Amuse-Bouche – a review of the “Living News Festival”

By Michael Buzzelli

Ripped from the headlines! Five eclectic one-act plays based on Pittsburgh area news stories comprise one entertaining evening in Throughline Theatre Company’s “Living News Festival.”

The plays include “Trauma Response,” by Matt Henderson; “Smithfield Shelter Shutdown,” by Melannie Taylor; “Gardening Tips for A Swiftly Tilting Planet,” by Clare Drobot; “Be Ashamed,” by Patrick Cannon; and “U-Haul In A Tree” by Jose Perez IV.

Each play is an amuse-bouche, a single, bite-sized hors d’oeuvre of a play, putting the amusing in the amuse-bouche.

The festival opens with a bang with “Trauma Response” based on the headline: “Mail Carrier vs. Beast: Pennsylvania Among Worst in the Country for Dog Bites.” In the story, a dog (Marsha Mayhack) is having an existential crisis while Nona (Becky Hukill) flirts with her mail carrier, Michael (Maria Postava).  Henderson’s story is outrageously funny and deftly performed.

“Smithfield Shelter Shutdown” is based on City Paper article about the Smithfield Shelter Shutdown. Of all the stories, this one stays closest to the facts but does go off wildly in the end.

“Gardening Tips for A Swiftly Tilting Planet” is based on an article about climate change and horticulture. Drobot quickly fast-forwards us into the future in an almost-post-apocalyptic-Pittsburgh. Kerry McGrath delivers a fine performance as a content creator and cat owner who is beginning to fray at the edges at the end of the world. Michael McBurney shows up in the smog and upends her life.

“Be Ashamed” is based on a story titled, “Street Artists Protest White-Out “Refresh” of Graffiti in Pittsburgh’s Color Park. The story is told with wit and charm.

“U-Haul in a Tree” is based on a story titled, “25 Years After Tornados Devastate Pittsburgh, Survivors Look Back.” It’s also loosely based on an old joke about lesbians and a U-Haul. Jeyneliz  Ortiz Valentin’s character’s has a meet-cute after a tornado destroys her home.

Rebekah Hukill, Marsha Mayhak, and Marisa Postava star in “Trauma Response” as part of the Living News Festival

Festival standouts include Mayhak’s self-actualized, neurotic puppy and Leroy’s angry artist.

Mayhak’s facial expressions add an extra layer of hilarity in Henderson’s already-comedic story.

Leroy’s Queenie is full of righteous indignation. Watching Leroy swing her cane and curse as the city paints over an iconic graffiti landmark, Jaggerbush the Turtle, is hilarious and, ultimately, poignant.  Her scenes with AJ Wittman sparkle.

In all five stories, there’s only one villain, Katy Chmura’s Pittsburgh Yuppie. She does a great job of out-Karening the most despicable of the Karens.

Ortiz Valentin is a charismatic lead in “U-Haul in a Tree,” while Mike Barnett provides some goofy charm.

Artistic Director J. Cody Spellman resurrected an old idea by turning the city’s headlines into writing prompts. It works because of the sheer talent of the writers and the strengths of their casts.

“Living News Festival” is a engaging and fun evening.


“Living News Festival” runs from August 17 until August 20 at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For tickets or more information, click here


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