Enjoying its impressive twenty-eighth year, the hotly anticipated and highly regarded Pittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) is in full swing and delivering a new array of exciting, original one-act plays. PNWF, which involves a number of the outstanding theatre companies and venues that make up Pittsburgh’s eclectic and wide-reaching theatrical community—including Iron Horse Theatre Company, Actors Civic Theatre, McKeesport Little Theatre, The Theatre Factory, and many others—is a uniquely intensive festival which allows the writing, workshopping and production of the plays to take place at a hurtling pace, allowing for fresh, raw, and impactful new productions.
As a part of this year’s PNWF, I was able to see three of the new works presented at the Carnegie Stage as part of the Main Stage Production B— Thursday Mornings and Sunday Nights (written by Charlotte Giles; produced by The South Hills Players); Brace (written by Annie LaRussa; produced by Little Lake Theatre Company) and Columbus Day (written by Stephen LaRocque; produced by The Theatre Factory). While each distinct in tone and plot, the plays as a cohesive unit stood as an intriguing examination of the delicacy of trust, the limits, challenges, and circumventions of intimacy, and the fragility of our own expectations.
Brace, dynamically made a comically tender exploration into the heartaches and affections of a married couple en route to their 25th anniversary celebration. Using a common sitcom trope—a plane making a violent emergency landing—the brief yet jam-packed play uses the simple concept of an individual blurting out a buried secret (in this case, perhaps not surprisingly, an affair) to beautifully dive into the navigations, sorrows, and assumptions a couple experiences in a decades-long relationship. The two stars, Laura Grossman and Kevin Bass, energetically and spiritedly capture the authentic essences of the married couple, with Grossman’s Xanax-munching wife being a blissful and appropriately sentimental highlight of the evening.
Thursday Mornings and Sunday Nights, a title which cleverly plays on the copulation schedule that is the center of the play’s hilariously awkward plot, is conceptually interesting if not a bit misdirected in its presentation of the material. Focusing on a vivacious older woman’s delicate confrontation about the noisiness of her middle-aged neighbors’ tightly-scheduled sex life, the cleverness and squirming relatability of having ones’ most private or vulnerable moments overheard by virtually unknown neighbors is undeniable. Moreover, the plot as a fulcrum for the more surprising divulgences between the younger couple is adroit and unexpected. However, the sexual and gender politics of the piece, while never offensive, come across as outdated and needlessly normative in a play that does not necessitate them to be such. Slight modernizing and reworking could have amplified an otherwise delightful and convincing (and wonderfully acted) one act piece.
The program’s denouement of LaRocque’s Columbus Day was powerful and heart-wrenching, and gives a scintillating idea of the potential PNWF’s innovative structure and premise has. Opening unassumingly with a woman helping her mother-in-law move and pack her possessions in the face of an impending coastal storm, Columbus Day unfolds astoundingly to be story of generational and familial contention, the loss of ideals (that perhaps were empty all along), and the destructive (and dramatic) ways in which humans deal with grief and loneliness. The play is a hauntingly well-written look the intersection between family, ideological identity, and primal human need for love that feels particularly prescient in our current political and social climate.
The production crews responsible for putting on PNWF deserve ample praise for rapidly and flawlessly assembling and executing three separate pieces that looked convincing and distinct. Each play of the evening featured small settings—a living room; two seats on a plane; a small, remote shorefront—that were organic entities thanks to the tireless work of the crews (and the committed performances of the assortment of actors). PNWF continues to be an amazing opportunity to witness and participate in an unconventional theatre-writing experience that produces truly enjoyable pieces and memorable performances.
For tickets and more information about the Pittsburgh New Works Festival click here.
Categories: Archived Reviews