Give LA a Break
by Christine Neilson
I need a tune-up. An attitude adjustment. Last month's column about my disdain for So Cal has left a bitter taste. Members of my Cambria "kaffeeklatsch" (a German term for "coffee chat") are all LA transplants and their intellects challenge me daily along with tales of LA cultural adventures.
So I take a break, coast south to Long Beach with an open mind to see if I can dredge up a live theatre ticket and partake in memorable cuisine on Hallow's Eve.
I ponder. Should I begin with a haunted vessel? After all, I was there in 1967 with my surfer dude husband to witness The Queen Mary's entry into the Long Beach harbor pulled by tug boats to her permanent dock where she remains still afloat retaining her majestic posture.
As I navigate from the 101 to 405 to the 710 over the Vincent Thomas Bridge, I spy Queen Mary's iconic red steam stacks. I merge on to Shoreline Drive.
Wait. What's this? As I hang a left on to the Queens Highway's curve at sunset, I spot The Reef on the Water Restaurant perched on the harbor overlooking Long Beach's twinkling skyline. Dinner time.
The Reef on the Water
Restaurant at Dusk
A valet opens my car door. I step out on to a pathway that sparks an instant first impression of this unique venue built in 1946; tropical plants nestled around waterfall features, outdoor fireplace, stone exterior. My curiosity peeks when I cross over the threshold. A bustling maitre de graciously guides me through a maze of intimate dining spaces where I'm greeted by Malele Sieverdling, Assistant Manager. Settling into a cushioned booth overlooking the bay, my senses perk up with the site of serving trays being set down next to patrons' tables. Is that filet mignon and king crab? Oh, look at that chicken roulade stuffed with ricotta cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts, pine nuts laced with a lemon thyme buerre blanc sauce . . . Ahhh . . .
The Reef's Chef Romel Panis and Christine Neilson
Photo by Janice Marcin
Sensing my admiration, Chef Romel Panif, stops by my table with a chilled glass of pomegrante juice with a mojito glaze. Born in the Phillipines, Romel's smile engages immediately. He explains his 13-year culinary journey at The Reef from prep cook to sous chef to head chef. His heart healthy California cuisine is highlighted by sauces and dressings made from scratch daily, he explains. Then he offers me an appetizer Ahi Poke; a colorful mold of mango, cucumber, avocado, ahi accentuated with micro greens. The fusion of flavors light up my taste buds followed by a slice of La Brea Bakery's bread with a pesto garlic dip.
Romel's creative presentations are reflected in his entrees accompanied by a locally grown hybrid of broccoli and asparagus "broccolini" that compliments my seafood dish; a stacked delight beginning with garlic mash potatoes, fresh smoked swordfish punctuated with a pineapple relish and spattering of micro greens atop. My dining experience is sealed with a raspberry sorbet cradled in a cinnamon wonton. All served by Jennie Ramsey, a gregarious young woman who is polished in her attentive style.
Jennie invites me to return for The Reef's renown Thanksgiving Day brunch, a tour de cuisine: traditional turkey and the trimmings, along with other roasts, followed by an L-shaped table where omelettes and waffles are cooked and served by sous chefs. Across the entry is a Mexican station with tamales, enchiladas, and many other offerings made that morning. A salad bar, mixed with other impressive multi-culturally decorated stations—including a sous chef's personally hand-rolled sushi, poached salmon adorned with thin cucumber slices, and a variety of fish dishes—entice the passsersby.
She concludes, "There's even a kid's station built at their serving level and across from that is a two-foot tall chocolate fountain to dip fresh fruit and cake pieces into, and don't forget the dessert bar and flowing champagne."
Back in my car, I have to lengthen my seat belt. I decide to hunt down the Long Beach Playhouse on Anaheim Street a couple of miles away to see if I can catch a production.
Long Beach Playhouse
Established in 1929, Long Beach Playhouse is recognized as the first performing arts organization in Long Beach and the oldest continually operating community theatre west of the Mississippi River. It's art deco exterior draws me into a unique interior that includes a gallery, a piano and wine bar, and two ticket windows for the two stages.
"The Mainstage Theatre," is an elegant 200-seat, three-quarter thrust theatre. A thrust stage (also known as a platform stage or open stage) is one that extends into the audience on three sides and is connected to the backstage area by its up stage end. This has the benefit of greater intimacy between performers. The second stage "Studio Theatre" is located upstairs, seats 60, and is traditional in it's layout. This is where I am seated for tonight's production of "Dracula."
As the house lights dim, the audience is introduced to intertwined settings—England and Transylvania. The sound and light effects jar your attention as act one takes off like a roller coaster ride, carrying viewers into seven separate scenes with actors entering into both realms through quick costume changes. Director Neno Prervan orchestrates these vignettes based on Bram Stoker's novel adaptation by Steven Dietz.
(L-R) Actors Maranda Barskey, Jackson Tobiska, Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., Travis Dukelow. Photo by Jonathan Lewi
Among the cast is Amy Bolton, who formerly performed at our renown central coast PCPA Theatrefest in Santa Maria. Tonight she is one of two "vixens" slithering and growling across the set, creating an eerie atmosphere for onlookers.
It is an ambitious adaptation and rather confusing in plot. At intermission, I nudge the person next to me to clarify my confusion over the multitude of scenes. But I do not have second thoughts about the quality of the acting. The dialogue is quick. It flies back and forth between characters at the speed of light and the period piece is captured by the costuming and simplistic set design.
Act two allows the audience to catch its breath, although blood is being sucked out of the characters by Dracula, played stoically by Zoran Radanovich, a seasoned actor whose dramatic entries startle the weak of heart.
I depart thirsty and a little quesy, but isn't that a sign of having a correct response to horror?
This production is followed by another literary classic on the Mainstage Theatre—To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The world never seems as fresh, as wonderful or terrifying, or as good and evil as it does through the eyes of a child. Atticus Finch must teach his children, Scout and Jem, difficult lessons about racial tolerance, violence, and prejudice when he goes against the community by defending a young black man falsely accused of a crime against a white woman. This is one of America's greatest stories, movingly adapted for the stage. The play began October 19 and runs until November 19.
Gracing the Studio Theatre's stage from November 11 to December 4 is Talking With . . . Ten Women Talk About Their Personal Lives written by Jane Martin, directed by Frederick Ponsloy.
For the light hearted, The Long Beach Playhouse will be presenting a holiday production The Best of Christmas Pageant Ever from December 3-24.
Departing for the Central Coast, I note that culture thrives in LA. I'll be back to indulge in seeking out neighborhood playhouses and quaint cafes.