Year Staring Death in the Face : LINDA PURL PLAYS JOAN DIDION IN ENSEMBLE’S ONE-WOMAN SHOW

 Director Jenny Sullivan, left, and Linda Purl David Bazemore photo

Director Jenny Sullivan, left, and Linda Purl
David Bazemore photo

When Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking” debuted in 2005, it gained accolades as one of the finest contemporary books about the grieving process. Written in 88 days, Ms. Didion took on a time of double tragedy: the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne from cardiac arrest, and the long illness of their daughter, who passed away just as Ms. Didion finished the manuscript.

Two years later, with David Hare directing and Vanessa Redgrave starring, “The Year of Magical Thinking” made its way to Broadway with Ms. Didion’s own adaptation of the book into a play. Five years and many accolades later, our Ensemble Theater Company, with Jenny Sullivan directing and Linda Purl starring, bring Ms. Didion’s one-woman play to Santa Barbara.

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Porch Tales: THE MOTH KEEPS STORYTELLING FLAME BURNING

Denise Ofelia Mangen photos
Denise Ofelia Mangen photos

Working on The Moth is an endless stream of fascinating,” says Maggie Cino, senior producer, story coach, and director of the Peabody Award-winning organization/ show/workshop/podcast. This evening of storytelling – no scripts, no words on the page – comes to Campbell Hall on Thursday with a cast of familiar and unfamiliar faces.

The Moth has gained notoriety and momentum over the last five years due to its podcast and public radio show, but it was started back in 1997 by George Dawes Green, a poet and novelist who wanted an evening that recreated the sort of laid-back summer evenings of his native Georgia, where funny and poignant yarns would be spun among friends.

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Floor Score : DAVY ROTHBART’S ‘FOUND’ HONORS RANDOM NOTES DISCOVERED IN THE STREET

courtesy photo
courtesy photo

The other day I was biking around and noticed a photo laying face-down in the street. Hours later when I returned to the spot, the photo was still there. Picking it up, I discovered it was a nude self-portrait of an unknown woman. Who was she? How’d it get in the street? Who was it taken for? Should I keep it? My find would be perfect for the magazine Found, Davy Rothbart’s cult sensation that honors weird things picked up in the street. His talk and slideshow comes to Contemporary Arts Forum this Thursday.

“That’s awesome,” says Mr. Rothbart when he hears of my find. “It really is amazing how many people these days are taking photos of themselves naked, and also how many people lose them.”

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Last Impressions : NEW FILM FOCUSES ON THE LAST YEARS OF RENOIR’S LIFE

Michel Bouquet as Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Michel Bouquet as Pierre-Auguste Renoir

To get a lot out of the film “Renoir,” it helps to know a little bit of film history. It helps to know that Jean Renoir, the son of famous impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, became one of France’s most renowned directors, responsible for “Boudu Saved from Drowning,” “Rules of the Game” and “Grand Illusion,” classics among 1930s films. It also helps to know that Catherine “Andree” Hessling, his first wife and star of his first films, was one of his father’s models.

Otherwise, “Renoir,” directed by Gilles Bourdos and written by Mr. Bourdos with Jerome Tonnerre, may feel like an artist biopic in which the character disappears for much of its running time. The year is 1915 in France, and the first World War rages on, but far enough away from the picturesque Cote d’Azur seaside to not really affect the Renoir household. The painter, ailing from crippling arthritis and wheelchair-bound, is in his last years. To his still-bustling estate comes Andree (Christa Theret), who lies her way into being the latest of Renoir’s models. (She says Mrs. Renoir told her about the job; Mrs. Renoir has passed away) It’s never too clear what she really wants out of the deal, or how far she’s come to get this job, but soon she’s doffing togs and posing. And Renoir, he likes it.

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The Journeyman: Guitarist Jamie James rocks out with Dennis Quaid this Saturday

Jamie James
Jamie James

These days, Jamie James wears a suit and tie and a crumpled pork pie hat, with a face somewhere between Rob Corddry and John Peel. He has slung a guitar over his shoulder through blues rock, rockabilly, hard rock, and can replicate a mean Delta Blues slide. And he’ll be one of the reasons movie star Dennis Quaid plays SOhO this Saturday, along with his rock band the Sharks, which Mr. James fronts. To get to this point, it’s been a long strange trip.

It starts halfway through Mr. James’ career. During the late ’70s and early ’80s, Mr. James fronted a pre-Stray Cats, pre-MTV rockabilly revival group called the Kingbees. They put out two albums, and a strong single, “My Mistake” on RSO records. One of their fans from those days was actor Harry Dean Stanton, and the two hit it off. Mr. Stanton sings, by the way, in a sweet, untrained voice, and at the time was looking for a backup band.

“I got Harry,” Mr. James says. “I didn’t want the pressure of being the lead singer anymore. So it was nice to take a back seat with Harry Dean. I grew musically.”

They played the Mint on Pico Boulevard every Saturday night in the ’90s, and there they ran into Dennis Quaid, who at first was reluctant, but then joined the group on stage for a guitar jam. Mr. Quaid and Mr. James had both started learning guitar, and liked the same music. By 2000, Mr. Quaid invited Mr. James up to his Montana ranch to write songs, and soon the Sharks band was born.

“This is simple, first-, second-, and third-gear rock and roll,” Mr. James says. “Because of working with Harry Dean, I learned to separate the music from the ‘star’ with Dennis. We’re not here to sell Dennis Quaid T-shirts, you know?”

The band plays a mix of classic rock covers and originals by Mr. Quaid and Mr. James, and it’s really just about having a great time.

Mr. James picked up guitar at age 15, after early years playing hockey and sports in his hometown of Toronto. But Deep Purple, his first concert, blew his mind, as he stood right at the front of the stage in a tiny club directly in front of Richie Blackmore.

“I’d never seen five guys create that kind of energy on stage before. It was electrifying!” he says. “And I didn’t want to be anything else.”

He immediately bought a guitar and joined a band. He made his way to London, then back to Detroit, where he became friends with Bob Seger, then made his way to Los Angeles in 1975, where he nearly joined a reformed Steppenwolf.

When he’s not touring with the Sharks, Mr. James has been focusing on playing Delta Blues, singing old classics the way they were first performed, and playing once a week at Santa Monica’s Harvelle’s. He’s still friends with Harry Dean Stanton, and the two of them do the L.A. Times crossword by phone every morning. (Mr. James plays the music in an upcoming documentary on Mr. Stanton, also.)

For the Sharks, Mr. James has teamed up with Tom Walsh on drums, Ken Stange on keyboards and harmonica, and Tom Slik on bass, while Mr. Quaid plays guitar and keyboard on top of singing. And they just want to rock out.

“The thing I love about the Sharks is that we’re five guys who all just love playing music,” he says. Simple as that.

DENNIS QUAID AND THE SHARKS
When 9 p.m. Sat.
Where: SOhO Restaurant & Club, 1221 State St.
Cost: $20-$25
Information: sohosb.com or 962-7776

Girls Whirled – Santa Barbara Dance Arts presents its 15th Configuration Showcase

Rod Tucknott photos
Rod Tucknott photos

Seeing a line of people outside Center Stage Theater, with only a few tickets left, can make a dancer feel “10 feet tall,” says Alana Tillim, artistic director of “Configuration” and co-director of Santa Barbara Dance Arts. This is especially true when the dancers are still middle- and high-schoolers. One week into its two-week run, this 15th year of this dance showcase has been selling out.

“It’s the first year in over a decade that over half the dancers on stage are unknown,” Ms. Tillim says, adding that last year’s seniors have graduated and gone on.

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DRINK OF THE WEEK: Cadiz’s Grand Monaco – Irish home version

Grand Monaco - Irish home version NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS
Grand Monaco – Irish home version
NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS

“I like my drinks bitter, boozy and strong,” said bartender Sean Sepulveda, over at Cadiz. We were about to add, “That’s how we like our women too!” but thought better of it.

We had been thinking about St. Patrick’s Day and how most drinks are not made for sipping but for, you know, chugging. You can get an Irish coffee pretty much everywhere, too.

So possibly we could get something that could sate our coffee urges, our drinking needs, and get in a slap of whiskey, all the while allowing us a small respite from the weekend madness.

Mr. Sepulveda gave us a spin on his new cocktail Grand Monaco, a mix of Grand Marnier and bitter liquors like Campari. But while that is on the menu and a lovely smooth beast, this one is not official Cadiz biz: Swap out the Grand Marnier for a good Irish blend — like Mr. Sepulveda does at home — and you’re an Irishman in Monaco. (For example: Bono, who vacations there.)

It’s the coffee that makes the drink, really, and Stirrings Espresso is an astute addition; you need less than regular coffee, and it doesn’t murk up the cocktail’s look.

Try this while the crowds outside drink their car bombs — it’s our Drink of the Week!

GRAND MONACO – IRISH HOME VERSION
Mezcal (any kind will do), to rinse glass
2 ounces Bushmills Black Bush whiskey
2 ounces Dolin sweet vermouth
3/4 ounce Campari bitters
1 ounce Stirrings Espresso
Orange peel (1-inch slice)

Rinse cocktail glass with mezcal. Add other liquids to ice in shaker. Shake and pour into glass. Garnish with orange peel slice, making sure to squeeze oils into drink before adding.

Yield: 1 drink

Cadiz
509 State St. 770-2760 or www.cadizsb.com

An End of the World : SALLY POTTER RETURNS WITH HEARTFELT ‘GINGER & ROSA’

Alice Englert and Elle Fanning Nicola Dove photos
Alice Englert and Elle Fanning
Nicola Dove photos

For those who attended SBIFF’s “Virtuosos” evening this year, they would have seen Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota, receiving an award for her breakout role in Sally Potter’s “Ginger & Rosa.” This was an odd choice among many, as nobody save those in the UK and the film festival circuit had seen it. (And those who did see the clip at that evening at the Arlington … forget everything! It was a spoiler!!)

So now it has come to town and the film is accomplished, but with some problems. Sally Potter’s more experimental side – starting with her early, hard-to-see work and her career making “Orlando” – has been set aside for this more personal tale, drawn from her memories of growing up a radical at the birth of the nuclear protest movement.

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Strong Title, Weak Message – Climate denialist exposé falls short

This earnest documentary should be proceeded by the famous quote by Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” The “something” director, narrator, and occasional star Craig Scott Rosebraugh is talking about is climate change, or as someone recently renamed it, climate chaos. And you know the Koch brothers: the salary can be huge.

With a title like “Greedy Lying Bastards,” one could expect an angry tirade against the control oil and energy companies have over our climate and politics. In fact, that would have been preferable to this documentary, which is honestly a bit of a mess, regardless of whether you agree with its ideology.

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Wasteland – Post-war tale ‘Lore’ features Nazi youth

Lore” belongs to several sub-genres, one of which is the “children fending for themselves” storyline where an absent or dead parent forces the oldest of siblings to take on duties beyond their age range. Only in this case the children are Hitler Youth, two daughters and two sons of a high ranking Nazi official who are left alone when their parents are arrested for war crimes.

The other sub-genres in Australian director Cate Shortland’s second feature include the coming-of-age tale, Holocaust film, and teen romance, all combining into a hypnotic 90 minutes that nearly achieves the depth it hopes to reach.

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