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Theater begins new era in Carnegie with 'The Other Place'

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:03 p.m.
Signal Item
The front of Off the Wall on West Main Street in Carnegie, which celebrates its opening on Friday night after relocating from Washington, Pa. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Signal Item
Artistic Directer and actress Virginia Wall Gruenert of North Strabane practices her lines with actor Mark Conway Thompson of Pittsburgh during rehearsal for Off the Wall's first production at its new home, called 'The Other Place.'
The main entrance of Off the Wall on West Main Street in Carnegie, a 96-seat theater that will observe its opening on Friday. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Signal Item
Artistic Directer and actress Virginia Wall Gruenert of North Strabane practices her lines with actor Mark Conway Thompson of Pittsburgh during rehearsal for Off the Wall's first production at its new home called 'The Other Place.' Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item

Virginia Wall Gruenert laughs and swears it's just a coincidence, discussing the title of Off the Wall theater's upcoming play.

After all, the show is called “The Other Place.” Carnegie is simply the new place.

“I had to have somebody point that out to me,” said Gruenert, the company's artistic director. “I did not do that on purpose, because I chose this play long before we decided to move.”

No matter the name on the program, when the lights come on Friday night inside the 96-seat venue along West Main Street, it will mark a new era for the provocative theater and add yet another piece to Carnegie's growing arts scene.

Wishing to be closer to the bulk of their supporters and actors, Gruenert and her husband, managing director Hans Gruenert, moved their five-year-old theater from Washington this spring.

“We have a very hardcore group of loyal patrons from Washington. It's a small group, but they're there,” Gruenert said.

“The larger percentage is from Pittsburgh and understands that theater is supposed to educate and enlighten and open people's eyes. That's what we try to do.”

An empty office space previously occupied by WorkWell Inc., was the right size and location for Off the Wall's new start. And the community is getting just as much value from the recently finished $150,000 facility.

“We're not just a theater; we're a performing arts center,” Gruenert said. “We've already made our space available to rent to other companies that don't have a home . . . dance companies, we have a comedian coming in one night, musicians.

“We're a 365-day theater.”

One that's rare around these parts.

The name Off the Wall is more than just a play on Gruenert's maiden name. It speaks to the mature, often-risqué themes the small company often highlights.

“My choices are dangerous, actually,” she said. “I choose plays that have something to say, that are relevant, that are theatrical, exciting, interesting, thought-provoking, that hit you over the head sometimes. ... That's not to say we don't do comedies, but even the comedies I choose are edgy.”

“The Other Place,” which begins a 10-show run at 8 p.m. Friday through Oct. 27, fits the bill as an Off the Wall production. The drama explores the fragility of the mind and reality, featuring a scientist-turned-businesswoman's disorienting descent into dementia.

“This is a play that speaks to us in our time and in an important way,” said Mark Conway Thompson, who plays the main character's husband, Ian.

A Pittsburgh resident who teaches drama at Duquesne, he's happy to see Off the Way closer to home. He said others are, too.

“I had been to plays but not had the occasion to work with the company,” Thompson said. “The buzz from actors who have been here before is, ‘That's a place where you want to work. They know how to host a production.

“Everyone in the theater community has high hopes that this theater will be well attended because of its proximity to the city.”

Dan Stefano is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dstefano@tribweb.com or 412-388-5816.

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