Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

World's oldest play, 'Persians,' has message for today

Alex Israel on Wikipedia Commons

A bust of the Playwright Aeschylus, at the North Carolina Museum of Art

Off-Ramp culture commentator Marc Haefele reviews Aeschylus' "Persians," in production this month at the Getty Villa.

It’s the world’s oldest known complete drama, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to mount.  Yet the SITI Company’s production of Aeschylus’  “Persians,” in a good new translation by Aaron Poochigian, worked magnificently at the Getty Villa’s Fleischman Theater Wednesday night. So much so that it often seemed like a message from 2,500 years ago to the 21st Century: "Indulging in pointless wars can destroy even the greatest nation."

What’s challenging about the play is its very sparseness. There are only four characters: Queen Atossa of Persia, played by Ellen Lauren; her husband’s ghost, played by Stephen Duff Webber; a messenger; and her son, King Xerxes of Persia. Plus an all-important chorus of courtiers. And all the play’s action is not only off stage, but has already occurred.


Frank O’Hara’s 'Lunch Poems' turn 50

Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library

Frank O'Hara, author of "Lunch Poems," still in print 50 years later.

Commentator Marc Haefele writes about arts and culture for Off-Ramp. Here, he attends a reading of Frank O'Hara's "Lunch Poems" and muses on the connections.

I drove down to Silver Lake and parked almost directly in front of  Stories Books. I have associated this area for so long with lunching with a particular old friend, now in his 90s, that I failed to notice how young the rest of the neighborhood was getting. But Stories Books is full of first editions, Hollywood-angled but not exclusively. Pastries and coffee in the back. If I lived near here, I'd hang out here all the time. 

Marc Haefele on the Huntington's new "whippersnapper" American galleries

This is a special night, though. In the back, outside, a lot of people are reading Frank O’Hara’s "Lunch Poems" out loud. All of them doing it pretty well.


Getty mounts Minor White photography exhibit

Minor White/J. Paul Getty Museum

"Dodd Building,” Portland, Oregon, 1939, an early photo by Minor White.

Off-Ramp commentator Marc Haefele reviews "Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit," a new photo exhibit at the Getty Center through Oct. 19.

“No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen.’’ —Minor White

Minor White (1908–1976) stands  inconspicuously at the center of 20th century photography. White contained several paradoxes: 

  • Self-taught in the art of taking pictures, he became a great teacher.
  • He stood equal to the most famous photographers of his time—such as Ansel Adams and Alfred Stiegletz—yet stayed out of the spotlight of fame.
  • Employed as an academic,  he took his camera into the wilderness of nature to create his greatest work—which edges over into a spiritual abstraction that became almost a religion to White.


Immigration news: Sketches of Murrieta and the undocumented migrants debate

Mike Sheehan

Scenes from the Murrieta immigration protest

Mike Sheehan

Scenes from the Murrieta immigration protest.

Mike Sheehan

Scenes from the Murrieta immigration protest

Mike Sheehan

Scenes from the Murrieta immigration protest

Mike Sheehan

Scenes from the Murrieta immigration protest

Off-Ramp sketch artist Mike Sheehan draws and writes from Murrieta, a flashpoint in America's undocumented migrant controversy.

Friday I went to the Murrieta immigration protest. I wanted to see it up close. When I got out of the car, I came to a little crossroads with a group of anti-immigration protestors yelling things at passing cars, like “The Obama administration is aiding and abetting the enemy!” or “Shame on the feds for letting the enemy get close to us!” 

It was kind of surreal.

Another weird thing is protesters would start talking to each other about normal things — like TV shows and their kids — right after the outburst, like it had never happened. Then someone would say something from a car and they’d go right back to shouting.

The road to the main demonstration was blocked to cars, and police had set up a little canopy on the corner across from the protesters. The police were really calm throughout this whole thing.


New 'Dr. Zhivago' backstory details Soviet repression, author's personal torment

Doctor Zhivago

Off-Ramp correspondent Marc Haefele reviews The Zhivago Affair by Peter Finn and Petra Couvee.

More than 55 years ago, something unique happened in the U.S.  literary world: two novels, each by a Russian-born writer, dueled for top place on the New York Times’ best seller list. Finally, Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” was trounced by #1 best seller “Dr. Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak, a poet few Americans had heard of. 

Suddenly, at the height of the Cold War, tens of thousands of citizens of the Land of the Free were imagining themselves on the Siberian Steppes, following Zhivago and his life-love Lara in their hopeless quest for a separate peace in the Russian Civil War. In colleges, students were enrolling in Russian courses and trying to read “Zhivago” in the original.

Nabokov’s enduring tragedy of pre-teen vixen Lolita is probably more popular today.