Best of Culture: December

Our arts editors have pulled together a list of the finest plays, exhibitions, lectures and dance performances.

Drive away the dreariness of December by dancing under a dome of dendrology. “Party in the Tropics” is Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ 21-and-over jungle nightclub, plopped down among the waterfalls and vines of its indoor tropical forest. The event, which sells an array of food and drinks, has been held the first Friday of every month since February, but the flora and fauna are sure to seem finer when the ground outside is covered in snow. 

[One Schenley Park, Oakland; Dec. 6;— Eric Lidji / photo: Paul g. Wiegman



Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre
Dec. 4-21

Sherlock Holmes has been popping up everywhere as of late — in movies, on the BBC and on domestic television alongside Lucy Liu. The brilliant London detective has enjoyed more incarnations than Sam Spade and Miss Marple put together. "Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood," however, is a very different animal. This stage play by Paul Giovanni is sophisticated and often funny; it’s a suspenseful tale of colonial India, a family curse and a mysterious pygmy. Holmes will find his man — if he can lay off the cocaine. Following 2011’s successful run of the Holmes play Mask of Moriarty, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre presents this thriller based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

[Henry Heymann Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland; 412/561-6000,]

Pittsburgh Musical Theater
Dec. 19-22

Every middle-schooler knows the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the three spirits who persuade him to change his penny-pinching ways. Even if you’ve memorized every word of Charles Dickens’ novella, you haven’t seen a staging quite like "A Lyrical Christmas Carol." Ken and Jane Gargaro’s original adaptation features vintage carols by Bach, Mozart and Vaughn Williams. Since 1991, Pittsburgh Musical Theater has mounted this heartwarming Christmas classic in a tradition nearly as beloved as the original Victorian prose.

[New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side; 412/539-0900 x232;]

Little Lake Theatre
Nov. 27-Dec. 14

Gladys Cratchit has had enough. She drinks too much, she hates her life and if her London hovel gets any more miserable, she might just off herself. That’s just the tip of the Yuletide iceberg. Christopher Durang’s comedy "Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge" is a scattershot retelling of the Dickens story with hysterical modern-day digressions (the Enron scandal, for example). Little Lake presents this holiday romp, which received its world premiere in 2002 at City Theatre.

[500 Lakeside Drive, North Strabane; 724/745-6300,]

Off the Wall Productions
Dec. 13-28

In a sense, Well is a regular autobiographical play. If you’ve read a memoir, you know the drill: A ponderous woman tries to understand her relationship with her quizzical mother. Except playwright Lisa Kron has reconstructed a fictional version of her mom, whose memory is a little fuzzy. When the two compare notes on past experiences, some things don’t add up. Like an existential jam session, "Well" is Kron’s attempt to tell a family tale and debate the preciseness of the mind. A far cry from December’s usual holiday fare, Well is a masterful think-piece for discriminating audiences.

[25 W. Main St., Carnegie; 724/873-3576,]



Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Dec. 6-29

In Terrence Orr’s nostalgic "The Nutcracker" (2002), bygone Pittsburgh places mingle with E.T.A. Hoffmann’s traditional characters in the good-versus-evil fantasy of Marie and her prince, who voyage to the Land of Enchantment. An autism-friendly matinee is scheduled for Dec. 27.

[Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., downtown; 412/456-6666,; photo by Rich Sofranko]

Conservatory Dance Co.
Dec. 10-15

Shakespeare’s tragic love story and Sergei Prokofiev’s breathtaking score combine as sublime choreo-drama in Nicolas Petrov’s three-act "Romeo and Juliet" (1971), the first full-length American version. The current restaging marks Petrov’s retirement from Point Park University’s dance faculty.

[Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland; 412/392-8000,]

Continuum Dance Theater
Dec. 14

The five-member female ensemble led by Sarah Parker premieres "Objects of DESIRE," the culmination of a yearlong exploration of the American Dream; research for this show included audience surveys and work-in-progress showings to uncover what motivates and drives us.

[New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side; 412/320-4610,]

Shona Sharif African Dance & Drum Ensemble
Dec. 13-22

For the 24th year, the company presents its annual Black Nativity production, which retells the story of Mary and Joseph via Gospel music and African and modern dance.

[Alumni Hall, 4227 Fifth Ave., seventh floor, Oakland; 412/407-7571,]



"Super Ball"
Dec. 6-28

If you ever acquired a Super Ball growing up, now’s your chance to rekindle childhood memories and take in a multimedia exhibit that combines dashes of pop culture, art, science and creative artistry. “Super•Ball” is the brainchild of Pittsburgh native Henry J. Simonds, an artist and filmmaker whose credits include founding the International Sphaeralogical Society, dedicated to celebrating, studying and promoting the iconic Super Ball. Some brief history: Chemist Norman Stingley invented the modern marvel in 1965. Wham-O Manufacturing Co. sold the Super Ball, which was created in one size in a basic gray shade. Additional size options came later, along with a dazzling palette of colors. “Super•Ball,” which includes collaborations with such artists and designers as Robert Beckman and Brian Holderman, highlights thematic explorations in specimen boxes, video and photography (some prints make the balls seem like images of alien planets) and multimedia. “This body of work is a celebration of the history and evolution of this magical sphere and the physical and visual splendor it embodies,” Simonds said in a statement from an earlier show. Look for opportunities to use Super Balls and even to try out a “ballistics-testing facility.” Lectures, performances and a kid’s day are planned to complement the show. Go on, have a ball.

[Mine Factory, 201 N. Braddock Ave., Point Breeze; 412/370-6916,]

“Alien She”
Through Feb. 16
The feminist punk-rock movement Riot Grrrl emerged in the early 1990s to expose and confront tough issues of the day, including sexism, racism and homophobia, in the punk-rock scene and the world in general. Its dynamic, multidimensional energies fueled and inspired women in areas such as writing, social activism, education and art. That last category is explored at Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Gallery exhibit “Alien She.” It focuses on seven artists Riot Grrrl influenced to this day and is curated by Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss, products of Riot Grrrl thinking. “Alien She” features examples in diverse media — “traditional” drawing, sculpture, printmaking and photography, as well as video, installation, music and new media. The show explores how the movement’s message has evolved and even mutated through time via current and archived works. The exhibit’s title is a homage to punk-rock group Bikini Kill’s song of the same name. As the Miller Gallery website notes of the exhibit, “‘Alien She’ conjures the possibilities of identity, self-determination and subversion. In the face of alienation and bigotry, Riot Grrrl fostered community, action and creation.”

[Purnell Center for the Arts, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/268-3618,]

Tlingit Totem Pole
Nov. 25-Dec. 15

See a totem pole come to life at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Right before your eyes, artist Tommy Joseph will be in the R.P. Simmons Gallery carving a traditional 16-foot-high example of the art of the Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest. You also can view Tlingit artifacts and videos about the pole-making process. If you miss the work in progress, you can still see the finished product, which will become a permanent marker at the entrance of the museum’s Alcoa Hall of American Indians.

[4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-3131,]

“Poptastic! The Art of Burton Morris”
Through Feb. 23

Pittsburgh native Burton Morris has made a name in the art world — locally, nationally and internationally. At age 49, this neo-pop success is receiving his first retrospective, courtesy of the Sen. John Heinz History Center, which also is the first major Pittsburgh venue to do a one-artist show focused on him. His colorful work with its cool, distinctive style has been seen on episodes of “Friends,” on corporate products and at the 2004 Summer Olympics, among other places. The exhibit includes examples of pieces for which Morris has achieved visibility and acclaim, but it also includes art and drawings from his childhood.

[1212 Smallman St., Strip District; 412/454-6000,]



George Saunders
Dec. 9

This is sure to be the literary event of the season. Postmodern satirist George Saunders is a Mark Twain for the new millennium. His latest collection of stories, "Tenth of December" — funny that he’s appearing here on the ninth — has been nominated for the 2013 National Book Award in Fiction. Additionally, The New York Times says it’s “the best book you’ll read this year.” Saunders is one of the most critically acclaimed authors of his generation, and his contemporaries include David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen. Because many lit buffs consider Saunders the most important writer working today, you won’t want to miss this engagement.

[Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-8866,]

Dec. 3

The relaxed vibe of a dark bar plus the makings of a fine cocktail work together to create a perfect mindset for appreciating the words of others. Caitlyn Christensen, Rebecca Clever, Sarah Shotland and Bob Walicki understand this notion. Join them as they present this multiple-genre reading, which will include their works of poetry, fiction and memoir.

[brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield;,]

John Grochalski & Scott Silsbe
Dec. 23

Book-release parties are always a blast. The author is noticeably excited and flushed, having seen years of toil on a project come to fruition. That feeling is contagious, as audiences universally catch the bug and get in the spirit. Join John Grochalski, author of The Librarian, and Scott Silsbe, who penned the poetry collection "The River Underneath the City," as they share excerpts from their newly published works. Taylor Grieshober and Jason Irwin also will be reading at this shindig.

[ModernFormations Gallery, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield;]

Categories: Things To Do