Friday, April 21, 2017

Art Faculty exhibition at Tacoma Community College

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 20, 2017

 “Acropolis Museum” oil on panel by Marit Berg, courtesy Tacoma Community College
Talented artists all, members of the art faculty at Tacoma Community College are showing some of their latest works. Exhibiting artists are: Kyle Dillehay, Alice Di Certo, Jenny Roholt, Melinda Liebers Cox, Anthony Culanag, Frank Dippolito, Karen Doten, Rick Mahaffey, Reid Ozaki and Marit Berg.  
Probably the most engaging piece in the show is a collaborative work by Dillehay and Di Certo that greets the viewer upon entering the gallery. It is called “U.S.A. Cabinet.” This piece is an old index-card file cabinet with 60 drawers. The drawers are labeled with headings that refer to contemporary issues surrounding the Trump presidency and both local and national political and social issues in the year 2017 — for example “Initiative 1552,” the proposed Washington state initiative to restrict public bathroom use to persons of the gender assigned at birth; a more generic label, “Trumping the Constitution”; a “Russia Drawer”; and a “Human Rights Venting Drawer.” Stuffed into these drawers are drawings, photographs, newspaper clippings, and a whole lot of other objects — most if not all of which are verbal or visual political or social commentary. Blank index cards sit on a nearby table, and visitors to the gallery are invited to write or draw on them and add them to the appropriate drawers. Visitors who have the time to do so can easily spend hours studying the contents of these drawers.
Cox is showing a couple of nice little acrylic paintings called “Pick Up Stix” (numbers one and two). In each, sticks from the game are scattered on a patterned rug or mat to create overlapping patterns in candy-bright colors. They’re like Philip Pearlstein paintings without the figures.
Also nice to look at are a group of graphite drawings by Doten. These are drea-like abstractions based on landscape with soft modulations of gray shapes and lots of white space. They are dream-like. Also in the group is one slightly different piece with collage and a line drawing of a canyon superimposed over the soft graphite drawing. It’s at the beginning of the line of drawings and nicely serves as an introduction as if to say “See what follows.”
Berg fills one long gallery wall and part of an adjacent shorter wall with drawings and paintings made during a trip to Athens, Greece. Along one wall are 11 pages from her travel journal with sensitive line drawings and written notes about her trip. There are also three small oil paintings on wooden panels. Viewed  from left to right, these paintings become increasingly surrealistic. First is “Taking a Break in Athens,” a naturalistic painting of a girl sprawled out on a couch reading a book. Behind her is a window overlooking the city, and to her right a larger window offering a larger view of the city. I love the contrast of the restful picture of the reclining reader and the congested city scene. Next is “Acropolis Museum,” a painting of a girl (most likely the same girl) meandering through columns and statues in the museum. What is striking is the girl is wearing a colorful dress, as is one of the statues, while everything else is white. It seems a piece out of time that resonates with the girl, thus making ancient works seem timeless. The last painting is also of a museum, and in this one everything overlaps and seems to be reflected as in a fun-house mirror. Seeing the three of them side-by-side is like looking at still from a movie in which reality and imagination merge.
I wish I could describe all of the work in this very rich show; I encourage readers to see the whole thing for themselves.”
Art Faculty, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through May 5, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with The Fifteen Minute Hamlet

Tom Stoppard comedies at Lakewood Playhouse
By Alec Clayton
published in The News Tribune, April 21, 2017
(L to R) FRANK ROBERTS (Rosencrantz) and PAUL RICHTER (Guildenstern) photo by Tim Johnson
Tom Stoppard’s The Fifteen Minute Hamlet is like a thinking person’s Marx Brothers movie. His Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is that same thinking person’s version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” with a dose of Waiting for Godot thrown in to sweeten the stew. These companion pieces, so different yet so alike, are playing at Lakewood Playhouse.
The evening leads off with The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, which is just what the title implies: Shakespeare’s Hamlet pared down to a mere 15 minutes, with a talented and perfectly in-sync ensemble cast delivering rapid-fire the most famous lines from Hamlet, with a big helping of physical comedy, in the tradition of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)
As soon as the ensemble quickly skewers the classic tragedy, they follow with a five-minute encore (fewer words and everything speeded up), immediately followed by a one-minute version. It is slapstick of the highest order.
The troupe is led by a droll Nathan Rice as The Player and Dylan Twiner as Hamlet.
That is the appetizer. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is the main course. It is a long, complex and brilliant comedy featuring Frank Roberts as Rosencrantz and Paul Richter as Guildenstern, two characters from Hamlet who did not appear in The Fifteen Minute Hamlet. Roberts and Richter play off each other like musicians who have been improvising together for their shared lifetime.
The play opens with a crazy routine in which they investigate the laws of probability by tossing coins with an insane amount of repetition. One might think that too much repetion would become boring, but as Stoppard wrote this scene and as Roberts and Richter perform it, it is crazy funny. In a similarly funny scene later on, they turn philosophical discussion; i.e., debate, into a game of tennis with points scored according to a set of rules only they comprehend — rules they change at will.
Throughout the show they tackle such deep subjects as the nature of life and death — what would you prefer, being locked in a little box forever or being dead in the box (at least you wouldn’t know you were suffering, or do the dead know they’re dead?) What is the meaning of life? What are we doing here? Where are we going, and who are we? Throughout, they get confused about who they are. Am I Rosencrantz or am I Guildenstern? Perhaps they are neither. Perhaps they are actors waiting to go onstage for their brief appearance as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Stoppard poses these questions, but R & G do now answer them or can’t agree on the answers. That is up to the audience.
Familiarity with Hamlet helps to understand Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but understanding might not even matter. It might be enough to simply get swept up by the verbal fireworks, of which there are plenty.
For readers who might want a little more explanation, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were minor and forgettable characters in Hamlet. They were childhood friends of Prince Hamlet who were sent to spy on him and who accompanied him on a trip to England. In this play, they are the main characters, but they have no idea why they have been cast in these roles. Along the way on this mission they don’t understand, they run into all the main characters in the Shakespeare play, from Gertrude (Dayna Childs) to Claudius (Ben Stahl) to Polonius (W. Scott Pinkston) to Ophelia (Gabi Marler) to a cast of stock characters in the traveling theatre troupe. These are all the same actors, in the same roles, as in The Fifteen Minute Hamlet.
Stoppard’s writing is inspired, intelligent and hilarious. The acting throughout is outstanding. Blake York’s rough-looking set — a brick wall and a bunch of boxes — and Aaron Mohs-Hale’s lighting are wonderful. Rochelle-Ann Graham’s costumes are suitable for the characters, time and place, except for the modern tennis shoes worn by the main characters. These out-of-place shoes are harbingers of a great running joke.
The two plays together are long, but worth every minute of it.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 7
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood TICKETS: $15
INFORMATION: 253.588.0042,

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Retrospective

40 years of making art

I was asked to write a statement for the announcement of my upcoming retrospective show at Tacoma Community College. Here is what I came up with:

In the early 1970s while living in a one-room walkup in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, I did a series of small crayon drawings on paper. Many of them were city scenes taken from memory and imagination or from sketching what I could see from my fire escape. I loved the bird’s-eye view, and I fell in love with layering, scraping, and layering again with the crayons. I gave away hundreds of those works. The only one I still have is “Deli,” which I gave to my then girlfriend, now my wife of 43 years.
A little more than a decade later I discovered oil sticks or oil bars. The artist who told me about them said they were the ultimate crayon, and he was right. I discovered that marvelous effects could be made by pushing the oil bars around on a hard surface and that the layering and scraping away I had so enjoyed with crayons could be done much better with oil bars and oil sticks. At first I did figurative works on paper, and gradually the figures became increasingly abstract, and I started working larger on canvas with acrylic underpainting. I would fill the canvas with random brushstrokes, often pushing the paint around with trowels or scrapers, then let it dry and draw into it with the oil bars. The work became completely abstract, but every once in a while, a recognizable figure would sneak back in. I began to mix the oil bars with oil paint, pouring, scraping and working with brushes and sticks or whatever I could find to push the paint around.
My abstract paintings reflect influences of the abstract expressionist movement, which was the predominant art movement in the country when I was studying art. Although abstract and formalist, they are informed by nature. I try to capture the essence of movement and struggle as seen in nature — the way a baby bird reaches up for a worm in its mother’s beak, the way a fish leaps out of water, the sensuous way plant tendrils wind around one another, and the way human beings walk, run and dance. I do not try to copy the look of these things but try to capture their essences through gesture.
Recognizable parts of human and animal bodies and plant life show up in my paintings – an arm here, a breast there, a snake, a fish, tree limbs; but these paintings should not be interpreted in any literal or narrative sense. The importance of these forms is not so much what they may look like or remind the viewer of creatures both human and animal. Rather, what is important to me is their emotional impact and the way the forms react in an abstract way to one another; that is, in the harmony and contrast of visual forms.
Patterns such as stripes, dots and checkerboard squares, are used as a contrast to and a means of visually holding in check the more amorphous gestural forms. A primary visual element is the contrast and balance of opposites such as rough and smooth, intuitive and planned, hard and soft edges, bright and dull colors, and so forth.
The paintings are colorful and often bring about a feeling of joyful celebration — the spirit of dancing or improvisational music. But, at the same time, many of them have an ominous or threatening feel perhaps thinly veiled beneath the celebratory surface.
I rarely have an idea of what a painting will look like when finished, but rather I discover what it is about in the process of painting. The titles are added after the works are finished, after I see what the paintings remind me of after they’re done. Sometimes the titles are the names of songs I was listening to while working.

In 2002 I had open heart surgery. For a long time after that I did not have the energy to paint, and even after I started back, I painted much less than before. I am also a writer. I have been writing art reviews for area publications since 1995 and have also written novels. After my heart attack, I discovered that writing satisfied my creative urges as well as painting did. In 2009 I finished my last painting in preparation for a show at the Convention Center in Seattle. I have not painted since and doubt I will ever go back to it.

The show opens June 28 and will run through Aug. 11.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lucy Gentry Meltzer's Biophilia Collection

Read my

OLY ARTS review of Lucy Gentry Meltzer's amazing installation at Salon Refu and then go see the show.

photos by Scot Whitney

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

 One woman, one night only at Tacoma Little Theatre
Published in the Weekly Volcano April 14, 2017
Kati Aleman

My first reaction when I saw that Tacoma Little Theatre was doing Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington was “What a great title” — a switcheroo on the famous Jimmy Stewart film of the same title, but with “Mrs.” Instead of “Mr.” I had never heard of the play, but assumed it must be a political satire. So I Googled it and discovered that it’s not a satire. It is a one-woman play about Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected to both the United States House of Representatives and to the Senate.
Kathi Aleman and Joseph Grant in Death of a Salesman at Lakewood Playhouse. Photo credit: Tim Johnson
Mrs. Smith was written by Linda Britt, and is directed by Ellen Peters with Assistant Director Chevi Chung. Kathi Aleman plays the senator from Maine. Both Peters and Aleman are well known to local theater patrons. Peters was recently seen in Night of the Iguana at Dukesbay Theatre and has been seen in The Weir and Second Samuel at TLT. Aleman scored memorable performances in last year’s Death of a Salesman at Lakewood Playhouse and in the little known but excellent Terminus at Assemblage Theatre.
Peters grew up in Maine. “I've known about Margaret Chase Smith since elementary school. She was not only notable as a woman politician, but also had a reputation for advocating for the people she represented, and speaking her mind,” Peters says.
Peters collaborated with the author, who also hails from Maine, on productions of To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Laramie Project in the mid-2000s and was her assistant director on Mrs. Smith, which Britt directed, at Out of the Box Theater Company in Lewiston, Maine, in February of 2010. That production of the play was followed by a Q&A with the actor who played Margaret Chase Smith staying in character. The number of Mainers who cited their personal or their family interaction with Senator Smith was both astounding and touching,” Peters says. Margaret Chase Smith made a mark not only for women in politics, but in the lives of countless citizens. At the same time, I was struck by how important the messages of the play still are.”
Brill describes Mrs. Smith as “an intimate look at the life and times of Margaret Chase Smith, told in her own words and in the words of the people closest to her. It tells of her journey from humble beginnings in Skowhegan, Maine, to a position of power and respect as a United States Senator. She relates personal anecdotes and recites from her “Declaration of Conscience,” sharing both private and public moments with the audience. Senator Smith was a woman of courage and integrity, and this production brings her to life for a new generation.”
Aleman says, “Ellen first approached me to do the project in the aftermath of the Presidential campaign and election. I wanted to work with her on it because I felt it has something to say to all women, including my daughter who had just voted in her first presidential election, grieving over the loss of a woman becoming President. It is storytelling in its truest form, and the story it tells is of a true public servant, who fought for the rights contained in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the needs of her constituents and for what she knew was morally correct even when it meant going against her party. Margaret Chase Smith was a pioneer who knew that women belong in politics, due to their humanity, passion and determination. It is a story that I feel honored to bring to Tacoma.”
Following the production of the play there will be a post-play panel discussion with State Senator Jeannie Darneille; Councilmember Lauren Walker Lee; playwright Linda Britt who will travel from her home in Maine to be here; and University of Puget Sound Associate Professor of Politics and Government Robin Jacobson.
Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 27, $10, free to TLT members, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Waltz of the Toreadors at Dukesbay Theater

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 6, 2017
Aya Hashiguchi as Madame Pé and Eric Ray Anderson as General Léon Saint-Pé, photo by Jason Ganwich of Ganwich Media
Randy Clark, co-founder of Dukesbay Theater and director of the French farce The Waltz of the Toreadors, said he saw this play years ago at The Seattle Repertory Theatre and loved it, and that he has never seen it performed anywhere since. He said he does not understand why it is not being produced by other companies.
I agree. It is side-splittingly funny, and it is intelligent and well written.
The show is set in 1910 somewhere in France. Retired General Léon Saint-Pé (Eric Ray Anderson) no longer loves his invalid wife (Aya Hashiguchi), whom he suspects of being a hypochondriac. In fact, he seethes with hatred of her. For 17 years, he has been madly in love with another woman, Ghislaine (Kathryn Grace Philbrook), with whom he danced only once. She is equally in love with him. Over those many years, Léon remained true to his wife (except for some moments he managed to spend off in his garden with the household help, perhaps). Ghislaine has remained a virgin.
When Ghislaine unexpectedly shows up at Léon’s home, pandemonium ensues. And she joyfully loses her virginity ― to say how and with whom would be a spoiler of the worst kind. Other scenes that would constitute spoilers, were I to tell about them, include many hilariously inept attempts at suicide by multiple characters.
The Waltz of the Toreadors is a turn-of-the (last)-century sex farce that is as funny today as it was when it was first performed 66 years ago. Although a contemporary version could benefit from a little trimming.
The set designed by Blake York with scenic painting by Jennifer York is gorgeous. I love the almost exclusively black and white furnishings and backdrops and white fleur-de-lis pattern on the black floor.
Beyond the terrific script, what makes this comedy shine is the acting of the two major characters, Anderson and Philbrook. Anderson portrays the general as so overly excitable that I feared he would have a stroke, and Philbrook is appropriately ditsy and absurd, not to mention libidinous underneath an oh-so-proper facade.
Anderson is the only equity actor in the play, and his resume is golden. He has appeared in such popular television shows as “Northern Exposure,” “Grimm” and “Twin Peaks,” and on stages throughout Western Washington — including (I’m quoting from his program bio) every stage in Seattle. This vast experience is clear in his depiction of General Léon Saint-Pé.
With subtlety and grace, Joseph Grant creates in Dr. Bonfant a character who is wise and witty, and who secretly thinks everyone else is an idiot. Hashiguchi, co-founder of Dukesbay, spends most of the play either in bed or shouting at her husband from off-stage. She plays Madame Saint-Pé as nasty and manipulative (no wonder her husband wants to kill her).
The physical affectations of the secretary, Gaston (Tim Takechi), seemed in the early scenes to be a bit wooden, but as the play moved through time his demeanor made more sense and Takechi’s character became more vibrant.
Other actors in the show are Jeffery Weaver as Father Ambrose, Maria Valenzuela as Madame Dupont-Fredaine, and Jackie Villava-Cua and Audrey Montague as a pair of sisters who are models of shy decorum until they become screeching shrews.
There is reality and even sadness beneath the hilarity of this French farce which, as Clark said, should be produced much more often. I am glad Dukesbay Theater is doing it.

The Waltz of the Toreadors, 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through April 9, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, WA 98402,

Behind the Pines

Photo: Video still and drawing in ink on newsprint by Isabelle Gresser, courtesy Kittredge Gallery

Isabelle Gresser installations, drawings and videos at UPS
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 6, 2017
Video still and drawing in ink on newsprint by Isabelle Gresser, courtesy Kittredge Gallery

All the way from Berlin, Germany, comes multi-dimensional artist Isabelle Gresser with a multi-media installation on the theme of pine trees, humanity, and international cultures. There are multiple videos with found footage and brilliant editing, drawings, photographs, and one wall featuring student work from a project called Nocturn Encounters: Utopian Affirmation, wherein the students came together for a few hours to exchange ideas and make drawings and print poems and other works on paper and attach them to the gallery wall.
Gresser’s video work is inspirational and filled with a density of ideas expressed through a variety of video techniques combined with music and literature, including quotes from many famous poets and novelists. Her videos are stunningly beautiful.
The drawings, both Gresser’s and those by the students, are mostly sketchy and often crudely executed. The best are from a group of small drawings in glass cases along with photographs, and passages from poems and other literary works.
There are five large video works, some projected on large screens and some shown on monitors, all with head phones for listening to accompanying music and poetry. All place modern life, mostly urban, in natural scenes to present complex looks into various cultures and mankind’s relation to both natural and built worlds.
“Nietzsche at Nice” is a surrealistic video that pictures a large video screen (a video within a video) set up on what appears to a boardwalk overlooking the beach at the French town of Nice. On the beach are two sunbathers, one male and one female. A Jeep drives by where sand meets ocean, and an airline flies overhead. A huge cruise ship slowly traverses the scene. Two spacemen appear on the beach next to the sunbathing man. It is a moment wherein reality and unreality meet — the essence of surrealism.
“Iris 2.0” is a smaller video with a Renaissance-style portrait of a woman whose face continuously deconstructs and morphs into various abstract patterns as it is overlaid with concentric circles, geometric patterns, prisms, and a more modernistic collage-like rendering of the mouth of an archetypical model with a toothy smile superimposed over the Renaissance woman’s mouth. The model’s mouth, which is beautiful by most modern standards, becomes horrifying in this image.
“Smart Seoul Poem” is a video of a street scene in Korea. On the street, there is a wall with a mural painted on it. The mural is of trees, and in front of the wall are actual trees which look so much like the painted trees that the only way to tell the difference is to notice how trunks of the painted trees are cut off sharply at the top edge of the wall. Behind the wall is a building under construction. Pedestrians walk past, and some of them fade into shadowy ghost figures. You can see through them. It is a poem in motion.
The other videos are equally intriguing, with multiple meanings and many beautiful and startling special effects.
Showing in the smaller back gallery is Painting the National Parks: Preserving A.W. Hill's Experience, an exhibition of landscape paintings from the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s and 30s by Abby Williams Hills, a popular artist at the time who lived and worked in Tacoma.

Behind the Pines: Isabelle Gresser, Kittredge Gallery, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., through April, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701. 

The Funeral of Sir Francis Rottenfoot Sr.

This looks like a helluva lot of fun.

The Funeral of Sir Francis Rottenfoot Sr. is an experimental spoken-word piece written and performed by Rachel Lionheart. Lionheart is a writer and spoken word artist.

"I have been developing The Funeral of Sir Francis Rottenfoot, Sr. over an 11-year period, through many phases and relationships in my life and after my brother died of psychedelic mushrooms. in 2001," Lionheart says. "I did not have words for his loss, but I did have an extremely heightened imagination and training from NYU in physical-based theater. Each performance of Sir Francis is a dedication and commitment to listening to the distinct, and at certain points of grief, unrecognizable inner-voice that makes sense out of the nonsense of life and death. This current evolution is dedicate to my Aunt Ruth and her daughters and grandchildren."

Rachel Lionheart
Saturday April 8th at 7 p.m, $10 suggested donation

Tacoma Community Arts Center located at:
1102 MLK Jr. Way
Tacoma, WA 98405

Friday, March 31, 2017

Documenting Cambodians then and now

Scars and Stripes at the Spaceworks Gallery
Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 30, 2017
Installation shot showing one wall of the Scars and Stripes exhibition, photo courtesy Spaceworks Tacoma.

Little is known about the United States’ involvement in Cambodia during the Vietnam War or about the aftermath — the refugees, the deportees, the Americans in exile. The exhibition Scars and Stripes at Spaceworks Gallery examines all of that through photographs, paintings, video and performance art (readers may recall the preview article in the Mach 9 Weekly Volcano).
Seldom have I seen so much information presented in so many inventive ways in so little space. This exhibition, curated by Silong Chhun, founder of Red Scarf Revolution, features photos and text from Khmer American: Naga Sheds Its Skinan exhibition created by the Khmer American community and Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, and artworks by Raisa Nosova that explore the impact of war, genocide, resettlement, and deportation of Cambodian Americans then and now.
Museum-like, the exhibition is arranged in five timeline sections: Peace, War X Genocide, Refugee Camps, Resettlement, and Deportation.
In the “Peace” section we see both written and photographic histories of Cambodia before the war, and a wonderfully delicate papercut picture by Lauren Iida of a shoe vendor. She is on her knees, and shoes are laid out on the ground in front of her. Everything is in tones of white and gray.
In the “War X Genocide” area we see two artworks. One is “The Khmer Rouge,” a two-art painting in embroidery, paint, fabric and thread is on canvas by Anida You Ali, which presents delicate images of barbed wire. A companion piece is “Behind the Fence,” an oil painting by Raisa Nosova of a woman behind a barbed wire fence in bold strokes of blue, ochre and pink on a black background. The woman is as see-through as the fence, as if she has become the fence or the fence is now her. The “Refugee Camps” section has photos of overcrowding among Cambodian children and families in Camp Pendleton in San Diego and of refugees in the Philippine refugee camp in Bataan.
The “Resettlement” section asks the question, “What would you do if you were plucked down in the middle of a strange land with strange people and no knowledge of the language or customs or how to survive?” Evidence of answers to that question is given in the form of eye-opening photographs and newspaper clippings.
The final section, “Deportation,” examines through art and video the plight of Cambodians who escaped to the United States when they were young children and who as teenagers were deported back to Cambodia, a land foreign to them, usually because of misdemeanors. In this section, we see Stuart Isett’s photo series “The Lost Boyz of Cambodia” and the video “Studio Revolt,” a series of three short films, two with Cambodian teens who consider themselves Exiled Americans talking about their lives, and a third a hard-hitting spoken poem. Also in this section are another painting by Nosova and another papercut piece by Iida.
This show documents a set of histories many of us may not recognize.  It’s time we did.
Scars and Stripes, 1-5 p.m., Monday-Friday and 1-9 p.m. Third Thursday, through April 20, Spaceworks Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Local Author Spotlight: Sam Snoek-Brown and Alec Clayton

This is what we’re going to might do

Sam is going to read something he has written, possibly from his novel, Hagridden and possibly from one of his chapbooks. I heard him read at Creative Colloquy and was impressed. I read Hagridden and one of his short stories and was even more impressed. That’s all I can say about Sam for now.
As for me, I’m going to do something different and read from my latest novel. Isn’t that what writers usually do, you might ask. Well yeah, but not me. I usually adapt a scene as if for the stage and get actors to read it. But this time I’m going to read from Tupelo myself, because Tupelo is my most autobiographical novel. It is the story of Kevin Lumpkin, the youngest by six minutes of a set of twins in Tupelo, Mississippi, told in the first person. From birth to about the age of twelve, Kevin is me. It is my story. But after that it is all a lie.

I plan on reading two scenes that take place during the transition period from autobiographical fiction to totally made up story, when the boys and girls in Tupelo are entering puberty and beginning to notice each other.

This book event takes place at the Lacey Library, 500 College St. SE, Lacey, WA, April 20, 5:30-7 p.m. I hope you can attend. We will have books to sign (and sell, of course), and there will be a question-and-answer period after the readings. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Susan Christian's Sticks - again

Once again Susan Christian is showing her painted stick constructions at her own gallery, Salon Refu. The paintings are assemblages of various kinds of sticks, mostly lathe, which she puts together in rectangular shapes and paints as if they were stretched canvases. 

Read my review on

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Syra Beth Puett, a life in theater


Syra Beth Puett, a life in theater
Syra Beth Puett’s
ONE WEEKEND ONLY – March 17th, 18th & 19th

L-R: Boolie (Robert Geller), Daisy (Syra Beth Puett) and Hoke (Malcolm J. West), photo by Jason Ganwich

The Lakewood Playhouse is proud to present the World Premier of Syra Beth Puett’s One Woman Show about her life both inside, and outside, of theatre – “MY HUSBAND LIKED BEVERLY BETTER.”  This Special Premier Presentation is also serving as a Fundraiser for Scholarships at our Lakewood Institute of Theatre.  Tickets for this Special Event, and Fundraiser, are Only $10.00 Each.

This beautiful story will be performed on Friday & Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:00pm.  Performances will be March 17th through March 19th ONLY.   All Tickets are Only $10.00 Each.

Syra Beth Puett in The Lion in Winter, with Kat Christensen. Photo by Dean Lapin.

Syra Beth Puett in On Golden Pond with Clark Maffit. Photo by Dean Lapin.

Please Join Us for an evening, or an afternoon, for a special one woman show featuring stories and insights from Syra Beth Puett about her life both inside, and outside, of the theatre.

Although the show chronicles her experiences in Community Theater, it also reveals reasons she became involved in theater. She will introduce people and situations that informed the performer that she became.

Through these insights, you may just discover that she is not the actor, or person, that you thought she was.

This Special Presentation will also feature the return of Director Doug Kerr.  Mr. Kerr has an amazing history with theatre in the South Sound as a Educator, Managing Artistic Director, Mentor and Director for over forty years serving such organizations as Pierce College, Tacoma Actor’s Guild, Tacoma Little Theatre and the Lakewood Playhouse.

ABOUT OUR THEATRE: The Lakewood Playhouse was founded in 1938 and has established itself with theatre that is both intimate and epic.  The theatre is located within the Lakewood Towne Center, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, Washington 98499.  For further information about “Syra Beth Puett’s MY HUSBAND LIKE BEVERLY BETTER” please contact the Box Office at the Lakewood Playhouse (253) 588-0042 or make any e-mail queries to John Munn, Managing Artistic Director, at

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lacey Reuter’s “Harlem Renaissance” paintings
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 23, 2017
Harlem Renaissance,” oil on canvas by Lacey Reuter, courtesy American Art Company
Tacoma artist Lacey Reuter was only 17 years old when she created the “Harlem Renaissance” paintings now on display at American Art Company, says gallery director Tammy Radford. It’s an impressive body of work for anybody, especially a 17-year-old. There are five large paintings, each measuring 5-foot, 5-inches by 5-foot, and one mural-size painting at 6-by-11 feet that dominates one wall of the gallery.
On the downside, as representative of the Harlem Renaissance, a major force in America’s cultural history, they are little more than a kind of scrapbook with pictures of a lot of the famous artists and writers and musicians who lived and worked in Harlem at the time, and the faces are not even recognizable but are identified by name, which seems childish to this reviewer.
On the upside, these are vibrant, energetic and engaging paintings. Reuter’s drawing style is unhesitating. She combines flat areas and modeled areas and line in ways that provide an intriguing balance of variety and unity. They are colorful and exciting, a visual representation of the jazz music that was the music of the time and place — much like what Mondrian did in a more subdued and abstract manner with his “Broadway Boogie Woogie.”
Compositionally they dance right up to the edge of chaos. Faces and objects easily get lost in the clutter. The only unifying elements are the color schemes (a predominance of blues in the smaller works and of tan in the large painting), meandering lines that move throughout in most of the paintings, and in the smaller works a circular arrangement of faces and other images.
The Harlem Renaissance was an explosion of music, literature and visual art centered in Harlem, New York City, in the years between the world wars. Each of Reuter’s paintings celebrates one aspect of the Renaissance: art, music, writing, and theater; and the large, mural-sized painting combines them all.
The “Harlem Art” depicts artists Sargent Johnson, Palmer Hayden, William H. Johnson and others with their names handwritten by their pictures and quotes from some of them such as from Hayden: “I decided to paint to support my love of art rather than have my art support me.”
“Harlem Music” celebrates Fletcher Henderson, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and others; “Harlem Theater” pictures Ethel Waters, Bojangles Robinson and Eubie Blake; “Harlem Writers” memorializes Booker T. Washington, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston. It also pictures book spines with titles and quotes from works by some of the writers.
The largest painting and by far the most impressive combines all the elements of the others. Dark brown and black figures flow across the bottom half of the canvas in a circular swoop while lighter, multi-colored concentric circles in the background solidify what would otherwise be chaos. The thin paint application and many transparencies are enjoyable to contemplate because of their subtlety and complexity, as are a series of almost invisible light tan faces that meld into the background. This is a sophisticated painting.
Finding all the figures and words can be entertaining, but it is the exuberance of these paintings that make them worth seeing.
Harlem Renaissance, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Feb. 28, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327,

Friday, February 24, 2017

Doubt at Lakewood Playhouse

Kait Mahoney as Sister James and Blake R. York as Father Flynn, photo by Tim Johnson.
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 23, 2017
John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, A Parable has earned the rare honor of taking home the trifecta of awards: the Tony, the Academy Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Chances are you’ve seen the film starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, but if you have not seen it live on stage — or even if you have — you should see Lakewood Playhouse’s stirring production.
For starters, Shanley’s script is as tightly written and as full of intelligent insights and surprises as anything you’re likely to see on stage, and Erin Manza Chanfrau’s set design is outstanding. It is comfortable and attractive with three scenes set at an angle to make for easy viewing from any seat in the house, where there is seating on three sides. No set changes are required, so there is no distraction and no waiting between scenes. There is the high alter in a Catholic church, the principal’s office in the school next door to the church, and the garden bench between the two. On the back wall are painted stained glass windows. The height of the altar lends majesty when Father Brendan Flynn (Blake R. York) ascends it to preach, which is how the play opens.
With quiet dignity, the priest ascends the altar and preaches a homily about doubt, saying it is all right to not know, that everyone must wrestle with doubt. Thus, he announces the theme that asserts itself throughout the play.
The school principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Connie Murray), suspects Father Flynn of inappropriate behavior with a student who is talked about but who never appears in the play. He is the first and only black student in the newly integrated school. She questions Sister James (Kait Mahoney), a young and innocent teacher, about the relationship between the priest and the boy. Sister James believes in Father Flynn. The boy’s mother (Diane Johnson in a single but powerful and surprising scene) comes to school at the invitation of Sister Aloysius, who is now more convinced than ever that Father Flynn is carrying on relations with the boy. Anything more said about the confrontation between Sister Aloysius and Mrs. Muller would be a spoiler.
Finally, Sister Aloysius confronts Father Flynn, which he, of course, denies.
York underplays the role of Father Flynn. He portrays him in a manner that invites the audience to like and trust him — as gentle, kind and self-assured, but with a tightly controlled underlying tension. From the beginning one wants to believe in him.
Murray plays Sister Aloysius as cold and calculating, and so convinced she is right about her suspicions that it makes the audience suspect she is out to get Father Flynn, regardless of where or not he is guilty.
The doubt stated in the title and in the priest’s opening sermon turns out to be about the moral character of each of the people in the story. Is there is a power struggle going on between the priest and the principal? Is his loving demeanor a mask?  No clear answers are given; the audience is left to puzzle it out for themselves, as the central mystery is not only Father Flynn’s guilt or innocence, but the motives and morality of each character in the play, not just Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, but to a lesser degree Sister James and Mrs. Muller.
Each of the four actors does an outstanding job of realistically portraying the unique personalities of these four divergent characters.
Doubt was originally written to be performed not as a one-act but as a full-length play. It is my understanding that it is often broken into two acts, but Lakewood Playhouse’s managing artistic director John Munn said he and director Victoria Webb decided to run it as originally written, for which I applaud them. Breaking up the action for an intermission would have been damaging to the dramatic thrust. I was thoroughly engaged from the moment York walked on stage and ascended the alter, and I think an intermission would have taken the audience out of the action and lessened the dramatic impact.
The play runs about an hour and a half. It is intense, emotionally demanding, and intellectually challenging. There is nothing light and playful about Doubt. It is heavy drama of the most intense sort, and beautifully produced.
Doubt, 8 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. and 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 12, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $15, 253.588.0042,

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Me and Pat Conroy

I never read anything by Pat Conroy until a reviewer compared one of my books to his. Linda Linguvic, an reviewer from New York City wrote in her review of The Backside of Nowhere:  Frankly, I loved this book and actually found it better than Pat Conroy's latest, South of Broad because the characters seemed more real and not just stereotypes. Alec Clayton hit the mark perfectly, held my interest throughout and even surprised me at the end. Bravo!”

After reading that, I naturally I had to see what Conroy was all about. I’ve since read Prince of Tides, Beach Music and South of Broad, and I see the similarities. Same kind of quirky humor, same love-hate of the South. And we both go into detail about the family histories of our characters. Now I fear readers will think I’m copying him.

Ned Hayes, author of the best-selling The Eagle Tree, wrote in his review of my latest: “Tupelo is a haunting and personal tale, reminiscent of the best of Pat Conroy.”

I hesitate to say anymore because I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but as a self-published author with no money for promotion, I have to brag when I can. Here’s the thing I am exceedingly proud of: I think my “Freedom Trilogy” and Tupelo are in many ways better than anything Conroy has written, mainly because he over writes, and because his narrators are always too easily identifiable as Conroy himself and he/his narrators come across as both prideful and humble, but the pride is overarching and off-putting.

I hope you will read his books and mine and compare them for yourself. You might think I’m right, but maybe not.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Contemporary portraits from the Smithsonian


The Outwin 2016 American Portrait competition winners
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 9, 2017
“Alison Bechdel,” charcoal, mixed media and 3-D collage on paper, by Riva Lehrer, collection of the Sandy Hindin Stone, © Riva Hehrer, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
“Alison Bechdel,” charcoal, mixed media and 3-D collage on paper, by Riva Lehrer, collection of the Sandy Hindin Stone, © Riva Hehrer, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
The development of photography in the early 19th century almost killed portrait painting as a fine art and forced artists to find new ways of making art. Prior to the advent of photography, the purpose of portraiture was to memorialize or honor the subject of the portrait. The subject (the person pictured) was more important that the object (the painting — composition, color, technique, elicited emotional response and so forth). To my way of thinking, that change made artists become better artists, and it made traditional portrait painting become an almost obsolete art form.
The 43 portraits in the traveling exhibition, The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery offer answers to the question of how portraiture can still be a significant contemporary art form. For starters, the exhibition includes photographs as well as paintings, sculpture and video. Curator Dorothy Moss said modern iterations of this competitive portrait exhibition have often included abstract and conceptual art, but this year’s show is much more traditional.
At first glance, my impression was that the show was dominated by portraits from the tradition that began with Manet and went through Pop Art and photo-realist portraiture as exemplified by works by Chuck Close, Alex Katz and Andy Warhol — isolated figures facing forward with flat backgrounds, no context. One of the two galleries given over to the show is almost exclusively this type of portraiture, including the first, second and third place winners (in order: Amy Sherald’s acrylic painting “Miss Everything (unsuppressed Deliverance)”, Cynthia Henebry’s digital photograph “Mavis in the Back Seat)” and Joel Daniel Phillips’ charcoal and graphite drawing “Eugene #4).”
"Miss Everything,(Unsuppressed Deliverance)" oil on canvas by Any Sherald, collection of Frances and Buton Reifler © Amy Sherald, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
Works in the second gallery somewhat belied that impression because that gallery contains more variety in style and media and more works depicting subjects in environments, including the People’s Choice winner, Adrian “Viajero” Roman’s charcoal-on-wood portrait of Constancia Colónde Clemente. This may be the only time I have ever agreed with a people’s choice selection. This portrait is of an elderly Cuban woman. It is drawn on a box measuring 48-by-48-by 49 inches and hung high from the ceiling, drawn on all four sides with no bottom. Viewers can walk under it, look up, and see mementoes from the woman’s life attached to the inside of the box. It is skillfully executed and may be the most inventive and honest portrait in the show.
Also outstanding is Sherald’s first-place winner. It is a portrait of a young Black woman wearing a black and white dress, solid black on one side with white piping and white polka dots on the other side. She daintily holds an oversized coffee cup and wears a jaunty red hat. Her face and arms are painted with smooth shading, while her dress and the coffee cup are flat in a style reminiscent of Alec Katz portraits. I also see reminders or influences from Kehinde Wiley and Roy Litchenstein. The composition is subtle and exquisite.
Another portrait that absolutely blew me away is Riva Lehrer’s portrait of the cartoonist Alison Bechdel (famous for the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” and one of the few portraits of famous people in the show, another being Brenda Ziamany’s portrait of David Hockney). Lehrer’s portrait in charcoal, mixed-media and collage creates an alluring sense of mystery due to strong light and dark contrast, a cast shadow and blue lines that play in a provocative way with illusory space.
Most the portraits in this show are skillfully done and realistic in a modernist tradition. There is a lot of identity art with depictions of the poor and marginalized, ethnic and racial minorities, a gay couple and a transgender teenage girl wearing a dress for the very first time.

Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through May 14, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Starry Messenger at Olympia Family Theater

Published in the Weekly Volcano Feb. 9, 2017
Oliver Garcia as young Galileo and Wendy Hendrickson as his mother. Photo by David Nowitz.
Olympia Family Theater is known for delightful plays aimed at children, but every once upon a time they do a serious adult play such as Animal Farm and Orphan Train from previous seasons. Such is the case with Starry Messenger, the story of the father or modern science, Galileo Galilei — set to music, no less. It is not a musical so much as a play with music, and it is my guess that music was added to make it more entertaining for young audiences that might find the very serious subject of science and the intransigence of authority too ponderous. The youngest cast member is nine years old, and it is my judgement that anyone younger than that was not be able to understand much of the story.
The story covers 70 years in the life of Galileo, beginning with the future scientist as a young boy (played by Oliver Garcia) who dreams of the heavens and talks to the stars and the moon. As a middle age man (Christian Carvajal), Galileo makes important scientific discoveries and is forced to defend them against the religious leaders and entrenched scholars of the day, the 17th century. He discovered proof of the Copernican theory that the earth and all the planets in our solar system revolve around the sun, but the Catholic church stubbornly opposed that and claimed it was a sin not to accept that Earth was the center of the universe. Finally, we see Galileo as an old man (Tom Lockhart) reluctantly giving in to demands of the leaders but holding out hope that the world will eventually come to see the truth of his discoveries and accept scientific proof over religious dogma — a thesis which we cannot help but see as having strong parallels in today’s world.
The writer, Kari Margolis, avoided any direct religious references. The name of God is never used, but is referred to as “the Maker,” and the head of the church, clearly a red-robed cardinal, is called “the Leader.” I can only speculate as to why. The writer might have wanted to soft-pedal potentially offensive religious conflict to avoid controversy or to make the story more understandable to children who may or may not come from Christian families. Intentional or not, avoid specific religious references makes the play seem more poetic, more universal, and in keeping with the dreamlike quality of the set. Carvajal pointed out that Galileo considered himself a devout Catholic his entire life, despite his house arrest. “He simply agreed with Cardinal Baronius, who said the scriptures ‘tell us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.’"
The populous and the philosophers, as well as anthropomorphized stars and moons, are played by a chorus who sing or chant their beliefs and their opposition to what they see as blasphemy from Galileo, often in catchy rhymes that, to me, often sound like a marriage of Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss. They represent the forces of repression in ways that are funny and poetic, not only in the words they use but in their ways of moving in chorus (a choreographer should have been listed in the program, but I can only guess that director Brian Tyrell gets credit for the “dance” of the scholars). Many of Olympia’s more well-known actors can be seen in this ensemble, including Rich Young, Sara Thiessen, Keith Eisner, Tom Sanders, John Lyons Beck, and Amanda Stevens.
There is also a chorus of students played by young actors: Hattie Hummel-Church, Annabelle Samson, Loren Kattenbraker, Serean Kim, Xander Ligtenberg, and Derek Jenson.
The cast is ably rounded out by Ian Forster, Peter Rushton, and Sabrina Husseini.
The music was composed by Daven Tillinghast, lyricist and local jazz guitarist who appears frequently in the band at Harlequin Productions. The beautiful set was designed by Jill Carter and brought to starry light by lighting designer Olivia Burlingame.
Starry Messenger, 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 12, $19 adults, $16 military, $13 youth, ,, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638