Friday, April 30, 2010

‘Drum Song' tapers off after a strong start

Published in The News Tribune, April 30, 2010
Pictured:(top) ensemble cast of "Flower Drum Song" (bottom)April Villanueva as We Mei-Li and John Olson III as Wang Ta, photos by Kat Dollarhide.

I enjoyed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It’s not a great performance but it has great moments.

The opening musical number, “A Hundred Million Miracles,” sung by April Villanueva with highly stylized backup singing and dancing by the ensemble cast, is breathtaking. It is done with a simple and dramatic set, lighting and abstract imagery.

Jeffrey Stvrtecky’s large orchestra sounds more full than I’ve ever heard them. If the entire play was as good as this opening number it would be marvelous beyond description. But it’s not. It gets silly and predictable, but it is still highly entertaining.

“Flower Drum Song” has proven to be one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s more controversial musicals. It opened to great success in 1958 but soon fell out of favor because of stereotypical racist depictions of the Chinese characters.

The book was rewritten by David Henry Hwang (author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama “The Dance and the Railroad” and the popular musical “Madame Butterfly”) for a 2002 revival that played to mixed reviews. Hwang restored some of the darker elements from the original novel that had been taken out, updated it to get rid of the outdated racial stereotypes and threw in a lot of topical humor.

This musical is seldom produced because it calls for a large orchestra playing difficult music and an all-Asian cast. We’re fortunate that TMP was able to answer both challenges.

Villanueva stars as the beautiful Wu Mei-Li, a new immigrant from China who struggles to fit into the Chinese-American society in San Francisco’s Chinatown. TMP audiences are familiar with Villanueva, whose clear voice stood out in “Footloose,” “Miss Saigon” and “South Pacific.” She is at her best in this production. Joining her on stage are her father, Robert Villanueva, as Uncle Chin in his very first show, and her sister Alexa (ensemble) in her first main-stage production at TMP (she starred as Eponine in the TMP Camp Youth production of “Les Misérables”). Robert Villanueva is outstanding both as an actor and a singer, and I hope to see more of him.

The other leading lady is Karina Choe as the vivacious stripper Linda Low. She has a powerful voice and is a great dancer. The “striptease” is highly stylized and done in good taste, but is rather bland. There is nothing licentious about it.

John Olson III as the romantic lead Wang Ta holds his own on stage with these two dynamic leading ladies who dominate every scene they’re in. Olson’s stage presence is strong, and he is convincing as the son torn between love and shame for his father, between respect for tradition and infatuation with the new American way, not to mention his love for both Mei-Li and Linda Low. My only disappointment is that his voice sounds strained on some of the songs.

Comic relief is provided by Jessilyn Dumapias Carver as Madame Rita Liang and James Fesalbon as Harvard. Carver struts with loads of attitude, and is thoroughly delightful. Not so Fesalbon, who plays Harvard as an overdone fey stereotype.

The sets by Jon Douglas Rake, who also directs and choreographs this production, are beautiful. So is the lighting by John Chenault and the costumes by Joan Schlegel. Many of the costumes are authentic Chinese articles and others are a colorful combination of traditional Chinese and 1950s American.

Rake comments in the program that the choreography was challenging because it combines authentic Chinese opera movement with 1960s-style jazz steps. I found the choreography to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of this show. ‘Flower Drum Song’

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through May 9

Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.

Tickets: Adults $25, students/military $23, children 12 and younger $18

Information: 253-565-6867,

Read more:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

True grit

Outsider artist Tyrone Patkoski at Tacoma Art Supply

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 29, 2010

Pictured: READY TO DISCOVER: An untitled painting by Tyrone Patkoski on display at Tacoma Art Supply.

What a wonderful find! An unheralded and untrained artist with innate talent, guts and sincerity is discovered, and you can see his paintings and sculptures at Tacoma Art Supply. Don't miss this.

Tyrone Patkoski is half Polish and half Native American. He has survived homelessness and mental illness, has never studied art and has never even been inside an art gallery; yet his two- and three-dimensional art is not only powerful and gritty, it is well-designed with a good sense of balance, rhythm and color composition. The imagery is, as should be expected with outsider art, highly personal. Even though none but the artist himself can possibly relate to all the references and hidden meanings, it is clear that these images must have deeply personal meaning to the artist. I was told there is nothing in these densely packed images that does not refer to something in his life experience, his demons or his hopes, and that he can explain it all.

The paintings are complex and mostly abstract, often encrusted with objects of every imaginable description including bits of hair, rocks, fingernails, found debris of all sorts and piles and piles of paint. He's fond of framing devices such as using insects and sticks stuck to the edges or repetitive patterns painted around the edges. Often there are frames within frames, all of which are painted over in brightly colored patterns.

He uses classical balance and mirror images a lot, with variations of similar forms repeated left and right or radiating from a central point. There are a lot of insects and other creatures in his work, human and animal faces and figures, some very crudely executed and others drawn with great skill. Fish and fish skeletons show up a lot, and many amphibious creatures that look very threatening.

Most of his paintings are abstract, but a few are more realistic. There is one haunting self- portrait. There is only one painting on view that I did not like. It is a bullfight scene that is like a million other bullfight pictures we've seen a million times.

You can easily see a change in his art over time, which may or may not reflect changes in his mental state. His later works are more densely packed with imagery and more three-dimensional, blurring the lines between painting and sculpture. The later works are also generally better, evidence that even without any formal training he is advancing as an artist.

Patkoski's art was discovered and is being promoted by Joan Staokes Baum of the Tahoma Indian Center Program and photojournalist Casey Madison, who has provided biographical information. It can be seen online at

But it needs to be seen in person. Tacoma Art Supply is next door to Twokoi Japanese Restaurant at 17th and Commerce.
Tacoma Art Supply

Through May 31, 1552 Commerce, Tacoma, 253.444.2341

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nature's Spirit

Bill Colby at The Brick House

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 22, 2010
Pictured "Razzle Dazzle" by Bill Colby

There's a new gallery in town, and it's pretty cool. It's called The Brick House and it's in an old brick house on Fawcett between 11th and 13th. I had a hard time finding it because the only sign is neon and hanging in the window - not visible from the street in daylight. But it's the only brick house in that block.

The gallery is owned and operated by Peter MacDonald, and it opened recently with a delightful show called Whimsy, featuring humorous works by some 27 artists. MacDonald said he asked the artists to submit works that were whimsical. It included some delightful pieces by Julie Alland, Mike Corcoran, Judy Gilbert, Lynn Di Nino and others.

With the same kind of open-ended approach, the show The Brick House has planned for June and July will be called Naked, and will consist of whatever the invited artists think might fit with that show title. In between these intriguing group shows is sandwiched an exhibition (through May) by printmaker Bill Colby, who is practically an institution in Tacoma.

If you haven't seen Colby's work, you haven't been paying attention. He was a longtime professor of art at University of Puget Sound and has been showing his work in the Tacoma area for as long as I can remember - most recently in a number of group shows at the now (sadly) defunct Grand Impromptu Gallery.

Colby is a master of print media who works in intaglio, woodcuts and other media, often combining print media with watercolor and acrylic and typically using the natural grain of the wood in his woodcuts to create movement of water or other natural elements. Nature is his constant subject. More specifically, as the title of his show implies, The Spirit of Nature. He doesn't just imitate or depict trees and clouds and water; he captures the feel and essence of nature. His prints are grounded in the color and atmosphere of the clouds, water, trees and mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

I counted 27 prints in this show. Most are either mountain scenery with a lot of evergreen trees or images of water and sea life. In many, similar motifs are repeated as abstract patterns. There's a kind of stalk with pods that look like sea shells, for instance, that shows up in many variations; it marches across the surface of his prints like the blue poles in Jackson Pollack's painting of the same name. It's an effective design element.

The best of his works in this show are in a series of woodcut and acrylic underwater scenes with fast moving schools of minnows or tadpoles. These prints - "Skyward: Razzle Dazzle II," "Beguiled," and "Skyward: Glowing" - work well because the images and the abstract structure bounce off one another like jazz improvisation. They're the best examples of how he uses the natural wood grain to create a sense of movement. Everyone has seen how a fast-moving school of fish will suddenly reverse direction. That's what's pictured here, that movement and sparkle.

For people who are really into studying details of media and technique, it is interesting to see how Colby varies similar motifs in different media.

It's good to see another new gallery in town, and I hope everyone will support them.

As of this posting images from Whimsy were still posted on the Web site, so if you missed that show you can still see it online.

[The Brick House, The Spirit of Nature, Third Thursdays 5-9 p.m. and by appointment, through May, 1123 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.627.0426,]

"Alec Clayton writes about the arts with the guts of a novelist, the eye of an artist and the precision of a journalist. Not surprising, since he is all three. Clayton knows art from the inside out!" - Lisa Konoshita, Mineral

Read my review column "Visual Edge" every week in the Weekly Volcano. Up next: outsider artist Tyrone Patkoski at Tacoma Art Supply.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What a find!

What an amazing discovery! Tacoma Art Supply is showing paintings and sculptures by a wonderfully authentic outsider artist, Tyrone Patkoski.

Patkoski is an outsider in the purest sense of the word. He spent the past 20 years as a homeless man living and creating art wherever he could, be it in the back of a car or in a relative’s home. He has never studied art and expresses little or no interest in exhibiting or selling his work.

A 59-year-old half-Snoqualmie Indian, Patkoski is self taught and paints mostly in oil, often combining the paint with flotsam found on the streets. The paintings, especially many of his latest works, are densely encrusted with an unimaginable collection of found objects. They are inventive, colorful, and highly personal.

Patkoski’s art was discovered and is being promoted by Joan Staokes Baum of the Tahoma Indian Center Program and photojournalist Casey Madison, who has provided biographical information.

I saw his work yesterday and will review it for my “Visual Edge” column in the Weekly Volcano April 29. But you need not wait for my review. Go to Tacoma Art Supply now and see this work for yourself. You can also see it online at - but you need to see it in person.

[Tacoma Art Supply, 1552 Commerce Street #101]

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Noises Off" is loud and perfectly timed

‘Noises Off’ hilariously delves into the world of the theater

Pictured (top) Chris Johnstone, left, plays Fredrick Fellows and Jayln Green portrays Garry Lejeune; (bottom: Brynne Garman as Mrs. Clackett; in “Noises Off.” Photo by Dean Lapin

Published in The News Tribune, April 16, 2010

Tacoma Little Theatre’s production of “Noises Off” is loud. Even for theater. Even for a fast-paced farce. I spent the first 10 minutes of the Easter Sunday matinee wishing everybody would quit shouting. But then my ears adjusted to the noise level, and after that the loudest thing was the sound of laughter from the audience and the strange and inspired silence in the second act.

“Noises Off” is theater about theater. The stage is a stage, and the actors are actors. Act one is the final dress rehearsal for a play called “Nothing On.” It’s disastrous. Act two is opening night, even more disastrous. And act three is the most disastrous performance of all.

Each actor plays an actor playing a character in the play except for Lloyd, the director (Corey Moore) and Poppy, the stage manager (Hannah Andrews). The play begins with the opening scene of “Nothing On.” The housekeeper, Mrs. Clackett played by Dotty (Brynne Garman) enters the Brents’ living room carrying a plate of sardines and answers the telephone. She forgets her lines, picks up the wrong props, puts things in the wrong place, and then the director comes out of the audience to shout at her, and for the next two hours the stage is pure bedlam as actors playing actors drop lines and misplace props, miss cues, argue with each other and with the director, stage manager, and stage hand (Brenan Grant) as all go in and out of doors and windows that seldom operate properly.

Plus the ever-present sardines are dropped, moved, sat upon and stuffed down blouses. Amidst all of this bedlam backstage romances and jealousies play out, one alcoholic veteran actor, Selsdon, played by Elliot Weiner keeps making his entrance at the wrong time, and the sexy blonde played by Jenifer Rifenbery keeps running around in her underwear.

Written by Michael Frayn in 1982 and rewritten and updated in 2000, “Noises Off” is a modern farce based on two of the oldest comic bits in the business: people going in and out of multiple doors and windows but miraculously never running into each other, and a really bad acting company butchering a play. It is also a wonderful peek into the usually hidden world of the theater behind the stage.

With inspired writing and stagecraft, the entire set is turned around between the first and second acts, and act two takes place behind the stage with the “Noises Off” actors mostly miming their parts as the audience sees and hears bits and pieces of “Nothing On” being performed on stage, only a small portion of which can be glimpsed through a window.

Director Marty MacKenzie has done a very good job of choreographing complex movement, with as many as eight or nine actors on stage at once and all moving quickly and endlessly in and out of doors and windows and in and out of costumes. The scene where they snatch a whiskey bottle, an ax and a cactus out of one another’s grasp is worthy of a comparison to the Marx Brothers at their zaniest.

Thanks to the collaborative work the director, the technical director (Matt Osier), stage manager (Kate Holland) and the entire cast and crew, cast members manage to hit their marks throughout without dropping or breaking anything except those things that were intended to be dropped and broken.

Faced with complicated movement that depends on precise timing, it is no wonder that some of the characters displayed little nuance in their personalities. Opening the right door (or more accurately the wrong door) on cue was challenge enough. Actors who managed to enliven their characters were Garman as Dottie/Mrs. Clackett, Grant as Tim the stage hand and stand-in, Andrews as Poppy the stage manager, and Stephanie C. Nace as Belinda/Flavia.

When 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 25
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
Tickets: $16 adult, $24
Information: 253-272-2281,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Loteria reinterpreted

Ed Matlock's new paintings at Fulcrum are from a series based on the Mexican game Loteria.

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 14, 2010

Fulcrum Gallery continues to mount shows that make old codgers like me realize how out of touch they are. Ed Matlock's new paintings at Fulcrum are from a series based on the Mexican game Loteria, sometimes referred to as Mexican bingo. I never heard of it. And I'm only vaguely familiar with many of the images Matlock has put on his game cards, nearly all of which have been altered or reinterpreted. Gallery owner Oliver Doriss calls the show "generationally iconic," by which he means all of the images are familiar icons to people in their 30s and 40s "reduced to abstraction devoid of contextual information." That leaves me out.

The paintings are pop-style images of the cards painted flat with bold black outlines on brightly colored background. Like the cards from which they are taken, each has a name in Spanish and a number. But the names and the images don't correspond to the actual cards. El Banacho (The Gentleman), for instance, has the image of the drunk from the cards and Las Manos (The Hands) pictures two hands with fingers intertwined in a manner associated with Ninjas - people of the targeted age group supposedly recognize that immediately, just as they would immediately recognize the toy ray gun in Los Pistola.

I was told that El Chispero means the one who sparks. The card with that name pictures a spark plug. El Corazon (The Heart) pictures a mechanical heart and El Mano Rojo (The Red Hand) pictures the familiar monkey from the Barrel of Monkeys game.

Not all Loteria albums are the same. I found one on the Internet called "Queer Loteria" that has a card called El Afterhours that pictures the same drunk as seen here in El Banacho.

The only one that is a recreation of one of the 54 Loteria cards without change is El Diablo (The Devil), and I wish it had been changed. The raw red is too common looking, and so is the clichéd image of the devil. By comparison, most of the others have natural coloring on the images (some, such as El Corazon and El Chispero, in gray tones and others in natural or local colors, meaning the colors they would be in nature) set off in stark contrast with very unique colors in the backgrounds such as a brilliant pea green and a peach orange.

The images are impactful in their simplicity. The painting is precise, and the color choices are good.

[Fulcrum Gallery, through May 15, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and by appointment, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

Friday, April 9, 2010

‘April' charms audience

Published in The News Tribune, April 9, 2010
Eva Doak, top, portrays Lotty Wilton and Hilary Heinz plays Lady Caroline Bramble in “Enchanted April” at Centerstage. Photo by Michelle Smith Lewis

“Enchanted April” at Centerstage in Federal Way is a thoroughly charming romantic comedy based on the 1921 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, written for the stage by Matthew Barber, and set in England and Italy shortly after World War I. The title refers to both meanings of the word “enchanted” – to be charmed and to have a magic spell cast.

Lotty Wilton (Eva Doak) is a woman trapped in a dreary life with a husband named Mellersh (played by Doak’s real life husband, Dean Wilson). Mellersh is a stuffy lawyer who is at best unresponsive to his wife. Hemmed in by him and by a cold and rainy London spring, Lotty dreams of a better life. When she spots an advertisement for a castle for rent on the sunny Mediterranean coast of Italy, she decides on a whim to answer the ad and go there for a monthlong holiday. But she can’t go alone, and she certainly doesn’t want to take her husband along, so she recruits three other women to join her. The four English ladies have little in common other than dissatisfaction with their current lives.

Like Lotty, Rose Arnott (Caitlin Frances) is trapped in a loveless marriage with a successful writer, Frederick (Daniel Wood).

As unsatisfying as their marriages are, Lotty and Rose consider themselves grateful to have husbands at a time when so many women have lost husbands in the war.

The other women are Lady Caroline Bramble (Hilary Heinz) a young beauty who leads a scandalously modern life, and Mrs. Graves (Rosalie Hilburn), an imperious and disdainful dowager with a penchant for name-dropping, bragging that she was in pigtails when her father was a friend of Tennyson.

The cast is rounded out by Jamie Pederson as the young artist who owns the castle and charms all the women, and Walayn Sharples as the very emotional cook, Costanza, who speaks only in Italian.

The first act strains to be funny against dull and dreary sets and characters with equally dull and dreary lives. It takes a lot of snappy dialogue and good acting to depict such dull lives without being dull, and this performance pulls that off. They milk laughter out of depression. Even the most horrendous moment, when Lotty and Rose are having second thoughts and drop to their knees in fearful prayer, is hilarious.

Sets and lighting by Greg Heinzle of Seattle Scenic Studios are crucial in setting the mood and the theme of enchantment. The first act set is a simple table and two chairs representing Rose’s home and a bench representing Lotty’s home (both doubling as the ladies club where they meet and the bench doubling as seating on a train), and all set starkly in front of a black curtain. Intermittent thunder introduces scene changes.

When the lights come up for the second act there is a gasp of astonishment from the audience as the dreary stage has been transformed into the beautiful sunlit courtyard of the castle in Italy, strewn with flowers, with realistic castle walls and a painted backdrop of vineyards, all bathed in rose-tinted lighting. From this point forward we see the women become transformed. Rose and Lotty find joy in each other but miss their husbands. Lady Caroline lets her guard down and opens up about a personal tragedy she has kept secret, and the nasty old dame Mrs. Graves becomes perfectly charming. The chirping of birds replaces the clap of thunder, and a few almost Shakespearean comic twists ensue when the husbands arrive. What has been a comedy of manners becomes almost farcical.

“Enchanted April” is light and romantic but with some heavier themes including the beginnings of feminism, the awakening of repressed emotion and the devastation of war.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through April 11
Where: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way
Tickets: $10 to $25, depending on age
Information: 253-661-1444,

Friday, April 2, 2010

‘Pinafore' sails into Lakewood Playhouse

I was unable to review "HMS Pinafore" at Lakewood Playhouse but staff writer Rosemary Pennekanti stepped in and did it in my place.

‘Pinafore' sails into Lakewood Playhouse
Triumphant play: Playhouse production every bit as hilariously silly as Gilbert and Sullivan could hope for

Read the complete review at