Care For Some Drama With Dinner?
Welcome to Selected Shorts performed at the Getty Center
Photographs by Martin Gaeta | Cover Photo by Dawn Garcia
“Oh Captain My Captain!” – the Dead Poets Society.
A film that reinvented everything literature meant to me so imagine the joy I felt when I arrived at the gorgeous Getty Museum at the top of the hill in #LosAngeles, into the sea of white umbrellas and on through the over-sized door entrance. I allow my feet to lead the way down the stairs until I find my seat. Within minutes, out walks one of my favorite cinematic characters of all time: “Neil Perry” – aka, Robert Sean Leonard. He speaks to the audience as if among friends and, to break any existing tension he proceeds to ask us to do an exercise with him. A vocal exercise he got “approved” from his wife so we obediently engage. He breaks up the audience into sections and asks us to all say “Ahhh” in ranging tones. We do. Suddenly, just as suspected, we’re all in the same boat of making a decision to throw caution to the wind. Brains ready, ears alert, now the afternoon can begin. Robert talks to us briefly – and fondly – of Isaiah Sheffer – one of the founders of the “Selected Shorts Series” – and how he taught Robert to, before doing a show, break the distance between performer and audience; finding ways to take the edge off by creating unity through a unifying exercise. It works. And, as the Spring sun begins its descent, I settle in for what is sure to be an afternoon not to be forgotten.
An afternoon of storytelling … tales recited in a new tone, a beautifully inventive perspective, performed by four of the most illustrious and interesting talent in Hollywood. The storytellers include Robert Sean Leonard (House M.D., Dead Poets Society), Emmy Award Winner Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice, Home Alone, Nightmare Before Christmas), SAG Nominee Joshua Malina (Scandal, West Wing), and Golden Globe Nominee Jane Kaczmarek (Malcom in the Middle). Each story told in a fervor of grace and humor, depth and freshness. Today’s theme is centered around “food”. A rather broad term but an incredibly colorful approach to stories that take you everywhere from the glamour days of the City of Angels to oddly acceptable murder. Through literary prowess, the tantalizing play on words, each performer retells the stories in tones of delightful directness and elemental fun – just as all stories should be. While some of the stories were more impacting than others, it is the experience of hearing these often familiar tales told to us in dramatic and new voices.
We begin with a story apropos to the theme of fare we will experience later in the afternoon: Letters to a Frozen Peas – part of “Can’t and Won’t” by Lydia Davis, performed by Robert Sean Leonard.
Only 100 words long, Robert Sean Leonard delivers the poignant and quick story with the candor and intent it deserves.
“The peas are a dull yellow green, more the color of pea soup than fresh peas and nothing like the actual color of your peas, which are a nice bright dark green,” he recites. “We have compared your depiction of peas to that of the other frozen peas packages and yours is by far the least appealing. . . . We enjoy your peas and do not want your business to suffer. Please reconsider your art.”
As any consumer – or parent – would concur, Davis is right. It’s the little details in mere packaging that make eating anything from the frozen section of the grocery store less inhibiting – because let’s face it, we still have to read the labels overzealous in preservative descriptions that none of us have any desire whatsoever to correctly pronounce. A chemical is a chemical is a chemical so – we’re left with pretty packaging. If that’s absent, we’re in trouble. Be that as it may, the story is honest and carries the undertone of all of Davis’ literary collections with the delivery and boysih charm of Robert Sean Leonard.
As Joshua Malina steps up to the podium, one already has a feeling that there will be a harkening tonality that will invariably lead to a cadence of story appealing to any hungry ear. With the playful banter of dialogue Miller is recognizable for, Joshua recites the story of a man – a writer [Miller] – lost in the sea of estranged animosity ironically swimming in imagined sophistication. Aka – Hollywood.
”’Los Angeles gives one the feeling of the future more strongly than any city I know of. A bad future, too, like something out of Fritz Lang’s feeble imagination.”
I pause because this sentiment is one any of us Angeleno’s are familiar with.
”Tomorrow I will discover Sunset Boulevard. Eurhythmic dancing, ball-room dancing, tap dancing, artistic photography, ordinary photography, lousy photography, electro-fever treatment, internal douche treatment, ultra- violet treatment, elocution lessons, psychic readings, institutes of religion, astrological demonstrations, hands read, feet manicured, elbows massaged, faces lifted, warts removed, fat reduced, insteps raised, corsets fitted, busts vibrated, corns removed, hair dyed, glasses fitted, soda jerked, hangovers cured, headaches driven away, flatulence dissipated, limousines rented, the future made clear, the war made comprehensible, octane made higher and butane lower, drive in and get indigestion, flush the kidneys, get a cheap car-wash, stay-awake pills and go-to-sleep pills, Chinese herbs are very good for you and without a Coca-Cola life is unthinkable.”
A wonderful performance with a few belly laughs Henry Miller is notorious for offering through his witty sarcastic tone as Malina brings life to his words, we are now warmed up to more storytelling.
Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl, performed by Catherine O’Hara
I’m not sure murder was every so justifiably entertaining since the final scenes of Fried Green Tomatoes, but “Lamb to the Slaughter” is sublime! With the sweet demeanor of the comic genius of Catherine O’Hara, the story by Roald Dahl trickles off her tongue and into a story that will make you laugh, squirm, cheer, and fathom. O’Hara tells the story of an Irish wife’s clever thinking and the light-hearted tale of a little meaty revenge. In true fashion, O’Hara performs in a flawless Irish accent and before long I’m not sure anyone in the audience realizes we aren’t sitting in the kitchen of the main character, Mary Maloney.
“When she walked across the room she couldn’t feel her feet touching the floor. She couldn’t feel anything at all- except a slight nausea and a desire to vomit. Everything was automatic now-down the steps to the cellar, the light switch, the deep freeze, the hand inside the cabinet taking hold of the first object it met. She lifted it out, and looked at it. It was wrapped in paper, so she took off the paper and looked at it again.
A leg of lamb.
All right then, they would have lamb for supper. She carried it upstairs, holding the thin bone-end of it with both her hands, and as she went through the living-room, she saw him standing over by the window with his back to her, and she stopped.
“For God’s sake,” he said, hearing her, but not turning round. “Don’t make supper for me. I’m going out.”
At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without any pause she swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head.”
This story was sheer brilliance.
Where You’ll Find Me by Ann Beattie performed by Jane Kaczmarek
As the hysterical and endearing, Lois on Malcom in the Middle, Jane Kaczmarek is an actress that lures you in from the onset and while her depiction of “Where You’ll Find Me” was fantastic in performance, this story in and of itself – the literature – was an odd one. Written by Ann Beattie, the essence of self discovery and one coming to terms with understanding the world they are submersed in, I found this particular short story to be predictable and a little too disjointed. The ending was one that left just about everyone in the audience saying (out loud), “I definitely was waiting for a better ending. Like what happened to the dog? Or the dad? Do the two parents meet? Is the brother ok?”Unfortunately this is a story that has some holes. However that is no reflection of performance.
Jane Kaczmarek lights up the stage in her pin-striped suit, burgundy shoes, and bright smile and we are all too willing to dismiss the story gaps and just enjoy a reading by a supremely gifted actress. She begins and her storytelling is engaging and beautifully read. Spanning multiple characters, each with their own “performance personality”, Kaczmarek keeps us interested. The difficulty was that I found myself struggling with bits of the actual story in spite of its rich descriptors and existential-like ponderings.
Kyle Brown lived on hydroponic tomatoes, Shake ’n Bake chicken, and Pepperidge Farm rolls. On Saturdays, Garrett and Nancy ate with him. They contributed apple cider—smoky, with a smell you could taste; the last pressing of the season—and sometimes turnovers from the corner bakery. Above the sputtering chicken Nancy could hear Kyle singing now, in his strong baritone: “The truth is, I nev-er left you . . .”
“Sit still,” Garrett said, looking up from his sketchbook. “Don’t you know your role in life?”
Nancy cupped her hands below her breasts, turned her head to the side, and pursed her lips.
“Don’t do that,” he said, throwing the crayon stub. “Don’t put yourself down, even as a joke.”
It was a treat to experience the story through Jane’s retelling.
Overall the afternoon was inspiring and intellectually awakening. Hearing short fiction on the stage as it is performed by some of the most recognizable faces in entertainment is an experience to behold.
The Series, “Selected Shorts” is one essential to the creative landscape. You can find out what city the Series is touring in next by visiting the website at: Selected Shorts.
The Getty Center | 1200 Getty Center Dr. | Los Angeles, CA 90049
The Evening was paired with a Scallop in Pea Purée with a White Wine. Overall the scallop was ok. I enjoyed the edible flowers and the purée, however the scallop was a bit bland.
Photos by Dawn Garcia
About Selected Shorts
Selected Shorts is a weekly public radio show broadcast on over 130 stations to about 300,000 listeners. It is produced by Symphony Space and WNYC Radio and distributed by Public Radio International. The radio show is recorded live at the popular New York City stage show which began in 1985 and still enjoys sell-out audiences today at the Peter Sharp Theater at Symphony Space on Broadway and 95th Street in New York City. Selected Shorts is one of the premiere reading series in New York City. The Selected Shorts podcast consistently ranks as one of the most popular podcasts on iTunes.
There is a theme to each Selected Shorts episode and performance. Several stories are presented around each theme. The stories are always fiction, sometimes classic, sometimes new, always performed by great actors from stage, screen and television who bring these short stories to life. Evenings are often co-hosted by writers, literary producers, and other interesting characters.
Selected Shorts is a Series of Storytelling created by:
About the Getty Center
Getty Center Since opening its doors in 1997, the Getty Center has welcomed almost 19 million visitors and become a cultural destination that has played a key role in helping Los Angeles become an important leader in the arts.
The Getty Center is home to the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. Together, these programs have conducted and funded research, conservation, and education programs locally, nationally, and internationally.
You can check out the EVENTS CALENDAR here. At present, Jackson Pollock’s, “MURAL” is on exhibition.