Theater in November: World Premieres, Post-Punk Dance, and Pre-Holiday Musicals

In a month that leads up to Thanksgiving and Black Friday, tempting you to put on weight and empty your wallet, you may wish to set aside a bit of appetite (and a few dollars) for some healthy, invigorating live theater. Plays on Pittsburgh stages in November include three world premieres. Other notable offerings range from gnarly modern dance to updated Greek tragedy, heartwarming musicals, and a certain Streetcar. They are previewed here in order of opening date.

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE by Bruce Hall. Oct. 31 – Nov. 9, Prime Stage Theatre

The story speaks to the split personality in each of us, to the ongoing inner war between noble and wicked impulses. It’s also a darn good suspense yarn, which helps explain why The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been popular ever since Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella appeared in 1886. Prime Stage is mounting the world premiere of a new theatrical adaptation. Andrew Miller plays Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. At the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side.

Michael Clark Company, dancer Benjamin Warbis. Photo: Jake Walters

Michael Clark Company, dancer Benjamin Warbis. Photo: Jake Walters

MICHAEL CLARK COMPANY (modern dance). Nov. 1, presented by Pittsburgh Dance Council

On post-Halloween night, what could be better than a post-punk dance troupe?  Scottish dancer and choreographer Michael Clark became the enfant terrible of the U.K. scene in the 1980s, when, after studying at London’s Royal Ballet School, he began creating pieces that had ballet underpinnings but weren’t exactly Swan Lake. He collaborated with hard-driving rock groups like The Fall. He’s had his dancers cross-dress and wear costumes with bare bottoms. He recruited his mother—his very own mum—to dance a number that depicted her giving birth to him. Clark, now 52, keeps pushing his company to test limits. “Extreme is good for me,” he told the British press recently. “I’m not really interested in the middle ground.” 8 p.m. Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Cultural District.

FOOL FOR LOVE by Sam Shepard, Nov. 5 – 7, and Joshua Conkel’s MILKMILKLEMONADE, Nov. 19 – 21, Carnegie Mellon Director Series

Student-directed plays at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama are FREE to the public; just visit the box office on performance day to obtain a ticket. This month the school’s Director Series presents two plays that examine love and sex from rather different angles. Fool for Love, Sam Shepard’s classic about a bad relationship that won’t die, is directed by Ian-Julian Williams. As for MilkMilkLemonade, directed by Alex Tobey, the promo material calls it “a queer exploration of childhood sexuality involving talking chickens, evil unborn twins, and sporadic dance numbers.” Helen Wayne Rauh Studio Theater in Carnegie Mellon’s Purnell Center, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland.

Wilde: "Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it."

Wilde: “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.”

L’HOTEL by Ed Dixon. Nov. 13 – Dec. 14, Pittsburgh Public Theater

What do Oscar Wilde and Isadora Duncan have in common with Jim Morrison of The Doors and opera composer Gioachino Rossini? Though none were French, all are buried in the historic Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. And, along with two natively French but equally dead icons—Victor Hugo and Sarah Bernhardt—they are characters in L’Hotel, a play that resurrects these strange grave-fellows for a few rounds of high-spirited bickering about life, art, and the meanings thereof. The Public’s production is a world premiere. Playwright Ed Dixon promises some entertaining intellectual fisticuffs but no resolution, noting that the residents of L’Hotel are doomed to “duke it out in eternity.” At the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District.

THE TROJAN WOMEN: A LOVE STORY by Charles Mee. Nov. 13 – 22, Carnegie Mellon School of Drama

Radical remakes of old works of theater are red-hot. The surprise hit in Chicago this season has been Sean Graney’s All Our Tragic, an epic 12-hour mashup of numerous ancient Greek tragedies, while Pittsburgh’s No Name Players scored with Fixing King John, by Kirk Lynn, which re-cast Shakespeare’s king as a tough-talking construction boss in a hard hat. Such plays don’t succeed merely on gimmickry. They deliver the goods, bringing old stories to throbbing modern life. In that vein comes The Trojan Women: A Love Story, written by the idiosyncratic Charles Mee as part of his lifelong “(re)making project.” The play is an updated riff on Euripides’ The Trojan Women, and its subject is one that remains all too pertinent: the shocking toll of war and conquest. Philip Chosky Theater in Carnegie Mellon’s Purnell Center, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland.

This old studio portrait of Judy Holliday clearly shows the inner spark outshining the glitz.

This old studio portrait of Holliday shows the inner spark outshining the glitz.

SMART BLONDE by Willy Holtzman. Nov. 15 – Dec. 21, City Theatre

Judy Holliday, who put on a silly Betty Boop-ish accent to play ditzy blondes in movies of the 1950s, was in fact known as one of the smartest women in show business. She won an Oscar for Best Actress as a naïve but not-so-dumb gangster’s moll in Born Yesterday, navigated niftily between Hollywood and Broadway, and outfoxed interrogators who wanted her to name names of suspected Communist sympathizers during the blacklisting era. Smart Blonde traces Holliday’s remarkable life and times, in a music-filled new play commissioned and given its world premiere by City Theatre. Playwright Willy Holtzman also wrote The Morini Strad, which City premiered in 2010. Smart Blonde, with Andréa Burns in the title role, is at the Lester Hamburg Studio Theater adjacent to 1300 Bingham St., South Side.

"Irving Berlin’s White Christmas 2013," national touring company. Photo: Kevin White

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas 2013,” national touring company. Photo: Kevin White

IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS: THE MUSICAL, Nov. 18-23, and DISNEY’S NEWSIES, Nov. 25-30, national touring companies at Benedum Center

Once upon a time, plays were made into movies. Now movies are reverse-engineered for the stage, as in these two touring musicals. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is from Paramount Pictures, which produced the film of that name (with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) decades ago. Disney’s Newsies, which won Tony Awards in 2012 for Best Score and Choreography, is adapted from the 1992 movie, based loosely on the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York. Both shows feature top-notch song and dance, and are brought to town by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s PNC Broadway Across America series. 237 7th St., Cultural District.

Broadway company of "Newsies." Photo: Deen van Meer.

Broadway company of “Newsies.”
Photo: Deen van Meer.

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by Tennessee Williams. Nov. 20 – Dec. 6, barebones productions

If the only version of Streetcar you have seen is the vintage film with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, it’s certainly one for the ages, but the power of a live performance is something else. If you are a fan of barebones productions—the upstart theater company that did another tainted-love sizzler last year, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherfucker With the Hat—then maybe this Streetcar is the ride you’ve waited for. Barebones will spice the steamy New Orleans tale with touches of Steel City flavor. Tami Dixon, creator of the one-woman show South Side Stories, plays the pivotal role of Blanche DuBois, and Pittsburgh music legends Joe Grushecky and John Gresh will play live blues. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side.

Black & white photos: Oscar Wilde, by Napoleon Sarony. Judy Holliday, uncredited.

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

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