Friday, August 28, 2015

Psycho-Moto-Psycho at Brick & Mortar


"Hyper Medico Della Peste," mixed media installation by Marty Fehl. Photo courtesy Laura Hanan


 Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 27, 2015

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen art by Marty Fehl, and his new show at Brick & Mortar Gallery is quite a departure from the paintings of his I saw years ago — a good and exciting departure.
Fehl’s new work consists of paintings and installations based on motorcycles and motorcycle culture, or as the gallery refers to it, moto-inspired art. The repeated term “psycho” in the show title should also give readers a clue as to what to expect.
Anchoring  the left-hand wall as you enter the gallery are two six-foot-by-four-foot realist paintings of parts of vintage Ducati motorcycles. From five feet away they look like photo-realist paintings, but closer-in, brush strokes and paint build-up become evident. The artist wanted these paintings to look almost like photographs but still be about paint and the arrangement of shapes and colors on canvas rather than just about the appearance of the machines, which he obviously loves.
"Hypersensitive," acrylic on canvas by Marty Fehl. Photo courtesy Laura Hanan
The first of these paintings is called “The Bevel Make Me Do It,” a clever pun. It is an extreme close-up with great luminous metallic colors. It seems to the be cowl and parts of the motor. There is a curved section that looks like tinted glass. I thought it might be a montage of different parts, but I asked the artist and it is not. The extreme close view makes it into something abstract and confusing, at least to me, but attractive and beautifully painted.
The second of the two paintings is an even more extreme close-up, so close that the motorcycle becomes an abstract configuration in black and white with a few small areas of brown and tan. Imagine a Franz Kline painting in which all the brush strokes are precise and hard-edged. This is a strong painting.
There are two actual motorcycles in the show. One of them is mounted by a leather-clad rider with a leather mask that looks like a bird’s face with a long and menacing beak. He’s wearing goggles, and there is a red light behind one of the lenses. The figure inside the clothing is completely covered with leather: boots, helmet and gloves, so it is impossible to tell what the figure is made of. It could be a mannequin, or it could be sculpted of papier mâché or clay or almost anything. It is life-size and convincingly human and surrealistic. According to a printed statement, the beak-like mask is based on the masks medieval plague doctors wore. The leather jacket is the remnant of one Fehl was wearing when he had a recent motorcycle accident; the crash was captured on video and the video is also in the show, projected on the back wall.
Also on the back wall is a green-faced painting of Frankenstein’s monster, face only, floating in space with a little red Ducati gas tank for an eye.
And there are dada-esque motorcycle helmets on sculpture stands and a sculpture made from a strange motorcycle handle bar that reaches almost floor to ceiling.
This show contains elements of pop art, surrealism and dada, and is unlike anything else you’re likely to see in Tacoma.
Also included in the gallery are works by ceramic artist Steve Portteus, welder Josh Lippencott, and painter Laura Hanan, all of which were in the previous show at Brick & Mortar. I would prefer seeing more of Fehl’s work, but the inclusion of the other pieces is good for people who missed the previous show.
Psycho-Moto-Psycho, Thurs-Sat. noon to 2 p.m., Fri.-Sat., noon to 9 p.m. through Oct. 15, Brick & Mortar Gallery, 811 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.591.2727.


To Kill a Mockingbird at Harlequin



Published in The News Tribune, Aug. 28, 2015
Loren Kattenbraker as Scout and Aaron Lamb as Atticus Finch.

David Wright as the judge, Helen Harvester as Mayella Ewell, and Russ Holmes as Bob Ewell. Photos courtesy Harlquin Productions

The bar is set impossibly high for the stage play of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee and the Oscar-winning film are each among the most popular and highly praised in the history of American film and literature.
Playwright Christopher Sergel took on the challenge of adapting “Mockingbird” for the stage, and Olympia’s Harlequin Productions is now running it under the direction of Linda Whitney with three outstanding child actors supported by a large cast of some of Southwest Washington’s finest.
Eight-year-old Loren Kattenbraker plays Scout, the loveable central character in the book and movie. She is amazingly expressive and a joy to watch. Nick Hayes, a 7th grader who has appeared on every stage in the Olympia area and even appeared in “Oklahoma” at Seattle’s prestigious 5th Avenue Theater, is Scout’s big brother Jem. His performance is near flawless. Fifth grader Annabelle Samson plays Charles Baker Harris, aka, Dill, and she is delightful. It is also her second cross-dressing role, the previous one being when the played a girl pretending to be a boy in Olympia Family Theater’s “Orphan Train.” All three of these kids are terrific.
To say all that should be said about the rest of the cast would take twice the space I’m allowed for the column. Aaron Lamb is solid and believable as Atticus Finch. Scott C. Brown nails the role of Sheriff Heck Tate. (He confessed to this reviewer, who grew up in Mississippi, that he was unsure of getting the Southern accent right. His accent is perfect.) Helen Harvester turns in a performance as the emotionally crippled Mayella Ewell that is worthy of a Tony Award, and Russ Holmes, a longtime favorite of Harlequin audiences, pulls off one of his best performances ever as Bob Ewell. Comedian and actor Morgan Picton shows just what a great actor he can be in the challenging roles of the public prosecutor and as Boo Radley. (If he were not the only bald actor on stage, nobody would suspect these two characters are played by the same actor.) David Wright also does a superb job of playing two quite different characters, the poor farmer Walter Cunningham and Judge Taylor. And Robert Humes puts his heart into a heart-wrenching portrayal of the falsely accused Tom Robinson.
Rounding out this terrific cast and each performing at the top of their game are Edsonya Charles, Ann Flannigan, Korja Giles, Walayn Sharples, and DuWayne Andrews.
In adapting the story for the stage, Sergel made the dubious choice of having the neighbor, Maudie Atkinson (Flannigan) narrate the story, which in the book and movie was done by Scout. Maudie is a wonderful character, likeable and a rare voice of reason in a town full of bigots and ignoramuses. But her narration was totally unnecessary, serving only to moralize and slow down the flow of the story. Likewise, Sergel’s decision to freeze the action during the mesmerizing court scene for a little scene with Scout and Dill disrupted the story in a way that added nothing.
One other thing that marred an otherwise marvelous play was overdoing the dumb-Southern-hick bit in the scene where the townsmen are intent on lynching Tom Robinson. They turned a frightening scene into a comic parody of stereotypical rednecks. Fortunately, Scout stepped up to talk one-on-one with the lynch-mob leader and turned the scene into one of the most touching in the play.
The set by Jeannie Beirne captures the feel of 1930s Maycomb, Ga., in a beautifully stylized fashion and allows for complicated set changes with actors moving pieces in full view of the audience in such a way that is not at all distracting. Costumes by Darren Mills are authentic, and Amy Chisman’s lighting is wonderful.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is 2½ hours long with a 20-minute intermission. It includes mature content and racially-charged language.

WHAT: To Kill a Mockingbird
WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Sept. 12
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; http://www.harlequinproductions.org/

Friday, August 21, 2015

My Spectacularly Unsuccessful Teaching Career



No wonder they fired me in Clarkton when I looked like this (Nashville, TN, all dressed up for a job interview).


Departing from my usual arts writing, I’d like to share this with some of my friends.
Yes, I was a teacher for a brief moment a long time ago.
In 1970 I was hired to teach art in the tiny town of Clarkton, Missouri. For a $200 bonus they also got me to direct a school play. I had never before directed a play. The last (and only) play I had been in was in the first grade when I was one of the dwarfs in Snow White.
In Clarkton, population approximately 2,500 at the time, I taught high school art classes three days a week and junior high and elementary art the other two days (high school and junior high shared a building and the elementary school next door was connected to the high school by a covered walkway). I at least got to spend enough time with my 10th, 11th and 12th grade students to learn their names, not so with the earlier grades where I felt I accomplished absolutely nothing; at best I was a fun babysitter.
I did a pretty good job with the high school students, but I have to admit that my classes got pretty wild. I was not good at disciplining the students. My theory was that if you made the classes interesting enough, discipline would not be necessary. That theory proved to be partially true, but definitely not completely true.
My end-of-year evaluation gave me high marks on innovation and knowledge of subject but ended with this statement from the principal: “The noise from Mr. Clayton’s class, especially the laughter, is disrupting to other classes. Not recommended for rehire.”
Thus ended my public school teaching career with the exception of a few years substitute teaching in Nashville, Tennessee and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where my inability to keep the kids in line was even more of a problem.
After that I was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern Mississippi for about three years and a half-time studio art instructor and gallery director. And then I was laid off. That’s code for fired. The reason given was that I had only an MA degree and the job required an MFA, which is a terminal degree in studio art. Of course my MA was good enough when they needed me. The real reason I was fired, which I heard through the grape vine, was that the college hired some hotshot in another department who agreed to come only if they also hired his wife, an art teacher. So she got my job and I got the hell out of Mississippi—the end of my teaching career and the beginning of a career as an artist and writer in Olympia, Washington.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Life and Death of King John



Animal Fire Theatre’s annual Shakespeare in the Park


Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 20, 2015
from Left: Allison Zoe Schneider, Dennis Worrell, Kate Ayers (atop the tower), Brian
Jansen, Brian Hatcher. Photo by Kate Arvin.
This summer’s Shakespeare in the Park by Animal Fire Theatre tackles one of the bard’s lesser known plays, King John.
It is a difficult play to follow, primarily perhaps, because it is little known. Since plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are so celebrated it is much easier to understand them, but since fewer people know who Philip the Bastard and Lady Blanch and Lady Constance are, King John can be difficult to understand. That’s why a synopsis is printed in the program and why director Scott Douglas encouraged the audience to study the synopsis before the play starts.
Added to that difficulty are the usual distractions of outdoor theater: passing trucks and motorcycles, airplanes overhead, and the night I attended a dog off leash who got excited and barked a couple of times while watching the play, which was distracting but sort of funny, but then tried to join in a sword fight on stage, which was not funny. Please, people, think twice about bringing your dog; and if you do please leash them during the performance.
Yet one other difficulty: one of the actors, Pug Bujeaud, got sick and was replaced at the last minute by Jen Ryles, founder of Olympia Family Theater, who had to be on book but did a commendable job of acting despite being hard to hear. Some of the other actors were also hard to hear, exacerbated because the slope of the ground meant much of the audience was sitting quite a distance from the stage area.
Even with these problems, it is an entertaining play. Typical of Shakespeare, it combines history, tragedy and comedy and features larger-than-life characters. The amount of bloodshed is considerably less than in many of Shakespeare’s tragedies and history plays.
It begins when an ambassador from France (David Shoffner) demands that English King John (Brian Hatcher) renounce his throne in favor of Arthur, whom the French King, Philip (Dennis Worrell) believes to be the rightful heir to the throne. War, intrigue, religious disputes and a marriage between Lewis (Maddox Pratt), the son of King Philip, and King John’s niece, Blanche (J Benway) ensue — all of which leads eventually to the poisoning of King John.
Hatcher is a strong presence as King John, and Worrell is strong and fierce as King Philip. The clashes between these two are like a standoff between two immovable objects, as are the hot war of words between Elinor of Aquitaine (Ryle) and Lady Constance (Christine Goode), mother of Arthur, who is fearless and strong and backs down from no one.
One of the most engaging characters is Philip (Brian Wayne Jansen), the bastard son of Richard the Lionhearted, not to be confused with Philip the king of France. I had a hard time keeping track of how Philip the Bastard fit in with the various warring factions. He seemed at times to be a go-between or reconciler and at other times a warrior for King John, but mostly he seemed to be looking out for his own self-interests. Though it was difficult to understand his part in the story, Jansen’s acting was great to watch. So was Kate Ayers'. She provided a lot of comedy in the roles of Lord Pembroke and First Citizen, Warden of Angiers, Brittany.
There are a lot of gender busting roles in this production, including Allison Zoe Schneider, who was a good young Arthur and doubled as Prince Henry and as a messenger, and Maddox Pratt, who was outstanding as King Philip’s son, Lewis.
By-the-way, Richard the Lion Hearted is the same Richard who was prominent in the Robin Hood legends, but Arthur is not the Arthur from Camelot. Shakespeare was not concerned with historical accuracy.
King John, 6: 30 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays through Aug. 23, Priest Point Park, Olympia (park in the lot by the playground on the west side of the park and walk into the meadow behind the bathrooms). Free, donations accepted.