Stage Reviews: 'Endless Lawns,' 'Dinah' take advantage of intimate settings
March 31, 2015 12:00 AM
Laurie Klatscher, left, and Cary Anne Spear portray twin sisters and former rich party girls in The Rep's production of "Endless Lawns."
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
World premieres are playing at two of Pittsburgh’s most intimate venues: the family drama “Endless Lawns” and the bio-musical “Dinah,” about Queen of the Blues Dinah Washington.
Pittsburgh Playhouse’s intimate Studio Theatre might seem like a strange choice for a play titled “Endless Lawns,” but it’s just right as an illustration of larger-than-life lives forced into a tiny patch of exile from the rich and famous.
In Anthony McKay’s world-premiere play at The Rep, unearthing the past brings on a season of revelation and renewal.
Fraternal twin sisters Torch (Laurie Klatscher) and Flo (Carry Anne Spear) have been brought to “which bills do we pay this month?” poverty by their movie-star father, who has left everything to a 20-something mistress. Brought up along the lines of party girls Paris and Nicky Hilton, they have fallen into a cycle of alcoholism and menial jobs, Torch at Kmart and Flo at a florist.
Things are looking up for Torch, who is three years sober and about to become engaged to regular guy Ray (Jason McCune), the store manager who once mowed the vast lawns on her father’s estate. Acerbic Flo, a failed actress, isn’t so sure about this union and needles her sister endlessly.
Stephanie Mayer-Staley’s staging, with an assist from day-to-night lighting by Todd Brown, makes the most of the small space, where we can imagine the women gazing at a neighbor’s field from a rickety porch.
There’s a lot of belief to suspend in “Endless Lawns.” But within the confines of the narrow world he has created, Mr. McKay has crafted four potent parts to play.
“Endless Lawns,” The Rep, the professional company of Point Park University, at Studio Theatre, Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. Through April 12. 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. No performance April 5; additional performance 8 p.m. April 1. Tickets: $24-$27; 412-392-8000 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.
The songstress Dinah Washington lived large in her 39 years, including seven marriages and a reputation for fits of temper. We are told early on, “She can cut you off at the knees, but the lady sure can sing.”
“Dinah” at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company stars Delana Flowers, a model-thin singer who resembles Diana Ross and channels Dinah Washington’s well-documented volatility — “Stormy Weather,” indeed. The singer’s string of failed marriages was part of a quest to be loved as Ruth Jones, not the woman who took a stage name at a bar owner’s whim. The Queen of the Blues exudes confidence in her music but also a self-loathing streak — her death has been attributed to crash diets and overuse of weight-control pills.
To take us on Dinah’s journey, the show by writer-director Ernest McCarty has Ms. Flowers singing up a storm of standards. She doesn’t quite emulate the late singer’s style but has vocal chops of her own and engages the audience with a playful attitude.
Songs include “Makin’ Whoopee,” “But Not for Me,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay” and many more. With Mr. McCarty on keyboards, a smooth four-piece ensemble includes Lou Stellute (sax), Andrew Kirk (drums) and Mikes Jackson (bass).
Dinah tells us that if one song title could sum up her life, it would be “This Bitter Earth,” but “Dinah,” the musical, is an upbeat celebration of an American artist.
“Dinah,” Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, 937 Liberty Ave., third floor, Downtown. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $27.50 ($22.50 for students and 65+); www.pghplaywrights.com.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.
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