Friday, August 31, 2007


New exhibit behind the glass at Woolworth Windows
published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 30, 2007

Tacoma scenes shine in the latest Tacoma Contemporary installations in the Woolworth Windows.

In the Broadway windows, the city is represented by reflections-within-reflections and grids-within-grids in painted constructions by Paul McKee. I don’t know who wrote it, but someone sent out on an arts listserv an intriguing description of McKee’s work:

“Paul McKee’s ‘Destiny Reflected’ is a series of paintings that began with careful observations of reflections of Tacoma’s buildings. McKee installs an urban portrait in the City of Destiny itself. By giving reflections solidity, he examines the complex exchanges in this energetic small city. The visual experience of these fluid forms swirling through their support grid is compounded by them being displayed in a grid of real windows that reflect their surroundings.”

There are three paintings by McKee. Each one completely fills a large display window. The shapes are contained within window-like grid structures that vary from painting to painting. In one, the grid is made of painted silver bars; in another it is more like a series of building blocks; and the one in the center is a series of wood boxes with cut-out and painted shapes within each box. Of the three, this one is by far the most fascinating, but all are interesting. McKee’s use of color is outstanding, with a range of blues and browns that glow like candlelight. The interplay of real and illusory depth is also intriguing.

Patrick Grenier looks at Tacoma landmarks with a humorous outlook. He is showing a pair of painted models of the Tacoma Art Museum and the Museum of Glass, placed in the context of the surrounding streets and the bridge that connects them. The structures rest on their sides and hang suspended like tinker toy models that have been tossed in the air. They are painted in tones of gray and black with the only touches of color being the yellow stripes on the street and the two blue glass sculptures that stand guard above the bridge of glass. I’d be hard pressed to call this work art, but it is a delightfully playful little construction.

David Traylor’s ceramic and mixed-media sculptures in the Commerce side windows have nothing to do with Tacoma. They are powerful and menacing black forms that dominate the space. One piece is a black ball that hangs from the ceiling with tentacles extending in all directions and what looks like white ping-pong balls on the ends of each. I have no idea what it is supposed to represent, but it looks dangerous. Most of the pieces are vertical forms, either free-standing or suspended from the ceiling, made of sleek, black ceramic and draped in cloth. They look a lot like chess pieces or like totem poles, or maybe spears and shields.

According to a wall text, they are inspired by Commedia dell arte figures such as Harlequin, Pierrot, Touchstone, Feste and Dogberry. The text also speaks of the sinister contrasts of “hard and severe” forms “clothed in soft fabric.” I think that description may nail the essence of these pieces.

Back up to the Broadway side, there are two more installations: one by Heather Joy and Matthew Olds and the other by Margot Myers.

The placement of McKee’s and Grenier’s installations, both of which depicted Tacoma scenes and landmarks, called out of a consistency of theme at least on the Broadway side. All of the works are interesting, but they don’t fit together well.

[Woolworth Windows, 24/7 through Nov. 3, 11th Street at Broadway and Commerce, downtown Tacoma]

NOTE: If I had not had limited space I would have said much more about Margot Myers' installation. The way she combines three layers of similar drawings on different surfaces is nice.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein is a monster hit

published in The News Tribune, Aug. 25, 2007

Mel Brook’s “Young Frankenstein” has huge shoes to fill, and I’m not talking about the oversized clodhoppers worn by the monster; I’m talking about the giant footsteps left by Brook’s last movie-to-Broadway mega-hit, "The Producers" starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

If audience reaction at Thursday night’s opening at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre is any kind of barometer, Brooks and company have another monster hit (pun most definitely intended).

The Seattle audience was by far the most rambunctious theater crowd I have ever seen – a fact gleefully acknowledged by Brooks himself when he made a surprise curtain-call appearance and said he had a bus waiting outside to take the whole audience with them.

Like “The Producers” – which won 12 Tony Awards, the most ever for a single production, and ran for six years on Broadway, making it the longest-running musical comedy in history – “Young Frankenstein” is a re-write of a film by Brooks, the 1974 hit film of the same name starring Gene Wilder. It’s funny in the over-the-top way that all of Brooks’ films and plays are funny. It is filled with show-biz shtick and running jokes that are almost run into the ground. How many times can we hear horses neigh at the mention of Frau Blucher’s name or Dr. Frankenstein ask Igor if his hump was on the other side before it ceases to be funny? Apparently there is no limit, as Brooks operates on the principal that anything worth doing is worth over doing. (The hump shtick, by the way, is a setup for a clever twist when Igor thinks his hump has vanished, and there are equally clever variations on the horse-neighing bit.)

But it is not the expected funny bits that make this show a delight. It is the wonderful ensemble song-and-dance numbers and the incredible sets and special effects. The real stars of the show are Robin Wagner’s scenic designs, Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting, special effects designed by Marc Brickman, and a crew of stagehands that pulled off some of the most seamless set changes ever seen.

The big ensemble numbers are in the tradition of old-time Broadway spectacles like “Oklahoma” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” and the ensemble dancers are athletic and energetic. They are humorously sophisticated as they glide through ballroom dances without touching one another on “Please Don’t Touch Me,” and absolutely fabulous on the wild romp, “Transylvania Mania.”

The biggest hit of all is the tap-dance duet with Frankenstein and monster “Putting on the Ritz,” in a magical takeoff on Fred Astaire’s dance to the Irving Berlin song.

Director and choreographer Susan Stroman and co-writer Thomas Meehan both worked with Brooks on the film and stage versions of “The Producers,” as did leading man Roger Bart, who plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (which he says is pronounced Fronk-en-steen about a million times). Other leading roles are all played by Broadway, film and television stalwarts. Getting top billing along with Bart is Megan Mullally as Elizabeth, but the other leading lady, Sutton Foster as Inga, actually has a larger part. Foster, who has handled such demanding roles as Eponine in “Les Miserables” and Millie in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” on Broadway, shines most beautifully while frolicking and yodeling on the hayride song “Roll in the Hay.”
All of the stars fill their roles well, but none stand out. The bona fide standouts are Christopher Fitzgerald as Igor, Shuler Hensley as the monster and Andrea Martin as Frau Blucher.

The Paramount Theatre engagement is a pre-Broadway tryout. “Young Frankenstein” will open on Broadway at the Hilton Theatre Nov. 8 after preview performances beginning Oct. 11.

SIDEBAR: Young Frankenstein
WHEN: 7:30 8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 1
WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle
TICKETS: $25-$100

Friday, August 24, 2007

Olympia Little Theatre seeks pro polish

Published in The News Tribune, August 24, 2007

I sit down on a ratty old divan in a partially-built set at Olympia Little Theatre and talk to new OLT board member and publicity chairwoman Bonnie Vandver and longtime board president Kathryn Beall. “Olympia Little Theatre is taking a real professional upswing this season,” Vandver says.

By bringing onboard a new production manager, Tim Samland, and artistic manager, Chad Carpenter, they hope to ensure smoother productions.

“We will model our productions the way professional theaters do,” Vandver says, explaining that she expects sets, props and all of the technical aspects of productions to come together in a more professional manner, which she says is “something new for OLT. We’ll see more seamless productions with stronger vision. I’m really excited about it.”

Vandver, originally from Cleveland, has been involved in theater for most of her adult life. She was active with a theater company in Cleveland, and – before coming to Olympia three years ago – she taught drama for 12 years in the Bethel and North Shore school districts.

“I missed being on stage, so when I quit teaching I got back into it,” she says.

In Olympia, she has done volunteer work with Harlequin Productions and Olympia Little Theatre, and last year she performed in the Theater Artists Olympia production of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Samland, who also serves as vice president of the board, has been working with OLT for years, building sets and directing and acting in plays. Last year he directed “When the World Was Green,” which went to the regional American Association of Community Theater competition in Walla Walla and took a second-place award.

Carpenter, who doubles as co-chair of the board, also has extensive backstage experience building sets, running lights and stage managing.

This season will mark OLT’s 68th year, making it the second-oldest community theater in the region, just behind Tacoma Little Theatre. Vandver and Beall say that a noticeable change in the new season will be a lineup of more modern plays. More modern plays means more adult language and situations. Many of this year’s plays have strong language and sexual innuendo, and at least one – “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” – has graphic violence.

Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” for instance, “has 17 (obscenities)” Beall says. But she says she senses South Sound audiences are ready for more adult fare. Plus, she points out that both copyright laws and respect for playwrights demand that language not be watered down.

On the other hand, Beall says, “There will be no more nudity on stage” – referring to last year’s production of “Take Me Out.”

The season opens Sept. 14 with Ken Ludwig’s hilarious backstage farce “Moon Over Buffalo,” directed by Tim Samland and starring Tom Sanders, who directed and starred in “Take Me Out.” Also appearing in this comedy will be Cynthia Gibbs (in the role originated by Carol Burnett on Broadway), Barbara Ann Smith, Christina Bargel, Paul Gisi, Erik Cornelius, Alberto Cintron and Hannah Eklund.

“Moon Over Buffalo” relies heavily on familiar shtick such as revolving sets and mistaken identities. The action is fast-paced, and there is excessive physical comedy, including a mock fencing match and a wrestling match. In the Broadway production, there was even a pratfall into the orchestra pit. Since OLT does not have an orchestra pit, we’ll have to wait and see how they handle that. They do, on the other hand, have a revolving set that will be used for the first time in 20 years.

Next up will be “Visiting Mr. Green” in November. This contemporary drama is described in a company publication as “a heartwarming and tender story about friendship, family and forgiveness.”

In December, OLT will present the Christmas classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” In January, it will do the comedy “Moonlight and Magnolia,” a behind-the-scenes Hollywood story about movie moguls trying to pull together a new epic version of the classic “Gone with the Wind.”

Next will be Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Sisters Rosensweig,” followed by Simon’s “Rumors.” Ending the season next June will be “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” a dark drama strictly for adults. This production continues an Olympia Little Theatre tradition of ending the season with a risky play, which, in some ways, might typify much of this whole season.

Olympia Little Theatre is at 1925 Miller St., Olympia. More information is available on its Web site,, or by calling 360-786-9484. There are no reserved seats. Tickets will be available at the door and online at

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Women rule

a.o.c. gallery host female printmakers
published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug 23, 2007
pictured: “Politepointer” (detail), vintage letterpress by Jessica Spring

Do I detect a trend, or is it mere coincidence that for two months in a row a.o.c. gallery has featured four women artists?

The last time it was a quartet of fiber artists. This time it’s printmakers. Good ones, too.

The best in this show are Klara Glosova and Betsy Best-Spadero. As for the other two, Janet Marcavage is an artist whose work seldom fails to fascinate but is not up to her previous level of excellence here. In this show, she presents works from a series she calls “Molecular Portraits.” They are figures and silhouetted portrait heads done in lithography, relief and intaglio embossing. There are five figures done with white-on-white intaglio and fields of dots to give color to the flesh (looking a lot like Australian dot painting) and a series of four silhouette heads facing expanses of space filled with intricate dot patterns (which look like writing in Braille but with no spaces between words).

The fourth artist, Spring, is showing a number of prints that incorporate drawing and collage techniques with old-style letterpress type and found imagery. In addition, she’s showing a few small sculptural items. Among the more fascinating items are some tiny vintage photographs framed side by side with snatches of poetry in old light-switch wall plates.

Best-Spadero’s prints are decorative and narrative, and they hint at symbolic meanings that could perhaps be interpreted in a number of ways. In a printed statement, the artist speaks of her work reflecting the everyday experiences of a “stay-at-home mom living in the suburbs.” One group of prints depicts swimmers in black bathing suits awash in green water. Scanning picture-to-picture, the swimmers seem to be tossed about by the waves.

Gallery owner C.J. Swanson said they symbolize the struggle to keep a marriage afloat. That’s an interesting concept, but I had to be told; the message was not successfully transmitted visually. Visually, what these prints consist of are single, flat figures in old-fashioned black bathing suits more or less centered on a green background. They sorely lack visual interest.

Much more fascinating is her series of figures playing ball on diamond-patterned backgrounds. Each print in this series shows a man and a woman playing with a ball. They wear black leotards with striped tops (he) and leggings (she) and kick and toss the ball back and forth in a kind of adagio dance. Various symbolic objects frame the figures trellislike. In one picture, the figures are shot with arrows. The game they play is the game of life, and it is a game fraught with peril.

Glosova is showing a group of solar-plate prints taken from her many sketchbooks. She has filled many a sketchbook with drawings of strange and mysterious figures, many of which she says come from dreams. She scans the drawings and prints them with a process similar to photographic development but using exposure to sunlight on the printing plates. The resulting images are “drawings” with a tonal richness that probably far exceeds the richness of her black-and-white drawings. I say “probably” because I haven’t seen the original drawings, but I know that ink drawings seldom have such velvety blacks.

When scanning her pages of drawings, she opens her sketchbooks to facing pages and scans them to include the spiral binding between the pages and often includes a blank facing page, and in many of her prints, she includes large areas of solid color in a kind of face-off between dense figures and open spaces.

She says that the image of the spiral binding “whether interpreted literally or symbolically … holds together visual ideas, exposing their relationships and allowing for their interactions.”

Glosova’s prints are strangely ominous and utterly fascinating.
There are a lot of small works of art in this show. Take your time and study each piece carefully.

[a.o.c. gallery, through Aug. 30, Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., open till 8 p.m. third Thursday, 608 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.230.1673 or 253.627.8180,]

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Paintings new and old

I just finished a new painting and found a couple of forgotten ones. I finished the new one (pictured at top)yesterday -- that would be Monday, 20. I called it "Dr. Strangelove" because the odd missle-shaped form at the left reminded me of the bomb Dr. Strangelove rode to his death (and, I guess, the end of the world) at the end of the movie.
The other two are older paintings I recently "found" in my studio. For some reason I have never shown either of these, and I never before took photos or slides of them. I can't remember why, but I stuck them aside and forgot about them.
The oldest of these is titled "Decade No. 70." I painted it in 1993. At the time, I was working on a series of paintings, all called "Decade." There were close to 100 in the series. I was really turning them out back then.
The last one is called "Apocalypse." I painted it in 2000.
I plan on showing all three of these in my show at a.o.c. gallery in October.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bold pencil

Julia Gfrörer’s pencil drawings are worth a look at Black Front Gallery
published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 16, 2007
pictured: pencil drawings by Julia Gfrörer courtesy Black Front Gallery

If you happen to be in downtown Olympia when The Black Front Gallery is open, stop in to see Julia Gfrörer’s exquisite pencil drawings. They’re simple and easy on the eye, and it won’t take you long to give them the kind of thorough study they deserve. But I bet you won’t easily forget them.

In a way, Gfrörer’s drawings are like contour drawings done by almost every college art student who has ever taken a figure drawing class in, say, the last 40 years. Yet, there is something unique about these drawings. They are sparse and bold with a sensuous line quality. And they are brutally honest. By that I mean that they are unadorned, not showy, devoid of gimmicks — unless you consider a fine spray of dots a gimmick (more about this later).

The drawings in this show are all either self portraits or drawings of the artist’s boyfriend. Most are nudes. Gfrörer and her boyfriend are both skinny, almost emaciated. As depicted in these drawings, neither one of them is particularly beautiful; they’re simply people living comfortably and without shame in their skin.

There is not a complete figure in the show. Most of the works show torsos only with heads and extremities either cut off or fading into the white of the paper. There are no backgrounds — just naked bodies in white space. Some show faces, and some are of legs only. Most are small works on paper. There are 24 pencil drawings on paper, six framed and 18 unframed, and one brush drawing done directly on the wall in gray paint.

I asked gallery owner Jason Sieling what kind of paint Gfrörer used for this wall painting. He said she used some gray latex house paint that just happened to be in the gallery. The drawing was an image from one of her smaller pencil drawings that she projected onto the wall and painted.

Prominent in all of the drawings is a deliberate contour line drawn slowly and with sufficient pressure to dig into the soft paper. Not quite so prominent are light lines of the kind Italians (and art professors) call pentimenti, meaning evidence of preliminary drawing or painting that is left as a personal mark of the artist. These lines were drawn more quickly and are sketchier. In some instances, they are partially erased. One drawing in particular has pentimenti of a different sort. Parts of the figure, including the head, were drawn with careful contour lines that were completely erased but left behind ghost lines where the pencil dug into the paper.

The other thing that makes these drawings unique is the use of what I referred to earlier as a fine spray of dots. That’s actually not an accurate description although I do think it accurately describes the effect if not the actual appearance. She superimposes very small brush strokes in light colors over her line drawings. They look like clouds or mist or a swarm of gnats hovering over the figure. In most of her figures, these sprays are a washed-out blue or white, but in one instance it is bright red. In the more washed-out colors, these clouds or mists are very effective in a number of ways. They work as shadows even though they make no sense as shadows, and they create a layered spatial look, pushing the figures back in space. The one drawing in which she used red does not work. The red is too dark. Instead of complementing the figure, it fights against it.

In his book “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger talks about the difference between nude and naked. He says nudes are paintings of women by men that are intended as objects of sexual desire and that to be naked is to be unadorned, natural, real. Gfrörer’s figures are naked, not nude.

[Black Front Gallery, through Aug. 28, Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., 106 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 253.284.4750, http://theblackfront]

Friday, August 10, 2007

Critic's Choice awards cite best in South Sound theater

Published in The News Tribune, August 10, 2007

Once again I offer my Critic's Choice selections for the best community theater in South Puget Sound. My selections are purely a matter of personal opinion based on performances I have reviewed in this column during the 2006-2007 theater season.

Best actor in a musical (male): Jeff Kingsbury in "Scrooge: The Musical" at Capital Playhouse.

Best actor in a musical (female): Stacie Pinkney Calkins as Effie White in "Dreamgirls" at Tacoma Little Theatre. Honorable mention: Leishen Moore as Sonia Walsk in "They're Playing Our Song" at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

Best direction of a musical or comedy: Alan Bryce for "A Flea in Her Ear" at Centerstage.

Best musical: "Beauty and the Beast" at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Special mention has to go to Encore! Theater for the punk musical "Angry Housewives."

Best dramatic actor (male): Scott C. Brown as Antonio Salieri in "Amadeus" at Lakewood Playhouse.

Best dramatic actor (female): Kendra Phillips as Anne Frank in "The Diary of Anne Frank" at Lakewood Playhouse. Honorable mention to Debbie Gallinatti as the blind woman, Susy, in "Wait Until Dark" at Tacoma Little Theatre.

Best direction of a drama: Don Welch for the harrowing post-9/11 drama "A Hole in the Sky" at South Puget Sound Community College. The timing blocking in this production was perfect, and was aided by amazing light and sound effects by, respectively, Jonathan Worden and Eric Martin.

Best drama: "A Hole in the Sky" at South Puget Sound Community College.

Best comic actor (male): Jason Haws as Bottom in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Harlequin Productions. I must also give a nod of approval to Dave Wingert as Preacher Larry Finney in "Blue Plate Special" at Centerstage.

Best comic actor (female): This honor goes to Ingrid Pharris, not for one performance, but for scene-stealing comedy in a number of supporting roles, most notably as Catherine the maid in Theater Artists Olympia's "Boston Marriage" and as Bianca in TAO's "The Taming of the Shrew."

Best comedy: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Harlequin Productions. Everything about this one was superb, from sets and lighting to acting, directing and music.

Best supporting actor: Steve Nuehring as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at Olympia Little Theater. Honorable mention has to go to David Jensen as the rough and charming club owner Lewd Fingers in "Angry Housewives" at Encore! Theater.

Best child actor: Once again this honor goes to Grant Troyer, this time for a more grown-up role as the punk teenager in Encore! Theater's "Angry Housewives."

Special mentions: Finally, there were so many outstanding performances this season that I simply have to mention a few deserving of special praise. Among these are TAO's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," Brian Jansen's comic turn in "Take Me Out" at Olympia Little Theater, Geoffrey Simmons in "Ain't Misbehavin'" at Capital Playhouse (reviving the role he played so amazingly at Tacoma Little Theatre last year), the final curtain in Tacoma Musical Playhouse's "The Full Monty," Josh Anderson's Melvin P. Thorpe in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" at Capital Playhouse, the brilliant staging of "Amadeus" at Lakewood Playhouse and the amazing fight scenes in Harlequin Productions' "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Wow! What a year it's been.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Gestural love

Chuck Gumpert and Christopher Mathie show at Two Vaults Gallery

published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug 9, 2007
pictured: "New Wind Blowing," mixed media, by Chuck Gumpert
Photo: Chuck Gumpert

Chuck Gumpert and Christopher Mathie are painters after my own heart. They both love the act of painting ― the kind of painting that since the 1940s has been called "gestural," a word not recognized by dictionaries but well loved by artists the world over.

Gumpert and Mathie share a studio, and whether or not they consciously influence one another, their mutual influence is evident in their work. So much so, in fact, that I thought all of the paintings at Two Vaults Gallery were by Gumpert. That misconception was not helped by the fact that the show was billed as paintings by Gumpert and raku pottery by Mathie.

Yes, there are pots by Mathie in the show. Nicely executed pots as a matter of fact. But a pot is to me as is a rose to Gertrude Stein, and if that doesn't make sense, ask someone older and wiser.

By coincidence, the two artists came into the gallery while I was looking at their work, and Mathie set me straight when he realized I had mistaken his paintings for Gumpert's.

Both artists make abstract paintings with landscape elements and an occasional bridge or building or figure showing up here and there ― shadowy, amorphous figures and hints of a horizon. Both layer large areas of color on the canvas with a strong emphasis on mark-making. Gumpert's paintings are more atmospheric, and his colors are kept to a limited range with browns and grays predominating. The edges of his forms are soft, and he uses little or no line and practically no dark and light contrasts. Most of his forms are variations on squares and rectangles. His landscapes are stormy; his figures moody. And when he does include figures they are more intentional and more clearly defined than figures by Mathie, whose figures seem more like abstract shapes that accidentally look figurative.

Mathie's paintings range from deliberate landscapes to completely nonobjective abstractions. His landscapes are influenced by J.M.W. Turner, the British master of stormy seas (Gumpert's look more like James McNeil Whistler). His colors are brighter; his abstract shapes are more organic; and in some of his paintings, he uses a lot of big, sweeping lines.

One Gumpert painting I particularly like is "New Wind Blowing," a figurative painting featuring a single silhouetted figure in brown standing almost dead-center in a field of atmospheric gray swirls. The figure is a pregnant a woman. She looks as if her shape has been ripped out of the gray canvas. The breakup of space, the use of transparencies, and the placement of the figure in this painting are all excellent.

"Accidental Fugitive" is an abstract seascape in tones of gray with very subtle hints of red, brown and green in two clumps of square shapes. No specific details are discernable, but the feeling is of a stormy sea with waves washing up against rocks and pilings.

I was told that Gumpert's paintings in this show are among his latest. He brought out one older painting to show me, and I liked it better than most of the ones in the show, primarily because the colors were a little brighter and there was more contrast. I also preferred a lot of his paintings that are pictured on the gallery Web site. I can't tell if his work has become more muted lately or if it looks brighter in reproduction. If it has become more muted, that is a direction he may not want to continue pursuing.

Mathie's most outstanding work is a piece called "Monolith for Spring," which, at 10 feet by 30 inches, stands floor to ceiling in the gallery. Heavy lines in large, swirling motions delineate an abstract figure with shapes that are not confined to the figure but bleed out into the background. The paint is thick, and the colors are raw.

Mathie and Gumpert are regulars at Two Vaults Gallery. I felt like this particular show did not necessarily show the best of their work. The good thing for collectors is that if you don't see something you want in this show, the gallery can direct you to many other works by these prolific and talented artists.

[Two Vaults Gallery, through Sept. 20 Tuesday-Wednesday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday-Saturday noon to 8 p.m., Sunday 2 to 7 p.m., 602 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.759.6233, http://twovaults. com]

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mining glass at MOG

pictured: Wim Delvoye "Melpomen", 2001-2002, Steel, x-ray photographs, glass, lead, 78¾ x 31½ inches, Photo courtesy of the artist

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 2, 2007

“Mining Glass” at the Museum of Glass features installations by eight contemporary glass artists. Some are great, some are interesting but unexciting, and some are just boring.

The big disappointment is Maya Lin, one of the most exciting and intelligent artists working in America today. Lin is the creator of the “VietnamVeterans Memorial” in Washington, D.C., which set the standard for contemporary memorial sculpture. Her “Systematic Landscapes” installations at the Henry in Seattle last year were astounding. But sadly, her “Dewpoint” at MOG is an uninspired toss-off that does not fit well in the space.

Fred Wilson’s “Dark Dawn” is slightly more interesting, but not the kind of thing that makes people ooh and aah. Wilson works with opaque black glass. His installation has black teardrops dripping from the wall into a pool of black glass on the floor. From the floor rise bubbles, a few of which have big, white bug eyes. The whole thing is beautifully serene, but the bug eyes lend a cartoon element that ruins the effect. The wall text explains that the eyes reference racial stereotypes. If it has to be explained with wall text, it doesn’t work.

The best things in the show are installations of a type that I normally do not like because they are overly ornate (Jean-Michel Othniel’s “Mon Lit [My Bed]”) or sensationalist (Wim Delvoye’s “Calliope, Melpomene, Terpsichre, Clio, Erato”).
Othniel’s “Mon Lit” is an ornate, Rococo canopied bed made of steel, blown glass, fabric and mixed media. It is purposely overdone and decadent — a bed in which Cinderella and her prince might make love. It is canopied with steel circles creating a web-work veil with heart-shaped openings, topped with colorful glass balls and covered with a pink blanket that looks like cotton candy. It is beyond sweet.

Delvoye’s installation consists of a series of cathedral-style stained glass windows created with MRIs, X-rays and sonograms of what is described as “cavorting couples and human organs.” It is macabre, sexual, dark and brooding, and absolutely stunning. Skeletons and skulls dominate two of his windows, two others have images of what appears to be intestines, and another features repetitive images of a man and woman kissing, many of whom are skeleton heads. This installation is beautiful in an abstract way when seen as a whole, and fascinating for its detail when studied in depth.

Another piece that I really enjoyed was Kiki Smith’s cast glass “Frogs.” On a white slab raised a few inches off the floor are 20 to 30 frogs (no, I didn’t actually count the little croakers). They range from clearly transparent to cloudily opaque in a narrow range of white, clear and light gray, with a single spot of color in one frog with a gleaming amber head that looks as if it were lit from inside. The overall brilliance of cold and brittle whiteness warms the heart. The glassy amphibians are like fairy frogs hopping happily in a field of snow.

Mona Hatoum’s “Web” is pretty impressive, if for no other reason, for its sparkle and overwhelming size. A web a steel cables and crystal spheres hangs from near the ceiling on all four walls of the center gallery and dips bowl-like to a point almost touching the floor. The clear glass spheres are like gigantic dew drops. The sparkle of reflected light is almost dizzying, and as you move around the circumference the cast shadows seem to dance on the floor.

I was impressed by Teresita Fernandez’s “Eruption (Large),” but I find it almost impossible to describe. You need to see it yourself. And I was left cold and unimpressed by Chen Zhen’s “Crystal Landscape of Inner Body,” primarily because of the unfortunate way it was displayed.

[Museum of Glass, “Mining Glass,” through Feb. 3, 2008 Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 1801 Dock St., Tacoma, 253.284.4750,]

New theater season should be smashing

Published in The News Tribune, August 3, 2007

The theatrical season drawing to a close has offered the best community theater I’ve seen since I began writing this column. Will the upcoming 2007-2008 season be even better? There are definite signs that it’s possible.

The biggest news is that Steven Taylor is returning to Harlequin Productions to play Frank’n’furter in “The Rocky Horror Show.” This will be a homecoming for Taylor, a longtime favorite at Harlequin who is now playing in “The Lion King” on Broadway.

“Horror” is an “amazing piece of work,” said Harlequin founder Scot Whitney, “but most productions are a lame attempt to ‘do the movie.’ We want to rethink the music, the characters to really get at the core of the story – which we think usually gets shortchanged, even in major productions. And, for a good start in that direction, we are certainly not going to get a cheap Tim Curry impersonation out of Steven Taylor!”

Other productions coming up at Harlequin that should be outstanding include the Northwest premiere of Conor MacPherson’s (“The Weir”) new play, “Shining City,” John Patrick Shanley’s comedy “Psychopathia Sexualis” and the great Mari Nelson as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.”

Centerstage will bring to the Knutzen Family Theater plays the likes of which have not been seen this side of the Atlantic, including an original play penned by Centerstage director Alan Bryce. First comes “Cinderella” – not the Disney musical, but a riotous English Christmas pantomime. Not to be confused with American or French pantomimes, the old English pantomime is a rowdy musical hall tradition that tells well-known stories with stock characters. Last year, Centerstage produced a pantomime called “4 Christmases,” which was hilarious.

“Nightmare of a Married Man” is Bryce’s original play. It was inspired by the play “Murderer” by Anthony Shaffer, which Bryce produced in London. “It’s a suburban romp full of magic tricks, séances, Scrabble and as surprising – and hopefully funny – a coup de theatre at the end as I could imagine,” Bryce said, adding: “It ran in repertoire with the English premiere of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘Seascape,’ and dare I say, it got much better reviews and did much better business!”

The big-ticket items at Olympia’s Capital Playhouse next season will be “Man of La Mancha” and “Sweeney Todd” – a pair of musicals that never lose their edge. “Todd” is a great horror musical in the Grand Guignol tradition. “We have the unique pleasure of presenting Tony-award winner Jarrod Emick in the title role – this demon barber of Fleet Street promises to appease the audience’s appetite!” said artistic director Jeff Kingsbury. And Kingsbury, always a great favorite with Olympia theatergoers, will revise his role as Don Quixote in “La Mancha.”

Also in Olympia, the theater at South Puget Sound Community College will perform John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Doubt.”

“A superb new drama written with an uncanny blend of compassion and detachment, it is an inspired study in moral uncertainty with the compellingly certain structure of an old-fashioned detective drama. Even as ‘Doubt’ holds your conscious attention as an intelligently measured debate play, it sends off stealth charges that go deeper emotionally,” said director Don Welch.

Lakewood Playhouse begins its season with the Agatha Christie murder mystery “The Hollow,” followed by Louis Sacher’s “Holes,” which is based on his Newbery Medal- and National Book Award-winning children’s book of the same name.

After “Holes” comes what may well be the most popular musical of all time, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.” Expect tickets to sell out early.

New Tacoma Little Theater artistic director David Duval said the group’s 89th season will offer “a dynamic and diverse collection of theatrical works. The five main stage productions carry on the TLT tradition of strong family fare theater – three classic plays as comedic as they are touching, and two timeless musicals, all somehow celebrating ‘family.’”

Everything on the schedule is a tried and true, including: “Auntie Mame,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Blithe Spirit,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Pajama Game.”

Tacoma Musical Playhouse will open its season in its remodeled theater with the great big musical extravaganza “Damn Yankees.” Most of the remodeling will have taken place in the lobby and backstage areas. The lobby of the Narrows Theatre has been notoriously small. This theater packs ’em in, and it gets awfully crowded in the lobby. Finally, there will be breathing room.

Back to the Capital City, Olympia Little Theater will put on the classic “Miracle on 34th Street” and a couple of comedies about love and moonlight: “Moon Over Buffalo” and “Moonlight and Magnolias.” And Theater Artists Olympia will bring us a typically irreverent horror/comedy, “Night of the Singing Dead.”