'The Chalk Line': Dale Toney keeps Attack Theatre mystery lively

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There is always a method to Attack Theatre's madness, especially when the topic is murder. So the company's trademark twists and turns abounded in a "Law and Order"-inspired production, "The Chalk Line," which wound its way around the group's Spring Way Studio in the Strip District.

It was a new treatment of Attack's 2011 "This Is What," but blessed with a better title. As before, the chalk, in the capable hands of Dane Toney, actually provided a cartoonish thread with which to follow this mystery-bound melodrama.

The back wall provided the main canvas for the "Season Two Finale," where Attack kept the best ideas of the original (always in plentiful supply with this communal group), but sharpened the focus, most advantageously seen in the changing relationships between the characters.

The first part was actually haunting and mysterious, especially when mouth organist Stu Braun's sounds were wafting from the corner. Here the interplay between love and death was primarily serious, shades of Woody Allen, with just a touch of whimsy.

But then the audience couldn't ignore the resourceful Mr. Toney, seemingly manipulating the dreamlike events, where time moved back and forth like the buttons on a television recorder.

And like a dream, the teasing flashbacks and seemingly odd connections took hold. So a hanging turned into a game of Hangman and the other characters shot "William Tell." In addition to the wordplay, there was also a play on perspective (remember the chair and tables, with a puzzling rat appearance) that was tied into the demise of victim Liz Chang.

It was like a video game of chess, played on fast forward.

"The Chalk Line" also marked the first performances without both founding directors, Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, who have graciously hinted at this possibility for the past couple of years. What we were left with, though, was a quintet of smooth operators -- Kaitlin Dann, Brent Luebbert and Ashley Williams in addition to Ms. Chang and Mr. Toney.

So "The Chalk Line" also drew a line in the sand. It indicated the start of yet another chapter for the group, which could actually bode well for the future. After all, modern master Paul Taylor hit new choreographic heights after he stopped dancing.

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish: jvranish1@comcast.net. She also blogs on www.pittsburghcrosscurrents.com.

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