Program Notes: Arts Blog |

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bricolage's STRATA

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 11:00 AM

There are less than two weeks left to see this crazily ambitious show — truly a theatrical event worth clearing your calendar for.

"Play" doesn't do STRATA justice. It's an interactive performance set on multiple floors of a big Downtown building. (You probably won't know which building until you leave.)

The premise is that audience members have paid an entity called the Gate Corporation to undergo a sort of self-realization experience, called "STRATA," the goal of which is personal perfection. This is, publicity materials assure us, "Pittsburgh's First Refitnessing Center."

In practice, that means that from the moment you meet your first "agent," you become a character alongside the cast of some two dozen performers scattered throughout the venue, playing a variety of guides, mentors, therapists and more. It's largely scripted, but by necessity partly improvised.

With its choose-your-own adventure element, STRATA feels less like watching a conventional play and more like actually being in a movie.

Here's Michelle Pilecki's review for CP. Like this post, the review is short on specifics, both to avoid spoilers and because each visitor's experience will be notably different (even though you enter the venue with a partner, either chosen or assigned). My preview offered some background on the show's origins.

Like many funhouse rides, STRATA has its dark side — and we don't just mean the anti-STRATA campaign that shows up on the event's website, and which might or might not bleed over into your actual experience there.

Put another way: You can take STRATA at face value, but you'd be missing the sly undercurrent of critique of self-actualization seminars and the like. At the same time, don't be surprised if your "refitnessing" provokes at least a little introspection alongside the fun.

STRATA was devised by artists including Bricolage's Jeffrey Carpenter and Tami Dixon. Credit also the sharp work of lead writer Gab Cody; co-directors Carpenter, Dixon and Sam Turich; and the big cast and crew who made it all happen.

STRATA continues with 10 more performance dates through Sept. 1. Due to the nature of the show, patrons are limited in number. Tickets, meanwhile, are $40-60 — pricey by Bricolage standards, but after you see the show you're less likely to begrudge the charge than to wonder how they managed it all on a budget.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Quantum Theatre's The Golden Dragon

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2012 at 11:45 AM


While it's less-mind-bending and more accessible than some Quantum shows, playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig's take on immigration, globalization and the gulf been the world's haves and the have-nots will still hit a lot of people sideways.

That's one side effect of having a five-person cast playing 17 roles, and regularly crossing lines of race, gender and age, to tell several interlocking (but not necessarily synchronous) stories.

Not to mention staging the show outdoors, on the branching concrete pier of Highland Park's Lake Carnegie. Or that it's a rotten incisor, pulled from the screaming mouth of a Chinese kitchen worker in a European city, that breaches the wall between struggling immigrants and the privileged Westerners who barely apprehend their existence.

But the cross-casting (which is written into the script) is itself one of the keys to this 2009 work (which I previewed for CP).

Here's an example. Cast member Aidaa Peerzada's main recurring role in the play is that of the young male kitchen worker with an awful toothache. But her other principal role is that of a Western male, "the man in the striped shirt," who's drinking himself into an angry stupor after learning his lover had an affair.

After her character's tooth is yanked (with pliers, in the tiny restaurant kitchen), Peerzada spends the rest of the show in a shirt streaked in blood. But that's a little foreshadowing, too: The striped-shirt man ends up dealing in blood, too, but not his own. At play's end, Peerzada is toggling rapidly between playing an innocent global-south victim and portraying a careless global-north victimizer. 

That's one expression of Schimmelpfennig's radically humanist vision, imaginatively realized by director Karla Boos and the rest of the cast and crew. Even while bringing into sharp focus the distance between the have and the have-nots — and the willful ignorance of the former by the latter — the play never loses sight of their common humanity.

Here's CP critic Robert Isenberg's review of the show.

The Golden Dragon continues through Aug. 26.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Kabarett Vulgare Odditease Premieres

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 at 2:30 PM

Kabarett Vulgare Odditease Premieres

Tomorrow night marks the first Pittsburgh appearance of this vaudeville- and sideshow-inspired showcase, promising “all the decadence of a Weimar-era cabaret.” (Though hopefully it won’t end in a beer-hall putsch, or anything.)

The late-night show at Shadow Lounge features familiar names, newcomers and special guests.

Karbarett Vulgare was co-founded in Charlotte, S.C., by drag performer Lilith Deville, who recently relocated to Pittsburgh. In May, she emceed Morose & Macabre’s Atrocity Exhibition, at the Rex Theater.

Kabarett Vulgare is in a similar vein. It harks to the old ten-in-one circus sideshow, which featured sword-swallowers, glass-walkers, fire-eaters, etc., and throws in some vaudeville.

Plenty of alt cabaret implicitly summons the spirit of Germany’s Weimar Republic, but the crew for the Tue., Aug. 14, show is especially promising.

DeVille emcees for a roster including songstress Phat Man Dee; burlesque performers Penny De La Poison (of Pittsburgh’s Bridge City Bombshells) and Bella Sin (of Cleveland); performance artist Miss Macabre Noir (of Morose & Macabre); and Tadashi, billed as “Japanese master of the blade and flame.”

The musical guest is Tigeriss, from New York City.

Knife-throwing is also promised.

The show is 21-and-over. Tickets are $8. The doors open at 9 p.m., performances start at 10 p.m. Tue., Aug. 14. Shadow Lounge is at 5972 Baum Blvd., in East Liberty. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Three Sisters at Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre

Posted By on Tue, Aug 7, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Chekhov is typically pegged as gloomy and "Russian." But while lots of horrible things happen in this classic, it’s easy to forget that the note the play ends on is that of the sisters’ resolve to go on. (That in itself is ironic, of course, as these well-off siblings have spent the whole play complaining, not entirely uncomically, about much lesser woes. But that irony, too, is Chekhov.)

Still, in PICT’s fine production, the thing that stood out most for me about this 1901 play was the vision of man’s fate as espoused by various characters. Insofar as those characters are both types and fully realized humans, they’re a fascinating glimpse into social thought in prerevolutoinary Russia.

Most prominent, perhaps, is Vershinin, the dashing army officer. As played for PICT by David Whalen, he’s a repository of optimism about the future — albeit the rather distant future. He’s the character who keeps reassuring sister Masha that while everyone in the provinces seems like a dullard now, a brighter sort of majority is bound to emerge …. in "two or three hundred years." 

The idealistic Baron Tuzenbach is more heartbreaking. The Baron (Leo Marks) is preparing to leave the military and work with his hands, in a brick factory. His romanticization of manual labor and human brotherhood bespeaks his faith in an immediate sort of transformation of mankind — a sort of "be the change you wish to see" avant ls lettre. And the Baron, of course, is destined for the most tragic comeuppance.

Then there’s Chebutykin, the physician, who seems in some ways the most philosophy-damaged. Ultimately, Chebutykin (Larry John Meyers) sounds the fatalist, several times excusing his own inaction by questioning whether "we even exist." His reading, it seems, has gotten the best of him — or the worst. The fact that he’s also something of a sentimentalist reflects Chekhov’s complex view of humanity.

Three Sisters isn’t a play about philosophy, of course; structurally, it’s more a melodrama. But the philosophical assertions create a rich backdrop for the action.

Three Sisters, directed by Harriet Power, has seven more performances through Aug. 26 as part of PICT’s Chekhov Celebration. The first of those seven is tomorrow night at 8 p.m.

The shows are at the Henry Heymann Theater, in Oakland’s Stephen Foster Memorial.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Local Producer's TV Hunting Show

Posted By on Mon, Aug 6, 2012 at 2:15 PM


How does a guy who's never picked up a rifle in earnest end up as producer and cameraman for a TV hunting show? 

If he's Keith Parish, it's because he senses there's good TV to be made, and he goes out and does it.

Parish is a Reading native who launched his production company, Parish Digital Video, in 2007, right after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. He mostly made TV ads and corporate videos. But then a college pal, Todd Locker, introduced Parish to his brother, Benmont, and their father.

Benmont Locker and his dad, of Chambersburg, Pa., are a couple of cutups who Parish believed would go over well on camera. "I was like, man, these two guys need to have a TV show."

Then, by coincidence, these hunting enthusiasts went into business together, acquiring a company that made and sold hunting apparel. Instant premise: the show that would document the pair's attempt to re-launch the Medalist brand, alongside Benmont's trophy-hunting exploits around the continent. Another figure in the reality show would be Benmont's girlfriend, Kate Frey, a hunting newbie.

Parish shot sample video in March. Sponsors were acquired. The first episode of The Thrill with Benmont and Kate aired on the Sportsman Channel on June 25. New episodes will air weekly into September, at 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 a.m. Wednesdays and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Locker and Frey are photogenic and personable. In one episode, they stalk an aoudad, an African sheep, on a hunting ranch in Texas. ("How pretty!" exclaims Frey, beholding a just-killed aoudad.)

Other trips in the 14-episode first season took the crew to Florida, Wyoming, Montiana, New Mexico, Kansas and Canada.

Though he wears camo out in the field, Parish, 27, says he still hasn't gone hunting, per se. But stalking live game with a camera on his shoulder is a big challenge in itself. "It's one of the hardest things I've ever done."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Toonseum Director Attempts Drawing World-Record Maze

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2012 at 4:37 PM


For most people, mazes are brief but amusing distractions. For Joe Wos, executive director of Pittsburgh's ToonSeum, they're opportunities to test one's limits.

Barring any major mistakes, Wos will finish creating what he believes will be the world's largest hand-drawn maze in the next two weeks or so.

He began it on July 27, in Geppi's Entertainment Museum, in Baltimore, and this past Sunday returned to Pittsburgh to continue his work. (A close-up detail is pictured.) In a week and a half, he'll depart for San Francisco, by which point he estimates that the maze — drawn on a 120-square-foot smudge-resistant roll — will be 90 percent complete. (He'll finish the maze after returning to Pittsburgh.)

Despite the project's scale, Wos says it involved relatively little preparation.

"About three months ago I decided I was doing a lot of very stressful work here at the ToonSeum," he said in an interview in late June, as he was gearing up to take on the maze project. "I was like, ‘I need something to relax me — I need to draw the world's largest maze.'"

If that sounds counterintuitive, Wos notes that traditionally, mazes were used as contemplative exercises. And Wos says he doesn't plan the layout of mazes he draws — he improvises them as he goes.

"I never sketch it out first, I just sit down and I start drawing," he says. He works partly in the ToonSeum itself, unrolling the maze on the floor (as pictured).

To ensure he doesn't block every exit by mistake, he always leaves at least two routes open at any given point during the drawing process.

"I've learned not to worry," he says. "You make a mistake, you just keep going."

In order for Guinness World Records to recognize this as the world's largest hand-drawn maze (no previous record exists), someone must actually solve it. That's an ordeal Wos estimates will take roughly 48 hours.


"That'll probably be the toughest part," he says, recalling that a previous maze he drew in 30 hours took roughly 14 to solve. He plans to hold some sort of competition to determine who's most qualified to attempt the solution.

After San Francisco, the maze will travel to Indianapolis, then back again to Pittsburgh in September. Then the ToonSeum will hold a small party for the sponsors, whose symbols appear in the maze itself — entities like StarKist, Schell Games and Visit Pittsburgh, among others.

All this might sound exhausting, but Wos says it's time well spent.

"I'll never be the guy standing up and saying, ‘Try and knock me over,'" he says. "But in this one thing, I can stand and say, ‘Okay, I have put forth my best effort, try and beat me. Try and solve it.'"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Luna Park Project at the Brew House

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 3:00 PM


This carnivalesque new performance work by Murphi Cook and Zach Dorn attempts to recreate, or at least revivify the memory of, the fabled amusement park that once occupied a big swath of North Oakland.

Luna Park lasted only a few years before burning to the ground in 1908. The grandly columned entrance was at the corner of Baum Boulevard and Craig Street; the sizable footprint included what's now Pittsburgh Filmmakers' headquarters, among much else.

Cook, Doran and Tom Foran are the crazily energetic and quite skillful performers who use puppetry, stagecraft and vivid imaginations to summon both the parks' mad-visionary creator, Frederick Ingersoll, and the experience of the park itself.

I saw the fast-paced 45-minute show on Saturday (its second performance), and I'd say that whether they actually achieve that goal is less important than the fun of watching them try.

In the makeshift theatrical venue that is the Brew House's Space 101, the performers and their tech team put on a low-budget multimedia spectacular.

Each performer portrays an incarnation of Ingersoll, as does one of Dorn's puppets. It's an attempt to tour the mind of a man who — at a time when few Americans had electric light bulbs in their homes — opened a vast playground featuring some 60,000 of the things. The park also housed wild animals, including a lion whose catastrophic escape provides one of the play's episodes. (One of the puppet-scale sets is pictured here.)

Meanwhile, Cook embodies at least three other characters, putting her saucer eyes and some cartoonishly high vocalisms to good use as a Ingersoll's girlfriend/guinea pig; "Little Luna," a hot-dog-loving park performer; and a phone operator.

Luna Park Project also includes prerecorded music; a short film; and a stereoscopic projection reviving an early form of 3D. (The necessary viewing glasses are provided.) Other collaborators include comics artist Jim Rugg.

The elliptical and nonlinear nature of the narrative means you might emerge with a fuzzy factual understanding of Ingersoll and Luna Park. You should definitely arrive 15 minutes early and scan the wall-mounted exhibit Cook and Dorn have prepared about the man and his creation, featuring old photos and news clippings, plus original artwork. Too, some of the troupe's attempts at a "period" feel seemed to draw more on 1930s screwball film comedies than on however people acted three decades earlier.

Still, The Luna Park Project is well worth your time. (Ticket-buyers get free snacks, including hot dogs.) Cook and Dorn — who often collaborate under the heading of the Society for Miniature Curiosa — bearing watching in the future.

The Luna Park Project continues with four more performances, on Friday and Saturday nights through Aug. 11. Tickets are $12.

The Brew House is at 2100 Mary St., on the South Side.


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