Stage review

'Lives of the Saints' a witty satire at CMU

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David Ives has filled American theaters with a steady stream of popular plays since "All in the Timing" debuted in 1993. Last year, "Venus in Fur" was the most produced play in the country -- 22 stagings -- yet it skipped over Pittsburgh. (Too racy?)

Instead, Mr. Ives' fans must be content with "Lives of the Saints," a Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama production smartly directed by Gregory Lehane, supported by CMU's first-rate production staff led by scenic designer David Peters and sound designer Abigail Nover.

'Lives of the Saints'

Where: Philip Chosky Theater, Purnell Center for the Arts, Carnegie Mellon University, Oakland.

When: 8 p.m. today through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $25; 412-268-2407.

Getting its title from the last of its seven acts, "Lives of the Saints" satirizes our popular culture with Mr. Ives' characteristic wordplay that turns familiar situations into absurdity.

"The Mystery at Twickham Vicarage" flips the classic Agatha Christie locked-room murder puzzle on its head as the usual suspects of pompous Britishers degenerate into, well, degenerates who enjoy sexual congress with the furniture.

The American soap opera with its commercials hawking appliances, so often parodied, takes a new slant when a repairman falls in love with his perfect washing machine, a "Maypole," and tries to take it out to dinner as part of "the ring cycle" of infatuation. It's titled "Soap Opera," naturally, while "Captive Audience" is inspired by the first "Dick Van Dyke Show," including the theme song and the centerpiece TV set that holds Rob and Laura in its control.

Other targets are the Tower of Babel as a real estate development, the word "doppelganger" and a running joke about a translator.

The last scene changes Mr. Ives' snarky tone with a note of endearment. Flo and Edna work hard to make sure the church's funeral breakfast is perfect with loads of food including pierogies. Taylor Rose and Michelle Veintimilla manage passable Chicago accents (Mr. Ives is a native) as they check the Jell-O mold and cake and decide that potato chips are not appropriate for the occasion. It's moving and funny at the same time.

While largely light entertainment, "Lives of the Saints" is full of intellectual puns and references that make us work a little bit for the laughs. Presented with the usual CMU flair for the dramatic, it adds up to a fun night in the theater.

Bob Hoover is the retired book editor of the Post-Gazette and occasional theater reviewer.

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