Theater | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 3:31 PM

Final week for "Seven Guitars" at Pittsburgh Playwrights, staged at August Wilson House
Photo courtesy of Gail Manker
Jonathan Berry (left) and Leslie "Ezra" Smith in "Seven Guitars."
Seeing August Wilson’s Seven Guitars performed in the very Hill District backyard in which it was set should give anyone chills, but also a sense of an artistic birthright restored: Wilson was raised on the Hill, and grew up in the house in front of that Bedford Avenue backyard, but who knows how long it’s been since one of his plays was actually staged in the neighborhood?

It’s not too much to call this fine Playwrights production “historic.” But if you want to see it, you’d better hurry: There are just five more performances through Sunday, and one of them (Saturday night’s) is already sold out. Fortunately, bowing to popular demand (all six performances the first two weeks sold out), Playwrights added weekend matinees this week, which has effectively doubled your chances of getting a seat.

With straw blanketing the yard’s bare dirt, and live chickens pecking away, the outdoor production takes you back to 1948, with seven characters (the “guitars” of the title) attached to the mystery of who killed bluesman Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton (though Barton, played by Jonathan Berry, is alive for most of the play, in extended flashback).

Director Mark Clayton Southers’ staging of the 1996 play runs about three and a half hours, including an intermission; it’s probably Wilson’s most discursive work. But it takes time to create a world on stage, and Seven Guitars features some of Wilson’s most pungent dialogue: As one character says, “You get a hit record and the white folks call you ‘Mister.’”

Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review of the show for City Paper.

Bonus: The house is the under-construction arts center known as August Wilson House, so you can get a sneak peak at that, too. And you’ll be sitting within blocks of the real-life settings for several other Wilson plays, including Fences and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

Seven Guitars takes place at 1727 Bedford Ave.

Tickets are $35 and are available here.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 5:37 PM

Camp classic inspires Pittsburgh duo’s musical on Saturday
Photo courtesy of Michael Rubino
Missy Moreno (left) and Connor McCanlus in "Whatever Happened to babyGRAND?"
Talented local duo babyGRAND, known for improvising whole musical comedies, perform a new but still largely improvised work, What Ever Happened to babyGRAND?

The show, which debuted at Arcade Comedy Theater during PrideFest 2016, adapts Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the famed 1962 drama starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Davis plays a former child star who keeps her more successful sister, played by Crawford, a prisoner in their home after having run her over with a car decades earlier.

The show preserves the characters and iconic moments and costumes, but weaves them together “with improvised music crafted around a single audience suggestion.”

babyGRAND is composed of veteran locally based singers and actors Missy Moreno and Connor McCanlus. Moreno has toured with CLO’s Gallery of Heroes and worked with Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe. McCanlus has performed with Bricolage Productions, CLO Cabaret and Kinetic Theatre, and he runs the Pittsburgh Improv Jam.

What Ever Happened to babyGRAND? will be performed at 10 p.m. this Saturday at the CLO Cabaret Theater. The show runs 50 minutes.

Tickets are $10 at the door.

The CLO Cabaret Theater is located at 655 Penn Ave., Downtown.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 10:59 AM

Review: "Driftless" at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater
Photo courtesy of Hatch Arts Collective
The cast of "Driftless" includes Trevor Butler (front) and at rear, from left, Siovhan Christensen, Alec Silberblatt, Tammy Tsai and Ken Bolden.

Performance troupe Hatch Arts Collective’s biggest show yet is an artistically ambitious take on the hot-button topic of fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas is practiced nationally, but Driftless is set mostly in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where drilling in the Marcellus Shale helped set off the fracking boom.

The two-act drama, which opened last night, uses fracking as a backdrop to the human story of one family –- though, much like horizontal drills break up rock for the gas inside, the reality of fracking keeps breaking through the narrative, imposing its own realities.

Driftless, written by Hatch co-founder Paul Kruse, is a curious mix of issue play, kitchen-sink drama and some highly theatrical experimental elements. Rare in contemporary plays, there’s also an earnest Catholicism, personified by the young priest, Father Peter (Trevor Butler).

Collin Howard (played by Alec Silverblatt) is a young man who works in the gas industry, and the job interrupts his home life by frequently taking him on the road. His wife, Sierra (Siovhan Christensen), comes to believe that their well water is contaminated by nearby drilling operations, and might be implicated in a recent family tragedy. Her parents are played by Ken Bolden and Tammy Tsai, double-cast as a sort of saints’ chorus of St. Peter and St. Barbara (the latter the patron saint of miners.)

The show’s two main sets are, literally, kitchens –- one in Collin and Sierra’s house, the other in the home of Peter’s father, in Minnesota. The latter setting is used to explore the little-discussed but highly destructive practice of mining for the sand used in fracking wells.

Like a recent novel set in Pennsylvania frack country, Jennifer Haigh’s excellent Heat & Light, Driftless gives voice to different perspectives on fracking, from its economic impacts to the environmental damage it causes; it also draws links between addiction in people and society’s addiction to fossil fuels.

That’s a lot for one play, but Driftless, directed by Adil Mansoor, is well-acted and memorably staged. (Though the volume on the sound design, which threatened to drown out the actors at some points, could use adjusting.)

Driftless has three more performances, at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow night and a Sunday matinee.
Tickets are $15-20 and are available here.

Hatch, whose mission includes promoting environmental justice, is hosting environmental groups pre- and post-show in the New Hazlett’s lobby. Groups giving brief talks last night were the Center for Coalfield Justice and Moms Clean Air Force.

The lobby also showcases artwork on fracking. Especially powerful were a series of photos by Mandy L. Kendall that captured the way gas flares from drilling rigs bathe rural Pennsylvania in light at night, further industrializing the countryside.

The New Hazlett Theater is located at 6 Allegheny Square East, on the North Side. 

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 11:35 AM

If you'd like to see your work staged for radio (and no, that's not an oxymoron), Bricolage Production Company has an opportunity for you.

The company, known for its Midnight Radio shows, is accepting submissions of original 15-minute radio plays to be produced as part of its holiday variety hour this December, at Bricolage's Downtown theater space.

No prior radio writing experience is necessary. The scripts should be family-friendly, related to the winter holidays (from Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa to Festivus) and include dynamic sound effects. (Midnight Radio shows are staged for live audiences and not necessarily broadcast; part of the fun is watching performers come up with the appropriate sound effects live on stage.)

The scripts should be 15 to 20 pages long and be a single episode (not a cliffhanger) written for four actors. Also, Bricolage notes, "funny is a plus" and "relevance to Pittsburgh is a plus." One possible model is the company's 2015 show Yinz'r Scrooged.

The deadline is Sept. 1. Submit to

Two plays will be selected for production, and each writer will receive a stipend of $200.

The complete call for submissions follows the jump.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2016 at 12:13 PM

Two notable Pittsburgh performers successfully tackled a pair of one-person plays by Samuel Beckett.
The two-part T.A.C.T. production features Daina Michelle Griffith in “Not I” (1972) and Martin Giles in Krapp’s Last Tape (1958). Both rise to the challenge of these storied, difficult roles for a compelling evening of theater by a company in its second season.

click to enlarge Review of Beckett one-acts at the New Hazlett Theater
Martin Giles and Daina Michelle Griffith
“Not I” is a rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness monologue by an elderly woman who, abandoned as a child, has been “speechless all her days, practically speechless,” and speaks only in bursts “once or twice a year, always winter, some strange reason.” It lasts 15 minutes with only a few short pauses, a distinctly Beckettian chronicle of personal trauma and obsessive self-awareness.

Usually, “Not I” is presented by an actress raised above the stage, her mouth spot-lit, with a second, silent performer behind. However director Connor Bahr (also T.A.C.T.’s founder) presents Griffith’s mouth in extreme close-up via projected video and live video feed. It’s a curious choice, but an effective way to make us focus on Griffith’s powerful vocalization of a legendarily difficult part.

The bulk of the evening, however, is Giles’, and Krapp’s Last Tape is at first as silent as “Not I” is voluble: The protagonist, an elderly disheveled man, doesn’t speak for the hour-plus play’s first 20 minutes (unless you count gasps and sighs). Instead, he stares at the audience, fumbles in his pockets and searches through the drawers of his desk. He peels two bananas, eats one, slips on the first peel. (Fans of Beckett’s vaudeville overtones, in plays like Waiting for Godot, will find a good deal to like in Krapp.)

But most of the play is Krapp listening to, and commenting on, a recollection: himself, on a reel-to-reel tape he recorded decades earlier, on his 39th birthday, when his younger self reminisced about his life, mostly about hopeful, deeply felt moments with young women that never turned into anything more.

Regret, remorse and other bitter emotions intertwine beautifully with wistfulness in the performance by Giles, long one of Pittsburgh’s top talents as an actor, director and playwright. Bahr directs.

Three performances remain of “Not I” and Krapp’s Last Tape, tonight through Saturday.

Tickets are $10-20 and are available here.

The New Hazlett Theater is located at 6 Allegheny Square East, on the North Side.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 1:01 PM

When I interviewed Whitney Maris Brown for a short preview of this production of David Ives’ play, she couldn’t say enough about the role she was to play: Vanda, an actress auditioning to be in a stage adaptation of a notorious 19th-century novel.

click to enlarge Final week for “Venus in Fur” at Pittsburgh Public Theater
Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Public Theater
Christian Conn and Whitney Maris Brown in "Venus in Fur"
Having seen this acclaimed comedic drama last night, I can’t say enough about the play, either. Seven performances of the Public's local-premiere production remain through Sunday, and I second Ted Hoover’s rave review for CP: Head Downtown for one of them. (If it’s any further recommendation, at last night’s performance I ran into another local theater person who said that this is the third production of this 2010 play he’s seen, in the third different city.)

Ives, primarily known for All in the Timing, outdoes himself with Venus. It’s just two characters, Vanda and Thomas, the playwright and director for whom she’s auditioning. Vanda at first seems ill-suited for the role: the domineering lover sought by the play’s protagonist, an aristocrat who wants to be subjugated by a woman. (Thomas' source material was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel Venus in Furs.)

But Vanda immediately begins proving herself to be much more than she seems, even as Venus in Fur expands into a slippery, endlessly engaging play-within-a-play, wherein the borders separating the two plays become increasingly indistinct. Partway through, Ives’ witty and incisive script takes an intriguing turn into a feminist critique of the play-within-in-a-play and its source material, even as the whole depicts a power struggle between director and actor.

The production is driven by terrific performances by Brown and by Christian Conn, as Thomas, directed by Jesse Berger. (Vanda really is a fantastic role, just as Brown indicated.) And then, in its final minutes, the play kicks imperceptibly but decisively into another gear entirely.

Tickets for Venus in Fur are $15.75-60 and are available here.

The Public’s O’Reilly Theater is located at 621 Penn Ave.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 11:25 AM

British playwright Mike Bartlett’s intriguing little 2009 work is good theater that has something to add to our ongoing discussion about sexual identity.

click to enlarge Final Week for “Cock” at Pittsburgh’s Kinetic Theatre
Photo courtesy of Kinetic Theatre Co.
Thomas Constantine Moore and Erika Strasburg in "Cock"
It’s an edgy dark comedy about a young man named John who, after a breakup with his longtime male partner, falls in love with a woman, then tries to go back to his ex. The play’s climax, at once hilarious and wrenching, is a dinner where the three try to hash things out, joined by an unexpected guest.

Cock, directed by Kinetic founder and artistic director Andrew Paul, is cleverly minimalist. It’s set in a sawdust-filled ring (like a cockfight pit), with no props and barely any lighting changes. While the actors gesture normally when conversing, most other actions (sex, eating) are only indicated verbally, not performed. And the fast-paced 90-minute show is intermissionless, with what would normally be scene changes instead rendered as live “jump cuts” indicated by a ringing bell.

While those choices add texture, the play comes down to John’s equivocation – which turns out to be more complicated than it looks, and bound up with the binary way we think of sexual identity (gay vs. straight). Bartlett probes this issue intelligently, though without necessarily drawing any conclusions for the audience.

The cast excels; Thomas Constantine Moore, who plays John, is a Carnegie Mellon alum, as are Ethan Hova, who plays M, his male partner, and Erika Strasburg, who plays W. The ensemble is completed by stage veteran and local favorite Sam Tsoutsouvas.

Here’s Ted Hoover’s review for CP.

Cock has five more performances at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, tomorrow night through Sunday, including matinees on both weekend days.

Tickets are $20-36 and are available here.

Playwrights Theatre is located on the third floor of 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2016 at 10:41 PM

The 30th annual EQT Children's Theater Festival kicked off this Thursday, bringing food trucks, balloon art and young theater-goers to the Cultural District in Downtown Pittsburgh. The international festival, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, features eight productions from six countries suitable for children of all ages, as well as lots of outdoor activities.

The event encompasses four venues (Byham Theater, August Wilson Center, Trust Arts Education Center and Bricolage Productions) and the outdoor live installation "The Sheep (Les Moutons)," at Seventh Street and Penn Ave.

Check out our photo slideshow below for scenes from the festival's first two days. The festival continues through Sunday. For a full schedule of events, visit

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