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Pittsburgh Theater Is Busting Out in June: ‘Secret Hour,’ ‘The Nacirema Society,’ ‘Sister,’ ‘Angels’ and More

By SHARON EBERSON

What’s your Pittsburgh summer been like so far? And mine, you ask? I have spent my nights and some days at theaters within the city limits, and I am making a dent – but barely

After the previous weekend’s trifecta of The Coffin Maker, Jeff Goldblum in concert and Fishy Woo Woo, this long weekend of theater began Thursday at a brand-new company and ends today, Sunday, June 8, at another, relatively new company. Monday is a day of rest before Pittsburgh CLO snaps its fingers, and the Baayork Lee-directed West Side Story appears at the Benedum Center. 

More on West Side Story coming soon. Here’s my weekend so far, in order of seeing each show …

ENSEMBLE ACTORS STUDIO: SECRET HOUR at Javo Studios, Lawrenceville

I start with the compelling debut of a new theater company from talented Pittsburgh theater-makers, with just one more chance to see the Pittsburgh premiere of Secret Hour by writer, lyricist and playwright Jenny Stafford.

Ensemble Actors Studio founder and artistic director Jaime Slavinsky previously founded Organic Theater Pittsburgh (its production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone was named 2011’s Best Debut of a New Company by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Working with a troupe of resident directors and teaching artists, Ensemble has chosen a showcase for Slavinsky’s acting talents in Secret Hour, winner of the 2021 Next Act! New Play Summit. 

She plays Kate, a dedicated ethics professor in a loving marriage. She and seemingly stalwart husband Ben (Joseph Martinez) engage in “secret hour” – a time when giggle through revealing benign secrets about themselves. We meet them as their happy home has been invaded by the plumber-philosopher who wouldn’t leave – Jordan Moore as comically consequential Leaf, in a role that recalls Eldin on the Murphy Brown sitcom.

Kate introduces her ethics class to the theme of the semester: Nietzsche’s embrace of self above all vs. Confucius, whose concept of self is connected to the duties an individual fulfills in their community. How those philosophies play out in her marriage is the essence of the engrossing, thought-provoking Secret Hour.

Chris Cavelli directs the fine-tuned cast that includes Ovis Magnum, working on a two-tier set that shines with the attention to detail about things that make a house a home. The venue, Javo Studios in Lawrenceville, was previously used by Quantum Theatre in 2016 for the solo show Ciara, starring Mary Rawson, and here is transformed by a creative team that includes production manager Sarah Allen

TICKETS AND DETAILS: Secret Hour concludes at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 8, 2024, at Javo Studios,  5137 Holmes Street, Lawrenceville (street parking only). Tickets:

All eyes are on what Gracie (Shakirah Stephens) will do in New Horizon Theater’s production of The Nacirema Society at the O’Reilly Theater. (Image: Brent Allen)

NEW HORIZON THEATER: The Nacirema Society at the O’Reilly Theater, Downtown.

Secrets of another kind, kept hidden for 40 years, are ready to burst at the seams as The Nacirema Society of Montgomery, Alabama, readies its centennial ball, celebrating a new season of Black debutantes – with generational manipulations that would make the royals, grand dames and emerging aristocracy of Bridgerton take notice.

As the grand doyenne of the society and the Dunbar family, Jeannine Foster-McKelvia’s Grace Dubose Dunbar believes she has it all under control, including arranging the future of her namesake granddaughter (Shakirah Stephens). Young Gracie, however, has other ideas, putting mom Marie (Angelique A. Strothers) in the middle of their tug of war.

Complications arise when a New York Times reporter (Dominique Briggs) comes to town to cover the big event, and a mother-daughter team – Karla C. Payne and Tajionna Clinton – arrive with separate agendas, one including blackmail. 

Brenda Marks is a hoot as Catherine Adams Green, friend to Grace and mother of the lone man (Nickolas Page) among the scheming flock. Without saying a word, Cheryl El-Walker’s Jessie speaks volumes.

Set in 1963, the aging Black aristocracy is pitted against the younger generation’s desire to move beyond social events and ride the tide of the Civil Rights Movement to societal changes – with lots of funny moments along the way.

Eileen J. Morris directs the frequent comings and goings with a steady hand, on a spiffy Herb Newsome set. 

TICKETS AND DETAILS: The Nacirema Society runs through June 16, 2024, at Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Helen Wayne Rauh Rehearsal Hall, on the third floor of the O’Reilly Theater. Tickets:

CITY THEATRE: Sister’s Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes a Vacation! at the Lillie Theatre South Side.

I have a confession. It took my 811 performances of Kimberly Richards as Sister to make it to one of her “classes.”

Forgive me, Sister. I have atoned. And I laughed. A lot.

Following each performance of the Sister plays, written by Maripot Donovan and performed by Richards, a collection is taken to support the retired nuns at Little Sisters of the Poor. 

TICKETS AND DETAILS: Sister’s Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes a Vacation! runs through June 30 at City Theatre’s Lillie Theatre, Bingham and 13th Streets, South Side. Tickets:  (Follow for a review of the latest Sister at City.)

SUNDAY (STILL TO COME)

Angels in America Part 1: Millennium Approaches, directed by Tucker Topol for Elsewhere Theatre at Carnegie Stages through June 15.