Friday, October 26, 2012

The Mary Shizuka Bottomley show at Flow

Sumi art shows honors recently deceased co-founder of Puget Sound Sumi Artists

"Mountain," Sumi, by Mary Shizuka Bottomley. Photo courtesy Flow Gallery

The current show at Flow honors sumi and collage artist Mary Shizuka Bottomley, a co-founder of Puget Sound Sumi Artists who recently passed away.  The show features 11 works by Bottomley, which offer a sampling of the wide array of her art, plus sumi art by six of Tacoma's better known sumi artists, all of whom have studied with Bottomley. They are: Bill Colby, Flow owner Andrea Erickson, Darlene Diehl, Patrice Bruzas, Selinda Sheridan and Fumiko Kimura. And another plus, the display case that is usually filled with jewelry presents a display of sumi inks and brushes with examples of the type of marks they make, and other materials.

Bottomley's work is very traditional and very sparse. She says a lot with a few brushstrokes. There are eight ink drawings, most in black, white and gray, and three collages with rice papers and other papers and ink drawings.

The collages are colorful and sweet, with a density and variety of patterns and marks not seen in the sumi ink work. They are delicate and interesting in their textures and patterns. In "Kaleidoscope" there is a swirl of movement toward the middle, a look that is, indeed, very much like what you see when looking into a kaleidoscope.

"Memory of Summit" has diagonal movement that reflects the movement of climbers summiting a mountain. "Random Poem (Kana) is much different than any of her other works in that it has stronger color and dark-light contrasts as rough squares of different colored papers serve as fields for Asian writing that - judging from the title - must be poetry. Without being able to read the writing, it is visual poetry.

The only other work with color is a painting of a flower called "Spring." It may be the weakest work in the show because the too-literal depiction of a flower detracts from the energy and delicacy of the mark-making, which is the hallmark of the other ink drawings. (You'll notice I alternate between calling these works drawings and paintings; that is because they contain so many elements of each.)

The black and white works are the purest and the strongest. "Flower Arrangement," is lyrical and highly charged with thin strokes in black and gray that are integrated beautifully in shallow space. It captures the essence of a flower arrangement much better than the more descriptive or illusory "Spring."

"Burning Flame ," Sumi, by Mary Shizuka Bottomley. Photo courtesy Flow Gallery

My favorite work is "Anguish," a very sparse painting with three distinctively different brush strokes on a white background. There's an emphatic check mark, a long vertical stroke that varies in width, and then a winding, convoluted mark that goes from smooth to jerky as it doubles back on itself. There seems to be an animated conversation going on between these three marks.

"Rainy Mountain" is heavy and foreboding with its few broad strokes of the brush, and "The Fall" is light and fanciful as thin black writing dances over a subtle gray and brown background. As with the ambiguous distinction between painting and drawing, the marks on these works may be seen equally as writing and drawing.

Colby's "Tiger" combines Western and Eastern art traditions. Sheridan's "Yugen" is very much like Bottomley's "Anguish."

It's a small show but it provides a good overview of one accomplished artist and of a group of Western Washington artists who paint with an eye toward Japan.

[Flow, "Beautiful Shining Flame," Third Thursdays and by appointment plus Saturday, Oct. 27 2-4 p.m., 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253 255-4675]

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Golem comes to Harlequin

Harlequin Productions is doing a one-night, one-man play called The Golem that sounds like it might be a lot of creepy fun for Halloween. It’s an adaptation of Gustav Meyrink’s classic novel, Der Golem written for the stage and directed by Daniel Flint and fellow Taffety Punk company member Joel David Santner, with music by Jupiter Rex (Josh Taylor, who scored Taffety Punk’s “Burn Your Bookes “and “Measure for Measure”).

The one man on stage is Flint.
The Golem and the ghost, photo by Phillip Bernett

Now living in the other Washington, Flint maintains strong connections with Olympia and Harlequin. He started working with Harlequin back in 2002, playing multiple roles in King John. During Harlequin’s run of The Lonesome West he met Frank Lawler and Jason Marr, and the three of them teamed up to create The Elsinore Diaries, which performed at the Seattle Fringe and at Harlequin. It was my choice for Best New Play in my annual Critic’s Choice column.

In 2008 he moved to DC for graduate school but returned to Olympia this summer to play Richard in King Richard III at Harlequin. While doing Richard he asked about performing his adaption of The Golem.

“It means a lot to me that I can say to Scot and Linda (Whitney), ‘Hey since I’ll be there for Richard, can I do a performance of my show on Halloween?’ and that they would without blinking an eye say ‘sure!’  That’s why I love them and their Theatre.  Because the show is designed to have live music they are flying Josh Taylor here for the show. He will arrive on Monday and we will have two days to rehearse with him. The play is still in a kind of development stage, having been performed only twice (after a full rehearsal process) at a festival in July. After this, it will be having a full production in May at Taffety Punk Theatre Company in DC.

“I had been given the book, The Golem, or Der Golem, by a friend.  It did what all great books do, it drew me in so deep that I could almost not distinguish myself from the main character.  It deeply affected me and sometime not too long after I conceived of turning into a one-man play for myself.  It is a straight adaptation using the text of the novel cut and honed into a tight narrative that as closely resembles the book as possible.”

The Golem follows the story of Athanasius Pernath, a jeweler in Prague’s Jewish ghetto in the late 19th century who is afflicted with a curious amnesia. When a strange man enters Pernath’s life with a mysterious book, the jeweler begins his descent into a labyrinth of murder, madness, and plots of revenge and unrequited love that eventually bring him face to face with his own dark past and mortality

The stranger with the book is the legendary Golem who roamed the streets of the ghetto in the 16th Century. He is also the jeweler’s doppelganger – leading Pernath to a spiritual awakening which must be embraced in order to escape the madness of his past.

The performance is Halloween night, Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 Advance or $20 day of the event.

Preview - Night Watch

Now playing at Tacoma Little Theatre is Night Watch by Lucille Fletcher, directed by Randy Clark.

Elaine Wheeler (Nicole Locket) screams as she sees, or believe she sees, the body of a dead man in the window across the way. The police find nothing. Her husband John (Gabriel McClellend), claiming that Elaine may be on the verge of a breakdown, calls in a lady psychiatrist who agrees with his suggestion that Elaine should commit herself to a sanitarium for treatment. The plot moves quickly and grippingly as those involved – Elaine’s old friend and house guest, Blanch (Jenifer Rifenbery); the inquisitive and rather sinister man who lives next door; and the nosy German maid, Helga (Ziggy Devlan)– all contribute to the deepening suspense and mystery of the play as it draws towards its riveting and chilling climax.

Read Michael Dresdner's review at and watch for my review in The News Tribune Nov. 9, just in time for the final weekend.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Drawn to Abstraction

Abstract art exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College
reviewed by Alec Clayton
for the Weekly Volcano

In my lifetime abstract painting has gone from something audacious, controversial and challenging to safely banal wall fodder suitable for the halls and lobbies of corporate headquarters, banks and hospitals. Not al abstraction but far too much.

Drawn to Abstraction, the current exhibition at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery at South Puget Sound Community College, features the works of a quartet of abstract artists: Laura Ahola-Young, Lois Beck, Becky Knold, and Mia Schulte. All four are competent artists, and there’s not a bad painting in the show. But of the four only one, Becky Knold, shows hints of the kind of audacity and guts that made American abstract artists the most respected artists in the world half a century ago.

Knold paints organic shapes in primarily black and gray on mostly white backgrounds with just a few hints of color here and there. She displays a particular penchant for circular shapes, and her painting style is in the vein of Kline and Motherwell and Gottlieb. She’s all about big, sweeping gestures which are, unfortunately, consigned to small formats — these paintings are large in concept but small in scale. Only one of her pictures, “Coalescence,” is large enough for her gestures.

There’s a nice sweep of burnt sienna across the top of “Chaos 2” and a few touches of dull yellow and green in others, but for the most part her works are without color.

“Dispersion” gets away from the circular forms with large slashes of paint coming from all directions and converging toward the center of the canvas and across the top a few slashes of gold. This is a highly energetic and agitated painting. Also very agitated is the layered surface of “Dangerous Summit,” a white-on-white painting with delicate transparencies balanced off against heavy impasto and rough charcoal and graphite marks reminiscent of Cy Twombly.

Mia Schulte is showing a group of small ink and pastels that are nature-based abstractions with lovely colors and rich surfaces. The images are evocative of trees and mountains. There’s one, “Lost in Blue,” that looks like an underwater scene of the interior of an ice cave. Another, “Through the Windshield,” looks like a group of ominous, shadowy figures in a rainstorm as seen from inside a car. “Turning the Corner” has a curving sweep of a road traversing hills complete with the broken center line. Schulte’s paintings are quite attractive, but I think too delicate and tenuous. Like some of Knold’s smaller works, they cry out to be bigger in scale.

Laura Ahola-Young is showing a series of five works in watercolor and pencil with hundreds of circular, cell- or amoeba-like forms in deep space. There’s a nice sparkle to them. In a wall statement she speaks of reworking the surface with glazes, scraping and mark-making, which is surprising because they look very careful and planned. Too precise.

Lois Beck’s monoprints, some combined with collage, are inconsistent. A few are very nice but others look rather academic and bland.  The nicest are “Truffles” and “On the Half Shell.” “Truffles” has a series of about a dozen black blobs floating on a reddish-brown field. It’s a pretty strong painting. “Half Shell” is a variation on the same image but with the “oysters” embedded and almost invisible in the field of red. This is a praiseworthy painting.

A special opening reception will take place on Friday, Oct. 19 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

[South Puget Sound Community College, Drawn to Abstraction, through Nov. 29, Monday-Thursday, noon-4 p.m., and by appointment, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527 or email]

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Improbable Peck of Plays

From left: Pamela Arndt, Ken Luce, Dennis Worrel, Becca Mitchell and Jeff Hirschberg in rehearsal for An Improbable Peck of Plays. Photo by Mark Alford.

There’s a peck of creativity — maybe even a bushel and a peck — at The Midnight Sun Performance Space right now. Three highly respected theater groups, seven Northwest playwrights, four directors and 11 actors have pooled their talents to present seven or eight highly innovative one-act plays in this little alternative performance space.
I say seven or eight because there is supposed to be one new play by Bryan Willis added for the last night. Willis, as area theatergoers know, is the founding director of the Northwest Playwrights Alliance and one of the most respected playwrights in the Pacific Northwest.
The groups that have come together for this production are the Alliance and Prodigal Sun Productions and Theater Artists Olympia. The actors range from old timers with far more than a peck of experience under their belts to newcomers like Robert Bristol, whose only previous acting experience, I was told, was a brief walk-on in TAO’s Titus Andronicus at Olympia Little Theatre. 
This evening of one-acts is a writer’s showcase, and the writing overall is outstanding.
The first play, Playground Confidential, written by Bryan Hawthorne and directed by Camp, is brilliantly written and laugh-out-loud funny. There was so much laughter opening night that the actors were almost forced to pause between lines until the hilarity subsided. The creative premise of the play is a noir-style detective story played out by kids on a school playground with the monkey bar being a sleazy drinking hole and the swings being a swingers’ club. Dennis Worrell is terrific as a Mike Hammer-style detective, and Ken Luce channeling Peter Lorre as the bad guy, Candyman. Brian Jansen, one of South Sound’s all-time great comic actors, makes a cameo as the Hall Monitor in a slow-motion fight scene that brought down the house.
Next came the dark comedy A New Life in a Lifeless World, written by Dan Erickson and directed by Mark Alford (currently playing in Capital Playhouse’s Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story) with assistant director Sam Cori. I found this futuristic play a bit confusing but intriguing.
Similarly confusing— maybe because I had a hard time hearing some of the dialogue—was The Course We Set by Amy Tofte, directed by Tom Sanders. Three generations of women: daughter Pamela Arndt, mother Steffanie Yarton, and grandmother Becca Mitchell talk to each other about love, life and body image while each helps the other tighten a corset in preparation for the daughter’s first date. Arndt’s acting in this one, as in each of the five plays she was in, was wonderful. Arndt is an actor I’ve not seen before but hope to see more of.
A Thousand Words, written by Evan Sesek and directed by Sanders is a two-person play with Bristol as a soldier named Steven and Jansen as George, the gruff, working-class grave digger. As George digs the two of them dig into their feelings about war and death.
Poor Shem and Vowels are both farcical laugh riots. I had to double check the program to see if these two plays and Playground Confidential were written by the same person because they were so similar in writerly style and in attitude – even though Poor Shem was darker. No, none of them were written by the same playwright.
Poor Shem and Vowels each reminded me of Tom Stoppard.
Poor Shem, written by Gregory Hischak and directed by Vanessa Postil, takes place in an office where something very strange seems to have caused a paper jam in a copier. I won’t say another word about the story line because foreknowledge would ruin it, but I will say that I never would have believed a paper jam could be such a big deal or that repeating the same lines over and over with different inflections could be so insanely funny. Jansen, Camp and Worrell display downright comic genius in this play, and the other actors –Mitchell, Luce and Bristol – are excellent as well.
Vowels in a light comedy all about word play, with each character being a letter of the alphabet. ’Nuff said about that. I loved it.
Finally there is Willis’s Evolution of Chaos, which wittily looks into the minds of a bunch of self-conscious and (at least on the surface) boring people at a yoga class. They never speak to each other, but we hear their private thoughts, giving the audience glimpses into what some people may be like if they drop their public masks.
Performances and seating are both limited, so I recommend getting tickets right away.
When: October 13, 18-21, and 25-27 at 8 p.m.
Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 N. Columbia Street in downtown Olympia.
Tickets: $12.00 - $18.00 (Sliding Scale - No one turned away) available at the door night of show or online at

Friday, October 12, 2012

F you, you effing F

Musings on the F-word in life and literature

Readers might recognize the title of this piece as a quote from John Goodman’s character in the first season of “Treme.”

The dreaded F-word shows up frequently on HBO shows and in most R-rated movies and contemporary literature. That and a few other curse words are practically de rigueur in books and movies for adultsand I don’t necessarily mean for adults only in the sense of violent or sexually graphic material, I mean any story that deals in a realistic manner with everyday people, whether they’re cops, drug dealers, gangsters or teachers or librarians. 

Let’s quit pussy-footing. I use the words shit and fuck in normal conversation and I’ve used them (or my characters have) in all of my novels. And yet there are situations where I don’t feel comfortable either saying or hearing those words. 

My sister told me she was afraid to read my first novel because of what she feared was in it (Graphic sex? Violence? Bad language? I don’t know). I don’t know if she ever read it or any of my books. I have an elderly relative who has been complimentary of all my novels but has complained about the language, and his complaints give me pause; they make me wonder whenever I use a curse word in my writing if it’s the best possible word for the situation. Could some other word work just as well? 

The lesson I think most people of my generation learned long ago is that cursing is often a manifestation of lazy thought. A more thoughtful and creative person should be able to find more effective language. I grew up at a time when foul language was common among boyswas, in fact, a badge of honor, but never in mixed company. Boys didn’t curse in front of girls and girls didn’t curse at all. (But of course we all suspected that they did when we weren’t around). Anyway, it was a gentler time when ladies and gentlemen were expected to be more decorous than they are today. My mother never once used either of those two most offensive words. Neither did my first wife.

As for literature, you don’t find writers prior to the mid- 20th century casually dropping the F-bomb. But it did begin to gradually creep into literature as the century advanced. There’s a wonderful story I once read about Ernest Hemingway and his editor, Maxell Perkins. It seems Perkins, who couldn’t even utter the word himself, was upset about Hemingway’s use of the word fuck. He made a note to himself on his desk calendar to talk to him about it. When his secretary came in she was shocked to see on his calendar, as if it were an appointment: 12 p.m. fuck Hemingway.

That’s how I remember the story, which I read many years ago. I just went online and found a slightly different version. See

Due to being raised as a proper Southern gentleman, I am painfully conscious of my language. There are certain words that I never use because they are demeaning or hurtful, and there are others that I use casually but only when I am speaking to people whom I know won’t be offended. When talking with people I don’t know very well I avoid those words until I hear them say them first. Then it’s Katie bar the door.

In my writing, I use the language my characters would naturally use. You can’t have a crotchety old fisherman in 2012 speaking like English gentry in the Victorian era. A writer has to keep his characters true to who they are. My books are set in contemporary times, and they are peopled by artists and writers and students and the working class. They all cuss. They’re people who, if they existed, would curse a hell of a lot more in real life than they do in fiction. It would be unrealistic if they didn’t. Still, I keep in mind while I’m writing that some readers may be offended by language, and I try to limit the use of curse words while, at the same time, keeping it real.

That brings me back to the title and the reference to “Treme.” There is a lot of cussing in “Treme.” Gabi bought me the first season DVD for a birthday present, I just re-watched the premiere episode. The F-word was used hundreds of times, because that’s the way people like Dave the DJ (Steve Zahn) and Creighton Bernette the angry English professor (John Goodman) talk. There was one scene where security guards were hauling Dave off and he shouted “Fuck you,” about 10 times in a 30-second scene. That’s realistic. But I must say that even though I think “Treme” is a great show they do over-do it with the language. You don’t need to say fuck 20 or 30 times to establish that Dave and Creighton are the kind of people who say that. You can sprinkle the word in here and there to establish gritty reality and then stretch your creative juices to find other words that may be just as effective. At least that’s kind of the guiding principle I use in my writing. And I go back and forth between softening it and making it real.

Finally, I must say that one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard in a movie was when Creighton said, “Fuck you, you fucking fucks” on a YouTube video and later marveled that it went viral and he became famous for using fuck as a verb and an adjective and a noun in a five-word sentence. Now that’s using the word effectively and creatively.