Friday, July 21, 2017

Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition at SPSCC

Photo: 

Review by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 19, 2017
I hesitate to say this is the best juried exhibition yet at South Puget Sound Community College because I can’t trust my memory of previous ones. But I can say this: all juried exhibitions have some great work, some mediocre work and a few pieces that make you wonder how they were chosen, that make you think they didn’t have enough entries and had to lower their judgement to fill the space. This year’s juried exhibition has much more of the first of these and far fewer to others.
“Maximus II” collage by Gail Ramsey Wharton, courtesy of the artist

Two pieces stand out in my estimation. One is Faith Hagenhofer’s “Abundance,” and the other is Bernie Bleha’s colorful, pop-surreal sculpture “Exotic Totem.” Hagenhofer’s piece is a quilt made of wool and thread and, according to the wall label, “plumbing parts.” There are a multitude of cone shaped tubes in tones of orange and chartreuse arranged in alternating patterns that, taken altogether, are an American flag. There’s more to see in this one than eyes can take in in a single glance. Bleha’s is a colorful totem pole in carved, glued and painted wood with strange faces and exciting color.
There are also two paintings by Jason Sobatkka that, like Bleha’s piece, can loosely be termed pop surrealist. They are inventive, strange and compelling, and both feature bunny rabbits. “Logomorph Holy Spirit” was a purchase award winner, but I prefer Sobatkka’s “Don’t Mess with the Pink Rabbit,” acrylic, oil and glitter. A giant threatening rabbit and a masked man are seen against backgrounds of bright ultramarine blue and gold glitter. It’s a painting filled with surprising contrasts that is simultaneously happy and ominous.  
There’s a tiny clay sculpture by Irene Osborn that is easily overlooked but should not be, a sweet and classically beautiful nude sitting on a stump in a pose like Rodin’s “The Thinker.”
People say extremely realistic paintings look “just like a picture” (meaning a photograph. Lou MacMillan’s digital photograph “Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rain Forest” turns that inside-out. It’s photo that looks just like a painting —autumn in the rain forest with thousands of golden leaves, each leaf standing out in stark detail as if lifted off the surface. This photo is overwhelming in its gorgeousness. 
Two charcoal drawings by Rebecca Smurr picture crowds of people as seen from above sprinkled across the surface like leaves on snow. These are quite lovely. They demonstrate how rich black and white can be.
Finally, despite what I said about “Abundance” and “Exotic Totem,” my absolute favorite piece in the show is Gail Ramsey Wharton’s “Maximus II,” a densely crowded collage with a head of George Washington, a tattooed man wearing a tutu, two old men kissing, and countless other surprises. Viewers can spend a lot of time joyfully searching out all the surprising images and then step back to appreciate the solidity of the overall composition. In past shows I’ve enjoyed her simple collages, which often consist of clever and witty visual puns. This one is quite different and exciting, not only because of the evident humor, but due to its complex play of shapes and colors locking all the various pictures together into a whole.


Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition, Noon to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday, through July 3, South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia

Much Ado About Nothing




Review by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 19, 2017
Lauren Lutz Verges and John Serembe as Dogberry, photo courtesy Animal Fire Theatre
Leaving Animal Fire Theatre’s outdoor production of Much Ado About Nothing, my wife said she thought it might be the best yet Animal Fire show. In the moment, I tended to agree; but then I remembered their Hamlet from five years past and realized the obvious: you can’t compare these two shows, which are the epitome of the opposing masks symbols of theater. The latter is generally considered the greatest play ever, and in the afterglow of watching Animal Fire’s Much Ado, I am inclined to say it is, if not the funniest ever, as least Shakespeare’s funniest and most accessible comedy.
I can’t imagine any other theater company doing it better — not even Oregon’s Shakespeare Festival, not even Broadway.
Animal Fire does Shakespeare outdoors almost every summer, and it is always free (donations gratefully accepted). This summer’s production of Much Ado takes place at the water garden on the East Capitol Campus. Park near the visitor center and cross over Capitol Way South. It’s near the Korean War Memorial. There are stone steps for seating, and audiences are invited to bring folding chairs and/or blankets or cushions.
The setting is lovely, with a minimalist set comprised of a bit of purple and silver drapery and a few ladders over the no-longer-active water garden.
The story has been updated to Hollywood in the Roaring Twenties. Hero (Amanda Garcia) and Claudio (Ryan Holmberg) are madly in love and engaged to be married, while Beatrice (Rachel Fitzgerald) and Benedick (Brian Hatcher) are the world’s most unlikely couple, which means —as everybody knows — they’re going to end up in love. They certainly are not lovesick teenagers in the mold of Romeo and Juliet; they have each lived long enough to be wise, sarcastic and disdainful of love and marriage —especially Benedick, and what man could be man enough for Beatrice?
But there are plots afoot to break up Hero and Claudio and bring together Beatrice and Benedick. To describe these plots would be to add confusion. Suffice it to say one plot fails miserably and comically while the other succeeds marvelously, and all’s well that ends well.
The cast is simply wonderful. Hatcher, in what may very well be his best role to date, and Fitzgerald are the perfect wisecracking couple. Simply seeing Hatcher in his 1920’s-style red-striped swim suit is reason enough to see the show. Holmberg is terrific and very funny, and Garcia is beautifully coy and sensible as the most down-to-earth character in this madcap play. Mark Peterson slinks and sneaks like a first-class comic villain. And John Serembe is hilarious as Constable Dogberry played as a comic wild west sheriff who rides in on a hobby horse. Throughout there is sneaking in the style of the worst of the cops-and-robbers movies of the time. Kudos to director Jeremy Thompson or whoever came up with the idea of setting it in Hollywood in the ’20s.
It is a fast-moving play presented without intermission, and it is surprisingly easy to hear despite a lot of open space between the actors and the audience.

The July 22 performance will be a benefit for the Powerful With Love Fund. All donations on that night will support the fund established at The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound to honor and sustain the work and legacy of Steve Macuk, who died of brain cancer in 2014.
Much Ado About Nothing, 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday, through July 23, The Water Garden on the East Capitol Campus, Olympia, free.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Hemingway Story


By Alec Clayton

I tell this Hemingway story better than Hemingway does, if I do say so myself.

It’s my favorite story about the great writer, but I had long since forgotten where I first came across it. Until yesterday when I found it while re-reading A.E. Hotchner's book Papa Hemingway. It had been more than 30 years since I read it, and I do not have perfect recall.
Here’s the way I’ve always told the story:

Hemingway’s editor, Max Perkins, was upset with the writer for using the word fuck, so he decided he had to talk to him about it. To remind himself, he jotted down a note on his desk calendar. Later, while he was out for lunch, his secretary came into his office looking for something and happened to glance down at his calendar and saw a note in the twelve o’clock block: “Fuck Hemingway.”

Here's the Hemingway-Hotcher version of the same tale:

“Max was too shy to say the word out loud so he wrote it on his calendar pad. … Along about three o’clock that afternoon Charles Scribner came into his office to consult him about something, and not finding him at his desk went over and looked at the calendar pad to see where he was. Opposite twelve o’clock, Charlie found the notation F-U-C-K. Later that afternoon, when Charlie did find Perkins as his desk, he said solicitously, ‘Max, why don’t you take the rest of the day off. You must be done in.’”


OK, maybe my version is not better after all.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: “The Little Mermaid
By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, July 14, 2017
Ariel (Cherisse Martinelli), photo by Kat Dollarhide
Fresh off the dizzying experience of being the biggest winner at this year’s AACTFest, a national competition of community theaters — winning eight top awards for “The Addams Family” — Tacoma Musical Playhouse presents a sweet and romantic musical for the entire family, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” This is not a children’s play, it is theater for grown-ups with adult actors, but it most definitely appeals to children. There were many in the audience opening night, mostly little girls wearing Ariel’s crown (for sale in the lobby for $5), and they clearly loved the show, even to the point of chasing bubbles in the aisles.
It is not the most highly polished show TMP has produced. It starts off slow and feels a bit wooden, but becomes lively beginning with the big song-and-dance number “Under the Sea” featuring Isaiah Parker as Sebastian the crab, and gets progressively better from that point forward.
Most scenes take place underwater, which created technical challenges that were unevenly met. Some of the set pieces that are pushed on stage by hand are not up to TMP’s usual excellent standards. The boat that Prince Eric (Colin Briskey) sails and the big rocks on the seashore look like something seen in a school production. But other set pieces, such as Ursula (Nancy Herbert Bach) the sea witch’s lair and a palm tree-shaped coral with fish swimming around it, are marvelous.
John Chenault’s usual excellent lighting lends an aura of magic to these sets. Interestingly, no set designer is listed in the program, so I assume that was a group effort.
To further the illusion of being underwater, many of the characters are flown on wires, which is done admirably, and the mermaids move in waving motions throughout. They do so beautifully.
Based on the popular children’s book by Hans Christian Anderson and the Disney movie of the same name, the story is well known. Ariel (Cherisse Martinelli) falls in love with Prince Eric and longs to become human. She agrees to a wager, giving her voice to the evil undersea witch Ursula in exchange for a spell that makes her human for three days. The horrible catch to the deal is she can’t speak and she must get Price Eric to kiss her before time runs out or the spell will be broken and her soul will be doomed to Ursula’s control forever.
Martinelli is highly expressive as Ariel, in turn loveable, comical, love sick and pensive. She is delightful in the scene where she is learning to walk on human legs. She’s as wobbly as a newborn colt, and she keeps falling down with a precious look of surprise on her face.
Parker is terrific as her helpmate, Sebastian. I loved his mobile face and quick changes of expression, and he sings sweetly.
Briskey has the clearest and strongest singing voice of all the cast, and he plays Prince Eric as dignified and down-to-earth.
Erik Furuheim as Chef Louis provides the funniest passage in the play as he prepares a seafood dinner for Ariel while singing “Les Poissons,” joined by the ensemble with a reprise as he prepares to butcher poor Sebastian and serve him on a platter whereupon a delightful slap-stick chase scene ensues.
Also outstanding is Jake Atwood as the wisecracking seagull, Scuttle. His tap dancing backed by an ensemble of dancing seagulls on the upbeat tune “Positoovity” is wonderful — with feathers a flying.
Johnny Neidlinger is a disappointment as King Triton. His costume and makeup were harsh and unattractive, and his acting was stiff.
Typical of TMP, the large ensemble numbers are the highlight of the show. Director Jon Douglas Rake’s choreography is grand, as is the music by the great Alan Menken. Finally, deserving of especial note is costume designer Jocelyne Fowler and assistant Grace Stone. Their costumes are colorful and inventive; the mermaid’s dresses are lovely, and some off the oddest ones, such as Ursula’s squid costume and the long-tailed, lighted eels Flotsam and Jetson are hilariously creative.

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




A beautiful space abuzz with live

Alec Clayton’s Retrospective at Tacoma Community College
By Susan Christian
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 13,2017
Note: I could not review my own show, so the Weekly Volcano editor asked Susan Christian to do it.
"X-Plosion" 24" x 32", oil and oil stick on canvas, by Alec Clayton
I went to Tacoma Community College to look at my old friend Alec Clayton’s paintings, along with my friend Becky Knold, another a painter living and working in Olympia. Clayton has reviewed Becky’s work and my own in this publication.
In our years as friends, I’d come to believe I already knew Clayton’s work. But seeing one painting at a time gives you only one frame of a movie. A one-person show is a privileged encounter with someone’s mind over time. 
Clayton’s mind is complicated and wise. He loves paint. He loves color. He loves the world and it also makes him mad. TCC’s beautiful space is abuzz with life; ideas bounce back and forth from one work to another, from one group to another, from one wall to another, and around corners. You find yourself walking back to work you’ve already looked at, to see what you missed now that you’ve seen more.
The paintings are exuberant, bright, complicated, energetic, wild, and strongly related to one another.
"The Crossing" oil stick and acrylic on canvas, 32" x 24" by Alec Clayton
The show presents a sampling of about 30 years’ worth of work, largely from the artist’s own collection. A striking consistency holds this long sequence of work together. Clayton put together a vocabulary of marks long ago and has given up none of its elements while developing more.  My sample list of his “alphabet” of marks and devices includes (my words, not his): claws, crosshatches, bands, clouds, zigzags, dots, butts, checkerboards, wiggles, hooks, loops, stripes, and swimming pools.
There’s consistency over time in his subject matter as well, including sex, violence, bodies, threat, portraits, landscape peeking out behind lots of abstract action, and shapes he likes and doesn’t need to identify, like what I call “steam irons” except I’m probably wrong.
There’s a lot of deep blue, a lot of black, a lot of scumbled-over pink, red, flesh tones and oranges, and greens mostly in the viridian family. These are not nature paintings; you won’t see many earth tones, and even the neutrals buzz with energy. The world you see, beautifully ordered within the painted rectangles and within the clean and elegant gallery space, is a world of dreaming, not of hanging out in the quotidian. Calligraphy reigns over many observed shapes. You can’t read it. It’s wiggly and private.
You’ll see ideas played with and later abandoned — for example, in the entry there are three or four rectangular paintings from which dangle additional heavily painted wads and streamers. These are 17 years old. No other dangles are in evidence.
In the middle of the largest room of the gallery there are four bi-fold blanks, the narrow wooden rectangles designed to be hinged together as closet doors. Here they are heavily painted, hanging singly and vertically from cords, turning slowly in the air, comprising one piece, “Rhythms in Evolution.” This way of seeing seems central to this artist. Things change, they move, they live, they go on and on, they are filled with feeling —some of it anguished — and energy, all of it purposeful. Go feel them out.
The artist will be on hand to greet you and chat with you about the art at a reception Thursday, July 20.
Editor's note: Alec Clayton has been reviewing artists for this fine rag for many, many, many years. And we are very proud of him.
Alec Clayton Retrospective, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Aug. 10, artist's reception 4-6 p.m., July 20, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Larry Brown King of Grit Lit




“She’d taken her house shoes off and including her feet she was as nice a woman as Eric had seen. The nice was coming off her like the heat off his granddaddy’s stovepipe.” 

That wonderfully poetic and colloquial line comes from Larry Brown’s novel, The rabbit Factory. I’m reading it for the second time, having first read it only months after it came out in 2003. At the time, Brown was much admired in the state of Mississippi (he lived in Oxford) and was fast becoming well known throughout the land, but he unexpectedly died of an apparent heart attack the next year.

The great short story writer Barry Hannah—also from Oxford and who also died young and unexpectedly—called Brown the king of “grit lit.”

I “met” Larry Brown through other Mississippi writers shortly before his first book, Facing the Music, was published. Never had the honor of meeting him in public, but we corresponded. He even submitted a short story to our magazine Mississippi Arts & Letters, but we were not able to publish it; we had just declared bankruptcy.

He was a big influence on me. People say I create quirky characters, but man, my characters are as normal as coffee in the morning compared to the whores and con men and rednecks Larry Brown writes about. His writing is funny and real, like a modern day Flannery O'Connor but without all the religious stuff.

I’m afraid that now that he’s dead his work will be forgotten. That would be a shame because he’s too damn good for that.

Go to his page on wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Brown_%28author%29 and then search out his books in your local bookstore or on amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_2_11/136-9656850-3850359?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=larry+brown&sprefix=larry+brown%2Caps%2C202&crid=1KDK3G9NEQC9X&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Alarry+brown


Friday, July 7, 2017


An18th century comic romp
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 6, 2017
Sara Geiger as Silvio (left) and Mehra Park as Beatrice. Photo courtesy New Muses Theatre Company
A hallmark of New Muses Theatre is adapting old plays for modern stages. The company’s founder, Niclas Olson, writes the adaptations and usually both directs and stars in the shows —a heavy load for anyone to carry, but one he shoulders well.
Written in 1753 by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, A Servant of Two Masters is a madcap comedy in the commedia dell’arte.tradition. Modern audiences will see in it reflections of comedies by Moliere and Shakespeare, as well as some sly pokes at current-day absurdities.
In wild dashes through scene after scene, characters pretend to be people other than who they are and people who know each other keep barely avoiding running into each other — a well-worn comic bit that never gets old.
Beatrice (Mehra Park) disguises herself as her recently murdered brother Federigo and travels to an inn in Venice in search of Federigo’s killer, Florindo (Olson), who also happens to be her lover. Beatrice and Florindo get rooms in the same inn, but neither knows the other is there.
Try to keep up. Before he was murdered, Federigo was betrothed to Clarice (Jenna McRill), and by pretending to be Federigo, Beatrice expects to collect his dowry from Clarice’s father, Pantalone (Paul Sobrie). Meanwhile, Pantalone has agreed to marry Clarice to Silvio (Sara Geiger in a cross-gender role). As if this were not confusing enough, Beatrice’s servant, Truffaldino (Andrew Yabroff) sees a chance to make extra money by also serving Florindo, thus becoming the “servant of two masters” of the title. He has to go through incredible machinations to keep each of his masters from discovering he is serving the other. To even further the confusion, people keep giving him things to deliver to his master and, naturally, he never knows which master they mean. In a scene worthy of the Marx Brothers, he has to serve a multi-course meal to each of his masters without either of them or the cook catching on — and being gluttonous, Truffaldino eats most of both meals himself.
The acting style is a parody of the declamatory acting popular when the play was first presented. The actors must appear stiff and falsely histrionic without actually being stiff and falsely histrionic. That’s a tough tight rope to walk. Olsen, Geiger and Yabroff do it well. Eric Cuestas-Thompson as Silvio’s father and Sobrie as Pantalone come close.
As originally written, the playwright left a lot of room for improvisation. In this adaptation, nearly all the characters make snide asides to the audience, which might or might not be improvised.
A Servant of Two Masters is funny, but it does not quite come up to New Muses’ usually excellent standards.
Note: The part of Silvio will be played by Xander Layden July 7-9.
A Servant of Two Masters, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 9, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, http://www.newmuses.com/,  http://peergyntyouth.brownpapertickets.com