Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review “Orphan Train”

The News Tribune, April 11, 2014

Hailey Jeffers and Jason Haws in Orphan Train. Photo by David Nowitz and Jill Carter.
The Orphan Train comes rolling into the Washington Center for the Performing Arts with stories of heartbreak and joy in the form of a play by Aurand Harris presented by Olympia Family Theater and ably directed by Kathy Dorgan.

Between 1853 and 1929 approximately 250,000 orphaned children from the streets of New York City were loaded onto box cars and shipped to towns out west to be adopted by pioneers. Some found good homes and some were placed with families that just wanted free labor. Many siblings were separated never to find each other again. Their deeply affecting stories range from overwhelming joy to heartbreak, and everything in between. Harris’s play tells ten of these stories in vignettes with a combination of narration and performance by a cast of two dozen actors ranging in age from 7 to 65, many of whom have extensive stage experience and a few of whom have no acting experience but act like seasoned pros.

Mary (Emma Haws, a veteran at age 11) is adopted by the mean spirited Mrs. Herndon (Jennie Jenks) who arbitrarily changes her name to Rebecca and forces her to sleep overnight in a damp root cellar with rodents. It is a heartbreaking story acted with great passion by both Haws and Jenks, which ends with a joyful note as Mary is taken away from Mrs. Hendon and placed with a more caring family.

Maria (Maggie Neatherlin) cares for her infant sister from whom she had promised her dying mother they would never be separated, but she is unable to keep her promise when a mother (Edsonya Charles) who has lost a baby adopts the little sister but will not take her teenage sibling. Maria has to make the decision to let her baby sister go for her own good.

Frank (played with sassy bravado by Annabelle Sampson, a third grader at Hansen Elementary now in her fifth play with OFT) is the toughest kid on the train. He’s adopted by a couple who needs a tough boy to work on their hardscrabble farm. The only trouble is, Frank is really a girl pretending to be a boy to survive on the streets, and she is just as sweet as her male persona is tough. What happens when her adoptive parents find out is very touching, and Sampson’s ability to convincingly become such different characters is laudable.

Lucky (Nick Hayes) is another tough, streetwise kid, a knife-wielding pickpocket whose own instinct toward self-preservation turns out to be his worst failing. Nick has performed in “Oklahoma!” at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre and is known locally for his performance as Tiny Tim at Capital Playhouse. His sister Kate, also a young veteran from the Capital Playhouse stage, plays Pegeen, a kind Irish lass. Actually the whole Hayes family including parents Jill and Ned Hayes are actors in this production.

These stories and others touch the audience’s hearts. The stories are all true, and they present a dramatic picture of a little-known part of American history. As presented they are realistic and never maudlin. All are played out in front of a backdrop consisting of two screens with outstanding line drawings, one of rolling hill and a train track with a small town in the distance and the other of a train station. Onto these screens are projected both still and moving vintage images with portraits of the actors in period costumes cleverly superimposed on these scenes.
The splendid scenes and projections are the work of Jill Carter. Costumes by Mishka Navarre contribute to the authenticity of the stories.

Among the more outstanding actors in this show are Jason Haws in a number of roles, including a drunk, a priest and a cowboy; and Keith Eisner as a farmer and an unnamed old man. Running a mere 65 minutes with a 15-minute intermission, “Orphan Train” is an excellent show. I would recommend that teachers encourage their students to see it. It would be great if they could bring entire classes and build class projects on a study of the true history of the trains.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m., through April 20, extra Saturday shows at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. April 19
WHERE: Olympia Family Theater at the Washington Center Stage II, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia,  
TICKETS: $10-$16,
INFORMATION: 360.753.8585

Friday, April 11, 2014

Look! See? at Museum of Glass

The Weekly Volcano, April 10, 2014

Installation shots of Look! See? - photos by Duncan Price
The exhibition at Museum of Glass by Jen Elek and Jeremy Bert is a colorful and interactive show of glass sculptures combined with about 50 large, refurbished neon letters that visitors can rearrange to their hearts’ content.

The show fills two of the larger galleries in the museum. It’s like an interactive children’s museum lifted from its site and set down the in the galleries. The day I was there, a large group of children of all age, plus a few adults, were moving the oversized letters around to write their names or make poems or other messages on the floors and the walls.

The letters are brightly colored and stand approximately three to four feet tall. They hang on straps from hooks on the wall or can stand up on the floor or can be worn draped on bodies like necklaces. I saw them being used in all of those ways simultaneously. There were a lot of kids in the gallery that day, and they were having a wonderful time of it.

The show is called Look! See? and there’s a reason for both the exclamation point and the question mark in the title — though I don’t need to spell it out, it should be self-evident when you visit the show.

“Abstract artworks are often considered less accessible than figurative or narrative work, but with Look! See? the artists create a hands-on opportunity to engage with conceptual ideas,” notes curator David Francis.

The conceptual ideas of which he speaks have to do with the relationships between poetry and visual art and between the work of art and the viewer, neither of which is complete without the other. My guess is that many of the visitors “get it” with consciously conceptualizing it.

In addition to the interactive letters, there are galleries filled with big, colorful balls and discs and cylinders, some of which are stacked in glass cases and some of which hang on the wall surrounded by blinking marquee-style lights. On one wall there groups of the letter O and circles, some surrounded by the flashing marquee lights. Is there a conceptual puzzle here having to do with the relationship between a circle, the letter O and the numeral zero?

One long wall is completely filled with big balls in bright primary colors, and there are cases filled with similar balls, all remindful of ball pits that kids play in.

One of my favorite pieces was one called “Signal” with balls and flashing lights and other sculptural forms and neon letters spelling out the word “Always” backwards, readable only in a mirror that is part of the piece. In other works here are standing, round-top cylinders with silly faces like colorful little robots.
This is a fun show but one that I think can be appreciated more as something for kids than as serious art to be contemplated by adults. If I had young children I would love to take them, but I would not be likely to go back to see it without kids in tow.

Through Jan. 18. 1801 Dock Street, Tacoma
Wednesday - Saturday: 10am - 5pm
Sunday: 12pm - 5pm
(866) 468-7386


Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Brother Kissed Mark Zuckerberg on Vashon Island

If you missed this show when it was a Dukebay Theatre in Tacoma, here's another chance to see it. Also see my review from the Dukesbay show at
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Peter Serko Photographer
Get Your Tickets For The Vashon Show April 26th! My friends in the NW... now is the time to get your tickets for "My Brother Kissed Mark Zuckerberg" at the NEW Vashon Island High School Theater April 26th 7:00pm.  The show is part of the VAA New Works series. Tickets are on sale on the Vashon Allied Arts website.

For those coming to the show from Tacoma or Seattle please note showtime is early enough to easily make return ferry connections.  The show runs 1.5 hours (what was I thinking?) with a 20 minute intermission.

Connecting With Young People

One of the reasons I wanted to have the show at the high school was to create opportunities to involve students. We have three distinct programs involving students:
  • The student Marketing Class is putting together the show's program and doing other PR for us.  
  • The QSA (Queer-Straight Alliance club) is curating an exhibit of ACT UP (AIDS activist group) art and other archival materials to be displayed in the week leading up to the show. High school staff member Stephen Floyd was a member of ACT UP and has a treasure trove, from teeshirts to posters that he is letting the students review.  My brother was a member of ACT UP NYC.  ACT UP is prominently featured in the show
  • We will have an in-school program on April 23rd called: "We Were There: Stories from the Plague Years".  Five district staff will each tell a story based on their experiences with AIDS during the late 1980's and early 90's. These stories are poignant and powerful showing the many facets of the epidemic during that terrible time.  I will perform two short pieces from the show.

Those of us touched by AIDS must share our stories with young people.  AIDS is not gone, it is not cured.  It is still a health crisis of global proportions.  Our stories are important, they convey a personal message of the very real danger still present.  And, as I have discovered, in the telling of our stories we heal ourselves and others.  
 Look forward to seeing you at the Vashon show!!!!


Spread The Word!
Share this email with your contact list.  Help us get the word out!

Performance Dates:
April 26, 2014
Vashon Island High School Theater
Vashon, WA

July 19, 2014
8:00 pm
Cider Mill Playhouse
Endicott, NY

More in the works!

Wanted Co-Producers:
We are looking for co-producers interested in helping us move the production forward into other venues and expanding our educational mission.  If this interests you please contact me.

We Still Need Your Help:
Our campaign to raise funds to support the production is still underway. Your help is appreciated! 


Friday, April 4, 2014

Tacoma's B&I Public Market Place frozen in time

Gary Lappier’s Photography at Fulcrum

The Weekly Volcano, April 3, 2014

There’s something otherworldly about Gary Lappier’s photography show, Sent From Somewhere Else, at Fulcrum Gallery. That does not mean the pictures are of fantasy scenes or that they’re surrealistic or dreamily atmospheric. They are simple, straight forward, black and white shots of the B&I Market on South Tacoma Way. What is strange, sad, and mysterious about these photographs is that there are no people, no movement, no signs of life in these 23 photographs of a place that is normally bustling with activity.

What’s pictured here is like a somewhat sleazy county fair plucked out of time and set down in another dimension. Everything is clean and quiet and lighted as with sunshine after a storm. And although there are no people there are signs that once were people here. Maybe it’s the day after the rapture.

Lappier says the photographs were taken over a period of several months, not with a digital camera but with a 35 millimeter camera and developed in a darkroom. They are not available digitally, and you can’t buy prints; each photo is a unique work of art.

In a wall statement Lappier speaks of “beauty from the fringes,” and he speaks of freezing a moment “for endless viewing.”

The nearest thing to a human presence are the four manikins in one shot, all wearing black dresses, and another manikin in another photo, female and bald-headed with what looks like cuts on her head, standing in front of a display case for hats. And there is an empty store filled with boots. In another photo a carnival wagon stands in a corner of an empty store with a “Wet Paint” cone. And in another there are vacated diner booths in front of a still merry-go-round.
Balloons and children’s play areas and funky signs abound. It’s like the whole place is geared toward joyful play, but the whole place has died. 

B&I is not what it once was. Still open to the public, it stands like a monument to a bygone era, and Lappier’s photographs freeze that era in time. They are beautifully composed and employ strong black and white contrasts.

In the back room there is a sad memorial to Ivan the gorilla, who was caged in the market for 27 years. As with the missing people, Ivan is depicted by things associated with him, but he is no longer there.

Lappier writes of being conflicted in his feelings about the market. His photographs speak of that conflict. They reside somewhere between sadness and kitsch.
This weekend is the last chance to catch the show.

[Fulcrum Gallery, Sent From Somewhere Else, noon to 6 p.m. Friday, April 4 and by appointment, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

Monday, March 31, 2014

Java Tacoma – Episode 4: The Merry Wives Americano

Opening night of Java Tacoma at Dukesbay Theatre was a lot of fun.
That’s Java Tacoma Episode 4 — or so it was listed on the program even though the previous episode was Episode 38. You just can’t trust these home-grown soap operas for truth in advertising.

Rehearsal for Java Tacome. Aya Hashaguchi Clark (left) and Chevi Chung. Director Randy Clark in background.Photo by Jason Ganwich

from left: Aya Hashiguchi Clark, Marie Tjernlund and Chevi Chung. Photo by Jason Ganwich
The show was written by Matthew L. Anderson, directed by Randy Clark, set in Tacoma, and  performed by a fun ensemble cast featuring some well-known and well-loved actors. I won’t risk spoiling it by saying anything about the plot (thin but interesting), because there are surprises and a mystery at the heart of the story. I will say, however, that it is a parody of . . . well, just about everything from murder mysteries to soap operas to Broadway musicals. I will also venture to say — because this doesn’t give anything away — that at least one character in the story hates show tunes so much that if you wanted to torture him or her the best way to do it would be to force him (or her) to listen to show tunes. And I will also say that there are some political shenanigans going on and threats of bribery, and karaoke and a war between vegan and paleo cookies.

Did I give away too much? There’s a lot going on in this show.

Susan Mayeno, whom local theater-goers will remember from The Joy Luck Club at Tacoma Little Theatre, plays Jeri “Effen” Rockwell with unbridled intensity.

Aya Hashiguchi Clark plays Linda, the frustrated and put-upon owner of the coffee shop where all the action takes place.

Chevi Chung plays Anna, Linda’s headstrong daughter. To my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve ever seen Chung on a South Sound stage. She’s a graduate of the Guildford School of Acting in England.

Jack House, known for his roles in August Wilson’s great drama Radio Golf at the Broadway Center and for The Color Purple at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, is great as Linda’s clueless husband, Bert.

Longtime Tacoma favorite Micheal O’Hara is outstanding as the sleazy cop, Frank.

O’Hara’s equally renowned and much loved wife, Sharry O’Hare, proves to be a karaoke queen and a dancing fool as Phyllis, perhaps the worst barista in the West.

John Pfaffe, another local favorite, plays the thespian wannabe John, and does screamingly funny impersonations of a slew of popular movie stars.

And finally, Marie Tjernlund is commanding as Kate, the ultra-vain entrepreneur who lost a recent city council race to Bert. How could anybody lose to Bert? He can’t even go to the store to buy coffee without screwing up.

During the first scenes I thought the entire cast was over acting, hamming it up like self-absorbed amateurs, which surprised me because I knew most of the actors were better than that. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I decided that maybe they seemed overblown because the seats were so close to the action. But quickly I realized they were lampooning overly dramatic actors and doing it well, especially when they burst into song and even more so when they went into stop-action poses.

Anderson’s script is clever and rife with insider references to Tacoma. It is a short play, about an hour in length with no intermission.  It starts early, at 7:30 p.m., and lets out early enough for patrons to go out for drinks or an after-show dinner.

An interesting thing I noticed opening night: The theater seats around 30, and most seats were filled. In the audience I counted five actors and three critics, a potentially critical crowd. They were laughing throughout. This tells me two things: 1) that local theater folk support one another, and 2) that it was a funny show. (Full disclosure: I didn’t see if the other critics were laughing, but I certainly was.)

WHERE: The Dukesbay Theatre, 508 S. Sixth Ave #10, Tacoma (3rd Floor Merlino Art Center)
WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 13
TICKETS: $10, advance tickets at
INFORMATION: 253-267-0869,

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