HuffPost Arts' Haiku Reviews is a monthly feature where invited critics review exhibitions and performances in short form. Some will be in the traditional Haiku form of 5x7x5 syllables, others might be a sonnet and others might be more free-form. This month, George Heymont, Laurence Vittes and Peter Frank give their quick takes on performing and visual arts.

Is there an exhibition or performance that you think people should know about? Write your own "haiku" with a link and shine a light on something you think is noteworthy in the comments section below.

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  • Bach 3 concertos, 1 sonata Avi Avital, mandolin. Kammerakademie Potsdam DG CD There's a tremendous amount of Bach around these days, as you'd expect of a rumblingly great composer who enjoyed a particularly close relationships with the instruments he wrote for. In fact, one can make the case that Bach went so far in his identification with instruments in general that he wrote music that could be implicitly played by many different instruments, and often in different configurations. Which makes hearing a young Israeli mandolinist named Avi Avital, who looks in his publicity photos like he stepped off the set of Friends, so appealing a prospect. And Avital delivers, accompanied by the Kammerakademie Potsdam, like out of The Great Race, with 50 minutes of minor key (but not minor quality) Bach distinguished by some pretty heavenly slow movements. The challenge is to avoid comparison with the guitar, which in Avital's hands it equals in nuanced plucking and texture, and excels in more sheer expressivity. - Laurence Vittes

  • As Rory Macdonald began conducting the familiar overture to Mozart's opera, <em>The Magic Flute</em>, I was seized by a moment of panic as I watched Japanese-American artist Jun Kaneko's computerized designs proceed to fill a giant scrim. "Is this entire production going to look like three hours of trying to choose a screensaver?" I wondered. Happily, Kaneko's designs have a cumulative effect which seduces the audience with their many mood changes and fascinating imagery. Adding to the fun was David Gockley's ribald new translation (a welcome relief from Andrew Porter's familiar script) which brought Papageno (Nathan Gunn), Monostatos (Greg Fedderly), Pamina (Heidi Stober), and Tamino (Norman Reinhardt) firmly into the realm of today's vernacular. Directed by Harry Silverstein with grace and humor (I love the two-headed dragon that reappears for a curtain call), the San Francisco Opera's new production was graced by Albina Shagimuratova's fearsome Queen of the Night, one of the best I've heard in decades. Because so much of this production's design is built on computerized projections of Kaneko's art, this version of <em>The Magic Flute</em> (which is shared with the Washington Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Omaha, and Opera Carolina) is destined to delight audiences in many more cities. - by George Heymont

  • <strong>Naida Osline</strong>, like a number of her peers, regards photography as a process of seeing so intense as to transform its subjects - whether the transformation happens in the lens or before it. Her portraits are more than simple documents of their sitters, as a result of their interventions and hers. Her landscapes are more than spatial depictions, making us aware of how cameras look at - feel? - atmosphere. Osline showed both portraits and landscapes in Riverside, and only portraits in Santa Ana - an act in both cases of site-specificity. The landscapes are of Joshua Tree, the eerily beautiful desert farther out Riverside County, but function less to document the desert than to assemble its look through an oddly individuating appreciation of its foliage; quite often it feels as if Osline is taking portraits of trees. Among the human portraits, one series was shown entirely at Grand Central, the other in both showcases. But both series were of personalities local to downtown Santa Ana, Osline zeroing in on their personalityhood. One series documents the neighborhood's proud and comfortable drag queen population, the other (the series at both venues) its transient population. The latter group of men is "dragged" as well, in a collaboration between Osline and each sitter. She provided each with an unikely decorative device - a plant, for instance, or sea creature, or other adornment - and allowed each to "wear" it as he saw fit. The resulting humor is obvious but charming; the resulting dignity, however, is improbable and thrilling. (CSUFullerton Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Central Ave., Santa Ana, and Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; closed. <a href="http://www.grandcentralartcenter.com" target="_hplink">www.grandcentralartcenter.com</a> and <a href="http://www.riversideartmuseum.org" target="_hplink">www.riversideartmuseum.org</a>) - Peter Frank NAIDA OSLINE, installation, Grand Central Art Center

  • <strong>Roger Hiorns</strong> has reconstituted his to-date magnum opus, Untitled (To What Degree We Are Alive), thousands of miles from his London base. But it seems right at home in Los Angeles, a place where the industrial, the glamorous, the invisible and the obtrusive segue so readily into one another. Oh, and the absurd, too. The work itself is (or at least its media are) described as "Atomized passenger aircraft engine," and the dusty, oily gray swamp produced by that atomization sprawls across the gallery floor, its pulverized materials forming emphatically topographic rills and troughs and lakes and dunes. One can't help but compare it to the similarly raw lump of industrial crud Robert Morris formulated some 40 years earlier, displayed concurrently (in reconstruction) across town in MOCA's "Ends of the Earth" land-art show. Hiorns' work, in fact, is physically purer - the material has all been sourced in a single object, and reduced to a single granular roomscape. But the impulse is similar, to dissolve things as far as possible away from their identities and down to their material essences, and thus to release their inherent beauty, theoretically and actually, conceptually and sensually. (Marc Foxx, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., LA; thru August 4. <a href="http://www.marcfoxx.com" target="_hplink">www.marcfoxx.com</a>) - Peter Frank ROGER HIORNS, Untitled (To What Degree We Are Alive), 2008-, installation

  • In previous works such as <em>Death to the Audience</em> (a send-up of ancient Greek theatre) and <em>The Shakespeare Bug</em>, Ken Slattery has demonstrated an exceptional talent for finding streaks of wretched excess that course through historical theatrical styles and mining them for comic gold in a manner reminiscent of Charles Ludlam's work at the Ridiculous Theatrical Company (Slattery's latest adventure began as a 10-minute piece written for Playground, one of the Bay area's leading theatrical incubator programs). The Shotgun Players recently presented the world premiere of <em>Truffaldino Says No</em>, a rowdy romp about a <em>commedia dell'arte</em> character who flees the family business in Venice, Italy only to find himself time resurfacing on a sitcom set in Venice Beach, California. One's ability to enjoy Slattery's formidable craft is substantially enhanced by one's knowledge of theatre history. While the entire cast worked together as an exceptionally tight ensemble, I was particularly impressed by the antics of William Thomas Hodgson (Truffaldino), Gwen Loeb (Colombina), and Michael Phillis (Flavio), The bravura performance by Stephen Buescher (Head of Movement and Physical Theatre in A.C.T.'s MFA acting program) as Arlecchino was thrilling to watch, even when his facial features were hidden by a <em>commedia dell'arte</em> mask. - by George Heymont

  • Directed by William A. Wellman, 1927's <em>Wings</em> stars Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers" and features Gary Cooper in one of his earliest roles. More importantly, it is a pioneering piece of airborne filmmaking that was shot at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. Accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and using a beautiful new digital print from Paramount Pictures (which is available online), <em>Wings</em> was the opening night attraction at this month's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Not only does Wellman's film show what aerial combat scenes looked like long before CGI scripting came into existence, it also features one of the earliest military bromances recorded on film as World War I fighter pilots - and small town romantic rivals - Jack Powell (Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) go after German aircraft. Thrilling from start to finish, this is one silent film you'll want to own. - by George Heymont

  • CPE Bach (1714-88) Six Keyboard Sonatas Preethi de Silva, harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano Preethi da Silva is one of Southern California's most cherished musical treasures. Born in Sri Lanka, where she received her early musical training, she later studied in London, Berlin, and at Yale, Preethi is one of those early music keyboard priestesses who come along every now and then, like Wanda Landowska and Rosalyn Tureck, to entertain us with their notions of what old composers in their wigs and funny hats were up to. In the case of six sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach--the fifth of the great Johann Sebastian's sons, named after Telemann--from his published collections of "Keyboard Works for Connoisseurs and Amateurs," the results are simultaneously plain and eloquent indeed, like the pleasures to be gained from quilting, where the threads of the music combine to find comfort and grace in musical pleasures at the end of each day through the sheer power of their simple beauties. Plus Preethi's careful, loving performances allow the wonderful sounds made by three reconstructions to have their full intimate rein. - Laurence Vittes

  • San Francisco's Thrillpeddlers recently staged an impressive production of Peter Weiss's 1964 theatrical sensation entitled <em>The Assassination and Persecution of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed By The Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.</em> Based on historical events, <em>Marat/Sade</em> retains much of its power in the current political climate (James Blackwood's unit set was decorated with graffiti referring to Obamacare, Occupy Wall Street and other topical references). Directed by Russell Blackwood, the production benefitted from Beaver Bauer's exceptional costume work, with Scrumbly Koldewyn acting as musical director. Aaron Malberg scored strongly as Marat, with impressive supporting roles filled by Brian Trybom (Coulmier), Bonni Sulva (Charlotte Corday), David Moore (Duperret), Rumi Missabu (Jacques Roux) and Carlos Barrera (the Herald). The play's "Copulation Round" gave Bay area favorite, Tom Orr, a new opportunity to display his oversized cock, which has thrilled audiences in numerous venues around town. - by George Heymont

  • <strong>Jules Engel</strong> founded the animation department at Cal Arts, but this was a crowning achievement in a career that began at Disney (with Fantasia, no less) and continued through some of the most influential cartoons of the postwar era (Gerald McBoingBoing, Mister Magoo, etc.). All the while, Engel was practicing a dynamic constructivist abstraction - and when he got to academe, he was able to combine his geometric aesthetic with the tools of his trade. It made perfect sense; there was always a sense of movement and even choreographic wit in Engel's "fine" art, no matter how severe and minimal, and there was always a sense of simplicity and elegance in the work he did for projection. Loved by his students, admired by those who knew his work, Engel remains far too obscure a figure in animation history, and even more so in the history of LA art's pre-Ferus avant garde. This show of work from both Engel's studios may have been little more than a miscellany, but it argued once again for a reassessment of a figure crucial to American art history - and delightful on both sides of the high-low divide. (Tobey Moss, 7321 Beverly Blvd., LA; closed. <a href="http://www.tobeycmossgallery.com" target="_hplink">www.tobeycmossgallery.com</a>) - Peter Frank JULES ENGEL, Rumble 10-field, 1975, Collage, 10¼ x 12¼ inches

  • San Francisco's Ray of Light Theatre has staged <em>Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street</em> with a six-piece band performing a reduced orchestration of Stephen Sondheim's massive score. Set designer Maya Linke carefully utilizes every inch of the Eureka Theatre's tiny stage, with director Ben Randle making some judicious adjustments so that ROLT can scale the action down to fit on a postage-stamp sized stage. In all truth, I found this a much more satisfying production of <em>Sweeney Todd</em> than John Doyle's gimmicky 2005 version in which the principals all played musical instruments onstage. The real test of any staging of this musical, however, lies in the casting of the two leads. Adam Scott Campbell delivered an almost lyrical Sweeney -- who could be seen slipping into a state of psychosis -- while Shelley Crowley's portrayal of the amoral Mrs. Lovett was deliciously droll. Matthew Provencal displayed a gorgeous lyrical tenor as Anthony; Jessica Smith was an imposing (if mightily confused) Johanna. Revel in the intimacy of a talented ensemble performing without any amplification in the 290-seat Eureka Theatre. Performances continue through August 11 at the <a href="http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/226214" target="_hplink">Eureka Theatre.</a> - by George Heymont Sweeney Todd (Adam Scott Campbell) and his business partner, Mrs. Lovett (Shelley Crowley). Photo by: Claire Rice)

  • Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, "October 1905" Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yakov Kreizberg Monte Carlo Philharmonic Classics CD For some reason, Shostakovich's 11th Symphony, which is not among the most recorded of the composer's symphonies, has come along twice in recent months. The first, by Peter Oundjian and the Toronto Symphony I reviewed for Gramophone magazine; here is another one, from the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the late, much lamented Jacob Kreizberg, since 2009 its music director whose death last year at the age of 51 saddened the classical music world. It is hard to contemplate the the pressures which Shostakovich labored under, of being under active surveillance by a dictatorial, cruel, ruthless head of state; when compared to those against which Beethoven struggled, how to evaluate? The Monte Carlo performance has a French sound to the woodwinds, sweet and coyly phrased, which makes the bold, heroic brass all the more darkly thrilling, sometimes even scary, while the slightly muffled kettle drums becomes an audiophile's delight. Like the Toronto recording, this one finds Beethovenian depths of humanity and soul in Shostakovich's ironic notions of formality. The music records well, and the first balcony, concert hall perspectives that the engineers have taken suit the music very well; it's a production that highlights Kreizberg's work as a collaborative interpreter of noble goals and means. The achingly beautiful English horn solo at 9:30 of the last movement is worth the price of admission itself. - Laurence Vittes

  • <strong>Linda King</strong> paints and <strong>David French</strong> sculpts, but their formal languages almost cross over into each other's territories. Both combine a sense of the natural, even geological, with a sense of the artificial, indeed, arbitrary. Large areas of flowing, clotting, pooling pigment comprise King's panels, dramatic - almost volcanic - eruptions spreading across otherwise neutralized fields. Neutralized, but not neutral: the fields' monochromes are as vivid as the flows' various hues, resulting in brittle, rattling, thoroughly exhilarating, even hilarious color combinations. King sends her washes roiling across her surfaces but often cuts short, or perhaps pens in, their advances, determining almost geometric boundaries between action and absence. French's free-standing and wall-hung objects also seem to burgeon erratically, but in a more graceful, decorous manner. Their elaborate, perhaps exaggerated delicacy is enhanced by the pretty surfaces French paints on them and the glistery objects he then affixes at strategic points (nooks, swells) on those surfaces. Even more than do King's effulgent paintings, French's yummy objects exude a sense of woozy excess, as if a child had over-fashioned a cupcake just so, quite deliberately. (den contemporary, Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., W. Hollywood; closed. <a href="http://www.dencontemporaryart.com" target="_hplink">www.dencontemporaryart.com</a>) - Peter Frank LINDA KING, Codex, 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches

  • Written and directed by Dmitry Povolotsky, <em>My Dad Is Baryshnikov</em> will be of special interest to ballet fans. Set in the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 1986, the film revolves around scrawny young Borya Fishkin, a daydreaming no-goodnik who, although he can barely lift an aspiring ballerina, knows how to milk a bow with such grand balletic affectation that the Queen of Spain laughs out loud at his antics and tells Fishkin's horrified school principal that the boy deserves to dance with the Bolshoi! When Borya's mother produces a bootleg VHS tape showing Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing, Fishkin's black market friend tells his young accomplice that Borya looks exactly like the famous Russian defector (whose name must not be mentioned). The ballet student quickly begins to fantasize that Baryshnikov must be his real father and embraces this speculation as a sign that he, too, is destined to become a famous ballet dancer. Fishkin works his potential link to Baryshnikov for maximum effect but soon gets into trouble with the school's administration. Once he is kicked out of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and his biological father returns home, Borya's glory days are over. Young Dmitry Vyskubenko shows great potential as a comic actor who will undoubtedly enjoy greater success in film than in ballet. <em>My Dad Is Baryshnikov</em> is a deliciously subversive comedy set during a crucial period of transition in Russian history. - by George Heymont

  • Prior to moving to Hollywood, Douglas Fairbanks appeared on Broadway in 18 stage productions, during which he became known for his athleticism and time spent at the gym. During the 1906 run of Avery Hopwood and Channing Pollock's drama, <em>Clothes</em>, he became adept at repeatedly climbing backstage stairs on his hands. Recently screened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, 1920's <em>The Mark of Zorro</em> was the movie that introduced the heroic character of Don Diego Vega (also known as Señor Zorro) to film audiences. In an age where stunt doubles, green screens, and CGI scripting have taken most of the raw talent out of a star's acrobatic technique, it's gloriously refreshing to watch Fairbanks in action as he performs his own stunts. Directed by Fred Niblo with a grand sense of swashbuckling action, social justice, and unexpected humor, the film stars the great Fairbanks as the masked hero who consistently flummoxes Sgt. Pedro Gonzales (Noah Beery) with some occasional help from his hilariously stone-faced, mute servant, Bernardo (Tote Du Crow). Prior to this screening, I had no idea that an uncredited Milton Berle was one of the children in the film! - by George Heymont

  • Mindru Katz (1925-78) Mozart and Beethoven Concertos With the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, 1977 and 1970 (1927-2005) Cembal d'Amour CD The Romanian virtuoso Mindru Katz was one of those miraculous pianists who let the music roll off his fingers with such a natural flow and conviction that the results are usually enormously transporting and quite often transforming. In each of the concerto performances, recorded in the same venue but with different conductors (Gary Bertini and Mendi Rodan), Katz works completely within the big-picture orchestral view of the music; but whenever he needs to, he is so capable of emerging out of the orchestra with bursts of color and imposing musical presence. The Mozart, which can be a rambling scramble, is perhaps the more amazing of the two performances including a playing of Beethoven's cadenza for the first movement that is a totally original, all-encompassing vision that Mozart would have appreciated. Beautiful playing, too, by the Jerusalem Symphony. Katz died on stage while performing Beethoven's Tempest sonata in a recital in Istanbul; he was only 52. - Laurence Vittes

  • The exhibition "À rebours" made news during its run when a small Dalí drawing was pilfered from its midst and then mailed back to the gallery. The upshot of the caper was to give a nastily charming flourish (à la, say, the Mona Lisa caper of 1911) to a darkly delightful, fin-de-siècle-spirited show. "À rebours" - title from the influential symbolist novel by Joris Huysmans - reconstituted the sense of sensuous decadence that drove the avant garde of a century ago, conflating the morbid, the feral, the erotic and the supernatural into an aesthetic of x-rated creepiness. Given the latter-day recurrence of this aesthetic in everything from Goth to, er, vampire madness, this summation of antique perversion deserved to be a hit. It cleverly superimposed yesterday's fetid bodies - as rendered by the likes of Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon, Felicien Rops, Henry Fuseli, Franz von Stück, and our pal Dalí - with the similarly twisted (if rather more self-conscious) confabulations of contemporary artists such as George Condo, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Glenn Brown. Certain recent works, such as Lucas Samaras' photos and videos, Piotr Uklanski's forbidding assemblages, or Banks Violette's flaming chair, looked straight back into the eerie funk; and the presence of, er, newly old things like a black John Chamberlain sculpture, Llyn Foulkes collage heads from the '70s, and (especially weird) a Bernard Buffet painting of two clown-musicians testified to the persistence of this dark vision through the 20th century. And what would a death-and-decadence show be without African and Papuan ritual objects, including shrunken heads? Only this time, a David Hammons object was there to echo the fierce potency of the "primitive." (Venus Over Manhattan, 980 Madison Ave., NY; closed. <a href="http://www.venusovermanhattan.com" target="_hplink">www.venusovermanhattan.com</a>) - Peter Frank "À rebours" installation

  • It's a rare treat to hear a classic of the American musical theater performed without amplification. SFPlayhouse's two-piano, 11-actor production of <em>My Fair Lady</em> does a superb job of demonstrating how the chamberization of beloved musical comedies can prove that less is sometimes more. It takes a great deal of imagination to squeeze <em>My Fair Lady</em> onto a postage stamp-sized stage. I tip my hat to the ever-inventive Nina Ball, who created a pillared atmosphere that works extremely well for Covent Garden, the Ascot Racetrack and (with the clever use of two sliding panels), is easily transformed into Higgins' study as well as his mother's garden. A century after <em>Pygmalion</em> was first published, George Bernard Shaw's writing (especially Alfred P. Doolittle's discourse about "middle class morality") remains brilliant. Enhanced by Abra Berman's costumes, the "Ascot Gavotte" remains a magnificent stroke of musical theatre. Johnny Moreno stars as Henry Higgins with Monique Hafen as a spunky Eliza Doolittle. Strong support comes from Charles Dean (Alfred P. Doolittle), Richard Frederick (Colonel Pickering), and Justin Gillman (Freddy Eynsford-Hill). Performances continue through September 15 at <a href="https://www.vendini.com/ticket-software.html?t=tix&e=99b78195f09f568baa61a7db9b28c1c9" target="_hplink">SFPlayhouse</a>. - by George Heymont GALLERY/VENUE WEBSITE: VIDEO EMBED CODE:

  • The RIAS Bach Cantatas Project 29 Bach cantatas conducted by Karl Ristenpart, Berlin 1949-52 Audite 9 CDs (boxed, with extensive additional material including pictures and contemporary concert reviews) One of the first things the Americans did when gaining a foothold in Berlin at the end of WWII was to set up a broadcasting service to provide news, information and music. The service was called RIAS (Radio In the American Sector) and the recordings of the Bach cantatas presented in this boxed set formed part of a project initiated by the conductor Karl Ristenpart at the RIAS Berlin in 1947--which turned out to be the first ever attempt at a recording of the complete cantatas. The performances were old-fashioned in a deeply devotional way that must have been incredibly moving to a country where spiritual salvation depended so centrally on the words and music of the church experience. Outside of Agnes Giebel, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Helmut Krebs, most singers will not be familiar, but they were all committed to performing the music as it must have been intended by the composer, to reach out and console and uplift on a scale which was both infinite and intimate. The small-scale choral and orchestral forces, and Ristenpart's fine, measured conducting, pointed towards a future when authentic Bach performances could be properly assembled and mounted, and there is a fine balance between delivering the message and playing some of Bach's most solemn, most moving inspirations. For everyone who is interested in the history of Bach interpretation and in the development of Germany's post-1945 cultural rebuilding, these recordings represent a significant chapter. According to Audite's director Ludger Böckenhoff, RIAS, which helped "reorganize and give life back to the destroyed Germany," later had to be stopped because American orchestras "complained about the funding going to German orchestras." - Laurence Vittes

  • <strong>Deanna Thompson</strong> has been painting the Mojave Desert as a kind of standardized still life, somewhere between Morandi and Ruscha, albeit now (at least) on canvases larger than either was and is wont to employ. In these works she runs the horizon line right across the middle of the painting, and the time of day (and, to a lesser extent, time of year) determines the colors of both. At dead center she plants a dwelling, a homestead house abandoned probably years ago and allowed to weather into ruin. Thompson dwells neither on the sensuous texture of the wasteland or the romance of decrepitude; her Mojave is as stark a void as a Barnett Newman, one likely to overwhelm and shame any pretense at civilization, much less domestication. <strong>H. C. Westermann</strong> famously mocked human fallacy as well, but felt a kinship with those who fail, his satire riding on a goofy Punch-and-Judy hilarity suffused with a dreamy magic. This is most obvious in his drawings, many dedicated to the exploits of a would-be world-traveling gigolo; but it also drives Westermann's far more miraculous sculptures, masterpieces of craft (wood especially, but other materials as well) that manifest at once as cartoons and archetypes, toys and fetish objects. If Thompson proposes a Zen nothingness at the heart of existence, Westermann sculpted and drew in Zen koans that chide our egos even as they provoke our wonder. And it's just plain wonderful to still be seeing his work in galleries (this show follows an even wackier one at Lennon,Weinberg in New York last December) thirty years after he passed. (Kayne Griffin Corcoran, 2902 Nebraska Ave., S. Monica; closed. <a href="http://www.kaynegriffincorcoran.com" target="_hplink">www.kaynegriffincorcoran.com</a>) - Peter Frank H. C. Westermann installation, photo: Douglas Marshall

  • Today's easy access to digital cameras and cell phones that can photograph anything makes <em>South,</em> (Frank Hurley's documentary about Ernest Shackleton's 1914 trip to Antarctica) all the more remarkable. Working in temperatures that were often 35 degrees below zero or colder, Hurley (who was already a veteran of Douglas Mawson's expedition to Antarctica from 1911-1913) provided the world with some of the earliest footage of animal life in Antarctica, filming the behavior of penguins, elephant seals, and other marine life that had never been seen by the British. This beautifully restored print (which captures the original color tints), features breathtaking shots of Shackleton's ship, the <em>Endurance</em>, as it is crushed by the Antarctic ice. Stephen Horne's vivid musical accompaniment (on piano, flute, accordion, and a makeshift banjo) provided such eerie sensations that the audience could easily imagine it was listening to Shackleton's sailors as they headed South to explore the polar continent. - by George Heymont

  • Ever since 1995's <em>Welcome to the Dollhouse</em>, Todd Solondz has been building an army of zombified suburbanites who, in their horribly depressed dysfunctionality and emotionally deadened cluelessness, stumble through their lives with little if any hope of finding happiness. In <em>Dark Horse</em>, Jordan Gelber throws every ounce of his formidable body and soul into the role of Abe, while Mia Farrow is an externally sympathetic, internally seething maternal monster. As Abe's father, Christopher Walken wears a hairpiece that looks like it was rescued from a museum diorama dedicated to extinct species. The real dark horse in this film is Donna Murphy (better known for her work in Broadway musicals) as a soulless widow who gives Abe the brutal assessment and clinical dressing down that his parents have never had the courage to deliver. The magnificently written scene in Marie's home is enough to chill your blood and should not be missed. - by George Heymont

  • Angus Watson: Beethoven's Chamber Music in Context The Boydell Press, 2010 Reprinted in paperback 2012 $29.95 You too can become a Beethoven expert--on the chamber music, at least--with Angus Watson's lucid, intrepid chronicle of how the music came to be, what makes it tick, and why we keep listening to and playing it. "For musicians," he writes, "a chance to play Beethoven's Septet is like being invited to a wonderful party." Written with the ambling gait of a New Yorker feature, and yet packed with knowledge, dipping into Watson even now and then will practically guarantee that your enjoyment of Beethoven will be substantially improved. In addition to his chronicling what Beethoven was feeling during the composition of each major work, Watson provides the kind of color commentary that most pre-concert lecturers only dream about. Before he launches into his survey, Watson paints a picture of Beethoven running with amateurs and professionals who shared a common goal: they sought "lively musical activities." The famous Schuppanzigh Quartet, for example, were all teenagers. And the Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann who played the premiere of the great A Major Cello Sonata Opus 69, was one of the composer's pupils. What a crowd. - Laurence Vittes

  • <strong>John Baldessari </strong>demonstrates, once again, that it's less the game you play than how you play it. It's a grad student's conceit to formulate artworks out of other artworks through the simple superposition of two discrete pieces. Which two pieces, however? And how are they superposed? Baldessari provides surprises and aha moments galore in these "Double Bill" canvases, simply by selecting modernist masterworks that go together, well, uncannily. Many said masterworks are lesser known, allowing the game to begin with a round of Identify-the-Image (abetted by the label "... And Grosz" or "...and Manet" rendered across the bottom of the picture). Beyond that, the connections, optical and thematic, pile up thick and fast, but with a graceful wit, one that creates unanticipated, why-didn't-I-think-of-that segues. ..And Ernst, for instance, places a Hockney nude sunning himself directly in front of an early Max Ernst painting of a strange swimming pool, while ...And Cézanne establishes a direct continuity between Cézanne's fruits and Léger's, via Baldessari's own by-now-patented colored circles. It's a simple game, really, but played with revelatory elegance. (Margo Leavin, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., W. Hollywood; closed. <a href="http://www.margoleavingallery.com" target="_hplink">www.margoleavingallery.com</a>) - Peter Frank JOHN BALDESSARI, Double Bill (Part 2): ... and Cézanne, 2012, Varnished Inkjet print on canvas with acrylic, oil paint, and oil stick, 76¾ x 54 inches

  • The marketing debacle following the 1985 introduction of New Coke led many consumers to cry "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Much the same could be said of Cameron Mackintosh's 25th anniversary touring production of <em>Les Misérables</em>, which apparently left the original production's directorial team (Trevor Nunn and John Caird) feeling "horribly betrayed." While much of the the opening night performance at San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre seemed as if it was being performed with a bad case of roid rage, I cannot, in all good conscience, blame the cast. The fault lies not with the actors but with Mick Potter's singularly oppressive sound design. With new (and not necessarily better) orchestrations by Chris Jahnke, this 25th anniversary production was directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell who, quite frankly, should be slapped upside the head for what they have done to an iconic work of musical theatre. At the very least, there is absolutely no reason for Betsy Morgan to perform Fantine's "I Dreamed A Dream," with the aggressive fury of "Rose's Turn." - by George Heymont

  • <strong>Lou Beach </strong>may enjoy current lionization as a writer, famed for his 240-character prosicles; but he is longer known as a master of a visual-art sub-genre, those fantasy-illustrations that grace editorials, scholarly articles, and other column-intensive exegeses . Such images have to be as packed and succinct as the pieces they grace are wandering and ruminatory, so Beach's command of the cram predates his own writing career - and recurs in the addictively bumptious, weirdly silly, nostalgia-ridden, childhood-driven collages he does as his "high" art. High, indeed; these sweetly uproarious orgasms of juxtaposition, part attic rummage and part fever dream, induce giddiness, small sparks of recognition, even a riveted fascination that at once induces us to animate the assemblies and to take apart their components. (Don't be surprised if certain of these become marketed as jigsaw puzzles.) Beach benefits from nearly a century of such practice, beginning with Dada assemblage, evolving through Max Ernst's typogravure-collage graphic novels (and their myriad successors), sweeping through Pop art, and landing in (on?) the Cartoon Channel. But he does it better - more seamlessly, more strangely, more unpredictably, more colorfully, and at once more poetically and more narratively - than most. (offramp, 1702 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena; thru Aug. 5. <a href="http://www.offrampgallery.com" target="_hplink">www.offrampgallery.com</a>) - Peter Frank LOU BEACH, Holy Moly, 2012, Collage

  • <strong>Greg Colson</strong> was a leading light in a generation of Los Angeles object-makers that emerged some three decades ago. Like most of them, he's not lost his touch, but his early work was so assured, and so engrossing, that it still stands as a marker of the spirit of its time. Better, as this look back at this work demonstrates, it still stands as a brilliant expression of our era, driven by Colson's unusual and welcome poetic grasp of the post-postwar landscape. Colson has a unique appreciation for the "thing," the object invested with vague but compelling personal association, and recognizes that it's his job to coax out of the "thing" not so much the associations themselves but the sensations they engender. Colson and his peers inherited this appreciation from the generation of assemblagists before them; but they allow themselves more active physical and interpretive invention, so that their objects are laden less with nostalgia per se and more with the adventure of remembering. Mapping was a prominent aspect of Colson's early work, and a cartographer's urge to translate space into notation, and vice versa, courses through the show. But Colson's feel for the sensuousness of materials and the objects they comprise is what makes this work universally appealing. Also, don't miss the wall of deadpan "art comics" Colson drew in the 1980s. (Patrick Painter, Bergamot Station #B2, 2525 Michigan Ave., S. Monica; thru Aug 11.<a href="http://" target="_hplink"> www.patrickpainter.com</a>) - Peter Frank GREG COLSON, Six Intersections (Schools), 2003, Oil, enamel and pencil on wood and metal with objects, 32 x 32 x 21 inches

  • Watching Jeffrey Schwartz's deeply moving documentary, <em><a href=" http://vitorussomovie.com/ " target="_hplink">Vito: The Life of Gay Activist Vito Russo</a></em>, is a powerful cinematic experience that should not be missed. Back in a time when many gay men still compartmentalized their lives in order to keep their personal and professional contacts separate, Vito was a fully-integrated queer. Long before people were willing to admit they were gay professionals, Russo had embraced the lifestyle of the professional gay. Known to cinema fans worldwide as the author of <em>The Celluloid Closet</em>, he was a passionate cinephile, film historian, and AIDS activist who was often hailed as one of New York's first gay celebrities. Russo had no problem understanding that politics often affected people at intensely personal levels. After he was diagnosed with AIDS, Vito used his media visibility to help spread the word about the disease and educate audiences for his public television series on WNYC-TV entitled <em>Our Time</em>. An inspiring man whose life is captured in a remarkable film. - by George Heymont

  • The San Francisco Silent Film Festival recently presented a neglected gem directed by Hanns Schwarz in 1929. <em>The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna</em> stars Brigitte Helm as a woman being kept by Colonel Beranoff (Warwick Ward), a manipulative older military officer. Ensconced in her own villa at the Colonel's expense, Nina enjoys a life of luxury until she spots a handsome young soldier marching by. Schwarz's astute direction accomplishes a great deal of storytelling without words. Tiny gestures, nervous looks, and long pauses in the action telescope much deeper messages to the viewer with an Old World charm that simply doesn't exist anymore. The stunning accompaniment by Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra imbued this screening with a special kind of grace and passion. When I looked for clips from the movie on YouTube, I discovered that, although the entire film is available online, the soundtrack is horribly warped and certainly no match for the thrilling live music that was enjoyed by the audience in San Francisco's Castro Theatre. - by George Heymont Brigitte Helm and Franz Lederer star in 1929's <em>The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna</em>

  • In 2006, when Mark Jackson directed a production of Oscar Wilde's <em>Salomé</em> for Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company, he stumbled across the story of Maud Allan, a San Francisco native who took Europe by storm in the early 1900s with her version of the "Dance of the Seven Veils" (which she called "The Vision of Salomé"). Allan was later accused of trying to seduce young minds into the "Cult of the Clitoris" by the belligerent Noel-Pemberton Billing (a bellicose Member of Parliament whose ignorance about the law was matched by his lack of knowledge about female sexuality), Jackson's brilliant new play, <em>Salomania</em>, received a sizzling world premiere in which Mark Anderson Phillips did a splendid job of spraying spittle all over the courtroom while Alex Moggridge shone as Maud's legal counsel, Sir Ellis William Hume-Williams, and a lonely soldier home from the war. Liam Vincent cut a dashing figure as Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde's former lover). Although Madeline H.D. Brown gave a fascinating performance as Maud Allan, the arist who continually held my attention was Kevin Clarke (who doubled as Judge Darling and the ghost of Oscar Wilde). Erotically charged historical courtroom dramas don't get much better than Jackson's <em>Salomania</em>. - by George Heymont Oscar Wilde (Kevin Clarke) and Maud Allan (Madeline H.D. Brown) in a scene from <em>Salomania</em> (Photo by: David Allen)

  • "Mnemonic Ritual," a large exhibition in a small space, brings together three California artists who study the human habit of accumulation - primarily through photography, but also by directly mimicking the accumulative processes of their subjects. <strong>Mary Cecile Gee</strong> re-presents the collecting habits of her late mother, who was loath to throw out anything that hadn't been totally destroyed, and who could prove quite clever in restoring such superannuated objects to some sort of useful, or at least decorative, function. Gee's mother proved a gifted amateur assemblagist, unburdened but still motivated by "artistic" considerations, and her daughter's own documentary project locates the artist in her mother's impulses. <strong>Gina Genis'</strong> similar regard, photographic and otherwise, for the hoarding and list-making tendencies of an old man demonstrate, once again, that such tendencies betray a not-accidental aesthetic sensibility. Like Gee's mom, Genis' geezer seemed as compelled to give order to his chaos as to create that chaos in the first place. <strong>Nigel Poor</strong> finds a more generalized chaos in what would seem a very specifically ordered context, making her own obsessive and associative tendencies the driving forces in this work. Poor's subjects are banned books, all of them with women's names in the titles; and she photographs the results of her subjecting the books to laundering, an (of-course futile) attempt to clean them of their offense. Poor is her own accumulator, concentrating her ritual not on acquisition but on reclamation. (Fellows of Contemporary Art, 970 N. Broadway, LA; thru Aug. 18. <a href="http://www.focala.org" target="_hplink">www.focala.org</a>) - Peter Frank NIGEL POOR, Carrie (a), 2011, Inkjet print, 16 x 20 inches, Courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery, San Francisco

  • Whenever you hear someone insist that "Healthcare is a right," stop for a moment to recall how gay rights activists were at the forefront of pushing the Drug Enforcement Administration to speed up clinical trials for drugs that might be used to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. What <em><a href=" http://www.unitedinanger.com/ " target="_hplink">United In Anger: A History of ACT-UP</a></em> makes crystal clear is that, like leopards, villains don't change their spots. Four decades ago, the Catholic Church declared war on women. That war continues today -- even against women who are Catholic nuns. Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman's stunning documentary charts the growth of ACT-UP from early "zaps" performed by members of Gay Activists Alliance to the confrontational politics of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT-UP). Using historical clips and interviews, the filmmakers revisit such classic protest actions as "Seize Control of the FDA," "Stop the Church," and "Day of Desperation." Even though today's political protesters have a wealth of digital media at their fingertips, this documentary offers activists a lesson plan in how to define and target a political event. <em>United In Anger: A History of ACT-UP</em> should be required viewing for everyone in the Occupy Wall Street movement as well as community organizers working at a grass-roots level. - by George Heymont

  • The term "Washington School" normally connotes a group of painters working in the Washington, D.C., area during the late 1950s and into the 1970s, evolving out of abstract expressionism and towards color-field abstraction. They were unquestionably a pivotal group in postwar American abstraction, but, beyond the role they played in the critical clashes of that era, we've lost sight of what they accomplished. Fourteen paintings by <strong>Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Howard Mehring, and Leon Berkowitz</strong> present all over again the experiential argument for their common practice, a concentration on the impact of color relationships realized - allowed, really - through the minimization of compositional dynamics and the exploitation of painterly scale. The painting thus became both object on the wall and field of visual effect, although - unlike painters such as Rothko and Newman - there was no pretense at achieving transcendental meaning, only transcendental perception. Whether in Louis' long drips, Noland's expansive bands, Davis' obdurate stripes, Downing's orbiting circles, Mehring's interlocked bars, or Berkowitz's quavering flows, there is a reversal of traditional order: color determines form rather than the other way around. Not an exhaustive exhibition, "The Washington School" still represents a crucial time and place in American modernism whose significance is itself in dynamic historic flux. (Diane Rosenstein, 9399 Wilshire Blvd., Bev. Hills; thru Aug. 25. <a href="http://www.dianerosenstein.com" target="_hplink">www.dianerosenstein.com</a>) - Peter Frank "The Washington School" installation shot (Thomas Downing, Kenneth Noland)

  • Directed by Jo Bonney and choreographed by Luam, Eve Ensler's latest work is based on her book entitled <em>I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around The World</em>. With sets and costumes by Myung Hee Cho and music by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, <em>Emotional Creature</em> strings together a series of fierce monologues by women whose girlhood was crushed, whose innocence was stolen, and whose basic human rights were stripped from them -- often under unbelievably horrible circumstances. As much as Ensler's writing shapes the drama, the huge video contribution from Shawn Sagady (whose work is projected on a cyclorama behind the playing area) takes the audience into the inner minds and physical worlds of each character in Ensler's play with a poetry and lyricism that is often breathtaking. - by George Heymont

  • In 1989, George C. Wolfe won an Obie for adapting and directing three short stories by Zora Neale Hurston into a play with music entitled <em>Spunk</em>. Jonathan Moscone, who saw and loved the original off-Broadway production, recently brought <em>Spunk</em> to the stage of the California Shakespeare Theater with Tru (AKA Anthony Michael Peterson) and Dawn L. Troupe providing much of the music. The opening tale, <em>Sweat</em>, tells the story of a relationship that has long gone sour. Sykes ((L. Peter Callender) is a violent, sadistic man who has grown to detest his wife, Delia (Margo Hall). Well aware of Delia's fear of snakes, he brings a caged rattlesnake home to spook her. When Sykes's bad behavior crosses too far over the line, Delia finally gets her revenge. It's obvious why the stylized strutting and great costumes in <em>Story in Harlem Slang</em> made it the high point of the evening. But, in many ways, this piece was positioned as a respite from the tension and violence of <em>Sweat</em> before heading into the pathos and poignancy of <em>The Gilded Six-Bits</em>, a beautifully paced tale of sexual betrayal and hard-earned forgiveness which gave Aldo Billingslea and Omozé Idehenre some exceptional moments onstage. - by George Heymont

  • Adapted from a short story called <em>The Dock Walloper</em> by John Monk Saunders, 1928's 76-minute cinematic delicacy, <em>The Docks of New York</em>, was introduced to the audience at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival by film noir expert, Eddie Muller. Great care was taken to explain that the simplicity of the plot (and the film's small amount of dialogue) allowed director Josef von Sternberg, cinematographer Harold Rosson, and art director Hans Dreier to create the kind of waterfront lowlife on a Hollywood sound stage that could fulfill the audience's lurid fantasies of a world filled with rough trade, bitter babes, and sooty stokers. Early in the film, the viewer sees the rippling reflection of a woman jumping into the dark harbor waters in an attempt to commit suicide. Starring Betty Compson and George Bancroft, <em>The Docks of New York</em> proved to be a highly atmospheric tale of rescue and redemption, with Donald Sosin accompanying the screening on the piano. - by George Heymont

  • The San Jose Repertory Theatre recently staged a powerful drama by Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey that chronicles the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous and its partner organization, Al-Anon. As directed by Richard Seer, <em>Bill W. and Dr. Bob</em> is about the intense struggle to understand alcoholism, acknowledge one's lack of power in dealing with the disease, and embrace a plan for living a sober lifestyle. The performance begins in a manner easily recognizable to theatergoers. Two men introduce themselves to the audience and acknowledge their alcoholism. After each introduction, the audience responds "Hi, Bill!" and "Hi, Bob!" It's a setup which helps make the play instantly accessible. It may also be a playwright's best guarantee of group sales (in any city where <em>Bill W. and Dr. Bob</em> is performed, this play will attract a large number of people in recovery). Those with any exposure to the history of Alcoholics Anonymous can easily anticipate the moment which depicts the birthing of Al-Anon. In some ways, I found this particular scene to be one of the most poignant in the entire evening. - by George Heymont Bill W. (Ray Chambers) and Dr. Bob (Robert Sicular) in Bill W. and Dr. Bob (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

  • On opening night of <em>The Scottsboro Boys</em> in San Francisco, the stage literally sizzled with energy. This mockumentary performed as a minstrel show is a shining example of how, throughout their career as a songwriting team, John Kander & Fred Ebb were able to create the kind of overt "showbiz numbers" that could communicate uncomfortable facts, frame painful emotions, and crystallize powerfully dramatic moments of history in a way that grabbed their audiences by the throat. Working with Beowulf Boritt's unit set (that involves little more than some planks, some tambourines, and a set of interlocking chairs), Susan Stroman has created a foot-stomping, tear-jerking spectacle that demands so much dance and vocal talent -- and such reserves of stamina and theatrical strength from her actors -- that there were times when the audience started to feel both exhilarated and exhausted simply from watching the cast's phenomenal level of sustained physical exertion. Special kudos go to Clifton Duncan ("Commencing in Chattanooga," "Nothin," "Make Friends With The Truth," "You Can't Do Me") and James T. Lane who, as Ruby Bates, gave a jaw-dropping performance of "Never Too Late." - by George Heymont

  • Conceived and directed by Gabriele Lavia (with sets by Alessandro Camera, costumes by Andrea Viotti, and lighting by Christopher Maravich), the San Francisco Opera's new production of Giuseppe Verdi's 1846 <em>Attila</em> tried to capture the parts of Attila the Hun's personality that shaped him as a warrior, diplomat, and a politician. To accomplish this, Lavia set the action in ruined theatres from the 5th, 19th, and 21st centuries. During Diego Torre's Act III aria ("<em>Che non avrebbe il misero</em>"), the audience's focus was constantly distracted while dimmed film from old movies about Attila kept flickering on a screen behind the tenor (one of the most bone-headed directorial decisions I've seen in 45 years of attending opera). Much has been written in recent years about the difficulty of casting Verdi's operas, particularly works like <em>Il Trovatore</em>. While bassos Ferruccio Furlanetto and Samuel Ramey are veterans of the Verdian style, I was most impressed with the work of Venezuelan soprano Lucrecia Garcia, whose forceful Odabella made me yearn to hear her as Bellini's Norma. - by George Heymont

  • At 76, Woody Allen could certainly afford to hang it up but, like many aging artists, he can't accept the fact that there should be any reason for him to stop making films. In recent years, some of his movies have been far better than others. My own personal theory is that, after he reached a certain age, Woody Allen's films started to improve when he stopped appearing in them. Whereas <em>Midnight in Paris</em> was absolutely brilliant, <em><a href="http://sonyclassics.com/toromewithlove/" target="_hplink">To Rome With Love</a></em> has the noticeable sogginess of a crock pot dish inspired by what was starting to age in its creator's artistic cupboard and refrigerator. Skillfully made, filled with many wonderful lines, it nevertheless sags under the weight of leftover plot lines that got pulled out of storage and thrown together to stretch out the script to 100 minutes. I have to thank Allen for at least casting the role of Michelangelo's father, Giancarlo, with a genuine operatic singer (Fabio Armiliato). The grotesque faces Armiliato makes while warming up will come as no surprise to vocal coaches. While many viewers may be tickled by the joke of someone who can only sing in the shower, they're lucky to get a chance to hear what an operatic tenor sounds like without amplification. - by George Heymont

  • The San Francisco Silent Film Festival's screening of <em>Pandora's Box</em> was a special treat for me. Over the years, I've never been able to appreciate Alban Berg's <em>Lulu</em>, an opera that friends raved about which left me stone cold. Whether it was the spectacular musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble, Georg Wilhelm Pabst's stunning direction, Gunther Krampf's photography, or the incandescent performance by Louise Brooks, something finally clicked and I was able to enjoy the tragedy of Lulu for the first time in my life. Not only was I able to remember all the characters from previous outings in various opera houses, I was transfixed by the acting of Franz Lederer (Alwa), Carl Goetz (Shigolch), Alice Roberts (Countess Geschwitz), and Gutav Diessl (Jack the Ripper). - by George Heymont

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