Sunday, August 30, 2009

Miss Pride

I’m from Mississippi and proud of it. That’s the name of a group on Facebook. A friend invited me to join this group.

It’s terrific that the Internet allows us to connect and reconnect with old friends. I’ve been able to reestablish friendships with a lot of wonderful people I grew up with in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Most of them, true to their Southern heritage, are politically conservative. I’m not. We tend to not talk a lot about politics.

Among these old friends only two are self-professed liberals. Ironically it was one of these two who sent me that invitation. I’d like to join if I could just think of something about Mississippi to be proud of.

First off, I’m not even so sure that pride is a good thing. Isn’t it one of the deadly sins? Doesn’t pride “goeth before the fall”?

Well, there are different definitions of pride. The meanings of words evolve. Black pride and gay pride, for instance, are seen as good things—unless you’re a bigot. They instill a feeling of self-worth in people who have been abused, cast out and made into second-class citizens. If you happen to have been born white, male and privileged, on the other hand, pride in that is probably not such a good thing. In that case, pride might be more akin to arrogance.

Pride in another person’s accomplishment, a parent or child, for instance, is also a good thing.
But to be proud of where you happened to have been born or that you grew up in a certain place makes no sense at all. That’s not an accomplishment. I grew up where my parents lived. I had no choice. So that’s no more something to be proud of than it is something to be ashamed of.

But if you grew up in a place that is looked down upon by other parts of the world pride of place may be akin to black pride or gay pride in many ways. Like African-Americans and gay Americans, some of us who grew up in the South have been scorned and laughed at because we’re Southerners. People hear that syrupy Southern drawl and immediately assume they’re talking to a redneck or a bigot.

Ironically, I can relate to African-Americans who can’t get a taxi to stop for them or who are followed around stores by security personnel because I have experienced the unwarranted assumption that people with Southern accents are trailer trash, country bumpkins, dumb as a fence post—except that in my case I have to open my mouth and say something for that to happen where assumptions about a person of color don’t take that long.

It is understandable that people from the Deep South, probably more than from any other section of the country, become easily defensive. It’s understandable that they get sick and tired of seeing their fellow regionalists portrayed as idiots in movies and in television shows, and it’s no wonder that a little pride of place may bolster their self-esteem.

I left the South in about 1973 and returned in 1977. The South had changed a lot during those years. There was a lot of talk about “the New South,” which I was told had cast aside its racist attitudes. Fine upstanding white business people in town were quick to brag about the New South, which they portrayed as not necessarily more liberal but more open minded and welcoming. We were happy to have elected a governor, William Winter, who was much more liberal than predecessors such as Theodore Bilbo and Ross Barnett. People that we interacted with on a daily basis were black and white and sincerely sought to bring about racial harmony. But we also knew many white people who were defensive about race relations in the South, quick to brag about the progress we’d made and blind to the holdovers of the institutionalized racism from just a few years before. Even many liberal white people, for instance, got incensed about any move toward restitution based on past wrongs or about affirmative action, because they saw it as giving minorities not just a leg up but a decided advantage over whites. It’s not our fault, they would say, that our parents and grandparents were bigots. We’ve overcome that and shouldn’t be make to feel ashamed, and there’s sure as hell no reason we should have to pay for the sins of our parents.
That’s sounds sensible on the surface, but it simply masks a more subtle form of racism.

During our sojourn back home in Hattiesburg from 1977 to 1988 we lived in a sort of bubble. Because we were the publishers of the only alternative newspaper in town the more liberal-leaning people tended to cluster around us. Sometimes it felt like the whole town was much more progressive than it had been when I was growing up. But then we’d run into some good ol’ boy who would remind us that it was he and his friends, not we and our friends, who epitomized the local populace. There was a lawyer who had an office across the street from us. He was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and on the team that defended Byron De La Beckwith, who was finally found guilty of murdering Medgar Evers thirty years after the crime was committed. There was a neighbor who showed us his old Klan robes and said, to his credit at least, that he joined for a short time but got out after he realized “those people were crazy.” I remember once when I was covering a city council meeting for our newspaper there was talk of a black man who had gotten off with a reprimand after committing some minor offense. A member of the council, a white man (they were all white) said, “Back in the day they would have taken him out back of the courthouse and hung him from an oak tree.” And everybody laughed. I didn’t.

There were no gay rights activists in my home town. In fact, there were no openly gay people at all that I was aware of. The few gay men I knew drove 90 miles away to New Orleans in order to date. At home they were securely closeted.

I was told that the South had changed. I was told it back then and didn’t see a hell of a lot of evidence to back it up, and I still don’t. Granted, I have seen some changes. They did finally convict De La Beckwith, and I recently heard about some active gay rights groups in Hattiesburg.

To their credit, no matter what their politics may be, the people of Mississippi are as friendly and caring for one another as any people anywhere. Southern hospitality is no myth. We were taught from early childhood to be polite and to treat other people the way we wanted to be treated.
For the bigots, of course, the Golden Rule applies only to their own kind.

Almost everybody treated us decently when we were publishing the newspaper in Hattiesburg, including old friends who may have sharply disagreed with our politics. Similarly the people I grew up with and have recently reconnected with are fundamentally kind and decent human beings. If and when we discuss politics or sensitive social issues, which we usually avoid, our disagreements are expressed with respect. We try not to insult anyone of hurt anyone’s feelings because that’s the way we were brought up.

I cannot understand how year after year they can continue to vote for right wing demagogues like Trent Lott and Haley Barbour and support causes that are bigoted and mean spirited. That’s why when my friend asked me to join the group I’m from Mississippi and proud of it, I could not bring myself to say yes.

Postscript: I began this by mentioning two self-professed liberals among my old friends from Mississippi. I saw one of those two in Seattle yesterday and met her husband for the first time. He is a history professor at a community college in the Deep South, and he said that he has seen changes among young people. He said that in the past decade he has not heard a single racial slur from anyone under that age of 30. Maybe there’s hope after all.

Friday, August 28, 2009

‘Ugly Duckling’ handsome as musical ‘Honk’

Published in The News Tribune, Aug. 28, 2009
Pictured:Timothy B. Lott as Drake, Mauro Bozzo as Ugly and Diane Lee Bozzo as Ida

In its second season the ManeStage Theatre Company in Sumner seems to have matured a bit. That’s not to say that its current show, “Honk,” is for mature audiences, but rather that the professionalism of this decidedly amateur theater company has been kicked up a notch since I saw last year’s “Bye Bye Birdie.”

“Honk” is a musical based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling,” with music by George Stiles and book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. It is co-directed by husband and wife Brenda S. and Jay Henson.

It’s a silly, fluffy, Disneyesque telling of the story of the ugly duckling who is rejected by his brothers and sisters and just about every other farm animal in the world – except for his devoted mother. I don’t think I’ll be giving away any earth-shattering surprises if I divulge that he turns into a beautiful swan in the end.

It is a children’s tale that adults can also enjoy because of its adult humor – adult in the sense of being sophisticated, not risqué, although there is one spicy scene between Cat (Brian Redpath), a feral tomcat, and Queenie (Christine Riippi), a house cat.

Diane Lee Bozzo and her son Mauro Bozzo are outstanding as mother and son Ida and Ugly. She comes across as sincerely loving and as fretful as any mother with a troubled child can be, and she sings beautifully. He also is a fine singer (being able to hold a note for incredibly long times without wavering seems to be a family trait), and his acting is outstanding. Long-limbed with wobbly legs, he exemplifies the movements of a gangly chick with movements reminiscent of Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.” And it is awe inspiring when he lets out with the eardrum-shattering “honk.”

Also excellent are Marion L. Read, as Maureen, who has a strong voice and commanding presence, and Scott C. Eagan as Greylag, with his outlandish parody of the incompetent leader of a troop of military geese. Credit Riippi and Daisy Nau as, respectively, Queenie and a chicken named Lowbutt, for their highly charged comic relationship.

In his brief turn on stage, Kent Wilson is fabulous as a jive talking and jazz singing Bullfrog, and Brandon J. Mitchell as Snowy provides two of the most hilarious moments in the play – a shocking gesture and a takeoff on a popular song, neither of which I shall explain because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Some of the other actors are inconsistent. Redpath is mostly funny as the nasty villain Cat, but tends to overact in places and is too loud overall (possibly a problem with his microphone on opening night). Timothy B. Lott’s performance as Drake, the father duck, is funny in spots but inconsistent. And Lindsay Delmarter sings well as top bird Grace, but her part of the story is superfluous.

The kids in the ensemble are particularly outstanding dancers, and the choreography by Brenda Henson is very good, especially on the big production numbers in which the entire cast is on stage. The tap dancing and the chorus line-style dancing – sometimes traditional and sometimes reminiscent of a Monty Python takeoff – are much better than the ballet numbers.

Not costuming the animal characters as animals was a brilliant decision. Rather than trying to make human actors look like animals, they tried, successfully in most instances, to capture an essence of the animals through costume, voice and gesture. Ida wears a simple yellow dress but does not in any way attempt to emulate a duck. Instead, she emulates a mother. Cat is not dressed as a cat but as a gangster, which reflects the nature of this character. Michael J. Bowen as Turkey wears an ill-fitting and out-of-style suit and a terrible greasy hair style to personify a “turkey” as slang for a loser. And the geese, who fly in military formation, are played as British flying aces (who crash a lot). Costuming in this manner must have been written into the script, because actors are pictured in similar costumes on Stiles and Drewe’s official Web site.

Not all of the costumes are that inventive, however. The father duck, Drake wears overalls and personifies a farmer more than a drake, and Maureen is supposed to be a bird of some sort but just looks like a woman in a house dress.

The set by David Josephson is a beautiful set of risers disguised as a rock garden with an atmospheric painted backdrop. It is most effective when used in combination with a scrim. The only major set change is for an interior scene with Queenie and Lowbutt in a room in which all the furniture is huge in relation to their small size relative to human scale. This is well done, but the brick backdrop in this scene is boring, not to mention it looks like an outside wall inside.

“Honk” provides an evening of terrific music and lots of laughs.

WHEN: 7 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, extra matinee Saturday at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Sumner Performing Arts Center, 1707 Main St., Sumner
TICKETS: $14 general, $12 seniors, students, military, $10 children 10 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-447-7645,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Classical modern

Surrealism and abstraction at Childhood’s End

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug 27, 2009
Pictured: "Optical Bloom" and "Pincushion" oil on board by Blake Flynn

Angel Matamoros is a graphic artist at The News Tribune. I remember that just a few short years ago he expressed envy of fine artists as if fine artists possessed some kind of greatness that mere commercial artists can’t attain. And now he is a fine arts painter who manifests the kind aesthetic exploration he seemed to envy in the recent past. He’s come a long way in a short time.

Matamoros’ abstract paintings are paired with surrealistic paintings by Blake Flynn in the current exhibition at Childhood’s End Gallery in Olympia. It’s a nice contrast. Both artists display competent skill, and Flynn displays a very inventive mind.

Matamoros’ paintings are bold and simple forms on roughly textured surfaces with typically no more than two to three large rectangular shapes or a simple atmospheric surface with no definable shapes. The best of his paintings are all grouped together on the wall to the left as you enter the gallery. There is a group of small paintings in acrylic and mixed media, each in a monochromatic color scheme with a few rectangular shapes. The best of these are "Dunes Olvidadas" and "Su Última Palabra" (the titles are all in Spanish). "Dunes Olvidadas" is painted in shades of yellow with two overlapping dark boxes in the lower right side. Sharply incised lines that appear to be pencil lines (pentimenti of guidelines) extend into and beyond the shapes to add precise accents to an otherwise amorphous painting. This little painting may well be the best in the show. Next to it, "Su Última Palabra" is similar but duller in color, mostly browns and blacks, and is more classically balanced. The weakest of this group is "Más Allá Jardin" with its overly raw green color.

Also outstanding is "Rue St. Philip" (OK, that’s not Spanish), a large painting with three bands of color, orange, yellow and green, and excellent use of rough edges between the bands of color. This painting looks like a section of a wall on an old building that has been painted and repainted countless times.

Matamoros’ more atmospheric paintings, which look like stormy skies, are not as good as the ones mentioned above, and the one big drawback to all of his paintings is that they have high gloss finishes. I hate high gloss finishes.

Flynn’s paintings are highly inventive and skillfully painted, but the compositions are hit-or-miss. The works in a group of little oil paintings of flowers have can’t-miss compositions — single images smack dab in the middle like flowers by Georgia O’Keefe or Andy Warhol. Some of the flowers sport a single human eye. A similar compositional device is used in a really quirky image of a half-lemon, half-lime held in place with a clamp.

Most of his other paintings have figures in various strange settings; these are the most inventive but also the most inconsistent in composition. One called "Driven Woman" pictures a standing woman in a red dress in front of a roller coaster of a freeway overpass holding a steering wheel and pretending to drive. The relationship between the woman and the background is beautifully integrated. In some of his other paintings, such as one picturing fishermen holding a very strange fish, the artist seems to have not considered composition at all.

One of my favorites is "Her Story," a picture of a woman wrapped in a scroll, which she is reading. The scroll looks like a Grecian robe that trails off onto the floor. Behind her are classical sculptures that look vaguely familiar. One looks like George Washington, and another looks like the face of God from Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling mural.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 27, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Definitions of Space

Tooting my own horn in the Volcano
Aug 20, 2009

I used my column in the Weekly Volcano to invite readers to my own show. Thanks to editor Matt Driscoll I can do that. Thanks, Matt.
Pictured, top: a selection of paintings by David N. Goldberg
next: paintings by CJ Swanson
next: Gabi and I in front of my painting "Bird of Prey"
bottom: Me with "X-plosion" and "Johna and the Whale No. 2"

Dear reader: If you’re going to be in Seattle anytime in the next six weeks, please stop by the Convention Center downtown to see my show Definitions of Space.

I’m showing with three other artists, two from Tacoma and one from Port Orchard.

From Port Orchard comes Patrice Tullai. The Tacoma artists are CJ Swanson and David N. Goldberg, the husband-and-wife team who founded the former Art on Center and AOC Galleries. You should remember Swanson from her recent show at Pierce College, which I reviewed in this column. Swanson and Goldberg wrote the description of the show that appears on the exhibition Web site at In it they explain that the four artists each use color, shape and form to define space within the two-dimensional picture plane.

Tullai, who is also an entertainer and recording artist, deals with space by emphasizing the flat surface. She juxtaposed rough-edged blobs of brilliant color in a fairly even distribution across the surface so that areas of bright yellow, red and blue compete with one another to see which can jump off the surface.

Swanson and Goldberg also employ a kind of all-over composition reminiscent of Robert and Sonya Delaunay, and Mark Toby. They each distribute small shapes — squares, circles, ellipses — in balanced patterns across the surface. Their paintings have more depth than Tullai’s, not the depth of linear or atmospheric perspective but the peek-a-boo depth of layered, torn and pasted-over images on an old billboard. Despite many similarities, Goldberg’s paintings are more energetic and painterly, and Swanson’s more decorative and more controlled. Her shapes evoke images of flowers, lollypops and urban skylines; his evoke gears and wheels and the gritty underbelly of the prettier cities seen in Swanson’s paintings. Her paintings, though abstract, have always contained shapes taken from common items seen around the house, such as a hang mirror or a flower pot. His paintings have, over the few years I’ve been aware of them, always been more purely abstract; but objects from the real world have begun to pop up in his latest work.

It is a pleasure to be showing with these fine artists. Please come to our show and tell your friends about it. The space is wonderful. If you haven't seen the exhibition spaces there, they are like big, broad promenades on the second and third floors where you can see vistas from one gallery to the next like some of the great views in the Seattle Art Museum. It's fabulous, and they did a great job of hanging the show. Plus, Geeze, on the third floor there are works by Jacob Lawrence, Alden Mason, Kenneth Callahan and Chihuly -- that's great company to keep.

[Washington State Convention and Trade Center, Definitions of Space, through Sept. 24, 800 Convention Place, downtown Seattle,]

Friday, August 14, 2009

Best of Tacoma

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 13, 2009
Pictured: Holly Senn installation, photo courtesy Holly Senn and 23 Sandy Gallery

Here are a few of my picks for the annual "Best of Tacoma" issue of the Weekly Volcano.

Best art gallery

How much can change in a year? Last year I picked Fulcrum Gallery at 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way as the best gallery in T-town. At the time, the gallery was so new and I had seen so little of it that my choice based mostly on speculation as it its potential.

Fulcrum Gallery has met my expectations. I think it’s still the best in town. Now that, sadly, The Helm has bit the dust, Fulcrum is probably the edgiest gallery in town. They’re willing to take chances of works with little commercial potential, such as an installation of collaborative works by Shannon Eakins and Marc Dombrosky including a portrait of serial killer John Allen Muhammed that Eakins shot full of bullet holes — with the same model gun Muhammed used and purchased from the same gun shop. That was, understatement of understatements, Creepy.

Fulcrum has also displayed beautiful abstract works such as Lance Kagey’s prints based on numbers and lots of excellent glass art (gallery owner Oliver Doriss is a glass artist). It’s a small and unimposing gallery. Blink while driving down MLK and you’ll miss it. But the variety and quality of work shown there is consistently top drawer.

You never know what Fulcrum is liable to do next. Well, yes you do, next up is ceramic sculptures by Meghan Elissa Hartwig and photographs by Kristin Giordano.
"I am honored that Tacoma has responded so positively to the work we do here at Fulcrum. Open now for a year and a half I am pleased with the growth that has occurred thus far, and look forward to melding the experimental contemporary art displays with the products and events that are the back bone of this delicate business model," Doriss said.

When Doriss first opened this gallery, an article in The News Tribune said they were going to specialize in installation art. Installation art is impossible to sell or collect, and while wanting to provide opportunities for installation artists and others whose work has little or no commercial appeal, Fulcrum has also shown an awareness that people want to be able to buy affordable art they can put in their homes, so they have balanced the unsalable with small and affordable paintings, sculptures and glass art, a formula that so far seems to be working quite well.
Further information is available online at or by calling 253.250.0520.

Best visual artist
Jerry Managan

I’m going to go out on a limb and choose as best artist a painter whose work I’ve seen very little of other than on a computer screen. I’m assuming the actual paintings look something like they look online. Jerry Managan, this year’s Foundation Award winner. Managan’s technique and inventive imagery is admirable, as is the wide range of styles he works in. His surrealistic paintings of barn-like buildings have a brittle quality and interesting juxtaposition of crowded areas and open spaces, and some of his paintings have a lush photo-realist-pop look, both of which I like. But let’s not look too hard at the commercial and commission work on his Web site. What we do for money is like what we do for love, excusable.
You can see his work online at

Best book art

From the libraries at Pacific Lutheran University and University of Puget Sound to the Woolworth windows to Brooklyn, N.Y., Holly Senn has taken her love of books and art on a wild ride that appears to be only starting. Using old discarded books as a starting point, Senn builds sculptures and installations that are intriguing, thought provoking and beautiful. Perhaps Tacoma is not big enough to contain her talent, as her latest installation, Windows on Nature and Knowledge, is installed in display windows in the Brooklyn Public Library in — where else? — Brooklyn, New York.

Next up will be an installation called Tale at 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland. You can also see photos and videos of her work on her Web site at /

Senn’s art is primarily conceptual, meaning the ideas she conveys are her central concern. But they are not without visual appeal, which is one of the things I most appreciate. Many conceptual artists seem to care little or know nothing about the visual aspects of their art, But Senn is sensitive to visual beauty and also to implications of her media. The connections between the paper the books are made from and the trees the paper comes from and between human industry and thought — expressed with words and images — is always present in her art.

Little theater precocious in ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Published in The News Tribune, Aug. 14, 2009
Pictured, left to right: Micheal Carr as Cogsworth, Rusty Flounders as the prince, James Knickerbocker as Lumiere.Photo by Erin Lund

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is a show ideally suited for big stages with lots of money for props, sets, costumes and lighting. It should probably not even be attempted by small community theaters, but Paradise Theatre in Gig Harbor does it justice despite a few unfortunate performances.

Paradise is the epitome of community theater. It is a place where youths and amateur actors can hone their skills, where a few imperfections are forgivable and where, from time to time, you might see the first sparks of a shooting star in development.

For example, watch out for Andrew Knickerbocker, who plays Chip. Even though his role is small, you get a glimpse here that he and some of the other young actors in this show could become well known on South Sound stages, if not beyond.

The staging, lighting and the exuberance of the cast – especially F. James Raasch as Gaston and a number of the supporting and ensemble actors – make this performance a joyful experience.

The lighting effects, most noticeably when the Beast is transformed into the prince, are worthy of larger and more professional theaters. Kudos to Jeff Richards and Mike Dullum for lighting and sound.

The sets are simple but effective painted backdrops, and the numerous set changes are done quickly and unobtrusively.

Most of the actors are excellent, from Katin Jacobs-Lake, who is in spectacular voice as Belle, to an ensemble cast consisting mostly of the Dullum and Knickerbocker families.

The five-piece pit orchestra sounded much larger than it was and added dramatic effect, especially Manny Garcia’s trumpet and Nick Richards’ percussion.

The critical roles of The Beast and Belle’s father could have been better cast. Rusty Flounders is frightening as the mad beast but not quite believable when the monster becomes more sensitive and loving, and his singing is uneven at best. Jon Elston is not convincing as Belle’s father. His old-man shuffle came across as unnatural, and he has the same silly expression on his face throughout most of the play.

Jacobs-Lake is totally convincing as Belle. She appears self- possessed and natural in the role. Nothing is forced. Her singing is clear and strong, and her emotions ring true.

Raasch’s Gaston owns the stage. Physically he is ideally cast. He is so lovable, and his portrayal of the self-centered buffoon is so funny that you almost hate it when Gaston becomes vicious near the end. His lackey, Le Fou, is played with comic exuberance and great physical action by Taylor Herbstritt.

Outstanding in supporting roles are James Knickerbocker as Lumiere, Vicki Knickerbocker as Mrs. Potts, Valerie Jolibois as the flirtatious Babette and Micheal Carr as Cogsworth.

Vicki Richards’ choreography is outstanding. The big production numbers are beautifully choreographed, and the dancing is great, with flips and handsprings by some of the preteen cast members.

“Beauty and the Beast” runs 21/2 hours, including a 10-minute intermission. The time flies by. It is a show that can be enjoyed equally by children and adults.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 23
WHERE: Paradise Theatre, 9911 Burnham Drive NW, Gig Harbor
TICKETS: $20 adults, $17 seniors, $10 students, with group discounts

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bluebird

Jessica Bender’s tribute to Charles Bukowski

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 13, 2009
Photo: Courtesy photo
"Bluebird": a work in progress by Jessica Bender, courtesy of The Telephone Room Gallery

"The Bluebird" by Jessica Bender is one of the more unique art installations in Tacoma at one of the most unique galleries in town. The Telephone Room is billed as “the world’s second-smallest art gallery.” Is it really? We may never know, but it’s certainly Tacoma’s second smallest, with the Tollbooth Gallery being the smallest.

Founded by Heidi Fernandez-Llamazares, Marty Gengenback and Ellen Ito, it is a room in a 1930s Dutch Colonial home located near the intersection of Union and Sixth Avenue that until now has had the sole purpose of housing a black rotary telephone.

By the way, the phone is still there, but there is no phone number listed for the gallery.

The founders refer to it as “artist-driven,” and so far in the brief life of the gallery it has featured works by some of Tacoma’s most innovative artists, including Marc Dombrosky, Shannon Eakins, NicholasNyland and many more.

Jessica Bender is an artist whose work is mysterious, often strange, haunting and very elegantly beautiful — beautiful in the way perhaps an ancient wedding dress found in someone’s attic is beautiful. Look at the items pictured on her blog at and you will get a taste of how elegantly enigmatic some of her work can be, from a pile of sculpted fingers to an array to antique letter openers to hanging heads attached to what looks like perhaps wedding dresses or funeral shrouds.

Her show at The Telephone Room was inspired by the poet and novelist Charles Bukowski. Bender explains: “The work is the culmination of a week-long residency at the Two Dot Spot in Two Dot, Mont. This remote town consists of a post office and a bar, which seemed the perfect setting to channel Bukowski energy, as he worked for the post office for some time and is known for his drinking habits. Bukowski made a series of paintings/drawings using whatever was on hand. Embracing this principle, much of the work is made from materials available in Two Dot, including excavated antelope bones and moths.”

Coming up next at The Telephone Room is a show called LEGO, in which artists will be invited to come and play with LEGO sets. Sorry, it’s by invitation only. But what they create on the LEGO build night will be shown in an exhibition scheduled for September. So watch for announcements.

[The Telephone Room Gallery, The Bluebird by Jessica Bender, through Aug. 31, 3710 N. 7th St., Tacoma, by appointment only, for appointment e-mail]

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Festival Northwest

I can't cover everything I'd like to. Here's something I won't be reviewing for my column but which I highly recommend based on my previous knowledge of the people putting it on. It's Festival Northwest, produced by Northwest Playwrights Alliance, three full-length plays plus short works, and play readings. All full productions are at Tacoma Little Theatre. The full schedule is below.

I wish I'd been able to post this announcement earlier because you've already missed "John Lennon's Gargoyle" by Bryan Willis.

Coming up:

a story that ends and begins with a dream by Nate Harpel
>Saturday, 8/8 at 8pm and Sunday 8/9 at 2pm

The Short List: The Best Short Plays of the Past Year
>Thursday 8/13 at 7:30pm and Friday 8/14 at 8pm

Convention by Dan Erickson
>Saturday 8/15 at 8pm and Sunday 8/16 at 2pm

And FREE Readings at Origin 23 Coffee!
The Florentine by Jake Sherman
>Monday 8/17 at 7pm
"The Greatest Plays Ever Written by Nick Stokes" by Nick Stokes
>Monday 8/24 at 7pm

A co-production with Tacoma Little Theatre.
$14 general, $10 student/senior/military; a festival pass can be purchased for all four shows at a discounted price of $32. Tickets available now at or 253-272-2281.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New shows, classics mix in 2009-10 seasons

Published in The News Tribune and The Olympian Aug. 6-7, 2009

The 2009-10 theater season in the South Sound is the year of “Rent.” Three different theaters are doing the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, a hard-hitting look at sex, drugs, corruption and AIDS that is joyful and uplifting despite themes of poverty, rebellion and desperation. And the music is fantastic. See it at Tacoma Musical Playhouse Jan. 22-Feb. 14, at Capital Playhouse in Olympia March 11-April 3, and at Encore! Theatre in Gig Harbor May 7-23. With that many performances, there’s no excuse for not seeing it at least once this season, and if there’s a contemporary musical that’s a must-see, it’s “Rent.”

The first major decision Scott Campbell made when he took the helm at Tacoma Little Theatre was that in a time of economic depression we need comic relief. So he planned an all-comedy schedule for the 2009-10 season, starting with a sure-fire winner, Neil Simon’s “The Star-Spangled Girl,” opening Aug. 28 and running through Sept. 27. This madcap comedy is set in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, 1968, and swirls around an unlikely romance between a radical publisher and an all-American girl from Arkansas.

In a rare theatrical collaboration, TLT’s Campbell is partnering with his former boss, Marcus Walker from Lakewood Playhouse, to do a joint production of the blue-collar classic “A Tuna Christmas,” the sequel to “Greater Tuna,” the two-person/20-character comedy that Walker and Campbell performed last season at Lakewood Playhouse. This one will run Dec. 11-20 at TLT and Nov. 22 to Dec. 6 at Lakewood Playhouse.

Other TLT shows include “Lend Me a Tenor,” “A Christmas Story,” “Over the River and Through the Woods,” “Noises Off” and “Major Barbara.”

Harlequin Productions in Olympia continues to offer provocative theater with its lineup of comedies, dramas, original musicals and Shakespeare. And once again they will premiere a play by the great playwright Israel Horovitz. Remember last year’s “Sins of the Mother”? The new one is called “Six Hotels.” Four actors play 24 characters in six separate stories that take place in six different hotels all over the world. The Harlequin Web site describes it as “a rollicking mix of art, politics, relationships, comedy, drama, and the general struggle to become actual human beings.”

Lakewood Playhouse is going with a lineup of proven hits this year, starting with the Agatha Christi murder mystery “The Mousetrap” (Sept. 18-Oct. 11) and following that with the heartfelt and inspiring true story “Tuesdays with Morrie” about the relationship between a student and his teacher who is dying of ALS (Oct. 23-Nov. 8). Also scheduled are the musicals “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Then, for a change of pace, the classic comedy “You Can’t Take It With You” and Steinbeck’s great drama “The Grapes of Wrath” – and a bonus performance of this year’s hit punk-rock musical “Angry Housewives.”

Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s mainstage shows include regional premieres and new revivals of old favorites. The season opener is the surprise hit musical and TMP staff favorite that just closed on Broadway, “Curtains,” featuring music by Kander and Ebb, the great composer/lyricist team from “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” Other TMP shows for the upcoming season are “Guys & Dolls,” “The Wedding Singer,” “Flower Drum Song,” and the new Elvis musical “All Shook Up.”

Following a grand opening gala Aug. 28, Centerstage in Federal Way opens its season with the world premiere of “Contact” based on the novel by Carl Sagan. This is a musical version of Sagan’s novel with a score by Peter Sipos and lyrics by Amy Engelhardt. It has been adapted for the stage by Centerstage artistic director Alan Bryce.

These are but a few of the exciting theatrical productions lined up for the upcoming year. Others of note include “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Olympia Little Theatre and at Paradise Theatre in Gig Harbor, and Theater Artists Olympia’s “The Brain from Planet X.” Please note that all schedules are subject to change. For more information, visit the theater Web sites.

All Saints Theatrical Repertoire Association

Breeders Theater

Capital Playhouse


Encore! Theater

Harlequin Productions

Lakewood Playhouse

Manestage Theatre

Olympia Little Theatre

Paradise Theatre

Tacoma Little Theatre

Theater Artists Olympia

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Here Today

Temporary Public Art Project returns to Olympia

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 6, 2009
Pictured: Jason Taellious photographing the free wall behind the Capitol theater

Once again in the blink of an eye, the city of Olympia presents a month of temporary art projects. Mark your calendars because it’s here and then gone — visual, performance and literary art in various spots around downtown Oly throughout the month of August.
Now, if only we can get a break from the heat long enough to enjoy these works, because they’re all outside. Who would have ever thought that would be a problem in Olympia in August?

The month long event called Here Today features projects by nine local artists in public spaces throughout the month. Artists include LisaNa Red Bear, Leslie Zenz, Larissa Podzaline, Jason Taellious, Themba Lewis & Sarah Utter, Wilfried Lippmann & Readers Theater Unlimited, Mary Nelson & RADCO, and Casey Fuller.

Events include:

Free outdoor theater by Readers Theater, a group of seniors who perform with minimal props and physical action. It’s all in the voice and expression. Bring chairs or blankets to sit on.

Birds Alight, an interactive shadow puppet performance on the shores of Capitol Lake, accompanied by live Brazilian jazz.

Umbrella Delight, a performance piece by Mary Nelson and the Random Acts of Dance Collective using movement inspired by the sounds and shapes of umbrellas.

What’s Being Sent, a time capsule of a life lived in downtown Olympia and public reading by Casey Fuller based on anonymous postcards sent to the editor of The Olympian over the past two years.

Oly Was Here, photos by Jason Taellious of the OFS Capitol Theater Free Wall over a two-year period.

Return of the Salmon Dance — In association with “Beauty Swim Skins” by LisaNa Red Bear. Nisqually Nation youth dancers will share their rich cultural legacy with the Return of the Salmon dance.

One complaint: Last year this event featured a lot of visual art; this years it’s practically all performance.

For complete descriptions and schedules go online to or call Stephanie Johnson at 360.709.2678.