Stage Review: 'Winthrop' tussles with tough questions

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The plot of "Winthrop Was Stubborn" is simple enough:

Characters from 1950s America are trapped in a disconcerting future with no possibility of return, unless they can convince one among them that the benefits of that future -- near perfect health care, instant transportation and truly equal access to pretty much anything -- are outweighed by how uncomfortable such a world is for them.


The image of author William Tenn, whose real name is Phil Klas, is seen in the backdrop of the play "Winthrop Was Stubborn."
Click photo for larger image.

'Winthrop Was Stubborn'

Where: 911 Penn Ave. (part of the Three Rivers Arts Festival's 4th River Project).

When: 8-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7-9 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $5 (4th River Pass); at door or at www.artsfestival.net.

On the whole, the play does a marvelous job, given a black box theater space, no main curtain for scene changes and the fact that, last Friday, director David Brody had to step in and read one of the parts.

"Winthrop" was adapted by John Regis from the 1957 William Tenn novella of the same name.

The main fixture of the smartly economical set is a backdrop of translucent plastic squares that the narrator (author Tenn) is projected upon in big-headed "Wizard of Oz" fashion. The backdrop alternately serves as a scrim of silhouette scenes, and it meshes well with the smoke, lights, and booming narration.

It's all very Buck Rogers.

Leighhann Nile DeLorenzo is quite engaging as a muckle-mouthed and optimistically sensuous young woman trying to make sense of a world without romance, sacrifice or much in the way of emotional attachments.

T.R. Butler is as memorable in his role as her future-world romantic interest who can't seem to get over how "greasy" makeup feels on her skin or how devoid of mortal peril his own life is (tales of morning commutes strike him as swashbuckling adventures).

But the power of the play isn't in the performance so much as the not-at-all simple ramifications, taken from the original tale. Of course, science fiction -- like fantasy, fairy tale and myth -- can open audiences to questions of truth, ethics and philosophy.

But in "Winthrop," it's especially noticeable that sci-fi offers the added benefit of the nagging possibility that we might well be confronting these problems at some point. It's much more than a thwarted tale of "there's no place like home."

After all, if we do solve world hunger, marshal the fabric of time-space for our use and loll about in some idyllic wonderland, it's a safe bet that someone will be stubborn.


Philip A. Stephenson can be reached at pstephenson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1419.


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