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City Theatre's monologues are more than 'Talking Heads'

| Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The English have a well-earned reputation for reticence, a fondness for privacy and emotional control.

Their dry, ironic and often sardonic wit is for some an acquired taste and for others a lingering, impenetrable mystery.

All of those factors play into the half-dozen monologues now being offered under one title -- "Talking Heads" -- but in two separate three-play programs at City Theatre.

Alternately and sometimes simultaneously tragically sad and very funny, they're six of the 13 monologues written by British playwright Alan Bennett. You may have seen some of them as a BBC television show that aired on PBS back in the 1980s.

Those on the two alternating programs at City Theatre are brought to vibrant life by Pittsburgh actress Helena Ruoti and Patricia Kilgarriff, a Manhattan-based British actress. Program A features two monologues by Kilgarriff and one by Ruoti, while Program B features a pair by Ruoti and one by Kilgarriff.

Bennett is best known as a founding member and sketch writer for the still fondly remembered British comedy troupe "Beyond the Fringe" that played on Broadway in the early 1960s.

Bennett's characters are thoroughly British outsiders and the women that Ruoti and Kilgarriff portray are isolated, lonely and either resigned to -- or oblivious to -- their conditions.

The razor-sharp humor and dark, unexpected twists that Bennett honed with the troupe are used here sometimes to defuse and sometimes to intensify the small disappointments and frustrations that permeate their lives.

Though monologues, each is a small play in itself in which changes large and small occur in the characters and their situations. Delivered directly to the audience, they're more like one-sided, highly articulate conversations.

Directed by City Theatre Artistic Director Tracy Brigden with an attention to minute details, all six plays flow seamlessly through twists and turns of indirection and obliqueness to their logical, though often rueful or surprising conclusions.

And although there's a single performer onstage, we're given vivid images of the other people in the narrator's life. All six of the characters are self-possessed, self-reliant people who on this one occasion open themselves up to us to reveal -- sometimes unknowingly -- the private pain, boredom and frustration they conceal from others.

But don't let all this talk of darkness deter you from going.

Some of the changes they undergo are as funny as they are surprising.

Both actresses exhibit a range of characters that make their onstage transformations as interesting to watch as are those their characters experience. Though linked through despair, each is distinct in style, pacing, body language and demeanor. Ruoti portrays a repressed, sherry-loving vicar's wife, a film actress with a resume of bit parts and one-night stands, and a lonely suburban housewife whose marriage becomes more stifling when a secret is accidentally revealed.

Kilgarriff's material is slightly lighter, as she portrays a nosy neighbor with an obsession for writing letters of complaint who comes into her own and discovers happiness in an unexpected way. She also shines as an antiques dealer who learns she's not as savvy as she believes and a woman whose foot problems lead her to tread a new path.

Of the six, my favorites are Ruoti's Susan In "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" that opens Program B and Kilgarrrif's Celia in "The Hand of God" that concludes Program A.

Seeing both programs offers the rare treat of witnessing the range of characters that a single actress can produce.

But if restrictions of time or budget force you to choose only one, either program offers a rewarding evening of entertainment.

Additional Information:

'Talking Heads'

Produced by: City Theatre Company

When: Through May 14 with two separate programs of monologues that alternate performances:

  • Program A: 9 p.m. Saturday and May 13; 8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, May 4, 10 and 12; 7 p.m. May 2; 5:30 p.m. May 6 and 2 p.m. May 7.

  • Program B: 8 p.m. Thursday , May 3, 5, 6 and 11; 7 p.m. today and May 9; 5:30 p.m. Saturdayand May 13; 2 p.m. Sunday and May 14.

    Admission: $15-$40, $15 in advance for age 25 or younger and at the box office from two hours before showtime for those 60 and older.

    Where: City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St. at 13th Street, South Side.

    Details: 412-431-2489 or www.citytheatrecompany.org .

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