After weeks of close contests and national debate, the fraught competition to decide America’s ugliest accent has finally come to a dramatic close. And the winner is that moonlit, magical city—the Paris of Allegheny County, the Venice of the Ohio Valley—Pittsburgh, City of Jagoffs.
According to People Magazine, the lovely lilt of Pittsburghese/ yinzer (words/accent of unique to Pittsburgh) is “an odd amalgam of Southern twang and lazy East Coast diction - which turns “downtown” into “dahntahn” and “you all” into ‘yinz’.”
While I’m not denying that Pittsburghers have a special vocabulary and even more special accent (hell, I grew up with my dad “worshing” the car every weekend), I’m also not one to drink while pregnant, eat jumbo (bologna), chipped ham, or smoke - much less get ashes on the carpet — as the video in this article would suggest.
However, I have had my fair share of run-ins with plenty of jagoffs, can provide directions best by giving them in minutes to get there and “landmarks,” (go straight for ten minutes, make a right at the old co-gos and follow the parkway up until you hit the Monroeville exit) filled my shopping buggy with tons of groceries at the Jine Iggle, worked at Primanti Brothers for 4 years, always have extra gum bands in the house, and when I’m feeling sassy, have a nice tall, chilled glass of pop. I also love my Pens, Stillers and Buccos.
Pittsburgh Theater seems to have caught Tennessee Williams Fever (what? It’s totally a Thing). This fall, two local theater organizations known for producing quality performances and lineups, year after year, are featuring arguably two of Tennessee Williams’ best pieces of work. Running now (October 2 – November 2) is Pittsburgh Public Theater’s The Glass Menagerie, directed by Pamela Berlin.Two weeks and a couple days later, Barebones Productions’ A Streetcar Named Desire kicks off, running from Nov.20-Dec. 6.
Last week, my mom (aka my favorite forever theater buddy) and I had dinner at Ten Penny (meh) and then took a lovely Indian Summer Stroll down Penn Avenue until we reached the O’Reilly Theater in the Cultural District. Even for a Thursday night, it was bustling. It’s so nice to see the downtown area of Pittsburgh start to step up its game a bit.
Forty years ago Pittsburgh Public Theater opened curtains for it’s first show – The Glass Menagerie. In celebration of 40 successful seasons, the Pittsburgh Public has brought this great American drama back for audiences to enjoy.
Also known as Tennessee Williams’ “memory play,” The Glass Menagerie tells the tale of a young man, Tom, his disabled sister, Laura, and their controlling mother Amanda, a fading southern belle who wants nothing more than her son to be financially successful and her daughter to be matrimonially successful. Enter the Gentleman Caller. Actually – scratch that – the GC doesn’t appear until, as part-time narrator, part-time character Tom Wingfield informs us, the “last few scenes of the show.”
Tom (Fisher Neal) breaks the fourth wall quickly, acknowledging the audience and switching between participant in the play and narrator of the play sporadically throughout the show. Tom tells us in that opening scene, that this play is “memory,” and is “not realistic,” in that it is both a play created from Williams’ own memories and life, but that the symbolism, the happenstance, the events and even the setting at times lacks a realistic quality.
It goes without saying that directors have approached this in countless ways, and (for me) Director Pam Berlin’s implementation here is successful. Tom was morose but relatable and even worthy of audience members’ sympathy. It was hard not to be driven almost instantly to his side, as we meet his whirlwind of a mother, Amanda Wingfield (an energetic and fearless Lynne Wintersteller) who surely has good intentions but does Not. Stop. Talking. Ever. And by talking, I mean nagging. And by nagging I mean her picture is in the dictionary right next to the word. Tom’s sibling, Laura (Cathryn Wake), who walks with a limp due to a childhood illness, and who fosters a mental fragility and an inferiority complex that houses her away from others, in her own world. Her glass figurine collection which she adoringly and obsessively cleans and imagines with symbolizes her mental and physical fragility as well as the delicate reality in which she lives.
Did I mention their mother nags a lot? Well Amanda is SO good at nagging she convinces her ever-miserable son to convince on of his co-workers to come to dinner and meet Laura. Laura is in her early twenties and needs to get married and have babies right away – it is St. Louis in 1937, after all.
Tom brings Jim O’Connor (Prince William look-a-like, Jordan Whalen), the much-anticipated Gentleman Caller, home in the second act. Little does Tom know that back in high school, Laura harbored an enormous and undying love for Mr. O’Connor.
I won’t tell you what happens from there because I’ve already given away too much and you should really just go see it yourselves. After all, how many chances does one get to see an American classic – what some argue is the greatest American drama in history. The Glass Menagerie drifts in and out of each of the Wingfield’s realities, and how their relationships with one another both hinder and enhance those worlds. It’s a beautiful story, a true classic that Pittsburgh audiences are fortunate enough to enjoy twice in forty years.
(below: Fisher Neal as Tom Wingfield and Lynne Wintersteller as Amanda Wingfield. I love this shot because it embodies so many themes of the show: Tom’s hopes and dreams to escape the confines of their cramped apartment; Amanda’s abrasive persistence and the happenstance that the full moon is out that evening, on a fire escape that only poor Laura seems to slip on)
Pittsburgh native Zachary Quinto and Seth Meyer (whose dad is from Pittsburgh) discuss the lovely lilt of Pittsburghese and the yinzer accent.
"the people are amazing…the accent is not."
Photo at the Heinz History Center on Smallman Street in the Strip District.
So, there’s this character on YouTube named Pittsburgh Dad, who’s been starring in his own Web sitcom since 2011, in which he mostly sits in front of a camera and watches his terrible sports team lose or The Price Is Right. His comedy hinges on his Pittsburgh accent almost as the punch line itself, which we’re sure is funny to someone.
It is funny to someone - a lot of someone’s actually. The best thing about Pittsburgh Dad, in my humble opinion, is the more subdued nods to Pittsburgh standards and idiosyncrasies that are unique to the greater Pittsburgh region. Basement pop in basement freezers is a great example. Much like a cookie table at weddings, if you live in Pittsburgh and you don’t have a basement freezer stocked with pop, people look at you like you suddenly grew a second head.
It’s not what’s obvious and in-your-face, like his yinzer accent, hatred of the Baltimore Ravens and construction zones, and affinity for Klondikes. It’s the quieter content and often even the environment/setting of the episode that truly speaks the loudest when it comes to defining Pittsburghers and the region.