The Arts and Other Highfalutin' Stuff

Actors, troubadours, campfire singers, cowboy poets & purty pictures (Please don’t  shoot the piano player!)

Best Actor
Linda Gehringer
She's played the bad: the alcohol-guzzling hellion Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.She's played the good: the idealistic Helen Gahagan Douglas chopped into so much political mincemeat by an embryonic Tricky Dick in But Not for Me.But whether playing the whore or the saint, the accuser or accused, the victim or victimizer, Gehringer brings a grace, class and poise to her myriad characters that few actors can match. Gehringer, who lives in Laguna Beach, has been nominated for more OC Weekly Theater Awards than anyone, and she is one of the few two-time winners. She won in 1998 for Good as Newand in 2005 for perhaps her most stunning performance to date: SCR's Retreat From Moscow,in which she eloquently, acerbically and quite amusingly showed that even hectoring battle-axes are people, too. Oh, and consider this: Her great-uncle is Charlie Gehringer. Yes, that's right: Charlie Fucking Gehringer! You know? Major League Baseball Hall of Famer? Tried out for Ty Cobb? Suited up against Babe Ruth and alongside Hank Greenberg and Goose Goslin? Dominated the 1934 World Series in a losing effort? Probably could have found a cure for polio if he hadn't been so busy perfecting the sacrifice bunt?

Best Actor With an Asterisk
Jay Fraley
They may not get the living wages, the multigrain bagels or cases of Perrier like those privileged souls who perform on the county's few professional stages, but actors who exercise their craft on the county's storefront- and community-theater boards work just as hard—and some of them are just as talented. Case in point: Mr. Fraley. There's no other actor, union or otherwise, who's more versatile or watchable. The guy has created some of the most memorable performances in the history of Orange County's most continually interesting theater company, Rude Guerrilla. How versatile? He's played a gay Christ-like figure in Corpus Christi, and he's played Satan himself in The History of the Devil.But whether playing larger-than-life leading roles, Andy Warhol drag queens (Candy and Dorothy), psychotic medical experimenters (Cleansed),or leaders of ill-fated expeditions to the North Pole (Terra Nova),Fraley somehow manages to make all his characters achingly real. As sick, twisted, holy or profane as the role may be, Fraley imbues it with a convincing air of honesty, compassion and moral questioning.

Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.

Best Theatrical Institution
Hal Landon Jr.
Landon will always be associated with the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in South Coast Repertory's annual production of A Christmas Carol. He's played the guy for 27 straight years, and it's impossible to think of the show without Landon. But his non-Scrooge work at SCR proves Landon's great comic versatility. From small supporting parts (his poker-faced Piotr in Nothing Sacred and irascible Gravedigger in Hamlet) to leading roles (his unbelievably funny turn as cruelty incarnate in Play Strindberg), Landon is a master of subtlety and comic timing. The day he stops playing Scrooge will be a bummer; the day he stops acting will be a tragedy.

Best Dominatrix-Turned-Comedian
Norma Jean
Whether you're watching someone get kicked in the nuts or learn on national television that their spouse was having clown sex with obese circus midgets, other people's pain is universally entertaining. The sad reality is pain is funny. Humiliation is hilarious, and it's best when it's so funny it hurts. Costa Mesa resident and comedian Norma Jean Riddick is well-aware of these canons, and because of her BDSM background, she can cherry-pick from several egregious and provocative stories for her act. After a couple of failed marriages and enduring years of spousal abuse, the single mother unleashed her revenge on the male gender by becoming a professional dominatrix and whipping the undeserving pigs into submission. Although she gave up being a dominatrix, she's still a sadist onstage, so don't expect a safe word to protect your ego from her whip-like wit. Norma Jean regularly performs at venues in Pomona and Costa Mesa, and she plans a monthly show in Santa Ana. Through her company, Norma Jean Enterprises, she is currently pulling together a benefit show for Laura's House, a San Juan Capistrano shelter that helps female victims of domestic violence and their children.

Best Chance to See New Talent In Action
Directors Festival at Fullerton College
321 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton
At the end of every spring semester, Fullerton College sets aside four days for student and professional directors to tackle a diverse assortment of short plays. Limited to 50 minutes, a black box stage, a lighting instrument or two, and the director's imagination, the festival lets audiences see three or four plays a night for a few paltry bucks. Local critics and theater professionals critique the work and pick the finest to appear the fifth day in a Best of the Fest. All in all, it's a welcome bookend to the equally cool Playwrights Festival happening at the beginning of the semester.

Best Art Gallery for People Who Hate Art Galleries
Chuck Jones Gallery
131 W. Chapman Ave., Orange
(714) 516-9300
Cypress thrash-metal marauders Hirax have been inducing tinnitus and whiplash among their tenacious fans since 1984 (the whiplash results as much from the furious headbanging Hirax's music inspires as it does from watching the revolving-door membership of the band over the past 23 years). Led by one of the few African-Americans in the genre, vocalist Katon W. De Pena, Hirax follow in the bombastic, speed-demonic tradition of groups like Slayer, Metallica and Exodus. The current lineup includes De Pena, Lance Harrison (guitar), Glenn Rogers (guitar), Steve Harrison (bass) and Fabricio Ravelli (drums). By the time you reach the end of this piece, that lineup could be outdated.

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