Also see Ann's review of The Reduced Shakespeare Company in Completely Hollywood (abridged)

Tobias Forrest and
Chandler Vinton

John Belluso's Pyretown has few subtleties. An emotional blast on the red tape, unfairness, and inadequacies of the managed health care system in the United States, the two-act play begins as a burgeoning love story. Louise is a frazzled mother with single-parent responsibilities who is battling to adequately care for her children. In the hospital emergency waiting room, she meets Harry, a wheelchair-bound young man who has emotionally isolated himself from the world, but he sees a kindred soul in Louise. The two bond quickly as friends, as Harry allows Louise to lean on him for emotional support while he offers his experienced advice on dealing with the "system" as she seeks medical attention for her daughter. In turn, Louise offers Harry the human interaction he has been missing. Soon, the medical needs of Louise's daughter increase, treatment becomes even harder to get, and Harry and Louise's shared frustration divides them.

There is some frustration as well in watching this play. The rail against the health system is a valid one, and it is illustrated well by the needs of these characters. However, the setting of a new friendship with potential to be more begins interestingly, but by play's end, both characters are left unchanged, which seems unnecessarily cruel. Perhaps the real disappointment is that the ending is not presented with the care the author took to present the beginning of the relationship.

In profound and impressive performances, both Chandler Vinton as Louise and Tobias Forrest as Harry encourage us to root for some glimpse of hope for these characters. Forrest in particular is immediately ingratiating, creating a three-dimensional character by drawing on all of the tools of a good actor - vocal interpretation, physical actions, and simple demeanor when speaking and when giving attention to another character. Vinton (in a role that couldn't be more different from her Zanovia in Mercy of a Storm in the City's 2002 season) also provides a natural performance, though Louise is written to evoke less empathy due to the choices she makes, even though her reasons are credible. The play's series of quick scenes, skillfully guided by Diane Rodriguz' direction, keeps the pace up in what could have been a tedious, dialogue-heavy presentation. Our attention is riveted, we become caught up in what is happening with these characters, only to be let down by a disheartening conclusion. Perhaps written to emphasize the impact of the effects of the unyielding health care system, the ending still feels like we've been cheated.

Scenic Designer Victoria Petrovich made the wise decision to keep the sets simple, abstract, and adaptable. Small movements in set pieces and minimal props make the brief blackouts most effective in transitioning scenes. Sound Design by Elizabeth Atkinson, with music and some audio effects, also contributes to an overall solid production.

Tragically, John Belluso died recently at the age of 36. An advocate through theatre for the non-stereotyped portrayal of the disabled, Belluso was on his way to being well recognized for his work (at the time of his death, he was working on a commission for New York's Public Theater, The Poor Itch). His plays will continue to be produced and to broaden awareness of the important issues he was compelled to write about.

Pyretown continues at the Pittsburgh City Theatre through April 2, 2006. For performance and ticket information, call 412-431-CITY or visit

Photo: John Schisler

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-- Ann Miner

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