The Jean Cocteau Centenary Festival, a monthlong series of events paying tribute to the work and influence of the French writer/artist (1889-1963), is under way at Barnsdall Park as a co-production of the Severin Wunderman Museum and the Cultural Arts Department of the City of Los Angeles.
Joining "Hands on Cocteau," a drawing workshop today for children and families (at the park's junior arts center) is a new collection of performance works, "In the Spirit of Jean Cocteau." Concluding its three-day run today at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, the program features "Cocteau en Californie" by Blue Palm (Tom Crocker and Jackie Planeix), dancer Deborah Slater in Julie Hebert's "Died Suddenly," and storyteller Kedric Robin Wolfe in his "You Want to Know About Cocteau?"
Opening Friday, and playing through next Sunday, is the premiere of Crispin Thomas' "Jean Cocteau--Mirror Image," a one-man show directed by Robert Robinson and starring Ian Abercrombie. "It's a journey through Cocteau's life," the actor explained. "He describes himself as a child, his heroes: Stravinksy, Proust, Sartre and Picasso. He also comments on his opium addiction and his (male) loves--which were varied and many."
He concedes there's little physical resemblance. "Cocteau was tall, extremely thin, had long hands--a rather bizarre look," Abercrombie noted. In his research (here and in Paris, in libraries and old haunts of the poet), he decided it was the spirit of Cocteau he'd focus on: "He wanted to be famous more than anything in the world. He was ridiculed, put down by the Cubists, surrealists and Dadaists. And under all the bravado and panache was a very lonely boy, a rather sad side. But he had a great spirit."
EAST MEETS WEST: A pair of one-acts make up David Kranes' "States of Mind," opening this weekend at Friends and Artists Theatre Ensemble, a co-production of Metro Artists Alliance and First Stage. Kranes will be on hand for today's performance/discussion.
In the all-woman "Montana," a New York clothing designer's BMW breaks down in a small Montana town. The designer finds allies in a local mother and daughter who attempt to fix her car.
In Kranes' all-male "Audience," an East Coast lawyer working in a third-generation law firm gets drunk one night and takes to the stage at the Lone Star Bar & Cafe. The next day--duly repentant and sober--he's taken by a manager to meet "Hank," a country and western legend.
Kranes (who's been artistic director of the Sundance Institute's playwrights' lab since its inception in 1982), was motivated by the subject of regional attachments. "Being a transplanted East Coast person myself, I was thinking about the journey from East to West. I'm also having to travel to New York a lot these days. And I have students (at the University of Utah, where he teaches creative writing) who think that they'll go to New York or Boston--and life will be different. This is about those myths."
CRITICAL CROSSFIRE: "A Night in the Catskills," a tribute to the Borscht Belt, is playing at the Las Palmas Theatre. Jules Aaron staged the revue featuring singer Claire Barry, comedian Bernie Berns and violinist Sascha Torma.
The Times' Lawrence Christon credited conceiver/producer Bernie Lawrence: "(He) presents the show head-on, the aromatic steam of an old borscht still alive in its nostrils, as though time had never withered the ham of its performers, nor custom staled their jokes."
From Richard Stayton in the Herald Examiner: "There is no way I could personally relate to this nostalgic evening of song and dance. Nor could I objectively judge songs sung in Yiddish or get jokes with Yiddish punch lines. Yet . . . I was never bored. Bewildered, yes. Bedazzled, never. Bemused, often."
Daily Variety's Doug Galloway found in it "the best of what the Catskills had to offer. . . . A great deal of credit must go to Aaron and Lawrence, for injecting spunk and liveliness into a subject (and period in time) that could have appeared corny and old-fashioned."
Said Polly Warfield in Drama-Logue: "(The show) is a flavorful evocation of places and times past and lovingly recalled, refreshing as a weekend in the Catskills. . . . As billed, it's a musical revue and a high class distillation of vaudeville, spotlighting a choice trio of charismatic, talented entertainers."
In the Daily News, Daryl H. Miller faulted a time warp: "The show faithfully presents the type of entertainment that audiences would have seen in the Catskills. . . . Unfortunately, this style strikes audiences today as saccharine, hammy and altogether overdone."