Friday, December 28, 2007

Playhouse comes alive with ‘Sound of Music’

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 28, 2007

Pictured,top: The cast of the Lakewood Playhouse production of “The Sound of Music” includes, from left, Olivia Seward as Liesl, Hunter Larson as Friedrich, Kat Christensen as Louisa, Justin Neidermeyer as Kurt, Adrienne Grieco as Maria, Hanna Thoresen as Marta, Anna Rose LeMaster as Brigitta and Claire Thoresen as Gretl.

Certain roles by certain actors are so indelibly etched in the minds of theatergoers that they simply cannot be done by anyone else. Gregory Peck as Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird” comes to mind, and Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and, perhaps the most iconic of them all, Julie Andrews as Maria in “The Sound of Music.”

And yet, 10 minutes into “The Sound of Music” at Lakewood Playhouse I forgot all about Julie Andrews. Adrienne Grieco is Maria. Seldom if ever have I seen an actor in a community theater so completely become a character.

Her voice is sweet and pure, her look wholesome and her emotions unabashedly right on the surface. Her expressions of pain and joy and her love for the von Trapp children go right to the heart. In the oh-so-popular film version, the sentimentality is sickeningly overdone, yet there is no taste of that false sentimentality in Grieco’s performance.

The same can be said for the actors who play the younger von Trapp children: Kat Christensen as Louisa, Anna Rose LeMaster as Brigitta, Justin Niedermeyer as Kurt, Hannah Thoreson as Marta and Claire Thoreson as Gretl. It is a joy to see their distrust of the new governess begin to melt away as Maria teaches them the delightful song “Do Re Me” and then turn to pure adoration as she sings “My Favorite Things” while the children huddle in her bed for protection from the scary thunder and lightning of a storm.

Christopher Gilbert as the crusty Capt. Georg von Trapp is stiff and unbending at first. Unlike Grieco and the children, he seems to be acting more than inhabiting the role – until he, like the children, melts under the warmth of Maria’s love. By the second act, the audience is as much in love with him as they are with Maria and the children. And his voice, though not as strong as Grieco’s, is mellow, warm and especially engaging on his duet with Grieco on “Something Good” and his solo on the touching “Edelweiss.”

Other performers who are outstanding are Carol Richmond, who plays housekeeper Frau Schmidt and doubles as one of the nuns; Marie Kelly (a terrific singer) as Capt. von Trapp’s fiancée, Elsa; and Ted Fredericks as Uncle Max Detweiler. (If there is such a thing as comic relief in this show, it is provided by Fredericks, who plays Uncle Max as a pompous rooster but ceases to be funny when he begins to cave in to the Nazi invaders.)

Lakewood Playhouse does all of their shows in the round, which means that set changes in a show like this are a huge challenge. But director Scott Campbell and set designer Doug Kerr solve it with simple pieces that are quickly moved by actors as they enter and exit the stage area.

Special recognition must also go to the band: Larry Trop, keyboard and conductor; Hanna Jepson, keyboard; and Jack Lake, percussion.

I saw a preview performance, meaning it was the first performance with full set and lighting in front of a live audience. There were one or two entrances that were too slow, and the nuns singing “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” were somewhat tentative. But these slight problems were insignificant and fixable.

I wish it could have ended with the von Trapp family exiting the stage while singing the “So Long, Farewell” reprise. Everything after that – including the scene with Liesl’s boyfriend turned Nazi, Rolf (Steve Barnett) – was anticlimactic. But contrived as that scene is, it is necessary to the story, and a lot of people would probably be disappointed if it were left out.

For all its sentimentality and familiarity, this show is wonderful to watch. And as Lakewood Playhouse artistic director Marcus Walker warned in his welcoming remarks, it is hard to resist the temptation to sing along out loud.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 13. No performances Dec. 28-30.
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $22 general admission, $19 senior and military discount, $16 younger than 25, $14 younger than 15
INFORMATION: 253-588- 0042,

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gift of art

Tacoma receives two new galleries

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 27, 2007
Pictured "Ka (Who)" painting by Donald Cole

Christmas is not the best time for artists and art galleries. Nobody ever gives art for Christmas. They should, but they don’t. I, for one, would love to get a painting by Ron Hinson or Chauney Peck or one of Holly Senn’s sculptures made from old books. But most people are afraid of giving art as a gift — remembering, perhaps, how they hid the painting of dogs playing poker Aunt Suzie gave them and drag it out only when she visits.

Art galleries tend to run group holiday shows, meaning they pull out the paintings that have been stored in a back room all year.

But Tacoma’s newest galleries either don’t know what a dreary time of year the holiday season is for art businesses or they are too optimistic to care. Not one but two new galleries have just opened in Tacoma, and another has reopened in a new location.

Fulcrum Art Gallery opened last week with a multimedia installation called “Lambscapes” by Joseph Miller. I haven’t had a chance to see the show yet, but I hope to see it soon. I’ve been told that shows at Fulcrum will run for two months with the main gallery focusing on sculpture and installation works and a smaller gallery focusing on design work. Fulcrum shows will be curated by glass artist and interior designer Oliver Doriss.

The second new gallery is The Lark Gallery located inside Sanford & Son Antiques. Its opening show is “Pixelations: Beyond the Visible,” paintings by Danielle McClenahan. An opening announcement proclaims that the gallery “proposes to display original artwork from emerging artists from Tacoma and around the globe while offering art prices that make it accessible to many budgets. The gallery will have rotating monthly artists as well as items from an ongoing cadre of local artists such as Niels Wacht, Kari Thoreen, Mindy Barker and James Hume.”

Mineral is reopening in the old Ice Box Gallery space at 301 Puyallup Ave. Currently showing is an exhibition of clown paintings by Seattle artist Cathy Sarkowsky, plus a display of new bronze and silver jewelry.

Up north in the Emerald City there’s a marvelous painting exhibition by a transplanted New Yorker that is really worth seeing — even if it means braving holiday traffic. The painter is Donald Cole, and he’s one of the best pure painters to come our way in a long time. Cole was a successful artist in New York, showing in such prestigious galleries as 55 Mercer and Nancy Hoffman, but he left the Big Apple to settle on Vashon Island and is now showing his most recent paintings at ArtXchange on First Avenue near Pioneer Square.

Cole makes simple but graphically rich abstract paintings based on Sanskrit and other Asian languages and imagery. “During the last twenty years my main inspiration has come from extensive travel in Asia where one is bombarded by complex layers of forms and colors and by the many creative expressions of spirituality that pervade Asian life, especially in India,” Cole writes in a personal statement on his Web site. “The signs and symbols and the effects of time and weather on the shrines and walls affect the content of my work and balance my formal concerns with human and caring concerns.”

Finally, I just received an urgent e-mail saying I absolutely have to see the Elaine Faaborg show at One Heart Café, next to the Grand Cinema. This is another show I haven’t seen yet, but the note came from C.J. Swanson, an artist and curator whose taste I absolutely trust. I saw images of Faaborg’s work on the Web at, and they look great.

[Fulcrum Art Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]
[The Lark Gallery, noon to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday, 5-9 p.m. Third Thursday, 743 Broadway, 253.383.3168,]
[Mineral, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday or by appointment, through Dec. 31, 301 Puyallup Ave., 253.250.7745]
[ArtXchange, through Dec. 29, 512 First Ave. S., Seattle]
[One Heart Café, through January, 604 S. Fawcett]

Friday, December 21, 2007

‘Cinderella’ gets delightful makeover

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 21, 2007
pictured: Roger Curtis and Terry Moore as The Ugly Sisters, photo by Michelle Smith Lewis

You may have seen other staged productions of the children’s fairy tale “Cinderella.” But unless you’ve seen it performed as a traditional English pantomime, you’ve never seen anything like the absolutely wild and crazy madness of Centerstage’s “Cinderella.”

Unlike the white-face pantomime most Americans are familiar with, the traditional British pantomime, usually performed at Christmas, is a madcap performance of song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, in-jokes, audience participation and mild sexual innuendo – all loosely based on traditional children’s stories.

All of the familiar Cinderella story elements are in place: the poor, abused child; the evil stepsisters; the fairy godmother; the pumpkin turned into a coach; the beautiful ball; the dance with Prince Charming; and the final fitting of the glass slipper. But unlike the traditional story, this one seems to take place in Fife, and the ugly stepsisters (a pair of male actors in drag) do their shopping at the Commons in Federal Way. And Prince Charming (Hilary Heinz) and his servant, Dandini (Alexandra Blouin), are played by two tall and beautiful girls – changing gender roles being another tradition of the British pantomime.

In addition to the gender swap, there is also the Shakespearean device of one character pretending to be another; in this case, the prince pretends to be Dandini, and Dandini pretends to be the prince.

The fairy godmother (played with charm and grace by Rosalie Hilburn) begins the festivities by scolding the audience for not giving her a proper welcome, thus establishing from the opening curtain that audience responses are expected.

The lovely Cinderella (Alicia Mendez) and the chorus sing a welcoming song, “Gee But It’s Good to Be Here,” and then the ugly, ugly, ugly stepsisters, Britney (Roger Curtis) and Beyoncé (Terry Edward Moore) make their presence known with the rousing and slightly altered song “Sisters,” made famous by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in the movie “White Christmas” – twisted versions of familiar songs being yet another tradition of the British pantomime.

Characters not included in the original fairy tale but essential to the pantomime include Cinderella’s father, Baron Hard-Up (Tom Butterworth), who is lovable but bumbling and completely under the thumb of his nasty stepdaughters; and Cinderella’s best friend, the lovable servant Buttons (Scott Polovitch-Davis).

Buttons is in love with Cinderella, and he establishes a special rapport with the children in the audience. Polovitch-Davis throws himself into the role with great gusto, playing to the children in the manner of J.P. Patches the clown or Pee-wee Herman. He asks all the boys and girls to give the secret signal whenever he comes out and shouts “Whassup gang?” and to shout out a warning whenever someone approaches his magic button. As intended, Buttons steals the show whenever he is on stage. Only Curtis and Moore with their outlandish drag queen antics can hold their own with Buttons on stage.

Heinz and Blouin, as Prince Charming and Dandini, respectively, pull off some rousing comic bits: Dandini tries to mimic the prince’s regal walk and ends up walking like a frog, and Prince Charming swings his arms like a gorilla while trying to emulate Dandini’s more casual walk. They are perfect comic counterpoints to the gangly stepsisters as they look like fashion models with long legs accentuated by very high heels.

All in all, this “Cinderella” is wonderfully campy and joyfully entertaining for kids of all ages.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Knutzen Family Theater, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $8 to $25 depending on age
INFORMATION: 253-661-1444,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bending space

Drawing conclusions at Black Front Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 20, 2007
Pictured: drawing by Justine Ashbee

Driving up Fourth Avenue in Olympia, I glanced in the window of Black Front Gallery and saw what looked like an intricate wall sculpture made of cut paper and swirling strands of wire. From my distance and angle as I drove by — holding up traffic as I slowly inched my way past the window — this Calder-like “mobile” looked as if it extended a few feet out from the wall with cast shadows and lighter colored lines behind it echoing the swirling lines.
When I went back to the gallery the next day, I saw that what had looked like a wall sculpture was actually a drawing done in black, dark blue and aqua markers on paper. It was completely flat, but with an illusion of space that was not as noticeable up close as it had been from my car. What I was seeing was Justine Ashbee’s three-part drawing, “Floating Entity.” It is a drawing of floral patterns done in smoothly flowing lines that spans three large sheets of paper. It’s a lovely drawing that looks like it was mechanically produced, but it was done freehand with marking pens. How anyone can draw lines that smoothly is beyond my comprehension.

On the back wall is a large drawing called “Folds in Battle” that actually does extend outward from the wall, thus combining actual and illusory depth. In this one, the drawings are done on paper that is cut out and pinned in clusters along the outer edges of a white wall panel. Large leaf and blossom shapes, along with delicate tendrils of paper, bend and fold outward up to about six inches and cast real shadows that overlap with illusory shadows created by lighter lines drawn on the flat surface. Lines in black, purple and hot-hot pink interspersed with clusters of leaf shapes made of white lines on black paper give this piece a dramatic punch.
A third wall holds three similar but smaller drawings on paper. The most fascinating of these is one called “Auric,” in which there are miniscule breaks in the lines everywhere they intersect. These breaks in the lines counteract the illusion of depth caused by overlapping lines and give the drawing an optical shimmer. It is also the only one of her drawings that does not have black lines, but is drawn with sweet pink and violet lines.

I generally do not like art that is this sweet and flowery or drawings that are this precise. But I really like these.

In the smaller back gallery are seven portraits by Joey Bates. Each of these is taken from a Polaroid photograph and painted on a wood panel. The painting style is flat and precise with each color area outlined with thin black lines. In an interesting wall commentary, Bates includes a small reproduction of one of his paintings alongside a reproduction of the Polaroid he worked from as an illustration of how he changed the image for compositional and dramatic purposes.

Bates’ paintings are interesting but too illustrational for my taste, and in many of them, the backgrounds seem almost like an afterthought. The backgrounds are painted more expressively than the faces, and the faces and the backgrounds do not always work well together.

Two of his best paintings are “Annie” and “Danielle.” Both of these work well because of the balance and placement of the faces relative to the picture format. However, a kind of clichéd sunburst effect behind Annie’s head keeps this portrait from being as good as it should be.
In his wall statement, Bates says he is tempted to paint more loosely and expressively but paints very deliberately, taking up to a month on each painting. I think these paintings would be better if they were painted more loosely and maybe without the lines circumscribing each area.

[Black Front Gallery, through December, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 106 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.6032,]

Monday, December 17, 2007

Scary words

When I published my first novel my sister, a devout Southern Baptist, said she was afraid to read it. I guess she was afraid that it might have sex or violence or dirty words. She bought a copy, but I doubt if she ever read it.

She might have found out that it did have sex and violence and dirty words.

My next one was even more explicit. An uncle on Gabi's side of the family emailed me saying he was shocked. He said he liked it but couldn't imagine a gentle person such as I writing about such things. An elderly lady whom I knew through our local PFLAG chapter had a similar reaction, asking, "How do you even know about that stuff?" But she said she cried at the end. So did a neighbor whom I was afraid might be offended by some of the language.

I guess you never know how people might react.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

No Country for Old Men

My one little voice joining the chorus of critics all over the country lauding the new Coen Brothers movie "No Country for Old Men" probably doesn't amount to a hill of beans. But for what it's worth, this is a one of the best movies I've ever seen. I saw it yesterday, and I'm still stunned. And now I'm re-reading the book by Cormac McCarthy.

I've been a huge McCarthy fan since before his Pulitzer Prize for "The Road" and way back even before "All the Pretty Horses" catapulted him to national fame. McCarthy is, quite simply one of our best living writers, and "No Country" is a great film adaptation that respects the source material.

If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it, and if you haven't read any of McCarthy's books, I highly recommend that too. But be forewarned: this is a violent movie. There's lots of bloodshed, but probably no more so than your average thriller these days

Friday, December 14, 2007

Unexpected arrivals

Donal Cole at ArtXchange

published in Art Access, December 2007

pictured: "Rupas (Forms) acrylic on canvas by Donald Cole

Donald Cole knows a little something about the juxtaposition of abstract shapes on a flat surface. He knows a little something about sunburnt colors and the layering of surfaces in shallow space, and about all the mark-making tools at a painter’s disposal, like stippling and scraping and the careful laying on of paint.

At least that’s what his paintings look like when viewed on a computer screen. I have not yet had an opportunity to see the paintings in his show at ArtXchange, and reproductions on a Web site can sometimes be deceiving. What appear to be rough surfaces of scraped, gouged and layered paint may not be. A photograph on his Web site of Cole at work looks like he is carefully painting small details with a sable brush on an unstretched canvas that is laid across his bed. (Evidence from other painters confirms how deceiving such appearances can be. Works by JacksonPollock and Willem de Kooning, for instance, as well some of Gerhardt Richter’s abstract paintings look like they were painted with fast and furious brushstrokes, but films of them at work prove they were much more methodical than the paintings look.)
I suspect that Cole is also more methodical in his painting than a cursory glance at the work indicates, although a gallery news release does speak of his surfaces as being “distressed” and “cracked.”

Cole’s paintings are 99-percent abstract, and feature fat calligraphic shapes that look like Asian writing or ancient hieroglyphs and other iconic symbols laid on top of rock-like shapes in dull, cool blues and greens over hot reds and burnt oranges, with adjacent deep transparencies in some areas and flat, opaque shapes in others. His surfaces evoke landscapes with winding roads or rivers and frescoes on old, crumbling stone walls. The paintings look to be informed by nature as opposed to being drawn from or imitative of nature. Seldom does recognizable and intentional subject matter appear, but Indian figures show up in some of his paintings – Indians from India, not Native American Indians. And according to the gallery, the squiggly abstract writing is drawn from Asian writing. A press release states: “Cole contrasts the angular forms of Sanskit with the rounder, gestural forms of Malayalam, the language of Kerala, in south India. In the latest works, the written characters themselves become even more abstract, creating texts of Cole’s own design - shapes that mimic language, but whose meanings lie somewhere in the emotive qualities of the paintings themselves.”

Originally from New York, where he has shown in such prestigious galleries as 55 Mercer Gallery, French & Co., and the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Cole now lives on Vashon Island. His current show at ArtXchange is called “Unpredictable Arrivals.”
“During the last twenty years my main inspiration has come from extensive travel in Asia where one is bombarded by complex layers of forms and colors and by the many creative expressions of spirituality that pervade Asian life, especially in India,” Cole writes in a personal statement on his Web site. “The signs and symbols and the effects of time and weather on the shrines and walls affect the content of my work and balance my formal concerns with human and caring concerns.”

The ArtXchange show features 23 recent paintings and one wall-size earlier work, “Rockwall,” which is a precursor of many of the more recent paintings.
“Rockwall” looks like a landscape painted in brilliant reds, blues and oranges on a stone wall shot through with white cracks. A dark blue river meanders across the top section separating walls of red and orange rock. Deep red calligraphic marks dance across the surface.

Similar marks, but looking more controlled, show up in many of his later paintings. Dark, hot and vibrant earth tones predominate, and the designs are densely packed. But two of my favorites are cooler in tone and with fewer shapes and less overlay. They are “Rupas (Forms)” and “Citi (Brick),” both of which show a few very simple organic shapes in tones of blue, green and yellow over fields of rock-like rectangles with rounded edges. In both the colors are milky and dull, with everything keyed to a middle value.

Measuring 54 by 24 inches, “Rupas” is a tall, thin painting with two large calligraphic letters that look almost like human legs. The upper “leg” drapes down from the top edge of the canvas and forms a triangle that barely kisses the edge of the lower “leg,” which looks like a raised knee. The top one is a dull, yellow-green and the bottom one the same green with hints of ochre. The yellow and green rectangles in the background are jammed together like pieces of a crude, hand-made rock puzzle. “Citi,” which is the same size and dimensions, has a pair of oval shapes in dull blue and violent jammed against the left edge of the canvas and to the right a squiggle of the same dull blue that looks like the bend of a river going nowhere or a coiled and striking snake.

“Chaun (To Transmit)” has blue and ochre letters dancing on a dark brick red background. Two of the letters look like Keith Haring figures boxing.
One of the few paintings with recognizable figures is “Echo,” which shows a dark, reddish-brown figure walking past what appears to be stone buildings with writing on the walls. The figure is comical looking, with spiked hair (or a crown) and is carrying a sword. There are marvelously deep transparencies in this painting.
Two others with obvious figures are “Shifafa (Lyric Energy)” and “Essential Nature,” both of which picture seated Indian gods (most likely Siva, the god of destruction) with overlapping transparent fields of writing. I think these suffer from being too literal, and that the more abstract images and the simpler designs are much stronger.
Donald Cole Unpredictable Arrivals runs through Dec. 29 at ArtXchange, 512 First Ave. S., Seattle.

You can tune in with ‘1940’s Radio Hour’

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 14, 2007

pictured: 1. Leishen Moore
2. Sheri Tipton-Hasson, Claudette Hatcher, Alan Fuller, Adam Rudolph
3. Adam Rudolph, Jarod Nace, Erica Penn

For the holiday season, Olympia’s Capital Playhouse is turned into New York radio station WOV, 1941.

Walton Jones’ play “1940’s Radio Hour” is much more than just a set piece for a swing-era music revue. It’s a funny, touching and naturalistic play with fully developed plot and characters loaded with nostalgia and vaudevillian silliness, but with an underlying tragic tone.

The authentic art deco set designed by Bruce Haasl, the very realistic blocking by director and musical director Troy Arnold Fisher, and the unaffected acting by the entire cast all combine to make the audience feel they are actually there in the station as a live radio show audience.

There is no curtain and no curtain speech. Even as audience members chatter with one another and before the lights go down, employees of the radio station go to work.

Pops (Bernie Brady), a crusty old stage manager, comes in, hangs up his hat and gets on the phone to his bookie; Clifton Feddington (Gregory Conn), the no-nonsense station manager and announcer, shouts at cast and crew members who are anything but ready for the Christmas show that’s due to start in just a few minutes; singer Ginger Brooks (Sheri Tipton-Hasson) lounges around the station in her slip and an oversized and quite pointed brassiere that looks like a pair of WWII bombs; matinee idol Johnny Cantone (Matt Posner) comes in and confides to one of the other people in the cast that he is quitting the show to go to Hollywood.

The whole station is a madhouse of activity. Everyone is milling around and talking over one another – from stars to band members to the delivery boy who wants to break into show business (Wally Fergusson, played by Capital High School student Eddie Carroll).

With the band tuning up and everyone talking at once on different parts of the stage, it absolutely draws the audience in to a believable set.

Then the radio broadcast starts. Clifton welcomes the audience with a deep and resonant voice that sounds like the archetype of every great male radio announcer there’s ever been. Then, with the crew harmonizing on background vocals, he sings a wonderful swing rendition of the Glenn Miller standard “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.”

While the cast of Radio Station WOV produces “The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade,” the stories of cast and crew members play out like a barely noticeable undercurrent to the music – their loves and their jealousies and the aspirations of wannabe stars. And throughout it all is awareness of the war overseas and the naive optimism of Americans, as personified by Biff Baker (Alan Fuller), who thought in the early years of the war that our soldiers would quickly win and come home.

Fuller is wonderful in this role. It takes a heap of talent to act, sing and play hot saxophone solos, and he does it all well.

Brady, as Pops Bailey, and Matt Flores, as the self-important stage manager and sound effects man, Lou Cohn, do great turns as character actors. The rest of the cast are singers who belt them out with style. Each stands out in his or her own way, but none quite so much as Jerod Richard Nace as the station’s comedian, Neal Tilden; Carroll as the innocent and infatuated delivery boy; and Adam Randolph as the all-American boy and up-and-coming star, B.J. Gibson – all of whom provide touching and comic moments.

Randolph is particularly outstanding as he goes from hesitant bumbling to enthusiastic swinging as the third “girl” in the Andrews Sisters song “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with Ginger and girl-next-door singer Connie Miller (Erica Penn).

You can’t go wrong this holiday season visiting the “1940’s Radio Hour.”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 22, additional matinees Dec. 21-22 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $29-$35 for adults, $23-$29 for seniors and youths 16 and younger
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Own it

a.o.c. gallery owns a pretty good show

published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 13, 2007

pictured: “Fall Plant Commemorative,” digital print by Bea Geller

I dropped by a.o.c. gallery to see a group show that was described as a kind of transition show between the old a.o.c. managed by the husband-and-wife partnership of C.J. Swanson and David N. Goldberg and the new artists-owned cooperative gallery managed by, as the name implies, the participating artists (see how cleverly they kept the initials that originally stood for Art on Center).

I don’t know if all of the new artist-owners are represented in the group show, which is called “Own It,” or if all of the artists represented in this show are members of the cooperative. But it will be interesting to see how the change in ownership and management will affect this gallery, which has been one of the best in Tacoma since it opened in 2005.

This show is a little uneven, but pretty good.

Included are works by Swanson and Goldberg, along with Jason Sobottka, Chip Van Gilder, Bill Colby, Dorothy McCuistion, Bea Geller, and Trinda Love.

Sobotka is showing a number of works on paper that look like charcoal but, according to the wall labels, are stencils with various media, including soil. The best of these are “Neighborhood Coyote” and “Presence.” “Neighborhood Coyote” is a drawing of delicately modulated sticks and leaves scattered along the lower half of the picture with a white stencil of a coyote against gray leaves in the upper right-hand corner with a lot of white space in between. “Presence” goes even further in balancing drawn and stenciled areas against blank white space. This is Sobotka’s best work in the show. His other stencil drawings have a lot more going on and seem contrived and overworked by comparison.

Gilder, a photographer, has a single photograph on the wall. Called “Light in Motion #80,” it is an abstract form created by red light moving against a black backdrop. It looks more like a painting than a photograph, and it is striking. Not hung on the gallery walls but stacked in a bin are some Gilder photographs of Tacoma scenes, which are nice.

Printmaker Bill Colby is showing a number of wood cut and intaglio prints that are simple in design and mystical in nature, reminiscent of Morris Graves.

McCuistion’s acrylic and photo-transfer paintings on wood panels are off-putting at first glance, but they have a way of getting under your skin. They are ironic commentaries on — as she puts it in a wall statement — “the displacement of animals, loss of habitat and diversion of precious resources that occurs when humans ‘develop’ a piece of land, in this case Pierce County’s Chambers Bay Golf Course.” So we see a golf ball in a bird’s nest in a painting titled “Hole in One,” a “Sandtrap” with a cow skull, and a tiger on a golf ball titled “Tiger Woods.”
PLU art professor Bea Geller is showing some striking digital prints of plants seen within iconic circular shapes that are something like camera lenses giving focus and sharpness to the images and one long, thin digital image of birch trees in three panels with globelike lenses inserted to focus on specific areas.

Trenda Love is showing a group of small landscape paintings with heavy impasto paint and circular and square bits of mirror attached. Without the mirrors the paintings would be pretty strong, but the mirrors are gimmicky and distracting.

Finally, Swanson and Goldberg, whose work is very familiar by now, are showing some excellent abstract paintings. The transparencies in Goldberg’s paintings are outstanding as is the balanced dance of circles and rectangles in Swanson’s “Forest Guide.”

[a.o.c. gallery, Tuesday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. through December, 608 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.230.1673 or 253.627.8180,]

Friday, December 7, 2007

This ‘Stardust’ dusts off great tunes

Published in The News Tribune, December 7, 2007

Pictured from left: Emilie Rommel, LaVon Hardison, Matt Shimkus, Deanna Marie Molenda and Antonia Darlene. Photo by Tor Clausen

An isolated World War II supply depot in the Sahara Desert comes alive with swinging music in Harlequin Productions’ “Operation Stardust” – the latest in the stream of “Stardust” fantasies Harlequin presents as holiday fare every year. They’re all set during the war, and they all involve radio broadcasts with fabulous singers performing great old songs of the swing era.

The plots are rather thin and often absurd, but they’re loaded with romance and humor and are really little more than settings for all the music.

In this latest incarnation, Pvts. Joe Divitz (Nat Rayman) and Billy Monroe (Jason Thayer) are a couple of hapless supply clerks who think they are ordering starburst flares but actually put in an order for the Stardust Players, a USO troupe. And in what has to be one of the most improbable plot devices ever, the traveling troupe of entertainers is flown into the desert outpost where, since they’re there anyway, they join Pvts. Divitz and Monroe and Sgt. James Avery (Russ Holm) in an Armed Forces Radio broadcast.

The troupe consists of Cleopatra Jackson (Antonia Darlene), Loretta Mae (LaVon Hardison), Jeanette Dale (Deanna Marie Molenda), heartthrob starlet Nora Lynn (Emilie Rommel) and matinee idol Marty Ross (Matt Shimkus).

In the broadcast, soldiers and entertainers join together to act out a silly tale that is loosely reminiscent of “Casablanca,” with harem girls, spies and ludicrous sound effects provided by Sgt. Joe. Being a radio skit, I guess it’s appropriate that the comic bits rely heavily on sound. Holm shows off his comedic talent using a variety of voices.

The radio skit goes on far too long, but ends with quite a bang as Act 1 draws to a close.

In Act 2, the story line is almost abandoned, and the entertainment dissolves into a musical revue. Thankfully. It is in the musical numbers that this troupe really shines, starting with Shimkus singing the great Kurt Weill classic “Mack the Knife” and later knocking the audience dead with the best bar song of all time, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”

Shimkus is a real pro whom I recently had the privilege of seeing in “Twelfth Night” at Seattle Repertory Theatre. His hyper-cool facial expressions epitomize 1940s swingers. He truly inhabits the role of the self-possessed matinee idol.

The four women are all outstanding. Molenda doesn’t do much singing but has a strong voice. The other three are all of star quality, especially Darlene, whose beauty and grace simply command attention. She has proved herself as a soul diva in such musicals as “Dream Girls” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” but in this show she displays a melodious songbird quality I’ve not seen in her other performances – she is absolutely stunning on the classic love songs “I Remember You” and “P.S. I Love You.”

Hardison, known locally as Ruby of the duo Red and Ruby, was born for this role. On the great Johnny Mercer tune “Come Rain or Come Shine,” she is as sultry as Lena Horne or Billie Holiday, and she’s downright nasty on “You Got to See Your Mama Every Night.”

Rommel belts out blues and ballads with equal style and control. I especially loved her rendition of the Cole Porter classic “It’s All Right with Me.”

The three soldiers are on stage mostly for comedic and dramatic purposes and do not sing much. But they hold their own on their songs, and Holm really swings on his duet with Darlene on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”

All that swinging singing is kicked along by a band led by musical director Debbie Evans on piano. The band members, who are on stage throughout, are all well-known local jazz musicians. They are: Keith Anderson, drums; Dan Blunck, saxophone; Rick Jarvela, bass; and Syd Potter, trumpet.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, and 2 p.m. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve
WHERE: State Theatre, 202 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $34-$38; rush tickets $12-$20 half-hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; www.harlequin

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Vamps and villains

Film strips are transfigured in Rebecca Raven’s paintings

published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 06, 2007
pictured: “Transfiguration #34,” oil on copper by Rebecca Raven

My initial reaction to Rebecca Raven’s paintings at Childhood’s End Gallery was that they are a little too precious and way too gimmicky. Ten of her 11 gemlike paintings employ variations of a single gimmick.

Raven’s pictures are painted in oil on small copper plates that are framed by exquisitely crafted wooden frames — almost as if placed inside of jewelry boxes. On the bottom of each frame box are small metal knobs that viewers can turn to rotate parts of the copper plates upon which the pictures are painted. Each turn of a knob reveals a little surprise. Perhaps part of a face changes to give a figure a slightly different appearance, or maybe a figure goes away, or colors change, or a man becomes a woman. It’s like in the movies when a false wall or bookcase turns to reveal a hidden room. Only in this case, the wall that turns is a part of a painting.

If this trick was all there was to Raven’s paintings, looking at them would quickly become boring — turn the knob to see what’s on the other side, and once you’ve seen it you’re in on the joke, and there’s nothing left to entertain you. That would be the case except for one thing: these paintings are beautifully done with precise brushwork and lovely colors. And the imagery excites the imagination.

The images in her “Transfiguration” series come from film stills from the silent film era. Since I am not a connoisseur of silent films and there are no titles or labels to identify the individual images, I can’t identify the particular films or actors, but I’m pretty sure I recognized Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and perhaps Clara Bow and Theda Bara.

On her Web site, Raven states: “I am interested, above all, in people and in the manners in which we communicate, express, and develop meaning. As an artist I find inspiration in gesture and in the subtle variations of facial expressions. … (My works) explore how these subtle changes of gesture, expression, and context serve to develop mood and narrative.”
What could be more perfect for conveying such subtle and expressive gestures than images from films in which actors had no words at their disposal but had to rely on expression and gesture to convey stories?

The reason my assessment of Raven’s paintings changed so quickly from dismissing them as gimmicky to admiration of her art is that her paintings beautifully meld content and form. Her painting style, her velvety monotone colors, and even the jewel box frames are all perfectly matched to the nostalgic subject matter. And with or without the surprises in store when you turn the knobs to see what changes, the intrigue of implied narrative is implicit in the actors’ gestures.

So, am I going to keep all of the surprise imagery a great mystery? No, I don’t think anything momentous will be given away by describing some of them. Some of the surprises are nothing more than slight color changes — so slight, in fact, that you have to keep turning the knobs to see what has actually changed. In “Transfiguration #27,” for instance, a standing woman is wearing a blue dress. Turn the knob and the entire painting is in a monotone blue. And then you can’t remember: Was her face blue on the other side? So you have to turn back to find out.

One of the most drastic comes from a Harold Lloyd film. Lloyd and an actress whom I can’t identify are pushing against a partially open door. On the other side, a large villain tries to hold them out. Turn the handle and suddenly Lloyd is pushing against himself.

Also showing are Linda Frizzell, Bill McEnroe, Robert Ellert, and Dave Schweitzer.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, Monday-Thursday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Dec. 31, 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia, 360.943.3724]

Friday, November 30, 2007

‘Sleeping Beauty’ tale gets wake-up call

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 30, 2007


Christening- from left to right: Penny Clapp as Branwen, Marie Lester as Queen Guenevere, Jim Patrick as King Peredur and Amanda Eldredge as Modron

Spinning wheel- Gerianne Perkins as Briar Rose and Amanda Eldredge as Modron

combat- featuring from left to right: Amanda Eldredge as Modron and Chris Cline as Prince Owain

photos by Dean Lapin.

The Charles Way and Chad Henry musical version of the classic tale “Sleeping Beauty,” now playing at Tacoma Little Theatre, is based primarily on the Brothers Grimm version of the early 17th-century tales “Sun, Moon and Talia” by Giambattista Basile and “The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods,” a “Mother Goose” tale by Charles Perrault. It bears little resemblance to the well-known Disney film, which I think is a very good thing.

“The story goes back way beyond the days of the Brothers Grimm, and it crosses many cultural boundaries,” writes director Charlotte Tiencken in the program. “What I love about the Sleeping Beauty story … is that the author has modernized the tale to make it a story of which we can all relate. It’s a story of growing up, facing one’s fears, becoming your own person and, of course, following your dreams.”

It is not the script, sets or costumes that has been modernized. They still hearken back to the medieval period. Rather, it is the spirit and attitude that is modernized in its use of humor based on modern sensibilities. Princess Briar Rose (Gerianne Perkins) has a spunky modern spirit, and Prince Owain (Chris Cline) is a modern-day, goodhearted doofus.

The story begins as two magical sisters, Branwen (Penny Clapp) and Modron (Amanda Eldredge), find an abandoned infant in the woods. The baby is Briar Rose, the princess known as Sleeping Beauty.

Both sisters want to keep the infant, but when Branwen, the good sister, gives the baby to the king and queen, Modron, the evil sister, decides that if she can’t have the baby no one can, and she casts a spell on her. By her 16th birthday, Briar Rose will prick her finger on a spindle and fall to her death.

Branwen wants to break the spell, but she can’t. The best she can do is change it so that instead of dying Briar Rose will fall asleep for 100 years, and only a true love’s kiss can awaken her.

The king and queen burn all the spindles in the land and never allow their daughter to leave the castle, and so Briar Rose has a lonely childhood. To watch over and protect her, Branwen sends her a sweet companion, the half-man, half-dragon Gryff (John Kelly). And to relieve her loneliness, her parents bring her a playmate, Owain, a bumbling prince whose own father has declared completely useless but who nevertheless has a big heart.

Children in the audience the night I watched the play seemed to have a wonderful time watching Owain and Gryff bumble their way to eventually saving Sleeping Beauty from the evil spell. At times, they even took part, making comments to the actors and those around them.

Perkins, Cline and Kelly interact wonderfully as the three primary characters, and Clapp and Eldredge are well cast as the fairy sisters.

In addition to being important characters in the story – epitomizing the struggle between good and evil – Branwen and Modron act as narrators, setting the scene with the haunting opening melody “Once Upon a Time.”

The most delightful musical numbers are the ones featuring Briar Rose, Gryff and Owain, especially the rousing and upbeat “If I Could Fly” and “Everyone’s Good at Something.”

The sets, lighting and costumes are some of the best I’ve seen in this theater in a long time. The simple, buff-colored castle wall is warm and inviting, and the opening blue light behind the castle is beautiful. The dresses worn by Briar Rose and the fairy sisters look rich and authentic. Many of these costumes were designed by noted costumer Cathy Hunt for the Seattle Children’s Theatre’s West Coast premiere, with additional costumes by Brie Crawley. Sets are by Erin Chanfrau, and lighting is by Scott O’Donnell.

The play is recommended for ages 5 and older. It is entertaining for adults and children alike.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. ASL-interpreted performance today.
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22 adults, $20 students and seniors, $18 children 12 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Don’t be absurd

Nine wild and crazy artists at the Helm

published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov 29, 2007

Photo: "Cano Man," photograph by William Hundley

The new show at The Helm may be called “Don’t Be Absurd,” but it is all about absurdities such as shapeless cloths leaping into the air on city streets and cutely menacing creatures that are half whale and half swordfish.

Works by nine artists cram the little gallery. Some of the artists are from other parts of the country, such as Eric Shaw from Brooklyn, N.Y., who is pretty well known. Others are local or regional artists such as Trevor Dickson of Tacoma and Darin Shuler from Seattle, a recent Artist Trust grant recipient. Other artists in the show are: Seth Adelsberger, Mike Andrews, William Hundley, James Orlando, Jimmy Joe Roche, and Matt Vanhorn.

Most of the works in the show fall loosely into the category of pop-surrealism, and three of the artists — Shaw, Dickson and Shuler — are graphic artists of the fantasy stripe whose ancestors include ’60s underground artists such as Robert Crumb and Jim Nutt. And Adelsberger’s work is of a similar kind of post-psychedelic, drug-inspired style but more abstract.

Dickson’s drawings are like weird cartoons that might be drawn by 6-year-olds on drugs. They are crudely drawn and strangely funny. At least, some of them are funny while some of them I simply don’t get.

Shaw’s are filled with intricate line work that looks to be drug-induced (I remember drawing stuff like that while high on speed in 1974, but mine were neither as inventive nor as well drawn). Shaw places cartoon figures in interior spaces, often sitting or floating in impossible positions, and intersperses them with white silhouettes of figures that are filled with minute line drawings. Pretty amazing stuff.

It is almost impossible to describe Shuler’s drawings, except to say they are comically menacing and include strange hybrid sea creatures and animals that combine bird and human parts. I really enjoyed them.

The best pure art in the show comes from fiber artist Mike Andrews. Included are two quilts by Andrews, both titled “Guilty Quilty,” and a wall-hanging fiber sculpture called “Creepy Crawly.” In these works, Andrews combines patterns and shapes that should logically clash or that seem totally random in a manner you would expect to be ugly and makes them unexpectedly beautiful. The two quilts are oddly shaped with pieces jutting out here and there almost like arms and legs on badly constructed clothing. They are made up of jarringly contrasting print patterns with squiggly stitched lines superimposed. “Creepy Crawly” is a loosely woven wall hanging in bright red, pink and white yarn surrounding and interwoven with a strange foam and plastic shape that looks a lot like a section of human intestines — again, making ugly beautiful.

Totally different from everything else in the show and really enjoyable are a set of photographs by William Hundley, even if all but one of them constitute a kind of one-trick pony. In each picture, a shapeless cloth hovers in the air in a gravity defying act. To me it looked like the cloths were inserted using Photoshop, but I was told that there was someone under the cloths who leapt into the air as Hundley snapped the shutter. The one picture in the set that is not just a repetition of the same trick is the one nearest the window, which shows an old man seated on a chair in front of a building with a pair of mops leaning against the wall. The cloth leaps up in such a way as to look like it is being propped up by the mop handles, so there’s more than just the one trick going on. Plus, there is a white cameo face on the bright green wall that is an almost hypnotic figure that serves as an anchor to everything else. In terms of composition, color, design and inventiveness, this is a terrific photograph.

[The Helm, Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Dec. 8, 760 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.627.8845,]

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Twilites

Van Cook is a bass player from Texas by way of Mississippi. He's been playing bass more than 50 years. Van wrote to me after buying a copy of The Wives of Marty Winters. he wrote: "I'm really enjoying the book. Thanks for mentioning the Twilites :>)."

The mention of the Twilites in the book was brief. I wrote: "The heart senses a moment of magic. It is the evening of June 10. Elvis has just come home from the Army, and Marty is at the graduation dance at Priest Point Park. A mirrored ball flashes bubbles of light on swirling skirts, red and violet light floating across figures and walls like a laser show on clouds. Never mind that it was long before the days of laser light shows. Couples move together in ways that look more like sex than dancing, Jimmy Collins humping his date like a dog, while on the bandstand The Twilights play Pat Boone’s 'Love Letters in the Sand.' Charlie Sizemore lets loose with a long sax solo, and the singer, Randy White, grips the microphone stand and sways to the beat. The guys in the band are wearing light gray tuxedos with ruffled shirts and pink cummerbunds. The twinkling lights flash across the bandstand and onto the dance floor."

I answered Van. I said: "I'm glad you're enjoying it. I figured somebody ought to try and immortalize the Twilites."

He wrote back: "I read a lot, so I know a good writer when I read, sir, are a very good writer."

Wow! Thanks, man.

The Twilites played for nearly all of the dances when I was in high school in Mississippi. They were so great that I moved them all the way across the country to have them play for a high school graduation dance in Olympia, Washington in my novel.

The first guy on the left in the picture is Van. We played together in a number of bands (me on drums, Van on bass), but never in the Twilites. They were the best, and I would have loved to play with them, but I never did. But that's OK. While they were on stage playing I was out on the dance floor where the girls were.

Friday, November 23, 2007

‘Mr. Green’ play well worth visiting

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 23, 2007

Pictured, left to right: Patrick McCabe as Mr. Green and Timothy Scott as Ross Gardiner. Photo by Toni Holm

This weekend is the last chance to see “Visiting Mr. Green” at Olympia Little Theatre.

“Mr. Green” is a delicate blend of humor and drama and an unflinching look into the lives of two very different people – a lonely and bitter old Jewish man and an ambitious young man who happens to also be Jewish but isn’t religious and is only marginally aware of his heritage.

A near accident and a judge with an unusual sense of civic service bring them together after the old man, Mr. Green (Patrick McCabe), wanders into traffic and is almost hit by a speeding Ross Gardiner (Timothy Scott). As retribution for almost running into the old man, Ross is ordered to visit Mr. Green once a week for six months and help him out with whatever may be needed – such as housecleaning, shopping, etc., none of which Mr. Green wants or needs.

The play starts out as acerbic comedy in the style of “The Odd Couple,” as the two men haltingly get to know each other. They could not be less alike. Mr. Green is a slob and a pack rat. His apartment is littered with old newspapers, and his cupboards are bare. He doesn’t trust or like anyone and prefers to be left alone. Ross is a neat freak who insists on cleaning up and meddling into Mr. Green’s life even while claiming he doesn’t want to be there.

The comedy gradually turns into intense drama as the two men burrow into each other’s secrets. Ross confesses that he is gay and painfully closeted, that his parents have virtually disowned him and that he has shamefully rejected the man he loves out of fear of being out in public. Mr. Green is at first horrified by Ross’ confession. He can’t believe that a Jewish boy can be gay; he spouts off old worn-out myths about homosexuality and insists that Ross just needs to find a good Jewish girl.

And then almost by accident Mr. Green confesses a dark secret of his own.

The play by Jeff Baron received bad reviews when it opened in New York with the great Eli Wallach in the role of Mr. Green. While praising Wallach, critics complained that the script was predictable, that the basic premise was improbable and that both the humor and the drama were strained. While objectively I can understand this criticism, emotionally I was swept up into the story and the lives of these two men. I laughed heartily at the barbs Mr. Green threw at Ross, and I deeply felt each man’s pain.

McCabe plays Mr. Green beautifully. I often find that, when young actors play older characters, they look ridiculous. More often than not, their makeup and their gestures and their creaky old voices are all overdone. Not so with McCabe. Other than hair that’s a little too thick and coated with white, he looks every bit the 86-year-old man. And his old man’s shuffle and shaky right hand are believable. His small facial gestures speak eloquently. This is acting of a high order.

Scott is also convincing. His highly dramatic expressions stop just short of being overly histrionic, just as the play stops short of being maudlin.

The only complaint I have is with the scene changes in which stage hands come out and either scatter newspapers and tissues or pick them up. Such interludes unnecessarily dispel the illusions upon which drama is based. I believe that whenever possible the shuffling of props by stagehands within full view of the audience should be avoided, and in this play most of it could be avoided by having the actors themselves move things during the scenes and leaving some of the changes to the audience’s imagination.

“Visiting Mr. Green” is a powerful, moving and humorous play. I highly recommend it.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. today and Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Co., 1404 Harrison Ave. N.W., 360-943-7500; or online at
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sex and violence

Disturbing images grace the walls of Mad Hat Tea

published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov 21, 2007
pictured: “The Edison Project,” pastel by Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt

I really like Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt’s collaborative pastels. It is absolutely astonishing that two artists can work simultaneously on a painting — and apparently, judging from their written statements, with little or no preplanning — and come up with anything as coherent and well designed as the pictures they are showing at Mad Hat Tea Company. It’s as if these guys are cojoined twins with a single brain between them.

Their paintings are figurative and surrealistic with echoes of Picasso and of German Expressionists such as Otto Dix and Max Beckman; one painting titled “Beckman’s Legacy” is an obvious homage to the latter. These are dark and disturbing paintings. Or they may be seen as humorous in a twisted sort of way, depending on how warped your sense of humor is.

Although their oeuvre covers the entire range of humanity, from sports to music to family life and more, their show at Mat Hat Tea Company focuses mostly on nightlife and on a kind of revelatory autobiography — but whose biography? Hall’s or Schmitt’s? Could it be that both of them were smothered in childhood by the engulfing love of slovenly aunts? The painting “Summers With My Aunts” pictures a frightened young boy, just entering puberty, seated between two women wearing yellow bathing suits and pressing against him in a way that looks to be sexually charged and uncomfortable.

Sex — clearly discomforting or unsatisfying sex — rears its head in many of Hall and Schmitt’s paintings. Take “Grabbing Mother Nature’s Bounty” for example. This painting depicts the Adam and Eve story, but in this one the apple tree is not a tree. It is a voluptuous naked woman with sickly, green skin and a zipper down the middle of her body from neck to crotch. Adam and Eve stand on either side of her (Adam naked and Eve wearing a white tank top and fig leaf). Adam reaches a hand into the open zipper front.

Another that packs a sexual wallop without being pornographic is “Inhibitions Discarded,” which pictures a woman in a red dress dancing in front of a couple and a single man drinking in a cabana bar. Her dance is masturbatory, and the people watching are clearly discomforted by being made into voyeurs.

These paintings are inventive and beautifully designed with dark, rich colors and an expressive surface quality more akin to acrylic painting than pastel. Like paintings by the French Post-Impressionist Georges Roualt with his vibrant colors outlined in heavy black.
One of the most astounding works in the show, which thematically comes out of left field, is “The Edison Project.” The meaning is unclear except that it refers to the inventor of the incandescent lightbulb. In this painting, lightbulbs have been implanted into the heads of dark and menacing men. The dramatic impact is as powerful as an electric shock.

Not so dramatic but interesting for its clever use of perspective is “Toast to the Way Things Were,” which shows diners at a table that becomes a road in a painting going off into the distance with a kind of Renee Magritte-like perspectival trickery.

The lighting at Mad Hat is designed for customer comfort, not for viewing art, and Hall and Schmitt’s work is anything but comforting. Nevertheless, this work is worth viewing. I highly recommend perusing Hall and Schmitt’s Web site at where sex and violence — the twin peaks of drama — are even more in evidence.

Hall and Schmitt’s work fills the back lounge area and the serving area of Mad Hat. In the front room are works by Mary K. Johnson that graphically display her anger at the current regime in the other Washington.

[Mad Hat Tea Company, Mary K. Johnson through Nov. 31, Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt through Dec. 9, 1130 Commerce St., Tacoma, 253.441.2111]

Friday, November 16, 2007

‘Velveteen Rabbit’ has right touch

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 16, 2007


The New Toy -
The older toys inspect the Velveteen Rabbit upon his arrival in the nursery. (L. to R. Anne Weldon, Rachel Gutfreund, Maxine Peabody, and Mandy Ryle).

Bulka (Anne Weldon), Timothy (Maxine Peabody), and Mouse (Mandy Ryle) pay close attention to Skin Horse’s (Keith Eisner) wisdom.

photos courtesy Karen Janowitz/OFT

I cannot emphasize this enough: If you are the parent or guardian of children ages 4 and older, take them to see “The Velveteen Rabbit.” This delightful children’s play put on by Olympia Family Theater at the South Puget Sound Community College’s Minnaert Center for the Arts is highly entertaining. It is also educational and might even be good for your child.

“We are passionate about offering our community an alternative to mass media entertainment, to explore complex themes and important issues in a dramatic setting,” reads the OFT mission statement printed in the program. “Our goal is to present children’s theater that not only entertains, but also stimulates dialogue and personal growth for young people and their families.”

Having watched “The Velveteen Rabbit” with a sold-out audience of children and their adult chaperones, I am convinced that this performance perfectly fulfills that mission statement.

Alex (13-year-old Jonny Buehler) has broken his favorite sleep-with toy into smithereens, and it cannot be put back together. His Nana (Evelyn McNitt) digs an old-fashioned velveteen rabbit out of his toy box and gives it to him as a substitute. Alex gradually learns to love the rabbit, which comes to life along with other toys in the toy box when the boy is asleep or away.

The Velveteen Rabbit (Rachel Gutfreund) is told by the Toy Fairy (Stephanie Kroschel) that if she is loved by Alex and loves him in return, her dream of becoming a real rabbit can come true. But the Velveteen Rabbit knows that is impossible because she doesn’t have a heart, and without a heart she cannot love.

The other toys – Timothy (Maxine Peabody), Wind Up Mouse (Mandy Ryle) and Bulka (Anne Weldon) – do not like Velveteen Rabbit at first because she is different. But the wise and loving Skin Horse (Keith Eisner), who is a father figure to the other toys, convinces Velveteen Rabbit and the other toys that being different is a good thing. And they truly begin to love her when Alex is stricken with scarlet fever and only Velveteen Rabbit’s love for him can save him from the fever – which he and the toys call “The Scarlet Fear.”

The set by Jen Ryle has just the right vintage look, with a big skin horse that looks like it was rescued from a 1920s merry-go-round and an oversized bottomless toy box (the living toys magically pop in and out of the toy box and the wardrobe).

Samantha Chandler’s direction is outstanding, which is especially noticeable in the complicated blocking and timing of the madcap “Find the Rabbit” scene – a scene that invites enthusiastic participation from children (and adults) in the audience.

The acting, overall, is excellent, proving that amateur actors and relatively inexperienced youths can be thoroughly professional. Most remarkable are Eisner, Gutfreund and Buehler in the three lead roles.

Eisner is an old hand in regional theater and has proved his ability to inhabit a seemingly endless variety of personas. He has been a pirate in “Treasure Island,” a dead man in “Proof” and a man with serious bladder problems in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” Here he is a lovable horse whose deep love for the Velveteen Rabbit comes across as totally sincere.

Gutfreund, a recent college graduate, twitters and blinks and hops about nervously and adorably (but rather clumsily on the hopping). What kid wouldn’t want her (actually a boy rabbit in this play) as his or her special sleep-with toy? And Buehler creates true sympathy for the boy Alex.

As of this writing, Sunday’s matinée is sold out. There are very few tickets left, so get yours soon.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday (matinee is sold out)
WHERE: South Puget Sound Community College’s Minnaert Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, 2011 Mottman Road S.W., Olympia
TICKETS: $15 adults, $12 seniors, $11 ages 13-18, $8 ages 12 and younger

INFORMATION: 360-596-5508,

The lovely bones

Betty Bastai and Shilo de la Cruz at SPSCC

published in The Weekly Volcano, Nov. 15, 2007

pictured: “Hermet Crab Horse,” pastel by Betty Bastai
Photo: Courtesy photo

Betty Bastai’s drawings bring to mind the Alice Sebold novel “The Lovely Bones.” Not the story, just the title. Along the right-hand wall of the gallery at South Puget Sound Community College is a group of eight soft and delicate Bastai drawings of X-ray images — lovely bones seen through human flesh, broken bones repaired with pins. These drawings celebrate the fragility and resilience of the human body even as they evoke associations with the macabre. They are at once sweet, tender and horrifying. And they are beautifully drawn with charcoal, pastel and graphite.

Her images of flesh and bone are drawn in tones of gray, white and a dusty brick red on a misty black ground. The red tones glow like embers in a dying fire; the grays merge mysteriously with the foglike background, and the bleach-white bones seem to hover in a forward plane.

The largest work in the series is “You Are Good For Nothing,” a composition that skirts precarious imbalance with a human rib cage filling the right half and a broken arm held together with pins angling across the left side.

Another excellent work in this group is “You Are Just A Kid,” which is an X-ray image of a face seen in close-up with glaring white teeth and bone structures within the face that do not seem to fit anything human. Maybe there are overlapping X-ray images in this picture, or maybe this face has been so badly damaged as to be unrecognizable as human bone structure.

Other drawings by Bastai are not as strong or as well unified as these.
There are a lot of horses in her other drawings. Or parts of horses. A single leg and hoof show up as a repeated motif in drawing after drawing. Often they are seen as in silhouette or as a paper cut-out image in a solid color (not literally cut out but a visual simulation), and in most of the drawings this leg is the single unifying element in a composition that would otherwise break apart. The horse drawings are more colorful than the bone series, but the designs are not as solid.

But there are exceptions. One of the best works in the show is “Hermit Crab Horse,” a large pastel of a single horse placed in an abstract pyramidal structure of flat gray, green and blue shapes. The horse is rushing forward. His leg, face and chest form an abstract configuration of angular forms that mirrors the background shapes.

Also showing is sculptor Shilo De La Cruz with a large number of ceramic heads and figures and small bowls, many of which have little figures dancing along the rims. Taken in a single glance, the De La Cruz stuff is really impressive. There is a large and imposing head on a pedestal just inside the gallery door and another head farther in that stands upside-down on a pedestal, and a table in the middle that is filled with brown and white ceramic heads. All of these heads are certainly striking when seen as a group as are a number of Giacometti-like standing figures. The ceramics are appealing when seen as a large installation, but when the individual pieces are studied in detail, they become less impressive. The little standing figures are too standard. The Giacometti influence is too obvious, and they are too tentative, hovering uncomfortably between abstraction and realism. And the disjointed heads suffer from decorative glazes that seem arbitrary.

The one exception is a piece called “Diana.” It is the largest head in the show. It is a solid gray-green color and with very little detail. It has an ancient and foreboding look like the head of some giant sculpture from antiquity that has fallen off the body and has been worn smooth over time.

[South Puget Sound Community College, through Nov. 30, Tuesday-Saturday noon-5 p.m., 2011 Mottman Rd. S.W. Olympia, 360.596.5508]

Friday, November 9, 2007

Young cast shines in ‘Metaphasia’ fantasy

published in The News Tribune, Nov. 9, 2007

Metaphasia,” the musical thriller now playing at Encore! Theater, is billed as a contemporary retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s “Twelve Dancing Princesses” mixed with concepts from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “The Wizard of Oz” and even “Harry Potter” – with, as if all of that were not enough, some punk-rock shenanigans thrown into the mix.

Every morning, young Angie awakens to find worn-out shoes scattered about the floor of the bedroom she shares with her little brother, Howie.

Also, the dolls that line her shelf come alive and vanish into the world of Metaphasia.

Something strange is obviously going on, and a musical Greek chorus going by the name Synchra and the Synchrettes tells the audience all about it while strutting their stuff in big wigs and outlandish costumes in the “Hairspray” mold to the tune of the “Metaphasian Rap-City.”

“Something’s interrupted the scheme of things, someone has disrupted the dream of things,” Synchra sings.

With the fantasy walls crumbling, Angie is magically sucked into her closet and transported to the fantasy world of Metaphasia as Howie watches in horror.

Metaphasia is inhabited by the evil Devilla and her 12 dancing sisters, who are trapped forever in fantasy. In order to escape to the real world, Devilla plots to turn Angie into a princess who will take her place. Angie is thrilled at the opportunity, never suspecting that if she does become the 13th princess she will never be able to return home.

Howie bravely enters the closet and the fantasy, where he meets Synchra, who tells him that he must rescue his sister from Metaphasia. Howie – who would rather just bury his head under the covers and go back to sleep but who nevertheless proves to be more levelheaded than his starry-eyed sister – goes off to save Angie, aided by his blanket, which now magically renders him invisible, and a strange warning never to drink the milk.

Most of the cast are inexperienced, and all but three are children and youths. They are not professional theater people. With that in mind, they do a pretty good job of entertaining the audience with mostly clever and upbeat songs and colorful costumes. Interestingly, of the three adults in the cast, two are listed in the program as local pastors.

Many of the roles are double cast, including the principal characters. Sarah Best, 12, and Kasey Dickason, 13, alternate as Angie; Michael Beu, 9, and Ryan Flood, 8, take turns playing Howie; and Peninsula High School students Faith Higgins and Kelsie Abel alternate as Devilla (and also fill in as two of the four actors playing Synchrettes). The night I saw the play, Dickason was Angie, Flood was Howie, Higgins was Devilla and the Synchrettes were Brittany Johnson and Kelsie Abel.

I was not impressed with the punk song “Gotta Use Your Sole” with Tyrone Schu (Jean Miller). And I thought the strobe effect used on the song “Broken Toys” with Howie and the ensemble was dramatic at first but became repetitive and detracted from the song and dance.

Dickason was outstanding as Angie. She was expressive and believable and sang beautifully. Her voice is well controlled but maintains the sweetness of childhood. This is her second mainstage role at Encore! plus she has been in four of their children’s workshop productions. The experience shows. This young lady shows great promise.

Flood was super cute as the irrepressible Howie. This critical role could be challenging for an 8-year-old. Simply knowing when to go where and memorizing his lines is an accomplishment for such a young actor, but Flood goes much beyond that, putting snap and sparkle into his role.

I loved Higgins’ song, “Thirteen,” a dark and smoldering number that she sang low and mean, and I thought her looks and expression were perfect for the part. She has majestic presence. But on some of her other songs her voice broke slightly on the high notes.

I also thought Mary J. Scifres did a good job of playing Angie’s mother, but her husband (B.J. Beu) seemed like he was trying too hard to be funny.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 18
WHERE: Encore! Theater, 6615 38th Ave. N.W., Gig Harbor
TICKETS: $15 adults; $11 seniors, military and teens; $8 children 7-12, $6 children younger than 7
INFORMATION: 253-858-2282,

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Great Clayton Cop-out

An overview of local exhibits

published in The Weekly Volcano, Nov 8, 2007

pictured: “You Are So Dumb" drawing by Betty Bastai

It’s time for another one of those columns that I like to think of as The Great Clayton Cop-out. That’s when I offer an overview of exhibitions throughout the region because there’s no one thing I particularly want to review.

Let’s face it, it’s a cop-out because there are shows that would probably be well worth reviewing if I only made the effort to at least see them. Such as the Becky Frehse show at the University Gallery, Pacific Lutheran University. Her work is always interesting as she looks at humanity in other parts of the globe with compassionate understanding. In the past, her mixed-media paintings and drawings have often been inspired by her many trips to China. This time they come from a recent trip to Italy. I really should see this show, but I don’t want to drive all the way to Parkland. Wow, that’s lame. She went all the way to Italy, and I balk at driving to Parkland.

Or the print art show at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound. This has only a week to go. It closes Thursday, Nov. 15. This is the third annual biennial juried exhibition presented by Seattle Print Arts.

If you missed my column last week, run downtown right now to see Chauney Peck and Whiting Tennis at The Helm gallery. This is an excellent show featuring a pair of Seattle artists who are fast gaining regional attention, and today is the last day. Why, oh why, don’t they run shows longer?

Extended through the month of November at a.o.c. gallery is “Three Painters: One Degree of Separation” featuring your favorite Weekly Volcano visual arts columnist and two outstanding painters from points north and east: Drake Deknatel from Seattle and Mike George from Brooklyn, N.Y. Deknatel, who died a few years back, was a fixture on the Seattle art scene. "He was a painter's painter," says Elizabeth Brown, chief curator at the University of Washington's Henry Art Gallery as quoted by Seattle Post-Intelligencer art critic Regina Hackett. "He did everything he could to engage with his subject as deeply as possible. He paid attention to theoretical developments around painting and constantly asked himself if he were pushing himself in the right way. I so admire his rigor."

Deknatel’s paintings are colorful and rich in texture and gesture in the abstract-expressionist tradition.

Another show that I’m looking forward to (and plan to review next week) is the Betty Bastai and Shilo Dela Cruz exhibition at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Fine Art Center, South Puget Sound Community College. Bastai, who was born in Italy but now lives in Oak Harbor, creates mixed media drawings using watercolor, pastels, charcoal, and graphite on paper. Her stark images are drawn from nature and are often based on shells, bones and rocks she collects on nature walks or, in the case of one set of drawings, are based on such things as X-rays and autopsies. There is often a macabre element in Bastai’s drawings as there is with the Dela Cruz’s mixed media sculptures. This should be a fascinating show.

Speaking of fascinating, what may very well be the most bizarre show ever to hit Western Washington is “Hug: Recent Work by Patricia Piccinini” at the Frye Museum in Seattle. Piccinini makes hyper-realistic sculptures of fantastical life forms that are inspired by recent advances in genetic research and the often disturbing questions such research brings up. Piccinini’s sculptures, photographs, and video installations examine a possible future world in which animals, humans and hybrid creatures interact. Included are creatures that look like a hybrid between a human baby and a hairless mole, which leap on human beings and suck their faces. Weird. Technically, Piccinini’s works are astounding; artistically they are questionable at best. This show is worth a drive up Interstate 5. And the best thing is the Frye is always free. The show runs through Jan. 6, 2008.

[Pacific Lutheran University, through Nov. 16 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday Eighth Avenue South and Wheeler St., 253.535.7150]

[Kittredge Gallery, through Nov. 15, Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday noon-5 p.m., 1500 N. Warner St., 253.879.3701]

[The Helm, Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Nov. 7, 760 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.627.8845,]

[a.o.c. gallery, through Nov. 30, Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., open until 8 p.m. third Thursday, 608 S. Fawcett, 253.230.1673 or 253.627.8180,]

[South Puget Sound Community College, through Nov. 30, Tuesday-Saturday noon-5 p.m., 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5508]

[Frye Art Museum, through Jan. 6, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Sunday noon-4:40 p.m., 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, 206.622.9250]

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Something’s missing in ‘Holes’ production

published in The News Tribune, Nov. 2, 2007

Louis Sachar’s novel “Holes” earned an impressive number of prestigious awards when it was first published in 1998, including the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award and Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly. But somehow between the novel, the Disney movie and the play (also written by Sachar), something seems to have been lost.

As seen at Lakewood Playhouse, the stage version has elements of allegory, myth, folk tale and morality play. Tying together the various back stories requires so much necessary exposition that character development gets shortchanged. Other than the two principal teenage characters – Stanley Yelnats IV (Henry Walker) and Zero (Joseph Allegro), most of the main characters come across as one-dimensional cardboard cutouts.

Scott C. Brown, easily one of the best dramatic actors working in the South Sound region, plays the duel roles of Mr. Sir and the sheriff, both of whom are nasty caricatures of every bad lawman in every bad Western (or Southern) movie ever made. He’s like the warden in “Cool Hand Luke” without any imagination. And Christie Flynn, who shows sparks of real dramatic flair in her role as the warden, is like Annie Oakley minus her charm and humor. These fine actors are wasted in these roles.

There is an ensemble cast of teenage boys who are equally one-dimensional, and some of them do an admirable job of acting despite having little to work with. Most notable among them are Alex Domine as Armpit and Lex Gernon as Zig Zag. Domine reeks of attitude with his smirks and lumbering gestures, and Gernon has an outrageous laugh that I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying.

The cascade of flat characters is relieved when Jeff Brown as Sam and Ronee Collins as Kissing Kate take the stage. Sam and Kissing Kate are characters in a flashback story that parallels and sets the stage for the main story. Their story is set in the late 1800s. Sam is an onion farmer whose onions have miraculous curative properties, and Kate is a sweet schoolmarm who falls in love with him. But he is black, and she is white, and interracial romance was not tolerated then. The racial injustice inflicted on them sets sweet Kate on the path to become the infamous outlaw Kissing Kate. (How this story relates to the story of Stanley Yelnats becomes clear at the end of the play.)

The only other well-rounded characters are Stanley and Zero, and Walker and Allegro play these characters with sympathy. They are both completely believable.

Stanley is falsely accused of stealing when sneakers belonging to legendary sports figure Clyde “Sweetfeet” Livingston fall on him from a freeway overpass. Stanley hardly puts up a fight in court because he thinks he’s doomed to bad luck, which he blames on a family curse brought about by his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.”

Stanley is sent to Camp Greenlake, a desert detention camp for juvenile offenders where each of the boys is forced to dig a 5-by-5-foot hole in the desert every day. The other boys in the camp are mostly bullies, with Armpit being the leader and Zero being the butt of most of their bullying. Stanley befriends Zero, who is illiterate, and teaches him to read and write. In return, Zero relieves Stanley of a good portion of his hole-digging chore.

Eventually, Zero runs away from the camp and almost dies in the desert until Stanley saves him – which is where the miraculous onions re-enter the story.

Lighting and set designer Scott Campbell designs the perfect set for this show: two large holes in risers upstage left and right and five symbolic holes created by spotlights on the main stage area. Campbell is a master of minimalism, and an abstract and minimalist set is just what’s needed to both create the bleak atmosphere of a desert camp and eliminate set changes that would have been too distracting.

“Holes” is a good story for a young adult audience, but I don’t think it translates well to the stage.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 11
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $11.50-$19.50
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Must-see show

The Helm Gallery shows excellent work by Chauney Peck and Whiting Tennis

published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 1, 2007

I’ve been following the evolution of Chauney Peck since the late ’90s when she showed up in a group show at the old Commencement Art Gallery.

Back then she was doing paintings that were expressive, spatially open and gestural. Then she evolved into a sculptor of large, painted wood constructions tha
t looked something like giant kids’ jigsaw puzzles — a typical example being the big, cartoonlike boat she displayed at Ice Box Gallery last year. That boat and similar constructions presented an interesting twist on tradition: Paintings in the Renaissance tradition used perspective to create an illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface; in her painted constructions, Peck created an illusion of flat space in three-dimensional objects.

Her vinyl paintings on paper at The Helm bring together many of the visual concerns dealt with in her earlier works. She paints clumps or piles of urban debris — cast-off clothing, toys, furniture, the accumulated crap of a wasteful consumer society. Everything is piled together into a single shape surrounded by white space. Her compositions are highly structured and architectural in the way of Cezanne when he broke the forms of nature down to their essential geometric shapes. Her painting style — with flat, unmodulated colors and flowing lines — reminds me a lot of Jacob Lawrence.

As a typical example, “Cerrado” pictures a pile of furniture with blue cloths (perhaps referring to the blue tarps that were so prominent in New Orleans after Katrina), a lightbulb reminiscent of Picasso’s eye-bulb in “Guernica,” a red bucket and overturned patio furniture. The whole structure is a single form that has a dramatic thrust from a clutter of objects lower right to the lightbulb upper left. The colors are bright and flat, and the whole assemblage of objects is held together by careful placement and by the zippy white lines that tie the parts together.

Showing with Peck is Whiting Tennis, whose paintings and sculptures deal with many of the same subjects and are similar in style. The two are so similar in both style and outlook that it would be easy to assume that everything in the gallery was created by the same artist. They are a perfect match.

In fact, I thought Tennis’ “Blue Hamburger” was by Peck until I read the inventory sheet. “Blue Hamburger” is a painting in acrylic and collage on canvas of a Third World tent city, a cluttered amalgamation of thrown-together shacks and tents constructed of discarded materials. As in Peck’s paintings, all of the objects are clumped together to form a single organic shape on a white background. The differences are to be found in Tennis’ use of simulated wood-grain texture and his limited palate. Peck’s primary colors give way to mostly whites and grays in Tennis. But both employ the ubiquitous blue tarps. Tennis’ work is also grittier. Life seems harsher in his world. Whereas Peck also depicts poverty amidst plenty, she presents it in a playful, Hello Kitty style.

The most powerful works by Tennis are two rather large sculptures: “The New Green” (wood, paint and Visqueen) and “Boogeyman” (plywood and hot metal tar). “The New Green” is an enigmatic structure that looks something like a strangely shaped doghouse painted a sick, milky green. It is a self-contained structure that is compelling because of its mystery. What could its function possibly be? “Boogeyman” is identical in shape but completely covered in shiny black tar to give it the menacing look of some kind of military apparatus or a mechanized Darth Vader mask.

This is truly an excellent show. It closes Wednesday, Nov. 7, so I urge you to see it right away.

[The Helm, Chauney Peck and Whiting Tennis, Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Nov. 7, 760 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.627.8845,

Ta dah!

Diane de la Paz reviewed my new book for the latest edition of the Weekly Volcano, which hits the streets today.

She writes: “The Wives of Marty Winters” opens with a stunning description of the Seattle Pride Day rally, where we meet Marty and Selena and move with them through a harrowing scene.
Then it turns far back in time to when Marty found Maria at an Olympia High School dance.
… (“Wives” is) a saga about how the past haunts a man and how homophobia affects his family.
… Marty and Selena’s gay son is attacked and brutally beaten, but he survives, unlike Clayton’s own bisexual son, Bill, who was assaulted in 1995 and committed suicide a month hence. Bill was 17.
… “Wives” is overwritten in spots, but it also pulses with vivid, authentic scenes and delicious moments. The story rolls like a train through Marty’s life … –Diane de la Paz, The Weekly Volcano, Nov. 1, 2007

To read the complete artical, to go