If You Seek a Unique Show, Seek This Out—A Review of Hide

By Joseph Szalinski

Growing up, house shows were the best way to be exposed to live entertainment. What could be better than enjoying underground art being made in a house none of the artists own? Now that we’re older, it’s comforting to know that house shows are still a thing. Only someone’s parents’ garage has been replaced with an Airbnb, and the post-hardcore band we saw has been swapped with an experimental theatre company. And apparently everyone is now really confused when I get up to do my spoken word set. But that’s no matter because Vigilance Theater Group’s latest production, Hide, directed by Brooke Echnat, is bound to confound, terrify, and entertain its unprepared audiences in its cozy Highland Park neighborhood.

Written by Sean Collier, Hide offers theatergoers a glimpse into the life of the dysfunctional Mercer Family. However, unlike a typical play, the story doesn’t just simply unfold before one’s eyes, it invites one to be a part of it. Folks are encouraged to schmooze with the characters—for any socially anxious patrons, conversation isn’t mandatory, and the performers are fantastic at coaxing even the most reluctant into chatterboxes. Parts of the house, like the bathroom, are open to explore. Throughout the rest of the show, the immersive aspect mutates, as does the role of the audience. All of this is brilliantly in balance with a solid narrative. A risk of immersive theater is that story suffers in favor of gimmick, this isn’t the case here. Everything is fleshed out and metered masterfully. I’d love to explore this world more, especially in such an imaginative way.

A photo from the interactive set of “Hide.”

Performances are stellar across the board, most notably the cast’s ability to improvise. It is interesting to notice how characters act amongst the crowd in the living room, with particular characters elsewhere, or just with the audience. The dynamics seem realistic and seasoned. Everyone helps make the world seem lived in, as opposed to only existing to showcase some drama. Aside from the off-the-cuff stuff, the prepared parts of the script are terrific too. Tension, humor, love, forced civility, make one forget they have been granted access to a fictional world. Kudos to the incredibly talents of Marisa Postava, Maddie Kocur, Bradleigh Bell, Tamara Siegert, John Feightner, Sarah Dugan, Tyler Ray Kendrick, and Allie Lampman-Sims.

From a technical perspective, this production is awe-inspiring. Unlike more traditional theatre that isn’t as reliant on everything working smoothly, immersive entertainment must maintain the illusion to keep folks appropriately engaged. Add the fact the crew has to work in a space that isn’t normally used to stage shows and a space they do not own, makes it all even more challenging. From the wrangling of curious wanderers, to the costuming, to the props, to the lights and sound, to the amusing easter eggs amongst the books, CD’s, and DVD’s, and beyond, these crew members outdo themselves.

Highland Park is a beautiful area of the city that immediately conjures images of nice neighborhoods and memories of the zoo. It’s really cool to be able to not only see a show out that way, but also to see it in such an unconventional space. While this particular location may or may not continue to moonlight as a theatre, I hope that the spirit of hosting house shows and staging events in atypical areas becomes more of a trend.

Vigilance is a theater company that passionately pushes the medium forward. They eschew the passivity that is pervasive in a lot of theatre, and instead, advocate for more demanding productions that share powerful messages, whether they be completely original works or wild interpretations of more familiar fare. Pacifying people with run-of-the-mill entertainment is easy. Crafting an experience that will be sure to stimulate and stick with them, not so much. But time and time again, Vigilance Theater Group puts on a show that does exactly that.

JS

“Hide” runs Friday, July 26th-Sunday August 11th in Highland Park. For more information, click here

Transylvania Mania comes to Pennsylvania – a review of Young Frankenstein

Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Knight Raymond, PhD and Theron Raymond (rising 6th grader)

The newly remodeled Greer Cabaret Theater plays host to Pittsburgh CLO’s Young Frankenstein, a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Mel Brooks.

The show has a redwood’s worth of meta tree rings to unpack. This production is the 2017 version of Young Frankenstein, which is an edited version of Brooks’ 2007 musical of the same name, which is based on the 1974 Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder film, Young Frankenstein, which was created as a parody of the classic horror genre, specifically the 1931 film, Frankenstein, which is based on Mary Shelley’s famed 1818 novel, Frankenstein. That’s quite the monster mash-up.

Brooks’ version centers on Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Dan DeLuca) who travels to Transylvania to claim his inheritance after the passing of his grandfather, Victor. Video designer Kylee Loera stunningly projects a black and white ship across the stage. It spills across the confines of the stage with borders as amorphous as the seas. The imposing ship is named the Queen Mary Shelly, which is a witty visual homage to both the Queen Mary ocean liner and Frankenstein’s authoress that would have been more impactful if her name was spelled correctly (Shelley, not Shelly).

As Frederick, DeLuca delivers unfaltering energy levels. The young doctor gets caught up in replicating his grandfather’s experiments after reading his journals. However, Frederick’s shift in perspective from radical no to eager yes is breathtakingly fast, stretching credulity. Brooks should have started Frederick from intrigued maybe. Breaking the Hippocratic Oath feels too morally effortless for the doctor.

The Monster (Tim Hartman) is dressed up like a million dollar trouper in “Young Frankenstein.”

Tim Hartman easily steals the show as The Monster, and not just because of his towering height. Director and choreographer Joel Ferrell directs Hartman to a stilting, lumbering walk that captures the Monster’s undead essence. Hartman’s primitive and guttural speech utterances are perfection. Ferrell masterfully guides Hartman’s speech to get subtly more discernable as the play progresses, reflecting The Monster’s worldly exposure and adaptation.

The most memorable musical number is Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” which assembles the ensemble. Ferrell shines as choreographer with Hartman’s rocking lumber that puts The Monster charmingly offbeat. Costume designer Alexander Righetti has The Monster and Frederick twinning in tuxedos with tails. Righetti makes The Monster even more imposing and otherworldly with foreshortened tuxedo sleeves that visually symbolize how The Monster doesn’t fit in this world, regardless of his garb.

The fact that the Irving Berlin song is the most catchy and memorable highlights that the sardonic Brooks is more writer than lyricist. Brooks’ comedic dialogue sizzles with innuendo-heavy one-liners and slapstick-worthy wordplay. On the flipside, his songs are adequate, but don’t spark any Swiftie-level earworms.

Frankenstein family servant, Igor (Anthony Marino) captures the physicality of Brooks’ humor. Igor’s humpback keeps casually switching sides, sparking inquiry from Dr. Frederick. Igor cleverly recruits lascivious local community college student Inga (Alex Sheffield) to be Frederick’s assistant – as well as a romantic intrigue to keep Frederick in Transylvania. Sheffield exaggerates a rural Transylvanian accent and country naivete that flatters the brainy young Frederick.

Escape to Transylvania with Pittsburgh CLO’s production of Young Frankenstein, which runs through September 1, 2024 at the Greer Cabaret Theater (655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA). Purchase tickets online here.

A Slumber Party at the Donkey Show—A Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By Joseph Szalinski

Centuries before Facebook and Instagram were Meta; long before Christopher Nolan released his pretentious snoozefest about dreams within dreams, William Shakespeare wrote every narcoleptic thespian’s favorite play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Being a veritable nightmare to stage in its entirety, the talented folks at Hobnob Theatre Company have decided to produce their own adaptation, directed by Elizabeth Smith, with performances being held at Preston Park in Butler, Pennsylvania.

This sleepy reimagining is written by producer Ken Smith and cast member/co-choreographer Deanna Sparrow, who plays Egeus, Titania, and Quince. Filled with contemporary comedy audience participation, humorous analysis/reflection, and riddled with gags, this show is sure to delight everyone, even those who’d normally catch a few “z’s” at any other Shakespeare play. A nice medium between doing something new/original and taking a shot at a timeless classic. Breathing new life into The Bard’s work is what sets this apart from any other rendition, or anything else Hobnob has attempted prior.

The cast of “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” performing outdoors on opening night.

Performances are fantastic across the board! The whole cast completely surrenders to the show’s evergreen goofiness, committing not just to the combo of old and modern lingo, but also to the physicality required of their respective roles.

Deanna Sparrow gets to show off her skill(s) with her roles of Egeus, Titania, and Quince. Not only does she do a tremendous job assuming her various identities, but she clearly has a lot of fun doing it. Employing props, like a clipboard, she morphs from one person to another with humorous ease. A feat made more incredible when paired with her contributions to the script and choreography.

The only thing I can say about Jack Senske is he’s quite the jackass. No, that’s not a slight, he just makes a good donkey-man or barnyard chimera or whatever he is. Nick Bottom may be his most magnetic character, however, his other two, Pyramus and Demetrius are entertaining as well.

Grant Jones brings laughs and a lot of heart with his roles of Lysander, Flute, and Fairy. In true service to Shakespeare, he even portrays a woman in a brilliantly zany fashion. His willingness to be made fun of, particularly for his breath, is equally endearing and exploitable for laughs. Likewise, Sarah Altomari is fantastic as Hermia, Snug, and Fairy. Her ridiculous get-ups and self-effacing humor make her a great addition to the cast.

Armed with a microphone and a mischievous sense of humor is Jonathan Hutmire as Puck. The only one in the cast to solely play one character, as he’s too busy crooning and clowning around. An intermediary between the real and the fictional, he is instrumental in realizing this wacky world.

Louis Hutmire pulls triple-duty with Oberon, Theseus, and Snout, oscillating between wily, courageous, and affable. Casey Hoolahan rounds out the cast with dazzling turns as Helena, Robin Starveling, and Fairy.

What would spirited performances be without a bit of choreography? Luckily this production boasts marvelous movement masterminded by the multi-talented Ellie Jedrzejewsk, a junior at Slippery Rock High School. Drawing upon her background in dance, theatre, and music, she plots comedic courses for the cast to follow, employing a whimsy that really helps draw audiences in.

Props and costumes are standout elements of this production. Factoring in a limited budget and the constraints that come with staging an outdoor event means that people have to get a little innovative. Everything from portable stereos to faux swords are used to hilarious effect. Vikki Safran’s costuming is impeccable. Wardrobe-wise, the funniest apparel sported is a shirt that reads, “Pretend I’m a Babylonian.” Might have to get one for myself…

Concerning the set, I’d say things are…minimal. A celestial curtain, framed boundaries, and some lights, decorate the madness. The rest is up to the cast and the audience’s ability to suspend belief. It’s wild how a wooded meadow can rival the most adorned indoor space. Bonafide magic!

Preston Park is an absolutely gorgeous outdoor venue, which explains why Hobnob keeps staging shows there year after year, despite having their own studio space on Main Street. Nothing beats a little bit of art on a nice day. Even rainy performances are blessed by beautiful scenery and uproarious comedy.

Hobnob continues to demonstrate why they are one of the most exciting theatre companies in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, and such an asset to their community. Between classes, camps, and a litany of unorthodox events/shows, they introduce more of the weird and wonderful back into a medium they are evidently passionate about. While some of the jokes make it seem like they don’t take themselves too seriously, one can’t help but recognize how seriously everyone involved takes their work. As time progresses, Hobnob becomes more and more emboldened to take creative risks, and it’ll be very interesting to see what they have in store.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues its run Friday, July 26th—Sunday, July 28th at Preston Park in Butler, PA. For more information, click here

Lives Torn Apart – A Review of “RENT”


By Claire DeMarco

Taking inspiration from the original “La Bohéme” opera by Giacomo Puccini about impoverished artists in 1890’s Paris, “RENT” brings us into the 1990’s in New York. The New York artists are also impoverished.

The underlying threat in 1890’s Paris more than poverty was tuberculosis. In New York in the 1990’s the cloud of HIV/AIDS hangs over our artists, either directly or indirectly.

Film maker Mark Cohen (Jeremy Poynton), a film maker is recording the lives of his friends and will do so for an entire year. He is one of the few members of the group who doesn’t have HIV/AIDS. He is an observer of life and not much of a participant. He sees life through the lens of his camera.

Roger Davis (Travis Myers-Arrigoni), a musician, is a depressed soul recovering from the suicide of his girlfriend.

Exotic dancer Mimi Marquez (Chelsea Davis) struggles with HIV/AIDS and drugs.

Angel Dumott-Schunard (Chris Russell) is gay and open about it, dressing most of the time as a drag Santa. He is the most loved member of the group.
Maureen Johnson (Richelle Szypulski) is the group’s more flamboyant and outrageous member.

Lawyer Joanne Jefferson (Randi Walker) is currently Johnson’s partner.
Tom Collins (Reed Verdesoto) dreams of life beyond New York, envisioning operating a restaurant in Santa Fe.

Former member of the group, Benjamin Coffin III (Allante Walker) married a wealthy woman whose family owns the building the group now occupies. He is pushing them to pay rent which is long overdue.

With all the handicaps and problems each member faces independently, they coalesce in their determination to fight Coffin and his attempt to collect rent (past due and current).

In spite of all their disparities, this group with all their problems and flaws love each other.

The cast of “Rent.”

Considered a rock opera, “RENT” is almost completely performed through song.

In talented Davis we see the slow transition from a young girl full of life who reaches the depths of despair. Her movements and facial expressions change as her physical condition deteriorates. What a great rendition of “Out Tonight!”

Russell is dynamic as the effervescent Angel. He has great gymnastic moves and a wonderful singing voice. “You Okay, Honey” is a lovely duet with Verdesoto.

Myers-Arrigoni portrays musician Roger as sad and morose as he sings “One Song Glory.” He dreams of creating a hit song.

Poynton is observant and introspective as the film maker. He expresses his thoughts and concerns over the past year in “Halloween.”

More free-spirited than her cohorts, Szypulski speaks her mind and acts on her physical needs with complete abandon. Szypulski pulls off “Over the Moon,” a bizarre song that is both serious and at times funny.

Verdesoto’s support for Angel is endearing. His rendition of “I’ll Cover You” is beautifully done.

Randi Walker cleverly delivers “We’re Okay”, working with two phones while handling two conversations, one with her office, the other with Maureen.
Allante Walker plays the antagonist who now owns the building he once shared as a member of the group. There are strings attached with his rent demands.

The entire cast is superb and well-balanced!

Jeff Way’s set design is simplistic but effective. A white sheet hung at the beginning of Act I and Act II was used as a screen that showed original TV clips of the concern and general lack of knowledge everyone had about HIV/AIDS during the 1990’s.

“RENT,” a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner, was written by Jonathan Larson.
Excellent direction by Nik Nemec.

Note from Stage 62: “RENT” contains mature themes and language that may be unsuitable for children. We encourage parental discretion.

-CED

“RENT” is a production of Stage 62. Performances run from July 18th – July 28th at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA.
Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue, Carnegie, PA 15106

Buried Secrets – a review of “Buried Child”

By Michael Buzzelli

Something is buried in the backyard of a fragmented, dysfunctional family in Illinois.

Hint: The title of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” is a bit of a spoiler, but the Pulitzer-winning play is darker than you might imagine.

The play starts, like Warhol’s “Sleep,” with Dodge (Brett Sullivan Santry) sleeping in the basement, possibly dying, possibly not. His wife Halie (Susana Garcia-Barragan) shouts at him from another room.  She’s not-so-secretly having an affair with a local Protestant minister, Father Dewis (Edward Kunz).

Dodge and Halie’s son Tilden (Jeff Johnston) lives with them. He isn’t all there either. There other living son, Bradley (Michael McBurney) lives nearby. He has taken to tormenting his dying father.  Another son, Ansel, died under mysterious circumstances.

When Tilden’s son Vince (Eric Molina) brings his girlfriend (Cecilia Staggers) into town, long-festering secrets are unearthed.

Bradly (Michael McBurney) hovers over his father, Dodge (Brett Sullivan Santry) in “Buried Child.”

Though the play was first produced in 1978, it feels very current, like an episode of “Black Mirror.” A farming couple who are both very disturbed. Its American Gothic…gone very, very goth. During the curtain speech, the audience is warned about the delicate subject matter the play covers.

The performances are the number one reason to “Buried Child,” particularly Sullivan Santry, Johnston and McBurney. They all burn with intensity.

Sullivan Santry is amazing as a grumbling, grouchy alcoholic, who, in the third act, is finally ready to face the consequences of his actions. He barely leaves the sofa but he’s always moving. He has a series of  oft-repeated tics and movements that keep your eyes the actor.

Johnston is terrific as the eldest son. He’s hiding a deep dark, too. He is possibly concealing multiple secrets.

McBurney limps around the stage with ferocity. His character had a chainsaw accident that left him with only one leg, its never clear which leg, though.

The men are oozing with rage, barely holding back their violent natures. There are several moments in the play where you want to get up from your seat and tell Staggers’ Shelley, “Get the hell out of there!”

Sound Designer Tony Risotto heightens the drama with eerie high-pitched noises at key moments during the drama, enough to put your nerves on edge.  His work is outstanding.

While Sullivan Santry spends most of the play on the sofa or on the floor, Director Katie Chmura keeps the play from being stagnant. It’s very kinetic. She lets the actors take bold swings and they knock it out of the park.

If you can handle the indelicate subject matter, you’ll want to run down to the Carnegie Stage and see Throughline Theatre’s “Buried Child.”

-MB

“Buried Child” runs from July 19 till July 28 at the Carnegie Stage, 25 West Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. More information can be found here. 

It’s Not Quite the Same as a Bug Up Her Ass – Review of “A Flea in Her Ear” 

By Claire DeMarco

Raymonde Chandebise (Apryl Peroney) and her husband Victor Emmanuel Chandebise (Todd Foose) live a comfortable life in 1907 Paris. Married for some time, Raymonde believes Victor is no longer interested in her romantically and most likely is having an affair.

Positive that Victor is unfaithful, Raymonde coerces her best friend Lucienne Bonhangelle de Boulogne (Rebecca Radeshak) to help her prove Victor’s transgression. With Raymonde’s prodding, Lucienne writes a letter to Victor pretending to be a woman attracted to him and entices him to a meeting at the infamous The Golden Cockerel Hotel.

As Raymonde’s husband seems to have no romantic interest in her, Lucienne’s husband, Baron Christophe Bonhangelle de Boulogne (Christopher Bartko) has more interest in Lucienne that she can handle. She’s tired!

When Victor receives the letter, he is convinced that it’s not meant for him, but for his friend, Phillipe Tournel (Travis Miller), a well-known lady’s man.

Victor’s nephew Camille Chandebise (Ayden Freed) is anxious for his first love conquest, but his speech impediment is a hinderance.

Dr. Francoise Finache (Bruce Travers) is both Camille’s and Victor’s doctor, developing a way for Camille to overcome his speech impediment and seeking a reason for Victor’s health changes.

All our principal characters end up at The Golden Cockerel Hotel whose hotel manager (sorry, madame), Olympe Ferraillon (Tamara Marlise Manzetti) attempts to make sense and control a bevy of agitated people.

Now the plethora of plots begin to unwind in a farce that involves a balance of physical and verbal comedy filled with mistaken identities, innuendoes, exaggerated action (with a slant towards slapstick).

The cast of “A Flea in Her Ear.”

Foose is excellent as Victor and Poche. Both characters are unique and Foose brings a realism to both. His characterization of Victor as an upright and rather serious man of means is highlighted by his carriage and demeanor. As Poche, a working-class hotel worker, reflects years of hard work through his slouched posture. Through great physical and facial movements, he can give both characters a unique personality of their own.

Peroney epitomizes what the use of facial and physical movements encompasses in a performance. Asides and quick turns of her head deliver comic reaction with no words spoken. She uses her hands cleverly, flopping them in front of her as if she is shaking off water after washing them.  This mechanism appears to be a way for her to settle down and gather her thoughts before her next challenge.

Miller is believable as Victor’s oversexed, not quite so bright friend. You can almost see the steam coming from his face as he talks about possible conquests.

Manzetti as the madam of The Golden Cockerel Hotel appears more respectable than her “guests” as she attempts to corral them into some semblance of order.  She cleverly changes her demeanor from reserved to exasperated as the situation changes.

Freed is engaging as the innocent young man.  His delivery with a speech impediment is flawless and he easily transitions to a clear speaking man when a remedy is discovered for his problem.

Delightful, funny performance by Zhen Yu Ding as Herr Verructmann, German-speaking hotel resident looking for some “action”.

“A Flea in Her Ear” is the first play in Pittsburgh Savoyards 87th season and they’re off to a great start!

“A Flea in Her Ear” was written by Georges Feydeau.

Kudos to Scene Designer Robert Hockenberry for creating an intricate, complicated set that works in a small theater space.

Excellent direction by Robert Hockenberry who also translated and adapted this play.

Note:  Depending on the performance date, many of the actors’ roles are performed by other members of the cast.

-CED

“A Flea in Her Ear” is a production of The Pittsburgh Savoyards.  Performances run from July 12th to July 27th at the Margaret Partee Performing Arts Center in Bellevue. For more information, click here

Bury Berry Family Members – a review of “Very Berry Dead”

Lonnie the Theatre Lady

This Pittsburgh premiere, dramatic comedy written by Jose’ Perez IV is a little hard to describe. It’s sometimes funny with some very witty, snappy dialogue and some that borders on corny, yet still humorous lines. It deals with several topics–death, homophobia, family dysfunction, traditions, tragedy, suicide, and bureaucracy, to name a few.

The few surviving members of the extremely diverse Berry family, assemble at the family farm to bury fifteen family members, all of whom died together in a freak, somewhat vague “explosion, melting, drowning” tragic accident. (I know, really?–but there’s no apparent need to be any more specific.)

Now, the dilemma– Vermont law permits only six bodies can be buried in the remaining limited family  burial space. That leaves nine remaining bodies that will need to be interred elsewhere, or somehow dispensed with. The negotiations among the family members as they try to decide which of the deceased can be buried in the traditional burial grounds is sometimes heart wrenching as past secrets are revealed and more often ludicrous/hilarious.  “The System” which is devised to rate the deceased’s right to be buried in the family plot is based on likability, and other equally unclear topics, one of which has the category of “garlic breath.” The resolution to the problem is satisfying and unexpected.—No spoilers here!

Ernesto Mario Sánchez and José Pérez IV in “Very Berry Dead.”

The cast of comical, quirky characters are most enjoyable. Marigold (Carolyn Jerz) is hilarious as the new age, love child who always sees the best in everybody and everything. Jerz floats, whirls,  and glides across the stage. She’s delightful and believable in her role. Her presence on stage brings lightness and spreads joy.

Scat (Ernesto Mario Sanchez) is a charming, larger than life Texan with a heart as big as the state of Texas. Sanchez has a likable, pleasing, boyish way of embodying his character.

Sims (Matt Henderson) is the law abiding County Health Officer. Henderson’s portrayal of the very rigid, nerdy public servant is entertaining and so funny. Henderson later appears as the loving husband of another of the characters (no spoilers). He exudes warmth and love in this role. Later, Henderson rocks the house with laughter as the feuding neighbor. Absolutely hilarious. His versatility is remarkable–three very different characters–all so well done and distinctly different from each other. A reminder that, “there are no small parts”.

JJ (Jose’ Perez IV) is the “son” of one of the deceased. He plays his role in  a measured reasonable way. He is likable and sympathetic.

Casey (Claire Sabatine) has the meatiest dramatic role. (Many of the other roles are comedic or caricature like). She plays it well well with authentic emotion and sincerity. She is the most sympathetic character in the play.

The transitions between scenes are sometimes slower than they could be and that  slows the momentum of the story. This play touches on many various important topics in an entertaining way. I am looking forward to seeing more plays written by Jose’ Perez IV.

 

LTL

“Very Berry Dead” runs July 12-21 at the Henry Heymann Theater, next to the Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. For tickets, click here

He Said, She Said – a review of “Oleanna”

by Lonnie the Theatre Lady

Many say the playwright, David Mamet, wrote the controversial “Oleanna” in 1992, shortly after. and as a response to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. It’s a foreshadowing of the #MeToo movement that came into being approximately 15 years later.

Carol (Mei Lu Barnum) a college student, comes to her professor John’s (David Whalen) office to ask him for help in understanding the course content, hoping that she can bring up her currently failing grade. (John is in the process of becoming tenured, and simultaneously buying a new house. Getting tenured, and the pay raise that comes with it, is vitally important for John to be able to afford the purchase of the new home.) Their conversation and interaction create a situation where an act of sexual harassment does or perhaps does not occur. That ambiguity is what makes this play so complex and  compelling. If Carol’s allegations of sexual harassment are found to be credible, John will not be granted tenure and his plans to buy the new house will be destroyed.

David Whalen and Mei Lu Barnum in “Oleanna.”

Whalen’s portrayal of John is a master class in acting. His mercurial mood changes go from benign and a bit pompous in the beginning of the show to enraged at the end. He simmers as the tension increasingly grows inside him— pulling himself back to a reasonable calm, followed by palpable anxiety and anger. He is brilliant in this role— totally embodying his character. Every gesture, voice inflection, and facial expression is intentional and riveting.

Barnum’s portrayal of her character is compelling. Carol presents herself as a humorless, naive, country girl and later transforms into a vicious, vengeful tyrant. Barnum is wonderful in this role. She appears to physically grow in stature as she becomes more resolute and more confident. Barnum’s performance is flawless — she’s totally engaged in her character. She forces the audience to question whether she is the perpetrator or the victim.

The beautiful office set (Johnmichael Bohach) is serene and sophisticated, making it the perfect foil for the raging emotional battleground within.

Andrew Paul (director) deserves congratulations for his attention to fostering and bringing out all the nuances of these two extremely complex characters. Well done.

I cannot imagine this edgy, intense show, with it’s unexpected twists and turns, being done any better than this production.This is the ultimate proof of the premise that smart theater provokes conversation and debate. If you are fortunate enough to experience this provocative, exceptionally well done production, it’s guaranteed that it will stick with you and you will be talking about it for days, if not longer. Exceptional, captivating theater–not to be missed!

– LTL

“Oleanna” runs from July 11-28 at the Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.  For more information, click here

Check out this librarian – a review of “The Music Man”

By Michael Buzzelli

There’s trouble in River City (Trouble with a Capital T), but Harold Hill (Charles Esten) who points his finger at the alleged trouble is the actual cause in Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.”

Hill is a calm and charming con man with a clever con. He talks the townies into buying musical instruments, band uniforms, and expensive instruction books and hustles to the next whistle-stop before the kids learn to play the music. For the scheme to work, Hill must win over the local librarian and piano teacher,  Marian (Nikki Renée Daniels), but she’s on to him.

Marian lives with her mother, Mrs. Paroo (Cissy Rebich) and her little brother, Winthrop (an adorable Emmett Kent) and shuttles between her home and the library (big, beautiful set pieces by Scenic Designer James Fouchard).  Despite the fact that she suspects that Hill is up to something, she falls for his patter.

Mayor Shinn (E. Clayton Cornelious) also suspects that Hill is up to no good, but Hill continues to elude the malapropping mayor.  The mayor has other problems. He’s planning River City’s Independence Day celebration, appeasing his wife, Eulalie Mackeckie Shinn (Christine Laitta), and he’s trying to keep his daughter Zanetta (Kammie Crum) away from a young troublemaker,  Tommy (Nick Alvino).

But the plot isn’t important…it’s absolutely nonsensical when you think about it too much. It’s the music that makes “The Music Man,” and the music is wonderfully infectious.

Harold Hill (Charles Esten) dances with Marian (Nikki Renée Daniels) in “The Music Man.” Photo Credit: Kgtunney PhotographyDaniels is incredible as Marian. She oozes with star power. Every move. Every note. She’s a delight to watch. Plus, she looks like she’s having a blast on the Benedum stage.

Esten does a good job. He has a terrific singing voice and gets some of the best numbers in the show. Esten is excellent. His only flaw is that he isn’t Robert Preston. While its not fair to compare, Preston made the role his own and no one has topped him since, but Esten comes pretty darn close.

While there are a lot of kooky characters and zany side plots, “The Music Man” is about the love story between Hill and the librarian. The two have a wonderful chemistry together.

There are, however, several players who deserve a round of applause.

Alvino’s time on stage is short, but he shines in every one of those quick scenes. He is filled with exuberance.  With crisp, sharp movements, he is the best dancer in the production, even though there are some amazing dancers up there.

Laitta is a delight. She also makes the most of her moments on the stage.

While the song, “Shipoopi” makes no sense whatsoever, and sounds like a “Beavis and Butthead” parody song (heh heh, he said, ‘Shipoopi’),  Ryan Cavanaugh knocks it out of the park. It also featured one of the most stunning dance numbers thanks to brilliant choreography by Mara Newberry Greer.

Director Sara Edwards does a fine job with an American classic. It’s hard not to hum along when “The Music Man” is in town.

-MB

“The Music Man” runs from July 9 to July 14 at the Benedum Center, 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here. 

Rascals Gone Rogue – a review of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

By Lonnie the Theatre Lady

In this 2004 musical based on a 1988 film, two swindlers are competing for territorial  rights, to carry out their elaborate swindling schemes, in a swanky casino, ( lavish set designed by Rob Hockenberry), located in the French Riviera. Lawrence (Jeff Boles) is an experienced, somewhat suave conman who is unimpressed by Freddy (Thomas McQuillan), an American, new to the con game.
Boles is delightful in his smarmy, yet somehow charming portrayal of Lawrence. Boles character runs into a problem when Jolene (Aimee Lambing), one of the women he has swindled) demands, at gunpoint, that he marry her. Lawrence and his “police officer” assistant,  Andre’ (Ross Kobelak) enlist Freddy to assist them to “uncharm” Jolene. This scheme has Freddy posing as Lawrence’s (fake) repugnant, disgusting brother Ruprecht.
 McQuillan is absolutely hilarious as Ruprecht. He engages in wildly inappropriate, uproarious  behaviors. No spoilers here—use your imagination!  His comedic timing is stellar in other scenes as well—imagine a self inflicted Heimlich maneuver, that proves to be ineffective over an extended period of time. Very comical! Not to mention, he can sing, too! His “Great Big Stuff” number is a vocal and comedic standout. It highlights the clever, amusing, sometimes ribald lyrics.
After Lambing’s brazen, aggressive, humorously depicted Jolene is successfully driven out of town (by Ruprecht),  Freddy wants to work with Lawrence and learn the tricks of the con game. Lawrence decides that the French Riviera isn’t big enough for both of them. They make an agreement that the first one to swindle $50,000 from an unsuspecting woman will be allowed to stay in the area and the loser will immediately move to another location. That’s when this slapstick farce takes off. The competition between the two escalates into more and more ridiculous situations. As they work to outsmart each other, one incident is funnier than the other.
Freddy (McQuillan), Christine (Nadler) and Lawrence (Boles) scheme on the French Riviera.

Meanwhile Andre’ and Muriel are engaged in a steamy romance. Kobelak with his delightful French accent (think of Peter Seller’s as Inspector Clouseau) has a chance to shine and make use of his  physical comedy talents while he demonstrates highly  exaggerated seductive poses.  He and Cloutier have a (presumed post coital) scene that highlights both of their comedic talents. Their  tantalizing interaction is nothing short of hysterical!

Christine (Sarah Nadler) needs to be applauded for her wonderful, melodious voice—her vocals are a true standout in this cast of vocalists with varying degrees of  vocal talent. Every one of her numbers is a sheer delight. Gorgeous, wonderful rich voice. Wow!
The musical score and lyrics are sometimes surprising  (strong, salty language) and nearly always funny. The entire cast and ensemble sing and dance well, The beautiful, luxuriant costumes (J. Childe Pendergast, designer) amplify the overall feeling of the extravagant lifestyle that one expects on the Riviera.
Ponny Conomos Jahn, director, gives her talented cast the free reign to develop their characters while embracing and amplifying their idiosyncrasies.
This frothy, laugh filled, farcical, yet sometimes sophisticated show is the perfect antidote to the often predictable day to day routine. Need some hearty laughs? This is the show for you!

-Lonnie

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” runs from June 27 to July 13 at the South Park Theatre, at the corner of Corrigan Drive & Brownsville Rd, South Park, PA 15129. For more information, click here

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