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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Oblivion
City Theatre


Christopher Larkin, Julia Warner, Lisa Velten Smith, and Quentin Maré
Playwright Carly Mensch has also worked for television ("Weeds" and "Nurse Jackie"), but her Oblivion really feels like a play. In a world where plays are frequently 90 minute sitcoms, start to finish, this 2 hour (with intermission) play goes deeper and its characters are more real. You may not know a couple exactly like Pam (Lisa Velten Smith) and Dixon (Quentin Maré), but we all know enough people who are a lot like them, which prevents the kind of eye-rolling that happens frequently when stage characters are too witty and quirky to feel real. And daughter Julie (Julia Warner) is a typical kind of teenager. Of course, we can't predict everything about her, because she's, well, a teenager. Julie's friend Bernard (Christopher Larkin), an obsessed young filmmaker, is another typical kind of teenager, and a perfect best friend for Julie.

Pam is an executive at HBO and Dixon has been a high-powered lawyer; she's an atheist, and he is a non-practicing Jew. They are proudly progressive and, up to now, confidently open minded. Their parenting style has been kind of free-range, and that's worked well so far. They have money, a great Brooklyn apartment, those impressive and stimulating careers, and a smart, dependable, athletic and independent daughter. What's to worry? Pretty quickly we see the Kumbayah relationship between parents and child hits a snag, as is not uncommon when it comes to those teenage years: Julie's been lying to her parents about where she's been. And it's not drinking or alcohol, or boys—Pam and Dixon could handle that. No, Julie has found Jesus. Suddenly, Pam isn't seeming so open-minded. In fact, she surprises Julie, Dixon, and herself at how shockingly intolerant she appears. Of all the irritating things teenagers do that make their parents count the days until they grow up, a very fundamental difference like this is a whole new ballgame.

Now, yes, this may sound a little like the initial premise of a certain 1980s sitcom where liberal parents butt heads with their ultra conservative son, but dash any comparison from your mind. Though Oblivion has plenty of smart humor (most of it regarding Dixon's conflict between pot smoking and his new career as a novelist, and Bernard's obsession with Pauline Kael), the parent-child relationship is not played for yucks. Pam is drawn a little harshly—but she is rooted in familiar territory, and parents of teens (or those who have made it through) will recognize the panic she feels, if not for the exact same reason. Ultimately, what Julie is going through is not as worrisome as everyone thinks and the parents learn through the child (again, instant recognition by parents and children everywhere).

Most importantly here, the City has pulled together a script and a cast in a first-class production with a feel, and look, and sound that tops anything I've seen there (and there have been some very good productions). The show hits the ground running, director Stuart Carden coordinates things impeccably, and it feels comfortable while also unpredictable. Adding at a very high level are designers Gianni Downs (sets), Angela M. Vesco (costumes), Elizabeth Atkinson, (light and sound), and Jordan Harrison (projections). Sound and video/projections are a particularly rewarding combination. With the harmonious cast of four illuminating Mensch's solid script, which shows people who really care about each other, this is a thoroughly satisfying and lingering show. No quibbles.

Oblivion, at the City Theatre through April 26, 2015. For tickets and performance information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit citytheatrecompany.org.


See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.


-- Ann Miner



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