Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stuffed & Unstrung at Irvine Barclay

You just can't resist splitting a gut when you watch Jim Henson's puppets behaving badly (and, in this case, "naughtily"). Henson Alternative has put together an adults-only improv show using decades-old Henson puppets. It's now playing at The Barclay through January 2. Patrick Bristow, the well-known comedic actor seen on many a TV sitcom, serves as emcee and pulls suggestions from the audience for the puppeteer/actors to use as material for each short sketch. It's great to be able to see both the puppets and the puppeteers--while at the same time improvising their sketches. One of the biggest laughs of the evening (and there were too many to count) was when the lower row of teeth of one particularly goofy looking puppet came loose. The actors never skipped a beat in taking advantage of the opportunity to incorporate it into their sketch.

Monday, December 20, 2010

FCLO Tickets Being Honored at Area Theatres

FCLO Music Theatre (formerly Fullerton Civic Light Opera), which announced it would likely be forced to close its doors in January, has updated its website and says that four area theatres have agreed to honor FCLO tickets for their shows.

Right Brain Initiative

Was just introduced to this terrific video on arts education from The Right Brain Initiative in Portland, Oregon, when I attended WESTAF's convening of state arts agency leadership last week. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

OCHSA cuts ribbon on new theater

Five months after announcing that it was acquring Michael Harrah's OC Pavilion in downtown Santa Ana, the OC High School of the Arts offered its opening production there last weekend.

The former bank building was converted to a Vegas-style show room, presenting some name acts plus rentals to the new 3D Theatricals, a professional company presenting plays and musicals.

Now, it's a dedicated facility for the public high school, located nearby, which has not had its own theatre for curricular purposes and public performances.

And 3D Theatricals is now without a home, but actively negotiating with a number of area venues & producing companies to join forces.

OCHSA (disclosure: I serve on its Community Partners Advisory Board) is well-regarded for its academic programs (the same state-mandated curriculum as every other public high school) and its arts conservatories (the quality of which is bolstered by some heavy-hitters on its foundation board who give and raise substantial sums to support it).

Among its notable success stories is Susan Egan, the Tony-nominated star of Disney's Beauty and the Beast on Broadway.

Break a leg!

Artis Omnipotensis: The Power of the Museum Director

Over the past several days, two very striking examples of major museum directors striking works of art from public view have hit the headlines.
It's deja vu all over again!

What do these two men fear will happen? Are the works in question truly "dangerous"--i.e. in "artspeak": do these art-dukes risk losing funding for their museums by keeping them on view?

There is no question that some art is "too hot to handle" for "institutional" art museums, but savvy leaders usually pre-censor their exhibitions. In the case of the National Portrait Gallery and LA's Museum of Contemporary Art, these took place after the fact. The Andy Warhol Foundation has threatened to withdraw its funding for the Smithsonian, which operates the National Portrait Gallery, and in LA, everyone who was skeptical of turning MOCA over to art dealer Jeffrey Deitch is saying "I told you so."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hidden Places

The title of the current Huntington Beach Art Center show has the unintended effect of reminding us that this little gem of a gallery is just not as well known as it should be.

It only recently--finally!--got its own website (though it still has its information page on the site for the City of Huntington Beach, which owns and operates it).

Its capable leadership Kate Hoffman and curator Darlene DeAngelo are struggling mightily to maintain a high quality program amidst city funding cutbacks.

When the gallery was first created, it gained notoriety (and not a little push back from the City) for its provocative programming. Now, 20 years later (about), it has not backed off from presenting artists with an edge--even if it discreetly avoids anything that might bring down the wrath of the elected officials who approve its budget.

The current show is a case in point.

The work of three artists with distinctly different viewpoints on nature have been cleverly grouped into an exhibition that melds Cathy Cooper's abstract mixed media sculptures with Daniel du Plessis' lacquered-over fantasias (pictured above) and Leslie Yagar's installation of butterflies. All of these works have the capacity to delight AND to disturb, proving that HBAC has lost none of its desire to be about real art.

The show continues through December 18.

Show-biz transformation for San Juan's tree-lighting

Admittedly, it's been several years since we made our way down to the Christmas tree lighting ceremonies here in "O little town of" San Juan Capistrano. Back then, it was a modest affair.

No more!

The stage was set for a glitzy musical theatre entertainment by Kids Next Door from the so-called "Musical Theatre University" a branch of one of Laguna Beach's community theatres. Front & center were some fairly talented young people (less so in the rear of the group), and while select numbers were pretty sophisticated, there didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to the order of the numbers.

No matter!

By my count, there were at least 3,000 people gathered in Town Square Park for the event, and most were delighted to get a "Broadway" show leading up to the very anticlimactic moment when a wimpy Santa dragged in by an overly gregarious Mrs. Claus finally switches on the tree.

Ho ho ho!

Will bodice-ripping art disappear?

Today's New York Times story about the migration of romance novels to the e-book world and how it saves readers from the embarrassment of being caught in public with a bodice-ripper in hand made me wonder what will become of the artists struggling to make a living as creators of the "mullets and the man chests," as blogger Sarah Wendell puts it in the article. It pains me greatly to think that e-books might be putting artists out of work!

Not your father's Christmas concert

There was a palpable puzzlement at the hour-long de Angelis Vocal Ensemble "Annual Holiday Concert" when the nearly full audience Basilica in San Juan Capistrano came to the realization that only two of the selections were familiar Christmas "tunes." Well, probably not for the die-hards who know full well what to expect when this taut a cappella sixteen member singing group performs: the programs usually containe undiscovered gems, premieres of new works, and old texts (sacred and secular) freshly cast into new music or new arrangements. That is really what makes de Angelis a standout in Orange County's crowded choral music scene, and the fact that they do it so well is a testament to its artistic director Matthew Gray, whose gently instructive, light, brief introductions of each piece make the Basilica feel like you're in his living room. Smartly taking advantage of the opportunity to address the crowd about supporting the ensemble, its volunteer managing director Lesa Truxaw keeps it short and heartfelt--no doubt, one of the reasons why the de Angelis donor list seems to be growing along with its ticket-buying audiences. Pacific Chorale's leadership was there on Sunday, too, to hear the concert: music director John Alexander and president Kelly Ruggirello--another sign that this six year old vocal organization is attracting serious attention. They will be back in March.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Will another theatre bite the dust?

The past month has not been a good one for OC's theatre scene: 30 year old Curtain Call Dinner Theatre called it quits and now FCLO Music Theatre (aka Fullerton Civic Light Opera) has announced that, barring a miracle, it will shut its doors at the end of the year, stranding subscribers to the rest of its 40th season. (See Paul Hodgins' article in the OC Register.)

Too bad these arts institutions aren't "too big to fail" and eligible for a government bailout.

FCLO is Orange County's third largest budget professional producing theatre company. Its founders, Griff and Jan Duncan, have lovingly produced many fine stagings of musical theatre's standard repertoire, with an occasional new(ish) musical thrown in. By design, they focused on subscriptions and ticket sales, so they lack a sizable, generous donor base that typically provides some balance when the occasional show misses its box office target or a recession affects subscriptions. Without that philanthropic support, they have been at the mercy of the lagging economy, and are crying uncle.

I hope they are able to find a way to keep it going.

However, as a longtime theatre producer myself, I must say that the landscape has changed greatly since FCLO and Curtain Call were founded. The heyday of civic light operas and dinner theatres across the US has been over for some time. Few dinner theatres continue to operate anywhere these days and whether they go by the civic light opera name, few musical theatre-only producing organizations around the nation remain.

Neither trend should be construed as signalling the end of musical theatre in America--but the access to Broadway touring productions (greatly increased with the advent of the "jukebox" musical over the past decade) and the shift in resident nonprofit professional theatre programming from classics and new works to more musical theatre (usually not homegrown, but rather co-produced with several other similar companies) have contributed to changes that most dinner theatres & CLOs have found difficult to overcome.

There is no segment of the performing arts, however, that hasn't suffered from the societal changes of the Internet era. We have limitless leisure time possibilities for entertainment and enrichment timed precisely to our whims and schedules through DVR/TiVo and Inernet streaming. For most people, something has to be very special and different to get them off their couches to drive to a theatre for a performance. CLOs and dinner theatres, which largely specialize in the "tried and true" (which some folks love, but others find "stale"), have seen their audiences die out and been unable to replace them.

Yet having local theatre companies where young and emerging professional talent can cut their teeth is an important part of the overall ecology of the performing arts in any community--and many fine performers trod the boards at Fullerton CLO and Curtain Call over the years to appreciative audiences.

Whether a renewed philanthropic effort in Fullerton can salvage its CLO's future remains to be seen. The City of Fullerton has apparently already determined that Fullerton CLO is not their problem.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"New Yorkistan"

On the drive the work today, I was listening to KPCC-FM, and hear a reference to this New Yorker Magazine cover illustration that included such places as "Kvechnya" and "Khandibar." It was a great way to start the day!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I can't believe I'd never seen this famous Swiss theatre company, and jumped at the chance to see them this afternoon at Irvine Barclay Theatre. The four 60 and 70-something actors are remarkably spry and produce illusions that demand the audience to use its imagination muscles in ways they probably never have. Though the 90 minute show (with one intermission) gets a bit repetetive, it is mostly comprised of 1-2 minute scenes involving extraordinary costumes & props. They are remarkably un-PC when it comes to scenes involving violence and sex (however mild)--especially for a show marketed for kids & families. No bother: the audience adored them, and was comprised of all ages. I would have to say it is equal parts puppetry and mime--with large scale masks and devices manipulated in clever ways. Mummenschanz has been around since the 1970s, and is the sole non-spoken word theatre company to have succeeded on Broadway (a three year run). Others have emulated and built upon their work, but Mummenschanz is the real deal: high art that doubles as mass entertainment. You can't beat that combination.

Too Drunk--Or just Drunk Enough--to Say I Love You

First, sad news that Caryl Churchill's one-act, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You, closed today at Monkey Wrench Collective--two weeks early. MWC Artistic Director Dave Barton attributes it in large part to the fact that Orange County theatregoers don't embrace politically-themed plays (though this was not marketed as such). I countered to him that it's American audiences who don't embrace political theatre--not just OCers.
I'm familiar with Churchill's plays--saw Frances McDormand in Far Away at New York Theatre Workshop a couple of years ago. Audiences walked out mystified, and though I loved it, I can only say that I understood maybe 10% of her imagistic script. (There was, however, a fabulous scene of chained inmates forced to do a fashion show of Easter Parade-style hats!) Churchill's plays perform linguistic gymnastics--it's like the theatrical equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting.
Dave Barton thoroughly made this piece accessible and the clarity of Uncle Sam desperately seeking love from those he exploits (and tortures) in the world was an unavoidable political statement that produced shock and awe.
The few who saw it understood that, so Dave's disappointnment notwithstanding, the production was a success.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Irvine Valley College's Dance "Perspectives"

My lunch hour detour to Irvine Valley College's relatively new performing arts center far exceeded my expectations. Full disclosure: I'm not an enormous dance fan. I appreciate it as an art form. I've even seen some of the great artists & companies live, like American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Erick Hawkins Dance Company, to name just a few--plus plenty others on video. It just takes a lot to keep my attention riveted, as I'm a verbal-oriented person, which is why theatre has been my artistic medium.
That being said, I responded to an 11th-hour invitation from Marie de la Palme, IVC's Artistic Director, to attend this hour-long performance of 6 short pieces with brief remarks by the choreographer of each. I had met Marie for the first time a few months ago in the ArtsOC offices, but was not familiar with her work.

I have to say that what I saw convinced me that Marie is an extraordinarily gifted choreographer--5 of the pieces (all very different) were hers, and each was substantive in content and in style but, most of all, clear--something I find so often missing from dance works I experience. Some of her pieces are exceptionally acrobatic, and she was fortunate to have two men and a woman who were fully capable of executing her moves.

The one piece by guest choreographer Teresa Avina, "Unplugged," had a terrific concept in which the dancers were turned on and off again (symbolized by light fixtures on their costumes). Avina spoke of wanting to show the distinction between the two: on=robotic, off=fluid. In actuality, there was not as sharp a delineation between the two styles as I thought was called for, but it may have been her intention to be more subtle.

Here's to more lunchtime arts experiences!

2 New Exhibits at Irvine Fine Arts Center

The Irvine Fine Arts Center (IFAC) is one of the few City-operated galleries in Orange County (other notable City galleries are Huntington Beach and Brea). IFAC consistently exhibits work of very high quality, and mixes exhibitions by artists outside the area with works by local artists.

The 2010 All Media Show that opened last night was juried by Karen Moss, Curator of the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA), so I was especially eager to see what she had found among the many submissions that might meet her rigorous standards. I was not disappointed.

There was extraordinary vitality and variety to the works on display, from the small (a delightful and intricate homage to the pinned insect display boxes seen at science fairs--but created with man-made materials) to the sizable (like a mettalic white sculpture made of styrofoam, fiberglass and auto body paint that burst out from the wall).

I ran into Ellen Breitman, former curator of the OCMA-predecessor organization, Newport Harbor Art Museum, who praised Karen's work on this exhibition.

And then one of the artists, whom I knew previously only by e-mail, introduced himself to me: Emet Martinez, a fine art photographer. Two of his photos were selected for the show, including the Paris street scene above.

IFAC usually opens two exhibitions simultaneously. The All-Media show was in its larger gallery space and an exhibit of works by Bill Jaros in the smaller space. Jaros creates sculptural wall pieces (and some tabletop works), and most of those on exhibit were made of corrugated boxes that had been stiffened into shape using plaster and colorful pigments. If you didn't look at their edges, you wouldn't necessarily have guessed at the original box material. Other works were assembled from wood.

A Virtual Art Opening by Gallery 212

Throughout the past two years of this Great Recession, I have heard people say that there is opportunity in adversity (I prefer to think of it as survival of the fittest). Among those necessarily adjusting to the "new normal" are artists, and I know I'm not the first to point out that they are finding new ways to exhibit and sell their work.

Last night's opening by Gallery212 was a case in point.

Gallery owner Ruth Q. Harrell talked the landlord at Costa Mesa's Back Bay Center into allowing her to hold a one-night exhibition in a vacant unit. She used to have a regular gallery space in Seal Beach, but says she found that most of the sales took place at the opening receptions, making her ongoing lease redundant. So she's gone virtual--it's these days, with periodic artist receptions in temporary spaces like Back Bay Center.

Last night, her "urban gallery with only original art" featured works by Erica Wolfsen, whose small acrylics have been ubiquitous at the Santa Ana Artists Village on Art Walk nights, and an artist named Industry Giant among several others. (I clarified with Ruth that it's "Mr." not "Ms." Giant.)

All the work on display was characteristic of much work I see by young artists these days at such places as The Artery at The LAB Anti-mall and the Santora Building in Santa Ana--fresh and colorful, whether representational or abstract, often resembling iconic artists like Warhol and Rauschenberg or derived from cartoon art, graffiti and commercial advertising. Some were well-executed, others less so, but there was an exuberance to them all. Ruth says she is committed to the work of young artists, and they are fortunate to have someone like her finding new ways to champion them.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Sondheim book reviewed by none other than Paul Simon!

Today's NY Times Book Review section cover is singer/songwriter Paul Simon's review of Stephen Sondheim's new book, Finishing the Hat, about the lyricist side of his career, and Simon's eloquent & insightful review is a terrific read.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wait, what?

Back east in June, picked up this phrase from my 17 year old nephew: "Wait, what?" It wasn't something I'd ever heard out hear on the West Coast.
Well, you know it's becoming ubiquitous when it appears in The New York Times (in a tidbit item today about the TV show "Mad Men").

Googling it came up with this interesting "Language Log" blogpost.

I'm hoping for a fuller etymological analysis in the "On Language" column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine soon!

Monday, October 25, 2010

You know it's an election year because OCMA is staging its Biennial...

One of the most highly anticipated events of Orange County's contemporary art scene is the OC Museum of Art's California Biennial, which assembles the works of dozens of new, undiscovered or fugitive artists throughout the state--tracked down mercilessly by OCMA's curator-du-jour and thrown willy-nilly against the stark white walls (and floors and ceilings and grounds) of the museum to see if they will stick.

At Saturday night's opening, I viewed only a fraction of the exhibition because this event is a mob scene of the hip and the restless, mashed into bar queues, ambushing the hors d'oeuvres trays as they emerge from the kitchen, and sidewinding their way through the tubes of party-loving art addicts as techno music blasts from one of the galleries.

I was distracted, too, because I was there in an "official" capacity: escorting my friend and colleague Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, Chair of the California Arts Council. Though she grew up in the OC, she lives up in Santa Monica these days, so I couldn't very well throw her into the mosh pit of this opening without a tour guide.

I look forward to returning when things have quieted down and I can absorb (or be happily repelled by) the works I saw only in a blur as I breezed past them. Luckily, the show is up until April!


"Shopping and..." [Content Warning!]

For his first full-length play, written in 1996, UK dramatist Marc Ravenhill hits the mark most of the time as he peers into the pathetic lives of penniless, aimless and addicted young people who have concluded that life consists of little more than dangerous transactions in which sex and drugs are equal opportunity employers. The glimmer of hope, at least in the case of one man and woman, is their fascination with hearing and telling stories--not that the stories themselves ever seem to end happily. But the play, Shopping and F***ing, also sports absurdly funny moments that occasionally balance out the pervasively grim lives of its characters. A few scenes Ravenhill needed to drive the plot forward exhibit some clunkiness--not unexpected from a then-novice writer. Yet the play demonstrates an overarching sophistication in its world view and a perceptive display of the lyrical argot spoken on the streets in Britain--the authenticity of which poses some challenges for the ear of American audiences. (I remember visiting family in Scotland many years ago, and I couldn't understand more than 25% of of what they spoke! As the saying goes, we are "two nations divided by a single language".)

Monkey Wrench Collective's production, staged by artistic director Dave Barton, takes the raw material of this play (and some of it is very raw indeed, though the nudity and heartless sexual encounters never appear gratuitous), and makes clear that Ravenhill's is truly "the well-made play" in its adherence to theatrical conventions. And even if the specific characters and the explicitness in the telling of their stories seems fresh, the structure and motifs remain planted in archetype and wholly recognizable. It bears some resemblance to the subject matter of the book Trainspotting, which preceded it (better known from the 1996 film about young heroin addicts in Glasgow, Scotland), and to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, which came out two years earlier. That's not to suggest that it's derivative of these--just my effort to provide you with some guideposts as to the subject matter and, to some degree, the style of Shopping and F***ing--my own obtuse "content warning," I suppose.

(Disclosure: the printed program for Shopping and F***ing says that I'm directing a play for Monkey Wrench later this season. Who knew?)

Walking Out

Observing three audience members linger during intermission and then decide to depart yesterday's performance of the Monkey Wrench Collective production of Marc Ravenhill's Shopping and F***ing made me speculate about their motivation.
Throughout my long career in the theatre, I've witnessed plenty of walkouts. There's a tendency to assume that people are leaving because they're offended, and a similar expectation that artists are smugly satisfied because of it.
While there may be some truth in those perceptions, the reality is, not surprisingly, a bit more complicated.
After all, these days, most people are fairly well-informed about what they're going to see and theatres go to great lengths to publish content advisories: caveat emptor. So it's rare that anyone is "duped" into attending something they'll find offensive; more likely that they make a conscious decision to attend in spite of it.
Even so, there are many reasons people leave early: they're tired, they're hungry, they're bored, they've actually "gotten" it by intermission and don't need to see the rest, etc. (Hey, I've left performances for the same reasons.)
There are, of course, those who willingly embrace the opportunity to be offended and to express their dissatisfaction. I think of Luc Bondy's production of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera last season that was roundly booed by the audience, especially when the director ascended the stage for his curtain call (as reported in The New York Times)
Perhaps the first time I'd ever observed such behavior was at a performance of Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay's play Damnee Manon, Sacree Sandra at Syracuse Stage, a major resident professional theatre company. Syracuse New Times critic Jim MacKillop described it recently as the most controversial production in the history of that theater--it took place 30 years ago!
At the performance I attended, a number of patrons rose from their seats within minutes of the beginning of the play--two alternating monologues about the sacred and the profane by a devout woman and a drag queen--and they did not leave quietly: some expressed their disgust to the actors on stage while others directed their venom to the audience for accepting this in "their" theatre. (Full disclosure: I will be directing this play at Monkey Wrench Collective later this season.)
It was thrilling to witness--and I must admit to similar adrenaline rushes when seeing theatregoers leave other plays I've attended or produced or directed. At least these were audiences with a "pulse"--unlike the tepid response accorded the premiere production of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom which I brought in to Hartford from Yale Rep. (The fact that they could not recognize his genius was genuinely upsetting to me.)
I used to consider it a "badge of courage" to find that my work was provocative enough to send theatregoers to the exits, but I'm far more circumspect today: I hate to drive anyone away from the theatre. I respect those who opt not to attend because it won't be "their cup of tea" (but that won't prevent them from returning to see something that is). I'm far less tolerant of those who pay no heed to the warnings, come anyway and leave in a huff. They've asked for it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Spark-e! undergoes transformation

Starting next week, your weekly Wednesday e-newsletter about arts & cultural events in the OC will have a new name, a new look, and some new content.

In partnership with the Orange County Register, Arts Orange County will transform Spark-e! into OC ARTS, bringing the e-newsletter into conformance with best practices in the e-news field and adding editorial content to its listings. Links to OC Register features and reviews will be included in the newsletter along with the events listings you've come to expect from Spark-e! All listings will link to SparkOC's complete listings and our discount ticket partner, Goldstar, will continue to have a link for your convenience.

YOU MUST SIGN-UP TO RECEIVE OC ARTS since we are not able to transfer our subscriber list (in fact, we promised you we wouldn't, and we're holding to that promise!).

Tomorrow's Spark-e! will be your last, so SIGN-UP HERE RIGHT NOW FOR OC ARTS!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

de Angelis Season Opener Highlights Minimalist Compositions

Arvo Part, John Tavener and Henryk Gorecki works were among the dozen short choral pieces sung by the intrepid de Angelis Vocal Ensemble at the Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano at their season opening concert Saturdyay. Artistic Director Matthew Gray has not shied away from the unusual works that unnecessarily frighten some concertgoers, demonstrating that in the realm of vocal music, at least, these contemporary compositions hold their own quite well. To his credit, he has attracted an audience of well over 100 to soak up the atmospheric music in the atmospheric surroundings of the Basilica's blindingly gold retablo and live acoustics. His introductions to each piece gently ease the audience into what might, for many, be unfamiliar territory; their response, however, validates his success. Not every upcoming concert will push the envelope quite so far, with holiday music and tin pan alley scheduled later in the season, but this was certainly an auspicious debut and validates Gray's penchant for exploring new work. More power to him!
Coincidentally, this morning's New York Times Magazine included a feature on Arvo Part, whose work has gained favor by many mainstream orchestras and ensembles.

Friday, October 8, 2010

And why classical music IS elitist...

This is a very thoughtful and provocative analysis of the imagined barriers to classical music, one of which is the trend of using it in certain public places as a weapon against loitering youths and graffiti.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why Opera Is Not Elitist

I must share with you this extraordinary New York Times Op-Ed piece by New Yorker magazine music critic Alex Ross, which is one of the most persuasive arguments for opera being for everyone.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Survivor of "The Body Snatchers" Dead at 96

UPDATE: Photo at left of me and Alison with Kevin circa 1985 in Hartford, Connecticut.

Kevin McCarthy, best-known to many for the original film "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and to millions of television viewers for a famous episode of "The Twilight Zone," ("Long Live Walter Jameson," about a man who has never aged or died), has left us at 96.
I had the great pleasure of working with him once when I presented a week-long run of his solo act as Harry S. Truman in "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" (he took over the show after it was originated by James Whitmore) in Hartford, Connecticut 25 years ago. What a gentleman he was! One night, a followspot shorted out and left a smoky film wafting through the theatre. Kevin took a beat, said "I'm going on with the show," and never looked back. He came from a talented family: his sister, Mary McCarthy, wrote the critically-acclaimed best-seller, The Group, and was one of our nation's most prominent literary figures until her death in 1989. Somewhere, I have a picture of Kevin & me, which I'll have to dig up & post here.
What a great guy: his talent was much bigger than his ego. RIP

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Quixotic" cuisine?

I split a gut when I read an ad for Anaheim's historic White House restaurant (I remember when it used to be called, quaintly, "Thee White House").

It described its cuisine as "quixotic" (as opposed to "chaotic"?).

I puzzled over what they were trying to convey.
Is their food a futile effort? Do they marinate windmills they believe to be baby back ribs? Must they bear with the unbearable sorrow of nobody coming to eat there? Do they whip up their omelettes in a grimy shaving bowl?

One hopes not.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Two Sides of Southern California in Adjacent Exhibitions

Two art openings last weekend in Santa Ana offered a stark contrast between "white bread" and "corn tortilla" culture in Southern California.

Santa Monica - The Art of Summer at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art through September 25 offers an eclectic array of works inspired by SoCal beach culture and the beauty of Santa Monica and its historic pier. While not every work sings the Beach Boys, there is a quality of light in many of the paintings that suggests rose-colored glasses even when the subject matter is abstract, satirical or distinctly non-idyllic. The abundance of large canvases dominating OCCCA's expansive space (once an automotive repair shop) were impressive in their style and execution, curated expertly by Jeffrey Crussell. OCCCA is also hosting CAN Castle (riffing on the sand castle motif of its beach-inspired show), inviting visitors to participate by contributing canned food items destined for a local food bank.

Across the street at Grand Central Art Center's Gallery is Detras de las Cortinas (Behind the Curtain), an exhibition of works by SoCal Latino artists through October 17. Equally vivid colors await you here, while the subject matter ranges from more sobering reminders of barrio life to traditional Day of the Dead imagery to model "low rider" hot rods embellished with flames. You won't find abstracts here--real and surreal images dominate. This exhibition, too, has been curated with wisdom and panache.

The concurrence of these adjacent shows (admission is free to both) was certainly not coordinated by these independent organizations, yet it provides an exuberant contrast that makes them, in my view, a tandem must-see experience.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

News on the Pro-Am Divide

The Royal Shakespeare Company's artistic director Michael Boyd has announced a major initiative that will place amateur theatre practitioners front and center at Britain's large, prestitious theatre company.

"There’s been a sort of crucifix and garlic mutual relationship between the amateur sector and the professional sector for too long," said Boyd in an article in the UK publication The Stage.

This was brought to the attention of many in the US arts world through blogger Chloe Veltman on her blog lies like truth.

The Pro-Am Divide is a subject that is of immense interest to me--especially now, when the lines are being blurred by popular culture through such vehicles as American Idol. Interestingly, the Pacific Chorale has for the past two years produced a Choral Festival in which it selects local amateur choirs to sing with the professional Chorale in a free concert.

While audiences for established arts institutions continue to dwindle (with some notable exceptions), much has been made of the continued strength of the participatory arts--people are even more desirous of being arts practitioners than ever (perhaps as an offset to media overload?). What I see is a real opportunity for audience building for professional arts by engaging with--rather than negating--the amateur artist.

Photo: Pacific Chorale rehearses with community choruses its 2010 Choral Festival.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Anaheim's Chance Theater likes Costa Mesa--a lot!

Just one year after South Coast Repertory brought in The Chance Theater's production, Jesus Hates Me (right photo), to its Costa Mesa theatre complex, the Orange County Performing Arts Center will bring in Chance's production of The Who's Tommy (left photo) into its facility across the street, according to this story in BroadwayWorld.

Both SCR & OCPAC are to be lauded for partnering with this small-but-ambitious company, and I hope they'll consider inviting some other intrepid small performing organizations, too.

Anaheim would do well to take care of The Chance and its other cultural resources lest they get poached by rival Costa Mesa! (:-)
UPDATE: See Paul Hodgins' article in the Orange County Register about this news.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ardor for Arden: Helena Modjeska's Return to OC

The renowned turn-of-the-century Polish actress known for chewing up the scenery in Shakespearean productions throughout Europe and the United States, Helena Modjeska, ultimately made her home in the canyon and beneath the peak that were named for her in Orange County.

She made a brief re-appearance this past weekend in three sold-out performances at the Camino Real Playhouse in San Juan Capistrano inhabited by Ewa Boryczko, a Polish-born American actress, in Modjeska! An Artist's Dream, a solo performance piece being developed by the actress/writer, director Jon Kellam and producer Kris Cieply of the Helena Modjeska Society.

This is not the first time the tale of Modjeska's life has been brought to life on stage in Orange County: South Coast Repertory premiered Richard Hellesen's full-length drama Once in Arden 20 years ago, with the late Nan Martin in the title role.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sierra Leone Refugees All Stars

Popped over to The Coach House on Wednesday night to see this band in response to seeing their concert listed in the Goldstar events newsletter I received on Tuesday. The description of this group of refugees from the west African nation of Sierra Leone who spent years in a refugee camp in Guinea was intriguing enough, but the fact that they play a blend of African, Afro-pop and reggae music incited me to take the leap. They didn't come on stage until almost 10 pm after two (presumably local) warm-up bands, and they were still playing non-stop when we finally left at 11:30 (after all, it was a work night). Their matching print costumes (pajama-like) were as colorful as their stage presence: one young member of the band engaged in some wild gyrations in about a 5 square foot space between his fellow musicians, teetering on disaster from time to time but always regaining his balance. The same man (who also played bongos) came into the audience & grabbed my hand to get me and my fellow concertgoers off our duffs and into some dance gyrations of our own. Most of the band's members (generally middle aged) are far more low-key, simply exercising their virtuosity on keyboard, drums, guitars, bass, and vocals. The musician pictured here took the prize for the best hair--the photo doesn't quite do it justice, as his hair is down to his waist.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Digging Up the Dirt" at Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble

Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble has teamed up with See-what Productions to present this World Premiere play by Cherrie Moraga.

The subtitle "An Old Story of Loving to Death," sets up two parallel tales, one of which echoes closely the well-documented murder of Selena, the "Queen of Tejano music," by the president of her fan club. The other is the murder of a woman by her son, for reasons that are not completely clear, but may relate to her relationship to "The Poet," a woman she loved who narrates much of the play.

Author Moraga suggests that the death of Sirena (Selena) is also related to lesbian love for her by her friend and admirer Josefa, and the complexities of lesbian relationships comprise the central theme of the play--for better and for worse.

I say that because the excellent cast have brought to life Moraga's knack for capturing tender and awkward moments between lovers with sensitivity and humor. Yet on a few occasions the author seems to lack the confidence to allow her characters and their story to stand on their own, opting to comment, through the mouthpiece of The Poet, about the difficulty of living life as a Latina lesbian.

Nevertheless, this is the strongest production I've seen so far at the seven year old Breath of Fire company, marked by a standout performance by Adelina Anthony (The Poet) who also co-directed with the author and an equally fine cast across the board. It was also great to see they had a full house and a really diverse audience.

e.impulse at OC Center for Contemporary Art

Three widely dissimilar styles are on exhibit in the latest show at OCCCA in the Santa Ana Artists Village, entitled "e.impulse".

Kim Ye takes us to another galaxy, it seems, with rubbery constructions that look like aliens or their body parts, all in flesh tones, some illuminated from within. There is a bit of the tongue-in-cheek about it all, with a couple of the large sculptures sporting white mannequin human feet.

Evalynn Alu's abstract paintings may not break new ground but are skillfully executed explorations of geometric shapes with vivid contrasts of color and brushstroke. Many are indeed beautiful to gaze upon, leading me to believe they would be highly suitable decorative elements in a home or office.

To me, Jeff Alu's works were the most inspired in this three-person exhibition. One series of his black and white photographs dwelt upon derelict electric poles, transformers and wires--an eerie landscape of desolation. He leaves it to the observer to determine if he's captured the stark beauty of these elements or if they are making a statement--either will suffice.

But Jeff Alu is also a filmmaker (the OCCCA back gallery has seats arranged to view one of his videos) and a tinkerer with technology (a computer screen & headphones is available for visitors to play with a soundscape that can be manipulated--listen to solo tones or a cacophony, it's your choice).

The exhibition runs through August 29th, and admission is free.

Spark-e has returned

I've been in and out of town, owing to the decline in health and passing of my mother back east. Thanks to the many who have expressed their sympathy.
Glad to be back on the circuit, and eager to report on two OC arts events I attended last night.
Read on!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Comedy = Tragedy + Time

I couldn't help but think of that theatre cliche after seeing Brad Fraser's True Love Lies at Monkey Wrench Collective tonight.

It's an urbane drama in which a monkey wrench (sorry) is thrown into the lives of a seemingly normal family, wreaking all sorts of havoc and revealing "side B". Dysfunctional families have since ancient times been fodder for playwrights, and while it's the universality of the relationships that makes such stories archetypal, the best re-tellings echo the Zeitgeist, and there could hardly be one more evocative of our era than this one (though I haven't yet seen the new film The Kids are Alright which some critics are saying hits the bullseye).

As the boomers' kids come of age, they're finding out all sorts of things about the youthful indiscretions and proclivities of their parents at the same time they're discovering themselves, trying things out and making their own life decisions.

It isn't always a pretty picture.

That's the basic premise for True Love Lies (I won't spoil its many surprises by providing a plot synopsis), and it provides ample space for author Fraser to explore the extremes of family behavior when confronted with the truth--extremes that have potentially tragic consequences.

While there is no "happy ending" for these characters, by the end of the play they do achieve a kind of equilibrium, which places the story solidly in the "comedy" column, proving (I guess) my title equation.

Luckily, we don't have to wait until the end to find that out: the bitingly funny dialogue punctuates each twist and turn of plot from almost the moment the play begins. But it's character-driven humor--not appliqued punchlines--that is fresh and insightful. The audience departed from the theatre wounded and bleeding from hilarious indictments hurled (mostly) by the two young characters, whose observations about their parents, their peers and even themselves were shocking-but-true.

This, the fourth Monkey Wrench Collective production, is the most accessible and demonstrates that its founders aren't wedded to any single style or subject matter as long as it is thought-provoking. True Love Lies certainly is that, but it's also the first comedy the new Monkey Wrench has produced (albeit one containing adult language and brief nudity).

Director Dave Barton's staging is fluid, sensible and copes well with creating multiple locations within the confines of the small performance space. It's also very well-cast and acted convincingly by its five performers.
Photo by Will Blakely: Jill Cary Martin and Anthony B. Cohen

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Help Wanted: America's Orchestras

Today's New York Times reported that, in the depths of America's current employment crisis, several major orchestras have a surfeit of openings for musicians:

New York Philharmonic - 12
Boston Symphony - 10
Chicago Symphony - 9
Los Angeles Philharmonic - 7
Cleveland Orchestra - 4
Philadelphia Orchestra - 3
Pittsburgh Symphony - 3
Dallas Symphony - 3
San Francsico Symphony - 3

These numbers may not sound like a lot, but in the world of classical music, it's generally rare to have so many openings.

So, tune your vuvuzelas*, everyone! (See Tim Mangan's Arts Blog post today for a hilarious classical vuvuzela video!)

*For non-World Cup fans: the ubiquitous plastic horns popular among South Africa's soccer fans.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monkey Wrench Finding Its Groove

Or should that be finding it's gear-tooth?

Monkey Wrench Collective has wasted no time in launching its first three productions, and all have played to full houses at the performances I attended. Fullerton is working out to be a better location for them than the Artists Village in Santa Ana. Their storefront on Harbor Blvd. & Amerige places them in the heart of a district packed with restaurants, bars and art galleries, like in Santa Ana, but it also comes with convenient free parking, which they lacked at their previous venue. There's also something to be said about the charm of their tiny brick-walled space--though charm is hardly a word one associates with their brand of theater.

They've got a snazzy-looking website, but like a lot of small arts groups, find it easier to keep the buzz going on their Facebook page than in updating their website (their next production of Brad Fraser's True Love Lies makes its West Coast debut July 9 under the direction of Dave Barton, according to their Facebook page today, but it's not yet on their website.)

Any new venture has a few kinks to work out, and Monkey Wrench has had more than its share, mostly associated with keeping the City of Fullerton's building inspector happy, but it's always a big undertaking to start a theater company, particularly without a paid staff.

Of their first three productions, pool (no water) by Marc Ravenhill was the strongest by far. Each was very different from the others, a sort of coming out party for the Collective to show its range of interests and fool the pundits.

Here's what the UK's Independent said about the upcoming True Love Lies when it premiered in London in February 2009:

What comes across at first as an evening of slick jokiness, glittering with
sexually explicit dialogue, develops into a play of remarkably complex texture.

Sounds like a Monkey Wrench Collective play to me!
[Photo is of Canadian playwright Brad Fraser.]

Monday, June 14, 2010

Prokofiev & Grieg & Andre Watts

Pacific Symphony's season finale at the Segerstrom Concert Hall was a "must" for me because it featured Prokofiev's 5th Symphony, a piece I fell in love with in college and listened to over and over again.

It's a complex amalgam of melodic themes intertwined with distinctly 20th century musical idioms, a piece that echoes the folkloric roots of so much Russian music while hinting at influences from jazz and American film music (after all, this symphony was composed in 1944, so it's not farfetched to think that Prokofiev had listened to Gershwin and Copland.) Moreover, this is a work that is profoundly influenced by the experience of World War II in the Soviet Union and dictator Joseph Stalin, under whose murderous rule artists like Prokofiev were always living in fear. As such, there are ominous undertones but also triumphal fanfares subject to a variety of critical interpretations. I had never experienced this piece live, so this was a real thrill!

The other thrill of the evening was legendary pianist Andre Watts performing the Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor, one of the most popular pieces of latter-day classical music. Watts seemed effortless in his performance, and why not? He probably has played the piece hundreds of times in his long career. That doesn't mean that he wasn't brilliant--he just never seemed to break a sweat!

Eclectic "Best: A Group Show" at Crussell Fine Arts

My second visit to Jeffrey Crussell's Eichler home gallery over the weekend demonstrated again why he is one of our most perceptive fine art curators of contemporary art in Orange County: there was hardly a piece I wouldn't have wanted in my own home despite the fact that the spectrum of work was enormously varied.

Natasa Prosenc's video of a woman in the desert emerging from a bubbling natural mudhole, walking across a barren landscape and eventually cleansing herself under a waterfall was mesmerizing.

I shared the experience of sitting and watching the video with a charming stranger who told me she also thought it was a remarkable work. We got to talking, and I learned that she is an artist exhibiting in the show as well. Evalynn Alu is her name, and she confided to me that she had only devoted herself to her art fully for the past few years after a long career as a teacher. When I encountered her work a little while later, a black and white and red painting on the wall in another room, it was one of those moments when you wouldn't have connected the artist with her work, which leads to all sorts of self-consciousness about how we often make assumptions about people.

I told artist Pamela Grau "I see you're working in metal, now," having just admired the patina of her brass abstract sculptural works, and I was floored by her telling me that they weren't metal at all, but rather a composite of clay and paper. Another guest asked her if she fired them in a kiln, and Pam surprised us again by saying "no," she had only baked them for 20 minutes at 350 in her kitchen oven! She's an artist with an unbridled imagination who works in various media, never failing to surprise and delight.

There is an online gallery with samples of the artists work here.

Shacking up

Wedging our way through the hundreds (no exaggeration) who attended the Laguna Art Museum's opening reception for its new exhibition, Art Shack, made it almost impossible to savor the art. But it certainly was an "event"! Iconoclastic imaginings of small abodes ranged from miniature to life-sized, and from the whimsical to the socio-political. Will definitely have to return to wander them at leisure.

Jazz in the OC

Picking up on my comments in the OCWeekly interview last week, ever-vigilant Tim Dunn of the Orange County Performing Arts Center sent over a list of every jazz artist the Center has presented since it opened in 1987.

It's quite an impressive list, and represents a veritable "Who's Who" of great jazz performers. Some of my favorites on the list are Wynton Marsalis and Dave Brubeck (both of whom I've had the pleasure of presenting myself in the past), Michael Franks, Modern Jazz Quartet, Linda Hopkins and George Benson.

The number of annual jazz presentations by the Center has varied from 5 to 10, some in the large Segerstrom Hall and others in the intimate Samueli Theater, and I've enjoyed several.

OCPAC is not the sole presenter of jazz in our community--nor should it be--but they've done a great job of helping to make sure we have access to some of the best in the genre.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Have you wondered what ArtsOC does?

Dave Barton of OCWeekly has, and he explored that subject (mostly) with me in this interview that appeared today.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Happy 200th birthday, Robert Schumann!

One of my favorite pieces of his, the Symphony No. 1 "Spring", performed by Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Wooden Floor

Just back from a relaxing week in the desert in time to catch the annual performances of The Wooden Floor at Irvine Barclay Theatre.

What's "The Wooden Floor"? Check out this video and see!

(OK, they were formerly known as Saint Joseph Ballet.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

New OC Theatre Reviews group launched

Just like the post-performance conversations we all have with our friends, some folks in Fullerton have launched OC Theatre Reviews and are podcasting such discussions. The first two are of Monkey Wrench Collective's pool (no water) and STAGEStheatre's Steel Dragnolias, and are archived here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Is there "objectivity"?

When I produced the Michael Frayn play Copenhagen at Laguna Playhouse in 2002 (and then on a national tour), some audiences were mystified by it. I saw it really as a contemporary version of Rashomon, the classic play in which an event is related differently by the three people who witnessed it. Of course, Copenhagen throws in a lot of physics, too, for pseudo-intellectuals like myself who like to say they understood it while others scratch their heads. (:-)

According to the Slate review of a new book, Quantum:

Much of the debate between Einstein and Bohr revolved around Einstein's
intuitive rejection of the implication of the Copenhagen interpretation -- which
is that objective reality, independent of any observer, doesn't really exist.
Bohr, by contrast (and sounding a lot like Wittgenstein), insisted that physics
isn't concerned with what is but solely with what we can say about it.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody's there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Are you man enough for Rachmaninov?

(My apologies to the creators of The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!, which I produced in its West Coast Premiere at Laguna Playhouse several years ago, from whence the blog title lyric.)

For many people, Rachmaninov (or Rachmaninoff, if you prefer!) = Heavy Russian Music.

Sunday evening's Pacific Chorale introduced OC audiences to the Rachmaninov (they prefer the "v" as in...) "Vespers", an hour-long work more reverential and sonorous than flamboyantly Slavic.

Program notes suggested that the composer created this a cappella work in a way that transforms a chorus into its own accompanying orchestra, and even my tin ear could detect a fluidity of sound that, at times, sounded like strings or blended winds.

All in all, it was a lovely piece, and a nice conclusion to the Chorale season.

"pool (no water)" - Monkey Wrench Collective

Wayne Booth's landmark 1961 treatise on literary criticism, Rhetoric of Fiction, was a reaction to critcal trends that erased the authorial voice as a defining (or, at least, recognizable) presence in fiction. I have always tended to agree with his conclusions. No matter how much an author tries to divorce himself from the work he is crafting, there will always be telltale signs of his own DNA.

Sometimes, the deeply-rooted angst of the writer is obvious from the public individual we see or read about. But even reclusive authors like the late J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon tell us much about themselves through their fiction without our having to read the details of their private lives splashed onto tabloid covers.

[Booth was also a moralist who happened to believe that authors should be accountable for the moral stands they take and that amorality was an unpardonable sin (James Joyce's Ulysses was not exactly one of his favorite books, as I recall)--I've always had a more difficult time agreeing with him about that.]

I mention these points because the inaugural production of Monkey Wrench Collective in its own new space on North Harbor Blvd. in downtown Fullerton prompts a discussion of them.

British bete noir dramatist Mark Ravenhill has gained attention by pushing people's buttons, while at the same time attracting critical favor at the artful way he does it. pool (no water), first produced in London in 2006, is the latest of his works to be produced and directed by Dave Barton, Monkey Wrench's founder and a co-founder of the now-defunct Rude Guerrilla Theater Company. Dave's had a fascination with Ravenhill's drama and has become regarded as an expert on the subject.

pool (no water) concerns a circle of friends, bohemian artists all, who find time passing them by. The growing success of one of their number, whom they adore, reveals an underside to their feelings that thrills them but also repels them: jealousy & hate. She invites them to her home where she now has a pool and implores them all to skinny-dip as they did when they were younger. Their reluctance (their bodies are saggier now) gives way to her pleas and they gleefully strip down, surround her and toss her into the pool.

To disclose more of the plot could be a bit of a spoiler. Suffice it to say that the narcissistic and self-destructive behavior of this group of friends, as described by Ravenhill, inevitably makes one wonder if this is a sort of coming-of-age story by its author--reflecting on, perhaps, his past bohemian ways and his current success.

The successful artist, mostly known to us from her friends' comments, does not especially seem to be rubbing her good fortune in their faces to warrant their ire; but when she eventually lashes back in a brief display of anger towards their behavior, I suppose it's natural to wonder for a moment if there wasn't just a little something about the person she's become that justified it. If so, perhaps we're capturing a glimpse of conscience (and self-consciousness) on Ravenhill's part.

Then again...the structuralist critics could be right, and the whole thing has nothing to do with Ravenhill "the man".

As for Monkey Wrench's production...their tiny, brick-walled storefront on the main street is a lovely space for this kind of work. Dave Barton and two other credited directors Melita Ann Sagar and Lee Samuel Tanng have taken Ravenhill's 70-minute musings and woven into them a kinetic, lively and engaging production, carefully choreographed and infused with music. The cast is a well-oiled ensemble that never misses a beat. It's playing to full houses on the weekends through June 6, and is a welcome addition to Fullerton's bustling scene of small, hip theatre companies.

Fullerton Museum in a Purple Haze

I had about 45 minutes to kill before seeing Monkey Wrench Collective's production of "pool (no water)", up in Fullerton, so I walked around the block and discovered the Fullerton Museum Center, which I had not yet visited in my 23 years living in the OC. And I'm glad I did.

I had heard about their permanent exhibit about Leo Fender, creator of the legendary Fender electric guitar, who was born in Anaheim and went to high school in Fullerton.

Programmatically, it made total sense, then, that they are presenting an exhibition of psychedelic posters from 1960s San Francisco (and a few from London). Most are two-color showcards that reflect the initial influence of Art Nouveau and the woodcuts of Aubrey Beardsley (books of his work were very popular in the 60s and 70s). But it's interesting to observe their evolution as they embrace a typography that is more contemporary and, alternatively, submerge the type into the design to the extent that it is almost unreadable, concealed within the fluidity of the illustrations. I have to think that it was less important to know which band was playing (Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Who, Big Brother & the Holding Company, etc.), dates, times and ticket prices, than to see a poster like that and just know that it stood for the next lineup at Fillmore.

You only had to see the contrast between them and the one poster on display from Woodstock--in which the marketers ruled the design so that everything was readable in an instant--to realize that, for presenter Bill Graham, advertising was more about the mystique he created--and that brand was recognizable instantly to the market that mattered to him.

The exhibit is punctuated by a few flat screen TVs with looped videos of Jimi Hendrix playing his (Fender?) with his teeth and the inimitable voice of Grace Slick piercing through the Jefferson Airplane instrumentals.

In further homage to the period, black light paintings by a contemporary artist, Adam Slater, are also being exhibited.

It all reminded me of the song Incredible String Band (also featured on some posters in the exhibit) called "Way Back in the 1960s" which came out in 1967 and wryly satirized all those who were taking themselves just a bit too seriously.

PS--tie-dyed t-shirts are on sale for $44 in the museum gift shop!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Another Inventive Program from de Angelis Vocal Ensemble

The plucky de Angelis Vocal Ensemble, just a few years old now, concluded its current season with a concert in the Mission San Juan Capistrano Basilica that featured songs based on Shakespeare by 20th century composers.

The hour-long program commenced with slightly challenging music (by Swiss composer Frank Martin, 1890-1974) and then moved on to more lyrical, melodic pieces (by Finnish composer Jaakko Mantyjarvi and American Matthew Harris).

Artistic Director Matthew Gray has assembled imaginative groupings of traditional and contemporary vocal music before, but focusing on the theme "Shakespeare: The Eternal Bard" enabled him to share a large number of brief songs inspired by the writer's poetry.

At the concert, attended by about 150 enthusiasts, de Angelis's new season was announced--expanded to five concerts--beginning in October.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

OC's Gay Theatre Tackles Renaissance Tragedy

Theatre Out, which moved last year to the Empire Theatre in the Santa Ana Artists Village from Fullerton, has been producing an eclectic 8-play season there. Though musicals, camp and drag have found their way onto the lineup, Theatre Out has also committed itself to some ambitious dramatic work--like the Christopher Marlowe play it just opened last night, Edward II.
Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and some scholars consider him to be superior to the Bard as a dramatist and poet. Many believe that he was gay, based in part upon his treatment of the subject in his works, such as Edward II. (Shakespeare, too, has had such speculation about his sexuality based upon his Sonnets--but historians often characterize Elizabethan-era notions of love between men as distinct from our own contemporary concept of homosexuality.)

Edward II was one of England's least successful monarchs, ruling in the early 14th century. His favor for one of his knights, named Gaveston, contributed to rumors of his homosexuality, though he also married and fathered children.

In Darcy Hogan's verion of the Marlowe play (which she adapted & directed at Theatre Out), the King is so love-struck by Gaveston that me makes unwise decisions that anger the court, the Church and his pricipal rival, Mortimer. Hogan has shortened Edward II, but otherwise allows it to breathe as a period piece rather than contemporize it, and she has cast it mostly with actors capable of handling the Elizabethan verse in which it's written, and it dwells somewhere between the presentational demands of Renaissance theatre and a more naturalistic style which most contemporary actors (and audiences) consider to be a comfort zone.

Her cut of the play makes for a long first act (one hour and twenty minutes) and a short second act (30 minutes), and there was at least one earlier moment that seemed a more fitting point to break.

In this production, it appears that Theatre Out has attracted some committed and talented artists, and the whole experience--from ticketing online to lobby decor to welcoming staff and cleanliness of the facility--was professional and caring.

Like Edward II, Christopher Marlowe met an untimely, violent death speculated to be related to political intrigue (he was rumored to be a spy) or to a jilted lover. Nobody knows for sure, but there are some critics who believe that had his life not been cut short, Marlowe would have surpassed Shakespeare as the greatest of writers in the English language. Some have argued that Marlowe collaborated with Shakespeare on one or more plays while others believe that each of the writers borrowed heavily from each other.

Edward II really doesn't quite rank with Shakespeare's major tragedies, but it is certainly a compelling enough piece of theatre to devote an evening to. And since it's so rarely performed, Theatre Out is providing a valuable opportunity to experience it. It runs through June 5.