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Friday, May 23, 2014

Posted By on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 9:12 AM

Finding a fresh way to discuss the wrenching issue of gun violence isn’t easy. But local playwright Marlon Erik Youngblood brings the issue powerfully to life in this new play, set in an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

Bryant Bentley (left) and Kevin Brown in Comfort Zone
  • Photo courtesy of Eric A. Smith
  • Bryant Bentley (left) and Kevin Brown in "Comfort Zone"
Youngblood approaches the issue from an unusual perspective — not that of victim or assailant or their families, but that of the community elder in whose corner store the shooting took place.

On one level, Checkers, movingly played by Kevin Brown, lives the drama of the suspected snitch. (Friends of the shooter think he’s talked to the cops.) But more tellingly, Checkers is forced by the killing to a crisis of conscience: He realizes that over the years he has walled himself up in his store, his “comfort zone,” instead of being a leader and mentor in his community.

The script has some rough edges, but the passionate Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co. production, directed by Mark Whitehead, is well worth seeing. Other standouts in the cast include Bryant Bently as Checkers’ wonderfully cynical friend Slick.

There are three more performances, tonight and tomorrow's matinee and evening show.

Pittsburgh Playwrights is located at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Tickets cost $20-30, and are available here.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2014 at 1:49 PM

The National Aviary’s new outdoor free-flight show, called Taking Flight: An Aerial Adventure, is all about the spectacle of motion. With a new set designed by Pittsburgh CLO Construction Center for the Arts installed in the Aviary's historic rose garden, the show is designed not just to spotlight its strangest and most beautiful birds, but also its highest fliers.

Attendees can expect playful kookaburras, enormous Eurasian eagle owls and a variety of colorful parrots and macaws, as well as the augur buzzard, a large African bird of prey known for its fearsome aerial displays and striking patterns of black, red and white plumage.

Narration and music will accompany this show, the National Aviary’s first outdoor summer show in five years, and the audience will be able to see some of these amazing birds up close.

The show will run twice a day, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., beginning this Saturday and continuing throughout the aviary’s summer season. Taking Flight is free with admission,which is $12 for children, $13 for seniors (60+), and $14 for adults.

More information is available here.

The National Aviary is located at 700 Arch St. in the North Side.

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Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2014 at 10:57 AM

Although certain influential lugnuts still deny it, climate change is already happening, it’s getting worse, and it’s gonna hurt.

Speakers at Monday’s Climate and Health: Let's Get Prepared conference, organized by the Allegheny County Health Department, emphasized that climate change will influence most every aspect of our health, down to the air we breathe. And few of those changes are likely to be for the better.

We’re talking about not just warmer weather, or even more really hot days in summer. Also in store, for starters, is worse air pollution, more rain when we don’t want it and less of it when we do.

Those were some of the projections presented by Raymond Najjar, the Penn State oceanographer who opened the afternoon-long conference held at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health.

The current era of climate change is decades old, and it’s not to be confused with weather: One cold winter in Pittsburgh doesn’t disprove a long-running global phenomenon. Temperatures in Pennsylvania, and around the world, began rising around 1980. But the effect on rainfall has varied geographically. Some places are getting less rain, but in Pennsylvania, precipitation has been rising along with temperatures, Najjar said. And “the rain comes in more concentrated downbursts,” he added.

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Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2014 at 10:52 AM

This Saturday a free jazz and blues festival will take hold of Indiana, Pa., with talent ranging from veteran artists Poogie Bell, Sonny Landreth and Sean Jones to a dad jazz group and high school jazz bands.

The 2014 Westsylvania Jazz and Blues Festival will be held at IRMC Park in downtown Indiana, located at 7th and Philadelphia Street. The one-day festival will start ay 10:30 a.m. with a performance by Indiana's Dad Band, a quintet covering the likes of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Count Basie and conclude with jazz headliner Poogie Bell Band with special guest Sean Jones at 9 p.m.

Poogie Bell is a famous jazz drummer who has worked with Marcus Miller, Erykah Badu, David Bowie, Victor Wooten and the list goes on. The Pittsburgh drummer is also a producer, composer and arranger. Joining Bell on stage will be Sean Jones, a highly respected trumpeter and former lead trumpeter for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which was directed by jazz legend Wynton Marsalis.

Blues headliner Sonny Landreth will take the stage at 5:30 p.m. The slide guitar playing Landreth was name Instrumentalist of the Year by The American Music Association. His last two albums. 2008's From The Reach and 2012's Elemnetal Journey, charted at Nos. 1 and 4, respectively, on the Billboard Blues Album Chart.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 4:35 PM

OK, so it might be a bit premature to get that "New Pittsburgh" tattoo after all.

That's one of the nagging doubts some progressives went to bed with last night, after Tuesday's Democratic primary resulted in defeats for both Tom Michalow and state Rep. Erin Molchany. Both candidates were running in city/suburb hybrid districts, against familiar Democratic names. Molchany was squaring off against Harry Readshaw, a 10-term incumbent into whose South Hills district Molchany was drawn; Michalow was battling North Side Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, a two-term rep and brother of Pittsburgh's former mayor.

And for progressives, what may be most worrisome is not whether they lost, but how:

  • Molchany had the backing of Mayor Bill Peduto -- the very architect of the New Pittsburgh -- as well as County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. She also had support from a slew of socially-liberal groups like Planned Parenthood, the city's teachers union, and same-sex-equality advocates EqualityPA. Yet she still lost by a 60-40 margin.
  • Michalow, meanwhile, had only a fraction of that support. Yet he nearly toppled Ravenstahl, who beat him only 52-48.

It was enough to make some know-it-all Wednesday morning quarterbacks wonder: Could progressives have won Michalow's race if they'd invested a bit more of the energy they put into Molchany's? (There's an even darker possibility, of course: What if Michalow did better because he didn't have as much progressive "help"?)

It's not that everyone was blindsided by Tuesday's results. I've been told by various sources that Molchany's campaign had internal polling which showed that she faced a steep uphill climb: Her drubbing on Tuesday was actually not quite as bad as her own polling predicted it could be. Campaign consultant Matt Merriman-Preston, who worked on both the Molchany and Michalow campaigns, says that while no such poll was carried out for Michalow, he had field reports -- "which turned out to be fairly accurate" -- that the race would be tight.

But Merriman-Preston, a celebrated architect of Peduto's political strategy, was wary of drawing too many lessons from yesterday's primary.

"There's only a big-picture takeaway when I win," jokes Merriman-Preston, with a somewhat rueful laugh. "When I lose, it's all just minutiae."

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 4:00 PM

Jess Garrity, right, and Pamela VanHaitsma became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Allegheny County
  • Photo by Alex Zimmerman
  • Jess Garrity, right, and Pamela VanHaitsma became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Allegheny County

When Jess Garrity and Pamela VanHaitsma appeared at the City-County building this morning, an hour before the Marriage License Bureau opened, they thought there would certainly be a crowd of other same-sex couples clamoring to apply for marriage licenses.

"We didn't plan to be first in line," VanHaitsma, 35, says.

But by days' end, not only were they the first same-sex couple to show up in person to apply for a marriage license, they stood in front of judge Hugh McGough — all three fighting back tears — and became what is likely to be the first same-sex couple wed in Allegheny County whose marriage will be recognized by the state.

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 3:20 PM

The Associated Press is reporting that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett will not appeal Tuesday's federal ruling allowing same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.

According to the report Corbett said an appeal would be "extremely unlikely to succeed."

"Governor Corbett's decision not to waste taxpayers' money defending the indefensible denial of the freedom to marry even one day longer is the right decision for Pennsylvania, for families, and for the country — and one more big step forward to celebrate," wrote Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, in a statement. "Pennsylvania is showing the country that when gay couples share in the freedom to marry, it's joy, love, security, and happiness and a stronger community for everyone, and no one loses. And this latest decision by a Republican governor not to try to keep gay couples from marrying is additional proof that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry."

“Governor Corbett did the right thing in not standing in the way of thousands of loving couples’ ability to make lifelong commitments to each other through marriage,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. “Breaking down this dark wall of discrimination in the Keystone State strengthens our ever-growing momentum as we continue to expand the marriage equality map. Thanks to the hundreds of plaintiffs and attorneys across the country challenging these discriminatory marriage bans, its only a matter of time before a state border no longer dictates whether a loving couple can legally share in the joys of marriage.”

We'll add more reaction as it becomes available.

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 12:33 PM

Jess Garrity, left, and Pamela VanHaitsma

From our reporter Alex Zimmerman who has been stationed at the City-County building today

Orphans court judge Lawrence O'Toole granted a waiver today for a same sex couple seeking to avoid the typical three-day waiting period required before a marriage license is issued.

The couple,Jess Garrity and Pamela VanHaitsma, were the first in line at the city-county building this morning at 7:30 a.m. applying for a marriage license.

The couple said they were seeking the waiver to avoid the possibility that an injunction or stay of Judge John Jones decision would keep them from being able to get married.

"Hopefully no appeal happens," says Garrity, "but if it does, hopefully we're considered married."

"I'm overwhelmed. Very excited. It's unbelievable," Garrity said immediately following the decision.

Their attorney, Sam Hens-Greco, said he's arguing that the state's historical denial of marriage rights, paired with their four and a half year relationship, constitutes an "extraordinary circumstance."

Typically, waivers are granted in cases involving severe illness or military deployment.

"They want to get married immediately ... To establish the benefits they're entitled to today," Hens-Greco said.

This is the first waiver granted in Allegheny County, says Sarah Lang, supervisor in the marriage license bureau.

According to the couple, O'Toole asked in jest if "they were sure they wanted to get married," then wishes them congratulations.

The couple plans to have magisterial district judge Hugh McGough officiate a civil ceremony, though they had a non-civil ceremony May 17.

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Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 10:32 AM

Despite a federal judge’s order allowing same-sex marriage yesterday, Maggie DeMont didn’t come Downtown seeking a marriage license Wednesday morning: She was already married.

What she wanted was to pay PennDOT $12.50 to legally change her last name to Conroy — the name of the wife she married last September in New York. She previously visited PennDOT shortly after the wedding, but was turned away. This morning she went to PennDOT’s Downtown office, this time armed with a court order signed by U.S. District Court Judge John Jones.

It didn’t make a difference.

“I called PennDOT yesterday and was told that by this morning they would have the correct information and would have to comply,” DeMont says. “But even though I showed them the court order, they wouldn’t change my name. A supervisor said he received an email that said PennDOT was looking into the matter. They were very nice, but said even though they were aware that the law was reversed they weren’t willing to act on it.”

“I’ve been waiting eight months to this and despite a court order I’m still in limbo.”

Jones' ruling Tuesday not only allowed for same-sex marriages to be legally carried out in the state, but he also ruled that "already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.”

DeMont already has a new Social Security card with her married name on it, because her marriage has been recognized by the federal government since last summer. She says she rushed to PennDOT this morning to try and complete the name change in case Gov. Tom Corbett appealed the ruling, or asked for it to be stayed.

DeMont went to PennDOT this morning with her friend Amy Loveridge, who performed the ceremony last year. Loveridge says PennDOT’s actions were an "obvious violation," and she is working to get DeMont help with the issue.

“They had to know that this was coming,” Loveridge says. “You would have thought they would have had their legal department burning the midnight oil to make sure things would go smoothly this morning.”

A PennDOT spokesman told City Paper he had no comment but was tracking down information regarding DeMont’s situation, and on how the agency planned to handle future name change requests. We'll update that information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: PennDOT spokesman Richard Kirkpatrick said the agency "is now accepting all marriage licenses regardless of gender." His phone call to City Paper came roughly 20 minutes after Tom Corbett said he will not appeal Tuesday's ruling. Kirkpatrick says individuals will need to take their marriage licenses with them to the licensing bureaus.

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 9:23 AM

There were four same-sex couples lined up in the lobby of the City County Building shortly after 8 a.m. this morning -- nearly half an hour before the wills/orphans division of the county's Department of Court Records opened for business. And suffice it to say: None of them were there to pick up passports.

All four couples were there to seek marriage licenses in the wake of a ruling by federal Judge John E. Jones III legalizing same-sex marriage in the Pennsylvania. And more are certainly on their way: County spokeswoman Amie Downs told them that some 160 online marriage applications had been filed overnight.

The couples City Paper spoke with said Johns' ruling was both long expected and a total surprise.

"I was at the polls when I heard," said Karla Bolster, who has been with her partner Terry Cowden for 20 years. And after getting a text from her daughter about the decision, Cowden "proposed by text. ... I wrote back 'Yes.'"

That may not be the most romantic marriage proposal you'll ever hear, but same-sex couples have good reason to be pragmatic about Jones' ruling. As of this morning, it's unclear whether Gov. Tom Corbett will appeal the ruling or ask for it to be stayed; if he does so, it could close the window of opportunity for same-sex couples -- at least while further court action is pending.

"I'm hoping to be married before" that happens, said Bolster. "That's why we're here: to beat [Corbett] to the punch."

The two women are raising a 15-year-boy, in addition to an adult daughter. "My son wants the whole big wedding ceremony," Bolster said. "But I just want to make sure our kids and our family is protected."

"We've been together so long that the piece of paper is really not the point," Cowden agreed. It's the legal protections -- the ability for both women to consult with doctors about their son's health, for example -- that brought them from their Beechview home to Grant Street before heading off to work.

Karen Belsterling, who was waiting to apply for her license with her partner, Jules Hall, agreed the paperwork was unlikely to make them feel much differently about each other. The two met some 15 years ago, when they were both working as escorts at an abortion clinic. "It's about having everybody recognize [the relationship]," said Belsterling. "If you go to a party, you don't want to say, 'This is my partner,' because everybody thinks you're in business together, and there has to be a big explanation."

Belsterling acknowledges that no one knows what may happen next in the case. And both couples said they were unsure of how to seek a waiver from a three-day "waiting period," which is ordinarily required for marriage licenses.

"They aren't exactly hanging flags out telling people, 'We'll marry you,'" said Belsterling. "If this was Las Vegas, every chapel would be open." But no matter what Corbett does, she added, "We're going to ride it out."

Further back in line were Bill Rushlander and Rob Sauritch of Ross Township, who were hoping to get married after more than a decade together. (They met when Rushlander, a corporate "headhunter," interviewed Sauritch for potential placement in a new career. Sauritch didn't land a new position, Rushlander admits, "But I made the ultimate placement.")

Getting a license, Rushlander said, "puts closure to something that should have happened a long time ago."

Then the door to the county's marriage license office opened up ... and Rushlander, along with his partner of 13 years, walked on through.