Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Theatre review: "South Side Stories" at City Theatre for Sunday 2nd December 2012

I’ve lived in Pittsburgh since 2001 and have been covering theatre every year since then. Which means I’ve often gone to the South Side, especially to City Theatre. But, coming out of the theatre after witnessing Tami Dixon’s South Side Stories, I felt as if I was seeing the neighborhood for the first time, no longer a generic preponderance of narrow streets and tightly-packed row houses. I suppose you could say “Duh,” as if I had never thought about the people before. You’d be right. But what grabbed me from what Dixon put on the stage was how the same streets, the same houses immediately felt different even without people. She makes the place alive.

Dixon channels the inhabitants in a narrative in which they speak for themselves. She also has the insight and perception to choose the best and most special of what they had told her, shedding light not only on their stories but on how they speak, making it clear that every day citizens can be eloquent without intending to be.

In an hour and a half she conjures up a variety of residents, using their words in a series of portraits, most of which stand alone. I have no idea how many people she represents. Counting them serves no purpose; there’s no need to justify praising virtuosity. Dixon has come up with a cumulative effect which transcends any individual component, herself included. This isn’t about her. It’s about her community and the people whom she clearly holds dear.

There’s much in there about family, family memories of the past. And you learn about how neighbors become a kind of family. Lots of the residents have endured time and change. This is mostly about them and not the newer arrivals. Whoever they are, they become real. Dixon’s performing artistry makes it so.

David Pohl has created an impressive, imaginative array of projections on the wall behind her, sometimes, wonderfully, as if his images and Dixon’s movements have been choreographed to reflect each other. Matt M. Morrow directed; certainly his input has made everything come together superbly.

I don’t intend to tell you about most of the components of this marvel nor of specifically how well Dixon portrays so many different characters, sometimes in multi-person narratives, some amusing, some sweet, some touching. Yet she never pushes.

Dixon makes one especially memorable choice, weaving into and out of a story of woman who, unintentionally, comes across a dead body near where she lives, calling the body “empty,” knowing that the soul has moved on. Later that living woman finds new wonder in the South Side.


South Side Stories continues through December 16th at City Theatre. 1300 Bingham Street, South Side (of course) 412/ 431- CITY (2489) or citytheatrecompany.org

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