Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Kevin Litrow's 60 Watt Kid are one of the best bands from the OC/LB area who never reached household-name status. About six years ago, Litrow formed 60 Watt Kid as a side project to his main squeeze, the sometime-Santa Ana-based punk/dance/epileptic sound frenzy Dance Disaster Movement. Since then, 60 Watt Kid have evolved into Litrow's main project, and it's still a frenzy of sound—just not herky-jerky in the way Dance Disaster Movement was. The band—Litrow, Derek Thomas and Long Beach drummer Dylan Wood—make precise use of layers of dreamy, atmospheric vocals, looping guitar riffs, swirling reverb and song dynamics as an instrument—every moment their songs slowed down, sped up, or turned quiet or cacophonous was deliberately composed. The band's music has been called "intergalactic pop," and while it's true their songs make you feel like you're floating in space, they're definitely still melodic and danceable.
A former private eye, Winslow is a prolific writer, and with Savages, his fast-moving screenplay posing as a novel, it's easy to see why. You can whip through this Laguna Beach tale of love, pot and murder in just a few hours, and it's not hard to imagine Winslow wrote the thing in a day or so—with maybe a couple of caffeine breaks along the way. Once you get past the idiosyncratic introduction—the narrative temporarily bogs down when Winslow explains the etymology of a series of weird nicknames for his protagonists—the story steams along at breakneck speed. The fun begins when our heroes, an idealistic entrepreneur of high-grade marijuana and his ex-Navy SEAL partner (both of whom are in love with a disaffected, diminutive surfer chick), receive an e-mail from Mexico showing the decapitated heads of several dealers who refused to sell their business to the cartel. The book's title hints at a violent ending, but the twists along the way will keep you guessing.
The latest in Akashic Book's geographically specific crime noir series, Orange County Noir contains some of the most sublimely paced, suspenseful, often-hilarious crime writing to come out of this county. The book starts strong with "Bee Canyon," Susan Straight's mythical tale of a rock-throwing vagrant who haunts motorists in the foothills near Santa Ana. There's an amusing story of a theme-park worker dismissed for stalking a young girl who then puts his gumshoe skills to work for the supervisor who fired him. The job: spying on the ex-boss' cheating wife. Or, at least, that's the narrator's story, and he's sticking to it. Like any good noir collection, the book is heavy with double and triple crosses involving crooked judges; dirty cops; con artists; washed-up, paranoid rock stars; and, of course, jazz musicians. For local readers, the book is even more of a hoot, thanks to all the timely hooks and authentic details—OC Weekly even makes a cameo.
Surely you've encountered a film that, within the first 10 minutes, has made you think, "Jeepers, this would be so much better if I were drunk." (You haven't experienced the full potential of Twilight until you've watched it while double-fisting.) At UltraStar's 14-screen theater tucked in the back of the GardenWalk retail-and-entertainment complex near the Disneyland Resort, you can turn that wish into a reality. The cinema includes a lounge that serves beer and wine and screenings that are 21-and-over. That's right: No crying kids while you get your drink on in the theater's comfy leather recliners. You can also relax between flicks in the lounge, which offers board games that can be great icebreakers on frosty first dates. If you slide in there around 9:30 p.m., you can snuggle up to your date before a faint glimpse of the Disneyland fireworks through the panoramic windows. Until August, the theater space had been operated as CinemaFusion by Newport Beach-based Sanborn Theatres, but that location went bust. UltraStar, a San Diego-based chain with 131 screens in Arizona and Southern California, came to the rescue, bringing with it Pure Digital Cinema technology, "the most-advanced motion-picture-projection technology available." On the way are D-BOX motion seats that use codes specifically programmed for each film to synchronize seat movement with onscreen action, "creating an immersive moviegoing experience." Whoa, a couple of brews, a box of Mike and Ikes, and a shaky chair—what more could you possibly want? UltraStar is also out to attract more than drinkers, with discount days (movies cost $6 all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays), Parent Movie Morning, Baby's Night Out, Kidtoon films and more. The theater is also the site of the inaugural Anaheim International Film Festival (running Oct. 13 to 17).
While a previous generation of Orange Countians had Rock 'n' Rollen Stewart (a.k.a. the guy in the rainbow wig holding a sign reading, "John 3:16"), our most prominent folk-evangelical statement is that one cargo container in a group parked in a lot on the side of the 55 freeway south, between the Edinger and Warner avenues, exits. You've seen it before: The banners draping the cargo container change throughout the year—Harvest Crusade, Crystal Cathedral events, Calvary Chapel happenings, or a simple "JESUS SAVES"—but the Christian outreach is always clear (although most commuters probably doubt the existence of the Almighty when they take the 55 North later in the afternoon).
Okay, so, no, this mounting of the ridiculously popular musical based on Mel Brooks' 1968 film that wowed them on Broadway and all over the country in a nationally touring production wasn't profound, meaningful, important or relevant. But while snooty theatrical purists—and even people who just really like really good musicals (which this one really isn't)—can roll their eyes all they want: Director Brian Newell and his sensationally talented cast and stellar production crew staged a frenetically entertaining ride. The energetic cast was spot-on from the leads and main supporting characters to the ensemble, and the production values were top-notch. Newell and his theater have staked a unique niche in Southern California for their screen-to-stage adaptations, many of which incorporate cinematic flourishes such as videos. This one was a straightforward production of a big-scale musical and showed that even conventional theater is well within the Maverick's wheelhouse.
Though she has been on the radar of the kind of people who keep track of these things for several years—she's had productions at major theaters such as NYC's Public Theater and Playwrights Horizons, as well as South Coast Repertory in 2007 with The Piano Teacher—it was this world premiere at SCR that established Cho's credentials as one of the most brilliant lights in new American drama. The tale about a brilliant linguist incapable of communicating with his wife, his hopelessly in-love personal assistant and the eccentric Eastern European salt-of-the-earth duo who are the last speakers of a dying language was lyrical, funny, heart-wrenching and eminently entertaining. SCR absolutely adores writers who use language as well as Cho, so as long as she doesn't get gobbled up by writing for the idiot box (even great playwrights have to pay the bills), her words should be quite familiar on the county's most-prestigious stage for years to come.
Primarily a film and TV actor—he is the teacher in Election who delivers the unforgettable line about a high-school beauty queen, "Her pussy gets so wet"—and quite a busy one at that, Harelik only appears in about one play per year. But he has graced South Coast Repertory's boards five times in the past 20 years, from Howard Korder's riveting Search and Destroy (1990) to his monumental turn as a megalomaniacal explorer in Korder's The Hollow Lands (2000) and the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac (2004). His take on Othman, the cagey Minister of Culture for the fictionalized Middle East nation of Aquaat in Korder's latest play, produced last spring, was far more understated and subdued than those roles, but equally effective. He brought an air of deep longing and intellectual frustration to a character who could easily have been portrayed as nothing more than a lying tyrant. Harelik, who is also a playwright (he's part of the creative team behind the Hank Williams Sr. homage Lost Highway, which played three years ago at the Laguna Playhouse) is a major talent, and any chance to see him on a local stage is reason enough to pony up for a ticket.
It's not just that Gable, one of the most-versatile performers in the Orange County storefront-theater scene, effectively pulled off her role in Wallace Shawn's frighteningly intense one-person show. It's that she was onstage in the first place. There aren't many actors who would even consider tackling the role of a person grappling with issues both horrifyingly public and intimately private set in the context of a 90-minute monologue that slithers through some truly twisted corridors of the human psyche. But Gable not only proved her fearlessness with the decision, but also demonstrated some brilliant talent. She made the impossibly smart words and complicated thought processes of Shawn's character seem real, imbuing the character with the fragility and unquenchable curiosity that are essential to making this script more than just a very-well-written rant about the grayest areas of human morality.
This is home to Orange County's lone classically based theater troupe, Shakespeare Orange County, which, as the name implies, is all about the Bard. So it's fitting that artistic director Thomas F. Bradac and his dedicated troupe of longtime company members and constant influx of talent from Chapman University (where Bradac is an associate professor of theater) possess the most bucolic venue in the county to strut their stuff. The 500-seat theater, surrounded by towering sycamore and ponderosa pines, opened in 1981. In 2004, Shakespeare OC moved in and has produced some 15 shows there, along with special events. It's also used by a few community organizations. But it's when the company is hosting one of Shakespeare's plays that it feels most alive. Which makes sense, at least to Bradac. "Well, Will's plays were written for the outdoors, except for a few at the end of his career, and the language and theatricality of the plays just work wonders outside. They're not as stuffy and pretentious as people think Shakespeare 'should' be—especially when you're wearing shorts and enjoying libations or having a picnic."
Russ Pope's paintings scare us. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Amid squares and streaks of odd, generic color—the bio on his website says it's rejected Home Depot paint—Pope's oblong figures, often just heads or torsos, their faces wrenched in some personal anxiousness, sorrow or rage, speak to the kind of dread that many of us feel but leave unstated. The thick, dark, black outlining on the paintings not only lends the work a punk sensibility, but also hems the characters in, underscoring their limited ability to escape. He leaves subtle hints in some of his paintings that the source of that simmering helplessness is economic or familial, but it feels far more existential. The sickness is in the soul . . . and how do you get away from that? In Pope's world, we're not sure you can.
What? OCMA is featured as Best Art Museum two out of the past three years? Now three out of the past four years? Well, guess what, haters? They freakin' deserve it. Every time we stepped foot in there over the past year, they surprised, enthralled and thrilled us. From Karen Moss' (deputy director for exhibitions and programs) "15 Minutes of Fame: Portraits From Ansel Adams to Andy Warhol," exploding with photogs as varied in style and substance as Larry Clark, Warhol and Lawrence Schiller, to the utterly different—and equally mesmerizing—exhibition of Carlos Amorales' mesmerizing spiderweb sculptures, films and collages, curated by Sarah Bancroft, who's also heading up the museum's 2010 Orange County Biennial this month.