Friday, July 27, 2007

No theater review this week

My regular community theater column in The News Tribune will not be published this week because of a medical emergency in the family. Not to worry, we're recovering well. But a trip to the emergency room Friday prevented me from seeing the performance I was going to review. The play was "Cinderella," a dinner theater performance. The Rogers and Hammerstein musical presented by All Saints Theatrical Repertoire Association, a ministry of All Saints Parish in Puyallup, features song and dance by community children and adults with an 18-to-20-piece orchestra composed of area students and community members. "Cinderella" continues this weekend with performances Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. More information is available at

Coming up

For my next two columns, I plan to return to my regular summer fare. Coming August 3 will be a preview of the best performances scheduled for the 2007-2008 season in South Puget Sound, and my August 10th column will be my annual "Critic's Choice," my version of the Tony Awards where I choose the best drama, musicals, actors and directors in the area.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Neddy finalists

Tacoma Art Museum hosts the Neddy Fellowship Finalists
Published in the Weekly Volcano July 26, 2007
Pictured: "Painting the Burning Face," 2007, stoneware, paint, pastel, hair, by Tip Toland, photo by Richard Nicol

Once again Tacoma Art Museum brings us works from the Neddy Fellowship Finalists — the Neddy being " … one of only a handful of prestigious regional awards," according to TAM director Stephanie Stebich.

The first thing to meet the eye when entering the gallery is Buddy Bunting's impressive ink and pencil painting, "Coyote," a black-and-white painting executed directly on the museum wall panel. Though pen and ink is normally thought of as drawing media, this work is truly a painting in scale and in concept. Filling a 9-by-12-foot wall, it is a delicate and dramatic painting of a crashed truck. "Like many painters, Buddy Bunting finds beauty in the American West, but he focuses on how people inhabit the region rather than the sublime landscape. In this painting of a smashed truck, Bunting evokes the tragedy of immigrant smuggling in the Southwest. The title alludes to a slang term for the smugglers, who will destroy lives in order to profit from illegal border crossings," reads wall text accompanying this painting.

The twisted shape of the mangled truck calls to mind John Chamberlain's sculptures from crushed auto parts even though Chamberlain's sculptures are bombastic and brightly colored and Bunting's painting is softly muted. Bunting paints with a sure hand. It looks as if every line and every wash of ink were laid down with a single stroke without hesitation and without correction. Anyone who has ever tried his hand at painting with wet media such as ink or watercolor knows just how hard that is.

On the back of this wall panel is another painting executed directly on the wall. This one is Vicoria Haven's "Rabbit Hole #4," which was seen in the recent eighth Northwest Biennial. It's a tricky little painting that plays with perspective and optical illusion. Note the almost invisible trompe l'oeil cast shadows.

Bunting was also in the biennial. Not to cast aspersions on Bunting and Haven, but the way the same artists keep showing up in these award shows seems awfully suspicious. I think that consciously or unconsciously the jurors pick artists who are familiar to them. I suspect they think something like "Well, if everybody else thinks they're so good, they must be."

Charles Whiting Tennis was selected for the painting fellowship and Charles Craft for ceramics. I doubt that I would have picked either of them for top awards. Tennis' painting, "Blue Tarp," is a wall-size painting consisting of random painterly marks and angular lines on a big blue tarp. Craft's hand-painted earthenware bunnies and commemorative prison plates are cute and ironic.

My choice for the top awards would probably have been Bunting and Yuki Nakamura.
Yakamura's "Dream Suspended" consists of porcelain soccer balls suspended on neon wires. It is a contemplative work that comments on sport as a path to fame and riches for the lucky few and a false hope for so many more. The dull, white balls hanging at different levels on brilliant neon wires create a kind of visual ballet in air.

One of the more powerful images is Tip Toland's self-portrait, "Painting the Burning Fence," a painted stoneware bust of an old woman applying lipstick. It is paired with "Pretty, Pretty Baby," a portrait of the artist as an infant. From birth to death, these paired works imply, women are expected to make themselves beautiful. The baby exuberantly smears lipstick all over her cheeks while the old woman carefully paints her lips. The one thing about the baby that bothers me is that she is about five times life-size and thus looks as cartoonish as a balloon in a Macy's Thanksgiving parade.

Also showing are sculptures by Eric Nelsen and Alex Schweder.

[Tacoma Art Museum, "2007 Neddy Fellowship Exhibition," through Aug. 19 Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., $6.50-$7.50, Third Thursday free, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258,]

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Remembering New York

Small world

My first few days in Manhattan — way, way back in 1973 — were filled with bizarre coincidences and déjà vu.

I walked all over the Village and Chelsea feeling as if I had stepped into a movie set. It was a few days before Christmas, and for the first time ever I saw vendors roasting chestnuts on an open fire — Mel Torme singing in my head. Every café and every brownstone I walked by were right out of paintings by Edward Hopper.

But before going any further, I must digress a little and write about the journey that took me there.

I hitch-hiked from Hattiesburg, Miss., leaving home on a cold December morning wearing a borrowed Army coat and carrying a change of clothing, a sketchbook and $100 in traveler’s checks in a borrowed backpack. My brother drove me to a spot on the highway just north of town where I began my trip. Little did I know that my traveler’s checks had fallen out of my backpack in my brother’s car.

My first ride was with a couple and their little boy. They took me as far as Meridian. Then a woman in a sports car picked me up. She told me she was a prostitute and a recovering heroin addict on a state-run methadone program, and she was going to visit her boyfriend who was in jail in Atlanta. She stopped over in a motel just outside of Atlanta and offered to let me stay the night in her motel room. No, there was no sex involved. I watched her shoot up, and the next morning she told me she was going to try and break her boyfriend out of jail. She offered me money to drive the getaway car. When I declined to help her, she very nicely said she understood, and she went miles out of her way to take me to a good hitch-hiking spot on the north side of the city. I hope she successfully freed her boyfriend.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, except for the guy driving a Corvette like a maniac. I thought for sure he was going to kill us.

I can’t remember all the details, but I definitely remember that I did not spend a cent between Mississippi and New York. Everybody offered to share their food, and the second night on the road someone let me stay overnight at his house in — somewhere, I can’t remember where. When I got to my final destination, not New York City but Newark Airport, I had a dime in my pocket. I went to an American Express kiosk to cash my traveler’s checks, and that’s when I discovered they were missing. Luckily pay phones cost 10 cents back then, and I had a dime in my pocket and a girlfriend in the city. She caught a bus to Newark and took me home, and I stayed with her until I found a job and a place of my own in a fleabag hotel near Washington Square.

For years prior to moving to the city I had been active with the New York Correspondence School, a loose conglomeration of artists and writers headed by the great Ray Johnson. Among the artists in the “school” with whom I regularly corresponded were a theatrical agent named George Ashley and an artist named May Wilson, who was known by a select group of artists as the Grandmother of the Underground. Seventy years old at the time, May had moved to New York from Baltimore after her husband died. She was a collage artist and one of the more sensitive souls I have ever known. I spent one wonderful afternoon visiting with her in her apartment in the Chelsea Hotel, well aware of the storied history of the Chelsea and awed by the sense of being in the presence of greatness. I never again saw her after that visit. Sadly, that’s just the way things go. I got involved with other people.

I called George Ashley and made a date for dinner and theater the following night. The next afternoon I planned to see The Dancers of Bali at Lincoln Center. It was an early afternoon show. I’d have just enough time to catch a subway to George’s apartment after the show.

Standing in line at the box office, I heard the guy in front of me say to the ticket taker, “Tickets for George Ashley.”

I couldn’t believe it, but it was him.

That evening we had dinner at George’s apartment and then took a cab downtown to see an Off-Off-Broadway play. Dining with us and sharing our cab was a theater critic from (as well as I remember) the Times. Over the next few weeks, George took me to so many plays and cast parties that they all become a muddle in my memory. One person I met who later became famous was Charles Ludlam, founder of the Ridiculous Theater Company. There were probably others whom I can’t recall. I also remember an amazing party after a play at La Mama where we danced wildly until about four o’clock in the morning. All night long George kept introducing me to women by saying, “This is Alec. He’s straight.”

Of all the plays we saw together, I remember only sketchy impressions of one, and I can’t recall its title. The main character was a dominatrix wearing black leather and spike heels, and carrying a whip. She was tall and beautiful and had a husky voice. Later, at dinner, I was intimidated by her. There was a chubby young woman in a skimpy costume who roller-skated around stage singing “Some day my prince will come.” Her boobs kept falling out, and she kept stuffing them back in. Yes, I would remember that. And there was a very campy gay boy who drew great laughs when he threw a log in a fireplace and said, “Toss another faggot on the fire.”

As with May Wilson, I soon lost touch with George.

Walking around Chelsea one day, I happened upon an intriguing little store called The Boggle Shop. Inside were hundreds of soft-sculpture animals and a skinny man with big eyes and a long nose. He introduced himself as Ed Preston.

Ed immediately recognized my Southern accent. “What part of Mississippi are you from?” he asked.

I said, “Hattiesburg.”

He said, “I’m from Eupora, a little town up near the Delta.”

“Yeah, I know Eupora. That’s where my mother’s from.”

“Really? What was her maiden name?”

“Peery. Carolyn Peery.”

“Was she James Robert Peery’s sister?”

That didn’t surprise me too much, because James Robert was a writer who had two best-sellers back about the time I was born. Of course a man about the same age from the same little town would know him. But Ed more than knew him. He said they had been best friends all through school.

Unlike George Ashley and May Wilson, Ed kept in touch with me long after I left New York. He was a writer and an actor (he did a lot of TV commercials), and an all-around good guy. He died in 1993. I’m sure May and George have also long since passed away. They were all a lot older than me.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

‘Midsummer’ bends gender in Disney-ish version of Shakespeare

Published in The News Tribune, July 20, 2007
Pictured, left to right: Brittany Johnson as Helena, Faith Higgins as Lysandra, and Katiedawn Leacy as Hermia. Photo by Sharon Eason.

Director Jerry Bull chose to present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Encore! Theater as frothy family entertainment in the Disney manner.

“Last summer, as I sat on Main Street USA at Disneyland … I began to think about the similarities between Shakespeare and Disney,” he writes in his director’s notes.

In addition to Disney-fying Shakespeare, Bull has also feminized the bard by switching gender roles. In Shakespeare’s time, men played women because women were not allowed on stage (a fact Tom Stoppard made much ado about in “Shakespeare in Love”). Bull pulls a switch on that by casting women in six major male roles. Some, but not all, of the gender switches work quite well.

Alex Ropes as Demetrius and Faith Higgins as Lysander are quite effective as young men. With slim bodies dressed in Elizabethan pants and stockings, they appear as slightly effeminate young dandies.

Samantha Lobberegt is easily believable as the brash, bold and egotistical thespian, Nick Bottom, although I’d love to see her put more comic exaggeration into the role.

The part of Peter Quince as the director of a troupe of actors whose play-within-a-play is a major part of the story is played by Sylvia Shaw, an actor with extensive experience in venues including Tacoma Opera, Lakewood Playhouse, Tacoma Little Theatre and Tacoma Musical Playhouse. She plays Quince as a crusty, working-class trouper with a big heart (such a big heart, in fact, that he idolizes the hammy Bottom). Shaw is excellent in this role.

Shaw also plays Egea, the mother of Hermia. She looks so totally different that I had to get confirmation it is, indeed, the same actor. Credit hair and makeup by Katiedawn Leacy and costumes by Heidi Johnson for the amazing transformation.

Despite the change in her appearance, her acting in the part of Egea is not as convincing as in her part as Quince. Plus, I am troubled by another aspect of this character: Shakespeare wrote this character as Egius, the father of Hermia. Changing the character to Hermia’s mother is problematic. You shouldn’t rewrite Shakespeare, and in that time period a mother would not have wielded that much authority.

Finally, we come to the best of the women in male roles, Stephanie Ronge as Puck, a hobgoblin or faun also known as Robin Goodfellow, servant to Oberon, king of the fairies. Puck is one of the most delightful of Shakespeare’s characters. An androgynous fellow who can easily be played by a man or woman, Puck is mischievous and fun-loving and thoroughly lovable. Ronge plays Puck with great panache. She smirks and laughs and prances like a show horse. She is simply fabulous.

Katiedawn Leacy as Hermia and Brittany Johnson as Helena are both good. Their roughhouse tumbling in hilarious fight scenes is terrific (these two young women may be thoroughly bruised before the run of the play is complete).

The fairies played by teens and children, including 2-year-old Gwendolyn Bunten-Bull, are delightful, and the single musical number, sung by Jade Egelhoff, is very beautiful.

On the downside, director Jerry Bull is uneven in his dual roles as Oberon and Tom Snout, and Jessica Bunten is lackadaisical as Titania. There were a number of dropped lines opening weekend, and the dance interludes are weak.

It is an outdoor performance, so bring blankets and lawn chairs. Pack a picnic lunch, and don’t forget the mosquito spray.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through July 29
WHERE: Encore! Theater, 4819 Hunt St. N.W., Gig Harbor
TICKETS: $15 adults; $11 military, seniors and teens; $8 ages 7-12; $6 ages 6 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-858-2282,

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The girlie show

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 19, 2007Pictured: “Dissipation,” woven, dyed and etched fabric by Liz Frey
Photo courtesy A.O.C. Gallery

The latest show at A.O.C. Gallery is called “Divergent Metaphors.” I’m tempted to call it “The Girlie Show.” But that would be sexist.

It is a show of fiber art by four recent graduates of the University of Washington: Julia Waldeck, Robin Sterling Brewer, Liz Frey, and Deborah Gregory. Overall, this show is too crafty for me, but that may be more personal taste than considered artistic judgment.

Frey’s pieces are the least crafty and the most formally pure of the lot. She weaves and dyes fibers into rectangular hanging shapes in monotone colors, most of which hang bannerlike a foot away from the wall but one of which drapes nicely over a sculpture stand. After weaving these objects, she etches into them with acid leaving transparent and open areas of spidery fiber in organic shapes. In her larger pieces, two hanging sheets are stacked in layers in such a way that the transparent openings and the space between become part of the design. The forms change depending on how much of the back sheets can be seen through the openings in the front sheet as the viewer moves about. These are very effective. Also effective is the one piece mentioned above that is draped over a sculpture stand. The colors in this piece are rivulets of dull blue and tan. Sitting on top are rocks covered with the same blue and tan woven fiber. The overall effect is that of a mountain stream. Very beautiful and peaceful.

Weldeck’s collages of found objects — mostly paper, cloth and flowers — are delicate and with admirable use of color and texture. But her compositions are uninspired, consisting mostly of items stacked in the center over pages from paperback books. The best of her collages is one in which she has drawn a female figure, which seems to be floating ghostlike away from the viewer. In the forefront is a large, boney hand. This image evokes mystery and combines disparate materials in an attractive way. Her cowgirl boots in the front window are pure camp, and her plastic dress figure is simply silly. The boots are great for what they are. The dress form — why bother?

Brewer offers a series of little square images of houses and various figures. They have a real folksy flavor. You could almost imagine them being done by a freed slave in 1860. What I’d love to see would be a whole wall of these in repetitive patterns like an Andy Warhol silkscreen. In their present form, they’re a little too precious.

Gregory’s pieces are beautifully crafted, but she needs to do something more original or more startling with her imagery. In an artist’s statement, she says she is working with themes of growth, decay and renewal in nature, but I can’t see that her work conveys those ideas other than in one series of four vertical wall hangings with subtle green and violet colors in a central cavelike opening surrounded by dark blacks and browns. The colors in this piece are really marvelous, and there is a feel for nature in it that I don’t believe she captures in any of her other works.

If any of the works in this show are metaphors for nature’s decay and renewal, it is Liz Frey’s work. Her eaten-away surfaces are like foliage eaten by insects (also like spider webs and growing mold and fungus). Eventually her cloth will rot and crumble into nothingness; she has accelerated and then halted that process with the acid etching. What separates art from craft? In Frey’s case, it is the use of metaphor and the understanding of material and formal design.
One might easily say there are three craftswomen and one artist in this show.

[A.O.C. Gallery, through July 31, Tuesday and Wednesday 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday 12-5 p.m., 608 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.230.1673 or 253.627.8180]

Friday, July 13, 2007

TMP presents its ‘Beast’ with beauty

Published in The News Tribune, July 13, 2007
Pictured, left to right: Lucas Blum as Cogsworth, Haley Meier as Belle and Chris Serface as Lumiere. Photo by Kat Dollarhide.

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is simply fabulous. In every way imaginable. If there are readers who think area community theaters are not capable of doing justice to a big, Broadway-style musical extravaganza, then I highly recommend that those readers see this performance.

And get your tickets early, because they’re going fast. I went on opening weekend, and the house was packed.

What makes this show so special is not any one thing. It’s not the star quality of any one or two actors or any particular musical number, but the overall production. It is Judy Cullen’s fabulous sets, Joan Schlegel’s lavish costume designs, John Chenault’s magical lighting, Jon Douglas Rake’s direction and choreography, the orchestra directed by Jeffrey Stvrtecky and the staging of the entire production. It is big, it is elaborate, and the visuals are stunning – especially the rich color choices in the painted backdrops and the castle of the beast.

And, of course, there is the heart-rending, ugly-duckling morality story told in traditional Disney style. (You can mock it for its naiveté, but it’s hard not to be touched by it.)

A magic spell has been cast on a prince, turning him into a hideous beast. He lives in a secluded castle in the woods, where all of his friends and servants are being gradually transformed into inanimate objects. The Beast has been given an enchanted rose that is slowly dying, and the only way he can break the spell and become a man again is to learn to love someone and get that someone to fall in love with him before the rose dies.

Beauty – a young woman named Belle – falls into the Beast’s trap when she tries to rescue her father, whom the beast has imprisoned. She offers to take his place in the Beast’s prison if he will let her father go. But her prison is no dungeon with bars; she is given free rein in the Beast’s castle. Gradually, as the Beast softens, Beauty sees beneath his surface appearance to his heart. They fall in love, and the spell is broken.

Elise Campello and Haley Meier alternate in the role of Belle. On the night I saw it, Meier was playing the part. She is a tall and beautiful young woman, perfectly cast for the role. She plays Belle with restraint and dignity and sings beautifully with a high, clear and sweet voice.

The Beast is played by Mark Rake-Marona, a longtime regular on the TMP stage. He also plays his part with restraint. His only means of expressing emotion is through posture and subtle physical gestures, because he is so heavily made up and costumed that the audience can barely see his face. Despite these restraints, he is easily able to convey subtle changes of emotion, from anger to hopelessness to tentative hope and, finally, joy.

Also perfectly cast is Dave Jones as Gaston, the large, arrogant man who has decided that Belle must be his bride. Not only is Jones tall, muscular and handsome enough for the part, but also he has a wonderful voice, and he strikes comic poses with great style. One of the great comic scenes is when Gaston proposes to Belle and sings “Me,” an anthem to self-love from a man with muscles for brains.

The other great comic scene comes in the great big musical number “Be Our Guest” sung by Lumiere (Chris Serface as a man who is turning into a pair of torches) and a cast of anthropomorphic creatures including Mrs. Potts (Diane Bozzo as a woman-teapot with a rich, resounding voice), Cogsworth (a human clock played by Lucas Blum), a chorus of dancing spoons and forks, an acrobatic carpet (Ally Pepin), and a line of cancan dancers with Statue-of-Liberty crowns.

Serface gives Lumiere a marvelously comic French accent that sounds like a cross between Maurice Chevalier and Redd Foxx. Of all the comic actors in this play, Serface is by far the funniest.

It is a long play, running almost three hours, including the intermission. There were some minor technical problems on the night I attended. But none of that mattered, because the play was such a magical experience.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 5, additional performances at 2 p.m. July 21, 28 and Aug. 5
WHERE: The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
TICKETS: Adults, $23; students/military, $21; children 12 and younger, $16
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Wonderful weave

laura sharp-wilson’s show at the black front gallery impresses
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 12, 2007
Pictured: “One of Three Million Queens,” acrylic and praphite paintings by Laura Sharp-Wilson, courtesy Black Front Gallery

I love the title of Laura Sharp-Wilson’s show at The Black Front Gallery: “You Are in the Weave Whether You Like It or Not.” That title fits beautifully with the look of Sharp-Wilson’s paintings — or the look of her paintings as seen in reproduction on the gallery Web site and the show announcement cards. The painting reproduced for the announcement is “One in Three Million Queens,” acrylic and graphite on paper mounted on a wood panel. In the reproduction there is a dull surface quality that makes it look like woven cloth with images sewn into the surface, a look that fits perfectly with the spiky, plantlike forms of her paintings.

The actual painting has a dull gloss that is equally intriguing but an entirely different look. This and four other acrylic and graphite paintings in the show are simply wonderful. As are “The Torture of the Little White Flower,” watercolor and gouache on paper, and its companion piece, a sculpted paper wall hanging called “Headress for the Torture of the Little White Flower.”

Other works are less exciting. The four watercolors named after people — “Syd and Ann,” “Ruth Linn,” Ruthie” and “Jenny Reed” — are bland in comparison with Sharp-Wilson’s paintings, and the group of stacked tables near the back wall simply does not work in my opinion. The table piece is an interesting concept. It is called “Three Stacked Tables Based Roughly on the Dimensions of My Husband.” Apparently her husband is very tall. I’m not. I could not even see the painted tops of the top two tables, and those decorative tabletops seem to be the main feature of the piece. Perhaps the gallery should provide a ladder for viewing this one.

But back to the pieces that do work — the graphite and acrylic paintings. In these paintings, plants fight back. Spiked and barbed fronds and vines stand up against mankind’s destruction of nature. Nature is ominous and undeniable.

In the first painting mentioned above, barbed vines wind in and out and wrap themselves around forms that look to be some kind of sci-fi hybrid between the natural and the man-made. A gray vine and a white treelike form with ladderlike steps are tied together by a vine that looks like barbed wire while near the top of the picture a bladderlike form hovering in midair is being invaded by sprouting pink tentacles. On closer inspection, we see that the bladderlike form is actually a purple castle right out of a fairy tale.

That painting is one of a set of three small paintings. The other two in this grouping — “Truth is Not My Identity” and “Acid Flower for Dead Dave” — are not so densely packed with images. There is more breathing room between the plant forms. These two are distinguished by very sophisticated color choices. One has a wonderful combination of red and hot pink, and in the other, combinations of dusty rose and dull blues and greens employ a wonderful use of colors that are keyed to similar values and intensities. The finely detailed images are painted with precise brushwork in the Renaissance tradition.

Sharp-Wilson’s two larger paintings — “The I Want to be Somewhere Else Option” and “My Imaginary Clan” — are more akin to the first one in their use of densely packed, woven and interlocked forms that hover in shallow space.

From auxiliary materials in the gallery and from Googling the artist, I find that she has done a lot of paper sculptures that look so good in reproduction that I wish there were more in this show. The only one shown here is “Headress for the Torture of the Little White Flower,” a very delicate and finely crafted tissuelike form that is truly beautiful. When you look at this one, be sure to get up close and carefully inspect the fine detail.

[The Black Front Gallery, “You Are in the Weave Whether You Like It or Not” by Laura Sharp-Wilson, through July 31 Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., 106 Fourth Ave., Olympia, 360.786.6032,

Saturday, July 7, 2007

'Shrew' gets fresh, bawdy spin

Published in The News Tribune, July 6, 2007
pictured: Heather McMahon as Kat and Chris Cantrell as Petruchio
photo by Michael Christopher
The Taming of the Shrew" is one of William Shakespeare's most reviled plays – hated by many for what is considered to be a misogynistic theme. Depending on which version is chosen and how the director chooses to present it, "Shrew" generally carries the message that women are the property of men and should be docile and obedient.

But Theater Artists Olympia has never shied away from controversy. This is the same company that last summer presented Shakespeare's other often-loathed play, "The Merchant of Venice" – a play that is generally accused of being anti-Semitic.

Director Pug Bujeaud tackles the feminist issues head-on, stating in her director's notes: "I have seen productions of this show that have ended Kate's final and often vilified speech with a great big wink to the audience. I feel strongly that is a cop-out. … She is not simply speaking about a wife's duty to her husband so much as what honor and duty is owed to a relationship to keep love thriving, regardless of sex."

TAO's version of the play takes place in Hades. Kate is stuck in hell. Her father is the devil, and her sister, Bianca, is a bawdy blonde. Petruchio and his servant Grumio are pirates; Lucentio, one of Bianca's many suitors, wears a Superman costume; Biondello, a servant (usually played by a boy but played here by Christina Collins), is a clown; and Hades is sexualized to comic extremes by pole dancers and dominatrixes.

The plot is ludicrous even for Shakespeare. Three men are competing for the hand in marriage of Bianca, but Bianca's father says that no one can marry her until after he marries off his older daughter, Kate, a spiteful shrew no man is willing to marry – no man, that is, until the egotistical and blustery Petruchio comes along. He is willing to marry her for her substantial dowry, no matter how spiteful she may be. Besides, he is confident that he can tame the shrew.

In an absurd subplot that only the master of mistaken identity could cook up, Lucentio pretends to be Bianca's classics instructor and Hortensio, another suitor, pretends to be her music instructor – both in attempts to woo her.

This production is earsplitting. Everybody shouts. The physical comedy is extreme. The fight scenes are intense if not downright dangerous, and it is as bawdy as any play I've seen lately.

The cast is practically a who's who of South Sound theater.

Chris Cantrell is perfectly cast as Petruchio. He is big and boisterous and has a commanding presence on stage.

Michael Christopher brings to the role of Grumio a devilish quality reminiscent of Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean." Christopher and Cantrell take physical comedy to the extreme in an early sword-fight scene in which they go out into the audience and fight over the heads of audience members. And a brief but deliciously funny love scene between Grumio and the dominatrix Curtis (played by Heather Christopher) pushes the limits of good taste.

Scott C. Brown is terrific as Hortensio, as he seamlessly slips in and out of a variety of personas. (I did, however, have difficulty understanding him when he put on a Scottish brogue.) Tim Goebel as Lucentio and Robert McConkey as Tranio are also good.

But the real scene-stealer every time she is on stage is Ingrid Pharris as Bianca. She acts incredibly dumb with a constant look of wide-eyed, drop-jawed incredulity, which she combines with raw sexuality – qualities inferred by gesture and expression that are diametrically opposed to Bianca's sweet and compliant demeanor.

This is not one of Shakespeare's best comedies, but this performance puts a fresh spin on it that is highly entertaining.

It is not recommended for children, and it is a little long at 21/2 hours, which includes a 15-minute intermission.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and July 8, 2 p.m. Sundays through July 15
WHERE: South Puget Sound Community College, Minneart Center for the Arts
TICKETS: $12 online at or at the door
INFORMATION: 360-357-3471

Friday, July 6, 2007

Street Art

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 5, 2007
photo: "Do Not Enter" by Dan Witz

Graffiti has grown up. From hip-hop tagging of the ’70s and ’80s, graffiti has blossomed into an international street art movement.

Street art. That’s what the new graffiti is called. And it goes far beyond spray painting the sides of buildings. In addition to wall paintings, the new street art may involve: wheat-pasted images, projected photographs and videos, drawing with light, electronic signs, and found or made objects that are strategically placed in public areas. What distinguishes today’s street art from earlier forms of graffiti is that it cleverly makes use of its various urban “canvases.” In other words, the setting — be it the side of a building, a bridge or a garbage can — becomes part of the art. For example, on a bridge in Brighton there is a painting of the head of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. But the thorns are not painted; they are a coil of barbed wire that was already on the bridge. Or an electronic street sign hanging from a wire high above Vatican City. The sign is a directional arrow pointing toward heaven with the word “Nuns.”

Some street artists are guerilla artists who sneak up on their targets while others are invited in. Many have even been accepted into prestigious galleries in the art capitals of the world. They have become so successful that there are growing protests against the commercialization of street art. For the past seven months, someone (possibly a group) known as the splasher has been defacing street art in New York by splashing paint on it and leaving behind manifestos critical of the commercialization of the movement. Someone or some group alleged to be the splasher has recently set off stink bombs at a couple of gallery openings, and one alleged splasher has been arrested in New York.

The whole movement is big in New York and San Francisco as well as in London, Tokyo and Berlin, and it is all over the Internet. But it hasn’t exactly caught fire in the Northwest. A few street art projects have shown up in Portland and Seattle, but nothing so far (to my knowledge) in T-town.

A Portland artist named Nancy (street artists are typically anonymous or go by pseudonyms or first name only) has created “The Iraq Names Project,” which comprises the names of people who have been killed in Iraq painted on the streets and sidewalks of Portland. Pictures of the project can be seen at: http://iraqnamesproject. The lettering and the placement of the names are really quite lovely.

Seen in a tunnel under Interstate 5 in Seattle is a sad picture of a homeless man seated on the sidewalk. The poignancy of the picture is heightened because of its location. The artist is unknown.

One of the few street artists who uses his full name is Dan Witz. His latest project consists of erecting signs on city streets. A typical Witz sign says “Do Not Enter” and has a white bar that becomes a magical entryway into, well, I guess, the inside of the sign when a little painted man crawls into it.

Among the best known and most creative of street artists is the British artist Banksy who proudly proclaims, “I want to be a nonconformist just like everyone else.” Banksy may be the Andy Warhol of the 21st century. His work is so subtly clever you have to see it. Description simply will not do. See it at: best place to find street art on the Web is at the Wooster Collective Web site at The Wooster Collective is a New York group dedicated to promoting street art. You can spend hours browsing the site and enjoy every moment of it. Be sure to go to the murals section and check out the work of the amazing Italian mural artist Blu.