“Elephant Room” is currently playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
‘Elephant Room’ is currently playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I went to see “Elephant Room” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

It’s a magic show by three dorky conjurers, Daryl Hannah, Dennis Diamond and Louie Magic, who look and act like refugees from a public access TV show in the 1970s.

As stage entertainment my reaction is “meh.” But no less a conjuring superstar than Ricky Jay told me the genius of this framework is that it’s a parody of a magic show, created by three (real) magicians to deliver a fresh, original take on how to present a magic show.

While not amused by their act, I was amazed by some of their tricks, including two levitation scenes, an actual omelet cooked in a pan without a stove (it gets eaten, too) and slipping one body through another. I won’t reveal the surprise at the end, but there is one.

The program notes say that co-creator Geoff Sobelle is a theatre artist dedicated to the “sublime ridiculous.” I’d say the ridiculous has been achieved, not so much the sublime. But if magic’s your bag, enjoy this parody through Sept. 16 at the conveniently close Kirk Douglas Theatre. Details at www.centertheatregroup.org.


Indie films have a new home


Robert Redford’s Sundance Cinema takes over the former Sunset 5 theatre in West Hollywood next week. As befits the Sundance brand, the focus is on independent films.

“Beauty is Embarrassing,” a very up-close documentary on the multi-talented, potty-mouthed pop artist Wayne White, opens on Sept. 7.

I confess I never saw “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” so while I know it achieved cult status, I didn’t know that White was a three-time Emmy-winning designer, puppeteer and voice-over actor for the show.

Following a non-stop trajectory as a cartoonist/designer/animator/puppet maker for TV shows, he grew dissatisfied and was headed for a crash. After it happened, he came out the other side with a whole new career as a painter, albeit an ironic one.

He’s achieved iconic status for painting pithy phrases in giant bold-block letters on vintage landscape paintings, the kind you find in thrift stores. He paints oddball commentaries, like “I Blame LA” and naughtier notes that can’t be revealed in a family paper. They sell for many thousands of dollars.

The filmmaker is Neil Berkeley, who takes us from White’s childhood to present-day performance artist. His wife is the equally talented and renowned cartoonist Mimi Pond, who is featured alongside “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, and others, in interviews.

Berkeley’s a first-time filmmaker, he’s tackled an immense topic and has done a very good job of it. It could do with some trimming, but otherwise I was more than entertained and felt like I got a chance to learn about a chapter in pop culture history that I missed.

“Beauty is Embarrassing” opens Sept. 7 at the Sundance Sunset Cinema, www.sundancecinemas.com.


To the Arctic


Beat the summer heat in IMAX 3D as you take in the new film “To the Arctic,” by pioneering documentary producer/director Greg MacGillivray.

In 2010, MacGillivray joined an elite club of about 100 filmmakers whose films had earned more than $1 billion at the box office worldwide. MacGillivray was the first to do it with documentaries. A master of the format, MacGillivray is a prolific independent producer of giant screen films including “To Fly!” (1976), “Everest” (1998) and now “To The Arctic,” narrated by Meryl Streep.

This is no mere science documentary. We are privileged to see something that MacGillivray confirmed with wild animal specialists is entirely unique; a close up on the life of a polar bear.

Amazingly, a mother bear and her two cubs clearly understood that the film crew following them meant them no harm. We are brought face to face with these majestic animals whose habitat is disappearing daily as the ice in the Arctic Circle melts at much faster rates than predicted.

Sometimes nature tells the story for us. We witness the perils they face, the daily struggle to survive in one of Earth’s harshest climates, and share the kind of amazingly heartwarming story that defines family love no matter what the species. In 3D IMAX, you’re right there with them the whole time.

This is a masterful film from a master of the art. See it at the IMAX Theatre at California Science Center — www.californiasciencecenter.org/Imax/Features/Features.php


End of a trilogy


If a picture is worth a thousand words, “Samsara” speaks volumes without a word being uttered.

Opening on Aug. 31 at the Landmark Theatre at Westside Pavilion, “Samsara” reunites filmmakers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, and completes the film trilogy including “Baraka” and “Chronos” that bring photographic imagery and music together to create an unspoken narrative flow.

Samsara is a Sanskrit word that means “the ever turning wheel of life.” The film shows us the sacred, the profane, the beautiful, the ugly, the interconnectedness of people and planet, and leaves the interpretation to the viewer.

It took five years in 25 countries on five continents for “Samsara” to be filmed. See it in its original 70mm format at the Landmark to appreciate all the work that went into it — www.landmarktheatres.com. The filmmakers and composer Michael Stearns will appear in-person on Aug. 31 to answer questions from the audience.


Mix and match


Hart Pulse Dance Company’s MixMatch Dance Festival, celebrating its sixth year, is a local performance platform for choreographers and dancers to network and a showcase of dance styles for audiences to enjoy, including jazz, ballet, modern, contemporary, tap, belly, pole, hip hop, folk and more.

Three final performances take place this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd. Tickets are just $14, and parking’s free at the AT&T building just south of Wilshire Boulevard when you tell the attendant you’re going to the Miles. See the list of performances here: www.hartpulsedance.com.


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.


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