Friday, December 2, 2016

Little Red Riding Hood

A Christmas Panto at Centerstage
Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 2, 2016
The cast of Little Red Riding Hood with Red Riding Hood (Helen Martin), Dame Hood (Alan Bryce), and Robyn Hood (Taylor Davis), photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis
Theater goers who have not yet discovered the insanity of British-style pantos should get to Centerstage Theatre in Federal Way to see Little Red Riding Hood.
A panto (short for pantomime but nothing like mime as we know it) is a traditional fairy tale presented as rip-roaring musical filled with puns and bad jokes, cross-dressing actors, and lots of audience participation. Children are encouraged to boo the bad guy and cheer the good fairy and to shout out key phrases whenever certain cues are given — and wow!, do they ever respond with wild enthusiasm.
Yes, pantos are for kids, but there are many jokes and double-entendres that only the adults get, most of which are either risqué jokes or local references.
Red Riding Hood (Helen Martin) and Prince Brian (Zack Summers), photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis
The panto has been a Centerstage holiday tradition for 10 years now. The latest installment is Little Red Riding Hood, which features a good fairy called Fairy Dust (Trista Duval) in life-or death battle with the evil wizard, Magithor (Olivia Lee). And of course, the traditional story of Little Red Riding Hood (Helen Martin) and the Big Bad Wolf (Adam Minton). Only in this version, the wolf is no longer bad. He’s a vegan, and he’s nice to everybody until Magithor puts a spell on him that turns him bad again.
Little Red Riding Hood is a lot of fun, but not quite as hilarious as some of the earlier pantos. Or perhaps I’ve simply become jaded after seeing so many of them. Zack Summers as Prince Brian sings terrifically, but his dancing and acting needs to be more animated. The same can be said of Minton’s wolf, although his singing on the bad wolf song with Magithor rocks, and Lee belts out her part on this one with the kind of gusto a Tina Turner could be proud of. Her performance as Magithor is captivating throughout. Also captivating and as loveable as any character in the play is Red Riding Hood’s brother Robyn (Taylor Davis).
Another panto tradition is to have a large man in drag play a very amorous woman who usually picks out a man in the front row to flirt with – so, gentlemen beware of front-row seats. In Little Red Riding Hood that character is Dame Hood, Red and Robyn’s mother, played by Centerstage artistic director Alan Bryce, and the lucky man she picked on this time was Randy, a gracious audience member.
Pantos also feature set pieces that are like Vaudeville routines and which have absolutely nothing to do with the story. Bryce and Taylor do the honors on a couple of these. In the first, they attempt quite incompetently to put up wallpaper in a routine like something from the Marx Brothers or perhaps a duet with Buster Keeton and Charlie Chaplin in which they keep trapping one another between two boards and end up covering each other with glue. The second of these Vaudeville routines involves city names and highway signs. I never would have believed it possible to come up with so many silly puns based on Washington city names.
Little Red Riding Hood is a laugh fest and a joy to watch, with great pop music (with fractured lyrics). It is loud and exuberant, and rather long at almost three hours, but the kids in the audience at the opening matinee did not get tired. I suspect they could have happily gone another hour or two.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., through Dec. 22
WHERE: Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $35 adults, $30, Seniors (65+) and Military: $15; Youth (18-25): $12 17 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Git back in the back by the cypress knees

I love this descriptive sentence from Samuel Snoek-Brown’s novel Hagridden:

They held their weapons perpendicular like circus artists on a tightrope and walked swiftly along the narrow ridge of earth until they came to a shallow lake, a lonely cypress rising from water at the edge, a tribe of woody knees surrounding the trunk like a congregation.

The phrase  “a tribe of woody knees surrounding the trunk like a congregation” brings to mind fishing among the cypresses in the swampy end of Lake St. John in Louisiana when I was a child—dark, peaceful, and mysterious; those cypress knees worshipful like congregants in a Southern Baptist prayer meeting. It also brings to mind an experience when trying to market my first novel that was both funny and frustrating—a real pisser at first, but funny now that I look back on it.

I was lucky, or thought I was, to have a family connection with a successful and well-respected New York literary agent. She agreed to look at my book and offer advice but said she couldn’t handle it herself because she did not represent novelists, but only non-fiction authors. But she did read it and even sent the manuscript to a fellow agent who represented novelists, and she reported back that he said he couldn’t sell it. Sorry.

She did offer three bits of advice. The first was that the main character was not likeable and that nobody is going to read past the first few chapters if they don’t like the main character. Looking back, I’m not so sure how helpful that criticism was. The character in question was Red Warner, who proved to be one of the most popular of all the characters I have peopled my novels with.
The other critical comments were just flat-out wrong. She said she had never heard of a cypress knee, said there was no such thing in nature. Maybe they can’t be found in Manhattan, but they sure as hell exist in the lakes and streams in Mississippi and Louisiana.

And she objected to my use of the phrase “back in the back.” I wrote about a boy shoplifting. When he got caught the store employee took him back in the back of the store. I guess she thought that was illiterate or redundant or something, but it’s a phrase I’ve heard all my life. Is it colloquial? Perhaps, but when you’re writing about a particular time and place, colloquialisms are just things everybody says. I must admit, I felt a little insulted by that criticism. I wonder if any insulated New York literary agent every criticized William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy for their phraseology. I remember one critic praising McCarthy for writing that one of his characters said he got something “at the gittin place.” I suspect the gittin place might be back in the back.

I think that’s enough bitching and moaning for now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Art Without Borders Part One

 Photos of eL Seed’s graffiti art at Matter
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 23, 2016
 “Vidigal Favela” graffiti art by eL Seed, photo courtesy Matter.
Lisa Kinoshita, curator of moss + mineral at Matter, wrote: “The long-awaited eL Seed exhibit is up! After seeing this young French-Tunisian artist give a talk on TED, I was in hot pursuit to share his global initiative to share the message of peace through graffiti art. It's more urgent now than ever. eL Seed has given permission to show photographs of his work at Matter, with a portion of the proceeds going to support the work of Doctors Without Borders. This is part one of a three-part series called Art Without Borders.”
The art of this world-renowned graffiti artist is essentially fine calligraphy writ large on the walls of buildings and other structures. It is a far cry from mere tagging. 
Kinoshita wrote: “(eL Seed) has developed a signature form of art combining the fluid lines of Arabic calligraphy with the street dynamism of Western graffiti — in a style he calls, “calligraffti.” With stunning originality and vibrancy, eL Seed has created messages of peace on streets and buildings in the capitols of Europe, the U.S., the Middle East, and around the world. His artwork, which came to international attention after the birth of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, holds a universal call for peace and goodwill, as well as specific relevance for the places and cultures in which it appears.”
In “Didouche Mourad”, located in Algeria, Arabic writing forms a circle on the side of a white building approximately five stories high (as I deduced by counting the windows in the photograph). A wall label explains that it is a line from an Algerian song: “How could I forget the land of good? How could my heart be in peace?”
“Vidigal Favela” is writing in pink outlined in black on the roof of a building. It is nestled on the side of a mountain above a town on a calm bay. The photograph is taken from a vantage point even higher above showing the town, the bay and the surrounding mountains. The artist said of it, "At the top of the hill, I see this amazing rooftop — brand new, white. You never find a white rooftop. I started painting this poem from this writer from one of the favelas, Gabriela Torres Barbosa, I did my piece, took my picture and left." Later he found out the building was a new art school.
Pont des Arts in Paris is a bridge built by Napoleon in 1802. Thousands of modern visitors have left padlocks as tokens of love. Recently the locks were removed because there were so many that they thought the bridge would inevitably fall into the Seine, and eL Seed was invited to paint the structure. He chose the words of Balzac: "Paris is in truth an ocean: you can plumb it but you'll never know its depths." 
It would be nice if these and the other works shown at Matter could be seen on site, but we’re lucky to have the photos Also showing are photographs of works by Paris-based artist, Jean Faucheur, a seminal figure in the Paris street-art movement of the 1980s. He tagged in New York with Keith Haring and showed at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. Today, he owns an art center in the Belleville section of Paris.

Art Without Borders Part One, noon to 6 p.m., by chance and by appointment through Dec. 15, Saturdays and by appointment; for appointment call Lisa Kinoshita 253.961.5220, Matter, 821 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.879.3701.

Monty Python’s Spamalot at Triad Theater

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 23, 2016
the “not dead yet” scene, taken from the Standing Room Only Facebook page with permission.
I must confess that I did not have high hopes when I went to The Triad Theater in Yelm to see Standing Room Only’s production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, since my previous experience with small town community theater has never been as disastrous as Waiting for Guffman, it had generally not been on a par with Tacoma and Olympia theaters. But the Standing Room Only players surprised me; they put on a first-class show.
Visiting The Triad Theater is quite an experience. For starters, I tried to enter via the backstage entrance and was told to go to what they called the front of the building, a barely lighted doorway on a side street. Inside was joyful bedlam. They were serving drinks and snacks. The auditorium was almost full half an hour before show time. The stadium-style seating was interspersed with comfortable looking old couches. Onstage some kind of game of chance was going on involving a catapult, and someone was circulating through the audience handing out snacks, which I took to be Spam and cheese on crackers. It was loud. I got the impression everyone knew each other.
The set looked inexpensive and shabby, which is perfectly Pythonesque. The costumes by Renee Cottriel were excellent. Some of the outlandish costumes such as those of the Knights Who Say Ni, were hilarious, and many of the women’s costumes, especially those worn by The Lady of the Lake (Earl Dawn) and the women in the ensemble were lovely.
For those not in the know, Spamalot, written by Monty Python’s Eric Idle, is loosely based the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or as the program declares, “lovingly ripped off” from the film, with a few comic bits and the song “Look on the Bright Side of Life” taken from Python’s Life of Brian.
The show is excellently directed by Daniel Wyman and choreographed by Fred Loertscher with additional choreography by Marcela Martinez and Deanna Waldo, both of whom also perform in the ensemble cast.
There is only one cast member I recognized, Richard Frias, who has a cameo as God, and who has extensive stage experience in the South Sound area. The rest, as well as I can tell from reading the program biographies have experience on in Standing Room Only show and school productions, which means this cast is the epitome of amateur theater — but I surely couldn’t tell it from watching them. Every one of them from King Arthur (Dave Champagne) to unnamed members of the ensemble threw themselves wholeheartedly into their roles and showed professional quality acting chops. Kudos to one and all. Especially outstanding for their expressiveness and physical comedy are Will Champagne as Patsy, the coconut-clapping sidekick, and Kevin McManus as Sir Robin.
From the monster rabbit to the man who’s not dead yet to Sir Lancelot’s gay wedding, this musical farce is filled with all the craziness that made the movie and the Broadway show the hits they were, plus there are a few local bits thrown in like the “Don’t P*ss Off the Stage Manger” skit and bringing up a member of the audience (who might or might not be a plant) for a selfie with the cast.
Driving to Yelm is not a difficult commute from either Tacoma or Olympia, and I guarantee you this show is worth the drive.

Spamalot, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m., Sunday through Nov. 27, $xx, The Triad Theater, 102 Yelm Ave E, Yelm.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Jason Sobottka paintings at Tacoma Community College

Adventures Through the Anthropocene
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 17, 2016
 “Kevlar Wolves,” painting by Jason Sobottka, photo by Gabi Clayton
Jason Sobottka is a fascinating painter. It’s tempting to label his paintings fantasy art, but that would be too easy. There are fantasy elements aplenty, but there is much more to it than that. He paints fantasy creatures and mythological creatures, and he paints common animals such as dogs, rabbits, and deer in fantasy settings. More importantly, he combines many of these, often within a single painting or in some instances within a single animal. He places his creatures in the Anthropocene (defined as relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment) and calls his show Adventures Through the Anthropocene. 
The images he creates and his style of painting may not be unique in and of themselves, but in combination they are as inventive and as unusual as anything you’re likely to see. It is like Jackson Pollock with his drip paintings. He wasn’t the only one to do it, or even the first, but nobody did it with such consummate skill and passion as he did. So it is with Sobottka.
And it is not just the strange creatures. Many artists who grew up reading graphic novels and watching sci-fi movies invent strange creatures (I have no idea how young or old Sobottka is or to what degree he might have been influenced by sci-fi and fantasy). But few other artists create their fantasy images with such skill or with such a variety of ways of painting — an intermingling of geometric patterns, cartoon line drawings, realistically rendered figures, flat shapes and colors, smooth modeling and heavy impasto, plus spray paint, glitter and pasted-on googly eyes. 
A few examples:
“Elkotaur Blessing” depicts a man with a deer head and tattoos of cartoon figures on his body. He is seen from chest up. He has two antlers. One of them is normal and is rendered realistically, the other is pink and painted flat with glitter.
“Deer Spirit with Pitcher Plants,” acrylic, oil and glitter on canvas, pictures a seated nude female figure seen head to toe. She has the head of a deer and is holding an assault rifle.
“Elkataur with Tattoos” is like “Elkataur Blessing” except the man’s body is seen from head to foot and there are googly eyes glued onto much of the image.
“Kevlar Wolves” pictures six fierce running wolves drawn and painted in a variety of styles. Some are realistic; some are line drawings; one is a head only that fades into the background; and one is a flat white silhouette. Throughout the background and partially overlapping the wolves are geometric patterns and architectural forms.
“Anti-poaching Intervention,” acrylic and screen print on canvas, depicts two rhinos with machine guns mounted on their backs with transparent circular collars around their necks. One of them has a blue and purple polka dot body.
Adventures Through the Anthropocene is a fun show. To me, the visual elements of line, shape, color and texture and the way they blend, merge, contrast and complement each other is even more fascinating than the fantasy creatures.
Jason Sobottka Adventures Through the Anthropocene, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Dec. 16, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Native American Art Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC)

Beaded bag by Denise Emerson
The Native American Art Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) features a wide variety of works by regional Native American artists. Look for paintings, basketry, carved wood pieces, textiles and mixed-media art curated by Mandy McCullough. McCullough is an Ojibwa from White Earth, Minnesota, who has created jewelry since she was in grade school. “This is the seventh year I have curated the exhibition. My family works along with me each year,” McCullough says.

See the complete review in Oly Arts

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lightfall by Christian Carvajal

a review

This is my review of Lightfall by Christian Carvajal, recently posted on

The first thing you need to know about Christian Carvajal’s Lightfall is that it is funny. The second thing you need to know is that it is true, not true in the sense of a dull recitation of historical facts but truth in spirit and intent (and for all we know and as you may discover when you get near the end of this book, it just might be a historical recitation of facts after all).

Lightfall is the story of the apocalypse, the rapture, the end of the world as we know it (or think we know it), as experienced by the denizens of Sugar Roses, Oklahoma, “where Jesus looks a lot like Kenny Loggins.” Sugar Roses, a fictional town, is the quintessential small town in the heart of the Bible Belt “clustered around a minor college campus but focused on its forty church spires,” where “five thousand families eat hearty suppers behind bay windows and unlocked front doors.” It is a town whose major industry is Saving Grace, Inc., purveyors of Christian novelty items and where you will find, not far away, a Christian nudist camp.

The story is cram packed with clever word play and pop-culture references, but right under the surface of all this playfulness is very serious theology and social study. In places, it almost but not quite becomes mired in didactic sermonizing or theorizing—but the author’s intelligence and wit saves it.

The core story of the people of Sugar Roses—including an atheistic womanizing college professor, a librarian, and a Hollywood script writer back home to write a script about Sugar Roses’ one and only notorious crime—is interrupted repeatedly and cleverly by emails, blog posts and stories from the local newspaper which paint a picture of the town and its reactions to the strange events that portend the coming of the end.

Unlike many of the other reviewers who have praised Carvajal’s depiction of characters, I think the book’s biggest drawback is that the central characters are not developed as fully as I wish they were. It’s a relatively short book, and I feel it could have benefited from an additional fifty or so pages to help readers get to know these characters even better. I tended to get lost in some of the asides and forget some of the major characters.

Overall, Lightfall is a unique, well written, enjoyable and thought provoking book. I highly recommend it for thinking people.