What's New - October 2011

An Explosion of Innovative Western Jewish Exhibitions, Plays & Lectures

   The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde was on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from 05/21 to 09/06/2011. Funded by 22 major donors, eleven curators gathered 200 diverse works by early modern artists from institutions and private collectors. Early works by Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, and Gris, among others, were championed by members of the Stein family who had grown up in Oakland and were living in or visiting Paris. A total of 360,588 visitors viewed the exhibition or attended related events. The show earned superlatives from critics and visitors. Two collaborating museums have scheduled The Steins Collect:  Grand Palais, Paris, 10/03/2011 to 01/16/2012, and The Metropolitan Museum, New York, 02/21/2012 to 01/16/2012.

    Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories ran concurrently at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, several blocks from the MoMA. Also well-funded and widely publicized, its focus was Gertrude Stein, who was raised in Oakland and became an internationally renowned literary modernist, art collector, opera and dance librettist, and partner in an historic lesbian relationship. Drawing on fresh research, curator Wanda M. Corn (Stanford University) and associate curator Tirza True Latimer (California College of the Arts) explore the complexities of their subject in five sections: Picturing Gertrude, Domestic Stein, Art of Friendship, Celebrity Stein, and Legacies. Seeing Gertrude Stein will be on view at The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. from 10/14/2011 to 01/22/2012.

    But you don't have to be world-famous to inspire new productions. In the last decade, diverse works on Western Jewish pioneers have been cropping up in the West and elsewhere.

    Extraordinary among them is a one-woman show with music, adapted by Ken LaZebnik from Rachel Calof's Story, a memoir written in Yiddish by Calof, a mail-order bride. The conditions she encountered in a North Dakota homestead crowded with zealously religious and desperately impoverished in-laws would have driven mad a woman of less fortitude and intelligence. Kate Fuglei, a seasoned character actor and singer, directed by Ellen Pressman, has the audience rooting for Rachel as she eventually escapes with her husband and children. A lengthy review closes with: "Fuglei's portrayal is completely believable, from her Yiddish accent to her stoic physicality." Original songs, composed by Leslie Steinweiss, convey emotions inexpressible in words. Most recently the one-woman-show was presented at the Fringe NYC Festival, 08/12/2011 to 08/27/2011.

    A musical gaining momentum is I Married Wyatt Earp, by Sheilah Rae and Thomas Edward West, lyrics by Sheilah Rae, music by Michele Brourman. Categorized as an "Off Broadway Musical," it ran most recently at the 59E59 Theaters in New York City, 05/20/2011 to 06/12/2011. "There are half a dozen good reasons for buying tickets to I Married Wyatt Earp -- the music is terrific, and so are the lyrics -- the story, about love and the wild west, is full of surprises, both dramatic and historical. . . ." (Glenda Frank, New York Theatre Wire). "There's a lot of pretty good in I Married Wyatt Earp. . . ." (Ken Jaworowski, The New York Times). "It's a terrific evening of theater! It's a remarkable story!" (Kevin D. Dillion, KUCI.com 88.9 FM). The piece has been tested in two full productions and in staged readings. Musical comedy stars pleased to take part include: Carole Cook, Tovah Feldshuh, Marcia Rodd, and Heather MacRae.

    Currently in preparation are diverse works on Jewish pioneering scheduled for presentation in 2012 at centennial statehood celebrations throughout Arizona and New Mexico. As they're announced, I'll be pleased to include them in future mass emails.

    Also scheduled from March through August, 2012, at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles is a highly original exhibition entitled Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity, and Intermarriage. Via interviews, family photographs, and home movies, the show explores Jewish contributions to the richness and diversity of American culture. The exhibition is presented by The Labyrinth Project, a USC research initiative on database narrative and archival cultural history founded by Marsha Kinder, a University Professor in USC's School of Cinematic Arts. For further information, contact mkinder@usc.edu, or VisionsandVoices@usc.edu at 213-740-0483. [I attended a preview, which runs through Oct. 27 at USC, of eight Western Jewish family histories magnificently projected on a theater-size screen. Jewish Homegrown History engages, informs, and brings to life as never before a variegated Jewish presence in the West. H.R]

    Looking ahead to May, 2013, the Autry National Center will open its long-in-the-works exhibition, Jews in Los Angeles: 160 Years of History. Interweaving past and present, the show will employ artifacts, multi-media, personal and family stories in order to explore the pivotal roles Jews have played in shaping Los Angeles and the ways Los Angeles has, in turn, shaped Jewish identity. Chief Curator Carolyn Brucken, Ph.D., invites your queries. Her contact information is 323-667-2000 ext. 291 and cbrucken@theautry.org.