Friday, June 29, 2007

No theater review this week

My theater review for this week came out in The News Tribune and is posted on the Trib's Web site, but I will not post it on my blog. Watch for my next one, Theater Artists Olympia's production of "The Taming of the Shrew."

Don’t get me started

... or how I choose what to review
published in The Weekly Volcano, June 28, 2007

Every week I see and write about at least one art exhibit. I’ve been doing that since about 1995. (That’s for this fine rag; add many more years for other newspapers). Once in a while something happens that prevents me from seeing a show, and I have to figure out something else to write about. This is one of those weeks.

Among the more frequent questions I get from readers is, “How do you decide what shows to review?” So I’ll take this opportunity to talk about that.

Basically, I choose art exhibits the way you might chose what movie to see or what concert to attend — reasonable expectations based on previous experience. If a certain gallery has had a lot of good shows or if I’ve seen and enjoyed previous shows from particular artists, then I can reasonably expect that their next show will be worth seeing, and I’ll be more than willing to give it a shot. Conversely, if my previous experiences with said gallery or artist have been less than exciting, I tend to steer my path in other directions.

I do not want to subject myself to bad art — and that includes art that may be technically well done but which has been done over and over and over. That includes most landscape painting and most warmed-over Impressionism and Cubism. Nothing wrong with that kind of art, except everything. I’ve seen too much of it, and there are few if any contemporary artists who do Monet and van Gogh and Picasso as well as Monet and van Gogh and Picasso do Monet and van Gogh and Picasso.

And I’m not the kind of viewer who gets a kick out of dissing artists, even though I know a lot of readers just love biting criticism. Speaking privately with friends, I may be as vitriolic as Dr. Gregory House at his most sarcastic, but in print I try to be gentle and understanding. That doesn’t mean that I soft-pedal my criticism. It would not be fair to readers to give a false impression and send them off running to see a show that’s no good. But I try to seek out shows that are worth seeing, and when I do feel the need to be critical, I try to make it helpful criticism. I remember the good teachers I had in college and try to point out weaknesses the way they did with me when I was a student. I try to write with the artist in mind, assuming that he will read my review and telling him what I like or dislike about his work in the way a teacher might. And with the public in mind, hoping my reviews will encourage people to see more art and look at it more critically.

By the way, I do have the credentials. A review may be nothing more than opinion, but it’s informed opinion. I have a master’s degree in drawing and painting, I’ve taught art in high schools and colleges, and I’ve been writing reviews for more than a quarter century.

I also try to be reasonably objective, but I don’t try to hide my personal taste. I tend to like abstract art more than realistic art, although I can name a lot of realists whose work simply blows me away. I’m easily impressed by big, bold paintings and sculptures and contemptuous of timid little pictures. I studied art during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism and the beginning of Pop Art, and the best art of those years still serves as my model of what good art should be — Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Fairfield Porter, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Frank Stella. Those were the good old days. Very few artists who have emerged since the early ’70s can hold a candle to them.

Wow! I’m just getting started and already I’m running out of room. Maybe someday I’ll take the next step and tell you what I really think about local museums and galleries. But probably not. I don’t want to get run out of town.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

‘Soul on Fire!’ showcases band, singers

Published in The News Tribune, June 22, 2007

Pictured: Selena Whitaker-Paquiet
Photo by Tor Clausen

Singers, dancers, musicians – and most definitely audience members – turn Harlequin Productions’ State Theater into a rocking concert venue, as they do every summer with their rock and soul reviews.

There’s history to this newly minted tradition. The seeds for an annual rock review were planted with Harlequin’s rock musicals “The Rocky Horror Show” and “A Rock and Roll Twelfth Night.” Then in the summer of 2004 came the Motown review “Dancin’ in the Streets,” and something unexpected happened. Audience members were so moved by the rocking music that they leapt out of their seats and started dancing in the aisles.

It was such a spontaneous explosion of unbridled glee and proved to be so popular that the next summer the company put on a second Motown review, appropriately called “Dancin’ in the Isles,” and they shortened the stage to create a dance floor between the proscenium and the audience. Performers jumped off the stage and encouraged audience members to get up and dance. Then came last summer’s “Let the Good Times Roll,” a variation on the theme, but this time honoring the great stars of Atlantic Records.

“Soul on Fire!” is another tribute to great acts such as James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Ike and Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, the Isley Brothers and the Righteous Brothers. There is no story line; there are no characters and no acting other than gestures that convey emotion. It is just two hours of soulful singing.

The singers are Antonia Darlene, Kenny “KJ” Jones, Shaw Lathrop, Selena Whitaker-Paquiet and Shaunyce Omar. This performance marks the Harlequin debut for all but Darlene, who starred in Harlequin’s “The Twelfth Night of Stardust” and was seen in “Dreamgirls” at Tacoma Little Theatre and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Capital Playhouse. They are all good singers who attack the songs with energy and lots of soul.

This show is as much a showcase for the band as it is for the singers. And what a band it is – with David Broyles on guitar; Tracey D. Hooker, trumpet; Rick Jarvela, bass; Maria Joyner, drums; Steve Munger, saxophone; and musical director Bruce Whitney on keyboard.

Pick your highlights. Almost every song is bound to resonate with someone, and it was clear on the night I attended that almost every song has the power to get people off their seats and dancing in the aisles, or at the very least swaying in their seats and clapping hands in time with the music. I compared it to a rock concert. Maybe so, but a gospel meeting may be a better analogy.

The highlights included the great Tina Turner hit “What’s Love Got to Do With It” sung by Omar with a great call-and-response voice-and-saxophone duet in which Munger’s sax harmonized with Omar’s voice, and the other great Tina Turner song “Proud Mary” as sung by Whitaker-Paquiet.

Another highlight was the mellow and moving “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” with Lathrop and Jones harmonizing in a spot-on imitation of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield.

Lathrop, who reminds me a lot of R.E.M’s Michael Stipe but whose energy level is much higher, shone on the opening number, “Gimme Some Lovin’” and later on “Devil With a Blue Dress On.” Watching him dance – especially while Darlene and company belt out the closing number, the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” – is simultaneously exhausting and soul-stirring.

Bring your dancin’ shoes, and if you wear hearing aids, leave them at home.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through July 8
WHERE: State Theatre, 202 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $34-$38, rush tickets available half-hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

Ross rules

A.O.C. Gallery’s group show is a little something for everyone

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 21, 2007
Pictured: “MiniGlobe Storkfeet,” bronze sculpture by Kathy RossPhoto: Courtesy Photo

The opening show at A.O.C. Gallery (formerly Art on Center) is essentially a one-person show starring Kathy Ross, with two other artists thrown in — Dave R. Davison and Peggy Bennett.

Davison is showing a group of mostly blue figure paintings on the back wall that look a lot like some of Picasso’s late cubist figures, with the blue color scheme being, perhaps, a nod to an earlier Picasso period. On a table in front of his paintings are a group of little David Smith-like sculptures. I particularly like their grungy surfaces.

Bennett makes human-size voodoo dolls that are well done and strikingly in-your-face, but not unlike a thousand other art dolls by so-called outsider artists. These dolls also create an uncomfortable backdrop for the free-standing Ross sculptures that are displayed on pedestals. In a different setting, Davison and Bennett’s work may look better, but they are not a good compliment to Ross’s strangely inventive and exquisitely crafted sculptures.

No doubt gallery owners CJ Swanson and David N. Goldberg know that Ross’s work merits a one-person show, but they have learned that Tacomans won’t turn out in sufficient numbers to see a one person show, so they have to bolster their efforts with a little variety — a little something for everybody.

Now, on to the main attraction. Ross makes deliciously subversive little figurines — mostly human figures or portrait busts with all kinds of strange attachments and outgrowths. There are Cyclops heads, both human and animal, with a single eye and no other features or with multiple, non-human features. There are heads that sprout animals and buildings. There are heads with hands for ears, hands that balance worlds and worlds on spindly fingers. There are figures with bronze clothing and body parts that can be rearranged (specifically one called “Willingness to change, Tea Party Outfit” that includes a detachable torso that turns the figure into a hermaphrodite).

The best of Ross’s works are her miniature sculptures, which sport fine details so tiny you almost need to view them through a magnifying glass. Among these are her two alphabets: “Baby Alphabet I” and “Baby Alphabet II.” Each of these presents 26 tiny bronze babies with strange heads, each head representing a letter of the alphabet: (A) acorn, (B) bee, (C) corn, (D) dove, (E) eye (another Cyclops; she seems to have a thing for Cyclops), (F) flamingo … and on through to (W) woman, (X) Xerox, and (Z) zipper.

Another amazing miniature work is “Us vs. Them: The Mouse Wars.” Armies of microscopic figures are arranged on a glass-covered circular stand that measures perhaps 2 feet in diameter. I had to lean over and almost touch my eye to the glass in order to see what these little figures are. They are baby warriors carrying shields and guns and swords and riding on the backs of mice. Whole armies of them, each about the size of your thumb.

Of her larger works, I was particularly impressed with “Self #1 (brick)” — a portrait bust of a man whose head is made of brick that is, in fact, a house with numerous Escher-like doors and windows opening into an interior where ladders to nowhere lean at odd angles. I also like its companion, “Self #2 (head with little people)” — another bust of a man. This one has jigsaw pieces for one ear and a little house growing out of his other ear. Three figures stand on top of his head, and men with dog heads perch on his shoulders. Oh, and one of the men standing on his head has an elephant head. Strange creatures, these.

Ross’s sculptures are terribly funny, and her craftsmanship is superb. The only pieces I did not like were her two versions of “Walnut People,” each representing a man and a woman curled into fetal positions and nested together to create the form of a walnut. The idea is clever, but the form is aesthetically clumsy.

This is the first show for the previously hard-to-find and much-too-small gallery on Center Street. I hope the improved location and larger space will lead to great success.

[A.O.C. Gallery, 608 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.230.1673 or 253.627.8180]

Friday, June 15, 2007

It’s not the best ‘Little Whorehouse’

Published in The News Tribune June 15, 2007

The best moments in Tacoma Little Theatre’s “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” are provided by the incomparable Stacie Calkins, by a horde of hulking football players, and by the sweet and haunting song “Hard Candy Christmas” as sung by a chorus of prostitutes.

Sadly, there are not too many more outstanding moments. “Whorehouse” is an entertaining show, but it is marred by some amateurish acting.

A director’s note in the program says that 18 of the 36 performers in the play are making their first appearance on the TLT stage, that three of them are performing for the first time on any stage and that four of the principal roles are being played by actors in their first leading or supporting roles. This lack of theatrical experience shows.

I would love to be more supportive. There is a need for venues that can nurture beginning actors. But when tickets are $22 a pop, the performances should be on a par with those at other theaters in the area, and this performance is not.

Karen Carr, in the lead role of Miss Mona, is convincing as the madame of the Chicken Ranch, the notorious house of prostitution in a small Texas town. She displays genuine love for her girls, and she has a nice voice with just a tinge of a country twang, which is perfect for the role.

Stacie Calkins as the housemaid, Jewel – a role made for a saucy woman – is perfect. Readers may recall that I picked her for best actor in a musical (female) in my “Critic’s Choice” column last year for her performance as Sarah in “Ragtime.” She also put on a show-stopping performance as Effie White in “Dreamgirls” at TLT. Here she is absolutely believable as the cheeky, self-possessed Jewel, and her powerful gospel voice with the soaring high notes again brings down the house.

Charles Ybarra struggles as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. In places he seems to recite his lines with no emotion, and when he does show emotion – especially anger; Sheriff Ed Earl’s character is written as an exploding cauldron of rage – it’s not strong enough or believable enough. Plus, throughout the play, there are strange pauses in his dialogue that may have come from struggling to remember his lines on opening night.

Elliot Wiener is also unfortunate in the role of Melvin P. Thorpe. Thorpe is supposed to be a caricature blend of revivalist preacher and radio announcer. This has to be a tough role for any actor to play, and Wiener simply does not pull it off. And he wears the most gosh-awful wig imaginable.

Other principal roles are those of the two new girls at the Chicken Ranch, Angel (Stephanie Leeper) and Shy (Cassie Collison). Both do credible jobs. Collison is especially good in her early scenes when she is painfully out of place in the whorehouse. Later, when she is supposed to have come out of her shell, she melds into the background. I wish she had been allowed to come forward a little more in the ensemble scenes. Leeper does come forward more after Miss Mona disposes of her overblown call-girl wig and attire, and she stands out in the ensemble scenes.

By far the funniest scene in the play takes place in the Texas A&M Aggies locker room with football players changing out of their uniforms and getting ready to go to the whorehouse for the first time. In “The Aggie Song,” they sing about how many miles they have to go before they get to heaven (the Chicken Ranch). After changing into their cowboy duds, they do a purposefully clunky dance reminiscent of the cowboy dances in “Oklahoma” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

The boys – Dave Calkins, Travis Hicks, Luke Johnsen, Joe Kelly and Tayler Richmand – are excellent here and in the choral part of “20 Fans, reprise.” Their dancing is side-splittingly funny. Sadly, the tawdry-looking screen that stagehands pull out to hide the boys’ supposed nakedness is terribly distracting. Surely they could have found a better way.

Finally, Anne Jones is outstanding in the very small part of Doatsey Mae the waitress, and the long denouement with the sad songs “Hard Candy Christmas” and “The Bus from Amarillo” are truly beautiful.

It is a flawed performance but has some really nice moments.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through July 1, ASL performance June 29
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22 for adults, $20 for students, seniors and military, $18 for children 12 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281

Take Me Out Again

Last night we went back to Olympia Little Theater to see "Take Me Out" again. As much as we loved it the first time around, we wouldn't have gone back if it had not been a special benefit performance for Capital City Pride. Between opening night and last night's performance, the cast has settled in. The actors have become more comfortable in their roles. Dirctor Tom Sanders, who had to fill in at the last minute in the role of Davey Battle, admits he dropped lines opening night, but he covered so well that I didn't notice. Last night he was excellent. And Brian Jansen, whom I praised in my earlier review for his comic chops as the nerdy Mason Mazac, is even funnier now.

There are only two more performances. If you don't catch one of them, you'll regret it. Scroll down to see my review in The News Tribune.

Read more at:

Sloppy splendor

Ricky Burnett’s modern art rocks at Black Front Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano June 14, 2007

Pictured: Ricky Burnett announcement card courtesy Black Front Gallery

The smug know-it-all who gleefully dismisses “modern” art with statements like “a trained monkey could do that” or “my 3-year-old child could do better” should have a field day with Ricky Burnett’s show at Black Front Gallery. Burnett’s work is raw, gritty, sloppy, and definitely looks (to the untrained eye) like something a 3-year-old might do. I love it.

It’s also well composed with rich surfaces and elegantly blunt lines and thought-provoking subject matter. And by the way, the reason I put “modern” in quotes is because the type of art Mr. Know-it-all derides as modern has been around more than 100 years now. How long does a thing have to be around before it is no longer modern?

Internationally known as a curator and teacher from South Africa, Burnett moved to the little town of Rainer, Wash., a few years ago. This is his first show in the South Sound region. He is showing drawings, paintings and collages on paper, wood panels and silicone gel. Called chapbooks, these works are pages from books of poetry.

Burnett explains that he set out to make illustrations for the surrealistic poetry book “Maldoror” by Isodore Ducasse, who goes by the pen name Lautreamont. Burnett writes: “I ended up however, so far from any specific textual references that to call them illustrations makes no sense at all. So I’ve chosen, instead, to call them ‘postcards.’ The Lautreamont project induced a shift in my thinking. It suggested that it was possible to see my work as page-making rather than picture-making. I have no clear understanding why this simple re-phrasing should have been so liberating or so useful, but it was and is.”

The title piece, “Postcards to Lautreamont #1-9,” is a set of nine paintings on paper with figures of animals and constellations drawn with fine white lines that are incised into areas of heavy black paint with a few slabs of red, blue or gold.

“Dreams Beneath a Window #1-9” is a similar group of nine drawings but with human figures and snatches of poetry. As in the “Lautreamont” series, the fine white lines are created by scratching into black to expose the white paper below — a look similar to scratchboard technique but much rougher. Here’s a sample of the poetry hand drawn into these paintings: “down it grows to come and go/death needs sex and beauty/hohoho!”

Allusions to death and sex appear in a number of his works.

Very intriguing is a two-part work called “Insomnia Sworn,” which consists of blobs of silicone gel and lavalike drips of lead attached to the wall with Velcro. Small drawings and collages can be seen through the amber-colored gel. They’re like ancient art found in some archeological dig.
Similarly, “Somewhere in Pompeii” looks like a random scattering of fresco shards recovered from the ruins of Pompeii. The rich red, gold and red-violet colors are so intense they almost hurt the eye. The random positioning of the many pieces in this arrangement does not work well, and some parts are too high for comfortable viewing.

I think the most successful works in the show are two groups from the same series: “The Yellow Cave #1-4” and “The Yellow Cave #1-15.” These are similar in style to the “Lautreamont” series, but all are painted on a yellow ground with a repeating motif of feet and skeleton heads with flowers and snatches of surrealistic poetry. The paper is torn and gouged.

I can’t help thinking of other artists who may or may not have directly influenced Burnett but who display similar styles and attitudes. I’m thinking in particular of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Susan Rothenberg and Kenneth Patchin. Two of those are dead, so now there’s only Susan Rothenberg and Ricky Burnett.

I counted 74 works of art on the wall. That’s a lot for such a small gallery. This is a show that’s definitely worth seeing.

[Black Front Gallery, “Chapbooks,” through June 27 Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., 106 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.6032,]

Friday, June 8, 2007

‘Take Me Out’ terrific piece of theater

Published in The News Tribune June 8, 2007

pictured (top from left): Darren (Philipp Aurand), Shane (Erik Cornelius), Jason (Brandon Barnev) and Kippy (Paul Purvine).

(bottom): Darren and Mason (Brian Jansen)

photos by Toni Holom

The Pulitzer Prize-winning baseball drama “Take Me Out” has become a favorite of gay men. When it played at Seattle Repertory Theater, businesses catering to gay men advertised in the program with sly references to the famous shower scene – yes, there is full male nudity. In Olympia, Olympia Little Theatre is running a special performance to benefit Capital City Pride.
But “Take Me Out” is much more than just a gay-guy play. It is a deeply moving and, in parts, hilarious contemporary drama that delves into the complexities of racism, xenophobia, homophobia and men’s comfort level with their masculinity – or lack thereof.

Darren Lemmina (played with contained intensity by Philipp Aurand) is an almost godlike creature of mixed race who is revered as an athlete and a role model and who is so comfortable with himself that he casually refers to himself as godlike. And he is gay. His public coming out at the beginning of the play throws his friends and teammates into turmoil.

Some of his teammates suddenly find themselves uncomfortable showering with him. Shane Mungitt (Erik Cornelius), a troubled young upstart pitcher not long out of Arkansas and fresh from the minor leagues, publicly calls Darren a faggot and casually throws out every racial slur in the book. Darren’s best friend and a superstar on a rival team, Davey Battle (Tom Sanders, who also is the play’s director), turns against him; and his other close friend, Kippy Sunderstrom (Paul Purvine), walks a tightrope between loving acceptance and condescension.

It is a character-driven play. The simple plot, although well constructed, serves mainly as a vehicle through which to examine the complex relationships between the various players – how they react not only to Darren’s homosexuality but to his position as an African American icon; and how the American baseball players react to an influx of Japanese- and Spanish-speaking immigrant players.

Harsh realities – including sexual harassment and the killing of a player that may or may not have been accidental – are handled with a blend of stylized action and naturalistic acting, both of which are enhanced by OLT’s intimate space.

I saw this play at the Rep, where it had the advantage of a professional cast and expensive sets and lighting. Sets included an electronic scoreboard to rival those in big league stadiums and real showers with running water. The nude scenes were center stage, with nothing hidden.

In Olympia the set is much simpler, and there is no water in the shower scenes. The actors mime showering behind a waist-high tile barrier. The nudity is not completely hidden, but it is not as blatant as it was in Seattle. And that makes the nakedness much more natural and unaffected – not at all coy as one might expect. The play seems perfectly tailored to the smaller space. Compared with the Seattle performance, this one is less a theatrical spectacle and more an intimate peek into private lives.

In a style reminiscent of the narrator in “Our Town,” Purvine, as the likable but wishy-washy Kippy Sunderstrom, alternates effortlessly between narrator and character. Cornelius plays the bigoted and stupid redneck Mungitt with such conviction he makes your skin crawl. And his Southern accent is spot-on. (I say that as a native of Mississippi.)

But the real show-stopper is Brian Jansen as Darrin’s money manager, Mason Marzac, a nerdy gay man who has never before seen a baseball game but who idolized Darren and falls instantly in love with the game. Jansen provides much needed comic relief with broad gestures, a marvelous smile and, at one point, a jittery little dance of joy that has to be seen to be believed. People who saw him as Einstein in “Picasso at the Agile Lapin” will recognize his strange gestures. Here, he plays an almost identical character, only one who is more ingratiating and not so smart. I think we have the budding of a real comic genius in this actor.

I highly recommend “Take Me Out.” Be warned, however, that this play contains brutal language, nudity and scenes of violence.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:55 p.m. Sundays through June 17; special benefit performance for Capital City Pride, June 14 (
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., Olympia
INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

Take it or leave it

Betsy Alwin’s installation at UW-Tacoma -
Art On Center moves and changes name

Published in the Weekly Volcano June 07, 2007

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, stop by the University of Washington-Tacoma art gallery to see the installation by Brooklyn, N.Y., artist Betsy Alwin. I’ll make a wild guess that you’ll find it fascinating — for upwards of two minutes. After that, you may catch yourself yawning.

I drove up from Olympia to see it; it wasn’t worth the drive. But I mean it when I suggest dropping in if you’re in the neighborhood.

Living on the Atlantic Coast, Alwin was intrigued by the concept of doing an installation on the Pacific Coast. She came up with a video installation that bounces from coast to coast. On one wall of the gallery, waves quietly lap the shore on an east coast beach. On the opposite wall, Alwin projects a similar video of waves washing up on a west coast beach. Wispy sea grasses stand in the sand on one beach; driftwood rests on the other. A lone bird flies across the horizon on (I think) the Atlantic. It is a restful, soft-focus film with very little movement or sound. But the meditative mood is interrupted every few seconds by a black ball that comes out of nowhere, bounces off the image of an east coast sky and ricochets across the continent to bounce off of a Pacific cloud. Like a ball mindlessly bounced off of a wall by a bored boy, this ball volleys from coast to coast.

Alwin, who has an impressive resume including worldwide exhibitions and installations, makes an interesting statement about this installation:

“(It) playfully expresses concepts of distance, time and geography. It is motivated in part by the opportunity to exhibit in the Pacific Northwest, a place I have never been. … (Arriving from the East) marks the climax of Manifest Destiny, the acquiring of all lands between two shores. T

hinking about the exhibition, I found it impossible to separate these facts from my preparations. As a resident of the Atlantic coast, my thoughts led me to consider the phenomenon of parenthetical seas, the country in between and the geological time invested in the landscape. The overlapping of tectonic ‘slow-time’ and the expansion and contraction of human perceptions of time and space became my fascination and my focus. The work in this exhibition attempts to convey this overlap through works that portray the immensity of geographical time on human scale.”

I don’t think the installation sufficiently expresses the weighty philosophical implications of the artist’s statement. But watching it can be pleasantly mesmerizing.

There’s one other element to Alwin’s installation, a handmade cardboard kaleidoscope. It looks like a big, fat telescope on a wooden stand. Because it is aimed at the wall upon which one of the video images was projected, I expected to see a kaleidoscopic distortion of the video. It’s rather a dull image, and it requires a second person to turn it while you squat down to squint into the eye piece.

Betsy Alwin’s “Inner Limits” will be on view through June 22.
A.O.C. Gallery

In other art news, Art on Center Gallery has just opened its more spacious new gallery at 608 S. Fawcett, next to the Grand Cinema. With the move, owners David N. Golberg and C.J. Swanson have renamed their establishment A.O.C. Gallery. The opening show in the new space is a three-person exhibition featuring Peggy Bennett, Dave R. Davison and Kathy Ross. Their works have been described as “shocking archetypical figures,” “David Smith-esque” sculpture, and “small bronze pieces that can fit in the palm of your hand.”

[UWT Gallery, Besty Alwin’s “Inner Limits,” through June 22, 1742 Pacific Ave., Tacoma]
[A.O.C. Gallery, through June 30, Tuesday-Wednesday 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday noon-5 pm., 608 S. Fawcett, 253.230.1673]

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Opera veterans put polish on ‘Penzance’

Review of "The Pirates of Penzance" at Lakewood Playhouse
published in The News Tribune, June 1, 2007

Pictured, top row: Gary Lichty, Michael Dresdner, Chris Cline, Alex Barnes; bottom row: Roger Iverson, Brett Youngquist, Josh Johnson
Photos by John Pfaffe

Anyone who loves theater but has never seen “The Pirates of Penzance” simply must – if for no other reason than to be able to catch all the references to it in other plays and on television. Next to Shakespeare, “Penzance” could very well be the most quoted and parodied play in theatrical history.

Plus, it’s just so much fun.

Ivy League fraternity boys and Anglophiles of all stripes go about singing “I am the very model of a modern major general.” Lines from the play have been quoted on “Dr. Who” and “Babylon 5” and “The Simpsons.” Aaron Sorkin must love it, because practically one whole episode of “The West Wing” was devoted to an argument over lyrics from this classic light opera, and Matt (Matthew Perry) on Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” has a “Penzance” poster on his office wall.

And it’s a two-way stream. In every regional production of “Penzance,” directors traditionally sneak in local and pop culture references. The Lakewood police, along with other local institutions, are mentioned in the Lakewood Playhouse performance.

It’s kind of a highbrow-lowbrow thing. What else could it be when it features kindhearted pirates who devolve into puddles at the very mention of orphans? British to the bone, it is as silly as those more modern British imports “Mr. Bean” and “Fawlty Towers,” but with serious demands on operatic singers.

Wisely, Lakewood Playhouse chose a director and cast with opera training and experience. Director Barry Johnson has directed “La Bohme,” “Tosca” and “Trouble in Tahiti” at Tacoma Opera, and “The Merry Widow,” “The Magic Flute” and “Into the Woods” at Pacific Lutheran University’s Opera Workshop. He also has performed with both Seattle and Tacoma opera companies. And all of the lead actors have extensive experience in both opera and musical theater.

Jenny Shotwell, who plays Mabel, a ward of Major-General Stanley, is a soprano who seems to be able to hold trills and high notes far beyond what you would consider humanly possible. As the major love interest of Frederic, the pirate apprentice (Nathan Barnes), she is not given a chance to show off her acting skills beyond that of a typical romantic lead, which means her character is rather tepid – but her singing is awe-inspiring.

Barnes gets to do a little bit of comic acting, but like Shotwell, his character is far from fascinating. He does as much as can be expected with what is an ordinary leading-man role, and he sings beautifully.

It is the supporting characters who really shine as actors in this production – especially Ruth (Sibyl Adams), nurse to Frederic and servant to the pirates; the pirate king (Brett Youngquist); and Major-General Stanley (Ted Fredericks), the dandified fop and pretender to military glory.

Frederic has been indentured to serve as apprentice to the Pirates of Penzance until his 21st birthday. On that long-awaited day, the beautiful young wards of Major-General Stanley meet up with the band of pirates. They all pair up and fall in love, but it is unacceptable that these high-born young ladies marry dreaded pirates.

Meanwhile, Ruth has long been infatuated with Frederic. Ruth is an unattractive 40-year-old with missing teeth. Since Frederic’s never seen another woman, he believes her when she tells him she is beautiful. (Gilbert and Sullivan never claimed their story was believable.) But then he meets Mabel. Immediately they fall in love, and he casts Ruth aside.

Then Frederic discovers that his apprenticeship cannot end after all because he was born on Feb. 29 in a leap year. He may be 21 years old, but he’s only had five birthdays. He has to continue his apprenticeship for 64 more years.

Being a slave to duty (the subtitle of the play), Frederic agrees to the long-extended apprenticeship, and Mabel agrees to wait for him. Ah! They are so noble!

Judy Cullen once again proves that she is one of the best set designers in the region. The costumes by Frances Rankos, assisted by Sylvia Shaw and Dorothy Kephart, are simple but colorful. A behind-the-scenes orchestra conducted by Jeff Anderson is excellent, with a really nice touch of two video monitors showing him at the piano.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 17
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., in Lakewood Towne Center
TICKETS: $22 general, $19 seniors and military, $16 under 25, $14 under 15
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Friday, June 1, 2007

Cool show

Sparkle Then Fade at Tacoma Art MuseumPublished in the Weekly Volcano May 31, 2007

(top picture) James Rosenquist, Gift-Wrapped Doll #14, 1992. Oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches. Promised gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum. © James Rosenquist/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
(bottom) Andy Warhol, Howdy Doody from The Myths, 1981. Screenprint with diamond dust, 38 x 38 inches. Collection of Jim, Melinda, Hallie, and Jake Riswold. © 2007 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

TAM’s got glitz. The new show called “Sparkle Then Fade” at Tacoma Art Museum is cool. Not necessarily great, mind you, but cool. There are some great artworks in this show, but also some that are downright stupid.

It’s all about glitz, glamour, celebrity, the media — and how all of these things can be a flash in the pan that quickly fades.

It slaps you upside the head the moment you walk in the door with a video installation from assume vivid astro focus. This wall-size projection is actually a loop of two videos: “Pills & Cigarettes” and “Freebird,” that cycle quickly and endlessly with soft-focus disco imagery. It’s all flash and fast movement and, I think, boring and outdated.

Much more interesting to me are the Andy Warhol prints and Alice Wheeler photographs to the left of the gallery entrance, which epitomize the show’s theme much more directly and with more inventiveness and pure pizzazz. Warhol’s four prints are the only portraits he ever did of fictional characters. Warhol’s Santa Claus, the Wicked Witch of the West, Howdy Doody and Uncle Sam were screen printed in a style made famous by his portraits of actual celebs such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. The funky colors and off-register printing (Warhol trademarks) are beautiful; and he tops it off by coating everything with diamond dust. Wheeler is showing two 45-by-65-inch photographs of rock stars: “Revolution Grrrl Style now, Bikini Kill at the X-Ray CafĂ©, Portland, Oregon, 1993” and “Kurt Kobain (glasses) at MTX’s Live & Loud Pier 63 Seattle Dec. 13, 1993.” These two photographs need no explanation. The titles tell it all. They are mesmerizing in the way assume vivid astro focus wishes their videos were.

Also mesmerizing, not to mention downright genius in a tongue-and-cheek sort of way, is “United We Stand” by, aka Eva and Franco Mattes. “United We Stand” is a complete advertising campaign for a non-existent movie starring Penelope Cruz and Ewan McGregor. Shown here is a poster advertising the non-film. Surely a good computer geek could figure out what all those zeroes and ones mean, and I wish someone would let me know.

Most fascinating is Kathryn Dyke’s “Knowing You, Knowing Me,” an 80-by-80-by-80-inch enclosure of little mirrors, each about the size of a sand dollar, that hang from the ceiling to create a kind of room-within-a-room of mirrored veils. What fun to view the other art through this and see your own broken reflections!
Jeff Koons’ “Inflatable Balloon Flower (Yellow)” is a huge disappointment. But then Koons typically disappoints as often as he pleases. His work tends to be either audaciously inventive or terribly stupid. This oversized twist-tie balloon flower breaks the scale on the stupid side.

Equally dumb is Jim Hodges’ “Coming Through,” which is nothing but a bunch of naked light bulbs on a plywood panel. The glare is so overwhelming. It hurts to look at it.
Also highly inventive is Donald Moffett’s multi-part tribute to the civil rights leader Barbara Jordan, which includes a video of Jordan delivering a speech to the legislature projected on a canvas coated with sparkling enamel paint.

The best pure paintings in the exhibition are Jeffrey Simmons “Flux” and “Scatter and Amass.” These are both updates on 1960’s-style Op Art using Mylar and resin to accentuate the optical illusions.

One of the best concepts is Monique van Genderen’s “a fondness for fairytales and a love of cash…” It consists of two walls, one with large abstract shapes and one solid black. The black wall is supposed to reflect the images on the other wall, along with all the other art in the gallery. But I couldn’t see any reflection at all. Perhaps it was an unfortunate trick of lighting at the time I happened to be there.

This is an exciting show despite a few failures.

[Tacoma Art Museum, “Sparkle Then Fade,” through Sept. 3 Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., $6.50-$7.50, Third Thursday free, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258,]