Ai Wei Wei, art galley, Big Stir, Blake Jones, Brilliant Traces, Catherine Opie, Josh Sundquist, Kusama, Los Angeles, Lounge Theater, magazine, Marciano Art Foundation, museums, music, Osteria Mamma, retirement, theater, Trike Shop, Wilshire Blvd, Windsor Park
A few months back, I came across a want ad for a writer to contribute to a new online magazine about going out and about in Los Angeles. I could do that, I thought. I go out and about in L.A. all the time since I retired. But I was too lazy to actually apply for the job, because I am too tired from going out and about in L.A. all the time. An East Coast work ethic rarely plays well on the West Coast, so I spend a lot of time pretending to look for work. It’s a perk of retirement. You don’t actually have to find the job. I wrote this piece as my job application. I am never too lazy to share it with you, though. Thank you for reading and if you start an online magazine about going out and about in L.A. give me a holler…
I spend so much time at the theaters in Los Angeles, that I rarely even check anymore what it is we are going to see. My main partner in theatrical crime, Sandi, takes not knowing what a play is about to new heights. If I even try and tell her what we are going to be seeing, she just covers her ears. She says her cellphone calendar thingy automatically fills in “Maddie play” if she even types the word. No titles, no need.
My personal best so far is “Come From Away”. It has become such a beloved and popular Tony award winner that they are making a movie version of it. You can imagine my surprise, as I settled into my ridiculously low priced Ahmanson first row mezzanine seat courtesy of Center Theater Group who likes me more than most people I know, when instead of hearing the opening bars of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, there were people in Nova Scotia looking for planes to land on 9/11. What? No USO scene with Army girls in those cute uniforms they wore back in the war? Not a clue about the genesis of that synopsis.
The surprise is often so much better though. Take the other night, for instance. A text last week from a friend included two plays that I thought she wanted to see. So I do what I do best; immediately get the tickets, send out invites to a few of my theater posse that I think would be interested, tell them the time to be at my house and then drive us to the show. I am the worst passenger in the world, so driving is always me. I happen to love it. My passengers not so much, hence the coin flipping to see who gets to sit in the backseat. Tonight we were seeing a play call “We Should Hangout Sometime”.
We got to the Santa Monica Playhouse, a great little theater on 4th Street and Arizona, that rarely disappoints in its productions and I still haven’t paid a lot of attention to what the play is about. A lovely girl having dinner at the check in table, checks us in and we buy a glass of wine and a snack. This night the theater peeps were my friend, Robin, who had suggested it and one of my regular theater gal pals, Patty. Robin was a bit squeamish about this play and tells me now she hadn’t necessarily wanted to see it. Huh? Well, apparently I speed read through that text, didn’t I?
The play was a one-man show by a 30 year old named Josh Sundquist who lost his entire leg to cancer as a 5 year old. He wrote a few books including one with the title of this play. We know not what to expect. He comes hopping out, literally, on his one leg and his crutches. No prosthesis or prostate for him. You have to go see the play to get that joke. For an hour and a half, this brilliant, hilarious, witty, charming, engaging young man regaled us with his dating tales going back to middle school, along with a few tidbits about his life. I spend a lot of time at the theater, both big and small here in Los Angeles, and I cannot remember the last play that was this entertaining and uplifting and just plain fun to watch. My theater partners agreed. He engages with the audience with a masterful ease. But along with the jokes, the sometimes gallows humor and the self-deprecating excellence, was mixed some pretty darn good life lessons. The poignancy and heart sharing of those lessons was pure perfection. The play is staged by he and his wife, the darling girl in the red and white polka dot dress who checked us in and gave us wine. Josh’s talent won’t be long for a theater this tiny, the Netflix monster has already swooped in to take it away, so go see it as soon as you can, while you still can. A ticket discounted to $15 on Goldstar is an obscenely cheap amount for this massive level of entertainment. See Josh, say hello to Ashley and tell them Maddie sent you.
That was Friday night. Thursday afternoon, I had scheduled a field trip for fellow retiree and gal pal Patty to go to the Marciano Art Foundation. The perks of slaving for the Federal government for decades of your life is you get to retire very early and play till you drop, which is exactly what we intend to do. The exhibit we went for was Yayoi Kusama’s polka dot room (not even close to the formal name of the exhibit). That was the picture that caught my eye for this place. What we found was a hidden gem on Wilshire Boulevard in the Windsor Park area of Los Angeles. I did not even know there was such a section of the city with such a fancy name. This gallery was housed in a former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple built in 1961. Two brothers, Paul and Maurice Marciano, bought and transformed it into a spectacular modern art gallery space. They kept all relics and memorabilia of this Freemasonship and turned them into a permanent exhibit on the third floor. What fascinating objects relating to the Masons in Los Angeles going back decades. There are hats, lots of them, and clothing and books and registers and all sorts of Masonic stuff there.
The best surprise was the exhibit by an artist and activist named Ai WeiWei. He is Chinese and lives in Berlin. I am at a loss to explain this tremendously unique art of his. It’s flying mache animals and bamboo intricate sculptures. It must be seen to truly be believed. When you enter this cavernous space with concrete ceiling and floor and before you get to the exhibit at the far end, you see what on first glance looks like two huge carpets. But you cannot walk on them as there are docents placed at each corner. Upon closer inspection you see the first “rug’ is made of what appears to be sunflower seeds. They are ceramic sunflower seeds that were glued together by 1600 Chinese women. It’s amazing. The next ‘carpet’ is piles and piles of ceramic teapot spouts. These actually date back to the Song Dynasty in China in the 1600s. They are all glued together to form an incredible carpet. It is the first time this exhibit is being shown in the United States. It is glorious to behold. The inscriptions Ai chose to put around the main exhibit were terrific as well. From the Bible, to Socrates, to a 21st century writer, the sentiments are so necessary and profound.
There are so many wonderful and quirky works of art in this museum that it would take all day to explain. There was a photo exhibit by a photographer named Catherine Opie who spent the last months of Elizabeth Taylor’s life at her home in Bel Air without ever meeting Liz. Her exhibit is pictures and pictures of Liz’s things. They are not staged, beautiful things either, but photos of the banged up boxes that her baubles and beads and massively expensive diamonds traveled in. Her bookshelf with the awards. Pictures of her and Richard. Her closet. It was the loveliness of looking at things we don’t usually see that I liked the most about this piece.
The building outside remains the same and is just white and pretty as is the neighborhood. It has a great little café attached and a bookstore. I had the pleasure of finding a pin there that said “Well Read”. I then had to buy a book so the cashier wouldn’t think I was false advertising. “Astrology, Alchemy and Magic in the Arts” was a book that beckoned the entire time I was browsing. I never ignore a beckoning book. We went for the fascinating polka dots and stayed for the delightful surprises this gallery had for us. I am sure to return.
Saturday and back to music. A thereminly musical treat. Once a month, two ambitious music teachers turned local power pop record moguls bring that community together at Joe’s Great American Bar and Grill in beautiful downtown Burbank. For the price of no admission fee, you get four bands in that rather jangly pop genre from far and wide. I don’t get there as often as I like, but I try never to miss the Fresno Big Stir contingent that is Blake Jones and the Trike Shop. They are always a pleasure to see and hear with their massive puppet head that dances around on one person or another each time. My favorite part is watching Blake play the Theremin, an instrument you most certainly don’t get to see played much, let alone in a local roadhouse on a Saturday afternoon.
The night was velvetly capped with a last minute invite to dear lady Jean’s house to welcome back dear lady Sue from Tennessee. These two, along with two more kindred musical spirits, Nancy and Kathleen, made for a lively dinner of beef stew, wine and wonderful conversation. Not to mention the decadently delicious Torrance Bakery macaroons and maple and chocolate chip cookies brought by Kathleen to tempt us all. A pleasant end for me after that ride from Burbank to Hermosa Beach, where everyone it seemed had a need to smack into each other on the road.
Sunday began with Sandi coming down with a horrible headache that kept her from joining us to see the second play that Robin had requested. When she asked to see both plays, little did she know I would make them weekend bookends. An early dinner at Osteria Mamma on Melrose kicked off the end of this whirlwind weekend. I had only been once before, but what an Italian food treasure this place is. Having been born in Italy and raised in New York, my main pet peeve for over thirty years here is lack of great Italian food. Well, I complain no more after finding Osteria Mamma. I can’t remember when I had that much difficulty deciding what to order because of the sheer magnitude of magnificent choices. We settled on crostini with burrata, prosciutto and black truffles. It was sensational. We followed that with Carpaccio for me; one of my favorite meals that I rarely miss a chance of having a good version of and this place delivered. Robin ordered the veal which I had never seen done like this. They took a veal chop, smashed it down to the thickness of a cutlet and then breaded and fried it like a veal cutlet with the bone attached. Delicious, albeit a bit weird looking. We shared that along with finely roasted potatoes and some green beans. A carafe of the house red and we were well satiated and ready for our play.
Brilliant Traces at the Lounge Theater in Hollywood, is a two character play set in a remote cabin in Alaska where a man lives in solitude shattered by this runaway bride from Arizona who gets cold feet and then places those feet on the gas pedal of her car and drives 3000 miles only to get stuck in a massive white out snow storm near his cabin. They spar, they circle each other, they tell each other their secrets and their pain. At the end she falls, he catches her. The End. There was some cliché inevitability to this and I think in the hands of less competent actors, it would have been tedious, but these two were fun to watch. Her lunacy was endearing even when she jumped up and down and screamed. You rooted for him to find happiness again from the start. They did and so did we. This play cost us a whopping $18.
Los Angeles is a great arts town and if you learn to navigate it well, you can see so much great theater and art for so small a price. Well that’s the end to my whirling dervish, fear of being bored, weekend. Have a happy week and go see something LIVE. It is so good for you!