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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Mezzulah, 1946

A Christmas Carol
Theo Allyn
Pittsburgh's City Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Michele Lowe's Mezzulah, 1946. At its center, it is the story of a young woman seeking to break through the barriers placed on women in the post-WW II era. A number of interesting supporting characters also appear with their own mini-stories, which adds to the atmosphere, but doesn't necessarily contribute to the central plot. A number of excellent performances do, however, contribute to an over-all pleasant experience.

Our bold young heroine is Mezzulah Steiner. With the uncommon name, the tomboyish appearance, the cheeky demeanor, it's clear this little redheaded spitfire is spunky. That the actress Theo Allyn goes a little far in gesture, even to the point of mugging, is unfortunate because she doesn't need to push it - Allyn is an appealing, natural actress, and she is much more convincing in her less animated moments. Mezzulah is 19 and began working in an airplane factory before the war ended. The other women are happily returning to their homes, but Mezzulah wants to stay on at the factory. In fact, she wants to design, not just build, the planes. I find the character's abundant natural talent (uneducated in the field, she comes up with designs to rival that of the Boeing engineers) too far-fetched to be seriously considered, but her spirit and drive are interesting and substantial.

Mary Steiner is Mezzulah's mother. Known in Monroe (WA) as The Virgin, she was widowed just about as early in a marriage as one can be - Horace Steiner died in a car accident the morning after his wedding night. The very versatile Sheila McKenna delivers a superb performance, suitably understated to reflect Mary's lonely life, yet with a discernible spark in her eye when romance re-enters the picture. The reason for that sparkle is Isaiah Benson (Johnny Giacaolone), a war veteran who has returned to town for a promised job at the Boeing plant, one that is expected to be vacated by the last woman to leave the line (but will she?).

Another strong woman seeking an identity is Mary's sister, Suzannah Hart. She is an open-hearted, struggling poet, and her relationship with her husband Errol is strained. These characters as well as the actors - Rebecca Harris and Jeffrey Carpenter - are compelling enough to warrant their own play. The couple appears in a few brief scenes, and their bit of plot is resolved, yet I was left wanting to know more about them. A visiting widow (Jenny Wales) is also seeking comfort, as she travels from cemetery to cemetery looking for her deceased husband, whom the government has apparently delivered to the wrong Monroe. She shares the graveyard with the ghost of Mezzulah's young father, Horace. Well played by Brett Mack, Horace is visible at first only to Mezzulah, and seems to have stayed around to see his wife and daughter move on with their lives.

Overall, Mezzulah, 1946 has great heart, but the central character's story is lost a bit through side stories, and things are tied up a bit too neatly at the end. Lowe creates very interesting characters who are served well by this local cast.

The practical and sufficient set is provided by Tony Ferrieri (the stairway, supposedly to Mezzulah's upstairs lair, is so long, reaching so high, I wondered if it had some symbolic meaning that I missed). Some scenes in the factory would have helped illustrate Mezzulah's situation. Costumes by Michael Krass and wigs by Elsen Associates, Inc. evoke the period. Frequent interludes in which the actors sing (more than capably) 1940s songs a capella is a less successful method of evoking the period and interrupt the continuity more than enhance it.

Mezzulah, 1946, by Michele, directed by Erica Schmidt, continues at the City theatre through April 1, 2007. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.


See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.


Photo: John Schisler


-- Ann Miner

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