Stage Right Community Theatre brings New Works to O'Hara audiences
By Rex Rutkoski
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Three short plays with three different casts, directors and styles, all with similar sensibilities, promise to bring warmth and humor to six February nights at Boyd Community Center in O'Hara.
Stage Right Community Theatre, O'Hara, presents ”An Evening of One Acts,” from Thursday through Saturday and Feb. 14 to 16. They are plays penned by a trio of Pittsburgh-area playwrights. Each of the shows debuted at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.
“As members of New Works Festival, we have become aware of the enormously talented playwrights living right here in Pittsburgh, and this allows us to celebrate that fact,” says Bill Ivins of Indiana Township, Stage Right's president, artistic director and producer of the theater's annual winter production.
The plays all fit well together, says O'Hara resident Debbie Wein, who is directing one of them — “A Blanket of Stars,” penned by F.J. Hartland of South Park. Hartland was named one of the city's leading playwrights by Writers News Weekly.
“These (three plays) are themes of aging, friendship, where we are in our lives, and they are all very funny,” she says.
Monica Filippone of Monroeville plays a “wildly insecure” actress in “Strutting and Fretting,” written by Matt Henderson of Irwin and directed by Matthew Mlynarski of Lower Burrell. She says it is refreshing to be able to showcase this local talent.
Joe Eberle of Ross is directing “La Vitra Loco,” written by Mark Yochum of Mt. Lebanon. Eberle says, “I loved the idea of giving (the plays) an opportunity to reach a wider audience.”
The playwrights and directors will be available Friday for a talk-back session after the performance. The actors will be available to answer questions and discuss their experiences.
“I'm really looking forward to this,” Ivins says. “And we are so excited to have this collection of actors, some who are reprising their roles from the original New Works Festival premieres, a few veteran local actors making their debuts on our stage and a couple who, after many years, are moving from behind-the-scenes and up on the stage.”
‘La Vitra Loco'
“La Vitra Loco” looks at a group of residents in a senior citizens home who have their lives impacted when one man considers trying “the little blue pill” to revive romance in his life.
Pairing senior citizens with discussions of sex always has great potential for comedy,” says Eberle, who directed the New Works Festival premiere of this piece. “It's very funny, but also touching and heart-warming.
Yochum, a professor of law at Duquesne University, and a veteran actor, found the inspiration to write it in visiting his mother at an assisted-living facility. Eberle appreciates that the characters are genuine and sincere.
“They are outspoken and uncensored in the way that seniors tend to be, and that lends realism and authenticity to the show. Mark also has a great sense of humor,” he says.
Beth Spatz of Indiana Township lauds Eberle for his own “great sense of humor” and insight. She plays Alice, nostalgic for her former life and curious about how her female friends feel about romance in their lives.
The writing is clever, Ruth Collura of Scott says. She plays Betty, a woman who “hates to talk about bodily functions and hates sex.”
Her castmate, Carol Chestnut of O'Hara, believes the writer has chosen a subject “that most people don't think about.” Chestnut plays Connie, a widow who wants a man in her life again. “I want her to come across as a real person with real feelings and ideas about life,” Chestnut says.
“Being 75 myself, I think it's honest and funny. For a one-act play, the characters are well-defined,” says Bob Roberts of Ross, who is making his Stage Right debut.
He plays Herb, an outgoing “loves life” type of guy, Roberts says.
“Bob Roberts was outstanding in the original production, and I knew I just had to have him back. He raises the emotional level of a room and exudes a wonderful, positive energy,” Eberle says.
‘Strutting and Fretting'
The humorous one-act “Strutting and Fretting” is described as “absurdly hilarious” as it follows a director and his two actors rehearsing for a production about the meaning of life and love of New York.
Playwright Matt Henderson's writing has been produced by several companies, including the American Repertory Theater of Western New York.
“Matt is always turning out something that is pushing the limits and hilarious,” director Matthew Mlynarski says. “This is great absurdist comedy.”
Doing new pieces is exciting and challenging, says Dan Bisbee of Squirrel Hill, who plays George, a theater director. “You get to experiment and really challenge yourself. It's a fun piece. But there's still a meaningful weight to it, ” he says.
An Iraqi War veteran, Bisbee is working on his doctorate in international security studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He brings to the show a varied theatrical background — from original comedy and musicals at the University of Pennsylvania to “a lot of Shakespeare” in Texas.
“I try hard to realize a unique character, but in a way that is really recognizable to many different types of people,” he says.
In a play like this, the audience never knows what could happen next, Filippone says. “This role requires getting out of my comfort zone onstage.”
“I think one of the jobs of an actor is to let go enough to be open to where the script takes them,” she says. “Working with such fun, spontaneous cast members really helps with that, and Matthew, the director is very passionate about theater and the importance of making choices that honor the artist.”
‘A Blanket of Stars'
Debbie Wein, director of “A Blanket of Stars,” likes finding those “little moments” in a script that connect, define and tell the viewer about the characters and their relationships. “It could be just the way the actor stands, cocks her head or responds in some non-verbal way.”
This one-act takes place in an open field at 2 a.m. as two old friends (since elementary school) wait for the lunar eclipse. “Their life choices, personalities and conflicts all come into play in this very funny story that everyone can relate to,” Wein said.
The audience will relate, says Toniaray DiGiacomo of Hampton. “F.J. Hartland is a very kind and easy-going man. He provides a clear spirit of his characters, an ease of dialogue peppered with down-to-earth humor,” she says. Hartland has made a record-setting 12 appearances in the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.
DiGiacomo has the role of 77-year-old Fern, the earthier friend to the straight-laced Beryl, played by Michele Bress of Harmar.
Fern, Bress says, is “feisty and mean,” and Beryl, “reticent and considerate.”
“Pondering the stars, issues arise about relationships, age and death,” Bress says. “Humor makes coping with the inevitable a little easier.”
She likes her character's growth. “No matter what age we can always learn and grow,” she says.
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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