Film Office, and ‘Burgh Vivant.

Registration is currently open here. Teams that register on or before this Monday will pay a discounted fee of $140. Otherwise, the deadline and fee are July 1, and $160. For more information, click here or email

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Three Rivers Arts Festival’s Juried Visual Art Exhibition

Posted By on Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 10:58 AM

It’s customary, at least among old-timers, to complain that there’s too little visual fine art at the annual festival. And it’s true, there used to be more of it, located more accessibly to the average festival-goer.

The festival is still a pretty good place for big-statement public art, like Alexandre Arrechea’s “No Limits” building sculptures this year, and Edith Abeyta’s “O:ne:ka’.” Meanwhile, the annual juried show has also carved out a nice niche for itself — even if that niche is situated on the fourth floor of the Trust Arts Education Center, a building located a good ways from the center of the fest action.

This year’s JVAE features 59 works by 52 regional artists, and is juried by: John Carson, a Carnegie Mellon art professor; Nicholas Chambers, a curator from The Andy Warhol Museum; and Rachel Delphia, a Carnegie Museum of Art curator.

There are works in all media and for most tastes. Here are several that caught my eye.

Mary Weidner’s richly colored painting “Wedding Vows” gives that feeling of being in the second row at the ceremony, which is rendered at precisely that oddly evocative moment when the officiant’s gesture makes him look like he’s doing Sinatra.

“Mississippi River Storm” is Lindsey Peck Scherloum’s homage to homemade craft that float down the big river every season; it consists of an atmospheric photo wittily displayed on a background of scrap wood, with some handwritten explanatory text.

Lai Fennys Little Nuggets
  • Lai Fenny's "Little Nuggets"
Lai Fenny's “Little Nuggets” are a set of wood-and-plaster sculptures — little cubes distorted like packing boxes the FedEx guys got a little impatient with. Done in muted tones of green, cream and blue, they’re a festival of contours.

Rebecca Signorello’s “The Sisters” is an oil painting of four women in a group close-up that has the psychologically fraught air of a mid-period Bergman film.

Travis Mitzels Bus Stop
  • Travis Mitzel's "Bus Stop"
“Bus Stop” made me laugh out loud. Travis Mitzel’s large-scale photograph documents a sort of surreal prank: One humanoid figure made out of spray-foam insulation, and a second that’s just legs, stand dressed in street attire, side-by-side at a city bus stop.

Short videos by Dadpranks, show on a wall, offers more surrealism, some of it comedy in a deadpan Freudian vein. One sequence takes two slices of bread and makes sandwiches out of a bunch of unlikely items, including a hank of fake blonde hair.

Zachary Brown’s “3 Masked Men” is a large triptych that tips its cap to Magritte, and is made memorable by its dark hues and its rich media: in oil, metal leaf and ink.

The Juried Visual Art Exhibition continues through Sunday and is open noon-8 p.m. daily. Like the rest of the festival, it’s free.

The Trust Arts Education Center is located at 805-807 Liberty Ave.

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Eddie Izzard at the Byham

Posted By on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 11:28 AM

Prior to his Saturday-night Force Majeure concert at the Byham, the only Izzard performances I'd seen were a few online videos and a small film role or two.

Today, count me a fan. As Lissa Brennan emphasized in her interview with the British comic for CP, Izzard is singular; "comic" seems hardly an adequate label for a performer who — in his first visit to Pittsburgh since 2008 — kept a packed theater in stitches with a show whose running gag explores the logic behind human sacrifice; whose best extended bit was a long riff on the English Civil Wars; and who is also silly enough to work in chicken noises and an imitation of a mole.

Izzard's big cult following was out in force Saturday (and for a Sunday show that was also sold out or next to it); some of Saturday's crowd gave him a standing ovation for just walking out on stage. Wearing a smart suit, stacked-heel pumps, savage red fingernails and glittery earrings, the self-styled "action transvestite" delivered. He's one of the few comedians who assumes enough intelligence on the part of his audience to bring them up to his considerable level, but he also never ceases to entertain.

For crying out loud, he did a Martin Luther gag — in German.

The second act of the two-hour show wasn't quite up to the level of manic invention of the first. (And it seemed to include some in-jokes for long-time fans that went over my head.) But I doubt too many folks walked away disappointed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Final weekend for Comfort Zone at Pittsburgh Playwrights

Posted By on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 9:12 AM

Finding a fresh way to discuss the wrenching issue of gun violence isn’t easy. But local playwright Marlon Erik Youngblood brings the issue powerfully to life in this new play, set in an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

Bryant Bentley (left) and Kevin Brown in Comfort Zone
  • Photo courtesy of Eric A. Smith
  • Bryant Bentley (left) and Kevin Brown in "Comfort Zone"
Youngblood approaches the issue from an unusual perspective — not that of victim or assailant or their families, but that of the community elder in whose corner store the shooting took place.

On one level, Checkers, movingly played by Kevin Brown, lives the drama of the suspected snitch. (Friends of the shooter think he’s talked to the cops.) But more tellingly, Checkers is forced by the killing to a crisis of conscience: He realizes that over the years he has walled himself up in his store, his “comfort zone,” instead of being a leader and mentor in his community.

The script has some rough edges, but the passionate Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co. production, directed by Mark Whitehead, is well worth seeing. Other standouts in the cast include Bryant Bently as Checkers’ wonderfully cynical friend Slick.

There are three more performances, tonight and tomorrow's matinee and evening show.

Pittsburgh Playwrights is located at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Tickets cost $20-30, and are available here.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

For the Birds takes flight again Sunday at Aviary

Posted By on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 10:30 AM

Post written by Robert Raczka

A cross between a trained-animal show and a Dada performance — though far more agreeable than the term “Dada” might conjure — For the Birds is the brainchild of Carnegie Mellon graduate art students Tucker Marder and Daniel Allende.

It’s a theatrical performance, though without narration, and not the usual fare for this theater, or any other. Running about 30 minutes, it’s both abstract and engaging. Last Sunday, at the first of its two performances, it seemed to please the children and adults present.

  • Photo courtesy of Laila Archuleta

Marder and Allende represent a growing contingent of artists who are not performance artists as such but produce performances as a part of their art practice, while also making stuff. For this large-scale collaboration, they assembled a team of more than a dozen human performers, production staff, bird trainers, et al, not to mention a macaw, hawk, snowy owl, and vultures that flew freely within the theater.

Accompanied by marimba and percussion, performers in turn took the stage attired in outlandish costumes, some very sculptural, affording limited movement — such as one that appeared to be based on a birdhouse — and others akin to Spandex-y tights enabling free movement of the modern-dance type.

In look and deed, all was light and playful, punctuated by the fact that the birds, like most creatures, are willing to work for food. When not swooping across the room on cue, they were doing bird tricks, often by interacting with aspects of the more sculptural costumes. Things generally unfolded at a leisurely pace, except for the flurry of wing flapping (by the humans) that served as a finale.

While quirky, Dada-ish performance doesn’t have the power to shock that it once did, it can still surprise, and in this case, promote respect for the beauty and power of birds.

For the Birds is a project of the National Aviary, with support from The Sprout Fund and CMU.

A second, final show will be presented the National Aviary’s FliteZone Theatre at 6 p.m. Sun., May 11.

Tickets are a bargain at the reduced rate of $10 (120 seats are available first-come-first-serve at the door) and also include a chance to peruse the Aviary starting at 5 p.m. as well as after the show.

Tickets and more info are available here.

The National Aviary is located at 700 Arch St., on the North Side.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pittsburgh Musical Theater Names New Director

Posted By on Thu, May 1, 2014 at 3:54 PM

Colleen Petrucci, a longtime faculty member and administrator with Pittsburgh Musical Theater, has been named the group’s incoming executive director by its board of directors.

Petrucci takes over from Ken Gargaro, who launched MT in 1990. Petrucci assumes her new post July 1.

PMT runs a musical-theater school for children and also stages professionally produced shows at the Byham Theater, like the recent Les Miserables.

Petrucci today announced her own first season, to start in October with A Chorus Line. The other three shows includes Disney’s Little Mermaid, Young Frankenstein and Peter Pan.

Gargaro, who announced his retirement April 16, will remain on the West End-based PMT’s board.

Petrucci grew up in the Knoxville/Mount Oliver area and took dance classes, but remembers being surprised to learn that performers also had to sing to live music. “It just intrigued me,” sais Petrucci, a Brentwood High School graduate, in a phone interview earlier this week.

She later worked with PMT as a performer, in 1996, in a production of Crazy For You.

But Petrucci says she's always been less interested in the spotlight than in behind-the-scenes. "Even when I was very young, I wanted to be a dance teacher," she says.

In 1997, she joined the faculty of the education program, the Richard E. Rauh Conservatory. She became Conservatory Director in 2001, and general manager in 2003.

Pittsburgh Musical Theater runs a seven-days-a-week education program for children ages 4 to 18, with evening and weekend classes and a summer session. Currently, about 300 students are enrolled.

“You get an entire musical-theater education just by coming on Saturdays,” says Petrucci. Some high school students also attend their regular school for half a day and PMT in the afternoon.

All the performers under 18 in PMT’s shows are PMT students, says Petrucci. Students also perform in the company's Conservatory Series, consisting of fully staged productions like last year’s A Lyrical Christmas Carol.

She says that before she was even on the faculty, her own two children were PMT students. Her son later danced with the Joffrey Ballet.

Petrucci is excited about plans to expand the school’s programming in its recently purchased headquarters, the former St. James School. Renovations to the building are ongoing.

Asked what her plans are for PMT, Petrucci says she wants to conduct extensive conversations with students, faculty and parents before she decides to make any changes.

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