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'Repulsing The Monkey' Stages Gentrification Issues In Pittsburgh

What happens when a neighborhood is gentrified? Who leaves the neighborhood and what cultural influence do they take with them? In neighborhoods like Lawrenceville and the South Side, many young, native Pittsburgh residents are having trouble finding an affordable place to live.  Michael Eichler, playwright and University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work graduate, reflects on these questions in his new play, Repulsing the Monkey.   A staged reading of the play premieres this week at the University of Pittsburgh.

Eichler, now a retired professor at San Diego State University and successful playwright, lived in Pittsburgh in the 70s and 80s.  When he returned to visit decades later, he says the shocking changes he saw in neighborhoods helped inspire him to write his play.

“Pittsburgh has such a uniqueness to it, a feel for working people, such a rich history to it, that there is not a better place in the country to dramatize this issue than in Pittsburgh itself.”

Mary Ohmer, associate professor in the School of Social work was approached by Eichler for involvement in the project.

As a part of the “Year of Humanities” at the University of Pittsburgh, Ohmer’s Community Organizing Class was assigned to promote the event.  Students interviewed change-makers from various neighborhoods around Pittsburgh, researched national and local gentrification, conducted public relations and marketing to promote the event, and structured questions to drive the dialogue after the play reading.

“It’s very important that we actually give our students not only researching the issues, but acting on them and giving them an opportunity to do something,” Ohmer explains.

Carly Cottone, one of Ohmer’s students, explained that in Lawrenceville, public meetings are conducted each time a new developer comes into the area to voice opinions and be welcomed into the change.

“Pittsburgh still has a chance to make the development in the right way,” Cottone says.

Eichler says that in this city, there is an extreme lack of balanced growth, as Pittsburgh does not require developers to set aside a certain amount of buildings to be bought by local companies like in other cities.

Ohmer explains that the end goal of this project is to bring about unified dialogue across Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

“We want to see change.  The change-makers want to see change.  They want their communities revitalized.  It’s the balance---sustainable growth, responsible growth, balanced growth, and the people in the communities having a voice in that.”

The staged reading of Repulsing the Monkey will premiere Wednesday and Thursday of this week from 7-9 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association on Fifth Avenue. 

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