Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Discovering Sandy Walker

In a waiting room thumbing through an old issue of Harpers magazine yesterday I saw some drawings by an artist named Sandy Walker. They were lively figure drawings in black ink done with a broad brush with very little detail and lots of energy. They looked like (1) Franz Kline paintings and (2) gesture drawings we did in art school.

I was sufficiently impressed to wanted to see more, so the next chance I got I Googled Sandy Walker and saw more paintings and drawings on his website. He does figures and landscapes, some rather traditional and bland, some some very exciting, with lots of energy and movement, interesting spacial relationships or positive-negative reversals.

If you like abstract expressionist drawing of the gestural type, you'll enjoy perusing his site or, if you're anywhere near where he's showing, check out his work. I think you'll enjoy it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Southern Gothic tale pours on the odd charm

Published in The News Tribune, June26, 2009
Pictured:Cynthia Fischer, left, as Carnelle, Micheal Carr as Delmount and Annette Renie as Popeye, photo by Berrylane photography

I really enjoyed the first act of “The Miss Firecracker Contest” at Paradise Theatre in Gig Harbor. Director Jeff Richards’ set, the costumes by Vicki Richards and the cast were outstanding. The principal actors nailed the quirkiness and the Southern accents of their eccentric characters.

In the second act the weirdness and all of the shouting over one another became a bit too much. They seemed to be trying too hard for laughs, a fault that can be attributed as much to the writer as to the director and the cast. Two new characters were thrown into the mix who added to the silliness but contributed little to the story. Fortunately, the problems in act two were wiped away by the closing scene, which was sweet and tender and fully human.

Beth Henley wrote this play shortly after penning her Pulitzer Prize-winner, “Crimes of the Heart,” and her comic genius is clearly evident in bits and pieces – and in her deliciously coined phrases such as Delmount’s oft-repeated expletive “Lord in butter.”

However, it lacks the humanity of “Crimes of the Heart” and few of the characters are as rich and fully developed. The one exception is Delmount (Micheal Carr). Slovenly and loud, with Roy Orbison hair and glasses, Delmount is the epitome of Southern trailer trash, and yet as real and as believable as any character in the play. He has a checkered past, has spent time in jail and in a mental institution, has an obsession with classic beauty, and experiences recurring nightmares about disembodied parts of women’s bodies. He is clearly sick and tortured, but has the sweetest soul imaginable. Carr brings him to life on the stage with both broad gestures (his explosive anger at Elain) and subtle movements (his shy shuffle when wooing Popeye).

The other well-rounded character is Elain (Donna Long), the rich cousin who feels trapped with a husband and two sons she can’t stand. Long plays this character so naturally that you have to remind yourself that she’s acting and is probably much more likable in real life.

The main character, Carnelle (Cynthia Fischer), is a caricature of a small-town beauty contestant with high hopes and not much talent. It takes talent to play talentlessness, and Fischer does it well. Her tap dance routine in the opening scene starts the show off with a boom, and the way she frantically flutters around the room is precious. Also, her hair is great. Delmount asks if it’s a wig, and Carnelle replies that it is dyed. From the audience you can’t tell which it is – or if it’s Fischer’s natural hair. Whichever it is, it’s beautiful and quite malleable – it turns frightful when she teases it before the contest.

The other outstanding character is Popeye (played with great wide-eyed innocence by Annette Renie). Her sweetness is palatable and believable, even if some of her eccentricities are too absurd even for one of Henley’s Southern Gothic creatures. Popeye had put ear drops in her eyes by mistake and they made her eyes pop out (thus her nickname), and now she can hear through her eyes. Surely that is taking absurdity a step too far. On the other hand, learning how to sew when she was a little girl by making little suits for frogs was a brilliant bit of invention.

The other two characters are Mac Sam (Jon Elston) and Tessy Mahoney (Chelsea Carothers). Mac Sam is oily and detestable and played just that way by Elston, and Tessy is stupid and obnoxious, and her constant whistle-blowing is irritating at best. I don’t fault the acting of Elston and Carothers, but I think these characters hurt the play more than they help it.

One final note: Since I last visited Paradise Theatre, the auditorium has been completely remodeled and is quite beautiful now, with three rows of flat seating up front that can be set up with tables for cabaret or dinner theater, and stadium seating farther back.

I advise asking for either front-row tickets or seats in the upper section, because the three rows in the lower section are on a flat floor, so second- and third-row seats still present the problem of seeing past people in front.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sundays through July 5, no performance July 4
WHERE: Paradise Theatre, 9911 Burnham Dr. N.W., Gig Harbor
TICKETS: $18 adults, $15 seniors, $8 students; group discounts available
INFORMATION: 253-851-PLAY, www.paradisetheatre.org

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Fun stuff at Two Vaults Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jun 25, 2009

Chris Blivens’ latest show is called CHROMA because each piece is identifiable by color (Chroma defined in dictionary.com as “intensity of distinctive hue; saturation of a color”). His pieces are fetishistic dolls or sculptures made of carved wood or cloth with twigs for arms and wooden dowels for legs and strange markings and ritualistic jewelry and other accoutrements added to or carved into the bodies. Each piece is a distinctive color. There’s a red one and a blue one and a purple one and a green one, and so forth through the rainbow/color wheel. They are not bright colors. They are dull, dirty and worn looking as if they’ve languished on a trash heap or have been recently dug up from an archeological excavation. They look old, mysterious and somewhat frightening — or comical, depending on your point of view.

Most of them have carved wood bodies. The body shapes are abstract forms with smooth curves, flat on front and back (meaning they’re designed to be viewed from the front or the back only, not all sides). At least one of them has a body in the shape of a guitar. In addition to the long, spindly legs and arms, they nearly all have long necks, most of which are wrapped with coiled wire necklaces, some with the addition of feathers, bones, beads, etc. Their heads are skulls or bird’s heads.

There is a strong Northwest Native American influence.

Blivens defines these figures as fetishistic, as surmised from the title of two pieces, which are called fetish dolls. Each of these has a cloth body with patterned markings and what looks to be belts made from hemp twine.

Many of the figures also wear necklaces and bracelets made of Femo clay shaped into bones, feathers, beaks, and other forms derived from nature.

In addition to Blivens’ sculpture there are a number of large, minimalist sculptures by James Kelsey, along with works by Steve Bernard, Marge McDonald and others as part of the citywide Metal-Urge event. Kelsey’s piece that stands just inside the front door is outstanding. It consists of three open-frame yellow boxes stacked corner-to-corner in a manner that almost defies gravity. It stands almost ceiling high and should really be seen outdoors in a natural setting. (There are, in fact, a number of similar works on his Web site at www.jameskelseystudios.com, which are pictured in natural settings.)

McDonald’s "Nobody But Us Chickens" is one of the best pieces in the gallery. It’s a grouping five abstract forms that look like skinned and headless chickens hanging in a butcher shop, and it is made out of the little metal ID bands that go around chickens’ legs.

Bernard’s robot bugs and figures are well crafted and very funny. There’s one that looks like Rosie the Robot, the maid in "The Jetsons," and another, "Jumpin’ Jack Trash," the title of which gives evidence to Bernard’s tongue-in-cheek approach to these sculptures.

[Two Vaults Gallery, through July 16, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 602 South Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.759.6233]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Surprised by a story on the web

I woke up this morning to quite a surprise. Gabi asked if I had talked to a reporter recently. She has a Google alert in my name and got notice this morning of an article about me on Examiner.com. It was a huge article by Mike Szymanski outing the hell out of me -- OK, I was already out -- a special Fathers Day story: "Bisexual father recalls the tragedy of his bi son's discrimination and suicide."

It's an old story. He took it right off my website and included tons of links to family pictures, etc.

I'm getting old. My brain cells are withering away. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning. The point being that the name Mike Szymanski sounds familiar, but I can't remember ever talking to him. I don't mind the story being out there for all the world to read, but I wonder if there was copyright infringement. I did put copyright notices on my website and did not give permission to reprint such huge sections, which I'm pretty sure goes far beyond fair use quotations. Still, I don't mind. I'm glad that Szymanski thought my story was worth publishing, and hopefully it will touch some hearts and minds in a positive way.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Teaser from The Backside of Nowhere

Here are the first two paragraphs from my new novel, The Backside of Nowhere:

David Lawrence’s many fans were surprised when he began
performing his monologue, Water, Water, which ran six months Off Broadway before becoming a surprise hit on DVD. It showed that the popular actor had a subtle and sardonic genius and a depth of feeling that few fans and even fewer critics suspected. In his monologue, David Lawrence rants, “You know what I love about being a movie star? The money.” And then, after a wink and a dramatic pause, “You know what I hate about it? Just about every damn thing else.”

The audience laughs. On cue or spontaneously, it’s hard to tell. Or is it canned laughter? The camera zooms in for a close-up. David runs his hand across his closely-cropped hair and says with a strong Southern accent (just a trace of Cajun), “Jesus, man. If y’all think you’d like to be a movie star, let me tell you, it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.” And he winks wickedly at the camera while projected behind him are films of David with his girlfriend, the actress Jasmine Jones. The obvious implication is that if making it with Jasmine Jones is a fringe benefit of being a movie star, then being a movie star is the greatest gig on earth, his protestations to the contrary not withstanding.

... More to come. The book is now available on amazon.com. I should have signed copies by July 15.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wit enlivens play for sophisticated viewers only

Pictured top, left to right: Eric Brown as Mitchell and Patrick Wigren as Alex
center, left to right: Courtney Taylor as Diane and Rob Kowalski as the waiter
bottom, left to right: Hannah Eklund as Ellen and Patrick Wigren as Alex
Photos by Toni Holm

Olympia Little Theatre ends every season with an envelope-pushing production as part of their “Director’s Series.” This year they push that envelope with an adult-only show that includes sexual situations, brief nudity and adult language, not to mention a huge helping of cynicism. The show is Douglas Carter Beane’s 2007 Tony and GLAAD award-nominated play “The Little Dog Laughed.”

Billed as a comedy, this play is not all belly laughs. It’s a sophisticated and satirical look at modern life in general and Hollywood pretentiousness in particular. There’s a lot of seriousness underneath the jesting, and the jokes are more cerebral than visceral.

It’s an intelligent comedy that is staged with quick cuts and innovative scene changes that happen in full view of the audience. It also features smart, plucky asides addressed to the audience and to empty chairs or imaginary characters, such as an unnamed playwright referred to as “He Meaning Him.”

Director Toni Holm and lead actors Erich Brown as Mitchell, Courtney Taylor as Diane, Patrick Wigren as Alex, and Hannah Eklund as Ellen can be proud of a job well done.

Diane is a high-powered agent trying to land a blockbuster movie deal for her client, Mitchell, who is engaging in sexual acts with a male prostitute, Alex, while he denies being gay, as does Alex, who says he does it strictly for the money and has a steady girlfriend, Ellen.

Diane is the most cynical of all the characters. She refers to Mitchell’s attraction to men as a “slight recurring case of homosexuality.”

She and Mitchell make a deal for a play about a gay couple. She points out it will work because Mitchell is thought of as a straight movie star, so when he wants to come out publicly, Diane is against it and explains: “If a perceived straight actor portrays a gay role in a feature film, it’s noble. It’s a stretch.

It’s the pretty lady putting on the fake nose and winning an Oscar. When an actor with a ‘friend’ plays a gay role; it’s not acting, it’s bragging.”

The play starts out slowly and does not go for the easy laughs as the actors gradually establish their characters. It really gets going with the first sex scene between Alex and Mitchell, which is one of the funniest moments in the play, and which is handled tastefully.

The nudity comes about quite naturally, is fleeting, and should in no way be offensive to sophisticated audiences.

I mentioned earlier that scene changes take place in full view of the audience. This is one of many ways in which this play shines, letting the audience in on inside jokes. Cast members constantly break the fourth wall, the mythical barrier between the audience and the stage; i.e., the illusion that what’s happening on stage is reality.

Abby Wells, acting variously as a waitress and a maid, and Rob Kowalski as a waiter, do all the set changes and, in at least one instance, Wells mimes a conversation with Mitchell as she moves props.

Another way the cast breaks the wall is when Mitchell and Diane are talking to an empty chair representing the playwright and they periodically turn to the audience and tell them to drop the names of three gay actors or insert obscure theatrical references; or when Mitchell and Alex take turns popping up in bed like a Jack-in-the-box to talk about each other while each pretends to be asleep. Such scenes are cleverly written, and the timing and facial expressions on the part of the actors are delicious.

This is the last weekend for “The Little Dog Laughed.” Friday’s show is a special fundraiser for Capital City Pride. I highly recommend that you get your tickets before they’re sold out.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 1:5 p.m. Sunday through June 21
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or http://www.buyolympia.com/events
INFORMATION: 360--786-9484, http://olympialittletheater.org/

The Neddy

Annual fellowship competition nominees

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 18, 2009
Timothy Cross, “Test Beach”, 2007. Ink, watercolor, and Liquid Paper on canvas, 29 x 39 ½ inches. Courtesy of the artist.
April Surgent, “Between the Night and the City”, 2005. Fused and engraved glass, 16 x 23 x 2 1/8 inches. Collection of Jim and Devon Surgent. Photo: Jeff Curtis.

On a scale from one to10 I give a five to the Neddy exhibition at Tacoma Art Museum. If based on how close the selections come to representing the best of the best regional artists, which it purportedly does, then that score drops to about two-point-five.

There is a good variety of work and everything is skillfully done. Two categories of art are represented, painting and glass, and every piece is technically close to perfection. But there is nothing outstanding in terms of originality or profundity, and there are a lot of pieces that are downright silly.

Take Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace’s "Still Life With Plumbs" — yes, take it please, right out of the gallery. Big hunkin’ glass apples and plumbs on a giant plate on the floor. How silly can you get?

Or Gary Faigin’s silly surrealism: house on a cliff propped up by two long poles and a stack of pots on top of a waterfall. They’re beautifully painted, but corny.
On the other hand, Timothy Cross’s paintings and the glass sculptures by Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman are unique and striking images that are haunting and thought provoking. The collaborative glassworks by Knowles and Pohlman remind me a lot of work by William Morris. Especially intriguing is "Memory Unchained." From double drooping chains hang a group of blown glass pods, seeds, beads, nuts, birds, feathers and other assorted totemic objects, all in various tones of reddish brown with occasional green. Cross’s paintings in ink, acrylic and liquid paper evoke a world of machinery going to ruin. "Test Beach" shows an airplane bursting through or being held by wooden scaffolding. The plane is on fire and trailing billows of smoke. Graphically it balances static and flowing forms with precise line drawings and free flowing washes.

The Neddy is an annual selection of regional artists that culminates with fellowships being awarded to two nominees, one in painting and one in another category, which changes year to year (glass this time). Fellowships this year go to April Surgent, glass, and Eric Elliott, painting.

Elliott paints traditional still life and interior scenes in monochromatic oil paint. The objects almost vanish in the roughly textured surfaces. They are ghost-like images or images as seen through heavy fog.

Surgent works with fused and engraved glass creating dark and smoky urban scenes taken from photographs. "Between Night and the City" pictures dark, shadowy figures on a rainy night in the city with haloed street lights.

Lynda Lowe’s "Psi: The Uncertainty Principle," watercolor, oil, wax on panel, is a darkly beautiful image of leaves and scientific and mathematical symbols on long wooden panels. The colors are a deep, burning reddish-orange with dark browns. With a lighter section just left of center and darker sections on each end and the edge of one section overlapping the physical separation of panels, Lowe makes two panels look like three.

Finally, there are some very nice glass pieces by old favorite Benjamin Moore, one done in collaboration with Louis Mueller.

[Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m., through Oct. 4, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma]

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lovely Alice

Ron Hinson in Wonderland

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 11, 2009
pictured: "Alice Lands in Wonderland" and "Who Are You? Off With Their Heads," acrylic and oil crayon illustrations from Alice in Wonderland by Ron Hinson

It’s been four years since I last reviewed Ron Hinson. At that time he was showing a series of paintings based on Aesop’s Fables — children’s book illustrations elevated to fine art with wit and a fine eye for color and design. What he did for Aesop then he’s now done for Alice in Wonderland, and you can see these delightful paintings at Childhood’s End in Olympia.

On a cursory glance these are mere illustrations, clever and lighthearted. But just as the story of Alice hides its serious intent beneath its surface of light entertainment, Hinson’s illustrations are more artistically sophisticated than they appear at first glance. Like the book itself, these paintings can be viewed on multiple levels.

There are 10 paintings in the show, each illustrating a specific passage from the story. They are painted in acrylic with oil crayon. Each is bordered with a line of squares in various colors or various tones of a single color (or a combination of both). Within these subtly varying squares that march around the outer edges are the hand-lettered titles of the pieces. Most of the paintings have wall texts explaining the passages from the story that are being illustrated, a nice reminder for people like me who haven’t read Alice in many, many years.

Colors graduate in steps from dark to light with no shading or blending so that everything is flat, with backgrounds (grass, trees, water, sky) on the same level as the figures. In some of the paintings forms are symmetrically balanced with everything placed around a central figure, while others are extremely asymmetrical. There is a stippled texture throughout, with, in some places, patches of color painted over what I can only describe as a texture template of fine wire screen. To explain: Hinson lays a screen on the surface, paints over it, and lifts it off — a technique he has used very successfully in a number of his large painted constructions.

In many of the paintings the main figures are oddly cropped on the edge or in corners, such as in "The Queen’s Croquet Game," in which half of Alice’s figure is cut off by the edge of the painting — right down the middle of her face — or as in "Alice Lands in Wonderland," in which she seems to be diving right out of the picture at the bottom.

Another visual trope he uses effectively is when he crops parts of a figure he changes the colors of the adjacent border squares to match, such as in "Alice Lands in Wonderland," in which the border squares are graduated shades of brown but change to blue where they abut her blue dress and to the green of grass where an open door can be seen in the upper right hand corner (a door toward which the bunny is madly rushing).

These illustrations are as good as any you’re likely to see anywhere, in books or in galleries.

Also showing is a continuation of the Marilyn Frasca and John and Robin Gamaelius show previously reviewed in this column.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through July 12, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]

“Once in a Lifetime”

Published in The News Tribune
Pictured: (top) Kat Christensen as Susan Walker and Lewis Gorman as Jerry Hyland.
(bottom)Gretchen Boyt as Florabel Leigh, Nicole Lockett as May Daniels and Danelle Jaeger as Phyllis Fontaine.
Photos by Dean Lapin

The rollicking comedy “Once in a Lifetime” by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman was a harsh satirical send-up of Hollywood when first produced in 1930. Today it has lost some of it’s satirical bite, but it is still funny — not to mention a huge challenge to directors and actors because it has big sets, lots of set changes, and a huge cast of outlandish characters who enter and exit the stage in controlled chaos.

Director Marcus Walker and crew at Lakewood Playhouse have decided to tackle some of the play’s biggest challenges head-on by simplifying the sets and, in essence, telling the audience to be patient and listen to the music while cast members perform the many necessary but distracting set changes. It’s actually kind of fun to see how they change things, particularly a set of modular boxes than transform with movable parts from Pullman seats to office desks and tables, but it takes patience too.

If set changes offer challenges for a production in the round, the huge cast and their multiple comings and goings are ideal for this little theater, because they come at you from everywhere. There are five entrances and 22 actors, many of whom play multiple parts. That’s an awful lot of people milling about, constantly chatting and shouting. Credit Walker for getting them all to their marks in time and without running into each other.

In the 1930s “Once in a Lifetime” offered Depression-era audiences escape from their worries, and Walker comments in a program note that we’re in similar “troubled times.”

“…forget your worries and leave refreshed with laughter to face whatever life presents you,” he writes.

George Lewis (Blake R. York) and May Daniels (Nicole Lockett) are a second rate Vaudeville act. Jerry Hyland (Lewis Gorman) is their manager. They decide to go to Hollywood and open a school of elocution after the talkies come in to teach actors how to talk. Through a series of missteps, George -- a constant bumbler -- becomes the power behind the scenes at a major studio and is declared an artistic genius.
York is perfectly cast as George. From his slovenly ways to his boyish infatuation with Susan Walker (Kat Christensen), a would-be starlet, York has the audience pulling for him all the way.

Christensen is also beautifully cast. A 16-year-old sophomore at Tacoma School of the Arts, she is easily believable as a young adult. I love the way she runs about with excited little steps like a speeded-up Charlie Chaplin walk.

Most of the cast members play their roles with exaggerated, over-the-top voice and gestures, the one exception being Lockett, who plays May Daniels as the only halfway sensible character in the play. My only quibble with her is that she rushed her dialogue in the first scene during the opening weekend performance. But she settled down by the second scene and was wonderful throughout.

Some of the more outlandish characters are over done. Dana Galagan, for instance, needs to tone down the histrionics in her portrayal of the self-important and pretentious film critic, Helen Hobart. Luke Amundson’s portrayal of the emotional German film director, Kammerling. is funny, but some of his shouting is hard to understand; maybe he should attend May’s elocution school.

There are many actors in multiple walk-on roles who show great skill. One who particularly stands out for his great energy and ability to assume a variety of roles is Joe Kelly as a bellboy, an electrician, Oliver Fulton and the Tie Man. Also enjoyable in a supporting role is Brie Yost as the frantic studio receptionist.
It’s a fairly long play at a little more than two and a half hours including a 15-minute intermission and a five-minute “stretch break.” It’s slow starting and doesn’t get really funny until well into the first act when our heroes go to Hollywood. But the chaotic climactic scenes make the slower beginning worth sitting through.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through June 21
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $14-$22 with discounts for seniors, military and youth
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042, www.lakewoodplayhouse.org

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Reading at Orca

Tomorrow night, Wed., June 10 at 7 p.m. I'll read from my novel, "The Wives of Marty Winters," at Orca Books 509 E. 4th Ave., Olympia. Here's what Orca posted on their website:

"Alec Clayton -- Olympia resident, art critic, editor, PFLAG/Pride activist, renegade Mississippian, novelist! Come bask in his warmth as we unveil his newest fiction The Wives of Marty Winters, wherein an activist is shot at Seattle Pride and the mystery can only be unraveled alongside 50 years of dirty laundry...

Feel free to take the occasion to familiarize yourself with Alec's other books -- two other works of fiction and one of art criticism."

Q&A and book signing to follow the reading.

If you're in the Olympia area, please come on down.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Gay plays

For Pride month there are two gay themed plays in Olympia. I'll be reviewing both of them.

Just to give you a heads-up in case you can't wait, here are snippets from press releases from both plays:

"If you like to laugh, if you like outrageous satire... don't miss "The Little Dog Laughed" said Liz Smith doyenne of Hollywood gossip columnists about Douglas Carter Beane's 2007 Tony and GLAAD (www.glaad.org) award nominated play, opening June 5th at Olympia Little Theatre. The play all Broadway was talking about in 2007 has come to town!

The show runs June 4th through 21st at Olympia Little Theater with shows Thursday through Monday at 7:55pm and 1:55pm Sunday. Tickets are $10-$12 and available at Yenney Music Company, 1404 Harrison Ave NW, Olympia, 360-943-7500 (cash & checks only), on-line at www.buyolympia.com/events (Credit cards only, add 10% service charge.) or at OLT on the night of the show (when available) 1925 Miller Avenue, Olympia, WA 98506 360-786-9484 www.olympialittletheatre.org

Regular Performance dates: June 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20 at 7:55pm:
June 14, 21 at 1:55pm.

There will be a special benefit performance for Capital City Pride Friday June 19, 7:55pm. Contact CCP www.capitalcitypride.net for tickets.

Next, a different kind of Romeo and Juliet:

"Theater Artists Olympia is pleased to present 'Romeo and Juliet' done with a fresh, intriguing perspective: the title roles are played by two young men. The director, Chris Cantrell, has emphasized that this is not a "drag show," but a serious production. He is handling it with the utmost sensitivity and care. We would like to reach out to those organizations that support the gay and lesbian community and tap into an often-neglected audience. Please encourage everyone you know to support this important production.

Where: Minnaert Performing Arts Ctr, 2011 Mottman Rd SW, Olympia (South Puget Sound Comm College)
When: June 25 - July 11 at 8:00 p.m. (Wed.-Sat.) / July 12 at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets: $12 at door or buyolympia.com / Pay What You Can on 7/8
Info: olytheater.com or 360-357-3471

Friday, June 5, 2009

‘Buddy’ goes to the heart of the story

Published in The News Tribune, June 5, 2009
pictured: Ryan Coleman as Buddy Holly, in background Jake Westhoff as guitarist Tommy Allsup and Connor Rifenberry, drums. Photo by Scott Campbell.

Buddy Holly rocks. He rocked Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959, and he’s rocking the stage at Tacoma Little Theatre in 2009 in “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story” starring Ryan Coleman and directed by Brett Carr.

Other than Holly’s wonderful music, the key to this show is authenticity. From vintage microphones and amplifiers to Holly’s teenage backup musicians to actors who look the part of famous entertainers and can uncannily mimic their singing styles, everything seems real. When the emcees on stage at New York’s Apollo Theatre and in the dance hall in Iowa encourage audience participation, the audience at Tacoma Little Theatre responds, because it feels as much like you’re actually there as any such performance I can recall.

The story is a bare-bones biography. We first see Buddy as a raw teenage singer at the KDAV Radio dance party at the Grand Ballroom in Lubbock, Texas, defiantly sliding from a standard country tune to a rocking “Reddy Teddy” and later fighting with his manager and a record producer because they want him to sing country and he wants to rock ‘n’ roll.

We follow him to recording studios in Nashville and in Clovis, N.M., and then to the great Apollo Theatre in Harlem where he wows the audience with some of his most popular hit tunes, including “Peggy Sue” and “Not Fade Away.” There is a brief and delightful comic scene when he meets and proposes to his wife, and then we follow him to the big concert in Iowa with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens; and for the next 20 or 30 minutes (who’s keeping time?) the play becomes one huge, rocking concert with the audience on their feet and clapping.

The technical crew does much to add to the feeling of authenticity by making full and effective use of TLT’s revolving stage to seamlessly go from dance halls to recording studios to Buddy’s living room. Lighting and sound by Kris Zetterstrom and Joe Izenman creatively mimic a movie-style fade to condense an all-night recording session into a few minutes. There are some slight problems such as Ritchie Valens’ guitar being too loud and Holly’s drummer not speaking loud enough when not on microphone, but such problems are easily overlooked and add to the realism.

I cannot praise Coleman enough for his singing, guitar playing and acting. He doesn’t attempt to precisely imitate Buddy Holly but emulates his style in his own voice. He becomes Buddy. His bandmates, Jacob Rifenbery on bass and Connor Rifenbery on drums, are outstanding musicians who are as young as the Crickets were in 1956.

Michael Storslee as radio disc jockey and Buddy’s mentor and father figure, Hipockets Duncan, is so natural that it’s hard to believe he’s not a real radio personality transported across time and space from Texas in the 1950s.

Beautifully clad in a sparkling red ball gown, LaNita Hudson sings rhythm and blues and wisecracks delightfully as the Apollo emcee.

Erik Hill ably fills a number of roles but is most entertaining as the emcee for the Iowa show.

Jenifer Rifenbery (mother to Jacob and Connor) convincingly plays Vi Petty and plays piano and sings backup with the Snowbird Singers. Also compelling is Stephanie Leeper as Buddy’s wife, Maria Elena.

Mike Slease is spot-on as the Big Bopper. As should be expected, his singing of “Chantilly Lace” is one of the musical highlights of the show. And Paul Eddy rocks on “La Bamba” as the great Ritchie Valens.

Other notable musical performances include Kevin Freitas’ terrific trumpet playing and his mellow country singing as the lead singer for the Hayriders, Darren Struthers’ saxophone and doo-wop singing, and Jake Westhoff’s guitar playing and his personable performance as Tommy Allsup.

The story is simple, well known by many people and almost superfluous. This play is not really about the story; it’s about the music – pure, unadulterated and raw vintage rock and roll.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sundays through June 28
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22 adult, $20 senior/student/military, $18 children under 12
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281, www.tacomalittletheatre.com.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Smashing art

Cool stuff on your home computer

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 4, 2009

You’ve already seen all the latest shows at Tacoma Art Museum and Museum of Glass, at Robert Daniel, Fulcrum, Grand Impromptu and all the others — although the fetish art and Tacoma Erotic Art Show are yet to come. So where do you look to satisfy your craving for visual stimulus in the form of exciting and original art?

On the Web, naturally. And you thought the only stimulation on the World Wide Web was porn and Facebook. No, there’s art on the Web; exciting art the likes of which you’ll seldom find in area galleries. You just have to know where to look for it. Sometimes you can find art in the most unexpected places.

Like Smashing magazine. Smashing is an online magazine for Web designers. It’s all about layout and design and logos and jQuery-based content sliders and modal windows — and I’m a Web designer in my “day job” yet I have absolutely no idea what those last two are. But aside from all that, Smashing has some amazing art. On their home page look to the links in the right-side column under the heading “Popular Posts” and you’ll find things such as 50 Graffiti Artworks, 50 Brilliant Posters, 50 Movie Posters, Beautiful Desktop Wallpapers and Beautiful Underwater Photos. Here you’ll find some of the most stunning graphic art, photography and fine art to be found anywhere.

Which brings up another point I’d like to make. I think that much of the best painting being done today is done on the walls of buildings. If today’s top graffiti artists are not as avant-garde as Picasso and Braque were in 1907, they are at least as innovative and fearless as Warhol and Lichtenstein were in 1962.

For more (debatably) great art on the Web you can do the obvious and Google “best art websites.” If you do, the first thing to come up is a site called, naturally, “best art websites.” But guess what. If the art on this site is even close to being good art, then I’m the queen of England. A very democratic site, they rate art sites by popular vote, and the number one vote-getter is a site called deviantART. But the stuff on this site is neither deviant nor art.

For the best of the best — if you have a lot of time on your hands and want to do a lot of leisurely browsing, visit the Webby. This is a site that honors the very best Web sites in the world in a number of categories as chosen by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, whose membership includes such luminaries as David Bowie, Arianna Huffington and Harvey Weinstein. Their choice this year for best art site went to British artist Keith Tyson. Spend some time navigating his site at http://www.keithtyson.com.

But what, you ask, is this fetish and erotic art show in Tacoma, meaning to hell with all this Web stuff; I want to see real art in the flesh. OK, take yourself down to Robert Daniel Gallery Friday or Saturday, June 12-13 starting at 9 p.m. for an erotic art exhibition and entertainment featuring the documentary film Why Do We Hide? plus performances by The Little Red Studio and members of Seattle’s Center for Sex Positive Culture. I can’t actually recommend this because I haven’t yet seen any of it, but I can vouch for the overall excellent quality of the visual art represented at Robert Daniel Gallery.

[Robert Daniel Gallery, Tacoma Erotic Art Show, 9 p.m., June 12-13, $10, 2501 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma]

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Very big glass

Pictured here is my friend Lisa Kinoshita showing off a bit of her jewelry. Lisa, who shows other people's art in her gallery, mineral in Tacoma, is having a show at Vetri International in Seattle.

Lisa says, "The new work involves some Very Big Glass & Wood Balls, nice elemental shapes with a Bigfoot scale and Flintstone underpinnings ...There are a slew of images at www.vetriglass.com; click on Artists and you will find my page."