Best of Culture This Month in Pittsburgh

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


by Mike May

Boat Trip Journey to colder places than Pittsburgh this month with a “Boat Trip.” The multimedia-installation exhibition at Wood Street Galleries takes its inspiration from the Arctic and Antarctic, literal polar opposites that share much in common, including the effects of climate change.

Galleries curator Murray Horne has chosen five artists whose work he’s followed over the past decade: Jean-Pierre Aubé, HC Gilje, Michael Dax Iacovone, Jacob Kirkegaard and Finnbogi Pétursson, adding Esther Kokmeijer as well as the nonprofit Arctic Perspective Initiative.

Horne notes that many other shows at Wood Street have played to the eye, but this one “is for the eye and mind.”

A mesmerizing large-screen video project by Kokmeijer grabs your attention on entering the show in a dimly lit gallery, its Antarctic icescapes and churning sea creating a kaleidoscope of visual poetry. A sound installation by Kirkegaard, “Ice Edge,” captures calving glaciers in Greenland.

The interplay of water and ice also fascinates Iacovone, who has created a two-image video duet, which, like some other pieces at the show, can present vestibular challenges. Aubé invites us to the Arctic to share a bleak winter solstice. A minimalist piece, “Horizon,” by Pétursson provides the only dash of vivid color via a laser; its redness might be read as a warning, but in a dark space, it can be perceived as a ray of hope as well.
DOWNTOWN: 601 Wood St.; 412/456-6666,

A Very Merry Pittsburgh
Did you ever visit Santa at Kaufmann’s Department Store during the holidays and whisper your requests into his ear? Or pop a wish-list into the mailbox there destined for the North Pole?

Maybe your dreams came true; maybe not. Either way, relive your childhood and even play with some vintage toys (whether beloved or long forgotten) at the Heinz History Center’s “A Very Merry Pittsburgh,” an upgraded reiteration of a 2017 exhibit there. Look for the throne and mailbox from Kaufmann’s Santaland as well as seasonal fare from other local department stores. Pittsburgh-made toys will be on view, with a major focus on Wolverine Toys, which once produced such items as “Sandy Andy” toys and games.

Other seasonal artifacts, family keepsakes, films and more showcase how western Pennsylvanians have celebrated winter holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, through the years.
STRIP DISTRICT: 1212 Smallman St.; 412/454-6000,

DEC. 5-JAN. 6
Carnegie Trees and Presepio

“Artfully Inspired” is the theme for this year’s annual holiday tree display, which opens to the public Dec. 5, in the Hall of Architecture. Five enormous evergreen trees have been decorated by the Women’s Committee with inspiration drawn from favorite works of art in the museum’s collection.

Also on display, beginning Nov. 29. is the Neapolitan presepio, a Pittsburgh tradition since 1957. It’s one of the most spectacular nativity scenes of its kind, a panorama of 18th-century southern Italian village life, with a plethora of Lilliputian handcrafted figures and objects dating from between 1700 and 1830.
OAKLAND: Hall of Architecture, Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave.; 412/622-3131,

“An Art of Changes: Jasper Johns Prints, 1960–2018”

See six decades of the print legacy — and evolving creative journey — of Jasper Johns (born 1930), a living legend in the art world whose interests have encompassed painting, drawing and sculpture. On view are more than 90 works in woodcut, intaglio, lithography, linoleum cut, screenprinting and more, set into four roughly chronological sections.

The show was organized by the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis. The local presentation was organized by Eric Crosby, the Henry J. Heinz II Acting Director and Richard Armstrong Senior Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.
OAKLAND: Heinz Galleries, Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-3131,

 “Resurgence — Rise Again: The Art of Ben Jones” 
 “Amani Lewis: Subjective Nature”

• “Resurgence — Rise Again” features large-scale work by Ben Jones (born 1941), a New Jersey-based artist, activist and educator whose inspirations include African spiritual belief, rituals and collectivism. Powerful and beautiful, his paintings address issues such as civil rights, social justice and the environment.

• “Subjective Nature” showcases Baltimore-based artist Amani Lewis (born 1994), whose mixed-media portraits, photo and digital collages of family and friends share a goal of “showing their humanity, which often goes unnoticed, made invisible and silenced by society.” The African-American experience, sexuality and other issues are other components powering the work.

Both shows were organized by Kilolo Luckett, curator of visual art.
DOWNTOWN: August Wilson African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Ave.; 412/339-1011,


Two exhibitions at Pitt’s University Art Gallery showcase pieces of Pittsburgh history.

• “Metal from Clay: Pittsburgh’s Aluminum Stories” presents objects and materials from local collections that reflect on the city’s connection to this amazing metal, beginning with its early production on Smallman Street. It follows the aluminum from its origins to mid-20th century art and design with loans from CMOA, CMNH, Contemporary Craft and the Heinz History Center. A special feature: Contemporary sculptor Atticus Adams has utilized recycled aluminum to create a new installation re-imagining the University Art Gallery rotunda.

• “The Curious Drawings of Doctor Clapp” unveils diverse Renaissance drawings donated to the University Art Gallery by George Hubbard Clapp (1858-1949), a pioneer in the aluminum industry and collector with eclectic tastes, spanning art to science.
OAKLAND: University Art Gallery, Frick Fine Arts Building, University of Pittsburgh, 650 Schenley Drive; 412/648-2423,


by Lauren Davidson

NOV. 29-DEC. 22
The Santaland Diaries
Find out what it’s like to be a 33-year-old man applying for a job as a Macy’s elf as David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries” comes to life at City Theatre. The essay introduced Sedaris to the world in 1992; today, he’s a bestselling author, humorist and writer for The New Yorker. The show, performed at City’s Lester Hamburg Studio theater, is a hilarious and irreverent tale of holiday hijinks.
SOUTH SIDE: 1300 Bingham St. 412/431-2489,

NOV. 29-DEC. 14
The (Christmas) Lake Effect
The holiday cheer continues with “The (Christmas) Lake Effect” at Little Lake Theatre. Written by theater associate director Sunny Disney Fitchett, whose family founded the theater, the show is meant as a comedic love letter to Little Lake. An actor finds himself in the midst of a midlife crisis during rehearsals for “A Christmas Carol.” The roof collapses, a freak blizzard arrives and a rabid possum shows up, and then things get really interesting.
NORTH STRABANE TOWNSHIP: 500 Lakeside Drive South 724/745-6300,

NOV. 29-DEC. 14
The Carols Travel back to World War II-era Christmas with “The Carols” at off the WALL. Imagine an Andrews Sisters-like trio in the Catskills, add in an out-of-work comic, a Scrooge-like landlady, and watch as they all come together for Christmas at the local VFW. This original musical is funny, heartfelt and back by popular demand after a successful run at off the WALL in 2017.
CARNEGIE: Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St. 724/873-3576,

DEC. 26-29
The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays
Head to the always festive Heinz Hall to get that final taste of holiday magic. “The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays” takes the stage as part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series where you’ll experience showmanship and illusions sure to dazzle. DOWNTOWN: 600 Penn Ave. 412/392-4900,



by Karen Dacko

DEC. 6
Freshworks Residency Presentation
Kelly Strayhorn Theater offers another installment of the experimental Freshworks Residency series at its Alloy Studios. For this work-in-progress showing, movement artist Ru Emmons, who uses the body as a vehicle for social change, combines creative talents with interdisciplinary artist Corrine Jasmin, who’s known for social commentary. Through sound, spoken text, visual art and movement, the performers explore “living in the in-between,” focusing on elements of identity, interconnectedness and queer futurism.
FRIENDSHIP: 5530 Penn Ave. 412/363-3000,

Dec. 6-15
Winter Dance Concert: Bound in Before
Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company, currently onstage at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, premieres “Bound in Before,” a full-length work choreographed by faculty member Kiesha Lalama. Based on a true story of love’s travails, the production examines the 20-year evolution of a relationship between childhood pals Mikey and Claire, whose bond is formed, strengthened and then tested before they are reunited. Composer Jason Coll provides the original score.
DOWNTOWN: 350 Forbes Ave. 412/392-8000,


DEC. 6-29
The Nutcracker
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre launches its brave soldiers into battle against evil mice, unfolding a colorful carousel as the annual production of “The Nutcracker” takes center stage at the Benedum Center. Choreographed by artistic director Terrence Orr to P.I. Tchaikovsky’s hummable score, the two-act, Pittsburgh-themed ballet follows the fantastic journey of young Marie and her Nutcracker Prince to The Land of Enchantment, a dream world populated by dancing denizens. DOWNTOWN: 237 Seventh St. 412/456-6666,

DEC. 7-8
Although choreographer Pearlann Porter is known for presenting dance performances in her versatile loft studio, The Pillow Project’s founder is setting the premiere of “NOW:PLAYING” under the proscenium arch of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. The postmodern-jazz dance opus, created in collaboration with co-director John Lambert, plays with optical illusions created by four projectors positioned in the wings simultaneously triggered by the cast of five. PJ Roduta’s original score accompanies the 60-minute work. EAST LIBERTY: 5941 Penn Ave.

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