June Theater Guide: Paris, Sex, Christians, and An Act of God

'An American in Paris' touring company. photo: Matthew Murphy.

‘An American in Paris’ touring company. photo: Matthew Murphy.

It’s often said that when one door closes, another opens. This is also a part of the theater season cycle here in Pittsburgh. City Theater and Pittsburgh Public Theater end their seasons with Ironbound and An Act of God respectively. Pittsburgh CLO opens theirs with the classic musical, An American in Paris, which they are co-presenting with the Cultural Trust’s PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. Split Stage Productions presents another beloved musical—Chicago. Kinetic Theatre is staging Lucas Hnath’s The Christians, which is about a pastor who starts going off script in his preachings.

Summer stages will get even hotter with two spicy theatrical offerings. One is Throughline Theater’s In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play. The other is fireWALL dance theater’s Stroking Its Ego, which promises “female empowerment alongside men” and “a dark, sexy, alluring, influential journey through egos, self awareness, and power.” And to cool things off a little we’ll mention that both South Park Theatre and the Mountain Playhouse are producing two different Church Basement Ladies plays. So, “throw another shrimp on the barbie,” pour a tall glass of cool lemonade, or your favorite libation, and after dinner head out and see a play.

Mike Vargo and Christopher Maggio also made major contributions to this piece.

Continuing from May:

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (musical) by George and Ira Gershwin and Craig Lucas. Through June 11, touring company at Benedum Center.

For a musical to achieve massive success the songs are of paramount importance. Is there a better base to build upon than the music of two of America’s best composers, brothers George and Ira Gershwin? The musical is inspired by the 1951 Academy Award Winning Film of the same name which starred Pittsburgh native and sublime dancer Gene Kelly. The movie and play follow an American GI in post World War II in Paris who is trying to achieve success as a painter and woo a girl. Noted songs in the musical include: “S Wonderful.”I Got Rhythm,” and “An American in Paris.” Acclaimed director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon brings the magic and beauty of Paris to the stage in this production. An American in Paris, with book by Craig Lucas, was nominated for 12 Tony Awards in 2015, winning four. The Pittsburgh run is a co-presentation of PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh CLO. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (RH)

JD Taylor as Maks and Rebecca Harris as Darja in City Theatre's 'Ironbound.' photo: Kristi Jan Hoover.

JD Taylor as Maks and Rebecca Harris as Darja in City Theatre’s ‘Ironbound.’ photo: Kristi Jan Hoover.

IRONBOUND by Martyna Majok. Through June 4, City Theatre.

Theater reflects the times, so it is not surprising that in today’s socioeconomic climate, plays that deal with the trials of working-class life are growing numerous and popular. A current hot ticket on Broadway (and winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) is Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, about workers in a factory where layoffs are looming. Meanwhile Pittsburgh’s City Theatre is presenting a play that scored strongly off-Broadway last year: Martyna Majok’s Ironbound. The Ironbound is a traditionally blue-collar district of Newark, New Jersey, so called because it is girdled by railroad tracks. And the central character of the play is an immigrant, but neither Hispanic nor a factory hand. She’s a Polish woman who had high hopes when young but now finds herself a middle-aged, odd-job-working single mother with a troublesome son and a cheating boyfriend. How did things turn out so suboptimally? That’s the question that Ironbound explores, tracing the story of the woman’s life through flashbacks and dark-humor dialogue. 1300 Bingham Street, South Side. (MV)

Javier Manente and Paige Davis star in the CLO Cabaret production of 'Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage.' photo: Archie Carpenter.

Javier Manente and Paige Davis star in the CLO Cabaret production of ‘Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage.’ photo: Archie Carpenter.

MISS ABIGAIL’S GUIDE TO DATING, MATING AND MARRIAGE by Ken Davenport and Sarah Salzberg. Through Aug. 13, Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret.

Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage is a two character play featuring Miss Abigail (Paige Davis  from TLC’s Trading Spaces) as a relationship consultant so dismayed when Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt broke up that she rededicates her life to helping couples with relationship problems. Paco is Miss Abigail’s sexy assistant and who also has a secret crush on her. The play is based on a book of the same name by Abigail Grotke. Ken Davenport (Altar Boyz) and Sarah Saltzberg (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) joined forces to create this humorous look on love and dating. Part of the fun is Miss Abigail dishes out outdated and obscure relationship advice. The play received rave reviews when it ran off-Broadway in 2010 with Eve Plumb (Jan from the “The Brady Bunch”) as Abigail. Davis performed in the national touring company of Beauty and the Beast for two and a half years and was host of TLC network’s “Trading Spaces” which is being revived. Recommended for audiences 13 years of age and older. 2 p.m. Continues through August 13. CLO Cabaret, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (RH)

New this month, in order of opening:

AN ACT OF GOD by David Javerbaum. June 1-July 2, Pittsburgh Public Theater.

The pressure is on Marcus Steven who will be playing God in PPT's 'An Act of God.' photo: PPT

The pressure is on Marcus Stevens who will be playing God in PPT’s ‘An Act of God.’ photo: PPT

Do you ever wonder what God thinks of us? Is he happy, sad, or understanding about how we are doing here on Earth. An Act of God is the name of a play by David Javerbaum, who’s won 13 Emmys, 11 of which he received as a writer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” The play is based on Javerbaum’s book The Last Testament: A Memoir By God. Act of God takes a satirical look at heaven, where God, who admits to having some wrath-management issues, develops a new and improved set of commandments, relates some stories about Adam and Eve, and gives his thoughts on bedtime prayers. He’s aided in his irreverent social comedy by his two “wingmen,” angels Gabriel and Michael. Marcus Stevens, a Point Park grad who has seen action on stages in New York and Pittsburgh, portrays God. This is the season finale for Pittsburgh Public Theater. An Act of God is directed by the noted Ted Pappas. God and his angels can get a little salty, so the play is recommended for audiences ages 17 and above. O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Cultural District. (RH)

THOM PAIN (based on nothing), by Will Eno. June 1-18, 12 Peers Theater.

Thom Pain (based on nothing), a one man play written by Will Eno, is actually based on something. It is a monologue play that chronicles the life and losses of the protagonist, Thom Pain. The story centers on Pain’s attempt to mythologize the loss of innocence in moving from childhood to manhood. Pain expounds upon topics including a bee sting, a boy with a dog that died, and his relationship with a woman. He’s determined to get his life together, but can be driven to distraction. Thom Pain was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. 12 Peers Theater  is staging their production at the University of Pittsburgh Studio Theatre, Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Ave. Oakland. (RH)

CHICAGO (musical) by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse. June 2-3, Split Stage Productions.

In 1924 in Chicago, two lurid murder cases made headlines, each involving a glamorous young woman. One admitted shooting her lover and there was strong evidence that the other, a cabaret singer, had killed hers. Both had clever lawyers who played on the jurors’ sympathy, and both were acquitted. A young writer named Maurine Dallas Watkins covered the cases as a reporter, then wrote a play satirizing the media-circus trials and the wild atmosphere of the city itself. Her play, Chicago, did well on Broadway, and nearly 50 years later a musical adapted from it became a global hit. By mixing the crime stories and dark humor with jazzy song-and-dance, the musical Chicago evokes the Roaring Twenties in a way that seems to resonate with modern audiences. Not to mention the fact that a lot of its social commentary still hits home today. Split Stage Productions, a rising Westmoreland County theater company, is performing Chicago for two shows only. The Palace Theatre, 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (MV)

PROOF by David Auburn. June 8-24, Little Lake Theatre.

Audiences 15 years ago were captivated by the movie A Beautiful Mind, based on the true story of mathematician John Nash and his struggles with schizophrenia. But there is another dramatic work about higher math and mental illness that appeared at about the same time—and among those who’ve seen it, many consider David Auburn’s play Proof to be even better. Proof won the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play is purely fictional, yet people in the math world say it paints a strikingly “true” picture of what that world is like. Also, pure fiction allows more freedom in story construction, and playwright Auburn has given Proof a rich, complex plot filled with twists and tension. It’d be a stretch to try to summarize the story here, so the pertinent news is: Little Lake Theatre is performing Proof. 500 Lakeside Dr., Canonsburg. (MV)

ALONE TOGETHER by Lawrence Roman. June 8-24, South Park Theatre.

There is a modern-day phenomenon known as boomerang kids. This occurs when adult children encounter some type of hardship and move back in with the parents after having lived on their own previously. Playwright Lawrence Roman uses this concept as the mainstay of his comedy Alone Together. It sees a couple, George and Helene, enjoying good quality time after their youngest son has moved out of the house. The alone time doesn’t last for long as now all three of their sons have moved back into the house after experiencing some setbacks. The couple tries hard to get them to move out again and hijinx ensues. SouthPark Theatre, Corner of Brownsville Road and Corrigan Drive, South Park. (RH)

Mixed Emotions by Richard Baer, June 8-17, Apple Hill Playhouse

An insightful comedy about love and loss, Mixed Emotions follows a widow and a widower who when there spouses were still alive, saw each other frequently and they all traveled together. The widow, Christine, is a Catholic interior designer,and romantically pursued by widower Herman, a Jewish carpet dealer. What complicates Herman’s endeavor in Richard Baer’s play even more is that Christine is packing up to leave New York City for Florida. She also thinks the prospect of dating Herman feels a little odd since they were all friends together. Herman is one determined guy and continues to try and woo her among the bustle of the moving men. 275 Manor Road, Delmont.

DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID by Doug Wright, Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Glenn Slater. June 14-25, Pittsburgh CLO.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” the titular character, Ariel, visits a Sea Witch and exchanges her voice for legs and feet to win a prince’s heart. The catch? Every step that she takes is painful. Worse, the prince still marries someone else. Ariel can transform back into a mermaid, but she must kill the prince and let his blood drip on her feet. The 1989 Disney animated film forgoes many of these macabre details for a happy ending and upbeat numbers like “Under the Sea.” The adaptation worked, for The Little Mermaid began the Disney Renaissance, a string of successful films which included Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. An On-Broadway production of The Little Mermaid officially opened in 2008. The musical comes to the Benedum. Audiences are likely to enjoy not only the story and songs but also the set design and performances, which create the illusion of being underwater. 237 7th St., Cultural District. (CM)

Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' sets a love story among the waves. photo: Billy Bustamante.

Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ sets a love story among the waves. photo: Billy Bustamante.

CLUE: THE MUSICAL by Peter DePietro, Galen Blum, Wayne Barker, Vinnie Martucci, and Tom Chiodo. June 15-25, The Summer Company.

Before Battleship was adapted into a movie in 2012, another popular board game, Clue, starring Tim Curry, premiered in 1985. A musical version followed in 1995, initially in Baltimore and then Chicago in 1996, before running Off-Broadway in 1997. Act I culminates in—what else?—a murder in a mansion. All the usual suspects, such as Colonel Mustard and Mrs. Peacock, are present, plus a new character, the Detective, who helps to further the plot in Act II. However, there’s still an element of chance. Audience members draw cards at the end to solve the murder: who, where, and with what. The musical can end 216 different ways, so rarely are any two shows alike. Clue will take place at the Genesis Theater on Duquesne University’s campus. 600 Forbes Ave., Uptown. (CM)

IN THE NEXT ROOM (OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY) by Sarah Ruhl. June 16-24, Throughline Theatre Company.

Here’s a losing proposition: urging people to “support local theater.” When people seek entertainment they don’t want a worthy cause; they want something they’re likely to like. So here is a winning proposition: Throughline Theatre’s 2017 season opener, In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) by Sarah Ruhl. Throughline is a small company that remains a too-hidden gem. Plays in a typical season range from very interesting to knockouts, and they don’t come much punchier than In the Next Room, a comedy based in historical fact. When cities were first wired for electricity in the late 1800s, the vibrator was invented—as a medical device. Doctors used it to treat nervous or depressed female patients by inducing orgasms, which it seems were in short supply for women during that male-dominated and socially repressive period. To many, the treatment was an eye-opener. Some women bought the device and went DIY. Others set out to replicate the therapeutic effect without appliances, via conventional (but improved) sex with their men … and therein lies the nub of Ruhl’s Tony-nominated 2009 play. Leave the children at home. In the Henry Heymann Theatre at the Stephen Foster Memorial, 4301 Forbes Ave., Oakland. (MV)

THE CHRISTIANS by Lucas Hnath. June 16 – July 2, Kinetic Theatre.

Add a name to the list of hot young playwrights to watch. Lucas Hnath—silent H, long a; “naith”—turns out unusual, provocative plays about a variety of subjects, from Isaac Newton (the comedy Isaac’s Eye) to a competitive swimmer caught doping (Red Speedo). And one that really gets audiences and critics stoked is The Christians. Hnath, who grew up in a churchgoing family and served in youth ministry as a teen, has set this play in a modern megachurch. There’s a choir, and everything is arranged so that audience members feel they’re at a Sunday worship service—except the service takes a surprise turn. The pastor announces he’s had a revelation. It has led him to a new understanding of the nature of God, which is at odds with the long-held beliefs of the congregation. Objections are raised, dueling citations from Scripture are traded, and the schism unfolds from there. Reviewers in New York and Chicago have praised The Christians as a sharp, engaging play that brings up deep questions. Kinetic Theatre is staging it here at the New Hazlett, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. (MV)

CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES IN THE LAST POTLUCK SUPPER by Greta Grosch and Drew Jansen. June 20-July 2, The Mountain Playhouse.

Church Basement Ladies – The Last Potluck Supper is the fourth sequel in the Church Basement Ladies musical series. All were inspired by Growing Up Lutheran, a book by Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson. The book humorously reflects upon their 1950s, Midwestern, Lutheran upbringing. The musicals, meanwhile, concern Vivian, Mavis, and Karin, the church ladies in question, who cook in the church basement for various function. In The Last Potluck Supper, the function is the Centennial of First Cornucopia Lutheran. The trio reflect on their lives and the lives of their families in relation to the church’s 100-year history. It’s sure to be poignant and, thanks to the musical numbers, joyous. A Second Helping, another installment of the series, is playing at South Park Theatre around the same time should you find yourself wanting, ahem, seconds. 7690 Somerset Pike, Jennerstown. (CM)

STROKING ITS EGO by Elisa-Marie Alaio. June 22-25, fireWALL dance theater.

Since fireWALL was founded in 2013, Artistic Director, Choreographer, and Dancer Elisa-Marie Alaio has helped to transform quaint Carnegie into one of the best places around to catch modern dance. She continues her streak with Stroking Its Ego, “an exploration of female empowerment alongside men and driven by  honest, unapologetic, and raw musical sounds.” The production is divided into three sections: “Killing My Lonely,” “Pussy Is Power,” and “Welcome to the Circle.” Ego, power, and self-awareness number the show’s themes. The performers include Alaio and her dancers. At Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. (CM)

THE CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES SEQUEL: A SECOND HELPING by Jim Stowell, Jessica Zuehlke, and Drew Jansen. June 29-July 15 South Park Theatre.

The Church Basement Ladies Sequel: A Second Helping is the follow-up to the successful first play in the series. The musical comedies were based on the book Growing Up Lutheran, by Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson which takes a comical look at their 1950s, Midwestern, Lutheran upbringing. The books follow several multi-generational female characters who work in the Church basement preparing food for various events held at the church. The women have fun discussing their problems and  commenting on issues of the day. A Second Helping by Jim Stowell, Jessica Zuehlke, and Drew Jansen, is set in 1965 as people are protesting the Vietnam War and women are demanding equal pay. If you’re a fan of the series Mountain Playhouse is staging another of the sequels, The Last Potluck Supper, this month as well. SouthPark Theatre, Corner of Brownsville Road and Corrigan Drive, South Park. (RH)

One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean. June 29-July 15, Little Lake Theatre Company.

One Man, Two Guvnors, by Richard Bean, is an English adaptation of Servant of Two Masters, a 1743 Commedia dell’arte style comedy play by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. The lead character Francis finds himself unexpectedly working for two bosses. Francis is a charming man, but not the smoothest. He works hard to keep each boss from discovering he is working for the other. Set in the 1960’s, the plot mines comedy from love triangles, mistaken identities, and the farcical situation of working for two bosses. James Corden played Francis when the play debuted at the National Theatre’s Lyttelton Theatre in London in 2011. Little Lake Theatre Company, 500 Lakeside Dr., Cannonsburg. (RH)

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central Pittsburgh and enjoys the theater.

Entertainment Central’ s Mike Vargo (theater writer, editor) and  Christopher Maggio (writer, editor) also made major contributions to this Theater Guide.