Buried Secrets – a review of “Buried Child”

By Michael Buzzelli

Something is buried in the backyard of a fragmented, dysfunctional family in Illinois.

Hint: The title of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” is a bit of a spoiler, but the Pulitzer-winning play is darker than you might imagine.

The play starts, like Warhol’s “Sleep,” with Dodge (Brett Sullivan Santry) sleeping in the basement, possibly dying, possibly not. His wife Halie (Susana Garcia-Barragan) shouts at him from another room.  She’s not-so-secretly having an affair with a local Protestant minister, Father Dewis (Edward Kunz).

Dodge and Halie’s son Tilden (Jeff Johnston) lives with them. He isn’t all there either. There other living son, Bradley (Michael McBurney) lives nearby. He has taken to tormenting his dying father.  Another son, Ansel, died under mysterious circumstances.

When Tilden’s son Vince (Eric Molina) brings his girlfriend (Cecilia Staggers) into town, long-festering secrets are unearthed.

Bradly (Michael McBurney) hovers over his father, Dodge (Brett Sullivan Santry) in “Buried Child.”

Though the play was first produced in 1978, it feels very current, like an episode of “Black Mirror.” A farming couple who are both very disturbed. Its American Gothic…gone very, very goth. During the curtain speech, the audience is warned about the delicate subject matter the play covers.

The performances are the number one reason to “Buried Child,” particularly Sullivan Santry, Johnston and McBurney. They all burn with intensity.

Sullivan Santry is amazing as a grumbling, grouchy alcoholic, who, in the third act, is finally ready to face the consequences of his actions. He barely leaves the sofa but he’s always moving. He has a series of  oft-repeated tics and movements that keep your eyes the actor.

Johnston is terrific as the eldest son. He’s hiding a deep dark, too. He is possibly concealing multiple secrets.

McBurney limps around the stage with ferocity. His character had a chainsaw accident that left him with only one leg, its never clear which leg, though.

The men are oozing with rage, barely holding back their violent natures. There are several moments in the play where you want to get up from your seat and tell Staggers’ Shelley, “Get the hell out of there!”

Sound Designer Tony Risotto heightens the drama with eerie high-pitched noises at key moments during the drama, enough to put your nerves on edge.  His work is outstanding.

While Sullivan Santry spends most of the play on the sofa or on the floor, Director Katie Chmura keeps the play from being stagnant. It’s very kinetic. She lets the actors take bold swings and they knock it out of the park.

If you can handle the indelicate subject matter, you’ll want to run down to the Carnegie Stage and see Throughline Theatre’s “Buried Child.”

-MB

“Buried Child” runs from July 19 till July 28 at the Carnegie Stage, 25 West Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. More information can be found here. 

It’s Not Quite the Same as a Bug Up Her Ass – Review of “A Flea in Her Ear” 

By Claire DeMarco

Raymonde Chandebise (Apryl Peroney) and her husband Victor Emmanuel Chandebise (Todd Foose) live a comfortable life in 1907 Paris. Married for some time, Raymonde believes Victor is no longer interested in her romantically and most likely is having an affair.

Positive that Victor is unfaithful, Raymonde coerces her best friend Lucienne Bonhangelle de Boulogne (Rebecca Radeshak) to help her prove Victor’s transgression. With Raymonde’s prodding, Lucienne writes a letter to Victor pretending to be a woman attracted to him and entices him to a meeting at the infamous The Golden Cockerel Hotel.

As Raymonde’s husband seems to have no romantic interest in her, Lucienne’s husband, Baron Christophe Bonhangelle de Boulogne (Christopher Bartko) has more interest in Lucienne that she can handle. She’s tired!

When Victor receives the letter, he is convinced that it’s not meant for him, but for his friend, Phillipe Tournel (Travis Miller), a well-known lady’s man.

Victor’s nephew Camille Chandebise (Ayden Freed) is anxious for his first love conquest, but his speech impediment is a hinderance.

Dr. Francoise Finache (Bruce Travers) is both Camille’s and Victor’s doctor, developing a way for Camille to overcome his speech impediment and seeking a reason for Victor’s health changes.

All our principal characters end up at The Golden Cockerel Hotel whose hotel manager (sorry, madame), Olympe Ferraillon (Tamara Marlise Manzetti) attempts to make sense and control a bevy of agitated people.

Now the plethora of plots begin to unwind in a farce that involves a balance of physical and verbal comedy filled with mistaken identities, innuendoes, exaggerated action (with a slant towards slapstick).

The cast of “A Flea in Her Ear.”

Foose is excellent as Victor and Poche. Both characters are unique and Foose brings a realism to both. His characterization of Victor as an upright and rather serious man of means is highlighted by his carriage and demeanor. As Poche, a working-class hotel worker, reflects years of hard work through his slouched posture. Through great physical and facial movements, he can give both characters a unique personality of their own.

Peroney epitomizes what the use of facial and physical movements encompasses in a performance. Asides and quick turns of her head deliver comic reaction with no words spoken. She uses her hands cleverly, flopping them in front of her as if she is shaking off water after washing them.  This mechanism appears to be a way for her to settle down and gather her thoughts before her next challenge.

Miller is believable as Victor’s oversexed, not quite so bright friend. You can almost see the steam coming from his face as he talks about possible conquests.

Manzetti as the madam of The Golden Cockerel Hotel appears more respectable than her “guests” as she attempts to corral them into some semblance of order.  She cleverly changes her demeanor from reserved to exasperated as the situation changes.

Freed is engaging as the innocent young man.  His delivery with a speech impediment is flawless and he easily transitions to a clear speaking man when a remedy is discovered for his problem.

Delightful, funny performance by Zhen Yu Ding as Herr Verructmann, German-speaking hotel resident looking for some “action”.

“A Flea in Her Ear” is the first play in Pittsburgh Savoyards 87th season and they’re off to a great start!

“A Flea in Her Ear” was written by Georges Feydeau.

Kudos to Scene Designer Robert Hockenberry for creating an intricate, complicated set that works in a small theater space.

Excellent direction by Robert Hockenberry who also translated and adapted this play.

Note:  Depending on the performance date, many of the actors’ roles are performed by other members of the cast.

-CED

“A Flea in Her Ear” is a production of The Pittsburgh Savoyards.  Performances run from July 12th to July 27th at the Margaret Partee Performing Arts Center in Bellevue. For more information, click here

Bury Berry Family Members – a review of “Very Berry Dead”

Lonnie the Theatre Lady

This Pittsburgh premiere, dramatic comedy written by Jose’ Perez IV is a little hard to describe. It’s sometimes funny with some very witty, snappy dialogue and some that borders on corny, yet still humorous lines. It deals with several topics–death, homophobia, family dysfunction, traditions, tragedy, suicide, and bureaucracy, to name a few.

The few surviving members of the extremely diverse Berry family, assemble at the family farm to bury fifteen family members, all of whom died together in a freak, somewhat vague “explosion, melting, drowning” tragic accident. (I know, really?–but there’s no apparent need to be any more specific.)

Now, the dilemma– Vermont law permits only six bodies can be buried in the remaining limited family  burial space. That leaves nine remaining bodies that will need to be interred elsewhere, or somehow dispensed with. The negotiations among the family members as they try to decide which of the deceased can be buried in the traditional burial grounds is sometimes heart wrenching as past secrets are revealed and more often ludicrous/hilarious.  “The System” which is devised to rate the deceased’s right to be buried in the family plot is based on likability, and other equally unclear topics, one of which has the category of “garlic breath.” The resolution to the problem is satisfying and unexpected.—No spoilers here!

Ernesto Mario Sánchez and José Pérez IV in “Very Berry Dead.”

The cast of comical, quirky characters are most enjoyable. Marigold (Carolyn Jerz) is hilarious as the new age, love child who always sees the best in everybody and everything. Jerz floats, whirls,  and glides across the stage. She’s delightful and believable in her role. Her presence on stage brings lightness and spreads joy.

Scat (Ernesto Mario Sanchez) is a charming, larger than life Texan with a heart as big as the state of Texas. Sanchez has a likable, pleasing, boyish way of embodying his character.

Sims (Matt Henderson) is the law abiding County Health Officer. Henderson’s portrayal of the very rigid, nerdy public servant is entertaining and so funny. Henderson later appears as the loving husband of another of the characters (no spoilers). He exudes warmth and love in this role. Later, Henderson rocks the house with laughter as the feuding neighbor. Absolutely hilarious. His versatility is remarkable–three very different characters–all so well done and distinctly different from each other. A reminder that, “there are no small parts”.

JJ (Jose’ Perez IV) is the “son” of one of the deceased. He plays his role in  a measured reasonable way. He is likable and sympathetic.

Casey (Claire Sabatine) has the meatiest dramatic role. (Many of the other roles are comedic or caricature like). She plays it well well with authentic emotion and sincerity. She is the most sympathetic character in the play.

The transitions between scenes are sometimes slower than they could be and that  slows the momentum of the story. This play touches on many various important topics in an entertaining way. I am looking forward to seeing more plays written by Jose’ Perez IV.

 

LTL

“Very Berry Dead” runs July 12-21 at the Henry Heymann Theater, next to the Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. For tickets, click here

He Said, She Said – a review of “Oleanna”

by Lonnie the Theatre Lady

Many say the playwright, David Mamet, wrote the controversial “Oleanna” in 1992, shortly after. and as a response to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. It’s a foreshadowing of the #MeToo movement that came into being approximately 15 years later.

Carol (Mei Lu Barnum) a college student, comes to her professor John’s (David Whalen) office to ask him for help in understanding the course content, hoping that she can bring up her currently failing grade. (John is in the process of becoming tenured, and simultaneously buying a new house. Getting tenured, and the pay raise that comes with it, is vitally important for John to be able to afford the purchase of the new home.) Their conversation and interaction create a situation where an act of sexual harassment does or perhaps does not occur. That ambiguity is what makes this play so complex and  compelling. If Carol’s allegations of sexual harassment are found to be credible, John will not be granted tenure and his plans to buy the new house will be destroyed.

David Whalen and Mei Lu Barnum in “Oleanna.”

Whalen’s portrayal of John is a master class in acting. His mercurial mood changes go from benign and a bit pompous in the beginning of the show to enraged at the end. He simmers as the tension increasingly grows inside him— pulling himself back to a reasonable calm, followed by palpable anxiety and anger. He is brilliant in this role— totally embodying his character. Every gesture, voice inflection, and facial expression is intentional and riveting.

Barnum’s portrayal of her character is compelling. Carol presents herself as a humorless, naive, country girl and later transforms into a vicious, vengeful tyrant. Barnum is wonderful in this role. She appears to physically grow in stature as she becomes more resolute and more confident. Barnum’s performance is flawless — she’s totally engaged in her character. She forces the audience to question whether she is the perpetrator or the victim.

The beautiful office set (Johnmichael Bohach) is serene and sophisticated, making it the perfect foil for the raging emotional battleground within.

Andrew Paul (director) deserves congratulations for his attention to fostering and bringing out all the nuances of these two extremely complex characters. Well done.

I cannot imagine this edgy, intense show, with it’s unexpected twists and turns, being done any better than this production.This is the ultimate proof of the premise that smart theater provokes conversation and debate. If you are fortunate enough to experience this provocative, exceptionally well done production, it’s guaranteed that it will stick with you and you will be talking about it for days, if not longer. Exceptional, captivating theater–not to be missed!

– LTL

“Oleanna” runs from July 11-28 at the Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.  For more information, click here

Check out this librarian – a review of “The Music Man”

By Michael Buzzelli

There’s trouble in River City (Trouble with a Capital T), but Harold Hill (Charles Esten) who points his finger at the alleged trouble is the actual cause in Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.”

Hill is a calm and charming con man with a clever con. He talks the townies into buying musical instruments, band uniforms, and expensive instruction books and hustles to the next whistle-stop before the kids learn to play the music. For the scheme to work, Hill must win over the local librarian and piano teacher,  Marian (Nikki Renée Daniels), but she’s on to him.

Marian lives with her mother, Mrs. Paroo (Cissy Rebich) and her little brother, Winthrop (an adorable Emmett Kent) and shuttles between her home and the library (big, beautiful set pieces by Scenic Designer James Fouchard).  Despite the fact that she suspects that Hill is up to something, she falls for his patter.

Mayor Shinn (E. Clayton Cornelious) also suspects that Hill is up to no good, but Hill continues to elude the malapropping mayor.  The mayor has other problems. He’s planning River City’s Independence Day celebration, appeasing his wife, Eulalie Mackeckie Shinn (Christine Laitta), and he’s trying to keep his daughter Zanetta (Kammie Crum) away from a young troublemaker,  Tommy (Nick Alvino).

But the plot isn’t important…it’s absolutely nonsensical when you think about it too much. It’s the music that makes “The Music Man,” and the music is wonderfully infectious.

Harold Hill (Charles Esten) dances with Marian (Nikki Renée Daniels) in “The Music Man.” Photo Credit: Kgtunney PhotographyDaniels is incredible as Marian. She oozes with star power. Every move. Every note. She’s a delight to watch. Plus, she looks like she’s having a blast on the Benedum stage.

Esten does a good job. He has a terrific singing voice and gets some of the best numbers in the show. Esten is excellent. His only flaw is that he isn’t Robert Preston. While its not fair to compare, Preston made the role his own and no one has topped him since, but Esten comes pretty darn close.

While there are a lot of kooky characters and zany side plots, “The Music Man” is about the love story between Hill and the librarian. The two have a wonderful chemistry together.

There are, however, several players who deserve a round of applause.

Alvino’s time on stage is short, but he shines in every one of those quick scenes. He is filled with exuberance.  With crisp, sharp movements, he is the best dancer in the production, even though there are some amazing dancers up there.

Laitta is a delight. She also makes the most of her moments on the stage.

While the song, “Shipoopi” makes no sense whatsoever, and sounds like a “Beavis and Butthead” parody song (heh heh, he said, ‘Shipoopi’),  Ryan Cavanaugh knocks it out of the park. It also featured one of the most stunning dance numbers thanks to brilliant choreography by Mara Newberry Greer.

Director Sara Edwards does a fine job with an American classic. It’s hard not to hum along when “The Music Man” is in town.

-MB

“The Music Man” runs from July 9 to July 14 at the Benedum Center, 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here. 

Rascals Gone Rogue – a review of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

By Lonnie the Theatre Lady

In this 2004 musical based on a 1988 film, two swindlers are competing for territorial  rights, to carry out their elaborate swindling schemes, in a swanky casino, ( lavish set designed by Rob Hockenberry), located in the French Riviera. Lawrence (Jeff Boles) is an experienced, somewhat suave conman who is unimpressed by Freddy (Thomas McQuillan), an American, new to the con game.
Boles is delightful in his smarmy, yet somehow charming portrayal of Lawrence. Boles character runs into a problem when Jolene (Aimee Lambing), one of the women he has swindled) demands, at gunpoint, that he marry her. Lawrence and his “police officer” assistant,  Andre’ (Ross Kobelak) enlist Freddy to assist them to “uncharm” Jolene. This scheme has Freddy posing as Lawrence’s (fake) repugnant, disgusting brother Ruprecht.
 McQuillan is absolutely hilarious as Ruprecht. He engages in wildly inappropriate, uproarious  behaviors. No spoilers here—use your imagination!  His comedic timing is stellar in other scenes as well—imagine a self inflicted Heimlich maneuver, that proves to be ineffective over an extended period of time. Very comical! Not to mention, he can sing, too! His “Great Big Stuff” number is a vocal and comedic standout. It highlights the clever, amusing, sometimes ribald lyrics.
After Lambing’s brazen, aggressive, humorously depicted Jolene is successfully driven out of town (by Ruprecht),  Freddy wants to work with Lawrence and learn the tricks of the con game. Lawrence decides that the French Riviera isn’t big enough for both of them. They make an agreement that the first one to swindle $50,000 from an unsuspecting woman will be allowed to stay in the area and the loser will immediately move to another location. That’s when this slapstick farce takes off. The competition between the two escalates into more and more ridiculous situations. As they work to outsmart each other, one incident is funnier than the other.
Freddy (McQuillan), Christine (Nadler) and Lawrence (Boles) scheme on the French Riviera.

Meanwhile Andre’ and Muriel are engaged in a steamy romance. Kobelak with his delightful French accent (think of Peter Seller’s as Inspector Clouseau) has a chance to shine and make use of his  physical comedy talents while he demonstrates highly  exaggerated seductive poses.  He and Cloutier have a (presumed post coital) scene that highlights both of their comedic talents. Their  tantalizing interaction is nothing short of hysterical!

Christine (Sarah Nadler) needs to be applauded for her wonderful, melodious voice—her vocals are a true standout in this cast of vocalists with varying degrees of  vocal talent. Every one of her numbers is a sheer delight. Gorgeous, wonderful rich voice. Wow!
The musical score and lyrics are sometimes surprising  (strong, salty language) and nearly always funny. The entire cast and ensemble sing and dance well, The beautiful, luxuriant costumes (J. Childe Pendergast, designer) amplify the overall feeling of the extravagant lifestyle that one expects on the Riviera.
Ponny Conomos Jahn, director, gives her talented cast the free reign to develop their characters while embracing and amplifying their idiosyncrasies.
This frothy, laugh filled, farcical, yet sometimes sophisticated show is the perfect antidote to the often predictable day to day routine. Need some hearty laughs? This is the show for you!

-Lonnie

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” runs from June 27 to July 13 at the South Park Theatre, at the corner of Corrigan Drive & Brownsville Rd, South Park, PA 15129. For more information, click here

A Joyful Noise – a review of “The Color Purple”

By Michael Buzzelli

Life is battering Celie (Kayla Davion) around hard until she takes agency in her and demands love and respect in the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, “The Color Purple.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel gained popularity in 1985 when Steven Spielberg turned it into a film. Even though it’s been a book, movie, musical, and movie musical, be warned. Spoilers abound.

Celie and her sister Nettie (Danyel Fulton) are under the ever-watchful eye of their stern Pa (Brady D. Patsy, playing heavily against type). After the death of her mother, Celie, at fourteen, becomes pregnant by the man who is allegedly raising her. He gets rid of the two babies she has and sells her off to Mister (Akron Lanier Watson).

Celie runs herself ragged tending to Mister’s every need and caring for his children.  Her only joy is spending time with Nettie. When Mister tries to rape Nettie, she runs away and the sisters are seemingly forever parted.

Her life of squalor and servitude seems relentless until her husband’s former lover, Shug Avery (a magnetic Tamyra Gray), belly flops into her life. Mister brings her home in a drunken, possibly drugged, stupor and demands that his wife clean her up. Celie tends to the needs of her husband’s mistress. Because Celie is bright, kind and hopeful, she and Shug fall in love.

Shug finds a stack of letters from Nettie that Mister had hidden from Celie. The fuse is lit and Celie realizes she needs a new life – one without her husband.

Kayla Davion and Tamyra Gray in “The Color Purple.”

“The Color Purple” has a stacked cast of performers. The show has some prominent belters in it gloriously singing Brenda Russell, Alle Willis and Stephen Bray’s lyrics.

Davion is magnificent as Celie. Her voice is powerful. When she performs the show-stopper, “I’m Here,” she literally and figuratively stopped the show with a standing ovation on opening night.

Gray is delightful. Shug is a messy character, but Gray handles her strengths and her flaws with aplomb.

Maiesha McQueen is another one of the aforementioned belters. She gets several moments to shine. She gets some of the best laughs in the show.

There are a lot of excellent performances.

Saige Smith plays a high-pitched dingbat aptly named Squeak.

Jason Shavers plays Ol’ Mister, Mister’s cruel and intimidating father wherein we learn that peaches, like apples, don’t fall far from their trees.

Savannah Lee Birdsong’s Darlene is part of a Greek Chorus of Church Ladies  who spills the tea in song.

P.S. “The Color Purple” can be a little preachy, but you don’t have to believe in God to listen to the glorious Gospel music and jumping jazz.

Though it seems like the set is simple wooden platforms, spartan and utilitarian, it contains a certain je nais sais quoi. Britton Mauk’s scenery blends wonderfully with Paul Miller’s lighting design melding into a work of art.

Glorious colorful costumes by Claudia Brownlee, particularly in the African sequence and in Celie’s dress shop.

Christopher D. Betts did a fantastic job bringing “The Color Purple” into the full spectrum.

Go down to the Benedum and listen to this cast make joyful noises. Catch it quick, like all Pittsburgh CLO shows, its a limited engagement.

-MB

“The Color Purple” runs from June 25 to June 30 at the Benedum Theater and Concert Hall, 237 Seventh Street (at the corner of Seventh and Penn), Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For more information, click here

In the Trenches – a review of “A Life in the Theatre”

A friendship between two actors is tested as they work together over a prolonged period of time in David Mamet’s “A Life in the Theatre.”

Robert (Sam Tsoutsouvas), an older actor, befriends John (Joseph McGranaghan) after a performance. The friendship waxes, and wanes over a series of sketches immersed in theatrical tropes. It’s not deep but it’s delightful.

They play soldiers, sailors, tinkers, and spies. There’s a Chekhovian moment when the actors stare out the window and contemplate the coming season. There’s a silly moment when both actors stare at the phone waiting for the sound cue (a scene written decades before “The Play That Goes Wrong”). At one point, they are literally ‘in the trenches’ together in a World War I drama.

Mamet known for his ribald language is restrained here. It’s not “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but it never tries to be.  It is a romp with subtle explorations of character.

Spoilers beyond this point.

There is a subtext to the friendship. Robert seems too curious about John’s  romantic phone call. John, in turn, masks the call by only revealing that he was talking to ‘a friend.’ If there is more between the two, it’s hinted, but never fully explored.

Robert (Sam Tsoutsouvas), and John (Joseph McGranaghan) stare off into the distance in “A Life in the Theatre.” Photo Credit: Rocky Raco

Both men are exceedingly talented.

Tsoutsouvas is wonderful as the crotchety older actor.  Robert struts across the stage seemingly full of self-confidence, but, in reality, the character is vulnerable, frightened and insecure.

In this sly two-hander, the men battle wits in ways both furious and mild. McGranaghan matches his scene partner’s energy.

The assistant stage manager, Cameron Nickel, is almost a third character in the play, popping up frequently, dressing, undressing the set and the actors.

“A Life in the Theatre” is a showcase for the two actors, and Director Andrew Paul gives them a wide berth.

Johnmichael Bohach’s set is simple, but elegant and utilitarian.

“A Life in the Theatre” is a fun, little diversion for a summer evening.

-MB

“A Life in the Theatre” runs until June 30 at the Richard E. Rauh Theatre, Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus, 4200 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. For more information, click here.

Unraveling – a review of ” The Animal Kingdom”

By Michael Buzzelli

A fractured family is forced to reconcile a myriad of issues in “The Animal Kingdom” by Ruby Thomas.

In an unnamed treatment facility, Sam (Greyson Taylor) meets with his therapist Daniel (Juan Rivera Lebron) prepping him for the inevitable, a group session with his mother (Daina Michelle Griffith), his father Tim (Darren Eliker) and his sister, Sofia (Alexandra Casey).

The five gather in a star-shaped circle of chairs, five points of light struggling in the darkness. Think of it as an Escape Room, but instead of puzzles and clues the only way out is through revealing the truest version of self.

Thomas lulls us into a false sense of complacency with some witty dialogue and then pounces on us with pathos.

The family therapy session gets complicated in “Animal Kingdom.”

The key descriptive word for this play is “intense.”

The intimate space is filled with intimate emotions, heightening every move and gesture. The upheavals of emotion are powerful, shocking. The pregnant pauses are disconcerting. When a droll remark, a witty anecdote or a funny personality trait arises, the laughter erupts. An escape valve letting out the pressure.

Director Patrick Jordan is also listed as the set designer, created a claustrophobic space for his actors, but gives them just enough room to move.

The acting is superb. “The Animal Kingdom” is a lesson in the craft. . The dialogue feels fresh and exciting as if the actors are saying the words for the first time. Every actor feels authentic and in-the-moment.

Taylor is exquisite as the young adult struggling with his psychological issues. He projects emotions with every withering look, heavy sigh,  and controlled gesture. His best moment comes when Sofia shares her perspective on his monumental decision.

In a tense moment, Griffith makes asking for a glass of water hilarious. She is divine as Rita, the mile-a-minute talkative mom who more than makes up for her non-verbal ex-husband, Tim.

Even when appearing disengaged, Eliker incites tension.  Tim is more nuanced, and Eliker plays him perfectly.

Casey gets fewer moments than her castmates, but when she does it’s in an explosive revelation. It is heartfelt, touching and beautiful.

Rivera Lebron has to temper his performance as the therapist, but he does a marvelous job despite the restraints.

Andrew David Ostrowski illuminates the cramped office and throws the surroundings into pitch black.

Note: Spoilers are coming in the form of a warning, a trigger warning.

The show discusses suicide, and it can be disturbing.

If you are experiencing or contemplating suicidal thoughts, please call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day and the help provided is free and confidential. 
Pittsburgh theater is at its peak with a plethora of must-see shows. Add this to the growing list, but do not miss it.

-MB

“Animal Kingdom” runs from June 14 – 30, 2024 at the Bingo O’Malley Theatre, barebones black box theater, 1211 Braddock Avenue, Braddock, PA 15104. For more information, click here.

There’s a Place For Us – a review of “West Side Story”

By Michael Buzzelli

The Shakespearean tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” is reimagined for the modern age (or, rather, a less distant past) and set to song in the iconic musical, “West Side Story, where the Jets and the Sharks are the Montagues and Capulets. The language isn’t Elizabethan, but it is archaic. You might have to decipher a little 50s street slang, but the underlying message is clear; love is love.

Two gangs on the West Side compete for the same territory in 1950s New York, the Sharks, led by Bernardo (Giuseppe Bausilio), and the Jets, led by Riff (Davis Wayne).

A Jet, Tony (Spencer LaRue), just met a girl named Maria (Sabina Collazo), and suddenly the name doesn’t mean the same to him. Maria is Bernardo’s sister, and everything is about to change for the Jets and the Sharks.

“West Side Story” premiered in Washington, D.C. in 1957, and, as mentioned, was a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet,” but there might be spoilers ahead.

The Jets get ready to rumble. Photo Credit: Matt Polk

 

Maria (Sabina Collazo) feels pretty after meeting an Italian kid. Photo Credit: Matt Polk

Collazo’s voice is fantastic, operatic.  It’s easy to fall in love with this Maria.

LaRue is a likable leading man. As the gang’s lone goody-two-shoes, he doesn’t get any of the funny lines or angry diatribes, but he is solid. He projects kindness and politeness, characteristics the gang lacks.

Wayne’s Riff charismatic. It’s easy to believe that a gang would follow him into the gates of hell.

Action may very well be “psychologically disturbed (distoorbed),” because Harry Francis sure plays him that way. The man is seething with rage in every scene, except when he is dancing. He dances elegantly, beautifully.

Anita is one of the show’s best characters and Adriana Negron performs a marvelous rendition of the character.  She aptly puts Rosalia (Joy Del Valle) in her place during “America.” Negron gets to show a gamut of emotions. Her scene in Doc’s drug store is powerful. It’s the scene where the Jets lose sympathy.

Side note: Del Valle sings “Somewhere” as a voiceover off stage, and its a shame she’s not on stage during her solo because she deserves the applause.

Ken Bolden’s Doc is the lone voice of reason in a horrific landscape of hate and perpetual violence. When Doc isn’t scurrying about his store like a mother hen, he pops out some droll one-liners, expertly delivered by Bolden.

Dixie Sherwood appears in one scene, but steals said scene as the over-the-top social worker, Gladhand.

Allan Snyder’s Lieutenant Schrank is menacing, but his sidekick, Officer Krupke (J. Alex Noble), is comic relief.

Leo Meyers scenic design, enhanced by video designer Brad Peterson and lighting designer Paul Miller,  elevate the show to Broadway standards. The sets are magnificent.

While this production has great acting and singing, Baayork Lee’s choreography enlivens “West Side Story.” The choreographer mimics Jerome Robbins in all the best ways, with swift, graceful forms in colorful costumes by Robert Fletcher. While it would be unusual to see pirouettes and arabesques in a street fight, it is stunning on stage.

While the language is dated, “West Side Story” still resonates. It’s a story star-crossed lovers whose misadventures are caused by racism, fear and paranoia, and, unfortunately, we still have too much of that.

-MB

“West Side Story” runs from June 11 to 16 at the Benedum, 237 Seventh Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, For more information, click here.

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