Monday, March 28, 2011

"An Evening with Mark Twain" -- Where?

I've been to a lot of great concerts at San Juan Capistrano's The Coach House over the years--saw the legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli there TWICE when he was already in his 80s, and more recently Judy Collins and Savoy Brown, as well as Suzanne Vega, Michael Franks, Michael McDonald, Little Feat and others.

But I have to say that I never imagined The Coach House as a venue for theatre--so when I learned that they have booked in "An Evening with Mark Twain" featuring actor Kurt Sutton for this Thursday evening, I just had to check it out.

I'm sure I won't be the first audience member to have seen the legendary Hal Holbrook perform the "Mark Twain Tonight" solo performance he's done for over 50 years. But it's a rarity to see him do it today (he's now 86), and he's never totally "owned the franchise," as several actors over the years have toured widely in their own interpretations of the life of one of America's most important and intriguing men of letters.

So, I look forward to seeing Sutton bring him to life in this unexpected venue, and will let you know what I think.

Festival Ballet Theatre's "Coppelia"

Hopefully by now people know that they don't have to wait for annual "Nutcracker" performances for the kind of delightful storybook ballet suitable for all ages. Festival Ballet Theatre reminded OC audiences at the Irvine Barclay Theatre last weekend of that fact with a production of "Coppelia" that featured two stars of the New York City Ballet, FBT professional company members, and even some of the littlest students in FBT's Southland Ballet Academy.

There is plenty of familiar music in the Leon Delibes score that carries the tale from E.T.A. Hoffmann about two young lovers whose romance is temporarily derailed by the attraction of a "new girl in town" who turns out not to be real, but a doll. It's sort of a cross between "Nutcracker" and "Pygmalion," but the sweet silliness of the plot is mostly just a vehicle for some lovely dance, and Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette, the guest stars, were captivating, in choreography by Arthur Saint-Leon staged by FBT Artistic Director Salwa Rizkalla.

It marked the end of the current FBT season except for their May 6 Gala of the Stars, which will featured guest artists from American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, also at The Barclay.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saturday Night Satire at Breath of Fire

For anyone who watches satirical revues like Saturday Night Live it's a given that some sketches will hit the mark while others will miss by a mile--so your experience rolls with the punchlines. But the other essential to enjoying satire is being aware of all the targets of the humor.

The full house that enthusiastically received Las Ramonas Gone Wild at Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble last night (running through April 2) knew all the reference points and reacted with peals of laughter. That we, seemingly the only non-Latinos in the house, laughed at all during the two hour show (even when we were clueless as to the meaning) was largely because of the talented three-woman Xicana comedy troupe from LA whose skillful antics were irresistible. The material didn't always rise to the level of their performances, but that's sketch comedy.

It's great to see Breath of Fire partnering with talented artists like these throughout the region. It will be even greater to see their upcoming production in South Coast Rep's new Studio Series (May 13-15) of the play, Angel of the Desert by Janine Salinas and directed by Breath of Fire's Artistic Director Sara Guerrero, which I suspect will be more representative of the work this company typically produces. And it's a wonderful opportunity for Breath of Fire's work to be seen by a wider audience.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saturday in the galleries

I finally made it over to OC Fine Art Storage in Anaheim. Co-owner Brian Ross has been nagging me to get there, so when I received an invitation to a showing of works by Doris Rosenthal, I seized the opportunity. OC-FAS is not a gallery per se but a secure, climate-controlled facility to store art for museums (all of OC's major museums use it), for collectors and for businesses. Periodically, Brian hangs a show in the front half of their facility, which has one gallery-sized room and several smaller rooms with wall-space enough to display about 40 works--the number in the Rosenthal showing. Her works (above right is one of the oil paintings on display) are mostly depicting peasant life in rural Mexico where she spent most of her life as an artist after having studied in New York at the famed Art Students League in the 1930s (though she was originally from California). She was the recipient of three Guggenheim fellowships, and was most active in the 1950s and 1960s. Her step-grand-nephew Dennis has lovingly assembled the bulk of her works, had them restored and reframed, and opened them for view to invite museum curators to consider them for future exhibitions. Her compositions offer perspectives that are unexpected and demonstrate a hand skilled at capturing the spill of natural light.
I first met Enzie Shamiri at a dedication of murals installed at the Laguna Hills City Hall a year or so ago, but we had already been Facebook friends. She is the featured artist right now at Artist Eye Laguna Gallery where a collective of 17 artists exhibit. Enzie has a particular fondness in Oriental art throughout the ages, but especially oil paintings that portray Middle Eastern life in realistic style--and she often posts images of works she comes across on her Facebook page. In her own oils, she also explores these themes, but some of her works reflect a slightly more heightened, almost dreamlike quality--like in the portrait of the girl above, a lovely yet rather haunting image.
Peter Blake remains an OC treasure as he exhibits in his Laguna Beach gallery the work of cutting edge artists--some famous, like Tony Delap and Lita Albuquerque, some less-known but established artists, as well as emerging artists. The recession has been a struggle, Peter admits, but the "enthusiasm" in the art market is returning, he said. Delap's deceptively simple angled geometrical paintings in forest green, white and black--some on a burlap colored textile--evoked for me the national flags of some African nations. Pastine's subtle gradations of of solid color have always appealed to me.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Arpana Dance at SCR's New Studio Series

The stated goal of SCR's new Studio Series is "to create stronger ties between arts organizations and expose audiences to the rich diversity of the local arts scene." Last night's preview of as a river featured Orange County's Indian dance organization of longstanding, Arpana Dance Company, and its artistic director Ramya Harishankar (left). It continues through Sunday.

Ramya, an internationally respected choreographer who has preserved the legacy of Indian dance by educating new generations of artists here in Southern California for many years, stepped outside her comfort zone when she married the traditional "Bharata Natyam" program that she choreographed with a second act original contemporary work utilizing traditional idioms that she partnered with Priya Srinivasan to create.

There is an altogether different kind of athleticism required in Indian dance from its Western counterparts--yet no less physically demanding. There is also a refreshing attention to smaller gestures, facial expressions and even vocalization that instills a high degree of drama and humor in both the traditional and contemporary pieces performed.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Musical Theatre Geekdom

Over the past two weekends, I've seen two local shows that glorify & lampoon musical theatre geeks: The Drowsy Chaperone, produced by 3D Theatricals (new tenant at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton), and West Side Terri at Monkey Wrench Collective in Fullerton.

The Drowsy Chaperone is precisely what you would expect: a big, sprawling production with eye-popping costumes and scenic elements. Its narrator, a self-described musical theatre geek, confesses his love for an obscure (fictional) musical of the 1920s, the album for which he lovingly cues up on his LP turntable to play for us as he recounts its plot and the scuttlebut he's collected about its lead performers. The musical unfolds behind him, a silly-but-fun show redolent of (but nowhere as good as) Cole Porter. The cast worked hard to keep the show's 1 hour 45 minute intermissionless length peppy, but the conceit of the narrator occasionally slowed things down (probably a necessity to cover scene shifts and costume changes), and the way the script hints broadly at his being a closet homosexual reinforces the stereotype of gay musical theatre lovers that by now seems hackneyed. Critical reaction to The Drowsy Chaperone when it first appeared on Broadway was mixed, yet the show found an audience there and even more success on the road. And the former FCLO Music Theatre audience appeared to love the show--and there were definitely moments of undeniable entertainment gold that made seeing it worthwhile.

West Side Terri turned out to be a much more honest and satisfying expose of musical theatre geekdom, as accomplished local actress Terri Mowrey confides her obsession with West Side Story and proceeds to perform it almost in its entirety for us. In the hands of a less-skilled artist, this could have been excruciating, but Mowrey is a committed actor, unafraid of baring her soul. Anyone familiar with the film or stage productions of West Side Story will howl at her near-perfect replicas of some of the show's biggest moments--down to the Jerome Robbins choreography. Yet, as she hilariously deconstructs the scenes in her unabashed way, she also portrays with aplomb how easily seduced she was by the allure of musical theatre--especially one as great as West Side Story--and all in just slightly over an hour.

Having had a love-hate relationship with musicals all my life, seeing these two shows hit closer to home than I feel comfortable sharing!