May: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest stage plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

photo Courtesy Pittsburgh Musical Theater

May 4-14/ Four years after its Pittsburgh debut, Tarzan the musical will swing back into the Byham Theater. Based on the 1999 Disney animated film — complete with the Phil Collins standards, “You’ll Be in My Heart” and “Son of Man” — the story is one of loyalty and self-discovery. Pittsburgh favorite David Toole (most recently “Jim” in the CLO Cabaret’s “Pump Boys & Dinettes”) plays Tarzan, a man orphaned as an infant in Congo only to be taken in by a family of gorillas. He soon falls in love with Jane, an aristocratic woman visiting the jungle with her father, the Professor, who is researching gorillas, and master tracker Clayton, who (dubiously) is there to catch them. Tarzan must find a way to do what’s right while following his heart. (Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown; 412/456-6666,

(l-r) Alex Mickiewicz, Zach Grenier, Maxwell Eddy | photos by Michael henninger

Through May 21/ Pittsburgh Public Theater will present the whiplash of recollections that is Death of a Salesman at the O’Reilly Theater. Jumping back and forth between his current miserable state and wistful daydreams of his glory days, main character Willy Loman struggles with what he thought his dreams should be, what they were and what they have become with age. Actor Zach Grenier, whose notable roles include divorce attorney David Lee on the television series “The Good Wife,” must be both confident and confused, young and old, bold and broken in Arthur Miller’s masterpiece. (O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown; 412/316-1600,

May 5-7/ Outside of the city, theater-goers can find the thriller Wait Until Dark at the Greensburg Civic Theatre. The story begins when photographer Sam Hendrix is tricked into smuggling an illicitly filled doll into the country from Canada. When three con men who are after the doll follow his trail to his New York City apartment, they find Sam’s blind wife, Susy, and no doll. Soon, the four are in a race to find the doll and keep their lives. (Greensburg Garden & Civic Center, 951 Old Salem Road, Greensburg; 724/836-8000,

Photo copyright elise adibi

 THROUGH OCT. 15/ Think spring. Forget April showers and savor May flowers on the always beautiful grounds of The Frick Pittsburgh. On this visit, you’re not heading into the art museum for the latest show — it’s over in the greenhouse. For the first time, that charming little glory in glass has been retrofitted as an exhibition space. The installation “Respiration Paintings” marks a deliberate and perfect marriage between plant life and the arts. Artist Elise Adibi works with organic materials to create abstract canvases, sometimes based on a grid, forging a relationship between the geometric and biologic, and the animate and inanimate. Nature-based elements that build a painting interact with it and also might actually, subtly, transform a piece. You even could experience an unexpected olfactory seduction. “Rose Grid” includes rose essential plant oils in addition to oil paint, graphite and rabbit-skin glue. However, not all of Adibi’s 18 paintings here play to the prettier side of nature. “Oxidation Painting” mixes in edgier, harsher elements such as salt, vinegar — and urine. (Which is nature, too.) “Respiration Paintings,” via contemporary art and innovative staging, marks another notable example of the Frick’s efforts to breathe fresh air into its storied resources and push boundaries and possibilities. (The Frick Pittsburgh, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze; 412/371-0600,

THROUGH SEPT. 3/ In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. Then man. And sometime after that, man created robots. Now, see faith and science converge through one of the machines at Wood Street Galleries. The museum’s latest installation, “bios [bible],” features an industrial robot that draws calligraphic lines on paper, eventually creating the 66 books of the Protestant Bible. It’s the brainchild of robotlab, founded in 2000 by three artists associated with the Institute of Visual Media, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany. The goal: Explore “the relationship between man and machine by means of installations and performances.” Amen. (601 Wood St., Downtown; 412/471-5605,

THROUGH JUNE 17/ With a career spanning more than 40 years, Chuck Olson has been an influential figure in local art and has earned a place in its legacy. A new show is inspired not only by a reflection on recent experiences, cultures and locations, but also serves as a launching point with which to travel into new creative territory. Voila! “The Influence of Place: Recent Work in Lithography, Collage and Painting by Chuck Olson.” Known primarily as a painter, especially for his large, bold abstract canvases, Olson renews his primary focus here and presents new work based on four diverse places he has experienced of late: Italy, France, Bermuda and Texas. His perspective lies in how the memory of those places translates creatively in the isolation of the studio. That same concept also is explored through the collages and lithographs. Particularly striking are the collage boxes, sculpture-like works created by printed media from newspapers, advertising and posters from Italy and France. The other component in the show’s trio of mediums stems from three large-scale lithographs Olson created at the West Texas A&M University art department. Olson has been featured in numerous exhibitions during his career and has received awards and honors, including being named as an honoree in visual art for Pittsburgh Magazine’s Harry Schwalb Excellence in the Arts Awards. (Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art/Altoona, 1210 11th Ave., Altoona, Blair County; 814/946-4464,

THROUGH AUG. 7/ Northern Ireland is not a place on the art radar for most of us, but the Mattress Factory has addressed that cultural omission with “so it as.” The curator is Belfast native John Carson, head of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Art from 2006 to 2016. Although the seven artists whom he has brought together work in diverse media and styles, they share one thing in common for the purposes of this show: They have responded to Northern Ireland’s tragic “The Troubles,” the ethno-nationalist conflict of the latter half of the 20th century.
“I selected these artists because I have admired for a long time the strength, depth and integrity of their work,” Carson says. “They have all found ways of making powerful and uncompromising artistic statements in challenging circumstances.” Participating artists are Ursula Burke, Willie Doherty, Rita Duffy, John Kindness, Locky Morris, Philip Napier and Paul Seawright. (Mattress Factory, 1414 Monterey St., North Side; 412/231-3169,

photo by Dr. Robert Kormos

May 19-20/ Attack Theatre, known for multimedia modern dance collaborations by artistic directors Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, steps into new territory with “The Next Stop,” a mixed-repertory evening. The show will feature premieres from award-winning guests Helen Simoneau, a choreographer known for relationship-inspired ensemble works, and Norbert de la Cruz III, whose aesthetic draws from neoclassical ballet and contemporary dance. Simoneau’s contribution employs an all-female cast, while de la Cruz offers “Swept Under the Rug,” a male duet. “Uncomfortable Truths,” a repertory work, completes the program. (Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty; 412/281-3305,

May 13/ This month, Second Saturdays at The Space Upstairs celebrates its 10th anniversary season with guest music artists Chaibaba. The monthly “jazz happening” invites audiences into a lounge setting to experience improvisational Postjazz dance, live music and multimedia installations. (The Space Upstairs, 214 N. Lexington St., Point Breeze; 412/225-9269,

May 25-27/ The music of jazz vocalist and civil rights activist Abbey Lincoln inspires “Abbey: In the Red,” a contemporary ballet and live music production choreographed by Staycee Pearl with sound design by Herman “Soy Sos” Pearl. Focusing on Lincoln’s album “Straight Ahead,” her collaborations with percussionist Max Roach and involvement in the civil rights era, the sound-driven dance production performed by the STAYCEE PEARL dance project expresses the evolution of culture via the performing arts. Guests include vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield and musicians Paul Thompson and Ben Opie. (August Wilson Center for African American Culture, 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown; 412/456-6666,

May 9-10/ New York-based Shen Yun, founded in 2006 by Falun Gong practitioners, presents a two-hour extravaganza of elaborately costumed vignettes based on folk tales, legends and contemporary allegories performed by artists trained in Chinese classical dance and Eastern and Western musical styles. (Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666,

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