Monday, February 26, 2007

Moved to Remember

Gabi just found this photo of me taken at the PFLAG National Conference in Cincinnati in 2002. I had completely forgotten it. I'm holding the cover illustration I did for a book that never came into being. The idea was to get PFLAGers from all over the country to submit drawings, essays, photos, etc. to a book of remembrance celebrating people we have lost over the years due to anti-glbtq hatred. The book was to be called "Moved to Remember." It was a good idea, but it never came to fruition. I don't know what happened to my painting, but I hope it ended up in the hands of someone who appreciates it.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Play captures darkness of ‘Anne Frank’

Published in The News Tribune, February 23, 2007

Wendy Kesselman’s new adaptation of the 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Diary of Anne Frank” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett is more disturbing than the original. This new version no longer ends with the famously hopeful statement, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

It presents a darker, more realistic vision. It is more Jewish, more sexually explicit and much less Pollyanna-ish – although Anne’s underlying faith in humankind remains until the end. There are also many humorous moments, for without humor the families could not have survived as long as they did.

When the Nazis invaded Holland in 1941, 13-year-old Anne Frank, her parents and sister were forced to go into hiding in the father’s office building. Also in hiding with them were the van Pels family: Hermann, Auguste and their son, Peter; a dentist named Fritza Pfeffer and Anne’s cat, Moortje. (In the play, the van Pelses are renamed van Daan, the dentist is named Mr. Dussel, the cat belongs to Peter, and Peter and Anne’s names are pronounced in the Dutch fashion: Ahnna and Pater.)

The families remained in hiding from July 12, 1942, until Aug. 1, 1944, when they were betrayed by unknown persons and taken to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Later, the women were separated and taken to Bergen-Belsen. Anne died a few weeks before the camp was liberated.

While they were in hiding, Anne kept a diary that her father, Otto, the only survivor, published after her death. Otto Frank severely censored Anne’s diary, either to protect her reputation or to make the writing more palatable to the public. He cut out his pubescent daughter’s sexual fantasies and her harsh criticism of her mother, and he cut out many of the scenes involving Jewish ceremonies. All of these are restored in the new adaptation now playing at Lakewood Playhouse.

Naarah McDonald’s excellent direction and the set designed by Erin Chanfrau create a claustrophobic feel that, if not literally realistic, is emotionally true. The set, built on a series of graduated risers with boxy furniture, does not attempt to recreate the actual rooms the families lived in, which were roomier and more nicely furnished, but it is more true to what it must have felt like than a more elaborate set would have been. And McDonald’s blocking of the actors as they move about this set is masterful. Actors playing the parts of the eight people who lived together never leave the set except to “go to the bathroom,” meaning there are at least seven actors on stage at all times.

The only thing in the play that does not seem real is when the two Nazi soldiers burst in to arrest everyone. The two actors look too young and sweet, and the whole scene should be either more chaotic or more rigidly militaristic.

Kendra Phillips is absolutely believable as Anne in some of the best acting I’ve seen this year. She grows from a child to a woman before our eyes in the span of two hours. Her devotion to her father and her anger at her mother touch chords of universality, and her tentative wooing of Peter is both sad and touching.

Joseph Grant as Otto is an emotional anchor, always on an even keel, with sorrow underlying his every move. Charmee Beauclaire plays Mrs. Frank with contained intensity, and Dana Galagan is lovable as Mrs. van Daan, who tries so hard to please but who can be a real hellcat when riled up.

In her director’s note, McDonald said: “I am excited to be working with the revised script, which takes the original and puts a darker, more human spin on Anne’s last years. This version maintains Anne’s hero status but shows the audience more of her humanity and produces a much darker and tragic feel. I hope the audience walks away with tears in their eyes and conviction in their heart to never allow history to repeat itself.”

I concur wholeheartedly.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 4
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse in Lakewood Towne Center
TICKETS: $18 general, $15 seniors and military, $12 under 25 years of age, $10 under 15
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Friday, February 23, 2007

Joe Penrod's painted shadows

Published in the Volcano, Feb. 22, 2007

Joe Penrod’s “painted shadows” are a kind of working class public art with a short “shelf life.”

You probably noticed the quotation marks. That’s because there are no actual names for the things Penrod does -- at least not names that are commonly accepted. He documents spatial relationships between objects and time of day by “tracing” or “coloring in” the shapes of cast shadows with common painter’s blue masking tape. The objects whose shadows he traces are common objects such as bottles, ladders, fire hydrants and stop signs found in public spaces; and his art is left in the places in which they are created. Understandably, they may not always last very long. But he documents at least some of them with photographs.

Penrod is now showing a number of these works at Black Front Gallery in Olympia. The show includes a soft drink cup in the window with its shadow, a child’s chair with its shadow, a ladder with its shadow, a plant with its shadow, and the shadow of an electrician with his electrical chord. (Like Elvis, the electrician has long since left the premises but his shadow remains.)

In addition to these found objects and their shadows, there are small photographs of many of his installations in other places and a group of eight gouache paintings of shadows cast by electrical wires. Some of the actual objects are intriguing to look at, while others look somewhat tawdry. Overall, I believe the photographs look better than the actual objects for the simple reason that the edges where pieces of tape overlap do not show in the photographs. The shadows look more solid, and color modulation along their edges create a halo effect where cast shadows ant tape-painted shadows overlap. (This overlapping effect is especially important because the actual shadows change with lighting conditions, but the taped shadows never change.)

A small paper cup sitting in the window seems almost as if left there by accident with its nice blue shadow crawling up the wall.
Near the back of the gallery is a ladder with a shadow almost twice as tall at the ladder itself. This combination creates an intriguing play of line between the real and the imagined. Across from it, a man’s shadow overlaps the edges of a strange little doorway in the wall -- a door that is no taller than five-foot-four.
The least effective piece is a flower pot sitting on the floor with a heavy blue tape shadow. More than any of the other pieces, the overlapping pieces of tape are clumsy and heavy looking.

On the back wall is a group of eight small gouache paintings that look like purely abstract forms in a semi-transparent blue on white paper. The forms are sensuous and well designed. But they are not abstract; they are traced shadows from electrical wires.

Overall, this is a very nice show based a unique visual concept.
The show runs through February. The gallery at 106 4th Ave. in Olympia has expanded its hours of operation. It is now open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, 11 to 6 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Painting like mad

I've been painting like mad lately in an attempt to finish some new paintings for my upcoming show. This latest one is called "X-plosion" and it is so new I'm afraid it won't be dry enough to hang in my show. But then, on the other hand, I've been known to hang paintings that were still wet.

Anyway, I've been painting like mad because I don't want to show the same paintings I had in my last two shows and I haven't done many new ones lately. Ive completed seven new paintings since June of last year, and at least one of them I might leave out of the show because I have doubts about it. I probably won't know until the last minute, but at least six of the seven newest paintings will be included, and I can assure you that unless you've been in my studio lately there will be a few more you've never seen -- including one of my all-time favorites that I traded with Ron Hinson years ago and has never been shown anywhere.

The new show opens March 9th at South Puget Sound Community College.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Everyone should gather at ‘Lapin Agile’

Published in The News Tribune, February 16th, 2007

The Midnight Sun is a tiny performance space that is home to excellent but mostly ignored theater of the fringe variety.

At opening night of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” there were no more than a dozen people in attendance. That means a lot of people are missing out on a play that, if anybody actually saw it, would be all the buzz at work the next day.

“Picasso” was written by the multitalented standup comic and actor Steve Martin. It is an intelligent comedy set in the Lapin Agile, an actual bar in Paris. Pablo Picasso (Jon Tallman) and Albert Einstein (Brian Jansen) meet in the bar. Theirs is a clash of giant egos. The year is 1904, a year before Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity and three years before Picasso’s revolutionary painting “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon.” (At the moment he is just about fed up with blue and is about to enter his rose period.) These two giants argue over the relative importance of their genius but come back to earth just long enough to confess that the real reason they do what they do is to get girls. (At this point they are more successful as womanizers than as artist and scientist.)

Eventually they decide that they represent two points in a triangle of genius – art and science. They declare that they are the future, destined to revolutionize the world in the new century. But who will be the third point in the triangle? A self-important, blowhard inventor named Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (Robert McConkey) claims that honor, but he’s a nobody. Then a visitor from the future shows up and reveals the truth: the third point in the triad is love, and he is the natural embodiment of love. This mysterious visitor is never named.

Maybe Martin didn’t want anybody to know who he was, at least not ahead of his appearance on stage. But he has been identified in previous reviews, so I might as well spill the beans: The visitor is none other than Elvis (played with great sneering presence by Josh Anderson).

The Lapin Agile is a hangout for all kinds of interesting eccentrics, including the bartender, Freddy (Tim Goebel), and the lusty waitress, Germaine (Elizabeth Lord), and a philosophical but sex-obsessed barfly named Gaston (Keith Eisner), who has a severe prostate problem.

Overall, the cast is excellent, although McConkey and Tallman tend to be a little over the top. McConkey’s character, Schmendiman, is obnoxious and overbearing, so his histrionics would be excusable if the space were not so small. But it’s hard to take that much shouting when the audience is seated practically in the lap of the actors. I also have a big problem with the casting of Tallman because of his physical appearance. He is tall and slim, with shoulder-length hair. Picasso was short, with a barrel chest and, at that point in his life, short hair.

Lord does a great job as the lusty barmaid. Eisner is entertaining; his timing is great. Anderson is hilarious. Jansen is outstanding. And the writing is witty and innovative. You can’t go wrong by seeing this play.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Feb. 24
WHERE: The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St., Olympia
TICKETS: $7-$15 sliding scale at the door; $10 plus $1 service fee at

All-star artists

"8th northwest biennial" features the best contemporary artists in the pacific northwest

Published in the Volcano, Feb. 15, 2007

Pictured: "Row, Row, Row," acrylic on canvas by Jay Backstrand

I have issues with the "8th Northwest Biennial" at the Tacoma Art Museum. Now don't get me wrong. I think it's a wonderful show featuring an all-star lineup of the best contemporary artists in the Pacific Northwest. It's just not what I think a regional juried show should be - the key word being "juried."

If it were an invitational, well that would be a horse I could saddle up and ride with pleasure. But I have always been led to believe a regional juried exhibition is an opportunity for and an introduction to emerging artists in the area.

Traditionally this show has been an opportunity for little known but deserving artists to rise to the next level. But this show features artists such as Michael Spafford, Juan Alonzo, Chris Bruch, Joe Feddersen and Robert Yoder. We're talking well established artists including Neddy Award winners and artists whose work is owned by the museum. In fact, Spafford is a Northwest icon.

Almost 900 artists sent in their $20 entry fee in hopes of getting their moment in the spotlight, and most of them never had a chance. Curator and co-juror Rock Hushka says, "The goal of the biennial is to revisit accomplished bodies of work. We wanted to offer the opportunity to explore the powerful images that have shaped contemporary dialogues about the region's art." I don't believe that many, if any, of the artists who entered the competition had any idea that was the goal of the exhibition. Had they known, most of them would not have entered.

Now that I have that off my chest, I'll offer a few comments on some of the works in the show. First comment: the range of work is great. There are paintings, drawings, sculpture, film, and animation. There are abstract, figurative and narrative works.
And then there's the boat - an actual boat lifted by crane into the museum's courtyard. I am not impressed.

I am impressed by Alonso's 11 panels from the series "Journal Notations" and Jay Backstrand's "Row, Row, Row" and Mark Takamichi Miller's "Blue Hat" and "Mother and Son" from the "Zion Series" and Marie Watt's "Almanac: Glacier Park" and Bruch's "Longest Shortest Distance" and Victoria Haven's "Rabbit Hole #4" and Buddy Buntin's "California State Prison, Corcoran, California" and Steven Miller's nine photographs from the series "Milky" and Spafford's "One Greek, One Trojan II." And I was glad to see that Lisa Sweet and Natalie Niblack made it into the show since they are among the lesser known but deserving artists this kind of show should highlight.

Takamichi Miller's "Blue Hat" and "Mother and Son" are densely painted figures in thick globs of paint that rise sculpturally off a blank, unprimed canvas. The contrast of openness and density in these paintings is amazing, and they convey a sense of the smallness of human beings in the vastness of time and space.

Backstrand's "Row, Row, Row" appropriates styles and images from America, Europe and China, in homage to Picasso, Frances Bacon and David Salle among others. His copy of Picasso's portrait of Dora Maar proves just how awesome Picasso still is.
Haven's "Rabbit Hole #4," a minimalist painting done directly on the wall with painted tape, does marvelously tricky things with perspective and painted cast shadows.

Steven Miller's photographs of men with milk poured over their heads are stark and riveting, and the allusions to bodily fluids in the age of AIDS cannot be denied.
I loved Watt's "Almanac: Glacier Park," but I have no idea what the title means. It is a stack of folded woolen blankets sandwiched between bronzed blankets. I was told that all of the blankets were given to her and that "every blanket has a story." It reads equally well as abstract form and as an iconic reference to stories left to the viewers' imagination.

Going back to my opening statement, this show does exactly what Hushka said he wanted it to do, and it does it well. It's a show that shouldn't be missed.

[Tacoma Art Museum, through May 6, $6.50-$7.50, 1701 Pacific Ave., downtown Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Two new paintings

Here are two new paintings I finished just in time for my upcoming show at South Puget Sound Community College. Oh gee, now you've seen them so you don't have to go to the show. Not!

They are called Fleur de Lis and Picasso's Women. You probably don't need to be told which is which.

BTW, both paintings are now posted on my website with a little more information.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Don't miss this show

My dear friend Ron Hinson has a show opening Feb. 17 at Art on Center Gallery. In my opinion, Ron is one of today’s best contemporary painters. Is my judgment clouded because Ron is my friend? I don’t think so. We became friends because we admired each other’s work.

Ron has been honing in on the same somewhat narrow artistic vision since about the time we first met some 16 years ago. Since then he has continued to work on three unrelated bodies of work: abstract painted constructions, a series of illustrations of classic tales in acrylic, and charcoal drawings of subjects taken from ancient mythologies. In all of these works, he constantly challenges himself by breaking free from his compositional comfort zone while never losing sight of the basic aesthetic truths that have guided him throughout his career.

I do not normally write preview articles but I wanted to get this out early. The show opens with a Saturday evening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 17 and runs through March 24.

Art on Center co-owner Catherine Goldberg wrote a nice press release:

Mr. Hinson is a painter who lives in Olympia. His works are three dimensional but yet he does not call them sculpture. They are indeed very painterly and textural. He is a master at what he does. He has a following of fans and collectors. His Studio is in downtown Olympia in the same building as K Records. One can hear the garage-rock bands rehearsing up stairs. It is a very cool atmosphere. Mr. Hinson is like a lot of artists in the sense that he seems ageless. He has been working in his studio for this show since his last show in Nov. 05.He will be presenting a whole new batch of work for this show at Art On Center. Most of Hinson’s work needs to be assembled. The three dimensional work is constructed out of wood and have instructions for hanging. Some people call them painted constructions, to others they are paintings that have shapes that pop out from the wall. No matter what art terminology is put on them, they are interesting and beautiful.

Ron Hinson is from the mid-western United States, Ohio and Illinois. After graduating from college with an MFA in 1958, he went to NYC were the American Art scene was finally getting the attention it commanded. It was the time between Abstract expressionism and Pop art, between Pollack and Johns. One might observe that Mr. Hinson’s work is seeded by these American movements. After three years as and art director for J. Walter Thompson Co. in Manhattan, Ron moved on to the academic world to become a college art instructor. This is the world where he gained respect from so many students. The path of teaching started at Union College in Barbourville KY and ended at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, from 1961 to 2000, 39 years! Ron is still asked to give a lecture here and there. He is known also for his keen observation skills. When Ron is in the room at an art gallery he seems to block everything out around him to look at the art. He doesn’t seem to get distracted in the process of viewing other artists’ work.

Hinson has an impressive number of works in public permanent collections. His work has been placed in 13 schools by the Washington State Arts Commission. His art work is also in permanent collections in a few major NW corporations. In 1987 he was awarded a grant for his work, by the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Support Grant.

Art on Center is located at 1604 Center St., Tacoma, Washington. They are open Wed.-Sat. noon to 5 p.m. (or call for appointment to request viewing off hours)

phone: 253-627-8180

Portraits of Frida Kahlo

Published in the Volcano, Feb. 8, 2007

You gotta love Frida Kahlo -- if not for her art, then for her outrageous sense of style and her superhuman courage.

“Frida Kahlo: Images of an Icon” at the Tacoma Art Museum is not so much about Kahlo the artists as it is about Kahlo the woman. There are some 60 portraits of the artist in this show, many by famous artists such as the great Diego Rivera, whom she married, divorced and remarried; Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston; and Nickolas Murray, with whom she carried on an affair throughout most of her short life.
There are no works by Kahlo in the exhibition, but her flair for the theatrical and her knowledge of photography is very much on display. She was never a passive subject. She actively took part in every photograph, carefully choosing settings, clothing, jewelry and hair. She was a mythic figure, and she actively created and promoted her own image and legend. There are no candid shots in this show. Every shadow, every doorway, every arch and mirror was carefully framed in active collaboration between Kahlo and the photographers.

Most of the shots are in black and white, but there are a few -- primarily those by Murray -- in glorious color. And the museum did a fine job of painting wall panels in colors that Kahlo and Rivera used in their home (a brilliant pink wall behind a group of Murray’s photos is especially thrilling).

Kahlo was born in 1907, but she always claimed to have been born in 1910 when the Mexican Revolution began -- one of her many ways of building her own legend. She had severe physical disabilities throughout her life and endured some 32 surgeries. A tragic accident when she was 18 left her permanently crippled. Much of her later years were spent in hospital beds. She died at 47. Her politics, her exotic lifestyle and her tempestuous marriage to Rivera were the stuff of legend. She was the subject of most of her own art and painted many iconic self-portraits. “I paint self portraits because I am so often alone… because I am the subject I know best,” she said.

The exhibition is arranged according to themes: Frida and her family, Frida as an iconic figure (often posed in doorways and archways in exotic Mexican gowns), Frida as an artist (at work in her studio or posing in front of her own paintings), Frida with animals, Frida being playful -- and finally, sick Frida painting from her hospital bed.

Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous woman artist in the world, and her fame may make it difficult to objectively view her art. Personally, I find her life story more fascinating than her art and her art, as colorful as it is (both literally and figuratively) more fascinating than these gray-tone photographs. They are good photographs, but after seeing 20 or 30 portraits of the same person it’s hard to get excited about 30 more.

But just as you think you’ve seen enough, you come to the “back end” of the gallery where there is an adjunct to this exhibition called “Northwest Visions of Frida Kahlo.” This ancillary exhibition features drawings, paintings, sculpture and glass art by Northwest artists who were inspired by Kahlo. Many of these -- most noticeably paintings by Alfredo Arrequin -- are portraits of Kahlo done in a style appropriated from her. There is a beautiful portrait of Kahlo by Randy Hays that is painted over photographs. There is a massive portrait head of Kahlo by Scott Fife, which is part of his ongoing series of celebrity portraits done in the style of Roman portrait busts in cardboard, glue and screws (museum patrons know Fife from his one-person show at TAM in 2004 and from his giant puppy sculpture that graces the museum lobby). And there’s an amazing and almost indescribable inkjet print by Jim Riswold called “Frida’s Owies.”

The Seven Year Itch

Review of "The Seven Year Itch" published in The News Tribune, Feb. 9, 2007

When George Axelrod’s comedy “The Seven Year Itch” premiered in 1952, it was considered scandalously funny. Then came the 1955 movie starring Marilyn Monroe, which was about as naughty as a movie was allowed to be back then. The notorious Hays office -- movie censors -- forced them to tone it down considerably. They even had to change what had been an illicit love affair in the play to an imaginary affair.

But in 2007 the stage version, now playing at Tacoma Little Theater, is a rather mild affair. It’s funny, but the sting is gone. A farce about an illicit affair, actual or imagined, simply doesn’t carry the wallop it did back in the days when a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe’s panties caused censors to have heart attacks.

And Chris Cantrell is simply not the right actor for the part. Cantrell is a great comic actor. He was superb as Falstaff in “Merry Wives of Winsor” at Lakewood Playhouse and as Lancelot in Olympia Little Theater’s “Merchant of Venice” -- roles in which his broad comic styling worked perfectly. But he is not believable as Richard Sherman, the reluctant womanizer of this comedy. His nervous twitches are just irritating. I hate to see such a great actor so miscast.

The story is set in New York in the days before air conditioning was common. Back then, Manhattanites who had the wherewithal to do so escaped the summer heat of the city whenever possible. That often meant women and children spent time in beach houses while their husbands suffered through the heat of summer. Sherman (Cantrell) is a book publisher who markets cheap paperback books by coming up with enticing titles and lurid book covers. He is left alone in his Manhattan apartment while his wife Helen (Lisa LeVan) and son Ricky (voiced offstage by Harrison Deatherage) spend the summer at the beach. Under doctor’s orders, Richard has quit smoking and drinking -- although inexplicably there are cigarettes in a drawer and a fully stocked bar in his apartment. He’s bored and irritable, and he begins having fantasies about seducing women.

Then the twin demons of fate and temptation enter his life in the form of a flower pot accidentally dropped onto his balcony by the sexy upstairs neighbor (Emilie Rommel as “The Girl”).

The Girl is simultaneously alluring and innocent. She brags about posing nude for U.S. Camera and gushes that she keeps her “undies in the ice box” when it’s hot, yet it’s apparently not too hot for her to wear a fur stole when she goes out.
Sherman seduces The Girl, first in his imagination and then in reality. His infidelity, naturally, leads to feelings of guilt and the fear that his wife will somehow find out. (Somehow, like for instance that he might blurt out a confession.) So he talks it over with a psychiatrist (Michael Dresdner as Dr. Brubaker) whose book his company is publishing

Ninety-nine percent of the action in the play takes place in Sherman’s head as he argues with his own conscience (voiced off-stage of Joel Nicholas), fantasizes improbable sexual exploits, and justifies his affair by imagining his wife is having an affair of her own -- with his colleague Tom MacKenzie (also played by Nicholas). Some of Sherman’s constant rationalizing gets to be awfully tiresome, but the fantasy scenes are hilarious -- especially a wild seduction scene between Tom and Helen and a fantasy film-noir scene with Sherman and The Girl as Mike Hammer and his sexy secretary Velda.

Brett Carr’s lighting and scenic design features an authentic looking 1950s New York apartment, and the authenticity is augmented by Frances Rankos’ costume designs.
The supporting cast is excellent. Most outstanding are Dresdner as the stereotypical New York psychiatrist and Nicholas, who simply oozes slime as the lover who sweeps Sherman’s wife Helen off her feet. And Le Van displays great range of style as she plays the devoted wife, the tramp and the vengeful murderess. Her fantasy seduction scene with Nicholas is the funniest bit in the whole play. If awards were given out for individual scenes, this one would definitely be in the running.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 25
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20.00 for adults, $18.00 for students, seniors and military, and $16.00 for children 12 and under
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Gallery show at SPSCC

I just got confirmation on dates and times for my solo exhibition in the art gallery in the new fine arts center at South Puget Sound Community College, so mark it on your calendar. The show opens Friday, March 9, with an opening reception from 7 to 9 p.m. and will run until the end of the month.

On March 15 from noon to 1 p.m. I will do a gallery talk for students at the college. The talk will be open to anyone who cares to attend.

I will be showing approximately 15 to 20 paintings including three or four new ones and some old ones that have never been shown publicly -- plus a few old favorites you may have seen before. And, of course, I will be sending out updates and reminders closer to the event.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Risqué musical offers songs, laughter

Published February 2nd in The News Tribune

Truthiness – if I may borrow a word from Stephen Colbert – is the heart of the musical comedy “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” now playing at Olympia’s Capital Playhouse.

When I reviewed the same play at Tacoma Musical Playhouse three years ago, I described it as a frothy confection appealing primarily to baby boomers, even though that was not necessarily the intended audience. But the show I saw in Olympia was nothing like that. It was a fast-paced, whacky and highly risqué look at the realities of love and marriage from first date to the poignancy of widows and widowers finding love in their twilight years.

Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don’t recall many of the more risqué lines from that earlier production at TMP that make this production so wonderfully spicy – lines like “Condoms don’t even go with lasagna” and “Thank you for fertilizing my egg,” and others that cannot be repeated here. This production is 10 times as juicy and acted with greater fervor.

The show consists of four actors playing a multitude of characters in about 20 short episodes structured like TV sitcoms. It has often been compared to “Seinfeld,” but I think it is much better than “Seinfeld” in two significant ways: First, the universal truths it touches upon and the gender stereotypes it parodies are more genuine; and second, the characters are not so self-centered. These are lovable characters whose foibles are shared by most of us.

Each scene is a separate story with different characters. The only continuity is in the march of time. Characters meet, they suffer the indignities of first dates, they fall in love and fall into bed (not necessarily in that order), get married, have children, grow old together, suffer the loss of loved ones and find new loves. And all of these life stories are told through song. The songs, with lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts, are hilarious because they are so true. And a couple of them are gorgeous love songs.

One of the funniest is a “Marriage Tango,” a sultry duet by Stacie Hart and Jeremy Reynolds in which an old married couple, after the children finally fall asleep, revel in the possibility of having sex – something that, in their experience, simply does not happen when you’re married with children. And by far the most poignant is “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love with You,” a solo by Jerod Richard Nace sung to his wife at the breakfast table while she drinks her coffee and reads the paper. In this scene, Nace is astounded to realize how much he still loves his wife after 30 years.

Other songs of note are “Always a Bridesmaid,” a solo by Hart done in country-music style, and “Scared Straight,” an absurd song by the company set in Attica prison, where a prisoner tries to scare a couple into loving each other.

The funniest nonmusical bit is a monologue by Nicole Fierstein in which she plays a divorced woman recording a video for a dating service. Nervous, she tries too hard, realizes she’s making a fool of herself but decides being honest is more important than making a good impression. (There’s that truthiness again.)

All four of the cast members are first-class. The two women especially stand out, Fierstein for her comic timing and Hart for her bell-toned operatic voice. The direction by Peter Kappler is outstanding, as is the music by Troy Arnold Fisher, keyboard, and Randal Johnson, violin.

Anyone who has ever been in love should love this show.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 10
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $21-$31
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Friday, February 2, 2007

Grand Strand

Tacoma Art Museum hosts the photography exhibit "paul strand: southwest"
Published in the Volcano, Feb. 1, 2007
Pictured: portrait of Rebecca by Paul Strand

"Paul Strand: Southwest" at Tacoma Art Museum is a wonderful little photography show featuring a collection of seminal but little known photographs by a major figure in modern art - a major figure who, nevertheless, was never as well-known as the contemporaries with whom he was most closely associated.

Strand was a disciple of the great Alfred Stieglitz and, along with Stieglitz, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin and Georgia O'Keefe, formed the corps of the modernist movement in early 20th-century American art. His work was so closely associated with these artists that it's almost impossible to tell the difference between his photographs from 1930 to 1933 and photographs by Stieglitz from the same period. Both took many pictures of O'Keefe and of Strand's wife, Rebecca, with similar lighting and similar poses. The two women even looked a lot alike, which is illustrated in wall texts including a Stieglitz portrait of O'Keefe that is eerily similar to one of Strand's photographs of Rebecca.

Strand also photographed ruins of old buildings in Taos and Santa Fe that are almost indistinguishable from photographs Stieglitz took of ruins of farm buildings in Upstate New York. And he photographed the same buildings in the Southwest that O'Keefe and Marin painted. (The catalog for the show pictures photographs and painting of Ranchos de Taos Church done in the same style and from the same point of view by O'Keefe, Marin, Strand and Ansel Adams.)

All of the above might indicate that there was little by way of originality among these artists, but nothing could be further from the truth. They were all pursuing similar aesthetics, and they obviously influenced one another - much in the way Picasso and Braque influenced one another in the early years of Cubism - but that is not evidence of lack of originality; these artists were light-years ahead of most of their contemporaries. They were purists and abstractionists who believed there should be nothing superfluous in art.

During the brief period represented in this show, Strand had reached a low point in his career. His marriage was breaking up as was his friendship with Stieglitz, who had quit showing his work in his gallery, and he was personally dissatisfied with his work. It is said that Strand did not like the photographs he produced during his three years in New Mexico. Most of these works were never shown, but in retrospect they may be seen as his first forays into the kind of portraits of places for which he later became renowned.

There are three distinct groupings of photographs in this show: portraits of Rebecca, landscapes, and portraits of the people and the buildings (mostly old-west ruins) of the Southwest. All have in common severe compositions with strong dark and light contrasts, a sensitive feel for the unique light of the desert regions, and a tendency toward abstraction, especially in the close-up views of adobe huts, pueblos and dilapidated Wild West storefronts. The most extreme abstraction can be seen in a hauntingly beautiful photograph of Rancho de Taos Church that is reduced to a single triangle of white against three vertical bands of gray. One band is created from a slice of cloudy sky and the other two from sections of adobe wall.

With the exception of his portraits of Rebecca, there are very few pictures of people. The vast landscapes are empty and desolate with billowing storm clouds behind the mountains. The rotting wooden storefronts and crumbling adobe speak of people long since departed. Even when people are pictured, they are often seen from behind or covered with blankets or serapes.

Rebecca looks almost more like a statue than a living woman. Proud, regal and isolated, she appears to have more in common with the Navajo warriors of the Southwest than with her artist and intellectual friends. (Notably, her cowboy father was a founder and co-creator of Buffalo Bill's "Wild West Show.")
There is a wonderful catalog for the show that reproduces most of photographs and includes a detailed history and fascinating correspondences .

[Tacoma Art Museum, through May 23, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Inlaws & Outlaws

I just got this notice from Equal Rights Washington and wanted to share it:

Help spread the love! To cap off the upcoming Equality Day, you are invited to a screening of the film, “Inlaws & Outlaws” on Monday, February 26th at 6:30pm at the Capitol Theatre, 206 5th Ave in Olympia.

Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz: “Inlaws & Outlaws” has won festival awards an audience acclaim by weaving together the true stories of local gay and straight couples in a thoroughly entertaining way while illustrating a powerful truth; love is what connects us as human beings, and is not at all the thing that divides us. With good humor, great music and plenty of heart, it’s a film that’s been changing hearts and minds all over the country.

We’re taking it all over Washington — and we’re starting in Olympia!

Please help us spread the word about this screening and pack the theatre so we can send a loud message to the Washington State legislature!

When: Monday, February 26th at 6:30 pm
Where: Capitol Theatre; 206 5th Avenue SE in Olympia
How: Tickets are just $7 and are available at the door (Olympia Film Society members are just $5).