Essential Arts and Culture: The critic's life, vintage plays and vintage couples

I'm Kelly Scott, arts and culture editor of the L.A. Times, back home from trips to New York (yes, I did see "Hamilton," and yes, it's as good as you've heard) and the Central Coast, which included a trip the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. But there's nothing like the L.A. arts scene in October.

The art of the review

A big part of my job is working with the Times arts critics. Many days I would say it's the best part. Read Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty's essay marking his 10th anniversary in the job, and you'll get an idea of why. You think he's there to arbitrarily judge, dash off his thoughts as quickly as possible, then render the appropriate thumb? You'd be wrong. He makes a case for criticism that achieves nuance and balance in the digital age: "... the theater never ceases to matter to me even when it's being frivolously squandered," he writes. Last week two of his reviews demonstrated McNulty’s critical prowess: Rajiv Joseph’s “Guards at the Taj" at the Geffen Playhouse and "Vietgone" at South Coast Repertory.

All in a week's work

And then there is Mark Swed, who did the classical music equivalent of hitting for the cycle last week. (Sorry, the Dodgers' loss hit me hard).  Within six days, a Bill T. Jones performance at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, music played on toy pianos in a new music venue near Koreatownpianist Andras Schiff in a recital of sonatas at the stately Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara, and concluded with the U.S. premiere of a Louis Andrieessen work as well as a "ferocious" “Rite of Spring” by the L.A. Phil, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. And that is pretty much a normal week for Mark.



Oct. 22: An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly stated that Bill T. Jones' performance was at UCLA. It was at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach.


Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff, the Hocket duo, play "death, hocket, and roll," composed by Thomas Kotcheff. (Adam Borecki)

Arts diversity report: Bad, and not getting better

Diversity is a much discussed subject in all of arts and entertainment today, and Mike Boehm wrote about a new report that doesn't offer good news. Latino and African American arts groups face bleak futures, the report from the University of Maryland’s DeVos Institute of Arts Management. One reason: Few of them are able to land individual big-pocketed donors, the David Geffens or Eli Broads. The report explores strategies for the future that might include winnowing the ranks of such arts organizations, with the hope of keeping the strongest going.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater seen performing in April at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

They know how to play the game

The Lunt and Fontanne, even the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton of 21st century Broadway? Rebecca Keegan talked with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson on the eve of their opening in a revival of “The Gin Game” on Broadway. It is not their first stage appearance together — that would be Jean Genet’s "The Blacks" in the ‘60s. "Gin Game" is a play that requires the 84-year-old Jones and the 90-year-old Tyson to be onstage almost the entire time. Clearly, both have been doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku. “When I leave every night, I feel good the way an athlete feels good after a good workout,” Jones said. (The play received strong reviews.)

James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson in "The Gin Game." (Joan Marcus / Associated Press)

Reunited, and it seems to work

Another couple with longstanding star power, a bit younger but in their 70s, opened last week at the Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center: Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal. They are appearing in another two-character play, A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters." Our reviewer Margaret Gray, a "Love Story" devotee if there ever was one, wrote, "Both actors’ performances strengthen as the characters age and their relationship is tinged with nostalgia and regret." A final kiss, Gray says, is "a cultural event, a moment of closure 45 years in the making."

Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal in the staged reading of "Love Letters" at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. (Jason Gillman)

In short

Ai Weiwei will write a memoir. ... Check out these amazing 150-year-old photos of Palmyra, the ancient ruin that has been virtually destroyed recently by Islamic State. The photos were acquired by the Getty Research Institute last week.

What we’re reading

From Art Critic Christopher Knight: "I've been reading Emily Nussbaum's recent New Yorker musings on what advertising does to TV — which actually contemplates the conflicts between art and commerce."

Follow me on Twitter at @kscottLATarts.