Archive for July, 2011

Lust, Betrayal, and A Streetcar Named Desire

Friday night I had the pleasure of seeing Tennessee Williams’ iconic classic, A Streetcar Named Desire at Dragon Productions Theatre Company in Palo Alto. Streetcar won Tennessee Williams a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1947.

In this production, director Jeanie K. Smith chose to focus on Blanche’s story as opposed to Stanley’s as many other renditions have. We follow Blanche DuBois who is an aging Southern Belle trying to run away from her shameful past in Mississippi. When she moves to New Orleans to live with her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley, Blanche clashes with their rough, industrial lives and learns that she can run but she cannot escape trouble.

I went into the theatre having never seen a staged production of the show. I saw the movie years ago, but tried not to compare what I was seeing on stage in front of me with what little I remembered from the movie. It’s difficult not to compare if you’ve seen other versions of this play. Have you ever seen this play in a small theatre that seats 42 audience members?

Jeanie had a challenge; how do you tell such a big story in such a small space? Her answer? Simplicity. Keep the set minimal and let the actors tell the story. This worked wonderfully because we were able to be right there with the characters and feel their emotions, see every layer, every nuance and not be distracted by a busy set. And the actors did a fantastic job of telling the story.

Blanche DuBois is a very complex character. She puts on airs and insults her sister’s way of living, all the while taking one shot of whiskey after the next and obviously not being able to deal with whatever she is escaping. Meredith Hagedorn, who plays Blanche, creates a somewhat likeable character who you just can’t seem to take your eyes off of, arrogant and an emotional wreck, or not. Meredith sucks you into Blanche’s story and makes it easy to feel pity for her and to want everything to work in her favor.

Andrew Harkins is perfect as the rough and crude Stanley Kowalski. I wasn’t sure the momentum of the scene leading up to the famous “Stella” line was enough to put him in the emotional state of someone who is ashamed of what he’s done and is madly and deeply in love with the woman he did it to, but he did. He dropped to his knees, sobbing, and the whole audience felt the intensity.

Katie Anderson is brilliant as Stella Kowalski. She plays a very calm Stella. Her calm nature gives the audience someone to turn to during times of chaos. She is nurturing, understanding, and lovable.

Also lovable is Mitch, played by Troy Johnson, Stanley’s friend who dates Blanche. Troy creates an extremely likable character in Mitch. Sweet and innocent, like a big teddy bear.

The rest of the cast was quite talented as well: Charles McKeithan, Monica Colletti, Phillip Raupach, and Mary Lou Torre.

This production is a definite must see!

A Streetcar Named Desire

July 29 – August 21, 2011

Dragon Productions Theatre Company

Summer Pops Free Music Festival 2011

Symphony Silicon Valley presents its Summer Pops free music festival, five concerts over two weekends, on the Paseo de San Carlos (the grassy area between the Associated Students House and Spartan Complex) at San Jose State University. Enter at South Fourth and East San Carlos streets; parking available nearby.

Bring a picnic, your beach chair or a blanket. The series will include a family night for kids of all ages, a Latin night, Big Band hits, and Hollywood blockbusters. Both Sunday concerts feature free ice cream.

Saturday, July 30 — 7:00pm – 8:30pm

Classics With Attitude: Maestro Peter Jaffe opens the Festival with a mix of light classics including favorites like the eerie “Night on Bald Mountain;” “Carmen Fantasy;” the rhythmic “Bolero;” and the sweeping and picturesque “The Moldau.”

Sunday, July 31 — 5:30pm – 7:00pm

Family Adventure Concert: Family favorites for kids of all ages — from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean, the bubbly theme from Little Mermaid, and more. Come early to enjoy free ice cream.

Friday, August 5 — 7:00pm – 8:30pm

Noche Caliente: Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca bring hot Latin dance rhythms and smooth world music beats to a special evening of Latin music. Special guests, pyrotechnic San Jose Taiko, open the concert.

Saturday, August 6 — 7:00pm – 8:30pm

Big Band Hits: “Your Hit Parade” brings back the swinging sounds of the 30′s, 40′s & 50′s Big Band hits, with special emphasis on the dance music of the era.

Sunday, August 7 — 5:30pm – 7:00pm

Hooray for Hollywood: A night of Hollywood themes from the movies Gone with the Wind, Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and James Bond. Come early to enjoy free ice cream.

Why the Netflix price increase isn’t

I might be getting in to this conversation a little late, but I still keep hearing people talk about the “price increase” for Netflix users. But its not really; or not if you’re willing to ditch one of their two services, streaming or dvd-by-mail. And I’m gonna be just fine with ditching streaming. Here’s why:

  • Selection: Out of 40 disks in my queue, only 6 are even available for streaming.
  • Reliability: Who wants to get halfway through watching a tv series and have the remainder suddenly yanked from the service because of a contract dispute between Netflix and the producer? I’ve had that happen at least once with streaming.
  • Picture quality: At least on my interconnect connection, watching Netflix streaming is like watching a DVD, if I were to previously have dipped my glasses in vaseline.
  • Sound: In some of the videos I’ve watched on streaming, the sound was out of sync with the video by more than a second. I saw this the worst in the old Monty Python tv shows. Timing is everything (they say) in comedy…and trying to watch Monty Python with the sound off by a second proves it.

I’ve heard some people say they’ll be just as happy ditching dvd-by-mail and getting streaming only. I’m not sure why they’d be willing to pay for a limited selection of jerky out-of-sync videos, but they’ll get a price cut too, just the same.

Now if Netflix ever decides to actually drop their dvd-by-mail service altogether, then we’ll have something to really complain about, but hopefully they’re smart enough to know that streaming just isn’t ready for prime time, yet.

Magic Hour at Montalvo Arts Center

I was recently invited to a Smash Mouth Concert and Social Media Party at the beautiful Montalvo Arts Center (previously known as Villa Montalvo) in Saratoga. Also featuring Drake Bell and The Relay Company.

It was my first concert at Montalvo and what better way to experience the grounds and outdoor concert venue than with other Social Media Geeks, wine, cheese, and Psycho Donuts! If you haven’t tried Psycho Donuts, I highly recommend indulging in these creative treats. Locations in Campbell and Downtown San Jose.

 

I was having so much fun during the Social Media Party making new friends and taking pictures with Smash Mouth and the other performers before the concert that I forgot I was there FOR a concert. As soon as we walked out toward our seats I was blown away by the beauty around me. It was dusk so the sky was a bright, welcoming blue. Add live music, flashy pink and purple lights for the stage, and seats full of people having fun in an intimate setting, and I was experiencing the perfect magic hour.

The concert was a blast! I got to hear The Relay Company and Drake Bell for the first time and I really enjoyed them. I got to relive my college years with Smash Mouth who were totally cool. When they were performing, kids from the audience got up on stage and sang and danced with the band. It was hilarious! Then, the lead singer, Steve Harwell, came and sang in the stands. He was right in front of us! So awesome!!

Towards the end of the concert I took a moment to look up at the beautiful night sky full of stars and saw the Little Dipper. I love being in the moment like that. Music, good company, beautiful surroundings; I was in heaven. Thanks Montalvo! And thanks to Nathan Zanon, Montalvo Arts’ Interactive Media Manager, and all the gracious volunteers for your wonderful hospitality.

Montalvo Arts Center has served the community for over 75 years as a center for creativity, offering art courses, performing arts events, gallery exhibitions, educational opportunities, artist residencies and more. Today, Montalvo and its arts programs serve nearly 200,000 visitors each year. Montalvo will be celebrating their Centennial next year when the Villa turns one hundred.

Upcoming Concerts:

Upcoming Events:

Montalvo Arts Center
15400 Montalvo Rd
Saratoga, CA 95071

408-961-5839

Twitter @montalvoarts

“Like” Montalvo Arts on Facebook

 

 

Mount Umunhum on TV

Tonight (7/20/2011) at 7:30 PM (repeats 1:30 AM) KQED will present Mt. Umunhum Return to the Summit on QUEST.

Umunhum is Ohlone ~ meaning resting place of the hummingbird.

Or, watch it on line @ KQED.

Also showing Fri 7/22/2011 1:30 pm on KQED and Sat 7/23/2011 3:30 pm on KTEH.

Bike Helmets SAVE LIVES

No one ever wants to get the call that a friend or family member has been in a cycling accident and “the paramedics are on the way”.  Trust me, I know from experience. Just about every cycling friend I know has been to the hospital this year.  Almost none of these accidents have involved cars.  Every single one has involved a helmet secured firmly to a head – which saved their lives.

It can be difficult to believe that a waffle-holed piece of Styrofoam can actually save a life, but it certainly does.  Less than 90 days ago a friend of mine crashed in a bike race, an extraordinary circumstance, but an accident which broke her neck, several ribs, and separated her shoulder.  It also cracked her helmet.  What was not cracked was her skull.  She was back to work in a couple weeks, though still sore and hating her neck brace – but she was alive.  Today another friend was coming out of a downhill turn on a solo ride when a cat ran in front of her.  She hit the cat and does not remember much else, but I have no words for how frightening it is to receive that phone call.  “The paramedics are on the way,” and “They don’t know which hospital they’re taking her to, because of the head trauma.”

My friend, the owner of the pictured helmet, was released from Regional Medical Center today after a four hour stay, with “only” a concussion, road rash on half her body, and bruised and swollen knuckles, thighs, and face.  But do you see her helmet?  Her skull would not have survived that.

Wear a helmet.  Make sure your kids wear a helmet.  Make sure your friends and loved ones wear a helmet, no matter what age.  It’s not just a law.  It’s common sense, and it will save your life.

Youth Bicycle Helmet law: Minors

Make sure you are alerted when a loved one is in an accident: Road ID

 

Charles Ross brings the Force to the SJ Rep this week!

It was Nerd City in downtown San Jose last night, and that will probably continue through the weekend.  Headed south on Second Street, to your right you will see a bunch of Harry Potters, Hermiones, and various wizards standing in line at the Camera Theaters, and to your left you see Princess Leia, Stormtroopers, and Darth Vader standing in line at the San Jose Repertory Theatre!  Any Harry Potter fan knows what’s going on at the Cameras, but you also won’t want to miss the newest summer show at the Rep:  One-Man Star Wars Trilogy.

What exactly is the One-Man Star Wars Trilogy? Well, it’s one man on stage with no props, acting out all three of the original Star Wars films, in only one hour.  Charles Ross plays all the characters, recreates the effects, sings from the John Williams’ score, flies the ships (usually more than one at a time!), and then throws in unexpected jokes throughout to make things even funnier.  This all began as a 20 minute comedy sketch which he eventually turned into an hour long trilogy.  It’s extremely fast paced, will make no sense at all if you’ve never seen the films (familiarity is all that’s needed), but is a great time for the entire family.

The theater was packed on opening night, which is a little unusual for a summer show, but there were couples, families, children (who were enthralled and laughing with the adults!), young people and old.  Even people who had never seen a Star Wars film before!  Charles Ross’s imitations of C3PO and R2D2 were spot on and hilarious, as was his spoof of Luke Skywalker and his hair.  The first appearance of Jabba the Hut had me in hysterics, and the only thing that could have made it better is if Ross had worn Princess Leia’s gold bikini.

Overall the show is pretty close to what happens when your 8 year old nephew is on a sugar high and decides to act out a film (or 3) for you, but in this case a full grown man is running around on stage singing John Williams and having light saber battles with himself.  The show may not be for everyone, but a great time was had by everyone last night, and Star Wars fans should most definitely see it.

Lightsaber Discount! Bring a lightsaber to the Box Office and receive 33% off regular priced tickets to One-Man Star Wars™ Trilogy. Cannot be combined with other discounts or offers, Parterre or Balcony sections only. This special is only available in person through July 13th. (Click here for photos.)

During One-Man Star Wars™ Trilogy, the SJ Rep has transformed their Curtain Call Patron Lounge into their version of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Enjoy premium wine and beer while listening to the sounds of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes. Dress up in as a Star Wars character and receive a coupon for $3 off premium wine or $1 off premium beer in the Cantina.

One-Man Star Wars Trilogy
Written and Performed by Charles Ross
July 14 – 17
San Jose Repertory Theatre

Widespread Panic at The Fox Theater

The band Widespread Panic, on stage at the Fox Oakland Theater

Last night I made it to a fantastic concert by the southern rock jam band Widespread Panic in Oakland. With a sound that appeals to a lot of the same people as The Grateful Dead or Phish, this is a great band to see when you just want to get out of your head for a couple of hours and live in the music. The band laid down a medium-fast groove on the first number and kept it up throughout the evening. They pretty much carried the same tempo through every song up to the encore, when they played a couple of slower pieces, then finished with a couple more fast songs. Unfortunately, though, last night might have been your last chance to see this band in northern California for quite a while. In business for 25 years, the band has announced they’ll go “on hiatus” after the current tour.

So what I really want to talk about is the venue. This was my first time seeing a show at the Fox Oakland Theater, and I was totally blown away by the place. The Fox Oakland was a 1928 movie palace that was closed in 1966 and only reopened in 2009 after years of neglect, followed by years of restoration work by the Friends of the Oakland Fox and the city of Oakland. Both the facade and the interior were just astounding, truly capturing the old theater magic. The interior decoration is a whimsical take on the exotics settings of early film, using elements from Indian and Middle Eastern art and architecture. The bold colors give the feeling that whatever entertainment you’re about to take in at the theater is totally apart from everyday life outside.

If you know the beautiful restoration work done at the California Theater in San Jose, that gives an indication of the quality of what was done at the Fox Oakland, but the Oakland theater is not a place for symphonies or events that require evening dress—they could stage an opera here but it would have to be something big and colorful like Die Entführung aus dem Serail. For a band with a bit of a psychedelic image and a bright light show like Widespread Panic, the Fox Oakland might just be the premiere venue.

If any of the upcoming shows at the Fox Oakland appeal to you, I absolutely recommend taking the drive up to see it at this fantastic venue.

Opera San Jose: Summer Concert Series

Whether the fat lady sings or not, the music is never over at Opera San Jose.  This Sunday, July 10, join Opera San Jose for an evening of opera al fresco, as their Resident Artists perform a concert of popular arias and ensembles at the Redwood City Courthouse Square. Bring a lawn chair and a picnic or your favorite treats, and consider making reservations to enjoy one of the nearby restaurants before or after the performance!

Featuring selections from the most famous opera composers in history, the free one-hour performance will take place on the square, across from the Fox Theatre. You’ll get a peek at their 2011-2012 season (Mozart’s dramatic masterpiece Idomeneo, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci paired with Poulenc’s La voix humaine, Verdi’s beloved La traviata, and Gounod’s thriller Faust), plus a special selection of arias and duets.

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Opera San Jose: Summer Concert Series
Sunday, July 10 · 6:00pm - 7:30pm
Redwood City Courthouse Square
2200 Broadway Street
Redwood City, CA

Follow Opera San Jose on Facebook!

Fountain Blues Festival: New place, New date

The 31st Fountain Blues Festival is coming this weekend. While for many years, the festival had been held in May on the San Jose State campus, this year’s festival has been moved to July 9th, and will be sited in Saint James Park a few blocks away from its old location. Another new feature will be a $10 entry fee.

Past festivals have presented Blues luminaries such as John Lee Hooker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. This year’s festival lineup includes Roomful of Blues, The Tommy Castro Band, The Fountain Blues Festival All-Stars, Rob Piazza, and Guitar Shorty.

The venue and date changes show the festival is facing an uncertain economic situation and is looking to do what it can to stay viable. If you haven’t been before, this would be a great year to ante up a really reasonable ticket price and support live music in San Jose. If you are a longtime festival-goer, you know that $10 is a fantastic price for the music you’re going to see at this show. Advance tickets are now available at Brown Paper Tickets.

  • What: Metro Fountain Blues Festival
  • When: Saturday, July 9, noon to 8 pm
  • Where: Saint James Park, San Jose
  • How much: $10

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