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Pittsburgh Pride Theater Festival

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Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Co.'s fourth annual showcase of plays on LGBT themes is split into two programs.

Program A. Two dramas complement a pair of outright farces in the festival's slate of one-acts by local playwrights. The opener is "And a Happy New Year," in which three high school friends (two guys and a girl) confront college by realigning into an isosceles love triangle. There is some sensitive writing by Aaron Jefferson Tindall, with moments of insight about coming out and what happens when pals fall in love. But the able, cute-as-bugs cast can't overcome the baggy structure, or a heavy-handed climax that dumps the piece over the guardrail into near-tragedy.

"The Session," by Wali Jamal, is a screechy comedy about a female couple and a dubious marriage counselor. The cast works hard, and the script offers a couple good laughs and a glimmer of interest in matching lovers from different cultures. But the piece ends with a thud. (Actually, two thuds.)

Ryan M. McKelvey's "Beyond Dirt Knees" changes pace. It's an elliptical, poetic, time-hopping drama in 11 short scenes, its main characters a young man employed at a nursery and an elderly writer trying to complete a poem. Despite some awkward staging by director Jeffrey R. Simpson (and several badly flubbed tech cues on this opening-night performance), "Beyond" intrigues through McKelvey's ear for dialogue. Emotionally, the play suggests more than it manages to show, but does so with significant force.

The crowd-pleaser, and the night's most fully realized piece, was Pride Fest vet Carol Mullen's "Call Girl," a skillful comedy about a woman hiding her phone-sex gig from her new girlfriend. Mullen's one-lingers zing; Jamal, here directing, paces things perfectly and lets us exit laughing. 8 p.m. Fri., June 22; 4 p.m. Sat., June 23; and 7 p.m. Sun., June 24. 

-Bill O'Driscoll


Program B. Ginny Gibbs and Eliza Webb want to get married. The mayor of Grover's Corners, the idyllic small town, supports their union. The newspapers have readied their cameras. The only impediment is Margaret Warren Craig, a municipal worker who refuses to issue the marriage license, or even the application.

Contrary to popular belief, New Hampshire is not Vermont. Similarly shaped, also scattered with stone churches and red barns, New Hampshire has been less interested in civil unions. In Their Town, a world premiere, playwright Paula Martinac imagines that these two women sue the state and set off a chain reaction of protest. The mayor insists that all this will put Grover's Corners "on the map." But the village has already been charted: It's the setting for Thornton Wilder's Our Town, the most-produced high school play in America. In Martinac's update, the townspeople are cranky, the economy is dry, and the biggest news is a new lamppost. A gay marriage could make the evening news!

On the surface, Their Town is scattershot, clichéd and anchored by a silly gimmick -- a statue of Thornton Wilder, situated in the park, dispenses wholesome advice. But for anyone interested in gay marriage, Their Town is also a rare resource: Martinac has mastered the voice of small-town New Englanders, the unique way they can politely damage each other. In rural New Hampshire, the political isn't just personal; it's very personal. Martinac, moreover, understands the fear of flashbulbs and lawyers in a provincial place where people just want to be left alone.

For an issue so highly publicized, it's astounding that to date no one has produced a major movie, or an off-Broadway drama, or even a great number of books about gay marriage. With sensible revision, Martinac's play could be not only trailblazing but also exceptional.

The talents of the cast are uneven, but the actors are committed and well directed by Adam Kukic. As Margaret Warren Craig, the divorced, politically torn secretary, Diana Ifft rides a long roller coaster of conflicting emotions. And although the shtick is nonsensical, the statue of Thornton Wilder is played with gentlemanly aplomb by Todd Betker. 8 p.m. Thu., June 21; 8 p.m. Sat., June 23; and 3 p.m. Sun., June 24.

The Pittsburgh Pride Festival continues through Sun., June 24. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Co., 542 Penn Ave., Downtown. $10. 412-388-0358

-Robert Isenberg

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