Stage Preview: Young actors say friendship helps in 'Moonlight Room'

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Tom Gigliotti
John Magaro and Lydia Burns star in City Theatre's "The Moonlight Room.".
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"The Moonlight Room"

WHERE: City Theatre, Lester Hamburg Studio, South Side.

WHEN: Through Dec. 12 (no show Thanksgiving). Tues. 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 5:30 and 9 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.

TICKETS: $15-$40; 412-431-CITY or

Lydia Burns flounces into the Gordon Lounge at City Theatre in search of hot water for tea. With her red hair in pigtails and a layered leather-and-lace outfit that screams secondhand chic, the 22-year-old University of Pittsburgh student looks more like Pippi Longstocking than a serious actress co-starring in Tristine Skyler's "The Moonlight Room," which is now in previews for its regional theater (i.e. post-New York City) premiere.

Her counterpart in this show is John Magaro, a Point Park University senior whose look is that of a teenage John F. Kennedy Jr., but whose manner and words make you think he's far older and wiser than his 21 years.

Together, they are nothing short of darling, a too-cute-for-words duo who finish each other's sentences, giggle over the fact that their combined collegiate and professional schedules leave little time for sleep, and fidget endlessly, especially her.

"Hey, we're still child actors," they offer, practically in unison.

In short, their offstage chemistry is so charming and captivating you can't help but root for their success -- not just in this show, but in life.

Burns, a 2000 graduate of the city's high school for the Creative and Performing Arts and a Gene Kelly Awards Best Actress, makes her City Theatre debut by way of Sarah Lawrence University and the University of Amsterdam where she has pursued academics, relegating her acting work to summers.

"I have a lot of interests," Burns said while fiddling with a tea bag. "I thought, 'I'll just exorcise my academic demons.' "

She settled on the University of Pittsburgh and will graduate in December with degrees in art history and the history and philosophy of science.

Armed with an Equity card earned courtesy of "Moonlight," Burns plans to head to New York to pursue theater, but not on Broadway. Her taste and sensibilities lean toward the experimental, the avant-garde.

"I want to do many things," she said. "I want to be a Renaissance woman."

Magaro, whose passion outside of theater is politics -- he's Point Park's point man for John Kerry's presidential campaign -- also plans to head to New York following graduation in May, Equity card also in hand.

The youngest of James and Wendy's two boys, Magaro has wanted to do nothing but act, and he has done just that since childhood in Stow, Ohio, just outside of Akron.

He looked into programs at DePaul University, Ohio University and Juilliard before opting for Point Park's Conservatory program, attracted by the professional company attached to it. What's more, Magaro knew the city because his father is a native of Natrona Heights.

"I grew up coming to Pittsburgh," he said. "We always came to Pirates games."

Magaro made a notable debut at City Theatre last year in the world premiere of Adam Rapp's "Gompers." He has appeared with the Playhouse Repertory Company, Conservatory Company, Jewish Theatre Festival and the Ohio Shakespeare Festival.

Burns has worked professionally with Unseam'd Shakespeare, Pittsburgh Musical Theatre, Quantum, Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre and Starlight productions.

"Moonlight" marks the first time the two have been on stage together, although they run in the same circle of theater friends. That pre-show friendship made auditions easier and has been key in developing their onstage personas.

"It's helped in the process," Magaro said. "It's helped for our relationship as friends on stage."

"Moonlight" is set in the waiting room of a New York City Hospital, where at 2 a.m. 16-year-olds Sal and Joshua are waiting for word on their friend Lightfield, who has overdosed on a club drug. During the long night, the two friends banter and brood and are finally joined by Sal's single mother (played by Laurie Klatscher), Lightfield's widowed dad (Ray Anthony Thomas) and Joshua's stepbrother, Adam, a medical resident (Jarrod DiGiorgi).

Already in previews, "Moonlight" opens Wednesday, but because of class work, neither Burns nor Magaro has time for pre-show jitters. In between rehearsals, Burns has been writing papers and studying physics, while Magaro has been cramming in for his only non-theater class, natural sciences.

"We both have tests on Wednesday," Magaro said.

Johnna Pro can be reached at or 412-263-1574.


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