FRIDAY Up at eight to pack for an afternoon flight out of Hartford, whose airport is an hour’s drive from our place in the Connecticut woods. Mrs. T is a sleep-late-then-pack-fast kind of gal, whereas I have obsessive travel-related tendencies reinforced by years and years of making deadlines. Whenever two such folk set up house together, it necessarily leads to a certain amount of tension, albeit of a productive kind: Mrs. T and I get everywhere on time, then relax and enjoy ourselves. The only friction occurs in the frenzied hour just before we hit the road, during which glares and harsh words are exchanged, followed by an on-time departure (though never a minute early!) and profuse apologies.
It took us well over an hour to drive from Pittsburgh International Airport to our downtown hotel. Nobody told us that President Obama was giving a speech in Pittsburgh that day, or that the Secret Service was planning to seal off the main road into town. Miranda, our trusty GPS, got us to the hotel via a circuitous alternate route, but a whole lot of other people must have decided to take the same route, since it, too, was jammed. Fortunately, Richard Strauss’ seraphically genial oboe concerto was playing on the radio and the University Center Holiday Inn has superior room service, so no one got killed or maimed.
SATURDAY We slept in, then lunched at Essie’s Original Hot Dog Shop, popularly known as the Dirty O, which is famous for serving you what you think are more French fries than you can possibly eat–until you try one. Said Mrs. T: “These are the best fries I’ve ever had!” As for the main course, I can do no better than cite Paul Lukas’ 2002 survey of America’s top dogs:
While the Steel City’s dogs have no regional quirks, the Original’s griddle-grilled beauties have one thing going for them: flavor. The franks’ tight skins snap as you bite into them, resulting in an explosion of beefy goodness. This is not just a great hot dog; this is a great piece of meat. And happily, although I do not get to Pittsburgh as often as I would like, my standard order at the Original is one I have had lots of practice delivering elsewhere: “Gimme two, with mustard.”
He forgot the chili, but otherwise that’s a recipe for bliss. (Don’t forget to specify brown mustard–it’s the finishing touch.)
After lunch we went to the Carnegie Museum of Art, one of the country’s finest second-tier encyclopedic museums. While it can’t rival Fort Worth’s Kimbell or the old Cleveland Museum for sheer consistency, the Carnegie contains its share of show-stoppers. I think that Rocks at the Seashore, a breathtaking early Cézanne, was my favorite piece, with Joan Mitchell’s Low Water (Mrs. T’s pick) running it a close second. But there was plenty of competition, including a first-class Chardin still life and an astonishingly vivid portrait by Whistler of the great Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate.
In the evening we paid our first visit to Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, a company that I’ve been meaning to check out for the past few seasons but was unable to shoehorn into my summer schedule until now. PICT is performing House & Garden, one of Alan Ayckbourn’s conceptual extravaganzas, two plays which, like The Norman Conquests, take place in different parts of the same house but are designed to be performed simultaneously in adjacent theaters, with the members of the cast racing from stage to stage as needed. PICT, whose two stages are connected by a spiral staircase, is ideally suited to such an undertaking, so I decided that the time had finally come to spend a couple of nights in Pittsburgh.
This, needless to say, is one of the signal advantages of being the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, which encourages me to criss-cross America in search of noteworthy shows to review. Were it not for the Journal‘s unique commitment to regional theater, I’d probably never have gotten a chance to see House & Garden. It was done in Chicago, Manhattan, and Rochester shortly after its 1999 premiere at Ayckbourn’s own Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, but since then the only professional staging of which I’ve heard was by Dallas’ Theatre Three in 2008.
(To be continued)
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Pauline Oostenrijk, Neeme Järvi, and the Hague Philharmonic perform the first movement of Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto, composed in 1945: