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Welcome Back: For University of Pittsburgh Stages, a change in name, not values

By John Lavanga - A&E Editor

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The University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theater has developed a knack for putting on plays that pose a challenge to all involved — audience included. So it is no surprise that this semester’s lineup is aimed at keeping this run of evocative plays going, though possibly under a different name.

According to marketing coordinator Josh Storey, Pitt Repertory Theater will undergo a name change this year, adopting the moniker “University of Pittsburgh Stages,” a name he feels represents “the act of constant change that the act of crafting and performance brings about.”

Apart from this change in title, Pitt Stages has made few changes to its overall focus and will continue its practice of holding one mainstage performance, the play “Venus” written by Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Pitt professor Cynthia Croot, and three student labs: “Ashes to Ashes” by Harold Pinter, “The Mustache” by Sabina Berman and “Machinal” by Sophie Treadwell. 

Each of the plays selected for the season carries elements that seem certain to inspire conversation. Parks’ “Venus,” which was selected by Croot because of the way it explores the true story of the exploitation of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, a South African woman who traveled to England in the 19th Century in pursuit of a better life. After arriving, she was put on display around Europe in a freak show as well as in museums. 

It is a play that, as Croot wrote in an email, “is a study in what happens when a person stops being ‘a person’ in the eyes of others, when personal interactions become commodified and when we lose our moral compass.” 

The play, which will be put on between Oct. 24 and Nov. 10, will be staged in the Studio Theater, and Croot looks forward to utilizing the “intimate and just a bit foreboding” atmosphere to make audiences feel as though they are observers of exhibitions similar to those which featured Sarah Baartman.

Croot hopes that audiences will walk away with the understanding that “without compassion, none of us are human.”

The student labs won’t shy away from controversy either. Between Oct. 2 and 6, “Ashes to Ashes” and “The Mustache” will both be staged in the Henry Heymann Theatre. Though both plays’ conversations revolve around the discussions between a man and a woman, they broach rather disparate topics.

“Ashes to Ashes” will be directed by Peter Woods, a Ph.D. student who has nearly 30 years of experience in theater and has directed plays in both academic and nonacademic theater. Woods described the play as “ostensibly [a] conversation between two people looking to get married,” which cuts to cryptic images of Nazi soldiers. According to Woods, These dark undertones allow the play to examine “the relationship we have to violence.”

“The Mustache,” which will be directed by Ph.D. student Christiana Molldrem Harkulich, is a short play about the relationship between an effeminate man and a masculine woman who share a removable mustache. Harkulich wrote in an email that “the mustache becomes a marker for the gendered roles that they play within their own relationship as well as without the larger social constructs,” resulting in a playful exploration of gender roles.

The final student lab, “Machinal,” will also be staged in the Henry Heymann Theater from Nov. 6 to 10. The play follows the life of Ruth Snyder, whose high-profile murder trial becomes a tabloid sensation. Ph.D. student Maria Enriquez, who brings theater experience from Chicago and Cleveland, will direct the play, and says that the sexism she saw during the recent election cycle inspired her to select it. 

Enriquez sees value in the play’s portrayal of Snyder as a woman who struggles to live up to the traditional roles placed upon her “despite her own feeling of being suffocated in these roles.” Enriquez also seeks to utilize the theater’s three-fourths thrust layout in order to “enclose the action” of the play and allow the audience to explore.

As always, Pitt Stages will hold auditions open to all Pitt students. They will take place from Sept. 3 to 4 in the Studio Theater, and students can sign up on the 16th floor of the Cathedral of Learning or online at play.pitt.edu. Before auditions, there will be an audition workshop on Aug. 29 from 6 to 10 p.m. in which students can work on their monologues directly with professors. 

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Welcome Back: For University of Pittsburgh Stages, a change in name, not values