Friday, April 27, 2007

‘Full Monty’ gets an American takeoff

Pictured (above, left to right): Dan Engelhard at Harold, Scott Polovitch-Davis as Jerry, Ekello Harrid as Horse, Tyler Rickdal as Dave, Sam Pettit as Ethan and Jerod Nace as Malcom. Photo by Kat Dollarhide.

Published in The News Tribune April 27, 2007

The Tacoma Musical Playhouse is staging an Americanized stage version of the British film “The Full Monty” through May 25.Now playing at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is the musical “The Full Monty” (book by Terrence McNally and music and lyrics by David Yazbek), an Americanized version of the 1997 British film.

The setting has been moved from the English steel town of Sheffield to Buffalo, N.Y., and a few of the characters’ names have been changed to sound more working-class American (meaning Irish and Polish immigrants). Most notably, Gary “Gaz” Schofield from the movie is Jerry Lukowski in the stage play (played here by Scott Polovitch-Davis), and Lomper from the film is Malcolm MacGregor (Jerod Nace). Also, the disco soundtrack from the movie is replaced by a more traditional score in the play, blending rocking show tunes with tender ballads.

The story remains pretty much the same. The mill has shut down, and the steel workers are unemployed, bitter and unwilling to take demeaning jobs at Wal-mart. Plus, their home lives are pretty dismal. Dave Bukatinsky (Tyler Rickdal) is overweight and impotent; Jerry is divorced and on the verge of losing joint custody of his son, Nathan (Grant Troyer); Malcolm, who lives with his elderly and dependent mother, is ready to end it all; and Harold Nichols (Dan Engelhard) is afraid to tell his wife that he’s been unemployed for six months.

When Jerry discovers that their wives are paying big bucks to see the Chippendale male strippers, he decides that he and his buddies can make a bundle by doing their own strip show. He recruits Dave and Malcolm, and then Harold; and they audition other potential strippers – all of whom are out of shape and can’t dance or sing very well.

An aging show biz personality named Jeanette (Lark Orvick-Moore) shows up out of nowhere to play piano and stage-manage the auditions. She tells the men they’ll know when the right man shows up to audition because “He’ll glimmer.”

Their first recruit is an overweight, elderly black man nicknamed “Horse” (Ekello Harrid). To everyone’s surprise, he breaks into a wild and sexy song-and-dance number, “Big Black Man,” that pokes fun at stereotypical myths about black men.

Next to arrive is Ethan (Sam Pettit), who says he has something special to offer even though he can’t sing or dance. Then he drops his pants and Jeanette says, “Gentlemen, put on your sunglasses. We suddenly have a lot of glimmer.”

When some of the women find out what their men are up to, surprising things happen. First, the wives most likely to be upset by the whole thing turn out to be supportive; and second, they just don’t believe that the men can possibly come up with something better than what the Chippendales have to offer. That better thing turns out to be The Full Monty, British slang for taking it all off, or full frontal nudity. What happens in the TMP production, however, is what we might call a 99.9 percent Full Monty. And you’ll have to see for yourself what that means.

This play is rife with satire on gender and race, and jokes about body parts and men who are insecure in their sexuality, some of which pushes the boundaries of good taste. There is explicit language – lots of it, and nudity. The packed house on opening night loved it.

The show has several musical highlights, and, as usual, Jon Douglas Rake’s choreography adds spark to the performance, most notably on “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” a dance number with the men pretending to be basketball players.

Outstanding lighting is crucial, especially in the climactic strip number. Kudos to John Chenault for his lighting design and light board operators Darla Graham and Cary Stacy.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 13, additional performances at 2 p.m. Additional performances on Sat., May 5 and 12 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
TICKETS: Adults, $23; students/military, $21; children 12 and younger, $16 (recommended for ages 15 and older)
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Color and form

Beatrice Geller and friends hang at Pacific Lutheran University

Published in the Weekly Volcano April 26, 2007
pictured: "A Child's Nightmare" (Narrative #5 by Geatrice Geller

The show is called Color and Form, but I prefer to call it Beatrice Geller and Friends. It features digital photography by Geller, a Pacific Lutheran University art faculty member, with other works by Tom Michael, Carol Adelman, Stephen Rock and Jessica Spring. It’s really Geller’s show, but some of the others are well selected to complement her work.

Geller’s photographs present implied narratives with a surrealistic twist and a clash of opposites — such opposites as the delightful world of a child’s imagination and the harsh realities of the real world. Her style and color choices highlight such clashes of different worlds. Her often harsh images, for example, are presented in the sweetest colors imaginable. They’re like weapons made out of candy.

But before talking about Geller’s narrative images, I should mention a group of landscapes in which she superimposes mirrors and circular lenses that slightly distort the scene. These are very much like some paintings by the great RenĂ© Magritte. Geller, by the way, says that Magritte is one of her favorite artists.

Her more narrative works are presented in series with groups of pictures showing progressions within a theme. “A Child’s Nightmare” numbers one through five show various stages in a dream. No. 1 is a minimalist image of a kind of runway heading into a red heart. It is limited to a single abstract form in shimmering color. In No. 2, a pyramid-shaped, red bookcase with blue shelves is added. In No. 3, a child stands on the runway holding two giant lollipops. An ominous black tree appears in No. 4. In No. 5, the child vanishes and is replaced by a gilded birdcage. On the bookshelf are: a creamer bowl with nails in it, a cup of salt and a set of false teeth. There are many possible interpretations to these images, but what is clear is that the child’s nightmare begins as a sweet and innocent dream and gradually becomes more and more frightening.

Another Geller photograph presents a Dadaistic image of a butterfly caught in a mousetrap. It is a realistic photograph of an unlikely event. In other pictures, various abstract versions of this same butterfly-in-a-mousetrap appear in conjunction with bridges, trees, flowers and colorful abstract shapes.

Contrasting in style and imagery with Geller’s photographs are metal and found-object sculptures by Tom Michael. Michael combines rusted metal shapes with knotty wood and various found objects to create asymmetrically balanced freestanding sculptures that have the feel, if not the actual look, of birds in flight, or perhaps a winged angel from ancient Greece. I’m reminded particularly of the “Nike” from Samothrace or even the contrapposto pose of the “Venus de Milo.” They also look a lot like some of Morris Graves’ late sculptures, such as the “Instruments for a New Navigation” that were shown at the Tacoma Art Museum in 2000.Michael’s traditional-modernist sculptures are well crafted and designed, but there is one with a ceramic bowl, a silver necklace and a mask that is too decorative and does not fit in this show.

Stephen Rock is a sculptor from Seattle, but in this show he is not showing sculpture. Rather, he is showing a group of delicate drawings and watercolors that look like preliminary studies for sculpture. Interestingly, they could easily pass as studies for Michael’s sculptures.Jessica Spring of Springtide Press shows some of her classically designed and presented book art in a glass case. Sorry, you can’t thumb through these books.

Carol Adelman shows a small group of portrait paintings in dull colors with elongated strokes of thick paint reminiscent of some of van Gogh’s early works.

I don’t get to the University Gallery at PLU very often simply because it is a little bit off the beaten path. If it is easy for me to overlook this gallery, I’m sure the same holds true for many Weekly Volcano readers. But this show is worth the drive to Parkland from wherever you might be in the South Puget Sound region.

[Ingram Hall PLU University Gallery, through May 2, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 121st and Wheeler, Parkland]

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wait Until Dark

review published in The News Tribune April 20, 2007

Tacoma Little Theater’s latest offering is an old fashioned thriller called “Wait Until Dark” by Frederick Knott. I suspect that few people remember the 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn and a young Alan Arkin, and that even fewer remember the 1966 stage production or the short-lived revivals in 1998 and 2003. But I’ll bet a lot of area theater patrons have fond memories of other plays and movies of this type: unadulterated thrillers in which tension builds and builds toward an inevitable climax, thrillers that do not rely on outlandish characters or humor or clever plot twists.

Hitchcock, of course, comes immediately to mind, as well some Robert Mitchum vehicles such as “Cape Fear” and “Night of the Hunter.”

A trio of con artists preys on a blind woman, Susy Hendrix (Debbie Gallinatti), in her Greenwich Village apartment. Her husband, Sam (Bob Gossman) is out of town, and the only person she can call on for help is a 13-year-old upstairs neighbor named Gloria (Sarah Carlson). The nefarious con artists are Harry Roat Jr. (Sean Schroeder), Mike Tallman (Dave Dear) and a pretend policeman who goes by the name Sgt. Carlino (Chris Cantrell). They believe Susy’s husband has come into possession of a doll stuffed with heroin, and that it is hidden somewhere in the apartment. Roat, the ring leader, cooks up an elaborate ruse to get Susy to help them find the doll. Tallman insinuates himself into Susy’s good graces by pretending to be an old friend of her husband. And Carlino uses his cop disguise as a means of searching her apartment.

Gloria, the petulant neighbor girl who sometimes helps out in the Hendrix home, is fond of Sam, but makes no bones about not liking Susy. At first, she is more of a hindrance than a help to the blind woman; but as the plot thickens, she becomes intrigued by the mystery and possible danger, and becomes a valuable ally.

Gradually Susy figures out that something is afoot and that she is in mortal danger. The only weapons she has to defend herself with are her wits and her blindness. She has a distinct advantage over the men because she has trained herself to get around without sight and they haven’t. So she turns out the lights. And much of the climactic struggle takes place on a pitch-black stage.

I wish the suspense was a bit more nail-biting and the ending a bit more of a surprise, but I certainly can’t fault the cast or director for that. It’s just that in the years since this play was written we’ve seen too many thrillers with similar plot devices.

Gallinatti is believable as a blind woman. She never lets her eyes focus in the way a sighted person would. Her panic and anger are also quite realistic. In short, she does a great job of acting.

Dear is also convincing as Tallman, the most multi-dimensional character in the play. Tallman is an evil man, a man who may even be capable or murder, but he is also compassionate and likeable. Dear immerses himself into the role so well that it is easy to forget he is acting. I found myself pulling for him even when I knew he was up to no good.

Schroeder, on the other hand, is clearly acting. He doesn’t seem natural. When he is being cool and collected, his voice has no inflection; and when he gets excited, his emotion seems flat. Granted, his is a difficult role as Roat assumes various personas during the course of the action.

Cantrell nails the fidgety and slovenly pretend cop, Carlino, and Carlson does a great job of playing the classically complicated 13-year-old.

The set and lighting by Brett Carr are both terrific. He truly captures the look of a 1960s basement apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and the lighting is crucial – one missed lighting cue would have been disastrous and there were none. Kudos also go to Allan Loucks for composing an original mood-setting score.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through May 6
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20.00 for adults, $18.00 for students, seniors and military, and $16.00 for children 12 and under
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281

Friday, April 20, 2007

Borderline Black

The new show at Black Front is just OK

published April 19 in the Weekly Volcano

Photo: Courtesy Photo
“Thinking,” a video by Rodrigo Valenzuela.

I confess: I play favorites. I review my favorite galleries over and over again while ignoring many others. That’s because I’m old and jaded. I’ve been around too long to subject myself to reworked Americana and calendar art and amateurish offerings of whatever stripe.

This week I revisited one of my new favorite galleries — Black Front in Olympia — and I discovered that it’s not so much a favorite this month. The current exhibition is a group show that’s only marginally interesting.

Rodrigo Valenzuela is a video artist who combines stillness and movement in strange and haunting ways. I was privileged to preview a few of Valenzuela’s videos, not all of which are on display, and found that they can be fascinating if you have the patience to watch for the painfully slow changes. The only video showing in the gallery is a still image of a beautifully backlit woman with hair blowing in the wind to the accompaniment of musical wind sounds. On weekend evenings, the artists will be in the gallery to project some of his videos on a screen that will be placed in the front window. That should cause traffic jams on the sidewalk, and I imagine it will be a huge crowd-pleaser during Olympia Arts Walk Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28.

Rachael Lang’s photographs have a bright, contemporary look. There are six of them, each approximately 16-inches square and displayed in a horizontal row as a single piece. The individual photographs are of stones on an embankment behind a house, a school with children on the playground, a hot house, a pair of waterslides in a pool, a racetrack with deep red cinders and the greenest green grass imaginable, and a field of kudzu-covered trees. A press release describes Lang’s photographs as “found objects within ordinary neighborhoods” — not a bad description.

Bethany Hays paints decorative and slightly surrealistic images of children at play. Readers of this column may remember that she won the Juror’s Award at the recent juried show at South Puget Sound Community College. She has a deft touch and a good feel for color. The two large paintings in soft pastel colors on the back wall are particularly inventive. One pictures a little girl feeding a baby a bottle. The girl’s head is crowned with flowers, and bunnies float halolike around her head. The other painting shows a boy crawling on hands and knees wearing a party mask. Rectangles of soft greens and pinks in the background are made from pieces of canvas that appear to have been cut with pinking shears. Among the other three Hays paintings is “Know by Heart,” a painting I praised in this column when it was in the SPSCC show. For some reason it is not as impressive here.

Jahnavi Hastings captures teens in natural settings. Her photographs look like snapshots, but they are more carefully composed. Here she is showing a grouping of 19 photographs in a random arrangement. They are nice shots, but nothing to rave about.

The most interesting artist in the show is Andrew Wood, an illustrator whose works have a lot of stylistic similarities to typical graphic novel illustrations. But there’s something special about these that perhaps sets him apart from the ordinary. His drawings in pen and ink, acrylic, markers and Photoshop combine fluid lines with a brittle surface quality in an intriguing way. Gnarled tree limbs and skeletal figures play a large role in his drawings. One of the better ones shows mirror images of an emaciated old man reaching with boney hands toward a spiky tree. A knot on the tree looks like a human heart. Most interesting is a book with torn pages that viewers can thumb through carefully. It is very fragile.

[Black Front Gallery, through April 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 106 Fourth Ave., Olympia, 360.786.6032,]

Note: After this review was published I found out that Jahnavi Hastings is only 16 years old.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Wives of Marty Winters Part II

In the first excerpt from my new novel in progress, The Wives of Marty Winters, Marty's second wife, Selena has just been shot. She is in a coma in a hospital in Seattle, and there is no indication as to whether or not she will ever come out of it -- or come out of it as a whole woman.

Marty and Selena's housemate, Chloe, is there, along with Marty's son, William, and his partner, Jake. Their daughter, Marianne, is called, and she drives up from Portland with her twin boys.

We skip ahead a few pages. The family is gathered in Jake's apartment.

To read the second installment, go here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Actors revel in Mamet’s ‘Boston Marriage’

published in The News Tribune April 15, 2007

Theater Artists Olympia is known for taking on quirky projects, and David Mamet’s “Boston Marriage” is about as quirky as it gets.

It is a turn-of-the-century comedy of manners updated with gritty and profane language. The protagonists are outrageously plain-speaking lesbian lovers.

The play opens tonight in TAO’s new home away from home, the Kenneth J. Minnaert Fine Arts Center at South Puget Sound Community College.

Unable to fit it into my schedule any other way, I attended a rehearsal a week before opening night and interviewed the director, Michael Christopher, and the cast: Heather Christopher (Anna), Heather Lennox (Claire) and Ingrid Pharris as Catherine the maid.

Mamet is so well-known for writing rapid-fire and terse dialogue that his brand of dialogue has become known as “Mametspeak.” He is also known for writing men’s plays – so much so that critics have accused him of being unable to write for woman. Michael Christopher said he thinks Mamet wrote this one just to prove he could write for women. If that’s the case, he has proved it quite well. The banter between Anna and Claire in this comedy is sparkling and witty.

The term “Boston Marriage” was coined in the 19th century to describe relationships between loving women who typically lived together. There is much debate today as to whether or not such women were indeed lesbian lovers, but Mamet doesn’t make you guess. Anna and Claire are definitely gay.

Anna has been known to dally with men as well, but only because men can give her money and precious gifts. As the play opens, she is showing off her latest bauble, an expensive necklace given to her by her latest male lover, a married man she refers to as her Protector. She shrugs off his marital status by saying “Would he require a mistress if he had no wife?” and justifies her gold-digging with “Expensive jewelry conquers all.”

Even more brazen, Claire announces that she has fallen in love with a beautiful young woman, and she wants Anna to let the young woman come into their shared home for an hour of lovemaking. After much arguing, Anna consents, allowing her lover an afternoon amour. But things get rather sticky when the new lover spots Anna’s necklace and wants to know how her mother’s heirloom necklace ended up around Anna’s neck. (Neither Anna’s “Protector” nor Claire’s new lover actually appear on stage.)

The story is clever, but not terribly important – being primarily a vehicle for the humorous banter between the two lovers that is constantly interrupted by the maid, whose entrances on stage are a series of running jokes: a Scottish accent that is mistaken for Irish, breaking into tears over trivialities, thinking her mistress is ringing for her every time the doorbell rings (and it rings a lot).

Christopher and Lenox have worked together in many plays at TAO and Olympia Little Theatre. They play off each other like improvising jazz musicians. Christopher is a natural comic, with her big, rolling eyes and haughty expressions. In this play, she is in a constant state of panic. Lenox responds to her with disdainful smirks and sarcasm, while looking distressed throughout the play. They are each a joy to watch.

Pharris’ role is written to be a scene stealer, and she is marvelous. “Crying over spilled milk” will forever have a new meaning thanks to Pharris, and the manner in which she turns rowing a boat into a bizarre sexual pantomime is indescribable.

I asked the actors what drew them to their roles.

“I was intrigued to see in what manner a writer such as Mamet, brilliant yet typically quite sexist, would handle a lesbian relationship. His treatment of Anna and Claire appealed to me because of their no-fluff humanity,” Lenox said.

“How could we pass up a play with such juicy parts for women?” Christopher commented. “Beyond all the scheming and artifice, ‘Boston Marriage’ asks: How far would you go to keep your love? Will Anna help Claire seduce another woman? Will Claire agree to be supported by Anna’s male lover?”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through April 29
WHERE: Minneart Center for the Arts, South Puget Sound Community College
TICKETS: $12 at the door or at; $5 tonight only
INFORMATION: 360-596-5501

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Vanity Show

Art On Center owners C.J. Swanson and David N. Goldberg show their own works
published in the Weekly Volcano April 12, 2007
pictured: top, "Decor Galore," acrylic on panel, by C.J. Swanson; bottom, "Festoon," acrylic on canvas, by David N. Goldberg (may show as left and right on some monitors)

Ah, The Vanity Show. What chutzpah! Art on Center owners C.J. Swanson and David N. Goldberg are showing their own paintings to mark the gallery’s second anniversary. This exhibition is an update on Art on Center’s premiere show two years ago, which is especially appropriate since this is slated to be the final show in the Center Street space before Swanson and Goldberg move to spacious new quarters on Sixth Avenue in June.

Both of them are damn fine painters. They are partners in marriage and in business, and they share studio space, so similarities in their work should not be surprising. Both are abstract painters. Both display a penchant for repetitive forms in allover patterns and bright colors. But there are differences as well.

Swanson’s paintings are more decorative. Her shapes and lines are more deliberate and more fluid. When not working on her paintings, she does faux finishing and paints theatrical backdrops, and a lot of carryover from those crafts shows up in her paintings. She is also all over the map from one painting to another. If I didn’t know better, I might think four or five different artists are represented by her work. Could it be that she has multiple personalities?

No, she’s just very creative and keeps experimenting with new looks and techniques.Goldberg’s paintings, on the other hand, vary almost not at all from one to another. His paintings are more expressive than Swanson’s, and most of them are larger. They are gritty and explosive, and the staccato shapes that dance all over his canvases are painted more loosely than his wife’s more carefully controlled forms.

Goldberg fills the surface of his canvases with loosely brushed rectangular boxes of flat color — dull, yellow-green, pink, blue, and a brilliant transparent crimson. On top of and into this, he paints circular forms and calligraphic marks. Like Mark Toby and Jackson Pollock — but more jagged than Toby and less fluid than Pollock — he distributes these marks evenly across the surface, giving equal weight to everything. In his two latest paintings, “Festoon” and “Return,” he has broken out of this formula and done away with the gridlike underpainting, letting his calligraphic marks float freely in fields of white. I think these two paintings are his best.
The best of Swanson’s is a single painting of stars on fields of circular discs called, appropriately, “Star.” It is painted on four 14-inch square panels that are put together in a long horizontal format. I like the way the panels relate to one another, and I love her rough and brittle paint application.

One Swanson painting, titled “At,” simply doesn’t work. One Goldberg painting doesn’t work either. It’s the little painting called “Intesection.” It has a lot of square shapes but none of his signature circles and calligraphic marks. Take away these two paintings and this is a helluva good show.
[Art on Center, “The Vanity Show: C.J. Swanson and David N. Goldberg,” through May 5 noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 1604 Center St., 253.230.8180, www.arton]

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Wives of Marty Winters

The Wives of Marty Winters is my latest novel. I'm in the midst of my second complete rewrite -- up to page 147 of 212 right now, after having two trusted friends who are good writers read it and make editorial comments. One of those friends' first comment was, "My God, you've killed off Gabi."

She was right that I began the novel with the death of a character, Selena, and that that character bears some resemblence of my wife, Gabi. But upon rewriting it I decided not to kill her off after all.

... Or did I? Ah ha! A novel has to have a little suspense -- even a character-driven novel such as this one that doesn't rely very heavily on plot. So I'll give this much away: a major character is shot in the opening chapter. But you'll have to read the whole damn book to find out if she lives or dies. And beyond some very obvious similarities -- she's a PFLAG mom and an outspoken GLBTQ activist -- Selena is not at all like Gabi. Truth be told, she is based more on my second wife, a woman I can't believe I ever even liked.

Read from the work in progress

As a teaser, I'm posting parts of The Wives of Marty Winters where it can be accessed only via links from this blog (pdf format - opens in new window). I'll post them little by little, and invite readers to send me editorial comments. If I make any changes in the manuscript based on your critiques, I'll ackowledge your contribution in the book when it's published.

Go here to read the first installment of The Wives of Marty Winters.

The section posted here is the prologue, although it's not labeled as such. It is set in the recent past. After this prologue, the story flashes back to 1960 and follows the lives of Marty Winters and his friends and family members until we come full circle to the present moment.

If you want to keep up, subscribe to this blog so you'll get announcements when new sections are posted. Thank you!

Friday, April 6, 2007

‘Amadeus’ hits the right notes

Published in The News Tribune, April 6, 2007
Pictured: John C. Brown as Antonio Salieri, left, and Bryan Bender as Mozart. Photo by Dean Lapin.

You might remember the Academy Award-win­ning movie “Ama­deus,” starring Tom Hulce as the giggling man-boy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and F. Murray Abraham as the dark and conflicted Antonio Salieri. Most memorable in the movie was Mozart’s amazing laugh – a high-pitched and explosive screech – and his virtuoso piano playing.

In the production at Lakewood Playhouse, which stars Scott C. Brown as Salieri and Bryan Bender as Mozart, that hyena laugh is still in evidence, but the music takes a back seat to the drama, and Salieri’s role looms much larger.

An exquisitely stylized artifice – which is how Salieri describes a Mozart opera – the play is more abstract than the movie and more visceral.

The stage is set by the two Venticelli (Jamie Pederson and Darrel Shephard). Described by playwright Peter Shaffer as “purveyors of fact, rumor and gossip,” the Venticelli are silly, fey, powdered and bewigged young men who prance about and tell the audience (and Salieri) what is going on. They are Salieri’s paid spies and also serve as a Greek chorus. They announce that Salieri claims to have killed Mozart, but that nobody believes him. And then Salieri is wheeled on stage in a wheelchair, and he begins to plead his case to the audience as if addressing a jury. From this point on, Salieri becomes – like the God he mocks and cajoles throughout the play – a trinity: a bitter and dying old man; the actor in his own story; and the narrator who harangues God and explains to the audience what is going on.

This is a highly demanding role, and Brown proves more than adequate to the challenge.
Early on, Salieri bargains with God to make him a great and famous composer. Success follows soon after, convincing him that God has accepted his bargain. But then God brings a rival to Vienna, the young genius Mozart, who is much greater than Salieri; Salieri then believes God has betrayed him.

He vows to destroy God by destroying his creature, Mozart. And in order to destroy Mozart, he must become his mentor and benefactor. He pretends to guide Mozart’s career while actually seeing to it that he is penniless and that his marvelous music never gets the audience it deserves.

Bender’s Mozart is just as silly and childishly insane as the memorable Tom Hulce character in the movie. He looks and acts a lot like the great comic actor Crispin Glover, and he plays Mozart as a sex-obsessed and potty-mouthed overgrown child. During the course of the play, he goes from a fun-loving child secure in his awareness of his own genius to a desperate and destitute man falling apart from the inside out and completely at the mercy of his destroyer, Salieri.

Despite a highly complex plot, the play is engaging and easy to follow. It is beautifully directed by Scott Campbell. Dramatic lighting by Ali Criss and a classic set designed by Erin Chanfrau enhance the drama. The acting is superb. Both Bender and Brown stand out in their complex roles. Lauren Wood does a commendable job as Mozart’s wife, Constanze, and Pederson and Shephard are hilarious as the Venticelli.

The music is recorded. The gilded piano has no keyboard. But music is important to both the mood of the play and the progression of the plot. Some of the most inspiring moments come when Salieri describes Mozart’s music as the music plays in the background. The more he hates Mozart, the more he loves his music. It is, to him, God’s voice on Earth. And Brown conveys this rapture convincingly.

Even though some of Salieri’s monologues and harangues are overly drawn out and the play is awfully long, “Amadeus” is easily among the top five plays I have seen since beginning this column four years ago. It is a roller-coaster ride between peaks of hilarity and depths of despair. Mozart’s language, while appropriate to the character, may be offensive to some audience members.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 22
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, Lakewood Towne Center
TICKETS: $18 general admission, $15 seniors and military, $12 under 25 years of age
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Charm, wit in revamped ‘Robin Hood’

Published in The News Tribune March 30, 2007

Robin Hood … The Legend Continues” is a new musical with lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan and music by Peter Sipos now playing at Centerstage’s Knutzen Family Theatre in Federal Way.

Charnin, who wrote lyrics for the original production of “Annie,” teamed up with Sipos in 1999 to kick around ideas for a new musical based on the legend of Robin Hood.

“‘Shakespeare in Love’ was out at that time, and I was very taken by Tom Stoppard’s approach,” Charnin said, referring to the co-writer of the script. “How he could mix a legend with pure fiction, make it relevant to today, yet keep it in the time of good old Will. One morning I woke up and I knew what I wanted to do, to tell the story of Robin Hood, 20 years later, and make it the love story between Robin and Marian, and this offspring that he doesn’t know he has.”

“Robin Hood” is a light opera in the spirit of “Man of La Mancha” and “Camelot,” with a few modern touches thrown in for comic effect, and Shakespearean plot lines involving false identities and gender confusion.

Years after his famous exploits in Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood (Stephen Grenley) returns home and reunites with Marian (Patricia Britton). He tells Will Scarlet (Marcus Wolland), “she’s going to kill me” for not writing in all those years. So he pretends to be deathly ill, figuring she wouldn’t kill a dying man. But Marian doesn’t believe he’s dying, and informs him they have a daughter, Elizabeth (Anne Kennedy).

The evil King John (Eric Hartley) is still ruling England with his money-grubbing and sex-obsessed Queen Isabella (Taralynn Thompson). All of the Merry Men except for Will are dead, but their children are still around, and all carry on their father’s names. (Little John, by the way, had more than one son; they are called Little John, Big Little John and Middle-Size Little John.)

Battles with King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Dave Tucker) begin all over again. But this time the children lead the fight because Robin and Will are too old and creaky. The only hitch is that Elizabeth would never be allowed to lead the new Merry Men because she’s a girl. So she disguises herself as a boy and presents herself as Robin Hood Jr.

In this version, swashbuckling takes a back seat to romance, and the thoroughly modern battles between the sexes are much more entertaining than fighting with swords – though there’s plenty of that, too.

Robin and Marian bicker and fight like a couple out of a Neil Simon play. Feminist themes and sexual innuendo abound. Best of all is the gender-bending love affair between Elizabeth, who is pretending to be Robin Jr., and Will Scarlet Jr. (Ryan Childers), who says he’s not “that kind of boy” but can’t help falling in love. Their duet on “What’s Going On Here?” is a strange and beautiful love song.

The principal actors are outstanding. Thompson’s every move is laugh-out-loud funny. Britton, Kennedy and Grenley all have beautiful voices. Grenley, a big, burly man, has a surprisingly sweet voice. (When he holds a soft, high note overly long, Marian whispers, “Showoff!”)

William Bone as the servant Phink is terrific. He reminded me of Sir Derek Jacobi in “I, Claudius.” Most of the lesser characters are less than exciting. Hartley is a one-dimensional King John, and McKendrick (Tom Butterworth) is a character seriously in need of a rewrite, not to mention a more realistic beard.

“Robin Hood” might not compare favorably with Charnin and Meehan’s best work, but it’s still in development and has tremendous potential.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through April 15 (no Saturday matinee March 31)
WHERE: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $8 to $25, depending on age
INFORMATION: 253-661-1444