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.)