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Three Rivers Arts Festival

Selected highlights

click to enlarge Cuffy klatsch: Dr. Goddess Goes to Jail. - For more information on these or any Three Rivers Arts Festival events, contact 412-281-8723 or
Cuffy klatsch: Dr. Goddess Goes to Jail. For more information on these or any Three Rivers Arts Festival events, contact 412-281-8723 or
American Humbug. "[J]ust as God gave us flesh, he gave us language for the primary purpose of manipulating our neighbors and concealing our true thoughts." That's P.T. Barnum, sharing his philosophy about fleecing willfully gullible patrons of his 19th-century museum, full of faked freaks and trumped-up wonders he calls "humbugs," in this raucous new stage satire by playwright and Pitt associate professor Lynne Conner. But thanks to a time warp, some renegade actors turn the tables on Barnum's trickery and prejudice ... which starts to seem suspiciously like contemporary political chicanery. Especially when designer Tavia LaFollette's museum set (which patrons are encouraged to peruse) juxtaposes real oddities of nature (on loan from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History) with such items as an aluminum can labeled "G.W. Bush's Last Beer." The show, directed by Bruce McConachie, is the final project to receive a Heinz Endowments Creative Heights grant. The play devolves into a game-show sendup ("America's Best Humbug") that even its author says is gleefully unsubtle. "This is a big Bush-bash," Conner acknowledges -- though a concluding twist should leave even liberals something to ponder. Bill O'Driscoll 8 p.m. daily Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, June 2-17. 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $5.

Dr. Goddess Goes to Jail. Lay down in front of bulldozer, and you'll get arrested. Eventually, though, you might also get an evening of politically charged musical comedy out of the experience. Kim Ellis, a local scholar, activist and CP columnist known as Dr. Goddess, made some noise last year collaborating on the TRAF-produced spoken-word play and with her solo show, Dr. Goddess. Her activism via her Raise Your Hand! No Casino on the Hill Campaign inspired ... Goes to Jail (, which uses a variety-show format (think SNL, Chappelle's Show) to celebrate the civil-rights movement and the black-power era. The large cast sings and spoofs, promises Dr. Goddess. But songs like "Neutrality" pose such larger questions as: Who does society consider valuable, and who expendable? And what if Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks had decided they were just gonna sit this one out? BO 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays, June 1-10. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater, 542 Penn Ave., Downtown. $5.

Market Square. Commissioned by the festival to make public art in Market Square, local graphic designer Brett Yasko found himself "sitting there a few times a week, thinking, 'What the hell am I gonna do here?'" Eventually, he just listened. Over a two-week period, Yasko spent some 24 hours eavesdropping on multitudes of hangers-out and passersby, writing down what they said. Example (from a man talking about the fate of Market Square itself): "I don't know what they'll do to this place. I heard they'll put a dome over everything." Each day of the festival, using a big wooden grid moved to the site of each anonymous quote, Yasko will spell out a new selected quote in two-foot-square, Scrabble-tile-like letters. He says he feels a little guilty about the eavesdropping. Now, at one step removed, you are welcome to join in. BO

Splash! Sure, the kids enjoy running over those little apertures in the pavement, waiting to get doused by a sudden jet of water. But imagine what professional dancers could do with the fountain at PPG Place, and its timed eruptions. Beth Corning, who heads Dance Alloy Theater, was up to the challenge of moving the acclaimed troupe's annual TRAF performance from a Point Park stage to a more interactive, and considerably damper, venue. TRAF promises an "urban water ballet," choreographed by Corning, set to music ranging from Gregorian chants to rock 'n' roll, and scheduled for two lunchtime performances daily. Rehearsals must have given new meaning to the term "dry run"; in any case, this is sure to lend new life to a space little used in previous arts festivals. BO Noon and 12:40 p.m. weekdays, June 1-8.

To Suffer the Silence. While Americans are inundated with news from the Middle East, there is a dearth of information about atrocities in Africa. TRAF and Pittsburgh Playback Theatre hope to change that with the story of Hashim Marsal, a refugee from Darfur. Playback, working with the Pittsburgh Refugee Center, connected Marsal with area writer and actor Paulo Nzambi, himself an Angolan refugee, who put Marsal's heroism and struggle to words. Marsal's story focuses on his fight to gain political asylum in the United States, and escape the violence of the Sudan once and for all. Brendan Purves 8 p.m. Sat., June 2, and 2 p.m. Sun., June 3 (TRAF gallery, 937 Liberty Ave.). The location of a performance at 8 p.m. Mon., June 4, is TBD. $5.

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