Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jekyll and Hyde

Mark Peterson, Micheal O'Hara, Blake R. York, 
and in background Niclas R. Olson in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
at Tacoma Little Theatre. Photo by Dean Lapin.

This is the last weekend for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at Tacoma Little Theatre. If you’ve not seen it before, know at least this much: horror can be beautiful.

This adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s horror classic bears little resemblance to the novel and even less resemblance to any of the many cheesy film versions. Adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher (“Murderers,” “Tuesdays With Morrie”) it’s Jekyll and Hyde updated for the 21st century. It’s stylish and macabre, with an emphasis on the complex psychology of the good doctor (no longer so good) and his evil other self.

Brett Carr’s set and lighting are essential to the uniqueness of this production. The set blends an abstract evocation of London in 1883 with beautiful and realistic details of a Victorian era drawing room with rich and velvety browns and greens on the walls and in the furnishings. Jekyll’s elegant home transforms itself into a starkly industrial looking surgical dissecting theatre and other sets. The lighting is moody and dramatic. All set pieces are on wheels and they roll around in smoothly choreographed fashion as actors enter and exit the stage. I have often said that set changes can make or break a play - there is nothing so irritating as long and cumbersome set changes to destroy the mood and flow of the action. In this play the set changes are like a highly stylized ballet that enhances the mood. Only once was there any noticeable disruption in the flow. It was in the opening scene opening night when a door is broken and then the broken panel is replace in the dark during the transition to the next scene. There was a little noise and a delay of a few seconds.

Another unique thing about this show is that there is not one Hyde but four distinctly different Hydes played by four different actors, one of whom is a woman. They are: Mark Peterson, Blake R. York, Niclas R. Olson and Jennie Jenks. Each of the actors playing Hyde also plays multiple other characters. Without any appreciable changes of costume or makeup other than the addition of capes, top hats and a cane, all of these Hydes convincingly become various other characters such as a doctor and a police inspector and a house servant. And as an ensemble they collectively become an eerie kind of Greek Chorus as two or three Hydes stand behind the other Hyde and mimic his actions with quiet hisses and growls and threatening gestures. It is in these scenes that the Hydes are most menacing – especially York and Jenks whose faces almost become Halloween masks at times. I’ve seen both of these actors in other plays, but I’ve never seen them transform themselves so effectively. 

Olson looks too young for the characters he plays, Hyde, Lanyon and others, although I must temper that by saying the age of these characters is never explicit. Olson is outstanding as Lanyon, but less effective as Hyde. His Hyde is more a parody of a Simon Legree-type than the complicated and truly evil Hyde played by the others three (dignified, proud and evil in the case of Peterson’s Hyde 1). 

Nicole Lockett succeeds in making it believable that a drab charwoman could fall in love with a monster and continue to love him even when she knows he had committed brutal murder, but I wish there could have been something a little quirkier or more exciting in her personality.

Micheal O’Hara is an excellent Dr. Jekyll. He plays the good doctor with dignity and passion – and righteous indignation in his heated confrontation with Dr. Carew (York) in one of the most powerful and well-acted scenes in the play.

Background music provided onstage by pianist Leslie Foley added to the oddly romantic mood of the play. 

This play is intelligent, dark and disturbing, with a dabbling of macabre humorous relief; and it is beautifully directed by Elliot Weiner, who clearly grasped the depth of Hatcher’s script and does a great job of blocking the continuous flow of actors, props and set pieces.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m.Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 6
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $15 - $25
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pretty stuff

Large group show at Childhood's End Gallery

Beth Brooks' "Market Day" pastel

Barbara Noonan's "Small Town Bliss" pastel
The latest show at Childhood's End Gallery seems to be geared toward gift buying - a prequel to the holiday season and a celebration of the gallery's 40th year in Olympia. Everything is decorative, colorful and safe almost to the point of blandness, but very well done. It's a group show, and all of the artists display well-honed skills. But for the most part it is all too conventional for my taste and, in a couple of instances, too gimmicky.

Not that there's not a lot to like in this show.

The first works I noticed were a group of etched copper wall pieces by Shelly Carr. Each consists of square and rectangular copper plates etched with drawings (or perhaps photographs that have been etched into the surface) of things like street signs, random words, parts of buildings and bicycles put together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The arrangement of the pieces and subtle variations in color and texture are visually pleasing, but the imagery seems superfluous. When the overall affect is an abstract arrangement of colors, shapes and textures that is pleasing to the eye, which these are, the imposition of recognizable imagery becomes a distracting gimmick. These pieces work best when seen from enough distance to appreciate the overall patterns.

The same can be said for Lucia Harrison's paintings on the back wall. They are small works in Prismacolor mounted on board. Each is in two parts. From across the gallery they look like dense and intricately patterned paintings with great depth of overlapping forms, but they lose some of their impact when seen up close, even though a closer inspection reveals that they are paintings of grasses and birds and twigs. It's the nature of colored pencils to be somewhat insipid; these would have been much better if painted in oil or acrylic.

Some of the more enjoyable pictures in the show are in a group of pastels by Marianne Partlow. They are flower pictures in rich tones of deep blue and purple with accents in orange and a soft yellow-green. The drawing is loose and free, and the colors are very nice.

I also particularly enjoyed some of Barbara Noonan's pastels, most especially "Small Town Bliss," which may well be the best work of art in the show. It's a very gestural drawing of a country road in tones of peachy orange with a few lonely houses perched on the horizon. It's nicely drawn, and the layering of the peach color with a dull blue-gray is excellent.

Beth Brooks' impressionistic pastels are also nicely done. Her best work is one called "Market Day," which pictures a dense crowd of shoppers in a market. It had the cropped and textured feel of a Degas pastel.

I was disappointed in Susan Aurand's three paintings with oil and found objects on wood panels - disappointed primarily because I had been so highly impressed by the last works of hers seen in this same gallery. Aurand's current works are similar, but they come off as too hokey and tricky. In each of her paintings an object assembled from found materials sits in the middle of a sky that is either stormy or on fire with sunset colors. In one the object is a door with a ladder propped in it, in another it's a window, and in a third it is a shelf with odd objects a la Joseph Cornell. They are beautifully painted and constructed, but too contrived.

Also included in the show are works by Alfred Currier, Mary Denning, Keith Lazelle, Ross Matteson, Ron Hinton and others.

[Childhood's End Gallery, through Nov. 13, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]

Monday, October 24, 2011

A farcical Shirlock Holmes

TAO presents “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Olympia’s most outlandish theater troop, Theater Artists Olympia, in co-production with The Oufit from Tacoma is doing Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s spoof of the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in the basement of the Eagles Club in Olympia.

Everything about this play but the script and the acting is cheap and tawdry. Come to think of it, the script and the acting are too, but intentionally so and with a comic effect that is for the most part right on the mark – the mark being your funny bone.

The venue itself is cheesy and cheap, through an unmarked and barely lighted door and down steep stairs into a large, clean typical basement space where hard metal folding chairs have been lined up to face a makeshift stage. The set – a door on rollers that is turned around to change from indoor to outdoor settings and a few folding panels on wheels that are moved about to represent different settings such as the Baskerville manor and the moors – looks cheap and, with the exception of the door, are totally unnecessary. It’s a pet peeve of mine, and maybe it doesn’t bother others as much as it does me, but I hate it when stage hands constantly move set pieces around in full view of the audience. In most plays it destroys the flow of the action and takes the audience out of the play. It may be argued, however, that in this play it becomes part of the comic set-up that plays right into the manner in which the actors repeatedly break the fourth wall to argue with each other and with the audience. It’s funny when the actors step out of character; it’s not funny when stage hands move walls around (the exception opening night being when stage manager Eric Mark couldn’t get part of a wall to stand still and ad-libbed a comment).

Beau M. K. Prichard as Watson and Christian Doyle as Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (top); Prichard, Doyle and Brian Lewis as Sir Henry Baskerville (bottom).

The essentials of Doyle’s famous story, have not been changed, but it is retold by Canny and Nicholson in a style reminiscent of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” – even down to the speeded-up retelling of the complete first act at the beginning of the second act, which is done to make a point because actor Christian Doyle is pissed off at the audience. (Not really, it's an act.)

Doyle (not related to Arthur Conan as far as I know) plays Sherlock Holmes and many other characters, including a very ugly woman with whom Sir Henry Baskerville (Brian Lewis) falls in love, and the ugly woman’s Egor-like brother. Lewis also plays multiple characters, and Beau M. K. Prichard plays a funny and rather ineptly dignified Doctor Watson.  TAO promotes the show as featuring “Three actors, 30 accents, 50 quick changes and one bloody great time.” I didn’t keep count of the number of characters or quick changes, but there were quite a few, including at least two times when Lewis loses his pants and counting a couple of stuffed rag dolls as characters.

“The Hound of the Baskervilles” is hilarious throughout, but it did begin to drag a bit toward the end. (Perhaps it was the hard metal chair – I recommend bringing a pillow to sit on.) All three of the actors are outstanding. Their timing is great. Lewis and Doyle in particular display great skill in quickly changing characters, and all three are able to strike outlandish poses and hold them for the many, many times they pretend to be still images – Lewis playing a one-man photo gallery of everyone in the Baskerville family, and the trio striking crazy poses as lights go on and off in a train. These sequences alone are worth the price of admission and amply display the acting skills of Lewis, Doyle and Prichard, and the directing skill of Mark Alford, a recent Evergreen State College graduate and founder of the student production company Riot To Follow Theater Productions. The show marks Alford’s excellent community theater directorial debut.

For an evening of Halloween hilarity I recommend this farcical version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 6.
Where: The Eagles Club Underground, 805 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $12
More information: or

Friday, October 21, 2011

Beyond Crayons

Worldwide youth art show at B2 Fine Art

The Weekly Volcano, Oct. 20, 2011

“Beyond Crayons & Finger Painting 2.0,” the second annual art project at B2 Fine Art features 75 works of art from Africa, Canada, China and the United States, all created by youth ages seven to 19. The overall inventiveness and technical quality of the work puts to shame work I’ve seen in student art exhibits at area colleges.

Pictured from top" “The Hidden” by Rebekah Slusher’s, "Serafina" by Nathaniel Santa, both from Tacoma, and and untitled drawing by Abongle Makwenkwe from George, South Africa

All of the American artists in the show hail from Western Washington, most from Tacoma and a handful from Seattle and Bellingham. The works from Africa come from George, South Africa, and because of some kind of conflict in George there were no identifying wall labels on any of the African art, but gallery owner Gary Boone said they expect to remedy that soon.
Boone pointed out an interesting difference between the art from South Africa and that from China. The Chinese art was all up-beat, colorful and joyful in outlook. Most of it was Animé influenced. There was no regional look to it. No recognizable Chinese people or culture or architecture. 

The Chinese entries were all happy fantasy pictures such as “Partner” by Li, Linghan, a delightfully sweet picture of a man with a camera and backpack rowing an alligator as if it were a boat, while on shore a man with binoculars rested in a hammock strung between two giraffes and a women rode a basket carried by a stork. Very fun. But this and the other Chinese drawings had no connection with their culture. It’s as if they’ve been programmed to put forth a happy face.

The African art, on the other hand, presented a more realistic picture of their culture and was much more varied in style and content. There are paintings and drawings of animals, scenes from the city of George, and other works that show the strifes and aspirations of the people of South Africa. One of my favorites is a piece by Abongle Makwenkwe that shows a group of children on a stoop in the city and seems to present a true feel of what it must be like to grow up there. Interestingly, the artist employs the device of using spots of color in a black and white composition, a device also used by two Tacoma artists, Rebekah Slusher and Lydia Fordice.

I don’t want to start chanting “U.S.A, U.S.A,” like some crazy nationalistic sports fan, but I must call attention to the hometown work. It was uniformly excellent despite a certain amount of clichéd imagery, which I think we can chalk up to youth and inexperience.

I was amazed at 11-year-old Maleah Bishop’s “Native American Winter Rug.” Her technique and material was something I’ve never before seen: photography kaleidoscope collage on faux suede textile. 

One of the most dramatic works in the show is Rebekah Slusher’s acrylic painting “The Hidden.” It is a street scene in tones of gray with the only color being two yellow taxi cabs. It looks like a photograph taken from a strange angle that condenses a large scene into a tightly cramped space. 

Lydia Fordice’s surrealistic pencil drawings are imaginative and technically superb. Like Slusher (I was told they are friends, and I suspect they influence each other) she uses spots of color within tones of gray to heighten the dramatic effect. In this case slashes of bright red and splatters of a duller red like dried blood. These drawings are dark and disturbing, but beautifully executed.

Also very impressive were a group of three drawings by Nathaniel Santa, all taken from Renaissance art. His portrait of “Beatrice Portinari” is taken from a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and there’s a skillful copy Da Vinci’s “Battle of Anghiari” and another portrait of a woman named “Serafina,” which is a piece derived from a photograph of a statue in Italy. All three are skillfully drawn. Now I just hope we can look forward to the day this young artist starts applying his amazing skill to his own original compositions.

[B2 Fine Art Gallery, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, till 8 p.m. Third Thursdays, through Nov. 30, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]
 March 12th - April 19th

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Imagine I’m a writer - Part 3

Getting Personal

I was 19, idealistic and romantic. I met a girl and fell in love. It was like every romantic cliché ever spoken. We had a whirlwind romance and got married within a couple of months.

Funny, we never really knew each other. I never knew, for instance, whether she was religious or not or if she even liked art (I had been an art major prior to dropping out of college and joining the Navy when we got married), and I can’t remember ever seeing her read a book. If we had any common interests or beliefs, I wasn’t aware of them. But we loved each other passionately. It was burning puppy love.

And then she broke it off. As I said, I was in the Navy. My ship went on a Mediterranean cruise. When we pulled into port in Gibraltar two weeks after leaving the states and got our first mail call there was a letter to me from my wife saying she didn’t love me, she never had, she didn’t believe I loved her either, and she wanted a divorce.  To say I was knocked for a loop would be a huge understatement.

I'll spare you most of the details. In a nutshell: she was pregnant at the time and gave birth to a baby boy, we got back together and tried to make it work (it lasted a week), and then she ran off to some place in Texas and I didn’t hear from her again for two years.

Our separation and divorce was what set me on the road to becoming a writer. Whether seeking closure or cathartic healing or just wallowing in my misery, I tried to write our story in the form of a novel. I worked on it off and on for two years and finally threw the manuscript in the trash. It was terrible.

In college I took one English Lit course and one Creative Writing class. All I can remember about them was that in the writing class I wrote a story about walking along a railroad track and that in the English class I was the only student in class who could answer to the teacher’s satisfaction the question “What was the beast in Henry James’ story ‘The Beast in the Jungle’?” Oh, and I also had a huge crush on the teacher.

I got married again. My second marriage was four years of a bad soap opera. I never attempted to write anything about my second marriage because I knew nobody would believe it.

Three years later I married my current wife. I was 31 years old and she was 21. We’ve been happily married for 38 years. I never wrote stories about any of my three marriages, but I did combine aspects of all three wives and events from our life together into the structure of my third novel, The Wives of Marty Winters.  Marty’s first wife was patterned after my first wife, only I made her Puerto Rican and made her one evil little bitch, which my first was not. Marty’s second wife went through a transformation. She started out conniving and manipulative but responded to tragedy in her life in ways that radically changed her. She became strong and loving and a warrior for equal rights. She was based, before her transformation,  on wife number two, and after her transformation on a combination of my current wife and one of her best friends – Carolyn Wagner, a hero in the struggle for GLBT equality.

Carolyn successfully sued the Fayetteville, Arkansas school board in a precedent setting case when her gay son was attacked on the school grounds, and she was a vice president of PFLAG National and co-founder of Families United Against Hate.

Like my first two novels, The Wives of Marty Winters starts in the present and then flashes back to tell the stories leading up to current events.  Admittedly I was in a rut. It seemed the only way I could tell a story was to base it loosely on people and events I know and to go back in time to examine the history leading up to whatever is happening in the present.

The story begins at a Gay Pride festival in Seattle. Marty’s wife, a GLBT activist, is giving a speech at the rally in Volunteer Park (set at a time before they moved Pride downtown). A crazed gunman in the crowd shoots her. She is rushed to the hospital and put on life support. Her family and friends gather to be close by her side while waiting to see if she is going to live or die. While they wait they begin to reminisce, and their memories become the story that begins when Marty was a senior in high school and danced for the first time with the girl who was soon to become his wife. It’s a high school dance in the Chalet that once stood in Priest Point Park in Olympia.  From there we follow Marty to Norfolk, Virginia (his time in the Navy) and then to Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives in a hippie commune and meets his second wife – a hippie religious fanatic who goes by the name Marigold. They return to Olympia, time passes, their son comes out as gay and is harassed and beaten up, and Marty’s wife – who now goes by her real name, Selena – becomes a gay rights activist.

Meanwhile, there are two parallel stories. First is the persistent reappearance of Marty’s first wife who he can’t seem to get out of his mind, and second is the coming out and transition of friend who is transsexual but not identified as such until near the end of the novel – so I won’t spoil it by revealing his or her identity here.

Diane de la Paz wrote in The Weekly Volcano: "The Wives of Marty Winters opens with a stunning description of the Seattle Pride Day rally, where we meet Marty and Selena and move with them through a harrowing scene. (it is)... a saga about how the past haunts a man and how homophobia affects his family.”

Some of my writer friends have said it is not as good as my earlier novels. Others have said it is powerful and moving. I, frankly, am not as proud of it as I am of some of my other works, but I’m confident that it is better than most of the popular novels on the market today. I hope you will read it and see for yourself.

For reviews and an excerpt to go

Friday, October 14, 2011


"The Zoo Story" at Toy Boat Theatre

reviewed by Michael Dresdner

One dictionary definition of éclat is “brilliant show,” and that, in a nutshell, describes “The Zoo Story” at Toy Boat Theatre.

I don’t use that term loosely, but here it fits. Everything about this performance – in fact, about the total evening’s experience – was superb; brilliant acting and directing, thoroughly appropriate costumes, and a stage setting that made it all the more real.

And that’s just the play. Included in your modest ticket price is food and drink (hot dogs, chips and soda) before the play, and a live band afterwards, in case you’re not ready to go home yet. Still, the heart of the evening is the play.  

Scott Campbell as Peter, left, and Luke Amundson as Jerry, right,  in Toy Boat Theatre's production of Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story”

It would be easy to mess up a play like “Zoo Story;” easy to play it too dark and lose the humor, too ham-handed and lose the startling nuance, too abrupt and lose the slow, imperceptible morphing of the characters. Instead, what director Brie Yost brought us through the absolutely flawless acting of Scott Campbell and Luke Amundson was a realistic, visceral experience; the finest aspiration of what live theatre hopes to be.

Both actors fulfill the ultimate dream of stage craft; to so become the character that you can’t possibly imagine anyone else playing the part. I’ve seen “Zoo Story” before, and I can assure you I’ve never seen it done so perfectly. 

Yost chose to do the play in traverse, a stage setting where the acting takes place in a strip of space between rows of audience seats facing one another. That works best in intimate theatres, like the 40-seat black box Toy Boat inhabits. The audience gets to clearly see action and facial expressions while the actors realistically face and address not an unseen audience, but one another.

“Zoo Story” is a fairly short (approximately 50 minute) one-act play with just two characters. It opens with neatly dressed, coifed, bespectacled Peter (Scott Campbell) sitting and reading on a secluded park bench in NYC’s Central Park. He’s soon intruded upon by Jerry (Luke Amundson), a somewhat disheveled transient who insists on both questioning Peter and telling him long and darkly funny stories about his sordid life.

Under Jerry’s questioning, we learn that Peter is an upper middle class publisher with the perfect life: a wife, two children, one cat and two parakeets. Through his rants we discover that Jerry is one of those rootless, grubby, marginal denizens who adds to the charismatic panoply of the big city.

Jerry’s tales, though a chronicle of a pathetic existence, are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, at least for a while. Soon, though, the stories and his demeanor turn darker. Eventually he pushes the tightly wound Peter, and the audience with him, out of his comfort zone and past the breaking point.  

Campbell plays the mild mannered Peter, a completely familiar upstanding citizen, with total realism. Eventually, Jerry pushes him too far, but he tips over believably, slowly, fighting it all the way, his better nature striving to endure until it is just too much.

Amundson’s Jerry exudes character and, yes, charm, as he shares his long winded but delightfully sardonic observations of the absurd and gritty world he inhabits. The stories are not happy, but he somehow makes them damned funny. Once we’re comfortable laughing at his dark tales, an almost imperceptible change occurs.

Real schizophrenics often sound completely plausible, right up to the point that we realize they’ve somehow gone off the deep end, though we’re never sure just when that was. Amundson creates that perfectly. He adroitly slides into something frighteningly off, changing so subtly that we never notice it happening. We only realize, at some point, that it has.

The result is a theater experience that starts us out chuckling, draws us in, then hurls us through a true emotional upheaval. It’s a magnificently executed theater event, and the director, actors and all the others who created it deserve the highest praise.

Toy Boat Theatre itself deserves some explanation. It’s part of Spaceworks Tacoma, an initiative that gets owners of vacant buildings to allow arts groups to use them rent free for a short period of time. For now, and until December, Toy Boat inhabits a humble, charming space on MLK Way.

They do little or no advertising, which contributes to why you’ve probably not heard of them. Now that you have, make your way there. In fact, do it very soon, because trust me, you do not want to miss “Zoo Story.” 

The Zoo Story
Oct. 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22
Toy Boat Theatre

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Annual Juried Show a mixed bag

Top: "The Couple"acrylic painting by Barlow Palminteri 
Bottom: "Table Top," painting by Alain Clerc. Photos courtesy the gallery at TCC

9th Annual Juried Exhibition at Tacoma Community College

The Weekly Volcano, Oct. 12, 2011

Juried shows are always a mixed bag, with some outstanding art and some stuff that makes you wonder why it was included. This week reviewing the 9th Annual Juried Exhibition at Tacoma Community College, I'll briefly talk about the "wonder why" stuff first, and then get on to the outstanding art.

Traditional landscapes that offer nothing new or exciting have no reason for being. Fortunately, there are fewer of these in this show than usual. One example is Helena Victoria Olson's oil painting "Summer Fun on Hood Canal." It's a nice painting, but why would anybody want to do in oil on canvas what is essentially a candid shot of someone wearing a life preserver with water and mountains in the background? And I don't get why paintings such as Mike Ferguson's "Picking Something Up" and Lorraine Toler's "Sarangheya Halmoni (Grandmother's Love)" were included. Both look sketchy and amateurish, although Ferguson's painting of a person in a store has a nice little rhythmical march of impressionistic color blobs representing items on the shelves, and Toler's picture has some sentimental appeal.

It's also a shame that there's such a dearth of sculpture, but many more sculptural pieces would have made the gallery too crowded.

On the upside there are exciting pieces by Ron Hinson and Barlow Palminteri, whose two-man show at South Puget Sound Community College last year was probably the best of the year outside of major museum exhibitions. In this show, Palminteri has a painting called "The Couple," which is a cluttered studio scene with chairs stacked in front of easels and a barely seen artist dressed all in blue with paint brush in hand. The couple of the title is hinted at but not actually shown. Other than the artist, who is shown only from chest down, the only human presence is in the painting-within-a- painting of an artist's hand. There are two versions of this little painting, both stacked on chairs in the studio. At first glance this painting looked far more chaotic than the carefully composed pictures I've come to expect from Palminteri, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that a composition centered on the blue pants and shirt of the artist brings order to the chaos.

Hinson is well known for complex and colorful painted constructions that can be startling in their variety of shapes and textures. In his untitled piece in this show he has added a new element - found objects: a wagon wheel, a strip of fur, and a large shape covered with a cloth printed with a design featuring the Pony Express. These added collage elements - not totally new, but pushed further than I've seen before - add a new level of interpretation. In addition to the pure abstract form, viewers can now ponder these added elements, which to me seem to reflect back on a long ago childhood.

Hinson's wife, June-Kerseg Hinson, is also represented with a nice, semi-abstract pastel with some marvelous colors and a good use of illusory space.

The best pure abstract painting in the show is Alain Clerc's "Table Top." The colors and shapes are solidly designed, and there's a great gritty-soft surface quality.

Also very striking is a small photo by Peter Serko called "Man in Retro," which is kind of a dark and moody picture of a man in a restaurant seen through a big picture window. The similarities to Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" are undeniable.

My newly discovered favorite local painter, Becky Knold, is also represented in this show with an acrylic painting called "Green Beginnings." Unfortunately, it's not one of her best works. Many of her paintings have a marvelous surface quality that reminds me somewhat of pastels by Degas (and also the surface of Clerc's painting mentioned above). This one lacks that nicely layered and scumbled look.

Finally, there are two strong prints by Bill Colby from the "Helix" series recently featured in his show at Flow. If you missed that show, here's your chance to see two of these prints which are a spiral burst of pure energy.

Through Oct. 21, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday
Tacoma Community College, Building 5A
entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Last night on TV

 I woke up this morning thinking about a TV show I’d watched the night before and comparing the writing of television dramas to my writing of novels. It was like going one-on-one with Lebron James.

Berating television is a popular pastime, even among many who watch it obsessively. But the best of scripted TV shows compares favorably with the best works on stage and screen or between the pages of books. A TV drama takes only an hour of your time, and with DVRs and TiVo you can watch at your convenience. A book, on the other hand, is something you read in bed and fall asleep after two pages. So how can we novelists compete with that?

Last night I watched a re-run of “Law and Order Special Victims Unit” and an episode of the family drama “Parenthood.” The “Law and Order” episode had all the elements of the best of crime novels: complex and compelling characters and a well-structured plot, plus the bonus of an ending that tugged at the heart strings. My only criticism was that the main character was obviously based on Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s "Millennium series." The Law and Order franchise routinely lifts plots and characters from the latest headlines. As soon as some major crime story hits the airways L&A writers start crafting their version. But I guess we can forgive them that; writers have to get their inspiration somewhere, and maybe going to literature for inspiration is better than the usual “ripped from the headlines” story. I just wish they weren’t quite so obvious about it.

“Parenthood” was much better. It centered around a family conflict between two brothers, Adam and Crosby, who have gone into business together as record producers, much to the chagrin of Adam’s wife, Kristina, who is very, very pregnant and has more than ample reason to be pissed off at Crosby, the family’s number one screw-up. The confrontation between Crosby and Kristina, coupled with Adam’s ridiculous attempts to “hip it up” in order to impress a potential hip-hop client, presents a blend of high drama and great comedy. The story builds to heightened tension that is suddenly broken when Kristina’s water breaks and Crosby has to rush her to the hospital and stand in for her husband who is blithely trying to impress the hip-hop client and unaware that his wife is going into labor. The whole thing ends with a wonderfully joyful get-together of the extended Braverman family in Kristina’s hospital room where they welcome the latest addition to the family. And as if that weren’t enough, there are at least two equally dramatic parallel stories of other family members – one story involving a kid with Asperger’s who has to balance his need to stand up for what he thinks is right with the need to maintain his friendship with his young cousin, and another story about the alcoholic  ex-husband of another family member who tries to worm his way back into his ex-wife’s life just as she is beginning to build a relationship with a new love. Structuring all of that into a one-hour drama is damn good writing, even if the drunken ex-husband was a bit of a cliché and an obvious ploy to set up future episodes. Watch out, writers. Don’t let this become a jump the shark moment.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lakewood Playhouse's ‘Wicked' little sci-fi classic missing spark

Photo by Dean Lapin, courtesy of Lakewood Playhouse

Coleman Hagerman is Will Halloway, left, Jefri Allen Peters plays The Dust Witch, and Phil Olson, right, is Jim Nightshade in “Something Wicked This Way Comes” at Lakewood Playhouse.

The News Tribune, Oct. 7, 2011

“Something Wicked This Way Comes,” now playing at Lakewood Playhouse, is a complex story that requires more skillful directing and acting, and complicated lighting and staging effects than many community theaters can handle.

But director David Domkoski and his cast and crew are up to the challenge, for the most part.

Despite some outstanding acting and sophisticated lighting and sound effects, something doesn’t quite mesh in this production. It’s fascinating, eerie and haunting in all its pieces, but the whole doesn’t gel.

The problem lies primarily in the episodic nature of the script, which is adapted from Ray Bradbury’s novel. Things happen in one scene, and then the next and the next, and they’re loosely connected to a dramatic thread, but the scenes do not flow together.

There is a disturbing staccato effect to the transitions, which might add to the horror but was a drag on the overall production. Characters and scenes are not fully developed. There is not a single sustained scene until a long dialogue between Will (Coleman Hagerman) and his father (Michael Griswold) in the second act.

Bradbury’s classic sci-fi/horror tale is a coming of age story about two Midwestern boys, Will and Jim (Phillip Olson), who are intrigued and horrified by the circus run by the mysterious Mr. Dark (Damian Gennette), who starts to take over the town and seize the souls of its innocent inhabitants. Only Will seems to understand what lies beneath the facade of the haunted merry-go-round.

The principal actors are very good. Olson, a senior at Gig Harbor High School, and Hagerman, a 15-year-old student at Covenant High School in Tacoma, are experienced actors despite their youth, and they are very believable and engaging as the two protagonists. (Don’t believe that convincingly playing teenagers comes naturally to teenagers; good acting is good acting at any age.)

Some of the best acting in this production comes from Griswold and Susan T. Beers as Miss Foley. Griswold plays Mr. Halloway as likeable, despite obvious weaknesses. Beers plays Miss Foley with intensity. You feel her constant tension.

Meanwhile, Gennette practically makes the audience shrivel with his laser-like stare. He excretes creepiness with his posture and expressions.

Other actors who stand out in smaller roles are Jenifer Rifenbery as Mrs. Nightshade and Cherilyn Williams who plays Miss Foley as a young girl.

In Rifenbery’s one extended scene, a dialogue between Jim and his mother, she plays the mother with such heart that the audience feels her love and fear for her son. Williams, a child actor with experience at Manestage in Sumner and Seattle Children’s Theatre, makes her Lakewood Playhouse debut in this production.

The sound and lighting effects were powerful but almost overwhelming in places (lighting by Kristin Zetterstrom, sound design by Rory Shackles, and digital effects by Christopher Domkoski). In some scenes, actors could not be heard over the sound effects.

All but the principal actors doubled as ensemble actors playing townspeople and various freaks and monsters with choreographed dance-like movements and elaborate costumes by Sarah Gibson, with imaginative carousel animals created by Otto Youngers and freak masks by Maria Pontillas.

The movements by the ensemble were fascinating early on, but became repetitious and could have been improved by a sprinkling of professional dancers in the ensemble.

This show is not appropriate for small children. There is gunfire, non-harmful chemical smoke, strobe lighting and frightening clowns and other monsters.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 23.
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd.
Tickets: $23, $20 seniors and military, $17 students younger than 25.
Information: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Eat, Play, Groove!

Scott Campbell as Peter is pressed by Luke Amundson as Jerry 
in rehearsal for "The Zoo Story" at TBT

Toy Boat Theatre presents Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story"

Tacoma’s newest and perhaps most innovative theater company, Toy Boat Theatre, is staging a modern American classic, Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story” starting October 13. As if it weren’t enough to do a great play with two of the area’s most popular actors (Luke Amundson and Scott Campbell) – TBT is turning it into a “3-in-one; eat, play, groove!” with a “zoo-themed dinner (think hot dog cart, popcorn stand, standard day-at-the-park fare)” and ending with live music. At the time of this writing not all participating musicians had been announced, but they include Seattle's Country Lips Oct. 21, and Leanne Trevalyan of Junk Yard Jane Oct. 22.

“The idea is to have a party centered around a powerful theatrical experience each night of the run,” Campbell said.

“The Zoo Story” is a one-act, two-person play, which won a Drama Desk award. The two characters are Peter (Campbell) and Jerry (Amundson). It is directed by Brie Yost.
Peter is a middle-class publishing executive with a wife and two daughters. He meets Jerry on a park bench in New York City's Central Park and is desperate to have a meaningful conversation with another human being. So he forces Peter to listen to his story about a visit to a zoo. On the face of it that might sound innocent enough, but nothing is innocent when written by Albee. This encounter ends with one of the men stabbed and bleeding and the audience caught up in unrelenting drama. It is fast-paced, witty, dark and humorous.
Artistic Director Marilyn Bennett said, “Scott brought the idea of doing this antique prize winner because it's issues of disenfranchisement, dehumanization, and calling to question one's adherence to social norms feels so relevant to the slippery slope we're on as a nation, and are feeling so acutely as individuals today.”
Amundson said, “This has been a wonderful experience. Getting to sink my teeth into an Albee script has been something I've been looking forward to since seeing a performance of ‘Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?’ in Ashland years ago. It’s an incredibly well written play filled with Albee's trademark wit and quick pacing.”

Yost said, “Zoo Story is a play that profoundly affects its audience, the kind of theatre that I love to get my hands on. It is rich with beautiful language, atypical characters, intelligent and witty wordplay, and a surge of violence. It is comedy and tragedy, and it is shocking. Martin Esslin wrote about this play as being an attack on ‘the very foundations of American Optimism.’ This and the themes of isolation are what make this nearly 55-year-old play timeless in its relevance to modern audiences, and particularly interesting in light of the Wall Street protests that are currently happening. We totally didn't plan that.”

Yost also said, “It is exciting for me to work with such great friends and colleagues in the Toy Boat space, through Spaceworks Tacoma, an incredible initiative for artists and the City of Tacoma. Luke and Scott have performances that are not to be missed, especially when combined with good eats and good grooves. Food before the show, music after. All in all a kick ass night! (can I say kick ass?)”

Yes, you can say kick ass.

Campbell had temporarily dropped out of the South Sound theater scene after very productive stints as Assistant Artistic Director at Lakewood Playhouse and Artistic Director at Tacoma Little Theatre. It will be great to see him back on stage. Of this project Campbell said, “Collaborating with Marilyn Bennett and Toy Boat Theatre is very exciting. Marilyn's vision for ‘good acting in a humble house’ provides fertile artistic ground. I believe that Albee's powerful exploration of human alienation has increasingly become more relevant over the past 50 years.” 

Where: Toy Boat Theatre, 1314 M L King, Jr. Way, in the Hilltop neighborhood
When: Oct. 13, 14, 15 and 20, 21, 22. Light dinner served in the lobby and theatre at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. followed by live music 9-10 p.m.
Admission: $20 for the entire evening; reservations can be made in advance at