Thursday, October 28, 2010

Classifying Koons

Real deal or charlatan? You make the call.

Published in the Weekly Volcano, October 28, 2010

JEFF KOONS: Girl with Dolphin and Monkey

I've been thinking about Jeff Koons a lot lately. Koons is the heir apparent to Andy Warhol (who was the heir apparent to Marcel Duchamp), and he is one of today's most popular artists.

Like Warhol, Koons' life is his art. A team of assistants executed Warhol's work in a studio he called The Factory. Assistants crank out Koons' art in a factory that looks like Google world headquarters.

Warhol made banal subjects visually exciting. He said he wanted to be a machine. Koons makes glamorous subjects visually banal. I think he is a machine.

Duchamp invented the readymade by purchasing a urinal from a plumbing supply store and calling it art, thus revolutionizing modern art in the process. Warhol created replicas of Brillo boxes that no one could tell from the original, thus ushering in post-modern art. Koons bought spanking new basketballs and vacuum machines and other home appliances and displayed them as art and thereby confused the hell out of everybody.

Other than the Brillo boxes and some of the silkscreens of Campbell's soup cans, Warhol's repetitive images did not in the least have a factory-produced look. The images were off register and his colors were acidic and highly original. There is nothing similarly original or stimulating about Koons' porcelain statue of Michael Jackson with his pet monkey, Bubbles, or about his glass sculptures of himself having sex with his wife, Italian porn star Cicciolina. Michael Jackson in albino-white porcelain or extremely graphic sculptures in clear glass of people having sex in every imaginable way are certainly provocative subjects for art, and conceptually the choice of materials and style are brilliantly ironic; but aesthetically they are boring, as is much of Koons' art.

Take for instance, the inflatables (flowers made of vinyl), and the balloon animals (some painted and some made of highly polished chromium steel).They're just stupid looking, and that's obviously his intent. They're like bad knockoffs of Claes Oldenburg sculptures. But again, they seem to be intentionally bad, and how do you judge that?

And then there are the countless silly animals and cartoon figures and the oil paintings that remind me a lot of James Rosenquist. A lot of these are a lot of fun, and some of them are astonishingly beautiful, especially those that layer pop images in a collage-like fashion.

Is he a good artist or a charlatan? I have a hard time making up my mind. But he is certainly entertaining, and I look forward to see what he's going to come up with next.

If you can't see any of Koons' work in the flesh, check it out online at www.jeffkoons. com and see what you think.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

'Into the Woods' at Capital Playhouse: Enter a dark fairy tale

Published in The Olympian / The News Tribune, Oct. 22, 2010

Daniel Boman is the Baker and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk is the Baker’s Wife, and Jeff Kingsbury is the Mysterious Man in Capital Playhouse’s “Into the Woods.”

Sitting through Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods” at Capital Playhouse was not easy.

The staging and the acting were up to Capital Playhouse’s usual high standards, but the book and music are difficult – a strong concept with innovative and perceptive humor and insights, but Sondheim and Lapine put too much in and the play is too long.

Frank Rich nailed it in his New York Times review of the original Broadway production: “Unfortunately, the book is as wildly overgrown as the forest. ... Perhaps the enterprise could use less art and more craft.”

Like Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” it probes the darker regions of the human heart through a retelling of popular fairy tales, but it plods along with only hints of the biting humor and suspense that made “Sweeney Todd” so engrossing.

A poor baker and his wife (Daniel Boman and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk) want to have a baby, but their neighbor the witch (Deanna Moon) cast a spell on them, making them sterile, and told them the only way to break the spell would be to go into the woods and bring back certain items, which they easily find but then must buy or steal from their owners: Little Red Riding Hood (Alayna Deatherage), Jack of “Jack and the Beanstalk” (Ryan Tunheim), Cinderella (Bailey Boyd) and Rapunzel (Eva Gheorghiu).

In addition to these characters, the story is cluttered with a whole who’s who of fairy-tale characters from Sleeping Beauty (Alessa Daniel), Snow White (Toni Bridges) and Cinderella’s father (Gregory Conn, whose talents are wasted in this superfluous role) and a couple of princes (Stephen Anastasia and Matthew Helton, the latter of whom doubles wonderfully as the big bad wolf).

The cast is a mixture of seasoned regulars at Capital Playhouse and a lot of young actors recently out of the Kids at Play summer children’s workshop. Boman, a transplant from Illinois, makes his Capital Playhouse debut in this production, but first made his mark there as resident choreographer for Kids at Play. He is a charming Baker. Van Dijk is a veteran of many Capital Playhouse shows and also served as choreographer for this summer’s kids’ program. She’s a strong performer as the Baker’s wife. Another veteran actor who turns in a strong performance is Moon as the witch. In Act 1, she is a stereotypical witch with all the usual screeches and cackles, but in Act 2, she is transformed into a normal woman with a hauntingly beautiful voice soloing on “Witch’s Lament.”

Outstanding physical comedy is turned in by the princes (Helton and Anastasia), who spoof hammy actors throughout. Helton also displays great range of expression and voice when he doubles as the wolf. His outlandish manner of musically taunting Little Red Riding Hood with the song “Hello, Little Girl” is a musical and comedic highlight.

Finally, Playhouse artistic director Jeff Kingsbury is very much his well-known self as the narrator. His gestures and expressions work precisely because they are so familiar, and then he comically morphs into an almost unrecognizable mystery man with skeletal-like movements, and proves that he’s in strong voice after an extensive history of being in more than 150 musicals.

Despite being long and tiring, the fantasy and humor is fun and it is nice to see so many young actors perform with such confidence alongside the veterans.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 30
Where: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
Tickets: $30-$41
More information: 360-943-2744, www.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's Complicated

Art about home at The Evergreen State College

Published in the Weekly Volcano, October 20, 2010

MERRITT JOHNSON: "Crow booming the one big water, gulls flying away" currently on display at The Evergreen State College. Photo courtesy of The Evergreen State College

Haunting music permeates the space of the gallery at The Evergreen State College during the exhibition It's Complicated - Art About Home. The music comes from Jason Lujan's video "From One Dream to Another," which is eerily beautiful and mysterious, and which sets the mood and theme of the show.

The artists are all Native Americans, and the theme is "about home," which in their various interpretations is the larger world in which we live. Growing up Indian in 20th century America, these artists have been shaped by a blend of Native and contemporary American cultures, and that shows clearly in these works. The art is about the relationship between urban and natural environments, about their place in this world and reverence for animals and nature. Some of the imagery is borrowed from traditional Native art, but the techniques and methods come from contemporary American art - from Warhol and Rauschenberg to modern computer and video art.

In Lujan's video a flock of bright red birds ascend in a dark forest. Cut to a mysterious cloaked figure in the same brilliant red. Cut to yet another scene in which we see that the cloaked figure is a woman and to a final scene in which she walks down a city street and fades and vanishes, ghost-like. It is beautiful and haunting.

Similar imagery appears in Maria Hupfield's sculpture, "Flap, Flap, Flap." Inside a circle of red tape on the floor we see a group of dying birds in stark white plaster and papier-mâché. The birds are caught in still motion, desperately flapping their wings, trying to escape the concrete nest in which they are dying in agony. The implications are clear and the emotion is powerfully expressed.

Merritt Johnson is showing two large oil paintings of blue skies and white clouds combined with other landscape elements and various symbols. The most striking of these is one that hangs above a sculpture of a turkey made with various materials, including actual turkey feathers. Not so dramatic but equally powerful is a smaller Johnson painting called "Crow becoming the one big water, gulls flying away."

Nicholas Galanin is showing a large wall hanging that rounds a corner of the gallery and, intriguingly, has wall labels indicating different media as if this continuous work is two works. It is (or they are) called "The Imaginary Indian." In one the media is listed as paddle, wood, acrylic and wallpaper; the other is "non-Native art," wood, acrylic and wallpaper. There is a lot of tricky trompe l'oeil in this one.

Sara Sense is showing three large digital photographs. All employ the technique of cutting photos into strips and weaving them together, and all feature a combination of urban and natural landscapes with models who look like fashion models.

Most ambitious is a two-channel video by Kade Twist combining 10 YouTube videos compiled by different people.

[Through Jan. 12, Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Evergreen State College, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Library 1st floor, Olympia]

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reunion at the Wetside

cover art by Penelope G. Merrill

I just ordered 50 copies of my latest novel, Reunion at the Wetside. The shipment is due to arrive sometime between now and Nov. 10. I will sell autographed copies for $15. The book will also be available within a few days from at the same price plus shipping.

Here's the opening paragraph, Chapter 1:

Jim Bright was the last person in the world Alex expected to see sashaying up to the bar in Barney’s Pub, the most notorious gay bar in Wetside, Washington. Jim had been Mister Everything in high school almost fifty years ago—all-conference quarterback for the Jefferson High School Golden Wave, track star (holder of the state record in the mile. 4:28), class president (unopposed), voted most handsome and most likely to succeed (both in and out of bed was the popular quip at the time).

... or same thing as told by Alex in the blog she and Jim wrote together:

I purt-nigh pissed in my panties when I saw Jim Bright. Purt-nigh squirted beer out my nose to boot. Wouldn’t that have been a fine kettle of fish? Maybe he’d of run over and done a Heimlich on me.

The description on the back cover reads:

Romance blossoms at Barney's Pub between Alex, a leftwing Democrat, and Jim, a Libertarian-leaning Republican - old friends from half a century ago.

Meantime, someone is killing off all the old drag queens, and Jim may be the only person who can catch the killer

... if he doesn't become the next victim.

And there's a cover blurb from no less a writer than Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Jack Butler, author of West of Hollywood, Hawk Gumbo and Other Stories, The Kid Who Wanted to Be a Spaceman, Jujitsu for Christ, Nightshade, Living in Little Rock With Miss Little Rock (the Pulitzer nominee), Jack’s Skillet: Plain Talk and Some Recipes From a Guy in the Kitchen (a cookbook), Dreamers, and soon to be released from ClaytonWorks Publishing Practicing Zen Without a License:

"If you like murder mysteries with a bit of meat and history on them, you will love Reunion at the Wetside.  Alec Clayton lovingly and skillfully unveils the layered secrets behind of a series of murders, which turn out, not surprisingly, to have their roots in what happened among a group of children (and the young adults they became) decades ago.  Once again, the past not only isn't gone, it isn't even the past.  And this past is a killer!" - Jack Butler

The one other thing none of the promos or cover blurbs say is that the book is funny as hell.

Friday, October 15, 2010

‘Goat’: Disquieting sum of the parts

Christopher Cantrell and Pug Bujeaud, photo courtesy Theater Artists Olympia
Published in The News Tribune / The Olympian, Oct. 15, 2010

Theater Artists Olympia is doing Edward Albee’s “The Goat or Who is Sylvia” at The Midnight Sun Performance Space in downtown Olympia.

“Entertaining” is not the right word for this play. “For adults only” hardly conveys how shocking or offensive it might be to large segments of the theater-going public. I don’t want to say I liked it, but I did like each separate aspect of it, from the writing to the acting to production values that were outstanding considering the limitations of space and budget.

Albee is known for provocative and nonconventional plays. From his first play in 1958, “The Zoo Story,” to the film that made him famous with a wider audience, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Albee has been known for ironic humor, biting dialogue and unrelenting dramatic tension. “The Goat” has all of this in spades.

Martin (Christopher Cantrell) is a successful architect who has been faithful to his wife, Stevie (Pug Bujeaud) for decades. Their settled life is shattered when he confesses to an affair with Sylvia, a goat.

Bestiality is not unheard of, but it is rare, and what makes it even stranger in Martin’s case is that he says he is in love with Sylvia.

The play begins as a conventional domestic comedy, but Stevie gives an early hint that it is going to veer into the absurd when she says, “The sense that everything’s going right is a sure sense that everything’s going wrong.” Even before Martin confesses his affair – first to his best friend, Ross (Christian Carvajal) and then to Stevie and their son, Billy (Samuel Johnston) – it becomes a laugh-fest of absurd humor. But soon the laughter becomes uncomfortable, and the intensity of the clashes between the four characters becomes almost unbearable as the reality of what has been confessed sinks in. There is an absurd amount of screaming and cursing and smashing of glass and ceramics as Stevie throws almost every artifact in their home to the floor. (Warning: Sitting in the front row might be dangerous.)

Albee’s wordplay is in a league with Shakespeare and Tom Stoppard. The direction by Eric Mark is outstanding, and I can’t praise the acting by Cantrell, Bujeaud, Carvajal and Johnston enough.

If it is possible to envision how normal people might react to the announcement that their husband-dad-best friend is in love with a goat, the reactions of these three are absolutely believable and realistic.

Carvajal makes you dislike but empathize with Ross. Bujeaud and Johnston both express extreme emotions tempered with nuanced expressions. To sustain such intensity of emotion throughout a play without striking a false note or dropping a line or slipping out of character is amazing. Cantrell, who is known for broad and highly emotional acting, actually reins it in a bit in a display of tightly controlled despair and confusion. This is acting at its best.

If you think you can take it, I do recommend that you see “The Goat or Who is Sylvia.”

Seating is limited. The audience was small the night I saw it. The next night, they had a full house, so I recommend purchasing tickets online as soon as possible.

What: Theater Artists Olympia presents this story of one man’s unusual love.
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. N.W., Olympia
Tickets: $12 available at www.brownpapertickets. com and at the door
Information: www.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Spaceworks Tacoma: recycled art

Re-presenting Barbara De Pirro and Holly Senn

Published in the Weekly Volcano, October 13, 2010

Frankly I'm growing weary of recycled art, even if I do admire the underlying environmental consciousness. It's not a new thing; it's as old as Picasso and Duchamp. And most of it is cute or clever at best. There are exceptions, notably some of the artists represented by Matter in Olympia. But recycled art has been overhyped almost as much as Dale Chihuly.

A mediocre model of a house or portrait of a person or animal is no less mediocre just because it's made from cast-off materials.

So I applaud the exceptions to the run-of-the-mill such as Barbara De Pirro, whose art from recycled materials would be intriguing no matter what it was made of. I was fascinated with some of her works pictured in a Spaceworks Tacoma publication online, including "natural" organic forms such as snakes in real trees and a kind of beautiful glass chandelier at the Museum of Glass (actually discarded plastic). Her latest installation for Spaceworks can be found in a vacant building at 912 Broadway. It is not so startling or ambitious as those mentioned above, but it is definitely worth taking a look. And a second look.

It is called vortex plastica and has been described as "a web-like form, a spun nest, a whirling tornado and a solar system filling the void, cross-lacing the space" - a slightly hyperbolic description for a nice bit of decorative art inspired by the North Pacific Gyre, a gigantic and unnatural vortex of garbage in the Pacific Ocean. To have been inspired by something so huge and fearsome, it looks surprisingly playful and decorative, like a room divider made of tinker toys and crocheted buttons and plastic straws mounted on chicken wire.

Two doors down at 908 Broadway is another Spaceworks installation that also makes use of discarded materials. This one is called Re-Present, and it is by Holly Senn, an artist well-known for both freestanding sculptures and massive, room-size installations made out of discarded books - nearly always with themes based on books and the trees they are made from.

Re-Present is quite a departure for Senn. It consists of what at a slight distance appears to be plaster reproductions of parts of the façade of the Pantages Theater across the street. Only upon closer inspection does it become clear that the classical botanical forms are made out of torn bits of book pages. In what is an obvious refutation of my opening statement, I must say that it is the choice of material - or more specifically the surprise of discovering Senn's material - that lifts this work to a higher level than a mere reproduction of a bit of architectural detail.
Spaceworks Tacoma

[vortex plastica, Barbara De Pirro
Re-Present, Holly Senn
Through Jan. 5, 24/7
908 and 912 Broadway, Tacoma]

Friday, October 8, 2010

Devil is in the details

“Sherlock Holmes and the Doom of Devilsmoor” at Lakewood Playhouse
Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 8, 2010
Pictured: Tim Shute as Sherlock and Kerry Bringman as Inspector Lee. Photo by Dean Lapin

“Sherlock Holmes and the Doom of Devilsmoor” at Lakewood Playhouse is a Northwest premiere of a whodunit written by local playwright C.P. Stancich of Gig Harbor. Stancich is no novice when it comes to writing for the stage. His comedy “The Weird Sisters at Home” played the Boulder International Fringe Festival, and another Stancich-penned Holmes mystery, “Sherlock Holmes & the Spinsters of Blackmead” also premiered in the Boulder area.

“Devilsmoor” begins with an exciting, highly stylized and mysterious scene with a gang of wraithlike men in big hats or hoods and long dark coats attacking Edward Banks (Nathaniel Quinn, who also stage managed this play). They frighten him but do him no harm, like Plains Indians counting coup. Banks tries to get Sherlock Holmes (Tim Shute) to investigate his murder (even though he’s not dead), but Holmes refuses to take the case.

Shadows on the floor, dramatic music and fast action in this scene set the mood for what promises to be either high drama or a lampoon of high drama, but there is no follow-through. The next scene shifts to the drawing room of Reginald Musgrave’s (Michael Osier) manor, and what follows is mostly talk gradually leading up to a murder and the belated re-emergence of Holmes. The opening scene is barely referenced again, and the promised excitement never comes. Stancich’s play is well-plotted with interesting characters, but it needs work. There are humorous bits and a few nice surprises, but not enough of either.

By far the best character in the play is Oscar Dove (Malcolm Sturdevant), who was something of a precursor to Dr. Watson, helping Holmes on earlier cases, and is now something of a rival to Watson. Dove is droll and haughty, and Sturdevant plays him with style. He has the wittiest lines and delivers them with impeccable timing. His strange limp and odd way of counterbalancing it with a wave of his left arm give comic definition to the character. If only more of the other characters had similarly unique eccentricities.

The other highly enjoyable character is Miriam Cray (Dayna Childs). Obviously respected by the other characters, who refer to her throughout as Mrs. Cray, this character seems to be smarter than everyone else, except Holmes, of course, and more down to earth. Childs makes her come alive. Her gestures and speech patterns, and even her outrageous scream, seem perfectly natural.

The other women in the play are a servant named Mrs. Selkirk (Leigh Duncan) and Banks’ girlfriend, Ann Prahlly (Camille Mesmer). These characters need development, but Duncan and Mesmer play them well considering how little they have to work with.

Shute makes an excellent Holmes, playing him without the exaggerated smugness sometimes associated with Holmes and with a subtle humor, as if there is a laugh just under the surface of his every statement (Holmes is not above dramatic flair played as the expense of his compatriots).

Too many bobbled lines from some of the actors on opening weekend indicated they needed another week of rehearsal, but otherwise the acting was excellent. The set by Blake York, lighting by Jason Burg and sound by Alex Smith were outstanding.

If you like a good mystery, see “Sherlock Holmes and The Doom of Devilsmoor.”

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 25, plus actors’ benefit performance Nov. 7 at 2 p.m.
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
Tickets: $15-$23, rush tickets $10 15 minutes before performance
Information: 253-588- 0042, www.lakewood

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Object Permanence

Joe Penrod's blue shadows dance inside Fulcrum Gallery

The Weekly Volcano, October 6, 2010

"PILLAR BY DAY": Saw horses and painters tape by Joe Penrod

I reviewed an exhibition of Joe Penrod's intriguing blue-tape shadows three years ago at the now defunct Black Front Gallery in Olympia. The works he's showing at Fulcrum Gallery in Tacoma are exactly the same only more sophisticated.

The idea is as profound as it is simple. He traces the cast shadows of objects in buildings and on the streets and "paints in the outlines" with blue painter's tape. The light changes, the actual shadows change shape, overlapping the taped shadows or in some instances visually dancing with them in fascinating ways. The tape-shadows then become records of things that were there and now aren't or are still there but in a changed formation. The installations don't last, but the photographic records do.

He has installed one such shadow on the sidewalk outside Fulcrum. It has been broken and partially destroyed by the feet of pedestrians, but is intact again as it crawls up the side of the building. Inside he has installed another such shadow sculpture-painting. In this case four sawhorses are stacked feet-to-feet and top-to-top. The installation stands about 10 feet tall and "casts" a blue-tape shadow across the floor, up the wall and onto about five feet of ceiling.

In addition, he is displaying a collection of photographs of installations in various locations from Tacoma to New York, and an odd and totally unrelated conceptual piece consisting of engraved glass bottles into which people in various places sang the same song at the same time leaving a record of condensed human breath in the sealed bottles - an interesting concept, but boring to look at.

Back to the blue shadows. The photographs are beautiful, especially when actual shadows overlap or create halos around the constructed shadows. In the small photographs printed on maple panels the tape edges don't show and the color is more intense than the actual pieces. The photos, in other words, are better art than the art photographed. Plus they are permanent, which the installations aren't, and they're reasonably priced.

In "Chung King Rd. (LA)" paper lanterns hang across a deserted street casting shadows on the street below. The lanterns glow orange as a jack-o-lantern and their overlapping cast and taped shadows are a complementary blue and gray. It's very beautiful, as is "Leaves Olympia," blue-black, dark blue, light blue and gray shadows of green fronds in a concrete planter.

Best of all is "Tacoma Sit-In (With Beautiful Angel)," a document of an art event in Tacoma with large groups of people helping Penrod tape the shadows of people and chairs. In the photo there are many more shadows than chairs plus at least one shadow of a dancer who is no longer dancing - a moment in history captured in painters' tape. If I could buy one of these, this would be the one I'd want.

If you haven't seen this show, it's worth catching.

Object Permanence

Through Oct. 16, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and by appointment
Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma

Picasso and the God of Carnage

What an amazing day Tuesday was! First we went to the Seattle Art Museum for a press preview for the new Picasso show, “Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris” — and then we visited our dear friends filmmaker Liz Latham and her partner, Marlee Walker, editor of Blues To Do magazine, and finally we went to see “ God of Carnage” at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Press passes, comp tickets courtesy of our son the stagehand and good friends in the arts all add up to enriched life experiences.

Here’s the scoop on the Picasso show. The Musée National Picasso in Paris is closed for renovations and their huge collection of drawings, paintings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso is going on a world tour —first U.S. stop, Seattle Art Museum.

A huge crowd poured into the museum for the press preview. Breakfast pastries and coffee was served , and then the curator introduced dignitaries from the Musée National and from sponsor organizations such as Chase Bank and Microsoft, and I got very fidgety waiting for the main event, actually seeing the art. The speechifying went on and on, and I with my impaired hearing could make out only a few words from the Parisians who spoke English with a heavy accent.  And it wasn’t just my hearing problem, because our son who went with us said he had a hard time hearing them too.

There were so many people there from the media that they had to break the tour of the show into three groups. I was in the last group. Luckily for me, our group was lead by the curator (can’t remember his name) who was very knowledgeable.  My fellow reporters were apparently not as knowledgeable, at least not about art. None of them had penetrating or intriguing questions or comments.  One asked about the Picasso quotes on the wall and another asked about Picasso’s mistresses, but none of them asked anything about art. I made a comment about one of the paintings looking a lot like a Matisse, and the curator responded by talking about the love-hate relationship between Matisse and Picasso,  and he referred back to my comment over and over during the course of the tour.

The show features 150 works of art including approximately 75 paintings and drawings complemented by a large collection of sculptures and a lot of photographs of Picasso — most of which were taken in his studio with the artist hamming it up for the camera (he was a showman, very much aware of his reputation as the greatest artist of the 20th century, and he played it to the hilt). The works in the collection were chosen by Picasso himself before he died in 1973. They constitute his personal favorites, and they span more than half a century, from the so-called rose and blue periods, to analytic and synthetic cubism and beyond. (After cubism, and to a lesser extent even before, there was no linear development to his work. He worked in many styles — lyrically naturalistic, harshly or decoratively abstract, realistic, cubistic, surrealistic — and freely incorporated elements of various periods and styles in all of his work.

There are political statements, mostly anti-war and anti-fascist, some very subtle and some heavy-handed in the style of “Guernica,” which is not included, but including a disturbing take on Goya’s “Third of May.”  (Art historical references and styles lifted from other artists abound. There are works that pay homage to Matisse, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Greek statuary and African masks.) Most prevalent are his paintings and sculptures of his many wives and mistresses. Many of these paintings of women are highly eroticized. In their time, perhaps, that was not so recognizable because of his extreme distortion of the body, but there is a palpable and in many instances uncomfortable emphasis on the sexuality of his female subjects. His early paintings of Olga, his first wife, were particularly sexy. She looks to be nothing but a collection of voluptuous curves. Picasso was quite a chauvinist, and he prided himself on his virility.

Most astounding to me were a group of sculptures of elephantine female figures with massive breasts and hands and huge noses growing out of heavy foreheads. I’ve seen many reproductions of these but never the originals, which are much larger than I thought, and which are beautifully and theatrically displayed in this show in front of paintings of women done in a similar style.

The tour was far too short. We’ll have to go back some day. Outside there was a line of museum members waiting to get in to the members-only preview. As we were leaving one of the first people in line asked how it was and how did we manage to get in before them. Ah, the privilege of the press. It almost makes our low pay worth it.

I was lucky that they allowed me to bring guests. I brought my wife, Gabi, and our son, Noel, who lives and works in Seattle. Afterwards we went with Noel to Athena, a nice Greek restaurant in Queen Anne, two blocks from the Rep, where he works. He then had to go to work. He gave us a key to his nearby condo, and even though the theatre is only two blocks away we dropped him off at the stage door and then drove to his place, where we rested a bit and took our lunch meds. We’re old. We take lots of meds. I recently had eye surgery and have to put a bunch of drops in my eye four times a day. I lean back and open my eyes wide, and Gabi puts the drops in. So, my drops in and her lunch meds and insulin taken, we called Liz and got directions to her new house in West Seattle. What an amazing view they have!

Liz and Marlee showed us a wonderful animated and live action film called "A Jazzman's Jazzman: The Gerry Carruthers Story" by Ben Harris and Paul Maupoux. Here's the description from the back of the box: "He was ...a jazzman.  An innovative and hilarious blend of live action interviews and stop-motion animation, cro-magnon pictures' feature mockumentary follows pianist Gerry Carruthers as he struggles against his own personal demons to achieve fame and recognition at the sacramento jazz club 'The Silver Nugget'." It was hilarious. It should win an Academy Award for best film in the category, but there is no category for fake documentary live action and animation.

Liz also entertained us with bits of her lounge act. She plays piano and sings every Saturday night at That’s Amore, an Italian bistro in Belltown. She is a multi-talented woman.

From Liz’s house we headed back to Queen Anne to meet Noel again for lunch, this time at Rascha on Mercer Street. With a little more time to kill after dinner we browsed a nearby bookstore and then headed back to our car for more eye drops and insulin, and finally to the theater.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been to the Rep, and I’d forgotten just how big it is. Accustomed to the intimate space of community theaters in Tacoma and Olympia, the sheer size of the space was overwhelming — the high ceilings and big auditorium. That took some adjusting in the early parts of the play, because it’s not as easy to see facial expressions and gestures in such a large space, and I did have some problems hearing at first, partly but not wholly due to the raucous laughter from the audience.

“God of Carnage” is a comedy by Yasmina Reza, winner of the 2009 Tony Award from Best Picture and the  Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

What first struck me was the beauty of the set, a modern apartment decorated in all white with a modular glass and metal coffee table, white furnishings, white walls and a high spiral staircase; and suspended on wires, a huge blow-up of a dental x-ray. (Noel’s job, by the way, is swing technician. On this day his duties include flying the big x-ray and turning on and off a hairdryer, which is used extensively throughout the play — sound effect, the actual dryer seen onstage is not plugged into a working outlet.)

In the play two couples meet to discuss their 11-year-old boys who have been involved in a scuffle at school. At first they are carefully polite, but tensions mount and they turn on one another viciously, not just one couple against the other as the situation might call for but also husbands teaming up against the wives. And then wives against wives and husbands against husbands.  What starts as a sophisticated modern comedy becomes a hilarious farce.

 It is directed by Wilson Milam and stars Hans Altwies as Michael, Amy Thone as Veronica, Denis Amdt as Alan and Bhama Roget as Annette, the latter of whom projectile vomits in a fountain worthy of the best efforts of “Saturday Night Live” or Monty Python.  You have to see it. Ooops! Was that a spoiler?

After the play we talked to the stagehands about how they rigged up the spewing vomit (a mixture made of split pea soup and other stuff) and watched and listened in as they fixed a problem with a telephone that failed to ring at one point. They not only fixed it, but they created a backup just in case.

One of the stagehands pointed out something that should have been obvious to me but hadn’t been, that there was no evidence in the set that kids lived in the apartment.  And that got me to thinking about something else: Veronica collects coffee table art books, there were a lot of them in the living room; yet there were no paintings on the walls. Seems contradictory, but I understand. The blank white walls work better visually than walls with pictures would have. Aesthetically the set was outstanding, but logically there should have been some pictures on the walls and something belonging to the kids — although Michael and Veronica are such and uptight, appearance-conscious couple that maybe they wouldn’t allow their kids or their kids’ things in their pristine living room.

Overall it was a wonderfully entertaining show. The whole day was great, and there was the added bonus of free entry to the shows  plus I get paid for the article —almost enough to cover the cost of two meals and gas to take us from Olympia to Seattle and back.

Friday, October 1, 2010

'The Belle of Amherst': Dickinson’s multifaceted life at Knutzen Family Theatre

Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 1, 22010
Pictured: Maria Glanz, in background: Brad Hawkins. Photo courtesy Centerstage.

When Maria Glanz’s Emily Dickinson welcomes the Centerstage audience into her Amherst, Mass., home, there is a deep feeling of welcome in this most intimate of plays, “The Belle of Amherst,” co-produced by Centerstage and Seattle’s Sound Theatre Co.

“The Belle of Amherst” is a one-woman play with only one person other than Glanz on the stage: cellist Brad Hawkins performing the music he wrote for this production.

Dressed all in white, as she always was, Dickinson steps into her living room (a stunning set by Craig Wollam, co-founder of Seattle Scenic Studios) and offers her guests (the audience) a taste of her black cake. She proudly shares the recipe – which, with 8 pounds of raisins and currents, sounds like it could make enough to feed an army. Then she begins to act out the stories of her life.

Fifty years old and not yet recognized as a great poet, she lives an almost reclusive life. At this point, she has published only a handful of poems, and those anonymously; she finds it difficult to connect with other people. For example, she befriends an editor of the Atlantic Monthly via mail, sends him her poems, and carries on an eight-year correspondence – only to have him brutally reject her writing and her, when they finally meet.

Her life is filled with disappointment and unrequited love, and yet she remains almost always upbeat, hopeful and witty. Seamlessly gliding between Dickinson as narrator and acting out scenes from the poet’s life, Glanz conveys all of this with such skill and so naturally that you feel she is, indeed, Emily Dickinson and you are a much-loved guest in her home.

Hawkins’ cello complements the story in all its parts, setting the mood and in places sounding like another actor conversing with Glanz. Only in brief moments did the cello overpower the actor’s voice.

Glanz has won international acclaim as a solo performer, including such awards as “Best of Fest” in Edmonton and Winnipeg Fringe festivals and “Artistic Pick” in the 1999 and 2001 Seattle Fringe Festivals. Her performance in this play shows why she has won such awards.

The play written by William Luce provides entertaining insights into Dickinson’s life and makes extensive use of her poetry. Not only does she read many of her poems during the course of the play, but she drops lines from them into her conversation in a very natural manner.

This play is dramatic, romantic and sad; but most of all witty.

Wollam’s set is as warm and welcoming as the character in the play. Doors, windows, a short staircase and furniture stand on a midnight blue floor and hang in front of a midnight blue backdrop, creating the feeling that they are floating in air. It is not only beautiful, it is simultaneously otherworldly and homey. ‘The Belle of Amherst’

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 10, plus one Saturday matinee on Oct. 9
Where: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
Tickets: $10 to $25 depending on age, group discounts available
More information: 253-661-1444, www.