News Column

Fringe festival adds to local theater options

April 30, 2014

By Sharon Eberson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

April 30--A new theater festival kicks off in Pittsburgh this weekend, when theaters throughout the area are packed with openings for sophisticated tastes and season-enders to delight families.

The first Pittsburgh Fringe Festival sends out 22 works by artists from as far away as San Francisco'sJoe Medina, of the band Merch, who will deliver "The Monologue," a shout-out to the band's latest recording, "This Betrayal Will Be Our End." Closer to home, there are local performers such as the No Name Players premiering a new musical, "[best imitation]" by Jeremy Richter and directed by Don DiGiulio.

The festival opens with two events on Saturday and continues the following weekend.

There are no rules and there was no juried selection.

"The artists were picked out of a hat," said Ross native and University of Pittsburgh grad Daniel Stiker, whose dream took shape with a seed grant from the Sprout Fund and support from Steel City Improv and Eons Fashion in Shadyside.

Pittsburgh Fringe held workshops and forums in preparation for the festival, patterned after the mother of all such fests, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Its mission is to "support adventurous and exploratory performing artists by showcasing their uncensored artistic expression in a professional environment to equally as adventurous audiences and opportunities."

Marketing was limited to social media and word of mouth, and it was a surprise when 44 applicants vied for a spot.

Mr. Stiker figures that the most performances an intrepid fringe-goer can see is seven, mostly due to time and proximity. Seating is first come, first serve. There are 50 to 100 seats, depending on the venue, with a box office at each location. Check the schedule at pghfringe.org.

The process began in earnest about six months ago, with support that led organizers to Shadyside as the site.

Finding a walkable neighborhood and places close by was their criteria, said Mr. Stiker, who spent time with a theater company in New York before returning to Pittsburgh to complete his education. "Some festivals have venues throughout the entire city, but then transportation is an issue. The venue selection process was much harder than I thought. The key was getting [City Councilman] Dan Gilman's support. Then Steel City Improv became our first venue sponsor, then Eons Fashions. That gave us entrance to two venues and was a great help in getting the rest."

The venues are Gallerie Chiz (5381 Ellsworth Ave.), Steel City Improv (5950 Ellsworth), the Shadyside Boys & Girls Club (6 Brownell St.), Ava Cafe and Lounge (304 N. Craig St., Oakland) and several sites at Winchester Thurston School (555 Morewood Ave.).

"Prepare for adventure," Mr. Stiker said of the offerings. "It's not always in the typical way we think of theater, but we try to make it as theater-like as possible."

Pittsburgh Musical Theater, 'Seussical'

Tim Hartman will do his thing as the charismatic Cat in the Hat and PMT also will welcome former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, who will guest in the show that runs Thursday through May 11 at the Byham Theater.

"Dr. Seuss has always been my favorite children's author. So I am thrilled to have this opportunity to be a part of Seuss' world as it comes to life on stage," said Mr. Batch, who celebrated Dr. Seuss' birthday by reading "Oh the Places You'll Go" to students and in March and participated as a spokesman for Read Across America. "Every time I read his books to children at schools throughout the region, their faces light up. There's just something magical about Seuss."

PMT and the former Steeler are sponsoring a book drive at the Byham to benefit his Best of the Batch Foundation, dedicated to giving Pittsburgh city kids a safe place to learn and grow. Ticketholders are encouraged to donate a new copy of their favorite Seuss book at the theater.

Tickets are $12 at trustarts.org or 412-456-6666; more at pittsburghmusicals.com.

City Theatre, 'Hope and Gravity'

Beginning in previews is the world premiere play by Michael Hollinger and directed by Tracy Brigden. "In 'Hope and Gravity,' one random event unexpectedly triggers comic and profound consequences in nine intersecting lives," says Ms. Brigden. City's artistic director compared the play to films such as "Magnolia" and "Love Actually," saying "this jigsaw puzzle of a play fits together, piece by piece."

The South Side theater company also has premiered the playwright's "Opus" and "Incorruptible" (in co-productions with Arden Theatre Company) and produced his "Red Herring."

The season-ender of City's 39th season has its official opening May 9. Tickets are $35-$55; more at citytheatrecompany.org or 412-431-CITY.

Off the Wall, 'Inky'

The play by Rinne Groff introduces Inky, a Slavic au pair installed in a Manhattan apartment to care for the 9-year-old daughter and infant son of a young couple determined to "have it all during the high-rolling, morally skewed 1980s." The dark comedy, which zeroes in on fighting back, had a New York run in 2005, when The New Yorker declared it had "cheeky appeal ... a revenge fantasy in which the humble prevail."

"Inky" is directed by Ingrid Sonnichsen for Off the Wall Productions and stars Tony Bingham, Abby Quatro and Adrienne Wehr, and, on alternating nights, Evangelina Paul and Layla Wyoming.

The play runs Friday through May 17 and showtimes at the Carnegie theater are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $35 with student/senior discounts at showclix.com or 1-888-71-TICKETS; more at insideoffthewall.com.

Pittsburgh Playwrights, 'Comfort Zone'

The Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company discovered Marlon Erik Youngblood's "Comfort Zone" during the 2012 Black and White Festival and gives the play its first full-length production Friday through May 24.

The play about violence and redemption stars Kevin Brown as Checkers, a loyal and simplistic man. Playwrights founder Mark Clayton Southers returns to the stage for the story of a neighborhood thrown into turmoil after a shooting in Checkers' "mom and pop" store.

Friday's opening night is a fundraiser that includes a postshow discussion with the playwright; activist Brandi Fisher, CEO/president of the Alliance for Police Accountability; and former Allegheny County coroner Cyril Wecht.

Also this weekend

--Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre begins a new season by conjuring "Blithe Spirit," Noel Coward's ghostly comedy that hasn't been seen in these parts since the 1940s (more in Thursday's Weekend Mag).

--"Candida" had its official opening this weekend at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

--The CLO Cabaret's world premiere of "Judge Jackie Justice" is in its final days. It ends its run at the Cabaret at Theatre Square, Downtown, May 11.

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.

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(c)2014 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)


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