Friday, September 30, 2016

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sherlock Holmes like you’ve never seen at Lakewood Playhouse

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 29, 2016

from left – Kayla Crawford as Dr. Watson, Gary Chambers as Sir Henry Baskerville, and Jacob Tice as Sherlock Holmes. Photo by Tim Johnson

The Hound of the Baskervilles at Lakewood Playhouse is not the spooky version of the story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but a spoof on it by Stephen Canny and the British comedy troupe Peepleykus (pronounced people like us). It is a Monty Python-style skit expanded to about two-and-a-half hours with bits apparently inspired by the Reduced Shakespeare Company and perhaps the Marx Brothers and the old Carol Burnett TV show — not to mention The 39 Steps, which director John Munn also directed at Lakewood Playhouse.
Like The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), the actors even stop at one point and replay the whole thing in a super-fast speeded-up version. And they not only break the mythical fourth wall, they shatter it to smithereens, even to the point of introducing themselves to the audience as themselves rather than as the characters they play, and they criticize one another’s acting.
Yes, it is madcap, insane, and a daunting challenge to the director, actors and three-person backstage crew, all of whom together shall forever be known as the Magnificent Seven. The marvel is they almost pull it off. Almost. There are moments of comic genius and amazing acting, not to mention feats of backstage magic we can only surmise. But despite all this, I found myself at times wishing they would just get on with it and finish it up. Not all of it was as funny as hoped for. I noticed on the night I attended that the audience laughed, but not wildly, and sat stone-faced through long scenes.
Three actors each play one major character and many others. The press release said 50 different characters. I didn’t try to keep count. I just know that many of them were named Baskerville and were played by Gary Chambers; Sherlock Holmes and a lot of other men and women were played by Jacob Tice, and Dr. Watson was played by Kayla Crawford. Of the three actors, Crawford plays her part almost without comic exaggeration. Chambers is rubber-faced and crazily funny, and Tice is not only rubber-faced but also rubber-bodied, with movements that bring to mind Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks.”
There’s a great segment in a steam room with Watson (remember, she’s a woman in this version) trying to maintain her dignity when the two men keep dropping their towels, and a funny dance scene with Tice as a woman dancing with Chambers, and hilarious bits with a stuffed doll sporting Chambers’ long pony tail (he’s supposedly a dead member of the Baskerville family), and a scene on a train where Tice plays a conductor with a voice like the monster in Young Frankenstein, and a great little scene with Chambers and Crawford playing patty cake/hand jive. If you like such Vaudeville-type silliness, you’ll love this Hound of the Baskervilles.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 9, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $25, $22 military, $21 seniors and $19 students/educators, 253.588.0042,

14th Annual Juried Local Art Exhibition at Tacoma Community College

Photo: “The Salon – Blue Boy,” painting by William Turner, courtesy Tacoma Community College

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 29, 2016
“The Salon – Blue Boy,” painting by William Turner, all photos courtesy Tacoma Community College

The annual juried art exhibition at Tacoma Community College is usually a sampling of much of the best art created by South Sound artists. There is always admirable art to be seen, and this year is no exception; there are works worthy of admiration by such artists as Lois Beck, Susan Christian, Andrea L. Erickson, Fumiko Kimura, Becky Knold, Mary McCann, C.J. Swanson, David Noah Giles and many more — 41 total.
On the downside there is far too much that is trite and predictable — sweet little statuettes, nice but uninspired landscapes and safe abstractions.
Lois Beck’s little monoprint “Voodoo.” comprises a pair of concentric circles in soft, sandpapery, dull pink on a dark reddish field intersected by linear black shapes. It is simple and direct, with a sophisticated play of contrasting shapes and marks. It reminds me a lot of a drawing by Robert Motherwell I once saw, but much softer and less gutsy than any Motherwell.
Susan Christian’s “House Boat” is an abstract painting on old sticks that have been glued together. It has the weathered look of an old fence or barn or, befitting the title, a houseboat that has been left out of the water for generations. The rugged texture and dull colors and one little red splotch dead-center make for an attractive configuration of shapes and colors. What more can you ask of a painting?
"Geo Communication," acrylic on canvas by CJ Swanson
Marquita L. Hunt is showing two landscapes in acrylic on canvas, one much better than the other. The best of these is the smaller one, a thin, vertical painting of trees and a field of grass with a mountain in the background. The larger one, with similar subject matter, is not as well unified. The trees and grasses separate in this one like puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit; whereas the smaller one, despite dividing the space into two clearly separate areas, holds together as a single image. I like her autumnal colors and Cezannesque choppy brushstrokes.
Mary McCann’s “Precambrian Collision” is a dramatic mountain scene with low clouds, intense color and an enjoyable variety of brushstrokes and scratches. I saw this one earlier this year in a show in Olympia. I loved it then and still do, but in this setting it loses some I the power I saw in the smaller show.
Had I been selecting show winners, I would have given the top awards to David W. Murdach and William Turner.
Murdock is represented by two sculptural pieces, one free-standing and one a wall-hanging piece. Both are — if I may coin a phrase — steampunk rococo. Not a style I usually go for, but these pieces are funny, inventive, outlandishly decorative, and beautifully crafted. “Scalia, the Broccoli Man” is a relief sculpture of a floral pattern hanging on the wall and surrounded by gilded columns and pipes, and there is a gavel and a little man who looks to be made out of broccoli, with cartoonish white hands. His “Wall Street” is a free-standing carousel with music box. Instead of horses, this carousel has clowns, a pig, a bear, a silver frog, and Merlin the mythical magician. It is even more elaborately decorative than “Scalia.” It’s like Jeff Koons meets Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Turner’s “The Salon – Blue Boy” also harkens back to rococo art, specifically Gains borough’s “Blue Boy” with a bit of Vermeer thrown in for good measure. But stylistically it is more like a Matisse interior scene, but grittier.

The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Oct. 28, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Wandering Mind

A visit to American Lake
My mind wanders across landscapes of memory, imagination and speculation. It happens most often when I’m driving and alone in the car, or when I’m taking a long, relaxing soak in a tub. At other times my mind stays relatively focused on the here and now. Well, sometimes.

This morning while driving to the VA hospital at American Lake for routine lab work I rehearsed in my mind what I am going to say at my book event at Orca Books in Olympia (Saturday, Oct. 15, 3-4 p.m.). I’ve decide that rather than reading complete scenes as I sometimes do — after all, isn’t that what authors do at readings? — or inviting actors to read scenes adapted as if for the stage, which I more commonly do, I will simply talk about my new novel, and perhaps read a few not complete scenes but sentences or paragraphs that illustrate what I have to say about the book.

So from 6:30 to 7 this morning while driving on I-5 in smoothly flowing traffic despite it being rush hour, I imagined myself standing in front of a small crowd in Orcas holding a copy of my book with the photo of twin boys on the cover and saying, “This is my book. I wrote it. It is the story of Kevin Lumpkin told in the first person from beyond the grave by Kevin, looking back over a long life at events in his youth in Tupelo, Mississippi.” Kevin remembers girls he had crushes on. He remembers football games and swimming in the local pool and in “Blue Hole” where the boys skinny dipped until the girls invaded, and Lake St. John in Louisiana near the birthplace of Jerry Lee Lewis. And he remembers the riots at the nearby University of Mississippi in Oxford when James Meredith became the first Black man to become a student at the previously segregated college.

My wandering mind settled down when I got to the hospital. Walking in, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t remember where the lab was, but then I remembered that I had to check in downstairs, and when I did, the man at the desk said, “Left off the elevator. Second floor.” Oh yes, I remembered.
In previous visits the waiting room at the lab had always been full, and there was a long wait. But I had never before been there that early in the morning. There was only one other patient, and I got in almost immediately.

The woman who drew my blood was a middle aged Black woman with a broad smile. The doctors, nurses and administrators at the VA are always friendly and helpful. She told me she was from Atlanta, and I told her I was from Mississippi. She said her husband was from there, and we talked about the South while she drew three vials of blood.

After that I had to go pee in a cup and drop it back at the counter, and then I was done. Easy peasy. Back to the elevator. A tall, skinny man with a heavy gray mustache got in and said, “I think I’ve lost my mind. If you see it running around, grab it for me.”

I said all right, I would. I could relate. The elevator stopped at his floor and as he was getting off he said, “My appointment is not until next month.” I guess that was why he said he had lost his mind. I hope he hadn’t had a long drive to get there, and I wondered why, if his appointment is not until next month, he wasn’t leaving.

Walking back out to the parking lot I met an attractive Asian woman with deep dimples who flashed me a big smile and said, “Good morning” as she passed by. Following her lead, I said good morning to the next person who passed by, a man about my age with long hair wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap. He looked like David Crosby. He reached to shake my hand, called me “Bro,” and said, “I’m pissed. Look at that. They’re all employees,” pointing to a row of parked cars. “I’m going to take a picture and send it to Patty Murray.” I got his point. The first row of parking is reserved for employees. Patients, who are generally older and less easily able to walk the greater distance, have to park farther away from where they’re going.

I wonder if Patty Murray will respond to his letter if he actually writes it.

Back in the car heading back to Olympia, I thought about Marcel Duchamp. Thoughts of Duchamp led to remembering my graduate thesis, which led to thought about the use of the N word. And then I thought about how my mind tends to wander across landscapes of memory, imagination and speculation when I’m driving, and then I thought about how I’d like to write about some of these wandering thoughts and maybe post them on this blog — about how I might make it into a kind of semi-regular column.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Underpants at Tacoma Little Theatre

Published in The News Tribune, Sept. 23, 2016

Tacoma Little Theatre opens its 98th season with a frothy bit of silliness called “The Underpants” from the multi-talented Steve Martin, renowned comic, actor, writer and musician who wrote the brilliant Picasso at the Lapine Agile. It is hard to believe that Steve Martin wrote this one.

At best, it is good for a few laughs. There is some entertaining word play, it pokes fun at sexist attitudes that were prevalent when the play is set, in the first decade of the 20th century – attitudes that in some quarters still exist today. It is also mildly risqué and would have been even more so in 1910.

Louise (Cassie Jo Fastabend)  and Gertrude (Deya Ozburn). All photos courtesy Dennis K. Photography

Daya Ozburn and Jed Slaughter

Cassie Jo Fastabend and Daya Ozburn

Ben Stahl and Cassie Jo Fastabend

Resonating Objects

Margaret Noble’s sound art at South Puget Sound Community College

Originally published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 22 and posted online at

Students interacting with Margaret Noble's sound art installation “Material Shrine for a New Class,” photo courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
South Puget Sound Community College gallery director Nathan Barnes said noted that Margaret Noble’s exhibition, Resonating Objects, begs the question “what is art?”. Is it just painting and sculpture? What about sound, movement, light? What are the boundaries between visual art and the performing arts? There are no easy answers, but Noble’s exhibition certainly raises the questions. 

Read the complete review at:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What: The 10th Annual Lord Franzannian's Royal Olympian Spectacular Vaudeville Show!

Lordy, lordy, it's another Lord Franzannian's Royal Olympian Spectacular Vaudeville Show.

This is the 10th anniversary edition of this ever-popular show. Dance, music, comedy, storytelling, burlesque, puppets, sketch comedy, even feats of amazement!

This year the show will take place at Obsidian, a much larger space with a restaurant/café/coffee shop in the daylight hours, a full service bar serving beer and spirits at night, and a fully enclosed 80 seat black-box theater with an elevated stage located in the back.

Proceeds benefit working performers and BigShowCity, a non-profit Performing Arts Organization whose mission is: To help burgeoning artists realize their ambitions by providing financial and emotional support.

Special performance for an ALL AGES audience * on October 23 at 2 pm!
When: October 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23* 2016

Time:  8:00 PM

*Special Youth Audience Show October 23 at 2:00 PM

Ticket Price: $15-$25 Available at the Door or Online
(No one will be turned away at the door for lack of funds).

Appropriate for audiences over the age of 16. 

Special Youth Audience Show Ticket Price. *2PM Matinee on October 23rd: 15 years of age or under: $7.00. 

Tickets available at door night of show,
or to RESERVE A SEAT buy a ticket online at

Where: Obsidian 414 4th Ave E in downtown Olympia, WA. Across the street from the Artesian Well Park.

Changes coming starting today

Things have changed since I started this blog. I am now writing many more reviews of both visual and performance art, and they are showing up online and in more blogs and publications - meaning posting my reviews here is becoming almost superfluous/redundant.

So . . . beginning today, instead of re-posting reviews that have been published elsewhere, I am going to post a lead-in with a link to the original as I did with the review of Shaw Osha's show at Salon Refu, which was posted in Oly Arts online and re-posted here moments ago (see below).