HuffPost Arts&Culture's 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 some 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.
<strong>David Lloyd </strong>questions the nature of information, both its delivery and its reception, in a new body of shaped paintings that builds on and at the same time answers to, even seems to correct, the density and complication of his previous work. These new images have been fabricated on wood panel, shaped to conform to the irregular but symmetrical contours of Lloyds’ images. The images themselves have been compounded, assembled from discrete elements – themselves relatively simple geometric forms – each containing its own wealth of imagery. Some of this imagery is abstract, some recognizable (although its source in photography – especially downloaded imagery – is more evident in certain segments than in others), and some is purely verbal, written in multicolor and resembling, at least at first glance, the rambling screeds held up by (apparently schizophrenic) homeless people. The surfeit of references in Lloyd’s kaleidoscopic, almost heraldic compositions poses a dichotomy: does one pick through the vast array of material in order to be informed (as if the artwork were some sort of newspaper) and perhaps even derive a larger, unifying comprehension (as if it were some sort of narrative)? Or does one stand back from the clangor and allow formal relationships between the disparate elements to emerge? Lloyd’s formula sets us up to expect that doing the latter will lead to the former. In fact, that’s not at all a certainty; the avalanche of clues and cues may ultimately be sortable, but it may not be coherent. Certainly it does not conform to any standard mode of discourse. Lloyd’s paintings are meta-journals of some kind, accepting the multilevel babble of on-line information and making visual rather than eidetic sense out of it. The medium is the message – again. (Gallery KM [now Klowden Mann], 6023 Washington Blvd., Culver City CA; closed. <a href="http://www.klowdenmann.com" target="_blank">www.klowdenmann.com</a>) – Peter Frank DAVID LLOYD, Waiting, 2013, Mixed media on wood, 28 x 36½ x 2 inc
Bach 3 Gamba Sonatas. Nicholas Altstaedt, cello. Jonathan Cohen, harpsichord. Genuin CD By Laurence Vittes An absolute revelation: If Bach's 6 Suites for Solo Cello are your thing, you will certainly enjoy his splendid thee sonatas for gamba (or cello) and harpsichord. They are more outgoing and florid, more formal and less personal, although at moments they are deeply moving. Whey they are played as they are here by Nicholas Altstaedt, one of the cello realm's most brilliant young princes, and Jonathan Cohen, rising like a shooting star through the period performance sector, we are guaranteed that every bar will have been thought out to within an inch of its life, then let go to explore spontaneously according to the musicians' larger, overarching interpretive principles and schemes. The result of 43 minutes of such cosmically-designed, lapidarian beauty will resonate for a lifetime.
One of the oddest documentaries I've come across in quite a while is Timo Novotny's haunting video essay, <em><a href="http://www.trainsofthoughts.com/#home" target="_blank">Trains of Thoughts</a></em>, which was screened at the 2013 DocFest in San Francisco. Backed by a wonderful musical score by the Austrian band, <em>Sofa Surfers</em>, Novotny travels below ground in some of the world's most famous subway systems. In some cities, his fascination is with the public art that is visible within the subway system (whether it be the poets and buskers on the platforms of the Los Angeles Metro Rail or the palatial interior decor found in some of Moscow's subway stations). In others, it may involve the contrast between the architectural symmetries to be found throughout every subway system and the masses of humanity from Hong Kong to Vienna that depend on mass transit. As I watched <em>Trains of Thoughts</em> I found myself haunted by the film's visual richness (especially those segments that would appeal to someone who spent so many youthful hours riding subway trains) yet frustrated by the translations of Novotny's conversations with riders which interfered with the more interesting visuals. – by George Heymont
<strong>Anselm Kiefer</strong> refuses to think small even when he begins with “small” subjects. In this case, the intimate things in his visual range, the flowers near his home in southern France, become – well, not so much metaphors for the concepts and crises of the recent political past so much as emblems of their folly and tragedy. Rendering these fields and clumps of flowers in his characteristically darkened, dramatically perspectivized mega-pictorial style, brimming with both manual and conceptual, even verbal, angst, Kiefer looks out upon this pastoral innocence and senses doom. The series of paintings (and objects) is given the collective name “Morgenthau Plan” thus pointing to two plans in the later 20th century that would wean their respective target countries off industry and convert them to agricultural economies. The subtitle refers, of course, to Mao Zedong’s anti-capitalist purges of the 1950s, but by extension also indicts the next decade’s Cultural Revolution. Less known is the title’s “plan,” a proposal by Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, to suppress all industry, and thus militarism, in a conquered Germany – a policy more vengeful than practical, and thankfully given little credence even in its time. Still, the Plan spooked Kiefer and spoke both to his German cultural critique and his gimlet-eyed regard for human behavior, giving a moral framework to his indulgence in what would otherwise have been landscape for its own sake. Or would it have? Kiefer gives a cast of emotional as well as philosophical gravitas to everything he does by maintaining the calibrated anguish that addicts so many of us to his work, never turning his signature method into a manner – perhaps because the method itself is so vastly resonant. It was almost a surprise to enter this show and be gripped yet again by massive tableaux whose complexity rides on but counters their dour palette and their confusion and fury meted out almost in poetic stanzas. Such poeticism resides not simply in the substance, much less presence, of Kiefer’s Gothic-cursive notations, but in the dark, carefully shaped lyricism of the imagery itself. Still, if Kiefer’s art doesn’t need political/historical reference to give it extra-aesthetic depth, it serves a noble cause in making us aware of such reference. Those who are ignorant of history, after all, are condemned to repeat it, and Kiefer nobly dedicates his oeuvre to dispelling such fateful ignorance. (522 West 21st St, NY; closed. <a href="http://www.gagosian.com" target="_blank">www.gagosian.com</a>) – Peter Frank ANSELM KIEFER, Oh Halme, ihr Halme, oh Halme der Nacht, 2012, Acrylic, emulsion, oil and shellac on photograph mounted on vanvas, 149 5/8 x 220½ inches
Janusz Wawrowski & Jose Gallardo: Aurora. EMI Poland (through iTunes) By Laurence Vittes Janusz Wawrowski is one of Poland's brightest young talents. He is a virtuoso of the highest order, a consummate chamber music player, an authentic and deeply compelling advocate for the music of Poland, and with a fierce belief in the common goals and sympathies he shares with his colleagues. To attend his summer festivals in Zakopane and Gniezno is to become intoxicated with the music and the musicians. Here, in the first of a 4-CD deal with Polish EMI, Wawrowski and the sublime Argentine pianist Jose Gallardo present music from the various schools that are the great legacy of Polish violin playing, as reflected in its violin competitions: Szymanowski, Lutoslawski, Ysaye and Ravel. It's a hypnotically beautiful, wistfully passionately recital, using the violin to talk discreetly about love in elegant performances that capture the lives and emotions that lay behind the music.
There's a certain kind of urban explorer who is part architect, part archaeologist, and part art historian. In some situations, the same person can be part anarchist and part thrill seeker. Sometimes his goal is to pierce the mysterious facade of a transit facility that has been removed from public access. At other times, it may be to investigate the inner workings of public infrastructure or act as a curator of the urban underworld. Steve Duncan is the kind of urban explorer whose work sometimes redefines the term "armchair adventure." You'll be quite glad you're sitting comfortably in your home while watching Duncan deftly duck down sewers, nervously hike through subway tunnels, and climb bridges with the kind of curiosity that could kill someone with less experience. Nimble as a goat and fearless as a cheetah, his lean athletic body and strong sense of balance frequently come in handy. With the help of videographer Andrew Wonder, Duncan's 27-minute short film entitled <em>Undercity</em> takes viewers on a tour of New York City secrets that no Gray Line bus tour could ever match. Enjoy! – by George Heymont
<strong>Jean Dupuy</strong> has been a presence in two continents for over four decades, both as artist and, at least for a while, as exhibition organizer. He has approached neither calling conventionally, early on realizing prescient works of electronic art and subsequently devising even more prescient means of showing contemporary art. In 1973, eschewing the social and economic, if not the physical, conditions of the conventional gallery system, Dupuy began presenting group shows of eccentric devices, installations, and live performances, most realized on the occasion of each show – and answering to the show’s “theme.” “About 405 East 13th Street” (Dupuy’s studio address at the time) determined a site-specificity to his first two assemblies, while subsequent ones invited participating artists to do something with (or usually behind) a grommet-laced curtain, on a very small revolving stage, or even with soup and tarts. Dupuy, sensitive to the formal and technical restlessness of his era and inspired by looser, larger artist-organized models such as Fluxus and the New York Avant Garde Festival, wanted to provide his compeers practical armatures upon which they could build their concepts – or, conversely, conceptual armatures around which they could fashion their devices. It worked both ways; at a critical juncture in the development of conceptual art in the mid-1970s, Dupuy’s collective presentations demonstrated that concept and practice were one and the same thing, and that the rupture that needed to be healed was between artist and audience. The very themes and structures that galvanized the participants in Dupuy’s collective presentations provided their visitors a clarifying leitmotif and allowed comparisons to be made and methods to be grasped without compromising artists’ intents or techniques. It was, you could say, the experimental, multimedia version of having multiple painters paint from the same model. The model was Dupuy’s proposition, and the results were determined partly aforethought and partly on the spot. As you can imagine, the vast majority of these efforts were relatively modest and absolutely temporary; plenty of documentation survives, and the photos and especially videos can be riveting – when they’re legible. A show like this documenting Dupuy’s “collectives years” (not “collective,” but “collectives”) in New York and Paris, 1973-83, even while enhanced by Dupuy’s own eminently lucid, funny artworks riffing on the events and the artists (including some recent drawings done in self-retrospect), can prove an exercise as much in frustration as in wonder – a compendium of odd angles, bad lighting, and failed efforts at capturing quick motions, not to mention wordy, gnomic handouts. (Ah, the ‘70s!) But Dupuy was pretty good at getting people to acknowledge the documentary camera, so something of the concepts driving these diverse works, and certainly of the adventurous and witty spirit that inflected all his efforts, comes through even in the murkiest shots. (Loevenbruck, 6 rue Jacques Callot, Paris; closed. <a href="http://www.loevenbruck.com" target="_blank">www.loevenbruck.com</a>) – Peter Frank JEAN DUPUY, A Collective Performance (Grommet Studio), 1985-2013, Gouache on paper, 25½ x 19 2/3 inches
DuoW: Entendre. Sono Luminus CD. By Laurence Vittes Enterprising young Sono Luminus, devoted to expanding the legacy of fabled Dorian into the 21st century, unleashes the savage powers of violin and cello team duoW (Arianna Warsaw-Fan and Meta Weiss). These hip young Juilliard graduates went viral with their Ghosts and Flowers video in 2011; now they return in audio only with chestnuts for their splashy genre including the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia and the Kodaly and Ravel duos. What makes this essential listening is their Saturday Night special rendition of Sousa's patriotic band march, The Stars & Stripes Forever, arranged by Bruce Dukov. It is an amazing tour de force, high flying, smarmy, breathtaking, all at once. Better than Horowitz's arrangement! Recorded in Sono Luminus's state of the art studio in Boyce, Virginia, the sound is impossibly rich with an appetite for the sexy and the sumptuous.
Ever since 2008, when Don Reed brought his one-man show entitled <em>East 14th: True Tales of a Reluctant Player</em> to The Marsh, Bay area audiences have been eating out of the palm of his hand. A talented stand-up comedian, impressionist, writer, dancer, and actor, Reed's one-man shows describe his hilarious adventures growing up between the strict Oakland household in which his stepfather was a Jehovah's Witness and his other home in Oakland, where his daddy was a pimp with a great collection of hats. <em>Lucky: The Irish Pimp</em> is a short film that Reed wrote, directed and starred in. Reed’s newest show, <em>Can You Dig It?</em> takes his audience back to Oakland during the 1960s, when Reed was a compulsive blinker, flashy cars were status symbols, and the Black Panthers were new to the neighborhood. As he imitates his peers, his older brothers, and other characters from his childhood, Reed is on sure footing talking about people he loved very dearly for a long, long time. Much of his material is quite wonderful, and Reed "sells" it to the audience with the skill of someone who has told these stories over and over to great effect. <em>Can You Dig It?</em> offers audiences a chance to revel in the music and dance moves of the 1960s as well as the wonder of growing up in a tug of war between the musical influences of The Beatles and James Brown, the dance influences of The Jerk and The Watusi, and the counterculturalism of the hippies and the Black Panthers. – by George Heymont
Carolee Schneemann has become a materfamilias to a whole generation of feminist artists, but, less dramatically but no less importantly, she now serves as inspiration for artists of all sexes working in non-traditional media, for many artists working in traditional media, and for just about anyone needing to follow their own eccentric path. Schneemann herself does not work in an impulsive manner – this exhibition, for instance, presented two discrete and carefully defined series, plus one room containing a highly varied miscellany spanning decades – but she works from impulse, from what always seems to be an idea suddenly gripping her and (yet) demanding to be thoroughly explored. The centerpiece of this show consisted of a relatively new series of wall-mounted kinetic works, themselves comprising a unified installation, Flange 6rpm. The sculpture ringed the gallery’s main room, casting erratic but brilliant light-and-shadow patterns as they rotated and wobbled at the slow cycle noted in the installation title. The sculptures themselves are fabricated of cast aluminum, but combine mechanical and seemingly organic forms, the combination reminiscent of Schneemann’s motorized assemblages from the late ‘50s and ‘60s, if far more vivid in their light-casting effects. At first these semi-crude, semi-polished instruments seem to relate little to the funky, expansively gestural “Dust Paintings” shown in the middle room. But these rough-hewn rag-paper-mounted works from the mid-1980s brim with the same sense of kinesis and splatter as that animating Flange 6rpm – only here, the splatter is physical and the kinesis implied, rather than the other way round. “The fundamental life of any material I use,” Schneemann has written, “is concentrated in that material’s gesture – gesticulation, gestation, source of compression…” This exhibition demonstrated that fundament in Schneemann’s work simply by contrasting a newer series with an older one; imagine a whole retrospective based on this concept. (PPOW, 535 West 22nd St, NY; closed. <a href="http://www.ppowgallery.com" target="_blank">www.ppowgallery.com)</a> – Peter Frank CAROLEE SCHNEEMANN, Flange 6rpm (detail), 2013, Foundry-poured aluminum and motors with projected light, 7 units, each approximately 48 x 28 x 36 inches
Marais Images Meineke van der Velden, Fred Jacobs. Ramée CD By Laurence Vittes There can never be enough Marin Marais, especially in the intimate, minimalist setting of just viola da gamba and the giraffe-like long-necked lute known as the French theorbo. Even if at times it becomes too morose too quick. Perhaps it accelerates desire. Anyway, the excellent selection here includes Marais at his lightest as well as heaviest, in character studies in which he called upon the most diverse subjects for inspiration: A guitar, a country fair, even a gallstone operation. You know you are is serious territory when the French theorbo half of Velden and Jacobs admits in the liner notes that he "has recorded a series of programs devoted to 17th century monody, for which his research has uncovered some hidden treasures." No matter his bookish concerns, his affectionate plucking is the perfect setting for Velden's daring beauty and vulnerability.
One of my favorite surprises at the 2013 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival was a Canadian comedy entitled <em><a href="http://myawkwardsexualadventure.com/" target="_blank">My Awkward Sexual Adventure</a></em>. Written by Jonas Chernick and directed by Sean Garrity, this film comes across like a breath of fresh air when compared to many Hollywood sex farces. Part of that may be because its protagonists are not horny teenagers, but genuinely conflicted adults struggling with real issues. Jordan Abrams (Jonas Chernick) is a lean and nebbishy Jewish accountant who is as boring in bed as he is fully dressed. Rachel Stern (Sarah Manninen), is Jordan's girlfriend who has lost all patience with him. When Jordan finally proposes, Rachel confesses that she can't possibly imagine a sex life that is all Jordan, all the time. While there is absolutely no doubt that Rachel is a selfish, manipulative bitch, what sets <em>My Awkward Sexual Adventure</em> apart from so many other films in its genre is that the audience can't stop itself from caring about Jordan and his newfound stripper friend, Julia (Emily Hampshire) -- two deeply wounded and vulnerable adults who could actually help each other if they could only get past some of their emotional baggage. Although the film's structure can occasionally be frustrating, it has a mature approach to sex and sensuality, as well as some great laughs. Here's one of the key scenes: – by George Heymont
<strong>Ian Hamilton Finlay </strong>began in the 1950s as a writer, evolved into a “concrete poet,” and then took that notion of concretion one step further, ending his career as a sculptor – albeit a sculptor reliant on the dynamics of language, and thus a poet to the end. Amidst all this, Finlay’s allegiance to his surroundings – the landscape and maritime industry and activity particular to his corner of Scotland – became the recurring subject of his art, as this relatively small, absolutely juicy gathering of his verbal objects was able to demonstrate even given its physical restrictions. The show was dominated, at least at first glance, by the painted structures, each spelling out a single word or phrase, pertinent to vessels in the local harbor, and interacting as if parts of a single installation. These were augmented by other references to the sea and its culture –ships’ bells, for instance, each bearing a brief, even one-word poem (“Cosalt,” “Catamaran,” “Strake”) – but also by broader evocations of the landscape, mostly from the later 1960s and ‘70s. These objects embodied early on Finlay’s understanding of language, at least its verbal and nominal aspects, as material, that is, as truly concrete. They not only literalized and dramatized the aspirations of concrete poets the world over (at the moment of concrete poetry’s climax as a movement), but anticipated the struggle of conceptual art to arrogate form to idea. Finlay forged poems beyond the page, in and on stone, glass, Plexiglas, and wood – and in the case of the mural-like Rock Wave, ceramic brick. This is a version of an earlier poem-object rendered on glass, now forged in material more appropriate for outside installation – but here hung on the wall, its crescendo of repeated words (“wave” crashing into “rock”) now a bas relief, bringing stormy weather indoors. (David Nolan, 527 West 29th St, NY; closed. <a href="http://www.davidnolangallery.com" target="_blank">www.davidnolangallery.com</a>) – Peter Frank IAN HAMILTON FINLAY, Wave Rock, 1974-75, Ceramic tile, 29½ x 200¾ x 5/8 inches
Leclair Sonatas. Four Nations Ensemble. Orchid Classics CD By Laurence Vittes It's always good to check in and see just how responsive you are on any given day to the charms of Leclair. His music is exactly like the nymphs on the cover of this sensuous new take by the enterprising Four Nations Ensemble: Explicitly detailed and highly amorous. In his notes, director Andrew Appell posits that, in some ways, Leclair wrote his music as actual scores to contemporary "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"-type affaires. It's good to hear the Four Nations in a straightforward recital. Their exquisite artistry amply repays the investment.
If the three leading characters in <em>Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical</em> are high-maintenance homosexuals, let there be no doubt that, with more than 500 costumes, 200 hats and headdresses, and 150 pairs of shoes, the stage production is very much a high-maintenance operation. In addition to all of its rapid costume changes, this production shows how far LED technology has evolved since the turn of the century. Conceived and designed by Brian Thomson, the hot-wired bus which revolves and performs all kinds of jaw-dropping special effects is part of a rapidly-changing scenic circus of lighting tricks (designed by Nick Schlieper and Jonathan Spencer) which could only be managed by computers. The combination of endless, quick costume changes (combined with Ross Coleman's original highly aerobic choreography) makes the stage version of <em>Priscilla</em> the equivalent of a musical comedy drag triathlon for its three leads. Part of that is because, unlike in the original film, the audience never sees vast expanses of the Australian Outback. Even Adam's gay-bashing encounter with a group of homophobic rural thugs seems less traumatic because it is so obviously choreographed and because the audience knows there are more costume changes urgently waiting in the wings. From the show's opening moments as three disco divas descend from the flies against an LED-version of Sydney's famous Harbour Bridge, the stage version of <em>Priscilla</em> takes off like a rocket, with the audience cheering like mad. Bryan West scored strongly as Adam/Felicia, with Scott Willis offering a touching portrayal of the aging Bernadette. I was especially gratified to see Wade McCollum (who had made such a deep impression in the world premiere of <em>Fly By Night</em> at TheatreWorks) doing a spectacular job as Tick/Mitzi. With its high-voltage production and supremely energetic cast, <em>Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical</em> offers audiences a remarkably fulfilling evening of gaudy musical comedy. – by George Heymont
“Anton Voyls Fortgang” was not the curator of the three-person show “A Void”, but the title given the German translation of Georges Perec’s 1969 novel “La Disparition” – titled “A Void” in its English translation. Perec’s book famously eschewed the use of the letter “e,” presaging the linguistic and notational game-playing that determined the work of the three artists comprising “A Void.” The oldest, Henri Chopin, had begun his involvement with concrete and visual poetry before the appearance of Perec’s novel, thus engaging in formal explorations parallel to Perec’s own. (In the wake of surrealism, verbal and visual art maintained a constant intimate relationship in France, whether in the elaborate performative strategies of Perec’s group OuLiPo or in the word-image-sound experiments of Chopin’s visual-concrete compeers.) A younger Frenchman, Guy de Cointet, identified as a visual artist, but, upon moving to Los Angeles and immersing himself in a foreign tongue as well as culture, devised a way of translating language, alphabetically, into visual structure – and vice versa, as in his theater-like scripted performances of the 1970s and early ‘80s. Also engaged in the early performance-art scene in LA, Channa Horwitz concerned herself with a form of movement and sound inscription paralleling (more or less) traditional notation in both art forms (and hence the name she gave for her practice, “sonakinatography”). While the intermedial methods of these three polyartists have been examined before, even in their lifetimes, they have not, at least sufficiently, enjoyed the cross-illumination provided by “A Void,” by which the scriptive-enactive principles of one are compared to the different but related principles of the other two. In the context of an art museum display, that comparison began with visual appearance and unpacked issues of reading, decoding, and interpreting what are non-standard means of notating. All three artists devised notations whose derivations are clear but whose rules of legibility are discrete, even hermetic, however evident their logic. Without their codes we can only sense their outcomes; but the scores themselves, brimming with pattern, are aesthetically gratifying – no accident in any of this work. For some reason, Chopin’s presence in “A Void” comprised a single body of work, from 1984, in which he configured his typing to geometric and quasi-representational shapes, while that of the two Californians sampled their work across the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s – an awkward historical imbalance, but not detrimental to the show’s conceptual point. (Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Grabbeplatz 4, Düsseldorf; closed. <a href="http://www.kunsthalle-duesseldorf.de" target="_blank">www.kunsthalle-duesseldorf.de</a>) – Peter Frank “A Void” installation, with the work of HENRI CHOPIN foreground, GUY DE COINTET background
eX: Possessed. Heresy CD By Laurence Vittes Not for the pure of heart. eX's Possessed is a tour de force of instrumental and vocal brilliance featuring medieval, renaissance, baroque and traditional music providing the ideal soundtrack for enjoying Christian ecstatic trance as experienced by visionaries Hildegard von Bingen, Theresa of Avila and Joan of Arc, demonic possession of the Salem witches, initiation rites of the Afro-Brazilian Candomble and a musical exorcism from Puglia performed to the wild rhythms of the tarantella, as if you were really there. Added bonus: One of the worst covers ever, certain to be a collector's item in 50 years.
The California Shakespeare Theater's new production of <em>Lady Windermere's Fan</em> reminds audiences that Oscar Wilde's writing skills went far beyond the witty lines for which he is so often quoted. Not only is his sense of structure remarkably strong, there is almost no fat that could be trimmed from this script. Using Annie Smart's elegant sets, director Christopher Liam Moore has managed to infuse Wilde's play with a rare level of humanity, transforming the sexual politics of Victorian England into a much deeper lesson about the dangers of being an overly romantic fool. From her very first entrance, Emily Kitchens' wide-eyed portrayal of the proud and prudish Lady Windermere sets up the 21-year-old wife and recent mother for a dangerously misguided slide toward disillusionment. Her suspicion that her husband is having an affair with the mysterious Mrs. Erlynne (Stacy Ross) matched with her naive belief that Lord Darlington (Nick Gabriel) genuinely wants to be her friend could have tragic consequences were not the stakes much higher for Mrs. Erlynne who, as Lady Windermere's supposedly deceased biological mother, desperately wants to prevent her daughter from following in her unfortunate footsteps. The skill with which Wilde paints Mrs. Erlynne as a ruined woman who prides herself on having no compassion (yet is shocked to discover in a real crisis that she does, indeed, have a heart) delivers some extremely poignant moments while revealing who holds the real power in the battle of the sexes. Wilde's women -- ranging from the fierceness of Mrs. Erlynne to the foolishness of Lady Agatha (Rami Margron) and the hilarious quick change work of Danny Scheie as he switches back and forth between portraying the Duchess of Berwick and the elderly Lady Jedburgh -- dominate the stage action. Decked out in Meg Neville's lavish costumes, Stacy Ross and Emily Kitchens becoming riveting women coping with incomprehensible levels of stress. As always, Danny Scheie steals the show. – by George Heymont Stacy Ross (Mrs. Erlynne) and Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere) in a scene from <em>Lady Windermere's Fan</em> (Photo by: Kevin Berne)
<strong>Chad Attie</strong> and <strong>Ashley Hagen</strong> showed together to great advantage, as their disparate sensibilities still share a responsivity to visual and material complexity. Attie’s collage/assemblage work brims with physical gesture, subjective selection, and a playful way with images, which hide themselves in one another and play with borderline areas between kitsch and childhood nostalgia, art history and popular entertainment. Attie brings his images and objects together with what seems like furious abandon – again an evocation of children’s wanton destructiveness. But the slapdash feel belies the exquisite care Attie lavishes on putting things and pictures in and behind and around other things and pictures; you realize he has expertly composed these gritty combines and silly sculptures so that they compel you to look for narrative connections. Those connections flicker at the edges of these explosively charming presences, but never settle down enough to allow you to “read” them. By contrast, you read Hagen’s constructions right away – and, their identities and meanings immediately settled, you fall victim to their beguiling disruptions of scale, function, and even texture. Our context for Hagen’s work is the dollhouse, while hers is her actual memory of (as opposed to Attie’s oblique reference to) childhood homes ; but she is not interested in domestic sentiment, much less miniaturization for its own sake. Rather, she concerns herself with the dynamics of transformation, of allowing things to change size – and frequently material – and thus to change context. A house resides inside another house. A row of tiny cabinets cast out of concrete hangs on the wall. A structure composed of stacked palettes, modified to appear like eaves on eaves – again, weirdly shrunk to dollhouse size – reveals itself as a viable residence, punctured by windows and even balconies where the Lilliputian residents can emerge for air. This piece, especially, asks us to imagine it “full size,” a pile of similar architectural details comprising an entire house, post-modern strategizing liberated by surrealist free-association. (Andrew Shire, 3850 Wilshire Blvd, LA; closed. <a href="http://www.andrewshiregallery.com" target="_blank">www.andrewshiregallery.com</a>) – Peter Frank ASHLEY HAGEN, Layer Cake, 2013, Mixed media, 54 x 50 x 35 inches
<strong>Martial Raysse</strong> was one of the Poppiest of French Pop artists; but his work of the 1960s, brimming with irony and bad taste, insists on a critique of rather than indulgence in the images and goods of consumer society. “One must push this falseness to its limit,” he said at the time. In this regard, Raysse, for all his glossy appropriation of commercial (and often art-historical) imagery, hewed closer to the snark of English Pop, skewed indulgence of Franco-Italian Nouveau Réalisme, and even the harsh satire of German Capitalist Realism. His work, brimming with saccharine color, keenly cute neon shapes, and other hyper-extensions of then-hip advertising, could have played big over here; but, in its nails-on-the-blackboard strangeness, perhaps, it didn’t – even though he spent several years living in New York. Raysse’s works from the ‘60s retain their edgy hostility a half century later, their vacuous, misregistered images establishing a sour kind of beauty or, at best, a beautiful form of sourness. They affront one’s eyes and invade one’s space with their mounted objects (including neon tubes) and even filmic projections. Radicalized – further! – by the 1968 student revolution (which he returned to Paris to participate in), Raysse abandoned Pop altogether for his own take on “psychedelic art”: found-object-bedecked papier-mâché sculptures replicating psychoactive mushrooms. Most of these he built into simple wooden boxes, as if they were offhand Fluxus propositions. Indeed, although colorful enough, they are modest, even self-effacing things, almost disappearing into one another when displayed in vitrines. But they have been crafted with a jeweler’s touch, reward close study, and certainly maintain Raysse’s diffidence towards art-world expectations and larger-world attitudes. This survey of Raysse’s art, spanning the ‘60s and early ‘70s, revealed the extent of the artist’s subtle but obdurate toughness to an audience that, so in thrall to the society of the spectacle, had never before really gotten it. (Luxembourg & Dayan, 64 East 77th St, NY; closed. www.luxembourgdayan.com) – Peter Frank MARTIAL RAYSSE, Le Jardin, 1972, Wood, papier-mâché, Buddha figurine, 10¼ x 13¾ x 10¾ inches
It would be easy to approach the Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s production of Harold Pinter’s 1974 play, <em>No Man's Land,</em> as an opportunity to see two acclaimed superstars performing live in an intimate venue. But the truth is that this four-man ensemble is comprised of a quartet of top-notch actors whose acquired skills make them master craftsmen. While Ian McKellen's Spooner garners the most attention because of how the insults of old age are so fully integrated into his physical performance, there is no denying the intense physical and dramatic appeal of Billy Crudup as the alternately beguiling and threatening Foster. By contrast, Patrick Stewart and Shuler Hensley's performances seem a bit subdued until one remembers that one of the greatest and most difficult parts of good acting is to listen and react to the other characters onstage. Working on a simple, elegant unit set designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, director Sean Mathias has done a masterful job of shaping the musicality of Pinter's silences, the body language of four remarkably different men, and pacing the evening with a combination of drunken grace and black humor that is irresistible. While <em>No Man's Land</em> bears many of Pinter's dramatic trademarks (gloomy silences, implied threats, the revelation of dark secrets from the past, fear of loneliness, and the kind of jockeying for position which is determined to upset the status quo), I found it surprisingly more enjoyable than other Pinter plays such as <em>The Homecoming</em> and <em>The Caretaker</em>. – by George Heymont Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in <em>No Man's Land</em> (Photo by: Kevin Berne)
<strong>Laddie John Dill </strong>made his name, in New York almost as soon as in his native Los Angeles, with long, thin neon strands embedded in what can be described as miniature sand dunes. Forty years and a whole career later, Dill has returned to this unusual combination, even broadening it into an exploration into the interpolation of light from various sources with various kinds of sand – or not. Many of the most striking pieces in Dill’s latest New York show were neon – well, argon – alone, hung on the wall to allow their eerie, alluring colors to radiate unimpeded into space. Not that the impediment of sand is deleterious to the coloristic vibrancy of the neon (or whatever other light source it might be); it provides a layer of mystery, and of a grainy sensuality contrasting markedly with the neon’s smooth glow. But the stand-alone pieces – which by and large date from Dill’s emergent year of 1971 – luxuriate in an almost painterly color saturation. Furthermore, they answer directly to the challenge then posed by both the minimalist austerity of Dan Flavin and the quasi-Pop lusciousness of Stephen Antonakos, Chryssa, and other American “light sculptors.” Dill in fact did away with the sculptural aspect: the single strands of light, multicolored, even rainbow-hued, though they might be from top to bottom, concern themselves not with shape but with light itself, with color and intensity and even with relationships between colors, adjacent or not. A room full of these “rainbow sticks” is a room full of slender color fields, hovering just off the wall and also burgeoning like clouds into the viewer’s space. (Nyehaus, 358 West 20th St, NY; closed. <a href="http://www.nyehaus.com" target="_blank">www.nyehaus.com</a>) – Peter Frank LADDIE JOHN DILL, installation, Photo: Kyle Lamar
<strong>Oskar Fischinger</strong> is recognized as a pioneer of animation and his early abstract films a critical link between static visual art and cinema. Fischinger’s experiments in Gesamtkunstwerk, however, went well beyond standard painting and film, exploiting various live and projected art forms, and advanced technologies, back as far as the mid 1920s. Such early investigations and collaborations can be said to have culminated in his “Raumlichtkunst” – “Spacelightart” – multiple-projections, which he devised and began presenting after briefly collaborating with “color-musician” Alexander Laszlo in 1926. In physical form the “Raumlichtkunst” projections prefigured the wide-screen movies of the Cinerama era, but in practice and substance they anticipated the immersive environments of light and sound that were a hallmark of the 1960s and have since become a staple of both avant garde and popular spectacle. To judge by the “Raumlichtkunst” reconstruction realized last year by the Center for Visual Music, Fischinger was keenly aware of his invention’s spectacular nature, wanting it to provide not simply a rarefied aesthetic experience, but a richly multisensory one. The three-screen re-creation incorporates restored original footage used by Fischinger in various of his 1926-27 presentations (some of which featured up to five projectors) and fills one entire wall of an otherwise darkened room. Various images – rhythmic, beautifully colored and structured forms, at once severe and voluptuous, typical of Fischinger’s Weimar-era work – recur on all three screen-segments; the interrelation between events on the various screens seems at first haphazard and coincidental, but soon harmonizes into beguiling patterns. Such harmonization is abetted by the soundtrack, music for percussion ensemble. (There is only anecdotal documentation of the accompaniment Fischinger himself employed, describing it as “percussive,” so the CVM employed two early, and arguably contemporaneous, masterpieces of percussion music, Edgard Varèse’s 1931 Ionisation and Double Music written in 1939 by Lou Harrison and John Cage – who was briefly Fischinger’s studio assistant soon after the animator emigrated to Los Angeles.) For all its prewar sources and reliance on pre-digital technology, this revived “Raumlichtkunst” brims with immediate, brilliant vitality, at once hypnotic and energizing; if anything, its Art Deco touches give it an architectural elegance. Having been shown at the Whitney Museum, Tate Modern, and Palais de Tokyo, “Raumlichtkunst” continues its world tour for the next several years. (Whitney Museum, 945 Madison Ave, NY; closed. <a href="http://www.whitney.org" target="_blank">www.whitney.org</a> and <a href="http://www.centerforvisualmusic.org" target="_blank">www.centerforvisualmusic.org</a>) – Peter Frank OSKAR FISCHINGER, Raumlichtkunst, c. 1926 (reconstructed 2012), three-screen projection, ©2012 Center for Visual Music
Produced and directed by Rena Mundo Croshere and her sister, Nadine Mundo. <em>A<a href="http://www.americancommunemovie.com/" target="_blank">merican Commune</a></em> was made by two sisters who were raised on The Farm, a commune established in Summertown, Tennessee that is often regarded as America's largest experiment with socialism. Led by their spiritual teacher (Stephen Gaskin), The Farm was founded in 1970 by 300 young idealists who left San Francisco to start a new life in the backwoods of Tennessee. In order to help save the world from its own greed, members of the commune renounced their material possessions, took a vow of poverty, and willingly contributed their life savings to the common good. Members lived in large communal households where all assets were shared. People grew their own food, delivered their babies at home, and succeeded in building a self-sufficient society. Because members of The Farm were intent on creating stable families, sleeping around and divorce were forbidden. Meat, alcohol, violence, makeup, and jewelry were also forbidden. By the early 1980s, The Farm's 1,500 permanent members were living in more than 60 communal households. The Farm had its own state-certified school, farm, soy dairy, book publishing company, medical clinic and international humanitarian organization (now known as Plenty International). Watching <em>American Commune</em> is a curious experience as one learns how the ideals espoused by members of The Farm were subverted by its growth and how its members subsequently struggled to assimilate into the contemporary culture they had worked so hard to escape. – by George Heymont
If ever a Broadway-bound musical suffered through a torturous out-of-town tryout, 1960's <em>Camelot</em> provided the greatest hope on paper and the biggest mess onstage. And yet, because of its idealism and some of its musical numbers, Lerner & Loewe's lumbering show continues to exert a strange appeal on audiences. The key conflict in <em>Camelot</em> is a philosophical one: How can the pseudo-intellectual King Arthur take vengeance on his wife, Guinevere and her lover, Lancelot, when they are the two people he loves the most? Whether or not <em>Camelot's</em> original audiences were willing or able to deal with such radical expressions of polyamory is beside the point. It's obvious that Arthur doesn't want to inflict harm on Guinevere or Lancelot knowing that they, too, are suffering for having betrayed his love. The San Francisco Playhouse is currently presenting <em>Camelot</em> in a stripped-down production with reduced orchestrations and a unique change of period. Nina Ball's revolving set provides various perspectives of King Arthur's castle while Micah J. Stieglitz's video contributions add a magical touch to the scenes in which Nimue exerts her mysterious pull on Arthur's mentor, Merlyn the magician. In an effort to make <em>Camelot</em> more appealing to audiences aching for some fight scenes, Bill English has attempted to ratchet up the testosterone levels of Camelot's men. What struck me most about this staging was how much a stripped-down production and reduced orchestrations expose the weaknesses in <em>Camelot’s script</em>. It's a very strange experience to leave any performance of a classic Broadway musical pining for Robert Russell Bennet’s original orchestrations. – by George Heymont
I tip my hat to Morgan Ludlow, whose beguiling new two-character play turns the celebrity interview upside down and inside out with dramatic deftness and a rare depth of perception. Starring Susan Jackson as an aging Joan Crawford and Ryan Hayes as an aspiring young journalist, <em>Gorgeous Hussy</em> does a spectacular job of exploring the mind game Edward Albee liked to call <em>Truth or Illusion</em>. Directed by Brady Brophy-Hilton, Ludlow's play uses film clips of Crawford in numerous screen roles as the actress endures a day at the Beverly Hills Hotel that includes a press conference, a book signing, and an extended interview that transforms both Joan and Roy in the strangest way. Having an interviewee turn the tables on an interviewer is an old theatrical gimmick. What makes Ludlow's use of this technique so strong is the sheer perversity of it. Because Crawford holds most of the power in their meeting, it's easy for her to bully Roy into submitting to her fantasy -- namely that she will dress Roy up as Joan Crawford and interview him in an attempt to gain insight into her private life and public career. As she applies lipstick, makeup, and a wig to the male reporter, Roy's transformation takes the interview in surprising new directions. Whether the viewer is a devoted Crawford fan or someone with minimal knowledge of Crawford's life and legend, it become obvious that while Ludlow's Joan is a lonely and intelligent woman, she's no fool. This Crawford can easily spot an alcoholic and peel away his emotional armor with the same investigative rigor he had intended to apply to her. Ludlow's writing has muscle, depth, and delivers the kind of surprise ending that could only happen in Hollywood. – by George Heymont Joan Crawford (Susan Jackson) prepares Roy (Ryan Hayes) for his big moment in <em>Gorgeous Hussy</em> (Photo by: Jim Norrena)
Written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Richard Seer, <em><a href="http://www.theatreworks.org/box-office/buy-tickets/otherdesertcities" target="_blank">Other Desert Cities</a></em> focuses on a family of wealthy Republican dinosaurs living in Palm Springs. The big news during the family’s first Christmas reunion in six years is that daughter Brooke has penned a tell-all memoir which she wants her parents to read before it is published. Proud to have used the writing process as a therapeutic tool with which to relate how her brother Harry's death impacted her life (Harry committed suicide when they were both teenagers), she's sure that the details of her personal life will be of interest to readers of her earlier novel. However, Brooke doesn't know the real story of how and why Harry disappeared. Surprisingly, it is not Brooke’s mother who drives the decision to reopen old wounds but her father (who simply cannot bear the strain of continuing to live another day under the weight of a heinous family lie). With her usual icy self-control, Polly (Kandis Chappel) asks everyone in the room to sit down before she details what happened to her errant son, quietly marveling at how easy it was for her to use her privileged status as a wealthy white woman to pull off Harry's great disappearing act. Polly's shocking revelations are handled with the kind of masterful storytelling that Baitz used to keep fans of <em>Brothers & Sisters</em> glued to their television sets. Yet, because of his rare sensitivity, the final scene (in which Brooke finds a personal grace and redemption of sorts) is exquisitely written and beautifully performed by Kate Turnbull. While some may see Baitz's drama as a tug-of-war between a family's generations -- or even between two sisters of opposite political persuasions -- the bottom line is that the TheatreWorks production of <em>Other Desert Cities</em> is about the emotional and psychological toll suffered by those who choose to live a lie. Anyone who has spent years in the closet will find the way Baitz has shaped an older generation's hypocrisy to be of particular interest. – by George Heymont
Marin Theatre Company's production of <em><a href="https://tickets.marintheatre.org/public/show.asp?shcode=694" target="_blank">Good People</a></em>, which has been cleverly directed by Tracy Young, gives Amy Resnick an artistic triumph in one of her juiciest roles in recent seasons. While Mark Anderson Phillips provides a keen foil as her teenage boyfriend, Mikey who was lucky enough to go to college and become a doctor, it is ZZ Moor (as Mike's more sophisticated wife, Kate) who is able to see through Margie's desperate attempt to shake down her family. As Mike grows angrier and more defensive, it becomes obvious that Margie has opened up a huge can of truly disgusting worms from his past. The audience witnesses an increasingly desperate woman trying to pull off a lie that she doesn't really believe. By the time Margie leaves Mike’s home in Chestnut Hill, her hopes of finding any employment are dashed, Mike's marriage is under further strain, and it seems as if no good deed -- not even the gift of a tacky, home-made rabbit doll -- will go unpunished. Jamie Jones, Anne Darragh, and Ben Euphrat provide plenty of comic relief as Margie's unsophisticated "Southie" friends for whom the church's regular bingo game offers solace, companionship and rare moments of escape from the overwhelming disappointment of their daily lives. Kudos to dialect coach Lynne Soffer for an outstanding job capturing the sound of Southie tawk. David Lindsay-Abaire's beautifully-crafted play is well worth your time, especially for Amy Resnick's radiant performance as the increasingly desperate and disillusioned Margie. – by George Heymont