Tag Archives: Theater

Quantum Theatre’s “Cymbeline” — Deus ex Machina with real machinas

Special announcement, with a deal for Pittsburgh-area bloggers:

Area bloggers are invited free of charge to Quantum Theatre’s performance of Shakepeare’s Cymbeline:

Preview Performance (they will be testing the techie workings of the production)
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Mellon Park (Point Breeze/Shadyside neighborhood)
8PM (no late seating, gates lock at 8 sharp)

Quantum Theatre’s upcoming production is Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, which runs in Mellon Park from July 31-Aug 24. It is truly innovative in that Karla Boos — the director and Quantum founder — is collaborating with Illah Nourbakhsh at the Robotics Institute at CMU to integrate interactive technology into the production.

We can’t spill any more secrets than that, except to say that this event is sure to be a wonder.

Find out about Quantum Theatre at their website: www.quantumtheatre.com.

RSVP required; cancellations appreciated. Please RSVP to Rene Conrad at rconrad@quantumtheatre.com or 412.697.2929.

“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.

Whodunnit? I’ll never tell

Promotional photo of the Butler Little Theatre's production of The Mousetrap

I’ve been babysitting my niece a lot lately, and the reason is that her mother — my sister — has been in rehearsals for a play at the Butler Little Theatre.

The play is The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie, and it’s most famous for being the longest continuously running play of all time, "with 23,000 performances in the course of its (as of 7 February 2008) nearly 55-year run in the West End of London," according to Wikipedia.

The play is also famous for having a twist ending, which at the end of every performance the audience is asked not to reveal. Thus, we have this play to thank for the oeuvre of M. Night Shyamalan.

My sister has the role of Miss Casewell. That’s her in the lower left of the photo above. Apparently Miss Casewell is a little on the tomboy side.

The play opens this Friday evening and runs every night through the following Saturday (no show on Monday). The Butler Little Theatre is an excellent community theatre group, and I’m looking forward to the production — and to solving the mystery!

Full show details and ticket information can be found on the BLT website. Note that you’ll need to phone during evening hours to reserve tickets; they cannot be purchased online, and because the theater is small you’ll want a reservation.

Be mine!


PEEKABOO, originally uploaded by valart2008.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

In addition to being the day of the biggest holiday taken over by a greeting card company and a diamond monopoly, today is the tenth anniversary of V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day was started by Eve Ensler, the creator of The Vagina Monologues. You might choose to celebrate by taking in a showing of that show — see details for the current Pittsburgh production here. There’s a special $10 discount today (different from the discount I mentioned in the ealier post): Call 412.431.2489 and mention "Wednesday special." The show has been extended through March 9, so if you have other plans with your sweetie tonight, you can catch the show later.

Today is also Quirkyalone Day (for those who prefer being alone to dating for the sake of being in a couple). I plan to celebrate with a nice glass of Big House Red wine and a viewing of Casino Royale.

I hope your Valentine’s Day is happy!

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.

All the fun that’s fit to print

To help you plan your week, here are the key events on my schedule. Please join me when you can:

Wednesday, December 5: The 74th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition. I’ll post recommended beverages on Wednesday. For now, if you are the sort of person who enjoys an intoxicating beverage, plan to be somewhere where you can drink one by 5:32 EST on Wednesday.

Thursday, December 6: Pittsburgh Geek Night the 56th at the Church Brew Works. 5pm to 9pm. Details at the Pittsburgh Geeks website.

Friday, December 7: Butler County Chamber of Commerce holiday event. I realize that many of you will not be interested in this, but I plan to attend. Which will create a challenge when I then rush off to…

Friday, December 7: Gist Street Reading Series, 7:30pm. The final reading of 2007, and the last before the series takes a six month hiatus. Should be a great one. Details at the Gist Street website.

Saturday, December 8: Portraits for Toys at the Creative Treehouse, 10am – 8pm. A terrific idea:

On Saturday, December 8th, the members of the Creative TreeHouse in Bellevue will put their talents to good use and hold a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. Professional holiday portraits will be taken at the Creative Treehouse, located at 517 Lincoln Ave (2nd Floor) Bellevue, PA 15202 from 10:00AM to 8:00PM for those who bring a toy donation for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Suggested donations are toys for boys and girls up to age thirteen and around the price range of $10. Family portraits are available for a donation of two gifts, one for a boy and one for a girl. Single portraits will be available for a donation of one gift. A holiday backdrop designed by Creative TreeHouse members will be available as will a normal studio backdrop for single and family portraits.

The whole family is invited to spend time at the Creative TreeHouse while portraits are being taken. Portraits will be available to download online with a special code provided to each guest at the event. Details here.

Sunday, December 9: Closkey family goes to the theater! Actually, this will most likely be my sister Katy, my mother, and me going to the theater, as the play we’re eyeballing is Pride and Prejudice at PICT. The men of the family are guaranteed to whine and gripe, so we need not even ask them. For myself, I look forward to seeing David Whalen as a charming, blond Mr. Darcy. (Sigh.)

Sunday, December 9: There will be some kind of football game at 4:15pm. I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch it — I hope my heart is strong enough.