Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The Chance Theater's 2009 season began with a show called Jesus Hates Me, set at the Blood of the Lamb miniature-golf course, and it'll end with the perennial alternative-Christmas show The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. In between, there was the premiere of a new musical, a revival of that evergreen hippie spectacle Hair and a production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. That's variety, folks, and it's the scope of the Chance's programming that has helped elevate this Anaheim Hills company into the vanguard of Orange County's storefront-theater scene. Whether tackling highly complicated musicals such as the Stephen Sondheim magnum opus Sunday In the Park With George, staging intense contemporary plays such as David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole, or working with Holocaust survivors and students at a New York City high school near Ground Zero, you can always count on the Chance to mix it up. Which almost helps us forgive their staging of the occasional Neil Simon play.
This bong-water-addled send-up of the notoriously bad anti-marijuana propaganda film was a complete ensemble effort, so singling out one actor in the highly talented cast might seem suspect. But Mike Martin, as Reefer Madness's narrator and oh-so-guilty conscience, was so funny and commanding that he nearly walked off with the show. Whether brandishing an enormous joint over his head as if he were Zeus threatening to fire lighting bolts down from Mount Olympus or breaking the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience, Martin injected an air of smiling menace that truly displayed that sometimes Satan does come as a man of peace.
Another ensemble effort, and another example of one cast member shining so brightly she nearly eclipsed the rest of the cast. Many an actress salivates over the chance to play Noises Off's blond, myopic, dumb-as-a-post bombshell. Jennifer Lyon looked the part, and she certainly possessed a deer-in-the-headlights demeanor. But what she accomplished with this fairly stock, if fun, character, was truly outstanding, transforming simple-minded Brooke into a ravishingly executed full-dimensional character that, contrary to everything that seemed to be happening onstage, may have been the smartest one in this wild farce. Many actresses have played this role and generated plenty of laughs, but few have ever understood, as Lyon did, that there can be far more to Brooke than meets the eye.
Since 1983, Santa Ana's St. Joseph Ballet Academy has been turning its mostly underprivileged 400 annual enrollees—ages 8 through high school—on to dance. Many have gone on to pursue careers in the highly competitive field. But less publicized are the academy's services that have nothing to do with ballon, cabrioles or èpaulement. Free academic help, including college-prep testing, is offered to all students, who arrive each afternoon at 3:30, after their regular classes. As a result, since 2005, every St. Joseph student has not only graduated from local high schools, but has also moved on to college coursework. California Institute of the Arts, Northern Arizona University and UCLA are among the institutions that this fall welcomed freshmen who had been members of the St. Joseph class of '09. Most had received academic scholarships, with Jessica Camacho leading the pack with her full-ride to Wellesley. Considering that many St. Joseph students come from Latino households in which parents work multiple jobs and do not have the time to help with homework, the feat is even more amazing. Perhaps the surrounding Santa Ana Unified School District, which has long struggled to raise its graduation rates, could learn something from St. Joseph. Surely the instructors would throw in a free pas de deux.
Greater California took almost five years between sophomore release Somber Wurlitzer and this year's All the Colors, and the result was a lush record that paid tribute to the best of power-pop and Byrds-y psychedelic rock, all while establishing its own distinct voice. Produced by Long Beach music mainstay Ikey Owens (Free Moral Agents bandleader/keyboard player for the Mars Volta), the album's a colorful celebration of '70s nostalgia that's represented even on the CD itself, which is designed to resemble a View-Master reel. Warm, summery tracks such as "All the Colors" and "Five Senses"—buoyed by intricate instrumentation that includes vibraphones, trumpets and a Hammond organ—will set up residence in your brain, and you'll welcome the company.
A gallery is as much a work of art as the pieces it displays, and the Hibbleton Gallery's glass and black-trimmed storefront, red door, blond-wood flooring, and clean white walls are a rigorous contrast to the stimulating underground art it exhibits. Swing by to see a show, attend poetry readings, or stop in for local music or movie nights, and you'll see that the work is chosen with real thought and a precise sense of aesthetics by curator Jesse La Tour. You'd be hard-pressed to find an Orange County gallery that's smarter than this year-old gem.