Sunday, January 20, 2019

Review: “Hamlet”

by Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 18, 2019
Niclas Olson as Hamlet, photo courtesy New Muses Theatre Company
Another practically flawless production by New Muses Theatre Company, and this time it is what many consider the greatest play ever written: William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Director Niclas Olson, who also wrote this adaptation and plays the leading role, downplays the “Melancholy Dane’s” histrionics in much of the play, portraying him as a brooding and more inward-looking young man – not to mention a spoiled and arrogant rich kid – so that when he does give way to histrionics, it is explosive.
Common wisdom says a director should be wary of directing himself, especially not in a leading role, but Olson does just that quite regularly, and he does it spectacularly.
 Juan Aleman II, Niclas Olson, Xander Layden, and Dayna Childs in Hamlet. Photo courtesy of New Muses Theatre Company
The small black box space of Dukesbay Theatre lends itself perfectly to this “Hamlet.” The closeness of the seating to the actors, each of whom enunciate clearly, make it easy to hear every word, which is a real bonus because audiences often have difficulty understanding Shakespeare.
The set and lighting (also by Olson) is simplicity itself, a backdrop of starlight against a black curtain and a single throne chair and no props other than a crop-down curtain and folding chairs that are brought in for the play-with-a-play scene, and of course the fencing foils and masks used in the bout between Hamlet and Laertes (Xander Layden, who doubles as Guildenstern).
The setting is the present day. The actors wear modern street clothes with no special adornment other than the battle helmet worn by the ghost of Hamlet’s father (Juan Aleman II, who doubles as King Claudius).
The lighting and costuming on the ghost of King Hamlet is perfectly ghostly. He is barely seen, and in his overcoat and helmet he looks powerful. Later, the dim lighting on the ghost of Ophelia (Cassie Jo Fastabend) is a tad too dim but still effective.
There is a lot of double casting in this version, and the cast members who double up do a credible job as becoming totally and believably different people. Layden is excitable and expressive as Laertes and more self contained as Guildenstern. When he performs as a declarative actor in the play put on for the benefit of the king and queen, his preening and posing seemed a parody of actors at the time. Angela Parisotto is nervous and fluttery as Ophelia’s mother and becomes a quite comical character as the grave digger.
Fastabend plays Ophelia marvelously. In earlier scenes when she speaks of her love for Hamlet, her eyes and her smile sparkle, making her adoration of the prince palpable.
Newcomer to South Sound stages Victoria Ashley plays Rosencrantz and Barnardo with an intensity to match that of Olson’s Prince Hamlet. This is cross-gender casting at its finest. I look forward to seeing more of Ashley in future performances.
I attended a Sunday matinee along with a handful of other audience members. There were far too many empty seats in what is already a tiny house. Every show should be sold out; my recommendation is get thee to Dukesbay.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 27
WHERE: Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma
TICKETS: $10-$15

Friday, January 18, 2019

Everybody gets skewered


Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits at Lakewood Playhouse
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 17, 2019
 Katheryne Elliott as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, photo by Tim Johnson

I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so much as I did at opening night of Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits at Lakewood Playhouse. Forbidden Broadway is a musical review spoof on almost every big hit musical in the past half century and longer in which everybody gets skewered — from Ethel Merman to Carol Channing to Steven Sondheim to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Since opening Off-Broadway in 1982, there have been more than 20 editions of the show in New York, London and Los Angeles, and each edition spoofs different shows from Chicago to Fiddler on the Roof, to Rent, Hello Dolly and Hairspray. Show business personalities are known to wait in delicious anticipation to see if they’re going to be spoofed next.
from left: Alexis Dyson and Katheryne Elliot in "Rent,"photo by Tim Johnson 
It is a show filled with great music, fabulously skewed lyrics making fun of Broadway. The six-person cast in Lakewood Playhouse’s performance are not only outstanding singers, they are skilled actors, impersonators, and dancers (choreography by Ashley Roy, who is also in the cast).
Sharry O’Hare, who said she did not want to even audition because she didn’t think she could do impersonations, was talked into considering it and changed her mind. She does a spot-on and knockout funny impersonation of Carol Channing.
Micheal O'Hara displays singing chops that will make you go ga-ga when he performs as Mandy Patinkin singing "Somewhat Overindulgent" to the tune of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Dawn Padula as Chita Rivera makes fun of Rita Moreno in a medley of songs from West Side Story, until Katheryne Elliott as Moreno joins her on stage to sing her version, and the two stars (Moreno played Anita in the movie and Rivera played Anita on Broadway) trade insults to the tune of "America" and other songs from West Side Story.
O'Hara makes fun of the great Bob Fosse with the tune "Hey Bob Fosse” sung to the tune of "Hey Big Spender."
The entire ensemble is insanely hilarious doing “Ambition” to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof.
Roy does a long solo impersonation of Liza Minnelli in which she repeatedly brags that her mother is Judy Garland, and Padula does an equally impressive impersonation of Barbara Streisand. The way she brushes her hair away from her face is worth the price of a ticket.

Elliott also performs as Elle Woods from Legally Blonde while cuddling a dog, Alexis Dyson goes Into the Woods with style, while Timothy McFarlan is a comically majestic as Cameron Macintosh, legendary producer of such hits as Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Les Misérables, the latter of which gets more stage time than anything else.

I could go on ad infinitum naming songs and stars but suffice it to say it is two hours of non-stop song and dance, and every number is funny and performed with knock-’em-dead skill.
As a bonus to all that laughter and music, there are countless costume changes throughout with a myriad of inventive costumes designed by Lauren Wells.
Forbidden Broadway is the perfect post-holiday entertainment.
Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m., Sunday, through Feb. 3, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Lakewood, $30, $28 military and seniors, $25 students/educators, 253.588.0042,

Friday, January 11, 2019

Exploring Cultural bias

A powerful group show at Tacoma Community College
by Alec Clayton
published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 10, 2019
 “Foundations” oil painting by Hart James, courtesy Tacoma Community College
Culture, the new exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, is billed as “an exhibition exploring the idea of cultural biases and its influence on the outlook of other cultures.” This is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful group show ever to be mounted at TCC. This is not to say that every work of art by every one of the 28 participating artists knocks it out of the park, or even that every piece even belongs within the theme; but there are enough that are stimulating, that have the capacity to touch the hearts of viewers, and that are aesthetically praiseworthy — starting with Bobbi Ritter’s series on the micro-brew culture of the Pacific Northwest.
There are five small assemblages in Ritter’s series, each with beer bottles and other objects attached to boards and painted. It is as if brewpubs had been wiped out by a volcanic eruption and this is the detritus that remains, stuff stuck to walls and covered with lava and ash. And within the ash are painted images, which relate to or are visual puns on the brands displayed. The one with an Irish Death bottle features a painting of a skull; the one on Wingman Brewery features Wingman beer cans, a model airplane and the painted face of the pilot. With an extra eye. The series as a whole and each individual piece is marked by visual variations and surprises within a unified whole.
Miles Styer’s entry is a model of a covered wagon that serves as a lamp and reminds us about the lives of those who trekked across the country in wagon trains. A wall label proclaims, “One side is a vision of opportunity and life; the other is a vision of destruction and death.” 
"Foundations" ceramics by Irene Osborn, photo by Alec Clayton
Irene Osborn’s ceramic sculpture “She Thought They Would Be Safe Once They Crossed The Border” is an emotionally intense commentary on the plight of refugees crossing into a new homeland where they are not welcomed. Roughly sculpted in chalky white clay, it depicts a screaming woman with arms and hands torn away, one unattached hand clutching an infant to her breast. Like Osborn’s startling and poignant sculpture “Refugee” in TCC’s juried show in October, this figure is hollowed out. The woman’s back opens into a deep cave, and inside the cave is another figure of a mother holding a child. It makes you want to cry or shout out in anger. 
David Keyes’s “King Leopold II’s Legacy” is a harsh reminder of the genocide of the Tutu tribe by the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda. It is a dark construction in rusted metal with a row of six metal cage-like structures with wax hands in them, in recognition of
Belgian plantation owners’ practice of cutting off the hands of workers who didn’t produce enough. 
A light-hearted but penetrating look at a common American cultural phenomenon is Frank Dippolito’s oil painting, “Welcome to Missouri Milepost.” It is a beautifully rendered painting of a billboard off an interstate highway, standing in tall grass. The billboard advertises an “adult superstore.” A smaller sign on the ground at the base of the billboard says “Christ died for your sins.” The adult superstore ads are common in parts of the country. I recently saw many of them in the drive through Louisiana and Texas. In addition to being a telling image, Dippolito’s painting is a great example of contrasting large and simple forms in complementary colors, in this case vibrant pink and green.
Hart James’s “Foundations” is simply a great painting, although I’m not sure how it relates to the theme. It is a dark and foreboding image of a man emerging from rocklike formations. 
Other pieces I enjoyed seeing were MaryBeth Haynes’s three sculptures of strong and defiant woman and Lavonne Haivick’s “Coyote’s ‘End of Day,’” sculptures of five long-legged and sad creatures that look vaguely like a cross between coyotes and anteaters.
I can’t recommend this show highly enough.

Culture, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through March 15, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G.