Monday, September 30, 2013

I Have Seen The Enemy and It is Us

Review by Joyce Kane

The REP’s current offering, Soldier’s Heart, is a gritty and intense view into the gender differences in the military.  The play opens with a seemingly realistic, well-adjusted single mother preparing for her first deployment to Iraq.  Casey Johnson, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, has her son Sean’s athletic and academic schedule for the ensuing 9 months calendared and cross referenced by month, along with medical records and pre-recorded stories and letters.  In the interchange with her mother, we become aware that perhaps Casey has something to prove.  Her father, an embittered veteran who spent time in Vietnam, came home a changed man.  Both of Casey’s parents used alcohol to assuage the pain of the downward spiral of their relationship.  Her father left Casey his house upon his death 6 months earlier, to her mother’s apparent resentment.  Casey is estranged from Sean’s father, but he shares custody and childcare with Casey and now with her mother.
Marie Elena O'Brien, Jenna Cole

In a rapidly unfolding barrage of videos, we get a glimpse into the horrors of war in Iraq.  There are two women in the company; rather than bonding with each other, Casey and Lance Corporal Hernandez appear to spar, verbally and culturally.  The plight of a female deployed in a foreign country is presented with a raw, matter of fact style.  Personal hygiene and the status of women in Iraq reveal underlying tensions that belie the status of woman in the US.

Michael Fuller, Marie Elena O'Brien

Casey’s return stateside reveals a shattered woman.  She refuses to see her son; she refuses to engage in life.  Her heart has turned from open and accepting to hard and unyielding.  She finds her father’s stash of tequila and liberally partakes to numb her memories of the horrors that she experienced.  She contemplates suicide and disengages from any interpersonal contact.  She can no longer bear to be touched, preferring the isolation of video games and television in which to immerse herself.

Marie Elena O'Brien, Joshua Elijah Reese

Humor relieves some of the dark content.  Kevin, Casey’s ex and "Mr. Analogy", is a spark of reason, appealing to the Casey of old to try to bridge the actions of the mother of his child with this stranger. The secrets of what transpired over the nine months continue to be unraveled and erode our sense of respect and honor for our perceived heroes.

Tammy Ryan

The Studio Theatre of the Pittsburgh Playhouse is the venue for the world premiere of the play, written by Pittsburgher Tammy Ryan and directed by John Amplas.  The staging and lighting are stark and gray, befitting the mood of the work itself and the audience’s reaction.  The use of the same set for both stateside and Iraq was enhanced by the videos projected on the back wall; the videos also served as a flashback mechanism, a graphic demonstration of what Casey encountered in Iraq.

Justin Lonesome, Marie Elena O'Brien

Marie Elena O’Brien is remarkable as Casey Johnson.  The range of emotions that she displays throughout the performance is heart-wrenching.  Joshua Elijah Reese as Kevin is likable; you root for him to be successful in breaking through the shell, helping and supporting Casey in her return to life.  Margie, Casey’s mother, ably portrayed by Jenna Cole, is everywoman, while not perfect, loves her daughter and grandson and tries her best.  Michael Fuller (Captain Baines, Casey’s Commanding Officer), Justin Lonesome (Staff Sergeant Williams), Jaime Slavinsky (Lance Corporal Hernandez), and Sundiata Rice (Sean) round out the small but emotionally powerful cast.  Kudo’s to Rice in his debut as Sean, Casey’s son, who idolizes her and cannot understand their estrangement.  When Casey does not respond to his heartfelt, innocent appeals, we are left to imagine that no one will be able to break through to her.

Casey has seen the enemy…and it is us.

Soldier’s Heart runs through October 13th at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

Photo Credit for Cast of Soldier's Heart:  Jeff Swensen

Reviewed  on behalf of PositivelyPittsburghLive! 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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Oh Michael, You "Bublé" Me Away

Reprinted from A Passion For The Pen
by Tara Darazio, Freelance Writer, Social Media Strategist, and PPL Good News Reporter

I have loved Michael Bublé since before it was cool to love him, and when my husband and I got the chance to go to his concert this past Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center with some of our best friends, we jumped at the chance!

Not only was it a beautiful Friday night in the Burgh, the concert far exceeded my expectations, and I cannot wait to see him perform live again.

I’m a very dramatic person, theatrical at heart, so of course I felt I had to be dressed to the nines to see Bublé. He’s such a classy, formal guy, and I wanted to be a part of his aura. As you can see from the pic, all of us stepped up our game for this special night and even though I was the only girl I saw wearing a bow tie, I’ll take it. I’m different and crazy and weird and wacky, and that’s me.

As we were taking this photo, a woman stopped dead in her tracks to tell my husband that he looked like Bublé, which made him smile, as that is not the first time he’s heard that, and looking at this picture, I definitely see the resemblance. Now if I could just get him to sing like that and wear suits and bow ties all the time…

We found ourselves sitting in a Loge, which is by far the way to go if you are thinking about seeing a concert there. It was our own private section, with a bar for our drinks, purses, cameras, etc. Our seats were super comfortable, like glorified office chairs on wheels, and we had a good five feet of space behind us to stand up, dance, sit back, whatever! We also had our own waitress, so we didn’t have to fight the crowds for a drink, and the view from the Loge was SPECTACULAR. All the seats at CONSOL are pretty great, but this took the cake. Pictures don’t even do it justice.

The opening act was a group called Naturally 7. They are an amazing acapella group, turning their bodies into instruments. Really a great way to get the night started, and they came back to sing with Bublé later in the show.

Bublé is now not only one of my favorite singers, he’s one of my favorite people. I have been to a lot of concerts in my day and have never come across someone so genuine. I read a blog saying that when you go to his concerts, you feel like he is crooning just for you, and I absolutely agree with that.

When he first came out, he immediately started interacting with the crowd. He made mention of some of the signs, even a few way in the back with LED lights on them. One girl had a sign saying it was her 18th birthday, so he brought her down to the stage, gave her a hug and a kiss, and had the whole stadium sing Happy Birthday to her. Right from the get go, the show was about his fans, not him. What a special night for that girl, and what an awesome memory to make. He brought up a little girl later in the show that had a sign for him, and serenaded her with You’ve Got A Friend In Me. Her face was priceless, and he even gave her the mic to sing along with him.

His show was two hours of non-stop action, and he is one of the best live singers I haveever seen. He sang a lot of his original songs, a lot of classics, threw in some Elvis, even sang the new Daft Punk song. Scattered between songs he bantered with the crowd, told stories of his early days singing in nightclubs, and how fame didn’t come to him until later in his life, and how he’s happy about that. He talked about his new baby boy, his wife, and even took a gift from a woman in the front, opening it with excitement, and holding it up for the crowd to see. It was a little Pittsburgh Penguins outfit, and he jokingly replied that it was really nice, but that he would never fit into it. He’s really funny. Much funnier than I imagined him to be, and that took the concert to a whole other level.

He did an awesome section where he introduced every member of his band. The screens, backdrops, and effects throughout the whole show were fantastic, and during this part, each guy’s photo was put up and they performed a solo. Bublé made up funny anecdotes about each guy and it was super endearing to see an artist put so much love into his band, realizing they are just as much a part of his fame, than he himself.

About halfway through the show, Bublé walked through the entire floor section to reach the secondary, smaller stage, where he sang a few numbers. Stupendous for us, as we were really close.

You really feel the utter joy and love in the air at his concerts, with one of the best moments being a huge explosion of heart-shaped confetti fluttering around the entire stadium, as he sang All You Need is Love. 

His encore was over and above the normal one song come back, it was more like four songs, and he came out with a new dapper suit, and an energy even higher than before. We were all sad to leave that concert. We didn’t want it to end. And it’s now a tradition for the four of us to go to Bublé every time he comes back to our City.

So thank you Michael, you are a true class act. Continue to keep making beautiful music. You were born to do it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Skull in Connemara, A Play You will “Dig”

A Skull in Connemara
Presented by
The Pittsburgh Irish Classical Theatre
September 12-28, 2013
Directed by Martin Giles
A Play You will “Dig”
Reviewer, JoAnn R. Forrester

The play, A Skull in Connemara, written by the prolific and brilliant Martin McDonagh focuses on the gruesome practice of grave exhumation in a small town.   A practice, that for many of us,   seems  unreal and something made up  from a  CSI crime show.  In the play, due to overcrowding, the local cemetery located in a small Irish town of Leenane, exhumes bodies of those who have been buried there for over seven years and  disposes in a local lake.  Yes it is  gruesome…but this a marvelous  dark comedy filled with twists and turns.. It has wonderful examples of sarcastic word play, small town intrigue and insight to the character of the townspeople to keep one fascinated as the tale unfolds. 

If you are from a small town or rural area whether it is in Ireland, or any other small parcel of a town in the world, you will instantly recognize and appreciate the dark acts and antics going on.  People watching are the big dynamic in town.  You have a relative small group of people…bored…looking for gossip…something interesting to watch and speculate. Neighbor watching and trying to hide what “skullduggery” you are up to at the same time is the  game…the big entertainment. 


The play revolves around four main characters, Maryjohnny Rafferty( Sharon Brady) Mick Dowd (James Keegan), Thomas Hanlon (Jason McCune) and Marton Hanlon,  (Alec Silberblatt)  who are prime example of characters in a small town.  Mary John the town gossip and grudge score keeper, Mick, the man with a secret, Thomas, the self-
important police official and Alec the village incompetent with a nasty mouth are wonderfully portrayed and give excellent insight into “village life and secrets”.  Each person needs one another for companionship, for comfort, for relief of boredom, and yet each one has the need to poke and pinch at one another because of the need. 

Pittsburgh is blessed to have the Pittsburgh Irish Classical Theathre, an excellent repertory company, with a consistent record of   exceptionally high level of performance.  All those involved, director Martin Giles, the artistic staff are “Broadway quality”.

A special mention that Alan Stanford, is now the permanent Producing Artistic Director…a very wise choice.

Go and see A Skull in Connemara a play that you will dig.  Enjoy folks. Another high quality Production from PICT. 

Roving Pittsburgher Good News Reporter, JoAnn Forrester is the Host of "Empress of Biz, Reinvent in Rugged Times," a business Talkcast syndicated on PPLMag, Pittsburgh's First Internet Radio and TV Network.  You can hear JoAnn and Business friends every Thursday at 9 AM on the TalkShoe network or archived later at:  Jo Ann is also a regular business tip columnist at the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Lion King Feeling the Love at the Benedum in Pittsburgh

Lion King Feeling the Love at the Benedum in Pittsburgh


Good News Reporter, Joanne Quinn-Smith

Hakuna matata: Means no worries and you truly will leave the theater with no worries after this presentation.  There is almost too much going on with performers coming through the aisles and drummers in the balcony boxes.  What an event of sound and sight and experience.

What a mix of visual and audio entertainment Director Julie Taymor has put together.  My five year old was mesmerized even though it was a long show and she wanted to go to sleep she just could not.  I asked her the best part and she told me it was the young Simba and Nala played by Jordan Hall and Nya Cymone Carter, what wonderful delightful young performers.  She loved Simba in “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.”

Personally I hate it when the bad guy gets less applause than the
hero.  I found Patrick Brown in the role of the wicked yet funny Scar to be the perfect anti-hero.  Scar is Mufasa's brother and he feels that because of his superior intellect he should be king of the jungle. His quirkiness and campy swagger added a unique dimension to the musical. 

One of the two strongest performances was given by Steven Taylor as Mufasa Simba's father, Sarabi's husband and the former King of the Pride Lands; a righteous, wise, and kindhearted leader, but admirably powerful and courageous as well. Idolized by his son, with whom he shared a strong bond, Mufasa was envied immensely during his lifetime by his wicked younger brother Scar, who furiously conspired against his older brother in an attempt to end his reign and seize the throne. To the devastation of a young Simba, Mufasa was violently trampled to death by a massive stampede of wildebeests arranged by Scar while attempting to save his son's life. This lead to Scar's tyrannical kingship over Pride Rock after he convinced Simba he was responsible for his father’s death and that he should run away from home.

But my favorite character and the strongest performer of the Lion King is Rafiki played by Bron Liniwe Mikhize.  Rafiki is an erect walking mandrill so can use many props like gourds that other characters cannot. What a breath of fresh air, talent, energy and symbolism.  During the musical Rafiki sings a nonsense chant: "Asante sana, squash banana, wewe nugu, mimi hapana." This is a Swahili playground rhyme which translates to "Thank you very much (squash banana), you're a baboon and I'm not!" Like "hakuna matata" (no worries), the chant was heard by the original filmmakers on their research trip to Kenya.

Rafiki performs shamanistic services for the lions of Pride Rock so his chanting just fits in.

The costuming is amazing as many of the animals portrayed in the production are actors in costume using extra tools to move their costumes. For example, the giraffes are portrayed by actors carefully walking on stilts. For principal characters such as Mufasa and Scar, the costumes feature mechanical headpieces that
can be raised and lowered to foster the illusion of a cat "lunging" at another. Other characters, such as the hyenas, Zazu, Timon, and Pumbaa, are portrayed by actors in life-sized puppets or costumes. My granddaughter especially loved the stage personnel in conical Asian hat, sedge hat, rice hat, or paddy hats who skillfully flew the birds on stage and through the audience at the end of long sticks, simply a symphony of motion in my opinion. 

Seats are still available for Disney’s Tony Award-winning The
The cast
Lion King
, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and PNC Broadway Across America at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts.  The show runs through Sept. 29; times vary; $65-$115; 412/456-4800,

But whatever time you attend you will leave humming either “Circle of Life” or “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”

Joanne Quinn-Smith, Award winning internet radio broadcaster, blogger, author  and internet radio and TV network editor and publisher.  Joanne is the owner and CEO, Creative Energy Officer, of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates, a successful Pittsburgh-based marketing company. She is a grandmother and great grandmother, an unlikely trendsetter for online journalism and broadcasting. Joanne is internationally known as the “Get Your Google On” Gal.  But better known as Techno Granny™ to over one million accumulated online listeners worldwide.   Joanne has created a revolutionary online NEW MEDIA platform in Internet broadcasting, blogging and other social media participation that represents the new second generation of World Wide Web interactions, known in technology circles as Web 2.0. JQS is the online publisher of, an online community magazine to disseminate the Positive News for Positive Pittsburghers.  PPL Mag is Pittsburgh’s First Internet radio and TV network with syndicated channels and online radio and TV capabilities.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Arthur Miller’s All My Sons Still Resonates for 21st Century Audiences

Arthur Miller’s All My Sons Still Resonates 

for 21st Century Audiences

reviewed by Freeland Writer, Linda Tomsho

All My Sons (1947) was Arthur Miller’s first commercially successful play.  In fact, Miller vowed to give up playwriting and “find some other line of work” if it was a flop.  Fortunately for Miller and for us, All My Sons ran for 328 performances, won numerous awards, and made him famous.   The play’s subject was rather provocative in those days of the Cold War, an indictment of the pursuit of “The American Dream,” and the unintended consequences that can happen when greed supersedes moral integrity.   In our time, these themes are just as relevant as we question the ethics of the pursuit of corporate profits at the expense of social responsibility.

All the action takes place in the idyllic suburban setting of the Keller family’s backyard.  Joe Keller (Philip
All My Sons: Daina Michelle Griffith, Philip Winters, Penelope Lindblom, Shaun Cameron Hall | Photo: Jeff Swensen, 2013 -
Winters) reads his paper and chats amiably with neighbors, and all seems well… disturbed only by the loss of a tree in the last night’s windstorm – the tree planted as a memorial for their son, Larry, who was a pilot lost in World War II.  Joe is the owner of a factory that manufactured airplane parts for the war, and when faulty parts were shipped from that factory, 21 planes were lost and their pilots killed.  Joe’s partner and former neighbor, Steve, was convicted of that crime and sent to prison, while Joe went free.   The story takes place on the day that Steve’s daughter, Ann (Daina Michelle Griffith), who was Larry’s fiancée, is coming to visit.

Unknown to Joe and his wife, Kate (Penelope Lindblom), their other son, Chris (Shaun Cameron Hall) has become involved with Ann, and he has asked her to visit in order to propose marriage.   This is upsetting to Kate, who is essentially the Cassandra in this Greek tragedy and has convinced herself that Larry is still alive.  She persists
Nicholas Noah Vanhorenbeck, Philip Winters | Photo: Jeff Swensen, 2013
in a state of neurotic denial, grasping at any and all signs that he might still come home.  Thus, she cannot accept the relationship between Chris and Ann.  Unfortunately, her love for her son is not the only reason she’s in denial, and these other reasons gradually come to light and propel the family to an explosive night of reckoning as dark secrets are revealed, and one by one, each character comes to realize the truth.
An undercurrent of tension and uneasiness underlies the placid façade of suburban domesticity.  It seems too good to be true, and it is.  In time, each of the characters identifies and expresses what is hidden, and denial is no longer possible.

The entire cast performed admirably, especially Mr. Winter (Joe) as the conflicted patriarch and Ms. Lindblom as the mother (Kate) driven nearly mad with the burden of her conscience.  Justin Fortunato’s performance as Ann’s brother, George, is outstanding for its furious intensity tempered with vulnerability.   Mr. Hall (Chris) and Ms. Griffith (Ann) are appealing as the young couple who find the path to their future happiness complicated by a web of lies and deceit.   

The neighbors who are part of the Keller family’s suburban fantasy world include well-meaning but naïve Frank and Lydia Lubey (Mark Tinkey and Erika Cuenca), and David Cabot and Amy Landis as a world-weary doctor and his wife, whose real motivations (like those of the Keller and Deever families) are revealed when long-suppressed feelings come to light, resulting in the final climactic scene.
Young Nicholas Noah Vanhorenbeck is cute as a button as Bert, the little neighbor boy who reminds Kate of things she’d rather not think about. 

More than 65 years after its debut, Miller’s powerful story is still moving and relevant to audiences today, and the strong performances by the excellent cast shouldn’t be missed.

All My Sons runs until September 22 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland.

Linda Johnson Tomsho is a freelance writer and editor and a partner in Baker Street Business Solutions, a creative marketing firm specializing in helping small businesses and entrepreneurs multiply their profits by staying top-of-mind with prospects and existing clients.
 She is also a co-founder of the Edward D. Wood, Jr. Memorial Film Society, which promotes Underappreciated Cinema.