Saturday, July 31, 2010

High finance, romance mingle perfectly

"Withering Heights" at Breeders Theater

Published in The News Tribune, July 30, 2010
Brenan Grant as Eustace Euler, photo by Michael Brunk courtesy of Breeders Theater. 
Attending plays at Breeders Theater in Burien is an experience so unique that I tell everyone they must do it at least once. I even tell friends in Olympia that it is well worth the 55-mile drive.

So what’s so unique about Breeders Theater? For starters, the stage is in the E.B. Foote Winery and the actors perform between barrels of wine.  Wine tastings are offered before the show, during intermission and after the show – all included in the price of admission. And then there is the oddity that every play they do is written by the same madcap writer, theater founder T.M. Sell, whose talent for parody, plot structure and outlandish dialogue is unparalleled.

Their most recent production is “Withering Heights,” a send-up of Victorian romance novels or, as Sell has an actor explain it in an introductory speech at the start of act 2, Victorian chick lit. Simultaneously, it is satiric look at the world of high finance that is highly relevant in this time of financial meltdown and particularly understood by Sell who teaches economics, political science and journalism at Highline College when he is not writing plays. The bankers Kneckerbreaker (Eric Hartley) and Sponge (Doug Knoop) can easily be seen as CEOs of too-big-to-fail institutions like AIG and Chase.

“I like Victorian romance novels, but they’re also kind of funny,” Sell states in the program. “And although Jane Austen didn’t write ‘Wuthering Heights’ (Emily Bronte did), I liked the title.”

It’s the story of Miss Clarity Fugues (Adrienne Grieco), a poor young woman who inherits a fortune (on paper), is cruelly manipulated by the unscrupulous bankers, and searches for love among high society gentlemen. Publicity materials for the play call it “Jane Austin meets J.P. Morgan,” and I would add to that “meets ‘Airplane’” due to the wild use of puns and double entendre and other language play, not to mention name dropping and name confusion such as clever mention of just about every Victorian novel ever written and about 40 silly misconstructions of the name “Clarity.”

The acting is outstanding, and so is the singing by the Jane Austen City Limits Quartet comprised of J. Howard Boyd, Knoop, Megan Krongstadt and Nancy Warren, the latter of whom is also the musical director and pianist.

Grieco seems natural and at ease in whatever role she plays. As Miss Clarity she is the one stable factor around which all the madness converges. She conveys confusion, anger, a kind of gee-wiz innocence with very subtle changes of expression.

Knoop and Hartley play the bankers as snobbish and boorish and loud. They’re like big balloons of bluster that you’re dying to burst, and when they do go bust they do it with great tears of self-pity. These two great actors are clearly having fun with outsized characters.

Two young actors who are beginning to make their mark in area theater are Brenan Grant as Eustace, the misunderstood young gentleman who is not allowed to speak more than a word or two by his supposed friends and acquaintances, and David Roby as the boorish Janeway, who prides himself on never thinking while thinking a lot about not thinking.

Amber Rack plays Darcy effectively with exaggerated silliness and lots of giggles. Laura Smith does a good job of playing a very complex character with the funny name of Fedora Chapeau (everyone calls her Hattie, and she wears a succession of hats), who is disdainful and cynical, and perhaps the only intelligent character in the play.

For an enjoyable evening out, I recommend “Withering Heights” at Breeders Theater. Warning: bring an extra shirt or jacket because the air condition is kept on high, and bring an extra cushion because the folding chairs are rather hard.

WHEN: 7 p.m.Saturday, July 31 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1, wine tastings start half hour before show time.

WHERE: E.B. Foote Winery, 127-B S.W. 153rd Street, Burien
TICKETS: $20 available at the winery and at Corky Cellars, 22511 Marine View Drive, Des Moines 206-824-9462
INFORMATION: 206-242-3852

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Flesh on display at The Brick House

Published in The Weekly Volcano, July 29, 2010

Pictured:  "Reading Lolita in Florence," oil on canvas by Margo Macdonald (top) and "Josephine II," pastel by Robert Vogel

What does it mean to be naked? The Brick House Gallery encouraged artists to come up with their own definitions of the word with strong hints that they should feel free to interpret nakedness in ways other than the obvious; i.e., figures without clothing. But with very few exceptions the artists in "Naked" went with the more conventional. There are three works in this show that break out of the norm, the most creative being a tapestry by Margo Macdonald of a clear-cut section of forest. Then there is the photo of a red high-heel shoe and a picture of a sock monkey cleverly titled "The Naked Ape." The rest were depictions of naked human bodies, and all but one those are female. Not exactly a revolutionary approach to the word “naked.”

To me, the word means — beyond the obvious —  unadorned, unpretentious, without artifice. This means, if we’re talking bodies, not necessarily prettified and poses that are neither coy nor flirtations.
The great English philosopher and aesthetician John Berger wrote about the differences between nakedness and nudity:

“To be naked is to be oneself.
“To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself.
“…Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display.
“To be naked is to be without disguise.
“…Nudity is a form of dress.”

There’s a lot of nudity in this show, but not much nakedness.

The best paintings in the show are "Onalisa in the Studio," collage, pastel, carbon, erasures, by Robert Vogel and "Reading Lolita in Florence," oil on canvas by Margo Macdonald. "Onalisa" is like one of Phillip Pearlstein’s richly patterned studio nudes in which the figure becomes an integral part of a complex, faceted studio scene. The artist even uses a ladder and mirrors, among Pearlstein’s favorite props. Deduct five points for being too derivative, but this is a wonderfully constructed painting nevertheless. "Reading Lolita" is like an interior scene by Edward Hopper, but the figure is more alive than Hopper’s figures. It is a painting of a woman reading in bed, one knee raised and light streaming through the sheet that covers her. The placement of arms and hands and the way the book lines up with a window and little touches like the flat shadow effect of the raised leg all contribute to the solid design of this painting.

There are also a group of energetic pastel drawings by Vogel that are exciting in their vibrant lines and electric color and some nice drawings by Nancy Johnson of swimmers in a pool with rhythmical wave patterns distorting the bodies in delightful ways. The best of these is a little drawing called "Water Shadow Blue."

A few simple plaster casts of bodies by Jada Moon have terrific eye appeal both for the loveliness of the bodies and for the fabric texture of the cast plaster.

Among the most naked figures in the sense of the models being unabashedly oneself are a large painting of an overweight woman in a chair by Peter MacDonald and a nice little nude called "Figure 485," also by MacDonald, with sensitively drawn contours and areas of shadow blocked out in a schematic manner.

I was disappointed that there were not more artists included, but was very impressed with the quality of the work despite it being so conventional.

[The Brick House, Naked, Third Thursdays 5-9 p.m. and by appointment, through Aug. 31, 1123 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253-627-0426,]

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"A by on human decency" ... Me so proud

I love, love love what Jack Butler said about my newest novel. Jack is a hulluva writer, and he has the accolades to prove it, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his novel Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock.

Here with his permission are excerpts from his recent letter:

Dear Alec--

Have just finished the novel. Thoroughly enjoyable. One of the things I like most is the reality of the characters and their lives. What you've written is a sort of mystery thriller but with real people. Most thrillers are made up of types, not people. In your book, just where one expects the type-casting to take over, the people instead do something quite recognizable and quite human.

I really liked the passage describing the childhood neighborhood, how unfinished it was, the woods and creek and wilderness all around, the empty lots ready for houses but with no houses. This was my childhood, before everything got built up, a wonderful time of free play in the wide world, and I miss it.

The novel is really about the society of these people, their relations and doings. You follow up all the lives. You've imagined a whole gallery of interesting people, and their lives proceed the way real people's lives do, not according to some formulaic approach. I think Kay Kay probably touches me as much as anyone, the way people's cruelty and thoughtlessness damages an already frail psyche.

I really like the humanity of Jim Bright, the spunky no-nonsense of Alex.

Sometimes the rightwingers try to portray cops as noble knights on a crusade to make the world safer, but I've never met such a cop. Why is it we are expected to give the rightwingers and hate-filled assholes and bullies a by on human decency? There's a lot of complaining about demonization of cops, but hey, if you don't want that stuff, maybe you should take a look at the typical cop out there.  Maybe there's a few decent ones, but the assholes and bullies way outnumber them. The job attracts violent and stupid people who want to wave a gun around.

You have a wonderful memory for detail and actuality, the textures of actual life. The world you create is rich and absolutely real to me, inhabited by breathing beings, proceeding in that complicated unsummarizable and indescribable yet somehow completely simple way that existence itself has.

I love the history of the bar, the account of the riot, the fates of the queens, all of it.  Hell of a story.

Love, Jack

I left out all of his suggestions for changes. There were a few, and I'll definitely take note. I've now started on what I hope will be the final rewrite. I hope this little teaser has stirred up enough interest that you'll get all excited when it's finally finished.

BTW - I haven't decided on a title yet.

BTW#2 - Jack's new book, Practicing Zen Without A License will be published soon by ClaytonWorks Publishing. It's a great and funny book. I'll send out announcements when it's available.

Friday, July 23, 2010

“Fiddler on the Roof” among best of all time

Published in The News Tribune, July 23, 2010

Above: Dessa Harvey, the fiddler
Bottom, from left: Darren Skousen as Lazar Wolf and Mark Banton as Tevye. Photos courtesy ASTRA

All Saints Theatrical Repertoire Association’s dinner theater happens only once a year, but it is a lavish occasion with a catered dinner, a 15-piece orchestra, a performance featuring a huge cast, and sets to rival larger professional theaters – and all of this takes place in the gymnasium of a Catholic school.

This year’s show is “Fiddler on the Roof” directed and choreographed by Kelsey Kovacevich, with sets by Nancy Morris and the orchestra conducted by Mike Lewis.

Written by the great Jerome Robbins and premiering on Broadway in 1964 to run for more than 3,000 performances, “Fiddler” became the longest-running play in Broadway history (finally topped by “Grease”).

ASTRA’s production stars Mark Banton as Tevye, the autocratic, tradition-bound, but loving and lovable father of five daughters. Banton is outstanding in many ways, beginning with his huge physical presence, towering over everyone else on stage. The role of Tevye is demanding not only because he is at the center of almost every scene, but because the actor must excel in both comedic and dramatic ability as well as singing and dancing. Banton certainly excels as a singer, with a strong but mellow voice, and although not as energetic or athletic as some of the younger ensemble dancers, he holds his own in the dance scenes. Dramatically he is outstanding, especially when expressing anger and when showing his love for his wife and daughters. His tenderness is palpable. He is not as strong in the comedic parts (except for his expressions while singing the wonderfully funny “If I Were a Rich Man”). His monologues addressed to God could be more animated both in voice and gesture.

Tevye’s wife, Golde (Kaarin Vail) and his three oldest daughters, Tzeitel (Christen Cortez), Hodel (Melissa Urquhart) and Chava (Dani Van Slyke) are all wonderful singers. The daughters, including the younger, Schprintze (Rachel Beritich) and Bielke (Maggie Barry), really stand out on “Matchmaker.” Urquhart provides one of the most touching musical moments in the play with the sad song of parting, “Far From the Home I love,” which she sings in duet with Banton.

The supremely touching “Do You Love Me” is a lovely duet by Banton and Vail.

Michael West is convincing and very likable as Motel the poor tailor who is in love with Tzeitel. His movement and expressions are great, but his voice could be a little stronger. Also providing outstanding performances are Charlie Ward as Perchik the revolutionary teacher, Darren Skousen as Lazar Wolf and Liz Tomski as Grandma Tzeitel. Disappointing is Tricia Soriano as Yente the Matchmaker who over acts and cackles like the Wicked Witch of the West. If she could tone it down just a little Yente would be much more enjoyable.

The large ensemble numbers and particularly Kovacevich’s choreography are wonderful. 

Morris’s sets and the lighting designed by Greg Scott and directed by Danny Nelson are great. Nowhere else does the mastery of sets, lighting and choreography come together so perfectly as in the dream sequence with a flying Grandma Tzeitel. That is a stunning scene.

“Fiddler on the Roof” ranks right up there with “West Side Story,” “Cabaret” and “Les Misérables” as among the best musicals of all time. It is a musical that everyone should see at least once if not many times. When combined with a nicely catered meal, you can’t go wrong. Including meal time it is a four-hour evening.

Finally, kudos to the fiddler on the roof, Dessa Harvey.

WHEN: 7:15 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, doors open at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:15 p.m., show at 7:15 p.m., through July 30; matinee only (no dinner) Sunday, July 25
WHERE: The All Saints Parish Center Stage, 506 3rd. St. S.W., Puyallup
TICKETS: $20-$50
INFORMATION: 253.579.6192,

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Here & Now

Generations of art at Fulcrum
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 22, 2010

"Here & Now," the latest show at Fulcrum Gallery, is an investigation of the styles and concerns of Tacoma artists of different generations from Lynn De Nino, born in 1945, to Ian Wheelock, born in 1997 — 16 artists in all including students from the Hilltop Artists in Residence Program.

So what’s the big difference between 13- and 14-year-old students and established professionals such as De Nino, Jeremy Mangan and Holly Senn? It would appear from this show that the difference is not in artistic ability but in what kinds of things they like to do. The younger artists display a noticeable penchant for graphic novel/comic-style art, and older artists appear to be more sophisticated conceptually (it would be really bad if they weren’t). On the other hand, Teddy Haggerty, born 1953, draws in a style very similar to that of some of the teenage artists. That’s not to say this former Alex Baldwin stand-in is less sophisticated, but just that he is young in spirit. (Whoever hung the show must have had a similar impression since they put Haggerty’s three drawings in the back room with all the students). The best of his works is a colored pencil drawing of a penguin, a nude woman and a wall full of hearts. This drawing is like a blending of Fay Jones and Jim Dine.

One of the most impressive pieces in the show is a sculpture of three tree trunks by Senn that is made from cardboard, glue and pages from old books. It is simple, attractive and conceptually multi-layered, with references to how paper made from trees is made into books and eventually becomes a tree once again.

The most impressive paintings are three portraits titled "Furies" (1, 2 and 3) by Malcolm McLarren. These are strong, minimalist Abstract Expressionist portraits with glaring white faces and hardly any features. Very haunting.

De Nino has two satirical pieces that, typical of her, make strong points with a humorous twist. One is a pinball machine in which you get points for striking local political figures. The other is a shower curtain and shower head that is nothing unusual until you see what’s on the inside of the curtain (which I’m not about to divulge). It’s called "I Only Have Eyes for You."

Among the more outstanding student works is a series of five cut-out portraits of a woman named Olivia in acrylic on paper by 18-year-old Louise Blake and three delightfully surrealistic pencil drawings by Dylan Buffler, 14.

[Fulcrum Gallery, Here & Now, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and by appointment, through Aug. 14, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

a compelling read says Ruth Tiger

Here's another nice new review of The Backside of Nowhere. It comes from Ruth Tiger, author of The Away Place. Ruth lives in Tacoma. I met her recently and we traded books, and I recently reviewed her book here on this blog and on amazon. 
Here's Ruth's review of Backside.
"The Backside of Nowhere gives a gritty peek into the lives of a Southern Gulf community and a family in need of healing. It's about coming of age, fleeing one's family for a different life, and returning home to confront what drove them apart. The author paints a vivid picture of life in a small fishing village as well as that of a now-famous protagonist, and brings us quickly into the complex lives of these compelling characters. Skillfully weaving us from present to past and back, the story unfolds into the rekindling of lost friendships, the revelation of well-concealed secrets, and the badly needed healing of hearts. I found The Backside of Nowhere to be an interesting read, one that both surprised me and led me toward a satisfying end. The juxtaposed devastating hurricanes aptly round out these characters' stormy lives."
More reviews of this and my other books at ClaytonWorks Publishing website.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Oly public art

The good, the so-so and the monumental

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 15, 2010
Photo courtesy Olympia Raffah Mural Project.

Overall I’m less than impressed with the quality of public art in Olympia.

OK, yeah, "The Kiss" by Richard Beyer at the Percival Landing boardwalk (4th Avenue and Water Street) is kind of fun. People love to get their picture taken with the kissing couple. But it’s really silly and not great art. "The Park of the Seven Oars" by Tom Anderson, Karen Lohmann, Mark Osborne and Joe Tougas (between the two roundabouts going up Harrison hill after crossing the 4th Avenue bridge) is a nice little urban park, and "Tide Pool of Time" by Brian Goldbloom and David Vala, also at Percival Landing, is a nice little fountain that kids love to wade in despite signs saying not to. Both are well designed and attractive, and each has content rife with local history ("Seven Oars" is based on a famous photograph related to the founding of Olympia, and "Tide Pool" references the rich maritime history of the Puget Sound region), but they are more impressive as landscaping than as art.

Simon Kogan’s World War II memorial on the Washington State Capitol Campus is well designed and well thought out. The idea of wheat stalks blowing in the wind and chiming musically when the individual stalks hit together is brilliant, although when I’ve visited it I’ve never seen them actually move. The Korean War Memorial by Deborah Copenhaver, also on the Capitol grounds, is a powerful, realistic and gritty depiction of the reality of war that is far better than most monuments of the type.

I don’t want to come across as being too snarky, and I have to concede that there may be some wonderful public art works in Olympian that I have not yet seen, but judging from what I have seen, these few works are pretty much it — with one marvelously notable exception: the Olympia Raffah Mural at the corner of Capitol Way and State Avenue in downtown Olympia.

The Olympia Raffah Mural is a huge public art project involving more than 150 artists, activists and social justice organizations from Olympia and across the USA, and even from the West Bank and Gaza in Palestine. The 4,000-square-foot mural was created to honor the legacy of Rachel Corrie, the Olympia native and former Evergreen State College student who was murdered in the Palestinian city of Raffah in Gaza when she was run over by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the destruction of a Palestinian family home.

Artistically it is monumental and mesmerizing. The central image is a huge olive tree, a universal symbol of peace, whose branches spread across the face of the building and whose leaves are each painted by a different artist or group of artists. Artistically the style and imagery varies from leaf to leaf, yet the whole is a unified image.

Driving by and looking at it from your car is not good enough. In order to appreciate it you must park your car, get out and walk around to view it from different angles, from a distance and up close. The only drawback is no matter how close you get, some of the individual images are hard to see, so I highly recommend that after viewing it in person you visit the project Web site at

Elvis hasn't quite left the building

Review: “All Shook Up”
Published in The News Tribune, July 16, 2010
Photo by Kat Dollarhide

A musical comedy salute to Elvis Presley that is a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” would be downright audacious, and that’s just what “All Shook Up” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is. Written by Joe DiPietro, who is probably most well known as the author of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” this lighthearted tribute to Elvis is delightfully fun and energetic.

TMP artistic director Jon Douglas Rake emphatically stated and repeated in the program and in his curtain speech that “All Shook Up” is not a show about Elvis. But Steve Barnett as the roustabout musician Chad is clearly an Elvis-type character. His costumes and his moves are intentionally patterned on The King – with a little hint of Marlon Brando in “The Wild Bunch” thrown in. Even the main comic sidekick, Matt DelaCruz as Dennis, throws in a little Elvis “Thank you very much.”

Despite emphatic denials, this show is all about Elvis – which is what makes it sparkle and, simultaneously, brings it down in places. There are so many wonderful songs, but the ghost of Elvis hovers over the stage and no one can sing “If I Can Dream” and “That’s All Right” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” like Elvis.

Barnett has the sultry good looks and the voice to carry off the role of the rebel singer, but his Elvis gyrations seem strained and unnatural. Ironically, Micheal O’Hara does those same moves much more naturally and comfortably. O’Hara plays Jim, an older man who recaptures his youth by copying Chad’s moves, and he steals every scene he’s in. He is probably the most the most accomplished actor in the cast, and it shows.

Other actors who bring fire and peals of laughter every time they take center stage are DelaCruz and Heather Malroy as Miss Sandra. DelaCruz’s Dennis is a 1950s-style nerd with a decided lack of self-confidence. He is not only hilarious, he has a great voice. His solo on “It Hurts Me” is one of the best solo performances in the show. Malroy as the intellectual Miss Sandra is big, brash, and stylishly sexy.

Other outstanding actors are Lauren Nance as Natalie, the female mechanic who is in love with Chad and disguises herself as a man named Ed in order to get close to him; LaNita Hudson as Sylvia; Jasmine Carver as Sylvia’s daughter, Lorraine; and Jon Huntsman as Lorraine’s boyfriend, Dean.

Highlights include the great ensemble performance of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” that ends act one, the wonderful running joke of everybody singing “One Night With You,” and the great dueling guitars on “Devil in Disguise.”

The scenic design by Rake and Will Abrahamse is excellent, and scenes are easily and unobtrusively changed. The simple scaffolding in the fairgrounds scenes highlighted by John Chenault’s lighting is especially nice, as is the beautiful drop curtain in the final scene. Also especially nice is the theater magic of faces of the cast popping out of the museum and of paintings of belly dancers at the fair becoming real live dancers. These are the kinds of touches that make musical theater come alive.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 1
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,

Friday, July 9, 2010

"Othello" moves to New York via Olympia Little Theatre

The Olympian/The News Tribune, July 9, 2010

Pictured from left: Mark Peterson as Othello, Erica Penn as Desdemona and Luke Amundson as Iago in "Othello" a Theater Artists Olympia production at Olympia Little Theatre. Photo by Robert Rostad.

Community theater companies seem to love updating Shakespeare to modern times.  Sometimes it works; more often than not it doesn’t. Of all Shakespeare plays, “Othello” may be the one most likely to work in a modern setting. In Theater Artists Olympia’s most recent outing, the modern setting adds to the dramatic impact. 

The upsides to setting “Othello” in New York in 1968 are that inner city gangsters in the sixties offer dramatic intensity that modern audiences can relate to more readily than they can to Cyprus in the 16th century, and the play’s themes of racism, sexism, jealousy, war and honor are issues that seem to work almost effortlessly as they were hot button topics in the late sixties. Video clips projected on a back wall between scenes highlight such issues with pictures illustrating the women’s movement, the war in Vietnam, Civil Rights protests, lynchings, the death of Robert Kennedy, and speeches by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

On the down side, some of the language and speech patterns are obviously out of whack when put in such a modern context, for example, talk of war in Venice and Turkey doesn’t fit with the Vietnam background.

Director Robert McConkey has assembled an outstanding cast. Major roles include Mark Peterson as Othello, Luke Amundson as Iago, Christina Collins as Emilia, Brian Jansen as Roderigo, Erica Penn as Desdemona, and Paul Purvine as Cassio.

Plum roles in “Othello” are played by Peterson and Amundson, both of whom are more well known to Tacoma audiences. Magisterial in demeanor, with a powerful voice, Peterson is ideally cast as Othello the Moor. Throughout much of the play his booming voice and the character’s oversized emotions are held in check, personifying – especially in the first act – the voice of reason, which makes his explosive violence and passion in the second act even more convincing. 

Amundson’s portrayal of Iago is much more complex and layered. Iago is sneaky and manipulative. He presents himself to Othello, Desdemona, Cassio and Roderigo as compassionate and trustworthy; they all refer to him as honest, yet he is the most devious character in the play. The subtle ways in which Amundson changes from the persona he presents to others to the sly and evil self he presents in soliloquies when alone on stage is masterful.

Roderigo is an easily manipulated fool. Played by a lesser actor he would seem little but a foil to Iago, but Jansen’s strange body movements and intense expressions make him into a much more charismatic character. His hypnotic comic appeal reminds me of Jack Nicholson’s breakout performance as the tagalong biker in “Easy Rider.”

Both Penn and Collins are believable as the major female characters, both of whom express great inner strength subsumed beneath the expected female subservience of the time – and (spoiler) they both die beautifully and convincingly. The third female, Stella Martin as Bianca, sets the tone of the updated time and place beautifully with her New York accent.

The set by McConkey and Marko Bujeaud is particularly effective. It is simple but striking, setting the mood and allowing for easy and almost seamless scene changes.

This is a powerful, well acted dramatic play that should fill the seats every night.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through July 18
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

Gumpert and Currie

A good match at Childhood’s End

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 8, 2010
Pictured "Alla," oil on canvas by Alfred Currier

Now showing at Childhood’s End Gallery in Olympia are paintings by Chuck Gumpert and Alfred Currier, plus a group of the very popular half-man/half-bird ceramic sculptures by the husband-and-wife team of John and Robin Gumaelius and other works. I’m going to limit my comments to the paintings by Gumpert and Currie, two radically different artists whose contrasting styles complement one another nicely.

Gumpert is showing a group of a dozen loose, organic, abstract paintings that appear to be informed by but not imitative of nature. A lot of them look vaguely like undersea vistas or galaxies and star clusters in deep space. The paint is thick and loosely applied, often splattered or brushed on wet and allowed to pool on the canvas. He uses mostly earth colors — dull greens and browns.

Interestingly, what makes some of Gumpert’s paintings very successful is the thing that keeps others from being successful, and that is the mixture of figures and other recognizable natural forms with his organic abstract shapes. In a painting called "Between Darkness and Wonder" there is a figure that is not visible at first, but which becomes obvious upon closer study. Once this figure becomes clear, it gives definition to the entire painting. It’s an excellent combination of figurative and abstract art. But superimposed on it is a splatter of white paint that looks like a star cluster seen in the heavens, which separates too much from the rest of the painting and seems contrived. Similarly, there is a painting called "Coral Concerto" that would easily be the best painting in the show except there are two shapes that look like shadowy figures from a noir detective story, thus making the whole painting seem too illustrational. If these two shapes were more abstract and less figurative it would be a much better painting. This is the irony I indicated above. The imposition of figurative elements in an essentially abstract painting made one picture successful and kept another one from being successful.

Currier is showing paintings of Paris street scenes that look like a combination of landscapes and city scenes as painted by the French Impressionist Alfred Sisley and the modern American Edward Hopper. These paintings are strong, well composed, and despite the obvious subject matter more about color and shape than about city streets and gardens. There is no attempt at originality in Currier’s paintings. What he does has been done many times before and often by greater artists; but that doesn’t seem to matter. These are beautiful paintings. His colors are magnificent — especially on the glowing awnings in his street scenes — and I love his dramatic use of strong light and cast shadows. Look at the buttery yellow awning in "Rainy Days, Paris" and the angular shadows on "Daily News," or the flickering reds of flowers and masterful placement of figures in his "Alla."

[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ignore the calendar, its the 1960s

Review "Sixties Kicks"

Published in The News Tribune and The Olympian, July 2, 2010
Photos by James Bass

If there’s a place called Heaven that we go to after we die and if we are met there by a heavenly choir, that choir will surely sound something like Antonia Darlene singing “Let It Be” in Harlequin Productions’ summer musical review “Sixties Kicks.” Her performance on this song is a transformative experience; it lifts you to another plane and sets you back down feeling speechless and breathless. And this is but one performance in a night of mostly magnificent performances.

Every summer Harlequin puts on an original musical review. They may be tribute pieces such as those in recent years that honored Atlantic Records and Motown, or as they did last summer, a compilation of hits by sixties girl groups. This year they return again to the 1960s with a lineup of songs by the Beatles and Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan and many others from that rocking decade.

There is no dialogue and no story line. Historical highlights from the era are projected on the wall behind the band. The band, essentially the same as every year, is very likely the best house band south of Seattle. It is made up of David Broyles, guitar; Rick Jarvela, bass; Maria Joyner, drums; Brad Schrandt, keyboard and horns; and Bruce Whitney, keyboard and musical director (plus a mean acoustical guitar).

The cast is Darlene, Kate Dinsmore, Mike Lengel, Alison Monda and Matt Posner. They’re all good; some much beyond good. I’ve already mentioned how stupefying Darlene was on “Let It Be.” She’s outstanding on other songs, too, as is Dinsmore, especially on another Beatles hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and on “Do You Believe in Magic.”

The two who really light up the stage are Monda and Posner. Posner is simply a fabulous singer who puts his heart in every song he sings. He’s mesmerizing on the Simon and Garfunkel anthem “America.” He stands out in the chorus on the Beach Boys’ medley “I Get Around/Fun, Fun, Fun,/Good Vibrations.” He sounds like the Beach Boys – all five of them. He’s mesmerizing on “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and rocks with raw energy on the Stones’ “Satisfaction.” If there’s a singer anywhere in the South Sound who can slip in and out of varying styles as easily as Posner, I’ve yet to run across him or her.

Monda electrifies the house with her energy. I’ve seen her more often as a member of the ensemble or in dramatic and comedic roles. I had no idea she could sing rock and roll with such power. Her rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun” is fabulous, and her dancing is so energetic and enthusiastic that’s it’s hard to resist jumping on your feet and joining her on stage.

Finally there is Lengel, who, in the first act, doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the cast. For starters, he stands head and shoulders above the rest (someone said he is six-foot-eight), but he doesn’t use that height to advantage. He seemed to be restrained throughout the first half of the show. His first solo is a nice but subdued version of the Harry Nilsson hit “Everybody’s Talking At Me” from “Midnight Cowboy.” And then he’s a big letdown on “Light My Fire.” He sings it nicely, but he’s far too restrained. I wanted to hear him scream out “Fii –yah!” the way Jim Morrison did. Thankfully, in the second act he more than made up for whatever might have been missing in the first act. He does a wonderful job of soloing on a couple of Bob Dylan songs, most notably “All Along the Watchtower.” He’s also outstanding on “Honky Tonk Woman.”

This is a follow-up to last year’s “Sixties Chicks,” which was in many ways the weakest of Harlequin’s many summer music reviews. I was particularly let down by the costuming last summer. Not so this summer. Ingrid Pugh-Goodwin nailed the sixties styles with high theatrical flair.

Unless you’re stone cold deaf, you’ll leave the theater thoroughly satiated, and you’ll be humming these tunes for weeks to come.

WHEN: Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through July17
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $34 - $37
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;