Based on the 1941 Thomas Bell novel of the same name, Out of This Furnace tells the type of half-forgotten American story that isn't quite a relic. But it's definitely a reminder of a different time. Set between 1900 and the 1940s, it's a minor epic about coming to America and the rites of passage that assimilation entails.
Much of the content of playwright Andy Wolk's 1979 stage adaptation makes it prime material for reviving, especially in Pittsburgh: The action takes place mostly in quintessential mill town Braddock. It's proletarian, an early example of working-class American literature and theater. It's an immigrant story, covering three generations of Eastern Europeans in Pennsylvania — from straight off-the-boat laborers to their accent-free union-organizer grandchildren. It's a turn-of-the-century memory play and a Depression-era story of survival all knit into one.
A new production by Unseam'd Shakespeare Co. lacks any major faults. The design is terrific, including an intentionally oppressive steel-mill set with complementary sound. The acting, under the direction of Lisa Ann Goldsmith, is strong throughout. Charles "Chuck" Beikert humanizes the self-made but selfish Djuro, an ambitious immigrant who begins the family's journey in America. And Mary Dobrejcak, a quiet but confident woman who knows struggle and tragedy, is played with charm and ease by Kate Falk.
However, billing Out of This Furnace as a modern American classic won't help its trudging, familiar storyline. It's difficult not to recall similarly themed plays set in the same era — O'Neill's The Hairy Ape comes to mind — that deliver similar messages but manage to do so with the sort of pointed dialogue, singular characters and, most of all, the exceptional story that this play lacks.
Both in the show's program and on its website, the Unseam'd Shakespeare team states that Out of This Furnace is back by popular demand. (The company previously revived it in 2008 and 2011.) No doubt it's a hometown favorite thanks largely to its historically minded representation of the working class in Pittsburgh. But while Unseam'd's execution of the material is strong, the material itself leaves something to be desired.