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Gondek + Gonnella = A Big Bang!

on Mon, 07/28/2014 - 00:00

Pittsburgh has already produced two of the most popular and influential creators of Pop Art, Andy Warhol and Burton Morris. The Steel City has also had its fair share of comic book illustrators, including Golden Age pioneer Matt Baker and contemporary artists like Ed Piskor, Jim Rugg and Tom Scioli. Although not as nationally well-known, local talents Matt Gondek and Brian Gonnella will be bringing their own unique mashup of pop and comic artistic styles to a special joint exhibition at The Shop in Bloomfield on August 1, 2014, appropriately entitled Big Bang!

“I’ve been a full time artist and illustrator for the past five years,” Matt Gondek explains. “A lot of my work involves pop culture characters which are either blowing up or melting. I like to take imagery that everyone is familiar with, and destroy it.” Brian Gonnella, meanwhile, likewise has an “underground comix” texture to his own creations. “Brian is a full time artist from Pittsburgh as well,” Gondek offers in regards to his counterpart. “His recent work is hyper detailed scenes of dystopian cities and landscapes. Where most artists would just create something cool to look at and call it a day, Brian goes so far as to craft entire stories based on the paintings. He’s currently in the process of writing and illustrating a comic book that fleshes out his world more.”

Cities in Flight, Pittsburgh on Mars

on Mon, 07/21/2014 - 00:00

Science fiction writer James Blish is best remembered for his short-story adaptations of episodes from the original Star Trek of the 1960s, and even authored the first novel based on characters from the television series in 1970, called Spock Must Die! Blish was also a trained biologist who made his living in the 1940s, 50s and 60s within the scientific realm while likewise writing science fiction pieces for the various pulps of the era. In 1959, Blish received the Hugo Award for “Best Novel” from the World Science Fiction Society for his religiously-tinged A Case of Conscience, and was further acknowledged the following year as Guest of Honor at the 1960 World Science Fiction Convention held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

James Blish’s appearance in the Steel City occurred two years before the publication of A Life for the Stars, which became the second “chapter” in Cities in Flight, a four volume omnibus that details mankind’s exploration of space that is arguably Blish’s greatest achievement. The quartet of novels that encompass Cities in Flight span millenniums, from the development of an anti-gravity device in 2021 that enables the human race to literally reach for the stars, to the inevitable end of the universe in the year 4004. The narratives contained within Cities in Flight are often referred to as James Blish’s “Okie” stories as they follow the journeys of New York City—which has been able to “lift” itself from planet Earth—as it travels the galaxy in search of work, in much the same way that millions of Midwest farm laborers migrated around the country during the Great Depression in the hopes of finding employment.

Evil Dead: The Musical Review

on Sat, 06/21/2014 - 00:00

There are many similarities between George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Both were independent horror productions filmed outside of mainstream Hollywood. Both were financed by friends and family. Both transformed the horror genre in their own distinct ways, launched the careers of their respective directors, became the first entry in a subsequent series of films and are now considered cult classics which that survived the tests of time. While the Steel City-works of Romero came first, however, it was the Michigan-born Raimi who had his creations adapted for the stage long before Night of the Living Dead was performed live as both a play in Toronto and opera in Pittsburgh during October 2013.

Evil Dead: The Musical began life in 2003 at a theater workshop in Toronto. The success of the endeavor led to an Off-Broadway run in 2006 and an on-going engagement in 2012 at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. More significantly, over 150 different regional theaters around the world have staged performances of Evil Dead: The Musical, making it the Twenty First Century equivalent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. During June 2014, meanwhile, Pittsburgh theater troupe No Name Players brought Evil Dead: The Musical to the Steel City for a three week engagement at Off the Wall Theater in Carnegie. There are a multitude of short video clips on YouTube of productions from other cities, and although they are impressive, they pale in comparison to the Pittsburgh version. From directing to choreography, set design to special effects, acting to vocal talents, the No Name Player’s staging of Evil Dead: The Musical is a top-notch production that ranks as one of the best musical theater experiences in the recent history of the Steel City.