Saturday, May 26, 2012

Theatre review: "The Fox on the Fairway" at Little Lake Theatre. Sunday 27th May 2012

Little Lake Theater is producing a quite recent play by Ken Ludwig, best-known for Lend Me a Tenor. This one, from 2010, is The Fox on the Fairway. He calls it a farce and, in an article included in the program book, he writes why and, interestingly, goes into the history of farce.

Clearly Ludwig’s script fits his definition of farce. He describes that as broad comedy with an emphasis on story and plotting with “a physical knockabout quality ..filled with recognizable characters…in precarious situations.” 

About a year ago The Fox on The Fairway played not far from New York, at New Brunswick NJ, with a cast of people with New York credits and got a good review in the New York Times, more for the performances than the play itself.

Ludwig certainly wrote some funny lines and good verbal gags. But director Sunny Disney Fitchett emphasizes playing 
everything wildly, at top volume with frenetic movement and the zippy phrases flash by swiftly.You may need to listen beneath the frenzy to grab them before they get drowned out.

A young guy named Justin has been newly hired for the staff at Quail Valley Country Club, which has an impending golf tournament against a rival club. It turns out Justin is a whiz on the green. His boss Bingham (played by Little Lake reliable Art De Conciliis) has a pushy wife and a long standing antagonism towards wealthy, idiosyncratic Dickie who owns the other club. Dickie’s ex-wife Pamela seems hot to trot with Bingham and Justin’s game may be thrown off by misunderstandings with his fiancĂ© Louise.

This is the core of an incredible amount of action while all the six characters run around trying to solve tiny crises and trivial mistakes.

Everyone in the cast contributes capable, believable non-stop energy but with only rudiments of character, except for Nathan Bell as Justin; he projects a nice sense of innocence.

Amazingly there is no profanity. And there’s no smoking. There are some sexual situations, broad ones, if you know what I mean. And no animals were harmed in this production.

The Fox on the Fairway keeps on leaping through June 9th at Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, 724-745-6300

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Theatre review: "Blue Man Group" at Benedum Center

A traveling version of Blue Man Group has taken over the Benedum stage for a frenetic short stay. You could have experienced other incarnations of this concept; it assembled about 25 years ago in New York, stomping thereafter all around the globe. Still, the basics seem the same as ever during this one hour forty-five minute intermission-less experience.

Look at the name of the ensemble. Primitive. Fundamental. Tribal-like percussion conceptions incessantly thud. Then, when the somewhat alien figures descend from their platforms to mingle with eager witnesses seated within easy reach of the rituals, you might think of other tribal rites.

Oh sure, they’ve updated some bits, referring to recent technology, fractals, DNA, the Internet, apps,information pollution, etc. Texting is evoked. In fact, for those with short attention spans and twitchy fingers, it’s even permitted in the shadows of the house. This entourage hasn’t come to exhort reform. Puzzlement remains one of their main reactions. Subtle expressive movement with no eyebrows raised. No frowns. No smiles. A kind of innocence pervades. That takes talent.

There is some verbal communication. But not from the bluemen. Initially a flashing word-crawl exhorts the crowd to yell and call out greetings to each other. Later various anonymous vocal prompts call out from the hard-working speaker system urging other sounds and physical actions by the crowd. This is no audience-passive experience. Moreover people in front rows have been provided with plastic raincoats just in case spraying liquids on the stage splatter outward. Be warned.

Further actions spill over from up front. The bluers stride into the house, camera- peering up close into more normal faces. They also recruit participants for a couple of extended bits, one of them an incessant thing with Twinkies.

Colorful lights flash and shimmer. There are other eating shticks. Strange- looking assemblages of tubes get regularly banged while, upstage, strobe- lit on suspended platforms, four musicians in freaky costumes incessantly gyrate while adding to the thump, resembling what you can’t escape in traffic at times when increasingly deaf young people’s car interiors reverberate bass response into the next county.

Have I said that I find it noisy? It bears repeating. Repeating. Repeating.

Blue Man Group keeps on doing its thing through the evening of Sunday May 20th at Benedum Center, downtown. 412/456-6666 or

Monday, May 14, 2012

Theatre review: "Pop!" at City Theatre.

City Theatre has a fascinating, colorful, musically appealing production looking at wacky aspects of show business fostered by home town artist/celebrity Andy Warhol. It’s called Pop! a double-barreled reference to that superstar of Pop Art and to gun-shots which altered Warhol’s life after nearly taking it away altogether.

Anna K. Jacobs has written some really good music for this 2009-debuter. She calls forth an attractive array of styles: rock, folk, opera, church services, Asian and other ethnicities, all dovetailing with what the characters are doing and the specifics of Maggie–Kate Coleman’s lyrics. Jacobs also evokes minimalist music, perfectly suiting the seeming simplicity of Pop Art. And she aptly suggests slashes of 12-tone scores in cartoonish versions of Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Everyone in the cast sings all of that to perfection especially Pittsburgh’s Bria Walker as Warhol celeb Viva. Meanwhile the Douglas Levine-led multi-instrumental sextet plays everything equally well.

Coleman’s book frames multi-level portraits. In the center is the day in 1968 when Valerie Solanas pulled the trigger. Spinning off from that, Warhol seemingly ponders not the whodunit by the whydunit as a few members of his then-circle circle the premises and, moth-like, flitter in the shadows of the past. Yet, Coleman most often makes Warhol less of an analytic thinker and more a babbling source of banalities, as bland as a can of Campbell’s soup. Just add water.

You might read into this script comments about both Pop Art and Warhol, i.e vapidity trumps substance, especially given the seemingly spot-on interpretation by Anthony Rapp as Andy, epitomized by his response to being shot as the uninflected “ouch.” Yet, comedy does not appear to be the goal. Satire, perhaps. Given the characters in this depiction of The Factory you might be looking for such depth. But why expect that, given that they weren’t models of profundity? Or at least that’s how Coleman makes them look and sound. The real people, though, certainly didn’t have the performing abilities this version of them requires.

The fascination rather comes from watching such over-the-toppers cherishing their celebrity as if that were talent. The real talent comes from what the performers do with the roles. And, as trans-sexual Candy Darling, Brian Charles Rooney steals the show, never overplaying, exuding genuine glamour and impressive versatility, donning other personas such as Walter Cronkite, Andy’s babushka mom and an art critic paper puppet. Director Brad Rouse and his designers Anne Mundell and Susan Tsu not only came up with that device but also with a great depiction of the above-named New York School painters, ready to splatter the walls with the likes of Warhol. The stage is alive with sights fantastic.

Much is made of paper bags in this concept, flimsy items into which you could put anything, as Warhol explains, pointing out that, equally, they could contain nothing. So too could you read into this show that it fills up emptiness with such color and good music that you may come away wanting more. Wanting to know more. Wanting to know how and why such freaks were taken seriously. Wanting to know, really, who Andy was behind that mask of indifference. Or was it a mask?

Pop! continues through May 27th at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, South Side. 412/431.CITY (2489)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Theatre review: "Death and the Maiden" at Off the Wall Productions

Chilean author Ariel Dorfman’s play Death and the Maiden debuted more than 20 years ago and has remained with us ever since. Likewise remaining, still haunting the fearful corridors of our lives, are the issues it raises and the questions it asks. They deal with government-sanctioned torture, guilt and retribution. Although Dorfman’s native land and its brutal history provoked him into writing this, he knew and we know that such evil still thrives. We have no further to look than the twisted souls of our own people at Abu Ghraib and the inventors of such euphemisms as “extraordinary rendition.”

Such themes seethe and reach out into the shadows just beyond the stage in the current Off The Wall Productions' presentation of the play, staged with unsettling reality by director Maggie Balsley and performed with sure integrity by her cast.

The essence of the plot does not seem complicated and knowing it in advance can heighten understanding how well Dorfman wrote his characters. Paulina Salas, married to Gerardo Escobar, was abducted, tortured and raped 15 years ago during her nation’s dictatorship. She never saw the face of the state agent responsible for the brutality, but when Dr. Roberto Miranda accidentally visits their home, hearing Miranda’s voice, Paulina is convinced he was that agent. Violently, she intends for him to pay dearly.

Dorfman inventively adds to the complications by having Gerardo a human rights lawyer on the verge of a significant career in the new government seeking closure to the ugly past. As if he might stand between those excesses and the looming present excesses of his vengeful wife.

Throughout the tense, uninterrupted 90 or so minutes of this experience you may never know for certain if Miranda is really the guilty one. And director Balsley as well as Ken Bolden in that role excellently leave that open.

Also open is the question if Paulina, or anyone who has suffered as she has, can remain sane and is capable of reconciliation. Unfortunately Dorfman does not explore this or other emotional or philosophical ramifications, dwelling primarily on exposition and on action.

He does, however, in one telling scene, have Miranda talk about the seduction and contagion of unbridled power. And, as the doctor expounds on how he descended lower and lower into depraved depths, the ghosts of Joseph Mengele and his Nazi kin hover in the darkness.

Ken Bolden’s performance as Miranda stands out with complex definition, sometimes creepy, sometimes sniveling, sometimes validly assertive. Mark D. Staley’s take on Gerardo has many good moments, able to show the man’s doubts and insecurities, as well as moments of reasonableness. Adrienne Wehr’s version of Paulina most of the time seems the least dimensional, as if an absence of rationality distorts her ability to even communicate clearly.

Director Balsley uses film projections for some scenes at the start of the play and at the end. I’m sure they have symbolic meaning, although I find them confusing, especially one which makes it look as if the play had ended when it has not. I suppose you could read into that a suggestion that torture, cruelty and residual guilt have never left us.

With these moments and many more you will definitely come away with much to ponder.

Death and the Maiden continues through May 19th at Off the Wall Productions,147 N.Main Street, Washington,PA. 
or (724)873-3576