Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Once Upon a Mattress at Tacoma Musical Playhouse


by Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 8, 2017
Emma Deloye as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone and Jeremy Lynch as Prince Dauntless the Drab, photo by Kat Dollarhide
It is rare for me to Google a play before reviewing it, but I Googled “Once Upon a Mattress” to see if my suspicions about the 1959 Broadway production were true, and I found this on Wikipedia: “Initial reviews of the play were mixed, but critics and actors alike were surprised by the show's enduring popularity.” I suspect it’s popularity was due to one thing, the star power of Carol Burnett. Minus a lead actor with Burnett’s magnetism, it is a run-of-the-mill musical, entertaining but not extraordinary.
The Tacoma Musical Playhouse production might not have Carol Burnett, but it does have Emma Deloye as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone and Jeremy Lynch as Prince Dauntless the Drab, and there is a lot of star power between those two. I might also point out that the cleverness of those names, plus others such as King Sextimus the Silent (Joe Woodland) and the absurdity of Princess Winnifred wanting to be called Fred, are evidence of the kind of sneaky little comic touches writers Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer slipped in to elevate “Mattress” a step or two above the mundane.
Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea,” Prince Dauntless is dying to find a bride, but his mother, the thoroughly despicable Queen Aggravain (Deanna Martinez) insists he can marry only a woman who is a true princess meaning she must not only be of royal blood but must also be of princess quality. And to prove she is of princess quality, she must pass tests devised by the queen and her minion, Wizard (John Miller) – tests that are impossible to pass. Surely telling what the test is Princess Winnifred must past will not be a spoiler. It is a test of sensitivity, to see if she can feel a single pea place under the bottom mattress of a stack of 20 mattresses.
Minstrel (Tony Williams) sets the personal and fairy-tale mood of the play by opening it with a sweet song as he plays both the narrator and a character in the story. Then the curtain opens on an elaborate castle set designed by Bruce Haasl as the prince and Lady Larken (Ashley Koon) and the ensemble sing the comical “An Opening for a Princess,” which basically announces that the kingdom is advertising for potential princesses to audition for the right to marry Prince Dauntless, followed by a romantic love song, “In a Little While,” between Lady Larken and Sir Harry (Josh Wingerter).
All the principle actors are strong in their roles. Minstrel, King Sextimus and Josh Anderman as Jester make for a fun comic trio plotting against the queen and for the prince and princess. Anderman performs some hilarious physical feats on a dance number, and the king, who has no voice, speaks delightfully via charades. Some of his facial expressions bring to mind Tim Conway. Deloye is funny and strong as the princess. Her rendition of “Shy” is one of the best things in the show, along with her ridiculous gyrations atop the stack of mattresses. Finally, Lynch wonderfully plays the prince as a hapless, dimwitted and lovable man-child.
Once Upon a Mattress” is a silly bit of comic fluff that might not be the best thing TMP has every done, but it is enjoyable and skillfully produced and acted; love is triumphant, and the evil doer gets her comeuppance.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., through Dec. 17
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$31
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867, http://www.tmp.org


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

On Golden Pond at Olympia Little Theatre

 by Alec Clayton
Meigie Mabry and John Pratt as Ethel and Norman Thayer, photo by Austin Lang
On Golden Pond, written by Ernest Thompson and directed by Kendra Malm for Olympia Little Theatre, is a sweet, touching, funny story about aging, about facing death, about family strife and perhaps most of all about a crotchety and wisecracking old man learning perhaps in the nick of time — how to express his love for his wife and daughter.
It is not a Christmas play; in fact, it is set in the summer. And this reviewer for one is glad they decided not to do a Christmas play this holiday season. Jews, Muslims, and people who practice religions other than Christianity and atheists who are part of our community are bombarded with a slew of Christian-related entertainment every year at this time, and I applaud OLT’s decision to present a warm and tender show about the love of family with no manger scenes and no Santa Claus.
Oliver Garcia as Billy Ray and John Pratt as Norman, photo by Austin Lang
Veteran actor John Pratt plays Norman Thayer, the crusty old man at the heart of the play. I had the pleasure of interviewing Pratt and Malm, along with Christian Carvajal, for the OLY ARTS “Sound Stages” podcast, and he told us he was 79 years old. Norman is 79 when the play opens and celebrates his 80th birthday during act one. Pratt told us of many other ways in which he is like Norman. Even if he were not an outstanding actor, which he is, he would be the ideal person to play Norman, and that is evident from the moment he walks onto the set, a beautifully built rustic cottage designed for OLT by Christopher Valcho. Pratt becomes Norman, just as Valcho’s set becomes their old cabin on Golden Pond, a cabin that shows with excellent detail in the marks of 48 years of the Thayer family living out their summers there.
Norman believes it is going to be his last summer in the lake cabin. He has heart palpitations and is convince he will not live out the summer. At least that’s what he tells his wife, Ethel (Meigie Mabry) —over and over and over. But Ethel puts little stock in his dire predictions of impending death because he’s been saying he’s going to die soon for decades. Norman puts everybody on with brilliantly barbed humor that borders on vicious, and Ethel knows he doesn’t mean a word of it. His crustiness is a cover for his inability to express sensitive feelings.
Their daughter Chelsea (Lorana Hoopes) stops by the cabin for a short visit with her boyfriend, Bill Ray (Garrett Shelton) and Ray’s 13-year-old son, Billy Ray (Oliver Garcia). Chelsea and Norman clash as they have done all her life. She says they’ve always been mad at each other, and Norman retorts, “I didn't think we were mad; I just thought we didn't like each other.”
When Chelsea and Bill leave Billy Ray with her parents for the summer, Norman bonds with Billy Ray and has, for a short time, the kind of relationship Chelsea wishes she could have had with her father when she was growing up. Fishing with Billy Ray and introducing him to his favorite books (he is a retired English professor), rejuvenates Norman.
Except for Pratt, all the cast members are relatively new to OLT. Mabry was seen in OLT’s recent production of All the Kings’ Woman, and Garcia played the young Galileo in Starry Messenger. None have extensive acting experience, but you’d never suspect it from their thoroughly professional acting in this play. They portray their characters as down-to-earth, flawed but likeable people. Dean Phillips who plays Charlie the mailman is a charming frequent visitor to the cabin on the lake.
Note: The play was written in the 1970s and set in that time period. By today’s standards, some of Norman’s witticisms are politically incorrect, if not downright offensive, but as directed by Malm and acted by Pratt, it is clear to the audience that he doesn’t really mean those things but is just trying to get a rise out of Ethel — which never really works.

On Golden Pond7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 17 Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE,Olympia, 360.786.9484, http://olympialittletheater.org/$11-$15, $2 student discount, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Two intriguing shows at University of Puget Sound


Christopher Paul Jordan and Gustavo Martinez
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 30, 2017
wall painted construction,” mixed media by Christopher Paul Jordan, photo by Gabi Clayton
Christopher Paul Jordan might well be Tacoma’s most prolific artist, and his fame is quickly spreading to Seattle and elsewhere — deservedly so for this recent Neddy Artist Awards winner, if his latest show at Kittredge Gallery is any indication.
The show is called Latent Home, and it features powerful work in painting, video, and other media that is astounding both in terms of cultural commentary and as pure aesthetics. Most of the work is what I would call sculptural painting, meaning it is three dimensional but painting in concept. It is painting with an expressionist bent that harkens back to artists such as Willem de Kooning and burlap collages of Alberto Burri, and sculpturally it is like the bent car body sculptures of John Chamberlain.
Along one wall is a series of photographs of urban landscapes printed on styrene that has been bent, scratched and apparently melted in spots. These pictures depict modern, gritty, urban scenes that are hyper-realistic and made even more so due to the rough handling of the media. To the left of these photos hangs a mesh metal screen upon which a photo is projected. The projected image is filtered through the screen and lands on an abstract painting of incised, concave lines like bent and broken tree limbs on a rough white surface that appears to be Styrofoam. These lines dig into the surface about an inch deep and look as if they were gouged out of stone. Abstract though it is, it calls to mind remnants of ancient forest scenes.
Along the back wall are large photographs and paintings of landscapes into which are incised more of the limb-like lines. Also on this wall is a piece with jagged and multicolored cloth-like styrene draped over a short rod that projects a foot or two from the wall, and near it another similar piece that hangs from the ceiling like melted rubber or plastic, or colorful laundry on a clothesline.
And then there is a painting applied directly to the wall with colorful rectangles and protruding from it a black box covered with many more of the multicolored scraps and shards of painted styrene, and on the face of this box is an orange cardboard slide viewer that looks like the face of ET.
Taken as a group, Jordan’s pieces defy easy description. They combine harsh reality with lyrical abstraction. They reflect the realities of abandoned city basketball courts and landscapes encroached upon by urban sprawl and the mountains of debris that pile up in our landfills. They are gritty, rough, colorful and quite beautiful.

In the back gallery is Gustavo Martinez’s Guardians, Warriors, and Allies, 14 ceramic sculptures of creatures that call to mind ancient Aztec gods. Rough and imaginatively, these clay figures stand four-to-five feet tall and are embellished with feathers, deer antlers, steel and epoxy, painted with acrylic paints. They suggest Native American figures as well as fantasy gods and monsters. 

These are shows that should be seen.
Christopher Paul Jordan’s Latent Home plus Guardians Warriors and Allies by Gustavo Martinez, Kittredge Gallery, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., through Dec. 9, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701



A Christmas Carol the way Dickens wrote it

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 30, 2017
Joseph Grant (left) as Ebenezer Scrooge, and W. Scott Pinkston as Jacob Marley, photo by Tim Johnson
A Christmas Carol as adapted by James Venturini for Lakewood Playhouse is probably as close to the way Charles Dickens himself would adapted it for the stage if he were alive today.
In his day, Dickens toured the world telling stories and reading from his books, so it is appropriate that he shows up as the narrator for this show in the person of actor W. Scott Pinkston who does a great job of playing the parts of both Dickens and Bob Cratchit. He wonderfully transitions between these two characters on stage in full view of the audience, not with an elaborate costume and makeup change but by simply taking off his hat and coat, hanging them up, putting a scarf around his neck, and undergoing a subtle but significant change of persona.
Unlike the popular musical version, this one is straight drama. But there is holiday music in the form of carolers who occasionally wander the streets of London.
I saw a preview performance, essentially the final tech rehearsal, two nights before opening night, and it was flawless. Artistic Director John Munn said there had been a 10-hour tech rehearsal of act one two days earlier and a 7-hour tech of act two the next night. That should give you an idea of how complicated and vital the lighting, sound and other technical aspects are to this production, and the evidence of how superbly they pull it off is seen when the ghost of Jacob Marley (Alex Koerger) first appears on stage. Koerger is a large man who looks even more imposing when seen next to Ebenezer Scrooge (Joseph Grant), who is a small man. He comes in draped in chains and bathed in a ghostly blue-white light, and his deep voice echoes as if coming out of a deep cave. Outstanding special effects make audiences believe in the unbelievable and accept what they see as real (suspension of disbelief) without questioning what kind of hard work and precision timing is going on backstage to create the magic. Combine that with great acting from Koerger and Grant, and we are whisked out of our seats and set down in an old man’s haunted bed chamber.
Koerger, by-the-way, is not only an effective Marley, he also plays a delightful Fizziwig and Old Joe. As for Grant, I have seen him turn in outstanding performances in a lot of plays, and this one ranks right up there with his best. His acting chops show not only in the big gestures and expressions of horror and fear and remorse, but in his tiniest expressions of disdain for underlings and the holiday spirit.
Also turning in performances of special note is Callie Williams in the multiple roles of a solicitor, Mrs. Cratchit, a charwoman and others. She is funny and touching and larger than life, especially when playing Mrs. Cratchit. And her voice stands out beautifully among the carolers.
Gary Chambers, a memorable Riff-Raff in last year’s The Rocky Horror Show and as Sir Henry Baskerville in the madcap The Hound of the Baskervilles, is a fun-to-watch Ghost of Christmas Present with his haughty but kind demeanor.
Director Alan Wilkie and his crew does a great job of herding a large cast in a theater-in-the-round space to present a ghostly, technically marvelous dramatic production that is coherent and smoothly flowing, and Venturini’s adaptation adheres to the spirit and style of the original. Special recognition is also due to set designer Andrew Redford, lighting designer Jacob Viramontes and costume designer Virginia Yanoff.
A Christmas Carol, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m., Sunday, through Dec. 17, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Lakewood, $20-$26, pay what you can Thursday, Nov. 30, 253.588.0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

TACOMA LITTLE THEATRE’S ‘OFF THE SHELF’ PRESENTS A TASTE OF HONEY





Tacoma, WA- Tacoma Little Theatre presents Shelagh Delaney’s, A Taste of Honey, directed by Sara Freeman.  This production will take place on Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 7:30pm.

Shelagh Delaney's visceral working-class drama caused a sensation in England in 1958. Part of a wave of "kitchen-sink" realism, Delaney was the angry young woman writing alongside the wave of novels and plays from "angry young men" like John Osborne and Kingsley Amis. Her unflinching depiction of poverty, lack of education, alcoholism, and broken family ties refused the elegance of drawing room comedies and put a teenage girl struggling with her mother and an unplanned pregnancy at the center of the story. Vicious, funny, fearful, and hopeful, A Taste of Honey pulls no punches about mothers and daughters, absent fathers, dead-end jobs, teenage love affairs, and social prejudice and its depiction of race and sexuality still stings today. This is a juicy play about characters with tart tongue and vulnerable hearts, fighting for every sweetness they can get.

Featuring a cast of Tacoma’s finest: Gretchen Boyt, Cassie Jo Fastabend, Paul Richter, Nick Butler, and Nick Spencer. 

Tickets for the December 7, 2017 performance at 7:30pm are $10.00 for non TLT Members, and FREE for those who are members. Tickets may be purchased online at www.tacomalittletheatre.com, or by calling our Box Office at (253) 272-2281.

TLT's OFF THE SHELF
We know that there is a tremendous amount of wonderful theatre that deserves to be heard but sometimes just doesn’t get an opportunity. With “Off the Shelf”, local directors and actors will be bringing some scripts to life that we hope you will find entertaining, challenging and educational to our stage. We hope that you’ll sit back and enjoy an evening of theatre. You never know, you might see one of these shows on our mainstage in the future.
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Friday, November 24, 2017

Sculpture, drawings and paintings by Malayka and Tom Gormally

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 22, 2017
Gallery view showing paintings by Malayka Gormally and sculpture by Tom Gormally, photo by Malayka Gormally
Husband and wife Malayka and Tom Gormally are highly respected Seattle artists who bring a world of experience to artworks that reflect on current social and political issues in a show called Present/Tense at Spaceworks Gallery.
Born to immigrant Jewish parents in the San Francisco Bay area, Malayka lived for a while in Olympia before relocating to Seattle. She brings a lifetime of activism to paintings that document current social events from demonstrations to art openings. Her drawings and paintings are taken from specific events which she has attended, photographed, and depicted artistically back in her studio. The drawings are done with ink that she thins down, giving her lines the look of graphite, and often mixed with watercolor or other media. They are simple, striking images, especially the drawings, which have an open feel with few figures and few details (but the details she does include are telling). Drawings such as “Immigrants Pay More Taxes Than Trump” (the wording on the sign a single woman is holding) and “Women in the Immigration March” are so simple as to have the look of pictures in a coloring book with smooth outlines and very few areas colored in with a thin wash of watercolor. Her lines are elegant and lyrical, as are the subtleties of shading. 
There is one drawing called “We Are All Immigrants,” which shows five women seated during the Immigration March. It is a line drawing with only three small areas colored in: one woman’s skirt and head cover, and a row of tiles on the floor. There is also a much larger oil painting taken from this sketch that has a lot more color in it. Of note is the way she highlights the woman in the center by use of a bright yellow dress and the way parts of the figures are outlined with the same yellow, creating a halo effect.
I find the simpler drawings more dramatic and more touching than the paintings, which tend to be denser and with more color, more figures and more to see in the settings.
In some of the paintings there are transparencies that allow line drawings to be seen through the painted areas. This is most effective in “Signs,” a painting of participants in a pro-Muslim demonstration at Seattle City Hall Plaza, and in “Artists at the Art Fair,” a painting of the artists Ramiro Gomez and Kehinde Wiley at an opening. Gomez is standing and fully painted, while Wiley is lying on the floor with another man, unidentified, and is depicted in line only. I had an opportunity to ask the artist about this, and she said viewers must interpret any possible meaning for themselves.
Tom Gormally’s sculptures are more abstract and more symbolic. He does a lot of work with architectural elements made of wood and with the shape of the United States map created with dot-pattern LED lights or drawn with graphite and cut-to-shape mylar sheets — often in combination with the letters “US” used as a kind of word play on the double meaning of “us” as a group of people (US and THEM) and as the initials that stand for United States.
Straight-back chairs that are warped or balanced on one or two legs play a large role in his sculptures. They look as though they can’t possibly stand as they do and are intentionally disorienting. They were inspired, according to Malayka, by the movie Koyaanisqatsi, a Hopi word meaning “life out of balance” — which succinctly sums up what an exhibition pamphlet called “the contemporary climate of socio-cultural and political divisiveness” of our country today.    
Malayka and Tom Gormally, 1-5 p.m., Monday-Friday and 1-9 p.m. Third Thursday, through Dec. 21, Spaceworks Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Tacoma




American Idiot comes to Lakewood Playhouse

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 24, 2017
American Idiot poster designed by James Stowe, courtesy Lakewood Playhouse

American Idiot the musical was a sensation when it premiered in 2009 (and subsequently moved to Broadway in 2010). Based on the smash hit album by Green Day, the play featured all the music from the album plus Green Day songs from the album 21st Century Breakdown and "When It's Time," a song written for the musical. The book was written by Michael Mayer and Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong with lyrics by Armstrong. It was nominated for a Best Musical Tony Award.
Watch out, South Sound, American Idiot is coming to Lakewood Playhouse in January 2018 as part of the Playhouse’s famed (shall I say notorious?) “Outside the (musical) Box” series whereby once in each season they take a chance on something that likely won’t appeal to typical community theater audiences. In the beginning, the shows that were produced under this label were hard-hitting dramas. Playhouse Artistic Director John Munn described them as “newer or challenging plays that weren't typically produced at the Playhouse or at other theaters in the area,” such as the previous “Outside the Box” show Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet. Munn says that two seasons ago they decided they had been producing the plays with the “Outside the Box” title long enough and no longer needed to identify them as something different. “By shifting it to musicals, we felt that our audiences would immediately understand what it was we were trying to do with those shows. We started with Avenue Q, then The Rocky Horror Show, and now American Idiot.”
More music than dialogue, American Idiot tells the stories of three “idiots” determined to escape the boredom of their small-town lives. Johnny (Mark Alford) goes to New York to become a musician, Tunny (Ton Williams) joins the military and is shipped to Iraq, and Will (Cameron Waters) stays home to be with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Kiana Norman-Slack).
Alford explains that Johnny and Tunny “flee a stifling suburban lifestyle and parental restrictions,” while Johnny and Tunny “look for meaning in life and try out the freedom and excitement of the city. Tunny quickly gives up on life” and Johnny “turns to drugs and finds a part of himself that he grows to dislike, has a relationship and experiences lost love.”
He says all three characters struggle to find fulfillment. “Watching them try to find it is sad, hilarious, and angering, but most of all it's relatable.”
The Lakewood Playhouse production will be directed by Munn, with musical direction by Deborah Lynn Armstrong and choreography by Ashley Roy. It will also be stage managed, a job that is almost never credited by reviewers but which is second in importance only to directing, by Becca Dawn Marsh.
Munn says, “In the Tradition of The Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall comes a rock opera for this generation. An energy-fueled rock opera, American Idiot, features little dialogue and instead relies on the lyrics from Green Day's groundbreaking album to execute the story line. It’s about believing that we have to go out into the world to try and change ourselves, when that change can come from within wherever we might be, including the place you call home.”
He goes on to say, “We had over 70 incredibly talented people audition. From that we had to narrow it down to 23 talented men and women that were amazing actors, be able to sing pitch-perfect for the difficult harmonies in the show and also be able to dance everything from ballet to K-Pop. In addition to that, some of them have to be able to play their own instruments from guitars to the drums.”
Alford says, “I can't say anything about this production without mentioning that the cast and crew are absolutely dynamite. Expect a cast full of dynamic voices, acrobatic choreography, and lots of loud music.”
Also appearing will be Dani Hobbs, Ashley Roy and Shannon Burch in named roles plus a 15-person ensemble.
This production of American Idiot will be a South Sound Premiere.
American Idiot, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 8-Oct. 8, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Lakewood, $20-$26, 253.588.0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org