Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shakespeare in Hollywood

A screwball 1930s comedy
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 18, 2017

Dan Overton as Oberon and Orit Wernor as Puck, photo courtesy Olympia Little Theatre
Shakespeare in Hollywood by legendary playwright Ken Ludwig, author of such popular plays as Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo and Twentieth Century, brings a bit of magic and a lot of mayhem to Olympia Little Theatre. The concept is brilliant, even as it asks audiences to forsake logic and believability a tad more than such a comedy should.
It is 1934. Hollywood mogul Jack Warner (Rich Young) has hired the famous German expatriate director Max Reinhardt (Paul Parker) to direct a film version of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring leading man Dick Powell (Paul Wirtz). Magically, the fairies Oberon (Dan Overton) and Puck (Orit Wernor) from Shakespeare’s play visit the set. They immediately see that actors in Hollywood are treated like gods. Conveniently for the plot of this whacky comedy, the actors who had been cast to play Oberon and Puck are suddenly no longer available, and the fairies are offered the opportunity to play themselves in the movie. They jump at the opportunity.
Into this madcap mix a slew of unlikely romances are born when pollen from Shakespeare’s magical flower gets in people’s eyes and each proceeds to fall madly in love with the next person they see. Mostly unnecessary to the plot, a handful of celebrities show up, some in cameos and some in more substantial roles: Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Rhoni Lozier), comedians Joe E. Brown (Conner Nuckols) and Groucho Marx (Alex Hume), and actor James Cagney (also played by Hume); not to mention “Tarzan” (played by Nuckols, who triples as another of the Warner brothers).
Also appearing in various small roles are Randall Graham and the play’s director, Kendra Malm as “Tina Tian.”  
The acting is uneven with some of the characters who play multiple roles — there are many of these — being good in some parts and ridiculous others. Nuckols, for instance, is good as Sam Warner but totally uninteresting as Joe E. Brown, Bob Lozier is good as the nasty censor Will Hayes but not so good as Harry Warner and Moose Tarseid, and Humes’s Groucho is unconvincing while being too much like countless other Groucho imitations. Fortunately, he’s on stage in that role for only a few seconds.
The standout performer is Overton as the fairy king Oberon. He plays Oberon as delightfully arrogant, and he enjoyably displays constant surprise at what life is like in the 20th century. Lozier is a good Louella Parsons, and Young is humorously dictatorial as studio head Jack Warner. Jenni Fleming as starlet Lydia Lansing and Maria Densley as actress Olivia Darnell are both good.
Will Hayes falling in love with his own image in a mirror is a comic treasure.
The funniest bit in the whole show opening night was a wardrobe malfunction, which I’m pretty sure was an accident. I hope they’ll incorporate it into all remaining shows.
Shakespeare in Hollywood is really, really funny in spots and as clumsy, over-acted and ridiculous as a bad high school comedy in other moments.

Shakespeare in Hollywood, 7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 18, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $18-$20, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484,

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cultural imPRINT

Six decades of Northwest Coast indigenous prints
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 11, 2017
Ben Davidson (b.1976), Haida First Nation, “Just About,” 2014 screenprint, 28½ x 18½ inches. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

Cultural imPRINT: Northwest Coast Prints is an exhibition of some 45 prints by artists from the many Northwest coastal tribes over a period of six decades. From the earliest works to the most recent, these prints demonstrate a melding of ancient traditions with the latest aesthetic practices from the times in which they were made. Perhaps the most potent commonality is that they all have the visual impact of poster art combined with sensitive use of space and subtle color modulations. Most have some variation (in some cases very striking variations) on traditional imagery and narration. Two things that stand out in most of the prints are the generous use of white space between and around images and the clever interplay of positive and negative forms.
“Blueberries,” embossed lithograph by James Schoppert of the Tlingit Tribe, looks like a photo of a wall of low-relief sculpture that has been washed with drippy purple and orange paint and then cut into nine squares and rearranged. It calls for close observation.
“Brothers Who Fell From the Sky” by Coast Salish artist IessLIE is a screen print from 2008 that pictures the heads and torsos of two figures depicted as strong geometric shapes in black and white set side-by-side, with one of them upside-down on a solid white ground with a yellow circle — the sun perhaps — between them. The yellow is so light that it almost disappears and seems to hover like a mirage.
Local contemporary artist Shaun Peterson, Coast Salish from the Puyallup Tribe, is represented by a digital print called “Daybreak.” It pictures a simple face with lyrical and circular lines and extremely nuanced color modulations, which a wall label explains is a hallmark of Coast Salish design. As is the case with many of the works in this show, there is much more to see in this print than is evident in a quick glance.
Kelly Cannell’s “Salish Rope” is a clever screen print with imagery that is almost hidden and pops out unexpectedly. It is a simple abstract depiction of a coil of rope or what looks to me like braided hair. Hidden within the coils are figures of women crawling upward, some in black on white and some in white on black.
Two works that stand out as quite different from everything else are drawings by the collaborative team of Tania Willard, Peter Morin and Gabe Hill, a trio of artists who go by the name New BC Indian Arts and Welfare Society. The two drawings by this group are done using the old surrealist method of exquisite corpse, a way of writing or drawing in which none of the collaborating artists see all of what the others do until the work is finished. In this case, they folded the drawings so parts drawn by each of them were hidden from view of the others, and then the parts were cut apart and taped together. The resulting drawings illustrate Native stories but in a style more like the Chicago Imagists or “Hairy Who” — quirky and inventive and strangely beautiful.
Another artist in this show whose work diverges from the Native tradition is John Brent Bennett of the Haida First Nation, showing two lithographs with dense and repetitive patterns superimposed over cityscapes and landscapes. His “Henslung” has circular patterns over a city skyline that are something like lines in a seismograph. It made me feel as if the city was about to be torn apart.
In the 20-plus years I’ve been reviewing art in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen a lot of Native art, and this is the best I’ve seen.

Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Aug. 20, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Monday, May 8, 2017

Water by the Spoonful at UW Tacoma

Toy Boat Theatre in Tacoma is producing the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, the second in a trilogy of award-winning plays by Quiara Alegría Hudes.

“This show represents very well my sensibility for theatre and the lovely collaboration between UWT students and more seasoned area actors that is the cornerstone of my UWT colleague, Michael Kula's and my vision for theatre at UWT,” says Toy Boat Theatre Artistic Director Marilyn Bennett. “This is just such a lovely, moving, redemptive script.

There are three remaining peformances: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 11-13 at the broadcast studio theatre at UW Tacoma. Tickets are $10, free for UWT students.

Friday, May 5, 2017

New Muses Theatre Company Does Peer Gynt

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 4, 2017
from Left: Alex Gust, Eric Cuestas-Thompson, Niclas Olson, Emily Lott Robinson, Austin Matteson, Melanie Shaffer, and Katelyn Hoffman. Photos courtesy of New Muses Theatre Company
Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is a monumentally ambitious play for a community theater to produce. The original was done completely in verse and was performed in five acts with more than 40 scenes in different locations and times, and it alternated between realism and fantasy.
New Muses Theatre Company’s version, adapted by Niclas Olson, is much simpler and no longer in verse (although I caught a few random rhymes). Rather than five acts, it is being done as two, two-act plays performed on a rotating schedule. Olson says that although each part can stand alone as a complete play, seeing parts one and two in order is recommended. This review is based on Part One.
Peer Gynt is based on a Norwegian fairy tale Ibsen believed to be based on fact. Part One: Youth begins with Gynt’s mother (Emily Lott Robinson) berating her son for being a lazy vagabond who will never amount to anything. Gynt (Olson), known as a brawler and the laughing stock in his Norwegian mountain village, tells his mother about his exciting adventure fighting a deer in the mountains, a tale she eventually recognizes as a fantasy based on an old fairy tale she heard as a child. Peer goes to a wedding and steals away the bride and runs off to the mountains for adventures with trolls, battles with a monster known as the Boyg, marries the troll king’s daughter and then deserts her after she becomes pregnant, and then he romances Solveig (Katelyn Hoffman), a new woman in the village who fancies him a romantic outlaw and follows him into the mountains.
Katelyn Hoffman and Niclas Olson
Throughout a series of 16 short scenes, we follow Peer Gynt’s sometimes real and sometimes imaginary adventures, which are variously touching, realistic, highly dramatic, comical and surrealistic — an incredible challenge to any actor and any theater company, which Olson and company handle with seeming ease.
The story is not easy to follow. Close attention is demanded as scenes quickly change from real to surreal.
The acting throughout is commendable, as most of the casts take on divergent roles. Hoffman plays the sweet and tender Solveig as the most believable and least outrageous character in the play. Melanie Schaffer is outstanding and in parts almost gleefully evil as The Woman in Green and other parts. Olson’s histrionics as the overly dramatic Peer Gynt are a joy to watch as he switches lightning-fast from absurdly comical to intensely dramatic. This is a tour de force for Olson, who wrote the adaptation, designed the simple but effective set, directed and starred as the leading character.
Part Two: Revenant tells the tale of Peer Gynt’s later adventures as a world traveler beginning 25 years after Part One, and then in the second act Gynt is an old man 20 years further on. Please visit the New Muses website to see when each part plays.
Peer Gynt, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 21, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma,,

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Exit Laughing at Tacoma Little Theatre

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 27, 2017
 from left Carol Richmond, Sharry O’Hare and Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson. Photo courtesy Dennis K Photography.
What’s wrong with these people? Why are they laughing so hysterically at stuff that’s only slightly funny? Have they never heard a risqué joke, or am I just totally jaded? Those are the thoughts that often go through my head when attending comedic plays that rely on titillation humor.
Not so with the opening night performance of Exit Laughing at Tacoma Little Theatre. I was laughing right along with the rest of the audience whose howls of hilarity became so loud during the final scene of act one that nobody could hear what the actors on stage were saying.
Margret Parobeck and Carol Richmond, photo by Dennis K Photography
Yes, Exit Laughing by Paul Elliott and ably directed by Rick Hornor is laugh-out-loud funny. In retrospect, the writing is only a little bit funny. It’s a predictable fluff piece with jokes that might have come from television ‘70s and ‘80s sitcoms. Mostly these jokes are hilarious because they are told with perfect comic timing and delivery by a trio of grand dames of Tacoma theater: Carol Richmond, Sharry O’Hare and Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson.
Connie (Richmond), Leona (O’Hare) and Millie (Ferguson) have been getting together for a weekly bridge game for 30 years. Now their fourth player, Mary, has died. The three surviving players get together in Connie’s house, and Millie brings along Mary; i.e., Mary’s ashes in an ugly urn she stole from the funeral home because Mary’s relatives have insisted the ashes be buried and the trio of old dames know that’s not what Mary wanted. The burial is scheduled for the next day.
A sub-plot involves Connie’s grown daughter, Rachel Ann (Margret Parobek), who is mad because her date has stood her up.
In a not surprising twist, a police officer (John Naden) shows up at their door saying a complaint against the three women has been filed, and pandemonium ensues.
The plot is a silly bit of fluff, but the acting is outstanding. Each of the three older women is a stock characters, and the actors manage to capture them as stock characters while making them believable as real people. For the audience it is as if we’re seeing women we know, but exaggerated just enough to be ludicrous. Richmond’s Connie is proper and uptight but itching to let loose and have some fun. O’Hare’s Leona is hard drinking and fun loving. Ferguson’s Millie epitomizes the phrase “ignorance is bliss.”
The younger actors, Naden and Parobek, hold their own on stage with the seasoned veterans.
As usual, Blake York’s set design is outstanding and Jeffery Weaver’s props are fitting, even though I really think the urn they repeatedly call ugly is actually quite attractive.
Exit Laughing is a lightweight comedy on par with a good television sitcom, and it will not only leave you laughing, it will have you guffawing for the better part of two hours.

Exit Laughing, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 7, $24 adults, $22 seniors /Students/Military, $20 12 and younger, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Friday, April 21, 2017

Art Faculty exhibition at Tacoma Community College

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 20, 2017

 “Acropolis Museum” oil on panel by Marit Berg, courtesy Tacoma Community College
Talented artists all, members of the art faculty at Tacoma Community College are showing some of their latest works. Exhibiting artists are: Kyle Dillehay, Alice Di Certo, Jenny Roholt, Melinda Liebers Cox, Anthony Culanag, Frank Dippolito, Karen Doten, Rick Mahaffey, Reid Ozaki and Marit Berg.  
Probably the most engaging piece in the show is a collaborative work by Dillehay and Di Certo that greets the viewer upon entering the gallery. It is called “U.S.A. Cabinet.” This piece is an old index-card file cabinet with 60 drawers. The drawers are labeled with headings that refer to contemporary issues surrounding the Trump presidency and both local and national political and social issues in the year 2017 — for example “Initiative 1552,” the proposed Washington state initiative to restrict public bathroom use to persons of the gender assigned at birth; a more generic label, “Trumping the Constitution”; a “Russia Drawer”; and a “Human Rights Venting Drawer.” Stuffed into these drawers are drawings, photographs, newspaper clippings, and a whole lot of other objects — most if not all of which are verbal or visual political or social commentary. Blank index cards sit on a nearby table, and visitors to the gallery are invited to write or draw on them and add them to the appropriate drawers. Visitors who have the time to do so can easily spend hours studying the contents of these drawers.
Cox is showing a couple of nice little acrylic paintings called “Pick Up Stix” (numbers one and two). In each, sticks from the game are scattered on a patterned rug or mat to create overlapping patterns in candy-bright colors. They’re like Philip Pearlstein paintings without the figures.
Also nice to look at are a group of graphite drawings by Doten. These are drea-like abstractions based on landscape with soft modulations of gray shapes and lots of white space. They are dream-like. Also in the group is one slightly different piece with collage and a line drawing of a canyon superimposed over the soft graphite drawing. It’s at the beginning of the line of drawings and nicely serves as an introduction as if to say “See what follows.”
Berg fills one long gallery wall and part of an adjacent shorter wall with drawings and paintings made during a trip to Athens, Greece. Along one wall are 11 pages from her travel journal with sensitive line drawings and written notes about her trip. There are also three small oil paintings on wooden panels. Viewed  from left to right, these paintings become increasingly surrealistic. First is “Taking a Break in Athens,” a naturalistic painting of a girl sprawled out on a couch reading a book. Behind her is a window overlooking the city, and to her right a larger window offering a larger view of the city. I love the contrast of the restful picture of the reclining reader and the congested city scene. Next is “Acropolis Museum,” a painting of a girl (most likely the same girl) meandering through columns and statues in the museum. What is striking is the girl is wearing a colorful dress, as is one of the statues, while everything else is white. It seems a piece out of time that resonates with the girl, thus making ancient works seem timeless. The last painting is also of a museum, and in this one everything overlaps and seems to be reflected as in a fun-house mirror. Seeing the three of them side-by-side is like looking at still from a movie in which reality and imagination merge.
I wish I could describe all of the work in this very rich show; I encourage readers to see the whole thing for themselves.”
Art Faculty, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through May 5, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with The Fifteen Minute Hamlet

Tom Stoppard comedies at Lakewood Playhouse
By Alec Clayton
published in The News Tribune, April 21, 2017
(L to R) FRANK ROBERTS (Rosencrantz) and PAUL RICHTER (Guildenstern) photo by Tim Johnson
Tom Stoppard’s The Fifteen Minute Hamlet is like a thinking person’s Marx Brothers movie. His Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is that same thinking person’s version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” with a dose of Waiting for Godot thrown in to sweeten the stew. These companion pieces, so different yet so alike, are playing at Lakewood Playhouse.
The evening leads off with The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, which is just what the title implies: Shakespeare’s Hamlet pared down to a mere 15 minutes, with a talented and perfectly in-sync ensemble cast delivering rapid-fire the most famous lines from Hamlet, with a big helping of physical comedy, in the tradition of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)
As soon as the ensemble quickly skewers the classic tragedy, they follow with a five-minute encore (fewer words and everything speeded up), immediately followed by a one-minute version. It is slapstick of the highest order.
The troupe is led by a droll Nathan Rice as The Player and Dylan Twiner as Hamlet.
That is the appetizer. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is the main course. It is a long, complex and brilliant comedy featuring Frank Roberts as Rosencrantz and Paul Richter as Guildenstern, two characters from Hamlet who did not appear in The Fifteen Minute Hamlet. Roberts and Richter play off each other like musicians who have been improvising together for their shared lifetime.
The play opens with a crazy routine in which they investigate the laws of probability by tossing coins with an insane amount of repetition. One might think that too much repetion would become boring, but as Stoppard wrote this scene and as Roberts and Richter perform it, it is crazy funny. In a similarly funny scene later on, they turn philosophical discussion; i.e., debate, into a game of tennis with points scored according to a set of rules only they comprehend — rules they change at will.
Throughout the show they tackle such deep subjects as the nature of life and death — what would you prefer, being locked in a little box forever or being dead in the box (at least you wouldn’t know you were suffering, or do the dead know they’re dead?) What is the meaning of life? What are we doing here? Where are we going, and who are we? Throughout, they get confused about who they are. Am I Rosencrantz or am I Guildenstern? Perhaps they are neither. Perhaps they are actors waiting to go onstage for their brief appearance as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Stoppard poses these questions, but R & G do now answer them or can’t agree on the answers. That is up to the audience.
Familiarity with Hamlet helps to understand Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but understanding might not even matter. It might be enough to simply get swept up by the verbal fireworks, of which there are plenty.
For readers who might want a little more explanation, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were minor and forgettable characters in Hamlet. They were childhood friends of Prince Hamlet who were sent to spy on him and who accompanied him on a trip to England. In this play, they are the main characters, but they have no idea why they have been cast in these roles. Along the way on this mission they don’t understand, they run into all the main characters in the Shakespeare play, from Gertrude (Dayna Childs) to Claudius (Ben Stahl) to Polonius (W. Scott Pinkston) to Ophelia (Gabi Marler) to a cast of stock characters in the traveling theatre troupe. These are all the same actors, in the same roles, as in The Fifteen Minute Hamlet.
Stoppard’s writing is inspired, intelligent and hilarious. The acting throughout is outstanding. Blake York’s rough-looking set — a brick wall and a bunch of boxes — and Aaron Mohs-Hale’s lighting are wonderful. Rochelle-Ann Graham’s costumes are suitable for the characters, time and place, except for the modern tennis shoes worn by the main characters. These out-of-place shoes are harbingers of a great running joke.
The two plays together are long, but worth every minute of it.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 7
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood TICKETS: $15
INFORMATION: 253.588.0042,