Dueling Debuts: ‘Young Americans’ at Pittsburgh Public; ‘American Fast’ at City Theatre


If you’ve been planning your local theater-going for the next  month, you must have noticed the coincidence. 

It’s not that Pittsburgh Public Theatre Downtown and City Theatre on the South Side open shows within a week of each other – nothing new there. But for April and May, their overlap cuts a little closer than just timing. 

The friendly rivals might not like being mentioned in the same sentence, but it’s hard to help it when both are world-premiere co-productions that include separate theaters in Portland, Oregon, and each has a two-word title – and one of them is the same word.

Young Americans at Pittsburgh Public Theater opened in previews on April 26 and runs through May 14. Written by Lauren Yee (the award-winning Cambodian Rock Band, which played City Theatre in 2019) and directed by Desdemona Chiang (Pride and Prejudice at the Public, 2018), Young Americans premiered in February as a co production at Portland Center Stage.

American Fast at City Theatre opens in previews April 29 and runs through May 21. The season-ending play is a rolling world premiere, supported, in part, by the National New Play Network and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The play by Kareem Fahmy is directed by Californian Jennifer Chang, who is becoming a regular in these parts. Her own work, The Devil Is a Lie, was a Quantum Theatre premiere production in recent weeks. American Fast has been seen at Artists Repertory Theatre of Portland and heads to InterAct Theatre  Company of Philadelphia in June.

What they are about:


Sammy Rat Rios and Danny Bernardo in Young Americans
at Portland Center Stage. (Image: Jingzi Zhao)

Described as an intimate, music-led comedy, Young Americans “veers back and forth in time, offering a fresh look at a U.S. road trip through the lens of the immigrant experience. Lauren Yee explores what home and belonging mean to those in transition.”

Critic Marty Hughley of Oregon ArtsWatch writes, “Those of us without a direct link to immigrant experience inevitably underestimate the extent of our ignorance and the impact of our unexamined assumptions on what we see and what we expect to see. [The] co-production with Pittsburgh Public Theater that is enjoying its world premiere at Portland Center Stage, gently troubles our assumptions and, if we allow it, will awaken appropriate curiosity about what we don’t know.”

Danny Bernardo, who stars with Marielle Young and Sammy Rat Rios, plays Joe, who makes parallel treks across the country with his new wife and, 20 years later, heads out to drop their daughter off at college.

“Lauren is such a gifted writer … She’s made the experiences shared between the two characters so universal that it transcends many cultures and really connects with both the artists and the audience,” Bernardo told Inquirer.net.

Tickets and details: ppt.org or call 412-316-1600. Pi


In American Fast, college basketball superstar Khady is about to carry her team through the NCAA Women’s  Championships, but when March Madness coincides with Ramadan,

Khady lies to her devout mother about holding her fast. When her mother goes public with the story of Khady’s devotion to both Ramadan and basketball, Khady finds herself the heroine of young Muslim women.  

It’s a story that “deals with family, faith and attitudes toward winning at all costs.”

Fahmy’s play also depicts something we haven’t seen often onstage in America, the playwright has said.

“Faithful Muslim characters are few and far between, and often highly  politicized,” said Kareem Fahmy. “I wrote American Fast in part to bring the  practice of Islam on stage in ways that are funny, surprising, enlightening, and hopefully  entertaining. It’s a play that shows the complexity and humanity of the Muslim American  experience.” 

Echoing his point, Joseph Gallivan writes in the Portland Tribune, “Can a play about Islam, female power and basketball celebrity be more than a collection of clashing isms? Yes, in the skillful hands of writer Kareem Fahmy and Artists Repertory Theatre, American Fast entertains and enlightens, and is never preachy, as it races through an imaginary March Madness in a very American Ramadan.”

The City Theatre cast – different actors than those in the January production in Portland – includes Deena Aziz, who is based in Pittsburgh and Montreal and was seen in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s The Tempest. Tara Touzie, who plays Khady, is, among her many credits, a standup comic who studied improv comedy with the Upright Citizens Brigade. Terry Bell appeared on Broadway in The Skin of Our Teeth at Lincoln Center Theater and has appeared in productions at the Guthrie, Steppenwolf and Goodman  theaters, among other credits. Coach is played by Hilary Ward, a visiting faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University who has a long list of theater and screen credits. 

The production includes a collaboration with PUMP, whose “mission is to make Pittsburgh the most dynamic and diverse place by engaging, educating, and mobilizing all young  people to create change in our community,” as well as season-long partner Literacy Pittsburgh.

Tickets and details: www.citytheatrecompany.org or call 412-431-CITY (2489). Through Saturday, April 29, at 5:30 p.m., use code FAST for 30% off regular priced tickets. Pick-Your-Price-Previews are April 29-May 4, when tickets start at $20.

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