Wednesday, May 11, 2016

City of Asylum/Pittsburgh Restaurant, Bookstore, Event Space Set for September

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2016 at 2:31 PM

This nonprofit has come a long way since 2004, when it was launched to shelter a single writer under threat of persecution. (The first was dissident Chinese poet Huang Xiang.) Yesterday, the group that’s since become one of Pittsburgh’s top literary organizations announced that its big plans for a new headquarters are just months from completion.

The planned Alphabet City building (to left of "Garden" building) - PHOTO BY BILL O'DRISCOLL
  • Photo by Bill O'Driscoll
  • The planned Alphabet City building (to left of "Garden" building)
Alphabet City, located in the North Side’s former Masonic Building (right next to the landmark former Garden Theater), will include a name wine-and-cheese café, a bookstore, and event space accommodating up to 225.

While yesterday’s press event drew dignitaries including Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the space is still quite raw. Green tarps billowed from the building’s façade onto West North Avenue, and the 100 or so press and visitors were required to don hard hats to tread the plywood floor of the 9,000-square-foot space, currently stripped to plaster and I-beams.

City of Asylum has long been busy sheltering writers and hosting literary events with an international flavor, including its signature annual Jazz Poetry event; in 12 years, it’s offered events featuring more than 300 writers and musicians from 60 countries, co-founder Henry Reese said yesterday. Last year alone, it drew more than 5,000 visitors to about 50 programs, all of them free.

This past November, the group became the U.S. headquarters for the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), which called City of Asylum/Pittsburgh “the model for the world.”

The $12.2 million Masonic Building reboot will allow the group to do even more: Some 150 programs are already planned in the first year of operation, according to press materials, starting with Sept. 9 and 10 readings by Svetlana Alexievich, the Nobel Prize-winning investigative journalist who fled Belarus in 2000.

The space will permanently host a 24-seat incarnation of Caselulla @ Alphabet City — the wine-and-cheese café is expanding outside of New York City for the first time — and City of Asylum Books @ Alphabet City, a bookstore specializing on books in translation (though it will also carry new and used books in English and operate a free-book program). Yesterday, Reese introduced the shop’s inaugural manager: Lesley Rains, who’s just completing the sale of her East End Book Exchange. (Rains tells CP that the new space will actually be bigger than EEBX, which lives in a Bloomfield storefront.)
The bookshop’s shelves will be movable to allow for full use of the space.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at barebones productions

Posted By on Thu, May 5, 2016 at 2:29 PM

Three performances remain of the troupe’s well-produced staging of this 1963 play by Dale Wasserman.

A scene from barebones' "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" - PHOTO COURTESY OF LOUIS STEIN
  • Photo courtesy of Louis Stein
  • A scene from barebones' "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
For many of us, the stage work will be heavily shadowed by the 1975 Milos Forman film, among that decade’s cultural touchstones. But part of the play’s value is that it’s much closer to the spirit of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, the source material for both play and movie.

While the story’s premise and main and supporting characters are the same, the film and stage versions are framed differently. The film is a Jack Nicholson vehicle that spotlights inmate Randall P. McMurphy’s power struggle with psych-ward dictator Nurse Ratched; the play, like Kesey’s book, is actually narrated by a character who in the film doesn’t even speak: Chief Bromden.

The Big Chief’s scene-opening monologues — like his dialogue later in the play — frame the story less as a matter of personal rebellion, with McMurphy as rebel hero, and more as an allegory about the Keseyian notion of the Combine, the invisible bureaucratized power structure that controls all, turning its servants (like Ratched, and two of the psych-ward orderlies) into merciless automatons and its victims (the patients and inmates) into neutered prey.

As befits its time and Kesey’s legend, it’s all very proto-counterculture (and, at times, pretty Freudian). But this is also a way of looking at the play that helps explain its unfortunate gender politics: In a mid-century milieu where men held even more of the political and social power than they do now, Kesey invests all the repressive authority of the Combine in a female character, even while blaming offstage female characters (Billy Bibbit’s mother; Bromden’s mother) for other ills. Yet as framed by Bromden's monologues, you might see each of the characters as an expression of the Combine's warping influence.

At any rate, here’s Stuart Sheppard’s rave review of the barebones production for CP.

The remaining performances are at 8 p.m. nightly, tonight through Saturday, at the New Hazlett Theater.

Tickets are $29.99 and are available here.

The New Hazlett is located at 6 Allegheny Square East, on the North Side.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Final week for Quantum’s “Master Builder” on Pittsburgh’s North Side

Posted By on Thu, Apr 28, 2016 at 11:29 AM

By design, Quantum Theatre has staged plays in dozens of interesting and unlikely places over its 26 years. (In fact the troupe has created a contest and nifty interactive map to honor that legacy.)

John Shepard and Hayley Nielsen in "The Master Builder" - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN ALTDORFER
  • Photo courtesy of John Altdorfer
  • John Shepard and Hayley Nielsen in "The Master Builder"
But fans of the urban landscape will be especially thrilled by the venue Quantum has arranged for this Ibsen classic: The view from the ninth floor of Building Two of Nova Place (formerly Allegheny Center) alone is worth half the price of admission.

The former office space in the recently sold complex has been stripped bare, meaning a short walk around the perimeter gets you a 360-degree low-flying-bird’s-eye view of Pittsburgh that’s centered a few blocks behind PNC Park. Arrive early for a daylight perspective. My favorite vantage lets you gaze across Deutschtown and up the Allegheny valley all the way to UPMC Children’s Hospital on the Lawrenceville hillside, and beyond.

The play, meanwhile, is staged before the windows that look out on the Downtown skyline, and the wraparound windows take full advantage of the dusk that descends throughout the first of three acts (for performances starting at 8 p.m., which most of them do).

Dusk descending is also an apt metaphor vis-à-vis Ibsen’s script, which grapples with mortality, the notion of legacy and the fear of obsolescence that grips Halvard Solness, an aging architect with a wandering eye.

The play is knotty, as Ibsen tends to be; after the show, I had a fruitful discussion with a fellow attendee about whether the whole story had taken place in Solness’ head, the other characters merely manifestations of his own psyche. But Master Builder will definitely get you thinking; indeed, a week after seeing it, I feel like I’m still processing.

For another take, here’s Stuart Sheppard’s review for CP.

The Master Builder has four more performances through Sunday.

Tickets are $38 and are available here.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Art All Night returns to Lawrenceville

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2016 at 2:49 PM

Art All Night 2016
Art All Night 2016 Art All Night 2016 Art All Night 2016 Art All Night 2016 Art All Night 2016 Art All Night 2016 Art All Night 2016 Art All Night 2016

Art All Night 2016

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Pittsburgh’s 19th annual Art All Night was held this weekend, at the Arsenal Terminal in Lawrenceville; the all-night affair, which ran from 4 p.m. Sat., April 23, through 2 p.m. Sun., April 24, is a no-jury art show.

The event was filled with displays of local artwork and live performances, including collaborative paintings, musicians, breakdancing and standup comedians. For those so inspired, there was postcard-making and drawing with chalk. A steady crowd swarmed the beer stand, though the atmosphere remained low-key and friendly. A few attendees even brought their furry friends along. The activity continued through the night, as CP''s Aaron Warnick documents here. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Play Art Bingo at Lawrenceville’s Art All Night and win a City Paper prize pack

Posted By and on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 at 3:29 PM


The highlight of the spring art season is the 19th annual Art All Night. At this Lawrenceville event, held from 4 p.m. Sat., April 23, through 2 p.m. Sun., April 24, anybody can display their artwork, and plenty do. Frankly, it can be overwhelming for visitors.

To help you focus, City Paper designed four bingo cards just for Art All Night. In the squares are art forms and subjects to look for: string art and things made with branches; photos of the Pittsburgh skyline and sunsets; portraits of dogs and babies; plus the ever-popular zombies, Steelers and wizards.

Download and print one or all four. To win, complete any row (horizontally, vertically or diagonally). Tweet a photo of your winning card in front of winning art (the one that completed your B-I-N-G-O) to @PGHCityPaper using the hashtag #CPArtBingo, and be eligible for a City Paper prize pack, which will include CP T-shirts and two tickets to three upcoming Stage AE shows — Say Anything on May 11; The Avett Brothers on May 12 and Ellie Goulding on May 13.

True lovers of art in all forms will want to play blackout (finding all the squares). And why not? You’ve got all night.

Art All Night. Arsenal Terminal at 39th and Foster streets, Lawrenceville. Free.

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Final Performances of "The Flick" at Pittsburgh’s The REP

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 at 11:18 AM

I know, I know, it’s all about Prince this morning, as it should be. But I hope you recover in time to check out this exceptional production of Annie Baker’s 2015 Pulitzer-winning play.

Sarah Silk and Saladin White II in "The Flick" - PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF SWENSEN
  • Photo courtesy of Jeff Swensen
  • Sarah Silk and Saladin White II in "The Flick"
The Flick is a real anomaly that sounds daunting and maybe even shouldn’t work: Who these days writes a low-key three-hour comedy, played on one dingy set, where all three main characters are underpaid dorks and two of them are depressives? And which, as Michelle Pilecki points out in her review for CP, is for long passages so shy on dialogue that it's practically a dance show?

But Baker (whose Circle Mirror Transformation was staged by Pittsburgh Public Theater a few years back) is a virtuoso of the space between words: While Baker has a peerless ear for the inarticulate way people really talk, what isn’t said in this play, set in a rundown small-town movie theater, and for how long it’s not said, is at least as communicative as what is (both between the characters themselves and for the audience).

So Baker loves her silences. But because she therefore gives the cast both nothing and everything to work with, The Flick – I’d call it a discontiguous love triangle, though it’s also more – only works if the director and cast get it. And at The REP they surely do: Robert A. Miller guides an amazing ensemble cast led by Sarah Silk, John Steffenauer and Saladin White II.

Three hours is long, yes. But just bring a snack, and come ready to really watch, and really listen. You won’t be disappointed.

Four performances remain of The Flick, tonight through Sunday, at Point Park University's black-box Studio theater, 222 Craft Ave., in Oakland.

Tickets are $10-29 and are available here.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Final week for 12 Peers’ Compelling “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” in Pittsburgh

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 10:49 AM

Theater doesn’t get much purer than this show: For each night of an 18-performance run, it’s a different actor reading a script that he or she has never seen prior to hitting the nearly bare stage. Each performance is literally a show no one can see ever again.

Ingrid Sonnichsen performs "White Rabbit Red Rabbit" - PHOTO COURTESY OF PRAISE WATERS PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Photo courtesy of Praise Waters Photography
  • Ingrid Sonnichsen performs "White Rabbit Red Rabbit"
The material is exceptional, as well: Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour has his actor present a series of variations on stories mostly about animal characters (anthropomorphized and not), with themes exploring isolation, conformity, authoritarianism and group-think. There’s also some clever audience participation, and a darkly comic sub-narrative that involves the lone performer and a risky onstage choice.

I shouldn’t say much more – though the play is hardly plot-based, critics and audiences are admonished not to provide spoilers. Suffice it to say that, in more ways than one, White Rabbit Red Rabbit reaches well beyond the confines of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre space.

For instance, its theatrical novelty, its themes, and its author’s longtime (but recently ended) confinement in his home country have made it a cause celebre, performed internationally by famed actors. An ongoing run at New York’s West Side theater has featured or will feature Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Mike Birbiglia, Cynthia Nixon, David Hyde Pierce and George Takei, among others.

The 12 Peers Theater production is Pittsburgh’s first White Rabbit Red Rabbit. Some top local talent has already contributed. This past Sunday, for instance, I saw Alan Stanford, artistic and executive director of PICT Classic Theatre – a witty performance that both exploited the script’s opportunities for ad libs and appropriately elicited its darker tones.

And here’s Gwendolyn Kiste’s review for CP of a performance earlier in the run by Rich Keitel.

Just four performances remain. Tonight, the performer is Brian Edward. Tomorrow night, it’s Jeffrey Carpenter of Bricolage Productions, followed on Saturday by Diana Ifft, and on Sunday by an actor to be announced shortly.

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre is located Downtown at 937 Liberty Ave., on the third floor.
Tickets are pay-what-you-desire, but can be reserved here.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: The 2016 Pittsburgh Fringe

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2016 at 12:50 PM

One show was canceled, and the central ticketing venue had to be relocated at the last minute. But overall, Pittsburgh’s first-ever fringe festival made some gains in its third year.

Michael Burgos in "The Eulogy"
  • Michael Burgos in "The Eulogy"
Pittsburgh Fringe executive director Xela Batchelder – who took over this year from fest founder Dan Stiker – says the three-day showcase drew about 720 people for 50 performances of 20 individual productions by cutting-edge performance-art acts from around the nation.

For the second year running, Fringe shows were staged in makeshift venues in the North Side’s Deutschtown neighborhood, including James Street Gastropub, Max's Allegheny Tavern and two private clubs (St. Mary’s Lyceum and the Young Men’s Republican Club).

Batchelder tells CP  that her attendance goal for this year was 800, and in fact total attendance was down from the 2015 festival (when 796 folks bought tickets). But because this year there were fewer shows, per-show attendance rose to about 14 per show (compared to 10 in each of the first two years). 

So even though the festival was unable to secure any outside funding, as it had in years past, “I think we’re going to get close to break-even,” says Batchelder.

Some of the increase in per-show attendance was probably due to moving the festival off of the Mother’s Day weekend slot it occupied its first two years; while she hadn’t broken out the numbers yet, Batchelder said that Sunday attendance seemed stronger than in the past.

Based on the three shows I saw this year, all on Saturday, the Fringe deserved much bigger crowds.

Continue reading »

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Arts Festival announces lineup, new features

Posted By on Mon, Apr 18, 2016 at 3:05 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
  • Squonk Opera's "Cycle Sonic"

The festival’s 57th annual incarnation, June 3-12, will be broadly familiar: a Point State Park-based footprint, lots of bands, the artists’ market, large-scale outdoor public artworks, a juried visual-art show, festival food.

There’s even the welcome, lately near-annual tradition of a new show by performance-art rock-band faves Squonk Opera.

And it’s all still free, thanks largely to the title sponsor in what’s officially titled the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival.

But according to info released today by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, there’ll be a few new wrinkles in the festival-going experience, and this year’s public art has a local bent.

For one, the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s CREATE Festival, which last year merely happened in conjunction with the arts fest, is more fully integrated – and it, too, is now free. The day-long festival, will take place June 9 at the Fairmont Hotel, with talks, the Innovation Salon exhibition and more.

Things will also be more comfortable and culinarily pleasing for some fest-goers. Sarah Aziz, the Trust’s new program manager for special events, announced that for the first time the festival will include sensory-friendly “breakout areas” for people on the autism spectrum. Also look for the fest’s first ever feeding room for parents and kids, with a changing station, quiet space for breast-feeding and more.

For those on solid food, there will also be extended availability of food trucks.

At today’s press conference, at the Trust’s Peirce studios, Downtown, Aziz also recapped the previously announced musical guests, including opening-night headliner Michael Franti.

The public art, which in years past has often featured work by visiting artists, this year offers work by three locals.

In Gateway Center, look for large-scale installation “Multiverse Wall,” by Jesse Best (CREATE Festival’s featured artist of the year), and “Dandelions,” street signs mimicking the ubiquitous plant, by Carin Mincemoyer. Meanwhile, Point State Park will host the visionary “WindNest Prototype,” a quarter-scale model of a proposed artwork that doubles as a renewable-energy generator, by Trevor Lee (of Philadelphia-based Suprafutures) and Pittsburgh-based Land Art Generator Initiative.

The surrealism-minded Squonk Opera’s latest, Cycle Sonic, gets six performances June 11 and 12.

Also on the performance front, for the first time Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.’s Theatre Festival in Black and White (with black playwrights directing one-acts by white playwrights, and vice versa) is part of the arts fest.

For a full schedule, see here.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Dance classes and storytelling at Pittsburgh's Market Square this weekend

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2016 at 8:21 AM

A series of special programs take place in Market Square tonight and tomorrow to highlight Dutch artist Allard van Hoorn's audio installation Mix-n-Match, a larger-than-life illuminated "record player."

  • Photo courtesy of Office of Public Art
  • The "spindle" of "Mix-N-Match"
This weekend's selections include public dance classes from Arthur Murray Dance Studios, an outfit with more than 260 dance studios in 21 countries. Three of its studios will converge tonight to lead an outdoor class including salsa and line dancing after house artists perform a spotlight performance. The event takes place from 7-9 p.m.

Tomorrow, volunteers from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Hazelwood will recreate their performance for Mix-n-Match; their track, "Flower Beds," was one of the eight featured on the giant jukebox's playlist. The track features the sounds of tape ripping and a group of Hazelwood residents speaking amongst themselves.

In addition to the live performance, the library will offer other forms of full-fledged family fun including a visit from the story mobile, readings by Hazelwood residents, stories from the library's Reading Buddy program, kite-making and other games, all in honor of April being the Month of the Young Child. Free copies of Will Hillenbrand's book Kite Day (Bear and Mole) will be distributed. The event takes place 1-3 p.m.

Both events are free and open to the public, courtesy of the Office of Public Art and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Volunteers work on the "Mix-N-Match" audio installation earlier this year - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OFFICE OF PUBLIC ART
  • Photo courtesy of the Office of Public Art
  • Volunteers work on the "Mix-N-Match" audio installation earlier this year
Mix-N-Match runs through April 30.

For more information, contact Rachel Klipa at 412-391-2060 ext. 237 or visit

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