Prime Stage Theatre presents “Witness for the Prosecution”
TheaterPlay discusses social issues still relevant in 2024

Prime Stage Theatre presents “Witness for the Prosecution”

The play will be staged May 3-12 at the New Hazlett Center for Performing Arts.

(l-r) David Nackmann, Erica Fox Zabusky, John Reilly, Jacob Wright perform in Prime Stage Theatre’s “Witness for the Prosecution” set in 1950s London (Photo by Laura Slovesko)
(l-r) David Nackmann, Erica Fox Zabusky, John Reilly, Jacob Wright perform in Prime Stage Theatre’s “Witness for the Prosecution” set in 1950s London (Photo by Laura Slovesko)

It’s no mystery: Erica Fox Zabusky loves the theater.

“It was my sixth-grade play that got me started with singing and I was trained as a singer, but singers have to act, too,” she recounted.
If her name sounds familiar it’s not surprising. When she’s not gracing the stage in acting and singing roles, Zabusky serves as the operations manager at Classrooms Without Borders.

The position, she said, is often intensive, intense and challenging — words that could also describe her work in the theater, something she’s pursued both professionally and with community theater productions for most of her life.

Since that initial sixth-grade play, Zabusky’s resume has read like a road map of theater, both local and abroad. She performed with the Pittsburgh Opera Chorus and as part of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, at the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s original location in Oakland and on the South Side at the City Theatre.

Along the way, she sang at the Salzburg Cathedral Choir before moving to and performing in Hamburg, Germany, before moving back to the United States where her focus shifted from singing to acting.

“I started acting because there weren’t always roles in musical theater for ‘mature women,’” she said. “It had always been there, but I never really explored it because I was so focused on singing.”

The move to acting roles might have been for practical reasons, but Zabusky said the transition has given her more of an opportunity to flex her theater muscles. She said there’s more range to the characters in straight acting than in musical theater, which tends to often have stereotyped characters.

“There’s is much more opportunity to put your stamp on it, as opposed to singing the notes that a composer has written and I really find that a challenge, but it’s also rewarding,” she said.

Zabusky found her newest challenge with Prime Stage Theatre’s production of Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution,” where she plays Janet Mackenzie.

The play, she said, is just as relevant today as when it was written, touching on issues of xenophobia and anti-foreigner sentiment, women’s roles in society and the expectations of what women should or shouldn’t do.

“Even though it’s a play written in the ‘50s, it has many themes that are timely today,” she said. “It’s surprising and sad that these things are still taken for granted — how women are supposed to be in society and how foreigners are viewed. This really brings a lot of those to the fore.”

Prime Stage, she said, produces thought-provoking work that takes on various social issues that look at historical situations from different perspectives.

David Nackman, who portrays Myers in the production, said that “Witness for the Prosecution” examines social issues in a way many Agatha Christie plays do not.

“She took on a whole range of social issues — xenophobia and misogyny and the imbalance in the judicial system and in the way our perception can be warped by our biases, and differences in class, all of those factors play out on the stage in the courtroom,” he said.

Like Zabusky, Nackman has spent his life in the theater.

“I did the whole New York City actor thing,” he said. “I was on Broadway. I started my career in the national tour of Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” and then went on to do that role in regional theaters around the country.”

After building a theater career, Nackman shifted careers and founded Performance of a Lifetime, an international company that trains business executives in communicating and working with teams using the tools of an actor and improviser.

The Pittsburgh transplant said that in the years leading up to the pandemic, in addition to running Performance of a Lifetime, he was doing a lot of experimental and avant-garde work.

“In the last couple of years, I’ve gotten much more active in the community theater scene, to the point of bouncing from one production to another and having a ball,” he said. “I’m also looking to get back into directing. Next season, I’ll be working with a company called the Theatre Factory in Trafford.”

He said that the Pittsburgh theater community is close, which lends itself to experience and continuity.

“We’re passionate about it because we love getting in front of an audience that is there to see a show,” he said. “They’re there because they want to support their community and support their family and friends and they want to be told a story that takes them out of whatever crap they’re going through.”

“Witness for the Prosecution” Director Ponny Conomos Jahn is an example of the continuity of the Pittsburgh theater community.

Conomos Jahn grew up in Upper St. Clair and has worked as an actor, instructor and stage director for nearly three decades. She co-founded the Prague Ensemble Theatre and worked at the Little Lake Theater in a variety of roles, acted at the Pittsburgh Public Theater and directed at the South Park Theatre.

Her work with Prime Stage began several years ago when a friend was directing a work and asked her to audition. She was cast in a role and transitioned to help the company, working as its educational coordinator for a season.

Directing a work by Agatha Christie is a true passion project for Conomos Jahn.

“I was a kind of literary nerd. I have a dramatic literature background. So, for me, it was really cool and fun to have an opportunity to interact with an Agatha Christie play which I have never directed before,” she said. “She is one of my all-time favorite authors.”

In fact, she said it the drama of Christie’s novel is partially responsible for Conomos Jahn’s involvement with theater.

“I’ve always enjoyed the procedural murder mysteries set in the 1930s,” she said.

One of the things the director hopes will come through in the production is the humor of “Witness for the Prosecution,” which Conomos Jahn said is “honestly hilarious.”

Zabusky, too, said there’s a lot of laughter to be found in the work.

“I think it has a lot more comedic moments than one might expect,” she said.

Prime Stage Theatre presents “Witness for the Prosecution” from May 3-12 at the New Hazlett Center for Performing Arts. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

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