Best of Culture: December

As the year concludes, Pittsburgh's arts organizations present their finest theatrical productions, dance performances and visual exhibitions.

Glass tells an interesting history of downtown Pittsburgh. Currently, tempered glass provides an opalescent and environmentally friendly skin for shiny skyscrapers. A century ago, the craftsmanship and artistry of stained glass humanized brick and stone buildings reaching into the smoky skies. The Office of Public Art will hold a lunchtime walking tour on Dec. 12 to explore some of the best examples of stained glass in the Golden Triangle, including Louis Comfort Tiffany’s windows at First Presbyterian Church.
— Eric Lidji; photo by Renee Rosensteel



Pittsburgh CLO, Dec. 5-21 & Pittsburgh Musical Theater, Dec. 18-21/ The Pittsburgh CLO’s 23rd staging of A Musical Christmas Carol stars perennial local favorite Tom Atkins (above right), reprising the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the seventh year. Also returning are Jeff Howell (above left) and Tim Hartman, who have been entertaining audiences for nearly two decades in their portrayals of Bob Cratchit and Old Fezziwig. First-grader Matei Zivanov from the renowned CLO Academy debuts as Tiny Tim.
[Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., downtown; 412/456-6666,; photo by Matt Polk]  

Across the river, Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Rauh Conservatory Co. presents its 22nd A Lyrical Christmas Carol. PMT resident professional artists traditionally perform the roles of Scrooge, Cratchit and Christmas Present, while anywhere from 75-100 students from PMT’s lauded musical theater training program comprise the supporting cast. The dedicated, young Broadway hopefuls always impress.
[New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side; 412/539-0900 x232,]

Little Lake Theatre, through Dec. 13/ Townsfolk are all atwitter as havoc sets in at rehearsals for the annual “Christmas Carol” production and yard-decorating contest in Little Lake Theatre’s A Tuna Christmas by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. The show is back by popular demand for the fifth time — as is longtime Little Lake actor Art DeConciliis, who will take on his 102nd role with the company. He and “Tuna” neophyte Buddy Wickerham portray all 22 raucous inhabitants of Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas, while they prepare for Christmas. Order from the café menu prior to curtain call to have treats delivered to your table at intermission.
[500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg; 724/745-6300,]

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.: “Christmas Star,” Dec. 12-28 & “Ubuntu Holiday,” Dec. 19-30/ Kenny returns home from the Iraq War on Christmas Eve battling post-traumatic stress disorder in Ray Werner’s Christmas Star. It doesn’t help that his dad, a Vietnam veteran, was none too happy to see Kenny enlist in the first place and still is overcoming his disapproval. It’s up to loving wife and mother Gertie to help heal the wounds. Meanwhile, Ubuntu Holiday by Kim El explores Christmastime clashing of another nature. African-American friends Sharifa and Jeanne disagree on the relevance of Kwanzaa during the Christian holiday season — so much so that Jeanne is reluctant for their daughters to become friends. This “gentle comedy” challenges audiences to see the value in both traditions.
[937 Liberty Ave., third floor, downtown; 412/687-4686,]



Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Dec. 5-28/ Since the late-19th century, E.T.A. Hoffman’s scary tale of rabid mice and dark magic has morphed into The Nutcracker, a brilliant holiday jewel of adolescent fantasy where toy soldiers yield to sensual adagios and blossoming bouquets. The Pittsburgh-inspired classical ballet production — performed to P.I. Tchaikovsky’s masterful score and choreographed by Terrence S. Orr — highlights bygone local icons and prominent personages.
[Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., downtown; 412/456-6666,; photo by Rich Sofranko]

Attack Theatre, Dec. 5-6/ Celebrating its 20th anniversary season, the contemporary-dance troupe presents a trio of events, including the annual Holiday Unwrapped, an imaginative, family-friendly journey set to jazz, klezmer and classical sounds. The post-show Holiday Games! offers interactive movement opportunities, while Holiday Hijinks and Revue mixes party, performance and light holiday fare.
[George R. White Studio, Pittsburgh Opera, 2425 Liberty Ave., Strip District; 412/281-3305,]

Conservatory Dance Co., Dec. 5-14/ As a student in Yugoslavia, Nicolas Petrov fell under the spell of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. In 1971, he choreographed the first full-length American production for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre while in residence at Point Park University. The opus — which was restaged last season for Petrov’s retirement from the university — will be staged again this season.
[Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland; 412/392-8000,]



707 PENN GALLERY, through Dec. 31/ For 13 months, Becky Slemmons put on a simple white dress and went to various houses of worship in the Pittsburgh region — churches, synagogues, temples and mosques. Her mission was to track down answers to these questions: “What happens when an artist enters the religious realm, pursuing a rather performative project, in an environment where conformity often dominates?” “What form does the search for common ground take between spiritual ritual and the ritual of art-making?” While Slemmons was accumulating research material, her dress was acquiring material of a different kind — fabric and embroidery. After each stop on her 100-site journey, she added to and embellished this sartorial canvas/sculpture, so her dress grew and changed. Slemmons also created a drawing as a souvenir of each place. Those works, the dress in its final glory and other items related to the project — which consumed three years overall — constitute gatherings. Among her goals is to “question religious conflict and to explore the relationship between the ritual of attending worship services and the ritual of making art.” Among the exhibit’s components is a blog created by Slemmons, a Pittsburgh-based multidisciplinary artist originally from Cincinnati with numerous educational and exhibitional credits on her resumé. One important slice of local culture Slemmons captures and reports about on the blog is a tally and description of worshipers wearing Pittsburgh Steelers garb. [707 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/456-6666,; "Gatherings"photo courtesy Pittsburgh Cultural Trust]

LAWRENCE HALL GALLERY, POINT PARK UNIVERSITY, through March 15/ Local artists who embrace the Impressionistic style of the 19th-century art movement are the focus of Pittsburgh Impressionism: Past, Present, Future. The show features works by Philip Salvato, Kim Curinga and the late Frank DeAndrea.
[201 Wood St., downtown; 412/392-8008]

PITTSBURGH CENTER FOR THE ARTS, through Feb.1/ Three exhibitions from local guilds premiered late last month at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts:
» Storytellers: Truth be Told: Women of Vision update and expand on the West African “griot” tradition of storyteller, reinventing its creative power through the art of women from today’s African diaspora.
» Illusions: The title of this show by the Craftsmen Guild foreshadows members of the guild’s use of metaphor, symbolic imagery, a dream state or vision in which to escape boundaries of “mundane reality.”
» Construct: A series of questions essential to the nature of fiber and its creative forces power this Fiberarts Guild show, including “Why fiber art now?” A goal: that answers to that question will help spark a “new conversation.”
[Fifth and Shady avenues, Shadyside; 412/361-0873,]



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