WALLIS CENTER ACCESSIBLE, ENTERTAINING

Once again I’m braving the traffic on the dreaded PCH, and weaving my way through a congested Santa Monica, and Westwood, to Beverly Hills, and to what is becoming one of my choice cultural venues.: the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Upcoming on the center’s schedule is a dance program by the celebrated British choreographer, Mathew Bourne,, entitled Early Adventures, running Wednesday May 17th through Sunday the 21st.

Having heard much about Bourne but never having seen him, I am looking forward to a singular program that features his early works, said to be witty and spectacular. It will be Bourne’s only U.S. appearance this spring, happily in \an inviting venue .

The former Beverly Hills Post Office has been imaginatively recycled into two distinct theatres: the Bram Goldsmith, containing 500 seats but with a rake that leaves no seat more than 50 feet from the stage. Sight lines are great, complemented by pitch perfect acoustics, making it particularly suitable for dance.

More intimate is the Lovelace Studio Theatre, with flexible space and traditional theatre seating and also cabaret style seating.

The parking at the Wallis is also accessible and reasonable , and being closer to Malibu, you do noy have to take the terrible 10.

As for the Wallis’ laudable commitment to dance, the Bourne troupe follows a classic program, last weekend that celebrated the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Featured was three familiar favorites under the direction of the master himself, now a venerable 86. It was a trip back in time for his many fans.

The program opened with the 1987 work entitled “Syzgy,” which is an astronomical term for celestial bodies at opposite points in an orbit. As one can imagine, the choreography was energetic and athletic, the dancers pliable and playful, lots of squiggly arms and legs, singularly and in chorus, exhausting and entertaining. Loved it.

It was followed by the more somber 1998 piece,“The Word,” a dark score and grim. It sent shiver through me.

In contrast, the last piece was more joyful, entitled “Esplande, created in 1975. ” a celebration of everyday movement in a public space teeming with dancers, echoing with the music of J.S. Bach . You left the theatre uplifted and smiling.

 

 

TRAFFIC WAGS THE CULTURAL DOG IN L.A.

When it comes to attending cultural events in L.A. , and wanting to avoid the increasingly taxing trip downtown, particularly attractive to me is the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing arts in Beverly Hills.

And happily for dance aficionados, upcoming at the Wallis next weekend, May 5, 6 and 7, are three special dance performances by the always engaging, and challenging, Paul Taylor Company.

As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBUU and select websites, I may not be able to do anything about the traffic, no waze short cuts to the center on Santa Monica Blvd. But I can suggest scoring tickets early, for the performances promise to be sell-outs, as they are wherever the company appears.

The program for the Wallis features 3 distinctive pieces,: SYZYGY, which is described as a nearly straight line configuration of three or more celestial bodies in a gravitational system; THE WORD, inspired by the biblical line, “For our God is consuming fire -,” and the classic, ESPLANADE, danced to the music of J.S, Bach.

 At 84 years old, Paul Taylor is a celebrated icon of dance, his company having performed for more than 60 years. and as observed by Wallis artistic director, Paul Crewes, “continues to this day to shape modern dance.”

This follows the recent performances by the equally iconic Alvin Ailey dance company , downtown. The program was stunning, but the stop-and-go drive getting there was awful.

True, the driving to the Wallis also calls for patience, coming as we do from Malibu and Pt. Dume. There is always the unpredictable drive on the PCH and having to weave on local streets to Beverly Hills.

But for me that is so much better than going to the music center downtown, whether by the agonizing slow expo line or the forever frustrating freeways.

You want to be culturally au courant. I was nurtured in my native New York on art, music, dance and the theatre, and have been increasingly pleased, at times dazzled, by the array of artistic attractions in L.A.

But getting to them has also been increasingly difficult. And forget going to the ridiculous pricey Dodger Stadium with the family, even if you sneak in snacks and drinks.

Yes, I have to declare that traffic in L.A. has become the tail that wags the arts and entertainment dog.

 

KITES SOAR AT MALIBU CITY HALL

If you happen to be going to Malibu’s City Hall for some dirty deed or other, like depositing hazardous wastes or turning in old batteries, do check out in the atrium on the second floor for the Cultural Art Commission’s latest offering entitled, “Painting the Sky.”

Actually, you do not need an excuse to go see the modest exhibition in the makeshift municipal gallery, for the kites hung from the ceiling that were designed and built by the late Tryus Wong and the photographs of Sara Jane Boyer of him and his kites, are a delight, And so I comment on public radio 97.7 KBU and select websites everywhere.

The dozen or so colorful hand painted kites depicting a menagerie of animals appear to sway and shimmer in the raised, sun light bright space. Of course not as a soaring as if they were aloft on a nearby sandy beach, but the spirit of sky seeking kites can be sensed.

Loved the animals, that included swallows, cranes, owls and dragon flies. Most arresting was the 22 foot long undulating kite shaped like a caterpillar that serves as the centerpiece to the display.

The caterpillar was no doubt one of Wong’s favorites, and can be seen in a series of photographs by Boyer of being teased off the beach and into the air by an attentive Wong.

These and the other accompanying fine art photographs of Boyer complement and celebrate Wong, who interestingly photographed him for the last ten of his 106 years, on the beach, flying his kites., for which he had become renown .

One appreciates that the respected Boyer’s composed fine art technique focusing on the subject and not her skill. She respected Wong.

The kites were clearly Wong’s love, and designing and flying them obviously filled his extended later years with soul enriching art and the enjoyment of cavorting on the sandy beach, delighting himself and onlookers.

As I can attest, and my children acknowledge, flying kites can be fun, and challenging, depending on the construction of the kite, the fickle winds, and your skill.

Of course, Wong came to this mastery with a quiver of abilities honed working at Disney, among other studios., and in particular for his animation on such films as “Bambi.” The kite making came after his retirement in 1976. He died last December. His kites endure.

 

 

IMMERSIVE THEATRE IN BEVERLY HILLS

Saw the acclaimed production of The Encounter recently at the always inviting Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

Every time I attend a production there, it makes me think how great, and convenient, it would be if Malibu had a similar center, with a creative and resourceful administration. There is always hope.

Meanwhile, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites, The Encounter is one of those productions I would definitely label creative, and frankly challenging. But I also would add that though it lost me at times, I found it riveting, indeed mesmerizing, and would recommend it, especially to those who appreciate what is described as immersive theatre.

We are talking here of avant-garde productions that plumb your imagination, employing every device imaginable to play on whatever senses are exposed, which was sight and hearing at the Wallis.

For The Encounter, this required the audience putting on small earphones attached to each seat, which when adjusted transmit wraparound sensitizing sound that creates a sense of space.

Then there is the open set that looked like one hell of a messy work room, featuring a plain table cluttered with water bottles, a carton of exposed film, and in stage center, a large bulbous binaural microphone, manned by an intense, frenetic, confiding Simon McBurney, in a wrinkled Tee-shirt and jeans.

He is IT, the show’s single performer, and director, with a variety of voices, and supported by mind bending sound and lighting designers. He tells the true story of a National Geographic photographer, Loren McIntyre, who in 1969 became lost in the Brazilian Amazon while in search of the mysterious Mayoruna tribe.

It is a wild telling, based on a book by a Romanian journalist, Petru Popescu, entitled “The Encounter: Amazon Beaming.” that McIntrye quotes from with mounting passion, only to be interrupted by his young daughter who can’t seem to fall asleep, and whose squeaky voice we hear asking for water, questioning what her father is doing, and finally gets him to tell her a story.

Of course, it is about this photographer who gets lost in jungle. It is definitely a production you also can get lost in, and enjoy.

If so, you are going to have to get to the Wallis this weekend, for the remaining performances.

 

 

 

 

“INTO THE WOODS” REVIVED WITH VERVE

Spring break for me, thank you, was a most enjoyable writing a remembrance and  gardening at home, and attending the theatre downtown.

So instead of doing a city observed on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites as I do every Saturday, it is an arts and entertainment observed,  happily hailing the current production at the Ahmanson,  “Into the Woods.,”

The revival running until mid May has to be one of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s most fun musicals, a mash up of fairy tales both familiar and fractured, engaging, enchanting, sure to please children of parental guidance age, and also a little edgy, to please hardened adults.

Premiered 30 years ago to much praise on Broadway, it has been a favorite of touring and regional production companies everywhere, and also made into the inevitable Disney movie a few years ago
Overblown with over-the-top performances by superstars Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, it nonetheless was a much praised commercial hit.

We all know the weaving of the playful story lines,  and the adventures and misadventures of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel,  tested by the all purpose witch, along with a big bad wolf and a bigger giant.

Therefore, to be a critic, in effect an advocate for the theatre goer, one must approach a revival with a wary eye, alert to what makes the production special, and not a forgettable, ho hum, cash cow rip off.

Fear not. It is an absolute pleasure to report this latest revival of “Into The Woods,” brought to L.A. by the Center Theatre Group, is fresh, brimming with a new look and new energy.

On an open bare bones stage, fashioned and played with a charming abandon by the acclaimed Fiasco Theatre company, it is sure to delight even the Sondheim purists.

And there being no set pieces, it allowed me to focus on the performances, which were marvelous, most of the actors performing multiple roles with aplomb.

Loved Darick Pead, in 3 roles, including the cow, and also Bonnie Kramer and Anthony Chatmon, He particularly was great as the prince and a wolf, in a great musical. Kudos all.

TWELFTH NIGHT REIMAGINED AT THE WALLIS

This week it was hurry off to the always-enticing Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in a relatively accessible Beverly Hills, as compared to fighting the frustrating traffic to go downtown.

On stage for a limited engagement was a retelling,i n a wildly reimagined style, of “Twelfth Night,” one of Shakespeare’s more lighthearted plays, and reason alone appealing to me– as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and websites everywhere.

As theatre goers may recall, with a full title of “Twelfth Night, or What You Will,” the play was said to be written as a twelfth night’s entertainment at the close of the Christmas season, and tells the tale of twins separated in a shipwreck. One is a disguised as a boy, who falls in love with a Duke, who in turn is in love with a Countess, and so forth and so on, into a mash up with musical interludes.

That this version of the production was premiered a decade ago at Stratford upon-Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company and cheered by the London Sunday Times had to be an enticement, and so it was.

Also that this review is aired and posted on Fridays, gives those who might be tempted to go see it, have just four performances, to do so. tonight.

That said, you are cautioned, for this Twelfth Night is like no other , and you are forewarned, as that rave review in the Times declared “ The music is ferocious, fiery and funny: at times, it makes the Stones look like a group of genteel clergymen. This is not a send-up: it’s a celebration-mad, wild, loving and hilarious.”

My one word description is “adventurous.” Another word might be “chaotic.” To be sure, it has its moments, like the vaudeville shows I saw as a youth: some brief acts were great, others a bore.

Actually, the production presented itself, no doubt intentionally, as if still in rehearsal. The actors and musicians milling about, talking to each other and the audience being seated, with one principal actor sipping tea front and center.

Slowly, almost painfully, reluctantly, the play begins, with the famous declaration in the opening speech, “If music be the food of love, play on..” But in this production the line is fumbled, and the actor pauses, and asks for a forgotten word, and the audience shouts back, “love.”

You gotta love it. And you are going to need a lot of love of theatre to enjoy this Twelfth Night at the Wallis.

ZOOT SUIT TIMELY REVIVAL

Experiencing the stage production of Zoot Suit nearly 40 years ago was for me an intense introduction to my new home of L.A., exposing its racist history in a docu-drama, presented in a fanciful flash of costumes, song and dance, and story line.

The revival at the Mark Taper Forum now through April 2d doesn’t have the shock of the new for a now native me, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites. Some of the stage contrivances of flash backs, and a narrator have become prosaic production props, the shifting raw open set a familiar construct.

But the play as a penetrating portrait of home town prejudice is still affecting today as ever, and perhaps more so in wake of President Trump’s pronouncements deriding Mexicans and his insulting immigrant edicts.

Reviving a 40 year old play, depicting racist events plaguing Latinos 40 years before, in 1942, and not incidentally 150 years after the Civil War, and is still relevant today, has to say something about our society.

With that as history, to be sure, Zoot Suit, now as then, is a joy to watch, even if in the last row and an imperfect sound system .

Its conception is a wonderful stage conceit, especially given the drift of theatre in the 70s, and stands as a shinning tribute to the memory of the Taper’s then artistic director Gordon Davidson. He is given proper credit in the insightful program notes of Stephen Lavine and Janet Sternburg.

It was Davidson who commissioned the production from Luis Valdez, then a young, fiery Latino dramatist. That the now 75 year old, Valdez directs the revival lends the evening at the Taper a wistful aiur.

As for the production, it time and place is announced by a curtain splashing a Los Angeles Times front page of 1942 . to be sliced open by a giant switch blade knife , through which struts the flamboyant Zoot suited El Paucho, wonderfully played by Demian Bichir.

Indeed, the entire cast is excellent, the song and dance routines exuberant, the dramatic interludes touching, if somewhat cliché and in need of some editing. But then this is a revival, not a adaptation.

Zoot Suit is what it is, relevant to the fractured history of a fractured evolving city, a landmark of theatre production, and a deep bow to Latino talent.

Tickets are tough, but worth the effort, especially if you call L.A. your home.

 

THE QUEEN REIGNS AT THE TAPER

A taste of Ireland is being served straight up at the Mark Taper these days, with a kick of a raw Irish whiskey, compliments of the playwright Martin McDonagh, and so I comment in a review for public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere.

You’ll smile, and shudder, whatever, for if you love the power of theatre, the language and the immediacy, of life being unveiled before your very eyes, the brilliant revival of McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane is not to be missed.

But be forewarned, it’s very Irish, not the “top of the morning to ya”, Irish, but “may the devil swallow you sideways” Irish, full of insight and scorn, the constant conflict of love, hate and freedom and family.

The set, the actors and actresses, the witty and wicked dialogue, you feel transported from the Taper in a familiar downtown L.A to the Abbey Theatre in dour Dublin.

And then on stage it is a cave of a cottage in the dank town of Leenane, in the hill country of Connemara, in far western Ireland. The lighting is dim, the details bare and depressing, right down to a dirty sink filled with dirty dishes.

A hard rain is falling outside, its drumbeat at times drowning out the dialogue, spoken with appropriate bile, in front of an old television set that drones on and on. Here feeble and frail in a rocking chair we meet Mag, the mother from the hell, spewing commands her to seemingly dutiful daughter, Maureen, scampering here and there, simmering.

Of note, Marie Mullen, who nearly twenty years ago, in the original production on Broadway, won a best actress Tony for her portrait of the daughter, here plays a scowling Mag. Talk about a tour de force.

As the mother, she is a lethal mix of the maternal and malicious, lonely, leering, domineering; yet you somehow you feel sorry for her, trapped as she is in a rocking chair.

The daughter is played by Aisling O’Sullivan, with veiled ferociousness of a conflicted trapped animal. As for a plot, Maureen, unmarried, fortyish, living at home chained to her mother, has a chance to break free, and into the welcoming arms of suitor, to be whisked off to beckoning America.

I wont tell you more, but be prepared to be shaken, as I was.

The Queen at the Taper reigns at the Taper through December 18th. And if you go, have a tea before you go to calm the nerves, and after the bows are taken, perhaps go for a shot of whiskey.

 

 

CALARTS AS AN L.A. ICON

Cities can be simply distinguished by a particular attribute, however arbitrarily. For example, New York it is finance, the symbol, money, the setting, Wall Street; Washington, D.C., the attribute, government, the symbol, the politician, the setting, the U.S, Capitol building.

Distinguishing Los Angeles is more problematic, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, and websites everywhere.

Thinking beyond the benign weather and semi desert setting by the sea, I propose it could be arts and entertainment, and its personification, the gazpacho of cultural diversity. The setting is more debatable.

There is, of course, the iconic Hollywood sign. Some say the Venice boardwalk, or a beach scene, on a warm weekend. Others more contrarian, the traffic choked freeways.

From my perspective, L.A. more than most world cities is an evolving metropolis, and therefore an apt descriptive setting in my opinion would be a happening place.

With this as a measure, and as an idiosyncratic critic, I suggest the setting be CalArts, the Valencia based undergraduate and graduate school of 1,500 students pursuing careers in the visual, performing, and literary arts.

Though there are other art oriented schools in L.A. what makes CalArts special for me is not any physical icon, but the diversity of its students reflecting L.A.’s ethnicity , energy and excitement. After all, what is a city, but its people.

And I like the idea expressed by CalArts president Steven Lavine, that the school can only be good as its students, and that CalArts IS committed first and foremost to attracting a diverse student body that reflected L.A. and the world.

Indeed, I love the school’s catalogue that declares admission is based solely on the applicant’s creative talent and future potential; that test scores are not particularly important, and that the students who do best in CalArts tend to energetic, enthusiastic, self-motivated, fast learners, idiosyncratic aesthetes, verbal and visual adventurers, risk takers, those who are smart and vocal and possess a critical eye.

It adds that having formal skills helps, but those are things that can be taught; that having raw intelligence and an adventurous side matters more. Above all, it was found the students who do best are those committed to design and who are willing to put the time and energy into their own development and learning.

What made me think about CalArts – the so-called news peg for this piece – is the imminent retirement of Lavine, whose nearly 30 noteworthy years as president, from the school’s early struggles to its present prominence, in many ways parallels the rise of L.A. as the disputable creative capitol of the world.

To be sure, this category has not yet been christened by those who keep lists. But I feel it’s deserving, and in the tradition of L.A. as a trendsetter, beginning as a boomtown, then a tinsel town, and today the new media, and tomorrow, who knows.

But whatever, I feel CalArts will persevere and prosper, if it indeed stays true to Lavine’s vision of an intercultural , international and interdisciplinary pursuit of the arts, as an integral element in an evolving of democracy, addressing the pressing social issues of the times.

 

 

 

 

 

NEIGHBOR BOB DYLAN HONORED

A pause in my usual weekly reviews and recommendations on public radio KBU and select websites of cultural endeavors from wherever, to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations for my next-door neighbor for being awarded a Nobel Prize.

Yes, I’m talking about Bob Dylan, who doesn’t live exactly next door, but around the corner a half mile or so away, and I know is at home only occasionally, being on the road and seemingly performing constantly, everywhere.

In the score of years we have lived on Point Dume here in Malibu I’ve only seen him once, in a car, which I happily report was going under the speed limit.

Actually, I met him once, 52 years ago, in 1964, when he was a rising star and recognizable, with that wild, wiry hair, the slouch, and sheepish, if not a sly grin.

He was in a coffee house where else but in Greenwich Village, at the next table being interviewed by the music critic Nat Hentoff, who was a mainstay, in a then defiantly different Village Voice

I was a reporter at the New York Times, but to the exasperation of my editor occasionally wrote books review and critical commentaries for the Voice. I also knew Nat, havin met him several times, at the paper’s infamous parties hosted by its infamous publisher, the writer Norman Mailer.   It was very much a scene back then in a gritty, restive Village, and Dylan was a part of it.

At the time he was coming under a lot of criticism by the Voice and folk song purists for playing an electric accoustical guitar at a recent concert, I believe it was in Forest Hills, where he was actually booed. I was in the crowd that said let the kid do his thing, and cheered him.

And so seeing him, a few steps away, shook his hand, and to annoyance of Nat, said something to the effect that I liked what he was doing, and thought it was time for folk music to move on. I remember he smiled that shy smile, and murmured what I heard as a thanks.

He is the only Nobel prizewinner I ever met.

But not bearing witness to this, the only other Malibu story I eve r heard was from my late neighbor and friend, Al WInnikoff. He claimed to be Dylan’s realtor, and said he used drive him around looking at properties.

Al also fancied himself a singer, songwriter, and guitar player, and said on several times he got to perform for Dylan. Having tolerated Al’s indulgence, I can only shudder to think what Dylan experienced.    10.14.16

 

 

 

 

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