It’s going to be a memorable summer at San Francisco Opera (SFO) as the company opens its Summer Season with a dive into big musical theater with “Show Boat,” a performance that promises to be a uniquely American hybrid of opera and rousing Broadway musical. Both a poignant love story and a powerful reminder of the bitter legacy of racism, “Show Boat” was a theatre landmark that contributed such now standard songs as “Ol’ Man River,” “Make Believe,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” “Show Boat” holds a special spot in the history of musical theater in that it was the one of first musicals with a believable story where the songs existed to move the tale forward. Under the baton of music theatre-maestro John DeMain, these songs will come to life. Based on the 1926 novel Show Boat by Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the story focuses on a performing troupe aboard the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River showboat in the late 1880s, and follows their turbulent lives over 40 years. Captain Andy Hawks (Bill Irwin, Tony Award winning actor, with fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, the NEA, Guggenheim and Fullbright, and a Bay Area favorite at A.C.T. ) and his bossy wife, Parthy (Harriet Harris, Tony Award winning actress), steer this floating company through its ragtag existence. But they cannot protect their stage-struck daughter, Magnolia (the ebullient soprano Heidi Stober), from falling for a dashing stranger, Gaylord Ravenal (baritone Michael Todd Simson), a riverboat gambler. And then there’s mixed-race Juli, the emotional core of the story (Patricia Racette, SFO’s go-to soprano who has dominated the past season with several impressive title roles). Illegally married to a white man, she is posing as white and just bound for trouble.
Acclaimed stage director and production designer Francesca Zambello’s scale production opened at Chicago’s Lyric Opera in 2012 and the Chicago Classical Review declared it “a triumph—a stylish, fast-paced and colorful show that had the capacity audience on its feet, cheering loud and long.” A co-production of four major American opera companies, “Show Boat” has already sailed to the Houston Grand Opera in January 2013 and the Washington National Opera in May 2013, gathering accolades long the way.
Dance is the fabric of life on the show boat and the production will feature a lot of high-energy, high kicking punchy dance routines by choreographer, Michelle Lynch, who also worked on “Hairspray” on Broadway. “Show Boat” spans some 50 years and Lynch has integrated popular social dances from the period into the production, which ought to be dazzling with Paul Tazewell’s plush period costumes.
SFO General Director David Gockley is proudly awaiting “Show Boat’s” arrival: “Show Boat” will be done in grand opera fashion in the way the creators conceived. The Opera House is—I believe—the appropriate venue for these great classic musicals that require full-voiced, ‘legit’ singing.”
Approximate running time is two hours and 45 minutes including one intermission. Sung in English with English supertitles.
Ten performances are scheduled from June 1 to July 2, 2014.
What were Show Boats? Show boats or showboats were floating theaters that traveled along the major rivers of the United States from the 1870s to the 1930s. The performers lived aboard the vessels. With song, dance, and dramatic productions, show boats provided song, dance, and dramatic productions for small riverside towns that were otherwise quite isolated. Edna Ferber, who had never heard of show boats, was immediately intrigued when she learned about them in 1924 from one of a producer of one of her earlier plays.
Here, I thought, was one of the most melodramatic and gorgeous bits of Americana that had ever come my way. It was not only the theater—it was the theater plus the glamour of the wandering drifting life, the drama of the river towns, the mystery and terror of the Mississippi itself… I spent a year hunting down every available scrap of show-boat material; reading, interviewing, taking notes and making outlines. (Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure, Doubleday, 1960, pp 297-304.)
NOT a steamboat: In order to move down the river, a show boat was pushed by a small tugboat, which was attached to it. It would have been impossible to put a steam engine on it, since it would have had to be placed right in the auditorium. Ever since the box-office success of MGM’s 1951 motion picture musical Showboat, in which the boat was inaccurately redesigned as a deluxe, self-propelled steamboat, the image of a showboat as a large twin-stacked vessel with a huge paddle wheel at the rear has taken hold in popular culture.
In the spring of 1925, Ferber traveled to Bath, North Carolina and spent four days aboard one of last show boats in the country, the James Addams Floating Theatre, which plied the Pamlico River and Great Dismal Swamp Canal. The material she gathered fueled her novel which she spent the next year writing in France and New York.
2 Awesome SFO Ticket Deals:
SPECIAL TWO-DAY SALE Enjoy 40% Off Summer Operas!
Whether you’re still working on your tax return or your refund is burning a hole in your pocket, now is the time to treat yourself and your friends to this world-class opera and others from SFO’s summer season! For two days only, San Francisco Opera is offering its biggest sale of the summer—40% off select performances of Show Boat, La Traviata and Madame Butterfly. This offer is only available online and valid until Wednesday, April 16, 2014. BUY TICKETS Enter Code: TAX40
Save up to 30% when you buy tickets to all three of SFO’s summer operas.
Can’t make a decision by April 16th? Call the Box Office at 415 864-3330 to select your own dates for all three Summer 2014 operas and save 30% on tickets. This discount offer is not available online.
Slow down, it’s “Slow Art Day” at five San Francisco museums and galleries (and more than 200 others worldwide)— Look at five artworks for 10 minutes each, then meet and discuss.The average time spent looking at a piece of art in a museum is less than 20 seconds and continuing to drop (according to stats provided by the initiators of Slow Art Day). On Saturday, April 12, the de Young Museum, the Legion of Honor, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Chandler Fine Art and USF’s Mary and Thatcher Gallery (all in San Francisco) and dozens of other museums and galleries around the world will participate in Slow Art Day. The concept is simple and similar to meditation— look at five artworks for 10 minutes each without doing anything else, then meet and discuss. Just like the National Day of Unplugging, which encourages people to shut-off their smartphones and socialize face-to-face, Slow Art Day’s mission is to enable deeper connections with art that don’t happen in the daily whirl that our fast-paced lives have become.
I recently spent some time looking at Georgia O’Keeffe’s oil painting Lake George, currently on view in the special exhibition Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George at the de Young and after a few minutes, my awareness really began to shift.
I plan to visit the Legion of Honor’s new show from the National Gallery of Art, Intimate Impressionism (on view through August 3, 2014), which features some 70 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterworks which illuminate the process of painting directly in nature. The temporary closure of the National Gallery’s East Building for major renovation and expansion has made possible the rare opportunity to see this select group of paintings in San Francisco, the exhibition’s first venue. And I’ll also revisit Matisse from SFMOMA (through September 7, 2014) which features 23 paintings, drawings and bronzes from SFMOMA’s acclaimed collection and two paintings and two drawings from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s own important Matisse holdings.
Here are few tips for embarking on your Slow Art Day experience:
- Choose a piece of art that appeals to you at first glance and draws you in. You’re likely to stay engaged for a longer period of time if you have that initial reaction.
- Relax, and let your eye wander over the artwork. Spend more time on details that are particularly interesting.
- Observe from different distances and angles. Take note of what changes occur when you move around.
- Notice how you feel, and what emotions the artwork brings up.
- If you get bored, ask yourself why you chose this piece of art. Or pick a specific line or color and follow it throughout the artwork.
- Afterwards, share your thoughts! It might be interesting to hear how others may have had very similar or dramatically different experiences. It’s also fun to try and draw a sketch after you’re finished looking—just a few extra minutes of observation might really create a lasting impression of a piece of art
If you’re the type who needs structure, both the de Young and Legion of Honor have two rounds of Slow Art Day programs 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Learn more about Slow Art Day at slowartday.com.
Smithsonian’s Sackler curator, Debra Diamond, speaks Thursday, April 10, 2014, on “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” at the Asian Art Museum
Debra Diamond, curator of South Asian art at the Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler Galleries of Art, and curator of Yoga: The Art of Transformation at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum (AAM) through May 25, 20114, will speak at the museum on Thursday, April 10, at 7 PM about the process of creating the first major study on the visual culture of yoga. Diamond, who also edited the exhibition’s comprehensive catalog of the same title, will chart the project, starting with its initial concept and research through interdisciplinary collaborations with scholars, yoga practitioners and exhibition designers. Focusing on the masterworks currently on view at AAM, she will illuminate how visual culture conveys embodied transformations and reveals yoga’s diverse and profound manifestations in history. Diamond led the press tour for the exhibition when it opened in February. She is a top-rate scholar and engaging speaker and had the press corps transfixed with her detailed explanations of the history and significance of these rare artifacts.
Diamond devoted six years to preparing the groundbreaking exhibition and selected its roughly 140 artworks from more than 30 different places around the world. Her exhibition catalogue for Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur (fall 2008) received two major awards for scholarship: the College Art Association’s Alfred H. Barr award and the Smithsonian Secretary’s Award for Research. She has also published on yoga imagery, new methods in Indian art history, contemporary Asian art, and various aspects of the Freer|Sackler collections. After her talk, Debra Diamond will be signing exhibition catalogs in North Court, outside of the museum store.
ARThound spoke to Debra Diamond at the AAM’s press conference about her interest in the art of yoga:
“The major group of paintings in “Garden and Cosmos” were the hatha yoga and Nath Sampraday which were the core of the project and also of my dissertation (at Columbia). In studying them over the years, I found that there was no written material and no one knew much about the Nath Sampraday. I would look through Indian art books for clues as to how these images developed and I kept whatever was relevant in a cardboard box and crated that around with me. The minute that “Garden and Cosmos” closed, I proposed this exhibition to the Sackler. I said we can expand from that one moment. We can look at how yoga manifested in history over time and through various cultures if we follow the visual history and it will be fascinating. I realized that no one had put it together. Because yoga was so central to Indian culture, the greatest artists worked on these tatvas and we could tell the story of yoga through the great masterpieces of Indian art. This reframing has been completely engaging.”
Note: Seating capacity is limited – first come, first served.
Details: Yoga: The Art of Transformation is at the Asian Art Museum through May 25, 2014. The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street (at Civic Center Plaza), San Francisco. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended evening hours every Thursday until 9 p.m. Admission (Yoga: Art of Transformation exhibition is included in general admission): $10 Adults; $10 seniors, students; $10 youth 13-17 and free to 12 and under. On weekends, admission is $2 more. Parking: The Asian Art Museum does not have a parking facility, but it is served by the following parking facilities—all within walking distance of the museum: Civic Center Plaza Garage is the closest and most reasonably priced and has 840 spaces. From Van Ness, turn left on McAllister. Entrance is on McAllister, between Polk and Larkin Streets. Info: www.asianart.org.
San Francisco Symphony’s Film Series—Charlie Chaplin in “City Lights” with live music at Davies Symphony Hall this Saturday, April 12, 2014
Slapstick, pathos, pantomime, melodrama, physical prowess, and, of course, the Little Tramp—all of these led renowned film critic Robert Ebert to proclaim that Charley Chaplin’s masterpiece of the Silent Era, City Lights, “comes closest to representing all the different notes of his genius.” Written by, directed by, and starring Chaplin, the enchanting romantic comedy from 1931 features Chaplin in his greatest role ever, the Little Tramp. A fellow to whom who everyman could relate, the Tramp was tossed about by life but not so battered that he couldn’t pick himself up and, with dignity, carry on. This Saturday, April 14, 2104, guest conductor Richard Kaufman, who has devoted much of his career to the music of film, conducts the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in City Lights with Orchestra. The program is part of the new SFS film series which delivers edge-of-your seat thrillers, epic dramas, and animated classics on a huge screen in gorgeous Davies Symphony Hall with live music, performed by the San Francisco Symphony. ARThound has attended several of these film nights and Davies Hall gets delightfully and refreshingly giddy as octogenarians and 8-year-olds connect over the magic of film and music.
The story: City Lights was released three years into the talkies era but Chaplin decided it should be a silent film with sound effects but no speech. His beloved Tramp had communicated very effectively with a worldwide audience exclusively through mime—Chaplin’s Little Tramp appeared in over 80 movies from 1914 to 1967—and Chaplin was not going to change the formula. In City Lights, the Tramp fixes his romantic gaze on someone who can’t return it—a spunky blind flower girl played by the luminous Virginia Cherrill. He also befriends an alcoholic millionaire (Harry Myers) who forgets who Chaplin is when he’s sober, providing some of the funniest scenes in any of Chaplin’s films. As the Tramp attempts to get money for an operation that will restore the blind girl’s sight, Chaplin exquisitely interweaves pathos and comedy to wrench maximum emotion from each scene. When the lonely millionaire contemplates suicide, it’s tragic. When the benevolent Tramp tries to save him from drowning, and accidentally ends up with a weight pinned to his own neck, Chaplin creates an ideal framework for sentiment and laughs. But that’s just one example in dozens of the seamless and brilliant storytelling that occurs in this film. The movie’s last scene, justly famous as one the great emotional moments in films is bound to bring tears to your eyes. When Chaplin’s friend, Albert Einstein, attended the Los Angeles premiere of City Lights, he was reported to be have been seen wiping his eyes. ARThound especially loves the scene where the Tramp swallows a whistle and starts whistling every time he breathes, gathering a large following of dogs and hailing taxi’s.
The delicate onscreen chemistry between Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill is a delight to behold. Cherrill had the distinction of being the only leading lady of Chaplin’s silent features whom he neither married nor was linked romantically to. He cast her solely for her photogenic beauty—without a screen test—and their strong personalities clashed and he fired her halfway through the two-year shoot, only to have to woo her back.
The music: If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of watching a silent film accompanied by live music, City Lights is the film to initiate yourself with and SFS is your orchestra. The exaggerated dynamics and exquisite timing, so integral to the visual experience of City Lights, are enlivened by a musical score which beautifully punctuates the film’s epic tragic-comic moments. This was Chaplin’s first attempt at composing the music to one of his films and he wrote many of its stirring melodies while acclaimed composers Arthur Johnston (“Pennies from Heaven”) and Alfred Newman assisted with arrangement and orchestration. The process took six weeks. And, as was customary in the scoring for silent pictures, the Wagnerian leitmotiv system was employed with Chaplin creating a distinctive musical theme identified with each character and idea.
According to Theodore Huff’s analysis of the City Lights score (“Chaplin as a Composer” in his biography Charlie Chaplin, New York, Henry Schuman, 1951, pp. 234-41), Chaplin composed twenty discrete themes and ninety-five cues, not including instrumental bits that animate the action. Not all the melodies are by Chaplin. The score generously samples other well-known tunes, either undisguised or in variational form, from “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Old Folks at Home,” and “Scheherazade” to “I Hear You Calling,” “How Dry I Am,” and “St. Louis Blues.” These mesh with Chaplin’s more generic renditions of jazz, opera, the waltz, the rhumba, the tango, the apache dance, and his blues fanfare for trumpet, a refrain throughout the film. On the whole though, the score hardly seems a generic mish-mash–it’s tailored to each scene, it amplifies emotions, comments on the action, and even creates jokes.
The legacy: When City Lights debuted in New York in 1931, it was so popular that the theater had continual showings from 9 a.m. to midnight, every day except Sunday. According to film historian Charles Maland, “by the end of 1931, the [United Artists’] ledgers reveal, City Lights had already accumulated more domestic rentals than The Circus and over 90 percent of the domestic rentals that The Gold Rush had garnered since 1925.” Critics showered it with praise as well. The Oscar for Best Cinematography in 1931, however, went to another silent film, F.W. Murnau’s Tabu. Many expected City Lights to win, but it wasn’t even nominated. As film historian William M. Drew speculated, “Perhaps Chaplin’s perceived audacity in persisting in making a silent film in Hollywood after sound had arrived … seemed too great an act of insubordination for the industry to honor.” (quotes extracted from Mental Floss Magazine, February 24, 2012)
Run-time: Approximately 80 minutes, no intermission.
Pre- and post-show Events: Arrive early and visit the lobby bars for a cocktail created especially for this concert!
- Casablanca (sparkling wine, Grand Marnier, Remy VSOP, lemon twist)
- French Connection (Grey Goose, Chambord, pineapple juice, sparkling wine, lemon twist)
Details: “City Lights with Orchestra” is Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 8PM at 8 PM at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. LIMITED AVAILABILITY Tickets: $41 to $156; purchase online here, or, call (415) 864-6000. For more information, visit www.sfsymphony.org.
Getting to Davies: Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue, at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.
Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently congestion en route to Davies Hall. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice as these also fill up early on weekends. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)
Soulful, spirited, political—the 17th Sonoma International Film Festival has a line-up of stories from around the world with an emphasis on Cuban film—it kicks off tonight
ARThound loves a great film, one whose story speaks right to my heart. This year’s 17th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF), which kicks off tonight, features over 115 hand-selected films from 22 countries—features, documentaries, world cinema, and shorts. Two hundred filmmakers and celebrities will attend and participate in premieres, Q&A’s and panel discussions spread over five glorious days in Sonoma. The festival is also one long party, offering pass holders world-class cuisine from local artisans and exceptional wine from Sonoma vintners in “The Backlot,” SIFF’s culinary hub, a one-of-a-kind hospitality tent on the North side of Sonoma’s City Hall. Whether you’re a passholder or come for individual film screenings, this festival has a to offer. It all starts this evening with an opening night party, two opening night films and an after party. If you’ve missed my previous coverage of the festival basics and Big Nights, here are the links explaining all about the passes vs going solo—
ARThound’s top picks in the World Cinema category:
In choosing these must-see films, I’m looking for something that I won’t be able to see elsewhere, countries that are less represented/new directors generating a buzz, a unique story with an international point of view, and the promise of cinematic magic. SIFF doesn’t provide critics with screeners, so putting this information together requires lots of research and some guesswork. Given the ascendency of Latin cinema, I recommend attending as much as you can of this year’s Vamos Al Cine programming. This wonderful series, initiated three years ago by Claudia Mendoza-Carruth, began as programming for the Spanish speaking community but has morphed into one of the festival’s biggest draws. This year, it offers 10 films, emphasizing distinctive new voices from Columbia (2), Cuba (4), Dominican Republic (1), Mexico (2) and Venezuela (1). There’s an emphasis on Cuban cinema with 4 Cuban films and several Cuban directors and actors in attendance.
Everything is Fine Here— Iran | 2012 | 75 min. | Dir. Pourya Avarbaiyany (in attendance)
On the verge of her marriage, Arghavan a 25 year old writer who is newly engaged and acclaimed, with an invitation to lead a prestigious writing workshop in Germany, is gang-raped in a deserted area of Tehran. In a strict, conservative society where young women are expected to be virgins before marriage, the crime is that of her assailants but the catastrophe is hers. Overwhelmed by rumors, her life turns into a nightmare and her pending marriage and her relationship with her parents are threatened. The film addresses Iran’s perplexing state of gender inequality and the battle of the individual in a discriminatory society to cope when a tragedy occurs. In 2011 in Iran, there were reports from Human Right Agencies chronicling 6 brutal rapes of Iranian women and in some of these cases, Iranian officials blamed the victims. Iran’s women face a host of laws which limit their rights in marriage, divorce and child custody. In some cases, their testimony in court is regarded as less than half that of a man’s. This young director is from Tehran. I can’t wait to hear how he managed to make a film like this. Screens: Thursday, April 3 (12:15 pm) Vintage House and Friday, April 4 (9:30 pm) Murphy’s Irish Pub
Melaza—Cuba | 2012 | 80 min. | Dir. Carlos Lechuga (in attendance)—With the closure of its local sugar mill, the picturesque (fictional) Cuban town of Melaza has become desolate and lifeless. School teacher Aldo (Armando Miguel Gómez) and now-unemployed Monica (Yuliet Cruz) eke out a meager living, going as far as renting out their tiny home to the local prostitute for extra cash. When they get in trouble with the authorities, resulting fines lead to more desperate measures. This beautifully filmed, contemplative first feature explores the social crisis in the Cuban sugar factory neighborhoods following the dismantling of many production units. It poses the question of how to survive in a country in crisis.
This is Lechuga’s first feature film. Director’s statement: “While the post-production process went on, I began to realize that a love story was being told that in the end left an optimistic taste, but which, like molasses (melaza), hides certain bitterness. The bitterness of a tragedy set up in the Tropics, with a brilliant sun, green sugarcane and lovers holding each other’s hands, awaiting the worse.” Screens: Thursday, April 3 (8:45 pm) Murphy’s Irish Pub and Saturday, April 5 (7:15 pm) La Luz Center
Chronic Love (Amor Crónico)—Cuba | 2012 | 83 min. | Dir. Jorge Perugorria (in attendance)—This exhilarating and energetic blend of fact and fiction follows flamboyant Cuban-born/New York-based singer and Grammy nominee Cucú Diamantes on her first tour of Cuba. This unique road film interweaves footage of her cabaret-style performances with a fictional love story. A love letter to Cuban cinema, to Cuban music and to its people. Directed by Cuban actor and visual artist Jorge Perugorría (famous for his part as Diego in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), 1994). Screens: Friday, April 4 (8:00 pm) Sebastani Theater and Saturday, April 5 (5:00 pm) La Luz Center
The Butterfly’s Dream (Kelebeğin Rüyası)—Turkey | 138 min. | 2013 | Dir. Yilmaz Erdogan—Turkey’s submission for Best foreign Language Oscar which had a long gestation period—seven years of screen-writing and two years in pre-production. Set during World War II in impoverished Zonguldak, Turkey, the film is the real life story of the bond between two young poets long forgotten by history—Muzaffer (Kivanç Tatlitug), the optimist romantic, and Rüştü (Mert Firat) the pessimist dreamer—whose brotherly camaraderie is based upon their shared loved for the written word and their mutual misfortune. Forced to work in the coal mines, they both contract tuberculosis and fall in love with the same woman, an aristocrat’s daughter, played by star Belçim Bilgin, who is also Erdogan’s wife. The title is from an ancient passage by Chinese thinker Chuang Tzu, in which he pondered his dream of being a butterfly. Erdoğan’s gorgeously-shot film addresses the nature of reality and the power of artistic practice to mitigate hardship. Screens: Saturday, April 5 (3:15 pm) Burlingame Hall and Sunday, April 6 (10:00 am) Murphy’s Irish Pub
Field of Amapolas (Jardín de Amapolas)— Colombia | 87 min. | Dir. Juan Carlos Melo Guevara— Filmed very close to director Juan Carlos Melo Guevara’s hometown of Ipiales in the Nariño region of Colombia, this is the first feature film to ever be shot in the area. When accused of collaborating with the enemy in the ongoing guerilla war in Colombia, farmer Emilio, along with his nine-year- old son Simon, is forced by rebels to vacate his piece of land. After relocating with the help of a relative, Emilio and his son face such an economic struggle that Emilio to takes work in the illegal poppy (Amapolas) fields belonging to a local drug lord, who happens to be his cousin. Meanwhile, Simon meets and befriends Luisa, a girl his own age. She is obsessed with playing with a puppy dog she can’t afford. Simon steals it for her every day, but returns it each night. One day, the cousin discovers Simon’s secret and decides to use him for his own greedy plan.
This is Guevara’s first feature as director, screenwriter and producer. Director’s statement: “The idea was not only make a portrayal unique to the film history of Colombia, but to make a story through the point of view of two kids who can only see their reality with innocence, without speeches or academic criticism; that’s why this is not a film about war, on the contrary, the war is only a stage where life, dreams, and hopes can continue.”Screens: Sunday, April 6 (11:00 am) La Luz Center
Half of a Yellow Sun Nigeria | 2013 | 113 min. | Dir. Biye Bandele—For the first time, SIFF17 welcomes a film from Nigeria, first time writer-director Biyi Bandele’s acclaimed Half of a Yellow Sun, an adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s bestselling novel of the same name.
This epic chronicle of family drama and tribal violence begins in 1960 and leads up to the Nigerian-Biafran War which ended in 1970. The film tracks war through the story of headstrong twin sisters Olanna (Thandie Newton—Crash, The Pursuit of Happiness) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), privileged girls from Lagos, who return home after their respective university educations abroad. Both make similarly scandalous decisions. Olanna defies familial expectations and convention not only by becoming a sociology professor herself, but also by moving in with firebrand academic Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor—12 Years A Slave, Children of Men) in the college town of Nsukka. Kainene assumes management of the family business and falls in love with an English – and married – writer (Joseph Mawle). The loyalties of the sisters are tested amidst the horrors of the Nigerian Civil War, and the rise and fall of short-lived republic of Biafra. The main focus is on the Olanna and Odenigbo whose passion is ignited over political protest but things get rocky when Odenigbo’s battle-ax mother (Onyeka Onwenu) comes to visit. An uneducated village woman with a mean and scheming personality, Mama is determined to split up the lovebirds up any way she can, and nearly succeeds.Rich in period atmosphere, evoking a strong sense of how these Nigerians lived their lives day-to-day, and how devastated they are when war and all its atrocities rip that fabric apart. Screens: Friday, April 4 (11:00 am) Murphy’s Irish Pub and Sunday, April 6 (2:30 pm) Vintage House
The 17th Sonoma International Film Festival is April 2-6, 2014. All films are screened in seven intimate venues, all within walking distance along Sonoma’s historic plaza
Click here to purchase all SIFF passes.
Click here for more information, or call 707 933-2600
The 1937 New York Times review of the Broadway stage production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” reads “If the story were callously told, the conclusion might be unbearable. But Mr. Steinbeck has told it with both compassion and dexterity…In the bunkhouse of a ranch in CA, the story ensnares rootless lives and expands into dreams of a glorious deliverance. (Brooks Atkinson , original review Nov 24, 1937, NYT, p. 20.) It’s now seventy-seven years later and the play, performed at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater under the tight direction of Sherri Lee Miller, delivers all the potency and magic that it had back in the Great Depression when audiences could personally relate to the bleak life of migrant workers. Most of us read the novella in high school and were under strict pressure to knock out an essay on some aspect of Lennie and George’s relationship. Revisiting the story and its archetypal characters as adults is another experience all together. Miller has pulled together a team of impeccable actors who bring these tragic characters to life and revitalize their struggles. The audience on opening evening was squirming with anticipation and revulsion at the injustice of Lennie’s plight, the imploding of dreams and the ugly, unquestioned racism of the times.
Set in the 1930’s, the play is carefully staged by Joe Elwick to reflect the grit and sparseness of ranch-hand life in Salinas Valley at the time. From the opening scenes at the riverbank, marked by a simple line of rocks along the stage line, to the sturdy simplicity of the handcrafted log cabin bunk house, which serves as a humble home for the workers, to Crook’s isolated room in the hay barn; the set works both as a backdrop and catalyst. And in Cinnabar’s intimate space, it all makes for a near perfect experience. I’d be willing to bet that the Broadway revival opening in April at the Longacre Theatre with James Franco as Lennie has nothing over Cinnabar’s.
The great pleasure in the production comes from watching Samson Hood embody Lennie, who is mentally challenged. It’s not much of a stretch for him physically—he’s a giant of a man with huge hands and a lumbering gate that already speak volumes. But the magic is in his thoroughly convincing facial expressions and the absolute sincerity of his child-like delivery, whether he’s hunched over and trying to hide that he has stroked his little mouse to death, or is excitedly dreaming of raising rabbits and living off the fat of the land or is spilling secrets that he’s been asked to keep quiet about. Kind-hearted and simple Lennie doesn’t understand the power of his own strength or the complexity of the world or the ugliness of human nature and he is completely dependent on George to navigate his course.
As George, Keith Baker, is an intriguing combo of protective caregiver and a go-getter with big dreams. He is gruff and impatient with Lennie one moment and then, after lashing out, he whips back to tender and sentimental. The friendship is exacts a heavy toll on George who must constantly protect and cover up for George as they drift from job to job holding on to their dream.
James Gagarin plays Curley, the ranch-owner’s son with such spite and fury towards everyone that we shudder with revulsion and feel no empathy him when his hand is crushed accidentally by Lennie.
As one-armed Candy, Steinbeck’s for foil the aged and abandoned, Clark Miller manages to convincingly convey the pain of isolation and physical frailty. The scene involving the shooting of his ancient and beloved dog will tug at your conscious. It’s made all the more dramatic by the using a real dog who is old but not so decrepit as to be near death. The idea of shooting it to put it out of its misery seems wrong and is one of the play’s more dramatic moments, beautifully navigated by Clark Miller and by Anthony Abaté who plays callous Carlson with bone-chilling precision.
After the loss of his dog, Candy has nothing to live for but after he overhears George and Lennie discussing the farm, he offers them his life savings (some $250) to go in on the farm and he has something to fix his dreams on. Steinbeck’s play is full of dreaming and, in contrast, the harsh reality of the life of itinerant workers. The men poor their blood and sweat into keeping up the owner’s ranch for a minimal wage and three daily meals—work may keep a man honest but the capitalist system is stacked against the worker who toils his entire life and never advances.
As Crooks, the black stable hand who is forced to live in the barn, Dorian Lockett is cagey, defensive and so disempowered that he is wary of everyone. The repeated use of the word “nigger” predictably drew cringes from the Cinnabar audience who had empathy for Crooks’ plight and recognized his insightfulness and warmth once he let his guard down and began to dream of a place, a piece of land, where he too could be free.
Ilana Niernberger, Curly’s vulgar wife does a marvelous job of guiding the audience through a love-hate relationship with her. At first, she appears to be a tart who flirts shamelessly with the workers and is interested in stepping out on her new husband Curly. In the barn, alone with the men, we see her vulnerability and that she is lonely and craves emotional attachment and conversation. Her flirtatious nature ushers in the play’s tragic climax. When she coaxes Lennie to stroke her hair, she finally and fatally understands that he is not able to gauge the power in his touch. Her screams for help only worsen things. As Lennie covers her mouth and tells her to be quiet, he breaks her neck.
The play’s emotional trajectory goes from hope in the American Dream to the shattering of that hope. Cinnabar has taken this great classic and elegantly brought it to life.
Run-time: Two hours and 20 min, including one intermission
Creative Team: Of Mice and Men stars Keith Baker and Samson Hood as the famous friends, George and Lennie. The ensemble of talented actors also features Anthony Abaté (Carlson), James Gagarin (Curley), Tim Kniffin (Slim), Dorian Lockett (Crooks), Clark Miller (Candy), Ilana Niernberger (Curley’s wife), Kevin Singer (Whit), and Barton Smith (The Boss). Directed by Sheri Lee Miller.
Design Team: Joe Elwick (scenery), Pat Fitzgerald (costumes), Wayne Hovey (lights), Jim Peterson (sound). This production is generously underwritten by Sandra O’Brien and Elly Lichenstein.
Details: Of Mice and Men has been extended an additional week through April 13, 2014, at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA 94952. Performances: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $15 for ages 21 and under; $25 for adults. Purchase tickets online here or call Cinnabar’s Box Office at 707 763-8920 between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM on weekdays. Tickets may also be available at the door 15 minutes prior to each performance, but pre-purchase is recommended as Cinnabar shows tend to sell out! For more information about Cinnabar Theater — www.cinnabartheater.org .
It’s not too late—California’s 8th Annual Artisan Cheese Festival closes Sunday with a marketplace filled with all the new artisan cheeses and outrageously au’courant delicacies for pairing
ARThound has spent the past two days at Petaluma’s Sheraton Sonoma County realizing how blessed I am to have so many dedicated artisan cheesemakers nearly in my backyard. The Artisan Cheese Festival, now in its 8th year, has brought together our most innovative and creative local cheesemakers and paired them with equally creative chefs, winemakers, brewmasters, and even a celebrity Cicerone (Rich Higgins) resulting in a weekend celebrating cheese and discovering all the culinary companions and beverages that passionately enhance its flavor and texture. If you haven’t been to the festival yet, tomorrow’s Sunday Marketplace is an excellent introduction. Bringing together more than 70 of California’s best artisan cheesemakers, restaurants, breweries and wineries, this walk-around tasting and marketplace is one of the weekend’s most popular events—and for good reason! With two tents set up outside of the Sheraton, there will be more than 20,000 sq. feet of space—filled with goodies which you can sample to your heart’s content and buy. Talk about a no brainer for picking up gifts that earn you cudos when you’re been invited to dinner at a friend’s home. Most everything offered will be locally and sustainably made too, supporting our community and the values that keep it flourishing. You can chat with the vendors, artisans, cheesemakers, brewers and winemakers, all of whom have amazing pairing advice. Throughout the day there will be chefs’ demos representing some of the Bay Area’s best chefs, including Brandon Guenther of Valley Ford’s Rocker Oysterfellers at 1:45 p.m. and Liza Hinman of Santa Rosa’s Spinster Sisters at 3 p.m. Several of the weekends’ cheesemakers and chefs are also authors and many will be selling and signing their cheese-inspired tomes at the Marketplace. The chefs’ demos will be taking place inside of the Sheraton Sonoma County and the book signings will be taking place inside of the tent throughout the day. Book signings and demos are included with admission to the Marketplace. (Tickets $45 for adults; $20 for children 12 and under, Sheraton Sonoma County, 12 – 4 p.m.)
Cheesemakers showcasing their products at the Marketplace include:
Achadinha Cheese Company (Petaluma)
Ancient Heritage Dairy (Madras, Oregon)
Beehive Cheese Company (Uintah, Utah)
Bellwether Farms (Petaluma)
Bleating Heart Cheese (Sebastopol)
Bohemian Creamery (Sebastopol)
Bravo Farms (Traver)
Casitas Valley Farm & Creamery (Carpinteria)
Central Coast Creamery (Paso Robles)
Cowgirl Creamery (Point Reyes Station)
Cypress Grove Chevre (Arcata)
Fiscalini Farmstead Cheese Company (Modesto)
Garden Variety (Royal Oaks)
Gypsy Cheese Co. (Valley Ford)
Laura Chenel’s Chevre (Sonoma)
Marin French Cheese Company (Petaluma)
Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. (Nicasio)
Orland Farmstead Creamery (Orland)
Petaluma Creamery/Spring Hill Jersey Cheese (Petaluma)
Pennyroyal Farm (Boonville)
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. (Point Reyes Station)
Pugs Leap (Petaluma)
Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery (Sebastopol)
Schoch Family Farmstead (Salinas)
Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese (Willits)
Tomales Farmstead Creamery/Toluma Farms (Tomales)
Two Rock Valley Goat Cheese (Petaluma)
Valley Ford Cheese Co. (Valley Ford)
Weirauch Farm & Creamery (Penngrove)
Willapa Hills Farmstead & Artisan Cheese (Doty, Washington)
Breweries and wineries pouring their products at the Marketplace include:
AppleGarden Farm (Tomales Bay)
Berryessa Gap Vineyards (Winters)
Black Kite Cellars (Anderson Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands)
Bucher Vineyard (Healdsburg)
Clif Family Winery (St. Helena)
Crispin Cider (Colfax)
Half Moon Bay Brewing Company
(Half Moon Bay)
Handley Cellars (Philo)
Heidrun Meadery (Point Reyes Station)
Kokomo Winery (Healdsburg)
Lagunitas Brewery (Petaluma)
McEvoy Ranch (Petaluma)
Navarro Vineyards & Winery (Mendocino)
North Coast Brewing Company
Paul Mathews Vineyards (Graton)
Russian River Vineyards (Forestville)
Sonoma Valley Portworks (Petaluma)
Wandering Aengus Ciderworks (Oregon)
Artisan food purveyors and other vendors will include:
American Cheese Society (Nationwide)
Black Pig Meat Company (Sebastopol)
Brown Dog Mustard Co. (Concord)
California Artisan Cheese Guild (Oakland)
California Endive Farms (Rio Vista)
Cassata-Sonoma Olive Oil (Glen Ellen)
CC Made Inc. (San Anselmo)
Cheese Shop of Healdsburg (Healdsburg)
Clover Stornetta Farms (Petaluma)
Copperfield’s Books (Petaluma)
Creminelli Fine Meats
(Salt Lake City, Utah)
Culture Magazine (Massachusetts)
Farm Fresh to You (Capay Valley)
Friend in Cheeses Jam (Santa Cruz)
Gary & Kits Gourmet Mtn Mix
Humboldt Hot Sauce (Arcata)
Interiors by Lynn (Rohnert Park)
Kelly’s Jelly (Lake Oswego, Oregon)
L’Artisane Box (Burlingame)
Marin Agricultural Land Trust (Marin)
McEvoy Ranch (Petaluma)
McClelland’s Dairy (Petaluma)
Mi Distinctive Tastes (Ukiah)
Negranti Sheep Dairy (Central Coast)
Noci Foods (Walnut Creek)
Petaluma Visitor’s Center (Petaluma)
Poco Dolce (San Francisco)
Potter’s Crackers (Sacramento)
Redwood Empire Food Bank (Santa Rosa)
R&J Toffees (San Jose)
Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar (Petaluma)
Rustic Bakery (San Rafael)
Simple & Crisp (Seattle, Washington)
Sonoma Land Trust (Santa Rosa)
The Beverage People (Santa Rosa)
The Garden Wild (Middletown)
Three Twins Ice Cream (Petaluma)
Valley Fig Growers (Fresno)
Village Bakery (Sebastopol)
Yelp (Bay Area)
About California’s Artisan Cheese Festival
A 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, California’s Artisan Cheese Festival strives to increase cheese appreciation, educate consumers about artisan cheeses, support the cheesemaking community and its sustainability and celebrate the creations of California’s many farmers and cheesemakers. The festival began in March 2007 as the first-ever, weekend-long celebration and exploration of handcrafted cheeses, foods, wines and beers from California and beyond. In keeping with its dedication to the community, the Artisan Cheese Festival donates 10% of all ticket proceeds to Sonoma Land Trust, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Petaluma Future Farmers of America, California Artisan Cheese Guild and Redwood Empire Food Bank. To date the Artisan Cheese Festival has contributed more than $55,000 to these non-profit organizations that work to support the artisan cheesemaking community and its infrastructure in California. For more information, visit www.artisancheesefestival.com.
Berkeley Rep’s “Accidental Death of An Anarchist”…tweaked for the liberally inclined, through April 20, 2014
Ever since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979, Italian playwright and actor Dario Fo has been on my radar. An anarchist and a profoundly gifted clown, Fo’s genius comes in his ability to make us look at ourselves in new light. All of his plays, in some way or another, deal with subverting ideology, questioning why society is set up a certain way and why some people are the winners and others losers. Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which opened Wednesday at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater and runs through April 20, 2104, is a tweaked version of Fo’s original masterpiece from 1970, a bit too tweaked.
Adapted by Gavin Richards from a translation by Gillian Hanna and directed by Christopher Bayes, this Yale Repertory Theatre co-production has been injected with some (stale) references to contemporary American politics and pop culture (Obama health care, NSA, Netflix, Bush-Cheney and so forth) intended to resonate with the well-informed liberal cognoscenti. The resulting mash-up feels like an overdone affirmation, considering Berkeley’s Rep’s sophisticated audience. The good news is that the add-ons are fired off quickly and only mildly detract from the play’s exhilarating tour de farce—Steven Epp. Director Stephen Bayes and Epp were the team behind Berkeley’s Rep’s 2012 hysterical hit A Doctor in Spite of Himself. Here, Epp works with a great group of comic actors whose chemistry and timing and lunacy are so spot on you have the impression it’s all being improvised on the spot. The play contains some of the finest comedic acting you’ll see in the Bay Area this year. And the various musical gigs, all under Aaron Halva’s direction, are lyrically delightful and hysterically performed.
The play addresses a real-life mystery that got tremendous play in Italy—the 1969 death of a suspected anarchist who “fell” from the fourth floor window of a police station window while being interrogated for bombing of a bank in Milan which left 16 dead. Did he fall, or, was he pushed? That’s the question. The charges were eventually dropped against the anarchist but it was too late to be of benefit. Fo called his play a “tragic farce.” Knowing full well that laughter can be a profound vehicle for exploring human nature, Fo deconstructed this man’s tragic death through comedy. A Maniac (Steven Epp in the role Fo wrote for himself), who himself has been arrested for fraud, sequentially questions the police who are holding him captive By pretending to be on their side, he gradually wins the trust of the gullible officers, records their conversations and tricks them into divulging what really happened. In the process, he exposes their brutality, corruption and collusion with neo-fascist gangs carrying out such bombings in Italy at the time. The events of the play are fictional but the implications profound. The fast-paced momentum, epic slack stick and wonderful moments of musical comedy are delightful.
Highpoints are the opening of the play, when Inspector Bertozzo (Jesse J. Perez) is interrogating the Maniac on the first floor of the police station. Perez and Epps are magical. Perez later shows how light he is on feet as he performs a number of song and dance gigs with Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore), the Superintendent (Liam Craig), and Eugene Ma, brilliantly playing two Constables at once and seemingly embodying Oliver Hardy. Renata Friedman steals the action as Feletti, an Oriana Fallaci-style investigate journalist who is conducting her own investigation in a short red dress. When she lets go with a stupefyingly-agile rap riff, prepare to have your jaws drop. But nothing compares with Epp, who jumps from one disordered personality to another, never ever missing a beat.
Cast & Creative Team: The cast of Accidental Death of an Anarchist includes Liam Craig (Superintendent), Steven Epp (Maniac) Renata Friedman (Feletti), Allen Gilmore (Pissani), Eugene Ma (Constables), Jesse J. Perez (Bertozzo). The creative team consists of Aaron Halva (music director, composer, and musician), Travis Hendrix (musician), Kate Noll (scenic design), Elivia Bovenzi (costumes), Olivier Wason (lighting), Charles Coes (sound designer), Nathan Roberts (composer and sound designer), Michael F. Bergmann (projection designer). The stage manager for Berkeley Rep is Kimberly Mark Webb.
Repartee : FREE docent talks before Tuesday and Thursday evening performances, and free discussions after all matinees
Post-play discussions: Thursday 3/27, Tuesday 4/1, and Friday 4/11 following the performance
Open captioned performance: Sunday 4/20 @ 2pm
Details: Accidental Death of an Anarchist runs through April 20, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.
Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and some Thurs.
Tickets: $29 to $99. Discounts: Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain. Tickets and info: 510 647–2949 or visit: www.berkeleyrep.org
Parking: Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $5 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM.