Monday, September 9, 2013

Another year, another new works.

It's that time again!

PhotoCredit: PNWF

The Pittsburgh New Works festival kicked off again this week. I’ll eventually get around to reviewing the entire festival but for now I'm just going over Program A.
The schedule this year is a little different. Programs A and B alternatively run from Thursday September 5th until Sunday September 15th (giving you only two more chances to see Program A!)

Program A includes:

All Things to All People
            Penned by Kyle Zielinsky
            Produced by the Baldwin Players

Suddenly Last Supper
Penned by David Katzin
Produced by the Summer Company

Moon Over Gomorrah
            Penned by Byron Wilmot
            Produced by the Red Masquers

To see a complete schedule or to order tickets click ---> here.

The night began with All Things to All People. I held my press pass and program in the same hand as I read synopsis, “A young writer holds hostage a critic who panned his most recent production as well as the critic’s date…” I imagined that I was going to have to watch to musings of a playwright unfold and explain their views on playwriting and criticism in self-defense of their artistic merit.

At first, I was not wrong. But Zielinsky then turns the play upside by toying with the ideas of racial perception, gay stereotypes and gender roles.

Sidebar: If you’ve ever taken an acting class as a kid you might remember this game… we called it “freeze” -- I think. In this game, two actors improvise a scene and as an audience member you’re allowed to call “freeze!” stop the scene and replace one of the actors in the scene by “tapping” them out and continuing or changing the scene. 

This game becomes the premise of Zielinsky’s play. What seems like a relatively mundane melodrama about art and criticism becomes an almost hilarious meta-commentary on cultural perceptions of others. Actors of different sexes and races replace each other while continuing the primary action. It’s a quirky little comedy that in this production accomplished everything it set out to do (except for maybe explain the title…?).

As this play winds down and the actors from All Things to All People join the audience. The crew for Suddenly Last Supper sets up an entirely different comedic style founded in a mockery of the biblical last supper and theatrics of days-gone-by.

As you can hopefully tell by the title, this play attempts to mimic the style and characterizations found in Tennessee Williams’ plays.  Mary is a tragic older woman who is reminiscent of Amanda from The Glass Menagerie, a faded southern belle, unaware of social cues and lost in a time that no longer exists. She is the impotence for the action of the play. She seeks to find out what happened to her son “J” after his last supper. This information is finally given to her in some shape or form by Magdalene, who is now crazed, distorted and assumedly both a reference to Laura and more realistically Blanche DuBois of Streetcar.... The other primary characters are male and homosexual tension is increasingly thick, as Williams would have liked it.

I wanted to love this play but unfortunately I could not. I believe that that is solely because of its foundation in referencing other work. Although as an audience member I felt very well informed of the references made in the script, I felt more knowing than most, which made the whole thing uncomfortable.  I did not believe that me, the actors, and other audience members were all on the same page -- and that what's difficult about staging a play like this:  how can you possibly control what information the audience brings with them to the theatre that night?

Aside from some faulty dialect work, which I can write off for a number of reasons at this point, that is my only beef. The actors manage to keep your attention as they politely poke fun at Jesus and his buddies.

The final play, Moon over Gomorroah is reminiscent of last years’ PNWF winning play: Helping Out by James Michael Shoburg.  The premise of the play is as relatively genius for as far as a comedy of errors can be and the innate bungling and incompetence of the characters is classic.

A mother and a father fly out to San Francisco to hear their son’s “big news”.  They prepare themselves to catch him in as he leaps out of the closet and are aggressively supportive to the point where they ignore his fiancé (Cynthia) and condemn him for being straight.

The cast of this piece is key. Every actor in the company knows their role in the ridiculous charade they play. Needless to say, it's a great way to end the first night of new works: you get a nice ab-work-out from laughing so hard and laugh your way right out of the door in hopes that the bar stays this high for the rest of the festival.

[[[If you had a chance to see Program A of the new works this year please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below!]]]


  1. Hey, I'm the playwright of Suddenly Last Supper, and I thought I'd just like to point out a wee mistake. The program listed the character as Magdalena, but it's actually Magdalene (neurotic, I know, but it was driving me loopy).

  2. No problem! I can change that. I actually believed that to be so but I went by the program cos I couldn't access the play again.