Saturday, May 18, 2019

Fun Home at South Puget Sound Community College

Reviewed by Alec Clayton

Fletcher Peterson as Christian Bechdel, Lola May Havens as Alison Bechdel and Lane Nixon as John Bechdel. Photo by Austin Lang

Josie DeRosier, Lola May Havens and Heather Matthews. Photo by Austin Lang
Secrets and lies. Secrets and lies and coming out and a complex family dynamic that is both specific and universal are at the heart of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s musical Fun Home now playing at South Puget Sound Community College. Fun Home is based on the autobiographical graphic novel of the same name by cartoonist and lesbian feminist Alison Bechdel, famous for her long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For.

The play captured the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical. At SPSCC it is superbly directed by Lauren Love and performed by an outstanding group of actors who throw themselves with conviction into the lives of the Bechdel family members and their friends and lovers. It is Alison’s coming of age story and a fearless look into the depths of her family ― Alison’s reluctant, fearful but ultimately joyful coming out as a lesbian and her troubled relationship with her obsessive and darkly secretive father, Bruce (Ben Mathews) and her long-suffering mother, Helen (Amanda Stevens). The story is told in a non-linear series of vignettes as Alison (Heather Matthews) remembers her childhood, enacted by Lola May Havens as 10-year-old Alison and Josie Derosier as Alison in her freshman year of college.

Bruce is an English teacher who also owns a funeral parlor. He is a demanding father to Alison and his two younger sons, Christian (Fletcher Peterson) and John (Lane Nixon).

In the most upbeat song in the musical, “Come to the Fun Home,” the three young children create an ad for the funeral home that is exuberant and danceable. Upbeat moments like this are woven throughout, but there is a dark undercurrent to the Bechdel family. Something is going on with the father that the kids do not understand, but their mother does, and the kids overhear their parents’ bitter arguments. This drama rings true to life and is something almost any theatergoer should be able to relate to.

One of the most joyful and loving moments in the play is when college student Alison finally admits she is a lesbian and sleeps with Joan (a more world-wise fellow student played with delightful flair by Jesse Morrow). Alison joyfully awakes the next morning and sings “Changing My Major” in which she declares she is changing her major to Joan, to sex with Joan.

Stevens and Matthews are both outstanding singers and actors who pour their hearts ― and their voices ― into the emotionally draining songs “Days” (Stevens) and “Edges of the World” (Matthews).

Multiple scene changes, which can easily wreak havoc on community theater productions are handled seamlessly in this show as scenes change from the Bechdel home to the funeral home to Alison’s college dorm and other locations. The seven-piece orchestra conducted by John Guarente wits on an elevated platform at the back of the stage and provides excellent musical accompaniment.

“Fun Home” is a story of love, confusion, tragedy, and ultimately courage and joy.
It is performed in one act running approximately an hour and a half.

WHAT – Fun Home
WHEN – 7 p.m. May 18 and May 23-25
WHERE - Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Main Stage, main entrance to South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia
TICKETS – At the box office or 360-753-8586.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Interview: Daven Tillinghast on the music of Go, Dog. Go!

By Alec Clayton

Seldom have I seen music used in a play in the way Daven Tillinghast’s music was used in Olympia Family Theater’s production of Go, Dog. Go! The musical score was written by Michael Koerner and arranged by Musical Director Daven Tillinghast. Although I have reviewed many shows for which Tillinghast arranged the music and or played in the band, I had never met him in person before opening night of Go, Dog. Go! I was so impressed with the music that I asked him if I could interview him for this blog and for my review in The News Tribune.
Pictured from left: Christine Goode as Red Dog, Korja Giles as Blue Dog, Rynelle Bircher as Yellow Dog,  Xander Layden as MC Dog,  Megan Rosenberg as Green Dog. Photo credit: Alexis Sarah

Tillinghast teaches guitar and piano at Centralia College. He has previously musical directed three other shows at OFT. He wrote the score for OFT’s punk-rock opera Fishnapped, written by Amy Shephard and Andrew Gordon. From 2009 to 2017 was in the house band at Harlequin Productions.

Alec: The program lists music by Michael Koerner, so I gather you did the arrangements of Koerner's compositions and recorded the soundtrack.

Tillinghast: That’s correct. It’s a proper ‘book show’ and comes with a 110-page score, which is pretty substantial for a 50-page script consisting largely of stage directions. It’s originally written for solo accordion accompaniment. But, as I like to joke, we couldn’t afford an accordion; we could barely afford no accordion! (Apologies to accordionists, it’s a fine instrument). Live bands have their merit and are usually my go-to option for shows I direct for Open Road Productions, but considering the limitations of budget and space we were working with, backing tracks seemed like the best option. The publisher, Plays for Young Audiences, does offer tracks, but they are very simple arrangements, piano and drums, and didn’t capture the excitement that Director Deane Shellman and I wanted to generate. Besides, reading the book and script was really firing up my imagination, and I knew that a live band would have a hard time creating the surreal, larger-than-life textures I was dreaming up.

Alec: What can you tell me about that process? What were your ideas?

I love what the playwrights call the “zany anarchy” of the book, and the physical elements of the staging really feel almost more like clowning than “proper” theater. The play really thrives on the interplay of absurdism and just plain fun, so I wanted to express that with the music. I wanted to move between a sense of mundane realism, a “dusty upright piano in a community theater” feeling, and a heart-pounding hyper-color intensity. So I knew that electronic music was going to be the best way to achieve that range of expression.

Alec: Did you play all the instruments or record other musicians? Where did the ideas come from to use certain sounds, etc?

Tillinghast: Well, I’ve worked with some of the best producers and audio engineers in the region, Bruce Whitcomb at Arcade Recording, John Manini at Open Road Productions, Karl Welty at Harlequin Productions, Mike Tortorello at Soundchaser, but for this particular project I knew the best choice would be Forrest Gore at Atmastudios. He and I collaborated on another Olympia Family Theater production, Starry Messenger, directed by Brian Tyrrell in 2016. Mr. Gore has a real talent for blending naturalistic tones with surreal digital sounds, and he and I were able to do everything “in the box,” that is to say, entirely through the use of electronic music production techniques, so there were no microphones or live musicians involved. You do lose a certain amount of detail and of course you miss out on the opportunity to collaborate with instrumentalists, who often have interesting ways of interpreting the material, but we gained a degree of control and of course convenience with that process. We had a few sessions up front where we determined the tones and colors we’d be using, largely framing our thinking around the concept of a “black and white” world and a “technicolor” world, on the one hand, piano and brass and strings and a jazz rhythm section, which we treated with effects to create a “dusty vinyl” sound, and on the other hand a more electronic, drum-machine-and-synthesizer ensemble. Throughout the show you hear the music veer manically (or maybe even maniacally) between these two extremes. And here we are, perhaps the world’s first electronic dance music soundtrack for a kids’ show about live-action cartoon dogs! Kind of a niche market, I suppose.

Alec: In general, just anything you'd like to say that I might be able to use to make my review sound good.

Tillinghast: You’ll have to tell me when to shut up, I could talk about this show for hours, it has taken over my inner life for months now, and I’m just pleased as punch with the final result. The cast, led by the very talented Xander Layden and featuring Heather Christopher (both Open Road alums), is absolutely a pleasure to watch, and great fun to work with. I’ve done several projects now with Ms. Shellman, and she knocks it out of the park every time. She has a real knack for finding the humor and coaxing great performances out of the actors. This is my fourth or fifth show with OFT, and I’ve loved every one of them, they are a great bunch with a lot of heart and a rather shocking amount of expertise for a small community theater in a sleepy little town like ours. One of the great joys of my life is hearing peals of laughter from an audience, especially the children, when a show is really working, so watching these last couple performances, preview night and opening, has been an absolute delight. I guess the best thing I could say is: come see the show! And bring the kids you love most!

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through June 2
WHERE: Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave. E, Olympia
INFORMATION: (360) 570-1638

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Pop-Up art shows

Nicole Gugliotti has announced her schedule of upcoming pop-up shows, Front Porch Season 2.

The Front Porch Pop-Up Gallery is located at 1916 Washington St., SE, Olympia. Shows are open one day only during announced receptions and by appointment. For information, contact Nicole at

Monday, May 6, 2019

Beyond craft

Carved Wood and Ceramics grace Childhood’s End
By Alec Clayton
“Octopus” carved wood by Sara Gettys, courtesy Childhood’s End Gallery
Sara Gettys’ art looks like etchings or woodblock prints. They’re relatively flat and hang on the wall like prints, but they are not prints. They are wood carvings: images carved into wood panels and inked so the raised portions are black and the recessed cuts and gouges are white (or in some instance the light tan of wood). In Gettys’ works, that method results in decorative images with strong contrasts.
There is a timeless quality to these images, as if they could have been made in 1840 or 1930 or 2018. Most of her images are of animals: birds, fish, octopi and jellyfish. Most are as realistic as one can expect of images with no modeling or modulation of gray tones and little to no illusion of depth. Some of the animals she pictures are placed in stylized environments that reference the animal’s natural habitat, and others are in front of purely abstract patterns.
The backgrounds do not always stay behind the figures. In one of her octopus pictures, for example, the background is made up of flowing lines representing waves. Some of these lines go behind the image of the octopus, and others cross over, while a few weave in and out of the tentacles and thus serve as unifying elements.
Pictures of a moth and of a beetle on the gallery’s back wall are square but presented in a diamond orientation. The creatures are centered in the space, and the backgrounds are abstract heraldic patterns. These two pictures have a strong impact when viewed from a distance because of the confrontational centering of the images and the diamond-shaped orientation.
With some 27 wood carvings around all three walls, Getty’s art tends to dominate, but there are many more artists’ works on display.
Megan MacClellan is showing porcelain and mixed-media pieces including a wall hanging in which three porcelain slabs are joined together with blue string, with each piece having its own title. It includes a map of Oregon’s Willamette River Reach mapping the path the river took as it moved across the floodplain, and a depiction of Olympia’s Budd Bay Inlet in blue (everything else is subtle white-on-white) surrounded by a map showing projected sea levels in 30 years. MacClellan’s map-based art is inventive and subtle, and offers glimpses into the history and current reality of our natural world.
Longtime Childhood’s End favorites, husband-and-wife team John and Robin Gumaelius, are featured with a large selection of collaboratively-made ceramic sculptures of imaginary hybrid animal people. One large piece is a sculpture of a strange little man riding the back of a mule that is, in turn, riding on some kind of box with arms that is riding on top of a wagon. Another is a funny human with a big head astraddle a large face, which looks very much like the rider’s face, all of which is on wheels. And there are birds galore, and alligators and many other funny but unidentifiable and beautifully crafted creatures.
More traditional and quite lovely to look at are colorfully glazed stoneware platters and trays with images of cartoonish animals by Julia Janeway. Also included in this themed show are carved porcelain works by Linda Heisserman and Richard Roth.
In recent decades the differences between art and craft have increasingly blurred. In Carved, Wood & Ceramics, we are presented with crafts that are art.
In a separate show at Childhood’s End, there is a group of images by Arts Walk cover artist Darcy Goedecke.
Carved, Wood & Ceramics, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through May 30, Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724.

Bryan Willis's Sophie at TLT

Bryan Willis’s play Sophie is coming to Tacoma Little Theatre for a special performance one weekend only, directed by Nyree Martinez.

Known locally for his many local, national and internationally produced plays, Willis is now playwright-in-residence at Northwest Playwrights Alliance at the Seattle Repertory. His plays have been workshopped and produced off-Broadway, on the London fringe, throughout the U.K., Israel, and in theaters across the U.S. and Canada, including ACT, New York Theater Workshop, Seattle Rep, Milwaukee Rep, Unseam’d Shakespeare Co. and Riverside Studios in London.

Sophie is a one-act show that takes place at an outdoor railway station, where a young Sophie (age 13) talks with her older self (age 19). At age 19, Sophie was due to direct and produce a play at the Edinburgh Fringe (Scotland) but died before this ambition could be realized. In the ensuing weeks, her family decided to found a charity in Sophie’s name to give financial support to needy students of acting and of singing – ‘Sophie’s Silver Lining Fund.’ The charity published a book of Sophie’s own writings entitled Sophie’s Log – thoughts and feelings in poetry and prose. A few years later the trustees commissioned a playwright to write a short play based on Sophie’s Log.

Tacoma Little Theatre’s production of Sophie features a strong cast of talented young actresses sharing roles.  Young Sophie is played by Alexandria Bray and Olivia Burns, with Older Sophie being played by Kate Anders and Ayla Carda.

The play was commissioned by Sophie's Silver Lining Foundation (patron sponsor - Judi Dench) and premiered at the Edinburgh Festival. “Soon after, I was commissioned to adapt the work for BBC Radio 4 and had the great pleasure of being part of the production process in Manchester,one of three BBC studios devoted solely to new radio theater,” Willis says.   

“Sophie's family have become life-long friends and I couldn't have written the play without their 
encouragement and support. I've been to Sophie's house at least 15 times over the years and 
the family has visited here in Olympia many times, too. Their foundation (Sophie's Silver Lining 
Foundation) has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds dedicated for scholarships for students of drama and music. The play has been one of many projects developed to raise money
for this worthy cause.  

“I tried to write the play in the theatrical style she advocated (similar to my own views), and with respect for who she was and what she still means to so many people. But it's not a play about Saint Sophie. She was a typical school girl in some ways, with many moments of absolute brilliance. The plot and story of the script are based on a poem she wrote at the age of 18, "On Being Alone at a Railway Station," which appeared to be written from the point of view of a spirit. ‘  

Willis says he is delighted to be reunited with his colleague, director Nyree Martinez, and he thanks TLT's artistic director, Chris Serface, “for taking a chance on a lesser-known work written by a local playwright.”

Sophie will run Friday, May 17, through Sunday, May 19, 2019.  Friday and Saturday evening showings are at 7:30pm with Saturday and  Sunday matinees at 2:00pm.  Sophie is recommended for all ages,
Tickets are $10.00 General Admission. Tickets may be purchased online by clicking here, or by calling our Box Office at (253) 272-2281. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

Hoke Coleburn drives Miss Daisy

Photo from left: Chris Biggs as Boolie Werthan, Meigie Mabry as Miss Daisy, Jordan Hall as Hoke Coleburn, photo by Scott Ellgen

An epic tale of the South
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 2, 2019

from left: Chris Biggs as Boolie Werthan, Meigie Mabry as Miss Daisy and Jordan Hall as Hoke Coleburn
Now playing at Olympia Little Theatre is the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry.
Recent conflagrations over the treatment of race relations on stage and screen in BlacKkKlansman and The Green Book cast doubts on the treatment of race in the Oscar-winning film version of Driving Miss Daisy, and by extension on the play. Never-the-less, the play is touching and funny and seems true to life. The three-person cast in Olympia Little Theatre’s is excellent, and the production moves quickly and smoothly despite some technical difficulties opening night that will hopefully be corrected for future productions (they could have used one or two more technical rehearsals). That and a tawdry set detracts terribly from an otherwise wonderful show. Miss Daisy’s home has cheap and ugly wallpaper not at all in keeping with what one might expect in the home of an aristocratic Southern Jewish lady, and there are moveable folding screens upon which other set locations such as a graveyard are badly painted and which are often moved about clumsily and unnecessarily.
Seventy-two-year-old Daisy Werthan (Meigie Mabry) is no longer able to drive safely, so her son Boolie (Chris Biggs) hires 60-year-old black man named Hoke (Jordan Hall) as her chauffeur. From the beginning, she fights against having some one chauffeur her. She is crusty, short-tempered, and has quite obviously spent her life in a safe little upper-class bubble and knows nothing about the kind of life Hoke lives. Hoke responds with a winning combination kindness, dignity and stubbornness, and Daisy and Hoke gradually learn to accept and even love one another. Hoke drives Daisy from 1948 to 1973. He was driving her to her synagogue when the 1958 bombing of Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple in Atlanta took place, and her drove her to a Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobel Prize recognition dinner in 1965.
The play handles race issues in a surprisingly gentle but understanding manner, with a plethora of humorous one-liners. One of the most telling and incisive scenes of racial strife is when Boolie decides not to go to the MLK recognition dinner because being seen there might adversely affect his business relations.
Mabry is absolutely believable as Miss Daisy. Her crisp wit, subtle facial expressions and slow and painful movements as she grows older are beautifully done. Biggs pushes his depiction of a proud Southern businessman almost to the edge of being stereotypical without going over that line. In the opening scene he directs one dramatic speech at the audience when it should have been directed at his mother, but that mistake doesn’t happen again.
Hall simply is Hoke in his every movement and expression, beautifully underplayed in every scene but in a few scenes not projecting well enough to be clearly understood. Also beautifully underplayed by all three cast members are the Southern accents. Credit the cast and first-time director Randall Graham for perfectly handling the accents.

Driving Miss Daisy
7:25 p.m. Thursday- Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through May 12
$11-$15, $2 student discount
Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia, (360) 786-9484,

The teachers show their stuff

Faculty exhibit at Tacoma Community College
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 2, 2019 
Model for commission sculpture by Kyle Dillehay, courtesy Tacoma Community College
Today and tomorrow are the last two days of the art faculty exhibit at Tacoma Community College (posted 4/2/19).
A college faculty art exhibit is where the teachers get to put their art where their mouths are — to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Kyle Dillehay and Marit Berg certainly prove they can walk the walk, and there are flashes of greatness or at least originality in the works of a few others, notably AIice DiCerto and Frank Dippolito. Every artist in the show is an accomplished practitioner in their chosen field, but few of the works displayed have the power of the best work in previous shows in this gallery, such as Hart James’s landscapes, sculpture by Irene Osborne and Bobbi Ritter’s series on the micro-brew culture of the Pacific Northwest seen in TCC’s previous exhibition.
Berg continues to surprise me, because every time I see her work it is different than anything previously seen from her. This time she’s all about picturing animals. There are four etchings of hares and jackrabbits and a painting of a lion repeated 16 times in oil, each slightly different and arranged in four rows of four. The lion painting is impactful mostly because it takes up an entire facing wall at the gallery entrance. Had it been silkscreened, it would be a great homage to Andy Warhol, although, of course, Warhol never painted, only photographed and then reproduced all his images.
Berg’s most outstanding works in this show are a pair of oil paintings of angora rabbits, one rabbit per painting, each facing forward and filling almost every inch of space in its large canvas. One is painted in shades of gray, the other in white and light beige. They are expansive and seem to hover in space, a terrific use of space and color, nuanced and confrontational.
Dillehay has two painted constructions called “Rapto de La Sabines” (translation: rape of the Sabines), a popular subject in Roman art and  all the way through the Renaissance, and interpreted by many artists from Peter Paul Rubens  to Jacques-Louis David to Pablo Picasso. Each image is printed by a process called cynotype on a rough surface that looks like cast glass or like water in a stormy sea, with sensual human figures and something that looks like a negative image of flying dragons inside a constructed box with a crank handle like some kind of steampunk slide display.
Also from Dillehay is a model (¼ scale) of a sculpture commissioned by the state Arts Commission to be erected on the Yakima Valley Trade School Sunnyside campus. It is a precarious-looking stack of boxes, wooden in the model but to be constructed in metal, with student workers in each box hard at work on their respective fields of study. The complexity of the images wraps up the entirety of the college’s offerings in a single tower of sculpted images and objects associated with the college: a mortarboard, nurses, scientists, welding equipment and lots of food, especially spears of asparagus, a crop widely grown in the region. The complexity is fascinating, and the sculpture succeeds in being different from every point of view as you walk around it, something far too few sculptors succeed in doing.
There is much more to see, including an intriguing painting by Frank Dipollito called “Mile Post (12 part series),” Jenny Roholt’s sensual drawing “Contemplation Grove”, and Melinda Liebers Cox’s “Uncle Bill,” a series of studies after a Rembrandt self-portrait.
TCC Art Faculty, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through May 3, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G.