Monday, September 15, 2014

Working Class Theatre NW School for Lies




Robert McConkey as Clitander, Mariesa Bus as Celimine and Luke Amundson as Frank. Photo by Kate Lick
I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so much as I did at Saturday night’s performance of David Ives’ School for Lies presented by the new fringe company Working Class Theatre NW. Wait, yes I can. It was the first time I saw The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). School for Lies has a lot in common with Shakespeare (Abridged) — the time period, the irreverent slapstick and word play, the language and poetry. But School is more intellectual and more biting — biting, naturally, because the source material is scathing satire.

April Nyquist as Eliante and Robert McConkey s Clitander. Photo by Kate Lick
Ives, perhaps most well known for the hit play Venus in Furs, has updated Moliere’s classic The Misanthrope with contemporary language, including reams of inventive cursing and even one monologue sung as a rap song. He mashes it all together with a mixture of Elizabethan and contemporary comedy. The writing is brilliant. Expect to be astonished at Ives’ dizzying explosion of puns, curses and alliteration spouted in rhyme. It is a scathing slap in the face of the upper classes disguised as a romantic comedy — a masterful mock on a master of comedy.
Working Class Theatre NW is a brand new company and the creation of two South Sound theater professionals, Tim Samland (producer and technical director of this show) and Christina Hughes (costume designer). School for Lies is their first show. It is being produced on a shoe-string budget. The only expense seems to have been on elaborate costumes, many of which I suspect came from thrift stores or were borrowed or cobbled together from scraps; and on the few pieces of ancient, beat-up and often-repaired furniture that Samland scavenged from his parents’ barn. I happen to know this because his parents sat behind me and his father told me so.
Since I’m talking about production values, I might as well mention the wigs and makeup, some of which are fabulous. Bruce Story-Camp as the arrogant poet Oronte sports a curly, long-haired wig and an upturned moustache, and he has a disgusting mole on his nose. It takes guts for a handsome man to make himself so ugly and Story-Camp does it unabashedly. As for handsome made ugly, that goes triple for Jenifer Rifenbery as the devious and flirtatious aristocrat Arsinoe. Rifenbery is a beauty who has successfully milked her looks to play sexpots such as Lily in Annie and the ditzy blonde who runs around in her underwear in Noises Off. In School for Lies she is absolutely hysterical. She is adorned in the clownishly garish makeup of an ageing whore with painted Cupid ’s bow lips. I was told by director Tom Sanders that Rifenbery designed her own makeup, and she gets points for doing it so well.
With little or no money spent on sets, props and (probably) costumes, the entire production rests on the script and the acting, both of which are marvelous.
Not all of the acting is top-notch, but the major characters are spot-on. This may be the best role ever (or yet) for Luke Amundson, who plays Frank, Ives’ version of the lead character in Moliere’s The Misanthrope. He definitely has the best lines, and he delivers them spectacularly, equally believable as a harsh and spite-filled cynic and as a man smitten by love. He doesn’t need fake beard or hair because his everyday beard and hair are perfect for the role.
Equaling Amundson in no-holds-barred acting is his love interest and antagonist Mariesa Bus as Celimine. Everyone is madly in love with Celimine — Frank, a trio of dunces including Oronte, Clitander (Robert McConkey) and Acaste, the Lord of Stupid (Ryan Cullitan), and possibly even her cousin Eliante (April Nyquist). Everyone, that is, but Frank’s cross-dressing friend Philinte (Bryan Bender) who is in love with Eliante. Celimine knows that practically every man in France longs for her, and she revels in it. And she matches Frank’s cynicism barb-for-barb. Great acting on the part of Bus.
A few random thoughts:
·         Words cannot express how adorable Nyquist is with her big eyes and long, fluttering lashes and a smile that lights up the world.
·         I lost count of how many times the tray of canapés goes flying through the air.
·         Few can resist calling Clitander Clitoris.
·         When Arsinoe lets loose with anger and frustration we see unadulterated, fearless acting at its finest; and the same holds true when Eliante aggressively tries to seduce Frank.
·         Speaking in rhyme can be disastrous if it is sing-song; it never is in this production.
·         Despite Clitander’s gay and foppish demeanor and Philinte’s cross dressing they are both, it seems, heterosexual. There is some question about Oronte as well.
·         And finally, it is a shame that audiences for risky, out-of-the-mainstream plays like this are so small. They should be able to do this at the Broadway Center and fill every seat – although there is some advantage to this smaller and more intimate space for this production.
·         The play is set in France 1666 but it is relevant to the U.S.A. in 2014.
Tickets are dirt cheap, by suggested donation only. I hope you will see this show and donate as much as you can to support such a worthy company.
Remaining performances September 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, and 27 at 8 p.m.
733 Commerce, Tacoma, 3rd floor ballroom. Suggested donation $10-$12.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Marita Dingus at UPS






Marita Dingus is one of Seattle's most unique and well-known artists, renowned for works made from scrap materials such as bent wire and often depicting and commenting on the African American experience. For years she made art about the institution of slavery including a monumental, room-size figure of a slave and a wall hanging of the galley of a slave ship. Local art lovers should recall her work at Museum of Glass and Francine Seders Gallery in Seattle, and a previous show at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound.

The show is called "They Still Hold Us," which refers to "the persistence of invisible forces that contain and restrict" people of color from prospering. Dingus says the fences and shackles in this exhibition refer to such things as prisons and biased law enforcement, which disproportionately affect people of color.

It is a dark, ominous, and yet wondrous exhibition.

Along the front wall is a group of wall hangings with titles such as "Fence" and "Fence With Flowers," made of wire and cloth and a variety of discarded materials in repetitive forms with "fences" made of black cloth and things stuck to the fences, such as flowers and leaves in greens and earth tones and in some cases dark red leaves. You might think of leaves and flowers as light and joyful, but these are dark and heavy, wind-blown and jammed uncomfortably into the fences. The metaphor is not obvious, but once realized causes the heart to skip a beat.

On the end wall next to these is a group of three heavy black draped cloths with red teardrops or drops of blood called "As If It Had Rained Blood." And in front of this piece is an installation of groups of chain links or cufflinks of connected cloth and wire that hang from the ceiling, extending the imprisonment metaphor. It is called "Shackles." Aesthetically these two groups work together as a single installation.
On the back wall are more fence pieces and a group of skeletons. Instead of leaves and flowers, black hands are stuck to these fences. One of the skeletons is made of delicately twisted-together white wire that is barely visible against the white wall. One of the more emphatic pieces is a black rag doll with an exterior skeleton of white wire.

Also included are two almost traditional quilts made of old cloth with pieces in an open weave pattern. There is an ancient look to these as if rotted away over time - perhaps remnants of quilts found in a slave shack from the mid-19th century. The open weave also resonates with the fences.

The Marita Dingus show is being held in conjunction with the 2014 Race & Pedagogy National Conference to be held Sept. 25-27. In the back gallery there is an exhibition of blown and engraved glass by Sarah Gilbert.
Skeleton Fence by Marita Dingus

"THEY STILL HOLD US," 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Sept. 27, Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701

Murray Morgan Bridge Mural Dedication

What: “The Hands that Built Tacoma” Mural Dedication
Where: below the Murray Morgan Bridge at the corner of Dock St. and S. 11th Street
When: Saturday, September 20, 3 – 3:30 pm
Cost: Free!
In celebration of Tacoma’s working waterfront, Nick Goettling’s “The Hands that Built Tacoma” will be dedicated during a public Maritime Fest event on Sept. 20, from 3 – 3:30 p.m., below the Murray Morgan Bridge at the corner of Dock and 11th streets.
“We are pleased to add this powerful mural that pays tribute to Tacoma’s rich history to the City’s art collection,” said Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride.  “It’s bold and bright, tells a great story, and gives visual interest to both motorists and pedestrians.”
The mural was commissioned by the City of Tacoma as part of the Murray Morgan Bridge rehabilitation.  Built in 1913, the Murray Morgan Bridge was closed in 2007 due to safety concerns, and restored and reopened 100 years later, in 2013. This $12,000 mural commission is part of an interpretive information plan to tell the story of the bridge and celebrate its connection to the Foss Waterway.
Goettling is a Gig Harbor artist who received his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from The Evergreen State College with an emphasis on narrative painting and drawing.  His work has been exhibited nationally, and more information on him is available at nickalas.com.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Blithe Spirit at Olympia Little Theatre

Meghan Goodman, Roddy Matthew Lee, Sophie Parody

Roddy Matthew Lee, Lark Church, Meghan Goodman
I have to say this is going to be a difficult review to write. I guess I might as well plunge right in and start by saying I did not enjoy this play. The play is Blithe Spirit at Olympia Little Theatre, written by Noel Coward. The OLT performance is directed by Kendra Malm. I know it has been popular since its premiere in London’s West End early in 1941, and I know that Coward was a much-respected playwright, so I’m thinking that maybe I should have enjoyed it more than I did.
The fault seems to be Coward’s script more than with Malm and company’s production, although I saw some minor problems opening night.
I reviewed this show when it played Tacoma Little Theatre six years ago, and I searched my blog for that review — hoping, perhaps, that the earlier review would give me some clue as to why I could not get into this one; not that I like comparing different theater’s takes on the same play, somehow that does not seem fair (even though I’m not sure why). That was a convoluted sentence, but I’m leaving it as is.
I gave the TLT show a rather kind but not enthusiastic review. Could it be that I was being more kind than honest? Of course the actors and director were different, but in both productions they were/are mostly experienced and good at what they do. The difference in a proscenium stage and a thrust stage with seating on three sides can be significant, but this OLT set by Matthew Moeller is excellent — quite beautiful, in fact — and Malm’s blocking provides comfortable movement and viewing throughout, so the stage layout shouldn’t make a difference. Also of note are the outstanding period costumes by Diana Purvine.
One big difference, and I wouldn’t have known this if I had not re-read my earlier review, is that director Steve Tarry cut 35 minutes from the TLT version, and considering Coward’s dry British humor, that probably resulted in a huge improvement. At OLT the play started at 8 p.m., and we didn’t get out of the theater until 11:15. There were three acts with two ten-minute intermissions. That’s a long time for modern American audiences accustomed to two-act, two-hour plays with more action.
Did I mention the droll humor? There were a lot of laughs, but not of the knee-slapping, tears-down-the-cheek variety.
Novelist and socialite Charles Condomine (Roddy Matthew Lee) has in mind a novel involving the supernatural, so he invites a spiritualist, Madame Arcati (Lark Church) to perform a séance. Charles, of course, doesn’t believe in séances; he’s doing it for research for his book, and just a little bit so he and his wife, Ruth (Meaghan Goodman) can make fun of Madame Arcati behind her back. Also there for the evening are their friends Dr. Bradman (John Pratt) and Mrs. Bradman (Toni Murray), and their maid, Edith (Sarah May).
At one point during the séance the table starts shaking wildly, Madame Arcati passes out, and Charles’s ex-wife, Elvira (Sophie Parody) appears from “the other side.” Elvira, dead now some seven years, has come to stay, and Charles cannot convince her to go back to wherever it is she came from. Nobody else can see or hear her. Ruth refuses to believe she’s there and thinks Charles must have been drunk when he thought he saw her, until Elvira moves a vase, which to Ruth of course appears to have been lifted by an invisible hand.
Up until the séance starts, a too-long buildup to the main action, there is a lot of busy stuff with props. There is way too much pouring of drinks and setting them down and refilling them before they're emptied. It got confusing to me. It seemed that drinks were set down and forgotten and then picked up by the wrong person, and I couldn’t tell if that was intentional and done for comic effect or not, or even if it actually happened. It was more distracting than funny. It did, however, make more sense when Ruth later accused Charles of drinking too much.
I will not divulge what happens after Elvira is summoned by the medium.
The acting throughout is competent but not exciting. The best acting by far is turned in by Goodman and Church. Goodman is enjoyably expressive as the skeptical, sometimes haughty and often angry wife. Church plays the broadest comedic parts with great style. I loved the way she faints. Parody is suitably ghostly and nicely portrays biting disdain of her ex-husband’s current wife. Plus she moves nicely, and again ghostly, while dancing to a recording of the popular song “Always.”
I did not enjoy Lee’s portrayal of Charles. I thought his range of expression was lacking, and I thought both Pratt and Murray were able but not compelling in the almost throwaway parts of the Bradman’s. The maid, Edith, is also a throwaway part. May does as good a job as possible in a part that gives her little to work with.
There were some bothersome glitches opening night that were as unintentionally funny as any of the punchlines, most noticeably when some special effects happened before they were supposed to. It also bothered me that someone put on a recording of “That Old Black Magic” by Louis Prima and Keely Smith which I think was not recorded until after the play was set. I researched this and found that it was recorded in the same year the play premiered. (The time period is listed as the 1940s, so it may be possible that the Condomines had that record in their collection, but it’s highly unlikely.) Yes, I know I’m being picky.
WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 28
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$14 ($2 student discount), available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/profile/23136 INFORMATION: 360-786-9484, http://olympialittletheater.org/