Best of Culture: January
Kick off 2014 by seeing an acclaimed play, dance performance, lecture or exhibit.
The local cartoon scene boasts many talented draftswomen, but the contributions of women to the art form have generally been overlooked. Using the research of San Francisco historian and cartoonist Trina Robbins, the ToonSeum’s “Wonder Women: On Paper And Off” exhibit sets the record straight. With 70 works by 50 artists dating back to Rose O’Neill’s “The Old Subscriber Calls” in 1896, the display reveals an invisible history and finds a novel way to illustrate the story of women struggling and succeeding in the 20th century.
[945 Liberty Ave., downtown; Jan. 4-March 30; toonseum.org] — Eric Lidji
By Robert Isenberg
Jan. 18-Feb. 9
For young Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a face on a postage stamp and the man behind the legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. But who was Dr. King? “The Mountaintop” is an important play because it attempts to humanize the civil rights movement’s most essential leader. Written by Katori Hall, this international hit takes place in King’s hotel room on April 3, 1968 — the night before he was killed.
[1300 Bingham St., South Side; 412/431-CITY, citytheatrecompany.org]
Jan. 31-Feb. 16
What would you do if someone you love just vanished? You presume they weren’t abducted or brainwashed, but you’re also not sure why they disappeared. J.T. Rogers’ complex monologue play “Madagascar” addresses that question from the perspective of the people left behind.
[The Carlyle, 306 Fourth Ave., downtown; 888/71-TICKETS, quantumtheatre.com]
Jan. 31-Feb. 16
At the height of the Iraq War, the battlefield became a shadowy landscape of improvised explosives, routine kidnapping and torture videos secretly delivered to TV networks. Playwright EM Lewis imagined life as a Western hostage, and her drama “Heads” is the result. As the play’s captured characters await their uncertain fates, they wonder if they’ll face the war’s most appalling execution. Discover the outcome of this topical work, presented at Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse.
[222 Craft Ave., Oakland; 412/392-8000, pittsburghplayhouse.com]
Gemini Children’s Theater
Jan. 11-Feb. 2
They may be crass, and they may be cruel. Despite their bad manners and missing teeth, pirates can make everybody smile, especially children. Gemini has long produced stage adaptations of favorite fairy tales, but “Pirate Princess Adventure” is wholly original. This interactive musical comedy takes kids on a journey to the high seas, where you can expect sailors’ shanties and buried treasure. The show will especially appeal to landlubbers 8 and younger, who must be accompanied by adults.
[The Factory, 7501 Penn Ave., Point Breeze; 412/243-5201, geminitheater.org]
By Karen Dacko
A heaping tablespoon of life plus a pinch of grit yields “Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us,” an offering at choreographer Beth Corning’s annual Glue Factory Project. The three-ring circus of dance-theater examines formulas for living and their ultimate effectiveness as three seasoned artists — Maria Cheng, Francoise Fournier and Corning herself — draw from personal cultural backgrounds.
Last fall, Greer Reed’s modern-dance company launched the Suite Series, a bimonthly event celebrating legendary performing artists. This month, the ensemble honors civil-rights activist Nina Simone, a singer, songwriter and pianist known as the “High Priestess of Soul” for her fusion of gospel, pop and classical music influences.
The Pillow Project
Jan. 2, 11
Pearlann Porter’s improvisational “free-jazz” troupe kicks off 2014 with “Spoken Jazz,” a forum for poetry, spoken word, music and movement; it also includes “Completely Out of Context” performances. The troupe’s inaugural Second Saturday event this year will feature another installment of “(a) Long Now,” an installation performance exploring time and its passing.
[The Space Upstairs, 214 N. Lexington St., Point Breeze; 412/225-9269, pillowproject.org]
The contemporary-dance troupe performs during Game Day for Families, a free interactive affair that includes group activities, video games, ball pits and oversized game pieces.
[New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side; 412/281-3305; attacktheatre.com]
By Mike May
709 Penn Gallery
Jan. 17-Feb. 23
“Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.” Those are the directions to Neverland if you ask Peter Pan. However, if you’d like directions to “Neverlands,” Terry Boyd might tell you to go straight on Penn Avenue past Maddock Place and head to the first gallery on your right. Boyd will premiere an exhibit by that name this month at 709 Penn Gallery; as you might’ve guessed, his exhibition was inspired by J.M. Barrie’s stories about the magical boy who never aged.
“In my recent work, I am attempting to examine the phenomenon of Peter Pan as a metaphorical interpretation of subjective distractions of death while paralleling nostalgic characters and landscapes,” explains Boyd, a Carnegie Mellon University alumnus, in his artist statement. “What began as a personal exploration of growing up and self-inflicted sympathy for my late father has translated into images and objects of muted cross-sections of rock and Earth that hopefully [resonate] with the emerging adult audience to question their own permanence and place. My works embody an idiosyncratic view of life and death, yet the familiar and mildly playful imagery allows for a connection between the skies, seas and grounds.”
Those expressions take form in repetitive, vertical lines traveling through mixed-media drawings that include ink, thread on paper and Mylar, or shapes coaxed from the background resembling clouds, waves or even geologic formations. Despite the upbeat promise implied in the show’s “Peter Pan” reference, Boyd’s work reveals a place where a pensive moodiness prevails, amplified by titles such as “and the echoes seemed to cry savagely.” Simple, ghostly shapes such as a coffin can take us to a never-reality; sometimes the drawings venture into abstraction.
[709 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org]
Jan. 14-March 14
If you’re seeking the traditional New Year’s baby to ring in 2014, visit BoxHeart Gallery. The ceramic sculpture “Tsabra” by Israeli artist Batia Malka comprises a jumble of infants’ heads and hands to represent a personal story about a mystifying illness. It’s one of several pieces in this year’s “Art Inter/National … Here and Abroad,” which was originally inspired by the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Carnegie International. This annual show began in 2002 with a goal to explore “how environment impacts the artistic process and influences what each artist creates.” The 2014 exhibit features the work of Malka and 19 others from around the globe, including Irina Koukhanova. The Russian artist was recognized as last year’s “Best of Show” and was named BoxHeart’s 2014 Artist of the Year; her gallery show will debut in March.
[4523 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; 412/687-8858, boxheartgallery.com]
American Jewish Museum
Jan. 27-April 25
For her show at the American Jewish Museum, Micaela Amateau Amato is particularly interested in the paradoxical viewpoints drawn from her ancestry in Iberia, Morocco, Turkey and Rhodes. Paintings, sculptures and installations help to convey what the JCC describes as a synthesis of Amato’s “personal history with significant historical and societal issues including identity, ethnicity, migration and cultural hybridity. She is particularly interested in the paradoxical viewpoints — such as tolerance, prejudice and coexistence — humans generate around these issues.”
[Jewish Community Center, 5738 Darlington Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/521-8010, jccpgh.org]
Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art/Ligonier Valley
through Feb. 9
It’s that ’70s show at SAMA at Ligonier Valley. See 71 works of art by 71 artists in the 18th annual Regional Juried Art Exhibition. The works encompass a wide variety of media: paintings in oil and acrylic, fiber arts, photography and more. Nineteen counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania are represented, and this show is known for presenting the work of both emerging and established artists.
[1 Boucher Lane, Ligonier, Westmoreland County; 724/238-6015, sama-art.org]
By Kristofer Collins
Jan. 7, 28
Christina Michelmore, former chair of Chatham University’s Department of History, Political Science and International Studies, leads “Let’s Talk About It: Muslim Journeys, Literary Reflections,” a timely discussion series concerning literature from Muslim authors. The group will examine Fatima Mernissi’s memoir of her life in a Moroccan harem, “Dreams of Trespass,” the evening of Jan. 7. On Jan. 28, Michelmore will turn her attention to “Minaret,” Leila Aboulela’s novel about a Sudanese woman’s new life in England.
[Carnegie Library, 4400 Forbes Ave., director’s conference room, Oakland; registration required; 412/622-3151, carnegielibrary.org]
Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series
Award-winning author Hilton Als currently is the theater critic for The New Yorker. Always pithy and insightful, he has written extensively on the subjects of gender and race, notably in his first book, “The Women,” a meditation on personal identity. In November, McSweeney’s published Als’ book “White Girls,” which examines such diverse subjects as Malcolm X and Truman Capote.
[Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, 650 Schenley Drive, Oakland; 412/624-6508, pghwriterseries.wordpress.com]