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Hobson's Choice 

click to enlarge Sole beneficiaries: Derdriu Ring and Simon Bradbury in PICT's Hobson's Choice. - PHOTO COURTESY OF GIANNI DOWNS
  • Photo courtesy of Gianni Downs
  • Sole beneficiaries: Derdriu Ring and Simon Bradbury in PICT's Hobson's Choice.

Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre offers light fare, not about merry old England but about dour old Lancashire. It's Hobson's Choice, a slightly known play by not especially famous Harold Brighouse. The production has believable, polished performances. But, as directed by Andrew S. Paul, it doesn't do enough with the colorful central characters. And the acting, though earnest, remains more serious than comic. 

This 1917 play begins in 1880, in Brighouse's actual Lancashire hometown, a region he often evoked in eight full-length plays plus one-acts and novels while also writing for The Manchester Guardian.

The main characters include a man who seems substantial but turns out to be foolish, Henry Horatio Hobson, and another who seems foolish and turns out to be the better man, Will Mossop. Clever, sturdy Maggie, Henry's oldest daughter, strides between them. She sees both for what they are. Underappreciated Will makes shoes in Hobson's shop, where Maggie discovers more potential for him as both her business partner and her husband. Hobson can't deal with either possibility.   

Brighouse tells a solid story, and Paul and his cast get that part across successfully. But the characterizations fall short. Hobson calls himself "a talkative man" -- an understatement; the way Brighouse writes him he's a veritable windbag. Yet Michael Ball's performance doesn't comically drift; rather, it regularly overheats and explodes. Will, meanwhile, at first seems so meek and mild that even a gentle breeze would collapse him. But Simon Bradbury plays the character as not at all fragile and not in the least sympathetic. Meanwhile Derdriu Ring, giving Maggie appropriate pushiness, lacks the humor behind it as well as potential vulnerability and warmth. 

The script doesn't often rely on deliberately amusing lines. So, despite PICT's inevitable emphasis on authentic accents in the poor acoustics of the Charity Randall Theater, bewildered people in the audience won't miss words of major importance.  

In addition to Ball, Bradbury and Ring, five other imported actors have supporting roles, all of them convincing, with Kathleen Huber standing out with style as wealthy shop patron Mrs. Hepworth. And Pittsburgh's Laurel Schroeder gives a lot of charm to Maggie's sister Alice.

The set by Gianni Downs also comes across ill-conceived. While the shop looks authentic, with its many shoes and even shoelaces, the outside backdrop of the town resembles a shabby cartoon.  

I can't help wondering about this choice of play and how it's done.  

 

Hobson's Choice continues through Sat., Dec. 18. Charity Randall Theatre at Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland. 412-394-3353 or www.picttheatre.org

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