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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  • The Face By Donald Crockett and David St. John Daniel Norman (the poet). Thomas Meglioranza (the devil), Janna Baty (the film maker), Jane Sheldon (the muse). Gil Rose conducting Firebird Ensemble Japan-America Theatre, downtown L.A. Local hero Donald Crockett's new opera made its world premiere to an enthusiastic audience at a newly vibrant Japan America Theatre. The Venice Beach locale in which the action takes place----during the filming of a documentary on a middle-aged poet's life, including the death of his wife and the intervention of a Faustian devil--is felt mostly through the kind of obsessive introspective reflection that is Venice's truest calling card and only tangentially through its sandy shores. The music, played by an accomplished pit band of great tonal beauty and precision, is a treasure chest of sounds, intimate effects and bursts of lyrical beauty which sometimes provide background and often participate in the musical dialogue; the book delivers poetry that travels along synapses of the English language directly into private recesses of the heart. The production has a great sense of physical proportion and uses its simple set of materials even on a sparse stage to very great effect. The device of integrating a huge video screen, essentially one entire wall of the living room type space in which the one-act opera takes place, serves as an ongoing trigger for setting the poet, and the audience, off into flights of fancy. The four singers formed an admirable ensemble cast, but their default movement was too often across the stage, rather than coming towards and trying to more deeply engage the audience. The production was also hampered by fuzzy supertitles; their position on stage, however, as if they were part of the action, brought an exciting laser focus to the opera's magic. - Laurence Vittes

  • The concept of a broken school system is nothing. Nor is watching a young teacher's idealistic spirit get crushed by rowdy teenagers and an unyielding bureaucracy. But when a student's artistic potential is physically destroyed (while his classmates are running roughshod over a caring new teacher) you get a film like <em>Broken</em>, which is set in a low-income Parisian suburb populated by students whose parents immigrated from northern and western Africa. As much as Anna Kagan (Anaïs Demoustier) tries to assert herself in the classroom, she is no match for an overaged, oversized bully like Moussa (Barnabé Magou), whose prime targets are the small, blond Kevin (Paul Bartel) and his friend, Lakdar (Samy Seghir). An obviously talented young artist, the hand Lakdar draws with was crippled in a bungled medical procedure. Alain Tasma's powerful film (made for French television) captures the steady evaporation of hope as teachers quit their jobs, surgeons admit their mistakes, and two teenage boys embark on a poorly-conceived plan of revenge which brings tragedy to all. Sensitively directed by Tasma, the performances by Samy Seghir and Paul Bartel will tear at your heart. - by George Heymont

  • Robert Adams, one of the key figures in the "new topographics" movement that emerged in the 1970s, stands a bit apart from his fellow photographers, American and European alike, in his muted but pointed engagement with a socially critical narrative. No less laconic than William Eggleston or Stephen Shore - in certain ways more so, thanks to his devotion to black-and-white photography and allegiance to a traditional small format - Adams still imbues his pictures with a moral intensity, an edge of anger and regret, if only occasionally despair. Documenting the American west, from the harsh ghost towns of rural Colorado to Oregon's quiet beaches - and working in series, so that a sense of moment pervades even the most featureless spaces - Adams infers the fragility of the land and the increasingly insensitive way humans live upon it. Those ghost towns contrast jarringly with half-built suburban developments; views of deforestation in the Pacific Northwest threaten the lyrical balance of those beaches. Adams is concerned not with the loss of the past but with the condition of the present, and he regrets change less than he does the spiritual erosion that comes from man's disconnection from and degradation of the environment. Adams is as resolutely pictorial as any of his new-topographic peers, but his commitment to subject and subjectivity alike reveals a kinship to the passion-driven photography of the 1930s. (LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., LA; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War By Christian McWhirter University of North Carolina Press, hardcover, 336 pages, $39.95 Power of music, indeed! This gripping tale begins with a concert for Union Soldiers in December, 1862, performed by a theatrical troupe in Fairfax, Virginia, that changed the course of the Civil War. It demonstrated the connection that music had with popular opinion that enabled it stand up to the political establishment in in the North and eventually reach the ears of Lincoln in the White House. It is much more than a treat for lovers of good history writing and a fresh look at well-trodden fields, it is also a painful reminder of just how divided a nation we were at birth, and how those divisions live with us still. In capturing the documents of the time in their detail, and retelling them with sweeping, Technicolor splendor, Christian McWhirter has written a compelling, inspirational and very sobering novel in the form of a Civil War history trade publication. From the concert in Fairfax to the appearance of the King a century later in Memphis and the ongoing revival of its legacy, Battle Hymns tells an unending tale of heroism, gallantry and woe during those five terrible years when "Americans used music effectively and often." McWhirter covers national anthems (the North had five different candidates competing at one time while the South had to completely create new ones), and music on the home fronts and in the armies; in a chapter titled "The Choked Voice of a Race," he explores how African Americans "gradually abandoned the coded language in their songs to express themselves more directly." The writer is an assistant editor for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. - Laurence Vittes

  • Madeleine George's <em><a href="" target="_hplink">Precious Cargo</a></em> follows a middle-aged woman's growing sense of self-awareness as she wrestles with medical personnel who don't know what to do with an intelligent pregnant lesbian; a grad student who may be a cunning linguist capable of transcribing interviews about rare foreign languages but, as her young lover, does not want to help raise a child; and a gorilla who can supposedly respond to a more extensive vocabulary than most primates. Zehra Berkman stars as Brodie, a linguistics researcher at a major turning point in her life while Nancy Carlin portrays the ape, an embryo seen in a sonogram, and the elderly, confused Cleva (one of the last people still fluent in a dying language). The most versatile performance of the evening comes from Rami Margron, who alternates between Cleva's exhausted daughter, Brodie's zoo-fixated lover, and a clueless OBGYN interviewer. Margron also delivers a priceless portrayal of a parade of zoogoers of all ages who are fascinated by the gorilla. Marissa Wolf has done a beautiful job of directing the Shotgun Players' production of this complex tale in which Brodie finally finds comfort and unconditional love in the arms of an unquestioning and surprisingly maternal ape. - by George Heymont

  • David Abir realized a single installation as two very different structures, occupying in its "integrated" phase the entirety of a small Chinatown storefront and then "exploded" into discrete components through much of a large empty showroom buried in the basement of a commercial building. In fact, this extended light-sound sculpture, Renew, functioned as a "movement" (or two) in Abir's ongoing synesthetically conceived project Tekrar. The concept of synesthesia, in which sensory experience of one kind triggers or correlates to responses in an entirely different sense, tends to be applied overly broadly to many visual-sonic associations or melds whose relationships, however compelling, are simply arbitrary. In Renew, however, the correspondence is eerily convincing. Consecutive chambers align quasi-geometric space and baths of single colors with aural baths of ever-shifting pre-recorded instrumental clusters - distillations, it turns out of symphonies by Mahler, Brahms, etc., blended to eradicate the composers' handwork but not their harmonic flavors. The storefront installation presented a sequence of rooms as hand-fashioned, off-kilter cubicles coming to points or windows so as to focus viewers into intense spots of color. Abir acknowledges the reference to Light and Space art, but it's clear he wants to de-purify that aesthetic, making it funkier and exploiting rather than inferring its potential for extra-visual stimulus. To judge from Renew, Tekrar is a clearly work in progress, experientially as well as conceptually; but, goosing the synesthetic possibilities as he is, Abir is on to something oddly painterly, oddly personal, and oddly powerful. (Actual Size, 741 New High St., and LA Merchandise Mart, 1933 S. Broadway, LA; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a> and <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • The Story of Naxos: The Extraordinary Story of the Independent Label That Changed Classical Recording Forever By Nicolas Soames Piatkus Press, 450 pages, ill., hardcover When Klaus Heymann arrives in Los Angeles to begin the celebration of the dream he called Naxos, the maverick innovator will be preceded by a comprehensive history of his brilliant empire. The writer is the noted producer Nicolas Soames and Naxos insider whose access to the smallest details in the growth of the many national and regional branches, interwoven with layers and threads of personal reminiscence, not to mention technological evolution, make this bewildering book hard at first to really get the flow of. As remarkable as the success of Heymann's business model is, which has rarely deviated from guiding principles based on a belief in the pent-up consumer desire for classical music, the entrepreneurial model he has created should give all non-Establishment players the inspiration and guidelines they need. Soames examines the building blocks Heymann assembled in minute detail, including the musicians, producers, writers, distributors, and the artists and repertoire brain trust, all of whom Heymann seems to have interacted with knowledgeably on every detail. As to the next 25 years, Heymann's current vision for Naxos is as "a service provider for classical recording." His "wider purpose," which almost sounds like a social media thing, "is to enable recordings to happen, whether on Naxos or the artist's own label." In other words, in addition to practicing, young musicians hoping to become professionals should take the time to find their entrepreneurial guru.

  • <em><a href="" target="_hplink">Time Stands Still</a></em>, a new drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, received its Northern California premiere from TheatreWorks in a production that was beautifully directed by Leslie Martinson. Rebecca Dines and Mark Anderson Phillips star as two weary war journalists. Sarah is a fearless photojournalist who was wounded by a roadside bomb. James is her live-in boyfriend of nine years, a freelance writer whose stories about events in areas like Rwanda and Sudan (though painfully honest) tend to turn off editors who want "happy news" for special magazine editions built around fashion, films, and other aspects of popular American culture. Whereas James has started to wonder if he might prefer to stay home and attempt to live like a normal person, Sarah is addicted to the adrenaline of being on the front line of action, even if her experiences are filled with blood, gore, bombings, and death. Their lifestyle choices are in sharp contrast to Sarah's editor and former boyfriend, Richard (Rolf Saxon) and his new girlfriend, Mandy (Sarah Moser), whose optimism feeds Richard's mid-life crisis. All four of these complex, multilayered characters go through dramatic changes as both couples marry and Mandy gets pregnant. Mark Anderson Phillips gives a bravura performance as the emotionally torn Jamie while Rebecca Dines shows strength, resolve, and a bit of self-delusion as the war photographer who insists on "just doing her job." Sarah Moser wins the audience's sympathy as she moves from air-headed naiveté to the warmth and satisfaction of becoming a new mother. - by George Heymont

  • Jerry Byrd was a rising star in the freewheeling LA scene of the 1970s; in some ways he was one of the most freewheeling of its many boomer-generation talents, and in other ways he was one of its most traditional. For all his experimentation with unusual materials and methods, Byrd has never pushed formal boundaries so much as found his own voice within them. He is a traditional (if, fortunately, not tradition-bound) abstractionist, interested in exposing and building on carefully structured visual armatures. In some cases this manifests in painterly geometries, suffused with color and harmonic invention and benefiting from a subtle, nuanced sense of color. In other cases Byrd seems to be drawing with smoke, applying graphite loosely to paper so that granular, flickering shapes seem to grow out of the weft and crease of the supporting material. This fusion of hip experimentation with high-modernist formalism complicated the reception given Byrd in his youth, but it now seems smart and well-honed. (Gallery 478, 478 West 7th St., San Pedro CA; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • As one watches Arnon Goldfinger's new documentary, it's easy to feel annoyed at the filmmaker's tenacity, astonished by his discovery, and fascinated by his jaw-dropping journey of discovery. A far cry from the standard Holocaust documentary, <em>The Flat</em> finds its story in an event that confronts many families: cleaning out the home of a deceased relative. Like a deep-sea treasure hunt, what Goldfinger and his mother discovered in a box of documents was almost beyond their comprehension. First was a 1934 front-page article from the Nazi newspaper, <em>Der Angriff</em>, entitled "A Nazi Goes to Palestine." Then came the papers on which both a swastika and a Star of David had been drawn. What they learned was that the guide during Leopold von Mildenstein's tour of Palestine was none other than Goldfinger's grandfather, Kurt Tuchler. Who was Leopold Von Mildenstein? A member of the Nazi Party who eventually became a senior SS officer and worked closely with Adolf Eichmann. Not only were Goldfinger's grandparents friends with the man who gave Eichmann the idea to export Germany's Jews to Palestine but, after World War II ended, the Tuchlers and von Mildensteins resumed their friendship and would often vacation together. Goldfinger's research leads him to von Mildenstein's daughter, whom he interviews on camera as they peruse some of her family's memorabilia and documents Goldfinger has found in various archives.- by George Heymont- by George Heymont

  • Deborah Remington was one of America's most enigmatic contemporary painters. Evolving out of Bay Area abstract expressionism, Remington had developed an inimitable and impossible-to-classify imagery, and technique to go with it, by time she moved to New York in the 1960s. Her forms are at once organic and geometric, erratic and heraldic, hard-edged and sensuous, gemlike and fleshy, seductive and frightening. Luminous, almost electric colors describe the finely wrought edges of large, empty spaces, each composition ultimately posing a single huge, weird, eternally metamorphosing form clearly composed of several interlocking, likewise elusive components. The centrality of these forms after the mid-1960s, each featuring a void as its prominent nucleus, led feminist aestheticians to identify her work as quintessentially woman-identified. Remington resisted this construction, not wanting her unstable, feverish imagery to be fixed by an essentialist interpretation; but she never rejected the interpretation outright. This helped make the juxtaposition of some of Remington's most compelling and important canvases from the '60s and '70s with some of Judy Chicago's most compelling and important canvases of the '80s so coherent - and yet so dramatic. The vaporous, super-charged glow that pervades Chicago's work from the 1980s, carried over from her better known work of the previous decade, also connects the two painters' oeuvres. But the descriptiveness and deliberate bombast of Chicago's often immense figurative statements are light years from the circumspection of Remington's images. The "PowerPlay" series allowed Chicago to exploit and improve upon the cartoonish neo-expressionism of Schnabel, Kostabi, the German Neue Wilde, and other heroes of the moment, turning their pretense at angst and anomie into actual sociopolitical statements, rife with actual anger and confusion. In depicting man's struggle to manifest aggression and maintain dominance over woman, Chicago was able to convey, even in the cruelest and most violent images, a sense of universal tragedy. Everybody loses, the "PowerPlay" paintings and studies insist, and men are as trapped in and diminished by their roles as women in and by theirs. (David Richard, 544 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • Many singers who are a fraction of Barbara Cook's age wish they could sing with the wisdom, phrasing, and musical intuition of the former Broadway ingenue whose voice maintains its sweetness and purity as Cook nears her 85th birthday. Her new show, "<a href="" target="_hplink">Let's Fall In Love</a>," is built on songs she has never sung before, ranging from Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" to the Dan Hicks classic, "I Don't Want Love." Blessed with some great arrangements by Ted Rosenthal and Lee Musiker, Cook's artistry links "House of the Rising Sun" with "Bye Bye Blackbird" in an astonishing new way. She brings unbridled passion to "Georgia On My Mind" and her delicious sense of mischief to "Makin' Whoopee." Cook lavishes her voice on Ram Ramirez's "Lover Man" and Ben Oakland's "If I Love Again" in ways that will leave younger artists in awe. Ending her show at San Francisco's Rrazz Room with the purest and simplest rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" that you will ever hear, this recipient of a 2011 Kennedy Center Honors Award showed the audience that, long after she stopped playing Marian the Librarian (or singing Leonard Bernstein's "Glitter and be Gay"), she can still perform the American songbook with unmatched grace, authority, and authenticity. - by George Heymont

  • Louise Fishman and Brenda Goodman both produce gritty but intimate abstractions - Goodman's spiced with figural references - that look good in gritty but intimate spaces. John Davis' gallery comprises several such spaces; Fishman showed recent monoprints in the "tidier" front rooms, while Goodman's paintings, in various sizes, dominated the third floor of the carriage house in the back. Part of what makes both painters' work so intimate is their economy of both means and gesture. Fishman can be practically abstract expressionist in her stroke, but she always contains that stroke, and its resulting texture, in a way that amplifies and treasures the coarseness of pigment and the intensity of color through rhythmic deformation. Compared to her paintings Fishman's monoprints are simplified, sometimes radically, into elements of a formal vocabulary. But such reductivism gives the prints the taciturn power of brief, if recondite, poems. Goodman deals more with contrasts and with pictorial, even cartoon-like "events," no less painterly, or less rough-hewn, than Fishman's non-objective works but operating on a few more levels of pictorial reality and reliant on a wider vocabulary of form. Blobby shapes abut linear boundaries, horizon lines vaguely suggest landscape space, and every so often figures make an unmistakable appearance. In this respect Goodman's paintings connected nicely with a group of sculptures in the carriage house produced by Lisa Sanders. These spindly compositions - some made of wood, fabric, and plaster and some cast from such material into bronze - seem to marry man to mantis, describing humanoid figures not simply as lines in space (imagine David Smith trying to one-up late Giacometti) but as animate confabulations of tree branches, bird wing bones, and insect antennae. Some pieces are less human than others, but all seem vitally organic, logical, sprung from credible rather than science-fictioned biology. (John Davis, 362½ Warren St., Hudson NY; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • In her first treatment for a documentary about the many loves of renowned flamenco guitarist David Serva and the bizarre way in which one of his estranged daughters was drawn back into his messy (but intensely musical) life, Rachel Leah Jones wrote that "<em>Gypsy Davy</em> will not be another hunt-down-the-absent-father movie because the fact that Jones abandoned me as a baby is not the overriding factor that lends meaning to either of our lives." While <em>Gypsy Davy</em> is awash in some wonderful music-making, the film's attempts to detail the impact this man had on his women and children veer dangerously close to an angry daughter's need to get back at her father and have the final word. In doing so, however, Jones succeeds in painting a remarkably honest portrait of a man whose first love (and most jealous mistress) is his music. Bottom line? The women and children who follow Serva around may nurture his soul, but they can't compete with his guitar. - by George Heymont

  • Wordworks, fusing language and image or engaging language as image, pervade our post-conceptual world, but assembling a persuasive group of such work - a group varied in form and message but consistent in honoring the tenuous language-image relationship - is no easy task. "Textual Attraction" did the sub-genre proud. Ranging from the painted rants of Mel Bochner to Stephanie Syjuco's flyers (with takeaway tags for accessing on-line art texts - language about art made available by language-art), "Textual Attraction" emphasized visual art's dependence on the verbal without inferring subordination: the artwork's opticality, or at least objecthood, was as front and center as its textuality. Of course Jenny Holzer was included (a small, curved LED sign, looking almost like a hip design for a desk lamp), and graffiti was represented with the bumptious verbal abstractions of Gajin Fujita; but most of the, er, talking pictures and verbose things came out of left field. Borna Sammak, for instance, displayed her Pop-bright panel floating the word "NEW" on a harsh yellow field upside down, so that it now (sorta) read "MEN." And Cary Liebowitz/Candyass, too infrequently seen of late, gave visitors a choice bit of swag, a coffee mug emblazoned with a characteristically comedic, self-referential monologue. ("How'd you get into a sexual attraction show? - No No it's textural TEXTural attraction it's a summer group show in Chelsea...") (Mary Ryan, 527 West 26th St., NY; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • Set in a small Vermont town where a group of adults are participating in a community college's acting class for beginners, <em>Circle Mirror Transformation</em> is a fascinating 90-minute play beautifully acted by Marin Theatre Company's tightly-knit ensemble. As directed by Kip Fagan, Annie Baker's dramedy shows how a series of acting games can help people let down their hair, unbuckle their emotional armor, put aside some of their control issues, and begin to look inside themselves. Whether such games are used for therapeutic purposes or to become more comfortable with other actors, they help to facilitate introspection, flexibility, and empathy. Long silences are a big part of Baker's writing style and, in many situations, the audience fills the void with nervous laughter that may be due to the shock of recognition, their sympathy for a character's unease, or their own personal discomfort at the lack of communication. - by George Heymont

  • Simryn Gill was born in Singapore and currently splits her time between Australia and Malaysia. In the latter country Gill located a western-style upscale housing development, abandoned thirty years ago and still standing derelict, and photographed its interiors in glorious, sensuous black and white. The faux antique of the developments' original Tudor design both plays into and against its rapid, jungle-driven disintegration, as does the recurrence of individual construction panels leaned against the walls and often near windows and other (similarly rectangular) portals. There is an almost-serial repetition of elements in Gill's extended study (90 photographs were exhibited), prompting the viewer to look that much harder for distinguishing features beyond the panels, the walls, and the encroaching growth. There are few, if any, and Gill's images retreat one by one into an overall abstract pattern - albeit one inflected with a swooning romanticism that recalls the crumbling Italian interiors both Francesca Woodman and Cy Twombly documented. Ceramist Nicole Cherubini continued the sensation of beautiful decay - and to a certain extent the rectangle motif - in her brightly, juicily painted but awkwardly formed sculptures, cast from cardboard boxes. Many of these are enhanced with incongruous extensions, as if Cherubini were contemplating turning them into vessels and experimenting with potential, but never practical, handles. The citric bands and blocks of color covering the clay objects want to turn them into paintings of a sort, so a genial argument persists between two and three dimensions in these knowingly, charmingly klutzy presences. (Tracy Williams, 521 West 23rd St., NY; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • Growing up in a non-Jewish household in Northern Ireland, filmmaker Daniel Edelstyn only heard snippets about his grandmother, Maroussia Zorokovich. Whereas <em>Fiddler on the Roof</em> and other stories about pre-revolutionary Jews often focus on the povertied existence of shtetl Jews, the Zorokovich family was part of the wealthy Jewish merchant class. As a result, Maroussia was well educated, came from an affluent family that mixed with the aristocracy, and was able to pursue her artistic passions. <em><a href="" target="_hplink">How To Re-Establish A Vodka Empire</a></em> chronicles Edelstyn's journey to a tiny Ukrainian town where he discovers that his great grandfather's distillery is still producing vodka while teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. The filmmaker's opportunity to re-brand his family's heritage as <em>1917 Zorokovich Vodka</em> and introduce it into the cutthroat market for British drinkers opens up a future he had never imagined for himself. The film combines a delightful mixture of historic footage, romantic re-enactments, whimsical animation, and the harsh reality of modern life in the Ukraine. Indeed, there are times when Edelstyn's naiveté about the business world is like watching a hipster who has entered a den of wolves. Ultimately, the filmmaker's determination to find a way to align his past, present, and future makes <em>How To Re-Establish a Vodka Empire</em> a highly entertaining film. Andrew Skeet's original score is a total delight. - by George Heymont

  • Fluxus is associated with the 1960s - and as well with a host of directions it seems to have influenced from the '90s on. But the multivalent movement and its associates, addressing themselves to everything from design to poetry to social policy, never took a decade off. For example, the "artist's commune" that constituted the original early-'70s SoHo was heavily the result of George Maciunas' efforts at co-oping loft buildings, and many of its denizens were in contact with the eccentric, inventive Fluxus mastermind even after he fled New York and up until his death in 1978. Among such SoHoites, Jaime Davidovich and Judith Henry sought to turn Maciunas' ideas into useful and marketable objects - the kind of objects Maciunas himself envisioned Fluxboxes and such to be. Maciunas never figured out the marketing angle, but Henry and Davidovich did. They created Wooster Enterprises, named after their street, and for a couple of years produced designs for stationery, related writing products, and items for the kitchen, bathroom, etc., devised by Maciunas and other New York-based Fluxus artists such as Bob Watts and Geoffrey Hendricks. "Wooster Enterprises, 1976-1978" thus documented a "late phase" in the history of Fluxus as a movement. Indeed, the sometimes hilarious cleverness of these items (a double-sided memo pad, "Things To Do" and "Things Not To Do"; a chef's apron emblazoned with a to-scale digestive system; an envelope whose front is imprinted with the image of the back of an envelope) now pervades contemporary design. What this show inferred was that Fluxus was a crucial fount for such thinking, and Wooster Enterprises helped clarify its originally hermetic visual discourse and bring it to popular culture. (Churner and Churner, 205 10th Ave., NY; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • Patricia Milton's new play starts at a fever pitch and pretty much stays there. Intended as a genre mashup of romantic comedy, fairy tale, and science fiction, <em>Believers</em> is most notable for its fury and excessive verbiage. The result is a very loud and occasionally tedious work that aims high but could benefit from some strategic cuts. Among the many problems facing Tower Labs is that the proteins extracted from certain animal glands have caused people who tested their new love drug to become sexual magnets for horny muskrats. To make matters worse, the toxic runoff from the laboratory has caused frogs to rain down from the sky (a literary gimmick used to much greater effect in 1999's <em>Magnolia</em> ). There is not -- and probably never will be -- any subtlety in the way this play is performed. Less of Milton's scheming biochemists would be definitely be more (what Rocky and Grace really need is some heavyduty make-up sex). The one saving grace is born-again Christian clown April May, the kind of outrageous character who, in another medium, would get her own spinoff series. - by George Heymont

  • The "return of abstraction" seems predicated on very large paintings featuring vast, empty regions or continuous, furious busyness - in either case, an image of vacuity writ so large that it becomes exhilarating. Or is supposed to. Sometimes the emptiness, or the thrashing lines and storm-tossed collage elements, seem driven by some force outside reason, and - given the painting's expanse - manage to take all of you, not just your eyes, with them. Other times, it's just a posed sound-and-fury, signifying nothing. "The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol" explained and demonstrated, but didn't quite excuse, this tendency, letting a few (a very few - 14) of its proponents soar or sink on their own merits. Revealingly, the show regarded such work not as "expression" but as "product," its manufacture as calculated as a Hollywood blockbuster - and, not surprisingly, Andy Warhol as its de facto inventor. Just as revealingly, "The Painting Factory" seemed to indicate that the most compelling work - rather like Warhol's own - has been urged into existence by a need to do more than simply produce. There may not be a need to "mean," but there is a need to "be," to manifest a presence so dramatic that it transcends its imagery, its materials, and even its size and carries you along in its physical - not just visual -power. The best of this work, then, cannot possibly reproduce well: like the planar inventions of Wade Guyton, for instance, the non-color fields of Sterling Ruby, or the linear maelstroms of Julie Mehretu and Mark Bradford, this stuff is not just big, it's vital and surprising, providing the visceral thrill that 19th century panorama paintings and mid-20th century Cinerama could. In his struggle with language, Glenn Ligon seemed almost out of place here, but by obliterating writing in such large panels, he also approximates this hurricane-force theater. By contrast, Das Institut, an "art team," freely mixes painting, free-standing construction, and video projection into a daffy mix oddly engaging for its descent towards, but never into, inarticulation. Warhol himself was represented by several Diamond Dust, Rorschach, and Camouflage paintings. The other artists in "The Painting Factory" were Tauba Auerbach, Urs Fischer, Seth Price, Josh Smith, Rudolf Stingel, Kelly Walker, and Christopher Wool. (MOCA, 250 S. Grand Ave., LA; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • Opinionated, outspoken, and outrageously talented, Y-Love comes across as a provocative, upbeat rapper with a seemingly endless supply of intellect and creativity. Born in Baltimore, <a href="" target="_hplink">Yitzhak Jordan </a>attended Yeshiva in his teens, endured a short-lived arranged marriage to a Yiddish-speaking woman who didn't think he was sufficiently religious, and came out of the closet in May of 2012. Using the stage name Y-Love, he has positioned himself as a free-styling outsider who has been described as "a Black, Jewish, gay orphan searching for a home." Caleb Heller's 50-minute documentary (which received its world premiere at the recent San Francisco Jewish Film Festival) offers a fascinating portrait of a multitalented artist who defies pigeonholing. As their performing careers progress, it will be interesting to see if Matisyahu and Y-Love become the male rappers/entertainers whose fan base represents Orthodox Judaism's answer to Madonna and Lady Gaga. - by George Heymont

  • Kevin Appel and Iva Gueorguieva both enjoy prominence among a burgeoning crop of abstract painters - not least for their willingness to defy and at the same time honor orthodoxies pertaining to abstraction and even to painting. Appel, for instance, grounds his large new compositions in photographs he took at and around the Salton Sea. He transfers these photographs (themselves busy fields of mostly undifferentiated detritus) to canvas using UV ink, then paints motifs that both complement and attenuate the already complex photo-images. These forms are rendered in various kinds of paint, oil and enamel as well as acrylic, activating the surface; but the motifs themselves tend to the flat and uncomplicated, while frequently repeated and clustered, so that they have a calming effect on the overall composition. The effect, however, is not calming enough to neutralize the photographs' agitation, and Appel maintains a perpetual tension between his disparate, mutually wary elements. Given the yet-greater density Gueorguieva is known for, the segue between Appel's work and hers was still startling, as Gueorguieva's new work on canvas, if anything, reversed Appel's scheme: while his work relies on figure-ground - almost push-pull - relationships, hers absorbs ground into figure, realizing an all-over formula that leaves no corner of the canvas unworked. More and more, however, Gueorguieva employs collage, not to break up the already variegated texture of her paintings but to complicate the myriad rhythms, bringing the eye up short in several places while giving it brief respite. Gueorguieva's new sculptures - in fact, intricately constructed three-dimensional painting surfaces - are contoured much like those collage elements. They seem to jump off the canvases while proposing an entirely new physical realm - for Gueorguieva and others - of painterly expression. These were the most exciting pieces in her show, not least because they augur a promisingly freewheeling painting-sculpture hybrid. (Susanne Vielmetter, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City CA; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • When <a href="" target="_hplink">Lorenzo Pisoni </a>brought his one-man show to San Francisco in February, I remember thinking how much I would love to see it again. Not only is Pisoni an extremely handsome and capable performer, he's also a mensch with years of circus craft in his bones. Watching <em>Humor Abuse</em> for a second time this month allowed me to observe how certain bits of business are set up, how some of the stunts are crafted, and appreciate how finely tuned Pisoni's performance must be in order to achieve maximum impact. With 20 years of circus work (in the Pickle Family Circus as well as Cirque du Soleil) mixed with numerous appearances onstage and in film, the actor has an impressive theatrical history to draw upon. <em>Humor Abuse</em>, which is built around Lorenzo's difficult relationship with his clown father, provides him with a unique coming of age story that has been crafted into a beautiful theatrical experience from start to finish. - by George Heymont

  • Charles Arnoldi has experimented with myriad formats, materials, and formal languages, but he always manages to assert his distinctive sensibility, witty but workmanlike, materially sensitive but almost architectural in its formal disposition. In this new group of paintings, there's no "almost:" entitled "Case Study," referencing southern California's landmark postwar building project, the series conjures the design and erection of habitable structures - without lifting brush from picture plane. The Case Study houses were not in fact inspiration for the paintings; but when Arnoldi realized that, with all their conjuration of post-and-lintel construction and interplay of light and shadow, the paintings were describing a kind of Americanized, and to some extent domesticized, International Style, he decided to pay post-facto homage to the houses (some of which stand only blocks from his studio). The surface dynamics of these Case Study paintings may re-enliven Mondrian's formula and the vibrancy of prewar and postwar constructivism, but - like the Case Study houses themselves - their sense of space, not to mention light, bespeaks a very American grasp of landscape. Indeed, a sidewise glance at certain of the paintings can reveal Arnoldi's inner Diebenkorn - not so much the Diebenkorn of Ocean Park but the figurative Diebenkorn, composing around the horizon line until rooftops and cresting streets flatten into pattern in the California sun. Arnoldi's Case Study series thus broadly honors the spirit and sensation of both a place and a time, the state he lives in and the American era defined by that state. (Charlotte Jackson, 554 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe; closed. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • Few silent film stars were as fearless and unflappable as Buster Keaton, whose 1928 comedy, <em>The Cameraman</em>, was recently screened as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Keaton earned the nickname "Old Stone Face" from his ability to keep his focus while taking pratfalls. Whether running and jumping or chasing cars, buses, and trains, Keaton's lean athleticism offered a solid foundation upon which he could improvise tricks. For many years, Keaton's success had been the result of brainstorming with a close-knit gang of friends and colleagues. Watch the master in action in this clip from <em>The Cameraman.</em> - by George Heymont

  • Timothy H. O'Sullivan is best known as one of the Civil War's leading photographers. But his postwar work, specifically for surveys of the West (Utah, Nevada, desert California), proved just as historically significant - and, from the evidence of this show, just as aesthetically engaging. Indeed, O'Sullivan emerges here as a landscape artist equal in vision to Church and Moran. He wouldn't have thought himself so, of course, but his sense of composition and contrast - not to mention his ability to render depth with the technology of the day - come down to us as supremely artful. Their topographical exactitude, expected of photographs made on geological surveys, appeals to both our artistic and journalistic expectations, but so does the exquisite balance they strike between the manifest-destiny romanticism of a Bierstadt and the sharp-eyed facticity of a new-topographics contemporary like Robert Adams. (In this regard, the supplement to the show, comprising Mark Klett's retracings of O'Sullivan's surveys, not only makes perfect visual sense, but gives O'Sullivan's photos additional historical resonance.) Far less obviously scenic than his views of forests and palisades, O'Sullivan's depictions of desert dunes, mining camps, salt flats and geyserlands have a vivid textural as well as narrative presence: they are as exciting simply to behold as to imagine upon. The catalogue does a superb job of documenting O'Sullivan's (and, for that matter, Klett's) documenting, but the show itself, however substantially labeled, stresses the work's optical pleasures, releasing O'Sullivan, however temporarily, from the confines of historiography. (Nelson-Atkins Museum, 4525 Oak St., Kansas City MO; thru Sept. 2. <a href="http://www.nelson-atkins.or" target="_hplink">www.nelson-atkins.or</a>g) - Peter Frank

  • Not only did the opening night performance of <em><a href="" target="_hplink">War Horse</a></em> at San Francisco's Curran Theatre fully live up to my expectations, it provided the kind of puppet experience that captures the magic of theatre as articulated and performed by artists who have become master craftsmen in the act of storytelling. Bijan Sheibani has done a stunning job of directing the United States touring production. I was particularly impressed with the animation and projection designs by 59 Productions (which provide a surprisingly effective black-and-white background for the play's war scenes). Designed, fabricated, and directed by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, the horse puppets receive remarkable dramatic support from Adrian Sutton, whose near-symphonic musical score brings a cinematic feel to the proceedings. While there are outstanding performances by Andrew Veenstra as Albert Narracott and Alex Morf as Private David Taylor, a goose puppet steals the show throughout much of Act I. Perhaps most touching is the scene in a French trench where two terrified young soldiers share pictures of their loved ones as they try to keep their wits about them. "Whatever keeps you going," David tells Albert. "I've got my girl, Flossie, and you've got your horse." - by George Heymont

  • Arthur Tress is one of America's photographic patersfamiliae, but even his admirers probably don't realize how far back his oeuvre goes. "San Francisco 1964" comprises one of Tress's first mature bodies of work, an urbanistic launching pad for a photographer fascinated equally with figures and spaces, humanity and light, to the point where each doesn't simply depend on, but underscores, the other. These early photographs seem more considered and deliberately artful than the work of Tress's models (Robert Frank, for instance, or the WPA photographers), yet hardly less immediate and compelling. In their specificity of time and place, of course, they take on momentous import; but they manifest that import casually, documenting events (including the Republican Convention that summer) incidentally and turning incidents monumental. Regarding life with wry affection, Tress finds people resting and playing in the oddest manners, store signs expansive in their banality (the clear influence of Pop art), and the urban landscape at once an ethnographic field and an abstraction of forms and forces. Tress's San Francisco is lighter, both in spirit and in image, than such portentous postwar studies as Frank's The Americans; to be sure, he exposes unmistakable seams of social tension, for which he was no doubt looking, but in the City's brilliant sunlight and tolerant ambience, even the most jarring juxtapositions seem less meaningful or dangerous than they are curious and poetic. Here, at least, Tress serves less as documenter and more as flâneur, gliding through San Francisco's mysteries marveling at rather than trying to solve them. (Gallery Rose, Bergamot Station #G5, 2525 Michigan Ave., S. Monica; thru Sept. 8. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • For one of its free screenings, this year's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival chose <em><a href="" target="_hplink">God's Fiddler</a></em>, a fascinating documentary about the legendary violinist, Jascha Heifetz. Some 25 years after Heifetz's death -- and the explosion of celebrity-driven entertainment media -- viewers learn that the crushing loneliness Heifetz suffered during most of his adult life was brought about by his first bad review. Many people often wonder why perfectionists seem anti-social. After his first bad review, Heifetz went into a near-suicidal depression. With the material he unearthed from old archives and the Library of Congress, filmmaker Peter Rosen documents the change in personality from a young man with a zest for life to the unsmiling mature artist. Heifetz's explanation for his perfectionism was simple: "I owe it to music, and myself, never to be content." - by George Heymont

  • Charles Christopher Hill's singular, and often very innovative, contributions to the discourse of the LA art scene are too often overlooked, and a microspective like this proves tantalizing even to those familiar with Hill's various bodies of work. His current stripe paintings, as raw and obdurate as they are contained and minimized, inherited their stark contrasts and slick but alluring surfaces from a twenty-year-old series engaging more eccentric shapes. These, with their odd compositions and sensitivity to texture, descended from the dense, rhythmic, but patchy compositions of the '80s - and those, in turn, came out of Hill's breakout work, the funky, decaying paper/cloth tapestries he'd stitch together like forlorn Frankensteins and subject to all kinds of biochemical degradation. What remains constant throughout is Hill's fascination with the sensuality of materials and the contrasting yet corroborating dynamics of a compositional reasoning that incorporates both pattern and accident. A strange beauty courses throughout, inviting, even arguing for, a much broader mid-career survey. (Leslie Sacks Contemporary, Bergamot Station #B6, 2525 Michigan Ave., S. Monica; thru Sept. 22. <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>) - Peter Frank

  • Central Works recently premiered a political dramedy by William Bivins that could easily have been subtitled <em>A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Quorum</em>. At 70 minutes in length, <em>The Education of a Rake</em> is a terse, tight roller-coaster ride which is every bit as knowledgeable about how to work a deal through Congress as Gore Vidal's 52-year-old political drama, <em>The Best Man</em>. The "rake" in question is Congressman Roy Armstrong who, as the only child of a single mother, has built his political career on his ability to empathize with and champion the fight for women's rights. Armstrong has formulated a plan which could not only achieve the long-overdue passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (first proposed in 1923), but would make him the heroic male feminist who finally got the job done. Unfortunately, the old saying that "a stiff dick knows no conscience" is a pretty fair description of Armstrong's questionable ethics. Jan Zvaifler has directed Eric Reed, Gabrielle Patacsil, and Sally Dana in a bristling political thriller that pits two strong-willed women of different generations (Armstrong's wife and mistress) against the Congressman who "done them wrong." While there is plenty of righteous indignation accompanied by flared nostrils and looks that could kill, it quickly becomes evident that women are much more adept at "doing the math" than a smug, self-righteous stud who has been reaping the benefits of male privilege for far too long. - by George Heymont

  • A 22-minute documentary short by filmmaker Richard Marks packs a lot of musical history into a tender, poignant portrait of a man whose life-long passion for music helped to build a massive collection of recordings. <em>Music Man Murray</em> delivers a nostalgic trip down memory lane to a time when radio and LPs were the dominant form of music distribution. Those who have spent long hours haunting the bins of used CDs and LPs at stores like Streetlight Records and Amoeba Music know the thrill of finding a lost treasure or encountering store clerks with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of their favorite musical genre. Whether you collect classical recordings, show tunes, country music, or gospel, <em>Music Man Murray</em> will hit a soft spot in your heart. - by George Heymont

  • OpenTab Productions recently presented the West Coast premiere of <em>Enron 2012</em> by British playwright, Lucy Prebble. Using some superb puppets designed by Miyaka Cochrane, the production was directed by Ben Euphrat with a fury appropriate to the greedy tale of what happened to "the smartest guys in the room." Anyone who had the opportunity to enjoy Bennett Fisher's financial farce entitled <em>Hermes</em> will quickly recognize Prebble's play as an excellent companion piece for explaining how global finance can suddenly go horribly wrong. The character who travels the greatest dramatic distance is Andy Fastow (brilliantly portrayed by Nathan Tucker). As one watches him frantically feeding debt to a trio of brilliantly-designed, screeching raptor puppets, one can't help but admire Prebble's wit and Euphrat's energetic stage direction.

  • In early 1945, nearly 30,000 Jews who had been liberated from German concentration camps were rescued by the Red Cross and transported by ferry to Malmo, Sweden to get a fresh start on life. Some were emaciated and nearly at death's door. Others were children with little or no concept of what was happening around them. Today, the few surviving children who arrived on the ferries have scattered from Sweden to South Africa, from Malmo to Minneapolis. Director Magnus Gertten's poignant documentary, <em>Harbour of Hope</em>, has many heart-wrenching moments (like the one in which an elderly woman views naked footage of herself and her mother as they are being checked out by Swedish health authorities upon their arrival in Malmo). In a fascinating twist of fate, <em>Harbour of Hope</em> is able to contrast the faces of innocent Jewish refugee children with what these people look like in their geriatric years. - by George Heymont

  • In its world premiere production at TheatreWorks, Laura Schellhardt's <em>Upright Grand</em> (staged by outgoing New Works Festival director, Meredith McDonough) has finally found its emotional core thanks to the use of a turntable and the hollowed out piano frames that allow the audience to see through a piano's skeleton while getting to the dramatic heart of the matter. In many ways, the decision to merge the show's accompanist with an actor who could play minor roles (a piano tuner, a music professor, and funeral guest) helped to define the piano as the fourth character in this play (which was first seen during the 2011 New Works Festival). While the bulk of the evening belongs to the father/daughter relationship shared by Pops (Dan Hiatt) and Kiddo (Renata Friedman), I was quite impressed with accompanist Brett Ryback for his work at the keyboard as well as in supporting roles. The revolving unit set designed by Kris Stone helped to build upon the sentimentality of the songs Pops likes to play and his daughter's growing awareness of how quickly, and irretrievably, time flies by while you're chasing an international career as a concert pianist. - by George Heymont

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