From Sci-Fi Spoof to Psychodrama, ‘Acting Out’ Delivers a Bold Bill of New One-Acts

There is nothing in theater quite like an evening of one-acts. If the plays are right you get a greatest-hits effect, a sampling of tightly honed short pieces in different styles and moods.

That’s what the Pittsburgh Pride Theater Festival is going for with this year’s offering: two comedies plus two dramas, all of them new works by various playwrights. They are packaged into an under-two-hour show called Acting Out, which runs from June 5-13 downtown. And yes, the show’s title is a pun.

In Carol Mullen's outer-space farce 'Nightingale,' the mothership is in trouble and the sisters are spooked. Actors (L to R) are Crystal Noel, Alaina Gilchrist, Corinne Paulson, and Samantha Westervelt.

In Carol Mullen’s outer-space farce ‘Nightingale,’ the mothership is in trouble and the sisters are spooked. Actors (L to R) are Crystal Noel, Alaina Gilchrist, Corrine Paulson, and Samantha Westervelt.

Acting Out is one of many events being held in Pittsburgh this June that help to celebrate National LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender) Pride Month. Each of the short plays has LGBT subject matter. But of course, straight audience members are welcome—hetero couples can even hold hands without causing a stir. Moreover as the Festival’s artistic associate, Ted Hoover, has made clear, the plays should be enjoyable to all.

Off with the Beard, On with the Show 

What you won’t find here, Hoover said in a phone interview, is theater that fulminates broadly on LGBT issues. That kind tends to be “all about how LGBT people fit in with or don’t fit in with the straight world.”

While the theme is certainly present in the one-acts, he noted, “the LGBT world is just as multifaceted as the straight. You have many kinds of people dealing with many aspects of life.” The plays get into specific aspects on the level of basic human experience, Hoover said, “and it’s this immediacy, this looking at life from the inside, that makes them universal. That makes them good plays, period.”

“Shaving the Beard,” a comedy by Nik Nemec, opens the evening. It concerns a young man who’s been putting on a straight act by having a female friend be his “beard” (a purported girlfriend) at family gatherings.  When the woman decides it is time to stop pretending, he is faced with a coming-out crisis.  According to Hoover, the play works as a “gay” story and also as something more, because ultimately “it’s about growing up and separating from your parents.”

Nik Nemec's 'Shaving the Beard' puts its young hero Jason (Anthony Gullikson, L) in a predicament: Ellie (Felicia Cooper) no longer wants to pose as his girlfriend, so he may need to go public with his affection for Jack (Kyle Coughlin).

‘Shaving the Beard’ puts its young hero Jason (Anthony Gullikson, L) in a bind, for if Ellie (Felicia Cooper) won’t pose as his girlfriend, must he go public with his affection for Jack (Kyle Coughlin)?

In “Mercy” by Staci Backauskas—a one-act psychodrama—a woman visits her ex in prison to get an apology for the relationship “crimes” the ex allegedly committed. An emotional tug of war ensues, complicated by underlying tugs of love. What’s paramount in this play is not the fact that the woman and her ex are the same sex; the question is how they will resolve the tensions between them.

In the other serious piece, Keith Foster’s “(Un)Packing,” a man whose father has died asks an old friend to help him pack up dad’s books. The friends once had a relationship that they’ve tacitly agreed never to discuss. “So the amazing thing is, nobody tells the truth in this play, yet the truth comes out,” said Hoover. “These guys are talking about literature, politics—about Obama’s policy in Syria!—and it all comes out in the subtext.”

Acting Out wraps up with Carol Mullen’s “Nightingale,” in which the truth comes out in a galaxy far away. Mullen, who has had plays produced at LGBT festivals across the U.S., often creates bizarre comic situations. This time, four women aboard a renegade spacecraft are trying to dodge death rays while dealing with system failures of both the technical and romantic kind.

Credits and Showtimes

“Nightingale” is directed by Kim El and “Mercy” by Ja’Sonta Roberts-Deen. Hoover—who, in another life, reviews movies for this website— directs the two men’s plays. The entire Pittsburgh Pride Theater Festival is under the aegis of Artistic Director Judy Meiksin, and is a production of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.

The one-acts were chosen from an open call for entries of new scripts. All agreed the field was unusually strong and more good plays could’ve been presented, but, said Hoover, “These four just rose to the top. They said, ‘Produce me, produce me!’’”

Acting Out, a show of four one-acts, plays Thurs.-Sat. June 5-7 and Thurs.-Fri. June 12-13 at 8 p.m. with an extra show on June 7 at 4 p.m. 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Tickets: 412-256-8109 or at the door.


Mike Vargo is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor.

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