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BIG-EYED DOLLS INVADE SoCAL

Johnny Thunders & Margaret Keane
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Some consider Orange County the armpit of Southern California, but the land that gave the world Mickey Mouse and the boogie board is getting an unlikely dose of culture from the rock & roll world.

Legendary guitarist Johnny Thunders comes back to life in a theatrical production at the Stages Theatre in Fullerton. Sex, drugs and self-destruction, natch, are the themes of "So Alone," which explores the life and death of one of rock music's most fascinating figures, who rose to fame in the 1970s with the New York Dolls and died of an apparent methadone overdose in a New Orleans hotel room in 1991.

Written and directed by William Mittler, the three-hour production follows Thunders' (Chinese) rocky career with the glam-punk pioneers and his post-Dolls outfit, the Heartbreakers. Both bands are re-created onstage in the play.

The production features the music (performed credibly, we hear), fashion and drugs that made Thunders, and the glam era, legendary. Robert Dean Nunez portrays the leather-clad axeman, while K.C. Mercer plays David Johansen-turned-Buster Poindexter. Other icons of the era who surface are Malcolm McLaren, Siouxsie Sioux and Patti Palladin. "So Alone" runs through August 19.

Margaret Keane may have never shot up with Thunders, but she, too, is being embraced in rock & roll circles. The artist, whose haunting images of big-eyed waifs started the big-eyed-art movement, is the subject of "Margaret Keane and Keaneabilia," a retrospective of her work and that of those she influenced at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach. The exhibition runs through Oct. 15.

Keane's sullen portraits, which first gained popularity in the late '50s while being dismissed by art critics as mere kitsch, were collected by celebrities including Zsa Zsa Gabor and Dean Martin. Her work is now embraced by such hipsters as director Tim Burton, Marilyn Manson and popmeister Matthew Sweet.

In fact, Sweet—who used one of his own Keane paintings on the cover of 1999's "In Reverse"—loaned a number of items from his extensive personal collection of Keane and other big-eyed artists to the exhibit, as well as co-writing the program notes for the show. He's also working on a book he's titled "Big-Eyed Art"—but he hasn't switched his creative focus altogether. This week, Sweet is at Cello Studios in Hollywood with "Girlfriend" and "In Reverse" co-producer Fred Maher recording two new tracks for "Time Capsule," an anthology of his '90s recordings that is scheduled for release in late Sept. on Volcano. The collection fulfills his obligation to the label.

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