Westside Story, Cartier-Bresson and Black Angels

I've had the good fortune to experience so many cultural happenings this week that I'm quite behind on my commentary about them all. Just thought I'd use this opportunity to provide a quick roundup of three arts events that anyone in SF with a bit of cash to spend and some time on their hands should make a bee-line for:1. Westside Story at the Orpheum Theatre: The new Broadway tour of the Bernstein classic is worth seeing simply as a reminder of the musical's superiority to almost any contemporary counterpart. Almost every song is a hit. The … [Read more...]

Beowulf and the Perfect Martini

I like seeing performances in languages I barely understand or don't understand at all.This feeling came back to me a couple of nights ago when I was in Berkeley seeing a great interpreter of Anglo-Saxon stories and music, Benjamin Bagby, perform Beowulf in the  old English in which the epic poem was originally set down in writing centuries ago.Supertitles are obviously helpful. But, just as with some of the best theatrical productions I've experienced in my time in Russian, German and a variety of Indian tongues that didn't provide … [Read more...]

One Man Down

The all-male, a cappella vocal ensemble Clerestory was one man down for last Saturday's concert in Berkeley. The ensemble usually has nine members. That night, thanks to some last-minute redistribution of parts and the wise decision to move one piece forward in the program and cut another entirely, the men of Clerestory acquitted themselves exceedingly well with eight. (Countertenor Jesse Antin, a key member of the group, had suffered a family bereavement and had to leave town at short notice.)Regardless of this fact, the event was to my mind a … [Read more...]

Tragic Bust, I mean Magic Bus

I wish I had enjoyed my tour on Saturday afternoon on The Magic Bus more than I did. But I didn't. The experience left me feeling deflated and slightly nauseous."Magic Bus?" said the friend who joined me for the 90 minute ride through time and space back to 1960s San Francisco organized by the normally innovative site-specific theater company, Antenna Theater. "Tragic Bust, more like."This is perhaps overstating things a bit. The conceit is a marvelous one, at least. What better way to explore a time in this country's history when groups … [Read more...]

The (Not So) Great Game

Berkeley Repertory Theatre's presentation of The Great Game: Afghanistan, a cycle of plays about the war in Afghanistan and its historical and political roots written by 12 playwrights and commissioned by the UK's Tricycle Theatre, is an ambitious undertaking to say the least. Directed by Nicholas Kent and Indhu Rubasingham, the plays are organized into three parts and can be viewed on separate evenings, or, as was the case on Friday when I attended, a full-on, all-day marathon with breaks for lunch and dinner.The cycle is compelling enough to … [Read more...]

Guilty Pleasure

It was a tough decision to make -- and stick to. The Giants were heating up AT&T Park and inching ever closer to victory (for the first time, I am told, in years); The Alonzo King Lines Ballet was packing them in for its fall season at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. There were all manner of rehearsals, performances and late-night art exhibitions I could have been at last night.And what did this culture critic do? I went to see a documentary about singing puppets.Sing! The Music of Sesame Street is a sometimes touching and often hilarious … [Read more...]

Mistaken Identity

I'm teaching a class this semester on 21st century composers and their music at UC Berkeley. The class is being run under the auspices of the Osher Learning for Life Institute (OLLI), an organization which specializes in offering educational courses on a wide range of subjects to older members of the community, and the Berkeley Symphony, which recently appointed me as its resident dramaturg.My class is full of interesting characters. One of the most colorful is an energetic 80-year old woman from South America whom I shall call Valerie.Valerie … [Read more...]

Placido Domingo Throws A Curveball

Baseball was clearly in the air at San Francisco Opera yesterday afternoon. Besides the fact that a few of the journalists present at the press briefing with Placido Domingo had just come from the ballpark where, among other things, they had heard the actress Zooey Deschanel sing "God Bless America," there seemed little real reason for that to be the case.Nevertheless, sports analogies flew backwards and forwards at the briefing like we were watching a commentary from the ballpark rather than listening to one of the world's greatest living … [Read more...]

Follow-up to Farhad Manjoo’s blog post. I mean article.

The journalist Farhad Manjoo (one of my favorite commentators on new media and technology in general) has written a terrific piece in Slate about how the line between blog posts and articles is beginning to blur."The design shifts--with blogs looking more like magazines, and magazines looking more like blogs--aren't just superficial. These changes in presentation are collapsing all distinctions between "blog posts" and "articles," writes Manjoo. "What's more, the lines are blurring--blog posts are looking more like articles, and articles are … [Read more...]

Bad Choir Jokes and Extended Absence Greeting

I am just about to go off the grid for a few days and am in a festive mood. So I thought I would regale my readers with some terrible jokes about choirs that I dug up on a whim while procrastinating on the Internet recently. I'll be back in the blogging saddle next week sometime. For now, read these and be happy you're not a chorister. Or if you are, be happy you have a sense of humor about it...Q: Dad, why do the singers rock left and right while performing on stage?A: Because, son, it is more difficult to hit a moving target.Q: How many altos … [Read more...]

Denmark’s A Prison. Literally.

By far the best thing about attending We Players' production of Hamlet is the location. I am not sure how the small, non-profit theatre company managed to swing the insane logistics involved in undertaking such a project. But We is somehow pulling off a walk-through production of Shakespeare's tragedy on The Rock through November 21st.The use of the space is remarkable. The opening ghost scene takes place on the ramparts of the main block, with the audience watching from far below as Hamlet and his cohorts scamper about trying desperately to … [Read more...]

Not Enough Distance

One of the key reasons that directors and producers choose to stage classic dramas written in a past era is for their function as prisms through which we can view the issues and challenges of our own time. Audiences in Shakespeare's day were, in addition to having a rollicking good time, encouraged to see the parallels between, say, the trials of Henry IV and the tumultuous political and religious power tactics going on at the upper echelons of their country at that time.I was thinking about this as I watched Mark Jackson's mostly riveting … [Read more...]