Friday, February 27, 2009

Don’t miss quirky comedy ‘Absent Friends’

Published in The News Tribune, Feb. 27, 2009

Top, from left: Christian J. Doyle, Mathew Vail, Lisa LeVan.
Bottom, from left: Leischen Moore, Julie Drummond and Mark Lewington.
Photos by Dean Lapin

The “Absent Friends” play at Lakewood Playhouse is an excellent ensemble piece. It’s a tongue-in-cheek, irreverent comedy in which the love of close friends is severely tested.

Written by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn (“Absurd Person Singular” and “How the Other Half Loves”), “Absent Friends” reminds us that lost loves, anger, depression and betrayal can elicit cockeyed and humorous responses.

Colin (played with bright humor and natural poise by Mathew Vail, who fittingly is returning to Lakewood Playhouse after a four-year absence) is the absent friend who hasn’t seen his old chums in over three years.

Colin’s girlfriend recently died by drowning, and now Diana (Leischen Moore) has called all the old pals together to cheer him up. It’s a ridiculously dysfunctional group of friends who seem to need cheering up much more than Colin, who – at least on the surface – seems perfectly well adjusted.

For starters, Diana suspects her husband, Paul (Mark Lewington) is having an affair with John’s wife, Evelyn (Christian J. Doyle and Lisa LeVan). But when their ditzy friend Marge (Julie Drummond) confronts her while Diana is out of the room, Evelyn denies the affair, explaining that it wasn’t an affair but just a one-time sexual encounter on the back seat of his car, and he wasn’t very good. John, who is portrayed by Doyle as a man with some of the oddest nervous tics known to mankind, knows about his wife and his best friend but prefers to act like he doesn’t because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his business dealings with Paul.

Everybody’s quirks, foibles and secrets come to light after Colin arrives, including those of the other absent friends, who are never actually seen: Marge’s husband, whom we learn is fat and constantly sick, and Colin’s dead girlfriend, who was way too perfect to be real.

The set by Art Fick is a living room with doors to other rooms plus exits to the outside through which actors enter and exit. The flow of movement as blocked by director John Munn is seamless, well timed and seems tailor-made for the in-the-round setting of Lakewood Playhouse.

Diane Runkel’s costume designs do wonders in terms of highlighting the personalities of the characters – from the very normal-looking Colin and Paul to the bizarrely eccentric John and Evelyn.

Evelyn dresses like a punk teenager and wears makeup that makes her look like an extra in “Night of the Living Dead.” LeVan plays her with a marvelous set of slouching postures, bored expressions and a heavy cockney accent. When she flirts with both Colin and her husband, it’s a wonder they don’t both run for their lives.

Skinny with a shock of red hair and wearing an absurd pinstriped suit, Doyle jerks and twitches and walks like a manic windup toy and is hilarious in his bumbling attempts to speak.

Drummond plays Marge as a giggling and well-intentioned airhead who constantly says the wrong thing. And Lewington is believable as the tightly wound control freak Paul, who loses control of everything, most notably his wife, played with charm by Moore, who quickly flip-flops with one set of expressions for the audience and an entirely different set of expressions for her husband and guests. (It would be a stretch to call them friends).

This is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy – quirky, unpretentious and true to life.

This is the final weekend.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 1
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $22 general, $19 seniors and military discounts, $16 younger than 25, $14 younger than 15
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pink dog

Now showing at the Washington Center in Olympia

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 26, 2009
Pictured: Garden Window, mixed media on paper, and Molly as Olympia, oil and charcoal on canvas
Photos courtesy of the artist

I went to the Washington Center for the Performing Arts to see the Afro-Cuban All Stars last week and was struck with the artwork throughout all three floors of the center. I’d seen a couple of Marilyn Bedford’s paintings recently in group shows at both South Puget Sound Community College and Tacoma Community College, but had never seen this much in one place.

I must say at this point that my companions were not in the least impressed, and I can understand why. Bedford’s paintings and monoprints are not exciting in any easily recognized way. Her subject matter tends toward the pedestrian, there is a kind of crude quality to her drawing that can be off-putting, and her images tend to have almost no hue or value contrast; which means that without giving them the long hard attention they deserve they tend to look rather boring.

Having acknowledged all of that, I really like her work. She’s an accomplished artist who seems to be true to her personal vision.

Due to the crowd there for the concert I limited my art viewing to the mezzanine and upper floors. There seemed to be three distinct series and, since the show is billed as a retrospective, I assume they’re from different periods. There are the dog pictures, some monoprint landscapes and a group of abstract paintings in mixed media on paper.

Her signature images, which I’m guessing are also her most recent, are the dog paintings. Each has a single dog in either a recognizable setting such as a home or isolated in a field of a single color. In the best of these there is a noticeable flattening of space with the dog seemingly pressed into the background. They also feature quirky placement of the dog, typically far to one side and to the bottom, making him appear tiny and lost in space. In some of these, such as one at the stairwell in the lobby, this odd placement does not work well; but when it does work well it works beautifully.

From my seat in the auditorium while waiting for the concert to begin I kept looking at one painting through the open door to the mezzanine. I was mesmerized by it. It’s an oil painting called "Molly As Olympia" and features a bright pink dog lying down against a dark blue curtain on the extreme left side of the painting with its legs stretched out toward a pot of yellow flowers in front of an acid green curtain on the right. Deep blue-black shadows create the impression that the dog is being stretched and pulled across the space of the canvas — implied dynamic movement in a figure at rest (that, by-the-way, is what made Michelangelo’s sculptures so arresting; not that I’m comparing Bedford to Michelangelo).

Also on the mezzanine is a group of abstract paintings on paper in muted tones of gray, white and black. I particularly like her scruffy brushstrokes in these, the combination of line and wash, and especially her use of transparencies and semi-transparent white over darker areas.

On the upper level there are a number of landscape monoprints in muted tones with practically no contrasts. Very dull looking upon a cursory glance, but amazing in how her brushstrokes create the feel of air and wind and clouds and rain without clearly delineating any of those.

Bedford sums up her work in a statement written for this exhibition: “The immediacy of painting, the fluidity of the material; the physical connection to the surface through the gesture of the brush is compelling to me. Spatial relationships activate the composition and are essential to the simplicity I seek. The importance of line is the connective thread in my work.

“I make art because I enjoy the physicality of it; the drag of the brush across a canvas, the feel, the smell, the getting your hands dirtiness of it all.”

She also makes some interesting statements about her choices of subject matter, but to me that is secondary to the physicality of the work.

Also showing in the Washington Center is a huge installation by Jeremy Zweifel called "Gordian’s Knot." It is a twisted entanglement of wood strips in circular and triangular formations that float in the open area between floors and simply has to be seen from all levels to be appreciated.

[Washington Center, Marilyn Bedford retrospective, through March; Gordian’s Knot, installation by Jeremy Zwiefel, through June, 512 Washington St S.E., Olympia, 360.753.85858]

Note - two additional comments: First, as soon as this review was published and I saw it on I realized that the photos seem to belie my statement that there was little hue or value contrast. It seems I picked the two images that most clearly contradicted my statement. Second, the title "Molly As Olympia" does not refer to the city but rather to a painting by Edouard Manet. The dog is playing the part of the naked lady in the Manet painting.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I was blown away by a letter I just received about my novel Imprudent Zeal. Forgive the gloating, but I have to share. The letter said:

Alec, I have been reading "Imprudent Zeal" with equal parts - big parts - shock and admiration. Admiration for your great courage in telling a story that must be to some degree autobiographical; one that is brimming with immense intelligence, empathy, humor and compassion. Shock because - well, it's just always a shock to discover a gifted writer of fiction right in one's own backyard. Thank you so much for writing this book. Thank you for bringing to light the life-changing, real-life work of Everything for Everybody and its members. And thank you for asking fundamental questions through the voice of Jack Scully/Scully McDonald and all of your characters. This novel is like a gorgeous prism that flashes the unique struggles of very different kinds of individuals, from the known to the anonymous.

... I couldn't restrain myself from saying how damn good the book is! I am saving the last 30 pages of IZ to read - unhurried - tonight after work. Congratulations on a very fine piece of writing. - Lisa Kinoshita, artist, Tacoma, Wash.

Wow! I'm so pleased. When I hear things like that I feel like Sally Fields when she won the Oscar: "You like me! You really like me!"

Imprudent Zeal and all of my books are available on

Friday, February 20, 2009

“The Crucible”

Published in The News Tribune, Feb. 20, 2009
Pictured: Rev. Samuel Parris (Michael Dresdner). Tituba (Krista Grimmett, on the floor), the Rev. John Hale (Robert McConkey, background), and Abigail Williams (Kate Muldoon). Photo by Dean Lapin

Arthur Miller’s classic drama “The Crucible” at Tacoma Little Theatre is as relevant today as it was when it first played the boards in the 1950s. Now as then, it is an evening of unrelenting horror -- not the horror of slasher and vampire films but the more real horror of human beings throwing their friends and neighbors into the crucible of hijacked justice.
Written as a thinly-veiled analogy of the Communist “witch hunts” led by the late Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, this story of real witch hunts in Salem, Mass., in the 17th century can now be seen as analogous to more recent uses of torture to coerce information from prisoners or as analogous to tactics used to slander political enemies by accusing them of being unpatriotic, and even in TV police dramas where questionable interrogation tactics are becoming increasingly acceptable.
From 1692 to 1693 150 people were prosecuted for witchcraft in Massachusetts. People lied and accused their friends and neighbors, and innocent people confessed to avoid death by hanging. In Miller’s play innocent people were put to death because one vengeful young girl, Abigail Williams (Kate Muldoon) accused them of witchcraft. What began with vengeful accusations against a handful of people grew to involve almost every family in Salem Village. Twisted accusations grew to hysteric proportions, sucked others in as ‘true believers’ and witnesses lied to protect themselves and, in some cases, their reputations; because for some of these people their standing in the community was more important than truth or justice or even life.
Most dramatic plays have at least a few moments of comic relief, but not this one. That may be historically accurate, as history indicates the Puritans were generally stern and humorless people. But it’s hard on most audiences to sit through that much intense drama, although there are those who love nothing better. It’s a long play, close to three hours including intermission, and during that time the shouting becomes so routine that at times it loses its power.
The set by Doug Kerr is dramatic and beautiful. It is stark and minimalist with a few rough wooden boxes on heavy wood slat floors that allow for dramatic lighting between the slats, and a painted backdrop with moveable sections. The set creates a feeling of surrealistic timelessness that emphasizes that even though it is a period piece, the issues do not go away but keep reappearing in different forms throughout history. Lightning like neon and red light seeping through the floorboards lend to the surreal and hellish quality of the set.
Erik Hill is outstanding as the farmer John Proctor, as is Rachel Boyer as his wife, Elizabeth. They both seem natural in their roles -- much more down to earth than the self-important preachers and judges, but no less intensely emotional.
Robert McConkey is perhaps a little too stiff and too bombastic as the preacher John Hale, although such a character would be stiff and bombastic, and he softens in a realistic manner as he begins to understand that innocents are being destroyed by the witch hunt.
Joseph Grant as Deputy-Governor Danforth and Michael Dresdner as the Rev. Samuel Parris are also outstanding, as are some of the actors in smaller parts, most notably Jane McKittrick as Mrs. Ann Putnam and Sarah Good, John Pfaffe as Giles Corey, and Krista Grimmett as Tituba, the voodoo-practicing slave from Barbados.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sundays through March 1
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $16.00-$20.00
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Remembering Darwin

Evolution of art and humanity at The Grand Impromptu

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb 19, 2009

Pictured:'Lucy Was A Bonehead, But She Still Believed In Evolution,' ceramic by John McCuistion.
Photo: Ross Mulhausen

I counted 48 artists in the Charles Darwin birthday exhibition, Evolutionary Tales, at The Grand Impromptu Gallery. In addition to the usual suspects, i.e., members of this artists’ co-op gallery, there is a huge lineup of guest artists as each member artist invited one guest artist, who in turn invited another and so forth up to six guests each. Among the many guests are a host of Olympia artists who rarely show in Tacoma. Including Marilyn Frasca, Susan Aurand, Shaw Osha, Kathy Gore Fuss and Susan Christian — and at least one Seattle artist, Larry Naylor, who was included thanks to arts promoter and former Seattle gallery owner Bryan Ohno.

Each artist is represented by a single artwork on the theme of evolution or a tribute to Darwin. Most of the works were executed specifically for this show, although I suspect some were simply given titles that fit the theme. A purely abstract painting by Shaw Osha, for instance, could be interpreted as anything your imagination can dream up. It consists of soft and sparkling geometric patterns in spray paint that look like patterns made by colored lights as seen through fog or, more prosaic perhaps, an atmospheric abstraction in pastel on soft paper. But with the title "On Doubt Charles Darwin: Recognition of Chance in Natural Selection" it fits within the theme of the show.

Similarly, Kathy Gore Fuss’s mixed-media abstract painting "Ravaged" is accompanied by a wall statement referencing the manner in which artists work as being akin to the process of natural selection. It is the first purely abstract work by this artist I have seen, and perhaps it represents a new direction in her work. Something like seed pods or rocks are embedded in rough paper that is sewn together. The texture, coloring and all-over design are attractive, but it seems the only relationship to the evolutionary theme is in the artist’s written statement about “my own little natural selection.”

My favorite piece in the show is an acrylic painting by Alain Clerk called "Couple." An artist’s statement describes it as “Thoughts of Darwin, of Evolution, of Man and Woman and how long Love, Sex and Courtship have been around, part of our fabric, still evolving perhaps . . . and to know that to love another is the beginning of wisdom.”

A couple sit together on a pink chair with arms intertwined in a loving embrace. The couple’s bodies are the same color as the chair and are delineated only by a scruffy outline that reminds me a lot of some of Matisse’s paintings and drawings and also of "The Kiss" by Brancusi. I love the line quality, the overall composition and the brittle dry paint strokes. The only thing I don’t like is the impressionistic hillside in the background with all the lights from, I supposed, a scattering of houses. The impressionistic style is not in keeping with the harsher and more expressionistic style of the figures, and the atmospheric perspective ruins an otherwise terrific composition.

Another favorite piece is Larry Naylor’s sculpture, "Sputnik Has Landed," ceramic, steel and fur. In this piece Naylor references evolution as mankind’s journey into the future through exploration, specifically exploration of space. His sculpture is of an automaton, half human and half machine, a mechanical creature made to explore unknown worlds — sort of a hybrid between R2D2 and a Mars Rover.

I also enjoyed John McCuistion’s ceramic sculpture "Lucy Was A Bonehead, But She Still Believed In Evolution." “Lucy,” of course, is the name given to a famous hominid skeleton found in Ethiopia in 1974. McCuistion’s figure is a ceramic bust of a primitive figure with a big bone sitting on top of her head. It is comical and thought-provoking. The body of the figure is painted with a wonderful peekaboo pattern of red-orange and blue.

I also enjoyed McCuistion’s wife, Dorothy’s, monotype "Darwin’s Dream," which she describes as imagining “the multitude of images and events that occupied Darwin’s dreams and lead him to his theories of natural selection.” In a wash of softly brushed colors are line drawings of a map and various animals and a portrait of Darwin. McCuistion does a good job of combining various styles in a unified whole. But I’m wondering why a portrait of Darwin needed to be included in a picture of his supposed imaginings. Not to pick on this picture, but overall there are too many Darwin portraits in this show, which seems too obvious an approach to the theme.

One final thing that has to be mentioned is that sculptor LeeAnn Seaburg Perry includes a newspaper article alongside her sculpture of a Madonna and child. It is no secret that the newspaper article with its story about this piece of marble sculpture is a joke. But it is very clever and I will not spoil it by telling what the article says. Seaburg Perry is a skillful and very sensitive sculptor with an obviously refined sense of form, but her style is so much like a number of earlier artists that I have a hard time getting excited about it. She borrows from Barbara Hepworth who borrowed from Rodin (specifically the figures he did which emerge from rough-carved blocks of marble) which Rodin borrowed from Michelangelo.

[Grand Impromptu Gallery, Thursday 4-8 p.m., Friday-Saturday noon to 8 p.m., Sunday, 2-6 p.m., through Feb. 28, 608 South Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.572.9232,]


This week I read a review by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith of an Edvard Munch exhibition in which she often referenced other artists who influenced Munch and who were included in the show and said, “Again and again you realize that the best way to explain a work of art is with another one.” How true this is. Now matter how precisely I described LeeAnn Seaburg Perry’s sculpture, as just one of many possible examples, nothing could picture it so clearly as comparing it to works by Hepworth, Rodin and Michelangelo. And if you, dear reader, do not “get” the references, that’s why God invented Google.

Friday, February 13, 2009

‘Glorious’ falls short of comedic expectations

Published in The News Tribune, Feb. 13, 2009
Pictured: Sharry O'Hare and Josh Anderson, photos by Jim Dollarhide

I had high hopes for “Glorious” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. The true life story of Florence Foster Jenkins, billed as “the worst singer in the world,” seemed tailor-made for a musical comedy, and Sharry O’Hare as Jenkins and Josh Anderson as her pianist, Cosme McMoon, seemed inspired casting.

I was slightly disappointed that the play was not as outrageously funny as expected. It is comical, but just not as funny as I had hoped.

The real-life Jenkins had dreams of becoming a great opera diva, but she was a terrible singer. Audiences laughed at her as she butchered the works of Mozart and Strauss, but she continued to see herself as a great soprano.

As she is written in the book for this play, Jenkins was not only a horrible singer, she was totally clueless. She thought the people who jeered at her were “enemies” who were jealous of her talent, and to protect herself from these enemies she went so far as to audition each audience member before she performed.

Only people who loved her singing were allowed to attend her concerts. Naturally, they pretended to like her in order to get in, and then they made fun of her. O’Hare does a wonderful job of terrible singing, like a kamikaze pilot dive-bombing pitch and rhythm.

Some of her songs are truly funny, but it’s a one-punchline joke that wears a little thin. Added to the terrible singing, her posture, her walk and her hand gestures capture the spirit of a wealthy, pretentious and totally oblivious society dame.

Jenkins’ cluelessness extends to her pianist, McMoon, who is gay. Like Paul Lind on “Hollywood Squares,” McMoon’s gayness is a joke shared with the audience. He knows he’s gay and plays it to the hilt, so the audience gets it when he references code phrases such as “a friend of Dorothy” and Jenkins has no idea what’s so funny. Anderson plays this bit with great comic timing and outlandish expressions that only the audience sees.

Equally clueless are Jenkins’ best friend, ironically named Dorothy (Kat Dollarhide), her boyfriend, St. Clair (Tom Birkeland) and her Mexican maid, Maria (Maria Valenzuela).

I have criticized other plays for the use of offensive anti-gay jokes. But the gay jokes in this one are affirming and not offensive, and actually provide for some of the best laughs in the play. Anderson plays McMoon as an absolutely loveable character.

Some of the supporting characters are weak despite having good actors in the roles. Some great talents are wasted here. Dollarhide, for instance, is a singer who has spent a decade as lead soprano with Tacoma Master Chorale, but her singing ability is barely used in this play.

She sings a couple of verses in one song, and that’s all. And Valenzuela, who has performed with the Seattle Opera, does not sing at all. What she does get to do is curse a lot in Spanish (with witty translations projected onto a panel in the wings).

The only supporting character who has much of a meaty role is Birkeland as St. Clair, who lusts after all the women. And the dog. The dog has some of the funniest bits in the play, but I will not spoil the fun by telling about them.

The sets by Will Abrahamse utilize rich drapery, a profusion of flowers and lush antique furniture to create the ambiance of a society dame’s apartment and concert halls. The costumes by Joan Schlegel, particularly the cheap and pretentious handmade dresses worn by Jenkins and Dorothy, are really tacky and silly, as they are intended to be.

This is the first TMP production I have ever seen without an orchestra led by musical director Jeffrey Stvrtecky. The only musical accompaniment is Anderson’s piano, and he plays nicely.

The real life Cosme McMoon was famous for making faces at Florence Foster Jenkins behind her back during her concerts, thus egging on audience members who came to laugh at her.

I was hoping to see some of that from Anderson, but perhaps it’s best that they didn’t play it that way; it might have been too cruel. Instead, Anderson’s McMoon gradually comes to love and respect her. The play ends with a touching tribute to Jenkins from McMoon.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 22
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
TICKETS: $25 adults; $23 students, military; $18 ages 12 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gilded cage

An elegant installation at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 12, 2009
Pictured: "Depletion 2009," installation by Amy Johnson, photo courtesy of the artist

Last week I identified a painting as a flower painting by Elliott Ficus. Actually it was a painting of a Ficus by Eric Elliott. My mistake. I mistook the name of an image file for the artist’s name. So now that we know who he is I recommend you see "Ficus" and other paintings by Eric Elliott in the Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum.

Now on to another show. This one is a one-person show, so I hope I can get the name right. It’s "Depletion 2009," an installation by Amy Johnson at South Puget Sound Community College. According to the gallery Web site, “… Johnson uses installation art to explore the tension between the myths and realities embedded in her Southern heritage and the cultural expectations for women.”

That sounds intriguing, but I saw nothing in this show that had anything to say about either Southern heritage of cultural expectations for women. Perhaps I was just not grasping the meaning of these works.

What I did see was bathtubs. And salt. Lots and lots of salt. Salt has obvious connections to the title, "Depletion." It dissolves (is depleted), but it also preserves and refreshes and restores, as does a soak in a hot bath.

This is a very sparse and elegant show. It consists of two modest installations, each of which is a kind of diorama depicting bathrooms. In one an antique claw foot, cast iron tub is curtained with black stars cut out of tarpaper and hung like bead curtains. The tub is filled to the brim with white salt cubes, the size and shape of which made me suspect they were molded in ice cube trays. A set of deer antlers sticks out of the salt at the foot of the tub. It’s a bubble bath for a deer, and Bambi is completely submerged.

The other one has four gold leaf panels against the gallery wall with two antique spigots sticking out. Beneath the spigots are beads of water made from molded salt, and on the black marble floor a pattern of white discs also made from molded salt.

Both pieces use texture, color and — most importantly — a highly developed sense of spatial placement of objects to create the impression that these bathrooms come from a mansion from perhaps 200 years ago. You can almost see the lady of the house languorously soaking in the tub.

The only other things in the show are a set of collages used as preliminary studies for the installation. One group of three collages depicts the bathtub in three different configurations: empty, full of salt cubes and with the salt cubes drained out onto the floor. In each there is a single tub, very small and collaged from bits of what looks like a paper doily, set in a vast field of black sumi ink.

This is a quiet, contemplative show that speaks metaphorically of loneliness and wealth. Perhaps the connection to Southern heritage is it’s a metaphor for a Southern belle trapped in the gilded cage of an antebellum mansion.

[Minnaert Center, Amy Johnson, Depletion 2009, through Feb. 26, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road S.W., Olympia, 360.596.5508]

Friday, February 6, 2009

Capital Playhouse provides ‘Grand Night’ of music

Published in The News Tribune, Feb. 6, 2009
Pictured left to right: Adam Randolph, Deanna Barrett, Jerod Nace, Erica Penn and Megan Rozak photo by Glenn Raiha

The musical revue “A Grand Night for Singing” at Capital Playhouse in Olympia features songs from legendary songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. People who love show tunes – and especially those who love standards from such hit musicals as “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music” – will surely enjoy this performance. It is beautifully staged, clever, witty and, according to director Jeff Kingsbury, “wicked”; although I must have blinked during the wicked parts.

Is it possible to find fresh new approaches to songs so firmly associated with play scripts? According to the Capital Playhouse marketing director Stephanie Nace, that was the challenge presented to Walter Bobbie, who wrote this revue in 1994. She explained that Bobbie was challenged with finding new approaches to songs such as “Shall We Dance” that didn’t instantly conjure up images of Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner twirling around the dance floor. Bobbie said the answer was to ignore the plays and their characters and think only of the lyrics. So he presented this romantic song as a comedy bit with a nerdy little guy dancing with a big, powerful and beautiful woman (Jerod Nace and Deanna Barrett in this production creating the impression of a big difference in size where it doesn’t physically exist). Similarly, it is a love struck youth (Jerod Nace again) instead of a gaggle of nuns who sings “Maria” from “The Sound of Music.”

Jerod Nace gets many of the plum comedic parts in this review, and he plays them all as if gleefully winking at the audience to say, “Just between you and me, this is all playacting.” He also slips in and out of various characters through the use of simple props, such as glasses and a bow tie, and subtle changes in posture and gesture.

While Jerod Nace gets the juiciest comic bits, Adam Randolph gets to sing most of the lush romantic songs. He has a strong tenor voice and the stage presence of great leading men in the Gordon McCray-Howard Keel mold. But he also easily slips into hilarious comic routines.

The ensemble cast is filled out with three terrific women: Barrett, Erica Penn and Megan Rozak, all Capital Playhouse veterans and all very talented as actors and singers.

Nearly all of the songs are love songs, and the arc of the play builds around the various stages of love from a kind of smart-alecky youth trying to pick up a girl (Jerod Nace singing “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” from “Oklahoma” to all three of the women, to breakups (the women singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” from “South Pacific” in a style reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters), to the joys and challenges of raising children (Penn and Jerod Nace singing “When the Children Are Asleep” from “Carousel” and Randolph singing the beautiful “My Little Girl” also from “Carousel”).

Highlights of the show include a jazzy “Honey Bun” (“South Pacific”) with Randolph singing the lead and the whole cast joining in with voice instruments mimicking a jazz quintet, and the beautiful and inspirational ensemble performance of “Some Enchanted Evening” from “South Pacific” at the end of Act 1 and the finale medley of “Impossible” (“Cinderella”) and “I Have a Dream” (“The King and I”).

The set by Bruce Haasl is a simple and elegant arrangement of risers and lattice arches that sparkle with tiny lights, mood-setting images projected on a scrim and occasional swirling disco-ball effects (lighting by Matt Lawrence). The music by the six-piece group led by Troy Arnold Fisher sounds like a much fuller orchestra. And by the way, the sound balance between singers and orchestra, which is often a big problem in musical theater, is perfect here. For this, we can thank Fisher, Kingsbury, sound designer Bob Schwenkler and sound board operators Eddie Carroll and Alayna Deatherage.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 21
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 East Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $29-$35 for adults, $23-$29 for seniors and youth 16 and younger
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Tacoma Art Museum hosts a better than your average biennial

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 5, 2009
Pictured: Robert C. Jones, "At Last," 2007. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle. Photo: Eduardo Calderón.

The 9th Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum is too heavy on the conceptual; there’s too much photography, and it would be nice if there were at least one South Sound artist in the show. But it’s one of the more impressive biennials they’ve had, with a wide range of very intriguing art.

The best pure painter in the show is undoubtedly Robert Jones from Seattle with three solid abstract paintings. Jones’s paintings are gritty. His "All or Nothing," oil on canvas, is a loose arrangement of rough shapes in pink, green, black and white on a gray surface, with a nice interplay between shapes embedded in the surface and laid on top of the surface. His two smaller paintings, "At Last" and "Mexico Red," combine swirling circular patterns in black with fields of red and green. His colors are muted but rich, and his paint application is rough and jagged in a tradition going back to early Philip Guston and Hans Hoffman, the latter of whom he studied with.

Two environmentally-aware artists, Susan Robb and W. Scott Trimble express their environmental concerns through theme and materials without sacrificing aesthetics to message. Robb is showing a video of a huge outdoor installation called "Warmth, Giant Black Toobs, no. 4," which she has installed in various locations from Miami to New York to Seattle (Larimore Project). The giant black tubes wave in the air like those silly air-filled gummy-like figures you see on used car lots. Only they’re abstract and very lyrical. Trimble’s room-size sculpture, "Unitled #4," is made of reclaimed slats from wood pallets. His “pallet” works can be reconfigured to fit different spaces. This one is like a plank walkway that doubles back on itself over and over and rises in hills of various sizes like a roller coaster. It is meticulously put together and pleasant to look at.

Chang-Ae Song’s drawings in graphite, acrylic and photo collage are delicate, sensitively drawn, and atmospheric. Enraptured with their delicate beauty, I almost missed essential elements of the works — a group of seven drawings, all called "Clouds" — those essential elements being that they combine different traditions and materials (Asian landscape, abstraction and Renaissance figurative art) in ways that in less capable hands would have been jarring, and that one group is filled with drawings taken from photographs of torture victims at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Well known Portland-based landscape artist Michael Brophy is showing a suite of little paintings depicting a fire in his studio — an actual event — and some of his favorite Northwest landscape scenes. Some of the fire paintings are very strong and dramatic, but I wasn’t impressed with his landscape scenes.

Finally, I was pleasantly surprised with three little paintings of potted plants by Elliot Ficus. The paint is so heavily encrusted and the colors so dull — shades of gray with muted green tints — that they look like they are sculpted out of clay.

This is a show that should not be missed.

[Tacoma Art Museum, Northwest Biennial, through May 25, Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m., 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Backside of Nowhere

Jack Butler is a great poet and one of America’s best novelists. His book Living in Littlerock with Miss Littlerock was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. Sadly, his books are now out of print and he’s having a hard time finding a publisher for his latest book. Geeze, what’s with the publishing industry nowadays?

… But that’s a rant for another day.

I sent Jack the prologue of my latest novel, The Backside of Nowhere, and he raved about it. Jack said:

“First of all, the writing is delightful. I hardly know where to start. From the wittiness of the name of Lawrence's movie-star girlfriend, Jasmine Jones, to the freshness and vividness of the descriptions. I loved the inventory of all the different kinds of water. I chortled at the description of the mosquitoes. Was impressed with the observation that allowed you to talk about raindrops hitting so hard they bounced, the sheet metal blowing away in the wind, the terrifying bigotry and blind fundamentalism that pervades--if you read nothing but James Lee Burke, you would think the Gulf Coast was full of goodhearted people who deplored the violence and depravity of the few, but your description reads a lot truer to me. I lived there, and it was a terrible place culturally. I was sickened by the violence and ignorance and squalor.

“You also have, from the opening, a full gallery of distinctive characters, and your dialogue is dead on. Don't know where the book is going from here, but you have definitely piqued my interest, and I can't wait to read more.”

I hope this also piques the interest of readers of this blog. And now if only I could find an agent or a publisher (30 rejections so far).

It's a family saga set in a fictional town on an island near the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It tells the story of a popular movie actor who goes home to be with his dying father, whom he hasn't spoken to in twenty years. Back home in the swamplands he meets again with old enemies and old lovers and is forced to come to terms with past events he thought he had buried long ago. And oh by-the-way, there's a flood and a couple of little ol' hurricanes and two football games, both of which end with big fights between teams and the crowd and a crazy, trigger-happy sheriff.

I’ve posted a couple of sample chapters on the ClaytonWorks website for anyone who might want to read more.