Arts & Culture Newsletter: In OnStage Playhouse’s ‘Monumental History,’ a nation’s wounds are laid bare

Good morning, and welcome to the U-T Arts & Culture Newsletter.

I’m David L. Coddon, and here’s your guide to all things essential in San Diego’s arts and culture this week.

A statue of “an old white Indian killer” looming over “Victory Park” in “Centersville, USA” is the setting for “Monumental History,” a new production from Chula Vista-based OnStage Playhouse that consists of six one-act monologues. They were written by some well-known theater artists in San Diego: Thelma de Castro, Herbert Siguenza, Carla Navarro, John W. Wells III and Salomon Maya, who conceived the play with OnStage Artistic Director James P. Darvas.

In each of the 15-minute-or-so pieces, figures from different decades in recent American history appear in Victory Park and, in the shadow of the statue erected to a Gen. William Adams, vent their anger, frustration, fear and more about the cultural inequities and social injustices that have plagued (and are still plaguing) our nation. We meet a tormented Vietnam veteran in the ‘70s; a Japanese-American woman who was born in an internment camp; a furious and bigoted hooker in the ‘90s; a Latina café owner who seeks to channel her rage into tagging the statue; a gay man searching for a meaningful relationship in the time of Bush-era intolerance; and an African-American man whose pain and suffering are tragically contemporary.

The performances, like the individual scripts, are uneven, and there’s a “workshop” feeling to the narratives as a whole that could benefit from some trimming and smoothing out. “Monumental History” is performed live on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., through Jan. 24 (a couple of Sunday performances have been added) so these pieces may look and sound a little different by the end of the production’s run. Perhaps not. This is virtual theater and as such limitations are what they are.

Tickets to stream “Monumental History are $30.

Theater, Part II

"Days to Come," by Lillian Hellman, with (from left) Evan Zes, Mary Bacon and Geoffrey Allen Murphy.

“Days to Come,” by Lillian Hellman, with (from left) Evan Zes, Mary Bacon and Geoffrey Allen Murphy.

(Courtesy photo by Todd Cerveris)

“Days to Come,” Lillian Hellman’s second play, ran for only seven performances when it appeared on Broadway back in 1936. New York’s Off-Broadway Mint Theater Company’s 2018 production of “Days to Come,” part of its Silver Lining Streaming Series, unintentionally makes the case why.

Hellman’s story of how a labor strike at an Ohio brush factory tears apart a town, a marriage and a man’s soul is slow-moving and muddled. Her factory-owning Andrew Rodman (Larry Bull) is an unsympathetic weakling, his wayward wife Julie (Janie Brookshire) underwritten, and the character whose rebellious passions were probably closest to Hellman’s own, labor organizer Leo Whalen (Roderick Hill), is prone to speechifying and stiffness.

The Mint Theater production is well-dressed, however, and in general well performed, and it can be streamed for free through Feb. 21. But “Days to Come” is for Hellman completists at best.

Pop Music

Willie Nelson performs during the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame show on Saturday night April 26, 2014.

Willie Nelson performs during the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame show on Saturday night April 26, 2014.

(The Associated Press)

I’ve enjoyed the music series “Austin City Limits” countless times since it debuted on PBS back in 1976, but rarely more than during the hour I spent watching “Austin City Limits Hall of Fame: The First Six Years.”

The hourlong show is a compilation of archival performances by or in tribute to musicians inducted into the “Austin City Limits” Hall of Fame. The highlights are many, including: Rosanne Cash’s rendition of her “Seven Year Ache” backed by Ry Cooder, Elvis Costello and Neko Case; Willie Nelson delivering his iconic “On the Road Again” with a little help from Lyle Lovett and Emmylou Harris; Bonnie Raitt doing “Are You Ready For A Thing Called Love?” along with Taj Mahal and Mavis Staples; and Buddy Guy and Jimmie Vaughn teaming up on “Damn Right I Got the Blues.”

Not to be outdone, the tributes include a Roy Orbison celebration with Chris Isaak, Raul Malo and Brandi Carlile; Gary Clark Jr. covering Ray Charles’ “The Nighttime is the Right Time”; a musical homage to Townes Van Vandt featuring Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Los Lobos and Patty Loveless; and the show-closing jam in honor of Stevie Ray Vaughan with, among others, Guy, Lovett and Nelson.

In the event you missed this when it ran on PBS, watch it now, free of charge.

Visual Art

Lisa Bryson’ “The Satirical Self-Portrait: Gilded Age II.”

Lisa Bryson’ “The Satirical Self-Portrait: Gilded Age II.”


Nearly 400 entries from 167 artists for the San Diego Museum of Art Artists Guild’s 2020 Winter Exhibition can be enjoyed online through the end of January.

Among the entries, 120 were juried into the exhibition, with 29 Artists Guild members accepted. The award winners you can see:

• Bryon Draper’s first-place sculpture “Seeking Production.”

• Lisa Bryson’s second-place oil painting “The Satirical Self-Portrait: Gilded Age II.”

• Christine Ames’ third-place mixed-media painting “Cornucopia.”

Theater, Part III

A screenshot from a rehearsal of Unscripted Learning's "Falling."

A screenshot from a rehearsal of “Falling,” a play reading that Unscripted Learning will stream online Jan. 14-17.

(Courtesy photo)

I was not only moved by InnerMission Productions staging of Deanna Jent’s “Falling” in 2017 inside Diversionary Theatre’s blackbox space, but I learned so much about the realities of autism and how it can impact a family. Now the programming organization Unscripted Learning is presenting today through Sunday a virtual Zoom play-reading of “Falling,” directed by La Jolla Playhouse’s Jacole Kitchen. Tickets are $25.

Janae Parson, center, plays Tina Turner in San Diego Repertory Theatre's "33-1/3 — House of Dreams."

Janae Parson, center, plays Tina Turner in San Diego Repertory Theatre’s “33-1/3 — House of Dreams.”

(Courtesy of Jim Carmody)

And check out more theater news by the Union-Tribune’s Pam Kragen:

  • The Old Globe’s Powers New Voices Festival returns next week with a slate of new works from both local and nationally renowned Black and Latino playwrights. More here.
  • Over the past 10 months, the pandemic has decimated San Diego’s theater community. But for the founders of newly formed Patchwork Theatre Co., it has also created opportunity. More here.
  • San Diego-born musical “House of Dreams” heads to New York with Broadway dreams, with the local creative team planning a developmental lab for the show in New York City in late spring. More here.


Kevin Pollak of Amazon's "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

Kevin Pollak of Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

If you’re a fan of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” as I am, then you love Kevin Pollak as heroine Midge Maisel’s brash ex-father-in-law Moishe. You may also know Pollak from his multi-episode comic turn on the CBS sitcom “Mom” or from roles in the feature films “A Few Good Men” and “Casino.”

Today at 7 p.m., Pollak is giving a free virtual performance on behalf of the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center. Pre-registration is required.

Classical music

Rafael Payare

Rafael Payare

(Nancee E. Lewis)

San Diego Symphony music director Rafael Payare, whose contract was extended last fall through the 2025-26 season, just got busier: He’s been named the new music director for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

The 40-year-old Venezuelan conductor, whose 2019 arrival in San Diego was heralded as the start of a new era for the city’s now 110-year-old orchestra, is expected to officially begin in Montreal in 2022. Starting Sept. 1, he will take on the title of music director designate for the Montreal ensemble, more popularly known as Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM).

Read all about it in this story by the Union-Tribune’s Michael James Rocha.


Luthier Andy Powers playing here, redesigned the guitar for Taylor's 40th anniversary.

Taylor Guitars, the El Cajon company whose high-end instruments are played by such stars as Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band and Jason Mraz, is making headlines, but not with a new instrument.

On Monday, Taylor co-founders Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug announced they have transferred complete ownership of the company to its nearly 1,200 employees. The Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP, marks an unprecedented new chapter for the 47-year-old company, which in 2019 manufactured 170,000 guitars and had worldwide revenues of $122.4 million.

Read more about the story in this report by the Union-Tribune’s George Varga.


San Diego musician and filmmaker Ben Johnson stars in the rock 'n' roll thriller "Fanboy"

San Diego musician and filmmaker Ben Johnson stars in the rock ‘n’ roll thriller “Fanboy,” which has its world premiere on Jan. 14 at the South Bay Drive-In. Arabella Harrison, left, co-stars.

(Courtesy photo)

In his debut film, a rock ‘n’ roll thriller called “Fanboy,” longtime San Diego musician Ben Johnson stars as Fred Proehl, a drummer and over-the-top fan who loves a group called Xenos so much, he is willing to do pretty much anything to be able to say he’s with the band. You could say the same thing about Johnson, who was willing to do pretty much everything in his beginner’s power to bring Fred’s crazy dream to the big screen.

In addition to directing “Fanboy” and playing its loose-cannon lead character, Johnson wrote the script. He was also the film’s co-editor (with David Robles), casting director, casting director, location scout and about a dozen other things. Like everyone else in his (mostly) non-professional cast, Johnson performed even performed his own stunts, and he has the broken pinky to prove it.

Read more about the film in this story by the Union-Tribune’s Karla Peterson.


Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

(Ben Stansall / AFP/Getty Images)

University of California Television (UCTV) is making a host of videos available on its website during this period of social distancing. Among them, with descriptions courtesy of UCTV (text written by UCTV staff):

“Music and the Border”: The U.S.-Mexico border has served as a creative catalyst for artists for more than a century, but perhaps never more than now as barriers between both societies have grown more pronounced. In this lively discussion, three leading cross-cultural musicians describe how they reflect on border issues through their music, creating art that seeks to forge connections and common community while celebrating a rich heritage. Panelists include radio journalist and moderator Betto Arcos, multi-Grammy-winning composer Arturo OFarrill, multi-Grammy-winning composer, co-founder and lead singer of Quetzal Martha Gonzalez, and Fandango Fronterizo founder and director Jorge Francisco Castillo.

“Neuroscience and the Mind with the Dali Lama”: Long interested in neuroscience, His Holiness the Dalai Lama believes there are important parallels between Buddhist philosophy and Western scientific philosophy, arguing that the former brings to the table scores of meditation techniques to develop mindfulness, concentration, insight, serenity, wisdom, and in the end, it is hoped, enlightenment. The Dalai Lama says Buddhists should embrace scientific evidence even if it contradicts their beliefs, but also notes that scientific inquiry has its limits — one of which he calls “scientific materialism,” citing as an example the idea that consciousness is no more than a series of chemical reactions in our brains.

“Editing the Code of Life: Into the Future with CRISPR Technology”: Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR, is a powerful gene-editing tool. Its most popular form, CRISPR-Cas9, is widely used to accelerate experiments, grow pesticide-resistant crops, and design drugs to treat life-threatening genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia. RNA-guided enzymes have demonstrated remarkable abilities to recognize and cleave DNA, operating by mechanisms that both explain its biological function and provide insights into technology development. In this presentation, Jennifer Doudna, co-discoverer of CRISPR-Cas9, discusses this amazing family of proteins; where they come from, how they work, and how CAS-9-based technologies are revolutionizing research, biomedicine and agriculture.

And finally: Arts in the Time of COVID

 “33 1/3 - House of Dreams”

Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Aviva Pressman (as Stan and Vera Ross), center, plus Bethany Slomka and Jacob Caltrider (as Mitzi and Dave Gold), left, lead the cast of “33 1/3 — House of Dreams” in its world premiere at San Diego Repertory Theatre.

(Jim Carmody)

In this week’s edition of Arts in the Time of COVID, Pacific editor Nina Garin talks about San Diego Rep’s “33 1/3 – House of Dreams,” Art of Elan’s “Bits and Pieces” and Ben Johnson’s film “Fanboy.” Watch it here.

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