Saturday, November 21, 2015

Olympia’s Story Slam

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 19, 2015
Elizabeth Lord hosts StoryOly Story Slam, photo by Austin C. Lang
StoryOly premiered its monthly Story Slam Tuesday of last week with a dozen funny, poignant, and in at least once instant harrowing stories told by local storytellers. StoryOly is a project of Olympia Actor’s League, hosted by Elizabeth Lord and produced by Amy Shephard. Community members come together every month to share and tell stories based on a specific theme. The theme for this premiere events was “First Time.”
Storytellers put their names in a hat and are picked one by one, to take the stage. Ten featured stories are scored by a team of judges selected from the audience. There is one winner each month, and the winners will face off in a Grand Slam Championship next September.
Last night they broke their own rules — nice start, StoryOly — by allowing one extra story plus an “icebreaker” tale by professional storyteller Sam Miller, who told a funny tale about his father getting a haircut every day. It took young Sam years to figure out what his father was really doing with his so-called haircutter.
First contestant up for the evening was Devin Felix, a Mormon kid who told about learning from another first grade kid in school that you could flash a middle finger but it didn’t “count” if you held a thumb up behind the offensive finger. His story was about what happened when he demonstrated his revelation to the entire school. Like Miller’s story before him, Felix’s tale turned out to be a touching father-and-son story.
Ingrid Bond talked about being a military kid and seeing an otherworldly light in Santa Fe.
Robert Perez-Rosales told all about his first kiss and all the many failures to connect with the opposite sex as he was growing up an extremely shy kid. The story rang true, and the audience reaction indicated that many listeners must have had similar experiences in their childhoods.
Rebecca Hom’s first time had a surprise ending, as all of us in the audience fell for her intended purpose of making us think she was leading up to her first sexual experience.
Next came Paul Current who told about finding out his first girlfriend worked in a brothel. His story was hilarious and possibly made up, which is against the rules since all stories are supposed to be true. I thought it should have been the overall winner; but the judges didn’t agree.
Cameron Comb told another first-kiss story. It was a first same-sex kiss story preceded by a first opposite-sex kiss story, and Comb said the latter was by far the best, not to denigrate poor Chip, who gave it his best.
Brian McCracken’s story about demonstrating at the Democratic National Convention was interesting but a little disjointed.
Billie Mazzei told a harrowing story about having a potentially fatal accident the first time she ever drove alone. It was a powerful story with lighthearted relief at the end.
Ned Hayes told about his days as a chaplain in a hospital and how an art appreciation class helped him possibly save a wounded soldier.
Michelle Murray once worked as a funeral director and embalmer. She told about a time they almost buried the wrong body.
And finally, Heidi (didn’t get her last name) told about daydreaming as a child and how it led to work as a librarian and helped her discover the power of stories — a fitting story to end the night.
The judges gave the highest score to Felix for his middle finger story.
The next OlyStory Slam will be Dec. 15 with the theme “Tis the Season.” Admission is free with a suggested donation of $5. Half of all proceeds are donated to Safe Place Olympia.
StoryOly’s Story Slam, 6-8 p.m. every third Thursday, Rhythm & Rye, 311 Capitol Way N, Olympia,

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Murder for Old Time’s Sake

Photo, from left: Stephanie Nace, Harrison Fry and Vanessa Postil in A Murder for Old Times’ Sake. Courtesy Open Road Productions.
 Musical Murder Mystery at Pellegrino’s Event Center!
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 19, 2015

Rob Taylor (left) and
Kyle Henick.
Courtesy Open Road Productions.
Presented by Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen and Open Road Productions, A Murder for Old Time’s Sake is a musical murder mystery dinner theater extravaganza that just might have you laughing so hard you spit out your Tuscan Pork Loin (or Parsnip Steak Marsala). It’s funny, it’s got great music, and a complicated mystery plot that you, the audience, will be asked to solve. And to top it all off, it comes with a three-course dinner from executive chef Sam Pellegrino.
I attended a dress rehearsal the night before opening night and came away thinking this is the funniest of the three dinner theaters I’ve seen at Pellegrino’s.
It’s the 20th reunion of the South Pattersfield High School class of 1995, and gathered together is a quintet of former lovers and enemies plus the school principal. There’s Biff (Kyle Henick), the class clown, football hero and bully; Nancy (Vanessa Postil), Biff’s ex-wife who also “like-likes” David (Rob Taylor), the class nerd who invented a self-cleaning toilet and became fabulously wealthy — take that, Biff, for giving me that swirly. And there’s Lucy (Stephanie Nace), who was nobody special in high school and is now a famous mystery writer whose latest novel, Murder Comes to High School, eerily mirrors what is about to happen at the reunion; and Billy (Harrison Fry), class president and most likely to succeed, who ends up as the janitor at South Pattersfield High. Finally, there’s the drunken, idiotic school principal, Horace McGuffin (Dennis Rolly).
from left: Stephanie Nace, Harrison Fry and Vanessa Postil in A Murder for Old Times’ Sake. Courtesy Open Road Productions.
Right after a great rocking song. “It’s Biff” sung by Henick, somebody gets murdered. One of the five survivors must be the murderer, and it’s up to them, with the help of the audience, to figure out who did it. In the process, we’re treated to more great music and comedy plus a couple of spoof commercials.
The entire ensemble is outstanding — good actors and singers, with the bonus that physically they’re even cast to type, not that we even know what any of them look like, but they certainly look the way I would picture them. It was an especially enjoyable treat to see Henick, an actor I have seen only once before, and it was great to see Nace back on stage again after a long hiatus. Rolly and Taylor were both solid, and this is the best acting I’ve yet seen from Fry.
If some of the music is reminiscent of Harlequin’s A Rock and Roll Twelfth Night, it’s because some of them are adaptations of songs from that show and were written by the same composer and lyricist, Scot Whitney and Bruce Whitney, with lyrics for three new songs written by Daven Tillinghast. The band is the Wildwood Orchestra, led by Brad Schrandt (keyboard), with David Broyles (guitar), Cameron Arneson (bass) and Andy Garnes.
There are repeated intermissions during which second and third courses and dessert are served, and during which cast members wander through the audience in character so audience members can quiz them in order to suss out the killer. Audience members can fill out a sleuth sheet with their guesses about who the murderer is and how and why he or she did it. There are prizes awarded from those.
A Murder for Old Time’s Sake was written by Andrew Gordon and directed by Jeff Painter. Including dinner and intermissions, it runs a little more than three enjoyable hours.
A Murder for Old Time’s Sake, Nov. 20-21 at 7 p.m., $45 general seating, $55 front table seating, Pellegrino’s Event Center, 5757 Littlerock Rd SW, Tumwater, tickets online at

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Susan Christian’s Sticks at Salon Refu

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 19, 2015

“The Date” by Susan Christian, courtesy of Salon Refu

Susan Christian paints patterns on sticks, and then she props them against walls or lays them on floors or puts them together in relatively rectangular shapes and hangs them like traditional modernist paintings. She’s even been known to take photos of them lodged among branches in trees. To some people, that may seem simplistic and childish, and perhaps it is; or perhaps it is as radical as when Duchamp bought a urinal and entered it in an art exhibition under the title “Fountain,” or as radical as when Frank Stella started making paintings in odd geometric shapes.
Christian’s first public showing of her stick paintings were at Batdorf & Bronson’s Coffee House in Olympia last April. Now she is showing a few of the paintings from that show plus many more in her own gallery, Salon Refu.
I have to quote from the “artist’s statement” from this show. It’s too good not to: “In the summer of 2013 I went to a plein-air painting workshop taught by Helen O’Toole in Kathy Gore-Fuss’s garden. I love these workshops, though I don’t do plein-air painting. On the first morning, as I sat there not painting anything, Kathy handed me a little foot-long stick. I painted the stick white. Then I painted a red line on it. Then I went hunting for another stick, and so on.” There’s a little painting in her current show called “Bird” that fits that description. There’s a little red splinter of wood partially broken off along the top edge that looks dangerous. It also looks like a feather. I wonder if it could be the one that started it all. 
One of the things that keeps her sticks from being too outlandish (art should always be at least a little outlandish) is that the patterns she paints on them are almost classically balanced with carefully chosen color combinations, but in many of them some little something is skewed — not quite fitting with the regularity of the patterns. It’s as if the artist makes a mistake on purpose to prove she’s human. 
For instance, “Sail” is made of 13 horizontal strips of lattice glued together in a rectangular configuration. They are painted with subtle variations of gray-blue and a dull yellow. One strip slightly above center is darker than the others, and evenly spaced across its width are black dots. And then way up at the top and slightly off center is one more black dot that seems to have escaped from the chorus line of dots in the center.  
Many of the patterns she paints are diagonals or zig-zags that overlap or repeat in nuanced ways that lend the pieces both unity and variety of form.
 “Maesta,” is a long horizontal painted in soft of gray with a purple tint and — all modulated and restful. And then it is disrupted by two square blocks of wood stuck on with heavy globs of paint. 
In one of the front windows stands a curtain-like array of painted vertical strips of wood, and along one wall a group of arched sticks like tightly drawn bows, mostly yellow, braced between the floor and ceiling. One gets the feeling they might spring loose and go shooting across the gallery at any moment. High on another wall hangs a heavy piece called “Sebago Lake” that looks like a crosscut saw. The radical positioning of this one resonates and contrasts with another stick that lies on the floor against the opposite wall.
Most of her works are horizontally oriented. One vertical piece called “Tall” with an emphatic blue line down the middle looks more like sculpture than painting, even though it hangs against the wall.
I can imagine people thinking this show is playful, insubstantial, and not very serious. But that playful, what-the-heck aspect is deceptive. This is art of a high order.    
Susan Christian at Salon Refu, Thursday-Sunday 2-6 p.m., and by appointment. Through Nov. 28, closed Thanksgiving, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia,

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sensations That Announce the Future

Intriguing but difficult show at The Evergreen State College
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 12, 2015

“Souvenir,” cabon pigment print by Amjad Faur, courtesy of PDX Contemporary Art and the artist.
The latest exhibition in the art gallery at The Evergreen State College takes concentration and thought to comprehend. It is not a show that can be easily enjoyed for its beauty alone but one that stimulates deep thought from those willing to put forth the effort. It is called Sensations That Announce the Future. It showcases artworks created by and chosen by TESC students and faculty based on the book Thinking in an Emergency by Elaine Scarry, and it posits the theory that art can look at patterns in the present and the past and intuit the future.
A gallery handout, uncredited but presumable written by faculty member Shaw Osha, who organized the show and has a series of eight paintings in it, says, “Art shifts our perspective so we can perceive current circumstances differently. Art makes visible the subterranean ‘forces of chaos’ we contend with every day.”
I have to admit that I had a hard time understanding a lot of the works and seeing how they relate to the stated themes, possibly because I have not read the book that purportedly inspired them all.
For such a conceptual and future-oriented show, Osha’s contributions look surprisingly like paintings from the early 20th century Ash Can School, but with looser and more expressive brushstrokes and less clear definition of form. Her eight small paintings, which are not shown together but are scattered throughout the gallery, are street scenes with people. The setting might be the TESC campus, but that is hard to tell because there are few recognizable details. The colors are lush and soft, and figures and backgrounds bleed into one another. In one of her paintings the co-mingling of figure and ground is so extreme that the walking man, a shirtless figure facing away from the viewer, all but vanishes. The plaza or sidewalk and buildings and trees can be seen through his body. In another there is a man walking on what is probably “Red Square” on campus. The brushstrokes across his head and hair are so broad that they merge into the autumn leaves on the tree behind him. The ground he stands on is orange and tan, and as bright as glowing embers in a campfire — a treatment of the sidewalk that is common in all of her paintings. I don’t get the meaning of this series of paintings, but from a purely formal point of view they are outstanding. I would be proud to own any one of them. 
In Steffani Jemison’s video, “Personal,” the setting is a street scene with a mural picturing Barack Obama and Desmond Tutu. A large black man walks back and forth in front of it, seemingly unsure of where he wants to go. Perhaps he is waiting from something or someone. Cars drive by, quickly, going backwards. Other pedestrians pass by, also going backwards. The scene then changes to a park scene where a man walks endlessly in a circle. Is the film making the point that we are walking blindly and backwards into the future? It is funny and perhaps prophetic.
I loved C. Davida Ingram’s “Conjures & the Mermaid,” a selection of three photographs and a poem printed on three panels. The first line of the poem is “Here Lies the Nigress,” and the photos of the “Nigress,” are of a black woman seated in one photo and lying down in the other two. A dark, shadowy figure sits or lies in front of her in one of the photos; cushions on a bed replicate the shadow figure in the other; and in the third, something indistinguishable and mysterious stands in for the shadow figure. These are dramatic and attractive photos, and as with much good art, the images and the poem relate to each other but not overtly.
There are some fabulously dramatic black-and-white photos of storm clouds by Joan Livingstone.
Naima Lowe’s “Thirty-nine questions for white people,” notes in ink on notecards with brown paper wrapping and tied with ribbon, give whites and blacks much to think about, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There is much more to this show, much of it difficult but most of it intriguing.

Sensations That Announce the Future, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday,, through Dec. 2, The Evergreen State College Gallery, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Library 1st floor, Olympia, 360.867.5125