August, 2010

Extra! Extra! Tickets to See Provocative New Play, NEIGHBORS, at Matrix Theatre

Neighbors_2smI used to be a volunteer teacher for underprivileged youth in a lower-class neighborhood in Boston—easily one of the most segregated cities in America. Most of the students I taught were African-American, and I was a Caucasian college student. But since race politics were not my subject—play-writing was—I gladly and professionally ignored the racial and socio-economic distinction between myself and them (note the tactful wording of my first sentence). Until one day, one of my students asked if I got paid to teach them. I answered, no, which was the truth. But then she followed up: “Then why do you do it? Because we’re black?”

It was a simple question, but it took me by surprise. Of course the answer was no, I did not choose to teach them because they were black, I did it because I wanted to teach creative-writing to kids, and they just so happened to be black. Right?

The question lurked in my mind, and I found myself thinking about it years later when Obama was running for President, and certain people would ask, “Why are you voting for him? Because he’s black?”

Both questions are not necessarily meant to be answered; they are meant to break down the polite barrier of sameness I initiated when I was a volunteer teacher, and which our society has deemed appropriate. But what if you did go about examining such a question? What if racial identity does play a part in teaching under-priveled children? What if it does play a part in how we choose our President?

This is what here-and-staying playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins attempts to exlpore in the West Coast premiere of his play Neighbors: A Play With Cartoons which opened at The Matrix theatre company (the same company that staged the original reading of the play) on August 28th and runs until October 24th. Directed by Nataki Garrett, the story revolves around Richard Patterson, a middle-class African-American of academia, “post-racial” in his general demeanor and self-identification. But when a family of tactless, immodest, and rude actors—who just so happen to be black—moves in next door, Richard’s entire being is called into question. Is it because they are impolite? Or because they are black?

To see these issues acted out live and free in “a grandly theatrical, highly subversive, and immensely intelligent” manner, all you have to do is supply your first and last name into the form below, along with your e-mail address, and you will be automatically entered into the running to receive two tickets to the September 2nd, 7:30 PM production of Neighbors: A Play with Cartoons at the Matrix Theatre on Melrose. As always with our ticket giveaways, everybody who enters is also eligible to receive tickets to our next three offers. So don’t fret if you don’t win; there’s always next time, and there’s always www.plays411.com/neighbors, as well as 323.960.7774, where you can simply buy your tickets the old-fashioned way.

- By Joshua Morrison

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Steampunk Football

image4At LACMA on Saturday night, a girl in a white Victorian dress sat on a bench with her hands folded, looking pissed off. A photographer from the clothing company Clockwork Couture stood a few feet away.
“Want to sit in her lap?” the photographer asked me.
“I think I’m okay,” I said. The girl looked so familiar, I had to ask. “Have you ever watched True Blood?” I asked.
She stared at me. “I know what you’re going to say,” she snapped. “Lorena, right? I hear it all the time.” She looked coldly into the camera as it flashed.
I guess I don’t blame her for being pissed off. I would be too, if I had to pose with bystanders at the fourteenth annual LACMA Muse ‘Til Midnight event, where the clothing was Victorian, the food supplied was chips and salsa, and there was an open bar. The tickets were $40 for non-members, $25 for Muse members, and it was hard to see what all the fuss was about.
The event sounded great, in theory: a neo-Victorian dress-up night at the museum, coinciding with the Thomas Eakins and Catherine Opie show, Manly Pursuits. Eakins painted wrestlers and rowers in intimate situations in the late 1800-early 1900’s, while Opie currently photographs teenage football players and surfers. Connecting the two artists requires a stretch of imagination, but the show is a valuable statement about the forced efforts and vulnerability of masculinity.
However, the Muse ‘Til Midnight event didn’t have much to do with the show, or with anything at the museum. The event was described by a Yelp user like this: “A full line-up of entertainment with open bar in an unique environment for $25-$40? On a Saturday night? In Los Angeles? Even including parking? Do I need to keep asking rhetorical questions?” Unfortunately, the event became a Los Angeles situation in which too many good ideas were not executed properly, with too many people in attendance to leave such margin for error.
After waiting in a long line, guests were ushered into the museum’s main plaza where Dusty and the River Band played and video projections flashed on the walls. Two performers on stilts made their way through the crowd, surrounded by a thick circle of photographers, documenting the “insanity” for various nightlife blogs. Two stilt-walkers, a couple of dancers and some people in costumes didn’t seem like enough to justify paying $40, but let’s not forget about that open bar, which included “100% Agave Tequila, Blackheart Spiced Rum, Hpnotiq Liqueur, Pernod Absinthe, and FIJI Water.” It seems that people will spend any amount of money to get sloshed while wearing a corset.
Maybe next time, LACMA should make dressing up for the event mandatory, as the people who were wearing full neo-Victorian garb looked to be having the best time. Many people wore costumes from Clockwork Couture, a “steampunk” line that mixes Victorian clothing with modern touches, while others had improvised their own costumes. A thin blonde woman and her chunkier date wore matching top hats and lace-up boots, trailing long feathers behind them. Another woman wore a corset and a matching flowered neck brace, and many men (and women) sported fantastic moustaches.
At ten o’clock, everyone was ushered into a much longer line leading to the roof of the Penthouse suite, only accessible by an elevator. (Too bad for the claustrophobes.) The roof offered a nice city view of the Variety building, along with some mysterious devices, including a giant telescope and various contraptions used to “measure electrical phenomena.” A stage was set up for a burlesque show, and a dancer in chalky makeup tiptoed around the crowd en pointe as flashbulbs popped all around her.
Nearby, a man wearing suspenders rested his foot on a stack of pillows. “I sprained my foot, but this is awesome,” he declared, looking at the dancer. “Look at this. Look at her. Can you believe it?” I could believe it, though next time I would prefer to look at photos of the event rather than attend. Despite the congestion, chips and salsa, long lines and limited number of performers, it seemed like many people had a wonderful time. Never underestimate the power of a little absinthe.

- By Cassandra McGrath

For mose information about LACMA, and any upcoming Muse events, please visit www.lacma.org/membership/Muse.aspx, or call 323-857-6000.

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Extra! Extra! Ticket Giveaway to see All-Star George Gershwin Tribute!

george_gershwinBy far one of the greatest opening sequences of any film ever made is Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Yes, it’s the photography, the voice-over narration, the shots of New York City at its finest, but more than anything, it’s George Gershwin’sRhapsody in Blue.” The undertow of buzzing clarinet and twinkling piano, combined with the slow, celebratory build of the entire orchestra induces a simultaneous feeling of hopeful anticipation and relaxed confidence. In Gershwin’s own words: “I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.”

No, no. Too expected. Too pretentious. Calls too much attention to the movie. Try it again.

By far one of the best pieces of music to completely and flawlessly capture the essence of an entire season is “Summertime,” by George Gershwin. Originally conceived for the ‘folk-opera,’ Porgy and Bess, the aria—which has been covered more times than “Blackbird”—manages to somehow smell like summer. You need an iced tea when you hear it. And what better time, what better place than the Hollywood Bowl

No. Just get to the point, Josh. You’re supposed to be giving away tickets. That’s all people care about. Just do your job.

This Wednesday, August 25th at 8:00 PM at the Hollywood Bowl, the LA Philharmonic presents Gershwin Across America, an all-star, all-genre tribute to the legendary composer and upcoming CD of the same name. Artists include Jason Mraz, Monica Mancini (daughter of film composer Henry Mancini), gospel singer Bebe Winans, Grammy Award-winning Nancy Wilson), St. Vincent (for the hipster fetishists among us), and an accompanying big band and strings section feautring the Shelly Berg Trio, Gordon Goodwin, Tom Scott, Arturo Sandoval and more.

To win two tickets to this summertime rhapsody of sorts, all you have to do is enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below,and you will automatically be entered into the running for this concert, as well as our next three ticket giveaways.

I guess that’s good enough. Why make a blog longer than it needs to be? Why even write these things? God, it’s hot out… I wish I could play the piano…

- By Joshua Morrison

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Not Your Typical Desk Chair

CharlesI’ve never quite understood why the decorative arts are overlooked, but unfortunately they are the forgotten stepchild of all art collections. Throughout the entirety of my four years of art history classes, the decorative arts came up only once and took the form of a humungous book that we were forced to purchase against our will, filled to the brim with photos of tables, chairs, chests, ottomans, buffets, dining sets, and headboards. At the end of the semester I re-gifted this behemoth to my mom for Mother’s Day and now it gathers dust on her coffee table. I fear that’s more exposure to the decorative arts than most people ever get.

As I crossed the threshold from busy, loud, smoggy Los Angeles into my personal Mecca, sanctuary, and glorious escape—aka The Huntington, I asked my good sport of a boyfriend why he thought the decorative arts didn’t get the recognition he or I thought they deserved. We agreed that maybe they are placed on the artistic back-burner because they are born, first and foremost, out of necessity, but I have always held the decorative arts in the highest esteem. Maybe I do because I believe that art is not only hung on a wall but rather all around us, from the way we garnish our homes to the very things on which we rest our tired feet. Furniture, just as much as painting or sculpture, represents and defines the visual culture of the times, and provides a platform for individual expression and audacious risk-taking. This holds true more than ever in the Huntington’s current exhibition, The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs, the first-ever display of Rohlfs’ exhilarating and unmistakably avant-garde late 19th / early 20th Century furniture.

Charles Rohlfs (1853-1936) is frequently classified with the other greats of the Arts & Crafts movement (think William Morris and the writings of John Ruskin), but while he was undoubtedly a leader in America’s first entrée into modernist design, his vision and execution resisted a generalized and conformed grouping. His lack of formal training enabled him to create unconventional and mind boggling shapes. Even though his work advocated truth to material and traditional craftsmanship inspired by the medieval, romantic and folk styles of decoration, his furniture reveals overwhelming individuality and character. His are the type of fixtures you’d swear were conceived over a late night of pipe tobacco, opium, and absinthe—and I mean in all the right ways.

The furniture of Rohlfs on display at the Huntington is impressively delicate and noticeably romantic. The most modernist piece, in my opinion, is his Desk Chair (c.1898-99). Subtleties like the parabola shaped seat, intricate cross bracing and complicated trapezoidal legs distinguish this chair as one of the exhibition’s highlights. It screams turn of the century, but just like all of his furniture, it takes the inspiration to a whole new level. The pieces looked awesomely futuristic and at times almost alien, even by today’s standard. In 1899, the experience must have been fantastical laced with a slight touch of terrifying. Similarly, his Hall Chair (c.1904) served as another focal point to this unprecedented exhibition, but took on a less contemporary aura and resonated something very to similar to Deco architecture.  I couldn’t help but compare the symmetrical, geometric, and cubist attributes of Hall Chair to the details of deco masterpieces such as the Chrysler Building (1928) or even the terracotta sunburst I’ve noticed in the Eastern Columbia Building (1930) right here at home. Clearly, Rohlfs was ahead of his time.

Upon seeing his work, one might think that Charles Rohlfs was a celebrated genius among his contemporaries, but beyond the surface lay a man whose career and ambitions were in a constant state of struggle. The exhibition does a beautiful job showcasing not only the product of an inventive mastermind but also poignantly tells the story of Rohlfs’ complicated and distressing legacy. He was in a perpetual state of debt, scrounging for enough buyers to support his growing profession, all the while thinking of bigger and better marketing strategies to keep his dream afloat. In 1907, amidst one of America’s most severe economic panics, he developed a plan to market his furniture to a larger audience by issuing cards with descriptions, illustrations, and prices of his work—all on display in the second half of the exhibition. Despite his efforts, he still relied heavily on commissioned interiors and therefore had to design with the client in mind first, his own motivations second.

Photos and pieces from his large scale commissions make up the final parts of the exhibit. The compromise between artist and patron is evident from the noticeable discrepancy between the furniture born out of inspiration and that born out of necessity.  The commissioned interiors show fixtures that are far weightier, solid and sturdy and that are clearly different from the delicate and elaborate details of his earlier work. Even though this look is more popularized, it remains distinctly Rohlfs.

Rohlfs remained productive and active throughout his life, far after the 19th Century’s House Beautiful movement first inspired Rohlfs to pour his ingenuity into the decorative arts. The final object on display is the last piece he ever created. “Lamp Made for Sterling Rohlfs” is a tribute to Charles’ son who tragically died in a 1928 plane crash. The piece, while intricate and expertly devised, speaks to Rohlfs’ unwavering dedication to his art and his family.

If ever there was a reason to brave the 110 freeway, The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs is it. Exhibitions like this don’t come around often, especially those on the decorative arts. I assure you, this exhibition will change the way you think of furniture, and make you utterly abhor your boring desk chair at the office.

-By Brittany Krasner

The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs is on display at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens through September 6th. Visit www.huntington.org for more information.

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Instant LA Summer

Bizarro-PicassoI met artist, curator, and all-around art enthusiast Esteban Schimpf when he came out to the FineArtsLA: Panel of the Muses event we hosted back in June. He was there to support his friend, panelist, and co-board member of the Chinatown gallery, Actual Size LA, Lee Rachel Foley. Schimpf made himself known as the first—and most voluable—volunteer of the after-panel Q&A session. His passion for supporting art and artists was intense, genuine, and immediately recognizable (he railed against the idea that the physical limitations of Los Angeles—traffic, isolation, etc.—should in any way prevent an artist from doing their job). Following the discussion, he was quick to introduce himself, revealing a chummier, more casual side of his personality, yet still brimming with that same passion.

On Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM, Esteban opens his (to my knowledge) first personal exhibition in Los Angeles at the Carmichael Gallery in Culver City, and not surprisingly, his own work is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Schimpf, with the help of Stefan Simchowitz, has chosen to spotlight the work of fifteen other young, up-and-coming artists in an ambitious group show he has titled “Instant LA Summer.” Upon names only, I was admittedly unfamiliar with the artists on view, but after some instant LA research, the show looks to be extremely diverse in mediums and theme, but cohesive in pure enthusiasm. Essentially, it’s Esteban without Esteban. Here’s a quick, flip-through preview of what’s in store, but don’t hold me to it:

Los Super Elegantes: this musical duo, one male and one female, present three of their own videos, which are as much a part of their overall presentation as are their costumes, their on-stage theatrics, their public demeanor, sexual chemistry, and of course, their music—a Latino-influenced type of pop that owes a lot to show-tunes. Their videos, too, remind me of low-rent movie musical numbers (in one, a romantic, garbage-man Romeo belts out his love to a passing, balcony-perched Juliet).

Eric Yhanker: his piece, “Bizarro Picasso,” is a charcoal and graphite depiction of an old, wide-eyed bald man who looks kind of like the titular painter, but, in its tactility, more like something Jan Svankmajer would mold from clay. Photographic in its Chuck Close detail and sense of perception, the close-up portrait briskly departs from realism with its over-sized, features, namely the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears—the portals to our senses.

Josh Mannis: works in a variety of mediums, but his series of HD videos are the most striking. Like Yhanker, they concentrate on the frozen exaggeration of facial features, but in the style of a Japanese advertisement. Bright pastel colors, fleshy and freaky masks, limited body movement, and intense repetition characterize such works as “If You Don’t Know Anything, You Don’t Know This.”

Charles Irvin: a multi-instrumentalist as they say in the music world. He draws, paints, performs, makes videos, and simply exists. His works tends to be cartoonish, extremely colorful, and detailed, but in a soft way. It’s dream-like, psychedelic, and in-your-face. No subtleties here, save the man behind the man.

Kenneth Tam: another video-maker, but of the Dadaist ilk. His mundane, often single shot slices of life tend to take place in one setting, have a documentary feel to them, and are so direct and normal that they border the line on the absurd.

Maya Lujan: to look at pictures of her large-form, graphic patterns—architectural in nature—one would be quite surprised to hear that her installation in a 2008 UCLA exhibition was taken down due to the fact it included a simplified mandala that bore striking similarity to a swastika. In actuality, the piece was more akin to a kind of apocalyptic spacecraft, and it’s this exact questioning of shapes and patterns that shows up in most of her work.

Sarah Sieradzki: speaking of the architectural, her work presents mashups of varying shapes, materials, and textures—wooden frames, cement blocks, photographs—that look like models for massive monuments of future post-modernism (whatever that is). She seems to take joy in chaotic geometry, as well as the re-contextualizion of basic structures.

Pascual Sisto: also a multi-platform artist, he appears to specialize in playing with and subverting the viewer’s expectation. Much of his work starts off as a seemingly one-note image/idea—cursive neon lettering, a single-shot video of a motionless fruit tree—but will then either climax unexpectedly in a sudden spasm of movement (as with the fruit tree video) or double-back on its initial meaning (as with the phrase in neon: “Let us be Cruel”).

Daniel Desure: in his prints and photographs, there’s a cold, stillness that tends to break down time into single moments, whether its a car crash refracted into centrifugal prisms, or a can of paint in the midst of spilling. Desure seems to distill catastrophic moments into the way we often remember catastrophic moments: as single images.

Emily Mast: time is of the essence to this choreographic artist as well. She sets up complex, theatrical installations utilizing actors, props, lights, and costumes, which collide into a kind of Beckett-ian sense of nihilism. But within these dramatic interpretations is a clear sense of narrative, which is inherently married to time, and thereby, meaning.

Emily Steinfeld: a sort of found object artist who seems to enjoy the accidental/purposeful layering of solid things—how one thing can mold into another as if a chemical compound. Her series of structures entitled “Covert Cells” utilizes sheeting to cover objects like wine bottles and telephones so that they may be confused for a single entity.

Simon Haas: mainly primitive, muted browns and melancholy. As the title of his piece “A Brief Moment After a Bath” suggests, he finds subtle beauty in the skipped-over moments of life. The lead surface and the wide, gestural brush strokes of this oil painting have a wavy, watery feel to them. Like waking up from a dream and dealing with its immediate aftermath.

Mark Hagen: intricate, graphic designs made for specific technological uses. He designed a 360 wrap, for instance, to be hypothetically used on the antiquated bowling shoe so as to maximize arch support for the bowler. As a child, he helped his father part out and restore Post-War Studebakers, and he seems to have been elaborating on this work ever since.

Sean Kennedy: also works in design, but in a much more tactile sense. He builds layers of both abstract designs and found objects to create geometric patterns that are simple at first glance, yet wildly complex upon inspection.

Orlando Tirado: exotic, striking photographs and/or collages of imagery. The title of his piece, “ShamanColash or Land, Sea, and Air (Self Portrait)” speaks to the bizarre juxtapositions framed in the would-be tired genre of self-portraitry. To borrow a reaction once used to describe the first artist on this list (Los Super Elegantes), Tirado “[makes] the audience nervous. Nobody does that anymore.”

-By Joshua Morrison

Stefan Simchowitz presents “Instant LA Summer,” an exhibition by Esteban Schimpf, runs until September 10, 2010 at the Carmichael Gallery. The opening is  on Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM. For more information, please visit www.carmichaelgallery.com, or call 323.939.0600.

 

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You’re Just Projecting

450Randy and Jason Sklar, better known as the Sklar Brothers, even better known as the hosts of the only ESPN Classic show I’ve ever watched on a regular basis—Cheap Seatsand possibly best known as the Cain and Abel of Hollywood agents in HBO’s Entourage, got their comedic starts amidst the burgeoning “alternative” comedy scene of mid-90’s New York. Back then and over there, such now-defunct clubs as the famous Luna Lounge used to hold regular open-mic nights, where names like Marc Maron, Greg Fitzsimmons, Louis CK, Dave Attell, Sarah Silverman, and many, many more once tuned their respective crafts. The Sklars didn’t immediately fit in. In fact, they stood out, and in a bad way. They’re identical twins, which, in the eyes of the comedy club weary, was synonymous with hacky—not far off from ventriloquism, as both shticks tended to traditionally rely on the straight-man/wacky-man dynamic. In interviews, Randy and Jason have talked about their initial struggle against this assumption, not so much with their audiences as within their act. They had to work hard to eventually to find their patented rhythm of completing one another’s sentences, riffing on topics the other brings up, never disowning their uncanny likeness, yet never relying on it either. Basically, they had to find their true collective self, a feat which simply would not have been possible without the open-mic.

These days, the Sklars still perform almost everywhere in Los Angeles, but have also transitioned into the world of film and television, an industry with lots of microphones (as well as projectors, the mic’s visual equivalent), few of which are “open,” almost none of which are free.  Hence, “Open Projector Night,” hosted by Randy and Jason Sklar, this Tuesday, August 17, 8:00 PM at the Hammer Museum. Free popcorn, cash bar, and a first-come-first-serve policy for any under-ten-minute film or video out there, these semi-regular nights have developed a reputation for rowdiness, rudeness, and yes, even the occasional cinematic gem. Come screen-test your private masterpiece (submissions begin at 7 PM), or just support your local filmmakers by getting drunk and voting them off the docket completely.

The Sklar Brothers, more than most, know what its like to struggle for an identity, and they’ve kind of made an on-screen career out of it (not to mention, paved the way for stellar teams like the Walsh Brothers). So if you’re tired of being constantly confused for someone you’re not, of having to dress different to stick out, of explaining the subtle yet imperative dissimilarities between you and that other idiot, just leave it in the hands of Sklars. They may not love your work, they may make some clever jokes at your expense, but they’ll at least give you a mic.

For  more information about “Open Projector Night” and Hammer Public Programs (all of which are free), please visit www.hammer.ucla.edu, or call 310.443.7000.

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Wolves are to Sheep What Teachers are to…

I have a lot of friends who are teachers, or want to be teachers, or are studying to be teachers. I’m even considering it myself. The funny thing about this decision to cross the line of identity from student to instructor, from one of many names on a class list to the one reading those names aloud to take attendance, is the realization that you are no different from all of your teachers of past, and vice-versa. They fall prey to the same amount of human insecurities, jealousies, imperfections, and suffering as anyone (if not more, due to the fact they’re a teacher in America). Of course, this commonality may be obvious to some, but what’s interesting is it potentially calls into question the entire educational system, from principal on down; after all, how can one teach the tools of life when those very same tools have proven dull and useless in their own lives?

This is the thematic conundrum that concerns Joseph Fisher’s new play, A Wolf Inside the Fence, which makes its world premiere this Friday, August 13th, at the Open Fist Theatre, as directed by Benjamin Burdick.

The protagonist, Linus McBride (Arthur Hanket), is a high-school history teacher with a history of his own: his father recently passed away, he’s burning out on his own subject, his classes are being cut by the school system, and he may just be going crazy. This is when he meets Marion (Charlotte Chanler), an at-risk transfer student with a chip on her shoulder, who begins to make regular visits to Linus’s classroom, asking questions about history. But the play doesn’t take the expected Oleanna or An Education route. Instead, the two develop a bond based on their shared troubled pasts. This relationship is further complicated when the school principal, Judy Bench (Amanda Weir), gets involved, fueled by her own personal interest in the young Marion—and growing lack of interest in her math teacher boyfriend, Harold Carson (Colin Walker).

Witty and tragic, deep and yet simple, the layering of teacher-student-principal interaction that follow are not to be missed. Because if those can’t do, teach, then those who teach must be a lot more interesting than their doer counterparts.

- By Joshua Morrison

Joseph Fisher’s A Wolf Inside the Fence runs until Septemer 11th at the Open Fist Theatre, which is located at 6209 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. For more information, please visit www.openfist.org, or call 323.882.6912.

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Jewphony!

LAJS10-Ford-ORCHef48c13GuyMadmoni-1024x682The Ford Amphitheatre, located not a stone’s throw away from the Hollywood Bowl off the 101, is a good venue to stage a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or possibly Into the Woods. The sandstone sloped arena, where the audience sits, collides onto a central platform—to be had by the performers—which is backed by a lush, green, jungle-like mountain-side. It’s a little like one of those alternate dimensions you see characters in science fiction movies walk into, and it provides a sense of imminent danger. It’s perfect for Shakespeare, for fairy tales, and as was evidenced in the case of this past Sunday night, for Jews.

As a card-carrying member of Jewish tribe, who has attended my fair share of family Passover dinners, I know all too well the importance of a real or perceived threat (historical oppression, a gentile daughter-in-law, an infamously inedible recipe, etc.) in accommodating the success of a large-form, Jewish get-together. It creates unity. And the effect was no different on Sunday evening at the Ford Amphitheatre when the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony performed their latest melange of classical numbers, entitled “Cinema Judaica,” for a sold out audience of almost all geriatric Jews.

A woman two rows in back of me: “It wouldn’t be a Seder without Bubby’s kogl.”

Another woman holding two fingers together: “Our daughters and Sherri are like this!”

About the conductor: “She let her hair grow longer.”

And indeed the conductor, Dr. Noreen Green—also the founder and Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony—did have long locks of blonde hair that bounced neatly atop her shoulders as she walked casually out to the central, elevated plank, and initiated a  rousing rendition of Alfred Newman’s20th Century Fox” theme, arguably the best known musical score in cinema. It was after the piece finished, however, that Dr. Green started in with her second role of the night (equally integral), which was quiz master and all-around emcee.

“What movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1956?” she asked aloud to the crowd, following a brief introduction of the program on bill.

The Ten Commandments,” screamed back some sporadic (though passionate) voices from the audience. But they were wrong. Cecille B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments did not win Best Picture that year; it was just nominated. But it was first up on the night’s listing of Jewish-composed/themed film scores—the composer of this piece being the great Elmer Bernstein.

He was supposedly hired by DeMille after another composer dropped out, and is still credited with changing the face of music for cinema. Hearing his epic “Ten Commandments Suite” played live by truly professional musicians—depsite the summer-camp vibe—I could make out the roots of Laurie Johnson’s Dr. Stangelove score, or even early John Williams.

Bernstein’s composition for The Chosen was next was on the agenda (after, of course, a second round of the ever-more-crowd-pleasing Quiz Show with Dr. Green.) This film demanded both jazz and traditional klezmer, in addition to Bernstein’s classical model. What emerged on stage was a swirling mixture of all three genres. Like a practiced jam band, the bass-players plucked swinging jazz riffs, while the clarinet and synthesized harpsichord snapped along with the klezmer, allowing for improvised sax solos and piano doodles. Never before had I considered the obvious connection between jazz and klezmer; they both rely on similar tools, such as off-key sharps and flats, to attain a colorful, upbeat music of the oppressed.

“There’s so much stuff up here,” kvetched Dr. Green once her second finely-conducted number was finished. The audience laughed, and watched her fiddle with cue-cards, batons, and god knows what else before launching into the most complex piece of the whole night: Jerry Goldsmith’s suite from the six-and-a-half-hour miniseries QB VII. Quick, unexpected changes in tempo, along with diverse instrumentation—congas, xylophones, electric guitars, and the entire Ford Festival Choir—combined for what I can only describe as Sciezmer, a perfect combination between between sci-fi and klezmer. Where the string section appeared semi-bored during the last Bernstein bout, their eyes were locked onto their music stands for this piece. Finishing off the suite with Goldsmith’s purposefully fragmented version of the Mourner’s Kaddish, the music was mesmerizing to say the least.

But just in case it wasn’t exactly a “greatest hit,” the orchestra went on to perform the instantly recognizable theme from Schindler’s List, as composed by John Williams, with Mark Kashper, Associate Principal Second Violinist for the L.A. Philharmonic, playing the solo. This piece was so moving, the couple sitting next to me (who must have been in their 70’s) started holding hands. And they kept them held together all through Charles Fox’sVictory at Entebbe Suite,” a powerful, pop-y, Phillip Glass-inspired melody, as well as Israeli pianist Andy Feldbau’s own solo arrangement of Alan Menken’sA Whole New World” from Aladdin. All this before intermission. No one ever said the Jews didn’t know how to squeeze in a good show.

However, Dr. Green and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony’s directors must have been counting on the majority of the audience falling asleep during the second half, because it simply was not up to par.

First was Danny Pelfrey’s suite from Joseph: King of Dreams, which was rousing if only because it seemed like one long crescendo of music. After that came the song “Trinkt L’Chayim” from Elmer Bernstein and Sylvia Neufeld’s score for Thoroughly Modern Millie. This piece was sung by Ariella Vaccarino, who’s gift lies in her voice, not in her fashion sense (she was wearing a sparkly, red strapless dress that was a bit too Broadway for the event).

And what kind of Jewish symphony would it be without the conductor’s own daughter performing a solo? That’s right: Hannah Drew, the gorgeous (and might I add, finely dressed), 13-year-old seed of Maestra Green sung the title song from Disney’s The Prince of Egypt, as composed by the legendary Stephen Schwartz. I hesitate to critique her performance, because, after all, she’s only 13. But then again, why is her mother hoisting her up on stage at such a fragile age? All I’m going to say is that while Hannah was, for the most part, brave and astonishing, she was clearly a product of intense coaching. In other words, she’s in training, as she should be at 13.

Luckily, the most inspired and fun composition of the night, written by Yuval Ron for the Oscar-winning short film West Bank Story, came next. Ron, himself, played the oud live with the orchestra, and his passion for the Arabian/klezmer/Israeli/show-tune music was palpable. Along with his colleague Jamie Papish on drum, he was on fire.

Lastly and appropriately, the show ended with a reprise of Jerry Goldsmith, this time from his score for the film Masada. It cleanly showed off the overall unity of the orchestra, the immense responsibility it takes from each and every musician to come together as a cohesive and beautiful whole. I looked around the audience, and not a seat was empty. Everyone, even the oldest and the youngest, were still present and awake. I realized that a symphonic piece of music like Goldsmith’s is not a bad metaphor for Masada, or even Jewishness in general. Because group unity (borne from individuality) is what’s it’s all about.

- By Joshua Morrison

Photography by Guy Madmoni.

For more information about Ford Amphitheatre events, please visit www.fordamphitheater.org, or call 323-461-3673.

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Extra! Extra! Win Tickets to Not Pay For Rent!

rent_415x150I have mixed feelings about Rent.

On one hand, the wildly popular, Tony Award-winning musical turned major motion picture seems to have climaxed to the level of bubbly pop non-sense—Joey Fatone playing no small role in this symbolic transformation. (Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police decidedly contains the best satirical take on Rent to date: a group of overjoyed actors on a Broadway stage, clapping their hands to the lyrics, “We’ve all got AIDS!”—the bourgeois audience happily joining in).

On the other hand, Rent is a great show. It reinvented the musical genre and operatic concept for a younger audience, told a worthwhile and relevent story, had some excellent numbers that I still find myself singing in the shower, and originated from the genuine heart and soul of a true artist: Jonathan Larson.

In a weird way, the on-going legacy of Rent has begun to reflect its central theme, which, to me, is the struggle between the intentions of romantic integrity and the compromises of life’s daily realities. Where Larson once insisted on casting actors with little or no experience, the role of Mimi in the film adaptation was handed over to Rosario Dawson. Where the production was once a simple staged reading at the New York Theatre Workshop, the latest tours have ventured as far as Slovakia and Guam. And where the first two rows of every Broadway show were once reserved for the homeless (or at least whoever stood in line the whole day), tickets now sell upwards of $200 a pop.

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In Print: Jacob Samuel’s “Outside the Box”

25The Edition Jacob Samuel exhibition, titled “Outside the Box,” celebrates LACMA and the Hammer Museum’s joint acquisition of the collection of 43 print portfolios produced by Jacob Samuel in collaboration with a host of international artists from 1988-2009. Samuel generally works with intaglio techniques, such as aquatint and engraving, but his deployment of these techniques is as varied as the group of artists he has worked with over the twenty-two years of his studio’s existence. Above all, he responds to each individual artist’s concepts and visions, helping them translate their practices into a reproducible medium. Samuel offers expertise and guidance, but in his own words, he “just show[s]up.” The finished prints themselves run the gamut of styles, from abstraction to representation, from seeming spontaneity to carefully planned and arranged wholes, from the organic to the mechanical. This range of practices and subject matter makes for a compelling exhibition.

Among the most intriguing portfolios were those that emphasized process or performance. Marina Abramovic’s Spirit Cooking, as its title implies, was envisioned as a metaphysical cookbook of sorts. The images themselves are sometimes gestural and indexical—images were scratched into the ground with the artist’s fingernail, or spit bites performed with actual spit, or handprints done in acid-resistant ground. The images interact with the printed text, complementing it with gestural impressions that somehow relate to the words, and by creating a rhythmic separation that distinguishes one ‘recipe’ from the next. Ed Moses’ Abstraktion and Apparition is a series of etched abstractions that seem at once spontaneous and carefully crafted. Spontaneous, because the organic forms recall abstract expressionist paintings, and crafted, because these images are executed in a highly process-driven medium.

Also on display is Samuel’s expertise and skill as a technician. James Welling’s Quadrilaterals and Jene Highstein’s Five Works both rely on dense patches of black without irregularity, while the images from Josiah McElheny’s White Modernismare barely there, ghostly white on white forms. Joe Goode’s Storm Trees series features fluid and amorphous illustrations, while Barry McGee’s Drypoint on Acid prints rely on a process that allows the artist to draw directly onto the plate, mimicking the original pencil drawings.

Jacob Samuel is an interesting figure—a master printer whose collaborations have intersected the careers of some of the most celebrated artists of the day—and “Outside the Box” tries very hard not to let you forget it. Certain placards perhaps go into too much detail about superficial aspects of Samuel’s relationships with the artists (i.e. Did you know he shares a common interest in jazz music/rock music/surfing with artist X?). Certainly Samuel’s resume is impressive, and the brief documentary and interview in the exhibition brochure explain how these relationships are important, but at a certain point the information begins to seem gratuitous or redundant.  This criticism is minor compared to the depth and breadth of work on display.

- By Joe Capezzuto

“Outside the Box” will be on display at the Hammer Museum through August 29th, 2010.  The work on display can be seen atwww.editionjs.com.

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