King of the Castle – ‘It’s Magic!’ continues the tradition of Magic Castle’s Milt Larsen

Milt Larsen’s parents were both magicians. They owned a magic trick novelty shop back in the 1930s and ’40s, and Larsen recalls spending many childhood hours in the stockroom. He’d open every box, learn the trick and put it back. There was no escaping it — from then on, the young Milt was destined to become a magician.

Now, 55 years later, after becoming synonymous with American illusionary arts through his Magic Castle club, Larsen brings his annual family-friendly magic acts to Lobero Theatre for its third appearance.

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Live and Direct – A&L puts theater lovers up close without a plane ticket

A scene from Complicite's production of "A Disappearing Number," conceived and directed by Simon McBurney. Stephanie Berger Photos
A scene from Complicite’s production of “A Disappearing Number,” conceived and directed by Simon McBurney.
Stephanie Berger Photos

When David Sabel was a young man studying theater at Northwestern University, he was far, far away from the theater companies that he studied. It wasn’t until age 19 that he was able to travel to London and check out National Theatre, among others. Today, he is a producer of National Theatre Live, bringing live simulcast plays to any theater with the technology, including UCSB’s Campbell Hall. And nobody has to buy an airplane ticket.

“I would have killed to see these productions when I was studying,” Sabel says. He is, of course, speaking of the six-play season that kicks off Tuesday with “A Disappearing Number,” conceived and directed by Simon McBurney.

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Up in the Clouds – Annual Telluride Film Fest returns with the best in nature docs

A scene from the film "As It Happens"
A scene from the film “As It Happens”

Since its inception 32 years ago, the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival has always been a place to celebrate the beauty of nature, the exhilaration of rock climbing and the thrill of discovering the unknown. The six films that make up the touring program coming to UCSB deliver on the above articles, but also provide more, including New York surfers, Scottish skiing and Russian Sasquatch hunting.

Curator Justin Clifton oversees the dozen people who screen the 600 or so films up for submission. Clifton whittles it down, though.

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POINTS of VIEW – SBCAF’s new two-painter exhibition finds an experiment in alienation


The “Parallax” view is a fixed point that seems to move when seen from two slightly different viewpoints. The perspectives from a left eye and a right eye are one example. The works of Paul Winstanley and Peter Rostovsky represent it as well, as the two artists who make up Contemporary Arts Forum’s new show — opening Saturday — look at similar things in very different ways.

Wistanley focuses on lonely, alienating interiors, from corporate offices to university common rooms. Rostovsky’s work ranges over many subjects and mediums, but this show will focus mostly on his “mediated landscapes.” Both artists provide new ways of looking at the world around us, and CAF’s publicity provides a tasty hint of the artists’ overlap: Rostovsky’s “Curtains” and Winstanley’s “Veil 15.” Both feature curtains, the former deep, red and mysterious with hints of the theater, while the latter is white, translucent and divided into sections by the window panes behind.

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The Mecca’s Sex On The Beach

Nik Blaskovich/News-Press
Nik Blaskovich/News-Press

The Mecca is once again fabulous. The easily missed entrance on Milpas hides a whole lot of history — and some mystery — behind its boxy little neighborhood bar appearance. Bathed in blue light and ringing with a guitarist playing Ranchero ballads, The Mecca was bumpin’ low-key style on a Thursday night. A bar full of regulars were chatting away while bartender SunRize Szekely whipped up drinks and manager Rafael Fernandez ran back and forth from bar to floor.

The Mecca goes back to the 1930s, making it one of the oldest bars in Santa Barbara. For a brief while in the late 2000s, it tried to be a different kind of bar, the up-market Legends Lounge, and then Chocolat, but a neighborhood needs a neighborhood bar, so when Fernandez and his brother bought it back a few years ago, the old name returned. According to Fernandez, people are going to call it The Mecca (or The Fabulous Mecca) no matter what an owner tries to do, so why fight it?

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A New Wives’ Tale : The Housewives of Mannheim explores changing roles in 1944 Brooklyn

From left, Pheonix Vaughn as May Black, Wendy Peace as Alice Cohen, Corey Tazmania as Billie Friedhoff, and Natalie Mosco as Sophie Birnbaum). DAVID BAZEMORE PHOTOS
From left, Pheonix Vaughn as May Black, Wendy Peace as Alice Cohen, Corey Tazmania as Billie Friedhoff, and Natalie Mosco as Sophie Birnbaum).


The setting of Alan Brody’s play is 1944 Brooklyn, where modest apartments were small, the denizens were mostly women waiting for their men to return from the war, and America was in flux between the scrimping and saving of the wartime effort and the flowering of post-war prosperity and consumerism. As Mr. Brody shows it, some women were decorating bars of what would soon become a cage, and some were realizing that there was more out there in the wide world.

In this new play enjoying its West Coast premiere at the opening of Ensemble Theater’s 2010-11 season, we meet three housewives whose lives are all about to be upturned with the arrival of a new neighbor.

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A-Mraz-ing Performance: Jason Mraz effortlessly entertains fans at the Bowl

Jason Mraz

For an example of how atomized popular music culture has become in the last 10 years or more, how popular groups can run on a parallel line with whole sectors of the population unaware of their success and/or everpresence, look no further than pop singer Jason Mraz. At the Santa Barbara Bowl on Friday night, half the songs were met with applause of recognition, many with the audience singing along. To this reviewer, none of these songs were even remotely familiar, not even in a “didn’t I hear this while shopping/watching television” kind of way. Yet here’s an artist who broke some sort of record by staying in the Billboard Top 100 for 78 weeks with “I’m Yours,” his lilting piffle of a summer song.

OK, so maybe I’m out of touch and listen to KCRW too much (in my basement), but Mr. Mraz was a new one on me. And, despite his predilections and faults, the man is a pure entertainer, at ease onstage like he owns it, and leading the audience like he knows them. Online haters critique this as ballooning ego but hey, you gotta have some to get anywhere, and Mr. Mraz has a Grammy. No, make that two.

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The Merry Wives of Brooklyn – Ensemble’s season opener is straight outta New York City

David Bazemore Photos
David Bazemore Photos

Theater is a living, evolving art, and that is aptly demonstrated this weekend when Ensemble Theatre Company opens its 2010 – 11 season with Alan Brody’s “The Housewives of Mannheim.” Brody’s play made it out of the 2007 writers workshops to the desk of director SuzAnne Barabas, whose New Jersey Repertory Company has since been living with the play, molding, creating and claiming the characters as its own.

In a rare move for Ensemble, the director and cast have come to Santa Barbara to mount this West Coast premiere.

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A Not-So-Beautiful Mind – Don’t expect any brilliance from ‘Funny Story’

 Keir Gilchrist, left, and Zach Galifianakis star in ñIt's Kind of a Funny Story.Ó K.C. Bailey Photo

Keir Gilchrist, left, and Zach Galifianakis star in ñIt’s Kind of a Funny Story.Ó
K.C. Bailey Photo

Teenage mental illness forms the center of writer-directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.” As a result, one might expect a drama along the lines of their debut “Half Nelson” (2006), which tackled heroin addiction from a fresh perspective, or the little-seen “Sugar” (2008), which follows a kid from the Dominican Republic and his desire to play professional baseball. Those were good indie films, and “Funny Story” makes a step toward the mainstream by adapting a popular young adult novel by Ned Vizzini.

But by edging toward box office success, they’ve dropped a lot of the writing skills that made their debuts so successful. In trade, they get a great performance from co-star Zach Galifianakis, who the studio is using to suggest this is some sort of follow up to “The Hangover.” It’s not.

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Arch Rock Fish’s El Presidio

Nik Blaskovich/News-Press
Nik Blaskovich/News-Press

Having survived Mel’s last week, we decided to check out another “neighborhood joint,” one with that very phrase blazoned across its sign. Arch Rock Fish (say that 10 times fast) spent a lot of the summer promising to open, and it just made it. Located in the former space of Melting Pot, this is a local endeavor, with menus designed by Scott Leibfried and, most importantly, drinks designed by Mike Anderson, the mixologist behind Marquee.

The theme here is local favorites, and the menu drops locations, some well known and others rare, including the Arch Rock of the title, part of Santa Cruz Island. The menu has its fair share of “place” names.

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