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Love and death in Santa Barbara: A perfect ‘Carmen’ for Fiesta time

Brianna Hunter as Carmen and Brett Payne as Don Jose star in the Music Academy of the West's production of "Carmen"

Brianna Hunter as Carmen and Brett Payne as Don Jose star in the
Music Academy of the West’s production of “Carmen”

It was an idea that was strangely overdue, this production of “Carmen” in the middle of Fiesta. It only took the Music Academy of the West and Old Spanish Days to agree to work together and suddenly it seemed an obvious thing. Set one of the world’s most popular operas in Santa Barbara during the year the opera was premiered (well, give or take a year), and end the performance with a re-creation of an authentic fiesta: you can’t really miss, not when some in the audience are dressed similarly to people onstage.

Friday night’s performance was one of only two (the other being Sunday), making this “Carmen” a must-see in the arts community.

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ART REVIEW: All Decks on Hand: ART SHOW EXPLORES THE HISTORY OF LOTERÍA, MEXICO’S FAVORITE CARD GAME

'La Loter'a Body Art,'Tomac Henson

‘La Loter’a Body Art,’Tomac Henson

A game of chance, or a divination tool? The Mexican card game known as Lotería has a long colorful history, as a version of bingo that just needs a deck of cards, a board, and some chip pieces. For those who play, it’s a fun evening. But as folk art, it is even more fascinating. The deck of cards portrays characters like a magician, a beautiful lady, or a soldier. But like the tarot deck, it also has icons that are both quotidian and strange, filled with hidden meanings, for example, a melon, a ladder, a boot, or a flowerpot. And then there’s a devil, a mermaid, and a drunk guy “El Borracho” (many people’s favorite.) The history and the art of Lotería decks make up the small but very fun exhibit “Lotería! Mexico’s Game of Chance and Poetry” at Casa Dolores, through Sept. 27.

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IN CONCERT: Burning Down the House: Arcade Fire delivers a rousing non-stop party at the Bowl

Montreal's Arcade Fire lived up to their live concert performance renown at the SB Bowl last Monday

Montreal’s Arcade Fire lived up to their live concert performance renown at the SB Bowl last Monday

Last year, when Flaming Lips brought their outre show to the Santa Barbara Bowl, it was a strange combo that didn’t work: confetti cannons, amazing light show, gigantic balloons shooting out over the audience on one hand; morose and dark music underneath, the opposite of the fun the party favors promised.

However, that promise was fulfilled last Monday night, when another band of live concert renown, Montreal’s Arcade Fire, made their first Bowl appearance. They too brought confetti cannon and streamers, both a light show of mirrors, disco ball suits, and video projection. But most of all they brought their exciting catalog, from the stirring anthems of 2004’s “Funeral” to their 2013 delve-into-dance-music “Reflektor.” When lead signer Win Butler told us at the beginning to all stand up — “you can sit down at the end of the show” — he was not kidding. The audience followed suit, and the band made sure there was no reason to rest.

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Arsenic and old jokes: SBCC DOES ITS BEST TO JOLT JOSEPH KESSELRING’S AGING PLAY WITH ENERGY

From left, Leslie Ann Story, Christopher Lee Shortand Linda MacNeal in The Theatre Group at SBCC's production of "Arsenicand Old Lace"

From left, Leslie Ann Story, Christopher Lee Shortand Linda MacNeal in The Theatre Group at SBCC’s production of “Arsenicand Old Lace”

Many a theater major, high school or college, has done their time in a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” that ol’ farce about the Brewsters, the “family that slays together, and therefore stays together.” The ghosts of Cary Grant and Peter Lorre hover over the play, despite the two stars only appearing in the film version, even seven decades later. (Blame Turner Classic Movies.) It hurtles along at a brisk pace, indulges in some black but not bleak humor, and still has some clever twists in it.

On the last weekend of its run at SBCC’s Garvin Theater, Katie Laris’ production of Joseph Kesselring’s play still manages to get some mileage out of this jalopy.

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Buried Truths: ‘IDA’ IS A SPARE, BEAUTIFUL POST-WAR TALE

Agata Trzebuchowska as Ida, in IDA. Courtesy of Music box Films

Agata Trzebuchowska as Ida, in IDA. Courtesy of Music box Films

Agata Trzebuchowska, the actress making her debut as the title character of “Ida,” has dark eyes that burn like coal when shot in black and white. Playing a novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, she doesn’t speak much at all, the camera is always gazing into her eyes and as we watch and keep watching, there’s a lot going on behind them.

However, her character is going to be tested in this quiet but wrenching little tale from director Pawel Pawlikowski, best known for 2000’s “The Last Resort.” She receives a letter from an aunt and travels out into the great big world to find her. When she does, they are quite opposite: Wanda (Agata Kulesza) smokes, boozes it up, and sleeps around. But we also learn that she used to be a detective for the state, hunting down “anti-socialists” and she has called Anna from the convent to tell her a few shocking things: her name is actually Ida, and she was actually born a Jew. And the reason she’s brought her out is to join her in hunting down the Nazi sympathizers who murdered Ida’s parents back in World War II.

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The red and the black: Ensemble’s Mark Rothko bio-play has weighty questions on its mind

Matt Gottlieb play abstract-expressionist painter Mark Rothko and Shaun Anthony his put-upon young assistant in the dramatic new play at The New Vic, "Red." John Logan's play won six Tony Awards in 2010

Matt Gottlieb play abstract-expressionist painter Mark Rothko and Shaun Anthony his put-upon young assistant in the dramatic new play at The New Vic, “Red.” John Logan’s play won six Tony Awards in 2010

“What do you see?”

That’s the first line of John Logan’s intense two-person play “Red” that just opened at The New Vic as part of Ensemble Theatre’s current season. The man asking the question is abstract painter Mark Rothko, and although he’s asking it of the man who has turned up to be his new assistant as they stand in front of one of his paintings, he’s asking it of himself. And, no surprise, he’s asking us, too, in a play that dives energetically into questions of art, history, integrity, money, and creativity. In real life, Rothko was very secretive, with very little footage or interviews available. This biographical play brings the prickly painter to life.

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Got your number: 311 headline an unsurprising Summer Roundup at the Bowl

Young the Giant rode the success of their second album "Mind Over Matter" to an appreciative Bowl crowd on Thursday. Guitarist Jacob Tilley, left, and vocalist Sameer Gadhia, right, lead this five-piece alternative rock group out of Irvine.

Young the Giant rode the success of their second album “Mind Over Matter” to an appreciative Bowl crowd on Thursday. Guitarist Jacob Tilley, left, and vocalist Sameer Gadhia, right, lead this five-piece alternative rock group out of Irvine.

Hand it to rock-rap group 311. They’ve been at it for 25 years and have maintained the same line-up ever since, and while they’ve dabbled with changing their sound on albums like “Evolver” and “Universal Pulse,” they still deliver a polished mix of feel-good faux-reggae lyrics, uplifting rap, chugga-chugga metal riffing, and funk bass and drums. On one hand, you can say they have a formula and churn it out; on the other, you can say they’re the most reliable of the ’90s bands that are left.

311 were in town as headliners for KJEE’s Summer Roundup at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Thursday. It had been a beastly day for the heat, way up in 90s, possibly in the 100s, with four different weather services claiming four different temperatures. So the idea of sitting at the Bowl watching three other bands open for 311 may not have been ideal for a lot of folks. Even by the end of the evening, large chunks of seats went unfilled.

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Wood on Paper: SBMA SHOWS THE NON-POTTERY WORK OF BEATRICE WOOD

'A Nun's Dream'

‘A Nun’s Dream’

The late artist and longtime Ojai resident Beatrice Wood was best known — and made her career- — as a potter, and many of her efforts went into learning the art of thrown clay. She is also known for living to the ripe old age of 105 and for spending her early years palling around with Dadaist Marcel Duchamp.

“Living in the Timeless: Drawings by Beatrice Wood” — currently at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and running through August 31 — focuses on the other side of Wood. Right up to her final years she was drawing and painting, creating works that at first look whimsical but contain undercurrents of anxiety, sexual politics, fantasy and regret.

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Surface Tension: BRAD MILLER’S TRINITY OF TEXTURAL WORKS

'Pealings'

‘Pealings’

On the web last week there was a viral photo going around. A man had photographed a single drop of ocean water and magnified it thousands of times, revealing a universe crowded with creatures of all size and shapes, beyond our science fiction dreams (or nightmares.) With this on my mind, Brad Miller’s work at Cabana Home — on view now through June 14 — struck a chord.

While there are no creatures to be found in his work, he too is invested in the microscopic universe that’s under our noses. Sometime he reveals it in his bubble and wave photographs, and sometimes he recreates it in his ceramics and his work on wooden canvas.

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Angel of Death – FICTION FILM FINDS JOSEF MENGELE DURING HIS ARGENTINEAN ESCAPE

Alex Brendemuhl as Josef Mengele in "The German Doctor

Alex Brendemuhl as Josef Mengele in “The German Doctor

Growing up, I had no real idea about Argentina except that it was the place that many high-profile Nazis fled to after the war, including, some said, Hitler. (They also said somebody had his brain in a jar, but that’s another story.) It was talked about in the same tones reserved for the killer bees, and both might just swarm north to get us all. However, by the time I came of age and learned more, Eichmann had been captured long ago and executed, and Josef Mengele … well, he kind of got away with it, didn’t he? Mossad agents never captured him, and in 1979 he had a stroke and drowned while swimming one day off the coast of Brazil, probably while humming “The Girl from Ipanema.”

The deranged doctor of Auschwitz, the so-called “Angel of Death” never got his day in court.

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