Best of OC

Best Of 2007

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best New Theater Troupe
The Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble

This Santa Ana troupe is unabashedly political, talented and eager to look under rocks most people would prefer untouched, as proven by its inaugural production last year of The Mexican O.C.Culled from interviews with longtime OC residents, the piece was (and is) a triumphant blend of agitprop and studious oral history, anuncompromising examination of some of the more unsavory examples of the prejudice toward migrants that has existed in this county since long before Proposition 187 and amnesty marches. Most recently, the troupe staged 9ine Digits Away From My Dream,another oral-history project about undocumented students in the United States seeking college degrees.

313 N. Birch St., Santa Ana, 92701
MAP
714-543-0095
Best Actor

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

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 hardand 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.

Best Album of the Past 12 Months

Anaheim quartet the WillowzRichie James Follin (vocals/guitar), Loren Humphrey (drums), Jessica Reynoza (bass/vocals) and Aric Bohn (guitar/vocals)formed in 2002 and shortly thereafter had a couple of their tunes on the soundtrack to director Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. Rolling Stone and Spin are on their jock, too, but don't hold that against the Willowz. Heady accomplishments and kudos for such a young band, but the Willowz haven't let that inflate their egos or force them to bland out. Instead, they've rampaged back with Chautauqua (Dim Mak), a brash refinement of the slashing, tuneful garage rock of 2004's Are Coming and 2005's Talk in Circles. The Willowz understandably draw a lot of White Stripes comparisons: Both groups embrace rock's pre-Summer of Love innocence and bare-bones raucousness while showing respect for its blues and R&B progenitors. Follin's vocals resemble Jack White's, but the former's are even higher and more dynamic than the ex-Detroit star's; that could be down to the Willowz's habit of having Reynoza sing in unison with or slightly behind Follin's lines. Together, they cohere into that sexy snarl Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema mastered so well in Royal Trux. Thankfully, Humphrey is a better drummer than Meg White. In their earlier days, the Willowz busted a lot of familiar garage-rock moves, but did so with brash panache. The Willowz retain vestigial traces of that m.o., but they've clearly progressed, and in the process, they've positioned themselves as a unit destined to have a long, fruitful careerespecially if Michel Gondry keeps making movies.

Best Art Gallery for People Who Hate Art Galleries

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. Thick, thunderous and thwift, Hirax's music pummels and roils with apocalyptic intensity. Guitar solos scald and ululate like banshees, the bass is a perpetual blue-whale belch, the drums maniacally gallop and tattoo your ears like punch presses, and the vocals sound like the hoarse shouts of AC/DC's Bon Scott, if he'd eaten more raw meat during his tragically short, loud life. In this style of music, nearly every song strives to be a sonic facsimile of Armageddon. Hirax's versions of End Times just happen to be more convincing than most bands'. What's more, they record for Black Devil Records. Mercy!

Best DIY Theater Program

Headed by brothers Alex and Rick Golson with David Scaglione and Cynthia Corley for more years than can actually be counted on two hands, all you need to do is simply plunk down the requisite unit fee, take the class and become totally immersed in the wonderful, back-breaking world of theater. Build a set with your bare hands and scavenged wood (plus a power tool or two)! Hang and gel lighting instruments! Direct a playyour choice! Edit sound! Learn how to operate a light or sound board! Costume actors in colorful retro clothing! Re-use props that have been part of hundreds of productions! Be privy to the myriad uses of flat black paint! Intimately understand the intricacies of running a snack bar! The Golsons and co. maintain just enough control to make things happen, but they allow their students to pass or fail on their own terms. Take the class enough times, and you'll know all you need to know to run a theater (Hunger Artists and Rude Guerrilla got their starts there).

2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, 92626-5563
MAP
714-432-5880
Best Dominatrix-Turned-Comedian

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 Local Rock Band

Long Beach's Elvin Estela is moderately famous for being Nobodythe nom de musique under which he's released four albums (and a remix collection) of celestial soul-jazz-inflected hip-hop and honey-filtered psych pop. And now Estela has added yet another facet to his bejeweled musical output: Blank Blue. A collaboration between Estela and fellow Fingerprints Records employee and vocalist Niki Randa (along with a loose cast of friends including drummer Andres Renteria), Blank Blue expand Nobody's exploration of the underground '60s psychedelia of bands in which electronic experimentation factored as heavily as baroque melody. Blank Blue are still in their early developmental stages, but the songs they've finished so far possess a dreamy, baroque lushnessand a subtle funkiness. So, what's Blank Blue's debut going to sound like? "So far, every song is pretty distinct from one another," Estela says. "Some are really slow and murky, some are bright and beat-heavy. My friend Bill said it sounds like a sizzling sun. That made me happy. . . . It's the juxtaposition that keeps me going."

Best Mainstream/Multiplex Movie Theater
AMC Theatres 30 at the Block

Thirty screens, and not a one of them bad, though the four main houses are clearly superior to the rest (and most others). Ample electronic ticketing kiosks with very little wait time, even when there's a huge line at the main box office. Location, location and locationplenty of great eats in the surrounding area, and it isn't difficult to sneak in food. What puts the Block over the top against other multiplexes is the way it screens all the new releases at midnight on Thursday, and we're not just talking Spider-Man 3or Transformers. No, everything is fair game, from kiddie movies such as Surf's Up to almost-direct-to-DVD fare such as Slow Burn or the less-than-epic Mormon sequel The Work and the Glory III. At times, you may very well be the only person in the theater for such openings, but that hasn't discouraged the good AMC people from keeping it up every week. For those who want to see a movie first, but either have to be at the office on a Friday morningor have trouble getting up for the first showthis is a godsend.

20 City Blvd. W., Orange, 92868
MAP
714-769-4288
Best Music Festival

It's in the desert of Indio, but, nevertheless, Coachella has to win this category. Despite profound and manifold flaws, Coachella is the Taj Mahal of music festivals in Southern California. If you can tolerate nearly constant clusterfuck conditions; infernal heat; long waits for everything; and the chronic reek of horse manure, cigarette smoke, human b.o. and, uh, chronic, then Coachella's rewards will resonate with you for years. The organizers deliver strong, diverse lineups, especially for an event of this magnitude, with an enticing mix of mega-stars, cult favorites and promising newcomers. Even picky bastards can find plenty to like in any given hour during Coachella's three days of stimuli overload. Plus, the sound quality is generally very good for an outdoor venue. And if the music on the five stages ain't pushing your buttons, you can partake of the clever, eco-friendly visual-arts exhibits scattered around Empire Polo Field; sample overpriced cuisine of several ethnicities; engage in scintillating badinage with your fellow festival-goers; flirt and ogle; and take awesome photos for your MySpace/Facebook profiles. Coachella is one of those rare entertainments where you're likely to have the best and worst experiences of your lifeseveral times over.

Best Non-Theatrical Theater Company
The Maverick Theater

Maybe it's the drunken midnight karaoke on Saturdays, or the slinky femmes fatales gyrating to James Bond theme songs, or some fat fuck in a red suit squaring off with green Martians, or Stalag 17or A Few Good Men, or the unashamedly fan's-eye musical homage to Elvis, The King.Or maybe it's all of them. But the Maverick Theater in downtown Fullerton is the most un-theater theater in the county, trafficking in film and multimedia as much as Shakespeare and Neil Simon. Founder Brian Newell has opened up his two spacesincluding his 1920s-speakeasy venueto everyone and everything, from committed thespians and iconic light and set designers (hello, Jim Book!) to standup comedians and even the Fullerton Music Festival in September. If theaters want to remain relevant in an age of iPhones and high-def this and that, more should look at the model Newell and co. are building.

110 E. Walnut, Fullerton, 92832
MAP
714-526-7070
Best OC Playwright No Longer Living in OC

Multiple winner of various OC Weekly awards and accolades, Adams has turned her back on California for the greener artistic pastures of the Big Apple. If her blogs are any indication, she has hit the Disneyfied Times Square concrete running: She attends numerous readings and plays; got a cool rejection letter from South Coast Repertory; has gone through the process of applying to New Dramatists; and has taken classes with playwrights as diverse as SCR-produced Christopher Shinn, Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel and avant-gardist Mac Wellman. She has also just started a new trilogy of plays. You can read about the process of an artist in development by making her your MySpace friend.

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Best New Theater Troupe: The Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble

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