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.
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?
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.")