September 2022 Theater Guide: A Water Sprite, Women’s Rights, Restaurant Drama, and Horror Trauma

'Rusalka,' is an opera about an enchanting Czech water sprite. Shown here is a photo from Minnesota Opera's production. (Photo: Dan Norman for Minnesota Opera)

‘Rusalka,’ is an opera about an enchanting Czech water sprite that’s on the slate for Pittsburgh Opera this month. Shown here is a photo from Minnesota Opera’s production. (Photo: Dan Norman for Minnesota Opera)

September can be a slower prelude into the fall theater season, and that’s true again this year. Pittsburgh Opera opens its season with Rusalka, about a Czeck water sprite who is both alluring in her beauty and song. What Kind of Woman the season opener at off the Wall Productions is not so much a question, but a statement about what it was like for women who were pregnant and desperate before Roe v. Wade. City Theater then opens their 2022 – 2023 slate with Clyde’s about a truck stop diner where redemption, fellowship, and tasty sandwiches are all on the menu. Capping off the month is also a precursor, this time to the Halloween fright season. Pittsburgh Musical Theatre opens it’s singer with a gory drama that’s so inspirational they sign about it—Evil Dead the Musical.

All are previewed below as Spotlighted Picks for the month, followed by Other Shows of Note, and Big Shows on the Horizon. Shows are listed by run dates within each category. Mike Vargo (M.V.) and C. Prentiss Orr (C.P.O.) were the main contributors to this guide.

Spotlighted Picks

RUSALKA (opera) by Anton Dvořák; libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil. Pittsburgh Opera. September 17 – 25. 

Anton Dvořák’s Rusalka has been called an operatic precursor of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, but let’s not go there. The season opener at Pittsburgh Opera offers a somewhat different kind of entertainment. Rusalka is haunting, at times humorous, and a recent production at New York’s Metropolitan Opera was reviewed as a “shockingly dark, sexy drama.” In Slavic folk legends, rusalka is a generic term for a female water sprite. These creatures are said to be dangerously seductive, sometimes luring young men to their deaths. The opera’s title character does not have such malice in mind, although her infatuation with a human leads to dire consequences. Dvořák composed Rusalka to a libretto by the Czech poet Jaroslav Kvapil. The work has been popular since its 1901 premiere in Prague, and Act I’s enchanting Song to the Moon” is often performed as what we’d now call a standalone hit. Pittsburgh Opera has assembled a cast of international stars for the production here. Soprano Ekaterina Siurina sings the title role, while other notables include basso cantante Hao Jiang Tian, mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti, soprano Leah Hawkins, and tenor Jonathan Burton.  See and hear Rusalka at Benedum Center. This marks the first time that Pittsburgh Opera has produced Rusalka and the first time they’ve sung an opera in Czech. 237 7th St., Cultural District. (M.V.)  

WHAT KIND OF WOMAN by Abbe Tanenbaum. Off the WALL productions. September 23 – October 1. 

Abbe Tanenbaum, an Erie, Pennsylvania, native, is an actress, writer and creative artist who now resides in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland.

Abbe Tanenbaum, an Erie, Pennsylvania, native, is an actress, writer and creative artist who now resides in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland.

Premiering this month in the Pittsburgh area is a new play about what it was like for women seeking abortions during the time before Roe v. Wade. What Kind of Woman, by American theater artist Abbe Tanenbaum, was in development for several years and now takes on new relevance with the overturning of Roe. Tanenbaum was moved to create the play when she saw letters that had been written to an underground women’s health group in New York City in the early 1970s. The group provided safe access to abortions, and the letters were from women begging for the service because of desperate circumstances in their lives and homes. What Kind of Woman is presented by off the WALL productions. The actors are Tanenbaum herself and Virginia Wall Gruenert, off the WALL’s artistic director. Later this fall the play will move to New York for an off-Broadway run at Nancy Manocherian’s the cell theater. But to see it here, reserve tickets for What Kind of Woman on the off the WALL website. A portion of the ticket proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood. At Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. (M.V.)

CLYDE’s by Lynn Nottage. City Theatre. September 24 – October 16.

Lynn Nottage, whose comedy Clyde’s kicks off City Theatre’s new season in September, is the
only woman to have won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. If that alone doesn’t whet your
appetite, her play, set in a truck stop diner somewhere in Pennsylvania, features a full menu of
feisty characters all hell-bent on making the perfect sandwich. What they create, however, is
something surprisingly savory. And much sweeter. The New York Times famously reviewed its
2021 Broadway opening under the title “Sometimes a Hero is More Than a Sandwich.”
Nottage’s kitchen of characters, all former inmates, are encouraged to explore the inner
sanctums of their imaginations and the restorative power of food. 1300 Bingham St., South Side. (C.P.O.)

EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL Book and lyrics by George Reinblatt. Music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris and George Reinblatt. Additional lyrics by Christopher Bond. Additional music by Rob Daleman. Pittsburgh Musical Theatre. September 30 – October 22.

In this previous PMT production of 'Evil Dead the Musical' Whitney Noelle as Annie and Brett Goodnack as Ash get good and gory.

In this previous PMT production of ‘Evil Dead the Musical’ Whitney Noelle as Annie and Brett Goodnack as Ash get good and gory.

So far, over 500 productions of Evil Dead: The Musical have been staged worldwide. Think of what this has required in human terms. Hundreds of talented actors, fluent at using their hands gracefully on stage, had to learn how to play a character whose right hand is replaced by a chainsaw. Yet the role is a coveted one, for Ashley “Ash” Williams is not your average bionic hero. In the Evil Dead films on which the musical is based, he duels with deadites in settings from the present-day U.S. to medieval Europe. Ash is a complexly flawed hero who bumbles through everyday life, but excels in matters such as fighting the Kandarian Demon. The British cinema magazine Empire ranked him the greatest horror movie character of all time. Pittsburgh Musical Theater—which has staged Evil Dead at least twice before—resurrects Evil Dead: The Musical by popular demand. Exuberant audience response is welcome but leave your chainsaws, and children, at home. Preferably not in the same room. West End Canopy at Gargaro Theater, 327 S. Main St., West End. (M.V., R.H.)

Continuing:

JITNEY by August Wilson. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. Through September 18.

(L. to R.) Fielding (Mike Traylor), Doub (Chuck Timbers), and Turnbo (Les Howard) discussing the topics of the day.

(L. to R.) Fielding (Mike Traylor), Doub (Chuck Timbers), and Turnbo (Les Howard) discussing the topics of the day.

Back in 1982, some Pittsburgh theater fans began buzzing about a new play by a practically unknown playwright. “Gotta see it” was the word. Hilarious and yet serious, the play didn’t seem to have much of a plot—just a bunch of characters at a jitney cab station in the Hill District, joking and razzing each other—but it drew you in. You felt right there with the guys in their shabby storefront office, where people could call in for rides when a local bookie wasn’t using the phone … and then gradually, as tensions emerged, things got riveting. The play was August Wilson’s Jitney. After its ’82 premiere at the now-gone Allegheny Repertory Theatre, Jitney went nearly forgotten while Wilson moved on to fame with subsequent plays like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Fences. Finally in 1996, a Jitney revival at Pittsburgh Public Theater got Wilson started on multiple revisions to the script. New versions were later staged in New York and London, until Jitney became a cherished part of Wilson’s 10-play American Century Cycle.

Now there is a rare chance to see Jitney performed by the Wilson experts at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. Mark Clayton Southers directs a cast in which Becker, owner of the jitney enterprise, is played by the longtime actor, social activist, and current Pittsburgh School Board President Sala Udin. See our review. Outdoors at the August Wilson House, 1727 Bedford Ave., Hill District. (M.V.)

Other Shows of Note

September 1 – 17
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (South Park Theatre)

September 1 – 11
The Metromaniacs (Little Lake Theatre)

September 9 – 10
Breaking Boundries (Bodiography and Cisne Negro Dance)
You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown (Pittsburgh CLO)

September 13
the cloud of unknowing (Corningworks)

September 16 – 25
Spamalot (Strand Theater)

September 22 – October 8
The 39 Steps (South Park Theatre)

September 22 – October 1
Nana Does Vegas (Little Lake Theatre)

September 23 – 25
Momentum (Texture Ballet)

Big Shows on the Horizon

October 5 -16
Frozen (PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh)

October 7 – 15
Idaspe (Quantum Theatre)

October 7 – 9
Storytelling in Motion (Pittsburgh Ballet)

October 7 – 16
Into the Woods (Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center)

October 12 – 30
A Raisin in the Sun (Pittsburgh Public Theater)

October 19 – 23
Sondheim on Sondheim (Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory)

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.