Archive for September, 2014

“ART” and friendship at City Lights Theater Company

Serge (Jeffrey Bracco) and Yvan (Max Tachis) checking out the all-white painting in "Art" by Yasmina Reza. Photo by Mike Ko / siliconvalleydesigns.com.

Serge (Jeffrey Bracco) and Yvan (Max Tachis) checking out the all-white painting in “Art” by Yasmina Reza. Photo by Mike Ko / siliconvalleydesigns.com.

ART is a Tony Award winning play (1998 Best Play) now showing at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose.  Directed by Veronica Drake and starring Kit Wilder, Jeffrey Bracco and (always my favorite) Max Tachis, it is both a very humorous and very French show.  Playwright Yasmina Reza is also known for the plays Conversations After a Burial, Winter Crossing, and God of Carnage, and to be honest, she is not my favorite playwright.  City Lights however has gathered a very talented cast and manages to pull off a show that had the entire audience laughing throughout.

Serge, Marc and Yvan have all been friends for many years until one day Serge buys a very expensive piece of art.  He is delighted with his purchase, and shows it proudly to Marc, who promptly calls it “Sh!t” and then loses his mind when he finds out that Serge has paid 200,000 francs.  Why is Marc so upset?  Because the painting is a 5′ x 4′ canvas that has been painted white.  All white.  And while you can see three very very light diagonal white lines and one white horizontal line on the white background, the painting is indeed, entirely white.

What follows is 90 minutes of Marc belittling and berating Serge, Serge feeling very hurt and offended by Marc’s opinions, and both of them having little patience for young Yvan who appears to take whichever side is easiest at the moment. They angrily debate whether the painting is actually entirely white, or whether there are shades of grey, yellow, or even red in it.  The arguments get more and more vehement, hurt and broken feelings rise to the surface, relationships within and without are questioned, and three friendships are soon on the rocks.

I have been awed by Max Tachis’ talent since I saw him starring in  Renegade Theatre‘s 9 Circles; he also voiced a character in The Smell of The Kill, and wrote the play Perishable, Keep Refrigerated which is still playing at Renegade Theatre Experiment (Hoover Theater) through September 27.  Nine Circles was a traumatic, cathartic performance, but here Tachis plays a more humorous role, and does it splendidly, with the most hilarious expressions and body language.  He is an amazing local talent we are all very lucky to have. Kit Wilder and Jeffrey Bracco inhabit their more serious roles very well also, playing well with the three very different character personalities.

This play is for anyone interested in how relationships form and unravel or how the ties that bind in friendships can also lead to great pain.  If you enjoy God of Carnage you will likely also love Art as they are very similar in tone, experience, and some themes.  It is a quick, fast paced show with no intermission, and the audience on opening night had an excellent time!

ART
Through October 19
City Lights Theater Company
529 South Second Street, San Jose

Serge (Jeffrey Bracco), Marc (Kit Wilder), and Yvan (Max Tachis) in City Lights Theater Company's production of Yasmina Reza's "Art," translated by Christopher Hampton. The show runs Sept. 18-Oct. 19 at 529 S. Second St. in San Jose. Details: cltc.org.

Serge (Jeffrey Bracco), Marc (Kit Wilder), and Yvan (Max Tachis); photos by Mike Ko/siliconvalleydesigns.com.

Voyageur du Temps – Los Altos

Salmon Tartine

Salmon Tartine

There are some places you visit and you just know it’s going to be good! From the exterior Voyageur du Temps is unassuming, but once you step in the door you’re greeted with sleek cases full of jewel like pastries, classic tartines and a floor to ceiling window looking into the immaculate pastry kitchen.
All of the baked goods, from baguettes and croissants to tarts and pastries are made behind that glass wall, and it’s fun to sit and watch the chefs practicing their craft.
Voyageur du Temps is built in what was once a train station, the exterior is a long horizontal craftsman style. Inside however it has a sleek modern feel that feels very Japanese in style. That figures as the owner, Rie Rubin is originally from Japan and brought two French-trained chefs over from Tokyo to open the restaurant.
The cafe serves breakfast until 11 AM. Look for the french toast, eggs and the “Bacon Epi” a baguette with the bacon baked in, or opt for the “Tokyo Breakfast” Thick toasted bread served with butter and jam and a cup of rich drip coffee from Seattle’s Cafee Vita.

The croissants are the best I’ve had outside of San Francisco’s Tartine, who–for me at least– set the bar on French pastry in the bay area. Look for their signature “V” cubes. I got mine filled with dark chocolate and cherries. Delicious and unique.
The Tartines and salads are served all day. Some complain they are expensive and the portions small, but you have to remember that in Japan and France they aren’t gluttons like we are here in the US. Portions are exactly right and each tartine is prepared fresh and individually, not laying around in a cooler somewhere waiting to be served. The attention to quality and detail shows everywhere here.

The patio has  seating nestled in the trees and I can imagine myself spending quite some time there over a cup of café aulait and a croissant.

Visit Voyageur du Temps–288 1ST St., Los Altos; 650-383-5800 open Tuesday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Closed Mondays.

Santa Cruz Surf Film Festival

 scsff header2
Get ready for the first annual Santa Cruz Surf Film Festival (www.scsff.com), taking place at the Del Mar and Rio theatres in Santa Cruz Sept. 24-26, 2014. This will be Santa Cruz’s first-ever multi-evening celebration of the best in surf cinema.
There is a lineup of 19 films from all over the world, ranging from 3 to 90 minutes long, with a total of 6 different screenings.
The focus of the festival is on high-quality documentary storytelling, as well as beautiful cinematography. The result is a carefully curated roster of films that will appeal to surfers and non-surfers alike.
Feature films will include:
  • The world premiere of Oney Anwar: Chasing the Dream, the story of an aspiring pro surfer from a remote Indonesian village, with the film producer in attendance at the screening for Q&A;
  • OUT in the Line-up, a documentary that follows the founder of gaysurfers.net as he travels around the world surfing and exploring the covering up of homosexuality in surf culture, and includes interviews with well-known pro surfers who have come out of the closet. This film sold out at the San Francisco International LGBT Frameline Film Festival, the Newport Beach Film Festival, and the San Diego Surf Film Festival;
  • Tierra de Patagones, a picaresque tale of two Argentinian brothers who drive and camp their way through Patagonia to experience the wild culture and find waves;
  • Beyond the Surface, a tale of a group of professional women longboarders who visit India and meet the first female Indian surfer. Director and professional surfer Crystal Thornburg-Homcy will be in attendance for a Q&A.
Tickets are on sale now at www.scsff.com/tickets and there’s an early bird (they’re calling it Dawn Patrol) ticket discount available until Sept. 10th.

Rigoletto: an Amazing and Entertaining opener for Opera SJ

Resident baritone Matthew Hanscom as Rigoletto

 

I’ve been so excited to return to Opera San Jose and see their opening show, Verdi’s Rigoletto! And what a wonderful time we had!

Remember, I am the Opera Novice, and even after several years of attending Opera SJ I still have no technical knowledge, but guess what?  I still enjoy the heck out of the shows.  And that is because you don’t have to be an opera aficionado to love the experience.  My opera reviews are for the general public, with the hope that you will all give it a try one day and discover a new love as I have.

Since this is the beginning of the season, let’s get back to the basics. The first thing you have to do is get out your fancypants clothes and jewelry, because this is your excuse to pretend to be royalty.  Then you make reservations at your favorite downtown restaurant.  If you are going on Opening Night, reservations are very important, as everything is booked solid anywhere near the California Theatre.  Then you just relax, have a great time, and look forward to buying a freshly baked cookie during intermission.

Rigoletto is a great show for a beginner, with over the top tragedy, a tortured clown, vengeance upon vengeance and, of course, a deflowered virgin.  There is also at least one very familiar song.  It is great to have familiar music when you’re a beginner; it makes you feel more comfortable, and it’s always funny to realize a tune you know from childhood is actually from a famous opera.  As my guest said, “I had no idea those were the words to that tune!!” And then we sang it all the way back to the parking garage.

Rigoletto is sung in Italian, but there is a screen above the stage that shows the words in English, so you do not miss a thing.  The set design for the show was not as grand as I’ve seen, but worked well in taking the audience from Rigoletto’s residence, to the outside streets, to a home in the slums where a bit of coin can buy you any favor you wish.

The orchestra was perfection as always; I really feel I do them a disservice by not having grander words for their hard work, but they are amazing.  The performers were also astounding as usual, with special mention for all the hard work of Matthew Hanscom who plays Rigoletto and must sing almost constantly through all three acts. But very special mention goes to a new resident: Isabella Ivy makes her company debut as Gilda and we have a winner here.  When Isabella is on stage, all eyes are on her, and though there are several songs where many people are singing different parts, you will still watch and listen only to Isabella.  She has the voice, she has the power, and she has the talent.  She also sings while lying down at one point, something that even an opera novice can see must be an incredible feat.  I am absolutely delighted to see that Opera SJ has found such great new talent and look forward to her performances the rest of the season.

When looking to buy tickets for a show, remember that the California Theatre is very well designed, and there is no need to pay a lot of money for a front row seat.  Seats in the balcony are fantastic with a great view of the stage.  Attending Opera SJ gives you the opportunity to pretend to be super fancypants, but you can still do so on a budget.

Last, but never least, remember that opera is not a stuffy or boring torture to endure.  At its best there is a really entertaining story, over the top is even better, and Rigoletto fits the bill for a beginner.  Never be afraid to hate all the men, if all the men are playing villains (they often are). Never be afraid to laugh quietly if the dying heroine is taking a few minutes too long to die – or even shed a tear if it’s a truly tragic show.  Never believe that you aren’t meant to think and feel all these things.  What you are meant to do is enjoy yourself.

I have seen theater shows where the last line of the play absolutely destroys the entire experience for me.  For Rigoletto, as the clown wails one final lament I thought “Oh please oh please let this be the last line of the show!!!” and the curtain went down and I clapped my hands and cackled with joy as the audience gave a well-deserved standing ovation.  I absolutely loved this show.  Can you tell?

Rigoletto
Opera SJ
Through September 21
The California Theatre

Resident tenor Kirk Dougherty as the Duke of Mantua and resident soprano Isabella Ivy as Gilda. Photo by Pat Kirk.

Chalk Art Festival in Luna Park

lunapark-chalk-art-festivalOn Saturday, September 20 Backesto Park comes alive with the 7th annual Luna Park Chalk Art Festival.  The festival is an all-volunteer run event created to provide a family-friendly, accessible venue to showcase the talents of local artists and students, foster awareness of the critical need for arts in schools and organizations serving youth, and to raise funds for providing grants and scholarships to meet that need.

No longer a tiny neighborhood event, the festival has grown, bringing in talented performers and musicians, vendors and food trucks, including some of my favorites, Hill Country BBQ and Waffle Amore! The dancers from  Movimiento Cosmico Indigenous Dance will be there too with their stunning ceremonial dances.

Check out the Flickr feed for the Luna Park Chalk Art Festival for more photos and follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter too.

If you’d like to participate as an artist or support the festival as a volunteer or sponsor , registration for all artists, artist/vendors, schools, and nonprofits is located here.

Water By the Spoonful at TheatreWorks

watershowflash

TheatreWorks, one of my very favorite theater companies, has an amazing show now playing through September 14.    Water By the Spoonful is a Pulitzer Prize winning drama by the Tony Award winning playwright of In the Heights, Quiara Alegría Hudes.  It combines drama and comedy as it works through the never ending trials of being an addict, specifically a crack addict.  In one of the two main storylines, we follow a calm, reasonable woman known as “Haikumom” as she runs an internet support group for a group of addicts.  Among the other members of the chatroom are “Orangutan”, a brash and caustic young woman who is lonely for human contact, and “Chutes&Ladders”, a man who has lost everything but is struggling to regain some sort of meaningful life and manage to stay sober with the help of his chatroom friends.

In the other main story apart from the chatroom we have Eliot, a troubled Iraq war veteran who now works at Subway, and his cousin.  A woman in their family has passed away, and they are at the foreground of the stage as they work out the logistics of the funeral.

But what do these stories have in common?  Quite a lot, it is eventually revealed, and every character in the story has their own back story and a future to live as well.  There are many things happening in this play, and the great stage design really helps clarify where each character is at any time without confusing the audience.  The lighting and projections make it clear whether we are in an online or offline world, and we also get to see the hidden situations of each character.  It is an amazing, complicated work, and everyone involved in this show has done an incredible job creating a very touching and thoughtful production.

I found it interesting to discover later that Water By the Spoonful is part of a series called the “Elliot Trilogy”, portraying the coming of age of the young Elliot Ortiz. This explains a lot, as Elliot appeared to be such an important part of this show, yet his story was the least clear of any of the characters.  It is not that his story was incomplete, just that the others were mostly wrapped up (as tidily as a crack addict’s story can be wrapped), but Elliot’s background and future were not as clear to me.  This not only makes me want to see more of Elliot’s story, but necessitated some discussion with my guest after this show as we pondered Elliot.  There were several questions I had about Spoonful after, but in a good way; instead of a review, I wanted to write a literary essay about all the different layers at play here.  I wasn’t satisfied with the end result of every character, and that caused me to think about them after the show.  Any time I am left pondering and wanting to have conversations after a show, that is when you know theater has been done well.  This show captures such a range of emotions, and really enforces the value of family and community.  It also shows how, even if those can’t be had, just a bit of kindness and human contact can save a life.

Water By the Spoonful
TheatreWorks
Through September 14
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

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