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Events: Art San Diego, ‘Becky’s New Car,’ Plastic Fantastic

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Aired 9/2/10

The high-profile art fair Art San Diego takes place this weekend, but there's also gems to be found on San Diego stages. We'll get some weekend recommendations from our guests.

A show of photography taken with plastic cameras and curated by La Jolla gallery owner Joseph Bellows opens Friday at Subtext Gallery in Little Italy.
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Above: A show of photography taken with plastic cameras and curated by La Jolla gallery owner Joseph Bellows opens Friday at Subtext Gallery in Little Italy.

ALISON ST JOHN: (Host): You’re back on These Days with myself, Alison St John, in for Maureen Cavanaugh. The weekend is just around the corner, and it's a big one for San Diego's visual arts community. There's plenty to do as we head toward Labor Day, so let's talk to a couple of our arts observers about what's going on. We have in studio Kinsee Morlan, the arts and entertainment editor at San Diego CityBeat. Thanks for being here, Kinsee.

KINSEE MORLAN (Arts & Entertainment Editor, San Diego CityBeat): Thanks. Oh, thanks for having me, as always.

ST JOHN: Great to have you. And Jim Herbert is the theatre critic at the San Diego Union-Tribune. Jim, thanks for coming in.

JIM HEBERT (Theatre Critic, San Diego Union-Tribune): No, I was hoping to hear that rap intro from Kinsee again. (unintelligible) Thank you for having me.

ST JOHN: She’s been rapping already.

MORLAN: I only rap off air. People who know me know that I like to rap.

HEBERT: I know.

ST JOHN: Oh, well, let me guarantee you, she just is a good rapper. Spontaneous. So, Kinsee, we were just talking in the last segment about this Arts Fair, the San Diego Contemporary Art Fair. There’s going to be a lot of collectors and enthusiasts gathered downtown this weekend. So tell us a bit more about it. Why should we want to go?

MORLAN: I heard – Good segment, by the way. I really enjoyed it.

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm. It was.

MORLAN: And the Art Fair’s only two years old and the main event is, of course, the exhibition hall and it’s just gallery after gallery of contemporary fine art, and it is more geared toward the collector. But, you know what, I’m a collector. I buy art that I can afford. So it’s usually about this big. I’m making a gesture the size of a quarter.

ST JOHN: One inch square.

HEBERT: Sold by the inch, I guess.

MORLAN: It is. So it’s more for the collector and, really, the measure of success will be quite literally how much art is sold this weekend. So step up, San Diego, and buy some art. But also, you know, for people who maybe aren’t collectors yet or maybe never will be collectors, this is a fantastic opportunity just to get a international survey of what’s going on right now in art. So it’s pretty exciting.

ST JOHN: Okay, well, we’re a community of small businesses as opposed to big businesses. Maybe small purchases will add up to, you know, a big success.

MORLAN: Maybe.

ST JOHN: So what kind of galleries are participating in this?

MORLAN: Well, you just had Mr. Scott White, so his gallery will be there. La Caja Galeria from Tijuana will be there. Locally, Murphy Fine Arts, and then, of course, there’ll be international galleries from Japan to Miami. So, really, it is, like I said, an international survey. You’ve got your big local artists. The San Diego Art Prize will be on view there. So you’ll see some of the stuff that you’re used to seeing at the fine art galleries around town but you’ll also see stuff that you never get the chance to see. In the segment before, you were talking a little bit about Art Basle and this could be the next Art Basle, people. I mean, it’s a big deal, so I hope I’m getting that across that this is sort of – It’s young but it could be a very, very big deal for the art community.

ST JOHN: That’s exciting because it’s just the second year, you know.

MORLAN: Right.

ST JOHN: It has a lot of potential.

MORLAN: Umm-hmm.

ST JOHN: So now there’s more happening outside of the fair itself. What are the arts labs associated with this event?

MORLAN: Oh, yes, again, I was listening to your last segment and you guys talked about Liberty Station a lot. That’s one of the art labs, so you can walk around there. And you also brought up Barrio Logan which, you know, is this exciting, ground root kind of place where the artists – there’s no development there, you know, not yet, but there will be, I’m sure. And then right around the corner in East Village, they’re doing an opening the same night, Saturday night, so Saturday night, if you just kind of park in the 15th and J region…

ST JOHN: Uh-huh.

MORLAN: …and sort of maybe start at SD Space 4 Art and work your way over to the Periscope Project and then around the corner to the Glasshouse, Device Gallery fills out the – I mean, it’s insane, seriously, this week. We had a hard time fitting it all in our paper this week. Oh, print.

HEBERT: I love detail.

ST JOHN: It’s going to give you a good workout, too, walking around to all these galleries. It’s not just a passive activity, is it? I love the way that it’s connected to neighborhoods. So I’m sure there’s going to be some parties connected to it as well, right?

MORLAN: But, of course. If you’re willing to shell out the big bucks, there’s the VIP kind of opening stuff going on tonight. There’s San Diego Fine Arts Society Award Party/Dinner thing where they’re announcing things like Best San Diego Artist, that sort of thing. And then if you’re like me and you’re kind of cheap or broke, there’s some free stuff. There’s a Sight & Sound concert going on featuring art music in the Hilton Patio and I believe that is Friday night. Don’t quote me on that.

ST JOHN: And how much is admission?

MORLAN: To – to the…

ST JOHN: To the whole…

MORLAN: To the concert, it’s free. To the Fair, it’s $15.00. That’ll get you in all weekend. Pretty cheap.

ST JOHN: Boy, that sounds like a good deal.

MORLAN: Right.

ST JOHN: So that’s Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair. That starts tonight and it runs through Sunday, and for more information on the fair, go to Art San Diego – sorry. Artsandiego-fair.com. So, let’s move on to the next thing that we could do this weekend and talk to Jim. Lee Blessing’s play “Eleemosynary” goes – Did I say that right?

HEBERT: That rolls right off your tongue. I’m impressed.

ST JOHN: Okay. It goes into previews tonight at Roxy Theatre and opens on Saturday. What’s this about?

HEBERT: Well, “Eleemosynary,” first of all, the term refers to something – it refers to things that have to do with charity and so it’s not exactly a familiar word but it actually plays into the plot of the play because one of the characters is like a spelling bee genius and so she knows all these obscure words.

ST JOHN: Uh-huh.

HEBERT: But, you know, it took me, as I was saying it took me like two weeks to nail that pronunciation. So it’s kind of tough when you’re doing interviews and you can’t actually say the name of the play but, you know, it’s…

ST JOHN: So, what’s the theme of it? What is – what’s the…?

HEBERT: You know, it really has to do with the relationships among these three women, members of the same family. It’s a mother, a grandmother and a daughter. And it’s really – Chelsea Whitmore, the director, talks about it as being kind of a nonlinear play. It’s kind of impressionistic. But it really explores the bond and the difficulties among these three characters.

ST JOHN: Are they related?

HEBERT: They’re – Yeah, they’re mother, daughter and grandmother.

ST JOHN: Ah, there’s family. Umm-hmm.

HEBERT: Yeah. And it’s kind of a tortured relationship because the mom actually kind of abandoned the daughter at one point when she was young to be raised by the grandmother. So they’re kind of working out at least all these past, you know, all the things that went on in their lives in the past that they’ve struggled with.

ST JOHN: So, now, Lee Blessing is very well known. He’s written over 30 plays, won a lot of awards. Give us some more background on him.

HEBERT: Right, he – actually he’s best known for “A Walk In the Woods,” which…

ST JOHN: Oh, yeah.

HEBERT: …back in ’87, I think, was at La Jolla Playhouse. It had its second production there, and then went on to Broadway. And it was kind of an unusual piece for Broadway. It’s about these two arms negotiators, a Soviet and an American, and the interplay between them. And so that’s really what he made his mark with. And he actually is the most produced living playwright at La Jolla Playhouse. He’s had like six plays there over the years. So…

ST JOHN: And the director for this production is Chelsea Whitmore. What has she been doing?

HEBERT: Yeah, she’s a young director who does a lot of work with the Playwrights Project, which is the great program that develops young dramatists in San Diego and around the state. And she’s worked with Moxy quite a bit. She co-directed a play called “The Butcher of Baraboo,” which was this crazy story about a family who one of them is actually a butcher and her husband is missing, so, you know, very dark comedy that they produced last year and did a really nice job with.

ST JOHN: Okay, well, I read somewhere that this was about learning to live with the family that you’re given so that registers to all of us.

HEBERT: Yeah, I think – I haven’t seen this but I do think that that really gets at the heart of it. And, by the way, it’s – Moxy’s last play was “Eurydice” so they’re on this string of really tough-to-pronounce plays. So I don’t know…

ST JOHN: Okay.

HEBERT: I don’t know what might be next. It’ll just be an unpronounceable symbol like Prince or something.

ST JOHN: All right, well, “Eleemosynary” starts previews tonight at 9:30 at Moxy Theatre and opening night is Saturday, and the play runs through September 30th. The Moxy Theatre is on El Cajon Boulevard. So, now, Kinsee, there’s a photographic exhibition opening at Subtext Gallery in Little Italy on Friday night. And all of the photographs are taken with plastic cameras.

MORLAN: Umm-hmm.

ST JOHN: How is a plastic camera different than any other camera?

MORLAN: Well, they’re toy cameras. They’re generally cheap. They don’t – they’re not automatic and fancy like our digital cameras we have these days. And you’re using film. And they’re famous and they’ve gained this really huge cult following for their kind of low-fi esthetic so it’s light leaks vignettes, it’s soft focus blurs, all kinds of kind of happy accidents, and it’s this whole new look.

ST JOHN: So what kind of photographs are we likely to see here?

MORLAN: You know, I’ve only seen two that may or may not actually be in the show. But what I say, and I guess this is a new-old look, so when I look at photography that’s been taken by a toy camera, it’s like, you know, nostalgia immediately.

ST JOHN: Aha…

MORLAN: It’s like back in the day, you know, when your mom was taking these kind of weirdly focused, weirdly colored photos of you and you had to wait until they were printed to actually see it. You know, it’s funny. Kids these days just are so trained to run behind you and say, let me see, let me see. They love looking at pictures of themselves, of course.

HEBERT: Right, instantly.

MORLAN: Yeah. So this is slowing it down, taking it to, you know, low fidelity and…

ST JOHN: But these are professional photographers using plastic cameras? Or – or…?

MORLAN: They are.

ST JOHN: Yeah.

MORLAN: So it’s curated by Joseph Bellows of the La Jolla Gallery and he’s, you know, been around forever. He’s got an eye for good photography. So it’ll be, you know, it’s the Association – Oh, APA, and I – Association of Photographic Arts, the San Diego chapter. So I believe he was selecting from that group. So it’s already professional photographers and then you have, you know, Joseph Bellows stepping in to sort of select the best from there, so I think it’s going to be a pretty good show.

ST JOHN: And so it’s a way of sort of bringing plastic cameras into the mainstream, as it were.

MORLAN: It is. I mean, it’s already pretty mainstream.

ST JOHN: It is?

MORLAN: I have a Droid app that emulates the look of toy cameras and there’s the Hipstamatic, which is for the iPhone and…

HEBERT: That’s just cheating.

MORLAN: …I’m sure you’ve seen – I know, right? And Joseph Bellows had a great answer for that. He was like, you know, I haven’t – I’m not familiar with that but why is new technology replicating, you know, old, old traditions?

HEBERT: Right.

MORLAN: So it’s an interesting thing and I’m sure you’ve seen Facebook updates with the Hipstamatic. Like they pretend, oh, I used this lens but really they just pushed a button and so…

ST JOHN: But I love the fact that it’s getting rid of all of this high tech stuff and just going back to the basics for this.

MORLAN: Yeah.

ST JOHN: It sounds really cool.

MORLAN: Yeah, it should be the best of the best. So…

ST JOHN: So that’s “Plastic Fantastic” and also a live performance by a local band, Pocket, and that’s happening on Friday night at Subtext Gallery in Little Italy. So now, Jim, we’ve got a play coming up next here, “Becky’s New Car,” a play by Steven Dietz, opening Saturday night at the North Coast Rep in Solana Beach. This play apparently was a birthday gift, right?

HEBERT: Yeah, this opens North Coast Rep’s season, the theatre in Solana Beach. And it actually was commissioned by an arts patron up in Seattle who decided, you know, he wanted to give his wife a birthday gift of a play. So he commissioned Steven Dietz to write this work and I guess gave him kind of free rein as far as what the subject was going to be. And so what happened, though, was it actually – it was such a success that it’s caught on and has been produced quite a bit around the country and he – part of the reason he wanted to do this was he wants to get other people to kind of do this sort of thing, to become arts patrons maybe for Kinsee to sell some of her vast artwork collection and support some plays and… No, but…

ST JOHN: Can you tell us a bit more about Steven Dietz himself that might kind of be intriguing?

HEBERT: Yeah, he’s an incredibly prolific playwright. He’s written something like 40 plays between straight plays and adaptations. And I guess the most well known is actually an adaptation of “Dracula” which North Coast Rep did pretty recently, like three years ago, and the Old Globe actually did a number of years ago. And so he’s not like a Broadway type of playwright. He does a lot of work, smaller plays, regional theatres, but, you know, very – a very large presence in those kinds of circles. So…

ST JOHN: And what is it that you would say to sort of encourage somebody that this might be something that they’d pick out over everything else that’s going on to go see.

HEBERT: You know, what I thought sounded really interesting and this is maybe just one of my personal kind of likes about plays is that it really – it breaks – part of it breaks the fourth wall, meaning the character of Becky actually steps out to address the – not just the audience but apparently like the people in the control booth at some points. You know, so it becomes this – a little bit of a post-modern sort of self-reverential piece and yet it’s, you know, it’s kind of a, as I understand it, a pretty sweet story about this – a woman in the middle of life who suddenly everything is thrown into turmoil and she finds that, you know, she wants to do things differently than she has before. So…

ST JOHN: So this play kicks of a run of San Diego premieres for this company, doesn’t it?

HEBERT: Yeah, it’s actually – they’re doing, I think, seven plays and all of them are San Diego premieres so none have been seen here before. And when I talked to David Ellenstein, who’s the artistic director, he said that was kind of a fluke, that he was just basically looking for plays that sounded interesting and then when he put the list together, he realized, well, hey, you know, no one’s ever done these. So it’s kind of – you know, it’s nice to have a chance to see something entirely new here.

ST JOHN: Kind of an experiment and…

HEBERT: Yeah.

ST JOHN: …not something you’ve ever seen before.

HEBERT: Yeah. Yeah.

ST JOHN: Interesting. Okay, so that’s “Becky’s New Car” that runs through September 26th at the North Coast Rep in Solana Beach. Now, Kinsee, you are excited about some music at the Soda Bar in North Park on Monday night. What’s happening there?

MORLAN: Well, it’s Labor Day. Do either of you get Labor Day off?

HEBERT: No.

MORLAN: Journalists tend to not get it off but for those of you who do have it off, this is a $10.00 show. It features Crooked Fingers, Myrnabirds (sic) and Little White Teeth, which is a local band. And that’s $10.00 and you get to skip the awkward family barbeques and go see a great show.

ST JOHN: So Little White Teeth is a great name. What do you think of the band, though?

MORLAN: You know, I think they’re one of the best local bands. And I know that’s…

ST JOHN: Really?

MORLAN: …a bold statement but they’re accomplished, they’re experienced. They, you know, the bassist and vocalist and the lead guitarist come from Maquiladora and Black Heart Procession band so – and I hate to do this but if you like those two bands, you’ll probably like this band. It’s sort of emotional, well thought out, interesting lyrics…

ST JOHN: Okay.

MORLAN: …indie rock that is more melodic than…

ST JOHN: Great. Well, let’s hear a track. This is Little White Teeth with “Tonight We Go to Tijuana.”

(audio of Little White Teeth performing “Tonight We Go to Tijuana”)

ST JOHN: Okay, so that’s Little White Teeth and Kinsee loves them. You’ve seen them live. What are they like live?

MORLAN: Oh, yes, that falsetto gets me every time. You can hear the violin coming in. Ah, it’s so pretty. And the last time – That song means a lot to me. The last time I saw them live was in Tijuana and it was a pretty chaotic show but their professionalism kind of cut through all the bad sound and the audience wasn’t paying attention by the end.

ST JOHN: So…

MORLAN: It was a row and they put on a good show.

ST JOHN: Yeah, so interesting sound. So they’re – Little White Teeth are playing at the Soda Bar in North Park on Monday night. And we just have one minute left here, Jim.

MORLAN: Uh-oh.

ST JOHN: We gotta squeeze this in. The La Jolla Playhouse, they’re hosting a world premiere about Charlie Chaplin. Give us a quick thumbnail.

HEBERT: Yeah, this actually starts performances next week but it’s called “Limelight,” and it’s a world premiere musical at La Jolla Playhouse about the life and times of Charlie Chaplin, who was a violinist, speaking of strings…

MORLAN: Umm…

HEBERT: …one of the things I didn’t know about him before, you know, sort of talking to the people involved in the show. But it sounds like a really interesting piece and we’ll get to see it for the first time.

ST JOHN: Okay, and it’s actually got music as well, right?

HEBERT: It does. It’s a musical and fully choreographed and it’s really more about his life than about the movies but I think it’s going to be pretty eye-opening from what I hear.

ST JOHN: Yeah.

MORLAN: It’s not a silent play?

HEBERT: No. Good question.

MORLAN: So post-modern?

HEBERT: Exactly.

ST JOHN: All right, so that’s for Friday night. The story of Charlie Chaplin at the La Jolla Playhouse. Oh, no, Tuesday. Sorry, Tuesday, September 7th and runs through October 17th. So, hey, thank you guys very much for coming and giving us those great tips. That’s Kinsee Morlan of the San Diego CityBeat, and Jim Hebert of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

MORLAN: Thanks

ST JOHN: Good job, guys.

HEBERT: Thanks, Alison.

ST JOHN: Have a great weekend and thanks to listening for – to These Days.

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