Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Right in "Why Torture is Wrong..."

The Stella Adler Theatre is tucked away on the second floor in a small building in the midst of Hollywood's hustle-and-bustle.  I had taken the Metro Red Line there to meet my friend Melissa for "Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them".  The theatre is practically next door to Hollywood and Highland station, but I still had to walk by the lights and tall white columns of the Hollywood/Highland complex, past the El Capitan's blinking marquee, and the staple street performers and tourists roaming out on a Friday night.  So finding myself so immediately in a small theatre space was a little jarring - not in a bad way at all, but in that pleasant way where your headspace is slightly off and you appreciate the best of both worlds because you've somehow just experienced the good of both places at once.  "Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them" is kind of like that...messing with your headspace - in a good way - and making you laugh the entire time - even when you wonder if you're supposed to.... 

The audience follows the confusion of waking up in bed with an absolute stranger.  Felicity (portrayed by Rhea Seehorn) hilariously does what most might do - try to escape.  Remember this moment, because things will only get absurd from here. Try as she might to escape, the bad keeps on and the audience can't help but laugh on. 

Zamir (Sunil Malhotra), who keeps on insisting that he's Irish, reveals that he's had a history of crime, appears fairly violent toward women, and doesn't really like the idea of a job.  Felicity also suspects he might be a terrorist.  But worse than waking up next to someone you don't remember, Felicity finds she is apparently married to this man and he doesn't believe in divorce.

Felicity then tries to escape to her parents - Luella (Christine Estabrook) and Leonard (Mike Genovese) - but she doesn't seem to escape anywhere but to a place that might just be more quietly dysfunctional.  Luella can't help but talk of plays to escape and Leonard has his "butterfly" collection that occupies him for hours.  Leonard is an extreme conservative - anti-abortion, pro-Second Amendment, anti-terrorism - and latches on too quickly (and fondly) to the idea that Zamir might be a terrorist.

Christopher Durang's play holds nothing back in political references and jokes at the conservative extreme, nor does he hold back in the amusing portrayal of the lax liberal Reverend Mike (Nicholas Brendon) who makes his living in less-than-holy ways.  He successfully adds in the Leonard-fan/follower Hildegarde (Catherine Hicks) and the "voice" Felicity hears (Alec Mapa) to bring the audience to an absurdist reality of misunderstanding and prejudices seen through a comic lens.  Even Hooters doesn't look the same in this play.

The cast as a whole is a terrific ensemble and each actor brings their role to the audience well.   Seehorn as Felicity keeps the play together as it shifts in and out of one absurd situation into another and Malhotra, as Zamir, gives a character you want to hate, then you're not sure if you should, then you really root for him when the play is at its most intense.  Genovese as Leonard is so seriously devoted in his extremism that you can't help but laugh, particularly alongside Estabrook's delivery of Luella's love for plays, rambling crazy facts/assessments about her husband, and flights-of-fancy.  Meanwhile, Hicks as Hildegarde, Mapa as the Voice, and Brendon as Reverend Mike shine in their time on stage - from Hicks' comedic portrayal of loving devotion to Leonard to Mapa's random appearances as a narrator to Brendon's hilarious psychedelic Reverend Mike with his philosophy and one-liners.

The play successfully executes "Why Torture..." is right. 

WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM by Christopher Durang runs until March 14th.  For more details, visit the listing on

-Charity Tran

Photo: Left to Right: Rhea Seehorn, Nicholas Brendon, Sunil Malhotra.  Photo by Rick Baumgartner.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Silver Lake Jubilee: A festival's mission for sustainability

An upcoming partner event this spring (May 22 & 23, in fact) is the Silver Lake Jubilee. This brand new, two-day art and music festival celebrates the cultural offerings of Silver Lake and surrounding neighborhoods. When I first learned of Silver Lake Jubilee, I was excited to help support the event as it seemed a perfect fit for ExperienceLA fans: family-friendly, promotes art and cultural awareness, embraces the community...In speaking with the event organizers to get additional details, I discovered that they were interested in promoting not just a community, but a sustainable community.

This intrigued me. I wondered how a festival of any size can go green beyond providing recycling bins. So the organizers put me in touch with one of their partners, Leslie VanKeuren from Sustain LA. Leslie is working with SLJ to help design a festival that will have "zero waste" when all is said and done, meaning that 90% of waste will be diverted from landfills through recycling, composting, and by designing out the waste.

I was surprised to learn all the various ways waste could be "designed" out of an event. For instance, I never really stopped to think about the water I purchased on those hot summer days attending music festivals. Nor did I think twice about what my food was served in or on. Sure, I was at least aware of putting my water bottle into the recycling bin, and making sure my disposable plates and aluminum foil went into the waste basket. But I never even considered that those items might not be necessary in the first place.

One of the ways SLJ will look to reduce waste is by encouraging the use of reusable beverage containers. Food vendors will also be educated on options for plating and serving that are biodegradable. Solar panels will be brought in to supply energy to the event. And festival goers can do their part by taking Metro or other public transportation, or riding their bikes to Silver Lake Jubilee (bike valets will be available). Volunteers will also be available to provide more information for those interested in learning how to be more effective in reducing your carbon footprint.

Of course, while these are just a few of the ways that SLJ hope to achieve a zero waste and carbon neutral status, the event won't accomplish its green goal simply by design. The biggest challenge is to change how people think about waste. Surely it won't happen overnight, but the effort is a start. At least for me, learning about SLJ's goals and the steps it's taking has made me more aware and conscientous of the waste I produce on a daily basis (shocking!), and adjust some of my behaviors. It will be curious to see whether other festival attendees will be affected in the same way and make a conscious effort to help eliminate waste while they're enjoying the jubilee. It's exciting to think about the possibility of LA one day becoming a leader in sustainable living.

As a side note, check out the calendar listing, or back on our blog for event updates as musical acts are confirmed!


Monday, February 22, 2010

This Week: Find Info and Give Feedback for Metro Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2

There will be 4 public scoping meetings held this week so that the public can learn more about the proposed project to extend the Gold Line further east. The public can also provide their input at these meetings. Meetings start today (February 22) in Pico Rivera at the Pio Pico Women's Center (6pm-8pm).  More meeting information and ways to find info/give feedback after the jump.

2/22/2009 6:00pm-8:00pm
Pio Pico Women's Center
9214 Mines Ave.
Pico Rivera, CA 90660

2/24/2009 6:00pm-9:00pm
South El Monte Senior Center
Dining Rm
1556 Central Ave.
South El Monte, CA 91733

2/25/2009 6:00pm-9:00pm
Senior Center at City Park
South Wing
115 S. Taylor Ave
Montebello, CA 90640

2/27/2009 10:00am-1:00pm
The Salvation Army Santa Fe Springs
12000 E. Washington Blvd.
Whittier, CA 90606

If you can't attend one of the meetings below, you can also submit comments by mail, fax, or email by April 14th 2010.

Kimberly Yu
Project Manager
Metro One Gateway Plaza 99-22-2
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Fax: 213-922-3005

Want to become a fan of Metro's Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2?   They have a Facebook page.

-Charity Tran

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Celadine at the Colony Theatre in Burbank

(Photo by Michael Lamont: Giselle Wolf, Will Barker and Holly Hawkins in the West Coast Premiere of "Celadine" at the Colony Theatre.)

I was fortunate, on Valentine's Day, to have a husband who was interested in going to the theatre without having to drag him kicking and screaming. We attended a performance of the West Coast premiere of Charles Evered's "Celadine" at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. First of all, I didn't even know there was a theatre next to the Burbank mall. Secondly, I was impressed at how charming and intimate the theatre was. Certainly a change from some of our past theatre experiences at larger venues such as the Ahmanson or Pantages.

Artistic Director Barbara Beckley welcomed the audience and spoke briefly before the show of the wonderful support the community has provided. The Colony Theatre celebrates is 35th anniversary season. Looking around the audience, I speculated that many of the long-time supporters were among the crowd. There was a feeling of pride that this theatre has been able to entertain audiences for so many years.

"Celadine" is a story that takes place in 17th century London. It tells of a woman playwright, Celadine, who may be considered ahead of her time and gets entangled in espionage and a case of treason. While the story itself begged for a little more tension and drama, it had its moments of comedy (warning: mature content that might make you blush and giggle) and emotion. The cast members offer strong and entertaining performances. So much so that when it was over, I hardly noticed that two hours had passed by.

Evered's desire to create a role that allowed a female actor to go beyond being an "ingenue" or a "matron," and Giselle Wolf's performance as Celadine, are both refreshing and appreciated.

Overall, we were pleased with our experience at the Colony Theatre, and we're looking forward to their next production of "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris."


Monday, February 15, 2010

LA Street Food Fest

We gazed longingly through the gates that held us out. We were envious of those who'd made it through into the 1st Annual LA Street Food Fest. We were hopeful as we endured the heat, the sun beating down upon us. The line moved, slowly. My husband and I had been in line for nearly an hour and a half, and it looked like we had at least another 45 minutes before we made it to the front. I looked back and couldn't see the end of the line. It was too far away.

I texted back and forth with my friends who were among the fortunate to have made it into the event. More of the same on the other side. Waiting. And then, for those of us waiting outside, a voice echoed through a bull-horn: "We're sorry everyone. We've reached capacity and will probably remain at capacity for the rest of the day...we're not letting anymore people in. We're so sorry...Thank you so much for your support..."

It was 2:30. The crowd slowly started to disperse, disappointment on our faces. We were starving. What to do now? Chinatown's New Year festival was happening, but that would be packed and crowded. Little Tokyo was nearby, but it sounded like many others had the same idea.

We hopped the Red Line from downtown back to North Hollywood, and there at the top of the station was a tamale cart. No lines or huge crowds. It was almost as if he was there waiting for us, knowing what we had just gone through. We purchased a couple of tamales, and sat and enjoyed our lunch peacefully and immediately.

A text from my friend. He was still in line waiting for his first food truck sample. He had been in line waiting for his food almost as long as we had waited outside just to get in. His wife also in line at another food truck. They had decided to split up. In the end, they spent the entire day at LA Street Food Fest, only to sample 3-4 trucks out of 35.

While many complained, we all know we'll be back next year. Why? Because this is LA. Believe it or not, we do have a sense of community and want to support it. And we're proud of our food truck culture. The turnout for this year's LA Street Food Fest demonstrated that. The organizers will learn from their mistakes, and I'm sure next year's will be better. That said, I still plan to arrive early, and will probably come with an entourage so we can hit as many trucks as possible. See you next year at the 2nd Annual LA Street Food Fest!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Not So Different

Colorful Dancers by plushcattech.

I recently went to the Little Tokyo Korea Japan Festival at the Aratani Theatre in the JACCC Plaza and, not-surprisingly, thoroughly enjoyed myself. Hey! It's Little Tokyo - a little taste of Japan, but much closer to home. I say a little taste because unlike the homogenous Tokyo, Little Tokyo is diversifying... which happened to be the icing on my cake (the cherry on top was being able to see James Kyson Lee of "Heroes" fame as one of the MCs for the event!).

I went to the film festival with my cup full with knowledge of Japanese language and customs, but completely empty on Korean language, culture and customs. While watching a great action movie, Rough Cut in Korean, I realized that the two cultures are not so different, as it was easy for me to immerse myself in the movie's plot.

After the film was a documentary on the changing culture of Little Tokyo and its residents. The documentary, I felt, hit on a much needed discussion of bringing the two cultures, separated by years of history, together. I know that it is difficult for the Japanese to speak about unpleasant subjects. I've been a part of a discussion with WWII POWs kept in the very city I stayed in for three years and saw this difficulty. This festival really helped ease through to bring people together. Especially with great performances from the Taiko Project and Korean Dance Academy.

One of my big motivations for going to this event was the bento lunch. I love bento lunches with are the different little tastes in one neat package. Unfortunately, I waited to watch the outdoor performance by the Korean Dance Academy, that all the bento lunches were gone. (They must've been delicious!) But no matter! I decided to stop by Spitz to get a Doner Kebab and a sangria. Not very Japanese, but every since I had a taste of their garlic aioli sauce, I've been craving it. (Plus, I planned to go shopping for japanese groceries to take home later.)

I got back to the Aratani Theater to see the Japanese film Sanjuro, a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Tsubaki Sanjuro. For being a hard-core Japanese fan, I actually have not seen any of Kurosawa's films (I know... shame! shame!) except for snippets here and there which were quite somber. (I usually prefer the craziness of Japanese anime.) When I heard it was a remake, I prepared myself for a serious samurai tale. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a light-hearted tale about a wise-cracking lone ronin and a group of young and inexperienced samurai planning to rescue their clan counselor from the corrupt Inspector General. I especially loved seeing the funny Tamao Nakamura as the counselor's wife.

I ended my day with a trip to the Yamazaki bakery and stocking up on Japanese goodies for my cupboard, but also stocking up on new interests in the Korean culture for my mind and a renewed love of Los Angeles for my heart.

Here are a few video clips of Taiko Project and Korean Dance Academy for you to enjoy:

-Tiina Vuorenmaa

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Photos: L.A. Sunsets

So while L.A. isn't hunkered down like the East Coast, skipping work, sipping hot chocolate, and watching puppy cams on our computers while the snow bombards us, there's no reason we shouldn't celebrate one of Los Angeles best qualities - the (mostly) perpetual sunshine.  One of the best times to admire the sun is when it sets, so here's some photos from our Flickr Pool featuring sunsets:

Untitled - by current_events

Downtown Sunset After the Rain 2 - by intellichick

Sunset overlook - by Grant Palmer Photography

Westwood Village Sunset - by Lucyrk in LA

-Charity Tran

Thursday, February 04, 2010

You're never too old

There are some things in life for which we grow too old, though very few things in my opinion. "Mary Poppins" is certainly not one of those things. For Christmas, I decided to get my mother-in-law (who is nearing 80 and is a great lover of live theatre) tickets to see the musical at the Ahmanson Theatre with her son and daughter-in-law. It was a pleasant way, spending time with family, to end a very long day (I will spare you the details).

Our evening started with dinner at Noe at the Omni Hotel. Fortunately for us, DineLA's Restaurant Week was occurring the evening of the play, so we decided to take advantage of the reasonably priced fixed menu and treat dear mother-in-law to a nice meal. After dinner, we walked off the meal as we strolled over to the theatre. I know, she's nearly 80, how could we make her walk so far? But honestly, she wanted and appreciated the walk and the agreeable weather. Of course, my husband ran and got the car to pick us up afterward.

One of my favorite things about going to the theatre is the magical feeling I get of being whisked away to another time and place. This production of "Mary Poppins" did not disappoint. While I much prefer the movie version, the stage adaptation was mostly solid. There were a few spots in the story that could have been stronger, but overall, everything felt - magical. From the set design, to the costumes, to the performers, the timeless tale of a fantastic nanny and a family in need of connecting, was brought to life in such a way that the young, as well as the old all walked away with great big smiles on our faces. How could we not, with characters like Mrs. Corry (a memorable scene full of color and energy it makes your eyes burst and head spin all at once), moments where statues come to life, and people tap-dancing on the ceiling? Ashley Brown (Poppins) and Gavin Lee (Bert) are original cast members from the London production, and give impressive performances.

My husband, who'd never seen the movie but was familiar with the story, always hated Mary Poppins because he thought it was propaganda to trick kids into obeying. But I caught him chuckling and moving to the music throughout the play. And when Mary Poppins flew over our heads, I noticed both he and his mother waving to her. For us, the message of spending time with your family was definitely welcomed and received.

"Mary Poppins" completes its run at the Ahmanson Theatre this Sunday, February 7.


Disney and the GRAMMY Foundation Unveil Hand-Painted Basses for Auction

GRAMMY-winning Jazz Bassist/Composer Stanley Clarke said at today's unveiling of five Disney-themed hand painted basses that " is the bridge that brings people together."

True to that theme, Disney Youth Programs and artists from Walt Disney Animation Studios marked the 25th anniversary of Disney Magic Music Days with these custom-designed basses featuring Disney animation films Dumbo, Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, The Princess and the Frog and the upcoming Rapunzel.

The basses were unveiled on the GRAMMY Museum Sound Stage.  Each bass design came with its own story. Brian Kesinger, who designed the Aladdin Genie bass, had some help from an auto body shop that volunteered to provide the bass with its Genie-quality shine.  Michael Surrey worked with his daugther Ellen Surrey, an art student, in completing their Dumbo-themed project.  Other designers included Lorelay Bove (The Princess and the Frog bass), Claire Keane (Rapunzel bass), and Douglas Rogers (Chesire Cat bass). 

The basses donated by Conn-Selmer, Inc. were designed by Walt Disney Animation Studio artists for auction.  Julien's Auctions, which specializes in entertainment memorabilia, will conduct the auction on June 26, 2010 at Planet Hollywood Resort in Las Vegas.  In the months prior to the auction, each bass will be on display in various locations including the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, Planet Hollywood in New York, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. 

The proceeds of the auction will benefit the GRAMMY In The Schools® music education programs of the GRAMMY Foundation®. The unveiling of these basses also featured alumni from GRAMMY Camp - Devon Eisenbarger (guitar/vocals) and Edwin Carranza (bass). Check out the video of the performance below and see the talent that can be cultivated in the GRAMMY Foundation's music education programs.

Here are more photos:

For more information on the instruments and auction, visit

-Charity Tran