Saturday, May 26, 2007

Here’s a ‘Flea’ you will want to catch

review: "A Flea in Her Ear" at Centerstage

Published in The News Tribune, May 25, 2007
photo: Vanessa Clayton as Raymonde (L) and Kate Ryan as
Lucienne. Photo by Michelle Smith Lewis

Whenever you see more than two doors on a theatrical set, you can be assured that characters are going to rush in and out in a comedic frenzy.

It’s the oldest shtick in show business – the oldest, that is, next to mistaken identity. But just when I thought I could not stand to sit through another one, Centerstage at the Knutzen Family Theatre in Federal Way opened the granddaddy of them all, the one that invented the genre way back in 1907 – Georges Feydeau’s “A Flea in Her Ear.”

Feydeau popularized the genre known as French farce, and “Flea” – now in its 100th year – is his most well-known play. “It’s the archetypal farce: Timing is everything. It’s a door-slamming, pants-dropping comedy that’s full of naughty, sexy romance and clockwork precision. It’s a real challenge for the actors, who rarely have the opportunity to perform with such technical excellence demanded of them,” said director Alan Bryce, pointing out that there are no less than 279 entrances and exits in the play.

“Flea” is a sex comedy that is as modern after 100 years as an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” is today.

In what may well be the first-ever literary reference to erectile dysfunction, Victor-Emmanuel Chandebise (Sean Mitchell) finds himself unable to have sex with his wife, Raymonde (Vanessa Clayton). This, combined with the mysterious arrival of
Victor-Emmanuel’s suspenders in a box mailed anonymously from the notorious Hotel Coq D’Or, leads Raymonde to believe her husband is having an affair. She gets a dangerous flea in her ear (“a flea in her ear” being the French equivalent of “a bee in her bonnet”) and decides to find out for sure by sending him a letter from a pretend secret admirer proposing a romantic rendezvous in the Hotel Coq D’Or. If he goes to the hotel, she will know he is cheating.

In the meantime, Raymonde is having an affair of sorts with the family friend Tournel (Mark Rabe), a tall, mustachioed and notorious womanizer. Victor-Emmanuel’s nephew, Camille (Lance Channing), who has a bizarre speech impediment, and the family doctor, Finache (Alan Wilkie), seek sexual adventures at the infamous Coq D’Or. It is no surprise that all of these characters, and many more, are going to end up in the hotel at the same time, running in and out of rooms and hopping in and out of a revolving bed with one another.

To further confuse manners, the alcoholic bellhop in the hotel is a dead ringer for Victor-Emmanuel (played quite well by Mitchell in a double role). Nobody can tell them apart. Nobody even knows there are two of them. So hotel owner Feraillon(Jason Rose) abuses Victor-Emmanuel, thinking he is the bellhop; and Raymonde kisses the bellhop, thinking he is her husband.

The direction and timing in this farce are immaculate. The acting verges on being overly mannered, and the comedy verges on overly ridiculous, but necessarily so.

Just when you think, a little more than halfway through Act II, that the absurdities are getting out of hand, it becomes even more absurd. Modifiers such as ludicrous and ridiculous don’t even begin to describe it. It enters a whole new realm of ridiculousness as it becomes a kind of madcap ballet of frantic action. You’ll have to see it to believe it. The closest things I can compare it to would be some of the Marx Brothers’ frantically choreographed scenes or Lucille Ball dancing in wine vats. Only an outstanding director could pull off the end of Act II.

All of the cast are commendable, but four stand out: Clayton and Mitchell as the lead couple; Channing, a real scene stealer in the minor role as Camille; and Olympe (Loretta Deranleau Howard) as the hotel owner’s wife – a lusty and expressive wench.

At two hours and 40 minutes including two intermissions, it is a long play. But the time flies by.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays through June 3
WHERE: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $8 to $25
INFORMATION: 253-661-1444,

Friday, May 25, 2007

Gritty pretty

Ashley Wells creates pretty paintings of Tacoma’s not-so-pretty landscape

Published in Weekly Volcano, May 24, 2007
pictured: "Goodyear" oil on canvas by Ashley Wells

At the risk of stating the obvious, Ashley Wells’ paintings at Two Vaults Gallery are Hopperesque.

Edward Hopper set the standard for the type of urban landscape Wells paints, and the inevitable comparison is not fair to Wells or anyone else who paints gritty urban scenes marked by strong lighting and deep shadows. So I won’t compare them. I simply mention Hopper to give the reader a mental picture of what Wells’ paintings look like.

Gallery owner Paula Tutmarc calls these paintings gritty and pretty. The subject matter is gritty — blighted industrial and commercial areas of T-town where there are few people and where the curbside vehicles look more abandoned than parked. (I was told that many of the businesses pictured are no longer there; Wells chooses areas of town that are in constant flux.) The painting style is pretty — almost too pretty. Most notable is her use of bright, sweet colors. Her skies are too bright and sunny and the paint on her buildings too sparkly clean. I don’t say that to be critical. After all, she is painting pictures, not documenting urban blight; if she wants to make her city scenes as colorful as a circus, she has every right to make that choice. It was her use of color that first attracted me to her paintings.

“Goodyear,” a painting of trucks at a loading dock behind a Goodyear store, is dominated by a brilliant yellow-green on the pavement and the sides of a building and a bright blue sky. All of this blue-yellow-green is set off by the stark white on the side of a building and a few dabs of red.

“Crossing 24th” employs the same blue and yellow-green combination, but with a lighter blue sky, ultramarine shadows on the side of a white building, and with a risky but workable use of red and red-orange on other buildings.

“Chicken Teriyaki,” which pictures the white front of Chinese Garden Restaurant next to the red arches of Stone Garden Restaurant on South Tacoma Way, employs extreme contrasts in dark and light with some of the most beautiful blue shadows you’ll ever see. A man is pictured walking past the restaurant, one of the rare cases in which people appear in Wells’ paintings. The placement of the man and the colors of his jacket and jeans — especially as they relate to the store window behind him — are masterful. In this instance, I must evoke the term “Hopperesque” again. I know, I said I wouldn’t. But this is so much like Hopper it’s almost eerie. Only a very astute artist or one who is blessed with blind luck could make such a perfect compositional choice.

At her best, Wells is outstanding, but not all of these paintings come up to the standard of “Goodyear” and “Crossing 24th.” In some of them, I get the feeling she was more concerned with documenting an actual place, getting all of the details just right, than in painting a masterful composition. For instance, “Goodyear” would have been much better if she had not painted the crack in the pavement. Obviously she was fascinated with that crack, but it simply detracts from an otherwise beautiful design.

If Wells was a student and I was her teacher, I’d suggest two things. First, simplify, get rid of everything that’s not essential — essential to the design, not to the documentation of a scene. And second, use some heavier paint. These paintings simply cry out for lush paint laid on like icing on a cake. If she used heavier paint, those deep blue shadows she paints so well could be washed over in transparent layers that would simply dance on the canvas.

Also showing at Two Vaults are metal sculptures by James Kelsey, who is best known for his massive works for the Tacoma Police Memorial sculpture project. Here, he shows smaller works in scrap metal.

[Two Vaults Gallery, “Ashley Wells: Urban Impressions,” through June 16 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 602 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.759.6233,]

Friday, May 18, 2007

Have rollickin’ good time at ‘Texas’

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" at Capital Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune May 18, 2007

Photos by Glen Raiha: (Top) Stephanie Nace, seated left, and Deanna Barrett, seated right, join the girls at the Chicken Ranch. (Bottom)Philip Mitchell and Jennie May Donnell.

What a hoot!

I thought I’d never use that expression because it is such a cliché, but nothing else so perfectly describes “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” now playing at the Capital Playhouse in Olympia.

Many people saw the film starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, but far fewer have seen the stage version, which is much better than the film. The play has everything you could want in musical comedy, from happy hookers and sleazy politicians, to dumber-than-dirt farmers and football players, to the most outlandish spoof of a television evangelist ever seen on stage (although he’s not an evangelist; he’s a news commentator).

Miss Mona (Jennie May Donnell) is the madam of the Chicken Ranch, a classy little whorehouse outside a small Texas town. The Chicken Ranch, based on a real house of prostitution in Texas, has been in existence for well over a century. Up until
now, the police and politicians have politely looked the other way, and most of them have been customers at one time or another. Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Philip Mitchell) even had a long-ago romance with Miss Mona, and remains a close friend.

Two new girls come to work at the Chicken Ranch. Angel (Deanna Barrett) is a seasoned professional whose sexy demeanor and dirty mouth have to be toned down by Mona. Miss Mona wants her girls to be polite and classy. They never talk dirty. Mona and the girls explain the rules of the house in the rocking song “A Little Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place.” The other new girl, nicknamed Shy (Stephanie Nace), is a skinny country girl who shows up wearing an old-fashioned dress, sporting pigtails and carrying her worldly possessions in a paper sack. Shy wants very much to be a working girl, and she makes an rapid transition from country bumpkin to alluring sexpot.

Everyone is happy until the TV reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (Josh Anderson) decides to start a crusade to close the Chicken Ranch. He enlists the help of a bunch of religious busybodies and stirs up a media circus. The sheriff, the governor and a
state senator are all put on the hot seat because half their constituents want them to shut down the whorehouse, and the other half want them to butt out.

Donnell, an Equity actor who has been featured in Capital Playhouse productions such as “Sweeney Todd” and “Gypsy,” is outstanding as Miss Mona, and Mitchell pairs well with her as Sheriff Dodd. They play their characters as down-to-earth and believable people, in contrast to the rest of the cast, all of whom play their characters as billboard-size cartoons. Donnell’s Miss Mona is a loving and kind mama to all the girls, and she has a sweet and mellow voice. Mitchell, who looks and acts a lot like Edward James Olmos, is thoroughly believable as a small-town lawman with a hot temper.

Chris Serface is hilarious in a variety of supporting roles, including a redneck businessman with a screeching voice that is a little hard to take, and the buffoon of a governor who does a great tap dance.

With his white coat and hair swept back in a pompadour about 8 inches high, Anderson’s Thorpe looks and acts like the love child of Jimmy Swaggart and Liberace.

Also outstanding are Nace, Barrett, Marisa Kennedy as Jewel and Casey Raiha, a member of the ensemble whose voice is like honey.

“Whorehouse” is an adult-themed show. There is R-rated language and simulated (but highly stylized) sex, and although there is no nudity, some of the costumes leave little to the imagination. It is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen this year, and the music is great.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 2
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
TICKETS: $21-$31 general, $19-$25 students and seniors
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Texture tenure

Bob Gillis shows 20 years of work at the Art House Designs gallery in Olympia

Published in the Weekly Volcano May 17, 2007
Photo: Courtesy Photo"Three Horizons," acrylic and collage by Bob Gillis

Bob Gillis’ maturity is showing in his mini-retrospective, “Work After 70 Years,” at Art House Designs in Olympia. I’ve followed his progress over an almost 20-year period, and his latest works are the strongest yet.

Gillis has always done wonderful things with intricately textured surfaces. His earlier works were all about the surface with marks that simulated rocks, twigs and leaves, but with formal structures that were less interesting than the textural markings. In his latest works, the abstract forms — based on nature and in some cases on architectural motifs such as columns and cornices — are much more interesting.

Twenty-four large paintings fill the two gallery spaces at Art House. Although there are no dates indicated on the paintings, memory of earlier shows leads me to deduce that they are displayed in chronological order with the earlier works in the front room and the latest in the larger back room. (Note: The way the gallery is laid out it is not evident that there even is a back room. You have to pass through the frame shop to get to it.)

Most of the works in the front gallery have a floral motif. They are painted on wood panels. Flowers, leaves and twigs are strewn about in dense profusion on highly textured surfaces. The stark white flowers and leaves appear to be negative images over a ground that is mostly brown with touches of red. Gillis’ method is to lay leaves and twigs on the surface, paint over them, and then lift them away to leave the negative images. Obviously, it is more complicated than that. There’s a lot of painting back into the left-behind negative images. In some, there is a horizon line to create a natural landscape feel. Others are more abstract. The “ground” in them is a flat, rock-shaped form centered on the surface.

Typical of the floral-motif paintings, and one of the best of the lot, is “Rocky Wall Alive.” In this one, overlapping leaf shapes at the top create an almost empty white sky. On the ground below it are scattered white leaves, and below that are more densely spaced rocks and twigs. These paintings are highly decorative in a traditional manner. The paintings in the back room are also decorative, but more inventive and less traditional. They introduce figures, collage, and architectural elements, and they are far more elaborately designed. Another new feature that shows up in a lot of these newer works is what appears to be inlaid particle board. I could not tell from looking whether it is actual board cut into fancy patterns and inlaid or if it is simulated with paint. Either way, it makes for a fascinating textural element.

Two of my favorites are “One Perfect Heart” and “Streets of the Ennui.” “Heart” is an almost perfectly symmetrical design with an abstract figure in the middle that looks somewhat like a chess piece. The figure’s torso is a collaged page from The San Francisco Examiner with a red Valentine heart. The figure has two heads, both perfect circles. Background shapes reminiscent of columns and steps place it in a kind of abstracted Italian piazza. “Streets” is similarly symmetrical with a central figure, but this figure breaks the perfect symmetry by leaning slighting to one side. His feet point in one direction and his head in another, sort of like a figure in Egyptian paintings.

Another excellent painting, which stands out as different than all of the rest, is “Ballpoint Pen,” a painting done in — you guessed it — ball point pen and pencil featuring stacks of large rocks drawn with intricate cross-hatching on (again) what appears to be particle board.

This is a nice exhibition by an artist who knows his stuff. The paintings are labor intensive and beautifully jewel-like.

[Art House Designs, through June 9, Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 420B Franklin
St., Olympia, 360.943.3377.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Perplexing ‘Enrico IV’ grows on audience

Published in The News Tribune May 11, 2007
Pictured: Anders Bolang as Henry and Paul Purvine as an atendee. Photo by TorStudios.

Enrico IV: The Holy Roman Emperor,” performed by Harlequin Productions at the State Theater in Olympia, is one of the strangest, funniest and most challenging plays you might ever see.

I’m talking “Waiting for Godot” strange and “No Exit” strange. I’m talking funny and challenging a la Sam Shepard and Tom Stoppard.

On the night I attended, the audience didn’t know quite what to make of it, most noticeably during Act 1. I could sense that they didn’t know whether to laugh or when to applaud. At the closing of the first act, there was silence from the audience. But early in Act 2, everything seemed to click in place, and I could sense relief as the audience began to get it. Director Scot Whitney said he had observed similar reactions in every performance.

Written in 1921 by Nobel Prize-winning Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello, “Enrico IV” is seldom produced in America – perhaps because it is so challenging.

There are many English translations, including one by Stoppard that Whitney said he was disappointed in. But he loved the translation by Robert Cornthwaite, which he saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was “one of my five favorite theatrical experiences of all time,” Whitney said, noting that: “Pirandello deals with challenging questions about the nature of reality, but tosses them all up into an exuberant, comic absurdity. He’s shaking us with one hand and tickling us with the other. It makes you feel like a kid playing with a giant psychological jack-in-the-box. Anticipation is built, and we hold our breath. When it goes bang! we laugh and scream at the same time.”

The story takes place in Italy in the early 1920s. A man who is never identified by name – who is referred to simply as “Him” or as the more imperious “Himself” – had been thrown from his horse during a pageant in which he was playing the role of the 11th-century German monarch Henry IV. His brain was damaged from the fall. From that point on, he thinks he is, in fact, Henry IV. For 20 years, he has continued to live out this delusion. His friends help keep the delusion alive by building an elaborate throne room for him, dressing in costume and treating him as royalty. There is even a troupe of four court attendants who serve as both servants and advisers to the “king.” They are obviously as insane as he is, but at least they know they are playing roles. At least they know it is 1920, not 1077.

But does Henry know? Is he truly insane, or is he playing along with the elaborate hoax? Would any sane man continue to live in a make-believe world for 20 years if he were sane enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality? Layer after layer of the complex relations between sanity and insanity are peeled away as the play progresses.

The program for this play includes director’s notes from Bonnie J. Monté, who directed a 2002 performance at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. One paragraph of Monté’s notes succinctly explains Pirandello’s genius: “The tragic inner cores of Pirandello’s plays are so powerful they overshadow the comic outer shells in which they are encased; while the plays are often hysterically funny throughout, the last acts of his works typically end with actions or revelations that are so stunning for the characters and audience, that agony prevails over comedy; traditional comedies end with resolutions, Pirandello’s end with gaping wounds and unanswered and unanswerable questions.”

How beautifully that describes “Enrico IV.”

Although the character who thinks he is Henry is on stage during less than half of the play, when he is on stage, it is practically a one-man show. It is written that way.

Anders Bolang is Henry. He looks and performs much like Albert Finney. With his broad, comic gestures and agonized facial expressions, Bolang makes Henry’s insanity palpable.
Nyree Martinez, as Henry’s former lover Donna Matilda, is outstanding. Russ Holm stands out as the Viennese Doctor Dionisio Genoni, an obvious parody of Sigmund Freud; and Steve Manning plays the theatrical Barron Tito Belcredi with great bluster.

Among the puppet-like attendees, Paul Purvine and Brian Jansen strike just the right note of absurdity. It might be noted that in the first act, Holm, Manning, Purvine and Jansen all appear to ham it up far too much, but gradually their histrionics become integral to their characters.

The set designed by Nate Kirkwood is on a level with the best sets seen at professional theaters such as Tacoma Actors Guild and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Jill Carter’s lighting is both dramatic and comfortable. And once again director Scot Whitney has guided his troupe to an inspired performance.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 19
WHERE: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
TICKETS: $24-$33; $12-$15 rush tickets available a half-hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Imagine this

John Lennon came to our house on Tuesday -- in spirit -- along with the piano on which he composed the song "Imagine" and along with out dear friend, singer/songwriter Steve Schalchlin; our son, Noel; our friend and former housemate (and Noel's "second mom") Catherine; and many of our closest friends.

Caroline True, creative director of the Imagine Piano Peace Project

Steve sang "Imagine" and "Will it Always be Like This," a song he wrote about our son Bill, and about Gabi's efforts to turn the tragedy of Bill's death into something positive. There were requests for other songs, and then most of the guests got a chance to sit at the piano. Our friend Anna played "Chopsticks," and a young neighbor girl surprised us with a great Scott Joplin ragtime tune.

Catherine (far left), Noel, Steve, Craig (project filmmaker), Caroline and an unidentified worker watch as John Lennon's piano is being unloaded.

Film crews document the unloading of the piano.

Steve plays "Imagine" on John Lennon's piano in the shade of our weeping cherry tree. Bill collected stuffed animals. The ones pictured here were his favorites. (He made the little blue one that's almost cut off on the edge of the photo.)

After everyone got their turn at the piano, it was moved inside and set up in the kitchen where I found Bill on the floor 12 years ago. Steve played many more songs. There were tears and hugs and voices joining in. "The Closet," an upbeat and funny song about coming out of the closet, brought peals of laughter; and "The Group," a song about Steve's life with AIDS before new drugs brought him back from the brink of death, dampened most of the eyes in the house. Pictured in the background are, from the left: Noel; our neighbor, Junko; Sarah; Catherine; Bill and Noel's favorite teacher from high school, Gary Gerst; and Gabi.

Someone placed Bill's photo on the piano. Everyone joined in to sing "In My Life" and "Give Peace a Chance."

Much more has been posted about this event on Gabi's blog and Steve's blog.

The Olympian posted an article, video and photo gallery.

King-5 News posted a video.

Paintings at Stadium Bistro

My gallery, Art on Center in Tacoma, has just placed two of my large paintings in Stadium Bistro, a new downtown restaurant. I haven't seen the paintings there, but the gallery sent me this photo.

Click here to read a review of Stadium Bistro that was published in the Weekly Volcano.

BTW, Art on Center has temporarily closed while preparing to move into a new location on Sixth Avenue. I'll be sure to post an announcement when they open the new space.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Wives of Marty Winters Part III

Book One

1960 to 1971

"The heart senses a moment of magic. It is the evening of June 10. Elvis has just come home from the Army, and Marty is at the graduation dance at Priest Point Park. A mirrored ball flashes bubbles of light on swirling skirts, red and violet light floating across figures and walls like a laser show on clouds. Couples move together in ways that look more like sex than dancing, Jimmy Collins humping his date like a dog, while on the bandstand The Twilights play Pat Boone’s 'Love Letters in the Sand'.”

Thus begins Book One, Chapter One of The Wives of Marty Winters, a work in progress. In the prologue (sections of which I've already posted here) it looked like the story was a mystery. Now it turns out it's a love story. To read more, go here.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Actors don’t pussyfoot in this ‘Cat’

published in The News Tribune, May 4, 2007
pictured: Big Mama (Jacqueline Plett), Big Daddy (Steve Nuehring), Brick (Erik Cornelius) and Maggie the Cat (Abby Wells), photo by Toni Holm.

Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at Olympia Little Theatre is among the greatest American plays ever written. Fifty-two years after it premiered, it has not lost one iota of its emotional impact.

“My characters make my plays,” the author said, “They build the play about them like spiders weaving their web, sea creatures making their shell.”

And what marvelous characters they are. Even their names evoke powerful images: Brick, the cold and brooding alcoholic who can’t abide the touch of his sexy wife, Maggie the Cat, who is desperately in love with him; Big Daddy, the overbearing and larger-than-life patriarch; Gooper, the despised older son, and his fawning wife, Sister Mae; and Big Mama, the matriarch who impossibly tries to hold together her broken family.

Modern audiences may find these characters a bit outlandish, but, while being a bit one-dimensional, they are anything but caricatures. I know. I grew up near the Mississippi Delta setting of Williams’ play during the time period in which it takes place, and I knew people just like every one of his characters.

Brick is a former football hero obsessed with demons from his past and married to a woman he now detests. A hopeless drunk, he limps on a single crutch because the night before he broke his ankle while trying to jump hurdles at the high school track – stupidly trying to relive past glories. He refuses to sleep with his wife, Maggie, who is as beautiful and sultry as a Southern night. She is afraid that sex appeal is the only thing she has with which to hold onto her husband, but he is untouched by her beauty.

And she cannot compete with the memory of Brick’s dead friend Skipper. When she implies that there may have been a homosexual component to the friendship between Brick and Skipper, Brick explodes in anger, accusing her of “making dirty” a pure and noble friendship. Yet the possibility that there may have been homosexual love between Brick and Skipper, whether suppressed or expressed, never goes away

Big Daddy, who rules the roost with an iron fist, is dying of cancer, but his doctor has told him he just has a spastic colon. His sons and their wives argue over whether or not to tell Big Daddy the truth. Gooper and Mae also fight with Maggie over who should inherit Big Daddy’s plantation – 28,000 acres of the most fertile land west of the Nile. Brick is too drunk to care.

The casting is perfection. Abby Wells has the face and figure to play the beautiful Maggie, and her 1950s makeup and hairstyle are just right. She nails the sultry aspects of Maggie’s character, but could play the emotional outbursts a little more explosively. Erik Cornelius has the athletic body, brooding good looks and dramatic timing to be a thoroughly believable Brick. Corey Moore comes across stiff and haughty, making the odious Gooper just as detestable as he should be, and Hannah Eklund is equally disgusting as Gooper’s uptight and manipulative wife, Mae. As Big Mama, Jacqueline Plett appears matronly and clueless.

Best of all is the amazing Steve Nuehring as Big Daddy. Forget Burl Ives; this guy looks and sounds like he was born into the role of Big Daddy. He struts and sputters, he keeps hitching up his oversized britches and chewing on a big cigar; his face turns red; he screams and chortles. His face and body language run the gamut of emotions as he struggles to communicate with his son, Brick, and to do what is always so terribly hard for big and powerful men – to show a little human love and compassion.

Nuehring gets my nod right now for best supporting actor in a drama.

The choice to use recorded voices instead of child actors for Gooper and Sister Mae’s children, otherwise known as the no-neck monsters, was unfortunate. The voices created a surrealistic feel not in keeping with the spirit of the play.

The harsh lighting was also unfortunate. Lighting in a Southern plantation home in 1955 would have been much warmer and softer. But these are minor quibbles about an otherwise excellent play.
WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:55 p.m. Sundays through May 13.
WHERE: Olympia Little Theater, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., Olympia.
INFORMATION: 360-786-9484


As the wood turns at American Art Com
published in The Weekly Volcano, May 3, 2007
pictured: “Cranes in Four Seasons” by Binh Pho.

The 7th North American Sculptural Wood Invitational at American Art Company is an audacious show. How these artisans do what they do with wood boggles the mind. The media is turned wood, which, strictly speaking, means carving forms out wood that is turned on a lathe. But these artisans are anything but purists; the objects they make often involve methods other than, or in addition to turning wood. Many of the pieces look like ceramics, glass, metal and other materials. The forms tend toward shapes associated most often with pottery, be they ornate or classical.

Binh Pho’s “Cranes in Four Seasons” is one of the most fabulous craft items I’ve ever laid eyes upon. It is a classical urn broken into many sections that appear to be on many overlapping levels, although they’re really not. Or are they? It’s hard to tell. Each section is decorated with etched images of birds in flight, or traditional Asian landscapes, or elaborate carvings that look like wrought iron gates or slatted window shades. The colors are rich and luminous, and some of the carving is so delicate the gallery had to place it under glass for protection. You can’t buy this piece. Someone already did. But you can and should look at it.

Although many of the artworks look like anything but wood, a few emphasis the native qualities and textures of the material. Seth Roland’s “Beacon” uses contrasts of color and texture to highlight the natural grain of wood. It looks like a simple plank standing on end with what appears to be a white stone embedded near the top, as if it had been thrown with great force and stuck there. Grooves radiate outward from the white-wood pseudo stone.

Two of my favorite pieces are John Skau’s “Offset Diamonds” and “Bow Ties.” Both are painted and varnished double-weave vessels of cherry, maple, and poplar. Wow! That’s a mouthful. Try to say it fast. Each of these is a slightly rounded, wall-hung, convex square with woven square and diamond patterns that create illusions of great depth.

Milo Mirabelli’s “Water Tower” looks exactly like what the title implies. What makes it fascinating is that it defies structural believability. The heavy wooden bowl rests on spindly legs that look like popsicle sticks that may break at any moment.

Donald Derry has been in many of the wood shows at American Art Company. In the past, I have been impressed with the depth and brilliance of his color. His newest works, “Life Can be Hard” and Fired Up,” offer up almost grotesquely ornamental shapes not seen in previous shows — at least not around here. They verge on the realm of so-ugly-they’re-beautiful. I love them.

Robert Cutler’s “Showtime” is a classically simple covered bowl with ornate surface decorations reminiscent of a Tiffany lamp. It’s truly beautiful. And it is sold. Come to think of it, nearly all my favorites in this show have sold already. Oh well, I couldn’t afford any of them anyway.

Other works that go all out to emphasize the natural grains of wood include Trent Bosch’s “Extended Family” and “Tightly Twisted.” Both feature wooden shapes like baseball bats that extend from bronze collars.

Another favorite of mine is Betty Scarpino’s “Disobedient Currents." Made of maple that is turned, carved, bleached, painted, textured, and stippled, it is a plate form that looks more like rough stone than wood.

One other piece I have to mention is Ben Carpenter’s “Black Orchid,” which looks like some kind of spiky shellfish. A crab with black spike legs.

Other than the pieces I have mentioned here, few of the pieces in this show are artistically astounding. But they are technically astounding. The shapes are, for the most part, traditional; and most of them rely on a few simple tricks of the trade, such as the juxtaposition of blending and contrasting shapes, colors and textures. Having stated that caveat, I must say that most of the works in this show are simply breathtakingly beautiful.

If they’re so beautiful, you might ask, then why aren’t they art? Sorry, that’s too big a subject for this column.