• Brouwerij West Celebrates Its Grand Opening

    By Gina Ruccione, Restaurant and Cuisine Writer

    Most were of the mindset, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but it has finally happened. After years of delays and construction, the highly anticipated Brouwerij West opened its doors Feb. 27. The grand opening was nothing short of a party.

    For most of the day, at any one time, the Brouwerij West and Crafted warehouse lots were filled with about 1,500 people. At the end of the day, the number of attendees tallied up to 4,500.

    I’m still recovering from the copious amount of beer and snack intake that occurred Saturday. Here’s what you missed and here’s what to expect going forward.

    The brewery, which you all know by now, is in one of the coolest buildings of all time— a massive World War II-era warehouse in the Port of Los Angeles, boasts a five-tank brew house, bottle shop, tasting room and Belgian-style beer on tap.

    I personally don’t know everything there is to know about beer, but I can tell you that I had little to no problem enjoying the first of the batches that rolled out.

    Brian Mercer and David Holop, the magical duo behind the full-production craft brewery, have had tons of visitors in recent weeks for pre-tastings, but Saturday was really meant to be a celebration.

    Four food trucks and several local bands including Bombón, Crow Baby and The Underground Railroad to Candyland fed and entertained the crowds of people.

    Construction challenges proved to be the main culprit behind the lengthy grand opening delay.

    What started as a 16-week project went on for 42 weeks, and while it is not registered as a historic building, it is very old. Parts of the building aren’t level— and that proved to be more than a challenge, but obviously well worth the wait.

    The inside is gorgeous and the space is expansive. The glowing strings of bistro lights illuminate the stunning space, giving it a rather charming ambiance.

    Oh, did I mention that this almost didn’t even happen in San Pedro?

    As it turns out, the brewery was originally intended to be in Long Beach, but Mercer and Holop saw the potential and ran with it.

    As a native to the area, I can say that we’ve certainly been waiting for something like this to hit San Pedro—it deserves to be a destination spot and this brewery will only add to the appeal.

    OK, so what about the beer, right?

    Forgive me, but I don’t know a ton about beer or the whole process, so this called for a bit of research, which basically means I had to read a lot about beer and then drink a whole bunch of different beers (for research, of course). As it turns out, I tend to gravitate towards sour beers. So imagine my surprise to find that Brouwerij West has a sour beer called Super Orange.

    It’s made from more than 500 pounds of sour oranges from Northern California.

    At the moment there are six beers featured and most are saisons. For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t either) saison is the French for “season.” They are meant to be refreshing, highly carbonated and tend to be fruity or spicy.

    Originally this pale ale was brewed in farmhouses in Belgium in the cooler months and intended for drinking during the warmer months of summer.

    They have a blackberry saison called Dog Ate My Homework and it is totally refreshing—fruit forward but not sweet and very drinkable. The Bitter Blonde was another one of my favorites—hoppy, bitter with a dry finish.

    Here’s yet another awesome tidbit about the beer: the bottle art is rad. All of the bottles feature different artists and they are awesome. I’m a very visual person and if I don’t know a ton about a product in the beginning, I tend to lean towards whatever is aesthetically pleasing. I think most of us can attest to that. I mean, consider going into any store to buy something. How long do you stare at a shelf and then just end up grabbing something familiar or something that looks cool? If I am experimenting with a new product, I opt for the cool packaging.

    And yes, there was talk about adding a restaurant to the space and yours truly will happily keep you updated, but it looks like we’ll have to wait on that…for the time being.

    For now, the brewery is open from 4 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s family, pet and skateboard friendly.

    Venue: Brouwerij West, 110 E. 22nd St., San Pedro
    Details: www.brouwerijwest.com

    Gina Ruccione has traveled all over Europe and Asia and has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County. You can visit her website at www.foodfashionfoolishfornication.com.

     

     

    Read More
  • LAHC Architecture Department Chairman Invests in Former Students

    Photo by Phillip Cooke

    Michael Song Purchases EZ Plan Franchise to Help Students Gain Experience

    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

    Students who get a credential or degree from an accredited university or trade school are supposed to be able to find jobs. These days, students are caught in a catch-22. Employers require candidates to have work experience in addition to their credentials.

    Michael Song wanted to solve this problem, at least for the students who completed Los Angeles Harbor College’s architectural program.

    Song, who is the chairman of the department, said about half of his students transferred to universities.

    “The other half don’t go for a variety of reasons: family, money, time,” Song said. “There [isn’t] a market for students who do not have a bachelor’s degree or experience. Now, if they have experience, that’s another story. But coming out of junior college, who is going to give them that experience?”

    Song recognized another problem: consumers with small construction projects couldn’t afford to hire professional architects. Most architects design libraries, government buildings and other large scale buildings. But if a consumer just wanted to add a bedroom or a bathroom to his or her homes, most architects won’t take the job because there is just not enough of a profit margin.

    “So, often times, the consumers turn to drafting services or drafters and some of them do not have the experience or expertise of an architect,” Song said.

    After 15 years of teaching at the community college, he decided to do something about it.

    “I thought, ‘What if I could create an entity that would be directed by myself, who is a licensed architect, provide consumers with a licensed architect that could help them through their project and also provide an opportunity for my graduating students to gain work experience?’” he said. “So that becomes a win-win situation.”

    He invested about $120,000 toward equipment and an EZ Plans franchise that he plans to use to give his former students experience. EZ Plans is a professional services business that offers cost-effective architectural services. According to its website, “the company was founded on the belief that many homeowners are being excluded from their home improvement dreams.” The company offers set prices on most projects.

    “The reason why I was interested is because they identified the same needs that I felt was lacking in the market,” Song said. “So, it just happened to be a good fit.”

    The company sells franchises to people who want to run an architectural office. The franchise provides management training, marketing assistance, a home-based business model, a state- of-the-art mobile office design studio and access to three-dimensional models.

    “But for me it is really about getting my students more work experience and…providing the community with a professional level of expertise,” he said.

    The Way It Works

    The business model is simple. Clients call EZ Plans’ corporate office, which fields the call and finds a franchisee who services the client’s area. EZ Plans contacts the franchisee, who in turn, makes an appointment with the client. After an interface, the franchisee assesses the project and determines whether it is a project that can be undertaken.

    “Obviously, we are not looking for huge projects,” Song said.

    Song and his former students would be in charge of drawing the house as is, do research with the city and the zoning department, then provide the client with a design solution before drafting actual blueprints. Once they are submitted to city and a permit is issued, their job stops.

    Song plans to work with students who have graduated from the architectural program at LAHC and supervise the projects.

    “The idea is that they have graduated,” Song explained. “They don’t really have a place to go in an architectural office because they don’t have experience. So, those are the students who I will take. I will give them real-world experience. Of course, they’ll get paid for that job, too.”

    Song and four of his former students are taking on their first project in Downey. For now, they are looking for a space where they can do their work. The former students will be working as independent contractors, meaning they are working out of their individual homes.

    “It’s an experiment,” Song explained. “I need students who are self-motivated; I need students who are problem solvers; I need students who are technically sound, and I have them. I already have them.”

    To ensure that they are paid fairly, Song’s former students are working under a consultant agreement through the EZ Plan franchise. In essence, Song will be treating his former students as professional consultants and he will be overseeing the work.

    “Whatever is left will cover my overhead,” Song said. “Clearly, I’m not doing it as a money-making venture.”

    He envisions his project would work through a cycle of two to three years. His former students will work with the franchise, gain experience and move onward, making way for new sets of students to become part of the franchise project.

    The Commitment

    Although the workforce involved in the EZ Plans franchise is comprised of Song’s former LAHC students, the school itself is not involved in the project due to liability concerns.

    “It is a huge undertaking,” Song said. “I debated doing it for many, many years and I certainly don’t need the headache of trying to run a business. But there was just such a need.”

    “My students spend two to three years with me. I get to know them very personally. I am committed to them in teaching them and educating them.… But they can have that opportunity if they can go out and say, ‘Hey, I have three years of real-life work experience… and the degree.’ Then they have a fighting job at getting a real job at an architectural office.”

    Beyond the technical skills they’ve learned at school, the franchise offers his former students an opportunity to gain professional skills on the business side of running an architectural office.

    The Long Term Vision

    Song expects his level of involvement with the franchise to lessen within two years. His goal would be that the four former students he is taking under his wing will become project architects, who in turn will do most of the business management.

    “Hopefully, the business generates enough income for all four of them to be happy,” Song said. “Then, all the other students will filter in.”

    Of course, he won’t be able to remove himself completely from the business, because he is the licensed architect.

    As far as his investment, Song doesn’t foresee a return for at least four to five years. That’s OK, he said. As long as the business sustains itself, he’s happy.

    “My hope is that community understands the intent of the business,” he said. “We are really trying to service the community. In turn, the community will service our students by giving them valuable professional experience.”

     

    Read More
  • OPALINE (A DELIRIUM FOR A PARCHED PLANET) @ the Garage Theatre (world premiere)

    The world had to wait an extra half-hour to be introduced to Fengar Gael’s Opaline (A Delirium for a Parched Planet). Technical difficulties, the two-dozen audience members were told. Life in a black box can be a challenge.

    The Garage Theatre has volunteered for a variety of challenges during their 15 years, taking on works that push the limits of what such a small outfit is equipped to handle. When it pays of, it can pay off big, such as the Garage’s version of Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s Cannibal! The Musical a few years ago or last season’s first-ever staging of Tom Stoppard’s radio play Darkside. The latter brought one of Stoppard’s representatives from England to see what the fuss was about and earned the Garage official “world premiere” status from the Stoppard camp.

    Opaline isn’t Darkside, but Gael would do well to follow Stoppard’s lead and recognize the Garage’s savvy expansion of physical elements in her script, because Opaline is a better play on the Garage stage than it is on the page.

    While investigating matters related to the discovery of the corpse of a woman who was roughly 160 years old, forensic anthropologist Dr. Hargraves Moss (Allen Sewell) is led to the estate of Gaston Verdante (Adam Brooks), a dissolute but masterful painter whose domestique Opaline (Josephine Black) appears to be a younger version of the decedent. But Moss makes two discoveries of greater importance. One is the absinthe that Opaline excels at making. The other is Circe, preternaturally represented by the statuary of Verdante’s precocious young cousin Bibi (Cassandra Bell).

    Opaline has some cutesy fun with elements of noir and la vie bohème. The dialog is often pretentious, but that’s part of the gag. While the humor didn’t as well with me as it did for some of my fellow theatergoers, the characters’ growing enthusiasm for absinthe each time it’s offered does get funny.

    What lifts Opaline above the words on the page is the Garage’s expansion of the role of Circe. Portrayed by Gregory Ceseña, Erin Grissom, and Jeffrey Kieviet and gorgeously costumed by Cat Elrod as ensouled scupltures, director Caprice Spencer Rothe and choreographer Ashley Elizabeth Allen show the Greek goddess as explicitly controlling a great deal of the action, including the characters’ perceptions and motivations, despite Circe’s not even being listed as a character in Gael’s script. It’s a strong choice not only contextually, but it gives the play a distinct visual element it sorely needs. The three-sided set, which runs behind the audience on two sides (part of the fun of seeing multiple shows at the Garage is to walk each time and reorient yourself to each new set-up), furthers this effect, as does Yammy Swoot’s lighting design.

    The coordination between Ceseña, Grissom, and Kieviet is perfect. By turns they strike poses across the theater from each other, next to each other, and as a single unit, embodying both statuary and animating the paintings within the empty (i.e., to the audience) frames that line Verdante’s parlour. They effect set changes and ply the characters with absinthe, then dance as the characters become increasingly intoxicated. They bring to the fore questions of what is hallucination and what is reality. All of this is achieved with grace and strength. Allen couldn’t have done better with the movement element of Opaline, and she couldn’t have chosen a better trio to flesh out her conception. If anything, we want more of it. The penultimate scene of Act One, too long as written and without a Circe in sight, really drags. When it comes to scene changes, on occasion the Circes are helped by other actors, which is a miscalculation. Yes, the changeovers would take longer were it just the Circes, but giving all of the changeovers music (inexplicably, some take place in silence) and letting the Circes do their balletic thing would be playing to this show’s strengths.

    As for the rest of the cast, they have found their respective voices, but on opening night they had yet to imbue the stylized dialog with the conversational tinge it needs to work as well as it can, seeming to be recalling their lines rather than reacting and forming replies. Some of their best moments came on the rare occasions when a line was slightly flubbed. Those little pauses and stammers—and more importantly, the spirit of such moments—can be highly effective. Expect this tinge of naturalism to spread as the run progresses and the cast settles into their roles. Presumably they’ll also iron out glitches like one character’s miming (not very well) taking pictures with a cell phone that is clearly off (which stood out as a gaffe even before a later scene in which a different character actually takes pics).

    Opaline (A Delirium for a Parched Planet) is nothing if not a flight of fancy, a fever dream played for laughs. As such, the journey is more important than the message. To whatever degree the journey here is worth taking, it’s far more so in the green light of the Garage’s attempt to drive it forward.

    OPALINE (A DELIRIUM FOR A PARCHED PLANET) THE GARAGE THEATRE • 251 E 7TH ST (JUST OFF LONG BEACH BLVD) • LONG BEACH 90813 • 562.433.8337 THEGARAGETHEATRE.ORG • THURS-SAT 8PM • $15–$20 (THURSDAY TIX ARE 2-FOR-1); CLOSING NIGHT + PARTY $25 • THROUGH MARCH 26

    (Photo: freshframefoto.com)

    Read More
  • Stop Crashing the Art Walk

    Open Letter to City Councilman Joe Buscaino

    By Andrea Serna, Art and Culture Writer

    I am writing you this letter because lately I notice that you have become kind of—excuse the term—rude.

    You keep crashing the party.

    It appears that your office feels that scheduling crime forums during San Pedro’s First Thursday Art Walk will improve attendance for your events. Judging by the successful, standing room only attendance this past February and September, I would say you do not need to lean on the art walk to build your audience.

    The first time you crashed the San Pedro First Thursday Art Walk was in September, 2015, for a forum on homelessness. The citizens of San Pedro were in a state of alarm over the recent outbreak of tiny houses and tent encampments on our streets. You got the idea to schedule the forum at the Warner Grand Theatre during the art walk. I suppose it was done to drive attendance to the forum. No assistance was needed. The theater filled up with concerned citizens who were desperate for an answer to the intractable problem that is affecting the entire nation. From what I understand, the event was full. Because I am a gallery coordinator, I was unable to attend the forum. Many artists, who were also working their galleries, were not able to attend even though they see the problem around us every day.

    That first occurrence in September resulted in a low turnout for galleries and we wrote it off.

    More than 30 galleries participate in the First Thursday Art Walk. A great deal of work goes into scheduling, advertising and marketing our exhibitions. The result of that hard work is that on one day of the month, downtown San Pedro comes alive with people in the streets and shops making money.

    I have personally spoken to visitors who have come to San Pedro from downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Orange County because they heard about our art walk. Many of these people are first-time visitors and eager to return. The First Thursday Art Walk is a special, almost enchanted night. It is the one night we are guaranteed an audience for our work.

    Didn’t you realize after your successful September forum that you don’t really need the art walk to bring folks to your community safety forums? The impact on the February art walk was much more severe. The corner of 6th Street and Pacific Avenue was filled with dozens of Los Angeles Police Department squad cars, along with satellite news vans and individuals protesting police violence. Who would stop for an art walk with that kind of circus atmosphere?

    I can see it now, “Pull over honey, this looks like fun!”

    Most of the gallery owners I spoke with said attendance in their galleries was low.

    But wait … food trucks! The food trucks were still here. Is this is the reason why you chose that night? Was it meant as a convenient way to draw a crowd and feed your friends at the same time?

    Your office sent me two emails in response to my complaint about this issue. Both of them, using the exact same verbiage:

    “We decided to host the forum on that date as we were trying to make it convenient. We had hoped it would bring more people to downtown San Pedro to attend the forum and also visit the galleries, restaurants and local businesses after the forum concluded.”

    We did not see a single person from the forum.

    The irony here is that many artists are moving to San Pedro based on reasonable rents and a supportive arts community. We moved our studio here from Long Beach for this very reason. In addition to your propensity for crashing the art walk, we have also found that Property-Based Improvement District will unilaterally decide to close down the streets for random car shows with little or no notice. I would like to make the point that we all pay for a business license and pay rent and utilities to keep our business open. Ours is not a live-work space. It is a professional gallery work space, a business just like many others.

    A multitude of studies have shown the impact of the arts on neighborhood revitalization. A study titled “The Role of Arts on Neighborhood Change,” funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and conducted by the University of Texas, Arlington states that: “The arts remain a primary localized factor attributed to facilitating neighborhood change. A great deal of case study work demonstrates that individual artists, artistic businesses, and artistic spaces (e.g. small galleries, theaters, music venues, and art studios) function as a “colonizing arm” that helps to create the initial conditions that spark revitalization.”

    All these factors exist within a four-square block of San Pedro. Artists have spent 20 years building this environment.

    So now the March art walk is here and you have announced another opportunity to bring the LAPD to the party. Yolanda Regalado is opening Sirens coffee house to your crew for an evening called “Coffee With a Cop.” I anticipate black and white squad cars lined up in front of our gallery driving people away and sending a signal of unrest or disorder during the evening.

    My question to you is, what’s wrong with Saturday morning for coffee? You don’t seem to see the paradoxical nature of art walks and crime forums. We are attempting to create alluring, provocative stimulation for our visitors. You are signaling, “caution, danger ahead.” There is a time and a place for both, but not on the same night.

    Since you are going to be in the neighborhood, I invite you to do the art walk this month. Talk to the gallerists who have been impacted by your recent co-opting of First Thursday. All along the way you will pass Gallery Azul, Post-Future at Williams Bookstore, Warschaw Gallery, Gallery 478 (a traditional ending point for the evening), The Loft Gallery, Hirokos, Angels Ink and Huz Gallery.

    So councilman, please, consider the galleries that have worked so hard to make this evening a success. Have your forum on any other night. The restaurants and bars will all be open. Your current strategy is causing a tremendous waste of effort, focus and communications.

    The art district wants your support. All we are asking is let us work. The cliché of the dreamy lost artist is far from the reality of the art world. Art—making it and selling it—is work. We are asking for one day a month, the first Thursday, to do our job.

     

    Read More
  • RENT @ Cal State Long Beach

    by Greggory Moore

    I may have been the only theatre critic in America who’s almost totally unfamiliar with Rent. All I could have told you prior to now is that it was a big hit, has something to do with AIDS, and is parodied in Team America: World Police.

    Nonetheless, it was apparent to me early in Act One that Rent is meant to be a spectacle on a scale that perhaps no undergraduate production—even one helmed by the redoubtable Joanne Gordon—can deliver.

    This may be an unfair criticism. I was there to review an undergraduate production, after all. Plus, why shouldn’t part of Gordon’s mentoring this generation of young thespians include trying on shows of all sizes?

    But this review is supposed to help you decide whether you want to put your good money down. Well, that depends on what you want in return. It’s my duty to inform you that if you want Rent in all its potential glory, this isn’t the production for you.

    Full disclosure: I wasn’t going to love Rent even if I saw it on Broadway, where it won a Tony, a Pulitzer, and remains the 11th-longest-running Broadway show in history. Really more of an opera than a musical (there’s more recitative than spoken dialog) with a thin plot that in Act Two starts jumping forward as if it were a film that producers took away from the director and cut for length, if Rent works, it’s because the broadly-drawn characters strum your heartstrings with their songs. Because to me the music is often meandering (fuller disclosure: a problem I have with most musicals). Clearly, I’m not the University Players’ target demographic.

    Nonetheless, I found things to like. For starters, it’s a spirited cast. Rent is a high-energy show if there ever was one. Bored I wasn’t, partly because the energy was always flowing, with the knob turned up to 11 when need be. The highlight along these lines is “Christmas Bells”. Way too complexly layered to sing along to in your car, it would be a terrible mess were the full ensemble not in polyphonic lockstep. But the cast pulls it off without a hitch, and it’s exciting.

    The standout cast member is Christian Sullivan, who imbues Angel with that special sort of projection the best musical actors always seem to have—and that’s before we even get to numbers that give him a lot to do, like “Today 4 U”. Other cast members have their moments. “Tango: Maureen” is a clever, charming back-and-forth between Mark (Christian B. Schmidt) and Joanne (Nicole Royster) about their former and current lover, respectively. Maureen herself is introduced later, in “Over the Moon”. Because “Over the Moon” is both the longest stretch of the show focused on a single character and a performance within Rent‘s plot, whoever plays Maureen is going to stand out, for better or worse. Thankfully, Kayla Kearney gives us the former.

    In terms of pure songwriting, for me two songs tower above the rest, and the University Players deliver these effectively. One, of course, is “Seasons of Love”, so famous that I knew it without knowing it’s from Rent. Composer Jonathan Larson perfectly marries the simple beauty of his catchiest melody line with the concept of living minute by minute for the (sing it with me) five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes that make up a year, the duration Rent‘s action. I reviewed a production of A Chorus Line a couple of years ago, a musical I knew fairly well thanks to my mother’s obsession with it but hadn’t heard since childhood. I didn’t like it any better than I did as a kid, but when they performed “What I Did for Love”, I had to admire the craft. “Seasons of Love” is that moment in Rent. (God knows Larson thought so: he wrote half of Act Two around its motif.)

    The other is “Will I?”, a simple, spare, haunting bit of songwriting that by itself makes me glad I saw Rent. “Will I lose my dignity,” members of an AIDS support group ask each other. “Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?” The company turns these three lines into a round, harmonies taking flight from all sides, music that seems to imbue their fear of dying with all the dignity the characters hope to preserve. Powerful stuff.

    Unfortunately, the orchestration of the University Players’ production isn’t set up to propel the bigger numbers so effectively. Bass, drums, guitar, and a couple of keyboards (one with a poor excuse for a piano sound) probably isn’t enough under any conditions, but the music here is needs to be 50% louder to give Larson’s music the push it demands. This volume problem leaves the vocalists exposed, which hurts a young cast whose talents are in development.

    Visually, the staging feels incoherent. Costumes seem random (should Roger really be running around in a sleeveless vest during a frigid New York winter as he battles HIV while living in an apartment with no heat?), and the c. 1990 period specificity of Rent is sabotaged by anachronisms (everyone has a cell phone like the one in your pocket, we’re inundated with iconic images of the recent Wall Street crash). The choreography is also a jumble, with the cast’s energy dispersed as often as it is focused.

    Because of its complexity and its genetic predisposition to be spectacle, Rent is a hard show to stage. Give the University Players an A for effort, but you weren’t expecting Broadway, right?

    RENT CAL STATE LONG BEACH UNIVERSITY PLAYERS • THEATRE ARTS BUILDING (CSULB SOUTH CAMPUS—ENTER W CAMPUS DR OFF 7TH ST) • LONG BEACH 90840 • 562.985.5526 CALREP.ORG • WED-SUN 8PM • $20-$25 • THROUGH MARCH 19

    (Photo credit: Keith Ian Polokoff)

    Read More
  • Clem Pennington is the Whole Package

    Story by Melina Paris, Music Columnist
    Photo by Phillip Cooke

    It really pays to check out local restaurants with live music. You never know what you might find.

    A couple of weeks ago, the newly reopened Beach City Grill featured the vocal sensation Clem Pennington.

    During the 1960s Pennington worked as studio musician, as a percussionist and a vocalist, and at times he filled in as a vocalist for the Spinners and the Drifters.

    The Spinners and the Drifters were two contemporaneous rhythm and blues groups that emerged in the early 1950s. They continue to perform to this day, supporting the idea that the group is greater than any one individual.

    Rolling Stone magazine’s story, “100 Greatest Arts” called the Drifters the least stable of the great vocal groups of the time. They were low-paid musicians hired by George Treadwell, who owned the Drifters’ name.

    The Spinners were a more organically grown group started by several friends in a housing project in Detroit in 1954.

    Pennington wasn’t intimately connected to these bands, but he contributed his silky and smooth style frequently.

    He looked like a million bucks. Neatly groomed and distinctively dressed, he wore black and white pin-stripe slacks, wing tip shoes, a white dress shirt with a black applique on the collar, and a black and white striped tie.

    At 77, you’d think his repertoire only included old school R&B. It’s the opposite. Pennington is belting out hits like Michael Jackson’s Rock with You, Human Nature and his posthumous release with Justin Timberlake, Love Never Felt So Good. Pennington has even included Robin Thicke’s Morning Sun and Pharrell Williams’ Happy on his song list.

    Originally from Kansas City, Mo., Pennington was reared in Los Angeles with his mother and grandmother. Pennington began his singing career at 11 years old in church. Back then, church went on all day long, he said. So he gained much experience, which set the stage for his future in music.

    Pennington dropped out of high school early, married, started a family and went into the Navy. After his Navy service he went back to night school for his diploma. He attended Los Angeles Trade Tech College, El Camino College and earned credits through the Navy, combining all three to earn his associate of arts degree in computer languages. He went on to University of California Los Angeles earning a bachelor’s of science and eventually went to work at Hughes Aircraft as a chemist.

    While serving in the Navy at Point Mugu, Pennington sang in a group called 4+1, with four marines, he was the only Navy man. The foursome participated in the 11th Naval District Talent Show and the top six acts would go on to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. Pennington’s group came in seventh. He said those types of close chances were frequent in his music career, but it’s clear he is a musician who has always done well for himself through consistent work.

    Pennington started professionally as a drummer playing bongos and congas with a well-known Latin and jazz percussionist of Puerto Rican ancestry. Through Bobo, he met The Drifters and The Spinners. Pennington called himself one of the unsung heroes. He sang first and second tenor and played percussion behind these groups while he was a studio musician at Epic Records. If one of them was sick or out for some reason, he stepped up to sing in their place.

    During this time in the 1960s Pennington also sang at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, all while still backing the Drifters and the Spinners and playing percussion in the studio. Two of the most popular songs he recorded on were Under the Boardwalk, with The Drifters, and I’ll Be Around, with The Spinners. He was a work-a- holic and says he still is.

    Some of the musicians started having personal problems and addictions, so Pennington pulled away from the groups in the late 60s. Pennington shifted his energy to working at Hughes Aircraft full time.

    When he retired in 1992, Pennington revived his musical career seemingly without missing a beat.

    He met Spencer Chung, who owned Hong Kong Gardens Restaurant in Torrance. Pennington was purchasing karaoke equipment at an outlet in the same mall as the restaurant. When the owner of the outlet heard Pennington singing, he introduced him to Chung who was starting a karaoke night. Chung gave him a job singing in his restaurant and Pennington performed there for 13 years. He also performed at the Golden Lotus Restaurant in Palos Verdes for the next five years. In 2009, he got a gig at Think Prime Steakhouse and has been there since.

    During the past five years Pennington has taken his brand abroad, performing in Beijing and Shanghai. He also consistently spent the first week of June and July singing at Harrah’s and at Rio, respectively, in Las Vegas until 2013.

    Hearing Pennington’s smooth voice it’s no surprise that two of his biggest influences are Johnny Mathis and Marvin Gaye. He has covered Mathis along with other contemporary classics on his own CD titled, I’m in a Romantic Mood.

    What fulfills this balladeer the most is connecting to his fans.

    He relates a story from when he sang at The Golden Lotus. A doctor approached Pennington to tell him that when he came in the restaurant he had knots all over his body. But after having his dinner and listening to him sing for a couple of hours he was completely relaxed, free of pain.

    “When a doctor tells you, you healed him— I felt 10 feet off the ground,” Pennington said. “Now of course, when I sing in the church I have that healing, that is (when) I get the most out of it. I’ve done what I’m supposed to do.”

    Pennington continues to get gigs. He is starting a new residency at Beach City Grill on the second, fourth and fifth Thursdays of each month.

    In recent years, during the holiday season local residents around the peninsula hire him to perform at their holiday parties—an opportunity resulting from his performing at Think Prime.

    He sings at the steakhouse from 7 to 9 p.m. on Fridays. His lineup there includes R&B, jazz and contemporary classics such as Johnny Mathis, or songs from Phantom of the Opera.

    “Everything from Uptown Funk to My Way, which even the young crowd loves,” Pennington said. “I love people and I love to see them happy. I’ve tried to live my life like it says in the Bible, ‘love thy neighbor as you love thyself.’ I think what people don’t pick up is this whole world is your neighbor. We have neighboring cities, neighboring countries, that encompasses everybody. God said to love.”

    Pennington knew he would never get far from music but he also knew he had a paycheck coming every Friday from his gig at Hughes Aircraft. Many people who he sang with ended up having problems. Success is not for everyone, he reasoned. He wants young people in show business to realize that they have to be educated in handling money in order to keep their success and to always get an education.

    Listen to Pennington at http://tinyurl.com/ClemPennington and at http://tinyurl.com/ClipofClem. See and hear Pennington live at the Beach City Grill in downtown San Pedro on March 10 and every second Thursday.

     

    Read More
  • LAWA Says Future of the LA Waterfront is Coming

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

     Recently, Councilman Joe Buscaino revealed that the Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance was going to bring back the Red Car as part of their redevelopment plans for Ports O’ Call Village. It turns out that that wasn’t the only bombshell in redevelopment news.

    On March 2, hours before the public meeting on the Ports O’Call redevelopment plan at the Warner Grand Theatre, Wayne Ratkovich, of the Ratkovich Company and Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance announced that they will break ground on the project in 2017.

    The other piece of news was that it will no longer be called Ports O’Call Village. Instead, it will be called the San Pedro Public Market.

    Ratkovich described the fruition of the Ports O’Call development, despite the fits and starts over the past decade or so, the result of an aligning of the stars, citing the support of the mayor, councilman and harbor commission board.

    Buscaino noted during his comments that Ratkovich’s interest outlasted three administrations and two commissions to get to this point.

    During the short press conference ahead of the public meeting at the Warner Grand, Ratkovich explained the six principles that guided redevelopment plans of Ports O’ Call, including:

    1. The site is publicly owned. Therefore it has to be very public in its use. Open to all, to residents and visitors alike.
    2. The redevelopment of the site should serve to improve the quality of life in San Pedro, Wilmington and beyond.
    3. It should have high aspirations. It should become a landmark of lasting stature in Southern California.
    4. The development should attract entrepreneurial tenants that collectively create a unique experience in Southern California. A special emphasis is to be placed on those foods and products that relate to the ocean front location.
    5. The development should connect the Waterfront to downtown San Pedro and serve as a stimulant of revitalization of downtown San Pedro.
    6. The use should begin to connect various attractions and activities along the San Pedro and Wilmington waterfront.

    Councilman Buscaino called the Ports O’ Call redevelopment an opportunity to change the landscape in San Pedro and said the new plan could put San Pedro Public market on par with other Los Angeles assets such as Sunset Strip, L.A. Live and Hollywood.

    This bit of development news follows announcements of Boeing and Catalina Sea Ranch, an aquaculture company that raises farm fresh mollusk shellfish such as clams, oysters and scallops, partnering with AltaSea.

    Other redeveloping plans include the repurposing of the courthouse property on Sixth Street in downtown San Pedro and Los Angeles bid to host the 2024 Olympics, in which San Pedro will host the sailing competition.

     

     

     

    Read More
  • Evading the Holes in the Safety Net

    One Mother’s Journey Through Los Angeles County’s Coordinated Entry System

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    The City of Los Angeles recently moved to seize and presumably dispose of the tiny houses that have been cropping up near freeway overpasses in South Los Angeles within the past year. This and the removal of encampments in other parts of the city are done in response to complaints of blight. The official actions are also aimed at preventing homeless people from getting so comfortable on the streets that they don’t get the available help that is out there.

    But what is often missing from the conversation is the effectiveness of city and county efforts in preventing homelessness and elevating people out of homelessness.

    Tisha Doby’s experience of navigating the various programs for women with children, without many of the issues that keep many chronically homeless people homeless, is illustrative of the best and worst of Los Angeles’ anti-poverty and affordable housing solutions.

    Doby, a 40-year-old mother of two teenage daughters, migrated to California from Pittsburgh several months ago. She owned a fashion business and believed that she could build a better life for daughters in Los Angeles.

    She was a solidly working-class business owner. The move wasn’t just for her. It was for her daughters. Doby described her youngest daughter as a prodigy who designed clothes, while the oldest was a model. Both teenagers are academically gifted, she said.

    Before making the trek, Doby researched low-income housing options that would allow her to avoid homelessness until she was able “to get on her feet.”

    During that process, she found the Los Angeles County program, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness. This was her initial introduction to resources for low-income people in Southern California.

    Nothing quite went as planned when she and her daughters arrived. Doby believed that she would be able to immediately get into some low-income housing, but was only able to get a 14-night hotel voucher and enroll in Greater Avenues for Independence, also known as GAIN, a Los Angeles County program that provides employment-related services to California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids, or CalWORKs. The program helps participants find work, stay employed and move on to higher paying jobs.

    If nothing else, Doby stayed organized and persistent, keeping detailed paper trail of her expenditures as proof that she’s a responsible adult.

    There’s an abundance of resources and programs to assist the down-and-out with a leg up out of poverty. But Doby’s experience shows that even with these, the road to self-sufficiency is pitted with potholes, red tape and human obstacles.

    “Nobody ever really explained who did what when or where,” Doby explained recently. “It was like a hodgepodge of call this person, go there, do this, go to this appointment. So I ended up meeting up with Ms. Barrett at the Multi Service Center in Long Beach.”

    The case manager took Doby’s application and said she would expedite it so that she and her daughters wouldn’t have to sleep in the streets. With time running out, she went back to the county for help. They gave her booklet filled with numbers of organizations that could help. The person at the first number she called told her that the place didn’t have any beds available. Doby and her family ultimately ended up at the Union Rescue Mission.

    “Here I am with my two kids who had never been subjected to anything like that in their life,” she said. “We had to go to the Union Rescue Mission because I had already paid for one night at a hotel out of my own pocket. So I was left with no resource.”

    She and her daughters had already spent a night at the Union Rescue Mission, when she got a call back from Los Angeles County’s Family Source Center and was told to go to their Long Beach office for the follow up meeting.

    “I’m traveling by bus with my GPS because I don’t know anything about [anywhere] out here,” Doby said. “So I spent the whole day trying to get to Long Beach and the lady told me I was at the wrong location. You have to get rescheduled.”

    The caseworker there ultimately forwarded her file to Harbor Interfaith Services and told Doby to call if she didn’t hear from them within the week.

    Connecting to Harbor Interfaith

    She called after a week had passed.

    Doby underwent Harbor Interfaith’s assessment Aug. 27. She was able to get into Harbor Interfaith’s 90-day shelter program on Sept. 8.

    After undergoing the assessment, passing the background check, Doby was told she had to meet with a therapist and a case manager.

    Harbor Interfaith Services Executive Director Tahia Hayslet noted that it takes about 30 days on average, but often, longer, to transition a person living on the street into a 90-day shelter program. And that person may not necessarily end up at Harbor Interfaith’s shelter. She said it’s all based on priority throughout Service Planning Area 8 of the Coordinated Entry System, a geographic area that covers much of the southern part of Los Angeles County.

    She was told there was 80 percent mandatory savings, she had to go to self-improvement classes and that if she was not working, she should be enrolled in school.

    Doby said she had no trouble abiding by these conditions—that is, all but one: the mandatory 80 percent savings. Doby told the caseworker that she would have trouble with that condition due to the necessity of maintaining her storage units in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles as well as some minimum payment obligations related to her shuttered business.

    The mandatory 80 percent savings is not unusual. Hayslet explained that most 90-day shelter programs deploy the requirement as a means of helping clients save enough money for their deposit for an apartment and exercising financial discipline. Still, program participants struggle with the strict requirements.

    Doby explained that she was on a fixed income and was receiving $704 per month. She was required to contribute $563 per month, leaving her short the money to pay for her storage units and remain in compliance with Harbor Interfaith’s 90-day shelter program.

    Doby said she told the caseworker all of this and asked that they work with her on the mandatory savings component. The caseworker told Doby she’ll speak with the higher-ups and get back to her. Doby said she never heard anything more until she got the call to go to Harbor Interfaith with her daughters and her belongings.

    When Doby arrived and was completing the final paperwork that would allow her to move into Harbor Interfaith’s 90-day shelter program, no discussion or decision had been made on whether the service organization would work with her on that condition.

    Doby recalled being told, “I can’t make that decision for you. You have to decide for yourself.”

    “But you told me that you would talk to your boss about this,” she told the caseworker. “Why would you call me if you didn’t do that?”

    Doby’s daughters were waiting outside with their ride and all of their belongings. By leaving the Union Rescue Mission based on the belief that she would be staying a new location, she no longer had a bed there.

    Doby signed the paper anyway believing that she could work out the problems along the way.

    Things came perilously close to not working out for Doby. She recounted meeting with her case manager once a week for three weeks with little interaction. Doby said she didn’t learned whether the 80 percent mandatory deposit would remain an obstacle or if three were other alternatives that would lead to permanent housing.

    Doby said the situation came to a head when the deadline to pay the deposit had came and passed and Family Shelter director, Sharon Stewart, gave her 48 hours to either pay the 80 percent deposit or leave the program. Doby said it was only then that her caseworker began providing possible leads to permanent housing.

    “She [the case manager] gave me a stack of papers that was like an inch thick,” Doby explained.

    The options consisted of single-room occupation hotels that charge $500 per month and other 90-day shelter programs.

    The options that stood out was a 90-day program in Santa Monica, which provides the same services as Harbor Interfaith and Harbor Interfaith’s Accelerated Learning & Living program.

    Doby noted that she had a Section 8 referral since she made the move to California. But she had not heard anything further on that front.

    “You entrapped me because you told me you weren’t going to call me unless you could work stuff out,” Doby recalled telling her case manager. “And then you get me out here and I’m asking you week after week what’s going to happen when I can’t pay that and you’re not giving me an answer and then it’s the [Oct.] 7. I met with her every Wednesday at 5 o’clock. So it’s already after business hours when we met anyway so there was nothing I could do until that next morning.”

    Doby started making calls the next morning before she had to leave for a doctor’s appointment about a cancer scare. She left messages. Other places she called said they were full. She even called the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the Los Angeles city and county department that oversees the Coordinated Entry System and explained her situation. She was referred to a number of people within the organization that couldn’t get her on a path that would lead to permanent housing in less than 48 hours.

    “I was like, what is going on in California that I can’t get a straight answer from anybody and there’s no repercussion for people not doing their jobs?” she recalled.

    The meeting took place on Wednesday evening, Friday came and went without incident, the following Monday was a holiday. Doby said that Tuesday morning, Stewart walked into Doby’s unit, leaving the door open, asking for the deposit. Doby said she was only in a towel at that point, in process of getting dressed when Stewart walked in.

    Recalling the exchange, Doby noted that she asked why she signed the paperwork knowing she couldn’t pay the deposit.

    “Because I was told you were going to work with me because of my two storage units,” she responded. “I could understand if you told me you couldn’t work with me on the rest. But how are you going to tell me, a mother with children, that I have to lose all this stuff that I earned and paid for to stay here for 90 days… when you’re an agency that is supposed to be helping us? … It makes no sense. I’m an adult. I’m not a drug addict. My kids weren’t wrapped up in the system. I relocated. There’s a difference.

    “When my phone rang when I was at the [Union Rescue Mission] and I was told to come out here at 3 o’clock, that led me to believe everything was worked out. It wasn’t until I gave up my bed, paid somebody to bring us out here that you’re here telling me … you’re not giving me the key unless I sign this paper. What would you do?”

    Doby was ultimately able to come to an agreement with Stewart and stay.

    “I went to the classes,” Doby said. “I did my chores. I was in school already. I adhered to the curfew. I didn’t have any problems with any of it. As I told her, it’s not what I wanted but it’s a step.”

    Doby found herself on a two-track process, the Accelerated Learning & Living program or going to Lydia House in Santa Monica when her time was up in Harbor Interfaith’s shelter. An immediate response from Lydia House confirmed for Doby’s initial reservations about the work that would have only transferred her to another 90-day shelter program.

    “The lady from Lydia House called me the next day with follow up questions,” Doby recalled. She was confused. She said, ‘I don’t understand why I have your referral.’ She said, ‘Our program does exactly the same thing that Harbor Interfaith does.’ She said, “I don’t want to be overlapping services because if we bring you out here I won’t be able to do much more than what Harbor Interfaith is doing. Are you not getting services?’”

    After Doby told the Lydia House case manager how she came to Los Angeles, she was told that if there were Section 8 housing was available, it will likely go to the worst case scenarios, the chronically homeless.

    Doby said she felt like she had been strung along from the beginning.

    “I wasn’t asking for a hand out,” Doby said. “I was asking for a hand up. I was just asking for some time in income based housing until I can get on my feet and establish my business out here.”

    The sad truth of it all is that their inability to direct Doby to low-income housing is not even Harbor Interfaith’s fault.

    Section 8 housing is the primary source of low-income housing. But with a 2 percent vacancy rate in Los Angeles rental housing market and few apartment owners willing to take Section 8 tenants, what we’re left with is homeless policy that’s more smoke and mirrors than smart policy.

    Of all the options Doby was offered, the Accelerated Learning & Living program was the only one that would lead to permanent housing.

    The Accelerated Learning & Living program meant that Doby and her two daughters could live in an apartment for up to 18 months until she finished school and found a job that would allow her to support her family. She underwent a background check, provided education transcripts and all the required paperwork.

    Doby said she got a call from the director of the Accelerated Learning & Living program a couple of weeks later and met with him.

    “First of all, I don’t know why I got your referral; it’s not complete,” Doby said, recalling the conversation. “You have a Pennsylvania ID. That’s not sufficient.”

    She said he reiterated his question, asking “why are you in my state, drinking my water, and eating my food?”

    She thought he was possibly joking before coming to the realization that he was serious.

    “What? We don’t have the right to do better or want better?” Doby asked.

    She recalled retelling her story of relocating her business and building a better life for her children.

    She recalled him saying, “Oh, so you chose to be homeless.”

    What’s apparent from Doby’s recollection was that she walked away feeling judged by something other than the requirements of the program.

    Doby’s original checklist didn’t specify she needed a California identification. It also didn’t specify that she needed to be a full-time student. At the time, she was a part-time student taking online courses with QC Design School. Doby secured all new additional paperwork asked of her and enrolled in a more rigorous Art Institute for interior design.

    Before she turned in her paperwork, Doby got to hear about the Accelerated Learning & Living program from Family Shelter Director Sharon Stewart during a resident meeting, reaffirming what she initially learned about the program. After the class, Doby showed her paperwork to Stewart. It was Doby’s understanding that Stewart had taken over her case for the Accelerated Learning & Living program. Weeks went by without word from her case manager, Stewart or the Accelerated Learning & Living director about the Accelerated Learning & Living program or entrance into Lydia House.

    With only three weeks remaining before she was to exit the program, Doby went to Stewart’s office without an appointment to make a complaint. Doby said it initially seemed as if the office staff were acting as gatekeepers, telling her that she needed her case manager’s permission to speak with Stewart.

    “You’re telling me that I have to get permission from case manager, who I am [having] issues with, to go to her boss? “Where do they do that at?” Doby recalled saying.

    She said she intentionally spoke with a raised voice so Stewart could hear her. She believed Stewart was there but out of sight. Doby said she got a phone call from the Accelerated Learning & Living program director not long after she left Stewart’s office.

    Doby was eventually accepted into the Accelerated Learning & Living program, and is one of Harbor Interfaith’s shiniest success stories. But it wasn’t easy.

    If not for her persistence, determination and faith, Doby and her two daughters could have wound up like Denise Vigil at Councilman Joe Buscaino’s homeless forum in September 2015.

    Buscaino’s office screened a video documentary of four success stories out of 76 people his emergency response teams transitioned into permanent housing. Among those success stories was Vigil, whose struggles were well documented in Random Lengths News this past year. When the forum concluded, Vigil was in her sleeping bag outside of San Pedro City Hall building with Section 8 voucher for housing in her hand. Vigil eventually got into permanent housing, months after the forum.

    Tisha Doby is a Harbor Interfaith success story, but the obstacles on the path to self-sufficiency are large and numerous.

    Read More
  • Brewing up Change on the San Pedro Waterfront

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    The crowds were ebullient, if not inebriated, at the long-awaited opening of Brouwerij West in old Warehouse 9 near the San Pedro waterfront on 22nd Street and Harbor Boulevard.

    Wayne Blank, known for building Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station, is the visionary who sunk a small fortune into creating Crafted at the Port of L.A. at the same location.

    Previously in that same week, Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by Port Executive Director Gene Seroka and others, flipped a symbolic switch with the help of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as they unveiled the city’s 1.2 megawatt solar panel initiative on top of that very same warehouse. The initiative is part of Garcetti’s 2014 Sustainable City pLAn, which set the goal of producing 400 megawatts of solar energy by 2017. The port is proposing to produce 10 megawatts of energy on port properties, including the parking lot at Cabrillo Beach.

    The day after the solar panels were unveiled, the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce hosted a business luncheon at Crafted entitled, “The Future of the LA Waterfront,” presented by Councilman Joe Buscaino. Prefaced by a history lesson, the councilman’s presentation contained scant new information except that somehow the Red Car was going to be included in the, as yet to be announced, Ports O’Call waterfront redevelopment.

    This sudden flurry of activity is curious in the wake of recent cries to “Save San Pedro” and “Save the L.A. Waterfront”—from what? We don’t know. From the start, the march toward the stated goals in the 2009 waterfront environmental impact report has been obvious, but slow and methodical—distant goals that include AltaSea, Warehouse 1 and other sites.

    Anxiety over the timeline of future developments and the incremental process by which they are being envisioned, designed and possibly built has been at the source of ongoing criticism—mostly from the area’s neighborhood councils.

    But this current flurry of activity seems to be driven more by the councilman’s unspoken desire to show some accomplishment prior to his re-election campaign in 2017.

    Buscaino’s rush to get something done prior to the primary election next March has much to do with his aspirational vision of creating an L.A. Live-type attraction on the San Pedro waterfront. This, while deflecting criticism about the rise in homelessness and crime in his district, the failure to open the Harbor Division jail and increase patrol officers, or addressing underlying economic issues contributing to the lack of affordable housing. And let’s not forget the relatively high 14.7 percent unemployment rate in Council District 15 that has been largely under-reported.

    The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are frequently touted as “economic engines” in the local/regional if not the national economies. And that some 40 percent or more of all the imports into the United States come through these ports, generating some $200 billion annually in commerce, with $1.2 billion payroll for the ILWU workers. These are impressive numbers until one begins to break them down.

    How is it that in the shadow of such an immense economic enterprise we have such high unemployment, with increasingly disparaging levels of poverty, homelessness and lack of opportunities?

    Even with the relatively high pay of some waterfront workers, their compensation amounts to less than one percent of the annual gross of this immense economic engine. This would be an amazing statistic in any other business.

    Further exacerbating this issue is that distribution warehouses connected to our ports are so distant from the local jurisdiction of the waterfront unions and pay nowhere near union scale. This also plays into the plight of port truckers and their struggle to be recognized as “employees” rather than “independent contractors.”

    What remains invisible to all, who both decry San Pedro’s decline and who boost waterfront development, is that the Harbor Area hasn’t recovered from the loss of those 30,000 harbor jobs back in the Reagan era.

    So it’s great and I applaud the efforts of Crafted, Brouwerij West, AltaSea, the USS Iowa and Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance in building and creating even a few hundred jobs here. But the effort doesn’t come close to what it would take to fill the vacuum created by the historic loss of the shipyards and canneries.

    In the end, the few hundred millions of investment for waterfront development is a nice shot in the arm, but not nearly enough to jumpstart a sanguine economy to the level of Playa Vista or Silicon Beach on the Westside.

    The reason Garcetti is promoting the subway-to-the-sea rather than the light-rail-to-the-Los Angeles Harbor has everything to do with the billions in infrastructure and private investment going on, while San Pedro still waits like a bride at the altar for her renaissance groom to arrive.

    It’s no wonder people are still asking the councilman, “How long? How long is it going to take?”

     

    Read More
  • G.B. Shaw’s PYGMALION @ Long Beach Playhouse

    You know the basics. Renowned phoneticist Henry Higgins makes a project of Eliza Doolittle: to transform a common cockney flower girl into a proper lllla-dy by dint of his power to shape her speech and manners. You probably got it through My Fair Lady, with the rain in Spain falling mainly on the plain and all that.

    Pygmalion is not My Fair Lady, and all praise to George Bernard Shaw for that. Shaw’s magnum opus, a triumph of craft and cleverness, isn’t so cutesy. It’s skillfully structured, pithy without pretentiousness, and as funny and witty as Oscar Wilde on his best day. And that’s without getting into considerations of how progressive, how feminist and humanist it is not just for 1912, but any age.

    I’m as surprised as you are. I read Pygmalion and saw the 1938 film version sometime in my early 20s and came away unmarked. Sure, great idea. And I processed most all the questions of identity and independence, connection and responsibility, caste and dignity. (Shaw is not shy about directly stating his ideas, even if he manages to embed that explicitness so he stops just short of being too on the nose.) But I wasn’t ready to feel that frisson you get from a writer pushing all the right levers in the right sequence.

    Seeing Pygmalion today as its being performed at the Long Beach Playhouse was the perfect way to appreciate the masterpiece I’d missed. That’s another surprise for me. Over the years Long Beach Playhouse has not tended to choose scripts I love, nor come at them philosophically in ways that appeals to me. This has been especially true of mainstage shows. (My two clear favorites—Machinal and Cloud Tectonics—were presented upstairs.) But the Playhouse peeps picked the perfect show for their predominant sensibility (call it “projecting to the back row”); they assembled a cast without a weak link in even the smallest roles; they don’t skimp on attention to detail; and they have a clear understanding of the characters’ and Shaw’s motivations.

    You can’t create a piece of theatre that wins on all counts if you don’t have a great director, so Sarah Butts can do nothing good for the rest of her life and still die knowing that, for at least one moment, she was great—although considering that she’s a third-year MFA student, she’s likely to die with additional greatness under her belt. [I guess I’m talking about greatness that comes with a belt clip?] Unlike film, theatre is not what one would call a “director’s medium,” so more often than not great direction consists primarily in truly understanding the text and ensuring your actors get it, too, then putting them in the best possible position (physically and otherwise) to succeed with that understanding. This is doubly true when directing someone like Shaw. Pygmalion takes place mostly in drawing rooms, and what happens happens sans flash (except linguistically). It’s little more than people talking to each other. But the people we see on the Playhouse mainstage hear one another, and they feel impacts from the words. They speak sometimes directly, sometimes behind veils, sometimes behind veils meant to be seen through. They are by turns oblivious and self-conscious, callous and sensitive, angry and wounded, sardonic and sincere. And we get to savor every bit of it.

    Butts deserves plenty of credit—not just for this, but for little details like the well-timed incorporation of a metronome—but it helps if you cook with the right food. You’re pretty tired of my praising Shaw right about now, so let’s talk actors…after I praise Shaw a bit more. Sure, Henry and Eliza are the central roles, but Shaw manages to humanize the minor characters, giving them both idiosyncrasy and moments in which they—and the actors embodying them—have chances to shine. Moreover, each interpersonal relationship, no matter how little stage time it gets, is unique. Henry’s relationship with his mother and with Col. Pickering is no less real than his relationship with Eliza, just as her relationships with Pickering and her father are of similarly authentic stuff.

    There’s no denying, of course, that Henry and Eliza are (along with Shaw’s philosophical considerations) front and center in the Pygmalion universe. If those roles are not cast right, your Pygmalion sucks. But Wilhelm Peters and Tiffany Toner give performances that you appreciate increasingly as the play progresses. Part of that is Shaw’s structuring. Scene 1 is pure set-up, introducing the main characters and planting the seed for Henry’s Eliza project without tipping the playwright’s humanistic hand. It’s Scene 2, where Henry and Pickering talk shop before receiving Eliza and embarking upon their adventure in character formation, that the roles really take flight. Peters is all fidgeting intellect and ego, while Toner personifies inherent human dignity and untapped potential even when delivering the silliest (in a good way) moments. Both manage to deadpan Shaw’s stylized dialog, which is key to selling all it has to offer. As Henry and Eliza grow (Eliza steadily, Henry in a bit of a zigzag), Peters and Toner seem to grow with them.

    Scene 3, where Henry and Pickering (a proper avuncular rock of kindness as portrayed by Steven Biggs) test-drive their Eliza project in front of Henry’s mum (Susie McCarthy, understatedly strong enough to have shaped a force of nature like Henry and keep him in his place) and company, is a tour de force for Toner. Both character and actor hold court here, enrapturing their respective audiences on different levels. Toner makes Eliza’s oscillation between her cockney origins and her newly acquired bourgeois manners sound completely natural, and her movements across the stage are all commanding charm.

    The set design for Pygmalion is both gorgeous and a model of maximal functionality, allowing Butts and company to utilize the unusually long stage space of the Playhouse’s mainstage theater to maximum effect. Martha Carter’s lighting design makes the most of that staging. You’re not going to get to do much with lighting on a traditional telling of Pygmalion, yet Carter’s simple work on the opening scene, which takes place under an arcade on a rainy London night, allows for an effective reveal of the full set in Scene 2.

    Also worthy of note is Donna Fritsche’s costumery, which holds its own with what you’ll see if Ang Lee ever produces a film adaptation. Fritsche does make one error, though: Scene 1 contains two explicit references to Henry’s boots, although clearly he is shod in the dress shoes he wears for the duration.

    I mention that mostly because I feel compelled to say something critical about this show. That’s all I got, kids. Pygmalion is about as perfect a production as you’ll see. Maybe you won’t like the script, but there’s little you can say against how Long Beach Playhouse delivers it. So give Shaw a(nother) chance, because Pygmalion is one of those rare conflations of humor (both high and low) with poignancy, appealing to brain, heart, soul, and funny bone.

    PYGMALION LONG BEACH PLAYHOUSE • 5021 E ANAHEIM ST • LONG BEACH 90804 • 562.494.1014 LBPLAYHOUSE.ORG • FRI-SAT 8PM, SUN 2PM • $14–$24 • THROUGH MARCH 26

    (Photo: Michael Hardy Photography)

    Read More
  • 1 59 60 61 241