Murderers and
This Wonderful Life

Also see Ann's review of Avenue Q

The holiday season is in full swing, and Pittsburghers have a wealth of theatrical settings in which to spend an hour or two avoiding the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, not to mention the weight of world events. Dependable seasonal presentations of CLO's A Musical Christmas Carol and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker will begin soon (December 7 and 14, respectively), and you will find a humorous twist on the spiritual side of the season with City Theatre's Sister's Christmas Catechism (beginning December 4) and a rockin' one at CLO Cabaret Theatre's Plaid Tidings (running through January 13).

Also on local stage are City Theatre's Murderers (not specifically holiday fare, but more fun than many an office party) and the Public's This Wonderful Life. Both are recommended as enjoyable escapes from the more hectic activities of the holidays.

Sheila McKenna, Daniel Krell and Jennifer Harmon
In Murderers, Jeffrey Hatcher (Compleat Female Stage Beauty) presents three unlikely killers, whose amusingly heinous acts were committed within the setting of a Floridian "seasoned citizens" facility called Riddle Key. Each of the play's three acts features a single actor who, as one murderous character, narrates the story of the crime, while playing some of other characters. The first act features "The Man Who Married His Mother-in-Law," Gerald Halverson (played by Daniel Krell). Krell does a very nice job with the weakest tale of the trio; it is certainly compelling enough to hold our attention, but the humor is lower key. In "Margaret Faydle Comes to Town," Jennifer Harmon is excellent as the chatty Lucy Stickler, who is the oh so proper society wife. Her story of infidelity and jealousy sets a perfect scene for murder, with classic Hatcher lines which are delivered with flair. The final story, "Match Wits with Minka Lupino," is a perfect vehicle for Sheila McKenna to show her talents as a character actress and a voice artist. She seems, however, to almost hold herself back here, though making a success of presenting the most interesting main character of the evening.

Tony Ferrieri has designed a very attractive and functional set, with sliding doors beneath the Riddle Key arch revealing surprises to augment the otherwise simple appointments for each act. Elizabeth Atkinson's effective lighting completes the atmosphere. With Michael Bush's direction, each actor draws in the audience and keeps us, if not quite on the edges of our seats, fully involved in the revelations of Hatcher's stories.

Murderers continues through December 22 at the City Theatre. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit Photo: John Schisler.

Mark Setlock
Performing in an adaptation of his own conception, Mark Setlock (Fully Committed) takes us on an endearing but familiar ride. Written by Steve Murray, This Wonderful Life is a one-man presentation of the repeatedly enjoyable 1946 Frank Capra film, It's a Wonderful Life. Setlock plays George Bailey in true Jimmy Stewart style, and he covers all of the other film characters in a fun but occasionally uneven ride through Bailey's ultimately wonderful life in Bedford Falls. The typically animated Setlock shows his affection for the film right from the start; his sincerity adds greatly to the enjoyment of the piece. There are times during the 80-some minute recap that he slows down, interrupting the break-neck pace that is a key to the success of this type of one man marathon storytelling. However, the story is covered clearly and faithfully, and Setlock shows, in and out of character, why we love the film so much. His most effective characterizations are done broadly: saucy Violet, crotchety Mr. Potter and sweeter than maple sugar Mary. If you cry at the movie, you're eyes will moisten at the appropriate moment here.

Setlock is justifiably like a kid in a toy shop on James Noone's superb attic-clutter set. One cannot predict how some of the set pieces will be used: for example, an intricate jumble of a chandelier (individual bulbs are the angels, including bright red Clarence, and they glow as the characters speak), and a staircase whose steps are made of travel trunks of different shapes and styles. In tune with Mary Louise Geiger's lighting, the different settings of the film are very well rendered, from the snowy bridge where George nearly ends it all, to the swimming pool where George and future wife Mary fall (literally) in love.

You know you can see the film tomorrow, and the next day and next year - this season, for something a little different, try Mark Setlock and Steve Murray's take on the classic, heartfelt story of regrets and blessings.

This Wonderful Life, through December 16 at O'Reilly Theater for Pittsburgh Public Theater. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit or the box office. Photo: Ric Evans.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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