Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014


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The focus of this blog is the arts of Western Washington, primarily Seattle to Olympia, including artist profiles, news and reviews. I will occasionally publish works of more general nature. I do not pay for articles. I will include a brief author bio and links to your website or blog.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Young Frankenstein at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

From left: Igor, Frau Blüche, Dr. Frankenstein and Inga. Photos by Kat Dollarhide

Monster and blind man
Dr. Frankenstein, Inga and Igor

Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” is one of the funniest musicals ever written. The stage musical, which came after the popular movie by Brooks and Gene Wilder, premiered at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre in 2007 before going to Broadway. I reviewed it then for The News Tribune and said it was outstanding, but other reviewers did not rave, and it had a less than stellar run on Broadway.

The local production at Tacoma Musical Playhouse drags a bit in the first act, but the second act more than makes up for any shortcomings in the first.

Both the 1974 movie and the play are spoofs of genre horror films with upbeat song-and-dance numbers and Borscht Belt humor. The scenario is that Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Stephen Bucheit), grandson of the notorious Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein, creator of the monster, is a well-respected Dean of Anatomy at the Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine in New York. Upon the death of his ancestor, he visits the family castle in Transylvania and is seduced by the lovely Inga (Allyson Jacobs-Lake) into taking up his mad grandfather’s work. With help from his grandfather’s house keeper, Frau Blücher (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson) and humpbacked servant, Igor (Jeffrey Bassett), he creates a new monster (played by James Walters, who also doubles as the ghost of the original Dr. Frankenstein).

The early scenes are contrived and seem to be straining for comic effect – particularly the going away scene with Frankenstein and Elizabeth (Dana Johnson). Elizabeth’s song, “Please Don’t Touch Me” is a great comic idea that doesn’t quite work. But things get livelier when Dr. Frankenstein goes to Transylvania and meets with Igor and Inga. Igor is one of the best comic characters of all time, and Bassett plays him beautifully, rivaling the great Marty Feldman, who played Igor in the movie; and Inga’s hayride song, “Roll in the Hay” is the first spark to enliven a play that until that moment had been plodding like the neighing horses that pull their wagon (and who neigh hilariously and oddly every time Frau Blücher’s name is spoken). Inga’s yodeling in this song and later in the love scene, cracks the audience up.

Things get much livelier once the monster comes alive and insanely brilliant when the monster and the ensemble sing and dance Irving Berlin’s “Putting on the Ritz.” This number is proof positive that Brooks is a comic genius, and the cast and crew (and let’s not forget Jeff Stvrtecky’s orchestra) do it to perfection.

The blind hermit vignette with John Miller (who doubles as Inspector Hans Kemp) belting out a great and passionate rendition of the poignant “Please Send Me Someone,” is like something out of Monty Python but with a huge hearts – moving enough to forgive his ludicrous wig and beard. After an unexpected plot twist in a cave in the deep forest, Johnson sings the love song “Deep Love” with conviction, dropping the nasal lisp she adopted in earlier scenes, and later still, Walters, an accomplished operatic tenor, belts out the reprise of “Deep Love” with even more passion.

The first act is a moderately funny extended set-up for the explosive and joyous second act, which is so great I would sit through a reading of the phone book to get to it.

Kudos also to Bruce Haasl for a great set and as always to Stvrtecky for his fabulous music.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 3
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20-$29
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Coming up: a review of Animal Fire Theatre’s outdoor performance of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and Harlequin Productions’ “Middletown.”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Flowers by Susan Christian

The Weekly Volcano, July 17, 2014

Artist and gallery owner Susan Christian worried that it might not be kosher to exhibit her own paintings at her own gallery, Salon Refu, but many friends coaxed her into it so she set up a show of her own paintings — not her most recent work but some odd little flower paintings she did about 20 years ago. As with many of Christian’s paintings, these take some getting used to.

In order to explain why her work takes some getting used to I have to look back to about 1989 or 1990. She was doing paintings that I thought were too sparse and inelegant. Minimalist painting is hard enough to like because there’s not much there; so what is there has to be outstanding, striking in form and color. But her paintings were not so striking. What stands out most in my memory was a series of mountains — nothing so grand or exciting as, say, Cezanne’s faceted views of Mount St. Victoire, but rather just a lump of  a mountain with ground and sky, all painted with very little variation in form and rather dull in color. But the more I looked at them the more I began to realize that there was something strong, unpretentious, yet audacious about those paintings.

These flower paintings have much the same quality about them. They grew out of a series of batiks she attempted after a trip to Thailand in about 1994. They are paintings in acrylic on plain brown wrapping paper. Most of the pictures are of no more than two little clumps of flowers with one or two blooms on sinewy tendrils that either snake out from the edges of paintings or float on a flat, monotone background. There is no way to describe them without them sounding clunky and unappealing; yet I like them very much, and the longer I look at them the more I like them.

They also have cool titles like “Chastity,” “Remember My Name,” “Warning the Tourist” and “White Music.”

There are a couple with small clumps of flowers floating on acid yellow backgrounds that are particularly pleasing, and a group of four small paintings on the south wall on black backgrounds that seem to defy logic. Flowers at night visible without light or displayed on black velvet like specimens? These are some of my favorites.

“Warning the Tourist,” an acrylic painting with collage is the largest work in the show and the one that is totally different from all the rest. There are mountains and sea and smack-dab in the center a collaged image of flowers that look like they came out of a catalog. Something about this one reminds me of paintings by Fay Jones, although it’s not nearly as strange. I’m not crazy about this one, and it does not fit with the rest of the show.

Another one that I like a lot is called “Snake.” I like it because of the intense pink on the edge of a white flower and because of the strangeness of the circular form on the bottom left edge of the painting. I guess it is an unopened flower bud.

It may seem ironic, but one of the reasons these paintings are good is that the flowers are not particularly lovely. This is an admittedly personal bias: I have an aversion to paintings of beautiful subject matter like flowers and sunsets and pretty but coyly posed nudes. The ART should be beautiful, not the subject matter. If you just want pictures of pretty subjects, photographs are just fine. Christian’s flowers are not beautifully arranged and are on the verge of being wilted, so what you see is not the beauty of the flowers but the aesthetic quality of the colors, shapes and placement on the paper, and the visual interaction between the subject and the background. The placement and stark simplicity of the flowers — the slap-dash quality of the painting — makes the nuanced backgrounds come alive. Furthermore, these paintings do not look contrived; they looked like they just happened. I strongly suspect that Christian did not give much thought to what she was doing but approached the pictures in the manner of an athlete or a dancer, without much conscious thought but trusting that years of practice and study are ingrained in their bodies, eyes and hands, which react almost independent of thought.

This is a good show to see and maybe go back and see again.

Salon Refu, Thursday-Sunday, 2-6 p.m. through July 27, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Benjamin Entner’s “Mining the Ego” at SPSCC

The Weekly Volcano, July 6, 2014

This must be seen.

New York artist Benjamin Enterner’s installation “Ego Sum” from the Contemporary Arts Center in Las Vegas has now traveled to Olympia and can be seen at the gallery at South Puget Sound Community College. This new version of the show is called “Mining the Ego,” and like his installation in Las Vegas, it fills the gallery with monstrous figures drawn with black markers on blow-up vinyl sculptures that overwhelm the gallery space.

Entner draws himself in less-than-idealized and unflattering  poses similar to those of classical Greco-Roman and Renaissance sculpture, creating an “awkward dialogue between his contemporary parodies and the historical works … that questions and challenges perspectives of beauty, proportion, and the idealized man.”

There is a kitsch-pop element to these soft sculptures, but also something deadly serious; they are like the love child of sculptures by Jeff Koons and etchings by Albrecht Dürer. The centerpiece of the show is a self-portrait with the subject lying on his side. His head is near the entrance to the gallery and his feet almost touch the back wall, and the girth of the figure reaches almost floor to ceiling. The drawing is semi-realistic with dense crosshatch shading. All of his figures are distorted in a funhouse mirror sort of way, not so much because of the way they are drawn but because the blowup vinyl forms they are drawn upon bend and twist in odd ways. Bodies twist and turn, and arms and legs taper off and swell up. Hands and feet tend to be larger than is realistic, and it is hard to tell if they were actually drawn that way or not. The viewer has to walk around this figure, and from no single point of view can it be seen head-to-toe. Parts of the figure go over the hill of itself and vanish from sight.

From the front of the large centerpiece figure, called “Colossus,”  we see Entner’s face, bearded and with glasses, facing the viewer. When the viewer walks around to see him from the backside, his face is still facing the viewer turned to look over one shoulder in a realistic way but appearing at first glance like Linda Blair’s spinning head in “he Exorcist.”

Near the entrance is a larger-than-life bust of Entner on a Roman style pedestal. Near it is another full figure, about life size, standing by a ladder and juggling a smaller version of himself. There’s another smaller one that is like one of those kids’ punching bags that you hit and it falls down and pops back up. And then there’s one with Entner in an identical pose as Michelangelo’s “David.” But he is not as beautiful as David. He has an average body covered with prickly black hair.

This is a fascinating show that absolutely must be seen. Even people who care nothing for art will be blown away by it, and people who know something of art history will be intrigued by his inventiveness, skill and art-historical references.

South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. and by appointment, through Aug. 22, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.]

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Nature in the Making

Outstanding fabrics at B2

The Weekly Volcano, July 3, 2014
"Growth Forms" by Stacey Harvey-Brown
Three outstanding fabric artists are represented in the latest show at B2 Fine Art Gallery. The show is called “Nature in the Making: Geo-Tiles” and is subtitled “Geology Interpreted through Woven Textiles.”  Participating artists are Stacey Harvey-Brown all the way from the UK, Agnes Hauptli from New Zealand, and Tacoma’s own Bo Chambers.

Not only is the art by each of these exemplary, but it is beautifully displayed in such a way as to create natural interactions between installations and individual pieces and groupings of two and three pieces so that they read as diptychs and triptychs. This is especially true of Hauptli’s work as exemplified in her tapestries “Undulations,” “Waves” and “Double Vision.” These three pieces are grouped together in such a way as to form a single three-part piece with patterns that undulate with soft gold, mauve and tan colors in such a way as to lead the eye from one to the other. The same holds true for her “Petrified Sand Dunes,” a group of three large, hanging tapestries grouped in descending size and position as if pictured in one-point perspective. Inspired by the landscape of the Southwest, the colors are that of sand dunes and there is what appears to be a Native American petroglyph. Even more outstanding is her installation with three hanging tapestries: “Glistening I,” “Glistening II” and “Dripstone,” which constitute a depiction of dripping limestone in a cavern with hanging woolen linen representing stalactites. It is in installations such as this that the geological references in the show’s title become crystal clear.

I also was much impressed with a group of scarves by Hauptli in beautiful shades of gold and purple, which are displayed in such a manner as to look like religious vestments.

Also looking a lot like a group of stalactites is Harvey-Brown’s “Growth Forms,” 13 hanging tapestries in cotton, wool and linen in the shapes of windsocks that hang floor to ceiling. Her large pieces “Strata Walls 1” and “Strata Walls 2” are huge and imposing sheets of mixed fibers arranged in loosely woven bands of white, gray and tan. All of her work is impressive in size and impact.

The artworks by Harvey-Brown and Hauptli are from a show of the same title in New Zealand. Chambers was added to the Tacoma show. Chambers is showing about a dozen wall hangings in various eccentric shapes made up of sticks, thread, rope, and beads. They look like her personal take on shamanistic objects inspired by dream catchers.

Nature in the Making, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through July 25, B2 Fine Art Gallery,711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]

Saturday, June 28, 2014

If this had a longer run and if I could stay awake long enough I'd review this, but the last time I went to a late night show was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and that was a long, long time ago.