Pittsburgh-Born and Raised Actor/Playwright Set to Stage One-Character Dark Comedy of His Own Making

Alec Silberblatt in "The Mon Valley Medium" Credit: Courtesy Photo

Hailing from the Forest Hills neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Alec Silberblatt absorbed the Yinzer accent and unique word usage of the region in his youth. Next weekend, he's bringing his talents and unique regional patois to the Carnegie Stage in a one charioteer play of his own making, a dark comedy titled "The Mon Valley Medium."

In the 70-minute long retelling of an exceptional story, Silberblatt will portray Mack, the tale's narrator whose verbiage and accent will be familiar to anyone who's ever lived in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

At age 18, Silberblatt left the comfy confines of his home town to pursue his education at the University of Cincinnati, a school with a solid theater arts program. After graduating, he headed to New York City, where he's lived for the past seven years pursuing his theatrical career. Acting credits include work for the George Street Playhouse, Hartford TheaterWorks, the Lake Dillon Theater Company and the Ivoryton Playhouse.

He's also returned to his hometown several times to perform roles for Pittsburgh Public Theater, the Pittsburgh Irish and Classic  Theatre, Quantum Theatre, Carnegie Stage and the Hatch Arts Collective. 

As a playwright, he's set several of his works in the Pittsburgh area, and his short films have shown at the Independent Film Festival Boston, the Pittsburgh Shorts Festival, The Peace on Earth Film Festival and New York Short Tuesdays. 

His "The Mon Valley Medium" will be at the Carnegie Stage, 25 West Main Street in Carnegie at 8 p.m. on November 8 and 9. For tickets, phone 724-873-3576 or www.carnegiestage.com

Below Silberblatt discusses "The Mon Valley Medium," his first self-written work to be staged in the Pittsburgh area, in a Q & A format.

Q: Alec, the play is described as a darkly comedic murder mystery set in a neighborhood nestled in the hills of the Mon Valley.  When the help of a medium is sought out to solve a murder and the victim speaks from the dead, a community descends into chaos. A local Pittsburgh man struggles with the guilt he feels as a result of his actions, and he must choose between retribution and redemption.  Where did you get the idea for the play and why did you decide to do it in a one-character format?

A: I got the idea for the story in 2016-2017 after the election for reasons that, I think, are clear if you see the play, and to reveal those reasons now would be to spoil the plot. Investigating faith and belief was certainly on my mind at the time. When I had the story, I tried writing it as a multi-character full-length play, a feature film, and a short film. Nothing worked until I sat down and wrote it as a monologue.  I love how it ended up.

Q: Is the play based on any personal experiences you've had or people you've known and have you had any paranormal experiences you might want to mention?

A: The play is not based on anything that has happened to me or a friend.  It is a complete work of fiction.  I have not had any paranormal experiences myself, but I've certainly heard stories from friends and who am I to question them.  I love ghost stories, though.  I'm a huge fan of Stephen King and Conor McPherson who both write ghostly tales.  

Q: Do you include any place reference to the Pittsburgh area in your script? And has the work been staged anywhere else?

A: For sure, yeah, there are lots of references to Pittsburgh places and practices. From mentioning Munhall to talking about putting coleslaw on a sandwich, so the play is a Pittsburgh play. We did it up in New York at the beginning of last year, and it was a huge success.  People may not have gotten all the references, but they loved the story and character.  

Q: You chose Moira O'Sullivan to direct the work. How did that happen and can you tell us a bit about her? 

A: Moira and I met doing a play in Connecticut.  She is an actor as well as a director which gifts her a certain vocabulary when directing that I really respond to.  She's a young director who is not afraid of simplicity, and she's interested in enhancing and elevating what is on the page rather than changing the work to fit her wants and desires. And she's specific. The early days of work on this play were consumed with making very specific and clear choices, and Moira encouraged that process and was invaluable during it. 

Q: You are both the writer and actor, but how has Moira influenced the staging? Did she reveal things about the work and character you may have been unaware of, and were there any rewrites that came out of her input and interaction? How has her input influenced your approach to the play as an actor?

A: Well, she staged it. If she wasn't around, I would have just sat in a chair for 70 minutes and talked.  So, she got me moving on stage in a deliberate and appropriate way.  There were rewrites here and there mainly for clarity. She would tell me that something wasn't clear and I would say: "but it is," and she would say: "yeah, but, no, it isn't."  and then I would see she was right and I would rewrite a section or a line. She had a huge influence on timing in the piece.  There were specific moments that would not work were she not in the room because she understood the timing that was required, and she knew how to get that timing from me.

Q: The play is billed as a dark comedy. Would you say it was darker than comedic or vice versa? As a playwright, do you see your strengths more in drama or comedy?

A: Umm, I think dark things are funny. It's personal taste, I think. I happen to think the show is hilarious, but someone may find it more toward the darker side. There is dark subject matter, but it's evened out with funny lines and behavior. My strengths lie in story, character, and dialogue.

Q: Was there a particular event or experience that gave birth to the idea of the play? And when you sat down to write it, was it pretty well formed in your mind or did it grow organically out of an initial seed?

A: As I said earlier, the 2016 election was the seed that gave birth to this play.  I had a good idea of where I wanted to go but wasn't quite sure how to get there. I like to try and surprise myself when I'm writing.

Q: Which came first - the desire to be an actor or the goal of becoming a playwright? At what age did you decide to go for a career in theater and was there an event that precipitated this interest?

A: I wanted to be an actor first.  I was in high school when I went full-tilt into show business. As I got older, I realized that the types of stories I wanted to act in were either not being produced or they were being produced at a level that I wasn't able to climb to from my position in the industry. So I said: "I'll do it myself," and I started writing the stories I wanted to be a part of. 

Q: What are your thoughts on the work being produced elsewhere? Any irons in the fire in that regard?

A: I think there's a lot of political theater going on right now, which makes sense given the world we're in.  Amanda Dobbins, a journalist/podcaster I'm a fan of, recently said on a podcast that "politics is the new monoculture." I think there's a lot of truth to that.  But, I'm going to Connecticut at the end of the month to do a holiday show based on A Christmas Carol, so what do I know.

Q: I've been told the play is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Besides providing for a fun evening at the theater, what do you hope people will take away from the experience?

A: I only hope people will have a fun and exciting night at the theater. That's all I hope for. I hope the play raises questions in folks about why we believe what we believe, but ultimately I want people to have a great time at the theater. And they will.  There's no question.  The story is original and exciting, the writing is fun and engaging, and the production is thrilling and worth your time and money.

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