Some of my favorite arts moments and events this year came from unexpected places. An impromptu piano concert overheard through a door, for instance. Or a phenomenal acting performance happening across from me on stage. Here, in no particular order, are the bright bits of local creativity that caught my fancy the most. (Got some ideas of your own? Email me at rwallace (at) paweekly.com.)
Pear appeal: “When Artists Attack the King,” Cantor Arts Center
Superstar French satirist Henri Daumier won a beautifully curated tribute last summer at the Stanford museum. His chiseled prints, fresh from the pages of the 1830s publication “La Caricature,” were the centerpiece of an exhibition in which curator Elizabeth Kathleen Mitchell seamlessly mingled history and humor. Anyone can make fun of a fat-bottomed king, but no one depicted Louis-Philippe as a bulbous pear with as much panache as Daumier.
(Pictured in my photo: A pear-shaped array of prints at the Cantor.)
Tiny desk concert: Thomas Schultz, Stanford University
When I arrived at pianist Thomas Schultz’s door for an interview in September, something stopped me from knocking. I could hear him playing one of the Steinways in his Stanford office, a John Cage piece of skips and stops and ups and downs, and I didn’t want to interrupt. Every time I thought he was finished, he started playing again. So I stood and listened. I heard the piece take form and evolve. I began to enjoy the tension of the pauses, expectant to see what happened next. And I started to really love John Cage.
Hey there, Josie girl: “Moon for the Misbegotten,” Pear Avenue Theatre
A small but mighty Pear cast presented a heroic rendition of Eugene O’Neill’s “Moon for the Misbegotten” on the Pear’s tiny stage in January and February. The production was pitch-perfect: heartbreaking, atmospheric and always startlingly real. Weekly drama critic Jeanie Smith directed and my friend Susannah Greenwood played Josie, but don’t take my biased word alone that the show was excellent: The folks at the Tao House, where O’Neill wrote “Misbegotten,” invited the Pear cast over to perform the show again last fall.
Medieval manuscripts: “Scripting the Sacred,” Green Library
They let me touch the 12th century. Not only did Stanford’s David Jordan, Kathryn Dickason and Elizabeth Fischbach craft a fascinating exhibit of illuminated books of hours and other medieval hand-written documents, but they took a lectionary from 1100s Italy out of a glass case and let me hold it. The parchment was stained with age but rich with words, and smoother than you would imagine. I don’t think I breathed.
Tragedy across time: “Triangle,” TheatreWorks
Yes, you can make the 1911 fire in New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory into a musical. Last summer I saw “Triangle,” written by Curtis Moore, Thomas Mizer and Joshua Scher, while it was still in the staged-reading phase, and I hope to see it progress beyond the New Works Festival. There’s a modern scientist working in the building where the fire took place; a young immigrant woman who labors in the factory in 1911; and an unusual mix of character pairings that I found fresh and always interesting.
Carefully observed: “Guardians,” Cantor Arts Center
You look at the art; they look at you. The women of a certain age who are guards in Russia’s state art museum are always in their designated chairs, and always keeping a close eye on their charges, err, museum guests. San Francisco photographer Andy Freeberg has a creepily insightful series of photos of these women, which came to Stanford last year. I loved finding parallels between the guards and the art, such as a saintly expression on the face of a woman who minds religious art. In a neat local touch, Freeberg also photographed veteran Cantor guards.
Local luminary: Beverley Griffith, a stage near you
Last winter, I had the good fortune to play opposite one of the Bay Area’s finest actors, Beverley Griffith: I was Izzy and she was my Bubbie in a San Jose production of “Crossing Delancey.” You haven’t seen great acting until you’re on stage every night with someone you know is a long-legged English dancer who used to perform at the Moulin Rouge, and yet you’re still convinced she’s your shuffling Slavic grandmother. Here on the Peninsula, you may have seen Beverley as Dotty/Mrs. Clackett in “Noises Off” at Palo Alto Players or as Mrs. Graves in “Enchanted April” at the Bus Barn Stage Company.
Hills aglow: Gary Coleman, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
No one paints the poetry in California’s summertime hills like South Bay artist Gary Coleman. The places pop. As I phrased it when I wrote about his show at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in May: “Trees are so green that they’re sometimes blue; hills are so warm that they’re sometimes orange. The terrain may not technically look like this, but this is how it makes Coleman feel.” Viewers feel it, too.
Compelling collage: “Video Quartet,” Cantor Arts Center
The Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay has turned movies into a new form of music in “Video Quartet,” his amazing mashup of snippets taken from more than 700 films and woven together with a composer’s insight. The 14-minute piece is still showing on four screens at the Cantor through Feb. 10.
Oh boy, Bing: Bing Concert Hall, Stanford University
I’ll join the chorus and say one more time that the new Bing Concert Hall is just plain gorgeous. With its bright cedar stage, elegant vineyard-style seating and first-class acoustics, the venue looked a stunner when I attended the press preview in November. Like everyone else, I can’t wait to hear it sing after its official opening this month.
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