Alex Lyras in 'The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.'

Alex Lyras in ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.’

Tonight the Broad Stage at Santa Monica College’s Performing Arts Center welcomes the return of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra series, Westside Connections. I’ll be there; but if you can’t make it, make plans now for next month’s (final) event in this series, which this season pairs novelists and composers with orchestra musicians to explore the theme of “Music and Story.”

Tonight, international best-selling author Jane Hamilton (her award-winning “The Book of Ruth” was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club) will share the story behind Brahms’ “G-major Sextet,” in which the composer used both rhythm and musical notation to evoke the name of Agathe von Siebold, a woman he had a crush on at the time. Also on the program: critics describe guest soprano Stacey Tappan as “sexy and witty.” She’s showcased in the multi-layered “Tenebrae” by Grammy Award-winning, Argentinian-born superstar composer Osvaldo Golijov.

Next month’s hot ticket on April 15 features one of my favorite local authors, Mona Simpson (long-lost sister of Steve Jobs), whose 2011 novel, “My Hollywood,” centers on a composer who lives on the Westside. She’ll share insights about two works with a literary connection: Leo Janáek’s “String Quartet No. 1,” inspired by Tolstoy’s novella “The Kreutzer Sonata,” which in turn took its inspiration from Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” violin sonata.

Don’t miss it. Tickets and info here: laco.org, (213) 622-7001 or at the Broad Stage box office on concert nights.

 

Must see

 

My plans include a visit to Ruth Bachofner Gallery at Bergamot Arts Station (seeing the Expo Line grow where Track 16 and Robert Berman Galleries used to be) to view the newest works by artists Robert Kingston and Virginia Katz.

Kingston’s work is deeply layered and intuitive, a kind of dreamy abstract atmospheric impressionism. (There’s a new school of art for you!) I’ve followed his progress for a long time and these new paintings continue an exploration of his personal process, resulting in images pleasingly mysterious to the eye.

Katz takes a different tack. She’s created a wall-sized mosaic, composed of paper-based items collected over 8 years of travels, from such mundane items as receipts and coffee warmers, to travel mementos and advertisements. She’s cut each of these into 2-centimeter square “tiles” attached to 22-inch by 30-inch sheets of paper and arranged them into an 11-foot installation. The tiles form a massive swirling, Gaudi-like wall mosaic redolent with meaning. This is one in a series of exhibitions featuring her map-based pieces, which will continue in June.

On view through April 13, Ruth Bachofner Gallery is in Building G2 at Bergamot, just past Santa Monica Museum of Art. More info here: ruthbachofnergallery.com.

 

Theatre tech

 

Connected, if only by the thread of technology, are two plays I’ve seen this past week or so.

I’m in the throes of deciding whether to link all my electronic devices by joining the Apple universe. This show may influence my decision.

Accomplishing the seemingly impossible, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is the tale of a theatre artist and tech geek who’s been an Apple/Mac devotee since Apple was born. He’s also the guy who puts Apple’s feet to the fire and demands they accept corporate responsibility, a situation similar to what the playwright himself faces.

Mike Daisey, the performance artist who created this theatrical monologue (an amazing feat to do this for 90 minutes straight), got into hot water over some fabrications in his mostly-true story of going to China, posing as an American businessman, and getting inside the secretive Foxconn mega-factory where Apple’s and half the world’s electronics are manufactured. Brutal working conditions and a high rate of suicide were exposed, receiving worldwide media attention after being broadcast on public radio’s “This American Life.”

In response, Apple made some moves toward transparency and humane factory reforms. And in response to his own lack of transparency and public embarrassment, Daisey reworked the piece, deleting the factual inaccuracies and uploading the script to the Internet for anyone to download and perform via an open license. More than 40 productions worldwide have followed.

To boil it down to a single theme, Jobs’ love of design takes no account of the sacrifices made to accomplish it.

At Theatre Asylum in Hollywood, in the capable hands of actor Alex Lyras, the L.A. premiere is handled both dramatically and with humor amid the documentary storytelling. Robert McCaskill’s direction makes the 90 minutes fly by, with lots of screen imagery, including a wonderful opening film montage highlighting the counterpoints of the story: the single-mindedness of Jobs and the helplessness of the factory workers in China.

Lyras speaks as Daisey, and makes the words his own. This is a very tight performance; the occasional stumble makes it feel even more natural. We’re made to understand Jobs’ passion for the design of his product and his unstoppable drive in pursuing his vision. At the end we see a chilling and sad piece of footage from an interview with a gaunt and obviously ailing Jobs (he died of pancreatic cancer) still ducking the issue of design versus the sacrifices made to accomplish it.

I highly recommend this limited series of performances; Wednesday nights only through April 10 at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood. Call (800) 838-3006 for more information.

More morally gray is “Sexsting,” the tale of an FBI agent tasked with tracking child predators, and a man who starts appearing in online chat forums pretending to be a young boy. The FBI agent is pretending to be a young girl.

Based on true events, playwright Doris Baizley collaborated with Oakland criminal defense attorney Susan Raffanti, thanks to the Guthrie Theatre’s “Two Headed Challenge,” a play development grant which asked playwrights to pair up with non-theatrical people to create a new work. This play won the 2004 challenge.

Starring Gregory Itzin and JD Cullen and staged simply but effectively by Jim Holmes, the Katselas Theatre Company production runs at the Skylight Theatre Complex in the Los Feliz area through March 31. For more information, visit katselastheatre.com.

 

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.

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