Friday, April 29, 2016

Marit Berg & Melinda Liebers-Cox at Tacoma Community College

Myth, the Mundane and Many Animals
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 28, 2016
Made in Japan: Bulldog” by Melinda Liebers Cox. All photos  courtesy Tacoma Community College

Made in Japan: Bulldog” by Melinda Liebers Cox. All photos  courtesy Tacoma Community College

“Halycon Malimbiaca” (blue-breasted kingfisher) from the Halcyon Kingfisher series by by Marit Berg , oil on panel
First impressions upon entering a gallery are often misleading. Art that might dazzle at first glance often turns out to be flashy but with“Halycon Malimbiaca” (blue-breasted kingfisher) from the Halcyon Kingfisher series by by Marit Berg , oil on panelout substance, and works that may be off-putting could be too new or too outside the ordinary to be appreciated until you’ve had time to study it and let it sink in. 

My first impression of paintings and prints by Marit Berg & Melinda Liebers-Cox in The Gallery at Tacoma Community College was the misconception that it is not a particularly good show.  With the exceptions of Berg’s painting of a horse, which hangs behind the reception desk and a sensitive and airy graphic drawing by Liebers-Cox titled “Endangered Species,” the works appeared to be mostly competent but not outstanding illustrations of animals as might be seen in an encyclopedia or textbook. But after having let the show digest a bit, I’ve decided there’s more to it than meets the eye. There are levels and levels of meaning that are not apparent at first. There can be found visual commentary of the relationships between the natural and artificial worlds, a look into other cultures, such as in Liebers-Cox’s series of paintings of Japanese ceramic dogs, and symbolism and mythology such as in Berg’s series on the Greek myth of Alcyone and Cyex.

Thirteen small paintings in gouache of the Japanese ceramic dogs line the back wall of the gallery. These are odd-looking little toy dogs juxtaposed with mundane household items such as jars, cups, note pads and whistles, set in front of decoratively patterned wall paper. If identifying information had not been provided, it would be easy to think they were not quite successful attempts at realistic depictions of actual dogs; but once you realize they are pictures of ceramic dogs they become more interesting, and the visual interplay between the dogs and the other objects and background patterns, and the balance of open and closed space becomes intriguing.
“Endangered Species” by Liebers-Cox is a picture of a woman’s alligator purse and shoes thrown out into a tangle of vines and leaves along with what looks like fox pelts, and there is an alligator head poking out of the top to the purse — all making for a strange and striking marriage of nature and the creatures of nature with the fashion items created from their sacrificed bodies. This, to me, is the hardest-hitting social commentary in the show, and it is nicely composed in that everything is locked together in an endless circle created by the leaves and vines.
Berg’s paintings on the myth of Alcyone and Cyex is her Halcyon Kingfisher series, 12 small paintings of Kingfishers in oil, a single bird in each painting, with a 13th painting centered in the row on a wood panel with a shelf at the bottom holding a nest with an egg in it. Each painting in the series has a bright sun in the background. They are painted in a semi-realistic manner with luscious brushstrokes. On an opposite wall are four relief prints of rabbits and hares. They were inspired by Dürer’s “Young Hare,” but stylistically are more like some of Dürer’s etchings, but with pointillist shading on both the animals and the backgrounds.
In many of Berg’s paintings and drawings the animals are enclosed in (perhaps even imprisoned in) house shapes. I don’t know if this was intended to symbolize the clash between the natural and the man-made or not, but it sets up an effective visual dichotomy. The horse painting I mentioned earlier, which you’ll find behind the reception desk is an excellent example of this dichotomy and also an example of Berg’s sensitive use of space and contrast between drawing and painting.
This show will remain on view for only another week.
The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through May 6, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Smokey Joe’s Café Comes to Tacoma Little Theatre

Photo: Poster for Smokey Joe’s Café. Courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre.

A preview

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April28, 2016

Smokey Joe's Cafe is a musical revue showcasing 39 pop standards by the great songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s rock and roll; it’s rhythm and blues; it’s the song track of the 1950s and early ’60s with dancing and costumes but no story line or dialogue.
When it played on Broadway 20 years ago it won five Tony awards, including Best Musical, and the next year the original Broadway cast recording, Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs Of Leiber And Stoller, copped a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. The show became Broadway’s longest running musical revue, and over the past two decades has continued to thrill audiences of all ages in community theaters and school performances. Unbelievably, it has never played in Tacoma, but in May it is coming to Tacoma Little Theatre with a nine-person cast under the direction of Micheal O’Hara and a six-piece band directed by Terry O'Hara.
The 39 songs are presented by various members of the cast in different combinations, with no dialogue. There are novelty songs ("Charlie Brown"), romantic ballads ("Spanish Harlem"), and infectious melodies ("There Goes My Baby"), and the great standard "Stand by Me," with music and lyrics by Ben E. King in collaboration with Leiber and
Among the many rock classics featured in Smokey Joe’s are such hits as “Yakety Yak,” “On Broadway,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Fools Fall in Love,” “Young Blood,” “Kansas City,” and “Poison Ivy” — a tiny teaser of what’s in store for Tacoma audiences. 
Director O'Hara is a mainstay in Tacoma theaters. He has performed in countless shows including the charming Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks with his lovely wife, Sharry O’Hare, and also with his wife the two-person Love Letters at Lakewood Playhouse. He also played Dr. Jekyll in Jekyll and Hyde at Lakewood Playhouse, and was the engineer in Miss Saigon at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. As a director at TLT he has helmed Lend me a Tenor, Annie, and Always Patsy Cline.
“It’s all music and dance,” O’Hara says. “It’s really just a musical revue spectacular of Leiber and Stoller music, with songs from Elvis to the Coasters and the Drifters. One of the nice things is everybody in the cast is a fresh face. None have performed on the TLT stage. And it’s a mixed-race cast with five blacks, one Hawaiian and three Caucasians.”
TLT Managing Artistic Director Chris Serface says, "This is an amazing show that has not been performed by any Tacoma theatre. It is a beautiful celebration of the Leiber and Stoller songbook. I have always enjoyed the show, and felt that Tacoma should have the chance to see it. The right creative team was available so I knew it was time.  You will recognize every song and be amazed by the dancing."
Singing and dancing in the show will be: Melanie Gladstone, Ashanti Proctor, Jermaine Lindsay, Ashley Jackson, Nancy Hebert, Eric Clausell, Bruce Haasl, Loucas Curry, and
Kawika Huston.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday, May 20-June, $22-$26, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I just put down The Prince of Tides

Warning: self-promotion

One of the most treasured things ever written about one of my books was the title of an review of The Backside of Nowhere written by Linda Linguvic, a reviewer from New York City: “Move over Pat Conroy. There’s a new Southern writer in town.”

I just finished reading Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, and I am stunned. The emotional impact of that book is akin to what I imagine someone might feel after electroshock or after recovering lost memories.

I have enjoyed the three books of Conroy’s that I have read, but not uncritically. His humor can be wonderful, but sometimes a tad slick. His descriptive passages are often marvelous and lyrical, but he is overly verbose (is that redundant?). As a fellow Southerner (I’m an ex-pat Southernerner; he has mostly stayed there), I am blown away by how deeply he loves the South while being horrified by its racism and small-mindedness and stupidity. The thing that bothers me the most about Conroy is that he seems to be full of himself. Each of his books that I have read—Beach Music, The Prince of Tides, and South of Broad—is written in the first person by a protagonist I can’t help but see as Conroy himself, and while his narrator/protagonists are extremely self-critical, their self-criticism comes across as prideful. This I do not like about his books, and yet . . . and yet, not since reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden have I read such a powerful novel as Prince of Tides

When I finally reached the epilogue on page 554, I could hardly wait to find out how he was going to wrap things up, but at the same time I dreaded reaching the last page. What could I do then? Find another Conroy book to read? Go back to page one and start over?

I am flattered that the critic chose to compare me favorably to Conroy, but I cannot help but feel inadequate in comparison. I certainly do not have his gift of language, nor do I have the guts to open myself up in the way he does. I don’t think I could ever express in writing the kind of passion his characters express, because I have never felt such passion.

So thank you, Linda Linguvic for your kind review. I hope I can live up to it in future books. Here is her review of The Backside of Nowhere:

 Set in a Gulf Coast town, this novel does more than just give us a story typical of the region. Yes, it includes high school romances, a competitive football game, corrupt political leaders and a devastating hurricane. And yes, it deals with the endemic racism inherent in such towns. But yet the story is so engrossing that I could not put the book down. I loved the characters, including a Hollywood star who comes home to visit his ailing father. Naturally, he meets up with his old-time girlfriend and they reignite their high school romance. We learn about his parents' background and his adopted sister with a secret. Then there is his sister who loves her hard drinking husband no matter how much he strays. All these characters came across as very real and there is a slight comic nature to the book which made it even more interesting to me and kept the story moving.

Frankly, I loved this book and actually found it better than Pat Conroy's latest, "South of Broad" because the characters seemed more real and not just stereotypes. Alec Clayton hit the mark perfectly, held my interest throughout and even surprised me at the end. Bravo! This is a really good book. - Linda Linguvic (New York City),

Friday, April 22, 2016

Noises Off

Out of Control Bedlam at Lakewood Playhouse
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 21, 2016
From left (back): Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson, Gary Chambers, Jim Rogers, Jennifer Davy, Jonathan Bill, Ana Bury, Nick Fitzsgerald and Diana George; on couch, Steve Tarry. Photo by Tim Johnson
There is practically an entire genre of theater about theater, typically farces about bad theater companies doing bad theater. Often these are as bad as the plays they lampoon, but there is one exception — the mother of all farces about theater: Noises Off by Michael Frayn, now playing at Lakewood Playhouse.
Ensemble cast. Photo by Tim Johnson
Here’s the thing I’ve noticed about farces: they usually don’t wear well. See one for the first time and it might be funny; see it again and it’s just stupid. But I’ve seen Noises Off three times as produced by three different companies, and every time I have laughed like a madman.
At the opening performance at Lakewood Playhouse, the show ended with a standing ovation from a full house with screaming and whistling the likes of which I have never seen in that space.

From left – Steve Tarry as Selsdon, Ana Bury as Poppy, Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson as Dotty, and Jim Rogers as Frederick. Photo by Tim Johnson.

It’s the story of an inept theater company directed by a harried director named Lloyd (Jonathan Bill) who struggles to temper his urge to kill half his cast and who is having affairs with the assistant stage manager, Poppy (Ana Bury) and with one of the cast members, Brooke (Jennifer Davy), who pulls off a funny dumbfounded look, loses her dress in the first act and runs around in her underwear and stockings throughout the show. The director also has to contend with, among others, a drunken actor far past his prime (Steve Tarry as Selsdon Mowbray); an actor who has constant nose bleeds and is a walking disaster (Jim Rogers as Frederick Fellowes); and another, Dotty the housekeeper (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson), who never knows where she’s supposed to be or what to do with props.
The play-within-a-play opens with a disastrous dress rehearsal less than 24 hours before opening night. The set, designed by Larry Hagerman and Dylan Twiner and built by Hagerman and Art Fick, is a two-story home with at least nine doors. It is a marvel of planning because it is almost too big for the little thrust stage space and has to turn completely around between acts — a great design. It’s a shame that the walls are of such dull unfinished wood, looking more like the interior of a barn than an upscale country home.
The dress rehearsal is like a Marx Brothers movie on steroids, with props misplaced, forgotten lines, pratfalls, and wild improvisations. Playing out underneath the farce of a rehearsal are the rivalries and the love lives of the cast and crew, and the wild struggle to hide the whiskey from Selsdon.
The second act takes place backstage during the opening night performance. Everything is done with silent gestures, since the cast and crew can’t make noise during the show. What we do here are the bungled lines of unseen actors on stage, while cast and crew run around backstage like chickens with their heads cut off, fighting with each other (even with an ax at one point), making fast costume changes, and entering through the wrong doors and windows.
In the third act, the set is turned around again for the final performance of a play that has progressively worsened.
The ensemble cast does a good job, and the real life director — not “Lloyd” but Lakewood Playhouse Artistic Director John Munn — has managed to do what “Lloyd” was unable to do: herd his troop of actors through almost three hours of beautifully choreographed chaos.
Noises Off is a play everyone should see at least once. Performances are expected to sell out, so get tickets early.
Noises Off, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 8,
Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $25, $22 military, $21 seniors and $19 students/educators, pay what you can April 21, actors’ benefit April 28, 253.588.0042,

Edvard Munch and The Sea

 See Beyond the Scream at Tacoma Art Museum
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 22, 2016

“Neutralia (Girls Picking Apples)” 1915, color lithograph. Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester: Marian Stratton Gould Fund . © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum.

“Summer Evening” 1895 aquatint and drypoint, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum.
Edvard Munch and The Sea at Tacoma Art Museum includes 25 prints and drawings and one oil painting by the Norwegian expressionist and symbolist master. Like most people, I have seen very little of Munch’s art other than the two or three pieces that habitually show up in art books, so I am grateful to TAM for pulling together this important exhibition.
Not included are any of the four versions of Munch’s most famous work, “The Scream,” two oil paintings and two pastels. There is, however, a beautifully executed large silk- screen version by Andy Warhol, which is not a lampoon but rather a respectful homage.
Munch was a methodical and masterful printmaker — drypoints, etchings, lithographs. He worked with a few simple and highly personal images including portraits and figures on the themes of love and death, nearly all of which were set on the coast of Norway. He did countless versions of these pictures, and this exhibition provides an excellent opportunity to compare prints of the same images with slight variations. For example, many of his pictures include a moon reflected in water, which in his treatment becomes an iconic lower case letter “i” with the moon as the dot and the stem of the “I” as the reflection. In some it is very bright, and in some almost invisible; often it looks like a Roman column, and in a few instances it becomes a crucifix.
Another Munch trope that shows up in many of the prints is pictures of women with heavily shadowed eyes that look morbid or threatening. His wife of 20 years died young, as did a beloved sister, and he was known to have had tumultuous and tragic relationships with women, all of which shows in his complex depictions of women in his art. 
Other stylistic devices that show up repeatedly are flowing hair that blends
with the flowing waves in the sea, and white figures or figures in white dresses next to white backgrounds and figures in black next to black backgrounds, so that figures and ground merge. His compositions are masterful in their balancing of dark and light for dramatic effect.
Among the most powerful images in the show are two lithographs of the Madonna, one in black and white done in 1895, and the other in color from 1902. Other than the color, the images are identical. Each is of a nude with a stark white body and black hair. Heavy waving lines in the background follow the contour of her head and body. There is a frame with sperm swimming around it, and in the lower left corner a little skeleton that looks like the figure in “The Scream.”  
This figure shows up in many guises in a number of his prints, perhaps most clearly in “Alpha’s Despair,” one of a group of images that illustrate the tragic myth of the love between “Alpha,” a woman, and “Omega,” her lover who murders her.
Another strong image is “On the Waves of Love,” picturing the head and shoulders of a woman floating in water. Typical of Munch, the waves around her mimic the shape of her flowing hair. The woman looks like a corpse. If you study this print carefully, you’ll see that there is a man’s head on her shoulder. Such hidden images are not uncommon in his work.
This is a most fascinating show that, once seen, should linger in your mind.

Edvard Munch and The Sea, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through July 17, $12-$14, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Friday, April 15, 2016

Lois Beck, Becky Knold, and Mary McCann at Allsorts

"Nighfall," acrylic by Becky Knold

"Milange," oil on panel by Mary McCann

"Ryba," monoprint by Lois Beck
Allsorts Gallery is Olympia’s newest and perhaps most unique art venue. It is a gallery set up in the front two rooms — living and dining rooms — of a private home. They are opening Sunday, April 17 from 4 to 47 p.m. with only their second show, this one featuring a trio of Olympia artists: by Lois Beck, Becky Knold, and Mary McCann.
Beck and Knold are known for their sensitive handling of landscape-inspired abstractions. With Beck we get strong but simple shapes in contrasting colors. With Knold fields of subtle color and textural variations, often in the form of diptychs with one section being a solid color that contrasts in value or hue with the brushed-on forms of the other section.
McCann’s paintings are landscapes that also verge on the abstract but also contain more recognizable imagery — mountains, sky and water rendered in solid planes of brilliant color.
With shows curated by Lynette Charters Serembe and lavish openings with good eats provided by Lynette and her actor husband, John, events at Allsorts Gallery are social events of the best sort.
The show will remain up for a couple of weeks. Allsorts Gallery is located at 2306 Capitol Way S., Olympia. Visit the gallery’s Facebook page at

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Embroidered Spaces

Worlds of floating thread by Amanda McCavour at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 14, 2016

Photos: installation shots of Amanda McCavour's Embroadered Spaces, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College

Canadian artist Amanda McCavour’s installation, Embroidered Spaces at South Puget Sound Community College is a magical, gossamer world that is, quite frankly, unlike anything I have ever seen. And believe me, I have seen a lot of art. A lot. But nothing like this.
McCavour draws with thread by stitching on water soluble fabric. Once the fabric is dissolved, what’s left are line drawings in thread with no support, which she then hangs from the ceiling on long threads. In appearance they are incredibly delicate and see-through because there is nothing but air between the drawn lines, and yet they are sturdy enough to hold their shape.
"Thread (is) a metaphor for memory and how we remember the spaces we call home," the artist writes. She says the rooms depicted in this installation are interiors she once called home.
In the center of the gallery is a field of flowers in pastel tones of pink, yellow, blue and white, with green stems. I could not count them, but it looked like hundreds — a shower of flowers raining down from the ceiling on shimmering threads and reflect in the wet-looking black floor.
On the periphery and visible through the flowers are drawings of the artist’s apartments (having not read that statement at the time I saw it, I saw the entire installation as a single home with many rooms).
The rooms or apartments are drawn in a delightful manner reminiscent of children’s book illustrations. Everything is slightly misshaped like images in a funhouse mirror, but everything other than some of the smaller items are clearly recognizable.
The largest or these rooms/apartments has three chairs, a desk, a small table with animal dolls on it, a stack of suitcases (is she preparing to vacate this apartment?), three pairs of shoes and other oddments, with pictures of people on the wall. Of course the pictures are not actually on the wall but are hanging in front of the wall.
There is a smaller room nearby that I saw as a den or study. There’s a small oscillating fan sitting (almost) on the floor, and there are stacks of books. It is homey and casual, and clearly home to an intellectual. Outside is a flower garden like the one in the center of the gallery but much smaller.
Another room or apartment seems to belong to a dog lover. There is a couch and chairs and more suitcases (this artist seems to be constantly on the move) and three framed pictures of dogs.
I mentioned earlier that the drawings look like children’s book illustrations. They also remind me a lot of scenes painted by the artist Red Grooms, except the worlds Grooms creates are more hectic, more cluttered, and inhabited by people. McCavour’s apartments are empty of people. I don’t know if she is single or if she lives with somebody else, but the obvious implication of the rooms in this installation is that they were occupied by a single person who happily enjoyed the quiet pleasures of home. Wandering through this installation is like taking a walk through another person’s past. And her life has been a life — or so it is conveyed through her art — of comfort and simple pleasures. She treasures memories of  every place she has lived, of the pets she has owned and the flowers she enjoyed looking at out her window.
Technically the work is impressive. Creating these images and putting them together was obviously labor intensive and a labor of love. We in the South Sound are lucky to be able to see this inventive recreation of Amanda McCavour’s former homes.
South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. through May 6, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.]