Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme is Unforgettable Story of an Irish “Band of Brothers” Entering One of WWI’s Bloodiest Battles.

PICT Theatre’s September 4-20 presentation of Sons of Ulster
coincides with 2014 WWI Centennial.

Pittsburgh, PA – August 13, 2014- PICT Classic Theatre’s Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, by Frank McGuinness, opens just about 100 years after the historical WWI events that are authentically portrayed in the performance. Running September 4-20 at the Stephen Foster Memorial, the play, appropriate for ages 12+, leaves audiences with a better emotional understanding of events that changed the course of millions of lives and a sense of the surprising ways that WWI continues to shape the world today.

“The greatest single loss of life in the history of the Irish-infused British army occurred at the Battle of Somme,” said returning PICT Director, Matt Torney. “Soldiers operated out of a muddy disease-ridden trench network that stretched about 25,000 miles.” In a graphic example of the horrifying conditions in the trenches on the battlefront, Torney continues, “Soldiers likened each terrifying day in the trenches to being led before a firing squad, blindfolded and with hands secured behind the back. Unbelievably, sometimes the firing squad would miss. But for the entrenched soldiers there was no time to savor any relief, as the next round in probably a thousand more rounds was already on its way.”

WWI experts explain that in the summer of 1914 the countries involved in WWI were not prepared for such a slow-advancing, bloody conflict. The hope of more quickly tipping the war in their favor sparked participants to drive early industry to produce at previously unachievable speeds. Combatants rallied around horrible war innovations like flamethrowers, tanks and poisonous gasses in attempt to bring dramatic military victory. The war was fought on every ocean and almost every continent. British subjects, U.S. minority populations, and women all around the world were pressed into service as never before; each making achievements that would ever change their perception in the eyes of the world. Experts rationalize that from 1914 to 1918, the fundamental cultural changes and the awakened desire to quickly achieve technological advancement continues to shape the world today.

Artistic & Executive Director, Alan Stanford, chose Observe the Sons as the fourth production of the PICT’s season because he believes its significance is timeless, “This is a play about how a group of men who start out with intense dislike for one another turns into a ‘band of brothers’. “

For Director, Matt Torney, who hails from Belfast, Ireland, there are aspects of Observe the Sons that hit closer to home, “There are huge parallels between the American sense of patriotism and the Ulster sense of patriotism.” So although the men in the play are from a specific place and a politically-charged time in Ireland’s history, Americans may find the play easy to relate to.

PICT Classic Theatre is committed to the creation of high quality, professional thought-provoking theatre of substance. We accomplish this mission by investing in and promoting the community and region, and by producing and presenting classics and the “modern” classics of Irish and world theatre. We continue to explore innovative ideas that showcase the emotional power of a play and its ability to stir the soul in unimaginable ways.

PICT welcomes a mix of local and guest actors. Matt Torney returns to direct.

Eight young Irishmen, thrown together for training during the Great War, must move beyond the troubles between Protestant and Catholic as they prepare for the Battle of the Somme. Frank McGuinness’ lyrical play captures the fierce friendship and loyalty among men who must face the wickedness and wastefulness of war.

There are three vital stages in this play: 1. Basic training followed by deployment to trenches on front line. 2. Soldiers miraculously alive and home on leave. 3.The night before the battle of Somme–the bloodiest English battle of WWI.

Haunted by his time in the war is old Kenneth Pyper, played by Martin Giles, who has performed and directed at PICT for over 13 years. Martin recently appeared on the PICT stage as Gogo in Waiting for Godot, but other past productions include The Kreutzer Sonata, The School for Lies and Ivanov and Afterplay in the Chekhov Celebration. He was also seen last year at Quantum Theater, where he directed John Gabriel Borkman and acted in Dream of Autumn.

Jason McCune is another PICT veteran who returns to play David Craig in Observe the Sons. His past performances at PICT include Harvey Duff in The Shaughraun, James and Joey in The Lieutenant of Inishmore and Shawn Keogh in The Playboy of the Western World, among other roles in the Synge Cycle. Other Pittsburgh appearances include productions at Pittsburgh Public Theater, barebones productions, Bricolage and Pittsburgh Playhouse.

Jonathan Visser returns to PICT after his recent performance as Captain Neville St. Clair in Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood. Other PICT performances include Zygmunt in Our Class, Solyony in Three Sisters, Kosyk in Ivanov and Dmitri in Yalta Game. In addition to Jonathan’s various regional theatre appearances, he has been seen in Pittsburgh at Bricolage, The City Theater, The Rep and Pittsburgh CLO.

Also returning after his performance in PICT’s Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood is Justin R. G. Holcomb, who made his PICT debut playing Dr. Watson. He most recently appeared Off-Broadway in Honor Bound, and other Off-Broadway performances include Channeling Kevin Spacey and Monster. Justin will remain in Pittsburgh through October to play Banquo in PICT’s upcoming production of Macbeth.

PICT is happy to welcome back Tony Bingham, who returns to play Nat McIlwaine in Observe the Sons.  Past PICT credits include Herring in The Mask of Moriarty and Careless in The School for Scandal. Tony has also performed in Pittsburgh at The Rep, Pittsburgh Public Theater and Off the Wall Theatre.

Dylan Marquis Meyers, who will be a Senior Theatre Arts Major at The University of Pittsburgh this fall, returns to PICT after his appearances in Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest. Dylan has also performed at Pitt Rep, Oakland Shakespeare Company, OSC and Band of Brothers Shakespeare.

PICT is excited to welcome Ciaran Byrne, Raife Baker and Byron Anthony as they make their PICT debuts with Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme.

Ciaran is a company member of New York City’s Irish Repertory Theatre and an Artist in Residence at THE CELL – A Twenty First Century Salon. His favorite performances include The Irish Rep’s revivals of Brian Friel’s The Freedom of the City and Juno and the Paycock, which earned the Callaway Award. You may see him on TV in TNT’s upcoming series “Public Morals,” produced by Ed Burns and Steven Spielberg.

Raife Baker has performed at Stolen Chair Theatre in New York including Potion and The Man Who Laughs. He also performed in New York in As You Like It, Hamlet, Plunge, The House of Yes, and Chocolates on the Pillow. Raife is a graduate of The American Conservatory Theater (MFA, Acting), and Emory University (BA, Theater Studies and Philosophy).

With plenty of experience on New York and California stages, Byron Anthony will make his Pittsburgh debut with Observe the Sons. A graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Byron has performed in New York in Hamlet, The Picket Line and The Cheater’s Club.

The artistic team for this production includes scenic design by Johnmichael Bohach, costume design by Joan Markert, sound design by Angela Baughman and lighting design by Cindy Limauro.

Born in Buncrana, Co. Donegal, Frank McGuinness is one of the most important playwrights in Ireland today. Included in his works are Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya, Peer Gynt, Hedda Gabler, A Doll’s House, Lady from the Sea, Brecht’s the Threepenny Opera, Sophocles’ Electra and Oedipus and Euripides’ Hecuba and Helen. Frank now lives in Dublin and teaches English at University College Dublin.


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Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme
by Frank McGuinness
Directed by Matt Torney
The Charity Randall Theatre inside the Stephen Foster Memorial
September 4 – 20, 2014

New from PICT Classic Theatre This Year:

  • WEDNESDAY 2PM MATINEE- September 17, 2014
  • What’s the BIG DEAL…about Observe the Sons of Ulster? Package includes dinner and conversation about the play prior to the show. Thursday, September 18, 2014 beginning at 5:30 at Joe Mama’s.

Special Events:

  • Opening Night reception following the September 6 performance at 8pm. (Free to ticketholders for the September 6 performance.)
  • Talkback with the cast, director and University of Pittsburgh History Professor, Tony Novosel, following the September 7 show at 2pm (approximately 4:15 pm). (Free and open to the public.)
  • Early Tuesday Happy Hour with free pizza at Joe Mama’s prior to the September 9 show (Free to ticketholders for September 9 performance.)
  • Pre-show lecture by the Artistic & Executive Director Alan Stanford from 7:00 to 7:30 before the September 10 performance. (Free and open to the public.)
  • What’s the BIG DEAL… About Observe the Sons of Ulster? A special package combining dinner, conversation to enhance your show experience and your seat at the performance on Thursday, September 18.
  • American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation available Saturday, September 20, 2014 – 2pm matinee. (Ticket for performance required.)