The Merchant of Venice at Theatricum Botanicum: Timely Truths

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Take a beautiful outdoor setting, terrific acting, and a comedy/drama by William Shakespeare, and what do you have? A late season treat at Theatricum Botanicum with the artfully staged, politically potent The Merchant of Venice.

The theater itself is always an experience, and it fits the play perfectly here, the outdoor setting perhaps not that dissimilar to theaters of Shakespeare’s time. Certainly viewing a stellar performance such as this in such an intimate and outdoor setting enhances the play’s power.

It’s worth noting that in this political climate, the topic of anti-semitism, a key element of the play, is certainly worth examining. If Shakespeare did so with an unflinching eye then so can we.

With intensely quotable lines, and enough twists and turns to be a telenovela, The Merchant of Venice may be most memorable for the controversy it continues to stir in its characterization of Shylock, the Jewish money lender.

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Alan Blumenfeld makes a compelling Shylock, one whose demand for a pound of flesh from a defaulting merchant debtor is grounded in his own desire for vengeance, retaliation at least in part for the prejudice and humiliation he experiences from Christians. An added opening scene actually reveals Shylock being mocked by others in the community, creating a nice little backstory to his reprehensible demand for payment in the flesh. In short, Blumenfeld makes Shylock as sympathetic as possible, particularly in regard to his poignant relationship to his daughter.

So where’s the comedy mined from? Besides the clown Launcelot, there’s a musical addition to this production in a riff on the discouragement of unwanted would-be suitors, and of course, artfully woven in the dialog are a variety of pithy Shakespearean comebacks. But this is a dark comedy indeed, particularly when one considers the role of Portia, played here by Willow Geer. Disguised as a lawyer, she succeeds in getting the debtor merchant off the hook, but she also utterly humiliates Shylock, taking away his property and very identity.

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With Shakespeare himself unable to comment, there is no way to determine if the anti-semitism depicted were something he agreed with or denounced. But perhaps that begs the question – is the play timely? Does it still present a raw truth, however we wish to ignore it? Is the pound of flesh to be exacted justifiable in the face of continued abuse? Just the fact that these questions come up make the play itself one valuable viewing experience these days. And an entertaining one.

Take in the production through October 1st in the perfect sylvan setting of the Botanicum.

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  • Genie Davis; photos provided by the theater

 

WeHo Artes Starts “In West Hollywood”

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The City of West Hollywood is celebrating the Getty Foundation initiative Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA with WeHo Artes.  This special program encompasses exhibitions funded by The Getty, and additional original projects featuring Latin American and Latino art presented by the city of West Hollywood. Celebrated throughout West Hollywood, WeHo Artes events are about to start soaring. With an exciting exhibition of works by Ramiro Gomez and David Feldman, presented in association with the Charlie James Gallery, and an interactive, site-specific theater piece, Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta, as centerpieces, there’s no lack of fantastic arts events in the program, which is presented with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s  WeHo Arts  program.

On Wednesday the 23rd, WeHo Artes events kick off with the opening reception for In West Hollywood, the work of Gomez and Feldman.

In West Hollywood is not Gomez’ first project with the city of West Hollywood. In 2012, the artist worked on Install: WeHo, an LGBTQ pop-up art village that included the artist’s creation of large cardboard cut-outs that included movers, a couch, and a valet. Even before his official collaboration with the city, Gomez had made visual waves placing cardboard cut-out figures around West Hollywood, art focusing on the “invisible” workers such as gardeners. After installation, Gomez left the pieces where they were placed, symbols of the forgotten work of domestic laborers. A West Hollywood resident, the artist is well known for addressing immigration issues, and illuminating the domestic labor forces around Los Angeles. Photographic artist and filmmaker Feldman, his collaborator on the upcoming In West Hollywood, documented the cutouts, and these unique photos are a part of the new exhibition.  Feldman’s  short film Los Olvidades covered Ramiro Gomez’s creation and installation of a work in Arizona’s Sonoran desert, and was the winner of the Oxford Film Festival in 2015.

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Above: (c) 2015 Ramiro Gomez, “Mulholland Drive: On the Road to David’s Studio (after David Hockney’s Mullholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, 1980)

With Gomez and Feldman’s work presented together in this new exhibition, the installation serves as a powerful and impactful statement on the influence of Latin America in the culture and art of Los Angeles. Included in the exhibition will be a never-before-seen commissioned painting from Gomez. Adding to the reception celebration is the live music of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, the world’s first LGBTQ mariachi group. The reception and exhibition will be held at the West Hollywood Library.

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Photo credit: Otis Woods

Another WeHo Artes highlight is the commissioned performance of the Rogue Artists Ensemble’s interactive, site-specific theater performance, Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta.  Using a heady mix of tall-tales, puppets, masks, and music, the play celebrates the 75th anniversary of the 1942 book Señor Plummer: The Life and Laughter of an Old-Californian.  Written by former Los Angeles Times writer John Preston Buschlen, the book documents interviews with Eugene Plummer, or Don Eugenio, a Spanish-American pioneer whose family once owned 942 acres of land in the area. Considered West Hollywood’s first resident, Don Eugenio is a fascinating, larger than life figure. Rogue Artists will workshop the play with an open rehearsal on August 19,  and offer performances with full readings, sets and costumes August 24-26th in Plummer Park,  the site of Don Eugenio’s last residence.

Of course, WeHo Artes offers other stellar programming as well, with PST LA/LA Getty Foundation-Funded Projects sited in West Hollywood presented by LAND, LAXART, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, and MAK Center for Art and Architecture.

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Photo credit: Sense of Place Artist Render, Estudio Jose Dávila, 2017

Jose Dávila’s Sense of Place presented by LAND, the Los Angeles Nomadic Division, is a commissioned work by the Guadalajara-based artist, a multi-site, large-scale, public sculpture exhibition which invites viewers into an experiential view of LA’s diverse urban landscape. The work paints a portrait of the city’s experiences, geographies, and histories.  A nine-foot square interactive sculpture made up of 40 unique modular forms will be installed in West Hollywood Park, with an opening on September 16th. The sculptural work will be disassembled and reconfigured at three different public sites during the exhibition, which runs through May 2018.  With each reimagining, scheduled for November, January, and March,  the piece will take on a changed functional shape. It will return to both its original whole cube shape and the West Hollywood Park location in April 2018. The piece is Dávila’s largest public work, and his first major exhibition in Los Angeles.

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Pável Aguilar, Retransmisión (Retransmission), 2011. Color video. Courtesy Pável Aguilar

LAXART presents Video Art in Latin America, the first substantive U.S. survey on this subject, moving from the late 1960s to the present. The exhibition will be held at LAXART’s Santa Monica Blvd. location. The show moves from early video experiments in South America expressing dissent in an era of repressive military regimes, to the ways in which contemporary video artists discuss subjects such as labor, ecology, migration, and issues of identity and the consequences of social inequality. These single-channel video programs will be accompanied by a selection of dimensional environmental video installations.

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Photo credit: ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives Gallery

Also on tap for WeHo Artes will be Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano LA, presented by ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives Gallery at the USC Libraries and exhibited at the ONE Gallery, West Hollywood and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center September 9 to December 31, 2017. Co-curated by C. Ondine Chavoya, professor of art and Latina/o studies at Williams College, and David Evans Frantz, curator at ONE Archives, the exhibition features over 40 LGBTQ and Chicano artists with experimental works in a variety of mediums. Pieces created between the 1960s and early 1990s include works by LGBTQ and Chicano artists, many of whom passed away due to the AIDS crisis. Artist Edmundo “Mundo” Meza (1955-1985), who collaborated with many of the featured artists, will be a focal point of the exhibition.

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Photo credit: MAK Center for Art and Architecture

And at the Mak Center for Art and Architecture’s Schindler House,  How to Read El Pato Pascual: Disney’s Latin America and Latin America’s Disney will be presented by MAK Center for Art and Architecture and Luckman Gallery at Cal State L.A. Over 150 works by 48 Latin American artists challenge nearly 100 years of cultural influence between Latin America and Disney. The exhibition, curated by writer and filmmaker Jesse Lerner and artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres explores the idea that there are no clean boundaries between art, culture, and geography. The large scale exhibition will have its reception at Schindler House September 9th, and will be split between that location and the Luckman Gallery on the Cal State LA campus.

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Photo credit: MAK Center for Art and Architecture

The Chase, a large-scale multi-piece sculpture is created by Los Angeles-based artist HACER, and will be installed on Santa Monica Boulevard east of Doheny Drive; and later in the year, Queer Califas: LA Latinx Art, will open in November at Plummer Park’s Long Hall.  Both projects are part of the City’s Art of the Outside public art program. 

For more information on WeHo Artes: http://weho.org/residents/weho-arts-and-culture/west-hollywood-celebrates-pacific-standard-time-2017

For more information on PST LA/LA, an inclusive and wide-ranging exploration of Latin American and Latino art in Los Angeles held throughout Southern California, and supported by the Getty Foundation, visit: http://www.pacificstandardtime.org/ 

In West Hollywood, an exhibition of works by West Hollywood-based artists Ramiro Gomez and David Feldman will be shown at the West Hollywood Library (625 N. San Vicente Blvd., 90069) The opening reception will be August 23 from 7-9PM; the event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required; to RSVP, contact: nschonwetter@weho.org.

Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta will be performed at an open rehearsal August 19,  (drop in anytime between 1-4PM), and performances with full readings, sets and costumes on August 24, 25 and 26 at 7PM in Plummer Park(7377 Santa Monica Blvd., 90046) – the site of Don Eugenio’s last residence.  Seating is limited; to reserve tickets RSVP at https://www.rogueartists.org/senor-plummers-final-fiesta – guests are asked to pay what they can to join the fiesta, with a suggested minimum donation of $5.00.

  • Genie Davis; photos courtesy of the city of West Hollywood

Go West: Utopian Vision for One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival

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The city of West Hollywood’s One City, One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival offers a wide range of programs and a utopian vision for 2017. Running through June 30th, the fest’s theme of “Go West,” references movement toward a utopian promised land, dreams of gay liberation, and the freedom to live openly in West Coast communities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and West Hollywood. Featuring interactive, performance, visual arts, and education events, this year’s programming explores LGBTQ history, culture, and art.

Dubbed a “Day of History,” on Saturday June 3rd, One City One Pride offers multiple events that will take place throughout the city.

At 11 a.m., Radar Productions presents Drag Queen Storytime in the West Hollywood Library Community Meeting Room. The free event includes children’s stories and crafts. Radar brought the same acclaimed program to the San Francisco Public Library. The meeting room is located at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., 90069.

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Also starting at 11 a.m., the Stuart Timmons LGTBQ History Tour combines an urban hike with an entirely original performance art piece. Written by author and historian Stuart Timmons and directed by Jason Jenn, the tour leads participants to a variety of locations.

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They’ll encounter over a dozen costumed characters, bringing the history of West Hollywood to vibrant life.  The experience includes a brief shuttle ride that drops passengers on Sunset Blvd.  Each tour lasts between 90 and 120 minutes, with departures scheduled every fifteen minutes between 11 and 1 p.m. Live music will be performed while participants wait to board. This is the third year for the charming tour, presented in a final staging to celebrate the legacy of the recently deceased Timmons. Timmons is the author of The Trouble with Harry Hay and GAY L.A., among other works.

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ADA accessible throughout,  colorful parasols will be provided during the tour, offering shade from the sun and enhancing the lively interactive atmosphere. This unique event starts at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., 90069.

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From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., trans artist Yozmit, the first artist to receive a Trans Initiative Grant from the City of West Hollywood, presents the interactive performance installation “Totem Building.” Yozmit will create transformative visual wearable art pieces to be used as a ritual object or totem. The audience will be invited to create prayers and intentions which she will collect for part of a future performance.

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The artist will stitch a ribbon or bead onto her Pyramid Dress, as a symbol of exchange for those intentions and prayers. This interactive, transformative performance will be held on Santa Monica Boulevard near San Vicente Boulevard.

At 5 p.m., there will be a screening of Reel in the Closet, a feature-length documentary. The film connects viewers with queer people from the past, utilizing rare home movie footage that dates back as far as the 1930s. Filmmaker Stu Maddux also discovered recorded news stories and community productions, and regularly updates the documentary, encouraging audience members to share movies of their own pasts. Maddux notes that he embarked upon the project when he was searching “for a way to really understand the people who came before me, not just read about them.”  The film will be screened at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers, located at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. 90069

Also at the City Council Chambers, throughout the day the film LA: A Queer History will be shown in a continuous loop; ONE Archives LGBTQ History Exhibits will be displayed in West Hollywood Park.

Later in June, One City, One Pride highlights include:

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“Out There,” a group art exhibition at the Los Angeles Art Association’s Gallery 825 opening June 9th from 6 to 9 p.m. The exhibition will run through June 18th, with the gallery open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Monday. The gallery is located at 825 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, 90069.

Also on the 9th, from 6 to 10 p.m., the Annual Dyke March begins with a protest sign making workshop conducted by Sparkleblob’s Julianna Parr, followed by a march down Santa Monica Blvd. at 8 p.m. Confirmed speakers include Patrisse Cullors of #blacklivesmatter, and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.  the The workshop takes place and march begins at Sal Guariello Veterans’ Memorial, 8447 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 90069.

From 7 to 9 p.m. on the 9th, Yozmit’s Migration of the Monarchs and WALK will take place. Based on the idea that everything in life transforms, the trans artist will perform WALK as live ambient art along Santa Monica Blvd. between Robertson Blvd. and San Vicente Blvd.

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June 11th from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., LA Pride hosts a human rights march in lieu of a parade. The march starts at Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles, and concludes near West Hollywood Park. 

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And June 29th, at 7:30 p.m., there will be a world premiere film screening of Jeanne Cordova: Butches, Lies, and Feminism, a new documentary on the life and accomplishments of late activist and author Jeanne Cordova. Film director Gregoria Davila and Cordova’s partner Lynn Harris Ballen participate in a post-screening discussion. The screening takes place at West Hollywood City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., 90069.

For a full calendar of One City One Pride events through June 30th, visit    www.weho.org/pride

One City One Pride is organized by the City of West Hollywood through WeHo Arts, the City’s Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission and Arts Division, with input from the City’s Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board, Transgender Advisory Board, and other community partners. 

 

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  • Genie Davis; Photos: Weho.org

Nothing Hazy in Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre

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Now through January 30th, the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood offers a beautifully written, touching, and hilarious comedy in Bakersfield Mist.

Written and directed by Stephen Sachs, the production is a revival of an earlier incarnation of the play, and remains a two person tour de force, currently performed to perfection by Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett. As an out of work bartender and an uptight art expert, respectively, the performances are spot on.

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Sachs is co-artistic director at the theater, and has written a wonderfully nuanced character study of two people who in their own, incredibly different ways, are passionate about a piece of art – which may or may not be a Jackson Pollock.

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Based on a true incident, the play focuses on bartender and thrift-shop veteran Maude Gutman who may have uncovered a genuine Jackson Pollock. Summoned to her door is renowned art historian and analyst Lionel Percy, come all the way from New York to verify the providence of the painting. Though Maude makes a convincing and impassioned argument, and both reveal their past mistakes, sins, and dreams, the pair ultimately butts heads when it comes to whether the painting is genuine or not.

Emotions run high, amusement soars and recedes on a tide of self-doubt and recrimination, and who is the stronger survivor of the pair might very well come into question.

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The two are each quite profound in their own disparate ways, and the question as to the meaning and purpose of art is matched to even deeper questions about the meaning of life itself, handling loss, and the burning spark of truth and desire the fuels everyone, regardless of pedigree, pride, or limitations.

Delightfully witty and yet deeply moving, this is a perfect two-hander, performed in one compelling act. It makes a great way to start the theatrical New Year.

The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Ave. For tickets visit http://www.fountaintheatre.com/event/bakersfield-mist-2016/

  • Genie Davis; photos provided by Ed Krieger