Mary and I just had a quintessential Pittsburgh evening: visual artist Bob Qualters, performer Steve Pellegrino and filmmaker Tony Buba -- idiosyncratic Pittsburgh artists all making theater one way or another.

For Qualters, it was an opening at the Borelli Edwards Art Gallery in Lawrenceville (3583 Butler St.), a big exhibit of his latest paintings of Pittsburgh laced with myth, or rather myth discovered through personal takes on Pittsburgh. These are Qualters-esque visions of Daphne and Naiads and Icarus (my favorite) and Persephone interwoven with vigorous, colorful focus on Pittsburgh places, realized with layered media, all robust and earthy but sometimes verging on mystical. They burst their borders like performances pushing beyond the proscenium. It’s drama. Steve Jumpin'

Then on to the Grey Box Theatre next door for Pellegrino’s one-man “Accordion Stories,” a ramble through his working class heritage up the Mon Valley, expressed in anecdote, accordion and song.

So who’s the Anon. credited with defining a gentleman as someone who can play an accordion but doesn’t? Someone short on soul, I’d say: someone wielding “gentleman” as a stick to keep the lower classes in order. Pellegrino grew up in an accordion playing household in an accordion era, and we are the beneficiaries as he shows what his accordion and his father’s and a squeezebox can do.

Along with setting our feet to tapping, they summon history, because Pellegrino is not just a musician, he’s a story teller who can talk and sing as well as play, and he has all the gusto of a Qualters painting. As some of you may know, he’s also an artist of serious surreal eccentricity, master of the Drywall series of performance pieces going back, what, a couple of decades? Three? More? SteveB0119

But not here. This is a Pellegrino planted firmly in the industrial working class, quite naturally wearing the overalls he uses (for real) to install drywall and plaster. He’s explicit in laughter and nostalgia as he tells tales of growing up, but especially of his parents and grandparents, which takes him back to the Depression. Two songs touch depths of pain, a superlative “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” and a throaty tale of coal mine tragedy that you can only call Mon Valley Blues. He even gives the audience a chance to dance.

Unfortunately his three performance weekend is done, but if Pellegrino doesn’t bring “Accordion Stories” back soon for a longer run, we ought to hunt him down and insist.

As to filmmaker Buba, he was there to video Pellegrino. He’s featured him on film before, and I guess he will again. But I’m the theater guy and i say, it’s better in person.

(Photos by Larry Rippel. Top: "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Bottom: "Brother Can You Spare a Dime.")

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A three-day conference presented by Quantum Theatre and the University of Pittsburgh May 12-14 wil feature staged readings of "Merchant on Venice" by Shishir Kurup and "Jihad Against Violence" by Fawzia Afzal-Khan, with lectures before each reading.

The conference "aims to initiate new inquires into the aesthetics and impacts of diasporas onto theater practice." It was organized by Neilesh Bose, historian, theater artist and editor of "Beyond Bollywood and Broadway, Plays from the South Asian Diaspora," an anthology of plays.

The play "Merchant on Venice" is part of Quantum’s 2010-11 subscription package. Beyond subscribers, the conference is free and open to the public, space permitting.


Schedule of events:

Thursday, May 12, Frick Fine Arts Building:

5:30-6:30 p.m., Fawzia Afzal-Khan, “Performative Interventions in the Body Politic of Pakistan”

7-8:30 p.m., "Jihad Against Violence" staged reading

Friday, May 13, Frick Fine Arts Building::

5-6 p.m., Neilesh Bose, “South Asia, Diaspora, and History: 'Merchant on Venice' and Post-Colonial Secularism”

8-10:30 p.m., "Merchant on Venice" staged reading

10:30 p.m., Talkback and reception

Saturday, May 14, Posvar Hall 4103:

9 a.m.-5 p.m., Re-Orienting Asia: Southern Asian Performance Across Frontiers, conference.




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Happy Birthday, August Wilson

Wednesday, 27 April 2011 12:00 AM Written by

Born April 27, 1945, the great playwright would have been just 66 today, a reminder of how tragically early he was taken from us. His fatal liver cancer came on him so suddenly, just a few months from diagnosis to his death, Oct. 2, 2005.

But he left behind the extraordinary artistic legacy of his Pittsburgh Cycle of 10 plays, which continue to bear witness to the tragic-comic drama of America, seen through his turbulent tales of African Americans throughout the 20th century. I can’t imagine them ever growing stale; from my own experience, they continue to reveal new depths and dimensions the more you read or see them.

Right now, Pittsburgh has the advantage of seeing the Pittsburgh Cycle in a bi-monthly series of readings staged by Mark Southers at the August Wilson Center, downtown. Mark is doing them not in the order of the century but in that of their writing and appearance on Broadway. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Feb. 7) and “Fences” (April 4) are past; “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” (June 6) and “The Piano Lesson” (Aug. 1) are just ahead. (On the alternate first Mondays of every month there are readings of other African American plays.)

Further, Mark’s Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre has been offering annual, full-scale productions of the whole cycle, in that same order. This year, we are up to the eighth play, “King Hedley II,” one of the two that had its world premiere here. Mark your calendars now: “King Hedley” will run June 2-12 (also at the August Wilson Center), with a cast led by a veteran of the Broadway production, Stephen McKinley Henderson.

I’d like to add a shout-out here to the 15 members of my August Wilson senior seminar at Pitt, who are graduating Sunday. Their discovery of the range and power of the Pittsburgh Cycle is fresh testimony to the unfolding wonders of the August Wilson legacy.

-- Chris Rawson

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The amazing maze of CMU's 'The Alice Project'

Thursday, 21 April 2011 06:05 PM Written by


Courtesy of the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama:

"The Alice Project" takes Lewis Carroll's Victorian sensibility and drags it kicking and screaming into the present day, as CMU's School of Drama transforms the story on a high-tech, three-story, steel-maze set layered with multimedia. The last offering of CMU's drama season runs through Saturday, April 23 in the Philip Chosky Theater in the Purnell Center for the Arts.

Directed by graduate directing program leader and faculty member Marianne Weems, this interdisciplinary performance explores the character of Alice through a modern-day lens of technology, using live cameras, projection surfaces and soundscapes on the steel structure.

"This use of multimedia creates connections and disconnections, which offers the viewer a window into this contemporary reading of Alice," said Weems, who will be making her directorial debut for the School of Drama.

Over the past year, a team of graduate designers, undergraduate directors and graduate dramatic writing students have collaborated with the director, actors and technicians to develop the performance.

" 'The Alice Project' combines performance, imagination, conceptual skills, technology and text in an original provocative and innovative explosion of theatricality," said Peter Cooke, head of the School of Drama.

Weems said the scale of the three-story steel structure of the set, each with multiple "cells" for various characters, combined with live action captured on video and encompassing soundscapes heightens the multi-varied perspective and creates a complex pictorial frame.

"As Alice's adventures move from square to square, the past and present encounter each other in a dynamic dialogue," Weems said.

The story follows Alice as she tiptoes through a set of seemingly arbitrary and fluid rules of the looking glass world to progress through a game of chess and become Queen. She meets a series of melancholic and delusional creatures unable to move outside of their own squares.

"Alice is constantly questioned as to who she is. Each encounter is a struggle with power, with what forces will define her identity and how much she requires affirmation and recognition from others along the way," said second-year graduate directing student Katie Brook. "Alice is seen and named by a variety of characters in multiple ways. As they struggle to define her, the story reflects fragments of different perceptions of Alice."

Ticket prices begin at $15 for adults and $10 for students at 412-268-2407 or visit http://www.drama.cmu.edu.

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PICT casting for summer shows

Wednesday, 13 April 2011 11:10 AM Written by

Actors from Ireland, New York, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh are part of ittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's 2011 Dynamic Duos season, which begins May 7 with "Antony and Cleopatra."

2011LeoMarks_PICTThe Actor in Residence for the season will be Leo Marks (left), a company member in PICT's recent Pinter Celebration. The OBIE Award winner's credits include The Shakespeare Theatre, South Coast Repertory, Actors Theater of Louisville, the Old Globe and Intiman.
Marks will play Octavius in "Antony & Cleopatra," the smarmy Gavin Ryng-Mayne in Alan Ayckbourn's "House & Garden" and the suave Algernon Moncrief in an all-male "The Importance of Being Earnest."

Also this season:

"Antony and Cleopatra" (directed by James J, Christy; May 4-21 in the Charity Randall Theatre) — Helena Ruoti returns to PICT this season "House & Garden" and "Antony and Cleopatra," starring opposite Sam Tsoutsouvas in the title roles. Southern California-based actor James Sutorius makes his PICT debut as cynical warrior Enobarbus.
"House & Garden" (co-directed by Andrew Paul and Melissa Hill Grande) — Martin Giles stars as Teddy Platt, a wealthy philanderer making a move into politics. Beth Hylton and Nike Doukas return to PICT to play respectively Teddy's mistress, Joanna, and glamorous French film star Lucille Cadeau. British-born actors Sarah Manton and David Bryan Jackson make their PICT debuts.

"The Importance of Being Earnest" (directed by Conall Morrison; Aug. 4-27 in the Charity Randall) — Irish actors Conall Morrison and Alan Stanford join Pittsburgher David Whalen in the Oscar Wilde comedy. CMU alumnus Will Reynolds and New York-based character actor Matthew Cleaver nabbed the roles of Gwendolen and Cecily following a national search.

The early lineup for the Storytellers Series "Second Helpings" at 7 p.m. in the Henry Heymann Theatre: "Relatively Speaking" by Alan Ayckbourn, May 16, and "Romance" by David Mamet, July 11.

Casting for fall shows "Race" by David Mamet and "The Mask of Moriarty" by Alan Stanford is TBA. Tickets: ProArts at 412-394-3353 or visit www.picttheatre.org.

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The opening night cast of Signature's "Angels in America" included three Pittsburghers and CMU alums. The cast, from left, Frank Wood, Zoe Kazan, Fox Chapel's Christian Borle, Homewood's Billy Porter, Green Tree's Zach Quinto, Bill Heck, Robin Bartlett, Robin Weiger
Billy Porter returns to Pittsburgh CLO fresh off his off-Broadway marathon in Signature Theatre's "Angels in America," as Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar." There's also an "American Idol" contestant and stage vet among the summer season casting: Diana DeGarmo makes her Benedum Center debut in the newcomer "9 to 5: The Musical" (May 31 to June 5) directed by Pittsburgh native Jeff Calhoun. DeGarmo plays the Dolly Parton role of Doralee in the musical version, while three-time Tony nominee Dee Hoty returns to CLO in the role of Violet.

A name you may recognize for other reasons is Lisa Howard, who plays Irish vampire Siobhan of "Twilight: Breaking Dawn." Ms. Howard will portray Mother Abbess in "The Sound of Music" as her first CLO role. Her Broadway credits include "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "South Pacific" at Lincoln Center.

Other casting notables for the 2011 CLO season:

**  "Jekyll & Hyde" (June 14 – 26):  Robert Cuccioli returns as director and Kevin Gray reprises the title role he performed in Pittsburgh CLO's 2002 production of this show, while Broadway veteran Elizabeth Stanley makes her debut as Lucy.

**  "The Sound of Music" (July 19 – 31):  Jennifer Hope Wills, who was Broadway's Christine in "Phantom of the Opera" for nearly four yearsm, plays Maria.

**  "Jesus Christ Superstar" (Aug. 2-14): Doug Kreeger plays the title role and Mr. Porter returns to his CLO roots, where he began his career as a Mini Star.

Subscriptions are at pittsburghclo.org or by calling 412-281-2822.

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Josh Gad and 'The Book of Mormon' open to raves

Sunday, 27 March 2011 10:23 AM Written by

The new Broadway musical I'm most excited about seeing? "The Book of Mormon," of course. Entertainment Weekly just handed the show an "A" rating, saying, "Teaming with 'Avenue Q' co-creator Robert Lopez to write a perfect book, music and lyrics, ["South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone" honor the tradition of great song-and-dance theater in all the best ways."

Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells
in "The Book of Mormon"
Ben Brantley also heaped praise on the show in his New York Times review, and isn't that an amazing feat for the "South Park" guys.

Il love the idea that it's a traditional musical but it's about Mormons, and all that implies from Parker and Stone's "South Park" roots, without a lot of pull-back from their usual raunchy insanity. Remember, they were nominated for a best song Oscar ("Blame Canada") and wrote the catchy tune "What Would Brian Boitano Do," too.

"Book of Mormon" stars Josh Gad, CMU Class of 2003 and a star of "Love & Other Drugs" (he played Jake Gyllenhaal's brother. EW recently caught up with Gad.

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Quantum Theatre has announced that the opening performance of "Maria de Buenos Aires" has been delayed until Friday, April 1.

According to the press release:

Additional information will be provided as soon as possible to ticket holders for performances scheduled for March 25, 26, 27, 30, and 31st, who will be rebooked at their convenience.  The company will be adding performances to the run to accommodate the change; ShowClix and Quantum's website will have information soon about additional performances and people are encouraged to book early.

"True to our custom, we chose the play's location--in this case the former East Liberty YMCA building---even with the signifcant challenges it presented, because it works to advance and support the artistic vision," says Dave DeSimone, Quantum's Board president. "Despite our best efforts to ready the space for the Maria de Buenos Aires production, building code issues concerning accessibility for patrons with physical disabilities reamain outstanding."

"We apologize for any inconvenience this delay creates for our patrons and actors," said Karla Boos, Quantum artistic director. "This is the first time we've had to delay an opening since Quantum was founded over 20 years ago."

Mr. DeSimone adds that Quantum anticipates receiving approval of a waiver from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry's Accessibility Advisory Board at its meeting on March 31st. "The show will go on," he says.

More information: Quantum Theatre at 412-697-2929 or check www.quantumtheatre.com.

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