Sunday, May 30, 2010

What to see in NYC

This is from my good friend and fellow theater critic Bev Sykes.

So you're going to New York and you're going to see some shows. You decide while you're there that you'll see one of the one-person shows playing in town. You check out the New York Drama Desk nominees for Best Solo performance and you have to decide.

- Do you see Carrie Fisher, daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Princess Leia, author of Postcards from the Edge, telling the stories of her life, a show that has been praised to the skies by everyone.

- Do you see veteran actor Theodore Bikel -- the Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, countless TV productions, beloved performer.

- Do you see Anna Deavere Smith - The West Wing, The Practice, Nurse Jackie, winner of two Drama Desk awards for outstanding solo performance.

or do you see Jim Brochu, a name you either have never heard before or may only have heard from mentions here in this journal.

Well, if you're going to take the word of the voters for the Drama Desk Award you'll choose Jim Brochu in Zero Hour.

And read "Award winning Zero Hour Moves to Actors Temple" on

Friday, May 28, 2010

Musical overflows with verve

Simply sublime: Centerstage hits show out of the park

Published in The News Tribune, May 28, 2010

Top: Lavon Hardison, Stacie Calkins, Ashanti Cole, Bill Bland, Jesse Smith
Bottom: Bill Bland and Jesse Smith
Photos by Michelle Smith/Courtesy of Centerstage

A signature song in “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is “The Joint is Jumpin’. ” Nothing better describes what’s going on at Centerstage’s Knutzen Family Theatre during the run of this wonderful tribute to Fats Waller.

This production has everything you could possibly want in a musical – everything, that is, except for a storyline. It’s not a play; it’s a musical revue. There is no plot, but it does create a vivid picture of life in Harlem’s clubs and theaters during the Harlem Renaissance.

In the 1920s and ’30s, highbrows and lowbrows, black and white, came together to swill booze and dance to the music of stride piano players and big bands that were just beginning to develop the music later to be known as swing. It was a highly charged era. African Americans were steeped in blues, jazz and gospel – all expressed with supercharged music that was rowdy, raunchy, humorous and often heart-breaking.

This is the third time I’ve reviewed this show, and I’ve loved it every time. This time, I sat in the front row in a theater where the stage is not raised, meaning the singers and dancers were five feet away from me. On the hilarious “Your Feets Too Big,” Bill Bland picked me out and sang right to me, no more than three feet from my face. Nothing compares to that kind of intimate entertainment.

The ensemble cast for this production is marvelous. Most of them are well known for their many performances on South Sound stages.

Stacie Calkins recently was seen in “Rent” at Tacoma Musical Theatre and was a knockout as Effie White in “Dreamgirls” at Tacoma Little Theatre and as Sarah in “Ragtime” at TMP. Ashanti Cole has performed at Intiman, Village Theatre and the 5th Avenue Theatre, and was in “The Colored Museum” at TLT.

LaVon Hardison is renowned for her roles in the “Stardust” series and summer rock shows at Olympia’s Harlequin Productions, as well as for her dramatic performance in “Intimate Apparel” at Harlequin. Jesse Smith recently was seen in “Rent” at TMP.

Only the fifth cast member, Bland, is not a veteran of South Sound stages, but he definitely is a veteran actor. He comes from Pittsburgh, where he recently performed as Othello for Untamed Shakespeare, and he has performed in five national and international road shows including “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

Bland has a wonderfully mischievous smile and a powerful baritone voice. No matter where he is on the stage, you feel like he’s singing just to you. All three of the women are terrific singers, and they also dance and strut with great verve. Calkins’ voice shakes the rafters, and Hardison easily slips in and out of styles from bluesy and sultry to scat singing. Cole also has great range and throws herself into the dance moves. Smith is a fresh young face, almost too young for the part, but he brings great energy and style. On the “The Viper Drag,” also known as the reefer song, he personifies evil, yet with an underlying sweetness.

Of course, the songs are legendary, and include showstoppers such as the title song and “Loungin’ at the Waldorf” (featuring Bland and the ensemble), Smith’s rendition of the aforementioned reefer song, and the hilarious “The Ladies Who Sing With the Band” in which the women take turns soloing as bad singers and prove it takes a really great singer to sing badly well. And then there is the totally different “Black and Blue,” an operatic, highly stylized blues dirge. It is breathtaking.

Not only is the music great, but the whole production is beautifully staged with effective set and lighting by Craig Wollam, and direction by David Duvall, who also plays a mean piano, with backup from Larry Leggett on bass and Troy Lund on drums.

I cannot recommend this show enough. Get there early and grab a seat down front. ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ ’

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through June 6

Where: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way

Tickets: $10 to $25 depending on age; group discounts available

Information: 253-661-1444,

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Build to Suit

New paintings by Jeremy Mangan at Fulcrum

Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 27, 2010
Pictured: "Life on the Cornice" by Jerey Mangan

Would you like to see why Jeremy Mangan won the 2009 Foundation of Art Award from The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation? A peek at his show at Fulcrum Gallery might provide a good clue.

Mangan’s paintings are inventive, thought provoking, humorous, technically marvelous and beautifully composed. What more can you ask of a painting? A painting can’t feed the hungry of stop war or heal a broken heart, but it can remind us that the world we live in is not all humdrum and ugly. That’s what Mangan’s paintings do.

Technical skill in painting has never been at the top of my list of criteria for judging art, but it doesn’t hurt. Mangan’s photo-surrealist paintings look like photographs. The only clue that these are paintings and not photographs is that the subjects do not exist in the real world and that brushstrokes can be seen only in the long, thin shadows of the stilt-like poles upon which the houses rest in a few of his paintings and in the fast-moving clouds in a single painting called "Collapsed Shed." In this painting an old farm shed isolated in a brown field has fallen in on itself. There is a rusted tin roof and spread out from it on the ground like pick-up sticks are the multicolored boards that formerly made up the side walls of the shed. The sky overhead is clear and blue with a few fleecy clouds and what looks like big brushstrokes with a clear gel across the clouds, which creates the impression of fast movement. This is a marvelous little painting that in its simplicity lifts the viewer out of the ordinary and transports him to a magical world that looks like the world we live in but is one step removed.

The shed and the multicolored boards are Mangan trademarks. One or the other, or both, show up in all of his paintings. “Strongly influenced by building practices of the early American West… my current work focuses on barn or shed-like constructions, often elevated and supported by stilts,” Mangan writes in a gallery statement. “I hope these images allude to the strength, usefulness, and beauty, but also the hubris, precariousness, and ridiculousness, of human ambition.”

All of his buildings look like they’re very old and made of wood. Some have old grey wood slats and the others have slats of red, yellow, blue, green and white.

"Mt. St. Helens" pictures a panoramic view of the mountain with its collapsed dome covered with a construction of pyramid-shaped wooden structure with the many-colored planks. Mangan writes on the label, “Clearly Mt. St. Helens needed a cap, and clearly it needed to be colorful.”

"Trojan Horse" is a wall-size picture of the famous wooden horse on wheels, but the horse's body is made of old farm buildings with grey wood and little windows. His tail is made of many colored ribbons.

These two paintings are the show-stoppers because of their size, but I think the smaller paintings are better. For example:

"General Sense of Well Being" is magical, mystical and restful.

"Life on the Cornice" stands out as different from all the others because of its use of radical balance and vast expanses of white as the house is perched in the upper right corner of the painting, high on the edge of a cliff that drops into nothing. These are terrific little paintings and more impactful than the more bombastic horse and mountain.

Another thing I like about Mangan, which is indicated in his artist statement, is his awareness of the tension “inherent in the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two dimensional plane.” Not enough artists are aware of this.

Gallery owner Oliver Doriss says Mangan is going places, and this may be our last chance to see his work in Tacoma. (Although I suspect some of his paintings may show up in future shows at Tacoma Art Museum.)

There will be an artist’s talk Thursday, June 17 from 6-9 p.m.

[Fulcrum Gallery, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and by appointment, through June 10, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

Friday, May 21, 2010

The sun comes out for ‘Annie'

optimism abounds: Cast delivers larger-than-life moments in Capital Playhouse’s tale of redheaded dynamo

Jennifer Seifter plays Lily, Patrick Wigren is Rooster and Jennie May Donnell stars as Mrs. Hannigan in “Annie” at Capital Playhouse.

The News Tribune/The Olympian, May 21, 2010

Twelve-year-old McKenna Orme lights up the stage as the sweeter-than-honey orphan Annie.

This is Orme’s first appearance on the Capital Playhouse stage – or any other stage other than a recent school production of “Annie” – but far from her first outing as a dancer.

She has taken dance since she was 2, and has performed in numerous ballets with Dance Ensemble Northwest.

It’s not surprising she is comfortable dancing, but she seems equally at ease singing, with a big voice that made me imagine what Ethel Merman might have sounded like when she was 12.

Based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” the musical tells the story of an orphan girl during the Great Depression who is invited to spend the Christmas holiday in the home of the richest man in the world, Daddy Warbucks (played by Jeff Kingsbury).

Warbucks doesn’t have a clue about the real world, but he does have a huge heart. Not so Annie’s nemesis, Mrs. Hannigan (Jennie May Donnell), the orphanage matron who is as mean and selfish as Annie is sweet and Warbucks is rich. There are no subtleties in the play.

Kingsbury actually downplays Warbucks, which works quite well. He comes across sincere and as a natural father to Annie, even though Warbucks knows nothing about fathering. Kingsbury’s singing in this role also is toned down – it contains none of the bombast one might expect in a role such as this.

By downplaying the larger-than-life Daddy Warbucks, Kingsbury provides a contrast that lets the truly larger-than-life characters shine – Donnell as Mrs. Hannigan and Patrick Wigren as the sleazy con man, Rooster.

I can’t praise Donnell and Wigren enough. If the play were nothing but a few snippets of their scenes, I would pay to see it.

Because of her many previous outstanding appearances at Capital Playhouse, we’ve come to expect nothing but the best from Donnell. She is a professional actor who studied in New York and has appeared on stage in New York and London, and in the national touring company of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.” South Sound theatergoers will remember her as Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd” and Desiree Armfeldt in “A Little Night Music.” And now as Mrs. Hannigan, she epitomizes evil.

She twitches all over, from a jerky walk to an eye that keeps blinking. She is wonderfully bad to her core.

Wigren has appeared recently in the ensemble casts of both “Joseph and the Amazing Dreamcoat” and “Rent,” and in larger roles in other area theaters, but this might well be his breakout role.

He steps out of an ensemble part to electrify the audience as Rooster – and when I say steps out, I mean it literally. Tall and skinny, he takes a huge step onto the stage, plops his foot on Mrs. Hannigan’s desk and crows. Wigren’s movements and facial expressions are hilarious, and his singing is powerful. His song and dance on “Easy Street” with Mrs. Hannigan and Lily (Jennifer Seifter) is the rocking comical high point of the play.

As usual, set designer Bruce Haasl and lighting designer Matt Lawrence have done superb jobs. When the set is taken down, Haasl’s backdrop paintings should be shown in a museum or art gallery. ‘Annie’

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through May 30; added matinee at 2 p.m. May 22
Where: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
Tickets: $31-$37 adults, $26-$32 for ages 60 and older and ages 16 and younger
Information: 360-943-2744,

Thursday, May 20, 2010

No Vaults

The final show at Two Vaults Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 20, 2010
Pictured: Paula Tutmarc-Johnson

Another one bites the dust. After four years (six if you count a previous incarnation), Paula Tutmarc-Johnson’s Two Vaults Gallery will close its doors forever when their current show ends.

“Our location just two doors from The Grand Cinema has proved to bring us a continued flow of art-minded folks. These folks and all those who have found us through the four years we have been here have become regulars and supporters of the gallery, and I have to say here that they still are,” Johnson says.

She says the reason they are closing is “simply the economy. People have continued to come to our shows and voice there appreciation for the gallery and the art in it, but at the same time have been losing jobs, or fear of losing a job, or have had hours cut back drastically, and/or seen 401 Ks disappear, along with health insurance, and thus the disposable income becomes part of the necessary.”

Local artists Lynn DiNino and Valerie Vance have organized a tribute to Johnson in the form of a book of messages to her and artwork from other area artists that will be presented to her at tonight’s Art Walk.

In an email sent to Tacoma area artists DiNino said, “This closing of the gallery and losing Paula as 'our Matron of the Arts' is an extremely huge loss for all of us and for the City of Tacoma.”

Two Vaults is not going quietly into the night; they are going out with a bang — a final show featuring encaustic and three dimensional artist Carla Dimitriou, who also happens to be — with her husband John — the owner of Jazz Alley in Seattle.

This collection was inspired by her time in New Orleans soon after Katrina, when she was there participating in the rescue of pets abandoned during the hurricane.

“We have had a great time here, and would clearly have chosen to stay if the economy were in a different place,” Johnson says. I have loved every minute of being here. Sixth and Fawcett, Minoela, Corina Bakery and especially the marvelous people at the Grand have created a special spot in Tacoma, and it has been a real pleasure and honor to be part of it.”

Dimitriou’s encaustic paintings are a cross between Pop Art, Early American decorative arts and esoteric and mythological images that relate to a lot of Native art or even Egyptian scrolls — not to mention Jasper Johns. Her imagery is rich and evocative, and the surface quality of her paintings, like that of most encaustic work, is lush.

Ironically, this is among the best work I’ve seen at Two Vaults. I’ve heard of saving the best for last, but this is going too far.

Many businesses have gone under due to the recession. The arts are especially hard hit. It seems like just yesterday that Grand Impromptu Gallery two doors from Two Vaults closed their doors. It’s a sad time, but tonight’s Art Walk opening should be a joyful occasion.

[Two Vaults Gallery, through May 31, 602 South Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.759.6233]

Friday, May 14, 2010

Four actors, 21 roles in Harlequin's gritty ‘Six Hotels'

Intense emotions, humorous moments mix

The News Tribune/The Olympian, May 14, 2010
Pictured at top: David Nail, Caitlin Frances and Helen Harvester
Large cast photo: Nail, Frances, Harvester and Brian Claudio Smith
photos by

The love affair between Harlequin Productions and Israel Horovitz continues with Harlequin’s production of the Horovitz suite of one-act plays, “Six Hotels.”

The six short plays with four actors in 21 parts are loosely connected only in that each play happens in a hotel, and that some of the same running jokes and references reverberate throughout. There are numerous jokes about actors working as waiters or bellboys, the best of which is the one about the waitress who says waitressing is her dream job but sometimes she has to act for money.

There is a lot of comedy – thoroughly contemporary, adult, biting comedy. But there also is harsh reality, politics, love, sentimentality and some of the grittiest realism since Brando in “Streetcar Named Desire.”

Even the comedy is gritty and harsh. These are not easy plays to sit though, but they are brilliantly written with realistic situations and dialogue, and played out with amazing skill by the four-person cast.

Two of the cast members, Brian Claudio Smith and David Nail, were in Horovitz’s “Sins of the Mother” last year at Harlequin and went on to reprise their roles under Horovitz’s direction in productions with Gloucester Stage Company (Nail) and Florida Stage (both). Their fellow actors are Caitlin Frances, who was outstanding in Carl Sagan’s “Contact” at Centerstage this year and has been seen in “Measure for Measure” and “The Last Night of Stardust” at Harlequin, and Helen Harvester, who mesmerized Harlequin audiences as the werewolf in “Mating Dance of the Werewolf.” Under the able direction of Scot Whitney the cast masters had the difficult task of transitioning from character to character – with differing accents and skill sets and attitudes.

The opening story, “Speaking of Tushy,” is about two ridiculous and pathetic drunken men who meet in a hotel bar and exchange stories of their failed love lives with a hilarious comic twist at the end. The rapid transitions between the bar scenes and bedroom scenes with their girlfriends are beautifully staged. Unfortunately, from my seat on the left, it was hard to see some of the action in the dim lighting. I couldn’t see the actors’ faces clearly and had a hard time hearing dialogue, which was directed obliquely to my seat.

The next story, “Lovers and Fiddleheads,” was a similarly absurd comedy of love, woe and betrayal but with sweet undertones.

Then came the blockbuster drama, a 180-degree turn to a tense political drama about four American students trapped in a Beirut hotel awaiting evacuation during the bombing of Beirut. One of the students is a New York Jew (Smith) and the other is an American-born Palestinian (Frances) whose parents were killed by Israelis. As they start to express hatred for each other’s heritage, their clash becomes as intensely emotional as anything I’ve ever seen on stage. The night I was there, four audience members walked out at this point, offended by the harsh language or the raw political rage or both. They had sat through numerous uses of the same offensive words in the earlier scenes, but combined with the raw emotionalism, this scene was apparently too much for some to handle. You have been forewarned, and you should know this is incredibly powerful and amazing theater.

After a much-needed 20-minute intermission, they start back with the lightest play of the six, “The Audition Play,” in which Frances tap dances and speaks to an unseen director out in the audience. This is followed by “The Hotel Play” in which Harvester plays a woman jilted by her lover and tempted by the bellboy (Smith), and “2nd Violin” with the women playing musicians getting ready for a performance.

If you like cutting-edge drama and contemporary adult humor, don’t miss “Six Hotels.”

When: Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 29, pay what you can May 15 at 3 p.m.
Where: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
Tickets: $22-$33
Information: 360-786-0151; www.harlequin

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nice "Flow"

Andrea Erickson and Maureen McHugh at mineral

Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 12, 2010

The show is called Flow, and the drawings by Andrea Erickson and Maureen McHugh at mineral do present a nice flow of contrasting and blending styles. Their art is billed as calligraphic, which is highly descriptive of Erickson's sumi paintings, but McHugh's abstractions in ink are not so much calligraphic as they are evocations of Mark Toby's "white paintings" - only the marks are not white, they are black.

Classically trained as a sumi painter, Erickson is showing a group of ink drawings on rice paper, many of which look like brush-drawn Asian letters. They combine the elegance and simplicity of traditional Asian brushwork with the stark power of a Franz Kline abstraction. In her more traditional and calligraphic pieces it looks like she has loaded her brush with ink and drawn the character with a single, smoothly flowing line that goes from fully loaded (wet and black) to dry and empty. Looking at these works you can almost feel the act of painting and picture it as it might be seen in an animated film.

The one piece that does not fit is a black and white painting with ink and - strange as it may seem - milk, which shows a group of figures in various tones of gray, black and white floating over a field of loosely brushed gray marks. The floating figures look like writing but also like human or animal figures. This painting is interesting but lacks the impact and clarity of her other works.

McHugh, co-owner of Mad Hat Tea Company, is showing a group of ink drawings that employ the trope of grouping and overlapping freely drawn geometric forms such as squares, triangles and circles to form overall fields or to create other geometric forms. She cleverly uses this device of grouping forms in a pattern to create other forms in a group of three small drawings called "Ceci Nest Pas Un ..." (triangle, square or circle). The title is based on the famous painting by René Magritte, "Ceci N'est Pas Une Pipe." In one, a group of triangles creates a larger triangle, next a group of squares, and then circles.

In a radical departure but with a similarity of drawing style, McHugh is also showing a comical drawing of an octopus with a page full of words underneath. It's a list of things found (possibly underwater?) including such weird objects as K-Y Jelly, seven plastic green army men, brass knuckles and a broken drummer boy. The list ends with an adjective, indicating it was arbitrarily cut off.

Also showing at mineral, as usual, is jewelry by owner Lisa Kinoshita.

Through June 1, noon-5 p.m.,Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (hours may vary, so call first)
mineral, 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma

Monday, May 10, 2010

Intergalactic cheese, anyone?

“The Brain from Planet X”
Pictured (top) The cast of “The Brain from Planet X”
middle, left to right: Yoni (Lauren O'Neill), the brain (Matt Flores) and Zubrick (Paul Purvine)
bottom: Fred (Dave Beacham), Joyce (Heather Christopher) and Professor Leder (Russ Holm)
Photos by David Nowitz

Theatre Artists Olympia continues its tradition of outlandish spring musicals (remember “Vampire Lesbians from Sodom” and “Cannibal the Musical”?) with “The Brain from Planet X.” Written by Bruce Kimmel and David Wechter, directed and musically directed by Josh Anderson, “Brain” is a spoof of cheesy 1950s sci-fi thrillers. If it wasn’t written by Kimmel and Wechter and produced by TAO, you might think it was written and directed by Mel Brooks and performed by the cast of “Saturday Night Live.”
This may not be everybody’s bottle of beer, but if you like this sort of thing in general, this one is fabulous, from the cheap sets (the whole of which cost $46.35, or was it $43.35? I can’t remember, but if you donate that much you can become a TAO set sponsor) to the creepy music with Anderson on piano, Christina Collins on the Theremin, Nick Van Kirk on bass and Heather Matthews on drums.

Heather Christopher is terrific as the Stepford wife, Joyce, who is transformed by an alien will-bender ray from being the slave of her husband, Fred (Dave Beacham) to being the slave of “The Brain” (Matt Flores). Christopher has great big eyes that she uses to great advantage in this role, and she masters a deep metallic robotic voice and sings with authority. Joyce and Fred’s precocious, sex-starved daughter, Donna, is played with high-voltage energy by a diminutive Amy Shepard, who leaps on her beatnik boyfriend (Harrison Fry) like a horny jackrabbit.

Speaking of horny, there’s little interest in sex on Planet X, they’re too advanced for that, but on earth the alien woman Yoni (Lauren O’Neill) becomes insatiable. O’Neill, who was hilarious in a similar role in “Poona the Fuck Dog,” plays Yoni in a style reminiscent of the great Carol Burnett. And she has a lovely voice.

Flores is ideal as the leader of the alien invaders with a mincing walk and big pink brain on his head.

Russ Holm, who has built a reputation for himself playing outlandish characters, most often at Harlequin Productions, is indescribably funny as the mad scientist Professor Leder. His voice keeps trailing off into an amazing kind of wheeze that is breathtaking, and his timing is impeccable.

Paul Purvine sings and dances maniacally as the alien Zubrick.

Paul Parker plays General Mills as a kind of cross between Napoleon and George C. Scott as General Patton. The play on his lack of stature offset by his tall and sexy aide, Louise Morgan as Private Partz is a running joke that could have been used more. When they first appear on stage he stands on a box to make himself taller than her, and when they walk together she squats. After the first time she drops the squat; I think she should have kept it up.

Musical highlights include Joyce and Fred singing “Here on Earth,” in which they rhapsodize about how wonderful life is in the suburbs and the big tap dance number “The Brain Tap” with Zubrick, Yoni and the ensemble.

Another scene that deserves special attention is the beach scene with two muscle man in well stuffed gold lame shorts. They are Rob Taylor, who doubles as the narrator, and Tyler Quinn Stewart, who has never before been on stage (hard to believe). I hope we will see him in other productions.

“The Brain from Planet X” is scheduled for a final performance on Saturday, May 15, but it is rumored that it might be extended beyond that.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday through May 15
WHERE: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Black Box, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tough to beat Wilde's wit

Published in The News Tribune, May 7, 2010
The cast of “The Importance of Being Earnest” dress the part for this period piece.

I’ve seen Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” several times, and the performance at Paradise Theatre is as good as any. It’s thoroughly delightful. Beginning with the first droll dialogue between the conniving Jack Worthing (Nathaniel Jones) and arrogant, self-indulgent Oscar Wilde avatar Algernon Moncrieff (Luke Sayler) I was captivated. And then the lovely Gwendolen Fairfax (Shannon Burch) made her first appearance with a smile like fireworks, and I was utterly charmed.

I might add at this point that I am not easily enraptured by period pieces. Hoity-toity people and upper crust British accents tend to be off-putting. In this instance, the actors seem perfectly natural and comfortable in the skins of their characters – the only exceptions being Donna Long as Lady Bracknell and Duane Petersen as Jack’s butler, Merrimen, both of whom seemed to strain to convey the called-for touch of pomposity.

The sets and lighting by Jeff Richards, costumes by Vicki Richards and direction by Mike Wilkinson are outstanding.

The set consists of appropriate period furniture in front of simple flats backed by a black curtain. The flats are stark white with subtle designs that from my seat in the front row seemed to be curlicues or flowers. Two of them had sensuously curved edges.

Strangely, they evoked images of Stonehenge, but they proved practical if not downright ingenious in quickly changing the set to a garden and a drawing room in acts two and three.

Vicki Richard’s costumes were lush and rich-looking. The women’s dresses are beautiful, and some of Jack’s outfits are outlandishly silly looking. If he is supposed to be a fop with bad taste, his clothes certainly fit the bill.

One of the world’s best comic writers, Wilde fills this play with witty dialogue and improbable situations. No woman would fall in love with a man solely because his name is Earnest, yet not one but two women do so in this play.

And it is highly unlikely that a young woman would create and believe in a fantasy engagement to a man she has only heard about, yet here it happens, and Wilde’s wit makes the audience want to believe such improbabilities.

The principal female characters, Gwendolen and Cecily Cardew are among the most lovable women characters in all literature – though they are certainly also quite silly. Burch as Gwendolen and Julia Sinnott as Cecily bring awesome talent to bear in playing these women.

When they mistakenly think of one another as rivals, their thinly veiled animosity is like static electricity hidden by a scrim of proper gentility. Both are wonderfully expressive, as are Jones and Sayler as Jack and Algernon. Jones paints Jack with a broad brush (his fake grief in mourning clothes more like a ridiculously exaggerated pout, but otherwise spot-on depiction of an absurd character), while Sayler almost underplays the droll Algernon. These four major characters are wonderfully cast.

Two other actors who shine in smaller parts are Kristen Hulscher as Miss Prism and Peter Knickerbocker as Lane. Rounding out the cast are Long, who does a commendable job as the snotty Lady Bracknell, despite flubbing a few lines, and Jon Elston, who is believable but not very engaging as Reverend Chasuble.

This is the last weekend to see “The Importance of Being Earnest.” For intelligent, lighthearted family entertainment it’s hard to beat.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Paradise Theatre, 9911 Burnham Drive N.W., Gig Harbor
Tickets: $20-$22 adults, $17-$19 seniors and military, $10-$12 students
Information: 253-851-PLAY,

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mecca Normal

Political artists from Vancouver at Northern

Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 5, 2010

Pictured: THE LYNCHING OF WESLEY EVEREST: An acrylic painting by David Lester

Guitarist David Lester and singer Jean Smith are the underground musical duo Mecca Normal. They are also visual artists, and they have curated and are featured in a month-long exhibition at the all-ages club Northern in Olympia. The show is called The Black Dot Museum: Political Artists from Vancouver, and though I have yet to see the exhibit (something came up this weekend, and I didn't want to put this column off a week) - it seems pretty awesome.

In addition to Lester and Smith, the show features works from Gord Hill and Brian Roche. The Black Dot Museum functions online with touring exhibits focused on political art and music.

Lester authored the graphic novel The Listener, and he is a painter of historical subjects specializing in picturing events and people most historians (except for the great Howard Zinn) ignore. I watched a video of Lester talking about his painting "The Lynching of Wesley Everest," which depicts the 1919 lynching of an Industrial Workers of the World union member in Centralia. Everest was dragged from his cell and lynched on the bridge over the Chehalis River. No one was charged with the murder. In the video Lester talks about why he chose not to show the hanging but rather to picture the murderers looking over the edge of a bridge to survey their handiwork after they lynched Everest. We see the rope, not the body, and we get a peek into the souls of the murders.

Lester said his work has more to do with subject matter than style, but I see in this a style very much like that of the American Scene painters of the 1930s and '40s, particularly Walt Kuhn.

Smith is a novelist, lyricist, singer and painter. Her series of self-portraits from age 13 has been included in several Ladyfest art exhibits. I was intrigued with her painting "Discovering Utopia #3," a fantasy vision of floating cones or hills in the sky with, on the ground beneath and stretching as if to reach Utopia, the crippled Christina from the famous Andrew Wyeth painting "Christina's World." On the Black Dot Museum Facebook page she says she was surprised to discover that Wyeth's painting was much "looser" when seen in the original than it appears in reproduction. Likewise, Smith's paintings may appear much different in person than on a computer screen, which is why you should see this show and not just settle for seeing the images online.

Gord, a writer, political activist, and co-director of the American Indian Movement of Colorado, is the author and illustrator of The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, a graphic portrayal of Indigenous resistance to the European colonization of the Americas.

Roche is a painter of a kind of odd genre of Pop Art combining historical figures with cartoon images and other icons of popular culture such as (seen in a number of his paintings) sections from Picasso's "Guernica." Stylistically he reminds me a lot of David Salle, who I used to hate but have come to appreciate. I perused a gallery of Roche's paintings and was intrigued enough to want to see more, meaning I definitely intend to get down to Northern and see this show, and I think you should too.

[Northern, The Black Dot Museum: Political Artists from Vancouver, through May 28, most Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays, 2-4 p.m. or by appointment, 321 Fourth Ave., Olympia,]

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The title delimma

I'm looking for help, suggestions, brilliant ideas. Since about September of last year I've been working on a new novel, and I can't decide on a title. Here are some I've tried:

The Neighborhood
Wolf, He Cried
Miss Martin and the Polyamorous Libertine
Slugger Martin and the Polyamorous Libertine
Killing the Queens
The Greatest Drag Queen in the World
The World's Greatest Drag Queen
Look What They Grew Up to Be

Here's what the book is about:
Fifty years ago Alex Martin was a tomboy. The other kids called her Slugger. Now she's a handsome, intelligent woman.
Jim Bright was voted Most Handsome and Most Likely to Succeed in high school. After college he became a locally famous drag queen. He's also notorious for spinning tall tales, thus the title "Wolf, He Cried."
Fifty years after high school they meet in Barney's Pub and renew their friendship. Barney's is where a famous riot took place in 1970 and where Jim used to perform in drag. Now somebody is killing off all the old queens who were there the night of the riot.