Sankai Juku bring the esoteric dance of butoh to The Granada

Butoh, the post-war Japanese dance style that celebrates slow, methodical movement, rarely comes to Santa Barbara, and so the crowds that turned out for Sankai Juku’s appearance at The Granada Thursday night seemed larger than usual for such an esoteric experience. For those who stuck with it, the all-male company’s work, “Tobari — As if in an Inexhaustible Flux” paid off in surprising ways.

A life cycle in a way, the seven acts of the work took us through nothingness, creation, life, death and back into nothingness. As the program explained, “Tobari” is a Japanese word meaning veil, physically and metaphorically, a veil between day and night, or life and death. But it also described the backdrop, a simple but absolutely mesmerizing wall of stars in an inky blackness. Stared at long enough — and butoh encourages and requires lots of staring — the stars did seem to twinkle and move.

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The Rev. Henry Adams first non-Japanese-born minister to hold services at two area Buddhist churches

A member of the Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara holds a nenju, mindfulness beads, during a recent gathering.ROBBY BARTHELMESS / NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS
A member of the Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara holds a nenju, mindfulness beads, during a recent gathering.ROBBY BARTHELMESS / NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS

Toft-spoken and with a hint of a Midwestern accent flattened out by world travel, Henry Adams has, since April, been the minister at the Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara and Oxnard Buddhist Temple. That makes him the first non-Japanese-born minister to hold services at both churches.

At 33, the Rev. Adams modestly downplays the newsworthy nature of such a position. For him, it was simply a month between finishing his training and stepping into a vacancy left by the former minister. He was suggested to the Oxnard church by the Bishop of the Buddhist Churches of America and contracted to the Santa Barbara temple as well. And he wasn’t aware, he says, of the special import of his choice. Ten percent of current active ministers, he says, are of non-Japanese descent.

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Roy’s Reckless Whistle

Last time we visited Esther Rogers, the bartender and mixologist at Roy’s, we surprised her and she was still able to whip up some mighty fine cocktails with a gourmet eye, the kind we expect from Roy’s menu. This time, she told us, she knew we were coming. But that wasn’t the reason she had a small cocktail menu printed out — that was for the RND evening last weekend that our crew managed to catch at the last minute.

If we haven’t mentioned it before, RND vodka is our favorite local spirit. It may be the only one too, discounting the bathtub of homebrew gin I’ve been keeping a secret. Anyroad, Rogers set out to show off the spectrum of RND and we sidled up a week later to try the cocktails and see what we make of them.

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A Howling Success – Resuscitating America’s greatest 20th Century poem in film

What a spectacular creation is Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s docu-drama “Howl,” and what a gorgeous mess. That’s quite befitting for the classic Whitman-esque sprawl of a poem, delivered first to a group of eager beatniks in a smoky coffeehouse one night in 1955. This electric evening is brought to life by an amazing performance by James Franco, who portrays author Allen Ginsberg.

Franco has played interesting characters in “Milk,” “Spider-Man 3” and “Pineapple Express,” but his Ginsberg is something else entirely, a creation from the inside out. He portrays the poet at several stages of his artistic genesis, most notably in conversation with an unseen interviewer during the obscenity trial at which the poem “Howl” and City Lights owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti were the center.

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Take the Wheel – A new UCSB production travels the dark road

 Li'l Bit (Alexia Dox) and Uncle Peck (Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann) have a tabboo secret in the UCSB Theater season opener ñHow I Learned to Drive.Ó David Bazemore Photo

Li’l Bit (Alexia Dox) and Uncle Peck (Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann) have a tabboo secret in the UCSB Theater season opener ñHow I Learned to Drive.Ó
David Bazemore Photo

Who’s in the driver seat of your life? That’s the metaphor at the center of Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play opening at UCSB’s Performing Arts Theatre next Friday.

If you are Li’l Bit (Alexia Dox), the young female protagonist, you’ve been giving the steering wheel over to Uncle Peck (Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann), your aunt’s husband, who for several years was in a secret sexual relationship with you. Told from the older Li’l Bit’s perspective, with frequent flashbacks to her time with Uncle Peck, “How I Learned to Drive” is, in playwright Vogel’s phrase, “Lolita from the girl’s point of view.” It is also about how we learn from those who abuse us and how we can be hurt by the people who want to help us.

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‘Machinal’ offers empathy for a murderess in 1928 play

Megan Connors, as Helen, and Trevor Thompson, as Dick Roe, star in Santa Barbara City College Theatre Arts Department's student showcase production of "Machinal," which runs for two more weeks at SBCC's Interim Theatre. RICK MOKLER PHOTO
Megan Connors, as Helen, and Trevor Thompson, as Dick Roe, star in Santa Barbara City College Theatre Arts Department’s student showcase production of “Machinal,” which runs for two more weeks at SBCC’s Interim Theatre.

Looking at SBCC’s production of “Machinal,” this revival of a 1928 play, one can peer back into a time of anxiety, where on one hand industrialization was changing society at a rapid pace, where city life was all anonymity and alienation, and on the other hand, one can see a time when social mores were changing and becoming more liberal. There was awareness of being stuck in a machine, but no sense of how to get out of it. At the same time, we can look from 1928’s perspective and see how a lot of “Machinal” reverberates though dystopian fiction in the following decades.

But unlike one particular film contemporary, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” there is no hero to free us from our chains. Unlike Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” there is no tongue-in-cheek humor or a male protagonist. And unlike Orwell’s “1984” or Huxley’s “Brave New World,” this isn’t the future.

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Let the Sunshine In: Out of the Box scores big with its adaptation of ‘Hair’

As the flower children saunter onstage and take their places on the crazy quilt of blankets, the band strikes up the opening bars of “Aquarius.” Suddenly, the question arises: Is this the right time to be celebrating the Woodstock generation? With such a grim economy outside, the cheery and hopeful up-with-people overture of this now-classic musical seems less like a balm for our ills and more like a poke in the eye from the past.

But last Saturday night at Center Stage Theater, Out of the Box Theatre Company managed to pull off this revival without sinking into irony, and it did so with talent, vitality and some self-deprecating humor.

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A British treasure, Kew Gardens deserves a full day to explore

King George III didn’t particularly like opening his Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, southwest of London, to the general public back in 1776. Although only open once a week, the king said he could notice the difference the next day.

“They seem so dirty,” he quipped of visitors.

But with a bunch of revolutionaries across the Atlantic making his life miserable, he had other things to think about. It would be hard to imagine what King George would think of this emerald jewel more than 230 years later, with its thousands of commoners — Just think of it! Commoners! — walking the gardens solo, in couples, in families, in school groups, every day, enjoying more than 300 acres of flora, both native and foreign. The king wouldn’t like it. Tough luck. Kew Gardens, as it is known, might not be the biggest botanic gardens in the world, but it is one of the oldest. And for those interested in natural beauty, it is one of England’s must-see destinations.

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Tee-Off’s Sidecar

Back when State Street petered out at De La Vina and all this uptown was wilderness (or something pretty close), the Tee-Off was the clubhouse for the golf course up the hill. Or rather, because the course didn’t have a place to drink after the 18th hole, the original owners of the Tee-Off saw an opportunity. And hats off too them — the watering hole has made it into the 21st century with no sign of stopping. It still offers a traditional steak to diners sitting in its traditional red booths, and we must insist on the traditional fried chicken — so good it gets its separate neon sign outside the entrance.

Here’s a tip that even some regulars might not know, as relayed to us by longtime manager Todd Elliot: the oldest part of the Tee-Off is the giant golf tees opposite the front door, but which are so covered in ivy, most people just see them as railings. Next time you walk in — possibly for a cocktail — look for them.

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The Heart Remembers – John Lithgow’s one-man show is a tour de force of acting and a heart-warming tale of family

For John Lithgow’s touring one-man show, all the actor needs is a chair and a book. “My only props,” he says. As the rave reviews of “Stories by Heart” indicate, one doesn’t need anything more for an emotional, hilarious night out in the company of one of America’s busiest and most versatile actors.

Lithgow has made a career of playing family men with strange secrets. In “3rd Rock From the Sun,” he was an alien; in his Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning turn in last season’s “Dexter,” he was a serial killer. But in his one-man show — which he’s been performing and perfecting since 2008 — audiences find that behind the family man is a loving son, who uses the power of storytelling to bring his father out of a health-based depression.

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