Friday, June 29, 2012

Hall & Schmitt

A frightening wonderland in pastel

The Weekly Volcano, June 28. 2012

Top: "The Last Kiss," Bottom: "Templar Choir." Both paintings by Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt courtesy B2 Gallery

by Alec Clayton
This duo at B2 Gallery is a modern Vaudeville act in pastel, inventive, sometimes frightening and often moving. It’s Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt, two artists who have now spent years collaborating on pastel paintings. I use the term “painting” because even though pastel is a chalk, a drawing media, what they do with it is painting in concept and appearance. And it is marvelous. They create an Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole world as illustrated by Pablo Picasso and the German Expressionists.

In the first place, it is marvelous that two men can work simultaneously on a painting without pre-planning or discussion and come up with something attractive and unified. To add onto that cohesive statements about love, life, sex and religion is really mind-boggling.

I have reviewed Hall and Schmitt shows many times in the past and have enjoyed them all. This is possibly the biggest show of their work I’ve yet to see and the gallery space at B2 is large enough to show their work without crowding it. There is also greater variety to the work than in any of their previous shows. That’s the good part. The bad part is that on the day I attended the show there was so much glare and reflection on the paintings in the front room that it was almost impossible to see them. 

They have always shown surrealistic images of figures — usually multiple figures, and often with extra body parts, such as two faces sharing a single eye or two bodies with seven or eight hands. There is plenty of that in this show, but there are also a number of single-figure images, which I don’t recall ever seeing before, and there are some religious images such as an almost traditional Pieta and a painting of Jesus walking on water titled “Mathew: 14-26.” 

And there are some massive carved wood statues by Hall that are quite impressive.
Their color palate is generally very dark with a preponderance of blues and purples. Their imagery often deals with sex or violence. They break figures apart and rearrange them in a Cubist fashion. Some of the imagery can be unapologetically disturbing; yet, as they say in a video that plays in a continuous loop, in which they talk about their work, nobody ever complains about being offended.

A few of my favorite works are:

“Last Kiss,” two figures kissing with faces broken apart as if in stop-motion photography so they appear to have five or six faces (I tried actually counting them but I couldn’t, you’ll see what I mean.)

“Queen Ida,” a massive single female figure, nude, with eight hands grasping parts of her body. It has the monumentality of some of Picasso’s neo-classical figures.

“The Evening’s Events Left Everyone With a Clue,” another kissing couple. The woman has a tiny head and the man has gigantic fish lips. And there is a nude figure that is hidden in the background. I didn’t even see it at first, but once it pops out it is undeniable.

And “Putting Away the Goods,” a Roman soldier carrying his severed head in a box and a Cleopatra with a drawer in her chest a la Salvador Dali that opens to expose her breasts.
After years of seeing their work, Hall and Schmitt continue to amaze me.

[B2 Fine Art Gallery, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and till 8 p.m. Third Thursdays, through July 28, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Great Escape

The Grand Cinema Offers a Peek at Upcoming Tacoma Film Festival
by Christopher Wood

Tacoma filmmaker Andrew Finnigan with TFF director Emily Alm. Photo by Christopher Wood

We sure do love us a good prequel, the party before the party. Friday night’s “Sneak Peek” event at The Grand Cinema was the Prometheus to its here-before-you-know-it Tacoma Film Festival (October 4-11), except it actually made sense and involved a lot less alien goo. Attendees answered trivia about the fest (which turns 7 this year) and won prizes, while Rachel Marecle and TFF director Emily Alm launched T-shirts into the crowd.

But besides scoring some free merch, we all really came for the movies. To whet our appetites for October’s celebration, the theater ran four entertaining shorts that appeared in past years at TFF, with one 2012 debut. The idea of escape seemed to link these very different films together - from the gripping drama Ana’s Playground (2010’s Best Short), about a girl who uses soccer to survive in her war-torn neighborhood, to the whimsical The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (last year’s Best Animated Film), with its reading-is-magic! moral. (Watch it here:  

Even the tumbleweed in the 2012 entry Tumbleweed! wants to explore new vistas, or at least another county in Texas. Tacoma’s Andrew Finnigan said his own escape into filmmaking began when he saw Superman at age 10 at the Blue Mouse Theatre. About his craft, this two-time TFF winner for Audience Choice told the audience, “It’s an escape for us (moviemakers)...going into another world and living there for awhile.” Finnigan’s picked for his latest “vacation” the post-apocalyptic Koinonia, a feature currently in post-production. (

We avid moviegoers, who prefer living on the other side of the screen, duck into theaters not simply to leave our world, but to reenter it with recharged imaginations and a renewed appreciation for its wonders. The 2012 Tacoma Film Festival should offer 8 days of chances to do exactly that.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”

The News Tribune, June 22, 2012
reviewed by Alec Clayton

The Lakewood Playhouse production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is as funny as anything I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s broad, slapstick, physical, fall-down-laughing funny, and possibly the least sophisticated comedy you’ll see this year.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Burt Shrevelove and Larry Gelbart, “Forum” has been one of America’s favorite musical comedies since it opened on Broadway in 1962 with the one-and-only Zero Mostel in the lead role of Pseudolus, the wheeling-and-dealing slave.

If Mostel is “the one and only,” so is Chris Cantrell, who wisely does not try to emulate Mostel but plays Pseudolus in his own inimitable style. 

“Forum” is an insanely wild farce with bits of Vaudeville and burlesque, lots of shouting and running around, and a huge cast of larger-than-life characters. There are also many moments when the fourth wall is shattered to bits, and there are jokes that — according to director Brie Yost — may change every night. In a program note she says that Shrevelove and Gelbart allowed for such changes in their script.

Based on plays by the Roman playwright Plautus, it is the story of Pseudolus’s outrageous attempts to bring together a pair of lovestruck youngsters, Hero (Colin Briskey) and Philia (Gretchen Boyt). Hero’s parents, Senex (Steve Tarry) and Domina (Dawn Padula), have left town and left Hero in the care of the slaves Pseudolus and Hysterium (Alex Smith), who are tasked with protecting the youth’s innocence. But Hero has other ideas. He is smitten by Philia and promises Pseudolus his freedom if he can help him win her. But Philia is owned by Marcus Lycus (Jeffery Weaver), who runs a house of courtesans, and he has sold her to Roman Army Captain Miles Gloriosus (James Wrede). 

The usual mayhem ensues, meaning backstabbing, double dealing, mistaken identities, and murder and suicide both real and fake.

Considering when it was written and the good natured humor of the script, it is almost forgivable that it’s a sexist play. The women are little more than a parade of beauties who strut on stage for the enjoyment of the men. Among the women, only Padula and Boyt have roles of any depth. But they all throw themselves into their roles whole heartedly.

The ensemble trio called The Proteans (Josh Johnson, Coleman Hagerman and Jed Slaughter) plays everything from soldiers to eunuchs, and they are all outstanding. Cantrell and Smith’s physicality and their contorted facial expression had me practically rolling on the floor. Also turning in excellent performances are Weaver as the over-the-top Marcus Lycus; Wrede, whose appearance and deep, resonant voice were ideal for the self-loving Gloriosus (notice how almost every name is a pun on the character); a very expressive Briskey as Hero, Tarry as the loveable but not too bright Senex, and Martin J. Mackenzie as the exhausted and exhausting Erronius.

The music is secondary to the comic antics. The opening and closing tune, “Comedy Tonight” is quite catchy. “Lovely” is a tender love song performed by Hero and Philia and then reprieved hilariously as a love song between Pseudolus and Hysterium in drag. And one of the most charming numbers of all is “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” which is not to be confused with the very different “A Man Needs a Maid” by Neil Young.

Overall it’s a fabulously funny and uplifting show.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 8
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $28 general admission, $25 seniors and military, $22 students younger than 25
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fun and funky

The Marioni Family exhibition at Tacoma Art Museum

The Weekly Volcano, June 21, 2012
reviewed by Alec Clayton 

Top: Paul Marioni, The Visitor
Middle: Marina Marioni, Heaven is There
Bottom: Dante Marioni, Needle Vase

I was quite surprised by The Marioni Family: Radical Experimentation in Glass and Jewelry at Tacoma Art Museum. I had previously seen a lot of glass by both Paul and Dante Marioni, mostly at the Museum of Glass, but what I had seen in the past was more traditional that the many fun and funky pieces by Paul Marioni in the TAM exhibit. I had no idea how strange and quirky and playful his work could be. I was also delightfully surprised by Marina Marioni’s playful and inventive jewelry and by the tremendous collection of works by other artists from Paul’s private collection (a future gift to TAM).

Paul, the father, is the more radical and the inspiration to the others. Dante, by comparison, is very traditional. His glass bowls and vases are elegant and colorful and technically flawless. Marina seems to have inherited more of her father’s innovative spirit. She uses found objects and pop culture imagery in her jewelry. “I think my use of ‘innovative’ materials has more to do with pop culture references: tattoos, Lucky Charms cereal, ’70s and ’80s TV, ’50s fashion. I can’t deny that my year as a tattoo apprentice influenced my design sense for years later. It all comes from punk rock, tattoos, rock-a-billy, MTV, and the ’80s in Seattle as a teenager,” Marina said. 

But it is Paul’s work that most excited and delighted me. The first things you see are “Plug-For Those Who Dare,” a transparent flat piece in leaded glass with a black and white image of an antique car, and “The Warriors: The Shapers of Our Destiny,” another hanging piece, this one with three very strange figures: a man with a black, pointed hood for a head; a flat white figure with a featureless circle for a face; and a see-through orange figure with a blazing sun atop his or her neck. What is seen through the see-through figure is a sky at sunset. This striking cartoonish figure is like something by Phillip Guston or Matt Groening on acid.

Throughout the show there are strange figures by Paul, and they are on everything: on plates, on vases, on leaded glass windows. Many of them are ghostlike or they are skeletons. One haunted image that shows up in many variations is from a series called “The Visitor.” It is a figure dressed all in black with a hood like the one in “The Warriors” and a skeleton painted on. He stands next to a weird little black hut and says Oooooooo, or variations on that in printed letters that float across a stormy night sky.

One of the most mesmerizing of all his pieces is another flat, hanging piece called “The Come On.” It is a figure with a terribly long neck, a Pinocchio nose, and circular holes for eyes through which the incredibly intense yellow background can be seen, making of the eyes burning lights.

There is also one figurative piece by Dante that is an homage to his father. It is called “Le Bello Creola/For My Father.” Made of glass and terrazzo, it is a head of an Asian figure wearing black with a long curving strand of hair. This is a figure that commands attention from across the gallery.

Also included among the collection of works by other artists are many portraits of Paul, who was mentor and inspiration to many others.

“I never tell anybody I’m a glass artist,” Paul is quoted on a wall statement. “I am not a glass artist. I am an artist… Art is way more important to me than glass is. But, quite frankly, life is way more important to me than art is.”

Viva Paul Marioni and family.

[Tacoma Art Museum, Wed.–Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., through Sept. 23, admission $10, student/senior/military $8, children 5 and younger free, Third Thursdays free from 5-8 p.m.,1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma]

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Educating Rita

The Evergreen Playhouse in Centralia, Washington presents Willy Russell's two person quirky romantic comedy "Educating Rita."  John Pratt, former Professor of English at Centralia College, plays the burned out disillusioned English tutor, Frank.  Enter Rita, an energetic young adult hairdresser, hungry for knowledge, played by Kaaren Spanski-Dreffin.  After weeks of frustration over how to write essays, Rita finally wins over the hesitant Frank with her insight and refusal to quit.  The relationship grows between the two, giving Frank a new sense of self-respect and Rita the knowledge she so desperately craves.  The play became a hit film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters.  Nearly half of Pratt's sixty some roles took place on the Centralia College stage, where he first met Spanski-Dreffin in the late ninties.  The two worked together in five or six productions.  Art imitates life: Pratt was her teacher in an English Composition course.  Kaaren Spanski-Dreffin, a graduate of Centralia College and The Evergreen State College in theatre also spent eight months at the University of Ulster studying theatre as part of her Baccalaureate degree. "Educating Rita" runs from June 22, 23, 24 and 28, 29, 30 and July 1.  June 28 is a 7:30 pay-what-you-will night.  Sunday matinees are at 2:00, and the rest at 8:00 p. m.  For reservations, call 360 736-8628.  Tickets can also be purchased at the door.  Address 226 West Center Street, Centralia, Washington.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Burlesque Olympia Style

Talking with Hattie Hotpants and Nani Poonani

By Alec Clayton
 Hottie Hotpants

Who knew that Olympia has its own burlesque company? Not many people do, but there is a local burlesque troupe called Tush! Burlesque, and they’re wildly popular among those in the know.
Burlesque — the real McCoy — is a proud tradition more akin to Vaudeville shows than to women stripping in sleazy clubs for men who stuff dollar bills in their G-strings. Tush! member Bettie Beelzebub explained, “Burlesque actually has a historic tradition of beauty, sophistication, humor and class. It comes from the parody plays of the Victorian era, done with humor and often based on political or social issues of the time.” The group’s emcee, Hattie Hotpants, further explained that it’s all about “emphasizing body positivity and healthy admiration for the human form instead of nudity. It's about reveling in the beauty and grace and raunch and humor but also the tease of stripping that is the focus.” She went on to say, “The audience is expected to hoot and holler.”
Their shows are recommended for adults only but by law cannot include full nudity.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Hattie and fellow Tush! Member Nani Poonani, two beautiful and classy women. Hattie is tall and vivacious with reddish-blonde hair and pouty lips. She says she’s been performing since she was 4 years old. She has a degree in Performance Art from The Evergreen State College and has worked as an actor and a singer in many area shows under her other name, Lauren _____. Nani, is shorter, with bright eyes, a curvaceous body, and elaborate tattoos covering her arms and upper body front and back. Before coming to Olympia she danced in strip clubs in the South. “It was strictly small town,” she says. Nani moved to Olympia five years ago with her husband who was in the Navy at the time. She says she started performing with Tush! Because “I was friends with a gal who had a bee in her bonnet about starting a group. I kept trying to put her off.” The friend who helped start the group was Lola Ballgazer (stage name), no longer with the group.
Hattie started working with them because she got a phone call from someone saying, “I got your number from Elizabeth Lord. Do you want to host a burlesque show?” They offered her $100 to host the show, which she accepted. Jokingly now she says, “I have standards, they’re just lower than others.”
Nani Poonani

Hattie says they produce all of their own shows, the women design and make their own costumes, and each show has a theme. Having a cohesive theme helps keep all of the numbers similar in tone, she says. “Other troupes do more review or cabaret.”
Their next show will have an enchanted forest theme with mythological creatures, nymphs, sprites and faeries. It will be called Nymph-o-mania and will be a collaborative show with Seattle’s Stripped Screw Burlesque, June 23 at Capital Theater, for mature audiences 18 years and older including mezzanine bar service for patrons 21 and older.
The other members of the troupe are Frida Fondle, Princess Lucky Buttons, Lowa de Boom Boom, Ginger S Mack, Prudence Payne, and their newest member, Wednesday du Monde. They are very protective of their identities and asked that I not use their real name, the one exception being Lauren (Hottie Hot Pants), who asked that I use her first name only. She is well known for work with local theaters and singing groups.
Since Nani has a background working strip clubs, I asked her how that differs from what they do in their burlesque shows. She said:
“I'm glad you asked. The distinction is important to me. In a strip club, you're a canvas, in burlesque, you have to be a cartoon.  In a club, the idea is that the audience comes looking for their particular fantasy, they project the experience they hope to have onto you. There is still a connection, it's important to make eye contact and play with the audience, especially when you're working for tips, but it's primarily about the body. That lets you off the hook a little, knowing that T&A is the main idea. Any little bit of fabulous is enough. You throw out what you've got, and reel in the ones who came looking for it.  You don't have to win the whole room at once, every time.  
“In burlesque, it's about creating a shared experience for a large room of people, all in the exact same moment. And it feels much more naked, in a way. When you work regularly in a strip club, everyone sort of knows everyone is faking it and doesn't take anything too seriously. If you fail at something, it's easy to pretend you weren't really trying. Each burlesque act represents a huge chunk of my heart; so much time and thought, sweat and blood goes into it. Every stitch of the costume is mine, the song choice is mine, the concept is mine. I'm responsible for making all of it work for all of those people, not just the ones who came looking for what I'm already serving up. And it's not enough for your removals to go smoothly, it's not enough to keep time with the music, the thing that defines a great burlesque act is how the performer fills the space. You have to throw your persona, intentions, and ideas so far that you slap the cheap seats in the face. It's terrifying!  But that's what's great about it. It forces you to grow. And that is proving to be my greatest challenge (other than designing implausible costumes and having generally terrible balance), training myself to be fully present and authentic on stage. It's a magical thing when it happens, but it can be super elusive when you're juggling tricky hooks, technical difficulties, and nerves. Burlesque is definitely the deep end of the peeling pool.”  
Hattie and Nani say they start rehearsing — sometimes individually at home and sometimes as a group — about six weeks before a show. A lot of work and a lot of heart goes into each performance, and it all has to be squeezed in between other jobs and family. In other words, these women are no different than any other women except they are proud of their bodies and enjoy a bit of a tease with style and class.
For more information on Tush! Burlesque to go
Tickets to "Nymph-o-Mania: Enchanted Forest Follies" are available at Day Records/Oly Vegan/Box Office day of show.
Other upcoming performances inclue “Tush! Car Wash” August 19 at the Oly Vegan Parking Lot and a show with Darlinda Just Darlinda from New York City on September 5 at Jake's on 4th.