Thursday, June 30, 2011

FULL DISCLOSURE

Cabrillo Stage's fun, raucous 'Full Monty' delivers the goods

As a property, The Full Monty is not for the fainthearted. A live stage musical based on the 1997 film about laid-off factory workers who produce a full frontal male strip act to raise some cash and reclaim their manhood, it's peppered with profanity, features various degrees of nudity, and demands plenty of singing, dancing and chutzpah from its actors. Any company that dares to put this show on the boards had better have the goods to back it up.


Fortunately, Cabrillo Stage makes all the right moves in its ambitious and entertaining production of The Full Monty, the first of three shows in its 30th Anniversary summer season. An ingratiating cast, er, rises to the occasion in every respect, under the bold and thoughtful direction of Dustin Leonard. Andrew Ceglio's choreography maintains a level of breezy audacity in the bump-and-grind numbers, but also creates specific movement for each character that helps define their personalities over the course of the show.


With a smart book by veteran playwright Terrence McNally and buoyant pop songs by David Yazbek, the stage production relocates the film story from the depressed north of England to depressed Buffalo, NY, where laid-off workers are scrambling to pay their bills and cling to their self-esteem after months of unemployment. Chief among these is Jerry Lukowski, played with caustic humor and heart by the dynamic Kyle Payne. (Read more)


Recommended for mature audiences, due to language and live flesh, The Full Monty is an outrageously funny show, one of the most successful productions in Cabrillo Stage history. It's also a terific rebound from the company's disappointing holiday offering of the, erm, limp Leslie Bricusse musical, Scrooge, based on A Christmas Carol. They're all troupers over at Cabrillo Stage; this show proves that with the right material, they can, well, knock your socks off.

Monday, June 27, 2011

THE INCONSTANT TRAVELER


Notorious homebodies that we are, Art Boy and I don't travel all that much. The sun is out (yay!), the fruit trees are ripening, the succulents are blooming, the kitties are frolicking: why would we leave? But when we do—like our recent trip to the wilds of Spooner, WI, for a family reunion—we try to minimize the trauma as much as possible. It's hectic enough charting and booking the flight, reserving airport parking, and arranging for a cat-sitter. (Thank you, Marta!) Who has the time or energy to obsess over what to wear?


Well, that would be me. How I long to be one of those people who can just toss four items into a satchel (jeans, top, dress, wrap) and be ready for any adventure, from a trek through a tropical rain forest to dinner at Maxim's. (Well, neither is likely to occur in Spooner, WI, but you get my drift.) But no, I'm a Virgo; I tend to overthink the entire process, packing a little bit of everything, just in case, and ending up with three times as much stuff crammed into my suitcase as I could ever possibly wear.


Or I did, until I hit upon the Doodle Solution. A few weeks before take-off, I start doodling the options from my so-called wardrobe in my sketchbook. I start with the essentials, then do some mental spelunking into the musty depths of my closet and dresser drawers, sketching in additional items that might plausibly be coordinated. (For me, this is a much less laborious method than actually trying everything on; besides, my clothes look better when I'm not in them.) Neutrals are best for travel; in a pinch, all the pieces match (sort of). And if you focus on one color to jazz things up (for this trip, the operative color was green), you can cut way back on the amount of jewelry, shoes, and accessories you might be tempted to pack with a wider variety of costume changes.


Once I had everything drawn out, I ex-ed out a few items that seemed redundant, then drew connecting arrows between other items that might be coerced into outfits. Affter separating out what I would wear on the plane, packing the rest according to this "key" made the whole process seem less random and scary. (Although I was obviously still too discombobulated to remember what year it is when I scribbled in the date at the top. D'oh!)



Of course, the one element you can't control in even the best laid travel plans is the weather. Having Googled various weather reports for days, which yielded forecasts of 90 degrees, or rain, or both, I was expecting a typically muggy Midwestern summer, and so packed a few too many tank tops. Only at the last minute did I throw in a long-sleeved T-shirt and a sweater—which I wore just about every day in Spooner, when the weather turned cold, grey and drizzly.


Still, but for three superfluous tops, I wore everything else on this chart at least once, and was prepared for anything, from a hike through the lakeside underbrush to teatime with Grandma. The best thing is, I could have packed the entire lot in one small piece of carry-on luggage. Which we will certainly do, one carry-on apiece, next time we travel (IF we ever travel again, as Art Boy always says as soon as we get home to Santa Cruz), now that the airlines charge $25 to check the one large piece of luggage we usually share. Whatever happened to the friendly skies?


Speaking of travel to exotic places, our niece, Helena, and her boyfriend, Per, are visiting us from Sweden this week, and having a blast bombing around Santa Cruz. (This is her fourth visit, and his second.) If you have out-of-town visitors this summer, Per and Helena recommend Verve coffeehouse in Pleasure Point, the Swift Street Courtyard (especially the Bonny Doon tasting room), the Live Oak Farmers Market, and the Penny Ice Creamery downtown. (The Cardamom Pistachio Chocolate Chip gets an enthusiastic thumbs up!)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

SWEET MYSTERY OF 'LIFE'


Don't expect linear storytelling from Terrence Malick. His rapturous last film, The New World, plunged viewers into first contact between English Puritan colonists and native American peoples without a road map, or a translator, or any idea on either side of the customs and culture of the other. (Read my review here.) Audiences who expected conventional storytelling were dumbfounded; there was no way in except to surrender to the strangeness—as the colonists and tribespeople themselves must have perceived it—and let the experience wash over you.


Malick's new film, The Tree of Life plunges us into seemingly more familiar terrain—growing up in suburban Middle America in the second half of the 20th century—and turns it into something strange and mysterious, a metaphor for the eternal search for grace and meaning in life. Given the enormity of this theme, the results are somewhat less rapturous, but there are still moments of blistering power, and images of heartbreaking beauty, even if the case for absolute surrender isn't quite as compelling this time.


The plot is birth, death, and everything in between, from the formation of the cosmos through the dinosaur age to modern American family life, ca. 1950s. Malick's impressionistic storytelling keeps us mesmerized in his best scenes, the intricately observed minutiae of family life—love and rage, guilt and intimidation, rivalry and solidarity—as a father (Brad Pitt) strives to teach his three sons goodness, manliness, and the ways of the world, in lessons that are often harsh. (Read more)



I agree with critics who say the movie is too long; I was ready to doze off whilst slogging through the primordial ooze with the dinosaurs. And I hated what I first perceived as the overtly Christian symbolism of the shall-we-gather-at-the-river waterfront finale. In fact, I sat down to write a much crankier review than the one that eventually came out.



What changed was the more I thought about the movie, the more fleeting glimpses of amazing and haunting cinematic moments started coming back to me. Moments unburdened by any kind of rational explanation or justification (or even narrative thrust), but that somehow sing with their own inner truth. Pretentious? Self-indulgent? Sure, but isn't that where art comes from? That's what they used to say about Fellini, and they were often right, but even at his most self-indulgent, he was often wonderful. And he was always worth watching.


There's a thoughtful, European quality to Malick's expressionistic, stream-of-consciousness storytelling. Not many American filmmakers are making this kind of symphonic tone poem, at least not on such an ardent and delirious scale. It doesn't always work; I still hate that self-conscious, stage-manged finale, even though the film seems less formally Christian and more non-denominationally spiritual on second thought. But you don't have to love every nanosecond to respect Malick's painstaking act of creation. And it seems unreasonable to complain endlessly about stilted, formulaic Hollywood moviemaking, and then turn around and call someone who dares to break out of the mold "pap." I'm just saying.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

MERRIE MIDSUMMER


Here comes the sun (do-da-doo-doo), and you might as well get out there and bask because today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It's all downhill from here; starting tomorrow, the days start getting shorter again, so go soak it up while you can.


This is also the first day of summer, according to our modern calendar, which is weird because this season is also traditionally known as Midsummer. (Wrestled out of the grasp of the pagans by the Church, as usual, and co-opted into Christian mythology, the festival of Midsummer now technically falls on June 24, St. John's Day in the Christian calendar.) But it makes more sense if you go back to the seasonal Celtic calendar, when summer was reckoned from May 1 to August 1, with the Summer Solstice landing smack in the middle—hence, Midsummer.


And if you remember your Shakespeare, you also know that Midsummer is one of those uncanny times when fairies and sprites are said to run amok in the world of mortals. The yellow flowers of St. Johns Wort are recommended, draped over doorways and across thresholds to keep the most mischievous of Puck's legions at bay.




Of course, here in Santa Cruz, one of the best parts of summer is the summer produce now flooding our local farmers markets. Strawberries, apricots, peppers, oh my! In celebration of this phenomenon, Aptos printmaker Liz Lyons Friedman has produced this fabulous new linocut, which just won the competition for 35th Anniversary commemorative poster for the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Market organization. Congratulations, Liz!


Liz will display this poster, along with a selection of her original hand-colored linocuts and woodcuts, at the Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College this Saturday, June 25, until about noon. And mark your datebooks for Saturday, July 23, when Liz will be back at the Market signing copies of her poster at the Farmers Market 35th Anniversary celebration.


Whatever calendar you prefer, what better way to celebrate the season than strolling among the bins of local bounty, listening to live music, and soaking up the rays? These are the days we wait for all year, so make them count!

Friday, June 10, 2011

PAST PRESENT


From the fabulous poster art to a sweet little epiphany in the last frame, there is nothing not to love in Woody Allen's latest, Midnight In Paris. In the poster, the protagonist played by Owen Wilson is sauntering alongside the river Seine at night, while the extravagant blues and blazing, swirling lights of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" explode across the sky above the ancient buildings lining the bank. This single image says everything about the art, history, enduring fantasy, and cultural allure of Paris, issues Allen addresses with such savvy brio in this marvelously inventive film.


Wilson is all light, easygoing charm as American in Paris, Gil Pender. A typical Allen surrogate (garbed in Woody's traditional light blue shirt and khaki pants), Gil is a successful Hollywood screenwriter who longs to chuck it all and write serious fiction—preferably in a romantic garret in Paris. And preferably in the 1920s; he's completely fixated on the tumultuous creative ferment that was Paris in the '20s, which produced the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Pablo Picasso. He's tinkering with a book manuscript he hopes will be his ticket out of Hollywood and into la vie bohème.


But his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams) has other ideas. The two of them have tagged along to Paris with her parents on a business trip, but Gil keeps finding excuses to walk around the cobbled streets of Paris on his own. On one such nighttime excursion, just as the church clock chimes midnight, he's picked up by a party of champagne-guzzling revelers in a vintage Peugeot roadster and driven straight into his dream. (Read more)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

WELCOME TO ALL THE PLEASURES


The Feast Day of St. Cecilia is in November, but the Santa Cruz Chorale is celebrating early this year with three upcoming concerts of vintage and modern choral music. Under the baton of maestro Christian Grube (founder of the renowned Chamber Choir of Berlin), the Chorale will perform its annual summer concert three times, at two venues, the weekend of June 17, 18, and 19.


As the patron saint of music (particularly organ and church music) and of vocalists, Cecilia has seen a great many compositions dedicated to her over the centuries, in honor of her Feast Day. The Chorale program features Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (with the tantalizing subtitle, Welcome to All the Pleasures) by 17th Century English composer Henry Purcell, along with several other short Purcell pieces. Also included will be two pieces of 20th Century English composer Benjamin Britten (actually born on St. Cecilia's Day, November 22), including his Hymn to St. Cecilia. Finally, the Chorale will sing two chants by Santa Cruz's own Lou Harrison.


Live choral music is indeed one of life's great pleasures. Even if you crank your speakers up to eleven, you just can't get the same effect at home, so make plans to go see (and hear) this accomplished community chorale in action at one of these appearances: in Watsonville, at Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Friday June 17, at 7 pm, or in Santa Cruz at Holy Cross Church, Saturday, June 18, at 8 pm, or Sunday, June 19, at 4 pm. Visit the SC Chorale website for more info.


Like most Catholic saints, Cecilia is said to have suffered a gory martyrdom for the crime of converting locals to Christianity in the 2nd or 3rd Century Rome (or Sicily, in some versions). In the portrait above, Italian Renaissance artist Aremisia Gentileschi chose to paint a less grisly image of Cecilia at her keyboard. Not known for playing any musical instruments in her life, Cecilia is famed for having sung to God during the lengthy process of her dying, for which she was rewarded, after a couple of centuries, by being named patroness of singing and music. She's most often pictured at an organ, although frequently seen playing a lyre, a harp, or a lute, like one of the Greek muses, an altogether more festive way to be remembered.


Speaking of Art triumphing over gritty reality, consider Artemisia herself. One of the very few female artists of her (or any) era even remembered today, she had to go through all the artistic struggles of her male counterparts, but she had to do it in a dress, under the thumb of dominant men. Apprenticed by her artist father, Orazio Gentileschi, to a randy master painter who raped her, she endured a lengthy trial during which, among other indignities, she was tortured to recant her accusation. (She didn't, and the man was finally convicted.) Small wonder she chose to paint Cecilia in a moment of such serene transcendence. (Although if you want to know how she really felt, compare her searing painting of the Biblical scene "Judith Beheading Holfernes.")



ART vs. FILM


Artemisia was also the subject of a 1997 film by French filmmaker Agnes Merlet. By most accounts, it was pretty dreadful, a hothouse romance that played fast and loose with the facts of the artist's life. (No surprise there; since when is a movie bio ever factual?) But I'm still dying to see it one day, especially if it looks as luscious as this still, and because I'm such a sucker for movies about artists and the creative process.


Movies about writers tend to be fairly static because, let's face it, writing is not a spectator sport. (Woody Allen's excellent new comedy, Midnight In Paris, excepted; it's not about writers actually writing, but about writers after hours, living la vie boheme, which is a lot more fun to watch. But more on that next post!)


Because the act of writing is not terribly cinematic, filmmakers always try to tart it up with action, most of it highly dubious. It can work sometimes: remember the giant cockroaches crawling out of Charles Bukowski's typewriter in Naked Lunch? Okay, he's on drugs, but what a metaphor; who hasn't occasionally felt that kind of fear and loathing while staring at the ravenous keyboard?


But most of these faux-action gimmicks are completely spurious, like Jane Fonda (as Lillian Hellman) throwing her typewriter out the window in Julia. It's the Depression, and she throws the means of earning her living out the window? Oh, please.


In movies about artists, however, at least there's something to look at as the creative process goes on. In Camille Claudel, eponymous star Isabelle Adjani, and Gerard Depardieu as Auguste Rodin (she's his apprentice, muse, and lover), sculpt mighty works together, even as she sinks into dementia, unrecognized, in the shadow of her more famous mentor. In Carlos Saura's succulent and disturbing fantasia, Goya In Bordeaux, we see the elderly Spanish painter (played by Francisco Rabal as a reckless old bull) splashing electrifying images of death and tragedy all around the walls of his home in the dead of night, in a hat crowned with candles to see by. In Frida, we get a twofer: Salma Hayek's Frida staging and painting her richly symbolic self-portraits, along with filmmaker Julie Taymor creating vivid, Kahlo-esque compositions out of the drama onscreen.


Watching a movie about art is not the next best thing to making art yourself, not by a longshot. But you never know what random image, or scrap of dialogue, or phrase of choral music will trigger your own inner maestro.