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[whitespace] Stub Sandwich

A critic looks back on his top 10 torn tickets of 2004

By David Templeton

A Marin County artist and avid moviegoer calls me at least once a week to analyze the previous week's movies, television shows, talk-radio programs and other important pop-culture occurrences. He's not into theater, so we can't discuss that, but three out of four isn't bad. Every year, my friend collects and keeps the ticket stubs for every movie he sees. In this way, as the year progresses, he builds an idea as to how that year is stacking up, quality-wise, in regards to films released. Around the time the media start talking about award nominations and top 10 lists, he spreads out his collection of stubs and reassembles them in order of personal preference, ranking them according to those he enjoyed the best down to those he's still sorry he even bothered to see.

This is, I think, a good system.

Most of us, when the year comes to a close--if we happen to care about such things as rating and ranking our pop-culture experiences--merely think back on our year at the movies, the theater, the rock club, the concert hall or the festival ground, and wait until specific entertainment experiences pop up, waving their metaphorical arms and screaming, "Hey! Remember me? If I'm not top 10 material, what is?"

My comrade's system has a pleasing orderliness, so in 2004, I have endeavored to save all of my torn and dismembered tickets, to keep them until, well, until now, and to use them as visual aids in looking back on the preceding 12 months. It has been a year of extremes, producing, on the national big-screen scene, both Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ. The North Bay stages have tested our nervous sociological Zeitgeist (Cinnabar's eerie production of Cabaret and Actors Theatre's unexpectedly spiritual Last Night of Ballyhoo, for example), while simultaneously daring us to forget all that stuff and laugh (as in Pacific Alliance Stage Company's recent female version of the Odd Couple and Marin Shakespeare Company's raucous Wild West version of The Taming of the Shrew).

Now, as I attempt to rate my own numerous theatrical, musical and cinematic memories, sorting through a hundred or so snips of paper, placing them in order from most rewarding to least, I realize something alarming: the year was not as culturally barren as I'd come to believe. It's proven harder to select my top 20 entertainment experiences than I would have expected. Though perhaps not as exciting as 1979 (the year that brought Apocalypse Now, Being There and All That Jazz to the screen, while simultaneously giving us Sweeney Todd, Zoot Suit and The Elephant Man on the American stage), 2004 has nevertheless provided its share of quality entertainment. My experiences may have been largely confined to the stages and film festival screens of the North Bay, still my collection of ticket stubs reveals one unmistakable truth: I've had a pretty good year. Here, in order from personal best on down, are my 10 favorite ticket stubs of 2004.

1. 'A Bright Room Called Day.' Actors Theatre's vigorous, unflinching, impeccably cast production of Tony Kushner's early drama about a group of artists dealing with the rise of fascism in 1939 Berlin takes the top spot on my stub stack. Since seeing the play in May, the haunting echoes of Kushner's bold and angry text ("During times of reactionary backlash, the only people sleeping soundly are the guys who're giving the rest of us bad dreams!") and the lingering memory of the ensemble's soul-shredding performances have made their way into my subconscious, reappearing on several occasions in my dreams. Even Fahrenheit 9/11 hasn't been able to do that.

2. 'The Woodsman.' In the midst of the Mill Valley Film Festival's strongest season in years, The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick, became the Movie to Talk About at closing-night festivities. Considering that the festival also brought us face to face us with the full-frontal revelations of Kinsey and the kindly abortions of Mike Leigh's riveting Vera Drake, that's really saying something. A drama about a convicted child molester released from prison after 15 years, this tiny yet towering film challenges its audience as it asks some impossible questions. Can a monster ever become human again? What does it take, what forces and realizations must occur inside himself and in the society he re-enters, for that monster to truly reform? And are there some crimes so unforgivable that reformation is beside the point? Not only was The Woodsman the best film at the Mill Valley Film Festival, it's the best movie of 2004, period.

3. 'Proof.' Pacific Alliance Stage Company's February production of David Auburn's Proof, a mystery about mental illness and mathematics, marked new artistic director Hector Correa's arrival on the scene. Not only did the show include one of the most realistic sets in modern North Bay history, it scorched the stage with the searing intelligence of its script and its actors. This is one of those shows that inspired me to obtain the script as soon as I left the theater. I'd see it again right now if I could.

4. 'Sun Rings' by Kronos Quartet. I had to go to San Francisco for this one, but the trip was worth it. Terry Riley's astonishing Sun Rings, written for Kronos Quartet, is a daring enterprise that takes a catalog of recordings made in deep space--the whooshes and pulses and roars of the universe--and presents them as the primary music of the piece, while his eerie string arrangements play as support to the astral rumblings. The live performance, as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival, was strange, inspiring and weirdly unforgettable.

5. 'The Illusion.' Another Kushner show--the author's clever adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th-century play L'Illusion Comique--was playfully staged by Cinnabar Theater last January. One of those Twilight Zone-ish plays that constantly tests an audience's assumptions about what's real and what isn't, the energetically performed show almost demanded one see it again to get all the clues. I did see it again, and the second viewing was even more rewarding than the first.

6. 'Saved!' The closing night film in last April's Sonoma Valley Film Festival went on to be attacked by the Rev. Jerry Falwell as "among the most evil and dangerous films ever made," a claim others have made about The Passion of the Christ. Saved!--featuring Jena Malone, who appeared at the festival--explores the lives of a group of teenage Christians whose faith is challenged when life proves to be more complicated, and not so black and white, as they'd believed. It's now my favorite video of 2004.

7. 'Barrymore.' Two words--William Wilson--are enough to describe why this biographical one-man show about stage and screen's John Barrymore, was among my favorite ticket-stub memories of the year. Wilson's performance was simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.

8-9. 'Nunsense' and 'Nuncrackers.' Two of Dan Goggins' affectionately loopy convent musicals chronicling the various misadventures of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, were staged this year by the nomadic Hoochie-Doo Productions. Both were sensational. Featuring the same cast each time, the shows proved that a stage play need not be "important" for it to be thoroughly inspiring.

10. Heart of the Forest Renaissance Faire. At the Ren Faire, now out at Novato's Stafford Lake, one torn ticket equals a dozen torn tickets, since the annual event features numerous stages with a constant parade of Elizabethan condensations and spoofs (Shakespeare's Bloody Bits, anyone?), musical revues, and acts of magic and puppetry. Another reason to attend, and one that is seldom discussed in the open is that, large and small, young and old, everyone looks smashing in Elizabethan clothes.

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From the December 29, 2004-January 4, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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