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Barebones Gets ‘The Animal Kingdom’ Ready for Its Braddock Closeup

By SHARON EBERSON

The Animal Kingdom by Ruby Thomas comes to its first production outside of London and New York through the grapevine. 

“I reached out to a friend who was in that [off-off-Broadway] production and I was like, ‘Hey, what’s up with this play?’ And she said, ‘Oh my God, it’s perfect for barebones.’ And she was right,” said barebones founder and artistic director Patrick Jordan.

The “perfect,” he echoed, was its fit for his Braddock black box theater, where The Animal Kingdom opens on Friday, June 14, 2024.

The cast of barebones’ production of The Animal Kingdom, from left,
Alexandra Casey, Juan Rivera Lebron, Darren Eliker, Daina Griffith
and Greyson Taylor. (Image courtesy of barebones productions)

“The intimacy is a big part of it,” Jordan said of the play that garnered plaudits when the drama debuted in London, where it was lauded in The Guardian as, “A thrilling portrait of a family in collapse. … Pure theater.”

Not to be confused with last year’s French horror movie or other same-named films and series, The Animal Kingdom consists of six gripping family therapy sessions that are centered around struggling zoology student Sam. In a claustrophobic space, within an inpatient clinic, family members struggle mightily to communicate in meaningful ways. 

“Told with wit and compassion, [the play] peels back the emotional layers of group therapy,” touted its next stop,

The Connelly Theater Upstairs, where it was called “quietly galvanizing” in The New York Times.

And that was how it came to its third production, in Braddock.

The play might come with the label “no set required” – just chairs for five actors, in a tight space. The Connelly Theater Upstairs is a 51-seat, three-quarter thrust performance space. 

At barebones’ black box, Jordan reconfigured his own intimate theater to put audience members in tight with the actors, and said there would be other touches unique to his production.

The therapy gathering swirls around Sam, who is played by Greyson Taylor, Carnegie Mellon University Class of ’26, who came to Pittsburgh as a standout at the 2022 Jimmy Awards. His sister, Sophie, is played by Alexandra Casey, a rising junior at Point Park University.

“It tell you what, the future is bright,” director Jordan said of auditions for the siblings. “This was the hardest show to cast that I can remember, because … they were all fantastic in different ways. But just something about this ensemble that we put together made this family unit work.”

As Sam’s parents, Jordan tabbed veteran Pittsburgh actors Darren Eliker and Daina Griffith. Jordan has known both for a long time, with Griffith going back at least 20 years, to days working together on on the former arts-and-music event FLUX would invade sites throughout the city.

“And Darren and I were in ‘All My Sons’ a hundred years ago with Bingo O’Malley and Kate Young, and then I also did Desire Under The Elms [in 2002, with O’Malley and Robin Walsh] with Darren at the Starlight Productions …”

Suffice it to say, the trio go way back on the local theater scene, while welcoming relative newcomer Juan Rivera Lebron, a member of CMU’s visiting faculty who was seen last year in City Theatre’s Native Gardens.

Rivera LeBron portrays the therapist in intense sessions that peel back the layers of Sam’s penchant for self harm and his family’s strained dynamic.

“Juan came in, and people started asking him questions about being a therapist, forgetting that he was an actor. You know what I mean? He brings that kind of a cool vibe to this,” Jordan said.

Members of the cast had prepared quickly, making the director’s job often about keeping the mood light, to offset the dark subject matter.

Griffith, in fact, came to the project already committed to a solo musical show, titled Saturday Soirées: Leading Ladies of Yesteryear, on June 22. She will go from a 2 p.m. performance of The Animal Kingdom in Braddock, to Carnegie, where she will channel “Golden Age performers in a presentation of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall.

That’s a far cry from a play that often compares family members to their counterparts in the animal kingdom, with striking similarities, with the attempt to reconcile through therapy a notable difference.  

“I have a feeling that this show’s going to get more legs regionally,” Jordan said, “so it’s kind of a coup, I guess, that we’re the first to do it outside of New York, and I’m excited for it.”

PRESHOW MEAL

Braddock Public House by BG Brewing, set to open officially sometime this summer, makes its debut with a preshow menu in the adjacent space that formerly housed the Superior Motors restaurant. Email [email protected] for a sneak peek of the menu and to make a reservation. 

TICKETS AND DETAILS

Barebones productions presents The Animal Kingdom June 14-30, 2024, at barebones black box theater, 1211 Braddock Ave., Braddock. Tickets: visit