Chris Rawson

Chris Rawson

Black & White Fest gives awards

Saturday, 01 December 2012 18:26

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre threw itself a party last night (Friday) and during the festivities announced the winners of the awards for its ninth annual Theatre Festival in Black and White (Nov. 1-17), as follows:

Best Actor: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   Leslie ‘Ezra’ Smith and Lamar Fields
Best Actress: . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Jamilah Muhammed
Best Supporting Actor: . . . . .  Edward Lee Gibson
Best Supporting Actress: . . .   Alyse Hogan
Best Performed Monologue: .  Lissa Brennan
Best Written Monologue: . . . . “The Vows”
Best Director: . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Tracey Turner and Kaitlin Mausser
Best Play: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . “Comfort Zone”
Audience Favorite Play: . . . . . “Redneck Revenge”

As you may recall, this is the annual festival of 10 one-act plays, divided into two programs of five each, written half by black playwrights and half by white, the black plays directed by white directors and vice versa. The actors necessarily are either black or white as the play – or the director – determines.

It’s rare that awards like these, voted by an anonymous cross-section of the audience, turn out to be close to what I would have given myself. You can see that if you check out my brief reviews

Congratulations to all the participants, from managing director Eric Smith and artistic director Mark Southers to all the playwrights, directors, actors and crew. This includes Anthony Chisholm, a out-of-town pro with a number of Broadway credits, mainly in August Wilson, who was wisely ruled ineligible for an acting award.

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Black & White Fest gives awards

Saturday, 01 December 2012 18:22

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre threw itself a party last night (Friday) and during the festivities announced the winners of the awards for its ninth annual Theatre Festival in Black and White (Nov. 1-17), as follows:

Best Actor: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   Leslie ‘Ezra’ Smith and Lamar Fields
Best Actress: . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Jamilah Muhammed
Best Supporting Actor: . . . . .  Edward Lee Gibson
Best Supporting Actress: . . .   Alyse Hogan
Best Performed Monologue: .  Lissa Brennan
Best Written Monologue: . . . . “The Vows”
Best Director: . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Tracey Turner and Kaitlin Mausser
Best Play: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . “Comfort Zone”
Audience Favorite Play: . . . . . “Redneck Revenge” and “The Vows”

As you may recall, this is the annual festival of 10 one-act plays, divided into two programs of five each, written half by black playwrights and half by white, the black plays directed by white directors and vice versa. The actors necessarily are either black or white as the play – or the director – determines.

It’s rare that awards like these, voted by an anonymous cross-section of the audience, turn out to be close to what I would have given myself. You can see that if you check out my brief reviews ( link: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/ae/ae_theater/stage-review-black-and-white-play-fest-pleases-and-entertains-660801/ )

Congratulations to all the participants, from managing director Eric Smith and artistic director Mark Southers to all the playwrights, directors, actors and crew.

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'The Producers' is a wow!

Friday, 26 October 2012 12:21

MaxProducers_PPU

1:30 a.m. -- It’s late, but who’s tired? I’ve been bubbling along the past few hours on a cushion of laughter, having just been with the Missus to see “The Producers” at Point Park. The Playhouse’s Rockwell Theatre was pretty nearly packed, and the proverbial gales of laughter swept through the house. 

This is in spite of the extent to which Mel Brooks’ humor, which is often condescended to as juvenile, is in this case surprisingly witty. The allusions range thick and fast, from Samuel Beckett to the Village People, from parody of Shakespeare to T&A. Everybody doesn’t laugh at everything (well, I did), but the laughing hardly stops.

So I can’t get to bed without praising the whole project, focusing mainly on the man in charge, director/choreographer Tome Cousin. He deserves an award. I know he has “only” recreated (as the program says) the original work of Susan Stroman, which I could tell from having seen her “Producers” several times on Broadway and then again in the national tour (which you may remember was launched in Pittsburgh). But with a musical of this size, complexity and comic detail, there’s no “only” about what Tome has done, which is exhilarating in both grand profusion and small details.

Add to the sheer size of the project the fact that he’s done it all with undergraduates. I’m also sure that I caught some fresh directorial details along the way. It adds up to a jaw-dropping achievement. These kids, no matter how talented and trained they may be, have been whipped into a fine froth of pretty near perfection.

If this were a proper review, I would have a lot more to say, starting with the delicious outrage of Mel Brooks’ humor, which tackles every possible sacred cow (Jews, Nazis, gays, old age, race, disability, you name it) and even makes fun of the Rockettes (OK, that’s an easy one). And then I’d go on to discuss the rest of the artistic team and the great big cast, led by Tom Driscoll as Max (above) and Carter Ellis as Leo (below).

But this isn’t a review, just a quick huzzah before heading off to sleep. You have only until Sunday to see a show that really raises the bar on what an undergraduate theater conservatory can be expected to do.

LEOProducers_PPU

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A few personal theater notes

Friday, 12 October 2012 08:41

Playing catch up: It was a wise decision of the PG not to review “Rope,” the wheezy Patrick Hamilton murder yarn at Playhouse Rep (Sept. 27-Oct. 14). So why bring it up now? Mainly to wonder how such a production came to pass. The play might have period interest, which a period production with good actors might bring out. But to hire a guest director who chose to stage it hung up awkwardly between the present and past and between straightforward and camp just opened up it and his poor cast (recent Point Park grads) to bewilderment or ridicule. What a fall from the heights of Playhouse Rep’s previous play!

Moment in the spotlight: Scratch most theater critics and you probably find more than a bit of ham. So I was tickled last Thursday when Ken Rice asked me to do a small onstage bit before Off the Record XII (which I produced, safely offstage). At the start of the show, I came on awkwardly to announce that Ken Rice wouldn’t appear as emcee, as expected, because negotiations had broken down over the unreasonable perks he demanded. But after all, I argued, he’d been getting big-headed in the role, and wasn’t it time for a change? So we’d replaced him with David Johnson. Enter David Johnson, who cast a few funny aspersions at Ken before Ken himself came running out to take over. Several people say they actually believed me for a moment or two.

Confession: A week ago in my Thursday morning theater stint on Pittsburgh Today Live (KDKA-TV) I claimed to have appeared in “Born Yesterday” some 50 years ago in summer stock in Bar Harbor, Maine, playing the assistant hotel manager. Now that I’ve actually seen the Public Theater production, I discover there is no assistant hotel manager. So what was I misremembering? That same summer I played the second immigration officer in “A View from the Bridge” – was that it? So what did I play in “Born Yesterday,” if anything at all? I’m now searching for an old scrapbook that might answer this burning question.

Related query: The talented young teenager from Pittsburgh who did the Bar Harbor theater’s posters that summer was Billy Kolokosky (and I can’t check that spelling until I find that scrapbook). He’d be in his 60s now. Are you out there some where, Billy?

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Having arranged for tickets to something called "Strata," I got email directions:

“The experience starts when you purchase your tickets. You are in the experience now. As we only take 10 people every half hour we rely on time to keep the flow. Arriving early or late at the secret location can disrupt levelworks readiness. Look out for the special e-mail that you will receive tomorrow. It will give you all the important information you'll need, including your five basic survival tips. We look forward to serving you in your Refitnessing needs.”

“Refitnessing needs”? “Survival tips”? “Levelworks readiness”? As you see, this is either some pompous cult scam or a parody thereof. Fortunately, unless I’m missing some deeper level of iConsciousness (another word they like), it's the latter, an elaborate, more than life-sized travesty of a consciousness raising-mental therapy-goofball experience, with all its pseudo seriousness.

01Strata0812It’s fun, a very entertaining hour and a half wherein a large company of 20-some actors, with technical support to match, create an imaginative playground, or, if you prefer, rabbit hole. It's backed by a dozen writers-directors, who’ve worked for a year. The producer is Bricolage, using in-kind donations from much of the Pittsburgh arts community, to create what they call an “immersive urban adventure.”

That label will do as well as any other. After meeting your contact on a designated Downtown street corner, you enter down a back alley and are processed by an attractive, no-nonsense functionary. You fill out a form, sort of. You meet a file clerk straight out of Lewis Carroll. I remember an eccentric elevator operator. If you listen carefully, you’ll realize nothing makes much sense, but maybe you aren’t listening well enough.

Somewhere in there you’re separated from whomever you entered with and proceed from one room to another and floor to floor, taking a solo path created by the numbers you’re given, conducted with crisp efficiency from this one-on-one experience to that -- sensual, irrational, lightly physical, titillating, funny, confusing and more.

Everywhere you go, the attendants speak to you with unnerving familiarity. I was chastised for trying to take notes. They’re good.

It’s something like a dream. It’s also reminiscent of the wonderful Teatro de los Sentidos from Barcelona, brought here four years ago by the International Festival of Firsts. They sent us through a dusty bookshop into a cross between some not-so-Grimm middle European fairy tale and sensory therapy. “Strata” is somewhat cheerier than that, more American, with more pseudo-efficient bustle and a touch of “Brave New World.”

Eventually you climb a long glowing staircase (I thought I was being reborn) and emerge – surprise! – into a lounge, to share a drink (on the house) and mingle with other survivors and, if you’re lucky, some of the operatives, looking now not quite so commanding or glamorous, just friendly.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But I can’t wait to go back and I hope the unseen powers that chart each course will give me an interesting variant and maybe also a few of those I encountered before – say, the file clerk and the master sergeant on the basketball court. And what about the girl with the golden hair? -- I didn’t hear a word she said the first time through.

Did I emerge refitnessed? Was my iConsciousness polished? You’ll have to ask those who’ve noticed that extra bounce in my step . . . .

-- Chris Rawson

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Teenie ("Toyer") isn't always small

Friday, 03 August 2012 19:04
Yesterday I had fun doing my weekly (no, make that occasional) Thursday morning gig on KDKA-TV’s “Pittsburgh Today Live,” this time talking about grandiose, big and teenie. You can watch it if that’s your taste, but you have to get through an ad first. Here’s the link.

Grandiose is “The Addams Family,” the tour thereof, concluding the season this weekend at the Benedum for the CLO. I couldn’t get to it, which I understand has been tightened up and considerably rewritten, but I do remember Broadway, and for all its schlock (I expect that hasn’t changed) it’s a lot of fun – even for Chas Addams fans who would probably rather think of him as a cult taste, not a great big Broadway/Benedum show.

Big, or rather medium, or maybe medium big, is the Chekhov Festival at PICT. I liked “Three Sisters” a lot, because, after all, it is a very great play, somewhere between soap opera and classical tragedy, and PICT does it proud. Those Prozorov women always break me up, but they’re always different, too, as the play reflects different facets in different productions. This one is big because it’s a big play, but it’s part of an even bigger Chekhov Festival, one of four major productions, right through the end of August. (There’s even a vodka tasting tonight. Too bad we missed it.)

By the way, I want to brag that I knew the translator, Paul Schmidt, in college, and even acted with him – a brilliant, funny man, who accomplished a great deal and still died too young.

TOYERTeenie is as teenie as they get, “Toyer,” a melodrama from about 20 years ago by Gardner McKay, directed by Charlie Wein as what can only be called living room theater. It’s a noir thriller staged in the living room of a South Oakland apartment, just 10 chairs and the two actors, right there with you.

The story is that there’s been a serial terrorist, a man doing things to women that I don’t want even to describe. Our hero is a psychiatrist (the beautiful Morgan Wolk) who has been trying to work with the surviving women, and then Peter (the very plausible Jamie McDonald) worms his way into her apartment. Is he the Toyer himself, or is he a Toyer copy-cat, or (for example) an actor who sees his encounter with her as an ambitious scene, or is he something else? And what is she, in relation to all that?

This same combo staged the show a year ago and brought it back because the demand exceeded the available seats (well, duh) and also because they wanted to make some changes in a rather klunky script. They’ve done that, and although I saw it last year, I was even more impressed this time, and properly intrigued and terrified, even though I sort of remembered how it would turn out.

I recommend seeing it at the 11 pm show. Shudder. A very intimate encounter with some fine acting.

Aug. 3 and 4, 8 and 11 pm; Aug. 5, 8 pm. $10. Reservations required: 412-334-2633.

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Chicago, Tuesday, June 12: What a great city – to arrive in the Loop by train (subway? what do they call it?) from the airport is like discovering what a city can be, lively, vigorous, young, brawny (as the poet says), a real urban city. I don’t really know anything about Chicago, but the several times I’ve been here it’s always felt like the grownup city that Pittsburgh hopes to grow up to be.

And to arrive today, amid gorgeous weather, and find my way to a classy little hotel right on the north edge of the Loop, looking out over that canal they call the Chicago River, is like coming home to a dream. Back home in Pittsburgh there are a few blocks Downtown in what we call the Cultural District where you get this feeling, the urban essence – just why cities were invented -- but here it extends outward in every direction.

I had to head out to a farther reach of the city for an afternoon meeting, and after trying to find the right train stop and making a couple of mistakes, I knew I’d be late. But when I called ahead to say so, I was told I had an extra hour. Call it the Phileas Fogg effect: I hadn’t yet reset my watch to account for the time zone. Extra time! I love Chicago.

I’m here for a five-day annual conference of the American Theatre Critics Association, so of course I’m feeling good – I have all that theater to look forward to, along with old friends from 28 years of ATCA gatherings. I’ll blog when I can, mainly about the plays. But today, it’s all about arriving and the excitement of this great city all around me.

-- Chris Rawson

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I was rooting for Audra McDonald just on general principles, as I have ever since I met her backstage at what I think was her first Broadway show, "Carousel" at Lincoln Center -- where she also won a Tony. I think "Porgy" now gives her 5 Tonys out of 6 nominations. I can't check that, because iBdb isn't responding, presumably because of post-Tonys traffic; anyway, it's an astonishing rate, sort of like the Pirates scoring 5 runs on 6 hits the other night.

Apologies for the late appearance of all these posts, which stacked up unposted for a while. I think I lost a couple, too, until I fugured out the glitch. Eventually I got caught up closer to real time, but then the post before this didn't even post until I gave it a post-show kick in the arse. And then I decided to watch the sports news and ended up with the Reds-Tigers game, rooting for the Tigers to put the Pirates in first place, even if only for a bit. And they did!

But back to the Tonys, where I eked out a 13-13 tie, and there are no extra innings. The predictable best musical win for "Once" (so predictable that I predicted it) saved me from total embarassment, getting me back to .500 (to continue the baseball analogy). Pretty bad. I guess my wheels are getting rusty. Obviously one problem is that I didn't see "Once" and thus couldn't imagine that it would win those design awards I missed.

I loved Neil Patrick Harris' final song, playing with the whole time deadline business. Theater may not measure up to film, TV, pop music and who knows what other pop/arts realms, not commercially, but it beats them in wry. Ham on Wry, as we used to say.

See you next year. By then I expect to have a decent laptop, so I can actually blog in front of the TV and do it right, instead of running across the hall to my home office.

Next week I'm in Chicago for the American Theatre Critics Association annual conference. If all goes well I'll be posting from there.

-- Chris Rawson

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Tonys: 11 out of 23, with three to go

Sunday, 10 June 2012 22:28
This is embarassing: normally just about anyone can get 2/3 or 3/4 of them right, and here I am holding on, hoping to break even. . . . Congratulations to Michael Kahn whose Shakespeare Theatre in D.C. was the deserved winner of the regional theater Tony, which is awarded based on a recommendation by my group, the American Theatre Critics Association. We can be proud of this one, it's a worthy choice, as with 90% of our picks over the years. . . . Was Hugh Jackman really surprised when his wife slipped out to go to the loo and suddenly appeared on stage to give him a special Tony? Really? And yet he gave such a lovely speech, without missing a beat? Is he really that articulate and smart, in addition to being so handsome? The rest of us better give up.

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Tonys: Help, I'm drowning . . . !

Sunday, 10 June 2012 22:23
And that's not just because of that totally unnecessary (how much of a fee did they collect?) remote of "Hairspray" from the cruise ship (but it's always fun to see/hear Harvey Fierstein, especially in shorts), but because I just caught up with all the design awards, where I got slaughtered, scoring only 3 out of 8. So my overall score now stands at 11 out of 21, making me a candidate to rank with the Pirates of last year and the years before . . . . I'm glad "Clybourne Park" won, and I bet Ted Pappas is, too. But I thought it was awful that they gave puny 15-second snippets of the best play nominees, in such a great year for plays on Broadway. -- Chris Rawson

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