The year in Pittsburgh theater in strong women and vulnerable heroes:
Let us praise Off the Wall Theater’s one-woman drama The Pink Unicorn. Amy Landis zinged as a conservative Christian widow challenging — and challenged by — the mores of her small town over revelations of the gender identity of her only child. Ingrid Sonnichsen directed playwright Elise Forier Edie’s 2013 tale of motherhood under siege and an unexpected journey.
Greg Caridi soared as an unlikely hero in the South Park Theatre production of Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted, skillfully directed by Christopher Josephs. For those who don’t remember the real political “witch hunts” of the 1950s, Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo served actual jail time for not “naming names” to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Son Christopher Trumbo wrote the 2003 bioplay, based mostly on his father’s letters and public statements.
New Horizon Theater’s production of Lotto: Experience the Dream provided Chrystal Bates with a near-perfect role: a combination of sexy mama and commonsense matriarch of a family grappling with sudden wealth and the disasters it brings. Eileen J. Morris, artistic director of the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, directed the 1991 comedy, written by the late Cliff Roquemore and adapted/updated by his son Bryan.
Another reason to celebrate New Horizon’s 25th-anniversary season came with Josh: The Black Babe Ruth, by Michael A. Jones. In the title role, as Pittsburgh’s own Josh Gibson, Jonathan Berry explored the fragile, short life of a future Hall of Famer stymied by the systemic racism that withheld the Major League stature he deserved. Charles Dumas directed the melodic, surreal 2008 one-act.
Rebecca Harris dominated City Theatre’s production of Ironbound as a Polish émigré, post-Solidarność, struggling through more than 20 years of heartache and hope, marriages, domestic abuse and New Jersey bus stops. City Theatre artistic director Tracy Brigden sensitively directed the 2014 comedy-drama by Martyna Majok.
Mikhail Bulgakov, a real person and a dissident in the pre-World War II USSR, is turned upside-down in Quantum Theatre’s funny/scary Collaborators, gleefully directed by Jed Allen Harris. John Hodge’s surreal 2011 comedy posits the “working relationship” between the novelist and playwright — played by the mercurial Tony Bingham — and his biggest fan: Josef Stalin. What will an artist do to survive with one of the most evil men in history?