‘Churchill’ explores range of social satire

By Emma Kilcup

“Churchill in Short(s)?”

Tuesday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday… “Churchill in Short(s)?”

Tuesday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Directed by Tommy Costello

Henry Heymann Theatre


Grade: A


In “Churchill in Short(s)?,” when psychiatrist Doctor Hodge (Fred Pelzer) walks onto the stage in a tweed jacket and black-plastic-framed glasses to begin summarizing each of the characters, the act seems easy to predict: Hodge, a Freudian psychoanalyst, will come to a realization that the problem is rooted in the mother and all will be fixed.

But this is not the case. As the story progresses and Hodge is, himself, a character to analyze, the only reliable element is the audience’s intrigue.

Until Sunday at Pitt’s Henry Heymann Theatre, director Tommy Costello will present three one-act plays drawing from English playwright Caryl Churchill’s dramas. Though all remarkably different and hailing from different time periods, “Lovesick,” “This is a Chair” and “The After Dinner Joke” share themes of social and political criticism that still resonate today.

“Lovesick” begins the series of one-acts by introducing Doctor Hodge and a drama that examines sexuality within a family. Although serious issues arise — such as one son’s closeted homosexuality and a mother’s affair with a car salesman — they are presented in a decidely humorous manner.

When the doctor’s selfish motives propel him to alter the sexuality of his patients, for instanace, two German shepherd dogs, played by Amanda Leslie and Kevin Christian, comically interrupt the scene by sniffing around the floor and patting characters for attention.

Pelzer balances his role well with constant commentary — extolling his love for a character, Ellen, while simultaneously carrying on a conversation with her — all in a voice that sounds like a 1960s radio broadcaster’s.

The second act, “This is a Chair,” is itself a compilation of seven short sketches. Introduced by a screen at the back of the stage, headlines include “Pornography and Censorship” and “The Democratic Party’s Slide to the Right,” which lend social commentary to the otherwise seemingly meaningless vignettes.

The title of the act references René Magritte’s painting, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” which translates to, “This is not a pipe.” The painting comments on the fact that the painting is not a pipe but instead a representation of a pipe. “This is a Chair” similarly alludes to the fact that the play is a representation. As characters discuss a drug-induced suicide and a woman in a barbershop debates taking drugs for an operation, there are overarching themes that constantly overshadow the action.

The last act is titled, “The After Dinner Joke.” Selby, also played by Leslie, is a secretary who works at Price’s Mattress Professionals but turns her focus to charity. Her do-good efforts meet many challenges in a world focused on monetary success and power.

Leslie captivates the audience with her sincere attempts to succeed and beat the power-hungry. Near the end, she shows her frustration by delivering a riveting speech about the state of the world during which she seems to convince the audience to join her efforts.

The same nine-person cast performs all three acts, and each member succeeds in transforming into very different characters. Dylan Meyers enters the scene as a gay son having trouble with his sexuality and finishes his time onstage as a thief who wants to redistribute wealth. Theo Allyn is convincing as both a local Lady Gaga-esque celebrity and a quiet daughter.

Vintage 1960s televisions hanging from ropes help set the ambiance, but the main props in each act include only chairs and a table or coat hanger. Despite the lack of incessant references to the era, the vintage-clad cast succeeds in rendering the setting convincing. You’ll leave the theater ready to boycott Price’s Mattress Professionals and join a political protest.