Stellar Pinot from Muns

photo-copy.JPGWhat a pleasure to re-discover a favorite pinot noir. I’ve never found anything from Muns Vineyard less than interesting, and in the case of the 2009 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Pinot Noir, both interesting and accessible.

Balanced tannins and nuanced fruit, an optimum 14.1% alcohol, and lots of unfolding flavor notes ranging from earth and sassafras to spice and plums. I managed to save a few bottles, and now wish I had a boatload of this wonderful example of SC Mtn. terroir.

Thanks to Ed Muns and Tony Craig! (You can find this wine at the Muns Vineyard website.)

Knowing a hawk from a handsaw

hamletimg.JPGFinally, after months of anticipation, I was there at London’s Barbican Theatre watching the much-heralded Benedict Cumberbatch bedazzle the well-worn coinage of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Was the experience worth traveling 5000 miles and 400 years to savor? In a word, yes. In another word, unforgettable.

Cutting to the chase, the world’s most famous (and highly groupied) actor sinks his panther teeth into the plight of Denmark’s prince and unleashes gossamer revelations, nuanced depths, and an uncanny physical ability to translate psychological trickery into gymnastic grace.

Buffed to a chiseled gloss, Cumberbatch is sexy, savvy, and endlessly watchable—speeding, dancing, and stunning his way through the murky bits of dialogue and plot business, while slowing down and taking all the time in the world to explore each one of the celebrated speeches. For example, when he comes down smartly on the “is” of, “that is the question,” the entire soliloquy pivots and becomes an intimate aside to us, the listener. He is considering the tantalizing prospect of suicide, as well as the possible negative entailments of ending his life, and letting us consider each step of the inner argument along with him. This Hamlet confides that he knows that we know he’s only feigning madness in order to entrap his opportunistic uncle Claudius (played with oleoginous charm and lethal intelligence by renowned Irish actor Ciaran Hinds, of Rome fame.)

Those who witnessed his astonishing physical abilities in the theatrical Frankenstein last season will already be convinced that Cumberbatch is an actor gifted with moves that Barishnikov might envy. And he uses his body as another linguistic vehicle, Continue reading “Knowing a hawk from a handsaw”

about the liveness of live theater

showbiz-hamlet-rehearsals-benedict-cumberbatch-03.jpgSo, anyway, yes it was and always is worth whatever you can pay to be in the theater, in the moment that the play’s the thing.

Digital images of a van Gogh painting will give you the basic nuts and bolts of color, composition, and overall import. But they will never give you the history of the painter’s marks, the choices of when to make this gesture, or when to use cobalt instead of ultramarine. The exact thickness of an agonized brush stroke. For that you need to be face to face with the actual oil painting.

It is a mutual pact of energy between the actors and the audience. To be in a darkened theater, feeling the collective breathing of the audience as it responds to the smallest, sudden, unique gesture of the actor’s voice and body. To be completely there, and ready when the smallest new innovation, and unplanned physical grace note erupts, only that once, from the ensemble on the stage—this searing fairytale intimacy is why you endure arduous travel, long hours, uncomfortable seats, a paucity of ladies rooms, whatever it takes, because in the living moment of performance the artwork becomes immortal.

The actors work not only with cerebral intelligence, but with bodily intelligence. The intelligence of the fingers, the feet, the voice. At any unplanned moment they may deliver a line through the raising of one eyebrow. The audience murmurs its agreement. In the case of Cumberbatch last week, he may reinforce the anger of a decision with a single leap onto the table, or the slowing, growling, snarl of a single word.

We are there. We are with him. Our bodies hum. And he can sense it. It is an intense dance—when it’s done right. That’s why you’re in that seat, that darkened camera obscura of the imagination. The man who put the definitive sheen on the English language (Wm. Shakespeare) lives most fully in those moments of performance. All the rest is archival recording. Sweet and important, but nowhere near the eros and eternity of live performance.

You know what I’m talking about. You know I’m right. I worked hard and saved up. It was worth the trouble and the planning. The problem with it all is that once you experience this level of theatrical performance, you can’t go back.

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”

Lunch at Iveta

pozoleiveta.JPGWe abandoned our usual order of the caprese sandwich and dove into a bowl of housemade pozole topped with slices of ripe avocado and joined by a wee biscuit, spiced and seasoned into something both tender and tasty. Good, good, good!
When at Iveta, we always order a tall, cool, muddled lemonade!

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”