Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fumiko Kimura show, Fall Invitational Exhibition, Beautiful Angle and more ...

A few good things around town

by Alec Clayton
The Weekly Volcano
Nov. 29, 2012
Acrylic painting by Barlow Palminteri, Pierce College Puyallup
Note: I wrote this before seeing some of the work, and I confused the two shows on the Pierce College website, one at the Steilacoom campus and the other at the Puyallup campus. Forgive me, Ron Swarner and Volcano readers.

I did not get to see an art exhibit last week. So it's a good time to write an overview of what's happening in the South Sound art world.

The last two shows I reviewed were fabulous. They'll be showing for quite a while, and I highly recommend you see them. I'm talking about, of course, "Andy Warhol's Flowers for Tacoma" at Tacoma Art Museum and Ray Turner's portraits on glass at Museum of Glass.

Otherwise, there's the Fumiko Kimura show at Flow, held over through February due to "overwhelming response," according to gallery owner Andrea Erickson. I like to think the response is because of my review in the Weekly Volcano but it could be due to a nice article by Rosemary Ponnekanti in The News Tribune.

The show is a mini retrospective of Kimura's show with works from 1990 to 2005, many of which have never been exhibited, and also works by other sumi artists who have worked with or studied with Kumura. The gallery will be open Saturday, Dec. 8, 2-4 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 20, 5-8 p.m. and by appointment.
There are juried student shows at University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran University, and probably the best non-museum show in the area, the Fall Invitational Exhibition at Pierce College.

In the Pierce College show you can expect to see work by some of the better artists in the South Puget Sound. Among my favorites are Barlow Palminteri and Becky Knold, both Olympia artists. Palminteri paints amazing portraits of himself and others in his studio, usually with images doubled and tripled by mirrors and stacked paintings - all brilliantly colored with lots of burning reds and oranges. Knold's quiet abstract paintings are the opposite of Palminteri's bombastic scenes, and she has a sense of balance and contrast and sensitivity to space that I suspect is mostly intuitive.

Figurative paintings by Robert Koch are being shown at Pierce County Steilacoom. Iwill review this one for the Dec. 6 Weekly Volcano.
"Street Musicians" watercolor by
Charles Salak at Pierce College Puyallup
Finally, at the end of the month Fulcrum Gallery opens a show of poster art from Beautiful Angle called "The Mystery/Myth Folio." And they're kicking it off with the Beautiful Angle Holiday Party & Show Opening Nov. 30. Beautiful Angle, the guerilla poster people, has been doing their thing for 10 years. The opening party coincides with their annual poster sale, and all money collected from the poster sale will go to Campus MLK to support their various programs. There will be plenty of food, drink, music, posters and the best crowd in town. Party starts at 7 p.m. Friday.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Christmas Survival Guide at Harlequin

Reviewed by Alec Clayton

from left: Antonia Darlene, Christian Doyle, "Kenny" and Amy Shephard
Harlequin Production’s A Christmas Survival Guide offers a refreshing change in theatrical holiday fare. Billed as a light and upbeat musical comedy, this play by James Hindman and Ray Roderick with musical arrangements by John Glaudini is much more than that. (Note: I’m not sure how much of Glaudini’s arrangements are used in this performance. Pianist Brian Kinsella is also listed in the program as arranger, and I suspect he did a lot of it. Whomever gets the credit, there are musical arrangements of Christmas classics that are updated in marvelous ways.)

This show is a witty and insightful look at the good and the bad of the holiday season, and it is not all upbeat. There are some musical numbers in this show that are pretty dark, at least in part, and I found that refreshing in a perhaps odd way.

The show is part musical revue and part sketch comedy, mixing original songs with beloved Christmas carols to illustrate the book “A Christmas Survival Guide” by “Ted.” The “Survival Guide” is a kind of psychobabble self-help book designed to help people endure the incessant commercialism and irritating crowds of the season. Selections from the book are read in voiceover while three actor/singers illustrate them in song. The actors are Christian Doyle, Antonia Darlene and Amy Shephard. In addition to the three lead actors, Kinsella frequently interacts with the actors and occasionally steps away from his piano to become a part of the play, which he does with style and grace.

The performances by all three actors are highly polished. 

Darlene has been wowing South Sound audiences for years with her rich and soulful singing. Harlequin audiences remember her from Soul on Fire and Sixties Kicks. She has performed at Capital Playhouse and the 5th Avenue in Seattle, Village Theatre and the Seattle Opera. Her performance in this show is up to her best standards.

Doyle is also a local favorite as both comedic and dramatic actor and as a singer. He was outstanding in last summer’s Summer Session: Set in the ’70s. I expected an outstanding performance from him, and he didn’t disappoint. Doyle is at ease on stage and has the ability to convey volumes with the slightest gesture, and he is equally at ease with many difference signing styles from hard rock to folk to swinging jazz, all of which he demonstrates in Survival Guide. Shephard makes her Harlequin debut in this show. Locally she has performed with Olympia Family Theatre, Theater Artists Olympia and Animal Fire Theater. She is a ball of energy with a powerful voice and an expressive face. This threesome is well matched with no one overshadowing the others.

One of the more entertaining numbers in the first act was Doyle’s unique interpretation of “Silver Bells” wherein Christmas bells were conflated first with cell phones ringing — Doyle was forced to repeatedly interrupt his singing to answer the phone — and then with every other sound common to dense urban settings: cars honking, sirens, and so forth, until he can’t take it any longer. The sound effects and background music augmented Doyle’s singing and acting almost too well. The noise level was such that I had to remove one of my hearing aids, and everything sounded much better without it, indicating that the sound level was too loud. Ah, but what a great song that was and how inventive!

Also inventive was when Darlene came on stage as a disgruntled Mrs. Santa Claus wearing a Scotch plaid bathrobe and singing about how she can’t stand it when her husband goes gallivanting all over the globe every Christmas Eve. Sung in the style of a very angry German cabaret performer circa 1936.

And highly entertaining was when the trio sang a crazy version of the sleigh ride song with the horses pulling the sleigh faster and faster. This was insanely funny and well-acted. 

Darlene shone again on a brilliant version of “Drummer Boy” that was breathtaking and including a fabulous jazzy piano solo by Kinsella.

The band backing up this trio of singers is so outstanding that each band member deserves to the recognized. They are: Andrew Garness, drums; Rick Jarvela, bass; Brad Schrandt keyboards and horns, Daven Tillinghast, guitar, and Kinsella, piano.

You may never see another Christmas musical show with such an amazing blend of classical and original music and with singing by such a talented trio. 

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Dec. 16
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151

· Pay What You Can
Wed. Nov. 28 at 8pm
· Ladies’ Night Out
Fri. Nov. 30 at 7pm

Monday, November 26, 2012

Catholic Silliness

“Nuncrackers” at Capital Playhouse

Reviewed by Alec Clayton

Matthew Flores, Kate Ayers and Lauren O'Neill

Capital Playhouse has endured a series of incredible setbacks over the past two years, and the people who keep it going — from the administration to actors, directors and backstage crew — are talented, dedicated and hard-working, and very nice people. I very much wanted “Nuncrackers” to succeed. But it did not. It fell flat opening night, and the person who warrants most of the blame is writer and lyricist Dan Goggin.

It is the umpteenth sequel to “Nunsense,” Goggin’s highly successful cabaret-style musical comedy of 1985. The original was hilarious when Capital Playhouse did it three years ago with at least one of the same actors who are gracing their stage this year, Stephanie Nace as Sister Mary Paul, aka Amnesia, and the director of “Nuncrackers,” Heidi Fredericks as Sister Robert Anne. The humor in that show was sophisticated despite its silliness. But in this spinoff — despite the same writer and an equally talented cast — the comedy bits were just ridiculous. I suspect Goggin has milked that cow for all she’s worth and the teats are dry. 

I certainly can’t blame the cast. They give it their all plus some, even entertaining patrons in the lobby before the show. Cast members sang Christmas Carols in the lobby. Patrick Wigren as Father Virgil Manly Trott sang “Silent Night” in the style of Carol Channing — a credible impersonation. And as the audience took their seats the enthusiastic cast volunteered to serve as ushers, chatting up the audience. The demarcation between the pre-show performances and the actual show was as nicely murky as the borders between Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater.

The high-energy, holiday cheer was certainly in evidence throughout the evening. Still, it fell flat. The jokes simply were not as funny or as clever as those in “Nunsense.” 

“Nuncrackers” continues the story of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, and brings back all five nuns from the original. It is set at Christmastime, and it is the first "TV Special" for local cable access filmed in the basement studio of their convent — named interestingly enough after Mt. St. Helens, even though they’re in New Jersey. 

The play is filled with traditional carols ("Joy to the World") and irreverent takeoffs on classics ("Santa Ain't Comin' to Our House" and "It's Better to Give Than to Receive").

Matthew Flores in drag again following his outstanding drag performance in “Hair” plays Sister Mary Hubert; Nace reprises her role as Sister Amnesia; Lauren O’Neill, newly hired as the managing director of Capital Playhouse, plays Sister Robert Anne; Alessa Daniel is Sister Mary Leo; and Kate Ayers plays Reverend Mother Regina. Plus there is a chorus of talented child actors: Jack Steiner, Claire Halperin, McKenna Soderberg and Skyler Zimmerman.

The cast is talented. They sing well and give it their all. Wigren, one of the most talented musical comedy performers to emerge on South Sound stages in the past few years, manages to make even the stupidest comedy bits funny. Witness him sipping sip after sip of vodka while doing a TV cooking show.  

There are some pretty good musical numbers and a few funny jokes. The opening night audience seemed to enjoy it. There was even a standing ovation. So maybe I’m just being a Grinch and a Scrooge, but I didn’t stand at the end and I can’t recommend this show.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 16
Where: Capital Playhouse: 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $28-39
More information: 360-943-2744,

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Population" explosion at the Museum of Glass

Ray Turner is awesome
The Weekly Volcano, November 21, 2012

Portraits in oil on glass by Ray Turner
Ray Turner's exhibition Population at Museum of Glass is a stunning show. Turner, a former Stadium High student from Tacoma now living in California, is showing almost 200 portraits painted on glass with lush oil paint slathered on the slick surface like cement poured from a mixer and spread with a yard rake. Each painting is 12-inches square. His colors and textures are breathtaking, and his likenesses of real people - not idealized or beautified in any way - offer glimpses into the souls of his sitters. They might as well stand naked and tell their innermost secrets.

This show is a psychological tour de force and an artistic tour de force. It is Lucien Freud meets Chuck Close. Turner's portraits have the intensity of Freud's figures, and like the best of Close's portraits they are simultaneously realistic and stylized, painted with a direct, head-on point of view and isolated on flat, unadorned backgrounds. The faces are painted on the glass, which is on top of the flat, single-hued surfaces, so there is physical depth of a fraction of an inch, and with the incredibly thick paint there is a feeling of even more depth.

Some of the eyes and mouths in the "Good Man/Bad Man" group appear to be deep caves. The show begs to be viewed in two ways: up close for careful inspection of the individual portraits and from a distance to see the patterns of color modulations from piece to piece, which are beautifully arranged - especially on the title piece, a grid of portraits covering 21 feet of one wall. This wall would be stunning even if there were no faces but just the flat color squares. Then upon closer views we see that in most of them he repeats variatons on the background colors in the faces, which creates a marvelous warm glow without distorting the realism of the natural face and hair color.

Detail from Good Man/Bad Man series. All photos courtesy the artist.
All of the portraits are realistic except for those in the piece called "Good Man/Bad Man," a grid of 45 heavily distorted faces, all but one on black backgrounds and most with tones of ghostly and sickly whites and grays. Many of these look inhuman or monstrous. Some have no features at all, while others have smudges of black and gray to represent eyes and mouths. Many of them look like gauze-wrapped mummy faces, and at least one looks like Hannibel Lecter. The one that is not on black is a fiery red portrait on an equally hot red background and it is situated in the dead center. It is like looking into the depths of hell. The bad men are frightening, and the good men appear to be their tortured victims.

For each venue as this show travels around the country, Turner paints portraits of local people. For Tacoma, he has included portraits of the Museum's glassblowers, youth from the Hilltop Artists in Residence Program and Jason Lee Middle School, members of the Puyallup Tribe, local artists and some of his alumni from Stadium High School.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Return to Freedom Book Launch

Woohoo! I am beyond excited  about the launch of my sixth novel, Return to Freedom. UPS just delivered 40 copies. I’ll tell you a little about the new book, but first, let me look back at novel number four.

The Backside of Nowhere was my most popular book. It had love, hate, sex, gambling, football, and not one but two hurricanes (with sex in the middle of one of them). The story began with movie star David Lawrence getting a phone call from his sister informing him that their father had driven his car off the sixth floor parking garage of the Golden Eagle Casino on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and it ended when a category three hurricane destroyed the little town of Freedom.

Return to Freedom picks up where The Backside of Nowhere left off — the day of the hurricane. Malcolm Ashton’s wife and children and Sonny Staples are scrambling to get out of town, while Beulah Booker is riding out the storm with her boyfriend and other friends in the Lawrence family home.

Readers of Backside will remember Malcolm and Sonny as the teenage hoodlums who looted an electronics store during a flash flood many years ago. They’re grown up now. Malcolm works at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store and has his hands full trying to love and nurture an alcoholic wife and three teenage children. Sonny, after spending some time in the state penitentiary, has found Jesus and become an evangelical preacher. And he has an eye for the ladies — the younger the better. Beulah was getting ready to go to college at the end of the previous novel. Now she’s a young, single mother running Little Don’s, the diner she inherited from her father. She’s got her hands full until a unicycle-riding street performer named Marcia shows up to help her.

All of these characters end up living in the same condo overlooking the bay, and the ways in which their lives intersect are as stormy as the hurricane from which they are still recovering.

In the Olympia area?

There will be a book launch party with a staged reading featuring four actors playing the parts of Malcom and Bitsey, and Beulah and Marcia. The party is Saturday, Dec. 8. 2-6:30 p.m. Come early and visit with friends, and stay for the reading. The reading starts at 4:30.

Meet the Actors

Four outstanding actors from Olympia have graciously agreed to do a reading of scenes from Return to Freedom at our book launch party. Heather Christopher will be playing the part of Bitsey Ashton, an alcoholic mother of three very troublesome teenagers. Michael Christopher will fill the role of Bitsey’s husband, Malcolm. Jennie Jenks and Christine Goode will be Beulah, a young single mother who runs a diner, and Marcia, a clown and street performer who pedals up to Beulah’s diner on a unicycle and turns the place upside-down.

left to right: Christine Goode, Jennie Jenks, Heather Christopher
Here’s what a critic (me) said about Heather Christopher in Theater Artists Olympia’s Reefer Madness: “Speaking of lust-driven, wanton women, Heather Christopher as Sally lives up to her billing as a ‘reefer slut.’ She is like Mae West reincarnated with her big eyes, leering scowl, growling voice, hip-grinding dance moves and a sensuous body that is almost covered with a variety of slips and nightgowns. She also does great pratfalls and can’t walk up a flight of stairs to save her life.” And about her role as Li’l Bit in How I Learned to Drive: “She is absolutely believable as a pre-teen and as a grown woman, as a dreamer and as a frightened child.”

Michael Christopher
Michael Christopher is comfortable both on stage and behind the curtain. He directed TAO’s Boston Marriage, acted in their Macbeth, and has worked as stage designer and set builder for several local theater companies. I wrote of his performance in TAO’s The Taming of the Shrew: “Michael Christopher brings to the role of Grumio a devilish quality reminiscent of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean."

Jennie Jenks practically owns the roles of… well, almost any female character I’ve written. She was smart and sexy as Alex Martin in the staged reading of Reunion at the Wetside and loveable and funny as Sue Ellen in the reading of The Backside of Nowhere. She was mesmerizing as one of four incarnations of Hyde in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at Tacoma Little Theatre.

Christine Goode was also in the reading of the screenplay for The Backside of Nowhere and has performed in Plaza Suite and Dixie Swim Club at Olympia Little Theatre, and she turned in one of the funniest performances anybody around here has ever seen as LiAnne the horse in Cannibal the Musical.

Contact me a for address and directions.
Return to Freedom will soon be stocked by Orca Books in Olympia and King's Books in Tacoma. 

Outside the Olympia-Tacoma area you can order it at your favorite local bookstore or from CreateSpace (an Amazon company) or Amazon. (I recommend ordering from CreateSpace because I make a little bit more through CreateSpace; I do it for art but have to make a living.) Kindle edition also available. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More great youth art at B2

reviewed by Alec Clayton
The Weekly Volcano, Nov. 15, 2012

"No Return," acrylic by Osalys Avila Milan
B2 Fine Art has opened the third installment of their international youth art exhibition Beyond Crayons and Finger Painting 3.0. featuring work from young artists 7-19 years old from Bethlehem, Canada, China, Cuba, Korea, and the United States.

Compared to previous incarnations of this show, this one has more work that I see as typical of work by young artists, meaning a preponderance of drawings and paintings inspired by graphic novels, Japanese anime and Surrealism. Overall I find the work in this show to be not as innovative as that of the previous two shows, but the quality of the work is just as good.

I counted nine paintings from Chinese artists. They all appeared to be works from students of the same teacher. They look enough alike that if it were not for a variety of names of the wall labels I would have assumed they were all by the same artist. They are all happy, colorful, sweet and densely-populated cartoon-like scenes with crowds of both Asian and Western people. They’re a lot of fun, and I can’t help but imagine that they are all illustrations for the same graphic novel. Nice, but too syrupy sweet for my taste.

"Mirage" acrylic by Osalys Avila Milan - photos courtesy
B2 Fine Art
Similar in style but much more aesthetically pleasing are a group of three pieces by Sophie Story from right here in Tacoma. There are two digital prints, each with a single, very cute female figure in a dreamy and amorphous environment drawn with very sensitive and sharp contour lines and flat colored areas. Also by Story is a portrait of Jimi Hendrix done with markers. 

Lee Hyen Jung from Korea has a portrait of a man with flowing black hair and facial coloring that looks a lot like psychedelic art from the ’60s or like a paint-by-number portrait. It is a dramatic image.

Also from Korea, Ke Myung Seo has painted Harry Potter driving a monster truck in watercolor and colored pencil. Also like Jung’s piece, this one is very dramatic with strong dark and light contrasts and swirling and energetic but controlled paint application. Like everything else mentioned up to this point, it looks illustrational.

There’s a really nice little watercolor by Makieya Dunham from Detroit, Mich., of Adam and Eve naked by the tree of knowledge. It’s simple and colorful and reminds me a lot of Chagall’s “The Birthday” and “Over the Town.” There’s a crude quality to the drawing that looks intentional and which I find very refreshing.

Finally, the most outstanding works in the show — two paintings that alone are worth going to this show — are “No Return” and “Mirage” by Cuban artist Osalys Avila Milan, who was awarded the Freedom award in London and was among the youngest students to be invited to the Academy of Fine Arts of San Alejandro at age 15. She is now 19. Each of these two paintings are large and stunning Pop Art images that remind me a little bit of R.J. Kitaj (“No Return”) and a little bit of Philip Guston (“Mirage”).The bird’s eye view and skewed perspective in “No Return”) is fascinating and both are solidly composed with bright but not garish colors. This young woman is an amazing painter.

The gallery is hosting a series of workshops in conjunction with this show. Go to the website at for further information.

[B2 Fine Art Gallery, Beyond Crayons and Finger Painting 3.0, 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]