Friday, January 30, 2009

‘Sins of the Mother’ marvelous, intense

Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 30, 2009
Pictured: from left, Zachariah Robinson, David Nail, Brian Claudio Smith and Scott. C. Brown. Photo by Tor Clausen.

Harlequin Productions in Olympia has scored a coup that I believe is unheard of for a small town community theater. They are producing the West Coast premiere of a new play by the renowned playwright Israel Horovitz, “Sins of the Mother.”

“Our production is actually the world premiere of the two-act play,” said Harlequin artistic director Scot Whitney in an e-mail. He explained that Horovitz first wrote it as a one-act and later expanded it into the current play, but since it was previously performed as a one-act with the same title Harlequin can’t advertise it as a world premiere.

While Horovitz was in Olympia last year to visit his daughter who lives here, he saw “Shining City” at Harlequin. Impressed with what he saw, he asked Whitney if he would consider directing his new play, which is set to open next year in New York with Ethan Hawke.

This is the big time for little Olympia.

“Sins of the Mother” opened Jan. 22 to a sparse crowd in Olympia’s State Theater. It is the most intense, realistic and gritty play I have seen since I started writing this column five years ago.

Set in an almost abandoned union hall and in the living room of an out-of-work “lumper” in Gloucester, Mass., in the 1980s, the play delves into the loves and hates of five men who grew up together and whose families have been connected for generations in a town where everyone knows everyone, and most personal secrets are not secret at all.

All but one of the men are “lumpers” – their word for stevedores. Bobbie (Scott C. Brown), the oldest of the men, is caring for his wife who is dying from a sexually transmitted disease. He is a Vietnam vet who killed many North Vietnamese. He can’t let it go, and letting go turns out to be a central theme of the play. Dubbah (David Nail) is out of work like them all and caring for a mother in the late stages of cancer who doesn’t even recognize him any more.

Douggie (Zachariah Robinson) is the gentle kid who left town years ago and has just returned. Frankie (Brian Claudio Smith) is an explosive, wisecracking young man who insists on bringing old hatreds and suspicions to a boil. And finally there’s Philly (Claudio Smith in an amazing dual role), the twin brother who escaped to a better life and whose arrogantly suave exterior hides a wounded child inside.

Anything I might say about the plot would spoil it; suffice it to say that it is well-crafted and full of surprises and that the dialogue runs the gamut from gut-wrenching to raucously funny. The quirky speech patterns and repetition of pet phrases, the strong sense of place and of history and the uncompromising realism put this play in league with the works of such great modern playwrights as Arthur Miller and August Wilson.

All four actors are outstanding. Claudio Smith shows great range of emotion in portraying two extremely different characters, one crude and boisterous and the other a study in coolly controlled rage.

Brown inhabits the character of Bobbie in such a natural and believable way as to be convincing that even a man capable of the worst of crimes can elicit sympathy. He’s a big man. I’ve seen him in other roles, and I swear he looks like he put on 40 pounds and 5 inches in height for this role; and it’s all in the way he carries himself.

Robinson is a natural as the quiet, innocent and conflicted Douggie. Nail, as Dubbah, is the moral compass of the play. His facial contortions show his fear and scream out in pain like a Rodney King character pleading “Can’t we all just get along?” with nobody listening.

Scenic and lighting designer Jill Carter, and costume designers Lucy Gentry and Asa Brown Thornton set the tone for a play grounded in place and time, and Whitney’s spot-on direction permeates throughout.

If you can afford only one play in a year, make it this one – unless you are easily offended by coarse language, racial epithets and staged violence.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 14
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $24-$33, rush tickets $12-$15 1/2 hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winners all

Juried show at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 29, 2009
Pictured: "Big Pig" acrylic on canvas by Steven Suski

Juried art exhibitions are almost always rife with problems. They usually try to cram in way too much, and the selections are usually inconsistent at best. But not this time. The fourth annual Juried Art Show at South Puget Sound Community College is the best they’ve had yet and may well be the best juried show I’ve seen anywhere in the South Sound since the days of Commencement Art Gallery in Tacoma. (Disclaimer: Nostalgia may be clouding my memory of Commencement. After all, I took home the big money prize in one of their shows, for which I am eternally grateful.)

Steven Suski was chosen for the jurors’ award, meaning he’ll be given a one-man show next year. His "Underwater Diptych" consists of a pair of paintings of diving swimmers, one in each of the two panels. Entering these two works as a single diptych was probably a mistake, because they work best as individual paintings, but that’s my only quibble with them. The placement of the figures is strong. They are thin and sensuous figures of women in subtly patterned bathing suits, and they are delineated by smooth contour lines, and the fluid paint application in muted tones of gray and blue creates an exciting tension between figure and background. Sweet little paintings.

Suski is also showing a large acrylic painting called "Big Pig," which is an iconic image of a mama pig suckling her piglets with some fairly heavy impasto and, as in the diptych, a good flow between figure and ground. The rough surface handling gives it the appearance of an ancient fresco that is scarred and worn.

On a personal note, I’ve seen Suski’s art develop over a 20-year period with lots of fits and starts, and I think his paintings in this show represent his best work ever.

As much as I like Suski’s paintings, however, if I had been the juror I would have picked Julia Haak for the juror’s award. Haak has two sculptural pieces made of scavenged and painted wood. "Awning 3" apparently takes its title from a rolled-up metal awning, which it looks something like. It’s a long, horizontal slab that juts out from the wall in connected triangular shapes with geometric patterns created from painted strips of old wood. The colors are dull chartreuse and pink with accents in red and blue, creating patterns within patterns on a minimalist form. Her other piece, "Two Trough Jukebox," is even more minimalist. Also made from strips of cast-off wood, it is a freestanding fin-like shape painted white.

I featured Karen La Grave’s "Campfire" in my review of the Environmental Art Show at Tacoma Community College. Here she has another painting from the same series. Enigmatically, two legs (wearing differently colored pants) protrude from a blazing campfire. If I’m interpreting it correctly, this painting depicts two people being burned in a raging campfire. The paint is thicker than in her work at TCC, and it doesn’t have quite the same energy, but it is still an exciting if somewhat disturbing image.

Finally, I’d like to call attention to a tiny little fabric collage by Maitri Sojourner called "They Get the Chickens Out of the Back Seat." This little jewel could easily be overlooked, but it’s worth searching out. It’s to your right just as you enter the gallery. I love the semi-abstract form of a Volkswagen as seen from directly overhead, with people unloading things (presumably chickens). And I love the shimmering fabric.

Special kudos to the jurors: June Kerseg-Hinson, Shaw Osha and Scott Schuldt. They did an excellent job.

This show is up only through this weekend. Don’t miss it.

[Kenneth J. Minnaert Center, 2009 Juried Art Show, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, through Jan. 31, South Puget Sound Community College]

Friday, January 23, 2009

Play at Breeders Theater sweet, satisfying

Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 23, 2009
Pictured: Adrienne Grieco and Eric Hartley dance in the play “Prairie Heart.” Photo by Wally Monroe

There is nothing like a play by Breeders Theater at the E.B. Foote Winery in Burien. For starters, everything Breeders Theater does is original. The theater company was started by playwright T.M. Sell, a teacher at Highline Community College in Des Moines, and every play they produce is written by Sell.

The other thing that makes BT productions unique is their performances take place in a working winery in the basement of a shopping mall in Burien. It’s cold down there. Patrons are advised to dress warmly, and they are warmed up inside with wine tastings (two before the show starts, two during intermission and two more after the play). Plus, their hearts are warmed by the entertainment. If you have been there once you know to bring a pillow to sit on – the metal folding chairs are uncomfortable without one.

I’ve seen only one other BT production, a hilarious political spoof called “Crazy Naked,” but I understand that most of Sell’s scripts are outlandish comedies, often involving talking animals and aliens and other oddities. “Prairie Heart” is a departure from his usual fare. Set in a farming community in North Dakota in the 1890s, it is a tender love story based on tales told by the writer’s grandmother and her siblings who lived near Minot, N.D.

Ingrid (Adrienne Grieco) finds herself stranded at a desolate train station in North Dakota. She had expected to be met by the family that had hired her to work for them, but they had died. The only person at the station is a large and very dirty farmer named Olaf Olson (Luke Amundson), who is polite but terse when she tries to question him. Via a conversation that is strained and embarrassing for both of them, it is established that she is broke and stranded and doesn’t know anyone there.
Olaf offers to take her home with him. She says, “I’m not that kind of girl.”

Offended and bumbling, he replies, “You’re not pretty enough to be that kind of girl.”

Eventually, she agrees to stay with him to work for him on the farm. Gradually they fall in love, but neither of them knows how to express their feelings for one another. He is painfully shy and overly protective of her honor; she mistakes his shyness for aloofness – all of which results in a comedy of misunderstandings.

“Prairie Heart ” is a sweet play. Naturally sweet, not gooey and mushy. It combines many of the best elements of modern romantic comedies with the sincerity of period romances such as the great “My Antonia” by Willa Cather. Sell’s story is simple, the dialogue sparkling and the characters genuine.

Amundson looks the part of a Norwegian farmer who is described as large and dirty. He’s a physical fit for the part, plus he’s paired with a petite woman who makes him look larger than he is. His faltering speech and constantly astonished looks beautifully convey the impression of a lovestruck young man who doesn’t know how to do much of anything beyond tending to his goat and his horse.

Grieco is one of the most natural actors I’ve seen in quite some time. It does not seem that she’s acting at all – it simply seems that she is Ingrid. The only other time I’ve seen her on stage was as Maria in “The Sound of Music” at Lakewood Playhouse. She was utterly charming in that role, as she is here.

The rest of the cast – J. Howard Boyd, Melissa Grinley, Eric Hartley, Melissa Malloy and Steve Scheide – are all excellent. Boyd – as the narrator who slips into other roles from time to time – seems to truly care about Olaf and Ingrid and shows versatility when playing first a henpecked storekeeper and then a priest. Hartley – as the well-to-do farmer Anders Anderson – displays passion barely held in check as he and his wife, Evy (Grinley) try to gently steer Olaf and Ingrid toward one another and a better life.

All of the cast members, most noticeably Amundson, handle the Norwegian accents without faltering.

Sets and lighting are basically nonexistent, the only props are two stools and a blanket, and the costumes are simple peasant clothes by Melissa Sell. The music is provided by Nancy Warren.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 1.
WHERE: E.B. Foote Winery, 127-B S.W. 153rd St., Burien
TICKETS: $20 available at the winery and at Corky Cellars, 22511 Marine View Drive, Des Moines, 206-824-9462
INFORMATION: 206-242-3852

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Guts and jewels

Catherine Gresiz at Traver Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 22, 2009
Pictured: "transmutation a, b, c" copper, stainless steel, cubic zirconium, garnet, coral, moonstone, pink opal, cherry quartz, by Catherine Grisez, 14"h x 26.5"w x 6"d

Catherine Grisez’s sculptures at William Traver are grotesqueries with jewel-like beauty. Her latest works investigate ideas of birth, growth and regeneration in animal and plant life. She is showing a series of small sculptural vessels in a variety of media, mostly various metals. They look like seed pods that are broken open to reveal inside clusters of seed-like semi-precious stones or other pod-like forms with cancerous growths on their skins.

In some ways looking at her sculptures is like watching surgery on some TV doctor show like "House" or "ER." They are disturbingly organic. But they are also very lovely to look at. The contrasts of colors and materials are particularly interesting.

These pod forms are one of two distinct series of works in this show. The other is a group of metal trees with gnarled and curvilinear branches that hang upside-down in the gallery windows and drip diamond-encrusted stalagmites on the floor. The trees look real. Only extremely close inspection reveals that they are made of metal and that the diamonds that are piled on the floor are glass or glass-like stones. They look like crystals that have been dripping for ages. Many of these glass crystals are glued to the lower limbs of the trees and look like icicles. The sparkly piles on the floor are lighted from within, thus making them even more sparkly. These works are quite lovely in a delicate, filigree sort of way like a stage set for a fantasy winter scene. Interestingly, despite the theatricality of these works and their larger size, they do not carry any of the philosophical weight or visual punch of the seedpod sculptures.

Probably the best piece in the show is the one used on the show announcement: "transmutation, a,b,c" made of stainless steel, cubic zirconium, and various semi-precious stones. Three bladder bags hang side-by-side on the wall attached by large flathead spikes. The outside appears to be shiny copper. The seeds inside are embedded in dull brown material and encrusted with jewels.

Another particularly nice piece is called "the opposite of fairy tale pink." Made of painted copper and white turquoise, it is a simple dark brown shell of a bowl with a pink interior and a circle of stones.

And the strangest of all, "detach," is a circular blob tangled in rope with red cancerous growths on the skin and two big gashes sewn up with stitches about as clumsy as those on a Frankenstein monster. This piece more than any other verges on the grotesque.

“My current body of work focuses on my search for personal and spiritual growth through an excavation of past events,” Grisez writes. “I’m experimenting with imagery based on specimens of physical root systems and the creatures that live among them. These natural objects are dissected in order to find the meaning beneath and how it relates to ongoing personal growth.”

[William Traver Gallery, Tuesday-Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., through Feb. 8, 1821 East Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685]

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cute ‘Phantom Tollbooth’ full of wordplay

Published in The News Tribune,Jan. 16, 2009

Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater is staging “The Phantom Tollbooth,” a cute play that I suspect may be over the heads of many of the younger viewers unless they have already read the book and talked about it with their parents. That’s because the humor is sophisticated for children.

On the other hand, the book written by Norton Juster and illustrated by the great Jules Feiffer has been popular with children since its publication in 1961. As with “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and other children’s books that make use of sophisticated adult wordplay, “Tollbooth” can be appreciated on many levels by adults and children.

I enjoyed the play, and the audience reaction on opening day was good.

My one big criticism is that Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater seems to have scrimped on the set, which was bare and cheap looking. Scenic artist Dori Conklin has done much better work.
If the sets appeared to be toss-offs, that was partially compensated for by lighting by John Chenault and costumes by Joan Schlegel. Even though the costumes and lighting were modest, they were quite enjoyable.

The ostensible theme of the play is the admonition to quit moping around and get out and do something, and the lessons learned are all about how humans often fail to communicate with one another. The humor comes from a slew of puns and other forms of wordplay, such as taking metaphorical language literally. Juster said the book was influenced by the Marx Brothers, which I can certainly see. I also suspect there was a lot of influence from Lewis Carroll.

Milo, a teenager played by young actor Justin Niedermeyer, is down in the dumps and bored half to death when a magic tollbooth appears through which he can travel to the kingdom of Wisdom (like Alice going down the rabbit hole; and whereas Alice takes one pill to make her big and another to make her small, Milo runs into the shortest giant in the world, who changes into the tallest midget, the fattest thin man and the thinnest fat man – all played by Kody Bringman).

The kingdom of Wisdom, where almost every name for a person or a place is a pun, is ruled by the feuding brothers Azaz (Charlie Long), who love words, and the Mathemagician (Andrew Fry), who loves numbers. Their sisters, Sweet Rhyme (Elizabeth Richmond) and Pure Reason (Grace Oberhofer), had been banished to a castle in the sky, and without Rhyme or Reason nothing in the land makes any sense anymore. Milo is recruited to rescue the princesses and return rhyme and reason to the kingdom of Wisdom.

Milo’s trusty helper in his quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason is Tock the Watchdog (Lucas Blum). They run into demons and a Humbug (Nan Gillis) and the Whether Man (Bringman), who doesn’t predict the weather but rather decides whether or not, a Spelling Bee (Kae Blum), a Senses Taker (Christine Riippi) and the obnoxious Dr. Dischord (Karen Christensen), who has big ears and loves loud noises.

Niedermeyer underplays Milo. He speaks quietly and sings nicely and rarely shows much emotion, all of which is appropriate for a boy who doesn’t want to do anything. Still, I wish he had put just a little more emotion into his role, perhaps parodying lethargy with broad yawns and drooping shoulders, as the ensemble does when they sing and dance with mock lethargy on the song “The Lethargarian Shuffle” in the Doldrums – one of the better song-and-dance numbers in the play.

Lucas Blum is delightfully playful as the Watchdog. His enthusiasm is contagious. And by the way, the giant clock he wears is set to Pacific Time and keeps right on time – a nice little touch.

Among the more entertaining and expressive characters are the three demons played by Christensen, Riippi and Kae Blum. They were a joy to watch. Also especially expressive was Gillis as the Humbug.

Finally, kudos to the entertaining music provided by Stephanie Claire, musical director and keyboard; David Lane, keyboard; and Barbara Burzynski, percussion.

The Phantom Tollbooth
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater at the Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $15 adults; $13 seniors, students, military; $10 children 12 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Environmental art

New group exhibition at Tacoma Community College

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 15, 2009
Pictured "Campfire," by Karen La Grave

Environmental art. What’s that? Does that mean art about environmental issues or art that helps in some way, say by using recycled materials, to preserve the environment? The Environmental Art Exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College seems to be a little of both.

There are paintings and photographs picturing environmentally sensitive areas, such as Zachary Mazur’s photographs of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation; such as a piece of funky pop-oriented sculpture by Jenni Denekas that’s all about milk shakes and factory farming; and there are sculptures from recycled materials by Julia Haack and Bret Lyon.

But I’m a cynic. I can’t help but feel that this show does little to preserve the environment or teach us much of anything we don’t already know. And if I look at the art as art rather than concentrating on the message, I must say it’s pretty average. There are landscape paintings that despite the emphasis on the environment are just landscapes — some abstract and some impressionistic, and none particularly better or worse than OK. And far too much of the show is taken up with photographs that are more documentary than artistic.

Having said that, I will concentrate on the good stuff.

Mazur’s photographs of the Hanford site are hauntingly beautiful, depicting vast expanses of open spaces with minimal human presence. The muted colors, sunsets and windswept skies look cold yet inviting. Everything appears to be recently deserted: a gate numbered “117A,” power lines stretched across expanses of open field with a single tumbleweed in the foreground, a school desk standing seat deep in a large, placid lake (or is it a flooded field?). If everything in this show had the power of suggestion these photographs carry it would truly be an environmental art exhibition.

Dorothy McCuistion’s six panel paintings of an old golf course depicting the destruction of animal habitat also have a hauntingly foreboding aspect. I like her acid raw colors and simple drawing style.

Minimalist wood and metal sculptures by Julia Haack and Bret Lyon have clean and sensuous shapes and nice surface textures, but I must say the very interesting wall statements on these works did not make a lot of sense to me. First off, it was not clear which sculpture was by which artist. Lyon explained in a statement that he (who is right handed) sculpted with his left hand to “disassociate with the primary hand just as the artist has disassociated the scraps by discarding them.” I don’t know who he means by “the artist.” Surely not himself. But “the artist” that made whatever the scraps came from was not the person who discarded the scraps; surely that was someone else. So while this statement is intriguing, I wish Lyon would tell me what it means.

One of Karen La Grave’s two acrylic paintings is excellent. It is called "Campfire." It pictures a deer standing next to a campfire, and in the background the woods are on fire. The environmental statement is quite clear. The paint application is loose and sketchy with a very sparse and dry look.

Other works that I was particularly impressed with were the three gouache and graphite drawings by Carson Murdach. I call these drawings rather than paintings because of the strong graphic component and sparse use of color. They are line drawings with some areas colored in. They picture the horrifying effects of over-population and over-industrialization by contrasting dense areas of housing, etc. with open spaces. The brittle line quality and the contrast of white spaces and densely packed areas of line and color are quite powerful graphically. My favorite is "Risk of Insolvency," a long, thin painting that shows a fleet of tankers approaching a spit of land that is overcrowded with factories and houses. It is as if the city and the ships are at war with each other. The ships are not bringing goods to the city; they are bringing more and more environmental destruction.

[Tacoma Community College, Environmental Art Exhibition, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Feb. 27, 6501 South 19th Street, Building 5A, Tacoma]

Friday, January 9, 2009

Lakewood Playhouse's ‘Greater Tuna’ tons of fun

Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 9, 2009
Pictured: Marcus Walker and Scott Campbell, photo by Dean Lapin

For those who haven’t seen it or don’t know about it, “Greater Tuna” is a theatrical off-the-cuff comedy skit that’s grown to humongous proportions. Written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, it started in Austin, Texas, more than 20 years ago as a party skit based on a political cartoon and soon spread across the country as a favorite play at colleges and community centers and off-Broadway.

Since its inauspicious birth there have been numerous spinoffs, a successful Broadway run, an HBO special and even a command performance at the White House. Promotional material declares that by 1985 it had become the most produced play in the United States. Whether that success has been eclipsed since then, I don’t know, but I do know that all three of the plays in the “Tuna Trilogy” remain popular around the world.

And now the original “Greater Tuna” comes to Lakewood Playhouse.

I saw it in rehearsal and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even the inevitable rehearsal gaffs were funny, and I kind of hope they don’t completely work out all the kinks, because Marcus Walker and Scott Campbell’s improvisational quips in rehearsal were as funny as any of the written lines.

When Williams and Sears first presented “Greater Tuna” as a party skit in 1981, the two of them played all of the 20 characters in the play. Through all its incarnations, that has never changed. It is still a two-actor play with a blizzard of quick costume changes.

Campbell plays radio announcer Arles Struvie, Didi Snavely, all three of the Bumiller children, Petey Fisk, Harold Dean Lattimer, Chad Hartford, Phinas Blye and the very campy church lady Vera Carp. Walker plays radio announcer Thurston Wheelis, the put-upon housewife Bertha Bumiller, Leonard Childers, Elmer Watkins, dog killer Aunt Pearl Burras, R.R. Snavely (don’t you love these names?), the holier-than-thou Reverend Spikes, Sheriff Givens, Hank Bumiller and Yippy (a dog).

What hilarious versatility these two actors display.

The play is mostly a string of loosely connected character sketches with just enough of a plot to establish the various relationships within the human menagerie that comprises the population of Tuna, Texas, population about 900. Billed as the town where “the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies,” Tuna is one of those little towns where everyone knows everyone else’s business, primarily because everybody’s dirty laundry is aired by Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis on radio station OKKK – an intentional reference to the Klan.

Following is a sampling of just a few of the shenanigans going on in Tuna that Wheelis and Struvie are more than happy to report on: The Smut Snatchers are on a campaign to delete objectionable words from the dictionary (and what a list of objectionable words; it’s like George Carlin’s famous list of seven words you can’t say on television only the objectionable words are innocuous words such as “hot”). Bertha Bumiller, president of “Fewer Blacks in Literature,” has her hands full with a crazy son just out of reform school, another son who’s addicted to adopting dogs and a daughter who’s been trying to become a high school cheerleader for seven years. Aunt Pearl has a habit of poisoning dogs. And a judge is found dead while wearing woman’s clothing, specifically a Dale Evans bathing suit.

“Greater Tuna” is lowbrow comedy in the tradition of “Hee Haw” and the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour.” Walker and Campbell are great. Campbell masters a wide range of voices, and Walker displays talents I never would have suspected, such as fiddle playing – not to mention that he barks quite irritatingly.

Based on my experience watching an early rehearsal, I can’t imagine how they’ll ever master some of the required quick changes, but if they end up coming on stage half in costume with wigs aslant, that will simple add to the hilarity. Director Elliot Weiner warns that there is no fourth wall in this play. For people not familiar with theater jargon, that means the actors are just as likely as not to step out of character, and unless you have the script memorized you’ll never know what’s in the script and what’s improvised.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 18
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $22 general admission, $19 senior and military discount, $16 under 25, $14 under 15
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Kind images

A new kind of online gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 8, 2009
Pictured: "Layers with Black Line" oil on canvas, 6 3/4" x 6 3/4", by CJ Swanson

David N. Goldberg and CJ Swanson made quite a little splash in Tacoma when they opened Art on Center gallery in the spring of 2006. Ripples from that splash still reverberate in T-town at Grand Impromptu Gallery, an offshoot of Art on Center, which went through various incarnations before they left in the hands of a local artists co-op. Swanson and Goldberg are no longer associated with the gallery, but they are still making art, and their art can still be seen in various venues including, a new kind of online gallery.

There are many virtual galleries on the Internet. Some are terribly cheesy, most are rather difficult to navigate, and purchasing art off the Internet is risky at best because it is so hard to see what the work is going to look like. Imagekind is one of the better online galleries. There you can browse art by subject matter, genre, medium or style, or you can search for work by name; and you get to see as good a representation of what the actual paintings or prints look like as possible on a computer screen. Prices range from a few dollars for prints on paper to hundreds of dollars for prints on canvas. But no, you can’t buy original paintings in oil or acrylic. Nor can you purchase three-dimensional art. There are limitations, and they are sensible limitations. Artists upload high-resolution photographs of their paintings and prints, and the company prints them at various sizes and prices. The prices are set by the artists, but sizes are limited by imagekind to assure quality, meaning that depending on the size and resolution of the original images they will not print anything larger than the maximum size that can be printed without losing quality. Before you purchase a work of art you can see samples with a selection of papers, mats and frames.

There are, however, some strange glitches on the imagekind search engine. If you search for Catherine Swanson or CJ Swanson, you will not find her. But if you search for David N. Goldberg you will find links to his gallery as well as links to “Catherine Goldberg, screen name CJ Swanson.” From her gallery you can choose from six prints with prices starting as low as $9.34. If you visit the David N. Goldberg gallery you’ll find a selection of portraits of artists and musicians (from Frida Kahlo to John Coltrain) starting at $25.47. These are awfully cheap prices for art, and the good thing is that they are what they claim to be and nothing more. So many places sell reproductions of paintings that pretend to be originals and aren’t — and usually are not worth the paper or (fake) canvas they’re printed on. These are reproductions, but you know exactly what you’re getting when you order them.

To see original works in acrylic on paper and canvas — meaning actual paintings, not reproductions, you can go to Goldberg and Swanson’s Web sites at and

Both of these artists have branched out since their Art on Center days. Goldberg continues to make abstract paintings of the type he’s previously shown in Tacoma, but he’s added the portraits to his repertoire. The portraits are paintings in acrylic on paper and black and white woodcuts on paper. They are gritty portraits that remind me a lot of the work of Alice Neel. Swanson’s most recent work consists of small, decorative, iconic abstracts in acrylic on wood panels, and although I have so far seen them only on my computer screen, I believe they may be the best work she’s done to date. To see them click on “smaller works” on her Web site.

[David N. Golberg and CJ Swanson,,,]

Note #1: A shorter version of this article was printed in the Weekly Volcano

Note #2: I was probably way too generous in my comments about imagekind. Like any other online gallery, you have to wade through a lot of junk to find the good stuff.

Note #3: I also have work available on imagekind available here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

'Glorious!' might be best of theater schedule

Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 2, 2009

Theatergoers in the South Sound have some wonderfully original and entertaining performances to look forward to this year, the most unusual of which may be “Glorious!,” a musical about the worst singer in the world, at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

“Glorious!” is based on the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York society dame who thought she was a great singer, though she was anything but, and who was loved by audiences precisely because her singing was so atrocious (audience hilarity egged on by Jenkins’ longtime accompanist, Cosmé McMoon, who made faces at her behind her back wherever they performed).

It must take some special comedic acting skills to play a bad singer and make it entertaining, without sending the audience running for the hills, and if anyone can pull that off, TMP favorite Sharry O’Hare as Florence is just the actress to do the job. O’Hare will be joined on stage by a small supporting cast of some of the area’s finest actors and opera enthusiasts, including Tom Birkeland, Kat Dollarhide, Maria Valenzuela, Jill Goodman and Josh Anderson. (I can’t imagine anyone else could possibly be a better McMoon than Anderson, one of South Sound’s premiere comic actors, who is known for his roles as Melvin P. Thorpe in “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and the Elvis-like “visitor” in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”)

Chris Serface is well known as an actor and director at TMP and at Capital Playhouse in Olympia, as well as for his work with Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater. When asked what is the best play coming up in 2009 Serface said: “I immediately want to say ‘Glorious!,’ seeing as it is something entirely different and new for our patrons to experience, but then a part of me says ‘Hold on, what about the other shows?’ and I have to stop and look at the four great shows we have coming up for the main stage and realistically say I am excited the most for ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ ”

Seface said he’s hoping for a part in “Oz.” The other two shows he referred to are “Footloose” and “The Producers.”

Like TMP, Olympia’s Capital Playhouse has a lineup of outstanding musicals. Capital Playhouse publicist Stephanie Nace said “A Little Night Music” and “A Grand Night for Singing” are two to watch for. “Both are going to be really great shows,” she said.

Nace said “A Grand Night for Singing” is “a marvelous showcasing of the music and lyrics of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Lovers of this celebrated songwriting duo from the golden age of musical theater will enjoy the revue immensely, and those looking for something contemporary will adore the fresh and current musical arrangements of classic numbers from R&H favorites including ‘Oklahoma!’ ‘South Pacific,’ ‘Cinderella’ and ‘State Fair.’”

Steven Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” coming to Capital Playhouse in May, was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night.” Nace said they are offering it as a tribute to Bergman, who died in 2008. Calling it “one of Broadway’s most neglected masterpieces,” Nace said it is “romantic and achingly beautiful” and “disarmingly warm, funny, charming and very human.”

Another unique musical offering will be the world premiere of “Carl Sagan’s Contact” at Centerstage, based on Sagan’s sci-fi novel, with music by Peter Sipos, lyrics by Amy Engelhardt and book by Alan Bryce.

Finally, for fans of comedy, Lakewood Playhouse presents “Greater Tuna” this month. “Greater Tuna” is a send-up of small-town morals and mores featuring the eccentric denizens of a tiny town in Texas. It’s been one of America’s most popular comedies for more than two decades, and it is also one of the most challenging of plays for any company to produce because it calls for two actors to play all 20 parts. In this case, Marcus Walker, managing artistic director, and Scott Campbell, associate managing artistic director. This one should be a hoot.


“Greater Tuna,” Thursday-Jan. 18: Lakewood Playhouse, Lakewood, 253-588-0042,

“A Grand Night for Singing,” Jan. 29-Feb. 21: Capital Playhouse, Olympia, 360-943-2744,

“Glorious!” Jan. 30-Feb. 2: Tacoma Musical Playhouse, Tacoma, 253-565-6867,

“Carl Sagan’s Contact,” May 8-31: Centerstage, Knutzen Family Theatre, Federal Way, 253-661-1444,