Itzhak Perlman on a wet afternoon; Laguna Beach Music Fest and more on tap


What defines a world-class artist? Itzhak Perlman’s virtuosity on the violin aside, what makes him truly great? The maestro defined it for us last week on his most recent visit to OC, turning his Philharmonic Society concert into an impromptu fan appreciation day. Recognizing the extraordinary effort patrons made to attend despite torrential rains, Perlman treated his audiences to not one, not two but three encores, pushing the concert well beyond the two-hour mark. Dinner can wait, he decided, intent on giving the crowd more than their money’s worth.

The encores, chosen on the spot, were but the proverbial icing on a very rich cake. As if he’d read my review of his last OC performance, Perlman eschewed the “greatest hits” approach he’s taken in the past and chose a more obscure repertoire: Vivaldi’s Sonata in A major for Violin and Concerto, Op. 2; Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Op. 24 (better known as the “Spring” Sonata); Schumann’s Fantasiestucke, Op. 73; and Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne for Violin and Piano.

Time seemed to stop at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall as Perlman played for what seemed the pure love of music. Rohan de Silva, who has toured with him worldwide of late, accompanied him expertly on the piano; content to sit in his partner’s shadow, he quietly enhanced the performance without once calling attention to himself. For those who missed it—and those who wouldn’t think of it—Perlman will return to SCFTA Jan. 14, 2018 to lead and conduct the L.A. Philharmonic, and perform Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor.

Meanwhile on the near horizon, the Philharmonic Society of OC will present the St. Lawrence String Quartet in celebration of composer John Adams’ 70th birthday (Feb. 5 at Irvine Barclay Theatre); the taiko-drumming troupe Kodo (Feb. 8 at SCFTA; the Laguna Beach Music Festival featuring cellist Johannes Moser and the Calder Quartet (Feb. 10-12 at Laguna Playhouse); Yuja Wang and Leonidas Kavakos (Feb. 12 at SCFTA); the Mandelring Quartet (Mar. 3 at Irvine Barclay); the High School Orchestra Festival (Mar. 11 at SCFTA); and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic led by the dynamic Yuri Temirkanov (Mar. 15 at SCFTA).


Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia…” in Fullerton, much ado about writers and writing in Sierra Madre

Mo Arii and Joe  Parrish in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (courtesy STAGEStheatre).
Mo Arii and Joe Parrish in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (courtesy STAGEStheatre).

Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (at Fullerton’s STAGEStheatre through Jan. 29) is one very entertaining play. It gets pretty silly at times but a little profound as well, right about the seventh-inning stretch. It starts out with an incisively funny portrait of sibling rivalry and ends up with a heartfelt meditation on change and a yearning for the things we’ve lost. Along the way there are more jokes and pop culture references (Chekhov, method acting, movies, etc.) than you can absorb in one sitting.

Durang writes wonderfully complex characters that make actors want to play them, and great monologues to challenge them; it’s no surprise the play won a Tony Award. He also skates by with things lesser-known playwrights could never get away with, like a repetitious amount of name-dropping.

Director Gray Krinke has assembled a fine ensemble cast to do his bidding, guiding first-rate performances by Joe Parrish as the cranky Vanya who mourns the past; Cynthia Ryanen as his adopted, bitter sister who regrets it; Mo Arii as Masha, their glamorous but needy movie-star sibling; and Keri Hellmuth as housekeeper-soothsayer Cassandra. Wolfgang Novogratz is amusing as Masha’s boytoy, aspiring actor Spike; Katie Raymond does what she can with the one-dimensional role of starstruck neighbor Nina.

A revival of Durang’s “Beyond Therapy” has quietly opened at Modjeska Playhouse in Lake Forest, where it runs through Feb. 12… Meanwhile, Sierra Madre Playhouse in Sierra Madre (near Pasadena) is staging “Bee-luther-hatchee” by Thomas Gibbons, “a story of writers and writing, stories that deserve to be told, and the issue of who is best to tell them.” The play (through Feb. 18) “provokes discussion on race, identity, and the power of writing.” The Playhouse is also presenting a concurrent series of panel discussions on Writers and Diversity on consecutive Thursday nights; all events in the series are free to the public.



“Roomate” at South Coast Rep, “Bakersfield Mist” back at Fountain, “Margarita” on DVD

Tessa Auberjonois and Linda Gehringer in “The Roommate.” Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.
Tessa Auberjonois and Linda Gehringer in “The Roommate.” Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.

Two women living together, reinventing life after marriage. Neil Simon found the idea fruitful when he reworked “The Odd Couple” for female actors. Now Jen Silverman has turned the construct on its head in her new play “The Roomate” (at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa through Jan. 22). Her twosome are not friends, as in Simon’s comedy of errors, but a pair of divorcees at loose ends brought together by convenience—an empty-nester renting out a room to a younger woman on the run from her messy past.

Most pointedly, Silverman has reinvigorated the concept with a millennial sensibility befitting her youth. Sharon (the always wonderful Linda Gehringer) is stunned by Robyn (the ever resourceful Tessa Auberjonois); she’s apparently never met a lesbian, let alone a lesbian vegan slam poet. Though they come from different worlds, the very private Robyn ultimately has a surprising effect on the warm, outgoing Sharon, acting as a catalyst for change and growth. SCR co-founder Martin Benson directs with a knowing hand that keeps the ball moving at all times.

Stephen Sachs has revived his riotously funny “Bakersfield Mist” with its original cast (through Feb. 26 at Los Angeles’ Fountain Theatre). As noted in my 2011 review:

Jenny O’Hara is ex-bartender Maude Gutman, who lives in a chotchke-filled trailer and believes “an ugly piece of crap” she bought in a thrift store for $3 is really an unknown work by Jackson Pollock worth millions. Nick Ullett is stuffy New York art expert Lionel Percy, who has come to examine the work…O’Hara and Ullett milk every ounce of comic gold under Sachs’ deft direction, as the play moves from sophisticated serio-comedy to knockabout farce and back. “Mist” is nothing less than an 85-minute master class for actors, and an unqualified joy for everyone else.

You’ll never view people with cerebral palsy—or disability in general—the same way again after you’ve seen “Margarita with a Straw.” The strength of this seriocomic indie (available on DVD from Wolfe Video) is Shonali Bose’s sensitive script and direction, and the naturalistic acting. Kalki Koechlin is outstanding as Laila, a college student with CP who wants to explore her sexuality with the same freedom she enjoys in developing her musical talent; Sayani Gupta is equally credible as Khanum, a blind Paki girl who befriends her.