Friday, August 31, 2012


The irrepressible Laurie King is at it again.

Next week, her new Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes suspense novel, Garment Of Shadows hits bookstore shelves. It's the twelfth entry in the immensely popular series about the aging, but still brilliant and vigorous detective, and his smart, simpatico younger bride and companion in adventure. It's also the fourth Russell-Holmes novel in a row in as many years.

Hot on the heels (or perhaps the stern) of last year's rollicking Pirate King, the new novel eschews that novel's salty, serio-comic hijinks on the high seas for something completely different: amnesia. Scant days after separating from the movie crew in Morocco at the end of the last book, Mary wakens with a throbbing head, with blood on her hands, in a strange room dressed in men's robes—with no earthly idea who she is.

As a variety of handy skills come instinctively to her—climbing out windows, scaling down walls, reaching automatically for weapons long since taken off her, stealing food and coins (and above all, the instinct for self-preservation)—she makes her way into a teeming marketplace. She recognizes that she is within the walled part of the city (or medina) of ancient Fez, the second largest city in Morocco. But what she is doing there, and how—and to whom—she is to return home again are for the reader and Mary herself to find out.

Laurie King will be at the Capitola Book Cafe on Wednesday, September 5, at 7:30 pm, to read and sign copies of Garment Of Shadows. Or, you can catch her later at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Friday, September 14, at 7:30 pm.

In the meantime to get in the proper mood, check out Laurie's Pinterest page  (that's one of her images, above), all abloom with the exotic colors, food, spices, tiles, and cats of Fez!

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Andrew Ceglio (L) and Briana Michaud rock the boat
 Anything Goes one of Cabrillo Stage's all-time best

 Time is running out to catch up with Cabrillo Stage's excellent production of Anything Goes at the Crocker Theater. Only five more shows are scheduled for this absolutely fabulous all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza; some happy exiting theater patrons at last night's performance (okay, it was Art Boy) were heard to utter that this is the best musical production CS has ever mounted.

High praise indeed, and well-deserved. Everything works in this energetic production. Songs? An entire score of Cole Porter classics, from "I Get A Kick Out of You", "You're the Top," "It's De-Lovely," "Friendship", and, of course, the sly title tune.

Style? To die for. The lighter-than-air story takes place on an ocean liner ca. 1934 (when the show was originally produced on Broadway), and Skip Epperson and his design team have created a fantasia of Art Deco delight, from the image of a ship on a foaming sea painted on the scrim downstage to the split-level deck and staterooms on board; even the jail bars in the brig have a Deco-Moderne design. Costumer Maria Crush's wardrobe of gowns, tuxes, showgirl costumes, sailor suits, and satiny tap-pants add another layer of Deco gorgeousness.

Performers? Outstanding. As sassy nightclub hostess Reno Sweeney, the centerpiece of the show, Briana Michaud brings down the house—over and over again. Basically, every time she appears onstage, it's a showstopper. Michaud has a great big, vibrant voice, an easy, earthy style onstage, and she dances up a storm. Reno Sweeney was an early starmaking role for Ethel Merman; Michaud's voice is almost as big, but much more musical, pliable and interesting.

Andrew Ceglio, CS's one-man secret weapon, notches up another terific turn as Billy Crocker, the impromptu stowaway trying to get the girl. He sings, he dances, he mugs like a pro, and he's a pleasure to watch throughout. His duet with Michaud on "You're the Top" is irresistible. Kudos as well to Max Bennett-Parker as affable gangster Moonface Martin, an endearing Robert Coverdell as a goofy young British aristocrat (studying the arcana of American English idioms like Margaret Mead among the Samoans), and Anethra Moura as a cheeky gangster's moll.

And the dancing? In a word: OMG. Director and choreographer Kikau Alvaro has the company dancing through every singe number, whether duets, quartets, or ensembles, and never more impressively than in massive production number for "Anything Goes" at the end of Act 1. It's a synchronized tap extravaganza for the entire company, performed on every level of the stage, and it's just astoundingly great! It is, by far, the single most virtuoso production number in the history of Cabrillo Stage.

Anything Goes will only play five more shows, through Sunday, August 19, so don't you dare miss it! Call (831) 479-6154, or visit Cabrillo Stage online for tickets.

Why are you still sitting there?


It's wine, women and song for Richard Ziman's Falstaff
Comedy and kingship rule in SSC's funny, moving 'Henry IV Part 2'

Sir John Falstaff rides again in Henry IV Part 2, the third production in Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 2012 summer season. The sequel to last year's popular Henry IV Part 1, returning director Scott Wentworth's production of H4P2 offers plenty of drama—death and loss, kingship, statecraft, rebellion, family dynamics, and the passing of the crown from one generation to the next, along with a resonant meditation on aging that runs throughout the play.

But the centerpiece is the bawdy comedy and ignoble scheming of Falstaff, and Richard Ziman's robust, gargantuan performance in the role. Extravagantly dressed by costumer B.Modern in a variety of hilariously spangled and braided military outfits and luxurious frock coats, Ziman fills the cavernous Festival Glen with this lusty, bragging, blustery, old rogue and his appetites—for food, wine, and women, for fleecing his friends in pursuit of all of the above, for life itself.

Repeating in the role from last year, Ziman has a stand-up comedian's knack for connecting with the crowd, delighting himself (and us) with his own merriment; his famous speech in praise of sack (wine) is a bravura showstopper, and yet the fleeting moments when he pauses to ponder the inevitability of aging and what lies beyond are just as compelling.
Charles Pasternak as Hal, the Prince who would be King

H4P2 is really less a sequel than a second act between the battles, roistering and political maneuvering of Henry IV Part 1 and the triumphant kingship of Prince Hal in Henry V (the final play in the "Henriad" cycle, coming to SSC in 2013).

The old king is dying, and Prince Hal (the excellent Charles Pasternak) is scarcely to be seen. Which leaves much of the play to Falstaff, contemplating the favoritism and life of ease he expects once Hal, his former protégé, gains the throne.

But for all the frivolity—and there's plenty of it—the play reaches its powerful and very moving climax in the final encounter between old Henry (V Craig Heidenreich) and Prince Hal. Each has much to regret and each needs absolution from the other, and between the textured emotions and unexpected physical business with which the actors and Wentworth navigate Shakespeare's poetry, the scene is a knockout. Heidenreich's mercurial voice is one of the chief assets of this production, and Pasternak is such a dynamic presence, the play feels a bit empty when he's not around. (Read more)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


A big shout-out today to Project Purr. This worthy group of humane animal activists is doing its bit to reduce the unwanted feral cat population in Santa Cruz County, not by hunting down the animals or incarcerating them in shelters, but through the innovative Trap-Neuter-Return program.

Here's how it works: anyone concerned about a feline population explosion in the neighborhood, especially if you've been feeding the strays and looking out for them, can borrow a trap from the animal shelter. Any one or more feral cats you bring  in to an animal clinic will be spayed or neutered, given necessary shots, and treated for parasites and fleas, then freed again.

And right now, during the months of August and September,  these services are absolutely FREE to all Santa Cruz County residents at two participating animal hospitals: East Lake Animal Clinic (740 East Lake Avenue, Watsonville, (831) 724-6391), and Animal Hospital of Soquel (2651 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, (831) 475-0432).

At the Watsonville Clinic, surgery is available seven days a week; no appointment is necessary. The Animal Hospital of Soquel requests that you call ahead before trapping, to make sure there will be surgery space available.

Anyone of any income level, with no voucher required, is invited to borrow a trap and help to liberate feral cats and kittens from the punishing reproductive cycle. Kittens brought in who are still young enough to socialize will be put up for adoption through the local shelters. That's what happened to BoBo (above), a feral kitten brought into the program whose sweet personality quickly won her a home with a smitten new owner in Los Gatos.

Which reminds me, if you're looking for a furry companion or two, the shelters are full to bursting with adoptable kittens right this minute. Spring and fall are "kitten season," so now is the time to go find and bond with the little fuzzit of your dreams.

Take two; they're small! That's what we did five years ago when we brought home our tortie sisters, Bella and Roma. Here's Roma, doing her famous impression of a harbor seal! With cats in the house, who needs any other kind of entertainment?

Click here to find out more about Project Purr.

(Photo of BoBo by Ann Parker.)

Friday, August 10, 2012


Writer falls for his fictional creation in smart, funny 'Ruby Sparks'

There's always a Pygmalion factor involved in the creative process. What author doesn't fall in love with his or her characters now and then? Imagine Margaret Mitchell grinning fondly at Rhett Butler's caustic wisecracks, or Anne Rice sighing over Lestat's every erotic bite.

But suppose an author was so profoundly in love with his fictive heroine that she emerged as a flesh and blood person in the midst of his real life? Such is the miracle—and the dilemma—at the heart of Ruby Sparks, the offbeat, savvy and charming new romantic comedy from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine).

The screenplay was written by actress and playwright Zoe Kazan, who also co-stars in the film. The legendary Billy Wilder once advised an obscure young actor named Billy Bob Thornton that if you want a good part in Hollywood, you'd better write it yourself, advice Kazan has taken to heart.

In her story, novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) was a publishing phenomenon at 19, when his first novel became a runaway bestseller, defined a generation, and became required reading on every college campus in America. Ten years later, battling writer's block, he starts writing down ideas about his ultimate dream girl, a character he names Ruby. The more he writes about her background and the quirks of her personality, the more inspired he becomes; soon he's in the thick of a manuscript in which Ruby falls in love with a writer named Calvin.

Imagine his shock when he wakes up one morning to find Ruby herself (Kazan) bustling about in his kitchen.

As movies about writing go, this is no Wonder Boys. It doesn't offer the same edgy, comprehensive look at the way publishing, academia, and literary lionism conspire to create an industry that eats its young. But Ruby Sparks isn't really a movie about writing; it's about finding the balance of power in a relationship, and finding a place for love to root and flourish somewhere in the twilight zone between control and free will. In this respect, it's both inventive and achingly true. (Read more in this week's Good Times)

Btw: big kudos to whoever designed that clever poster! I love how it sets up the whole premise in one great, punchy image!

Monday, August 6, 2012


Random travel tips from the Inconstant Traveler

Art Boy and I don't get out that much, Hobbit-like as we are in our affection for hearth and home, not to mention the kitties. (That's why I'm the Inconstant Traveler!) So on the rare occasions that we do venture out into the great world, we like to make every nanosecond count, because who knows when (or if) we'll ever be back?

After two fabulous weeks in Europe last June, one in Vienna and one in Prague, I've come up with a short checklist of ways to make the most of your precious travel time. Everybody tells me September and October are the best times to travel (better weather; fewer tourists), so if you're planning an adventure this fall, maybe these tips will be useful!

First things first: always wear slip-on shoes in airports. It's not such a big deal flying between European cities, but in US airports, you're going to have to put them in the bin at the security checkpoint, so the less time spent fooling with straps or laces, the better.

A sturdy, square-bottom tote bag, with scrunchable straps that can be folded over under the seat in front of you, is the best possible device for carrying  whatever you'll need on the plane. I used to use canvas, briefcase-shaped carry-on bags, but they tend to slump after 12 hours in the air (who doesn't?), and they're hard to get in and out of.

Once you've arrived, if you're going to be hiking around town, ladies, bring a minimal purse just big enough for cash, key, an iPhone-size camera and (if you're an obsessive note-taker like moi), a tiny note/sketch pad. (This can also double as an evening bag.) If, like me, you bring the same saddle bag you haul around back home, you'll feel like a pack mule.

If you're going to museums—which is what we spent most of our time doing, this trip—this is critical: pick up a brochure with a floor plan at the front desk and find out the exact location of what you want to see most. Then start there; otherwise, you could be wandering around dazedly for hours before you stumble across what you came to see—and by then you'll be too exhausted to appreciate it.

(Another good museum tip: bring a bottle of water in a backpack and check it in the coat room. It can get hot in museums, and they rarely have drinking fountains—especially if they're located in a former palace or monastery.)

And finally—try NOT to travel in June! Global warming is real, folks; Vienna is about the same latitude as Seattle, Prague even farther north, yet we had hot, steamy days in the uppers 80s, with 80-90% humidity, almost the entire trip. (Even when it was raining, as it was the day we walked to the Hundertwasser Museum in Vienna.)

 If you must go in June, prepare to strip down to a tank top. On the upside: despite generous helpings of strudel, Viennese sausage, Prague ham, and Bohemian Sekt (Czech sparkling wine), this is one vacation where we actually lost weight!

(Above: at the Gare de Lyon, Paris (sigh).)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Musketeers ride again in SSC's rousing 'Man In the Iron Mask'

It's a rare treat to get to review a brand new play at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. It's even more fun when the play is as rollicking a success as Scott Wentworth's delicious The Man in the Iron Mask. The second offering in SSC's 2012 season, it's a sequel to last season's popular production of The Three Musketeers. Using material from two later Alexandre Dumas novels, Wentworth and director John Sipes collaborate to give the audience piling into the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen everything they've come to see—action, humor, love, honor, and plenty of roistering camaraderie.

20 years after events in the last play, the original three Musketeers have retired. Their former comrade-in-arms, D'Artagnan (Kit Wilder) has become Captain of the King's Musketeers, although now he serves a new king, son of his last employer—pleasure-seeking, war-mongering young Louis XIV (Charles Pasternak). The dying Queen Mother, Anne of Austria (an elegant, heartfelt Marion Adler), sets the plot in motion with a secret visit to ex-Musketeer, Aramis (V Craig Heidenreich), now a priest, with a terrible confession: her part in the unjust imprisonment of a young boy in the Bastille years earlier.

Meanwhile, Porthos (Ted Barton), now a wealthy baron hosting the king's upcoming birthday fete, is fretting about the state of his wardrobe. Athos (the formidable Dierk Torsek), now a count, has retired to a contemplative, teetotaler's life on his country estate—until King Louis sends Athos' only son, the dashing guardsman, Raoul (Armando McLain) off to a volatile war zone so the king can bring Raoul's betrothed, Louise (Lisa Kitchens), to court, and seduce her.

Aramis discovers the masked prisoner is Philippe (also Pasternak, wonderful in both dual roles), compassionate twin brother to Louis with just as legitimate a claim to the throne. Intrigues abound, loyalties are tested, friendships renewed, honor upheld, and, of course, swords are crossed as the plot gallops along. The play is both stirring and funny, especially when the old comrades are onstage together. ("Age before Beauty." "Pearls before swine," Athos and Porthos spar, each attempting to politely usher the other through a doorway.) And the cast is terrific. (Read more)

(Above: Kit Wilder as D'Artagnan (left) with Gabriel Lawrence as conniving Royal Guardsman De Wardes. Photo by rr jones.)


Raucous comedy highlights SSC's lively 'Twelfth Night'

Shakespeare Santa Cruz continues to brighten up our foggy coastal summers with imaginative and exciting live theater. The company launches its 31st season with a new production of Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare's most enjoyable and accessible romantic comedies. Directed by SSC Artistic Director Marco Barricelli, this lively production floods the stage with knockabout farce, yet leaves enough breathing room for moments of poignant reflection on the many ways romantic love can be found—and lost.

Shipwreck survivor Viola (a winsome Lenne Klingaman) lands on the coast of Illyria. Believing her twin brother drowned, she dresses in male clothing for protection and finds employment with the nobleman, Duke Orsino (Tom Gough). Distracted by his unrequited love for the noble lady, Olivia (vivacious Rayme Cornell), Orsino sends Viola, now called "Cesario," to woo the lady on his behalf. Olivia remains unmoved by the Duke's message, but she falls for the messenger, "Cesario." Viola, meanwhile, trapped within her male disguise, has fallen in love with the Duke.

But the highlight here is its boisterous comedy. Vincent Paul O'Connor is hilarious as Olivia's debauched uncle, Sir Toby Belch, canoodling with saucy maid Maria (Shannon Warrick), or consuming a raw egg and tabasco cocktail onstage. William Elsman is absolutely terrific as his foppish cohort, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, commanding every inch of his stage space with his big, yet precise comic gestures and powerful voice. And special kudos to Mark Christine as Feste (above), who handles the clown's witty repartee, and sings and plays guitar with wistful sweetness. (Read more)