Go Fly High at Little Lake – a review of “Captain Louie, Jr.”

Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD

Little Lake Theatre Company ascends with their production of “Captain Louie Jr. ” Anthony Stein adapted this musical from Ezra Jack Keats’ book “The Trip,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Little Lake’s former artistic director, the stunningly fabulous Jena Oberg, flies high in directing this youth production. Oberg stages this production in partnership with the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. The entire production is performed in both American Sign Language and spoken English, and Oberg creatively unites the two youth groups, achieving an effortless flow.

The play centers on Louie (Roderick Mihoerck) who has just moved and is facing all the challenges of new kid life: missing and longing for his old home and friends while worrying about finding new friends and his place in a new town. We’ve all been Louie at multiple points, trying to figure out where we fit, whether that’s from a childhood move, starting college, beginning a new job, or joining a new friend group.

Mihoerck is deaf and communicates via ASL as well as via his favorite toy, a plane named Big Red (Madeline Dalesio). Dalesio provides the voice for Mihoerck’s signing, and the two of them unite in seamless harmony that mirrors that of a child with his favorite toy. Mihoerck never misses a beat, and his red-headed Louie sharply commands the theatre without saying a word. Dalesio’s stunning voice soars to perfection in the musical numbers. Big Red transports Louie to his old neighborhood for a Halloween night of trick or treating with his old friends.

Captain Louie, Jr. goes flying through the air. Photo Credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia, LLC


Oberg’s creativity is compelling. She pairs speaking and signing kids for dual casting of roles like Archie (spoken by Colin Bozick and signed by Ben Vinzani), a friend from Louie’s old neighborhood. Bozick and Vinzani complement each other perfectly in their portrayal of Archie. Older kids who can speak and sign perform a single role. Roberta (Ava Arnold) signs as she speaks and sings, and her signing adds a fascinating visual to her performance.

Oberg cannot be praised enough. During the production, she was sitting on the floor facing the stage and signing to the kids to ensure they were all following along. However, she was clearly there for enhanced comfort as the kids were so well-rehearsed that her presence was more security blanket than instruction.

Carly Trimble-Long’s set was appropriately homespun sweet with kid-painted clouds, and prop designer Chris Martin’s Big Red plane was exactly what a kid would imagine.

With an ensemble cast, Oberg takes advantage of simple costume changes like gloves and finger lights. These elements from costume designer Jessica Kavanaugh all draw attention to the signing hands.

As I was leaving the theatre with my 10-year-old, another boy of roughly the same age ran up and asked if my son was in the play. Before we could utter a reply, he rushed on saying that he “loved it, and it made him cry” and then dashed across the theatre. We all know kids are honest critics. They lack the trappings of artifice and filters that make us adults speak more circumspectly.

This moment of pure heartfelt sentiment from one stranger to another that was sparked by the community of theatre makes one unfailingly hopeful and confident in a better future. Just as the deaf and speaking communities come together seamlessly to create a better together production, so too can the world positively evolve forward. A line in one of the final songs is “I’ll keep your smile inside me when I’m home again,” and one leaves the theatre smiling both inside and out, ready to climb aboard Big Red and ascend to a more inclusive future.

– TR
Captain Louie Jr. runs through October 9th at Little Lake Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets to this unforgettable, one-of-a-kind show, please visit https://www.littlelake.org/captainlouiejr

Satanic Verses – a review of “Evil Dead – the Musical”

By Michael Buzzelli

When S-Mart employee, Ashley “Ash” Williams (Brett Goodnack) and his friends stumble upon a demonic book, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, all hell, literally and figuratively, breaks loose. Once Ash and his cohorts unleash an army of darkness, blood will run in “Evil Dead – the Musical.”

Blood doesn’t just run. It practically gallops! If you’re in the “Splatter Zone,” blood will rain down on you like a biblical apocalypse.

The play starts out in Beach Blanket Bingo mode as Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Micaela Oliverio), his sister Cheryl (Laura Barletta), his friend Scott (Brecken Newton Farrell) and Scott’s plus one, Shelly (Callee Mile) bop along joyfully to a cabin in the woods, unaware that evil awaits them.

The cabin belongs to the recently-deceased Professor Kownby (Gavin Carnahan). For the record, Ash didn’t rent the cabin. It isn’t a B & B, but more of a B & E situation (Penal Codes 459 and 601). He discovers the place and takes over a la Christopher Columbus.

The weird noises start as soon as they enter the dreaded building. Cheryl wants out immediately, but Scott – who puts the toxic in toxic masculinity – labels her a killjoy (with more vulgar vernacular). Ash, in an attempt to placate his sister, heads down to the basement to find the source of the strange noises. Ash and Scott find the Darkhold Necronomicon.

Sidenote: The Darkhold is the evil book in a different Sam Raimi movie. Raimi must have the devil’s library card.

The evil tome is found next to a tape recorder. Once the intrepid kids press play, Knowby dollops out portions of staticky exposition as a “recorded voice.” The book’s translations, even via recorder, cause the evil to be unleashed.

Meanwhile, Knowby’s daughter Annie (Callie Miles again) has found two important pages of the Necronomicon and plans to get the excerpts to her dad. She and her boyfriend Ed (Joseph Fedore) rush off to the cabin. On the way, they run into Jake (Charlie Thomson), who knows a secret path to the cabin when the access bridge is destroyed.

Shelly (Callee Miles) seeks protection from the Deadites with Ash (Brett Goodnack) in Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s “Evil Dead – the Musical.” Photo credit: Matt Polk

Cheryl is the first casualty of the Necronomicon, she goes full-on possessed zombie, but soon the others fall one-by-one to the satanic verses.  Groaning zombies and groaner jokes along with some lively music sung by the Deadites, make the whole evening joyful fun! It’s a Dead Man’s Party, leave your body and your willing suspension of disbelief at the door.

P.S. Things get ridiculous pretty fast. There’s a talking Moose head and evil trees, but, somehow, it all works.

The cast is playing it big and broad and it’s a barrel of bloody fun, singing and dancing their way to a gory end. There isn’t a weak link in the production.

Goodnack is a star. He is charismatic and charming as the buffoonish hero. The actor walks a high wire of high camp in this tongue-in-cheek performance. The character isn’t subtle, but the actor manages to play him as real as he possibly can.

The audience went wild every time Goodnack uttered a line of dialogue from the original movies, parsing out classic lines such as “Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the gun!,” “Gimme some sugar, baby!,” “This is my boom stick!,” and “Hail to the king, baby!”

Most of Ash’s dialogue is punctuated with exclamation points.

Farrell gets a lion’s share of laughs in the first act, but fans of the film know he won’t be around forever. He makes great use of his stage time.

Miles is terrific in both roles of bimbo Shelly and brainier Annie. Barletta shines as the demonic version of Cheryl, dishing out devilish puns.

Things get meta when Fedore’s Ed sings a song about being an extra with little-to-no dialogue, until he gets this number, “Bit-Part Demon,” Evil Dead’s version of “Cellophane Man.”

Director Nick Mitchell (a former ‘Burgh Vivant contributor) sets a furious pace to George Reinblatt’s homage to the low-budget camp horror film. Under Mitchell’s skillful direction, there is never a dull moment. There are, however, buckets of blood, which may-or-may-not be Cherry Kool-Aid.

Because of sexual situations, strong language and violence, “Evil Dead – the Musical” may not be suited for little boos and ghouls. If you do take them, make sure they wear their ponchos, or you will be doing your Lady Macbeth impersonation in the laundry room.


“Evil Dead – The Musical” runs until October 22 at Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s West End Canopy. For more information, tickets and directions, click here: https://pittsburghmusicals.com/season


Leave Your Pain in the Pan – a review of “Clyde’s”

By Michael Buzzelli

Everyone has a favorite sandwich. Point me toward a Caprese with heirloom tomatoes, burrata, fresh basil, a splash of Extra Virgin olive oil, a drizzle of a dark, tangy balsamic with a dash of coarse sea salt on a crusty French baguette. You might not like my sandwich. I might not like yours. You might like a turkey with mayo on sliced white bread. We all have different tastes.

While this is a review of a play and not a restaurant, the two are intrinsically tied together. 

“Clyde’s” takes place in a sandwich shop, a truck stop, where ex-cons prep and cook the food. The short-order cooks are short-tempered, too, except for zen master and sandwich artiste Montrellous (Khalil Kain). The staff is bossed around by the titular Clyde (Latonia Phipps), who is more of a supervillain than restaurantuer. She’s the Kingpin of the kitchen, terrorizing and sexually harrassing her beleaguered employees. Doc Doom of the diner. Her staff, chiefly Letitia (Saige Smith), Rafael (Jerreme Rodriguez) and new hire Jason (Patrick Cannon) are frightened of her. 

The ex-cons are afraid that working at Clyde’s is their only option, but Montrellous tries to keep hope alive by challenging the crew to come up with the perfect sandwich. There are a lot of breads, cheeses, meats and veggies mentioned in the play. Don’t go on an empty stomach. 

The show has some weird supernatural elements to it as well. Things get spooky wherever Clyde gets near a sandwich, and she breaks the fourth wall once, ordering the effects to cease on command. At one point, Clyde pulls a Magneto and causes Rafael to press his hand on the grill with her mind. His palm sizzled like a frozen hamburger patty. It may have been a dream sequence. The metaphysical and metatextual elements were served up in heaping portions. 

Rafael (Jerreme Rodriguez) confronts Jason (Patrick Cannon) about his jail time in Lynn Nottage's "Clyde." Photo Credit: Kristi Jan Hoover.

Smith is a standout here. Her character of Letitia (Tish) is sympathetic and charming, even when she is not always being kind to her fellow sandwich makers. 

There’s a lot of intrigue about Cannon’s Jason. Nottage parses out the details about Jason like breadcrumbs. Wisely, she doesn’t give us the full story. It’s not necessary. Cannon plays him as big, bold and brash. His delivery caused a riotous uproar of laughter. 

Phipps is, however, too far over the top. Director Monteze Freeland lets her off the chain. Clyde is played for laughs. She gets huge guffaws from the audience, but the character has no depth. Phipps doesn’t bother to give her any either. 

For a run-down truck stop kitchen, the set is perfection. Tony Ferrieri is planning on going out with a bang. Every detail of the diner was meticulously planned between Ferrieri and the props department, right down to the fluorescent, yellow squares of American cheese.  

Side note: On opening night, there was a standing ovation for the beloved and talented set designer who is retiring in December after decades at the City Theatre’s Director of Production and Resident Scenic Designer. Special shout out to the set of “Elmenopea,” the Hope Diamond among a treasure chest of jewels. 

When I heard the clamor of applause for Lynn Nottage’s play, “Clyde’s,” I pictured that turkey sandwich. People love turkey sandwiches. It just wasn’t for me. In all fairness, my expectations ran high, because a few years ago, Lynn Nottage’s Pulitizer Prize-winning play “Sweat” came to Pittsburgh, and it was and still is one of the most fascinating plays I’d seen in a long while. 

– MB 

“Clyde’s” runs through October 16 at the City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For additional information and tickets go here: CLYDE’S – City Theatre Company



One Step at a Time – a review of “The 39 Steps”

by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD

South Park Theatre takes on The 39 Steps, Patrick Barlow’s 2005 parodic adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film by the same name, which was based on a 1915 novel by John Buchan. The Hitchcock connection signals the production may be one of suspense, and that yields to truth. The 39 Steps proves classic Hitchcockian complete with plot twists as Richard Hannay (John Herrmann) is an innocent man on the run who’s not sure who to trust. When a stranger (Misty Wilds Challingsworth), who claims to be a spy, is murdered his apartment, events are set in motion. He’s unjustly accused of the crime and wanted for murder. Richard runs from the law to carry out her instructions, hoping to clear his name.

In his portrayal of Hannay, Herrmann perfectly embodies a sort of Inspector Clouseau haplessness, less the director of his own fate than a mostly lucky bystander. Herrmann is the only one of the four actors to play a single role, and director Lora Oxenreiter’s wise casting creates a strong quartet. Challingsworth very capably takes on the primary female roles, from the Russian-accented seductress spy to the stranger on the train.

Photo credit: @Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC.

Noah Kendall and Gavin Calgaro are both billed as Clowns. While often comic relief, that naming doesn’t do justice to the immense number of roles they take on. Both make it look effortless, despite the fact mere seconds sometimes elapse between roles with the presence of a hat or a quick pivot in direction signaling a character change. Wisely, Oxenreiter doesn’t let them rush through their roles, even those that are more physical comedy driven. Kendall and Calgaro’s many roles are made more impactful and memorable by the differentiation of each character through changes in costume, tone and/or physicality. The Clowns play women as well as men, reminding us of the artifice and fluidity of gender. Costume designer Annabel Lorence creates easy differentiators that complement the multitude of characters. With the flip of a wig, Challingsworth’s raven-tressed spy becomes a blonde train passenger.

Oxenreiter plays both director and set designer. Her strength is clearly as a director. While the small stage must accommodate a wide variety of settings, the mostly bare stage leaves little to center or capture one’s eye. It’s also a missed opportunity for lighting designer Eve Bandi to overlay some projections that could heighten the suspense and differentiate scene changes. Sound designer Bryce Jensen elicits laughter and lets us know early on that this version of Hitchcock bends to the comedic by inserting the Jeopardy theme music.

The geologic layers of adaptation that this production represents remind us of the malleability of the arts over time. A novel that’s now over a hundred years old turned Hitchcock film turned 21st century play. Hitchcock’s 1935 film came out after the creation and enforcement of Hollywood’s Hays Code that created censorship guidelines for the cinematic arts. Not only are the arts malleable, but the themes of trust and not knowing who to trust are just as relevant in 2022 with the easy spread of misinformation. The media’s broadcasted assumption of Hannay’s guilt and his efforts to clear his good name are just as timely and resonant today, if not more so.

The 39 Steps runs through October 8th at South Park Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit https://sites.google.com/…/sout…/south-park-theatre/home


“That’s just a little bit of History Repeating” – a review of “What Kind of Woman”

Mike Buzzelli

-Michael Buzzelli

In “What Kind of Woman” by Abbe Tannenbaum, an unexpected phone call from her estranged son, sends Nora (Virgina Ginny Wall Gruenert) into a state of panic. In the final moments of their first conversation in years, Nora invites her adult son and his wife to come to her very cluttered apartment in Chelsea.

During a DIY scroll through YouTube, Nora finds Anne (Abbe Tannenbaum), an actor and personal organizer, and Nora realizes it’s time for a deep clean. Anne undertakes an archeological excavation through Nora’s life, and, suddenly, every item in her life is divided into the keep or pitch piles. Nora is forced to give the keepers a definitive “Hell, yes,” or Anne sticks it in the donation bin.

The tiny apartment is crammed with junk, a trumpet, a feather boa, books, a one-eyed teddy bear named Walter and, most importantly, a bundle of hand-written letters. The letters are a treasure trove, Anne and Nora uncover twenty letters from the 1970s, when Nora worked at the Women’s Health and Abortion Project in Chelsea in the days when the medical procedure was illegal.

While working in New York City as an actual personal organizer, Tannenbaum, the playwright, found the letters in a client’s apartment. The story is a fictionalized account of that true-to-life experience.

There are a myriad of twists and turns in “What Kind of Woman,” and they’re not all pleasant, but the story borders on brilliant. It is a play about women’s reproductive rights. While the play was written several years ago, it seems prescient, but it is not a heavy-handed melodrama about a woman’s right to choose. Every time the play leads down a preachy, “On a very special episode of ‘Designing Women’” corridor, it veers off into new territory. As a playwright, Tannenbaum swerves deftly without judging her characters or their choices.

Abbe Tanenbaum as Anne and Virginia Wall Gruenert as Nora Photo credit: Heather Mull Photography

Gruenert brings an emotional gravitas to the production. She breathes Nora’s character into life. It is a powerful performance with a full range of emotions on display.

Tannenbaum’s Anne is joyful, wacky and a more sympathetic character. She does get to explore some darker moments, but she brings it back to comedy every time. One of laugh out loud moments in the play (and despite the subject matter there are quite a few) is watching Tannenbaum’s Anne attempting to escape a big, dark green garbage bag, hulking out of it in a fit of rage.

Tucker Topel’s set looks like it was transplanted to Carnegie from an episode of A & E “Hoarders.” The stage is stuffed with knick-knacks, tchotchkes, gewgaws, trinkets and trifles.

Stagehands swiftly removing items between scenes. Said scene changes are filled with interstitial video material from the alleged YouTubeification of Nora’s decluttering.

Director Kira Simring keeps the pace fast and increasingly fastidious. The show is guaranteed to spark more joy than a Marie Kondo special.

– MB

“What Kind of Woman” runs from September 23 to October 1 at the Carnegie Stage before moving off to the cell theatre in NYC from October 19 to November 19. Catch it here so you don’t have to go there. Off The Wall Productions at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information and tickets, go to www.insideoffthewall.com

Say It Ain’t Sew – a review of “Nana Does Vegas”

By Claire DeMarco

What is the relationship between 80-year-old seamstress Sylvia “Nana” (Lynne Martin Huber) and Dino (Andy Cornelius), an alleged mobster?

One of the following might apply:

      1. They’re romantically involved!
      2. She sews some of his clothes.
      3. Nothing. Surely you jest?
      4. See the show and find out.

Nana is in Las Vegas with her best friend Vera (Ina Block). Engaged as a seamstress for Las Vegas entertainers, Nana anxiously waits for her granddaughter Bridget (Jill Buda) to arrive from New York for Bridget’s bridal shower.

Fiancé Tom (Nick Redford) remains in New York since he is new at his job as a NYPD detective. He promises Bridget that he won’t work too hard, and he’ll concentrate on writing their wedding vows while she’s away.

Tom, however, actually works for the FBI and is on his way to Las Vegas for an undercover job with his supervisor Jo (Renee Ruzzi-Kern). Their assignment is to investigate a case concerning Dino.

Bridget has no clue that Tom works for the FBI nor that he will be in Las Vegas. Tom gambles that he will succeed in keeping this secret.

Spoiler Alert: He doesn’t!

When all the characters find themselves in the same Las Vegas location, subterfuge is finally exposed, misdemeanors explained and innocent misunderstandings resolved.

Vera (Ina Block) doubles down at table. Photo credit: @Hawk Photo and Multimedia, LLC

Block is a treasure! Her delivery is matter of fact, direct, sarcastic and hilarious, reminiscent of “Golden Girls”’ Sophia. All of this is done while she’s dressed in sequins and flamboyant finery, at times while pushing a lighted walker.

Huber’s facial expressions and general movement enhance her comic delivery. Vocal delivery adds favorably to the mix.

As the play evolves, Buda transitions effectively from a rather quiet person into one more assertive.

Redford’s gymnastic movements highlight his role as an insecure, bumbling spy.

Cornelius shows us both the rough side of a mobster and the kinder human underneath that facade.

Lighting is critical and is used effectively to identify different action locations. With this small stage lighting seamlessly segues from one location to another.

This is a delightful farce meant simply to entertain and it does.

The answer to the question initially posed above is D.

Go see the show and find out!

Directed by Kathy Hawk.

“Nana Does Vegas” was written by Katherine DiSavino.


“Nana Does Vegas” is a production of Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South, Canonsburg, Pa. It runs from September 22 through October 1. For more information, click here. https://www.littlelake.org/

Morning at Carnegie’s Art Museum Dawns a New Directorship

By Gina McKlveen
The grand opening of any art exhibition, even one that has been regularly exhibited since 1896, has that quintessential anticipation for what will be displayed or what new thing will be discovered. It is a similar feeling of anticipation that we may feel when we wake up in the morning at the dawn of a new day and silently wonder to ourselves “What will this day hold?” before returning to our usual routines.

This year, the Carnegie Museum of Art will hold its 58th Carnegie International, beginning on September 24th and running through April 2nd of next year. At its inception in 1896, the Carnegie International exhibition was selected by the Carnegie Museum of Art’s inaugural director, Mr. John W. Beatty, and several foreign art advisors. In 1895, Mr. Andrew Carnegie—an industrialist and philanthropist—founded the Carnegie Museum of Art and wisely appointed Mr. Beatty, the Pittsburgh-born silver engraver turned prominent painter and illustrator, to carry out the mission of discovering the next great masters among those currently practicing artists.

Mr. Carnegie’s vision for the Museum and related International exhibition was to make the so-called “Steel City” as famous for the arts as for its steel. Since then, the Museum has seen a steady growth and expansion in the arts within its own collection, having added the Hall of Architecture at the turn of the 20th century and acquired works through the years by artists like James Abbot McNeill Whistler, Sigmar Polke, Chris Ofili, Edward Hopper, Isa Genzken, Mary Cassatt, among many others. Now, 126 years later, the Carnegie International (the longest-running exhibition in North America) once again opens its doors in Oakland for visitors to enter in and explore the world of art with the newest Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Carnegie Museum of Art and Vice President of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Mr. Eric Crosby, encouraging all who see the exhibition to engage in “both local and global creative conversations.”

At 10:00 in the morning the day before the grand opening, these conversations in a diverse range of languages have already started to fill the Museum’s spaces. This year’s Carnegie International is titled Is it morning for you yet?, named after a commission for the exhibition by featured artist, Edgar Calel whose work has a corresponding title which was inspired from a Mayan Kaqchikel expression where it is customary to ask, “Is it morning for you yet?” rather than assume and say “Good morning” to someone who may be in a different time zone. The overarching theme of this exhibition points to the idea of acknowledging the different places and times people come from, while focusing on those common threads that bind us together. Specifically, the exhibition traces a timeline of the United States from 1945 to present day in order to contextualize the “international” in a local setting.

Climbing the stairs to the Heinz Galleries, a gaze out the glass windows to the right features an outdoor installation by Rafael Domench—its locally sourced scaffolding draped in hues of red and blue mesh soaked in early sunlight. Dividing an edge from an ever (pavilion for Sarduy) (2022) was installed this summer in the Museum’s Sculpture Court as a part of the Museum’s Inside Out program, a free outdoor event hosted on regular Thursdays throughout the summer season, as an effort to welcome locals from various regions into community with the arts and adhere to Mr. Crosby’s directorial vision for the Carnegie International.

At the top of the stairs, entering though the glass doors to the galleries, earth tones and natural matter decorate the white floors and walls. In this space is Édgar Calel’s Oyonik (The Calling) (2022), a 75 ceramic vessel collection, organized in scattered rows upon the floor and filled with water, roses, fruit tree branches. Like artifacts unearthed from the civilizations of the past, Calel’s Oynoik is a visual depiction of the Mayan Kaqchikel healing ritual for those who are lost, asking the heart of the sky and the heart of the earth to reconnect body and spirit to discover, or rather rediscover, oneself. Here, the artist and the Carnegie International by extension, confronts the histories that are not only on our walls, but also right under our feet. There is a graceful reminder here, too: sometimes one must get lost in order to be found.

Nearby, Sanaa Gateja’s handmade bead paintings on barkcloth surfaces exude the natural order of the earth with patterned organic designs. Seeds of Joy (2022) and Together (2019) face opposite walls, made from various sources like magazines, old school textbooks, and prior political pamphlets, but compose one clear theme of unity. Another homage at this year’s Carnegie International to the collection of diverse backgrounds that weaves together a unifying tapestry. Gateja relays words of wisdom that inspired the artist and the artwork: “A dot is a dot it is your village a community a voice in the hills.”

In the Hall of Sculpture, works of art from around artists located around the world line the balcony walls. Thu Van Tran’s Colors of Grey (2022) confronts the chemical agents used by the US Military in Vietnam that altered the people of Vietnam and their land across generations. Neither does Pacita Abad shy away from depicting the toil of social and political strife. Her paintings of the Jakarta riots of 1998 are conveyed with her unique global citizen perspective. Similarly, Mohammed Sami’s works of art depict everyday belongings and settings that exude the rupture of war’s disruption on the once ordinary life. Patricia Belli’s role as a leading figure in Nicaragua’s feminist art movement brings a relationship component to the global conversation with an intimate homage to her late mother using scraps of fabric, wire and bone figures to communicate the fragmentation of grief and loss.

From the balcony of the Hall of Sculpture the weight of grief does not deflate the significance of golden balloon structures weighed down to the floor by kettle bells. Banu Cennetoglu’s right? (2022) spells out the first 10 articles of the United Nations General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in clusters of giant balloon letters, undoubtedly embodying the fragility of the international human rights framework. Along the walls next to this towering display, are photographs from Hiromi Tsuchia’s Hiroshima Collection which has been a decades-long endeavor to capture the particles and remains left behind after the United States indiscriminately dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city during World War II. Captions at the bottom of some of the photographs reiterate the tragic ending “body not found” over and over.  A watch, gifted from son to father, reads 8:15 while it’s owner died on August 22, 1945. Another copy of this photograph is featured in the Scaife Gallery’s “Refractions” exhibit, among other works that bring together the historical and political struggles of the United States with countries from around the world.

Mr. Crosby’s Carnegie International directorial debut accomplishes the essence of what the Museum’s founder and inaugural director had envisioned for the city of Pittsburgh, being both a local actor and global participant. Kathe and Jim Patrinos Curator of the 58th Carnegie International Curator, Sohrab Mohebbi, executed this mission and vision with pristine purpose, bringing together artists from across the globe while selecting and curating an exhibition with works that also combine culture and communication. Associate Curator, Ryan Inouye and Curatorial assistant, Talia Heiman part in engaging this community makes this Carnegie International all the more worth visiting. Is it morning for you yet? Is an exhibit that meets anyone exactly where they are at. A morning, noon, or evening visit to the Carnegie Museum of Art to see this exhibition will break up the monotony of the day like breaking dawn, there is so much more here to discover.


Unpacking the extra baggage – a review of “Hoard”

By Tiffany Raymond, ‘Burgh Vivant

Off the WALL produces Lissa Brennan’s new two-person play, “Hoard.” Given off the WALL tends to produce a lot of one-person shows, the 100% increase in onstage talent is both a surprise and a delight. The commitment to duality extends offstage as the show also has two directors, Kira Simring and Brian Reager.

“Hoard” is set in contemporary Pittsburgh and takes place in real-time. It’s a 90-minute encounter between shut-in hoarder Viv Donahue and Claire, an “organizational life consultant.” Viv’s adult daughter has hired Claire to help clear her mother’s house of ever encroaching piles. The set is towering with dilapidated cardboard boxes, teetering newspaper stacks, and a proliferation of life’s detritus – an empty birdcage, crumbled plastic bags, and ringed coffee pots. You keep waiting for roaches to scuttle out as extras, and you feel compelled to scan for mouse droppings. That being said, for anyone who’s ever watched an episode of “Hoarders” on A&E, it still feels like Tucker Topel’s set and scenic design is “hoarder light.” Walkways are still fully navigable, and Viv’s story and psychology would only be enhanced with an even more buried alive design.

Before the play even starts, Simring and Reager choose to set the scene with raucously loud rock music. While we haven’t yet met Viv (Virginia Wall Gruenert), the music feels overpowering and out of sync with a household where an overstuffed armchair hermetically sealed with a crocheted blanket is the living room centerpiece. The music is indeed a miss.

Luckily, Simring and Reager redeem themselves with four steady hands in guiding the performances of Gruenert and Claire (Erika Cuenca). Gruenert finds that delicate balance of making Viv as forgettable as anyone you might pass in the frozen food aisle at Giant Eagle, but because we get to spend time with her, we also get to see beyond the reach for frozen pizza. Viv is upper middle-aged, overweight, and wears frumpy shapeless clothes with elasticized waistband pants. Her dyed red hair is so short it doesn’t even seem like roots could show, and yet they do. Like any hoarder, there are deeper psychological underpinnings to her compulsion. From the outset, she exudes a nervous energy that expresses itself in repetition, immediately insisting Claire call her “just Viv…Viv, Viv, Viv, Viv, Viv” as opposed to Mrs. Donahue.

Viv (Virginia Wall Gruenert) and Claire (Erica Cuenca) sort through a mess in “Hoard.” Photo credit: Heather Mull

Claire is Viv’s foil. Cuenca exudes professionalism with sensible black heels, a white button-down, and pinstripe slacks. In fact, she almost seems too buttoned down and well-dressed for a woman who’s about to help a hoarder clean out her home. However, her clothing establishes the walled difference Claire wants to maintain between her professional self and who she genuinely is, a crack Viv widens into a crevasse in the course of the play.

The play evolves from clean-up session to psychological deep dive. Viv strikes a deal with Claire; Viv gets ask her a question when she gets rid of something. Interestingly, despite the towering trash heaps, the first item Viv chooses to part with is a usable one – a colander, but it’s a nice visual metaphor for the play. The colander retains that which we need while allowing the unusable to pass through.

One naturally expects Brennan’s script to focus on Viv as the hoarder. However, Brennan nicely develops both characters, arguably making Claire the more interesting one. We learn about Viv’s traumas, but Claire peels back her own layers via the Q&A or “give and take, take and give” as Claire calls it. The two strangers gradually expose a level of raw vulnerability that generally works, but feels rushed at moments given the real-time, 90-minute duration. When Claire swears and drops an f bomb for the first time, it immediately feels jarring and inauthentic as she’s been operating at arm’s distance business mode.

For Yinzers in the crowd, the play delights with regional nuggets like “redd up” and references to a Pittsburgh toilet. However, it’s not so colloquial as to be inaccessible to a beyond the Burgh audience. The Pittsburgh toilet becomes an educational moment for Viv as she describes this bizarre architectural feature of the standalone basement toilet to an appropriately puzzled Claire, a Boston transplant.


Redd up and head out to Off the Wall’s production of “Hoard” plays through March 21st at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.


The Sunset Looks Good from the East and the West – A review of “The Outsiders”

By Claire DeMarco, ‘Burgh Vivant

The haves and the have nots are the basis for “The Outsiders,” a play by Christopher Sergel based on the novel by S.E. Hinton. Set in the 1960s, two divergent gangs of teenagers seem to be on a collision course. Separated entirely by their socioeconomic circumstances, the Socials (Socs), rich, privileged and from the west side of the city coalesce together. The Greasers live on the east side, most of them from low income and broken homes.

The Socs and the Greasers are their own moral compass, without much or little guidance from adults on either side.

Greaser Ponyboy (Dominic Raymond) is unique as he has a special affinity for poetry, likes to read, activities not embraced by his Greaser cohorts. Recently orphaned, he and his brother, Sodapop (Lawrence Karl) are under the guardianship of older brother, Darry (Michael Barnett).

All the Greasers are particularly protective of Johnny Cade (Dakoda Hutton), traumatized by a recent Soc beating.

Ponyboy is often the narrator, providing the audience with necessary backdrop information. It is through his eyes and perspective that the story unfolds.

Soc friends Cherry Valance (Carolyn Jerz) and Marcia (Ariel Squire) are unceremoniously dumped after disagreements with their boyfriends, Bob (Noah Welter) and Randy (Kyle DePasquale). Cherry and Ponyboy become friends after Greaser Dallas (Cole Vecchio) pushes himself on her. Ponyboy intercedes. In neutral territory, Cherry and Ponyboy discuss poetry, sunsets, and other non-gang-related subjects. A Soc and a Greaser are actually talking to each other and not AT each other. She articulates the Soc’s attitude on life in general. “We’re looking for something we don’t already have.”

Both gangs continue to taunt, agitate, and challenge each other. A series of tragic events involving both sides escalates tensions between the two gangs with dire consequences.

The Greasers pose for a picture in “The Outsiders.”

Exceptional as the traumatized Johnny, Hutton believably shows both insecurity and courage when needed, tenderness and love when necessary.

Raymond portrays Ponyboy as the youthful Greaser and grows that character. He is able to convey his understanding that’s it’s not just a black and white world, but there’s also a bit of gray.

Vecchio transitions from a wise-cracking Greaser with all the “I’m the dude” moves one expects from that character into a sensitive, feeling, insecure young adult.

The production is brilliantly executed with a finely tuned, well-balanced ensemble with excellent direction by Scott P. Calhoon.

The play takes place on an open stage with the background conducive to either the outdoors or indoors. Subtle, quick, simple and quiet prop movements by the cast suggest a change of scene or venue.

Fight Director Michael R. Petyak’s choreography of fight scenes, transitioning their physicality into a slow-motion ballet effect is beautiful.


“The Outsiders” is a production of Prime Stage Theatre at the New Hazlett Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, 6 Allegheny Square E, Pittsburgh, PA 15212 and runs from March 6 – March 15, 2020. For more information, click here.


Tiffany Raymond, ‘Burgh Vivant.  

Alan Stanford both adapts and directs Pittsburgh’s Classic Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” While I’ve seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” many times, it’s always in the summer and almost invariably performed outdoors, given the play is primarily set in the forest outside of Athens. Even the title lets us know when the play is set – and by extension, when to watch it. Stanford stages his exultant vision of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in mid-winter. There’s something almost forbidden about it in the “wrong” season. It’s like sipping a Mai Tai in a snowstorm.

Shakespeare’s comedy is set in a 4-day period leading up to the wedding between Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta. They’re one of four couples in this romantic frolic. The young Lysander and Hermia want to marry, even though she’s betrothed to Demetrius, who is loved by Helena. The king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, round out the quartet of couples.

Stanford’s casting is superb. Allan Snyder plays both Theseus and Oberon, and Shammen McCune plays Hippolyta and Titania. At the play’s start, Theseus greets his bride-to-be with a hug and a verbal barrage, including the first of many sexual innuendos that remind us this is a comedy. He reminds Hippolyta with a gentle pelvic thrust that he was able to “woo thee with my sword.” While they may not yet be wed, Hippolyta is already a proficient wife in her use of nonverbal communication that Stanford metes out with royally appropriate nuance. Hippolyta expresses displeasure at a gender-biased decision from Theseus with a subtle eye-roll at him that one easily catches from the stage. Afterwards, when Theseus extends his arm, she pauses as if she might withhold her touch, then reluctantly takes Theseus’ arm. Stanford artfully steers the production to many such moments that create agency for women within the play.

Stanford finds the winter vibe with the help of costume designer Zoe Baltimore who brilliantly chooses to dress the entire cast in white. The Athenian couples all wear satiny white pajamas that signify their social status and the attending leisure that comes with it. The costumes also visually reinforce the playful sexual banter and innuendos, overlaying an eroticism that never lets us forget their bedroom destination as lovers – or soon to be lovers. Winter white carries through to local laborers who are rehearsing a play to perform at the duke’s wedding reception. Baltimore outfits them in white painter’s dungarees. The roughly textured fabric immediately draws a class distinction between the two groups. However, the laborers are portrayed by the same actors as the four young lovers, a reminder of the artifice of class as they are separated by no more than their clothes.

Domenico LaGamba’s scenic design is comprised of four hanging translucent fabric pillars. The white fabric columns work flawlessly with Baltimore’s flowing white pajamas. The columns are large enough to hide in, creating absence within presence. We see Titania curled up asleep inside a pillar while the laborers practice their play in the forest, heightening anticipation within the play. She has been charmed with a love potion that will cause her to fall in love with one of the laborers/players, Bottom (fabulously acted by Martin Giles), when she awakes.

After having been given the same love charm by the spirit Puck, both Demetrius (David Toole) and Lysander (Ryan Patrick Kearney) rip off their pajama tops in a moment of zealous male preening as they passionately vie for Helena’s affections (Zoe Abuyuan). Helena can come across as self-pitying, but Abuyuan gives her a righteous hair-tossing millennial defiance, often stalking offstage with exaggerated movements, only to turn around and give us another mouthful of her mind.

Jacob Epstein brings a youthful vibrance to Puck. He’s plucky and mischievous as he carries out various tasks at Oberon’s behest, giving them his own twist and relishing the humor of those turns. After charming Titania, he decides to give Bottom the head of an ass. Giles’ hilariously timed brays are clearly off-putting to the queen’s crew of fairies who glance soundlessly at each, sharing an open-eyed wonder and disgust. One of the play’s only flaws may be its sound engineering by Kris Buggey, which is so subtle it’s nearly as invisible as Puck himself.

Comedic tribulation turns to triumph, and everything ends properly as the four couples unite. Given the play is staged at the Fred Rogers studio at WQED, it feels like an even more appropriate ending. Come to sit, laugh and dream with your neighbors this winter at Pittsburgh’s Classic Theatre’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which plays through February 29th at the Fred Rogers Studio at WQED, 4802 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.