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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 5:17 PM

Shaler native John Allen Biles, a Point Park grad, is back in town and is producing and starring in the contemporary musical The Last Five Years. See more in Program Notes.

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Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 2:47 PM

Actor and Shaler native John Allen Biles is back in town to present his independent production of the well-regarded, cleverly structured musical The Last Five Years.


The show’s at Off The Wall Theater’s new space, in Carnegie, tomorrow through Nov. 10. Admission is free (though a donation is requested).

Biles graduated from Point Park University’s theater program in 2000 and moved to New York. His work as a professional actor includes stints off-Broadway, in regionally touring shows and more.

He moved back to Pittsburgh in April, but The Last Five Years marks his theatrical homecoming.

“After spending over a decade in New York City, I saw many of my talented Pittsburgh friends struggling to find an outlet for their craft,” he says in a press release. “I wanted to produce this show to not only give myself some exposure but also my talented friends.”

The Last Five Years, by Jason Robert Brown, is a 2002 musical about the relationship between Jamie, a rising young novelist, and Cathy, a struggling actress. The story is told two ways at once: chronologically by Jamie, starting with their first date, and in reverse chronology by Cathy, going backward from their divorce.

Biles plays Jamie, and Cathy is played by Pittsburgh-based actress Holly Bryan Scott. Locally based Nick Mitchell directs.

The production premieres tomorrow and runs Thursdays through Saturdays through Nov. 10. Shows are at 7:30. The requested donation is $18 cash, at the door.

The Off the Wall venue is located at 25 W. Main St., Carnegie.

For more information, or to reserve seats, email

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Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 1:30 PM

As we we noted in this week's issue, CODEPINK co-founder, social justice and anti-war advocate Medea Benjamin will be honored by the Thomas Merton Center on Thu., Nov. 8. We chatted by phone last week; here's an extended version of the interview that ran in the paper this week.


City Paper: You’ve written a book about drone warfare and are constantly trying to reach public officials on the issue, but reaction seems mixed: You were thrown out of the Wilson Center for interrupting Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan. How do you educate, and then, mobilize people around the issues of drone warfare when you yourself say the American people know very little, if nothing, about it?

Benjamin: We write books, we go out on speaking tours, we take the delegation to Pakistan to get more media attention. We go to faith-based communities and get their leaders to speak out. We go to the law schools and work with professors and students on the legal issues. We go to the drone bases and protest and get media attention. We organize around protesting at the sites of the manufacturers of the drones. We go to the White House, the halls of Congress to protest. We look for every anyway that we can … because we think it’s so critical to educate Americans and turn public opinion around.

You've been a big supporter of the Occupy movement. In an interview in Zuccotti Park in New York City last September, you said you were excited about a growing movement of diverse people who wanted to "think about a new way to recreate society." A year later, have you seen any tangible impact from the Occupy movement?

On the national level in the presidential race, I see the Occupy movement framing the debate about [Mitt] Romney representing the 1 percent and then other levels as I travel around the country on my book tour, I see the transformation of the Occupy movement in many communities to really practical working groups that are working on issues that affect community members in a very direct ways. So there are groups working on issues for the homeless, housing and stopping foreclosures and the kind of movements that include getting a lot of young people involved. I see a lot of movement around the money in politics. … In many communities, the movements continue to focus on the problems caused by the big banks and the need for people to move into community banks. So this kind of works in cities, and that’s an outgrowth of the Occupy movement but it’s not as visible because there is no physical occupation. …. But there are very good outcomes that I’m surprised at everywhere I go and some of these activities are happening and are really changing people’s minds.

Do you see a lot of crossover in those movements into your own work at CODEPINK, from those who initially were involved with Occupy?

It has gotten a new crop of people into activism. I’d say before the Occupy movement, there were very few people involved in movements except for climate change and immigration rights. But otherwise, there wasn’t much of a youth movement and now there is, and that’s directly as a result of Occupy.

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Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 12:30 PM

  • Photo by Karin Pilarski

Since most Halloween celebrations have been postponed due to bad weather, why not spend tonight converting sugar into candy corn?

The best recipe I've found is one from Alton Brown, Food Network's resident mad scientist. The process is a bit time-consuming but fun, and the end product is worth the time for true candy-corn lovers. Here’s the recipe I use with tips from my own experience to make the process a bit easier. Set aside a couple hours, especially if you’re doing it with kids.

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Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 11:48 AM

Travel problems related to Hurricane Sandy have forced postponement of Pittsburgh's Bayard Rustin Centennial Festival, an event we noted in Blogh yesterday.

The multi-day tribute to the civil-rights hero will now be held Nov. 29-Dec. 1.

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Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 10:39 AM

The Animal Rescue League needs your help to secure a $25,000 contest price from animal lover, celebrity chef and talk host Rachael Ray.

The shelter, located in East Liberty, is an "Open Door" facility which means it accepts all animals that need to be sheltered. The competition is the Rachel Ray ASPCA $100k Challenge and ARL is currently in the lead for the contest's Community Engagement Award which is decided by the number of votes an agency receives on Facebook. The winner will receive $25,000

Currently ARL is in the number one spot and voting expires at Midnight tonight. They have fewer than 1,000 votes more than the Humane Society of Central Washington in Yakima, Wa. And since Washington is three hours behind Pittsburgh you can vote now while they're still sleeping. You can cast your vote on the contest's Facebook page.

And just to play on your sympathies to make you go vote, here's a picture of "Chuck," a little Chow Chow ready for adoption at the ARL. Chuck wants a new home and the $25K:

  • Animal Rescue League

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Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 9:35 AM

For those who are weary of, or overwhelmed by, increasingly elaborate Halloween decorations, enjoy this spare, but haunting, tableau.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 3:45 PM


Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 3:33 PM

A first-person essay after Saturday's Springsteen show by sometimes-CP contributor Brian Taylor

It’s rainy and cold and there are people drinking tallboys around the Fifth Avenue side of Consol Energy Center, spilling out of the TGI Friday’s outdoor area and moving down toward the entrances. Apparently a Springsteen show, like a Bloomfield parade or a Steelers game, suspends open-container laws in the immediate vicinity.

I sacrifice a tallboy to my anxiety and my umbrella to the security gods (whose patdowns are much more chill than the TSA) before I’m allowed inside. There are so many people here.

The tallboy isn’t doing its job, so I stop at a concession stand to buy a double rum and coke for $15. I make a mental note not to bother checking the, well, I guess it’s less a merch table and more one of several souvenir shops. The credit card machine beeps an error and the woman reassures me it is not a problem with my card. "These machines have been on vacation, they’re not used to working."

"A lockout will do that to you!" I say. It works. I thank her, take my drink and my card and head for my seat.

There are a lot of dads here.

I feel like a tourist. (I always look for reasons to feel like a tourist — no club that would have me as a member and all that.) A sea of tour t-shirts, past and present, tucked into jeans wrapped by braided belts. A couple red bandanas — one guy’s gone all-out, denim vest and jeans. I’m wearing a western shirt and a down vest that my dad put in his closet in the late 1970s and that I took out around 2003.

Springsteen shows are large — two or three or more hours long, with songs that segue into one another. (The band holds a note, the Boss counts them in and they’re off again.) Fans collect live performances of the songs; people can tell you which songs they’ve seen, which ones they haven’t, where and when. I’ll be happy with any one of my Holy Trinity of Springsteen songs: "Thunder Road," "Rosalita" or "Sherry, Darling." He doesn’t play any of them.

I didn’t expect "Thunder Road" once a friend of mine informed me that when tour dates coincide with Obama stumping appearances (like the one earlier in the afternoon at Soldiers and Sailors), it’s usually missing. I don’t ask for specific statistics, but I’m sure I could get them. (He’s also informed me that, according to an iOS app, Springsteen has never played "A Good Man is Hard to Find (Pittsburgh)" in Pittsburgh.) It’s the kind of manic dedication I associate with jam bands and baseball fans. I wonder if a lot of the people in this audience are accountants.


I’m pretty far from the stage. Not as far as I could be, and (thankfully) not behind it, but most of my experience of the performance comes from watching the three giant monitors suspended over the stage, each displaying well-shot images of the band and the pit. Lots of signs requesting songs or declaring that this is their first E Street Band show. These folks cheer when he asks who is at their first E Street Band show. I am at my first E Street Band show, but I haven’t brought a sign and anyway I am up far too high on a far too steep slope and have been drinking far too much to stand and shout.

I have nothing to compare this to, no frame of reference for this arena rock. Springsteen, to me, is a storyteller. When I was becoming conscious of music, he was putting out Human Touch and Lucky Town and that Jerry Maguire song (I am about six months older than Nebraska). He was a Born in the USA LP next to the Osmonds in my mom’s record collection, Live 1975-1985 on cassette in my parents’ closet (which you WILL NOT touch, young man!) I had almost an entire decade of anti-Springsteen attitude to undo by the time I started looking for things to connect me to this place, this once-a-working-man’s-town (the Springsteen I love comes from the same time as Steel-Curtain-era Steelers, and sports have never been my thing), to the late '70s/early '80s, to my past. I’m not sure massive arena show is conducive to that.

I should have expected some issue, as this is the Wrecking Ball tour and I don’t really like Wrecking Ball all that much. (It’s too new, too now - I need the distance of time to appreciate rawness, maybe I’ve still got a bit of the 1990s in me.) The set is Darkness on the Edge of Town-heavy (five songs from that album, only four from Wrecking Ball), and most of the set’s 27 songs (six of which made up the encore) are from Born in the USA (1984) or earlier.

So I guess the inclusion of "Glory Days" in the encore isn’t that surprising. I’m pretty sure he shouts "Night of the Living Grusheckys!" before bringing out Joe and his son Johnny. At this point, I think there are like six or seven guitars on stage. Are they all plugged in? I guess you need a lot of instruments to fill up that amount of sound space, and, well, everyone looks like they’re having a good time up there.

I think that’s what people are here to see. Old friends having a good time amid that spectacle - that scale. You hope it’s more medicine show than snake oil sales pitch, but it’s not like this is his first tour where thousands of seats sell for around $100 each. Springsteen’s music has always sold redemption. Explicitly in cars and women and music, and later, when his protagonists end up being trapped, too old to run away, there’s always a hook or a poetic lyric that aims to make the shittiness easier to bear.

During the last song of the night, "10th Avenue Freeze-Out," he announces "This is the most important part!" before singing “And the Big Man joined the band." After that lyric, the song goes on hold while the video screens show a montage honoring the Big Man, Clarence Clemmons, and other members of the E Street Band and the Bruce Springsteen entertainment complex who have died in recent years. The montage ends, and the band drives through to the end of the song.

I get the feeling that for a lot of the people in the audience, people who are on first-name basis with the members of the band (I get this feeling that by calling him “Springsteen” rather than “Bruce”, I’m committing some kind of faux pas, of not allowing myself to get attached in the way others have), are really responding to that emotion.

When I interviewed Owen Ashworth of Advance Base last year about, among other things, his love of Springsteen, he said, "it just sounds like family to me." I think he’s onto something there. For some of us, that’s a small group of friends and relatives. I guess for some folks, having that family be thousands-strong isn’t a source of anxiety, it’s a source of strength.

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Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 2:27 PM

It’s one of the few tributes to a civil-rights legend to incorporate a drag show.

But that’s entirely appropriate at this week’s Bayard Rustin Centennial Pittsburgh Festival and UN-Masked Conference.

Rustin was the very influential — if still little-known — strategist and activist who mentored Martin Luther King, Jr., in nonviolence and who organized the iconic 1963 March on Washington.

He was also an openly gay man from the 1940s on, a courageous stance that resulted in physical beatings, imprisonment and more. J. Edgar Hoover branded him a “suspected communist and known homosexual subversive.”

Rustin’s life was detailed in the 2003 documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. Rustin died in 1987; this year marks the centennial of his birth.

The Pittsburgh festival includes a series of mostly free events. It begins with Thursday’s opening reception at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. The 6-9 p.m. event includes a candidate’s roundtable with LGBT-rights group Equality Pennsylvania and the Steel City Stonewall Democrats.

There will also be a performance by the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, and a turn by Pittsburgh drag royalty Kierra Darshell as Diana Ross. (Consider it a preview of Darshell’s Nov. 4 Miss Tri-State Pageant, at the Cabaret at Theatre Square, an annual event also being touted as part of the Rustin fest.)

Finally, there’s a screening and discussion of Brother Outsider.

Following the reception, activities continue into the weekend.

Other highlights include Friday night’s musical tribute to Rustin at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in the Hill District, featuring local artists, choirs and groups. The event starts at 7 p.m. Eddie Hawkins hosts. Ebenezer Baptist is at 2001 Wylie Ave.

On Saturday, also at Ebenezer Baptist, from noon-3 p.m., radio host Bev Smith leads a town-hall meeting on the role of the black church.

That’s followed, over at the University of Pittsburgh Student Union, by the UN-Masked Conference, addressing HIV, homelessness and homophobia. Guests include Earl Fowlkes, president of the Center for Black Equity, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for black LGBT equality. The conference runs from 4:30-9 p.m. and admission is $25.

Saturday’s events wrap in the Pitt student-union ballroom with SALON: Bayard Rustin, a 10 p.m.-midnight program of performances by artists, musicians and poets.

For more information on the Rustin Centennial, call 412-983-8895 or email

Editor's note, Oct. 31, 2012: Due to weather-related travel problems, this festival has been postponed until Nov. 29-Dec. 1.

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