Installation view of "Ai Weiwei: Life Cycle," September 28, 2018–March 3, 2019, at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles. Courtesy the artist and Marciano Art Foundation.Photo by Joshua White/

By Sarah A. Spitz


SHINE, Santa Monica’s inspirational true story-telling series, is taking its final bow. Produced for six years by Isabel Storey, most recently in partnership with Santa Monica Rep and UCLArts and Healing, the final show’s theme is “Last Call,” stories about what people did when it was their last chance.

“The Last Call” takes place at 8 p.m. on January 26 at Miles Memorial Playhouse, featuring live music and host Deana Baron presenting storytellers Rahla Kahn, Annie Korzen, Sheila Raznick, Michael Shutt, Jorge Sciupac and Anna Spyrou.

Isabel grew SHINE from humble origins—I first saw it at the somewhat rickety YWCA—into a far more professional production, with sound, lighting and a strong lineup of story tellers.

Isabel tells me that she’s making room in her life to do other things, “including writing a musical, running for political office,” (she’s running on the Progressive Slate to become a delegate to California’s Democratic Party), and spending more time with her family. SHINE will live on in online videos (“Shine Storytelling” on YouTube) and perhaps even the occasional live performance. Fortunately, SHINE is much respected at The Miles Playhouse and may return for future “Fireside at the Miles” programs.

Bid a fond farewell. Tickets and information are here:


When I was offered my job at KCRW back in the 1980s, the offer was made over a table at Gilliland’s, the eponymous restaurant on Main Street, which has since seen a few restaurants come and go in its place (it’s now Little Prince).

Geraldine (Geri) Gilliland opened other Main Street restaurants, including the much-loved Lula Cocina and Finn McCool’s, built from scratch by Geri, who imported the actual bar from her home country, Ireland. Geri has an intensely loyal staff, many of whom have been with her for decades.

Over the years Geri created Rancho Chiquita, her home and gorgeous event space, in the canyons of Malibu. She also started Chiquita’s Friends (, rescuing beagles, senior and injured dogs who need major medical help.

Just as construction work was completed at her animal sanctuary in Agoura Hills, the devastating Woolsey wildfire destroyed it. Fortunately, the goats, peacocks, bunnies, dogs, cats were all evacuated to safety and are living in another rescue.

Geri writes, “In addition to the immense financial, emotional and physical shock of this loss and the lasting, irrevocable damage it created, events like this force one to reevaluate life and inevitably remind one just how precious everything is, including time.”

Her life’s calling now is saving animals.

And that means letting go: in this case it’s the building and the business of Finn McCool’s. Ever cognizant of her loyal employees, she says she’s found a great new operator, who will honor the building’s history and provide the best chance to succeed for her staff. She says the new owner will bring much-needed vibrancy to that corner of Main St. and the Ocean Park neighborhood.

Change isn’t easy but Geri’s cause is noble. Lula is still going strong and 100% of sales of her cookbook, “The Lula Cocina Cookbook—Favorite Recipes from Mexico to Malibu” go to help save animals in Southern California. Stop in for a margarita and pick up a copy.


Wheeler (Ian Barford) is a piece of work. He’s the lead character in Tracy Letts’ new play, “Linda Vista,” named for the corporate housing complex in San Diego that Wheeler moves into after a challenging divorce.

Give him something good and he’ll screw it up. He and his ex are still battling over his terrible relationship with his kid, he pretends he’s not hitting on women in bars when that is obviously what he is doing, even though he’s turned 50 and has a bad hip. He works as a camera repairman, he’s kind of grungy and decidedly opinionated, sharing those opinions widely, whether solicited or not.

But there’s something in him that could possibly be redeemable, even if he totally messes up the best thing that has ever happened to him and even as he resists the urge to become a better man by doing the precisely the wrong thing.

I won’t reveal plot points but for a play that lasts 2 hours and 45 minutes, it felt much shorter. That’s because the writing and performances are absolutely topnotch.

This Steppenwolf production is on stage through February 17 at the Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center downtown and is well worth your time. More information here:


I finally made it to the new-ish private museum, The Marciano Art Foundation in the Hancock Park area, housed in a stunning old Masonic temple, where sadly, a gorgeous original mosaic by Millard Sheets is hidden behind a gallery wall, making it impossible to see this masterpiece in all its grandeur.

But I went expressly to see the Ai Weiwei Life Cycle exhibition, the first institutional show of his work in L.A. and it is so impressive. An enormous bamboo boat, woven using traditional kite making techniques, represents the inflatable rafts that refugees pile into to escape to Europe, and it carries figures whose faces are patterned after animals of the Chinese zodiac.

Suspended above are fantastical, mythic creatures crafted from bamboo and white silk…some of which were originally made for a White Sale at Bon Marche in Paris. Ai Weiwei is renowned for his conceptual installations, which create a dialogue between the contemporary world and traditional Chinese modes of thought and techniques.

It’s free but you must reserve tickets; it will be on view until March 3, along with the Marciano’s collections including Yayoi Kusama’s red polka dot tulip room installation.

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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1 Comment

  1. Thanks so much Sarah, for the shout-out to SHINE Storytelling. I feel privileged to have produced this show for 6 years, the first two with co-founder Jen Bloom.

    We’ve presented some 500 inspiring true stories over the years at SHINE. I feel enriched as a human being for having heard them – as do our audiences.

    I look forward to spreading these humane values in my writing and, if elected, as an Assembly Delegate.

    For anyone who is a registered Democrat in the Westside’s Assembly District 50 (including all of Santa Monica), please come out to vote for me and the Progressive Slate this Sunday, 1/27 from 10am-1pm at Santa Monica College, Humanities and Social Sciences Building. Thank you!

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