Saturday, June 23, 2012

Theatre review: "Next to Normal" from Carnivale Productions. Sunday, 24th June 2012

I had been thinking that I knew well the musical Next to Normal having heard the cast recording several times and last year having seen a touring version featuring Alice Ripley. She’d starred in it on Broadway, winning a Tony for her performance. But only when I experienced a new production by Pittsburgh’s Carnivale Theatrics did I realize why this Pulitzer prize-winner deserves so much praise. Director Justin Fortunato and a fine cast bring it home with intelligence, clarity and depth, singing with fine voices, leaving a stronger impression than what I’d seen and heard before.

Brian Yorkey's story certainly seems unlikely for a musical, dealing with a suburban mother struggling with bipolar disorder and how that affects her family. This dark side of life includes the death of a son, attempted suicide, drug abuse and swipes at the excesses of pharmacology and psychiatry. It could be the stuff of opera. The insightful work expands the idea of what’s possible in a serious musical, made meaningful by Yorkey’s trenchant lyrics and the flowing, sometimes urgent music by Tom Kitt. 

Calling it a “rock musical,” oversimplifies. Kitt came up with a wide range of melody and rhythm, creating, for example, wonderful, multi-voice harmonies for what is a nearly sung-through score.

Yorkey’s script suggests that the role of a traditional wife and mother, Diana in this case, is fraught with emotional perils, without directly saying that such a woman needs more definition to find life meaningful. Yet it implies that a child’s death, such as Gabe’s, in those circumstances can throw her confined world into profound disarray. Added to that weight, a second, living child, like Natalie, may be unintentionally shunted aside. And with a house full of drugs to medicate the parent, that child could find them a different answer for life. Parallel dysfunctions, one unforeseen, the other chosen. Moreover Yorkey regularly overturns expectations, such as having Natalie’s boy friend Henry first seem thoroughly unconventional, yet emerging as the most stable person in these relationships. Yorkey tells everything cogently and exceptionally.

Director Fortunato evokes thorough substance and compelling singing from his cast. He also adds meaningful movement, such as having Gabe stride and hover like a clinging ghost, yet when Gabe’s hold over memory diminishes, he moves as if his bones no longer work right.

Erich Lascek sings superbly portraying Dan, Diana’s husband. So do Kevin Bianchi as Henry and Billy Hepfinger interpreting two different doctors. Their acting equals such excellence.

Daina Michelle Griffith has the taxing, complex role of Diana. She too sings in fine voice. Though doing everything capably with unflagging skill, I felt she never got beneath the surface on opening night. And she seemed too young for the part, never coming across convincingly as a mother of teenage children.

Robert Neumeyer led a small, unseen musical group which played very well. Alas, the musicians are not identified in the program book but I assume Neumeyer is a pianist. Speaking of program books, here is another example of giving the audience no printed information about the creators of the source of the production.

Brian Yorkey’s theatre credits include Making Tracks, which has played Off-Broadway and regionally; the musical adaptation of Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet and the new country musical Play It By Heart. He co-created Bears, a new series for the Logo network and has directed Off-Broadway.

As for Tom Kitt: he composed the score for the musical High Fidelity and for the play From Up Here. He has been a music director and conductor on Broadway since 2002, beginning with Debbie Does Dallas:The Musical. He was the music supervisor for Sherie Rene Scott's Everyday

Rapture and music supervisor, orchestrator and arranger for the musical American Idiot. Plus he composed the score for New York's Public Theatre Shakespeare in the Park’s production of The Winter's Tale, in July 2010. (Wikipedia)

Despite the regrettable oversights, everything in the impressive performances honors both men.
Next To Normal continues to July 1st at New Hazlett Theatre, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. 1-877-TICKETS. (1-888 718 4253) or

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Theatre review: "A Chorus Line" from Pittsburgh CLO. Sunday, 17th June 2012

After opening the new season with a fine road company production, Pittsburgh CLO has now kicked off its series of home-grown shows with a dazzling, superb version of A Chorus Line. Director/choreographer Baayork Lee and her cast bring out all the vitality, passion and depth put there by originator Michael Bennett. You can see and hear why it got nine Tonys in 1976 as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama that year.

This experience will remind you of the inventiveness and originality of Bennett’s dance-based concept. Starting out big and bold, without preamble or introduction, you are thrust into what goes on behind the scenes of creating Broadway musicals, the hard work, the anxieties and the passions. From there on, that emotional, compelling connection grabs you and holds you.

Marvin Hamlisch wrote dynamic, melodically special music and Edward Kleban created trenchant, substantial lyrics. Equally, Bennett’s script eloquently tells about what it means to try to make a living as a professional performer. His device doesn’t replicate reality; he dwells on life stories unlikely elicited by the director, intensely interviewing potential ensemble members. But, in telling about life backstage, Bennett reminds anyone who’s ever been in a theatre audience that everyone in a chorus is a living, breathing individual. Especially bringing that home, the big, famous final song “One, ” although ostensibly about the star of a musical to be supported by the chorus, equally refers to how all these separate personalities are melded into one singular sensation.

Standing most front and center, Bryan Knowlton gives sweet depth and truth to the role of Paul, a one-time member of a drag cabaret act, who had been worried about his family’s reaction. Here director Lee underscores the poignant intensity by having Paul remain in one spot, vulnerable and focused. As Shiela, Emily Fletcher likewise comes across well-defined. She’s the character who reveals that life in ballet was more beautiful than anything in her unhappy home. And Gabrielle Ruiz’s version of Puerto Rican Diana equals them in looking and sounding special.

Point Park grad Nadine Isenegger has the central role of Cassie, a veteran performer who seemed headed for stardom and, for a while, was the lover of the new musical’s director Zach. When I attended, she danced her one big solo number supremely, but her singing didn’t equal that quality.

Pittsburgh’s Gina Philistine has the less noticeable role of “Bebe.” Connor McRory as “Roy”is a former Pittsburgh CLO Academy student. Other Point Park grads are Callan Bergmann (“Butch”) Chandler Farren (“Trisha”), Justin Lonesome (“Tom”) and Gabriella Sorrentino (“Lois”).

And of course, many people in this city know the name and talent of composer Hamlisch, long the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Prinicipal Pops Conductor.

It is less likely, though, that people are equally aware about lyricist Edward Kleban. Well, audiences won’t learn anything about him in the CLO program book, which, as in the past, devotes an entire page to executive producer Van Kaplan but not even one line to the creators of the product from which his company profits.

So, some info: Four years after Kleban’s debut in this landmark, a one-woman Phyllis Newman show, The Madwoman of Central Park West featured a few of his tunes and his lyrics. He also worked at Columbia Records for several years producing Igor Stravinsky and Percy Faith albums as well as one of the Off-Broadway musical Now Is the Time for All Good Men. This and more you can read at Wikipedia.

I know I often bring up the issue of such program book oversights. And I’m sure that CLO is neither likely to care about that nor about my opinion. But, some day, someone really influential will be concerned enough to remind local producers how their professionalism is compromised when they make it look as if they don’t care about the artists whose work they offer and remind those same producers that they also look as if they think audiences aren't smart enough to care.

This otherwise marvelous production of A Chorus Line continues through June 24th at 2pm. Tickets at, or 412/456-6666 or at the Box Office at Theater Square.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Theatre review: "That's Life" from The Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh. Sunday 17th June 2012

After an hiatus of five years Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh is up and running again. Or rather, I should say, singing and dancing. It offers a production of a musical revue called That’s Life skillfully directed and choreographed by Mindy Rossi-Stabler and expertly performed by a polished ten person cast.

This show is not, as you might think, another Frank Sinatra repertoire-based show. Rather the group presents true stories about contemporary Jewish-American life, mostly from light-hearted points of view. It lived for three months off-Broadway in 1994 featuring 17 songs and one monologue with frequently clever lyrics by eight people and pleasant music by four others, music which does not, by the way, sound deliberately ethnic.

Several songs stand out with special sweetness. In one, a father reminisces about his son’s progression through life and, in another, other parents harmonize while sharing their ideas about their sons. And, touchingly, an aging, former big city delicatessen owner tells about how he and his wife chose a better life in Florida. Most often, though, the pieces offer gentle humor.

Credit director Ross-Stabler and her cast for rarely over-playing the words or over-selling the melodies, keeping much of the show sincere and genuine. They all have good voices and real dancing talent, capable too of catchy tapping.

Howard Elson, Leon S. Zionts and Holly Wine-Jones especially stand out with exceptional singing while John Burja exudes charming personality. They and the rest of the cast come together to create a constantly appealing ensemble, a fine way to welcome back a local theatre company whose quality hasn’t diminished despite a temporary absence.

That’s Life continues through June 24th at Levy Hall, Rodef Shalom Temple, 4905 Fifth Avenue, Shadyside. 1-800/838-3006 or

Monday, June 11, 2012

Theatre review: "The House of Blue Leaves" from The Summer Company-Broadcast on the 10th of June 2012

The Summer Company at Duquesne University has put together a production of John Guare’s famed, seemingly surrealistic black comedy The House of Blue Leaves. It won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play in 1971 and four Tony Awards for its 1986 revival at Lincoln Center Theater. Since 1966* it has been seen on and off-Broadway several times featuring such stars as Anne Meara, Swoosie Kurtz, Stockard Channing, Dannie Aiello, Ben Stiller and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Clearly it offers a lot to attract such talent and to attract audiences.

On the surface it comes loaded with bizarre situations and developments setting up a potential for laughs and for pathos, depending on how it’s played. Several very capable actors in significant roles play them well.  Duquesne University alumnus Leah Casella directed and she has kept it moving solidly, not pushing too hard, but not able enough to get across the sorrowful elements which can make the story and characters touching and believable.

This takes place in 1965 in a lower middle class neighborhood in Queens, New York where Artie Shaughnessy lives with his schizophrenic wife Bananas while he carries on an imperfectly realized affair with Bunny Flingus. Artie is a zoo-keeper who dreams of becoming a famous song-writer. He hopes that Billy Einhorn, his boyhood buddy, can help him. Billy had become a major Hollywood movie director. Artie and Bunny’s son Ronnie has been drafted to serve in Viet Nam. In the day of the story Pope Paul the 6th arrives in New York to preach peace during which time Billy and his girlfriend movie star Corrina visit Artie and Bananas. So do, accidently, several nuns. Then, away from there, Corrina and two nuns are killed in a political bombing.

Guare does not entirely aim for literal realism, even though everything that happens could actually occur. Some characters talk directly to the audience, appealing for sympathy or understanding. On opening night the actors didn’t go enough beneath the surface there or elsewhere. A problem which faces them all and director Cassella is how to play what seem like off the wall situations as if they are real.

Consequently a few performances pulled things in the wrong direction, as if  Cassella was trying for broad comedy. Most egregious, Sarah Murtha’s take on Bunny stayed an example of uncontrolled excess. She shouted her lines with readings of the words riding roughshod over meaning. Meanwhile Natalie Moretti also went overboard playing Corrina as a broad version of a bubble-head. And the performance of the nuns seemed like shtick.

On the plus side, Ron Siler-Waruszewski successfully made Artie seem like a sorrowful loser and. when called upon to deliver a poetic monologue by Guare, did it justice. As Bananas, Caitlin Northrup kept her simple, never trying too hard to seem crazy even though not coming across as pathetic. Plus Rich Eckman's take on movie director Billy Einhorn remained convincing.

Certain production elements look sloppy. The program book doesn’t list characters in order of appearance; that may cause audience confusion. And the set design should have something to imply that the kitchen is not visible from the living room, so that, when Bunny is hiding in the kitchen, Bananas can’t see her. Sure, Bananas has mental defects, but nothing like that. 

Of course, this being quasi-professional theatre, no information about the playwright is in the program book, although the assistant stage manager gets a few lines. 

John Guare is also well-known for Six Degrees of Separation which won an Obie Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and London’s Olivier Award for Best Play and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. He’s written 14 other plays and in 1993 was elected to the Theatre Hall of Fame

*It debuted in 1966 contrary to what you what you may read in a Pittsburgh City Paper review.

The House of Blue Leaves continues through June 16th at Peter Mills Theater in Duquesne University Rockwell Hall, 600 Forbes Avenue- 412/243-5201. Reservations through the Gemini Theater Company box office. 412/243-6464

Friday, June 8, 2012

About "Shakespeare in the Raw" presented by Unseam'd Shakespeare Company

Unseam’d Shakespeare Company is tackling two Shakespeare plays A Midsummer Nights Dream and Two Gentlemen of Verona. The twin production is called “Shakespeare in the Raw” described as being “in the original First Folio Cue-Script Style” (sic).

Elizabeth Ruelas, a faculty member at Point Park University, directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Andy Kirtland directed Two Gentlemen of Verona. He has credits as a performer in the New England Shakespeare Festival and elsewhere.

They have explained their concept as stemming from original performances in Shakespeare’s time when the acting company was seen in numerous plays each week and didn’t have much time to rehearse. They point out that casts had scripts which actually only contained their lines along with a few cues from the others who spoke to them, with the scripts also giving stage directions.

I attended A Midsummer Night’s Dream when the cast included a man described as Prompter. He, Shaun Starke, told the audience that, given the concept, only the physical playing had been rehearsed in order to replicate the original experiences. Consequently all members of the cast carried scrolls, or rolls with their lines and cues and had to refer to them, with the Prompter on hand in case there were problems. The Prompter also encouraged the audience to participate by cheering or booing and by singing along a song included in the program book.

He was dressed in a striped shirt and carried a whistle, much resembling sports referees of today. The other members of the cast wore various rudimentary suggestions of costumes over modern street clothes.

There are nine people in the casts, all of them doubling and tripling. No one is specifically identified with any role. They are Kyle Bogue, Jeffrey Chips, Parag S. Gohel, Adam Huff,Jenny Malarkey, Devin Malcolm, Laura C. Smiley, Julia Warner and Cassie Wood.

Directors Ruelas and Kirtland say to expect performances by the seat of their pants.

The productions continue through June 23rd at the Studio Theater in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, in Oakland. Tickets at

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Theatre review: "Come Fly Away" from Pittsburgh CLO

A traveling road company version of the musical Come Fly Away has landed for a few days brought in by Pittsburgh CLO. Actually CLO was part of the producing team for its 2010 Broadway five- month run before it took off for elsewhere.

The show, as you may already know, is choreographer Twyla Tharp’s setting of dancing to great pop music standards recorded by Frank Sinatra. Given today’s technology, it’s now possible to have a live big band playing the arrangements which go with his voice. Meaning some by Lawrenceville’s Billy May and the North Side’s Sammy Nestico. Lovers of big band jazz will find this a treat, given Sinatra’s classic, classy vocals and the playing by 14 first-rate musicians led by Rob Cookman. P.J. Perry especially stands out with some memorable saxophone solos.

Of course, it isn’t primarily about the music; it’s about what’s done with it. The set represents a night club dance floor where men and women tease, court, connect, withdraw, embrace, collapse, revive, stand, strut, soar, tumble. There are no story lines, no real developments, no noticeable attempts to move in ways which literally interpret the song lyrics. Nor nothing that represents air travel, although the dancers at times make it look as if they almost could fly. Representations of relationships come and go, while, in 80 uninterrupted minutes, eight generically-named dancers pair off into duos, or trios or quartets in non-stop, dynamic, flashy, astonishing steps, some colored by ballet but most looking like the good stuff you’d see in many major musicals choreographed by major talent. Tharp goes less often for big ensemble numbers, even though six other performers are defined as a separate ensemble.

Fundamentally three pairs of dancers keep on coming together. Opening night that meant that Pittsburgh’s Ron Todorowski matched up with Amy Ruggiero (“Marty” and “Betsy”) or, as “Sid,” our town’s Stephen Hanna danced with Meredith Miles as “Babe.” Another regular combination was Anthony Burrell and Ashley Blair Fitzgerald called “Hank” and “Kate.” Since all of them left non-stop impressions of vitality, charm, class and sass, I see no cause to single out one above the other. If you go, though, you might want to study the program in advance to see who is matched with which song.

Sinatra is heard in 25 numbers, few of them in their entirety, all of them sounding great. There are also a couple of other pieces, the band romping through the Basie classic “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” or taking its own spotlight in Paul Desmond’s Dave Brubeck-hit “Take Five.” There is some suggestion of a progression as the show winds down with “One for My Baby,” and “My Way,” but then the big finale leaps into action to flashy “New York, New York” which seems an odd choice for a conclusion, this being elsewhere than the Big Apple. There must be something else which would have more meaning for all of us other Americans. What about “Come Fly With Me"? That would have made sense.

Come Fly Away keeps on swirling through Sunday, June 10th, the last performance at 7:30 at Benedum Center, downtown. 412/281-2822 or

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Theatre review: "The Pitmen Painters" from Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre for Sunday 10th June, 2012

A superb group of first-rate actors directed with perceptive intelligence creates a stimulating experience in Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre’s production of The Pitmen Painters. Lee Hall wrote it. He’s the author of the screenplay for the movie Billy Elliot as well as of the book and lyrics for the musical version. Here he again explores the idea that working class people can be meaningful artists.

This play from 2007 focuses on real-life coal miners and a dental mechanic (a maker of dentures and such like) from Northern England, who, starting in 1934, wanted to know more about art. They ended up learning how to create it and, over the course of the next decades, were acclaimed for their paintings. Hall tenderly, sympathetically portrays these men, giving their tentative first steps much humor and charm. He also makes it clear that this is no narrative viewed with rose-colored glasses.

Hall uses their story as a framework for trenchant observations about what validates art and what art does for society as well as for the people who create it. His script is full of well-written stimulating talk, especially as the men become more knowledgeable. However, almost from the start, these characters come up with well-phrased insights of dubious authenticity. Certainly Hall needs that to get across his points; the real men probably didn’t actually speak that well, given their origins.

He doesn’t spend enough time on the men’s backgrounds, barely touching on lives loaded with perils to health and limbs, working underground to fuel an economy which benefits them little. Instead they are mostly seen gathering to share and discuss their new-found hobby. Since these are people who emerged into a brighter world and whose accomplishments could come across as startling and inspiring, you’d think Hall would try to evoke empathy and admiration about that part of their lives. You can infer such, of course, but it’s likely that you’ll stay on the surface, never getting much chance to go deeper into whom these people really were.

Wonderfully enhancing the story, the audience sees many projections of their paintings.

The acting certainly makes whatever happens believable, given how director Andrew S. Paul especially evokes the sense of ensemble from Simon Bradbury, Daryll Heysham, Alan Stanford, Larry John Myers and Bernard Balbot as working class/ classroom mates.

Canada’s Bradbury, often seen in PICT performances, especially stands out with depth and appealing sensitivity as Oliver Kilbourn, the group’s most promising person. He’s written as the most complicated and conflicted with many questions about the nature of art, about himself and about the radical changes in their lives.

Robert Lyon was the art historian who came to teach the men and Brad Heberlee plays him with intelligent, solid definition, thoroughly filling out the details about Lyon’s openness to seeing things himself from new perspectives, ready to do all he can to lead the group into self-respect and into discovering their feelings moved by art. And Hall has sometimes written their reactions to great art so well, that, in these fine performances, those strong feelings reach across the boundaries of the stage to touch us, for example when these laborer/painters find kinship with Van Gogh.

Some words and speeches don’t come across clearly, given the thick regional accents. Credit the cast with the talent and skill to seem like people from another culture, but you may have, as I had, a fervent wish to better grasp all of the meaning since so much of what Hall has written seems worth understanding. Yet, you will never be in the dark, out there beyond the stage lights, about what has happened or how or why; Hall illuminates that and shows us what can happen when we immerse ourselves in the brilliance of canvases which stir us, telling us more about life than words can alone.

The Pitmen Painters continues through June 23 in the Henry Heymann Theatre at the Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland. 412/ 394-3353 and,

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Theatre review: "Gem of the Ocean" at Pittsburgh Playwrights-Sunday 3rd June 2012

It could take you considerable time to discover where August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean is heading in the current production by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company. However, once it gets fully underway, it moves dramatically and imaginatively, thanks to Mark Clayton Southers’ direction and convincing, solid performing by the cast.

The play looks most like a well-developed melodrama heightened by fantasy, an affectionate portrait of post-Civil War black people struggling to live in a society as repressive as in the days of slavery, while those deep issues hover in the background

Just to make sure you know, this is Wilson’s ninth of ten plays, the one occurring longest ago in each decade of the 20th Century. The year is 1904, although not identified as such in the program book. The setting is the Hill District.

The heart of the play seems to be about finding and honoring roots, about dealing with whom you are and where you are in time and place. At the center is young, misplaced Citizen Barlow. Having fled oppressive racism in Alabama, he wants protection and redemption after being responsible for a man’s death. He feels that the he can get both from aged Aunt Ester. She has an enduring reputation for wisdom, power and magic.

Aunt Ester has live-in help, including Black Mary whose brother Caesar is a constable, enforcing white men’s laws. A frequent visitor is Solly Two Kings, a former guide on the Underground Railroad. Solly wants to go to Alabama to rescue his sister, suffering under the same racism Citizen Barlow escaped.

Not much seemed to happen in the long first act at the preview performance June 1st. That went on for nearly an hour and a half. In it, everyone talks at length about who and what they are, typical August Wilson material in which colorful dialogue dominates, as if for its own sake. Critics praising Wilson often speak of his rich language but that didn’t come across when I saw it. In fact, given that these people speak the vernacular of the period and place, some phrases were lost on me. But I never failed to understand what was happening in the substantial and credible performances.

The second act comes to life when the characters more clearly relate to and need each other, becoming the cause for action, discovery, revelation, tragedy and transformation. This is where Wilson’s most imaginative and special ideas appear. Aunt Ester navigates Citizen Barlow’s trance-like voyage into racial memory aboard a slave ship, whose name is the play’s title. Wilson also effectively makes a symbolic connection between Citizen’s guilt over a man’s drowning and his desire to be washed clean of his sin. Southers staged this part of the play exceptionally well, for example, making use of startlingly vivid masks.

Alan Bomar Jones’ version of Solly Two Kings made him always compellingly genuine and dynamic. And Jonathan Berry gave Citizen Barlow appealing vulnerability and underlying strength. Wali Jamal’s Caesar clearly conveyed troubling menace. Chrystal Bates played Aunt Ester believably aged, but I found her reliance on song-like cadences and inflections diminished understanding the essence of her speeches.

To set the scene, sound designer Mark Whitehead has chosen compelling recordings of what sound like enduring work songs, field hollers and communal gospel gatherings. As always, director Southers designed a realistic set which enhances the feeling of truth, creatively supplemented by his well-chosen, life-like props.

Once again Southers and his company give vitality and depth to a Wilson play, honoring the often brilliant, always fascinating Pittsburgh playwright.

Gem of the Ocean continues through June 24th at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, 937 Liberty Avenue, downtown. 412/377-7803-

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Theatre review: "Private Lives" at Pittsburgh Public Theater-Sunday 3rd June 2012

Pittsburgh Public Theater is serving up a snappy staple of stage offerings from bygone years, Noël Coward’s Private Lives. It was written in and takes place in 1930.That could make you expect a creaky antique or a museum piece and, given today’s constantly transforming modern perspectives, making it irrelevant or trivial.  From that angle you’d be justified in such a conclusion.  But, if you allow yourself to be immersed in its foolishness, you could have a jolly time watching four expert, talented artists from out of town making the most of what’s there.

You might wonder why director Ted Pappas chose to stage this seemingly lightweight fluff but Pappas and his ensemble make the sometimes vinegary confection zing and zip.

You could ask, these days, who’d identify with the two principal characters, Elyot and Amanda? They’re high up on the class ladder with nothing serious on their minds up there and given to constant self-indulgence.  But, as ex-spouses, still harboring the urge to re-connect, they could speak to our own such experiences. And, for those of us for whom battling is a stimulus in a relationship, that too can hit home. 

Coward has fun with that sort of thing, peppering the friction with nasty little stings and nips, giving these shallow people paroxysms of petulance and frustration. He sends up being spoiled. Moreover, Coward knows that such as they, impulsively re-marrying, seek to shake off past mistakes by gravitating to partners who seem the opposite of the spouses they’ve just escaped. A blunder, if the new one is chosen as a reaction to the past one, not for him/herself. That makes them fascinating to watch. Recognizable, even.

Victoria Mack’s Amanda becomes a joy to witness. She shows backbone of a sort, and not just from her revealing gown. She charmingly, convincingly slugs it out verbally and physically. And watching her inhabit a chair oozes command and self-assurance. As Victor, Amanda’s well-named second husband, Laird Mackintosh likewise makes this worth the visit, thoroughly convincing as a chap of earnest uprightness.  

Director Pappas superbly stages reunited Elyot and Amanda’s clinging and caressing which Mack and Micheal Brusasco play well together. Meanwhile, with the assistance of fight choreographer Randy Kovitz, and elsewhere, Pappas expertly has them vibrate with physical and verbal vivacity, landing nasty little slaps.

James Noone’s set has class.  So do Andrew B. Marlay's costumes.

BTW: Elena Alexandratos, the only home town artist on stage, basically gets a walk on. 

Although this fast-paced, lively production may seem solely like entertainment, underneath its bubble and squeak, a few perceptive takes on quirky behavior by married couples offer substance to consider.

Private Lives continues through June 24th at Pittsburgh Public Theater, downtown.412/ 316-1600 or