Monday, August 28, 2006

The World's A Mess, It's in LA

If Los Angeles didn't exist America would have had to invent it, but of course, it did...and that's the beginning of all the problems. While New York and Chicago and San Francisco, even, get to have some nobility, some sense of unity and purpose and the dignity age brings, LA gets to have a sense of detritus, a sense of the busy being sold. Its beauty buried under asphalt beneath the smog, its enduring symbol to the world is a sign for the part of LA that outsiders think is all of LA and that is pretty much all sign and symbol anyway. And part of that fell down due to neglected and got carted off.

So it hit me spending a terrific day in Los Angeles yesterday (and I don't just say that because I got to go home to Santa Barbara afterwards) that the town is really just one of Robert Rauschenberg's combines. The combines are on exhibit at MOCA right now, so we used our KCRW Fringe Benefits cards and got 2 for 1 admission and decided to do just that exhibit, since we were at the Mark Taper a few blocks away anyway to see Water & Power. These are powerful, mystical works, questioning art while being art (how very pomo, I know) while leaving enough blank space to invite the world in and let the void out. Plus it was great to see Coca Cola Plan at last, which I always mistakenly thought was bigger looking at photos of it, although how could it be and keep to the scale of the bottles? But the paint drops seem so fresh, the bottles commerce wanting to be art, the wings not really a joke. And that grooved ball, worn down and making the work seem older, but also peering out like some sort of brain. What weirdness can come together and speak to us? And isn't that not just Rauschenberg's question, but LA's?

Culture Clash also wants to know what LA is, and tries to take the entire city on in Water & Power, an of-the-moment yet mythical story of twin brothers and where Mexican-American political might might go. It's got the zest and humor of their earlier funnier shows, and to keep with the Woody Allen reference, is sort of their west coast version of Manhattan, a step up in ambition, if Woody's masterpiece decided to care about more than romance. (As if there's anything more, often, especially with Mariel Hemingway on hand to rhapsodize over.) Water & Power is devoid of women characters completely, and instead is about the struggle for the brothers' souls, and therefore about the city's soul. The play really takes off when Dakin Matthews shows up as the Fixer, the embodiment of white power in a white suit and white hair--he's practically transcendent, which makes his evil more striking and casual. The performance is part Noah Cross, part Colonel Sanders and a delightfully diabolical turn (to think he's played Cheney recently, too, in David Hare's Stuff Happens--processing all this darkside must require a lot of time in the confessional, or the shower, or doing multiple works of mercy).

Ultimately the point of the play is we all might be equal parts cop and the cholo, so we better learn to love each other like brothers, especially in Trader Joe's narrow aisles. Go see it.

To cap our combine experience, we had to eat, of course. We opted to return to one of our LA favorites--Jar. We really can't say enough good things about this place. Its vibe is very 60s supper club with crisp cocktails, a clever wine list (lots of Rhone varietals--9 Gigondas), and help so good we even had witty banter with the busman (he was no boy). Of course, you go to restaurants to eat (I realize there is a breed in LA that doesn't eat, but I don't want to stereotype), but having just finished our leftover duck fried rice for my lunch today, all I can do is say we give Jar two big Yums up.

Seven hours--modern art masterpieces, state-of-the art theater, lipsmackingly good food. I'm singing my Randy Newman without any irony today.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Laura or George?

I’m referring to “The World's A Mess, It's in LA.” -- what an of-the-cuff What-We-Did-On-Our-Weekend riff: erudite, funny as well as witty, arcane, illuminating and true. Easy to read too. I’d love to open my morning paper and read something like that. But noooo! I get to read about the regatta. Life’s not fair, but you should get yourself an opinion column in print by hook or crook. And you know, as funny as it sounds, I’d bet your best bet would be on the east coast, especially Manhattan. Just a suggestion,

Your fan,

9:01 PM  
Blogger Tom Hilton said...

Sounds like a great day, all right. I'd love to see the combine exhibit--great stuff.

I've often felt that if you could take all of the cultural resources of Los Angeles and pack them into an area the size of San Francisco, it would be one of the coolest cities in the world. It's the sprawl that makes it hell.

By the way, speaking of post-modernism and LA, ever read City of Quartz?

12:04 PM  
Blogger George said...

Dear Maxwell, thanks for the kind words. The simple way around your problem is to stop subscribing to the News-Repressed.

Tom, as muxch as I've grown to like LA, San Francisco is plenty cool all on its own, if you ask me. And while I have read and love Ecology of Fear--not to mention used to teach "The Case for Letting Malibu Burn" to my engineering writing students, just to freak their literal minds out--I have yet to read City of Quartz. it is on the shelf, though. As they say--so many books, too much wine.

2:35 PM  

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