February 2023 Theater Guide: There’s Just Something About Truth That’s Universal

'Beetlejuice' stops in town this month for the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. Seen here(L-R): Britney Coleman (Barbara), Will Burton (Adam), Isabella Esler (Lydia) and Justin Collette (Beetlejuice). (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

‘Beetlejuice’ stops in town this month for the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. Seen here(L-R): Britney Coleman (Barbara), Will Burton (Adam), Isabella Esler (Lydia) and Justin Collette (Beetlejuice). (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

What’s the meaning of myth? Why are fables so fantastic? And when does local lore become legendary? In Pittsburgh this February, theaters are exploring the power of storytelling in very different and dramatic ways. From Shakespeare’s idyllic woodland fantasy retold in Harlem to Aleshea Harris’ myth of dire revenge set in a California desert, Pittsburgh’s many and prolific stages will present a panoply of tales woven from time and testimony. Consider the sexual ethos of Dracula; a superhuman male sucking vital energy from the innocent to enslave them to his power, his dominance, his desires. Or the fantasy of Beetlejuice’s netherworld in which the living and dead come to blows, only to redeem the supreme ideal that love conquers all. Even the notion that alchemy––a science no more promising than art––can transform the human soul into something other than a life doomed to failure is universal. As in Sharpsburg, Harlem or the streets of Brooklyn, the spirit of ambitious youth combating the indifference of greed will resonate on many levels. Timeless as they are relevant, myths fascinate and reward our experience in life––and on stage.  Don’t miss these special recommendations for February. 

These shows and more are previewed below in three sections. Spotlight Picks for the month are followed by Other Shows of Interest, and then a look-ahead to Big Shows on the Horizon. Productions are listed by run dates within each category. Mike Vargo (M.V.) also contributed to this guide.

Spotlight Picks

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM IN HARLEM, adapted by Justin Emeka from William Shakespeare’s comedy. Pittsburgh Public Theater. February 1 – 19.

Football and basketball aren’t played the way they once were, and neither is Shakespeare. Modern adaptations of his works have added new dimensions, with results ranging from weird to wonderful. The question is how to adapt a play that’s wonderfully weird to begin with. A Midsummer Night’s Dream presents challenges. It’s an over-the-top comedy, but also complex. It’s surreal. It’s full of fairies. Multiple movie versions have fallen short of the 1935 film, which had young Mickey Rooney as Puck and Victor Jory as a spooky, sparkly Oberon. Various live adaptations have pushed the weirdness envelope, as in The Donkey Show: A Midsummer Night’s Disco. But now Pittsburghers can enjoy an updated Dream which enhances and transports Shakespeare’s original. A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Harlem re-creates the acclaimed production that was actually staged in Harlem in midsummer of 2013. The writer/director, Justin Emeka, is now Resident Director at Pittsburgh Public Theater. He has recruited a nationwide cast to conjure the spells that wowed New York audiences and critics ten years ago. 

Emeka’s adaptation is Afro-intensive. It is awash in dance and music—from Harlem Renaissance jazz to African drums, Caribbean rhythms, and urban hip-hop—all used to hypnotically augment the play’s fantasy. The language is mostly as Shakespeare wrote it, with some contemporary twists. And the plot is the Bard’s except for a couple of surprises. See A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Harlem at the Public’s O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (M.V.) 

Michael Pink’s DRACULA presented by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre at the Benedum Center. February 10 – 12.

There's a different kind of loving embrace happening at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre - the bloodsucking kind. Pictured in the photo from 'Dracula' is Marisa Grywalski and Lucius Kirst. (Photo: Duane Rieder)

There’s a different kind of loving embrace happening at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre – the bloodsucking kind.
Pictured in the photo from ‘Dracula’ is Marisa Grywalski and Lucius Kirst. (Photo: Duane Rieder)

Michael Pink, British choreographer, director, dancer, and theater producer whose works and style have been referred to as “classical ballet for the 21st century,” is the longest serving Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Ballet. In February, his choreography will tell the classic tale of Dracula, Bram Stoker’s gothic mystery of bloodlust and suspense. Pink will also tell his own story, attending two programs to preview this production which has won international acclaim.

Also set to the score by Philip Feeney, Dracula will feature exquisite costumes and resplendent  scenery as each movement progresses the plot forward in this spine-chilling dance-drama. It’s a story most know. Superhuman powers, the evil of darkness, the lifeblood of romance, a young woman’s awakening passions, intrigue, deception and death all rolled into one of the most adapted myths men and women have told for centuries. It’s perfect in substance and style for the ballet. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (C.P.O.) 

THE ALCHEMIST OF SHARPSBURG by RealTime Interventions. February 17 – 18. 

Is life a game or is it a drama? At RealTime Interventions, the answer is yes. This Pittsburgh theater company cannot be called “edgy” because it does the opposite—dissolving the edges that are believed to separate so-called real life from realms of the imagination. Case in point: RealTime’s current adventure, The Alchemist of Sharpsburg. The subject is a real Sharpsburger who goes by the name Candra. RealTime describes him as “a Hindu-practicing, black-metal-listening game enthusiast.” And the play takes the form of an interactive game in which audience members can explore, alter, act out, or otherwise experience Candra’s unusual life. All of that may seem hard to fathom but you’ve got to be there to really get it. The Alchemist scored rave reviews in a pilot production at City Theatre’s studio space on the South Side last year. This year the play materializes in Candra’s real hometown. The Alchemist of Sharpsburg unfolds for two nights only at Atithi Studios, 1020 N. Canal St., Sharpsburg. (M.V.)

BEETLEJUICE (musical) adapted from the film by Tim Burton. PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh. February 21 – 26.

It’s showtime!!!  And spectacle. And spotlights. And stripes. It’s the story of a strange and sullen teenager, Lydia Deetz, who meets a recently deceased couple and unveils a netherworld of silly specters, sandworms, seances and… and… well, more stripes!

Beetlejuice, of course, is based on Tim Burton’s immortal “ghost-with-the-most” film of 1988 which boosted Pittsburgh’s own Michael Keaton to the A-list of Hollywood actors. The story follows the calamitous adventure of the Deetz family who have moved into the house of a young couple recently deceased after driving over a cliff. The dead couple, however, not knowing they have “crossed over,” return to their beloved home, and haunt it. The Deetzes don’t know what’s going on, but their daughter––fashionably goth, maudlin and maybe just a little bit demonic––can see the ghost couple. She befriends them. And, well, that’s when all hell breaks loose. Beetlejuice is summoned to save the day. Or maybe destroy it altogether. That’s the fun.

With a musical score by Eddie Perfect, book by Scott Brown and Anthony King, sets by David Korins, and the costumes of William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice, directed by Alex Timbers, is rolling on a North American tour of 24 cities. Pittsburgh is the third stop on the circuit, so the energy, the comic timing, and all those dance steps will be in perfect syncopation. It’s showtime! Beetlejuice is part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trusts’ PNC’s Broadway in Pittsburgh series. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (C.P.O.)

DISNEY’S NEWSIES (musical) by Alan Menken, Jack Feldman, and Harvey Fierstein, from the Disney film. February 22 – 26. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Theatre. 

Maggie Reed plays Katherine Plumber in the Playhouse's production of Disney's 'Newsies.'

Maggie Reed plays Katherine Plumber in the Playhouse’s production of Disney’s ‘Newsies.’

Is there a better place than Pittsburgh to see a musical about labor history? Disney’s Newsies (aka Newsies The Musical) is drawn from the 1992 movie, which in turn was based on the New York City newsboys’ strike of 1899. Afternoon dailies back then were sold mainly by young folks—including girls—who paid up front for a bundle of papers, then had to peddle them on the streets until they cleared a profit. When a couple of big publishers made this tough job tougher by raising the cost to the newsies, the newsies struck for better terms. And won. The Newsies musical, with a book by Harvey Fierstein, has fictional elements but is said to stay closer to how things happened than the film did. Characters include Joseph Pulitzer, Theodore Roosevelt, and of course the heroes, the teenaged strike leaders. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Theatre presents Disney’s Newsies at 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. (M.V)  

IS GOD IS (drama) by Aleshea Harris. barebones productions. February 24 – March 12.

What if film directors Sergio Leonne, Quentin Tarantino, and Roger Corman could back-channel their spirits into that master Greek myth maker, Sophocles, who would then write one of the greatest revenge stories ever––including lots of body disfigurements, blood, and gore––and that script time-travelled to the American stage as the story of a modern Black family in deep, disturbing, and, yet, hilarious, despair, would you buy a ticket? Oh, yes, you should.

Braddock’s inventive barebones productions will stage Is God Is, Alesha Harris’s major award-winning play. The story begins with two twin sisters, grossly scarred after being burned in a fire that killed their mother. But when they get a letter from the very same woman (whom they called God because, after all, she brought them life,) they rush to her hospital bed in the Dirty South. Her commandment is that the twins must kill their father (otherwise known as Man) who is living in the California desert with another family of his own. God is deadly serious. And then she dies. For the twins, there can be no greater moral dilemma. It is the stuff of Greek tragedy. It’s the character Clint Eastwood played in so many Spaghetti westerns. It’s the “aha moment” that Tarantino has withheld from you for a solid two hours. But it’s also the real ghost under the costume of a cartoon ghost hunted by Scooby-Doo.

Is God Is features a cast of eight, including director Javon Johnson (who returns to barebones productions after his star performance in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity) and Pittsburgh’s prolific rock legend, Byron Nash, who will design the sound. barebones’ Artistic Director Patrick Jordan says, “I’m especially excited about Javon Johnson and… Byron brings an incredible energy and style to everything he does. The actors we’ve cast are mind-blowing. This one is going to be really special.”  Is God Is is presented at barebones production’s Bingo O’Malley Stage at 1211 Braddock Avenue in Braddock. (C.P.O.)


WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME by Heidi Schreck. City Theatre. Through February 12.

Tami Dixon stars as Heidi in City Theatre's staging of 'What the Constitution Means to Me.' (Photo: Kristi Jan Hoover)

Tami Dixon stars as Heidi Schreck in City Theatre’s staging of ‘What the Constitution Means to Me.’ (Photo: Kristi Jan Hoover)

Peter Marks of the Los Angeles Times says, “It is an act of patriotism to see it.” Indeed, Heidi Schreck’s must-see show was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, earned two Tony nominations, and was produced for Amazon Prime Video this past October. Premiering on Broadway in the fall of 2019, its sold-out run was cut short by the pandemic, and is only now playing in regional theaters. Autobiographical in many ways, Schreck’s tale arises from the gumption of a teenage girl who once earned her entire college tuition by winning debate competitions centered on the famed document. Featuring Tami Dixon, Schreck’s character delivers funny and stinging stories of the powerful effects and disillusionments the US Constitution held for four generations of her family. City Theatre’s own production is directed by Marc Masterson. Witty, challenging, reverent and irreverent, this comic study of how America’s institutions interpret our country’s core values belies and beholds astonishment. Of course, the subject seems particularly timely, but that may be true of any year in our political history. See our review. What the Constitution Means to Me is onstage at City Theatre 1300 Bingham Street, South Side. (C.P.O.)

Other Shows of Interest
(Opening Dates)

February 1
Step Afrika!  (Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)

February 3
American Menu  (New Horizon Theater)

February 9
‘Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3 (City Theatre)

February 15
Babel (CMU)

February 17
Alonzo King LINES Ballet (Pittsburgh Dance Council)
Seven Guitars (Pitt Theatre)

Big Shows on the Horizon
(Opening Dates)

March 9
Once (Pittsburgh Musical Theater)

March 11
Native Gardens (City Theater)

March 14
Six  (PNC Broadway)

March 15
Men on Boats (Pittsburgh Playhouse)

March 16
Shout: The Mod Musical! (Lincoln Park)

March 17
Rediscover  (Texture Ballet)

March 22
Steel Magnolias  (Pittsburgh Public)

March 25
Il Trovatore  (Pittsburgh Opera)

Prentiss Orr writes about theater for Entertainment Central. His latest book, The Surveyor and the Silversmith, is a history of white settlement, genocide, and land speculation in Western Pennsylvania.

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