by Elizabeth Gracen:
I don’t get out that much anymore—at least, not as much as I used to. With a great cinema complex down the street and Netflix at my fingertips, by the time the end of the day rolls around with dinner prep on the horizon . . . mamma is usually just too pooped to plan much else. However, every once in awhile, something strikes my fancy as a perfect night out with a girlfriend. I was lucky enough to enjoy just such a mini-adventure this past Friday night in La La Land.
I’m not even sure how I saw the advertisement about Isabella Rossellini bringing her LINK LINK CIRCUS to town, but when it did pass my eye about three weeks before the performance, it hooked me immediately. It would be my maiden voyage to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, with a quick dinner before the show at a much touted restaurant with a long-time friend. Perfect.
As I made my way along the hour-long drive through the valley to the sea, KCRW radio broadcast the end of the partial government shut-down. There was a promise of something new in the air—a sudden positive shift in the political climate; news to accompany my belly’s grumbling anticipation of an excellent meal after a relatively good attempt at eating light throughout the day (thank you, Fast Blast). It all boded well for a much-needed fresh perspective after a long, troublesome week in the good ‘ole USA.
Tar & Roses proved a perfect landing post for this world-weary worried bird. The savory dishes—designed for meal sharing—and a superb wine list hit all the right taste bud points, and the service was impeccable—our waiter being very handsome and charming to boot. We were early diners, but the joint was jumping, packed and noisy—almost too noisy for a conversation. We made do by reading each other’s lips as we pointed to the eclectic menu and chose what turned out to be a beyond-delicious meal.
Wood Roasted Shishito Peppers with hazelnut aioli and a dash of espelette pepper, Wood Roasted Baby Beets with feta, tarragon, and horseradish, a sumptuously smooth Spaghetti Carbonara with soft egg, pancetta, parmesan and black pepper . . . and my favorite: Charred Gem Lettuce with dates, pancetta, and Bay Blue Cheese.
I sipped on a lovely glass (or two) of Benton Lane Pinot Noir from Willamette, CA, and my companion enjoyed a light and delicious Sauvignon Blanc from the Honig winery in the Napa Lake counties. We did our best to finish the meal, with only a few beets to spare. No time for dessert, but once we realized that we were an easy four-block walking distance from the Broad Stage and could leave our cars with the restaurant valet, we felt we’d hit a lucky groove in the matrix.
I had seen a few of Isabella Rossellini’s films (GREEN PRONO, SEDUCE ME, and MAMMAS) about animal behavior, so I was familiar with and anticipated a similar aesthetic blend of her childlike wonder, cheeky sexuality, and erudite observations about animal consciousness and behavior. Ms. Rossellini’s persona and performances have also been a source of entertainment over the years, so I hoped that the performance was going to be nothing short of a light and lively evening’s entertainment. I was not disappointed.
LINK LINK CIRCUS offers a minimalist production that, at times, borders on an intentionally non-professional presentation, something akin to visiting the nursery of a wily young girl where you’re invited in only if you’re willing to abandon your stuffy attitude and rigid beliefs. Isabella Rossellini is very much indeed that young girl—a playful twinkle in her eye, even when she dons her glasses and reads from behind a podium to impart the science behind her beliefs regarding animal intelligence and their souls. She is there to make us think . . . and laugh . . . and lighten up. What a relief!
The program states that Rossellini is finishing her master’s degree in Animal Behavior and Conservation at Hunter College in NYC, and that she has received a Ph.D Honoris Causa from the Science Faculty at the University of Quebec at Montreal. She also runs an organic farm, full of animals, in Brookhaven in association with the Peconic Land Trust and the Post Morrow Foundation. From the performance’s projected family stills of Rossellini in her youth with her various precious pets in frame, her love of animals is quite obvious, her connection with them deep and meaningful.
“My work as a writer is intended to be comic. . . . It is important to me that my art be both entertaining and scientifically informed.”
Co-starring with Rossellini is her trained dog, Pan. Pan performs tricks and appears in costume throughout the performance: dressed as a chicken, lion, or any animal that would further bolster the narrative. Joining them is a puppeteer/animal trainer, Schuyler Beeman, dressed in head-to-toe black with a black beekeeper’s protective helmet and veil. The trio move fluidly through the seventy-minute show that rotates through the simple set design of a small film screen, podium, nursery toys, and cutout figures of Aristotle, Descartes, and various gods and goddesses—all in the service of supporting Rossellini’s pointed observations of our connection with animals and “our differences of degree, not difference of kind.”
Short clips from Rossellini’s films, as well as comical film shorts of Rossellini dressed as Darwin and Jung, move her hypothesis along with gleeful mischievousness as she muses that our domestication of animals has, in turn, allowed animals to “kidnap” and cultivate the feelings human beings have for their own children. It is a charming supposition told with wise, wry humor.
Dressed as a “ring master”—her whimsical costume designed by Andy Byers—it might be cliché to state that Rossellini’s inner glow in undeniable . . . but, it’s true. She exudes the joy and confidence of someone who is truly comfortable in her own skin. The production, co-directed by her long-term collaborators Guido Torlonia and Rick Gilbert, may lack an intentional, obvious polish, but Rossellini’s performance is as assured as a wizened storyteller in front of children, divulging secrets about the wonderful world of animals. The show never veers into sentimental treacle or cuteness—and when I whispered to my companion at the end of the performance, “So sweet,” I did not mean “cloying” in the least.
The short, seventy-minute piece felt like an appetizer that left you wanting more and in anticipation of what Ms. Rossellini will concoct next. A new film? A larger format stage performance? Maybe both? Or maybe she will keep it small and unusual and in the same, unpredictable “what the hell will happen next?” presentation. It doesn’t matter. I support it all, and I hope Rossellini never stops what she is doing, her passions always leading the way.
As for the Broad Stage, it is an intimate, sleek venue—every seat a good seat, the acoustics fine and rich. Aside from the incredibly long will-call line with only one ticket booth, the staff and ushers guarantee an easy night out to a theatre that offers a wide variety of diverse entertainment throughout the year. I look forward to my next visit.
Maybe I should get out more often?
LINK LINK CIRCUS