Violin sensation and international classical star Sarah Chang makes her debut with New West Symphony at the opening of their 2013-14 Masterpiece Series. Six Sunday concerts take place at Barnum Hall, an architectural gem, on the Santa Monica High School campus starting Oct. 6 at 4 p.m.
Under the baton of Marcelo Lehninger, Chang will perform her signature Bruch “Violin Concerto No. 1,” as well as music by Beethoven, Gershwin and more. This is a rare opportunity to see one of the world’s greatest violinists in a great setting.
For tickets visit newwestsymphony.org or call (866) 776-8400.
Can we all get along?
Run, don’t walk to the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City before the final few performances in their series of one-man shows this weekend.
Playwright Luis Alfaro’s “St. Jude,” actor Trieu Tran’s “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” and monologist Roger Guenveur Smith’s “Rodney King” performed in repertory provide a wide-ranging, captivating collection of personal stories told through a cultural lens and are produced for the stage, not just stand-up storytelling, which has become so prevalent these days.
And let’s congratulate the Center Theatre Group for attracting some of the most ethnically diverse audiences I’ve ever seen attending theatrical events in L.A.
In “St. Jude” and “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” we have two very different life histories, both of which center around sons reconciling relationships with fathers.
In “St. Jude,” Alfaro is the son of a strict Catholic father and Pentecostal mother who experiences the holy spirit as an altar boy through eating a bag of communion wafers with his brother, and occasionally speaking in tongues. Born in the dusty heart of Central California’s ranch country, his youth is marred by having been raped by a cousin. His journey to self-discovery takes place along a map of California Highway 99 projected on a screen, from Fresno to Fullerton and with points along the way marked with drops of his own blood, which we watch him draw from his own fingers on stage.
His personal tale is interspersed with that of the final year of his father’s life, a lifelong tough guy and soccer player, who in his 80s has suffered a stroke during heart surgery.
It’s a powerful and moving story of love, devotion, and a path to personal salvation.
Similarly harrowing, “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” gives us the life of a young Vietnamese boy, Tran himself, born to a father who curses his birth as the beginning of his own downfall. Having cast his lot with the Americans at the end of the Vietnam War, his father is sent to a re-education camp. Later, separated from the family, he manages to make his way to Canada, where he has taken another wife.
From their refugee camp in Thailand, Tran’s mother and family emigrate to Canada and eventually to Boston, living both with and without his father. A brutal man, who grows in stature within the Vietnamese community there, he becomes part of a criminal element while his long-suffering wife works two jobs to raise the family. We go through Tran’s first difficult years trying to fit in as an immigrant, his later troubled years in school, his discovery of Shakespeare, his first and second loves, the death and molestation he faces, and, finally, his choice to disavow the cycle of blood-for-blood violence that has marked his upbringing.
While I think the play is longer than it needs to be and strains a bit to find its unifying theme, nonetheless Tran’s dramatic life left me breathless. At the performance I attended, a surprise guest was Tran’s mother, whom he acknowledged in the audience following a standing ovation for his performance.
In the last of the three solos, Roger Guenveur Smith did something amazing. Without pretending to “be” Rodney King, he nevertheless recreated the man in a series of slow motion steps reminding us of underwater movement. King died drowning. He gives us a rap-like, subtly rhyming verbal exploration of King’s life, the circumstances surrounding his arrest and police beating, which was famously captured on videotape and replayed endlessly, so that when an all-white jury in Simi Valley acquitted the LAPD officers it led to days of riots and destruction in Los Angeles.
I began to relive those days, which though they took place in 1992 felt like yesterday, and the collective experience of sitting together 21 years later in a multi-ethnic crowd who shared this history was palpably cathartic for all of us.
King becomes a person, not a symbol and not entirely an innocent, in the hands of this masterful monologist, who reminded us of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, who was shot in the back by Soon Ja Du and who received only probation and community service as punishment. We relive the brutal beating and bashing of trucker Reginald Denny’s head during the earliest hours of the riots, his life saved by the heroic Bobby Green. We share the sorrow of those whose community was destroyed by decades of pent up rage, resulting in the looting, fires and killings that followed in those few frightful days of mayhem.
Performances end Sunday, seats are reasonably priced, parking’s free and area restaurants offer discounts. Visit the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office, call (213) 628-2772 or go to www.centertheatregroup.org for tickets.
Quite possibly the most magical performance of the year, London’s Complicite brought “Shun-Kin” to life at CAP/UCLA’s Freud Theatre for a brief run, now sadly over. Created with Setagaya Public Theatre, and performed in Japanese with subtitles, even without words we would have felt this tale of a beautiful blind shamisen (stringed instrument) player and her faithful assistant and lover.
The lead character is played by a puppet — until she’s not. And the transition happens before your very eyes. The simple visual elements, so stunning, using mere sticks to create spaces onstage, combined with this deeply Japanese tale of beauty, passion, hidden love and power, is astutely intercut with a retelling of the story by a voice-over narrator in a studio who, herself, has a secret love.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.