Saturday, April 27, 2013

It Isn’t a Matter of Race; it’s a Matter of Taste

It Isn’t a Matter of Race; it’s a Matter of Taste

Playwright Bruce Norris
Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer Prize (2011) and Tony Award winning play by Bruce Norris, is a tale of contrasts; contrasts in race, beliefs, social circumstances, fashion and style and, most importantly, time.

Act One is set in the late 50’s at the home of Russ and Bev (Brad Bellamy and Lynne Wintersteller).  They are clearly middle class.  Silver candlesticks and a chafing dish grace the dining room built-in server, ready to be packed for their imminent move to suburbia and the nirvana of a 6.5 minute commute to Russ’s new corner office.  Bev, a cross between Laura Petri and Lucille Ball, chastens – no nags – Russ out of his apparent funk.  It is early afternoon and Russ remains in his pajamas, eating ice cream from the carton, a tad Archie Bunker-esque ensconced on his throne.  Their retainer, Francine (Chandra Thomas), is anxious to leave.  She has come to assist them with their move on a Saturday and would prefer to be unseen and unnoticed, not dragged into the dark issues swirling in the home.  Through the seemingly well-intentioned visits of the simpering Pastor Jim (Jared McGuire), pretentious Karl (Tim McGeever), and deaf and clueless Betsy (Megan Hill), the story unfolds to reveal the parents’ guilt and self-loathing over their son’s suicide after his return from the Korean War.  Karl and Jim are appalled to learn that Russ and Bev’s home has been sold to a family of color, the first in the neighborhood.  They are even more appalled that he doesn't care.

Megan Hill and Tim McGeever as Lindsey and Steve, Photo Credit : Pittsburgh  Public Theater

Fast forward 50 years later and the same home is the heart’s desire of a young couple who are anxious to move back to the city, welcome their child and herald the gentrification of Clybourne Park.  However, their version of gentrification is a forklift upgrade of the property, losing the historical integrity of the neighborhood in favor of a spacious open concept, multi-story edifice, just as their version of race relations doesn't quite match how others may feel.  Political correctness replaces the veiled messages of fifty years earlier, the styles of the 50’s are transformed to the more casual shorts, tees and leggings, and the ever-present mobile devices are more important than human interaction.  The change in social standards is mirrored in the transition from the crystal glass of iced tea to the pop-top beer can and Starbucks vente.

Chandra Thomas (Lena) and Lynne Wintersteller (Kathy) Photo Credit:  Pittsburgh Public Theater

While everyone circles around the issues, particularly of class and race, and Lindsey tries to prove her liberal views of race relations, Lena delivers the ultimate put down:  It isn’t a matter of race; it’s a matter of taste

The second act has a surprising ending and brings the story full circle to the causal impact of Kenneth’s suicide, a microcosm of chaos theory that starts a chain of events that could not be predicted.

The cast is to be commended for playing multiple characters between the two acts, all tied together by the house that is the stage and the set.  Bjorn DuPaty (Albert/Kevin) plays a small but pivotal role in bringing clarity to language rendered muddy by obfuscation and political correctness.  He focuses a laser on the hypocrisy of Ken and Jim, Lindsey and Steve.

Throughout the play, the dialogue engages the audience, evoking humor and embarrassment, recognition and discomfort.  The mood of the play moves seamlessly from a bluesy ballad by Frank Sinatra to the stimulation of Hip-Hop of current times.

The Playbill offers several, upcoming local examples of ‘white flight’, ‘gentrification’, and ‘economic eviction’.  Though Clybourne Park is set in Chicago, we are left to wonder how often the pathos of Clybourne Park has been played out in the gentrification of the neighborhoods of the Mexican War Streets, Manchester, NorthSide, Lawrenceville and SouthSide.

Clybourne Park continues at the O’Reilly Theater through May 19th.

Posted on behalf of Positively Pittsburgh Live Magazine.  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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

There Are Remakes and There are Rebirths, "Anything Goes"

by Good News Reviewer
Joanne Quinn-Smith

There are remakes and then there are rebirths!

Anything Goes” 2011 Tony ® Award Winner—Best Musical Revival
Splendid production of Roundabout Theatre Company’s ANYTHING GOES! For those of you who have never seen the fifties movie, Anything Goes is a 1956 American musical film directed by Robert Lewis and starring Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, Jeanmaire, and Mitzi Gaynor. Now I don’t really remember Bing Jeanmaire but I do remember Bing and Donald and Mitzi.  The plot is different but the songs remain as big and bold as ever.  So in this stage version, When the S.S. American heads out to sea, etiquette and convention get tossed out the portholes as two unlikely pairs set off on the course to true love... The musical is strewn with old fashioned burlesque antiques with a new twist and of course the memorable songs of Cole Porter. 

At intermission theatre goers did not walk out in search of a drink but to find someone to talk about the musical with.  A stranger walked up to me after the ensemble rendition of “Anything Goes” at intermission and said, “This is sooooo BIG!  He had left his wife’s side because she was busy commenting to someone else and was just bursting to get his opinion out.  He told me he wasn’t a theatre enthusiast but came to make his wife happy and was so excited when he heard what the choice was for that evening.  Like him I felt that it was one thing to watch Bing and Donald and Mitzi in the movie but it was totally another to watch Rachel York FILL UP the stage with her presence as Reno Sweeney.  Admittedly there were some grand performances but York dwarfed everyone else with a combination of Mae West, Marlena Dietrich and Lauren Bacall ATTITUDE!  

Peppering this timeless classic are some of musical theater’s most memorable standards, including “Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” and of course, “Anything Goes.” As York sings the most popular of these classics “I
Photo Credit: © Joan Marcus, 2012  Roundabout Theatre Company, "Anything Goes"

Get a Kick Out of You” could feel a collective sway in the room.  But when she and the ensemble “grace” the audience with “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” the energy was astounding.  It seemed at points in time in the production that almost thirty dancers commanded the stage at once in deft precision.

There was sentimental romance and slap stick comedy and then there was Moonface Martin’s rendition of: “Be Like a Blue Bird” showing sheer talent from Fred Applegate.  He is a veteran master of timing and delivery.  Also Josh Franklin as Billie Crocker was true to the best Hollywood characters as a combination of the boy next door and a typical tall, dark and handsome character who played extremely well as the love interest of both Reno and Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke.)  And Alex, although her voice seemed a bit small compared to the orchestra music played the female coquette of the era to a T. 

Also hats off to the scenery with rooms rolling on an off the larger stage.  Also the dancers are to be commended for the routines done on balconies and stairs.  This was truly a musical that took the minds of America off their troubles and lift their hearts to new heights.  Now that’s entertainment, big and bold.    

Let us not forget that opening night in Pittsburgh was the day after most of the country had watched the Boston Marathon Bombings Play out all day on television in front of the country.  Thank you to all of the actors for giving us a welcome respite in the midst of grief we felt for our brothers and sisters in Boston.  Thank you for this rebirth of an American Classic complete with the songs of Cole Porter that so easily fill your heart and full of characters that will burn in one’s memory.

Radio Host and Serial Blogger, Joanne Quinn-Smith is the host of PositivelyPittsburghLive™ Internet Talkcast and TechnoGrannyShow™  On her shows, Joanne has interviewed over 1800 guests.  As an advocate for small Business, she was awarded the National Small Business Administration Journalist of the Year Award.  She is also the publisher of which is a 2010 National Stevie Award finalist for best Media Website or Blog. PPL Mag features the GOOD NEWS, about Pittsburgh  and is  Pittsburgh’s First internet radio and TV network. PPL Mag attracted 2.25 million visitors last year.  Her radio network has accumulated over one million listeners. The Creative Energy Officer of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates, Joanne also teaches her online media platform building to small businesses in a client personalized, “Web2.0 Gorilla Branding Training™”.  Connect with Joanne at:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Riveting "Our Class" Opens PICT Season

But What Could I Do?

The Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre’s (PICT) production of “Our Class” is a riveting and relentless story that has at its fundamental core the theme of man’s inhumanity to man.  As emotionally draining as the play is for the audience, one cannot imagine how the small but dedicated troupe can continue the pace of an almost three hour production spanning seven decades.

From early childhood through the beginning of the 21st century, Tadeusz Slobodsianek’s work follows ten classmates from the small, rural village of Jebwabne in Poland.  The ten, evenly divided between Jews and Catholics, start out as eager, playful eight year olds.  The German invasion with subsequent Russian support, followed by German re-occupation ignites the socio-political environment of anti-semitism, enemy collaboration, torture, revenge killings and the extermination of 1,600 Jews by fellow villagers.  The latter was initially attributed to the occupying Germans, but the playwright adopts the position of Jan Gross’ book Neighbors to reveal that the same classmates who played together guilelessly were the perpetrators of the herding into the barn and burning of their Jewish neighbors.   And while others continue to dispute that work and offer counter theories to what transpired on that fateful July day in 1941, history shows that it is possible, even conceivable, even though we would rather not admit it.

What is fascinating is the human study in group think and the continued self-justification for turning a blind eye to atrocities too enormous for most of us to fathom – ‘What Could I Do?’  The horrors of genocide perpetrated on neighbors and former classmates, combined with murder, torture, interrogation, rape, theft, infidelity – a continuous verbal assault on the moral conscience.

Clarinetist Susanne Ortner-Roberts
The staging is bare and stark, reflective of the bare and stark nature of the subject and the times.  Ten wooden chairs, a chain link fence and a chalk board that acts as the scene changer (annotated Lessons) are complimented by the concrete floor, piles of cinderblock, metal runged ladders and focused lighting.  As each cast member passes, whether by violence, illness or time, they exit the main performance area in a slow-motion, studied manner to observe from their afterlife behind the barrier of the fence.  Their haunting of the remaining characters, whether in reality or through a guilty conscience, is accompanied by the evocative clarinet of Susanne Ortner-Roberts.

Director Aoife Spillane-Hinks makes her U.S. directing debut with “Our Class”, perhaps drawing in part from the civil unrest in her native Ireland to explore the age-old neighbor as neighbor, neighbor as villain and neighbor as victim dynamics.

Director Aoife Spillane-Hinks
The cast is to be commended for playing the characters through all stages of life, spanning from two to seven decades, depending on their fate.  With a tip of the hat to irony, Abram, who was fortunate to emigrate from Poland to New York and thus escaped the extermination, furthers the story through letters and an ultimate return to the village of his birth.  His recitation of all of his ancestors and his own issue represented my one negative with the play…okay, we get it already – you came from a big family and you fathered a big family.

The cast featured several familiar faces to the PICT stage, including Bernard Balbot (Jakub), Katya Stepanova (Dora), Vera Varlamov (Rachelka/Marianna), Jonathan Visser (Zygmunt), and Aaron White (Menachem).  Those making their PICT debut were Justin Fortunato (Henick), Rafael Goldstein (Abram), Jimmy Mason (Rysiek), Caroline Shannon (Zocha) and Quinn Patrick Shannon (Wladek).

Rather than the refrain of ‘What could I do?’, perhaps they should have asked ‘What can I do?’  The audience is led to counter with ‘What should I do’ to their own introspective ‘What would I do?’.

“Our Class” runs from April 10th through May 4th at the Henry Heymann Theatre at the Stephen Foster Memorial, University of Pittsburgh’s Oakland campus.

Our Class was reviewed by RovingPittsburgher Reporter Joyce Kane, Owner of Cybertary, a Virtual Administrative support company providing business support services on and On-Demand basis for our clients.  We help you work 'On' your business instead of 'In' your business.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book of Mormon, Irreverent, Uproarious Entertainment

 Book of Mormon, Irreverent, Uproarious Entertainment

by Becky Auer

I knew that The Book of Mormon set record highs for Broadway ticket prices, won nine
Tony Awards, and garnered in rave reviews from theatre critics, so when the opportunity
arose, I had to go see this musical for myself.

I have seen many musicals and I can say without hesitation that The Book of Mormon

THE BOOK OF MORMON First National 
Tour Company (c) Joan Marcus, 2013

was the most witty and crude, heartwarming and hilarious musical I’ve been to.

I’d think that Mormons must be skeptical when they hear this show was written by the
South Park creators, and for good reason. The duo is well-known for their slapstick vulgarity
and has left no religion, politician, or celebrity spared. But while the show gives a serious
ribbing to some of Mormonism’s quirkier beliefs, a non-Mormon leaves the show with the
feeling that, in general, Mormons are enthusiastic, sincere, good-hearted, and somewhat
naive people who also believe some strange things. And don’t we all?!

This show follows a pair of energetic Mormon missionaries who get sent to Uganda.  They
start off with all the answers, ready to free the world from suffering. However, they are soon
confronted with the harsh reality of Ugandan life like AIDS, warlords, famine and struggle to
make their message applicable to the challenges facing the locals. When their idealistic
mindset clashes with real life, they are forced to think hard about the meaning of religion and to
 ‘improvise’ to make things work. The result is loads of thought-provoking interaction and
non-stop laughter. One moment you’re in tears laughing, the next moment your jaw is hanging
open and the next you’re in the feel-good musical of the century.

THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour
Mark Evans, Derrick Williams
 (c) Joan Marcus, 2013
There is a lot of shock factor. But most of it is deeply connected to the messages the musical
aims to get across. Watching a tribe of Africans dancing around the stage cursing God might
sound like nonsense at first glance, but the things they’re saying give a lot of insight into a
worldview that contrasts sharply with that of the young missionaries. When an African man
leaps in front of two missionaries giving a first discussion and sings at the top of his lungs, “I
have maggots in my scrotum,” it serves not just for shock factor, but also to suggest the
seeming irrelevance of their message in solving his real-life problems.

Many Mormons worry that their religion is misrepresented in the musical, and would probably
have mixed feelings on the way it’s portrayed. The writers did nail Mormon culture, from the
enthusiasm of young missionaries (“Two By Two”) to the Mormon guilt complex (“Spooky
Mormon Hell Dream”). Of course the writers take the unique aspects of Mormon culture and
exaggerate them to the ‘nth’ degree.

From the very first number (“Hello”), the audience completely falls in love with the missionaries,
 and gets to see the mission experience through their eyes. Many people have negative feelings
 towards missionaries knocking on their doors. But after walking for a couple hours in the
missionaries’ shoes, one leaves with a greater sense of their desire to ‘do good’ and of the
discomfort they too feel when knocking on strangers’ doors.

This show is about religion in general, and Mormonism is just the vessel. It’s about going out to

THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour
Phyre Hawkins, Mark Evans, Christopher John O'Neill
(c) Joan Marcus, 2013

change the world when you’re young and enthusiastic and realizing that things are a lot more
complicated than you thought.  It’s about how belief can unite people, give hope and inspiration.
In the end, the message is that no matter how silly a religion may sound, it’s the good it inspires
in people that really counts.

I’d say this show is definitely not for everyone. But if you have thick skin and don’t mind the
edginess, seeing this show may be one of the most entertaining nights of your life. For those
choosing not to see it, rest assured that it’s a more thoughtful show than you might have
assumed, even with all the profanity. 

Deciding to attend?  You can still catch the show from today thru April 7, 2013 at the Benedum Center.  Tickets available HERE.

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 Becky (Gomes) Auer has 20 plus years of experience in entrepreneurship and business ownership. Becky started and owned three successful, profitable businesses and is an expert in marketing. She teaches business owners, professionals and entrepreneurs unique direct response marketing techniques. Becky hosts monthly meetings and mastermind groups for local entrepreneurs and small business owners.