Sunday, January 20, 2019

Review: “Hamlet”

by Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 18, 2019
Niclas Olson as Hamlet, photo courtesy New Muses Theatre Company
Another practically flawless production by New Muses Theatre Company, and this time it is what many consider the greatest play ever written: William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Director Niclas Olson, who also wrote this adaptation and plays the leading role, downplays the “Melancholy Dane’s” histrionics in much of the play, portraying him as a brooding and more inward-looking young man – not to mention a spoiled and arrogant rich kid – so that when he does give way to histrionics, it is explosive.
Common wisdom says a director should be wary of directing himself, especially not in a leading role, but Olson does just that quite regularly, and he does it spectacularly.
 Juan Aleman II, Niclas Olson, Xander Layden, and Dayna Childs in Hamlet. Photo courtesy of New Muses Theatre Company
The small black box space of Dukesbay Theatre lends itself perfectly to this “Hamlet.” The closeness of the seating to the actors, each of whom enunciate clearly, make it easy to hear every word, which is a real bonus because audiences often have difficulty understanding Shakespeare.
The set and lighting (also by Olson) is simplicity itself, a backdrop of starlight against a black curtain and a single throne chair and no props other than a crop-down curtain and folding chairs that are brought in for the play-with-a-play scene, and of course the fencing foils and masks used in the bout between Hamlet and Laertes (Xander Layden, who doubles as Guildenstern).
The setting is the present day. The actors wear modern street clothes with no special adornment other than the battle helmet worn by the ghost of Hamlet’s father (Juan Aleman II, who doubles as King Claudius).
The lighting and costuming on the ghost of King Hamlet is perfectly ghostly. He is barely seen, and in his overcoat and helmet he looks powerful. Later, the dim lighting on the ghost of Ophelia (Cassie Jo Fastabend) is a tad too dim but still effective.
There is a lot of double casting in this version, and the cast members who double up do a credible job as becoming totally and believably different people. Layden is excitable and expressive as Laertes and more self contained as Guildenstern. When he performs as a declarative actor in the play put on for the benefit of the king and queen, his preening and posing seemed a parody of actors at the time. Angela Parisotto is nervous and fluttery as Ophelia’s mother and becomes a quite comical character as the grave digger.
Fastabend plays Ophelia marvelously. In earlier scenes when she speaks of her love for Hamlet, her eyes and her smile sparkle, making her adoration of the prince palpable.
Newcomer to South Sound stages Victoria Ashley plays Rosencrantz and Barnardo with an intensity to match that of Olson’s Prince Hamlet. This is cross-gender casting at its finest. I look forward to seeing more of Ashley in future performances.
I attended a Sunday matinee along with a handful of other audience members. There were far too many empty seats in what is already a tiny house. Every show should be sold out; my recommendation is get thee to Dukesbay.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 27
WHERE: Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma
TICKETS: $10-$15

Friday, January 18, 2019

Everybody gets skewered


Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits at Lakewood Playhouse
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 17, 2019
 Katheryne Elliott as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, photo by Tim Johnson

I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so much as I did at opening night of Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits at Lakewood Playhouse. Forbidden Broadway is a musical review spoof on almost every big hit musical in the past half century and longer in which everybody gets skewered — from Ethel Merman to Carol Channing to Steven Sondheim to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Since opening Off-Broadway in 1982, there have been more than 20 editions of the show in New York, London and Los Angeles, and each edition spoofs different shows from Chicago to Fiddler on the Roof, to Rent, Hello Dolly and Hairspray. Show business personalities are known to wait in delicious anticipation to see if they’re going to be spoofed next.
from left: Alexis Dyson and Katheryne Elliot in "Rent,"photo by Tim Johnson 
It is a show filled with great music, fabulously skewed lyrics making fun of Broadway. The six-person cast in Lakewood Playhouse’s performance are not only outstanding singers, they are skilled actors, impersonators, and dancers (choreography by Ashley Roy, who is also in the cast).
Sharry O’Hare, who said she did not want to even audition because she didn’t think she could do impersonations, was talked into considering it and changed her mind. She does a spot-on and knockout funny impersonation of Carol Channing.
Micheal O'Hara displays singing chops that will make you go ga-ga when he performs as Mandy Patinkin singing "Somewhat Overindulgent" to the tune of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Dawn Padula as Chita Rivera makes fun of Rita Moreno in a medley of songs from West Side Story, until Katheryne Elliott as Moreno joins her on stage to sing her version, and the two stars (Moreno played Anita in the movie and Rivera played Anita on Broadway) trade insults to the tune of "America" and other songs from West Side Story.
O'Hara makes fun of the great Bob Fosse with the tune "Hey Bob Fosse” sung to the tune of "Hey Big Spender."
The entire ensemble is insanely hilarious doing “Ambition” to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof.
Roy does a long solo impersonation of Liza Minnelli in which she repeatedly brags that her mother is Judy Garland, and Padula does an equally impressive impersonation of Barbara Streisand. The way she brushes her hair away from her face is worth the price of a ticket.

Elliott also performs as Elle Woods from Legally Blonde while cuddling a dog, Alexis Dyson goes Into the Woods with style, while Timothy McFarlan is a comically majestic as Cameron Macintosh, legendary producer of such hits as Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Les Misérables, the latter of which gets more stage time than anything else.

I could go on ad infinitum naming songs and stars but suffice it to say it is two hours of non-stop song and dance, and every number is funny and performed with knock-’em-dead skill.
As a bonus to all that laughter and music, there are countless costume changes throughout with a myriad of inventive costumes designed by Lauren Wells.
Forbidden Broadway is the perfect post-holiday entertainment.
Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m., Sunday, through Feb. 3, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Lakewood, $30, $28 military and seniors, $25 students/educators, 253.588.0042,

Friday, January 11, 2019

Exploring Cultural bias

A powerful group show at Tacoma Community College
by Alec Clayton
published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 10, 2019
 “Foundations” oil painting by Hart James, courtesy Tacoma Community College
Culture, the new exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, is billed as “an exhibition exploring the idea of cultural biases and its influence on the outlook of other cultures.” This is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful group show ever to be mounted at TCC. This is not to say that every work of art by every one of the 28 participating artists knocks it out of the park, or even that every piece even belongs within the theme; but there are enough that are stimulating, that have the capacity to touch the hearts of viewers, and that are aesthetically praiseworthy — starting with Bobbi Ritter’s series on the micro-brew culture of the Pacific Northwest.
There are five small assemblages in Ritter’s series, each with beer bottles and other objects attached to boards and painted. It is as if brewpubs had been wiped out by a volcanic eruption and this is the detritus that remains, stuff stuck to walls and covered with lava and ash. And within the ash are painted images, which relate to or are visual puns on the brands displayed. The one with an Irish Death bottle features a painting of a skull; the one on Wingman Brewery features Wingman beer cans, a model airplane and the painted face of the pilot. With an extra eye. The series as a whole and each individual piece is marked by visual variations and surprises within a unified whole.
Miles Styer’s entry is a model of a covered wagon that serves as a lamp and reminds us about the lives of those who trekked across the country in wagon trains. A wall label proclaims, “One side is a vision of opportunity and life; the other is a vision of destruction and death.” 
"Foundations" ceramics by Irene Osborn, photo by Alec Clayton
Irene Osborn’s ceramic sculpture “She Thought They Would Be Safe Once They Crossed The Border” is an emotionally intense commentary on the plight of refugees crossing into a new homeland where they are not welcomed. Roughly sculpted in chalky white clay, it depicts a screaming woman with arms and hands torn away, one unattached hand clutching an infant to her breast. Like Osborn’s startling and poignant sculpture “Refugee” in TCC’s juried show in October, this figure is hollowed out. The woman’s back opens into a deep cave, and inside the cave is another figure of a mother holding a child. It makes you want to cry or shout out in anger. 
David Keyes’s “King Leopold II’s Legacy” is a harsh reminder of the genocide of the Tutu tribe by the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda. It is a dark construction in rusted metal with a row of six metal cage-like structures with wax hands in them, in recognition of
Belgian plantation owners’ practice of cutting off the hands of workers who didn’t produce enough. 
A light-hearted but penetrating look at a common American cultural phenomenon is Frank Dippolito’s oil painting, “Welcome to Missouri Milepost.” It is a beautifully rendered painting of a billboard off an interstate highway, standing in tall grass. The billboard advertises an “adult superstore.” A smaller sign on the ground at the base of the billboard says “Christ died for your sins.” The adult superstore ads are common in parts of the country. I recently saw many of them in the drive through Louisiana and Texas. In addition to being a telling image, Dippolito’s painting is a great example of contrasting large and simple forms in complementary colors, in this case vibrant pink and green.
Hart James’s “Foundations” is simply a great painting, although I’m not sure how it relates to the theme. It is a dark and foreboding image of a man emerging from rocklike formations. 
Other pieces I enjoyed seeing were MaryBeth Haynes’s three sculptures of strong and defiant woman and Lavonne Haivick’s “Coyote’s ‘End of Day,’” sculptures of five long-legged and sad creatures that look vaguely like a cross between coyotes and anteaters.
I can’t recommend this show highly enough.

Culture, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through March 15, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

1940s Radio Hour at Harlequin Productions

An old-fashioned Christmas musical
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 27, 2018

From left: Edsonya Charles as Ann Collier, Miguel Pineda as B.J. Gibson, Bruce Haasl as Clifton Feddington, Xander Layden as Wally Fergusson, and Christie Murphy-Oldright as Ginger Brooksphoto courtesy Harlequin Productions

Christmas might be over, but Harlequin Productions continues celebrating the season until New Year’s Eve. For this year’s holiday show, Harlequin dove deep into their archives to re-stage their first holiday show, The 1940s Radio Hour. First performed in 1993, this is the one that inspired the theater’s “Stardust” series, the ever-popular series that has run for 22 seasons.
It is Dec. 21, 1942, one year into WWII, in the Algonquin Room of Manhattan’s Astor Hotel where the radio show “The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade” is being broadcast. Station manager and show host Clifton Feddington (Bruce Haasl) is frantic because most of the performers and band members are late or are not doing what they’re supposed to do, house manager Pops Bailey (Gerald B. Browning) is running a bookie operation in the station, featured singer Johnny Cantone (James Dean) is nowhere to be found, and young and pesky delivery boy, Wally Ferguson (Xander Layden) is begging him to let him sing on the show.
But the show must go on, and go on it does, complete with a cavalcade of hit 1930s and ’40s songs including “I Got a Gal from Kalamazoo,” “Blue Moon,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and Christmas standards including “Jingle Bells,” “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with on air commercials and a live broadcast of “A Christmas Carol” complete with sound effects by sound man Lou Cohen (Nathan Rice). Drummer Biff Baker (Andy Garness) provides a note of sentimentality and patriotism because he is in the Air Force and it is his last night. Tomorrow he is being shipped overseas to fight in the war.
Throughout the broadcast there are endless miscues and other silliness, and star Johnny Cantone gets increasingly drunk.
The play is lighthearted, shmaltzy and outdated. The Cantone character is a shame, because drunkenness ceased being funny a long time ago, and Dean is too good an actor and singer for that unfortunate role. His voice is clear, deep and resonate — a crooner to equal the best of the big band era or any other era.
Compensating for the dated script, the music is outstanding, the commercials are funny, and the radio play-within-a-radio-play is a joy to behold. Singers Carolyn Willems Van Dijk as Connie Miller and Christie Murphy-Oldright as Ginger Brooks both have strong and melodious voices, Miguel Pineda as singer B.J. Gibson is outstanding, Layden as Wally is the comic hit of the show.
As always, the band is outstanding with Garness on drums, Rick Jarvela on bass, David Steadman on trumpet, Aaron Wolff on saxophone, and show Director/Musical Director Aaron Lamb on piano.
1940s Radio Hour, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 31, State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $49 general. $45 senior/military, $25 student/youth, 360.786.0151,

Plein Air panting at American Art Company

The Journey
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly  Volcano, Dec. 27, 2018
 “Falling Through the Cascades,” oil painting by Patricia Clayton, courtesy American Art Company
Now on view at American Art Company is The Journey, an exhibition of Plein Air Washington Artists.
I can’t honestly review this exhibition without stating my personal bias — and yes, critics always have personal biases, no matter how they might try to be objective. The paintings in this show are of a type I usually disdain. They are slick, commercial, calendar art: warmed-over Impressionism, a kind of art that has been done to death over the past century.
Having stated my bias, I will now talk about some of the better pieces in the show. But first, one more general statement: This show does something I have never seen. It shows plein air paintings next to identical or almost identical paintings of the same subject that were painted back in the artists’ studios, as opposed to out in nature, which by definition is what plein air painting is. The only difference in most cases is the size and the price. 
Patricia Clayton’s “Falling Through the Cascades” holds down a prime spot, making it the first thing most visitors see when entering the gallery. It is a large painting at 30-by-40 inches. It depicts a rushing waterfall with luscious, heavy paint strokes applied with some kind of knife or scraper — heavy globs of paint that look as wet and shiny as the rocks and rushing water depicted. It is a highly dramatic picture. There are three other paintings by this artist, one a smaller but similar painting of a waterfall and two paintings of golden sunsets over the ocean, one with misty skies and one with golden water. Like “Falling Through the Cascades,” these are bold and dramatic paintings that are executed with great skill, even though the scenes are clichéd it might be noted that heavy paint application is typical of many paintings in this show. There is also a preponderance of mist, water, and sunset themes. Brilliant orange, gold, pink and violet are everywhere to be seen.
Kathryn Townsend’s “Miner’s Cabin” and “End of the Road” have the same kind of heavy impasto, brilliant colors and dramatic scenery as Clayton’s paintings, but with richer color combinations. The brown tones in the foreground look like rich chocolate, and the tiny blue roof on the outhouse dead center in the combination is a real attention grabber.
Karen Bakke’s two paintings of a lighthouse remind me of Edward Hopper’s paintings of lighthouses, but a comparison with Hopper would be unfair to Bakke, because Hopper’s honesty and inerrant sensitivity to spacing and composition is beyond the reach of mortals.
Perhaps my favorite painting in the show is an unpretentious little watercolor by Felicity Chastney called “Silence in Echo Bay. It is quiet, soothing and not so showy as many of the other paintings in this show.

The Journey, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Jan. 26, closing reception 3-5 p.m., Jan. 26, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327,

Friday, December 21, 2018

Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol

A joyful ghost story for all ages

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 20, 2018
Note: It has been announced that remaining performances of this show are sold out.
John Serembe as Ebenezer Scrooge and Zachary Clark as Tiny Tim, courtesy Olympia Family Theatre
Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol is a not-just-for-children adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas ghost story. Olympia Family Theater shortened the play to one hour plus a 15-minute intermission, reimagined all the scary stuff and used puppets for ghosts to make the tale child friendly. Which it is. But it is equally and wonderfully enjoyable for adults thanks to terrific acting and singing, a delightful set (the design team of Jeannie Beirne, David Nowitz and Jill Carter), and Mark Gerth’s non-scary puppets — which don’t have a lot of moving parts but look terrific.
The cast is headed up by the one and only John Serembe as Ebenezer Scrooge. It is highly unlikely that there has ever been a more loveable Scrooge. From his perfect timing to a range of voice and gesture from the subtlest (like blowing out an electronic candle) to the most histrionic (like his reactions when his door knocker turns into the ghost of Jacob Marley), Serembe makes acting the part of this bigger-than-life character seem as natural as downing a delicious mug of tap water. Yes, he even makes the simple act of drinking water hilarious.
In this version of the story, Tiny Tim (Zachary Clark) is 15 years old and no longer needs his crutch. He tells the story of what happened the night mean of Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Be. It turns out it was all a trick played on the old man by Tim, his cousin Charlotte (Emma Thomas), and his friends the bookseller (Peter Rushton) and pie seller (James Wrede) and puppet seller (Andrea Weston-Smart), who pretend to be ghosts.
Clark, previously seen in Charlotte’s Web, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and 3 Impossible Questions, is a 10th grader at River Ridge High School. He is excellent as a sweet, articulate and almost grownup Tiny Tim.
Thomas is also a youth actor, a student at Olympia High School. She is delightful as the teenage Charlotte.
Rushton and Wrede are each over-the-top funny with exaggerated voices and Cockney accents, and Weston-Smart is a natural as the London street vendor and puppeteer.
There are so many versions of A Christmas Carol that no matter where you may be there is sure to be one or more near you, so many in fact that Serembe has now played Scrooge in five different adaptations. This version by the writing team of Ken and Jack Ludwig and directed by Michael Christopher is one of the more enjoyable. It is a funny and heart-warming story filled with good holiday cheer, and it flows so quickly that it is over almost before almost before you know it.
During the run of Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol, OFT is doing a Winter Coat Drive. Donated coats will be given to folks in the community who are without one. Most needed are youth and teen sizes. Bring a gently-used warm coat and get a concessions voucher!

Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol, 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, with one Thursday performance Dec. 7 at 7 p.m., through Dec. 23, $15 $20, Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638.

Roads and Rivers Unseen

Perspectives from Around the World
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 21, 2018
untitled oil painting by Brian Ebersole, photo courtesy the artist
Former Tacoma Mayor Brian Ebersole is a painter and owner of Art Above Gallery, located upstairs in the back of Minka on Pacific Avenue. Ebersole pursued painting in his twenties, and after entering politics he started collecting art in his travels around the world. The current show at Art Above, Roads and Rivers Unseen: Perspectives from Around the World, features landscape and portrait paintings in oil and acrylic, many by Ebersole and many by other artists whose work he has collected over the years.
The paintings are in a style similar to works from the Ash Can School of artists from early 20th century America — Robert Henri, Theresa Bernstein, George Luks, John Sloan and others whose work was a gritty kind of post-impressionist realism not so much celebrating as documenting the real world of working class Americans, warts-and-all portraits and landscapes not of grand scenes but of city streets, working waterfronts and non-idealized vistas. The paint application is heavy and opaque, and their colors tend to be darker than the Impressionists who preceded them.
Along the left-hand wall of the gallery are nine acrylic paintings by Ebersol. Most are landscapes depicting everyday scenes, some of which are almost totally abstract, with clouds and bushes depicted as blurs of color. At the time of the Ash Can School, such paintings were revolutionary in that they pictured subjects that had seldom before been considered worthy of fine art, but today they are more run-of-the-mill. I do wish Ebersol and the others in this show used more vibrant colors and perhaps approached their scenes from more radical viewpoints.
There are two untitled portraits in this group of paintings. My guess is that he did not title them because he did not want to call attention to the subject, which in turn calls attention away from the painting. One of these pictures a strong woman with black hair and black clothing on a dark background. The lighting is like that of a Rembrandt or Carravagio, single source from one side with strong chiaroscuro. There is also a Madonna by Ebersol on another wall who looks rather fierce.
The other walls feature works from Ebersol’s collection and more of his own paintings. There are small luminous landscapes by Vova DeBak and one strong abstract by K.R. Moeher with orange clouds and a slash of bright crimson representing hills.
There are two interesting paintings of boats by Vahe Yeremyan, one picturing fishing boats painted with short, choppy brushstrokes with blue sky and orange-pink clouds, and another with dark brown boats on a yellow beach and hazy sailboats in the background. Many people on the beach are painted with an economy of short brushstrokes. Elements of these paintings remind me of van Gogh (the angular boats on the yellow sand) and of a less turbulent J.M.W. Turner (the misty background scene).
The paintings in this exhibition are neither bombastic or exciting, but they are painted with confidence and quiet dignity. 
Roads and Rivers Unseen, noon to 5 p.m., Thursday-Sunday and by appointment, through Jan. 31, Art Above Gallery, inside Minka, 821 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.961.5220