A Glowing Review – These Shining Lives

By Lonnie “The Theatre Lady” Jantsch

This powerful production is based on a true story about four young girls who work at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois in the 1920’s. It highlights the dangers that exist in the workplace as well as the company’s total lack of concern for their employee’s health. The company encourages the women to use their tongues to make a fine point on the paint brushes that are dipped in the radium used to paint the glow in the dark numbers on the watch dials. They lie to the women, telling them that radium is beneficial to their health and that it cures a variety of ailments. This leads to a lawsuit when the women become seriously ill from the radiation. However, this is more than a Norma Ray type story. It’s a story about deep friendship, resilience and courage.

The upbeat beginning shows the excitement of Catherine Donahue (Samantha Hawk) as she is hired to work painting numbers on watch dials. It is a novel concept for women to work outside the home at that time, and Catherine is thrilled to be a modern woman. A very touching scene when her husband Tom, sweetly tells Catherine “a story”–(the story of how they met), shows their deep connection. This scene showcases the wonderful chemistry between the two actors and convincingly conveys their strong love for each other. Their body language is believably warm, intimate and loving. (Kudos to the director, Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre.)

Photo credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC

Michael Church plays his role as loving husband with great sensitivity and charm, even as he embraces the human flaws in his character.

Samantha Hawk shines (sorry, couldn’t resist) in her role. She expresses many deep emotions — all of which seem authentic. Hers is a strong performance that endears her to the audience. She brought tears to my eyes.

At her workplace, Catherine meets some funny, idiosyncratic women with whom she develops a close friendship. Charlotte Purcell (Danette Pemberton), is a tough talking, no nonsense person. Although she’s hard and rough, she nuances her character with such humanity that the audience has no choice—they have to like her.

Pearl Payne (Kodie Warnell) is the joker of the group. She tells real groaners with such over the top enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to laugh. (And, yes, sometimes groan,) I enjoyed watching her hamming it up. She deserves a Hamcademy Award! So entertaining.

Shout out to the costume designer, Annabel Lorence for the period costumes that pay attention to the little details–shoes, hairstyles, hem length on dresses, and such.

Hope Debelius’s lighting design is eerily effective–especially in the sobering last scene.

This story is not a fairy tale. It doesn’t have a happy ending. On a positive note, OSHA was formed as a result of the court case that Catherine Donahue filed, and won, after seven appeals. This is an impactful, poignant, well acted, riveting production that tells a compelling story of a century old event.  I’m so glad that I saw it.

“These Shining Lives” runs through August 12 at South Park Theatre. For more information and tickets, click here

Check  Yo Self Before You Shipwreck Yo Self: A Review of The Tempest

By: Joseph Szalinski

After being usurped by his brother Antonio, Prospero, former Duke of Milan, sailed away with his daughter, Miranda, and wound up at Preston Park in Butler, PA, in Hobnob Theatre Company’s Production of William Shakespeare’s Gilligan’s Island, err…I mean, The Tempest, directed by Ken Smith. This is Hobnob’s second time staging the blustery comedy, having done a production of it a decade ago in 2013. 

The show opens with a rousing musical number featuring the entire cast, backed by the wonderful group of musicians who provide brilliant accompaniment throughout the play. A frightful shipwreck follows before Prospero (Stefan L.) gets the audience up to speed with some mesmerizing exposition, eventually setting the stage for the bulk of the story. 

Boasting a fantastic cast where many of the actors play multiple roles, this show is rife with incredible performances. The biggest takeaway is how comfortable everyone is with the dialogue. Not only are they not intimidated by any of it, but they imbue it with verve and personality. While some may consider comedies to be lesser than more dramatic works, they are more challenging in that not only does a play have to be expertly realized, but the comedy and humor as well. This cast effortlessly helps show how truly funny this show is. 

Ariel (Deanna Sparrow) speaks with her master, Prospero (Stefan L).

Stefan L.’s portrayal of Prospero is captivating from his first appearance until the end of the show. Although he carries a big stick, he does not speak softly. Stefan projects well, and his powerful voice is tinged with gentleness and understanding that allows him to truly embody the wizened trickster.

Ferdinand (Justin Macurdy) and Miranda (Jackie Mishol) sit on a rock when they are interrupted by Prospero (Stefan L).

Deanna Sparrow gives a spirited performance as Ariel. Her body language and movement help make her portrayal stand out. She is so light and carefree; it wouldn’t be surprising if she somehow took flight in real life.  

Miranda (Jackie Mishol) is phenomenal in her own right and also in her relation to others, whether that be to her father, Prospero, or to her love interest, Ferdinand (Justin Macurdy). The latter’s chemistry is sweet and fun and really encapsulates the essence of the play. 

Casey Bowser and Justin Anderson are a great duo as Stephano and Trinculo, respectively. Every scene they pop up in is an absolute delight. The moment when Stephano runs into Caliban (Alison Carey) and Trinculo when he mistakes them for some foul, four-legged beast is the funniest moment of the play, and some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen staged.

Countering the comedic and mostly harmless pair, are their conniving shipmates Antonio (Steve Kalina) and Sebastienne (Elizabeth Smith). Their villainy spices up the plot and illustrates the evil even those closest to us are capable of. 

As mentioned above, the musicians (Shaun Donovan, Liz Flanders, Alison Carey, and Holly Furman) do a terrific job of scoring the scenes and a handful of songs. They even add soundscapes and sound effects that elevate the show’s moods and humor.

For being outside, where there are unpredictable variables, this production still manages to pull off some technical wizardry. The greatest example of this is when Alonso and company encounter Ariel in the form of a Harpy. Her performance is complemented by a cloud of billowing smoke, making her guise all the more menacing. 

What this show perfectly demonstrates is the power of live entertainment and art. There are only a handful of set pieces and props, costuming is fairly static for most characters, and the only lighting comes from the sun if it doesn’t get covered by clouds, yet this talented cast and crew is able to conjure a production so enthralling that one will swear what they do is magic. It’s no question that they are all united by their love for theatre, particularly their love of The Bard.


The Tempest continues its run July 30th at Preston Park at 6:30 PM and August 4-6 at 6:30 PM, with a change in location to the James A. Ayers Sr. Amphitheater in Zelienople. For more information, click here. 

Stage 62’s “Something Rotten!” Is Anything But Rotten

Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD

Carnegie-based theater company Stage 62 favors musicals and continues the theme with their latest production: Something Rotten!

While first produced in 2015, Something Rotten! takes place in 1595. The musical traces brothers and aspiring playwrights, Nick and Nigel Bottom. The pair is on a quest to pen a play that supersedes – or at least rivals – the meteoric success of the era’s leading playwright, William Shakespeare.

The play is geological strata of meta. There’s a play within a play layered with references from the Elizabethan to modern musicals like Hair and Cats. In addition, the brotherly playwright duo of Nick and Nigel mirror the musical’s own origin story. Two brothers, Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, conceived of the story and wrote the music and lyrics.

Shakespeare wasn’t just a contemporary literary foe for the fictional Bottom brothers. He is still widely considered the best writer in the English language, yet details about his life are scant.

Here Shakespeare is fully self-aware of his rockstar status. From the moment he swaggers on stage, B.A. Goodnack is unwaveringly commanding as Shakespeare. Goodnack’s towering height reinforces his golden boy status. He physically rises above the starry-eyed ensemble who all scramble to don sunglasses when he first enters. The gesture is both mimicry as Goodnack is wearing shades as well as symbolic of his luminosity.

Costume designer Michelle Nowakowski imbues Shakespeare with a dripping bad boy attitude. Goodnack asserts his presence in skintight black leather pants and black leather boots with a fitted black leather vest over a white peasant shirt. He’s Harry Styles meets Mick Jagger.

The cast of “Something Rotten” fills the stage.

When Goodnack belts out “Will Power” in Act 1, he performs from a riser with coordinated back-up dancers. The scene radiates boyband vibes. The ensemble gathered in front of the stage upon a stage have their backs to the actual audience. They gyrate and faint as Shakespeare performs and elicits call and response. Director Rob James has Goodnack effortlessly trust fall off of the mini-stage. He’s confident he’ll be caught by the adoring masses, crowdsurfing, the audience eager to absorb his “Will Power” and the halo of his fame. You can almost hear the “when I touched Shakespeare” afterparty chatter.

The Bottom brothers provide a stark contrast to Shakespeare. Their name denotes their career cap. Symbolically, Nick Bottom’s (Brian Ferris) first song is “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” Vocal director Becki Toth has Ferris almost spit out the title as he sings it.

Nick’s lingering emphasis on “God” foreshadows the on-stage arrival of the Puritans who protest the theaters as dens of iniquity. It’s the Renaissance equivalent of protesting woke books and reminds us of the era-spanning omnipresence of those who want to ban varying forms of entertainment on self-defined moral grounds. Nick’s hatred is only thinly veiled jealousy. His disdain extends to anything that makes him feel lesser, and as an aspiring playwright, Shakespeare tops that list.

Anna Gergerich is brilliantly cast as Nick’s wife, Bea. She’s loving and supportive but also realistic and grounded. She solicits Nick’s support to let her get a job to overset their financial struggles, reminding him “this is the 90’s.” Her indignance pairs with the audience’s reference point of the 90’s as 1990’s, which elicits laughter. Rob James directs her to a perfect beat before punctuating her assertion with “By 1600, women will be equal to men.”

The play continually bridges old and new, reminding us that while we like to think things have changed, they have changed more by shades of grey than orders of magnitude. Fast-forwarding, gender equality is still elusive, but the century-crossing optimism for the near-term immediacy of that reality is cheering.

Bea’s song imploring her husband to let her be his “right hand man” proves prophetic. Cross-dressing is the only way she can get hired. Her unabashed enthusiasm at income-earning, even when she’s hired as “bear shit boy” (“…I have a job title!!”), points to the limited circumference of Elizabethan women.

Younger brother Nigel (Sean Whitney) is the actual writer of the duo. Whitney manifests Nigel’s lack of self-confidence with a permanent slouch, and he’s prone to panic attacks. However, he’s more emotionally nuanced than his older brother, perhaps because he is the more capable writer. Nigel can admire Shakespeare without hating him.

Driven to desperation with impending deadlines, Nick consults a soothsayer. Nostradamus (Dixie Surewood) steals the show in garnering laughs. His fortunetelling connects back to the broader themes of covering the ages. His prophecies mix the Elizabethan with the modern; Nostradamus spins a few centuries forward when he identifies “musicals,” which he proceeds to explain in song, as the next big theatrical trend. Costume designer Michelle Nowakowski appropriately positions Surewood as visionary mad scientist with wild white hair. His look and character blend Doc Brown from Back to the Future with Beetlejuice. Hilarity ensues as Nick attempts verbatim translations of Nostradamus’ visions to the stage.

Something Rotten! is clever to the core, rhyming pewter and Tudor in the opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance,” which is bookended by “Welcome to America” in which “nothing rhymes with America but who cares.” The show vibrates with self-referential fun across the ages and for all ages. Stage 62 provides a wicked good time.


Something Rotten! runs through July 30, 2023 in Carnegie, PA at Carlynton Junior-Senior High School. Learn more and purchase tickets online at https://www.stage62.org/something-rotten.html.

A Deadly Collaboration – A review of “Deathtrap”

by Claire DeMarco

College professor and playwright Sidney Bruhl (Eric Leslie) reaches a creative slowdown as his most recent play submissions have bombed.

Fortuitously Clifford (Arjun Kumar) sends him his unpublished play titled “Deathtrap” and asks his former professor to look it over, provide him with comments and suggestions.  After Sidney reads the script, he is overwhelmed.  The play is brilliant.  It’s perfect.  He wishes it was his play.  Sidney’s wife Myra (Joyce Miller) encourages him to do something with this aspiring playwright – support him, produce the play or perhaps collaborate with this young playwright.

Collaboration is the key word and Sidney invites Clifford to work together on Clifford’s script. Since Clifford now lives with Sidney and Myra, work continues uninterrupted for some time.

Occasionally Helga (Helga Terre), the next-door neighbor visits.  She touts her extra sensory perception skills and proclaims that she feels death in the house. After spouting these pronouncements several times, she leaves.

Time passes and sometime later family attorney Porter (Andy Cornelius) arrives at the home with a finalized will.

Helga was correct.  A death did occur.  But whose?

Myra (Joyce Miller) hands Clifford(Arjun Kumar) while Sidney (Eric Leslie) reads.

Leslie controls the stage.  He is witty, sarcastic, self-absorbed, a wicked con man. He is able to switch between these various aspects of his character’s personality seamlessly.  Leslie is both funny with nicely timed retorts or dead serious when required.  His collaboration appears to be one-sided as Leslie slouches at the desk or at times hits the typewriter keys once or twice with indifference.

Helga ((Helga Terre) tries to access her psychic powers while Sidney (Eric Leslie) looks on.

It is so easy to love Miller as the somewhat naive and supporting wife.  Her eyes and facial expressions, along with her constantly closed hands effectively portray a wife who loves her husband but is really somewhat suspicious of her husband’s chatter about killing someone.

Kumar is excellent in completely becoming two distinct personalities.  Convincing as the shy playwright anxious for approval, he becomes part of a con that transforms him into a worldly, self-confident manipulator.  His movements change, his speech is more pronounced and in command compared to his slightly awkward persona as the backward playwright.

Terre is hilarious as the next-door neighbor.   With arms outstretched and eyes bulging each time she enters her neighbors’ home, she canvases the living room and as often as she can proclaims in broken English that “She is psychic”!  She has great comedic timing.

Cornelius has a smaller part and appears near the end of the play as the friendly, sympathetic attorney.  He is extremely convincing as his character changes from that docile lawyer to an angry, foul-mouthed mortal caught up in a collaboration of his own.

What a well-balanced cast!

Scenic designer Aria Dietrich’s set is minimal but effective with a desk the prominent set prop center stage.


“Deathtrap” is a production of Little Lake Theatre Company, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA.  It runs from July 20th through August 6th. For more information, click here.

Mangia! Mangia! – A review of “The Servant of Two Masters”

By Claire DeMarco

It’s 1890 in Venice, Italy. Beatrice Rasponi (Wendy Parkulo), disguised as her deceased brother travels to Venice to confront Pantalone Dei Bisognosi (Johnny Patalano).  Pantalone is the father of her brother’s intended bride, Clarice (Kat Bowman).

What’s the point of Beatrice’s subterfuge?  Beatrice wants the dowry her late brother gave to Pantalone in order to live happily ever after with her love, Florindo Aretusi (Matt Henderson).

Clarice thinking that her betrothed is dead has fallen in love with Silvio (Cody Ickes), son of Dr. Lombardi (John Dolphin) who enthusiastically encourages this merger.

Truffaldino Battochio (Todd Foose) offers his services as a servant to two masters – Beatrice and Florindo as a means to collect twice the pay.  Neither master knows about Truffaldino’s duplicity.  Problems compound as both masters require him to coordinate separate feasts (at the same time) from the only innkeeper, Brighella (Deborah Geary). He is deliriously happy at thoughts of making double the money plus selecting and tasting the food (he loves to eat).

Note:  Double dipping at its finest!

So many loose ends to sew up!  Will Beatrice’s identify be revealed?  Will Beatrice and Florindo find one another?  How about Clarice and Silvio?  Who is Smeraldina (Kelsey Rhea)?  Does Truffaldino succeed in serving two masters?

Spolier Alert!  I think we all know how this play ends.   After all it is a comedy!  But it’s hilarious to watch the machinations as they unfold.

Foose is superb as Truffaldino.  He is funny, conniving and gymnastic as the always hungry, always looking for money servant.  Much of his humor is reflected in his facial expressions. His asides and comments to the audience are delightful.   All of his moves are further enhanced with excellent timing and execution.

Henderson portrays his character as a controlled, “better than thou” gentleman.   His facial expressions and movements are spot on.  He easily transitions from this characterization to an emotional man out of control in a funny scene when he discovers Beatrice’s whereabouts.

Parkulo portrays her deceased brother in an intelligent way, not overly masculine.  She does not pretend to lower her voice or walk in a more manly way which would divert our attention from her portrayal.

Dolphin’s pompous Dr. Lombardi is reinforced as he occasionally decides to throw out phrases in Latin to highlight his intelligence.  He shows Dr. Lombardi’s gentler, kinder side when his son is in distress and needs support.

The actors are great as is the production but it would have been even better served if the stage was larger and more conducive to the story.

Note:  The original play by Carlo Goldoni was written in 1746.  It is an example of an early form of professional theater called Commedia dell’arte that emphasizes the actors’ intentional insertion of their own dialogue instead of that written in the script.


“Servant of Two Masters” runs from July 14 to July 29 at the The Margaret Partee Performing Arts Center, 523 Lincoln Avenue, Bellevue, PA 15202. For tickets or additional information, click here.

We are the Audience Members Who Say Haha — A Review of Spamalot

By: Joseph Szalinski

King Arthur (Michael L. Marra) is combing Zelien…err…England in search of knights for his round table in everyone’s favorite medieval musical, Spamalot, the brainchild of Eric Idle and John Du Prez. Much like Twinkies, this show has been brought back by popular demand, returning to The Strand Theatre, with this particular production being directed by Nick Navari.

Audiences are treated to a wonderful iteration of the Broadway hit thanks to a fantastic cast and crew. Most of the enormous cast effortlessly pulls double or triple duty with the variety of characters they portray, delivering incredible performances in both their more significant appearances and their briefer ones. The Laker Girls and the members of the ensemble offer great assistance in fleshing out songs and scenes, helping the imagined world seem as big as it needs to regardless of the physical limitations of the space.

Michael L. Marra and Anna Stewart, who play King Arthur and Lady of the Lake, respectively, are phenomenal in their singular roles as the leads, despite the latter’s lamentation that she is ignored by a portion of the play’s story, resulting in a hilarious number, “Whatever Happened to My Part?”

The full cast of Monty Python’s “Spamalot.”

As far as musical numbers go, all are really well done, and they are expertly overseen by music director, Amy Kapp, brilliantly choreographed by Victoria Strnisa, and wonderfully scored by The Strand Theatre Ensemble. Act 2 contains the bulk of the standouts, with “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” and “His Name is Lancelot” being some of the most memorable moments of the show overall.

The only performance-related qualms I had were very minimal and were easily ignored; a handful of wavered accents and a few instances where someone’s projection was a bit subdued by reliance on a mic that didn’t always capture everything super clearly. Otherwise, everyone did an impressive job, and it’s easy to see how they all are already so accomplished and will continue to grow in that regard.

Set design, lighting, costuming, and all other technical elements are tremendous as well, especially the projections that help transport the action to a very expensive forest. There is a lot to do with the static castle set, whether that be the various entrances and exits that pepper the ground level, climbing the stairs, or relegating it to the background while a scene unfolds upstage. The utilization of the second level of the theatre is also well thought out.

Costuming really elevates this show. Not only does it help the performers fully realize their characters, but it is also done in such a way that the transitioning between them can be accomplished with ease. Where the costuming really stands out, though, is with the effects. The short legs of a taunting guard, the beheading by a hungry bunny, and the knight’s flesh wounds are marvelously orchestrated.

While I was familiar with Monty Python’s work prior to seeing this phenomenal production, I was a stranger to Spamalot itself. I’m thrilled that this was my introduction to it. Fingers crossed that there is yet another revival in a few months so I can see this again!


Spamalot will continue its run June 29th & 30th and July 1st & 2nd at The Strand Theater in Zelienople, PA. For more information and tickets, click here


Degrees of Misery – A Review of “Uncle Vanya”

by Claire DeMarco

The story line in this production of “Uncle Vanya” is the same as are the characters and location in Russia of Anton Chekhov’s play.  Annie Baker’s adaptation of Chekhov’s classic now occurs in the present with the characters and surroundings in American-like rural attire and staging.

Vanya (Mike McBurney) lives in the country with his niece, Sonya (Marisa Postava).  They both take care of the rural property.  Although she technically owns the property through her deceased mother, her father Serebreykov (Rick Dutrow) controls it.  Serebreykov lives in the city with his second and much younger wife, Yelena (Zoe Abuyuan).

Astrov (Maher Hoque), neighbor and friend of Vanya’s is educated, overworked and obsessed with forestry and the environment.  He’s determined that he will never love anyone but he’s concerned that he will not be remembered after he’s gone.

Vanya complains and reflects constantly about his life – he’s wasted it, he’s lonely, he’s stuck in the country.

Sonya’s not happy either but she is resigned to her fortunes, believing the only relief from her misery is death.

Tensions are compounded when Serebreykov and Yelena make their infrequent visit to the country.  Their presence seems to heighten the resentment Vanya has for the life they are living and the life that he isn’t.

No one appears entirely happy but everyone is in love.  Unfortunately, everyone is in love with someone who doesn’t love them.

Note:  There are some occasions due to the staging when the actors’ backs are to the audience and dialogue is not always clear.

McBurney is so believable as Vanya that even though he whines a great deal about his failures and life in general, he is likeable.  He’s able to pull off some sarcastic remarks that are funny even though the play is often considered tragic.  He uses great facial expressions to emphasize his emotional state.

Dutrow takes us through the many phases of Serebreykov, from moaning about his failing health to his angry outbursts. In between these extreme bursts of emotion, Dutrow’s character is calm, in charge and authoritative.

Hoque is effective as the always depressed Astrov whose main interest and pursuit beyond doctoring and drinking is his concern with the climate and general environment.   Hoque’s performance is consistent and strong.

Postava is convincing as a gentle, quiet soul who when pushed speaks out. She is effective in standing up to Vanya when he insists that he alone handles all the workload.

Dressed to impress, Abuyuan stands out as the selfish, younger second wife.  She shows her gentle side as the confidante trying to help Sonya pursue her love interest.

The set has a Western theme with a barn-like backdrop and a country-style table and bench, wagon wheel leaning in the corner of the stage, a cowboy hat plopped on a coat rack and other fixtures that reinforce the American-like western look.  Costumes reflect the surroundings with many of the characters wearing cowboy boots and ranch style garments.  Visitors from the city wear classic attire.

Most people consider Chekhov plays as tragic and there is a large portion of tragedy in them.  But scattered throughout is a dash of comedy, highlighted perhaps in this production by the time and American-like rural environment in which it is presented.

Check out this adaptation of “Uncle Vanya.”


“Uncle Vanya” runs from June 19 – July 1 and is presented by Throughline Theatre Company at Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information, click here.

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream—Only Applaud – a review of “The Space Program”

By Joseph Szalinski

Like many thrifty Yinzers I know, I can’t pass up a good deal. Especially one that’s out of this world. And that’s exactly what The Jesters’ Guild is offering at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theater with their latest production, The Space Program, which is comprised of two shorter plays that both deal with the cosmos in some capacity.

The first of the two shows, “We Never Went to the Moon,” is a farcical look at legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s (Brandon Donaldson) rumored involvement in staging the 1969 moon landing. He’s joined onstage by a self-obsessed Neil Armstrong (Elijah Corbin), a conflicted Buzz Aldrin (Todd Foose), an eager stagehand (Jeff Britt), and a controlling studio executive (Sydney Turnwald). Playwright/director, Derek Lynch, crafts an engaging piece of theatre that provokes laughter and thought throughout its runtime.

“We’ve Always Been on Earth,” playwright/director Jeremiah Ion’s amusing take on the UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, pits Pip (Corbin), Zoldak (Turnwald), and Captain Bildar (Foose) against a curious Mac Brazel (Britt) and suspicious Jesse Marcel (Donaldson). Replete with hijinks, references, and the like, this story brings the necessary energy and wit to the production for it to finish playing out as strongly as it does.

Brandon Donaldson is terrific in his dual roles. While Jesse Marcel isn’t as prominent as the other characters in Act 2, he does add to the dynamic wonderfully. It’s Donaldson’s Kubrick, though, that really shines. Or in this case, reflects. His performance explores Kubrick’s fallibilities, invented or otherwise, helping to show a man more concerned with making a good movie versus filming scientifically accurate footage that could dupe the public.

Elijah Corbin is hilarious as Neil Armstrong and Pip. He possesses a zany zeal that helps his characters be as endearing as they are ridiculous. Of the two, it’s Corbin’s iteration of the famous astronaut that showcases his strengths. He masterfully lampoons Neil’s pioneering image and legacy, demonstrating an egotistical space cadet who hasn’t had the benefit of being heroized by history.

Todd Foose brilliantly juggles the requirements of his two characters, Buzz Aldrin, and Captain Bildar. Although both are comfortable in their respective knowledge and experience, Aldrin’s conscience makes him somewhat of a comedic foil, whereas Captain Bildar more easily succumbs to the wackiness that he and his crew are embroiled in.

Sydney Turnwald is marvelous in her two portrayals. As the studio executive, she’s a little more reserved and calculated, interjecting with a great line at the right time. However, it’s her turn as Zoldak that really demonstrates her abilities. Not only does she have more stage time, but she also has a little more to work with as a character—allowing her to plumb the depths of her dimensionality, effortlessly bouncing between being a level-headed crew member and the uncertainty that comes with being stranded on an alien world.

Jeff Britt steals the show as both the stagehand and Mac Brazel. His animated goofiness allows him to simultaneously stand out but still complement the ongoing scene and his scene partners. His introductions induce chuckles, and every subsequent appearance builds upon it, assisting the audience in getting carried away with the delightful absurdity of it all.

Set design was minimal yet effective. Act 1’s moon lander and act 2’s crash site help establish their respective scenes but leave enough room for the performances to retain the focus. The costumes were marvelously inventive; the standout pieces were the silver painted 2-liters as oxygen tanks and the backwards baseball cap adorned with springy antennae. In combination with the lighting and sound, the costumes and props and other stage paraphernalia do a great job of transporting the audience into their worlds, with any modicum of hokeyness adding to the overall charm and appeal. Even the program is as fun as it is exhaustive.

One of my favorite things about this production is its cohesiveness. Being written, produced, directed, and overseen by the Jesters, with additional technical assistance, enables the production to seem like a unified piece of art in a way that a lot of plays can’t. Every element of this production perfectly showcases the joy of putting on a show for people and being able to realize an artistic vision. Granted, it is really well done, but most importantly, you can tell that everyone involved has an absolute blast bringing it all to life.


The Space Program continues its run June 23rd-25th at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theater. For more information, click here

Conversations with my father – a review of “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday”

By Michael Buzzelli

As her father (Patrick Conner) lay dying, Ann (Clare Fraley) reflects on her life in Sarah Ruhl’s “For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday.”

Ann muses over a crossword puzzle in her father’s hospital room. She is joined by her sister, Wendy (Renee Kern) and her brothers, Jim (Art DeConciliis), John (Andy Cornelius) and Michael (Rick Bryant) as they prepare for their father’s final moments.

She fondly recalls her time on the stage, playing Peter Pan in a local production of the show and remembering her father’s visit to the stage after the show. It’s a precious childhood memory embedded in her mind that – suddenly – bubbles to the surface as she stands over his deathbed.

When Father dies, things get weird – in the best possible way.

Petty arguments about politics arise around the table as the family mourns the loss of their patriarch. While Father is physically gone, his presence on his adult children is strong. Maybe even overwhelming.

Ann (Claire Fraley), dressed as Peter Pan, gets flowers from her father (Patrick Conner) in “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday.” Photo Credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC.

Director Helga Terre pulls great performances out of all of the actors.

Fraley delivers a deliciously neurotic character with many flaws, bringing Ann to life as she learns to accept death. Her portrayal is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

DeConciliis does a magnificent job. While Jim is stuck in a holding pattern of bald, boring doctor with a hard on for Reaganomics, James, however, is preening, vainglorious villain with a curly black mane. The juxtaposition of two wildly different characters is deftly handled by DeConciliis.

Conner is a true joy here. He has very few lines but silently chews the sparse scenery.  While Father is a figurative puppeteer of family events, Conner is a literal one when he brings out the family dog.

You have to see it to believe it.

Mild spoiler alert: Father dies in the first act, but Conner gets to keep playing the character as the show goes on.

“For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” starts strong, has a saggy middle but finishes in a wildly inventive way. The middle section is bogged down with politics and religion. In this case the subject is dull rather than taboo. It would have been more preferable to learn more about the brothers and sisters and their unique idiosyncrasies than to discuss politics from the mid-90s.

In the second act, however, the play explodes in a surreal Geritol-infused dream sequence.

Things gets meta.


Ann becomes Peter Pan (complex and all), her sister Wendy becomes Wendy, brothers John and Michael play John and Michael, but her brother Jim is cast as Captain James Hook.  Yes, their names are “too on the nose, ” but we can let Ruhl off the hook.


Speaking of Hook, Barbara Burgess-Lefebrve’s costumes are wonderful, especially the ones in the second act.

Center stage is mostly bare, but the Darling bedroom resides in the corner of the theater. Tucker Topel’s scenic design work on the bedroom is a classic. It’s somehow reminiscent of every version of the bedroom seen in film, TV and stage.

Peter Pan, both then and now, is about not wanting to face adult responsibilities. Ruhl has a clever spin on a classic, despite the saggy middle.  If the conversation about the father bores, watch the character playing Father. It’s marvelously entertaining.

Contemplating our inevitable trip to the grave is a scary subject, but “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday” makes the journey palatable.


“For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” runs from June 15 to June 25 at Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15317. For more information, please click here.

Let’s Go on a Sea Cruise! – a review of “Anything Goes”

by Claire DeMarco

If you Google the phrase anything goes, the definition presented is: anything is acceptable; there are no rules for behavior, dress, etc.  That meaning fits the group of characters who find themselves on a ship headed to London.

Passengers aboard the S.S. American include stowaway Billy Crocker (A. J. Shively) who’s looking for his love, Hope Harcourt (Liz Leclerc).  Hope is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Geoff Packard) and they are traveling to London to be married.  Hope’s mother, Evangeline Harcourt (Theo Allyn), anxious for the union, hovers close by.  Billy Crocker’s longtime friend Reno Sweeney (Rashidra Scott) is also along for the ride, as is his boss, Elisha Whitney (Allan Snyder).

Mobster Moonface Martin (Jeffrey Howell) and his girlfriend, Erma (Andrea Weinzierl) have their own questionable activities planned during the voyage.

“Anything Goes” is a delightful musical comedy full of slapstick, innuendoes, silly antics, mistaken identities, misunderstandings and general confusion.

Of course, it’s unbelievable, but it’s “De-Lovely” and “Easy to Love!”

Scott is brilliant as Reno.  She has wonderful stage presence, great dancing skills, and a beautiful singing voice, especially her rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Throw in comedy and what a well-rounded talent.

Shively shines as the persistent romantic.  His dancing and gymnastic moves are as smooth as is his singing.  Equally effective are his comedic skills.

Packard is very convincing as the Englishman who’s obsessed with American slang and sayings but misuses them constantly much to the delight of the audience.  His timing is impeccable.

Howell and Weinzierl’s individual performances are exceptional.  They are especially funny when they interact with one another – he as the mobster/minister and she as the naughty mobster’s girl/religious convert.

Leclerc’s “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye” is lovely as is her “It’s De-Lovely” song and dance with Crocker.

The entire cast and company are excellent.  What a well-balanced group of professionals.  Their tap dancing to “Anything Goes” is phenomenal.

We can’t leave Cole Porter out of the mix for praise.  His music is magical and is essential to the success of “Anything Goes.”  Incorporating his music with a storyline that is often laced with unrealistic plots and situations actually works.

Leave your worries at home and come see “Anything Goes.”


Anything Goes runs from Jun 13, 2023 – Jun 18, at the Benedum Center, 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here