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Short List: Week of March 11 - 18

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Over the years, Pittsburgh-based Squonk Opera has established a reputation for topping itself, with each production by the musical phantasmagorians seemingly more elaborate than the one before. It couldn't last. So with Mayhem and Majesty, Squonk takes a step back. Gone is the massive scaffolding of its most recent production, the sci-fi themed Astro-rama. Gone too are the thinly sketched plots that provided additional, if sometimes unwieldy, structure. "Live theater can do things better than just tell stories," says artistic director Steve O'Hearn, who plays wind instruments for the six-person ensemble. "And telling these stories didn't help our dynamic." In Mayhem especially, that dynamic is driven by the music -- which is as lush as ever. Last fall, Squonk held a series of "workshop" performances of Mayhem at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. Judging from that preview, keyboardist/composer Jackie Dempsey once again delivers a score that ranges from haunting lullaby to overwhelming cacophony. (Or from haunting cacophony to overwhelming lullaby, take your pick.) Nor has Squonk lost its wit or visual sense. If anything, the imagery has become more evocative. A signature moment features vocalist Autumn Ayers amid a cluster of microphone stands, whose motorized arms circle her like fireflies. "It's an image of loss, of things being just out of reach," O'Hearn says. Still, he adds, "We encourage people to not worry too much about what we want to say." Squonk, it seems, has learned not to worry so much, either. Chris Potter Thu., March 11-Sun., March 21. Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. $15-20. 1-800-838-3006 or www.kelly-strayhorn.org

 

Thu., March 11 -- Museums

High culture isn't just for high incomes. The Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History have always brought art and science to the masses, and now they're doing it for free. This month, the institutions are the city's most affordable hot spot, with free admission every Thursday evening through March 25. Plan a family outing, avoid rush hour, or impress a date with Pittsburgh's famous collection of painting, sculpture, dinosaurs, the big whales exhibit and more. Anna Reilly 3:30-8 p.m. 4400 Forbes Avenue, Oakland. 412-622-3131. www.cmoa.org or www.carnegiemnh.org 

 

COURTESY OF BRAD BARKET
  • Courtesy of Brad Barket

Thu., March 11 -- Comedy

Female comedians are rare, female stand-up comics even rarer. Funny female stand-ups? They seem to come around as often as Haley's comet. Lucky for us, it's comet season. The first female winner of Last Comic Standing (and the youngest); host of Web show The Weakly News; and Shark Week devotee, quirky, perky Iliza Shlesinger performs six shows at the Pittsburgh Improv this weekend, starting tonight. AR 8 p.m. Also Fri., March 12-Sun., March 14. 166 E. Bridge St., The Waterfront, Homestead. $15-17. 412-462-5233 or www.improv.com/pittsburgh

 

Thu., March 11 -- Stage

Until just now, all these five people had in common was working, besmocked, at Valu-Mart. But now they're detained together in the break room, each suspected of stealing a display-case key. Valu-Mart, a drama with livelihoods on the line and issues in play including race, is by lauded West Virginia-based playwright Sean O'Leary. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Co.'s cast of seven, including Susan McGregor-Laine, is directed by Mark Clayton Southers. The first performance at the troupe's Downtown venue is tonight. Bill O'Driscoll 8 p.m. Runs through March 28. 542 Penn Ave., Downtown. $17.50-22.50. 412-394-3353 or www.pghplaywrights.com

 

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Fri., March 12 -- Rock

The gentle crooning of Jenny Owen Youngs is at once exhilarating and comforting. The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter has charm to spare, and a voice -- and manner -- that's friendly and relaxed. The chorus of one of the diminutive songbird's better-known ditties has her singing "What the fuck was I thinking?" over and over. The voice of an angel, the mouth of a sailor -- what's not to like? Youngs and friends Bess Rogers and Allison Weiss play Garfield Artworks tonight in a show presented by frequent CP contributor Manny Theiner. Andy Mulkerin 8 p.m. 4931 Penn Ave., Garfield. $10-12 All ages. 412-361-2262 or garfieldartworks.com

 

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Sat., March 13 -- Birds

This afternoon, carpe noctem with the National Aviary's program on all things owl. Guests of Hoots in the Night get face time with a screech owl, a spectacled owl and more, and learn about the adaptations that help them hunt, eat, and avoid crashing even in the pitch-black night. Attendees can also tear through owl pellets -- yes, they are what you think -- to get a hands-on idea of what the owls had for their midnight snack. AR 11 a.m-2 p.m. 700 Arch St., North Side. Free with admission. 412-323-7235 or www.aviary.org

 

Sat., March 13 -- Opera

This weekend, Pittsburgh Opera offers two chances to learn about its upcoming production of Carmen -- and they're both free. Today's family-friendly Brown Bag Concert includes a Carmen mini-preview by the Opera's resident artists. (Bring a lunch or order one.) Tomorrow, maestro Anthony Walker presents Opera Up Close: Carmen, an in-depth musical analysis of Bizet's classic about a passionate but tragic heroine. BO Noon. Opera Up Close: Noon-1 p.m. Sun., March 14. 2426 Liberty Ave., Strip District. Free. 412-281-0912 or www.pittsburghopera.org

 

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Sat., March 13 -- Rock

The road to SXSW passes through Pittsburgh, it would seem, and we're currently enjoying the benefits of that geography. Tonight, the rootsy indie duo Wye Oak, repping last year's The Knot (released by Merge) plays Brillobox. Masters of mid-paced quietude and subdued vocals, Wye Oak might appeal as much to the casual Triple A radio listener as to the post-slowcore indie fan. Lower Dens opens. AM 9:30 p.m. 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $8. 412-621-4900 or brillobox.net

 

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Sat., March 13 -- Soul

For a town so obsessed with soul records, we don't seem to get many live soul shows. In any case, visiting tonight from Chicago is The Right Now, featuring vocalist Stefanie Berecz. The band doesn't hew to a slavishly retro feel, instead offering an unpretentious, contemporary pop sound with R&B roots. Performing with The Right Now at Shadow Lounge is Gene Stovall and the Me Toos. Aaron Jentzen 10 p.m. 5972 Baum Blvd., East Liberty. 18 and over. 412-363-8277 or www.shadowlounge.net

 

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Sun., March 14 -- Rock

Minneapolis pop band One for the Team, with its ever-changing lineup and delicious hooks, returns to town tonight at Garfield Artworks in support of its forthcoming Ghosts LP. The record generally maintains the charmingly naïve and ebullient vibe of the band's earlier work, including the signature male-female harmonies. It also strikes a slightly more mature chord at times; fantastic guitar sounds and a synth tone seriously reminiscent of MGMT keep the tunes from straying into saccharine territory. Frequent CP contributor Manny Theiner presents the show, also featuring Chalk Dinosaur, A Place in the Sun and This Is My Suitcase. AM 8 p.m. 4931 Penn Ave., Garfield. $7. All ages. 412-361-2262 or garfieldartworks.com

 

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Tue., March 16 -- Folk

The folk trio for which he's famous will never perform again, after the death last year of member Mary Travers, but Peter Yarrow still has plenty on his plate, both in terms of music and social causes. The singer-songwriter plays Four Points ballroom tonight in Mars; ever one to combine music with a cause, his concert benefits the PEAL Center (helping families of kids with disabilities) and the Yarrow-founded Operation Respect (promoting tolerance and civility in schools). AJ 8 p.m. Four Points Sheraton Pittsburgh North, 910 Sheraton Drive, Mars. $20 (children 12 and under $10). 412-281-4404

 

Wed., March 17 -- Art

Strap on your goggles and plug in your Power Glove; this year, Carnegie Mellon's annual Wats:ON? Festival explores virtual reality in art, games and beyond. Through this weekend, artists and scholars from "media archaelologist" Erkki Huhtamo to experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr examine the relationship between perceiver and perceived in events. The festival opens tonight with light artist Anthony McCall's "You and I, Horizontal," which uses cinema to create a virtual environment. AR McCall exhibit opens at 4 p.m.; artist's talk at 6 p.m. Festival continues through Sat., March 20. CMU campus, Oakland. Free. 412-268-2409 or www.art.cfa.cmu.edu

 

Wed., March 17 -- Words

The Saturday before St. Patrick's Day, the city sent some 50 extra cops to the South Side. Here's betting none of them were needed at Gypsy Café. And tonight, the restaurant's Thinking Person's St. Pat's Day continues honoring aspects of Irish culture more substantial (and less liquid). This fundraiser for the Carnegie Libraries, with guest librarians reading from favorite works of Irish literature, also includes "traveler"-inspired Irish food specials, from colcannon soup and lamb stew to (yes, after all) thematically apt liquid refreshment. BO 7 p.m. 1330 Bingham St., South Side. 412-381-4977 or www.gypsycafe.net

 

Wed., March 17 -- Electronica

Missed the Tortoise show, but still want to partake of some of those heady rhythms and exploratory grooves? Or maybe you're just not quite ready for the St. Patrick's Day party to end. Either way, tonight at Mr. Small's Theatre, you can catch STS9 (a.k.a. Sound Tribe Sector Nine) with its blend of live electronics and rock instrumentation. The band recently released a new album, Ad Explorata, on its digital label 1320 Records. Ana Sia opens. AJ 8 p.m. (7 p.m. doors). All ages. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $25. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com

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