Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Naturalist

Exploring Abstract Landscapes at B2 Fine Art
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 23, 2016
"Autumn landscape Golden Grove,” painting by Gerard Collins, all photos courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery
For six years B2 Fine Art Gallery has offered Tacoma a smorgasbord of art from emerging locals to established international art stars. And now they offer up their final show before packing up and moving north to the Emerald City.
The current show, slightly misnamed an “exploration of abstract landscapes,” features Olympia painters Jeffree Stewart and Becky Knold with some of their better works to date, along with sculptures by Alan Newberg and paintings by Gerard Collins and Nina Mikhailenko (I say “slightly misnamed” because some of the paintings are not abstract in the least).
"Pond's Reflection" by Becky Knold
Gallery owner Gary Boone says nobody captures the Northwest light the way Knold does. I would say nobody captures the blues of clear water the way she does in her paintings “Pond’s Depth” and “Pond’s Reflection,” especially the former. Known for minimalist abstracts with very few delineated forms on fields of layered color, Knold shows more variety in this show than I’ve seen in any of her previous shows. “Pond’s Depth” has marvelous areas of cool aqua blues and greens with yellow accents and some surprising areas of flat, dull blue in three corners. I like the unexpectedness of the dull blue corners and the way they highlight the subtle changes in the rest of the painting. There is more complexity in “Pond’s Reflection” than in her usual, and a nice faceted glass-like surface.
"Hidden Zone Lahare" by Jeffree Stewart
Stewart’s paintings come as a surprise to me. Although they show some similarities to earlier works I have seen from him, they mostly represent new directions and are the best of his paintings I have seen to date. They are stylized and highly expressive landscapes painted with long strokes of intense color, often with swirling spirals and sweeps like those seen in Van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night.” There are two paintings in beeswax and gouache that are intense and have an air of mystery to them. One of these pictures a silhouetted figure in a boat in the ocean in front of a rocky shore. There is a lot of white in this that sparkles like sunlight, but it is a cold, cold white light.
Mikhailenko’s paintings are not abstract, but are traditional landscapes with softly blended paint application and a welcoming glow of muted color. The best of these is a painting of waterfalls that is like a blend of Monet and Whistler. Nicely done but derivative.
Newberg’s sculptures are imposing works in wood that exploit the natural properties of the material to great effect. Two of them are freestanding sculptures that stand seven or eight feet tall and have a monumental feel to them. A third is much smaller but is equally monumental in concept if not in scale.
Collins, whom I was told studied under the great Gerhard Richter, is showing a variety of paintings, most of which are abstract but clearly based on nature, and two of which are a Pollock-like overall pattern of black marks on white canvases. On the far back wall is a Collins painting of tangled limbs in a dense forest painted with overlapping staccato brushstrokes with a small band of sky showing across the top. In this sky are white clouds that look like areas where the canvas was left blank but which can be seen as painted upon a closer inspection. This painting brings to mind the latest works by Olympia painter Kathy Gore Fuss, but it has a rougher, rawer quality.
Tacoma will miss B2.
The Naturalist, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through July 30, B2 Gallery, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065.


Into the Woods at Dukesbay Theater

 fractured fairytale
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 23, 2016
Clockwise: Arwen DeweyNick ClawsonNiclas Olson, Deanna Martinez and Tasha Smith. Photo courtesy New Muses Theatre Company.
New Muses Theatre Company’s Into the Woods at Dukesbay Theater is the third version of this popular Stephan Sondheim musical I have reviewed, and it is quite different in some important ways, primarily in that it is scaled down with a much smaller set in a smaller space with fewer actors, and those actors are physically much closer to the audience. I like the closeness and the scaled-down set with cheap but highly inventive props (a flock of origami birds dropped by a rope pulley operated by actors on stage in full view of the audience, a white chair on rollers as a cow, and a picture frame as a harp; I only wish the babies had been equally inventive objects instead of baby dolls).
Sondheim and book writer James Lapine cobbled together a cast of well-known fairytale characters into a dark fantasy morality tale set to music.
A malevolent witch (Brynne Geiszler) cast a spell on a baker (Nick Clawson) and his wife (Arwen Dewey) making them infertile. She tells them the only way they can break the spell is to go into the woods and get a milky white cow, a blood red cape, hair the color of corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. Finding these items is a snap, but to get them they have beg, buy or steal them from their owners, who are reluctant to give them up. The cow is the property of Jack from “Jack and the Beanstalk” (Niclas Olson). The blood red cape belongs to Little Red Riding Hood (Sammy Cattin); the hair the color of corn is Rapunzel’s (Jenna McRill); and the slipper as pure as gold is Cinderella’s (Tasha Smith).
In a play filled with comical and dramatic clashes with temptation, the baker is too nice to swindle or steal these items, but his wife is much more willing to do whatever it takes to get what she needs so she can have a baby. She’s also easily tempted by the seductive prince (Derek Mesford) who is in love with Cinderella but doesn’t hesitate to two-time her (princes use their charms to seduce. That’s what they do). This prince has a brother (played by Olson ) who is in love with Rapunzel, and both princes are charming, sleazy, arrogant narcissists, as portrayed with great comic effect by Olson and Mesford, whose duet on the song “Agony” is the comic highlight of the show.
The music throughout is wonderful. Highlights include the wolf’s flirtatious “Hello Little Girl” as sung by Mesford to Cattin, “A Very Nice Prince” as sung by Dewey and Smith, and Dewey’s “Moments in the Woods.” The choreographed movement of the entire cast popping in and out like so many Jack-in-the-Boxes ads a magical quality.
Clawson, Cattin, Dewey and Chris Serface as the narrator and “Mysterious Man” turn in marvelous acting jobs. It is particularly nice to see Serface, Tacoma Little Theatre artistic director, back on stage.
Olson, founder of New Muses, not only sings and acts wonderfully in multiple roles, but he is also does a great job of directing of this show, rising to the challenge of scaling down a big stage production to fit in a small house.
The house, which seats only 40, was sold out opening night, so I highly suggest getting advance tickets.
Into the Woods, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m., Sunday through July 3, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater, Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave., Tacoma. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Laramie Project at Tacoma Little Theatre
A Benefit for Orlando
Tacoma Little Theatre is producing a one-night-only reading of “The Laramie Project” on June 26 as a benefit for the survivors of the massacre in Orlando. 
Read the complete article on

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Betty Ragan Retrospective

“Between Michigan and State,” photo collage by Betty Sapp Ragan, courtesy Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 16, 2016

“Uptown Broadway Angel,” hand-colored photo collage by Betty Sapp Ragan, courtesy Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
Betty Sapp Ragan passed away a year ago. She was an excellent artist, and she left behind an impressive body of work, a lot of which is now being shown in an exhibition of photo collages and prints at the Mary Bozeman Gallery in the Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
Curated by Patty McPhee, the show consists of some 32 works in the main auditorium and a few of her larger works in separate rooms. The art is arranged in generally chronological order beginning with a few prints and drawings from roughly 1985. Few of the works are dated, but McPhee says the bulk of them are from what Ragan called her “button down series,” works with feminist themes done in the 1990s. Two of the larger works are photo collages with intricate shading in colored pencils, and there are two of her latest works— paintings of landscapes with architectural structures. I reviewed an exhibition of this series in September of 2015, writing:  “Painted are the scenes where the buildings were, are, should be, or might have been located. The colors are bright and sunny with a predominance of blue. Everything is painted with precise detail but softly focused, like a cross between photo-realist paintings and pastel drawings. The buildings themselves are digital prints of architectural drawings, mostly black and white line drawings that are collaged into the paintings.”
All of the smaller photo collages depict women’s dresses either on mannequins or hangers, positioned within architectural structures. The dresses stand in for the women who may have worn them. They are stiff and formal dresses from bygone eras. They tend to be far too large for the settings — windows or archways or pedestals on baroque buildings — as if the women are giants, and the button-down formality of the dresses combined with the positioning within the buildings creates a feeling of imprisonment; locked within their clothes and within what is expected of women. Further intensifying this feeling of imprisonment is the fact that the mannequins are always headless and armless.
The earliest painting in this show is “In the Gazebo,” a photo collage of dresses inside a building: one giant dress inside an archway and a procession of smaller dresses marching forward.
“Chambored Oval Window” is an outsized dress within an oval window. All that is visible is the midsection with six large buttons. Above the window is a sculpted face flanked by leaf designs that form arms for the woman made up of the sculpted face and the dress in the window as the body. It becomes almost surrealistic and ominous.
Many of the other works, such as “Raitt Hall,” Cathedral Apartments in San Francisco,” and “Rialto Apartments” repeat this theme of an outsized bodice inside a window or other framing device. Semi-transparent blouses are also a repeated theme, as in “Between State and Michigan” with its transparent white blouse with polka dots that reverberate nicely with the intricate scrollwork framing the window.
Ragan took all of the photos of dresses and of buildings, the bulk of which are in Chicago. She cut out the dresses and meticulously collaged them into the photos of buildings. It is almost impossible to tell they are actual collages and not digitally manipulated images. If you look very closely from just the right angle, you can sometimes see the edges of paper, which she colored to match the sections where they were pasted in.
All of the art is for sale by silent auction and is priced ludicrously cheap, with bids starting as low as $10. All proceeds to go toward upgrading the lighting and hanging system for the gallery. McPhee said the low bid prices are based on the executor of Ragan’s estate’s desire that the works have homes.
Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation, South 56th and L Street, Tacoma. Open most days but it is best to contact Patty McPhee at 206-919-4938 to make sure someone is there.

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 16, 2016 
from left: Rebecca Rogers, Vanessa Postil, and Lauren O’Neill. Photos courtesy Theater Artists Olympia.
If you are easily offended by irreverent humor, steer clear of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) at the Midnight Sun. They don’t make them any more irreverent. Produced by Theater Artists Olympia and written by Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor for The Reduced Shakespeare Company, the same folks who brought you The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), this Pythonesque retelling of the Bible follows the formula established by RSC’s evisceration of Shakespeare. They loosely reinterpret and retell the familiar (and not so familiar) stories of the Bible. There are groaner puns (the ax of the apostles), a skewering of The Almighty’s destructive vengeance and misogyny, Vaudeville-style jokes and song-and-dance routines, and a smattering of topical references mixed in with historical/Biblical tales (the apostles Paul and John, but not George and Ringo).
This satire is directed by Mark Alford and stars Lauren O’Neill, Vanessa Postil, and Rebecca Rogers as themselves telling the tales of the Bible and acting out the parts of God, Jesus, Moses, Sampson, Joseph and Mary and the whole cast of characters from both the old and the new testaments. These are three of the funniest women in the South Sound. O’Neill, also known as Hattie Hotpants, emcee of Tush! Burlesque, and as Dr. Lauren (could that possible be a takeoff on Dr. Laura?), is a veteran of many plays with TAO. Postil performs with Lady Town Improv troupe and was a huge hit in TAO’s The Head That Wouldn’t Die. Rogers is a relative newcomer to South Sound stages, but comes to the area with more than 20 years’ experience performing and teaching improv all over the country and recently in Paris, France.
Oddly enough, despite great actors throwing themselves with abandon into routines that are clever, biting, and ludicrous, I found myself not laughing out loud throughout much of this play. I enjoyed it, but not to the extent that I enjoyed more than one production of its predecessor, the Shakespeare treatment. Some of the jokes came across as juvenile, and much of the humor was of a type that I appreciate but don’t necessarily react to; and I don’t think that was what the writers or the director intended. There were some bits, on the other hand, that were funny enough to make tears of laughter roll down cheeks, a prime example being the audience-participation retelling of the story of Noah’s ark as a song, “Old MacNoah had an ark.” Brave audience members made weird animal noises onstage, and many were sprayed with water. You have now been warned.
Some of the more clever bits included the mark of Cain (no spoiler here, you’ll have to see it for yourself) and a musical explanation of how to tell Elijah from Elisha or the Josephs from the old and new testaments.
The costumes were purposefully bad, as were fake beards and big wigs, and the props were silly: a giant blow-up whale for Jonah and a tiny plastic ark that Rogers claimed she carved out of wood.
No other South Sound theatrical group is as edgy, brave or outlandish as TAO, so it is fitting and not at all surprising that they’re the first to bring this satirical romp to Olympia.
Lauren O'Neill

Rebecca Rogers

Vanessa Postil

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), Thursday, March 31 at 8 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m. through June 26, pay what you can June 16, The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St. Tickets: $12-$15, Available at door night of show or online at

Friday, June 10, 2016

Life is Complicated

Seated are Erin Quinn Valcho, Christopher Valcho, Sharry O'Hare, and David Cuffeld. Randall Graham and Jenni Flemming are standing. Photo by Steve Saxton.

Local playwright Kendra Malm brings her first play to the stage at Olympia Little Theatre, and it’s a hit. The play is Life is Complicated, a contemporary comic drama that delves unflinchingly into one of the more contentious social and political issues of the day.
In program notes Malm says the script was inspired by thinking about the perfect part for herself. She said, “I got a book about playwriting to give me advice about getting it down on paper . . . and worked on it off and on for six years.”
It’s the story of Chelsea Walsh (Jenni Fleming), a single professional woman in her forties. Egged on by her free-spirited best friend, Zoe (Erin Quinn Valcho), Chelsea starts a relationship with a younger man. And then Chelsea’s mother shows up and reveals something about Chelsea's past in front of Zoe that she would rather have kept hidden. This leads to a surprising confession that shocks her new boyfriend, fascinates her best friend, causes conflict in her family, and has Chelsea re-evaluating her life.
I took this description from a press release, which made it clear that the playwright doesn’t want the “shocking revelation” to be given away. That means there is little else I can say about the story.
Readings of plays can be anything from actors sitting around a table with scripts in hand to a fully staged reading with lights, set and costumes—scripts in hand being the only difference from a full production. That second option is what this production of Life is Complicated is. It is skillfully directed by Martin P. Larson and performed by a professional quality troupe including David Cuffeld as Jordan, the boyfriend; Randall Graham as Chelsea’s wisecracking little brother, Dave; Sharry O’Hare as Chelsea’s mother, Midge; Christopher Valcho as her father, Chuck; and Fleming and Erin Quinn Valcho as Chelsea and Zoe. The cast and crew had three weeks to prepare, and judging from the opening night performance, I suspect they could soon easily drop the scripts.
Christopher Valcho, who plays the dad, is also credited with building the set, which is as lovely as any I’ve seen at OLT, thanks to a classy back wall and beautiful props (modernistic furniture with gorgeous coloring—subtle tones of gray with colorful accents softly lighted in tones of blue). No one is credited with costuming. I gather the actors chose their own, resulting in contemporary clothing that, in each instant, fits the character’s personality.
Fleming plays Chelsea as a sophisticated and worldly woman who is nevertheless sensitive to others, can let her hair down when appropriate, and feel deeply. She plays the part with subtlety and strength. Erin Quinn Valcho and Graham are delightful as the playful Zoe and Dave. Cuffeld plays a likeable and also playful but sensitive Jordan. O’Hare as the spiteful mother makes you want to scratch her eyes out, and Christopher Valcho is a strong father figure. Excellent acting and directing all around.
Malm’s script could use a few minor tweaks. I thought there could have been more foreshadowing to build up to the big reveal at the end of the first act, and the discussions in the second act became a bit too didactic in spots. But when criticizing the script, I have to keep this in mind: hit plays on Broadway are usually re-written many times after they are first performed on the road. A playwright needs to see her play performed by actors before finalizing it. This play has never before been performed. I would love to see it fully developed and produced again at OLT or some other theater.
Life is Complicated is being performed this weekend only, tonight and Saturday at 7:55 p.m. and Sunday at 1:55 p.m. Tickets are $7 and are available online at, or at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr. SW, Suite 201.
Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Avenue NE in Olympia, (360)786-9484,

Avenue Q Comes to Lakewood Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune, June 10, 2016
Ensemble cast of Avenue Q. 
“Avenue Q” is an edgy adult comedy billed by Lakewood Playhouse as “‘Sesame Street’ Grows Up And Moves to ‘South Park.’” Originally conceived as a television show, it is presented in the style of a children’s show with puppets and catchy songs, but unlike the former and more like the latter, the themes are definitely adult-only. So is much of the language. There is even a scene with simulated sex by puppets stage right while actors and other puppets stage left sing a loud and rousing "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want When You're Makin' Love."
Other clever songs include: "It Sucks to Be Me," "If You Were Gay, " "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?" and "The Internet is for Porn."

KYLE SINCLAIR (Princeton) and DEREK HALL and KAYLA CRAWFORD as "Nicky" from the Lakewood Playhouse Production of "AVENUE Q"

Two of the main characters, who may or may not be gay, are roommates Rod (Kyle Sinclair) and Nicky (Derek Hall), who are unmistakable takeoffs on Bert and Ernie from “Sesame Street.” Trekkie Monster (also Hall) whose voice is a whole lot like his namesake, Cookie Monster. The landlord of the apartment on Avenue Q is none other than former child star Gary Coleman (not a puppet but live actor Tony L. Williams,). And a very slutty Lucy (Taylor Davis) is a cross between Miss Piggy and Mae West.
All puppets are operated on stage by actors in full view of the audience. Director Victoria Webb credits puppet master Lance Woolen with “making the puppets come to life.” I also credit the actors for disappearing into their puppets in the sense that they both act their parts and make the puppets act their parts. The combination of acting and puppeteering is amazing to watch.
Some of the puppets take two actors to operate, and there appear to be some fast swapping of who is operating which puppets. For example, there was one point when actor Taylor Davis clearly exited the stage, and yet within seconds I saw her on stage operating a puppet that I believe Kayla Crawford had been operating moments before. I never saw the swap, and it happened so fast that now I’m not sure I saw what I thought I saw. There was a lot of that kind of thing going on so pay attention.
Also acting (not with a puppet) is Conner Brown as Brian the building superintendent whose dream is to be a stand-up comic and JasminRae (((CQ))) Onggao Lazaroo (also no puppet) as Brian’s partner, Christmas Eve. Rounding out the cast are Kate Monster (Davis), Mrs. T. and Bad Idea Bear (Crawford), and Princeton (Sinclair).
The story is that of young adults fresh out of college trying to find their way in the world while wrestling with issues of love, sex, finding their purpose in life, and how to make a living and pay the rent.
The ensemble cast is made up of newcomers to Lakewood Playhouse, all of whom are either making their debut there or for whom this is their second show at the Playhouse, and they do an excellent job of both acting and puppeteering in roles that must be technically challenging.
I can easily imagine how hilarious and how shocking “Avenue Q” must have been when it debuted on Broadway in 2004 (winner of the Tony Award “triple crown”: Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book). It must have been as astounding as “Hair” or “Saturday Night Live” when they first appeared. Not so shocking for today’s audiences, “Avenue Q” is still funny. The tunes are catchy, it is surprisingly sweet, and the social commentary is still relevant.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday,  2 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m., through July 3
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $24-$29, pay-what-you-will actors’ benefit June 16
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,