Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Black Aesthetic at B2



Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 23, 2014

untitled painting by Humbert Howard
In many ways Gary and Deborah Boone operate B2 Fine Arts Gallery more like a museum than a commercial gallery — much to Tacoma’s great good fortune. They have held survey shows of the best of children’s art from around the world, not once, not twice, but three times with their “Beyond Crayons and Finger Painting” series. They have brought us art by nationally prominent African-American artists celebrating Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in the show “Sweet Freedom’s Jubilee.” They treated Tacomans with a look at the Northwest School and the Hood Canal Colony with works by Guy Anderson, Elton Bennett, Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, Mark Tobey and other Northwest Mystics. And now they offer “The Black Aesthetic,” with more works by notable African-American artists including Milt Simons, Thelma J. Streat, Paul Dusenbury, Richard Mayhew, Humbert Howard, Norman Lewis and the great Romare Bearden.

Rising Sun L’ Embouchure​ by Romare Bearden
Bearden is the most famous of the artists — famous for his collages and paintings about the black experience in America — but none of these signature pieces are included in this show. Instead, he is represented by two watercolor landscapes and an oil-on-paper landscape, all of which are simple, sketchy, atmospheric, and abstracted to such a degree that the landscape is barely recognizable. These works are simultaneously restful and explosive yet appear almost bland in comparison to works by Simons, Streat and Howard.

Simons’ paintings dominate this exhibition. His “Introspection” at six-by-eight feet is a dramatic, dark show-stopper reminiscent of El Greco with its elongated and convoluted male figure floating in a dark and stormy sky. The energy and mystery of this painting is captivating. The figure, by-the-way, is playing a flute, and next to this painting is a smaller painting in oil of raised board and strips and globs of ripped canvas called “Flutist.” Both of these are powerful and bombastic.

Breaking from the abstract theme of this show, there are three Simons figure paintings in a back room, each in a different style and each from a different period in his career. There is a realistic figure in a classical pose from 1948 painted with thin washes, a self-portrait with his wife from 1955 in which the figures are submerged in heavy globs of paint, and a very expressive but classical nude from 1962.

Simons is also represented by stormy landscapes (also reminiscent of El Greco) and equally stormy abstract paintings. That’s quite a range of styles and interests, and it’s all good.

Howard’s two little paintings were a surprise to me. I am not familiar with his work, but these two semi-abstract figure paintings with bright colors and heavy impasto paint application are lovely.

Streat’s iconic and diagrammatic pictures of animals and masked figures evoke both Africa and Native American culture.
Also showing as part of Metal Urge is a group of outstanding wall-sculptures by Earnest Thomas.

B2 Fine Art Gallery, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through Nov. 29, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tacoma Little Theatre’S ‘OFF THE SHELF’ presents MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE




Tacoma Little Theatre presents the emotional piece My Name is Rachel Corrie, directed by Niclas R. Olson and featuring Lauren Nance as Rachel. The production will be performed one night only, November 6, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.

Rachel Corrie. Picture taken from the Rachel Corrie Memorial website
On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old from Olympia, was crushed to death by an Israeli Army bulldozer in Gaza as she was trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. My Name is Rachel Corrie is a one-woman play composed from Rachel's own journals, letters and emails-creating a portrait of a messy, articulate, Salvador Dali-loving chain-smoker (with a passion for the music of Pat Benatar), who left her home and school in Olympia, to work as an activist in the heart of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the three sold-out London runs since its Royal Court premiere, the piece has been surrounded by both controversy and impassioned proponents, and has raised an unprecedented call to support political work and the difficult discourse it creates.

Tickets for the November 6, 2014 performance at 7:30pm are $10.00 for non TLT Members, and FREE for those who are members. Tickets may be purchased online at www.tacomalittletheatre.com, or by calling our Box Office at (253) 272-2281.

TLT's Off the Shelf is a new series of play readings. “We know that there is a tremendous amount of wonderful theatre that deserves to be heard but sometimes just doesn’t get an opportunity. With Off the Shelf, local directors and actors will be bringing some scripts to life that we hope you will find entertaining, challenging and educational to our stage. We hope that you’ll sit back and enjoy an evening of theatre. You never know, you might see one of these shows on our mainstage in the future,” says TLT artistic director Chris Serface.

Disclaimer: This is not my writing but is a press release from TLT printed with very few changes. I did see My Name is Rachel Corrie when it played at the Seattle Repertory Theatre a few years back, and I was tremendously moved by it. I highly recommend that South Sound theater-goers take advantage of this one-night-only opportunity to experience this intelligent and heartfelt performance.

Marginals & Mystics: Collage Mixed Media by Evan Clayton Horback at Salon Refu




Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 16, 2014

Heading to Jersey, collage
It has been 100 years since Picasso and Braque invented the technique of collage. In more contemporary times the technique has degenerated to either warmed-up Kurt Schwitters or to bizarre and often comical combinations of surrealistic imagery which tend to be more gimmicky than artistic. Notable exceptions have been the works of Robert Rauschenberg and Romare Bearden.

Evan Clayton Horback, a relative newcomer to Olympia, has made the technique special again — art with integrity and class, art that is more Rauschenbergian and Schwitters, yet uniquely Horback. That’s what good artists do.

Horback is an East Coast transplant who should be showing his work in major galleries in Seattle and Portland and will be soon if there’s if there’s any justice in this world. Meanwhile, Susan Christian has thankfully recognized his talent and has given him an excellent showcase in her gallery, Salon Refu.

untitled collage
The show is a mixture of paintings and collages, and the paintings are truly collages in concept if not in technique. He sees collage not just as a technique for creating imagery but as a compositional tool, a means of arranging images, shapes, colors and textures in sometimes startling and always pleasing ways.

I didn’t count, but by rough estimate there are about 40 pieces in the show. All but one set of nine collages on book covers are rough in texture, most done on burlap pasted on board with the edges left in a rough state. I love the scruffy surfaces.

In close to half of the paintings and collages there are line drawings of faces or figures superimposed over collage elements. These line drawings are purposefully crude yet elegant and remind me a lot of drawings by Seattle artist Fay Jones as well as Andy Warhol’s early, pre-pop paintings and drawings. There are also a lot with fields of dots over collage elements. I would have a hard time explaining why, but these really work nicely.

“Oblations (X3)” is a set of three line drawings of young boys cropped at the top and repeated at the bottom to create the illusion of the kind of infuriating rolling television images that used to be common. The word “Triples” is written in script in blue on a diagonal band of black offering sharp contrasts which nevertheless fits with the repetitive figures.

The largest and one of the strongest paintings is “Subhadra,” a close-up image of a woman’s face cropped so all we see is chin and lips combined with a band of rectangular shapes in red, blue and yellow. The texture in this one is like an old billboard that has been ripped almost to shreds and the face looks like an enlarged halftone that has been driven over by a tractor.

This little gallery continues to offer shows by the very best artists in the area. Horback’s work is intelligent, honest and beautiful. You really should see this one.

Evan Clayton Horback: Marginals & Mystics , Thursday-Sunday, 2-6 p.m. through Oct. 26, Salon Refu 114 N Capitol Way, Olympia, info@salonrefu.com.





Monday, October 13, 2014

Kinky Boots Comes to the 5th Ave.




The cast of the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre.
​Photo by Matthew Murphy

Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre’s latest show—or should I say extravaganza— is the smash Broadway musical Kinky Boots, which has just begun its national tour.

Despite the raucous music, wildly decadent costumes and flashy lighting effects, Kinky Boots is at heart a touching little story with a simple message about acceptance, courage and perseverance. Based on the hit movie of the same name, it tells the story of Charlie Price (Steven Booth), a young man struggling to figure out what he wants to do with his life who is tasked with saving the dying shoe factory in Northampton, England he has inherited from his father. On a trip to London with his fiancée, Nicola (Grace Stockdale), he meets a drag queen named Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker) and they talk about the flamboyant boots with high heels that drag queens wear and how they can’t hold up to the weight of men. Charlie flashes on building sturdy “kinky boots” as a means of saving the factory.

 Kyle Taylor Parker stars as Lola in the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre. Photo by Matthew Murphy
It’s the story of how Charlie brings in Lola to help create a line of boots and how the middle class workers in the factory react to welcoming a drag queen into their world, and ultimately about the touching and very real relationship between Charlie and Lola. And of course every musical must have a love triangle. This one involves Charlie and his selfish and manipulative fiancée and Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers), the sweet factory worker with the secret crush on him.

Kinky Boots the musical is based on the hit movie of the same title, which was in turn based on a true story. The book for the musical was written by the great Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell.

Mitchell said he wanted the realism of the working-class British world suffused with the fabulousness of the theater. “I come from Paw-Paw, Michigan. It’s complete working class and there’s lot of my roots in those people,” Mitchell said. “I went to Northampton myself and hung out. And I toured the shoe factories . . . I knew the fabulous part of it; I knew I could do that part. I wanted to know what the real part was.”
Parker, who was one of “Lola’s Angels” in the original Broadway production and played the part of Lola many times as an understudy, certainly has the fabulous part down pat, and he is believable and real and down to earth. There have been many, many portrayals of drag queens with stereotypical swishiness, but there is none of that in Parker’s portrayal. And he’s a hell of a dancer.

Booth, who is endearing as Charlie, has performed in Glory Days and Avenue Q on Broadway. He has a terrific voice and good moves—especially when he puts on the boots for the big finale (with credit to Mitchell and Booth for not overdoing it). The duet between Lola and Charlie, “Not My Father’s Son,” is one of the most moving moments in the play and one of the few quiet songs in a play replete with rocking show tunes. The other quiet and moving ballad is Lola’s solo on “Hold Me in Your Heart.”
The first couple of songs, “Price & Son Theme” and “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” both performed by the full company, could have used a little more pizazz. But then it kicks into high gear when we visit the club where Lola and the Angels perform (“Land of Lola”).

Act one ends with a full-company rendition of the upbeat song, “Everybody Say Yeah”—an exultant celebration with dancing on a moving conveyor belt. Act two also ends with a celebratory anthem, “Raise You Up/Just Be,” again with the whole company and this time with a knockout light show (lighting designer Kenneth Posner, whose most impressive lighting in this show was the multitude of soft spots on Lola’s solo on “Hold Me in Your Heart”).

Striking performances were turned in by Stockdale as Nicole and Chambers as Lauren, and by Joe Coots as Don, a tough-guy factory worker.

David Rockwell’s scenic design, the Price & Son shoe factor interior and exterior, is gritty and impressive.
One of the very few sore spots for me was an unnecessary maudlin moment when they went overboard trying to milk sympathy at the end of the beautiful “Hold Me in Your Heart” by bringing Lola’s father into the scene.

Interesting behind-the-scenes stories were provided by Mitchell in a print interview provided to the press. One of those was that they had to build the conveyor belts and try them out, and “I got on it and I wiped out, probably four or five times . . .” so they added bars for safety which became part of the choreography as dancers used the bars for swinging and jumping. The other interesting back story was that like the original factory they had to go through many trials in order to make boots what would stand up to large men dancing in them during eight two-and-a-half-hour shows a week.

Kinky Boots won six Tony awards, including Best Musical, Best Score (Cyndi Lauper) and Best Choreography (Jerry Mitchell).

Tues-Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thurs-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat- 2 and 8 p.m., Sun. 1:30 and 7 p.m.
5th Ave. Theatre, 1308 5th Ave., Seattle,
Tickets start at $45.25, (206) 625-1900 or (888) 5TH-4TIX.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Clybourne Park at Harlequin



Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 10, 2014

Left o right: Lavon Hardison, Jason Haws, Phillip Keiman, Nikki Visel and Mark Alford
In the history of theater, only two plays have won the triple crown of theatrical awards – the Pulitzer, the Tony and the Lawrence Olivier. They are Glengarry Glen Ross, which will be performed by Lakewood Playhouse this season,” and Clybourne Park, now playing at Harlequin Productions in Olympia.

“Clybourne Park” is not a sequel but a spinoff from A Raisin in the Sun. It begins when “Raisin” ended in 1959. Bev and Dan (Nikki Visel and Phillip Keiman) have sold their home in Chicago to a black family (the Younger family from “Raisin,” although they are not named). A priest, (Mark Alford) comes calling, as do their neighbors Karl Lindner (Jason Haws) and his deaf and pregnant wife, Betsy (Maggie Lofquist) – Karl is from the neighborhood association which is trying to prevent the sale to a black family from going through, and has just come from an unsuccessful meeting with the buyers. Karl is the only carryover character from “Raisin.” 

From left: Jason Haws, Maggie Lofquist and Nikki Visel
Bev and Dan were not even aware that the new owners are black, nor do they mind. The discussions that ensue are dramatic, frightening and yet hilarious as they both expose and make fun of racial and other societal stereotypes of the 1950s. Things get even sticker when the black maid, Francine (LaVon Hardison) and her husband, Albert (Robert Humes) get drawn into their arguments.

The audience is not granted the indulgence of thinking that we are far beyond such bigotry today because the second act is set half a century later in 2009 and the ensuing arguments prove that the so-called post-racial society hailed by some following the election of Barack Obama is skin deep if it exists at all. In the second act we find ourselves in the same house with a different set of characters, some of whom are related to characters from the first act, and we see that the racial tensions have not disappeared at all. In place of Bev, who was something of an Edith Bunker type in act one, always trying to appease and be open minded, we have Kathy (Visel), a haughty and ‘politically correct’ white woman whose correctness falls apart under scrutiny. In place of Francine, the black maid who is troubled but solicitous in act one, we have Lena (Hardison), a strong black woman who will not kowtow to anyone. Tensions mount as the white couple prepares to move into the neighborhood, which over the years has become a black community.

Among the more ingenious strokes of playwright Bruce Norris is that act two does not so much follow act one as it parallels act one with similar yet different conversations. For example, act one begins with Dan and Bev hilariously arguing over what people from different cities are called, for example, Neapolitans for people from Naples. The second act begins with similar arguments, this time about the names of capital cities. The parallelism of these arguments echoes the parallelism of today’s racial and social strife and that of 50 years ago.

Harlequin bills the play as a comedy, and it is bitingly funny. Political correctness is put to the test and fails miserably, not because political correctness is not a good thing but because nearly every one of these characters is a miserable human being. They are insensitive and tactless. They pretend to be open minded but are not good at hiding their prejudices. What little remains of the masks of decency they wear is stripped away as the second act deteriorates into flinging offensive jokes at one another. The jokes are not only racially offensive, they are also homophobic and misogynistic, and the rejoinders are funnier than the jokes. The playwright does an admirable job of balancing between laughing at and laughing with the characters as he exposes character flaw after character flaw.

The ensemble cast is as strong as any I’ve seen. Each actor does a commendable job of believably embodying totally different characters in the second act. Haws proves once again that he is one of the South Sound’s best actors; Lofquist makes deafness uncomfortably yet delightfully funny; Hardison’s metamorphosis from Francine to Lena is astounding; Keiman, a newcomer from Britain, is solid as the gruff and inflexible Dan and funny as Russ, the hired hand. Similar praise is due to Visel, Alford and Humes.

The period costumes by Jocelyne Fowler are spot-on, and she has strategically placed Velcro on some of the costumes to allow for astonishingly fast costume changes.

Linda Whitney has done her usual excellent job of set designing, and the rapid change in the set between acts is made possible by some brilliant engineering by Marko Bujeaud.

Seldom do all of the many elements of good theater come together so completely as in this production. It is no wonder that Clybourne Park made the grand sweep of top theatrical prizes.


WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Oct. 25
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; http://www.harlequinproductions.org/

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