Friday, October 30, 2009

Hot damn!

VIEW FROM THE INSIDE: A work in progress by Chandler O'Leary at Anagram Press
VIEW FROM THE INSIDE: A work in progress by Chandler O'Leary at Anagram Press

It’s Art at Work Month in Tacoma

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 29, s009

Photo courtesy Chandler O'Leary

Titles usually need to be short. Otherwise it should be called Art at Work and at Home and Where You Play Month. Art is everywhere in T-town for the month of November. Visual and performing art, parties, lectures, readings, exhibitions, Art Slam, classes and workshops, studio tours. And it all starts tonight with an opening celebration at Tacoma Art Museum.

The opening party features live music by the Tacoma Youth Symphony, poetry by William Kupinse and Tammy Robacker, hors d’oeuvres, desserts compliments of Bates Culinary Arts Program, and a no-host bar. The main event will be recognition of the AMCOT Awards. It’s from 6 to 9 p.m., and it’s free.

The studio tours are Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7-8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with 75 artists opening their studios to the public. There will be demonstrations and, in some instances, hands-on art activities. Following are examples of a few of the participating artist studios.

Holly Senn is fast becoming Tacoma’s premiere sculpture/installation artist. Her work using cast-off books as material is intelligent, provocative and well designed. Visitors to her studio will be able to create their own collages using pages from old books.

Bill Colby, printmaker. See how woodcuts and etchings are made and ask the artist why blue is his favorite color.

Chandler O’Leary, printmaker, book artist and proprietor of Anagram Press. See how she makes her prints and make your own small keepsake print on an antique Kelsey platen press.

Oliver Doriss, glass artist and owner of Fulcrum Gallery, named Best Tacoma Gallery two years in a row by this critic as well as by a poll of Weekly Volcano readers. Doriss’ studio is in the gallery so you get to see where he works and see the latest show at Fulcrum in one stop.

Carlos Taylor-Swanson and Steve Lawler are both fine art woodworkers and furniture makers. See their work at Madera Fine Decorative Furnishings.

Tacoma Community College. You can be an art student for a day, make a cast aluminum block tile or throw your own pot on a wheel. TCC art faculty will be on hand to guide you ($5 material fee required).

The husband and wife team of C.J. Swanson and David N. Goldberg open up their home studio. See how they work separately but side-by-side and see if you can spot ways in which they influence one another. Where do you draw the line between stylized imagery and pure abstraction and why is Goldberg’s latest work morphing toward more recognizable imagery?

Some studios are open both days and some one day only. Schedules, maps and descriptions are available in the Art at Work brochure available at many venues around down and online.

The other big event is Art Slam, Nov. 18 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Rialto Theater. Art Slam is a fast-paced live projection of artwork on a big screen to the accompaniment of music and live spoken word performances.

Finally, there will be an Arts Symposium at University of Puget Sound Wyatt Hall Nov. 14 and 15 with workshops for artists on how to market your art, legal issues, budget management and other issues on the business end of art.

For more information and complete schedule of Art at Work month, click here.

Actors tackle challenges of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’

Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 30, 2009
Pictured: Luke Amundson as Mitch Albom and Elliot Weiner as Morrie Schwartz. Photos by Dean Lapin

Morrie Schwartz’s wisecracking saves “Tuesdays With Morrie” from being maudlin. But the play now being performed at Lakewood Playhouse is still a tearjerker.

Based on a true story and written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom, this two-character play recreates the last four months in the life of Schwartz, who died of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, as witnessed by Albom, his former student who visited him every Tuesday as his body degenerated.

The disease is horrible. There were tears in the eyes of Lakewood Playhouse audience members as well as in the eyes of cast members Luke Amundson as Albom and Elliot Weiner as Schwartz. But it is also a funny play and a nuanced character study.

Schwartz and Albom are the only characters, so they are both on stage almost the entire 80- minute, no-intermission play, and both actors express extreme emotions, subtle personality traits and, in Schwartz’s case, a steady degeneration of bodily functions. These are the kinds of challenging roles actors salivate for, and Weiner and Amundson are up to the challenge.

The role of Morrie Schwartz is certainly a dream role for any actor. In his portrayal of the dying professor, Weiner gets to dance, wittily retort to Albom’s often inept questions, express heartfelt emotion, laugh, cry and portray the loss of muscle control. His dancing is not smooth, but he is, after all, an aging professor, not Fred Astaire. His sincerity, his smart-alecky digs at Albom, and the way he portrays the progression of the disease are absolutely believable.

The role of Mitch Albom is not so obviously an acting tour de force. In many ways, Albom is little more than a foil for Schwartz to play off of. But in subtle and less obvious ways he is a huge challenge for an actor, because Albom starts out as a detached and aloof man who is unable to express emotion or connect with other human beings in any meaningful way, and then he is gradually transformed by Schwartz’s goading and example into a more caring person – but never a man who can easily express his love.

Throughout the play we see Amundson reaching out and pulling back. He is stiff, unable to relax. At first it might seem that the actor is trying too hard, but as the character’s personality is revealed, we realize that that stiffness is integral to his character. Amundson can’t be natural because Albom can’t. Even when Schwartz brings Albom to tears in the most emotionally wrought scene in the play, Amundson keeps his emotions in check, and you can feel how tightly he is wound. That’s more than acting; that’s becoming the character.

Director Brie Yost notes in the program that the set by Hally Phillips is kept simple and unadorned to keep the focus on the actors. This was a good idea, but it didn’t quite work. The set looked rough, unfinished and too obviously a stage set rather than a living room. Two windows on the back wall looked to be hanging by ropes against a backdrop rather than part of a wall. A more realistic set would be better, as would be no set at all but rather just the few needed pieces of furniture against a blank backdrop. This set falls somewhere in between and therefore directs too much attention to the fact that it is a set.

Similarly, while the black-box setting with seating on three sides provides the kind of intimacy this play needs, if the furniture had been farther from the back wall, the intimacy would have been greatly enhanced. As it was, when the actors were in the corners of the stage, some in the audience had to crane their necks to see them. There was a talk back with the actors and artistic director Marcus Walker after the play opening night, providing those who stayed insight into the art and craft of performing this play as well as into the true lives of Morrie Schwartz and Mitch Albom. They indicated they might do a talk back after every performance. Actually Weiner, reverting to character as Schwartz, wisecracked that they were taping the talk back and would play it after every performance.

I recommend this performance and also recommend that you stay for the talk back.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 8WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood $13.50-$21.50; rush tickets every Saturday 15 minutes prior to curtain; pay what you can, Nov. 5; actor benefit performance Nov. 7TICKETS:INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Friday, October 23, 2009

Blessed hilarity ensues in musical 'Nunsense'

The News Tribune / The Olympian

I've seen “Nunsense” before but never like this. This performance is not only rolling-in-the-aisles funny and deliciously irreverent, it rocks.

Director, musical director and choreographer Troy Arnold Fisher says: “For us to swallow the campy dialogue, stock melodies and extremely corny story line, the five women performing on stage have to knock our socks off with their talent and energy.” They do. Absolutely.

These actors are all talented. They sing, they dance, they tell risqué jokes with a knowing wink, and they quickly go from anger to sweetness to unbridled silliness.

Even the most restrained of these actors – Brenda Amburgy in the guise of Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior of the Little Sisters of Hoboken – shouts over Sister Mary Hubert, stepping all over her lines during their many arguments, but then quickly and hilariously turns to sweetness and light when she realizes there’s an audience watching. As does the imperious Sister Mary Hubert. Mostly the mother superior tries (unsuccessfully) to maintain her dignity, but loses it completely when she reverts to her former life as a circus performer.

Carolyn Willems Van Dijk is appropriately loud and silly as Sister Mary Leo, and she shines when displaying her special talent as a ballerina.

Also loud (holding high notes incredibly long times) is Heidi Fredericks as the brash and streetwise kid from Brooklyn, Sister Robert Anne. Fredericks plays her with a rubbery face and outlandish physicality. Plus she displays a considerable talent for impersonating a host of pop stars while twisting her habit into a whole catalogue of props.

A surprise guest actor who is listed in the program as Georgina Spelvin plays Sister Mary Hubert the domineering Mistress of Novices. She has a majestic stage presence and convincingly conveys sarcasm, sweetness, anger and arrogance. And she belts out a rocking gospel tune, “Holier Than Thou,” that brings the audience to its feet rocking and clapping and blinded with tears of laughter. (If a video of this song were posted online there would be a million hits overnight).

And finally, a comic star of grandiose proportions emerges in the person of Stephanie C. Nace in the enviable role of Sister Mary Amnesia. Small, wiry and energetic with a jaw that drops so low it seems to come unhinged, she’s like a combination Imogene Coco, Carol Burnett and Dolly Parton, with facial contortions to rival those of Jerry Lewis in his prime. Plus she sings wonderfully. Her great big country and western song “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville” is a real foot-stomper.

By now most people should be familiar with this show and its various spinoffs. It is not so much musical theater as it is a Vaudeville show with song and dance wrapped inside an endless stream of puns and double entendres, all of which poke lighthearted fun at the Catholic Church. The absurd story line revolves around dead sisters in the convent freezer, and the entire play is presented as a fundraiser to get money to bury them.

Warning: There is a lot of audience participation in this show. No matter where in the theater you sit you are liable to be personally engaged by a crazy nun. You might even be asked for a kiss. And before the play is over I can guarantee you’ll be clapping and stomping your feet in time to rocking gospel music.

By the way, since the cat is long since out of the bag I can reveal that the surprise guest celebrity actor is Jeff Kingsbury in drag again and funnier than ever.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 31
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $31-$37 for adults, $26-$32 for ages 60 and older and youths (16 and younger)
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vital Signs

Joe Feddersen retrospective at TAM

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 22, 2009
Pictured: Joe Feddersen, "Urban Indian Series #95," 2003. Monoprint, 37 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Froelick Gallery, Portland, Oregon.
Joe Feddersen, "Mary Ann 8," 2007. Reduction linocut, 19 x 14 ½ inches. Courtesy of the artist.

I was knocked right out of my socks when I walked into the Joe Feddersen retrospective exhibition at Tacoma Art Museum. The first thing to catch my eye — and how could it not — was a monstrous wall-size print of multiple overlapping zig-zag patterns in brilliant colors and textures comprised of 500 square panels that seemed to frantically dance across the wall. And I’m talking a big, big wall. The piece is called "Okanagan IV," and it goes ceiling to floor and stretches across 58 feet of wall space. And, as if that were not enough, there’s a similar but somewhat smaller piece on the opposite wall that’s merely 90 panels and only 20 feet long. The beauty of these, beyond the sheer size, is due to the vibrancy of the patterns within patterns.

Feddersen retired this year from teaching art at The Evergreen State College. This show includes some 60 works stretching over a 13-year period and includes prints, collage, baskets and glass. All of Feddersen’s artworks are based on simple geometric patterns from his Native American heritage that combine traditional and contemporary approaches to design.

In some respects these works are like class projects for Design 101: Take a simple pattern and make 30 variations on it, and investigate all the ways you can apply these patterns to various media. It’s the kind of project he, as a teacher, most likely assigned to his students. In Feddersen’s hands the results are visually stunning.

"Urban Indian Series #95" (the title makes me think of Sherman Alexie) is a monoprint combining two dissimilar images. On top is a network of lines in red, green and black that meander like a PacMan game or like the squares and rectangles in a Mondrian painting. The bottom half is a patterned stickman figure on a yellow background. The top half represents an urban landscape, and the Indian figure on the bottom seems to be holding it up — an Indian Atlas. I particularly like the way the two halves are so utterly dissimilar yet work together as a balanced whole.

"Mary Ann 8" is a linocut with squares, zig-zags, diamonds, bars and a giant X over a bright blue background. This is one of the most jangled works in the show, as most of the others are more logically ordered, yet there is a kind of tricky order to this one, too. Each color is obviously on a separate plane — white over yellow over red over light blue — but then these patterned planes are disrupted by dark blue bars and diamonds that weave over and under the other patterns.

Personally I like the prints better than the baskets and glass vessels, but they’re all fascinating. The only ones I didn’t like were a few that used reflective metallic colors. I found those to be gimmicky and showy, and the reflective properties detract from the overall unity.

This is a show worth spending a lot of time with.

Feddersen will also exhibit his Pattern Recognition show Nov. 16-Jan. 13 in the Evergreen Gallery inside the Daniel J. Evans Library Building at The Evergreen State College. He will lecture on his Pattern works Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 11:30 a.m. inside Evegreen’s Lecture Hall 1. More details can be found at

[Tacoma Art Museum, Joe Fedderson: Vital Signs, through Jan. 10, Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., $8-$9, free Third Thursday, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Glimpses, Stares

We were recently asked to help a writer self-publish his memoir. He did not want editorial help, and he did not want us to design his book. He simply wanted technical help to get his book uploaded to CreateSpace, the print-on-demand arm of He had very precise ideas about the wording, fonts, where paragraph breaks and page breaks were to go and so forth.

The writer used a pen name, not out of shame or to protect his identity, but for literary reasons -- not that he actually said that to us, but I easily surmised it when I started reading the book. The pen name he uses is Leo Blackwater, and the writing constantly, effortlessly and seemingly unconsciously slips back and forth between first person and third person. I said, Leo said. She told me, she told Leo, and so forth. Leo is the writer's alter ego. Sometimes he speaks in his own voice and sometimes he observes Leo telling his story. This switching is part of the character/writer's personality, an aspect of his mental illness.

The book is Glimpses, Stares: a memoir by Leo Blackwater. It is described as 15 years in the life of a gay man coming to terms with his sexual orientation and depression. I have barely begun reading it, but what little I have read is fascinating, well written, and very realistic. I can't wait to dig deeper into this book.

I'll review it when I've finished it. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later

Oct. 12, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
Seattle Repertory Theatre, Free
(seating is first come, first-served,
doors open at 6:30 p.m.)

Seattle Repertory Theatre presents The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later written by Tectonic Theatre Project members Moisés Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, and Steven Belber. This free staged reading is an 80-minute epilogue to The Laramie Project, the groundbreaking play about the murder of 21-year old gay man Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming.

The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later focuses on the lasting effects of Shepard’s murder on the small town. The epilogue was written after the members of the Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to find out what had happened since their initial visit. The reading will be held concurrently in over 100 theatres across the globe including all 50 states, Spain, Hong Kong and Australia.

Producing Artistic Director Jerry Manning will direct the Seattle presentation, which will feature actors Marianne Owen, Suzanne Bouchard, Sarah Rudinoff, Gretchen Krich, Troy Fischnaller. This event is free and open to the general public. Seating is first-come, first-served. Tweeters and bloggers who want to post during the show are encouraged to sit in the balcony.

Recommended for ages 14 and above for mature themes.

I just got this invitation to the Matter Grand Opening and wanted to share it.

Please join us for our
Grand Opening Celebration
Friday, November 6th, 6 - 10pm

Artists will be on-site
Live music provided by the KNOT Jazz Quartet
Sparkly refreshments served

An edgy, new gallery downtown Olympia
featuring 60 west coast artists using reclaimed
and responsibly harvested materials

Matter Gallery
113 Fifth Avenue SW
between Capitol & Columbia
Olympia, WA 98501

Gallery Hours
Tues thru Sat 11 - 7
Sundays Noon - 5
Mondays by Appointment

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Actors Excel in Comedy

"As You Like It" at Harlequin

The Olympian Oct. 15,2009
The News Tribune Oct. 16,2009

Pictured, top: Paul Purvine as Silvius and Rachel Permann as Phebe; bottom: ensemble cast, Casey Brown as Oliver in foreground. Photos by

Three years ago, Harlequin Productions put on a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that was the most elaborate and outrageously funny Shakespeare comedy I had ever seen. I would not have believed they could match that performance, but they have with their current show, “As You Like It.”

A lot of the same actors are in it, including Amy Hill, Dennis Rolly and Paul Purvine – all of whom are even better in this show – and Jason Haws, who matches the comic antics of his death scene in “Midsummer” with a hilarious display of the 150 ways he’s going to kill William (Roderick Campbell), which has the feel of off-the-cuff improv.

Many critics claim that “As You Like It” is light and frothy and one of Shakespeare’s less successful plays. Harlequin artistic director Scot Whitney says he tended to agree with that assessment until he tackled this production after being challenged and inspired by lead actress Jane May who, when Whitney said few actresses could convincingly play Rosalind, replied, “That’s because you’ve never seen my Rosalind.” Suffice it to say, she nails it. As Rosalind at court, she is slightly demure and very giggly-girlish, but when she dresses as a man and takes on the persona of Ganymede, she is brash, sassy and totally in control.

I could pick at random any actor in this play and rave about his or her performance.

Russ Holm specializes in outrageous characters, and his portrayal of Duke Frederick definitely is outrageous. He pitches his voice higher than normal with an affected accent, and struts and poses like a self-important demagogue (demigod might, in fact, be a better description). But when he plays older brother Duke Senior, who leads a band of exiled men a la Robin Hood in the Forest of Arden, he tones it down just enough to be convincing as a charismatic leader.

Amy Hill turns in what might be her best performance as the adorable and adoring Celia, whose admiration for Rosalind and later love for Oliver (Casey D. Brown), bubbles like champagne.

Trick Danneker as Orlando looks like a young Anthony Perkins and plays his part with sincerity and restraint. (In this show, some restraint is needed.)

Dennis Rolly brings the crippled old servant, Adam, to creaking life. He hobbles, his voice cracks and he truly seems to be on his last leg. Then when Rolly doubles as Corin the woodsy philosopher, he seems wise and relaxed, with a knowing twinkle in his eye. Rolly proves himself once again to be a consummate character actor.

Paul Purvine is a young actor just beginning to find his voice. He first began to really shine in “Midsummer” with his acrobatic love scene on a revolving platform. Now in “As You Like It,” his comic skills are honed to a fine edge. He plays the courtier Le Beau as flamboyantly effeminate, with a high-pitched voice and constantly twirling a handkerchief, and then changes into a whirlwind of romance as Silvius, who is lovesick for Phebe (Rachel Permann), who treats him like dirt. (Whitney says Purvine improvised his particular interpretation of Le Beau during rehearsals and they wisely decided to keep it.) In Silvius’ pursuit of Phebe, Purvine engages in some physical comedy bits that simply have to be seen to be believed.

Speaking of physical comedy, Haws as Touchstone the fool and Melanie Moser as the lusty goatherd Audrey climb all over each other superbly like acrobatic circus clowns.

Like nearly all Shakespeare comedies, this one is filled with mistaken identities, gender swapping, sexual double-entendres and wise social commentary disguised as jokes. But the plot is not so complex and hard to follow as some of the bard’s plays, and the language is not as hard to understand. Still, it is Shakespeare; the language is of the 16th century, so I would suggest becoming familiar with the plot before watching it. There is an excellent plot summary in the program, and I highly recommend that people who haven’t seen this play before get to the theater early enough to read it.

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

Better art

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 15, 2009
Pictured: "Crosses II" print by Kathy Gore Fuss.
Photo by Michael Ryan

Kathy Gore Fuss was an established artist long before going back to college to get her BFA in drawing and painting from the University of Washington. This after 30 years as a working artist and after the tragic loss of her husband in 2004. Already an inventive risk taker with her art, Gore Fuss emerged from UW a much more solid, mature and disciplined artist as seen in her current show at Art House Design.

I don’t know about the art program at UW, but I know most university art departments encourage students to work on variations on a theme. You may remember a famous series of paintings of a bull by Pablo Picasso (Google Picasso bull series) in which each of 11 lithographs was more abstract than the previous one. The works in this show are like that but with more series and fewer works in each (probably culled from a much larger body of work over the past three years).

A fairly large charcoal drawing called "Apertures" greets the visitor upon entering the gallery. It is an abstract drawing based on a series of openings like holes blasted in rock, each on a separate layer of paper with holes ripped out. The image is explosive. Like what we’d hoped to see with the bombing of the moon, which took place on the day I saw this show. Explosive and ragged, it is simultaneously as delicate as a lace doily. The charcoal drawing is nothing more than shading, but shading that is carefully designed to emphasize the successive layers.

Continuing the series, there is a paper sculpture hanging on the wall nearby that looks like a giant paper snowflake and next to that a small group of similar but much smaller drawings, and near the back of the gallery a series of small acrylic paintings that expand on the theme. I don’t know what they’re painted on, but it looks like stiff paper mounted on a board with two surfaces an inch apart with holes ripped and torn out of the top layer. They look like old tin sheets with faded enamel paint and rusted-out holes. The acrylic paint looks like encaustic, but it’s not. These works are as raw and ragged as "Apertures" is delicately lacy.

Another group that is very successful is "Crosses" I, II and III. Each print in this series has a cross or group of connected crosses that look like broken pieces of some kind of scaffolding in the center with random forms expanding toward the edges. There is a brightly colored area in the middle with the outer forms in tones of grey, and the crosses are black. In two of the prints the setting looks like a landscape or cityscape, and the one in the center looks like an explosion of a structure in space.

Another series called "Vessels" consists of five pictures of a tea pot (four monotype and one acrylic), some in color and some in black and white.

Throughout the show are similar series, each showing a rich array of variations on a theme with diverse media.

I suspect Gore Fuss’ latest works will not have the mass appeal her earlier work had. It’s less showy, less kitschy, less decorative, and a lot better.

Also showing is a substantial collection of gouache paintings by John Hannukaine.

[Art House Design, Kathy Gore Fuss showing, through Oct. 31, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., 420 B Franklin St. S.E., Olympia, 360.943.3377]

Friday, October 9, 2009

‘Curtains’ story, cast could use a little oomph

Published in The News Tribune Oct. 9, 2009
Photos by Kat Dollarhide

“Curtains” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is a murder-mystery musical comedy that played to mixed reviews on Broadway as recently as 2007. It garnered major awards, but also was panned by a number of critics.

Written by Rupert Holmes (“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and the TV series “Remember WENN”) with music and lyrics by the great songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, this play should be much better than it is.

The set-up is classic. A musical theater company is opening a show in Boston before taking it to Broadway. The star is a fading Hollywood diva with a big ego and little talent who is murdered on opening night. The police detective who comes to investigate the crime is a theater wannabe who falls in love with the understudy, a sweet ingénue.

Despite all his previous successes, Holmes has peopled this story with stereotypical characters and lame jokes that might have gone over well if delivered by Bob Hope in 1953 – running jokes by the show’s producer about her husband’s lack of sexual prowess and the detective repeatedly asking the ingénue out after telling her and the entire cast that they can’t leave the building.

How this story earned a Drama Desk Award for best book of a musical is beyond me.

The music is good, but there are no show-stoppers like Kander and Ebb’s great earlier hits “New York New York” and the title tune from “Cabaret.”

The cast is made up of excellent actors, but on the afternoon I saw it their performances were mostly lackluster.

Chris Serface, who was outstanding in “Beauty and the Beast” and “Ragtime,” came across as walking through his lines as Johnny the snide stage manager. He has little to do but at least does it with a funny sneer, helped by a cigarette prop.

Mark Rake-Marona as the detective, also a good actor and singer who has done some outstanding turns on the Tacoma Musical Playhouse stage, has no punch to his delivery in this play.

On the upside, Heather Malroy is convincing as Georgia Hendricks, the songwriter who steps up to replace the murdered star. Of indeterminate age, Hendricks was once a Broadway star but has not been on stage in years and is nervous. Malroy fits this role comfortably, and she has a strong and beautiful voice.

Also on the upside are the performances of Gregory Conn as the composer Aaron Fox, and TMP artistic director Jon Douglas Rake as Christopher Belling, the director of the play-within-a-play.

Conn has little to do acting-wise. His character is very restrained. But his singing is terrific. His voice is smooth, mellow, smoky – perfect for tender love ballads like “I Miss the Music,” in which he bemoans the loss of his songwriting partner, Georgia, and a reprise of sorts, “Thinking of Missing the Music,” a lovely duet with Malroy.

Rake’s Belling is one of the funniest characters in the play. He storms around with head held proudly high like Alfred Hitchcock in the opening of his old television show and speaks with a put-on slightly British accent.

The best comic song is a dirge called “The Woman’s Dead,” which (pun intended) is sung by the ensemble with deadpan seriousness. The best production number is a rousing song called “Thataway” that is belted out in the best Broadway tradition by Malroy with the entire cast, including a troop of can-can dancers.

The surprise hit song comes at the beginning of the second act when TMP musical director Jeff Stvrtecky playing conductor Sasha Iljinsky sings “The Man Is Dead” from the orchestra pit. This is followed by an inventive bit of play with flashlight Halloween effects by the ensemble on the song “He Did It” in which everyone accuses everyone else.

There are entertaining moments in this play, but the jokes made me feel like I was watching a lounge act in the 1950s, and I think most of the cast needs to put a little more oomph into their acting.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 25
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at the Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
TICKETS: $25 general, $23 students/military, $18 children 12 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Matter matters

New Olympia gallery features recycled art

Published in the Weekly Volcano Oct. 8, 2009
Pictured: installation view of Matter, photo by Alec Clyton

An exciting new gallery opened in Olympia with an opening showing of 60 artists —most but not all from the South Sound area — “featuring artworks that incorporate recycled, reclaimed, and responsibly harvested materials,” according to a statement by gallery owner Jo Gallaugher.

The name is Matter. It’s on Fifth Avenue between Capital and Columbia.

I dropped by a week ago and was impressed with the overall look of the store. Excuse me, but I prefer to call it a store rather than a gallery because most of the items on display are furnishings, home decorating items, and various novelty items — utilitarian and decorative craft items rather than non-functional fine art. But there are some terrific fine art pieces there as well, including a piece called "Chair" and other sculptures by Devin Hlavinka, an artist from near Salem, Ore. "Chair" is a welded steel sculpture that takes the form of its namesake but can’t be sat upon, and not just because it lies on the floor. Excellent use of form and material.

Other fine art pieces of note include a couple of sculptures by Marsha Glaziere. Her "Salmon Boot" is a wire mesh boot that is also a salmon. Very cleverly done and attractive. Her "Peace by Piece" is an iconic visual pun. It is a peace symbol made from the working innards of pistols (do I need to say that piece is another word for a side arm?).

Bridging the gap between home décor and fine art is the "Living Wall" by Christian Iverson. This is a room divider made of living plant life, most of which appears to be moss and various ground covers such as one may expect to see in an old growth forest. This one is a functional wall created for the gallery. It is not for sale, but Gallaugher informs me that the artist will make living walls on commission.

As indicated earlier, more functional and decorative pieces dominate the store. There are lots of lamps and pillows and dolls and so forth, including some very cute animal dolls by Diane Kurzyna, aka Ruby Reusable, South Sound’s queen of recycled art — at least some of which are made with her trademark material, Wonder Bread wrappers.

Some of the most attractive pieces are functional metal pieces created from recycled metals by Pat Tassoni. One in particular that I like is called "Retro Copper Coatrack." It is a functional coat rack with a copper globe on top that looks like an old fashioned diving bell. Tassoni also has a couple of throw pillows displayed in an antique television cabinet. The cabinet serves as a display for the pillows, which are sold separately, but it works visually as a Dadaistic sculpture combining elements of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell.

Also very nice are a shelf and the store counter created by sculptor George Kurzman out of parts of an old boat.

Matter opened Sept. 24, but the evening of Friday, Nov. 6 is the grand opening. I hear they’re going to have food, champagne and live music by the K.N.O.T. Jazz Quartet.

[Matter, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., Sunday, 113 Fifth Ave. SW, Olympia, 360.943.1760 ]

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Genital Origami

Pictured: Christopher J. Cannon and Rich Binning. Photo by

This is wild, and should be a lot of fun for those who are into this sort of thing.

I didn't write the following. It's a press release from ... get this ... Puppetry of the Penis.

The wildly successful Puppetry of the Penis returns to Seattle October 20-24 with two new cast members, the Northwest’s own Christopher J. Cannon and his puppetry pal, Rich Binning. Together they will share their jaw-dropping new tricks with Seattle audiences for five outrageous performances inside ACT’s Falls Theatre.

Just a few short months ago one of the Puppetry of the Penis creators, Simon Morley led an arduous nationwide search to find two new Puppetry stars, and one of this show’s bright young talents was discovered right here in our own backyard!

Northwest native Christopher J. Cannon’s unusual natural abilities in the Ancient Australian Art of Genital Origami left Morley speechless. The 23-year-old discovered his own natural gift for “dick trickery” after seeing Puppetry of the Penis for the first time at age 17, in Portland near his hometown of Vancouver, WA. Over 650 men and a few women have auditioned to be a penis puppeteer. But only 20 men have been tapped to officially hold the Puppetry of the Penis torch (totaling 143 inches).

Requiring amazing concentration, astonishing stamina, an unbelievable stretch factor and a remarkable level of testicular fortitude, this show leaves women and men gasping at over 40 heroic and hilarious penis installations including the Pelican, The Windsurfer, The Eiffel Tower, Loch Ness Monster, and their signature installation, the Hamburger. A video camera projects intimate detail of the installation onto a large screen ensuring little can be missed - even from the very back row!

It has been over 10 years – or a dickade – since audiences were first wowed by the genital origami extravaganza that is Puppetry of the Penis. Since then the show has played to over 10 million people, been performed in 5 different languages, travelled to 30 countries and endured temperatures ranging from 52 degrees to – 38! Celebrities like HughGrant, Naomi Campbell, Posh Spice, Bono and Elton John have joined the crowds.It has been translated into three languages, had a “how to” book published, been played non-stop on HBO’s “Real Sex” since 2002, and had DVD releases throughout the world.

History of Puppetry of the Penis

Puppetry of the Penis was conceived by Simon Morley in 1996 as the title of a classy, highbrow art calendar, showcasing twelve of his favorite penis installations. Years before, Simon’s youngest brother had shown him his first genital trick, The Hamburger. Natural sibling rivalry with their two other brothers resulted in the evolution of a healthy repertoire of genital gesticulations. It was on New Year’s Eve in 1997, with a garage full of calendars to sell and burgeoning requests for live demonstrations that Simon finally decided to unleash his talent on the world.

The natural choice of performing partner was David Friend, whose reputation as the life of any party was quickly growing. As a young boy, Friend began his current career in the bath and developed his skills further when he discovered beer at university in Byron Bay. After completing his degree in computing, he returned to Melbourne with his own highly individual collection of hanging art. Together, Simon and Friend became Puppetry of the Penis. Their debut season at the 1998 Melbourne International Comedy Festival was a huge hit. Simon and Friend then embarked on a national tour, circumnavigating Australia. This took eight months, covered 20,000 kilometers and was captured in all its glory in the documentary Tackle Happy.

A runaway hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2000, Puppetry of the Penis then set about the task of world domination, playing London's West End, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Montreal's Just for Laughs Comedy Festival and launching multiple US companies, with one playing the John Houseman Theatre in New York for 2 years, and another two touring extensively, with sit-downs in Los Angeles and San Francisco. As of today, most of the Western World has played host to Puppetry of the Penis. Due to popular demand, Simon and his band of penis puppeteers continue to take their penises to the people with performances in Australia, Canada, USA, the UK and South Africa.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Make contact with uplifting new rock musical

Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 2, 2009
Pictured (top) Zoe McLane as young Ellie, (next, from left) Eric Hartley as Hadden Suit and Caitlin Frances as Ellie Arroway, (bottom) young Ellie and Jamie Pederson as her dad). Photos by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

“Carl Sagan’s Contact” at Centerstage is the world premiere of an exciting new musical based on Sagan’s novel, with book by Centerstage artistic director Alan Bryce, music by Peter Sipos, and lyrics by Amy Engelhardt. It is directed by Bryce.

It is a rock opera in the tradition of “Hair” and “Rent.”

Originally scheduled for last May, the production was postponed while the theater company wrangled over management of Federal Way’s Knutzen Family Theatre. Serendipitously, rescheduling the premiere gave the company needed extra time to work out the kinks in a technically challenging production – and the winner is the audience.

A world premiere is always a work in progress. Lines of dialogue may be changed. Perhaps even whole songs or scenes will be cut or added, and technical problems will be fixed. But overall this production was wonderful as it was presented opening weekend – wonderful in the true sense of the word, full of wonder, for wonder is an underlying theme as Ellie Arroway (played as a young girl by Zoe McLane and as a woman by Caitlin Frances) carries her childhood fascination with the marvelous mysteries of the universe into an adult career searching for extraterrestrial life.

This sense of wonder and of hope is also conveyed with the emotionally expansiveness of Sipos’ music as musically directed by Mark Rabe.

Which brings me to a point that is true of all successful theatrical productions but especially evident here: A play is a collaborative work that depends on all of the pieces coming together, music, lyrics, acting, sets and lighting. The collaborative nature is pointed out in the program, where even stagehands who visibly move set pieces are given equal billing with the actors.

The set is an almost bare stage with a few desks, chairs and a big black box that are carried on and off stage by the Kuroko (Japanese-style stagehands) and a large video projection of star fields and Ellie’s childhood home and other imagery (set and lighting by Craig Wollam, video by Riley Dickens).

Frances is beautifully cast as Ellie. As an agnostic scientist who is forced to deal with frustrating government officials and an evangelical preacher who is sure it is God, not aliens, who have contacted her, we see her struggle to contain her anger, but as the woman whose starry-eyed little-girl self still lives inside her. She sings beautifully with a voice that is clear and strong.

Matt Posner is marvelous as the preacher Palmer Joss, who is not a cardboard, stereotypical evangelist, but a very complex and surprisingly likable protagonist, and Posner plays him with great expressive range. His singing and dancing, as South Sound audiences have come to expect, are outstanding. I was warned before the play opened that he had a sore throat and could not sing well. If this is Posner in bad voice, I can’t wait to hear him again when he’s in good voice.

His rocking gospel song “The Other Side of the Light” is a knockout, and his duet with Frances on “Not Written in the Stars” is the most beautiful song in the play. The sparks between these two are underplayed but electric nevertheless.

Most outstanding in supporting roles are Natalie Moe as Ellie’s mother and Eric Hartley as Hadden Suit, a lecherous old man who just happens to be the richest man in the world and a brilliantly eccentric scientist. The big musical production on “They Can’t Touch Me” with Hadden and three of the sexiest nurses ever seen on stage (Amber Cutlip, Sophia Federighi and Alison Monda) is delightfully funny and rocking. Which brings me to my one complaint about the music: it was too polished. I wish there had been more raw, hard-rocking songs like this one and “The Other Side …”

The title, and the song by the same name, “Contact,” refers not just to first contact with an alien, but with Ellie’s contact with her past, and to loving contact among human beings on earth – even nominal enemies such as Palmer.

This is a wonderfully uplifting musical.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 18

WHERE: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way

TICKETS: $10 to $25 depending on age

INFORMATION: 253-661-1444,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hairy Who?

Today’s avant-garde is not so new

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct 1, 2009

We were called hippies and yippies and freaks and weirdoes back in the 1960s, and there were artists who uniquely spoke for us in underground newspapers and comic books. Zap Comics, Robert Crumb, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and the granddaddy of them all, Mad magazine. When Pop Art arrived on the scene with Warhol’s soup cans and Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book images, bad taste and blatantly commercial art was suddenly welcomed by the art establishment. Home base for a certain twist on Pop Art was Chicago, where various art groups emerged including The Hairy Who (Jim and Gladys Nutt and others), The Monster Roster (Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, H.C. Westerman and others), and The Chicago Imagists (Ed Paschke).

Over the past few years the art world has seen a massive influx of new art that to 20- and 30-year-olds looks to be radical, but which to me looks like a rehash of the Chicago art of the 1960s. Included among a lot of the new art is art inspired by Japanese anime and manga (both of which also have a long history), and a lot of graffiti art, which goes back to ancient Rome and Egypt — the point being that none of this stuff is really new. But if you haven’t seen much of the stuff that came earlier, I guess it’s new to you.

It reminds me of when I was teaching freshman drawing in college. Students showed me portfolios of drawings that they were extremely proud of and which they thought were very original. In style and subject matter, most of the drawings were things I had seen over and over, and I had a hard time trying to guide those students into doing more original and inventive work. I had to be careful not to bruise their fragile egos, because I knew they had worked hard on those drawings, and anytime an artist submits his work for review by a teacher or more experienced artist he is making himself very vulnerable. Besides which, I suspect they were often unconscious of their influences. They grew up reading graphic novels, and those images were lodged in their unconscious minds.

It was slightly more than 20 years ago that I taught those freshman classes, but I still see a lot of art that comes from the same places. About 90 percent of what was shown at the Helm was work of that nature. Not all. They showed works by some accomplished artists such as Ellen Ito, Nicholas Nyland and Chauney Peck. But for the most part I felt like what I was seeing there was work by artists who will probably be good 10 years from now. Much the same can be said for the art shown at the now defunct Black Front Gallery in Olympia.

From 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch to Gladys Nutt, who was truly innovative in the ’60s, to Seattle painter Joseph Park, whose comic-inspired images are truly original and beautifully executed, art that utilizes comic/surrealistic imagery for edgy commentary on political, social, sexual and identity issues have always provided great entertainment and insight; and even though way too much of this type art we see today is too easy and not really all that original, I’m thankful that we still have it. The Helm and Black Front are gone. Other similar galleries will open and go out of business, but we’ll be lucky to have them for however short a time.