Friday, January 29, 2010

Gritty musical ‘Rent’ is a stunner

Reality’s bite: Tacoma Musical Playhouse masterfully presents tale of a motley crew

Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 29, 2010.
Top picture,front: Thaddeus Wilson as Angel; back left to right: Kevin L. Douglass as Tom Collins, Matt Posner as Mark, and Aaron Freed as Roger. Bottom, Alison Monda as Maureen.
photos by Kat Dollarhide

Seldom does an American musical come along that defines an era. In the 1950s, it was “West Side Story,” in the ’60s it was “Hair.” Toward the end of the millennium it was “Rent,” which, for the first time this year, has come available to community theaters.

The regional premiere of “Rent” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is musical theater the way it is meant to be. The story, the sets and costumes, the acting and the music are stunning, sad, uplifting and transformative. Grab a seat and hang on for a dose of gritty and heartbreaking reality with tense and lovely relationships set to music.

“Rent” is not for everyone. The language is the language of the streets. The characters are a microcosm of the bohemian underbelly of society. They are casual about drugs and sex.

A contemporary update of Puccini’s opera “La Bohme” written by Jonathan Larson and directed for TMP by Jon Douglas Rake, “Rent” depicts a year in the lives of a motley group of young people living in an industrial loft in Manhattan’s East Village near the end of the 20th century. Mark (Matt Posner) is a filmmaker and the story’s narrator. Roger (Aaron Freed) is a musician and aspiring songwriter who wants to write just one great song before he dies. He is HIV-positive. His girlfriend has recently committed suicide. Tom Collins (Kevin L. Douglass) is an anarchist computer genius philosophy professor who falls in love with Angel (Thaddeus Wilson), a streetwise drag queen. They too are living with HIV. Joanne (Antonia Darlene) and Maureen (Alison Monda) are lesbian lovers. Mimi (Katin Jacobs-Lake) is an exotic dancer and drug addict. Benjamin Coffin III (Jesse Jonathan Smith) is the former roommate who sold out to the establishment. He married into a rich family and now owns the building the others live in. And finally, there is an outstanding ensemble cast who appear as various street performers, homeless people, cops, and the parents of the principal characters.

This is as good as any cast I’ve ever seen in a large production in the South Sound. Posner always is a strong singer and dancer, and as the narrator in “Rent” his unaffected style smoothly moves the storyline. Wilson plays Angel as sweet and gentle as he is audacious. His singing is soft and clear, while Douglass as Tom Collins is strong and confident and sings with power and majesty. Outstanding songs are brought to the stage by Darlene, with her powerful and sultry blues style, and Freed as a moody troubadour. Monda, who doesn’t emerge from the ensemble to fill her principal role until near the end of the first act, electrifies the theater with her comical, dramatic, acrobatic rendition of the song “Over the Moon.”

I saw this show at an opening weekend matinee, and that afternoon the cast and the scaled-down orchestra were a little slow to hit their stride. The title song and first big musical number did not have the electricity it should have. The drummer was too loud and a bit static. It was not until the rousing “Today for You” that the music soared.

Posner’s and Darlene’s sweet and comical “Tango Maureen” was wonderful. The big first act closing song, “La Vie Bohme” could raise the dead. This song and dance number with solos by not only most of the principals but also some excellent singers from the ensemble is an homage to “La Bohme,” as well as to the great table-dancing banquet scene in “Hair.”

Other musical highlights include Stacie Pinkney Calkins stepping forward from the ensemble to sing a breathtaking gospel-style solo on “Seasons of Love” and Douglass’ operatic and plaintive ballad to his dying lover, “I’ll Cover You.”

Also commendable are the industrial loft set designed by Will Abrahamse and Jon Douglas Rake, John Chenault’s’ lighting, and some terrific costumes that could have been gathered from local thrift shops or from cast members’ closets (no costume designer credited in the program). I especially loved Roger’s jacket and Mimi’s electric blue pants.

One final note: Larson, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, never got to see “Rent” in production. He died on the night of the final rehearsal without ever seeing an audience response to his creation.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Feb. 14
Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
Tickets: Adults $25, students/military $23, ages 12 and younger $18 (the show is not recommended for children younger than 15)
Information: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Troy Gua’s memorial to loss at Fulcrum

The Weekly Volcano, Jan. 28, 2010

There are two Troy Gua shows at Fulcrum. The title show, Monument: A Memorial to Loss is installed in the small room to the left as you enter the gallery. Created especially for this exhibition, it is Gua’s sober commentary on the loss of life and limb in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other two rooms are filled with what gallery owner Oliver Doriss calls Gua’s bread and butter work — celebrity pop art portraits.

I won’t say much about Monument. It should be seen in person and contemplated with slow deliberation. It is stark, harrowing, sad, and a condemnation of the purposeful avoidance of reality in our mass media’s coverage of those wars. Which was, as we all should remember, official policy of the Bush administration.

The celebrity portraits are as slick and polished as custom made cars and as clever as the most inspired work of a Madison Avenue ad writer. They are tributes to iconic figures dead and alive from Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein to David Bowie and Boy George. And they are an homage to Andy Warhol — not cheap knockoffs of Warhol prints (those are a dime a dozen and not worth that), but serious tributes to Warhol’s genius and his fine sense of color and design.

Warhol elevated slick commercialism to fine art and made of laughable celebrity worship something akin to true reverence. He said he wanted to be a machine and was celebrated for obliterating the hand of the artist. His paintings could be, and in fact were, mass produced. But there were slippages and smears in his silkscreen prints. He never truly eliminated the personal touch in his portraits of Elvis and Marilyn and Mao. Gua’s portraits come closer to the impersonal look that was attributed to Warhol. They are more highly polished, and they truly look machine-made.

Some of Gua’s portraits are resin-coated Lightjet metallic prints. Others are resin-coated acrylic paintings. They all have high-gloss surfaces, but most especially the metallic prints. For the budget-minded there are smaller and larger versions of many of the portraits, and the smaller ones are very affordable.

Now for the truly clever part: each portrait is a double or triple portrait, one image superimposed over another. At first glance, for instance, you see the unmistakable visage and hair of David Bowie in "The Davids." But keep looking, and suddenly there appears the face of Michelangelo’s David. You know, the 17-foot tall statue of the beautiful young naked boy who killed the giant Goliath. Perhaps you never looked all the way up to his face.

All of Gua’s portraits morph from one person to another — often people who are such exact opposites that seeing them associated in this way can be shocking, such as "The Elton John Wayne," which melds the faces of the Duke, a homophobic entertainer, with Elton John, an openly gay entertainer. Or "The Queens of England," an actual queen of England with Boy George, the other kind of queen, who happens to be English. All but one of the portraits combine the faces of two iconic figures. The one exception is a portrait of Michael Jackson that is layered not with the image of another celebrity but with two very different images of Jackson, who notoriously changed his appearance over time.

Some of the other portrait combinations are Chairman Mao/Mickey Mouse, and Albert Einstein/Marilyn Monroe. Each of these portraits is a beautifully thought-out design, and Gua’s color choices are excellent. Many are in gray scale, some with just a touch of color, most notably on the lips. Others are monochromatic, and many use complementary color schemes. The colors in The Elton John Wayne are the most striking and also the most reminiscent of the kind of colors Warhol favored.
You really ought to get down to Fulcrum and see this show.

[Fulcrum Gallery, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and by appointment, through March 13, gallery talk and closing reception Feb. 18 at 6 p.m., 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

Friday, January 22, 2010

‘Over the River’: Warm slice of family life

Tacoma Little Theatre presents the tearjerker “Over the River and Through the Woods.”

Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 22, 2010
top photo, from left: Randy Clark as Nunzio, Larry Bommbarito as Frank, Dana Galagan as Aida and Syra Beth Puett as Emma
bottom, left to right: Emma, Nunzio and Chad Russell as Nick
Photo by Dean Lapin

“Over the River and Through the Woods” by Joe DiPietro is billed as a comedy, and DiPietro is best known for writing the books to musicals including “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and his most recent, “Memphis.”

“Over the River” starts out as a warmhearted comedy but turns into a tearjerker that is too maudlin for my taste. However I’m sure it will pat the hearts of many audience members – the audience at Tacoma Little Theatre at Sunday’s opening weekend matinee was clearly touched.

DiPietro, who grew up in New Jersey, where this play is set, must have known grandparents or aunts and uncles who were very much like the elder Cristanos and Gianellis. How else could he have painted such vivid pictures? These people (which is how grandson Nick refers to them) are lovably quirky and obsessed with family and food.

“Tenga familia,” is the play’s leitmotif. It literally means I have family. But to the Cristanos and Gianellis it may more accurately mean life is family and family is life. So they are confused and disturbed when grandson Nick (Chad Russell) announces that he’s moving to Seattle. Nick’s parents and older sister have already moved away, and the old folks can’t understand why family members do not stay put.

Director Doug Kerr designed the very striking set, the Gianellis’ living and dining rooms. There are no walls. Rather, door and window frames and numerous empty picture frames hang in front of a black curtain. The audience sees actors through the walls as they approach doorways to make their appearance onstage. This bit of stage magic heightens the dramatic effect of periodically stopping the action while various actors directly address the audience. It is very effective way of allowing the audience into their thoughts and provides glimpses into the family from various viewpoints.

The acting throughout is stellar, although while Russell’s gestures and facial expressions are spot-on for the character he’s portraying, they are too exaggerated in some places. In certain scenes, especially with Caitlain (Stacia Weber), the girl his grandparents try to match him up with, and when speaking directly to the audience Russell is outstanding, but he goes overboard when he expresses his frustrations with the grandparents. Granted, Russell is playing a character who is so excitable that – well, I won’t give that away – but still he needs to tone it down just a notch.

Larry Bommbarito as Frank Gianelli, Dana Galagan as Aida Gianelli, Randy Clark as Nunzio Cristano and Syra Beth Puett as Emma Cristano are all outstanding. I don’t think there was a single gesture or inflection from any of them that was not just right. And Weber in her first ever stage appearance comes across as a real pro. She is absolutely believable and natural.

Aida’s refusal to hear what anybody says as she keeps offering food – her panacea for everything, Frank’s stubbornness and good humor, Emma’s motherly concern and fervent prayers, and Nuzio’s too-loud expressiveness are all funny and endearing. The family’s gathering for a game of Trivial Pursuit is as funny as any such scene ever acted out.

If DiPietro had not over done the sentimentality and if he had cut out the final scene, which is nothing more than an extended and unnecessary epilogue, “Over the River” would probably compare favorably with such comic classics as “You Can’t Take it With You” or great situation comedies like “All in the Family.”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 7
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
Tickets: $16 adult, $24
Information: 253-272-2281,

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Inside outsider

Steven Suski’s strange world invades SPSCC

The Weekly Volcano, Jan. 21. 2010
Pictured: "Planted Foot" and "Middle Ages."

Steven Suski’s paintings in his solo exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College have the look of outsider art. “Outsider” is a label generally applied to self-taught and/or mentally ill artists. To the best of my knowledge, Suski is not mentally ill, and I don’t know what kind of training he has had, but his paintings have that look — wild, somewhat crude and primitive looking, with highly personal iconography. Makes you want to get into his head.

His drawing style reminds me a lot of Fay Jones.

Suski finds old paintings in such places as garage sales and thrift shops and paints over them, always allowing a little bit of the original to show through. He also paints over his own earlier paintings and collages. The results are textured and layered paintings with odd imagery and hints at other images like time capsules in found art, as if mid 20th century art were something excavated from an ancient culture. He paints mythical figures, noir detectives, super heroes, mysteriously sexy women and strange forms that look like human organs. His figures are painted over and under textured and patterned backgrounds. The paintings hint at narratives that are never fully fleshed out.

"Planted Foot" and "Foot Tree" are two large acrylic paintings with contour drawings of feet in thong sandals, both painted with white lines over unrelated images and patterns. "Foot Tree" is particularly inventive in that the feet and legs look like a tree trunk and simultaneously like the torso of a female body. These are among my favorites in the show, along with "Bone Garden" — another painting that makes extensive use of white contour lines. This painting is mostly white-on-white and is the closest thing to an abstract painting in the show. The forms look like worms and human organs, and the painting style reminds me a lot of the late work of Phillip Guston.

Along one wall is a group of paintings that look like images of zombies or similar horror-show creatures. These look a little bit too contrived and overly dramatic, but one of them, called "The Mummy," has some fascinating and energetic brushwork.
Another favorite is a little painting called "Three on a Light." It looks like an illustration from a 1940 detective novel. At the top, three shadowy figures are lighting cigarettes all at the same time and off the same lighter. Underneath — again with what seems to be a Suski signature mark, white contour drawing with see-through imagery behind it — is a hand holding a cigarette pack, but the cigarette pack is a skeleton head. The anti-smoking message may be too obvious, but it’s a good painting. I especially like the painted Benday dot pattern in the background.

"Middle Ages" is one of the most enigmatic pictures in the show. It seems to be telling a story, but I can’t imagine what the story is. The pink and green color combination is almost perfect, but the green should be closer in value to the pink.

[South Puget Sound Community College, through Feb. 28, Thursday-Friday noon-4 p.m. and by appointment, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia,]

"For me, just one of the cool things about Alec's art critiques, is that he always notices something that got by me, and that surprises me (maybe even perplexes me a bit) because I think I am so observant. I think he just looks completely and openly from Alec's point of view 100%, no pretense, and that keeps what he thinks and has to say about the work, always interesting and unique." - Paula Tutmarc-Johnson, Two Vaults Gallery. See Alec Clayton's Visual Edge every week in the Weekly Volcano.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Enjoy irony, humor, drama at Olympia Little Theatre’s latest

The Olympian, The News Tribune, Jan. 14-15
Pictured (back, left to right): Deya Ozburn as Minka, Barbara-Ann Smith as Lucy, front: Brian Jansen as Gerald. Photo by Toni Holm.

Olympia Little Theatre’s latest production is “Murderers,” one of many unique plays from the prolific pen of Jeffrey Hatcher, who has given us memorable plays such as “Three Viewings,” “Murder by Poe,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” and the stage adaptation of “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

Hatcher also was a longtime writer for the television series “Columbo,” which becomes apparent early in “Murderers.”

“Murderers” is a set of three monologues related only in that all of the murderers are connected in some way with the Riddle Key Luxury Senior Retirement Living Center and Golf Course in Riddle Key, Fla.

I saw a dress rehearsal a week before opening night.

This play is not a murder mystery. There’s never any doubt as to whodunit. It is a sardonic comic drama. The three actors step on stage and each announces, “I am a murderer” as if at a meeting of Murderers Anonymous.

After that opening, they appear one at a time to tell their stories and act out the parts of the various people involved.

Here’s the structure of the play: curtain, tell story, curtain; repeat three times, each with a different actor and a different set.

In order for such a bare-bones and unorthodox play to be entertaining, the story lines must the brilliantly plotted, the monologues must be intelligent and sparked with humor and drama, and the acting must be superb.

Under the co-direction of Kathryn Beall and Toni Holm, Olympia Little Theatre scores high on all three.

The actors are Brian Jansen as Gerald Halverson, Barbara-Ann Smith as Lucy Sticker, and Deya Ozburn as Minka Lupino.

Jansen burst onto South Sound stages three years ago with a mesmerizing performance in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” followed by a hilarious role in “Take Me Out.” Then, after doing a small role in Harlequin’s “Shining City,” he dropped out of acting for more than a year.

It’s good to see him back in one of his most challenging roles yet. He opens this play standing on a bare stage in front of a bench, the only set piece (I can’t explain this set without giving away the plot).

He explains that like murderers in everything from James Bond movies to “Columbo” he wears a black tie and dinner jacket. His mother told him formal occasions call for black ties and murder is a formal occasion.

With this, he sets the tone for the black humor and constant references to staged murder mysteries that will resonate throughout all three monologues.

Jansen is convincing as the murderer and does wonderful things with his eyes and body language to draw the audience in. We know he’s going to kill someone, but not who or how, and the suspense builds dramatically as he gives hint after hint before his tale comes to an ironic climax.

I don’t remember seeing Smith in prior shows, but according to her credits in the program for this show I must have seen her in “Moon Over Buffalo.” How could I have missed her? She is fabulous.

Smith plays the oldest of the characters, 78-year-old Lucy who hates it when a former rival for the love of her husband shows up in the retirement village. Of the three scenes, Smith’s provides the most comedy. Her character, Lucy, is feisty and loveable.

Minka Lupino, played by Ozburn, is anything but loveable. She is a devious and heartless mass murderer, and Ozburn plays her with glee. She throws her full body into the roles of various characters such as a drunk with a terrible cigarette cough and an ageing mystery writer who talks with a rasp and drags a crippled foot behind him.

This is an intelligently written and well-acted play.

I highly recommend it.

When: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-When and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 24
Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
Tickets: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or http://www. events
Information: 360-786-9484, olympia

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What fun!

Kids Design Glass at MOG is a hoot

The Weekly Volcano, Jan. 14, 2010
Pictured: "Banana Bam!" designed by Macay Fischer, age 8 ("A banana with speed and a fish with a place to go."

The Kids Design Glass exhibition at Museum of Glass should not be reviewed in any critical way. It should, however, be applauded with gusto. This is a delightful show and a wonderful program. Sponsored by KeyBank /Key Foundation and the Muckleshoot Charity Fund, the program invites children 12 and under who visit the museum or are patients at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital to design a glass sculpture. Each month one entry is selected by the MOG Hot Shop team and two sculptures are created — one for the child designer and one for the Museum's Permanent Collection. Fifty-two of the sculptures, along with the kids’ drawings and in many instances their written words about their creations, are in the current exhibition.

And what a delight it is! Most of the sculptures are fanciful creatures from the kids’ fertile imaginations. They are funny, highly inventive and colorful. Compared to the somber tones of the Preston Singletary show in the adjacent main gallery, this show is a three ring circus.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the kids’ drawings are better art than are the sculptures made from them by the Hot Shop team. Much of the spontaneity is lost in the finished glass pieces. The drawings have a rugged graphic quality that is quite beautiful, and a lot of them look better flat than fully rounded. The sculptures look slick and commercial in comparison to the drawings, and many of the hue and value contrasts are lost in the translation from rough sketch into finished glass art.

Some of the finished glass pieces look a lot like works by accomplished (adult) glass artists I’ve seen at MOG — some influences obviously rubbing off on the Hot Shop team. For instance, "Chickenpox" by 11-year-old Lucie Saether and "My-Mceequ" by Trenton Anderson, 9 ½, look a lot like vases by Dante Marioni.

Among the more delightful aspects of the show are the statements written by the children. The statement by Trenton Anderson, as a great example, says, “My-Mceequ is a squirrel, ant, and Allien monkey thing.”

Some of my favorite pieces are:

"Seasa, Baby Dinosaur" designed by Kiley Carpenter, 5. It’s a dinosaur being hatched from a multi-colored, striped egg. She wrote: “Important that the dinosaur pops up from the jagged edge of the broken egg.”

"Girl With Attitude" by Lakisha Coombs, 10, has what looks like a pickle coming out of her cheek with the words “Pick Me,” and a turtle inside a star on her belly. For reason I can’t fathom, the Hot Shop team made the turtle larger and deleted the star. This is one of those cases where I thought the drawing was better than the sculpture.

"Jolt" by Josiah Cramer, 11, is a happy little yellow creature that is delightful in both the drawn and sculpted versions.

"The Sequoia God" by Emma Lynn Foster, 10, has hair that in the finished piece looks like a mesh of tendrils by Dale Chihuley.

Finally, deserving of special note is "Broken Heart Snake" by Ayla Raye Ludolf, 10. The drawing of a happily voracious snake with big teeth is so charming, and I love her statement: “The snake takes people with love and takes it away from them it lives were people love most. It’s bite will make you not love for 10 years. With it two tail it can slap the love out of you. To get love back you must eat love-furit.”

There is a wonderful hardback book from this show with pictures of all 52 pieces complete with original drawings and the kids’ statement plus photos of the kids and the team at work in the Hot Shop.

[Museum of Glass, Kids Design Glass, through Feb. 2011, 1801 Dock St. Tacoma, 866.4MUSEUM]

Monday, January 11, 2010

Latest Backside review

The latest review of The Backside of Nowhere comes from Linda Linguvic, an top 100 reviewer. She writes:

Move over Pat Conroy. There's a new southern writer in town!

Set in a Gulf Coast town, this novel does more than just give us a story typical of the region. Yes, it includes high school romances, a competitive football game, corrupt political leaders and a devastating hurricane. And yes, it deals with the endemic racism inherent in such towns. But yet the story is so engrossing that I could not put the book down. I loved the characters, including a Hollywood star who comes home to visit his ailing father. Naturally, he meets up with his old-time girlfriend and they reignite their high school romance. We learn about his parents’ background and his adopted sister with a secret. Then there is his sister who loves her hard drinking husband no matter how much he strays. All these characters came across as very real and there is a slight comic nature to the book which made it even more interesting to me and kept the story moving.

Frankly, I loved this book and actually found it better than Pat Conway’s latest, “South of Broad” because the characters seemed more real and not just stereotypes. Alec Clayton hit the mark perfectly, held my interest throughout and even surprised me at the end. Bravo! This is a really good book.

The reviewer also has an email list, and she forwarded me a note from someone who responded to the review. (name withheld):

"... it is interesting that you would compare this author to Conway.. I read a few of the latter's, and always there was something that wasn't quite right in his work, yet not distracting enough for me to put it down. Are there other things in Clayton's work that reminds you of Conway?"

I couldn't reply to the writer of that comment, but I told the reviewer that she could relay a message from me. The message is that I was aware of the similarities between Backside and Conroy's Beach Music. In both the protagonist who is celebrity who is estranged from his family, who goes back home when a parent is dying and is forced to deal with long-simmering family issues. I didn't rip Conroy off, at least not intentionally, but there was one scene in Backside that was inspired by a scene in Beach Music. It was the scene when Pop confronts the looters during the flood.

That was the only Conroy book I have ever read. I liked a lot, even read it a second time, but he has some faults that I hope I've managed to avoid. First, his protagonist is too obviously the writer's alter ego, and second, he over writes; telling and telling and telling things the reader should be able to figure out without having his drummed into his or her head.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Review: Talented cast carries ‘Tom Sawyer’ at Lakewood Playhouse

MUSICAL: Youths show promise of South Sound theater’s future

Jonathan Hogue plays Tom, Aaron Berryhill is Huck and Kat Christensen portrays Becky in Lakewood Playhouse’s musical “Tom Sawyer.”

The News Tribune, Jan. 8

The musical “Tom Sawyer” at Lakewood Playhouse has all of the charm but none of the bite that has made Mark Twain an enduring favorite for almost 150 years. It’s a lightweight musical comedy that should be just the ticket for post-holiday family entertainment – a kind of nonalcoholic nightcap to the season which mercifully this year spared us most of the endless rounds of “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Written by Ken Ludwig with music and lyrics by Don Schlitz, and directed by Marty Mackenzie, this version of the Twain classic has all the joy of a revival plus a good helping of romance and mystery.

Overall the cast, largely made up of high school students, is excellent, and the singing and dancing are exuberant. I especially loved the beautiful “Raising a Child” as sung by Aunt Polly (Karen Christensen) and Judge Thatcher (David Jensen), and the rousing gospel tune “It’s in the Bible” by Tom (Jonathan Hogue) with gospel choir backup by the entire cast.

I would have enjoyed the show more if about 30 minutes had been trimmed. Tani Wright’s choreography is unexciting, perhaps because she had to keep it simple for a few of the chorus who barely slogged through their moves.

Larry Hagerman’s set is a gallant attempt at originality that works on a practical level, but which I found to be bland. I liked the use of the balcony area and the orchestra placement, but the main backdrop is a fold-out wall that looks something like a cattle chute – distracting and unattractive until it opened out for the cave scene.

Kudos to the young actors who played the principal characters: Hogue’s Tom Sawyer, Kat Christensen as Becky Thatcher, and Aaron Berryhill in the enviable role of Huckleberry Finn. With young actors like this on area stages, a bright future for South Sound stages is assured. Hogue’s Tom Sawyer is charming, sincere and thoroughly believable. Berryhill plays Huck with great energy and excitement.

Christensen immerses herself so thoroughly into the role of Becky Thatcher that you forget she’s acting. She conveys an encyclopedia of sincere emotions with simple facial expressions. At one point while the ensemble cast was involved in a big musical number she conveyed the complexity of her feelings for Tom with a momentary look cast across the stage. It was so fleeting and so far removed from the main action that most of the audience probably missed it, but those of us who saw it witnessed a moment of great acting.

Outstanding in supporting roles are Jensen as Judge Thatcher, Hagerman as Rev. Sprague, and Karen Christensen as Aunt Polly (she is by far the best singer in the cast with a voice that carries beautifully and just a tiny bit of a country twang in keeping with the role).

Special kudos to the orchestra under the direction of Lisa Sutter. Miranda Goodroad’s fiddle and Don Blagsvedt on mandolin, banjo and acoustic guitar provided the absolutely perfect feel of a country band playing at a hoedown in St. Petersburg, Mo., in 1840.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 16

Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood

Tickets: $16-$24; rush tickets every Saturday 15 minutes prior to curtain; actor benefit performance, 2 p.m. Jan. 16

Information: 253-588-0042, www.lakewood

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Impressions of impressions

A bit of history at Tacoma Art Museum

The Weekly Volcano, Jan 07
Pictured: WILLIAM GLACKENS, NATALIE IN A BLUE SKIRT, 1914: Oil on canvas, a gift to TAM of Mrs. Corydon Wagner, Sr..
Photo: Courtesy photo

To most Americans impressionist art means the art of a small group of late 19th century French artists. But an expanded definition of the movement includes earlier and later works, plus art from other parts of Europe and even America. The Movement of Impressionism: Europe, America, and the Northwest at Tacoma Art Museum offers an impressive sampling of this expanded movement. There’s not a bad painting in the show; yet this show lacks the vitality that marked the movement in France. There are a lot of pre- and post-impressionist works and a lot of paintings that are just barely related to the movement, and taken as a hole these paintings are quieter and less vibrant than the works we commonly associate with Impressionism.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was not an impressionist, but his colors and paint strokes were luminous and loose relative to traditional paintings at the time, and works such as "A Laborer in the Country near Etretat" in the TAM exhibition influenced the impressionists who followed him.

Among the most famous names in the movement there are few works in this show. They include a pair of lovely bronze sculptures by Edgar Degas and a couple of small paintings and two little prints by Renoir. The Degas sculptures are of dancers. They stand 12 and 17 inches tall and typify Degas’ famous ability to capture gestures and postures as if in candid photographs. These are lovely little sculptures. The Renoir prints include a seated nude and a study for the many paintings he did of two girls with colorful hats and rosy cheeks. I have previously commented on one of those paintings, "Two Sisters," which is also in this show. It is a prime example of his use of glowing pink skin tones and a controlled yet agitated brushstroke. I must confess that Renoir has always been too sentimental for my taste, but with these works I’m beginning to appreciate him a little more.

Most of the works by Americans look more like Ashcan School or Hudson River School paintings than Impressionism. Generally I was not impressed. However, you can’t dismiss John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt. Sargent’s watercolor "The Fence" is easily one of the strongest paintings in the show, even if it is quite a stretch to label it impressionistic. It is much more akin to the watercolors of Winslow Homer than to anything by Pissaro or Monet (the latter of whom is sadly missing from this show).

Speaking of the Ashcan School, there is a bit of irony in that William Glackens, co-founder of that school, is represented here with one of the most vibrantly colorful paintings in the show. The Ashcan School was noted for dull and gritty depictions of inner city life, the exact opposite of the sun drenched paintings associated with Impressionism, yet Glackens’ "Natalie in a Blue Skirt" glows with brilliant reds and violets. His brush strokes create energetic patterns within patterns, and the figure does not so much sit in front of the backdrop curtains as emerge out of them in a thoroughly contemporary fashion. Gackens out Renoirs Renoir; he does with a classically seated figure what Monet did with water lilies.

This is not a blockbuster show by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a solid and thoughtful representation of an important moment in art history.

[Tacoma Art Museum, The Movement of Impressionism: Europe, America, and the Northwest, Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Oct. 9, $8-$9, free Third Thursday, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258,]

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nine New Shows at the Broadway Center in 2010

Indigo Girls, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, ABBA The Music and More

Press release just received from The Broadway Center in Tacoma:

Tacoma, WA- The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts has added nine new shows to the 2010 Season schedule: Firesign Theatre, Theatre Northwest’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Indigo Girls, Broadway Center Conservatory’s Willy Wonka, Theatre Northwest’s Agatha Christie’s BBC Murders, West Coast Gospel Fest, Missoula Children’s Theatre’s Beauty Lou and the Country Beast, Menopause The Musical and ABBA The Music. Tickets are on sale for Broadway Center Members beginning Monday, January 4 at 11:00 a.m. Tickets are on sale for the general public on sale Thursday, January 7 at 11:00 a.m.

The new shows begin with two performances by famed comedy quartet Firesign Theatre on Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Theatre on the Square. The group includes Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Phil Proctor and been performing 42 years together.

The Broadway Center and Theatre Northwest will continue their partnership in spring 2010 with two shows: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (nine performances) from February 20 to March 7, 2010 and Agatha Christie’s BBC Murders (seven performances) from May 1 to 15, 2010. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is based on the popular 1988 comedy, which has been adapted into a terrific musical comedy about two con men living on the French Riviera. The pre-national tour premiere of Agatha Christie’s BBC Murders will feature four mini-mysteries in a radio play format: Three Blind Mice, Yellow Iris, Butter in a Lordly Dish, and Personal Call.

The Indigo Girls will perform for one show only on Friday, March 19, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pantages Theater. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers began their career nearly two decades ago with their independently released debut album, 1987's Strange Fire. Since then they have entertained millions of devoted fans with their 10 major-label studio albums. Now they’ve come full circle with the independent release of their new album, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug on their new label IG Recordings.

The Broadway Center Conservatory will perform the culminating project of the Musical Theater Camp with Willy Wonka on Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. in Theatre on the Square. This production will star Conservatory students and features songs from the 1971 family film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Broadway Center Conservatory Musical Theater Camp features a full cast of students ages 6 to 18.

In partnership Mr. Frank Walton, 2007 Inductee Broadcasters Hall of Fame and 2009 Gospel Announcer of the Year, Gospel Music Workshop of America the Broadway Center will present

West Coast Gospel Fest on Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. in the Rialto Theater. The performance is a lively and spiritual show that includes a medley of artists such as Ami Rushes, Moses Tyson, Jr. Angela Missy Billups and Bishop Sam Williams.

Missoula Children’s Theatre’s annual performance is Beauty Lou and the Country Beast on Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. at Theatre on the Square. This classic fairy tale with a Wild West spin, the show will feature 50 to 60 local kids, grades first through twelfth, in a production developed in one-week. Auditions will be held on Monday, June 7, 2010. Doors will open at 3:00 p.m. and close at 3:30 p.m. Audition begins promptly at 3:30 p.m.

Menopause The Musical brings laughter to Tacoma on Saturday, June 12 at 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. at the Pantages Theater. Four women discover they have more in common than they thought in a joyful musical parody set to classic tunes such as "Puff, My God I'm Draggin'" and the disco favorite "Stayin' Awake, Stayin' Awake.”

Hall of Fame group, ABBA will be reborn as ABBA The Music on Friday, June 25, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pantages Theater. Featuring original band members Ulf Andersson and Janne Schaffer, ABBA The Music follows the ABBA story from their Eurovision beginnings all the way to major chart success.

Broadway Center Member may purchase tickets beginning Monday, January 4, 2010 at 11:00 a.m. General public tickets are on sale beginning Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:00 a.m. Tickets may be purchased by contacting the Broadway Center Box Office at 253.591.5894, toll-free 1.800.291.7593, or visit the Box Office at 901 Broadway in Tacoma’s Theater District. To purchase online at anytime or for more information about upcoming events, visit


The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts gratefully acknowledges the following for support of the 2009-10 Season: ArtsFund, Ben B. Cheney Foundation, The Boeing Company, City of Tacoma, Forest Foundation, The News Tribune, The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Pierce County Arts Commission and Sequoia Foundation Pierce County Program.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

How I became a newspaper man

It was 1973, New York. I had recently joined a crazy kind of hippy employment agency/apartment finder/social network called Everything for Everybody and teamed up with a band of handymen who called themselves, variously, The Midnight Carpenters, Uncle John’s Band, and TANSTAAFL (an acronym for There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch), and moved in with two of the TANSTAAFL guys, Sam and Mike, in an apartment on 165th Street.

We did odd jobs, rough carpentry, house painting and such. We specialized in late night work. If a restaurant, as a typical example, wanted a wall torn down or a new counter built, we’d come in after closing time, work all night, and have it ready for opening the next day. I was a good painter but a lousy carpenter. I could, however, follow instructions: hold this, cut, here, hammer there.

Mike was the leader of the gang. He lined up the jobs and supervised. It seemed there was no job he couldn’t handle. What a character he was. To this day I have no idea which if any of the things he told me about himself were true. He claimed to have been a poet child protégé under the tutelage of either Carl Sandburg or Robert Frost, I can’t remember which, and to have been a member of the Weather Underground. Over the years he had gone by a variety of names, still carried a gun, and was wanted by the FBI. He was short and muscular, had long hair worn in braids and a heavy mustache. He habitually wore a leather cowboy hat. He was brilliant and cocky and cynical.

Sam looked like Icabod Crane and functioned as a Robin to Mike’s Batman. Tall and lanky with a long nose and loose limbs, Sam seldom spoke, and was subservient to Mike. He had a girlfriend who never came around. I think she didn’t like Mike. I heard about her but never saw her.

The other member of the group was Billy. Billy was the only one who didn’t live with us. He was married and lived in an apartment in Greenwich Village. Billy was little like me. He was about five-foot-four with long red hair that was usually tied up with a bandana. He tried very hard to be a womanizer, but few women were interested. He was disgustingly sexist. How his wife put up with him I’ll never know.

An explanation about Everything for Everybody is in order. It was an organization that claimed to do just what the name boasted—everything for everybody. For a five dollar monthly membership fee you could list jobs wanted, services offered, apartments for rent, or if you were looking for a mate or friend or wanted to start a book club or learn yoga. No limits on what you could list or how many listings. The listings were all kept on index cards in a storefront on 8th Avenue and 10th Street. Members had free access to all listings, so if, for instance, you needed someone to walk your dog you could find a listing for a dog walker and give him or her a call. It was as simple as that. All of the listings were also published in the organization’s monthly newspaper, which Mike and Sam put together. Sam was nominally the editor, but Mike did all the work.

The founder and “benevolent dictator” (what he called himself) was named Jack Scully.

Although we were independent contractors, we thought of ourselves as working for Jack, thus the name “Uncle John’s Band” —Jack and John often being synonymous and, of course, referencing the Grateful Dead song.

I think it was either late August or early September. The night before we had dropped acid and walked from the Bowery all the way up Broadway, through Central Park and parts of Harlem, to the George Washington Bridge, tripping all the way, laughing and singing and marveling at sights such as stones on the face of a Synagogue that looked like something from a medieval castle and iridescent colors from street lights reflected in puddles. Everything was weird and beautiful.

We decided to walk across the bridge, but only made it halfway because Sam freaked out in the middle and wouldn’t go any farther. The bridge swayed in the wind, it looked like a million miles down to the black water, and cars whizzing by were too damn close and too damn fast. It wasn’t exactly surprising that Sam freaked out; it was surprising that he was the only one. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he was the only one who hadn’t dropped acid.

Anyway, the next night we had to put the newspaper together. It was the first time I had worked on it, and I had no idea what to do. Sam said, “You just glue these listings to the page with rubber cement. Try to keep them straight.” The listings were typed with an IBM Selectric typewriter. Mike was typing new ones while we pasted in the old ones. The newspaper content was about 90 percent listings and 10 percent editorials written by Mike and Jack. The headlines were done with rub-on transfer letters. There were also a few display ads, mostly business cards pasted in.

We worked for a couple of hours until we discovered that there were many more listings than there was space for them. “They won’t fit,” Mike said. “We’ve got to leave a few out.”

He decided which ones to leave out. He cut out half the older listings. You see, people could pay by the month or by the year, or for $100 they could get a lifetime membership, meaning that if someone had an item for sale and nobody was buying it they could run that listing until the day they died. There were some like that: one guy who listed a moving service and another who was selling a book once owned by Woody Guthrie with Woody’s handwritten notes in the margins. It should have been worth a fortune but nobody was buying it. I don’t know how much he was asking for it, but the listing ran for years (jumping ahead, when I left four years later that listing was still running in every issue of the newspaper, and come to think of it, the moving guy and the Woody Gutherie guy were one and the same fellow, an old beatnik whose last name was Star).

We ended up eliminating about 50 listings that in Mike’s judgment were repetitious and unnecessary. We finished the newspaper about midnight, put the sheets in a big flat box and hopped in the A Train to take it to Jack in his apartment on Bank Street in the Village. We used to do a thing we called surfing the A Train, standing up and trying to hold balance with the swaying and lurching of the train without holding on. We did that all the way from 165th Street to 14th Street. We got to Jack’s apartment, handed him the sheets to look over, and Sam let out that we’d eliminated a lot of the listings. Jack went ballistic. He told us that the members paid for those listings and they could not be left out—as if he had to tell us that. He told us to go back and add four pages (for people who don’t know, you can’t add a single page; they’re sheet fed through the printer with four pages per sheet).

So we surfed the train back home and added four more pages. Now we needed filler. Mike wrote an article, and I think I wrote one too. I designed a big ad for TANSTAAFL, creating a logo on the spot and hand lettering the acronym with a felt tip pen, and we found a cartoon and a poem that had been submitted by other people but never used. We worked all night and delivered the finished newspaper to Jack at seven o’clock the next morning. He said it was the best looking edition yet—which was not saying much; I’d seen earlier editions and they were not much to brag about.

It was one of the hardest jobs I’d ever done, and one of the most rewarding. The next week Sam asked me if I would be willing to take over his job of editing the newspaper. He said, “I’m no good at this, and you have a knack for it.”

I told him I would be glad to.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Me on holiday

I'm on holiday from my weekly theater column because all the theaters in the region are also taking a holiday. There's nothing playing. Most are between shows. The one exception being Lakewood Playhouse, which is taking a week off and resuming their run of "Tom Sawyer" the musical on Jan. 8 (watch for my review in The News Tribune on the 8th).

So, instead of posting a theater review this week I'll share something my son sent me that I also posted on Facebook.

It was written by one of his coworkers at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Noel explained, "It is a very funny and disturbingly accurate description of the work that I do." I thought our theater friends and others might enjoy it as much as I did.

See "What It's Like To Be A Stagehand"

P.S., I'm not on holiday from my art reviews. My latest was published in the Weekly Volcano yesterday (also posted on this blog), and I just sent my editor my review for next week. It's a look at the Movement of Impressionism show at Tacoma Art Museum.