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Stage Review: Gemini festival ends on critical note

Saturday, February 12, 2000

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Take an empty frame and hold it up to the person beside you. Now move it around the room and imagine the different stories being told within the boundaries. Sometimes the frame borders fascinating scenarios; other times it only tells part of the story.

In "Grace Notes," the final installment of Gemini Theater Company's second New Play Festival, New York playwright Rachel Rubin Ladutke tells half of a wonderful family story about coping with conflicts. What's missing are the actual complications.


Gemini New Play Festival

Play: "Grace Notes."

Where: Gemini Theater Company, 7501 Penn Ave., Point Breeze.

When: 8 tonight.

Tickets: $6; 412-243-6464.


There are no men in "Grace Notes," although they loom over the story as the source of most of the family's conflicts. They inseminate and adulterate, obliterating any chance of family unity. Their presence is immediate, yet they're only spoken of as if we're looking through the frame only when they're not at home.

With a nice combination of poignant and funny lines, Ladutke weaves a mostly autobiographical tale in which her character, Molly, is repatriated with the woman who gave her up at birth. The story unfolds, however, through the eyes of Grace, the family matriarch. As a result we see a skewed picture that crops out the primary source of conflicts and focuses on the less interesting character. Obviously a talented young writer, Ladutke should step boldly into the frame and tell her own story from her unique point of view.

Under David Philip Tener's direction, Kathleen Larkin puts her personal stamp on a difficult role playing several stages in the life of Grace. She works particularly well with Jullian Lee Irwin as young Molly. The same character comes to life as an adult through a well-played performance by Lani Cataldi, president of Gemini's board of directors. Kate Jannuzi is radiant in a smaller role. Additional characters are played by Amy Toothman, Tracy Millay, Maria Hnarakis and Mark Turner.

In its second season, the New Play Festival has proven itself a valuable part of Pittsburgh's stage community. Only one of this year's four full-length productions was penned by a local playwright, but that could be remedied as more local writers submit scripts. The festival has provided a nurturing experience for new actors and directors while often casting experienced veterans in principal roles. The result has benefited everyone involved. New writers got to see their works transposed from the page to the stage, new actors got to work with fine actors of greater experience, and audiences were entertained and challenged as they got in on the ground floor of something new.

Now settled into a bigger, better space at the same address, Gemini is poised to flag the attention of the more adventuresome theater crowd with a promise to produce an entire season of new plays beginning this fall. Its community service starts in two weeks with a six-show season of children's classics that begins with "Alice in Wonderland" (Feb. 26 to March 12) and ends with "A Holiday Tale" in December.

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