A short story award, a theatrical duo burning down the house and a movie about the Dalai Lama. To paraphrase Raymond Carver this week is about some small, good things in our community’s cultural sphere.

First, congratulations to Santa Monica College Public Information Officer, Grace Singh Smith. She’s a gifted writer who recently received her MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Bennington Writing Seminars in Vermont.

Capping off that well-earned degree, she’s just been honored for her writing: The Tishman Review, a literary quarterly, presented her with a Special Mention as part of their 2017 Tillie Olsen Short Story Awards and published her short story “Oshini.” Read  it here: http://www.thetishmanreview.com (scroll to page 20).

Grace writes about her experiences growing up in India, and they lean slightly melancholy, highlighting issues of class, caste and in this story, refugees in her native country. But she doesn’t hit you over the head; these are subtle, gentle but illustrative pieces that reveal a great deal about society and culture in India.

Her non-fiction writing has also been published in Texas Review (“The Haircut”); if you’re a fan of literary writing, Grace Singh Smith is definitely someone whose career you should track. Congratulations!

 

DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA

Two very bruised human beings, who overcompensate for their personal failings by taking things out on themselves, meet in a rundown bar in the Bronx and have at each other. But there’s a happy ending…no, really!

“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” by “Moonlight” screenplay writer John Patrick Shanley, is onstage at Edgemar Center for the Arts, another vehicle for the theatrical duo, Tanna Frederick and Robert Standley—recently regaled for their superb turns in Edgemar’s “The Rainmaker”—to shine together once again. Their roles could not be more different from the characters in “The Rainmaker,” who were a buttoned-up farm girl and a slick, smooth-talking con man.

Reminding me of a dissolute Bruce Springsteen, Standley plays Danny, a brutally violent trucker who enters the bar with blood and bandages on his hands and a deep cut on his face. He drags his pitcher of beer and mug to the table next to listless and hopeless Roberta, a divorced mother of a teen, whose arm on the table supports her very heavy head and a nearly empty beer mug, as she stares out at nothing.

They strike up an initially confrontational conversation but manage to penetrate each other’s armor, ultimately revealing their worst secrets and propelling them toward a night that will surprise and transform both their lives.

This is emotionally raw material; if they hadn’t found one another, the damage these two suffer could easily destroy them, just as they could easily destroy each other. Danny’s on a trajectory to get himself killed with the irrepressible rage that erupts in violence any time he perceives himself to be challenged. And Roberta has committed such a taboo sin that she believes she can never be loved again or punished enough.

They’re both a little crazy – a lot crazy, really. But they somehow are able to break through, forgive each other and ultimately redeem themselves, through rapid fire dialogue, explosive emotional outbursts and truly trenchant, tender moments.

These are tour-de-force performances by two perfectly paired actors in a roller coaster ride of a play. See “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” through September 10 at Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main Street, Santa Monica. Call (310) 392-7327 for reservation or visit http://bit.ly/2qCaHej for tickets, only $25 with discounts for students and seniors.

 

THE LAST DALAI LAMA?

For thirty years, Mickey Lemle has been making movies about the exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist people, the 14th Dalai Lama. The occasion of His Holiness’s 80th birthday became the opportunity to create something resembling a spiritual will with the new film, “The Last Dalai Lama?”

We are granted an intimate view of the wide-ranging travels and encounters of the now 82-year-old monk, whose beatific countenance is the result of his lifelong practice. He shares simple wisdom, investigates the psychological and scientific dimensions of human emotion, and confronts the realities of age, in preparation for dying, and the ultimate challenge: China’s decision that it will name the next Dalai Lama, and his declaration that there will not be a 15th reincarnation.

For those who don’t know much about the Dalai Lama, this film will give you a good overview, historically, politically and philosophically. I especially fell in love with the sweet “home movies” of him as a child, playing. You can see the smiling boy in the future man and the laughter that still comes so easily to him nearly eight decades later.

In other scenes, he engages meaningfully with a grade school class that practices non-violent conflict resolution. And we watch as this much older man repeatedly gets on hands and knees to bow in reverent ritual, being aided by monks who help him rise again and again.

Composer Philip Glass created the music for the film and Lemle shoots him playing the organ at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York, as he discusses the Dalai Lama’s influence on his life. And in what is sure to be a head-turning moment for some, former president George W. Bush shows us his painting of the Dalai Lama and shares his impressions of the man.

“The Last Dalai Lama?” can be seen onscreen starting August 11 at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center. Tickets available now: https://www.laemmle.com/films/42681

 

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications. 

 

 

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