Andrew Samonsky

(tick … tick … BOOM! showstopper)

He had us at … whatever it was he said when he opened his mouth on stage for the very fist time in the Rubicon Theatre Company’s production of tick … tick … BOOM! It may have been “tick.” It could have been “boom.” Whatever it was, it was the beginning of an inspired performance built on a foundation of solid-gold talent.

The fact that he’s a local treasure was probably lost on the full house that had no clue Andrew Samonsky is from Ventura, and gave him an enthusiastic standing ovation nonetheless. It was an ovation he would have deserved had he been born in New York City, Kalamazoo or under a particularly large rock.

Yes, the future of musical theater, dinner theater, hell, any kind of theater, sitcom, soap opera or feature film has a name — and that name is Samonsky with a capital “Holy crap, where did you come from?” The Answer? Ventura.

Yes, tick … tick … BOOM! is a show well written and creatively surprising. The great talents who made it happen for the Rubicon wielded their magic wands astoundingly well. As an experience in theater, it was a revelation. And at the center of that revelation was 30-year-old Samonsky, who recently relocated to his hometown from New York and continues striving to secure steady work as an actor.

Samonsky attended Buena High School before going on to earn a degree in voice from California State University, Northridge, and a masters of fine art degree in acting from the University of California, Irvine. Locally, Samonsky portrayed Algernon in a musical adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, at Ventura College. His regional credits include Forever Plaid, Into the Woods, Once Upon a Mattress and Smokey Joe’s Café. Samonsky also appeared on television on Guiding Light, and recently completed a tour of Disney’s On the Record.

Since the wonders never cease, it does boggle the mind that Tom Cruise is a millionaire while Andrew Samonsky and others like him are not. Still, money doesn’t make the world go ’round, and watching Samonsky succeed as an artist is an inspiration to anyone who continues to feed the artist inside. No, Samonsky isn’t a millionaire — but if the respect of the people in his hometown could be converted to currency, he’d be driving a Rolls to the airport right now to take his eighth trip around the world.

He’s one to watch, and someday the whole world’s going to know it.

Brett Wagner, Jill Martinez & Mary Pallant

(Three local Democratic candidates vying for the chance to go up against Elton Gallegly for the 24th Congressional District in the November election.)

In one corner, a local democratic heavyweight who challenged Republican Elton Gallegly for the 24th Congressional District, which includes much of Ventura County, in 2004 and, sadly, lost. A progressive candidate who has real-life experience in grassroots campaigning (and who previously penned a regular column, “Candidate’s Diary” for the VC Reporter) — Brett Wagner.

In the other corner, a relative newcomer to the political scene, a Presbyterian minister and self-proclaimed “moderate Democrat.” A Ventura County resident for 13 years and a seasoned fund raiser for various philanthropic organizations — Jill Martinez.

And in the third corner? A former Republican turned progressive Democrat. A president of the Valley Democrats United and former small business owner — Mary Pallant.

The race for the Democratic ticket in the 24th Congressional district could be a messy one this year. A contested primary in this neck of the woods is particularly interesting because we just aren’t accustomed to it, as it takes a very specific type of person to tackle such a Republican-heavy district. It’s usually difficult to find just one brave soul who is up for the challenge.

Plus, this isn’t just any contested primary — this one has already been tinged with controversy. In October, the local Democratic Party issued a letter to Brett Wagner (with numerous signatures from “party officials”) asking him not to run in 2006. As most probably expected, Wagner didn’t take kindly to the request and has come out with guns blazing.

Wagner galvanized a significant portion of the local democrats in 2004, but it looks as though Martinez has the backing of more than a few party upper-ups, which should make for some tricky politicking.

A contested primary: Will it be good or bad for the Democratic Party in Ventura County? We’ll just have to wait and see. Whatever happens, it’s bound to be an interesting year for everyone involved.

The Warriors

(Hard rockers from the ’Nard)

Oxnard has long been a breeding ground for adolescent hard-core bands, and with groups like Atreyu and Bleeding Through crossing over to a wider national audience, it seemed like only a matter of time before someone from this area broke out as well. Enter the Warriors. Actually, only one member — guitarist Javier Zarate, 20 — is a native of the fabled Land of No Toilets; the other four are from Tehachapi, a conservative teen-age wasteland about two hours up the road. But considering that the scene in Kern County is practically non-existent, the band made its name initially among the Nardcore faithful. The Warriors came together in 2001, with Zarate, then already a hard-core veteran despite still being in high school, joining six months later.

After building a local following for two years, the band was all set to split up when Eulogy Records came calling. A subsidiary of Warner Brothers, the label bought them a van and put them on the road. Over the course of a year, the quintet’s popularity grew to the point that they can now sell out popular Southern California clubs like the Showcase Theater and Chain Reaction, as well as 400-capacity venues in left-field places like Boise, Idaho. In 2004, the band released its full-length debut, War Is Hell, a crushing disc of pavement-punching metal with enough aggressive hooks to earn them comparisons to Rage Against the Machine. Their manager passed along a copy to Deftones frontman Chino Moreno, who was so impressed he not only offered to produce their next album but also to take them on tour with his own arena-sized outfit this summer. First thing’s first, however: entertain the hometown. The group headlines at Alpine on Jan. 14 in what will likely be their final Ventura-area show for at least a few months.

Nathan Larramendy

(Ojai art gallery owner and curator)

Ojai has a long history of providing a secluded, welcoming home to world-renowned painters, sculptors, actors and musicians who make their living elsewhere; but, until recently, it hasn’t been particularly famous for its resident art scene. But that’s all changing now, thanks in no small part to Ojai native Nathan Larramendy. After going to school and entering the art gallery world in San Francisco, Larramendy made a bold move: He opened the Larramendy Gallery, with the intention of running a relevant, big-city-caliber gallery in his relatively obscure hometown. And it’s working.

Since the gallery opened in 2003, he’s curated groundbreaking shows by contemporary artists near and far. He has buyers and visitors from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and he’s being watched on an international level.

In fact, viewers were so impressed with his contribution at the prestigious Pulse invitational art festival in Miami last month, he was asked to apply to the Liste Young Art Fair in Basel, Switzerland, for later this year.

Larramendy also plans to show at Pulse again next year, probably with a solo site-specific wallpaper piece by up-and-comer Cassandra Jones. But he’s not just sitting on his laurels until then.

He’s working with new artists this year, including photographer Richard Ross (who has published several books, including The Architecture of Authority, and has shown his work internationally) and dynamic figure painter Paul Mullins.

Larramendy is also contributing to Art LA on Jan. 26 and putting together another year of outstanding gallery shows, including work by Travis Somerville, international artist Gary Lang and photographer Aaron Plant (who will be featured in the gallery’s first catalog).

And Larramendy is doing all this while staying unpretentious and accessible. His hope is to introduce contemporary art to more people, rather than to make Ojai’s art scene more exclusive. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to live with art,” he says. “Collect art! It changes lives!”

Wally Bobkiewicz

(Santa Paula City Manager)

The title “city manager” is one of those white-collar monikers that can make people stop in their tracks and snore with gusto. It’s a job that implies things like bar graphs and pie charts, lists of numbers, late-night calculations and way too many meetings. And, chances are, the implications are as dead center as the dull ties one probably has to wear to work as city manger. It’s enough to make a person … Zzzzzzzzz …

And that’s why it’s so refreshing that Santa Paula City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz doesn’t live up to his namesake as a pie-graph-wielding, number-crunching, boring work meeting enthusiast. Add that to your list of things to be thankful for next Thanksgiving.

Bobkiewicz, who grew up in Camarillo, manages to take the starch out of his job without having, well, too much fun. One reason he’s one to keep an eye on in 2006 is that we can expect good things from this guy — a guy who manages to keep the city’s ducks in a row while single-handedly maintaining a blog that gives residents a running account of the decisions elected officials are making on their behalf. On top of that, he even found time last year (also known as a few weeks ago) to emcee and organize the town’s annual Christmas cookie and window decorating contests.

In that regard, Bobkiewicz is a little like a Jedi master: He can use the force for good deeds like diplomatically handling all the recent controversy over the Fagan Canyon Project and he knows his way around a cookie. Who needs Yoda when Bobkiewicz is so good at promoting the city he manages?

Thanks to the tireless promotion of Bobkiewicz and other city officials, Santa Paula even lays claim to a fictional presidential candidate played by Alan Alda on NBC’s The West Wing.

As city manager, he believes he’s taking part in “the closest form of government” by doing “what really matters to people.”

“People care immensely about this community,” says Bobkiewicz, 39. “Santa Paula has all the attributes that communities usually have to create — or recreate. There were a lot of Santa Paulas at one point in Southern California.”

Bobkiewicz would like to see his city retain what makes it so unique. “The homogenization of Ventura County hasn’t hit here yet on all levels: activities, people, ideas — we have a little bit of everything here.”

As Santa Paula faces a future in which it will deal with development and financial issues, its residents are bound to be glad that they have Bobkiewicz on their side — and that he’ll be there to juggle all those pie graphs.

Mikee Bridges

(The brains behind Alpine)

When concert promoter Mikee Bridges returned to his hometown of Ventura in 2002 after a 14-year stint in the Pacific Northwest, he came packing a brain bursting with ideas that, at the time, seemed impossible. He wanted to transform Skate Street, the skate park whose upstairs music venue he’d been put in charge of, into the county’s epicenter of youth culture. He wanted to change the look of the entire building. He wanted to install a coffee shop, a soda bar, a digital gaming room, a Laundromat, a hair salon. He wanted to make it the kind of place that kids could get lost in for hours and not even realize it.

People thought he was nuts — until he made it all happen. On Thanksgiving 2005, Bridges unveiled Alpine, a massive, two-story mixed-use complex unlike anything the city has ever seen. It’s a schizophrenic entertainment paradise: The front lounge area is designed to resemble a mountain ski lodge; the gift shop looks like a World War II Army barrack; the large concert area is surrounded by murals to give it the appearance of an alleyway in Chinatown; and the skate park — reduced to about half its normal size, though still eminently skateable — maintains its old appearance, with a tribute to Skate Street’s co-founder, the late Tim Garrety, painted on a wall overlooking the ramps.

So now that he’s accomplished his goal, why is this creative madman a person to watch over the next 12 months? Because he’s not done yet. He promises that Alpine will be an ever-evolving project; if something isn’t working, he says he won’t hesitate to tear it out and try a new idea. Beyond the building, Bridges has other plans up his sleeve. Next up: Possibly running for mayor? I’d say he’s crazy, but he’s already proven a lot of us wrong before.

Kelly Hayes-Raitt

(Democratic Candidate for State Assembly District 41)

First of all, forget about local big-shots; that’s Martin Sheen standing arm-in-arm with Kelly Hayes-Raitt, flashing the thumbs-up sign on her campaign Web site (www.kellyforassembly.com).

We followed Hayes-Raitt back in the day when she was speaking locally about her travels to Iraq (before and after the war began) and about the women she had met there. We liked her then; we like her even more now as she embarks on a quest for a seat on the State Assembly representing District 41 (the seat currently held by Fran Pavley, which includes Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Oak Park).

A tireless advocate for the environment, women’s rights and civil rights, she helped found Heal the Bay, served as executive director for the statewide Coalition for Clean Air, started the Women’s Health Campaign and was named by the L.A. County Women\\’s Commission a 2004 Woman of the Year.

A political office seems like the next logical step for Hayes-Raitt and we’ll be watching her all the way to Sacramento.