Magic till Midnight – a review of “Cinderella”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

Ella (Callie Brielle McIntyre) sits in the corner yearning for a life beyond the drudgery of her daily life when Prince Topher (Sam Greene) gallops into her neck of the woods seeking a sip of water from her well in “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”

Once the prince’s thirst is slated, his chief advisor, Sebastian (Adam Koda) tries to fend off Crazy Marie (Angela Jade George), but Ella defends Marie insisting she is harmless.  The prince takes pity on the pauper and notices Ella’s kindness, but the needs of the realm draw him out of the woods and back to his castle. While he’s on the throne, Sebastian manipulates him into having a masquerade ball to find a potential mate.  Sebastian’s distraction is part of his dastardly plan to keep the prince from learning about all of his evil deeds, even though a local rabble-rouser, Jean-Michel (Jackson Miller) is loudly protesting to anyone who will listen. 

Meanwhile, Ella’s evil stepmother, known simply as Madame (Marguerite Reed), and her two daughters, Gabrielle (Maya Fullard) and Charlotte (Mary Felix) return to their thatched hut after a long day of shopping. Madame is cruel to her stepdaughter, favoring the daughters from her first marriage. Because she’s covered in soot from cleaning the fireplace, the wicked stepmother mocks her and calls her Cinderella.

When Lord Pinkleton(AJ DePetris) announces the upcoming festivities the townspeople swell with cheer, ignoring Jean-Michele.

Pinkleton proclaims that everyone is invited to the ball.

Spoiler?!

If you guessed the part where Cinderella’s evil stepmother prevents Cinderella from attending the ball, you’ll probably guess the rest. Something about magic and midnight, a glass slipper, yada, yada, yada.

Side note: I never understood why all of Cinderella’s clothes transform at midnight, except for that single glass slipper. I guess that’s shoe business.

Callie Brielle McIntyre takes her bow in “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”

Actually, Oscar Hammerstein, II, and Douglas Carter Beane put a new spin on an old tale. The prince gets a bit more of a back story. He’s more than a knight in shining armor in this musical adaptation.

Tomé Cousin directs a lively version of this age old story, finding fresh and innovative ways to showcase all of his talents. He has expertly picked his cast.

Greene is a dashing and charming prince with a voice big enough for Broadway.

It’s easy to fall in love with McIntyre’s Cinderella. She is a marvelous choice. Her rendition of “In my own little corner” is delightful.

Greene and McIntyre have chemistry together. Their duet, “Ten Minutes Ago” is a showstopper.

The other characters are decidedly over-the-top, but it’s a perfect choice for this bigger-than-life spectacle. Skip “The Nutcracker” and take the kids to see this instead. Hint: “The Nutcracker” will be back next year, but this is lightning in a bottle!

George’s Fairy Godmother, literally and figuratively, shines like a star, aided by a sparkly dress complete with gossamer wings.

Felix’s Charlotte also gets a grand moment singing “Stepsister’s Lament” with the distaff members of the ensemble.

Cousin, who has choreographed shows in the past, turned the choreography over to Eileen Grace Reynolds. She steps up to job with aplomb.

The scenes and props are incredible. Noah Glastier’s cottage in the woods is an efficient set piece that packs up like a suitcase and moves on and off the stage.

Shout out to Damian Dominguez who’s costume design simply amazes. Each costume is fantastic, beautiful dresses at the ball, princely attire for Topher, and even beautifully designed patchwork rags for Crazy Marie.  Dominguez stuns the audience with three spectacular costume changes (one for Crazy Marie and two for Cinderella). It’s stagecraft of the highest order. It’s practically magic.

This production is magical. A must see during its very brief run. I could not proclaim it more loudly if I were Lord Pinkleton, the exhausted and very funny town crier.

It seems impossible that a local college production of “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” could compare to a big Broadway show, but Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother are all about making the impossible possible. Go out and have a ball!

– MB

“Cinderella” runs from December 7 – 11, 2022 in the PNC Theatre inside the Pittsburgh Playhouse, 450 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.

Eyes on the Prize – a Review of “A Christmas Story – the Play”

By Claire DeMarco

Ralphie Parker (Sebastian Madoni), like all other kids as they approach Christmas, anticipates a day full of fun and presents.  This upcoming holiday in Indiana in the 1940’s is especially exciting.  Ralphie has a specific Christmas wish that has absorbed all of his time, thought and attention.

What Ralphie wants for Christmas more than anything is an “official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle”.

Note:  Got that?

Although he doesn’t realize it, Ralphie’s determination for an “official Red Ryder Rifle…” actually turns into a clever marketing plan.  Subtle hints, overt ads mysteriously delivered in the mail, a homework paper with reasons why it’s important to have this gun contribute to Ralphie’s relentless pursuit.

Reliving this past Christmas season now as a grown up is Adult Ralph (John Shepard).  Interspersed among the tactics to reach his goal, Adult Ralph narrates and walks us through snapshots of his life as a child. He introduces us to Mother (Jamie Agnello) and Old Man (Tim McGeever), his brother Randy (Will Chambers), teacher Miss Shields (Hope M. Anthony), childhood friends and one bully.

Although most of the vignettes are not reflective of Ralphie’s quest for the ultimate prize they are memories of that time in his life.

The show is witty, hysterical and fun for all ages. 

McGeever is a rock star, specifically as he contemplates winning a “big prize” and his possessive control of the “big prize.”  His physical movements, facial expressions and comedic timing are spot on.

Note:  The “big prize” is a leg lamp with lampshade.  Nice gam, if I say so!

Shephard is great at blending his role as narrator into the scenes without distracting from the scenes themselves. He is both the storyteller and a quasi-participant.

Agnello is great as she uses gestures and body language without speaking, counteracting McGeever’s obsessive control of the “big prize.”

Anthony shows her chops with two different and clever comedy routines.

Madoni excels as Ralphie in a consistent and well-balanced performance.

Great job Colin Bozick, Will Chambers, Suraya Love Collins, Eamonn McElfresh, Zora Rose, Charlie Julian Stull, Jude Ziggy Glover, Adjoa Opoku-Dakwa and Nikolai Zevchak.

The set is reflective of a 1940’s era home – an ice box, console radio, red and white linoleum kitchen tiles, typical furniture pieces.  The transition from the home setting is smooth as the scene changes to a school room or a department store Santa Land.

Excellent direction by Michael Berresse.

A Christmas Story, the Play” was written by Philip Grecian and is based on the 1983 film also titled “A Christmas Story”.

-CED

“A Christmas Story – the Play” is a production of Pittsburgh Public Theater.  It runs from November 30 – December 23. For more information, click here.

Sophie’s Choice – a review of “The Wanderers”

by Michael Buzzelli

An acclaimed author, Abe (Jed Resnick), begins a premature mid-life crisis with a virtual bang when he ignores his wife, Sophie (Allison Strickland), and obsesses over a famous movie star, Julia (Sarah Goeke), in Anna Ziegler’s “The Wanderers.”

Flashback to Brooklyn, Hassidic Jews, Esther (Moira Quigley) and Schmuli (Nick Lehane), navigate the parameters of their arranged marriage.

“The Wanderers” is set in two separate time periods. The action with Esther and Schmuli spans a swath of time between 1973 through 1982, while Abe and Sophie’s story is closer to the present.

After the birth of her children, Esther is unfulfilled. She wants to expand her life outside of the Hassidic community, even though it’s forbidden. Her conversations with her husband turn awkward.

Abe (Jed Resnick) gets an email from Julia (not pictured) as Sophie (Allison Strickland) looks on in “The Wanderers.” Photo credit: Kristi Jan Hoover.

Meanwhile, Abe’s online dalliance with Julia takes a surprising turn, and Sophie makes a difficult choice. She decides to take the kids and leave her husband.

Note: In the first few sentences in the show, Sophie announces that she’s leaving Abe, and technically not a spoiler, though it does punctuate her monologue with an exclamation point.

The show weaves into some unexpected territory.  Without spoiling the story, there is a clear connection between the parallel storylines.

Esther (Moria Quigley) negotiates with Schmuli (Nick Lehane) while folding clothes. Photo credit: Kristi Jan Hoover.

“The Wanderers” is moving, funny and has a few jaw-dropping moments. Ziegler writes some complex characters with complex problems.

Side note: Ziegler also wrote “The Last Match,” which was beautifully performed at the City Theatre several years ago.

“The Wanderers” is a very smart show. Sometimes too smart. Gold stars for anyone who can decipher all of the literary references.

Pet peeve: There is a plethora of writers talking about writing. It gets a little “inside baseball,” but it may be more interesting to audience members who aren’t authors and playwrights. Luckily, a fine-tuned and compelling cast rise above any irritations.

Resnick is terrific as the neurotic protagonist (there is some reluctance to refer to him as the hero of the story).  He hits the humor in a natural, nuanced way.  Bon mots drip out casually from his mouth.

Strickland plays all the various layers of Sophie’s character.

Quigley is a joy to watch. She plays Esther like a wounded bird who is getting ready to fly again.

Goeke is charismatic and stunningly beautiful, traits befitting her role as the mysterious movie star.

Lehane manages to make a line, “Let us commence” seem hilarious.

Hint: It’s all about the context.

Lehane brings a lot of charm to the laconic Schmuli, even after he pulls a vile stunt that caused the audience to audibly gasp.

Though the play is mostly dialogue, Director Collette Robert keeps the action moving at a quick pace. Ziegler’s tight script doesn’t leave much room for lollygagging.

Anne Mundell’s set is sparse, but clever and expertly utilized by Lighting Designer Natalie Robin.  All the action takes place around a sturdy wooden table. There are a limited number of props, but terrific costumes by Mindy Eshelman.  Schmuli’s Hassidic headgear is amazing. His wedding hat is a marvel to behold.

But Lehane’s costume isn’t the only one to admire. To crib from Ziegler, Goeke is luminescent in her sparkling silver dress in the final moments of the show.

It might be time to wander down to the Southside and catch “The Wanderers.”

– MB

“The Wanderers” runs until December 18 at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203For more information, click here

‘See the thing’ – Carnegie Museum of Art’s Refractions Series with James “Yaya” Hough and etta cetera

by Gina McKlveen

On December 1, 2022, the Carnegie Museum of Art in partnership with the Carnegie Mellon School of Art hosted one of its many artist talks that is part of a series called, “Refractions: 58th Carnegie International Conversation Series.” Inside the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater, two revolutionary artists—James “Yaya” Hough and etta cetera—sat side-by-side in conversation with each other and the moderator, Dana Bishop-Root, who serves as the Museum’s Director of Education and Public Programs.

Yaya is a seasoned artist who has had a love for expressing himself through the arts since his childhood. He grew up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh and recalled some of the struggles he faced in his early years that were “not friendly to the development of an artist.” At seventeen, after being convicted of murder, Yaya was sentenced to prison and served a 23-year mandatory life sentence without parole.

While in the prison system, Yaya rediscovered his love of the arts. Initially, his motive for making art was as a tool to change the conditions of his own environment. However, along the way Yaya realized that art had a unique ability to bring people together to make ripple effects in the community. So Yaya treated his role as an artist in prison with great responsibility, focusing first and foremost on building relationships with people—an ethos he continues to bring into his work to this day, as evidenced by his most recent work for the Carnegie International, A Gift to the Hill District, which is featured not within the Museum walls, but in the Hill District community and created in collaboration with the neighbors who live there.

The James “Yaya” Hough mural.

A Gift to the Hill District, is Yaya’s first public commission in his hometown, but he has been involved with Mural Arts Philadelphia for over a decade, served as the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Office of the District Attorney of Philadelphia, and created more than 50 works of art that have been installed at State Correctional Institutions across the United States.

Yaya crossed paths with etta cetera, artist and board of director of Let’s Get Free: The Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, though an art exhibit hosted through BOOM concepts, a creative art space for marginalized voices in Pittsburgh. Yaya described one of the pieces he created for that exhibit as a “found object piece”—a collection of walnuts and a nail painted in white with an image and some text attached and etta recalled bringing a group of 17-year-old students to the exhibition, intentionally noting to these students that they were the same age as Yaya when he received his prison sentence. Like Yaya, etta’s view of the artist as a connector in the community serves as a path that leads to critical thinking, which can set people free.

For her own entry into the arts, etta also began at an early age when during her public-school education art became her favorite subject and all she wanted to do was be in the art classroom. She went on to work in Baltimore at the American Visionary Art Museum and discovered one of her foundational artistic inspirations, Beehive Design Collective, which introduced her to the paper mural art form that blended her creative expression with social advocacy efforts.

Let’s Get Free Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee is at City-County Building supporting The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.

Now, etta says she sees every piece of art as a freedom prayer and her work seeks to show the humanity of incarcerated people. Specifically, etta mentioned the project “Let Grandma Go,” and described the story of an 80-something-year-old prisoner, Betty Heron, who knit a horse which etta used as an example to show the humanity of the elderly women still in prisoned. etta wants people to ‘see the thing’ that these prisoners create because prison has a way to isolating and invisibilizing people, especially women and trans prisoners who don’t have equal access to resources, including art materials, in prison as their male counterparts. Her collaborative work Across the Walls (2022), a 22-minute black and white video, details the first-person experiences of two women recently released from prison after serving over 40-year sentences, and five others who are still incarcerated. Her hope with this work is that people will see it and be ignited to do something to change their own community.

As a final parting for the evening, etta offered ways to get involved with Let’s Get Free: The Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee including Operation Break Bread—a visiting program that connects people in Pittsburgh with people who are incarnated at the two local women’s prisons, Write Time, a weekly virtual meeting space to write letters to people in prison, and Creative Resistance: Picture a Free World, an art show and fundraiser seeking submissions for visual art and poetry through February 1, 2023. More details on Let’s Get Free are available at: https://letsgetfree.info/.

-GM

The public can view A Gift to the Hill District at 2317 Center Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219 and Across the Walls (2022) is on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center (Floor 2). “Refractions: James “Yaya” Hough & Let’s Get Free” will air on Artists in the World, a new WQED and Carnegie Museum of Art Podcast. The next “Refractions: 58th Carnegie International Conversation Series” artist talk will take place on December 15, 2022 from 6:30-7:30 PM at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater.

 

 

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Locally Sourced Artisanal Comedy finds a home – a review of Sketchville

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

Travel with me to a foreign land, the exotic locale of “Sketchville.” The travel guide would tell you that Sketchville is “a bustling metropolis of wild ideas, goofy premises, and side-splitting one-liners.” All aboard! You’re gonna want to catch this train.

A plethora of local talent wrote sketches for local comedians. Can one be a locavore for laughter? Why the hell not?

The original all new material features sketches written by Eoin Carney, Kathi Finch, Jennifer Holz, Stephanie Kozikowski, Adam Lauver, Michael McBurney, Frank McDade, Ryan Nuzzo, Kevin O’Brien, Mike Rubino, Brian Schimmel, Matt Solter, and Scott Trampus.

Put your cell phone on mute. Brian Schimmel skewers “Uber Eats” in a sketch performed by Kevin O’Brien and Matt Solter. It’s a perfect parody for our times when our smart phone has gone from powerful tool in you pocket to intrusive nebby nose.

In Kazoo Police, Stacey Babyak gets pulled over by cops that sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Unlike Lucy Van Pelt, she can’t understand them. It’s a hilarious thread that weaves throughout the show.

Adam Lauver’s “Dolly” is a revelation. When Dolly Parton (Haley Holmes) goes into a recording studio to perform her hits, the producer (wryly played by Beth Geatches) learns that Dolly has tweaked her song to reflect the times. It’s another hilarious bit in a string of hilarious sketches, and Holmes is pure Parton throughout, while Geatches gets off some sardonic glances, and exasperated sighs.

Geatches has another triumphant moment as a panicked passenger on the Titanic, while the band plays on in Matt Solter’s sketch, “Titanic Sell-Outs.”

The cast and director of Arcade Comedy Theater’s upcoming “Sketchville” show. Back row, from left to right: Montaja Simmons, director Parag S. Gohel, Fred Betzner, Kevin O’Brien, Stacey Babyak and Beth Geatches. Front row: Maame Danso, Matt Solter and Haley Holmes. (Courtesy of Arcade Comedy Theater)

Ryan Nuzzo’s “Gay Jeopardy” is an instant classic. Nuzzo parodies one of America’s infotainment institutions in this sketch. The premise is simple but sublime as host Gary Grinder (Matt Solter) asks some fierce Jeopardy questions filled with ribald jokes enough to gag a drag.

Stephanie Kozikowski’s “Bachelorette Survival Kit” is a side-splitting sketch. When Montaja Simmons’s bride-to-be gets an unusual idea for her bachelorette party that may or may not involve a famous cryptid from the Pacific Northwest.

There’s even a song and dance in Scott Trampus’ “A Man in My Position,” delightfully performed by Kevin O’Brien and Matt Solter.

Director Parag S. Gohel gives each of the actors (Montaja Simmons, Fred Betzner, Kevin O’Brien, Stacey Babyak and Beth Geatches. Front row: Maame Danso, Matt Solter and Haley Holmes) a moment to shine.  Without his firm hand, it’s easy to see how the show could have devolved into a three-ring circus. Instead, Gohel guides the show with aplomb. Some actors could have been louder or more boisterous in presenting the material, but this show was reviewed from a final dress rehearsal.

Can it get silly at times? Yass, queen! But that’s the point of it. You can sit down, tune in and spend some time laughing out loud amongst friends. It’s a lovely evening out of your house, and there are enough sketches to keep you in stitches in “Sketchville.” It’s worth the trip.

– MB

“Sketchville” runs from December 1 to December 10 at the Arcade Comedy Theater, 943 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For more information, click here

I, too, sing America – a review of “Searching for Willie Lynch”

By Michael Buzzelli

When Mo Foster (Thaddeus Daniels) misses a payment, Davis “call me Mister Harlin” (Reginald “Reggie” Lee Wilson) buys his ancestral home and orders him and his son, Cricket (Lamar K. Cheston), to hit the bricks by noon the following day. But the house itself isn’t ready to give up on the Foster family.

The barriers of the space-time continuum break down in Layon Gray’s “Searching for Willie Lynch,” as several generations of the Foster family inhabit the surreal residence.

In 1925, Rahman (David N. Roberts) and Phebe (Ashley Victoria Scott) rush into their home seeking refuge from an unfortunate incident. In 1965, Basil (Layon Gray) and Charlene (Nicollette Ellis) are about have a baby, despite the fact that finances have tightened unexpectedly. In 2008, Peanut (Anthony Goss) stops by to pick Cricket up and take him the poles to vote for America’s first Black President, Barrack Obama when Mr. Harlin comes knocking.

If you’re wondering why there is no character named Willie Lynch in a play called, “Searching for Willie Lynch,” look no further. Lynch is the name of a slave owner who allegedly read a letter to teach his methods to slave owners on how to keep Black people divided for 300 years.

In a moment of anger, Cricket recites a portion of Lynch’s insidious letter to Mr. Harlin. He says, “Don’t forget you must pitch the old Black male vs. the young male. You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. You must use the female vs. the male, and the male vs. the female.”

It’s a dark moment fueled by rage, but it paints a bigger picture of the conflict between Mr. Harlin and the Fosters. It paints a frightening picture of race relations in America. Knowing the problem, however, can get us to a solution.

Headshots of the cast of “Searching for Willie Lynch.”

“Searching for Willie Lynch” has mystical and mythical elements that enhance a generational story.  It’s a base it is a story about love – romantic, spiritual and familial.

All of the actors are superb with many strong performances throughout as the generations crisscross through the house.

Ellis’s Charlene is an overworked woman in the last month of her pregnancy. She exudes grace, confidence and love. She’s a joy to watch.

Cheston plays Cricket with aplomb. He is dynamic and charismatic. He is also uniquely outfitted in a vibrant dashiki supplied by Kelly Davis.

Goss’s Peanut gets a heart-rending monologue. It is a powerful performance.

Phebe is probably the most underdeveloped character in the piece, but Scott hands in a layered performance.

Gray, the writer, director and actor, infuses the story and his character with a deep, devoted love. You can feel his fondness for the characters and the actors oozing out of him.

Herb Newsome’s set is simple yet homey, stuck in the early Twentieth Century. Kudos to Olga George for properly appointing the set with artifacts of each era.

“Searching for Willie Lynch” is a play about connection. It is the kind of play we need after a pandemic. It was a perfect play to watch after hearing that a certain divisive (read racist) political candidate is running for president again. It is a play that reminds us that we need to stand up and fight injustice, to fight for your family.  Fight for love.

It’s also a play that reminds us to vote.

-MB

“Searching for Willie Lynch” runs until November 20 at the New Horizon Theater company, inside City Theatre’s new rechristened Dr. Vernell Audrey Watson Lillie Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here.

Putting the Fun in Dysfunctional – a review of “Kentucky”

by Michael Buzzelli

Hiro (Esther Lee) is on a plane descending into Kentucky, falling into familiar patterns and, simply, falling apart as she returns home for her sister’s wedding in Leah Nanako Winkler’s “Kentucky.”

Kentucky is a metaphor for Middle America. It’s a state and a state of mind. In New York and Los Angeles, it’s considered a “Flyover,” but for the people who live there it’s home, and there’s no place they’d rather be. In “Kentucky,” it’s both.

For Hiro, Kentucky is a battle zone. She tells her therapist, Larry (Clark Eileen Atkinson) that she plans on rescuing her sister Sophie (Zoe Gonzalez) from her impending nuptials and whisk her off to NYC, freeing her from their abusive father, James (Marc Palombo) and her Christianity.

Hiro has a hero complex.  Unfortunately, the moment she arrives the trouble starts. Her white father picks her up at the airport and the fuse is immediately lit. Her Japanese mother, Masako (Maddy Cox), expects her to keep peace, but he’s on her like white on rice (a nod to the sometimes thinly-veiled/sometimes blatant racism in a show about a half-Japanese, half Caucasian family).

There’s a Hallmark Christmas movie moment when she runs into the hotshot high school heartthrob, Adam (Cam Webb), but quickly veers off from the predictable paths.

The thing that makes Nanako Winkler’s play is the various Points of View. No POV is right or wrong…it just is. It’s also a weird, wonderful work of art.

“Kentucky” is expertly directed by Adil Mansoor, who finds the weird and wonderful in everything he touches.

Lee is fantastic as Hiro, playing her as both hero and villain in the story. It is a layered character, and Lee performs it deftly.

James seems like a one-note character in the first act, but we slowly see more depth to the character. Polombo gracefully handles the nuances.

Webb delivers a charismatic performance as Adam, the lone voice of reason and maturity.

This play is packed with characters and everyone gets a moment to shine, cute-but-attention-starved Amy(Maggie M. Clark), man-hungry Nicole (Isabella Duran-Shedd), even the bridespeople and groomspeople get a piece of the pie (or, in this case, cheesecake – as in Cheesecake Factory, which gets a nod in this tale).

Grandma (Sadie Pillion-Gardner) and Sylvie the Cat (Hattie Baier) are scene stealers. Baier plays a cat. She, literally and figuratively, chews the scenery.

Side note: usually, when people play cats it’s annoying. Example: “Cats.” But Baier’s performance is hilarious.

The set is a masterpiece. Scenic Designer Sasha Schwartz does an incredible job with the stage. There is a hydraulic lift, a rusty garage door and a pop-up chapel.  There are moments of awe when each new set piece is unveiled.

“Kentucky” is a dichotomy. It reminds us that every human being is both wonderful and terrible.  And, as Du’Ran (Colin Villacorte) reminds us that we love the whole person, not in spite of their past but because of it.

“Kentucky” is wonderfully made.

-MB

“Kentucky” runs through November 20 at the Highmark Theater, inside Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse, 350 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA  15222. For more information click here

Many Wrongs Make it Right – a review of the “Play That Goes Wrong”

by Michael Buzzelli

Chris Bean/ Inspector Carter welcomes us to the Cornley Drama Society’s production of “Murder at Haversham Manor,” but not really. It’s Colin Burns up there on stage acting the part of Chris Bean acting the part of Inspector Carter in “The Play That Goes Wrong.”

The plot is simple. Thomas Haversham (Fred Coleman) is murdered. Haversham’s brother, Cecil (John Feightner), his best friend, Thomas (Stephen Toth), fiancé Florence (Erika Krenn), and the Haversham maid, Perkins (Liz Schaming) are among Inspector Carter’s top suspects.

The ‘actors’ are struggling up there as set pieces fall apart, lines of dialogue are delivered out of order (or in some cases repetitive loops) and props aren’t where they’re supposed to be.

At one point, a miscued entrance smacks Sandra the-actor-playing-Florence (Krenn) so hard she’s knocked unconscious and replaced by Annie (Chelsea Conway), who dons the red dress, a copy of the script and jumps on stage.

Playwrights Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields cook up every possible mishap that could ever possibly go wrong in a show.

From left to right: John Feightner, Chelsea Conway, Colin Burns, Erika Krenn, and Stephen Toth form a party line to answer a mysterious phone call. Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC

Steven Gallagher choreographs the cast with precision of a German clockmaker. Every movement is a perfect ballet of mishaps, choreographed klutziness.

The show is expertly cast, and there were strong performances from every member, including “the crew,” Katheryn Hess, Randi Ippolito, Emma Paulini and David Lu!!

Krenn is a charismatic Sandra/Florence. She has perfect comic timing and the best British accent of the bunch.

When Sandra (Krenn) goes down, knocked out by the swinging door, Toth’s face freezes in mid-gasp. It is one of the most hilarious moments in a show filled with hilarious moments.

It is no secret to the Pittsburgh comedy scene that Feightner is a comedic genius.  Every herky-jerky movement, every facial expression is pure, undiluted hilarity.  He does it in such a natural way that its masterful (even the dedication he wrote in the program was funny).

Jim Froehlich is delightful as Trevor, the Conley Drama Society’s put-upon lighting and sound operator who must jump in as Florence Haversham when both Sandra and Annie are out of commission.

There were some issues with the venue.

Over the years, the production company has gone through numerous names and various venues. The Allegheny RiverTrail Park is not an ideal space. It’s cramped and this show is never going to get the size audience it deserves. The seats were crammed together.

The front row was inches from the stage. The first row should have been declared a splash zone. I was spat upon twice. I always assumed “spitting distance” was a colorful aphorism.

Even though I was in front of the show, I had some difficulty hearing because I was seated next to a family of wild hyenas who laughed so boisterously and loudly that I couldn’t hear the plot. At one point the boy fell on the floor and rolled around. I also thought ROTFOL was also just an expression.

Then, I realized, the plot was secondary. The audience’s enjoyment should be the most important thing. In that case, everything about “The Play That Goes Wrong” was right.

-MB

“The Play that Goes Wrong” runs through November 19 at the Riverfront Theatre Company, Allegheny RiverTrail Park, 285 River Avenue, Aspinwall, PA 15215. For more information, click here

One for the Money – Two for the Show – a review of Graceland & Asleep on the Wind

by Michael Buzzelli

Elvis has left the building, but that doesn’t stop two devoted fans, Rootie (Kodie Warnell) and Bev (Jennifer Phipps Kopach), as they guard the gates of Graceland, hoping to be the first to enter the estate as it opens its doors to the public in Ellen Byron’s “Graceland.”

One night in June 1982, these two fools rush in, hoping to be the first into Graceland. They fight for the top spot. Bev is a hard-headed woman and Rootie is all shook up over the events of her past. At first, neither trusts the other. They both have suspicious minds. We learn that Rootie is a little sister in mourning, but both have a burning love for the guitar man. They fight, because it’s now or never! Only one person can be the first walk through the doors. As they fight, you’ll want to shout, “Don’t be cruel!”  When Rootie shares her memories, the two make up, dance to a medley of Elvis songs and go their separate ways.

In “Asleep in the Wind,” we flashback ten years earlier, Rootie (now played by Lola Arfield) spends a special afternoon with her big brother Beau (Noah Welter) before he goes off to war.

The show could be billed as “Graceland” and “Asleep in the Wind,” instead of “Graceland and Asleep in the Wind.” It’s a subtle, but important, distinction. The shows even have separate directors, Joe Eberle for the former, Mary Meyer for the latter.

Hawk Photography, LLC
Hawk Photography, LLC

Eberle directs “Graceland” with verve.  It’s an energetic show. Carly Sims-Linkish’s set is sparse, but the actors don’t need a lot to create their world.

Kopach does a great job as the big-wigged Bev. She is over-the-top when she has to be and much more low-key during the softer moments. Bev goes from cliche to a fresh, fuller character.

Warnell is delightful as Rootie. She immerses herself in the role.

Meyer’s “Asleep in the Wind” is the same but different, as expertly directed as Eberle’s “Graceland.”

Armfield doesn’t imitate Warnell but delivers a similar-yet-different version of Rootie. She is equally terrific.

Welter is charismatic, wide-eyed and innocent (P.S. he would have been perfect for Pippin if he was around earlier in Little Lake’s season).  The bond between the two ‘siblings’ feels real.

Separately these plays are cute, but together they form something much more meaningful, much more poignant, two big pieces of a puzzle, two pieces of Rootie’s heart.  The two fractions coalesce into something beautiful because of the strength of the actors’ performances.

They are two little gems (diamonds falling from the sky).

It’s literally one for the money, and two for the show. Now, get ready, now, go, cat, go.

-MB

“Graceland and Asleep on the Wind” runs until November 20 at Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South, Canonsburg, PA 15317.  For more information, click here