I use public transit in every city I’ve ever visited but seriously never expected to ride the rails around Los Angeles. I was incredibly excited to hop aboard the Expo Line on Sunday (free!) as it opened to the public, at the Jefferson/La Cienega boulevards station.
Except for the rude person who left garbage tucked between my seat and the window, the strangers near me on the train were kind enough to tell me that the sights I was gushing about were West Angeles Church (stunning stained glass), St. John’s Cathedral, and the rose garden at the Natural History Museum — places I’ve never encountered in my drives through our sprawling metropolis.
Former New York Times columnist Frank Rich told me he always took the New York subway with his kids, both for the convenience and the communal cultural experience. Although various Metro lines have been up and running for a while, they were always too far away to use. I like that much of the Expo line runs above ground and I enjoyed hearing people talk about their communities.
Now I’ll take Expo to the theatre and restaurant district in downtown L.A., to Boyle Heights to see Mariachi Plaza and my pal David Kipen’s nonprofit lending library/bookstore, Libros Schmibros (maybe even Caine’s Arcade — thanks YouTube!) and much more. A whole new world of L.A. culture has just opened up for me; I’ll be first in line when Expo reaches Santa Monica in a few years.
Speaking of transit, The Huntington Library focuses on railroads this month. On Monday at 7 p.m., Richard Orsi, author of “Sunset Limited,” lectures about the legacy of western railroads. Curator Peter Blodgett offers a three-part series, talking and taking you through the exhibition, “Visions of Empire: The Quest for A Railroad Across America, 1840-1880,” on May 10, 17 and 24 at 10 a.m.
A pre-school series “Ticket to Travel” — May 9, 16, 23 and 30 from 10 a.m. to noon — brings the young’uns into the collections and gardens for art projects and more. And after school on May 23, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., “All Aboard” invites students ages 5 to 7 to journey back to the days of steam engines and railroad travel with stories, art activities, and a visit to “Visions of Empire.” Tickets and details at www.huntington.org.
Music and memories
Last week, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” opened at The Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre inside the Geffen Playhouse. Based on a book written by concert pianist and radio host Mona Golabek, it’s about her mother’s experience as a “Kindertransport” child, sent from Europe to England for safekeeping by willing British strangers until World War II ended.
Lisa Jura was a Viennese teenager when her parents made a “Sophie’s Choice” decision about which of their daughters to send away. Lisa was a promising musician whose dream was to be a concert pianist and whose mother taught her to play, just as she went on to teach her own daughter, Mona. Since she had the likeliest chance of succeeding with her talent, she was chosen.
This one-woman show is quite moving. Golabek plays a Steinway grand piano throughout the performance, giant ornate frames become screens for projections of family portraits and images of horrors committed by the Nazis. Though she was in England, there was still the London Blitzkrieg to get through. Despite the hardships, it’s a triumphant tale.
Golabek is a better pianist than actress but her story is real, personal, touching (I readily admit to shedding tears) and the music is beautiful. Directed by Hershey Felder, who has portrayed some of the greatest American composers in staged shows of his own, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” had to be extended before it opened. You have until June 24 to see it — www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Teaching the younger generation
Introduce children to classical music at a young age and they’ll appreciate it for a lifetime. Demystify and make it relate and you may even inspire a young composer like Mozart, who was writing music by age 5.
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra delivers a play date not to be missed. On Sunday, May 6, “Mozart and Me” features music by 5-year-old Mozart with performances by 10-year-old Colburn School piano prodigy Ray Ushikubo. An “instrument petting zoo” will let kids handle and play brass, woodwind and string instrument with help from students at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, plus members of the L.A. Children’s Chorus will demonstrate basic vocal techniques and invite children to participate in exercises from LACC’s “First Experiences in Singing” classes for the youngest singers.
The hands-on experience starts at 1 p.m., and the concert of Mozart’s music, interspersed with lively letters from the wunderkind (enacted by actor Dan Selon) to his father, begins at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $12 to $20, prices well worth the trip to The Alex Theatre in Glendale, Calif., especially for such a fun music immersion — laco.org.
Lastly, photographer Inga Ornelas has been documenting The Westside Produce Exchange’s monthly sharing of home grown produce and homemade baked and preserved goods, which takes place at The Learning Garden. On Sunday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Santa Monica College’s Food Justice Project and Café Bolívar & Gallery (1741 Ocean Park Blvd.) present “Abundancia! A Vision of Plenitude,” honoring SMC’s Dana Morgan (Organic Learning Garden), David King (Seed Library of Los Angeles) and Naomi Curland, who created the Westside Produce Exchange. There’ll be live music, organic tapas, beautiful photos and good vibes all around. Find Westside Produce Exchange on Facebook or go to www.cafebolivar.com/
Sarah 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.