Category: Westside

Theater review: 'Good People' at Geffen Playhouse

April 13, 2012 |  3:04 pm

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 How do you solve a problem like Margie, the tough South Boston single mother at the center of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People”?

The play, which was nominated for a Tony last season, is receiving its West Coast premiere in a sharp Geffen Playhouse production that gives Los Angeles audiences a crack at figuring out where exactly things went wrong for a woman who doesn't always make it easy for us to feel sorry for her. It's an intriguingly difficult case, one that bravely touches (with as much humor as seriousness) the one subject left in America that's still largely off-limits — social class.

This once-pretty, middle-aged train wreck, played with tender conviction by Jane Kaczmarek sporting a thick Red Sox fan accent, has just lost her job at the Dollar Store and is fretting about how she’s going to pay the rent for the apartment she shares with her developmentally disabled daughter. It doesn’t help her prospects that she peppers her conversation with the words “pardon my French” or that she seems perpetually spoiling for a fight, but not even her landlady (Marylouise Burke, one of Lindsay-Abaire’s acting muses) is prepared to give her a break, and they’re always hanging out together.

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Theater review: 'In Paris' at The Broad Stage

April 12, 2012 |  5:45 pm

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Even when he’s not dancing, it’s a joy to watch Mikhail Baryshnikov move. He hardly dances at all in “In Paris,” a wispy stage adaptation of Ivan Bunin’s short story that had its U.S. premiere Wednesday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Just a spinning flourish at the conclusion of this decidedly minor-scale, though ultimately touching, play.

But this is an artist who has learned to act with his spine. Character is a matter of carriage, posture, physical coordination. Standing still offers him a psychological window — and why shouldn’t it when there are so many possible ways to hold yourself?

Baryshnikov’s physical approach serves him well in a performance piece that doesn’t give him much more than a dramatic scenario to work with. Directed by Dmitry Krymov, who also adapted the text, this production (performed in French and Russian with English supertitles) is long on mood and atmosphere, short on action. It’s really just an outline of a story, given a sophisticated and often haunting theatrical airbrushing.

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Art review: 'Aphrodite and the Gods of Love' at the Getty Villa

March 28, 2012 | 11:23 am

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If your image of Aphrodite's birth is of a lithe strawberry blond demurely covering her nudity as she gracefully surfs to shore on a cockleshell, in the manner of Botticelli's famous Renaissance canvas of Venus, her Roman version, you might want to imagine again. One common source of the myth (there are a few) could not paint a more different picture.

The Titans, predecessors to the Olympian gods, were the children of Uranus, ruler of the sky and a terrible brute, and the Earth-mother Gaia. The young Titan Cronus, in a bloody and successful struggle for power against his savage father, took his scythe and, with a fearsome blow, severed Uranus' genitals. He threw them into the sea.

Matter was fertilized by divinity -- albeit in a sexually charged act of violence -- creating a bubbling froth of sea foam (aphros, in the Greek). Aphrodite, embodiment of celestial flesh, washed up on the shore.

This epic story of patricidal rage and castration hardly invokes Botticelli's limpid sensuality. For a fuller, definitely stranger, sometimes even horrifying but finally truer interpretation, a visit to the Getty Villa is in order.

"Aphrodite and the Gods of Love," which opens Wednesday, is a fine exhibition that restores the fullness -- as well as the occasionally creepy eccentricity -- of the marvelous mythological figure. Organized by Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, which has a large collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, it has been somewhat reconfigured for the Villa's smaller gallery spaces by Getty curator David Saunders.

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The L.A. and Brooklyn new music scenes, competition or love-fest?

March 26, 2012 |  5:24 pm

Timothy AndresReviewing a rousing concert by the Los Angeles new music collective wild Up in November, I expressed pleasure that a faction of young L.A. composers retain the kind of cutting edge that can get smoothed over in other emerging scenes. Brooklyn, N.Y., in particular is a happening arts center where mixology extends not just to cocktails but also to a too easy throwing together of different kinds of music in a way that waters them down.

But there is also a more bracing Brooklyn, and one to which L.A. feels both close to and competitive with. We on the West Coast jealously watch many of our promising composers flock there. We also do our best to be Brooklyn on the Pacific. We’ve got the Dodgers and good Brooklyn bagels. And we play Brooklyn music, as wild Up and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra proved over the weekend.

At Beyond Baroque on Saturday afternoon, wild Up devoted the first half of a program to Brooklyn, the second half to L.A. One of the Brooklyn composers was Timo Andres, whose feisty piano solo, “How Can I Live in Your World of Ideas?” was on the program.

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John McLaughlin's paintings meet Mono-ha sculptures

March 21, 2012 |  9:35 am

Mono-ha Nobuo Sekine 'Phase - Mother Earth' 1968 Knight
The recent decision at the Orange County Museum of Art to organize the first full retrospective of paintings by John McLaughlin (1898-1976), which is very good news indeed, happens to coincide with an ambitious exhibition at Blum & Poe chronicling a pivotal revolution in modern Japanese art. Anyone interested in McLaughlin -- among America's great 20th century artists and the first in Southern California -- should make a point of seeing the Culver City gallery's revealing "Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-ha" (to April 14). It was organized by independent curator Mika Yoshitake.

Mono-ha, roughly translated as "School of Things," is hardly known in the United States. But the art, which is mostly sculptural, transforms a profound Japanese aesthetic into a contemporary idiom that was also essential to the Californian's earlier work. McLaughlin lived in Japan, China and India for many years before moving to L.A. in 1946 and starting to paint, and he bought and sold Japanese prints for much of his life.

Mono-ha is characterized by artists making worldly refinements rather than withdrawing into tradition's  cloistered realm. Materials are ordinary or industrial -- dirt, water, stone, paper; steel, lumber, concrete and glass. Nature and industry often collide. For the generation following World War II's devastating blow to national identity, the friction is unsurprising. By the '60s, the stresses of explosive reconstruction were felt.

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Going 'Incognito' at the Santa Monica Museum of Art

March 16, 2012 |  2:30 pm

Put on your running shoes: Saturday brings the eighth edition of "Incognito," the Santa Monica Museum of Art’s popular annual fundraiser, when hundreds of patrons line up hours early, so that when the museum opens for the event, they can race toward artwork that catches their eye.

One lays claim to an artwork by taking a numbered tag to the cashier. At $350 a pop, you could be buying a John Baldesarri, Jo Ann Callis, Tony DeLap, John Outterbridge, Betye Saar or Jennifer Steinkamp – or, among out-of-towners, Judy Chicago, Milton Glaser or Yoko Ono.  You won’t know till after you’ve purchased the work – the identity of the artist is on the back.

“People have to trust their instincts to buy what they like,” says Elsa Longhauser, the museum’s executive director.

This year there will be a record number of 700 works available from 500 artists, in a range of media from drawings, prints, photography and painting to sculpture and video.  All are in an 8 by 10 inch format, except for sculptures, which vary in size. 

"We’re very careful about inviting artists, it’s curated," Longhauser says. "People feel proud to be in 'Incognito' and are careful to give us wonderful work.”

The basic admission is $100 (or $150 at the door), which also provides food and drink. Those who prefer to avoid the rush can come the next day (Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) for the Second Opportunity Art Sale; admission is $10 or free for museum members.

For more information go to

--Scarlet Cheng

Photo: The scene at the 2010 edition of the Santa Monica Museum of Art's Incognito. Credit: Steve Cohn Photography

Michael Heizer's rock: Levitating the masses

March 12, 2012 |  2:45 pm

"I hope that's not costing us a lot of money," said the man on a bicycle at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and 36th Street in Long Beach, as we waited for the light to change the other day. Down the block, the 340-ton granite boulder that will be the centerpiece of artist Michael Heizer's sculpture "Levitated Mass" sat in the middle of the road, suspended in an industrial sling within a massive, specially built transporter two-thirds the length of a football field. A crowded block-party swirled around it.

This was Day 8 of the circuitous, 11-day journey that began in a Riverside stone quarry and ended, 22 cities later, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There, over the course of the next few months, the two-story-high rock will be positioned atop a deep, 456-foot-long trench of structurally reinforced concrete running along 6th Street. The trench was mostly completed last fall. When the sculpture is finished in late spring or early summer, a viewer will be able to enter the sloping trench and pass beneath the giant boulder balanced above.

Did eager anticipation for that day spark the flame of public imagination, drawing international media and tens of thousands of visitors during the rock's 105-mile journey? No. But the spectacle is worth considering. It tells us about the distinctive intersection between art and the public today.

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Art review: 'Alighieri Boetti by Afghan Women' at UCLA Fowler Museum

March 12, 2012 | 11:30 am

Boetti Map

This post has been corrected. See note below for details.

Italian artist Alighiero Boetti (1940–1994) once made a sculpture that consists of a small, 30-inch-tall black box lined in reflective metal and topped with glass. Inside is a wired light bulb. According to plan, a hidden timer randomly illuminates the bulb once a year for just 11 seconds.

Imagine what it would be like to come into the room where "Annual Lamp" is housed, only to be told that the bulb had just turned off. Missed it! Just another 30 million-plus seconds within which to hope to be present to empirically confirm the event.

I can't say from my own experience whether or not the light actually turns on, because I've never seen the bulb light up. (The 1966 sculpture is in a German collection -- although at the moment it's in London at the Tate Modern for a big Boetti retrospective.) But that might not matter. For what I do know is this: Waiting for the illumination promised from any work of art resides at the core of Boetti's savvy sculpture.

Illumination does come, whether or not the bulb suddenly burns bright, if only in the clarified nature of expectations in the ordinary art-viewing experience. That, we tend to take for granted.

Consciousness is complicated. At the UCLA Fowler Museum, a modest exhibition of a very different body of Boetti's work materializes another dimension of it.

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Timothy Potts' past and the Getty's future

March 11, 2012 | 12:07 pm

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The art collection at the J. Paul Getty Museum regularly adds exceptional works, such as an exceedingly rare, early Italian Renaissance portrait drawing -- which might be an even rarer early Renaissance artist's self-portrait drawing -- by Piero del Pollaiuolo (circa 1443–96). The Getty snagged it at a January auction.

Still, the museum's collection has always seemed to lag more than it should, given the Getty's huge financial resources. Turnover in the museum director's office might be part of the reason why.

Three directors have overseen the museum since the Getty Center opened in December 1997, and the plum job has been vacant for the last two years. That will change in September, when Timothy Potts arrives to assume the directorship. Currently in England at Cambridge University's Fitzwilliam Museum, Potts was formerly director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas -- a longtime Getty collecting rival. Among his acquisitions there was an exceptional Roman bronze head of an athlete, once mistakenly thought to be part of a Venetian Baroque sculpture.

What might the appointment mean for the future of the Getty's permanent collection? In Sunday Calendar's Art & Books, I'll consider some of the possibilities. Read the Critic's Notebook here.

[Update: An earlier version of this post misstated the location of the Fitzwilliam Museum.]

--Christopher Knight

Photo: Roman, Head of an Athlete (Apoxyomenos), circa 2nd–1st century B.C.; probably after Lysippos (Greek, circa 365–310 B.C.), cast bronze; Credit: Kimbell Art Museum

Theater review: 'The Jacksonian' at Geffen Playhouse

February 17, 2012 |  6:00 pm

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In “Crimes of the Heart,” playwright Beth Henley wrung laughs from suicide, with a report of a mother who killed herself alongside her precious kitty and a scene with a grown daughter so mired in scandal that she sticks her head in the oven as though it were a Bundt cake.

Well, that’s nothing compared with the outrageous goings-on in Henley’s latest play, “The Jacksonian,” which is receiving its world premiere in a Geffen Playhouse production featuring Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Bill Pullman at their creepy-comic best. This black comedy, set in Jackson, Miss., in the tinderbox year of 1964, proudly waves its Southern Gothic flag. You know you’re deep in Flannery O’Connor country when the quotidian merges with the grotesque and genteel manners are accompanied by a fist in the face.

Henley, like all good practitioners of the Southern Gothic genre, observes the bizarre customs of her characters without much editorial commentary. (No need for a soapbox with behavior this self-incriminating.) In setting the work in her birthplace during a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, the playwright gets to sift through sepia-tinged memories and examine the pretense of normality in white folks’ lives as churches were burned and black people were lynched. Yet she’s also fabricating a farfetched story that’s as eccentrically stylized as any by David Lynch.

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