Friday, March 15, 2019

Palace intrigue

A family in revolt at Yelm’s Triad Theater
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 14, 2019

from left: Will Champagne as King Phillip, Jesse Geray as Richard, Dawn Wadsworth as Queen Eleanor, Dave Champagne as King Henry II, Daniel Wyman as Geoffrey, Victoria Ashley as Alais and Travis Martinez as John. Photocourtesy Standing Room Only.

The Lion in Winter by James Goldman is a riveting comic drama about King Henry II; his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine; his young ward, Alais (sometimes spelled Alys and sometimes Alice); and his three surviving sons: Richard, Geoffrey and John (the eldest, Young Henry, was killed when he and his brothers revolted against their father the king), and King Phillip of France. It is now being performed by Standing Room Only at Yelm’s Triad Theater.

The historical facts are confusing and colored with speculation and rumor. Eleanor, whom Henry II married when he was 18, was one of the most powerful women in Europe. She had previously been married to Louis VII of France and was later imprisoned for 10 years by Henry who then controlled all of England and half of France.
Alias was eight years old when first sent to Henry, who signed a contract of marriage between her and his son Richard, later to be called the Lionheart. Both Henry and Eleanor were reputed to have had many affairs. She was even reputed to have had an affair with Henry’s father.
Alais (Victoria Ashley) and Henry (Dave Champagne)
In the play, Alais (Victoria Ashley) and Henry (Dave Champagne) are lovers, which Eleanor (Dawn Wadsworth) knows. She thinks of Alais as both a rival and a daughter. To further complicate the plot, Alais is promised with a dowry to marry Richard (Jesse Geray), who is accused of having had a homosexual affair with King Phillip of France (Will Champagne), and all three sons are fighting over who is to be the next King of England. These juicy and complicated palace intrigues and family feuds are brought to light during a weekend in the palace at Christmas when Henry lets Eleanor come home for a holiday visit.
The plot is complicated but clear. The acting by the principles: Ashley, Dave Champagne and Wadsworth, is outstanding. Champagne plays King Henry as sly, devious and volatile; Wadsworth is imperial in demeanor as the powerful Eleanor; and as Alais, Ashley comes across as, at first, innocent and loving but eventually strong and clever enough to hold her own with the back-stabbing royal family. It is a joy to watch these three at work.
Actors portraying the three sons and King Phillip are not as compelling. All four seemed stiff and uncomfortable in their roles at first but become much stronger in the second act.
The most entertaining scene in the play is the first scene of the second act in which Henry and Eleanor have the stage alone and engage in a convoluted battle of wit, and creative invective. This entire scene is an acting and writing tour de force. It’s like George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf transported back to the 12th century. It’s a scene that could stand alone as a one-act. And it is a warm-up to the bombast to follow when wife and sons plot to murder the king.
The massive set is one of the play’s biggest assets and biggest burdens. It consists of various rooms in the castle with heavy stone walls and marvelous props, ornately carved furniture, lamps, swords, carpets and massive wine bottles — a much larger and more impressive set than is usually seen in small community theaters. The downside to that is that set changes are long, cumbersome and distracting.
The play runs approximately two and one-half hours including intermission.
The Lion in Winter, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through March 30, $20, $17 military and seniors, $10 students, Triad Theater, 102 E. Yelm Ave., Yelm, 360.458.3140,

A show called She

Robin Annette Jordan at the PCAF Gallery
Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 14, 2019
by Alec Clayton

untitled acrylic painting by Robin Annette Jordan, courtesy PCAF.
Pierce County AIDS Foundation has set aside a part of their offices as an art gallery, and for the month of March is showing a group of paintings by Robin Annette Jordan called She to bring attention to National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
Every year throughout the month of March local, state, federal, and national organizations come together to shed light on the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls and show support for those at risk of and living with HIV.
This year marks the 14th annual observance of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
Progress against HIV and AIDS has been made, but many are still vulnerable to infection, especially Black or African-American and Hispanic women.
A release from PCAF explains that the show “organically embodies identity, presence, and ownership of eloquence and strength” and further reminds us that HIV and AIDS “are still widespread public health issues, and women remain particularly impacted by the virus. Today, nearly one in four people who are diagnosed with HIV are women.”
Jordan’s work “challenges us to move towards improving the wellbeing of women through policy, education, and innovative programs.”
Jordan’s acrylic paintings picture faceless women of color in various situations or environments. They are all about the same size (approximately 16-by-12 inches) and each piece is displayed in a recycled frame.
The drawing of the figures is unpolished and more decorative than detailed, with mostly flat figures with no shading or modeling. Most of the paintings are of single women, though there is one of two women dancing in colorful costumes and two similar paintings with a group of nine or more dancing women in identical dresses with black bodies and black hair streaked with white. These figures look like dolls and are starkly dramatic. Most of the women depicted in the other paintings have brown skin — the same uniform dark brown in each painting. The dresses worn by the two dancing women mentioned above look like dresses seen on women at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
The backgrounds and clothing in Jordan’s pictures are painted in intense colors, and although the faces are featureless, they are of particular people. In a printed statement, the artist says she expresses her love of color “through my faceless artwork by telling stories about things I have done and seen, about family and friends, and watching National Geographic. Why faceless? It makes the artwork more interesting for an individual person to understand what the artwork is perhaps saying to him or her.”
What it says to me is that women of color have for too long been invisible — left out of history, left out of art, and relegated to minor roles in film and literature.
Since the women are faceless, the visual beauty resides in the vibrancy of the colors and shapes in the dresses and the background, which for a self-taught artist display an exciting sense of design and color usage.  
She, Robin Annette Jordan, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, through March 31, PCAF Gallery, 3009 S 40th St., Tacoma, 253.383.2565 ext. 7201

Monday, March 11, 2019

Pug Bujeaud helms an astonishingly delightful comedy at Olympia Little Theatre

‘Bunbury: A Serious Play for Trivial People’ Rides through literary history
by Alec Clayton

Dale Sharp as Jack, Stephani Hemness as Gwendolyn, Meghan Goodman as Lady Bracknell, Ethan Bujeaud as Algernon, Katelyn May as Cecily, and Rodman Bolek as Bunbury. Photos by Toni Holm.

I had never heard of
Bunbury before Olympia Little Theatre announced they were doing it; so I went to see it with mild expectations, trusting that since Pug Bujeaud was directing it, it had to be good.

I just never expected it to be as good as it is. From the dazzling script by Tom Jacobson to the beautiful set (no set designer listed in the program), to Edith Campbell’s lighting, to an outstanding cast let by Rodman Bolek as Bunbury and Shannon Agostinelli as Rosaline, every aspect of this literary comedy comes together perfectly.
Rodman Bolek as Bunbury.
Bunbury is a fictional character invented by Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest. In Jacobson’s play he is a living being. The play opens with Bunbury reclining indolently on a settee with a glass of wine ruminating about literature to his butler Hartley (Drew Doyle), saying there is nothing new literature can say and all we can do is rearrange words already written. He muses about Rosaline from Romeo and Juliette. "If he (Romeo) had kept mooning over Rosaline, he'd be alive today.” But Rosaline never existed, never appeared onstage. “She's less than fiction," he argues. "She's subfictional." 
And then Rosaline shows up speaking in iambic pentameter, and when they insert themselves in a scene from Romeo and Juliette, their arrival changes the story; they deduce that since literature influences life, they can change the world for the better by changing literature. So they set off together through the literature of the ages creating happy endings for dramas from Shakespeare to Chekhov to Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, changing the endings of their plays.
It is an intelligent and witty homage to the great literature of the ages, filled with quotes from great writers—quotes with modern comical twists.
The set is a textbook example of how to create million dollar sets on a few hundred dollars (or less) budgets. At the back of the stage is a stage front with a plush red curtain and above it the play title in an elegant script. When the action begins, the title fades, replaced by still-image projections indicating various locations and events. Needed props are brought in and out through the curtain on a moving platform.
The costumes by Barb Matthews are terrific, as is the makeup on various characters: from making Michael Christopher look a convincing 96 as Old Algernon; to making it almost impossible to tell the same actor, Meghan Goodman, portrays Lady Bracknell, Old Cecily and Irina; to Dale Sharp’s pencil mustache to his drag makeup as Juliette.
Bolek throws himself into the role of Bunbury with passion, vigor and sly wit. Agostinelli is so loveable and funny as Rosaline she makes you wonder how Romeo could have thrown her over for the wan and simpering Juliette. Sharp, in his OLT debut, is a comic genius. With a rubbery face reminiscent of great comics from Jerry Lewis to Jim Carry, he doesn’t have to say a word to elicit laughter; his facial expressions do the trick. Ethan Bujeaud, who Olympians have been watching on stage since he was eight years old, is at his mature best (so far) as Algernon and Allan. And Christopher is as masterful as ever as an unnamed “Lawyer” reciting Poe’s most famous poem and then as a radically different character as Old Algernon.
Without giving away too much of the ending, in the final scene the primary characters watch a moon landing on television while listening to a speech by a president who could only be president because Bunbury and Rosaline have changed literature and thus history.
Bunbury is simply wonderful. I can’t recommend it highly enough nor congratulate the cast and crew more heartily.

7:25 p.m. Thursday- Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through March 24
$11-$15, $2 student discount
Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia, (360) 786-9484,

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Revolutionists One Night Only

Lauren Gunderson’s, The Revolutionists will be performed one night only as the next show in Tacoma Little Theatre's Off the Shelf program.

The play is directed by Jennifer York and features “four beautiful, badass women” in an irreverent, girl-powered comedy set during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. Playwright Olympe de Gouges, assassin Charlotte Corday, former queen (and fan of ribbons) Marie Antoinette, and Haitian rebel Marianne Angelle hang out, murder Marat, and try to beat back the extremist insanity in 1793 Paris.

The Revolutionists features Angela Parisotto as Olympe de Gouges, Kristen Natalia as Marianne Angelle, Cassie Jo Fastabend as Charlotte Corday, and Deya Ozburn as Marie Antoinette.

Thursday, March 14, 2019, 7:30 p.m.
$10, free to TLT members
Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I Street, Tacoma

Friday, March 8, 2019

Murder or Miracle

Agnes of God at Dukesbay Theater
By Alec Clayton

from left: Maria Valenzuela, Cecilia Lewis and Laurie Sifford. Photos by Jason Ganwich of Ganwich Media.
Sister Agnes says to Dr. Martha Livingstone: “Only you think you’re lucky because you didn’t have a mother who said things to you and did things that maybe weren’t always nice, but that’s what you think, because you don’t know that my mother was a wonderful person, and even if you did know that you wouldn’t believe it because you think she was bad, don’t you.

Agnes of God is a thoughtful and emotionally draining three-person play written by John Pielmeier and inspired by an actual event. In 1977, Sister Maureen Murphy, a young nun at a convent in Brighton, New York, was put on trial for killing her baby. Sister Maureen had been found bleeding in her room, and her dead infant was found in a trash can. She denied giving birth and claimed she could not remember being pregnant. She had covered up her pregnancy by wearing the traditional nun’s habit. The father of the baby was never found. Sister Maureen was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

from left: Cecilia Lewis and Maria Valenzuela
Pielmeier read about the trial in the newspaper. In my limited research I was not able to find evidence that the play was in any way intended as a reenactment of the true events but was instead Pielmeier’s fiction inspired by the bare-bones story indicated in the opening paragraph.

The title is a pun on the Latin phrase Agnus Dei, meaning Lamb of God.

In the play, a psychiatrist, Dr. Livingstone (Maria Valenzuela) is called in to determine if Sister Agnes is sane. Valenzuela alternately narrates the events speaking directly to the audience and acts out scenes of her questioning of Agnes (Cecilia Lewis) and flashbacks from Sister Agnes and Mother Superior Miriam Ruth (Laurie Sifford).

At first, Lewis portrays Sister Agnes as shy, fearful, and incredibly naïve. She claims to have no knowledge of giving birth or of being pregnant. She even implies she does not know how pregnancy happens and says she knows nothing of any baby. Mother Miriam backs up her story, insisting that Agnes is innocent, that she has never even read a book or seen a movie, and that she knows nothing of the world outside the convent. Incidentally, the only man who had access to Sister Agnes is a priest, whom Mother Miriam insists could not possibly be the father, and there is vague reference to a field hand.

Under relentless questioning and even hypnosis, it is revealed that Agnes had the kind of relationship with her mother that could lead to psychosis. Even stigmata comes into play as Agnes’s hands spontaneously bleed. And it comes out that Agnes is not the only one with psychological issues. Mother Miriam was married with children and was a two-pack-a-day smoker before becoming a nun. Dr. Livingstone is an ex-Catholic who blames the church for the death of her sister. She is also an obsessive smoker, an indication perhaps that her supreme self-confidence and control is an act.

The only relief from the extreme psychological drama comes when Mother Miriam and Dr. Livingstone talk about smoking and speculate that the saints and the disciples, and even Mary Magdalene and Jesus might have been smokers if Lucky Strikes had been around in their time.

Being played out by only three actors, with a minimal set and practically no special lighting or sound puts a huge responsibility on the shoulders of the actors, all three of whom do a wonderful job of acting without seeming to be acting at all. Valenzuela, who has by far the most lines and is in every scene, is masterful. She depicts Dr. Livingstone as strong, determined and empathetic. Her smallest gestures, such as the way she constantly plays with the ever-present cigarette, lend verisimilitude to the character. In a slightly less imposing manner, Sifford plays Mother Miriam as equally determined. She is an obstinate warrior, but with a few chinks in her armor. I can’t say enough about Lewis’s portrayal of Sister Agnes. She rapidly and believably goes through a myriad of emotions from fear and confusion to anger.

I have read reviews of earlier productions with stained glass windows and other church trappings and dramatic lighting resulting in overblown theatrics, and I am relieved that director Nyree Martinez chose to keep this one simple. There is little on the stage other than a small table and two chairs in front of a black curtain upon which hang a crucifix and a small religious picture. The lighting and sound are kept simple, and the musical score consists of unobtrusive liturgical music and some quietly melodious singing by Sister Agnes, whom Mother Miriam says has an angelic voice.

The story verges on the unbelievable and could easily fall prey to melodrama, but Martinez and the cast and crew keep it real.

Agnes of God, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 17, $15, Dukesbay Theater, above the Grand Theater, 508 S. 6th Ave., Tacoma

Review: “Love and Information”

by Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, March 8, 2019
The cast of Love and Information, photo courtesy Harlequin Productions
Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information” at Harlequin might well be the strangest play you’ll see this year. It defies all expectations of what a stage play should be. I see it more as performance art, a fast-moving collage of vignette-like scenes. These scenes or “sections” as the playwright calls them might or might not be related in any way, and according to stage directions in the script, the sections can be performed in any order. There are more than 50 scenes with approximately 100 characters played by seven actors.
According to director’s notes in the program, there are seven sections and each section contains seven scenes. Most likely audience members will not be able to see this grouping or patterning of sections. What they, like me, are likely to see are madcap flashes of scenes that zoom by like rockets, with many unnamed characters whose relationships with one another change from scene to scene, as excellently acted by the ensemble cast.
“Love and Information” is directed by Aaron Lamb, who was in “The 39 Steps,” which also had a handful of actors playing more than 100 parts. Fittingly, Alyssa Kay, an actor in this play, was also in “The 39 Steps” – so they are old hands at playing multiple parts. Other actors are: Fox Rain Matthews, who is married to Kay and was in “Three Days of Rain” with her; Skylar Bastedo, a talented professional with 20 years work in children’s theater, in his first performance at Harlequin; Gerald B Browning, known to Harlequin regulars for his roles in “The 1940s Radio Hour” and “The Love List”; Nicholas Main, an Olympia native in his first appearance on the Harlequin stage; and Shauntal Pyper and Janet Spencer, both seasoned professionals in their Harlequin debuts.
Jeannie Beirne’s scenic design and John Serembe’s video design play a significant role in this production. The set appears to be a combination of the interior of a computer and Stone Hinge. Seven large panels stand at the back of the stage. On them are designs that look like computer circuit boards upon which are projected constantly changing videos, most of which relate, literally or abstractly, to the scenes being acted out. In front of these panels are modular boxes that are constantly rearranged by the cast to serve as chairs, beds, and other props – even as a piano.
The scenes consist of discussions related to the information age, to the nature of love, to terrorism, to, in effect, almost everything that is a part of the age we live in. The relationships between the videos and what is happening on stage is sometimes serendipitous and sometimes contradictory. For instance, in a scene about terrorism, there is a video of war on the center panel while playing simultaneously on the other panels are videos of sports (simulated war), including a Seahawks game.
Most reviews of the production see it as a meditation on the successes and failures of human communication, but Lamb feels this misses Churchill’s larger point. Says Lamb, “The question I am asking is: where is the intersection between data and emotion? At what point do chemical reactions become human experiences, and in that chain reaction, where do we become human?”
“Love and Information” is smart and funny, but impossible to understand if approached with the expectation of a traditional story arc. Some people will not get it and will be disappointed, but those who enjoy artistic experimentation should love it.
It is a short play at 80 minutes with no intermission.
WHAT: Love and Information
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 23
WHERE: State Theatre, 202 4th Ave. East, Olympia
TICKETS: $12-$15
INFORMATION: (360) 786-0151 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Some artists I have known

"Caravan" painted sticks by Susan Christian

By Alec Clayton

When I was a senior in high school I used to wander around the Art Department at the local college just to see what the art students were up to, dreaming about the near future when I would be joining their ranks.

There was one guyI can’t remember his name; let’s call him Stevewho did a gritty and grimy collage and burned a big hole in it. It reminded me of an Alberto Buri painting. I loved it. Drawing and painting instructor Charles Ambrose kept a lot of props in the studio bays that he used for setting up still life studies, including animal skulls and other bones. One day “Steve” picked up a jawbone and ran around the department swinging it overhead and shouting, “I killed a thousand men with this jawbone!” No, it was not the jawbone of an ass. I don't think; I think it was a cow.

untitled painting by Thornton Willis, 66.5" x 45.5", circa 1964

"Taxi," acrylic on canvas by Thornton Willis, 2017, 20" x 16"
Thornton Willis’s senior thesis show hung in the hallway upstairs. His works were raw abstract expressionist paintings that in retrospect reminded me a lot of Jasper Johns, whom I had not yet heard of at the time. I’d never seen anything like them. I worked up the courage to introduce myself and ask him to come over to my house and look at my paintings. He accepted my invitation and was very encouraging. He particularly liked a painting on burlap that had been inspired by “Steve’s” collage.

After my freshman year in college Thornton went to graduate school at the University of Alabama, and I did my two-year’s active duty in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Seven years later, when I was a senior in the Art Department, Thornton came back home to teach Freshman Drawing and Design, and we became close friends. We rented a loft studio downtown and worked together. He was doing large shaped canvases influenced by Frank Stella. I was beginning to experiment with Pop Art. Thornton was a huge influence on me, not so much by what he said or did, but because he introduced me to new young artists who were being featured in Art News and Art in America, and through his sheer love of art.

Drawing by Nil Filts
Toward the end of that year he was offered a teaching position in New York. Now he is quite successful. He is represented by Elizabeth Harris Gallery in NYC and has works in the collections of Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney. I also own one of his paintings, done when he was a graduate student at Alabama and left behind in our shared studio when he moved to New York. My nephew, the sculptor Willie Ray Parish, also has one of those paintings.

Mail art collage by Richard C with elements by Ray Johnson and Alec Clayton
In graduate school at East Tennessee State University I was best friends and studio mate with Richard C and Nil Felts. Nil did funky pictures of cartoon figures such as Howdy Doody and elaborate drawings of strange creatures reminiscent of works by the Chicago Imagists and the Hairy Who (Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, etc.). Richard (his last name was Craven, but he always went by the initial C) introduced me to Ray Johnson and the New York Correspondence School. About five years later I met Ray Johnson in person, went to one of his openingsglitterati galore, I felt terribly out of placeand Ray visited me in the tiny room I rented in Chelsea. Ray’s eventual suicide left a dark hole in the art world. I still get mail art from Richard C but do not respond nearly as regularly as I should.

"Rain House," oil on panel and mixed media assemblage by Susan Aurand
When I moved to Olympia, Washington in 1988, the first people I met were a couple of students in Rudy Martin’s writing workshop at The Evergreen State College, Claire Davis and Dennis Held. We lived in the same apartment complex. On their wall was a large charcoal drawing of a child with a bike. It was a tad too sentimental for my taste at the time, but the drawing skill and the richness of the velvety blacks was admirable to say the least. The artist was Susan Aurand. Over the years I often had an opportunity to review shows she was in and came to like her work a lot, but it wasn’t until 2016I can’t believe it’s been that longthat I met Susan in person at the opening of Kathy Gore Fuss’s show at Salon Refu. I greatly admire her lyrical and beautiful paintings of disjointed by related realistic snatches of sky, land, grass, bird’s nest and other images. Last year two of her paintings were purchase-prize winners at the Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College.

"Ravine" study, oil on paper, 16.5" x 23.5" by Kathy Gore Fuss
Speaking of Kathy Gore Fuss, she and her best friend at the time, Louise Williams, were the first two artists I met after moving to Olympia. Shortly after arriving in Olympia I went downtown to the Maryanne Partlow Gallery. Louise was in the gallery at the time, and through her I got to know Kathyboth excellent artists. Louise drew and painted sensitive images of children and families. Some time before her tragic death from breast cancer Louise and I traded paintings, and I am now the proud owner of two of her paintings.

untitled pastel by Louise Williams, 29.5" x 43.5" (apologies for the reflections)
Kathy, when I first met her, was doing constructed paintings or assemblages that were inventive and often funny. Over the years since 1988 she has experimented with many different types of painting and sculpture, most recently with plein air painting in the forests of Southwest Washington and at the Port Of Olympia, and as of this writing she is making photoshopped images from digital photos taken from a drone.

Painting by Juan Alonso
Coincidentally, before we moved from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Olympia, I found in an art publication a call for entries in the Erotic Art Show at the Alonso-Sullivan Gallery in Seattle. Entry was by slides. I entered and was accepted in the show, and when we went to the opening I discovered that both Kathy Gore Fuss and Louise Williams were also in the show. Since then I have also gotten to know the gallery co-owner Juan Alonso, whose work I have come to greatly admire.

After a lifetime of making art and writing about art, I could easily add a hundred or more names to this list of artists I have known. More than I can think of offhand deserve to be mentioned, but I will mention only a handful whose work and friendship have been important to me. Do yourself a favor and check them out: Ron Hinson, Susan Christian and Willie Ray Parish.

untitled painted construction by Ron Hinson

Installation view of Willie Ray Parish exhibition at El Paso Museum