Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ivanov Amazes

The Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre’s Chekhov Celebration continues with the classic Ivanov, Anton Chekhov’s play that explores the meaning of life and love in pre-Revolutionary Russia.  Not nearly as dark as other Russian works, Ivanov is billed as a comedy.  Comedy may be pushing it a little far. Although there were moments of laughter (and indeed, one member of the audience in Saturday evening’s performance erupted into laughter even when the rest of us didn’t find the humor); I would term it a tragi-comedy.

Nike Doukas as Anna seeks solace from David Whalen's Nikolay
Pulling on real life experiences as a doctor and tuberculosis sufferer, Chekhov weaves the story of Nikolay Ivanov, a self-loathing, deeply in debt gentleman farmer whose once-loved yet now disdained wife is suffering from the disease.  He wants to be alone, to read and intellectualize his existence, but his neighbors simply won’t allow it.  While the characters whine about boredom and spend their hours pursuing gluttony, liquor, gossip and card playing as further evidence of their dissipated lives, the audience is reluctantly drawn in to observe his suffering with an interesting mix of tears and laughter.

David Whalen portrays the title character replete with Hamlet-like angst exuding an unexplained grief coupled with frustration and self-hatred.    Selfish to the end, Nikolay finally ends his suffering instead of finding happiness with the young and impressionable Sasha (ingénue Katya Stepanova) on their wedding day.
Martin Giles and Katya Stepanova

Well-staged in The Charity Randall Theatre in the Stephen Foster Memorial on Pitt’s campus in Oakland, the small platform is transformed  alternatively as an estate garden, an elaborate reception area replete with crystal chandeliers and a well-appointed study.

Tom Stoppard offers this adaptation to modern audiences by brilliantly bringing the dialogue up to current, understandable prose.  The costumes by PICT veteran designer, Pei-Chi Su, evoke the glamour and excess of the Russian elitist society.

l to r:  Alan Stanford, Matt DeCaro, Jonathan Visser, Martin Giles
The supporting cast is strong, with Alan Stanford as the indomitable Count, Megan McDermott as the title seeking, moneyed young widow Marfa, Matt DeCaro as the scheming estate manager Borkin, and Leo Marks as the idealistic (and honest, as he continuously reminded us) doctor who attends the ill-fated Anna Ivanov (Nike Doukas).  Martin Giles, the emasculated chum from University days Pavel Lebedev, offers Nikolay refuge from the stresses of his depressing home life despite his wife Zinaida’s incessant harping on collecting the money owed to them.  Zinaida’s (ably portrayed by veteran Helena Ruoti) acerbic disdain for Ivanov typifies the classes within classes of most elitist societies.

Having seen two of the four offerings in the series, I was entranced by the talent of the cast and their ability to portray lead and supporting roles seamlessly from play to play.  This is no mean feat, considering the length of the monologues and the interleaving timing of the performances.

Ivanov continues for 3 more performances, through August 25th.

Photo Credit:  Suellen Fitzsimmons

Posted on behalf of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates.  Joyce Kane is the owner of Cybertary Pittsburgh, a Virtual Administrative support company, providing virtual office support, personal and executive assistance, creative design services and light bookkeeping.  Cybertary works with businesses and busy individuals to help them work 'on' their business rather than 'in' their business.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Three Sisters Sparkles as First Jewel in Chekhov Celebration Crown

The highly educated and cultured, Moscow-bred Three Sisters have seen the circumstances of their lives reduced. The First Act opens on the one year anniversary of their army father’s passing, which coincidentally is the youngest of the brood Irina’s birthday, the play shows a trio of sisters dissatisfied with their lot in life.  As a result of their father’s military life, the family has decamped to a town so disconnected it is miles from the nearest train station, and enlivened only by the temporary presence of a battalion of soldiers.   The sisters hunger for any contact that can bring their beloved Moscow back to them as cherished yet enlivened memories.

Their brother Andrei is on the fast track at the university and is poised to make a name for himself until he makes a bad choice in spouse, the initially silly then increasingly malevolent Natasha.  The rest of the cast is peopled with visiting soldiers, faithful family retainers and friends.

Fedotik (Adrian Blake Enscoe) delights Irina (Vera Varlamov)
The current Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre’s (PICT) performance sets Irina (Vera Varmalov) in the spotlight as the naïve young adult, relishing in her birthday gifts and cake at the outset to a disenchanted worker in menial positions until she ultimately triumphs by taking control of her fate and heading to Moscow with the impassioned announcement: "I'll go away tomorrow, by myself."

Olga (Nike Doukas), the oldest sister, is seen at first trying to rally the rest of the family with almost brittle chatter as she welcomes a steady stream of visitors and plays the role of gracious hostess.  As the performance moves from act to act, Olga seems to become even more visibly downtrodden, increasingly suffering from headaches as the burdens of her life wear her down.

Vershinin and Masha
Masha (Allison McLemore), the middle sister, is clearly in an unhappy marriage.  She appears to barely tolerate her older, teacher husband. When he gives Irina the same gift for her birthday as he had presented for a previous occasion, she can barely contain her derision.  Upon meeting the foolish romantic artillery battalion officer Vershinin (David Whalen), she and her sisters recall their childish nickname for him, “the Lovesick Major”.  As he drones on about his philosophy on the future, she experiences an attraction that is both dangerous and fruitless. In the end, Vershinin is transferred and Masha unhappily returns to the cuckolded Kulygin.

As dispossessed as the women characters are in Three Sisters, the men are portrayed as elitist, displaying juvenile romantic fantasies and hopelessly naïve and idealistic views of the future.  The gambling Andrei (Christian Conn) squanders the family fortune while Olga frets and Natasha (Megan McDermott)  moves in for the kill.  Baron Tuzenbach (Leo Marks) asserts his “Russianness” to try and woo Irina, while the annoyingly bizarre Solyony (Jonathan Visser) stalks through his scenes.  The most charming of the sycophants, the handsome Vershinin (David Whalen) and the playful Chebutykin (Larry John Meyers) provide the tragic-comedic relief to the male contingent of the play.

I confess the multiple names of any Russian work, and Chekhov is not immune to this, always present a problem for me to follow the storyline.  Chekhov’s style is certainly lighter and more subtle than many of his countrymen.  The decline of the Russian affluent middle class is poignantly portrayed in a story that resonates in any age.

The intimacy of the Henry Heymann Theatre enables the audience to feel as though they are eavesdropping on the family dynamic and the tiny community to which they have been exiled.

Three Sisters is playing at select dates and times at the Henry Heymann Theatre in the Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland through August 26th.

Photo Credit:  Suellen Fitzsimmons

Reviewed by:
Joyce Kane

Posted on behalf of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates.  Joyce Kane is the owner of Cybertary Pittsburgh, a Virtual Administrative support company, providing virtual office support, personal and executive assistance, creative design services and light bookkeeping.  Cybertary works with businesses and busy individuals to help them work 'on' their business rather than 'in' their business.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

This Dragon Roars on the Shore

This Dragon Roars on the Shore

Opening night of the Quantum Theatre’s production of The Golden Dragon took place on the ‘shore’ of Lake Carnegie in Highland Park.  Lake Carnegie, for the unfamiliar, sits in the Park near the swimming pool, above the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium.  It started out as an interim pumping station for the Reservoir.  Quantum Theatre built stadium seating directly in front of the dock to accommodate the audience.

The playwright, Roland Schimmelpfennig, explores the accident of destiny and the interchangeability of experience, as well as multi-cultural understanding and prejudices – wrestling with “otherness” in this work.   The prominence of globalism and nomadic behavior drives home the message that we are all “inexorably linked”.   This message is timely, given the 2012 London Olympics as a backdrop in time.

The staging was simple yet effective.  The Thai-Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant that lent its name to the play was forged from a few pots and kitchen utensils at center stage.  The attached floating pads became alternatively apartments, the front of the house for the restaurant and foreign lands.  The production is to be commended for taking advantage of the venue and transforming it.

The allegory of the Ant and the Cricket, reminiscent of a very dark Aesop’s Fable, was initially lost on me.  I eventually ‘got’ it, but perhaps not as quickly as the playwright intended.  With the sound of crickets (live or piped in…I can only speculate) enhancing the story, the audience was pulled through the disturbing fable.  Speaking of dark, the fundamental themes of illegal immigration and sex slavery are not traditionally uplifting, and this production makes no apologies for them continuing in that less than perky vein.

What was truly fascinating and captivating about the production was the manner in which the five actors seamlessly transitioned to different characters and genders throughout the eighty minutes.  Simple props – a striped shirt, stewardess jackets, a red dress – and the changing role of narrator led the audience through the storyline.  The redundant insertion of the catch phrases “short pause” or “long pause” were unnecessary in my view and didn’t add anything for me, after the first one or two.  The director, Karla Boos, describes them as …”to reveal the mechanics, like a beat-changing pause; to create the machine-like world of this kitchen via repetition.”  The repetition of the lists – ingredients, locales, etc. – enhanced the inclusion of the audience in the tale, strengthening the bond between storyteller and spectator.

One criticism that I would offer is the gratuitous inclusion of a sexual epithet for the stewardess’s lover – I found it unnecessary and excessive, adding nothing while for me, jarring and actually detracting from my enjoyment.

The production of The Golden Dragon runs from August 2nd through the 26th.  I would encourage liberal use of the insect repellent thoughtfully provided by Quantum Theatre.

Posted on behalf of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates.  Joyce Kane is the owner of Cybertary Pittsburgh, a Virtual Administrative support company, providing virtual office support, personal and executive assistance, creative design services and light bookkeeping.  Cybertary works with businesses and busy individuals to help them work 'on' their business rather than 'in' their business.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Roving Pittsburgher Review, "Death is Just Around the Corner"--The Addams Family


The Addams Family

July 31 – August 12, 2012, 7:30 pm
Benedum Center, Pittsburgh Presented by: Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera

By Tamar Cerafici
The Barefoot Barrister

I tried to dislike the new Addams Family musical. First, if one is of a certain age, there is the irresistible urge to cross one’s forearms and snap during the overture, despite the cliché. Second, Gomez is not Raul Julia, which makes one sad that the Great Light of Independent Film has been dead for almost 20 years.
After a sniff or two, and fond thoughts to Jackie Coogan wafting skyward, one is ready to settle in and give this modern effort half a chance.

Here’s why:
The Cast
Photos are courtesy the CLO website, By Jeremy Daniel 
1.      THE SET is introduced by a blood-red curtain evoking Le Grand Guignol, a Parisian theatre dedicated to surreal horror plays in the early 20th Century. That curtain is as much a character as the puppeteers who manage various monsters. It hangs ominously: shifting, dropping, and lifting to reveal action. One of the tassels even plays a vital role in an ensuing romance. It certainly does set some expectations of macabre goings-on.
That I got this made me feel smart.

The puppetry within the play also is a nod to the theatre (guignol is French for “puppet”); it’s the creative highlight of the show.
2.      THE CAST, including Douglas Sills, who valiantly succeeds as not Raul Julia/John Astin Gomez Addams. His family, with several generations of dead Addamses, plays an excellent support system.
Super-funny Sara Gettelfinger is a bit constrained as Morticia. Given her turns in shows like Grey Gardens and Nine, one would expect a broader comic turn. Instead, she must play Gomez’s straight-woman. That is, like, totally wrong.
The remarkably gifted trio of “normal people,” the Beineke family from Ohio, could have handled it all by themselves. Played to the hilt by Martin Vidnovic, Gaelen Gilliland, and Brian Justin Crum, the Beinekes are the “real Americans” that supposedly contrast brightly with the macabre sensibilities of the Addamses. As a unit, they are the straight man, and the book would have been more Addams-like if that family had been given more to do than reform their definition of normal.
Individually, Gilliland is delightful, although I can’t resist a favorable comparison to Faith Prince. (A Pittsburgh native, one wonders if she’s responsible for some of the dialogue during the retelling of Morticia’s and Gomez’s romance.)
Blake Hammond as Fester
Photos are courtesy the CLO website, By Jeremy Daniel 
The rest of the Addams Clan is superb. Fester, allocated the role of Greek Chorus, deus ex machina, and narrator, is rendered lovingly by Blake Hammond. Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy), Grandma (Pippa Peartree) and Lurch (Tom Corebiel) do their turns with affection and real skill.
3.      THE BOOK AND MUSIC are fun in their attempt to capture the joi-de-vivre (Tish, that French!) of the Addams franchise.
As for the plotline, the play quickly decomposes into a re-do of Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take it With You. (I must credit L.A. Times reviewer David C. Nichols for the comparison. Those familiar with the 1930’s masterpiece will recognize similarities.) That’s not to say it isn’t charming and fun to watch, I just get the feeling I’ve seen this before, with Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart.
Thus what could be a macabre and slightly weird homage is merely a wonderful piece of fluff, perfect for a summer evening.
This unwonted fluffiness is due in part to the rather conventional and really unlikely development of Wednesday Addams as the ingénue. The really, truly, unlikely but necessary reversal is made completely believable by Cortney Wolfson’s sincere and fierce performance, complemented by the light tenor and obvious chemistry of Brian Justin Crum.
Happy EndingPhotos are courtesy the CLO website, By Jeremy Daniel
But Wednesday? The adorably morbid child made maudlin, yellow-wearing spectacle by puberty and Love? Though Fester warns (“But Love”), even subsequent duets (“I’m Crazier Than You) still left me wanting a less conventional plotline.
On the other Thing, I mean, hand: the musical’s missed potential is obvious in Morticia’s “Death Is Just Around the Corner,” where Gettelfinger finally gets a chance to let loose her comic genius.  Fester’s “The Moon and Me” is a clever oasis.
To my delight, the show was peppered with familiar references to original Addams cartoons (compare the Act One dinner scene at For example, Mortcia offers comfort: “life is a tightrope, my son, and on the other side is your coffin.”
Before you get into yours, make sure you see The Addams Family at the Benedum. Despite its weaknesses, it has a quirky appeal that makes haunting the Cultural District on a sultry August night totally worthwhile.

Tamar Cerafici is an environmental lawyer whose national practice includes nuclear power and sustainable development consulting. She is the author of “Dominate: How Lawyers Crush Their Competition (with these 4 Powerhouse Marketing Techniques),” and the founder of as well as LegalShoe, and The Lawyer’s New Clothes, new media channels on that teach lawyers how to build enterprises and find balance in their practices without selling their souls.