Friday, November 27, 2009

Tentative and sketchy

Faculty shows its stuff at SPSCC – with mixed results

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 26, 2009
Pictured: "She Walked a Tightrope," a charcoal and mixed media drawing by Carol Hannum

I was not exactly thrilled by the faculty art exhibit at South Puget Sound Community College. That’s not to say it’s not worth seeing. There are some very nice stoneware pots by Colleen Gallagher, Jane Stone and others, and some interesting mixed-media drawings by Carol Hannum. But overall the quality of the work seems tentative and sketchy. Even Shaw Osha, a painter whose work I admire a lot, is a big letdown in this show.

Hannum pretty much carries all the weight in this show. The main wall as you enter the gallery is filled with her drawings — eight of them in charcoal and mixed media (some collage and what appears to be watercolor and pencil). Most of these drawings look like children’s book illustrations, and a lot of the titles read like chapter titles or captions for illustrations. Not being a connoisseur of children’s literature, I can’t say if they’re from actual stories or not. Maybe she’s writing a book or illustrating one for a friend.

The drawings are sketchy, with crude line and shading — whether intentional or not, I can’t tell. A childlike quality would be appropriate, but maybe she’s just not a highly polished draftsman. Images are put together in a collage manner with pictures of people, animals, and the settings in which they are placed juxtaposed in random order, often stacked tightly with foreground figures looking like they were stuck on in front of background images creating a claustrophobic and almost haphazard feel that is probably intentional.

The more I think about it the more I think that all the things about these works that can be off-putting (the cramped spaces, the less than polished style) add to their expressiveness.

Two of the best are "No Country for Old Bunnies" (an obvious takeoff on the Cormac McCarthy novel) and "Family Portrait." The family in the portrait is a family of rag dolls “pasted” in front of a pencil drawing of a dog (maybe it’s a dog doll). The bunny in "No Country" is drawn with charcoal; behind him are towering evergreen trees. Both drawings utilize a contrast of black and white images juxtaposed with color images, mostly reds and blues.

She is also showing a couple of handmade books with accordion pages and nice ink drawings, which give more evidence of drawing skill than the mixed-media drawings.

Other artists of interest include ceramicist Joe Batt, who is showing a group of small figures of cartoon creatures in stoneware “painted” with colored pencils. (I wonder how permanent the color is and whether it was applied before or after firing.)

There are also four large charcoal and pastel drawings by Melinda Liebers Cox, ceramics by Sequoia Miller and Robin Ewing, two charcoal figure drawings by Gallagher, and the one oil on paper by Osha. (Almost a year I noted that Osha seemed to be branching out in new directions that I thought were promising, but the painting in this show is headed in a doubtful direction.)

A final note: I’m not a huge fan of ceramics. Unless they strike out in radically inventive directions, a pot is just a pot. The ones in this show may represent the most accomplished art in the show, which seems to highlight the impression I got that the art department at SPSCC must be geared toward hobby artists.

[South Puget Sound Community College, Faculty Art Exhibit, through Dec. 11, Tuesday-Friday noon-5 p.m., 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5714]

TMP puts its colorful stamp on ‘Guys & Dolls’

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 27, 2009

Guys & Dolls
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, additional matinees Dec. 12 and 19, through Dec. 20
Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at the Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
Tickets: $25 adults, $23 students/military, $18 children 12 and younger
Information: 253-565-6867,

A few days before opening night of each mainstage show, Tacoma Musical Playhouse puts on a preview event called Behind the Curtain. It provides an opportunity to become privy to inside information about the upcoming shows. I’ve attended two of these Behind the Curtain events and wish I could go to all of them. I wish every theater would do this because it affords a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the way productions happen and get a free sneak peek before opening night.

On Sunday, I went to the Behind the Curtain for “Guys & Dolls,” which opens tonight.

Typically the event starts with TMP’s managing artistic director Jon Douglas Rake providing a history of the production, complete with insider anecdotes, and musical director Jeff Stvrtecky explaining some of the intricacies of the music – in this instance explaining the use of a fugue, commonly called singing rounds, in the song “Fugue for Tinhorns” and talking about how operatic and gospel conventions are used in other songs. Rake then shows off some of the costumes, introduces the cast and provides a brief synopsis of the show with the cast performing some of the musical numbers. All of this is followed by a question-and-answer session. This time there was a big crowd in the house, and they asked a lot of insightful questions, which prompted more entertaining anecdotes from Rake.

Rake began by telling the audience that “Guys & Dolls” was based on elements from three different short stories by Damon Runyon and that the music and lyrics were written by Frank Loesser. He told stories about Loesser, who fought constantly with the director during rehearsals for the Broadway opening in 1950. He also briefly mentioned the movie version starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. There was a definite sneer when he mentioned the movie, indicating that if your idea of “Guys & Dolls” is based on the movie you will be seeing something much better at TMP.

He also talked about changes he made for this production such as some references to Christmas themes that weren’t in the original. “As a director I ignore all stage directions” written into the script, Rake said. “I throw those out, ignore them.”

The biggest changes were to “borrow” the Motown version of the great gospel tune “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” and “throw in” a tap dance number on “A Bushel and A Peck.”

Bringing out costumes to show the audience, he explained how all of the costumes were designed to bring out the “essence” of each character as a caricature, explaining that most of the characters have colorful names and giving examples such as these: Harry the Horse (Adam Randolph) wears a horse blanket, and Rusty Charlie (Jon Huntsman) wears rust-colored clothes. Then he showed off the fur stoles and elegant gowns the Hot Box Girls wear in their striptease number, but mischievously teased, “You’ll have to come to the show” to see what they strip down to.

The curtains then opened to reveal a huge cast sitting on stage in front of a fabulous set of painted panels by Dori Conklin representing Times Square at night, with windows and neon signs painted in brilliant yellows, greens and purples on a black background. Later, another curtain was brought on with a painted scene to represent the sewer beneath the city streets painted in glowing orange and blue. Truly beautiful. In this scene, Sky Masterson (Rafe Wadleigh) sings his big number, “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” and Rake promised that there would be a full-scale ballet in the sewer scene plus some hot salsa dancing in a scene in Havana.

Other highlights in the Behind the Curtain event included a beautiful duet with Wadleigh and Sarah Samuelson as Sarah Brown, Sam Barker’s lead as Nicely-Nicely Johnson on the big gospel tune “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” and a very brief but hilariously saucy hip slap by Gen. Cartwright (Diane Bozzo).

The cast and set were wonderful, and the talk back with the audience was lively and informative. Rake seemed to get great pleasure in teasing us about the things we couldn’t see unless we come to the show, such as the big dance numbers and one song, “Adelaide’s Lament,” which he said has been called “a perfect comic song” but could not be performed during Behind the Curtain because Loesser made a legal stipulation that it can be performed only in the show.

The cast and crew of “Guys & Dolls” are teaming up with The Salvation Army in Tacoma during the run of this show. “We just couldn’t resist The Salvation Army connection, and we know that TMP has the most generous patrons in the region,” Rake said. TMP is collecting new and unwrapped toys for The Salvation Army’s Toy ‘n’ Joy program in the lobby between now and the closing performance Dec. 20. “With approximately 4,600 to 5,000 patrons expected to see this production – several matinee performances are already nearly sold out – the cast and crew at TMP are hopeful that we will be able to help The Salvation Army in their mission to bring a smile to the face of every child in Tacoma who may not otherwise receive a gift this Christmas.”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Online auction

I just received a notice from painter Ron Hinson that he is haveing an online auction. This may be your chance to get some outstanding art at a very reasonable price. I've known Ron for years and have favorably reviewed his art on a number of occasions. I own one of his paintings, too.

Here is the notice he sent to me:

On my website are ten painted constructions, all of which are to be auctioned. The web address is: You will find directions on the web site about participating in the auction. Initial bids are $200. Subsequent bids must be in increments of at least $25. Biding will begin on.November 23. and end on December 18.

Delivery and installation (if desired) of the painted construction is included in the purchase for delivery and installation in the Olympia area. Outside the Olympia area the purchaser must cover cost of delivery (I can deliver the work) and/or installation, which will be the cost of driving to your site. Because detailed instructions for assembly and hanging are provided, the purchaser may hang the artwork. Each construction will be contained in sturdy cardboard boxes, each appropriately numbered and marked. A full scale diagram of the construction is provided for ease of placement on the wall.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A valiant effort in ‘Divorce’

Published in The News Tribune, Nov.20, 2009

Pictured, top: Susan Smith as Elma Blue Williams and Becky Condra as Eleanor; bottom: Nathan Ellis plays Vince and Rebecca Nuce is Elizabeth in Spotlight Players’ “Divorce, Southern Style.” Photos by Bob Yount.

There is something homey about community theater that invites audience members to feel like they have a stake in the performance.

When the borrowed venue for Spotlight Players’ “Divorce, Southern Style,” a church, wasn’t ready opening night because of a previous event, audience members pitched in to help the stage crew put the set together – much to the delight of first-time director Bob Yount.

There was about a 10-minute delay, and then the play got under way with only minor hitches.

The play in question is a frothy comedy by Jennifer Jarrett called “Divorce, Southern Style,” which Dramatist Play Service lists with the alternate title “Winter Chicken.” Neither title seems quite right. Although set in Charlotte, N.C., there is nothing quintessentially Southern about this play; it’s not really about divorce, and “Winter Chicken” is an even more far-fetched title.

The story is about Eleanor Bander’s ill-advised and ineffectual attempt to lure her ex-husband, Walter (John Chapman), into remarrying her 15 years after their divorce. She almost succeeds in convincing him that their marriage had been a happy one despite the fact that all they did was fight.

Two of the major roles and one supporting role were double cast. Opening night these roles were filled by Becky Condra as Eleanor, Susan Smith as Eleanor’s silly alcoholic best friend and neighbor Elma Blue Williams, and Bruce Blocher as the lecherous but good natured optometrist Dr. Fred Abernathy.

Performances by actors in the major roles are uneven, funny in spots but histrionic in others. Condra is especially good at physical comedy. She’s at her funniest in bits wrestling with a vacuum cleaner and forcing her way in between Walter and son-in-law-to-be Vince Sigmon on a crowded couch. And I love her walk as she ascends the stairs in her most alluring pose for her grand entrance the night of Walter’s birthday party. But her verbal delivery is hit or miss, funny in some places, but strained in others.

Smith has an endearing and funny vacant smile that reminds me of Alfred E. Neuman, the old Mad magazine what-me-worry character. It’s an expression that fits the drunken Elma Blue well, but it never changes – that same silly grin is plastered on her face throughout the play.

Similarly, Chapman as the ex-husband has a downturned scowl on his face that seldom changes, although he does display a fairly wide variety of emotions. His affectations seemed stiff and overwrought when he first arrived back home, but he settled into the role nicely as the show progressed.

The best acting came from Rebecca Nuce as daughter Elizabeth, Nathan Ellis as Vince, and Blocher as Dr. Abernathy. Nuce is a fiery bundle of energy, and her character is not only very likeable, but also the most believable character in the play. Ellis is kind of sweet and bumbling as the ever-faithful boyfriend who has stuck with Elizabeth through years of on-again, off-again engagement. Dr. Abernathy is one of the funniest characters in the play as an all-too-obvious, self-styled ladies’ man whose attempts to woo first one woman then another are totally ludicrous.

The smallest role is that of Walter’s girlfriend, Gretchen, played convincingly by Tiffannie Lindskog despite some very unfortunate casting. Gretchen is supposed to be a former classmate of the 50-year-old Walter; Lindskog appears to be a contemporary of the daughter rather than the father.

Cast and crew had large roadblocks to overcome.

Not only were they forced to load in the set at the last minute, which must have added immeasurably to opening night jitters, but also they had to rehearse without a complete set, thereby having to wing it in front of a live audience their first time with an actual set.

They even had to improvise, successfully I might add, around some unexpected prop malfunctions.

Given all of that, plus a script that was only mildly funny, they did a commendable job.

The play runs a little over two hours, including two 10-minute intermissions.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 29 and 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28
Where: Christ Episcopal Church, 210 Fifth St. S.W., Puyallup
Tickets: $10-$14, at the door or in advance at, keyword “Divorce”
Information: Bob Yount, 253-229-9741

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Elek and CUD

Double whammy at Traver Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 19, 2009
Pictured: jar from "abstract" series by CUD, courtesy William Traver Gallery

The latest show at Traver Gallery in Tacoma is a double whammy featuring relative newcomer to the Seattle glass art scene Jen Elek and a couple of old-timers, Robbie Miller and John Drury working collaboratively under the name CUD, which they said comes from what a cow chews and refers to work using recycled materials (and concepts).

Elek’s highly colorful glass art processes the associations we carry with traffic lights, billboards and the millions of dots that make up images on television. Her signature form seems to be either arrangements of big glass balls or elongated spheroids that jut out from the wall, either in a solid color, typically black, or in combinations of bright primary colors. The best of her works are the more minimalist pieces such as "Blanket," a grid of 135 spheroids in red, blue, pink, yellow, green, black and white (the form is minimalist but the colors are anything but) and a number of pieces that are solid black.

One of my favorite Elek pieces is, coincidentally, called "FAVORITE." It is a smaller version of Blanket with only nine spheroids tightly packed in a grid, with the one in the lower right corner drooping like a balloon that’s leaking air.

There’s one piece that is extremely ambitious consisting of an entire wall of colorful glass balls in every color of the rainbow and of various sizes. It looks like an explosion of balloons in no particular pattern. I applaud her ambition and technical skill in putting this piece together, but it doesn’t have much aesthetic integrity; it’s just showy. The same can be said for a wall piece with multi-colored blinking lights which, at a nighttime opening party, was blindingly distracting.

Miller and Drury’s collaborative works are much more fully realized artistically and conceptually. Plus, their history as a collaborative team is fascinating. They were pioneers at the Pilchuck School and studio and worked with such luminaries as Benjamin Moore and Dante Maroni. Plus they collaborate from opposite coasts and often without personally touching the materials with which they are working. From New York and Seattle and often using elements created by their students in studio glass classes, they recycle ideas and materials to create semi-abstract glass art pieces that are humorous and aesthetically challenging.

Works on display at Traver include blown glass stumps, a life-size cast glass sawhorse, and giant enamel painted glass Kool Aid jugs. Among my favorites are a couple of pieces from a series called "Hives." These pieces are stacked glass jars (jelly or peanut butter jars) with painted bottoms in a sickly acid green, white and black, and globs of white and black rubber in between the jars. They are funny and gritty and nicely designed. Other favorites include some large jars that are sloppily painted with large swathes of color like abstract expressionist paintings. The paint doesn’t look like fired or baked enamel but like house paint slopped on the surface — paint as paint, raw and pure, not as decoration. Some of the painted jars, however, have smiley faces, which make them gimmicky and cutesy, thereby destroying the raw painterly quality.

There’s a lot of variety in this show, some excellent art and some that is too showy or cute.

[William Traver Gallery, Tuesday-Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., through Dec. 6, 1821 East Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685]

Rags to riches to rags

Giving it all up for art — the story of Matter in Olympia

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov 19, 2009
Pictured: Jo Gallaugher standing next to Marsha Glaziere's sculpture "Salmon Boot." Photo: Amy Nicholson

Jo Gallaugher busted ass to get rich and live the good life of a high-salaried CEO. She pulled herself up from a small town high school dropout and single mother of two to become a successful businesswoman living in a fancy house on a golf course in California.

And then she gave it all up to pursue her dream of running an art gallery in Olympia.

Gallaugher grew up in Kennewick, Wash. At 26 she woke up to the fact that her life was a dead end. She was a single mom who had never made more than five bucks an hour, working in a gas station. She had to do something to change her life, and education was the only solution in sight. It couldn’t have been easy to go back to school and earn a BA, then an MBA, while struggling to support two growing children, but she did it.

She began her climb to the top as an accountant and then Systems Administrator for Planned Parenthood, moved on to Director of Administration for the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego, and Vice President of Operations for Vericare, a national behavioral health firm. She was CEO for a San Diego based eating disorder firm when she realized she wanted to come back to Washington. She decided Olympia was the place to be because it had an urban feel but without all the traffic backups and other big city hassles. She now lives in Tumwater with her grade school sweetheart and opened her new gallery, Matter, in downtown Olympia in September.

“I was working a million hours. It was eating me up. All I did was work or think about work,” Gallaugher said. In making the move to Olympia, she had to purge herself of a lot of accumulated stuff and realized that what she most wanted to keep was her art and the dream of running her own art gallery. Her own collection was mostly metal art with a lot of work made from recycled materials, and she decided to specialize not in what she thought might sell, but in the kind of art she loves. She began recruiting artists last April. Since then she’s talked to about 500 artists and agreed to work with 65.

Today she has 48 artists in her gallery, including George Kurzman, Christopher Gerber, Don Freas from Olympia; Eric Osborne, Vblast, Russ Morgan from Seattle; Brian Mock, Joel Heidel from Portland; Jason Brown from Bellingham and Don O’Connor from Ellensburg.

Matter features artworks “that incorporate recycled, reclaimed, and responsibly harvested materials” including a balance of functional crafts and fine art pieces. “Customers are surprised at the caliber of the art,” she says.

[Matter, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., Sunday, Monday by appointment, 113 Fifth Ave. SW, Olympia, 360.943.1760]

Monday, November 16, 2009


We're going to see "Bent" this weekend. I won't have a chance to review it because the last performance is Sunday, but it looks like it's going to be a great show.

Here's the announcement I got from Don Welch, the director:

Nov. 19-21 at 8 p.m.; Nov. 22 at 2 p.m.

In 1934 Berlin on the eve of the Nazi incursion, Max, a drifter, and his lover Rudy are recovering from a night of debauchery with an SA trooper. Two soldiers burst into the apartment and slit their guest's throat, beginning a nightmare odyssey through Nazi Germany. Ranked lower on the human scale than Jews, the men as avowed homosexuals flee. Bent, written by Martin Sherman and directed by Don Welch, is presented by the South Puget Sound Community College Drama Department and is preformed in special agreement with Samuel French INC. The play takes place at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts.

Tickets are $12.50 for the general public and $10 for student, faculty and staff. South Puget Sound students can purchase tickets for $2.50 with their IDs. Tickets are available at the Washington Center box office at (360) 753-8586.

For more information about the performance, call (360) 596-5411.

Friday, November 13, 2009

‘The Nerd’ is for fans of lunacy

Immaturity grows tiresome in comedy at Olympia Little Theatre

The Olympian / The News Tribune
Pictured: Top, left to right: Dave Marsh as Rick Steadman and Terence Artz as Willum Cubbert; bottom, left to right: Dave Marsh as Rick Steadman , Terence Artz as Willum Cubbert, Jamie Norman as Tansy McGinnis, Matt Garry as Axel Hammond, Tim Shute as Warnock Waldgrave; on couch, Tristan Vickery as Thor Waldgrave and martha Guilfoyle as Celia Waldgrave

photos by Toni Holm

Comedy is tricky businesses. The line between insanely funny and simply insane is very thin. For example, think back to the zanier bits on “I Love Lucy” or “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” How easily any of those could have come across as simply stupid, and how often Monty Python actually did fall flat. For a more recent example, there is “The Nerd” by Larry Shue as performed at Olympia Little Theatre.

There were moments when I found myself laughing quite a bit, and there were moments when sat in a kind of stupor wondering how intelligent adults could behave in such a silly immature manner.

There is a kid in the play (Tristan Vickery as Thor) who is portrayed as an out-of-control brat from hell, but he seemed mature and mild mannered compared to the grown-ups who put sand in their tea, pretend to be pigs, and at one point run around with bags on their heads and things stuck in their ears.

Shue’s entire premise is absurd, and his plot is far-fetched. An unexpected house guest shows up in the home of architect Willum (((CQ))) Cubbert (Terence Artz) just when he is trying desperately to deal with a client whom he does not like but needs to impress, the self-important Warnock Waldgrave (Tim Shute). The house guest is Rick Steadman (Dave Marsh) who saved Willum’s life when they were in the army. Rick is dumb, obnoxious and wreaks havoc in everybody’s life. Willum feels obligated to him and no one knows how to get rid of him. When everything else fails, they try to out-obnoxious him. But Rick just thinks they’re playing games, and he loves it.

Marsh steals the show. Before he shows up well into act one, the comedy seems strained at best. Artz as Willum and Jamie Norman as his lady friend, Tansy, act woodenly. In the beginning neither seems to have very much personality at all. Artz seems tired, which is appropriate to the character, but if he was going to play tired he should have exaggerated it for comic effect rather than half-heartedly mumbling his lines (he get better). Norman rushes her lines and expresses little emotion. Only Matt Garry as their wisecracking friend Axel the drama critic seems to have any spark at all. But then Marsh shows up in an outlandish costume thinking it’s a Halloween party, and hilarity ensues. With a vacant expression, loud monotone voice and that all-too-clichéd nerd symbol the taped-together glasses, Marsh nails the character of a man so dumb that it takes him two months to learn the first two verses of the national anthem, which he performs with the occasional aid of his tambourine.

Shute as Willum’s client Warnock, and Martha Guilfoyle as Warnock’s wife turn in commendable jobs in supporting roles. Shute does anger very well, and Guilfoyle elicits sympathy when she timidly asks for something to break, which immediately becomes a running joke.

For a child actor with no stage experience, Vickery is believably bratty, though the character Thor was superfluous to the plot.

The set by Kathy Gilliam is nice, with a number of thoughtful small touches such as clothes casually slung across a banister and a confusion of notes tacked to a board in Willum’s office. The costumes by Norman and Katy Shockman are fun, especially Rick Steadman’s suspenders, Tansy’s dresses and Axel’s “I Shot J.R.” T-shirt, not to mention some carefully chosen shoes. Plus there are telling details in the props, such as the Nixon/Agnew sticker on Rick’s suitcase.

“The Nerd” starts out slow, becomes hilarious when Marsh enters the set, and then becomes tiresome in the second act as the outrageousness drags on too long. People who love slapstick and who love laughing at rather than with people will love it. I just hope I don’t have to sit through it again.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 29
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or
INFORMATION: 360--786-9484,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mother and daughter

Baskets, drawings and prints at Sandpiper

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 12,2009
Pictured: Ink drawing by Erica Nordfords Applewhite and Sepia Bowl, 6" high X 14" diameter, hog casings- dyed and stitched, vine rattan, by Jill Nordfors Clark.

With classical forms and an almost revolutionary approach to media, Jill Nordfors Clark has become synonymous with Northwest basketry. Her work can be seen alongside drawings and prints by her daughter, Erica Nordfords Applewhite, in a new show at Sandpiper Gallery in Old Town.

Clark is well established on the national scene as a recognized basket maker. Her work has been shown in major galleries across the country. Applewhite is less well known but has previously shown in the Tacoma area. This is her first show at Sandpiper.

Using her signature material, hog casings (aka hog gut) and other materials such as bamboo, twigs, thread and parachute cord, Clark creates baskets in classical forms such as tall cylinders and rectangular shapes like modern skyscrapers with open-weave surfaces. She uses a technique borrowed from needle lace embroidery over molds with materials that are stiff but look lacey — as if they should not be able to stand on their own. It is the simultaneous contrast and unity of form and material that makes her baskets so fascinating. That and the aesthetic properties of the hog casings, which can look like translucent parchment or slick and shiny threads in woven patterns that more often than not look like fishnet stockings except for the ivory color.

In "From the Weaver’s Hand" a pattern of bamboo twigs and parachute cords is woven over an irregular sheet of hog gut that looks like the membrane of some kind of underwater creature. Delicate twigs and leaves are embedded within this parchment-like membrane. The overall form is a tall cylinder.

"Collaboration III" is a rectangular tower reminiscent of the World Trade Center and similar skyscrapers made of hog casings and matchstick bamboo. It is perfectly symmetrical. The hog casings are stitched together in a fishnet pattern, and the bamboo is a crosswork of up-and-down patterns with every stick perfectly straight.

These very classical and simple forms dominate, but there are a few vessels that are less severe in form with a more open weave at top, and some are more bowl-shaped. Plus, there are a few in which she uses dyes to add a touch of color not found in her more natural materials. One piece in a window setting has some brilliant purples and reds.

Applewhite is showing a few small and decorative prints and a group of sketchbook drawings of people on the ferry. I was not very impressed with the prints, which look a lot like rubber stamp images of common household items, animals, leaves and so forth. I like the sketches more. They’re contour drawings with a lot of white space combined with areas of dense crosshatch shading. They have a casual and personal feel and capture the essence of people on the Bremerton-Seattle run. These are the equivalent in drawing of candid shots with a camera — people caught off guard and unaware, or uncaring, that they are being captured in pen and ink.

These are unpretentious and delightful little drawings.

[The Sandpiper Gallery], Monday-Saturday, noon. to 5 p.m. and by appointment, through Nov. 30, 2221 N. 30th St, Old Town Tacoma, 253 627-6667]

Friday, November 6, 2009

'Turn of the Screw'

for The Olympian / The News Tribune
Pictured: Christopher Cantrell and Ingrid Pharris, photos by Peter Kappler

Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has adapted or written many horror and mystery stories for the stage, including "Murder by Poe" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." He also wrote the play based on the immensely popular "Tuesdays With Morrie."

Now comes another Hatcher adaptation to Olympia’s fringe venue The Midnight Sun. “The Turn of the Screw” – based on the classic ghost story by Henry James and brilliantly adapted by Hatcher – is presented by Prodigal Sun Productions starring Ingrid Pharris and Christopher Cantrell, and directed by Peter Kappler.

While staying true to James’s words in dialogue and monologue, Hatcher has pared the Victorian novella down to bare bones, giving it a stark and psychologically frightening aspect more intense than the overwrought original. And true to the playwright’s intent, Kappler, Pharris and Cantrell present this play with no accoutrements.

The tiny black-box space is bare. The set consists of blocky black stairs against a black wall and a bare black box on the floor that is used as a chair. There are no props, no set, no costume changes. The actors wear black-and-white costumes. Music and lighting is minimal. Even sound effects are comically and eerily minimal. When the clock strikes one, a voice from backstage (probably Cantrell) says, “One,” and when a door creaks, the backstage voice says “Creak.”

There is a lot of subtle comedy within the horror and drama, much of it Victorian-era sexual innuendo delivered deadpan or in wide-eyed shock by Pharris. In one of the more obvious instances, Cantrell says “aversion” and she thinks he’s asking if she’s a virgin. There are also many Freudian-sexual allusions. The governess is sexually attracted to her boss and there are strong hints at improper relations between a former governess and valet and the children in their care, but they are all couched in “safe” Victorian-era language. References are made to being bad and being “free with,” and there are hints at sinister behaviors that are never explained. Much is left to the imagination.

In a nicely worded program note, Kappler says, “Like a ghost story told ‘round the fire, the imagination of the audience is as equally important as the craft of the teller.” He explains the reasoning behind the bare-bones production by quoting Antoine de Saint Exupéry: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

In James’s original story, this tale is told by a guest at a Christmas party. In this version, an unidentified narrator, Cantrell, tells the tale while seated on the black box with Pharris standing behind him almost invisible in her black dress. Pharris plays the governess, the protagonist of the story. Cantrell plays all other characters, including the master of the house who hires the governess and instructs her to handle all problems on her own and never contact him; the two children, Flora and Miles; and the servant, Mrs. Grose.

Cantrell and Pharris are brilliant. He portrays all of these characters without costume or makeup change but with simple and subtle changes in voice, posture and manner. She plays the governess with an emotional intensity that is gut-wrenching and exhausting. At one point in the story, she stands high on the riser while Cantrell playing the 10-year-old Miles stands below her, giving a sense of difference in size and power between adult and child that was impressive.

I saw audience members squirming on the edge of their seats, and as the actors took their final bows, they were sweating and panting, visibly drained but exhilarated. The sold-out house opening night gave them a boisterous standing ovation.

“The Turn of the Screw” runs 90 minutes without an intermission.

The Turn of the Screw

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, through Nov. 14; pay what you can this Friday

WHERE: The Midnight Sun, 113 Columbia St. N.W., Olympia

TICKETS: $12 at the door or at events

INFORMATION: 360-250-2721

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Concise History of Northwest Art at the Tacoma Art Museum

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 5, 2009
Top: Imogen Cunningham "On Mount Rainier" 1915 Gelatin silver print.Promised gift of Shari and John Behnke.
Bottom: Michael Brophy "January," 1997, oil on canvas. Tacoma Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from the Dr. Lester Baskin Memorial Fund.

A Concise History of Northwest Art is a big, big, big show — parts of which should appeal to everyone since it has photography, painting, sculpture, jewelry, glass and ceramics covering Northwest art history since the 19th century, including art from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and even British Columbia and Alaska.

From a historical perspective this show is invaluable.

Two curators organized the show. Margaret Bullock put together the early work and Rock Hushka the modern era starting in the 1960s. I loved Hushka’s selections, but with the few exceptions of some Imogene Cunningham photos and some early works by Jacob Lawrence and Morris Graves I was bored by the older works. Let’s face it, the great art of the world prior to about 1940 was not produced by American artists, and especially not Northwest artists.

But starting with the 1960s — the works are arranged chronologically — the show becomes fascinating. There are some terrific paintings by Robert Colescott, Guy Anderson and an early Michael Spafford, plus something rarely seen anywhere, an abstract expressionist painting by Chuck Close before he started painting the photo-realist portraits that made him famous.

Stretching the definition of Northwest artists to include anyone with any connection to the area, no matter how tenuous, there is a fabulous painting by Robert Motherwell. It is the painting that was in the museum lobby for a long time. It’s not as great as the painting from his "Elegy to the Spanish Republic" series that I recently saw at the Hirshhorn in the other Washington, but it’s a really good painting.

Among the works by more contemporary artists in this show are a great painting by Randy Hayes called "Dying Light in Venice #1" (one of my favorites in the whole show); a huge, three-panel acrylic and collage by Fay Jones called "Body Fires;" glass artist William Morris’ "Medicine Jar;" a “target painting” in rich colors with expressionists drips by Jeffrey Simmons that I thought at first glance was a Kenneth Noland; and featured on the title panel as you enter the gallery a very powerful landscape by Michael Brophy.

There are also some excellent photographs by Mary Randlett and Imogene Cunningham.

This is a show that should be visited multiple times; it cannot all be taken in with a single visit. I know I plan to go back again.

[Tacoma Art Museum, A Concise History of Northwest Art, through May 23, 2010, Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., $8-$9, free Third Thursday, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The richest Veins

a book review
by Larry Johnson

I’ve learned more about literature from Larry Johnson than from anyone else I’ve ever known.

When we were publishing an alternative newspaper in Mississippi, Larry showed up at our door one day and offered to help in any way he could — writing, editing, proof reading, running errands, anything we might need, and all without pay, of course, because he knew we were barely scraping by. Larry was a poet and a teacher of English temporarily between jobs at various colleges. He wrote book reviews and helped us choose from the many manuscripts that were sent our way, and he introduced me to some great writers such as Cormac McCarthy, who had a kind of cult following back then but was not widely known. He also introduced us some of his former college classmates such as Jack Butler, who had recently published a book of poetry called The Kid Who Wanted to be a Spaceman and the novel Jujitsu for Christ. Through Larry we got also got to know the late Larry Brown who was unpublished at the time but would soon be recognized as one of the hottest writers in the field that Barry Hannah dubbed Grit Lit.

It was in about 1985 that Larry let me read his unpublished poetry book, Veins. It was a hard book to read. Densely packed with literary and historical references that required some study on my part. I liked the music of his words. I liked the rhythms, the alliterations, the metaphors, but I had to do a little research and ask a lot of questions to understand all the references to people like Yukio Mishima and the Roman emperor Hadrian.

It took him almost two decades to find a publisher for his book. Probably because most publishers thought his poems were too hard to understand. I can imagine them saying, “These are great, but the public is just not going to go for them. You have to have a degree in history or literature to really get them. But he did finally connect with a publisher, David Robert Books, willing to take a chance on him.

It’s true that Larry’s poems have little or no commercial appeal and are probably too difficult for a lot of readers. They have the weight and complexity of music by John Coltrane, and they reference everyone from Roman Emperors to modern poets and classical musicians. There are poems about Ezra Pound and Marcus Aurelius and Sebelius and Caesar. There is a lovely, sad little poem about the death of a child “Near Eastabuchie, Mississippi” and a wonderful poem, “Under Halley,” that recounts the activities of various famous poets and musicians each time Halley’s Comet appeared.

To miners a vein is a deposit of rich minerals; to doctors it is the source of life; Larry Johnson’s book, Veins, is a rich repository of wisdom and literary music. It’s a small book that you can read in a single sitting, but which should be returned to again and again.

Veins $18 trade paper, available from

Scary and funny

"The Turn of the Screw" and "The Uninvited"

Pictured: Rob Taylor as Toddy Fitzgerald and Michelle Garayua as Pam Fitzgerald. Photo by Michael Christopher.

Olympia doesn’t have a fringe theater. But it sort of does. It’s comprised of two small theater companies with lots of the same actors, directors and technical crews. They are Prodigal Sun Productions and Theater Artists Olympia. Both companies seem to thrive on blood, gore, lowbrow camp, and general weirdness. For the Halloween season both companies are doing ghost stories.

Prodigal Sun’s “Turn of the Screw” at the Midnight Sun performance space fits the classic definition of fringe theater in every way: small venue; minimal sets, lights and costumes; and an intellectually and emotionally charged story that is not geared toward popular appeal. Since I am reviewing this show for The Olympian (due out Nov. 5) and The News Tribune (Nov.6), I will keep my remarks about it brief and move on to the other show, “The Uninvited” by Tim Kelly, presented in the Washington Center black box theater by TAO.

What I would like to say about “Turn of the Screw” is that it is bare-bones theater and an acting tour de force with brilliant performances by Christopher Cantrell and Ingrid Pharris.
And now to “The Uninvited.” It is a much more elaborate production than is normally associated with fringe theater, with the facilities at the Washington Center allowing for more professional sets, lighting and special effects. It is fringe in attitude only.

Written in 1979 by Tim Kelly and based on the 1942 melodrama by Dorothy Macardle, TAO’s version of “The Uninvited” is presented as a parody of early radio dramas and horror movies. (Enter irony here: The way to parody melodrama is to present it not as parody but simply in the way melodrama has always been presented.)

The set by T.S. Samland, who also directed the play, is the drawing room of an old English country home, with a semi-circular backdrop and rich furnishings. Lighting by Kate Kennedy, costumes by Christina Hughes and sound by Aaron Ping add to the period feel. A dramatically lighted portrait of the recently dead woman of the house is hilariously hokey. The only thing that could have been better would be if sets, costumes and makeup mimicked the tones of a black and white movie.

The main characters, Rob Taylor as Roddy Fitzgerad and Michelle Garayua as his sister, Pam, play their parts straight. No exaggerations, no embellishments. Many of the other characters, by contrast, are caricatures — the crotchety old man (Tom Sanders), the nosey neighbor (Pug Bujeaud), the eccentric artist (Robert McConkey), and best of all the haughty Irish maid (Jenny Greenlee).

In serious drama good actors seem not to be acting at all; but in this play they make a point of acting. Sitting in the audience you get the impression that these actors are lampooning the act of acting and getting great kicks out of playing off each other. This was especially noticeable when Greenlee and Bujeaud were together alone on stage. After they made their exit I imagined they were laughing like crazy backstage.

“The Uninvited” can be a lot of fun to watch if you don’t take it too seriously.

“The Uninvited”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, Nov. 4-6
WHERE: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts - Stage II - WCPA Black, Box, 512 Washington St. Se, Olympia
INFORMATION: 360-754-8586,

“The Turn of the Screw”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday, through Nov. 14, pay what you can Nov. 6
WHERE: The Midnight Sun, 113 Columbia St. NW, Olympia
TICKETS: $12 at the door or at
INFORMATION: 360-250-2721

Sunday, November 1, 2009

At the White House

When we hopped on plane to our nation’s capital to be there when President Obama signed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act we didn’t even know if we were going to get in. Some 27 hours later we still didn’t know when — while standing in front of Willem de Kooning’s “Woman” triptych at the Hirshhorn Museum — we got the call from our friend Liz saying we were in.

Liz Latham is a filmmaker and a friend of many years. Over the past decade she has been working on a documentary about James Byrd Jr. and the struggle to enact hate crimes legislation, first in Byrd’s home state of Texas when George W. Bush was governor and then on the national level.

Liz called Gabi on Monday, Oct. 26 and asked, “If I can get you and Alec into the White House for the signing, would you be willing to fly to D.C. with me”

She invited us because she knew that we had been advocating on behalf of hate crime victims and their families since our son Bill was assaulted in a gay bashing in 1995 and subsequently committed suicide because he thought he had nothing to look forward to the rest of his life but more beatings because he was openly bisexual. He was 17.

Liz said she would cover our expenses and try to get donations to cover them later. She doesn’t have a lot of money herself. She owns a cleaning company in Seattle and cleans to put food on her table and pay rent while working on the film. She said she was working with staff at Congressman Jim McDermott’s office (D-WA) to get the three of us in.

In a coffee shop at SeaTac airport the next day, half an hour before our flight was scheduled to take off, she was still frantically trying to get our invitations confirmed. On a cell phone in the Milwaukee airport three hours later we were still frantically trying and it was beginning to look like we would not get in after all.

A word about flying. Despite all the hassles, the waiting, the cramped seating and the Petri dish of germs that airliners are, I love flying. When it comes to looking out the window at the ground below, I’m like a wide-eyed kid. We arced north by northeast and then south by southeast over parts of Canada, over Minnesota and Wisconsin. We lifted and dropped in and out of cloud cover. Fluffy white clouds cast black shadows on the ground. The earth below was a patchwork of brown, green (a very dull green) and orange. A crazy quilt of sparsely populated country stretching for miles and miles and miles, beautiful in a stark and dreary way, although I can’t imagine living in such isolation.

I brought a book to read, Sherman Alexie’s Flight — what an appropriate title. Great book, but too easy to read; I finished it and had nothing to read on my way home.

We landed at National at 10:05 Eastern time. (The official name of the airport is Ronald Reagan National Airport but nobody in Washington calls it that, at least none of the people w know.) It was raining. Our taxi driver was surly, and he couldn’t find our hotel. Liz thought he was trying to take us out of the way to run up the meter. He made three u-turns in a four-block area, but did finally get us where we were going, the Windsor Inn, a lovely little bed and breakfast near Dupont Circle with a cat named Mimi (aka Mona) in the lobby and a charming Frenchman named Jamie working the desk in the evening.

Wednesday morning we went with Liz to shop for a video camera. She had not wanted to bring her camera equipment on the plane without knowing if she would have something to film. Then we went to visit our friend Cathy Renna, whose office was two blocks away from the camera store. Cathy used to be a primary spokesperson and media person for Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) and now runs her own communications company, Renna Communications. Her clients include The Family Acceptance Project and The NYC LGBT Community Center. Cathy is a dynamo. She and Liz had never met, but they hit if off immediately.

By noon we had heard back that the White House was not able to let us in. Liz could go as a member of the press. She had to go. The signing was at 2 o’clock, and she had the chance to film it, which was a great opportunity — it was the dream ending she had wanted for her film.

We’d flown across country, so we figured we’d better make the best of it, and I very much wanted to see the Hirshhorn Museum. We caught the Metro to the Smithsonian (after walking down one of the longest escalator in the world, which wasn’t working), grabbed a bite to eat in “the Castle” and then went to the Hirshhorn. I had been there about 25 years ago but couldn’t remember much about it. The art alone was worth the trip. Picasso, Matisse, Frank Stella, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, a whole room full of de Koonings in their permanent collection, and Anne Truitt in the current featured show. I was not familiar with her work, but it consists of painted wood in beautiful minimalist forms with some of the most startling and nuanced color combinations I’ve ever seen. And the other featured show, “Strange Bodies,” with odd figurative paintings and sculptures by everyone from Julian Schnabel to Renee Magritt. I’ve never much liked Schnabel, but his portrait of Andy Warhol on, of all things, black velvet was amazing. I was also blown away by Francis Bacon’s painting “Diptych: Study of the Human Body — From a Drawing by Ingres.”

We were in the Hirshhorn when we got the call from Liz. “You’re in. Go back to the hotel and get dressed and be at the East Gate to the White House no later than 4:45.”

We still don’t know who pulled what strings, but though we’d missed the signing we were in for the reception. We grabbed a taxi back to the hotel. Jamie the desk man met us with a thumbs-up. He’d already heard from Liz, and he was excited for us.

I put on my sports jacket and a tie. That’s as formal as I ever get. I don’t own a suit. Liz came down to our room looking terrific in a beautiful black pinstripe pant suit. Gabi had dressed earlier in a basic black wool dress with a blue silk scarf. We were off to the White House.

The driver dropped Liz off at the press gate and drove us around about four blocks to the entrance we were supposed to use. There was a huge crowd at the gate. The first person we recognized was Marsha Botzer from Seattle, founder of the Ingersoll Gender Center. Cathy Renna was there taking photos of everyone. We hugged Judy Shephard and met Dennis and their son Logan, and we met Elke Kennedy and her husband, Jim. Elke is the mother of Sean Kennedy, a gay man who was murdered in a hate crime. She and Gabi had been in touch by email and telephone for a couple of years but had never met in person.

It was a festive gathering, everyone chatting while waiting to be let in. Thankfully the predicted rain had not shown up. It was pleasantly warm.

We formed a ragged line to get through the first security check. The last people to show up were a man who looked very familiar and his date, a striking blonde who also looked familiar. I was sure I must have seen them on television or something and thought at first they might have been actors — faces you recognize but can’t identify. I later found out he was Joe Solmonese, Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign, and she was the singer Cyndi Lauper, a longtime supporter of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

The line snaked through the gate where Secret Service agents checked our IDs against a guest list. There was a moment of panic when I thought: What if our names are not on the list? It would be so embarrassing in front of all those people and so frustrating after all we’d been through just to get in. Sigh of relief, they let us through. We went up a long ramp, through a tent, alongside a back wall and into a room that was set up like an airport security check with metal detectors and a conveyor belt where I deposited my cell phone and keys. Then we went into a hallway with red carpeted floors where we passed portraits of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush and Ronald Reagan. We passed picture windows with a view of a lovely garden. I commented on it, and Gabi made fun of me with something like, “What do you expect? We are in the White House.”

About every 10 to 20 feet as we walked the halls we were greeting by Marines in full dress uniform and uniformed maids and butlers who greeted us and welcomed us to the White House. We went with the flow of the crowd until we reached a flight of stairs. Gabi said she needed to rest a moment before going up. A young Marine standing by asked if we needed an elevator and escorted us farther down the hall to an old fashioned elevator with a uniformed operator, an elderly black man who said he’d been on the job since 1957. Imagine what tales he has to tell.

When the doors opened one flight up the same Marine was standing there to greet us. He must have run up the stairs but was not in the least winded and seemed to have been standing there all along. He directed us to the reception area where everyone was standing around talking. Another Marine was playing soft music on a piano, and drinks and hors d’ouvres were being served. By the time we made our way to the bar it was time for everyone to move into the next room where the president was to speak. A servant took our wine away (I’d had only one small sip) because apparently no one is allowed to drink alcoholic beverages within a certain distance of the president. At least that’s what someone told me, which seems weird considering the much ballyhooed “beer summit” between President Obama, Professor Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sgt. Joseph Crowley. It’s not the George Bush tee totaling White House any more.

We were jammed into the East Room, a room much too small for the crowd, where we sweated and talked to our neighbors while waiting on Obama. It felt ridiculous to stand there like adoring fans waiting for a glimpse of the president. But somehow it was reassuring to know that Senator Arlen Spector and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Eric Holder were jammed in with us. Gabi and I were standing next to PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby, whom we had recently met in Olympia. We talked to him about our local PFLAG chapter and Referendum 71 in Washington State.

Finally the president was introduced. He stood at the podium in front of the Shepards and James Byrd Jr’s sisters, Betty Byrd Boatner and Louvon Harris. He said, “…today, we've taken another step forward. This afternoon, I signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade. Time and again, we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we've been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we're all free to live and love as we see fit. But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation and all who toiled for years to reach this day.”

After his speech Jody introduced us to a reporter from The Advocate, who asked a few questions and took notes. Then we all adjourned back to the reception area where we finally got to partake of the drinks and hors d’ouvres and visit with some of the many guests. I stood for a long time next to Nancy Pelosi wishing I could talk to her about health care, but there were too many people trying to talk to her. As it was time to leave, the same Marine found us and asked Gabi if we needed the elevator. She thanked him and told him she would be fine on the stairs as long as there was a banister.

It was dark and raining when we left the White House and shared a taxi with Jody to the Human Rights Campaign office for another reception. We had another surly taxi driver who, when Jody tipped him, said, “That’s a shoddy tip,” and then reluctantly acknowledged that he had miscounted.

At the HRC reception we heard an inspiring speech by Rep. Barney Frank, whom I mistakenly addressed as Senator, and I made smart-alecky remarks to Candace Gingrich about her brother Newt. I told her that I also had a rabid, lunatic Republican brother. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she laughed, and she thanked me for coming when I told her why we were there.

After this reception we went across the street for a late dinner at a hotel restaurant (I can’t recall the name). Jim and Elke Kennedy came in and joined us, and we had a very enjoyable visit with them.

Finally, another taxi ride back to our hotel where we chatted with Liz for an hour or so while unwinding. We packed and briefly slept before getting up at three o’clock the next morning to fly back home. The flight home was grueling, two hours from D.C. to Atlanta, then after a two-hour wait —and being misdirected to a gate in the wrong terminal as far as you could go and back again for a five-hour flight to Seattle. For most of the trip we were above clouds and could not see a thing, but somewhere over Colorado or Nevada the clouds cleared and I saw endless expanses of uninhabited desert and mountain areas and lots of snow in the foothills of what must have been the Rockies. And then nothing else to see until we dropped below the clouds coming in to Seattle, where the vegetation and the fall colors were richer and denser than anything I had seen across the wide country. It was good to be home.

Remember His Name a documentary about the murder of James Byrd, Jr. by Liz Latham -
Renna Communications -
Sean’s Last Wish, an appeal to the passage of hate crimes legislation by the family of murder victim Sean Kennedy -

More on our trip to D.C. including photos on the Safe Schools Coalition site -