LOU’S VIEWS: Lurie-ing arts audiences to downtown Carmel

This week, thoughts on exhibitions at Evan Lurie Gallery in Carmel and a new revue at the Cabaret at the Connoisseur Room.

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I don’t see myself as an arts snob. My taste ranges wide, and I’m just as likely
to be frustrated by pompous artspeak as I am to be charmed by the simple and unpretentious.

But I have to admit
that I cringe when walking down Carmel’s Art & Design District because of the J. Seward Johnson Jr. sculptures scattered
along the otherwise lovely street. Whether it’s “Holding Out” (featuring a woman hauling grocery bags) or
“Unconditional Surrender” (a bastardization of the famed WWII sailor-kisses-nurse photo), the fact that these
are permanent parts of the streetscape create an uphill battle for those trying to make Carmel an interesting arts and design
destination.

Walter Knabe’s “Sincerity, Illuminated” combines his recurring elements in interesting ways. (Photo
Courtesy Walter Knabe)

Suffer through the gauntlet of Normal Rockwell-wannabees, though, and there are rewards in
Carmel. Case in point: the shows currently running at Evan Lurie Gallery.

The headliner is Walter Knabe, a local
arts legend best known for his original wallpaper. His show of recent work, “A Shift in the Paradigm” (through
Dec. 5), features large canvases where recurring images (a dancing bear and rabbit, Asian figures) are often splashed with
abstract splotches, making the artist himself a constant presence. There’s a mythological component to much of the work,
most successfully pulled off in “Sincerity, Illuminated,” which includes the aforementioned bear and rabbit along
with a reclining nude and six rose-ish swirls. You can feel the fusion of time and memory.

Although there are
no overt connections, Knabe’s work fits nicely with that of other artists still featured in the gallery from past shows.
Like Knabe, Peter Drake has worked of late on a large scale, offering oversized images of decaying toys that somehow hold
their dignity. In “Parade,” a marching trombonist toy is accompanied by a pack of dogs, oblivious to the fire
raging past the green lawn behind it.

Also on display on my visit (go soon and you may be able to see them before
they are shipped off), were L’Oriano Galloni’s long-limbed figure sculptures and Ted Gall’s intense, sad
bronzes. With particular impact: the haunting “Arrivals-Departures” depicting an aged would-be angel with strapped-on
wings and a stray fallen feather.

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Most theatrical musical revues are built on pre-existing,
repurposed material.

For instance, “Side by Side by Sondheim,” a touchstone in the genre, took tunes
from the then-underappreciated songwriter and presented them in a new way. Similarly, “The World Goes Round” lifted
Kander and Ebb songs and gave them new spins.

Sometimes, a revue of new or totally unfamiliar material will
come around and achieve some level of success—I’m thinking of Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs for a New
World”—but they are few and far between.

Why?

Because original revues are deceptively
difficult to create. The lesser-known the songs, the stronger a first impression those songs have to make.

Even
if a composer has a quality song list, there’s more to consider. A through-line (overt or not), characters (overt or
not) and structure (overt or not) are often necessary to turn a set of songs into a satisfying evening.

Why am
I going on about the difficulty of creating a musical revue? Because it pains me to report that “Enter Love,”
a revue of songs by Lynn L. Lupold, didn’t rise to the very large challenge. (It premiered at the Cabaret at the Connoisseur
Room Nov. 6-7.)

Presented under the Composer’s Stage Project moniker—a series I sincerely hope continues—“Enter
Love” started with an awkward “Just for Tonight” (songwriters should just stop trying to generically pump
up an audience) followed by an unfocused, gimmick song “Babbling Voices.” The show progressed from number to number
without insight or wit and only rarely with an emotional connection. Verse three seemed no further along an emotional or humorous
arc than verse one, and no overall vision emerged. Vagueness about the core theme wouldn’t have been a problem, though,
if the songs had been individually or collectively stronger.

Cast highlights Deb Mullins, Ronald Hellems and
Shannon Forsell tried gamely to inject passion into the work. But as song after song failed to build, I found myself shifting
into “foreign language” mode—trying to distance myself from the words and, instead, hear pure sound. In
that difficult-to-sustain mode (and with outstanding support from musical director David Duncan and his trio), the songs were
far more engaging, leading me to conclude that Lupold the lyricist may be getting in the way of Lupold the composer. Or that
more attention should be focused on the former as the revue continues to evolve.•

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