October: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

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

Photo by David Bachman Photography


Oct. 7, 10, 13 & 15/ “Tosca” is exactly what a dramatic opera should be: An ill-fated love story set against the backdrop of war in 19th-century Rome with famous librettos by Puccini. Pittsburgh Opera kicks off its 79th season with this performance in Italian (with English subtitles), which features members of the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus. (Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, pittsburghopera.org)

Oct. 20-29/ Cole Porter’s musical within a musical, “Kiss Me, Kate,” follows a theater troupe performing Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” Love triangles go awry within both troupes in the show, which debuted on Broadway in 1948 and won the first Tony Award for Best Musical. Catch the classic at the Rockwell Theatre at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland, the final season at that location for Point Park’s Conservatory Theatre Company before it moves to its brand new digs Downtown next year. (222 Craft Ave., Oakland; 412/392-8000, pittsburghplayhouse.com)

Oct. 5-14/ With so many great theaters in town, it’s easy to forget that Carnegie Mellon University is home to one of the best drama schools in the country — and you can observe budding stars at work for the price of a show ticket. October is a fine time to visit as the students take on Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker.” The play follows Dolly Levi (the musical “Hello, Dolly!” is based on the 1957 play), a widow, matchmaker and ultimately good-hearted schemer. She sets her sights on the wealthy Horace Vandergelder under the pretense of setting him up with an eligible heiress. In time, it’s clear to everyone that Dolly knows exactly which match is best — for herself, for Horace, and for the others they encounter, before the parade passes by. (Philip Chosky Theatre, Purnell Center for the Arts, 5000 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/268-2407, drama.cmu.edu)

Oct. 5-15/ If there’s one play you can never see too many times, it’s another Thornton Wilder classic: “Our Town.” Set in early-1900s, small-town America, the three-act play follows two families in their early days, married years and death, and speaks immortal lines like: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?” Its depth is in its simplicity, and experiencing it is always good for the soul. See it at the University of Pittsburgh’s intimate black box theater. (Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre, 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland; 412/624-7529, play.pitt.edu)

Photos courtesy sen. john heinz history center


THROUGH Jan. 14/ Imagine a giant slice of pie becoming Pittsburgh’s Point with a dollop of whipped cream atop that for the fountain and a funky skyline behind constructed from stuff you’d find in your kitchen. It’s titled “Pittsburgh Feast,” what illustrator Mark Bender has cooked up for “Art of Facts: Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories.” This juried exhibition celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators with more than 50 works by 20 artists. This year, they were challenged to research and discover interesting and quirky things about the region’s history and present them visually in new and engaging ways.

Examples: See a teenage Andrew Carnegie working in a textile mill, share Walt Disney’s visit to Westinghouse or learn the tale of how Pittsburgh became Pittsburg through the loss of its final, tail-wagging “H.”  (Sen. John Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman St., Strip District; 412/454-6000, heinzhistorycenter.org)

THROUGH DEC. 15/ “October gave a party/ The leaves by hundreds came …” wrote George Cooper, who may be an obscure poet nowadays, but his lyrics live on in several Stephen Foster songs. Anyway, the fall foliage will be putting on that colorful high Oct-ane show again outside. Enjoy! But head inside, where there’s another visually riveting show to see. “Worlds Within” is a collaborative effort by two Carnegie Mellon University galleries — Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation and the Miller Gallery — with a special focus on plants.

Getting inside these botanical wonders themselves is the real draw: glimpsing the seldom-seen essence hidden away within their very structures — architecture, patterns, functions, textures. Botanical wall charts by Carl Ignaz Leopold Kny (1841–1916) make for a riveting graphic effect. Hand-colored micrographs by contemporary British artist Rob Kesseler (born 1951) add the eerie feeling that we might be experiencing life from an alien planet with close-ups of something as simple as grass-pollen grains. Sculpture complements the plantscape with antique glass and glacite models of marine organisms that might pass for proto-abstract-expressionism. Go and grow! [Through Dec. 15: Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, 4909 Frew St., Oakland; 412/268-2434, huntbotanical.org Through Nov. 12: Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/268-3618, millergallery.cfa.cmu.edu]

THROUGH NOV. 5/ There’s another CMU blip on the visual radar this month, but you’ll have to go to St. Vincent College to catch it. Walter C. Labys’ interest in art began when he was a student at St. Vincent Preparatory School near Latrobe in the 1950s. When Labys moved on to what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology to study engineering, he audited art-related courses. His creative side continued to be nourished during his career, which included university professor and international economist. “Mountains, Gardens and Sky: A Walt Labys Retrospective” looks back on the fruits of that second job of his and what influenced it: an interest in color and light, the paintings of Jackson Pollock, Oriental rugs, abstract graffiti and time spent in Europe. (The St. Vincent Gallery, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe; 724/805-2107, gallery.stvincent.edu)

THROUGH NOV. 18 & DEC. 31/ A two-location event presented by Silver Eye Center for Photography showcases the work of LaToya Ruby Frazier. Her hometown is Braddock, but the reputation of this award-winning photographer has traveled far beyond, with shows at major venues such as the Brooklyn Museum and Seattle Art Museum, among others. Frazier concentrates on the working class in western Pennsylvania and beyond, addressing issues such as racism, class and economic decline in America’s small towns. Other modes of expression include video and performance. Her first book, “The Notion of Family,” received the International Center for Photography Infinity Award in 2015. [Through Nov. 18: Silver Eye Center for Photography, 4808 Penn Ave., Bloomfield; 412/431-1810, silvereye.org; Through Dec. 31: August Wilson Center for African American Culture, 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown; 412/456-6666, culturaldistrict.org]


photo by Duane Rieder


Oct. 27-29/ Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre revives Ben Stevenson’s “Dracula” (1997), a three-act narrative ballet inspired by novelist Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire. Dissatisfied with his ghastly female minion, the Count seeks the blood of Svetlana, a village maiden, but is thwarted by her beloved Fredrick and stalwart father. The score is an arrangement of music by Franz Liszt. (Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, pbt.org

Oct. 5/ LADO National Folk Dance Ensemble of Croatia is an award-winning professional dance and music troupe founded in 1949. In their show at the Byham, they’ll showcase authentic folk traditions and costuming via selections that accentuate stylistic differences among the Alpine, Pannonian, Dinaric and Adriatic regions of the picturesque country. Also on tap that evening are contemporary works inspired by traditional themes. (101 Sixth St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org)

Oct. 7/ Award-winning choreographer Alonzo King draws from classical ballet, non-Western movement and structured improvisation to create the aesthetic for LINES Ballet, his San Francisco-based troupe. Programming features King’s gesture-rich “Shostakovich” (2014) set to four string quartets. (Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org)

Oct. 13-14/ Minneapolis-based Ananya Dance Theatre is an Indian-American dance troupe dedicated to dance and activism. The predominantly female ensemble, directed by Ananya Chatterjea, continues its five-year series on the “work women do” with “Shyamali: Sprouting Words” (2017). Themes of proactive dissent and resilience in the face of adversity fuel the 90-minute production, which includes local participants chosen from an adjunct workshop. (Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty; 412/363-3000, kelly-strayhorn.org)

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