Program Notes: Arts Blog |

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Good People" at the Public

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Contemporary theater doesn’t often tell stories of the working poor, and that’s not too surprising. Such stories can be harrowing, theater audiences tend to be well-heeled, and most companies don’t want to trouble subscribers more than necessary.

So kudos to Pittsburgh Public Theater for staging Good People, and to David Lindsay-Abaire for writing it. The play, which runs through Dec. 9, sends a working-poor, 40ish South Boston woman named Margie like a guided missile into the life of a former boyfriend named Mike, now an affluent doctor.

Kelly McAndrew and January LaVoy in Good People.

Here’s Robert Isenberg’s admiring review for CP.

While the show plays largely as earthy comedy, at heart it’s a serious, even harsh, look at class in America. A central issue is whether Mike’s financial success isn’t due as much to luck as to the hard work he claims got him there. And conversely, whether unemployed single mother Margie’s troubles are all her own fault or also fundamentally the luck of the draw.

I can’t help but recall a talk at Point Park University last month by journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich, whose books include Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, often notes that the affluent like to think the poor have something wrong with them — bad morals, bad judgment — when in fact poverty is, simply, the lack of money.

With Good People, Lindsay-Abaire’s hand is likely tipped by the fact that the play’s final bit of dialogue is a bingo call.

Still, there’s a sense of qualified hopefulness for Margie that might allow theater-goers inclined to blame the poor for their lot to depart the aisles without a conscience overburdened. Meanwhile, perhaps Lindsay-Abaire — with help from director Tracy Brigden and the Public’s fine cast — will even change a few hearts, if not minds.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Local kids’ author graduates to graphic novel

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 11:43 AM

Howard Shapiro began self-publishing kids’ books in 2005. First came offerings for 5- to 9-year-olds, like Destructo Boy & Spillerella. Shapiro’s later, hockey-themed volumes, like 2008’s Hockey Player for Life, skewed a little older.

But the characters in Shapiro’s latest effort are full-fledged teen-agers, and their story plays out in a new genre for their creator.


The Stereotypical Freaks is Shapiro’s debut graphic novel, illustrated by Joe Pekar, about a mismatched quartet of high school guys who form a rock band. The release date is today.

Shapiro, 47, grew up in Forest Hills and lives in Moon Township with his wife and two kids. By day, he’s controller for Animal, a Downtown-based visual-effects company. (“Our forte is sort of talking animals,” Shapiro notes.)

Stereotypical Freaks follows Shapiro’s acknowledged alter ego, “Tom,” from hockey into music. The characters of Tom’s bandmates are all inspired by real people, including a childhood friend of Shapiro’s and also — spoiler alert — John Challis, the local teen-ager who battled terminal cancer to achieve his dream of playing baseball. “He was a real inspirational kid,” says Shapiro.

That plotline gives the book a certain after-school-special vibe, but it’s also by turns a joyful affair. Shapiro says his storytelling was guided less by literary sources than by music.

After hockey, “Rock ’n’ roll would probably be second in my favorite leisure activities,” says Shapiro. His tastes skew toward classic rock — think The Who, Springsteen — plus postpunk flavors like Rancid and Urge Overkill.

This was also the first graphic novel for artist Pekar, an Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate now based in Orlando, Fla. “His specialty is actually pinup art,” notes Shapiro, though little in the new book's expressive if straight-ahead visual style suggests it.

Stereotypical Freaks is available online and through e-book retailers.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cartoonist speaking at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild

Posted By on Tue, Nov 13, 2012 at 12:01 PM

Nationally known Pittsburgh-based cartoonist Wayno gives a talk Wednesday to introduce his new show at MCG.

Flat Files: Illustration and Cartoon Art by Wayno gets its opening reception 6-8 p.m. Wed., Nov. 14.

Wayno says it’s the first time a Pittsburgher has been a Visiting Artist at MCG, “and certainly the first time they’ve featured a cartoonist.”

Makes sense, though. Music and musicians are a big theme in Wayno’s work; check out the Captain Beefheart riff in the accompanying image, done for a special-edition beer at East End Brewing.


And in fact, Wayno and MCG first connected through his attendance at the MCG Jazz series. He illustrated the glossy catalogue for this season’s concerts.

Wayno is also conducting a three-day mcg workshop with local teen-agers. “The teens will receive an illustration assignment and be expected to produce a finished piece of art,” according to the MCG.

Wayno’s illustration credits also include The New York Times, Men’s Health magazine ... and everything from National Geographic Kids to Rhino Records’ Weird Tales of the Ramones boxed set.

The MCG is located at 1815 Metropolitan St., on the North Side. For information, 412-322-1773. Wayno says his talk will start about 6:15 p.m.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Notable rock musical premieres locally tonight

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 3:32 PM

With the election over, here’s your first chance to see a musical exploring how celebrity, emotionalism and politics intertwine.

Robert Morris University’s Colonial Theatre is staging Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s 2010 musical — done in a style typically described as emo rock — is a postmodern take on the nation’s seventh president as a swaggering rock star.

Colonial Theatre is not normally a big force on the local stage scene. But it’s the first to jump on this brash-sounding show. Its tongue-in-cheek marketing tagline is “History just got all sexypants.”

Reviewing the New York-premiere production, New York Times critic Ben Brantley said that the play stakes "a claim as the most entertaining and most perceptive political theater of the season."

The raucous, high-energy show comes with a “parental discretion advised” label.

Jackson, a war hero also known as an Indian killer, took the White House in 1829 as a populist insurgent.

The Colonial production is directed by Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre, with music direction by Joshua Stubbs and choreography by Lisa Elliot.

The show runs at Massey Hall, on RMU’s Moon campus, tonight through Sun., Nov. 11. Shows tonight through Saturday at at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday.

Tickets are $10. The Colonial Theatre box office is at 412-397-5454.

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