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May 29: Scenes from the Arts-burgh

| Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Offerings from Pittsburgh's cultural arts and entertainment events:

'Goodnight Mr. Wilson'

Actor Charles Dutton's powerful performance of monologues from the plays of August Wilson evoked a rich variety of strong emotions for a sell-out crowd Wednesday evening in a performance at the Byham Theater.

Dutton, who has performed the Hill District native's work in three Broadway productions as well as regional productions and the movie of "The Piano Lesson," donated his time and talent in a performance that benefited the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

Dutton's "Goodnight Mr. Wilson," a posthumous tribute to his friend and colleague, drew on Wilson's rich storehouse of eloquent and accessible monologues from five of his plays -- "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," "Seven Guitars," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," "The Piano Lesson" and "Fences," ending with the moving soliloquy on death that he performed at Wilson's funeral.

As an additional treat, Dutton shared a few fond and often funny memories of his personal and working relationships with Wilson. The only possible enhancement to his robust and heart-felt performance would have been for Dutton to do more reminiscing.

-- Alice T. Carter


Billy Gardell

Billy Gardell is poised to become Pittsburgh's next great comedy phenomenon.

Gardell, who lives in Los Angeles, played to a partisan crowd during Thursday's show at the Pittsburgh Improv, where Buzz Nutley and Jim Krenn rounded out a trifecta of Pittsburgh comics. An actor as well as a stand-up comedian, he just signed to appear on six episodes of "My Name is Earl" next season.

During his set, he hailed his barber from Swissvale, his father, William Sr., and his cop cousin Jimmy, who he taunted by singing "You can't arrest me, you can't arrest me" in a nyah-nyah cadence.

Gardell delivered a tight, raucous, deceptively spontaneous set filled with sharply observed humor on his dad's Old Testament style of parenting, the competition with his 4-year-old son for the affections of his wife, and our touchy-feely, over-medicated society. But if he touched on social or political issues, it was all designed to set up the next zinger. Laughs, not lectures, is his credo.

At one point, Gardell said that his is the only generation that is more familiar with "Schoolhouse Rock" than with politics.

"Conjunction junction!" he quizzed the audience.

"What's your function?" they chorused on cue.

"Now who's your senator?" he shot back.

It was the quietest the audience got all night.

-- William Loeffler

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