Most theater-goers have that once-a-year night. They want to catch a show, but they just don't have the time. And it's always so expensive. And who'll take care of the kids? This bellyaching continues, month after month, and every time they open the paper, they say, "Oh, hon, The Lion King is in town!" "But we have that on DVD." "No, the Broadway show." "Oh, no kidding? The kids would love it." But still they wait, because it just slips their minds. And then fall comes ...
If you're one of these people, now is the season for that once-a-year night -- when you throw on that suede blazer or silky blouse, the one you've always wanted to Wear Out. This is the time for that romantic dinner, no matter how long you two have been together. Walking to the marquee, you run into Harold and Suzanne. ("You're seeing this too? I didn't know you were theater people!" "Oh, we've been going for years. We have a subscription.") You just feel so elegant, lively. You're getting some culture. When you sink in the theater's plush seat, you realize that you've forgotten the joy of flipping through a program, scanning the head-shots ("Oh, look, this guy was in that Scrubs episode you liked.") The lights dim. You hurriedly dig through your purse and turn off your cell phone.
When the lights come up, you feel exhilarated, and maybe a little sad. These are live people, seen in three dimensions, their voices so commanding, their movements so precise. How could you forget how much you enjoy this? The costumes, the makeup, the calculated glances and asides -- and the way the audience laughs, all together, a ripple of communal mirth, louder and heartier than in any movie theater. The way the actor says, "Because I never loved you, Esther" -- and that old woman in the back, way behind you, just says, "Uh!" like she's been socked in the kidney.
If this sounds like you, I beg you to take that once-a-year night this autumn, because you will truly regret missing this season. The lifespan of a live theater production is two or three weeks, and then it's gone forever. You can't TiVo Jeffrey Hatcher's Murderers, because you can't replicate these three dark-comic monologues on film -- you can only see it at City Theatre, sometime between Nov. 8 and Dec. 16. You'll never catch The America Play on reruns, because Suzan-Lori Parks -- Pulitzer-winner, Tony-winner, MacArthur "genius" fellow -- has never had her plays cinematized, so you must see her break-out opus at Open Stage Theatre (Oct. 19-Nov. 4). The America Play discusses race, history and American society, using the surreal settings and poetic language that make Parks' work such a head-trip.
Tired of flipping channels? See Amy Hartman's The Chicken Snake (Nov. 15-Dec. 9) performed by the Playhouse REP, or Matt Smith's Bridge Club (Nov. 15-Dec. 1) at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre; both are about relationships being torn apart by overly strong personalities ... but in a funny way. You're guaranteed something new, because they've never been performed before -- by anyone, anywhere.
But don't see these shows for silly reasons. Don't go because you "need some culture," or you're "supporting an actor friend," or your spouse wanted you to go. Go because it's fun. Go because it feels a little strange and exotic. See Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors at the Public Theater (Oct. 4-Nov. 4) for the challenge of comprehending Elizabethan English. Or see Quantum Theatre's Therese Raquin (Sept. 27-Oct. 14) because you can't believe that anyone would stage a play in the basement of the Braddock Library and because, frankly, you've never read anything by Emile Zola; plus you heard that it's a sort of Hitchcockian suspense story, complete with murder-by-drowning and a freaky mother-in-law. Who knew that Victorian French literature could be awesome?
So seize that one night. And if you hate it, see something else. In Pittsburgh, there are plenty of shows to go around.