Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Delightful Deaf West Production of Pippin

Pippin. The Mark Taper Forum. 2/24/09.

Deaf West Theatre and CTG have produced a truly magical production of Pippin. An extraordinary cast and a thorough reworking of Stephen Schwartz's 1972 musical make this show captivating and refreshing. They streamlined the show's book, cut some songs, did the whole thing in sign language, and made me fall in love with this musical all over again.

Most striking in this production were the actors playing Pippin: Michael Arden (singing) and Tyrone Giordano (signing). By doubling the character, these two actors made Pippin into a much more compelling character than he often appears. For the first time, I didn't find Pippin vapid and self-centered as a character, and I wasn't bored during his long, solipsistic solos. Arden's voice was strikingly beautiful and incredibly expressive while Giordano's signing and acting allowed the character to emote with his body at the same time. Usually, Pippin is the least interesting thing about Pippin, and in this production, that wasn't the case. The decision to bifurcate the character was a stroke of genius, and while I'm not entirely convinced by the decision to have the two versions of Pippin interact at the climax of the play, watching the two Pippins enlivened the whole production.

The revised book, including the added song "Back Home Again" solved many of the problems with Pippin's pacing. They did the whole thing straight through without an intermission, which is the way it should be (otherwise Act II drags - a lot). Unfortunately, this means they cut "Extraordinary," which is a fairly important song to express Pippin's character, and which is echoed frequently in the show's book. I think they'd be better off keeping at least one verse of the song to help develop Pippin's character.

Visually, director Jeff Calhoun's production emphasizes magic, literally, rather than the spectacular theatricality that generally frames the show. Instead of actor/dancers, the the Leading Player (played by Ty Taylor) is costumed as a magician with some of the players as magicians' assistants. While the production does its best to emphasize this idea of magic through recurring stage tricks, shortchanging the theatricality undermines the sense of the ensemble as a theater company and the sense of group bonding and character that Pippin usually has. The players are usually a lot more compelling than Pippin, and that certainly isn't the case here. The ensemble, like the Leading Player, are less seductively threatening than usual in this production. Although Taylor's performance was fine and his voice strong and sexy, I just didn't find myself compelled to watch him. This may have been because the staging placed him front and center while my seat was off to the side of the 3/4 round thrust stage. Because this show was originally a Fosse show, replacing the dancing with signing makes for a few disappointments. Without the dancing, "Magic to Do" and "War is a Science" are a lot less fun than they could be, although "On the Right Track" had just the right mix of choreography and sign language to be a joy to watch.

My major concern with the production was that the emphasis on magic casts the female players as magicians' assistants. Pippin is already not a very feminist show (although the show-stopping star turn for Pippin's earthy grandmother, played in this production by Harriet Harris, is always fabulous); reducing the female ensemble from a group of sexy Fosse dancers to four girls who flourish a lot with their hands is extremely disappointing. This LA Times blog article emphasizes how the production replaces dancing with hands, and that first moment in which hands emerge from the stage is indeed a pure moment of theatrical magic, but I think the production overuses this gimmick at the expense of fragmenting the women's bodies, reducing them to just hands and arms rather than whole people. The girls were fine, but I felt like they were just there to make 'ta-da' gestures and fill out the orgy scene. Similarly, the much-needed trimming of the second act reduces the role of Catherine (played by Melissa van der Schyff). Portraying and costuming her as a country-western star was an extremely clever decision that showcased van der Schyff's voice well, but the role as ordinary housewife and love interest is still only moderately developed and serves as a marker to frame Pippin's story. From a feminist perspective, the women in this play almost might as well not be there, and this production exacerbated rather than ameliorated their irrelevance.

Despite some minor complaints, however, I give this show a hearty recommendation. I thoroughly loved the performance and I'm delighted by Deaf West's innovative theatricality.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Shameless Promotion: Fringes-Margins-Borders LGBT show at Highways

OK, I'm going to post the press release, but I want you to know that I personally stand behind this show and proudly, vociferously encourage you to attend. It's a great collection of artists, and I have seen performances by Scott Turner Schofield, Sean Dorsey, and Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa (aka Devil Bunny in Bondage); they are charismatic, intelligent performers who will make this show truly fantastic. If you don't believe me, Schofield and Otálvaro-Hormillosa have great video clips on their websites.

They're even offering tickets at a “pay what you can price” if you make reservations by Friday, February 27 by calling the reservation line – 310-315-1459 and saying “pay what you can.” So hurry and reserve your tickets now before they sell out!

Highways Performance Space Presents
Fringes-Margins-Borders, a Radical New Works Performance Project Designed to Initiate Community Across Artificially and Socially Constructed Identity Divides
Friday and Saturday, March 6 + 7, 2009 at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 3:00 p.m.
Highways Performance Space
at the 18th Street Arts Center
1651 18th Street; Santa Monica, CA 90404

Highways Performance Space Presents the Los Angeles leg of a four-city tour of Fringes-Margins-Borders, an exchange of Queer Artists from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The show will feature LA artists Deadlee, Ian MacKinnon, Saleem, Scott Turner Schofield and San Francisco Artists: Stephanie Cooper, Sean Dorsey Dance, and Gigi Otalvaro-Hormillosa. Fringes-Margins-Borders is a multidisciplinary performance project of new works drawn from personal narratives designed to initiate community across artificially and socially constructed identity divides. For the tour, Highways is partnering with San Francisco’s Queer Cultural Center and San Diego’s Sushi Performance and Visual Art.

L.A. Artists:
Deadlee is a wordsmith, actor, activist, and entrepreneur. Deadlee quickly earned a position as a key player in music's latest underground movement, gay rap/hip hop. His involvement in the first ever regional tour of GLBT hip hop artists sparked mentions in the press from the New York Daily News, Rolling Stone, Wired Magazine, XXL Magazine, The Advocate, L.A. Weekly, Philadelphia Gay News, Urb, Instinct, and Variety. He was interviewed not once but twice by CNN regarding homophobia and hip hop and the launch of the HomoRevolution Tour 2007. He was also one of the 18 gay hip hop artists featured in the landmark documentary film on gays in hip hop called Pick up the Mic which was picked up by the LOGO network after making the festival circuit. He has performed in several movies including Vengeance and Dead Men Walking, and just completed his first starring role as “Lazy” in the just released film Hoochie Mamma Drama.

Ian MacKinnon is a gay centered performance artist and curator of queer theater events in Los Angeles. He was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for "Best Off Off Broadway Performance" for his piece, SPANKED! at the New York International Fringe Festival, which he also toured to The New Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. MacKinnon appeared in the premier episode of the TV show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and in the short film, "Heart: A Karaoke Fantasia" (Outfest). MacKinnon's musical performance collective The Discount Cruise to Hell was named "#1 Best Indescribable Artist in LA" in Frontiers magazine and "Most Outrageous" at UCLA's 2006 Carnival at The Fowler Museum.

Saleem is an award wining Middle Eastern performance artist, best known for his GLAAD award wining play Salam Shalom A Tale Of Passion, a love story between an Arab man and a Jewish man based on his own biography, the work is being developed as a film. As a dancer, he has developed his own dancing style, which incorporates Middle Eastern dance, gypsy movements, flamenco, and jazz. This mélange produces what he terms “free style belly dancing.” Also equipped with a masters in business administration from Colorado State University, he manages and runs his own events promotion company "club La Zeez " which promotes world music and Mediterranean beats.

Scott Turner Schofield is a man who was a woman, a lesbian turned straight guy who is often called a fag. Since 2001, Schofield's three major works, Underground Transit, Debutante Balls, and Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps - as well as readings from his book, Two Truths and a Lie - have entertained feminists and fratboys, season subscribers and people who “don't like theater” in big cities and small towns across the US. His performance work spreads empathy and education about gender identity and sexual orientation with shows that are as hilarious as they are touching, thought provoking, and beautifully performed. Almost entirely grassroots supported and the recipient of major mainstream honors, Schofield's is a simple complexity: one that must be engaged to be fully understood.

San Francisco Artists:
Sean Dorsey is an award-winning San Francisco-based choreographer and dancer. Recognized as the nation’s first out transgender modern dance choreographer, Dorsey has blazed a new trail for transgender and queer bodies and stories onstage. Dorsey has been awarded two Isadora Duncan Dance Awards and the Goldie Award for Performance. He was recently named Best Dance/Performance Company by the SF Weekly, and has also been named one of the Top Ten in Bay Area dance by both the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Bay Area Reporter. BalletTanz, Europe’s leading dance magazine, named Dorsey one of the international dance scene’s most promising choreographers. Dorsey is the subject of a recent PBS ‘Spark’ episode. Dorsey is also founder and Artistic Director of Fresh Meat Productions, the nation’s first organization that creates and presents year-round transgender arts programs. Fresh Meat’s programs include the outrageously popular Fresh Meat Festival of transgender and queer performance, Sean Dorsey Dance, visual arts exhibitions and co-presenting the annual Tranny Fest film festival.

The consummate candy-fag, Thisway/Thatway (aka Stephanie Cooper) is an intermedia performance artist who enjoys the messy collision of glitter and theory. They launched into performance with the finest of Washington, DC's drag king and burlesque scene before wandering to the Bay area. The child of Black-Panamanian immigrants, their work explores the perils and possibilities of interstitial spaces through voice, video, and movement. Thisway/Thatway has performed with the National Queer Arts Festival, SF Fringe Festival, Climate Theater, Counterpulse, Voice Factory, Garage Artspace, Femme Conference, Toronto Pride, Great Big,and International Drag King Extravaganza. Thisway/Thatway is currently preparing Laye(red), a show commissioned through the Queer Cultural Center set to debut in the 2009 NQAF. When not on stage, they can be seen as "smarty-pants student" at Mills College pursuing a bachelor's degree in Ethnic Studies. Cooper will continue in the Performance Studies doctoral program at UC Davis this fall.

Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa, also known as the Devil Bunny in Bondage, is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary performance artist, video artist, cultural activist, curator and percussionist of Filipino and Colombian descent. She is originally from Miami, Florida and received her B.A. from Brown University where she created an independent concentration entitled "Hybridity and Performance." She has worked with non-profit arts organizations and HIV prevention service agencies such as the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, Proyecto ContraSIDA Por Vida, New Langton Arts, Galería de la Raza, the Queer Cultural Center, Asian American Theater Company and the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center. She has worked on various artistic collaborations under the mentorship and direction of performing artists such as Pearl Ubungen, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Elia Arce and Afia Walking Tree. Her work in performance, video and writing has been presented nationally and internationally. She has received grants from the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art (2000-2001), the San Francisco Art Commission Cultural Equity Grants Program, the Potrero Nuevo Fund Prize and the Zellerbach Family Fund.

Highways Performance Space presents the Los Angeles dates of the tour Friday + Saturday, March 6 + 7 at 8:30pm and Sunday, March 8 at 3:00pm.

“I find that in our LGBTQ community we tend to isolate from the other,” Highways’ artistic director Leo Garcia says. “We find comfort in being with those who are like us. Fringes-Margins-Borders is a new kind of Highways’ performing arts program designed to initiate a creative community-building public dialogue. It’s our ongoing effort to promote understanding and mutual respect across artificially and socially constructed identity divides. The production’s artistic goal is to express and reflect California’s new multicultural social paradigm by commissioning 8 individual artists to create coherent, intelligent and insightful narratives rooted in their observations, complaints, experiences and discoveries. We’re touring four cities with this project, San Francisco, L.A., Claremont and San Diego. We couldn’t do it without the support of the Irvine Foundation and the National Performance Network.”

Fringes-Margins-Borders reflects the contradictory opinions and values generated by California’s profound demographic changes of the past forty years. The artists attempt to capture this complex moment in California’s history, when the state’s social fabric and its cultural landscape are being transformed into something entirely different than they were before the Millennium. Because people of color comprise the majority of California’s population and because the state’s LGBT residents are equally distributed across all demographic groups, the art being created on what were formerly regarded as California’s “margins” is now moving to center stage.

Highways Performance Space is in its 20th year as Southern California’s boldest center for new performance, promoting the development of contemporary, socially involved artists and art forms from diverse local, national and international communities. Artistic Director Leo Garcia continues to affirm Highways mission of developing and presenting innovative performance. For more information, photos or interviews, please contact Leo Garcia, Artistic Director @ 310-453-1755.

The project is sponsored in part by the James Irvine Foundation and is a National Performance Network Creation Fund Project.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reviews: Bad Scifi Night

So every week or two, a handful of musicologists and I get together and watch old scifi movies. Most of them are truly awful. They are generally chosen with no criteria whatsoever, although a scandalous title or provocative cover art tend to attract our attention. I tend to gravitate toward movies from the '50s or ones with female characters, one of my friends prefers movies set in space. Barbarella and Teenagers from Outer Space have been our favorite choices so far. I can't promise reviews of all our viewings, since I am frequently not paying full critical attention while watching, and many of these films defy all attempts at comprehension, but I thought I would share my experiences when I can.

She Wolves of the Wasteland (1988). aka Phoenix Rising: The film is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which all of the men are dead. A tribe of evil bounty hunters ruled by a creepy Reverend Mother pursue a pair of leggy blondes, one of whom happens to be illicitly impregnated with stolen sperm that will produce a male child. The bounty hunters are delightfully dyke-y in their fashion choices (that's how you know they're bad), while our renegade heroes wear bikini tops and loincloths while they fight to preserve the heterosexual family. The main point of this film is its scenes of girl-on-girl fighting and topless waterfall frolicking. There is a tragic lack of lesbian relationships considering a world without men, but if you're into post-apocalyptic sexploitation films and girls with guns, this one's for you!

Assignment: Outer Space (1960) aka Space Men. In this film, Rik Van Nutter plays Ray Peterson, a self-centered reporter who is assigned to report on a space station mission, immediately clashes with the station captain and finds himself entangled in a disaster that threatens to destroy the earth. Although there are several bases and colonies on other planets, apparently the destruction of Earth implies the end of civilization and thus several people must risk their lives to save the planet. The convolutions the plot takes to get the characters into high-risk situations make no sense whatsoever and for some reason everything is much slower than it should be. There is exactly one African-American in the movie who is kindly, wise, and self-sacrificing and one woman for whom the men risk their lives. This film was a little too slow for me and the special effects were absurdly low-budget and hard to follow. Why in the world couldn't they set fire to the models to show the ships being destroyed? At one point we took to counting how many times the same shot of the spaceship taking off was used. This is not a particularly good movie, and the hilarious terribleness of the special effects is diminished by the plodding pacing.

So those are my responses for this week's scifi selections. I'll take recommendations if there's anything out there you'd like to suggest for reviewing, but all final screening decisions are reached by consensus. As usual, my reviews will tend to come from a queer/feminist perspective, so if you don't want to hear how this movie could be made better by more female characters or explicit homoeroticism, look elsewhere for your recommendations.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another Season at the Ahmanson

CTG announced the new season at the Ahmanson, and I don't even really have the energy to complain about it. It's boring, but fine. Nothing new, nothing interesting, just transfers of shows that got a lot of attention on Broadway: Spamalot, August: Osage County, Mary Poppins, South Pacific, and, as a "bonus" not included with the season, An Evening with Patty LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. If the tickets are cheap enough, I might actually consider seeing some of these shows (South Pacific is dissertation related), but they feel like giving up. The Ahmanson is telling us they have no interest in producing new work or programming interesting, quirky, or offbeat productions, they have no interest in making L.A. anything but a second or third stop for Broadway shows before they go on full national tours. Fine. I think the Ritchie quote in the Times summarizes it perfectly: "What's not to love?" Ritchie said. "You look at that season and there isn't anyone who doesn't say: 'I want to see those five shows.'" Even he isn't arguing that these are good choices or a good season; they're just the things people have heard about. He sounds like a slightly more eloquent George W. Bush - self-satisfied and unintelligent.

Saying that, my real point is, what's up with this season programming? They're announcing the Ahmanson season now and it begins in June, but I just this week subscribed to the current season at the Taper that starts now and goes through next October. WTF? Couldn't they at least be consistent across one organization about when the year starts and stops? Plus, as an academic, I really wish they could either follow the the academic year - it's really hard for me to commit to shows for next October.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Depression and Theater Economics

Minksy's. Ahmanson Theatre. 2/11/09.

First and foremost, Minsky's is a fun show. I laughed out loud, really. It's cute, entertaining fare and I wouldn't hesitate to take my parents. It may not be as good as Kiss Me Kate or Guys and Dolls, but wants to be a cross between the two in the tradition of the backstage musical with a genuine love for the theater and a happy little romance plot. Everyone who I've talked to has good things to say about it. It's intended to follow Curtains and The Drowsy Chaperone in transferring to Broadway and it will probably do just fine there.

However, I can't say that means I'm an unequivocal fan. The show had some charming moments, and the closing number, "Nothing Lasts Forever," was truly delightful, but much of the show was rough going, especially at the beginning. The first two numbers, both "rehearsal" scenes at Minsky's Burlesque Palace, did a terrible job at establishing the characters or making me feel sympathetic toward our leading man. It really took far too long for either of the leads to interest me at all. By the end I was fan, and Christopher Fitzgerald did an excellent job as Billy Minsky, but he needed much better character development earlier in the show. In fact, most of the characters could use more development early on - just because they're recognizable types doesn't mean I'll care about them. Overall, the show was deliberately filled with tired jokes and routines, hoping that the comfort of the familiar will make the old feel new again.

As a theater historian, I find the show's representation of burlesque fascinating but problematic. Rather than being either entertaining or provocative, Minsky's starts out just stripping the girls almost naked and starting from there. From everything I know about burlesque, it may not be classy, but the point is at least partially the humor and the tease, not just the fact that the girls aren't wearing very much. While I liked the clever humor of "Keep it Clean" in which the girls spend most of the number just barely covering themselves with towels as they bathe, several of the other "burlesque" numbers seem to miss the point of burlesque altogether. The show plays fast and loose with both the source material and the historical background in order to create a setting that feels more contemporary, but the attempt to be relevant feels heavy-handed and personally, I think both the historical facts and the film version seem more interesting.

Minsky's is trying to be all-too-contemporary in its discussion of the economic downturn (read: Great Depression) and culture wars, but it seems to be doing so without quite enough self-awareness to feel contemporary. The message seems to be that some good, old-fashioned entertainment is the solution to all economic problems, as evidenced by the number "You Gotta Get Up When You're Down," but the show doesn't really establish that the Depression is really the problem. They keep mentioning it, but it would be nice to see the economic hardship actually performed (perhaps in an opening musical number?). Instead, the show starts with rehearsal and then psychiatrists, which, while hilarious, seem like a luxury in times of economic hardship. The message of the show, as evidenced in the title of the NY Times review: What's the Cure for those Depression Blues? Hoofing in Your Scanties. The idea that theater is part of the cure for economic and psychological depression is a good one, though not at all well developed in Minsky's - the show just served to remind me of my underemployed status and how I should go to cheaper theater than the Broadway-bound show (even though I didn't pay for the ticket). I just kept feeling that I would have more fun and excitement and less guilt if I saw smaller, cheaper theater. I don't think that's really the message the Ahmanson wants so send right now.

In fact, the whole thing made me want to go to some actual burlesque, which isn't as dead as the musical wants me to think.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Good News/Bad News

Last week, The LA Times reported that CTG is planning a series of minimally staged new works at the Kirk Douglas Theater. Any return to supporting new work is a good thing, but this is a far cry from the commitment to diversity and emerging artists that CTG used to offer. It's a good thing that they're willing to program things that might not entice an audience through the subscription model, but I want to note that the shows they announced sound like more of the same boys' club that Ritchie programs at the Douglas and the Taper. Here's the lineup:

--"Darwin," March 14 only, 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

--Mike Daisey's "How Theater Failed America," directed by Jean-Michele Gregory. March 18-21, 8 p.m.

--Workshop performance of Daisey's newest work, "The Last Cargo Cult," March 22, 3 p.m.

--World premiere of "The Projectionist," by L.A. playwright Michael Sargent, directed by Bart DeLorenzo, March 26-28, 8 p.m.; April 2-3, 8 p.m.; April 4, 7:30 and 9 p.m.

--Staged public workshops of the hip-hop musical "Venice," by Matt Sax and Eric Rosen ("Clay"), April 15-18, 8 p.m.

First of all, note that ALL of the shows are by men. In fact, as a far as I can tell from the descriptions, all of the shows are by and/or about straight and/or white men. If that's not more of the same, I don't know what is. Is it really that hard to program even one show by a woman? One of the shows is by L.A. artists, which is good and I highly approve of the choice of Bart DeLorenzo as a director, but otherwise, it seems to me that this programming isn't particularly different from the rest of Richie's programming.

These shows are clearly trying too hard to be "young" and "edgy" and trying to appeal to a young audience. But really, Richie seems overly enamored with the gimmicky aspects of hip-hop theater, and Darwin's "electroluminescent dinosaur." They're not even really particularly cheap, even through they're promoting lower ticket prices as appealing to younger crowds. The $20 ticket price is the same discount price they're offering on their expanded HotTix program for all CTG shows. If you were actually interested in seeing all of these works, it would be $100, which isn't exactly affordable for a young audience. They might succeed in some one-off new attendees who already happen to be fans of these particular artists or have heard of but not seen their work, but this doesn't seem like it will manage to really build a new audience for CTG programming or even for the artists they're supporting.

Thanks to Frank's Wild Lunch for pointing me to the article.

Returning to Old Habits

I won't say I'm back, because that sounds a little like overpromising when I haven't updated this blog in half a year, but if anyone is listening or stumbling across, I apologize for my silence. It has accompanied a difficult period in which I finished my dissertation and found myself both overworked and underemployed. Adjunct teaching and applying for jobs doesn't lend itself to stimulating blog discourse, unfortunately, and I admit that I've probably been pretty depressed. I also hadn't been attending much theater, which was the point of this thing after all. So I've poked around under the hood to give the place a new look, and an updated list of links to things which actually exist (yay!) and hopefully I will have a more exciting life worthy of report and analysis.

I am also returning to old habits, many of which have been sorely neglected in the past year or so. I'm having friends over regularly for communal TV-viewing (Battlestar Galactica, Gossip Girl, Top Chef, and Big Love are the current favorites) and getting together with friends for Bad Sci-Fi film viewings, which are fabulous. After much soul searching, I renewed my subscription to the Mark Taper Forum even though I feel like their programing is still too white, middle-class, and heterosexual. Having the season ticket gets me to go out and see theater that I wouldn't necessarily choose for myself, and that's probably a good thing, even if I'm terribly nostalgic for the days when Gordon Davidson programed theater worth caring about; I still really hate Michael Ritchie's taste. I've also started opening up my RSS reader again, so I'm getting caught up on friends' blogs, local events, and the voices that have been absent from my life for the past year or so. I'm doing some research on local history here in Los Angeles and working on revising a dissertation chapter into an article, and hopefully those projects will help inspire new ideas to share with the world. So, maybe I'm back to blogging as well. It's a good time for new starts.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Adventures in Retro LA

I had the most amazing weekend exploring the fabulousness of Los Angeles history. Almost by coincidence, I found myself visiting some of the sites of the city's popular history, places the exemplify the layers of the urban past in all their commercial glory and whimsical exuberance.

It began on Friday with a trip to Disneyland in the rain. Because of the rain there were almost no lines, so we explored all of the rides I usually don't bother with, including several of the attractions that date back to opening day: The Jungle Cruise, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Scary Adventures, the Storybook Land Canal Boats, and Peter Pan's Flight. We even went into the Main Street Cinema and watched "Plane Crazy" and "Steamboat Willie." I went with people who know Disneyworld and see Disneyland as a quaint cousin of the larger park, but for me it represents both childhood memories and the embodiment of the local myth of Southern California as a place of wild dreams and playful innovation.

On Saturday, I had tickets with a friend to "Something to Crow About" at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater in celebration of Baker's 85th birthday. I knew it was shameful that I had lived in L.A. for so long without attending the Marionette Theater, and this was a delightful opportunity to learn about it. There was short film about the history of Baker's work, which is amazing, and then Baker and host Charles Phoenix (Who is fabulous! His voice and his suits make me swoon!) presented a short slideshow of Baker's personal history as puppeteer to the studios and the stars. Following an intermission featuring free wine and/or fruit punch, the puppeteers of Baker's studio presented "Something to Crow About," a marionette show originally performed in 1959. The performance combined the classic humor of a mid-century vaudeville or variety act with a surprising liveliness that skillful puppeteers gave to the marionettes (and one of the puppeteers was totally a cute girl with a pixie haircut, yay!). The show culminated in Baker himself manipulating a marionette of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson demonstrating tap steps. It was very impressive! The whole evening was truly a delight.

Before the show, we ate dinner at Clifton's Cafeteria, where the food was ok, but the decor was fabulous. The interior is decorated as a woodland wonderland, complete with waterfall and strange stuffed animals (and wandering Mariachi singer - isn't that what you expect in the forest?). This location has been serving Los Angeles since 1935!

We finished our evening at Tiki Ti, the last of the great LA tiki bars, founded in 1961. We enjoyed potent rum-based cocktails at the very crowded (and mysteriously populated predominently by straight men) bar, amusing ourselves with the video menu's descriptions and taglines for all the drinks (all of which are hilarious, and many of which I hope to try at some point).

I know that people from back east and other countries scoff at a city where a bar founded in the 1960s is considered an icon of urban history, but each of the locations I visited this weekend is a tribute to the magic and artifice of local culture in the booming mid-century. I have visited the missions, ranchos and pueblos of earlier California history, but there's something about L.A. that evokes elaborate architecture of 20th century modernism. It is in many ways a city of the 1950s and visiting the shrines to mid-century Southern California culture feels like finding the soul of the city to me. I am absolutely delighted by my weekend of local exploration, and I think the retro-fabulousness of these locations, while evoking kitsch and nostalgia, also feels appropriate for this city of the Golden West.