'Tell Me a Story About the South Side'

The City Theatre's 'South Side Stories' is a hilarious one-woman ode to the true characters and true stories of Carson Street.

South Side photos by Dave DiCello

How do you make an audience of ’Burghers happy? Well, the easiest route is usually by talking about Pittsburgh. And if you can throw in some old-world charm and old-school style, all the better.

The perennial crowd-pleasers at City Theatre know that. And as the holidays approach, they’re running a twin bill of hits, both of which are drawing rave reviews and sold-out crowds.

The current talk of the town — at least beyond the shores of the Monongahela — is Tami Dixon’s South Side Stories, a one-woman ode to Carson Street and surrounding environs. Dixon, the artistic director of Bricolage Production Company (a bona fide After Dark obsession) drew on countless hours of interviews with South Siders to craft Stories; in many cases, she sat outside on Carson Street with a sign simply reading “Tell Me a Story About the South Side.”

The result is a tour de force, marathon performance. Dixon embodies South Side archetypes and underdogs, from an ancient-yet-flirty steelworker perched at Jack’s to the clueless college student unfamiliar with the ways of the parking chair. She performs whole scenes, sometimes with many characters, herself, juggling accents and affectations. (She not only nails the South Side accent — she can do about a dozen different variations on it, influenced by ethnic background, age, frequency of cigarette consumption and god knows what else.) It’s exhausting to watch; I can hardly imagine performing it.

The 75 minutes of the show are framed by a story of Dixon’s own, but the highlights are the warts-and-all quotes from residents. Issues of race, class, religion and every other imaginable topic are naturally produced amid conversations about neighborhood politics and proper pierogie construction.

Oh, yeah — it’s awfully funny, too. Particularly to those who grew up anywhere in Pittsburgh, who’ll be familiar with the characters after only a word. If you have a dyed-in-the-wool ’Burgher to shop for, get them tickets to South Side Stories — and even if you’ve got a transplant around, bring them for a crash course. Fortunately, you’ll be able to stuff a loved one’s stocking with tickets: While the show was scheduled to close this Sunday, overwhelming demand has prompted an additional week of shows, from Jan. 8-13.

Most definitely closing this weekend is the other half of City’s hit double feature, Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold. If you haven’t attended one of Sister’s classes, it’s hard to describe what you’re in store for — unless, of course, you attended Catholic school. Then you know exactly what to expect.

The partially improvised, largely interactive and thoroughly hilarious Sister series has played with faithful propriety, old-school sensibilities and that old-time religion — all on the capable shoulders of beloved habit-donner Kimberly Richards. This year’s holiday installment adds choir music from local ensembles and more than a few giveaways — for good students, of course. Be quick, though — Sister’s class will only be in session through Sunday.

’Round here, we’re usually most likely to point you toward evenings at the theater that will challenge, provoke or otherwise disturb you. So it’s nice to recommend some shows that’ll just please and entertain for a change. Head down to the South Side and catch a pair of excellent productions perfect for the season — and the city.

(Tickets and showtimes at citytheatrecompany.org.)

Categories: After Dark