Monday, May 14, 2012

Cast Shines In Intense Drama

In a South American country where a brutal dictator as just been disposed, a lawyer brings home a Good Samaritan, who rescued him from car trouble.  Unbeknownst to the lawyer, the helpful man turns out to be the brutal captor, torturer and rapist of his wife.
Mark Staley, Ken Bolden, Adrienne Wehr
This is the basis for Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman, the current offering at Off The Wall Theater in Washington PA.
As you can imagine, this plot leads to an evening of intense, emotional drama.
And the strong cast is well up to the task.  Adrienne Wehr (as the wife), Mark Staley (as her husband) and Ken Bolden (as the sadistic torturer) wring the raw emotions from the script brilliantly.
Where the production seems to falter is with the direction.
Director Maggie Balsley had chosen to open the play with a video projection of the first scene between Wehr and Staley (all while the two actors move around the stage in a kind of “dumb show”).  I had no clue what it was supposed to mean. Consequently, I probably didn’t pay as close attention to the next few vignettes as I was trying to figure out the projection.
For a play that addresses such high-charged issues, there was a lot of sitting and talking.  Staley sits at a table talking to Bolden.  Then Staley goes to the balcony and sits and talks with Wehr.  Then Wehr comes in and sits at a table talking to Bolden.  Center stage got very little use.
What made matters worse is the balcony is far stage right behind a large sofa.  Very often all I could see of Wehr and Staley were their heads peeking over the top of the sofa.
Then the production ends with more baffling video (after a long pause for costume changes).
Designer Paul A. Shaw has once again transformed the small Off The Wall stage into a completely new look.  Unfortunately, Balsley groundplan does more harm then good.
But the cast preservers and doesn’t allow the odd videos or the stagnant blocking prevent them from delivering memorable performances.
Death and the Maiden continues through May 19.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Desperate times call for desperate measures.  And no is more desperate than unemployed factory workers in 1980’s Buffalo in the musical The Full Monty, the current production at McKeesport Little Theatre.
These down-on-their-luck fellows turn to stripping!
Up front, I give the men in the cast a great deal of credit.  I don’t even undress to take a shower, let alone strut my stuff on stage.
This production has good points…and not-so-good points.
There are some very strong voices as well as some very funny moments.
Unfortunately, Director Edward E. Bostedo, Jr. has failed to get the full potential from his cast.
While Bryan D. Padgett (as Jerry) and Timothy Doughtery (as his best pal Dave) have some laugh-out-loud moments, their deep friendship is never fully felt by the audience.  Likewise when Padgett has book scenes with his young son (played by Matthew Fedorek), you get the feeling they are just “marking time” to get through these lines so everyone can get back to singing or dancing or being funny again.
If audiences don’t buy these two crucial relationships, the heart goes out of The Full Monty.
It doesn’t help the cast that the blocking and stage pictures are weak.
Bostedo has also designed the set, which consists of what looks like Japanese screens.  It gives The Full Monty a peculiar “kabuki” look.  The screen panels are actually doors that open.  They could have been used effectively; however, they are not.
Choreographer Heather Yaksic Atkinson has created some very clever dance numbers, and the men perform them to the best of their ability.
Lamont Freeland nearly steals the show as “Horse” with his funny one-liners and the amusing song “Big Black Man.”  Anna Colecchi gets in some good wisecracks as “Jeanette,” the piano player.
Ryan Baker and Nathan Hough (as “Malcolm” and “Nathan” respectively) bring a great deal of charm to the production.
Act One moves along at a good pace.  Act Two tends to slow the production down.
Hats off to McKeesport Little Theatre for having the courage to attempt The Full Monty.  And it is a fun evening in the theatre.  With this talented cast, it had the potential to be so much more.
The Full Monty runs through May 20.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


It's all about belonging...
Dreams of Hope (a creative and performing arts group for queer youth and their allies) will present their new show Being In, Being OUT on April 1 at 2pm at Off The Wall Theatre in Washington PA.  The show explores the theme of belonging.  This will be the second time Dreams of Hope have performed at Off The Wall.

A children's classic
The Theatre factory in Trafford will be performing the children's theatre production of Ramona Quimby March 30 at 7:30pm and March 31 and April 1 at 2pm.  Bring the kids to enjoy some family friendly fare.

Monday, March 12, 2012


In praise of women...
It's back.  No Name Players presents SWAN Day, a celebration of women, on March 15 and 16 at 8pm at the Hazlett Theatre. on the Northside.   The stories of women from all over the state will be told through dance, music, poetry, theatre, art, fashion, and performance art.  Over 50 local artist in involved--and don't miss the opening night reception prior to the performance.

All the about the "V"...
Robert Morris will present The Vagina Monologues on March 17 at the Colonial Theater in Massey Hall.  Curtain is at 8pm and all proceeds from the performance, concessions and auction will benefit a local woman's shelter.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Transforming a classic film to the stage is never easy, but 39 Steps, the current offering at McKeesport Little Theatre, turns the Hitchcock thriller into a riotous evening of fun.

Director Mark Calla has assembled a brilliant cast to bring the film to life. 

Sean David Butler looks every inch the 1930's matinee idol as Richard Hanney, the bored Englishman who finds himself embroiled in espionage.  Butler's accent never falters.  His comic timing is spot on, and he excels at the physical humor.

Samantha Mitchell plays Pamela, Annabella and Margaret, and her physical transformations are wonderful.  However, her accents are not always consistent, and she is often hard-to-hear.

As the two clowns (who play multiple, multiple roles), Andy Coleman and TJ Firneno nearly steal the show.  They make costume (and character) changes at lightning fast speed...and change accents just about as often.   Their breathless transformations bring much of the humor to 39 Steps.  My only complaint that Coleman (who plays all the incidental women) doesn't make much of a distinction between them.  His men are clearly drawn, but this female characters could be almost interchangeable without their distinctive costumes.  But hats off to both Coleman and Firneno for taking on the challenge of playing so many characters--and playing them with such high energy and humor.

Calla keeps the pace fairly tight.  Act Two does slow a little, but, overall, the show moves very well.

On opening night there were some glitches with scenes changes (of which there must be at least 75), and sound levels could be adjusted up, but when the level of performances is this high, those things can be overlooked.  And I am certain that as the run continues, these difficulties will quickly be resolved.

It's a raucous blend of cornball humor, romance, slapstick, funny visuals, espionage and intrigue...and you'll laugh yourself silly.

39 Steps continues through March 25.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Solve the mystery...
McKeesport Little Theatre will present a stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 classic film The 39 Steps March 9-25.  Mark Calla directs a cast of four who plays dozens of roles.  Between the laughs, see if you can solve the mystery of The 39 Steps.

Third time's a charm...
See the third installment in the Pittsburgh Monologue Project Saturday, March 10 at the ModernFormations Gallery on Penn Avenue.  See some of Pittsburgh's best actors perform these solo shows.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Life's a Pitch

My great late Aunt Mimi used to say that if the Hartlands had to make our living selling things, we'd all starve.  If I ever doubted her wisdom (and I don't), then Claochlu Studios production of Hospitality Suite by Roger Reuff would convince me.

Clauchlu is a joint venture between Cup-A-Jo Productions and 72nd Street Films and their first venture looks at three salesman for an industrial lubrication manufacturer try to land the big sale.

The acting is superb. 

Matt Henderson plays the "new guy" Bob, who is a devout Christian.  Henderson (who specializes in milquetoast roles) shines. 

Everett Lowe is Phil, a divorced father of four daughters who is undergoing a mid-life crisis.  Lowe gives a quiet, underplayed performance of a man who is emotionally torn inside.

As the smug and obnoxious Larry, Jeff Monahan gives the memorable performance of Hospitality Suite.  Monahan becomes the smartass you just want to punch square in the face, but he is also able to capture the softer side of this arrogant salesman.

Director Joanna Lowe manages to keep the blocking in this production moving--which is no small feat considering this script is three men in a room talking...and talking...and talking.  A new slant on this production is that it is also being projected live on screen at the back of the stage.  I didn't really understand why this was done, especially when I was often distracted by them.

While I so enjoyed the outstanding performances, I still don't understand what the play is about as so many issues are discussed.  Is Hospitality Suite about business or religion or salesmanship or what?  Playwright Reuff goes on and on and on--but to what ends?  It make me glad I'm not s salesman.

Hospitality Suite continues through March 11 at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

The talents of Joseph A. Roots are wasted in a small role of a drunk at the top of Act Two.  The role does nothing to move the play along, but Roots gives it his all.