Geneva Anderson digs into art

Thinking Girl’s founding author Shirin Bridges creates books about princesses who’ve got more than landing a prince on their minds, at the 12th Annual Sonoma County Book Festival this Saturday, September 24, 2011

Award winning Bay Area author Shirin Bridges saw a need for some intelligently-written books about real-life princesses and started Goosebottom Books and published the “Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses.” Bridges will at the 12th Annual Sonoma County Book Festival this Saturday at Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Ask almost any woman what she thinks of when she hears the word “princess” and you’re likely to get an earful.  I’m 50 and when I was a kid, the princess thing was mainly about reading story books, dressing up and waving a wand and dreaming about your prince.  While it wasn’t a very healthy message about female self-empowerment, it was fairly innocent.  Nowadays, “princess”  is an entirely different animal―it’s all about the princess diva who wears designer clothes and make-up and defines herself, and others, from the outside in…and, of course, still waits for her prince. (Disney Consumer Products Reports (DCP) in 2011 states that Disney Princess brand products are a $4 billion industry  all wrapped in seductive pink glitter, the new gold.)  And no matter how bohemian, liberal, feminist or hip a mother considers herself to be, there’s no guarantee that this baffling craze won’t strike a girl in their family.  What to do?   Enter award-winning Bay Area author Shirin Bridges, who observed her young niece coming off her Disney fixation and saw a niche for a new princess story done differently.  Last year, Bridges founded Goosebottom Books and self-published The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses about six real-life princesses―Hatshepsut of Egypt (1500 BC), Artemisia of Caria (500 BC), Sorghaghtani of Mongolia (1200 AD), Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman (1300AD), Isabella of Castile (1400AD), and Nur Jahan of India (1600AD)―who led glamorous lives but also wielded power and had a lot more on their minds than hair and make-up. The six-book series, targeted to  9-13 year-old girls, employs a fun and lyrical story-telling style, a rich cultural backdrop and beautiful artwork including maps, historical artifacts and pen and watercolor illustrations by Albert Nguyen that help bring the stories to life.  The underlying goal is to fascinate girls with intriguing stories about real women, with loads of rich detail, that ignite a love of history and show girls that they can do it.  Bridges also recently completed a second series, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames,—which explores six women in history who were so powerful that they couldn’t be ignored and got labeled with terrible nicknames─ Cleopatra “Serpent of the Nile,” Agrippina “Atrocious and Ferocious,” Mary Tudor “Bloody Mary,” Catherine de’ Medici “The Black Queen,” Marie Antoinette “Madame Deficit,” and Cixi “The Dragon Empress.”   For this series, Bridges commissioned six different authors, all of them co-incidentally from the Bay Area, and the series is unified by the pen and watercolor illustrations of Peter Malone.

Bridges will be in Santa Rosa this Saturday at the 12th Annual Sonoma County Book Festival, signing books and greeting people and Goosebottom authors Mary Fisk Pack (of Santa Rosa) will read from Cleopatra “Serpent of the Nile” at 2:00 PM and Liz Hockinson (of Novato) will read from Marie Antoinette “Madame Deficit” at 2:45 PM, at the Peanuts Pavilion in Courthouse Square. 

I met Bridges last October at Goosebottom’s launch party at Books Inc.’s Opera Plaza store in San Francisco.  She sent me the six books in The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses series and recently sent Agrippina “Atrocious and Ferocious” from The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames.  I read them all and was enthralled.  Because I love history and art, I was especially impressed with their sumptuous design which packs in a lot of easy to digest contextual information. The Dastardly Dames series had special appeal to me because I have nieces who are now entering a period when they’re fixated on the dark side, and throwing some real life villains into that weird vampire-fantasy brew is a great idea.  I couldn’t wait to talk with Bridges about Thinking Girls and her future plans.  Here is our conversation:

Marie Antoinette "Madame Deficit" (2011) by Liz Hockinson tells the story of the young, pretty queen who is remembered for supposedly uttering, “Let them eat cake.” Marie Antoinette had fun and spent money on beautiful things, while her people starved. But was she as heartless as everyone believed?

 What was the special niche you were trying to fill with the series? 

Shirin Yim Bridges:  The stories had been in my head for years but the idea for the series came about when I saw that my niece, Tiegan, was growing older and out of that Disney princess fixation.  I said to her “Do you know there are many princesses in real-life who did really amazing things?”  And she wanted to know but when I went out to find books about them, there weren’t any.  That’s when I discovered that there was a huge gap in girls’ literature.

I get asked often if I consider these to be feminist books and I think that word means different things to different people but I do consider these “girl power” books.  There are many mothers out there who have an axe to grind with Disney, but the princess stories themselves existed long before Disney and they really do have shockingly bad messages for girls.  You have to be beautiful and you sit on your butt and wait for your prince who whisks you away and solves all your problems for you and it’s happily ever after.   This is the very antithesis of what we want to tell our girls these days. 

My generation is the first generation where it’s expected that you work.  For my mother, it was optional.  There are a lot of women out there who have benefitted from this new playing field but the literature has not kept up.  The children of these self-actualized women are still out there going for the old Disney princess route and that’s not really all we need to offer our kids.   One of the things that I want to say is “Girls can do it and girls have done it and in much tougher times─ all across the world, all throughout history and in all different cultures.”  Of course, girls can still be all wrapped up in this fascination with princesshood, which does seem to be innate.  My feeling was, if they’re so fascinated, let’s use that interest to expose them to much better examples of princesses who give them much better messages about what they can do for themselves.  These women made decisions that changed their own lives and actually changed history.   

I was successful with my first two books (Ruby’s Wish, one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2002, and The Umbrella Queen, named one of the Best Children’s Books of 2008 by TIMEmagazine).  Without any planning, my stories tended to be about girls who do things that people don’t expect them to do.   I decided to do something unexpected, too, and self-publish the series.  

Artemisia of Caria (2010) by Shirin Yim Bridges, founder of The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses, tells the story of Artemisia I, the ruling Queen of Caria (500BC) who somehow managed to learn sailing and led a fleet of 72 ships to join the Persian Great King, Xerxes, in war against the Greeks. The Greeks were so intimidated by her that they offered a special 10,000 drachmae reward for her head.

You conceived the series in February 2010, and by October 2010, you had six done.  How did you achieve this?  Did you pick all six princesses at the same time and work on the stories simultaneously, using the same format to make the research more efficient” Or did you complete one and then move on to the next? 

Shirin Yim Bridges:   The stories had been ruminating in my head for a long time, but I actually researched about 12 stories simultaneously at the British Library.  My brother calls me a “power nerd” and I love history and I tend to get very immersed in my work.  Amy Novesky, our editor and my former editor with Ruby’s Wish, helped me with the final selection of women.  For example, Elizabeth I of England (the last Tudor queen of the “Elizabethan era”) seems an obvious choice.  If you want to find books for this age group, your best chance is with her as she’s also quite easy to find, so we left her off the list.  We wanted to make it more multicultural and to really focus on some interesting women who have not been written about in this way.

After that, it was a matter of establishing guidelines and sticking to them.  My work didn’t require much editing and the development of the series itself, the way it was styled, was a collaborative effort that worked so well because of the core team I had in place―I had worked with them all before― and we all agreed to work to schedule.  So we imposed the deadline-driven demands of journalism and advertising onto the process yet were still very attentive to quality. 

When other commanders were silent, Artemisia of Caria expressed her true opinion to the Persian Great King, Xerxes, and tried to discourage him from engaging in the Battle of Salamis, which he ultimately lost. "The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses" tells stories of real-life princesses who made difficult decisions.

I grew up in the 1960’s and my exposure to stories about princesses was largely through fairy-tales, which were imaginary.  In writing the stories in your series, what responsibility did you feel to adhere to the true facts of these women’s lives?  Do you expose any of their errors in judgment?

Shirin Yim Bridges:  Absolutely.  Artemisia of Caria is an example that immediately comes to mind, one of my favorite princesses in the series.  She lived in ancient Greece and in that world, women were not even supposed to leave the house.  There were special women’s quarters on the second level of the house and, whether you were royal or common, you basically spent your life within this narrow confine.  Artemisia somehow taught herself to sail ships and not only did she sail ships but she also managed to lead a squadron and a navy, and she actually took a fleet to join the great king Xerxes in the Greco-Persian wars.  Herodotus writes there were over a million men there and she was the only woman that we know of and she was recognized as being the best admiral of the day.  Who isn’t inspired by that story? 

Do we expose their bad side?   In the war, Artemisia actually did something dicey, super dicey.  In order to get out of a tight spot, she actually rammed a ship and the ship was on her own side. The book poses the question to the kids―do you think she was doing a good thing by saving her men whom she sails with every day, or was she doing a bad thing by ramming people who expected her to be on their side and depended on her?  In such a large navy, she probably didn’t know the people she was ramming but she did know very well the people who she was trying to save.  Does this matter?  Where is that moral line and how is it drawn?  So, yes, there are good and bad parts exposed…these princesses are human.

Agrippina "Atrocious and Ferocious" (2011) by Shirin Yim Bridges, tells the gripping story of Roman empress Agrippina, a woman of power who amassed even more power through marriage to her uncle. When she demanded to treated with the same respect given the emperor, she was called haughty. She was later accused of poisoning her husband with mushrooms.

 In your new second series of books, Dastardly Dames, you chose to write just one book and had other authors write.  Who did you choose to write about and why?

Shirin Yim Bridges:   First, I have to tell you how underrepresented women are in biographies of historically significant people.   Women have played a huge role but just aren’t written about enough.   When I started thinking about doing this series, I knew that the audience of 9 to 13 year olds has this fascination with the dark side and we wanted to keep our books fun and not too moralizing or preachy.  The idea was to present women who wielded enough power in the past to actually be considered villains, at times when women were suppressed and basically ignored.  We got some feedback about the idea and were surprised about comments expressing concern about whether or not these women would be good role models.   We don’t do that with men—there’s plenty out there about Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and on and on.   I was a little offended by the notion that only “good women” should be talked about and that made me want to the do the series even more.   The idea is to present some of the binds these women were in and let the readers evaluate some of their decisions, good and bad, so that they can start to think about what it really means to use power responsibly.  

I chose to write about Roman empress Agrippina.  She was actually the mother of the Emperor Nero, the sister of Emperor Caligula, and the wife of Emperor Claudius.  She had a very strong personality and was very bossy and demanded that she be treated with respect, the respect that was given to men of power, which angered a lot of people.  She was accsued of many horrible things, including several murders, but in the end, there was no conclusive  evidence.   One of the things that always struck me about her was that, whether she was good or bad,  was that she was a woman of amazing endurance.  At one point Nero tried to murder her by capsizing her boat and drowning her and she, in her long robes and all, managed to swim to shore and survive.  There were no gyms in those days either.  She was just amazing.  

Peter Malone’s illustrations for Agrippina "Atrocious and Ferocious" (2011) by Shirin Yim Bridges are lavish and the book’s graphics convey loads of information.

How did you pick the other five women authors who contributed to the Dastardly Dames series?

Shirin Yim Bridges:   We posted on Facebook.  Also, Amy Novesky, our editor, actually does a lot of workshops and she just knew a lot of writers because she used to be an editor at Chronicle Books and is incredibly well-connected.  We got applications from all over the country from which we made a short list.  And there were some amazing coincidences.  One of the first authors she picked happened to be my sister, Natasha Yim, a published children’s books author and playwright.  Believe me, there was no preferential treatment.  And then, we found that all of the writers we selected lived in Northern, California.

Any Sonoma County writers?

Shirin Yim Bridges:  Yes, Mary Fisk Pack, who wrote Cleopatra “Serpent of the Nile,” lives in Santa Rosa and she will be at the book festival.

How did you balance each author’s desire to craft the story in her own way with the demands of a series?   Did they write to a format to make it more uniform?

Shirin Yim Bridges:  We decided to keep the sidebars because they have been so popular―about what they wore and ate and that type of cultural context.  And the main narrative would be told in the same way.  

Artist Albert Nguyen (right) illustrator for “The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses” created a real-life princess portrait of ARThound (Geneva Anderson) (left) depicting her as a working journalist (tape recorder and pen in hand) out on the town in her ball gown. Photo taken at Goosebottom Books’ launch party in October 2010 at Books, Inc. Opera Plaza, San Francisco. Photo: Susan Cohn

I like the illustrations in your books–the women are not “embellished” with big breasts and tiny waists and big hair.  Did you give your illustrators any instructions about how you wanted the women to be presented?

Shirin Yim Bridges:  The whole idea was not to defeat the purpose with illustrations that made these women look like fashion models or to go too much in the other direction either.  It was a balancing act, nothing was too idealized in the face or body.  Our idea is that each series will be tied together by one illustrator, and so Albert Nguyen did The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses and Peter Malone did the Dastardly Dames series.

Do you have any plans for a third series?

Shirin Yim Bridges:  Yes, but we’re not planning to release that until 2013, and it’s currently under wraps.   I can tell you that, in 2012, we are planning to add two new titles to our existing series: in The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses, Sacajawea of the Shoshone, by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Albert Nguyen, and in The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames: Njinga “The Warrior Queen” by Janie Havemeyer,  illustrated by Peter Malone.

I understand that you also have a new children’s book coming out in 2012.

Shirin Yim Bridges:  My third book, Mary Wrightly So Politely, will be published in fall 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  It’s a picture book about a little girl who has a small voice and how, in certain situations, she learns to make herself heard.  Like many kids out there, she’s shy and very very polite and soft spoken and she doesn’t want to disturb people around her.  She doesn’t change who she is but she learns how to speak up when she needs to.

September 23, 2011 Posted by | Book | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alex Law’s nostalgic charmer “Echoes of the Rainbow” screens Sunday, September 25, 2011 at the new Hong Kong Cinema series at San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema

Alex Law’s Echoes of the Rainbow, the winner of the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival Crystal Bear will screen this Sunday at the inaugural Hong Kong Cinema series, September 23- 25, 2011, at the San Francisco Film Society’s new theatrical home, San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema (1746 Post Street, San Francisco) alongside 5 other new films that represent Hong Kong’s current film scene.   Dynamic and global, this film scene includes directors born and raised and shooting in Hong Kong as well directors from elsewhere who are shooting in Hong Kong as well as directors from Hong Kong who are shooting elsewhere—it’s all very dynamic.   And the content is anything but predictable—Hong Kong films are widely known and loved for their action-packed spectacle, but the industry is equally adept at matters from the heart as the Film Society’s first edition of Hong Kong Cinema demonstrates. 

Echoes of the Rainbow (Shui yuet sun tau)(2010) is a tender family saga which evokes the nostalgia of late 1960’s Hong Kong in a story focused on two brothers in a tightly-knit working class family beset by a misfortune that interrupts their family life forever.  Anchoring the story is young actor Buzz Chung, who lights up the screen as the indefatigable eight-year-old Big Ears whose curiosity and sense of play─he walks around with a fish bowl over his head like an astronaut─delight everyone he comes in contact with.   Aarif Lee plays his handsome older brother Desmond who is a star athlete and experiencing the first pangs of love.  The family is poor─the father is a cobbler and his mother works alongside her husband in their modest shop atop which sits their home─but they are happy.  When a storm threatens to trash their store and home, all hell breaks loose as things start to crumble.  Set to the nostalgic music of the Monkeys, and bathed in beautiful light, the film is sure to win the hearts of those who are old enough to remember more innocent times.

Written by Alex Law. Photographed by Charlie Lam. With Buzz Chung, Aarif Lee, Simon Yam, Sandra Ng, Ann Hui. (117 min. In Cantonese, Mandarin and French with subtitles, Mei Ah Entertainment)  Screens Sunday, September 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm.   (Subtitles are easy to read.)

For complete program information visit

Friday, September 23  Opening Night
6:30 pm Merry-Go-Round

Codirector Clement Cheng in person
Clement Cheng, Yan Yan Mak (Dongfeng po, 2010)
Two women of different generations travel from San Francisco to Hong Kong in this observational drama about the possibility of changing one’s life. Eva is a successful herbalist who returns home when her grandfather dies. Nam is a young woman facing personal difficulties who relocates to pursue a relationship with a man she meets online. As their stories intermingle, we learn about Eva’s first love, Nam’s odd interest in death and an elderly mortuary worker who has important knowledge to pass on to both women. Written by Yan Yan Mak, Clement Cheng. Photographed by Jason Kwan. With Nora Miao, Teddy Robin Kwan, Ella Koon, Lawrence Chou. 124 min. In Cantonese with subtitles. Distributed by Dragonfly J Production.

9:00 pm Opening Night reception with delicious hors d’oeuvres and wine at Superfrog Gallery at New People.

9:45 pm Mr. and Mrs. Incredible  U.S. Premiere
Vincent Kok (San kei hap lui, Hong Kong/China 2011)
Being a retired superhero is a little dull for the protagonists of this delightful action comedy. After cracking a robbery case, Flint and Rouge decide to hang up their masks, move to a remote village and perhaps raise a family. When a martial arts competition comes to town with a supervillain in its midst, the couple must decide whether to resume their old identities. With the playful chemistry of Louis Koo and Sandra Ng, this movie offers entertainment the whole family can enjoy.  Written by Vincent Kok, Fung Min-hun. Photographed by Peter Ngor. With Louis Koo, Sandra Ng, Chapman To, Li Qin. 100 min. In Cantonese with subtitles. Distributed by We Distribution.

Saturday, September 24
1:30 pm City Under Siege

Benny Chan (Chun sing gai bei, 2011)
Hong Kong Cinema’s nuttiest entry tells the story of a circus troupe whose members are exposed to a chemical toxin left behind by the Japanese in WWII. The mysterious substance gives its victims superhuman strength, and the performers use their new powers to rob banks and wreak havoc, all except the terminally put-upon clown, Sunny (played with comic flair by Aaron Kwok). With standout action, high-tech special effects and cops with secret powers of their own, this is genre-defying entertainment at its best. Written by Benny Chan, Ram Ling Chi Man, Carson Ling Lau Shun Yin. Photographed by Anthony Pun. With Aaron Kwok, Shu Qi, Collin Chou, Wu Jing, Zhang Jingchu. 110 min. In Cantonese with subtitles. Distributed by Universe Films Distribution.
4:00 pm Merry-Go-Round  see 9/23
7:00 pm All About Love   
Ann Hui (De xian chao fan, Hong Kong/China 2010)
This surprising film takes on weighty matters of gender, sexual preferences and childbirth in a playful story of two female lovers who are both pregnant. Twelve years after their initial breakup, successful lawyer Macy and executive assistant Anita reconnect in pregnancy class. Elegantly photographed, with an eye toward the physical and emotional dance that happens between new lovers, Hui’s latest shows that Hong Kong and San Francisco share a similar laissez-faire attitude when it comes to sexual politics. Written by Yeeshan Yang.  Photographed by Charlie Lam.  With Sandra Ng, Vivian Chow, Eddie Cheung, William Chan. 105 min. In Cantonese with subtitles. Distributed by Mega-Vision Pictures.
9:45 pm Punished
Law Wing-cheong (Bou ying, 2011) A powerful businessman and his devoted bodyguard go up against a ruthless group of criminals in this gritty thriller produced by Johnnie To. When the wealthy Mr. Wong’s daughter Daisy is kidnapped, he marshals all his forces to find her. Using his loyal bodyguard, he attempts to root out the perpetrators while also going along with their demands. Through the film’s suspenseful turns, Punished also explores the limitations of vengeance and the difficulties of parents connecting with their kids amid the messiness of divorce. Written by Fung Chih-chiang, Lam Fung. Photographed by Ko Chiu-lam.  With Anthony Wong, Richie Ren, Maggie Cheung Ho-yee, Janice Man, Candy Lo. 94 min. In Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles. Distributed by Indomina Releasing.

Sunday, September 25
2:00 pm Mr. and Mrs. Incredible
  see 9/23
4:15 pm Echoes of the Rainbow see above

The San Francisco Film Society has played a pioneering role in introducing Hong Kong cinema to Bay Area audiences through its San Francisco International Film Festival, which has shown over 70 Hong Kong films, beginning in 1959 with the screenings of The Kingdom and the Beauty and Tragedy of Love.  The works of leading filmmakers—Fruit Chan, Peter Chan, Teddy Chen, Tsui Hark, Ivy Ho, Stanley Kwan, Clara Law, Andrew Lau, Run Run Shaw, Johnnie To and John Woo—have been featured, and superstars—Jackie Chan, Andy Lau—have been Festival guests.  The championing of Hong Kong cinema will be further augmented by the introduction of Hong Kong Cinema to the Film Society’s Fall Season and the .

Tickets:  San Francisco Film Society members $11; General Admission $13; Student/Senior/Disabled $12.  Tickets can be purchased at San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco, or SFFS members can pre-purchase tickets online at

September 21, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Rita Moreno shows us who she is at 79 and she’s a force to be reckoned with in the world premiere of “Life Without Make-up,” at Berkeley Rep through October 30, 2011

Legendary performer Rita Moreno returns to Berkeley Rep for the world premiere of "Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup," written by Artistic Director Tony Taccone, through October 30, 2011. Photographer: Michael LaMonica

At 79, Rita Moreno, the legendary star of stage and screen, has led quite a life and most of it has been an uphill battle.  Her autobiographical new play Rita Moreno: Life Without Make-up, which opens Berkeley Rep’s new season, explores what that climb to the top has entailed.  Moreno is just one of an elite handful of persons who have won an Oscar (supporting actress for “West Side Story”), Emmy (“The Rockford Files”), Grammy (soundtrack for “The Electric Company”), and Tony (“The Ritz”).  And she is the only Latino on that list which also includes Barbra Streisand and Audrey Hepburn.  In her new show, which she co-created with Berkeley Rep’s Artistic Director Tony Taccone, the Puerto-Rican born star tells the story of her struggle against poverty, racism, and the sexual politics of show business in Hollywood’s Golden Age.  She also offers a wealth of inside dirt about the leading men and women she interacted with―all against a stunning multimedia montage of memorable moments from her extraordinary life.  She is accompanied by two expert dancers, Ray Garcia and Salvatore Vassallo, who join her to perform choreography by Lee Martino.  Seeing her in person is worth the price of admission–watching her on stage, dancing and gamming it up, you wonder why she at 79 looks better than most of us do at 50.   

If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to walk in the footsteps of such a powerhouse, you’ll come away satisfied.  Moreno starts her story at age 5 as Rosita Dolores Alverio (her given name) in her native Puerto Rico with her willful mother, who is escaping poverty and an abusive marriage by hopping a boat to New York City.  Tragically, her infant brother is left behind.  Once in New York, she and her mother assimilate in poor neighborhoods packed with immigrants, barely scraping by.   When young Moreno’s talent is discovered, it is nurtured, first and foremost by her mother who sees her young daughter as the ticket out of the barrios. When she starts Spanish dancing lessons with Rita Hayworth’s uncle, Paco Cansino, a knowledgeable instructor, Rita realizes that performing is her destiny.  Through a magic combination of luck and chutzpah, she is soon off and running and begins auditioning and performing.  She slowly cobbles together an identity around entertaining and by the time she is a teenager, she is acting on Broadway.  

Her lucky break comes a few years later when she is discovered by a Hollywood casting agent while performing at a dance recital and is whisked off to Hollywood with a coveted MGM contract.  She gushes as she recalls that the first person she met on the MGM lot was Clark Gable and then, shortly thereafter, Elizabeth Taylor whom Moreno idolized.  There’s a huge “but wait” though―the film industry didn’t really know what to do with talented non-white performers in the 1940’s and Moreno was relegated to playing stereotypical Latina spitfires and Indian maidens in a spate of B-movies.  One of the things Life Without Make-up does most effectively is paint a picture of what it was like to work in a Hollywood that was both racist and sexist and the constant pressures Moreno faced to fit the mold of the “ethnic utility player.”  Moreno speaks directly to the audience with candor and humor about some very painful experiences.  She constantly struggled to maintain a healthy sense of self as a woman and as a Latina while straightening her hair and trying to lighten her complexion to look like someone she wasn’t.  One of her sadist stories recounts being mauled by movie industry bigwigs at a fancy party who claimed that she was coming on to them and then being rescued by humble Latino gardeners who respected women.  Moreno had true grit though and somehow, she persevered. 

Legendary actress Rita Moreno performs with Salvatore Vassallo (left) and Ray Garcia during dress rehearsal for the world premiere of "Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup," at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of

 A rare opportunity came when she was chosen to tango with Gene Kelly in the now classic Singin’ in the Rain (1952).  Her first major break though came when she landed the role of Tuptim, the rebellious concubine, in The King and I (1956) over the Asian actress France Nguyen.  In recounting this story, Moreno confesses deep regret over something that occurred but never gets into specifics. You get the idea that she may have actively campaigned for the role and there is more that she is not telling.  If you’re interested in personal confessionals, that’s where Life Without Make-up falls short.  If you listen carefully throughout, you’ll find Moreno’s collection of stories entertaining and poignant, and there’s also a good mix of small observations and big picture questions, but Moreno’s clever wit and sharp insights are mainly turned on those around her and on experiences that were thrust upon her.  This is an expose of the entertainment industry and doesn’t really delve into Moreno’s regrets about her own actions.   This seems intentional as Tony Taccone, Life Without Make-up’s writer, knows the power of brutal honesty, and owning one’s dark side.  It was Taccone who collaborated with actress Carrie Fisher (of Starwars’ fame) to create her 2009 brut tour-de-force “Wishful Drinking.” 

Near the end of the first act, Moreno talks about her famous love affair with Marlon Brando, whom she met on the MGM lot.  She recounts quite humorously how she was totally smitten with Brando but how he was completely smitten with himself and how she started “seeing” Elvis to make him jealous.  She skips her sleeping pill-swallowing suicide attempt.  In another sequence, she talks about being thrust in bed with Jack Nicholson to do numerous love-making takes for the film Carnal Knowledge (1971) and how it was a source of conflict in her marriage to Leonard Gordon.  There’s a lot she is not telling but that’s Hollywood!

All of her sacrifice and hard work ultimately paid off with 1961’s film adaptation of Leonard Bernstein’s and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical West Side Story.  As the fiery Anita, who sings and dances the show-stopping “America,” Moreno lit up the screen and earned that year’s Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.  As she tells her stories, Moreno powerfully and colorfully recants the “characters” in her life–using a number of hilarious accents to complete the portraits.  She outdoes herself as she tells about working with Natasha Lytess, Marilyn Monroe’s acting coach, who taught her the nuances of gesture, movement, elocution and getting in touch with her vagina.  And then there’s the music and dance.  Highlights include her tapping “Broadway Rhythm” from Singing in the Rain (1952) and performing “The Dance at the Gym” from West Side Story with Ray Garcia and Salvatore Vassallo to lee Martino’s choreography.  Through it all Moreno emerges as a powerhouse, lady-like but razor-sharp and never forgetting her humble past.  This is a two-hour performance to be savored.

And if this review has you aching to see more of Moreno, if you have satellite or cable tv, you can always catch her on re-runs of Law and Order: Criminal Intent as the fabulously crazy dying mother of Detective Goren.  And she plays Fran Drescher’s mom on TV Land’s new sitcom Happily Divorced which aired in June 2011.  With a one-woman show and a new TV role, 79 never looked so good.

Production Team:

Written by Tony Taccone

Developed by Rita Moreno and Tony Taccone

Staged and directed by David Galligan

Choreography by Lee Martino

Set design by Anna Louizos

Costumes by Annie Smart

Video and lights by Alexander V. Nichols

Sound by Phil Allen


Rita Moreno

Ray Garcia

Salvatore Vassallo

Featuring a four-piece band with Cesar Cancino (music director), Sascha Jacobsen (bass), Alex Murzyn (reeds), and David Rokeach (percussion)

Details: Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup runs through October 30, 2011 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. Performances Tuesday-Sunday with several matinee performances.  Pre-show docent talks: Tuesdays 9/27, 10/4, 10/11, 10/18 & 10/25 and Thursdays 9/22, 9/29, 10/6 & 10/20 @ 7:00 PM.  Post-play discussions: Thursday 9/22, Tuesday 9/27, and Friday 10/7 @ 8:00 PM

Tickets: $73 to $34.  Box office:  (510) 647-2949 or  

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 $3 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM or all day on Saturday or Sunday when your garage-issued parking ticket is validated in the theatre lobby.

September 18, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Justin Wangler, K-J’s top chef, talks tomatoes on the eve of the 15th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival

Justin Wangler, Kendall's-Jackson's executive chef, will be heading the K-J culinary team at the 15th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival on Saturday, September 10, 2011. Wangler has "at least" 12 festivals under his belt and helped choose the chefs for the popular Chefs Challenge competition. He is responsible for the fabulous food and wine pairings at Kendall-Jackson. His go-to heirloom is Cherokee Purple, which he also grows at his Santa Rosa home. Photo: courtesy Kendall-Jackson

Tomorrow, Kendall-Jackson celebrates all things tomato with their 15th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, a 5-hour gourmet and sensory extravaganza with samples galore. Kendall-Jackson’s executive chef Justin Wangler will head a culinary team of twenty chefs and a large group of volunteers in preparing for the biggest annual event at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. Before joining the Kendall-Jackson Culinary Team in 2003, Justin worked at Syrah in Santa Rosa, at Saddleback Cellars and at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley.  He attended culinary school in his home state of North Carolina.

I spoke with Justin on Thursday, just before the Chef’s Challenge contenders were slated to arrive at the center to begin preparations for Saturday.  This year’s three visiting contenders—Jen Carroll (10 Arts Bistro & Lounge by Eric in Philadelphia), Chris Jacobsen (“CJ”) (The Yard in Santa Monica) and Kevin Gillespie (Woodfire Grill in Atlanta) —have all competed on Bravo’s hit TV show “Top Chef.” Justin was responsible for choosing all of them as well as for inviting the five local chefs—Douglas Keane (executive chef and owner of the two-Michelin-Star Cyrus in Healdsburg, serving from Shimo Modern Steak in Healdsburg), Paul Monti (Monti’s in Santa Rosa), Josh Silver (Petite Syrah and Jackson’s Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa), Jeff Mall (executive chef at Zin in Healdsburg, and John Ash in Santa Rosa).

First on their activities list was a trip up to Healdsburg to visit K-J’s 5-acre tomato garden, on which over 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes are grown.  The evening would be spent dining at some of Northern California’s finest restaurants including Syrah, in Santa Rosa, where Justin had previously cooked before K-J lured him away.  On Friday, each of the guest chefs would be paired up with a sous-chef from Kendall-Jackson’s staff and together they would strategize for the Chef’s Challenge competition.  The challenge, which is enormously popular, entails cooking three tomato-based dishes in 25 minutes, also incorporating the contents of a “mystery basket” of local meats and fish.  Here’s what Justin had to say on the eve of the big event:   

In your opinion, what are the best techniques to capture robust heirloom tomato flavor in cooking?

Justin Wangler:  We use lots of different techniques for lots of different tomatoes and I think there are great flavors to be had from all techniques.  This year we’ve had a lot of green tomatoes because they haven’t gotten ripe yet, so we’ve been making fried green tomatoes all summer.  Also for this event we do some oven-roasted ones where we just toss the tomatoes, kind of like a plum tomato, we slice it in half lengthwise and we toss it with garlic, olive oil, thyme, and rosemary and just put it the oven cut side up and turn the oven on to about 95 degrees and we just leave it overnight and then we come in the next morning and they’re oven-dried tomatoes, which intensifies the sugars.  It’s a good technique if you don’t have the best tomatoes.

But my personal favorite way is just raw tomatoes with really nice salt.  I like Malden sea salt flakes from Essex: it’s very flaky and looks like snowflakes and has a really crunchy texture.  I would imagine any high-end food purveyor would have it.

What are your favorite tomatoes just for eating with some good salt?

Justin Wangler:  I’m a big fan of the Cherokee Purple.  It’s so sweet and the color is so beautiful.  Usually at my house I try to be growing about five different tomato varieties at any given time.  I try to do one or two little cherry tomatoes, red or yellow, just for salads or snacking.  I try and mix it up.  We have so many seeds here, I try and change it up each year.  But I always like Yellow Sun Gold, and then we have one called Orange Currant which is super-sweet.  Usually I try and do a couple of big tomatoes like the Cherokee Purple, which is good for BLTs.  And then every year I try one I’ve never heard of, just for fun.  One of my favorites is the Big White Pink Stripe, a yellow tomato that almost looks like it’s tie-dyed inside with pink colors.  That’s a fun one.  We have 400 seeds on hand, so we try to do new stuff each year.

Which heirloom tomatoes do you prefer for sauces?

Justin Wangler:  Definitely the plum and Italian tomato varieties.  But what we do is as soon as we start slicing tomatoes we put a nice big container in the fridge and we save all the scraps and we just pile them in there.  Then usually about once a week we just toss it with garlic and some herbs and we roast it in the oven and caramelize it and then we puree that in a blender, strain it, put it in a pot and cook it down, and then we can it at the end of each season.  So we don’t waste anything.  All the tops and bottoms of our tomatoes we save, skin and everything.  We just remove the stems with what we call a tomato shark, like a melon baller, because the stems can make it a little bitter.

Justin Wangler's "go-to" heirloom for eating is Cherokee Purple, a delicious sweet fruit over 100 years old that has captured the hearts of many, especially food-writers who have embellished its history with all sorts of lore. Photo: Geneva Anderson

What are the most unusual or creative uses of heirloom tomatoes you’ve encountered—both successes and failures?

Justin Wangler:  Every year for our Chefs Competition I try to make a dessert.  One of my favorites was a cherry tomato clafouti–like a pancake batter with cherry tomatoes that’s baked.  I served it with a little whipped cream.  Actually it’s almost sweeter than with cherries, which are sweet and tart, but tomatoes are just sweet.  Also, one year Carrie Brown from Jimtown Store in Alexander Valley made a sweet tomato shortcake.  She made these little biscuits and put whipped cream on them and just marinated some really sweet tomatoes with a little bit of sugar and mint and it was really good.  And then the John Ash restaurant a couple of years ago did a tomato cheesecake and I think they won that year.  Then one year somebody peeled tomatoes, then blanched them, and then took little petals out and dipped them in chocolate, like tomato roses dipped in chocolate.  So there’s always fun and really exciting stuff.  Every year brings some new items and new things we haven’t seen before so we always look forward to the Tomato Festival to see what people are doing.

A highlight of every K-J Tomato Festival is the pairing of locally grown vine-ripened tomatoes with Kendall-Jackson wines.  What do you have planned for this year?

Justin Wangler:  We try to create dishes to match the flavors in the wine.  This year some of my favorites are Sauvignon Blanc with our fried green tomatoes and then we have a beautiful pasta that we’re pairing with our new Avant Chardonnay.

This year’s dishes prepared by our Culinary team:

Smoked Fennel & Paul Robeson Tomato Soup
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir

Fried Green Tomatoes with Delice de la Vallee
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Sauvignon Blanc

Farfalle with Marinated Yellow Marble Tomatoes & Point Reyes Mozzarella
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Avant Chardonnay

Fresh Baguette with Indian Moon Yellow Tomatoes, Bacon & Beehive Cheese
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay

Herb Roasted Boxcar Willie Tomatoes with Point Reyes Blue Cheese Bruschetta
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Syrah

Smoked Kobe Beef on Fresh Baguette with Bearnaise Aioli & Black From Tula Tomato
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon

What’s the best way to care for heirloom tomatoes once you buy or pick them?

Justin Wangler:  At my house usually I set them with core side down in a cool dark place.  You can put them in a paper bag but you don’t want them touching too close together, you want a little air to circulate so they don’t get moldy. 

We’re often told it’s not good to refrigerate them.  Is that true, and if so, why?

Justin Wangler:  It changes the texture a little bit.  If you’re taking the time to grow or buy really good tomatoes, you might as well just leave them out and eat them as soon as possible.

What are you most looking forward to this weekend?

Justin Wangler:  The Heirloom Tomato Festival is one of those events where you get to see all your friends from around the county and also meet new chefs from all around the country.  I like the interaction with all the guests, and to see how much people enjoy themselves drinking great wine and eating lots of tomatoes.

Any cool tomato tips?

Justin Wangler:  We’ve got a slicing technique that you’re going to love.

Details:  Saturday, September 10, 2011 • 11am – 4pm, Kendall-Jackson Wine Center

5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, California 95439, information: 707.571.7500

TICKETS– This year’s festival is completely sold out, but make sure to check Kendall-Jackson’s webpage in May 2012 for information and tickets for the 16th Annual Festival in September 2012.  Tickets, $65, are pre-sold only (3,000 are available) and will be available online at, or at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center itself or the Healdsburg Tasting Room.  

Directions:  From Highway 101 going NORTH, take River Road exit.  Come to stop light and turn LEFT going over the freeway.  Travel approximately 1 1/4 mile to first stoplight, which is Fulton Road.  Turn RIGHT at Fulton Road.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center is less than 1/2 mile on the LEFT side of the road.  (If you go over the Hwy 101 overpass on Fulton, you’ve gone too far.)

From Highway 101 going SOUTH, take Fulton Road exit.  The FIRST driveway on the right is the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center.

September 9, 2011 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Natalia Smirnoff’s engaging feature debut “Puzzle” showcases María Onetto as a 50 year-old wife who finds herself in jigsaw puzzles, opens Friday, September 9, 2011, at San Francisco Film Society

In Natalia Smirnoff’s richly-layered debut feature film Puzzle,  we are given a puzzle to solve―and it’s age old―how does a marginalized middle-age woman living  in a traditional society like Argentina achieve personal empowerment?   Ironically, the answer is found in puzzles.  María del Carmen (played by María Onetto, star of Lucretia Martel’s  The Headless Woman ) is 50-year-old  housewife in Buenos Aires  who has sunk so far into the complacency and safety of her married and family life that she no longer exists.  At what might be considered a pivotal moment, her 50th birthday, through quickly piecing together a broken dinner plate, she discovers that she has an aptitude for solving puzzles and that this simple act gives her pleasure.   For María, who has nothing outside of her family which is truly her own accomplishment, this realization is pivotal.  

One of María’s birthday presents is a complex jigsaw puzzle of Queen Nefertiti, which she solves quickly.  Once whet, her appetite for puzzles grows to the point of fixation, and that fixation is all-consuming, causing her to focus less on her husband Juan (Gabriel Goity) and two teen sons, Juan Pablo (Felipe Villaneuva) and Iván (Julián Doregger), who have traditional expectations about her being there to meet their needs and care for them.  Uncharacteristically, she begins to tell lies so that she can pursue her new interest―evolving from white lies that get her to a specialized puzzle shop to a whopper about caring for a sick aunt.  All this covering up occurs because she is just not able to ask for the space to meet her own need for enjoyment.  As María goes increasingly underground with puzzling, she responds to an ad for a puzzle partner and meets a wealthy gentleman named Roberto (Arturo Goetz) who is looking for someone to practice with weekly for the national heat.  If won, that would earn them a free ticket to Germany to represent Argentina in the world championship.  Roberto immediately recognizes María’s talent and tells her that, while she has a completely unorthodox approach to selecting and arranging pieces, it works and he’s fine with it.  They agree to meet at his place once a week to practice.  With his acceptance and encouragement, she blossoms in almost imperceptibly small, but real, steps―from choosing among new teas to reading a book about ancient Egypt that Roberto loans her and to impressing his upper-crust puzzle-solving friends.  His nurturing of her as an individual and ability to see her outside of her traditional role make all the difference.  But Roberto is only human and he occasionally makes a small pass at her which she outwardly ignores but which raises issues about the true nature of this mentor-pupil dynamic.

Her husband Juan is thoughtfully constructed―he is traditional but loving, he desires her sexually, and has done his best to try to create a happy family life with her and their two sons, but his vision is limited.  Both he and Maria are guilty, as are most of us, of slipping into the routine of life and getting stuck in patterns that come to define us.  As Roberto shines a new light on María, and she decides to live a little, she slowly changes and so do those around her, coming to see that mom has found a missing piece in her life and they are really no worse for it.   

The film is completely anchored in María Onetto’s masterfully understated and mysterious María.  Natalia Smirnoff first worked with Onetto when she was a casting director and selected her for the lead in Lucretia Martel’s  Headless Woman (see ARThound review), selected for Cannes in 2008.   That film also entails a puzzle―a hit-and-run accident in Argentina―but what or who was hit isn’t clear.  The upper-class woman driving is played by Onetto, who is protected by the influential men around her, and her actual culpability is never determined.  Nothing was certain in that film and viewers were left to contemplate the pieces they were fed.  Puzzle is a less expansive film and instead of addressing the larger scope of Argentina’s miasma around its missing, it subtly addresses issues of self-empowerment and actualization through the mirror of sexual inequality in Argentina’s middle class.  The camera work is done largely with a handheld and, like the plot, is tightly focused on Onetto who through her quiet expressions slowly feeds us important pieces of her tentative self.  

Puzzle, (Rompecabezas, Argentina/France, 2010) Written and Directed by Natalia Smirnoff.  Photographed by Barbara Álvarez.  With María Onetto, Gabriel Goity, Arturo Goet, Henny Trailes, Felipe Villanueva, Julian Doregger, Nora Zinsky.  Runtime: 89 min.  In Spanish with subtitles.  Distributed by Sundance Selects.

Details:  Puzzle screens September 9–15, 2011 at the San Francisco Film Society’s  new theatrical home, SF Film Society | New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street (Webster/Buchanan), San Francisco, CA.  Showtimes: 2:45, 5:00, 7:10, 9:15

Thursday, September 22, 2011, The San Francisco Film Society will celebrate the official Grand opening of San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema with an evening of special screenings and an open house reception.  For the first time in the organization’s 54 year history, it will be able to offer year-round programming and all in the stylish state-of-the-art 143 seat theatre located in the  equally stylish and contemporary New People building at 1746 Post Street.   The theater features the finest analog and digital equipment, perfect sight lines and immersive THX-certified surround sound.  Amenities in the surrounding neighborhood include plentiful parking and numerous restaurants.

September 8, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Update: Next Saturday’s 15th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival is Sold Out

The 15th Annual Kendall-Jackson heirloom Tomato Festival features over 150 varieties of delicious vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes in all colors, shapes and sizes. This Saturday, September 10, 2011.

It’s tomato time!  Next Saturday, September 10,  is the 15th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, now sold out.  The popular event, which draws crowds from all over California, is a celebration of all the wonderful tastes of Sonoma County, with heirloom tomatoes as the focal point.  Those lucky enough to have snared tickets will have 5 hours to feast to their heart’s content on a multitude of tomato-inspired gourmet dishes prepared on the spot by leading chefs and by dozens of local fine food purveyors and Bay Area top restaurants.  All of them will use freshly-picked heirloom tomatoes supplied by Kendall-Jackson and, in many cases, K-J olive oil and wine too.  And then there are the tomatoes themselves−genetically unchanged from one generation to another−heirlooms offer the intense flavor prized by gardeners and gourmets.  Central to the event is the “tasting tent”−a large tent with long tables holding dozens of plates of delicately vine-ripened sliced heirloom tomatoes organized by color/type−all of them are grown in the Kendall-Jackson’s extensive gardens.  This year, there will be over 150 varieties to sample including some Sonoma County favorites such as Brandywine, Green Zebra, Stupice, Mortgage Lifter, San Marzano, and Cherokee Purple and, along with these, many unfamiliar varieties.  There will be a tomato growing contest, too, for gardeners to show off their prize heirlooms and have them judged by looks, flavor and texture.  Mia Brown, from Lodi, cleaned up last year hauling off 6 of 18 awards given.  Her “Green Doctor” won the

The festival is all about heirloom tomatoes and attendees have 5 hours to eat to their heart's content. Over 150 varieties of freshly-picked heirloom tomatoes from Kendall-Jackson's extensive gardens can be sampled and some of the nation's top chefs and fine foods purveyors will be creating and serving gourmet tomato delicacies of all types. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Cherry and Currant division and went on to win Best of Show−the Golden Trowel− and she also won the White and Green division and all three prizes in the Paste division.  For those who enjoy the thrill of a live demo, there will be a chef competition featuring Kevin Gillespie, a contender on Bravo’s hit show “Top Chef“.  

There will also be wine, food and gardening seminars, garden tours, and a composting session led by Organic Gardening magazine editor Ethne Clark.  Live music, artisan breads and

Stay tuned to ARThound for a tomato-centric interview with Kendall-Jackson’s executive chef Justin Wangler who will head the K-J culinary team in this culinary extravaganza.

Details:  Saturday, September 10, 2011 • 11am – 4pm, Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, California 95439, information: 707.571.7500

TICKETS– This year’s festival is completely sold out, but make sure to check Kendall-Jackson’s webpage in May 2012 for information and tickets for the 16th Annual Festival in September 2012.  Tickets, $65, are pre-sold only (3,000 are available) and will be available online at, or at the Kendall Wine Center itself or the Healdsburg Tasting Room.  

Directions:  From Highway 101 going NORTH, take River Road exit.  Come to stop light and turn LEFT going over the freeway.  Travel approximately 1 1/4 mile to first stoplight, which is Fulton Road.  Turn RIGHT at Fulton Road.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center is less than 1/2 mile on the LEFT side of the road.  (If you go over the Hwy 101 overpass on Fulton, you’ve gone too far.)

From Highway 101 going SOUTH, take Fulton Road exit.  The FIRST driveway on the right is the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center.

September 3, 2011 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A to Z Concerts presents 8 virtuoso cellists and soprano Carrie Hennessey in “The V Concert” Saturday, September 10, 2011, to benefit Cinnabar Theater

Soprano Carrie Hennessey of Sacramento will sing Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” for Voice and Eight Cellos in “The V Concert” on September 10, 2011. In June 2010, Hennessey made her debut with Cinnabar Theater in the title role of the opera “Emmeline,” by Tobias Picker. Photo: courtesy Carrie Hennessey

One of the best ways to celebrate the glorious last days of summer in Sonoma County is with an outdoor concert.  Next Saturday, September 10, 2011, “The A to Z Concert series,” will visit the West Petaluma gardens of Sandra and Borue O’Brien.  The performance will feature acclaimed Sacramento soprano Carrie Hennessey performing Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” for Voice and Eight Cellos and other works exclusively by composers whose last names begin with the letter “V.”  “The V Concert” is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater’s opera program and is organized by Sonoma County cellists Judiyaba and Gwyneth Davis, who created “The A to Z Concert series,” a 2-year project comprising 24 concerts with composers whose names represent every letter of the alphabet.  In addition to Villa-Lobos, “The V Concert” will include works by Vivaldi and by the 16th- century Flemish composer Vaet—all in one of West Petaluma’s most beautiful private gardens, surrounded by a redwood grove.  Hosts Sandra and Borue O’Brien have also planned a silent auction and will serve wine, cheeseboards, and desserts.

“This is our 20th concert,” explained cellist Judiyaba, a long-term Sebastopol resident, who organized “The A to Z Concert series” (or “The Alphabet Concerts”) with cellist Gwyneth Davis, a member of the Eloquence String Quartet.   “We started this series because we just love to play chamber music and this gives us an opportunity to explore new repertoire and old favorites and we’ve found so much new music.  What’s fun about our group is that it is composed of eight cellists who have played in literally every orchestra in the Bay Area─the SF Symphony, SF Opera, regional orchestras─so it is very representative.”

 V Concert Program:  Judiyaba whimsically described “The V Concert” as a “varied, venturesome and vibrant program of virtuosi violoncelli” (using the full formal name for the cello).  “The most challenging is the Villa-Lobos—it’s tricky and fun.  We are doing three pieces by the composer “Vaet” [pronounced “Vate”], which are 16th-century motets, or 3-to-5 part choral pieces which could also have been played on instruments.”

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Latin America’s most important composer, had little formal music training.  He instead absorbed the influences of his native Brazil’s indigenous cultures, themselves based on Portuguese, African, and American Indian elements.  Between 1930 and 1945, he composed a series of nine suites he called the Bachianas Brasileiras (“Brazilian Bach pieces”) which meld Brazilian folk and popular music with the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, applying Baroque harmonic and contrapuntal techniques to Brazilian music.  The Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 and No. 5, both scored for 8 cellos, show the composer’s love for the sonorities of the cello, an instrument that he himself played in Rio de Janeiro’s cinema, theatre, and opera orchestras.  Brazilian soprano Bidú Sayão was Villa-Lobos’ favorite singer and made a number of recordings of his compositions, including the definitive recording of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (which can be heard here).  Carrie Hennessey will sing this haunting soprano solo in “The V Concert.”  

Sebastopol cellist Judiyaba is co-creator of “The Alphabet Concerts,” a 2 year project comprising 24 concerts with composers whose names represent every letter of the alphabet. She will perform in “The V Concert” with 7 other cellists in a benefit for Cinnabar Theater on September 10, 2011. Photo: courtesy Judiyaba

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), the prolific Venetian superstar of Italian Baroque music, will dominate “The V Concert” program, with performances of his Concerto for two cellos (with multi-cello accompaniment), his Cello Concerto in A minor (featuring SF Opera cellist Victoria Erhlich and accompanied by….yes…more cellists!), and the lilting pastoral aria “Domine Deus” from his beloved Gloria sung by Carrie Hennessey (accompanied by cellos).  All of these pieces showcase the rhythmic exuberance, harmonic invention, and virtuosic string writing that catapulted Vivaldi to celebrity during his lifetime and has kept his music in the limelight ever since.

Jacobus Vaet (c.1529-1567) was a Flemish Renaissance composer noted for distinctive and intricate polyphonic (multi-voiced) sacred music, including nine complete extant masses, and both sacred and secular motets.  The three motets on this program will feature the 8-cello ensemble playing parts originally written for singing voices.

The cellists for “The V Concert” are: Kelly Boyer, Gwyneth Davis, Poppea Dorsam, Victoria Erhlich, Leighton Fong, David Goldblatt, Judiyaba, and Ruth Lane (a Petaluma resident).  And the soprano is Carrie Hennessey.   A wonderful line- up!

Total run time: approximately 2 hours, with intermission. Wine, cheese and desserts.

Cinnabar Theater:  “The V Concert” is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater’s opera program, its founding program.  Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma’s beloved opera and theatre company, was established by the legendary Marvin Klebe in the early 1970’s in the old red schoolhouse that was the original Cinnabar School (near the intersection of Skillman Lane and Petaluma Blvd. North.)  “The main reason why Marvin Klebe founded this company,” said Elly Lichtenstein, Cinnabar’s Artistic Director, “was because he wanted to do opera in a different way, with intimate ensemble works where the individual performers were treated as artists.”  Over the years, Cinnabar, a nonprofit, has dedicated itself to encouraging community participation in the arts and to community education as well.  The theater offers a highly regarded Young Repertory Program that trains youth as young as 4 years old in the dramatic and musical performing arts. 

Sebastopol cellist Gwyneth Davis is a co-creator of “The Alphabet Concerts.” She has performed with most of the regional orchestras in the Bay Area, plays for Cinnabar Opera, and is a pastry chef. Photo: courtesy Judiyaba

Lichtenstein explained that Cinnabar Theater normally produces two operas annually but this year it will feature just one opera, Mozart’s Don Giovanni (March 23-April 15, 2011), and the musical She Loves Me, which opens Cinnabar’s 39th season on September 9, 2011.

Silent Auction:  all proceeds will benefit Cinnabar Theater’s opera program.  Prizes include:

Vineyard tour of Kastania Vineyards, Petaluma

10 one-day passes Roxie Theatre

Round of golf at Rooster Run Golf Club, Windsor Golf Club, and Adobe Creek Golf

4 $25 gift certificates for Absolute Home and Garden

4 $25 gift certificates for Empire Nursery


The V Concert: Saturday, September 10, 2011, 4 p.m., 200 Queens Lane (off King Road), Petaluma, CA.  Tickets: $20 available, or phone 707-763-8920, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Reservations highly recommended.

A to Z Concert series:”  The Alphabet Concerts is a 2 year project.  “The W Concert” is October 2, 2011, 7 p.m, Petaluma Museum, featuring Kurt Weill, William Walton and more.

Cinnabar Theater:  Cinnabar Theater’s fall season kicks off on September 9, 2011 with the musical  She Loves Me.  This delightful romantic comedy is based on the play of the same name and the popular film The Shop Around the Corner, on which the more recent film You’ve Got Mail is also based.  (Book by Joe Masteroff/Music by Jerry Bock; Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; Based on Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo.)  Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920.  Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA  94952, 707.763.8929.

September 1, 2011 Posted by | Chamber Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment