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"The Proposal" & "To Hell and Back"

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Dazzling: Erica Olden in Microscopic Opera's "To Hell and Back"
  • Dazzling: Erica Olden in Microscopic Opera's "To Hell and Back"

For a theater freak like me, there's something to be said for being dragged out of your comfort zone now and then ... and into the world of opera. Pittsburgh's newest performance troupe, Microscopic Opera, premieres two works of contemporary opera: "The Proposal" by Milton Granger and "To Hell and Back," with a score by Jake Heggie and libretto by Gene Scheer. Although self-contained, each one-act play/opera, in its way, examines the role of a woman in a marriage.

"The Proposal" is what used to be called a divertissement. At lights up, an unseen man asks a woman to marry him, and suddenly it's "all hands" time, as the various parts of her personality are called upon to evaluate the proposal. Her carnal side; her child-like, joy-loving side; her dour, watchful side, etc. -- all get a chance to give her superego their, um, her two cents. Directed by Lisa Anne Goldsmith, with musical direction by Microscopic co-founder Andres Cladera, it's a cute if slight idea, and Granger has the sense to keep it brief and economical.

But you don't realize just how slight it is until Heggie and Scheer roll out "To Hell and Back." In this two-person one-act, Stephanie is newly married to a man who beats her; Anne, her mother-in-law, does what she can to get Stephanie away from her lethal son.

It's a soaring, heartbreaking piece, an incredibly beautiful -- and painful -- bit of theater. And it's all made especially moving by the work, again, of Goldsmith and Cladera.

I want to salute the cast of "The Proposal" for finding, and playing, all of the abundant humor. And I absolutely need to make special mention of the dazzling voices and performances -- with protean musical accompaniment by William Larson -- of Erica Olden and, most especially, Carissa Kett, as daughter and mother-in-law. With Matthew Carraher's remarkable set, Microscopic Opera is a very welcome addition to the local scene.

 

"The Proposal" and "To Hell and Back" continue through Sun., March 14. Grey Box Theatre, 3595 Butler St., Lawrenceville. www.microscopicopera.org

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