Thursday, December 31, 2009

Old and new

Recommended shows for the new year

The Weekly Volcano, Dec. 31, 2009
Pictured: detail from "Afloat" by Steven Suski at the Minneart Center Art Gallery

I begin my recommendations of art shows for the New Year with a reminder of a couple of ongoing shows at Tacoma Art Museum and Museum of Glass.

The Movement of Impressionism: Europe, America, and the Northwest continues at TAM. The exhibition features artwork by many well-known French impressionists including Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro, as well as impressionists from other European countries, most notably James McNeill Whistler, and American artists including Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent.

There are some heavy hitters in this show, along with names most Americans — myself included — have never heard of. (Watch for my review of this show in next week's Visual Edge.)

MOG is continuing their mid career retrospective of Preston Singletary, one of the best known glass artists in the Pacific Northwest. From a museum press release: “For nearly two decades, Singletary has melded the symbols, patterns and legends of his Tlingit heritage with the dynamism of the Studio Glass movement, creating a distinctive and powerful body of work.”

This show features the impressive "Clan House," a 16 x 10 foot cast-glass triptych commissioned for the Museum’s Permanent Collection.

OK, those are the big shows at the big museums. For local art I highly recommend the latest shows at the Minnaert Center Art Gallery at South Puget Sound Community College and Mineral in Tacoma.

SPSCC is featuring a solo show by Steven Suski, which I’m pretty sure is his first solo show in a major venue. I’ve kept up with Suski’s work off and on for more than 20 years. His works in the recent SPSCC juried exhibition were among the most interesting I’ve ever seen. (The winner of the annual juried show — Suski this year — is always granted a solo show the following year.) The gallery describes his work as an exploration of myth and magic. His images are highly personalized and idiosyncratic. In my review of his works in the juried show I described two of his paintings as “sweet little paintings” with “an exciting tension between figure and ground,” and a larger work called "Big Pig" as “an iconic image with the appearance of an ancient fresco that is scarred and worn.”

Mineral’s latest showing is TINY: New Works by Chris Sharp. Sharp was a winner of the first Foundation Award and is locally known for logos created for businesses including Satellite Coffee, the Rosewood Café, the Hub Restaurant, Tacoma Bike, and Black Water Café.

“Typically illustrative and sentimental paintings weird me out,” Sharp says.

Based on images sent out with the press release, which are the only works I have to go on, this should be a really good show. These are small works that are loose and sketchy. The media was not identified, but they looked like wet-on-wet watercolors that were very direct and unpretentious.

These shows should get South Sound art lovers off to a good start for 2010.

[Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

[Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma, 253.396.1768]

[Minnaert Center, 111 Market St. NE, Olympia, 360.596.5508]

[Mineral, 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.250.7745]

Friday, December 25, 2009

Watch stellar ‘Stardust’ cast

Still lovely: Harlequin Productions’ show is mild compared with years past

Published: 12/25/09
Pictured, top: Antonía Darlene, Jessica Blinn, Rachel Permann, Emily Rommel-Shimkus, LaVon Hardison; bottom: Stardust cast. Photos courtesy

Harlequin Productions’ “Stardust Homecoming” has everything you could ask for in a musical comedy – except for real excitement.

It has an inventive script, great direction, an outstanding cast including a very cute kid, original arrangements of swing era hit tunes and Christmas songs (arrangements by trumpeter Syd Potter), a beautiful set, musical accompaniment by one of the best swing combos in the Puget Sound area, and wonderful choreography. I could go on and on – lighting, sound, costumes. It’s all good. And yet the whole does not come up to Harlequin’s usual standards.

I’ve come to expect thunderous standing ovations at Harlequin’s dramatic productions and riotous dancing in the aisles at their summer rock and roll shows. By comparison, the final ovation for the 15th original “Stardust” performance was mild. There is no one element or combination of elements to explain the difference; they just did not generate the same excitement.

This original story by the allusive and reclusive Harlowe Reed is a Christmas themed comedy with film noir undertones set in New York’s Stardust Club on Christmas Eve, 1942. A mysterious fishmonger delivers a fish to the club, and soon there-after a government inspector from Atlanta, Ga., shows up in search of the fish, within which is supposedly hidden counterfeit gas rationing cards. (It’s the early years of the war, consumer goods are rationed, and ration cards are traded on the black market.)

There is romance in the air, and mystery and drama are acted out with song and dance.

The ensemble cast is outstanding. Any one of the cast members could easily stand out in a leading role, but the nearest to a leading role is Kevin McManus as inspector Ed Ballantyne, whose name everyone seems to have a hard time remembering or pronouncing (a running joke the writer was smart enough to play out quickly). McManus solos wonderfully on the bluesy “Mood Indigo” and combines some howling soul singing with unique, stiff-legged, dancing (like a puppet drunk on eggnog) on the old Louis Armstrong hit “Zat You Santa Claus.”

Paul Walk as Frank and Kody Bringman as Stuart also do some fine athletic dancing reminiscent of such greats as Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor on the opening medley, “Hellzapoppin/Birth of the Blues.”

The fourth male singer is Matt Shimkus as Marty Ross, an old-style crooner who sings beautifully on “Stardust.”

The women in the play are Jessica Blinn as Rosalind Norris, Antonia Darlene as Cleopatra Jackson, LaVon Hardison as club owner Loretta Mae, Rachel Permann as Adelina Cavallo, and Emilie Rommel-Shimkus as Nora Lynn – characters many will remember from previous “Stardust” shows. They are all accomplished singers and actors, plus Blinn is an outstanding violinist. I wish there had been more opportunities for each to shine individually, but the men get most of the solos in this production.

Two other actors deserve special notice. They are 7-year-old Emma Haws and band leader Bruce Whitney, who abandons his piano at one point to do a very charming rendition of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” with Haws.

Overall, the most notable things about “Stardust Homecoming” are the choreography by Gwen Barnes, which combines standard Broadway style dance numbers with some darkly stylized Bob Fosse-type moves, and the music of the band: Dan Blunck as saxophonist Hawk Lester, Rick Jarvela as bassist Dexter Brown; Maria Joyner as drummer Joy Ludwig; Daven Tillinghast as guitarist Les Howard, Syd Potter as trumpeter Chet Baker; and Whitney as pianist Nikolai Feyodorov.

The show runs through Jan. 2 with possible extra shows to be announced. The New Years Eve performance was almost sold out at press time. Check for ticket availability on the Harlequin Web site.

See the show

What: Harlequin Productions presents its annual holiday show "Stardust Homecoming."

When: Thursday-Saturday and Sundays (times vary) through Jan. 2 with possible extra performances to be announced Dec. 29-30 and Jan. 3

Where: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia

Tickets: $34-$37, rush tickets $12-$20 half hour before curtain

Information: 360-786-0151; www.harlequin

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Sunshine and moonlight in pastel

The Weekly Volcano, Dec 24, 2009
Pictured: (top)"Spider Sun," (bottom) "San Diego Bay" by Bill McEnroe, courtesy of the artist and Childhood's End Gallery

Pastel gets a bum rap. It’s thought of as soft, a media for hobby artists more than for the real deal — associated with lightweight landscapes and figures in a traditional or pseudo-impressionist style. About the only heavyweight artist who ever worked extensively with pastel was Edward Degas.

The pastels by Bill McEnroe and Judith Smith at Childhood’s End Gallery show that pastel paintings can be a little more than sweet and decorative, although the works in this show do still look a lot like late 19th and early 20th century stuff. I see a lot of echoes of Degas, Whistler and Turner in these works.

Both artists are showing works that are edging into new territory for them. McEnroe is known for landscapes and street scenes in a style that comes out of the impressionist tradition. I remember one from a few years back of children romping in the fountain in downtown Olympia that reminded me a lot of Degas’ pictures of horse races. In his newest works he is becoming more abstract and playing more with light and dark. Sun flares and fiery sunsets abound. Smith is known for her emblematic and somewhat dark and foreboding pictures of crows. In this show she has a number of pastels from a new series of underwater scenes with luminescent fish and anemones and seaweed in dark water.

The newer works by both artists are a little too intentionally dramatic. I get the feeling they’re trying too hard. In each case, the older works are more solid, less showy. Naturally, they have each worked a long time with traditional landscapes and street scenes (McEnroe) and crows (Smith), and they have those down pat. It may take them a little time to reach the same level of resolution with the newer works, but I’m glad to see them each trying to push beyond their comfort zones.

Both artists are showing examples of their older works along with the newer pieces. Smith also has a few abstract paintings in addition to the underwater and crow series.

My favorite pieces in the show are by McEnroe. They are: "Organic," a street scene at an outdoor market with bright yellow sunlight and an equally bright tent flap (it reminds me of Degas and of some early Marc Toby); "Tide Walkers," an impressionistic beach scene with a blazing sunset and two tiny red specks that — formless though they are — are clearly people walking at the water’s edge; and finally "San Diego Bay," another beach scene with a inset section of sky and water that looks like a photographic double exposure.

Also showing are some very large raku pots by Dave and Boni Deal, who I am told live without electricity and throw these giant pots on a kick wheel. Amazing.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, Luminescence: Sunshine and Moonlight, through Dec. 31, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun., 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia, 360.943.3724]

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Creating characters from a melding of memory and imagination can be a lot of fun. Making up names for them just adds to the fun. Here are a few of the characters in my latest work in progress,

Adam Spitzer - police spokesman in the ‘60s
Snake Collins - Rain police spokesman in 2009,
Adele Long - Seattle police spokesman in 2009
George Romero - cop killed in Club Silver riots
Brewster Crockett (bad cop, nickname Walrus)
Fred Felts (bad cop, nickname Warthog)
Rand McKnight - Police chief in the ’50s-’60s

Alexis Darling (Jim Bright)
Anita Mann (George Newman) murder victim in 1969
Busty Parker (Billy Martin)
Honey Lucious (Raymond Craig) transitioned in 1994, changed name to Ramona, 3rd victim reported by Harry Drew
Liza Jane (Larry Butler)
Miss Tammy Tucker (Tom Rogers)

Police Blotter reporters
Harold Drew and later his son Harold Drew Jr. (Harry)

In the neighborhood
Abeline - Mr. Singleterry’s mysterious ex-wife
Alex - it’s her story
Aunt Belinda and Uncle Art - throwaway characters
Bill and Rodney Barnes - dated the Sullivan girls
Bubba Austin - fullback, tough guy
Buster James - frat boy
Carney Jones - football player, Santa Claus
Christine Rocker - the only black girl in Jefferson Jr. High
Delks - three boys
Donny Brooks - Alex’s short-time husband, philandering actor
Dudley Strong - big kid
Greg and Nellie Jones - bought the house next to Jim’s after the Hendrix’s moved out. Twin boys Kyle and Doyle
Greasy Hendrix - Jim’s sleazy neighbor
Jessica - Mr. Singleterry’s new wife
Jim Bright - hero maybe
Jimi Sue - Hendrix housekeeper, stripper
Johnny Delgato - nice kid
Kimzy Williams (nickname Kay Kay) - poor Kay Kay
Lara Cockburn - rich girl, Darling Debs
Leslie Grant - shy kid
Marvin Tuttle - Eastender, i.e, wrong side of the tracks
Mary Ellen Lucious - Miss Rain 1960
Melody Sauer - hookers live forever
Molly Simpson - Randy’s wife
Mr. Singleterry - neighborhood developer, kept ex-wife in cottage in back yard
Mr. Sutter - principal of Jefferson HS
Mrs. Evans - 10th grade math teacher
Nancy Hendrix - fat girl, Jim’s wife
Randy - bartender at Barney’s
Randolph Warner, NAACP representative from Seattle
Red Rogers - owns Red’s Dairy Bar, pedophile maybe
Reggie Sheffield - Bubba Austin’s half brother
Rev. Bright - Jim’s father
Rolly Simpson - Jim’s next door neighbor, went steady with Kimzy but married Molly Robbins
Ross brothers - Jimmy, Roy, Stew - Eastenders
Harrison “Smiley” Russell - only black boy in Jefferson Jr. High
Sam Waldoff - owner of Walden’s dept. store
Snake Collins - Doc Collins’ son, bad boy (see “cops”)
Sullivan girls - Ophelia, neighborhood slut (one of) and Trisha (younger)
Wanda Bright - Jim’s big sister

Friday, December 18, 2009

Silliness takes root in the ‘Beanstalk’ at Centerstage

COMEDY: Young and old alike will revel in pantomime

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 18, 2009
Pictured: Top, Fleshcreep (Melanie Moser), bottom, Jack (David Roby) giant puppet in background
Photos by Michelle Smith Lewis

“Jack and the Beanstalk” is the third-consecutive Christmas season panto at Centerstage in Federal Way.

Audiences are beginning to grow accustomed to them.

Still, the English panto, a long-honored holiday tradition in England, is new to most Americans, and audiences seem to enjoy them more when they know what to expect.

So just what is a panto?

Think of it as a children’s fairy tale as performed by Pee Wee Herman and the cast of “Saturday Night Live” or a made-for-children version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” complete with audience shout-outs.

Almost everything in a panto follows a set formula. They are comedies based on popular fairy tales that both children and adults can enjoy.

There are stock characters in every panto, including a good fairy who serves as a narrator, a woman played by a man who is ugly as homemade sin but thinks he is beautiful, and an evil, young, male villain who is always played by a woman who, by tradition, wears a very tight and very short skirt.

Stock bits include references to local and topical issues (Capitol Hill in Seattle and the mayor of Fife among the local references in this “Jack”). Audience participation is called for. Boys and girls (and adults, of course) are asked to cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys.

At one point in this production, half a dozen children were brought on stage for a sing-along, and at another point candy was thrown into the audience.

Adults will enjoy the countless groaner puns and sexual innuendos, which are mild enough to not offend and which will go over the heads of most children.

In addition to the all the silliness, there is a lot of rock ’n’ roll music including rocking renditions of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Let the Sunshine In,” “Higher and Higher,” “I’m Gonna Getcha” and more.

I attended a matinee performance, and the house was full with a lot of children who responded loudly and enthusiastically. There are only two more matinees scheduled, Saturday and Sunday, and I recommend those performances if you’re bringing children because at 21/2 hours including intermission evening performances might run too late for children to see in good humor or to stay awake for.

“Jack” stars Rosalie Hilburn as Fairy Sugarsnap, Melanie Moser as the deliciously evil Fleshcreep, and Alicia Mendez as Princess Tamara (running joke about the confusion of Tamara and tomorrow). Roger Curtis is campy as the hideous Dame Trott, and is also the panto’s director. Scott Polovitch-Davis plays the lovable Billy Trott, and David Roby his brother Jack Trott who chops down the beanstalk and kills the giant.

Davis, who has been outstanding in everything I’ve seen him in, was not quite up to his usual level the day I saw it. He was good, but not as snappy with his delivery as in “Aladdin” at Centerstage and “The Producers” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Mendez also could have used a little more zip in her performance, but her singing was grand. Bowers was outstanding in both acting and singing, as were Curtis and Moser, easily the funniest two characters in the play. Both of them threw themselves wholeheartedly into their parts.

Deserving special notice was the giant, a puppet created by Vashon Island puppeteer artists The Zambini Brothers. They kept saying the giant was 20 feet tall, and he was easily that, if not taller. Warning: The puppet may be scary for young children. One 3-year-old had to be carried out screaming in terror.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
Tickets: $10 to $25
Information: 253-661-1444,

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And the walls came tumbling down

Luzon memorial

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 17, 2009
"Mr. Putnam does Tacoma,"ceramic sculpture by Claudia Riedener, and "Burnham and Root, Uprooted" by Lynn De Nino

Claudia Riedener and other Tacoma artists decided they weren’t going to take it lying down when the city tore down the historic Luzon building on Pacific Avenue. They could not stop the demolition, but they wanted to make sure we remember and, hopefully, prevent the demolition of other landmarks in the future.

In remembrance, Riedener is curating an art exhibition and sale with half the proceeds to go to Historic Tacoma, a group dedicated to preserving historic architecture and working with the city to ensure owners maintain historic properties.

Specific to the dearly departed Luzon, the 1891 building was designed by Daniel Bernum, “an icon of architect,” according to Michael Sullivan of Artifacts, Inc. Architects were just beginning to experiment with steel as a structural element, Sullivan says, which led to the development of the modern skyscraper.

Daniel Putnam, CEO of PCS Structural Solutions, which was constructing a nearby building more than 100 years later, wrote to Tacoma Public Works director Dick McKinley saying the Luzon building was unsafe, and the walls came tumbling down. Peter Callighan of The News Tribune wrote that Putnam described the 119-year-old building as “an embarrassment” to the business district and “aesthetically unremarkable compared to many other older buildings in Tacoma.”

“I am greatly concerned about the risk the Luzon poses and the aesthetic blight that it casts upon the neighborhood,” Putnam said.

The Luzon memorial show is called "Make No Little Plans." It will be held in a building at 301 Puyallup Ave. temporarily named Logical Diagram Gallery and will have two openings: Thursday, Dec. 17 from 5-9 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 20 from noon to 5 p.m. Thereafter the show will be open through Jan. 10 by appointment only.

Participating artists include Jori Adkins, RR Anderson. Kimberly Bardwil, John Carlton, Lynn Di Nino, Josh Everson, Eric Fisher, Mindy Barker, Dan Hill, James Hume, Steve King, Dorothy McCuistion, Di Morgan-Graves, Claudia Riedener, Jennevieve Schlemmer, Michael Shaudis, Rick Semple, Jessica Spring and Sharon Styer. Also included but not for sale will be works by Michael Sullivan and Chandler O’Leary.

Two of the more enjoyable pieces (based on photographs, not having seen the actual pieces) are Riedener’s and Di Nino’s, both of which are cartoon-like sculptures. Di Nino’s mixed-media sculpture "Burnham and Root, Uprooted" has the Luzon building in what looks like clay suspended above a compressed wood building that looks like an outhouse. Riedener’s ceramic Luzon building bends backward as if cringing away from the wrecking ball, also ceramic, that is swinging toward it. Her piece is called "Mr. Putnam does Tacoma."

Also very interesting is Eric Fisher’s photo of the demolition called "Wrong Way" (a title with a double meaning, which will become evident when you see it). It looks like an old fashioned black and white photograph that has been artificially colorized. Most of the buildings are in gray tones, but the street signs and wrecking crane are in color. It is a powerful image of a moment in time not to be forgotten.

[Logical Diagram Gallery, "Make No Little Plans," through Jan. 10, 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma,]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Welcome to Rain, Washington

Any little thing can inspire a story. The impetus for novel I’m working on now came from a comment by an old friend I’ve seen only once in fifty years. We reconnected on Facebook. He commented on what a great neighborhood we grew up in, and I immediately begin spinning tales in my mind about the kids on our block—Randy and Richard and Audrey and Carney, and then beyond the neighborhood to Randy’s girlfriend who lived a few blocks away, and from there to our junior high and high school and then imagining what may have happened to all those kids after they grew up.

Neither our youthful exploits nor the paths most of us took when we grew up are exciting enough for a novel. When the guy voted most likely to succeed turns out of be a successful investment banker, where’s the drama in that? Wouldn’t it be much more interesting if he ended up an alcoholic living on the street and scrounging food from dumpsters? Or maybe if he turned out to be a bank robber or a cross dresser who secretly performs in drag shows in another town under an assumed name? So all the kids in my neighborhood would have to morph into completely new creatures with different names, and I’d have to describe the short guy as tall and the chubby girl as anorexic and so forth so nobody would recognize them. I wouldn’t want to be another John Irving or Pat Conroy whose every fictional character can be traced to personal history (although I wouldn’t mind experiencing their successes).

So I populated a town with teenagers, each with his or her own story, some of which overlap and some of which don’t. Do I structure it as a series of short stories? Maybe a modern version of Canterbury Tales? I decided to have two of the old friends meet in a bar after many years and reminisce about old times. With nothing more to go on than that, I started writing the opening scene: “Jim Bright was the last person in the world she expected to meet in the one and only gay bar in (town name?).”

Why a gay bar, I don’t know. That sentence just sounded good in my head. It also gave me something to work with. Since I had already decided that the main characters should be a man and a woman and that they should eventually become lovers, I had to figure out why they were in a gay bar. That’s where the cross dresser idea came in. Would he be bisexual? No. Not all cross dressers are gay or bi; some are heterosexual, and I decided that would make for a better story. Not only a straight guy who cross dresses and hangs out in gay bars, but I decided to make him politically conservative and make her liberal—meat for a lot of dramatic and comical conflict.

So I had my main characters and a whole slew of secondary characters. The other thing I had already decided was that I was going to set the story in a fictitious town. Mostly because that had worked out so well in The Backside of Nowhere. In that one I went back to my Southern roots and created a make-believe town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast called Freedom. This time I decided to create a town that was a combination of where I grew up (Hattiesburg, Mississippi) and where I’ve lived for the past twenty-one years (Olympia, Washington), with a lot of features that are purely imaginary. I not only created a make-believe town, I spent about a month drawing maps of the town so if one of the characters walked home from school, for instance, or went to a movie, I would have an idea of where those places were and how long it took to get there and what they may pass on the way. As a further example, I had already started working on a scene where the couple stopped in a park after eating in restaurant to sit on playground swings and talk about old times. Would they walk to the park or drive? To make the scene real I would have to know where the restaurant was in relation to the park and where the park was in relation to their ultimate destination, her home. That’s the kind of thing that made the map necessary.

I named my town Rain and placed it approximately where Olympia is between Seattle and Portland.
I named the main characters Jim and Alex and started imagining conversations between them as they recalled all their old friends—the girl who fell off a balcony during the movie Rock Around the Clock (never happened), the boys who got caught skinny dipping in the local swimming pool (almost happened, but we got away ) …and so forth.

I wrote a rough draft of a few scenes, created an outline and a list of characters and settings with descriptions I could refer back to so I wouldn’t make such mistakes as saying a girl was blonde in one scene and referring to her as red headed in a later scene.

I experimented with first and third person narration and finally decided that Alex would be the narrator and that Jim would be a notorious teller of tall tales. I want to provide enough clues for readers to be able to figure out what parts of his story are true and what parts made up without stating any of it explicitly.

Now that opening sentence has been changed to: “Jim Bright was the last person in the world I expected to see sashaying up to the bar in Barney’s Pub on Market Street, the one and only gay bar in Rain, Washington.” Over the course of writing this story it may change again.

Paragraphs and chapters may be added, deleted or moved to different sections of the book, and I may switch back to an omniscient narrator or have some other character tell the story. That’s my method. I keep everything fluid. I don’t create an outline and follow it from page one to the end.

Basically what I have so far is that Jim and Alex meet in a bar and become friends and eventually lovers. They’re getting old, my age to be exact. And yes, Virginia, people that age do have love affairs. Thirty years ago Jim was a drag performer in a bar in Portland. There was a riot similar to the Stonewall riots (historically accurate as there were many such riots at the time but only Stonewall became famous). During that riot a policeman was killed. Now, there is a mass murderer on the loose. Someone is killing off old cross dressers and transsexuals. Jim soon realizes that all the victims are people who were drag performers at Club Silver at the time of the riots, which means he might be next.

… and that’s all of the plot I am going to reveal for now.

Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome, just so long as you don’t ask me to give away the plot. I’d love it if other writers would post stories about their creative process.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Might say this musical review was heaven-sent

Plaid Tidings at Capital Playhouse

reviewed for The Olympian and The News Tribune

Pictured, (front left to right) Christopher F. Schiel, Bruce Haasl, Jerod Nace, (back) Harrison Fry. Photo by Glenn "Raiha

Light hearted and comical holiday entertainment is getting to be a habit. Last week in this column I said it was nice to see a Christmas show that wasn’t sappy (“A Tuna Christmas”). Capital Playhouse in Olympia is offering one also: “Plaid Tidings.”

Written by Stuart Ross and directed by Jeff Kingsbury, this four-person musical review is a sequel to Ross’s popular show “Forever Plaid,” featuring the same whacky doo-wop quartet singing a repertoire of hit tunes from the ’50s, with a bunch of perennial holiday favorites thrown in.

There are excellent solo performances by Jerod Nace and Bruce Haasl and great harmonizing by the quartet of Nace, Haasl, Harrison Fry and Christopher F. Schiel.

As if an hour and a half of harmonizing and nostalgia from an all-male quartet were not enough to keep an audience entertained, there’s the added benefit of inspired comedy. About half the tunes are performed as integral parts of comic skits, with more comic skits between songs, and the remainders are saccharin or heart-breaking love songs -- not so much sappy tunes as parodies of sappy songs. The comic bits are vaudevillian and range from singing backup for Perry Como (just the backup with nearly all of the words omitted) to recreating an entire Ed Sullivan show in something like five minutes complete with plate twirlers, tumblers, opera singers, Topo Gigo and Senior Wences.

The Plaids were just beginning to make it big as a singing group when they were sideswiped by a busload of Catholic school girls. None of the Plaids survived the crash, but they were allowed to come back to earth for one last performance -- and now in the sequel for a second last chance. The Plaids are: Sparky (Fry), Frankie (Haasl), Jinx (Nace) and Smudge (Schiel). Fry and Haasl are crooners with All-American/boy-next-door charm and mellow singing voices in styles reminiscent of Mel Torme or the crooner they all look up to as a role model, Perry Como. Schiel sings bass and moves his long and lanky frame in a loose-limbed gait that is fun to watch. Nace is the nervous and bumbling nerd of the group and gets most of the funny lines. He also displays great range and variety in singing styles and may come close to setting a world record for holding a single note.

Some of the funny bits include Nace soloing on the great Johnny Ray hit “Cry,” and they play rhythmic plopping sounds with plumber’s helpers on “Crazy ’Bout Ya Baby.” The takeoff on the Ed Sullivan show is hilarious. The one skit that falls flat is when they show a clip from a Perry Como Christmas special and sing along with Como. (The preceding bit where they sing backup without the clip from Como is funny, but it dies when they introduce the film.)

There is also a lot of audience participation. At one point a woman from the audience is brought on stage to dance with Nace, and another woman is invited on stage to play bells.

Musical accompaniment is provided by Troy Arnold Fisher on piano and Cary Black on bass.
“Plaid Tidings” is shorter than most plays and runs without an intermission.

Although there were a number of empty seats when I attended, Capital Playhouse is close to selling out all of their performances this season, so be sure to check on tickets in advance.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 20
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 East 4th Ave, Olympia
TICKETS: $33-$39 for adults, $28-$34 for seniors (60+) and youth (16 and under
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Doodles by Tim Kapler at The Swiss

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 10, 2009
Pictured: one of Kapler’s works with The Swiss in the reflection, and poster from the show, courtesy of the artist

I had a nice chat with Tim Kapler at The Swiss Thursday afternoon and took a long look at his drawings, which will be on display throughout the month. Kapler is a young man who is pretty much self-taught and just starting out as an artist. He said he doodles a lot and commented that the reason the figures in his drawings are shown only from chest up is that he doesn’t know enough about anatomy to do full figures.

He’s a modest man.

Yes, the works on display have the general look and feel of the kind of graphic novel/sci-fi-inspired art I have often complained is too prevalent among young artists, but there is an intensity and inventiveness to these drawings that have much to be admired.

It is a hastily thrown-together show of 19 small drawings taken from Kapler’s sketchbooks. The show is called Incomplete, with the final E incompletely drawn on the show poster, a clever play on a title that has multiple meanings — that the body of work has not reached any kind of resolution, that his ideas are still in gestation, and even that the individual drawings have holes or missing pieces. Which they do, and which is one of the more interesting aspects of these little drawings.

As a typical example, a drawing called "Artistic Smashing" shows a figure a man with an angular and flat chest and exposed musculature as if his skin has been stripped away. There is a large gap of nothingness between the man’s chin and his eyes. White paper. The top half of his head floating well above his chin. Two other drawings, "Ambidextrous" and "Denis," employ the same kind of open space between body parts. Being aware that Kapler does not have extensive training in art, I assume he has instinctively discovered a very affective visual tool and has just as instinctively arrived at the kind of sophisticated use of space most artists arrive at only after years of study.

There are 19 drawings in the show. All are small pen and ink drawings on paper, most in black and white. A few have large areas of red ink contrasting with the black and white line drawing, and one, called "Return to Sender," is an almost solid black figure seen in profile on a yellow-brown background. The face alternates from white line on black ink, a kind of scratchboard effect, to black line on white. The media is listed as pen and file folder, and the artist confirmed that it was drawn on a manila file folder, which is the source of the yellow-brown color.

In addition to the afore-mentioned sophisticated use of white space, the main impetus to Kapler’s drawings seems to be a contrast and balance of fine line drawings and dense areas of shading.

One of my favorite works is one called "Pierce," which is a masculine figure seen from the back with his head turned to profile and wearing what looks like a woman’s one-piece swim suit shaded almost black with dense crosshatching.

But my most favorite work is the poster for the show, which can be seen at The Swiss and online at

[The Swiss, Tim Kapler Incomplete, through Dec. 31, 1904 Jefferson Ave., Tacoma, 253.572.2821]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Big Blue Marble

I will be taking part in a one-day only art show and sale with the group Big Blue Marble. Lots of local artists you know and love will also be in the show.

Blue Marble at Critter Crossing Studios
Saturday, December 12,
3948 Cooper Point Rd. NW, Olympia,
11am till 5pm

To see who all is in the show with pictures of some of their work, go to

Shown here: my painting "Jonah and the Whale #2," oil on canvas.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

F***ing with Poona

Pictured: Top, left to right: Heide Wisner (I think, somebody correct me if I'm wrong), Lauren O'Neill and Scott C. Brown; center: Erica Penn; bottom: Alison Monda and Scott C. Brown. Photos by Marc Mixon.

I regret that I was not able to review “Poona the F**k Dog” for my newspaper column. I can review only one play a week. But if I had been able to review this one, I would not have been allowed to use the play’s title uncensored, and I would not have been able to say …

“Poona the Fuck Dog” is fucking funny.

Written by Jeff Goode during the presidency of George Bush, it is a political and social satire that nails Bush to the wall (with some barbs extended to the current White House), that skewers hypocrisy and consumerism in its many forms, that mocks society’s fear of dirty words in a manner Lenny Bruce and George Carlin would be proud of, and that celebrates hedonistic sex. It is presented in the form of a fairy tale for adults.

Performed by Theater Artists Olympia in the little Midnight Sun performance space in downtown Olympia under the direction of Robert McConkey, “Poona” is a rip-roaring comedy with an ensemble cast made up of many of the best actors in the South Puget Sound.

As in all good fairy tales, there is a wise and kindly storyteller (Scott C. Brown) to move the story along. But before the storyteller can begin his tale he is usurped by a false story teller (Lauren O’Neill) who turns out to be a psychotic killer and is hauled off to the loony bin or jail or somewhere. Then Brown, the true storyteller, comes out wearing a smoking jacket and puffing on a long-stemmed pipe and begins to read, “Once upon a time … there was a fuck dog named Poona,” and Poona (Alison Monda) makes her appearance as the lonely and unloved Poona nobody will play with. Her Fairy God Phallus (Christian J. Doyle) gives her a big pink box to play in, and suddenly everyone loves Poona (literally, has sex with) and can’t wait to play in her big pink box (have sex with).

Into this fairytale world comes a strange and wondrous collection of characters including a television who rules the world (O’Neill again), a couple of lost space aliens (Christopher S. Cantrell and Paul Purvine) a talking shrub (Erica Penn), a reporter (Tim Goebel) who is accidentally taken to heaven where he wins $500 in a bet with God, a sweet little girl named Suzy Suzy (Amy Shepard) who turns into a mass murderer and executes her victims with her computer (Heide Wisner) after being numbed by playing computer games, a fairytale Handsome Prince (Rob Taylor), a pair of angels (Pug Bujeaud and Heather Christopher), and other assorted characters. Even the stage hands get into the act (Wisner and Josh Palmer).

Monda turns in the most accomplished job of acting I have yet to see from her. She is sexy, innocent, sad, ecstatic, confused; constantly and quickly going through a huge range of emotional expressions while cavorting about stage and in her box with dance-like physicality and athletic skill. Her costumes are noteworthy as well, a dog suit and underwear throughout the first act, then a football uniform and finally an old lady house dress. Credit costume designer Sunny Jim Morgan for fabulous costumes made on a limited budget.

Brown, who has often proven his skill as a dramatic actor (I have twice named him best actor in my annual “Critic’s Choice”) shows in this play that he is also skilled as a comic actor who is quick on the uptake when responding to improvised remarks from other actors and audience members.

Penn is outstanding as the talking Shrub (a nod to Molly Ivins). Being the first of many actors to break the fourth wall in this play, she complains to the audience during a scene change that she’s too accomplished as an actor to be relegated to playing a shrub. And she proves it by doing Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” monologue. This Shrub is a philosopher and a poet, and a power to be reckoned with.

Purvine and Cantrell are outstanding as, respectively, The Man Who Could Sell Anything and God — and as the space aliens. One of the funniest and most inspired bits in the play is when the two of them toss back and forth two of the most offensive words in the English language in a rapid-fire kind of who’s-on-first routine.

Bujeaud and Christopher are funny angels and both double up in various other roles including a silly rabbit (Bujeaud) and a sadistic palace guard (Christopher). O’Neill is hilarious, and Doyle the troubadour penis sings in an infectious folksy style.

When: 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday
Where: The Midnight Sun, 113 Columbia St. N.W., Olympia
Tickets: $12 available at and at the door. Seating is limited. Buy online to assure a seat.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Collaboration brings an extra helping of ‘Tuna’

big laughs: Two actors play 11 roles each in riotous comedy

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 4, 2009
Pictured: Marcus Walker (left)and Scott Campbell (right). Photos by Dean Lapin

It’s nice to see a Christmas show that doesn’t look like countless sappy, made-for-TV movies.

Lakewood Playhouse and Tacoma Little Theatre are collaborating this holiday season to bring South Sound audiences the hilarious “A Tuna Christmas,” and it is anything but sappy.

It’s a mind-blowing skewering of Southern culture and a two-person tour de force of comedy acting.

Written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, “A Tuna Christmas” is part two in a trilogy of plays set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas. (It’s actually a quartet now, with the originators touring the fourth installment, “Tuna Does Vegas.”)

Williams and Sears have been touring the plays since the first one, “Greater Tuna,” debuted in 1981. They even performed it in the Bush White House (proving that Texans are big enough to laugh at themselves).

Lakewood Playhouse performed “Greater Tuna” last year with artistic director Marcus Walker and his assistant, Scott Campbell, playing all 20 roles.

Campbell is now the TLT artistic director, and the two have continued to work together by revising their roles in part two in the series, which opened at Lakewood Playhouse and will move to TLT next week.

“Tuna” is political and social satire in the tradition of “Hee Haw” and the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour.” Just about every character in the play is a complete idiot. Even their names are idiotic – Inita Goodwin (pronounced I Need a Good One) and Garland Poteet and Arles Struvie) – and the town is so conservative that the local little theater did an all-white version of “A Raisin in the Sun” and the local radio station’s call letters are OKKK.

Many of the lovable characters from “Greater Tuna” reappear, including radio announcers Thurston Wheelis (Walker) and Struvie (Campbell). Aunt Pearl (Campbell), who poisoned dogs in the first show, shoots at blue jays with a slingshot in this one. Sheriff Givens (Walker) is still incompetent.

New characters Inita (Campbell) and Helen Bedd (Walker) – do I need to point out the pun? – add a bit of spice to the Christmas mix.

Other delightfully insane characters include fiddle-playing and UFO-spotting R.R. Snavely (Walker), smut-snatching Vera Carp and gun-toting Didi Snavely (both played by Campbell).

There were more dropped lines than usual during the Saturday matinee last week, but that’s certainly forgivable considering that Campbell and Walker play 11 characters each. Besides, they recovered quickly and never missed a beat. Both actors are outstanding.

The costumes and wigs are wonderful. Credit Hally Phillips for costume design and Barb Colwell, Tim Colwell, Laura Conn, Leigh Duncan and Ann Gosch for helping with the countless quick costume changes.

I’m pretty sure this is the only play in which I’ve ever seen dressers listed in the program, and I’m sure it’s the only one in which they’ve been brought out for a curtain call. They deserved it.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday ((((Dec. 4-5)))and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (((Dec. 5-6)))
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $13.50-$21.50, pay what you can Dec. 6
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 20
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $16-$24
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Quiet motion

Kim Cheselka’s bent willow at Fulcrum

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 3, 2009
Pictured: installation view of Kim Chselka's willow pieces at Fulcrum Gallery. Photo by Mitch Dubin.

Note: This is an expanded version of the column in the Weekly Volcano.

To see two shows for the price of one, check out Kim Cheselka’s exhibition(s) at Fulcrum Gallery. Cheselka, an artist from Los Angeles, is showing bent willow sculptures in the front galleries at Fulcrum and idiosyncratic boxes in the back room gallery. The two are so entirely different it’s like getting two artists for the price of one, which is a real bargain considering that the price for looking at both bodies of work is free.

The willow work is serious art; the boxes are playful.

Cheselka collected willow branches along a river bank on a trip to Montana a few years back. Before drying them she bent them into evocative and sensuous shapes and peeled the bark. Using the willow’s natural shape and flexibility, she formed her wall-hanging sculptures without using wires, nails, staples, glue or any kind of support or binder. The final pieces are elegant explorations of abstract shape and the natural beauty of the material. The bamboo sticks swirl and spiral in overlapping circles. Most of the pieces hang directly on the wall and extend outward approximately a foot to a foot and a half. The two largest pieces are suspended a foot or so out from the wall.

In the right half of the front gallery (facing inward) the walls are painted dark grey to provide a striking contrast with the blonde wood. In the left side the walls are white. The contrast of similar forms against a light wall and a dark wall are interesting. In one the forms are almost white-on-white with very subtle color variations; in the other there is a more dramatic swirl of light against dark. The bamboo casts dark shadows against the white walls, but the shadows are barely visible against the dark gray.

The pieces are all about moving lines in space. Variations in color are almost non-existent and therefore become striking when color variations do appear — in two pieces only. Quiet Motion of Change (a very descriptive title) includes one mahogany-colored branch wedged into the swirls of blonde wood. Importance of Looking Up, the smallest piece, includes three tiny areas where the bark was not stripped. They look like sleeves slipped over the wood and provide a startling color contrast.

The works in the back gallery are boxed displays of collected images. There are seven of these. They are all very small. The images contained in the boxes include found, sculpted and painted objects such as trees, houses, boats, rivers, bird nests, eggs and animal skulls. It is personal and enigmatic imagery with meanings only the artist can fully comprehend — assuming that even she can. Wall texts explain some of her thoughts about each piece but provide very little explanation of the possible meanings. The boxes are playful and fun, but not as artistic as the bent willow works. My favorite piece is a box with a painted orange boat on a blue background and the tiniest figure of a woman imaginable.

In recent articles in this column I have written about pet peeves including works that depend on unusual uses of material and little boxes reminiscent of Joseph Cornell. I also recently praised basket maker Jill Nordfors Clark for her use of unusual materials, specifically hog gut. I seem to be contradicting myself. The difference in the use of materials is in how both Clark and Cheselka capture and emphasize the natural beauty and materiality of hog gut and willow as opposed to the corny and gimmicky use of materials in such things as, for instance, making a face out of lollypops or building a model house out of spaghetti. As for the Cornell-like boxes, it’s still hard to appreciate the inventiveness and aesthetic beauty of these when so many artists have done it. At least Cheselka constructs hers with skill and includes some interesting juxtapositions of images. But they’re still just one more idiosyncratic collection of objects in boxes, which do not in any way measure up to the artistic integrity of her willow pieces.

[Fulcrum Gallery, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Sunday and by appointment, through Dec. 31, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]