Friday, July 20, 2018

Review: Beauty and the Beast at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune, July 20, 2018
By Alec Clayton
Belle (Cherisse Martinelli) and the Beast (Brandon Hell), photo by Kat Dollarhide
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by and Tim Rice and Howard Ashman is now playing at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It is a big production with an elaborate set and lighting, fabulous costumes and a 36-person cast, all of whom are on stage at once during some of the large production numbers such as the show stopping “Be Our Guest” with complex choreography by director and choreographer Jon Douglas Rake.
Set designer Judy Cullen returns with an amazing set featuring a delightful backdrop painting of a small French village and a stunningly beautiful castle replete with a broad staircase and rich blue and purple and gold colors enhanced by lighting director John Chenault’s shadowy effects.
The costumes by Jocelyne Fowler are wildly inventive, as they must be for humans turned into walking and talking clocks and candles and teapots. Belle’s dresses are luxurious and beautiful, especially a white gown that looks like a layered wedding cake.
Prince Adam (Brandon Hell) is turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress (Kathy Kluska). For years he has hidden his grotesqueness in his castle. His servants are turned into animated pieces of furniture and household items such as Cosworth the clock (Chris Serface), Lumiere the candle (Mauro Bozzo) and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Diane Bozzo). They know the spell can be broken, and everyone will become human again only if the beast can learn to love and be loved.
Meanwhile, back in the village, the beautiful Belle (Cherisse Martinelli) is being relentlessly courted – stalked and harassed by today’s standards – by an arrogant, self-centered hunter named Gaston (Jimmi Cook) who thinks he is God’s gift to women. Belle’s father, the eccentric inventor, Maurice (Joe Woodland) is captured and imprisoned in the beast’s castle. Belle goes to the castle in search of her father and offers to be the beast’s captive if he will let her father go, which he does. Instead of being put under lock and key as her father was, she is given a private room in the castle and asked to dine with the beast. She resists at first, but gradually she learns to see the humanity underneath the beast’s outer shell. What this leads to is, of course, what the audience knows will happen, and it is beautiful and magical and romantic despite being totally predictable.
Cook, who has the physique of a body builder, is perfectly cast as Gaston, who spends all his time with muscle poses when he is not pursuing Belle. Beyond looking the part so perfectly, he is a good actor and singer.
I like the choice of Martinelli for the part of Belle because she is befittingly beautiful, not in a trite fairy-princess sort of way, but with the beauty of a down-to-earth, sensible and intelligent young woman, which is precisely how Belle is written. She also has a strong voice.
Hell does a terrific job of acting, and he has a beautiful deep and mellow voice. My only complaint is he is not large enough and his costume is not ugly or frightening enough to be the beast as described (at one point, Maurice says he is eight feet tall). On the other hand, since it is a play that appeals to children, it is probably a good thing he isn’t more frightening.
Also deserving of special note are Bozzo as Mrs. Potts and Karen Early-Evans as Madame de la Grande Bouche, both of whom sing stupendously.
The only actor I found to be somewhat disappointing is Woodland as Belle’s father, who should be more animated. My only other complaint is I wish it could be about half an hour shorter. It did drag a bit in parts of the second act.
All-in-all, it is a wonderful fantasy romance beautifully staged.

Beauty and the Beast
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 29
WHERE: Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$31
INFORMATION: (253) 565-6867,

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reading Pete Dexter

By Alec Clayton

When reviewing/commenting on the first draft of my novel Tupelo, Ned Hayes made reference to Paris Trout by Pete Dexter. I had read it years before, and I remembered I had been greatly impressed with it at the time, but I couldn’t remember much about the actual story or Dexter’s writing style. (One of the great things about getting older is you can re-read stuff and it’s like you never read it.) So I read Paris Trout again and was astounded at how good it was. It’s a book that turns Southern Gothic inside out and creates a whole new genre unlike anything else ever written. The title character is the strangest and most horrific character I have ever come across in literature. It’s a cliché to say “I couldn’t put it down.” But if it were not for having to eat and sleep, I would not have been able to. Paris Trout is horrifying, hilarious, and compelling.
I mentioned it on Facebook, and my friend Ned (a great writer in his own right and the person responsible for me reading it) commented that Dexter is a writer’s writer. Damn right he is.
I loved Paris Trout so much that as soon as I finished reading it I picked up another Pete Dexter novel, Deadwood. For the first third or so of Deadwood, I was slightly disappointed, partly because I could not sense much of a story arc, and partly because a major character and an American legend, Wild Bill Hickock, didn’t do much of anything except get drunk, play poker (usually losing) and shoot things off the head of a doga circus-type performance played out in a bar with an accommodating and trusting dog. But then, starting with a chapter called China Doll (a Chinese prostitute) it started getting increasingly more compelling. It’s a true story, and I’ve been told it was meticulously researched and accurate. The town of Deadwood is beautifully depicted as what must have been one of the rawest and wildest towns in American history, and some of the characters such as Calamity Jane and an unnamed “soft brain bottle fiend” should stick in my mind for as long as I livein direct contradiction to my earlier statements about not remembering well.
And again, as soon as I finished that one, I started another Dexter novel, Spooner. I’ve barely started it, but already I am floored with Dexter’s writing, the uniqueness of his characters and how skillfully he weaves together the elements of a story. If I were a writing teacher, I would use Dexter as an object lesson in the art of writing. I would talk about how well he uses similes that are creative and the result of careful observation and memory. For example, in Spooner he describes a profound and sudden silence as being like when you dive into water and the moment you go under all sound ceases. When I read that I immediately recalled when I was a teenager diving off the high board at the swimming pool in Tupelo, the sounds of all the kids shouting and splashing and laughing melded together as a kind of symphony as I descended toward the water and became utter silence once my ears were under water. I had not thought of that in half a century, but Dexter brought it back to me in such a way that I didn’t just understand the silence his character experienced, I heard it.
If I were teaching Dexter, I would talk about the opening paragraph of Spooner. It is two sentences long; the first sentence is convoluted and poetic and packed with information. It is followed by a short, bare-boned sentence that hits with the force of an ax chopping wood. The next paragraph follows the same kind of pattern, so by the time you have read these first two paragraphs you are hooked, and you are dying to know about the boy named Spooner who has just been born. That’s good writing. If you’re looking for books to sink your teeth into this summer, give Dexter a try.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Puget Sound Book Artists Eighth Annual Members’ Exhibition

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 5, 2018
"A Work in Progress" by Mary Preston, courtesy University of Puget Sound
Book artists, meaning artists who create books conceived as works of art, combine many of the most fascinating elements of books — stories told with words and sometimes illustrated with pictures — and elements of visual arts such as drawn, painted and sculpted images. When these elements are skillfully woven together, the results can the magical.
The Puget Sound Book Artists Eighth Annual Members’ Exhibition at Collins Library, University of Puget Sound offers 57 unique and original books by 36 different artists displayed in a dozen glass cases in the library. There are folding books, books in boxes, books that are stand-alone sculptures, accordion sheets of paper and cloth and other materials with drawn, painted, sewn and sculpted images and decorations, and elaborate pop-up books. Many of the books look as if the pages are meant to be opened, and I wish they could be opened to see what, if anything, is on the hidden pages; but they can’t be touched.
Some of the books tell stories with words and images, whether fiction or non-fiction. Some only hint at stories and thereby stir the viewer’s imagination, and some are purely decorative or abstract with no attempt at storytelling.
The complexity of these works of art and the patience, skill and inventiveness of the artists who create them are truly impressive.
“The Puget Sound Book Artists have a following and now an excellent reputation in the South Sound and beyond,” said Jane Carlin, director of Collins Memorial Library and vice president of the organization. “It is truly an honor to host this exhibit and each year. I am astonished at the creative and inspiring art on display.”
Jan Dove’s “The Horseman” captured the Curator’s Choice award. It is an accordion-fold book with illustrations of horses and people in sensitive line drawings over fields of color. There are a few lines of poetry that talk about hearing approaching hoofbeats and the line “Let’s hope it’s not those four horsemen,” indicating, as I interpret it, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Stylistically, the drawings harken back to Roman art.
A work that is similar in that it features staccato line drawings over other images is Bonnie Halfpenny’s “With a Compass, Without a Map.” It is also an accordion-fold book. The first page features written text that briefly tells the stories of four accomplished women in the post-Civil War era. Drawings of each of the women are created in black thread over collaged images. The materials are tule, paints, thread and more. The craftsmanship is admirable, as are the women whose stories are depicted. I would like to find out more about them.
One of my favorite books is Sandy Tilcock’s “Opening the Mouths of the Dead,” a two-sided accordion in a clamshell box with images in intaglio, letterpress and hand painting. It illustrates the story of a third-grade girl in North Carolina in the 1960s who used the Egyptian Book of the Dead to “navigate her complicated relationship with her father.” This one is a clear example of what I was thinking of when I said book art combines elements of books and art. There is history, drama and beauty galore in this show.
There will be a panel Discussion Thursday, July 12, from 5:30- 7:30 p.m. in the Archives Seminar Room, second floor.
Puget Sound Book Artists Eighth Annual Members’ Exhibition, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday and Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, through July 27, Collins Library University of Puget Sound, 1500 N Warner St, Tacoma

Marilyn Frasca exhibit 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Lisistrata at New Muses

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 28, 2018
Cast of Lisistrata, Cassie Jo Fastabend as Lisistrata standing in center, courtesy New Muses Theatre

Well over 2,000 years ago the city of Athens, Greece was treated to a sexy and hilarious anti-war farce called Lisistrata by the writer Aristophanes. Now it is making its way to Tacoma’s Dukesbay Theater in an anonymous adaptation believed to have been by Oscar Wilde, directed by Niclas Olson and produced by New Muses Theatre.
Lisistrata — perhaps the first great feminist activist in history — rallies fellow Greek women to refuse sexual favors until their husbands end the Peloponnesian War. Aiding in her movement is the Spartan woman Lampito.
The title character will be played by Cassie Jo Fastabend, a veteran of many South Sound stages and a longtime teacher of youth arts. She has been seen in Macbeth and Lear at the Slate Theater in Seattle, Hamlet and A Streetcar Named Desire at University of Puget Sound, A Few Good Men, at Lakewood Playhouse.
Lampito is played by LaNita Walters, most recently seen in My Fair Lady at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Walters is a teaching artist for the Broadway Center and choreographer and director for various plays and children camps. She is also the choreographer for this play.
Amber Sayman (Ismenia) was most recently in Olympia Family Theatre’s Cinder Edna. Kaylie Hussey (Corinna) was in The Servant of Two Masters and Doctor Faustus at New Muses and Macbeth and The Great Gatsby at Tacoma Little Theatre. Mason Quinn (Magistrate) was most recently in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at Tacoma Little Theatre. Nathaniel Walker (Cinesias) was recently in The Pillowman at TLT.
“Two years ago I was considering Lysistrata as a fun comedy, but fast forward to now, it is an important social piece with immediate cultural relevance. It interests, and saddens me that a 6000-year-old play can still be relevant to our current political and social climate,” Olson says. “Especially now, with women's rights bursting to the forefront of the national consciousness via the Women's March and the #MeToo movement, seeing Lysistrata is to experience a story about a whole lot more than a sex strike. I'm especially fascinated with the journey the women of Greece take as they become leaders of their society through the course of the play. On a lighter note, the play is a whole lot of fun. We have everything including comic fight scenes, witty banter, and anatomically correct prop/costume pieces.The cast keeps coming up with new stuff every day, and it's been a real pleasure for me to see the script take on a life of its own through the actors.”
As a final note, Olson warns: “The play is definitely not family friendly. We are using the traditional phalluses, and the cast spends a good portion of the show in their underwear.
Lisistrata, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, June 29-July 15, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater, above the Grand Theater, 508 S. 6th Ave., Tacoma

Art popping up all over Olympia

By Alec Clayton

“Smoking in the Garden” painting by Marilyn Bedford, courtesy the artist

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 28, 2018
Pop-up galleries are the latest thing all over the country. Pop-ups feature art exhibitions that are usually of short duration and often in non-commercial venues such as private homes or vacant storefronts. In Olympia, the premiere pop-up gallery is Allsorts in the home of artist Lynette Charters and actor John Serembe, which over the past few years has shown much of the best art to be seen in Olympia. Now another pop-up has appeared. Called Front Porch Pop Up Gallery and run by South Puget Sound art appreciation teacher Nicole Gugliotti, it opens June 29 with its first show, an exhibition of works on paper by Dory Nies.
Nies’s works on paper are inspired by cells, seeds, textiles, and technology and range from traditionally framed works to installation and sculptural paper works and objects. Seventy percent of any sales will go to RAICES, a human rights organization working to reunite immigrant families. The exhibition opening will be Friday, June 29. Food, wine and house brewed kombucha will be served. There will be music by Dan Meuse and Elliot Anderson.
Next up will be the 2018 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College. Many of the South Sound’s best and most well-known artists will be showing. Tacoma artist Lisa Kinoshita is showing a mixed-media and video installation called “Visitation” done in collaboration with John Carlton about Tacoma's true-life mascot, Jack the Tacoma Bear. Jack lived at the grand Tacoma Hotel during the 1890s and was known for slipping out of his pen and visiting a tavern where he would drink beer from a mug with his paws. He coexisted well with and was beloved by local Tacomans but startled a policeman in the financial district one day, and the policeman shot him. Kinoshita describes the video as “a montage of surreal images a bear might see as he leaves this world.”
Susan Aurand will show a series of paintings with related nature images stacked three-up and painted in her signature photo-realist style. Aurand’s paintings are meditative and marvelous to look at.
From her popular Missing Woman series, Lynette Charters will be showing “Three Races Muses” and Gauguin’s “Muse Holding a Fruit.” In this series, she comments on women’s roles in the history of art. (As artists, women have historically been overlooked, but are seen often as models, usually without any clothes). Charters “disappears” the women in her appropriations of famous paintings by leaving their silhouettes as unpainted shapes on the wood panels she paints on. She will also be doing a talk along with other artists during the reception on July 12 from 6-9 p.m.
Other well-respected regional artists to be included are Doyle Fanning, Mary McCaan, Jason Sobatka and Sharon Styer.
Paintings by Marilyn Bedford will be the next show at Allsorts. Bedford paints everyday objects such as swimming pools and pillows with broad, brushy strokes in acrylic on canvas. Many of the paintings veer toward the abstract to the point at which viewers might need the titles to hint at recognition of the subject matter. But in reality the subject matter of these atmospheric paintings is never the pillow or smoke in a garden, but is color, line and shape.

Dory Nies, opening 6-9 p.m., June 29, Front Porch Pop Up Gallery, 1916 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
2018 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition July 9-Aug. 23. South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia,
Paintings by Marilyn Bedford July 13-14 and July 19-22 5-7 p.m., reception July 15 4-7 p.m., Allsorts Gallery 2306 Capital Way S., Olympia.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The West and other art at Minka

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 21, 2018

“Digital Mesh” print by Guy Hundere, courtesy Minka

I hardly know where to start. There is so much art crammed into this little space — basically three shows in one — that I need at least a thousand words to simply describe it, much less evaluate it. I shall do my best to consolidate it.
The West is a show of photography and artwork by S. Surface and Lisa Kinoshita offering a unique look at cowboy and cowgirl culture. It is two shows in one: The First Frontiers, rodeo photographs by Surface, and Kinoshita’s The Shape-Shifting West, conceptual documentary photography and mixed-media sculpture in the main gallery. The third show is Inflatable Mountain by Texas artist Guy Hundere in the downstairs shop. It is a mind-bending group of colorful abstract landscape prints that has traveled the country to land in Tacoma for an extended stay (indefinite, but (probably throughout the summer). The works are abstract with hints of astronomical photographs, densely congested with textural patterns. They demand close attention.
In the little upstairs gallery, Surface and Kinoshita bring a particular perspective to their views of the West. Both are Japanese-Americans born and raised in rural areas near Tacoma. Surface is a former bull rider.
Surface’s photographs are the most traditional work in the show. Most of the action shots of cowboys riding bulls are shot from odd angles and often in close-up. There’s one, for instance, of a cowboy being bucked off a bull, but the viewpoint is such that all we see is part of one pantleg and the underside of his boot as he is being thrown to the ground behind the bull. Others appear to have been shot from standing atop the pens just before the bulls and riders are let into the arena. 
There is also a group of three portraits of young women — glamour shots, it might seem, of pretty girls who follow the rodeo. But each is titled “After the Ride” followed by the name of a rodeo. Their legs are heavily bruised.
Kinoshita's metalsmithing and leatherwork, including a collaboration with prison inmates in Montana, highlight the material culture of the western frontier.
The most provocative piece might be the found-material sculpture of an American flag draped over an antique ironing board. Provocative because anything dealing with the flag these days tends to be a political hot potato. This flag is ancient, probably 48 stars but not countable due to the way it is folded. It is worn and dirty, the white parts turning brown. There is an old iron sitting on it, and it is burnt through in places. We may each interpret the meaning in our own way.
Another piece of hers is a beauty called “Grandfather.” It is an upright cabinet made of dark wood with a top section like a grandfather clock but missing the clock face. The middle section is offset as if swiveled outward, and there is a large piece of quartz on the base. It is quietly attractive. 
Also quite beautiful and stately is a horse bridle draped and wound over a wooden stand. This piece is sensuous in form and rich in color. It was created in collaboration with inmates at Montana State Prison.
The West, noon to 5 p.m., Thursday-Sunday and by appointment, through June 30, Minka (formerly Moss + Mineral), 821 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.961.5220

Friday, June 1, 2018

Building the Wall one night only at Tacoma Little Theatre

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 31, 2018
Scott C. Brown and Iesha McIntyre, photo by Randy Clark
Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan’s timely political thriller Building the Wall comes to Tacoma Little Theatre for a one-night-only staged reading directed by Randy Clark, founder of Dukesbay Theatre, and starring Scott C. Brown and Iesha McIntyre.
Called a “must see show” by The New York Times and “a mesmerizing and shocking new play that simmers with of-the-moment urgency." By The Hollywood Reporter, Building the Wall is a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller set in a not-too-distant dystopian future. President Trump has been impeached after declaring marshal law following a terrorist attack on Times Square. Millions of undocumented immigrants have been detained in overflowing private prisons. Rick (Brown) is in prison awaiting what may be a death sentence and is being interviewed by Gloria (McIntyre) a history professor. 
“Rick is just an ordinary man put in an extraordinary situation,” Brown says. “He is a victim of circumstances outside his control, trying to make the best of the situation he finds himself in. Or is he? That is the elegance of this play: It doesn't expressly lead viewers down a path, but rather starts to unravel facts, and slowly lets the audience make its own decisions. It is hauntingly powerful, provocative, and I hope it will be discussed by those who see this production.”
Clark says, “I found this script last September down in Ashland, Ore. at the Shakespeare Festival's book store and immediately knew I had to produce it. I believe our country is in crisis and this is a well-written play about how far our fear might drive us. There are many ways that we can respond as citizens, and our way is to respond through the arts. The play is an important statement about how quickly our current policies about immigration can get out of hand and become truly criminal. Our country is in crisis at the moment and this play shows where it could head if the right circumstances came along and we gave into the burgeoning atmosphere of fear.” 
McIntyre and Brown worked together a few years back in a production of Doubt for Gold From Straw Theatre. She worked with Clark on Dukesbay's presentation of Never Again, about the Japanese-American incarceration during World War II.
I picked Brown as Best Actor three times for my “Critics Choice” in The News Tribune, as Salieri in Amadeus,  as Randle McMurthy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, both at Lakewood Playhouse, and as Bobby in Sins of the Mother at Harlequin Productions. He’s also been in more than a dozen Feature length films, and a number of TV/New Media series and in well over 30 local plays. 
This staged reading is free to TLT members and pay-what-you-can to all others.
Building the Wall, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 7, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I St. Tacoma, 253.272.2281,