//Ad libs: My top ten arts events from 2008

Thursday, January 08, 2009

My top ten arts events from 2008

Each January, it’s a kick to see what films Weekly critics choose as best and worst. This year, I made my own list. While the rundown isn’t comprehensive (I never have time to see everything), it is diverse: plays, concerts, exhibits, etc. Consider it my Top Ten Arts Happenings of 2008, in no particular order. I've limited my list to the Palo Alto area or we'd be here all night.

Theater production: “And Baby Makes Seven,” theatre Q
Pitch-perfect performances by Annamarie MacLeod and Katie Anderson -- and a moving, hilarious script by Paula Vogel -- made “Baby” a devastatingly entertaining evening of theater. Anyone could identify with Vogel’s matter
-of-fact portrayal of an unconventional family. But no one could play multiple personalities fighting over a peanut butter sandwich like MacLeod. (Pictured above, from left, are MacLeod, Matthew Lowe and Anderson.)

Painting/print/photo exhibit: Richard Diebenkorn, Cantor Arts Center
This show of Diebenkorn’s views of Santa Cruz Island, rich with unhurried lines, gave us an affectionate look at this renowned American artist and insight into his periods of figurative and abstract work. In a lovely touch, the Cantor included photos of Diebenkorn taken by Leo Holub, who founded Stanford’s photography department.

Basket exhibit: "Intertwined," various artists, Palo Alto Art Center
This traveling show from the Arizona State University Art Museum kicked the notion of a basket on its head. There were creations made from steel nails, salmon skin, staples, bamboo and wire. My favorite was the poker-faced “Stickman,” a 6-foot-tall man fashioned in twigs and plastic ties by John McQueen.

Movies: Bette Davis film festival, Stanford Theatre
More than 75 years later, there’s still nobody who beats Bette. The Stanford Theatre gave us a treat in presenting her earlier works from the ‘30s, such as “Of Human Bondage,” “The Man Who Played God,” “So Big” and “Dangerous.” A Weekly reader wrote in to share a favorite Bette line, from “Cabin in the Cotton”: “I’d love to kiss you but I just washed my hair.”

lpture exhibit: Mayyur Kailash Gupta, Aicon Gallery
Whimsical, wistful wood faces fill Gupta’s sculptures. The Indian sculptor held his first exhibit in the United States at Aicon this summer, bringing images with a strong sense of play. (Pictured above is Gupta's "Guardian II.")

Painting/print exhibit: Arthur Krakower, RS Gallery
Krakower’s upbeat personality shines through every example of his considerable artistic skill. Even when his subjects turn melancholy, he uses such rich colors and a generous hand that you have to be cheered. His best title: “The Geraniums Were There When We Fell In Love.”

Scenic design: Kuo-Hao Lo for “Copenhagen,”
Palo Alto Players
The tilting black grid of a theater set, dotted with a particle pattern, added tension and perspective to this Michael Frayn tale of two Nobel physicists. Weekly reviewer Diana Reynolds Roome wrote that Lo’s design at the Lucie Stern Theatre “brings the characters in and out of focus as they move about, fading in and out of the conversation.”

Timing: Jason Arias, Jonathan Ferro in “Rough Crossing,” Dragon Productions
I love playwright Tom Stoppard’s silliness and wordplay here. What kept cracking me up in this production was the flawless timing of two of its actors. Arias didn’t miss a beat as a stuttering man who kept inadvertently dropping bon mots at just the right moment. Meanwhile, Ferro, playing a steward trying to get his sea legs, kept up such a convincingly swaying rhythm that I got queasy.

Interactive concert: Sing- and play-along “Messiah” at Stanford’s Memorial Church
It’s amazing to hear your voice, blended with crowds of others, echoing in MemChu. Two other things make this “Messiah” the most fun: an eclectic mix of musicians and their instruments, and conductor Stephen Sano. Stanford’s choral studies director, Sano is welcoming, professional and simply delightful.

Choral music: Chanticleer’s holiday concert at Memorial Church
Exquisite harmonies and the clearest, purest tones imaginable. I go to this holiday concert every year, and this was the best I’ve ever heard. Lovely early music, lively carols and a powerful new soprano, Gregory Peebles. And who can resist the sweater vests?