Sunday, September 16, 2018

My Husband Liked Beverly Better

by Alec Clayton

Syra Beth Puett as Eleanor the Queen in The Lion in Winter, photo by Dean Lapin
There will be a special performance of My Husband Liked Beverly Better, the engaging one-woman show written and performed by Syra Beth Puett that premiered in 2017 at Lakewood Playhouse. In the performance, Puett sits in a comfortable chair and chats with the audience in a most personal and revealing manner about her life both inside, and outside the theater. This intimate show spans more than 50 years in Syra Beth's life on and off stage in opera and dramatic and musical stage performances.

A Southerner by birth, transformed to a Pacific Northwesterner, Syra Beth has performed in Germany, Poland, South Korea, and in six states, and began her Tacoma acting career in 1979. In more recent years, she has been seen as Eleanor the Queen in The Lion in Winter at Lakewood Playhouse, as the loveable Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond at Tacoma Little Theatre and as Miss Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy at Dukesbay Productions.

I was privileged to see her in My Husband Liked Beverly Better at Lakewood Playhouse and was totally captivated.

My Husband Liked Beverly Better
Saturday, Sept. 22, 2-3:30 p.m.
The Spire, 710 S Anderson St off 6th Avenue

Friday, September 14, 2018

Review: Brighton Beach Memoirs

by Alec Clayton  
Published in The News Tribune, Sept. 14, 2018
Pamela Roza as Kate (seated) and Brynne Garman as Blanche, photo courtesy Lakewood Playhouse
It is coincidental that Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” opened at Lakewood Playhouse two weeks after Simon’s death, which adds an extra touch of poignancy to this realistic comic-drama, the first in a trio of autobiographical plays by Simon.
Ably directed by John Olive, Lakewood Playhouse’s first artistic director, the striking thing about “Brighton Beach Memoirs” is how down-to-earth and believable it is. Yes, it is peppered with Simon’s celebrated wit, but much more than that, it is relatable to everyone.
Fifteen-year-old Eugene (Drew Bates), clearly a Simon avatar, already knows he’s going to be a writer when he grows up, but before he can become a writer he has to do two things: play for the New York Yankees and see a naked woman.
Every character in the play is complex and multi-layered, and they clearly love one another even as they struggle and bicker. The actors display a grasp of their characters as real people in family situations.
from left: Andrew Box Burden as Stanley and Drew Bates as Eugene, photo courtesy Lakewood Playhouse
The comic highlights are when Eugene asks big brother Stanley (Andrew Fox Burden) to explain all about puberty and what girls look like without their clothes – and what about that dream he had last night. And as funny as Eugene’s coming-of-age scenes are, the clash between sisters Blanche (Brynne Garman) and Kate (Pamela Roza) are equally intense. One of the most satisfying scenes in the play is when Kate finally allows herself to confront her sister with resentments stretching back to childhood. And we admire and empathize with the father, Jack (W. Scott Pinkston), as he tries his hardest to be the glue that holds this volatile family together despite his own problems.
It is a wonderful story masterfully performed, with the largest and most elaborate set ever erected at the 80-year-old Lakewood Playhouse (designed by Olive).
Bates is a student at Auburn Riverside High School. For such a young man, he plays his part with the confidence and ability of a seasoned actor – nuanced, intense and funny. Burden, whose only previous acting experience has been in high school plays, also performs like an experienced professional. He captures the look and the voice and the gestures of what audiences have come to expect of a young man from a neighborhood in Brooklyn.
The three adults in the play, Garman, Roza and Pinkston, bring years of acting experience to the stage, and they handle their parts well. That leaves the other two younger actors, Kate-Lynn Siemers as Laurie and Andrea Gordon as Nora. Both of them capture the looks and movements of their characters, but each of them needs to project better. It was difficult to hear them on opening night.
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” at Lakewood Playhouse is a fitting tribute to the late Neil Simon. It is three-hours long, and the theater warns that the sexual discussions between the brothers might not be suitable for younger audience members.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 30
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood TICKETS: $20-$26
INFORMATION: (253) 588-0042, 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Olympia’s fall theater scene

Christopher Valcho as Mark Rothko and John Tuttle as Ken in Red at Olympia Little Theatre, photo by Jim Patrick.

From a loveable bear to a loveable transvestite
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 6, 2018
I know it’s the oldest cliché in the book, but Olympia’s fall theater scene has something for everyone, from mystery to comedy to children’s fare to musicals, and various mixtures of all that.
Harlequin Productions’ season runs later than other theaters, meaning as the fall season opens everywhere else, they are still running the last show in their 2018 season with a continuation of Ruthless, through Sept. 15, followed by Dry Powder Oct. 4-27, and finally the 2018-2019 season opens with Stardust Christmas Groove, the 24th installment in the Stardust series of Christmas musicals, Nov. 29.
Ruthless is a wonderful campy musical about a young girl who is willing to kill to be a star. A parody of such shows about show business as Gypsy, in this one it is the kid, not the stage mother, who is ruthless. But then everything changes and we discover people are not who they seem to be. Directed by Aaron Lamb and starring Charlotte Darling, Aubrey Thomas and Gregory Conn, Ruthless is the funniest musical you’re likely to see this year.
Olympia Family Theater starts their season with the delightful children’s show Corduroy. Follow the popular bear on his delightfully destructive chase through every section of the department store in search of his missing button. OFT says, “Will the night watchperson find him and return him to his shelf before he can find his important button? Will Lisa ever convince her mother to let her give the bear a home? This enduring story stirs up the stage with a bustling rumpus of action and a tender tale of true friendship.” Adapted for the Stage by Barry Kornhauser and directed by Jon Tallman, Corduroy opens Sept. 28.
From light hearted and silly to the most intense of dramas, we go to Red at Olympia Little Theatre. This two-man show is the story of the great Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko as he takes on the biggest challenge of his life, a group of large paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. In bad health and wracked with self-doubt, Rothko (Christopher Valcho) is locked in a battle over his artistic visions with his assistant, Ken (John Tuttle). Red is directed by Jim Patrick. It opens Sept. 20.
Following Red will be Clockwork, a wacky comedy musical directed by Robert McConkey, Oct. 26-Nov. 11.
Finally we come to the next offering from Olympia’s newest theater company, Broadway Olympia Productions: the one, the only, The Rocky Horror Show. Join innocent and naïve Brad and Janet as they stumble into the castle of Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter, an alien, transvestite scientist with a manic genius and insatiable libido. It’s an evening or horror, sci-fi and rock and roll.
Ruthless!, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 15, State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $42 general. $38 senior/military, $25 student/youth, 360.786.0151,
Corduroy, 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 28 to Oct. 21, with one Thursday show Oct. 4 at 7 p.m., $19 adults, $16, Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia,, 360.570.1638.
Red, 7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20-30, $9-$15, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave NE, Olympia, 360.786.9484,
The Rocky Horror Show, 8 p.m., Oct. 31 to Nov. 4, 2 p.m. matinee and midnight show Nov. 3, $20, The Capitol Theater, 206 5th Ave SE,

Friday, August 31, 2018

Olympia Family Theater’ Award of Excellence

For young audiences and anyone who has ever been a kid
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 30, 2018
from left: Jill Barnes, Samantha Chandler, Jen Ryle and WCPA Board Chair Alex Bunn, photo by Kathy Strauss Media
At the Washington Center for the Performing Arts’ third annual Center Stage Awards & Gala in July, 232 guests cheered as Olympia Family Theater was presented with an Award of Excellence for “achievement in the arts.” An Award of Excellence was also presented to James L. This for “commitment to the arts.”
"This was an extraordinary evening of generosity and love for the arts," said Washington Center Executive Director Jill Barnes.
Founded a dozen years ago by Samantha Chandler and current Artistic Director Jen Ryle, OFT has produced more than 50 theatrical shows for and by children and adults since their first show in October 2006, and the company continues to offer educational programs for youth from infancy through high school. OFT has also premiered locally written plays such as Cinder Edna, adapted by Ted Ryle; Fishnapped by Amy Fisher and Andrew Gordon with music and lyrics by Daven Tillinghast; and 3 Impossible Questions by Christian Carvajal.
At the awards ceremony, Ryle and Chandler told stories about OFT’s 12 years of theater. Ryle said, “OFT is helping raise a new generation that loves the performing arts by providing quality theatrical productions for young audiences and for anyone who has ever been a kid. It's wonderful to be recognized for something that is so close to my heart. I am truly living my dream, seeing Olympia Family Theater introduce new generations of kids to plays and musicals designed especially with them in mind. So many people have helped us to reach this point; amazing local actors, designers, technicians, musicians, writers, donors, and volunteers. We at OFT are all so proud and honored to be recognized by our friends at the Washington Center.  Some of our early years were spent at the Washington Center's Black Box so it felt a little like going home to be back for this amazing event.”
Barnes said, “For 12 years, Olympia Family Theater has put local performers to work and provided quality theatrical programming to even the youngest of theater patrons. The artists know that some audience members might be wiggly, giggly and rambunctiously responsive, and that is totally okay. They offer an up-close theater experience that is rare, opening the door for a lifetime of artistic appreciation. These are just a few of the reasons that Olympia Family Theater received the Achievement for the Arts Award.”
OFT's 2018-2019 season opens with an adaptation of the popular children's book, Corduroy. Other main stage shows to fill out the season will include Tiny Tim's Christmas, Flora & Ulysses, The Hundred Dresses, and Go, Dog, Go!
James L. This was co-founder of Opus Seventy-One, and through the Capital Area Association of the Performing Arts secured the initial funding for the building of the Washington Center. He produced and directed musicals at Abbey Theater, Olympia Little Theatre and Capital High School, and helped in the founding of Harlequin Productions.
Coyduroy, 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 28 to Oct. 21, $20 adults, $16 military, $15 youth,, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia,, 360-570-1638.

Make/Do at History Museum

A history of creative reuse
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 30, 2018

“Ed Kienholz (Younger),” cardboard, glue, screws and pigment, by Scott Fife, photo by Mark Davison, courtesy the artist. 

Make/Do at the Washington State History Museum is an exhibition of fine and utilitarian art made with found and previously used items from the 1700s to contemporary works by local and regional artists including Marita Dingus, Pat Tassoni and Jean Mandeberg.
There are 180 items on display from children’s toys made from scrap material to insulated walls made from old magazine covers to crazy quilts and clothing to contemporary art that is, in the words of the museum, “upcycling, downcycling and recycling.”
 “Upcycling’s taken on new life in recent years with a renewed focus on reuse. However, there was once a time when upcycling wasn’t just a hobby, it was a way of life. The Historical Society’s collections are full of examples of creative ‘making do’—flour sack clothes, stacking toys made from tin cans, that sort of thing,” said lead curator Gwen Whiting.
The first room in the gallery is a timeline of making do with “upcycling” in the form of collage and drawings on cardboard by Tacoma’s R.R. Anderson of Tinkertopia, spread around the room like pages in a graphic novel. It is fascinating, and I do hope viewers will take time to read it all.

Tacoma art lovers are aware of the sculptural work of Scott Fife, creator of the “Big Dog” at Tacoma Art Museum. In this exhibition, he is represented by a sculpted head of the artist Ed Kienholz made of cardboard and screws and pigment. The cardboard is attached with glue and screws and painted a dull gray to emulate slabs of clay. In this rendition, Kienholz has an intense and mesmerizing look in his eyes.

Who would have thought of using police tape to fashion a dress? Contemporary artist Nancy Judd of Rycycled Runway’s “Caution Tape Dress” is made of caution tape recovered from the side of the road and sewn onto a vintage sundress. To be worn only by the daring.
“TrashWall,” made this year by students in the Washington State University School of Design and Construction, is a four-by-three-foot panel of alternating patterns that is not only attractive as art but is meant to be used as insulation. It is constructed with recycled magazine pages. This and two other wall panels from the same group are on display. They also made durable bricks out of recycled drywall waste, which can be seen in this show.
There is a delightful toy dog and an equally delightful toy robot made by Graham Schodda out of such materials as a vintage vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, ice cream scoops, jigsaw, baseball glove, toasters, and kitchen utensils. They’re fun to look at and probably should be viewed more as art than as toys.
There is a “basket” by Jan Hopkins made from dried orange peels, wood, paper and thread. The stitched-together swirl patterns look like leather or clay. I put the term “basket” in quotes because it looks more like a pot than a basket. But whatever it is, it’s very attractive.
There is a wondrous amount of fascinating history and art in this exhibition. A museum worker said the show is not getting as many visitors as they expected. I hope reading this will encourage more of you to see it.
Make/Do, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Third Thursday, through Dec. 6, free for members; $14 adults, $11 seniors, students, and active duty and retired military, $40 per family (up to 2 adults and up to 4 children under age 18), free for children under 5. Patrons with a Washington Quest card or with a Washington Foster Parent license (and ID), $1 per person or $2 per family, free Third Thursday, Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma,

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Women in Wood at American Art Company

Turned Wood and Hilga Winter’s paper sculpture
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 23, 2018
“Leaves,” sculpted paper by Helga Winter, courtesy American Art Company
Women in Wood continues through Sept. 15 at American Art Company, showcasing turned wood pieces by 13 women woodworkers from around the country, including Helga Winter, Betty Scarpino, Cindy Drozda, Dixie Biggs, Donna Zils Banfield and Barbara Dill. As a bonus, Winter is showing eight pieces from a new series she calls sculptural paintings. They are essentially paintings that stand two to three inches out from the wall made of book pages rolled into tubes and attached to a flat surface with the cut edges facing outward and from sheets of paper with at least one ragged edge that are stacked in an accordion arrangement. In many of her pieces the paper is colored in fire colors such as red, yellow and orange — even the blue and green tones, normally cool colors, are hot. In others, the paper is left its natural color to form patterns that call to mind parchment and tree bark.
The pieces in which the paper is not colored are more meaningful in that they reflect on the material from which the paper comes. For example, the large piece in the entrance called “The Secret Life of Trees” reminds us of the working of roots underground and the intertwining of limbs and leaves. The more colorful pieces are exciting, but I suspect over time the excitement might wear thin.
Unless you peer into what the artist calls their hidden stories. The paper is from books, and the words from the books are mostly out of sight and unreadable. “I have hidden the words and knowledge that nevertheless are still there,” Winter writes. “By turning books inside out, I want to turn my stories, my perceptions, inside out, recognize how they can diminish my life, and then create new and conscious stories that are close to the current truth.”  
The turned wood is all beautifully crafted. Scarpino might well be the star of the wood show. There are five pieces by her displayed in a group near the back of the gallery on black sculpture stands. Each of the pieces is small, and there is quite a variety of style among the five. “Be Seeded” is a sensual seedpod made of dark cherry wood. Lying in the pod are four round white balls or seeds. There is a nice contrast between dark and light, and rough and smooth forms that all fit together smoothly despite their contrasts.
Another piece in the group, which was created in collaboration with Biggs, is called “Egg and Crate.” Inside a tiny wood-slat box is a decorative egg resting on a bed of wood shavings. It is a fun little item that would make for a conversation starter on someone’s shelf at home.
Kristen Le Vier is showing a couple of turned-wood snakes. “Slither” is a painted snake, half green and half black, in European pear and acrylic paint. Her “Talisman for the Home” I see more as a humorous icon than a talisman. Made of maple, epoxy, clay and acrylic, it is a snake wrapped around a long-handled wooden spoon. Imagine seeing this on your kitchen counter.
Also of note are a couple of dark wood decorative platters: Merryl Saylan’s “Padauk Platter” and Sally Ault’s “Carved Platter.” Both are notable for their rich coloring and subtle patterns.
If you like fine craft work, I suggest you stop by American Art Company to take a look at these works.
Women in Wood, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Sept. 15, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327,

Thursday, August 16, 2018

This Is Me, Debbi, David

A reading with local author Alec Clayton and actress Amanda Kemp.

Amanda Kemp
Amanda Kemp will join me for a reading of my latest novel, This Is Me, Debbi, David at Browsers Book Shop in Olympia, Washington Thursday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. 

Most recently seen in Animal Fire Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale, Amanda is a new local actor. In addition to her second year with Animal Fire's Shakespeare in the Park, she's been working on such projects as voice-over and film work with ICF International, various film works with Malicious Wallydrags and playing Tracey Sprockett, the face of the Olympia Film Society. This will be her very first author reading, and she says she is thrilled to have been chosen (and I am thrilled she accepted my invitation).

This Is Me, Debbi, David is a story narrated by the two main characters, Debbi Mason and David Parker, told in alternating chapters by Debbi and David. Debbi (whose part will be read by Amanda) is a self-declared loudmouth, fun loving, rabble rousing, perverse woman. David (read by the author) says he has always been something of a nebbish little mama’s boy who never took a chance on anything in his entire life. When Debbi breaks up with David and runs off with a man she thinks can provide wealth and security, Debbi and David each embark on adventures that are, in turn, romantic, funny, enlightening and scary—adventures that take them from the French Quarter in New Orleans, to Dallas, and to New York City’s East Village. And into their own hearts.

What the reviewers have to say

“Because of the natural beauty of Alec Clayton’s prose, and the flow of the narrative, it is easy to miss the stunning craft this writer has mastered over nine fine books.” – Ricker Winsor, author of Thinking Out Loud and Tic Tok: Poems

“Clayton has mastered the task of getting inside his characters’ heads.” – Ned Hayes, author of The Eagle Tree.

"Alec Clayton at his best. He presents the reader with two lead protagonists, each with a compelling account of the year after their break-up. Major dramatic questions emerge early on: 1. how will the beautiful and exotic Debbi survive a violent situation and why can't she seem to escape her Texas entrapment; 2. will David be able to follow his bliss amid the bizarre, quirky, sometimes evil, sometimes lovable characters who give him a lift along his journey to New York; and 3. will Debbi and David ever meet up again? Try as you might to anticipate the answers, I predict you will be surprised. Truly a great read. Expertly crafted!" - Morrison Phelps, author of Bluebird Song.

Book discussion and signing to follow the reading. I hope to see you there.