• The Challenge for LA Dems

    • 03/16/2017
    • James Preston Allen
    • At Length
    • Comments are off

    Winning with a historically low turnout

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    Los Angeles is solidly Democratic and has voted so twice in the past five months to prove it. However, it is a sad commentary on both the democratic leadership and our city that an overwhelming majority of voters reelected the mayor and six city councilmen, as well as stopped Measure S in its tracks and they did so with one of the lowest voter turnouts in history.  It was a landslide, but from a very small hill.

    So what can be taken away from this kind of municipal triumph? Clearly the Berniecrats who were inspired to vote for a social democrat last June were not similarly inspired to vote out the Democratic leadership in a sanctuary city opposing #45notmypresident.  This is a dilemma for party leadership here in the desert-city-by-the-sea, a city that likes to see its reflection as Hollywood and LA LA Land, but not Watts or Wilmington.

    The challenge for Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Joe Buscaino, who seem to be connected at the hip, is how to play their roles on the national stage while remaining relevant to the multitude of neighborhoods they represent. After all, Los Angeles is a collection of towns looking to find a city.  Every mayor since Tom Bradley has tried creating a Los Angeles epicenter, but  this hasn’t made those on the periphery very happy.  Just look at the backlash to gentrification in Venice or East Los Angeles or the reactions to continued industrialization at the Port of Los Angeles and the expansion of LAX.  There are deep dissatisfaction in the hoods that are distant from city hall and that harbors an even deeper distrust of the “city family” — a distrust that this election has not resolved.

    However, grassroots democracy is not dead in this city. It’s just waiting for a vacant seat in which to run without the weight of an incumbent blocking the path. Council District 7 is a prime example in which 22 candidates ran for office. All of them learned the hard way about the impediments the city places in the path to running for elected office — not the least of which are the 500 qualified signatures of registered voters needed to get on the ballot. It only takes 50 signatures to qualify for elected offices at the county or state level. But the Los Angeles city clerk’s office can’t even get the petition forms right!

    With the city bureaucracy protecting the superstructure of incumbency and money-in-politics, those who vote with campaign donations often don’t actually reside in the city, but  lean heavily on those in power. This was the issue proponents of Measure S made in this past election over spot zoning. While losing 66.72 to 31.28 percent in this election, Garcetti had to realize that nearly 250,000 Angelinos were not happy and he immediately issued an executive order banning ex parte meetings with developers by commissioners. Does that also apply to city councilmembers?

    I seriously doubt that we will ever really eradicate the influence of money in politics, but what we can do is vote for those who are highly resistant to legal bribery.  Give us candidates who actually work for the greater good of the city’s citizens, rather than those who aspire to higher office.  I sometimes wonder, if Jesus was elected mayor, just how long it would take for the Pharisees of this city to tempt him.  All we can hope for is that the people we elect prioritize  the greater good over pocketing the money that’s there before them.  It’s not inconceivable. It’s just improbable considering that Los Angeles’ current power structure perceives criticism as a threat.

    Just one week after Measure S went down in defeat, Vincent Bertoni, Garcetti’s latest hero in the Department of City Planning came to San Pedro for an early morning chat with the local Chamber of Commerce. He has a great grasp on the challenges of city planning. He  even has some profoundly good ideas on how to fix them. Yet, he said something quite peculiar. He said, “LA is a place.”

    Now, the only time that I, as a lifetime citizen of Los Angeles, have self-identified as an Angeleno is when I travel to some place abroad.  If you go to Paris, France or Mexico City and someone asks, “where are you from”?  It’s easier to say LA because everyone knows where that is. But it’s relatively meaningless because LA is not A PLACE—it’s a collection of places each with their own identities, cultural references, landmarks and history.  And that is the challenge to citywide planning: one size doesn’t fit all.

    The problem in city planning is the same problem all the other departments have, which is how to have consistent rules and ordinances across the city when there are some reasons, possibly 35 (read community plans) or more, to have exceptions to these rules.  This is the raison d’etre for the 95 neighborhood councils; this is amongst the many reasons for the growing dissatisfaction with city hall—too much government and too little democracy.  And perhaps this is also the explanation for Donald Trump and the Democrat’s inability to effectively resolve his curious rise to power with their own inadequacies.

    Los Angeles just may be the testing ground for a new form of democratic politics called version 20.18. Clearly, this will not happen if only 10 percent of the citizens continue to turn out to vote in city elections. For as is said, all politics are local. If you want city hall to pay attention to your part of this metropolis, you gotta turn up the heat at the ballot box!

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  • Celebrate St. Patrick’s with Rob Klopfenstein at The Whale & Ale

    • 03/16/2017
    • Reporters Desk
    • Calendar
    • Comments are off

    ENTERTAINMENT

    March 17
    Rob on the Piano
    Enjoy great food, great fun and maybe make a swing past the piano to say hi to Rob.
    Time: 7 p.m. March 17
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 832-0363
    Venue: The Whale & Ale, 327 W. 7th St., San Pedro

    March 17
    Broadway in Concert
    Musical Theatre West presents Susan Egan with special guest Deedee Lyn Mango Hall. Egan’s Tony-nominated Belle takes the stage in a one-night-only concert event The Real Housewife of Broadway.
    Time: 8 p.m. March 17
    Cost: $40 to $60
    Details: (562) 856-1999 ext. 4; www.musical.org
    Venue: The Beverly O’Neill Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

    March 18
    Mana Trio
    Classical Crossroads’ The Interludes concert series present Beverly Hills National Auditions winner, the Mana Trio. The soprano and alto saxophone, with their unmatched communicative sonorities, fall within the central ranges of the violin and cello of the classical piano trio, thus opening its rich repertoire to the compelling ensemble sound.
    Time: 3 p.m. March 18
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 316-5574; www.palosverdes.com/ClassicalCrossroads/TheInterludes.htm
    Venue: First Lutheran Church & School, 2900 W. Carson St., Torrance

    March 18
    Markus Carlton
    Carlton is a lifelong musician who has worn out many guitars playing gigs, writing and recording. Carlton will entertain you with new material, as well as jazz and blues standards.
    Time: 6:30 p.m. March 18
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 832-0363
    Venue: The Whale & Ale, 327 W. 7th St., San Pedro

    March 19
    Mike Posner
    Best known for his Grammy-nominated album, At Night, Alone and his top 10 single I Took a Pill in Ibiza, Posner is stopping in to celebrate his new book of poetry, Tear Drops & Balloons. Posner will be mixing an acoustic performance, a poetry reading and Q-and-A.
    Time: 5 p.m. March 19
    Cost: Free
    Details: (562) 433-4996
    Venue: Fingerprints Music, 420 E. 4th St., Long Beach

    March 19
    Cabaret Flamenco
    A sensational evening of classical Spanish Flamenco music and dance starring Oscar Vero and Ricardo Chavez with Sarah Parra, Marcelo Montaro, Vico Cortes, Cante – Jose Cortes, Guitarist Jose Tanaka.
    Time: 2 p.m. March 19
    Cost: $30 to $180
    Details: http://tinyurl.com/ElCabaretFlamenco
    Venue: Grand Annex, 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    March 24
    Funkalicious
    Get out your grooviest 70s gear and get ready to dance. Led by Grammy award-winner Fred Liams, Funkalicious is the New Generation of Funk Music, taking you back to the fun times of the 70s and 80s, while also delivering their original dance funk creations.
    Time: 8 p.m. March 24
    Cost: $16 to $101
    Details: http://wgt.tix.com/Event.aspx?EventCode=948756
    Venue: Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    March 25
    El Segundo 100th Anniversary Concert
    Two-thousand-seventeen marks the 100th anniversary of the City of El Segundo. To help celebrate this tremendous milestone the El Segundo Concert Band and the South Bay Music Association present the El Segundo 100th Anniversary Concert. The celebration will focus on music from the era the city was founded.
    Time: 7 p.m. March 25
    Cost: Free
    Details: www.esconcertband.org
    Venue: El Segundo High School Auditorium, 640 Main St., El Segundo

    March 25
    Perla Batalla sings Leonard Cohen

    The Grammy-nominated vocalist wraps her exquisite voice around the Leonard Cohen songbook. Batalla was once a back-up singer for k.d. lang, Iggy Pop, The Gipsy Kings and Cohen.
    Time: 8 p.m. March 25
    Cost: $25 to $55
    Details: (310) 833-4813; www.grandvision.org
    Venue: Grand Annex, 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    THEATER

    March 17
    She Kills Monsters

    The California State University Dominguez Hills Department of Theatre and Dance presents She Kills Monsters, a comedic romp into the world of fantasy role-playing games written by Vietnamese American playwright Qui Nguyen.
    She Kills Monsters tells the story of Agnes Evans as she leaves her childhood home in Ohio following the death of her teenage sister, Tilly. When Agnes finds Tilly’s Dungeons and Dragons notebook, she stumbles into a journey of discovery and action-packed adventure in the imaginary world that was Tilly’s refuge.
    Time: 8 p.m. March 17 and 18, and 2 p.m. March 19
    Cost: $10 to $15
    Details: (310) 243-3589; http://cah.csudh.edu/theatre
    Venue: CSUDH University Theatre, 1000 E. Victoria St., Carson

    March 18
    The Perfect American
    Long Beach Opera will present the U.S. premiere of Philip Glass’ The Perfect American, a fictionalized version of the final days of Walt Disney. The opera will be directed by Kevin Newbury and conducted by Andreas Mitisek. Therole of Walt Disney will be sung by baritone Justin Ryan.
    Time: 8 p.m. March 18
    Cost: $49 to $150
    Details: www.longbeachopera.org/tickets
    Venue: Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

    March 18
    Sketchily Ever After
    Held2gether, Improv for Life is returning for a fourth year as a part of the Collaborative at the Long Beach Playhouse, with its’ latest set of original sketches, Sketchily Ever After.
    The Saturday Night Live style event has become an annual favorite and a staple of the theatre’s Studio Collaborative season.
    Time: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through March 18
    Cost: $15
    Details: (562) 494-1014; lbplayhouse.org.
    Venue: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach

    March 24
    Carousel
    Musical Theatre West presents Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical masterpiece.
    Carousel explores the timeless messages of love, hope, forgiveness, and redemption.
    Time: 8 p.m. March 24, 25 and 31, and April 1, 6, 7 and 8; 1 p.m. March 26, April 2 and 9; and 2 p.m. April 2 and 8
    Cost: $20
    Details: (562) 856-1999, ext. 4; www.musical.org,
    Venue: Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach

    March 25
    Rumors
    In a large, tastefully appointed townhouse, the Deputy Mayor of New York has shot himself. Though only a flesh wound, four couples are about to experience a severe farce attack. Despite being his tenth wedding anniversary party, the host lies bleeding in the other room and his wife is nowhere in sight. The lawyer and his wife must get “the story” straight before the other guests arrive.
    Time: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 25
    Cost: $14 to $20
    Details: (562) 494-1014; www.lbplayhouse.org
    Venue: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach

    March 31
    Romeo and Juliet Rehearsals
    You are invited to Elysium for each and every Romeo and Juliet rehearsal.
    Time:  6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays, until March 31
    Cost: Free
    Details: www.fearlessartists.org/box-office-1
    Venue: Elysium, 729 S. Palos Verdes St., San Pedro

    April 2
    Letters From Young Gay Men
    Letters from Young Gay Men is a project that was inspired by Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It is show that brings a unique intimacy between the gay youth and elders of the community.
    Time: 8 p.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays through April 2
    Cost: $25
    Details: http://tinyurl.com/letterstogaymen
    Venue: Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

    ARTS

    April 3
    Threesome
    The exhibition Threesome featuring multimedia artist Brian Bernhard, ceramic artist Nora Chen and mixed media and digital artist Miyuki Sena opens at the Artists’ Studio Gallery at the Promenade on the Peninsula on April 3.  The exhibition continues until May 14.
    There will be an opening reception from 4 to 8 p.m. on April 8.
    Time: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, through May 14
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 265-2592; artists-studio-pvac.com
    Venue: Promenade on the Peninsula, 550 Deep Valley Drive, #159, Rolling Hills Estates

    April 9
    Frank Brothers: The Store That Modernized Modern
    The exhibition relates the story of Southern California’s largest and most prominent mid-century retailer of modern furniture and design. Based in Long Beach from 1938 – 1982, Frank Bros. embodied the optimistic postwar ethos of the American consumer.
    Date: 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, through April 9
    Cost: Free
    Details: csulb.edu/org/uam
    Venue: California State University Long Beach, University Art Museum, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach

    April 16
    Wearable Expressions

    Wearable Expressions explores the unbreakable bond between Art and Fashion portraying boundary-pushing works in fiber, jewelry and accessories by creative minds from around the globe.
    Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 16
    Cost: Free
    Details: wearableexpressions.com
    Venue: Palos Verdes Art Center, 5504 W. Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes

    April 26
    Creative Expressions
    Creative Expressions, featuring glass artist Howard Schneider, local painter Kathie Reis and abstract artist Lois Olsen opens at the Artists’ Studio Gallery at the Promenade on the Peninsula. An opening reception is scheduled from 2 to 5 p.m. March 4.
    Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 16
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 265-2592; www.artists-studio-pvac.com
    Venue: Palos Verdes Art Center/Beverly G. Alpay Center for Arts Education, at 5400 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes

    April 30
    Ann Weber, Sculpture
    TransVagrant and Gallery 478 present Ann Weber, Sculpture. Ann Weber’s organic sculpture is abstract, formally elegant and composed of inelegant salvaged cardboard. There are abundant hints of figuration and recognizable objects: think chess pieces, balloons, human torsos, plant forms, and graphic ciphers.
    Time: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, through April 30
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 600-4873; www.transvagrant.com
    Venue: Gallery 478, 478 W. 4th St., San Pedro

    May 6
    Bits
    The Artist Co-Op is proud to announce the opening of Bits, a four-person exhibition. Both two- and three-dimensional works by Ivan Deavy Zapien, Angelica Fegley, Keith Fegley and Katie Stubblefield will be presented.
    Time: through May 6
    Cost: Free
    Details: kestubblefield@verizon.net
    Venue: Artist Co-Op, 1330 Gladys Ave., Long Beach

    May 21
    Dreamland
    The Museum of Latin American Art presents a retrospective of the work of one of the original Los Four founders, Frank Romero in the exhibition entitled Dreamland. Romero’s most iconic works, including his mural work, such as Driving to the Olympics on the Hollywood Freeway, address life in the barrios of Los Angeles.
    Time: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, through May 21
    Cost: $7 to $10
    Details: (562) 437-1689; molaa.org
    Venue: Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach

    COMMUNITY

    March 18
    Some Enchanted Evening
    Once again, Grand Vision celebrates music, history and our San Pedro community at the 2017 Gathering for the Grand. This year’s event honors Harbor Area arts patrons, Scott Donnelly and Dr Wade Nishimoto. The theme is Some Enchanted Evening (from the film South Pacific) and will feature colorful Tiki decor, cocktails, appetizers, a delicious dinner, a silent and live auction, music and dancing.
    Time: 5 p.m. March 18
    Cost: $175 to $185
    Details: www.grandvision.org
    Venue: CRAFTED at the Port of Los Angeles, 112 E. 22nd St., San Pedro

    March 19
    We Can Swing
    Arts Alive in partnership with People’s Place and Palace, will be hosting the We Can Swing Spring Fundraiser.  Celebrate Arts Alive’s 17th birthday.
    Time: 3 to 7 p.m. March 19
    Cost: Free
    Details: kingsandclowns.com
    Venue: People’s Place San Pedro, 365 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    March 23
    Open Conversations: Public Art
    Join the Arts Council for Long Beach for presentations by three local artists, Susan Logoreci, Craig Stone and Terry Braunstein, followed by a discussion about public art in our city. The Arts Council looks forward to growing a civic arts program that is expansive and inclusive.
    Time: 5 to 6:30 p.m. March 23
    Cost: Free
    Details: http://tinyurl.com/OpenConversations-PublicArt
    Venue: The Art Exchange, 356 E. 3rd St., Long Beach

    March 25
    Rancho Days
    Be part of Rancho Day on the Rancho San Pedro. Experience life in the 1800s before California became part of the United States. This fun and interactive day will focus on what life was like on the Rancho San Pedro in Alta California.
    Time: 12 to 4 p.m. March 25
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 895-5736; www.dominguezrancho.org
    Venue: Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum, 18127 S. Alameda St., Rancho Dominguez

    March 25
    Long Beach Live
    Councilman Roberto Uranga invites to support talented local performers, including singers, comics, poets, dancers and storytellers for a free public event.
    Time: 7 to 10 p.m. March 25
    Cost: Free
    Details: http://tinyurl.com/LongBeachLive
    Venue: The Mirage Grill, 539 E. Bixby, Long Beach

    March 29
    Meet the Grunions
    Grunions are small sardine-size fish of the silversides family, which are one of the few fish species in the world that actually come ashore to lay their eggs on sandy beaches.  They are found from central California through Baja California, with Cabrillo Beach being one of the better places to observe the fish.
    Time: 8 p.m. March 29
    Cost: $5
    Details: (310) 548-7562; www.cabrillomarineaquarium.org
    Venue: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, 3720 Stephen M. White Drive, San Pedro

    March 30
    CITT Town Hall Meeting
    The Center for International Trade and Transportation will commemorate its 20th anniversary with a State of the Trade and Transportation Industry Town Hall meeting. People who work within the trade and transportation industries are encouraged to attend. Seating is limited.
    Time: 6 to 8 p.m. March 30
    Cost: Free
    Details: http://tinyurl.com/CITTTownHall
    Venue: CSULB, Gerald Daniel Recital Hall, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach

    .

    March 30
    Spit ’n’ Argue
    Enjoy an evening at Harvey Milk Park by taking part in a debate club.
    Time: 6 to 8 p.m. March 30
    Cost: Free
    Details: http://innovatelb.com/showcase
    Venue: Harvey Milk Park, E. 3rd St., Long Beach

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  • Philip Glass’s THE PERFECT AMERICAN @ Long Beach Opera

    Philip Glass just won’t go away. That’s a good thing. In this 21st century of ours opera needs a guy who can marry classical orchestral paradigms with the computer age, all strange loops and binary repetitions and cold confusing realities, some new to modernity, some as old as wishing upon a star.

    And God bless him, Glass could not have picked a better subject for such operatic treatment than Walter Elias Disney, a perfect American: ambitious, controlling, cunning, imaginative, needy, obsessive, pragmatic, self-righteous, bigger than life and wanting to live forever.

    That’s where Glass and librettist Rudy Wurlitzer drop us in: terminally-ill Walt (Justin Ryan) is living out his last months in a shiny hospital ward, where he drifts between the present and the past, revisiting ghosts and demons, justifying himself to the living and the dead and leaving instructions about what to do with his body if he dies. Walt always adds “if” when he utters of the D word. His desire to triumph over the D word is a definer of his life.

    Wurlitzer’s plainspoken libretto could not serve the story better. The Perfect American is chock full of recitative (a technique that’s always jarring to my ears, but less so within Glass’s minimalism), and this ain’t no poetry (show me a libretto that is), but Wurlitzer makes the most of librettism’s (anyone got a better word for that?) clumsiness to give us the necessary broad strokes of backstory and theme. But there’s also art in his artisanship, making clever turns like Act 1’s remembrance/beatification of Disney’s boyhood Marceline and its “Main Street, USA” (as Disney would reify it in his magic kingdom). But nothing beats, “Americans never say die, and tomorrow is only a miracle away,” which in 11 words synopsizes the philosophy and desire of the dying man in front of us. Wurlitzer neatly tailors the expression of his ideas (inspired by or drawn from Peter Stephan Jungk’s Der König von Amerika) to fit Glass’s minimalist ethos from start to finish.

    For his part, Glass has never been better, and maybe never this good. You always know what you get with Glass: dark tones and space and note cycles spinning like plates on sticks. But here the plates wobble at all the right moments, wobble together to open up new spaces where snares and tympani, triangles and tambourines sing out and create aether of their own (there are three percussionists in Long Beach this week who are damn happy campers). Sure, there’s repetition aplenty (Glass is every Cure fan’s dream orchestral composer), but it’s maximally effective here, rarely drifting into redundancy. Plus, we get a few left turns into grand bursts of choir. (Do I even hear the occasional major chords? Phil, you devil!)

    Special mention should be made of those choir parts. You can almost dispense with vocals in a Philip Glass opera. They’re usually the least interesting feature compositionally, and sometimes they seem needlessly (were it not for the text) lain atop the music. But the choral parts never feel like that. Instead, they are thunderbursts, and beams of sunlight streaming through the parting clouds, and the wind that carries distant memories to the present before they drift away forever.

    Long Beach Opera won half the battle by landing The Perfect American (the American premiere, no less!). Then they won the other half by how they staged it. I found myself a little distracted early on wondering about production costs. That it’s beautiful is beyond question, all grays and silvers and chrome, lit with striking nuance (kudos, David Jacques). There are quality video projections and puppetry and shadowplay (both front- and back-projected). There’s a big metal façade gridded with dimmable white neon. There’s a gorgeously curving sculpture of a bank of five overhead OR lights looking down on the proceedings like benign versions of the War of the Worlds Martians.

    I got to wondering about cost not because I care, but because a striking feature of Long Beach Opera’s staging is its perfect economy. Every aspect of performance and design, every moment and square foot is featured in the best possible light, literally and figuratively; every element is framed for maximum effect. Just like Glass does compositionally, sometimes you get more with less. However much there is to this production, what’s more salient is how much Long Beach Opera gets out of it.

    That’s largely a tribute to Kevin Newbury, who has directed the shit out of this show. With assistance from choreographer Chloe Treat, Newbury expertly and unfailingly links movement to music and text, managing novel ways to engage us without ever breaking the crepuscular spell Glass casts onto Disney’s final days and the miasma of his mind. One of the Newbury’s masterstrokes is to turn several songs into distinct set pieces. Disney’s 65th birthday is an early example, where a stark change in lighting mimics Glass’s modal shift. But the debate between Walt and the animatronically skeletal Abraham Lincoln (brought to life with puppetry so fine in stretches that the lip sync matches not just syllables but mouth shape. Truly eerie) will almost push all the other great set pieces out of your mind.

    Newbury has the luxury of getting to work with a perfect mise en scène. The Lincoln puppet, the scenery (best use of x-rays ever), the costumes, the video…And we’ve already talked about those lights. The elements fall into place so organically that you don’t know whether form is following function or the other way around. Zane Pihlström’s hauntingly beautiful steampunk owl costume seems to dictate how the wearer moves. Everything is like that: as if it could have been neither built nor employed in any other way. Remember that choir? Of course they’d be dressed as something between Mousketeers and schoolchildren from The Wall and stand in unison and be lit up from time to time through a cutaway in that big façade. You couldn’t not do that, right?

    Unlike most operas, The Perfect American is not about soloists—the singing is just one of the summed parts—but the principals are strong basically across the board. In the lead role, Justin Ryan doesn’t have a moment to rest, but he brings the requisite energy and presence from start to finish, playing Walt in a way David Lynch would appreciate (there’s a Lynchian aesthetic to the whole show). Among the supporting roles, Zeffin Quinn Hollis is particularly strong as his brother Roy. (He and Scott Ramsay, as a chief Disney animator fired after trying to organize a union, have a great back-and-forth during an argument about the Disney contract.)

    The music, meanwhile, is always center stage, and Andreas Mitisek has a hell of an orchestra with which to do Glass’s score the justice it deserves. Whether somnolent, meditative, or driving, you almost take the musical performance for granted because of how well it envelops you, a bit like how you stop feeling the water when the Jacuzzi temp is just right. You’re just immersed in the microclimate, and you let the current carry you along.

    In the hands of Long Beach Opera, The Perfect American is that perfect marriage of text and execution, where the seams binding the two parts are imperceptible from the outside. That The Perfect American is American-premiering in Southern California, where we have such an up-close-and-personal relationship with Walt Disney and world, is almost too good to be true. Literally, because this is a two-performance run, and there is only one left. I’ll never be able to generally recommend an opera more highly. Go.

    THE PERFECT AMERICAN LONG BEACH OPERA • TERRACE THEATER (300 E OCEAN BLVD) • LONG BEACH 90802 • 562.432.5934 LONGBEACHOPERA.ORG • SATURDAY 8PM • $49–$150; STUDENT RUSH TIX $15 • MARCH 18 ONLY

    (Photo credit: Keith Ian Polakoff)

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  • Director Kickstarts Campaign for Biondi Film

    • 03/09/2017
    • Terelle Jerricks
    • Music
    • Comments are off

    Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    Radio Jockeys in the United States have occupied a special place in our communities.

    Operating at once as a community voice that is as familiar as a family friend; a trusted news source and sometimes community therapist.  But the primary role that American radio jockeys fulfilled was that of cultural gatekeepers that judged first whether new music was good enough to reach their listeners ears.

    The list of legendary radio jockeys is long: Alan “Moondog” Freed, Petey “The Voice of DC” Greene, Bruce Morrow, Wolfman Jack, “Big Daddy Tom” Donahue and Howard Stern, to name a few. Film biopics have been done a few of these while others have become a fictional presence in film and television. But one name that is not often mentioned but should is that of Dick Biondi.

    Biondi’s rebel style and outrageous personality hooked in a growing number of young listeners. He called himself the “World’s Ugliest D.J” giving himself such titles as “The Screamer,” “The Big Spaghetti Slurper” – and his most famous: “The Wild I’tralian!”

    Biondi was one of the first jockeys to play rock ’n’ roll music on his show. He shined a spotlight on artists who eventually become music icons.

    Film director Pamela Enzweiler-Pulice is looking to bring the radio jockey’s life to the silver screen by way. To do so, Enzweiler-Pulice launched a  Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 by March 19. The campaign has garnered $9,170 so far.

    She is a longtime fan of Biondi. It was Biondi’s fortitude, vision and wildly fun style that inspired her, she recently told Random Lengths News. At the age of 12 year, she listened to Biondi’s first broadcast from WLS Chicago on May 2, 1960.

    “He came screaming into Chicago, shaking up the establishment and turning the town on its ear,” she said.

    It was that day the station changed format from the Prairie Farm Report to The Bright New Sound — a newly formed program designed for America’s youth.

    “Right then I knew Dick Biondi was my guy,” Enzweiler-Pulice said.

    Biondi worked with and promoted many of the greats, including early rockabilly icons Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and pop icons like Frankie Valli, Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Paul Anka and his good friend, Bobby Darin.

    He was also responsible for exposing the then emerging surf rock bands of the 1960s like the Beach Boys  recording of Surfer Girl. Biondi was the first to play it on the air. Biondi was in the recording studio when the Rolling Stones recorded Satisfaction and was there to introduce them at the Hollywood Bowl.

    And, perhaps his most notable but commonly forgotten promotion was that he was the first deejay to play The Beatles on American radio in 1963. And when the British band’s first American release of Please Please Me (on Chicago’s Vee Jay Records) failed to reach top charting in Chicago, Biondi brought them to Los Angeles and continued to play The Beatles’ recordings on the air.

    Biondi is credited with being the first to play the Beatles’ From Me to You at KRLA, thereby increasing the band’s popularity and chart position. It was a year later that Biondi, along with Bob Eubanks introduced the Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl after their performance of their No. 1 hit, I Want to Hold Your Hand on the Ed Sullivan Show.

    Some consider him not only a hit maker but a “man of faith” in varying forms — never giving up on the music — or on the young listeners.

    Want to see the Dick Biondi documentary to come to the silver screen?

    Donate to the Kickstarter campaign at http://tinyurl.com/Dick-Biondi.

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  • Molina Healthcare Moves to Pedro

    • 03/09/2017
    • Reporters Desk
    • Briefs
    • Comments are off

    LONG BEACH — On March 2, Molina Healthcare it is planning to relocate about 400 employees from Long Beach to San Pedro.

    The employees are expected to move in September to the Topaz building, a 222 W. 6th St., between the waterfront and the community’s downtown. The move is part of a relocation of one of Molina’s business units. However, this does not mean that Molina will move from its headquarters in downtown Long Beach.

    While the company’s earnings declined from 2016, its profits still are strong with earnings of about $52 million. In 2016, the company earned $143 million.

    Molina plans to occupy three floors in the building, making it about 75 percent occupied.

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  • Caribbean Comfort Food Lives at Punto Cubano

    • 03/09/2017
    • Richard Foss
    • Features
    • Comments are off

    By Richard Foss, Cuisine and Restaurant Writer

    One of the great ironies of history is that when Christopher Columbus first crossed the Atlantic, he did so in search of a route to India to obtain spices. He discovered a new world that had maize, tomatoes, avocados and many other new foods, but only two spices. Those two, chili peppers and vanilla, would enter many cultures’ cuisines, but when it comes to seasoning, the Europeans had more to give than to take.

    One of the places Columbus visited was Cuba, an island the Spanish governed ineptly for hundreds of years. The island produced vast amounts of sugar for export but locals retained little of the wealth, so they had to develop a cuisine based on mixed traditions of the Spanish and their African slaves. Imported spices weren’t affordable, so they used green herbs with onions, garlic, citrus and cumin. The resulting cuisine is mild but flavorful. It can be found at San Pedro’s Punto Cubano.

    The little restaurant, formerly Mishi Strudel, has a contemporary look, and the pastry case that used to be full of strudel now holds flan and tres leches cakes. It’s a neat, pretty and welcoming space. The menu is odd in one way: though Cubans eat a lot of seafood, it’s entirely missing from the options here. Neither is Punto Cubano a promising place for vegetarians. But if you like pork, beef and chicken, you’re in the right place.

    Although Cuban meals are usually filling because they include beans, rice and fried plantains, my first visit to Punto Cubano surprised me with the size of the portions. I wanted to try some of the side items, so my companion and I ordered papas rellenas, mashed potato balls with a meat filling that are deep-fried and topped with a drizzle of garlic sauce. They were attractively presented with a hibiscus flower and some chopped parsley, showing an unusual attention to presentation. The four potato balls were so big that it was too large of a starter for two, and there was much more potato than meat filling. This was the only item we tried that I wouldn’t order again.

    Cubano Punto’s menu doesn’t change from lunch to dinner. I have tried three entrées, the lechón asado, picadillo criollo and vaca frita. The first time I ordered vaca frita was because of my amusement at its name —literally, “fried cow.” It’s flank steak slow-simmered to tenderness, then shredded and transferred to a pan where it is fried crisp with garlic, pepper, onion and cumin. If that sounds similar to Mexican carnitas but made with beef, you’re right. There are red and green bell peppers tossed in to sear with the vaca frita, but the attraction of crispy, intensely flavored meat is the same. It’s one of my favorite Cuban dishes and they do it very well here.

    My other favorite Cuban meat dish is picadillo, chopped or ground meat simmered with olives, raisins, tomato, wine and bell peppers. The use of olives and raisins with meat goes back to the Moors who ruled Spain in the Middle Ages. The combination of tart pickled flavors with fruity sweetness is a winner. There are different versions of picadillo all over Central and South America, some ornately spiced, but the Cuban version focuses on the flavors of the main ingredients. Cuban picadillo will be a revelation to those who associate Cuban food only with roast chicken and pork.

    I didn’t try Cubano Punto’s chicken, but I did try the lechón asado— pulled pork in a sauce based in lime juice and topped with sliced onion. The sauce here has a slightly different balance than what I have experienced elsewhere, a little more citrus and a bit less pepper and cumin. I happen to like that bolder version, but this one was still tasty.

    All meals at Cubano Punto come with a small pyramid of white rice, caramelized fried plantains and a bowl of fragrant black beans. Those beans were unusually flavorful, scented with herbs that we speculated might include oregano and marjoram. And though I don’t usually finish all my beans, I did on both visits.

    Carlo and Ylenya DeLeon are welcoming customers to Punto Cubano one of San Pedro’s newest eateries. Photo by Jessie Drezner

    Alcohol isn’t served, but freshly made juices are, and the piña colada  was very refreshing. To finish, we had strong Cuban-style coffee and a guava-and-cheese empanada. If you want the coffee and empanadas then order them when your food arrives — both take a while to make but are worth the wait.

    The service here is friendly, but can slow down at peak times; if you’re in a hurry let them know or the leisurely pace at lunch may get you in trouble at work. All meals are inexpensive at around $10, making this a great choice for a satisfying meal on a budget. The comfort food of Cuba is subtle and delightful. Punto Cubano is the place to find it locally.

    Punto Cubano is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 309 W. 7th St. in San Pedro.

    Details: (424) 477-5813.

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  • Tim Weisberg

    • 03/09/2017
    • Reporters Desk
    • Calendar
    • Comments are off

    ENTERTAINMENT

    March 11
    Tim Weisberg
    Tim Weisberg has long been regarded as one of the most original rock, blues and jazz-fusion flutists. In 1970, fresh out of grad school and virtually unknown, Tim Weisberg exploded on to the scene with his opening performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival, where he firmly established himself as a unique musical talent.
    Time: 8 p.m. March 11
    Cost: $25
    Details: http://alvasshowroom.com/event/tim-weisberg
    Venue: Alvas Showroom, 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

    March 12
    Trio Ondine
    Formed in 2005 as Duo Ondine by flutist Boglarka Kiss and harpist Alison Bjorkedal, the duo invited their good friend and violist Alma Fernandez to join them in an exploration of the unique repertoire for flute, viola, and harp that Debussy first used in his great impressionistic masterpiece.
    Time: 2 p.m. March 12
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 316-5574
    Venue: Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, 26438 Crenshaw Blvd., Rolling Hills Estates

    The Steppes
    This tribute band performs music from the first five solo albums by Genesis Alumni and Steve Hackett.
    Time: 4 p.m. March 12
    Cost: $25
    Details: www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom, 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

    March 17
    Broadway in Concert
    Musical Theatre West presents Susan Egan with special guest Deedee Lyn Mango Hall. Egan’s Tony-nominated Belle takes the stage in a one-night-only concert event.
    Time: 8 p.m. March 17
    Cost: $40 to $60
    Details: (562) 856-1999 ext. 4; www.musical.org
    Venue: Beverly O’Neill Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

    THEATER

    March 12
    The Perfect American
    Long Beach Opera will present the U.S. premiere of Philip Glass’ The Perfect American, a fictionalized version of the final days of Walt Disney. The opera will be directed by Kevin Newbury, conducted by Andreas Mitisek, and the role of Walt Disney will be sung by baritone Justin Ryan.
    Time: 2:30 p.m. March 12 and 8 p.m. March 18
    Cost: $49 to $150
    Details: www.longbeachopera.org/tickets
    Venue: Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

    March 25
    Rumors
    In a large, tastefully appointed townhouse, the Deputy Mayor of New York has shot himself. Though only a flesh wound, four couples are about to experience a severe farce attack. Despite being his tenth wedding anniversary party, the host lies bleeding in the other room and his wife is nowhere in sight. The lawyer and his wife must get “the story” straight before the other guests arrive.
    Time: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 25
    Cost: $14 to $20
    Details: (562) 494-1014; www.lbplayhouse.org
    Venue: Long Beach Playhouse , 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach

    March 31
    Romeo and Juliet Rehearsals
    You are invited to Elysium for each and every Romeo and Juliet rehearsal.
    Time:  6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays, until March 31
    Cost: Free
    Details: www.fearlessartists.org/box-office-1
    Venue: Elysium, 729 S. Palos Verdes St., San Pedro

    ARTS

    March 12
    Significant Otherness
    Significant Otherness is a benefit exhibition for the Spay and Neuter Project of Los Angeles. It explores the unique bond between animals and humans through artworks of eight contemporary artists.  A benefit event is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 25.
    Time: 10 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday, through March 12
    Cost: Free
    Details: http://angelsgateart.org/gallery-receptions-on-january-21-2017
    Venue: Angels Gate Cultural Center, Building A, 3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro

    April 9
    Frank Brothers: The Store That Modernized Modern
    The exhibition relates the story of Southern California’s largest and most prominent mid-century retailer of modern furniture and design. Based in Long Beach from 1938–1982, Frank Bros. embodied the optimistic postwar ethos of the American consumer.
    Date: 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, through April 9
    Cost: Free
    Details: csulb.edu/org/uam
    Venue: California State University Long Beach, University Art Museum, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach

    April 16
    Wearable Expressions
    Wearable Expressions explores the unbreakable bond between Art and Fashion portraying boundary-pushing works in fiber, jewelry and accessories by creative minds from around the globe.
    Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 16
    Cost: Free
    Details: wearableexpressions.com
    Venue: Palos Verdes Art Center, 5504 W. Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes

    April 26
    Creative Expressions
    Creative Expressions, featuring glass artist Howard Schneider, local painter Kathie Reis and abstract artist Lois Olsen opens at the Artists’ Studio Gallery at the Promenade on the Peninsula. An opening reception is scheduled from 2 to 5 p.m. March 4.
    Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 16
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 265-2592; www.artists-studio-pvac.com
    Venue: Palos Verdes Art Center/Beverly G. Alpay Center for Arts Education, at 5400 Crestridge Road,  Rancho Palos Verdes

    April 30
    Ann Weber, Sculpture
    TransVagrant and Gallery 478 present Ann Weber, Sculpture. Ann Weber’s organic sculpture is abstract, formally elegant and composed of inelegant salvaged cardboard. There are abundant hints of figuration and recognizable objects: think chess pieces, balloons, human torsos, plant forms, and graphic ciphers.
    Time: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, through April 30
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 600-4873; www.transvagrant.com
    Venue: Gallery 478, 478 W. 4th St., San Pedro

    May 21
    Dreamland
    The Museum of Latin American Art presents a retrospective of the work of one of the original Los Four founders, Frank Romero in the exhibition entitled Dreamland. Romero’s most iconic works, including his mural work, such as Driving to the Olympics on the Hollywood Freeway, address life in the barrios of Los Angeles.
    Time: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, through May 21.
    Cost: $7 to $10
    Details: (562) 437-1689; molaa.org
    Venue: Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach

    COMMUNITY

    March 12
    South Coast Cactus & Succulent Society
    “Under the Spell of Succulents,” deals with how we engage with succulents — growers, collectors, landscaping, container gardens, and niches such as bonsai, crests, and variegation — and is aimed at both the novice and the long-time enthusiast.
    Time: 1 p.m. March 12
    Cost: Free
    Details: southcoastcss.org
    Venue: South Coast Botanic Garden, 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Palos Verdes Peninsula

    March 11
    Bixby A’Bloom Fashion Show
    Nine local boutiques and retail businesses will come together at the Virginia Country Club to promote the Bixby Business Corridor and Los Cerritos area.
    Time: 12 to 4 p.m. March 11
    Cost: $40
    Details: www.loscerritosna.org/events
    Venue: Virginia Country Club, 4602 N. Virginia Road, Long Beach

    March 19
    We Can Swing
    Arts Alive in partnership with People’s Place and Palace, will be hosting the “We Can Swing” Spring Fundraiser.  Celebrate Arts Alive’s 17th birthday.
    Time: 3 to 7 p.m. March 19
    Cost: Free
    Details: kingsandclowns.com
    Venue: People’s Place San Pedro, 365 W. 6th St., San Pedro

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  • Brathwaite’s Spiritrials: Breaking the Bondage of Incarceration

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist  

    Spiritrials, Dahlak Brathwaite’s one-man show is an awakening. It is also a timely exploration of the criminal justice system that dispels myths and false narratives about felons. Brathwaite, accompanied by DJ Din Decibels kept the  Los Angeles’ REDCAT Theater audience spellbound for 90 minutes on Feb. 11.

    Brathwaite, a spoken word artist, gained prominence after he won the international Brave New Voices poetry slam. He has performed on the Tavis Smiley Radio show and Russell Simmons rebooted Def Poetry Jam on HBO for two seasons.

    As a member of the groups, iLL-Literacy and Youth Speaks, Brathwaite has performed parts of this performance that merges hip-hop, theater and spoken word on stages throughout the world. He has released five musical projects including his full-length albums, Dual Consciousness and Spiritrials.

    Brathwaite captured the undivided attention of a notably diverse crowd and held it up to the last moment of his show.

    Spiritrials chronicles the encounters of a young African American man who is stopped by the police repeatedly with no clear cause. It’s on the tenth stop that the young man is arrested and gets entangled with the court system, jail, attorneys and probation officer with potentially transformative results. Through creative prose, drama and insightful humor, Brathwaite narrates his criminalization and his struggles within that, to rise above in both the laws and society’s eyes.

    “I’m not an addict,” Brathwaite said shortly into his performance. “I’m pushed down this assembly line, cookie cutter justice, sent to a government sponsored, spiritually centered recovery program. I’m not an addict.

    I could be down, without the man holding me here.”

    Brathwaite’s performance was impeccable. In addition to providing his own narration, Brathwaite portrayed different characters in the protagonist’s recovery program, including an old man who walks with a limp and his right hand shakes uncontrollably, called Pastor. Brathwaite calls Pastor a cautionary tale, “that he doesn’t want to be, living a life being fucked up and now he’s been forgiven.” Brathwaite seems to channel the late comedian, Bernie Mac with Pastor’s characterization. But there are others, including Mary, a Puerto Rican girl, Brathwaite plays with a spot on dialect.

    Another character, Steve, is a white guy who has a fetish for white powder in bags and speaks with the Brooklynese of an Al Pacino character.

    Then there’s Sanford, a talkative guy with one eye who incessantly uses the term “nigger.” Sanford sounds like comedian, Katt Williams.

    Brathwaite and these characters evolve throughout the play. The characters are over the top with  their absurdity and troublesome quirks. Progressing through the performance, Brathwaite lays bare these characters’ emotional life by illuminating their pain and confusion. These characters are a reflection of the very real issues that the “addicted” and afflicted felons face. Brathwaite portrays them with affecting clarity.

    Beyond being a musician, an actor and a poet, Brathwaite is an educator.

    In an interview days before his show, he discussed his role as an educator in his poetry.

    “In this play there is both information and opportunity to learn, maybe beyond a personal story or an experience,” Brathwaite said. “There are also facts, new ways of thinking and perspectives and an argument that’s being offered here. So I consider myself an educator as I’m performing as well.”

    Being labelled as a criminal intended him to be shamed into silence. This is what led him to create this work and tell his story.

    He came up with the name, “Spiritrials,” while working on this project in fall of 2010 as student at Ithaca College.

    “It was an experiment, the trial of spirituals and what they can do for me in terms of helping me break a bondage, get me over the hump of incarceration and criminalization,” Brathwaite said.

    The music aspect plus the religious and legal intersections of this work made him feel like Spiritrials was the only title that would work.

    “What could it do for me as it has done so much for many others in the past?” He asked.

    This work helped me overcome embarrassment and enabled me to speak when this (issue) became a national discourse,” he said in reference to the deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

    “To (offer) this when it has been part of my story could aid humanity.”

    Details: www.thisisdahlak.com; www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nL2HGUoF1c

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  • QM’s Local Band Hangout Makes Waves

    • 03/08/2017
    • Melina Paris
    • Music
    • Comments are off

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist

    The Queen Mary, an attraction in Long Beach since 1967, is making things new again with a breakout live music series, Local Band Hangout. The event happening every third Thursday of the month in the ships art deco style Observation Bar has attracted a full house since it’s start at the beginning of this year.

    On its second event Feb. 16, just as it was getting dark, the room already had a full crowd

    Neo-soul vocalist, Karina Nistal and guitarist, Shingo Yugi began the evening. Nistal’s voice was velvety and Yugi accompanied perfectly while still featuring his skilled playing. The duo performed a blend of covers and original tunes including Rock With You, My Cherie Amour and a Spanish rendition of Fever. These performers engaged the crowd and provided a cool start to the evening.

    By the second set with Hellhounds of London the Observation Bar had a full house. Three  members out of the four piece band started their set with all guitars, bass and a cajon. When they began playing it was clear why. They play strong guitar harmonies together, mostly featuring rock driven. soulful ballads. They performed a solid cover of D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar and moved into some bluesy numbers, incorporating the keys and bringing some extra rhythms and soul.

    The last set featured the hip-hop influenced Olivia and Aragon. Olivia has a gift of allowing her voices range to unfold in softer but soulful expressions of hip-hop songs. Aragon, agile on guitar, brings a nuance to the hits they perform, which pull mostly from 1990’s artists including T.L.C., R. Kelly and Ice Cube. They also tossed in some original songs.

    One song to note was their version of, It Was a Good Day, by Ice Cube. Yes, they performed it and it worked well. Olivia spoke about being influenced by hip-hop. She and Aragon adapt their own interpretation of the era of urban music which brought us Ice Cube and the heyday of the VIP Record store.

    The lineup for March’s Local Band Hangout has just been released. It features, the folk and jazz sounds of Long Beach’s own Queen Califia and from the legendary reggae band, The Wailers, Elan Atias.

    Local Band Hangout offers a congenial ambiance along with food and drink and happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. The $10 cover can includes access to the Queen Mary restaurants during the concerts.

    Details: www.queenmary.com

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  • Junot Diaz Spotlights His Audience at REDCAT

    • 03/07/2017
    • Melina Paris
    • Feature
    • Comments are off

    By Melina Paris, Contributing Writer

    It was with good reason that author, Junot Diaz canceled his original speaking date in January at REDCAT. The Pulitzer Prize winner received an invitation from the White House to attend a private event during the last week of President Barack Obama’s administration.

    Instead Diaz appeared on Feb.17, a night of heavy rains in Los Angeles. But showers and freeway closures didn’t stop this audience, which overflowed the theater’s capacity, from attending.

    “There’s plenty of reason to keep your ass at home,” said Diaz congenially, opening the discussion. “Thank you for coming.”

    The author wrote the critically acclaimed Drown, Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which also garnered the National Book Critics Circle Award and This Is How You Lose Her. Immigrant experiences and identity are at the heart of his work.

    Diaz, a writer in residence at California Institute of the Arts Writing Program, was recognized in his introduction for his continuous demonstration in writing, thinking and activism.

    He mentioned that he always checks in when speaking, to see if any of the communities that he is part of are present. The Dominican-born author first asked if immigrants were in the audience. About a third responded. He also asked if Latinos, Caribbean’s, Dominicans and folks of African descent were present. All were in attendance.

    He did two readings from his books but Diaz made the evening mostly about his audience, which included his students. He opened the night with a Q-and-A, noting he would answer anything we wanted to ask him.

    The author demonstrated a skill in responding quickly, but in depth to questions. A student asked if Diaz could talk about his concept of turning away from a dystopian future, which he previously spoke about at the California Institute of the Arts.

    “We should be able to think of it that way, but also be able to switch and imagine better futures,” Diaz explained. “We have to fight to protect today.”

    Diaz believes that our imaginations within society are not articulate or fluent in the understanding that we actually can overcome this “B.S” of a dystopian future. We haven’t imagined the overcoming of this future instead we tend to succumb to it, he said.

    In interviews Diaz has previously spoken about growing up during the 80s, a time ripe with apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic narrative. Films such as Terminator and Blade Runner had come out. While teaching a class at Massachusetts Institute of Technology on post-apocalyptic literature, he realized that many young people were equally possessed and fascinated by this dread. He pointed out that bearing witness to what’s happening is perhaps the most important step for us to overcoming it.

    He credits author, Ray Bradbury with giving him a way of bearing witness to his own experience as an immigrant going through a lot of the nonsense young immigrants put up with when in a very hostile society and climate,  It is something he never forgot.

    Volunteering is a priority to him. One of his main messages was about giving of your time and working with people, especially so for artists. The idea that an artist’s work is their civic contribution is an idea he does not buy. He believes giving back to the civic is to manage the interest on our civic debt.

    His keen perception of this audience’s concerns opened this forum to safely tackling deeper issues and fears. One person asked how to filter what is happening in Washington D.C. Diaz continued with the idea of volunteering.

    “Filter through exposure,” he said. “First get over your panic, then get to it. I just keep volunteering. Help others with less agency. As soon as you’re doing this, [Donald] Trump won’t piss you off so much.”

    Book Reading

    Diaz read from his multi-faceted novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which takes place in both America and the Dominican Republic. The story includes Oscars love trials, his love of comics and sci-fi, emigration, familial history and the supernatural. But one of its main themes explores the complexities of living in two cultures at once. It is the idea that one can carry inside them both the country of their origin and the country that received them.

    But the overarching motif is the curse called “fukú” that has plagued Oscar’s family for generations.

    Diaz read about fukú. His passage foretold of what could befall the Dominican Republic’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo. It also described, with supernatural quality, the essence of this curse in the protagonist’s life and its effect on his family. Through the stories narrator, Yunior, Diaz’s descriptions were vivid explorations of oppression and violence.

    “Fukú is generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the curse and the doom of the new world.” Diaz has explained. “It is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fukú on the world.”

    Diaz’s family moved from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to New Jersey when seven. His father came to the United States to work, then later sent for his family.

    Díaz attended Rutgers University and earned his bachelor’s degree in history and literature. After graduating from Rutgers, Díaz earned a master’s degree of fine arts in creative writing at Cornell. While attending Cornell he began to write the short stories that eventually formed his first published collection, Drown.

    Diaz said that the popularized  notion that a person must choose between your home place and the new place is cruel and absurd. You can be two things simultaneously.

    Diaz’s engaging speaking elicited a wide range of questions. Subjects from politics, to writing, to having immigrant parents, to dealing with people in your own family who voted for Trump came up.

    He had a remarkable response to one of his last questions.

    The audience member asked Diaz, regarding fear and identity, as a person with a high profile how does he think of his identity in situations such as his visit with Obama and in volunteering.

    “What a marvelous thing it is to help somebody,” Diaz said. “To be human is to be in pain.”

    Nothing diminishes his pain like helping another person.

    “That’s how I balance it, Diaz said. “I try to keep people and different selves I’ve been front and center,” he said.

    Diaz shared that he was slapped by his father. This is the self he brings to the White House with him, so that he can feel that love and excitement rather than locking that self up and forgetting him.

    “Keep those lost selves around,” Diaz said.  It takes more energy to forget than to remember.”

    Diaz is the fiction editor at Boston Review. He also is the Rudge and Nancy Allen professor of writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Diaz also co-found the Voices of Our Nation Workshop. Its mission is to develop emerging writers of color through programs and workshops taught by established writers of color.

    Details: www.junotdiaz.com

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