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.