June: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

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

May 31 – June 12/ PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh CLOdw present the long-awaited Pittsburgh debut of Matilda the Musical, based on the beloved, classic children’s novel by Roald Dahl. The rascally, endearing adaptation by Dennis Kelly (book) and Tim Minchin (music and lyrics) won seven Laurence Olivier Awards and four Tonys. Hoping to be diagnosed with an infection, Matilda’s mother goes to the doctor and genuinely is aghast at discovering she’s nine months pregnant. The reception gets no warmer for the mischievous Matilda throughout childhood, though she finds some solace in the cunning revenge she plots on her far less clever persecutors. Luckily, she finds true refuge in a caring teacher who senses her specialness. “When I Grow Up,” performed on a swing set, will delight. (Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, pittsburghclo.org)

June 2-26/ Pittsburgh Public Theater presents David Ives’ steamy sex comedy Venus in Fur. The play is inspired by “Venus in Furs,” Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s infamous 1870 erotic novel about sex and control from which the term “sadomasochism” was derived. Performed without an intermission, the 90-minute two-hander takes place in a theater after writer/director Thomas has spent a futile day auditioning actresses for the role of the dominatrix in his new play. Enter Vanda — several hours late and seemingly hapless — who will not be denied her audition. From her first word, she is eerily perfect for the part, literally transforming into the role as she lures Thomas to read opposite her. From there, the lines grey between acting and actuality, comedy and mystery — and the tamer and the tamed. (O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown; 412/316-1600, ppt.org)

Through Aug. 14/ CLO Cabaret presents the madcap adventure comedy The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow from the 1915 novel by John Buchan. The fantastically funny farce is a sendup of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 classic suspense film of the same name. The twist is that only one actor — who plays central figure Richard Hannay — remains in the same role throughout, while two other male actors and one female actress portray the remaining 30 or so characters. Hannay is on holiday in London when he suddenly gets bamboozled into a spy ring and falsely accused of murder. Expect a series of Hitchcock-style high-speed chases and near-miss escapes — injected with a hefty dose of sidesplitting buffoonery — as Hannay raucously races through England to avoid capture and clear his name. (CLO Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Ave., Downtown; 412/456-6666, clocabaret.com)

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

June 3-12/ One way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Pittsburgh’s incorporation as a city is with the annual Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, which has been part of city history for 57 years. TRAF 2016 will play up the bicentennial, beginning with its poster: a visual salute to the bridges of Pittsburgh (the official Bicentennial logo sports a bridge), and will seek to empower people through a theme of “belonging.” Special public-art features include “Dandelions,” (they’re big!) by Carin Mincemoyer and “Multiverse Wall” by Jesse Best. In terms of the visual arts, welcome the return of long-standing traditions such as the Juried Visual Art Exhibition (Trust Education Center, 805 Liberty Ave.), showcasing the work of regional artists, and the Artist Market (Gateway Center). Venture up to Cultural District galleries for a variety of special exhibitions, including:
• 709 Penn Gallery: “We ART Here,” showcasing work by self-identified artists with disabilities.
• August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Gallery II: “I Wish I Knew How It Felt to Be Free,” featuring pop-infused contemporary work inspired by Japanese anime.
• 937 Liberty Ave: “The New American Garden,” a photography show focusing on residential, civic and commercial gardening projects.
(various Downtown sites; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org/traf)


Through June 30/ Speaking of dandelions again: The absolute best drawing of the pesky plant I’ve ever seen is at “Great Expectations,” a show examining “the promise and energy held within a bud or a seed and phases of this continuous cycle of plant development.” The exquisitely detailed and composed pencil-on-paper paean by Keith Robert West makes labeling said plant as weed a sacrilege. Thirty-six artists — historical and contemporary — have been chosen for the show, each capturing a point of view regarding plant development. (Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, 4909 Frew St., Oakland; 412/268-2434, huntbotanical.org)

photo by eric rosé

June 3/ Dance programming at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival (June 3-12) includes performances by Maria Caruso’s Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company and Reed Dance II, directed by Greer Reed. Caruso premieres “Change,” which examines the real-life transitions of four dancers. It explores the apprehension and elation change generates and the impact change has on thoughts, emotions and the physical-self. Reed offers Mils “M.J.” James’ “Let My People Go,” a collage of movement, poetry and theatre centering on African-American history. (Trust Arts Education Center, Peirce Studio, 805 Liberty Ave., Downtown; 3riversartsfest.org)

photo by renee rosensteel

June 9/ CSA Performance Series presents local independent artists Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, known collectively as the movement/music duo slowdanger. On tap is memory 4, which propels the performers through an environment of movement, sound and atmospheric elements as it examines the concept, “I am what I remember … what I remember, is what I am” and expands on how memory is defined and redefined with the passing of time. (New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side; 412/320-4610, newhazletttheater.org)

June 3/ The Pillow Project director Pearlann Porter launches Thought Pockets, a free, site-specific performance and installation series structured to correspond with the
rhythm of workday pedestrian traffic. The premiere features movement, music and chalkings rendered by the newly formed duo The Ellipses Condition (Porter and poet/musician John Lambert) and local artists. (Strawberry Way at Grant Street, Downtown; ellipsescondition.com)

June 4/ Students from the Bodiography Center for Movement, directed by Maria Caruso, offer a spring concert of classical and contemporary works choreographed by faculty and members of the Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company. (Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org)

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