Friday, February 29, 2008

Music, dancing save TMP’s ‘My One and Only’

Published in The News Tribune, February 29, 2008
Pictured: Vince Wingerter and Jenny McMurry, photo by Kat Dollarhide

Great music by George and Ira Gershwin and some wonderful tap-dancing by Vince Wingerter and Jenny McMurry save “My One and Only” from being just another mediocre story (book by Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer).

Making matters worse, when I saw it opening weekend at Tacoma Musical Playhouse there were so many distracting technical glitches that it seemed like there should have been another week of tech rehearsal before opening. There were overly long and noisy scene changes that left the audience with too much time sitting in the dark staring at the curtain, microphones that cut out, growling speakers and props visible in the wings before they were rolled out on stage.

But director Jon Douglas-Rake and his crew are good at what they do, and I have little doubt all those problems have already been solved. What can’t be solved so readily, however, is a lackluster script.

The play was written in 1983 as a showcase for Gershwin tunes which had been written much earlier. The story is set in the Roaring ’20s, with barnstorming Capt. Billy Buck Chandler (Wingerter) set to attempt the first ever trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris. But he’s sidetracked by an infatuation with former English Channel swimmer Edythe Herbert (McMurry).

Believing that he’s a hayseed who couldn’t possibly win her love, Capt. Billy goes to the Tonsorial and Sartorial Emporial and asks Mr. Magix (Jon Douglas Rake) to teach him how to capture Edythe’s heart. Mr. Magix’s advice is funny, but not very helpful, so Capt. Billy pursues Edythe ineffectually. She tells him to bug off, but he refuses to accept her rebuff and kisses her against her will, and suddenly she’s madly in love with him.

Ah, yes, the hero forces himself on the girl, and she’s swept off her feet. Variations on this stupid and chauvinistic plot device used to be a mainstay in romantic comedies. It should have been retired years ago. Here it shows up twice: again in the second act when the villain, Prince Nicolai Erraclyovitch Tchatchavadze (Andrew Fry) kisses Capt. Billy’s trusty mechanic, Mickey (Samantha Underwood), and she’s swept off her feet.

Edythe asks Billy to fly her to Havana to escape Prince Nicolai’s evil clutches. Nicolai sabotages the airplane, and they crash land on a deserted island (the location of the island is the only inventive – though unrealistic – joke in the story). Finally, Edythe runs off to Morocco, and Billy follows her there to live blissfully ever after.

Enough of the story line. This play actually won a bunch of Tony Awards in 1983 but not for the book. It’s the singing and dancing and the wonderful Gershwin melodies that won awards. And it’s the music, dancing, sets and costumes that make for a fun evening at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

The sets are delightful, especially the cut-out skyline and cartoon cars and Billy Buck’s airplane. The headdresses on the beauty pageant girls at Club Oasis are amazing, and the flapper dresses are great. Kudos to costume designer Joan Schlegel and scenic artists Dori Conklin and Lorraine Hardin.

The lead actors are outstanding. McMurry looks the part of a flapper, she has a lovely voice – not too showy but strong and sweet, and she tap-dances with style and energy. Many theatergoers will remember her as Millie in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” She’s equally good in this role. And Wingerter is as good a tap-dancer as I’ve seen on South Sound stages – smooth and snappy with natural grace. His duets with McMurry remind me of Gene Kelly and Ann Miller. And speaking of Kelly, their sweet duet to “S’Wonderful” on the beach is a tribute to Kelly’s famous “Singin’ in the Rain” number.

Mark Rake-Marona is charmingly sleazy as the Reverend J.D. Montgomery, a Baptist minister by day and a nightclub owner by night.

Andrew Fry plays the evil Prince Nicolai with a sneer, a wink and a ridiculous false mustache. And Underwood is terrific as the lovable airplane mechanic, Mickey. I wish she had a larger role.

Finally, Jeff Stvrtecky’s orchestra must be mentioned as the real stars of this show. Their renditions of Gershwin’s complex blend of jazz, classical and pop music had me humming “Strike Up the Band” all the way home.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 16, additional performances at 2 p.m. March 8 and 15
WHERE: The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: Adults $23, students/military $21, children 12 and younger $16
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kicking glass

The Weekly Volcano art guy explains himself.

Published in the Weekly Volcano Feb 28, 2008

Recent visual arts coverage in the Weekly Volcano has been all about glass. I was very generous in my praise of Lino Tagliapietra, Willim Morris, and Paul and Dante Marioni. But I might have rankled some glass lovers when I wrote: “I might as well confess right now that I am not particularly enamored of glass art. I’m rather sick of the proliferation of glass in the Northwest.”

Maybe I need to explain. It’s just that I hate things that become too popular. Like reality TV, catch phrases such as “bottom line” and “at the end of the day,” and glass art.

To make it simple, most of what is called glass art is craft, not art, and although the differences may be subtle and hard to explain, there is a difference between art and craft. Art is transformative, transcendental; it stimulates new ways of looking and thinking and feeling. Craft just looks nice. To elevate a craft to the status of art, which is what most of the Northwest glass art phenomenon has done, is like equating Harlequin Silhouette romance novels with the literature of Faulkner and Hemingway. It’s like equating Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” with Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do (is, baby, be friends with you).”

Next door to the Museum of Glass and connected to William Traver Gallery is Vetri, a gallery dedicated to fine glassware. It is filled with beautiful items to decorate your home. But there is seldom, if ever, any art to be found at Vetri. Traver and Museum of Glass, on the other hand, exhibit fine art, including sculpture, sometimes but rarely paintings, and craft items — most of which are made from glass or glass combined with other materials. The material is almost incidental.

William Morris’ giant installations don’t even look like glass although they are. They look more like combinations of metal, ceramic and bone. They are thought provoking, often disturbing and highly innovative. His work is art first and glass second. The same is true with Paul Marioni’s glass sculpture currently on display at Traver. His pieces would look pretty much the same if they were made with clay or wood or cast plastic. It is the idea more than the look that makes his sculptures fascinating. His son, on the other hand, crafts traditional vessels that for all their beauty do not rise to the same level of art as his father’s work (I am speaking of the specific pieces in the Traver show, not their entire bodies of work; I have not seen enough to make that judgment).

Lino Tagliapietra, the featured artist at the Museum of Glass, is both a fine artist and a fine craftsman. Chances are he would not acknowledge that distinction. My guess is he would probably say it is all the same. He learned his craft in Venice, and his earlier work is steeped in the European tradition. But then he came to America and worked with the Pilchuck glass artists and absorbed much of their innovative spirit, and both traditions are clearly evident in his work.

Finally (at the end of the day), most of the blame and most of the praise is due to Dale Chihuly. He popularized glass art as nobody else ever has and directed the eyes of the world’s art community squarely on our little postage stamp of Earth here in the Pacific Northwest (excuse me, William Faulkner). I don’t know Chihuly and don’t really want to (excuse me, Bobble Tiki), but I have a love-hate relationship with his art. Basically, he just makes pretty little glass bowls and plates and whatnot and blows them up to gigantic proportions. Big deal. But every once in awhile he does something truly amazing, usually in the form of a large-scale installation that becomes astounding through sheer size.

I’m glad that Chihuly has drawn attention to the Northwest. But I’m really tired of looking at glass goblets.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

“Blithe Spirit”

Published the The News Tribune Feb. 22, 2008

Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” at Tacoma Little Theatre is witty and charming in an old fashioned way. With little of the rollicking, outlandish humor of more modern plays, it is more of a thinking person’s comedy – droll and quite wordy in a thoroughly British way.
It’s the story of a writer named Charles Condomine (Bill Read) who invites spiritualist Madame Arcati (Robin Weakland) to his home to conduct a séance. Madame Arcati thinks he is seriously interested in making contact with the “other side” and has no idea that he’s actually using her as research for his latest mystery novel and that Charles and his wife, Ruth (Marie Kelly) are snickering behind her back. Ruth, in fact, holds it in as best she can and breaks into hilarious guffaws as soon as Madame Arcati leaves the room.

The séance has an unexpected consequence. Charles’s ex-wife, Elvira (Jennifer Littlefield) is summoned from the other side and refuses to go away. She claims she doesn’t even know how to return; but her impish manner indicates that perhaps she doesn’t really want to leave.

Naturally, Charles is the only person who can see or hear Elvira. Thinking he is talking to her when he is actually talking to Elvira, Ruth accuses Charles of being rude to her, and Elvira chides him for being “beastly.” She says he was often beastly to her when they were married.

The next morning Ruth accuses Charles of getting drunk the night before, and he tries to convince her that the ghost of his former wife was in the room – either that or he’s going crazy. Ruth, of course, refuses to believe him.

And then Elvira shows up again to wreak further havoc in their lives. At first it seems she is there against her will, summoned unintentionally by Charles, but as the play unfolds we discover she has more malevolent intentions.

Ruth is jealous of Elvira. When, earlier, Charles told her that Elvira was prettier than she, Ruth pretended not to be jealous and scoffed at the very notion, but it was obvious that she was seething inside. And as the play unfolds we learn that his first marriage was a little more troubled than it might have seemed, and so is his current marriage to Ruth, plus there was an affair or two between the two marriages.

Other characters in the play are Dr. Bradman (James Thomas Patrick) and his wife (Syra Beth Puett) who are dinner guests the night of the séance – Dr. Bradman is even more skeptical than the Condomines – and the delightfully inept maid Edith (Brittany Henderson, who does a great cockney accent).

The whole cast is good, but the real stand-out performances come from the two leading female actors, Kelly and Littlefield. Tall and attractive, Kelly is perfectly cast as the somewhat haughty wife who, in a stereotypical British fashion, tries desperately to stifle both her laughter and her fury. The way she snickers behind Madame Arcati’s back is perfectly delightful, and when she finally vents her anger at her husband and his ghostly ex, it is withering. Littlefield captures the heart of the audience the moment she glides on stage wearing a diaphanous white nightgown that simulates ghostliness while appearing perfectly natural. Apparently she had been wearing that gown when she died seven years earlier from a sudden heart attack. Not an ingénue by any stretch of the imagination, Littlefield is a beautiful mature woman who moves with a dancer’s grace and conveys the ghost’s mischievous nature with a range of subtle facial expressions. Even when she was on the periphery of the action and others were speaking, I found it hard to take my eyes off her.

Also outstanding in a very small role is Henderson as the not-so-bright but charming maid.

“The matter of ghosts is central to the play, and a poll conducted by the Gallup organization in 2005 said that about 32 percent of Americans believe such spirits exist,” said director Steve Tarry. “To please that third of our audience and to amuse the rest, we have attempted to set up a series of rules for ghosts and stay consistent to them, sort of like in ‘The Sixth Sense,’ only for a lot less money.”
The set by Chris M. Roberson captures the look of the time and place – the home of upper crust Brits in 1941. “Blithe Spirit” runs two hours and 15 minutes with a 20-minute intermission. Tarry cut 35 minutes from the original script to make it more palatable to contemporary audiences who have become accustomed to two-act, two-hour plays.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sundays through March 2
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $16.00-$20.00
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rocking glass

Father and son show at William Traver Gallery.

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb 21, 2008

Pictured: "Speed Racer," cast glass by Paul Marioni, photo courtesy William Traver Gallery

Father and son glass artists Paul (father) and Dante (son) Marioni are showing together for only the second time anywhere at William Traver Gallery in Tacoma. Going against all reasonable expectations, it is the father whose work displays a more youthful, impish and edgy attitude while the younger Marioni is immersed in the mastery of traditional techniques. But they’re both excellent craftsmen.

Dante makes elegant vessels in blown and cast glass that are sleek and colorful. He has two contrasting bodies of work in this show: a series of leaf and acorn shaped vessels using the reticello technique and tall vases in brilliant colors with strange handles in starkly contrasting colors. They are all quite beautiful.

I might as well confess right now that I am not particularly enamored of glass art. I’m rather sick of the proliferation of glass in the Northwest. But Marioni’s vases are outstanding. His vases have curvilinear handles in odd colors, often multiple handles that crawl up the sides of the vases like spiders or trellises or Shiva arms, and typically the rims and bases are the same color as the handles. One of his more striking pieces is Red with Yellow Vessel Display, which is a wooden display case for 12 red vessels with orange handles, each differently shaped but identical in height. They look like strange medieval chess figures or an army of alien creatures.

The reticello technique creates diamond-shaped patterns by twisting and fusing together two cane cups in a manner that traps air and thus creates a little air bubble inside each diamond. There are about half a dozen reticello vessels in this show, all in clear glass with the crossing diamond lines in black and white creating moiré patterns that move with the viewer. I particularly liked the pair sitting in front of the window with the cone of the Museum of Glass visible behind them, because the cone has an identical surface pattern. I asked. That wasn’t planned. But what a terrific coincidence.

Paul Marioni’s works are more sculptural. They are all part of a series called I Am in Motion, and each of his sculptures is perfectly balanced to rock when touched by hand. Most are saddle- or turtle shell-shaped, but in many of them the overall saddle shape is manipulated to take the form of human bodies or faces. The bodies embrace, and you’d have to be blind not to see the sexual innuendo or the references to yin and yang and infinity symbols.

Speed Racer is shaped like a turtle with a long neck and head sticking out from its shell, and I can’t help but see it as a small version of the rocking-phallus murder weapon in A Clockwork Orange in brilliant bands of red, orange, yellow, and blue. It is comical and quite beautiful.
The Calculated Lie is a figure eight or infinity symbol in clear glass that will keep rocking for up to 20 minutes, I’m told, at the merest touch (it never stopped rocking when I was in the gallery).

Two of my favorites are Trophy, cast glass and enamel, and Black Trophy, cast glass, enamel and gold leaf. I like the simplicity of these and the painterly quality of the surface decoration. Plus, I like that they are less gimmicky than the more figurative pieces.

Any one of Paul’s rocking sculptures would make wonderful conversation pieces if you had them on your coffee table, but these are pretty big-name artists and not many people can afford them. I was told that Elton John just bought one. If I were Elton John, I’d buy one, too.

[William Traver Gallery, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., through March 9, 1821 East Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685]

Also see my article on Lino Tagliapietra at in the current issue of the Weekly Volcano.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The devil at midnight

"Don Juan in Chicago" at The Midnight Sun

I see at least one play a week and sometimes more. It’s my job, and I love it. But that’s a lot of theater-going, so for me to go to a play that I’m not even going to review — and to actually pay for tickets for me, my wife and our best friend when theaters routinely comp me tickets — well, it’s got to be some kind of special play for that to happen.

Welcome to “Don Juan in Chicago” by David Ives, put on by Prodigal Sun Productions in the tiny fringe performance space The Midnight Sun in Olympia.

I haven’t laughed so much since watching Harlequin's hilarious production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in September 2006. Incidentally, two of the cast members in this show, Dennis Rolly and Christopher Cantrell, were in that show as well.

“Don Juan” is like a Shakespeare comedy updated for the 21st century — Shakespearean in the use of absurd situations, sexual jokes, histrionic gestures, people pretending to be other people, poetic language with hints of the Bard and Dr. Seuss; and updated primarily in the setting and the liberal use of the two words that are taboo in family newspapers and television shows.

It’s the 16th century and Don Juan (Tim Goebel) is not exactly the legendary lothario. He’s a 30-year-old virgin who has no interest in intercourse. What he is interested in is becoming immortal, and he makes a deal with the devil (Christian Carvajal) to live forever.

The only catch is that his contract with Mephistopheles requires that he must seduce a different woman every day and never have sex with the same woman twice. If he fails, he will die and be cast into hell for eternity.

Being the kind of guy who can’t get along for without the help of his trusted, overworked and underpaid butler, Leporello (Rolly), he asks the devil to grant Leporello immortality as well — without consulting the man. And the deal is even worse because Leporello has no control whatsoever. If Don Juan screws up and is cast into hell, he goes with him.

Flash forward to modern times in Chicago where we find Don Juan, now going by the name Don Johnson, sick and tired of all the women. He’d rather die than sleep with one more, but he’s afraid of going to hell, and Leporello frantically urges him to keep on seducing.

Thrown into this hellish mix are: Dona Elvira (Ingrid Pharris), his first lover, who has made her own deal with the devil and has been stalking Don Juan for 400 years to seduce him again; Sandy (Elizabeth Lord), whom he picks up in a bar but has slept with before (will he remember in time or die in her arms?); Sandy’s jealous boyfriend Todd (Cantrell); and possibly the most naïve couple the world has ever known, Mike (Erik Cornelius) and Zoey (Cass Murphy).

Outstanding job from first-time director Keith Eisner and one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen. Rolly is a riot. Carvajal is the most deliciously evil devil imaginable. Lord is outrageously funny as the sluttiest woman in Chicago. And Pharris, who is quickly becoming my absolute favorite comic actress, goes through so many changes of looks and moods that she’s like a whole troupe of actors rolled into one. Think Imogene Coco and Carol Burnett with the added bonus of smoldering sexiness.

The final performances are next weekend, Feb. 21-23, and I’m told they’re likely to sell out quickly, if they haven’t already, so get your tickets in a hurry. Tickets are available through

Friday, February 15, 2008

Talented cast drives hilarious ‘Other Half’

Published in The News Tribune, Feb. 15, 2008

Pictured (top) left to right, Laurie Sifford, Adrienne Grieco, Justin Carleton, Scott Peterson, in Background, Nathan Rice and Cara Roper (bottom) Scott Peterson and Justin Carleton. Photos by Dean Lapin.

On the night I saw Alan Ayckbourn’s “How the Other Half Loves” at Lakewood Playhouse there were more empty seats than full. That’s a shame, because this play is laugh-out-loud funny.

Director Doug Kerr said of the playwright, one of Britain’s most popular and most prolific: “He never shies away from the dark side of life in his comedies. … But his deft pen manages to make us laugh at these dark issues.”

The writing is complex and inventive and so is Kerr’s staging and direction, which involve three married couples in two different apartments at different times, with multiple scenes happening simultaneously on stage.

Frank Foster (Scott Peterson) is a boss of the company where the other two men work. He’s a well-meaning busybody who tries to run everyone’s life. He epitomizes the Peter Principle, which says that in a hierarchy (in this case a company and the employees’ private lives) every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence.

Frank’s wife, Fiona (Laurie Sifford), is having an affair with one of Frank’s employees, Bob Phillips (Nathan Rice). When Fiona comes home at 2 a.m. on their anniversary night and Frank questions her about it, she makes up a story about running into Mary Detweiler (Adrienne Grieco), who cried on her shoulder all night about problems with her husband, William (Justin Carleton). A few misunderstandings later, Frank is convinced that Mary is having an affair with Bob and, in his bumbling way, he thinks he can fix everything.

The Fosters invite the Detweilers to dinner Thursday night, and the Phillips invite them to dinner Friday night. The two dinners in separate apartments on consecutive nights are played out simultaneously with Mary and William quickly turning in their seats to switch scenes while the four other characters pop in and out in typical farce fashion.

The affairs, incriminations and misunderstandings all play out in thoroughly modern ways, none of which should be divulged in this column.

Kerr’s direction is excellent, and the talented cast carries out the complicated timing and blocking without a hitch.

Peterson is the comic glue that holds this farce together. With his long-limbed gait and goofy grin, he reminds me of a young Dick Van Dyke from his Rob Petrie days.

Sifford, last seen at Lakewood Playhouse in “Our Town,” is an experienced actor who slips into her character so effortlessly that it is easy to forget she’s acting. She almost gets lost in her role because Fiona is the only character in this play with no memorable quirks or absurd comic bits. She comes across as an island of sanity in a madcap world, but underneath this apparent rock of stability is a conniving woman who is carrying on a clandestine affair with her husband’s junior employee.

Cara Roper plays Bob’s long-suffering wife as a lovable and good-natured slob. She can’t cook or take care of their baby or clean house, but when push comes to shove – and it does – she knows how to handle her two-timing husband.

Rice has the most difficult role to fill as Bob, the philandering husband who stopped growing emotionally at about 15 years of age. Rice’s acting is great, but his character goes too far toward the dark side in a couple of scenes where his nastiness overpowers the humor. Drunks might be funny to teenagers and people stuck in the Rat Pack era, but when Bob’s drunkenness and meanness cross the line he ceases to be funny. Fortunately those moments quickly pass, and bad Bob gets his comeuppance – repeatedly.

If the other four actors shine, Grieco and Carleton absolutely blaze as the Detweilers. The whole play is energized whenever either of them are on stage. Grieco, who was a marvelous Maria in “The Sound of Music” at Lakewood Playhouse last month, transforms herself into a mousey little woman with marvelous tics who is both lovable and pitiable. She squeaks and twitters in a most delightful way. And Carleton brings the house down with his broad comic strokes, especially when he squirms on the couch in desperate need of a bathroom.

This play should fill the house at every performance.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 2
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $19.50 general, $16.50 seniors and military, $13.50 younger than 25, $11.50 younger than 15
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Strange combinations

Glass, neon and oil at Black Front Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb 14, 2008

Pictured: installation shot with "Whole," glass and found objects by Molly Wolfe in foreground; "Orange Orb," neon, by Jeremy Bert; "Dirt Loves Concrete," oil by Jason Greene.

Interesting show: Jason Greene, Molly Wolfe and Jeremy Bert at Black Front Gallery in Olympia. Wolfe and Bert complement one another nicely. Wolfe works with glass and found objects, Bert with recycled neon signs. Both are showing objects that are iconic and that seem to combine an early industrial look with sci-fi imagery. Wolfe’s objects are more like semi-primitive religious icons and Bert’s more futuristic.

Thrown into this mix like a party crasher who is welcome nevertheless is Greene, a painter from Portland who originally hails from Mississippi and attributes some of his imagery to that Deep South heritage. Black Front regulars will recall Greene from his show a year ago in which he showed a group of monumental and iconic paintings of old jars and bottles. The paintings he’s showing this time are not quite as good as those.

The unique hook in Greene’s earlier paintings was the way he superimposed rough contour drawings over paintings of the same objects. In these paintings — small town scenes with water towers and piles of residential rubble — Greene employs a variation on that hook. These small town scenes are loosely painted with extremely thin washes of oil paint that are allowed to run and drip profusely (I’ve always loved the way liquid turpentine etches a thin network of veins in oil paint, and there’s a lot of that in these paintings). Instead of the contour drawings of the same objects, he has superimposed line drawings of totally unrelated objects and patterns and in one painting a strange blob of paint that looks like a shot from a giant paintball gun from outer space. I am referring here to a painting called “Cyclops.” It is a painting of a blue-gray water tower that has been “shot” with a single blob of bright red paint that drips in a single teardrop Cyclops eye.

There are two large paintings of piles of wood and brick in vacant lots fronting rows of suburban track houses. In front of these are networks of lines that look like giant man-made spider webs. These were especially spooky to see on a day after viewing scenes of tornado destruction in the South.

The best of Greene’s paintings is a little painting of two piles of debris leaning into one another like lovers. A pile of dirt and a pile of concrete slabs. It’s title: “Dirt Loves Concrete.” I particularly like this painting for two reasons: first, because it depicts a very common sight viewed in a new way; and second, the close-up view with no distracting background makes the painting more important than the imagery.

The best of Bert’s work are two neon sculptures called “Orange Orb” and “Flashy Donut.” They sit next to each other on the floor and are each plugged into the same wall socket with thick, coiled electrical cords, which make them look like a single piece. I think they work much better as a single piece than either one could have alone. “Orange Orb” is a big white seedpod with orange neon light inside and “Flashy Donut” flat-edged, donut-shaped light on the floor. Both look like something that might be seen in another galaxy.

Wolfe’s cast glass objects look like they were scavenged from the ruins of a 19th-century monastery or, in the case of two glass steer horns, from a ranch in Texas. Two glass figurines that look like geishas — one red and one clear and each wearing a crown of thorns made from rusty nails — are particularly effective. The crown of thorns shows up in other pieces as well, in which she combines glass objects with rings of barbed wire. Also very intriguing is a piece called “Whole,” which is a clear glass heart (human heart not Valentine heart) with a hole through it and a rusty scythe blade through the hole. How she embeds some of these objects in glass is as mind-boggling as a ship in a bottle.

[Black Front Gallery, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through Feb. 27, 106 Fourth Ave., Olympia, 360.786.6032]

Friday, February 8, 2008

‘6 Women’ sizzles with mix of music, adult comedy

Published in The News Tribune, Feb. 8, 2008

Pictured L to R: Kim Holm, Stacie Hart, Melissa Backstrom, Stephanie Nace, Heidi Fredericks, Karen Christensen. Photo by Glenn Raiha

Imagine a “Saturday Night Live” episode with a feminist theme and a lot of rockin’ music, and you’ll begin to gain a glimpse of what is in store for you when you see “6 Women With Brain Death or Expiring Minds Want to Know” at Capital Playhouse in Olympia.

“6 Women” is a laugh-out-loud romp through the lives of contemporary women in which nothing is sacred – neither God nor children, sex or TV soap operas, not even press-on nails.

It is a six-woman play presented in episodes. It opens with strangely distorted music from a three-man band and the six women chanting headlines from tabloid newspapers: “Bizarre Disease Makes Woman Eat Kitchen Sink!” “Mom Sells Twins to Buy Lottery Tickets” and “Cannibal Cow Eats Hamburger.” Their singing and chanting voices overlap and then come together in chorus, and then the individual women speak directly to the audience in a kind of singsong overture that hints at what is to come.

Quick costume changes – some done in full view of the audience and some consisting of nothing more than apron-like dress fronts slipped over their clothes – and the most basic of sets allow for a smooth flow from skit to skit, more often than not with one or more of the six women staying on stage during scene changes to become the lead character in the next skit. And what wildly inventive skits they are.

The opening one, “All My Hospitals,” examines the life of a woman addicted to soap operas. Wanda (played by Kim Holm with a mountain-size mop of hair in rollers) talks to her television while watching her favorite soap. She goes ballistic when the show is interrupted for a special announcement. Then the leading character on the show, Veronica (Heidi Fredericks) talks back to her and then steps out of the television to tell her she’s sick and tired of her whining. Veronica torments Wanda by telling her she knows the big secret of the show and she’s not going to let her know.

From Wanda’s kitchen, we go to a stage in Detroit where singers are auditioning for Motown. A woman in a choir robe (Karen E. Christensen) timidly announces – with a special invocation to Michael Jackson, whom she calls “Bro” – that she and her backup singers, the Divas of Motown, have blended classical music with soul, which they demonstrate with operatic singing backed by choreographed dance steps.

The next skit, “Rambi,” is a mixture of dancing animals from the Walt Disney film “Bambi” and “Rambo,” which seems especially appropriate due to the new Sylvester Stallone film.

“High School Reunion” looks at a group of friends eager to attend their 20th reunion. Starry-eyed and perhaps blinded by their desires, the women are convinced they have all “arrived,” despite divorces, abortions and Valium addictions.

They all remember the girl they campaigned for to become prom queen, who was not elected because she was too fat. Melissa Backstrom is marvelous as the not-quite prom queen. She is at the reunion wearing punk clothes and makeup, including black lipstick, a ripped stocking and a dangerously low-cut blouse, and she belts out the prom queen song with a powerful and soulful voice.

Other skits include “Game Show,” which includes the sadistic game “Wise Up or Die”; “Severed Head”; “Divas at Nashville,” a twist on the Motown skit with the same chorus now auditioning for the Grand Ole Opry; “Barbie and Ken,” a painful look at messed-up love lives; “God is an Alien,” in which Backstrom wears an antenna cap and recalls how she was abducted by aliens and instructed by God to sell Amway, Mary Kay and Shaklee products; and “Toll Road,” in which the women sing about how they want to escape lives made miserable by their children, husbands and boyfriends.

This play is for adults only due to language and themes.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 16
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 East 4th Ave, Olympia
TICKETS: $27-$33 for adults, $21-$27 for seniors and youth 16 and under
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The other glass museum

Hotel Murano is a monument to glass art

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb 7, 2008
Photo courtesy Hotel Murano

The finishing touches are being put on the $20 million renovation of the Hotel Murano, formerly the Sheraton, in downtown Tacoma. The Murano is part of the Providence hotel chain, a leader in the contemporary trend of hotels that are showcases for art. Quite a change from olden days when hotels were known for cheap reproductions that were chosen to be unobtrusive and hopefully overlooked. Each hotel in the chain prides itself on world class art, and each hotel centers its art around a theme. There’s already one in the area, Murano’s sister hotel, Hotel Max in Seattle, which is filled with works by emerging local and regional artists. In acknowledgment of Tacoma’s growing status as a center of glass art, Hotel Murano is a showcase for contemporary glass art from around the world.

Among the artists represented are regional artists Martin Blank; Dante Marioni, who is currently showing at both the Museum of Glass and Traver Gallery in Tacoma; Preston Singletary; William Morris; Cappy Thompson; Brent Kee Young; Catherine Newell; Ross Richmond; and Dale Chihuly. Among international artists is Karen LaMonte, whose cast glass dresses were such a hit last year at the Museum of Glass.

The hotel’s collection includes 40 artists from around the world. In the lobby area and grand corridor are works by Chihuly, Thompson and others, and a chandelier by Massimo Micheluzzi. This chandelier in blown and mirrored glass is silver in color and features delicate tendrils that look like they were shaped out of molten mercury.

In the corridor stairwell hang three magnificent glass Viking ships by Vibeke Skov of Denmark. Each colorful ship illustrates popular Norse legends. They are bright and colorful and can be viewed from multiple angles, including from above and below.

Outside in front of the main entrance will stand a 104-foot tall steel and glass sculpture by Greek artist Costas Varotsos, which is expected to be worth $2 million when it is completed.
Each of the 25 floors is dedicated to an individual artist. The hallways feature one work by each artist with museum quality wall texts in etched glass and photographs of the artists at work or other documentation related to the featured artist. Inside each room are sketches or other preliminary studies by the artist featured on that floor.

Curator Tessa Pappas and hotel spokeswoman Dina Nishioka escorted me on a guided tour of some of the floors where the artwork has already been installed. I was most impressed by “Idolito,” a blown glass figure by Seattle artist William Morris that looks like some kind of ancient mythical creature — half man and half horned beast. Morris’ works are typically dark and opaque, looking more like burnished metal than glass. His grainy, high-contrast drawings in the rooms are very striking.

I was also impressed by the Marioni exhibit on the 12th floor. The dramatic black and white photograph of the artist etched in glass contrasts nicely with the delicate yellow vases on display.

One of the more interesting displays is the 24th floor featuring Peter Bremers, whose abstract glass sculpture was inspired by icebergs. Rather than photographs of the artist at work, the walls are lined with photographs of the icebergs that inspired him.

In addition to art throughout, the hotel features hand-blown glass lamps, widescreen plasma televisions, iPods, and a unique choice of pillows and spiritual reading matter in every room.
The hotel is scheduled to open March 1.

[Hotel Murano, 1320 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.238.8000,]

Monday, February 4, 2008

No mo fat

Once again my home state of Mississippi has made me proud of my Southern heritage. NOT.

What's the latest? Mississippi, the fattest state in the union, wants to pass a law banning restaurants from serving fat people. This is a state that keeps screaming to get government off our backs; yet they keep inviting government into our bedrooms, and now they want to dictate what their citizens can eat. Gosh, you might think that before taking such draconian measures they might try promoting good nutritional education or maybe make some attempt to encourage their overweight citizens to eat something besides fried catfish and hush puppies, fried chicken and cornbread. I grew up eating that kind of food and I love it, but it's nothing but a heart attack in a fry pan.

One ray of hope is that even if they pass the no-food-for-fatties law the governor might have to veto it for his own protection, because ... well, have you SEEN Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour? He's quite a hefty fellow.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Witty ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ tells madcap tale

Published in The News Tribune, February 1, 2008
Pictured: Corey Moore, Alberto Cintron, Hannah Eklund, Terence Artz' photo by Toni Holm

I found it difficult to settle into “Moonlight and Magnolias” at Olympia Little Theater opening night. The introductory prelude – cleverly written by Corey Moore to emulate a 1939 newsreel – went on too long, the dialogue in the opening scene was stilted and I had a hard time accepting 17-year-old Alberto Cintron as 37-year-old movie mogul David O. Selznick.

But as the actors got past their opening-night jitters and took on their respective roles, I got caught up in the witty dialogue and the cynical take on a major moment in film history – five days of sheer lunacy in which Selznick locked himself in his office with screenwriter Ben Hecht (Corey Moore) and director Victor Fleming (Terence Artz) where he insisted they subsist on nothing but bananas and peanuts (Selznick’s idea of brain food) until they came up with a workable script to Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel “Gone with the Wind.”

The script by Ron Hutchinson takes great liberties with the actual events, but it paints accurate portraits of the characters in this zany comedy-drama. Selznick had already spent two years of pre-production filming, had fired a host of directors (the latest being George Cukor) and had not yet cast his leading lady. He hired Fleming, who had just finished directing “The Wizard of Oz” and Hecht, who at the time was considered the best screenwriter in Hollywood.

Both Selznick and Hecht were Jewish, a major factor in the play. Most of the early Hollywood moguls were Jews, and many of them were complicit in America’s rampant anti-Semitism – looking the other way in order to get along and become rich and powerful. Selznick cared nothing for the plight of his fellow Jews. Hecht, on the other hand, was a radical who cared very deeply and detested the racism that was glorified in “Gone with the Wind.”

Both Hecht and Fleming thought “Gone with the Wind” was a terrible book and that the movie would be a huge flop.

Hecht had never actually read the book – a major part of the plot, so Selznick and Fleming act out all the major scenes for his benefit.

Hecht and Selznick fight bitterly over almost every scene, their battles coming to a head when Hecht refuses to write a scene in which Scarlet O’Hara slaps her slave handmaiden, and throughout all of this the three men get closer and closer to insanity due to lack of sleep, unrelenting pressure and the absurd diet of peanuts and bananas.

Other than Selznick, Hecht and Fleming, the only other character on stage is Selznick’s secretary Miss Poppengull (Hannah Eklund). Eklund has very few lines. Mostly she just replies “Yes, Mister Selznick” to his every order. But she paints a perfect picture of the put-upon secretary with subtle facial expressions and a demeanor that grows increasingly slovenly. She lets her hair down, and she loses a shoe in the peanut-shell and banana-peel bedlam of the office – terrific acting in her very small role.

Cintron’s role is the most demanding because he has to be convincing as an autocratic and proud filmmaker and comically slip into various other roles as Selznick, a bad actor, tries to act out Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara roles. He does a credible job, even though he can’t disguise his youth.

Artz and Moore are both consummate actors. Moore’s anger and disdain are palpable, and Artz’s physical comedy brings the house down.

The set designed by Kathryn Beall and Toni Holm captures the look of a 1939 producer’s office and, luckily, the only set change necessary is the gradual disarray of the office, which is accomplished primarily by stagehands scattering paper, peanut shells and banana peels. (I must say this is the only time I’ve ever seen stagehands garner applause by throwing basketfuls of paper on the floor.)

“Moonlight and Magnolias” is a wild comedy of the slapstick variety with an underlying theme of political and social consequence that remains relevant 69 years after the story takes place.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 10.
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12 at Yenney Music Co. on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or online at
INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,