Friday, November 30, 2007

‘Sleeping Beauty’ tale gets wake-up call

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 30, 2007


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

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

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

photos by Dean Lapin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Don’t be absurd

Nine wild and crazy artists at the Helm

published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov 29, 2007

Photo: "Cano Man," photograph by William Hundley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Twilites

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

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

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

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

Wow! Thanks, man.

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

‘Mr. Green’ play well worth visiting

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 23, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sex and violence

Disturbing images grace the walls of Mad Hat Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

‘Velveteen Rabbit’ has right touch

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 16, 2007


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

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

photos courtesy Karen Janowitz/OFT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INFORMATION: 360-596-5508,

The lovely bones

Betty Bastai and Shilo de la Cruz at SPSCC

published in The Weekly Volcano, Nov. 15, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2007

Young cast shines in ‘Metaphasia’ fantasy

published in The News Tribune, Nov. 9, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Great Clayton Cop-out

An overview of local exhibits

published in The Weekly Volcano, Nov 8, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Something’s missing in ‘Holes’ production

published in The News Tribune, Nov. 2, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Must-see show

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

published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 1, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ta dah!

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

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

To read the complete artical, to go