Arts & Culture

Summer, the time of year a lot of us love to death, is winding down once again. With the impeding changing of the season, musicians are taking their shows indoors and actors, dancers and artists of all stripes are coming out of their summer hibernations and suiting up to entertain us all in the darkening and cooling days ahead.

You don’t do a mean impersonation of Bernadette Peters without winning adoring fans. Then again, that’s just one of the sassy (mostly self-created) characters that the newly legendary, dashingly elastic Cole Escola has made his own during his still-fresh sketch-comedy career. Yes, he’s appeared on television in Logo’s “Jeffrey & Cole Casserole” and Hulu’s “Difficult People,” but that’s too containing. Escola is best served hot in stage shows such as “Help! I’m Stuck!” which he’ll perform at Chinatown’s Good Good Comedy Theatre Aug. 19.

CRAZY ON HER: Legendary vocalist and Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ann Wilson hits the road with her solo band to deliver an evening of Heart songs and other classic-rock numbers 8 p.m. Aug. 19 at The Tropicana, 2831 Boardwalk, Atlantic City. For more information or tickets, call 800-843-8767.

 

Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), the title character of the inspired comedy-drama “Patty Cake$,” which opened last week at area theaters, is a wannabe-rapper. The film introduces Killa P, as she likes to be known, in a fantasy sequence in which she is rapping with O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). But reality comes down hard — and not just because her wake-up call is a bill collector. While Patti Cake$ sings, “My life is fuckin’ awesome,” her life is, in fact, anything but. On the harsh streets of New Jersey, where she lives, Patti’s name is “Dumbo.”

Writer/director and lyricist Geremy Jasper has crafted a fabulous underdog story that will appeal to every misfit, outsider and dreamer. And the story, which involves 23-year-old Patti trying to get to O-Z — a rap star who enjoys a (wink, wink) emerald-green cocktail — is obviously a parallel with another motley crew that learns life lessons and self-acceptance by taking a journey that tests them.

As the film opens, Patti is not quite living the dream as she goes to her lousy bartending job. It is a sad watering hole where her mother Barbara (Bridget Everett) frequently shows up, drinks too much, sings karaoke and then throws up in the ladies’ room, with Patti holding her hair. Her home life is further soured by having to care for her ailing wheelchair-bound Nana (Cathy Moriarity). Patti’s only friend is Hareesh, aka Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), a pharmacist with big rapper dreams.

But Patti can really “spit” (rap), proving so in a street battle. She is determined to make it straight out of Jersey. To accomplish her goal, she meets “Basterd, the Antichrist” (Mamoudou Athie), a mostly mute musician who encourages her to “wake up the sheep.” Second, she gets a catering job that starts to pay some decent money.

One afternoon, Patti, Basterd, Nana and Jheri all meet up at Basterd’s crib, dubbed “The Gates of Hell” because of its location near a cemetery. They form an act called PBNJ that records a catchy (and hilarious) rap song. The lyrics, like most of what is sung in the film, are fantastic, even for viewers who don’t love rap.

The singing and rapping in the film is pitch-perfect and the delivery of music reveals much about the characters. If only the script for “Patti Cake$” was as strong. Jasper seems to be copying the blueprint of films like “Little Miss Sunshine” and hits too many predictable plot points. After every high point, there is an even lower one to make sure the characters are grounded in reality. Hell, Patti can’t float down the street without a car pulling up behind her to break her out of her spell.

  But it is the sheer force of Patti in almost every scene that carries the film (and the character) over this gritty film’s rough spots. When she is laying on her bed after a long night of catering, Patti’s exhaustion is palpable. When she isn’t feeling the beat in a session, her instinct is astute. Patti is such a sympathetic heroine that it is simply impossible not to root for her. This may be most fully realized when Patti meets a character who hears her voice, and might be able to give her a break in life. She is told, “You were not what I was seeing in my mind’s eye,” before being schooled on how to take a snapshot of an artist’s soul.

“Patti Cake$” is a snapshot of Killa P’s soul, and that is what makes it so satisfying. The film is very much about believing in oneself and finding the inner strength to fight against the odds. PBNJ may get a CD-release gig at a strip club called “Cheeters,” but they really want their big break to occur at “Rookie Monster,” an amateur rap battle. Regardless of where she performs, anyone who isn’t moved by Patti’s big number in the big finale has a heart of stone.

And give Jasper credit for the film’s absolute authenticity. The New Jersey where Patti lives and raps and yearns is full of strip malls and diners. There are references to the Jersey Devil and “Cookie Puss” that will amuse locals. The sadness only makes viewers want Patti to turn “tragic to magic” even more.

Macdonald gives a fearless breakout performance. She so fully and vividly inhabits Patti that viewers might be surprised to learn the actress is Australian. As her co-conspirators, Dhananjay and Athie balance the crew with a nice, manic energy and a calm wisdom. Cathy Moriarity also steals all her scenes, getting some of the film’s biggest laughs.

“Patti Cake$” certainly lets its freak flag fly, but that’s a good thing. This tough but tender film is a surefire crowd-pleaser.

Finding your way as the T in the LGBT acronym can be scary, especially if you’re coming to it a little later in life.

Luckily, there’s an organization in our area to assist you no matter where along the journey you fall. Renaissance is a nonprofit organization that offers hands-on help, especially for those just coming to terms with gender issues or wanting some like-minded company. We spoke with the chapter president, Kristyn King, a sassy gal with a dry wit and warm heart.

This weekend, the queer-inclusive TNT show “Claws,” about the female crew of a Florida nail salon, wraps up its first season. This fabulous — and fabulously entertaining — comedy-drama concerns Desna Simms (Niecy Nash), the salon owner who tries to unhook herself from the clutches of the Dixie Mafia, who are making her launder their pill-mill money.

HOT FUNK IN THE SUMMERTIME: Nine-time Grammy-nominated out saxophonist Dave Koz (pictured) brings his “Side by Side” summer tour, featuring funk singer/bassist Larry Graham Jr. (Sly & The Family Stone), to Philly 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at Dell Music Center, 2400 Strawberry Mansion Drive. For more information or tickets, call 215-685-9560.

Can you remember when hummus wasn’t everywhere?

Twenty or so years ago, back in the VCR, Walkman and mix-tape days, anyone who knew what the tasty and versatile chickpea puree was had to go on a quest to find it or, God forbid, make it themselves. Today it’s everywhere from convenience stores and bars to football games and upscale restaurants, and for a good reason. Who doesn’t like or love hummus in some way, shape or form?

 “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”                       -J.R.R. Tolkien

Fortunately, this week’s Portrait, David Ramos of Feast Your Eyes Catering, has a fine appreciation for all three. A handsome former military man who can cook is a catch — but, sorry guys, he’s taken.

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