Thursday, July 31, 2008

Odysseus's Garden

A forest of bamboo in glass

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 31, 2008
Pictured: "Winter Bamboo," blown glass by Bryan J. Runbino
Photo: Corey Lund

The front rooms of Fulcrum Gallery are filled with glass works by Bryan Rubino that are displayed in such a way as to be seen as two unified installations even though it is actually an exhibition of slightly more than a dozen individual works of art. The placement of the pieces adds considerably to their impact, as does the lighting, which requires some fine-tuning because the art is reflective and some works have their own light sources. And there is natural light to contend with, which filters through the large front windows. I’m told that the installations look spectacular at night, but I haven’t had the privilege of seeing that for myself.

The alcove on the left is partitioned off by an L-shaped forest of bamboo stalks made of ruby red glass and standing about seven feet tall. Another stand of glass bamboo stands across an opening into the little alcove area. This one is a stand of bright green bamboo on a circular base. These two stands of bamboo wall off that section of the gallery leaving a wide entryway into a square space with colorful glass flowers along two walls. The glass flowers are bright purple, green, gold and red — colors that harmonize beautifully with the red and green bamboo. There are also three groups of clear glass sculptures on pedestals called Ocean Life. These pieces are shaped like fronds of sea grass flowing in water; they are nice forms but much less interesting than the bamboo and the floral pieces on the wall. As individual pieces, they are pretty but not exciting, and as part of a unified installation, they are distracting. That is to say the display would have been better without them.

The other half of the front gallery consists of similar and even more exciting groups of glass art. Facing the front window and partitioning off part of the room is another L-shaped stand of bamboo stalks. These are clear, frosted glass. Facing them against the back wall are three sets of bamboo in neon and glass. To the left, a group of three luminous green bamboo stalks; in the center a group of four brilliant pink stalks; and to the right five intense blue stalks. And as on the other side, the imposing forests of glass bamboo frames more traditional floral-inspired glass art, including two glass flowers in turned wood pots, a collaboration with wood artist Dave Schweitzer.

This is glass art on the cutting edge, and it is quite beautiful.

Gallery owner Oliver Doriss pointed out that these are not pieces that would fit well in the average person’s home. They are quite expensive and rather large and overpowering. They are more appropriate to large commercial spaces and are, in fact, more architectural than decorative.

In the back room there are more of Rubino’s bamboo pieces and a group of more traditional glass bowls and vases in the Venetian art tradition. Perhaps a more exact definition would be the Venetian-American tradition, which melds the influences of Venetian glass artists such as Lino Tagliapietra and the American glass artists of the Pilchuck School. Some of the most beautiful pieces here are a couple of twisted cane pots with beautiful and delicate coloration. For the uninitiated, twisted cane is a glass blowing method in which rods of different colored glass are twisted and spun in delicately flowing patterns.

There is also one more large standing bamboo work in this room. This one has groups of tall bamboo stalks on a semicircular base in brilliant colors including green, brown, yellow, and red. As a stand-alone work, I think this is the best of the bamboo pieces.

Whether you’re into avant-garde installation art or traditional glass vessels, Rubino excels in both. This is definitely a show worth seeing.

[Fulcrum Gallery, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 6-9 p.m. Thursdays, and by appointment, through Aug. 17, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520,]

Friday, July 25, 2008

Everything goes well in ‘Anything Goes’

Published in The News Tribune, July 25, 2008

Pictured, top: Billy Crocker (Mario Peñalver) and Reno Sweeny (Roxanne Violett); bottom: the ensemble cast. Photos by Bob Baltzell.

Put very simply, I loved Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” as produced as a dinner theater by the All Saints Theatrical Repertoire Association in Puyallup.

This lavish production rivals anything seen at larger and more professional theaters such as Seattle’s 5th Avenue or Paramount. For the dinner theater, the entire parish hall gymnasium is turned into a shipboard dining hall. The huge set designed by Chris Bohnen and Al Weigand is a cruise ship deck with walls that swing open to reveal staterooms. The costumes by Terri Soliz and Laurie Vitt are nicely designed with a couple of really inventive surprises, which I won’t reveal here, when certain outfits are turned inside-out to morph into something totally different. Danny Nelson’s lighting is outstanding, especially in the moonlit night scenes and during the song-and-dance number “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”

On top of all this, there is a full orchestra conducted by Mike Lewis and a 31-person cast that fills the stage during the big production numbers.

The story is an extended vaudeville skit. Billy Crocker (Mario Peñalver) stows aboard a cruise ship in order to be close to the new infatuation in his life, socialite Hope Harcourt (Elizabeth Knopp), who is engaged to the silly English twerp Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (David Diggle) – and yes, he is a man named Evelyn; there’s a whole comic skit about long-e Evelyn for a man and short-e Evelyn for a woman. Also on board is the torch singer turned evangelist, Reno Sweeny (Roxanne Violett), who is also in love with Billy, and a small-time gangster named Moonface Martin (PJ Sirl) with his girlfriend, Erma (Tiffany Stephens). “Snake Eyes” Johnson, Public Enemy No. 1, is supposed to be onboard, and Billy is mistaken for him (Moonface, by the way, is merely Public Enemy No. 13.)

The story is nothing but a silly structure upon which to hang a lot of jokes and some rousing singing and dancing, not to mention some sweet romantic ballads – all well-beloved Cole Porter tunes.

Violett is a wonderful Reno Sweeny. She is tough and sassy, with a brassy voice reminiscent of the great Ethel Merman, who originated the role back in 1934. Violett’s comic chops remind me a lot of Carol Burnett, especially when she swoons and dances with Lord Evelyn on the torch song “The Gypsy in Me.”

Peñalver shows a lot of class as the romantic lead, a role that could have been as banal as most romantic leads if he did not get to show off his comic talents as he appears in various disguises in order to hide from the ship’s captain and his boss. He sings well and is able to smoothly transition from slapstick to romance.

Speaking of romantic leads, Knopp does not get to do a lot as Hope, whose main role seems to be to look beautiful. But when she does get to take center stage, her acting and singing talent is evident.

Another standout performer is Sirl as the hapless petty criminal, Moonface. His is a Lou Costello-type role, which he downplays ever so slightly. He sings/talks and acts his way through a couple of songs to great comic effect, notably a duet with Reno on “Friendship” and a hilarious solo number on “Be Like the Blue Bird.”

If I had enough room I could single out many other actors for praise, but I want to at least mention one outstanding member of the chorus. He is not even a named character, simply one of four sailors, but Charlie Ward is the best dancer in the cast, and he has a captivating smile and a personality that beams. According to the program, he is only 17 years old.

The title song at the end of Act 1 may well be the best old-time song-and-dance production I have ever seen. It left me exhausted and exhilarated. Almost as outstanding but a totally different type of production number was “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” in the second act, which featured great drum work (percussionists Aaron Baker and Skot Veitenheimer) and some great devilish light effects.

All in all this is an amazing show. As of this writing, tickets were almost sold out, so call soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I found Glennray

I love Google. Just think of something, type it in and, presto! There it is. Yesterday I thought about Glennray Tutor, an artist I knew in Oxford, Mississippi many years ago. Back then he painted a lot of small town scenes in a Pop style. And for what it's worth, he kept a casket in his house.

Visiting his website at I see that he's still painting in a photorealist style. His latest works picture marbles sitting on True Love comics a la Roy Lichenstein and closeup views of fireworks in a vase and Ball Mason jars and other such things, all painted in a style reminiscent of James Rosenquist.

The writer Barry Hannah said, "The paintings of Tutor are like life after a glaucoma operation. A whole new vision is given to us."

I enjoyed visiting his site. Check it out and see what you think.

Travel show

Around the world in Olympia

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 24, 2008
Nilsen, courtesy of Childhood’s End Gallery

For a good selection of artworks that teeter between “real” art and home décor — i.e., that caters to a mass market without being too banal — go to Childhood’s End Gallery in Olympia. The latest show centers on a travel theme with paintings by Sandy Hurd, serigraphs by Sherry Buckner and photographs by Jim Nilsen.

Hurd’s paintings create a floating tableau against one wall of the gallery. At one end stands a young boy, a figure cut out of Masonite and painted in acrylics in a Pop Art style. Spread out across the rest of the wall as if flung through the air are paintings of trucks, cars, bicycles, tricycles, buildings, and houses — all in the same cut-out Pop style. The individual pieces are relatively realistic, but painted in flat, primary colors so that the entire wall takes on the appearance of a child’s room. The trucks, cars and airplanes look like toys. It is very playful and colorful. Viewed as a unified whole, I can easily envision it as a wonderfully decorated wall in a child’s room, but the individual pieces do not stand alone as art. I can imagine purchasing a group of these images, but not a single bike or train.

In a similar fashion, Buckner’s serigraphs might work well as something other than stand-alone works of art. They would make for delightful greeting cards or posters or maybe travel brochures or book covers. I can see one of these images as a cover for a fantasy story set in the desert, a child’s story (both Buckner and Hurd’s works in this show have a strong childlike look).

There are five pictures in the series. I’m not even 100 percent sure what these images represent; I did not read the titles or the artist’s statement. But they appear to be adobe-type huts in the desert or, in a couple, simply free-standing doorways to nothing. They are reduced to the simplest possible images with most details eliminated. There is a building, or part of a building, a horizon, and a deep blue sky. And snow — great big flakes of snow in the desert. Her designs are simple. Everything is centered. The colors are soft and vibrant. These are nice pictures, soothing and colorful. And maybe one of these days I’ll go back and read the artist’s statement to see if she explains why she’s pictured snow in the desert.

Finally, there are two groups of photographs by Jim Nilsen. These are simply amazing photographs. They look like paintings. The designs are strong; the colors are rich, and the textures look like brushstrokes or, in one instance, pastels. You have to study them very closely to see that the textures are on the objects photographed and not on the surface of the image.

On one wall Nilsen has a series of photographs of boats, a picture of a winding road in Tuscany, and a close-up of a hand-thrown, brown ceramic bowl against what appears to be a dirt wall. This one is all about textures, subtle color changes and strong shadows. The one of the road in Tuscany looks like a pastel, and the boat pictures look as if the “paint” were laid on with thick impasto strokes.

On a separate panel is a group of six very small photographs of buildings in different parts of the world — Italy, France and Mexico. Most of them focus on a brightly colored wall with a single door or window. The colors here are what simply knock you out. One in particular that stood out to me was a large expanse of acid yellow-green wall with one tiny window with a bright blue frame. Another pictures two adjacent walls, one bright yellow and the other intense blue. And yet another had a fiery orange wall. Nilsen did not create these colors and designs; he found them, selected them, and framed them in his viewfinder. If the art of painting is about creating beauty, the art of photography is about finding it, and Jim Nilsen obviously has one hell of an eye.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 18, 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia, 360.943.3724]

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sordid Lives is coming

Del Shores' film "Sordid Lives" has got to be the greatest gay trailer trash movie of all time -- well OK, maybe it's the only gay trailer trash movie of all time. It's one of only three DVDs I liked enough to actually pay for.

Shores is also the writer of the play "Southern Baptist Sissies," which was performed at South Puget Sound Community College at couple of years ago. Now the TV series based on the movie with many of the original cast members is coming to Logo. See The News Tribune article linked below for more information.

Small-town tale ‘Sordid Lives’ comes to TV
NEW YORK – On “Sordid Lives: The Series,” the colorful folk in a certain Texas town are back in action after having won an avid following with the 1996 play and 2000 movie of the same name.


Friday, July 18, 2008

It may be predictable, but ‘Disney’ is a lot of fun

Disney's High School Musical at Encore! Theater

Published in The News Tribune, July 18, 2008

Encore! Theater’s outdoor summer shows kicked off with the vastly popular “Disney’s High School Musical” at the large outdoor stage behind Impact Church International in Gig Harbor.

The Disney films (three and counting with a fourth due in the fall) and their stage-show spinoffs (two and counting) have been phenomenally successful. And no wonder, it strikes all the chords: romance, triumph over diversity, heroes who go against the status quo (but just a little), and all with upbeat music and dance.

Of course it is terribly clichéd, with the handsome sports hero who falls for the shy and brainy girl, the typical high school cliques, and the snobby rich girl everyone loves to hate. So what if it’s yet another sophomoric knockoff of “Romeo and Juliet”? It’s a whole lot of fun, and the kids in the cast do a terrific job.

One of the grand things about “High School Musical” is that it is precisely what the title implies: a high school musical. Except for the two adult actors in the role of teachers, all of the cast are students.

So the musical is quite naturally brimming with the incredible youthful energy that has made it so popular, although the night I saw it they were sometimes slow to tap into that energy. A couple of the early ensemble tunes lacked a certain zip, but by the second act they were rocking out with abandon.

The story line is pretty simple. Troy Bolton (Grant Troyer) is the star basketball player for the East High Wildcats. Gabriella is a shy math wiz who is new to the school (played on alternating performances by Brynne Geiszler and Samantha Lobberegt, with Geiszler the night I saw it). They had briefly met at a ski lodge over Christmas break, sang karaoke together at an event there and then lost track of each other. Gabriella transfers to East High, and they discover each other again. Reluctantly, they audition for the leads in a new musical written by fellow student Kelsi, called “Juliet and Romeo” – how clever! Kelsi is played on alternating evenings by Michelle DeShon and Maddie Larson. DeShon did an excellent job of portraying the shy and nerdy composer on the night I saw the show.

Kelsi recognizes that Troy and Gabriella are more suitable to the lead roles than are the brother and sister who have traditionally had the leads in all the school’s musicals, Ryan (Bryan Gula) and Sharpay (alternating between Faith Higgins and Megan McCormick, with McCormick the night I attended.) Sharpay plots to keep Troy and Gabriella out of the play. It’s no surprise that in the end the heroes get the leading roles and, of course, Troy scores the winning shot in the championship game. Even Sharpay turns out to have redeeming qualities in the end.

All of the principal actors are outstanding.

I first saw Grant Troyer in “The Secret Garden” when he was 12 and again in “Pinocchio” when he was 13. I thought he was one of the best child actors I had ever seen. Then he took on his first adolescent role in the terrific punk musical “Angry Housewives,” and now, at 15, he shines in his first leading role. He exudes confidence on stage, and he has a great voice. And by the way, he was moved up to the leading role after both of the two older actors originally cast as Troy had to drop out.

Geiszler plays Gabriella with restraint. Of all the actors on stage (there are 40 in all), Geiszler is the one who seems most natural. She simply is the shy girl who sings beautifully. Her duets with Troyer on romantic ballads are highlights of the show.

When Troyer was moved up to fill the leading role, Gula took over the role of Ryan, Sharpay’s sweet and comical twin brother. Gula is tall and thin, and he dances terrifically on long, rubbery legs. I don’t know what role he was slated for before he was switched to this one, but he seems to have been born to play this character.

The bad guy or girl is nearly always the juiciest role in any play, and this one is no exception. Sharpay gets all the best comic lines. Who else but a villain gets to say things like “I was named after a show dog” or “I’d rather suck mucous from a dog’s nostrils” or get to tell a drama teacher “I didn’t lie; I improvised.” McCormick portrays her as a beautifully vicious snob. Some of the more entertaining moments in the play are the audition duets with Sharpay and Ryan.

Another notable performance is turned in by Phillip Olson as Jack Scott, the wacky kid who does all the school announcements.

Sitting outside to watch a musical on a warm summer night is a treat. It’s like going on a big family picnic. But there are distractions such as wind in the microphones and sometimes airplanes flying over. But you just have to put up with these distractions and enjoy it for what it is. Be sure to bring lawn chairs or blankets and mosquito repellent. Snacks and drinks are sold, or you can bring your own.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another juried show

Sixth annual juried art exhibit at TCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 17, 2008
Pictured: "For the Old Men," painting by Tracy Heron-Moore and "Not Eating," acrylic and charcoal by Marilyn Bedford. Photos courtesy The Gallery at Tacoma Community College.

All juried shows are alike: a few outstanding artworks, a whole bunch of so-so stuff, and a few really bad pieces. The sixth annual juried art exhibit at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College is no exception.

I’ll talk about the good stuff.

Ron Hinson’s untitled painted construction does not stand out in his larger body of work, but it certainly stands out here. Typical of Hinson, the piece balances disparate elements in ways that would never work at the hands of a lesser artist. Odd shapes are stuck together and painted with a delicate blend of intense and dull colors with — dangling by a thread at the bottom, something that has become a Hinson trademark — a glob of dried paint scraped off his palate.

Also outstanding are two abstract paintings by Tracy Heron-Moore. The best of these is For the Old Man, a classical design of gray bars in a grid pattern over a white background interwoven with a couple of delicate pink line drawings and held on the surface with transparencies and overlapping forms. This piece is understated and powerful.

Sandra M. Farmer has two painted stoneware figures in the show. One is brown in color and depicts what looks to be a naked African woman squatting down in a field of tiny ceramic pots. The other is a seated white woman with dark hair. Both are thin almost to the point of emaciation. The seated woman in particular is startling in her nakedness (think back two weeks to my review of Paul Uhl’s Naked Tacoma for the difference between nudity and nakedness).

Marsha Glazière’s Freeway Exit is an abstract painting with collage depicting rushing traffic on an exit ramp. There are few visual clues to the subject, which I probably wouldn’t have recognized without the title, but having been given that hint, the blur of speeding traffic was obvious. Glazière does a nice job of integrating all kinds of collage elements from cardboard and wood to computer circuit boards. The overall look is harsh. To many viewers it may be a discomforting painting, but I like it.

Bill Colby’s woodcut, Marker One, is atmospheric and iconic. Three large poles stand in a teepee-like tripod in a field with misty clouds at their tip and water or mist at their feet. This is a nice piece that evokes a feeling of both comfort and mystery.

Also outstanding is one of two acrylic paintings of dogs by Marilyn Bedford. Actually they’re both well executed, but one is fairly typical while the other, Not Eating, is unique in its use of blank space and its combination of paint and charcoal. The dog is painted in broad planes of loose strokes and stands far to the right. To the left is a vast expanse of white space with a food dish drawn in looping charcoal lines and above it the printed title done with the same kind of charcoal line and reverberating pentimenti.

There are also some nice ceramic pieces by Gail E. Kelly and Melissa Balch and one turned wood piece by R.R. Taylor. That’s about it for the good stuff. There’s very little in the show that’s really bad, but there’s a lot that is mediocre — meaning competently done but with nothing of any real interest either by way of content or form. So-so stuff we’ve all seen before. But then, as I said in my opening line, that’s what juried shows are always like.

[Tacoma Community College, Sixth Annual Juried Art Exhibition, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Aug. 15, 6501 S. 19th St., Building 5A, Tacoma, 253.460.4306]

Friday, July 11, 2008

TMP program tells story behind the show

Published in The News Tribune, July 11, 2008

On the Sunday before the opening of each new show at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, the theater offers an entertaining and informative preview event called Behind the Curtain. Managing artistic director Jon Douglas Rake describes Behind the Curtain as “a very informal presentation with the audience being able to ask questions about the production or anything they want to know about TMP.”

I asked a couple of people who have long been associated with TMP about these events. Kat Dollarhide said, “People seem to really enjoy them, and participation seems to be growing as more and more people become aware of them. Jon gives a brief history of the show, including often some amusing trivia of which the average theatergoer would be unaware,” she said. “He usually shows examples of costuming – if the show calls for something unique. If the lighting is particularly complex, he goes into detail regarding what might be needed. Often our costumer and lighting director are in attendance, and expand further on what Jon has presented.

“If the show is a difficult one to mount, he describes directorial challenges, and gives the audience an idea of how (he) overcomes such obstacles,” Dollarhide said.

Lighting designer John Chenault explains and demonstrates the lighting for the upcoming show, and musical director Jeff Stvrtecky goes into detail about musical styles by demonstrating on the keyboard. Then cast members perform selected songs from the production, and finally the audience is offered the opportunity to ask questions of both the directors and the cast.

“A favorite question is always what each actor does to earn a living,” Dollarhide said.

“I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of the Behind the Curtain events and think that they are a wonderful benefit to the community,” actor Chris Serface said. “It’s been amazing watching the attendance grow and the variety of patrons that attend it. The first one that I took part in was lightly attended by more of an ‘older’ crowd. As the years have gone by, the attendance has grown tremendously.

“What has been the most memorable for me is the Behind the Curtain for ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” Serface added. “As you can expect with that show, a large number of the patrons were youth and their parents. For many of them it was a first time experience at a theater, and they were full of questions for the cast about what it’s like to be on stage and what we do in real life. For that show in particular, they were allowed to come up on stage and see the set up close along with some of our costumes. You could see the awe in the eyes of the kids and an interest in theater that wasn’t there before.”

This week I attended the Behind the Curtain for “Grease.” It was a wonderfully entertaining event. Rake began the presentation by giving a brief history of the play, which was written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey as a parody of early 1950s rock ’n’ roll with characters based on their high school chums. It opened in a tiny community theater in a barn near Chicago and eventually went to Broadway where it ran for 3,381 performances. It was nominated for seven Tony Awards but did not win any.

Rake mentioned a few of the many stars who have appeared in “Grease,” from John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John to former Monkees Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones.

He talked a lot about trivia, slang and pop culture of the time in which the play is set, 1959, which he said he had to teach the cast because none of them were alive in 1959. One other interesting sidebar he tossed out was that, once when he was touring South America, he kept hearing talk about a play called “Vasolina” and finally figured out that was what they were calling “Grease.”

Stvrtecky gave an entertaining demonstration of the music, showing how the songs (and nearly all rock ’n’ roll songs of the time) were all based on the same four-chord progression with a strong bass line and simple harmonies.

Finally, a dozen of the 32 cast members entertained the audience with seven songs from the show, and then they took questions from the audience. Questions ranged from how much did the rights to the play cost (a whopping $17,000) to the expected “What do you do in real life?” Of the dozen performing Sunday night, two are theater professionals and many are students – some of theater and some of other things such as psychology, education or nursing. One works in a taco shop, another drives a beverage cart, and one is a mortgage loan officer at a local bank.

Overall, I was impressed with the event, and I would definitely recommend attending a Behind the Curtain event before the next Tacoma Musical Playhouse production. And based on what I saw and heard Sunday night, I also highly recommend “Grease.”

INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Local icons at Two Vaults Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jul7 10, 2008

"Dale" by Lynn DiNino
"War Creates Peace (like hate creates love)" by R. Mutt
"Our Lady of Perpetual Transit" by Kimberly Sparks-Wilmer
Photos courtesy Two Vaults Gallery

The show is called ICONcepts, but it could just as well be called the beatification of Dale Chihuly and Lynn Di Nino.

The term “icon” is one of those words the meaning of which has been so expanded through common usage and misusage that it can mean almost anything, from Hannah Montana to Jimi Hendrix to the Coca-Cola logo. defines icon as “a representation of some sacred personage, as Christ or a saint or angel, painted usually on a wood surface and venerated itself as sacred.”

The curators of this show apparently gave the artists a lot of leeway. Most chose to iconize the Tacoma arts scene. As I implied in the opening paragraph, a lot of these artists chose to make living saints of Di Nino and Chihuly, the former because she has done so much to enliven the Tacoma arts scene and the latter because he has focused the world’s attention on Tacoma and the Pacific Northwest.

And it doesn’t hurt that portraits of Di Nino and Chihuly are so easy to do. A shock of orange hair for one and an eye patch for the other are all that’s needed to make either immediately recognizable.

There are 50 icons in the show by 38 different artists. They are crowded into a couple of small spaces in Two Vaults Gallery. Some of the icons are serious, but most are humorous; a number are by professional artists (and it shows), and a few are by amateurs (and it shows). In purely aesthetic terms, there’s not much good art here. But there are a lot of good ideas and a lot of self-deprecating pokes in the eye of Tacoma art.
A few examples:

St. Dale by Don Mayhre is a collage or Photoshop portrait of Chihuly with one of his trademark (or iconic) glass balls with tendrils shown behind his head. It’s orange. It looks like a halo. It also looks like Di Nino’s hair — intentionally or not.

Speaking of Di Nino’s hair, one of the funnier tributes to her is Queen of Arts (get the pun?) by Elayn Vogel. This is a portrait of Di Nino with metal scrubbers for hair. She’s wearing a crown and a monkey sits on her head in recognition of the 100th Monkey parties, which were her creation.

Di Nino herself iconizes Chihuly in her papier-mâché portrait of the glass artist with some of his works, including the glass flowers in the window at Union Station.

Photographer Chip van Gilder iconizes another Tacoma arts supporter, sweet pea from King’s Books, with a simple photograph. This picture demonstrates how easy it is to make a typical portrait photo into an icon by putting it in a deep frame.

One work I like a lot is Perpetual Transit by Kimberly Sparks-Wilmer, a homage to Pierce Transit and the people who take the bus. A saintly Madonna in the center cuddles a little bus as if it were a baby. Transit tickets flare out behind her head like a halo. Surrounding her are street people, including mothers with children, a man with a walker and a woman in a wheelchair. These are all delicate line drawings cut from a magazine or catalog and pasted over a street map. I heard from Di Nino that Sparks-Wilmer is her cousin, who “is not an artist.” You surely can’t tell it from looking at this work.

Another favorite is War Makes Peace (like hate creates love) by R. Mutt (the fictitious name Marcel Duchamp gave to the “creator” of his famous Fountain). This is an irony-filled tribute to soldiers and the military filled with military images and a crucifix. I will not attempt to interpret it here, but I encourage readers to see it and make your own judgment.

[Two Vaults Gallery, ICONcepts, through Sept. 12, 602 South Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.759.6233]

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When the elastic goes

The elastic is gone from by Sylvester and Tweety Bird pajamas. Yes, I have Sylvester and Tweety Bird pajamas. They're shorts, and they're green. They're still OK to sleep in, but if I try to walk around in them, they don't stay up. They slip down, down, down. That doesn't bother me too much. What bothers me is wondering where the elastic goes when it goes. Just wondering.

Monday, July 7, 2008

200 Plays

The critic critiques himself

I’m constantly surprised that nobody ever questions my qualifications as a theater critic. So what are those qualifications? I can write. That’s about it.

I was working a temporary job as an assistant features editor at The News Tribune when I was asked to write the community theater column. My editors knew I could write because I had written feature articles and art reviews and book reviews. But never theater reviews.

Did I have any previous theater experience? Hardly.

In the first grade I played one of the seven dwarfs in “Snow White,” and sometime during elementary school my twin brother and I did a silly skit on stage singing “Brothers,” an adaptation of the old Rosemary Clooney hit “Sisters” from “White Christmas.” We were terrible singers, but we were cute.

In high school I joined the drama club because everybody had to be in some club and I had friends in that one. I was just in the club; I never took part in any dramatic production in any way. But years later when I got my first teaching job in a tiny town in Missouri, I listed the drama club on my resume, which was good enough for them to ask me to direct the school play. They offered me an extra $200, so I took it. The play that was handed to me was a horribly stupid comedy about a bunch of boys dressing as girls in order to crash a girls’ spend the night party. During rehearsals the kids started adlibbing like crazy, and a lot of their adlibs were funnier than anything in the script, so we kept them in, and the play was a big hit — mainly because as a director I pretty much let the cast do whatever the hell they wanted to do.

In New York in 1973-74 I had a good friend who worked in theater and I went to a lot of off-off Broadway shows with him, and a few cast parties, and even once went to dinner with a theater critic at the New York Times whose name I can’t remember. It was all fun, but I don’t think I learned anything about theater other than that actors surely know how to have a good time.

Finally, if I ever learned anything about theater before taking this job, it was what I picked up from watching and listening to my son. He started acting when he was 9 years old, and Gabi and I, of course, went to all of his plays — at least until he went off to college, and even a few at Western Washington University where he majored in acting. Now he works as a stagehand at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, and since getting this gig I’ve started quizzing him a lot on technical stuff.

Truth be told, I was not at all qualified for this job when it fell in my lap. But I’ve learned a lot on the job from talking to directors and actors and from reviewing approximately 200 plays over the past four years. And by golly I believe I’m beginning to get the hang of it.

Friday, July 4, 2008

‘Swinging on a Star’ falls short in 21st century

Published in The News Tribune, July 4, 2008

The season finale at Paradise Theatre in Gig Harbor is “Swinging on a Star,” a musical tribute to Johnny Burke. Burke was one of America’s favorite songwriters beginning in the 1920s and going well into the 1950s. Most famous, perhaps, for his collaboration with Jimmy Van Heusen and for writing the songs for the many Bing Crosby and Bob Hope “Road” pictures, Burke is known for such songs as “Pennies from Heaven,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” and “Misty” – as well as for silly novelty songs the likes of “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” and the old Fats Waller hit “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew.”

This show runs well over two hours. I really enjoyed 20 to 30 minutes of it, but the rest I found to be either too maudlin or too silly. Burke wrote some wonderful songs, but a lot of what may have been considered terrific in the first half of the 20th century has since lost its appeal. Some of his more romantic numbers are overly sentimental, and the skits these songs are woven around are like corny bits from 1950s television variety shows. “Don’t Let That Moon Get Away,” the song that opens Act Two, for instance, features some really bad dancing – intentionally bad, I might add, with a lot of stumbling and falling down. It wasn’t funny; it was juvenile. Similarly, there was a long scene with parodies of Crosby and Hope movies with six songs and a reprise of the first one that was like a “Saturday Night Live” skit gone bad.

On the upside, the cast is good overall and a couple of them, Krista Curry and Carrie Nelson, are outstanding in certain numbers. But Adam Randolph, whom I have thoroughly enjoyed in performances at Encore! Theatre and Capital Playhouse, was not at his best opening night. Although his singing was nice, his acting was stiff and histrionic. It was as if he were doing a parody of a bad ham actor, and perhaps he was in the “Road” movie skits, but if that was the case it didn’t work in other numbers.

The show is cleverly arranged to represent different ages of Johnny Burke music. The first scene is in a 1920s speakeasy. It opens with Nelson in a sexy dress doing a Mae West-type come-on to “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew” followed by Randolph and K. James Koop mimicking trumpet players in the upbeat and jazzy “Chicago Style,” while Curry and Stacee Cramer tap dance in hot red flapper dresses. (Throughout the show these two hoofers show off some impressive tap skills, as does Koop on a couple of songs.)

Overall, this 1920s scene lacks verve and excitement. Things pick up in the next scene, a Depression-era street scene, when George Ngo solos on one of Burke’s most beloved tunes, “Pennies from Heaven.” Ngo sings it in a subdued manner and with heartfelt expression. This may be the best song in the show.

Things pick up even more in the next two acts, which are similar. The third act is presented in the form of a 1940s radio show and is very similar in style and humor to the stage play “1940s Radio Hour,” which, coincidentally, both Randolph and Nelson have appeared in. And the third act is based on a USO show during World War II. These acts are more lighthearted and have a nostalgic pull that the first two acts lack, perhaps because few people today remember the 1920s and ’30s but many have fond memories of the ’40s. One of the hottest numbers in the show comes in the USO portion when Nelson solos on the sultry blues “There’s Always the Blues.” Then Randolph (as a soldier) pops out of the audience to sing a very sweet rendition of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and the whole cast swings on the title tune, “Swinging on a Star.”

Act Two starts with a lush ballroom scene and the aforementioned fall-down dancing, followed by the “Road” film scenes and a swank supper club in the ’50s.

Sets and lighting are minimal and sufficiently set the various scenes. Likewise the costumes go a long way toward setting the scenes. The best touch in costuming can be seen in the numerous wigs the women wear, which really nail some of the period styles. Betty Boyd (props) and Vicki Richards (director and costume design) deserve credit for creating the various period looks.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Paradise Theatre, 9911 Burnham Drive N.W., Gig Harbor

TICKETS: $20 adults, $17 seniors, $10 students 25 and younger, group discounts

INFORMATION: 253-851-7529,

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lily Kin and Gene Phillips invade Gallery Madera

by Bilge Rat Robby and Alec Clayton published in the Weekly Volcano, July 3, 2008

Note: in celebration of Tall Ships Tacoma, all articles in this week's Volcano were written as if by pirates.

pictured: painting from the Garden Paintings series by Lily Kin, courtesy Gallery Madera

I was standing by the pool outside the Museum of Glass Thursday noon, enjoying the new sculptural installation, Mirrored Murrelets by Joseph Gregory Rossano, when a pair of pirates burst out of the pool like breaching whales and trussed me up with rope so old it was sprouting barnacles.

“Measure the landlubber for his chains!” shouted Bilge Rat Robby to One Eye Elmer, and they keelhauled me between a pair of petards and hauled me to Gallery Madera to see the latest show by Lily Kin. They thought forcing me to look at art would be torture, like when they pirated Malcolm McDowell away in A Clockwork Orange and forced him to watch porn while listening to Beethoven. Little did the scallywags know I had seen Kin’s previous show of abstract paintings and was sufficiently impressed that I wanted to see more.

(Bilge Rat Robby butts in ... )

Arrr! Belay that crap. This show is called From the Garden, and it’s all frilly girlie stuff. Flowers and rainbows. Arrr! But at least there’s a snake or two in the garden.

Kin has an interesting way of combining two different types of painting. She paints concentric circles and rainbows in pastel pinks and yellows and blues and flowers and leafs in yellow and a sickly yellow-green, all of which are kind of sloppily painted in flat tones with no modulation or transparencies. And she paints delicately modulated patterns of overlapping floral shapes that in places look like stencils and involve a lot of transparent areas. I don’t like the stuff painted with flat colors. They are sloppily done, and not in a good way. But avast, me hearties, I really like her sketchy abstract patterns with all the overlapping. These are like an extension of her earlier paintings. Some of these are graphite, acrylic and watercolor on paper, and they are particularly delicate with a deft touch, especially in the drawn graphite contours.

In some of her larger, multi-panel paintings, Kin combines the two styles. Her three largest paintings each have three panels. On each end of these paintings there are canvases that are relatively flat against the wall painted with repetitive floral patterns and the overlapping stencil look, and in the center of each is a canvas that extends farther from the wall and is painted in the flat style. Two of these, untitled Garden Painting II and Scene from the Garden I, are fairly successful paintings; the third, Garden Painting V, is not.

Garden Painting V is minimalist in style. The center panel is a target, and the outer panels are fluffy blue clouds on a white sky. Any painting that is this sparse needs to have more fascinating shapes or color combinations. This one has neither. The outer panels of untitled Garden Painting II are excellent by themselves. They are densely patterned with an intriguing surface quality and a terrific reversal of positive and negative shapes (pink and white flowers that visually operate as open space). But the central target painting is not very good. The third of these paintings, Scene from the garden I (which judging from the title must actually be the first), is by far the best. This is a beautiful painting that combines the opposing styles successfully.

Also showing are ceramic sculptures by Gene Phillips. He’s showing a small selection of stoneware pots with embedded surface designs. A couple of his pieces look like they are based on human forms — two in particular very obviously so. They are Torso, a green vessel with a rounded shape based on a woman’s hips and very short legs, and Kimono, a vessel obviously shaped like what it’s named after. All of Phillips’ pots are put together with flat slabs of clay and are each about two inches thick and glazed in solid colors, mostly blue and green.
The best thing about these pots is their form. They remind me somewhat of Brancusi and somewhat of Al Held. The surface decoration is superfluous and detracts from the form.

[Gallery Madera, From the Garden, through Aug. 2, 2210 Court A, Tacoma, 253.572.1218,