Arts & Entertainment
Best emissary for mainstream jazz
To imagine local mainstream jazz before Vivian Lee is to imagine an empty stage. Of course, this is something of an exaggeration, but Lee’s passion for promoting jazz in Sacramento has been instrumental in revitalizing the local scene. It’s been a long while since Sacramento fans have been blessed with regular weekly shows by touring mainstream jazz ensembles and vocalists, but with Lee at the helm of weekly house concerts and the Sunday Evening Jazz series at Savannah’s Lounge, jazz fans have been experiencing touring (and local) acts with dazzling regularity. This sometimes has been at the expense of Lee’s own music—she’s a top-notch traditional jazz vocalist—but not to worry; her calendar is filling up again with live shows. Look for her. (916) 723-5517, www.vivianleejazz.com. Savannah’s Lounge inside the Red Lion Hotel, 1401 Arden Way.
Best costumed drama
No other club in Sacramento has had better success at getting attendees to dress up than Catfight, the monthly live-music and DJ dance party at the Golden Bear. We’re chalking it up to resident DJ Marcelo Cunning’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of creative costume themes. Instantly discarding tired ideas like “prom night” or “pimps and hoes,” Cunning challenges his guests’ wardrobes with themes like “Mods vs. Rockers,” “Por Vida,” “The Tighty Whitey Sleepover Party” and even a tribute to gravers—those gothic/raver kids drowning in Hot Topic regalia. Each month’s theme is posted well in advance at www.clubcatfight.net, allowing plenty of time to plan an appropriate ensemble. As the site says, “Because there is nothing worse than being common, you are encouraged to dress distinctively.” Words to dance by. Catfight happens every third Saturday at the Golden Bear, 2326 K Street; www.clubcatfight.net.
Best song to request from the One Man Band
“The Mississippi Squirrel Revival” by Ray Stevens
If you’ve ever been bold enough to enter the purple van parked on the corner of J and 22nd streets on weekends, you know that inside lies the city’s tiniest piano bar, hosted by multi-instrumentalist Winko Ljizz. As the van rules dictate, the last person through the door calls the songs until the next person comes in. Whenever you’re asked to improvise a playlist for a van full of people, it helps to have a stock request to get the party started. Ljizz’s rendition of “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival"—with its fast, hilarious narrative; solos on multiple instruments; and even some squirrel-impersonating scat—is a selection that never misses. At the corner of J and 22nd streets Thursday through Saturday evenings, (916) 454-9463, www.acousticsanctuary.com.
Best beginning-acting teacher (traveling to 1985)
California State University, Sacramento, long has attracted venerable drama teachers, but when the time-warp machine began spinning away the years, it dropped us back into a university heyday in 1985. There was Dr. Gerard Larson, the beloved professor who brought musical theater to CSUS, and there was professor Bob Smart: local ambassador, drama teacher, clown and golden-hearted giant of a man. A glimpse into Smart’s Acting I class found first-year acting students gleefully writhing around on the ground, trying to explore chairs, huge wooden blocks and table legs with every part of their bodies but their hands. Smart was teaching them to ignore their inhibitions and to interact with their environment. He was introducing them to the most important lesson in acting: Use your whole body. Smart spent his teaching career, up until 2003, inspiring his students to be bold and to be brave. Sadly, CSUS’s future drama students will have to survive their pivotal first years without his guidance. May he rest in peace.
Best band to break up in the past year
Playing to the Grandstand
What the heck happened? Last winter, the local hive was buzzing around the new indie-math-rock outfit Playing to the Grandstand. By spring, the band was scheduled to record a debut album with legendary Nirvana producer Steve Albini in Chicago. In his Clubber column on April 21, Christian Kiefer called the band “simply superb.” He wrote, “I haven’t been this surprised and excited about a band since the first time I saw Didley Squat. Yes, it’s good.” Who knew he’d be announcing the band’s breakup in the same column just two months later? Many local-music fans never even got a seat in the grandstand before the band called it quits, so let’s have a moment of silence for the latest “next big thing” to crash and burn.
Best regional Shakespeare-festival production
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby at the California Shakespeare Theater in Orinda
It wasn’t Shakespeare, and it wasn’t in Sacramento, but California Shakespeare’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (based on the Dickens novel that very few of us have read!) was “the big one” in the region’s theater world this summer. With an enormous cast, and a show that spread over six-and-a-half hours (in two chunks of three hours and change apiece), it was not only large and long—it was also outstanding theater at almost every level. This kind of show is a rare experience; we don’t expect to see the likes of it again for 10 or 20 years—worthy of a “Best” in every sense. And Sacramento’s Nancy Pipkin was part of the backstage team; she helped cut the fabric and put together many of the show’s 150 costumes. 100 Gateway Boulevard in Orinda, (510) 548-9666, www.calshakes.org.
Best squeezebox specialists
West Coast Music
Some retailers scoff at the mere mention, or dismissively stuff a few into a forgotten back room. But this Citrus Heights shop continues the centuries-old tradition, so often neglected, of taking the accordion seriously. West Coast Music is said to have the largest accordion selection on the West Coast, a claim you won’t dare to dispute after surveying its 200-plus inventory. Whether you prefer the button-box or piano style, or just want to strap something on to digitally manipulate your mountain of synthesizers, owner Isak Brilingtton has plenty of the charmingly clunky, gorgeously detailed contraptions to choose from—including his own line. “We have the Rolls-Royce of accordions,” he said. “We don’t want to say Stradivarius, because there was only one Stradivarius.” Accordionists all over the country trust West Coast’s attentive repair work, and the expert musical instruction on offer here can get you jamming in Celtic, Cajun, klezmer, Bavarian, Central American and Slovenian styles—or just letting out your inner Weird Al. 6905 Greenback Lane in Citrus Heights, (916) 729-1357, www.brilingttonaccordions.com.
Best performance in 24 roles
Saffron Henke in The Syringa Tree at the Sacramento Theatre Company
The multitalented Saffron Henke portrayed a potpourri of 24 South African characters in the Sacramento Theatre Company’s The Syringa Tree, embodying the spirits of whites and blacks, men and women, young and old, and using more than 10 different African dialects and accents. Her remarkable performance was seamless, blending people and moments to create memorable stories of apartheid. We were impressed with her previous work in the company’s Arranged Marriage and Tartuffe; we were left awed by her multiple multicultural portrayals in this production. Henke will be back at the Sacramento Theater Company this season in new roles. 1419 H Street, (916) 443-6722, www.sactheatre.org.
Best old and new film series
Kabinet’s “Silent Night”
It’s an inspired example of bridging the gap between past and future: new music for old movies. The Kabinet film group’s monthly screening of rare, classic or just plain fun silent films paired with custom-composed, often live, scores by local musicians makes for creative, invigorating stuff. Ruebi Freyja inaugurated the series in April with a live performance for D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms. In May, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, the original vampire movie, seemed all but made for local horror composer Mars. And this month, Bob Barango accompanied The Penalty, starring Lon Chaney. Whatever’s showing is always sure to be worth another look—and a first listen. HQ, 1719 25th Street, (530) 848-9027, www.kabinet.org/hq.
Best shelf life
Richard L. Press Fine & Scholarly Books on the Arts
Many of the thousands of rare and out-of-print art books piled throughout this cozy Midtown shop were acquired by the eponymous proprietor from dealers’ catalogs, the Internet, excursions to Europe or book-laden Sacramento garages—without much emphasis on resale. “The whole concept of buying for the market does not exist for me,” Press said. “I buy what I think is important, hoping it will resonate with someone else.” That works because his is a quintessential word-of-mouth operation. Most customers trust Press to find what they want—an original edition from the Plein Air Painters of California series, say, or a title on jazz in Nazi Germany. But his shop also encourages the raptures of unplanned rummaging. Expect unhurried, yarn-spinning discussions about art and life, possibly with snacks. Tell Press you’re fond of a particular creative movement, and he’ll disappear into the stacks to return momentarily with a pile of excellent suggestions. You’ll feel like you could spend days or weeks here, and that time may stand still to accommodate. 1727 1/2 I Street, (916) 447-3413.
Best representation of the local landscape
Sacramento Valley Landscape Conference
The third annual Sacramento Valley Landscape Conference at the John Natsoulas Gallery ran from July 6 through August 22 this year. The show swept back through the 1930s paintings of Maynard Dixon and up through the color-drenched contemporary paintings of Wayne Thiebaud, Pat Mahoney and Gregory Kondos—newly minted members of the illustrious Sacramento Valley School of Landscape Painters. Though the true artists attended workshops and painting demonstrations, the gallery show was intoxicating enough. “In almost all landscape painting the subject is light,” read the brochure, “the ways in which it plays across familiar forms, and the ways in which it can become symbolic of other levels of experience. This has always been so. But for Sacramento Valley landscape painters, particularly in this century, the qualities of light have become a kind of obsession.” John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 First Street in Davis, (530) 756-3938, www.natsoulas.com.
Best local entertainment blog
There is no denying the power, nay, the very enigma, that is Heckasac. A veritable cornucopia of Sacramento opinion, dissent, debate and all around good cheer, Heckasac’s daily blog is the go-to place for local live-music-show reports, restaurant reviews and occasional he-said-she-said film opinions. It’s good stuff, and, truth be told, a certain Clubber columnist often gets his best information on local music happenings from reading Heckasac. The real question is: Why aren’t you reading it? www.heckasac.blogspot.com.
Best up-and-coming comedian
Cheese is the best local stand-up comedian you will never see in a comedy club. After being met with confused silence from audiences at local open-mics, Cheese realized that it takes a special kind of crowd to appreciate jokes about 9/11, clown rape and car accidents told by a morose-looking young man hidden in layers of oversized black clothing. Don’t let his topics fool you into thinking Cheese’s humor is all about shock value. On the contrary, his jokes stem from a bleak, but utterly sensitive, worldview. Even offstage, he seems so sincere that it’s amazing he’s chosen stand-up comedy over emo music, melodramatic poetry or other mediums traditionally reserved for the expression of angst. Though he’s still testing new material with varying degrees of success (and figuring out where he can perform without getting beaten up afterward), Cheese is definitely one to watch. He performs regularly at Funny Peculiar at Luna’s Café and occasionally in cemeteries in the foothills. http://cheese.freeshell.org.
Best new dance company (traveling to 2011)
In 2006, inspired by Axis Dance Company in Oakland and a number of similar companies on the East Coast and overseas, a small number of professional Sacramento dancers began working with disabled adults who were improving their mobility through dance and were interested in choreographing and performing for a live audience. Though it took the young company a few years to attract and train a core team of dancers with and without disabilities, AdaptDance Company has been delighting appreciative audiences in Sacramento since 2010. The grace and beauty that wheelchairs and other adapted equipment add to dance is astounding, as is the power of dancers who’ve learned to make the most of their strengths.
Best intergalactic comic musical
Return to the Forbidden Planet at City Theatre
This science-fiction Shakespeare spoof by Sacramento City College’s City Theatre was fun, funky and absolutely weird. A sendup of the cheesy 1950s B-movie space flick Forbidden Planet, it also paid homage to early rock ‘n’ roll while shamelessly shooting off Shakespeare puns. It may not have been the smoothest production around, but nine months later, we’re still laughing at its sheer audacity, absurdity and all-around tackiness. Sacramento City College, 3835 Freeport Boulevard, (916) 558-5552, www.citytheatre.net, www.scc.losrios.edu/~theatre/.
Best locally produced TV show (that you can’t watch in Sacramento)
Perhaps Cinema Insomnia has received a supernatural infusion from the undead characters featured on this B-movie show helmed by Sacramento’s own horror host Mr. Lobo. Despite being killed off by KXTV Channel 10 after one season in 2002, the show has resurrected itself for several more seasons. Featuring beloved cult movies like Night of the Living Dead and The Seventh Seal framed by original skits using local settings and actors, Cinema Insomnia currently is broadcast weekly on UPN stations throughout the Eastern and Southern United States, as well as nationwide on cable’s UATV. Mr. Lobo’s tireless marketing efforts are paying off, but it’s hard to enjoy his success when we still can’t watch the show in Sacramento. It seems our local networks prefer late-night infomerical marathons over Lobo’s original, locally produced and nationally successful television show. Kudos to Mr. Lobo for continuing to put Sacramento’s legendary geek culture on the national radar each week. We’re ready to heap similar praise on any Northern California station willing to take a chance on a local ghoul making good. www.cinemainsomnia.com.
Best new “off-Broadway” theatrical venue
Lambda Players Theatre
Lambda Players finally found a home, about eight steps off Sacramento’s Broadway. The company, which previously presented shows in subleased venues (and sometimes had to dilute provocative gay themes as a result), rented a storefront on 17th Street. Lambda then staged several challenging shows, including Southern Baptist Sissies, Catch and Party. 2427 17th Street, (916) 444-8229, www.lambdaplayers.com.
Best place to rediscover Sacramento’s Americana scene
The Delta of Venus
With KDVS Cool as Folk DJ Michael Leahy currently at the helm, the Delta of Venus’ weekly “Down at the Delta” Americana series on Thursday and Friday nights has managed to cement a particularly solid and healthy scene that seems to fill the gap left by Sacramento’s disappearing Midtown Americana scene. What other venue in the greater Sacramento area (or anywhere else, for that matter) can boast a month-long residency with Bay Area folk goddess Jolie Holland (and all of Holland’s shows were free!)? What other series features national touring acts on a regular basis? What other series ties in directly with KDVS, often offering the curious listener a glimpse of what’s to come on the live stage that evening, be it contemporary singer-songwriter fare, traditional bluegrass, jug-band music, country twang, experimental acoustic freakouts or something entirely different? The Delta is small—really, really small—so you’d best get there early, enjoy some Caribbean food and get down with your bad acoustic self. This is truly one of the treasures of the local music scene. Not to be missed. 122 B Street in Davis, (530) 753-8639, www.deltaofvenus.org.
Best time-sensitive artist
When appreciating Salvatore Victor’s charcoal portraits of everyday objects, it helps to consider the time that went into them. “Sans Hanger,” a picture of a disembodied dress shirt, for instance, took 180 hours for him to complete. “Even if it’s a drawing that takes 20 minutes, it’s 20 minutes and 25 years,” Victor has quipped, referring to his decades of persistent practice. The works themselves—images of a broom, a ball of yarn, a stuffed animal rescued from the trash or his many luminously tactile nude studies—highlight the artist’s patience without exhausting the viewer. It seems fitting that Victor’s most recent self-portrait wears a halo of effort, with the residue of previous attempts shimmering underneath its surface. He likes to leave in the evidence of his mistakes and their corrections. The result is a singular candor about the truth of what makes fine art fine: It takes time. 2508 J Street, Studio C; (916) 442-4142.
Best new trend in theater
Here’s a trend that you won’t find if you time-travel into the past—Sacramento growing new plays and musicals that move on to the Big Apple. But it’s happening now. A Single Woman, originally staged jointly by Sacramento’s California Stage and the Nevada Shakespeare Company, was produced in New York this spring. Janis Stevens, who performed her excellent one-woman show on Vivien Leigh at California Stage a couple of years ago (and later at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre), is taking the show to New York this month. And Five Course Love, the second full-length musical by Gregg Coffin, got its West Coast premiere at the Sacramento Theatre Company in the spring and will open in New York in October. Coming in the wake of local playwright William A. Parker’s Waitin’ 2 End Hell (which played in New York in the summer of 2004), we’ve had four shows that have enjoyed off-Broadway runs in the last 18 months.
Best local band name
Here is a band that declares itself “above art"; a band that plainly refuses obedience to some received idea of legacy; that blatantly shrugs off history’s verdicts, whether from the past or the future; that is just so in the moment, the now. How rock and fucking roll is that? Not that this thrashing, smashing, slicing, dicing, noisemaking machine is a really anyone’s idea of a rock band. Anyway, regardless of what sort of noise you make, it’s not easy to name your band nowadays. Claims have been staked in every major territory—earnestness, opacity, absurdity, shock, irony and camp—yet, some basic proof of identity is still required. This one contains all that a great band, or band name, could ever need: rarefied pretense, German bombast and the impressively subtle aural impression of vulgarity.
Best wishes in whatever lies ahead
Jackie Schultz is one of the warm souls in local theater. She acts, produces and, most importantly, encourages and mentors local talent. She’s been a vital part of the theater community for 25 years; most notably, she’s responsible for helping design three theater spaces: Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre, Celebration Arts and her current space, the Studio Theatre on R Street. Her signature piece, Six Women with Brain Death, ran for eight years (1996-2004), and a special curtain-down “Good-bye Tour” is scheduled for September through December. Facing long-term health battles, Schultz has decided to retire from the Studio and from producing local theater. We can’t wait to see what this incredibly talented and much-loved theater royal has up her sleeve. It may not be full-time theater, but it will be creative and passionate, just like Schultz.
Best small poetry press
Rattlesnake Press in Fair Oaks
Just as there is no shortage of fine poets in the area, there’s no shortage of small poetry presses doing quality work; among them are Penn Valley’s R.L. Crow and Stockton’s Poet’s Corner Press. But first among equals is the incredibly, impossibly active Rattlesnake Press, headquartered in Fair Oaks. In addition to publishing The Rattlesnake Review, a literary journal; Snakelets, one of the nation’s few poetry journals for children; and Vyper, a literary journal aimed at teens, snake wrangler in chief Kathy Kieth and her staff manage to turn out a couple of well-made poetry chapbooks every month. Although we’re not really fans of the “spiralchap” format (using spiral binding and full-sized pages), the smaller books are lovingly designed, artisanal books worthy of becoming keepsakes. They showcase some outstanding local poets. Watch for chapbook-release parties and readings on the second Wednesday of the month at The Book Collector, 1008 24th Street. www.poetrywithfangs.com.
Best comic performance (male)
Jason Kuykendall in The Big Bang at the B Street Theatre
Ordinarily, we think of Jason Kuykendall as a handsome young romantic lead in shows like the love story Last Train to Nibroc. But in The Big Bang, we found out he could be flat-out funny as well. He can even sing! And he looked pretty good running around on stage in his underwear during the “Adam and Eve” scene, in which he played Eve. He’s a member of the acting company, so expect to see him again at the B Street sometime in the coming year. 2711 B Street, (916) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org.
Best mythic music scene to get nostalgic about
Davis in the late 1980s
The Davis music scene of the late 1980s is the stuff of legend. In many ways, it revolved around Davis’ most mythic live band—Thin White Rope—and its house at 616 Anderson Way. Since then, the Anderson Way house has been taken over by the Pirates of the Pentagram, and for a brief moment in time, house shows returned to the street—until angry neighbors managed to shut them down. Anyway, it wasn’t quite the same as in the “old days” (or so goes the myth). The late-1980s were the days when Davis was a music town, with bands like Russ Tollman’s True West and Game Theory performing live at house shows and live venues around town. It was, or so the legend says, the kind of music scene that exists now in Austin: Music was everywhere. Clubs were always full. People were out every night, all night, making music. And then, almost as suddenly, the clubs closed up, the bands disappeared and Davis went silent. Cold reality inspires warm legend.
Best performance by an actor emeritus
Jack Lynn in Stories and Songs for the Holidays at River Stage
Jack Lynn is a living time capsule and a community treasure. He began acting back in the 1930s and worked alongside many of the great names of English theater (John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier, et al.). We’re honoring him for his appearance in last December’s holiday show at River Stage. Lynn read Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and it was simply magical. Now an octogenarian, Lynn only takes the stage from time to time, and we don’t know where he’ll appear next, but each performance is something special. Cosumnes River College, 8401 Center Parkway, (916) 691-7364, www.riverstage.org.
Best actress in need of a tragic role
Time-warp back 10 years, and you’ll find this talented local actress excelling in serious dramatic plays like Beast on the Moon—a powerful story of Aremenian genocide—at the B Street Theatre. Dark-haired Elisabeth Nunziato’s intensely magnetic gaze and powerful stance were compelling—she’s not tall, but she dominated her scenes. However, these days in Sacramento, she’s mostly cast in lightweight comedies at the B Street Theatre, like this year’s Fortune, in which she played a gypsy clairvoyant who falls in love with one of her clients. Nunziato can do comedy, but her performance as an actress in these plays usually outclasses the material she’s been given to work with. Some local director should give Nunziato a meatier role.
Best performance in a tragic role (female)
Janis Stevens in By the Bog of Cats at California Stage
Janis Stevens—previously noted for her one-woman show based on the life of Hollywood’s Vivian Leigh—hit the tragic spectrum with a vengeance with her intense, gut-wrenching performance as an impoverished, jilted Irish woman in this recasting of Medea at California Stage. 1723 25th Street, (916) 451-5822, www.calstage.org.
Best performance in a tragic role (male)
Philip Charles Sneed in Macbeth
Many of Shakespeare’s tragic leads are noble figures with fatal flaws. But with Macbeth, a basically good man gradually gives in to power-grabbing ambition and becomes a monster in the process. Sneed has all the physical attributes needed for the role—he’s big and strong, and when he picks up a broadsword and says, “Put on my armor,” you wouldn’t want to face him on a battlefield. And he embodied Macbeth’s emotional transformation into a treacherous, paranoid ruler. When he spoke Macbeth’s great speeches ("I have almost forgot the taste of fears” and “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time"), he really conveyed the power of the doomed man’s words. Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, www.laketahoeshakespeare.com; and Sierra Shakespeare Festival, www.foothilltheatre.org/shakespeare.html.