Friday, November 17, 2017

Local theaters celebrate Christmas

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 16, 2017
Never does a Christmas season come and go without some local theater doing a version of A Christmas Carol. Doing the honors this year is Lakewood Playhouse with an adaptation written by Playhouse stalwart James Venturini. Popular local actors to inhabit the Dickensian world this holiday season include Joseph Grant as Ebenezer Scrooge; Gary Edwards, memorable as Riff-Raff in The Rocky Horror Show, as the Ghost of Christmas Present; and a host of other local actors.
Playhouse Artistic Director John Munn promises this one will showcase “all of the wondrous and magical elements of this classic Christmas story that has thrilled and charmed generations for centuries.”
Venturini says, “It's a non-musical adaptation. Modern audiences are mostly familiar with the tale through the many film adaptations and some annual stage presentations by large theatres; I wanted in this adaptation to give them a version as faithful to Dickens' original novella as possible, and preserve as much of his writing as possible while still making a lively and engaging play. We're using Dickens as the narrator, since he actually toured both Britain and the U.S. doing readings of his works during the last decade of his life.”
“Apart from that,” Venturini says, “I know that Alan Wilkie, the director, is interested in the ghost story aspects of the tale (which is, after all, subtitled "A Ghost Story of Christmas"), so in the adaptation I tried to craft the stagings of the four visits (Marley and the three Spirits) appropriately.”
It should be a rollicking ghostly tale.
Centerstage in Federal Way continues its holiday tradition of presenting English-style pantomimes, a.k.a. pantos. This year’s panto is Beauty and the Beast. For those who don’t know, pantos are a holiday tradition in London’s West End, the equivalent of our Broadway. They are loud, raucous children’s plays that also appeal to adults because of the sly jokes, local and pop-culture references, and bawdy double entendres that go right over the kids’ heads but which have their parents falling out of their seats with laughter. The kids love them because (1) they already know and love the stories and, just as much so as adults, love to see them mutilated for comic effect, (2) because of the outlandish stock characters, and (3) because there is always a lot of fun audience participation, and at the end they always throw candy to the children.
Pantos are popular fairy tales such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk or Beauty and the Beast retold with such stock characters as a good fairy who narrates the story and an evil character such as a witch who is usually played by man in drag, and a hero such as Prince Charming, who is traditionally played by a woman dressed as a man. Former Centerstage artistic director Alan Bryce, who comes from acting and directing in London’s West End, introduced pantos to Western Washington audiences in 2005 with a play about pantos, and Centerstage staged their first full panto, Cinderella, in 2007, so this year’s Beauty and the Beast marks the theater’s 10th anniversary of doing holiday pantos.
For a change, Tacoma Musical Playhouse is not doing a traditional holiday play this year. Instead, their holiday show is the ever-popular musical Once Upon a Mattress. But I hear TMP has tweaked the script to include a Christmas scene.
In addition to sneaking a Christmas scene into Once Upon a Mattress, TMP will have special holiday events including their first Holiday Bazaar, Sing Along with Santa and the Swing Reunion Orchestra – A Big Band Christmas!
The Holiday bazaar arts and crafts sale will be held Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the costume shop next to the TMP box office. Sing-Along with Santa is Saturday, Dec. 2. The Swing Reunion Orchestra’s show will be an evening of holiday classics played by TMP’s 18-piece big band Dec. 4 starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.
A Christmas Carol, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24-Dec. 17, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Lakewood, $20-$26, 253.588.0042,
Beauty and the Beast, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25-Dec. 17, Centerstage, 3200 SW Dash Point Rd., Federal Way, 253.661.1444, 12-$35.
Once Upon a Mattress, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24-Dec. 17, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253.565.6867,

Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting

The Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs Collection at Tacoma Art Museum
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 16, 2017
 “The Writer’s Tale – A Precarious Moment,” oil on canvas by John Frederick Peto, from the Frank and Michelle Havrdejs Collection, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum

Two galleries in the Tacoma Art Museum are filled with 60 paintings from 200 years of American still life painting from the Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs Collection. Included are works by such masters as James Peale, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andrew Wyeth and Wayne Thiebaud, plus many lesser known artists. The paintings are clustered chronologically from the early 19th century through contemporary 21st century paintings.
From the earliest American still life paintings until the advent of Pop Art, the European influence is strong, especially 17th century Dutch painting in the early years, French Impressionism from the late 1800s and into the early 20th century, and then European modernism, most notably Cezanne and Cubism.
America became fascinated with Trompe l’oeil or “fool the eye” painting in the late 1800s, with paintings by such artists as William Merritt Chase; John Frederick Peto; and most celebrated of all, William Michael Harnett. Paintings by these artists look so realistic that audiences at the time said you couldn’t tell them from photographs —although even the most skillfully painted Trompe l’oeil pictures fell far short of the photographic illusionism of late 20th century Photo Realism.
The most noticeable feature of the earlier works in this show is how dark they are. Nearly every painting has black or exceedingly dark backgrounds, and brown, dark green and black predominate. When we move into the 20th century, palettes lighten significantly.
There is a large section of Impressionist paintings featuring little known American Impressionists (with few exceptions, American Impressionism never rivaled French Impressionism). Frankly, these paintings do not belong in this exhibition. They are not still lifes. They are pictures of women in gardens and in interior scenes and are included only because the interior scenes contain a few still life elements.
The beauty, the excitement, and the artistic quality that makes this exhibition worth seeing is nearly all to the found in the paintings from the 1920s to the most recent work in the show. Scott Fraser’s “Lemon, Lemon,” for example, an oil painting from 2014 of two lemons sitting on sticks with long, spiral peels hanging down. With its dark background and golden yellow lemons, it is like a reemergence of Trompe l’oeil, but with a clever modern twist.
What makes the later works stand out so much from the earlier, in addition to the lighter palettes, is that they are more concerned with the elements of art than with the faithful reproduction of the appearance of objects. They distort perspective, use color expressively, and are concerned with the arrangement of objects in relation to one another.
Thomas Hart Benton’s “Abstract Still Life,” for example, depicts a flower with solid, abstract forms that have a sculptural look and beautifully glowing colors, and Emil Bisttram’s “Still Life with Red Apples” is like a Cubist still life by Picasso or Braque with a dance across the surface of contrasting dark and light forms.
William H. Bailey’s “Still Life with Pitcher and Eggs” is as realistic as any of the paintings by earlier artists but is clearly more about balance and contrast than it is about the appearance of the pitchers and eggs, and the velvety nuances of brown and white make you want to reach out and touch them.
And then there is Wayne Thiebeaud’s “Jelly Rolls (for Morton),” three jelly rolls in a line on a counter with a dark blue background and glowing, lighter blue shadows. I would venture to say that everyone who loves art has seen reproductions of Thiebeaud still lifes in books and magazines, but to see them in person — the thickness of his brushstrokes and the lushness of his colors —is to experience pure beauty that is transformative. Seeing this painting alone is worth the price of admission. It is a small painting at 19-by-22 inches, and unfortunately presented in a ridiculous frame, but how anything so small and so simple can have such a powerful impact is almost beyond comprehension.
I recommend you see this show for the Thiebeaud, for the William H. Bailey, and for the history lesson.

Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Jan. 7, $13-$15, third Thursday free 5-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tears of Duc'Wibahl at Evergreen

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 2, 2017
"Faces from the Carving Studio Floor," painted construction by by Iāwera Tahurī, courtesy The Evergreen State College
This past year The Evergreen State College in Olympia hosted a gathering of indigenous artists from the continental U.S., Hawaii, Alaska, Samoa and New Zealand. In New Zealand and Hawaii, such gatherings of artists are called a hui. It took place at the Longhouse. Artists who took part in the hui were invited to show work in the art gallery at Evergreen. Clearly not all the 108 invited artists are represented in the show, but the gallery is jam-packed with paintings, prints of many sorts, ceramics, fine metals, fiber arts, beadwork, carving, digital media and glass. This impressive show highlights the thoughts, skills and imagination of artists from many cultures and traditions, reflecting both long-standing traditions and modern concerns.
We in the Pacific Northwest have been inundated with Native American masks, weavings, totem poles, and the powerfully graphic images of animals both mythological and real that typify Native art, and more specifically Coastal Native art. No matter how well-loved this familiar work is to those of us who live in the lands that produced it, we might believe ourselves to already know what we’d see if we attended this show.  I must confess that I shared that expectation. Nevertheless, I was glad I saw this show. Yes, there are prints and carvings of stylized animals, there are woven dresses and baskets, and there are carved wood masts and drums. It might be easy to dismiss this show as just one more museum-type documentation of Native culture; but to dismiss it so easily would be to miss out on the felt spirituality of much of the work and the artistic skill on display.
Following are but a handful of examples of what you can expect to see.
RYAN! Fedderson’s “Bison Stack II” is a small black and white print of a conical pile of bison skulls. The very top skull in the heap is being lowered into place on the peak of the mound like the angel or star atop a Christmas tree — lowered not by hand but by a construction crane of the type that dots the cityscape in Seattle. So what we have here is a testament to the wholesale slaughter of buffalo that destroyed a way of life at the time of the settling of the “Wild West” by Europeans combined with a potent symbol of the rapid industrialization by which we might destroy our own white man’s culture. Feddersen is a member of the Colville tribe.  Dorothy Waetford’s “IOEAU” is a bit of pop art sculpture that has no reference to her indigenous culture that I can grasp, although there might be meanings beyond my grasp. It consists of rounded, sculpted letters of the alphabet, the vowels of the title, in a natural red-clay color with a poured and cracked white glaze. Like Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” and Andy Warhol’s soup cans, it proves that the most common of everyday items can be rendered beautiful by the hands of an artist.
Karen Skyki Reed of the Puyallup tribe is showing a glass case filled with 27 tiny hand-woven baskets plus a woven doll and other items that are remarkable for their tremendous skill and patience. It is like a shelf of baskets to be found in a doll house.
Powerful and almost frightening is Othniel “Art” Oomittuk’s “Three Voices Bridging the Gap.” It is a large drum made of carved wood with a stretched rawhide drum head.
On the sides are carved a stylized fish, possibly an orca, and two large heads that appear to be singing. My guess is they are singing to the whale. As with many of the works in this show, there are probably references in this work to myths or legends or stories that I am not aware of. There is no wall text to explain possible meanings and traditions.
One of the more attractive pieces in the show, primarily for its rich coloring, is “Faces from the Carving Studio Floor” by Iāwera Tahurī. It is a set of three forms from scrap wood glued and screwed together and painted with bright green, purple, orange, yellow and blue slashes of color on the black wood. The colors are deep and luminous, and the abstract faces are fierce.

Tears of Duc'Wibahl, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, through Dec. 10, closed college holidays Nov. 10 and Nov. 20-23, Library Building The Evergreen State College, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Olympia,

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Young Frankenstein Extended

Ian Montgomery as Young Dr. Frankenstein,Dahlia Young as Inga and in background Jesse Geray as Igor.
Due to popular demand, Standing Room Only has extended their run of Young Frankenstein the Musical at the Triad Theater in Yelm.

From the brains behind The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Spaceballs, legendary filmmaker and comedian Mel Brooks brings his classic monster musical comedy Young Frankenstein to life on the stage.
Directed by Daniel Wyman
Produced by Standing Room Only Theater Company
Nov 17th @ 7:30 pm
Nov 18th @ 7:30 pm
Nov 19th @ 3:00 pm
Nov 24th @ 7:30 pm
Nov 25th @ 7:30 pm
Nov 26th @ 3:00 pm
$25 - Regular Price
$20 - Military, Seniors, and Students
$17 - Group rate (10 or more)
Tickets are available at

Read my review in text

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: “Calligraphy”

Note: This review was published in The News Tribune. I was unable to post it to my blog until today. Tonight, Saturday and Sunday will be your last chances to see it.

The cast of Calligraphy, photo by Jason Ganwich

By Alec Clayton
Based on a quick look around the audience, there were no more than two empty seats at the opening of “Calligraphy” at Dukesbay Theater, which is as it should be, because Dukesbay offers Tacoma something few other area theaters do: excellent comedy and drama presented by an ethnically diverse cast — ethnic diversity being a prime mission of Dukesbay.
“Calligraphy” is an intense family drama centered on a Japanese-American family, and it proves that no one culture has a monopoly on dramatic intensity and complexity of plot, characters, and relationships. Except for the intentional ethnic specificity, “Calligraphy” could easily be taken for a contemporary comic drama by Israel Horovitz or Tennessee Williams or even Edward Albee. As with Horovitz’s depictions Massachusetts fishermen, Williams’s decadent Southerners or the vicious academicians in Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” playwright Velina Hasu Houston presents a satisfying drama sprinkled with comedy as an intense picture of place and time. “Calligraphy” offers something that is the goal of much of theater: universality presented through specific and identifiable characters and situations.
Noriko Jameson is a Japanese woman living in Los Angeles with her single, mid-30s daughter Hiromi (Amy Van Mechelen). Years ago, she had married an African-American soldier, Eamon Jameson (Charles Reccardo) and moved to America. Eamon has recently passed away, and Noriko is just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which she adamantly denies. Her older sister, Natsuko (Joy Misako St. Germain) still lives in Japan, as does her daughter, Sayuri (Tomoko Saito). The cross-Pacific cousins keep in touch via the Internet, and emotional family ties play out on their computers and between mothers and daughters on the two continents. Reccardo, the only male actor in the play, appears as Eamon in flashback memories, and as an unrelated American policeman whom Noriko mistakes as her dead husband.
The small cast if terrific. Van Mechelen underplays the complex character of the supportive daughter and sometimes antagonistic cousin. St. Germain is strong in the role of the autocratic older sister who has a few surprises up her sleeve. Saito almost overplays overly exuberant Sayuri, who comes across almost as a willful teenager even though she is creeping up on middle age. She throws herself into the role with enthusiasm and is a delight to watch. Reccardo is charming as the young soldier and appropriately caring and somewhat confused as the policeman. He comes across as totally natural and believable in both roles. And finally, Cardona is a marvel to watch as the plays the complex and nuanced role of a woman slipping into dementia. Her memory scenes with Eamon are sweet and touching, and her scenes of anger and confusion as she loses her touch on reality are gripping.
The action takes place on an elegant and minimalist set designed by Burton Yuen. The show is skillfully directed by Maria Valenzuela. “Calligraphy” runs 90 minutes with no intermission.

Check Alec’s blog at for reviews of other area theatrical productions.

SIDEBAR: Calligraphy
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 12
WHERE: Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma

INFORMATION:, 253-350-7680

Codependent Menagerie and other shows

Photo –

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 9, 2011
By Alec Clayton
 “John and Yoko,” oil painting by Katlyn Hubner, courtesy Feast Art Center
Seattle artist Katlyn Hubner is well known in the Emerald City and, if she is not equally well known in Tacoma she should be and hopefully will be soon after the opening of her show Codependent Menagerie at Feast Arts Center. A menagerie is usually thought of in reference to four-legged animals, but in this show they are human animals. And the term “codependent” in this context should be self-evident. Hubner is a painter and videographer. Her paintings are all about the human figure and, as she points out, “human emotions. … I am captivated by the extent to which moments in our lifetime can affect us. My whole point of making art is to tell stories," she says.
Hubner’s paintings are in a style reminiscent of the great Alice Neel. She is a realist, not in the sense of photo-realist painting with smooth modulation of colors and shadows but in the sense of depicting the reality of humanity with no attempt to beautify or idealize. She paints with broad strokes and harsh contrasts. Nudes and sexuality abound. Often in her work the figure is cropped in strange and unexpected ways or seen from odd points of view. Many are depicted as grotesque or horrifying. In many there are liberal drips, with painting running down the canvas as if the figures are melting.
Gallery owner Todd Jannausch says there will be six paintings in the show, all recent works, to include a wonderfully harsh painting of John Lennon and Yoko Ono based on a famous photograph, but which does not pretend to look like John and Yoko. Most of her paintings are in the three-by-four feet range.
Also of particular note in Tacoma is Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting: The Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs Collection at Tacoma Art Museum. This major exhibition from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, features an array of still life paintings from European modern, realist and trompe l’oeil paintings, impressionist painters and American masters. See realistic paintings by James Peale and Andrew Wyeth, and stylized modernist paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe and the lushly painted pop art of Wayne Thiebaud, amongst others in this spectacular exhibition.
In Olympia, this weekend offers the last chances to see Breath and Bone Songs, paintings by Jeffree Stewart at All Sorts Gallery. Stewart is a longtime favorite among Olympia painters. Tacomans will recognize his work from his many appearances in the annual juried shows at Tacoma Community College. His paintings are rich and densely packed with swirling brushstrokes that seem to trap primitive looking figures of humans and animals — figures inspired by ancient petroglyphs.
Finally, I wind up this listing of must-see shows with the best of all, drawings by Marilyn Frasca at Childhood’s End Gallery in Olympia. As I stated in the Oct. 19 issue of this newspaper, Frasca’s “imagination, her empathy with her subject matter and her accomplished drawing skill make for an amazing show.” This show also closes after this weekend.
Katlyn Hubner Codependent Menagerie, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, Nov. 18-Jan. 6, Feast Arts Center 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma
Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting: The Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs Collection, through Jan. 7, 2018, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 5-8 p.m. Third Thursday, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, $13-$15, free to members,
Jeffree Stewart: Breath and Bone Songs, 5-7 p.m. and by appointment, Nov. 10-12, Allsorts Gallery, 2306 Capitol Way S., Olympia,, 323-254-6220
Marilyn Frasca Drawings, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Nov. 12, Childhood’s End Gallery artist talk 3 p.m., 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Sea Gull coming to University of Puget Sound

By Alec Clayton
Costume design by Mishka Navarre, photo courtesy University of Puget Sound
The Drama Department at University of Puget Sound is offering South Sound audiences an opportunity to see a great classic play that is Seldom seen in our area, The Sea Gull, by Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov.
Written in 1895, The Sea Gull is a comedy that was considered revolutionary when first produced because up until then plays were expected to be predictable and melodramatic, not a complex comedic love story about a playwright who shoots a sea gull and presents it as a love token to a young woman, saying he will soon shoot himself.
Hanna R Brumley, dramaturg for this production, says, “The thematic and emotional reach of the play is broad and so there's a wide range of reasons why people like it, even within our crew, but some consistent attractions are: the complexity of the characters and relationships, the play is rich with different kinds of love and loss, the urgency of passing time and the need to live and love fully; it is an ensemble piece that requires a great deal of teamwork and trust, the comedy is based in sincerity and truth.”
The cast and crew for this production are all UPS students. Lead actors include Mattea Prison, who plays the role of Arkadina, Gabe Vergez as Trigorin, Brynn Allen as Nina, and Keegan Kyle playing the part of Treplev.
The scenic designer is Kurt Walls; lighting design is by Richard Moore; and the costume designer is Mishka Navarre.
The production is directed by Geoff Proehl. Proehl teaches, dramaturgs, and directs at UPS. He is the author of the study of American family drama, Coming Home Again: American Family Drama and The Figure of The Prodigal. Last year Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas awarded him the Lessing Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Explaining why he chose The Sea Gull, Proehl referred to his love for Wyoming and Montana. “The landscape opens the heart, soul, body, mind. You can see a thunderstorm coming toward you from fifty miles down the road, black clouds, lightning, then the thunder and the rain. There are just a few plays that are for me, as big as that. The Sea Gull with its stories of desperate love and longing and laughter is one of them. Few plays remind us more ferociously that time is passing and why that matters. No play reminds us with more honesty and compassion that life is short, terrible and wonderful.”
Proehl says, “I first directed this play at Puget Sound about twenty years ago with a wonderful cast and crew. It made a deep impression on all of us. Few plays speak more honestly and more compassionately about the shortness of life and the challenges of living with an open heart.”

The Sea Gull, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27-28, Nov. 2-4 and 2 p.m. Nov. 4, Norton Clapp Theatre in Jones Hall, University of Puget Sound, tickets $11, $7 student, staff, military, seniors (55-plus, 1500 North Warner in Tacoma, 253.879.3100.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Young Frankenstein in Yelm

From my review in OLY ARTS

Ian Montgomery as Young Dr. Frankenstein,Dahlia Young as Inga and in background Jesse Geray as Igor.

Anyone who enjoys comedy and horror has seen the classic Mel Brooks movie Young Frankenstein, but far fewer have had the opportunity to laugh like hyenas at a live theatrical production. Now the Standing Room Only company has launched a live musical version, on stage at the Triad Theater in Yelm through November 12.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Liberal and Phenomenal paintings at UPS

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 26, 2017
“Symmetrical Four-layered Ovoids & Lattices III,” oil on canvas by Michael Knutson, courtesy Kittredge Gallery
“Liberal and Phenomenal” is not my assessment of the two current shows at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound. It is the name of the combined shows, each with works by five painters. “Liberal” in the main gallery features paintings by painting professors Michael Knutson (Reed College), Richard Martinez (Whitman), Cara Tomlinson (Lewis & Clark College), James Thompson (Willamette University), and Elise Richman (University of Puget Sound), and “Phenomenal” features paintings by Eric Elliott, Anne Gale, Emily Gherard, Ron Graff, and Jan Reaves.
The first thing to hit your eyes as you enter the gallery is the array of four stunning paintings by Michael Knutson on the back wall. These are bright, almost pulsating op-art paintings with many layers of overlapping kaleidoscopic patterns of spirals and ovals in seemingly every intense color available. They are simply gorgeous, almost too much so —too ornamental, too decorative, too perfect.
Representing the local art faculty, UPS professor Elise Richman is showing five oil paintings from a series called “Ripple Ellipse.” Each is a painting in rainbow colors of concentric swirls of primary colors painted with precision with paint application that is heavy and opaque. In “Ripple Ellipse: Vortex” the spirals form a whirlpool going down, while in its neighbor, “Ripple Ellipse: Rise,” the spirals rise to form a perfectly conical mountain peak.
Many of the works are scientific and mathematical in concept and require thought and concentration. Such as in James B. Thompson’s twelve paintings from the series “Water is Sacred; Water is Life.” Each of the dozen is square. His medium is a mixture of ink, acrylic, pigment and shredded United States currency. That’s right, paper money cut into tiny strips and pasted to the canvas in clusters. Similar clusters of marks, lines, dashes, squiggles, some like tangled clumps of fine hair or fish nets, float across the canvases; and in each painting a transparent rectangle of blue sits on top. The dozen paintings are almost identical but with nuanced changes in color. They coalesce into a single unit.
Outstanding in the back gallery are Anne Gayle’s two paintings of a woman, one a life-size, full-figure nude, and the other a portrait head of the same woman. She is a large woman with dark brown skin. The many shades of brown paint are applied in short dashes of color like brushstrokes in a van Gogh painting. Seen up close these paintings are almost abstract fields of closely related dashes of color. But as the viewer steps back for ever more distant views the strokes come together to create realistic images of the woman.
Also attention-grabbing in the little back gallery is “Rigorous Devotion,” an oil and acrylic painting by Jan Reaves. This is an odd abstract painting with a few clearly defined shapes in dull colors that are applied with painterly drips and runs. The shapes do not represent anything recognizable and teeter provocatively between randomness and order; these odd shapes fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Remove any one shape from this painting and the solid composition would probably fall apart.
Overall these are academic paintings. There is nothing startling or new about any of them, but they are all painted with skill and sensitivity to light, shape and color. It is an enjoyable show.

Liberal and Phenomenal, Kittredge Gallery, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., through Nov. 4, exhibition reception Nov. 4, 5-6:30 p.m.,1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701

Saturday, October 21, 2017

All the King’s Women at Olympia Little Theatre

Tonight and tomorrow's matinee are your only and last chances to see this comedy.

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 19, 2017
Meigie Mabry (left) and Kendra Malm (right), photo courtesy Olympia Little Theatre
All the King’s Women at Olympia Little Theatre is a cute, lighthearted play. The concept is inventive, and the structure is unique — more an evening of storytelling and skits than a play. It is a series of eight short stories about the women in Elvis Presley’s life, not his girlfriends or his wife or mother, but the everyday woman who happen to encounter him. A woman who sells him his first guitar, another who bumps into him while grocery shopping at 3 a.m., car sales women and secretaries and receptionists at the White House. Some of the stories are touching, some are surrealistic, and most are funny.
The eight stories are enacted by a cast of 17 women and one man, actors who are beginners on stage for the first time and actors with more plays in their resumes than most of us have years in our lives, all directed by longtime OLT director Toni Holm.
The first story is told by the great veteran actor Sharry O’Hare, who plays the part of the sales clerk in Tupelo Hardware who talked Elvis into letting his mother buy him a guitar instead of the rifle he wanted for his eleventh birthday. Like all the stories in this play, this one is based on an actual event but elaborated upon and fictionalized by playwright Luigi Jannuzzi. O’Hare’s storytelling skill and her natural way of switching from talking to the audience and waiting on customers who keep interrupting her add charm to this touching and funny story.
Next up is “The Censor and the King,” a reenactment of a mostly imaginary scene when Steve Allen’s assistant, Abby (Meigie Mabry), the network censor’s secretary, Barbara (Kendra Malm) and an assistant to Elvis and Col. Tom Parker (Bianca N. Cloudman) negotiate a deal where Elvis sings “Hound Dog” to a hound dog on “The Steve Allen Show.”
Next comes the highlight of the evening when Andrea Weston-Smart plays the part of a woman who went grocery shopping at 3 a.m. and runs into Elvis in the produce aisle. This is the one that gets surreal —too strange not to be true. Weston-Smart is outstanding.
The story of when Elvis met President Richard Nixon and became a federal drug agent is also too strange not to be true. And yes, it really happened, but probably not quite the way it is told in this play. Bitsy Bidwell as the White House operator, Becca Mitchell as secretary to Presidential Assistant Dwight Champin, and Toni Murray as Nixon’s secretary are hilarious.
There are also stories about Andy Warhol, about Cadillac saleswomen competing to see which one can sale Elvis his 100th Cadillac (Bonnie Vandver is great in this one), a short scene with a guard at Graceland, and finally a sweet scene with workers in the gift shop at Graceland who are constantly interrupted by a new sales clerk (O’Hare) who doesn’t know where anything is.
Elvis has not only left the building, he never even appears; but it is all about him, and recordings of his songs fill the space during scene changes.
All the King’s Women, 7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 22, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $11-$15, $2 student discount, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484,

Friday, October 20, 2017

Marilyn Frascas's wonderland of drawings at Childhood's End

"Intamacy," drawing by Marilyn Frasca, courtesy the artist
From my review in the Weekly Volcano and OLY ARTS

Marilyn Frasca is a marvel. If there was ever such a thing as a must-see show, it’s Frasca’s show of some 56 drawings at Childhood’s End Gallery. This exhibition is the result of a lifetime, so far, of making, studying and teaching art. Her drawing style reminds me of Albrecht Dürer and other early Renaissance artists, but her style is a much more eclectic than that. We see in her drawings evidence she hasn’t so much been influenced by but rather learned from a range of artists from Dürer to Picasso.

Read the complete review.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Peter Serko's picture puzzle for The Game Campaign

A photograph by local photographer Peter Serko is being used by The Game Campaign create a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle produced by Liberty Puzzles of Boulder, Co. The Brain Campaign is a community effort to delay the symptoms of dementia “by making brain workouts as common as cardio, and more specifically, by encouraging people of all ages to play challenging games at libraries, senior centers, YMCAs...everywhere and anywhere in Pierce County,” according to the campaign’s website. Liberty is one of the leading collectible puzzle makers in the world, known for challenging piecing, dramatic color, and durability. Puzzles are made from 1/4" plywood, and include Liberty's trademark whimsy pieces, cut in the shapes of everyday objects. 

This is a limited edition, with no more than 100 puzzle sets.
“I was approached by Ken Miller about doing something to support The Game Campaign,” Serko says. “He said they were thinking about selling high quality wood puzzles. I had never given it any thought before but thought it would be a great idea.  I sent him a number of images and he picked ‘Opera Alley In Snow.’"

Serko is the writer and producer or the one-man play My Brother Kissed Mark Zuckerberg. He has more recently made a documentary film based on the play called Footnote. Currently he is doing an artist residency in a high school English class on memoir. “We are working on making short memoir films. For me it is an important way to tell my brother's story and the story of AIDS during the ‘plague era’ to young people,” he says. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Juried art exhibition at Tacoma Community College

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 5, 2017

"Spring Break," mixed media by Michael Huffman
Juried art exhibitions inevitably include a few clunkers, a few so-so works, and — if we’re lucky — some excellent art. Sometimes the inconsistency in quality is because there were not enough good entries to choose from, and sometimes it is because the juror feels compelled to include a variety of media and styles. And so it goes with the 15th Annual Juried Local Art Exhibition at Tacoma Community College.
The clunkers are mostly near the front of the gallery, in particular the three pieces behind the front desk, which look like student work. There are some traditional figurative sculptures that are well executed but unexciting, and there are a couple of pieces by Paul T. Steuke, Sir. that almost hit the target smack-dab in the bullseye, but not quite. These are knockoffs of Renoir paintings that may or may not have been intended as lampoons. Finally, they just come across as slightly weak copies with none of the lushness of a Renoir.
"Mystery From a Reflective Mind," pastel by Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt
Now for the good stuff. The good stuff is really, really good.
Michael Huffman’s two paintings in mixed media on drywall are knockouts. “Spring Break” features cartoon-like figures in a style like that of Jean-Michael Basquiat. There are funny looking little creatures, one giving a middle-finger salute, painted with wildly exuberant brushstrokes and slung in circular sweeps like drawings by Dale Chihuly. His “Haiku on Floor” is a poem in hand-scribbled letters in gold, pink and black framed by rough, dark wood. Both of these have a raw emotive power that is hard to ignore.
Lynette Charters, a juror’s award winner, has three paintings in the show, all from her “Muses” series. This series is based on famous paintings by old and modern masters done in plaster, acrylic and candy wrappers (usually gold or silver foil). They are copies of master paintings in which the central figure or figures, always women, are partly missing. Their shapes — not their clothing, but only their faces and bodies — are left as unpainted parts of the board cleverly placed so that the knotholes become nipples, eyes and navels. Each piece in the series is a biting comment on women’s place in art history as empty bodies and faces with no humanity. They — the paintings, not necessarily the women depicted in them — are brilliant in concept and beautifully painted. They are homages to and criticisms of famous painters. Seen in this show are Charters’ versions of “Rosetti’s Museum Verticordia,” “Klimt’s Muse Judith” and “Tanoux’s Muses in a Harem” — each a Charters version of the original.
Also outstanding is David W. Murdach’s sculpture, “Night in Motion,” lamp parts and glass knobs. This shiny, circular sculpture looks like a rococo steampunk ship’s wheel or ferris wheel or playful whirligig. However you may describe it, it is joyful. I wanted to give it a spin, but it doesn’t move.
Also worthy of note are three soft and elegant mixed media paintings by Laraine Wade that are sumi-like in their directness and simplicity; two abstract paintings based on landscape with bodies of water by Becky Knold, which are gutsier than her usual; and three dark and brooding pastels by the collaborative duo of Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt, which depict the underbelly of urban life with wonderfully rich colors.
There is much more to see in this show, including a lot of nice photography that I have not mentioned and works by such well-known area artists as Joe Batt, Lois Beck, Frank Dippolito, Mia Schute, Jason Sobottka, and William Turner.
15th Annual Juried Local Art Exhibition, 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. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Faculty and Staff Exhibition at SPSCC

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 28, 2017
“Operative Hyena with Rabbit?” ceramic sculpture by Joe Batt, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College

“Where’s the Xanax?” mixed media by Liza Brenner, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
When walking into the art gallery at South Puget Sound Community College, the first thing to greet the eye is a curtain of hanging white porcelain shapes suspended by clear monofilament line. It is like a bead curtain, but it is not beads. It is a representation of genome sequencing. It is called “The Life and Genome of Henrietta Lacks.” Lacks was an African-American woman whose cancer cells were used in breakthrough medical studies. Some of the white porcelain forms look like bones, some like figures. Looking at it, I was reminded of dancing skeleton puppets. So we have here an intriguing piece of art that reflects on science and history, and which is a visual treat.
From a contemplation of genomes we go to geology with Sean Barnes’s series of sculptures using anthropogenic materials and processes. There is one free-standing sculpture on a pedestal that looks like quartz and other rock formations fused together. Within it is a cell phone case that appears to be part of the rock. Nearby is a group of similar works in box frames that hang on the gallery wall. All are rough and gritty organic abstractions that combine natural geologic formations with man-made items such as tape, a shard from a broken tea cup. They are visual representations of the essential beauty of natural and made materials. Part of the beauty of it is that the made materials tend to disappear into the natural rock.
As art depicting genomes lead the eye and mind to anthropogenic materials, we next go to a series of works by Joe Batt that combine animals and humans with cell phones, towers and space exploration. We have seen in previous shows and entire gallery installations at SPSCC, Tacoma community College and Salon Refu that Batt continually creates worlds of electronic communications wherein animals and humans become part of the mechanical and scientific worlds humans have created. Here we see a group of hyenas with electronics strapped to their backs confronting a white bunny rabbit. One of the hyenas is vicious looking, making the viewer wonder what kind of horrifying future world we are seeing and how near are we to seeing it become reality.
Batt is also showing a charcoal drawing done directly on the gallery wall with digitally collaged images of people, birds, an elephant and a cell phone tower on the face of a mountain. The textures and drawing are quite intriguing due to the manner in which the actual texture of the wall blends with the illusory texture of the drawing.
Liza Brenner is showing two large mixed-media depictions of urban scenes that seem to be set in an earlier time, perhaps the 18th century. I approached these with mixed reactions, thinking on the one hand that they are too illustrational and almost corny, but admiring the artist’s technical skill and some of the surrealistic elements such as shadowy figures and a snake wearing a crown. 
I admired Nathan Barnes’s two works, “Stifle” and “Diaspora.” These are pop-surreal images typical of the work for which Barnes is well known. They are colorful, strange, and beautifully executed with great skill and attention to detail. I had an opportunity to talk to Barnes about these pieces and learned that the models for the faces, like the models for many of his constructed paintings, were relatives, and that every element in them refers to something historical or personally relevant, Whether or not the viewer is privy to the stories behind his paintings, they are fascinating to look at. Make up your own stories, and then if Barnes, who manages the gallery, happens to be there, ask him to explain. 

Faculty and Staff Exhibition, Noon to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday, through Oct. 20, South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia.

Footloose at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 28, 2017
The cast of Footloose, photo by Kat Dollarhide
I enjoyed opening night of Footloose at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It’s a rocking good, high-energy show with great music and dancing. The music is mostly up-tempos rock and roll blended with a touch of gospel and show tunes, and an occasional sweet love song such as the beautiful “Almost Paradise,” a duet between Ren (Jake Atwood) and Ariel (Jessica Furnstahl) a Romeo and Juliet-like balcony scene with sparkling electricity between the two.
Footloose is a simple but well told story of clashes between youth and age, small-town uptightness and big-city wildness. Ren and his mother (Linda Palacios) move from Chicago to the small town of Beaumont, Tex., to live with a relative after Ren’s father leaves them. Ren is rebellious and carries a huge chip on his shoulder. And he loves to dance. He is shocked to find out that in Beaumont dancing is against the law. The small-minded and fearful town council, led by the Rev. Shaw Moore (Gary Chambers) passed the repressive law after four local youth ran off a bridge and were killed coming home from a dance. In their minds dancing leads to drinking and other outrageous behavior. Of course, Ren thinks the law is absurd, and he rallies his high school classmates to fight against it.
As always in shows like this there is a love story subplot. Ariel, Rev. Moore’s daughter, dates the town bad guy, Chuck Cranston (Nick Clawson) as an act of rebellion. Inevitably, she falls for Ren — this is a romantic musical, after all.
I was struck from the beginning with the stark and gritty set, a building with an industrial look with five large double doors and a balcony. It could be a train station of a warehouse, or almost anything, and serves as backdrop throughout as a myriad of scenes from a school to a church to town chamber room to a dance hall. The versatility of this set works beautifully. It reminded me immediately of the loft building set in Rent, and the play’s exuberance and celebration of rebellion also reminded me of that grittier and more realistic musical, as well as the classic West Side Story.
As is typical of Tacoma Musical Playhouse, the cast is large, and there are terrific big numbers with a talented ensemble dancing and singing.
Furnstahl is beautiful, and she convincingly plays Ariel as a complex character. Even though she looks young enough to be a high school senior, which Ariel is, I suspected Furnstahl was at least in her mid-twenties because of the confidence and subtlety of her acting. I was surprised to read in the program that she is, indeed, a senior at Sumner High School. Watch for this young actor; she is destined for big things in musical theater.
Cameron Waters was outstanding as Willard, the loveable misfit. His crazy dancing and his overall performance on the song “Mama Says” were the comical highlights of the show.
Also outstanding in supporting roles were Clawson as the epitome of juvenile delinquency and Corissa Deverse as Ariel’s friend and Willard’s girlfriend, Rusty. What a great voice she has.
Finally, kudos to Atwood for bringing the house down with his every move. His energetic and athletic dancing is astounding (TMP audiences saw that in his tap-dancing role as Scuttle the seagull in the recent production of The Little Mermaid.
Special kudos to Tacoma Musical Playhouse for using this show to raise money for Orange Community Players, a community theater in the real town of Beaumont that was almost totally destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.
Footloose, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., through Oct. 15, Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $22-$31,

Friday, September 22, 2017

Witness to Wartime

The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 21, 2017
"High School Girl," by Takuichi Fujii, oil on canvas, Wing Luke Museum collection, photo by Richard Nicol, courtesy Washington State History Museum.
Washington State History Museum offers a rare opportunity to see the visual diary, drawings and watercolor paintings of a Japanese-American held in the relocation center in Puyallup and the internment camp at Minidoka, Idaho.
Takuichi Fujii was a small businessman and well-known local artist in Seattle at the beginning of World War II. Swept up along with his wife and two daughters, as was almost every Japanese-American on the West Coast, he was confined in the relocation center in Puyallup from May to August 1942, and then to Minidoka, where he and his family were held until October 1945. A prolific artist, Fujii documented the scenes and the life at both camps in a personal diary and in watercolors and ink drawings. About 70 artworks from this time period and including later works from when he lived in Chicago after the war, are on display in two galleries at WSHM. The galleries are small, and the paintings can be seen in a short visit, but visitors should linger long and attentively over each work because they illustration a life lived during one of the most horrendous events in American history, and because Fujii was an excellent artist whose works demand attention.
In the smaller of the two galleries we are given an overview glimpse into his art before and after his wartime experiences. The earlier works are realistic and simplified. In the later years he moved into more abstract work with his final paintings being strong black-and-white abstract paintings in a style similar to that of Franz Kline.
The larger of the two galleries is dedicated to his wartime art, which was unknown until they were rediscovered after his death by his grandson, Sandy Kita. These drawings and paintings have never been shown publicly.
The diary he began in the relocation camp at Puyallup is displayed in a closed case but all of the nearly 400 pages can be viewed digitally.
Work done before the war include self-portraits, pictures of downtown Seattle. There is a portrait of his daughter titled “High School Girl” (1934-35) that shows a strong influence of such painters as Cezanne and Braque and other forerunners of cubism. The Seattle scenes and a painting of the Rock Island Dam on the Columbia River. There are paintings from the beginning of the war showing American citizens of Japanese descent reading the signs tacked to light poles and fences announcing that they must report to the relocation center, essentially that your life, your home and your business are over.
The pictures from Puyallup and Minidoka are stark and simple. More of them picture the camp buildings and the desert than the people. There are pictures of the barracks and the latrines, the crowded train that took them to Minidoka, and incident where they saw a rattlesnake I the desert.
“The exhibition tells the story of Fujii’s individual will to persist, both as an artist and a citizen, and provides a rare glimpse into exactly what that experience was like,” said the museum’s director of audience engagement, Mary Mikel Stump, who summed up the exhibition saying it is all about Fujii’s individual experience. This critic would add that it is also about the talent and dedication of an artist whose work parallels trends in art history from the 1920s and ‘30s through the 1950s.

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tue.-Sat, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. third Thursday, through Jan. 1, $5-$12, Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 888.238.4373