Thursday, March 31, 2016

Credeaux Canvas


The naked truth at the Midnight Sun

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 31, 2016

Christopher Rocco as Winston, Mark Alford as Jamie, and Alayna Chamberland as Amelia. Photo by Michael Christopher, Glamour Cat Photography.

Theater Artists Olympia’s The Credeaux Canvas totally immerses the audience into the lives and the hearts of an East Village artist named Winston (Christopher Rocco); his scheming, outlandish and desperately unhappy roommate, Jamie (Mark Alford), and Jamie’s girlfriend, Amelia (Alayna Chamberland).

Mark Alford as Jamie, Christopher Rocco as Winston, and Amanda Stevens as Tess.
The time is the present; the place is a seedy studio apartment on East 10th Street in Manhattan. Jamie convinces Winston, a talented but unsuccessful painter, to fake a nude by the newly discovered Fauvist painter Jean-Paul Credeaux, and he convinces Amelia to be his model. He has already told a wealthy art collector, Tess (Amanda Stevens), a friend of his recently deceased father, an art dealer, that he owns a Credeaux nude and is willing to sell it. Jamie and Amelia each reluctantly agree and thus end up alone together, naked and vulnerable, and see into each other’s souls.

This sketchy outline surely must sound improbably, but the playwright has constructed such an intricate plot with such believable characters, that watching the story unfold in the intimate space of the Midnight Sun performance space must feel to each audience member — it certainly did to me — that he or she has climbed the five flights of stairs to their apartment and has privileged access to their private lives.

Jamie, Winston and Amelia
The Credeaux Canvas is a powerful, heart-wrenching drama, but it is not just drama; it is also chock full of outrageous humor. It is also an acting tour de force and a masterpiece of directing for director Christian Carvajal.

Set designer Matt Moeller has constructed a cheap studio apartment that is authentic in appearance with convincingly realistic props provided by properties designer Hally Phillips. The realism of the set combined with and a romantic moonlit scene mastered by lighting designer Vanessa Postil go a long way toward drawing the audience into the story. The moonlight scene also goes a long way toward softening a long and tasteful nude scene, which the playwright must have written into the script for dramatic effect despite the unlikelihood that a painter would work under such dim lighting.

I can’t praise the acting highly enough.

I’ve seen Alford in many shows at TAO and at Harlequin, but never, never, never in such a role as this, in which he convincingly and explosively goes from outlandishly over-the-top playfulness to abject heartbreak.

Rocco I’ve previously seen only in small supporting roles that offered no clue to his great acting ability. In this role he is painfully nervous, introspective and vulnerable. If it was a Hollywood movie he would be a shoo-in for an Academy Award.

Chamberland is equally vulnerable and open hearted in the role of Amelia. She opens her heart through the tiniest of physical movements and facial expressions and has a dazzling smile.

And though she appears in only one scene, Stevens rocks the house as Tess, the pretentious but surprisingly perceptive art collector.

Artist R. Owen Cummings created the face Credeaux nude that is seen only briefly, but which beautifully matches the playwright’s description of it.
This is theater at its very best.

The Credeaux Canvas, Thursday, March 31 at 8 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m. through April 9, The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St. Tickets: $12-$15, Available at door night of show or online at http://olytheater.com/.

The naked truth at the Midnight Sun

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 31, 2016

Theater Artists Olympia’s The Credeaux Canvas totally immerses the audience into the lives and the hearts of an East Village artist named Winston (Christopher Rocco); his scheming, outlandish and desperately unhappy roommate, Jamie (Mark Alford), and Jamie’s girlfriend, Amelia (Alayna Chamberland).

The time is the present; the place is a seedy studio apartment on East 10th Street in Manhattan. Jamie convinces Winston, a talented but unsuccessful painter, to fake a nude by the newly discovered Fauvist painter Jean-Paul Credeaux, and he convinces Amelia to be his model. He has already told a wealthy art collector, Tess (Amanda Stevens), a friend of his recently deceased father, an art dealer, that he owns a Credeaux nude and is willing to sell it. Jamie and Amelia each reluctantly agree and thus end up alone together, naked and vulnerable, and see into each other’s souls.

This sketchy outline surely must sound improbably, but the playwright has constructed such an intricate plot with such believable characters, that watching the story unfold in the intimate space of the Midnight Sun performance space must feel to each audience member — it certainly did to me — that he or she has climbed the five flights of stairs to their apartment and has privileged access to their private lives.

The Credeaux Canvas is a powerful, heart-wrenching drama, but it is not just drama; it is also chock full of outrageous humor. It is also an acting tour de force and a masterpiece of directing for director Christian Carvajal.

Set designer Matt Moeller has constructed a cheap studio apartment that is authentic in appearance with convincingly realistic props provided by properties designer Hally Phillips. The realism of the set combined with and a romantic moonlit scene mastered by lighting designer Vanessa Postil go a long way toward drawing the audience into the story. The moonlight scene also goes a long way toward softening a long and tasteful nude scene, which the playwright must have written into the script for dramatic effect despite the unlikelihood that a painter would work under such dim lighting.

I can’t praise the acting highly enough.

I’ve seen Alford in many shows at TAO and at Harlequin, but never, never, never in such a role as this, in which he convincingly and explosively goes from outlandishly over-the-top playfulness to abject heartbreak.

Rocco I’ve previously seen only in small supporting roles that offered no clue to his great acting ability. In this role he is painfully nervous, introspective and vulnerable. If it was a Hollywood movie he would be a shoo-in for an Academy Award.

Chamberland is equally vulnerable and open hearted in the role of Amelia. She opens her heart through the tiniest of physical movements and facial expressions and has a dazzling smile.

And though she appears in only one scene, Stevens rocks the house as Tess, the pretentious but surprisingly perceptive art collector.

Artist R. Owen Cummings created the face Credeaux nude that is seen only briefly, but which beautifully matches the playwright’s description of it.
This is theater at its very best.


The Credeaux Canvas, Thursday, March 31 at 8 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m. through April 9, The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St. Tickets: $12-$15, Available at door night of show or online at http://olytheater.com/.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Alarm Bells of Consciousness

Photo: “Tar Beach #2” silkscreen on silk by Faith Ringgold, courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery

Faith Ringgold and Aminah Benda Lynn Robinson at B2 Fine Art

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 24, 2016

“Tar Beach #2” silkscreen on silk by Faith Ringgold, courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery
The name of the show is Politi Oso, and the catchy title, “Alarm Bells of Consciousness” is the descriptor from the B2 Fine Art website. Featuring works by the recently departed Aminah Benda Lynn Robinson and the great Faith Ringgold, this visual exploration of feminism, race, culture, religion and politics is a museum-quality exhibition that Tacomans can count themselves lucky to have access to.

Both artists use materials commonly associated with women, such as sewing and quilting combined with more traditional art media such as acrylic paint and printing media, to create hard-hitting, gritty, truth-telling images that look unflinchingly at the history of feminism, slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement.

"People of the Book: Ethiopian Woman," mixed media by Aminah Benda Lynn Robinson, courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery
Ringgold’s drawing is childlike and direct. Her colors are mostly primary. Her message is unambiguous. Often her paintings, quilts and collages are jam-packed with images. A typical Ringgold is “Declaration of Freedom & Independence,” a quilt with acrylic on canvas and a stars-and-stripes border that is painted and put together like a piecework quilt. It is an illustrated history of the Declaration of Independence and the civil rights movement in six panels, with recognizable historic figures and hand-lettered writing. For example, one panel is labeled “All Men Are Created Equal.” It pictures a slave ship and King George of England walking on the heads of people. The adjacent panel is titled “And Women?” and depicts lynchings and the melee on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, a famous event in history that was re-introduced to the American public in the recent motion picture, Selma.

Ringgold’s “Tar Beach #2” is an illustration of personal history and a fantasy. She grew up in a tenement building in Harlem where she and her family “escaped” to the roof in view of the George Washington Bridge where she could pretend she was at the beach. In this picture, perspective is flattened and everything rests visually on the same plane, meaning there is no illusion of depth. Buildings are stacked like Legos. The family is gathered together on the rooftop. There’s food on the table, and Ringgold and her little brother are sleeping on a bed. The bridge can be seen in the distance, and children are flying overhead. Stories from her life are printed in the sky. Everything is almost classically balanced but shifted slightly off center. I found everything about this painting so enchanting that I was compelled to study every one of its many details.

Ringgold is more famous than Robinson. I have never before seen any of Robinson’s work (and wonder how I could have missed it); but I found it to be even more powerful visually than Ringgold’s. Her work in this show includes mixed-media paintings, drawings, and collages that depict important protest movements,  from the marches of the 1960s to the more recent Occupy movement.


Her “People of the Book” series comprises eight black-and-white woodcut portraits of African women that expose their souls, their strength and humor and the hurt in their eyes. They are beautifully drawn with free-flowing and well-controlled lines and strong value contrasts.

Also in this series are two large portraits in watercolor and gouache on paper with collaged fabric. The woman’s face in “People of the Book: Ethiopian Woman” is painted dark brown and purple. She wears a colorful headdress and scarves made from men’s neckties and other patterned materials. In “Bedouin Woman”, men’s ties form a veil that covers the woman’s face so that only her eyes show — the ties reminding us that it is men who force women to hide their faces.

I urge you to see this exhibition. There will be an artist reception Saturday, April 9 from 5-8 p.m.

Politi Oso, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through April 16, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065.












Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Peter Rabbit and Me



Olympia Family Theater Does Beatrix Potter

Carolyn Willems Van Dijk as Peter Rabbit and Rich Young as Mr. McGregor. Photo by Alexis Sarah.
Peter Rabbit and Me at Olympia Family Theater, written by Aurand Harris, is a delightfully joyful play for young children. It’s also as energetic a show as you’re likely to see anytime soon, with a lot running and jumping (hopping, to be more precise).

In a wonderfully inventive and educational twist on the popular children’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit, we see unfolding not only the tale of how the irascible Peter Rabbit sneaks in to Mr. McGregor’s garden to eat vegetables until he’s sick, we see acted out in a joyful way the story of how Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated her stories.

Two tales of Peter Rabbit—his first dangerous venture into the garden in the first act and his daring return in the second act—alternate with scenes of the young Beatrix at home with her brother, Bertum, and their governess, Miss Hammond. As the two scene alternate, actors double up to play two or more characters each.

Carolyn Willems Van Dijk plays Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit.
Rich Young plays Beatrix’s father Potter and Mr. McGregor.
Stephanie Kroschel plays Miss Hammond and Mother Rabbit (mother to Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter).
Jared Greene is a ton of characters, including Bertum, Cotton-tail, the baker’s boy, and Mr. Mouse (he has to change ears and tails frequently).
Hannah Eklund plays an unnamed girl, a bird, and Flopsy.
And finally, Katrina Groen plays the other girl, bird, and Mopsy.
Naturally, Beatrix or Peter are in every scene. There’s hardly a moment when one or the other is not the center of attention, meaning Van Dijk has to do a lot of quick costume changes and believably and entertainingly portray two very different characters—a lovely and loving girl who adores her many pets and is determined to become a great writer and artist. Her big eyes, huge smile and terrific repertoire of expressions make both Beatrix and Peter characters kids love. Regulars at OFT will remember Van Dijk from her so-fun performance as Cinder Edna in the play of the same name by Ted Ryle, in which she worked with director Kate Ayers, who also directs this play.

Young is ideally cast as Mr. McGregor. He is a retired school teacher who has recently returned to theater after a long absence. He creates the put-upon farmer as a character who is absolutely as we imagine him, meaning the hapless and constantly frustrated target of Peter’s shenanigans and the “bad guy” who is really nice. Good job, Rich Young.

The rest of the cast is equally good in their many roles.

The set design by Jeannie Beirne is effective and decorative, and the lighting by Jill Carter is up to her usual excellent standards.

This one runs three weeks only, so don’t let your chance to bring the kids slip by.


Peter Rabbit and Me, Fridays at 7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m.  through April 3, pay what you can March 25, special 11 a.m. performance March 26, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Redaction Project



Photo:


Anne de Marcken Installation at Salon Refu
Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 17, 2016

Anne de Marcken in front of wall of index cards as part of her installation at Salon Refu. Photo by Marilyn Freeman.
It used to be called the avant garde, and then it was called the cutting edge. What’s beyond that I do not know, but whatever it is, you’ll find it at Salon Refu in Olympia — the place where art happens that you’ll never see anywhere else, where you can see art of no commercial appeal that challenges and excites the intellect and the emotions. What better proof can there be than The Redaction Project, the installation by Anne de Marcken that currently fills the gallery.
Described as a “time-based artist,” de Marcken creates short stories, poetry, screenplays, short and feature-length films and videos, and interactive web environments. Her writing has been featured on NPR's “Selected Shorts” and in publications such as Best New American Voices, Glimmer Train and many others.

The Redaction Project is an environment of paper and words and heavy black marks where words once lived; it fills the walls and hangs from swinging pendulums in the gallery space. It is based on an 8,037-word short story titled “After Life,” which the artist wrote but never published. She “redacted” her story just as corporations and government offices redact sensitive documents they are forced to release. In the process of redacting parts of her story by obliterating groups of words and whole paragraphs, and eventually the entire story, she created new stories, poems, sheets of music like scores for a player piano, and beautiful abstract patterns. She copied every page of her story at every step along the way and hung them all in the middle of the gallery where viewers can thumb through them, read parts, including tons of research notes and the entire unredacted story for those who make the effort to find it.

Anne de Marcken with Sarah Tavis creating letterpress work for The Redaction Project at Community Print
As I saw it — and you may see it differently; the possible interpretations are multitudinous — the installation is hung in a chronological order and in an order that gets progressively abstract as you move from the front to the back of the gallery.

One wall is filled with approximately a thousand index cards, each card listing a unique word, how many times it is used in the story, where it can be found, how many times it has been redacted, and how many times it remains after redaction. The word “obliterate,” for instance, was used only once and redacted zero times with, therefore, a remainder of one. (After all, why redact “obliterate”? Wouldn’t that be rather redundant?)

On another wall are beautiful abstract prints of redaction marks — no words in these, but simple colored bars that divide the space.

The project takes some explanation to fully understand. Fortunately there will be a video of the artist talking about it that you can watch at your leisure.

This installation is an amazing visual presentation of one artist’s obsession with an idea and the myriad of places pursuing that idea has taken her. Depending upon the amount of time and effort viewers are willing to devote to it, the thoughts, images, and patterns that can be discerned are endless. I spent far too little time looking at it and have every intention of going back for more.

The Redaction Project, Thursday-Sunday 2-6 p.m., and by appointment. Through March 31, Salon Refu, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, riddie.glenn@gmail.com.

Hedda Gabler at Harlequin



Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 17, 2016

Helen Harvester as Hedda Gabler. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions
Henrik Ibsen’s classic play Hedda Gabler as adapted and directed by Aaron Lamb for Harlequin Productions is just as relevant and contemporary today as it was when it premiered at the end of the 19th century; although it is probably not as shocking as it was then — not because the play has in any way been toned down, but because today’s audiences have become jaded.

Ibsen was famous for being the first modern realist as well as for being an early feminist. Lamb’s adaptation of Hedda Gabler is every bit as realistic and feminist as anything being written today.
There is a possibly apocryphal quote attributed to Chekov: “If a gun is on the mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third.” Well there’s a gun featured on the program cover and posters for Hedda Gabler, and it definitely goes off; but you couldn’t get me to tell me when or who shoots whom if you waterboarded me.

Helen Harvester as Hedda Gabler and Chris Shea as Ejlert Lovborg. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions
The play revolves around the title character, who smoothly and effortlessly demands audience attention whenever she is on stage. Hedda, as played by Helen Harvester, epitomizes the most glamorous, spoiled, and bored of modern women. Lambert described her in program notes as “feisty, droll, intelligent, fatally ignorant of the world, snobby, mean-spirited, small-minded, cold, bored, vicious, eager, terrified. She is addictive, alluring, beautiful. She is the most interesting person in the room. Always. Like her or not, you will — you must — see her.”

Depicting such a character is a tall order for any actor, and Harvester is fully up to the challenge. Her physicality and languid movements capture the character as I can only imagine Ibsen dreamed an actor could. (This sleek physicality seems to be a Harvester trademark. She was, after all, the actor who became the werewolf in Harlequin’s Mating Dance of the Werewolf.) Her appearance contributes tremendously — the shock of short blonde hair, her haughty expressions, and the dresses and lingerie that are like liquid silk poured over her body (kudos to costume designer Lucy Gentry-Meltzer). These costumes are tailor made to fit with the ultra-modern set by Jeannie Beirne.

Helen Harvester as Hedda Gabler and John Serembe as Mr. Back, set designed by Jeannie Beirne. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions
The set is the upscale apartment of Hedda and her husband, J├Ârgen Tesman (Josh Krupke). It is all bright white and clean, hard lines with brilliant lighting by Amy Chisman. And it makes use of a revolve, not just as a way of changing scenes, but in an active and breathtakingly integral part of the story.

I experienced some difficulty hearing and understanding some of the dialogue in the opening act, but by the second act I was thoroughly engrossed in the story and in the characters. The seven-person cast is excellent. Krupke is great as the husband too wrapped up in his own pursuits to notice his glamorous wife. Emily Fortuna as Hedda’s overwrought friend, Thea, and Chris Shea as Hedda’s former lover, Ejlert, are both excellent, and John Serembe as the arrogant and slimy Mr. Brack sets your teeth on edge.

Hedda Gable is a dark, disturbing, often witty play that is well acted and beautifully staged.
Hedda Gabler, Thursday through Saturday, 8p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. through March 26, Harlequin Productions’ State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, ticket prices vary, call for details, 360-786-0151; http://www.harlequinproductions.org/

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Systems of Place




An intriguing two-artist installation at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 10, 2016

"Subject No. 4," linocut by Florin Hanegan, photo courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
The more time I spent in the gallery at South Puget Sound Community College looking at art by Chad Erpelding and Florin Hanegan, the more fascinating the work became. And despite being totally different in subject matter, style, and media, I began to see striking similarities between Hanegan’s life-size linocuts of people and of trees and Erpelding’s layered maps from his Sister Cities project. Both are detail-oriented and obsessive; both create densely-packed images.

Hanegan’s portraits are powerful graphic images in stark black and white. Each man, woman or child fills a sheet of paper approximately seven feet tall. Each faces forward and looks directly at the viewer. They are dark images like full-figured mugshots. They appear to be working-class people and college-age students. None are glamorous, and none are wearing makeup or fashionable clothes. 

They are, in other words, you and me with nothing to hide. 

The shading is mostly done with stippled marks as in gritty and harshly lighted photographs. Most of them have dot patterns in the background, tiny black dots with even smaller white dots in the center, densely packed in a regular grid pattern that completely fills the background. One of the linocuts is a portrait of a young man whose shirt is filled with white dots on a black field as a reverse or negative mirror image of the background pattern.
 
I suspect many viewers will see similarities to some of Andy Warhol’s grittier portraits of people and objects. I’m thinking more of some of his film and photo projects with expressionless faces staring directing and unflinchingly into the viewers’ eyes and his electric chair series for the starkness of the imagery. They may also remind people of  portraits by Chuck Close. Interestingly, they are numbered, not named, so that they are simultaneously specific and generic: everywoman/everyman.
Also by Hanegan are linocuts of trees with densely tangled limbs and the same kind of dark and gritty look as the portraits.

Chad Erpelding, Sister Cities series, Olympia and Kato, mixed media and epoxy. Photo courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
Erpelding’s Sister City installation on the back wall of the gallery consists of 54 small pictures of maps layered within 10 levels of epoxy resin, each five-by-seven inches and arranged in a square, with six in one direction and nine in the other, dominating a large section of the back wall. Each square is a map of a section of two sister cities — for example, Olympia and Kato, Japan; and Seattle and Kobe — with overlapping streets, bridges, houses and bodies of water. The images are taken from Google maps that are meticulously cut with an exacto knife and layered within the resin so the viewer can see layer after layer after layer as if each is mounted on a separate sheet of clear glass.
According to statements made by the artist, he has no interest in the aesthetic appeal of his work but is interested only in the careful research and presentation of facts, and yet this installation is aesthetically attractive as a single piece as seen from a distance across the gallery space and as 54 information-filled images of specific places, each with its own history and unique appearance.
Whether seen as conceptual works or a formalist compositions, these pieces by Hanegan and Erpelding are fascinating to consider.

Often in my reviews I have encouraged readers to take time to carefully study the shows. Seldom has that advice been so critical, because these pieces are all about the details —and about the concepts.

South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. through March 25, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.]