Coal Miners Leave the Dust for Art; Little Brother Gets into Trouble; Film Noir is “Hot” Again

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on January 27, 2012


In England, miners founded an amateur art group in 1934. Had they ever painted before? No! But, amazingly the art appreciation class, called the ‘Ashington Group’ made History with their paintings. The Miners were skeptical at first, but surprised everyone – including high society. Along comes Robert Lyon, who was a lecturer at Armstrong College in Newcastle upon Tyne. He had been asked to discuss the possibility of forming an art appreciation class with the miners. And so began a long and tedious road for men who worked under ground. As you probably know – they worked in harsh conditions, now they were also painting their impressions of working men that they were familiar with. Basically, these men painted impressions of their own lives. The outcome is quite fascinating.

The Pitman Painters get inspired. Their success gives them the feeling that they can now do more than dig for coal. And it’s a good feeling. With their amusing banter, they learn that to assert themselves with their paintings and the closeness with each other over the years, gave them the feeling that ‘Now’ they are someone to be noticed – not just someone who has dirty hands. However, paint does get on their hands also. This play is based on a true story, and that makes it doubly interesting. This West Coast premiere has some really funny wisecracking social commentary between the miners. The banter between the men goes through an amazing transition from coal dust to the art world.

There is a gorgeous, glamorous woman, who takes a special interest in one of the coal miners. He is a handsome lad and she really is taken by his artwork. However, as the story goes on – she offers him a job to just paint on canvas at her mansion. He decides not to leave his buddies who he has known all his life in the mines. Later he changes his mind – but the rich and gorgeous woman is no longer interested in his paintings. There is a feeling that she wanted something more from him than just some artwork. She comes down to see his latest work – and she bluntly tells him that it is not as good, and that she would not be buying anymore of his Art. To me, it’s clear that she had some amore in the back of her head and not just Art. But English society does not give up on the miners-cum-artists. The professor encourages the men to put their thoughts on canvas. And boy – it is ever revealing.

This is Thrilling Theatre. The play by Lee Hall is all the things it should be: emotional and political! And talk about extraordinary performances – this cast is “spellbinding!”

The Towering performances are: James Carpenter, Patrick Janes, Jackson Davis, Nicholas Pelczar, Dan Hiatt, Paul Whitworth, Kathryn Zdan, and Marcia Pizzo. This unique cast is “Unique and unforgettable!”

NOW PLAYING AT THEATRWORKS IN MOUNTAIN VIEW. (Just a couple of block away from Cal Train.)

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and he has produced and hosted a long-running Arts segment on PBS- KQED)))

“Little Brother” – Stars: Daniel Petzold, Marissa Keltie and Cory Censoprano. Photo: Jay Yamada


FIRST OFF – Let me make this very clear in non-hi-tech The Custom made Theatre has become the cutting edge Theatre to go to these days. Lately they have brought thrilling and exciting plays to their improved stage at Gough and Franklin. Their latest is “Big Brother” and it is loaded with Teen Swagger. And like most Teens they meet on the streets and create bonds with other teens that mistrust their family. They wouldn’t understand the high tech world anyway – “The Teens would say.”

The head Teen (Marcus) seems to always the t one who ends up in peril. He takes dangerous and scary chances. This play (based on the Cory Doctorow Book) sizzles. It bubbles over with enthusiasm and danger that leads Marcus to end up getting “Water Boarded” by some mysterious Homeland Security Force. Marcus and his friends clash with the ill-defined government agencies in the supposed land-of-the-free. The young teen Marcus has the energy of twelve teens. He’s charming – yet he can be a little annoying. He never sits still for very long. Like a beautiful Butterfly, he flits away in a moments notice.

This version of the play (from the book) brings us to a world of deceit and mistrust, even among friends. Who can you trust? No one! No matter what you think about politics, and other people’s opinions – danger lurks. There are touches of the book 1984.

Yes, these kids take chances. One of Marcus’s friends ended up in a secret prison, but that doesn’t stop Marcus from using an X-Box to hack into the government’s network on the Internet.

There is more excitement in this flawless production. The visuals are absolutely stunning. It takes perfect timing to pull off all of the high tech magic. Heck, these Teens even know how to hack your ‘Clipper card’ by using a Radio Shack Radio. Just watching all of the various hues on the back wall is plenty of entertainment, but – it is the Actors that pull this play into another world. They give searing and sizzling performances. What you get is an erotic, pulse beating play. Here they are: Daniel Petzols as Marcus is flat out magnificent! Marissa Keltie as Ange – can change her persona at anytime – she gives the play that emotional spark! Cory Censoprano plays Darryl and many other characters. His acting is both masterful and confident!


All in all, Little Brother is hugely ambitious. “Scary good in this case, is riveting!” Here’s a line for you to remember. “People who date each other split up!” It’s in the play. Here’s another sentence that will shake you – “Don’t you know about Bart in the Tube? They blew it up!” – it’s in the play.

(Corner of Gough and Bush)

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-

NOIR CAN GET YOU IN THE CAN. Pictured: Jean Tierney. Very Noir! Courtesy Photo


Film Noir is really not clearly defined. One persons idea of ‘Noir” might not be anothers cup of tea. Yes, everything is in black and white on the screen. And die hard fans of Noir just can’t get enough of these old movies. But, being old in this case is a good thing. Some of great movie making was in the 20’s and 30’s and 40’s. And – a few from the 50’s. Many think that Classic film Noir was in the 40’s and 50’s. There were also some “Color film noir” – but the color just didn’t do it for me. Black and White is mysterious – and that’s the way I like it.

In 1931 there were Noir hits like “Blonde Crazy”, “Little Caesar”, “The Maltese Falcon (aka Dangerous Female)” and “The Public Enemy.” The above films are still playing at Noir Festivals around the world. And of course, there are people who treasure these early films so much – that it has become a cult. They are possessed by the darkness of the night. Eddie Muller is one of those guys in the dark. If it weren’t for him and a few others before him – we would not ever have seen – tough talking babes with bleached hair and a gun in their hand to kill off a cheating boyfriend.

The Film festival is really jammed with goodies this time around. I haven’t seen them all, but enjoyed a lot “Okay America” (1932) starring Lew Ayres. He plays ‘Columnist’ and he is the Newspapers crusty dig up the dirt guy. And yeh – he gets killed in the end. They kinda hated newspaper guys in those days.

Then there is another one that I loved at the Castro. It is all about Gangsters and politicians (is there a difference?) — worm their way around a serious blow up. A bellhop gets framed and they beat the crap out of him (Eric Linden).

Gilda starring Rita Hayworth is good and gorgeous but it is just on the rail of being true Noir. One of the greatest and funniest films, is by that Genius Preston Sturgis. Thanks Pres for your great talent in the fabulous 1948 movie ‘Unfaithfully Yours’. Rex Harrison plays a jealous husband. This movie keeps you guessing. Loved it!

At this Festival there was an Extra Treat. It’s a current movie made to look and act like “Noir”. And let me tell you “The Latenight Callers” are just fabulous. The performances include mid-century musical stylings of Mr. Lucky. The noir-inspired torch songs are spectacular. You won’t want to miss singer Evie Lovelle. The Latenight Callers are my new sounds to listen to. What a surprise.

You still have time to see some of these fab movies. The lights go dim after Jan. 29th at the Castro. On that date, will be an all day Dashiell Hammett Marathon. Now, how can you miss that?



The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour.



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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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