Daryl Gortner’s ‘Taste of the Bubbly.’ It is currently on display at Bergamot Station Arts Center.

“Silver Linings Playbook,” by far one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year, does a wonderful job of creating believable characters and an un-sappy happy ending.

Directed by David O. Russell, the quirky story is based on a 2008 novel by Matthew Quick and they’re perfectly matched. Bradley Cooper is irresistible as Pat, who’s been incarcerated in a mental institution after violently attacking his wife’s lover, whom he discovers in their shower with her. In the ensuing plea bargain, he loses both wife and house. Don’t worry; it’s a comedy.

He has some rage issues — he’s diagnosed as bipolar — but after spending time in the mental hospital, he’s working hard to turn his negative impulses into positive silver linings. He’s stopped taking his meds (against recommendations), he’s been released to his parents, and he’s trying to take control of his own life.

It’ll be tricky with a father — both a superstitious and obsessive-compulsive gambling bookmaker — who believes that Pat’s his lucky football charm as he bets risky-big on his beloved Eagles.

Meantime, Pat is obsessed and deluded by the idea that his wife still loves him, that their love is like no other, and that they’re destined to get back together.

When friends attempt to help by connecting him with another “crazy,” Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the plot takes off in a wholly unique direction. Tiffany’s a young widow who’s been tarred with a reputation as a “slut” because in trying to get over her husband’s death she partied around a lot.

Who’s crazier? Who’s helping who get better? Despite a restraining order, Pat recruits Tiffany to get a letter to his wife. As payment, Tiffany persuades Pat to enter a dance contest with her, convincing him that it’s a way of proving to his wife that he’s on the mend and able to focus on a disciplined goal to win her back.

I won’t spoil the ending, but the plot twists are fresh, inventive and very satisfying and the whole film is just so sweet, loving and unexpected.

Don’t miss “Silver Linings Playbook.”

 

Emotional desert

 

“Other Desert Cities” is Jon Robin Baitz’s latest play, now at the Mark Taper Forum. The production won rave reviews in New York and has created Pulitzer Prize buzz for Baitz.

A Hollywood family moves to Palm Springs, Calif. to escape the limelight thanks to a scandal involving their oldest son, who presumably committed suicide. Following a lengthy hospitalization for depression, the family’s daughter, a one-hit novelist who moved to the East Coast and idolized her brother, returns to the family to announce she’s written a memoir about him, which is an indictment of her family.

In all of Baitz’s plays the personal and the political are inextricably entwined. Father (Robert Foxworth) is a former B-movie star who chaired the Republican Party; mother (JoBeth Williams), a staunch conservative, long ago starred with her sister in a once popular, now forgotten series; son (Michael Weston) is a hard-partying producer of reality TV. And daughter Brooke (Robin Weigert) has been struggling with the need to break free of the family’s pull to comprehend “the truth.”

Of course there are ideological battles with some funny and politically astute lines. But the truth is never what it seems in this play.

The parents’ conservative “values” may be the root cause of the children’s dysfunction; the missing son was involved in a terrorist bombing. The mother is also tending to her drunken sister (Jeannie Berlin), just out of rehab, who gets many of the laughs. And Brooke, the author, wants to tell the truth as she perceives it and turns out to be wrong, thanks to a dark family secret.

Maybe because of its dazzling cast and director on Broadway or maybe because many of the jokes poke fun at California and Hollywood clichés, the play had a lot more going for it in New York. Here, it’s pretty flat and drowning in exposition. And while the beautiful set will take your breath away, the direction feels wooden and the characters are emotionally un-engaging.

As a longtime fan of Baitz, I wanted to like this play. But it just doesn’t work in this staging. “Other Desert Cities” runs through Jan. 6 at the Mark Taper Forum. For more information visit www.centertheatregroup.org.

 

Around town

 

Bergamot Station Arts Center, located at 2525 Michigan Ave., holds its Holiday Open House this Saturday, Dec. 15 from noon to 5 p.m., featuring food, fun, music, and, of course, all those art galleries! For more information, go to www.bergamotstation.com.

A special treat from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. is the artists’ holiday reception for “Candy,” a bright shining new show that’s perfect for the holidays. Works by artists Daryl Gortner, Tracey Sylvester Harris, Lori Larusso, Dave Lefner, Kelly Reemtsen, and Robert Townsend are delightfully colorful and delicious to look at. Skidmore Contemporary Art will keep them on view through Dec. 29 in their gallery, located in Building D-2 at Bergamot: www.skidmorecontemporaryart.com.

Family is the theme of “Shine: Bright Stories of Positive Change,” the series based on true stories, taking place at the Westside YWCA on Thursday, Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. Featuring award-winning storytellers and writers, guest story tellers are selected from the audience through a random drawing. Find out more at www.StoriesBloom.com.

The historic Miles Memorial Playhouse at Reed Park offers its rustic fireplace as the centerpiece for 16 nights of live performances during its winter season. “Fireside at the Miles” features 16 nights of jazz, opera, dance, poetry, beat boxing, a cappella sing-offs and more.

Jazz guitarist Scott Detailer and his five-piece “funksemble” open this Friday, Dec. 14. Singer/songwriter Mario Vargo and Friends present an evening of folk songs and holiday spirit on Saturday, Dec. 15. Organic snacks are available; come cozy up on the couches. Reserve by e-mail at milesplayhouse@smgov.net or call (310) 458-8634.

 

 

Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

 

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