The Pittsburgh New Works Festival has occupied several different venues in its 23 years. But if this year’s opening night was any indication, its new home is quite suitable.
Off the Wall Theater, in Carnegie, was at close to capacity for last night’s first performance of the first of four programs of three new one-acts each that comprise the fest.
The festival is an ambitious grassroots affair that each year solicits previously unproduced scripts from around the country — even internationally — and matches them with smaller local theater companies.
This is the first year the festival is offering individual one-acts on more than one weekend, making it easier to catch them. The programs include both comedies and dramas.
The best reason to see Program A is “Moon Over Gomorrah,” a well-crafted farce by Rochester, N.Y.-based playwright Byron Wilmot, well-directed by Jacob Wadsworth for the Duquesne University Red Masquers. The play about well-meaning small-town parents who have convinced themselves that their son is about to come out — and who therefore won’t accept his protestations that he’s straight — is strongly acted by the night’s best ensemble, led by Dave Joseph and Ashley Krysinksi as the parents.
The evening led off with “All Things to All People,” a clever bit of meta-theater. Local playwright Kyle Zielinsky depicts a comical home invasion by a disgruntled playwright against a supercilious theater critic, but shortly shifts into a playful mode where characters aware of themselves as characters shift roles to play out different scenarios by altering the gender and race of the actor. There’s some wit here, and the cast, directed by Naomi Grodin for the Baldwin Players, is game. But mightn’t Zielinsky’s sacred cow, political correctness, be a less apt target than plots that force actors into generic roles of persecutor/victim/avenger, etc? Why not just write people?
Program A’s third offering had the funniest title and the most promising concept. Pittsburgh-based David Katzin’s “Suddenly, Last Supper,” directed by Gail Hofbauer for the Summer Company, spoofingly conflates Tennessee Williams and the New Testament: Grumpy old Southern lady Mrs. Mary interrogates “harlot” Magdalene (who naturally becomes “Maggie”) about the mysterious disappearance of her late son’s body, and learns some untoward things about him in the process. Katzin is cheekily irreverent about his targets, with some sly digs at both Williams’ poetics and Christian orthodoxy. But it’s ultimately a better idea than an actual play, one that strains for laughs (it’s hard to make on-stage electro-shock treatments funny) and goes on a bit too long.
Despite the unevenness of the productions, New Works is worth checking out for its occasional gems and up-and-coming talent. Program A, reviewed here, continues with performances 5 p.m. Sat., Sept. 7; 8 p.m. Sun., Sept. 8; 8 p.m. Fri., Sept. 13; and 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., Sept. 14.
Program B, including three different new one-acts, opens at 8 p.m. tonight and continues with four additional performances through next weekend.
The festival’s remaining two programs, C and D, open the following week and continue through the weekend of Sept. 28-29.
Tickets are $12-17 per program, and a festival pass is $40. For complete program information, see here.