Sunday, December 4, 2016

"Lungs," A Romantic Play for Millennials (and Even Older Folks)

Sarah Silk and Alec Silberblatt in "Lungs" Credit: Courtesy Photo

Remember the scene in Monty Python’s "The Meaning of Life?" The one where a middle-aged, working class woman is shown standing at the kitchen sink surrounded by a gaggle of her own children and lets another newborn drop from her womb to the floor with startling nonchalance? What’s another child when you already have 36 of them the woman seems to say.

For an opposite take on the subject of child bearing, playwright Duncan Macmillan’s oft-hilarious, oft- emotionally moving "Lungs" spotlights a couple undergoing a pre-conception analysis of the ramifications of having a baby, and takes it to an uber level of scrutiny.

In the beginning, after a few nebulous moments of terpsichorean twists and turns of interpretive dance on the part of the play’s two actors, (I am still unable to see its relationship to the script), the play opens on a barren stage sans scenery or props, just like the playwright wanted.

A man (Alec Silberblatt) and woman (Sarah Silk), both millennials, in a long term relationship with no immediate intention of marrying, are standing in line at Ikea waiting to check out. Out of the blue, the man mentions the word baby, and it hits the woman like a sucker punch.

On the verge of getting her Ph.D., she freaks out and mentions weighty impacts on her career, life and body (painful breasts that lose their shape after birth not to mention changes in body parts further below). Urbane, intelligent and with-it, they both discourse over the effect another human being will have on the environment which will add an additional 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the already environmentally over-stressed Earth.

Cavorting in bare feet over a stage covered in green artificial grass (Is Astroturf a word still used today?), they over-analyze the implications of caring for another child, bringing it into a world they see as often cruel and merciless. Yet their questioning and probing stokes up ambivalent feelings that include the desire of rearing a child despite the challenges is poses.

As a working duality, the two actors have great synergy. Silk gets the lengthier monologues which she renders flawlessly despite the rapid fire and often contradictory thoughts and feelings she ruminates over and expresses to her other half. She criss-crosses her way through a maze of logic, facts, feeling and thoughts to create a certain theatrical pointillism, each dot of her narrative eventually coalescing to form a three-dimensional identity.

Silberblatt’s character is more understanding, patient and accepting of his opposite’s frenetic spontaneity, a port in the emotional storm, but even he, too, has his impetuous breaking points. Both actors are so accomplished take the audience to new plateaus of theatrical connoisseurship.

Director Spencer Whale shows great skill in blocking, moving the characters over the stage, giving the dialogue a kinetic boost, keeping the dynamics fresh and invigorating throughout the 100-minute run time. And yes, there is no intermission.
I especially appreciated Whale’s notes on the play, which are included in the play bill and discuss the issue of climate change and its relationship to the new president-elect’s administration.

It would be unwise to discuss further the outline of the plot, which would trivialize Macmillan’s finely formed, well-thought out text. Be prepared however, for a jolting change of pace near play’s end when the action is telescoped in a sequence that reminded me somewhat of a non-technical rendition of Kier Dullea’s final ride in Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey."

You probably won’t get the connection between the play’s title and the story line until the end. That’s when you’ll also come to realize that, even though the script deals with two individuals and their relationship to one another and the world in broader context, there’s also an aura of universality that hits home to everyone - millennial or not.

"Lungs," a production of Off the Wall Theater, is at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street in Carnegie, through December 17. Phone 724-873-3576.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Big Daddy deserves a day too.

Have a Glass of Cabernet Franc on December 4. Credit: Bottlenotes
Cabernet Franc, the father of Cabernet Sauvignon, among others, is celebrated on December 4th.
While it is often used as a blending grape, the single varietal Cabernet Franc is a medium-bodied red wine from the Basque region of France, which is in the southwest part of the country near Spain. The wine is known for its savory, bell pepper-like flavors and great acidity so it works great with food.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Berkeley Springs - Where People Still Take the Waters

Entrance to Berkeley Springs State Park Credit all Photos to Bill Rockwell

For a small town of less than 1,000 people , Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, has quite a history beginning with Native Americans who recognized the advantages of the springs' mineral waters.

In his 1833 book titled “History of the Valley of Virginia,” Samuel Kerchaval wrote“This is doubtless the most ancient watering place in the Valley.  Tradition relates that those springs were known to the Indians as possessing valuable medical properties, and were much frequented by them."

When the first Caucasians arrived, the Indians told them of the springs - five principal water courses and numerous lesser ones that still pour out of the ground to this day at a rate of  2,000 gallons per minute at a constant year-round temperature of 74° F.

George Washington came by at age 16, part of a survey crew for Lord Fairfax, a large land owners and the only English lord to live in Virginia. After learning about the area, Fairfax permitted seven acres of land to be used as a public park until 1776, when he allowed the Virginia legislature to “liberate” it for the town of Bath, the town's original and still-official name..

Both Washington and Fairfax built cottages there, and early part-time residents included John Hanson, first president of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, and Charles Carroll, one of Maryland's signers of the Declaration of Independence. Land purchases by many of America's founders and Revolutionary War generals helped insure the growth of the country's "first spa." Noteworthy visitors eventually included James Madison and Washington Irving.

A View Inside the Park
Today, the state of West Virginia administers the contemporary four-acre site that resembles an old village green with a gazebo and bubbling streams along with a reproduction of an antique bathtub that served the springs in Washington’s era.

The park's current swimming pool was built in 1949 on the site of previous covered baths built in Victorian times. In a much earlier era, Martha Washington may have taken the waters in Lord Fairfax’s personal bath shack built in 1768.

Near Warm Springs Run, two of the park's original buildings still stand. One of these, the Roman Baths was renovated twenty-five years ago. There, sunken pools lined with ceramic tile floors and walls occupy the second oldest building (1815) in Morgan County. (The park headquarters on the grounds, originally a bathhouse built in 1784, is the oldest). Each of the indoor relaxation pools in the Roman Baths, which can be rented by the half hour for $25 for the first occupant, $15 for each additional person, holds 750 gallons of untreated, natural water, heated to 102° F.

The Roman Baths are the only place in town that offer untreated water, a contrast to the other commercial operations that have sprung up in the area. On the second floor of the Old Roman Bathhouse, the Museum of Berkeley Springs deals with the people and history of the region. The museum is open seasonally from March through December and on certain holiday weekends. Private tours are available by appointment (Phone 304-258-3738). Note: If you see a banner hanging outside, the museum is open.
Inside the Park

Adjacent to the Roman Baths, the Gentleman's Spring House offers pure, deliciously tasteless, water for immediate drinking. Locals come from miles around to bottle some for free-of-charge home consumption.

At the far end of the park, the yellow brick building that serves as the main bathhouse was built in 1929 and remodeled in 2010. There, visitors can enjoy a dry sauna, a Whirlpool Jacuzzi tub, a Roman bath and a massage. A bath with follow up massage (women to the left, men to the right) on weekends costs $55 for a half hour, even less on week days. Advance reservations are recommended. Phone (304) 258-2711.

It's not surprising to find that a number of "spa-oriented" businesses have opened in town. During my visit, I pampered myself with a massage at Atasia, one of the town’s four spas located on Congress Street just off Fairfax, the town’s main thoroughfare.

In 1998, current owner, Frankie Tan, took over the building which, in the 1900s, housed the Berkeley Springs "News," the local paper. After remodeling the building and adding to it, he named his enterprise Atasia Spa, short for "a touch of Asia."

The Entrance to the Atasia Spa
Operating with a staff of 18 who provide spa services in 11 treatment rooms, Atasia offers therapeutic, aroma-stone, Reiki, Thai and couples massages. The service menu also includes mud treatments, sugar scrubs, facials and raindrop therapy, (essential oils dropped on your back like raindrops followed by a massage).

Spa director, Justin Wolfe, said Atasia has a reputation for having "top notch services at wallet-friendly prices." Advance reservations are recommended. Phone 304-258-7888.

The Ice House, a four-story yellow brick building on Independence and Mercer Streets, once served as a cold storage facility for the area's extensive apple crop. The building is now home to the Morgan Arts Council which sponsors community theater productions and exhibits by a number of artists.

Nearby, the historic art deco Star Theater screened its first film in 1928, and the Manley hot oil popcorn machine and striped silk wall coverings date back to 1949. Modern amenities include a stereo sound system, air conditioning and a digital projector installed in 2013. Films change weekly and are screened at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Best of all, prices are kept low at $4.50 a ticket, and the popcorn is topped with real butter.

The Main Bathhouse

Further up the mountain along Route 9, the Panorama Overlook, hundreds of feet above the junction of the Cacapon and Potomac rivers, gives visitors a panoramic vista of three states - Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland.

Roughly 15 miles south of Berkeley Springs on Route 522, the Ridge Fish Hatchery  allows visitors to watch the fish feeding around 3:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free, and visitors can enter the hatchery to see the small trout fry in raised tanks, then proceed outdoors to enjoy viewing the much larger trout splash around in holding pens in a feeding frenzy come feeding time.

Like many other tourist towns, Berkeley Springs boasts several fine dining restaurants. During my stay I managed to visit the newest - Circa 33 Public House, and the oldest - The Country Inn.
Circa 33 Public House

Circa 33 Public House opened on April 1, 2016, and is more than just an eatery. The establishment also serves as a bed and breakfast with several tastefully furnished rooms available to overnight guests. Once a family residence that dates back to 1929, the building morphed through time to become an antique store, a café, a steak and seafood restaurant and a bed and breakfast.

The cuisine type is labeled "traditional American," and the menu changes seasonally, three or four times a year. The house specialty is Chicken Cordon Bleu, but I was delighted to find Pierogies Florentine (filled with potatoes and spinach) on the bill of fare. Co-owner Matt Franklin said that "fresh and home made are big for us." Live music is spotlighted some evenings. Phone 304-500-2615.

Harking back to 1933, the Country Inn sports two restaurants - the Morgan Tavern and a more formal dining room simply called the Country Inn Restaurant. Chef Scott Collinash said he grew up watching Julia Child cook on public television from the age of 12. As a result, his dishes are often French-influenced.
Ribs with a Crab Cake Side at The Country Inn
The same menu is available in both dining spaces, including the guest favorite "Chicken Christy - a boneless breast sautéed with mushrooms and ham, flamed with white wine, simmered in heavy cream and finished with Provolone cheese.

I can vouch for the deliciousness of my appetizers of baked brie in puff pastry with walnuts and red raspberry sauce and another appetizer, sautéed spinach with white raisins, pecans, bleu cheese crumbles  and a Balsamic reduction. The breads are served with a dipping cup of olive oil and black mission fig balsamic from the Naked Olive, a foodie emporium located on North Washington Street.
The Country Inn

One option I especially enjoyed was the ability to add a crab cake to any entree for an extra $9.99 "Eighty percent of our food is made in-house from scratch," said Chef  Collinash. "All our meats are GMO and antibiotic free, and our menu changes twice a year." Phone 304-258-1200.

For a place to stay, Cacapon State Park sits on 6,000 acres of unspoiled land and offers overnighters a choice of one of 48 rooms, some of which overlook the park’s Robert Trent Jones, Sr. golf course. Amenities include a lounge with TV and board games, complimentary coffee, a fireplace and a cozy environment.
The Lodge at Cacapon State Park
The lodge offers free wireless service, a recreation room, and a full service restaurant, and cabins are also available. Outdoor activities include fishing, basketball and tennis courts, a lake with a sandy beach, skeet shooting, horseback riding and over 20 miles of hiking trails. Phone 304-258-1022.

Berkeley Springs is located in West Virginia's eastern panhandle. From I-70 in Hancock, Maryland, take US 522 south six miles to the center of town. For further information on any of the above sites, phone (304) 258-3738.
Wall Hnging at the Atasia Spa 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

PBT"s "The Nutcracker" Dances Its Way Onstage Starting December 2

The Party Scene from "The Nutcracker Credit: Rich Sofranko

Propelled by Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, this soaring story captures the awe and expectation of the night before Christmas when a mysterious gift sparks a wondrous adventure.
As the colossal tree shoots skyward and snowflakes blanket the stage, the journey glides into a radiant Land of Enchantment brimming with virtuosic dances from faraway lands.

Set in turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh, this holiday tradition resounds with more than 150 dancers, radiant scenery, astounding magic tricks and new surprises each season.
For tickets, phone 412-456-6666.
Groups 10+ Save: Call 412-454-9101 or email
Build Your Own Subscription: Save 20% over single tickets and unlock VIP benefits.


Friday, December 02, 2016 11:00 AM Student Matinee
Friday, December 02, 2016 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 03, 2016 2:00 PM
Saturday, December 03, 2016 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 04, 2016 12:00 PM
Sunday, December 04, 2016 4:30 PM

Friday, December 09, 2016 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 10, 2016 2:00 PM
Saturday, December 10, 2016 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 11, 2016 12:00 PM
Sunday, December 11, 2016 4:30 PM

Thursday, December 15, 2016 7:00 PM
Friday, December 16, 2016 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 17, 2016 2:00 PM
Saturday, December 17, 2016 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 18, 2016 12:00 PM
Sunday, December 18, 2016 4:30 PM

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 7:00 PM
Wednesday, December 21, 2016 7:00 PM
Thursday, December 22, 2016 7:00 PM
Friday, December 23, 2016 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 24, 2016 11:00 AM
Saturday, December 24, 2016 3:30 PM

Monday, December 26, 2016 7:00 PM
Tuesday, December 27, 2016 2:00 PM Sensory Friendly
Tuesday, December 27, 2016 7:00 PM

Act I - 57 minutes
Intermission - 20 minutes
Act II - 53 minutes

ENRICH YOUR THEATER EXPERIENCE: PBT educational programs for The Nutcracker

Friday, Dec. 2, 9:30 PM - Afterthoughts: Stay after the performance for this special discussion about The Nutcracker with Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr and Company dancers. In the theater. No reservations necessary.

Sunday, Dec. 4, 11 AM - Talks with Terry: Don’t miss this exclusive opportunity to watch the Company as they finish their warm-up class on stage and talk with Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr about The Nutcracker. In the theater. No reservations necessary.

Saturday, Dec. 10, 1 PM - Family Pointe: Explore the story and choreography of the ballet with Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr in this entertaining program designed for kids and families. Includes an opportunity
to try out some steps from The Nutcracker! Benedum Rehearsal Studio B (enter on Liberty Ave.) Patrons of all ages are welcome! Reservations: (412) 454-9109 or

Audio-Described Performance

Sunday, Dec. 4, at 4:30 p.m. AND Sunday, Dec. 11, at 4:30 p.m.
Sign out a headset to listen to a live narration of the ballet (designed for visually impaired patrons). For more information about PBT's accessibility services, please call 412-454-9109 or visit PBT's accessibility services page.
Tickets purchased from PBT cannot be resold, transferred or distributed to any ticket broker or any other person or entity for resale. Should PBT suspect that the ticket purchaser may be a ticket broker or associated with any ticket resale program, all current and future orders may be cancelled
without notice or justification of action.  PBT reserves the right to deny admission to any person with a ticket obtained in violation of these terms.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chamber Opera Now Getting a Staging by Quantum Theatre

Kevin Glavin, Katy Williams, Ian McEuen In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Credit: Heather Mull

Known for its cutting edge plays, Quantum Theatreis currently staging an opera based on the book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat!

“I feel...that I am equally, if inadequately, a theorist and dramatist.” So Oliver Sacks states in the preface to his 1985 work. We see just how correct he was when Michael Nyman dramatized that very text four years later.

Oliver Sacks’ compelling case history of a man experiencing the loss of his sight... a victim of “visual agnosia”, deals with his inability to form a whole percept of visual information. In layman’s terms, the Man could look at, say, his wife’s head, see abstract shapes as opposed to her identifying features, and confuse those shapes for a hat.

The opera features sweeping, emotional music by Nyman, composer of The Piano, and an orchestra of seven. Leading the singers is basso buffo Kevin Glavin in the titular role of Dr. P. , Ian McEuen in the tenor role of Oliver Sacks (known as Dr. S.), and soprano Katy Williams as Mrs. P., the patient’s very patient wife. Quantum adds its special twists: a quirky, accessible site, chosen to facilitate visuals by media designer Joe Seamans, who helps us to empathize with Dr. P., to ‘see what he sees’.
A Scene from the Play Credit: Heather Mull

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat By Michael Nyman
Libretto by Christopher Rawlence, Michael Morris and Oliver Sacks, based on his book
Music Direction by Andres Cladera
Stage Direction by Karla Boos

For tickets, phone call 412-362-1713.Performance Location: 200 N. Highland Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206, in the heart of East Liberty at the corner of N. Highland Avenue and Broad Street

Where to Park?
Parking lot in the block of the site, at the corner of Centre Avenue and Broad Street. And as always, follow the Q!

No Late Seating. Please be prompt (thank you!).

The show runs 70 minutes with no intermission. If you exit early, you won't be able to be re-seated. Please visit the restrooms before the show starts (very clean Porta-johns. Or be forewarned and make that pit stop at your pre-theatre dining spot!)

Boxed Dinners
If you purchased dinners, your dinner will be waiting for pick up as early as 5:30 for 7 pm shows (Sundays), and 6:30 for 8 pm shows (Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays). You’ll eat your boxed dinners comfortably seated in a convivial spot a couple doors down – the former Pig & Chicken Restaurant at 220 N. Highland Avenue (with restrooms!). Please go straight there to begin your evening.
Katy Williams and Kevin Gavin Credit: Heather Mull

Learn More
Visit website for more information, photos, and videos.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Phipps Now Featuring Winter Flower Show and Light Garden

Winter Light Garden: Nights Aglow Credit: Paul Wiegman

Staff at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens have been working around the clock to prepare for the most magical holiday show of the year in Pittsburgh – Winter Flower Show and Light Garden, which opens Fri., Nov. 25 and runs through Sun., Jan. 8. To give guests ample opportunity to revel in the glow of the glasshouse, Phipps’ hours are 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day for the duration of the show.*

With more than 1,200 poinsettias and 25,000 twinkling LED lights adorning the Conservatory, weekday musical performances and special holiday events, there is no better way to get into the spirit of the season than by visiting Phipps.

Winter Night Garden at Phipps Credit: Paul Wiegman
A celebratory banner will greet guests in Palm Court, announcing that it’s a snow day at Phipps! As they meander throughout the changing display rooms, guests will see topiary animals enjoying the snow day, highlighted by the glow of holiday lights. Penguins will peek out from behind a snow fort in the midst of a snowball fight, reindeer will ice skate along illuminated paths surrounding an enormous fir tree and a family of bears will cuddle in a blanket fort while their snow clothes dry by a crackling fireplace. Fragrant blooms will fill the air with their lovely scent and poinsettias of every shape, size and color imaginable will overflow from the display beds.

“The Winter Flower Show’s theme is so whimsical,” says Jordyn Melino, exhibit coordinator. “I am looking forward to how much fun we have with it. This show makes me nostalgic of my childhood!”

Of course, the sea of colorful lights in the Outdoor Garden must not be missed. This year’s displays will be bigger and brighter than ever, and include additions such as a tunnel of lights that will make guests feel as though they are standing under a twinkling night sky. Yummy snacks and warm drinks will be available for purchase in the Outdoor Garden, providing sustenance for garden goers.

As the holidays draw near, Phipps offers a myriad of events to entertain guests of all ages. Enjoy musical performances by local groups every Monday through Wednesday and visits with Santa on select dates during the show, free with admission. Additionally, Phipps offers free shuttle service for visitors, with stops at Forbes Avenue and Semple Street Garage, and the Bob O’Connor Golf Course (Schenley Park Golf Course) as weather permits. Shuttle service begins at 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from Nov. 25 – Jan. 8 (excluding Dec. 24 and 25), plus Monday – Thursday, Dec. 26 – 29.

For full details on events, including dates, parking, shuttle services, times and admission fees, please visit

*Note: Phipps Conservatory’s hours on Sat., Dec. 24 are 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. The Conservatory is closed on Sun., Dec. 25.

East Room at Phipps during Christmas Season Credit: Paul Wiegman

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Jazz Concert at Carnegie in Carnegie Spolights Ritchie Cole Orchestra in a Very Carnegie Christmas

Jazz great Richie Cole will be joined by J.D. Chaisson on trumpet: Jeff Grubbs on bass; Reid Hoyson on percussion; Mark Lucas on guitar; Rick Matt on tenor sax; Ken Moore on keyboards and Reggie Watkins on trombone.  Vocalists Reni Monteverdi, Casey Evans and Ian Cane round out the program.

The concert, set at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 3, showcases Cole's new CD, Richie Cole: Have Yourself and Alto Madness Christmas.  As a special treat, students form Carnegie Elementary School will perform the carol Cole composed just for them.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door, children under 12 free, and are available at

A reception with the performers follows the concert in the Lincoln Gallery. There is free shuttle service from the parking lot on E. Main Streeet, opposite Carnegie Coffee Company.