It’s the final week of performances for this Pittsburgh-premiere staging of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherfucker With The Hat — and a good time to note barebones’ unique spot on the local theater scene.
Jordan — an actor just a few years out of Pitt when he launched the troupe — started doing smart stuff like having rock bands and kegs of beer after the shows, to draw young audiences. (This now-familiar practice was then novel in Pittsburgh.) But his connections in local theater were strong enough that he attracted top-of-the-line directing talent; in barebones’ fourth show, 2005’s Frozen, Jordan starred alongside two of Pittsburgh’s most acclaimed actresses, Helena Ruoti and Susan McGregor-Laine.
At age 10, barebones remains one of a handful of long-running local independent companies still guided by the artistic visions of their founders. (Others include Quantum Theatre, still run by Karla Boos, and Pittsburgh Playwrights, headed by Mark Clayton Southers.)
That’s both in spite of and because of the fact that barebones effectively is Jordan (the company has no other staff) and whomever he recruits as cast and crew for a given show. Most other troupes not affiliated with universities either become more institutional (like the Public or City Theatre), grow big enough to have more paid staff, or simply fade from the scene.
All nonprofit arts groups rely heavily on grants and individual donations. But despite the fact that barebones now sometimes deploys sets of an elaborateness unimaginable for the company in 2003 — Motherfucker features three distinct apartments on Douglas McDermott’s splendid lazy-susan-style set— the shows still basically only happen when Jordan can assemble the resources to stage them.
Given all that, barebones has a remarkably consistent production history. Unlike other small companies, it doesn’t have a set season. But in those 10 years it’s staged 11 shows, and only once, in 2011, did it go a calendar year without staging one. (The next show, Keith Huff's A Steady Rain, is already set to open next February.)
Jordan’s also been quick to jump on up-and-coming playwrights whom other local companies either don’t know about or won’t touch — like Tracy Letts, whose BUG barebones premiered locally a year before Letts won his Pulitzer for August: Osage County, and Guirgis, whose Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train was the first Pittsburgh production of a work by one of American theater’s biggest current names.
All this, and typically strong reviews, despite a penchant for material dark enough that Jordan himself played a serial killer in both The Glory of Living and Frozen — and in 2006 followed those shows with The Grey Zone, Tim Blake Nelson’s harrowing play set in a Nazi concentration camp. So it's not like he's pandering.
And though barebones — which used to stage plays in found spaces — has in recent years found a home at the New Hazlett Theater, Jordan's approach has hardly changed. One of the main characters in last year’s Jesus, after all, was also a serial killer.
And gritty love triangle Motherfucker, despite its plentiful street-level humor, is ultimately (to my mind) about boiling the world down to narcissists and nihilists.
But you can see for yourself at the show’s three remaining performances, tonight through Saturday at the New Hazlett. Tickets are $30-35, and you can find them here.
Although it centers on the fraught, raucously funny relationship between two brothers, on another level Sam Shepard’s contemporary classic probes our national mythology.
The brothers squabble, perhaps most basically, about their authenticity. Hollywood insider Austin is working on a screenplay; drifter and thief Lee says he can write one, too. And the fact that Lee’s story is full (to Austin’s mind) of the rankest Western cliches, we learn, doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t sell.
Is family man Austin the truer citizen? Or is Lee’s form of self-sufficiency — burglary — just as authentic, especially given his apparent ability to live alone in the desert? Somewhere in the background, the soundtracks to 500 cowboy movies swell.
Historians debate how much the American character was formed by a belief in the frontier — its values, its justice, all now heavily mythologized. But perhaps what became most significant about the Western frontier, starting around 1890, is that there just wasn’t any more of it. In this fine production directed by Pamela Berlin, the brothers have nothing left to face but the the unknown terrain in each other.
True West has eight more performances at the O’Reilly Theater through this Sunday, starting tonight. Tickets are $15.75-55.
It's an intriguing play by one of the hottest English-language playwrights of the moment, cleverly staged in an old chain burger place in the Waterfront.
Despite his acclaim, British playwright Jez Butterworth hasn't had too much exposure in these parts — previously, to my knowledge, just a 2009 Point Park REP production of his first play, the gangster drama Mojo .
The three-character Parlour Song indeed suggests a playwright worth more time on local stages. It's a funny, insinuating and ultimately quite sad portrait of suburban loneliness, the quiet (or noisy) desperation we attempt to paper over with cheerful grins, fitness schemes, work and possessions.
Organizing metaphor: All of protagonist Ned's stuff is disappearing, each birdbath by stuffed badger. Thus does Butterworth take his characters into existential terrain without every brushing against pretense.
Butterworth is also said to be writing the script for a feature film about The Clash.
Here's Colette Newby's review of Parlour Song for CP. Of particular note is the show's staging in an old Pittsburgh Burger Company restaurant, the paneled half-walls and such eerily echoing any shoddy new subdivision you care to name.
Parlour Song has two more performances, at 8 p.m. tonight and 7 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $46, available here.
This start-up theater company is out of the gate strong with the Pittsburgh-premiere production of Joe Penhall’s darkly humorous, rather heady play set in a British mental hospital.
It’s got a potent cast: local favorites David Whalen and Sam Tsoutsouvas, plus relative newcomer Rico Parker. Whalen and Tsoutsouvas play two white doctors sparring over the case of a young black patient named Chris, played by Parker.
The director is Andrew Paul (late of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre), who co-founded the troupe with Mark Clayton Southers.
While the play tackles race, class and mental illness, to me it was mostly about the power of language. Or, as one character puts it, “If people get the meaning of the word wrong, how can they get the person right?”
Take this intriguing thread. Act One is largely about Dr. Bruce trying to convince Chris to stay in the hospital, when he wants to go, as Dr. Smith agrees he should. Act Two finds Smith trying to persuade Chris to leave, after he’s changed his mind and wants to stay.
That’s when things get really interesting. Smith argues to the paranoid Chris that Bruce has put thoughts in Chris’ head, and — an especially devilish argument — that Chris’ conscious mind (which is telling him to stay in hospital) simply must catch up to his unconscious desire to leave.
Then, in a written report, Smith puts his own words in Chris’ mind. But he’s also uniwttingly fed the patient’s paranoia. After which, Chris proves as unintentionally skillful at twisting Smith’s words as Smith was at twisting his.
Follow the sinuous lines of argument for four more performances, tonight through Saturday, staged at the Pittsburgh Playwrights space at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Tickets are $15-38.
And here’s Ted Hoover’s review of the show for CP.
Open any self-help book and you will likely be met with a barrage of what exactly you have been doing wrong for your whole life, and what you need to start doing right lest you be miserable forever.
“Almost every moment of the book emphasizes being excited about life, about your own creativity, about letting it run free but also being in control of it and yourself,” says Elliott. She's a former University of Pittsburgh poetry instructor who’s now a counselor, teacher and organizer in the Evolver Network, which is dedicated to visionary social activism.
Elliott, 29, says in an interview that she wrote the book for friends of hers who she saw had immense creative ability, but weren’t sure how to use it. That situation gradually made them more and more unhappy.
Positivity is something of an avocation for Elliot. On her blog, www.awesomeyourlife.com, she writes, “I’m on a mission to help myself and everyone else become fully lucid, joyful and compassionate inside this crazy dream.”
Awaken Your Genius is published by Evolver Editions. In it, she outlines seven steps to self-improvement, emphasizing “making your soul,” which, she says, gives you backbone.
“Soul-making is about learning to see the world through your heart,” she says. “Seeing the world through your heart emphasizes the idea of being good and happy in every aspect of your life.”
The seven steps are a chronological plan to help readers move through their life without being held back by their own creativity: Hearing Your Heart’s Call, Accepting the Call, Meeting Your Guide, Crossing the Threshold, Enduring Trials and Becoming Divine. The book’s final step, Taming Your Genius, tells the reader that it doesn’t matter if a particular objective is good or bad; if it is not within reason, one will lose control.
Elliot is a published poet, but the book also draws on her experiences teaching, reading and being with friends — her failures as well as her successes.
She says that the book is not just a plan for a couple months, but rather outlines a possibly lifetime journey. “Our genius is hungry, and it needs to be fed,” Elliott says. “We have many different kinds of energy and oftentimes it can be overwhelming … [W]ith the book I am trying to help people find a healthy outlet for their energy and their creativity.”
Even in an extremely busy arts season, this is one to make time for.
One, it’s a terrific show, one of the best I’ve seen the company do since it was founded, in 1994. (Admittedly, I haven’t seen every production, but quite a few.)
While The Chalk Line builds on techniques from the troupe’s 2011 performance series What?, it’s full of surprises and fresh and lively movement. The two choreographers and the five performers — Liz Chang, Kaitlin Dann, Brent Luebbert, Dane Toney and Ashley Williams — are clearly having a blast playing with space, with this space (Attack’s Spring Way studios) and with the sheer pleasure of arranging bodies in and through space (not to mention against wall-sized chalkboardsl, up a steel support beam and down a makeshift slide).
Here’s Steve Sucato’s review for CP.
Second, note that distinction between de la Reza and Kope as choreographers and everyone else as performers. Neither of Attack’s founding artistic directors is onstage for this show, which is a first. (Indeed, before Friday’s show, Kope told me a performance of Chalk Line last week was the first Attack performance of any kind, anywhere, that he’d missed in the company’s 19 years.)
There’s been no formal announcement, but if de la Reza and Kope are backing away from performing, let’s hope it’s with more shows as good as this one.
Unusual for any kind of dance company, Attack often runs its shows over multiple weekends. So even though The Chalk Line opened Nov. 1, five performances remain, starting tomorrow night and continuing through Sat., Nov. 16. Tickets are $15-20.
The Spring Way studio is actually at 2515 Liberty Ave., in the Strip.
At least half the reason I was eager to see this show, which closes Saturday, is that playwright Madeleine George also wrote Precious Little, one of the best new plays I’ve seen in recent years.
Zero Hour (2010) isn’t quite as elegantly woven as that earlier work, which City Theatre staged beautifully in 2011. But if you liked Precious Little — or, really, if you like plays about both people and ideas, delivered in succinct but beautiful language — you’ll also find much to like in Zero Hour.
What’s especially attractive about George’s writing is, simply, how she thinks: She has ideas, some heretical, and she boldly blends them together on the page. And there’s nothing easy or sanctimonious about how she approaches even so sacred a cow as the Holocaust. At one point, George has Rebecca question whether it makes sense, in a century crowded with genocides, that “the Nazis” have become our supreme benchmark of evil.
The play’s two strands concern the troubled relationship between Rebecca and O, and Rebecca’s series of surreal encounters on the el with Nazis — real Nazis, that is, survivors somehow of World War II. Whether these hilarious/horrifying encounters are real, partly real or totally dreamed up in Rebecca’s stressed-out mind is for audiences to decide. It should give us pause, though, that in one them George rather convincingly equates fascists and sports fans.
But if George recoils from easy answers, neither does her intelligence ever feel like knee-jerk provocation: When she rhymes fearful, closeted modern queers with persecuted minorities of the past, it’s not just with Jews in hiding in Hitler’s Germany, but also with post-war Nazis forced to create fresh, false personas for themselves as well.
Not incidentally, and rare among contemporary playwrights, George supplies great roles for women and lots of opportunity for theatricality. At Off the Wall, director Robyne Parrish takes full advantage of the talents of Erika Cuenca (as Rebecca) and Daina Michelle Griffth (O), each of whom plays multiple roles.
Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for CP.
Zero Hour has two more shows, tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5-35 and are available here.
Though the announcement arrived too late for our print edition, tomorrow’s Unblurred gallery crawl includes a brand-new venue worth mentioning. It’s run by a familiar name.
The gallery opens with the group show On Paper, curated by locally based artist and Carnegie Mellon art professor Ayanah Moor.
The show features works by “six artists who engage the mediums of drawing, performance, print media and installation.” The works in the show “range from illustrative to representative to imaginative.”
The artists include Althea Murphy Price, of Knoxville, Tenn.; Paul Stephen Benjamin, of Atlanta; Chicago-based Krista Franklin; Atlanta-based William Downs; Pittsburgh-based Alisha B. Wormsley; and Jordan Martin, of New York City.
The show opens will a reception from 6-8 p.m. tomorrow. (That both starts and ends a little sooner than most of the goings-on at Unblurred.) The show runs through Dec. 14 (though gallery hours are limited to noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, or by appointment).
Fieldwork is located at 4925 Penn Ave. For more information, contact email@example.com.
If you ever participated in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest, the company is looking for you.
The program will be distributed at February’s Showcase of Finalists.
The Shakespeare Nation Project seeks to bring together the the thousands of student contestants (grades 4 through 12) who have participated, many of whom now live elsewhere.
The project’s honorary chair is Gillian Jacobs. In the 1990s, as a Mount Lebanon high school student, the co-star of NBC’s Community participated in the contest three times.
Jacobs apparently never won, but must have done all right: She also appeared in three productions at the Public, including As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In addition to Community, she’s also now making feature films, including a role in the upcoming Kevin Costner drama Black & White.
The Shakespeare contest was created by Rob Zellers, the Public’s education director, who still oversees it. It’s grown dramatically (so to speak), from 75 participants in 1994 to 1,200 last year.
For its program book, the Public asks past particpants to tell, in a sentence or two, “what you gained from your experience in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest.” Include your name and the year and school you attended when you took part, and feel free to attach a current photo. Email responses to Margie Romero at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline is Nov. 15.
The 20th Anniversary Shakespeare contest is supported by the EQT Foundation and Richard E. Rauh.
Post Written By Brett Wilson
When children are frightened into believing that a ghost story is real, the effect is usually temporary. But one local author offers a compilation of actual belief in witchcraft — and the persecution of witches — right here in Pennsylvania.
White’s account takes us to counties all over the state, with accounts of belief in witchcraft that many people might be surprised to hear took place so close to them.
White, 38, has written seven books on folklore and the supernatural. He is Duquesne’s archivist and curator, and specializes in legends and folklore. He says the idea for this book arose while he was researching his other books.
“I realized that there were stories of strong beliefs in witches coming from nearly every part of Pennsylvania at some point in time,” White says. “Most of the witchcraft stories in Pennsylvania come from the German population that originally migrated here and brought their stories and beliefs in witches with them.”
Among the stories he tells is that of “Mary ‘Moll’ Derry, The Witch of Fayette County.” She was rumored to have been mocked by three men once, and in response hauntingly told them that they would be hung. As she predicted it, someway or another over the years, each of them died from hanging.
While Pennsylvania has had just one official witch trial, in 1684 — presided over by William Penn himself — belief in witchcraft persisted. In 1802, an Allegheny County judged helped an accused witch escape an angry mob. And in 1934, in Schuykill County, a woman was shot and killed in her home by a man convinced she had put a curse on him.
White says that Pennsylvania has been rich with stories of witches for much the same reason that the Steelers are so popular nationally. “A lot of people originally migrated here,” he said. “Throughout time, for one reason or another, many people left and took the stories they heard with them. Then some people returned, and because of this in Pennsylvania we have a really prominent history of beliefs in witches and the supernatural.”
Mystery Lovers Bookshop’s coffee-and-pastries reception for White starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow. The event is free, but registration is requested at 412-828-4877 or here.