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Attack Theatre's 'Soap Opera' emotionally strong

| Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 8:54 a.m.
Martha Rial
Brent Luebber and Kaitlin Dann perform in Attack Theatre's Soap Opera Credit: Martha Rial

Riotous imagination fills Attack Theatre's new show called “Soap Opera,” which was performed for the first time Friday night at the George R. White Studio in Pittsburgh Opera's headquarters in the Strip District.

The two-hour, two-act production is nominally set in a hospice, where a comatose conductor is being cared for by his wife, a singer who had often performed with him. While the bed is set at far stage left and elevated, the rest of the stage serves dance scenes that portray a wide array of emotions — from joyous memories to emotional confusion or frustration.

Attack Theatre's long collaboration with Pittsburgh Opera to provide dance for its productions led the dance company to use the intensely evocative music of opera for its own purposes. In addition, Ian Green provided effective transition music using electronic keyboard and percussion.

Actor Mark Staley is the composer, who leaves the bed to join scenes with dancers, or pull out a decrepit and out-of-tune piano, an instrument he can no longer play. When he descends to the main part of the stage, another actor slips into his placein bed, showing only his body remains still.

Pittsburgh Opera resident artist Nicole Rodin portrays the wife beautifully, and not only by singing songs by Louis Aubert with such haunting emotional poise. (She is sympathetically accompanied by pianist Karen Jeng.) Rodin's acting portrays inwardness no less effective than her singing.

For all this, dancing does carry the show. Fifteen highly contrasted pieces of music provide the dancers opportunities for high energy movement, many romantic scenes, and moments of numbed isolation. At one point, they even form a moving multi-dancer unit, a style made famous by Pilobolus.

The Bacchanale from “Samson and Delilah” follows the music directly, with a lovely romantic middle section. The hilarious conception for “Dances of the Hours” from “La Gioconda” suggests a martial arts comedy, perhaps by Jackie Chan. But the choreography for “The Barber of Seville” Overture was less successful.

Perhaps the most controversial musical choice was to conclude with “The Ride of the Valkyries,” given that it's such boisterous music to follow the death scene. Perhaps the choice was motivated by the thought that the Valkyries carried dead heroes from the battlefield to Valhalla. But the music certainly does provide Attack Theatre with the excuse for a final and extended blast of energetic movement, with some nudity.

Attack Theater's “Soap Opera” will be repeated at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Pittsburgh Opera headquarters, 2425 Liberty Ave., Strip District.

Admission is $35, $30 if purchased in advance, $20 for students and seniors. Details: 888-718-4253 or www.attacktheatre.showclix.com.

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