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Pittsburgh New Works Festival

The festival of one-acts’ Program D offers some strong work

For a city already rich with many great theater companies, how lucky are we to also have the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, which has been staged here for 26 years? I was fortunate to catch one of its four programs, each comprising three one-act plays during the course of an evening. I had almost forgotten how enjoyable a variety of one-acts can be. It’s like getting several different flavors on one cone at the ice-cream parlor.

In the festival’s Program D, the intense “Brotherhood” was directed by D Paylo for The Theatre Factory. It was written by Garry Kluger, who has done a lot of TV work, which is obvious without even reading his bio. We have seen this archetypal story about two brothers who turn out good and bad, respectively, in countless small-screen dramas. Terry Westwood and Tom Kolos offer insightful portrayals of these rival siblings. Unfortunately, after a sprinkling of Freudian dialogue, their past issues are resolved rather predictably.

Jennifer Tromble’s “Influence,” directed subtly by Nicole Zalak for The Heritage Players, offers a much more original dilemma, with wonderful character evolution, especially by Linda Anschuetz, who plays the foul-mouthed grandmother Marie. Her son Michael, gently played by Greg Bromfield, must confront her when it becomes clear that Marie’s unsavory vocabulary is rubbing off on the granddaughter she babysits, raising alarms at school. This play touchingly explores the deeper issues of generational influence, and questions the dynamic between political correctness and morality in today’s society.

The highlight of the program is Stephen Engel’s “Once Upon a Mattress Store,” produced by Stage Right Pittsburgh. While its plot smacks of Hollywood — as does the Howard Hawks-esque direction by Joe Eberle — the performance of George Saulnier (Larry), who is a Pittsburgh treasure, will leave you glowing. The dialogue is sharp and witty and delivered with great timing.  When Larry asks a customer what type of mattress he prefers, and is told, “For the last three years I’ve been sleeping on a prison bed,” he replies, “So I’m guessing firm?” Connor McNelis shows powerful range as the unnamed thief, and is lucky enough to come away, as we do, with a life lesson that questions more than it teaches.

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