Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pittsburgh Opera Closes Season with "Daughter of the Regiment"

The 21st regiment (Pittsburgh Opera Chorus and Supernumeraries) comes looking for their "daughter," Marie (Lisette Oropesa) and are happily reunited for a short time. Photo Credit: David Bachman

 Pittsburgh Opera concludes its 76th season with a colorful, charming production of Donizetti’s comic opera DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT (La fille du régiment). On stage May 2, 5, 8, and 10, and sung in English, DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT brings a bit of whimsy and plenty of vocal fireworks to the Benedum Center. Star tenor Lawrence Brownlee, as Tonio, brings nine incredible high Cs in the famous aria "Ah, mes, amis (Ah, my friends)," and Lisette Oropesa as Marie, has plenty of high notes of her own.
    Despite a "barely averted disaster" of an opening night in February 1840 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, the opera soon found its footing, and quickly became a favorite, due in no small part to the spectacular singing required of both lead roles.

    Youngstown native Lawrence Brownlee debuts with Pittsburgh Opera in the role of Tonio, as
Lawrence Brownlee and Lisette Oropesa in "Daughter of the Regiment" Credit: David Bachman
arguably the most in-demand of bel canto tenors, having recently given standout performances as Almaviva/Il barbiere di Siviglia (broadcast on PBS’s Great Performances) and Arturo/I Puritani at The Metropolitan Opera, and Lindoro/L’Italiana in Algeri at Houston Grand Opera.
    Lisette Oropesa, who dazzled Pittsburgh audiences as Konstanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio (2012) with her rendition of "Martern alle arten," returns as Marie, fresh from highly-praised performances at New Orleans Opera (Susanna/Le nozze di Figaro) and The Metropolitan Opera (Sophie/Werther). An avid runner, Ms. Oropesa will run 26.2 miles in the Pittsburgh Marathon the day after opening night.

DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT calls for a skilled supporting cast, and the lineup is stellar, including Joyce Castle in her Pittsburgh debut as the Marquise of Berkenfeld, WQED-FM’s Anna Singer (The Grapes of Wrath, 2008) as the Duchess of Krakenthorp, Kevin Glavin (La bohème, 2014) as the old soldier Sulpice, Resident Artist Phillip Gay (Carmen, 2015) as Hortensius, and Dimitrie Lazich (La bohème, 2014) as the Corporal. Director and Choreographer Seán Curran debuts at Pittsburgh Opera as well.

A Hally Ending Credit: David Bachman

     The opera has historically been performed in multiple languages. Soon after its initial success in Paris, Donizetti adapted the original French version as La figlia del reggimento to fit the tastes of the Italian public; the English version was first heard in London in 1847. Pittsburgh Opera will perform the English version.
     The tenor aria "Ah, mes amis" has been called the "Mount Everest" for tenors.
It features nine high Cs and comes comparatively early in the opera, giving the singer less time to warm up his voice. It’s also the aria that made Luciano Pavarotti a star.
       W. S. Gilbert, of Gilbert & Sullivan fame, wrote a burlesque adaptation of the opera, La Vivandière, in 1867.

The story, in brief

On their way to Austria, the Marquise of Berkenfeld and her butler, Hortensius, pause in their journey because the French army is blocking their way. When the marquise hears that the French troops have retreated, Hortensius asks Sulpice, sergeant of the 21st regiment, to let the marquise continue on her way. Sulpice is joined by Marie, "daughter" of the regiment, who was adopted by the army as an orphan. When Sulpice questions her about a young man she has been seen with, she explains that he is a Tyrolean who once saved her life. Troops of the 21st arrive with a prisoner: this same Tyrolean, Tonio, who says he is looking for Marie. She steps in to save him, and while he toasts his new friends, Marie sings the regimental song. Tonio is ordered to follow the soldiers, but he escapes and returns to declare his love to Marie. Marie tells Tonio that she can only marry a soldier from the 21st.

The Marquise of Berkenfeld asks Sulpice to escort her back to her castle. When he hears the name Berkenfeld, Sulpice remembers a letter he found near the young Marie when she was adopted. The marquise admits that she knew the girl’s father, and that Marie is the long-lost daughter of her sister. Shocked by the girl’s rough manners, the marquise is determined to take Marie to her castle and to give her a proper education. Tonio has enlisted so that he can marry Marie, but she has to leave both her regiment and the man she loves to live with the marquise.

The marquise has arranged a marriage between Marie and Scipion, nephew of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Sulpice has joined the marquise at the Berkenfeld castle, recovering from an injury and supposedly helping her with her plans. The marquise gives Marie a singing lesson, accompanying her at the piano. Encouraged by Sulpice, Marie slips in phrases of the regimental song, and the marquise loses her temper. Left alone, Marie thinks about the meaninglessness of money and position. She hears soldiers marching in the distance and is delighted when the whole regiment files in. Tonio, Marie, and Sulpice are reunited. Tonio asks for Marie’s hand, but the marquise declares her niece is engaged to another man, and dismisses Tonio. Alone with Sulpice, the marquise confesses the truth: Marie is her own illegitimate daughter whom she abandoned, fearing social disgrace.

Hortensius announces the arrival of the wedding party, headed by the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Marie refuses to leave her room, but when Sulpice tells her that the marquise is her mother, the surprised girl declares that she cannot go against her mother’s wishes, and agrees to marry a man that she does not love. As she is about to sign the marriage contract, the soldiers of the regiment, led by Tonio, storm in to rescue their "daughter." The noble guests are horrified to learn that Marie was a "mascot," but they change their opinion when she describes her upbringing, telling them that she can never repay the debt she owes the soldiers. The marquise is so moved that she gives her daughter permission to marry Tonio. Everyone joins in a final "Salut à la France."

    Tickets to DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT start at $12, with all performances at the Benedum Center, 7th Street and Penn Avenue, in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. For additional information, videos, photos, cast biographies, and the full story of DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT, visit To purchase tickets, call 412-456-6666 or visit

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"The Whale" - A Weighty Tale Splendidly Dramatized

F,J, Hartland as Charlie and Amy Landis as Liz in "The Whale"

    The very idea of a 600 pound man is almost incomprehensible, but in a staging of "The Whale," now at the Off the Wall performing Arts Center in Carnegie, the concept take palpable shape with grotesque physicality. With the aid of a "fat suit," F. J. Hartland balloons into the guise of Charlie, an online writing teacher barely able to get up off his chair unaided, gasping for breath and wheezing, stoking upwards his sky-high blood pressure by consuming tons of junk food. Or at least, that’s what set designer, Rich Preffer, suggests with a back wall engulfed with the detritus of  packaged fast food. It’s pizza boxes, candy cartons, soft drink packets and more stuffed into the background floor to ceiling.
To understand the overweight man’s plight, playwright Samuel D. Hunter looks both backward at his failed marriage and the unrequited sorrow that lingers for years after the death of his partner, yet forward to his almost sacrificial desire to make things right by troubled daughter, Ellie, who despises him but is lured back into his life with the promise of an inheritance.
Hunter takes his time in telling the tale, letting unfold gradually like the melting of a winter’s snow in Northern Idaho, where the play is set. Early on, before the introduction of the play’s recurrent leitmotifs of the Biblical tale of Jonah and the Whale and Melville’s novel of the great white whale, Moby Dick, sound designer, Ryan McMasters’ background audio of sea waves beating against a shore seem out-of-place for a state hundreds of miles away from an ocean. 
As Charlie, Hartland seems a noble soul, tragically doomed to eat himself to death out of depression and despair, yet steadfast in his zeal for avoiding the expense of hospital care so that his life’s saving can pass on to his daughter, whom he loves ardently. His one and only friend, Liz, is equally adamant that he seek professional help, but stays with him as caregiver despite his constant refusals to take her advice. As Liz, Amy Landis is a dramatic spark plug adding an energized counterpoint to Hartland’s slower-paced performance, understandably necessitated by his character’s failing health.
One unresolved issue on Charlie’s bucket list is the reason behind his partner’s desire for death by starvation that coalesced immediately after he sat through a sermon delivered by his Mormon father, an elder at the local church. A little too conveniently, a young Mormon missionary comes knocking on his door, a perfect set-up for some provocative exchanges about religion between Charlie and the young lad.

As Elder Thomas, the green-behind-the-ears evangelist, Brian Knoebel brings a lot of energy to the role as well as an initial air of innocence that eventually takes a more earthy turn. Some of the play’s best moments occur when he first encounters, Ellie, Charlie’s sullen, rebellious, sarcastic, quick-witted daughter, played with gleeful contrariness by Abby Quatro.
Ellie plays with the zealous young man like a lioness with a frightened wildebeest, an unequal match that soon has the young man fessing up to some shadowy issues from  his  own past. While the give-and-take between the two make for a good bit of levity, the scene sags a bit when Knoebel goes over the top as Thomas after taking a mind altering drug normally associated with a mellowing out rather than an energizing stimulus.
The final piece in the narrative is Mary, Charlie’s former wife, a distraught, neurotic with her own slew of unresolved issues and dashed  expectations. Dana Hardy’s characterization, while slightly less of a barbed harpoon than Ellie’s, dredges up the past and puts the present in perspective in one of the play’s strongest moments.
Director Linda Haston keeps a tight reign on her ensemble of spirited steeds and gives the play a certain rhythmic finesse. She avoids the possible pratfalls of having it descend into pathos and morbid sentimentality while retaining its potent dramatic impact.
With impressive performances by all members of the cast, Hartland’s is still the one that stands out most in my mind. Encumbered by an outlandishly heinous costume, he’s convincing both as an ailing man on the verge of death and as someone with a depth of character and a narrative worth listening to.
"The Whale" is at the Off the Wall Performing Arts Center, 25 W. Main Street in Carnegie through May 9. Phone 1-888-71-TICKETS.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bach Choir Brings King David To Life

There are few Biblical stories which offer the dramatic possibilities of the story of Saul
and David. Author René Morax turned to that story for his epic play Le Roi David, and
commissioned a young and relatively unknown Arthur Honegger to provide the
incidental music. Honegger responded with a remarkable score which matched the
dramatic sweep and energy of the story and firmly established Honegger’s reputation as
a composer. The Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, with Artistic Director Thomas Douglas,
brings performances of this drama to the public later this month.

 Le Roi David, composed in 1921, is comprised of 27 short vignettes and employs a
narrator to tell the tale. The music embraces several musical styles, ranging from
Gregorian chant to Baroque to jazz. This oratorio, or more specifically, dramatic psalm,
also includes guest artists that enhance the music and drama.

 Called “lyrical, colorful, lovely, exciting, grotesque, and even grand when called for”,
musical highpoints include Honegger's psalm-settings, ethereal alleluia settings, and the
dramatic scene of Saul and the Witch of Endor.

About this production of King David, Maestro Douglas says:  “The Bach Choir is excited to present this dramatic work to our audiences. As a member of the group of French composers known as “Les Six”, Honegger was experimenting with new musical genres like jazz, and melding
that with styles such as Gregorian style chant. Including a Narrator and the
Witch of Endor add both excitement and clarity to this terrific piece.”
Performances will be at St. Nicholas Cathedral, 419 S. Dithridge St. Pittsburgh, PA
15213 on Saturday, April 25th @ 8:00 pm and on Sunday, April 26th @ 4:00 pm.

 King David concert information:
Who: The Bach Choir of Pittsburgh
What: King David or Arthur Honegger
When: Saturday, April 25, 2015 @ 8:00 pm
 Sunday, April 26, 2015 @ 4:00 pm
Where: St. Nicholas Cathedral
419 S. Dithridge Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Tickets are available in advance at Showclix or at 1-888-718-4253
And at the door on the day of performance.
Prices range from $9.95-$30.00
More info at

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Modern Nordic Cuisine - A Hot New Food Trend

Sea Scallops with Vanilla Foam at SPIS Restaurant

    When told that a woman devotee flew all the way from San Francisco to London just to hear Dame Joan Sutherland sing, the opera diva is said to have remarked "more money than brains."
What holds true for opera fans with plenty of cash is probably just as true for A-list gastronomes looking for the latest food experience. Something I found to be worthy a Trans-Atlantic trip (provided you have the wherewithal) is the Modern Nordic culinary creations now trending in Finland, especially in the capital city of Helsinki.
    The epitome of my Nordic culinary adventures took place in SPIS, a small, 18-seat, dare-I-say boutique restaurant, minimal on decor but oh so over-the-top when it comes to a dining experience where the food gets the spotlight.
Located on Kasarmikatu 26 in Hesinki, SPIS prepares small plates that are both visual works of art and culinary masterpieces using fresh Nordic ingredients. From my seat I was able to glimpse two chefs diligently at work in the kitchen carefully arranging each plate with the care of an artist working behind an easel.
SPIS’ menu is vegetable-based but it always includes at least one seafood and meat selection. An amuse bouche made of lovage cream and roasted veal, sea scallops prepared sous vide with vanilla foam and smoked salsify puree, salted whitefish with dill cream paired up with salmon marinated in aquavit and accompanied by herbroot cream and sea buckthorn are only fond memories now but eye-and-taste openers when they arrive fresh from the kitchen. To end my meal, an equally unforgettable cloudberry parfait with caramel and organic yogurt mousse proved quite the finale.
    Equally impressive with the dishes I tried were the artisan wines, such as a Blaufrankish red and a Welshriesling, both from  Austria, the manager selected as accompaniments.
SPIS - Interior View

Recently, SPIS was named Restaurant of the Year 2015 by the Finnish Gastronomic Society. "SPIS shows why Nordic cuisine is now such a hot topic around the world and is an excellent bearer of the flag of this trend," said Tiina Lähteenoja-Niemelä, Society chairman. "Its creative and flavorsome cooking features Nordic flavors in attractive and very imaginative combinations. Choosing the Restaurant of the Year
becomes harder year by year, which is a strong sign of Finland climbing higher on the
international list of culinary destinations."
    A word of explanation. Nordic is the term used to describe the nations of Norway, Sweden, Finland Denmark, Iceland and Greenland, which share a similar but not identical culture, history and social structure. It’s not to be confused with Scandinavian, which refers to all of the former but does not include Finland, which has a separate language heritage. (All of the languages of the Scandinavian countries are mutually intelligible, though not identical).
    Now that you’re genuinely confused, let’s get back to Nordic food, especially that from Finland of which I’m most familiar. In late July, the focus is on crayfish, when the longed for season officially opens and Finns head out to island or rooftop restaurants or stage crayfish parties. One popular restaurant during crayfish season, Saaristo, sits alone on Klippan Island like some Art Nouveau beauty. To get to this imposing villa with a wonderful view of the harbor take the shuttle boat that leaves the pier every 20 minutes.

Boat to Saaristo (green roofed building in background)
     If crayfish isn’t to your liking, you might try other Saaristo Nordic options like Arctic char smoked with Pihlajavesi alder, fennel and North Sea lobster sauce, Elk Sirloin and a wonderful sorbet made from sea-buckthorn, a shrub that produces orange-colored berries.
    One of Helsinki’s culinary pioneers, chef  Sami Tallberg, is a wild foods buff and cookbook author who’s worked in acclaimed restaurants around the world and gathered knowledge on wild plants. Each May, he searches for wild edibles such as orpine (which is said to taste like fresh asparagus), red sorrel, nettles, ground elder, wood sorrel, ground ivy spruce shoots, black currant and birch leaves and bittercress. In Helsinki, restaurants that use some of these wild edibles include SPIS, Chef & Sommelier, Olo and Luomo, Kuurna and Ateljé Finne.
    Located on the Baltic and with numerous inland lakes, seafood is another specialty. Salmon, herring, eel are now getting new and inspired preparations in restaurants all over Finland. To the East, the town of Savonlinna lies close to the Russian border and prides itself on its summer opera festival held within the walls of St. Olaf’s Castle, a huge stone fortress that dates back to 1475.
    The festival attracts around 60,000 patrons each year, many of whom make a point of having lunch on the Roof Terrace of the Sokos Hotel, known for its preparation of a local whitefish, Muikku (vendace), traditionally served on a wooden platter with salad and baked potato.
Muikku (vendace) at Roof Terrace at Sokos Hotel in Savonlinna

    For more discoveries of Finland’s culinary riches, step into the delicatessen at Stockmann’s Department Store in Downtown Helsinki. Stockmann’s boasts a wide array of domestic cheeses, meats, seafood, honeys, jams, breads and pastries.
    At one of many food boutique in the center of town, I spotted interesting delicacies from small producers across Finland. These include wild reindeer (poro), salmon, artisan cheeses, berry jams, fish roe, hand-crafted beer and cider, mushrooms, rye bread, smoked specialties, kyyttö forest cow (an original Finnish breed of livestock), artisan chocolates, rhubarb concentrate (just add water for a refreshing beverage) and bottled birch sap (said to be good for one’s health).
    Recently, the New Nordic Kitchen’s received a fair share of ink in the international media and has become a new taste sensation for those who appreciate foods from unique cultures. Renowned restaurants from far-flung places that put the emphasis on Nordic cuisine include Finds (Hong Kong), Aquavit (New York), Routa (Barcelona), Bistro Stockholm (Stockholm). Olo (Helsinki) and Noma (Copenhagen). It’s probably only a matter of time until this unique gastronomy makes further inroads in the culinary consciousness around the globe.
SPIS Version of Carrot Cake

Monday, April 20, 2015

Red Wine Can Stand Alone - or Serve as a Cocktail Mixer

    You've probably heard of using red wine as a base for Sangria. But how about using it as one of the ingredients in a cocktail?
    Recently, I came across three enticing cocktails that put red wine into the shaker along with several other ingredients to make a refreshing summer cocktail good for a multitude of occasions - a barbecue, picnic, just sitting on the patio or back porch or breaking the ice before a dinner party.
    As one who respects red wine unadulterated in its just out-of-the-bottle state, it's almost heresy to suggest masking its flavor with alien, though perhaps complimentary flavors. So in the name of adventurous imbibing, I decided to break my own personal tradition and take a new road less traveled. If you'd like to go along for  the ride, pull out your cocktail shakers and join me. Cheers!
¾ c. red wine
¼ c. lemon-lime soda
Garnish: lime wheel
Combine ingredients in a glass filled with ice. Stir and garnish with a lime wheel.

4 cherries
¼ oz. simple syrup
1 ½ oz. red wine
1 oz. bourbon
1 lemon slice
Add ice, simple syrup, wine, bourbon,  and lemon.  Shake and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with cherries
Source: Elixer

1½ oz. Tequila Silver
1½ oz. pinot noir
½ oz. lime juice
½ oz. agave nectar
2 oz. grapefruit soda
Garnish: lime wedge
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a glass.
Source: Shaher Misif, Mixologist

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Evening of Rock Solid Poetry

Margaret Bashaar
Margaret Bashaar

“Four Poets, One Cup” or “How to Keep Poetry Relevant in the Modern Age”
Four distinct, diverse and dynamic authors come together for one night of literary neck-punches and anarchistic chicanery. Their intent is to prove that poetry is neither an exclusive pretentious hipster clubhouse nor a dry inaccessible academic snoozefest. Join them at Jozart Center for the Arts, 333 2nd Street, California on Friday, April 17 from 7-10 p.m. Admission is free. The authors will have merchandise to sell. Books will be available. Carousing is expected.
Margaret Bashaar is the founder and editor of Hyacinth Girl Press. Her first book, Stationed Near the Gateway, is due out this year from Sundress Publications. She is the author of three chapbooks, Barefoot and Listening (Tilt, 2009), Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel (Blood Pudding Press, 2011) and Rungs written with Lauren Eggert-Crowe (Grey Book Press, forthcoming). She lives in Pittsburgh where she runs absurdist poetry events.
Jason Baldinger
Jason Baldinger
Jason Baldinger has spent a life in odd jobs; if only poetry was the strangest of them he’d have far less to talk about. Somewhere in time he has traveled the country, and written a few books, the latest of which are The Lower 48 (Six Gallery Press) and the chapbook The Studs Terkel Blues (Night Ballet Press), both slated for release in 2014. A short litany of publishing credits includes: The New Yinzer, Shatter Wig Press, Blast Furnace, B.E. Quarterly and Fuck Art, Let’s Dance. You can also hear audio tracks of some poems on the Bandcamp website by just typing in his name.
Michael S. Begnal
Michael S. Begnal
Michael S. Begnal has published the collections Future Blues (Salmon Poetry, 2012) and Ancestor Worship (Salmon Poetry, 2007), as well as the chapbook Mercury, the Dime (Six Gallery Press, 2005). His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in journals and anthologies such as Notre Dame Review, Free Verse, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wake: Great Lakes Thought & Culture, and Avant-Post: The Avant Garde under “Post-” Conditions (Litteraria Pragensia, 2006). He lives in the city of Pittsburgh and teaches at Duquesne University.
John Thomas Menesini
John Thomas Menesini
John Thomas Menesini is a jerk. He says awful things until people laugh and applaud against their better judgments, thus encouraging him to say more terrible, terrible things. NSFW.
This event is not recommended for children and is intended for mature audiences. Those of age may BYOB provided they have proper ID. For more information, call 724-938-9730 or

Pick of the Week -The Pittsburgh Premiere of "La Bayadère"

"La Bayadere" Photo by Duane Rieder

    For its 45th Anniversary Season finale, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will stage the company’s largest classical ballet to date with the Pittsburgh premiere of the mesmerizing “La Bayadère” with the PBT Orchestra, onstage April 17-19, at the Benedum Center.
    “La Bayadère” is a grand, 19th-cent
ury classic featuring a drama-charged storyline and more than 100 roles. Set in ancient India, “La Bayadère” tells the story of Solor, a noble warrior, and Nikiya, the temple dancer he loves. Ensnared in a love quadrangle by imperial powers, the couple finds themselves ripped apart by jealousy, intrigue and betrayal before fate reunites them in a climactic ending.
    “La Bayadère” claims fame for its pure classicism, epitomized by the ethereal “Kingdom of the Shades” scene and the stunning synchronization of the corps de ballet. Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr is re-staging the 138-year-old Russian classic based on interpretations of the original Marius Petipa  choreography.
    The original production received its world premiere in 1877 by the Imperial Ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg. PBT’s production will feature costumes and scenery after original designs by Sergiy Spevyakin, and the PBT Orchestra will perform the Ludwig Minkus score under the direction of Maestro Charles Barker.
"La Bayadere" Photo by Duane Rieder
  Performed by some of the largest ballet companies in the world, “La Bayadère” marks an ambitious season finale  for the company. Choreographic standouts include the  iconic “Kingdom of the Shades” scene, featuring the hypnotic effect of 2 ballerinas descending on the stage in arabesque, and the technical feats of the statuesque Golden Idol. Accented by rich jewel tones and gilded scenery, the sets and props create a mythical ambiance with opulent temple and palace scenes and sweeping vistas.

    Performance times are at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 17, 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 18 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 19. Tickets start at $27 and can be purchased online at, by calling 412-456-6666, or by visiting the Box Office at Theater Square in the Cultural District. Groups of 10 or more receive up to 50% off by calling 412-454-9101.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Quantum Collaboration Creates Stimulating Theatrical Turducken

James FitzGerald as Senhor Jose and Mark Conway Thompson in "All The Names"

    "All the Names" is a fascinating book by Nobel prize-winning author, Jose Saramago, adapted for theater and performed within an extensive, multi-chamber art installation built inside the now abandoned Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Conceptually, it could be likened to a theatrical turducken, but with all the savory promises such a composite bird holds.
    Leave it to the impressive creative team assembled by Quantum Theatre’s artistic director, Karla Boos, to come up with an exciting theatrical construct that has the audience moving like an enchanted herd of peripatetic sheep from one scene to another. Through a labyrinth of rooms,  up stairs and down, they  follow the adventures of Senhor Jose, a low level clerk in the Registry, a government bureaucracy designed to record all the births, marriages and deaths of the inhabitants of some unidentified metropolis.
    The audience’s first taste of this unique theatrical experience comes when they enter a lofty, expansive and dimly lit chamber and are handed a piece of chalk from a basket held by a mute attendant. The cryptic nature of this small token only adds to the disorientation of the drearily bleak room and the edgy anticipation of things yet to come.
    As the audience assembles standing around the periphery of the room whose walls are scribbled, graffiti-like, with names, a loud, stentorian male voice explains in monotone the organization and physical structure of the Registry, like some authoritarian tour guide giving an introductory discourse.
    While the initial experience might be thought to induce some low level anxiety, even fear, I felt it to be somewhat solemn and brooding. The mood continues into the remaining rooms where the same sense of gravitas permeates the other spaces - the Registrar’s office with its oddly-angled table and oversized chair, the space reserved for the files of the deceased with its index cards strew over the floor, a large fan menacingly blowing into the wind pieces of white paper tied to wooden stakes.
    Senhor Jose’s own apartment, conveniently attached to the Registry, has the same sort of eerie feel as some of the more macabre settings for the television series "American Horror Story." Ironically, the  space with the least amount of dreariness is a room meant to represent the cemetery, where a surprise element adds a bit of light-hearted whimsy.
    The incident that initiates the plot occurs when Senhor Jose violates Registry policy by sneaking in after hours to borrow some identity cards. As a way out of the tedium from the job he’s held for more than two decades, he collects newspaper clippings written about famous personalities. Wanting to find out more about the people he collects, he takes, by mistake, the card of an obscure woman along with those of the more celebrated notables. Curiosity piqued, he becomes obsessed with finding out more about the unknown woman.
    As the audience follows from room to room attempting to solve the puzzle along with the main character, they encounter TV consoles scattered here and there, their screens flickering black and white with potentially cryptic clues, a ceiling with a mouth capable of chimerical dialogue, serendipitous wall projections that help further skew the sense of reality and duple actors playing one character simultaneously.
    To give some sense of Senhor Jose’s conflicting impulses, Boos, who not only directs the play but also adapted it for theater from the original novel translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, entrusts most of the character’s dialogue to the potently animated James FitzGerald while Mark Conway Thompson, with six years of movement theater company experience, mimics mime-like his thoughts and emotions with explicit clarity.
    A key witness to the woman’s identity is her godmother, played convincingly by Bridget Connors, who adds her own touches of mystery and enigma to the play’s mix of otherworldly ambiance. In one key scene, she answers the questions during Senhor Jose’s impassioned interrogation through the voice of a mysterious male figure portrayed by Cameron Knight, who’s also cast in the role of the Oz-like Registrar. While Knight’s male voice speaks, Connors shows convincingly through facial expression and gestures the content and feelings associated with his verbal responses.
    As the Registrar, Knight is costumed in a impeccable suit, a symbol of the authoritarian hold he has on the clerks he oversees. He’s firm and powerful without being overtly menacing and speaks in one of the most wonderfully mellifluous and unctuous  male voices I’ve ever heard.
    At a post-performance discussion, I learned that Boos spent at least a year preparing for the production. To get the gargantuan project off the ground, she had help from a crew of professionals. They include scenic designer Barbara Luderowski, director of Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory, famous for its inventive installation art; scenic and costume designer, Narelle Sissons; projection designer, Joseph Seamans, lighting designer, Cindy Limauro and sound designers Chris Evans and Sarah Pickett, whose evocative musical selections included both mournful Portuguese fados and compositions by Pickett, music so delightful I wish it could be made available on CD.
    I mean no disrespect when I call "All the Names" a theatrical turducken. Quite the contrary, it’s not only a rare bird worthy of esteem with several artistic elements tucked inside one another, but also a  provocative adventure that's very tasty to chew on.
    "All the Names" a world-premiere production by Quantum Theatre, is at the original Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny, adjacent to the Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh’s North Side through May 2. Phone 412-362-1713 or

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ann Hampton Callawayto Sing at the Cabaret at Theater Square Monday Evening

Ann Hampton Callaway 

Multi-talented and award-winning Broadway star, Ann Hampton Callaway will perform at the Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Avenue,in downtown Pittsburgh on Monday, April 13, 2015, at 7:30 p.m.
Callaway is a singer, pianist, composer, actress, educator, TV host and producer. Her unique singing style blends jazz and traditional pop, making her a mainstay in concert halls, theaters and jazz clubs as well as in the recording studio, on television, and in film. She is best known for her Tony-nominated performance in the Broadway musical Swing! and for writing and singing the theme song to the TV series The Nanny. 
Callaway is a Platinum Award-winning writer and the only composer to have collaborated with Cole Porter. She also wrote songs with Barbara Streisand, Carole King, Rolf Lovland, Barbara Carroll and more.
    Ms. Callaway has sung with more than thirty of the world's top orchestras and big bands, has performed for President Clinton, and at President Gorbachev's Youth Peace Summit in Moscow. Her live performances showcase warmth, spontaneous wit and passionate delivery of standards, jazz classics and originals.
    Her performance at the Cabaret at Theater Square will feature songs from her new record, The Sarah Vaughan Project: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, such as “Misty,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “Like Someone in Love.”  For more information about the artist,
    For tickets ($50.00-$60.00) and information, visit online, call 412-456-6666, or visit in person at the Box Office at Theater Square, 655 Penn Avenue.  To purchase ten (10) or more tickets at discounted rates, please call 412-471-6930.  Food and beverages are available for purchase at the Cabaret at Theater Square.

    The 2014-2015 TRUST Cabaret Series will complete the season with a special “Broadway Showstoppers” performance featuring Telly Leung and Mandy Gonzalez on May 4, 2015.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Big Easy Vibe at Off the Wall

John Gresh's Gris-Gris band to Play at Off the Wall Theater
    Mardi Gras may be long gone, but the New Orleans vibe is still alive through the music of John Gresh's Gris-Gris Band.
    For one night only, Gresh on piano will be joined by Bob Peckman on drums and vocals and Mike Sweeney on bass and gang vocals for a  performance at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 10 at the Off the Wall Theater in Carnegie. As special guest artist, saxophonist extraordinaire, Kenny Blake, will add his sweet sounds to the combo.
    The band's cabaret performance promises 90-minutes of New Orleans-infused Americana music centered on jazz and blues courtesy the Big Easy. Tickets are $10 and available at the door. Off The Wall Theater is at 25 West Main Street in Carnegie, 6 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh. Phone 724-873-3576 or

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why Drink Weird Wine?


    If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll note that I introduced some wine varieties you've probably never heard of. As a matter of fact, they were new to me at the time as well, but I have to admit that I enjoy trying unknown varieties because they extend my wine experience beyond the known and familiar.
    How pleasant it was then  recently to discover two articles by Wine Awesomeness that tackle the topic of "weird wine." Weird to some, intoxicatingly adventurous to others. Here is some of their edited comments on the subject.
    "Why drink weird wines? If you’re even entertaining the question, we have a ways to go. But one step at a time. Let us start here."
    Unique wines provide endless lessons. At their core, they  tell us about lands we’ve likely never visited, people we’ve never met and flavors we never suspected to show up in a glass of fermented juice. Foreign wine almost always come with a story, a tale of history, passion and culture. How can a curious mind overlook these stories, turn a head to this human experience?
    More selfishly, weird wine tells us about ourselves. Tasting something new gives you a glimpse into your ever-evolving palate. Whether the wine can be counted among a new favorite or one you’d prefer not to revisit, you learned a thing or two about nuance. You discovered traits that turn you off and those that turn you on. You can applaud yourself for taking a chance and craving a new experience.
    For people who dedicate their life to wine — be it as a collector, a winemaker, a devotee to the service industry — few evenings are more thrilling than those during which they uncork a bottle of the not yet tasted. Not a vintner I know doesn’t regularly sit down with new bottles to seek out a note they’ve never encountered. Similarly, no honest wine writer will stake a claim to knowing every flavor, deciphering every bouquet.
    Indeed, even wine pros who devote 50 or 60 hours every week to the craft are perpetually exploring and discovering new bottles and unknown varietals.
    Do we all have our favorite bottles and preferred regions? Of course. But shame on the sipper who returns — week after week, year after year — to the same bottle or bottles from an established region. Knowing what you like is one thing, and certainly there are times when it’s a strength. But closing off possibilities in the world of wine is damn near sinister. It’s a yawn-worthy approach to life.
    Weird wine sparks conversation. And so long as tasters are entering the dialogue with an open mind and quest for revelation, the discussion will lead to ponderings, musings and, on great days, answers.
    There are literally thousands and thousands of grapes grown around the world that can be used to make wine. Yet, most wine drinkers only know and care about the biggest names: Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, etc. How is it that out of thousands of choices, most of us can count the number of different varieties we’ve tasted on two hands (and maybe some toes)?
    Well, wine marketeers have come up with a plan to build our tastes around a few major grapes. Why? So we don’t get scared, overwhelmed or turned off by the seemingly endless spread of grapes and regions that are available these days
    Wine Awesomeness goes on to say that some grape varieties are so rare that even the most astute wine folks will be like "wuh?" Bobal, Bonarda, Airen, Primitivo, Tocai Friuliano, Altesse.
    Like Chardonnay? Try Airen. Drink Pinot Grigio? In Friuli-Venezia where most of the made-for-the-US Pinot Grigio is grown, you’d order Tocai Friuliano. Malbec is the red grape of Argentina right? Think again, all the locals drink Bonarda and for good reason.
    The key take away is to look beyond what you know, think you know, or don’t know at all.
I couldn’t agree more and am looking forward to exploring esoteric grape varieties even more and, at the same time, enjoying Chard, Cab and their ever-popular cousins.