Monday, October 29, 2007

My newest novel is out!

Finally! My newest novel is out!

The Wives of Marty Winters

The official publication date will be this Saturday, Nov. 3, which is also the day for Tacoma Word and the launch of the ClaytonWorks Publishing website.

I will be selling and signing copies at Tacoma Word, the celebration of Puget Sound literary artists Saturday, at Freighthouse Square in Tacoma. Complete information is available at

A book description, brief excerpt and purchase information will be available on our new ClaytonWorks Publishing Web site at

To get a signed copy, call or e-mail me at 360-556-4259

The story:

Gay rights activist Selena Winters is shot in the head while giving a speech at the Seattle Pride celebration. She is rushed to the hospital and a blood clot is removed from her brain. Family members gather to wait and see if she will ever regain consciousness.

Gathered at her bedside are:
their daughter, Marianne
their son, William and his life partner, Jake;
and Chloe, their transsexual housemate.

Family conversations lead back to old conflicts and to memories of Marty's first wife, Maria, and the night they met at a high school dance in Marty's hometown of Olympia, Washington.

After a whirlwind courtship and a few brief months of marriage, Maria dumps him and takes off he knows not where.

Marty's obsession with finding Maria leads him not to her but to a strange religious commune in Nashville, Tennessee in the summer of 1970 where he meets his second wife, Maria, who is now in a coma.

The Wives of Marty Winters is not so much a mystery based on the shooting of Maria, her eventual fate, and the search for the shooter as it is a love story and a family saga covering half a century in the lives of Marty and his friends and family members.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

‘Damn Yankees’ musical bats .666

published in The News Tribune, Oct. 26, 2007
pictured: Chris Serface, left, Sam Pettit and Gloria Thorpe, photo by Kat Dollarhyde

Damn Yankees” is a lighthearted musical comedy that has lost little of its luster since first opening on Broadway in 1955. Now, half a century later, its prime appeal may well be to people who are nostalgic for the days when the word “damn” was considered risqué and when sports scandals were not everyday events.

Now playing at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, “Damn Yankees” combines the Faust legend with the story of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the 1919 “Black Sox Scandal” and wraps it all up with a tender love story.

Joe Boyd, played with restraint and heartfelt sincerity by Mike Wilkinson (who recently retired from Bellarmine Prep after 34 years as a drama teacher) is an aging baseball fan who harbors dim memories of his days of glory on the diamond. Joe dearly loves the Washington Senators (perennial losers) and hates the seemingly unbeatable New York Yankees. He’d do anything to see the Senators beat the Damn Yankees. He’d even sell his soul to the devil.

Oops! Did he say that out loud? Yes, he did. And the devil, in the guise of a slick salesman named Applegate (Sam Pettit), hears him and promises that not only will he make the Senators win the pennant, he will restore Joe’s youth and make him the star player who carries the team to victory. But Applegate has a momentary soft spot – or moment of madness – and he agrees to an escape clause; Joe can back out of the deal up until Sept. 25.

So old Joe Boyd becomes young Joe Hardy, aka Shoeless Joe, the greatest baseball player of all time. Young Joe is played by Matthew Posner, a newcomer to the South Sound.

One of the most wonderful moments in the play comes early on when Joe Boyd becomes Joe Hardy while singing the sweet lament, “Goodbye Old Girl.” Wilkinson begins the song with a soft and sweet voice tinged with a little gravel, sounding like a mellow tenor who may have smoked a few too many cigarettes. Then, at one point during the song, Posner takes over with a beautifully resonant baritone that shakes the walls of the Narrows Theatre. The change seems almost magical, even though there is no trickery involved, and the power of Posner’s voice is awe inspiring.

Young Joe Hardy becomes the hero of the Senators, but being a baseball superstar is not as satisfying as he thought it might be. He misses his wife, Meg (Diane Bozzo), and tells Applegate that he wants out. But Applegate doesn’t want to let him escape. He brings in an assistant to sway him, the irresistible seductress Lola (Sheri Tipton-Hasson). Tipton-Hasson acts the part of Lola with a brash and earthy sexiness reminiscent of Mae West and sings with an equally brash and growling voice, but her dance moves do not have the pizazz they could.

Pettit steals the show with his slyly understated winks and nods as the lovably evil Applegate. Whenever he is on stage, all eyes are on him. The same can be said for Chris Serface, who plays the Senators coach. Both Pettit and Serface are so natural onstage that, watching them, I get the feeling they are teasing the audience while poking good-natured fun at themselves and the whole of musical comedy.

And Bozzo is so good as Joe Boyd’s wife that she seems not to be acting at all but simply living the part. There are no histrionics on her part. Everything she says and does is understated and matter-of-fact, and she sings with power and conviction. Her duets with Wilkinson and her trio with the two Joes are among the most moving moments in the show.

The humor is infectious, and catchy tunes the likes of “Whatever Lola Wants” and “You Gotta Have Heart” make “Damn Yankees” a thoroughly enjoyable show. The only disappointment to me was that the dancing was not as spirited as I would like. That’s a shame, because Jon Douglas Rake is an excellent choreographer and the show is based on dance numbers originally choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse. But on the night I saw it, the dance numbers all seemed to lack snap and sizzle.

Fortunately, Pettit and Serface and Tipton-Hasson have plenty enough snap and sizzle in their acting.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
TICKETS: Adults $23, students/military $21, children 12 and younger $16
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Don’t look

Beware of Bil Fleming’s installations at the Capitol Theater

published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 25, 2007
pictured: “The Projectionists’ Gardens,” interactive sculptural installation by Bil Fleming

I first became aware of Bil Fleming’s art when he had a really nice drawing in a juried show at South Puget Sound Community College last year. Now he offers two interactive sculptural installations in the Capitol Theater: “The Projectionists’ Gardens” and “Reverse Psychology.” Depending on your state of mind and your expectations, you may see these works as threatening, thought-provoking or purely entertaining.

Set in the alcoves to the left and right of the stage area, they are available for viewing only when the lights are up before and after films and concerts at the theater.

“The Projectionists’ Gardens” is a Rube Goldberg construction of viewer-activated wheels on a conveyor belt made from old plastic shopping bags — a garden of potted plants with wooden stalks growing out of plastic pots and flowers made from bicycle wheels, a clock, CDs, and a satellite dish. It is brilliantly lighted within the space of the alcove and looks theatrical. Viewers can activate the mechanism and control the speed by pumping a handle that turns all the wheels. It is playful and rather clunky — and surprisingly attractive. Apparently children love it. I was told that prior to a recent film children were lined up all the way across the stage-front area waiting their turn to pump the handle.

Fleming says it is also based on the idea of a gyre. Gyres are areas of ocean currents such as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, which are vortexes in which floating debris collect. A lot of plastic shopping bags get caught up in gyres. By using recycled materials and referencing gyres, Fleming’s work calls attention to the vast amount of waste material that litters the planet.
“Reverse Psychology” in the alcove on the opposite wall is a psychological challenge to the viewer. The face of the alcove is filled with a temporary wall of white particle board upon which is hung a chandelierlike lampshade made of an old colander. It casts light in dramatic beams, and within the beams of light the title of the piece is printed. Below this is a peephole with the printed instruction: DON’T LOOK and a crank handle with the printed instruction: DO NOT TOUCH — obviously intentional challenges to the viewer.

I dare not divulge what happens if you disobey the rule and look into the peephole or dare to turn the crank. Suffice it to say you may well be in for a shock. The concept behind this piece is an investigation into human psychology. We are all taught to obey signs. But do we have natural tendencies to disobey, to test the limits? Which is stronger — our conditioning or our curiosity?

Is this all just a big joke? Maybe. But Fleming’s credentials indicate seriousness of intent. He is a member of the Northwest Designer Craftsmen. Last year his work was purchased by the city of Seattle for the Portable Works Collection, and he won the People’s Choice Award and the Best Form and Function Award at ReStore’s Seattle Recycled Art and Fashion Show. Yes, it is playful; yes, “Reverse Psychology” is a bit of a put-on; yes, the messages conveyed are simple and not exactly layered with meaning. But does all of that make these pieces any less important as works of art? There are certainly precedents in historically important works such as Marcel Duchamp’s “Large Glass” and “Fountain” and “Étant Donnés,” also known as the peep show. While not as provocative or as avant-garde as Duchamp, Fleming is nevertheless entertaining, and if you’re going to a show anyway, you might as well take a look at “The Projectionists’ Gardens” and “Reverse Psychology.” But don’t look in the peephole.

Fleming’s installations can be seen through Nov. 29, and he says there are negotiations in the works to extend the run.

[Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. S.E., Olympia]

Friday, October 19, 2007

Repeat worthy

Tacoma Art Museum hosts quality shows

published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct 18, 2007

pictured: "Twilight Confidences," 1888, by Cecilia Beaux
Photo: Rick Echelmeyer, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum

I visited the Tacoma Art Museum again last week. Having already seen most of what's on display, I went back to see what I'd missed and re-view shows I've already written about.
Guess what. Mary Randlett's Puget Sound landscape photographs are still as hauntingly beautiful as ever, and the quilts of Gee's Bend are as strong as I had expected (the preview article I wrote being based on photographs). And Cecilia Beaux's portraits are better than I expected — even if they are among the most eclectic paintings I've ever seen.

Beaux is an artist who was lost to history until very recently. A 19th-century portrait painter, Beaux suffered from having to compete with the likes of John Singer Sargent and Thomas Eakins — and from being a woman. Her sex was the biggest hurdle between Beaux and fame. With possibly the sole exception of Mary Cassatt, women artists were belittled or ignored until feminists in the late 20th century forced historians to take another look at them. Beaux was not in any of the art history books I studied, and until TAM announced the show "Cecilia Beaux, American Figure Painter," I had never heard of her. And then when I saw the photographs that accompanied the show announcements, I thought she was just copying Sargent's style.

That wasn't quite right. As I saw when I finally visited the exhibition, she copied everyone. Sargent may have been her greatest influence, but there are also paintings that look like Cassatts and Renoirs and one that looks almost like a copy of Whistler's "Arrangement in Grey and Black," aka "Whistler's Mother." All right, astute readers may note that "Whistler's Mother" is wearing a black dress and the woman in Beaux's "New England Woman" is wearing a white dress. But that's nitpicky; the composition and the expression are the same.

There is also a painting called "Twilight Confidences" that looks a lot like some of Gauguin's paintings of women in Britanny. This is a beautifully composed painting.
As with many paintings from the 19th century and earlier, viewers will probably marvel at the realistic detail of Beaux's paintings, but to me what make these paintings really wonderful are her compositional strength and her use of light.

The Gee's Bend quilts are displayed in a smaller gallery, which is a shame. The gallery is too crowded. It is unfortunate that the quilts had to be stacked on the walls and that the few that are hung where you can see both sides have to be so high that you have to strain your neck to see them. Ideally they would have all been hung on wires at eye level and in a much larger gallery, but that would have been impossible.

The women of Gee's Bend are all self-taught artists working in traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation, and every one of them seems to have been born with an unerring sense of design and color. The patterns are bold and exciting, and the color combinations are simply amazing.

Finally, I returned to the small exhibition of Mary Randlett photographs. Randlett, who lives in Olympia, has been photographing the people and places of the Pacific Northwest since 1949. Few artists, whether with brush or camera, have been able to capture the unique veiled light of the Northwest the way Randlett has. Her black and white photographs are quiet, contemplative and serenely beautiful.

If you have not seen all of these shows at Tacoma Art Museum, you are missing something very special.

[Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt, through Dec. 9; Cecilia Beaux, American Figure Painter, through Jan. 6, 2008; Veiled Northwest: Photographs by Mary Randlett, through Jan. 27, 2008; Tacoma Art Museum, $6.50-$7.50, free to children 5 and younger, free third Thursday, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave Tacoma, 253.272.4258,]

Superb ‘Sweeney’ mixes song, murder

review: "Sweeney Todd" at Capital Playhouse
Published in The News Tribune, October 19, 2007

pictured: Jarrod Emick as Sweeney and Jennie May Donnell as Mrs. Lovett
- ensemble cast
photos by Glenn Raiha

If there was ever any doubt that Olympia’s Capital Playhouse has become a fully professional theater, those doubts should be put to rest by its production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” starring two Equity actors, Tony Award-winner Jarrod Emick as Sweeney and Jennie May Donnell as Mrs. Lovett.

Emick’s career includes starring roles on Broadway in “Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon,” “Damn Yankees,” “The Rocky Horror Show” and “The Boy From Oz.” He won the Tony Award in 1994 for best featured actor in a musical for his work as Joe Hardy in “Damn Yankees.”

Revising her 1999 role as Mrs. Lovett at Capital Playhouse, Donnell is a longtime local favorite most recently seen as Mona in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” This is not her first go-round with Sondheim, either. She played Old Lady/Blair Daniels in the first national tour of Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” and has acted and directed in theaters worldwide.

Subtitled “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” “Sweeney Todd” is a dark and frightening story of a ruthless mass murderer set to music. It is not suitable for children, and even many adults may find it hard to watch – even those who come to the theater knowing what to expect. I spoke to lighting designer Matt Lawrence before the play started, and he said that even after sitting through tech rehearsals the play was scary to him – as it is supposed to be – and he would not let his 11-year-old son see it.

The sets are stark and relatively bare, with a lot of the dramatic and eerie lighting effects coming from behind and underneath slatted boards. The costumes and makeup seem to be right out of “Night of the Living Dead.” Actors have ghostly white, charcoal-smeared faces. The dark shadows on Emick’s thin face make him look as if his skin is stretched across. His visage is truly frightening.

The story is based on a 19th-century legend of Sweeney Todd, formerly known as Benjamin Barker, who was falsely accused of murder and spent 15 years in a penal colony. Returning to London, he rents a room from Mrs. Lovett, who runs a bakery and is reputed to be the worst baker in town. He learns that his wife has poisoned herself after being raped by Judge Turpin (Zach Schwartz), the same judge who imprisoned him, and that his daughter Johanna (Erica Penn), now a young woman, is Judge Turpin’s ward.

Todd kills a man who recognizes him and threatens to blackmail him, then disposes of the body with Mrs. Lovett’s help by grinding him up and cooking him in her meat pies. Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies suddenly become popular, and Sweeney goes on a killing spree, adding more and more meat to her pies. All of this mayhem is put to powerful music sung by voices both operatic and sweet.

Emick’s voice has the strength of a Pavarotti but is lower in pitch and with a guttural resonance that is perfect for such a dark and heartless character. He plays Sweeney as a man consumed with unremitted anger. Director Jeff Kingsbury and Emick worked together to form this interpretation of Todd’s character. “I’ve never seen ‘Sweeney Todd,’” Emick said in a press release, “so I’m not coming with any preconceived ideas as to how the role should be done.”

Donnell’s Mrs. Lovett provides slight comic relief. She is the most complex and well-rounded character in the play, and Donnell plays her with a range of emotion from teasingly flirtatious to as brutal and cold as Todd himself.

Other than a few light touches from Donnell, the only humor comes from Adam Randolph, a young actor who plays multiple characters and holds his own with these much more seasoned professionals. His multiple appearances in a single scene as various murder victims are simultaneously funny and horrifying.

Another actor who does an amazing stint in this play is 16-year-old Eddie Carroll as the complicated and creepy Tobias. Also outstanding for her vocal range and believable characterization of a beggar woman is Sara Flotree.

Loosely based on the 2005 revival featuring Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone, this production takes place in an intimate “asylum” setting, with the actors staying onstage throughout, and features a full orchestra offstage, rather than actors playing instruments, as is common in some performances.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 27
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $27-$33 adults, $21-$27 seniors and 16 and younger
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Friday, October 12, 2007

Actors display versatility in 'Irma Vep'

Published in The News Tribune, October 12, 2007
pictured (top) Lady Enid (Jon Lutyens) and Jane (Brandon Simmons), (bottom) Nicodemus (Lutyens) and Jane

I loved "The Mystery of Irma Vep" when it played Tacoma Actors Guild three seasons back, and I loved it all over again when I saw it recently in a Sunday matinee at Centerstage's Knutzen Family Theater.

I have no intention of comparing the two performances other than to say that both were highly entertaining. But I mention the earlier performance for those who saw it and loved it and couldn't wait to tell their friends about it. Now you and your friends have another chance to see this delightful takeoff on 19th-century penny dreadfuls and early 20th-century Hollywood horror flicks.

Written by the incomparable Charles Ludlam, founder of The Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York, the play is patterned after Alfred Hitchcock's gothic horror film "Rebecca" and is liberally sprinkled with literary references ranging from Poe to Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde, with further reference to films such as "Wuthering Heights" and "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

Ludlam wrote the play for two actors in seven roles (or eight or nine if you count the wolf and the mummy). Often it is played with four actors and sometimes with as many as eight. Director Alan Bryce decided to go with Ludlam's original vision of two actors in multiple roles, as did TAG three seasons ago. Not many community theaters are up to the challenge of doing it as a two-person play, but that is absolutely how it should be done because half the fun for the audience is seeing what characters the actors are going to come out as next and how quickly the actors can change costumes and personas.

This production is a tour de force for two young Seattle actors: Jon Lutyens and Brandon Simmons.

Simmons opens the play in the role of Jane, a maid who is so regal in demeanor that one might easily mistake her for the lady of the manor. Then he morphs, with quick costume changes and slight attitude adjustments, into the dashing Lord Edgar, a virile and imperious hunter, and then into an unidentified intruder.

Lutyens first appears on stage in the guise of Nicodemus, a crippled swineherd patterned on Igor in "Young Frankenstein." He has a humped back and an exaggerated limp, and his face is painfully contorted as he gutturally grunts out of one side of his mouth. With a quick costume change, this pitifully comical creature changes into the shy and very proper Lady Enid, Lord Edgar's second wife. In Act 2, he appears briefly as Alcazar, an Egyptian.

The same two versatile actors also slip in and out of roles as the dead Lady Irma, a werewolf and a mummy.

"Irma Vep" is high camp, farce and murder mystery all rolled into one. Audiences will probably not want to think about it too much while they are watching (they'll be too busy laughing), but afterwards they should enjoy trying to figure out all the puzzles and literary and film references, and some will even recognize a clever anagram that will become obvious once they've figured it out.

Lutyens and Simmons are wonderful, and Bryce's skillful direction is as much in evidence as the howling of the wolf.

The set by Craig Wollam walks a tightrope between cheesy and lush. Speaking of cheesy, the so-called special effects are low-tech and laughably obvious, as they should be.

Finally, the sound effects and musical score deserve special attention. The music comes from lost-and-found tapes from Ludlam's original production, but the tapes came without instructions, so Bryce had to decide what to play when. His choices were excellent. Other sound effects adding to the enjoyment of the play range from wolf howls to the gulping down of tea to the horrible screech from the shower scene in "Psycho."

This play may be too scary for young children, but everyone else should love it.

WHEN: 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Knutzen Family Theater, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $87 to $25 depending on age
INFORMATION: 253-661-1444

Frasca favorites

Childhood End's Gallery hosts a show worth seeing

published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct 11, 2007

pictured: "listen," pastel and monotype by Marilyn Frasca
Photo: Courtesy Photo

Childhood's End Gallery in Olympia is featuring two artists and one husband and wife collaborative team this month: Marilyn Frasca, Betty Moynahan, and John and Robin Gamaelius.

Moynahan is showing a series of pastel portraits all of the same woman. I was told that she is a Palestinian woman and that in each portrait she is wearing a different costume native to certain parts of Palestine. They look like Native American costumes to me.

The portraits are skillfully executed, but they are just portraits with no particular artistic merit that I can see. Photographs of the same woman would have been just as good. The only unique thing about them is that in two of the portraits the woman has blue skin — a too bright blue in one, but a striking, deathly pale blue in the other.

The Gamaeliuses are a fun husband and wife team. I'm told they work together in their laundry room/studio. They're showing quirky stoneware and metal ceramics with funny looking men and women and lots and lots of birds. In some of their pieces the men and women look like birds and the birds look like people, and more often than not the birds are perched on top of the people's heads or are in cages that also enclose the people's heads. Many of their ceramic sculptures stand on proportionately large metal spoke wheels that actually roll. The bodies of the ceramics are decorated with drawings in a scraffito etching method reminiscent of ceramic decoration from the Renaissance as well as of early American woodblock prints.

A typical Gamaelius piece is "Lemons and Fish in the Balance," figures in white stoneware with red oxide drawing on the surface. There's a man's figure. A bird with a human face sits on his head, and the man wears a strange birdlike beak for a nose. Like all of their works, this piece is very funny.

Frasca is the real artist in this show. I've seen a few Frasca shows over the past two decades, mostly at Childhood's End, and I think this may be the best yet. She's showing around a dozen monotype and pastel drawings of figures and animals that look vaguely mythological. It is not at all clear what these humans and animals are doing, but they clearly seem to get along, somewhat like the creatures in a Henri Rousseau painting. The mythological look comes from the fact that some of the animals are proportionally much larger than life and some have masklike faces. They are mythlike, but they are not myths.

There are no story lines.

There are qualities to Frasca's figures that remind me a lot of pastels by the late Louise Williams of Olympia, and some of her figures remind me of both Picasso in his classical period and of Gauguin's Tahitian paintings.

I think her primary concern is not so much the figures and what they are doing as it is the purely visual play of flat color with areas of dense texture.

Using the monotype print method, she creates textured areas that look like imprints made from leafs and twigs and rocks and wood that have been scraped or gouged. She seemingly superimposes figure drawings over these textured areas and fills them in with flat, pastel colors. In some areas, the pastel barely tints the textured areas while in others it almost completely covers the surface with heavy, chalky color somewhat like a Degas pastel.

It's certainly beginning to seem like I'm evoking a lot of artists, but that's often what good artists do; they assimilate influences from everywhere and make them all their own.

Picasso, often called the great eclectic, was famous for it.

This is definitely a show worth seeing.

[Childhood's End, through Nov. 11, 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia, 360.943.3724]

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Boffo ‘Buffalo’ comes loaded with laughs

Published in The News Tribune, October 5, 2007

Note: I got busy with other things and wasn't able to post this one in a timely manner. “Moon Over Buffalo” has completed its tour at Olympia Little Theatre.

Olympia Little Theatre’s “Moon Over Buffalo” is what a staged comedy should be. It is a wild and wacky farce. It’s “Waiting for Guffman” meets “Noises Off” meets your favorite Shakespeare comedy as performed by the Marx Brothers. Be prepared to leave the theater exhausted from laughter.

Written by Ken Ludwig and directed by T.S. Samland, “Moon Over Buffalo” takes the audience back in time to the Erlanger Theatre in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1953 when both Buffalo and regional theater were on the verge of dying – Buffalo is in the midst of a depression, and regional theater is being killed by television.

But George and Charlotte Hay (Tom Sanders and Rikki Corey), stars and directors at the Erlanger, are determined to hold on and make a go of it. They are actors who are well past their prime but who persist in playing romantic leads and cling desperately to hopes of being discovered by Hollywood once again. (They had enjoyed some brief flickers of fame in a distant past.)

Their daughter, Rosalind (Christina Bargel), who has left a career in theater for advertising, returns home to introduce her new and nerdy fiancé, Howard (Alberto Cintron) to her parents. George and Charlotte are preparing for the matinee performance of either “Cyrano de Bergerac” or “Private Lives.” They’re doing both plays in repertory, but disagree about which one they’re supposed to be doing that afternoon – a huge foreshadowing of just some of the comical mayhem to come (this play is anything but subtle).

Of course Rosalind doesn’t want to admit it, but deep in her heart she is still in love with the theater and with her ex-boyfriend, Paul (Erik Cornelius), an actor and toady in the Hays’ troop.

George and Charlotte find out that the great director Frank Capra is coming to town to see a performance with an eye toward casting both George and Charlotte in his new film. They also learn that the young actress Eileen (Hannah Eklund) is pregnant with George’s baby. Charlotte threatens to leave, George gets drunk, Eileen runs off, Rosalind has to stand in for her in “Private Lives,” everyone except for Rosalind mistakes Howard for Frank Capra and a falling-down drunk George makes his “Private Lives” entrance costumed as Cyrano.

Most of the cast have significant time on stage, but the play revolves around George. Without a really skilled comic actor in the role of George, “Moon Over Buffalo” could easily devolve into a slapstick nightmare of absurd histrionics. By casting Tom Sanders as George, OLT made sure that the only calamity would be on the stage of the Erlanger in Buffalo.

Sanders is outstanding in a challenging, physical role in which he has to engage in a mock fight and convincingly portray a drunken buffoon who falls all over the stage. His pratfalls, his timing and his rubbery face are perfect. He is believable as a sloppy drunk and a great classical actor who desperately loves his wife despite his philandering.

Corey is excellent as Charlotte. It is Charlotte, by the way, who engages in the wild sword fight with George, and she handles the sword with much athleticism.

Also outstanding are Cintron, who plays the hapless Howard with great sympathy, and Barbara-Ann Smith as Charlotte’s more-than-slightly-deaf mother, Ethel.

The only time the comedic bits seem a little too strained and predictable is in the play-within-a-play when Rosalind plays Amanda in “Private Lives” but her Elyot appears in the guise of Cyrano.

For this performance, OLT pulled from storage an old revolving set that had not been used in 20 years, and the props boxes and costume closets were raided for old radios and trunks and classical costumes. Paul Gisi, who shows up in a bit small part as the Hays’ lawyer (and Charlotte’s lover), Richard, designed and built the set. He and costume designer Christina Hughes deserve credit for creating the ambiance of the old theatre. But I must say that if there were no sets or costumes at all, this play would still be outlandishly funny because of the fast-paced action absurd plot.

Hooray for slapstick!

Friday, October 5, 2007


Opening show at the Helm not so kind to strangers

published Oct. 4, 2007 in the Weekly Volcano

Tacoma’s newest gallery, The Helm, opened with a burst of adolescent bravado in a show the gallery owners admit includes a lot of “crappy” art. You see, they didn’t pick the work. They didn’t eliminate submissions they thought were bad. They sent out invitations to artists from all over the world contacted via social networking sites such as MySpace.

“The result is a hodgepodge of a show that pairs young artists together in a manner that no curator in their right mind ever would. Featuring the work of Daniel Johnston, Michael Sieben, Erik Otto, Matthew Feyld, Zachary Marvick, Nicholas Nyland, Ellen Ito and a boatload of others,” writes gallery co-owner Sean Alexander.

The show is called “The Kindness of Strangers.”

At least two of the artists listed in the quote above, Nyland and Ito, are established local artists. Both of them were recently seen in a show at Gallery Madera. But I wasn’t even able to find their works among the many works on the wall — all of which were hung in a random manner to reflect the democratic nature of the show.

My personal opinion? The whole show was juvenile and sloppy, and although the concept is interesting, most of the work isn’t. Admittedly, some people might think I’m just old-fashioned. I’ll confess that I may not be the hippest cat in the litter box. But this stuff is not cutting-edge. There is nothing original about it. Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson and the Hairy Who were doing the same kind of stuff way back in 1960. So were Robert Crumb and a slew of artists who published works in 1960s underground commix, the forerunners of today’s zines. Not to mention two decades of college freshmen art students and all of The Evergreen State College students who have filled the back page of the Cooper Point Journal with bad cartoons for more than 20 years.

A lot of the imagery is violent and sexy and ironic. A lot of it looks like psychedelic art from days gone by. The presentation is slap-dash. On the upside, there is a lot of work here that shows tremendous promise. Viewing this work sends me back to the days when I was a college art teacher. All of the freshmen showed up with skillfully executed but unoriginal fantasy drawings inspired by graphic novels. Their passion and their skill was obvious, but man, oh man, did they have a long way to go!

Among the more interesting works are some nicely executed drawings from Jen Tong that look like illustrations for children’s books, some fairly strong abstracts by Ashlynn Browning, and a Cristo-esque wrapped telephone booth by British artist Stuart Robinson. Sadly, a lot of these artists are much better than the work here indicates. The gallery chose them from their Flickr and MySpace sites, and I visited a number of these sites and saw work that is much better than what is seen in the show. It seems they dug stuff out of their garbage cans for this show. The Helm has provided links to many of the artists’ sites on its Web site.

The next show at The Helm promises to be much better. It will be a show by Seattle artists Chauney Peck and Whiting Tennis. Tacomans may remember Peck from work going back as far as the old Commencement Art Gallery and her most recent installations at the now-defunct Ice Box Gallery. Her most recent work consists of painted wood sculptures that play with perspective and actual depth in a deceptive manner. Tennis, a sculptor whose work is handled by Greg Kucera Gallery, is a recent Neddy Award recipient whose work was recently seen at Tacoma Art Museum. The Peck and Tennis show opens Oct. 18.

[The Helm, “The Kindness of Strangers,” Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Oct. 10, 760 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.627.8845,]

Want a better understanding of art?

Would you like to gain a better understanding of art? Do the of myriad schools, trends, movements, etc. mystify you?

I just discovered a wonderful history of modern art published by the National Gallery that is free to download on the Web. It is called Art Since 1950, and it is a concise and easily understood explanation of trends in visual art from the advent of abstract expressionism to today's pluralistic, post-modernist art scene written in language anyone can understand. It is written for young students but it can also be quite a refresher course for people who have studied art. Find it on the National Gallery's education pages at

Also, at the risk of sounding immodest and beating my own drum too loudly, my book, As If Art Matters, is also a good primer on modern art and includes reviews of many of the best shows to come to the Puget Sound region in the past decade, ranging from big shows of internationally known artists such as Vincent van Gogh to reviews of local artists in Tacoma and Olympia. As If Art Matters can be purchased on my website at