Art, Jazz, And All That Stuff

Many events promise “something for everyone,” but the Santa Barbara Festival of Art & Jazz – a three-day extravaganza at the County Courthouse Sunken Gardens on Anapamu Street that begins on Friday – actually comes quite close to delivering on that promise.

In its ninth year, the festival has settled comfortably into a niche of combining music in a plethora of genres with a large and varied art show that includes both juried and exhibition works.

Twenty-five acts in total will perform on the stage set up on Anapamu Street, with funk and rock bands dominating on Friday (including Area 51 and the Tearaways), world & dance music taking over on Saturday afternoon (including the Café Buenos Aires Tango Orchestra and Luis Munoz), and dance bands kicking in for Saturday night (Somos Son and the Midnight Band). Sunday is dedicated to jazz, with performers ranging from locals Ulysses S. Jasz and Teka to the innovative veteran keyboardist Les McCann.

In an interesting twist, Montecito’s Peter Clark, who was the Festival of Art & Jazz’s music director in 2004-05 before taking a year off, has returned. But not in the capacity of tickling the ivories or booking the bands. Instead, Clark is participating as an artist, with the emphasis on participating. The painter will be one of the festival’s “featured artists” – along with Solstice sensation Pali-X-Mano – with some of his larger work on display adjacent to the VIP section at the Sunken Gardens.

“Pali and I intend to mix things up,” Clark said in a statement. “We’re going to splash some paint around on stage together, play guitar and drums between the festival’s main acts, and if people get too close, we may paint them, too, just for the fun of it. We’ll also be hanging out in the VIP section.”

Other activities include participatory art projects, food booths, crafts demonstrations, sales, and much more. Proceeds from the event benefit Santa Barbara schools’ arts and music programs. The festival takes place 5 pm-9 pm tonight, 11 am-9 pm tomorrow and 11 am-6 pm Sunday. General admission tickets are $10 per day, $25 for a weekend pass, with the first two hours of each day featuring free admission. For more info, call 884-1881 or visit www.santabarbarafestival.com.

Cleaning House

Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House,” making its Santa Barbara debut at the Ensemble Theatre through October 21, is that rare play that is both silly and profound at the same time. Mixed in with altogether probing forays into the deeper meanings of such concepts as personal choice versus destiny, roles and rituals, grace under fire, forgiveness, love and redemption are utterly quirky moments such as the super-titled (and unexplained) plot shortcuts: “They fall in love” and “They fall deeper in love” and the absurd sight-gag of a character carrying around a tree. These can be a bit jarring, even as they serve as comic relief from the mounting tension. And even in as well-played (and well-staged) a production as the current one, some of the characters – who range from a depressed immigrant cleaning woman who’d rather be telling jokes to an aimless housewife who sees cleaning as her way to be useful – come off a bit one-dimensional to fully flesh out the parable.

But the play stays with you long after the actors take their final curtain call. And that’s due not in the least to Franca Barchiesi, who reprises the pivotal role of Ana that she played in the play's world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2004.

Following Sunday’s performance, I asked Barchiesi how the intervening years have changed her approach.

“Oh, it has deepened the connection, broadened my understanding,” she said. “I’m more acutely aware of how Ana affects all the other characters, the impact she has on everyone’s lives, and how important it is for her to live an authentic life, and let her body just be what it is. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to revisit the role.”