Monday, September 13, 2010

Theatre Review: "The Umbrella Man" at Pittsburgh Playhouse Rep 12th September 2010

In what is considered the start of this new professional theatre season, even though Quantum and Pittsburgh Irish and Classical theatres seasons are already underway, The Rep at Pittsburgh Playhouse offers something likewise new: the world premiere of The Umbrella Man, in a script by Edward J. Delaney based on a screenplay for a not-yet produced film by him, Michael J. and Joseph M. Grasso.

In a multi-media format, that is using voice-over narration, film projections and live performances, this comes across as multi-themed. Essentially it deals with anger and grief over fatal events, events arising from not-easily-explained causes. The script focuses on a man and wife estranged after the accidental death of their young son and, at the same time, concentrates on cult-like obsessions about Kennedy -assassination conspiracies. These themes are tied together. The grieving man, Lyle Asay, tries to escape his sorrow in aiming to be an expert about what happened in Dallas that fateful day.

I have the impression that,the writers primarily wanted to focus on the idiosyncrasies of conspiracy-cult behavior. Certainly that element of the play remains the most original and interesting, showing how people in such a cult resemble other fan groups latching on to popular culture. Yet those parts of the story look more sketchy than substantial. That may be due to following the other major theme, the family story. But to me that seems a vehicle to keep the play moving, trying to make it personal and emotional. Mostly, specific details about Lyle and his wife Deborah don’t get enough development even though the play revolves around them. The combined result resembles a movie-like, swift succession of episodic scenes rather than a play which goes deeply anywhere, although, once or twice, people behave maturely rather than predictably.

David Cabot and Dana Hardy play Lyle and Deborah entirely convincingly. In supporting, more colorful roles, Jarrod DiGiorgi shows that he’s becoming a character actor to watch and admire. He deftly plays Weston, Deborah’s former boyfriend, hot to trot all over again. And yet another heart-of-gold prostitute, this one called Jackie, Erica Cuenca conveys her usual indelible sweetness and vulnerability. And John Shepard creates a lot of creative personality in a marginal role while everyone else in this 13 member cast performs credibly.

Director Robert A. Miller has kept the focus and the story clear and well-paced which certainly dovetails with the idea that this is planned as a movie. Evidently it will be filmed in Pittsburgh, although the stage version’ s only connection is generic interior scenes. This take needs more work to become a compelling play.

The Umbrella Man continues through September 26th at Pittsburgh Playhouse on Craft Avenue, Oakland. 412/621-4445 or

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