Arts & Lifestyle

Writers’ picks

Whether you need a director, an actor, a set designer or a theater usher, Benjamin T. Ismail is your man.

Whether you need a director, an actor, a set designer or a theater usher, Benjamin T. Ismail is your man.

Photo By anne stokes

Best bookstore advertising slogan

‘Buy a book, you bastards!’

The Book Collector’s proprietor, Richard Hansen, adapted this advertising slogan from a bookstore that once lived on N Street. It’s an aptly gruff and oddly funny way to get the message across, especially when accompanied—as this slogan is—with a cartoonish drawing of a reader (who, but for the gray hair, looks suspiciously like Hansen himself) trying to keep a mighty tower of books balanced and upright. How can you resist the simple, snarky truth? Bookstores simply disappear if you bastards don’t buy books. You can get tons of them at The Book Collector, which specializes in literature and maintains a wide selection of local poetry. Need we say it again? 1008 24th Street, (916) 442-9295. K.M.

Best way to get the most for your money at the Crocker

Thursdays ’Til 9

With two buildings of art collected from across the globe and throughout centuries of human history, the Crocker Art Museum has plenty to offer any time you visit. But if you want more bang for your $10 admission, the weekly Thursdays ’Til 9 series is a bargain. For no extra charge, you get full museum access, plus a little something extra. It could be a film screening, a cocktail mixer with a deejay, art workshops, a concert or a special menu from the Crocker Café. Usually, it’s several of these at once—all to be enjoyed in the party atmosphere of the museum after dark. 216 O Street, (916) 808-7000, B.C.

Best theatrical jack-of-all-trades

Benjamin T. Ismail

It’s no wonder Benjamin T. Ismail has so many followers. His declarative style as a director (he directed Resurrection Theatre’s An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein, which this paper awarded five stars), his chops as an actor (he was the lead in Big Idea Theatre’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty, also five stars), and his design abilities are always accompanied by his energy and dedication to Sacramento theater. “You can still bring magic to people,” says Ismail. “That’s what I like to do onstage. That’s what I want my shows to be about.” M.M.

Best feel-good comedy scene

Comedy Night at Luna’s

Supporting local stand-up can be a dicey experience. Thankfully, Keith Lowell Jensen has created an entirely different, and delightful, atmosphere on Wednesday nights at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar. Jensen hand picks the performers—mixing powerhouses like Ngaio Bealum, Janine Brito and Joe Klocek with local up-and-comers—to ensure a quality show. The room is supportive and heckler-free, from both sides of the mic. And after two years of great shows, the cover is still only $6. (Full disclosure: I used to appear in a banana suit in comedy shows with Keith Lowell Jensen, years ago. I have never been a professional banana—or a professional anything else—at Comedy Night at Luna’s.) 1414 16th Street, (916) 441-3931. B.C.

Best cat-painting tsunami-relief philanthropist

Yuko Carson

Yuko Carson has become known as a “cat lady” in the local artist community, and she doesn’t dispute it. “I love cats!” says Carson. “I started painting little cats, and it became so popular!” It was the sight of a strawberry farmer’s woes that prompted Sacramento watercolor painter and Japanese brushstroke instructor Carson to hold an earthquake- and tsunami-relief fundraiser earlier this year. “I cried, and the farmer cried,” says Carson, a Japanese immigrant. “All his life he worked to build up his [farm], and it’s all destroyed. All I could do was open my studio and give the profits to charity.” 379 Main Street in Placerville, (530) 642-2944, M.M.

Drum major Ahshay Kobelt leads the Elk Grove High School Marching Band to another award-winning season.

Photo By taras garcia

Best marching band

Elk Grove High School Marching Band

The battle for the title of best marching band in the Sacramento region has flip-flopped in the last few years between the Folsom High School marching band and its southwest equivalent. This year it’s Elk Grove High’s time to take it back. Under the direction of the award-winning Mario Hufana Sebastian, the marching band and guard is gearing up for a great year after winning prestigious awards all over California and being ranked “excellent” and “superior” at countless festivals and competitions. The band even travelled to San Diego in December 2010 for a parade and wound up on ESPN. In addition, the band gets props for being throughly dedicated to community service. M.W.

Best way to set the stage for charity

Big Idea Theatre Company

There’s plenty to be said about social issues in theater, but it’s another thing entirely to actively involve one’s theater company with the issue in question. Big Idea Theatre recently teamed up with Wind Youth Services, a Sacramento nonprofit that helps homeless youth, for a production of The King of Shadows. Theater patrons donated items from the shelter’s wish list and attended a Q-and-A with Wind Youth Services staff and homeless youth. “We want you to think outside the box,” says Shannon Mahoney, Big Idea’s managing director. “We want to be working with groups like Wind Youth and trying to partner each show with other nonprofits to raise awareness.” 1616 Del Paso Boulevard, (916) 960-3036, M.M.

Best new personality for Good Day Sacramento

Brian Crall

Hey, Good Day Sacramento peeps! You’ve got a good morning show going, but it could become great with the right touch of comedy. We’ve got just the guy for you: Brian Crall. He’s the proprietor of the Sacramento Comedy Spot, and he’s the anchor of local favorite improv team Anti-Cooperation League. He’s appeared with Mark S. Allen on Mark at the Movies. Plus, he does great animal impersonations—we’ve seen a goat, a horse and a mule so far, and laughed ourselves silly at each. C’mon, CW31! Add Crall to your morning lineup and make a good show even better. Sacramento Comedy Spot, 1050 20th Street; (916) 444-3137; K.M.

Best janitor-turned-sculptor

Laura Harling

Laura Harling turned her experiences in state government (as a janitor, file clerk, and high-rise window washer) into political and social satire. Harling creates marvelous mini-sculptures of politicos (Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush) and others (Whoopi Goldberg, Princess Diana, Oprah). She takes up to 60 hours to carve a walnut-sized head from plastic polymer with a dental tool, before baking it and crafting a body to match. Two of Harling’s sculptures were shown in the 2011 California State Fair Fine Arts Exhibit: “Sarah’s Tea Party” depicts Sarah Palin packing a rifle at tea time, while sitting primly atop a polar bear rug. “Jerry’s Last Tango” features a tuxedoed Gov. Brown with unexpected dance partner Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. M.W.

Best culture with your coffee

Coffee Garden

You can’t turn around with your arms out and not end up pointing at a coffee shop in this town. We’ve got big corporate coffee shops, small local coffee shops, small local corporate coffee shops and a handful of diners that make a great cuppa. If you’re looking for something besides pastry to go with your coffee, head to the Coffee Garden. The overgrown plants and bright colors give it a wild jungle vibe. There’s a regular lineup of original music (including a Thursday open-mic night), and among the many groups meeting there are local atheists, GLBT board gamers and a “Jane Austen-ish” book club. The coffee’s really good, too. 2904 Franklin Boulevard, (916) 457-5507, K.M.

Best hidden gem of a neighborhood


While it might seem like the Fab ’40s and Land Park have a lock on winning props for being Sacramento’s oldest, nicest neighbhorhoods, we’re giving our vote to Woodlake. This small tree-lined neighborhood, nestled between Arden Way and Del Paso Boulevard, boasts gorgeous Tudor-styled homes, a veritable forest of looming, shady trees and the kind of friendly vibe we thought disappeared with The Andy Griffith Show. Established in 1924, Woodlake is north Sacramento’s best-kept secret. R.L.