A Taste of Honey: Still Sweet

 

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A Taste of Honey, now at the Odyssey Theatre through November 27th is a deeply felt revival of a 1958 classic. Directed by Kim Rubenstein, the once shocking Shelagh Delaney play is in firm hands, with innovative staging and a terrific cast.

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On paper the play sound like a sad but pulpy tale. Teenage Jo (Kestrel Leah) is left by her mother Helen (Sarah Underwood) when the latter runs off with her latest paramour,  uncouth but moneyed Peter (Eric Hunicutt). Left unattended, Jo has an affair with a handsome black sailor Jimmie (Gerard Joseph), becomes pregnant, and with both mother and lover MIA, invites a tender, caring gay friend, Geoff (Leland Montgomery) to live with her. He’s ready to help her raise her baby until mama, rejected by her lover, decides to move back in.

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That Geoff’s character even existed as a serious and admirable member of the cast was shocking in 1958, now it hardly stands out. What does remain vigorous and noteworthy is the sharp and pointed dialog,  and the show’s equally-groundbreaking-at-the-time breaking of the 4th wall, as characters address the audience, and here interact with a live trio on set.

The music and the lighting here adds a quality of hip, slightly surreal, and intrinsically contemporary gravitas to the production, which is very much rooted to it’s setting in the U.K., and it’s time period.

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Yes, the story is the stuff of melodrama and neither the sexual orientation nor race of the characters are cutting edge today. All the same, this is a story of tragedy, loss, birth, death, and the potential, perhaps lost, for redemption. That makes it classic, rather than dated; and the Odyssey’s production is a fine showcase for the play. Directing and performances are both top rate, adding new lustre to an old jewel.

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The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. on the west side. Performances run 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (also 8 p.m. some Wednesdays and Thursdays) through Nov. 27th.

 

 

 

Deborah Brown: Careful What You Wish For – The Sexual Tension is Palpable

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Now at the Jason Vass Gallery, Deborah Brown’s Careful What You Wish For is a sensual experience that’s both tactile and emotionally connective.

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Above, “Our Little Secret.”

Gallerist Vass says of Brown “She was someone I’ve admired for a long time. I knew I would be showing her when I first opened. I knew she would be an artist that I would have here.”

As a side note, due to the demolition of the 6th Street Bridge, the Jason Vass Gallery recently reopened – this is just the show to get crowds to see that 6th Street, up to the river, is driveable again.

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Above, “My Man”

“I’ve always been interested in identity,”  the artist says. “I used to work with things concerning culture, plastic, the facade, the veneer of things.”

Today she goes deeper, taking viewers straight to the skin.

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“I finally gave myself permission to explore my body as a battle ground in a way, an attraction and a repulsive quality,” Brown attests.

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Above, left, “Bat Out of Heaven,” right, “You Might Get Burned”

“The work embraced sexuality. It is about female desire and the struggle…how I reconcile my desire, am I okay with that, is a woman attractive if she is sexually powerful,” Brown explains.

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“The stereotype for women is being submissive,” Brown muses.

There is nothing submissive here. This is bold, seductive work that is as powerful in the materials chosen, the forms, the rigorous intent, as it is in subject matter. Above, “Do I Fulfill Your Expectations.”

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Below, the artist and her work.

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“It’s playful and it’s painful, too,” she says of the exhibition. “It’s not just trying to be clever. There’s a sadness. It glorifies and it breaks down at the same time.”

UK-based but American born, Brown’s work is universal, not so much of a specific location, but bred of an intense desire to create images that excite intellectually, spiritually, and physically.

Gone is the idea of a patriarchal sexuality. In it’s place is a female appropriation of male-driven images that through that appropriation changes the meaning of these forms.

This exhibition is Brown’s first stateside since 1996, and follows her recent inclusion in an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

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Above, “I Only Wanted a Little”

While there are photographs in the show, including her oldest work in this subject area, a sensual and frightening image of a beautifully naked woman with bees as her garment,  Brown is first and foremost a sculptor. “I was always a sculptor. The photography started with the the bees piece, and it has become more important because I can do things with it as a medium that I can’t do with sculpture.”

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Above,  “Where Do We Go from Here?”

“Anything is game for me at this point. If it’s going to say what I meant it to say, I feel like that is what is consistent, not the medium that I use.”

Brown’s expression thematically, is, in short, powerful enough to carry a wide range of mediums.

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“It isn’t the material which is important,” Brown stresses. “Not whether or not it is polymer, clay, wood, a photograph, resin, leather, or aluminum. I work in all of those.”

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Above: “Bat Out of Heaven,” below, “Wanna Ride?”

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Regardless of the medium Brown employs there is a palpable, excuse the phrasing, even throbbing, sensuality to her work here. You can touch it, sense it, visualize it. Viewers will long to caress, to absorb, to get the same type of sensation one gets from static electricity simply by studying this work.

“I’m tapping into a raw place. It is not political work. It’s deeply personal. That’s where I believe the energy came from, from that experience, that personal experience.”

This is work that is kinetic, absorbing, magnetic, and above all stimulating. It turns on the mind more than the body. And that’s just the way Brown likes it.

The Jason Vass Gallery is located at 1452 E 6th St, Los Angeles. Brown will be exhibiting into December.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke