June ’22 Theater Guide: Pittsburgh Theater Scene Staying Strong into Summer

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers Lucius Kirst and Marisa Grywalski will perform at the Open Air Festival in Sharpsburg. (Photo: Kelly Perkovich)

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers Lucius Kirst and Marisa Grywalski will perform at the Open Air Festival in Sharpsburg. (Photo: Kelly Perkovich)

June has several very interesting theater highlights. It’s always great to have a play by August Wilson onstage in his hometown. Pittsburgh Public Theater is staging Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is continuing its outdoor arts festival, Open Air, with its state-of-the-art mobile stage on the Sharpsburg riverfront. In addition to the company’s own PBT dancers, several other arts organizations are also participating. In the mood for some good music? The Mountain Playhouse has Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story about an early pioneer of rock and roll. Pittsburgh CLO is featuring Jersey Boys, an evergreen classic, and The Drowsy Chaperone, which features popular music from the 1920s. 

Kinetic Theatre has the very interesting The Illustrious Invalid, about a hypochondriac. It was playwright Molière’s last play both literally and figuratively. Not My Revolution is off the WALL Production’s last play of the season and is a one-person show that is written and acted by Elizabeth Huffman. It revolves around two women in historically different eras whose lives have been greatly affected by civil war. That’s our Spotlighted Picks; get out and see one or more of those or one of our Other Shows of Note.

 Mike Vargo (M.V.) also contributed to this guide. 

Entertainment Central Spotlight Picks

TWO TRAINS RUNNING by August Wilson. Pittsburgh Public Theater. June 1 – 19.

Melessie Clark and Brenden Peifer's characters are having an interesting conversation in this scene from Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of 'Two Trains Running.'

Melessie Clark and Brenden Peifer’s characters are having an interesting conversation in this scene from Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of ‘Two Trains Running.’

It feels redundant to write the phrase “a powerful August Wilson play”—are there any of his that aren’t?—but Two Trains Running is peak Wilson. And perhaps a bit underappreciated, since it was “only” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, unlike a couple of his previous plays that took home the award. (They probably had to let other people win once in a while.) At any rate, Two Trains Running powerfully displays Wilson’s skill at driving home serious themes amid crackling wit and borderline-absurd humor. The play is set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District near the end of the 1960s, a turbulent time nationwide. All of Two Trains takes place in a restaurant owned by a man named Memphis, a revered but troubled local figure. Among the regulars who gather at Memphis’s place, the only one doing consistently well is West, owner of a recession-proof business—he’s a funeral director. No attempt to summarize the plot or the other characters would do the play justice. The right thing is to see this play staged by one of Pittsburgh’s top-notch companies. Pittsburgh Public Theater presents Two Trains Running in the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (M.V.)

JERSEY BOYS (Jukebox Musical)  music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Pittsburgh CLO. June 7 – 12.

There were people who couldn’t stand the sound, but millions more who loved it. The sound was the otherworldly, phenomenally high falsetto of lead singer Frankie Valli. It was the centerpiece of The Four Seasons’ distinctive musical style, helping to drive the group to fame and fortune in the 1960s from the members’ rough-and-tumble beginnings in the blue-collar world of Newark, N.J.—a climb so colorful that it inspired the musical Jersey Boys by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by The Four Seasons. The touring-company show is slated for a  run of eight performances here in Pittsburgh. The Broadway original won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2006 and was even made into a movie. Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons are known for songs like “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man.” Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (M.V.)

OPEN AIR: A SERIES IN CELEBRATION OF THE PERFORMING ARTS produced by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and collaborating arts organizations. June 9 – 12. 

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is producing its annual Open Air slate of outdoor programs with its performers and artistic pieces. Additionally other arts organizations participating include Attack Theatre, Texture Ballet, Pittsburgh Festival Opera, Confluence Ballet, Shana Simmons Dance, and more. For more information and performance times see the PBT Open Air web page. The PBT mobile stage will be set up in Sharpsburg at the Allegheny Riverfront and 19th Street. (R.H.)

THE ILLUSTRIOUS INVALID by Simon Bradbury. Kinetic Theatre. June 9 – 26. 

Actors Derdriu Ring, David Whalen, Simon Bradbury, and Matt DeCaro rehearsing Kinetic Theatre’s world premiere comedy, 'The Illustrious Invalid.' (Photo: Kinetic Theatre)

Actors Derdriu Ring, David Whalen, Simon Bradbury, and Matt DeCaro rehearsing Kinetic Theatre’s world premiere comedy, ‘The Illustrious Invalid.’ (Photo: Kinetic Theatre)

You can be forgiven for not knowing Molière’s first name. It didn’t exist. The theater artist originally known as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673) gave himself a one-name game name, like Lorde or Banksy. It seems that Molière, famous for writing bizarre comedies, was quite a character in his own right. He even left this world spectacularly. Molière’s last play was The Imaginary Invalid, about a hypochondriac. Playing the title role, he collapsed on stage from a real illness, got up to finish the show, then died shortly after. And now, in our equally bizarre 21st century, you can see a play about Molière himself. British playwright Simon Bradbury’s The Illustrious Invalid—that’s “illustrious,” not “imaginary”—is receiving its world premiere at Kinetic Theatre here in Pittsburgh. The script has won a prestigious best-new-play award in England. Writer Bradbury, being also an accomplished actor, is in town to play the title role. We would say he’s in good health and expects to make it through the run, but that would jinx him. So break a leg, Simon! Kinetic presents The Illustrious Invalid in City Theatre’s Lester Hamburg Studio Theater, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. (M.V.) 

NOT MY REVOLUTION by Elizabeth Huffman. Off the WALL Productions. June 17 – 26.

Elizabeth Huffman performs her solo production of 'Not My Revolution' at off the Wall Productions. (Photo: The artist and off the WALL Productions)

Elizabeth Huffman performs her solo production of ‘Not My Revolution’ at off the Wall Productions. (Photo: The artist and off the WALL Productions)

Director/playwright/actor Elizabeth Huffman is starring in a solo show at off the WALL Productions that she also wrote. Not My Revolution is a production inspired by Josef Bush’s 1967 play French Gray. It’s a dreamlike play performed through film, movement and live theater. Not My Revolution tells the tale of two women whose lives have been turned upside-down by civil war. The play goes back and forth between Marie Antoinette’s imprisonment during the French Revolution in 1793 and an Istanbul ghetto in 2011 where a down on her luck Syrian art dealer is trying to overcome numerous obstacles that have arisen due to the civil war in her country. This is off the WALL’s last production of the spring season and is directed by Louanne Moldovan. Carnegie Stage, 25 w. Main St., Carnegie. (R.H.) 

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Musical) book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. Pittsburgh CLO. June 21 -26.

Pittsburgh CLO continues its season with its second production in June, The Drowsy Chaperone. This 2006 winner of five Tony Awards is both a parody of old musicals and a tribute to them. The central character is a shy fellow who sits at home alone listening to vintage recordings of Broadway tunes from the 1920s. When he puts his favorite onto the turntable—the soundtrack of an exuberantly hokey fictional show called, well, The Drowsy Chaperone—the cast members magically appear and start performing the show. The production stars Clay Aiken and Paige Davis. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (M.V.)

BUDDY — THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (Musical) by Alan Janes. Mountain Playhouse. June 22 -26.

If you’re feeling the itch for some ‘50s rock ‘n roll, you’ll definitely want to check out the Mountain Playhouse’s presentation of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story.  Experience how Holly burst onto the music scene armed with his crooning vocals, trademark specs and signature Fender Stratocaster guitar. Initial audiences balked at him playing rock and roll deep in the heart of Texas, but he soon won them over. Come and hear jukebox classics including “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be the Day,” and “Not Fade Away.” Bring some tissues, though, because this show sees Holly all the way to his tragic end. Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Walter P. Carter Center, 450 Schoolhouse Rd G35, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. (M.V.)

Other Shows of Note

ONE MONKEY DON’T STOP NO SHOW by Don Evans. New Horizon Theater. Through June 12.

This comedy, set in 1970s Philadelphia, examines the tensions between middle-class and working-class African Americans. One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show is being presented at the Carnegie Library Auditorium at 7101 Hamilton Avenue in Homewood. (R.H.)

POPCORN FALLS by James Hindman. Mountain Playhouse. June 1 – 5.

A town that was once known for its beautiful waterfall, which has now dried up, is bankrupt. The town will receive a large grant that will save them if they can produce a play within a week. The mayor and the handyman rise to the challenge and produce a play with 20 characters that are portrayed by only the two of them. In Popcorn Falls the fun should be a-popping. Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Walter P. Carter Center, 450 Schoolhouse Rd G35, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. (R.H.)

NOISES OFF by Michael Frayn. Little Lake Theater. June 9 – 19.

The acclaimed post-modern farce Noises Off is a play within a play. Specifically, it presents the first act of a play called Nothing On three different times, from three different perspectives, at various points during the cast-within-a-cast’s mastery of the play. The word “mastery” is used loosely here: Over the course of the play, the cast and production slowly unravel due to theatrical ineptitude and personal tension. 500 Lakeside Dr., Canonsburg. (M.V.)

SILENT SKY by Lauren Gunderson. South Park Theatre. June 9 – 25.

Silent Sky is a true story about Henrietta Leavitt who in the early 1900s is hired by the Harvard Observatory to help chart the stars. Leavitt, and the other women working there were not allowed to look through or touch the telescopes. Leavitt does some of her own calculations on the light and distance of stars, her own life, the treatment of women, and her shot at love. Corner of Brownsville Road and Corrigan Dr, South Park Twp. (R.H.)

THE PRODUCERS with music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, and a book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Adapted from the movie of the same name. Strand Theater Players. June 10-12

The Strand is an intimate theater located in Zelienople, just north of Cranberry. The theater has its own band of merry men (and women) players. They will be performing, back by popular demand, The Producers. The plot revolves around two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by fraudulently overselling ownership in a Broadway flop. There’s just one problem, the show’s a hit. 119 North Main St. (R.H.)

RIPCORD by David Lindsay-Abaire. Mountain Playhouse. June 15 – 19.

Many wars have been fought over land and prime real estate. The battle in Ripcord is over a sunny room on the top floor of a retirement home. The battle starts when a cranky resident, Abby, is forced to share her room with newcomer Marilyn. The comedic hostilities ensue as they both try to get the upper hand. Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Walter P. Carter Center, 450 Schoolhouse Rd G35, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. (R.H.)

ANGELMAKERS: SONGS FOR FEMALE SERIAL KILLERS by Molly Rice. June 16 – 18. Pittsburgh Winery.

People are fascinated with murder. Just take a look at all the television programs whose plot revolves around a chalk outline. Now RealTime Interventions has revamped their production of Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers. Not only is it a play about murder but it is also a musical. The production is a cabaret style show that examines the motives and emotions of female serial killers from the 1500’s to the present. Angelmakers features concept, lyrics, and music by Molly Rice. It was co-conceived by Rusty Thelin. The original cast of Milia Ayache and Pittsburgh punk rockers Zo and Michele Dunlap (Murder For Girls) are joined by an additional eight vocalists, including noted Vietnamese pop star, asylee, and activist Mai Khoi, and local theater aficionado Hazel LeRoy. 8:30 p.m. Runs through June 18. Pittsburgh Winery, 2710 Penn Ave,. Strip District. (R.H.)

CAROUSEL (Musical) music by Richard Rodgers with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Lincoln Park Performing Arts. June 17 – 26.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s second musical, Carousel, is thought by many to be one of the best musicals of all time. A carnival barker is trying to provide for his girlfriend and unborn child and does something terribly wrong. He is given a chance to make things right. 1 Lincoln Park, Midland. (R.H.)

THE LADIES FOURSOME by Norm Foster. South Park Theater. June 30 – July 16.

In the Ladies Foursome, Margot, Tate, and Connie are gathered for their friend Cathy’s funeral. The next day they play a round of golf and are joined by an old friend of Cathy’s that they don’t really know. Over the round of golf their bonds grow stronger as they discuss life, love, sex, and secrets. The play is a warm and funny tale of friendship. Corner of Brownsville Road and Corrigan Dr, South Park Twp. (R.H.)

Big Shows on the Horizon

Kinky Boots (July 5 – 10)
Pittsburgh CLO

The Cherry Orchard (July 8 – 31)
Quantum Theatre

Godspell (July 12 – 17)
Pittsburgh CLO

A Chorus Line (July 26 – 31)
Pittsburgh CLO

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.