The Hamlet Machine

PICT’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

There is an effulgence to William Shakespeare’s work that is always better to channel than to distort. And this is especially true of the luminous “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” his first undeniable masterpiece, composed during the winter of 1595-96, and performed this midwinter in sly context by PICT Classic Theatre. For when better to have …

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City Theatre’s “Downstairs” Showcases Pittsburgh’s Dazzling Acting Talent

The stage of City Theatre’s “Downstairs” is an open maw of things forsaken, a dirty basement stuffed with so many neglected and discarded items—tools and tires and crates and old clothes and worn-out furniture—that it casts the audience in the dingy ether of pathos well before the lights go down. Tony Ferrieri’s overpowering set is …

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PICT Conjures a Ghostly Godot with “The Woman in Black”

“The Woman in Black” is one of those rare creations, like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” that has found success in multivarious forms as a novel, play, and film. Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 book, PICT Classic Theatre’s production uses Stephen Mallatratt’s 1987 adaptation (an unusually safe bet for this company that even wrote …

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Lear in the Furnace: A Review of Quantum Theatre’s “King Lear”

Attending a Quantum Theatre production can be like traveling to one of those crazy destination weddings where they make you climb up some precipitous volcano to reach the venue, while you ponder the wedding planner’s sanity. You know the view will be fantastic, but is the journey worth it? In the case of William Shakespeare’s …

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Tragedy in a Box: A Review of “The Gun Show (Can We Talk About This?)”

A refreshing pragmatism infuses Quantum Theatre’s production of “The Gun Show (Can We Talk About This?)” (2013) – a kind of low-tech, iconoclastic exuberance that’s reminiscent of the early films of Godard. It’s a classic one-man, story-telling performance – with some audience interaction – that comes off somewhere between Spalding Gray’s “Monster in a Box” …

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Soft-Core Pathos: A Review of Pittsburgh Public Theater’s “The Tempest”

Cleverness is not a Shakespearian trait. In fact, as we have found after more than 400 years, the more we try to shape him, using our own devices, the less he is able to tell us. This is because his chief mode of artistic engagement is the sublime – versus the allegoric, the symbolic, or …

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An Exterminating Angel

Perhaps all drama should be analyzed as the Kabbalists interpret Torah—on many levels simultaneously, comprising the literal, the symbolic, the metaphoric, and the mystical. This might allow us to understand and enjoy what others may miss or dislike, without resulting in one conclusion that necessitates a myopic choice of perspective. I felt this way watching …

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Barebones’ “Lobby Hero” Combines Comedy with Tragedy to Stunning Effect

Dichotomies in art usually succeed brilliantly or fail dreadfully. Bringing together disparate forms is inherently risky: it challenges the artist, but even more so, it challenges the audience. In the case of “Lobby Hero,” Kenneth Lonergan’s 2001 play about four people whose lives collide in a random apartment building lobby, barebones productions has dropped this …

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Play Unlimited: The Public’s Ambitious “Hamlet” Rewards on Many Levels

“The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is a monster of a play: at about 4,000 lines, it’s Shakespeare’s longest—full productions can easily run past four hours. (Hamlet himself has 1,500 lines, which alone would constitute an entire drama). And it’s monstrous not only in word-count, but body-count. By the end, the prince has been …

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Rich Performances Buoy City Theatre’s “Ironbound”

Imagine “Waiting for Godot” set in a New Jersey bus stop. It’s hardly a rarefied trope, as I’m sure many of us have thought we might as well be waiting for Godot while marooned in some cold, lonely place, praying for a bus to appear. Playwright Martyna Majok has taken this conceit and turned it …

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Quantum Strikes Again with “Collaborators”

Just as Colette could say, “There are no ordinary cats,” one could say that there are no ordinary productions from Quantum Theatre. “Collaborators,” the 2011 play by John Hodge (who also wrote the adaptation of the film, “Trainspotting”) is violently alive in a way so few new plays are these days, merging comedy and pathos …

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PICT Classic Theatre Triumphs with Fresh, Exhilarating Treatment of Oedipus Rex

Although thirteen ancient Greek poets wrote Oedipus tragedies, only Sophocles’ play, “Oedipus Rex,” has survived. The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote a version, as did Julius Caesar. So did the 17th century poet John Dryden, as well as the 18th century philosopher Voltaire. It has been a foundational story of Western consciousness since Homer referenced it …

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Reflections on “1984” in 2017

Critics have argued that we cannot evade Shakespeare’s influence on our conception of human nature, nor Freud’s influence on our understanding of psychology, and I would suggest, as a corollary, that we cannot escape George Orwell’s influence on our notion of the political. The Orwellian ethos, manifested in works such as his final novel, “1984”, …

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CMU Brings Vivid Life to Marlowe’s Great Work

Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama manages to combine some of the strongest and rarest elements of great theatre in their production of Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II”: rawness, mystery, risk and precision. This is the kind of performance of a classic play that eschews the pitfalls of tired masterpieces, and instead, evokes its subject like …

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Seeing the World Through Music

Nietzsche famously castigated Euripides for killing the tradition of the chorus in Greek tragedy, because the audience no longer had music to inform its comprehension. He even felt that Euripides caused the death of tragedy itself by trying to make it too Socratic, too rational. “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” might …

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Quantum’s Surreal “The River” Transfixes

In Richard Brautigan’s classic surrealist novel, Trout Fishing In America, the narrator visits a store selling trout streams by the foot. They are stacked in piles like pieces of lumber, each length corresponding to a different price. In Jez Butterworth’s 2012 play The River, produced by Quantum Theatre, it’s as if they picked out a …

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