“We are one City for this city.”
There are tons of leaders and movements that launch their campaigns on platforms of unity. Some are genuinely attempting to heal insidious schisms in society while others say and do whatever it takes to curry favor even if it means lying about what they believe in. The slogan above belongs to City Theatre, which has proven over the last four decades that, as a company, it is a prime example of the former.
Their upcoming 43rd season boasts six shows, all of which are Pittsburgh premieres and two of which are world premieres. Artistic Producer Reg Douglas bills this “standout year” as a “celebration of bold storytellers who are creating timely and thrilling plays that entertain and enlighten”. It’s a feast for anyone with an endless artistic appetite.
If I had to describe City Theatre’s first show of its 2017-2018 season in one word…I couldn’t. I would need at least 21 words to tell you about Halley Feiffer’s black comedy because that’s how many words are in its title. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City may be an extremely lengthy title that “barely fits in a Tweet” according to City’s marketing director Laura Greenawalt, but no one can fault it for lack of specificity. Greenawalt jokingly warns that there a “no refunds” for patrons who walk into the theater expecting to see Stephen Sondheim’s musical romp A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Feiffer’s play sets the stage for the most unlikely meet-cute for Karla and Don. She’s an up and coming comic. He’s in the throes of a messy divorce. They’re both visiting their ailing mothers in the titular gynecologic oncology unit. Somehow flirtation, provocative conversations, and, most of all, laughs ensue. In its Off-Broadway run, A Funny Thing Happened… received enthusiastic acclaim and I’m sure the same will happen when it takes Pittsburgh by storm from September 23 through October 15.
The opening of PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Old Man and The Old Moon marks a triumphant homecoming for this band (in every sense of the word) of storytellers. Alex Falberg, Arya Shahi, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Dan Weschler, Matt Nuernberg, and Ryan Melia began their journey together as students at Carnegie Mellon University in 2007 and made stops along the way including various stages/critics’ top pick lists across the country and beside Meryl Streep in her film Rick and the Flash.
The Old Man and the Old Moon, playing from November 11 through December 3, is an all-ages show that combines an indie-folk score, thrilling movement, and puppetry in a way that defies genre to tell the story of the Old Man. His simple life of keeping the moon bright is interrupted when his beloved wife goes missing. The Old Man embarks on an epic and enchanting journey of his own to find her sailing across the seas and into the audience’s hearts.
Disappearance is also the spark for The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey. Audiences can search for the missing teen with the help of a host of colorful characters all played by one actor from January 20-February 18. Academy Award winner James Lecesne (and co-founder of the LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project) gives life to the struggles Leonard faces being out in a less-than-accepting New Jersey town. The detective assigned to search for Leonard uncovers much more about the impact Leonard’s spirit has on the people in and around his life before Leonard’s own fate is revealed.
For anyone who attended City Theatre’s Momentum Festival this past June, the next two shows will definitely ring a few bells. The 2017 Momentum Festival included workshops and readings of new works including Citizens Market by Cori Thomas and The White Chip by Sean Daniels. City’s Director of New Play Development Clare Drobot takes pride in the company’s proclivity for “foster[ing] new work at a variety of stages” and these two productions embody that initiative.
The first, Citizens Market, playing from March 3-25, is one of the aforementioned world premieres. In this story of New York City at its finest, immigrants from around the globe staff a local supermarket. As Hamilton taught us, they do indeed “get the job done” but the work doesn’t stop when the store closes. They must navigate a world that discriminates against them with all the hope they can muster. Luckily for them, that’s quite a lot.
Drobot worked closely with playwright Thomas and director Douglas all summer and will continue to revise the script throughout the rehearsal process to make it the best it can be. “It’s exciting to share those changes with audiences and there will be noticeable differences between the spring readings and the March premiere,” Drobot teased.
Fresh from his thrilling direction of Benjamin Scheuer’s deeply affecting autobiographical musical The Lion, Sean Daniels returns to City Theatre as a playwright with a raw look inside his own life. As this is The White Chip’s second production, its script will only undergo some minor refinement during this production process.
The white chip signifies a milestone in Sean’s (the character and the writer) ongoing struggle with alcoholism. Even with a strong support system and goals to live for, Sean sometimes finds himself just barely hanging on. The play is a comedy, but it provides no chaser for the harsh and bitter realities that addicts brave to maintain sobriety. The White Chip plays from April 7 through May 6.
The world premiere of Fear the Walking Dead writer Carla Ching’s Nomad Motel, opening on May 12 and closing on June 3, definitely ensures that this season will end on a high note. Alix, her twin brothers, and her friend Mason find themselves away from home not because they’re rebelling or avoiding chores. Their parents’ neglect (motivated by wildly different circumstances) forces the children to fend for themselves and make a life out in the wild. And, by wild, I mean a series of motel rooms in California.
If you can’t wait for late September for the opening of A Funny Thing Happened…, City is presenting a return limited engagement of Late Night Catechism by Maripat Donovan, featuring Kimberly Richards from September 7-17. A devout nun is your host, teacher, and conscience for an evening that will tickle your funny bone as much as it enriches your soul. Who doesn’t need that nowadays?
City Theatre has thrived for so long on Bingham Street in Southside (and in Oakland before that) because it consistently presents well-rounded, well-produced, and responsible entertainment. They keep audiences and artists coming back for more every year because, according to Douglas, those “who call Pittsburgh home can call City home”.
For tickets and more information about City Theatre’s upcoming season, click here.