Saturday, October 21, 2017

All the King’s Women at Olympia Little Theatre

Tonight and tomorrow's matinee are your only and last chances to see this comedy.

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 19, 2017
Meigie Mabry (left) and Kendra Malm (right), photo courtesy Olympia Little Theatre
All the King’s Women at Olympia Little Theatre is a cute, lighthearted play. The concept is inventive, and the structure is unique — more an evening of storytelling and skits than a play. It is a series of eight short stories about the women in Elvis Presley’s life, not his girlfriends or his wife or mother, but the everyday woman who happen to encounter him. A woman who sells him his first guitar, another who bumps into him while grocery shopping at 3 a.m., car sales women and secretaries and receptionists at the White House. Some of the stories are touching, some are surrealistic, and most are funny.
The eight stories are enacted by a cast of 17 women and one man, actors who are beginners on stage for the first time and actors with more plays in their resumes than most of us have years in our lives, all directed by longtime OLT director Toni Holm.
The first story is told by the great veteran actor Sharry O’Hare, who plays the part of the sales clerk in Tupelo Hardware who talked Elvis into letting his mother buy him a guitar instead of the rifle he wanted for his eleventh birthday. Like all the stories in this play, this one is based on an actual event but elaborated upon and fictionalized by playwright Luigi Jannuzzi. O’Hare’s storytelling skill and her natural way of switching from talking to the audience and waiting on customers who keep interrupting her add charm to this touching and funny story.
Next up is “The Censor and the King,” a reenactment of a mostly imaginary scene when Steve Allen’s assistant, Abby (Meigie Mabry), the network censor’s secretary, Barbara (Kendra Malm) and an assistant to Elvis and Col. Tom Parker (Bianca N. Cloudman) negotiate a deal where Elvis sings “Hound Dog” to a hound dog on “The Steve Allen Show.”
Next comes the highlight of the evening when Andrea Weston-Smart plays the part of a woman who went grocery shopping at 3 a.m. and runs into Elvis in the produce aisle. This is the one that gets surreal —too strange not to be true. Weston-Smart is outstanding.
The story of when Elvis met President Richard Nixon and became a federal drug agent is also too strange not to be true. And yes, it really happened, but probably not quite the way it is told in this play. Bitsy Bidwell as the White House operator, Becca Mitchell as secretary to Presidential Assistant Dwight Champin, and Toni Murray as Nixon’s secretary are hilarious.
There are also stories about Andy Warhol, about Cadillac saleswomen competing to see which one can sale Elvis his 100th Cadillac (Bonnie Vandver is great in this one), a short scene with a guard at Graceland, and finally a sweet scene with workers in the gift shop at Graceland who are constantly interrupted by a new sales clerk (O’Hare) who doesn’t know where anything is.
Elvis has not only left the building, he never even appears; but it is all about him, and recordings of his songs fill the space during scene changes.
All the King’s Women, 7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 22, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $11-$15, $2 student discount, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484,

Friday, October 20, 2017

Marilyn Frascas's wonderland of drawings at Childhood's End

"Intamacy," drawing by Marilyn Frasca, courtesy the artist
From my review in the Weekly Volcano and OLY ARTS

Marilyn Frasca is a marvel. If there was ever such a thing as a must-see show, it’s Frasca’s show of some 56 drawings at Childhood’s End Gallery. This exhibition is the result of a lifetime, so far, of making, studying and teaching art. Her drawing style reminds me of Albrecht Dürer and other early Renaissance artists, but her style is a much more eclectic than that. We see in her drawings evidence she hasn’t so much been influenced by but rather learned from a range of artists from Dürer to Picasso.

Read the complete review.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Peter Serko's picture puzzle for The Game Campaign

A photograph by local photographer Peter Serko is being used by The Game Campaign create a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle produced by Liberty Puzzles of Boulder, Co. The Brain Campaign is a community effort to delay the symptoms of dementia “by making brain workouts as common as cardio, and more specifically, by encouraging people of all ages to play challenging games at libraries, senior centers, YMCAs...everywhere and anywhere in Pierce County,” according to the campaign’s website. Liberty is one of the leading collectible puzzle makers in the world, known for challenging piecing, dramatic color, and durability. Puzzles are made from 1/4" plywood, and include Liberty's trademark whimsy pieces, cut in the shapes of everyday objects. 

This is a limited edition, with no more than 100 puzzle sets.
“I was approached by Ken Miller about doing something to support The Game Campaign,” Serko says. “He said they were thinking about selling high quality wood puzzles. I had never given it any thought before but thought it would be a great idea.  I sent him a number of images and he picked ‘Opera Alley In Snow.’"

Serko is the writer and producer or the one-man play My Brother Kissed Mark Zuckerberg. He has more recently made a documentary film based on the play called Footnote. Currently he is doing an artist residency in a high school English class on memoir. “We are working on making short memoir films. For me it is an important way to tell my brother's story and the story of AIDS during the ‘plague era’ to young people,” he says. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Juried art exhibition at Tacoma Community College

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 5, 2017

"Spring Break," mixed media by Michael Huffman
Juried art exhibitions inevitably include a few clunkers, a few so-so works, and — if we’re lucky — some excellent art. Sometimes the inconsistency in quality is because there were not enough good entries to choose from, and sometimes it is because the juror feels compelled to include a variety of media and styles. And so it goes with the 15th Annual Juried Local Art Exhibition at Tacoma Community College.
The clunkers are mostly near the front of the gallery, in particular the three pieces behind the front desk, which look like student work. There are some traditional figurative sculptures that are well executed but unexciting, and there are a couple of pieces by Paul T. Steuke, Sir. that almost hit the target smack-dab in the bullseye, but not quite. These are knockoffs of Renoir paintings that may or may not have been intended as lampoons. Finally, they just come across as slightly weak copies with none of the lushness of a Renoir.
"Mystery From a Reflective Mind," pastel by Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt
Now for the good stuff. The good stuff is really, really good.
Michael Huffman’s two paintings in mixed media on drywall are knockouts. “Spring Break” features cartoon-like figures in a style like that of Jean-Michael Basquiat. There are funny looking little creatures, one giving a middle-finger salute, painted with wildly exuberant brushstrokes and slung in circular sweeps like drawings by Dale Chihuly. His “Haiku on Floor” is a poem in hand-scribbled letters in gold, pink and black framed by rough, dark wood. Both of these have a raw emotive power that is hard to ignore.
Lynette Charters, a juror’s award winner, has three paintings in the show, all from her “Muses” series. This series is based on famous paintings by old and modern masters done in plaster, acrylic and candy wrappers (usually gold or silver foil). They are copies of master paintings in which the central figure or figures, always women, are partly missing. Their shapes — not their clothing, but only their faces and bodies — are left as unpainted parts of the board cleverly placed so that the knotholes become nipples, eyes and navels. Each piece in the series is a biting comment on women’s place in art history as empty bodies and faces with no humanity. They — the paintings, not necessarily the women depicted in them — are brilliant in concept and beautifully painted. They are homages to and criticisms of famous painters. Seen in this show are Charters’ versions of “Rosetti’s Museum Verticordia,” “Klimt’s Muse Judith” and “Tanoux’s Muses in a Harem” — each a Charters version of the original.
Also outstanding is David W. Murdach’s sculpture, “Night in Motion,” lamp parts and glass knobs. This shiny, circular sculpture looks like a rococo steampunk ship’s wheel or ferris wheel or playful whirligig. However you may describe it, it is joyful. I wanted to give it a spin, but it doesn’t move.
Also worthy of note are three soft and elegant mixed media paintings by Laraine Wade that are sumi-like in their directness and simplicity; two abstract paintings based on landscape with bodies of water by Becky Knold, which are gutsier than her usual; and three dark and brooding pastels by the collaborative duo of Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt, which depict the underbelly of urban life with wonderfully rich colors.
There is much more to see in this show, including a lot of nice photography that I have not mentioned and works by such well-known area artists as Joe Batt, Lois Beck, Frank Dippolito, Mia Schute, Jason Sobottka, and William Turner.
15th Annual Juried Local Art Exhibition, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through May 5, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Faculty and Staff Exhibition at SPSCC

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 28, 2017
“Operative Hyena with Rabbit?” ceramic sculpture by Joe Batt, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College

“Where’s the Xanax?” mixed media by Liza Brenner, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
When walking into the art gallery at South Puget Sound Community College, the first thing to greet the eye is a curtain of hanging white porcelain shapes suspended by clear monofilament line. It is like a bead curtain, but it is not beads. It is a representation of genome sequencing. It is called “The Life and Genome of Henrietta Lacks.” Lacks was an African-American woman whose cancer cells were used in breakthrough medical studies. Some of the white porcelain forms look like bones, some like figures. Looking at it, I was reminded of dancing skeleton puppets. So we have here an intriguing piece of art that reflects on science and history, and which is a visual treat.
From a contemplation of genomes we go to geology with Sean Barnes’s series of sculptures using anthropogenic materials and processes. There is one free-standing sculpture on a pedestal that looks like quartz and other rock formations fused together. Within it is a cell phone case that appears to be part of the rock. Nearby is a group of similar works in box frames that hang on the gallery wall. All are rough and gritty organic abstractions that combine natural geologic formations with man-made items such as tape, a shard from a broken tea cup. They are visual representations of the essential beauty of natural and made materials. Part of the beauty of it is that the made materials tend to disappear into the natural rock.
As art depicting genomes lead the eye and mind to anthropogenic materials, we next go to a series of works by Joe Batt that combine animals and humans with cell phones, towers and space exploration. We have seen in previous shows and entire gallery installations at SPSCC, Tacoma community College and Salon Refu that Batt continually creates worlds of electronic communications wherein animals and humans become part of the mechanical and scientific worlds humans have created. Here we see a group of hyenas with electronics strapped to their backs confronting a white bunny rabbit. One of the hyenas is vicious looking, making the viewer wonder what kind of horrifying future world we are seeing and how near are we to seeing it become reality.
Batt is also showing a charcoal drawing done directly on the gallery wall with digitally collaged images of people, birds, an elephant and a cell phone tower on the face of a mountain. The textures and drawing are quite intriguing due to the manner in which the actual texture of the wall blends with the illusory texture of the drawing.
Liza Brenner is showing two large mixed-media depictions of urban scenes that seem to be set in an earlier time, perhaps the 18th century. I approached these with mixed reactions, thinking on the one hand that they are too illustrational and almost corny, but admiring the artist’s technical skill and some of the surrealistic elements such as shadowy figures and a snake wearing a crown. 
I admired Nathan Barnes’s two works, “Stifle” and “Diaspora.” These are pop-surreal images typical of the work for which Barnes is well known. They are colorful, strange, and beautifully executed with great skill and attention to detail. I had an opportunity to talk to Barnes about these pieces and learned that the models for the faces, like the models for many of his constructed paintings, were relatives, and that every element in them refers to something historical or personally relevant, Whether or not the viewer is privy to the stories behind his paintings, they are fascinating to look at. Make up your own stories, and then if Barnes, who manages the gallery, happens to be there, ask him to explain. 

Faculty and Staff Exhibition, Noon to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday, through Oct. 20, South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia.

Footloose at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 28, 2017
The cast of Footloose, photo by Kat Dollarhide
I enjoyed opening night of Footloose at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It’s a rocking good, high-energy show with great music and dancing. The music is mostly up-tempos rock and roll blended with a touch of gospel and show tunes, and an occasional sweet love song such as the beautiful “Almost Paradise,” a duet between Ren (Jake Atwood) and Ariel (Jessica Furnstahl) a Romeo and Juliet-like balcony scene with sparkling electricity between the two.
Footloose is a simple but well told story of clashes between youth and age, small-town uptightness and big-city wildness. Ren and his mother (Linda Palacios) move from Chicago to the small town of Beaumont, Tex., to live with a relative after Ren’s father leaves them. Ren is rebellious and carries a huge chip on his shoulder. And he loves to dance. He is shocked to find out that in Beaumont dancing is against the law. The small-minded and fearful town council, led by the Rev. Shaw Moore (Gary Chambers) passed the repressive law after four local youth ran off a bridge and were killed coming home from a dance. In their minds dancing leads to drinking and other outrageous behavior. Of course, Ren thinks the law is absurd, and he rallies his high school classmates to fight against it.
As always in shows like this there is a love story subplot. Ariel, Rev. Moore’s daughter, dates the town bad guy, Chuck Cranston (Nick Clawson) as an act of rebellion. Inevitably, she falls for Ren — this is a romantic musical, after all.
I was struck from the beginning with the stark and gritty set, a building with an industrial look with five large double doors and a balcony. It could be a train station of a warehouse, or almost anything, and serves as backdrop throughout as a myriad of scenes from a school to a church to town chamber room to a dance hall. The versatility of this set works beautifully. It reminded me immediately of the loft building set in Rent, and the play’s exuberance and celebration of rebellion also reminded me of that grittier and more realistic musical, as well as the classic West Side Story.
As is typical of Tacoma Musical Playhouse, the cast is large, and there are terrific big numbers with a talented ensemble dancing and singing.
Furnstahl is beautiful, and she convincingly plays Ariel as a complex character. Even though she looks young enough to be a high school senior, which Ariel is, I suspected Furnstahl was at least in her mid-twenties because of the confidence and subtlety of her acting. I was surprised to read in the program that she is, indeed, a senior at Sumner High School. Watch for this young actor; she is destined for big things in musical theater.
Cameron Waters was outstanding as Willard, the loveable misfit. His crazy dancing and his overall performance on the song “Mama Says” were the comical highlights of the show.
Also outstanding in supporting roles were Clawson as the epitome of juvenile delinquency and Corissa Deverse as Ariel’s friend and Willard’s girlfriend, Rusty. What a great voice she has.
Finally, kudos to Atwood for bringing the house down with his every move. His energetic and athletic dancing is astounding (TMP audiences saw that in his tap-dancing role as Scuttle the seagull in the recent production of The Little Mermaid.
Special kudos to Tacoma Musical Playhouse for using this show to raise money for Orange Community Players, a community theater in the real town of Beaumont that was almost totally destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.
Footloose, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., through Oct. 15, Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $22-$31,

Friday, September 22, 2017

Witness to Wartime

The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 21, 2017
"High School Girl," by Takuichi Fujii, oil on canvas, Wing Luke Museum collection, photo by Richard Nicol, courtesy Washington State History Museum.
Washington State History Museum offers a rare opportunity to see the visual diary, drawings and watercolor paintings of a Japanese-American held in the relocation center in Puyallup and the internment camp at Minidoka, Idaho.
Takuichi Fujii was a small businessman and well-known local artist in Seattle at the beginning of World War II. Swept up along with his wife and two daughters, as was almost every Japanese-American on the West Coast, he was confined in the relocation center in Puyallup from May to August 1942, and then to Minidoka, where he and his family were held until October 1945. A prolific artist, Fujii documented the scenes and the life at both camps in a personal diary and in watercolors and ink drawings. About 70 artworks from this time period and including later works from when he lived in Chicago after the war, are on display in two galleries at WSHM. The galleries are small, and the paintings can be seen in a short visit, but visitors should linger long and attentively over each work because they illustration a life lived during one of the most horrendous events in American history, and because Fujii was an excellent artist whose works demand attention.
In the smaller of the two galleries we are given an overview glimpse into his art before and after his wartime experiences. The earlier works are realistic and simplified. In the later years he moved into more abstract work with his final paintings being strong black-and-white abstract paintings in a style similar to that of Franz Kline.
The larger of the two galleries is dedicated to his wartime art, which was unknown until they were rediscovered after his death by his grandson, Sandy Kita. These drawings and paintings have never been shown publicly.
The diary he began in the relocation camp at Puyallup is displayed in a closed case but all of the nearly 400 pages can be viewed digitally.
Work done before the war include self-portraits, pictures of downtown Seattle. There is a portrait of his daughter titled “High School Girl” (1934-35) that shows a strong influence of such painters as Cezanne and Braque and other forerunners of cubism. The Seattle scenes and a painting of the Rock Island Dam on the Columbia River. There are paintings from the beginning of the war showing American citizens of Japanese descent reading the signs tacked to light poles and fences announcing that they must report to the relocation center, essentially that your life, your home and your business are over.
The pictures from Puyallup and Minidoka are stark and simple. More of them picture the camp buildings and the desert than the people. There are pictures of the barracks and the latrines, the crowded train that took them to Minidoka, and incident where they saw a rattlesnake I the desert.
“The exhibition tells the story of Fujii’s individual will to persist, both as an artist and a citizen, and provides a rare glimpse into exactly what that experience was like,” said the museum’s director of audience engagement, Mary Mikel Stump, who summed up the exhibition saying it is all about Fujii’s individual experience. This critic would add that it is also about the talent and dedication of an artist whose work parallels trends in art history from the 1920s and ‘30s through the 1950s.

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tue.-Sat, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. third Thursday, through Jan. 1, $5-$12, Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 888.238.4373