Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Organic form

Installations at Traver and the Woolworth windows

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 31, 2008
Pictured: "Transmutation a,b,c," metal sculpture by Catherine Grisez
Photo: courtesy Traver Gallery

The December snows are mercifully receding in memory, but the repercussions go on. The weather prevented me from seeing the shows I wanted to review for this week. If I had been able to make the rounds of galleries, I suspect the most interesting shows would have been at Traver Gallery and the Woolworth windows. I’m basing this on press releases and photographs of works currently on display — or in some cases images of other works by artists currently showing.

The show at Traver is called Dig. It is an exhibition of metal sculptures by Catherine Grisez. Her sculptures are enigmatic forms inspired by seedpods and root systems and other natural forms, which seem to relate not only to organic growth in the wild but also to the inner workings of the human body. A press release states with poetic flourish: “Each of Grisez’s pieces represents an experience in her life that has affected her deeply. By dissecting these symbolic organic forms scientifically, she hopes to uncover the underlying meaning of the emotional events of her life and connect them to a more universal experience. As a result, Grisez’s work communicates on a direct and powerful level — bulging seedpods strain to contain the life growing within them, precious stones spill out of a quiet, empty vessel and root systems float, exposed, in front of the viewer.”

She is not unique in sculpting organic forms. I’ve seen many abstract sculptures in glass, plastic, wood and metal that are based on similar forms, especially seedpods.

It is difficult to get the full effect of texture and scale from looking at images on the Web site (, but sizes and media are listed. The first image is called "Transmutation a,b,c." It consists of three sac-like pods hanging from big-head nails. Each is about a foot tall with the surface coloring and texture of redwood and filled with jewel-like seeds. This is my favorite of the images on the web site. It’s like a precious stone and at the same time almost creepily organic. Only her smaller works are shown on the site, but there are also some larger wall mounted sculptures and a site-specific installation of mixed media root systems suspended in the gallery’s steel framed windows. I look forward to seeing these larger works.

Speaking of root systems and organic forms, the press release for Tacoma Contemporary’s winter installations in the Woolworth windows contains a photograph of an amazing installation by Elissa Cox. It looks like the lair of the alien creatures in the movie Alien and like an organic labyrinth made of orange, red and brown thread. I say it “looks like” thread because the media is not identified. Still, it is a fascinating installation. The only problem is, it’s not what’s currently showing. It’s just a sample of Cox’s work. What she is showing is an installation created in collaboration with Tannaz Farsi and Petra Kralickova, which is described as an exploration of “the intensity and nuance of environments both dreamed or remembered. …” an abstract landscape of shapes, colors and forms (which) will both resemble the landscape of the body and a labyrinth.”

Also included in the press release from Tacoma Contemporary was a really nice looking installation by Ingrid Ludt made of what appeared to be crumbled white cloth and wadded mounds of red-orange thread. As with the Elissa Cox image, this is an earlier work and not the installation that is now showing, but it shows Ludt’s sensitivity to form and color. Her actual installation is described as “torn air filters, wire and rope that will hang from the ceiling. The wire will be used as thread connecting and knotting the pieces of torn material together in a large-scale sewing technique.”

Also included in the Woolworth windows are an "eco-highway" by Niku Kashef and a "Borrowed Landscape" by Shannon Conroy made of window decals.

[Traver Gallery, Dig, metal sculptures by Catherine Grisez, through Feb. 8, 1821 East Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685]

[The Woolworth Windows, open 24/7, through Feb. 14, Commerce and Broadway at 11th, Tacoma,]

Friday, December 26, 2008

This ‘Carol’ doesn’t quite sing

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 26, 2008
Pictured: Mark Peterson as The Ghost of Christmas Present and Ernest
Heller as Ebenezer Scrooge, photo by Dean Lapin.

Something strange happened at opening night of Lakewood Playhouse’s “A Christmas Carol.” And I’m not talking about ghostly apparitions. I’m talking about a sudden change in the tenor and pace of the play.

It started out quite well, with a very convincing Scrooge played by Ernest Heller, a competent Bob Cratchit (Robert McConkey), an entertaining and likeable Nephew Fred (Luke Amundson) and perhaps the best Jacob Marley I’ve ever seen in the person of Christian J. Doyle.

The sets designed by Erin Chanfrau, who also wrote and directed this adaptation of the Dickens classic, were beautiful. The painted floor and backdrop are works of art – cobblestone streets with snow drifts and a city skyline almost totally obliterated by fog painted by muralist Steve Chanfrau. The ambience created by the set and by Scott Campbell’s sound effects and Kris Zetterstrom’s lighting provide a nice balance of mystery and holiday cheer.

The first ghostly effect was startling and beautifully done. An unseen figure behind what appeared to be a black door but was actually a curtain or scrim tried to push through as if attempting to break through from the other world. This, accompanied by dramatic lighting and sound effects, set the mood for what was to follow.

And then Doyle appeared, dragging his chains as the ghost of Marley, and the intensity of the performance kicked up a notch. His strange tics and spastic walk really struck at the heart of what Marley’s ghost would be like after carrying chains of guilt for seven years.

But then, just when things should have started getting really exciting, it fell flat. The Ghost of Christmas Past was emotionless, and his ghostly costume and makeup was uninspired – especially coming right after seeing Marley’s outstanding costume and makeup. And Young Scrooge (Robert Tobias) and his girlfriend, Belle (Emily Anderson) seemed to be reciting their lines by rote with no emotional investment.

And so it went throughout the visits of the three spirits and Scrooge’s visit to past, present and future. Everything seemed contrived and awkward with few exceptions (notably Mark Peterson’s magisterial Ghost of Christmas Present) until Scrooge finally woke up on Christmas morning.

One problem is that there are a lot of young, inexperienced actors who might be fine in a school production but need more seasoning before appearing on stage at this level.

And then the tenor changed again, and the Christmas morning scenes when Scrooge became a new and generous man were as joyful and as funny as one would expect.

Chanfrau deserves accolades for her writing, directing and sets. She said that she wanted to take a slightly different approach to the popular story, playing on the original subtitle, “A Christmas Ghost Story.”

“I wanted the show to be a little scary and lot of fun,” says Chanfrau. “I also wanted to keep the story short to provide the perfect holiday entertainment.” It runs a little under two hours including intermission.

Two other members of the ensemble cast deserve special notice. Kathi Aleman as a rag lady and as Mrs. Fizziwig, and Valerie Kirkwood as the second rag lady were funny and rang true to type with their broad gestures and heavy accents. Aleman really stood out. According to the program notes, this is Aleman’s first appearance at Lakewood Playhouse and her first in many years on any stage after taking a break from acting to raise a family. I certainly hope to see more of her in the near future.

To present such a well-known story as this without it seeming contrived or corny is a huge challenge. Doing it in the round is even more of a challenge, as a large part of the action had to take place off in a corner where sections of the audience had to crane their necks to see what was going on. I did not think this cast and crew succeeded as well as would be hoped, but there are certainly some entertaining moments.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $22 general, $19 seniors and military, $16 24 and younger, $14 14 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An evil mistress

Red Warner’s New Year’s message

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 24, 2008
pictured: "Mockery," digital print by Red Warner

“Painting can be an evil mistress. She can love you tender, and she can love you raunchy, and she can rip your guts apart.

“When you put that last stroke on your canvas and you know you've done it right and you step back to look at what you've done, a deep sigh comes all the way up from your loins, and you say ‘Yes! Yes, by God, I did it.’

“But it can also be like a cramp in the pit of your stomach that wrenches your intestines and won't let go, because to make a painting you have to reach deep down inside and pull it out, and when it doesn't come it's like the dry heaves. And the loneliness of it! The loneliness is unbearable. You're all alone in a huge loft, and you're slinging paint with concentration so intense it's exhausting, and when you finally set your paint bucket down and step back to see what you've done there is not a soul to share that moment with, be it ecstasy or be it loathing because you've experienced a rape or a battle or the most tender of caresses, and it was all between you and that goddamn canvas. And suddenly you get this memory flash from back when you were in art school and your professors ripped your work apart, and you look at your painting, and you can't even see it. You haven't the slightest idea whether it's art or crap. So you grab the freight elevator down to the street and you walk to the corner bar and get gloriously drunk.”

This statement comes from Red Warner, a painter, a man possessed by demons, an artist who can no more not make art than he can stop breathing. Warner has a graduate degree in art and has spent a lifetime painting, but still he is filled with doubts about his own work. He looks at the paintings stacked against the walls in his loft and wonders if this physical evidence of a lifetime dedication to art is worth the effort.

OK, there is no real Red Warner. He’s a character I made up, the protagonist of my novel Until the Dawn. But he is, in many ways, the epitome of every halfway decent painter I have ever known. I know from reading biographies of many of the great artists of the past that the best of them harbored just the kind of doubts Warner expressed in this opening statement. I know Paul Cezanne did. I know Jackson Pollock did. And I know from talking to many contemporary artists here in the South Sound that they too are often wracked with the same torturous doubts and are obsessed with the same need to push themselves to become better and better and better.

I also know that when these artists show their work in area galleries it is like stripping naked and standing in the spotlight for the entire world to see. They are putting not just their art on display; they are putting their raw, naked and very humanly blemished selves on display. Knowing this, how can I dare to criticize their works week after week? Who am I to say whether their work is worth viewing or not?

I could site my master’s degree in drawing and painting and my years of teaching art and making art, but let’s face it: that doesn’t really mean much of anything. When I express an opinion in writing — and it is just an opinion no matter how educated it may be — I am putting my reputation on the line just as much as the artists I am critiquing. That’s why I usually try to be very gentle in my criticism.

I hope my words have been and will continue to be educational and entertaining — and not too hurtful.

Best wishes for a wonderful and creative 2009.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I get letters

I expected to get letters about my December 12 review of “Run for Your Wife,” which I criticized for its anti-gay slurs, and I did. Here are a couple of letters and my answers (names omitted). Please forgive the repetition as I made some of the same points in each letter by copying and pasting.

The first letter:

Thanks for attending and reviewing Run For Your Wife.

Having said that, I'm very surprised - astonished is not too strong a word - at your reaction to the play itself. As it seems churlish to me to say anything more, I'll merely ask if you'd like to discuss whether or not Run For Your Wife is offensive. I believe it is not, and would enjoy a mild debate via email. If not, we'll have to disagree without the discussion.

My answer:

I know how dedicated and hard working theater people are and wish them only the best. It pains me to criticize any play, but I write theater reviews. I have to state my honest opinion -- it is what I am paid for.

In the case of "Run for Your Wife," I don’t believe that the cast and crew meant to be malicious. I believe that they thought the gay jokes were in the spirit of good fun. I have seen plays and movies in which actors (usually but not always gay actors) make fun of gay stereotypes, and it can be funny when it is done right. But that is a tight rope to walk. Hank Azara and Nathan Lane's characters in "The Birdcage" comes to mind. The difference is those characters were written sympathetically. They are good people and the audience cares for them.

In "Run for Your Wife" there was one gay character who served no purpose in the script other than to poke fun at his stereotypical portrayal. We laughed at him, not with him. Plus there was an endless array of gay puns and innuendos that were juvenile at best -- tittery, childish uses of words like fag and queer. And again, while those words can be used in ways that are not offensive, that is a risky place to tread without crossing the line.

I am not alone in my belief that the play was offensive. I quoted a New York Times critic: "It is, however, one's responsibility to report that 'Run for Your Wife' also has so many potentially offensive references to homosexuality that it could set off a new wave of activism and protest against anyone who finds all that intolerable."

Similarly, the blog dandanaka.blogspot said: "If I had planned the play, I might have removed about 30 percent of the dialogues in each scene, and alltogether removed one homosexual character. Infact I would have removed all jokes relating to homosexuality..."

On a personal note, I am the president of the Olympia chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and a trainer with the Safe Schools Coalition. In both of these capacities I see the dire results of casual gay remarks and jokes that may or may not be specifically intended to be malevolent. I know. I lost a son because of gay bashing. He was 17 years old. He was attacked and beaten up because he was bisexual. He constantly heard anti-gay slurs. His friends were beaten up. He thought that was all he had to look forward to the rest of his life, so he ended his life. Knowing this, I hope you can understand why I have no tolerance for gay slurs, even if no harm is intended. The unintended consequences can be horrible.

I wrote the criticism you object to for two reasons. First – that potential audiences are forewarned so they can make an educated decision about whether or not to see the production, which I take seriously for every show I review. Second – that the company who produced the play, and other companies who might consider it, might realize that they do so with responsibility to their audience and to our community for what messages they send with the show they produce.

No, I don’t think your comments were churlish, and I would be glad to discuss it further with you. Just let me know.


The second letter:

Catching up on some back issues, I ran across this review. Your comments regarding the offensive nature of the humor would carry more weight if they included the infidelity and deceit material. Evidently you think this kind of stuff is funny and acceptable. Cheating and lying are not funny either and are horribly wounding to the people who are victimized by these behaviors. I myself cringe reading the so called funnies in the newspaper. If it weren't for Dennis the Menace and a couple of other strips which refrain from certain subject matter and maintain a modicum of innocence, I myself would find this a totally cynical, dreary world. If subject matter is going to disturb you, I suggest you redirect your career where you will not be confronted with undesirable and distasteful ideas.

My answer:

I’m not necessarily bothered by undesirable and distasteful ideas in drama or literature. Murder, deception and infidelity have been the mainstays of drama and comedy from Shakespeare to Hemingway to most of the stuff you see on stage, screen and television today.

There are huge differences between what people DO (lie, cheat, murder, steal, etc.) and what they ARE (fat, disabled, black, Asian, gay, etc.). In this play what I thought was funny was not that John Smith cheated and lied but how ineptly he did it.

I don’t believe it’s acceptable to ridicule people because they happen to be attracted to people of the same sex, and in "Run for Your Wife" the gay character, Bobby Franklin, served no purpose in the script other than to have someone to make fun of by depicting him as stereotypically campy. Plus there was an endless array of gay puns and innuendos that were juvenile at best – tittery, childish uses of words like fag and queer. While those words can be used in ways that are not offensive, that is a risky place to tread without crossing the line.

I’m not alone in my belief that the play was offensive for the reasons that I stated, and at the same time I don’t believe that the cast and crew meant to be malicious. I believe that they thought the gay jokes were in the spirit of good fun.

I wrote the criticism of this play for two reasons. First – so that potential audiences are forewarned and can make an educated decision about whether or not to see this production. I take this seriously for every show I review. Second – so that the company who produced the play, and other companies who might consider it, might realize that they do so with responsibility to their audience and to our community for what messages they send with the show they produce.

You wrote, “If subject matter is going to disturb you, I suggest you redirect your career where you will not be confronted with undesirable and distasteful ideas.” I believe that the arts, including theater, are able to confront and address “undesirable and distasteful ideas” in ways that make this world less dreary, which is one of the many reasons I love being a critic.

Alec Clayton

Friday, December 19, 2008

There’s comedy, method in ribald ‘Reefer Madness’

Published in The News Tribune, December 19, 2008
Sarah Jolley, Christopher Schiel, Dave Beacham (Ralph), Matt Posner (Jack), Lauren O'Neil (Mae), Heather Christopher (Sally)
Lauren O'Neil (Mae), Dave Beacham (Ralph), Rob Rostad (Jimmy), Heather Christopher (Sally), Matt Posner (Jack)
Rob Rostad (Jimmy) and Erica Penn (Mary)
Photos by Kim Holm

Theater Artists Olympia is an equal opportunity offender. The mad men and women of this offbeat theater company poke irreverent fun at every institution, class, race and icon imaginable. This is, after all, the theater company that produced “Cannibal the Musical,” “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” and a strange and ultra-sexy version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” set in hell.

TAO is renowned for highly stylized choreography featuring women in skimpy underwear and for blood baths that rival Monty Python’s comic gore.

If you might be offended by any of the above, do not see TAO’s production of the Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy musical “Reefer Madness.” But if you get a kick out of such shenanigans and are tired of the usual holiday fare, by all means, see “Reefer Madness” this weekend.

This musical is a satire based on the 1936 film of the same name, which was intended to warn kids away from the devil weed, marijuana, but which became a cult favorite of pot-smoking teens in the ’60s and ’70s. Set in the 1930s but with 1950s style bebop and doo-wop and a Tom Jones-style singing Jesus, the play is a timeless romp and a very contemporary musical farce.

The modern day Romeo and Juliet of this play are Jimmy Harper (Rob Rostad), an all-American straight-A student and his wide-eyed, bobby-soxer girlfriend, Mary Lane (Erica Penn). When Jimmy is enticed into the reefer den by a ’30s-style gangster named Jack (Matt Posner, who doubles as the rockin’ Jesus), all hell breaks loose. The tragically stylized and melodramatic story of how the devil weed entices first Jimmy and then Mary into a life of carnal lust and criminality is told by The Lecturer (Elizabeth Lord). The whole thing is presented as a backdrop to The Lecturer’s horrifying speech in a small-town high school.

The role of The Lecturer was written for a man, but Lord, wearing a man’s suit, recasts this character as a stuffy, blue-nose woman who can barely contain her righteous indignation and horror. With jerky motions of her whole head and dramatic pauses, hers is a marvelous parody of a self-righteous and holier-than-thou person. Her comic absurdity is highlighted by dramatic spotlights that accompany her many appearances (lighting by Michael Christopher, who also appears in a brief cameo that is an extra-offensive surprise – be warned).

Lord also does a quick costume change near the finale for a great impersonation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchair.

Classically trained as a singer, Penn sings off-key and dances with exuberance as the oh-so-innocent Mary Lane. But, when she takes a toke of reefer, she changes into a lust-driven wanton tramp who later cavorts with a goat in hell.

Speaking of lust-driven, wanton women, Heather Christopher as Sally lives up to her billing as a “reefer slut.” She is like Mae West reincarnated with her big eyes, leering scowl, growling voice, hip-grinding dance moves and a sensuous body that is almost covered with a variety of slips and nightgowns. She also does great pratfalls and can’t walk up a flight of stairs to save her life.

Next to Lord, Posner is probably the best actor in the cast. He is suitably slithery as the dope pusher, Jack, and he really rocks out as a singing Jesus.

I wish I had space to write more about individual cast members. They’re all fine. I would elaborate on Christopher Schiel’s loose-limb dancing; Lauren O’Neil’s slatternly Mae; the Temptations-like trio of Jesus’ backup singers Rochelle Morris, Blythe Olson and Julia McAllee; and Dave Beacham’s hysterical laughter and overall performance as Ralph.

The one unfortunate drawback on the night I attended was a problem with the sound system that hopefully has been fixed. It was difficult to hear some of the dialogue and lyrics.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19-21
WHERE: South Puget Sound Community College Center for the Arts, 2011 Mottman Road S.W., Olympia
TICKETS: $15 at the door or at
INFORMATION: 360-357-3471

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday spirit

Fine crafts at Childhood’s End

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 18, 2008
Pictured: "Closed #3," oil on aluminum, by Rebecca Raven

The current exhibition at Childhood’s End Gallery seems well chosen for the holiday spirit in that the work on display is colorful and playful, and if you buy something from this exhibition as a Christmas present for your next door neighbors or your spouse or grown children who just bought a new home, it will probably be the most unique gift they have ever received.

None of the above is meant to imply that this is necessarily fine art; although I’m sure many people would certainly think so. As I’ve said many times, there is a fine distinction between art and craft. To my way of thinking, this is a crafts show — fine home décor that is unique and skillfully made. But none of it rises to or, I don’t believe, even aspires to the transformative experience that is art.

Having said that, the current show features batik paintings by Lisa Kattenbraker, oil paintings on aluminum by Rebecca Raven, and ceramic and metal sculpture by Robin and John Gumaelius.

Frankly, I’m not sure what to think about Kattenbraker’s batik paintings. I’ve been noticing them for about a week as I drive by and glimpse them through the gallery windows almost daily. They looked very intriguing from that distance, but not so good up close. They’re inventive, colorful and playful, but if there is any kind of theme or message, I don’t get it. And the designs and color combinations are somewhat bland despite being extremely busy. As with glass and encaustic, the technique of painting on fabric with wax-resistant dyes has an inherent surface beauty that is undeniable.

Kattenbraker paints faceless, bubble-headed figures and stick figures over intricate surface patterns, some of which look like Oriental or Indian designs. Her colors are bright and festive, and the figures carry well, which is why they look good from a distance. But I don’t think the figures and the background patterns work well together — neither harmonizing nor contrasting in visually exciting ways.

I think her best work is a little piece called "Blooms," which can be seen either as a field of flowers with big, round blossoms and long stems or a bunch of balloons on long ribbons. This is the only one of her pieces in which the figure and background are well integrated.

Raven is showing a group of portrait heads under the series title "Open, Away, Closed" with individual pieces carrying titles such as "Open 2" and "Away 1." I have no idea what the titles mean or how they relate to the portraits, but they are beautifully painted in a photo-realist (or perhaps neo-Renaissance) manner in oil on aluminum. Technically, they are flawless. The faces are all of attractive young people with smooth skin, perfectly coiffed hair and an inner glow. Not a brushstroke can be seen unless you look very closely at the reflections in the subject’s wet eyes.

The unique thing about these, individually and as a set, is the position and point of view. Each model is lying down, and the artist’s point of view is directly overhead looking straight down at their faces. Each head is oriented differently in relation to the frame — some at an angle, some upside-down, and so forth. This aspect works best when viewing the set of six paintings as a whole. If you bought one of these and took it home you’d lose that effect.

John and Robin Gumaelius, husband and wife, are showing, among other pieces, half a dozen stoneware birds with very decorative and highly intricate surface decoration, which looks like painting but is obviously fired in as a glaze. I don’t understand the technique, but it is highly effective. These are joyful, playful and quite beautiful.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, call for extended holiday hours, open Christmas Eve 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Dec. 31, 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia, 360.943.3724]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lame gay gags hurt ‘Run for Your Wife’

Published in The News Tribune Dec. 12, 2008
Pictured: Matt Garry and Teri DeShon in 'Run for Your Wife'

The British farce “Run for Your Wife” playing at Encore! Theater in Gig Harbor would be hysterically funny if it were not for two big problems – one of which cannot be excused.

Written in 1983 by Ray Cooney, it is a contemporary adult comedy about a taxi driver named John Smith (Matt Garry) who is a bigamist. He lives with wife No. 1, Mary (Teri DeShon) in an apartment in Wimbledon and with wife No. 2, Barbara (Jaycee Brown) in Streatham. Neither wife knows about the other.

When John has an accident and is brought home from the hospital by a policeman, his secret is in danger of being divulged because his carefully timed schedule (pronounced in the British way, minus the C) is thrown off kilter. He confesses his bigamy to his neighbor, Stanley Gardner (Mike Jones), whose bumbling attempts to help him cover up grow ever more insane. Two policemen get involved, one of whom thinks there are two John Smiths, one of whom is Stanley; and wife No. 2 thinks Stanley is a crazy farmer (a play on Gardener). When it finally becomes necessary for John to explain why he has two apartments, he “confesses” that he and Stanley are lovers and the second house is their love nest.

From here on, what was a well-constructed and outlandish comedic plot devolves into a litany of offensive gay slurs. The script takes advantage of every imaginable opportunity to use derogatory terms and introduces a new character, Barbara’s upstairs neighbor, Bobby Franklin (Chris Riker), whose sole purpose seems to be to prance about in an exaggerated parody of a stereotypical gay man.

A number of critics have concurred that this is offensive, such as New York Times critic Alvin Klein, who wrote: “It is, however, one’s responsibility to report that ‘Run for Your Wife’ also has so many potentially offensive references to homosexuality that it could set off a new wave of activism and protest against anyone who finds all that intolerable.”

The other big problem is there is no satisfactory solution to the complex problems that are introduced. John and Stanley construct progressively layered lies until there is no way out – I won’t give away the end.

The set design by Jim Cave is effective and clever, combining two apartments into one in such a way as to eliminate set changes, and the timing and movement of the actors effectively create the illusion of two sets in one. The opening scene in which the two wives simultaneously call the police to report their husband missing is a masterpiece of comic timing that is handled almost like jazz improvisation.

As for the acting, DeShon, in particular, displays a great range of outlandish emotions, and when her character takes a bottle of happy pills, she falls and stumbles with admirable comic dexterity. Jones is also outstanding. When he first appeared on stage, I pegged him as being overly histrionic, but the character of Stanley Gardner calls for nervousness and being overly excitable. Garry is also good, although he shouts too much. It would be better if he’d tone it down a notch.

I attended a Sunday matinee. The house was almost empty, but the few audience members there laughed heartily throughout. Apparently none of them thought the multitude of gay slurs and double entendres were offensive. But I cringe at the thought of a closeted gay person in the audience who may be struggling with his or her identity. What would it do to fragile self-esteem to hear audience members laughing at gay slurs?

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Encore! Theater, 6615 38th Ave. N.W., Gig Harbor
TICKETS: $15 general; $11 for military, seniors and teens; $8 ages 7-12; $6 for younger than 7
INFORMATION: 253-858-2282

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Portraits and interiors

Sweet and bitter images at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 11, 2008
Pictured: "Woman with pearl necklace," charcoal, collage and acrylic by Gail Ramsey Wharton.

Two very different women artists fill the art gallery at South Puget Sound Community College with images of many more women — plus a couple of boats and families and urban life.

Gail Ramsey Wharton does fascinating acrylic, collage and charcoal portraits and interiors that seem to be a strange marriage of 16th-century Dutch painting and Romare Bearden collages. Lining one wall of the gallery are a dozen Wharton interiors, each of which has a single figure (a woman) in a room with various items ranging from ironing boards to rabbits. Everything is black and white except for one item in each picture that is in color.

Examples: "Ponder" depicts, in shades of gray, a woman standing in an archway. On a back wall is a portrait with a bright blue background, the touch of blue being the only color in the picture. "Swan" pictures a woman holding a swan — again, in black and white. But she has red stripes on one sleeve of her dress and similar red stripes on her collar. In "Carrot," another black and white picture, a woman stands on a table and holds a carrot that is carrot orange. And then there’s one with big, bright red lips and yet another with a green chair. There are many surrealistic details in these pictures that are easily overlooked because of the startling use of limited color; yet, nothing seems out of place. It’s "Alice in Wonderland" meets Max Ernst.

On the opposite wall is a suite of portraits by Wharton with odd distortions of facial features. They look just real enough to be unsettling. Collaged eyes and noses are mismatched — too large or too small or out of balance. The woman in "Woman with Cherry" has a large nose as seen in profile, but her face is pictured in three-quarter view. Very much like some Picasso portraits. And the disturbing image in "Woman with Blue Hands" is a woman with one eye much larger than the other and puppet hands, blue of course, with wooden sticks for arms.

The intriguing thing about her figures is the balance she strikes between realism and surrealism. They are eerie, verging on horrific. And the tortured, crumpled, rubbed, and scratched surfaces enliven the images.

Suzana Bulatovic’s acrylic and oil paintings are not as strong as Wharton’s portraits. A few are excellent, but a lot of them are too sweet for my taste. Some of her paintings are very loose and energetic while others — mostly the whole back wall — are too tightly controlled, almost as if colored in, and look too much like illustrations. The exceptions are the two largest paintings in this group. One in particular, called "Studio," is an excellent kind of 21st-century update of Impressionism. A woman in a bright pink dress sits by a window in an artist’s studio. Behind her are the accouterments of a typical studio, complete with sculpture bust and a large pot, all painted in a semi-Cubist manner. The things that make this painting work are the sunny color, the energy of the brushstrokes, and the way figure and background lock together on the surface. The same elements can be seen in two little acrylic paintings called "In a Red Dress" and "Return" at the front of the gallery.

Two other Bulatovic paintings that work well are "Rainy Day" and "Yellow Gloves." "Rainy Day" is a moody little painting with three silhouetted black figures in the rain holding colorful umbrellas. The soft and subtle colors in this one are lovely and jewel-like. "Yellow Gloves" pictures a woman who is severely cropped in the manner of a Toulouse Lautrec poster.

I wish Bulatovic had more works like these little jewels and fewer of the more contrived works that fill the back wall. All in all, it’s an impressive show.

[Kenneth J. Minnaert Center, Suzana Bulatovic and Gail Ramsey Wharton, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, through Dec. 27, South Puget Sound Community College]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pat Boone spouts off

This is not a political commentary blog, but some things can't be ignored.

Last night Keith Olbermann quoted Pat Boone on his "Worst Person in the World" segment.

Boone said: "Look around. Watch your evening news. Read your newspaper. Have you not seen the awful similarity between what happened in Mumbai and what's happening right now in our streets," Boone asked referring to the Proposition 8 protests at Mormon churches as "riots."

Wow! I helped organize one of the thousands of Prop 8 protests. I guess that makes me a terrorist. But gee whiz, Pat, I didn't kill anyone. I swear I didn't.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Surrealist impulse

Two big little shows at the Tacoma Art Museum

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 4, 2008
Pictured: Claudia Fitch, Two Chandeliers with Milk Drops, 2003. Ceramic with glazes, oil paint, gold leaf, and brass fittings, dimensions variable. Tacoma Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from Shari and John Behnke and Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom.

Along with the big shows at Tacoma Art Museum — Oasis: Western Dreams of the Ottoman Empire and Don Fels: What is a Trade? — there are a couple of smaller but interesting shows from the permanent collection: The Surrealist Impulse and Speaking Parts (I eliminated the wordy subtitles from both). As is typical of shows culled from museum collections, the works barely fit the show title. In the Surrealist exhibition, for example, there are works that are not really surrealistic but that are by artists who are associated with Surrealism. On the other hand, there are works in the Speaking Parts exhibition that could easily fit in the other show. And some of the artists are in both shows.

But categories and what fits where are irrelevant. What matters is that both shows include works by both famous and little-known artists from here in the Pacific Northwest — including usual suspects such as Morris Graves and Marc Toby and new stars such as Scott Fife, the sculptor who did the big cardboard dog that sits in the museum lobby — and internationally famous figures such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, whose The Two Sisters is fabulous, and Salvador Dali, who was the most overrated artist in the Surrealist movement but whose series of prints illustrating passages from a book of the Old Testament in this show is much better than a lot of his more showy and gimmicky paintings. Wow! That was a mouthful.

Fife’s "Dresser with Drapes and Landscape" is one of my favorite pieces in the show. It is something of a precursor of his later and better known portraits of famous people in his use of archival cardboard. It is a semi-realistic dresser with drapes attached to the wall in such a way that it looks like it is coming out of the wall much in the way the train engine comes out of the fireplace in Rene Magritte’s "The Son of Man." The partially opened drawers in the dresser are high enough that most people can’t see inside them. I’ve been told that there are rumors of things inside and that viewers get on their tip-toes and stretch to try and see what’s there.

Another intriguing work is "Some Say She Lost Her Head," a video by former Tacoman Jared Pappas-Kelley. I don’t want to say too much about this film other than yes she does lose her head, and it is funny and macabre, more post-modernist than surrealistic, perhaps, but shot in a grainy black and white that pays homage to early 20th-century movies of the Surrealism movement.

Also more post-modernist than surrealistic are Claudia Fitch’s "Two Chandeliers with Milk Drops." These are playful and decorative hanging chandeliers crafted from ceramic with glazes, oil paint, gold leaf, and brass fittings. They are kind of modernist rococo, silly and decadent with gold and white eyeball balls and white teardrops and upside-down hanging Buddha clowns. Imagine a decorative chandelier by Jeff Koons, he of porcelain white Michael Jackson fame.

In Speaking Parts: Conversations between Works in the Collection (now you have the full title), works by Northwest artists are paired for comparison sake with works by international artists. Among the Northwest artists are Ambrose Patterson, Guy Anderson, Sally Finch, Toby, and Graves. Famous American artists from the other side of the country include George Luks and Robert Motherwell. I love Motherwell’s "Open No. 176."

During the holiday season when visitors come from out of state and want to see the sites, take them to Tacoma Art Museum. There’s no better way to introduce them to our rich cultural heritage. These two exhibitions from TAM’s permanent collection show our rich art history and connect it to the larger history of art from around the world.

[Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gol-lee, if I hadn't told you it was me you wouldn't have recognized me. That's because I've been letting my hair grow -- well, you know, except on the top where there ain't none.

The young guy with me is my son, Noel. BTW, that painting on the wall is one of mine.

OK, now let's zoom in for a little closer shot. You might notice what my friends have been telling me lately -- that I'm starting to look a lot like George Carlin, who, coincidentally, we watched in the hilarious movie "Dogma" right after this picture was taken.

Ensemble brings magic to musical ‘Stardust’

Stardust for Christmas

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 28, 2008
Pictured: Adrian David Robinson and Louise Stinson
photos by Tor Clausen

For 14 years during the holiday season, Harlequin Productions has visited the Stardust Club for a bit of nostalgia and swinging 1940s-style musical entertainment, except last year when the Stardust singers and dancers flew to Africa to entertain the troops. These World War II songfests have been a holiday tradition almost as long as Harlequin has been in existence – 18 years.

The current outing, “Stardust for Christmas,” is the fifth in the series that I’ve reviewed, and I think it is the best of the five.

It has a better balance of story and song and an overall better cast. (Earlier installments may have had a few more outstanding soloists, but this cast works better as an ensemble.)

All of the Stardust shows are credited to the mysterious writer Harlowe Reed, whose biography is a well-kept secret. Whoever he is, he spins lightweight yarns that are highly entertaining but not in the least bit believable.

In this episode, nightclub singer Loretta Mae (LaVon Hardison) thinks she has just bought the Stardust Club but soon finds out that what she purchased with her life’s savings was a worthless piece of paper, and the real owner of the club is now a gangster named Salvatore Mantolini, aka Uncle Sal (Russ Holm). It’s Christmas Eve 1941, and Sal and his hired thugs are trying to wrest the club away from Loretta Mae and her fellow entertainers while they rehearse for their Christmas show.

Hardison and Holm are both veterans of previous plays in the Stardust series. Hardison is a jazz singer who has been compared to Ella Fitzgerald. She has great range and easily goes from softly swinging jazz such as in “Blue Skies” with guitar accompaniment by Vince Brown to the rocking gospel-soul “Baby King,” a big production number with full company and six-man band. Not just a singer, Hardison has proven acting ability, as seen in the sweet drama “Intimate Apparel” last year. In this play her comic skills shine, most notably while dancing with Uncle Sal and fending off his clumsy romantic advances.

By the way, if audience members think there’s something familiar about Hardison and her guitar accompanist (Brown), it’s because they play area venues as a duet under the name Red and Ruby.

Holm does not come across as a song-and-dance man, but he manages to hold his own, and whatever he might lack in musical aptitude, he more than makes up for with great comic acting. He plays the old gangster as a parody of Mafioso types with shoulder shrugs and facial twitches evoking Rodney Dangerfield. Even in the big song-and-dance numbers with much better dancers to watch, it was hard for me not to keep my eyes on Uncle Sal.

Every other actor shines as well, with each bringing unique talents to the stage.

Megan H. Carver looks a bit like Bette Midler, sings with beautiful bell tones, dances with wild abandon, and has a dazzling smile. She is also the choreographer for this show, and the choreography is outstanding.

In the rousing production that closes Act 1, her choreography is dazzling as the whole company breaks out in a brawl while jitterbugging. Wow! You have to see this one.

Adrian David Robinson as the reluctant hoodlum, Alonzo, is over-the-top funny and lovable, and he’s the best of many great dancers in this production.

Courtney Freed is a soulful and sultry singer. I loved her rendition of “The Man That Got Away.”

Jessica Blinn remains mostly in the background until she picks up her violin and wows the audience with jazz licks on a duet with saxophonist Dan Blunck.

Sammuel Hawkins as the crooner Jimmy Ladino and Kevin McManus as Salvatore’s arrogant and ambitious nephew both sing and dance with high energy, and Louise Stinson with her blonde wig and big batting eyes plays a great gang moll.

It’s great lighthearted entertainment, and the music rocks.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 31
WHERE: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
TICKETS: $34-$38; rush tickets, $12-$20 half-hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pierce at Pierce

Juried art exhibit at Pierce College

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov 26, 2008
"The Valley - Skagit," oil on canvas by William Turner
"Byzantine," charcoal by Kathryn Baur
"Zones," acrylic and collage by David N. Goldberg
photos courtesy Pearce College

In all the years I’ve been reviewing art exhibits, I’ve never reviewed one at Pierce College, mainly because college art galleries are terrible about not notifying the press of their shows. But the new gallery director at Pierce College, Jennifer Olson-Rudinko, who also runs the gallery at Tacoma Community College, invited me to this show. Thank you, Jennifer.

It’s a small show with no more than 18 pieces hanging on the wall and a single little sculpture by LeeAnn Seaburg Perry, which is very sweet but easily overlooked. The vast majority of these works are photographs, and few of them stand out. They’re mostly landscapes — some quite beautiful but not unlike a million other nice pictures — and two very nice photos of Frank O. Gehry buildings. You can’t go wrong there. Any photo of any Gehry building taken from any viewpoint is going to be attractive. It just can’t be helped.

Kathryn Baur’s charcoal drawing of a middle-aged man, titled "Byzantine" — despite looking like a very competent student drawing, which it’s not — is one of the most striking pieces in the show. The larger-than-life head is dramatically posed, and the dark and light contrasts and subtle shading go from velvety black through shades of gray to brilliant white. The face has huge eyes, shaggy eyebrows and an intense expression.

Next come two acrylic paintings by David N. Goldberg, "Mythos" and "Zones." These may be toss offs. They’re not the best Goldberg paintings I’ve ever seen. But they’re still the best things in this show. Both are abstract paintings with hints that they may have been inspired by urban scenes or perhaps bits and pieces of mechanical equipment or computer circuitry. Circles and half-circles and squiggly blobs of paint dance in apparent randomness over a field of squares and rectangles in a cacophony of color. The patterns in "Mythos" are overall and sort of fit into a grid with all of the shapes approximately the same size. "Zones," which I think is the stronger of the two, has a less regular pattern, and there is greater variety in the sizes of the squares and circles and dabs of color. This one looks more like an urban scene. You can almost make out buildings and walking figures and scribbled but unreadable graffiti.

Next to Goldberg’s paintings are two abstract landscapes that are similar to works by Richard Diebenkorn, but not nearly so solidly structured. Despite some obvious differences between these two paintings, they are enough alike that I thought they were by the same artist until I read the labels. One is "The Valley - Skagit," oil on canvas by William Turner, and the other is "River to Ocean," acrylic by Sarah Kemp Waldo.

Turner’s painting breaks the Skagit Valley fields of flowers into rows and planes like shards of glass with rectangles and triangles of vivid red and orange receding in the distance to a serene mountainous horizon. The paint application is expressive and goes from flat and loosely brushed to a heavy impasto in the red and orange bands.

Waldo’s is less abstract with hills separating bodies of water in large areas of freely applied color. In both Waldo’s and Turner’s landscapes perspective is tilted upward to create areas of relatively flat color in shallow space. Both are well designed, but I was not comfortable with the colors — dark greens and grays in Turner’s and light blues, tans and yellows in Waldo’s. In each, the color schemes are interesting but slightly off key. In Waldo’s painting, for instance, everything except for one large yellow area is close in value and intensity, but that one big yellow blob breaks up the unity of the composition.

Overall, it’s a nice little show.

[Pierce College, Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Friday 8 a.m.-noon, through Dec. 12, 9401 Farwest Drive S.W., Lakewood]

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Prints on Imagekind

I now have prints available on Imagekind. It's a cool site where you can select an image and order a print on your choice of paper or canvas, framed and matted or not, and in a wide selection of sizes -- or even printed on greeting cards. To check it out, click on the Imagekind banner below.

All of the available prints are computer manipulated images taken from the old "Surburbanite" series from the late '80s -- also known as "The Gerbils" -- paintings of swimmers and people in beach chairs done in oil stick on paper and later scanned, cut-and-pasted and reworked in a computer paint program.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wait Until Dark

"Wait Until Dark" at Olympia Little Theatre

published in The News Tribune, Nov. 21, 2008

After the final ovation at Olympia Little Theatre’s opening night performance of “Wait Until Dark” I overheard an audience member say, “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight.”

That must be exactly the reaction the writer, Frederick Knott, and director, Patrick McCabe, hoped for. I was not that fearful or that spellbound, but it was because I’ve seen it before, and it’s hard to be scared by a thriller once you know what is going to happen.

It is a scary show. Set in Sam and Susy Hendrix’s basement apartment in Greenwich Village in 1965, it’s the story of a quick-witted blind woman, Susy (Amy Hill) who is threatened by some very strange visitors, none of whom are quite who they seem to be. Susy’s husband, Sam (Kelly S. McCabe) has brought home a doll that turns out to have been stuffed with drugs by someone, and now it is supposedly hidden somewhere in their apartment, and the bad guys are after it. One of them, going by the name Mike Talman (Samuel S. Johnston) pretends to be an old army buddy of Sam’s. Another (Christopher Connors) pretends to be police Sgt. Carlino. And yet a third (Ward Glass) passes himself off as a very bizarre intruder who goes by the name Harry Roat, Jr. And oh yes, this character also pretends to be Harry Roat’s father, Harry Roat, Sr.

If I explain the story it will ruin it for any reader who has not already seen either the play or the popular movie version starring Audrey Hepburn. Suffice it to say that things get stranger and stranger as the story progresses, and Susy, with the masterful deductive reasoning of a detective, deduces clue after clue until she understands that she is in danger and that the only tool she has is her blindness -- and something she’s not sure if she can count on: the help of her bratty 11-year-old upstairs neighbor, Gloria (Julia VanDerslice).

Hill is excellent as Susy. Never once during the course of the play do her eyes focus as a sighted person’s eyes focus, and her bumbling attempts to find her way around her own apartment are absolutely realistic. (Susy was blinded in an accident and it hasn’t very long, so she is still learning how to navigate.) With nuanced facial expressions, Hill lets the audience see her mind at work as she figures out what is going on. Similarly, her face expresses her growing fear. Her acting is intense, but never overdone. A bonus to having cast Hill as Susy is that she is a very petite woman, which adds greatly to her vulnerability.

No one else in the cast comes up to Hill’s level of excellence, although Connors as the fake cop comes close. Glass and Johnston as the other two criminals are suitably slithery. Both of them skirt dangerously close to coming across as stereotypical bad guys.

I also really liked VanDerslice as the young girl, Gloria. Even though she looks a little too old for the part, she really nailed the mannerisms of a youth, and it was easy to forget that the actress was really not that young.
For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on Kelly McCabe did not ring true as Susy’s husband, Sam. But his role is so inconsequential that it doesn’t much matter, and what he does wonderfully is the lighting design for this show which is crucial, and very effective. Working with McCabe as co-lighting designer is his mother, Beth McCabe, who is also director Patrick McCabe’s wife -- making this a real McCabe family production.

The set by Paul Malmberg and Patrick McCabe is a very convincing basement apartment, especially considering that Olympia Little Theatre has stadium seating on three sides, meaning it is almost in the round and yet must have walls and doors and windows that look realistic -- plus light fixtures and appliances that are more than props – they are crucial to the plot.

The details of plot and set are engaging. The fright factor is not as intense as I think it should be, but Hill’s acting makes it worth seeing.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 30
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Co. on Harrison Ave (360-943-7500) or on-line at
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grit and fire

Urban reality abstracted by Laura Hanan

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 20, 2008
pictured: "Fingertag," computer-manipulated photograph by Laura Hanan

Brick & Mortar Gallery has not gone away; it’s just been on a long hiatus. And gallery owner Laura Hanan has been hard at work on a fascinating series of paintings that she will present at Art Walk today.

Talk about Grit City, Hanan has taken photographs of the grittiest of the gritty — drug dealers dealing in alleyways, drunks pissing on walls, fires aflame in the city — and turned them into beautiful abstract paintings in which only the tiniest hint of her source material remains.

Hanan describes the work as “a culmination of my two-year obsessive quest using a crappy old video camera to fight ongoing criminal activity in my neighborhood.

“For a period of time I couldn’t look out of my living room window without seeing a drug deal or people brazenly smoking crack on the sidewalk across from my apartment in downtown Tacoma.

Out of frustration I began videotaping the antisocial and illegal activities I regularly witnessed, and I sent mass e-mails of the visual documentation to the police, city leaders, business owners, and residents.”

Hanan said she started experimenting with the huge visual volume on crime she had amassed. She manipulated still images from her videos, had them commercially printed on canvas, cut the images into jagged shards, rearranged them and pasted them onto larger canvases, which she had partially painted by slinging threads of black paint à la Jackson Pollock, and then she painted back into them and finished them off by mounting them on black boards (more slung paint) and framing them.

The resulting images are powerful representations of the underbelly of Tacoma that are equally arresting as abstract arrangements of shapes and colors.

I last saw Hanan’s paintings four years ago. At that time she was doing large and very busy abstract paintings with bright colors and gritty textures and with shapes delineated — as they still are in her latest paintings — by Pollock-like splatters of black paint. The difference in her latest works is that they are built from recognizable photographic images and the designs are much more coherent. This is not to say that they are not nerve jangling, just as her earlier paintings were, but they are nerve jangling in a more controlled way. The parts are more unified — even if they are unified in the way of jagged shards of glass crammed together into broken-mirror images.

Also, the colors and textures — first created on a computer and then painted over — are rich and dense with areas that look to be spray painted (they’re not) and areas of collaged textures. There are patches of blue sky between buildings that are unusually brilliant and dark and velvety greens and reds. In a very few of the paintings there are colors that are slightly too harsh. Her reds and yellows in particular tend to be too raw, but the dark greens and purples and all that deep, deep black are marvelous. As corny as it may sound, the colors in these paintings remind me (in a good way) of paintings on black velvet. And the paint, which is acrylic, looks more like enamel.

As an added bonus, Hanan will be showing some of the photographs that were used as starting points for these paintings, which will give the viewer an opportunity to see how they developed.

The photograph printed here is one of the pictures she cut up and reassembled and painted. The final version is quite different, but you will have to visit Brick & Mortar to see for yourself.

[Brick & Mortar Gallery, Crime & Punishment, opens Nov. 20, 5-9 p.m. and by appointment through Dec. 31, 811 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.591.2787]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Leading Ladies

This review was supposed to have been printed in The News Tribune Friday. Since I don't get the print version of the paper, I can only assume it was published on schedule, but it never showed up in the online version. I don't know what happened. Also, since subscribers to my blog get new posts the day after I put them up, some will not get this until Sunday, Nov. 16, and Sunday's matinee performance will be the final performance.

Pictured: Lew Gorman as Jack Gable/Stephanie and Bill Read as Leo Clark/Maxine in "Leading Ladies." Photo by Dean Lapin.

Director Doug Kerr does all he can to make a rousing entertainment of Ken Ludwig’s marginally funny “Leading Ladies.” As farces go, this one is in league with Ludwig’s “Moon Over Buffalo” and “Lend Ma A Tenor,” but I don’t think it compares with such outrageously funny farces as Larry Shue’s “The Nerd” or “Foreigner” or the similarly farcical English pantos that play every year at Centerstage. Nevertheless, there are plenty of laughs in this nutty little comedy.

The story is slow to develop. Two has-been Shakespearean actors with the corny names Leo Clark (Bill Read) and Jack Gable (Lew Gorman) try to pass themselves off as girls Maxine (Read) and Stephanie (Gorman) in order to bilk an inheritance from a dying old lady, the girls’ Aunt Florence (Dana Galagan), who stubbornly refuses to kick the bucket.

Clark and Gable’s two-person “Scenes from Shakespeare” at the local Moose Lodge is cleverly written, but Read and Gorman are no better and no worse as the inept thespians than a slew of other comic actors playing bad Shakespearean actors. And when they plot their devious scam on a train trip to York, Penn., the jokes fall a bit flat despite the energizing presence of Audrey (Alexandra Hockman) a sexy bubblehead on roller skates wearing a 1950s carhop costume.

The laughs don’t really start coming until Gorman in drag as Stephanie, who is supposed to be deaf and dumb, starts talking. And then it shoots off into comedic orbit in the second act when Dr. Meyers (Michael Dresdner) and his son Butch (Blake R. York) both try to seduce Stephanie, who (remember she’s really Jack Gable) is constantly trying to seduce Audrey -- which he does whether as himself or as Stephanie. The big seduction scene is by far the most hilarious moment in the play. Dresdner -- proving his natural comic ability again -- is outstanding, and Gorman in drag is almost as sexy as the luscious Audrey and fabulously ambiguous in his/her gender roles.

There is not a bad actor in this play, but some shine much more than others -- probably due more to the nature of their characters than their acting skills. Mick Flaaen, for example, is believably greedy and arrogant and uptight as the very unlikable character, The Rev. Duncan Wooley, but it is hard to enjoy this character (he’s not even fun to dislike). And although Read does everything you could ask of an actor playing a bad actor pretending (badly) to be a woman, he is too much like too many other actors playing similar roles. From “Twelfth Night,” which they parody well, to “Some Like it Hot,” this is a comic bit that’s been done far too often.
On the other hand, Gorman brings an indefinable flair to a role that’s been done too much, and lifts it above the mundane. His sly winks and nods and his girlish walk and the seamless way he transitions from male to female all make his characters shine. If anyone can be said to make this show, it is Gorman.

Also delightfully charming in their unique ways are Molly Calender as Meg Snider (((cq))), Rev. Duncan’s fiancé who falls in love with Leo (or actually Maxine), and Galagan as the feisty spitfire Aunt Florence.

Kerr does an excellent job of directing, and he is responsible for a well designed set -- the living room of the Snider house. I particularly like the doorways and beams that cutoff in mid air and the painting and mirror that float over blank space.
Farce is one of the more difficult of genres to perform, as Kerr explains in a program note: “Playing farce well demands that the performances seem natural and right. …actors must play their roles honestly and sincerely while inhabiting a world that is full of improbabilities and silliness.”

It’s not meant to be great theater, but it is a lot of fun.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sundays through October 5
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $16.00-$20.00
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Worn and torn

DANIEL MEUSE: Untitled #1, from The Packard Plant Series, hangs at the Minnaert Center.
Photo: Courtesy Photo
Old things made new at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov 13, 2008
Pictured: Untitled photograph from the Packard Series by Daniel Meuse
"Bonnor County Blowout," collage/construction by Michael Lindenmeyer
photos courtesy SPSCC

There’s a lot to like in the latest art exhibit at South Puget Sound Community College. Michael Lindenmeyer’s constructions and Dan Meuse’s photographs complement each other well. Lindenmeyer’s constructions are colorful, inventive and humorous; Meuse’s photographs are somber and classical. What they have in common is age — the look of age. Lindenmeyer’s collage elements and the subjects of Meuse’s photographs are worn, torn and forlorn. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Meuse is showing a series of photographs taken in an abandoned Packard automobile plant. Who even remembers Packards? They were the last of the great American luxury cars, but they went out of business in 1958. So these photographs are a poignant and disheartening record of a better day smashed and forgotten — and hopefully not a forecast of the fate of America’s “Big Three” automakers.

Meuse’s pictures are classical in their use of balanced design and strong contrasts in black and white. Stylistically they are a lot like the great Margaret Bourke White. Many of them are close-ups of a single object: a chair, a broken broom, pieces of machinery. They are enigmatic and sad.

Lindenmeyer’s pieces are just the opposite. They are exuberant and playful. The press release called them collages, but I think “constructions made of old pieces of wood and cardboard and various objects such as dolls and bullets” would be a much more accurate description.

He is showing 14 works in all from three distinct series: Wanted, Love and Bullets and Blowout. Stylistically what each series has in common is that disparate elements come together to form a single unified image. These are Dadaistic pictures with narrative coherence. (Those who know the history of Dada understand that narrative coherence would be anathema to Dadaists.)

The best of these are the Love and Bullets series. Narrative constructs are built around a central image such as a doll or a photograph. The background and most of the various collage elements except for the central image and a few other objects are spray painted a single color (a different color in each work but almost a monotone within each). The colors are rich and bright but slightly smoky. He does marvelous things with deep blues and bright reds that look like fire (blue fire? Yes) glowing through smoke.

Girl of the Golden West features a photograph of a woman wearing an Indian skirt and leather vest leaning seductively in the doorway of a saloon. Surrounding her is an ornate old picture frame and a tangle of black hose spray painted gold. Surfin’ has an Eskimo doll on a red surfboard on a crescent shaped background in deep cerulean blue with bullets and a hunk of an old tire and a circuit board all painted blue. High Voltage features a string of firecrackers painted hot pink.

The Wanted series is less attractive and less cohesive visually but highly inventive and funny. It’s a bunch of wanted posters on pieces of old board that could have been ripped off of a Wild West building. The criminals on the posters include a guy named Reginald Van Brushstroke, wanted for making “Bad Art,” and a woman named “Acid Annie,” who is wanted for running an unlicensed speakeasy.

I would not call any of this great art, but Meuse’s photographs are strong pictures in a respected tradition, and Lindenmeyer’s constructions are skillfully put together and full of invention.

[Kenneth J. Minnaert Center, Michael Lindenmeyer and Dan Meuse, through Nov. 30, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road S.W., Olympia, 360.596.5660]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Proposition 8 Protest

Olympia will join cities all around the world in protest of the passage of Proposition 8 in California, the measure that took away hard-earned equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. The Olympia protest will be at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, at City Hall. Please come, rain or shine.

For information contact me or Anna Schlecht at or go to

Friday, November 7, 2008

Lakewood Playhouse stages marvelous ‘Macbeth’

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 7, 2008
Pictured: Bryan K. Bender as Macbeth, and Rebecca Wood as Lady Macbeth, photo by Dean Lapin

I’ve seen quite a few performances of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” and the one now playing at Lakewood Playhouse is the best in my memory. The dramatic staging and lighting, the sets and the acting are all outstanding. Special kudos to director Scott Campbell and costume designer Naarah McDonald.

One of the best things about this performance is that all of the actors clearly enunciate their lines while remaining fully in character and not sounding like they’re making an effort to articulate well. That might seem insignificant, but since Shakespearean language is hard for many contemporary Americans to understand, it is important.

The one thing that is not outstanding is the sword fighting. The fight scenes seem a little anemic to me, but that does not bother me much as the play is about the human conflict, not physical fights.

Erin Chanfrau’s scenic design smartly creates a mood rather than a specific look of various scenes, and the movement of props on and off stage is kept to a minimum. Gnarled tree limbs made of twisted brown paper line the entries and three walls of the theater – which is simple, creative and highly effective.

Bryan Bender plays Macbeth, the anguished general of the Scottish army, whose blind ambition, aided by the machinations of his treacherous wife, drives him to murder the good king Duncan (Christopher Gilbert). This is a tough role to pull off because of the intensity of Macbeth’s anger, fear and sorrow. It is a role that could easily be overly dramatized. Bender plays it with controlled intensity – likewise Rebecca Wood as Lady Macbeth.

Unlike the complicated Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, King Duncan is transparent in his simple love of his country and his fellow men. Gilbert fills the role with natural grace, easily conveying the good king’s naiveté. And then, after Duncan is murdered, Gilbert ably doubles up in the roles of Old Siward and other minor characters.

Luke Amundson is outstanding as Macbeth’s friend and fellow general, Banquo, who is murdered by his best friend and comes back as a ghost to haunt him. His bloody makeup is remarkably grotesque.

Also outstanding in a variety of small roles is veteran South Sound actor Scott C. Brown. Since Brown has played many lead roles (most notably R.P. McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Salieri in “Amadeus”), his appearance in this play as various soldiers amounts to a series of cameos. And he really stands out in his brief comical turn as the drunken porter. This small scene is the epitome of comic relief.

Finally, a word about Rebecca Wood. She is the first Equity actor ever to appear on the Lakewood Playhouse stage, and she is absolutely believable as the strong-willed and devious murderess who succumbs to madness when overwrought with guilt. Lady Macbeth does not have as much time on stage as her husband, but in her scenes all eyes are riveted on her.

The staging, lighting and costuming of the three witches and all of the attendant hocus-pocus and supernatural weirdness was done with great style and just the right touch of theatricality to be effective without overwhelming the narrative. And, while all of the witches are good, I was especially impressed with Katy Shockman in her Lakewood Playhouse debut.

Finally, a word about Josh Johnson pounding on the big drum at every scene change – what a wonderful way to bring actors on and off stage.

If you like Shakespeare, no matter how many times you may have seen “Macbeth,” and even if you are not familiar with his plays, I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy this one.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 16; actor benefit performance Nov. 15 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $22 general admission, $19 seniors and military, $16 for 24 and younger, $14 14 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hot new gallery in T-town

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov 6, 2008

Pictured: installation shot of gallery and "while you're here," acrylic on panel by Tad Crawford. Photos courtesy Robert Daniel Gallery.

Listen up, Tacoma. There’s a new gallery in town, and it’s the real deal. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, a nondescript warehouse on the corner of Fawcett and 25th Avenue. But inside it’s big and bright with four major gallery spaces plus a whole bunch of alcoves and smaller exhibition spaces. And the paintings and sculptures inside are all abstract works of the type you might expect to see in a designer’s showroom or in a major city gallery — you know, like that city up north. In fact, at least one of the artists in the current show, Patricia Hagen, is a painter whose work I’ve seen in Seattle.

My one hesitation in giving this gallery a rave review is that a lot of the work is a little too slick.

I’m told that shows will run six weeks at a time. There are more than a dozen artists showing there now, including Andrew Glass, Christopher Hoppin, Dave Haslett, Dawn Sorrell, Debra VanTuinen, Eve Chang, James Minden, Jan Rimerman, Jay Lazerwitz, Karen Schroeder, Katie Harkins, Lyria Schaffer-Bauck, Martha Pfanschmidt, Patricia Hagen, William Turner, and Tad Crawford. And I may well have left someone out.

I can’t begin to review them all, so I’ll just say a few words about the ones that impressed me the most, starting with Hagen.

Hagen paints abstract biomorphic forms that float on a mostly milky white background, with wonderfully subtle color changes and textures in the background and wet looking, loosely drawn forms in front. Some of them look a whole lot like paintings by Phillip Guston although Guston’s paintings are figurative and hers are abstract. Her surfaces are wonderfully rich and gooey like cake frosting. There is one painting of hers that I didn’t like. I didn’t take note of the title, but if you visit the gallery you’ll know which one I’m talking about. It’s the one that’s very tightly controlled and carefully painted. The others are less precise and more spontaneous, and that’s her strong suit.

The other artist whose work I really like is Crawford. His most outstanding work is a large piece called "while you’re here." Large prismlike circular forms that look something like lenses float over a deeply layered background, and superimposed over this is a grid of black circles that cover the entire surface. Painted in acrylic with paper and resin, this picture has an amazing illusion of shallow space as if you’re seeing through layers of glass, and the whole painting seems to bow out in the middle. But that’s an optical illusion.

A similar depth illusion takes place in a piece called "Hindenburg," which has red and brown circles floating over a sea of bright yellow. And he has a group of three small paintings with the same kind of spatial effects on a mostly white background that looks as cold and clear as fresh snow. Plus some nice little drawings in paint of tools that remind me of some of Jim Dine’s tool paintings — same kind of sure graphic touch — and one painting with semicircles on a grid that remind me of paintings by David Goldberg, one of my favorite Tacoma painters.

Another painter whose works complement Crawford’s is Glass. He also fills the surface with prismatic forms on a grid, but his shapes are squares filled with energetic marks that seem to be derived from fronds and blades of grass with dark and acidic colors.

I also was struck with Hoppin’s unique sculptures of animal heads that look like hunting trophies but in jewel-like colors. I didn’t ask about the media, but they look like they’re coated with hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny ceramic tiles.

The Robert Daniel Gallery may be off the beaten path, but I recommend beating a path to its door.

[The Robert Daniel Gallery, 2501 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, 253.227.1407]

Friday, October 31, 2008

Campy ‘Bunnicula’ not too scary for kids

Published in The News Tribune, October 31, 2008

It is a dark and stormy night. Haven’t you always longed to see a show that starts that way? The modern children’s classic “Bunnicula” starts just that way – in spirit if not in fact. It is not only a delightfully entertaining story for children, it is also a campy takeoff on every old horror movie ever made.

On Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater’s big stage at the Narrows Theatre, it will be just scary enough and funny enough to entertain children of all ages without upsetting the younger children. Or so say the play’s director, Maria Valenzuela, and actor Chris Serface. “It was hot reading for kids in high school and college, (and) my 8-year-old just read it,” Valenzuela said.

Serface, who was a young child when the first “Bunnicula” book came out, said all of his friends loved the books, even up through high school.

As for the play, Serface said it is “very cartoonesque, like an old horror movie.” It starts off a little scary, Serface said, but turns funny before it gets too scary for the little kids – “almost like a spoof.”

It’s the story of the Monroe family and their pets, Chester the cat (played by Nelwyn Brady) and Harold the dog (Mark Rake-Marona), who is also the narrator of the story. The family goes to the movies and finds a bunny there and brings him home. Soon all the vegetables in the house begin to turn white, and Chester the cat suspects it is because the bunny, whom they named Bunnicula after Dracula, is a vampire, and he’s sucking the juices out of all the veggies.

The play is told from the point of view of the dog and features adult actors as animals and teenage actors as children, which means all of the props have to be appropriate sizes. To get an idea of what that is like, remember Lily Tomlin as 5-year-old Edith Ann in her big chair on the old “Laugh In” television series.

The children are played by Kody Bringman, 19, and Alex Gallo, 16. Both are from Puyallup and both are up-and-coming actors.

Bringman plays 10-year-old Pete, the oldest Monroe child. Patrons of Tacoma Musical Playhouse will remember him from “Grease” and “Meet Me in St. Louis” and can look forward to seeing him again in TMP’s next mainstage production, “The Slipper and the Rose.”

Gallo plays the younger child, Toby. Gallo was seen in “Ragtime” and has been in all three of TMP’s productions of “A Christmas Carol.”

Other actors in this production include Serface as Mr. Monroe and Christine Riippi as Mrs. Monroe.

And, of course, Bunnicula, a 4-foot-tall puppet built by Douglas Paasch, the master puppeteer at the Seattle Children’s Theater, where the play premiered in 1997.

The music has been arranged especially for this performance by musical director Sarah Samuelson with help from Valenzuela and TMP musical director Jeff Stvrtecky. Since the script didn’t come with a full score, they had to create their own. Traditionally, this play has relied on recorded music, but Valenzuela said TMP is dedicated to doing live music, so this production will use two keyboards and percussion, and we’re promised many comical musical special effects.

Other effects sure to be delightful, such as some very inventive lighting, are the work of technical director Will Abrahamse.

Tonight there will be a special costume party with a full performance of the play and prizes for costumes and jack-o’-lanterns.

All-in-all, it sounds so entertaining I wish I was 10 years old again.

WHEN: 7 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Nov. 8-9
WHERE: Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $15 general, $13 seniors/students/military, $10 children; $10 groups of 10 or more; Halloween party, $13 for children 12 and younger, $15 all others
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Looking and seeing

Sex offenders and snow globes on display at Fulcrum Gallery.

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct 30, 2008
Pictured: "Observations and Perceptions" installation view, photo by Jeremy Gregory

Fulcrum Gallery owner Oliver Doriss says the latest gallery exhibition, Observations & Perceptions, is his first show “incorporating social and political commentary.” He goes on to say, “I was apprehensive going into it” — particularly apprehensive about Jeremy Gregory’s installation with portraits of sex offenders and a spoken word piece by the singer/actor Tom Waits.

Gregory’s installation takes up half of the front room of the gallery, but viewers experience it beginning outside as they approach the gallery on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Behind the left side picture window hang two old sash-type windows with peeling paint. Inside the gallery, more old windows and doors hang from the ceiling to partition off the left side of the front room, creating a room within a room — and that room within a room is a unified, thematic installation that is, in essence, the mysterious building Waits talks about in his eerie spoken word piece “What’s That Building in There?” that loops over and over with creepy sound effects and Waits’ famously gruff voice.

The looped spoken word is like some kind of chant to an underworld god ceaselessly asking questions about a mysterious old building. Inside we see an old work table cluttered with tools and framed portraits of men whom we learn are all registered sex offenders. Above the work table are clotheslines, and clipped to the line with pins are sketchy ink drawings that seem to be snatched from moments in various lives. Along one wall are more portraits.

The portraits are almost crudely drawn and colored in strange duotones. In one the face is black and white like a graphite drawing, and the background is a bright blue. Another face is green on a red background. Yet another is purple-faced with a green background. The colors are acidic, electric, dark, and foreboding. The facial expressions are those of mug shots.

Gregory says the portraits all come from a registered sex offender Web site. “ … you can enter your address, and it will display all the registered sex offenders in your area,” he explains. “When I typed in the Fulcrum address I realized that the Hilltop and surrounding area were heavily populated with these people. After experiencing a range of emotions I realized that most people, directly or indirectly, have been affected by sexual crimes such as harassment, molestation, rape, assault, etc.”

This is an emotionally powerful show. The smaller framed portraits on the table are much stronger than the larger portraits along the left sidewall. The larger ones are paintings and the smaller ones chalk drawings, and it appears that Gregory is much more at ease with drawing tools. The best things about these drawings are his color choices, which fit perfectly with the overall mood of the installation.

As for the windows and doors, I think the idea was good but wish it had been carried out more fully with walls and perhaps drawn window shades so viewers would have to step inside to see what’s there. That would have made it much more effective.

In addition to Gregory’s installation, there are glass works by Doriss, including some from his delicate Sky Ponds done for the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. There are also surrealistic snow globes by Conor McClellan, a fascinating wall of ID cards by Galen McCarty Turner (part of an ongoing project that is well known by people whose phone numbers start with 253), and three wonderful little op-art paintings by Elise Richman. The Richman paintings are particularly interesting upon close examination when what looks like typical landscape-based abstractions are seen to be raised points of “beads, dollops and pools of paint.”

[Fulcrum Gallery, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Thursdays 6-9 p.m. and by appointment, through Nov. 16, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250. 0520]