Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – With “Cambodian Rock Band” and “King Lear” as a jumping off point, PIttsburgh theater this year demonstrated time and again the vast range of choices and talent in our midst, enhancing our cultural lives on a daily basis.
Those two plays -— worlds apart in time and tone — are both essentially about fathers, daughters and legacy, both political and personal. And both belong on any “best of” theater list by local companies and artists in 2019.
“Cambodian Rock Band” is the most honored play by Lauren Yee, the most honored American playwright of the year. It originated at California’s South Coast Rep, led then by Marc Masterson, and in 2019 it opened his second era leading City Theatre. Two companies have been crisscrossing the country with the show, and Pittsburgh was one of just seven stops for this tour de force of humor, horror and ‘70s-inspired rock music.
Shakespeare’s epic “Lear,” often called his greatest play, is nearly impossible to stage. With Bricolage’s Jeffrey Carpenter as Lear, Quantum Theatre upped the ante by staging it outdoors at the foot of the soaring Carrie Furnace National Historic Landmark. The result was at times a tale of endurance for both Quantum and the audience. Yet the grand, gritty setting made battling the elements a small price to pay for a Lear who does the same, all artfully condensed for our times.
With these two as starting points, we debated, compared, argued, calmly discussed and finally arrived at 10 productions, plus another ten honorable mentions, as the “Best of 2019.” As with other lists at this time of year, we’ve checked it twice, three times, maybe more; ultimately, the degree of our agreement is surprising, given the quantity and quality of what we saw. Of course, even between the two of us, we did not see, and could not possibly have seen, all that might merit inclusion…
…“King Lear” (Quantum Theatre, May 10-June 2): The historic ruin in Swissvale was reimagined by set designer Tony Ferrieri, and we were transported to a kingdom in turmoil, where the real elements at times produced howling wind and driving rain, not unlike some of the settings described by the Bard. The cast navigated the site and the epic tale in a grand-scale Quantum show for the ages.