Mini Review: “The Gods of Comedy”

by Lonnie The Theater Lady

Some people call playwright Ken Ludwig the “reigning king of theatrical farce.” The clever, witty dialog and wacky situations in The Gods of Comedy, justify that title. This show is a mix of madcap mayhem with a little bit of romance. It elicits an abundance of hearty laughter from the audience (including me)! This farce is rich with mistaken identities, disguises and witty plays on words. One of the characters identifies as  being eunuch—oops, they mean unique. Misinterpretations of idioms provide laughs–for example, “pulling my leg.” Just picture it.

Photo credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC.
Daphne (Amanda Weber) uses a talisman that was given to her by a street vendor (Elias Diamond), to summon the Gods of Ancient Greece. She needs their assistance  to help her locate a valuable missing antique book, and to find actors to replace the two actors who quit a production of Medea (that she’s directing) before the opening. That’s when things get  cray cray. . .
The Gods that show up are, “Ta Da,”  the Gods of Comedy!
Not exactly what Weber was hoping for. Dionysus (Tom Kolos) and Thalia (Carina Iannarelli) are the hapless Gods. These two have great chemistry.  They play off each other with the warmth of centuries old friends, as immortals do. The laughs they get are frequent and well deserved. Their comedic timing and physicality are a joy to watch. Some of the posturing and posing Kolos strikes are hilarious! As is his unruly, flopping, lopsided crown of leaves and grapes. Iannarelli’s mercurial mood and tone changes are nuanced and perfect. A sideways look, a toss of the hair, a subtle shift in posture, a change in her voice–purring, flirtatious, conspiratorial–brilliant!
Photo credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC.
The entire cast is very strong and well cast in their roles. Amanda Weber shows a frantic, yet sweet vulnerability in her portrayal of Daphne. She makes us feel for her and her predicament.  Elias Hammond expertly plays three roles with completely different personalities and all with lovable authenticity. Who can’t help loving his portrayal of the over the top, satirically fierce Ares, God of War? Renee Ruzzi-Kern gets to exercise her comedic skills, getting her lots of laughs. Johnny Terreri convincingly plays a lovable geek. Elizabeth Glyptis is a movie star with the perfect amount of confidence, self absorption and arrogance.
Photo credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC
The beautiful, softly lighted set in Act 2 features Greek columns, flowering trees (or grapes on vines–not sure which but, it doesn’t matter–it’s aesthetically pleasing), and a lovely Greek (sort of) sculpture on a pedestal. Kudos to Liam Grand for the lighting design and Sabrina Hykes-Davis for the set design. The costume design (Julie Lang) is often whimsical (Ares) and sometimes elegant (Thalia, Dean Trinket)
Photo credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC.
This endearing uproarious  farce is a perfect way to forget the everyday stresses, suspend reality and laugh out loud.
– Lonnie Jantsch
“The Gods of Comedy” is playing through May 20th at South Park Theater, Corrigan Dr & Brownsville Road, South Park, PA 15129. 

P.S. No One Deserves to Be Forgotten – “A Review of Dear Evan Hansen”

By Claire DeMarco

Teenager Evan Hansen (Anthony Norman) lacks confidence and is insecure.  His anxiety and lack of self-worth is greater than the normal angst that many teens feel. Clumsy is also an apt description.  Lonely with no friends, the only relationship Evan has is with his laptop.

Heidi Hansen (Coleen Sexton) is Evan’s mom, a single parent who works and attends classes. Her frequent absence from home only heightens Evan’s loneliness and isolation.

Through sessions with his analyst, Evan is encouraged to write daily letters to himself that have a positive outlook on life.  This seemingly solo exercise becomes the foundation for a series of events that spiral out of control.

His self-addressed letter accidentally falls into the hands of the school’s bully and suspected drug user Connor Murphy (August Emerson).

When Connor commits suicide several days later, Evan’s letter is found in one of Connor’s pockets.

Connor’s sister Zoe Murphy (Alaina Anderson) thinks her brother was a monster. His parents Larry Murphy (John Hemphill) and Cynthia Murphy (Lili Thomas) always had problems with Connor but surprised at the letter’s contents, they take solace that Connor did, indeed, have a friend. It’s their soothing belief (and his crush on Zoe) that Evan doesn’t have the strength to suggest otherwise.

Note:  Even the cast on Evan’s broken arm adds to the ever-growing fairy tale. Connor had printed his name on the cast (in very large letters) since no one else would sign it.

The untruths and embellishments grow exponentially with Evan creating a friendship that never existed.

Fellow classmates Jared Kleinman (Pablo David Laucerica) and Alana Beck (Micaela Lamas) help propel the “story of Connor” to the next level by creating the Connor Project.  The Project is meant to keep Connor’s memory alive.  It also elevates the socially awkward Evan into a social media sensation.

The cast of “Dear Evan Hansen”

Norman shines as the insecure Evan.  He highlights that persona with his physical movements, facial expressions and eyes always looking downward.   His interaction with Sexton as a never-ending talker (talking about nothing) was both hilarious and sad.  “Words Fail” and “For Forever” highlight his wonderful singing voice.

Sexton’s demeanor changes from the always apologizing mom, continually working or taking classes to the insulted firebrand rejecting money from Connor’s parents.  Her character grows as she becomes the listening, sometimes lecturing mom that Evan needs.  Sexton’s rendition of “So Big, So Small” is touching.

Laucerica’s Jared is conniving, smart and at times funny. It’s easy to believe Laucerica as a con man more intent on making money from the Connor Project.  As the only other person who knows that the Connor Project and the letter are fake, we see Laucerica advance from a mouthy teenager into a person who has no reservations about making money by perpetuating this fraud.

Lamas plays the girl everyone knows and doesn’t like.  She is self-absorbed and she sees this project as a means to elevate herself.  Lamas takes her character’s conceit to the highest level.  Lamas also has a lovely singing voice.

The entire cast is well-balanced with no weak links.

The set is exceptional with the backdrop a social media participant’s dream. Cascading streams of words, lights flashing, faces smiling and tidbits of partial messages keep moving and changing.  The backdrop changes into a background of various snippets of word and phrases when the dialogue dictates.

Dear Pittsburghers:

Don’t miss this exceptional production of the 2017 Tony Winning Musical.



P.S.  It’s really me!


 “Dear Evan Hansen” runs from May 2 through May 7 at the Benedum, 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA. 15222. For more information, click here.





On the Road Again – A Review of “Young Americans”

By Claire DeMarco

Joe (Danny Bernardo) takes two cross country road trips twenty years apart – first with his soon-to-be wife Jenny (Marielle Young) and years later a repeat with his adopted daughter Lucy (Sammy Rat Rios).

Note:  On stage the trips are not sequential but alternate between the first trip with Jenny and the second with Lucy.

Joe’s trip with Jenny from Washington D. C. to Portland, Oregon helps the couple develop a rapport, get to know one another since their pending marriage has been arranged.

One might expect the bride-to-be as shy, demure and quiet but the roles are reversed.  Jenny is more modern, outgoing and relaxed.  Nervous and insecure Joe attempts to hide his awkwardness by talking incessantly.  He never stops rambling even when it is apparent that Jenny has fallen asleep in the car with her head bobbing on her chest.

As the trip progresses the couple learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

They finally arrive in Portland, Oregon!

Twenty years later Joe embarks on another trip.  He picks his daughter Lucy up at the Washington D.C. airport.  It doesn’t matter that she had a ticket to fly to Portland (which he cancelled without her knowledge). The trip doesn’t start off under the best of circumstances but Joe is determined to traverse the country with his daughter.  His daughter is college age and Joe sees this journey as possibly the last adventure they’ll have together.

Lucy (Sammy Rat Rios) is road-tripping with Joe (Danny Bernardo). Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Public Theatre.

Bernardo is excellent as Joe, portraying him as a timid, talkative young man in his youth to a devoted father twenty years later.  He is more physical and expressive in his later years and his comedic timing is spot on. Trying so hard to remain a part of Lucy’s world, his suggestion that “Maybe later we do some drugs” is hilarious.

Young is enticing as the bold, opinionated and sometimes not very nice Jenny.  She is able to translate that characterization into several comedic scenes and saucy retorts.  She is stronger than Joe.  She knows it and uses it to her advantage!

As the adopted daughter, Rios develops her character from a young girl still under the influence of her father into a determined, ready-to-be adult who definitely has a mind and opinions of her own. She is anxious and determined to be independent.  Rios translates that characterization perfectly.

Afterthought::  Perhaps Joe and Jenny’s American accents are meant to indicate that at this stage of their potential relationship they are speaking in their native tongue.  Twenty years later their accents take on those of immigrants speaking English with a pronounced foreign-born cadence.

Also notable is how their clothing after twenty years reflects their development as immigrants. Joe has dropped his drab clothing, now wearing the most garish, flower printed shirt.  Jenny reverts to her native-born country’s ethnic attire.

The set is minimal, but effective with a backdrop of an open sky with light changes reflecting different times of the day. Most of the scenes take place in the car but the characters are periodically out of the car at rest stops or tourist attractions.

“Young Americans” explores the experiences of immigrants to a new country over twenty years and how those experiences affect them.

Lauren Yee wrote a great play. This world premiere production had a healthy  mix of serious conversations and a large dose of humor.


“Young Americans” runs from April 26 – May 14 at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. For more information, click here.

Curious George: The Golden Meatball goes Platinum at Little Lake

Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD and Theron Raymond (4th grader)

Little Lake Theatre Company invites everyone’s favorite storybook monkey from page to stage in their kid-friendly, adult-acted production of Curious George: The Golden Meatball.

From the opening scene, the energy never flags in this 55-minute production. Director Rick Bryant keeps it tight and lively for the littles as the play is recommended for ages 3 and up. Looking around during the show, both kids and adults were thoroughly engaged. There were even a few sweet moments of unintended audience participation from the youngest audience members trying to help find George.

Jennifer Phipps-Kopach is endearing as George. Costume designer Sylvia Sims-Linkish’s brown hooded, monkey onesie with protruding ears is charmingly sweet and topped by a cowlick (or rather, a monkeylick?). Phipps-Kopach clearly studied our primate relations. She manifests George with joyful, bouncy hops that forefront the monkey’s mischievousness from the outset. She steals bandanas from the actors during the opening song. She also captures George’s “voice” with discernible, yet squeaky, utterings that “match his nature” (in the words of my 10-year-old co-reviewer and kiddo, Theron).

Theron also noted Alex Keplar’s “innovative prop design.” Keplar utilizes a set of colorful wooden boxes with lids. These handy storage crates hide props and stack to create kitchen stoves, provide a pedestal for George when he’s a literal “monkey in the middle,” and “mark” the corners of the stage in this production in the round. Keplar also transforms New York City’s skyline into Rome’s Coliseum with a few panel flips. Quick, almost imperceptible, prop changes keep the tempo moving.

From Left to right: The Doorman (Delaney Molnar), the Man in the Yellow Hat (Christian Jones), Chef Pisghetti (Andy Coleman) and a whole lot of confetti! Photo Credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC

The play’s central tension is a story of old vs. new. Chef Pisghetti (Andy Coleman) is an Italian chef incarnate. He’s round and jolly with a native Italian accent to match that Coleman holds steady, yet also sensitive and emotional about his art.

The threat of the new comes in the form of a Meatball-a-Matic. This whizzing new meatball-making – and flinging – invention sets up across the street, luring away Pisghetti’s customers. It’s like the Doritos Locos Taco has moved in and is competing with the neighborhood taqueria.

The Meatball-a-Matic’s inventor, Phinneas T. Lightspeed (Kayleigh Peternel), is more showwoman than chef. Peternel evokes a 19th century purveyor of tonics and elixirs as she touts her wonderous, time-saving machine, singing “Who’s got time?” as she confidently strides about the stage rhyming. Even George is awestruck. The gravitational force of well-marketed novelty is undeniable.

Costume designer Sims-Linkish triumphs again. Peternel’s brown suit with tan dots are in fact meatball-sized polka dots. These dots visually reinforce the two-dimensional nature of her cuisine as well as the outer limits of Lightspeed’s skills whereas Pisghetti’s white chef’s jacket is a literal blank canvas for his range of culinary craft.

Taking offense at society’s inclination for fast over traditional, Chef Pisghetti defiantly exchanges his toque for a baseball hat, becoming Mr. Pisghetti. The attempted reconversion of Chef Pisghetti occupies the remainder of the play. George stows away to Rome for the Golden Meatball contest. This triggers a fast follow by the Man in the Yellow Hat (capably played by Christian Jones who adopts the Man’s signature arms akimbo pose) as well as Pisghetti and his wife, Netti (Katy Risotto).

Pisghetti clearly has not returned to his home country in ages as he immediately gets lost in Rome. Hilarity ensues as the hapless Pisghetti notes, “Darn, they moved the Coliseum again.” Bryant thoughtfully utilizes the stage’s four entrances and exits to create the sense of chaos one feels lost in the narrow streets of a European city. Pisghetti’s frantic search for the Coliseum mirrors his own turbulent journey to find his inner chef again.

-TR & TR

Curious George: The Golden Meatball runs through May 7, 2023 at Little Lake Theatre Company in Canonsburg, PA. Purchase tickets online here

Death Becomes Her – a review of “Not a Mourning Person”

By Michael Buzzelli

It’s a funeral and you’re invited. Mourners gather to pay their respects to Molly J. Parker (Chelsea Conway) and eulogize her in Sara Baines-Miller’s “Not a Mourning Person.”

This latest Fringe Festival offering from the Thoreau N.M. production has a simple, elevator pitch, “What if you got to go to your own funeral?” The end result is hilarious and traumatic.

When the pastor (Louise Fox) invites the audience to sing “Amazing Grace,” a bizarre “Twilight Zone” time-stop occurs – a scratch the record needle – and Molly appears at her own funeral. The recently-deceased provides running commentary on the eulogies from her fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Flemming (Lisa Germ), her very intoxicated brother, Sean Parker (Stephen Toth) her best friend (Lisa Germ again) and to her fiancé, Charlie (Stephen Toth again) with a few others in between (also Germ and Toth).

Through the course of the show, we learn that Molly has a difficult time waking up for her day job, and the morning/mourning homophone becomes a double entendre.

Then, a mysterious figure (played by Mary Randolph) shows up to collect Molly and take her to the next stop in her journey onward (Heaven and Hell are not specified, but heavily implied).

(From left to right) Thoreau N.M. founder and director lance-eric Skapura, Stephen Toth, Louise Fox, Mary Randolph, Playwright Sara Baines-Miller, Lisa Germ. Front row center: Chelsea Conway.

Conway is superb as the Ghost of Molly J. Parker. Her deadpan delivery refuting the eulogy of her office co-worker Karen (Germ) is magnificent. Later, when her aforementioned fiancé, Charlie (Toth) dutifully marches up to the podium, Conway is devastated, and the result caused many audience members to well up with tears. When Germ returns to the podium for the last time, the floodgates are open and gushing.

Mary Randolph does an amazing job as the Not-So-Grim Reaper. She’s a joy, delivering sarcastic barbs and pointed remarks. She is a down-to-earth angel, who eschews the typical biblical platitudes in favor of plain English. There is a moment when Randolph’s transforms to another character and it’s one of the best moments of the show.

Germ and Toth do remarkable jobs playing a variety of characters, all mourning Molly in their own distinct (perhaps idiosyncratic) ways.

Fox deftly plays the part of the pastor. She has a gentle softness about her. The character knows only kindness, even after an inflammatory tirade delivered by the dearly departed’s baby brother.

Skapura keeps the action frenetic, moving the actors off the stage and out into the audience. While it’s not technically an immersive piece, there are immersive moments (pity the dude who sits in the “Uncle Jeff Seat”).

Playwright Sara Baines-Miller continues to process her grief in new and unique ways. Her new Fringe Festival play, “Not A Mourning Person” takes the Meryl Streep quote, “Take your broken heart and turn it into art,” to a whole new level. During the pre-pandemic days (Fringe Festival 2019), Baines-Miller decimated audiences with “Favorite Colors,” a thoughtful and poignant piece about the death of her best friend. “Not a Mourning Person” covers similar territory in a fresh, new way.

“Not a Mourning Person” had a limited run during the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, but if a production of this supremely delicate work by Baines-Miller runs again, jump on a chance to mourn with Molly.







Groundlings and Guffaws – a review of Shakespeare in the Parks “Double Bill”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

In Illyria we set our scene, only now Illyria is a quaint, new coffee house in the Strip called Soluna, and a motley crew of actors take over the center of the joint in Pittsburgh’s Shakespeare in the Parks (affectionately known as PSiP) “Double Bill,” a work by Shakespeare (mostly) and a work about Shakespeare (sort of).

Side note: While pointing out a pun with a hearty “get it?” is gauche, “Double Bill” is too clever of a pun to let slip by haphazardly: William as a nickname for Bill and bill as a program of entertainment with two main productions or personalities. The program is meant to be a celebration of the Bard’s birthday (the playwright was allegedly born on April 23, 1564).

Double Bill is a Two-In-One special, a Cliff Notes version of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” set to Margaritaville music and a zany new work by Charles David Richards titled, “Shakespeare: The First Drafts.”

“Twelfth Night” is the Campbell’s Soup condensed version, taking all five acts and smooshing them into one. This shortened version has a Key West vibe. Its both beachy and breezy.

It has excellent performances, most notably from Catherine Baird as Viola/Cesario, Harper York as Olivia, Charles David “Stoney” Richards as Malvolio and Matt Henderson as Maria (pronounced Ma-RYE-ahhh).

It’s a staged reading and the actors are not off-book, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a charming adaptation from director Nick Hrutkay with music by Matt Calvetti.

The motley crew of Double Bill (Twelfth Night and Shakespeare the First Drafts). From left to right: Charles “Stoney” Richards, Music Director Matt Calvetti, Bob Colbert and Jennifer Tober, with Harper York in the lawn chair.

After the intermission, “Shakespeare: The First Draft” begins. In it, Charles David “Stoney” Richards plays the Bard himself.  It could easily be described as a Mel Brooks piece from “History of the World,” parts one or two, about our the world’s most famous (infamous to  a great deal of school children) playwright.

The remaining players of the troupe sub in for various parts. There’s a delightful gender-swapped Romeo (Jennifer Tober) and Juliet (Matt Henderson) scene that sort of encapsulates one of the other main links between the two shows.

In both shows, the casting is fluid. At the core of “Twelfth Night,” is a 400-year- old story about drag. When she believes her brother is dead, Viola disguises herself to pass for a man in an unknown country because traveling as a woman would be too dangerous. In his notes, Hrutkay mentions the importance of the story especially now. In  her notes, Artistic Director Jennifer Tober delights in playing a variety of Shakespearean roles, including some of the male parts.

In “Shakespeare: The First Drafts,” Richards is captivating as Shakespeare. He lives and breathes the character. While there are probably too many  anachronisms as punchlines in the piece, the show is a delightful romp.

Soluna is hip and funky in all the best ways, a charming cafe with eclectic art filled with bright colors and bold patterns. It’s made even more colorful as each audience member in attendance was gifted with a lei, like Hawaiian tourists, by the PSiP crew.  It was a great way to celebrate William Shakespeare’s birthday.


“Double Bill” runs until Wednesday, April 24 at Soluna, 1601 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here. 

The Importance of Laughter: How Comedy Shows Can Boost Mental Health

Nicole Blaine

Laughter is the best medicine served by comedic relief. Studies have shown that laughter and comedy have a positive effect on the mind and can actually boost your mental health.

When you laugh, you release endorphins called dopamine and serotonin.


Neuroscientists consider dopamine or “happy chemicals” the pathway to pleasure. There are many things that can trigger the brain to release dopamine, but laughter is literally the best medicine.


Serotonin is a chemical the brain produces that helps reduce depression. When someone has depression, it’s because of a chemical imbalance. The brain isn’t producing enough endorphins, like serotonin.

The fundamental difference between dopamine and serotonin is what each chemical regulates. Dopamine is a chemical the brain produces that makes us “feel good” whereas serotonin reduces depression.

Local Comedy Venue: The Arcade Comedy Theater, 943 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

How Comedy Shows Can Boost Mental Health

The release of endorphins has a positive effect on your mental health. It’s without saying that laughter and comedy have many mental health benefits. This is where the importance of comedy shows comes into play.

The ways laughter from comedy shows can boost mental health and improve your life are:

Stress Relief

Laughter reduces stress. When work or other responsibilities triggers stress and something makes you laugh, it’s as if the stress evaporates.

Pain Tolerance

According to a neuroscience study, laughing releases endorphins that make you happy. When those endorphins trigger feelings of happiness, people can endure 10 to 15 percent more pain.

 Social Bonding

Laughter is a source of bonding used all over the world. When you laugh with friends, family members, co-workers, or just about anyone else, you create a social bond between you and that person or people.

Think about the last time you watched a stand-up comedian or some kind of comedy show with someone. Do you remember the fun you had with the other person and the joy you shared? That’s a form of social bonding.

Organ Stimulation

Not only do laughter and comedy shows increase your mental health, they have positive effects on your internal health. When you laugh, you’re taking deeper, oxygen-rich breaths, filling your lungs with clean air.

Laughter stimulates your organs, like your lungs, heart, and muscles.

Ever laugh so hard your stomach hurts? You’re actually working out the muscles in your abdomen. So technically, you’re getting a small workout when you laugh hysterically.

Eases Tension

Laughter stimulates circulation and blood flow. The extra circulation of blood flow is beneficial to your muscles.

In a way, laughter melts away the tension in your neck, shoulders, and other muscles that may be tight.

Long-Term Health Benefits

Other than the positive effects comedy and laughter have on your mental health, the two combined have long-term health benefits, such as;

      • Improved immune system
      • Improved mood and mental health
      • Relieve pain
      • Soothe tension

Laughter is essential for your mental health. Engage in anything that can make you laugh. Laughing for at least 10 minutes a day can have significant health benefits.


Find out more about new contributor Nicole Blaine right here

Two in One – a review of “The Pyramid Builders”

by Michael Buzzelli

When Farrah (Cynthia Caul) meets Maya (Elexa Hanner), a homeless teen, in the park, it sets both women on a trajectory towards a heartbreaking future – for this life and the next – in ‘”Pyramid Builders,” a new play by Karuna Das.

There’s a lot going on in this play. The first act is about Farrah and Maya and their connection in 2012. The second act is about Satya (Hanner in a dual role) and Octavia (Karla C. Payne) and her lover Cassie (Caul in a dual role) in the near-future where white militias roam what’s left of the United States, indiscriminately slaughtering Black people.

“Pyramid Builders” is built on the premise from the 2018 Pittsburgh billboard, “There are Black People in the future,” and the ire it caused here in the recent past.

The play posits that if people are so angry about the billboard, surely they must not want Black People in the future. History repeats itself when Octavia becomes another Harriet Tubman, smuggling Black people away from roving gangs of white militia men. In this future scenario, she’s a mule transporting people OUT of America and INTO Mexico.

Farrah (Cynthia Caul) meets Maya (Elexa Hanner) in “The Pyramid Builders.” Photo Credit: Bianca LaVerne Jones

Director Bianca LaVerne Jones gets some fine performances out of all of her actors. The cast is terrific.

Hanner is a charismatic lead. She dazzles on the stage, creating layers upon layers for her two, very distinct characters.

While Payne has only a minor part in the first act, she rules over the second act. Deftly sharing the lead with Hanner.

Caul’s Farrah is a harrowed CEO in the first act, and her role as Cassie is reduced in the second act, but she does a superb job in both roles.

Patrick Conner is perfectly cast as both Quinn and Teller. The historian and teacher gets to use all of his professorial skills spouting dialogue about ancient mythology, astronomy, archeology and anthropology.

David Ogrodowski and Brendan Piefer round out the cast playing a variety of bad guys. Both of Piefer’s characters have a jingoistic tag line, twisting an American motto for evil intent. Both men are frightening, even the normally affable Piefer. At one point, the two men don black robes and featureless face masks – it’s the stuff of nightmares.

Scenic Designer Richard H. Morris Jr. set could have easily been constructed by Cosmo Kramer. “Levels. You know…like ancient Egypt.”

While the cast is terrific, there’s too much story in “The Pyramid Builders.” Act one and act two are two separate plays. Das has filled the play with pile of scientific concepts. The characters chatter about ancient Mayans, Egypt and other mythologies. They muse about astronomy. There’s also a political discussion. The second act hinges on a nightmare scenario where – though the Orange A-Hole is never named – Trump wins the 2024 election.

Act one is a sad tale about mental decline and homelessness. Act two, a sci-fi dystopia is heartbreaking in its own way. Act one needed a little more time to breathe. The connection between Farrah and Maya was tenuous at best. It strained credibility that these two random women would have such a deep connection.

But act two is a  fascinating dystopia. “The Pyramid Builders,” like Certs breath mints, is two in one. Either act one or act two could have stood on their own. Together it’s a bit jumbled. It’s just a little too much story in one play.

In the final moments, there is hope. The audacity of hope. It’s a resounding theme that the show could use a little more of – and, frankly, hope is something we all could use – in ample supply. It’s also a reminder to vote. Yes, there are Black People in the future, but let’s make it  a fair, equal and equitable future for everyone.

– MB

“The Pyramid Builders” runs from April 14 to April 30 at the  Madison Arts Center, 3401 Milwaukee Street, Pittsburgh, PA. For more information, click here

Marriages and Merriment – a review of “Sense and Sensibility”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

When their father dies, the Dashwood sisters, Elinor (Sadie Pillion-Gardner), Marianne (Katerina Damm) and Margaret (Morgan Kivlan) are left destitute.  Their half-brother, John (Charlie Kennedy), who inherits their home, wants to reward them with a stipend, but his greedy wife Fanny (Bella Bilandzija) talks him out of it. Now, as in all Jane Austen novels, the heroines must secure their fates by marrying well in “Sense and Sensibility.”

As in Austen’s fashion, the story is festooned with love triangles. Heck, you need a degree in Geometry to untangle these triangles!

Elinor is smitten with Edward Ferrars (Adam Koda), but he is secretly engaged to Lucy Steele (Bilandzija in a dual role).  While Colonel Brandon (a dashing Desmon Jackson) is in love with Marianne. Unfortunately, she has the hots for John Willoughby (Sophie Hosna), and she’s about to get burned.

The triangles keep tangling in the nearly three-hour production, but for those in doubt need not worry about the fate of the comely Dashwood sisters.

There is hushed talk filled with innuendo about some possible sexual impropriety and a wayward kiss or two, but,  for the most part, the show is kid-friendly.

A gossipy group dish out important plot points. Photo Credit: John Altdorfer.

Kate Hamill’s adaptation of the book takes a lot of liberties with Austen’s source material. The exposition is parsed out by a group of Gossips, the large cast playing various roles.  Some of  the actors are, at times, dogs, horses, creaky carriage wheels and yappy apple trees. At one point, there is a quintet of blathering picture frames that could easily hang at Hogwarts.

Things get very confusing when Fanny and Lucy meet, because Bilandzija is playing both roles. She rushes across the stage, using the hat/no hat trick seen mostly in one-woman shows to portray both characters.

Even though things get silly, the sisters are playing it straight.

Pillion-Gardner dazzles as the elder sister, Elinor. She moves gracefully through each scene. She is a captivating lead.

Damm is delightful. Marianne can be a melodramatic mess compared to her stoic sister, but Damm gives a measured performance, never too showy even when mourning the end of her misguided love affair.

Kudos to Sophie Hosna, blissfully schizophrenic in her dual roles as the dashing John Willoughby and the featherbrained Anne Steele.

Shout-out to Kennedy who plays the dithering but well-meaning John Dashwood, a malicious gossip and a show horse.  He trots about in sparkly gold sneakers with – literally and figuratively – unbridled enthusiasm.

There’s a big time Bridgerton vibe to the entire production. The scene transitions are filled with modern music and movement. Near the middle of the second act, Marianne runs in the rain and it looks like the Stanislavsky movement method set in slow motion. Madeline Macek’s costumes mimic the Bridgerton palette. The cast is bedecked in bright  attire, bursting with glorious Easter egg colors,  fuschia, lemon and lavender.

One small quibble: There seems to be a lot of unnecessary furniture moving. Props are plopped down and picked up at an astonishing pace. Leave the settee on the set.

Director Jenny Lester (in 2014, Lester was on the other side of Point Park’s stage, as the Widow Quinn in “Playboy of the Western World”) lets her actors off the leash. The actors get to really play in this play. The results are madcap and joyous.

Additional Side note: Opening night had the most enthusiastic audience this reviewer ever witnessed, with tremendous audible gasps at every plot twist like a 90s sitcom.

There is a lot of nonsense in “Sense and Sensibility,” and it’s not always easy to follow the plot, but there is sheer joy in the production.  While Hamill’s adaptation is, at times, ludicrous, this show is held together by talented actors, sumptuous costumes and deft direction.

– MB

“Sense and Sensibility” runs from April 12 – 16, 2023 In the Pittsburgh Playhouse, 350 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.

Spaced Invaders – a review of “Abduction”

By Michael Buzzelli

Pippa Peterson (Molly Twigg) of Pluto, Pennsylvania (say that five times fast), is the only eyewitness when a cow is beamed aboard an alien spacecraft in “Abduction,” a musical comedy about some very spacey space invaders.

Pippa goes on a quest to save the town from the alien intruders. Soon, she’s surrounded by unlikely allies; her best friend and chronic people-pleaser, Teddy (Cade Teribery), her one-hit-wonder mom, Lydia (Jamiya Forna), formerly of “Phat Booty” fame, her new love interest, Quinn(Nandita Mahesh) and the jingoistic Mayor O’Neill (Hayden Bobbyn), who can’t get through a sentence with out “Praising the Lord.”

The moronic mayor and the misfits have to face off against the big boss, Ziggy (Emma Schuszler) and her horde of extras to save the Pennsylvanian Plutonians from being the punchline of an SNL sketch version of the Twilight Zone episode, “To Serve Man.”

When Pippa is knocked unconscious after being transported onto the alien spaceship at the top of act two, she delves into a delightful dream sequence, replete with veritable smorgasbord of lesbian icons, including Megan Rapinoe, Scooby Doo’s Velma and the X-Files Agent Scully. They trot out in a scene that could rival the West Hollywood Halloween parade.

The cast of “Abduction” waves to goodbye. Photo credit: Friedman Wagner-Dobler

Twigg is a fascinating lead. She is a joy to watch as she stumbles around trying to save the townspeople and discover her inner truths.

Mahesh seems to juxtapose her enthusiasm in all the right ways. Her Quinn is a sullen, sarcastic Goth chick with a big heart hiding under her basic black.

Teribery’s Teddy is the comic relief with his own layering. The actor does a outstanding job. He plays it big and broad, but knows when to underplay the darker, moodier bits of dialogue, such as when he is trying to calculate unbelievable odds and lands the line, “There’s a better chance of me having dinner with my father.”

Winner of the “There are no small parts Category” is Lauren Taylor (Zoey and Sally Ride). She’s a terrific dancer, and has big stage presence.

Another winner is costume designer Maya Jones for nailing the “corny” puns with a collection of Corn-Fest t-shirts and the magnificent dream sequence characters. The Velma looked like she stepped out of the cartoon.

The production is deftly directed by one of the show’s creators, Becki Toth. Toth, who is a true talent on stage, is equally comfortable behind the scenes. She gets some star performances out of a gigantic cast.

The ensemble is immense, and, truth be told, a bit uneven, but don’t let that stop you. Creators T.J. Pieffer, Brad Kemp and Toth put on a silly show filled with clever lines with a deeper meaning underneath.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” or in the words oft-attributed to 18th Century, Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, ““The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

On the surface,  “Abduction: A Musical Comedy” is a silly, little musical about aliens, cow mutilations, a corn festival and a high school over-achiever, but under that glossy veneer, it’s a story about the nature of complacency.

If you’ve guessed by now with a mention of lesbianism and some sarcastic dialogue about hiding under a veil of religion, the show is not designed for conservative Republicans (do not save a seat for Mike Pence). But if you’re up for an evening of zany Sci-Fi fun, vote Pippa!


“Abduction” runs from April  7 – 16 at the Charity Randall Theatre, 4301 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, click here.