Monday, June 28, 2010

The Away Place

A review: The Away Place by Ruth Tiger

In the lobby of the Lakewood Playhouse before a production on “The Grapes of Wrath” Artistic Director Marcus Walker introduced me to local novelist Ruth Tiger. We struck up a conversation and a few days later met at a Starbucks to swap books and talk about writing. Right off the bat she struck me as the real deal, and her novel, The Away Place, convinced me I was right about her.

It’s a good book, a simple and engaging story told without gimmicks or pretention.

The Away Place is about Sarah, an idealistic and ambitious, if somewhat naive, graduate student in the 1970s whose graduate project is to open an experimental halfway house for developmentally challenged men. This was at a time when people with Downs Syndrome, autism, mental illness and other emotional or mental problems were locked away and given little if any treatment – out of sight, out of mind, what treatment they were given often more harmful than helpful.

Sarah is convinced that if given proper love and care they can be trained to re-enter society and live on their own. She immediately falls in love with one of the higher-functional Downs Syndrome patients, John – but then who wouldn’t fall in love with John? Seldom has a character been written with such empathy. Sarah is also a little bit enamored of her professor, William, who is a manipulative womanizer who takes female students under his supervision and into his bed and then abandons them if they refuse to sleep with him.

Sarah’s struggle to make her home-care experiment successful is a constant fight against a system and a society that doesn’t want her to succeed.

Ruth Tiger’s writing style draws the reader in. She makes you identify with and feel for her characters. I wanted so very much for Sarah to succeed, for John to find love and acceptance, for William to drop dead; and frankly, I wanted to strangle Ricky, the most destructive and self-destructive of the men in the home. These and many more characters become real, and you can’t help becoming invested in the outcomes of their many adventures.

The one drawback, typical perhaps of a first novel, is that there’s a twist at the end that’s both predictable and contrived; but that didn’t keep me from loving this book.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Gabi has been diligently posting updates on Facebook about my recent illness, and I can’t begin to tell how many wonderful friends have wished me well. I can never thank them all in person, nor can I thank all the nurses at St. Pete's. They were terrific.

So here’s the story of how I was struck down by a strange and creepy muscle-eating disease (slight hyperbole).

It started while playing water volleyball at the Y with a bunch of old farts and a few youngsters (50-something to 80-something). Suddenly, when I hit the ball, there was a stabbing pain in my forearms as if I had strained muscles in both, and then my legs started aching and I got tired more quickly than usual. A few days later we went to Costco to pick up Gabi’s new glasses, and on the way in the store I stubbed my toe on the edge of a carpet and was momentarily thrown off balance. I thought I’d caught my balance when all of a sudden I felt weak and dropped to my knees. Gabi uses a walking stick because she has balance problems of her own due to a combination of inner ear problems and neuropathy. So I grabbed for her walking stick. I wanted to push down on it to help myself up, but she wanted to help pull me up, so we ended up briefly fighting over the walking stick and making a spectacle of ourselves right there in Costco.

After that I began to notice more and more that it was all I could do to lift a pot off the stove or bend over to put on my socks or lift myself out of the bathtub. And then my pee turned dark. It was the color of Coca-Cola. Gabi told me I had to see a doctor. This was on a Thursday or Friday and I had already scheduled a physical for the following Tuesday, so I figured I could wait a few days.

Meantime, I have chronic unstable angina, which we’ve been treating and watching closely for years, with stints, surgery, medicine, diet and exercise (Dick Cheney's got nothing on me, 'cept the only thing he exercises is his big mouth). When the attacks started coming more frequently (three Friday), and then two more during the night waking me up at 3 a.m. and again at 5 a.m., we knew it was time to call 911.

They ran blood tests and the ER doctor said I had elevated CKP enzymes, which meant nothing to me, and a condition I’d never heard of called rhabdomyolisys.  He described it as muscles dissolving all over my body, a description another doctor later said was very inaccurate.

From Wikipedia: Rhabdomyolysis (often shortened to simply "rhabdo") is the rapid breakdown (lysis) of skeletal muscle (rhabdomyo) due to injury to muscle tissue. The muscle damage may be caused by physical (e.g., crush injury), chemical, or biological factors. The destruction of the muscle leads to the release of the breakdown products of damaged muscle cells into the bloodstream; some of these, such as myoglobin (a protein), are harmful to the kidney and may lead to acute kidney failure. Treatment is with intravenous fluids, and dialysis or hemofiltration if necessary.

Rhabdomyolysis and its complications are major problems in people who are injured in disasters such as earthquakes and bombing. The disease and its mechanisms were first elucidated in the Blitz of London in 1941.

The ER doc said (I paraphrase) You’re on statins and guess what is a side effect of statins? CKP.

He sounded rather proud of himself. At that point I had no idea what the hell he was talking about.
Then they sent an internist in who tried to explain it more thoroughly. He scared the crap out of me. He started talking a lot about end-of-life procedures and do-not-resuscitate orders. I understand they always have to ask about that stuff, and we came prepared with paperwork, a living will, durable power of attorney and all of that stuff. But as he was talking I was thinking why is he going into such detail about chances of survival when brought back after a few minutes or hours as opposed days or weeks? I did not want to hear that crap.

They checked me into the hospital and hooked me up to IV fluids and a heart monitor. I asked a lot of questions because I’d never heard of this stuff before. My cardiologist said he didn’t know what caused it. He said he knew it was a known side effect of statins, but I’d been on statins for eight years with no side effects, and he’d been monitoring by CKP level. It was 230 the last time he checked, which is apparently within a safe range, even though one nurse told me the normal range is under 100. My CKP when they brought me into the ER was 32,000. Yes, that’s three zeroes on the end. So they flushed my system out and brought it down day by day: 2nd day, 19,000; 3rd day13,000; 4th day, 6,800; 5th day, 2,900 (if I remember the numbers correctly). That's when they sent me home. Now I guess the treatment is just to relax, drink a lot of fluids, avoid strenuous activity, and wait and see. I'll be seeing my docs frequently.

My first day home I slept nearly all day. So did Gabi. Yesterday was my second full day at home. Friends came by and brought me food. The visits were wonderful but a little exhausting, and we're deeply grateful for the food and friendship.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

bad week

Last chance shows

It's been a bad week. I spent five days in the hospital with a disease I'd never before heard of and don't want to ever come across again. It's called rhabdomyolisys, and it's a nasty bitch. I'll write more about that in another post, but first I have to mention the art and theater reviews I never got to write.

Scheduled for Thursday's Weekly Volcano was a review of the animal show at Tacoma Art Museum. This is the last weekend for "The Secret Life of Animals." If you don't get to see it, you're not missing a lot. Most of it is just pictures of animals, competently done but not artistically outstanding. On the other hand, if you're going to the museum anyway to see one of the other shows, such as the Impressionist show of the Neddy (both of which are definitely worth seeing), then take some time to see the animal show as well. If nothing else, Deborah Butterfield's horse sculptures are worth taking a look at. Some of my artist friends are not impressed. They say her sculptures are gimmicky. Yes, they capture the essence of being a horse in an almost uncanny way with pieces of scrap metal or driftwood. The gestures and positions are amazingly horse-like. But that's not necessarily art. Imitation of life has never impressed me as an artistic virtue. On the other hand, there's something about the way Butterfield's horses are so incredibly horse-like and simultaneously so true the nature of the materials they are made from that I find very impressive. See for yourself.

Other works in this show that I particularly like include a couple of little prints by Eugene Delacroix. This show ends Sunday. Check it out if you can.

For my theater review column I was scheduled to review "Brunch" by Eliot Weiner at Tacoma Little Theatre. I was especially saddened that I didn't get to see this one because it is a Northwest premiere of a play written by one of our own area playwrights. I've seen plays directed by and starring Eliot Weiner, and I have tremendous admiration for his work.

Here's the press release quoted in its entirety:  
Tacoma Little Theatre is thrilled to be presenting BRUNCH -- a hilarious play by local playwright Elliot Weiner – opening June 18.  Weiner is also a regional actor and director.  His directing credits most recently include Neil Simon's THE STAR SPANGLED GIRL, GREATER TUNA and A TUNA CHRISTMAS.  On stage, Weiner has most recently been seen as Selsdon Mobray (the Burglar) in NOISES OFF and as Morrie in TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE.
Hailed by reviewers as, “ exceptional new play,” and “...funny, warm, and fast-paced,”  BRUNCH introduces us to three friends who regularly meet for brunch – until their tradition is challenged by three new friends who join the group.  The ever-changing relationships are very funny – and challenging -- as friendships often are.
Brunch is directed by Naarah McDonald and features the acting talents of Scott C. Brown, Bryan Bender, Jefri Peters, Dana Clark, Jane McKittrick, and Russ Coffey.
 Tacoma Little Theatre, founded in 1918, is the oldest theatre in the west.  The theatre is located at 210 North I Street in Tacoma.  BRUNCH runs from June 18 through June 27, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00. All tickets are $15.00.  To reserve seats, or for more information, please call 253-272-2281 or visit
One last statement about this play: Scott C. Brown is one of the best dramatic and comedic actors in the South Sound; one of the other best is Eliot Weiner -- so when they team up, the result has got to be great. I regret that I wasn't able to see it and hope someday I'll get another chance. Meanwhile, you have two more opportunities to see "Brunch" tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

'Plaza' bursts with farce

Balanced: Cast uses wit, reality, empathy in just the right doses

The News Tribune/The Olympian, June 18, 2010

Pictured: April Kinder, Christine Goode and Roy Hubley. Photo by Toni Holm

Like Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and Agatha Christie mysteries, Neil Simon comedies are the butt of many jokes. Still, you can't help laughing at his comedies.

Almost everyone can identify with the plights of his characters, even if just a little bit. Maybe it’s because they’re so dysfunctional, they make us feel good about ourselves.

Simon’s “Plaza Suite” at Olympia Little Theatre, provides glimpses into the lives of three couples who make us thankful we’re not them. We meet all three in a trio of one-acts related only by time and setting, Suite 719 at the Plaza Hotel in 1968.

Sam Nash (Corey Moore) is a businessman too busy for his romantic wife, Karen (Valerie Kirkwood), who wants to celebrate their anniversary in the same room where they spent their honeymoon. But she reserved the wrong room on the wrong day, and her husband seems to have lost all interest in romance anyway – at least all interest in romance with her.

Jesse Kiplinger (Ryan Martin Holmberg) is a successful movie producer with a reputation as a ladies’ man who has arranged to meet, and hopefully seduce, his old girlfriend Muriel Tate (Hannah Andrews). Muriel is married and determined to remain faithful to her husband despite an attraction to Jesse that borders on insane celebrity worship.

Roy Hubley (Christopher Cantrell) and his wife, Norma (Christine Goode), are at the Plaza for the wedding of their daughter, Mimsey (April Kinder), who has locked herself in the bathroom and refuses to come out.

All three stories are fall-on-the-floor funny, but with enough reality and poignancy to make us empathize with the six characters.

It is acted with passion and realism. Kirkwood plays Karen Nash in a manner that reminds me of Jean Stapleton playing Edith Bunker in “All in the Family.” Very expressive and somewhat ditzy, Kirkwood’s Karen makes you want her to find the romance she seeks, even though you know from the start she’s not going to. Moore’s acting keeps getting better. I’ve seen him in many OLT shows, and this is one of his best performances.

I didn’t like Holmberg’s Jesse, but that’s because his acting is natural enough to make us believe, or want to believe, that Rat Pack wannabe Jesse really is as superficial as he seems to be. Andrews is fabulous as silly, sexy Muriel who is madly flirtatious despite desperate attempts to remain pure. She is the most madcap character in the play, and Andrews plays her with verve.

Cantrell and Goode quickly go through a range of emotions – anger, hurt and befuddlement – as a couple constantly on each other’s nerves but united in their concern for and frustration with the daughter they cannot understand. No one plays comic rage the way Cantrell does. Watching him, you can’t help but think he’s going to have a heart attack, or destroy something or someone, or burst apart at the seams. Maybe that doesn’t sound funny, but it is.

The other actors are Samuel Johnston and Brittni Reinertsen. This is Reinertsen’s first appearance in Olympia, but far from her first appearance on stage. She’s been in a number of shows in Seattle and has appeared off Broadway. She’s delightful in a small role here, plus she’s responsible for the great 1960s costumes. Johnston is the only actor who is in all three stories. He shows great skill in creating very three very different characters – a bellhop, a waiter and Mimsey’s fiancée.

I started off speculating that people like Simon’s plays because they can empathize with his characters while feeling superior to them. Another reason his plays are so popular is because he masterfully balances farce and reality. His characters are not stupid people, but they act in stupid ways, and we can laugh at them while feeling for them. That balance is struck well by the cast of this production.

When: 7:55 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 1:55 p.m. Sundays through June 27Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., OlympiaTickets: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Co. on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or at 360-786-9484, http://

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seeing Salvadore

Making music with African-Venetian glass

"TIRABOSON": Blown and carved glass by Davide Salvadore

I got a sneak peek at the Davide Salvadore exhibition at William Traver Gallery in Tacoma, and I'm glad I got to see it.

Salvadore is a Venetian glass artist from Murano, the glass art capital of the world. His art reflects the colorful traditions not of Venice, but of Africa. Strange but true, and so, so beautiful.

Salvadore is showing a series of highly decorative glass sculptures based on musical instruments and African tapestry. All of his pieces are alike, yet different. Each is a convex gourd shape with a rounded body, or belly, and a long, sensuously curved neck. Each has a sound hole such as on a guitar or other stringed musical instrument with strings stretching from the neck down and across the sound hole. Each is decorated with highly elaborate carvings and other surface patterns, and finally, each has decorative glass beads dangling from the neck. Despite all of those similarities from piece to piece, there is tremendous variety in shape, pattern and texture. Or implied texture. I make that distinction because some of the pieces look like they are made of carved and polished wood, and there are places on many of the bodies that appear to be covered with woven coarse fabric or fine strips of wood. Only the luminous depth and slight glassy sheen give away that they are made of glass. That's good for two reasons. First, it means that the form, color and texture can stand on their own regardless of media, and second, there is a certain kind of fascination with one material looking like another.

Salvadore refers to his sculptures as musical instruments. They are shaped like banjos and lutes and mandolins; like ancient or native African musical instruments, not like guitars. No Fenders or custom Gibsons here. But they also look like long-necked birds.

The African influence is obvious in his art, though not in his bio. Biographical materials released in conjunction with this show mention that he was born in Venice and is the son of a glassmaker, that he has studied and worked with world-renowned glass artists all of his life and that he has lectured and exhibited around the world (but never in Africa). But of course you don't have to go to Africa to become enamored of African art. Picasso was famously influenced by African art he saw in Europe. And have you ever visited the Seattle Art Museum?

Salvadore's bio also mentions a lifelong involvement with music, thus the fascination with stringed instruments.

The shapes are asymmetrical, sensual and simple, contrasting with surface decorations that are highly complex and colorful, with a seemingly endless variety of pattern and color. The instruments are opaque, but with an appearance of translucence, which means that is seems as though you are looking into or through the glass, but you can't see through it. The interior surfaces visible through the sound holes are simpler and bolder than the outside patterns.

Salvadore is working in the Museum of Glass Hot Shop this week and will give a talk there Sunday, June 20 at 2 p.m.

Davide Salvadore

Through July 3, Tuesday-Saturday 10-6 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m., opening reception Saturday, June 19, 5-8 p.m.
William Traver Gallery, 1821 E. Dock St., Tacoma

Friday, June 11, 2010

Steinbeck classic told with dignity at Lakewood Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune, June 11, 2010
TOP: Kaitlin Hoffman, from left, Joshua Bode, Devin Smith, Martin Mackenzie, Gabe McClelland, Jaron Boggs, Tim Takechi and August Kelley also star in the production.
BOTTOM: Kelty Pierce plays Ruthie Joad and Joshua Bode is Winfield Joad
Photos by Dean Lapin

The term “epic” often is loosely applied to stories that do not attain the scale or greatness the word connotes. John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” is truly an epic story, which playwright Frank Galati creatively adapted to the stage and the Lakewood Playhouse is skillfully presenting under the direction of Marcus Walker.

“The Grapes of Wrath” is thought of as a tragic pro-labor and anti-corporate-farming story about the plight of the poor and downtrodden. It is all of that, but it also is a story filled with humor, fascinating and multidimensional characters and some of the most authentic colloquial speech ever written. The playwright retains all of that from Steinbeck’s novel.

The play is huge in scope and requires a huge cast, with 32 actors and musicians performing in the intimate space of Lakewood Playhouse’s thrust stage. Blocking the movement of that many actors must have been quite a challenge. Kudos to Walker and choreographer Katie Stricker for pulling it off beautifully.

A stage production is a team effort. I wish I could list everyone on this team, from the eight volunteers who worked on the set construction to the light and sound board operators. The set by Erin Chanfrau is more symbolic than realistic, with projected images and doors and fence posts made of wood that looks to be very old. There are trap doors and moveable parts to the stage that provide efficient ways to bury the dead, drive an old car out of the garage and even swim in a river with real water that is splashed very close to some audience members. The authentic feel of the set is enhanced with effective lighting by Kris Zetterstrom. The night scene with car lights and projected fire is stunning. In the opening scene, you can almost taste the dust. Costumes by Christina Hughes are convincingly old and worn. Props by Karrie Nevin and Karen Christiensen were chosen with attention to detail and, as far as I could tell, historic accuracy.

The cast is outstanding, from the ensemble to the singers and musicians that provide smooth transitions between scenes, to the principal actors. In particular, they all make the countrified speech sound real and avoid what easily could be clichéd if not insulting portrayals of country folk in the 1930s.

Gabriel McClelland plays Tom Joad with dignity, conveying his quiet strength and barely controlled temper naturally. Samantha A. Camp is absolutely believable as Ma Joad. August Kelly is outstanding as the former country preacher, Jim Casey. Kelly’s role is one of three or four that could easily have degenerated into parody, but he performs with great humor without overdoing it. The same can be said for Virginia Yanoff as Grandma Joad and Grant Bumgarner as Grandpa Joad. These are two of the funniest and most tragic characters in the story, and they are presented with energy and broad expressions and, again, great dignity. Anjelica Wolf as Rose of Sharon has a central stage presence but very little dialogue. Her body language is outstanding.

The ensemble actors, many of whom play multiple roles, are all good. One in particular who stands out for his passionate expression of disillusionment and anger is John B. Morris as an unnamed character who tries to warn the Joads about the perils of going to California.

“The Grapes of Wrath” is a big play in many ways. It is almost three hours long. It is very funny and ultimately heart-wrenching.

The house was far from full the night I saw it. I suspect many people think there’s no reason to see it because they’ve read the book or seen the movie, and they don’t want to sit through a hard-luck story. That would be a shame because there is much in this play that will be entertaining and surprising.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through June 20. Extra actor benefit performance at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
Tickets: $22 general reserved seating, $19 senior and military, $16 age 16-25, and $14 age 15 and younger; actor benefit performance Saturday, $13.50-$21.50; rush tickets every Saturday 15 minutes prior to curtain.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Big Neddy

Fifteenth anniversary Neddy fellowship show

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 10, 2010

Randy Hayes, The Ferry to Eagle Lake, 2003. Oil on photographs and pushpins, 64 x 110 inches. Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of Bill and Bobby Street. Photo: Richard Nicol.

Richard Marquis, Point of Diminishing Eggs, 2010. Blown glass: granulare technique; found objects, 14 1/2 x 42 x 10 inches overall. Collection of Johanna Nitzke Marquis. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Joseph Park. Chess, 2001. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 1/8 inches. Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of David Lewis in honor of Clinton Williams, Donald Williams, Eileen Lewis, and Jane Ramm. Photo: Richard Nicol.

Juan Alonso, Four Seasons–Fall, 1997. Acrylic on paper, 17 x 14 1/2 inches. Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Carol I. Bennett. Photo: Richard Nicol.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the fifteenth anniversary Neddy Fellowship exhibition at Tacoma Art Museum and discovered the show was more than twice the size I expected. Normally they show two or three works each from each of the eight fellowship nominees, but being an anniversary show, they’re featuring works by all of the past recipients. That means it’s practically a who’s who of Northwest artists, starting with the very first Neddy winner, Michael Spafford, an artist I rate as easily among the greatest contemporary painters in the Pacific Northwest. His three-panel painting Europa and the Bull dominates one end wall of the gallery. That painting alone is worth the admission cost (especially if you go on a third Thursday).

Close by Spafford’s big painting is another large and very impressive painting, this one by one of his students, Lauri Chambers, whose work shows definite Spafford influence, as well as a touch of Robert Motherwell. These are two of my favorite works in the show, along with Randy Hays’ "The Ferry to Eagle Lake," a monstrous montage of photographs pinned up with push pins and painted over with oil (monstrous meaning large).

Others that are definitely worth taking a good look include acrylics by Juan Alonso, collaborative glass art by Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman, glass by Benjamin Moore, paintings by Joseph Park and others — and I haven’t even mentioned this year’s nominees: painters Ken Kelly, Margie Livingston, Matthew Offenbacher and Joey Veltkamp, and glass artists Knowles and Pohlman (OK, I did mention them), plus Dante Marioni, Richard Marquis and Marvin Oliver.

Marquis' "Point of Diminishing Eggs" is wonderfully Dadaistic in concept and delicate in technique. It is a glass sculpture of five eggs of different sizes in gilded cages (pre-caged birds) looking equally like Tiffany glass and a Duchamp readymade.

There are two Marioni works, one a set of three large glass urns and the other a case of many clear glass urns, all with his signature ornate handles contrasting with minimalist-shaped vessels.

Matthew Offenbacher’s two paintings, one from 2006 and one from 2009, show how his work has evolved in a few short years from colorful and densely patterned images to  loose, organic forms using a resist technique that almost does away with the paint, leaving a ghostly after image.

I liked Joey Veltkamp’s "Still Life (grid)," acrylic brush drawings of all his collected stuff, but I was disappointed with his pop portrait, "Joey and Dave (at Kim’s 40th birthday)," which is stylistically similar to a Joseph Park painting but not as well executed or as inventive.

There are a few clunkers in this show, but overall is is excellent.

[Tacoma Art Museum, Wed.–Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., through Aug. 22, Neddy opening June 5, 6:30-9 p.m.,1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma]

Friday, June 4, 2010

TLT's 'Barbara' full of debate, light on wit

Too wordy: ‘Major Barbara’ focuses on morality

John Munn, from left, Leischen C. Moore and Nicole Lockett star in Tacoma Little Theatre’s “Major Barbara.”

Published: 06/04/1012:05 am | Updated: 06/04/10 3:09 am

George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara” at Tacoma Little Theatre is a difficult play to watch. It was written at a time, 1905, when theatrical traditions and audience expectations were much different than they are today. TLT has rigorously edited it to make it much shorter, but it still is a long three-act play, and there are parts that seem interminable.

Shaw was an urbane wit and philosopher and reputed to be something of a cynic and a misogynist. He is very wordy. His biting humor is buried in layers of long philosophical debate. Modern audiences almost have to be students of 19th century English literature to appreciate his wit.

“Major Barbara” is a comedy. It is funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny; it’s more the type of humor you realize was funny after you’ve thought about it. There were very few laughs from the sparse opening-night audience.

In an essay purportedly written to aid in understanding “Major Barbara,” Shaw wrote: “In the millionaire Undershaft I have represented a man who has become intellectually and spiritually as well as practically conscious of the irresistible natural truth which we all abhor and repudiate: to wit, that the greatest evil and the worst of crimes is poverty, and that our first duty – a duty to which every other consideration should be sacrificed – is not to be poor.”

That long sentence epitomizes the wit and style of this play.

The set by Erin Chanfrau, lighting by Jason Burg and direction by Scott Campbell are all excellent and unobtrusive, as is most of the acting, though I found many of the characters to be less than engaging. I like Betzy Miller as the haughty Lady Britomart. I love her walk – head high and shoulders back. I very much like Mike Slease as the pompous Andrew Undershaft. Slease’s proud stance and powerful rumbling voice makes him very believable as a self-made and self-important man who is used to being in charge. David Robertson and Syra Beth Puett, respectively, are very effective as two of the more animated characters on stage, the down-and-out Cockneys, Snobby Price and Rummy Mitchens, and Darrel Shepherd is excellent as another down-and-out character, Peter Shirley.

Most outstanding of all is John Munn in two very different roles: the giggling twerp Charles Lomax and the overbearing bully Bill Walker. Munn throws himself wholeheartedly into the roles and is not afraid to be ridiculous (Charles) or hateful (Bill). I love his lurching walk as Bill and his silly giggle and absurd wig as Charles.

The first scene is a somewhat boring discussion between Stephan Undershaft (Kody Bringman – fine acting despite not much meat to the role) and Lady Britomart.

The humor doesn’t come alive until Andrew and his daughters and their fiancées come on the scene (Leischen C. Moore as Sarah Undershaft, Nicole Lockett as Barbara Undershaft, Jonathan Paul Lee as Adolphus Cusins, and Munn as Charles).

All of act two is highly dramatic, but then it slows down in act three, which becomes a long philosophical debate about morality.

I wish they could have even more severely edited most of the first and last scenes and left just Act 2, but then there would not have been any story. ‘Major Barbara’

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through June 13; actor benefit matinee June 12
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
Tickets: $16-$24
Information: 253-272-2281,

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Neddy time

Annual fellowship competition nominees

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 2, 2010

2010 Neddy nominees in painting: Margie Livingston, Joey Veltkamp, Ken Kelly and Matthew Offenbacher. Photo courtesy of

It's Neddy time again. Every year I look forward to the Neddy show at Tacoma Art Museum, and every year I'm just a little bit disappointed. But along with the disappointment comes exhilaration because year after year the Neddy nominees seem to be split between some of the best artists in the Northwest and some of the most overrated.

Among past winners who have definitely deserved the honor and whose work I am always grateful for an opportunity to see are Michael Spafford, Juan Alonso, Joseph Park and Randy Hayes.

One of the things I'm most conflicted about is that they nominees and winners are nearly always Seattle artists. It's as if South Sound artists are not real artists but just provincial dilettantes and we should be grateful to TAM for giving us an opportunity to see these real big-city artists.

If we suspend our T-town xenophobia for a moment we can see that there's a lot of truth in the previous statement. Art thrives where there is a large community of artists who can stimulate and influence each other, and there's a lot more of that in Seattle than there is in Tacoma. On the other hand, there's a lot more pretentious crap up there too. The Neddy gives us a chance to see the hot up-and-coming artists, and maybe we have to take the bad with the good.

So what is the Neddy? From the TAM Web site: "The Neddy Artist Fellowship was established in 1996 as memorial to Robert E. (Ned) Behnke (1948 - 1989) to recognize his contributions to the Northwest artistic community. The two $15,000 Fellowships are awarded annually to Northwest artists who demonstrate artistic excellence, innovation, unique vision, and a passionate commitment to their art and community."

This year's nominees in painting are Ken Kelly, Margie Livingston, Matthew Offenbacher and Joey Veltkamp. The nominees for glass are Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman, Dante Marioni, Richard Marquis and Marvin Oliver. Offenbacher and Veltkamp are probably the most well-known of the painters, while Marioni is the glass artist most Tacomans are likely to be familiar with.

The exhibition will begin with a free opening celebration Saturday, June 5, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., to be followed by a party at Hotel Murano, where you can enjoy a cocktail, mingle with the artists and admire the hotel's art collection.

Wednesday, June 9, at 10:30 a.m. there will be a talk by curator Rock Hushka and a tour of the exhibition.

Watch for my review in this column next week.
Neddy Artist Fellows 2010

June 5-Aug. 22, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. third Thursday, $8-$9, opening celebration June 5, 6:30-9 p.m.
Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Foundation Award

My friend Lisa Kinoshita was just named winner of The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation’s Third Annual “Foundation of Art Award.”

Way to go, Lisa!

A committee of local art professionals nominated 9 visual artists currently living in Pierce County for the award. The other nominees included Neil Andersson, Victoria Bjorklund, Kyle Dillehay, Jeremy Gregory, Lance Kagey, Dan Parker, James Porter and Toot Reid.

An on-line gallery is available at showcasing images of each nominee’s artwork, as well as professional background information for each artist.

The previous two winners include Chris Sharp in 2008 and Jeremy Mangan in 2009. I recently reviewed Mangan's show at Fulcrum Gallery.

The annual program was established by the Community Foundation to honor professional artists living and working in Pierce County.

Lisa is the founder and owner of Mineral, a metals studio and art gallery in Tacoma