Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Pink Skies"

Lush Landscapes at Mavi Contemporary
 "Hot Lilies" oil on canvas

"Blueberry Field" oil on canvas

The Weekly Volcano, June 30, 2011
The name of the show is Under Pink Skies, but the skies above the lush and colorful foliage in the Nina Weiss landscapes at Mavi Contemporary Art are orange and lavender and a steely blue-gray - not just pink.

The colors and the sure and deliberate brushstrokes in these landscapes are like rich confections, lakes and streams and bright skies made of sugar and whipped cream.

I easily tire of landscape art. It's generally very boring and predictable. After all, who ever does anything truly original with landscape art these days? Nobody, that's who. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I really liked these paintings.

The scenery is typical. There are bodies of water with marsh grasses and water lilies surrounded by trees with lots of sky. There's nothing unusual in any of that, of course. What makes these paintings stand out is the paint application.

Weiss, a nationally known artist from Chicago, applies her paint in very deliberate swirls and blobs of semi-translucent layers. It's almost as if every leaf and every wave is a separate dash or swirl of color with, in many cases, clumps of trees and grasses set off by dark contours. What these paintings are about is color, shape and paint application, not trees and sky and water. Paint takes precedence over subject matter, and I'm just enough of a stodgy old purist to think that's what painting should be all about - or it's not worth looking at.

"Ames Pond Diptych" is a long horizontal painting (80 inches wide) with a light blue sky that sits forward on the picture plane over a line of evergreen trees with vibrant dark edges - most notably with the lone tall tree on the right. The lily pads and grasses pop dramatically against the dark water.

"Hot Lilies" is one of my favorites. The sky is a milky orange and the trees and water are dark green with the same milky quality (if I keep repeating the word "milky" it's because it's one of the more unique aspects of Weiss's paintings). Clumps of leaves are layered light on dark as if squeezed out of a cake decorator‘s tube, and there's a little spot of red on the left that is so hot it looks like it's about to burst into flame.

Different from all the others is "Pearl Street," a picture of houses on a country road with leaf-bare trees in tones of orange, blue and yellow and, as in "Hot Lilies," an effective use of light over dark.

Not all of her colors are bright. Weiss uses dull colors very effectively and keeps most of her paintings within a narrow value key. An excellent example of the good use of dull colors can be seen in "Blueberry Field, Fenville," which is in tones of green and gray with dull accents of burnt orange and purple.

These are very enjoyable paintings worth careful contemplation. Also showing are abstract paintings by William Quinn, William Turner and Christopher Mathie, and in the vault landscapes by Michael Crowman - a carryover from a previous show but with some new additions.

Mathie's "Double Entendre" is a brilliant little gem of a painting. Be sure to visit the back gallery and take a look at this one.
Under Pink Skies

through July 17, 2–7 p.m., Wednesday–Sunday
Mavi Contemporary Art, 502 Sixth Ave., Tacoma

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Science and Industry

“Airplane”: Oil on canvas by Peter Sheesley
Peter Sheesley at Fulcrum

The Weekly Volcano, June 23, 2011
You may know Peter Sheesley from the painting demonstrations he did at Tacoma Art Museum in connection with the Norman Rockwell exhibition.

I have a confession to make: I was not impressed with what I read about Sheesley, nor with what I saw on his website. I thought of it as realism and nothing more than a show of painting virtuosity. But when I saw Sheesley's show, Science and Industry, at Fulcrum Gallery, I realized there was much more to him. I also realized that Sheesley's work - especially dark and moody pieces such as these - do not reproduce well, on paper or online. What you see in print here is a pale reproduction of what you can see in the gallery.

Sheesley's paintings in this show are taken from candid photographs snapped in Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry. The key word is "candid." None of the people seen interacting with each other and with the exhibits in the museum are aware that they are being photographed. For the most part they seem unaware of each other as well. There is a strange voyeuristic quality to these paintings and an equally strange disconnectedness among many of the people pictured.

The other unique qualities that set these paintings apart from the run-of-the-mill realist paintings are his depiction of light in darkness and the futuristic quality. These are not spaceships from the 24th century, they are airplanes, some quite old, on display in a museum, and yet they look futuristic - sleek, shiny and otherworldly.

Pictured here is one with the unassuming title "Airplane." It's a head-on view of the nose and cockpit of an airplane of nonspecific vintage. It is so sleek and smooth that it looks like a helmet worn by a spaceman. Behind it, hanging as airplanes do in museums, is an old crop duster. The angles of the wings combined with the sleek roundness of the newer airplane create an intriguing linear design and break up the space in interesting ways.

But it is the lightness within darkness that really sets these paintings apart. Everything is in almost a monotone with dark burnt sienna and ochre reminiscent of sepia-tone photographs and highlights of soft blues and yellows and violets where light reflects off shiny metal surfaces and the clothes and faces of people meandering through the museum.

In "Control Room," the television monitor screens appear a softly glowing sky blue when seen from across the room, but are seen to be very light pink and purple when seen up close. The workers at their consoles are barely visible in the darkness.

In "Crowd," random groups of people seen from a distance and above, as if viewed from a balcony, are spots of softly luminous light in tones of yellow and blue. There is a strong sense of slow movement as these people negotiate the open space in a kind of ballet.

There are six large oil-on-canvas paintings in the front room of the gallery. Each is a study of light within darkness. They draw you in through mood and mystery and then you gradually begin to discern the interesting details of barely visible people and machines.

In the back gallery there are five smaller paintings that are similar but with less darkness. One of these, which gallery owner Oliver Doriss said drew the most attention from the opening crowd, is a little painting of a woman in a blue dress sitting in an airplane seat. Sheesley says he was influenced by Lucian Freud, one of the great figure painters of the 20th century. That influence is clear in this painting.

This small show is quite mesmerizing. I definitely recommend it.
Peter Sheesley: Science and Industry

Through July 13, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday–Saturday and by appointment
Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hot time, summer in the city

From left: Christian Doyle, Michael Lengel, 
Kate Dinsmore, Matt Posner, Alison Monda
Kate Dinsmore and Michael Lengel
Review "Sixties Kicks"

“Summer in the Sixties” is Harlequin Productions’ rocking tribute to the best music of the era that shall forever more be characterized by the phrase sex, drugs and rock and roll. What a selection of songs! What a cast! What a band!

Harlequin’s summer rock shows are legendary, from “Dancin’ in the Aisles,” where half the audience jumped to their feet and boogied in front of the stage; to “Sixties Chicks,” a tribute to girl singers the likes of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Diana Ross; to last year’s “Sixties Kicks,” a precursor to the current show highlighting songs by The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Beach Boys - that was a knockout. Hell, they all were. And this summer’s offering may be the best of them all.

For starters, it hast an almost identical cast to last year’s “Sixties Kicks,” with the exception that instead of the great Antonia Darlene this show has Christian Doyle, who can’t be compared with Darlene because he’s a different type of singer, but who really rocks the house. The other cast members are Kate Dinsmore, Michael Lengel, Alison Monda and Matt Posner.

The band is also practically identical: Rick Jarvela lays down a throbbing bass line; Maria Joyner rocks an insistent drum beat; Brad Schrandt is on keyboard and horns; and musical director Bruce Whitney on keyboard plus a mean acoustical guitar and even a surprise vocal solo on The Grateful Dead’s “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been” – plus new addition Daven Tillinghast on guitar.

My one criticism of their previous sixties music revues was that some of the music was a little too polished, i.e., not raw enough, and that the costumes for “Sixties Chicks” looked more like musical theater costumes than authentic sixties garb.

Those problems have been overcome in spades with this show. The costumes by Kathleen Anderson are wilder and more authentic looking. (A note of explanation: some purists searching archives of hippie clothing might say these are not strictly authentic either, but they perfectly capture the feel and spirit of the wildest clothing of the era. One thing that is not authentic is that the men have short hair, but I think it was a wise decision not to have them wear long-hair wigs, which would have probably looked phony.)

And the music is loud and often guttural with raspy screaming voices that easily flow into more mellow tones highlighted by Tillinghast’s wailing guitar. This music has the raw edge that is usually missing when musical theater people try their hand at rock.

The song selection focuses mostly on the late sixties, with a heavy dose of psychedelic music. There is a wide-screen projection compiled by Jill Carter at the back of the stage with historical video clips and psychedelic light images that tell stories of the time – particularly the politics and the war in Vietnam, with a special homage to the Peace Corps, which was born in 1961 and celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

Posner sets the mood for the evening with hard-driving hits like The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” and Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” with a great guitar solo by Tillinghast.

Doyle lightens the mood with his lilting rendition of “In the Summertime” (see how well they milk the show’s title). Doyle’s comical gestures, facial expressions and dance moves throughout are a joy to watch – this is not a play, it’s a musical revue, but the cast members do assume characters and prove that they are experienced actors as well as singers.

Act 1 reaches a crescendo with Monda’s wild rendition of “I’ll Put a Spell on You.” In previous reviews I have written about Monda’s broad vocal range. We saw evidence of it again in her recent performance in “I’m Into Something Good” at Centerstage. But in this show, and especially on that song she does things I didn’t think were possible with the human voice. She screams and grunts and warbles melodically, and holds notes until you think she’s going to pass out; and she does it all with perfectly clear enunciation and grace. And it’s all kicked up to a higher level with great sax and guitar solos and highlighted by an animated projection of reluctant Army inductees getting their physicals and marching off to war, done in the style of Terry Gilliam’s “Monty Python” cartoons.

The mood shifts to breathtakingly lyrical when the five-person cast harmonizes beautifully on Crosby, Still, Nash and Young’s “Judy Blue Eyes” – a song almost everyone remembers, not by its title but by the repeated refrain “I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are. You make it ha-aard.”

Lengel shines brightly on the Doors’ “Break On Through to the Other Side” and later an Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’” and Dinsmore channels Janice Joplin on “Me and Bobby McGee.” She makes it her own and not an imitation of Joplin, but she does get a lot of Janice’s unique vocal inflection right down to hints of her East Texas twang.

After a huge standing ovation opening night the cast came back for multiple encores. The audience didn’t want to let them leave the stage and the cast and band didn’t want to stop the music. This is fabulous entertainment for a summer time out on the town.

WHEN: Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through July17
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $34 - $37
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tapestry time

"Warped, Beaten and Hung" at Brick House

The Weekly Volcano, June 16, 2011
Pictured: "Tori": Wool and cotton by Margo MacDonald Photo courtesy Brick House Gallery

The latest show at Brick House Gallery - Warped, Beaten and Hung - is a showcase of works by members of Tapestry Artists of Puget Sound. I think they could have called it Cecilia Blomberg and friends, because Blomberg's work dominates the exhibition.

The showstoppers are two large works by Blomberg: "Rising Tide" and "The Milkmaid." "Rising Tides" pictures rows of huge concrete block steps leading down into water, with the lowest row under water, creating an illusion of transparency through the use of subtle color changes, something that can't be easy to do with woven thread, which cannot be physically transparent. The viewpoint is as if one were standing on the top row of steps looking down, so that it becomes an almost totally abstract design of repetitive shapes with a very soft balance of contrasting and harmonious shapes and colors. In purely visual terms this is the strongest piece in the show.

"The Milkmaid" stands out due to its large size and the ghostly appearance of the central figure. I was told by gallery owner Peter MacDonald the image was taken from an old double-exposure photograph. It pictures a milkmaid walking forward from shaded woods with, below her, another picture of the same milkmaid and a cow. It is a successful piece because of Blomberg's smart color choices - predominantly soft grays with hints of yellow and brown - and due to the unique imagery. It's an old faded photo in thread.

There are also a couple of interesting little abstract and semi-abstract pieces by Blomberg that use threads that extend beyond the surface.

Another large tapestry that stands out with immediate impact is "Tori" by Margo Macdonald. This is an intensely colored picture of a Japanese gate standing in and reflected in water. The brilliant red of the gate is on fire against the deep blue of water.

Another work that is very intriguing is "Dearest" by Inge Norgaard. I was told this piece depicts a mythological tale. It certainly looks like a depiction of mythology, although I'm not familiar with the particular story. There is a strange naked woman squatting down in the woods talking to a deer, which is standing upright on its hind legs. The setting is idyllic. The unexplained hints of narrative are intriguing. The drawing looks primitive. The woman with her oddly flattened and squared-off breasts reminds me of line drawings by Matisse and Cézanne.

Also very interesting are two small pieces by Mary Lane. Both are of women's dresses presented as flat patterns on an equally flat and patterned background. They remind me of some of Jim Dine's many famous paintings of his bathrobe. One of Lane's tapestries is of a summer dress over a floral pattern and the other is of a dress printed with patchwork quilt patterns in various shades of brown over a black background with line drawings of dress patterns. The resonance between a traditional woman's media (tapestry) and a similarly typical woman's occupation (dressmaking) is obviously intentional yet visually subtle.

This is a very interesting show with a wide variety of styles and methods of art created from wool, cotton and other cloth materials. The show runs concurrently with a similar show at the Handforth Gallery at the Tacoma Main Library, Passages: Small Tapestry International 2, featuring small tapestries from all over the world. Works by at least three of the local artists featured in the Brick House show can also be seen in the show at the library. They are Lane, MacDonald and Blomberg.
Warped, Beaten and Hung

Third Thursdays 5–9 p.m. and by appointment, through July 15
The Brick House, 1123 S. Fawcett, Tacoma

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

from the Weekly Volcano blog Spew

CLAYTON ON ART: “Passages: Small Tapestry International 2”

“The Points in Between” by Jean Pierre Larochette

The latest show at the Handforth Gallery in the Main Tacoma Library is a traveling juried exhibition of tapestry featuring small works from tapestry artists from all over the world, including at least three artists from Tacoma and Olympia - Cecelia Blomberg, Margo MacDonald and Mary Lane, who are also featured in the current show at Brick House Gallery in Tacoma (watch for my review in the Weekly Volcano due out Thursday, .June 16).

All of the works are about the size of a notebook. Most are pretty traditional and technically well done - at least to my eye; I'm no expert on tapestry but view them as I would view paintings.

Now that I've read some of the statements in the nicely designed catalog that accompanies the show I wish I understood more of the technical aspects. Artist's statements in the catalog talk about warps and multiple setts (Mary Rawcliffe Dolton talking about her piece, "Bumps in the Road") and focusing on "the warp and weft grid by using hatching and soumack..." (Joyce Hays writing about her piece "Conciliation Fall.") I don't understand those terms, but I like the look of their pieces.

"Bumps in the Road" is one of my favorite pieces. It looks like a little wall hanging sculpture. It is a kind of monolithic vertical form that zigs and zags with bright red and blue triangles as it crawls up the wall. Hays' "Conciliation Fall" is a luminous and delicate pattern of three bands of gray and white marks on a field of tan.
Another piece a like a lot because of the way it breaks out of the traditional rectangular format is "Going Through the Motions" by Sharon Crary. It's a simply patterned abstract piece with folded cloth in patterns of variously hued greens over solid red background and wrapped with a red ribbon.

One of many other pieces that I like is "The Points in Between" by Jean Pierre Larochette, one of the few men in this show. It's a picture of a bird's nest on a black background. I like the strong color contrasts and the high energy of the twigs that fly out of the nest as if in an explosion.

About the three local artists in this show. First, congratulations. Being selected for inclusion in a show of international scope is a big deal.

MacDonald's "On the Beach" is a simple little picture of a canoe sitting on a beach with its oars out as if plowing through water even though the boat is not on the water and there are no paddlers to work the oars. It doesn't have the impact of some of her larger pieces in the show at Brick House, but it is very sweet, due to the soft colors, and it is nicely designed.

Blomberg has a piece that is similar to MacDonalds. It's called "Between the Birches." It pictures a yellow canoe in dark blue water as seen through a stand of birch trees on the river's edge. The regularity of the spacing between trees lends it an emblematic look. As in MacDonald's picture, there's no one in the canoe.

Lane continues in this show the theme of her works in the Brick House show with a peach colored dress on a floral patterned background. The patterns are not as intricate, which I think works better, and the colors are softer and more harmonious. I particularly like the soft lavender flowers on the peach colored dress.
Passages: Small Tapestry International 2 runs through July 1.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A first quality “Proof” graces TLT’s Second Stage.

Top: Catherine (Danelle Jaeger) sitting across the table from her father (Paul Duke).
Bottom:  Jaegerreaching for Hal's backpack. Hal is Mason Quinn.
Photos courtesy Tacoma Little Theatre

Reviewed byMichael Dresdner

Tacoma Little Theatre seems to have a knack for offering up outstanding  plays in its lesser known, underfunded and often poorly attended “Second Stage” productions. They’ve done it again with “Proof,” a powerful Pulitzer and Tony winning drama deliciously brought to life by a superb cast combining remarkable acting, spot-on timing and incredible chemistry.

“Proof” takes place entirely on the back porch of a Chicago home just after the death of Robert (Paul Duke), a brilliant mathematician who wowed the academic world at a young age, then devolved into unproductive insanity. It revolves around his daughter Catherine (Danelle Jaeger), who quit college to spend years caring for him, and still talks with him while trying to sort out what’s to become of her own interrupted life, a technique used to reveal her father’s character. She knows she’s inherited some of his mathematical genius, but fears that the attendant insanity is also waiting in the wings.

Rounding out the four person cast is Hal (Mason Quinn), the protégé of the deceased, and Catherine’s contentious sister Claire (Annie Coleman) who shows up from NYC to settle the family affairs. Though ostensibly there to be helpful, both manage to question Catherine’s veracity, competence and even her sanity in the course of a few days.

The opening scene is the weakest, but things get quickly better. Whether from acting or a directing decision, Duke’s Robert seems more like a crisp CPA than the unkempt, half-mad math genius the dialogue leads us to expect. Duke redeems himself in a second act flashback, though, as his increasingly crestfallen daughter watches him rapidly decay from hard-at-work sanity to excitedly eager delusion.

Jaeger is spot-on as Catherine, with voice, body language and subtle facial expressions perfect throughout the wide range of emotions this demanding role exacts. She adroitly takes us from pain induced ennui, a result of her father’s condition and her role in it, through distrust followed by the rush of budding attraction to Hal, then betrayal, resignation and finally hope. It’s a heady ride, and she steers it skillfully. 

Quinn plays Hal, the geeky young math professor, with all the awkward tentativeness of the shy suitor he soon becomes. His scenes with Catherine are delightful, crackling with the gentle tension of irresistible attraction and the gawky body language of self-conscious affection.

Coleman’s Claire is perfect as Catherine’s older sister, and their chemistry together is pure magic. She thoroughly nails that familiar familial mix of caring and caretaking sprinkled with barely suppressed resentment of “you had it easier.” Coleman hits all the marks, from efficient take charge elder sister through a convincing hangover, realistically laced throughout with the edge of New York superiority so common to those who’ve adopted the city. With flawless timing from both of them, they come off as real as two sisters can be. 

Frankly, it’s a good thing the acting is so compelling, because the cast gets little help from the technical side. The lighting was mediocre at best, adding little and often leaving actors literally in the dark. Dark dead time between scenes, a stark contrast to the play’s excellent pacing otherwise, was another weakness. Ditto for the set, uninspired and with flaws that were almost distracting. Costumes, however, were excellent, with the possible exception of the too neat Robert (costumes by Sam O'Hara). They were authentic for the people portrayed and expertly reflected, as our clothes often do in real life, the changing moods of the characters over several days.

When all is said and done, a play like this is not about trappings, but rather good acting and the convincing interplay of real personal interactions. On that score, “Proof “ gets a very solid A. Even if you’ve seen other productions of “Proof,” as most of us have, make time to see this one. It’s worth it.  

Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m., through June 26
Tacoma Little Theatre
210 North "I" Street, Tacoma
Pay What You Can: Thursday- June 16th, 2011 at 7:30pm
Actor Benefit: Friday- June 24th at 7:30pm
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$24.00

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: 'Sweeney Todd' at Lakewood Playhouse mesmerizes

Pictured: at top, Niclas R. Olson plays Tobias Ragg (from left), Glenn Guhr stars as Sweeney Todd and Rochelle Morris is Beggar Woman in the musical “Sweeney Todd.” At bottom, Glenn Guhr stars as Sweeney, Bruce Story (ensemble) and Steve Barnett as Anthony Hope. Photos by Dean Lapin.

The News Tribune, June 10. 2011

I usually avoid comparing shows at different theaters because such comparisons can be unfair, but sometimes they can be enlightening.

For example, the last time I saw “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” was at Olympia’s Capital Playhouse. The cast included two outstanding professional actors, at least one of whom – Tony Award-winner Jarrod Emick – has had starring roles on Broadway in “Les Misérables,” “Miss Saigon” and “Damn Yankees.”

Yet, the performance of this modern classic by Steven Sondheim at Lakewood Playhouse holds up quite well in comparison.

The music and acting are comparable, as are the amazing costumes and zombie-like makeup.

Karen E. Christensen is intense and comical as the grotesquely droll Mrs. Lovett, a frumpy and flirtatious old dame who makes meat pies out of very fresh meat.

This is a very tough role to play. It calls for instantly and believably going from sweet to bitter and it requires a voice strong enough to sing duets with seasoned opera star Glenn Guhr (starring roles in Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue Operas) in the title role of Sweeney.

I cannot praise Guhr’s performance enough. With a handsome, craggy face and long flowing silver hair, he appears larger than life. As I was watching him perform and listening to his powerful voice, I could not help comparing him – not with the great Emick from the Capital Playhouse production, but with Philip Quast as Inspector Javert in “Les Misérables.”

Other outstanding actors in the Lakewood Playhouse production are Steve Barnett as Anthony Hope, Niclas R. Olson as Tobias Ragg and Rochelle Morris as the unnamed beggar woman.

Anthony sings beautifully and Olson’s acting is nuanced. Tobias is a complex and conflicted character who is in distress throughout much of the play, and Olson makes the audience feel Tobias’ pain. Morris has little to do other than beg for alms and make obscene gestures toward the men, but she does it with such outlandish style that she is a joy to watch.

There is a large company of singers who appear in a variety of roles as the denizens of the city. They lend this intimate production the feel of a major Broadway show. Their movements are hauntingly choreographed (no choreographer is listed in the program, so I must assume credit goes to director Jim Brown and possibly fight director Alex Smith).

The costumes by Hally Phillips are great, and so is the makeup, though no one is credited with it. Perhaps the actors did their own. Someone did an amazing job of making an attractive young actress, Morris, into a disgusting old hag and another quite attractive actress, Samantha Camp, into the epitome of the living dead.

Credit also must be extended to musical director Brian Galante and his orchestra for their performance of Sondheim’s complex and captivating music.

“Sweeney Todd” is a dark and mesmerizing operatic musical about murder, obsession and revenge sprinkled with moments of much-needed comic relief.

It is a play everyone should see at least once if not more – but it is not entertainment for young children or squeamish adults.

Don’t be put off because, like me, you saw and were disappointed by the movie version with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

This show works 10 times better on stage.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 26
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
Tickets: $25, $22 seniors and military discount, $19 for those younger than 25


This week in my blog you can find a review of “Play On” at Olympia Little Theatre. And coming up later this month: reviews of “Proof” at Tacoma Little Theatre by guest reviewer Michael Dresdner, and “Summer in the Sixties” at Harlequin Productions’ State Theater in Olympia.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Glass and desire

New and upcoming blockbusters at Tacoma Art Museum

Installation shot and “Permission Basket with Navajo Blanket Shard” Photos by Scott M. Leen © 2011/Courtesy Chihuly Studios

The Weekly Volcano, June 8, 2011

Tacoma Art Museum tries to cater to every taste and every demographic by mounting exhibitions that range from the traditional and historic to today’s most revolutionary and idiosyncratic art. It seems the museum tries very hard to balance a need for catering to popular taste — that is, bringing in work that will get folks to open their wallets — and simultaneously keeping up with the latest trends and movements and fulfilling a responsibility to educate the public. That’s a tall order, and for the most part TAM succeeds.

Just when I think TAM is on the verge of selling out — oh, god, another Chihuly exhibit, and this right after the blockbuster Norman Rockwell show — they do something gutsy like bring in the highly controversial Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which it was recently announced will make an appearance at the museum in 2012.

The new Chihuly show, Dale Chihuly’s Northwest, opened on the day the rapture was supposed to happen and will run through September.

Just as TAM surprises me every time I think the museum is getting to be predictable, so does Chihuly every time I think I never want to see another of his pieces. After more than 20 years of seeing a saturation of works by  Chihuly and his imitators, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is a man with boundless energy and creativity, but absolutely no inner critic. He doesn’t seem to make any self-evaluation of his work; instead, he just puts it out there in endless quantities figuring if he does enough stuff some of it will be outstanding. And it is. While so much of his work is gaudy and repetitious, every once in a while he does something simply astounding.

The new show will present about 85 pieces from baskets to “Pilchuck Stumps,” plus stuff from Chihuly’s private collection of objects ranging from Native American baskets and wool blankets to canoes and Edward S. Curtis photogravures. And it will include a large walk-in installation inspired by the Northwest Room from his Seattle Boathouse.

“Tacoma and the Northwest provide a vital source of inspiration and a laboratory for experimentation for Chihuly,” says Rock Hushka, director of curatorial administration and curator of Contemporary and Northwest Art at TAM. “Without knowing about Tacoma and the Northwest, you cannot understand Chihuly’s art and career.”

“Tacoma is Chihuly’s hometown, and Tacoma Art Museum and Chihuly have a long history together,” says Stephanie A. Stebich, director of Tacoma Art Museum. “The exhibition honors Chihuly’s generosity to our city and our museum. This opportunity to experience Chihuly’s vision alongside his artwork is unparalleled. The fact that he chose to have the exhibition in Tacoma is a real testament to his love for our city.”

Changing gears: Hide/Seek is a controversial exhibition that has sparked heated debates all over the country. It is a survey of how artists over the past 150 years have responded to gender and sexual identity, from paintings by Thomas Eakins and Andrew Wyeth to David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly, an unfinished film that was removed from the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, sparking a national controversy, demonstrations and renewed discussions about censorship and artists’ rights.

TAM just this past week announced that this show will be coming to Tacoma. It’s a little over a year away, but I couldn’t wait to announce it. The show is scheduled to open in March 2012.
Dale Chihuly's Northwest

through Sept. 25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. third Thursdays
$10 student/military/senior $8, family $25, children 5 and younger free
Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Play On

Olympia Little Theatre's latest

For reasons I can’t fathom, many community theaters seem to love doing comedies about badly acted and badly produced plays as presented by absurdly amateurish community theaters. Maybe they think their own productions will look good by comparison, or maybe they think missed cues and broken props and atrocious acting presented as comedy will cover up their own short comings.

I’ve seen some really bad theater about really bad theater in my time. I remember one that was done by a local theater at a small town high school, which I remember as being a complete disaster but which I was surprised to discover when I searched out my review to stimulate my memory, I had given a favorable review. There was another at a theatre in another small town that was so bad that I didn’t even save my review and have blocked the title from memory. All I can remember of it is that the audience howled with laughter while I felt sick at my stomach. I recall that the set kept falling apart piece by piece. The worst of all was a play that had what seemed like about 50 set changes with stagehands bumping into each other and at one point the director coming out to stop a stagehand, turn him around and push him in the other direction.

The gold standard for this sub-genre of comedy is “Noises Off,” which is not so much about bad acting as it is about everything else that can possibly go wrong in a theatrical production. Olympia Little Theatre advertises its current production of Rick Abbot’s “Play On” as a comedy “in the tradition of ‘Noises Off’.” 

I groaned a lot and laughed a little during the 2 ½ hours of this farce.  I dislike panning local amateur theater. I didn’t get into this in order to be snarky and get in sarcastic little digs at the dedicated theater people who put their hearts into their work. But I’m hard pressed to find anything good to say about this play.

It’s the story of a hard working but inept theater group trying to put on a play written by a local playwright, Phyllis Montague (Kendra Malm) who keeps making stupid changes to the script right up to opening night. The play is called “Murder Most Foul.”

Geraldine “Gerry” Dunbar (Jamie Jenson), the director of the play-within-a-play, is frustrated; one leading actress, Polly Benish (Carol Richmond), is a self-centered diva whom everyone but her doting husband, Henry (John Pratt) despises; and the other leading actress, Violet (Amanda Wagaman) is an ingénue with a pea-sized brain. The leading man, Billy (as played by Justin Smith), is the worst actor ever to set foot on stage. The problem with Smith’s acting is that he overacts almost as much in the role of Billy as he does as Billy’s character Stephen in “Murder Most Foul.” 

Bad acting is not funny -- unless it is done by a great actor to comic effect. That’s what is supposed to happen here, but with few exceptions it does not. Matt Garry pulls it off pretty well as the villainous Saul Watson (silly as it may seem, I really liked his drawn-on mustache, which is much longer on one side than the other), and Wagaman does a credible job of depicting ditsy Violet as an actress who struggles with her lines and with which words to emphasize. Some of the better writing and acting is displayed when she demonstrates how slight changes in emphasis can completely alter the meaning of a sentence.

The best thing about this show is the program for the play “Murder Most Foul,” which is stuffed inside the program for “Play On.” This program-within-a-program for the play-within-a-play is a fun satire of small town theater programs, and it is filled with in-jokes.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through June 26
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,

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Best and worst theater

A forgotten article from Nov. 2004

I was searching my files for something else when I came across this old column about the best and worst of theater. I had only recently started writing theater reviews at the time and wanted to get an idea of what area theater people thought.

What are the best and worst plays of all time? The best and worst actors and playwrights? And who are most overrated?

Searching for answers to these questions, I called on the experts, people whose lives are dedicated to theater, the managing and artistic directors of theaters in the South Sound area.

Marcus Walker from the Lakewood Playhouse says the best play of all time is “Master Harold and the Boys” by Athol Fugard, adding, “I love the play ‘A Member of the Wedding' by Carson McCullers.”

Judith Cullen from Tacoma Little Theatre says she doesn’t “really have an all time favorite script,” but cites Neil Simon's "Lost In Yonkers" as “probably the only play that made me laugh and cry out loud when I read it the first time.” Ironically, Cullen also includes Simon in her list of worst plays. Simon's "Star Spangled Girl," she says, “still leaves me saying ‘Why?’”

Jon Douglas Rake from Tacoma Musical Playhouse lists “West Side Story,” “Ragtime,” “Sweeney Todd,” “My Fair Lady” and “42nd Street” as the best musicals of all time.

Harlequin Players founder Scott Whitney says, “Can there be any doubt about the best play ever written? It's ‘Hamlet.’ It's brilliant beyond comprehension and continues to shape western civilization in every age. Don't let bad productions confuse you. There's never been anything else like it.” As for the worst, Whitney says, “Ninety percent of everything is crap. Trying to separate the worst from the second worst is a waste of time.” Whitney does not beat around the bush.

Also on the worst list is Walker’s choice “Sugar Babies,” a Mickey Rooney musical review. Rake chimes in with other detested musicals: “Pal Joey” (“Good music, horrible book”) and “Two by Two” (“Why bother?”).
Cullen adds: “There is also a lot of David Mamet that I just don't have an appreciation for. There's a whole series of plays that are about people talking to each other but not listening, like ‘Cryptogram’ and ‘Oleanna’ that lose me completely. But a lot of his other writing I love. ‘Glengarry, Glenross’ is downright poetic, but it is language that must be heard aloud, not read silently.”

Walker lists Alan Ayckbourn, Arthur Miller and Shakespeare as the best playwrights of all time. Whitney also lists Shakespeare, along with Tom Stoppard and Stephen  Sondheim. Cullen lists Terrance McNally (“I always come away with something new”)  And August Wilson (“his writing is like no one else’s”). And Rake says Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim are the best musical composers.

Cullen goes on to say: “I love the classics, and I have a special place in my heart for Sheridan, Congreve & Wycherly, the British Restoration comedy playwrights. It is formula writing (they basically all wrote the same damn play) but the conceits are so wild and the characters so outrageous... they are fun to produce - outright silly fun. I also love Oscar Wilde.”

Rake says that “Cats” is the most overrated musical of all time, and all but Cullen agree that Andrew Lloyd Webber deserves the trophy for most overrated. "Overrated is a dicey term,” Cullen says. “So much is subjective. I personally find Overrated any theatre (and unfortunately there is a lot of it out there at a grass roots level) that says ‘I know the truth … and sit here for two hours while I preach at you.’” 

As for actors and playwrights these theater professionals most admire, Walker says: “I admire the playwright Alan Ayckbourn, as he has continued to run his own theatre and direct even after fame and fortune. He hasn't run off to movies or celebrity-ville. He also has a way to find the humor in the most dire circumstances and also offers hope in the face of real human foibles.Rake’s Broadway actors to watch are Brian Stokes Mitchell, Karen Ziemba and Donna Murphy. His favorite Broadway directors are Tommy Tune, Des MacAnuff, Trevor Nunn and Susan Stroman. Whitney lists Andrew Heffernan, Mari Nelson, David Wright, Steven Taylor, David Pichette, Bob Wright, Demitra Pitman, Christopher Ravenscroft, Gregg Hicks, Rex Rabold, Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman among the actors he most admires. I, for one, find it refreshing that he lists local actors right alongside such greats as Hopkins and Oldman.

Shortly after writing this article I was priviledged to see the premiere of Agust Wilson's "Radio Golf" at the Seattle Rep, and I'm convinced that is definitely should rank as one of the great plays of all time, and we should be proud that Wilson made his final home in Seattle.
"Sweeney Todd" is currently playing at Lakewood Playhouse. My review in The News Tribune will be published Friday, June 10.
"Oleanna" will be performed by Theatre Artists Olympia at Olympia Little Theatre this summer (dates not yet announced), and will feature two actors I greatly admire: Christian Carvajal and Deya Ozburn.
Steven Taylor left the area to perform in "The Lion King" on Broadway.
Marcus Walker is no longer with us. He is greatly missed.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Turner’s latest

Big new paintings by William Turner at Mavi Contemporary


Top: "Hanging Ten," Bottom: "Spirit of the Land," 
acrylic paintings by William Turner

The Weekly Volcano, June 1, 2011

Mavi Contemporary Art has a stable of about 20 artists whose works rotate from month to month. I may be wrong, but it seems like three of them, William Turner, Michael Croman and William Quinn, are in almost every show. These three are again featured in Mavi's latest show. To be more accurate, Turner is featured and Croman and Quinn have a strong presence.

Turner's paintings are his latest. I didn't make a note of the dates, but those I did notice were all done this year. As with his previous works, they are large, colorful abstract paintings that relate to landscape, with oddly shaped patches of color that clearly reflect the look of trees, water, mountains and sky. Where the new work differs from Turner's previous work is that these paintings are bigger and more energetic, and with more intense color.

It looks like he is pushing himself to take more chances and be more spontaneous, and that's a good thing. What's not so good is that with a couple of exceptions, the new work is more jarring, i.e., less harmonious, than his earlier work. The pieces do not lock together as well. The paintings read as a jumble of parts rather than a unified whole. Perhaps that's a trade-off worth making, and maybe in efforts to come he will be able to compose his work more harmoniously while retaining the new spontaneity.

The best paintings in the show are "Hanging Ten" and "There is Always Time for Red." Both are five feet tall and alive with brilliant colors from every point on the color wheel. "Hanging Ten" is more classically balanced than most of Turner's paintings, with everything balanced on either side of a bright red zigzag that runs down the middle of the canvas like a canyon or a road cut through with mountains on one side and ocean beaches on the other. On the left are large areas of blue and light violet with numerous accents in many other colors. The right side is similar but with large fields of yellow and blue. There is water and a  horizon line, but what would logically be sky above is yellow with a strange circular shape like something etched into the face of a cliff.

The intense colors fight each other, but are held in check by the carefully composed juxtaposition of shapes. It's a good balance of a spontaneous slap-dash of paint and more carefully thought-out composition (although I suspect the composition was more intuitive than planned.)

"There is Always Time for Red" has less jarring colors, but is still vibrant with hot red, violet and orange, and a scrubby white and gray area below a delicate wash of red and orange.

In the vault - a separate gallery within Mavi that is actually an old bank vault - Michael Croman is showing 11 medium-sized landscapes in a style derived from 19th century landscape artists, but with the more modern addition of veins of tiny drips and runs of turpentine eating through the oil paint. It's not a style of painting that I like, but the complexity of detail is admirable.

Also showing are sculptures with a clear Native American influence by William Quinn. Most are strong, totem-like standing figures. The strongest work of all is a piece called "Metamorphose," which is a jumble of aspen limbs painted stark white, black and gray. Verbal description doesn't do it justice. It's a work that packs a wallop.
William Turner

Through June 12, 2–7 p.m., Wednesday–Sunday
Mavi Contemporary Art, 502 Sixth Ave., Tacoma