The Broad Stage started its fall season last weekend with a big bang and a loud beat. Like Cirque du Soleil in miniature, minus the contortionists and trapeze artists, Diavolo Dance Theater specializes in creating its own stage magic.
Perhaps better defined as gymnasts and athletes, the dancers whirl, twirl, swoop, swirl, show off B-boy street dance moves, spinning on their heads and hands to high-speed original music.
On sets inspired by skateboard ramps and a giant balancing half-barrel (representing a boat), they run up, crawl over, jump on and over, dangle from, leap at and catch one another from great heights and distances.
Diavolo’s roots are local, and the artists’ energy was matched by the enthusiastic roar of a cheering audience.
Highlights of The Broad Stage’s upcoming theater season include the return of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater with “Hamlet” Nov. 15-25; and the West Coast premiere of “Freud’s Last Session,” with Judd Hirsch as Sigmund Freud and Tom Cavanagh as C.S. Lewis. The father of psychiatry and the Oxford professor and theologian clash over the existence of God, love, sex and the meaning of life; Jan. 16-Feb. 10.
This Saturday, singer-songwriter and eight-time Grammy-Award winner Rickie Lee Jones performs. Her newest album “The Devil You Know” celebrates songs by others with unique takes on classic tunes by The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Rod Stewart, among others.
Later this month veteran stage, screen and TV actor Hal Holbrook offers his one-man hit show, “Mark Twain Tonight,” channeling the American literary master on Oct. 13, while “new journalism” rock star Tom Wolfe engages in a conversation with screenwriter Howard Rodman on Oct. 29 about his seven decade-long career as author of “The Right Stuff” and “Bonfire of the Vanities.” They’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.
Experience the incomparable virtuoso piano stylings of Richard Goode, who offers crowd pleasing classical and romantic music by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven on Oct. 30. And if it’s jazz you love, you could be “Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen” on Oct. 19, a one-man show spanning the show-biz icon’s 40-year career.
There’s much more this month and all year long; visit thebroadstage.com for details, dates and reservations.
Pleased to meet you
While watching late night TV, playwright Lynn Nottage came across a 1930s film called “Babyface” featuring a young African-American actress named Theresa Harris. This discovery set her on a path to discover a generation of African-American film actors who, as Nottage says “plied their trade in relative obscurity … relegated to the margins of the frame.”
Nottage has put a fictionalized version of one of these actors on-stage in the West Coast premiere of “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” at Geffen Playhouse. I can’t remember a recent play whose actors have so wowed me — and the crowd.
Sanaa Lathan is maid Vera Stark, who’s angling for a role in a film called “The Belle of New Orleans,” in which her neurotic boss, aging (and drunken) screen star Gloria Mitchell (Amanda Detmer) will star. It launches Vera on a career that does not end well.
All the actors are outstanding, including Kimberly Hébert Gregory, and Merle Dandridge, who play dual roles. This isn’t a musical, but the ladies display powerful singing voices in the context of their characters.
The first act is all 1930s Hollywood glamor, glitz and bombast with studio heads, directors, actors and “the help” engaged in farcical comedic action. In contrast, there are very different scenes between the witty trio of aspiring black actresses, each trying to find her own way, by hook or crook, into the industry.
The second act is a satirical take on the kinds of academic panel discussions that follow film screenings these days, focusing on the cult status of “The Belle of New Orleans,” and Vera’s role in the context of black and feminist cultural history. Included as part of this discussion are film clips from “Belle” and faux TV footage of Vera’s embarrassing interview on a 1973 TV talk show on the eve of her short-lived comeback in Las Vegas. The footage is interspersed with a live version of the interview, cutting back and forth to the panel discussion.
The structure is clever, the acting beyond compare, but I admit the play lagged a bit for me; it could easily be edited and made sharper. But this is one play you do not want to miss. It’s both hilariously funny and smart social commentary.
“By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” is on-stage at the Geffen Playhouse through Oct. 28. www.geffenplayhouse.com/
On the walls
The second annual Art Platform contemporary art fair took off at Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar last Thursday through Sunday. When you’re viewing such a quantity of art all at once, your eyes can glaze over, especially when there’s so much repetitive and derivative work, like the whole trend toward apocalyptic end-of-the-world visions, and at the other extreme — infantilized sinister cartoon art that I call “blobular.”
Then there’s the stuff that draws your eyes like a magnet. I found it in the ceramic work of David Hicks, whose gigantic clay wall hangings are tactile, earthy and gravity-defying. An L.A.-born artist, he’s represented by Mindy Solomon Gallery in St. Petersburg, Fla.
I loved the kinetic artworks by GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel), originating in Latin America in the 1960s, featuring joyous, colorful and explosive expressions, especially in the art of Julio Le Parc and the recently-deceased Horacio Garcia-Rossi. Based in Italy, this cultural association has a Westwood outpost; view the art online at www.art1307.us/
David Hockney, known as the painter of California’s light, is a master of drawing and his exquisite line portrait of close friend Celia Birtwell from the 1970s drew me into Leslie Sacks Fine Arts Gallery in Brentwood. On view now at the gallery is the work of artist Minjung Kim, whose intricately patterned and connected constructions are graceful and thought provoking. Visit in person or online at www.lesliesacks.com/artists/minjung-kim-1.
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.