Friday, October 31, 2008

Campy ‘Bunnicula’ not too scary for kids

Published in The News Tribune, October 31, 2008

It is a dark and stormy night. Haven’t you always longed to see a show that starts that way? The modern children’s classic “Bunnicula” starts just that way – in spirit if not in fact. It is not only a delightfully entertaining story for children, it is also a campy takeoff on every old horror movie ever made.

On Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater’s big stage at the Narrows Theatre, it will be just scary enough and funny enough to entertain children of all ages without upsetting the younger children. Or so say the play’s director, Maria Valenzuela, and actor Chris Serface. “It was hot reading for kids in high school and college, (and) my 8-year-old just read it,” Valenzuela said.

Serface, who was a young child when the first “Bunnicula” book came out, said all of his friends loved the books, even up through high school.

As for the play, Serface said it is “very cartoonesque, like an old horror movie.” It starts off a little scary, Serface said, but turns funny before it gets too scary for the little kids – “almost like a spoof.”

It’s the story of the Monroe family and their pets, Chester the cat (played by Nelwyn Brady) and Harold the dog (Mark Rake-Marona), who is also the narrator of the story. The family goes to the movies and finds a bunny there and brings him home. Soon all the vegetables in the house begin to turn white, and Chester the cat suspects it is because the bunny, whom they named Bunnicula after Dracula, is a vampire, and he’s sucking the juices out of all the veggies.

The play is told from the point of view of the dog and features adult actors as animals and teenage actors as children, which means all of the props have to be appropriate sizes. To get an idea of what that is like, remember Lily Tomlin as 5-year-old Edith Ann in her big chair on the old “Laugh In” television series.

The children are played by Kody Bringman, 19, and Alex Gallo, 16. Both are from Puyallup and both are up-and-coming actors.

Bringman plays 10-year-old Pete, the oldest Monroe child. Patrons of Tacoma Musical Playhouse will remember him from “Grease” and “Meet Me in St. Louis” and can look forward to seeing him again in TMP’s next mainstage production, “The Slipper and the Rose.”

Gallo plays the younger child, Toby. Gallo was seen in “Ragtime” and has been in all three of TMP’s productions of “A Christmas Carol.”

Other actors in this production include Serface as Mr. Monroe and Christine Riippi as Mrs. Monroe.

And, of course, Bunnicula, a 4-foot-tall puppet built by Douglas Paasch, the master puppeteer at the Seattle Children’s Theater, where the play premiered in 1997.

The music has been arranged especially for this performance by musical director Sarah Samuelson with help from Valenzuela and TMP musical director Jeff Stvrtecky. Since the script didn’t come with a full score, they had to create their own. Traditionally, this play has relied on recorded music, but Valenzuela said TMP is dedicated to doing live music, so this production will use two keyboards and percussion, and we’re promised many comical musical special effects.

Other effects sure to be delightful, such as some very inventive lighting, are the work of technical director Will Abrahamse.

Tonight there will be a special costume party with a full performance of the play and prizes for costumes and jack-o’-lanterns.

All-in-all, it sounds so entertaining I wish I was 10 years old again.

WHEN: 7 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Nov. 8-9
WHERE: Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $15 general, $13 seniors/students/military, $10 children; $10 groups of 10 or more; Halloween party, $13 for children 12 and younger, $15 all others
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Looking and seeing

Sex offenders and snow globes on display at Fulcrum Gallery.

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct 30, 2008
Pictured: "Observations and Perceptions" installation view, photo by Jeremy Gregory

Fulcrum Gallery owner Oliver Doriss says the latest gallery exhibition, Observations & Perceptions, is his first show “incorporating social and political commentary.” He goes on to say, “I was apprehensive going into it” — particularly apprehensive about Jeremy Gregory’s installation with portraits of sex offenders and a spoken word piece by the singer/actor Tom Waits.

Gregory’s installation takes up half of the front room of the gallery, but viewers experience it beginning outside as they approach the gallery on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Behind the left side picture window hang two old sash-type windows with peeling paint. Inside the gallery, more old windows and doors hang from the ceiling to partition off the left side of the front room, creating a room within a room — and that room within a room is a unified, thematic installation that is, in essence, the mysterious building Waits talks about in his eerie spoken word piece “What’s That Building in There?” that loops over and over with creepy sound effects and Waits’ famously gruff voice.

The looped spoken word is like some kind of chant to an underworld god ceaselessly asking questions about a mysterious old building. Inside we see an old work table cluttered with tools and framed portraits of men whom we learn are all registered sex offenders. Above the work table are clotheslines, and clipped to the line with pins are sketchy ink drawings that seem to be snatched from moments in various lives. Along one wall are more portraits.

The portraits are almost crudely drawn and colored in strange duotones. In one the face is black and white like a graphite drawing, and the background is a bright blue. Another face is green on a red background. Yet another is purple-faced with a green background. The colors are acidic, electric, dark, and foreboding. The facial expressions are those of mug shots.

Gregory says the portraits all come from a registered sex offender Web site. “ … you can enter your address, and it will display all the registered sex offenders in your area,” he explains. “When I typed in the Fulcrum address I realized that the Hilltop and surrounding area were heavily populated with these people. After experiencing a range of emotions I realized that most people, directly or indirectly, have been affected by sexual crimes such as harassment, molestation, rape, assault, etc.”

This is an emotionally powerful show. The smaller framed portraits on the table are much stronger than the larger portraits along the left sidewall. The larger ones are paintings and the smaller ones chalk drawings, and it appears that Gregory is much more at ease with drawing tools. The best things about these drawings are his color choices, which fit perfectly with the overall mood of the installation.

As for the windows and doors, I think the idea was good but wish it had been carried out more fully with walls and perhaps drawn window shades so viewers would have to step inside to see what’s there. That would have made it much more effective.

In addition to Gregory’s installation, there are glass works by Doriss, including some from his delicate Sky Ponds done for the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. There are also surrealistic snow globes by Conor McClellan, a fascinating wall of ID cards by Galen McCarty Turner (part of an ongoing project that is well known by people whose phone numbers start with 253), and three wonderful little op-art paintings by Elise Richman. The Richman paintings are particularly interesting upon close examination when what looks like typical landscape-based abstractions are seen to be raised points of “beads, dollops and pools of paint.”

[Fulcrum Gallery, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Thursdays 6-9 p.m. and by appointment, through Nov. 16, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250. 0520]

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Random picks

Yesterday I went to Tacoma to review the current show at Fulcrum Gallery, and then headed on up north to Seattle where Gabi and I wandered around Pioneer Square checking out the galleries.
Featured at Fulcrum in Tacoma is an installation called "What's That Building in There?" with portraits of registered sex offenders and a strange spoken word performance by the one and only Tom Waits. Watch for my review in the Weekly Volcano next week.
Now for Seattle: If I spend the whole day visiting galleries in Seattle and see one good show I usually consider that a banner day -- meaning I'm usually disappointed. But yesterday I saw two good shows.
First was Glenn Ossiander at I/M/A Gallery, corner Jackson and Occidental. Ossiander is showing a group of small abstract paintings is intense colors, mostly red or red-orange. These are exciting paintings. The surface treatment is rich and the colors are burning hot.
Next was Terry Turrell at Grover Thurston. Large and small paintings and sculpture in mixed media with a density of marks and crisp edges and wildly imaginative imagery.
I highly recommend both of these shows.

Friday, October 24, 2008

‘Threepenny Opera’ mixes music, drama, humor superbly

Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 24, 2008
Photo by Glenn Raiha

The key to Capital Playhouse’s production of the Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill classic “The Threepenny Opera” can be found in this statement from director Jeff Kingsbury: “An interesting thing about ‘Threepenny’ is that there are no guides to the ‘right way.’ Not being produced often, there are decidedly few reference materials to look to.”

In other words, the director had more freedom to interpret the staging, presentation and tone of the play than directors are normally allowed. And Kingsbury has taken full advantage of this freedom to be inventive, daring and oh-so theatrical. The staging of this production – from the sets, lighting, costumes and makeup to the highly stylized and choreographed movement of the actors on stage – is dramatic, tense and dark, and all tinged with satirical and biting humor.

The set by Bruce Haasl is dark and bleak. Ostensibly a poor section of London in the Victorian era, this set with its rough balcony and spiral staircase and ragged curtains – and the big wheels that crank curtains of text and the bars of a jail cell – could be any place or any time, and it sets the menacing tone of the play. In something that has become a Capital Playhouse hallmark, movable props and set pieces serve multiple purposes and seamlessly incorporate set changes into the flow of the action.

Adding to this look are the rough-hewn and outlandish costumes designed by Tom C. Hudson and horror-show makeup. For example: Russ Holm as the beggar chief Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, is shirtless with big suspenders, and he has shaved half his head and pushed the remaining hair up into absurd twin peaks. His beautiful daughter, Polly (Erica Penn) wears sexy black tights and a kind of lace-up corset, and wields a whip. Adam Randolph, in a variety of roles, seems to be wearing countless layers of ragged clothes topped by an oversized trench coat and weird glasses, and most of the women in the cast are half naked and in disarray. And all of the cast members are heavily made up with black lines and smudges on their faces and dark smears around their eyes.

The mood is set in the opening number as the entire cast slowly comes out and groups and regroups in highly stylized, menacing and zombie-like movements as Randolph as the new beggar, Filch, unscrolls and reads the opening script and then sings the most famous of all songs from this show, “The Flick Knife Song,” better known as “Mack the Knife.”

From here the story unfolds, a story that glamorizes criminals and satirizes the rich and powerful – a social message epitomized by the question “Who is the bigger criminal: he who robs a bank or he who founds one?” Food for thought today more than ever.

Peachum and his wife, Celia (Jennie May Donnell) control the beggars of London and take a cut on all they can beg, borrow or steal. Their daughter, Polly, marries Macheath (Harrison Fry), a criminal better known as Mack the Knife. Determined to break up their marriage, Peachum conspires to get Macheath arrested and hanged by convincing a prostitute named Jenny (Bailey Boyd) to betray him. He’s arrested, he escapes and is arrested again. And the plot thickens when it turns out that the police chief, Jackie “Tiger” Brown (Jesse Derron Gold) is Macheath’s oldest friend (interpreted in this production as a gay man in love with Mack) and the chief’s daughter Lucy (Bianca Davis) turns up and claims to be Macheath’s wife.

From Holms’ over-the-top antics to Donnell’s lovable and slatternly Mrs. Peachum to Randolph’s ability to assume many different roles, the acting in this play is outstanding, even down to the smallest movements of chorus members whose only roles are to sing backup and move with grace and precision.

The play is funny and challenging. The language and the themes of violence and sexuality are definitely for adults only. And the music, a balance between opera and pop music, is great – not toe tapping and hummable tunes, but stirring and dramatic tunes.

If you enjoyed “Sweeny Todd” and “Cabaret,” you’ll love “The Threepenny Opera.” This is definitely not Disneyesque family entertainment.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 1
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
TICKETS: $29-$35 general, $23-$29 seniors and ages 16 and younger
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Art at Work studio tours

I hope you'll read my article on Tacoma's Art at Work Month artists studio tours in the Weekly Volcano. You can pick up a copy at any of their distribution points or read it online by clicking the above link. Featured in the article are Carlos Taylor-Swanson, Janet Marcavage, Deborah Greenwood and Betty Ragan.

Bollywood West

Donald Fels and Indian sign painters at Tacoma Art Museum

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct 23, 2008

Donald Fels and his collaborators, First Sight, 2005. Oil enamel on aluminum, 8 × 12 feet. Courtesy of the artists and Davidson Galleries, Seattle, Washington.

Donald Fels and his collaborators, Global Trade, 2005. Oil enamel on aluminum, 8 × 12 feet. Courtesy of the artists and Davidson Galleries, Seattle, Washington.

Among the many exhibitions now showing at Tacoma Art Museum is one that may sound weird but that is filled with knockout images. It’s called What Is a Trade? Donald Fels and Signboard Painters of South India.

In 2005 Fels traveled to India to work with commercial signboard painters on a series of large-scale paintings based on Vasco da Gama’s 1498 voyage to India in search of a direct sea route for the spice trade.

Fels’ part in this project seems to have been sort of like that of a movie director. He provided the concept and vision and conveyed it to the Indian sign painters, giving them sketches and photos as starting points but encouraging them to interpret them in their own way. The resultant images are bright, colorful, bombastic, and very exciting.

The images are large and are stacked on the walls floor to ceiling. They are painted mostly in primary colors.

Of course there are stories and histories that are uniquely Indian, and one comes away with the strong feeling that the Indians are not overly fond of Vasco da Gama. Whereas Westerners may view him as a romantic explorer, the Indians see him more as an invader, much like the view American Indians have of Christopher Columbus — you know, the wonderful Italian explorer who discovered tribes of beautiful native people and then killed them.

But the style of these paintings seems to come from all over the world and from all of art history, meaning the art of the dominant Western culture. We see pop paintings reminiscent of James Rosenquist, whco, like these Indian painters, started out as a billboard painter and applied skills and design principles from billboard painting to fine art painting. We see pictures that remind us of David Salle with his harsh juxtaposition of images ripped right out of true-crime cover art. We see paintings reminiscent of propaganda posters from the Russian Revolution. We see bits of surrealism and of contemporary graffiti art. And due primarily to the nature of the materials these paintings are created with — enamel on aluminum — they have the look of advertisements seen along country roads and tacked on the sides of country stores here in the United States when I was growing up in the 1950s. Surely even young people today have seen some remnants of those and know the look I’m talking about.

The mishmash of styles turns the whole gallery into one big collage.

I suggest that viewers take it in this way: first, stand in the middle of the gallery and turn around slowly, letting the clash of images and colors wash over you, and then take them in one after another, reading all of the words and thinking about how they relate to history and world trade.

This brings us to Bollywood, India’s most popular export. We’ll probably never know who coined the term “Bollywood,” but I suspect it must have been an American. Just as Bollywood films are mostly musical extravaganzas that are unintentional parodies of Broadway and Hollywood musicals, the paintings in this exhibition look like take-offs on many aspects of Western fine and commercial art traditions.

In another gallery at TAM and promoted as a sister exhibition to What Is a Trade? is Oasis: Western Dreams of the Ottoman Empire from the Dahesh Museum of Art. This show also looks at Western concepts and representations of the East.

Rounding out the museum offerings are two large exhibitions culled from its ever-expanding permanent collection: The Surrealist Impulse and Speaking Parts. These shows include works as diverse as Salvadore Dali prints; paintings by Morris Graves; Mark Toby and Pierre-Auguste Renoir; a film by former Tacoman Jared Pappas-Kelly; and a terrific early wall hanging construction by Scott Fife, who is best known locally for the big dog in the museum lobby.

[Tacoma Art Museum, through Jan. 18, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m., $6.50-$7.50, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cast shines in Shakespeare's difficult 'Antony & Cleopatra' in Olympia

Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 17, 2008
Pictured: John Bogar as Mark Antony with Mari Nelson as Cleopatra.
Photo by Jill Carter

One of the most difficult Shakespeare plays to produce is “Antony & Cleopatra.”

I spoke to director Scot Whitney before the opening of Harlequin Productions' performance of this tragedy, and he expressed trepidation, saying it is a tough play to bring off. It requires, among other things, top-notch professional actors in the lead roles as two larger-than-life characters who see themselves as descendents of gods. Whitney cast two of the best in these roles, Mari Nelson as Cleopatra and John Bogar as Antony.

Both Bogar and Nelson bring notable acting experience to their roles. Bogar has played in “Macbeth,” “Othello” and “The School for Scandal” with the Seattle Shakespeare Company. Nelson has performed on Broadway, in film and television, plus tons of Shakespeare, including “Twelfth Night” with New York’s Shakespeare Festival and last year’s production of the same play at the Seattle Rep.

In addition to these two fine actors, the show features two perennial local favorites in the person of Paul Purvine as Octavius (Caesar) and Dennis Rolly in multiple roles as Lepidus, Euphronius and a soothsayer and clown.

Still, with all this talent, it is a play that’s really hard to like. The drama is intense, most of the characters are not particularly likable, there is very little comic relief and there are big battle scenes and orgy scenes that have to be compressed and stylized and which I thought were boring and detracted from the more personal stories of the lovers and their antagonists. I did think, however, that Whitney did well in choosing to present some of these scenes as shadow shows behind curtains.

Nelson puts on one heck of a show as the legendary queen of Egypt. She is imperious, petulant, demanding, sexual, flirtatious and emotionally overwrought with both anger and heartbreak. How can a woman who believes she is descended from the goddess Isis be both a spoiled little girl and a heartbroken lover? To portray all of that takes some mighty large acting skills, and Nelson answers that challenge quite well.

Similarly, Bogar comes to the challenge of playing the boisterous, arrogant and love-smitten Mark Antony with panache.

Purvine plays Octavius Caesar with dignity and poise, and he looks the part. Some might think he’s too young, but Octavius was only 20 years old when he ascended to his power in Rome, and although the events depicted here took place over years, they are smartly condensed to a brief time period in the play.

Rolly is outstanding in various roles, most of which have needed comic underpinnings. He is like some of the great character actors that keep showing up in movies that everybody recognizes but few can identify and who are always kind of the same character no matter who they are playing (like Steve Buscemi or Harry Dean Stanton or William H. Macy before he became a big star).

Linda Whitney’s set has a heavy feel, and it serves well, without necessitating set changes, as both Cleopatra’s palace in Egypt and Caesar’s palace in Rome. The costumes by Monique Anderson were clearly well researched for historic accuracy. Changes in time and place are indicated by simple but effective light and music effects, with the only set changes being Cleopatra’s bed, which rolls out from behind a curtain and which at one point becomes a tavern where Caesar and his soldiers have a drunken night of singing (one of the best scenes in the play).

As with many of Shakespeare’s plays, the story is hard to follow if you do not already know the basic outline. Fortunately, the program for this play includes excellent commentary and synopsis, which help a lot. I would also suggest reading about it on Harlequin’s Web site before going.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 25
WHERE: State Theatre, 202 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $24-$33, rush tickets $12-$15 half-hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Recycled re-ART

Recycled art show at Gallery Madera

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct 16, 2008
Pictured: "Abby Road," tin art by Brett Carlson

Art from recycled materials is nothing new. Picasso and Braque were doing it before most of us were born. But today it is done with a more direct emphasis on environmental stewardship. Gallery Madera has jumped on this bandwagon with re-ART ’08, a juried exhibition of art from recycled materials that opens Saturday, Oct. 18, with an opening gala from 3 to 7 p.m.

“We received 130 individual entries of art from recycled materials from nearly 30 different artists in a great variety of mediums,” says gallery owner Carlos Taylor-Swanson. “Our jurors did a great job bringing the overall number down to a manageable amount while keeping the show interesting and fun.”

Taylor-Swanson was kind enough to spread the works out for me to preview a week prior to the opening. A few of the participating artists had not yet delivered their works, but I saw enough to know that this is going to be a fun show.

On the downside, a lot of the art is not only recycled material-wise but warmed up from well-worn artistic traditions. On the upside are some inventive and skillfully executed works of art from the likes of Blue Hesikx, Alice Di Certo, Chris Wooten, and an amazing American flag made by Ms. Seberson’s 2008 3rd-grade class at Washington-Hoyt Elementary. The flag was among a few works that had not yet been delivered when I saw the show, but an image of it is used on the announcement card, and it can be seen on the gallery’s Web site. With its rich surface textures and bright colors, it looks like a cross between Jasper Johns’ encaustic flags and flag paintings by Peter Max. Johns’, by the way, are great art, and Max’s are slick and corny knockoffs. The 3rd-graders’ flag has more in common with Johns.

Another artist whose work I didn’t get to see is Diane Kurzyna. But I have seen her work many times before, and she e-mailed me images of her works in this show — a group of playful dolls and one very dark and menacing doll made from recycled plastic bags.

Speaking of playful yet menacing, De Certo’s piece in this show is both, and it is one of the most striking pieces in the show. Surrealistic in nature, it is two heads joined at the back and consuming wine glasses. Depending on which direction you view it from, the glasses either go into one of the head’s mouth whole and is spit out the other in broken shards, or one head devours the broken glass and recycles it as intact stemware. The heads, by the way, are made from re-cast scrap iron from old radiators.

Interesting but uneven are Tim Mulligan’s four relief sculptures made from scrap building materials — wood moldings and frames. Mulligan puts the pieces of framing together in abstract patterns, primarily in bands of various colors. I’m told that he repaints some of the pieces but that many are left the colors he finds them. The best of these is one with a series of vertical bands with a small, square picture frame in the middle.

I think the most inventive and most skillfully executed pieces in the show are Brett R. Carlson’s tin art collages. Carefully planned, various colored pieces of tin are cut and assembled like jigsaw puzzles to create pictures. There are landscapes and cityscapes, one with the Incredible Hulk, and a beautifully prismatic copy of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover.

In addition to making good use of some of the trash that litters our planet, sales of art from the show will be invested back into the community as 30 percent of gross sales will go to help the Tacoma Food Co-op get up and running as well as support the Sierra Club Zero Waste Committee.

[Gallery Madera, re-ART ‘08, through Nov. 29, 2210 Court A, downtown Tacoma, 253.572.1218, www.]

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Of Mice and Men

There's seldom if ever a week when I don't see one or more plays, unless I double up and see two or more one week and take the next week off. Yet with all of this theater going there are plays in the South Sound region I wish I could see and don't. This week there have been a couple: "Endgame," which I blogged about just a few days ago, and Stage Door Productions' performance of the Steinbeck classic "Of Mice and Men."

There are a couple of interesting reviews on Seattle Performs.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I don't usually recommend plays that I haven't yet seen, but some just demand notice. So check this out:

Calpurnia's Dream, Ltd. proudly announces that Samuel Beckett's Endgame at Midnight Sun in downtown Olympia, WA (113 Columbia St. NW).

Endgame is considered by some to be the play of the 20th century, and was Beckett's own personal favorite.
Come see the masterpiece by the grandfather of the modern theatre and find out what the fuss is all about!

Directed by Peter Kappler.
Featuring: Anders Bolang, Jason Haws, Phillip Wickstrom, Pug Bujeaud. Dates: October 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25. All shows at 8pm. $12 at the door or at BuyOlympia. com. See you at the theatre!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tacoma theater's ‘South Pacific’ relies too much on songs

Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 10, 2008
Pictured (top) Jessilyn Carver as Bloody Mary with the men's chorus;(bottom) Rafe Wadleigh and Marissa Ryder. Photos by Kat Dollarhide

Surely I’m not the only person in America who doesn’t like “South Pacific.”

It is one of America’s favorite musicals and has been for more than half a century. The revival currently playing on Broadway won an amazing seven Tony awards this year, including Best Revival of a Musical. The original Broadway production in 1950 won a Pulitzer Prize, as did the James Michener book, “Tales of the South Pacific,” upon which it was based.

Locally, the Tacoma Musical Playhouse performance of “South Pacific” drew a standing ovation from a sold-out house at the Sunday matinee I attended.

Like many in the audience, I was swept away by both Rafe Wadleigh’s rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening” and Matt Posner’s wistful “Younger Than Springtime.” And yet I did not like the play overall.

The music by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is good. But the book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan is not worthy of all the awards and accolades the play has received.

The story is simplistic and not very inventive. Even the laudable theme of coming to terms with bigotry, which was probably pretty forward-looking in 1950 and is still relevant today, falls a little flat in dramatic terms. The lovers fall in love too easily – at first sight, of course. Also, the death of Cable is an unnecessary plot point that too easily avoids overcoming the bigotry the story is supposedly written to expose. And the exposition, especially in Act 2, is, frankly, just plain boring.

In particular, the way the Polynesian girl, Liat (April Villanueva), is written dates the play. She is used as an object lesson about bigotry but is painted by Hammerstein and Logan as a stereotypical exotic beauty. While Villanueva moves gracefully, Liat is little more than a porcelain doll with no character or personality and hardly anything to say. She is simply the object of Lt. Cable’s affection.

The set by scenic artist Dori Conklin is nicely done. I especially like the use of trees on the wings and the projected images of palm fronds. John Chenault’s lighting is excellent, as is the music by musical director Jeffrey Stvrtecky and his orchestra.

Some of the songs are indisputably great. “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Younger Than Springtime” are among the most beautiful in American musical theater history. And there are few songs as haunting as “Bali Ha’i.” The big production number of “Nothing Like a Dame” is thoroughly enjoyable. On the other hand, I thought TMP did not come up to its usual production standards on “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” and the song and dance number at the Thanksgiving performance. (Granted, the Thanksgiving number was supposed to be an amateur production put on by not-necessarily talented soldiers, but it just looked amateurish – and not in a satirical way.)

Everything else was done very well. The lead characters were all excellent, especially the two leading men, Wadleigh as Emile de Becque and Posner as Lt. Joe Cable. Both are handsome leading men with strong singing voices. Wadleigh also does a very good job of affecting a French accent.

Speaking of accents, Marissa Ryder nails Ensign Nellie Forbush’s Little Rock drawl. And she sings very nicely.

Jessilyn Carver is absolutely delightful as the comical island wheeler-dealer, Bloody Mary.

Other characters that add some delightful comic relief are John Miller as the conniving sailor, Billis; Gregory Conn as Stewpot; and David Robertson as The Professor.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 26
WHERE: Narrows Theater, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $25 adults, $21 students/military, $18 children 12 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, October 9, 2008

White Light

Museum of Glass hosts Daniel Clayman’s sculptures

published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 9, 2008
Pictured: installation view, photo by Duncan Price

Daniel Clayman’s minimalist abstract sculptures have been compared to the works of Martin Puryear and Tony Cragg. To me his work looks a lot like a sculpture by Donald Judd, especially in its clarity and what I can only call its “is-ness,” a kind of undeniable presence. Plus it has a kind of lush, sensual quality none of the aforementioned artists have.

Puryear, Cragg and Judd are some awfully big artists to be compared to. Clayman is also compared to (or, more precisely, contrasted with) Dale Chihuly. Both the catalog for Clayman’s exhibition White Light, at the Museum of Glass, and a wall statement in the exhibition pointedly contrast his work to Chihuly, calling Chihuly’s work “over the top.” Coincidentally, Chihuly’s The Laguna Murano Chandelier is in an adjacent gallery at MOG for easy comparison. It is not only over the top; it is outlandish and ugly.

Janet Koplos, senior editor at Art in America, writes in the show catalog: “The presence of (Clayman’s) work — in the artistic sense of a special aura or immediacy — results in part from its large scale, which is far beyond the normal proportions of object-oriented contemporary glass.”

There are many other aspects to Clayman’s sculptures that contribute to that strong presence. First, there is the color, or lack thereof. Everything is white, milky, cloudy, translucent-to-opaque. Then there is the simplicity of form and the use of light and shadow. His works look like monoliths in space. A couple of them are suspended from the ceiling. One tilts menacingly forward, and another is like a beam of light receding in deep perspective. If Koplos attributes the strength of these works to scale, I would counter that they need to be much, much larger to truly create the massive presence they hint at. But I understand that technically working in a much larger scale in glass might not be possible.

There are only seven works in this show. Six of them are outstanding. The only one that isn’t outstanding, in my opinion, is a piece called Pierced Volume, which is a cone-shaped cylinder with square holes cut in the sides. The purpose of the holes seems to be for light to penetrate as it does beautifully in slits in another piece, Aperture, which is a suspended half circle. In the former, the openings detract from the form; whereas in the latter, light beaming through the single slit onto the cast shadow on the floor is stunning and obviously intentional.

My favorite piece by far is Suspended Channel, which is just what the name implies — a 10-foot long channel or trough suspended from the ceiling. Verbal description cannot do this piece justice. It is otherworldly and pure.

Another favorite is Leaning Plane, which is a tall rectangular slab of glass blocks (like glass bricks but flatter) that stands upright and leans slightly forward. The feeling of danger from the forward tilt is dizzying, and the light bouncing off the many nuanced shades of translucent white is quite beautiful. I do have two small quibbles about this one: first, it does not look good from behind and should probably have been displayed for viewing from one side only; and second, I wish the artist had been able to find something other than a cable from the wall to keep it upright.

In addition to the Clayman exhibition, MOG is still showing the long-running exhibitions Contrasts: A Glass Primer (last day Sunday, Oct. 12) and Dante Marioni: Form/Color/Pattern (through March 8, 2009), both of which are definitely worth seeing again.

[Museum of Glass, White Light: Glass Compositions by Daniel Clayman, Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., $4-$10, 1801 Dock St. Tacoma, 866.4MUSEUM]

Friday, October 3, 2008

‘Patsy Cline’ marvelous mix of music, humor

Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 3, 2008
Pictured: Kate Jaeger as Louise Seger and Cayman Ilika as Patsy Cline, photos by Michelle Smith Lewis.

Patsy Cline was fabulous and so is “Always … Patsy Cline” at Centerstage, the musical based on a brief moment in her short and tragic life.

The play, written by Ted Swindley, is based on a true incident when a fanatic fan met and befriended her idol in a Texas honky-tonk.

The fan, Louise Seger (Kate Jaeger), is a frumpy, overworked single mother with a huge heart, and Jaeger plays her with comic perfection.

I might as well say right off the bat that the story, though true, touching and funny, doesn’t really matter at all. This show is all about the performance – Cayman Ilika’s marvelous voice and winning stage presence on those great songs, and Jaeger’s comic take on a lovable and somewhat crazy country music fan in 1961. As the narrator, Louise looks back many years later after she’s grown older and can no longer fit into her sexy yellow cowgirl pants.

Essentially, this play is a two-woman tour de force as Patsy Cline and Louise Seger meet and become best of friends over the course of one fabulous night in Texas. Many of the best moments in the play come from the contrasts of the two characters displayed in gesture and movement while Patsy sings and Louise watches, listens and dances. Often they are far apart on stage during these bits, and audience members are forced to look back and forth. Described here, that may sound awkward, but it was actually a brilliant bit of staging by director Erin Kraft. The only problem with that during the performance I watched was that audience members were laughing so loudly at Louise’s antics that I could barely hear Patsy sing.

The play opens with the five-piece country band coming on stage one at a time, each carrying a beer bottle and wearing a cowboy hat. They start playing, and Louise comes out and starts piddling around her kitchen and Patsy comes out in one of the outlandish cowgirl outfits she wore in the earlier years of her brief career.

As she sings “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round,” Louise addresses the audience and begins her story by reminiscing about when she first heard Patsy on an Arthur Godfrey TV show. From this point on, Jaeger as Louise alternates between narrating and acting the story while Ilika as Patsy drifts in and out of the scene wearing a variety of costumes ranging from sequined gowns to jeans and western shirts (costumes by Dana Friedli) and singing some 27 Patsy Cline hit tunes, including such greats as “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Crazy.”

Ilika is marvelous. She manages to capture the essence of Cline’s voice and style, particularly the semi-yodeling warble, without over doing it and while still maintaining her own singing style. She also looks enough like Cline to be believable, but she comes across as more glamorous than Patsy was.

And, she does something here I have never seen a singer in musical theater do. She opens Act 2 standing in one spot with a single spotlight, singing three songs in a row, and she holds the audience completely spellbound.

As for Jaeger as Louise – well, do you know the expression “She’s a hoot”? That expression could have been invented for this actress in this role. I usually avoid commenting on an actor’s weight, but Jaeger uses her size as a comic prop, jiggling and wearing too-large jeans that she constantly hitches up and stuffs her shirttail into. From her comic dance moves to the indolent way she holds a cigarette to her down-home Texas drawl, she nails this character – a character who is mostly bodacious and outrageous but with just the right touch of sweetness and pain.

Now for a personal note about the band. They sounded great, but they did not look authentic to me. Country musicians in 1961 did not have beards and they did not use music stands, especially not in honky-tonks. And while they would have been drinking beer in the ballroom, they would not have done so on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. And they probably would have all worn matching western shirts. I know this because in 1961 I was the drummer for a country band in Mississippi called the Southern Playboys.

That one little complaint aside, this is a fabulous show. I highly recommend it.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 12
WHERE: Knutzen Family Theater, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $8 to $25 depending on age
INFORMATION: 253-661-1444,

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Olympia Arts Walk

Where to look for the good stuff

published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct 2, 2008
pictured (top) "Communion: The Labyrinth Project," installation by Marilyn Freeman
(bottom) "Masked Windows," digital print by Bil Fleming

I remember the very first Olympia Arts Walk. It was 37 walks ago, which would have been around 1991 or ’92, back when they called it Art Walk and it happened only once a year. During one of those earliest events a fellow artist — I think it was Tucker Petertil — suggested that we walk around town carrying works of art as a literal play on the name of the event. We did, and everyone cheered us. I mention this now because what we did then was to establish the tradition of impromptu and spontaneous art activities.

Today, one of the most enjoyable things about Arts Walk is the unexpected and spontaneous art happening, be it performance or song or juggling or people building art right on the streets. And you never know when or where it might happen.

In many ways Arts Walk has been destroyed by its success. It’s become so big and so democratic that anyone can show or perform, and that means the overall quality of the art has taken a nosedive. It doesn’t matter. It has long since ceased to be about the art. It’s all about the spectacle — the people watching and the socializing.

If you come, you’ll have to wade through garbage heaps of mediocre art to find the good stuff. But it should be worth it. Here are some of the works that should be worth seeing.

Angela Haseltine Pozzi’s work will be shown at Childhood’s End Gallery. She is a sculptor and the daughter of Olympia art legends Jim Haseltine and the late Maury Haseltine. Her latest works have included walk-in sculptural installations. I’ve not yet seen one of them, but I saw a photograph of one called "Sea Cave," which was installed in the Coos Bay Museum in Oregon, and I can’t wait to get to actually walk into one of her installations.

Similar in concept is Marilyn Freeman’s installation at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. For a long time this Olympia-based filmmaker and artist has been working on a series of works called "Communion: The Labyrinth Project," a serene and contemplative art project involving, among other things, labyrinth paths drawn in the sand. But her installation for Arts Walk will be anything but serene. There will be a three-dimensional autobiographic labyrinth created with personal artifacts, toys, hard drives, videotapes, and U-Haul boxes, and suspended objects such as a red velvet, glitter-rock era suit, circa 1972 neckties and platform shoes, plus video art, sound and more. In the black box space it should be intense.

I’ve always enjoyed Shaw Osha’s paintings, and if the preview images she sent me are any indication, it looks like her latest works are veering in some interesting new directions. Based on photographs, they are abstract paintings in which the source imagery is barely recognizable. She will be showing some of these new paintings at Mixx 96.1 KXXO-Radio on Washington Street between Fourth and State.

One of Olympia’s coolest but least known art venues is Bryce’s Barbershop on Fourth Avenue. Showing there during Arts Walk will be Nikki McClure, whose paper-cut pictures have become a much loved Olympia institution. With images from family life and an interesting use of cast shadows and the interplay of positive and negative shapes, McClure’s paper-cut pictures have an early American flavor to them.

Another artist of interest showing at Arts Walk is Bil Fleming, who will be showing a freestanding, human-powered, kinetic sculpture made from salvaged materials including bicycle wheels, old growth Douglas fir, and plastic grocery bags. He also will show a series of digital photographic prints. Salvaged material — either in actuality or appearance — is key to Fleming’s work at an appropriately named venue, Olympia Salvage at 415 Olympia Ave.

These are just five of hundreds of artists and entertainers on tap.

[Downtown Olympia, Olympia Arts Walk, Friday, Oct. 3, 5-10 p.m. maps to all venues for both visual and performing arts are available all over town or online at]

Bayonet to the heart

Disturbing show at the Lark

published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 2, 2008
pictured: "Funeral Rites," acrylic on canvas by Matthew Scott

Like John McCain before the first debate, I’m going to suspend my campaign — sort of. Meaning that I’m going to quit being a critic — sort of. Because Matthew Scott’s show at Lark Gallery, At War, should be seen for its content and not necessarily for its artistic quality.

Scott, a former staff sergeant in the Air Force who served a year in combat in Afghanistan, is a self-taught artist who did not start painting until after coming home from war and recovering from war-related medical issues two years ago. He may not know a lot about design or color or the intricacies of paint application, but he knows a hell of a lot about war, and he has the vision and imagination to create haunting images that go right to the heart.

“His paintings depict the depersonalization of the individual and are stark reminders of what we ask of those who serve,” states a press release from the gallery.

Gallery publicist Jaci Hendricks says: “Every piece of art that Matthew creates tells a story of grief, conflict, and personal struggle, but the result evokes a feeling of awareness and raw emotion from the viewer.

“Matthew never planned to share these pieces with the public, choosing rather to keep them as silent memorials to his pain. As more and more people were introduced to his singular vision of this world and the suffering it contains, he realized that his experience resonated with many other people regardless of experience.”

Scott says: “I have suffered in solitude by choice as well as by circumstance for so long that I closed my eyes to the pain and need of others. Now as I see people looking at my work I feel a sense of kinship with my fellow man, and although the sorrow will never truly die for me or for them in that fleeting moment, we can share in each other’s grief and gain strength in the knowledge that we are never alone.”

There are eight paintings in the exhibition, all acrylic on canvas. The style is a graphic novel kind of surrealism with images outlined in black and colored in with predominantly red, black and white paint with little or no modeling or texture and with the only painterly touches being bloody drips of red. A lot of the images relate to mythologies and Eastern graphic traditions harkening back to ancient Egypt and the Ottoman Empire.

The most startling and powerfully graphic painting is Rank and File, which depicts a lineup of skeletons with bright orange faces in red military uniforms and, in the middle of the line, a white-faced man. Interestingly, the whole line tilts slightly to the right as if they are just the beginning parts of a line of domino men that are beginning to fall.

The most complex image is The Spell to Kill War (As periodo para matar guerra). A twisted line drawing of a female figure in black outline hovers over a field of orange waves. Below this figure is an intricate drawing of symbols and figures in white line over black. There may be various interpretations, and it may depict a specific mythology or perhaps a specific goddess I’m not aware of, but I assume the female is casting a spell over civilizations at war.

As in Rank and File, another skeleton face shows up in Funeral Rites. In this case the death head is wearing a Nazi-type uniform and has a deadly hook for a hand. He is standing in front of a line of graves on rolling hillsides. It is a stark and haunting image, and it was painted as a memorial to a personal friend who was killed in battle.

This show at the Lark is definitely no lark. It is a bayonet to the heart.

[The Lark Gallery, At War, through Oct. 12, noon to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday or by appointment, 743 Broadway (Inside Sanford & Son Antiques), Tacoma,]


I usually limit my postings on this blog to art and theater, figuring the blogosphere is inundated with political and social issues. But I'm also an activist, and there are other things I'd like to share.

I've been active for a while with Unity in the Community, which is sponsoring a series of community conversations about race. Following is an announcement for the first meeting:

Wed - September 24, 2008. Officials of a small Christian university say a
life-size cardboard reproduction of American's first major party
presidential candidate hung from a tree on the campus -

Can we talk?????????? Join us for the first in a series of community
conversations about race, Monday, October 20, 2008, 7-9pm, Olympia Center.
Free and open to the public. Sponsored by Unity in the Community, a Thurston
County grass-roots organization dedicated to celebration and furtherance of
diversity and opposed to all the dynamics that lead to hate crimes. Though
these conversations are inspired by the historic occasion of America's first
major presidential candidate of color, the effort, like Unity itself, is
non-partisan in every sense.

Join us for honest, respectful, moderated conversations with every corner of
our community as we broach the subject of race together. Diverse and
articulate panelists will highlight the conversations, but all present will
have an opportunity to address the issues we rarely address - though we
sorely need to.

Information #(360) 791-3295