Just Say Yes — ‘Yes Men’ asks if there can be profit in doing the right, moral thing

Andy Bechlbaum and Mike Bonanno take on big business and big politics in "Yes Men Fix the World."
Andy Bechlbaum and Mike Bonanno take on big business and big politics in “Yes Men Fix the World.”
Andy Bechlbaum has the eyes of a prankster. Although in his 40s, he still has the wide stare and ear-to-ear grin of a kid who has pulled off something naughty. So it’s a wonder how he and Mike Bonanno, collectively known as the Yes Men, can keep it together to fool a string of people, getting them into business conventions, conferences and televised interviews. Once at their destination — usually a podium — one or both of them present thinly veiled Swiftian satire that leads to befuddlement, and they’re usually tossed out for — and this is the scary part — the request for business cards and further information.

In the speedy film “The Yes Men Fix the World,” we see five situationist pranks from these artists, who have made corporation criticism their raison d”tre since 2000. At a conference for bankers, they discuss a way of profiting from tragedy, and, posing as Halliburton representatives, they unveil an absurd SurvivaBall, an inflatable suit in which one can ride out the apocalypse. At an energy conference, they pass out candles made from a former employee for a world where the dead can be used for fuel. There’s no real flesh in the candle, of course, but the real human hair inside smells foul.

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Sandoval’s Slight Return: Second Symphony concert features a reconfigured menu

Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval was supposed to make a welcome return to the Santa Barbara Symphony Saturday night, opening with a pleasant Haydn concerto and closing with a Glière concerto. Somewhere along the way, those plans got the mice-and-men treatment, and the Glière was dropped. Haydn became the finale, and a very brief Glière piece was added to the opening, allowing the beaming Sandoval to show his face and remind the audience that he was around and would be returning for the second half.

So in fact the first half of the evening became centered around Sibelius and his First Symphony in E Minor, Opus 39.

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Home of the Brave: “Wit” Pits Poetry Against Cancer


Mention people and cancer and the adjective “brave” pops up immediately. And in “Wit,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning first play from Margaret Edson, much bravery-of the theatrical kind-is on display. The playwright has decided to focus on a woman dying of cancer, spending the play in a medical center, allowing few supporting characters other than doctors, nurses, and interns. The actor (Allison Coutts-Jordan) portraying the woman Vivian Bearing, a professor in English specializing in John Donne, must achieve a delicate balance between dignity and debasement, between harshness and sentimentality. And because this terminal illness attacks such a stern taskmaster without, as we soon learn, a husband, children, friends, or loving students, the temptation for Edson to use the illness as a sort of punishment-repent, Ebenezer Scrooge!-must be resisted.

This performance, to run until Nov. 8 at SBCC’s Garvin Theater, pulls all the above off perfectly. Director Rick Mokler certainly took a chance with the play, with its many grim scenes likely to repel a number of people. Mr. Mokler also has invested in a play that relegates much of its time to a hospital bed set back in the stage. Fortunately, Ms. Coutts-Jordan handles everything with confidence-she is called on to carry the play and does so because there is no room in the character’s world for anybody else. She relishes the part and the audience is with her all the way.

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‘Beyond Therapy’ needs a dose of speed


There’s an attraction for directors to Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy.”

Its lampooning of psychobabbling me-generation members and profundity of rude language give it an edgy surface. It’s like a coarser, more farcical Woody Allen. It’s also incredibly dated.

Mr. Durang packs his dialogue with cultural reference that may have been funny when they were fresh out the oven. Prudence, the female lead in this romantic farce, says at one point that she thinks Shaun Cassidy’s cute, but “he’s too young for me.”

Not even 20 coats of irony can save that line from disappearing into the sinkhole. Plenty of other names and pop culture-isms get dropped, from Peter Schaffer’s “Equus” to Dyan Cannon, and they hit the ground, brick-like.

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Three Steps Forward, One Back: Twyla Tharp Dance Delivers in the End, But Is Cute on the Way

©David Bazemore

A sold-out Campbell Hall crowd on Friday night got a heady dose of Twyla Tharp’s choreography as her recently regrouped (in 1999) Twyla Tharp Dance performed four works that brought Santa Barbara crowds up to date on Tharp’s most recent work, while delving back briefly for a look at Tharp’s beginnings. For relative newcomers it was a night of contrasts; for longtime aficionados, it was a confirmation of the changes Tharp has brought to modern dance.

The company is a talented, well chosen collection of dancers, all very strong by themselves, and the evening’s program introduced them to us two or three at a time, culminating with almost the entire company participating in the rousing finale. But more of that later.

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Camerata Pacifica: Chamber group opens with a bang

Adrian Spence likes to make it easy for critics. The director and flautist for Camerata Pacifica has not only been bringing the best of small-ensemble music to Santa Barbara for 14 years now, but his love of educating the public has been spilling out more and more into his lengthy introductions to the evening’s performances.

Though his target audience is the general public, the critic can’t help but crib notes when Mr. Spence is breaking down the structure of a string quartet or trying to explicate the wonders of discord. He’s so eminently quotable that we have to keep reminding ourselves that our job is not to quote him, but to have our own honest reactions.
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‘Cole & Will’: Missed opportunities

The latest show at the Victoria Hall — the third for the fledgling Victoria Hall Theater Company — affords an opportunity to hear nearly 30 of Cole Porter’s songs, from the familiar (“Anything Goes”) to the obscure (“After You, Who?”). The sheer delight in the music is only matched by the witty lyrics that seem to bubble up effortlessly, song after song.

Unfortunately, in “Cole & Will (Together Again)” they are framed by a wooden play that serves little but to make the songs a welcome respite from the goings-on.

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Yee–haw, m’lord: A rawhide Shrew makes merry at Fess Parker’s place

A Wild West version of “The Taming of the Shrew” has been so popular in recent years (I counted at least five nationwide on a quick Internet search) that it’s nearly deserving of its own sub-genre.

For those who love the play’s rowdy, rough-and-tumble attitude but are a bit queasy over its sexual politics, the lawlessness of the frontier offers a broad canvas and several ideological escape routes. Dress up Katherine as Annie Oakley and you’re already halfway toward a character. And the transitory nature of the West makes all outcomes liable to change without notice, unlike the established Padua of Shakespeare’s original.

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Lost in memories in The Lady and the Clarinet

Michael Cristofer’s play “The Lady and the Clarinet” is less a straightforward romantic comedy and more like a mysterious chocolate candy. The outside is sweet, but the inside is bitter the more you chew — and by the end you’re not sure if the outside was really chocolate to start with.

Mr. Cristofer earned a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier play, 1977’s “The Shadow Box.”

“The Lady and the Clarinet” dates from 1984, and was at one point an off-Broadway hit for Stockard Channing. Director Maggie Mixsell has resurrected the play and brought it to Santa Barbara City College’s Jurkowitz Theater for a three-week run, where it becomes a star vehicle for its leading lady, Katie Thatcher.

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Film Review: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary

‘Pages’ mixes ballet, sexuality and bloodsucking
By D.M. Terrace, Special to the Voice

Guy Maddin’s “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary” is a curious beast, being a meeting of minds: Maddin’s retro-German Expressionism filming methods and the already offbeat Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s staging of “Dracula.” The ballet is at once respectful of the original novel’s narrative and willing to subvert it for pure movement and expression, focusing on the two women at the center of Bram Stoker’s work: Lucy and Mina.

Guy Maddin has led an extremely cultish career, creating films that seem to come from the golden age of silent cinema, with grainy film, intertitles, variable shutter speeds, broad acting, and pancake makeup with black eyeliner. Sometimes, his striving for effect and replication overwhelms the simpler things like plot and character; other times, all his efforts pay off, such as in “Heart of the World,” the brilliant short he made for the Toronto film festival (and shown two years ago at the SB Film Fest).

To film a ballet, then, doesn’t seem too much of a stretch for Maddin; the stylized movements of the dancers aren’t too far from the strange locomotion that often pops up in his films. And the “big” emotion of ballet is also close to his aesthetic. Strange, then, that Maddin seems not that interested in the dancing — he certainly doesn’t film it like he is, preferring close-ups and tableaux to wide shots.

What comes across after a viewing is that Maddin is very interested in Stoker’s novel itself, and saw the ballet as his chance to film his take on the classic. It’s clear that Maddin favors a reading that explores the strange sexuality of the novel. “Dracula” here becomes a sort of anxiety tale about the deflowering of innocent women, with Lucy taken before her wedding, and the mob-like desire for revenge exerted by her ex-suitors, jealous with rage. Blood, and all that it symbolizes to the female in this society, is most important here: in a black and white film, it’s one of the few things that Maddin colors (tellingly, the other thing is green money).

Best performance belongs to Zhang Wei-Qiang as Dracula. Casting an Asian in the role — the ballet company’s choice, not Maddin’s — works well in bringing out the xenophobia that, like the sexuality, lies barely suppressed below the surface of the tale (Maddin underscores the point with clips from a real anti-immigrant WWII film). Zhang is in the film sparingly, but his presence is felt throughout; he’s sexy, threatening, seductive, and cold, a perfect vampiric combo.

Ballet fans will probably get the least out of Maddin’s film, but anybody else into the strange and wondrous will find deep resonance in this most peculiar cinematic beast.