Australian Cult Brand Spell & The Gypsy Collective Lands in U.S.

Australian fashion labels, many of which are in the spotlight as Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, tours the antipodes, have long been popular in Southern California, where the climate and beach culture mirror the land of Oz.
Spell & The Gypsy Collective, the 10-year-old contemporary brand started by sisters Isabella Pennefather and Elizabeth Abegg, opened its first stand-alone retail space in the U.S., a pop-up at 1108 Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, Calif. Open through Nov. 25, the shop has attracted cult lovers of the brand, some of whom traveled from as far away as Florida and Canada just to shop.

The Spell & The Gypsy Collective pop-up shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, Calif. 
Rich Polk

“Because we’re slow fashion, we don’t make too many pieces so they tend to sell out very quickly,” said Pennefather, who started out in 2008 making jewelry that she sold at the open-air market in Byron Bay, Australia. When her sister, Lizzy, came on board a few years later, they expanded into clothing and e-commerce, and the business grew from there.
“I remember when we had a clunky web site and early bloggers such as Oracle Fox [whose given name is Amanda Shadforth] bought our things at the

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Nonfiction: Does Our Cultural Obsession With Safety Spell the Downfall of Democracy?

Two new books — “The Splintering of the American Mind,” by William Egginton, and “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt — warn of the threat to the country’s political and social well-being by a fractured generation convinced of its fragility.
NYT > Books

BOOK SALE UPDATE!

Books of The Times: ‘Convenience Store Woman’ Casts a Fluorescent Spell

In Sayaka Murata’s small, elegant and deadpan novel, a woman keeps herself at a remove from society while working for many years in a dead-end job at a Smile Mart.
NYT > Books

BOOK SALE UPDATE!

Zoe Leonard’s Messages Strike Hard — and Cast a Spell

The idea of obsolescence — of the present slipping irretrievably into the past — haunts the artist’s work.
NYT > Arts

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Amazon’s Grocery Ambitions Spell Trouble for Food Brands

Amazon’s deeper push into the grocery business threatens to further pinch packaged-food companies already coping with slowing sales.
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Hunting Stories For Boys With Don & Jon+The Magic Spell Book For Kids-A Magic Spell Book For Kids+Ninja Kid Book With Hilarious Ninja Kid Jokes+Funny Rhyming Zombie & Villager Stories For Kids+Dog Jerks

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You’ve Got Me Under Your Spell

Theatrical experiences come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. From painfully intimate monologues to Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas, from giddy sex farces to searing family tragedies, live theater offers a remarkably versatile platform for examining mankind in all its glory as well as its many frailties.

  • One reason why it’s so difficult to label any production as the year’s “best” is that there are so many parameters which may set it aside from the competition.
  • One show might be a star vehicle while another relies on the work of a tightly-knit ensemble.
  • One show might rely on extensive scenic effects and digital mapping while another may simply let the actors speak the playwright’s words in a minimalist setting.
  • One show might require a lot of period costumes while another is performed in modern dress.
  • One show might have incidental music — or a fully-sung musical score — while another may be filled with pregnant pauses and awkward silences.

When one particular production stands head and shoulders above many others, it’s a sure sign that its individual elements have created a synergy that raises the theatrical experience to another level. I often think of magical moments in theater and opera when it feels as if the air in the auditorium has been hovering over the audience, protecting the performers from being interrupted while making it possible for those in attendance to remain acutely focused on what is happening onstage.

In 1965, I attended a riveting matinee of a 20th anniversary production of The Glass Menagerie in which Maureen Stapleton brought a rare fragility to Amanda Wingfield. Exquisitely directed by George Keathley (with George Grizzard as Tom, Piper Laurie as Laura, and Pat Hingle as the Gentleman Caller), the Tennessee Williams play was transformed into an unforgettable experience whose memory I have cherished for a half century.

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Pat Hingle, Maureen Stapleton, George Grizzard, and
Piper Laurie in the 1965 revival of The Glass Menagerie

While I have enjoyed many such experiences over the years, the nature of live theater is perversely ethereal (and in some ways as intensely personal as an orgasm). If everything comes together to create a moment of theatrical magic, it’s a privileged artistic experience to savor. It’s also the kind of experience which is extremely difficult to explain to anyone who didn’t share it.

Two productions new to San Francisco had that special aura about them. One was a piece of dance theater that attempted to retell an ancient Greek drama written by Sophocles in approximately 441 BC. The other was a contemporary drama which brilliantly demonstrated what happens when superb writing, directing, and acting combine to elevate a script into a miraculously poignant and deeply fulfilling theatrical event.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Shotgun Players recently unveiled a new adaptation of Antigone based on Anne Carson’s 2012 book, Antigonick. Co-directed by Mark Jackson and Hope Mohr, Antigonick is a dance theater piece wherein the ensemble pushes the boundaries of storytelling while working on a simple, yet highly effective unit set designed by Nina Ball and lit by Stephanie Buchner. Theodore J.H. Hulsker’s exceptional sound design helped to create an other-worldly atmosphere which captured the searing tragedy of Antigone’s predicament while showing the hopelessness of her situation.

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Rami Margron as Teiresias in Antigonick
(Photo by: Pak Han)

Shotgun’s heavily symbolic production featured dancer Parker Murphy as Nick (as in “Nick of Time”), a silent figure who brings a ghostly presence to the proceedings.

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Parker Murphy as Nick in Antigonick (Photo by: Pak Han)

In the following clip, co-directors Mark Jackson and Hope Mohr explain the evolution of their production of Antigonick and the challenges it presented to their ensemble.

In their co-directors’ note, Jackson and Mohr write:

“When we say we need to give ourselves space to deal with something, often we’re saying we need time. As a poet, Carson understands that a perfectly coherent narrative order simply cannot contain the chaos of the human experience. Antigonick is full of interruption, ambiguity, and collage. Exquisitely spare and energetically compact, Antigonick offers a challenge and an invitation. It’s no longer possible to coast on expectation. It’s no longer easy to separate heroes from villains. Carson carves out a bit of space and time for us to consider alternative possibilities.”

2015-05-09-1431136894-39014-antigonick3.jpg

Kenny Toll and Kevin Clark in Antigonick (Photo by: Pak Han)

“Working on Antigonick has led us to think a great deal about integrity. If we measure a person’s integrity by the extent to which she puts her body on the line for her ideals, then of course Antigone wins our sympathy. But isn’t Kreon also throwing himself on the fire by wearing the new title of king (a title he never wanted) and trying to create order in the wake of a chaotic war he never supported? Aren’t the Antigones and Kreons of the world similar in their narrow-minded courage? Most of us are more like Ismene, Haimon, Eruydike, or the Messenger — teetering somewhere between the poles of Antigone and Kreon’s extremes. Who is right? Who suffers more? Is it so easy to say?”

2015-05-09-1431137013-1299468-antigonick4.jpg

Kenny Toll and Rami Margron in Antigonick (Photo by: Pak Han)

Without doubt, Shotgun’s ensemble delivered a powerful performance which challenged the audience, making full use of each actor’s versatility and commitment to an artistic vision. Rami Margron doubled as Antigone and the blind prophet, Teiresias, while Kevin Clarke’s Kreon closed the evening with an increasingly desperate attempt to physically climb the set’s curved rear wall. Monique Jenkinson was magnificently on fire as both Ismene and Eurydike.

In supporting roles, Kenny Toll portrayed Haimon, a guard, and a messenger while David Sinaiko embodied the chorus. Parker Murphy’s wordless contribution as Nick was often riveting.

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s extremely rare to leave a theater haunted by a new play, yet that’s exactly how I felt following the opening night performance of Sister Play at the Magic Theatre. Written and directed by John Kolvenbach, the experience was right up there with some of the best performances I’ve seen of works by Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee — and that ain’t chopped liver, folks!

Presented as part of a rolling world premiere with the Harbor Stage Company in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, Sister Play takes place in the Cape Cod home of a family’s deceased father. Kolvenbach’s dramedy involves the deceased writer’s two daughters, one daughter’s husband, and a mysterious stranger whose presence is uplifting, provocative, and brings a surprisingly spiritual component to the proceedings.

Sister Play begins as Malcolm (Anthony Fusco) enters his late father-in-law’s home, talking to himself in the manner one might expect from a writer who lives in his head. As he muses on the amount of mold in both the house and his life, he is joined by his wife, Anna (Lisa Brescia), and her rebellious younger sister, Lilly (Jessi Campbell).

2015-05-09-1431137053-8042434-sisterplay1.jpg

Lilly (Jessi Campbell), Malcolm (Anthony Fusco), and Anna
(Lisa Brescia) in a scene from Sister Play (Photo by: Jennifer Reiley)

To suggest that Anna is a frighteningly neurotic control freak (and overprotective monster of an older sister) might be understating the situation. At a very early stage of her life, Anna was forced to take on the responsibility of raising Lilly and protecting her younger sister from a wildly impulsive streak. Even though Lilly has had one bad experience after another with a series of men, Anna is still operating as the kind of fierce tiger mother who tells her obviously adult and sexually adventurous sister to “Go to your room!”

2015-05-09-1431137091-4240735-sisterplay2.jpg

Anna (Lisa Brescia) and her younger sister, Lilly (Jessi Campbell)
in a scene from Sister Play (Photo by: Jennifer Reiley)

It doesn’t take long for Anna to get on her kid sister’s nerves. When Lilly (who does not have a driver’s license) insists on taking the car out for a late night spin, Anna’s control issues quickly begin to boil. After Lilly returns home with William Casy (Patrick Kelly Jones), a homeless hitchhiker she has picked up by the side of a road, Anna goes into a protective attack mode that borders on a psychotic episode. At one point, Anna’s behavior becomes so outrageous that Lilly instructs her to “go into the kitchen and count to a million.”

2015-05-09-1431137138-7540143-sisterplay3.jpg

Patrick Kelly Jones as the mysterious and itinerant
William Casy in Sister Play (Photo by: Jennifer Reiley)

Although the older/younger sister dynamic is well established, it’s no surprise that Lilly wishes Anna would relax her talons and let Lilly live her own life. Meanwhile, in an exquisite soliloquy, Malcolm explains the surprising benefits (as opposed to the risks) of being caught in the sibling rivalry between two highly emotional women.

Kolvenbach gives each of his characters a beautiful solo in which they can speak to the audience, to themselves, or to the ghost of their dead father. By far, the most mysterious and complex character is the hitchhiker Lilly dragged home — a well-intentioned vagrant from Texas who lacks any of the financial or emotional security shared by Anna, Malcolm, and Lilly. An actor who has given Bay area audiences numerous memories of stunning performances, Jones creates a tender, romantic, and almost other-worldly loner whose confusing presence and impressive intellect simultaneously threaten Anna, charm Malcolm, and excite Lilly.

2015-05-09-1431137176-7064036-sisterplay4.JPG

William (Patrick Kelly Jones) and Malcolm (Anthony Fusco)
in a scene from Sister Play (Photo by: Jennifer Reiley)

Working on Erik Flatmo’s unit set (with lighting design by Jeff Rowlings and sound design by Sara Huddleston), Kolvenbach has staged his drama with an acute sensitivity to his characters’ quirks and weaknesses. The bravura performances by Lisa Brescia and Patrick Kelly Jones are neatly complemented by the quieter work of Anthony Fusco (spot on, as always) and Jessi Campbell.

2015-05-09-1431137220-7798216-sisterplay5.jpg

Patrick Kelly Jones (William), Jessi Campbell (Lilly), and Lisa Brescia
(Anna) in a scene from Sister Play (Photo by: Jennifer Reiley)

Sister Play is a beautiful, beautiful work which will hold up well as the years pass by, enchanting and haunting audiences through each theatrical season with its freshness, mystery, and rare vitality.

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape

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The Girl Who Taught Me to Spell the Word ‘Love’

In my 49 years on this planet, I have had the chance to meet some amazing people and make a lot of good friends. Some have lasted beyond time and circumstance, while others have ended naturally after school, or a move or job change.

A few ended painfully.

But there is one friend whose effect on me was so profound that I think of her often.

Carol and I were in the same afternoon kindergarten class. She was my ideal of what a girl should look and be like. Her long, brown hair hung down to her waist, and she possessed the all-American face I longed for myself. She had the ability to make friends easily and always managed to look neat and pretty.

If Carol was a polished pearl, I was a diamond in the rough.

I couldn’t stay clean if I was kept under glass. My hair never looked right, no matter what my mom did to it, so I frequently sported an un-girlish pixie cut. And it wasn’t always easy for me to make new friends, especially with other girls.

Unlike Carol, I couldn’t color in the lines, glue anything neatly or cut a straight line to save my life. School never came easy for me, and kindergarten was no exception.

It wouldn’t be until years later when my dyslexia was discovered that I knew why everything was such a struggle. But even at the age of 5, I knew something was wrong.

I never felt like a misfit when I was with her. She liked and accepted me for who I was. If someone smart and popular like her wanted to be my friend, how bad could I be?

One day, we were sitting next to each other making a card for our families. I couldn’t figure out how to spell the word “love,” and I asked her for help. With the skill and patience my teachers sometimes lacked, she taught me how to spell and write the word on my card. I never forgot how to spell it again.

The following year, Carol started first grade at the local Catholic school. I was heartbroken and so mad at the church for taking my friend away from me. We were never classmates again. Despite only living a few blocks away from each other, we rarely got together anymore.

I can’t remember if my mother used the word “cancer” when she told me Carol was sick, but I knew it was serious.

I can still see her that Halloween when she came trick-or-treating. Her beautiful long hair was gone, and she had a little granny cap on. But she was on my front stoop smiling and getting her candy like any other kid.

A few months later, I went to her birthday party and brought her a Barbie. Since I unceremoniously ripped every package I got, I thought it was odd that she wouldn’t take the plastic off the doll’s hair. Years later, it occurred to that she might have been trying to protect the doll’s hair because she couldn’t protect her own.

I was home sick from school the day my mom got the call that Carol died. I was in the third grade and hadn’t seen her for at least a year, but I felt the loss. I knew I would never get to play with her again. She was gone.

Carol never had the chance to grow up, but I did. I went on to have sleepovers, act in plays, sing in choirs, go to parties and dream about what I would be when I was an adult. I got to experience all the first dates, kisses, heartbreaks, jobs and apartments that she never did.

Today I’m a writer, wife and mom of three. My youngest child is around the same age I was when Carol died. Life has certainly gone on. Yet each and every time I spell the word “love,” I can’t help but think of the girl with the long brown hair.

This piece was previously published on Kathy’s blog, My dishwasher’s possessed!

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