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Fall Stage Preview

Classics dominate, but there's new work to be found

click to enlarge The Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth at the Byham Theater
Photo courtesy of the artist
The Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth, at the Byham Theater, Nov. 14

Onstage in Pittsburgh this fall, it's a buyer's market for both classics and irreverent musicals; fans of newer work might have to search a bit.

In this season's opening week, no fewer than three well-known titles bowed. PICT Classic Theatre stages Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (through Sept. 20), Frank McGuinness' lyrical 1985 story of Irish soldiers fighting for England in World War I. Little Lake Theatre has John Patrick Shanley's oft-produced Pulitzer-winner Doubt (through Sept. 20). And The REP opens its season with Of Mice and Men (through Sept. 21), John Steinbeck's adaptation of his famed novel about the best-laid plans of migrant ranch hands.

click to enlarge Leslie "Ezra" Smith in Book of Ezra at Pittsburgh Playwrights
Leslie "Ezra" Smith in Book of Ezra, Oct. 4-25, at Pittsburgh Playwrights

Other titles are similarly venerable. Pittsburgh Public Theater opens with Tennessee Williams' masterpiece The Glass Menagerie (Oct. 2-Nov. 2). More Williams comes down the tracks as barebones productions catches A Streetcar Named Desire (Nov. 20-Dec. 6). Carnegie Mellon Drama stages August Wilson's Seven Guitars (Oct. 2-11). As usual, some troupes mix in a little Willy: In time for Halloween, PICT toils and troubles with Macbeth (Oct. 8-25), while Point Park's Conservatory offers As You Like It (Nov. 17-23). And Throughline Theatre Co. goes pre-Shakespeare with an adaptation of Everyman (Sept. 12-20), the famed 15th-century stage allegory, now given a post-apocalyptic setting.

Meanwhile, think of the three most popular irreverent musicals of recent years — then find them all on Pittsburgh stages this fall. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's PNC Broadway Across America season features the über-popular The Book of Mormon (Sept. 23-Oct. 5). Pitt's Theatre Arts has that goodhearted if salty puppet musical, Avenue Q (Nov. 6-23). And Point Park's Conservatory decants the acclaimed 2001 satire Urinetown (Dec. 9-14).

click to enlarge Lynne Wintersteller stars in The Glass Menagerie, at Pittsburgh Public Theater
Lynne Wintersteller stars in The Glass Menagerie, at Pittsburgh Public Theater, Oct. 2-Nov. 2

Of course, newer work will be under the lights too. City Theatre, which specializes in new plays, offers Outside Mullingar (Oct. 11-Nov. 2) — a domestic drama set in rural Ireland and the latest from Doubt playwright John Patrick Shanley — and Smart Blonde (Nov. 15-Dec. 21), a world premiere about Hollywood star Judy Holliday, commissioned from Willy Holtzman (The Morini Strad).

The Public's world premiere is Ed Dixon's L'Hotel (Nov. 13-Dec. 14), a comic fantasia about a Paris hotel where Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde, among other anachronistic celebrities, meet Jim Morrison and Victor Hugo. A celebrity's life is also mined in 21 (Oct. 17-26), Alki Steriopoulos's new play about Roberto Clemente, at the Conservatory. And The REP stages the local premiere of Souvenir (Sept. 26-Oct. 12), Stephen Temperley's 2005 Broadway comedy about Florence Foster Jenkins, a real-life socialite who once forged a singing career in New York City despite her complete lack of musical ability.

Smaller troupes, too, spotlight local premieres. Off the Wall Productions has two: The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs (Oct. 17-Nov. 1), Carole Frechette's 2008 drama about a woman who violates her new husband's lone domestic rule; and OR (Dec. 19-Jan. 10), Liz Duffy Adam's 2009 neo-Restoration comedy about poet, spy and pioneering 17th-century professional female playwright Aphra Behn. And Throughline stages The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Oct. 24-Nov. 1), a 2005 courtroom drama set in Purgatory, by Stephen Adly Guirgis (The Motherfucker With the Hat).

click to enlarge Ciaran Byrne (left) and Raife Baker in PICT Classic's Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme
Photo courtesy of Suellen FitzSimmons
Ciaran Byrne (left) and Raife Baker in PICT Classic's Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, through Sept. 20

If local roots grab you, try Book of Ezra (Oct. 4-25). Veteran actor and spoken-word performer Leslie "Ezra" Smith's new one-man show at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co. is a coming-of-age piece about growing up black in America.

Lastly, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust presents The Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth — A Live-Action Graphic Novel (Nov. 14), a touring show in which three actors do a 1930s-style science-fiction radio program live on stage, with comic-book-style projections and live sound effects. It's a new show and a throwback, all at once.

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By Mars Johnson