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Red, Beauty, Yemen

March 26, 2012

Some brief notes from a weekend of fantastic culture-vulturing...

1. John Logan's Red at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, directed by Les Waters: I am going to miss Les Waters. The talented director recently decamped from his position as associate artistic director at the Berkeley Rep to assume the top artistic job at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Those lucky Louisvillians. Red, John Logan's play which delves into the intellectual and emotional life of the great American painter Mark Rothko, provided a fitting Berkeley swan song for a director of Waters' intellectual and emotional capacity. Logan's writing gets a little off track at times -- he has Rothko bloviating and ranting too much. But Waters' sensitive and physically arresting mise-en-scene helps to keep lighten the more stolid moments. The dynamic between David Chandler as Rothko and John Brummer as his long-suffering assistant, Ken, also keeps things lively.

2. The Cult of Beauty at the Legion of Honor: I was mesmerized by the Legion of Honor's exhibition (in collaboration with London's Victoria & Albert Museum) devoted to the Victorian Avant-Garde (1860-1900). What I realized as I wandered around gazing at the various Frederic Leightons, Julia Margaret Camerons, Dante Gabriel Rossettis and Aubrey Beardsleys etc was how the aesthetic of the period, with its elegant lines, attention to rich textures, and mixture of antique and contemporary thought, is exactly how I like to fashion the space in which I live. I didn't know until yesterday that I am -- and have infact always been at a subconscious level -- a follower of this style! What a revelation that was. Anyway, it's a gorgeous show which balances stiff-upper-lipped uptightness and louche decadence, tragedy and comedy and nature and artifice in perfect measure.

3. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema: Like a salmon swimming upstream, I strode in the opposite direction to hoards attending the opening weekend screenings of The Hunger Games and headed instead to catch Lasse Hallström's lively and quite touching romantic comedy about people who follow their own hearts even when the odds are stacked against the success of their ideas. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt play the two leading characters, a government fisheries expert and the financial representative of a wealthy Yemeni Sheik who wants to introduce the sport of salmon fishing to his desert-strewn country, with pathos. There is gentle chemistry between them. What I liked best about the film, though, was a short scene near the beginning in which we see McGregor sitting in a church playing the bass viol as part of an early music ensemble. wasn't expecting that! His character's estranged wife, who's not a very likable character in the movie, sits next to him puffing on a sackbut. Love it.

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