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Stage Review: Women's Work festival dishes out tasty variety

Saturday, June 09, 2001

By Anna Rosenstein

If you get excited by the array of possibilities at a buffet brunch, you're the audience that Women's Work is looking for. After a three-year hiatus, the festival is back, offering 14 performances in just two weekends. And this isn't just a grrrl thing -- Women's Work throws so much at you, there's pretty much something for everyone.

The performance opens with a mini-opera, "Valentine Stigmata" (think Laurie Anderson, not Handel), played on electric harp with vocals by Mary Elise Grandelis. Its haunting tones fill the space, surrounding the audience. It made images flash through my mind from memories and dreams, and not all of them were pleasant.

Women's Work

Where: Studio Theatre, Pittsburgh Playhouse, Oakland.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through June 17.

Tickets: $10 and $15; 412-394-3353.



It's a little shock then, to move into an excerpt from Denise Pullen's "Happy Birthday, Baby," a breezy, realistic drama about a 40-year-old who becomes a reluctant mother. This short piece isn't enough to get a real feel for the characters. Reenie (Lisa Davis) seems so caustic and miserable, I couldn't figure out why she would've kept her baby or why her nurse, Larry (Jim Auld), would be sympathetic, let alone attracted, to her.

Also included are two very different films. "Pei Pei's Wedding," a short of Wen Hwa Tsa'o's sister's Taiwanese wedding, is interesting both as a cross-cultural documentary and for the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing someone else's home movies.

"Licence" (I'm not sure why the British spelling unless it's to make you think more carefully about the word's meaning) has T. Foley discovering a plastic blow-up sex doll. The film, funny and thought-provoking, tries to free the doll from her limited role as Foley, quite literally, breathes new life into her.

Staycee R. Walters performs "Heart Candy: Eyes and Ears." Breaking out from traditional dance forms, Walters injects her movement with an amusing sassiness.

The first half ends with a trio of songs by Autumn Ayers. Folksy and bluesy, Ayers travels the familiar roads of love, loss and understanding but with the fresh insight of a poet.

After intermission, the show belongs to Gams on the Lam. This trio of silent clowns was a hit of the 1998 festival. Now, the Gams (Patricia Buckley, Leslie Noble, Lauren Unbekant) are back in "Get Lost," taking the audience on a car ride down lonely country roads and deep into unknown territories. There are lots of typical clown tricks -- costume gags, prop gags -- pulled off with superb wit and finesse. But there's a darkness, too. It seemed to me not so much like Charlie Chaplin as, say, if Bart Simpson had walked into a Fellini film. It's a little hard to describe, but there's a great mix of adolescent and sophisticated humor that makes you laugh as a grown-up and feel like a kid.

I can think of no other event in Pittsburgh that offers the opportunity to see such a wide variety of performance. And, doesn't it make sense that a festival called "Women's Work" should operate under the immortal words of the archetypal Mother? "At least taste it, dear. You won't know if you like it until you try."

Anna Rosenstein is a free-lance writer who covers theater for the Post-Gazette.

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