SpeakEasy Celebrates an Icon with a Milestone

"Living Cultural Treasure of LA" Rachel Rosenthal with birthday well wishers at CulverEvents
"Living Cultural Treasure of LA" Rachel Rosenthal with birthday well wishers at CulverEvents

Last night, Nov. 9 at the Culver Events Center, the annual SpeakEasy a milestone. Not only was it the revolutionary performance artist Rachel Rosenthal’s 85th birthday, but also the first time she had performed in more than a decade. As she entered the room, she received a standing ovation from the audience, just for being there. At the end of the evening, another ovation, well deserved.

Together with percussion artist Amy Knoles, the executive director of the California EAR Unit, Rosenthal spun a tale that was a coming of age story, a lesson in history and quantum physics, a political reflection and deep meditation on life. My Brazil was a piece she had last performed in 1979 at the Santa Monica performance space IDEA, and she presented it for SpeakEasy as a staged reading. “I really don’t like to read it,” she confessed to the sold out house, “but my memory being what it is these days, I realized it would take me weeks to relearn all of the text and be certain that I had it all in the correct sequence. So we’ll just have to carry on.”

Rosenthal is a performer I had not seen in many years, and she was as good as ever. Even more seasoned in her nuances and subtleties, she punctuated her storytelling with singing and dancing, adding in songs from the Rio Carnivale of 1940, gesturing with a shoulder or an elbow to finesse her meaning.

Knoles began the evening with a free form percussion piece that was evocative and intriguing. Shifting through a varied set of tones and rhythms using a computerized drum pad, she called up an open sense of cadence with a delicate punctuation of style.

After the performance and a brief question and answer session, there was an enormous cake and a rousing chorus of  “Happy Birthday.” Rosenthal was more than pleased.

While Knoles and Rosenthal both basked in the evening’s applause, the biggest smile could be found on Susan Obrow, Culver City’s Performing Arts and Special Events Coordinator. To be able to produce an event of such profound import, in coordination with both the PEN Center and the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time was no small feat, and Obrow had every reason to feel satisfied.

SpeakEasy is one of the best cultural events that Culver City offers every year, and each one is better than the last.The Rosenthal/Knoles collaboration was remarkable, and I am only sorry to have to wait a year until the next show.

The Actors' Gang

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