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American Splendor

Given its warm critical reception and ample media coverage, many of you probably already are familiar with American Splendor, the innovative biopic about comic-book author Harvey Pekar. So we’re not spoiling anything when we mention the flick’s clever use of interviews with the actual Harvey Pekar in alternation with dramatic re-creations of biographical moments in which Pekar is portrayed by the actor Paul Giamatti. Nor will we kill any of the fun by mentioning that American Splendor deflates the possible pretension of such a device by including engaging scenes in which the actual and the faux Pekars (and another factual-fictional pairing, Pekar’s friend and coworker Toby with actor Judah Friedlander, who plays Toby) interact. It’s a curious but surprisingly affecting trick. And, now, for those of you who are agreeable, MASS MoCA is going to wratchet up the metafictional element yet another notch by screening American Splendor with the actual Harvey Pekar in attendance to answer questions about the onscreen Pekars. That’s a lotta Pekars.

Allowing himself to be depicted or envisioned by others is not an entirely new process for Pekar: Since 1976, the Cleveland native has been writing a semiautobiographical comic book, also titled American Splendor, which has been illustrated by a number of well-regarded comic artists such as R. Crumb, Frank Stack and Joe Sacco. The book’s presentation of the outspoken and crumudgeonly Pekar’s worldview has won him a dedicated cult following, a following reinforced by a handful of famously cranky and confrontational appearances on Late Night With David Letterman. Don’t lump Pekar in with stupid human tricks, however: Though presented in comic form, his insights and writing are sharp, pithy and deeply humane. In 1987, the series was awarded the American Book Award, and his radio essays—a more recent venture—also have garnered Peker notable awards.

The screening of American Splendor will take place at MASS MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.) tonight (Thursday, Dec. 18) at 8 PM. A question-and-answer session with Harvey Pekar, his wife and daughter will follow. Tickets are $5.50. For more information, call (413) 662-2111.

Musicians of Ma’alwyck

Around this time of year—you know, the holidays—three works of seasonal art tend to dominate. Representing the literary arts, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is regularly presented in numerous permutations that range from readings of the original text to theatrical reinterpretations. In dance, there’s Tchaikovsky’s ubiquitous ballet The Nutcracker. And in classical music, there’s Handel’s monumental Messiah. Not to knock any of these beloved works—they’re beloved for a reason—but it’s nice when something equally important but less frequently performed takes center stage. That will be the case this weekend when the Musicians of Ma’alwyck present J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

Based on the accounts found in the gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew, the Christmas Oratorio consists of six cantatas celebrating the birth and first days of the Christ child. Bach weaves arias, ensembles and choruses together to create a rich musical setting for the Christmas story. And, as per the traditional German Lutheran custom, the audience will be invited to participate in singing the chorales.

For these performances, the Musicians of Ma’alwyck will be joined by guest singers from the Paris and Glimmerglass opera companies, and world-renowned musicians from Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the early-music ensemble REBEL.

The Musicians of Ma’alwyck will perform tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 19) at 8 PM at the First Reformed Church of Scotia (Ballston Avenue, Scotia). Tickets are $18, $12 seniors and $6 students. They will also perform on Saturday (Dec. 20) at 4 PM at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Amsterdam (Guy Park Avenue, Amsterdam). Tickets for the Saturday concert, which is a benefit for breast cancer research at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam, are $20. For more information, call 377-3623.

Dewey Redman Quartet

It’s temptingly easy to refer to an artist as groundbreaking and innovative, and to hype an upcoming performance by said artist as a rare opportunity not to be missed. This time, in the case of Dewey Redman and his two shows scheduled for tomorrow (Friday) at the Van Dyck, believe the hype.

The Guggenheim-fellowship-winning Redman (father of celebrated fellow saxman Joshua) first came to world acclaim in his seven-year stint with Ornette Coleman in the late ’60s and early ’70s; previously and subsequently, he has fronted his own bands. He has also collaborated with such luminaries as Cecil Taylor, Elvin Jones and Charlie Haden. Down Beat magazine has described Redman as “our greatest living tenor saxophonist by several standards: endurance, inspiration, burly tone.”

The Dewey Redman Quartet will perform two sets tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 19) at 7 and 9:30 PM at the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady). Tickets are $15. For reservations and information, call 381-1111.

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