Tag Archives: City Theatre

“The Wonder Bread Years” at City Theatre, with special promo for bloggers

Promotional photo for "The Wonder Bread Years"

Remember when I explained how to see a play? If you haven’t already used those five easy steps to see Bust (and you still have another week or so, so get going on that), you might try them out on a new show opening next month at City Theatre: The Wonder Bread Years.

City Theatre announces a special summer engagement of The Wonder Bread Years, a hilarious one-man show by former Seinfeld writer Pat Hazell. An open-ended run of this hit comedy will begin Thursday, July 10, 2008 in City Theatre’s Lester Hamburg Studio. Anyone who remembers Silly Putty and Sugar Pops will love this entertaining salute to Baby Boomer culture, performed at City Theatre by John Mueller.

The Wonder Bread Years features a set that will evoke the typical front porch and yard of an American kid in the 1960s and 70s. With the fast pace of stand-up comedy, plus audience interaction, the show looks back on the food, toys, holiday customs, commercials, and TV shows of an amazing era. Manwich, Spam, the kid’s table, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, milk money, Dilly Bars, road trips in the way-back seat of the family station wagon—these are just a few of the slices of Americana that will be served up in The Wonder Bread Years.

Special promotion for bloggers: Free pairs of tickets are available to bloggers for City Theatre’s production of The Wonder Bread Years for the following performances:

  • Sat., July 12 at 9 pm
  • Fri., July 18 at 8 pm
  • Sat., July 19 at 5:30 pm
  • Sun., July 20 at 2 pm

Availability is limited and tickets will be given on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact mromero@citytheatrecompany.org. Requests must be received by July 3 — don’t delay!

Not a blogger? Well, this might be a fine time to start. But you can see the show anyway of course. Find full ticket information and more at the City Theatre website.

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How to see a play

Production still from Bust at City Theatre
Production photo from Bust at City Theatre

How to See a Play, in Five Easy Steps

Step 1: Choose a play to see. Near you, wherever you are, some theater is putting on a play; probably several are. In Pittsburgh, we’re lucky to have a wide range of plays and musicals to choose from every day (except Mondays — most theaters don’t schedule shows for Mondays).

People who don’t know much about theater seem to think only of tedious, long-winded productions of the Shakespeare plays that they hated reading in high school. There’s so much more though: modern comedies, tense dramas, and other styles to fit any taste. There’s sure to be a play you would enjoy immensely within a hour’s drive of your home.

If you’re new to this whole theater thing, ease your way in by starting with a comedy or a one-person show. I highly recommend Bust, playing at City Theatre through June 29. It’s a one-woman show that much more than a monologue — Lauren Weedman, the playwright and performer, portrays herself and dozens of other women, and she’s funny and thoughtful and thought-provoking. In fact, she’s unbelievably entertaining.

You don’t have to take my word for it: The Post-Gazette and Trib both loved it too. I consider the performance I saw Wednesday night to be one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had, and I want everyone to have the chance to enjoy it too. (Footnote.)

Step 2: Buy tickets. Depending on the theater, you may be able to order online. Regional theaters tend not to have a lot of seats, which is good because most of the seats in the house will have good views.

Sometimes the stage will stick out into the audience or be surrounded on all sides by seating. Generally the seats in the center have the best views, but production teams and directors and actors think about the people sitting in side sections and stage accordingly. Don’t be afraid of seats on the side.

Step 3: Dress however you want. A bathing suit probably isn’t the best choice, in part because the theater might be a little chilly, but otherwise there isn’t a dress code. Furs and fancy jewelry are not required. Dress up if you like, or wear whatever you wore to the office. If you’re unsure, just wear something comfortable; bring a sweater if you tend to get chilly.

Step 4: Go to the theater on time. Live theater really is live, like a sporting event, and it tends to start on time. Once the play starts, latecomers aren’t allowed in (so as not to disturb the audience and the performers), so Do Not Be Late.

If you are late and there’s an intermission you can take your seats during that break, but you’ll have missed the start. No good. And if there’s no intermmission (as in the case of Bust), then you’re just out of luck. Better to get there a bit ahead and get to your seat.

Use the waiting time before curtain to chat with your companions, or check the ads in the program for special offers from nearby restaurants — find a nice place to go after the show.

Step 5: Enjoy the show. Leave behind everything that’s going on in your life and lose yourself to the show before you. It’s kind of like going to the movies, except that the performers are right there in the room for you, bringing the characters and situations to life before your eyes. The production crew is invisible behind the scenes and in the booth, handling the lighting and sound and all the other elements to create a whole world around you.

All this means there’s an electricity to live theater that simply isn’t present in pre-recorded media like film and television. You’re there, and the show is there, and you’re part of it.

So go ahead and really be part of it. Forget the outside world for a couple of hours.

In particular, silence electronic devices. Shut the damn things off, or at least put them on vibrate if you need to be on call. No texting during the show either; the blue glow from your screen will ruin the night for everyone sitting around you. Don’t be the guy who ruins everyone else’s night out. Besides, you paid for this show — you might as well turn your focus on the stage and enjoy the experience that surrounds you.

Bonus step: Talk about the show with your friends. Start with the friends who attended the play with you; go out for coffee or a drink afterwards (remember those places with ads in the program? go there) and talk about what you liked and didn’t like about the production, what happened in the play, all that kind of thing.

If you liked the play, tell others — and do it quickly, so they can see the show before it closes!


Footnote: A bit of disclosure: City Theatre provides me with free passes to their productions, as a member of the media like a newspaper reviewer. (They’re sort of progressive in viewing bloggers as members of media.) Even if they hadn’t, though, I would still want you to see this show. It’s absolutely great, and I think you’ll love it. Back to text.

Let me tell you a story

Promotional photo from Flight, performed at City Theatre in Pittsburgh

Photo from City Theatre’s production of Flight, March 2008. Pictured center: Joshua Elijah Reese and DeWanda Wise. Photo credit: John Schisler.

In Flight, Charlayne Woodard’s play (recently produced, brilliantly, at City Theatre), the characters are all slaves living on a plantation near Savannah, Georgia in 1858. They are forbidden to learn to read or write, and one of their fellow slaves has just been sold because she had learned to read and was teaching her son.

Not knowing how to read or write doesn’t stop them from telling stories though. The play centers on the oral tradition, the passing on of tales from one person to another, from one generation to another. The storytellers mingle in music and dance, and in Flight the listeners act out the parts of the stories, adding their own interpretations and experiences along the way.

The oral traditions aren’t confined to slaves or people of African descent. Last year, performance troupe Mabou Mines brought Finn, a work-in-progress, to the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre. "Interweaving a Celtic legendary figure, Finn McCool, and elements of Middle Eastern folktales, Finn tells the story of a boy’s journey to avenge his father’s death."

Of course, we’re all familiar with some flavor of oral tradition, whether it’s sitting around at the holidays and listening to old family stories, told for the hundredth time, or meeting up with old friends and rehashing tales of the sordid past.

Is this changing with the existence of the Web, with its wikis and blogs and Facebook photos?

If I post a story on my blog, it’s captured in words. That’s nice if I want it to be captured. But what if I want for others to take it and run with it, add their own twists? People do this with memes, like lists of statistics from their iTunes setups; they sometimes respond to a blog post on their own blogs. But memes are small and frothy; blog posts can have substance but rarely does anyone take a post and reimagine or re-present it in a new light. In fact, I think if someone did, they might be slammed for stealing the originator’s idea.

But think of medieval troubadors going from town to town, singing stories along the way, leaving the stories behind to be sung by others with some parts added and others forgotten. I think the Web is a little too good at preserving things, so we can’t experience the beauty and surprise of mutation.

Or maybe it’s there and I’m not seeing it. What’s the modern equivalent of the oral tradition? Is it just what people used before they could write and record and blog, or it is part of the human experience?

UPDATE: On a related note, over at AndrewAlan.com Andy explores social networking on the web and in real life. Good thoughts.

Vive l’amour!

City Theatre’s production of The 13th of Paris. Pictured (left) Matthew Dellapina (right) Jenny Wales. Photo credit: John Schisler.

Matthew Dellapina and Jenny Wales in The City Theatre’s production of The 13th of Paris.
Photo credit: John Schisler.

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl, or boy argues with girl until they hate each other, or boy opens a major chain bookstore around the corner from girl’s spunky independent bookstore, or boy does something else that’s clearly on the wrong path. But then boy wins girl back. We know the basic story so well, in so many variations, it’s hard to imagine a new twist on it. It’s the classic romantic comedy plot, backbone of countless novels and chick flicks.

The current production at City Theater, The 13th of Paris, is billed as a romantic comedy, but this label is a bit unfair. Sure, the play follows the basic rom-com storyline for the most part. But it doesn’t start with a "meet cute" — it jumps right into the good stuff: the turmoil of the "boy loses girl" stage. And this small change leaves much more time to debate interesting questions of love in a modern world, questions that a standard romantic comedy never has enough time to confront.

In this case, the boy — Vincent — doesn’t lose the girl per se. He walks away from her, of his own volition, because he isn’t sure if the sweet and happy feelings he feels are the right kind of love. Shouldn’t he and she be wildly and crazily consumed by their passion for each other? Think Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Catherine, Rick and Ilsa. Theirs are Great Loves. What is one to make of a love composed of pleasant Sunday mornings sitting in bed and doing crossword puzzles, talking in private languages, or not talking at all? Surely Rick and Ilsa would never do crossword puzzles, and they’d never talk in fake robot talk.

To be clear, Vincent isn’t looking for movie-style love. He wants a real-life love: the love his grandparents had for each other. The love he wants is what he’s seen captured in letters his grandfather wrote in the course of a fifteen year marriage, packed full of talk of endless, limitless love. And who wouldn’t want a love like that?

As simple a question as it seems, this play gives reason to think otherwise, or at least to appreciate the alternatives. And it does so in a wholly entertaining, light, bittersweet manner. Everything about this show evokes Parisian charm with a modern, American awareness, from a stellar cast to immaculate direction to evocative sets and production.

The show trips along in a brisk but unhurried 90 minutes, so it’s also a great component in a dinner-and-a-show evening. If you’re looking for a romantic night out, look to this South Side outpost of the Treizieme arrondissement.

The 13th of Paris at City Theatre, through February 17, 2008
Show details and ticket information at the City Theatre website

Other reviews:
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (preview article)
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

I’ll have what she’s having

The Vagina Monologues promotional flyer

SAVE $5 PER TICKET TO The Vagina Monologues. Mention the word "BLOG" when you call to purchase your tickets, and you’ll save $5 for each ticket. Tell them you read about the show on My Brilliant Mistakes. To make your reservation, call 412.431.2489 — this discount is available only for phone orders and sales at the Box Office.

Answers to some questions you might have about City Theatre’s current production of The Vagina Monologues:

What is it?
The Vagina Monologues is a series of related monologues of varying length, all about female anatomy, women’s relationships to their anatomy and sexuality, and society’s responses and influence. That sounds academic and heavy, but it’s mostly funny, touching, sad, bittersweet, energizing, and thought-provoking. It was created and first performed by Eve Ensler, based on interviews she conducted with over 200 women. (Find more background at Wikipedia.) In most other productions of this show, three or more actors take turns delivering monologues. This production features Erica Bradshaw, Holli Hamilton, and Laurie Klatscher, all of whom are fantastic and warm and fun.

Is it embarrassing?
Yes. But in a good way. Everyone’s comfort level with the language and subject matter is sure to be different. Still, nothing is so graphic or explicit that the audience is left wincing — or if they are, they’re laughing a minute later.

Is it all one big feminist rant about sex and society?
There’s a feminist slant, certainly. The message overall is that too many women are ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality, and that they should make the effort to love themselves — figuratively at least and literally in some cases. There’s some anger, but it’s handled in a funny way. On the whole, I suspect an ardent feminist would find the show doesn’t go far enough.

Do any men go to see the show?
Yes. At the Saturday matinee I attended, about 10 or 11% of the audience was male. That sounds respectable until you realize it’s only about 15 guys, and they were spread throughout the theater. Surrounded by women, in other words. But I suspect they all had a good time, once they overcame any misgivings. You don’t have to take my word for it though: Uncle Crappy was there, and he has had very nice things to say about the show.

Do the actors and audience hassle any men in the audience?
No. Far from it.

How many times do they say the word "vagina" in the course of the show?
More time than I could count.

What’s the worst word they say?
Telling that would spoil one of the best monologues in the show. You’ll need to go and see it for yourself. Actually, I’m not sure I see anything as a bad word now — it’s all in what you mean and how you say it.

Would I go see it again? 
Yes. And I would take my mom.

The shows runs until February 17. Visit the City Theatre website for show times and dates. For tickets, call 412.431.CITY (2489), or visit the Box Office at 1300 Bingham Street — mention the word ‘BLOG’ and receive a $5 discount per ticket.

Pittsburgh-area Bloggers invited to “The Vagina Monologues”

UPDATE (January 2008): The blogger event took place, and boy it was fun! Thanks to all the bloggers who came to the show, and double thanks to those who blogged about it! You can find my notes on the show in the post "I’ll have what she’s having."

UPDATE: Please tell other bloggers and post this on your site — spread the word about this neat event.

As you may know, City Theatre invites me often to attend and review their productions. They asked me to help promote an event coming up this January:

Pittsburgh Bloggers Invited to "The Vagina Monologues"

City Theatre, on Pittsburgh’s South Side, is staging a new production of the mega-hit "The Vagina Monologues," and they’re extending a special invitation to the bloggers of Pittsburgh — female and otherwise.

"The Vagina Monologues," Eve Ensler’s revolutionary and entertaining theatre event, will star Erica Bradshaw, Holli Hamilton and Laurie Klatscher. These three awesome actresses will list pet names for private parts, tell stories about discovering "downthere," and discuss the wonders of birth. Staged in City Theatre’s 111-seat Hamburg Studio, the shocking truths and raucous humor will be an up-close and personal experience for all.

Local bloggers are invited to bring a guest and attend the show for free on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 5:30 pm. You’ll also enjoy a complimentary glass of wine in the theatre lobby bar beginning at 4:30 pm. If you choose to write about "The Vagina Monologues" on your blog afterwards, the theatre will also provide a special discount code that you can offer your readers.

IMPORTANT: To reserve your seats, please send an email to Margie Romero (mromero at citytheatrecompany.org) by Wednesday, January 2, 2008. Include your name, the name and URL of your blog, and the number of seats you wish to reserve (1 or 2).

Space is limited, so sign up today!

I’ll be there, most definitely. If you’re going, I’d love to meet up with other bloggers afterwards as well — we’ll grab a coffee or a drink somewhere on the South Side and discuss the show. Drop me a note if you plan to go.

Month Impossible: Day Twenty-seven, Murderers, animated treadmills, and yet more writing

Promotional photo for Murderers, at Pittsburgh's City Theatre

I’ve mentioned before that "Murderers," currently playing at City Theatre on Pittsburgh’s South Side, is a terrific play and well worth your time and money, yes?

The play is three monologues, each by a different actor, each beginning with the sentence, "I am a murderer." The play is by Jeffrey Hatcher, a playwright with a strange and dry sense of humor that apparently is closely aligned with my own. He also wrote "A Picasso," which City Theatre put on last year and which I enjoyed quite a bit.

"Murderers" is even better. It’s full of slight asides, charming characters, murder and revenge and people saying very unreasonable things in very reasonable tones. The sets, costumes, sound, lighting and direction are all excellent, and the performances are layered, rich, and engaging. Plus, the intimate Lester Hamburg Studio is an ideal space for these intimate tales of life and death.

What did others think? City Paper loved the play too and the Tribune-Review admired it and wondered if a crime spree was bigger than imagined, while the Post-Gazette didn’t care so much for the play although Christopher Lawson admitted he laughed along with the rest of the audience. As for me, I suggest you find an evening in your busy holiday schedule to slip down to the South Side and take in this play, as an antidote to all that’s saccharine sweet about the holidays.

"Murderers" continues through December 22. Find more information, including how to get tickets, at the City Theatre website.

In other news of things I like, my close personal friends OK Go got a shoutout on the Simpsons this week:

NaNoWriMo update: You’ll note that the word count in the meter in the sidebar is speeding upward. I’m writing my pretty fingers to the bone. thank you to everyone who has offered encouragement. It may sound a cliche, but your words help me keep generating my words.

DrawMo update: My brother Anthony sharpened all my pastel pencils, so I’m set to churn out some pretty new things. And some ugly new things too — I don’t much care right now, as long as I catch up.

City Theatre open house and new season

A few weeks ago, City Theatre in Pittsburgh held an open house, including backstage tours and previews of plays in production. Theater is all about illusion, so it’s interesting to me that City Theatre is willing to show what goes on literally behind the scenes.

I have a little more information about the workings of City Theatre than the average theater-goer, partly because they invite me to cover their productions (just like a real journalist!), and partly because my sister Katy worked at City Theatre in the past as assistant stage manager and remains friends with a number of the people who work there.

City Theatre's set workshop


Some highlights:

The set construction workshop for the theatre, an amazingly small space but stocked with an impressive array of power tools. (In the photo, note the shelf full of power tool batteries being charged — a common theater sight.)


Tony Ferrieri, Scenic Design

My favorite scenic designer in Pittsburgh, Tony Ferrieri, showing the conceptual work and models for the sets of the first two productions this season, Mother Theresa Is Dead and Murderers.

Angie Vesco

Angie Vesco

The fabulously hip and talented Angela Vesco, who is the costumer for Mother Theresa Is Dead, describing the tradeoffs involved in created costumes that are authentic and appropriate to a play but also work in a stage setting.

Dramaturg Carlyn Aquiline talking about the collaborations City Theatre undertakes with playwrights. She also played a video clip of a one-woman show, Bust, which the theatre is bringing to town later this year — one which looks compelling and funny and painful, well worth seeing.

City Theatre's rehearsal space

Rehearsal space

Check out this rehearsal space, which overlooks North Carson Street in the South Side. Hardwood floors, high ceilings, funky industrial piping, and those windows!

City Theatre’s 2007-2008 season kicks off tonight with the U.S. premiere of Mother Theresa Is Dead.

From the promotional materials:

Mother Teresa Is Dead revolves around Jane (Rebecca Harris), who at a crisis point leaves her family in England and flees to India. When the play begins, Jane’s husband, Mark (Sean Meehan), has found her in a village near Madras. She has been taken in by a British artist (Kristen Griffith), and has been helping at a children’s shelter run by Srinivas (Nehal Joshi), an Oxford-educated Indian man. Why did Jane run away and what’s in the bag she won’t let anyone touch? These suspenseful questions drive the fast-paced action. Along the way, deeper inquiries are made into family dynamics, Western entitlement, and the obligations of rich countries to Third World nations. Ultimately, Mother Teresa Is Dead asks: Who will be responsible?

What: Mother Teresa Is Dead by Helen Edmundson
Dates: October 4 – 28, 2007
Times: Tue. at 7 pm; Wed. thru Fri. at 8 pm; Sat. at 5:30 & 9 pm. Sun., at 2 pm.
                 In addition, there will be a 1 pm matinee on Wed., Oct. 17.
Where: City Theatre, 1300 Bingham and 13th Streets, on Pittsburgh’s South Side
Tickets: $15 to $46, available at 412.431.CITY (2489) or CityTheatreCompany.org

I won’t have the chance to see the show until next week; I look forward to it.

To do: Open House at City Theatre

City Theatre logoNext Friday will be a busy one in Pittsburgh. In addition to the Gist Street Readings and the Pirates playing Chicago Cubs at home (Vintage Cap Night!), there’s this very fun event at City Theatre on the South Side:

Fun-Festive-FREE-Fifth Annual
Open House at City Theatre

Friday, September 7 from 5 to 10 pm

Behind-the-Scenes Tours – Go back stage, see the costume and paint shops, visit the rehearsal room, hear a set design presentation, meet the artistic staff, and learn how City Theatre’s original plays are made.

Sneak Peek of the Upcoming Season – 2007/08 includes the startling drama Mother Teresa Is Dead, Jeffrey Hatcher’s kooky comedy Murderers, a world premiere of The 13th of Paris, the magical play with music Flight, and much more.

Taste of the South Side – Sample complimentary food from some of our exciting neighborhood restaurants including 17th Street Café, Café Allegro, Gypsy, Folino’s Ristorante, and Mantini’s Woodfired. A cash bar will also be available.

*City at Your Service: Bring a donation of canned food for the Brashear Association and have a beer or soda on us!

Box Office Bonanza – Discover new season packages like the Sipping Sundays Wine Tasting series and Girls Nights Out. Buy tickets for Sister’s Christmas Catechism. Learn about special savings for seniors, students and groups. Make a Date for 07/08!

1300 Bingham Street on the South Side

For more details about any of City Theatre’s programming call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit CityTheatreCompany.org

City Theatre invited me to cover their 2006-2007 season, which included the American Trio series of new plays along with other innovative fare. What I like most about them is that they take seriously their mission to develop and produce contemporary plays for a diverse audience. They don’t shirk from a challenge — consider the risks of producing a comic-tragic mystery about sea creatures off the coast of Newfoundland (The Muckleman) — and they cover a range of styles from broad comedy (The Underpants) to modern drama (Intimate Apparel). They encourage and support new playwrights and contribute to the richness of Pittsburgh’s theater scene. And everyone I’ve met there has been friendly, open to ideas, and just downright nice.

I most enjoy their comedies, so I’m particularly looking forward to the upcoming production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Murderes in November. In the meantime though, this open house will be a fine opportunity to take a look behind the scenes of a terrific regional theater. I hope you’ll stop in.

Promoting people who are not me

The Missionary PositionDear everyone, including visitors arriving here from the Burgh Blog: I’ve little time to make fresh content for you today, but that gives me extra space to tell you to go see "The Missionary Position" at City Theatre on Pittsburgh’s South Side. It’s a funny play, ostensibly a satiric comedy about politics but really a comic tragedy about people and truth and integrity. I’d say that’s a fine definition of politics today: a comic tragedy. The play runs through May 20, so hie yourself over to the City Theatre website, read a bit more about it, and buy your tickets.