Friday, March 27, 2009

Playhouse offers stellar ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Published in The News Tribune, March 27, 2009

The “Superstar” cast includes, clockwise from left, Zach Busto, Bruce Haasi, Clair Fleckenstein, Jaime Cooper and Sara Flotree. Photo by Glenn Raiha

The day after “Jesus Christ Superstar” opened at Capital Playhouse the theater announced that it was adding four performances, “with the potential for three more,” including two on Easter Sunday.

In fact, they’ve added seven more shows. The additions were due to a packed house opening night and a preview performance with “a line out the door and down the block,” according to marketing director Stephanie Nace.

It’s an immensely popular show, and even with the added performances I highly recommend getting tickets as early as possible before they’re sold out.

From sets, lighting and costumes to choreography, directing, acting, music, dancing and many intangibles, there are so many things that go into making a show successful, and seldom if ever have I seen so many of these things mesh so perfectly. Capital Playhouse’s performance of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera is simply stupendous.

For starters, there’s Jamie Cooper as Jesus. An Olympia native, Cooper is a professional actor living and working in New York. He has a plaintive voice that can go from a mellow whisper to spine-tingling high notes, and his body language, most dramatically in the interrogation and crucifixion scenes, says more than his words (there are no spoken words, just singing).

As marvelous as Cooper is, however, the true standout performances in this show belong to Bruce Haasl as Judas Iscariot and Adam Randolph as Pontius Pilate – as is so often true, the bad guys are the juiciest roles.

The show opens with a brilliant overture by the 16-person orchestra and a dramatically lighted dance number that is burst wide open when Judas appears against a stark, industrial background to scream the opening song, “Heaven on Their Minds.” Dressed in contemporary layered rags, with long braided hair and leaping about the gritty set (which he designed), Haasl epitomizes the strength, anger and devotion of the conflicted apostle who both loves and hates his Jesus. Near the end of the show when guilt and self-loathing are added to his psychological makeup, an even more conflicted Judas reprises lyrics from the soulful “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” sung earlier by Mary Magdalene (Sara Flotree), and Haasl’s voice breaks while he sings off-key to express his otherwise inexpressible agony. This song alone is worth the price of admission.

So is Pontius Pilate’s solo on “Pilate’s Dream” and his duet with Jesus, “Pilate and Christ.”

Another remarkable performance is turned in by Paul Wright, a senior at Olympia High School, as Caiaphas. Such a deep and authoritative voice from such a young man is amazing. Also, his wisecracks provide what is just about the only comic relief in a play that presses the edge of being overly melodramatic.

There is one other bit of comic relief – an entire scene to be precise. But I will not spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say that it stars the incomparable Josh Anderson as King Herod.

In addition to Wright as Caiaphas, the ensemble is filled with young actors, mostly from Capital Playhouse’s Kids at Play program. Outstanding youth in the cast include Bailey Boyd, Zach Busto, Eddie Carroll, Alayna Deatherage, Claire Fleckenstein, Gabriella Guilfoil, Peter Lindgren, Emily Milburn, Kali Ponzo, Gordon Shaughnessy and Ryan Tunheim. Also in the great ensemble are Anand Maliakal and Christopher F. Schiel.

Deserving of particular notice are: Jeff Kingsbury, director; Bruce Haasl, set designer; Matt Lawrence, lighting (with the help of some awesome new lighting equipment); Troy Arnold Fisher, musical director; Stephen Nachamie, choreography; and Tom C. Hudson, costume design.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 12, with added Saturday matinees April 4 and 11 and added Sunday performance at 7 p.m. April 12

WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 East Fourth Ave., Olympia

TICKETS: $29-$35 for adults, $23-$29 for seniors and youth 16 and younger

INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lance Kagey’s visual numerology at Fulcrum

Random calculations

Variation on the Figure 5, letterpress monotype by Lance Kagey
Photo: Courtesy Photo
Variation on the Figure 5, letterpress monotype by Lance Kagey

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 26, 2009

Lance Kagey is fascinated with our society’s obsession with numbers and statistics, stating that (and I paraphrase) if we cannot quantify it statistically, it doesn’t exist.

In an artist’s statement written for his new show, The distance between the calculated and the random at Fulcrum Gallery, Kagey says: “I present the artifacts of … the relationships between number forms as visual elements and their more pragmatic uses. Using antique wood and lead type on a vintage press, I attempt to allow the beauty of geometry to flow out of the juxtaposition of shape and color. I address the analytical with a painterly approach. I strive to experience the dance of the spirit within our contemporary numeric language. Inspired and taunted by a desire to understand the abstractionists like Pollock, Kline and Basquiat. I attempt to unlock the passions hidden in the form. My goal, to appreciate, without over-analyzation, the subtleties between the calculated and the random.”

Put in layman’s terms, Kagey fills sheets of paper with numbers of various colors shapes and sizes that are laid out in patterns, which balance between the calculated and the random. Numbers become abstract visual elements. There may or may not be implied or symbolic meaning to the numbers he uses, but such meanings — if they exist at all — are secondary to the visual relationships between the colors, values, sizes and patterns of the numbers.

Some of the elements common to most of his prints are: repetitive patterns, numbers grouped into bands or squares, multiple layers of numbers in various degrees of opaqueness and transparency, prints that are limited to one or two hues in many different shades.

Titles and wall statements refer often to landscapes and sunsets, and his networks of numbers do tend to congregate into bands that reflect ground and sky. And they have the luminosity of sunsets.

To me, the most fascinating aspect of these prints is their use of layering of semi-transparent forms — most notably light over dark, which lends a particular vibrancy to the works.

“Behind the veil of science and statistics is the bright light of beauty,” Kagey writes, and the bright light of beauty does indeed shine through these works.

A few examples:

The top half of Rothko Sunrise is all red and orange, and its bottom half is deep blue, black, purple and brown, a beautifully contrasting, hot color scheme.

Let X=X is vastly different from all of the other works in the show because it features a
single letter rather than numbers, a giant red X over a field of almost invisible smaller Xs in light green and tan.

White presents a densely layered field of translucent white numbers over layers of red and blue numbers.

These are simple and bold visual statements that recall the earlier Pop Art works of Robert Indiana and the Op Art of Bridget Riley, and one print, Variation on the Figure 5, which pays homage to one of the earliest precursors of Pop Art, Charles Demuth’s Figure 5 in Gold.

An added bonus to this show is that the works are reasonably priced, which explains why nine out of 16 prints in the show had already sold when I visited the gallery last week.

There will be a Fulcrum Social/Artist Talk Sunday, March 29, at 6 p.m.

[Fulcrum Gallery, through April 29, noon to 6 p.m. Friday-Sunday, and by appointment, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

Friday, March 20, 2009

TMP stages fabulous ‘Footloose’ musical

Published in The News Tribune, March 20, 2009
Pictured: Matt Posner as Ren and the ensemble cast
Photos by Kat Dollarhide

The Tacoma Musical Playhouse production of “Footloose” is a rousing musical filled with upbeat music and high-energy dancing.

The musical by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, with music by Tom Snow, was adapted for the stage from their hit movie of 1984. The TMP production, starring Matt Posner and Elise Campello, features a cast of 30 singers and dancers in a slew of joyful dance numbers choreographed by Jon Douglas Rake.

Posner plays Ren, a misunderstood and rebellious teenager, and Campello plays Ariel, the preacher’s daughter who is even more rebellious. I can’t help but think of them as a cross between James Dean and Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without a Cause” and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in “Grease.”

Ren’s father has deserted his family, and Ren and his mother (Ashley Middleton) move from Chicago to the small town of Beaumont (presumably Texas based on the cowboy hats and accents but presented as a much smaller town). Everybody goes to the same church, and the autocratic preacher practically runs the whole town. In Beaumont, Ren clashes with small-town morality and close-minded citizens and is cast in the role of the rebel despite well-meaning attempts to fit in.

The story is schmaltzy and predictable but forgivably so as the audience is drawn in to root for Ren and Ariel.

Posner turns in yet another outstanding job of acting, singing and dancing. He throws himself wholeheartedly into every song, whether out front in the lead or blending into the ensemble cast. His energy level is through the roof. He sets the blistering pace in the big ensemble numbers, and his love ballad with Campello, “Almost Paradise,” is heart-rending.

Showing great range as an actor, Campello goes from sexy and brash to tender and vulnerable in the bat of an eye. She sets the tone for Ariel when, once out of her parent’s sight, she slips out of her modest clothes to reveal tight shorts and an exposed midriff and she then vamps wildly to “The Girl Gets Around.”

Ariel’s best buddies at school form a terrific trio of singers’ who are more than backup as each of them gets to take the lead on various songs. They are Antonia Darlene as Rusty, Jenny McMurry as Wendy Jo and April Villanueva as Urleen. All three of these women stand out but none more so than Darlene, who has a bit more of a role than the other two and a strong, gospel-inspired voice.

Ariel, Rusty, Wendy Jo and Urleen express their romantic hopes in the song “Holding Out for a Hero” while four guys parody the Village People with a rousing stomp.

In a delightful side story, Rusty nurses a lifelong love for Willard (Nick Holub) who is sweet and goofy and not exactly the brightest kid in town. Rusty and Willard provide a constant stream of much-needed comic relief. The comical highlight of the play comes when everyone tries to teach Willard how to dance to the rousing tune “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” belted out with gusto by Rusty.

Every play needs its bad guy, and while you would expect that to be the young tough in a leather jacket and sneer (Steve Barnett), the real bad guy in this one is Ariel’s preacher dad, played by Gregory Conn, who commands the stage in every scene he’s in. The Rev. Shaw Moore is a complex character whose authoritarian ways are based on the noblest of intentions, his love for and protection of his daughter – plus a simmering and very personal hurt. Conn brings this character to life as a bad guy the audience can identify with and have sympathy for. Plus, he sings beautifully. His duet with his wife, Vi (Heather Malroy) is the second of two breathtaking love ballads in this play.

The simple set designed by Dori Conklin is highly effective, consisting mostly of flat plaid backdrops, another flat backdrop that looked from my seat in the audience to be a pointillist painting of a rose garden and simple roll-out sets for Rev. Moore’s church and the Moore home. The scene changes are accomplished almost seamlessly with little distraction.

Also outstanding are John Chenault’s lighting and the orchestra conducted by musical director Jeff Stvrtecky.

“Footloose” is a joyful experience.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 5
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
TICKETS: $25 adults, $23 students/military, $18 children 12 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Breast ahoy

The Feminist Art Exhibition at Tacoma Community College

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 19, 2009

Pictured: Portrait of Lee Krasner, oil painting by CJ Swanson.

The Feminist Art Exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College has everything you could ask of a feminist art show: references to feminist leaders from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the Guerilla Girls to Judy Chicago; multi-layered commentary on breasts, fashion and gender roles; and media ranging from painting and sculpture to video.

Norma Fried’s "Think Pink" would be delightfully playful if her subject matter were not so deadly serious. Her mixed-media work is a shadow box filled with cute little objects (mostly pink) that reference breast cancer.

Displayed next to "Think Pink" is one of the more provocative works in the show, Kim Reidelbach’s "Nutritional Value," four wax sculptures on display shelves in which breasts morph into food and sexy lingerie becomes table clothes. To the left is a beautifully shaped and very naturalistic bust of a woman with a lace bra falling off. The only thing about this figure that is not realistic is the color; it is coal black. Next to it is a flattened, deflated and scarred woman’s chest; then tiny disease-ridden breasts on a dinner plate with broccoli and other food items; and finally no breasts at all, just food — mother’s milk, sexual allure, disease and/or the ravages of age all in one four-part sculpture. This is art with the power to affect the viewer on many levels.

There are many other works in this show that obsess on breasts. Melissa Blach’s "Dress," a lacy paper dress hanging from the ceiling upon which dangle decorative little balls with nipples. Underneath are balloon-like breasts and high heel shoes with breasts. In a wall statement Blach talks about hearing about bra burning before she was old enough to wear one and about how woman’s clothing is often simultaneously concealing and revealing. I think her wall statement is more powerful than her art, which is decorative and playful.

There are also many tributes to pioneering feminists and even historical figures such as Rosa Parks, who is not normally thought of as a feminist but was. Among the more intriguing works are portraits of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera by David N. Goldberg, which are paired with a portrait of Lee Krasner by Goldberg’s wife, CJ Swanson. Here we have a contemporary artist couple paying tribute to earlier artist couples with portraits that while not overtly commenting on the history of women in art cannot help but remind an observant viewer of that history. Frida Kahlo was mentored by Diego Rivera and married him. Throughout her career she was subservient to him; yet now she is more revered than he is. Lee Krasner gave up a promising career as a painter to promote the work of her more famous husband, Jackson Pollock, and was barely recognized as an artist in her own right until long after his death. Coincidentally, both Goldberg and Swanson’s paintings are similar in style. Like Pollock and Krasner, they have influenced one another. And both bring to mind the works of yet another woman artist, Alice Neel, who is famous for her unflinching, warts-and-all portraits of her friends.

The show also features an amazing video by Linda Ford called "Nighthawks." It is based on the famously enigmatic painting of the same name by Edward Hopper, with narration by the novelist Joyce Carol Oates. The Manhattan diner of Hopper’s painting is transformed into a country diner in the snow, and through Oates’ words we listen in on the thoughts of a lonely (animated) man and woman. Just as in the Hopper painting, this film captures the essence of aloneness.

Motherhood is captured in the most iconic of images, but with a twist in this case, in Betty Sapp Ragan’s photo collage "San Francisco Madonna II." Ragan’s collages place contemporary figures within architectural nooks, crannies and frames to create a sense of timelessness. In this picture she depicts a classical Madonna and child but with the twist that the baby Jesus is a girl.

Another traditional religious icon is delivered by Gail Ramsey Wharton in her "Apple from Interior Series," acrylic, collage and charcoal. The subject is Eve eating the apple, the biblical story that has forever cast women in the role of temptresses and the font of all evil, and which demonstrates just how frightened men are of women. Wharton’s Eve is a surrealistic temptress with her oversized head and bright red apple within a black-and-white image. Like Ragan, Wharton’s images achieve universality by combining contemporary and historical images, but in an opposite way: Ragan puts contemporary figures in historical settings and Wharton puts historical figures in contemporary settings.

These are but a handful of the many works in this show, which features the works of 40 artists. Mostly women.

[Tacoma Community College, Feminist Art Exhibition, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through May 8, 6501 South 19th Street, Building 5A, Tacoma]

Depression Art

Local artists and the economy: a mixed bag

cover story in the Weekly Volcano, March 19, 2009

Are artists hard hit by the economic depression? Well, yeah. Maybe. But most artists have been so poor and out of the mainstream for so long that they hardly notice. Galleries too. They may have to make some creative adjustments to weather the hard times, but geez Louise, weathering the hard times has been their modus operandi since the first time an art dealer opened to the public. Let’s face it, it was not easy for Theo van Gogh to sell his brother’s paintings.

complete story at

Saturday, March 14, 2009


If Christina Collins’ adaptation of “Lysistrata” was a project in a college playwriting class and I was her professor, I’d give her an A for audacity. I’d also have to give director Jon Tallman kudos for pure chutzpah. To turn a classical Greek play into a modern sex farce is not an easy thing to do. Mel Brooks could probably do it successfully, but I can’t think of any other modern writer/director who could pull it off, so Collins and Tallman and their cast and crew deserve a lot of credit.

The ancient Greek play by Aristophanes is generally acknowledged as the first instance of a strong female protagonist in Western literature, but as Collin’s says in her director’s notes for the Theater Artists Olympia production at the Midnight Sun, “…the historical context of ‘Lysistrata’ shows it to be somewhat less than the proto-feminist powerhouse it looks like today.”

For those not in the know, “Lysistrata” tells the tale of a band of women who force their husbands to end a war by withholding sexual favors. Peace or no piece. (Was that in the script? I don’t know; the puns flew so fast that I’m sure I missed a few, but it’s certainly typical of the type of lines that kept showing up over and over and over again.)

This play is still provocative and funny. It is anti-war and pro-woman, whether in its classical form or in a modern adaptation. Collins’ adaptation relies heavily on innuendo and word play, and does not shy away from sexual explicitness.

Unfortunately this adaptation comes across a little too much like something written by a talented student who just recently discovered that it is permissible to tell dirty jokes. After about the fortieth erection joke I began to get tired of them, and halfway through the magistrate’s masturbation scene I wanted to shout out, “Enough already. We get it.” Actually, a woman seated behind me did shout out something very much like that.

One of the most inventive aspects of the script is changing the traditional Greek chorus to one couple: Pug Bujeaud as “Old Woman” and Eric Mark as “Old Man.” They are both delightful.

The four women who make up the core of the army of women are also outstanding. They are: Raychel A. Wagner as Lysistrata, Lauren O’Neill as Calonice, Erin Maggie Stroyan as Myrrhine, and Katie Youngers as Lampito. These four characters could easily have been stereotypes, but they come across as distinct individuals, a tribute not only to their acting but to Collins’ writing and Tallman’s direction — which makes up for some of the overworked jokes and the decision to present the magistrate (Erik Cornelius) as an outrageous parody of Groucho Marx.

It is a flawed play that panders a little too much to titillation, but at least it’s got guts.

And I might add that in comparison to plays that make it big on Broadway this is the equivalent of a first out-of-town trial. Major writers and producers will try their plays out in Jersey and Seattle and other places for months or even years, constantly making changes before finally opening in New York. Seen in that light, this is a fabulous play.

[The Midnight Sun, March 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28113 Columbia St. N.W., Olympia, $12 at the door or]


I got this note from Doug Kerr and thought it was worth sharing:

We saw Golda's Balcony at Tacoma Little Theatre last night and encourage you to see it. If you want an encapsulated history of Israel and a look at the forces which helped to form its political position in today's world, you should see this show. Not only was Golda Meir one of the most significant figures in shaping 20th century world history, she was a complex woman who had a great sense of humor which certainly comes out in this one-woman show. The show will make you laugh, weep, and admire. Actress Lynn Geyer literally becomes Golda.

It plays only tonight at 8:00 and Sunday at 2 pm. and tickets are only $15.

There should be plenty of seats available; however, you can reserve them by calling the box office at 272-2281 ext 14 between 3 and 6 pm.


Friday, March 13, 2009

‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ production marvelous

Published in The News Tribune, March 13, 2009
Tim Goebel, standing, plays Mitch Albom, and Tim Hoban plays Morrie Schwartz in “Tuesdays with Morrie.” Photos by Toni Holm

Tim Goebel and Tim Hoban are absolutely convincing as the real-life Mitch Albom and Morrie Schwartz in Albom’s autobiographical “Tuesdays with Morrie” at Olympia Little Theatre.

Morrie was a sociology professor and Mitch’s mentor in college. Sixteen years after graduating and now a sportswriter for The Detroit Free Press, Mitch sees his old mentor on “Nightline” with Ted Koppel. He is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Uncomfortable with expressing his emotions and fearful of how to behave in the presence of a dying friend, yet moved by a sense of duty, Mitch visited his old professor. What began as a courtesy call became an every Tuesday visit, which continued until Schwartz’s death. Albom tape-recorded their conversations, and the tapes became the basis for the book by Albom, which became a made-for-television movie starring Jack Lemon and Hank Azaria and a stage play by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher.

For director Chad Carpenter, this play is a very special project because Carpenter’s father died of ALS in February 2007. “Dad did not live with ALS as long as Morrie, but like Morrie, he continued to teach us lessons about life,” Carpenter wrote for the program director’s notes. “His sense of humor never diminished throughout his process.”

I do not know how much Carpenter may have used his experience with his father to direct Hoban in portraying a man with ALS, but I do know that Hoban is believable in this role. We watch him slowly deteriorate but never lose his courage or his humor, and we watch Goebel portray a man gradually becoming more human.

This is a story that could easily be just another maudlin disease-of-the-week show, but Albom’s writing, Goebel’s and Hoban’s acting and Carpenter’s directing keep it a story filled with heartfelt humor and compassion without the slightest trace of pity or pandering.

Hoban is a veteran of some 30-something years on stage and film, including six years performing as Edgar Allen Poe in the popular salute to Poe written by Bryan Willis, which has played throughout the South Sound region. All of that experience in stagecraft is in evidence in this role as he subsumes his own identity into the character of Morrie Schwartz.

Goebel is a relative newcomer to the stage, having been acting in local productions for about five years. Watching him develop as an actor has been enjoyable. He looked somewhat uncomfortable the first couple of times I saw him onstage; he seemed to mature a good deal in “Don Juan in Chicago” a year ago; and now he has clearly become an accomplished actor. It might also be noted that Goebel discloses in the play’s program notes that he has multiple sclerosis. “I went through a lot of the same stages that Morrie does when he is diagnosed with ALS,” Goebel wrote. He also noted that, although MS is not fatal, it is “just as potentially debilitating as ALS.”

The play is set in Morrie’s living room in Waltham, Mass. Designed by Tim Samland with lighting by Michael Christopher, the ingenious but minimalist set is highly theatrical, warm and inviting. The few set changes are choreographed almost as a between-set dance number starring two stagehands listed in the program as Tech 1 (Alison “Fab” Riffer) and Tech 2 (Felicia Durand). In a very unusual move, Riffer and Durand are given bows at the end of the show. I don’t know if their movements were actually choreographed or not, but Morrie’s engaging little dance number in the opening scene was, and credit for that must go to choreographer Ingrid Pharris.

The show is 90 minutes long and is presented without an intermission. The 90 minutes fly by.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:55 p.m. Sundays through March 28
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Co., 1404 Harrison Ave., Olympia; 360-943-7500 or online at
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Young and old

Two shows represent generational divides

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 12, 2009
Pictured, top: "Skagit," bottom "Paved" oil on canvas by William Turner

How different can you get? William Turner — showing at Handforth Gallery, Tacoma Public Library — is old school modernist with roots in the heart of a strong Pacific Northwest painting tradition (he studied with the great Michael Spafford and Alden Mason). Eli Hansen and Joey Piecuch at The Helm epitomize the young and daring new face of art. These two shows may well represent the best in both the older and the newer generations of contemporary art. The old masters and the young upstarts.

Jen Graves writing in The Stranger said the Hansen and Piecuch exhibition is a “funny and fabulous show that includes bits of brick from Ted Bundy’s house” and something about making moonshine right in the gallery. How can you beat that? I haven’t seen this show yet, but I take Jen Graves at her word because she was cool enough to wear black-rim glasses years before they became popular. If you haven’t seen this show you might be missing something grand.

Speaking of grand, Turner’s landscapes from the “Valley” series are grand visions of cultivated land as seen from an aerial viewpoint; although they are literally viewed as seen from a passing car on the freeway. Turner says the series was originally inspired by “a little remnant of farmland I studied every evening on my slow commutes home to Tacoma from my Studio in Seattle” but were painted “in my Laguna Beach studio during our year and a half in Southern California.”

Turner is a Tacoma native and a painter whose work is well known in Western Washington (he’s shown extensively in Seattle, most notably at Foster White Gallery). Whether his subject matter is landscape or the human figure or interior scenes, his paintings are nearly always semi-abstract works that, while inspired by nature, are mostly investigations into the visual relationships between colors and shapes on a flat surface. The paintings show influences from Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud, two of the America’s greatest post-abstract expressionist painters.

Turner’s paintings are like jazz improvisations composed of a patchwork of contrasting colors.

The show consists of 17 paintings, most of which are three-by-four feet in size. The colors are vibrantly muted with deep purples, blues, burnt oranges and a sandy yellow tone bushed in with soft edges. Space is mostly up-tilted in a tradition going back to Matisse and Cezanne.

Among the best paintings in this show are the ones in which perspective is minimized and flowers, fields, hills, streams and sky all become patches of color, such as in "Paved" and "Skagit." Note how in each of these the areas toward the top of the canvas are lighter colors, which pull them forward. Less successful are paintings in which a winding road recedes in linear perspective.

[Handforth Gallery, The Valley Series, William Turner, through April 11, Tacoma Public Library 1102 Tacoma Avenue South, Tacoma]

[The Helm, Truths We Forgot To Lie About, Eli Hansen and Joey Piecuch, through March 15, 760 Broadway, Tacoma]

Friday, March 6, 2009

Crucifer of Blood

Published in The News Tribune, march 6, 2009
Pictured: L to R Dean Wilson, David Roby and Mark Waldstein as soldiers of the Raj in India
Helen Harvester as Irene, Laurence Hughes as Sherlock Holmes
Photos by Michelle Smith Lewis

From the opening curtain it is immediately clear that the Sherlock Holmes mystery, “Crucifer of Blood” at Centerstage is going to be a highly stylized melodrama, which will probably be applauded by fans of the genre but problematic to many modern theatergoers who are not particularly enamored of Victorian-era stylization.

The stage is set when Holmes’s companion, Dr. Watson (Dean Wilson) steps out to introduce the story in a sonorous voice. The case began many years ago in India, Watson tells us. Then red and blue lights come up to bathe a latticework archway in a warm glow. Seated in the archway are two Indians, and standing in profile between them is Sherlock Holmes (Laurence Hughes) in his trademark hat, cape and curved pipe.

He walks off stage; his momentary presence enough to set the scene and the mood.
Three British soldiers: Pvt. Jonathan Small (David Roby), Maj. Alistair Ross (Patrick Allcorn) and Cpt. Neville St. Claire (Christopher Martinez) are tempted by a fabulous treasure into committing murder and robbery; and they swear one another to secrecy with a pact signed in blood -- the crucifer.

But they are haunted by a curse that is fated to destroy them.

Flash forward to London many years later. Maj. Ross is now a bitter and severely crippled old man. Bedeviled by personal demons, Cpt. St. Claire (called Nelly) is an opium addict with a dead wife and a beautiful daughter. And Pvt. Small is an escaped convict with a peg leg, having lost one leg presumably to either a shark or a crocodile, and he has come to London with murder in mind. The crime Holmes is called upon to solve has not even happened yet.

The convoluted plot unfolds gradually and involves many subplots such as Watson falling in love with Nelly’s daughter, Irene (Helen Harvester), Nelly’s opium-induced hallucinations, and dead men coming back to haunt the living. It is a long play at two hours and 40 minutes, and it drags a little in the second act, especially during an overlong scene in an opium den.

Without accepting the stylized and melodramatic nature of this play, it might appear ridiculous and over acted. The most histrionic actors are Allcorn as. the older, embittered Maj. Ross, and Roby as Pvt. Small. Both play cripples with strange ways of hobbling about -- Maj. Ross with the help of a cane and a wheelchair, and Small on his peg leg. The physical demands of these roles are severe. I especially admired the way Ross wheels around maniacally in his wheelchair, and I found Small’s peg leg to be absolutely convincing.

Many of the actors play either multiple characters or the same characters at different ages, and they handle the changes well. Wilson, for instance, easily metamorphoses from the serious and dignified Dr. Watson to the screaming, fearful and superstitious Indian Durga Dass. And Mark Waldstein plays not two but three distinctly different characters: Inspector Lestrade, a mincing servant named Birdy, and an evil simpleton named Wali Dad.

By far the most outstanding acting job is turned in by Harvester as the beautiful and sensitive Irene, who -- like every character in this play other than the unflappable Holmes -- goes through an amazing change of character.

The sets by Craig Wollam, lighting by Mark Neumann and costumes by Clare Hungate Hawk are outstanding. Unfortunately but unavoidably the audience is asked to put up with a number of laborious set changes. Usually I think it is best for theaters to avoid or minimize set changes that have to be done by actors or stagehands in full view of the audience, but in this production I think it was worth the distraction, because the story needs the flow from India to London to an opium den and to a boat on the Thames.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes mysteries should enjoy this play, but I won’t wholeheartedly recommend it to a wider audience because the acting as a whole is (debatably) a little too histrionic, because it is long and tiring in places, and because the surprise ending becomes predictable just a few minutes too soon.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through March 15
WHERE: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $8 to $25 depending on age
INFORMATION: 253-661-1444,

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Odyssey

Malcolm McLaren’s take on Homer’s voyage

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 5, 2009
Pictured: untitled drawing by Malcolm McLaren

There’s a machine gun on the wall at mineral. It’s made of bread, seed and salt; it’s in a glass-fronted display case with wire mesh, and it looks like some bizarre archeological find as if machine guns existed in the time of Homer’s Odyssey.

That’s my imagination at work and probably not the artist’s intent, but it is part of Malcom McLaren’s exhibition of drawings, paintings and sculpture based on Homer’s epic tale, The Odyssey.

As described in a press release, McLaren’s art “focuses on women, on travelers of the past and present. The sea dark thoughts of these emanations keep sailors awake at night and the homeward-bound faithful.” There is a giant moose rack with jewelry hanging from the horns, many distorted and in some cases disturbing drawings of men and women, a painting of little gold houses on what appears to be burnt burlap, a strange totemic sculpture standing in one corner, and lots of little drawings of moose-like animals. I don’t remember a moose in The Odyssey. I do remember a not-very-bright Cyclops and sexy sirens luring sailors to their death, none of which are to be found in this exhibition. There is a ship, however, a very dark and abstract sailing vessel that appears to have been made out of wood (none of the pieces have labels with titles or media).

Rather than focusing on the more obvious images from Homer’s voyage, McLaren has chosen to focus on what may have been going through the minds of the sailors during their long voyage home. There are a lot of naked people, male and female, indicating perhaps that the sailors were haunted by sexual yearnings. Many of the images are also dark and foreboding, which would certainly make sense because they were in constant danger.

To me, the best works in the show are the little ink and wash drawings of figures, a drawing of a moose, and one abstract with two rounded objects that look something like pineapples delicately balanced side-by-side. The moose is seen in profile with long legs and very few details to the body and face, and it reflects in a marvelously interesting way in the jewelry case that stands in front of it. (Also displayed, as always at mineral, is Lisa Kinoshita’s very inventive jewelry.)

The figure drawings are done mostly with a flat, pink wash and free-flowing contour lines — details such as eyes, mouths, breasts and genitals sketchily indicated with a few hastily-drawn marks. These drawings are like Rodin figure studies distorted and reduced to a bare minimum of detail. They also display a line quality reminiscent of Henri Matisse. There is tremendous energy and passion in these drawings. Some of the other drawings — such as the chiseled, dark and brooding face pictured here — lose that energy and look overly labored.

It’s a fascinating little show with a lot to see in a small space.

[mineral, noon-5 p.m., Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and by appointment, 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.250.7745,]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another teaser for the Backside

The Backside of Nowhere tells the tale of popular movie star David Lawrence who has not spoken to his detested father in more than twenty years. When the old curmudgeon has a heart attack and careens off the top of a parking garage, David goes home to the little bayou town of Freedom to be with his family. While there, he falls in love with his old high school sweetheart, confronts a lifelong enemy (the local sheriff), and discovers that his beautiful adopted sister, Melissa, is not who he thinks she is.

A hurricane is heading toward Freedom, and within the family a different kind of storm is brewing. David’s obstinate old man, practically on his death bed, decides to throw a hurricane party and ride out the storm with friends, knowing he’s about to die and wanting to go out with a bang. When the storm hits, the Lawrence house is swept off its foundation and washed down the bayou with everyone trapped inside. It comes to rest against a pile of debris. Water fills the lower floor. David’s father and Melissa are trapped underwater, and it is David and his old enemy the sheriff who must save them.

This is my latest novel, the one I am currently shopping around to agents and publishers. It is filled with floods and hurricanes and riots at football games, and yet it’s not really about all that action at all; it’s more about the inner storms that rage in the fetid bayous of memory and long-held secrets.