Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Washington Symphony Orchestra Gears up for 2014-15 Season

Washington Symphony Orchestra, Yugo Ikach, director

    Most people look to springtime for new things. But, even though it not yet fall, the Washington Symphony Orchestra says now’s  the time for something new.

    A brand new season of WSO concerts is scheduled to open on Saturday, October 11, and season tickets are now available for purchase.
    The season ticket plan includes the October 11, December 6 or December 7, February 14 and May 2 concerts held at Trinity High School, 231 Park Avenue in Washington. Tickets are also sold separately for the annual Chamber concert, set for Sunday, March 8 at First Baptist Church in Washington.

    Ordering season tickets enables patrons to save more over the cost of  single tickets. Adult Season Tickets for all four main concerts are $68 per set. Seniors (65+) and Students (up to 18) run $52 per set. Single tickets are $22 for adults per concert and $17 for seniors and students. Season tickets enable patrons to save on each concert and guarantee admission to an increasingly popular performance by Washington County’s own symphony orchestra.

    If you’d like to bring a group of ten or more people to a concert, please let the WSO know by sending an email to groupsales@washsym.org.   Group sales must be arranged in advance and WSO staff will be happy to work with you.

    In addition, thanks to the support of Washington Financial Bank, Citizens Library of Washington and Peters Township Public Library, WSO patrons may purchase tickets for individual concerts at all bank branches and both libraries three weeks prior to each concert except the chamber concert. The tickets for the chamber concert  are sold online and at the door only due to the smaller venue at First Baptist Church.

    Tickets may be ordered online at washsym.org, by mail (via a downloadable form available on the website), or by calling 1-888-71-TICKETS. For a look at the complete 2014-15 season, visit website www.washsym.org

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Underneath the Lintel" - An Exhilarating Ride to an Unexpected Destination

Randy Kovitz in "Underneath the Lintel"

When I got up from my seat at the Off the Wall Theater, my head was spinning, my heart was thumping, my adrenaline was flowing and I had an inexplicable compulsion to nominate both the playwright and the actor for a Kennedy Center Honors Award.
As Kennywood’s Phantom Revenge is to coaster fans, "Under the Lintel" is to lovers of exhilarating theater.
Probably not for those who like to just sit back and easily digest an evening of light-hearted theatrical fare, this one-character play demands plugging into the story line and concentrating on the literary arabesques and filigree of playwright, Glen Berger’s cleverly-wrought, mental-challenging "existential detective story."
Actor, Randy Kovitz, who also co-directs the play with help from Cameron Knight, portrays a Dutch librarian, an inveterate bureaucrat who breaks out of his mold when he discovers a book that’s more than 100 years overdue in the returns bin.
Like a court prosecutor he stands in front of the audience producing "evidence" he takes out of a worn suitcase, screening photographic slides of his world-crossing quest to find the culprit and posts key words on a blackboard behind him - all to spin one of the strangest narratives imaginable.
The experience left me feeling the opposite of the character in the recently-released sci-fi film "Lucy," in which a young woman accidentally ingests a synthetic drug that allows her to use 100 percent of her brain. Berger’s writing is so brilliant it made me feel that I was tapping into only  a fraction of mine in comparison to his when he wrote the text. As a result, there’s much to ponder in this work, including insights into obsession and the shadowy world of madness.
How Kovitz manages to maneuver in front of an audience for 80 minutes and hold it spellbound with his crisp narrative, adding a good bit of humor with his eccentric idiosyncrasies and without breaking character, missing a line or even once stumbling along the way is mystifying.
Even the title "Under the Lintel" is cleverly woven into the script, first as the catalyst for the introduction to the impalpable mythical figure who propels the play on its adventurous mental journey, then, later, as an important clue to help solidify one’s subjective conclusions inferred by the narrative.
Initially presented at Lawrenceville’s 12 Peers Theater, "Underneath the Lintel" is getting a reprise at Off the Wall Performing Arts Center, 25 W. Main Street in Carnegie, where it will run on August15 and 16 and again on October 2 - 4 and January 29 - 31.
After the performance, when I managed to bow to Kovitz’ genius, he remarked that he recently did the play at a winery near Santa Barbara, California. If his intoxicating presentation had the same effect on that audience as it had on me, it must have been a very sobering experience indeed.
For tickets and other information, phone 1-888-718-4253.

"Underneath the Lintel" in Repertory at the Off the Wall Performing Arts Center

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Tamara" - A Peripatetic Theatrical Experience

Some of the cast of "Tamara" Photo credit Heather Mull

I hope you don’t think I’m some kind of smarty pants by using the somewhat pretentious adjective peripatetic in my title to describe Quantum Theatre’s latest production. In all honesty, it’s the best word I could think of, although A Moveable Feast first crossed my mind, but I knew that Ernest Hemingway had already appropriated that phrase.
Put on comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to scurry about the intricate halls and pathways of Rodef Shalom Congregation, upstairs and down, where you follow one of ten actors (you choose the character) into atriums, rooms large and small, offices and a capacious auditorium. All of these have been transformed by scenic designer Stephanie Mayer-Staley into rooms in an Italian villa set in the 1927 time period of Mussolini’s Fascist government.
The evening starts in the Temple’s beautiful Biblical Garden, where plants mentioned in the Bible are identified with small black and white plaques. There, patrons are served a complimentary glass of sparkling wine and given time to stroll and explore the botanicals before the villa owner’s servant, Dante (Ethan Hova), megaphone in hand, politely announces that the proceedings are about to begin.
But not before the menacing Fascist officer, Aldo Finzi (Robert Turano), done up in a dark and grim commandant’s uniform, threateningly spells out some of the evening’s rules of conduct - no talking during the show, no standing in front of doors, no roaming the halls alone.
But, yes, commandant or not, there is comedy, especially in the amorous scenes of the lead, Gabriele d’Annunzio (Fermin Suarez) and title character, Tamara (Megan MacKenzie Lawerence) that trickle down like some erotic contagion to folks of lesser rank, ie., the servants and hangers-on. Add to the dramatic stew political intrigue, lofty discussions of aesthetics and the power of art, sundry schemes and plots, bits of political history, screams and gunshots, kisses and rebukes and you end up with a unique theatrical experience penned by playright John Krazanc with conceptual help from Richard Rose.
In "Tamara," plot has a secondary feel, mainly because the audience breaks into groups and follows, in different directions, a character of choice. In various places, the narratives unfold simultaneously, allowing each audience member to follow a mere fraction of the entire script. But that doesn’t seem to matter because the threads of the plot line inter-tangle enough to satisfy anyone’s need for a story-line.
To me, the theatrical adventures in "Tamara" are similar to those found on reality TV, where slices of life, in this case scripted, are exposés of individual drama, desires and conflict. The difference is that Krazanc’s dialogue is vastly more interesting, invigorating and cerebral.
Two hours and 45 minutes may seem a bit much of an engagement for anyone’s attention span, but remember that a good bulk of that time is spent outside on the terrace at intermission enjoying an al fresco dinner prepared by some of Pittsburgh’s better caterers and restaurateurs. Dinner and its complimentary glass of wine is included in the price of the ticket, and Quantum has partnered with six different food providers to serve the meal over "Tamara’s" six-week run.
Dinner comes about halfway through the presentation, and it serves as a good opportunity to share with fellow audience members who’ve taken alternate paths in the play bits of what they’ve learned along the way.

Throughout the evening, I mostly followed d"Annunzio, a real life person of importance who actually did meet up with artist Tamara de Lempicka at his villa on the shore of Lake Garda in northern Italy in the time period of the play. Poet, playwright, soldier and later politico who greatly influenced "Il Duce," d’Annunzio is shown as a man with strong desires for women, his nation and his art, which he creates through the written word.
As d’Annunzio, Suarez adroitly captures his character’s strong enthusiasms, often loftily, even poetically. expressed in Krizanc’s text. Surprisingly, I found him at his most poignant when  paired in scenes with his housekeeper, Aelis (Tammy Tsai), a crafty schemer with an adroit mind and Sapphic inclinations, and his chauffeur, Mario (Thomas Constantine Moore), a left-leaning revolutionary with an idealistic earnestness.
As Gian Francesco de Spiga, Ken Bolden made a charming house guest cut from the same cloth as some of the male characters in plays by Noel Coward with much the same wit but a bit more intellect. As Tamara, diminutive Megan MacKenzie Lawrence had the requisite flair and panache to capture the colorful Art Deco artist, whose paintings have been and probably still are included in the collections of Madonna, Barbra Streisand and Jack Nicholson.
I can’t even bear to think of the nightmare job director John Shepard must have had not only rehearsing and blocking the cast but also synchronizing their movements from room to room and getting this 3-dimensional (4-dimensional?) work of art to behave like a mechanism that miraculously comes together like a well-oiled clock.
No marathon I’ve ever been to has ever been so entertaining.
Quantum Theatre’s "Tamara" is at Rodef Shalom Congregation, 4905 Fifth Ave. in Oakland through September 14. For tickets, phone 412-362-1713 or visit websitequantumtheatre.com.
If you’re going, here’s a few things you'll want to know:
A mobile experience
You’ll follow the character(s) of your choice (among 10) around Rodef Shalom. It’s recommended that friends split up to see the story from different perspectives. If mobility is an issue, please call 412-362-1713 to let staffers know:. The theater will be sure to let you know which path will be the easiest.
Dress the part
Quantum is suggesting Tuxedos and Tennis Shoes. You will be entering the grand home of Gabriele d'Annunzio... Dress up a little or make a nod to the period if you wish. Who doesn't love 1920s fashion? But wearing comfortable shoes is a must!
Bag Check
In addition to comfortable shoes, the theater staff thinks you'll be most comfortable if you're not carrying a large bag. Leave it locked in your car in Rodef Shalom's safe parking lot A bag/coat check is also available. Your valuables should be safe after check-in for the duration of the show.
Dining al fresco
An Intermezzo dinner will be served each night. Vegetarian options are available with advance notice. Please call 412-362-1713 to request a vegetarian meal 48 hours before attending.
Time Check
Please note which day you are scheduled to come: Sunday and Tuesday performances begin at 6:30pm. Wed, Thurs, and Saturday performances begin at 7:00 p.m.
Learn More.
Visit the TAMARA website at www.quantumtheatre.com for more information, photos, and videos.

A scene from "Tamara" Photo credit Heather Mull

Monday, August 11, 2014

Thompson House Gets New Life with Opening of Stunning New Restaurant

Dining Room at 12 Oaks
With its new name of the Twelve Oaks Restaurant, you might not immediately guess the recently opened upscale restaurant in the Thompson House has a "Gone with the Wind" theme. But add to that clues like the Carpetbaggers Tavern and the Ashley Banquet Room downstairs and the Rhett Butler Study and the Magnolia private dining room on the second floor and, frankly, my dear, you’d have to be a feather-headed Yankee not to get the connection.
Owners David and Susan Yurkovich started renovating the 21-room, 1906 Thompson House back in February of 2013 and their year and a half long labor of love finally opened on July 22 with the grand opening scheduled for September 6. With executive chef, Gregory Hager at the helm in the kitchen, the menu features American food with Southern influences and a buy-local-and-fresh-whenever-possible mentality.
Now living in nearby Pitt Gas, Hager was born in Cleveland and cut his culinary teeth with experience in British Columbia, Canada, and Seattle where he tutored under Master Chef, Frank Faber. He’s assisted in the kitchen by a phalanx of four others including sous chef, Seth French, whose experience includes a stint at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington.
Twelve Oaks’ bill of fare alludes to its Southern aspirations with dishes like Scarlett’s Chicken, Rhett’s Filet Mignon, Carpetbagger Pasta and Gulf Shrimp and Grits, but it also crosses over into other territory with selections like Lobster Mac and Cheese, Figs with Blue Cheese and Proscuitto and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes. At the moment, the kitchen’s shining star is the Slow Braised Lamb Shank with a port wine reduction served atop garlic confit mashed potatoes, which has also proved to be the most popular dish on the menu.
Patrons wanting a more casual setting can settle in at the Carpetbagger’s Tavern and dine on such favorite as the Mule Burger - a one-pound mix of ground beef and sausage served on a bun made fresh by Emma’s Bake Shopper of Carmichaels, another relative new comer on the local culinary scene.
"We hope that our goal of combining great food and service with warm hospitality prove a winning combination," said Susan Yurkovich. "The restaurant has been my dream for a long time, and I’ve put my heart and soul into making it happen."
Open for lunch as well as dinner, Twelve Oaks also features a Sunday buffet brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $23.95 per person or $12.95 for those twelve and under. (Senior citizens get a 10% discount).
Upstairs, an elegant afternoon tea is available in the Bonnie Blue Tea Room, and patrons can also peruse the antiques and other interesting merchandise in the onsite specialty shops.
"We are thrilled to introduce Twelve Oaks Restaurant and Tavern to the community," Susan Yurkovich said. "And we look forward to sharing our enthusiasm for Brownsville, the Thompson House and its rich history with our guests."
Twelve Oaks Restaurant, 815 Water Street in Brownsville, is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and for brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Phone 724-785-3200. The menu and other information such as the history of the Thompson House is available on website www.twelveoaksbrownsville.com.