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May 25, 2000

New theatre in Stephen Foster opens with Pittsburgh-based play

New theatre in Stephen Foster opens with Pittsburgh-based play

The curtain will open May 31 on a new Pitt theatre on the lower level of Stephen Foster Memorial.

The Henry Heymann Theatre, named in honor of the former Pitt scenic designer, will debut with the Pitt Repertory Theatre production of "Ferris Wheel," by local playwright Janyce Lapore.

The Heymann Theatre features a thrust stage and will seat a total of 150 playgoers on three sides. Four of the theatre department's 2000-2001 productions will be staged there, and the space also will be available for renting. Pitt mainstage productions will continue at the Foster Memorial Theatre on the ground floor. Both theatres are handicapped accessible.

"The mere possibility of constructing a brand new theatre at the University of Pittsburgh illustrates the exciting future of this department," said Attilio Favorini, chair of the Department of Theatre Arts. "And this theatre will be a tremendous resource to both the department and the Pittsburgh theatrical community."

Heymann came to Pitt in 1968 and taught scenic design until he retired in 1993. "I worked with so many great shows, it's difficult to narrow down my favorite productions," Heymann said. "But I can't forget "Cabaret" with Gillette Elvgren, "Steel/City" and "An Evening with George and Ira," which I wrote and directed. Of course contributing designs to the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival was always a lot of fun, too."

Since retiring, he has worked periodically on Pitt theatre productions as an adjunct faculty member. He also contributed financially to the new theatre. "The Department of Theatre Arts and the University of Pittsburgh gave me a lot of good years," Heymann said. "I'm just happy to know I can give them something back." He designed the set for the inaugural Henry Heymann Theatre production.

The department will honor Heymann June 2 with a dinner preceding the performance of "Ferris Wheel." The play debuted at the Florida Shakespeare Theater in Miami and has run in Chicago, Los Angeles and off-Broadway in New York. It received the Florida Council Arts Award and placed in the top five of Francis Ford Coppola's 1998 New Century Writers awards. A film version is in development.

Beaver Falls native Lapore set her play at Kennywood Park in 1969. The plot follows a day in the life of four cousins and best friends spending Italian American Day at the amusement park.

After living in Miami for 15 years, Lapore said she returned to Pittsburgh to re-plant her roots "in the world's friendliest city." She plans to develop other works utilizing the city's resources, she said.

The Pitt Repertory Theatre production is co-produced by Starlight Productions, a local professional production company, and is sponsored by Kennywood.

The Pittsburgh premier of "Ferris Wheel" runs May 31 through June 18. For more information, call the Pitt Repertory Theatre box office at 624-7259.

–Peter Hart

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