To Play or Not To Play?

th1.jpgIs it too late for Shakespeare? I don’t mean the powerful texts themselves, the probing psychological depths, and brilliant literary analysis of what it is to be human—you know, the stuff that William Shakespeare, hard-working playwright, bequeathed to everyone who loves the English language.

No. What I’m asking is, is it too late for young, Selfie Generation audiences to actually sit through a performance of a Shakespeare play? Have they the attention span? Are they capable of submitting themselves to un-ironic moments of joy, sorrow, terror? Do they even know what the words (or scenarios) mean?

Since I’m asking, I’ll answer: not “no they don’t,” but “hell no they don’t!”

Given what I’ve seen lately in a certain redwood glen very very close Continue reading “To Play or Not To Play?”

True Confessions: a Critic’s Lament

While no one—and I mean no one—will sympathize with me, it’s tough being a critic. The smaller the arena, the harder it is to tell the truth. Why? Well, because essentially no one wants to hear it.

Oh everybody wants to hear the good news. They insist on teasing out the positive soundbites, the lines that can be pulled out and used for advertising purposes. Or to put on their Facebook site. Or to tear out of the paper and carry around in their wallets for the rest of their lives.

Yes, everybody thanks me when I provide feedback that supports their claims to be great at what they do. That’s when people are glad they can point out that someone whose opinion is respected has just praised them.

That’s what words of praise are: rewards for work well done.

So it only undermines genuine praise if Continue reading “True Confessions: a Critic’s Lament”

Feedback for an unnamed restaurant

th.jpgI had an unsatisfying dinner the other night at a place out in the Pleasure Point neighborhood. New chef offering a new ambitious menu. But from start to finish things were just off enough to make me regret the $100 spent on dinner for two.

Red wine served much too warm—and this is a problem for many restaurants. Please treat wine with respect, and don’t make the patron have to reach into the water glass for an ice cube.

Wait staff untrained. Bringing an appetizer before bringing plates for sharing, not knowing details of the menu.

Make sure that whoever is cooking actually tastes the food before sending it out. We had a paté that was dry as styrofoam. It wouldn’t have taken much to whip up a mustard sauce, or an aioli, or even a chutney to provide along with the dish. But nothing accompanied the paté to help coax moisture into the experience. Clearly no one in the kitchen realized just how dry it was.

An entree of flat iron steak arrived almost cool to the touch, practically raw (I had asked for “between rare and medium rare”), and accompanied by legumes that lacked any seasoning whatsoever. Again, no one is tasting the food.

When I asked our waiter if the steak could be cooked a bit more, I was told  “that is medium.”

Stop right there! No restaurant employee—manager or waiter—should ever tell the customer Continue reading “Feedback for an unnamed restaurant”

New World Vineyard – the crowdsource

qboquxc1g4adugx2pvih.jpgRandall Grahm’s dream for a New World vineyard with spectacularly here and now terroir is already 40% funded, and you can be part of this project!  Act fast – only 14 days left.

The ante has been upped on the great Grahm Cru IndieGoGo initiative—your support can now procure a grape named after yourself, or dinner with Randall Grahm and über chef Mario Batali, at Batali’s Babbo in Greenwich Village, or dinner for two at Sally Clarke‘s glam restaurant in London, or dinner for two at Chez Panisse.

Are you ready for this? RG is even offering the eccentric, arguably beautiful one-of-a-kind “spaceship” created by Michael Leeds for the original Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room and restaurant on the Westside.

Find out more about Grahm’s dreams for a vinous future—my cover story in this week’s GTWeekly.

First Friday Top Picks – for Aug 7

henry.pngTired of racing all over town the first Friday of each month, only to find out that you missed some great opening because you tried to do a marathon art crawl? Still trying to see everything?
Well, obsess no more.

Here are my top three picks for First Friday in August .

Definitely stop by Sentinel Printers to check out the work of a wildly creative quartet, curated by the feverish forward mind of Mark Shunney’s Art Research Office. Enjoy a mini-feast of new abstract work by co-curator Emily Meehan (see below), game trickster Louise Leong, retro painter Patrick Appleby, and Grant Wells. 6-9pm, Sentinel Printers 912 Cedar St.,downtown Santa Cruz.emily.jpg

Also in the downtown region, check out Stripe‘s new show of moody, vibrant woodcut prints by virtuoso Bridget Henry (shown above). Get there at 5pm and enjoy a swill of wine from Condor’s Hope Vineyards. 107 Walnut Ave, next door to Soif.

And then zoom over to the Westside, and the R. Blitzer Gallery show of major paintings by surfer postmodernist Gary Hughes and marine metaphysician Howard Kaneg. Expect an upbeat reception starting at 5pm. Blitzer Gallery is located at 2801 Mission St (old Wrigley Plant).

Trainwreck is a trainwreck


Sure I’m the last person on the block to see this vehicle for the highly touted talents of apple-cheeked Amy Schumer. But let me be the first to walk away unimpressed.

The film poster (left) is funnier than anything in the film.
The film’s uneven pacing offers oft-witty, but mostly flat cameos. And it’s shockingly laced with NBA promos (even though I’ll admit that LeBron James, playing himself, is a delight). But where it should have tightened up and stayed tough—Schumer is supposed to be a free spirited, unrepentent single career gal who loves sex, booze and drugs—the film caves. She gets all kinds of weepy domestic advice from colleagues and family—especially her sister, played by Brie Larson who steals every scene she’s in from Schumer.

Schumer’s character works for a smut magazine whose editor is a shrill Tilda Swinton, playing the crude soulless boss, aiming for the bracing tone of Ab Fab‘s hilarious Joanna Lumley, “sweetie baby.” But even the great Swinton fails to pump energy into this mis-directed pastiche.

On assignment to write a behind the scenes article about a sports medicine specialist, played by Bill Hader, Schumer finds herself getting interested in the doctor for more than just a quickie. Fine. Sex in the City. Seinfeld. SNL. Meg Ryan. Tina Fey. Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle. Joan Rivers for God’s sakes! We’ve seen this before. Continue reading “Trainwreck is a trainwreck”

The Liar is Not-to-Miss!

liar.jpgHere’s a sneak peek of my review of The Liar—the entire piece is in this week’s GTWeekly

Santa Cruz Shakespeare‘s nimble new production of The Liar is the sort of searing live comedy that blows all things digital right off the map. Every single actor in this splendid production is remarkable. That needs repeating. Each and every actor adds sparkle. Nothing interferes. There is no down time. There are none of those, er, moments where you look at your cell phone and wonder how much longer the play will go on.

Romping through a very brisk 2 1/2 hours, the entire ensemble ran away with the opening night audience. Not since Richard Ziman’s Falstaff have I laughed so hard. Director Art Manke—whose Bach at Leipzig remains one of my fondest theater memories—took an exceptional cast and set it on fire. You always know what’s going on and every minute of it is delicious. Strap yourself in. The Liar is a triumph—a show smart enough to disarm skeptics and sexy enough to delight audiences in need of pre-Candy Crush fun.

Farewell to an arts visionary

k-sinsheimer-photo-copy_0.jpgIt’s hard to believe that Karen Sinsheimer is gone, so fierce was her energy and passion. In all things really, but especially for the arts.

I can still see her and Audrey taking meetings, using their influence, cooking up an official Shakespeare Festival site, something that would remain as a legacy for great theatrical productions in the future. Such irony, isn’t it? That not only is the Festival she helped to co-found no longer associated with UCSC, but the very Festival Glen named for her and actress/director/professor Audrey Stanley—the Glen itself will be gone as a Shakespeare venue after one more month of performances.

Karen was a larger-than-life beauty, whose graciousness was genuine. She was comfortable about the choices she’d made, and she made everyone around her feel the same way. Her passing sadly underscores the changes that have come to the beautiful redwood glen she loved and protected for so long.

It was a rare pleasure to have known her. [photo: Kimberly Kavish]

The Liar

11694008_987544969923_8470895088890908252_n.jpgRapid-fire fun, witty over-the-top wordplay, lavish costumes, brilliant acting—you must put Santa Cruz Shakespeare‘s The Liar on your August calendar. We laughed ourselves senseless on opening night and gave thanks for the astute casting, directing, and savvy choice of a mid-summer night’s dream!

Life’s too short NOT to see this delicious spectacle.

[Shown here is the insanely talented Brian Smolin, who tears up the stage as the feckless liar, Dorante.]