Friday, September 25, 2009

Marvelous Mystery will Snap Up Viewers

Published in The News Tribune, Sept. 25, 2009
Pictured, top (left to right)Mark Peterson as Giles Ralston and Michael Dresdner as Mr. Paravicini; bottom (from left) Deya Ozburn as Miss Casewell, Michael Dresdner as Mr. Paravicini and Alex Smith as Christopher Wren. Photos by Dean Lapin.

There are two things that make murder mysteries – especially of the British variety – insanely popular: complex and surprising plot structures and oddball characters. Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” at Lakewood Playhouse has both in spades.

Most of the actors are outstanding, although a couple of the characters could have been a little more eccentric.

The timing, the plot and even the choice of music between scenes are all excellent. Unfortunately, the balance between intriguing mystery and entertaining characters gets somewhat lost in the second act. What starts out as a hugely entertaining and comical look at a bunch of idiosyncratic characters becomes ponderous as the inquiry into whodunit takes over.

The most entertaining character in the story, Christopher Wren (wonderfully portrayed by Alex Smith with a whole repertoire of eccentric gestures and expressions) fizzles like a dampened firecracker in Act 2.

It’s as if Christie lost sight of him when structuring the unraveling of the murder, and Smith’s great comic acting chops are washed out in the end. Similarly, Mr. Paravicini, another wonderfully eccentric character, sort of fades into the plot, and there’s little actor Michael Dresdner can do to save him despite all his charm.

But then we come to the crux of a mystery – the surprise revelation of whodunit. I am reasonably sure that most audience members will be completely surprised, unless they have read the book or seen the play.

I saw a preview performance. The set (designed by James Venturini) was not quite complete, but it was close enough to see that it was beautifully thought out with precise attention to the smallest details.

The costumes by Diane Runkel also added tremendously to the overall effect – especially Christopher’s outlandish suit and tie and Miss Casewell’s mannish outfit.

Rachael Boyer is outstanding as the somewhat naive Mollie Ralston. Of all the actors, she is the one who seems most unaffected and authentic. When she expresses anger or fear, it is believable.

Mark Peterson as Mollie’s husband Giles is a commanding presence on stage. He portrays Giles as somewhat haughty but basically likable, even though he might very well be a murderer.

Smith’s Christopher is the wildest character in the play: a fey, histrionic young man who lounges and leaps about the set like a lunatic. Smith is new to South Sound stages, and I hope to see more of him.

He reminds me a lot of Josh Anderson, one of the best comic actors in the area.

Syra Beth Puett is convincingly unlikable as the snobbish Mrs. Boyle. I can’t say any more about her without spoiling the plot.

Mike Slease is gruff and officious as Major Metcalf, a character whose inclusion in the story seems almost superfluous until the end.

Deya Ozburn is excellent as the self-contained and mysterious Miss Casewell. She coolly underplays this woman who dresses like a man and is filled with disdain for practically everyone.

Dresdner is delightful as Mr. Paravicini, providing some of the best laughs in the play. He seems typecast in this role, yet I almost wish he had played the detective Sergeant Trotter (Christian Doyle).

Doyle plays Trotter as a high-strung man who doesn’t stand still for a moment. I would have preferred a more arrogant or aloof character in the mold of Sherlock Holmes or Christie’s more famous detective, Hercule Poirot. (Incidentally, Dresdner’s Paravicini sports a Poirot-style mustache; perhaps it was that and his clipped speech that made me wish he had played the detective.)

Director John Munn does an excellent job with timing and blocking. He specializes in directing mysteries and obviously knows what makes them work.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 11

WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood

TICKETS: $13.50-$21.50, rush tickets every Saturday 15 minutes prior to curtain; actor benefit performance Oct. 10

INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ancient spaceships

Turing Exterra: A work of glass and steel by Rik Allen
Turing Exterra by Rik Allen

Rik Allen’s fantasy spacecraft at Traver Gallery
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sep 24, 2009

Rick Allen makes amazing spaceships out of steel and glass — mostly glass that looks like steel (or perhaps pewter). What’s fascinating about them is that they look like spacecraft from a future world as envisioned in the early to mid 20th century. I’m talking early sci-fi spacecraft: Buck Rogers, Lost in Space, The Jetsons, but also some pretty authentic looking stuff from the early years of actual as opposed to sci-fi space exploration.

“The futuristic antiquity of this series was inspired by my lifelong fascination with the design of technology — especially the ‘new’ technology of foregone years,” Allen says. These ships are fascinating to see and to contemplate. But does that make them art? To answer that question involves a whole other vein of philosophical and aesthetic consideration that I can’t tackle in the limited space of this column. Even if his work is not museum quality art in the sense that a David Smith or Richard Serra or Louise Bourgeois is, his pieces are something more than just novelty items or conversation pieces. There is aesthetic beauty in these as well, which has more to do with the inherent beauty of the media than with the artist’s arrangement of forms. Give Allen credit for accentuating that inherent beauty in ingenious ways. And for his thoroughness in expressing his personal obsession with space travel.

The most intriguing elements to these sculptures are the use of light and the treatment of surface. The bodies of his ships look like old metal that is corroded with frosted and bubbled glass windows or portholes, but they are actually, for the most part, blown glass that is coated with a kind of metal foil and mounted on steel legs or bases. The surfaces are truly beautiful, and the manner in which the glass lets light in gives them the appearance of being lighted from within. Many of them have a red or orange glow as if there is some kind of high intensity engine inside — the heat of liftoff.

Plus there is the added element of being able to peer inside the glass for surprise views. Look closely for openings you can peer into.

Golem (I love the title) is a saucer on spindly legs with a bubble glass dome on top and inside instruments that look like satellite dishes or ancient instruments of navigation such as some of our readers may recall from a show of Morris Graves sculptures at Tacoma Art Museum.

Buzz may be a tribute to Buzz Aldren, or maybe Buzz Lightyear. Maybe both. It looks like a single engine from a 1950s jet liner and simultaneously like the kind of single-occupancy spacecraft the Jetsons buzzed around in. Minimum Mono Shuttle and Flurbian Nightwatcher are similar one-or-two-person craft. Funny little things.

Turning Exterra is similar to Golem as it marches on spindly legs and has satellite dish-like instruments inside a big frosted glass body. It’s an ominous mechanical creature that is obviously out to destroy Earth. Beware.

I highly recommend this show if, for nothing else, the memories and speculations it invokes and the beauty of the surface and light of Allen’s sculptures.

[William Traver Gallery, Tuesday-Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., through Oct. 4, 1821 East Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685]

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wilde’s ‘Earnest’ gets an electrical update

The News Tribune/The Olympian
Pictured (top) from left, Christopher Cantrell, Kathryn Wanless, Jane Brody, John Abbott and Patrick Wigren (bottom) Cantrell, Wanless, Wigren. Photos by Toni Holm.

Olympia Little Theatre has updated Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy of manners “The Importance of Being Earnest” to the swinging England of 1968, the era of such popular British films as “Georgy Girl” and “Alfie.” This play, performed in the round, has much of the flavor of those films. Other than a florid manner of speaking, which may have been the height of fashion among pretentious Brits in 1895 but which seems stilted today, the update seems perfectly fitted to the affectations and love of fashion in Wilde’s comedy.

But I suspect the real reason for updating the play was it provided an excuse to use fabulous ’60s costumes. The mod outfits were all the rage at the time, and costumier Allison Gerst came up with some doozies for this production. Gwendolyn’s bold-patterned mini-dresses, stockings and high boots are a delight, and the suits John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff wear in Act 1 are amazing. Algernon wears a mustard yellow shirt with a turquoise blue sports coat while Worthing is wearing an eye-popping electric blue suit. Their neon blue tones contrast with equally bright orange pillows and divan cover, signifying an understanding of color that is impressive.

On the other hand, when John’s make-believe brother dies, he wears black-on-black mourning clothes with a top hat that harkens back to Wilde’s day.

And just as the colors are electric in their intensity, there are electric sparks between the two principal couples – not the lovers so much (Jack/Gwendolyn and Algernon/Cecily) but the buddies (Jack/Algernon and Gwendolyn/Cecily). It is the repartee between the old friends of the male sex and the newly bonded friends of the female sex that truly sparkle.

Seldom will you see any two women spat so joyfully as these two do and then collaborate with such mutual admiration after they discover they are each engaged to the same man (which they’re really not). And rarely do drunken buddies fall all over each other so happily as Jack and Algernon when they sing “What’s New Pussycat.”

Christopher Cantrell plays John, who is sometimes called Jack and who has an imaginary brother named Earnest, as a proud but confused young man who is simultaneously blustery and vulnerable, and believably sincere even when he is lying. Cantrell is masterful in this role. He seems not to be acting at all. He does anger with grand intensity. When he professes his love for Gwendolyn, his eyes sparkle, and there is no doubt he is head-over-heels in love with her.

Kathryn Wanless as Gwendolyn and Quinci Daoust as Cecily are equally bubbly and excitable and marvelously expressive. Wanless is new to South Sound stages, having come here after a long acting career in England. Daoust is also new to the area; she’s a high school student from Portland who is commuting for this performance. Despite their actual age difference, both women are convincing as impressionable, lovestruck 18-year-olds. Both are charmingly effervescent.

The fourth member of these couples is Patrick Wigren as Algernon. Tall, thin and handsome, Wigren wears a wig I would not have known was a wig if I hadn’t seen him take it off. He hams it up as the histrionic Algernon, a character that allows an actor to go all out. He lounges like a diva on the divan and minces his words and delicately fingers his cucumber sandwiches. Algernon is not gay, but he is an alter ego for Wilde, who was flamboyantly gay, and Wigren seems to inhabit Wilde’s devil-may-care spirit.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is not an uproarious comedy. It’s not the kind of comedy that makes people stomp their feet and fall out of their seats laughing. It’s more a thinking person’s comedy. I admire the writing, with its Shakespearean identity confusions and parallel fantasy lives, and I admire the acting by the four principal characters.

I saw this play in rehearsal with some of the actors still on book and without complete lighting and sound. I enjoyed it very much, and I predict it will be even more entertaining in full production.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 1:55 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 11
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or
INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Losses and Longings

Exciting modern paintings steeped in history and myth

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 17, 2009
Pictured:"Sudarium," oil on canvas by Jethaniel Peterka

Painter Jethaniel Peterka shows a deft touch and a fertile mind in his paintings and assemblages at Fulcrum Gallery. The show is called Losses and Longings, and it presents a record of how Peterka’s work is evolving and how individual works come into being. Paintings over a period of time showing an evolution of style are paired with preliminary studies to give a snapshot of works in progress.

Much of the imagery and Peterka’s painting style remind us of some of the great works of the Renaissance and of the French Impressionists, but there are distinctively modern and surrealistic touches, and his latest works are more illustrational than painterly, with a raw, dashed-off, sketchy quality. There is a tremendous amount of variety in this little show.
I see hints here of Titian, Valasquez and Carravagio, and even Salvador Dali.

I greatly admire Peterka’s sensitive touch with the brush, but great technique alone is not enough to make art stand out nowadays; there must be something else, and usually something indefinable. Peterka’s paintings seem to have that. His assemblages not so much. They are intriguing, but do not have the power of the paintings.

My favorite painting in this show may be a little figure study in the back gallery titled "Twins." It is a painting of two identical nudes lounging in chairs facing each other. The figure on the right is a finished to a high polish while the figure to the left remains sketchy and unfinished, with preliminary pencil marks showing and dark and light areas loosely blocked in. It is almost like a textbook illustration of the stages of a single painting.

Also in the back room are the assemblages, small works with mechanical parts and body parts, hearts encircled by thorny crowns in two pieces and in another a strange mechanical device with the carcass of an insect. Very strange, but as I said, nowhere near as exciting as the paintings. There are also two very nice drawings from his sketchbook in this back gallery.

The most dramatic painting in the front room is "The Sudarium." This large painting (48 by 25 inches) of two angels in modern dress holding an infant was done as a commission for an album cover for a Brooklyn-based metal band. The angel’s black wings are dark and vibrant and their faces and figures are painted with softly modulated brushstrokes, while the background is painted in a looser style with a stormy sky a la El Greco and a city skyline barely indicated.

Another favorite is "Medicine," which is as serene and classical as "The Sudarium" is romantic. It is a painting of a naked woman in a typical Renaissance pose but with modern drug paraphernalia and nipple rings and a modern-day, shaved-head druggie crouched down behind her in a pose borrowed from Rodin’s "Thinker."

Another excellent painting is "After the Accident," a closeup of a woman’s face in a loose impressionistic style with tones of pink and blue-gray that remind me of the best of Renoir’s paintings. The coloring and paint handling are beautiful despite the horrific subject matter of a bruised and bleeding face.

Peterka mines art history to create his personalized vision of contemporary life.

[Fulcrum Gallery, through Oct. 3, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Sunday and by appointment, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

Visual arts on the cheap

This is a little piece I wrote for the Weekly Volcano's Fall Arts Guide.

Art on the cheap? You can’t get much cheaper than free, and that’s what it costs to get in any of the art galleries in the South Sound. Museums charge admission fees, but compared to the cost of movie tickets, or a cover charge and a drink or two at most night spots, or tickets to a Rainiers game (forget a hotdog and a beer) it’s the cheapest form of entertainment available — and it won’t rot your feeble little brain. General admission to Tacoma Art Museum is $9 and Museum of Glass $12, and both are free during Third Thursday ArtWalk.

Of course the reason art galleries are free is because they want you to buy the art. But we’re not talking used car sales. Nobody’s going to pressure you. Gallery owners fully expect that 99 percent of their visitors are just window-shopping, and they’re happy for you to do so. And if you do decide to buy an original work of art, it might well be the best investment you’ll ever make. People think only the rich can buy art. How stupid, stupid, stupid that is. Yeah, maybe only the rich can buy an original Andy Warhol silkscreen or a painting by Jasper Johns, but almost anybody can afford paintings and sculptures by local artists, which will give you endless hours of enjoyment and will almost certainly increase in value. We’re talking the cost of a big date or a few dinners out.

So what is the state of the gallery scene in the South Sound? Considering the economy, it’s not bad. Most galleries are holding on by the seat of their pants, but they’ve always done that. We’ve lost some good ones recently. The Helm obviously comes to mind. And Grand Impromptu lost their building when the Grand Cinema needed to take it over in order to expand. Hopefully they’ll be able to find another venue in which to carry on. On the other hand, Fulcrum Gallery and Robert Daniel Gallery seem to be thriving.

Down south in Olympia, things are not looking so good. The only vibrant, avant-garde gallery in town went out of business a year ago, and just about the only galleries in town now are Childhood’s End and Art House Design. I don’t know what gives with Olympia, but this town that is so well known for music and theater has never had an exciting visual art scene. Not that there are no artists in town. They’re all over the place. They just don’t have many places to show their work. What a shame.

Ah! But then there are the typically overlooked art galleries that typically show quality work but are seldom visited by the general public. I’m talking about college and university art galleries. Kittredge Gallery at University of Puget Sound, the galleries at Tacoma Community College and Pierce College, PLU, UW-Tacoma, The Evergreen State College — they all have excellent art galleries but there’s a general feeling among the gallery-going public that they’re for students only, and the colleges don’t do a very good job of dispelling that myth. As a rule, they do a lousy job of publicizing their shows, so we seldom see them. To remedy that, I suggest bookmarking their Web sites and looking for them in the Weekly Volcano arts calendar. — Alec Clayton

[Fulcrum Gallery Art Space, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]
[The Robert Daniel Gallery, 2501 Fawcett Ave, Tacoma, 253.227.1407]
[Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]
[Art House Design, 420 Franklin St SE # B, Olympia, 360.943.3377]
[Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma,]
[Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

Friday, September 11, 2009

Last days

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 10, 2009
Pictured,sculpture by Lynn De Nino courtesy Two Vaults Gallery.

There are two art exhibits running in Tacoma that end this weekend, one very serious and high-minded and the other cute enough to make you want to puke. I’m talking kitsch cute that’s so bad it’s good. The shows are "Flux" at Gallery Madera and "Rabbitual" at Two Vaults. Both shows run through Saturday, Sept. 12.

"Flux" is part of the citywide MetalUrge show, which has been going for quite some time, and features wall mounted sculptures by Christine Parent, Chris Spadafore and Jennifer Weddermann-Hay, free-standing sculptures by Danella Sydow and Chris Wooten, and jewelry by Amy Reeves and Cynthia Wood. Plus, Madera Furniture designers Carlos Taylor-Swanson and Steve Lawler will feature new works, and as if that were not enough, the show also includes new paintings by Angel Matamoros.

"Rabbitual" at Two Vaults has 77 works by some 45 artists, and they’re all about rabbits. There are sculptures, paintings and drawings by artists such as Catherine Swanson, Diane Kurzyna, Carol Hannum, Joseph Batt and Lynn DI Nino. Most are simply too cute and cuddly for words. Some are rather macabre, such as Zoe Williams’ stuffed and mounted bunny rabbits, which are white and fluffy and mounted on the wall like deer heads as if shot by some mad hunter — Elmer Fudd, perhaps. Or a piece by Di Nino with a sculpted white rabbit climbing up the outer shell of a sliced-open earth that looks like half a watermelon, trying to grab the carrot that’s planted here. Or like Lee Musgrave’s "Soft Encounter," a drawing of a nude that looks like Boucher’s "Miss O’Murphy" — the corniest piece of soft porn ever created by an artist — only she’s a sprite on a stump face-to-face with a rabbit.

Cynthia Wood’s jewelry pieces at Gallery Madera are bold and elegant and influenced by marine life and sailing in the Puget Sound.

Works from Danella Sydow’s "Aphrodite" series are sensual abstracted forms in bronze based on women’s bodies.

The works in "Flux" are as serious, heavy and commercial as the works in "Rabbitual" are fluffy and sweet.

I have reservations about a lot of the works in each of these shows as being too cute or too commercial, but each show has enough really good stuff to make it worth seeing.

Coming up next at Two Vaults is a show of paintings by Christopher Mathie depicting the animal life in and around the Puget Sound. These works promise to be big and bold in Mathie’s painterly style, which will be a departure from the rabbit theme while still dealing with animal imagery.

[Gallery Madera, Flux, through Sept. 12, 2210 Court A, Tacoma, 253.572.1218,]

[Two Vaults Gallery, Rabbitual, through Sept. 12, 602 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.759.6233]

‘Star-Spangled Girl’ sparkles at Tacoma Little Theatre

Published in The News Tribune, Sept. 11, 2009
“The Star-Spangled Girl” stars (top photo from left), Luke Amundson as Andy, Gretchen Boyt as Sophie, and Blake R. York as Norman. Photos by Dean Lapin.

New Tacoma Little Theatre artistic director Scott Campbell promised a season of comedy, and the revamped 91-year-old theater is starting the new season with a laugh-out-loud glance back at the ’60s, Neil Simon’s “The Star-Spangled Girl.”

What I love about this show is that there is nothing superfluous – no big set changes, no big effects (just a couple of little effects that are quite surprising), no unnecessary characters or rambling monologues – just three eccentric but believable characters and a lot of witty dialogue.

Luke Amundson as Andy and Blake R. York as Norman Cornell are a deliciously odd couple, making two totally outlandish characters seem almost normal. Throw in Gretchen Boyt, a cross between Carol Burnett and Jane Krakowski, as Sophie – the rah-rah, All-American girl from Arkansas who moves in next door – and you’ve got a hit.

Andy is an idealistic radical who publishes the alternative magazine Fallout with Norman, his one-person writing staff, working out of their San Francisco apartment in 1967. Their already crazy lives are thrown totally out of whack when Sophie knocks on their door.

The dialogue is witty and fast-paced, more a parody than an accurate reflection of the era.

Director Elliot Weiner writes in the program that Simon was critical of this play and “complained that he should never have tried to be political.” It is clear that Simon did not have a clear understanding what it was like to be a poor political activist in 1967. The political arguments between Andy and Sophie, which are supposedly the crux of the play, are actually some of the weaker scenes. But the complex love-hate relationships between (separately and each with its own sexual tension) Andy and Norman, Norman and Sophie, and finally Andy and Sophie – not to mention a trio of characters who never appear on stage, including Sophie’s Marine boyfriend; the landlady, Mrs. MacKaninee, with whom Andy has on ongoing relationship to keep them from being evicted from the apartment they cannot afford; and a creditor who keeps calling and whom Andy keeps putting off by pretending to be various other characters.

The casting for this play is outstanding. I can’t imagine any trio of actors fitting their parts better than Amundson, York and Boyt. I have enjoyed Amundson and York in many local productions, but this is their best outing to date. Boyt is a welcome new actor to South Sound stages.

Amundson plays the idealistic and revolutionary Andy with controlled fury. His love for Norman and disdain for Sophie are palpable, and he shows great skills for mimicry in impersonating a Chinese laundryman, an Italian restaurateur and other characters.

Boyt makes you love Norman even when he is doing things that should have him thrown in jail. He stalks and harasses Sophie relentlessly, but he does it with such a sweet and innocent smile and such a look of goofy adoration that you just can’t help but love him.

Boyt makes you believe that Sophie really is a proud and patriotic hillbilly, and her Southern accent is believably subtle.

“The Star-Spangled Girl” was never as big a hit as plays such as “Barefoot in the Park” and “The Odd Couple,” which made Simon one of America’s favorite playwrights. But 40 years later, it is still fresh and delightful. I suspect that one reason neither the Broadway production nor the movie version were big successes was that it is too small and intimate for Broadway or film, but that intimacy makes it perfectly suited for the newly expanded TLT stage.

If you’re going to see it, be sure to note that TLT’s evening performances start half an hour earlier this year, at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Good stuff, short run

A lot of the best stuff in theater and art -- the edgier, more experimental art -- tends to be limited run or one-night-only. So I don't get to review them in my weekly columns. Here are some announcements I recently received for events you might want to check out.

Lord Frannzanian's Royal Olympian Spectacular Vaudeville Show
"You'll be so glad you went......."
A performance hosted by Elizabeth Lord Friday, Sept. 25 through Sunday, Sept. 27 at 8 The Midnight Sun Performance Space downtown Olympia.

To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:

Special event at Fulcrum Gallery

As highlighted in the September issue of City Arts Tacoma, Goldfinch band members Aaron Stevens and Grace Sullivan collaborate with local photographer Jason Ganwich to create a series of highly symbolic nude stills exploring human frailty, grief, religion, celebration, doubt, and honesty.

A one-night only event at Fulcrum Gallery that is bound to be one of Tacoma's most provocative art events of the year.

Also featuring the art of Zachary Marvick, the artist behind the album cover of the self-titled debut Goldfinch record.

Pick up a copy of the new City Arts to read the full article:

"Working with local photographer Jason Ganwich, Stevens and Sullivan self-choreographed dozens of breathtaking stills during a marathon shoot at Fulcrum Gallery in July. Inspired by the public nudes of Spencer Tunick and the kinetic sequences of Eadweard Muybridge, they smeared themselves with white paint and posed, often with props." - Mark Thomas Deming, City Arts

For those who don't know, Spencer Tunick is famous for photographing large crowds of naked people in public places.

The event is this Saturday at Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way,
Tacoma from 7-11 p.m., suggested donation: $5.

Finally, Bryan Willis sent me a last minute change to the scheduled performance of his play “I Love You, Flavilla,” a 20-minute pirate monologue. The one-day-only performance at Olympia Tiny Theater has been moved to a slightly larger venue, 2312 Muirhead Ave. NW on Olympia's West Side. The production will feature the talents of seven different actors, including two from Olympia, Andrew Gordon
and John Ficker, and Tacoma actor Aaron Jacobs.

Here's the announcement:

Sept. 19, 2009

(International Talk Like a Pirate Day)
Olympia Tiny Theater

“I Love You, Flavilla”
by Bryan Willis
Every hour – on the hour from noon to midnight
Suggested Donation: $4.00

Olympia Tiny Theater is located at 2312 Muirhead Ave. NW
Reservations highly recommended (seating capacity limited to 10 per show). Please e-mail or call 360/754-2818.
Note: “I Love You, Flavilla,” is not suitable for young children, Episcopal missionaries or impressionable adults.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Here are a couple of theater announcements I got from Northwest Playwrights Alliance:

Sat. Sept. 12 - at Theater on the Square, Tacoma

Rosalind Bell directs two staged readings of August Wilson's
Joe Turner's Come and Gone

2:00 & 7:30 p.m.

In this staged reading of "Joe Turner’s Come and Gone," the second chapter of Wilson’s works, the theme of slavery is addressed as audiences experience the transitions of moving to industrial cities of the north in search of a new life and identity through the life of the protagonist, Herald Loomis. The play deals with a variety of issues faced by African Americans in 1911, as well as universal themes of redemption, the importance of family, and the power of the human spirit. Tony nominated Joe Turner’s Come and Gone will inspire and move audiences as they experience Herald’s struggle.

For tickets and information please call the Broadway Center Box Office:

Sat. Sept. 19 - Olympia Tiny Theater
(Sophia's Salon - 1706 Harrison Ave. on Olympia's Westside)

World premiere!
I Love You, Flavilla
by Bryan Willis

a brief monologue celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Performances every hour, on the hour, from noon to midnight


for reservations please call 360/754-2818
or contact

Friday, September 4, 2009

Magical murder mystery in the moonlight

Published in The Olympian/The News Tribune, Sept. 3-4,2009
Pictured: Helen Harvester and Aaron Lamb, photo by Tor Clausen

“Mating Dance of the Werewolf” by Mark Stein is unlike anything seen on Puget Sound stages. It is a beautiful, moody, hilarious love story, and it’s a murder mystery/comedy about one of the rarest creatures in literature or entertainment – a female werewolf.

The play, directed by Scot Whitney, is cinematic in presentation with movie-style flashbacks and hints of film noir and swelling music during the most dramatic moments a la 1950s love stories.

In program notes Whitney tells how the playwright queried him with sample pages from the script.

He writes that he was immediately intrigued by the title and by the opening line of the play.

It opens with the piped-in sound of a police radio dispatch. Ken (Aaron Lamb), an off-duty cop in running shorts, sits on the front of the stage smoking a cigarette. His boss, Raul (Steve Manning) approaches and Ken asks, “Have they found Allen’s head yet?”

From this bizarre opening line, a murder mystery unfolds as Raul questions Ken and his answers are acted out by Ken and the remaining cast of characters: Ken’s girlfriend Abby (Helen Harvester, the werewolf); the dead guy, Allen (Daniel Wood), who is a fellow cop and, if not exactly Ken’s friend, at least a guy to spends a lot of time with him; and finally Pam (Tracy Leigh), Allen’s girlfriend and Ken’s ex-wife.

So Allen has been murdered, and that’s all the plot I’m going to divulge. It is, after all, a mystery.

In the present, all of the characters talk to each other about what led up to the murder, and in the past they act out what happened.

The transitions between present and past are seamless and, in some instances, almost dreamlike.

It’s also a very modern, intense and highly stylized love story that is simultaneously realistic and absurdly comical.

The set by scenic designer Jill Carter is as unique as any I’ve ever seen. It’s Ken’s living room. The walls and all the furniture are black. Even the bookshelf and all the books on it are black.

Nat Rayman’s lighting design is dramatic. The projected images of a moonlight forest at night are both dramatic and highly romantic, intentionally clichéd.

Seldom has sound played such a large part in a drama, from the police radio to soaring, lush music that lends that 1950s-style kitsch to the love scenes. Credit sound designer Keith Jewell and a crew of actors reading the police dispatches, including Douglass Bowen-Flynn, John O’Keefe, Rod Campbell, Rayman, Jewel, Whitney and Ann Flannigan as the dispatcher.

All of the cast members are highly competent actors. Harvester and Lamb together and singly make impossible-to-believe characters and situations seem almost real.

Harvester is inspired as the woman who turns into a wolf. Her physical gestures are dance-like whether she’s actually dancing (there’s a tango with Ken that’s highly sexualized in an almost sado-masochistic way) or whether she’s simply moving around in Ken’s living room – but Abby never simply moves around; she leaps and stretches and contorts her body while climbing over furniture and out of windows and slithering up and down Ken’s body. Never mind that some of her moves are more spidery and catlike than wolf like; her physicality is mesmerizing.

In the best of live theater there are moments when the lighting and sets and music and acting all converge in ways that transport the audience to a magical place where a woman really can turn into a wolf and a cop can fall in love with her.

Such moments are rare, but they happen in this play. One such moment is the first time Abby climbs out the window to vanish into the moonlit night. I may never forget her silhouetted image in one frozen moment.

There are also scenes in the best of plays that fit as snuggly as Spandex on an athlete and yet are totally unexpected and somehow out of keeping with everything that has gone before.

Such scenes can shock the viewers or make them go wild with laughter. There are many such scenes in “Mating Dance of the Werewolf.” The tango mentioned above is just one such scene.

Despite murder and horror and scenes of intense sensuality, this play is neither scary nor obscene. If movie ratings were applied, it would probably rate a PG.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 12
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $24-$33, rush tickets $12-$20 half hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fancy frames

This week's column in the Weekly Volcano was a toss-off. I was busy last week with PFLAG business and doctor appointments (routine) and observing the Referendum 71 signature count and visiting an old friend and other stuff and did not get to see an exhibition I could review. So I knocked this one off right at deadline without giving it much thought. Please be aware that it was written at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

Fancy frames
And other pet peeves

I’ve been told by friends whose artistic judgment I respect that my reviews are too forgiving. They might be right. Fact is, I try to give artists the benefit of the doubt, and I’m never as critical in my reviews as I’d sometimes like to be. Mama said, “If you can’t say anything good about someone don’t say anything at all.” That’s kind of a hard order for a critic to follow.

Fact is, after more than 25 years writing art reviews I’ve become easily bored. It takes something awfully good to get me excited about a work of art. Most of what I see has not only been done, it’s been done to death.

It’s hard to say what may get me worked up. I know it when I see it. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to say what turns me off.

Fancy frames. A beautiful frame will not make a bad painting good. Keep it simple.

Impressionism. Impressionism was over more than a century ago. You can’t do it better than Monet and Degas, so quit trying. Find your own damn voice and quit trying to sing with their voices.

Calendar kitsch. From clichéd landscapes to cute animal pictures, if it looks like a calendar it damn well better include days of the week.

Sentimentality. That’s one of those know-it-when-you-see-it things.

Split formats. What’s with the popularity of paintings done on two or three panels with the image continuing from one to the other? Why is that so freaking popular? Wouldn’t it look the same if it was done on a single panel? Such gimmicks not only fail to make bad art good, they can sometimes make otherwise good art bad.

Joseph Cornell wannabees. Joseph Cornell was a great artist. He put little objects in little boxes. Now there are millions of artists who put little objects in little boxes. See “Impressionism” above. (Feel free to substitute Picasso or Dali for Cornell.)

Pretty glass. Glass art should be judged by the same criteria as any other art, not adored just because it’s pretty. Prettiness is a natural byproduct of the media.

Just because it’s …whatever. I constantly see where people make a big deal out of art created from unusual media. How do I explain this? Let’s say an artist makes a sculpture of a dog, and it’s made out of, say, dog biscuits. Oh how cute. But if it doesn’t look more exciting, beautiful or unique than a similar sculpture of a dog made out of wood or clay, the dog biscuits don’t make it art. Yet I see hundreds of examples of art that’s no better than any other but is praised because it’s made out of unusual materials. Sorry, that’s just not a good basis for judging art.

The obligatory hook. This applies to abstract art only. An artist creates a really nice abstract form. It could easily stand on its own as a work of art, but the artist is afraid the public won’t “get it,” so he tags on a head or eyes or wings or something to make it look like a person or animal. That’s a cop-out, and it may ruin what otherwise might have been good art. It’s a lack of courage or of imagination.

That last sentence is the key. Courage and imagination. I really don’t care so much about skill. Technique is secondary at best. Just get out there and do something unique and gutsy.