Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shakespeare in Hollywood

A screwball 1930s comedy
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 18, 2017

Dan Overton as Oberon and Orit Wernor as Puck, photo courtesy Olympia Little Theatre
Shakespeare in Hollywood by legendary playwright Ken Ludwig, author of such popular plays as Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo and Twentieth Century, brings a bit of magic and a lot of mayhem to Olympia Little Theatre. The concept is brilliant, even as it asks audiences to forsake logic and believability a tad more than such a comedy should.
It is 1934. Hollywood mogul Jack Warner (Rich Young) has hired the famous German expatriate director Max Reinhardt (Paul Parker) to direct a film version of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring leading man Dick Powell (Paul Wirtz). Magically, the fairies Oberon (Dan Overton) and Puck (Orit Wernor) from Shakespeare’s play visit the set. They immediately see that actors in Hollywood are treated like gods. Conveniently for the plot of this whacky comedy, the actors who had been cast to play Oberon and Puck are suddenly no longer available, and the fairies are offered the opportunity to play themselves in the movie. They jump at the opportunity.
Into this madcap mix a slew of unlikely romances are born when pollen from Shakespeare’s magical flower gets in people’s eyes and each proceeds to fall madly in love with the next person they see. Mostly unnecessary to the plot, a handful of celebrities show up, some in cameos and some in more substantial roles: Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Rhoni Lozier), comedians Joe E. Brown (Conner Nuckols) and Groucho Marx (Alex Hume), and actor James Cagney (also played by Hume); not to mention “Tarzan” (played by Nuckols, who triples as another of the Warner brothers).
Also appearing in various small roles are Randall Graham and the play’s director, Kendra Malm as “Tina Tian.”  
The acting is uneven with some of the characters who play multiple roles — there are many of these — being good in some parts and ridiculous others. Nuckols, for instance, is good as Sam Warner but totally uninteresting as Joe E. Brown, Bob Lozier is good as the nasty censor Will Hayes but not so good as Harry Warner and Moose Tarseid, and Humes’s Groucho is unconvincing while being too much like countless other Groucho imitations. Fortunately, he’s on stage in that role for only a few seconds.
The standout performer is Overton as the fairy king Oberon. He plays Oberon as delightfully arrogant, and he enjoyably displays constant surprise at what life is like in the 20th century. Lozier is a good Louella Parsons, and Young is humorously dictatorial as studio head Jack Warner. Jenni Fleming as starlet Lydia Lansing and Maria Densley as actress Olivia Darnell are both good.
Will Hayes falling in love with his own image in a mirror is a comic treasure.
The funniest bit in the whole show opening night was a wardrobe malfunction, which I’m pretty sure was an accident. I hope they’ll incorporate it into all remaining shows.
Shakespeare in Hollywood is really, really funny in spots and as clumsy, over-acted and ridiculous as a bad high school comedy in other moments.

Shakespeare in Hollywood, 7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 18, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $18-$20, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484,

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cultural imPRINT

Six decades of Northwest Coast indigenous prints
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 11, 2017
Ben Davidson (b.1976), Haida First Nation, “Just About,” 2014 screenprint, 28½ x 18½ inches. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

Cultural imPRINT: Northwest Coast Prints is an exhibition of some 45 prints by artists from the many Northwest coastal tribes over a period of six decades. From the earliest works to the most recent, these prints demonstrate a melding of ancient traditions with the latest aesthetic practices from the times in which they were made. Perhaps the most potent commonality is that they all have the visual impact of poster art combined with sensitive use of space and subtle color modulations. Most have some variation (in some cases very striking variations) on traditional imagery and narration. Two things that stand out in most of the prints are the generous use of white space between and around images and the clever interplay of positive and negative forms.
“Blueberries,” embossed lithograph by James Schoppert of the Tlingit Tribe, looks like a photo of a wall of low-relief sculpture that has been washed with drippy purple and orange paint and then cut into nine squares and rearranged. It calls for close observation.
“Brothers Who Fell From the Sky” by Coast Salish artist IessLIE is a screen print from 2008 that pictures the heads and torsos of two figures depicted as strong geometric shapes in black and white set side-by-side, with one of them upside-down on a solid white ground with a yellow circle — the sun perhaps — between them. The yellow is so light that it almost disappears and seems to hover like a mirage.
Local contemporary artist Shaun Peterson, Coast Salish from the Puyallup Tribe, is represented by a digital print called “Daybreak.” It pictures a simple face with lyrical and circular lines and extremely nuanced color modulations, which a wall label explains is a hallmark of Coast Salish design. As is the case with many of the works in this show, there is much more to see in this print than is evident in a quick glance.
Kelly Cannell’s “Salish Rope” is a clever screen print with imagery that is almost hidden and pops out unexpectedly. It is a simple abstract depiction of a coil of rope or what looks to me like braided hair. Hidden within the coils are figures of women crawling upward, some in black on white and some in white on black.
Two works that stand out as quite different from everything else are drawings by the collaborative team of Tania Willard, Peter Morin and Gabe Hill, a trio of artists who go by the name New BC Indian Arts and Welfare Society. The two drawings by this group are done using the old surrealist method of exquisite corpse, a way of writing or drawing in which none of the collaborating artists see all of what the others do until the work is finished. In this case, they folded the drawings so parts drawn by each of them were hidden from view of the others, and then the parts were cut apart and taped together. The resulting drawings illustrate Native stories but in a style more like the Chicago Imagists or “Hairy Who” — quirky and inventive and strangely beautiful.
Another artist in this show whose work diverges from the Native tradition is John Brent Bennett of the Haida First Nation, showing two lithographs with dense and repetitive patterns superimposed over cityscapes and landscapes. His “Henslung” has circular patterns over a city skyline that are something like lines in a seismograph. It made me feel as if the city was about to be torn apart.
In the 20-plus years I’ve been reviewing art in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen a lot of Native art, and this is the best I’ve seen.

Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Aug. 20, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Monday, May 8, 2017

Water by the Spoonful at UW Tacoma

Toy Boat Theatre in Tacoma is producing the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, the second in a trilogy of award-winning plays by Quiara Alegría Hudes.

“This show represents very well my sensibility for theatre and the lovely collaboration between UWT students and more seasoned area actors that is the cornerstone of my UWT colleague, Michael Kula's and my vision for theatre at UWT,” says Toy Boat Theatre Artistic Director Marilyn Bennett. “This is just such a lovely, moving, redemptive script.

There are three remaining peformances: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 11-13 at the broadcast studio theatre at UW Tacoma. Tickets are $10, free for UWT students.

Friday, May 5, 2017

New Muses Theatre Company Does Peer Gynt

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 4, 2017
from Left: Alex Gust, Eric Cuestas-Thompson, Niclas Olson, Emily Lott Robinson, Austin Matteson, Melanie Shaffer, and Katelyn Hoffman. Photos courtesy of New Muses Theatre Company
Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is a monumentally ambitious play for a community theater to produce. The original was done completely in verse and was performed in five acts with more than 40 scenes in different locations and times, and it alternated between realism and fantasy.
New Muses Theatre Company’s version, adapted by Niclas Olson, is much simpler and no longer in verse (although I caught a few random rhymes). Rather than five acts, it is being done as two, two-act plays performed on a rotating schedule. Olson says that although each part can stand alone as a complete play, seeing parts one and two in order is recommended. This review is based on Part One.
Peer Gynt is based on a Norwegian fairy tale Ibsen believed to be based on fact. Part One: Youth begins with Gynt’s mother (Emily Lott Robinson) berating her son for being a lazy vagabond who will never amount to anything. Gynt (Olson), known as a brawler and the laughing stock in his Norwegian mountain village, tells his mother about his exciting adventure fighting a deer in the mountains, a tale she eventually recognizes as a fantasy based on an old fairy tale she heard as a child. Peer goes to a wedding and steals away the bride and runs off to the mountains for adventures with trolls, battles with a monster known as the Boyg, marries the troll king’s daughter and then deserts her after she becomes pregnant, and then he romances Solveig (Katelyn Hoffman), a new woman in the village who fancies him a romantic outlaw and follows him into the mountains.
Katelyn Hoffman and Niclas Olson
Throughout a series of 16 short scenes, we follow Peer Gynt’s sometimes real and sometimes imaginary adventures, which are variously touching, realistic, highly dramatic, comical and surrealistic — an incredible challenge to any actor and any theater company, which Olson and company handle with seeming ease.
The story is not easy to follow. Close attention is demanded as scenes quickly change from real to surreal.
The acting throughout is commendable, as most of the casts take on divergent roles. Hoffman plays the sweet and tender Solveig as the most believable and least outrageous character in the play. Melanie Schaffer is outstanding and in parts almost gleefully evil as The Woman in Green and other parts. Olson’s histrionics as the overly dramatic Peer Gynt are a joy to watch as he switches lightning-fast from absurdly comical to intensely dramatic. This is a tour de force for Olson, who wrote the adaptation, designed the simple but effective set, directed and starred as the leading character.
Part Two: Revenant tells the tale of Peer Gynt’s later adventures as a world traveler beginning 25 years after Part One, and then in the second act Gynt is an old man 20 years further on. Please visit the New Muses website to see when each part plays.
Peer Gynt, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 21, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma,,