Thursday, April 30, 2009

Burning Man

Celebrating free spirit and creativity

Published in the Weekly Volcano
Pictured: two photos of "Crude Awakening" by Ed Hoffman

Ed Hoffman’s Burning Man photos at Art House Design are burning hot images of the freewheeling annual celebration of art in the burning sands of Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Viewing these photos made me wish I could drag my old bones into the desert and spend a week with the artists and dancers and other celebrants who make this event one of the more popular art happenings in the United States.

Once a year, tens of thousands of participants gather to create Black Rock City, a kind of Woodstock of art dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever. These artists are environmental stewards.

Photographer Ed Hoffman spent a year and a half documenting the events in 2007 and 2008. “I endeavored to document the epitome of Burning Man: free spirit and creativity,” Hoffman writes. “I feel that these images … represent a profound sense of spirituality, both visually and emotionally.”

Burning Man originated in San Francisco 20 years ago, and then moved to the desert 100 miles north of Reno. Last year nearly 50,000 people attended. They come, they dance, they create fabulous art installations and party for a week.

In addition to documenting the anarchistic and celebratory spirit of Burning Man, Hoffman’s photographs are beautifully designed images. He captures the light and openness of the desert, the burning sun, clouds of windswept dust, the rhythm or objects and people in open space, and the brilliant colors.

There are lots and lots of nudes in these photos, which like the event itself is a celebration of the beauty of the human body as well as a celebration of art. There are painted bodies and costumed bodies, bodies at rest and in motion. And there are many shots of strange and wondrous vehicles, whirligigs, and mobile art.

There are about 60 photographs in the show, spread throughout the two rooms of the gallery. (People who are unfamiliar with Art House Design may not realize they can walk past the framing shop into a back room that doubles as a performance space and a second gallery.)

Here are some of the more interesting images seen in the front gallery:
Pig Mobile on Playa is a big, fat, pink car in the shape and image of a pig. Very cute.
Beetle Mobile on Playa is a beetle car with headlight eyes on long extended antenna-like forms. In color it almost matches the surrounding desert.
Dancer on Playa pictures three naked dancers circling big bright blue umbrellas, one man and two women. Their nakedness is natural, unpretentious and innocent. I can’t imagine images of nudity being any less salacious.
Various images of fantastic light and fireworks displays
Whirligigs on Playa pictures five whirligig sculptures standing in formation on the sand, each appearing to be about 10 feet tall, with random bicyclers pedaling around and around in the background
Dancing on Stilts pictures a woman on tall stilts wearing a blue top and long, flowing white pants in front of blue pyramids.
Wild Woman is a close-up of a woman’s face and upper torso. She is wearing a knit top and has wild hair, and is posed against a multi-colored cloth.

Typical of many of Hoffman’s photos, the woman pictured in "Wild Woman" almost blends into the patterned background and the dancer on stilts looks as if she were costumed specifically to be posed in front of the blue pyramids. This is probably the most telling hallmark of his photos — they combine the freedom and spontaneity of random snapshots with color and design elements that appear to be carefully staged.

[Art House Design, through May 23, 420 B Franklin St. SE, Olympia, 360.943.3377]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Daily Novel

My first novel, UNTIL THE DAWN, is now being serialized on the new website The Daily Novel. A chapter a day will be posted on the site, and you don't have to buy the book to read it. That's right, it's free. The plan is that after the entire book has been posted it will be made available as a pdf file you can download for a minimum charge.

It's also still available on for those who want an actual printed book -- you know, the kind you hold in your hand that has paper and is bound and has a cover.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Too late

It's too late to see the installation by Holly A. Senn & Kyle Dillehay in Tacoma at the Art Gallery, Pacific Lutheran University, but it's not too late to see the video on youtube.

I first met Holly years ago when I was teaching at class for Bellevue Community College and she signed up for the class. It was a really fun class with a monthly guided tour of Seattle art galleries. Sadly, I wasn't able to get enough people signing up to keep the class going. Anyway, that's when I met Holly. I didn't even know she was an artist. Then she showed up as a participant in the Tacoma artists studio tour, and I interviewed her for a Volcano story. I discovered that she was an inventive and thoughtful installation artist, and I've been keeping up with her work since. She just keeps getting better and better.

I haven't seen enough of Dillehay's work to comment on it, but the installation they collaborated on is really nice.

Check it out at and keep an eye open for future works by these artists.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Pictured here is the cover of a book that's due out in September from David Robert Books. It is a book of poems by my very close friend Larry Johnson, and it has been well over 20 years in the making. I read an early copy of the manuscript back in the late '80s shortly before moving out here from Mississippi. Since then, of course, it has surely been edited, re-written, new poems added and some older ones perhaps deleted. Veins represents work over a period of approximately 40 years.

When we published a quarterly arts magazine in Mississippi, Mississippi Arts Letters, Larry was our poetry editor and primary book reviewer. He is a terrific writer. Watch for this book. Or not, because I'll be sure to let readers of this blog know when it's available.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Help me pick a title

Help me pick a title for a new novel if you can.

Working title: The Neighborhood

Former childhood friends Alex Martin and Jim Bright meet in a bar shortly before their 50th high school reunion. The story revolves around their shared memories of adventures in junior high and high school in the fictional town of Pinewood, Mississippi. Most of the escapades they remember involve Boys and Girls Together (Crap, that title’s already taken).

It’s a comic novel set mostly in the late 50s and early 60s, and there’s lots and lots of sex -- comical sex, not pornographic. We’re talking before the so-called sexual revolution, but these boys and girls were doing it like rabbits, only most of them didn’t know very much about how to go about it.

The neighborhood centers around the corner of Dixie Avenue and Woodlawn Drive near Miller Creek. Hanky panky takes place along the creek bank.

Here are some possible titles I've come up with:

Sex and the Neighborhood
Down by the Creek
Along Miller Creek
Pinewood Chronicles
Getting to Third Base
Whole Lotta Screwing
Dixie Avenue
Dixie and Woodlawn
Kudzu Chronicles
Sweltering in Dixie

Please send you suggestions to me at or simply hit the comment button. Have fun with it. Thanks.


Oly’s bi-annual arts extravaganza

published in the Weekly Volcano, April 23, 2009
pictured: Burning Man photo by Edward Hoffman (showing at Art House Designs)and collage drawings by Gail Ramsey Wharton (showing at Ginger Street).

Here we go again. For the 38th time. Olympia Arts Walk, It’s a madhouse of art, music and performance arts of all types, and one of the wildest, grass-roots, non-motorized parades south of Seattle. It’s called The Procession of the Species, and it’s like the Freemont Solstice Parade without the really good stuff, meaning the naked bicyclers. And for what it’s worth, the promoters insist it should not be called a parade, but that’s what it is.

Arts Walk turns all of downtown Olympia into a very crowded and festive art gallery and performance space. Professional artists, amateur artists, students from elementary school through college, musicians, storytellers, and performers of all types show their stuff in galleries, cafes, barber shops, tattoo parlors and on the streets over a two-day period (Friday, April 24, 5-10 p.m. and Saturday, April 25, noon to 7 p.m.). Hundreds of artists take part, and more than 120 downtown businesses open all or part of their space as gallery or performance venues.

The crowds are shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s sometimes hard to see the art for all the bodies. If you want to get a bite to eat or something to drink, you may have a long wait. But while you’re waiting there is about a 99-percent chance you’ll bump into a friend or two, and probably someone you haven’t seen in 15 years. That’s just the way it is at Arts Walk.

So what can you expect to see other than swirling masses of humanity? A lot of stuff that passes as art. Close to half of it represents good efforts on the part of hobbyists and children. About three-fourths of what you’ll see is either boring or downright lousy art. But there will be a handful of really good artists on display, and I can almost guarantee you’ll be surprised somewhere along the way by a completely unknown artist who is outstanding.

Following is a sampling of a few of the shows that should be worth seeing.
Tucker Petertil’s paintings and sculpture at The Creperie on Fourth Avenue
Ed Hoffman’s photographs from Burning Man at Art House Designs
Multi media art by Marianne Partlow at her studio on Fifth Avenue
Old Geezer Art featuring works with recycled materials at Sylvester Park
Mixed media art by Betty Jo Fitzgerald at The Fireside Bookstore
Shaw Osha’s oil and “spray paper” paintings at room 30
Kiki Chan, jewelry; Bill Collins oil and watercolor paintings; Noel Debord’s acrylic paintings; Karen La Grave, oils; and Maitri Sojourner, fabric collages at The Press Coffee House and Lounge
Circle of Friends mixed media, metal and wearable art by Jerry Cook, Judy Cook and Pam Wells at Sherburne Antiques & Fine Art
Julie Barrett-Ziegler, marionettes and icons; Katie Wulf, acrylic paintings at Hot Toddy
Marilyn Bedford, encaustic and mixed media; Joe Cattuti, blown glass; Janet Day’s pencil drawings; and Grail Ramsey Wharton’s drawings and collages at Ginger Street
Marilyn Frasca’s drawings and John and Robin Gumaelius’ ceramics at Childhood’s End Gallery
Drumming by Planet Percussion plus solo, duet and group flamenco dances by Oly Flamenco at The Loft on Cherry
Garage Voice, indie rock and roll meets Stax Soul at Reality
T-Claw and the Grizzle-Grazzel Trash Can Band at The Loft on Cherry (obviously a happening place)
Art activities for children and group art exhibit at the downtown YMCA
Shadow puppetry plus recycled and mixed media sculpture by George Kurzman and wood sculpture by Judy Manley at Olympia Salvage

Arts Walk culminates with The Procession of the Species, which starts at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the intersection of Cherry and Legion and winds its way through town ending at the fountain area of Heritage Park for closing celebration.
Arts Walk maps including all venues and events are given out at locations all over town.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Julia Haack show

I first ran into Julia Haack when I reviewed the Environmental Art Show at the gallery at Tacoma Community College. I was very impressed with her work. Julia's sculptures combine sleek minimalist forms with surfaces made of strips of wood or other recycled materials that form woven bands or patches of color, some very reminiscent of Frank Stella's "protractor" series paintings. What I find intriguing about her work is that the woven bands of color are not such much surface decoration but "paintings" that are contained by the sculptural form and which are in constant tension as if trying to break out of their confines. You can see this in works such as "JAX," which can be seen on her blog

If you're in Seattle this month, see her show at the OK Hotel.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


for The News Tribune
pictured, left to right: Malcolm Sturdevant, Michelle Gause Garayua, James Holmes-Pohle (and the dead person: Tiffany Poplack). Photo by Mark Matthies.

“Loot” by Joe Orton was ahead of its time when it premiered in Cambridge, England, in 1965. Called a black comedy, it was shocking in its irreverence and its skewering of such institutions as the Catholic Church. Nothing was sacred. “Loot” poked fun at the upper class, portrayed law enforcement as corrupt, and made light of the dead. Plus, major characters in this play were extremely casual about sex.
But what was seen as outlandish and even revolting in 1965 is simply farcical today. By today’s standards “Loot” is not so much a dark comedy as a comedy of the absurd, and Orton is now accepted as a comic genius in a line that runs from Oscar Wilde to Monty Python to “South Park.”

Directed by Tom Sanders, Prodigal Sun Productions in Olympia is now performing “Loot” in the little alternative performance space The Midnight Sun.

Mrs. McLeavy (Tiffany Poplack) is dead. It’s the day of the funeral and the nurse who cared for her, Fay (Michelle Garayua), is already plotting to marry the grieving widow, (Mark Matthies). Prim, proper and dedicated on the outside, Fay is a scheming gold digger who has murdered seven or eight previous husbands. The McLeavy’s son Hal (Malcolm Sturdevant) and his bisexual partner Dennis (James Holmes-Pohls) have just robbed a bank and need a place to hide the loot. Mrs. McLeavy’s casket seems the perfect hiding place, but there’s not enough room in the casket for the money and the body, so the body must be stashed elsewhere.

Along comes a police inspector, Truscott (Chris Cantrell), who suspects the loot from the bank robbery is hidden in the McLeavy’s home. If any reason for his suspicion was ever given, I must have missed it, but I suspect he had no reason. Throughout the play Truscott proves that his senses of logic and deduction are absolutely absurd.

Typical farcical madness ensues as Dennis and Hal keep trying to hide the body and Truscott interrogates everyone with tactics that make the most unprincipled of rules-breaking television cops look like saints. All the while Dennis and Hal flirt with one another. Hal seems devoted to Dennis. He calls him baby and is obviously in love with him, but Dennis is no one-man man, as it is revealed that he has fathered at least five babies with five different women. And Fay tries to seduce practically everyone.

It’s a wild and fast-paced play replete with adult language and violence.
During the first 10 to 15 minutes of the play I thought Garayua was over acting terribly, but as the absurd nature of the play, and in particular her conniving and phony character came to light I began to appreciate her acting more, although I think she may not have been the best actress for the role. She seemed like she was trying too hard – it was difficult to see her as the character rather than the actress.

Matthies as Mr. McLeavy, Pohls as Dennis and Matthew Green in a small part as a policeman all play their parts fairly well. But the actors that really stir up the comic stew are Cantrell and Sturdevant. Cantrell’s posturing and his little bits with a pipe make him look like an insane version of Hercule Poirot, and when he gets mad he is simultaneously shocking and frightening. But right after he goes over the line into gratuitous violence he reminds us that we’re watching a comedy. As for Sturdevant, he is simply wonderful. I love the way he rolls his eyes heavenward.
Finally, a word must be said about Tiffany Poplack. Since she’s dead throughout, they could have used a dummy, or just a bundle of rags, but Poplack manages to make something special out of this role.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, through April 25
WHERE: The Midnight Sun, 113 Columbia St. NW, Olympia
TICKETS: $12 at the door or on-line at
INFORMATION: 360-250-2721

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fluent Steps

Ambitious new installation in Museum of Glass reflective pool

reprinted from the Weekly Volcano
pictured: Martin Blank crew at work on "Fluent Steps" - photo by Stephen Vest, courtesy of Martin Blank Studios.

Water, water everywhere, and much of it made of glass.

Glass artist Martin Blank has been working for four years on a massive installation in the reflecting pool on the plaza at Museum of Glass — mostly working in the museum Hot Shop and his studio, but more lately it’s been a beehive of activity onsite.

I spoke to the artist last week while he and his crew were installing the new sculpture called "Fluent Steps." He was ecstatic about the work, and justifiably so. It’s a huge project. Consider this:

* There are 71,000 pounds of molten glass in the 754 individually hand-sculpted pieces
* The installation required a team of 41 artists, engineers and architects
* The finished work is 207 feet in length

Blank said viewers can “observe, interact and respond to the emotive nature of water,” explaining that “water is the vehicle for capturing light, motion, fluidity and transparency.”

The 754 glass sculptures rise from the water like mists, steam and spray. They twist and curl like flowers and sea grasses, and when completed they will reflect clouds and shimmer in sunlight with illusory movement. (The mention of grasses and flowers is my interpretation. Blank spoke of these forms as representing the fluid and undulating movement water and steam, but did acknowledge that the forms are open to interpretation. Plus he indicated there is supposed to be huge fallen madrona tree, which was not yet installed. At least I think it was a madrona; he was talking fast, and I was caught up in the moment and not taking notes.)

All of the glass sculptures are clear and transparent with here and there a hint of color, and they fill the reflecting pool not randomly but in clearly defined patterns that reflect the natural swirling movement of water. Tower-like they cluster in an area near the museum entrance and then spread out and diminish in height as they flow throughout the pool.

The public opening is scheduled for April 18, but at the time this was written they expected to have it completed now.

Inside the museum you can see "White Light: Glass Compositions by Daniel Clayman" and "Contrasts: A Glass Primer," two long-running exhibitions that are worthy of a repeat visit. Clayman’s large, minimalist glass sculptures are quite impressive, and "Contrasts" is a visual object lesson in the medium of glass and the many ideas, techniques, and styles of glass art.

In addition to the installation at the museum, Martin Blank is one of three featured artists in overnight package deals at Hotel Murano where each floor of the hotel is devoted to displaying works of an individual artist. The other featured artists are Flo Perkins and Preston Singletary. Included in the packages, in addition to the overnight stay in the hotel, are unlimited in-and-out valet parking and a limited edition digital scrapbook of the artist’s work. Packages start at $189. For booking and information call 253.591.4123.

And as if all that were not enough, there will be a Martin Blank exhibition at Traver Gallery, adjacent to MOG, through May 10.

[Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St. Tacoma, 866.4MUSEUM]
[William Traver Gallery, through May 10, 1821 East Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The big voice back from the brink and alive in Olympia

Do you absolutely love Broadway musicals?

Nah, me either. Funny, huh? -- for a guy who makes his living writing theater reviews. But the truth is, I’m not a huge fan of classical/traditional ‘Golden Age’ (1940s to the early 1960s) musicals.

On the other hand, I love a musical that’s edgy and irreverent and maybe a little bit campy. I love “Cabaret” and “Rent” and “La Cage Aux Folles.”

If you have similar tastes, you’ll love Steve Schalchlin.

Steve may not be well known around here, but he’s a huge hit anywhere his award-winning musicals “The Last Session” and “The Big Voice: God or Merman” have played. He’s won awards including the GLAAD Media Award and LA Drama Critics Circle Best Musical and a NY Drama League nomination and others.

A decade ago when he was dying of AIDS, Steve wrote songs about his experience with the devastating disease. Surprisingly, many of the songs were outrageously funny. His life partner, Jim Brochu, wrote a play based on Steve’s songs, and thus their first musical, “The Last Session” was born. In story and song it tells the tale of Gideon, a former gospel singer who crossed over to become a Pop star. Gideon is dying of AIDS, and he clashes in a recording studio with a fundamentalist Christian singer who adores him but doesn’t know he is gay. Jim described it as “the funniest play about suicide you’ll ever see.”

Just about the time the play opened Steve started on new drugs that brought him back from the brink of death. Today he still has to live with horrible side effects (which he sings about in a hilarious song that parodies military music and equates death by “Friendly Fire” with the side effects of AIDS medications). Now he and his partner have written and performed a successful autobiographical play titled “The Big Voice,” based on their experiences growing up as the son of a Missionary Baptist preacher (Steve) and a Catholic with aspirations to become Pope -- or a musical diva a la Ethel Merman (Jim).

May 10 at 7 p.m. Steve will perform a special Mothers Day benefit concert for PFLAG at Capital Playhouse in Olympia, with special guest star Jeff Kingsbury, who is gracefully donating his theater for the event. We expect tickets to sell out quickly, so get yours right away.
Tickets are $20. The box office is open Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call (360) 943-2744.
More information about Steve Schalchlin at and

See the PFLAG-Olympia website also for more about Steve’s visit to Olympia:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tacoma Little Theatre's "On Golden Pond" is better than the movie

published by The News Tribune
Pictured: top, Clark Maffit as Norman Thayer and Christie Flynn as Chelsea Thayer; center, Clark Maffitt and Joseph Allegro as Billy Ray; bottom, Syra Beth Puett as Ethel Thayer. Photos by Dean Lapin.

“On Golden Pond” at Tacoma Little Theatre is a very realistic and touching play that invites audience members into the lives of Norman and Ethel Thayer as we summer with them at their lakeside home. We are left glad to be alive and happy to know the Thayer family. Plus, as lovable but crotchety old men go, none are more lovable than Norman Thayer, played here by Clark Maffitt in his homecoming debut after four years away from the Tacoma area.

This is one of those plays that beg comparison to the movie because the triple Academy Award winner featured iconic performances by Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn (Best Actor, Fonda; Best Actress, Hepburn; and best writing for Ernest Thompson, who also wrote the play). I went into the theater thinking about Henry Fonda as Norman, but forgot about him the moment Maffitt’s Norman opened his mouth. From that moment forward I was completely immersed into the lives of this loving couple.

“On Golden Pond” is, throughout most of the story, a lighthearted look at aging. It’s Norman’s eightieth birthday, and he refuses to go gently into old age. He’s feisty, cantankerous and outlandishly witty; but it’s all a cover for a kind heart and very real fears about his body and his mind breaking down. It’s also about Norman reconciling with his estranged daughter, getting to know her new boyfriend, and learning to love his soon-to-be new grandson.

The scene where Billy Ray asks Norman if it’s all right for him to sleep with his daughter contains some of the funniest dialogue ever written for the stage (“Would you like the room where I first violated her mother?”).

The cast is outstanding. Syra Beth Puett is believable as the long-put-upon and kind Ethel. Steve Tarry is suitably stiff and somewhat geeky as the new boyfriend Billy Ray. Christie Flynn makes for a very likeable daughter Chelsea, and Joseph Allegro is very good as the smart-alecky and lovable 13-year-old Billy Ray Jr. One other supporting actor, and the only one not in the family, is Erik Hill as the postman who was Chelsea’s childhood friend who still carries something of a torch for her. His New England accent is wonderful, and he brings a lot of comedy to his few short scenes.

But it is Maffitt who carries the show. He has the most time on stage and by far the best lines, and he truly embodies the character he is portraying. His love for his family shines through even when he is berating them with his most sarcastic barbs, and when he gets lost or afraid he truly transmits his fear and confusion to the audience.

Now, here comes the inevitable movie comparison. You really can’t expect any actor to outshine Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, but these TLT actors definitely hold their own.

The big difference is the movie contained highly dramatic scenes with Chelsea trying to do a back flip and Norman and Billy Ray Jr. fishing. These are typical Hollywood scenes that would be impossible to do convincingly on stage. They are not in the play, and the play is better without them. It concentrates instead on the inter-family relationships, which in many ways makes it a stronger and more focused story.

Set designer Erin Chanfrau really outdid herself on this one. Angling the entire set slightly to the right was a brilliant move.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 26
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20 Adults, $18 senior/student/military, $16 children under 12
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lakewood Playhouse's 'Into the Woods' silly yet sophisticated

From in The News Tribune
Pictured: Alison Monda as the witch and Kat Christensen as Milky White with the cast of "Into the Woods." Photo by Dean Lapin.

On the one hand, the Lakewood Playhouse performance of the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical “Into the Woods” is a well-acted and especially well-directed parody of all the major children’s fairy tales skillfully woven together into one silly yet sophisticated story. On the other hand, it is a dark and twisted tale of temptation, greed and human frailty that calls to mind another Sondheim dark fantasy, “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

And on the third hand, it is a long play (slightly more than three hours counting intermission) that gets a bit too loud and angry in the early part of the second act and has a lot of screeching and shouting and irritating sound effects -- all of which fit well with the mood of the story but are nevertheless nerve jangling.

Played in the round, as all Lakewood Playhouse performances are, the action comes at you from all four corners, with characters popping up here and there in rapid succession like the actors in the old comedy show “Laugh In.” This stereophonic jumble is especially noticeable in songs in which short verses are sung by multiple characters and in the title song and its variations in which the entire 20-person cast is singing and dancing in complexly choreographed movement (amazing choreography by Stephanie Kriege). Even a pair of acting stagehands in tree costumes get in on the act (Carina Coppedge-Pope and Ellyssa Payant). These dizzying dance sequences are admirably staged by director Julie Halpin.

The interwoven story lines revolve around a baker (Jerod Nace) and his wife (Katie Skovholt) who are cursed by a witch (Alison Monda) and, in order to break the curse, must go into the woods and find a milky white cow, a blood red cape, hair the color of corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. They find all four items with little difficulty, but securing them from their owners is another matter. Their desperation to get these items brings out both the best and the worst in these all-too-human characters and those they encounter on the way.

The milky white cow who can’t give milk (played with great charm by Kat Christensen) belongs to Jack of “Jack and the Beanstalk” fame (Bryan Gula). The cape belongs to Little Red Riding Hood (Claire Idstrom). The yellow hair is that of Rapunzel (Christine McNeal), and the golden slipper is the one Cinderella (Chelsea A. Lechelt) lost at the ball. Other famous fairy tale characters who play a role are Bruce Story as Cinderella’s prince and Matt Flores in the dual role of the wolf and another prince, one who pines for Rapunzel. And there is a comical narrator (Marty Mackenzie) who every once in a while steps into the story in the guise of the Mystery Man. It is a multi-layered and complex story, but not at all hard to follow.

The most amazing performances are turned in by Skovholt and Monda. Skovholt is one of the few actors who plays her part in a fairly straight-forward and naturalistic manner. She is believable as a good country wife who gives in to very human temptations. Her facial expressions are charming and tell a lot about her character, and she has a beautiful voice. Monda displays terrific range in voice and acting ability as the screeching witch. I thought for sure she was going to rip her vocal chords in the first act, but in the second act she was still able to sing with a strong yet mellow voice.

Nace also plays his part fairly straight-forward and without any outlandish flourishes. He’s the glue that holds everyone else together.

Flores, first as the wolf, is terrifically funny, and then he is equally hilarious in an entirely different persona as the prince who falls in love with Rapunzel. His duet with Cinderella’s prince on the song “Agony,” is one of the finest and funniest songs in the play and one any frustrated lover can identify with.

Finally, there are two young actors in this production who warrant special notice: Christensen and Bryan Gula as Jack. They are young actors just beginning what will surely be long and successful careers. Gula shows great promise as both an actor and a singer, and Christensen may very well be the most charming cow ever to be led around a stage on a leash.

Despite all the fairy tale characters, this play will probably be much more appealing to adults than to children; there is nothing in it that is inappropriate for children – but it is as dark and as harsh as it is funny and entertaining.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through April 26
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $24 general admission, $21 senior and military discount, $18 under 25, $16 under 15
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, April 9, 2009

To the Letter

Chandler O’Leary dazzles at the UPS’ Collins Memorial Library

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 9, 2009
Pictured: prints by Chandler O’Leary

The Chandler O’Leary show at Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound is fascinating.

O’Leary, who runs Anagram Press in Tacoma, makes handmade books, letterpress prints and textile work; her work includes illustration, graphic design, textiles, and drawing, and her books and prints are collected and exhibited internationally. Representative samplings of all these works can be seen in the library reading room.

Most interesting to me are her sketchbooks and a series of letter press prints called the Feminist Broadside Series, which she did in collaboration with fellow graphic artist Jessica Spring. The feminist broadsides feature quotes from historic figures such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Eleanor Roosevelt done in elaborately decorative type with a variety of type styles and sizes that all fit together into unified designs.

The Eleanor Roosevelt quote is used in a poster called "Victory Garden," which she did right after the 2008 election. I know that because it says so right on the poster. It features a picture of the White House, tomatoes on the vine and root vegetables growing in the ground. The quote is “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of dreams.”

The title refers to the World War II Victory Gardens, a project of Mrs. Roosevelt’s, and reflects the culmination of a dream as seen in the election of Barack Obama. (Interestingly, nobody knew at the time this work was created that Michelle Obama was going to plant a garden on the lawn of the White House).

Another work in the series pictures 19th century-style row houses stacked up to look like a wedding cake in brilliant orange and fuchsia. Printed on it is a quote from suffragette Alice Paul: “There is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” These broadsides were designed by O’Leary and printed by Spring’s Springtide Press.

In an adjacent display case are more feminist quotes, in this case hand embroidered and appliqu├ęd. Also shown are displays of her materials and tools; handmade artist’s books; the cover of the most recent issue of Tacoma’s City Arts magazine, which O’Leary illustrated; and a number of sketchbooks.

The drawings in the sketchbooks show a good eye and a well controlled hand. Most of the drawings are figure studies. One that I particularly liked featured a classic reclining nude on a hillside overlooking a mountain village with little houses with red clay tile roofs. The figure is slightly distorted with an exaggeration of jutting hips and sketchily drawn with a sensitive pencil line. Most of the foreground is a black and white contour drawing, and half of the background is painted with what appears to be water colors. The contrast of dense “finished” areas and broader “unfinished” areas makes this little drawing look like it wants to be much larger. I can easily imagine it as a wall-size mural.

O’Leary’s graphic style reflects a tradition in illustrated manuscripts and book art that goes back to about 600 BC and which may have reached its modern apotheosis with Art Nouveau and the works of artists such as Audrey Beardsley and Gustav Klimt.

[Collins Memorial Library, Chandler O’Leary's To The Letter, Monday-Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Fri 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sat 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sun 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., April 30, University of Puget Sound]

Friday, April 3, 2009

‘Elephant Man’ focuses on the abstract

Published in The News Tribune, April 3, 2009
Top photo: Amy Hill, Hanna Buschor, Russ Holm
Lower photo: (on riser) Jessica Blinn, Jason Haws
(below) Hanna Buschor, Dennis Rolly, Scott Lendzionn

Photos by Tor Clausen

In “The Elephant Man” Harlequin Productions makes full use of certain theatrical traditions that have become Harlequin trademarks.

There are obvious connections between theater and film, with many plays being made into films and vice-versa – “The Elephant Man” being but one of many examples. More so than movies, live theater asks audience members to suspend disbelief and fully accept as real what their eyes clearly tell them is not real. In this respect, theater is more akin to a circus or sideshow than to film, and Harlequin, beginning with its very name, has often emphasized the sideshow aspect of theater.

This version of “The Elephant Man” is highly stylized and abstract. Harlequin-like women called Pinheads (Amy Hill and Hanna Buschor) dance and sing with mime- and robot-like movements and serve as commentators throughout, while “Jelly” (Jessica Blinn) moves along with the Pinheads and plays a soulful violin a la the “Fiddler on the Roof.” John Merrick (Jason Haws) is displayed as a sideshow attraction on a rolling platform, scenes are set with projected images reminiscent of old-fashioned newsreels and introduced with written titles in the style of silent movie narration, and actors repeatedly step out front to address the audience directly – one of the more interesting instances of which being when every person who knows Merrick tells the audience how he reminds them of certain aspects of their own personalities.

There is absolutely no attempt at realism in this production, and yet the story that is presented is historically accurate; the words and the emotions ring true.

Joseph Merrick, who was mistakenly called John in almost everything ever written about him, suffered from a condition called Proteus syndrome, which left him crippled and hideously deformed. He survived financially by working as a sideshow freak until Frederick Treves (Scott Lindzion) brought him to the London Hospital where he lived out his life and was befriended by such luminaries as Princess Alexandra (Blinn) and the famous actress Margaret Kendal (Deya Ozburn).

Playwright Bernard Pomerance intended that the play be presented in an abstract manner because he thought attempts to use heavy makeup to mimic Merrick’s condition would detract from the real heart of the story, which is the emotional effect of Merrick’s deformities on himself and others. Haws uses no obvious makeup; his portrayal of the man depends entirely on posture and voice. He twists his body and limps crab-like on his cane.

Lindzion is probably the most naturalistic actor in the play, which contrasts with the highly stylized acting of Haws and that of Dennis Rolly as hospital administrator F.C. Carr Gomm and Russ Holm in the part of various strange characters including the Pinhead manager, a British Lord, a porter and a London policeman. Also notable is David Dear who plays a bishop and a railway conductor and one of the more complex characters in the play, the carnival promoter who employed Merrick and treated him well at first but eventually abused and then abandoned and stole from him.

Also of particular note are the subtle and various uses of British accents, which may be attributed with kudos to dialect coach Andy Gordon.

This is an intense play that is Shakespearean in scope and style with an artistic blend of realism, abstraction and philosophical musings. It may not be for everyone. It is certainly not for those who prefer their entertainment to be light and fluffy, but it should appeal to anyone who likes challenging artistic endeavors.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through April 11
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $24-$33, rush tickets $12-$15 half an hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ah Spring!

New works blossom at The Robert Daniel Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 2, 2009
Pictured: installation view inside Robert Daniel Gallery with Helene Wilder drawing on the wall

Tacoma is just now beginning to awaken to what a treasure it has in The Robert Daniel Gallery. It’s like a mini-Museum of Modern Art tucked away in a nondescript warehouse on Fawcett Avenue.

On display now is a group show called "Signs of Spring" featuring works by more than 15 well known regional artists. I previewed the show before it was quite ready for opening while, in fact, Tad Crawford was hard at work on his mural-size installation in the middle gallery (Robert Daniel has many, many rooms). Back in October I described Crawford’s work as prism-like circular forms that look something like lenses floating over deeply layered backgrounds painted in acrylic with paper and resin, with “an amazing illusion of shallow space as if you’re seeing through layers of glass.” In this show Crawford is installing some fifty little paintings similar to what was just described to be hung in a line across a wall upon which he has painted a similar yet contrasting design with charcoal gray ellipses in a sweeping design cut by a single, bright red zip of an arch. When I visited the gallery Crawford was up on a ladder painting over this with white gesso using a commercial house painter’s roller. He said that when he hung all the little paintings over the wall painting the contrast was too strong in the wall painting and he had to knock it down a notch so it wouldn’t clash too much with the other paintings. At that point in time the gray ellipses could be seen through veils of white paint. It looked potentially fabulous, and although I haven’t seen the finished work I’m sure it must be great.

Also showing are three works by Helene Wilder, a figure painter whose work I saw years ago at the old Commencement Art Gallery and at Patricia Cameron’s gallery in Seattle. They are imposing figures drawn with great skill.

Another interesting figurative painter in this show is Mark Larson. I saw two of his paintings and was told there may be more added. Both paintings were surrealistic images of women. In one, a blindfolded woman stands behind a peacock with tail feathers spread. In the other, a blonde glances over her shoulder while wearing a red cape that morphs into a flower pot. The flowers in the pot are paint brushes. Behind her is a city that looks like Venice. I was impressed with the inventiveness of his images, especially the red cape, but my reaction to his painting style was lukewarm at best.

Larson, a self-described visionary realist who has shown nationally and internationally in solo shows and exhibitions such as the Florence Biennale and an upcoming International Landscape/Dreamscape exhibition in Switzerland, will be included in Best of America – Oil Painting Volume II, a book to be released this summer by Kennedy Publishing. Having garnered numerous awards, including several international best-of-show awards, his paintings are now widely collected on several continents and are in private and public collections such as Princess Cruise Lines, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, and many others.

Olympia artist Tom Anderson is also featured, with half a dozen paintings. Anderson’s work is abstract with an industrial look and densely textured surfaces. He attaches strips or bars of metal to the surface of his paintings and scratches and etches into them, paints over them, draws with graphite and other materials to create the look of old tin and wood that has been left out in the weather for ages (yet is all slick and shiny). His designs are generally simple architectonic forms with rectangles, open spaces and hastily scrawled swooping lines. Brilliant white, gold and silver colors predominate in many of his paintings, but at least one in this show — "Watermark" — is an almost solid, flaming red with small bars of a dull tan color at the bottom and highly energized pencil markings flowing freely across the top. This is a very vibrant painting.

I was also particularly impressed by three small paintings by Marcio Diaz. These images of farmers and beasts of burden shimmer with densely layered circles in many colors, which give them the look of a Pointillist painting by Georges Seurat.

Also showing are Jeff Olson, Andrew Glass, Steven Roumas, Ashley Jackson, Sabah, Dave Haslett, Robbi Firestone, Sheryl Westergreen and James Minden.

[The Robert Daniel Gallery, through April 15, 2501 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, 253.227.1407.]