A Haunting “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”

As mentioned last week, I timed my return from Mexico so I could attend the West Coast premier on “Long Day ‘s Journey Into Night.” at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills.

To be sure, I did so with some apprehension, as comment on public radio KBU 99.1 and websites everywhere.

I had last seen – perhaps witnessed is a better word — Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece some 50 years ago on Broadway, and had not forgotten the experience It was so raw and riveting, and moving.

I wondered whether it still would have the same dramatic effect on me, being so much older now, and in this day and age where I believe we sadly have become so unfortunately hardened to shock, to mention among other things the school shootings, the pervasive homelessness and the cruelty to children, of the current Republican misadministration.

From a critic’s and personal perspective, the answer is yes. “Long Day’s Journey,” is indeed a drama that will absorb you for 3 plus hours and haunt you after.

There are no stage gimmicks, special effects at the Wallis, no Greek chorus breaking into song and dance, just actors on a striking open set performing with such skill and speaking poignant lines with such convincing feeling you feel transformed, ease dropping a century ago on a dysfunctional Irish Catholic family, the Tyrones, exposing themselves on one long day and night.

The cast of the English Bristol Old Vic production is, in a word, magnificent, particularly the alcoholic patriarch Tyrone, played by Oscar, Tony and Emmy award winner Jeremy Irons, and the Morphine addicted matriarch, Lesley Manville, a recent Oscar nominee. The twisted relationship between the two crackles.

Her venomous delivery of the line, “I love you dear, in spite of everything,” is echoed by her husband in every aside and gesture, witnessed with an ebb and flow of emotion by their sons drifting in and out of the living room.

The performances of the sons played by Matthew Beard and Rory Keenan are equally emotional and convincing, in their love and hate for each other, and their tortured parents. You ache for them.

Eugene O’Neill once described the play as having been written in tears and blood”, a play of old sorrow, and was so baldly autobiographical that he left instructions that it not be performed for 25 years after his death, which came in 1953. His widow disobeyed. I saw it in 1956, and last week.

If you love theatre, you should, too, before the limited engagement ends July 1.

 

 

 

STAGE REVIVALS STIR TICKET SALES

As I predicted a few weeks ago the revue, musical, or songfest, call it what you will, “Blues In the Night,” became a hot ticket,

But as I report on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, happily its run at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, has been extended another week. And as I have recommended, it shouldn’t be missed

The production may be a little dated, as I am, but it still dazzles, and makes for a delightful, nostalgic, evening. Nostalgic indeed,

the revival is directed by Sheldon Epps, who worked on the show when it was conceived off-off Broadway some 40 years ago. After several productions over the years, I think he’s finally nailed it.

The set in a smoky seedy hotel in Chicago is evocative of the late down and out 30s, and so are the 26 torch songs of Bessie Smith, and Duke Ellington, among notable others.

They are woven together into the sorrowful stories of three women, and the men who have done them wrong, and delivered appropriately draped and pitch perfect by a right-on, outstanding cast of four, Yvette Cason, Bryce Charles , Chester Gregory and Paulette Ivory.

Yes, there could be more dancing, but the production like the man it portrays, is a worrisome thing, in the memorable words of composers Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer.

In addition to Blues in the Night, there are several other productions scheduled locally that I expect also will be hot tickets, revivals actually that were hits in their time.

At the Japanese Garden on the West L.A. VA campus, from June 5th to July 1st, there will be a rare production of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” staged by Tony Award winning director Daniel Sullivan. Of particular note featured will be screen actor Tom Hanks in stage debut as Shakespeare’s greatest comedic character Sir John Falstaff. For tickets you are going to have to link via email to the Shakespeare center.

 At the Wallis, June 8th through July 1, will be Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. This production will star the distinguished actors Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville.

June 20th to July 1st, the Freud Playhouse, on the UCLA campus, will host a Reprise production of the Broadway hit play, Sweet Charity. Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall.

Tickets for all should be a scramble. Go for it.

 

 

WEST L.A. CULTURAL SCENE ALIVE AND DIVERSE

I might have been on hiatus for several weeks, but the very varied cultural scene in west Los Angeles certainly was not, and is not, as I observe on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere

At the Broad Stage, tomorrow is percussion personified, as the renowned TAO troupe performs its latest production, entitled Drum Heart. Expect the auditorium in Santa Monica to reverberate, with the unique Japanese sound and style.

Then on Sunday the Broad Stage will be the scene of a very different sound and presence, a classic music concert. Wrapping up its multiyear Beethoven String Quartet cycle, the acclaimed Calder Quartet will be playing a program including two of the master’s compositions.

And for a little variation, the program also will feature a string quintet, by Mozart, with a guest musician on the additional instrument of a viola. That no doubt is a reminder by the quartet that is should not to be remembered for just Beethoven.

Nor I should add should the Broad Stage should only be known for music, having last week hosted the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Revolutionary when founded 50 years ago as a home for Afro American ballet dancers then being shunned, the group continues to be, simply and boldly, outstanding.

It brought the Broad Stage to life, and the audience to its feet applauding, in a limited appearance that featured an inspired program of neo-classical and contemporary ballet. Particularly moving was the ballet “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven”: subtitled Odes to Love and Loss. It was as the creator Ulysees Dove had hoped, “an experience in movement, a story without words” Beautiful.

Not to be, should I say, upstaged, The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills continues with its rich tradition of diverse dance, music and theater offerings. On my must see list is “Blues In The Night,”

Conceived and directed by Sheldon Epps, the musical bears witness to sorrowful stories of three women, and the men who have done them wrong. Featuring 26, yes, that is two dozen plus two, for a very full evening of the sexy songs made famous by Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and a host of famed others.

It runs until May 20th. but it promises to be an evening that you just might want to see and hear several times.

 

And for something very different, at the Skirball Cultural Center, atop Brentwood, this Sunday, is a puppet festival. Featured in addition to live music and kid workshops, will be a performance by the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre’s famed Animal Cracker Conspiracy Puppet Company. We’re talking real art and entertainment here.

 

 

LACMA EXHIBIT CELEBRATES ART AND URBAN HISTORY

As I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select web sites, the exhibit “City and Cosmos” that just opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, uniquely embraces both art and urban history.

And let me state from the beginning of this review, modest as the exhibit may be in three galleries in the Resnick wing of sprawling LACMA, it is not to be missed.

Engagingly revealed are the finding of the lastest exhaustive excavations in the ancient city of TEOTIHUACAN of three pyramids. the sun, moon and feathered serpent, and the adjacent residential compounds.

The excavations have been ongoing by international teams of archeologists, for the city in central Mexico was for centuries, at the turn of the first millennium, from about 100 b.c. to 600 a.d , the largest urban center in the Americas, with an estimated population of 100,000.

For a context, they lived in single family, one story houses, off a well planned street system, focused on a major avenue anchored by the three impressive pyramids.

The city is considered the centerpiece of Mexico’s rich narrative, and its ruins draw about 4 million visitors a year.

The 200 or so objects displayed are fascinating, for me riveting, Included are both large and small scale impressive stone sculptures, beautfully crafted jewelery, and household items, principally pottery, decoratfed with scenes of everyday life. mothers and children, and animalsThe carved masks and polished faces mesmerize.

The craftsmanship is exquisite, the work obviously of a large and talented artisan class, though one questions whether they were slaves or critizens. And where did some of the materials come from, such as the varied shells?

Indeed, if anything, the exhibit raises more questions than it answers, and a well written and illustrated timeline would have been appreciated. The labeling was inadequate, atleast for the plebian public.

Whatever, the objects indicate a rich and vibrant cosmopolitan life, that hint at the city in its hey day attracting people from various tribes and cultures from across meso America. In this respect, I feel this speaks in a way to Los Angeles today, and its large immigrant and migrating population.

But I would have liked to learn more why this city was destroyed; was the devestating fire in the six hundreds deliberate or accidental, and were the city’s apparent egalitarian institutions that had welcome the city’s diversity eventually subverted by despotic rulers only hinted at in the exhibition catalogue? Questions.

 

 

 

 

 

A REVIEW AND PREVIEW

Wishing in a whisper a very happy centennial birthday to Leonard Bernstein, I listened last week with pure pleasure to his tonal distinctive overture to “Candide.”

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the operetta, show musical, call it what you will, Candide is in its last weeks to a most successful revival at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center downtown.

\Indeed, the musical has been through several revivals in the half century since it initially flopped on Broadway in 1956, despite Bernstein already then being hailed as a young genius. It certainly didn’t faze his Music and Art High school fan club fan I hung with at the time back in New York City.

And sixty years later I frankly was not going to be fazed by the flaws in the story line that has been rewritten countless times, and is based on a comic novella by the philosopher Voltaire recounting a youth’s tribulations as he optimistically searches for “the best of all possible worlds.” The flaws persist.

But to my delight, and apparently the audiences’, the music survives and succeeds, with thanks to a cast of opera singers, and two show biz veterans, Kelsey Grammar and Christine Ebersole and a shout out here to sound designer Kai Harada, set designer James Noone, and conductor James Conlon

I also was relieved, for I heralded the production in advance of its opening and in anticipation that it would be a hot ticket.

This may be off course for a critic, but I feel does perhaps better serves my audience, especially when pressed by a tight calendar. That’s why I occasionally trumpet productions or exhibits I have not seen yet, though am reasonably confident of their being noteworthy.

So, with that in mind and alert to a limited two week engagement, tonight through Sunday March 11th, I am giving a heads up to “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, “ at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, in Beverly Hills.

It is a love story of the artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella, a two character play that promises to be a most engaging production by Bristol, England’s Old Vic and the always inventive Kneehigh troupe.

According to the advance hype, it should dazzle, combining the visuals of Chagall’s paintings with the music and dance of the Russian-Jewish tradition. Talk about a theatrical bowl of borscht. My soul awaits.

 

“DOGGIE HAMLET”

This week for public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, observed somewhat wide eyed and curious was a production of “Doggie Hamlet,” staged under a sunny southern California sky at Will Roger State Historic Park by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.

Admittedly, I don’t know exactly how to describe the event conceived, choreographed and directed by Ann Carlson: Whether it was a dance concert, a dog show, or a happening?

Or perhaps even something more, as Carlson writes in the program, that Doggie Hamlet “dares the preposterous, the absurd, the simple, even silly “ asking us, literally, “to sit together at the edge of the mystery and sameness that joins all living things.”

However explained, the event was diverting and delightful, featuring milling sheep, trying as ever to snap up a few blades of green grass, several cavorting humans in and out of floppy sheep skins, and a very focused, no nonsense, beautiful herding Border Collie doing his thing, while two others impatiently looked on with their distinctive gaze.

A more coherent dance narrative would have been appreciated, whether the humans were trying to mimic or divert the principal herding dog. Whatever their intent, they were frankly awkward, purposely or not. Forget Shakespeare. I missed the connection.

And as someone who has witnessed these dogs actually herding sheep in New Zealand, I feel it would have added to the drama seeing them work in concert. It is impressive. I also have to confess that I was partial to the principal dog Monk, being a dedicated dog person, and not incidentally the master and admirer of a herding Corgi.

Our dog known as Bobby the Bad is very much a working dog who instead of corralling cattle for which he was bred must now be content herding other dogs and humans. For those curious, Bobby can be seen and heard at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park most days at 4 PM. doing his thing, despite the coarse gravel there that cuts his and his buddies’ feet. So much for the city’s promise of replacing it last year. We the persevering pet owners I guess should be just glad the park is occasionally maintained.

Back to a more pristine Will Roger’s Park, where seated on a hay bale overlooking the polo grounds, I was very much predisposed for Doggie Hamlet.

To be sure, in my enjoyable pursuit of arts and entertainment attractions to review, I have come to expect the unexpected from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. Its main venue is the landmark campus centerpiece Royce Hall, but in recent years has branched out to the more intimate UCLA Freud Playhouse and Little theater, and downtown to the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

And now, of course, there is Will Roger’s Park. previously known for its polo matches and fabeled private rope twirling performance . But as its mission statement proclaims, the center is not a place, it’s “a state of mind that embraces experimentation, encourages a culture of the curious, champions disruptors and dreamers and supports the commitment and courage of artists.” I like that.

Just now · 7 neighborhoods in General

CANDIDE COMES TO TOWN

 

This week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, some suggestions for theatre goers ever on the search for a unique experience that the live stage promises.

For me, it is no wonder that theatre as a human endeavor has been around ever since ancient Greece, surviving our capricious civilizations, with its periodic deranged autocrats.

If you read into that an allusion to our present times, it is. Excuse me, but as a patriotic American, to be sure first generation, I cannot pass up an opportunity to take a swipe at the unpresidential Trump and his complicit Republican entourage that I feel is damaging our frail democracy.

That said, my arts and entertainment observation for this week is to forget trying to get tickets to Hamilton. We have, resolving ourselves to wait with some trepidation for the movie version, or perhaps a revival by the show biz bound students at Malibu or Uni high schools.

For something that promises to soar as Hamilton, and because it is just here for a limited engagement, check out the production of Candide, being presented with all its trimmings by the L.A. Opera at the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler.

I frankly haven’t seen a preview. It opens tomorrow and runs until the February 18th. But the advance hype of the revitalized production resonate a must see, and so I will be going, albeit near the end of the run.

But I did see it several decades ago, and remember the music by Leonard Bernstein to hit just the right tone, and the book based on Voltaire’s classic satire to be timely then, and I expect after several reported rewrites it will be again.

If you are into literature, you might recall that the philosopher Voltaire’s story is the naïve search of the character Pangloss for the best of all possible worlds, only to constantly fall victim to an avalanche of unfortunate events, but somehow to survive

Bringing it to life will be Emmy Award winner Kelsey Grammer known of course as TV’s Frasier, and two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole. They and a large cast will be under the baton of conductor James Condon, in this send up of a Broadway show and Opera

For me the real star of the evening is Bernstein, whose score melds the popular and classic into something distinct. The revival of his Candide is indeed a fitting celebration of what happens this year to be his centennial birthday.

But again, get your tickets, now, for like Hamilton, this show, opera, call it what you will, has all the makings of a hit.

 

 

CELEBRATING CULTURE ABROAD AND HERE

Went away over the extended holiday season happily observing the music and museum scene in some historic and a few new cultural venues in a familiar Berlin and London, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and in print on websites everywhere.

These included a memorable Beethoven’s Ninth in stately Berlin landmark, a holiday concert in a pitch perfect Philharmonic Hall there and a sublime offering of Bach Cantatas in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, where he had been the venerable choir master.

In London there were several concerts in the inviting Wegmore Hall and stage productions in the West End and beyond. Those were at night, and of course during the days there were the varied museums and galleries I haunt.

And, yes, they had great gift shops sporting post holiday sales. Even the winter weather cooperated, with no more than the usual threatening clouds.

It was a lovely vacation. if it was not for the embarrassing cloud of our deranged disaster of a president that shadows Europe as it does America. Everywhere we went and were identified as Americans we were offered sincere sympathy for us by foreign strangers who consider Trump an aberration, and worse.

But meanwhile back in Los Angeles I happily observe on my return that the cultural scene is flourishing, paced as it has for the last half year by a wealth of exhibitions and happenings under the banner of Pacific Standard Time.

Branded LA slash LA, it is an engaging, celebration of the rich artistic traditions and contributions of Latin American artists and Latin countries. Check out on the web: pacificstandardtime.org

The ambitious program sponsored principally by a generous Getty is coming to an end. But in its waning days there is things still to see and experience locally,

What should be particularly provocative this weekend are several performance pieces at varied venues downtown , including the Broad Museum and Redcat gallery Saturday night, and at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary Sunday.

But do check them out first on the internet; the performances may not be everyone’s cup of tea, or shot of tequila.

With time running out for Pacific Standard Time, if you want something more conventional, and accessible there are several exhibits that will be lingering at the Getty for another week.

These include one exploring the luxury and legacy of the ancient Americas, entitled Golden Kingdoms. It is amazing to think that some of the jewelry displayed dates back thousands of years, hinting at a rich culture that persists today.

That, of course, was the purpose of Pacific Standard Time, and it succeeded

CELEBRATING THE RENAISSANCE AT THE GETTY

Thanksgiving is over, and a good time to push away from the table, get out of the house and go somewhere different, very different if you can.

I personally would like to go back to Italy, way, way back , to the Renaissance, though not as a lowly plebeian, as I comment in my weekly arts and entertainment observed on public radio KBU 99.1 and select websites everywhere.

No, I would want to be an artist. I’d leave being a cultural critic to others; it had its social and economic limitations, then, as it does now.

Prompting this time travel fantasy are several exhibits at the always engaging Getty, which being in nearby Brentwood I’ve come to regard as the local cultural center. And it’s free.

So if you are a skeptic and don’t believe in being whisked back in time and place, you, like me, also can go the Getty, and at least be beguiled by the exhibits radiating the Renaissance .

Most evocative are the landscapes of the Venice based Giovanni Bellini. Considered a leading exponent of the popular religious themes that dominated painting in the 15th century, Bellini filled his canvases with characters and scenes from familiar sacred stories..

And while his landscapes are highly metaphorical, they also accurately reflect the region’s topography and natural light. Indeed, if studied closely in they exude a reality that makes you see what it might have been like to be in Italy 500 years ago.

A companion exhibit focuses in on views of sacred landscapes depicted in Renaissance manuscripts, with the Getty noting that many people then looked to greenery for contemplating the perceived divine order of creation. The Getty notes:

“Manuscript illuminators were among those who carefully studied the raw elements of nature—such as rocks, trees, flowers, waterways, mountains, and even atmosphere—and incorporated these into luxurious objects of personal or communal devotion. “

Adding to this celebration of the Renaissance is a rare showing of three Caravaggio masterpieces, on loan from the Borghese Gallery in Rome.

Considered one of the true masters of Italian painting, Caravaggio is known for his bold, realistic style in which sacred subjects were shown as very real people, their emotions and physicality made dramatic by selective lighting, and dark shadowing. His works are mesmerizing.

Indeed, the three paining alone are worth a visit to the Getty. Be prepared for possible time travel.

 

UCLA HOSTS DANCE PERFORMANCE

 
If the arts and entertainment do anything for me, it engages, excites and expands the mind, be it the theater, film,, painting, sculpting, music or dance, as I comment this week on radio malibu, 99.1 KBU and select websites.
 
Note new and stronger signal, out to all of Malibu!
 
Dance in particular I’ve always found challenging, combining as it does music and movement, a feast for the ears, and eyes, and being an aging mesomorph, I am always amazed seeing what the body can do.
 
Prompting this thought was the premiere performance last weekend at the UCLA ‘s Royce Hall of “calling glenn,” a work by the ever-experimental dance company AteNine, and and supported by the ever-encouraging UCLA Center for the Art of Performance.
 
It was choreographed and directed by Israeli-trained and now L.A. based Danielle Agami, who not incidentally was one of the ten dancers who athletically and with grace cavorted on stage to the original music of Glenn Kotche.
 
While each talented dancers made distinct solo statements, none really stood out, not even when isolated by staging or costume, for the 70 minute piece was very much a collaboration, either as duos, a foursome, or a troop scrambling in concert.
 
What props there were you could have guessed: simple chairs the dancers on occasion sat in and dueled with. And microphone stands they grasped and fought over.
 
At times the choreography looked chaotic, but obviously wasn’t. The technique displayed was awesome, the unpredictable changes in rhythm challenging, and the multiple and simultaneous actions I felt celebrated a welcomed expressive freedom: what contemporary dance is all about.
 
And it was riveting.
Somehow the dancers kept pace to the percussionist punctuated music, or perhaps it was the music performed by an energetic Kotche that somehow kept pace with the dancers.
 
And then in the midst of a segment, there was silence, which had the effect of lending a sharp focus on the non-stop performers. Very legendary composer John Cage and dance choreographer Merce Cunningham inspired
 
At the abrupt end of the performance, the dancers appeared spent, and so was the audience. But not so much as not to give the dance company and Agami a standing , rousing ovation.
 
You left Royce elated, and looking forward to the next delight from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.