Porter's 'One Night Stand' stretches limits of the piano

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What goes in must come out. But maybe not the same way. Pearlann Porter adopted a baby grand from Construction Junction, which owns the building, for her intimate downstairs lounge, a little sister companion to the expansive Space Upstairs.

Used mainly as a gathering place before performances and occasionally a “coffee” table, the baby grand otherwise sat there, mute. Then Construction Junction partitioned the wall that permitted the piano to be placed there.

So now it’s stuck, on its last legs and taking up, well, space. (There is a strategy to otherwise use the area and it will not fit out the door.)

The resourceful Ms. Porter, however, has plans for a big sendoff, revealed Saturday night in the debut of “A One Night Stand on Broken Piano.”

In a total of four performances over the course of the next few months, Ms. Porter intends to “toy” with the instrument, stretching the boundaries of its original musical intent. She will pair herself with a musician (James Rushin filled the bill on Saturday), as they interact with each other, but mostly putting the piano center “stage.”

A smell of incense permeated the air as audience members entered on Saturday. The walls were lined with a dozen or so doors (most likely all from Construction Junction and symbolic of the quote “when one door closes, another opens”).

Soft music set an intimate mood and a bar blocked the Upstairs staircase, where she stood. Conversation was casual, but finished as Ms. Porter, host/bartender/performer, finished mixing drinks and walked over to the instrument.

It was lit by a single blue light, one of her favorite minimalist elements. Mr. Rushin followed suit, slapping some chalk, scrawling on the lid, using every sound to its utmost.

“It’s not what I want,” Mr. Rushin snapped. Ms. Porter was unperturbed, unresponsive to his actions.

The sound of traffic from the street entered the mix, along with a cool breeze, a prelude to the rain that followed.

Mr. Rushin threw off the keyboard cover with a clatter and began a syncopated two-note motif, exposing the tinny intonation, while Ms. Porter began to pose provocatively, draping herself on the piano.

They stopped.

Then the duo began to circle the piano, with Ms. Porter eventually seating herself at the keyboard. She climbed on the lid as Mr. Rushin sought out the keys between her feet.

The music became more lush, almost Fellini-esque, then melted into a bluesy strain. Ms. Porter languidly stretched on the lid.

Their intentions became increasingly dramatic. Ms. Porter ripped off the music rack and chucked it onto the floor, seemingly out of character. They lifted the lid, exposing its innards. Mr. Rushin plucked at the strings.

As Mr. Rushin heightened his physicality, escalating to a full-blown gospel song and knocking over his chair a la Jerry Lee Lewis, Ms. Porter remained emotionally contained, an almost passive, enigmatic presence that could be frustrating for the viewer.

Mr. Rushin finished with a low note, then a laugh. Finally he wrote, “You are always invited” on the body of the instrument, just below the keyboard.

They had explored the realm of possibilities beyond the outer limits of The Piano. But there will be other possibilities in the three programs to come, dates still to be determined.

Stay tuned.

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at jvranish1@comcast.net. She also blogs on www.pittsburghcrosscurrents.com.

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