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Review: ‘Fishy Woo Woo’ Possesses Sitcom-Ready Laughs, With Lots of Heart

By SHARON EBERSON

Let’s get right to it, because I know you’re wondering: What the heck is Fishy Woo Woo? By the time the newly minted, uproarious comedy by Monteze Freeland reveals the answer, you’ll find that there’s nothing fishy going on – at least not as far as the title goes.

The premiere production by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company has all the trappings of a two-part streaming-service sitcom pilot, with an Act One cliffhanger.  It is a strength of Fishy Woo Woo that, having spent two hours with these folks, you wish you could go straight to episode three. 

In the play at Madison Arts Center, BFFs possess a shared history that allows them to communicate in ways known only to them, built on the unbreakable bond of years of camaraderie, support and lots of laughter. 

Put it this way: If you and two ride-or-die friends decided your trio needed a band name, and you came up with something meaningful only to you three, you would have your own version of what it means to be a “Fishy Woo Woo.”

The Fishy Woo Woos: Jason Shavers, Cheryl-Bates White and Mils James.
(Images: Courtesy of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company)

It is apropos that the premiere production has debuted during Pride Month, with gay relationships central to the quartet onstage. I would add that anyone who has gone through a miserable breakup and leans on their friends for support should be nodding their heads in recognition, all the while laughing at their antics. 

Some language may put the play in streaming/cable territory, but like most things, it’s so much more fun seeing it live and in your face.

The set-up would make a great elevator pitch: Shawn has come to clear out his stuff from the apartment he shared with his ex, a month into their breakup after nine years together. He is supported in his mournful task by his childhood pals, loud-and-proud Cordero, and Char, who is going through a D-I-V-O-R-C-E from a tenured professor. Some small-scale revenge – like hiding the TV remote control – is plotted, but Shawn’s mood needs more of a boost.

When an unexpected visitor arrives during a surprise snow-in, secrets are revealed, friendships are tested, and farcical, physical comedy reaches a crescendo. 

The cast is stacked with talent, starting with Jason Shavers, who shines as Shawn, a lovable sad sack and vengeful spurned lover rolled into one. Mils James as Cordero is a bundle of extroverted energy, who, in his efforts to keep Shawn from learning a hard truth, goes a little too out on the limb, with hilarious results. As Char, Cheryl Bates-White has both their best interests at heart, while going through struggles of her own.

Royce Jones arrives as the wildcard, a college student whose naivete puts him in very hot water on a cold day.   

Royce Jones, left, with Jason Shavers, is the wildcard in the premiere play
Fishy Woo Woo, at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre’s Madison Arts Center.

Freeland’s story is directed with a keen understanding of fellowship by longtime pal Lovell McFadden. Behind-the scenes work at in the Carter Redwood Theater – including a Zillow-ready set with bathroom and balcony – is Southers family affair, plus lighting is by Jason Kmetic, sound by Howard Patterson, and costumes, hair and makeup by Cheryl El Walker.

Patriarch and Playwrights leader Mark Clayton Southers, has had a simultaneous premiere of his own, The Coffin Maker at Pittsburgh Public Theater – directed by Freeland. Southers and Freeland still managed to be on hand to welcome audience members last Sunday, during a whirlwind weekend that included Pittsburgh Pride events throughout the area.

Fishy Woo Woo celebrates gay relationships, it’s true, but it also is grounded in the universal: Breaking up is hard to do; laughter is the best medicine; and we get by with a little help from our friends.

TICKETS AND DETAILS

The Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company premiere of Fishy Woo Woo runs through June 15, 2024, at Madison Arts Center,  3401 Milwaukee St., Hill District. Tickets: visit 

Double Take: Monteze Freeland Directs Pittsburgh Public’s ‘The Coffin Maker,’ While His Own Play Debuts a Few Miles Away