Saturday, November 16, 2019

Jeff Olson Making His Mark

Abstracting the World with dashes and X’s and V’s
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 14, 2019

painting by Jeff Olson, courtesy Tacoma Community College

After viewing Jeff Olson’s exhibition, Making my Mark at Tacoma Community College, I visited his Web site out of curiosity and discovered statements from the artist that seem at odds with what I observed in his exhibition. Olson stated, “My paintings offer a unique vision of the landscape and the inspirational forces of nature which shape it.” And “The canvases are boldly colored and the brushwork energetic, reflective of the physicality of the land and the processes of painting.” Bold colors and a reflection of landscape are in keeping with what I observed, but the claim of energetic brushwork is not. He went on to speak of his “direct and rapid technique.”

Olson’s paintings are all about the marks, thus the show title. But to my eye these marks are controlled and laid upon the canvas with a certain amount of deliberation — anything but rapid and energetic brushwork. To me, his brushstrokes look more like those of Robert and Sonya Delaunay and some of the early American abstractionists such Stuart Davis.
Despite questioning his claims about the speed and exuberance with which he applies paint to canvas, I was impressed with his paintings. They are joyful and colorful. Seeing groups of them together with their slight variations on similar images is like walking through a desert landscape with here and there a change in light and shadow or a surprise outcropping of vegetation.
Olson’s show is a large exhibition with a striking consistency of style.  All the paintings are abstract but evoking landscape.
Olson paints with short dashes and X’s and V’s of color laid side-by-side on the canvas with no blending or overlapping. Each brushstroke is self-contained; each color stands out clearly and reverberates against its adjacent stroke. These marks are, in most instances, lighter or darker values of the same color and are grouped together to form shapes that read as hills or cliffs or clumps of bushes, or in some instances forms that don’t so much look like anything in nature but which evoke the feeling of being out of doors. Most of them have flat backgrounds that are seen as sky or water and are of solid or almost solid colors that are loosely brushed.
Behind the counter as you enter the gallery are two large paintings of hills reflected in water, one in shades of blue and the other in shades of yellow and gray. Other paintings that look like hills, some with roads or rivers winding through them, are displayed in the front part of the gallery. In the middle area groups of paintings with brilliant, sun-lit forms are hung — one with a white shape like a funnel cloud or a drill digging into an orange ground. Another in this area looks like a torn curtain with yellow light shining through. The back section of the gallery is filled with paintings in more muted tones with X’s and V’s forming shapes like clumps of sticks — bales of spikey hay.
To me, it is a feel-good show.

Jeff Olson: Making my Mark, 10a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Aug. 9, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Proo(ƒ) reviewed

Photos by Jason Ganwich

Proo(ƒ) at Dukesbay
reviewed by Alec Clayton
Chevi Chung as Catherine and Amy Van Michelen as Claire
David Auburn’s drama Proof won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play. Dukesbay Productions’ treatment is proof positive that this play deserves all the awards it has earned, and after almost 20 years it is not at all dated.
Director and Dukesbay co-founder Randy Clark wrote what is probably the most succinct director’s note ever published in a playbill. He wrote, “Proof is one of my favorite plays. I think it is perfect. Fortunately, I have a talented ensemble to bring this gem to life. I hope you enjoy it.”
I should not have to say any more than that, plus listing the names of the cast members, to entice theater lovers from around Western Washington to flock to the little Dukesbay Theater. But I can’t resist the urge to say more.
Chevi Chung and Nick Fitzgerald as Hall

Chevi Chung and Erik Hill as Robert
Proof is intense, sad, angry and surprisingly funny. You will love and definitely root for its protagonist, Catherine (Chevi Chung), feel loads of admiration and empathy for her father, Robert (Erik Hill) and his student and her friend Hal (Nick Fitzgerald), and I’m afraid you might want to strangle Catherine’s sister Claire (Amy Van Mechelen), the epitome of a meddling, manipulative do-gooder family member. And you will be emotionally swept into the net of their tangled lives as you sit mere feet away from the actors in the tiny space of Dukesbay Theater.
Auburn’s script is a masterpiece of structure and insight, complex, multi-layered and easy to follow, and the acting by the entire cast is superb.
It opens the day of Robert’s funeral. He and Catherine are sharing a bottle of champagne. Whether it is her hallucination, a memory or a fantasy doesn’t matter. It establishes the complex relationship between father and daughter. He was a mathematical genius who suffered from mental illness and was unable to function during the final years of his life while Catherine was his sole caretaker. Catherine has inherited his math genius and, she is afraid, his mental illness.
Enter Hal, one of Robert’s former graduate students who has been given Catherine’s permission to examine the hundreds of notebooks Robert has left behind.
Catherine’s sister Claire flies in from New York and tries to take over Catherine’s life, and wants to take her home to New York with her and has made plans to have her examined for mental illness.
The relationships between these four characters are explosive. There are tears and laughter and incriminations, and the “F-word” is tossed about liberally.
Each of the cast members brings extensive experience to the stage, and together they are incredible. Chung is an accomplished actor, director and fight consultant. She was Assistant Director, dramaturg and fight choreographer for Dukesbay’s recent production of Agnes of God. Hill is a member of SAG/AFTRA and has appear in film and television. He was seen in Lakewood Playhouse’s recent two-part Angels in America. Fitzgerald is a recent Theater Arts graduate from Washington State University and has appeared in such shows as Twelfth Night, Newsies and The Glass Menagerie. Van Mechelen played Hiromi in Dukesbay’s Calligraphy and is an opera singer who has performed as a soloist in Seattle Opera’s Porgy and Bess. Clark called this foursome a “talented ensemble,” which is an understatement if there ever was one.
Performances are selling out quickly. Buying tickets quickly and online is recommended.

7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 17
Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Ave., Tacoma, above the Grand Cinema
(253) 350-7680,

Admission includes your choice of coffee, tea and an assortment of cookies.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Broadway Olympia’s Songs for a New World

From left - Loucas T. Curry, Steve Barnett, Elise Tarasova, Brynne Geiszler, photo by Kyle Murphy

by Alec Clayton

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 1, 2019

For two weekends only, Broadway Olympia is producing the musical Songs for a New World with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, directed and choreographed by Lexi Barnett.

Songs for a New World is unlike other musicals, although in spirit it us akin to the great tribal rock opera Hair. Many commentators have said it is a musical review rather than a play, because there is no real plot and the same characters do not appear throughout. The four actors — listed as Woman 1 (Elise Tarasova), Man 1 (Loucas T. Curry), Woman 2 (Brynne Geiszler) and Man 2 (Steve Barnett) — play various characters, from lovers to a prisoner, to Mrs. Santa Claus, each with their own story.

Instead of a traditional plot line, there is a consistent theme that carries throughout and is expressed in songs with styles that range from ballads to rock to gospel to show tunes. The spirit that carries throughout the play is epitomized by Curry in the song “King of the World” when he is shackled in prison and sings the defiant lyrics “Nothing can stop me from tomorrow, Keep me from my destiny.” These characters each face the hardships and challenges with hope and courage for a new world.

From left: Elise Tarasova, Steve Barnett, Loucas T. Curry, photo by Kyle Murphy

The set is a jumble of trunks and suitcases symbolizing travel, and they become vehicles, ships, beds mountains to ascend, and at least one of them hides a bottle of whiskey that one of the characters drinks. They are worn and beat-up trunks from an earlier era, and even though the setting is ostensibly contemporary, it works in a quirky sort of way.

At the back of the stage is a four-piece band consisting of popular local musicians who have been seen in many area shows, including most of the musical reviews at Harlequin. They are Jeff Bell, musical director and piano; David Lane, keyboard; Andy Garness, drums; and Rick Jarvela, bass — a first class band that melds rock and jazz with just a touch of whimsy.

Lexi Barnett sums up the entire experience in a program note: “I hope that you can rest well in the words of our final song (“Hear My Song”), “I know it’s dark right now, but just believe somehow that soon there will be light.”

The show is happening at the State Theater, home of Harlequin Productions.

WHAT Songs for a New World
WHEN 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1-2 and 7-9 and 2 p.m. Nov. 2-3 and 9-10
WHERE The State Theater, 202, Olympia
HOW MUCH $29, student night Nov. 7 half off

Review: “Evil Dead: The Musical”

Welcome to the splatter zone
By Alec Clayton
The cast of Evil Dead. Photos courtesy Tacoma Little Theatre

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 1, 2019
There are things about “Evil Dead: The Musical” that people need to know before venturing to Tacoma Little Theatre to watch it. It is a parody of bad horror movies, specifically of one of the cheesiest of all time, the 1981 film of the same name written and directed by Sam Raimi. Called “Gross out collegiate humor” by Director Niclas Olson, Evil Dead” is quickly becoming a cult musical. TLT Artistic Director Chris Serface said it has a “Rocky Horror level following.”
Opening night, the theater was filled with boisterous younger-than-usual patrons, some of whom wore bright yellow “Evil Dead” t-shirts. There are splash zones on either side of the stage complete with transparent plastic poncho-type rain gear and goggles. the splatter zone seats were sold out and are close to sold out for the run of the show.
In the splatter zone
The play is replete with exaggerated blood and gore on the level of the black knight fight scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Typical of bad horror movies, the thin plot involves a group of five college students on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods which is protected by trees and a bridge that suddenly becomes impassable once the students cross it, and the cabin is invaded by zombies.
The students are Ash the hero (Zachary Edson), his girlfriend Linda (Ashley Roy), a drunken, loud and obnoxious friend named Scott (Guy Taylor Simpson III), his girlfriend Shelly (Annelise Martin, who doubles as Annie), and Ash’s meek little sister, Cheryl (Molly Quinn). Odd and comically frightening characters who show up later are a “bit-part demon” named Ed (Aleks Merilo) and Jake (Eric Strachan).
For the first 10 or 15 minutes, the play is as dumb as the movies it makes fun of; yet the opening night audience was howling at the sophomoric comic bits. And then it began to get funnier and funnier, beginning with Strachan, Martin and Merilo singing “Good Old Reliable Jake,” and from that point on it is insanely hilarious.
The set by the inimitable Blake York is terrific, from the blank off-white curtain to the interior of the cabin with its silly mounted moose head to the projected Star Wars-style fast rush through the woods to the many detached and animated body parts.
Most of the seven cast members are new to South Sound stages and have never performed at TLT. Let us hope they will soon become regulars at area theaters. There is a huge amount of talent here. Edson’s mock heroics are great, especially when he strikes poses with chain saws and other implements of destruction held high. Quinn shows great acting talent as she morphs from a whimpering misfit to an evil zombie. Simpson’s wide-ranging expressions and loose-limbed movements are outstanding. And the rocking music throughout is infectious.
Anyone who can take comical excesses of blood and gore and loud audience reaction should love TLT’s performance of “Evil Dead: The Musical.”

Evil Dead: The Musical
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 10
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I St., Tacoma,
TICKETS: $19-$39
INFORMATION: (253) 272-2281

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Review: “Shakespeare in Love”

By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 25, 2019
left to right: Micheal O'Hara as Christopher Marlowe and Rodman Bolek as Will Shakespeare
Nobody writes like Tom Stoppard — except perhaps William Shakespeare. And when Stoppard does his take on Shakespeare, the result is comedy that is brilliant and hilarious. Witness “Shakespeare in Love” by Stoppard, Lee Hall and Marc Norman. You’ve rolled in the aisle laughing at the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola de Lesseps and Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare. Now you must see the live stage version presented by Tacoma Arts Live and starring Victoria Ashley and Rodman Bolek.
Will Shakespeare (Bolek) has agreed to write two different plays for two different patrons, but he is broke and struggling with a huge case of writer’s block. To the rescue comes fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe (Micheal O’Hara) who feeds him lines and an almost complete synopsis of a play to be called “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter.” He meets and is immediately smitten with Viola (Ashley), the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant. In an insanely funny parody on the famous balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet,” Will tries to win Viola’s love with poetry, but he is stymied trying to think of beautiful words so Marlowe, hiding beneath the balcony, feeds him lines a la Cyrano de Bergerac.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s poetry, Viola – who is already a theater aficionado – becomes determined to act in his new play and auditions disguised as a man – because in Elizabethan England it was illegal for women to be actors.
Ashley and Bolek light up the stage with their acting. Their chemistry is palpable.
Bolek plays Shakespeare as lovably bumbling, while portraying his love for Viola with sincerity and passion. His physical comedy in fight scenes, along with that of the large supporting cast, is worthy of the Marx Brothers times about a dozen – aided by the scope of the large proscenium stage and the tall balcony, which gives the actors ample room to run about wildly (credit must be paid to choreographer Eric Clausell, fight coordinator Geoffrey Alm and director Chris Nardine).
Viola’s passion and distress and sometimes confusion is written all over Ashley’s face, and when she appears disguised as a man, she is a wholly different character. I actually double-checked the program to make sure there were not two actors in her roles.
The play Shakespeare’s actors rehearse and ultimately perform for the Queen (Kathryn Grace Philbrook, who is perfectly majestic and loveable) is, of course, a bowdlerized version of “Romeo and Juliet” with Viola playing the part of Romeo. The rehearsal scenes are farcical, especially when Shakespeare tries to direct the kiss between Romeo and Juliet, but when they perform for the queen, the love between the two and the tragic final scene are as beautiful and touching as the original.
Rachel Fitzgerald turns in a stunning comic role as the nurse. Her double takes and shocked expressions when coming unexpectedly upon people she did not expect to find (such as Will Shakespeare in Viola’s bed) are spectacular. The rest of the supporting cast is also outstanding. Kudo’s to O’Hara, Spencer Funk as the detestable Wessex, Steve Tarry (outstanding in drag), Lukas Amundson as the incompetent actor Wabash, and Brian Tyrrell as Fennyman.
Also worthy of great praise is costume designer Naarah McDonald.
I highly recommend Tacoma Arts Live’s “Shakespeare in Love.”

Shakespeare in Love
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 3, extra Saturday matinee Nov. 2 at 3 p.m.
WHERE: Theater on the Square, 901 Broadway, Tacoma,
TICKETS: $19-$39
INFORMATION: (253) 591-5894,

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Rocky Horror comes to Auburn

Doing the Time Warp again
By Alec Clayton

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 24, 2019

from l to r: Riff Raff (Alan Plaster), Brad (Hunter Roy) & Janet (Cami Werden), photo courtesy Auburn Community Players

America’s favorite cult classic musical, The Rocky Horror Show, is rocking the stage at Auburn Avenue Theater. Since the early 1970s, audiences have been showing up in droves for stage and screen versions of Rocky Horror, often in costume and prepared to open umbrellas, throw rice and shout lines at the actors. The show itself parodies such characters as Frankenstein and Dracula and makes fun of bad horror movies in general as nerdy couple Brad (Hunter Roy) and Janet (Cami Werden) knock on the door of a dark and threatening castle and are welcomed by the outrageous transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Jordan Melin).

In Frank N Furter’s creepy home, Brad and Janet meet a houseful of wild characters, including a rocking biker and a creepy butler. “With a bit of a mind flip; You're into the time slip; And nothing can ever be the same…”). From there on it is all campy rock and roll and sexy humor.

The Auburn Community Players’ production is directed by Chris Serface, longtime musical theater actor and director and Artistic Director of Tacoma Musical Playhouse. “Rocky Horror has always been a favorite of mine from the first time I saw it when I was in high school,” Serface says. “I've now been privileged enough to have acted in it and directed it before and have always had a blast. This time around has been even more fun. The creative team and cast have put their heart into this project, and it shows. Rocky is sometimes overlooked as a serious show because of its cult status. The message of acceptance, individuality, and love is clear when you listen to the lyrics and text.”

Serface says, I'm a Rocky purist and love the vision that Richard O'Brien created with this show. Come dressed up and ready to talk back to the show, because the audience is truly a part of the story.”

Brynne Geiszler plays Magenta, the maid. Geiszler has a BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts. You can see her next in Broadway Olympia’s production of Songs For A New World this November. Geizler says, “Rocky has always had a special place in my heart. This is my fourth time performing in Rocky and each time the experience has been unique in its own way. This is my second time playing Magenta and I continue to learn new things about the character and show. I think the show itself is amazing because at its core when you strip away the camp and the sex, it's about being unabashedly true to yourself. But of course why would we want to strip away the camp and the sex, it's the best part! This cast has been incredible to work with. We've become a tight knit family and I am floored every day that I get to share the stage with these talented people.” 

Melin says playing Frank N Furter is “an absolutely blast. The show makes you transcend onto another level you never thought possible. There is not another show I know of that allows and expects the audience to take such a huge part of it by yelling some of the most obscene comments, and we as a cast relish in them. It heightens the experience for all of us and creates a sort of freaky-bond.” Melin has performed in many theaters in the Pacific Northwest and has toured throughout the state and in England.

Audience participation kits will be available for purchase at the performance. There will be no outside participation items allowed in the auditorium.

The Rocky Horror Show, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Oct. 31, 2 p.m. Oct. 13, 11 p.m. Oct. 19, and 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, presale $17 adults, $14 seniors/students, at the box office $22 and $19, 253.931.3043,

Monet, Renoir, Degas . . .

 Important PNW collections of Impressionists at Tacoma Art Museum
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 17, 2019
 “Patton Creek," oil on canvas by C.C. McKim, 1924, Tacoma Art Museum, gift of Esther and Jeff Clark, photo by Mark Humpal.
Well over 100 years later, a majority of the world’s landscape painters still paint in an Impressionist style. As if landscape art has not advanced — which it has — since the 1880s.
The French Impressionists Renoir, Degas and their contemporaries  were considered radical when they were painting. Their art flew in the face of everything that had been considered sacrosanct in art since the Renaissance 400 years earlier. They dared to paint common people and commonplace scenes, and didn’t even pretend to hide their brushstrokes. The establishment considered their art to be crude and childlike and definitely not museum-worthy.
Tacoma Art Museum offers a fresh look at the French Impressionists and at American Impressionists from right here in the Pacific Northwest who were inspired by the French movement.
The show is Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Their Circle: French Impressionism and the Northwest. Drawing on TAM’s own collection and collections from other museums in the region, it chronologically covers the development of their art from works by Impressionism’s precursors, such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet, to masters such as Monet, Degas, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, to American Impressionists including C.C. McKim, Clara Jane Stephens and Fokko Tadama.
“The purpose of this exhibition is deeply connected to the same passion that drove the French Impressionists, to transform the way we see,” said TAM executive director, co-curator of this show along with Margaret Bullock. 
In some of the earliest works, such as Eugène Boudin’s “The Beach at Trouville” we see that beyond painting commonplace scenes, the important innovations were lightening the palette and painting with dabs of color not meticulously blended as was required  in previous work. In Boudin’s “Washerwomen at Trouville” we see small figures in vast landscapes rendered as simple globs of paint with no details whatsoever, yet easily readable as people due to positions, gestures and color.
In works by Renoir and Monet, we see significant brightening of the palette and lush laying-on of paint, and with Sisley and Pissarro paint application becomes dots and dabs of color with no blending. The rosy cheeks in Renoir’s “Heads of Two Young Girls,” which has been shown often at TAM, fairly glow, and the background colors are laid down with exuberant splashes of color.
Many of the Impressionists severely cropped images as in as in Edgar Degas’ “Dancers,” painted on fan-shaped silk, while others began to paint in more sketchy manners, the most radical of which, in this show, is Berthe Marisot’s “Jeanne with Doll,” which looks like it could have been painted in the 21st century because it is so loose and expressive with more concern with visual expression than with realistic rendering.
The American Impressionists of the Pacific Northwest are shown in a separate area of the gallery. None are particularly well known. They clearly mastered the Impressionist style, but were a little late arriving on that particular scene. Since seeing the latest European art without a time delay was almost impossible in the 19th century, most of them lagged behind the French artists, painting in the Impressionist style at a time when Picasso and Braque and Kandinsky were creating abstract art.
This is a large show and an important slice of history.

Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Their Circle, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, through Jan. 5, 2020, $12-$55, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 253.272.4258,