"Momentum" has momentum. City Theatre's saturation weekend of new plays and related festivity at its five-building South Side campus is back for the fourth year, with highlights including actor Anthony Rapp reading from his new book, a performance by singer-songwriter Bill Deasy and four new plays, one of them by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, writer of "The Sensational Spider-man" for Marvel Comics.
Where: City Theatre, 13th and Bingham, South Side.
When: Six readings and 10 performances, plus panels, workshops and parties, tonight through Sunday.
Tickets: Free to subscribers; otherwise $5 per event or Festival Pass for $30; 412-431-2489.
The weekend is mainly about new plays, of course. Artistic director Tracy Brigden says a first public reading is "the moment when the play goes from being solitary to being a collaboration. There's a tremendous amount of energy and excitement. ... You're there for a birth -- you actually participate and you might influence the art."
Since there are four news plays at once, there's an intensified "exchange of ideas in the lobbies, at the talkbacks or parties. ... Besides, if the play turns out to be the next 'Death of a Salesman,' you can say you were there at the start."
Adding to the excitement is a remarkable roster of actors, both local and out-of-town.
The busy weekend starts tonight at 6:30 with the Frankel Awards, given since 1994 in honor of Robert M. Frankel, originally for lifetime achievement and more recently to recognize commitment to the creation and support of the new plays that are City's stock in trade.
This year's award recipients are former City board president Leonard Perfido and standout actor Helena Ruoti. Perfido has served on the City board, off-and-on, since 1986. Among much else, he helped negotiate the theater's independence from the University of Pittsburgh and served as architect for the transformation of an ancient South Side church and parsonage into its current home. One of Pittsburgh's leading actors, Ruoti is a former Post-Gazette performer of the year and has appeared in 20 City plays, right back to its first year.
The weekend's four new plays, in varying stages of development and all contenders for future full production at City, are Aguirre-Sacasa's "The Muckle Man," a mystical tale of the sea; Michele Lowe's "Mezzulah, 1946," about a woman factory worker faced with the men coming back from the war; Etan Frankel's "Paralyzed," about lonely strangers and a suicide note; and Stephen O'Rourke's "Peas and Carrots," a handful of quirky, absurdist short comedies.
Aguirre-Sacasa is a fertile playwright whose "Muckle Man" was workshopped at the Manhattan Theatre Club and whose autobiographical comedy, "Based on a Totally True Story," is just now previewing there.
Lowe's theater and screenwriting credits are equally voluminous, and her "String of Pearls" premiered at City and later received an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for best off-Broadway play. Frankel (no relation to Robert Frankel) has also been widely produced; most recently, his "Create Fate" was at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. O'Rourke's "Peas and Carrots" was a critical success at the New York City Fringe Festival, and his earlier play, "Shardston," was directed by Brigden at New York's Alchemy Theatre.
The last three playwrights will appear jointly Friday at 6 p.m. on a playwrights' panel, one of the dependable highlights of Momentum. O'Rourke will also give a 5 p.m. Sunday writing workshop.
Rapp, who starred in City's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (and in "Rent" on Broadway), will read from his book "Without You" at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. Deasy will perform at a City Special party Friday at 9:30 p.m.
6:30 p.m. Frankel Awards, followed by reception.
8 p.m. Reading of "Mezzulah, 1946."
6 p.m. Playwrights panel.
8 p.m. Reading of "Paralyzed."
9:30 p.m. City Special with Bill Deasy.
2 p.m. Reading of "Mezzulah, 1946."
6:15 p.m. Anthony Rapp reads from "Without You."
8 p.m. Reading of "The Muckle Man."
5 p.m. Writing workshop with Stephen O'Rourke.
7 p.m. Reading of "Peas and Carrots."
Throughout the weekend, performances continue, in City's two theaters, of its current offerings, John Belluso's "Pyretown" and the premiere of Michael Hollinger's "Opus," both playing Thurs.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 5:30 and 9 p.m. and Sun. 2 p.m. Tickets to those plays are $15-$40.
"Momentum" directors are Brigden, Lou Jacob, Sheila McKenna and Kellee Van Aken.
Actors include Robin Abramson, Elena Alexandratos, Maria Becoates Bey, Christina Cataldo, David Conrad, Tami Dixon, Michael Fuller, Martin Giles, Holli Hamilton, Billy Hartung, Laurie Klatscher, Daniel Krell, Tasha Lawrence, Larry John Meyers, Elena Passarello, Anthony Rapp, Carter Redwood, Joshua Reese, Joel Ripka, Michael Solomon, Mark Staley and Robin Walsh.
Post-Gazette theater editor Christopher Rawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1666.