Winner takes it all – a review of “Dance Nation”

Mike Buzzelli

by Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

A group of thirteen-year-old dancers in Liverpool, Ohio give it their all to win a series of dance competitions that will get them to Nationals in Tampa, Florida in Clare Barron’s absurdist play, “Dance Nation.”

Side note: Tampa, Florida is the Mecca to this dance troupe. The girls speak of it as if it was Christmas wrapped in a winning lottery ticket.

Dance Teacher Pat (David Conrad) picks Zuzu (Hope Anthony) for the lead of the new routine over perfectionist Amina (Liron Blumenthal), who is, by far, the best dancer in the troupe, causing Zuzu and Amina’s friendship to unravel. Meanwhile, the ensemble shares their thoughts and feelings to each other (and the audience in outrageous monologues).

Imagine “Dance Moms” written by Eugene Ionesco on an acid trip. Some lines of dialogue seem to be clipped from the show, Maddie Ziegler on the reality TV show once said, “I don’t like to lose, but I don’t ever lose anyway.” It sounds very close to one of Amina’s humble-brags.

“Dance Nation” crawls into the bizarre headspace of a group of children (played by adults) revealing their innermost thoughts – some are naïve musings – others are dark and twisted. The result is an irreverent and hilarious tale.

Maeve (Cary Anne Spear) weaves a delightful and fantastical story about the power of flight. It’s hard to tell if Maeve has a secret superpower or a desire so strong that she believes she can truly soar around the world.

Sofia (Mei Lu Barnum) experiences a female rite-of-passage seconds before she’s about to dance in the competition. She pivots from shock and horror and embraces her personal power. Suddenly, she’s William Wallace, the 13th Century Scots warrior from “Braveheart.”

Ashlee (Lissa Brennan) has the most potent level of self-confidence any child has ever had.

Things get a little crazy for the kids as they pursue their dreams.

From left to right: Amina (Liron Blumenthal), Luke (Jerreme Rodriguez), Maeve (Cary Ann Spear), Zuzu (Hope Anthony) and Sofia (Mei Lu Barnum) reach for the first place trophy in “Dance Nation.:”

Anthony does a spectacular job as the every-woman. She is a bundle of fears and doubts – until she makes a momentous decision that frees her. You can almost see the burden lift from her as she announces her revelation to her “boyfriend,” Luke (Jerreme Rodriguez).

Blumenthal is charismatic. She moves like a dancer. She is graceful and confident.

Conrad is perfect as the preening martinet who pushes and punishes his young charges. The character is big and bold, but Conrad brings a deeper subtext to the character.

Brennan’s delivery of Ashlee’s ode to her body and mind is a showstopper. She owns this monologue. Brennan is dynamic.

Ironically, Spear, one of the more senior cast members, plays the most naïve member of the troupe. Her performance is so astonishing you forget you’re watching an adult woman and begin to believe she’s a thirteen-year-old girl, saddled with all the anxiety, dreams and hopes little girls carry around in their panda-shaped backpacks.

Nancy McNulty plays a series of dance moms. Her finest scene is as Luke’s mom, trying to coax a decent conversation out of her monosyllabic son.

There isn’t a weak link in the cast. Director Melissa Martin keeps the pace frenetic and the 90 minute show breezes by. The large cast on the small stage never overwhelms. It’s a miraculous testament to her skill.

Barron’s dialogue is unusual yet so natural. The kids swear like Mamet on shore leave, but the colorful language is used to comic effect.

This production boasts a killer soundtrack used to great effect by sound operator Ben Peters.

She does, however, make an allusion about the tight-knit troupe resembling a wolf pack. It is a muddled analogy that breaks the willing suspension of disbelief, but it doesn’t matter. There doesn’t seem to be an ending to the show. The multiple subplots and character studies are just meant to be enjoyed.

If you’re looking for traditional storytelling, you’re in the wrong theater. If you want an absurd comedy about the pitfalls of competition, “Dance Nation” is your jam.


“Dance Nation” runs until December 15 at the Bingo O’Malley Studio, barebones productions, 1211 Braddock Avenue, Braddock, PA 15104. For more information, click here.


The Politics of Colorism – a review of “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play”

By Tiffany Raymond, ‘Burgh Vivant

The Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” takes place in 1986 at a girls’ boarding school in Ghana. In delving into pecking orders and prettiness rankings, Ghanaian American playwright, Jocelyn Bioh, makes transparent the universal nature of high school mean girls.

Paulina (Markia Nicole Smith), a graduating senior, is the multi-year queen bee. The instantly contemptible Paulina wastes no time living up to the mean girl name. The play takes place in the school’s cafeteria, in which no detail is too small for savant scenic designer Ryan Howell. He includes Kodak puzzles in cubbies and a hand-drawn sign with colorful germ cartoons scattering under lettering that reads “Let’s keep OUR CAFETERIA clean + germ free!”

Paulina opens the play by calling out fellow classmate Nana (Atiauna Grant) for eating like a cow and cuttingly asks if Nana wants to be “fat, fat or popular?” Such bifurcated shaming leaves little room for question. While the other three girls appear to be mimics enchanted with Paulina, the trio instantly relax and complain about her when Paulina goes to retrieve an apple for Nana. Paulina is both despicable and transparent. She’s rife with insecurities that fuel her vitriol, but understanding her doesn’t make her any more pleasant. Smith finds the razor’s edge in her performance under the stellar direction of Shariffa Ali.

When light-skinned newcomer Ericka (Aidaa Peerzada) arrives on campus, the politics of colorism emerge with the coterminous arrival of beauty pageant headhunter Eloise (Melessie Clark), former Miss Ghana 1966. Eloise instantly singles out Ericka as a perfect Miss Ghana candidate based on her skin tone alone. Paulina’s disciples also immediately align with the kind and light-skinned Ericka who’s also the only one of her classmates with naturally straight hair, sparking her classmates to warble, “Wow! You are so lucky.” Thanks to dialect coach Nancy McNulty, every cast member is unfailingly on point with their accented English.

The promotion-seeking Eloise immediately brushes aside Headmistress Francis’ (Shinnerrie Jackson) recommendation for the dark-skinned Paulina in favor of Ericka. Eloise blatantly states she’s “looking for girls on the other end of the African skin spectrum.” Eloise is lighter-skinned herself, and she knows what plays on the international stage. While she comes across as heartless and conniving, she also knows she can’t overthrow the politics of color, nor is she interested in that, so she plays the game to her favor.

In anticipation of Eloise’s visit to assess the girls, the color politics of pageantry are explored. The girls had expressed indignity over a white former Miss Namibia. In this pre-apartheid world, when Miss South Africa is a top 10 semi-finalist for the Miss Global Universe pageant, it’s an eye roll given that she’s white – the allure of Africa with the safety of whiteness. Yet, the play thoughtfully peels back the layers of institutionalized segregation within black culture. In her most vulnerable moment, Paulina admits to Ericka she was one of eight children and the darkest in her family, so her mother gave her bleaching cream over food. Smith executes these lines with a pain born of parental rejection. It’s the root of her cruelty towards others, and Paulina states it plainly, “The world has already decided you are better than me,” a world that started with her own mother.

The girls meet in “School Girls, Or the African Mean Girls.”

The only minor weaknesses belong to the writing, not the production. When the headmistress reprimands Paulina and Ericka for their behavior during the beauty pageant audition, she reminds them “what I’ve done for you girls.” Given Ericka has only attended the school for one day at this point, any sense of sacrifice would be hypothetical, not witnessed.

Also, the play stops more than it concludes, which was evident in the audience’s collective uncertainty on whether to clap when the lights went down. That being said, when it was clear it was the end, the eruption of applause was rightly explosive. It may be tempting to relegate Bioh’s play to the confines of 1980’s problems and high school drama. However, the fact Black Lives Matter is an activist movement today, and teenagers are committing suicide in record numbers due to bullying reminds us the injustices we see unfold on the stage are just as salient today as they were 30 years ago.


The Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” plays through December 8th at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.






No Bees in This Beehive – A review of “Hairspray”

By Claire DeMarco, ‘Burgh Vivant

Pretty, perky, pleasantly plump. Tracy Turnblad (Caroline Connell) is a teenager in 1962 Baltimore. Her hair reflects the times – with so much applied hairspray that even a 50 mile-an-hour wind does not move it. She loves to dance and rushes home from high school every day to watch the dancers on the local “Corny Collins Show,” the show within the show in “Hairspray.”

When she discovers that one of the permanent dancers on the show is leaving, Tracy decides to audition for a part. Her mother Edna Turnblad (Jason Newsom) is an extremely large woman – housebound due to her weight. She won’t allow Tracy to audition because she fears that her daughter will be maligned because she is heavy, too.

Not as diligent in school as she is at dancing, Tracy often finds herself in detention. She meets Seaweed Stubbs (Camara Rhodes) and a group of teens who show her different dance moves. Tracy’s father Wilbur Turnblad (Matthew J. Rush) encourages her to try out for the show. She encounters some push back from the show’s producer, Velma Von Tussle (Ashley Harmon) who is appalled that someone who is heavy would have the audacity to audition. Her daughter Amber Von Tussle (Felice Rose), blonde, thin and talentless is a reflection of her mother.

Tracy does audition, secures a position as the newest member of the show and becomes a local celebrity.

Note: The new friends that helped Tracy survive auditions and move into the spotlight are African Americans and in 1962 they weren’t permitted to become a daily part of “The Corny Collins Show.” They were only allowed to appear on the show once a month.

Tracy decides that that should change.

Underlying the fun and comedy in this musical are two inequities that still exist today but hopefully they’ve become less prevalent: body shaming and segregation. Connell owns the stage from the play’s opening with “Good Morning Baltimore” until the final curtain, singing, dancing and prancing brilliantly throughout.

Link (Matthew Keefer), Tracy (Caroline Connell), Penny (Chelsea Bartel) and Seaweed (Camara Rhodes) pose for a photo. Photo by Niki Crisson.

Newsom is a large man which makes his role even more hilarious as Edna. Light on his feet, he delivers snide remarks and side glances that would make Bea Arthur proud!

Great singing and dancing by Rhodes in “Run and Tell That.”

Johnson shines in her beautiful and moving rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.”

Consistently in character as the pompous producer, Harmon lets it rip in her rendition of “Velma’s Revenge.”

The entire cast of this delightful show was wonderful. Not one weak link in the chain.

Kudos to Music Director Meagan Bruno and the musical ensemble. The show was well directed by Art DeConciliis.


“Hairspray” is a production of Stage 62 and is presented at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Concert Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue, Carnegie, PA and runs from November 14 – 24, 2019. For more information, click here.


A Change is Gonna Come – a review of “One Night in Miami”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

On an auspicious night in Miami, the new World Heavyweight Champion, Cassius Clay (Thomas Walter Booker), celebrates his success with his friends; football player Jim Brown (Quincy Chad), spiritual leader and social activist Malcolm X (Avery Glymph) and singer/songwriter Sam Cooke (Dwayne Washington) in “One Night in Miami” by Kemp Powers.

The next morning, Clay joins the Nation of Islam and becomes Muhammad Ali, just as Malcolm X was severing ties with the religious order.

While the four iconic figures did gather in the Hampton House Motel in February 25, 1964, no one really knows what went on that night. Powers provides his own perspective to the story.

Cooke and Brown are hoping the celebration would be more festive (with women), but only the four men are invited into the motel room, while two bodyguards Kareem (Lamar K. Cheston) and Jamaal (Brenden Peifer) stand outside surveilling the motel grounds.

Instead of celebrating the men bicker. Cooke and X argue about philosophy. X believes that Cooke could be using his platform as a famous singer to speak up about injustices against African Americans.

“One Night in Miami” contains a lot of witty repartee, arguments about race relations and vanilla ice cream.

The poster represents items from each of the iconic figures in “One Night in Miami.” Boxing Gloves for Cassius Clay, a football for Jim Brown, eyeglasses for Malcolm X and sheet music and a record for Sam Cooke.

Washington is amazing as Cooke. At one point, he flashes back to a particular performance and serenades the audience with a mellifluous rendition of “You Send Me.” It’s a spectacular moment – a real show stopper.

Glymph looks and sounds like a young Malcolm X. It’s uncanny, but his performance is more than just cosplay. While he imbues X with righteous indignation, Glymph finds the man’s boyish charm. There are some great moments when X catches himself enjoying the company of his eclectic comrades and damps down his enthusiasm.

Chad is distractingly handsome, but gives a multifaceted performance.

There’s not much to Cassius Clay, but Booker manages to shine as the Champ.

Cheston and Peifer hand in fine performances as well.

Tony Ferrieri’s set is stunning. A classic 60s motel in Miami, awash in pink and sea foam green. The two flights give us the illusion that an entire motel has been plopped onto the City stage.

Dominque Fawn Hill’s costume are retro without being over-the-top. They are simple and subdued garments but perfect choices (keeping Brown in shades of brown might have been a little cheeky, though).

Director Reginald L. Douglas does a good job with the actors. They are some great moments, especially whenever Washington sings. The play is a little preachy and, aside from a few hilarious jokes and some engaging character work, there’s not much going on. Straight talk among friends.

The point it does make is worth hearing. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone and hear a fresh perspective and see theater that challenges you. It just takes a while to get there.


“One Night in Miami” runs until December 1st 2019 at the City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here.



Youth is full of sport – a review of “Much Ado About Nothing”

Tiffany Raymond, ‘Burgh Vivant

Steven Wilson’s new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Pittsburgh Playhouse takes risks – and reaps the rewards. Wilson not only wrote the adaptation, but he directs the production. Wilson’s adaptation takes place in World War II-era Italy after the Italians have allied with the U.S. He unites the former enemies via America’s favorite pastime: baseball.

The baseball metaphor extends beyond the stage. Wilson proves a capable manager of this theatrical team. Wilson effectively wrangles a large ensemble that lets the leads shine while enabling memorable moments for the broader cast. When the newly engaged Claudio (Jordan Marie McMillan) and Hero (Bailey Wilson) dreamily dance in center stage, Benedick (Evans Malkin) and Beatrice (Morgan Snowden) stand downtrodden on opposing sides of the dance floor, unhappy bookends. Wilson thoughtfully utilizes the stage to magnify visual contrast between the two couples. McMillan and Wilson have a slightly stilted quality to their romantic relationship, suggesting a discomfort at the gender-blind casting that pairs two women as an opposite-gender couple. They’re stronger in their non-romantic scenes, and it’s still a nice flipping of the script on Shakespearean times when the stage was occupied by solely male actors. Malkin finds just the right swagger, and the red-headed Snowden is fiery, making the pair memorably shine as Benedick and Beatrice.

The play opens memorably. The actors silently and hypnotically move behind a screen with grainy black and white World War II imagery projected onto it. Video designer Antonio Colaruotolo includes silent movie era intertitles that flash up timelines and unspoken dialogue. An Art Deco border around the intertitles adds a lighter touch. It’s a harbinger of the metamorphosis from the darkness of war to the lightness of sports. Battle scene turns ball game.

But it’s still a jump from one male-dominated world to another. When Hero (Bailey Wilson) steps up to bat, she is immediately turned away. The intertitle dialogue reads “Girls can’t play baseball!” Hero sneaks back in in disguise and subsequently smashes the game-winning home run, belying the words “girls can’t.” In this opening scene, Hero establishes herself as worthy of her namesake. She’s an independently minded woman willing to bend rules that don’t make sense. It’s also the first of many disguises within the play that literalize the metaphorical masks people wear.

The cast assembles for a rousing game of baseball in “Much Ado About Nothing.”

However, Steven Wilson’s adaptation falters as his portrayal of Hero is erratic. When her father, Leonato (Cameron Bartelt) turns on her and immediately believes false accusations regarding her sexual impurity, Hero faints. She then complies with a plan conceived by another patriarchal unprogressive, the church’s friar (Pablo J. Uribasterra), to pretend to be dead. Wilson’s adaptation is liberal. He bends gender, updates language, and reorders scenes, which makes his persistent portrayals of patriarchy and its sway problematic, demonstrating the difficulty of defining perimeters within adaptation.

Wilson adds Hero’s mother, Imogen (Mary Shay McWeeney), to the production to create more female roles. Imogen is no tigress, and after a brief opposition, she acquiesces to the male-hatched death ruse. It’s a reminder that adding female headcount is not analogous to creating female voices.

Gianni Downs’ scenic design is simple beauty. The set is highly modular, comprised of seven two-story Italian Renaissance-style towers that can be easily reconfigured. The few times when all seven need to be connected gets slightly unwieldly and does slow down the play’s action. Downs leaves no detail behind as the steeply pitched rooftops even have traditional red Italian shingles. Downs’ stately cream-colored exteriors provide a backdrop for Colaruotolo’s stunning video projections that help differentiate the scenes. When the malicious Don John (Cyrus D. Miller) meets with his coconspirators, an intricate floral pattern irregularly blooms across the wall like blood from a gunshot wound, a visualization of his cunning.


The Conservatory Theatre Company’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing” plays through November 17th at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, 350 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

An article of importance – a review of “Or,”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

Poet, playwright and spy Aphra Behn (Georgia Mendes) welcomes King Charles II (Dylan T. Jackson) into her life and into her bed in “Or,” a play about England’s first female playwright by Liz Duffy Adams.

Once the king resumes his throne, after the death of Cromwell, he frees Aphra from Debtor’s prison. She becomes the king’s paramour, but also earns the affection of the foul-mouthed sex symbol, actress Nell Gwynne (Katie Sacks).

The playwright is astonished when Lady Mary Davenant (Sacks, again) comes to her home and offers her a chance to mount her play (Davenant was the first British woman to manage a theater company). Just then, her former lover and fellow spy William Scot (Jackson, again) comes to town with information about a plot to kill the king (the one in her bedroom), and all hell breaks loose.

While all the people in the story are real, there’s no evidence that anything in the play really happened, but it’s a wild romp.

Aphra Behn (Georgia Mendes) stands in the doorway as she prepares her play for the Duke’s Company in “Or,”

Mendes delivers long passages of dialogue with pluck and verve. She is a captivating lead. It’s a darn good thing, because her character, Aphra, is on stage nearly the entire show.

Half the fun of “Or,” is watching the actors switch to one character to another. Sacks is hilarious delightfully nattering away as Lady Davenant. Minutes later, she transforms herself into the gruff, flatulent maid, Maria. Her Nell is also sexy and provocative.

Jackson, too, zips around behind the scenes, exiting as one character and entering as another, in a completely different wardrobe. It’s an impressive feat with an excellent cast.

Kim Wield does a fantastic job directing all the madness. While it sounds like an Elizabethan comedy, it looks like a French farce, with characters hiding in bedrooms and wardrobes. All of the actors have to be on top of their game to pull off the comings and goings as well as recite poetry as if it were day-to-day speech.

Excellent scenic design by Dana Weintraub turns the stage into a well-appointed lover’s nest in the 17th century, with lovely cursive musings scrawled on the walls.

The costumes are stunning. Claire Mildred does a particularly splendid job adorning Jackson’s King Charles in royal vestments. She swaths him in layers of red and pink and caps it off with enormous red footwear tied up in pink bows.

In between the comedy, Adams makes some salient points about love, sex and gender identity. They sort of sneak up on you. There’s also a tremendous optimism in “Or,” and you will bounce out of the theater feeling renewed. Let’s hope for a thousand years of peace.

– MB

“Or,” runs until November 23 at the Purnell Center for the Arts, Carnegie Mellon University,
5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, click here.

We’ll Have Nun of That – A review of “Over the Tavern”

By Claire DeMarco, ‘Burgh Vivant

In the 1950’s in upper state New York the Pazinski’s, a Polish Catholic family, live above Chet’s Bar and Grill, the eponymous establishment run by Chet Pazinski (Steven F. Gallagher).

Chet and his wife Ellen (Megan May) have four teenage children, Rudy (Dylan Lawton), Georgie (Ben Meyer), Annie (Delilah Hartlage) and Eddie (Aidan Cheek).

As a Roman Catholic approaching confirmation, Rudy challenges Sister Clarissa (Lynne Franks) as he decides to “shop around” for another religion. Vocalizing his frustration, Rudy decides that “God put us on Earth to have fun” and Catholicism doesn’t quite cut it anymore. He’s so adamant about seeking a new religion that he cuts off the ears of a Mickey Mouse hat, creating a Yarmulke. Rudy now declares that he is Jewish.

Constantly exasperated and frustrated, Sister Clarissa is determined that Rudy will make his confirmation. She uses her walking cane to get Rudy’s attention but is most successful by using a clicker against his ear when he doesn’t listen.

Ellen runs the household, takes care of her children, all of whom have their own issues and problems. Teenager Eddie thinks he is street wise while Annie is insecure and sensitive. Georgie is mentally challenged with unique issues. And Rudy is Rudy. Ellen oversees all her children while at the same time attempts to keep Chet as content as possible. Chet is remote, usually angry at his children and generally miserable.

Note: The Pazinski household is not like the sitcom households of the 50’s where everyone is happy most of the time and any problems that do arise are quickly and satisfactorily resolved.

Ellen (Megan May) finds a magazine Rudy (Dylan Lawton) has been hiding in “Over the Tavern.”

Undercurrents of unfulfilled dreams and frustrations flow through this story.

Franks shines as the nun, stern when necessary, patient when the situation arises and always in control. She is adept at delivering some of the best comedic lines in the play.

Lawton is delightful as the ever-curious, questioning Rudy who never stops asking why. He is able to portray a range of emotions, especially in his conversations with Jesus which are at times pleading, angry but never subtle.

Gallagher transitions easily between an irate, angry husband and father to an occasionally softer soul. Much emotion is expressed through facial expressions and general movement.

May is sympathetic, feisty, funny, argumentative as she deals with a challenging husband and four unique kids. She has perfect comedic timing.

Hartlage is believable as she battles with no confidence, is nervous about everything with her hormones on parade.

Cheek develops his character from a young teenager worried about incurring his father’s anger to finally standing up to him.

Meyer has little dialogue as the mentally-challenged younger sibling but he brilliantly expresses himself through his controlled facial expressions and movements.

The area of the stage dedicated to the Pazinski household is realistically staged with items specific to the 1950’s.

Director Lora Oxenreiter sums up “Over the Tavern” as “a comedy drama with a ray of hope”.


“Over the Tavern” is a production of Little Lake Theatre Company, 500 Lakeside Drive South, Canonsburg, PA 15317 and runs from November 7 – November 23, 2019. For more information, click here.

Dark Lady – a review of “The Woman in Black”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

Mr. Arthur Kipps (Martin Giles) hires an Actor (James FitzGerald) to help him tell a frightening story from his past in Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s Gothic horror novel, “The Woman in Black.”

In the prior year, Kipps sequesters himself from his family on Christmas Eve because they are telling ghost stories around the hearth. Ashamed that he could not tell his tale, he hires the Actor to help him recount the story turning “The Woman in Black” into a play-within-a-play.

After a few stalled attempts, the Actor takes over. He becomes Kipps, and Kipps becomes all of the side characters in the story as they reenact it.

Kipps, a London solicitor, is called to collect documents and other important papers from the dilapidated home of a recently-deceased, long-widowed Alice Drablow in a remote village of Crythin Gifford. Kipps makes the journey to discover he is a pariah among the townsfolk. They whisper in secret behind his back. The villagers fear the remote home that, at high tide, is cut off from the mainland.

Once inside the Drablow home, mysteries are afoot, strange noises, flickering lights and the wandering spirit of the woman in black.

The strange and seductive poster of “The Woman in Black.”

Giles does a marvelous job going from the meek Arthur Kipps to playing a variety of side characters. He’s particularly riveting as the gruff pony and trap driver.

FitzGerald transitions from the grand and pretentious actor to a younger version of Kipps – one who pretends to be strong and unafraid (until the tale becomes tragic).

Domenico LaGamba does a masterful job with an important set piece in the final act – a room that reveals all of the house’s mysterious secrets. Lighting Designer Keith A. Truax adds some additional eerie lighting with some chilling sounds by Sound Engineer Nick DePinto.

There are some unnerving special effects, but most of the fun comes from the actors, superbly directed by Alan Stanford.

There are some thrills and chills in the play, but it takes a while to get there. Mallatratt opens the play with a humorous gag, but it goes on a bit long. It’s sort of a metaphor of the rest of the show. If Mallatratt had an unscrupulous editor, “The Woman in Black” would be perfect. It scary without a gigantic body count, but the deaths have more meaning here. They matter, which makes it even more terrifying.


“The Woman in Black” runs until Saturday November 23 at the Fred Rogers Studio, WQED, 4802 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, click here.


Love, Labor and Loss – a review of “Shakespeare’s Will”


Mike Buzzelli

By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

On the night of his funeral, Anne Hathaway (Sheila McKenna) recounts her love, labors and her losses in Vern Thiessen’s “Shakespeare’s Will.” She tells the tale of meeting young William Shakespeare, her future husband, at the fair in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the town where the two grew up. She details their courtship and unusual marriage.

Thiessen admits to playing ‘fast and loose” with the material, since many of the details of Will Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway’s life are obscured from history. The playwright even chooses a definitive ending for a Hamnet, their son who died at a young age (even though there is no death record for the child).

Though Thiessen’s play is mostly speculation, it is a compelling story, despite being a tiny bit longer than it needs to be. To say too much would be to spoil the surprises.

Stephanie Mayer-Staley’s set design inside the West Homestead United Methodist Church.

McKenna does a spectacular job as Hathaway. She is a commanding presence. While it is a one-woman show, she interacts with two characters in non-speaking roles, Hamnet (Simon Nigam) and violinist Dawn Posey.

Nigam is very emotive, even though his character never speaks. He’s an odd addition for the writer to throw him in, but Nigam does it so splendidly, he’s a welcome addition.

Posey plays beautifully. The violinist even composed some of the music, “On a bed of rushes,” and “It scritches and scratches.”

There is some weird choreography. McKenna moves about waving her arms as if she was Endora performing a complicated time travel spell in the seventh season of “Bewitched.”

One person shows are notoriously difficult. It’s hard to keep the momentum going when the singular star has to provide all of the material, but director Melanie Dreyer keeps things moving fairly well.

Stephanie Mayer-Staley’s scenic design is a beautiful swirling vortex of paper, the Bard’s manuscripts twisted and crumpled, flying into a bright, aqua void. McKenna splashes about in a shallow puddle, representing a tidal pool on the shore.

There are beautiful and lyrical moments in “Shakespeare’s Will.” It has a fine ending. It may not be the truth, or the truth as we know it, but there is still beauty in it.


“Shakespeare’s Will” runs through December 1 at the West Homestead United Methodist Church, 515 W. 8th Avenue, Homestead, PA 15120. For more information, click here.


Review: FOREVER PLAID, Pittsburgh CLO

“A lighthearted, nostalgic stroll down memory lane:” Lonnie the Theater Lady talks Pittsburgh CLO’s FOREVER PLAID, performing at the Greer Cabaret Theater through December 29th. For tickets or more information, visit www.pittsburghclo.orgContinue reading “Review: FOREVER PLAID, Pittsburgh CLO”

'Burgh Vivant
'Burgh Vivant
Review: FOREVER PLAID, Pittsburgh CLO