So, you may ask yourself, what are those two doing writing theater reviews? Well, long story short, we wanted to celebrate the Pittsburgh theater community that has fostered us lo these many years, and the editor of this fine blog supported the concept. (Thanks Lindsay, you’re the goods.)
First assignment: City Theater’s The Monster in the Hall, by David Greig.
Returning to City Theatre, for us, is a lot like visiting with your edgy, provocative, collage paramour some twenty years later. We were both heavily involved in the productions back in the mid-1980s when the company was producing out of a converted bar in Oakland and the staff looked like members of The Doobie Brothers (before the Michael McDonald era, thank you very much).
But back to the show…
City Theater’s production is like a finely tuned Superbike barreling around the track. The play is a one act, day in the life of 16 year old Duck (Ducati Macatarsney), a motherless, myopic, daydreamer who is trying to prepare her home and her biker dad for a visit from social services. She is trying to hide that her dad is not well and that she has become his care giver instead of the other way around. This sounds like the makings of an angst-driven tragedy but Greig creates his tale as a frenetic, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World-like, play-with-music, comedy.
The cast of four play a humungous number of roles. Melinda Helfrich as Duck, and David Whalen as Duke, her dad, mostly get to stay in singular roles allowing Matt Dengler and Sheila McKenna to deftly ricochet between innumerable characters. However, Greig’s multi-style narrative allows Helfrich to show her chops in an exposition-turned-quiz show scene, and Whalen, as Duke’s avatar in an online role-playing game. But it’s McKenna’s quick transformations as both Agnetha and Mrs. Underhill that take the show into the comic ionosphere.
This is more, however, than just a play – - it is a piece of theatrical candy, with projections, movement, rock-show lighting, and sound design, all of which reinforce the frantic storytelling. Director (and the company’s Artistic Director) Tracy Brigden never release the accelerator on this bike, and her designers don’t let her down. Narelle Sissons’ “cyclorama of doors” set allows Larry Shea’s projections to support the tale without intruding. Eric Shimelonis’ sound design is seamless, but his original music sometime has the feel of a Wiggle’s concert. (Not that we’re ever been… Really). Andrew David Ostrowski’s lighting design was workin’ overtime – - lights were literally hanging all over the place: they were packed into the on-stage overhead truss, there were cute little 3½” instruments perched on the edge of the stage as footlights, and still more were hangin’ from the rafters behind the audience. (Nice gobo special on Duc as bookends at the beginning and end of the play, by the way). Angela M. Vesco wisely keeps the costumes simple, allowing just a coat or sweater to indicate a character change. (Gotta love those boots, on Duc, though!)
The pit crew for this piece has to be consummate to keep this hog running. We are both sure that with all the elements and moving parts in this production, Stage Manager Patti Kelly’s cue calling in the booth must be a grand show in itself.
Ultimately, our Superbike on a race course simile is realized. We both truly enjoyed the fun as the machine sped around but finally it ended were is started. The production is an entertainment that lacks the stuff to make the mind engage or allow the audience to ponder after exiting the building.
Which brings both of us back to that college reunion. That former paramour is now older, more respectable, and less edgy and provocative. Maybe that is how it should be. Ah, but it doesn’t stop us from pining for the fjords.
The Monster in the Hall, by David Greig
City Theater Mainstage
Running currently through April 1, 2012
- Tuesday 7:00 PM
- Wednesday Mar 21, 2012 1:00 & 7:00PM
- Wednesday Mar 28, 2012 1:00 PM
- Thursday & Friday 8:00 PM
- Saturdays, 5:30 & 9:00 PM
- Sundays, 2:00 PM
1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15203
412 431 CITY