Friday, January 20, 2017

Cat People, Dog People at Tacoma Community College

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 19, 2017

“Blue Point” acrylic painting by Denise Levine, courtesy Tacoma Community College

“Big Cats Play” pastel by Rick Hall and Ron Schmidt

I must confess: I went to this show expecting it to be the art show equivalent of one of those Facebook posts that say the world is going to hell and everybody’s dying, so here’s a cute picture of a cat. And there were quite a few bland photos, drawings and paintings of cats and dogs, not to mention a few funky little statuettes that belong in a gift shop rather than an art gallery.
But there was some very fine art too — much more than I expected.
I won’t bother to comment on the trivial wall clutter but will write about some of the excellent art in this exhibition, starting with Denise Levine’s small acrylic painting “Blue Point,” which was awarded first place in the show. It is a simple but mesmerizing image of a blue-black cat in a city apartment window. It is a sleek, thin and muscular cat climbing down or pointing one paw downward. Outside the window can be seen the side of a neighboring building. The building is orange, and its windows are black. There is an illusion of upward movement as if the large window the cat is in is an elevator going down, thus creating the feeling that the blackened windows across the way or accelerating upward. This up-down contrast combined with the complementary colors creates a strong sense of controlled tension.
Speaking of complements, two of the stronger paintings in the exhibition hang next to each other and have in common that they each reflect on famous paintings from art history. “Big Cats Play” by Rick Hall and Ron Schmidt depicts a leering, big-tooth cat on top of a naked man lying in a field. The cat is almost as large as the man. It is a horrifying image that for reasons I probably couldn’t explain reminds me of “The Sleeping Gypsy” by Henri Rousseau. The other one is “Carol Flying Home” by Richard A. Turner, which pictures a cat and a dog with a human figure recumbent on the ground and another human — “Carol” I presume — flying in the air above. This painting clearly brings to mind works by Marc Chagall. It is painted with an oil-resist method that creates a look like stained glass.
Marit Berg’s two large charcoal drawings, “White Poodle” and “Black Poodle” are separate paintings but look perfectly right together. Due to their placement, the two dogs are facing off nose-to-nose as if in a single painting. It would be a shame if they were sold separately. Berg’s use of rich blacks, glowing whites, and subtle gray tones combined with the highly energetic strokes of the charcoal is outstanding.
Barbara L. Ritter’s five little paintings in oil on paper mounted on canvas share this in common with Berg’s charcoal drawings: they are multiple works that hang together as a single group, and the brushstrokes in the dog’s hair are fast and rhymical like the charcoal strokes in “Black Poodle” and “White Poodle.” Ritter’s paintings are of the same little white dog with long hair painted on a cream-colored ground. They are called “Babe Pointing,” “On Point,” “Pirouette,” “Tail on Fire,” and “Running.” The high energy and the subtle changes in similar pictures of the same animal are exciting. The set should not be broken up.
There is a surrealistic feel and terrific spatial treatment and cropping in Sharon Styer’s two photo-collages. They are photos of cats collaged into a photo of the steps and cone of the Museum of Glass in one picture, and in the other a city scene of an abandoned industrial building overrun with cats. Depending on how your mind works, you might easily see these as nightmares of feral cats taking over the world.
There are five or six other works that should be seen and studied closely, including those by Robyn Chance, Sherry Hanafee and Frank Dippolito.
Cat People, Dog People, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through March 23, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

The Seafarer: a staged reading at Tacoma Little Theatre

from left, Brian Jansen, Frank Thompson and Sean Raybell, photo by Erin Chanfrau

The Seafarer by the great Irish playwright Conor McPherson  is among the best plays I have seen in my career as a theater critic. It was my choice as best drama when done by Harlequin Productions four years ago, and now it is playing  for one night only as a staged reading as part of Tacoma  Little Theater's "Off the Shelf" program. If you appreciate hard-hitting drama, you owe yourself the pleasure of seeing it.

The entire play takes place on Christmas Eve a alcoholic Sharkey, played by Brian Jansen, his equally drunken brother Richard (Frank Thompson), and their friends Ivan (Sean Raybell) and Nicky (Nicky Giblin) play poker with Sharkey’s soul at stake; and a mysterious stranger played by Robert McConkey

“Playwright Conor McPherson's mysterious play is a fascinating exploration of the human struggle, and its divine implications,” says director Erin Chanfrau. “The characters are amusing, kind, crusty, hostile, and disgraceful, but these mortal foibles are invaluable and enviable, in a way that may be surprising.”
Jansen, who wowed Tacoma audiences in his recent title role in Agamemnon at Dukesbay Productions and as the madman Renfield in TLT’s Dracula, says, “I play the role of Sharky a hard drinker who has returned home to help his brother who has become blind. Try as he might to do the right thing, life has a way of throwing Sharky curves, and on this particular Christmas a certain guest shows up from his past to collect his comeuppance. Conor's dialog is amazing as always, this and the weir are for sure my favorite of his that I have read. I enjoy Sharky as he has a serious push and pull going on internally. I have met a few sharkys along the trail, if I have not been a Sharky myself from time to time. It's a wonderful story with life as it is warts and all and the sense of redemption we humans from time to time get to experience. Definitely my favorite ‘Christmas’ play.”
Thompson (seen in Three Musketeers at Lakewood Playhouse and in Life in the Theatre at Working Class Theatre NW) says, “I play Richard in the play, a man who has just gone blind.  He is ashamed and desperate that his entire life has been for naught, just empty dreams.  He tries to save his brother, Sharky, the only way he knows how, by letting him know he's loved. I believe the play is a wonderful black comedy, showing the humor, love, and companionship that comes from just being friends.  The special guest at the card game brings an opportunity for the four others to bond even more.  The outsider proves no match for men who have known each other for decades.  A bump in the road for men who live, and know how to live.”
Brian Hatcher was slated to play the mysterious stanger but was called out of town on a family emergency and was replaced by McConkey, an outstanding actor most recently seen in Theater Artist Olympia’s The Physician in Spite of Himself.
Raybel played a seafarer, coincidentally, in TAO’s An Improbable Peck of Plays two years ago. Giblin is an actor new to me. With McPhearson’s insightful and dramatic script, a stellar cast and director, this will definitely be worth seeing. And it costs a mere $10, free to TLT members.

The Seafarer, a staged reading, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, $10, free to TLT members, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253-272-2281

Friday, January 13, 2017

Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 13, 2017

(L to R Clockwise) JAKE ATWOOD (Brad), TONY WILLIAMS (Rocky), BRANDON "BUNNIE" EHRENHEIM (Frank), WINNIE BEAN (Columbia), JENNA McRILL (Janet) from the Lakewood Playhouse Production of "THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW" photo by Tim Johnson

“The Rocky Horror Show” has lost none of its edge or raucous high spirits since it became an international sensation 40 years ago with young people showing up at midnight showings of the film version in drag, wearing leather and fishnet stockings, shouting lines back at the audience, and throwing things at the stage. What’s different in the Lakewood Playhouse performance is that the audience is a mixture of excited young people and older folks reliving the fun of “The Rocky Horror Show” that has never ceased.
Playhouse Managing Artistic Director John Munn, who plays the narrator in the show, encourages audience members to shout back, but not throw things at the actors, and the audience the night I attended gleefully complied. They shouted insults at Munn, who shouted back with improvised retorts, and they called Brad (Jake Atwood) an idiot and Janet (Jenna McRill) a slut.

GARY CHAMBERS (Riff-Raff) and BRANDON "BUNNIE" EHRENHEIM (Frank). Photo by Tim Johnson

The theater even sells (for $5) audience participation goodie gags with special items to be used during the show.  Proceeds from the sales of the goodie bags go toward the Lakewood Playhouse Annual Friends Fund Campaign.
So what is “The Rocky Horror Show”? I would say it is a parody the 1975 film, which was so bad it was good, but the stage musical preceded the film by two years. The opening musical number, “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” sung with great style and flare by LaNita Hudson as Usherette, announces the show as a parody of bad 1950s sci-fi movies.
“Rocky Horror” is the story of Brad and Janet, naïve innocents whose car has a flat on a dark and stormy night. When they go to the nearby castle to use the phone, they get immersed in a night of debauchery with Frank ‘N’ Furter (Brandon Ehrenheim), “a sweet transvestite from Transylvania,” and his minion of “Phantoms,” and weirdos. In a takeoff on “Frankenstein,” Frank ‘N’ Furter is building a man in his laboratory.  
The play is a celebration of uninhibited sex. It pushes the limits of acceptable on-stage sexuality to the edge. Most of all it is funny, campy, and filled with great rock and roll music.
Ehrenheim is an imposing figure in his black underwear and stockings. It helps that he is over seven feet tall even without the platform shoes. And he sings beautifully.
Atwood is amazing in the way he transforms from a nerdy idiot (the audience calls him out rightly) to a wild sex fiend. McRill undergoes a similar transformation, giving credence to the audience’s labeling her as a slut. Both Brad and Janet spend most of the second act dressed in nothing but white underwear.
Xander Layden rocks the house as Eddie in the wildest rock song in the show, "Hot Patootie," and later – outstanding actor that he is – he appears with a radically different voice and appearance as Dr. Scott, whom the audience keeps calling “Great Scott.”
Tony L. Williams, who audience might recognize as “Gary Colman” in “Avenue Q,” is Rocky, the creature Frank ‘N’ Furter created, a muscular, handsome man who appears in a gold lame suit that leaves little to the imagination. He has great moves and a strong voice. Seldom will audiences see dance numbers that comically simulate sexual moves so graphically as Rocky does with Janet and with Frank ‘N’ Furter.
Other stand-out actors are Hudson in her double role as Usherette and Magenta, Gary Chambers as Riff-Raff, and Winnie Bean as Columbia.
The band, No Picnic, is great. They’re led by keyboardist Josh Zimmerman and driven by the hard rhythms laid down by dummer Tai Taitano.
Finally, I can’t praise Kayla Crawford’s choreography enough, and kudos to set designer Erin Manza Chanfrau and costume designer Diane Runkel.
I highly recommend “The Rocky Horror Show” unless you’re easily offended by overt sexuality.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, midnight shows Jan. 20 and 27, through Jan. 29
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, Lakewood Towne Center, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $30 adults, $27, Seniors (65+), $28 Military$22 students and educators, pay what you can Jan. 19
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Friday, January 6, 2017

Of Mice and Men at Tacoma Little Theatre


Preview: Of Mice and Men at Tacoma Little Theatre
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 5, 2016
George (Mason Quinn) and Curley’s wife (Margret Parobek), photo by Niclas Olson
Tacoma Little Theatre begins 2017 with John Steinbeck’s classic tale, Of Mice and Men, directed by Niclas Olson, founder and managing artistic director of New Muses Theatre Company.
"It’s been a pleasure working with the cast to find new layers in Steinbeck’s classic,” Olson says. “What jumps out at me every time I watch it in rehearsal or read over the script (or novel) is how big all the characters dream. That resilience in the face of extreme poverty and abuse is inspiring, and a great lesson for everyone. I don't know how Steinbeck managed to create a story that is so heartbreaking while at the same time incredibly hopeful, but it's a joy to stage. I can’t wait to share our version with an audience."
Olson is building a career of making classic plays relevant to modern times. He did it with Romeo and Juliet and with August Strindberg’s classic play Miss Julie.
George (Mason Quinn) and his friend Lennie (Chris James) are drifters during the Great Depression who believe they can live off the "fat of the land." Lennie is giant of a man-child who does not know how dangerous his strength can be. George sees himself as Lennie’s protector. The ranch boss, Curley, is a bully who picks on Lennie, and his wife, who is referred to only as Curley’s wife, never by name, flirts with Lennie. When she is found dead in the barn with a broken neck, it's obvious that Lennie (accidentally) killed her, and George is faced with the moral dilemma of whether or not to turn him in.
Of Mice and Men is such a classic and a favorite with so many people still to this day because it deals with themes that are and have been so relevant: friendship, dreams, loneliness,” says James. “And at the core you have the incredible relationship between George and Lennie. I first read Of Mice and Men in high school and I loved it! Now I am thrilled and excited to be able to perform it at TLT.”
Quinn says, "Of Mice and Men, more than anything, is about the relationship between two men, and the dream they’ve created together. It shows us how two people can share an unbreakable bond simply because they travel together. It shows us that simply having someone to talk to, can give your life purpose."
Margret Parobek, who plays Curley’s Wife, says, "Ultimately, the production of Mice and Men is about our longing for human connection. All characters in this show yearn to be understood and loved; however, they struggle on how to communicate this need. Curley’s Wife needs a friend to confide in; something she will not find in her new husband. Instead, she acts out in loneliness, seeking companionship with the ranch hands using her feminine charms. What is unique about George and Lennie is their assured friendship in this harsh environment. The intensity of their connection on stage is a joy to witness. All actors in this production have done a stand-up job of developing these complex characters. I have enjoyed exploring this story under the direction of Niclas Olson and fellow cast members.”
Also in the cast are Roger Iverson as Candy, an older ranch hand; Derek Mesford as Curley; Eric Cuestas-Thompson as Curley’s father, a.k.a. The Boss”; Jacob Tice as Slim; Alex Gust as Whit; and Alex Koerger as Carlson.
"As we continue to provide entertainment for our community, we look for those pieces that people are familiar with, but have maybe never seen. With this show we are also providing student matinees to allow schools to broaden their students' experiences," says TLT Artistic Director Chris Serface.

Of Mice and Men, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, special school matinee Jan. 26, Jan. 20-Feb. 5, $24 adults, $22 seniors /Students/Military, $20 12 and younger, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,
Watch for my review in the Jan. 19 edition of the Weekly Volcano.

Art Deco From the Huchthausen Collection at MOG

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 5, 2016
"Vase Nenuphar (Water Lily Vase) from Le Verre Francais Line, mold-blown glass with interior and exterior crushed and powdered glass frits and single surface acid cutting by Charles Schneider, collection of David Huchthausen, photo by Lloyd Shugart
Vases, vases and more vases crowd two large galleries in Tacoma’s Museum of Glass — more than 100 Art Deco vases, statuettes, glass plates and wall hangings from the collection of David Huchthausen, famous as an artist and collector. Not coincidentally an exhibition of Huchthausen’s own outstanding glass art closed on the last day of 2016 in another of MOG’s galleries.
Art Deco was a craft movement that grew out of various other art movements such as Cubism, Bauhaus design, and Art Nouveau, which swept Europe and the United States in the 1920s and ’30s. It was prominent in architecture, home décor, clothing, theatrical sets, jewelry, painting and sculpture. It is distinguished by simple, clean shapes, often with what at the time was considered a streamlined look with geometric or stylized figurative surface decoration — a style associated with elegance and wealth. 
Many of the works in this show are by unknown artists identified only by the glass art studios that produced their works, such as Daum Frères, aka Daum Nancey, and Vetri d’Arte Muranese. There are many works by the same artists, most notably Charles Schneider. I counted 39 works by Schneider before giving up counting. There is a group of 37 Schneider vases in the first gallery. Taken as a group, there is an Egyptian look to these. They are mostly tall vases with geometric designs.
The inventiveness and originality of most works in this show can be seen in the surface decoration more so than in the form of the various vessels.
There are beautiful classical vases by René Lalique in clear glass or translucent white or off-white with bas relief sculptures of dancing nudes with interlocked arms. On the Lalique vase with a slight green tint called “Vase Bacchantes” the classical nudes are so close together as to look like they are growing out of each other, and the green tint gives it a ghostly appearance.
The stacked and repetitive geometric shapes on Schneider’s “Water Lily Vase” looks to these eyes not so much like abstracted lilies but like a bird of prey, and its red color is fiery with an inner glow.
Among my favorites are four pieces attributed to Karel Palda with severe geometric patterns and strong color contrasts on cylindrical vases, decanters and other forms decorated with circular, zig-zag and stacked square-and-rectangular designs.
A small brandy snifter by an unidentified artist from Vetri d’Arte Muranese features an etched line drawing of figures and peacocks that are amazingly detailed and delicate.
A molded vase with deep-cut acid designs from Daum Nancey has the heavy and imposing look of ancient armor.
Wandering among the more than 100 works (a few on the walls but mostly in display cases) is like a scavenger hunt among artworks both antique and modern with an endless yet subtle variety of decorative elements.

Art Deco from the Huchthausen Collection, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., through September 2017, admission $5-$15, free to members, free Third Thursday, Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St. Tacoma, (866) 468-7386] 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Support Your Local Author

Not Me, Those Other Guys.

If you're a reader - and if you're not, what the hell are you doing on my blog? - then I implore you to make this your New Year's resolution: Buy at least one book this year from a local author.

There are scads of them to choose from, and many of them are really good. I know you may hesitate because, after all, how can you trust a book by the guy who waits on you at your favorite eating establishment? Hell, anybody can publish a book nowadays. But I'm going to give you some titles of books by local authors here in my neck of the woods, Southwest Washington state, that are really good. I've read them (all but one, and I've heard readings by the author of that one), and I can attest to them. These books are not just by some dude who thinks he has a story to tell; they're by accomplished writers who, with one exception, have never been able to reach the many, many readers who should be buying their books. That one book, the first on this list, is an international best seller, and some of the others should be.

So once again I implore you: buy at least one of these books in 2017.

The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes - the story about a wonderful and lovable young man in Olympia, Washington who is on the autism scale. He loves climbing trees and is determined to save one giant tree that is slated for destruction.

Mr. Klein's Wild Ride by Lynn Savage - about the building, promotion and climactic opening day of a theme park for swingers. It is sexy and funny. Lynn Savage, by-the-way, is a pseudonym for the well-known writer, editor and actor Christian Carvajal.

Hagridden by Samuel Snoek-Brown - the hard-edged and poetic story of two women and their horrific struggle for survival during the waning days of the Civil War. It has been compared, rightly so, to Cormac McCarthy.

Away Place by Ruth Tiger - a story of a group home for mentally challenged adults and the special bond between one of the residents and his teacher. Ruth Tiger is a Special Education Specialist.

The Protest by Dianne Bunnell - a harrowing autobiographical novel about a mother whose child is seduced into a dangerous religious cult.

Little is Left To Tell by Steven Hendricks - a surrealistic, steampunk, fantasmagorical story of rabbits who talk and elephants that fly and a once brilliant English professor who is suffering from dementia.

Stories We Don't Tell by Melissa Thayer - a poignant look at love and loss in a small town in Montana.

Field of Turby by William Turbyfill - a cleverly titled book of stories taken from the author's own life. Each story is a gem. They are funny and touching, and absolutely true.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

C.C. McKim’s Impressionist Vision at Tacoma Art Museum

Photo: “Patton Creek,” oil on canvas by C.C. McKim, collection of Jeff and Esther Clark, photo by Mark Humpal

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 29, 2016
Untitled (Across the Columbia with St. Peter's Dome, oil on canvas by C.C. McKim, collection of Mark Humpal and Diane Zuhl, photo by Mark Humpal, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
Considered one of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest impressionist painters, C.C. McKim was an East Coast transplant who moved to Portland from the East Coast around 1910, and turned out a large body of glowing, Oregon landscape paintings from then until the early 1930s.
American Impressionism was more realistic, more precisely detailed, than the French Impressionism of the mid-1800s that inspired it (Monet, Renoir, Sisley). During roughly the same period there was a grandiose period of American landscape painting exemplified by the Hudson River School and the likes of Albert Bierstadt. McKim combined elements of all these. Shortly after moving to Portland, he began to lighten his palette and paint with a combination of heavy dabs of color and softly blended areas to create sparkling images reminiscent of Monet. Typically his paintings — especially the ones from 1920 and later — had soft, hazy, backgrounds with detailed foregrounds painted with thick dabs of color applied in short strokes.
I do not know if he acknowledged Monet’s influence, but it is clearly in evidence in the 43 landscapes now on display at Tacoma Art Museum. His paintings of Haystack Rock are reminiscent of Monet’s many paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, and his untitled painting of the Portland waterfront seen from across the river with softly billowing smokestacks in the background are very much like Monet’s smoky paintings of the railway station at Saint-Lazare. My impression from looking at these paintings is that McKim was on the same path Monet had traveled half a century earlier, but he never went as far; he was never willing to let go of detailed realism.
"Patton Creek," oil on canvas by C.C. McKim, collection of Jeff and Esther Clark, photo by Mark Humpal, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
As you enter the gallery there is a group of woodland scenes to the left with dense foliage and lots of green from the first decade of the century. They’re like calendar art, beautiful but more about the scene than about the elements of painting, with just a hint of the more impressionistic painting to come. Adjacent to these are three snow scenes that are more about the art of color and design. “A Frozen Brook” depicts a vast field of snow with a single clump of trees and a triangular wedge of clear blue sky. It is almost minimalist-abstract in its simple and somewhat radical composition, and the colors are marvelous.
“Across the Columbia with St. Peter’s Dome” is typical of his later work with hazy backgrounds and detailed foregrounds, and as with many of his paintings, the colors are indescribably rich.
“Patton Creek” stands out as the most impressionistic painting in the show and the one with the most atypical colors. It pictures a creek bed lined with overhanging trees whose leaves are flat strokes of yellow.
These paintings celebrate the beauty and grandeur of the Pacific Northwest landscape as depicted by an artist with great sensitivity to color and composition. Despite being admired by many as an outstanding regional artist, he is not well known by the general public. Confession: I had never heard of him, but this exhibition convinces me that his place in art history is well earned. He is an artist whose work should be seen.

Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through March 26, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,