March Theater Guide: Choices, Choices

Are they having fun or do they always look like that? Druid Theatre brings Martin McDonagh's "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" to Pittsburgh, with Marie Mullen as the Queen's mother, Aisling O'Sullivan as Her Majesty, and Marty Rea as her throne of the moment.

Are they having fun or do they always look like that? Druid Theatre brings Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ to Pittsburgh, with Marie Mullen as the Queen’s mother, Aisling O’Sullivan as Her Majesty, and Marty Rea as her throne of the moment.

It is impossible to ascertain whether this month’s live theater schedule includes “something for everyone,” since the world’s population is currently 7.4 billion and rising. We want to adhere to the strictest standards of accuracy in media, so we’ll simply say that the March schedule in Pittsburgh includes a fairly reasonable amount of variety.

You’ve got Oedipus Rex and your One Woman Sex in the City. If the stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 does not appeal to you, perhaps Peter and the Starcatcher will. (It’s the long-awaited prequel to Peter Pan!)

The Druids are coming to town—i.e., Druid Theatre of Galway—to perform the dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and should you prefer Irish culture of a more upbeat nature, the Riverdance troupe is visiting as well.

Productions by local companies include The Guard, a magical-realist play set in an art museum (City Theatre), and Daddy Long Legs, a romantic chamber musical set in turn-of-the-last-century America (The Public).

Shows are previewed below in order of their run dates. As always, the previews contain fascinating background info that you won’t find anywhere else unless you take the trouble to really look. The Guide has been prepared with assistance from Christopher Maggio and Rick Handler. 

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE by Martin McDonagh. March 2-4, Druid Theatre Company of Galway at August Wilson Center.

Nobody does dark comedy better than the Irish, and one current master of the form is Martin McDonagh. Film fans know him as the writer and director of In Bruges, the suspenseful howler/chiller about a pair of hit men finding out what happens when you hit the wrong target. Theater fans know McDonagh as the playwright of dark working-class comedies like A Skull in Connemara, a riotously gruesome number performed locally by PICT Classic Theatre a few years ago. Now a prestigious company from Ireland—Druid Theatre of Galway—has favored Pittsburgh as one of the few U.S. stops for its touring production of McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. This is perhaps his most lauded play. The “beauty queen” of the title is a middle-aged virgin determined to do something about her condition. As with other works by McDonagh, expect psychological torment and flashes of violence mixed with loony behavior that makes you laugh at the characters even as you hope they’ll pull through. The Druids bring The Beauty Queen of Leenane to the August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District.

1984 adapted from Orwell’s novel. March 3-12, Prime Stage Theatre.

George Orwell’s novel 1984 has been at or near the top of the Amazon best-seller list, and getting a copy from your local library may involve a wait. Act promptly to reserve tickets for the stage adaption of 1984, which is being performed by Prime Stage Theatre. Like the book, the play is set in a land where the ruling party’s mind-control tricks include turning things backwards with slogans like “War is peace” and “Freedom is slavery.” To say much more about it would be to say nothing. The story is the opposite of alternative facts; it is true fiction. You are watching Big Brother. You are not confused. At the New Hazlett, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side.

Bereishit Dance Company of South Korea floats a new take on traditional genres.

Bereishit Dance Company of South Korea floats a new take on traditional genres.

BEREISHIT DANCE COMPANY (modern dance). March 4 only, presented by Pittsburgh Dance Council.

The Bereishit Dance Company, based in Seoul, South Korea, is touring two works: BOW and Balance and Imbalance. Both performances combine contemporary dance with East Asian culture; they also incorporate some street dancing and multimedia. Traditional Korean archery inspires BOW, a male duet, while Balance and Imbalance is a larger affair, incorporating not only company dancers but also traditional drummers and pansori vocalists. Pansori is a Korean genre of musical storytelling by a singer and a drummer. The art form originated in the 1600s, hit its peak in the 1800s, and has experienced a resurgence since being declared a National Intangible Cultural Property in 1964. In 2000, Park Soon-Ho, a graduate of the Netherland’s European Dance Development Center, founded Bereishit Dance Company. The Pittsburgh Dance Council, a division of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, presents the 8 p.m. performance. The Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Cultural District. (CM)

FINDINGS by Arlene Weiner. March 4-19, Pittsburgh Playwrights.

As the name implies, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company produces plays by writers from Pittsburgh. And though best known for its strong interpretations of August Wilson’s work, PPTCo is heading into spring with a contemporary triple-header: three consecutive premieres of brand new works. First up is Findings by poet and playwright Arlene Weiner. This play concerns a woman who prides herself on having a positive outlook no matter what, but finds her ability to see silver linings challenged by a series of unfortunate events. Findings will be followed in April by Steve Hallock’s Lights Out, an ensemble comedy/drama about passengers stranded by a power outage in the trolley tunnel under Mt. Washington. In May PPTCo is presenting Michael A. Jones’ Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water, set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina. Sounds like a disaster-intensive trilogy for our stormy-weather times! Findings can be found in the Pittsburgh Playwrights theater at 937 Liberty Ave., Cultural District.

The word is NO. Or maybe Kerry Ipema is ordering eight drinks with NO olives.

The word is NO. Or maybe Kerry Ipema is ordering eight drinks with NO olives.

ONE WOMAN SEX AND THE CITY: A PARODY ON LOVE, FRIENDSHIP AND SHOES by Kerry Ipema and TJ Dawe. March 8 only, presented by TrustArts.

If you loved Sex and the City or never watched it but always wanted to, then here’s your chance to witness all six seasons condensed into One Woman Sex and the City, a one-person parody/tribute. Co-creator Kerry Ipema plays Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. She has worked with co-creator and director TJ Dawe before on PostSecret: The Show. Dawe, for his part, knows his one-person productions, particularly those based on pop culture. He directed and co-created One Man Star Wars Trilogy and One Man Lord of the Rings. There is audience participation, so it may behoove you to watch (or rewatch) some key episodes, such as the one with the naked dress or the whole “he’s-just-not-that-into-you” installment. This touring show makes its stop at the August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District, with performances at 7 and 9 p.m. (CM)

BIG LOVE by Charles L. Mee. March 9-12, Point Park Conservatory Theatre.

Oh, that Charlie Mee! In a long, wild, and maybe not-so-crazy career, American writer Charles M. Mee has, among other things: agitated for the impeachment of Richard Nixon; written critically acclaimed histories and biographies; penned an autobiography titled A Nearly Normal Life, much of which was spent in a wheelchair after contracting polio as a teenager … and authored dozens of plays, many of them freewheeling adaptations of older plays. He also posts his scripts on the Internet and invites anyone to do whatever they want with them. Further tinkering is encouraged, since Mee claims there is no such thing as an “original.” Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre is doing Mee’s Big Love, an adaptation of The Suppliants by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, which concerns a horde of women fleeing a forced mass marriage to their Egyptian cousins. The Point Park version includes the helicopter ambush that Mee put in to enhance the non-original, and those attending Big Love are advised to be ready for anything. In the Rauh Theatre at Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland.

DADDY LONG LEGS (musical) by Paul Gordon and John Caird, from Jean Webster’s novel. March 9–April 9, Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Pittsburgh Public Theater kicked off its 2016-17 season with a chamber musical, The Fantasticks, and apparently the genre has legs, because now The Public is staging another one. Daddy Long Legs is a two-person show adapted from the coming-of-age novel written in 1912 by Jean Webster.  A teenaged girl raised in an orphanage is told that a mysterious benefactor will pay to send her to college—quite a rare privilege for young women of that era—on two conditions. Once per month, she must write a letter to the benefactor describing her progress, and she is never to learn the man’s identity. You can probably imagine what happens in regard to that second proviso. Several movie versions of Daddy Long Legs have been made; the musical premiered in Ventura, Calif., in 2012 and has been a hit off-Broadway and elsewhere. The Public presents it at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District.

Rembrandt's 'Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer' becomes a window into far-off times and places in 'The Guard.'

Rembrandt’s ‘Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer’ becomes a window into far-off times and places in ‘The Guard.’

THE GUARD by Jessica Dickey. March 11–April 2, City Theatre.

Are you ready for some magical realism? The title character in Jessica Dickey’s play The Guard is a museum guard—the kind who patrols galleries and shoos you back behind the no-step line if you get too close to the art. But rules are made to be broken. In this story the guard and his sidekick, a young new guard, strike up a friendly chat with an art student. They allow and even encourage her to touch the canvas of a 17th-century masterpiece. And when she does, all three are pulled into the world of the painting: Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer. This dream-world blossoms into multiple worlds, as Homer himself makes a dramatic appearance and incidents from Rembrandt’s chaotic personal life are replayed. The Guard premiered in Washington, D.C., in 2015. It is reported to be a meta-handful, exploring the interplay of life and art along with themes of love and death and of time and mortality. City Theatre is staging The Guard here as part of its mission to present notable new plays not yet seen in Pittsburgh. 1300 Bingham St., South Side.

PITTSBURGH BALLET THEATRE + DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM (ballet). March 17-26, joint performances at August Wilson Center.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is following up its traditional holiday production of The Nutcracker with something new: a double-barreled evening of ballet presented in collaboration with Dance Theatre of Harlem. The bill includes pieces performed separately by the two companies along with a jointly produced centerpiece, the “Black Swan Pas de Deux” from Swan Lake. This promises to be a memorable occasion. Dance Theatre of Harlem, founded in 1969, was the first African-American classical ballet company and is world-renowned.  As for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, also founded in 1969—well, these folks are pretty good, too.  At the August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District.

RIVERDANCE (Irish dance). March 17-19, North American touring company at Benedum Center.

The Irish step dancing and musical production famously know as Riverdance is celebrating its 20th anniversary and is now out on tour. The original Riverdance derivative piece, which lasted only seven minutes, was first performed during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. It received a sustained standing ovation and was later performed in London with Prince Charles in attendance. The performances featured American Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley. A single from the show debuted at No. 1 on the Irish singles chart. With all this early success, husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty decided to turn it into a stage show and asked Bill Whelan to write a score for the expanded production. Riverdance became a worldwide sensation. Flatley would leave a year later over royalty disputes on parts of the show he choreographed, but Irish dance champion Colin Dunne stepped in and Riverdance went on to sustained success. It is one of the most-seen theatrical productions in the world. You can see it at the Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (RH)

SWEET CHARITY by Neil Simon. March 17-26, Point Park Conservatory Theatre.

Sweet Charity is based on Nights of Cabiria, an Italian film directed by Federico Fellini. Whereas the protagonist of Nights of Cabiria concerns a sex worker, Sweet Charity involves a taxi dancer, i.e., a dancer-for-hire named Charity Valentine. For an idea of Charity’s love life, consider that the musical opens with her boyfriend stealing her handbag and pushing her into a lake. Things change (or do they?) when she meets Oscar Lindquist, a shy accountant. Sweet Charity displays the genius of a triumvirate of Broadway legends: Neil Simon wrote the book; Cy Coleman composed the music; and Dorothy Fields wrote the lyrics. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1966 and has been revived numerous times. Point Park Conservatory Theatre is staging it this month in the Rockwell Theatre at Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. (CM)

OEDIPUS REX by Sophocles. March 23-April 8, PICT Classic Theatre.

Sigmund Freud, while living and working in Vienna, Austria, attended at least one performance of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. No doubt his seeing the play affected his formulation of the Oedipus complex theory, a phrase he coined to explain a son’s unconscious sexual desire for his mother. (For girls, he called it an Electra complex.) The term is relatively new, just over 100 years old, while the play dates back 2000 years, proof that this classic Greek tragedy is still ripe for fodder even if we all know the story: Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. Oedipus fails to escape fate and gouges out his eyes in horror of his own hubris. Seeing a production of Oedipus Rex should be mandatory for anyone interested in theater, psychology, tragedy, or irony. Luckily, PICT Classic Theatre is staging it at the Union Project, 801 N. Negley Ave., Highland Park. (CM)

Beth Corning steps to her own drummer and Donald Byrd can’t do a thing about it in ‘What’s Missing?’

Beth Corning steps to her own drummer and Donald Byrd can’t do a thing about it in ‘What’s Missing?’

WHAT’S MISSING? (dance/performance) by Beth Corning and Donald Byrd. March 29–April 2, Corningworks.

Beth Corning is back, and this time the innovative Pittsburgh dancer and choreographer has teamed up with a distinguished guest artist: Donald Byrd, artistic director of New York’s Spectrum Dance Theater. The duo is performing an original co-created piece featuring spoken word as well as movement. What’s Missing? is the title of the piece, which Corning and Byrd have billed as an inquiry into the unreliability of communication and perception. They’re challenging the audience to figure out who is telling the truth to whom, or not, and what it all means. That may sound like a lot of work, but Corning fans know that the experience is more likely to be lots of fun. At the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER by Rick Elice, adapted from the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. March 30–Apr. 9, Pitt Theatre Arts.

We are living in an age of fantasy, a time when stories set in imaginary realms dominate the popular arts. Cultural literacy requires knowing the lore of at least 50 such places and institutions, from Westeros and Gotham City to Hogwarts and the Black Pearl. And speaking of the supernatural related to piracy, if you have not been briefed on Peter Pan’s backstory, now is your chance. The University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts is performing Peter and the Starcatcher. This prequel to J.M. Barrie’s classic tale began as a children’s novel. Co-authors Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson felt the modern world needed to know why Peter can fly but cannot grow up, so away they wrote. The 2004 book became a bestseller, while the stage adaptation has wowed audiences from Broadway to Boise. Peter and the Starcatcher picks up young Peter as an orphan sold into servitude aboard a rickety old ship called Never Land. (That’s two words, with a double meaning—got it?) The Never Land  is carrying magical cargo coveted by pirates, which leads to surreal adventures and swashbuckling silliness. Song-and-dance numbers include a vaudeville routine performed by mermaids. In the Charity Randall Theatre at the Stephen Foster Memorial, 4301 Forbes Ave., Oakland.

PUMP BOYS & DINETTES (musical) by the group of the same name. Through April 30, Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret.

Return with us now to those long-ago days of the early 1980s when V-8 Pontiacs prowled the roads, when a Macintosh was an apple you ate, and when country music and small-town characters were still amusing novelties to us sophisticated Northern urbanites. It was during those days, in the unlikely bowels of New York City, that a cabaret musical titled Pump Boys and Dinettes was born. The plot? Shucks, who needs one? This is a singin’, pickin’, and stompin’ revue-type show with several sketch-comedy bits worked in. And the composers? Why, a bunch of nightclub performers called none other than Pump Boys and Dinettes. The setting is somewhere down in North Carolina where a gas station and diner sit side-by-side. And wouldn’t you know, Pump Boys and Dinettes took off so well that the show made it to Broadway … and then across the ocean to London … and it remains in the repertoire today. The living evidence awaits at CLO Cabaret, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District.

Photo credits: The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by Stephen Cummiskey. Bereishit Dance Company, © Se-Gyu Lee. “Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer,” courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art. What’s Missing?, by Frank Walsh, Riverdance by Jack Hartin.

Mike Vargo, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, covers theater for Entertainment Central.