Category Archives: Arts

The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Inferno Theatre presents its third annual
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INFERNO THEATRE IN RESIDENCE Inferno Theatre is in residence at the South Berkeley Community Church from Friday through Sunday presenting its third annual Contemporary Performance Diasporas Festival. See exciting multi-cultural, interdisciplinary dance, theatre and film works performed by a diverse line-up of guest artists and companies. They include: Rachel LePell, Blue Monkey Works: Steve Haskell, Inferno Theatre, Chabot College Theater Arts, and Anton’s Well Theatre Company. South Berkeley residents get discounted tickets. For full information, visit Inferno Theatre’s website. … Continue reading »

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Don’t miss ‘The Heir Apparent’ at the Aurora

Geronte (c. Julian Lopez-Morillas*) finds himself surrounded by imposters (l. Khalia Davis*, r. Patrick Kelly Jones*) as Lisette (back, Katie Rubin*) fears the plan is backfiring in Aurora’s Bay Area Premiere of The Heir Apparent. Photo: David Allen
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I just saw playwright David Ives’ witty and wild re-imagining of the early 18th-century French comedy, Le Légaire Universel by Jean-François Regnard. And I’m very glad I did. The super-creative Ives has taken a mild comedy by a Molière wannabe from the Commedia dell’arte school, and created what he calls a transladaptation, which turns the original material into a priceless combination of an 18th-century bawdy French farce and 21st-century clever American comedy — all in creatively rhymed couplets. It takes an ingenious writer to rhyme Kosher and gaucher.

The first-rate cast features California Shakespeare favorite Julian López-Morillas (The Aspern Papers, Nora,) as Geronte, the old, ailing, cantankerous miser (yes, shades of Molière). Geronte’s maidservant, Lisette (excellent Katie Rubin), his nephew, Eraste (notable Kenny Toll, Shotgun Players’ Eurydice, Antigonick) and his nephew’s servant, Crispin (sparkling Patrick Kelly Jones, Metamorphosis, Detroit) can’t wait for Geronte to kick the bucket and leave his fortune to Eraste. … Continue reading »

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Cheryl Leonard brings melting glaciers, kelp to Berkeley

Cheryl Leonard brings her rocks, kelp, ice, and penguin bones to the Bower Center on Wednesday for "Polar Landscapes" a program of original music with Phillip Greenlief. Photo by Cheryl Leonard.
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Cheryl Leonard followed a long winding path from the Berkeley Hills to the polar regions, but her ability to make arresting music using the sounds of melting glaciers flows directly from an epiphany she experienced hiking near Tilden.

Leonard has spent a good deal of time over the past eight years in the Arctic and Antarctic, making field recordings and collecting materials that she transforms into musical instruments. She performs “Polar Sounscapes” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Brower Center on the closing night of the multi-media exhibition “Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art 1775-2012,” which examines some two centuries of artists inspired by frozen landscapes. The event is the first on an ongoing collaboration between the Brower Center and the new music organization Other Minds. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Wait,’ ‘Another Dawn’ and ‘Smashing the O-Line’

L'Atessa (The Wait) opens in Berkeley on
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It’s not always easy to find interesting films to review or write about, but this week is different. Call it a picture show potpourri, or perhaps a cinematic smôrgasbôrd: this weekend, Berkeley filmgoers have plenty to choose from.

On the new release front, consider L’Attesa (The Wait), opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 6). Directed by Piero Messina, the film is a lovely-to-look-at chamber piece about two women and the man who’s brought them together.

Jeanne, Giuseppe’s French girlfriend, has been invited by her beau to meet the family at their Sicilian villa. Arriving from the airport, however, she discovers her visit has come at a rather awkward time – coincident with the mourning period for Giuseppe’s recently deceased uncle, who (we presume) has died on extremely short notice.

Giuseppe’s mother Anna (Juliette Binoche) tries to be a gracious host under trying circumstances, and as the days pass the two women begin to develop an understanding, if not a close relationship. But as the wait continues – and as Giuseppe stubbornly refuses to make an appearance – Jeanne begins to wonder if there’s more to the story than she’s been told. … Continue reading »

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One to watch: Berkeley drummer James Small

Drummer James Small

Photo Courtesy of: Andrea Kash
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At only 23 years old, James Small is about as seasoned a drummer as they come. He’s been a member of over 10 bands, opened a nationwide tour for a Grammy-winning artist, and attended one of the nation’s top music colleges. Yet Small’s journey hasn’t always been filled with success and achievement. The drummer has experienced his fair share of hardships and struggles along the way.

Small left school to chase a dream, experienced the rise and fall of a band, and, at one point, found himself teaching kindergarten at a performing arts school in Ohio. Through it all, he remains confident in his ability and excited about his future, however.

“It has all been worth it,” he said, smiling.

Now, as the drummer in four bands and working as an after-school program counselor at Emerson Elementary School, Small is intent on not only becoming the best drummer he can be, but the best person as well. … Continue reading »

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‘Treasure Island’ at Berkeley Rep is solid entertainment

(l to r) Demetrios Troy (Israel Hands) and John Babbo (Jim Hawkins) in Mary Zimmerman’s Treasure Island at Berkeley Rep.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre
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A new play by MacArthur Fellow and Tony Award-winner Mary Zimmerman is always a reason to celebrate. Her Metamorphosis, Arabian Nights and White Snake have thrilled Berkeley audiences, myself included. These plays represent her sublime ability to take timeless, legendary tales and imbue them with stage magic and emotional resonance. Yet her adaption and direction of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, a co-production of Berkeley Rep and Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company, for all of its achievements, never reaches the heights of her most brilliant productions.

Treasure Island (1881-1882) was one of the first adventure stories written for boys, and it’s still a terrific yarn. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the mid-1700s in which young Jim Hawkins, who is also the narrator, (excellent John Babbo) sails on the schooner Hispaniola seeking pirate treasure (X marks the spot). Jim ultimately uses his courage and wits to challenge that most infamous brigand, the amoral yet amiable peg-legged, crutch-toting, parrot-shouldering Long John Silver (great Stephen Epps, Tartuffe, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, The Miser). … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Photo by Patti Meuer
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IBD.squarespace.com_INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE DAY Books and Berkeley: never did two words fit more easily together. Saturday, April 30, is a day to celebrate independent bookstores as 420 bookstores around the country, including many in Berkeley, will host authors and readings and other events. Famed and funny science writer Mary Roach will appear at 3 p.m. at Pegasus Downtown at 2349 Shattuck Ave. Roach will do an AMA (based on Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” series). “Science quandary keeping you up at night? Want to know what happens when you place a chameleon on a mirror?… Mary Roach can answer your non-pertinent questions. “You can get homemade dog treats at Mrs. Dalloway’s all day, become your favorite literary character by dressing up in costume (provided) and taking your picture at Books, Inc., at 1491 Shattuck Ave., or join in the unveiling of the large transportation collection at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue — and hear songs about trains. Check the website of your local bookstore for more details. … Continue reading »

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Junior Reggae bring sleek sounds of Jamaica to Jupiter

Junior Reggae (Rob Ewing, Jason Levis, and Steven Blum) play Jupiter Tuesdays in May. Photo by Eric Vogler.
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When Caribbean rhythms seduce a jazz musician, Cuba is usually the alluring culprit. But for multi-instrumentalist Rob Ewing the loping grooves of Jamaica have proven irresistible. An accomplished drummer and skilled trombonist who performs every Sunday with the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra at Doc’s Lab in North Beach, Ewing holds down the bass chair in three reggae combos, including the 10-piece Pavlov’s Band, the five-piece Reggae On the Radio, and the trio Junior Reggae, which plays Jupiter every week in May as part of the pub’s Tuesday Jazzidency series.

Featuring Steven Blum on keyboards and drummer Jason Levis, Junior Reggae is an instrumental ensemble that was born in Berkeley. Ewing and Levis have been making music together since their undergrad days in Boulder at Naropa University (where they both studied with piano legend Art Lande). Since arriving in the Bay Area in the early aughts, they’ve played in a variety of settings together, but it was reggae that forged their connection as a rhythm-section tandem. As the director of the Jazzschool Community Music School, Ewing was on hand when Levis, an associate professor at the California Jazz Conservatory, needed a bassist for a reggae class. … Continue reading »

Big Screen double bill: ‘Dough’ and ‘Pali Road’

Dough, starring
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One of the doughtiest of British film genres is the ‘eccentric Brit’ comedy-drama. From The Full Monty to Kinky Boots, UK filmmakers have long been drawn to tales featuring starchy, conservative Britons trapped in uncomfortable or awkward situations that force them to, well, become a little less starchy and conservative.

Dough (opening at Landmark Theatres Albany Twin Cinema on Friday, April 29) is the latest example of the style. Directed by television veteran John Goldschmidt, the film stars Jonathan Pryce as Nat Dayan, an orthodox Jewish baker clinging to an ailing family business in London’s rapidly gentrifying East End.

The awkward situation comes in the form of Sudanese immigrant Ayyash (Jerome Holder). A Muslim refugee from Darfur, young Ayyash is employed by big time pot dealer Victor (Ian Hart) to sell wacky tobacky – but only if he has a ‘cover job’ to serve as a front. … Continue reading »

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In the hands of feminist press, Calamity Jane rides again

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By Judith Coburn

What was the best book the actor Ethan Hawke read last year? Calamity Jane’s Letters to her Daughter. (The second was Berkeley writer Greil Marcus’s A History of Rock ‘n Roll in Ten Songs) When Alta Gerrey, founder of Shameless Hussy Press, the first feminist publisher in America, heard about those choices, she rushed to her favorite Copymat on College Avenue to run off 50 new copies of the Calamity Jane book. Shameless Hussy had initially published Calamity Jane’s letters in paperback in 1976; its first edition is now selling on Amazon for $300. Hawke’s endorsement was followed by a recent shout-out from a blogger at The Paris Review.

“Calamity Jane is a feminist icon,” said Alta, who prefers to go by her first name as she did as a poet for many years on the Berkeley poetry scene.

Alta said Calamity Jane has taken her licks from mainstream biographers and filmmakers, like the men who made HBO’s Deadwood. “They just depict her as a drunk and a whore,” she said. Historians of the West quarrel over whether she was really married to Wild Bill Hickok and whether he is the father of Janey to whom the letters are written. Some regard the letters as fiction. … Continue reading »

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One to watch: BHS grad, musician Spencer Stevens

Spencer Stevens. Photo: Courtesy of Spencer Stevens
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Ask Spencer Stevens how he became so musically inclined and he’ll probably give you a modest response. Something like: “I don’t know, I’m just blessed,” or “A lot of time and effort.” Whatever humble answer the 22-year-old Berkeley High graduate chooses, he’s downplaying the truth. That truth is that Spencer Stevens is just flat-out talented, and he seems to possess a clear understanding of most aspects of music. The work he’s done as a producer, engineer, manager and DJ has put him in the position of being one of the hottest rising stars in the Bay Area’s underground music scene.

With the success he’s had managing up and coming Oakland artist Legendvry, and playing the role of lead man for his DJ collective, Wavbros, Stevens has made himself a familiar face around the Bay. It seems there isn’t a musical event you can go to in the Bay Area where Stevens isn’t in attendance, and you can bet that each time he’s doing something different. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Winding Stream’

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I don’t much care for country music – particularly what’s passed for it since ‘The Nashville Sound’ developed during the anti-rock ‘n’ roll backlash of the 1950s. Slick and overproduced (and now barely distinguishable from mainstream pop rock), country has long since lost its ability to reflect the hopes and fears of the dirt-poor white working-class that gave it life.

Of course, prior to the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll (itself a misbegotten but marvelous stew of country, western swing, blues, and gospel music), country music was more than just a marketing niche — which brings me to The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes, and the Course of Country Music, a documentary opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, April 22.

Maces Springs, Virginia may be a tiny dot on the map, but its impact on the development of American popular music is immeasurable. It was here that the young A.P. (Alvin Pleasant) Carter was born in 1891, and where he worked the land during the 1910s and ’20s. … Continue reading »

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Strings on steroids… This ain’t no chamber music

Mimi Fox plays Freight & Salvage Wednesday with the SF String Trio. Photo by Michael Oletta
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If you don’t know the players involved, the SF String Trio’s name might lead you to expect a polite new addition to the Bay Area chamber music scene. That would be wrong. Featuring master improvisers and commanding virtuosos who project the energy and intensity of a power trio, the collective with guitarist Mimi Fox, violinist Mads Tolling and bassist Jeff Denson makes its Bay Area debut 8 p.m. Wednesday at Freight & Salvage.

“We aim to disrupt people who are sipping wine,” says Fox with a wicked chuckle. “We aim to start trouble. All of us try to play our instruments to the full measure of what each can offer.”

Fox established herself as one of the Bay Area’s most formidable guitarists more than two decades ago, joining the ranks of jazz’s guitar royalty while performing and recording a multi-generational array fret stars from Charlie Byrd, Kenny Burrell, and Mundell Lowe to Charlie Hunter, Stanley Jordan and Patty Larkin. With 10 albums to her credit as a leader or co-leader, she released a definitive statement with 2006’s Perpetually Hip on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations label. A double CD, the first disc captures Fox stretching out with a stellar quartet featuring bassist Harvie S, pianist Xavier Davis and drum maestro Billy Hart (the subject of a career-honoring retrospective at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival in June), while the second disc is a solo tour de force, a format she’s made a central part of her career as a performer. … Continue reading »

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