Program Notes: Arts Blog |

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Final performances of Quantum's “The Hard Problem” this weekend

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 11:41 AM

The Pittsburgh-premiere production of the iconic playwright’s most recent work is a splendid staging. It couldn't have been easy to handle Stoppard’s combination of personal journey, social critique and intellectual inquiry into the nature of mind, but Quantum makes it look that way.

Andrew William Smith and Alex Spieth in "The Hard Problem" - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN ALTDORFER
  • Photo courtesy of John Altdorfer
  • Andrew William Smith and Alex Spieth in "The Hard Problem"
The play concerns a grad student’s new job at a neurological research institute where the big philosophical divides include the one between those who think of the human mind as an opportunistic machine designed by evolution to maximize the propagation of its own genes, and those who think more agency is involved – free will, perhaps, or even, in young Hilary’s case, spirit.

There’s much more to the story, but fans of The Real Thing and Arcadia know that Stoppard writes dialogue like no one else. And while it seemed pretty clear to me what his answer to “the hard problem” is, he gives all sides a chance to make their case with a wit that’s hard to match.

Meanwhile, director Rachel M. Stevens, her design team and cast create a visual spectacle to remember, turning a big, under-renovation room at the Energy Innovation Center into a kind of walk-through memory chamber, and the stage in particular into a multi-level, multimedia feast for the eyes.

Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for City Paper.

The remaining performances of The Hard Problem are tonight, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. (Friday’s show is sold out.)

Tickets are $42-48 and are available here. The Saturday and Sunday shows included a gourmet boxed-dinner option for an $18 surcharge.

The Energy Innovation Center is located at 1435 Bedford Ave., in the Hill District.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Immersive-theater show "DODO" wraps this week at the Carnegie

Posted By on Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 11:48 AM

DODO, the latest immersive-theater production from Bricolage Productions, is up for four more evenings this week, but is completely sold out.

Performer Hazel Carr Leroy talks to two "DODO" participants - PHOTO COURTESY OF HANDERSON GOMES
  • Photo courtesy of Handerson Gomes
  • Performer Hazel Carr Leroy talks to two "DODO" participants
I experienced it myself last week, and that level of popularity is easy to understand. The show, which takes groups of six on two-hour night-time journeys through the Carnegie museums of art and natural history, is a series of theatrical enchantments taking advantage of the setting, and of the expertise in art and science housed therein.

The show traverses parts of the massive complex you’ve surely never seen, as well as familiar halls and galleries made new and strange. While there are themes (ecological, existential), there’s really no story outside of your journey, though performers stationed along the way create a sense of narrative, delivering their scripted lines as well as improvised interaction with patrons. It’s beautifully conceived and smartly choreographed, with a doozy of a climax and a denouement that’s both literally and figuratively brilliant.

I won’t divulge more detail, in case you’ll be experiencing the show in its final week. (The groups of six visitors each depart in 15-minute intervals, with up to a dozen separate departures nightly. But if you don’t have a ticket already, good luck: While there is a stand-by option, on the night I visited, a Pitt student who was attempting to fly stand-by told me she had already showed up on several nights to no avail. This is one show, it seems, that people really don’t want to miss.)

Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for CP.

DODO must wrap on Nov. 19. But for those who attended and want to talk more (and, theoretically, even for those who didn’t get to attend but who are intrigued), Bricolage is hosting a free talkback Nov. 30. The event will include DODO’s cast and crew as well as Carnegie Museum staffers.

The Nov. 30 talkback runs from 6:30-7:30 p.m., in the Carnegie Lecture Hall, at 4400 Forbes Ave., in Oakland. A cash bar at the Carnegie Café, and further discussion, follows.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Karl Marx biographers speak here Wednesday

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 1:47 PM

Karl Marx, his reputation long a victim of what’s been done in his name, has been viewed with new eyes by many since the global financial collapse.

The authors of two acclaimed bios published since then visit Carnegie Mellon University as part of the Marx@200 event series, meant to explore the continuing relevance of the author of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

2017 Pittsburgh New Works Festival starts tomorrow

Posted By on Wed, Aug 30, 2017 at 3:59 PM

The festival returns for its 27th season of new one-act plays, written by playwrights from around the U.S. and produced by local theater troupes. As in recent years, all shows will be staged at Carnegie Stages.

The festival is divided into four programs of three plays each, labeled A, B, C and D. Programs A and B run in repertory from opening night through next weekend, and C and D run the following two weeks.

Program A, running tomorrow through Sept. 9, includes: “Roosevelt’s Ghosts,” about early personal tragedy in the life of Teddy Roosevelt, by Warrensburg, Mo., playwright Aaron Scully (produced by CCAC South Campus Theatre); “The Pivot,” a genre-bending piece by California-based Seth Freeman, a veteran, Emmy-winning writer for screen and television (Lincoln Heights) (Summer Company); and “Doing Time,” East Aurora, N.Y.-based playwright Mary Poindexter McLaughlin’s play about an old man and a young man discussing the meaning of life (Theatre Factory). The first performance of Program A is at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Final weekend for "Mr. Burns — a post-electric play"

Posted By on Thu, Aug 17, 2017 at 11:20 AM

Four performances remain for this singular show, a post-apocalyptic take on The Simpsons that’s about the power – and mutability – of story.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ABBEY: In The Red at the August Wilson Center

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2017 at 9:48 AM

Stage productions with great pedigrees don’t always turn out great. But ABBEY: In The Red did. This world-premiere dance work with live music gorgeously evoked the life and music of its inspiration, jazz singer Abbey Lincoln.

  • Photo courtesy of Kitoko Chargois
The production was a blending of some top-notch, all-local talent. Choreographer Staycee Pearl guided seven dancers from her STAYCEE PEARL dance project (plus guest performers from Pittsburgh’s Legacy Arts Project) through several numbers, all new interpretations of classic Lincoln tracks as arranged by composer and reeds player Ben Opie, and played by a six-piece ensemble including vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield. The musical direction was by Soy Sos (a.k.a. Herman Pearl), who contributed electronics and light percussion.

As seen this past Saturday night, at the August Wilson Center, the show began with a silent tableau centering on Wingfield in a striking gown by costume designer Tereneh Mosley and fabulous headdress by artist Atticus Adams. (Mosley and Adams also contributed the textiles and sculptural elements that dressed the set.) Wingfield and the band launched into a foreboding version of Lincoln’s blues “Driva Man,” shortly joined onstage by the dancers.

That was followed by group works set to the joyous “Freedom Day” and the contemplative “Straight Ahead” and other solo and group works set to tunes including “Garvey’s Ghost” and “African Lady.” The work was mostly drawn from Lincoln’s 1960s output, known for its lyrics referencing the civil-rights struggle, and for what Pearl has called its avant-garde sound. (You can download the soundtrack here.) The choreography included jazz and traditional African dance, and a good bit of ballet. Featured dancers included LaTrea Rembert and Chandra Tanel.

Here’s Steve Sucato’s preview article on the show for City Paper.

Saturday’s performance concluded a three-show premiere run. But you can catch excerpts of ABBEY as soon as June 7, when SPdp performs on the main stage at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, in a set including its terrific work FLOWERZ (from earlier this year); a similar program follows on June 8, at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Both performances are part of a showcase by Tracks.

The program later goes on the road, with performances scheduled in Cambridge, Mass., and Newport, R.I.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'Collaborators' at Pittsburgh's Quantum Theatre

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 12:51 PM

By turns hilarious and sinister, and sometimes both at once, Collaborators is an exceptionally engaging evening of theater. Playwright John Hodge’s satiric drama imagines an almost-plausible 1930s collusion between famed writer Mikhail Bulgakov and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

As history and biography, the play takes us only so far. But it’s a fascinating — and highly entertaining — rumination on the relationship between politics and art and a terrifying exploration of the price of moral compromise.

In the play, a secret policeman proves oddly chipper; Bulgakov’s relationship with Stalin feels weirdly dreamlike (and might, it occurred to me, actually be a dream). The show’s aspects of madcap, absurdist humor rub shoulders with its moments of mortal danger — a mix surely informed by director Jed Allen Harris’ long experience doing political theater, as well as his work in the former Eastern Bloc nation of Bulgaria.

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Joyce Carol Oates speaks in Pittsburgh

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 11:46 AM

Post by Jody DiPerna

Joyce Carol Oates arrived in Pittsburgh on a red-eye flight on Tuesday morning and said that walking around Mount Lebanon felt kind of surreal, as the morning after an overnight flight often does. But the cross-country travel didn’t slow the acclaimed author down last night, as she kept a full auditorium at Mount Lebanon's Mellon Middle School in thrall discussing her latest novel, A Book of American Martyrs.

Joyce Carol Oates
  • Joyce Carol Oates
The novel, set in Michigan and Ohio, is told in the voices of myriad characters. Primarily it is the story of two families: those of Dr. Augustus Voorhees, an abortion doctor who is murdered in the novel's first sentence, and Luther Dunphy, the Christian-fundamentalist assassin. Both men end up martyrs to their respective causes.

The first excerpt Oates read was from the perspective of Voorhees. Interestingly, it was a passage she edited out, explaining that it felt like a stand-alone piece, or a short story. Oates has taught creative writing since the early 1960s and she clearly brings her professorial self to bear when editing her own work.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

CorningWorks' "What's Missing?" at the New Hazlett Theater

Posted By on Fri, Mar 31, 2017 at 11:09 AM

"This performance is flawed," goes one of the voice-over lines repeated throughout this latest dance-theater offering from CorningWorks' Glue Factory Project.

Beth Corning and Donald Byrd in "What's Missing?" - PHOTO COURTESY OF WALSH PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Photo courtesy of Walsh Photography
  • Beth Corning and Donald Byrd in "What's Missing?"
As seen last night, the show, a collaboration between company founder and artistic director Beth Corning and Seattle-based dance legend Donald Byrd, is largely a reflective study of perception, expressed in a series of duets and solos.

The opening sequence establishes a relationship between the two characters, male and female, exploring a lived-in interdependence: Sometimes they move together, sometimes one must right the other, who's fallen over.

The solos deepen the characters. A notable one finds Corning working with the show's lone prop, a short wooden bench. Confused, tentative and fearful, she seems to be hoping the bench will serve as an anchor of some kind, but in the end finds it, too, provides no surety.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Final performances of 'Virginia Woolf' at Pittsburgh's Cup-A-Jo Productions

Posted By on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 at 10:04 AM

The folks who insisted to me that this staging of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a must-see — including two members of the local theater community who told me they saw it twice each — weren't kidding around.

From left: Hilary Caldwell, Joanna Lowe and Tom Kolos in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" - PHOTO COURTESY OF KEN KERR
  • Photo courtesy of Ken Kerr
  • From left: Hilary Caldwell, Joanna Lowe and Tom Kolos in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
By staging the show in the living room of a Point Breeze house, the small but ambitious Cup-A-Jo troupe puts you right in the action: At moments, the front row of the limited-seating audience had their knees a foot from the actors. Of course, the production must justify that kind of intimacy, and this one does. It's a tough, unsparing but ultimately empathetic — and highly entertaining — take on this monumental play, with director Everett Lowe drawing the best from his cast.

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