Worth a Look: bluegrass musical, landscape paintings and more

This week's A&E highlights

This week, catch the toe-tapping tunes of bluegrass musical "Fire on the Mountain," catch tranquil landscape paintings and pastels at Portola Art Gallery and hear authors and thinkers discuss the links between Judaism and scientific thought.



A barn tucked beneath tall trees, a river snaking its way across an alpine landscape, a road hugging a verdant coastline. In Mary Stahl's pastels and paintings, the natural world appears soft and peaceful, touched here and there by traces of human presence. Now on view at the Portola Art Gallery (75 Arbor Road, Menlo Park), Stahl's "LandEscapes" welcome viewers to sink into these dreamlike vistas and to imagine themselves transported.

A former tech worker and graphic designer, Stahl understands well the contrast between the fast-paced life of the Silicon Valley and the halcyon scenes she paints. Some of her canvases are done en plein air; others are completed in the studio. Having recently returned to the fine-art world, she won a 2011 Emerging Artist award at the prestigious Carmel Art Festival.

The opening reception for "LandEscapes" will take place on Saturday, April 11, from 1-3:30 p.m., and the show will be up through April 30. For more information, go to portolaartgallery.com or marystahl.com or call 650-321-0220.


'Judaism & Science Symposium'

Are science and religion in conflict? How does science shape our understanding of God? And why do so many Jews become scientists? These questions and many more will be tackled on Sunday, April 12, when Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and other esteemed speakers gather at Palo Alto's Oshman Family Jewish Community Center (3921 Fabian Way) for the Judaism & Science Symposium. Subtitled, "An Exploration of the Convergence of Jewish & Scientific Thought," the event promises to be a provocative and stimulating hour of discussion about how Jewish thinking has influenced scientific inquiry and achievement.

Sacks is perhaps best known for serving as the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom for 22 years. Among the other panelists are Nancy Ellen Abrams, author of "A God that Could be Real," and John M. Efron, professor of Jewish History at the University of California, Berkeley. Michael Krasny, host of KQED's Forum, will moderate the discussion.

The symposium will take place at the JCC's Schultz Cultural Arts Hall from 5-6 p.m., with a book signing following the main event. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. For more information, go to paloaltojcc.org or call 650-223-8664.


'Fire on the Mountain'

From the coal-mining towns of Appalachia comes bluegrass, a distinctly American musical style that has its roots both in the folk tunes of England, Ireland and Scotland and in the blues music of the American south. Now playing at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts (500 Castro St.), "Fire on the Mountain" presents bluegrass music in a theatrical context, depicting the way coal mining transformed Appalachia and its people.

Featuring traditional bluegrass songs like "Dark as a Dungeon" and "The Hard-Working Miner," "Fire on the Mountain" moves from West Virginia to Kentucky as it tells the emotional story of miners toiling to earn a living underground, often in appalling conditions. The show's creators, Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman (who previously collaborated on "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues"), conducted interviews with coal-mining families across Appalachia as part of their research for the show.

With live dancing and musical performances from accomplished bluegrass fiddlers, banjo and accordion players, "Fire on the Mountain" has been praised for its authenticity. The show runs through Sunday, April 26. Performances are Friday-Saturday 8 p.m., with additional 2 p.m. shows April 11, 12, 18, 19, 22 and 26; 7 p.m. shows April 12 and 19; and a 7:30 p.m. show on April 22. Tickets range from $25-$74. Go to theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960.

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