Arts & Culture Newsletter: La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘Pick Me Last’ challenges the status quo

Good morning, and welcome to the U-T Arts & Culture Newsletter.

I’m David L. Coddon, and here’s your guide to all things essential in San Diego’s arts and culture this week.

As gifted writers will tell you, they never know where a good idea will come from. Playwright Idris Goodwin’s “Pick Me Last,” created for La Jolla Playhouse’s 2021 Performance Outreach Program (POP) Tour, grew out of his watching an episode of “Top Chef’s” “Restaurant Wars” challenge. It occurred to Goodwin that the selection process was essentially the same as when children choose up sides for their playground teams.

“They come to the end and somebody always gets picked last,” Goodwin said. “I was like, ‘Wow, we never get over that.’ When you’re a kid, it can define you.”

Yet in the premise of Goodwin’s “Pick Me Last,” which can be streamed free through July, Chavonne (Savanna Padilla) wants to be the last one chosen so that her awkward friend Wes (Anthony Adu) is not. Chavonne is a determined character who, Goodwin said, “is not OK with the status quo. This play is about what it means to see something you want to change and what you do with that.”

Chavonne’s strategy to get picked last is inspired by the so-called Butterfly Effect, the notion that even the smallest change can effect much larger ones.

“The Butterfly Effect is such a fun, cool and poetic concept,” Goodwin said. “What’s better than kids goofing around with scientific ideas and philosophies?”

No wonder then that both Sigmund Freud (Emily Stout) and Elon Musk (Lee Vignes) make appearances to advise Chavonne in “Pick Me Last,” which is directed by Jacole Kitchen, the Playhouse’s director of Arts Engagement and In-House Casting. Its cast is composed of seven graduates of UCSD’s Theatre & Dance MFA program.

Calling art and theater in particular both “reflective” and “transformative,” Goodwin hopes that schoolchildren who watch the 45-minute “Pick Me Last” will see themselves and each other in meaningful ways.

“My rule of thumb for writing for kids is that they like to see other kids. I also try to think about what are the conflicts and dramas that exist for them.”


"In the Heights"

A scene from the movie “In the Heights.”

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

“In the Heights” is finally here. The film adaptation of the smash musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes was to have hit theaters last year, but the pandemic forced a postponement. So the Jon M. Chu-directed movie opens today nationwide.

The film’s cast includes Anthony Ramos, who was part of Miranda’s original Broadway cast of “Hamilton,” as well as Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jimmy Smits, Mark Anthony and Miranda himself. “In the Heights” is likely to be my first in-person visit to a movie theater in over 16 months.

Why? It’s a great show with infectious music — hip-hop and Latin rhythms — and rich characters. Stage productions were seen locally in 2013 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre and then four years later at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. I’ll resist saying that “In the Heights” is superior to “Hamilton,” which it preceded onstage by eight years, but if you’ve never seen and heard it the film may well grow your appreciation for Miranda’s innovative talent.

“In the Heights” can also be viewed on HBO Max.

Visual art

When I was a kid, a lot of my friends and I used to sketch pictures of what we thought would be really cool cars. It was the next best thing to being old enough to drive and having an actual car of your own.

That experience came back to me when, in visiting the “Creating From Home” virtual offerings from the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, I discovered an activity in which you design your own concept car.

You get to choose what kind of car you conceptualize (flashy, environmentally friendly, et al.) and even have the chance to have your finished product shared in the museum’s exhibition “Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City.”

While you’re on the DIA website, you can also enjoy a variety of art videos, film screenings and a visual crossword puzzle that incorporates works from the museum.

Virtual lecture

Virginia Hall

Virginia Hall

(Courtesy of Lorna Catling)

Devotees of the classic film “Casablanca” can tell you all about Victor Laszlo, played by Paul Henreid, the hero of the underground resistance who defied and eluded the Nazis at every turn. But as a virtual event from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tells us in its title, “The Allies’ Most Dangerous Spy Was A Woman.”

Her name was Virginia Hall, and she was an American. On Wednesday at 6 p.m. Pacific time, historical preservationists Tony and Linda Rubin will host a lecture that tells Hall’s story, how the one-legged secret agent against all odds fashioned an elaborate network to undermine the Nazis in Europe.

Guest speakers will include members of Hall’s family, Lorna and Brad Catling.

More visual art

Sculptor Kevin Vincent stands next to one of his art pieces on view at the Oceanside Museum of Art on Friday, June 4, 2021.

Sculptor Kevin Vincent stands next to one of his art pieces on view at the Oceanside Museum of Art on Friday, June 4, 2021.

(Sandy Huffaker/SDUT)

In January of this year, UC San Diego alum Kevin Vincent was in the same position as a lot of recent graduates. He had his master of fine arts degree, but his graduate thesis group show was canceled because of COVID-19. He was picking up work doing gallery installations for other artists’ shows, but he had no idea where his own career was going to go. And with the world on hold for who knows how long, what would that career look like, anyway?

Vincent was 28 years old and living in the United State of Limbo. But not for long.

Midway through the month, Vincent got a call from the Oceanside Museum of Art. An upcoming exhibition dropped out of the schedule, would he be available to show his work in one of their galleries? And could he be ready by February? And while he was at it, could he create a new piece? In two weeks?

He would. He could. And he did.

Read more in this story by the Union-Tribune’s Karla Peterson.

Classical music

Rafael Payare, the San Diego Symphony's music director

Rafael Payare, the San Diego Symphony’s music director

(Nancee E. Lewis / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The San Diego Symphony’s 10-day festival “To the Earth: A Day in the Life of the Earth” begins on Wednesday. The programming is free. To find out more, go here.


Joy Yvonne Jones

Joy Yvonne Jones

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

On June 19, 1865, Texas finally freed its enslaved Black Americans, two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. That day in Texas — nicknamed Juneteenth — has come to be known nationally as Freedom Day, celebrating the official end of slavery in all of the United States.

San Diego actor Joy Yvonne Jones grew up in Houston and remembers Juneteenth as a day of great celebration for her extended family.

“I grew up in a predominantly Black area, Third Ward, and Juneteenth was a huge event,” Jones said. “There are cookouts, church get-togethers … you may be walking in the Juneteenth parade. It was always a display of Black excellence for the entire city.”

Now, as president of the San Diego Black Artist Collective, Jones is excited to bring a little bit of that Texas spirit to San Diego, with the inaugural Say It Loud Festival, a weekly series of online and live Juneteenth events that conclude on June 19. Jones said she has dreamed of organizing the festival for years and hopes that it becomes an annual tradition. She’s happy to be collaborating with several local theater companies on this year’s festival.

Read more in this story by the Union-Tribune’s Pam Kragen.


University of California Television (UCTV) is making a host of videos available on its website during this period of social distancing. Among them, with descriptions courtesy of UCTV (text written by UCTV staff):

“’The Floating World: 13 Views of the Dance Company on Tour’”: Traditional Japanese woodblock prints (Ukiyo-e) depict images that evoke moments of pleasure and respite from everyday toils. In Malashock Dance’s Emmy-winning “The Floating World: 13 Views of the Dance Company on Tour,” contemporary forms of music, dance and image-making draw inspiration from this aesthetic to reveal what it takes to create a “façade of beauty” in the arts today. Choreographer John Malashock and filmmaker/projection artist Tara Knight co-conceived the work, which includes a four-sided video environment enveloping performers and audience. Bay Area “avant” cellist Zoe Keating provides an evocative musical score and fashion icon Zandra Rhodes designed the costumes.

“Script to Screen: The Disaster Artist”: Producer-director-actor-editor Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” is universally hailed as a milestone in the history of bad cinema, one that’s become an interactive cult phenomena a la “Rocky Horror. “ Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber discuss the challenges of telling the true-life story of the creation of one of the worst films ever made. Neustadter and Weber talk with UCSB Pollock Theater Director Matt Ryan about how they approached balancing the comedic elements of the chaotic production of the movie “The Room” and Wiseau’s alarmingly eccentric personality with telling an emotionally compelling story, all without resorting to caricature.

“Space: The Spinal Frontier”: As NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars and back by 2030, many engineering challenges are being successfully addressed, but the mission’s weak link remains: crew spinal health. Without gravity astronauts can experience muscle atrophy, bone degradation, and acceleration of some age-related body changes. These conditions are priority medical concerns during long-duration space flight. Drawing on NASA’s research, UCSF’s Dr. Jeff Lotz investigates injuries and develops countermeasures to keep celestial spines healthy. In this presentation, he explains how these insights garnered in spaceflight can apply to us terrestrials and our earthly back pain, contributing to improved therapies.

And finally: Top things to do this weekend

Tovah Feldshuh stars as Dr. Ruth in North Coast Rep's virtual production of "Becoming Dr. Ruth."

Tovah Feldshuh stars as Dr. Ruth in North Coast Rep’s virtual production of “Becoming Dr. Ruth.”

(Aaron Rumley)

From in-person musicals to fried foods, here are the top events happening in San Diego this weekend.

Angelia S. Rico

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