Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Contents of a Dream"

New works by Preston Singletary welcomed to the William Traver Gallery

Top: "Courageous Object," 21"h x 5.5"w x 2"d; Bottom: "Bright Eyes" blown and sand carved glass, 11.5"h x 11.5"w x 8"d. Photos by Russell Johnson courtesy of Traver Gallery.

The Weekly Volcano, March 30, 2011
If you missed Preston Singletary's big mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Glass last year, or if you saw the show and would like to see more of Singletary's works, this is your chance. The William Traver Gallery in Tacoma now has an exhibition of new works by Singletary called Contents of a Dream.

Singletary is one of the Northwest's most well respected Native American artists, known for creating traditional Tlingit art with contemporary materials, thus giving a modern cast to ancient art forms.

The glass sculptures in this show are all new, yet they look to me to be almost identical to pieces shown in the retrospective at MOG. I would probably have to see pieces from the two shows side-by-side to tell if there is any difference at all.

There is, however, one striking and significant difference - not in the works but in the way they are displayed. You see, Traver Gallery has windows, whereas the space where Singletary's work was displayed at MOG didn't; and that makes all the difference in the world. It makes a difference because his blown and sand-carved glass objects have incised shapes on the surface that are not transparent and not even, strictly speaking, translucent, but light can be seen through them. When backlit by the sunlight through the windows and the double glass doors, these areas glow with beautiful colors - brilliant turquoise and a fiery red typically combined with black and in some pieces black and white or sand colored and white.

There is one piece in black and white that when seen from a point of view facing the doors looks ghostly and almost vanishes as if seen though layers of gauze. You'd have to see it on a sunny day to get that amazing effect.

Singletary's sculptures are all of a modest size, approximately 20 inches in the lengthiest direction. Most of them are stylized or abstracted figures of ravens or fish or other figures sacred or culturally significant to Northwest Natives. They are simple shapes with elaborate surface decoration. They are abstract enough that it is hard to tell what they are. Some look like they may be birds or fish, and one in particular, called" Bright Eyes," looks like either a fish or a turtle.

Singletary's simplest sculputres are the most striking. "Bright Eyes," for example, looks like the head of a creature rising out of the water with black and turquoise markings and green eyes (the color of the eyes may vary depending on light and viewpoint). It is a powerfully dramatic image.

Also very dramatic are a number of fish or birds with a single red ball caught in their mouths. The contrast between simple and complex forms in these is very striking.

Another one that I like a lot is "Where the Soul Resides," which is a hollow cylindrical shape with heads in two directions. It is sand colored with the incised areas a soft, translucent white.

The least impressive are a few pieces that picture people riding on the backs of ravens. These illustrate Tlingit legends and probably have significant meaning to people familiar with their customs, but to me the figures look comical and out of context. Even if I knew the stories they illustrate they would still look like unrelated forms that do not work together well from a purely visual point of view. Despite this one criticism, I think the rest of the show is definitely worth seeing.

Through April 17, Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
William Traver Gallery
1821 E. Dock St., Tacoma

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Into the garden

“The Secret Garden” at Capital Playhouse

Top, from left: Kate Hayes as Mary, Kurt Raimer in the role of Archibald Craven and Clarke Hallum as Colin. Bottom: Mary and Dickon (Stephen Anastasia). Photos Courtesy of Bailey Boyd.

This will be my third review of “The Secret Garden.” Each has been a different adaptation. Encore! Theatre in Gig Harbor did the musical version by Tim Kelly and Bill Francoeur in the summer of 2005. It was a lighter and less complicated adaptation of the classic story by Frances Hodgson Burnett that was scaled-down and had more children’s parts, making it ideal for small community theaters.  A year later I reviewed a non-musical adaptation by Paula Wing and Michael Shamata at Tacoma Little Theatre that was dark and magical. Those were each entertaining in different ways, but neither had all the big songs and the full-on Broadway-style production values of the more complicated adaptation by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, which was a hit on Broadway. That’s the one Capital Playhouse is doing.

In its grandiose vision, this one has the feel of an opera. In places I was reminded of Steven Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” and of “Les Misérables.” Kurt Raimer in the role of Archibald Craven reminded me of Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean in “Les Miz,” and his duets with Bruce Haasl as Dr. Craven put me in mind of duets by Valjean and Javert. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The plot of “The Secret Garden” is difficult to follow, and it is hard to keep straight the relationships between the various characters living and dead. The inclusion of ghosts, called “Dreamers” complicates the already dense relationships, but these ghosts are essential to the story. They contribute to the dreamlike atmosphere and make the magical transformation of the garden – and of the children Mary and Colin – believable.

Mary (played by Kate Hayes, a fifth grader at Lincoln Options Elementary in Olympia) is a 10-year-old English girl living in India when her parents die in a cholera epidemic. She is sent back to England to live with her uncle Archibald in his bleak country manor in Yorkshire. Archibald’s wife, Lily (Katin Jacobs-Lake) had died years ago, and Archibald is still grieving. Since her death the manor has gone to ruin and the garden she loved has been locked.  

Mary is not the only child in the house. Her cousin Colin (Clarke Hallum) is bedridden, dying, spoiled rotten, and mad at the world. At first Mary and Colin clash angrily, but eventually they become friends, and together they explore the “secret garden” behind a locked wall. 

Hayes plays Mary with skill and has a lovely voice. Hallum, suddenly a local star who gained fame as Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, throws himself into the role of Colin. It’s not a large role, but it is demanding, requiring mercurial changes of attitude from hateful to sweet and also requiring a strong voice. Hallum excels in this role.

Jacobs-Lake seems to float across the stage as the ghost of Lily, and she sings with a well controlled soprano voice. She is more suited to this role than she was a Mimi in “Rent,” a role she played both at Capital Playhouse and Tacoma Musical Playhouse last year.

The most outstanding actors are Raimer and Haasl as, respectively, Archibald and Dr. Craven. The tension between these brothers is palpable, and each of these actors expresses their essential natures through body language and posture – Archibald depressed and perpetually hopeless and Dr. Craven haughty and self-assured. The brothers were each in love with Archibald’s wife. Their duet on “Lily’s Eyes” is the most beautiful song in the play. In this song they each express their longing for Lily after being reminded of her because Mary has Lily’s eyes.

Other actors of note include Carolyn Willems Van Dijk as the cute and upbeat chambermaid, Martha; Patrick Wigren as Mary’s father Albert; and Stephen Anastasia as the leprechaun-like gardener Dickon. 

One of the things I have always admired about Capital Playhouse is the way they integrate set changes into the performance as choreographed movements not by stagehands but by characters in the play to avoid awkward disruptions to the flow of the story. In this play the set changes are done as a kind of ballet of movement by the Dreamers, who also serve as a Greek chorus.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through April 9. Note: the April 6 performance is tentative at this time.
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 East 4th Ave, Olympia
TICKETS: $30-$41
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Saturday, March 26, 2011

'Woman in Black' at Centerstage Theatre is dark, mysterious

Rachel Wilkie, from left, Daniel Wood and Vince Brady perform in “The Woman in Black” at Centerstage Theatre.

The Woman in Black” at Centerstage Theatre is an old-fashioned ghost story with exceptional acting from the two-person cast and spine-tingling special effects. It’s a simple story presented with heightened theatricality.

This gripping tale of dark terror begins on a comic note as Kipps, a dowdy and highly nervous solicitor, enters a theater to meet with an actor who is going to help him tell his tale.

The actor (played by Daniel Wood) wants the telling of the tale to be a theatrical presentation, but Kipps (Vince Brady) simply wants to tell his story to family and friends to gain some kind of closure before his horrible memories drive him insane.

His attempts at reading his story in a dramatic fashion are comically inept, as are the actor’s melodramatic attempts at directing him.

But soon they switch identities. The actor steps into the role of Kipps, and Kipps assumes the roles of everyone else in the story. With this change comes a change in atmosphere.

The tale becomes dark, mysterious and frightening as Kipps returns to the fog-enshrouded Eel Marsh House in the marshlands on the eastern coast of England, and there he relives the horror.

“The Woman in Black” is beautifully directed by John Vreeke, and is a technician’s dream, filled with exciting and mysterious lighting and sound effects and an almost bare, yet highly effective set. To credit all the great work from the technical crew and consultants, I would have to list everyone in the production crew, including set and lighting designer Richard Schaefer and sound designer Andrew Senna, with special sound effects from Harlequin Productions in Olympia.

In the wings stand two tall porticos, each with a small window. Against a back curtain, steps rise to a heavy wooden door. The only other set pieces are a few props, such as a couple of trunks and some chairs. Dramatic beams of night light – moonlight and flashes of lightning – shine through unseen windows and reveal a shadowy cemetery and later a child’s bedroom through a back curtain.

Brady and Wood, the only actors, are on stage through almost the entire play, and they are each outstanding. Brady displays great versatility as he goes from playing Kipps to playing other characters, including the taciturn carriage driver and village residents who refuse to talk about the mysterious woman in black. His posture and facial expressions and manner of speaking change to fit each character. Even such a simple matter as moving to the rhythm of a horse-drawn carriage, he does so convincingly that we almost see the horse.

Wood does not become various characters in the same manner, but as the actor he is comically over-dramatic and as Kipps his intensity is nerve-wracking as he tries to conquer his fear and solve the mystery of the woman in black.

No actor is credited for the role of the woman in black, but she does appear on stage. I’m pretty sure there were at least two people playing her part, and I suspect they were costumed stagehands.

Warning: There is a lot of heavy fog, and there are frightening sound effects including blood-curdling screams. It is probably not a good idea to bring small children to this play.

WHEN: 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through April 3
WHERE: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $10 to $25 depending on age, group discounts available
INFORMATION: 253-661-1444,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Composites on Broadway

Holly Senn’s latest installation
The Weekly Volcano, March 23, 2011

I feel like I have a stake in Holly Senn's art career. I don't; she's done it all on her own, but I still feel that way. Years ago I taught a class for Bellevue Community College where I took students on tours of Seattle art galleries and discussed the art. Senn and her partner were in the class. They were very soft spoken and didn't have a whole lot to say. I don't think she ever told me she was an artist. A few years later I was very surprised when I was asked to profile some of the artists in the Tacoma artists' studio tours and saw her name on the list - and even more surprised when I visited her studio (her garage) and saw the quality of her work. She was showing small sculptures made from the recycled pages of old books scavenged from the library where she worked. The thing that was fascinating about them was that the subject matter of most of the sculptures related to books on reading or the trees from which we get the paper to make books in a kind of circular resonance between subject matter and material.

What is fascinating is that in the years since Senn has matured as an artist but has continued to mine books and paper as subject and material. You would have thought she would have run out of ideas long ago.

I did see a slight branching out (pun intended) in the last Holly Senn installation I reviewed, which was at 908 Broadway and which was part of the Spaceworks program last fall. Still using pages from books as material, she veered off into new subject matter by replicating with paper the plaster facade of the Pantages Theater across the street. That installation was a great example of something else I appreciate in Senn's work: the appropriateness of her installations to the venues in which they are installed.

For years now I have admired the idea of installing art in the vacant windows of the old Woolworth building, and many artists I admire have installed works there, but often I have been disappointed that the works on display were more often than not simply displays of art and not installations that in any way used the unique properties of the venue. Lately they've done a better job of integrating space and works, and Senn's work fits the space nicely.

She has filled six windows with large photographs of parts of plants. Hanging in front of each photograph are sculptures of what appears to be the buds or pods of the same or similar plants.

"In my sculptures and installations I explore the life cycle of ideas - how ideas are generated, dispersed, referenced or forgotten," Senn says. "In these explorations I engage the qualities of permanence and impermanence. ... As I cut, rip, realign and glue, I reflect on each new generation's collective erasure of some element of the past and the casting of new ideas into the future. My work is as ephemeral and fleeting as ideas committed to paper or the digital sphere."

Visually the comparison and contrast of the sculpted and photographed forms are nice. Perhaps more important from a purely visual point of view is the relationship between the illusion of space in the photos, the 3-D space of the sculpture and the actual shallow depth of the windows.
Composites by Holly Senn

Through July 1, open 24/7
Woolworth windows
Commerce and Broadway at 11th, Tacoma

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The other reviewer

With a title like "The other reviewer" you might have thought I was going to write something about Weekly Volcano theater critic Christian Carvajal or TNT arts writer Rosemary Ponnekanti, but no I'm not. I'm giving long overdue credit to my spouse, Gabi. I can't list her in my byline, but her input on my reviews is invaluable -- especially my theater reviews (art reviews not so much, even though she studied art and could offer valuable comments).

Gabi goes with me every time I review a play, and on the way home we discuss the play. Countless times she has pointed out things I would not have thought about. And then she edits everything I write before I send it in. So when you read my reviews think of them as OUR reviews.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Eye floaters

Growing old sucks. Big time.  But it’s nowhere near as sucky as the alternative, which is not growing old. I’d rather not, not grow old, thank you very much.

At least I don’t have the big bugaboos of aging: Alzheimer’s, incontinence and erectile dysfunction. And if I did I wouldn’t tell, 'cause some things are none of your business.

People tell me I don’t look my age, but we have mirrors at home. I can see the wrinkles and the flaccid muscles that were once firm and the gray hair and receding hairline. Friends who are my age keep sending out mass emails about how great it is to grow old and how good the good old days were, but they’re not fooling me (I refer you back to paragraph number one).

The body and the mind start to deteriorate at different times and at different rates for different folks. I know some people who are a lot older than I and don’t look it or act it, and I know younger people who appear to be ancient. Overall I guess I’m doing OK.

But I can’t dance or run or lift heavy stuff, and I can’t walk more than a couple of blocks without stopping to rest. With hearing aids and false teeth and glasses, and all the repairs to my heart (triple bypass and five stints) I have more replacement parts than a 1961 Volkswagen. It’s a wonder I don’t rattle when I walk.

The most infuriating of all are the damn floaters. Do you ever get floaters? Do you know what I’m talking about? Mine look like little black bugs that are larger than a gnat but smaller than a fly.  They hover in the air about a foot in front of my face.  Sometimes they move very slowly and other times they dart about like zippy little creatures. Usually I can see only one at a time, but sometimes there are two or three. The worst is when they come at me from the side, and I’m not expecting them and I jerk my head around. Sometimes I even reach out and try to swat them even though I know they’re not really there.

I don’t know if my eye surgery caused it or not. The doctors said not, but I never had them before and I thought it was strange how they kept asking me about them.  Before my cataract surgery the doctor asked if I got floaters. I said no. After the surgery he asked again, and again I said no. But there were other problems and he sent me to another eye surgeon for another surgery.  And of course the new doctor also asked if I had floaters, and I said no. And he asked me again after the surgery, and again I said no. It was almost like they were determined to keep trying until I got them. And I did. About a week after the second surgery the little buggers started taking up residence in my eyes. When I told the doctor he said there was nothing to worry about.

I went online and found this on

The floating specks you sometimes see in front of your eyes are not on the surface of your eyes, but inside them. These floaters are bits of cellular debris that come and go without treatment. To some people, these "floaters" look like spots. To others, they look like tiny threads. Most of the time they are nothing to worry about, but sometimes they can be a symptom of a retinal tear...

And from

Posted by Doodlesmgee: Getting rid of eye floaters is very simple. Are you ready for this? The answer is... stop paying attention to them. There is no sure fire way to get rid of them, no cure, and no treatment. The only time surgery should even be considered is if they cause pain when you see them. The annoyance felt when they fly through our vision is strictly psychological, and just means your brain's all powerful Ignore It powers haven't started working yet. The only thing you can really do is just alter your diet slightly to be more healthy for your eyes, such as eating lots of veggies and fruits. Also drinking a glass of red wine before bed, one glass mind you, not a bottle, is shown to be very healthy for your eyes and heart. Aside from that, the best thing you can do is find something more productive to focus your energies on.

Albert has floaters too. Albert is an 85-year-old former German pilot who was shot down in World War II and put in a Russian POW camp. Yep, he was the enemy way back then, but now he’s an American citizen who helped build the Space Needle in Seattle. Albert plays water volleyball with us at the Y. He said his floaters are so bad he sometimes doesn’t know which ball to hit.

I don’t want to be like Albert. I think I’ll try Doodlesmgee’s advice and just ignore them. I’ll also ignore all the crap about how good the good old days were.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Future artists

High school art show at SPSCC

The Weekly Volcano, March 16, 2011

"Books Everyone Should Read" - a painting by an unidentified high school artist. Photo courtesy SPSCC

South Puget Sound Community College's exhibition of student art from area high schools surprised me. It was not a happy surprise. Maybe it's been too long since I taught high school art and maybe I no longer know what to expect from students, but I really expected the overall quality to be better. Not that there aren't a few very nice works.

The style and subject of the art also surprised me. It has been my experience that the most popular art forms among young artists are surrealism and art inspired by graphic novels and graffiti, but there is practically none of that in this show. Nearly all of the pictures in this show are of faces or figures. There are no abstract paintings, unless you consider a painting of a logo or crest or symbol (it's hard to tell which) an abstract painting. There are also very few landscapes and hardly any still life paintings or drawings.

For the students involved, it's not just a chance to showcase their art. The exhibit is a competition for students vying for a spot at the state art competition. And for gallery attendees, it's more than a viewing, as visitors get to vote for their favorite pieces. To keep the voting unbiased, they have labeled the work with numbers and no artists' names. When I went two people had voted, both for number 488, a picture of a cowboy silhouetted against a sunset. I voted for number 5-something, a Pop Art image of book covers on a shelf. There are six such paintings in the show. At first I assumed they were all by the same artist because they are all variations on the same theme done in almost identical styles, but after giving it some thought I decided they are probably paintings from a class assignment, which would account for them looking so much alike.

Whether by the same artist or different artists, these are among the best works in the show. In most of them the images are closely cropped so viewers can read only parts of the book titles or author names, thus turning them into semi-abstract paintings and creating a fun guessing game to figure out what the books are. Some have more complete titles shown and are, for that reason, not as much fun. The one I picked as a favorite is more loosely painted than the others and has the word "Bloom" is big white letters with rough red outlines. The letters have a nice shimmering quality.

Also looking like they may be by the same artist were a few pictures of faces seen in extreme close-up. One of them called Kristi, a portrait of a girl, was labeled as an acrylic but looked more like a pencil or charcoal drawing with very soft shading and no color other than a very subtle green in the eyes. This one was very well done, as was one called Memories, which pictures a boy with a goofy grin and his chin resting in his hands. Both of these are skillfully drawn.

Two other works of interest were an untitled masked figure of a face with a Joker-like smile and big, pointy teeth, and a figure called High Five done in a Pointillist style with one hand extended forward with extreme foreshortening.

I wish these students luck in making it to the state competition. I just wish there was more variety in style and subject matter and a little more skill demonstrated.
South Puget Sound Community College

through March 23, noon to 5 p.m. Monday–Friday
closing reception March 23, 6-8 p.m.,
South Puget Sound Community College
2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My latest article on the Weekly Volcano blog Spew is a follow-up to my review of the Norman Rockwall exhibit at Tacoma Art Museum. See:

Clayton on Art

Murder in Mississippi (preliminary sketch), 1965 Oil on board, 15” x 12 ¾” Preliminary sketch published as the first illustration for Southern Justice, by Charles Morgan, Jr., Look, June 29, 1965 Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL. Fr

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another sex farce

Pictured, standing from left: Bonnie Vandver, Justin Smith and Jules Dellinger; seated from left: Newt Buker and Abby Wells. Photo by Toni Holm.

“Love, Sex & IRS” at Olympia Little Theatre is a modern farce with all the classical elements plus a few: mistaken identity, pratfalls, improbable situations and cross-dressing. The 1979 script by William Van Zandt and Jane Milmore has as many ups and downs as a roller coaster ride, and the lead actors (with notable exceptions) are equally uneven.

With seating on three sides of the stage, I was easily able to observe audience reactions. I saw people staring away from the action in what looked to be disdain, and then I saw those same people heartily laughing. In the end the laughter won out, and most of the audience left happily chattering.

Leslie (Justin Smith) is having an affair with Kate (Abby Wells), who is engaged to Leslie’s roommate, Jon (Jules Dellinger). That’s just the half of their problems. The bigger dilemma is that for years Jon has been filing fraudulent income tax returns claiming Leslie is his wife, and now an IRS auditor is coming. Newt Buker plays IRS man Floyd Spinner. In desperation, Jon convinces Leslie to dress in drag and pretend to be his wife.

Both Smith and Dellinger are new to OLT and relative newcomers to acting. They show promise, but they each need about a dozen more plays under their belts before that promise can be fulfilled. Dellinger is likeable as the deceptive but ultimately good-hearted Jon, but he does not fill the role naturally. He needs to relax into it more. Smith displays moments of inspired buffoonery – most hilariously when he hacks and wheezes with a strange sinus problem that affects him whenever he gets nervous. But for the most part he seems to be straining to pull off the demanding physical comedy.

Wells is a much more experienced actor with roles in previous OLT productions including “Murder on the Nile” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and community college and independent film roles. She slips into the role of Kate so naturally that she seems not to be acting at all.

But it is two veteran actors who steal the show: Buker and Bonnie Vandver as Jon’s mother, Mrs. Trachtman. Buker is perfectly cast as the IRS auditor as he starts off seeming very mousey, officious and formal, and then relaxes and accepts an offer of a drink, and then his true self emerges: a lecherous drunk. The auditor gets some of the best one-liners in the play, and he delivers them with impeccable timing and expression. Mrs. Trachtman also gets drunk (while claiming she doesn’t drink). Her double-takes and shocked expressions are precious, and she is believably inebriated though her lurching walk may be a bit overdone. (As I said in my recent review of another farce, “A Flea in Her Ear,” everything is overdone in a farce.)

Like the play itself, reviews of “Love, Sex & IRS” have been uneven. Reviewers have referred to the time in which it is set, 1979, as a time of innocence, comparing the play to TV sitcoms of the time and using that innocence as an excuse for some of the outmoded jokes and naïveté about cross dressing and homosexuality. But 1979 was after Vietnam and Watergate and the so-called sexual revolution. I don’t call that a time of innocence. At least the gay jokes were not mean-spirited or blatantly homophobic. In fact, I think the funniest line in the whole play was a gay joke – which I will not repeat here because I don’t want you to see it coming.

Special note should be made of the props – from the choice of record albums to the TV with the bent coat-hanger antenna -- which were carefully chosen to epitomize exactly what you’d expect to see in the apartment of a pair of out-of-work young musicians in New York in 1979.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through April 3
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or
INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

And here’s an addendum. After finishing this review, my wife sent me to an online review LOVE, SEX, AND THE I.R.S.- A Company of Faces at the Calo Theatre - by Mary Shen Barnidge as performed in Chicago in 1991. Barnidge elaborated on problems with the script that I barely touched upon, and she was less forgiving than I.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The mysterious crime reporter

Pictured here are Chris Cantrell and Pug Bujeaud as the embattled couple Martin and Stevie in Edward Albee's “The Goat or Who is Sylvia” - one of the best plays of the year, which I reviewed for The Olympian and The News Tribune.

Lately I have been writing profiles of the four actors who are doing the reading from my novel, Reunion at the Wetside. Chris is the last of the four to be profiled.

Chris is a powerful dramatic actor, and no slouch at comedy either. Readers of my column in The News Tribune will remember that I have often raved about his performances.You may recall that I picked him as Best dramatic actor in my 2007 Critic's Choice awards for his role as Macbeth at Olympia Little Theatre and that in Rosemary Ponnakanti's recent "South Sound Stars" article he was named Best Supporting Actor (I chose all the award winners and Rosemary interviewed them).

I was thrilled when Chris accepted my invitation to be in the reading. He reads the part of Harry Drews, a crime reporter for the Wetside newspaper who never gets it right. The book is both a murder mystery and a love story. Throughout much of the book the mystery part is told through readings of Harry Drews' "Police Blotter" column. Harry doesn't actually show up until near the end of the book when he is revealed to be someone much different than you'd expect. In reading parts of Harry's newspaper column Chris breathes life into this character.

We never had a proper rehearsal prior to the reading at Orca Books. We had one short read-through without direction. The actors interpreted their characters as they saw them, and as the writer who created these characters I was amazed at how well they nailed them. I hope you'll come and see for yourself when we present another reading at Comic Book Ink in Lakewood.

March 21 at 7 p.m.
Comic Books Ink
Lakewood Cinema Complex
2510 S. 84th
Suites 15A-B
Lakewood, WA

A Q&A and book signing will follow the reading.
More information on the book including reviews and an excerpt for you reading pleasure at

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tacoma Little Theatre's 'A Flea in Her Ear" a farce most fantastic

The News Tribune, March 11, 2011

Heidi Walworth-Horn plays Raymonde, from left, Alex Smith is Victor, Rachel Permann is Lucienne and Mark Peterson stars as Romain in “A Flea in Her Ear.”

Georges Feydeau’s popular French farce “A Flea in Her Ear” has been entertaining audiences worldwide for more than 100 years. It seems to never go out of style.

It has all the expected elements of an absurdly farcical romp: slamming doors, mistaken identity, silly fights and witty repartee with loads of sexual innuendo – or in this case not so much innuendo as comical attempts to clean up sex talk as when Victor (Alex Smith) tries to explain to Doctor Finache (Kerry Bringman) that he suffers from what is now popularly known as erectile dysfunction. The conversation is peppered with euphemisms and references to size, all of which are funny precisely because they are so obvious.

Tacoma Little Theatre’s website calls this play “perhaps the greatest farce ever written.” That is an overstatement perhaps; I can think of some Marx Brothers and Shakespeare that may top it, but it may certainly rank right up there among the greatest.

Victor’s wife, Raymonde (Heidi Walworth-Horn) suspects her husband of infidelity. At the urging of her best friend, Lucienne (Rachel Permann), she fakes a letter to her husband from a secret admirer suggesting a rendezvous at The Frisky Puss Hotel (Hotel Coq d’Or in the original) in order to entrap him. Victor is flattered when he receives the letter but thinks it was mistakenly sent to him but was meant for his handsome friend Romain Tournel (Mark Peterson). So Tournel goes to the hotel in Victor’s place, and eventually everyone else in the play, including Victor and various spouses, friends and servants all end up in the Frisky Puss – some in search of romantic rendezvous and some in search of two-timing spouses.

To stir the pot even more (and there is always something to stir the pot even more), Poche, the bell boy at the Frisky Puss is a dead-ringer for Victor. Smith is fabulous in the duel roles of Victor and Poche. Note his walk. As Victor he leans forward so much that he looks as if he’s in constant danger of falling on his face, and as Poche he leans backward just as much, seemingly defying the laws of gravity. People push him and kick him, and he’s like a rag doll being tossed about, handling the physical comedy with flair.

Some of the shouting and door slamming is overdone, but one person’s overdone is another person’s insanely funny. In fact, overdone may be the only way to effectively do farce.

Most obviously overdone was Ferraillon (Robert Osborne) kicking Victor/Poche in the rear-end every chance he got. The kicking did not have the comedic boot it should have, as it became too predictable.

Among the best actors were Smith, Permann, Peterson, Paul Neet as Camille, and Mike Slease as Lucienne’s crazy, gun-toting Spanish husband Don Carlos Homenides De Histangua.

Permann’s exasperated explanation of how she and Poche, whom she mistook to be Victor, tumbled and tumbled down the stairs was a masterpiece of comedic acting. Neet did a great job with the challenge of speaking with an absurd speech defect – his character, Camille, cannot pronounce consonants. Likewise, Slease’s booming Spanish accent made him just hard enough to understand to be funny without his speech being incomprehensible, and his bluster and facial tics were riotous.

The set by Dane Goulet was very nice, especially the gaudy colors and the revolving bed in the hotel. Frances Rankos’ costume designs were also fine. The turn-of-the-century dresses with the big bustles were great as was Don Carlos’ suit coat.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 26; actor benefit at 2 p.m. March 26
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
Tickets: $15 - $24
Information: 253-272-2281, www.tacomalittletheatre. com

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Strange science

Richard Craig Meitner at Museum of Glass

The Weekly Volcano, March 9, 2011

"Branch." A piece by Richard Craig Meitner with the assistance of Richard Price and Edwin Dieperink Courtesy/Collection of The Corning Museum of Glass, 2005.3.65, gift of Barry Friedman Ltd.

When my wife saw a photo of Richard Craig Meitner's "Branch" - blown glass with rust patina - she said, "That's creepy but interesting." She paused a moment and then said, "I like it."

That reaction may be typical for Meitner's work. His glass sculpture can be witty and perhaps a bit strange, but never boring. And I can see the creep factor in some of them. He speaks of his work as being magical. "Magic," he says, "is a moment in which something happens that does not fit into your belief system."

Japanese textiles, German Expressionist graphics and science are among many eclectic inspirations for Meitner's work. There are a lot of unusual juxtapositions of imagery from the natural world and the world of science. There are human and animal figures combined with simple abstract forms. There are figures that morph into other things. There are forms from nature and science combined with traditional glass vessels or - in some of the more interesting pieces - big plywood boxes with decorative tiles glued to the surfaces.

Epitomizing the famous quote by Le Comte de Lautreamont, "As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table," Meitner's work is all about the juxtaposition of disparate objects. In Branch, the piece mentioned in the opening, a form like a gnarled tree branch with a rust patina, which also looks like a man's hand, reaches into a clear glass vessel, and the two unrelated objects are chained together. The chain is also clear glass.

The rust patina shows up in many other pieces, often in combination with a classical glass form. "Gione" from the series "For Everything There is a Season" has a form that can simultaneously be read as a male figure and a teapot. This man-teapot has a surface of rust patina, and it sits on top of a box of decorative tiles. The contrast is startling, and the many possible interpretations are fascinating.

Among my favorite pieces are a number of clear or translucent glass vessels with quirky drawings on the surface. Many of the drawings look like bugs, and some are drawn both inside and outside of the glass, which means you see them in various degrees of translucence.

I also like a number of works that look like beakers and test tubes and other instruments out of some mad scientist's laboratory.

Meitner often works in collaboration with other artists who are credited in the wall labels. "Gione," for instance, was created with the assistance of Richard Price and Edwin Dieperink.

The Meitner show is in one of the interior galleries at MOG, so you can't find it without wandering through some of the other galleries. Maybe that's a good thing. It forces you to look at some of the other shows, which are worth seeing or seeing again.

Meitner will be a visiting artist in the Hot Shop July 14-18.

Masters of Studio Glass: Richard Craig Meitner
Through June 19, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday
noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St. Tacoma

Jim plays Jim

For some reason I envision Jim Patrick as a British actor. Why is that? I don't know. Something about his carriage and demeanor. He is dignified no matter what role he's playing, and I've seen him in a number of roles, most recently in "Carl Sagan's Contact" at Centerstage in Federal Way and most memorably in "Amadeus" at Lakewood Playhouse and doing a silly running joke of a song in "Broadway's Fabulous Fifties" at Tacoma Little Theatre.

I've noticed that in programs he is usually listed as James Thomas Patrick, a moniker that seems to fit his dignified looks, but I like him as plain Jim -- especially as Jim Bright, the hero of my novel, Reunion at the Wetside. Jim Bright is one of the more complex characters I've ever written. He's a liar and something of a nasty jokester, and his politics are diametrically opposed to everything I believe in; yet there's something inherently likeable about him -- so likeable, in fact, that the smartest and most decent woman in the book falls in love with him.

In the one reading we've already done Jim played that Jim beautifully. I think he even looks the part, (voted most handsome in high school many years ago). While looking the part is not necessary in a staged reading, it doesn't hurt.

I invite you to come see Jim Patrick and the rest of the fine cast interpret selections from my book.

Also featuring Jennie Jenks, Chris Cantrell and Dennis Rolly.

And by-the-way, Jim is not British. He's from San Francisco.

March 21 at 7 p.m.
Comic Books Ink
Lakewood Cinema Complex
2510 S. 84th
Suites 15A-B
Lakewood, WA

A Q&A and book signing will follow the reading.
More information on the book including reviews and an excerpt for you reading pleasure at

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dennis Rolly plays "the author"

I’ve been a Dennis Rolly fan since I first saw him perform with the Washington Shakespeare Festival back in the early 1990s. He seems to specialize (to be typecast) in playing some of the more quirky roles in Shakespeare plays as well as in contemporary dramas and comedies – meaning that for a guy who is often typecast he is pretty damn versatile. His range and passion as an actor is amazing.

Dennis is well known in the Olympia area for his many performances with Harlequin Productions, but some of his more exciting roles in recent years have been in lesser known productions – as the immortal Leporello  in the hilarious comedy “Don Juan in Chicago” at the Midnight Sun performance space and as Marley in “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” at Olympia Little Theatre.

Now he takes on a more sedate role as “the author” in the reading from my novel Reunion at the Wetside. When casting for the reading, Dennis was my first choice for the author, and I was overjoyed that he accepted my invitation. Essentially he’s the narrator, a story teller; i.e., he’s playing me, the author of the book. He provides the exposition that sets up the dialogue -- a necessary evil because Reunion at the Wetside was written as a novel and not a play. In lesser hands his part could be boring, but in our one and only rehearsal and in our recent reading at Orca Books, Dennis’s narration was the spark of life to the story.

Please come to Comic Book Ink in Lakewood on March 21 to hear Dennis and a fine cast of actors in this brief reading.

March 21 at 7 p.m.
Comic Books Ink
Lakewood Cinema Complex
2510 S. 84th
Suites 15A-B
Lakewood, WA

A Q&A and book signing will follow the reading.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Meet Alex Martin

Jennie Jenks is wonderful in the part of Alex Martin in the reading of Reunion at the Wetside.

Alex is an old hippie who has fond memories of the sixties and of Jim Bright – Mister Everything in high school and the kid she had a crush on.  Tall, beautiful, and wise, but not very sure of herself, she doesn’t know how to act when she runs into Jim some 40 years after she last saw him. In a gay bar, no less.

Jennie is neither old enough nor tall enough to play the part of Alex. But she does have the dashing good looks and the charm. South Sound theater goers will remember her from her recent performance as Sheree in “The Dixie Swimclub” at Olympia Little Theatre.

Come to Comic Books Ink in Lakewood, Washington to hear Jennie read the part of Alex Martin in a staged reading of from my novel, Reunion at the Wetside. Also taking part are Dennis Rolly as “the author,” Jim Patrick as Jim Bright and Chris Cantrell as the mysterious crime reporter Harry Drews.

March 21 at 7 p.m.
Comic Books Ink
Lakewood Cinema Complex
2510 S. 84th
Suites 15A-B
Lakewood, WA

A Q&A and book signing will follow the reading.

Java Tacoma Episode 37

It’s always a pleasure to welcome a new theatrical company to town. The latest in Tacoma is Dukesbay Productions, and their maiden voyage is a live sit-com set in Tacoma. It’s called “Java Tacoma: Episode 37 Ashes to Ashes, Cup to Cup.”

Were there really episodes one through36? I doubt it, but what do I know? Maybe the first 36 episodes took place in another realm. But why, then, did their press release call it the first installment of a comedy series? Sly folks, these Dukesbay folks.

Now playing at The Trinity Fellowship Hall, 1619 6th Ave. Tacoma, “Ashes to Ashes” is all about Tacoma folks, and it takes place not in a traditional theatrical setting, but in a coffee shop setting. Small tables and chairs are arranged to suggest a coffee shop, with audience members seated, coffee and pastries in hand, to watch an original comedy series that’s all about their hometown. I’m told that one of the characters is a reporter for The News Tribune. I wonder what other thinly-disguised locals may appear.

“Ashes to Ashes” was written by Federal Way playwright Curtis B. Swanson. “Java Tacoma” is the continuing tale of three best friends who meet daily for hot coffee and even hotter gossip. The series is recommended for ages 13 and up, due to language and mature content.

“Java Tacoma: Episode 37” continues Friday and Saturday, March 11, 12, 18, and 19 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15/person, which includes an assortment of coffee and tea, and locally-prepared pastries by Corina Bakery in Tacoma.

Reservations can be made by phone: (253) 267-0869 or email:

About Dukesbay Productions
Dukesbay Productions is a brand-new company founded by Tacoma theatre artists Randy Clark and Aya Hashiguchi Clark.  Their mission is to showcase the works of local playwrights and theatre artists of all ethnicities.  Java Tacoma: Episode 37 is directed by Randy Clark and features the talents of Mick Flaaen, Joseph Grant, Aya Hashiguchi, Betzy Miller and Laurie Sifford.

Pictured, L-R:  Betzy Miller, Aya Hashiguchi and Laurie Sifford. Photo by Jason Ganwich

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Name is Asher Lev

From left, Leslie Foley (violinist/composer), Elliot Weiner, Jeffrey Alan Smith and Paige Hansen star in “My Name is Asher Lev” at Lakewood Playhouse.

This has been the best theater season since I began writing this column seven years ago.

I’ve seen one great play after another this year. The latest is “My Name is Asher Lev” by Aaron Posner, adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok, directed by Marcus Walker and starring Paige Hansen, Jeffrey Alan Smith and Elliot Weiner.

This is a powerful, emotionally draining and ultimately satisfying play. If there is anything to fault, it is that it sometimes verges on being overly melodramatic.

That’s fitting because the characters in this play are passionate people struggling with conflicts involving deeply held beliefs and traditions. Wrenching emotional conflicts are believable.

Asher Lev is a Hasidic Jew and an artist. His talent is a gift, acknowledged as such by all, but even he wonders: Is it a gift from Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe) or from the Sitra Achra (the Other Side)?

The play is a single act with no set changes. The beautiful thrust stage designed by Henry Loughman has a few pieces of dark wood furniture on a beautiful wood floor with a wall of backlit floor-to-ceiling windows as a backdrop. Violinist Leslie Foley sits in the background and plays lovely and stylistically appropriate music during the performance – music she composed for this show.

The unchanging set serves as the home of Asher and his parents, as the Rebbe’s office and as an art gallery. Lighting effects designed by Mark Thomason indicate changes of scene and time. Dispensing with scene changes allows the story to flow smoothly throughout Asher Lev’s life, from the time he is 6 until his maturity.

Smith plays the part of Asher. He tells the story in the first person. The writer’s decision to use first-person narration allows for a long novel to be condensed into an hour-and-a-half play. Smith is a newcomer to Washington stages. He comes from Minnesota, where he graduated from Minnesota State University in Mankato. Through tone of voice and expression, he compellingly plays the conflicted and loving son and artist at different ages.

Hansen and Weiner rise to the challenge of playing many characters using only simple costume changes and variations in voice and manner. Hansen plays Asher’s mother, a gallery owner and an artist’s model. Weiner is all of the other male characters including Asher’s father, the Rebbe, and the eccentric and autocratic artist Jacob Khan, who is Asher’s mentor.

The character changes are clear: Asher’s mother and the gallery owner look nothing alike, even though the only physical change is a wig, and when Weiner enters in the guise of the Rebbe, his voice and walk are so different that we immediately know we are looking at someone else. Weiner expresses violent emotion with a modicum of restraint. Hansen shows controlled intensity in conveying the inner conflicts of a mother trying to mediate between her husband and son.

Very seldom do we see timing, lighting, acting and music come together so well to create another world. There is an otherworldly feel to this play as if it’s far away and a long time ago, but it is set in America within the lifetime of many of us. It’s a world and a way of being that is both universal and specific. Kudos to director Marcus Walker, the actors and to everyone who worked to bring Asher Lev to Lakewood’s lucky South Sound audiences.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 20
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
Tickets: $27.50, $24.50 seniors and military, $21.50 students younger than 25
Information: 253-588- 0042, www.lakewood

Thursday, March 3, 2011

American Chronicles

Norman Rockwell at Tacoma Art Museum

The Weekly Volcano, March 2, 2011

"The Problem We All Live With": Oil on canvas by Norman Rockwell, 1963 - an Illustration for Look, Jan. 14, 1964. Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL. From the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum


Tacoma Art Museum is the only Northwest stop for American Chronicles, an exhibition of the works of American icon Norman Rockwell.

For almost as long as I have been alive, Rockwell has been idolized by most of the American public while being ridiculed by most art critics. I can easily see why on both counts. When I was a kid I wanted to be Norman Rockwell. I even signed up for the Famous Artists correspondence school because he was one of the artist-teachers. By the time I was an art major in college I had come to think of him as a joke. After that I dismissed him completely as not worth bothering with. But I have to admit that I was surprised by the beauty and power of a few of the paintings in this show - only a few, but those few knocked me out.

If Rockwell had spent his career making serious paintings instead of working at being America's most popular illustrator he could have been great.

A few of the paintings in this show are absolutely stunning. In many of his paintings the paint is thickly layered using the technique of over-glazing to create rich surfaces with an inner glow. The colors in "Christmas Eve in Bethlehem," which depicts tourists lining up to see the supposed birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, are ablaze due to the contrasts of the brilliant yellow surfaces of buildings against a deep cerulean blue night sky with foreground figures dramatically backlit.

"Murder in Mississippi," illustrating the infamous murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss., is a dull monotone that looks like a weathered newspaper clipping. It is accompanied in this exhibition by a number of preliminary studies illustrating Rockwell's working technique.

The texture on the stone wall that serves as background to the little girl in "The Problem We All Live With" is amazingly realistic. You feel like you can reach out and feel the stone. This image depicts a little black girl being guarded by U.S. Marshalls as she enters a previously segregated school.

These paintings show Rockwell's amazing talent - his dramatic flare, the translucent light in his paintings and the amazing attention to detail, little of which is apparent in reproduction. These paintings and a few others are comparable to the very best of Renaissance paintings. Everything else in this show confirms my contention that he was just an illustrator who capitalized on flash and easy sentiment.

Rockwell didn't consider himself a painter. He was an illustrator. In purely visual terms, illustration falls short of art because the visual elements - line quality, color, composition, harmony, etc. - are sacrificed on the alter of storytelling; this is painfully evident in nearly every one of the 323 original Saturday Evening Post magazine covers in this show. Some of them are cute, some touch the heart, but most are overly simplistic glorifications of small town America, family values, religion and patriotism. Only those few paintings about the civil rights struggles in the South acknowledge that there might be a dark undertone to some of those vaunted American values.

I may not like his sentimentality and corny humor, but this exhibition has shown me that the man could really paint.

Through May 30, Wednesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
admission $8–$9, children free, Third Thursdays free
Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma