Friday, November 26, 2010

This won't be a comic book ‘Annie'

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 26, 2010

Kennedy Miller stars as Annie and Chris Gilbert plays Daddy Warbucks in Tacoma Little Theatre’s “Annie.”

I sat in the audience at the first tech rehearsal of “Annie” at Tacoma Little Theatre and enjoyed every minute of it, even the inevitable mishaps that surely will vanish as if they never happened before tonight’s opening.

Before the complete run-through began, they worked on a couple of dance numbers, and I was lucky to get to see them practice my favorite musical number in the show, “Easy Street,” two or three times. It is a saucy, upbeat number with growling horns and comical expressions from Miss Hannigan (Roxanne DeVito), Rooster (Chris Serface) and Rooster’s girlfriend, Lily (Jenifer Rifenbery).

Sitting nearby in the audience was a dapper Oliver Warbucks (Chris Gilbert) in a gray suit and hat. He had wavy brown hair and beard. I had to ask the director, Michael O’Hare, if Gilbert was going to shave his head before opening night. After all, Daddy Warbucks is traditionally bald. He said he had decided not to base the play on the comic strip, which gives them the leeway not to have a bald Warbucks. Instead, he said, Gilbert would cut his hair short and trim his beard – a good decision considering Warbucks is one of the few characters in the play that is not an outsized comic character but a dignified business tycoon with a big heart, accustomed to getting his own way but not lording it over everyone else.

Annie (Kennedy Miller) also wasn’t wearing the traditional curly wig at the rehearsal. I don’t know if she’ll don one tonight, but with or without the wig, she looks the part. She’s small and redheaded, and has a precious smile. Her demeanor is very mature, and she has a full voice that projects well while still having a child-like quality.

There is a five-piece orchestra, heavy on the brass, that offers an enjoyable, tinny, speakeasy sound typical of the Great Depression era.

Brett Carr’s set, while not quite complete for the rehearsal, is elaborate yet functional, using a revolve to facilitate the many set changes. I particularly like the sky-blue painting and arch windows on the Warbucks home setting.

There were some problems with lighting, but I could tell it will be unobtrusive and effective by tonight. I thought the back-lighting on Miss Hannigan’s first entrance was especially effective.

DeVito plays Hannigan as brassy and loud. She’s very expressive and has a powerful voice.

Serface provides most of the comic highlights. He’s a veteran of many musicals at Tacoma Musical Playhouse and Capital Playhouse specializing in comical villains and funny voices. He’s terrific as Rooster. This probably is his best performance since “Beauty and the Beast” at TMP.

Rifenbery is delightfully animated and sexy as Rooster’s dumb-blonde girlfriend, Lily. Her dance moves are smooth and catlike, and both she and Serface nail the accents.

Gilbert, who has a buttery baritone voice, plays Warbucks as likeable and empathetic, accentuating the character’s kindness. I don’t know how much of the credit for choosing to play Warbucks in this manner goes to the director and how much to the actor, but it was a good decision.

The ensemble is universally good. Most notably Ernest Heller as President Franklin Roosevelt, Jon Huntsman in various roles including Burt Healy, and Carol Richmond and Lanita Hudson in many different roles. And of course the little girls are charming.

It’s a fairly long play at about two and a half hours plus intermission, but it goes quickly. I like that at this time of year when we’re inundated with Christmas plays, this one, while set at Christmastime, hardly mentions the season. The holiday is secondary to a bigger and very touching story.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 24
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
Tickets: $17-$26; pay what you can Dec. 2; actor benefit Dec. 18
Information: 253-272-2281, www. tacomalittletheatre. com.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Creative hat-trick at Mavi

Three artists and three styles at Mavi Contemporary Art gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, November 24, 2010

Pictured, top, "Pursue the Shadow of the Salmon," photo by Henry Haneda; middle, painting by William Quinn; bottom, painting by William Turner

The latest show at Mavi Contemporary - the new gallery next door to The Grand Cinema - features two painters, one photographer and one craftsman. The painters are William Turner and William Quinn, the photographer is Henry Haneda. The craftsman is also Haneda. He makes exquisite handmade objects, including fly rods and pocket knives. The fly rods are as beautiful as any I've ever seen. I held one and tested its flexibility, and it felt like air in my hands. Imagine landing a trout with one of those lovelies.

Haneda's photographs are mostly landscapes with brilliant colors and extra-sharp focus.  The one exception, which looks nothing like the others, is a close-up of ice on a road that is a nicely designed abstract in super-sharp focus. Only the sharp focus puts it in the same camp with the others. Most of his pictures look like calendar art. They're impressive but not as impressive as his craft items.

Both of the painters are showing abstract works based primarily on landscapes. Quinn, whose opening show at Mavi I reviewed just a couple of months ago, paints large abstractions with compositions reminiscent of Matisse, and in some instances of Rauschenberg, and in one powerful Northwest scene called "Object of Sound," of Marsden Hartley. There is an amazing variety of style in his work. Perhaps a bit too much. The works in his earlier show were more stylistically consistent, and I thought it was a better show.

The Northwest scene I mention above has huge boulders fronting a body of water with harsh contrasts and layered colors that are quite intriguing. My favorite painting in this show is another Northwest scene called "Henderson Bay" (acrylic on paper), with nice washes and delicate line work and beautiful toned-down colors. A newcomer to the area - he spent most of his working life in Europe - Quinn has captured the essence of Northwest light and scenery in this little painting.

Turner is featuring a suite of new paintings in "the vault." (I didn't know it, but the building must have been a bank at one time because there are two walk-in vaults that I never before knew were there. I guess the vault doors were never opened when Two Vaults Gallery was in that space, but in retrospect the name should have been a give-away.)

But I digress. Back to the Turners in Mavi's vault. There are 15 small Turner landscapes in this room. They are expressive and colorful. Although he lives in Tacoma and not San Francisco, Turner's paintings put him squarely in the school of art known as the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Earlier Turner paintings I'm familiar with show a strong Diebenkorn and Thiebaud influence, especially in the way he tilts perspective upward to flatten space.

The paintings in this show are not so carefully constructed. They look to be more slap-dash, finish-in-one-sitting paintings. That is somewhat deceptive, however. A few of these paintings were dashed out quickly, but most were more purposefully composed than they appear. They draw you in with their bright colors and expressive brushstrokes, but keep you engaged with their solid composition. There are a couple that don't hold together as well as they should, but most are excellent.

This show won't be up much longer, so see it while you can.
William Turner, William Quinn and Henry Haneda

Through Nov. 28 2-7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Mavi Contemporary Art, 502 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

So many performances, so little time!

There are a host of performances in the South Sound region that I wish I could review, but there's only one of me.

Tonight - One night only: Saul Tannenbaum presents The Champagne Sisters in "Horn of Plenty"

Here's the announcement on Facebook:

Join your friend Saul Tannenbaum this holiday season as he brings you some of his favorite friends, the internationally-renowned Champagne Sisters! This terrific trio has brought joy to audiences all over the world and now, favors owing, Saul Tannenbaum has managed to lure them to Olympia where they’ll sing some of your favorite songs new and old!

The Champagne Sisters are a sensational singing set who have performed for audie...nces young and old, near and far. Their special brand of gorgeous harmonies are guaranteed to have you clapping your hands, tapping your toes, and snapping along to some of the greatest numbers the world’s songbook has to offer. Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to welcome these lovely ladies to the Olympia stage!

Saturday, November 20 8 p.m.
Olympia Eagles Hall, Olympia
Tickets $10, available on, from your favorite Eagle, or at the door!

Members and guests only, 21+

**a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Thurston County Food Bank!**

And coming soon to Olympia Litte Theatre
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula

Here's the press release:

Tired of the usual Christmas Carol? Take a journey through the classic tale from a slightly... different perspective.  We all know Scrooge learned all his stingy, bullying habits from his older partner, Jacob Marley. We're also told Marley died on Christmas Eve seven years before Dickens's classic tale begins.   But did you every wonder just what happened to the miserly Mr. Marley? Move over Scrooge; it's time for Jacob Marley to tell his side of the story.

Under threat of imminent damnation Marley can only save himself, by helping save Ebenezer Scrooge's soul before it's too late.  Watch as he teams up with a devilish sprite named Bogle (a side-kick with his own agenda) and join him on a  roller coaster ride from the jaws of death to the mouth of Hell... all in a very good cause.

The show runs December 2 through December 19 Thursday through Saturday evenings & Sundays matinees.  Tickets are $10-12 and available though Yenney Music or on-line through
Specific performances dates & times: 7:55pm: Dec 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18
1:55pm: Dec 5, 12, 19

And finally:

Theater Artists Olympia present
Sharon Pollock’s “Blood Relations”

This psychological murder mystery is based on historical fact and speculation surrounding the life of Lizzie Borden and the murders of her father and stepmother. The murders took place on August 4, 1892 in the city of Fall Rivers, Massachusetts. Although acquitted of the crimes in 1893, many believe to this day (118 years later) that Lizzie got away with murder.

This play within a play takes place ten years after the murders. The show starts with Lizzie conversing with her “actress” friend who is trying to portray Lizzie in a play. Instead of directly answering the actresses questions on what happened, Lizzie creates a game where the actress experiences Lizzie’s past memories, imagination or self-justification. Which is it?

Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she found what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. Did she? Did she do it?

The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia Street, Olympia
WHEN:8:00 p.m.Dec. 2,3,4,9,10,11,12,16,17,18 and 2:00 p.m.    December 12,19. December 9: Pay-what-you-can
TICKETS:    $12.00 at the door or at
Theater Artists Olympia (TAO)

Friday, November 19, 2010

‘Oleanna' confronts sexism

John Pratt plays a professor and Sara Henry is his student in “Oleanna” at The Evergreen Playhouse in Centralia.

Published in The News Tribune / The Olympian, Nov. 19, 2010

I’ve seen a lot of hard-hitting, edgy, contemporary dramas lately, and I just saw another one. I drove to Centralia to see the first full dress rehearsal of David Mamet’s “Oleanna” at The Evergreen Playhouse.

This performance of Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story was well worth the drive. I have never seen a more polished first run-through of any play.

It helps that the director, Gary Morean, and the two-person cast – Sara Henry as Carol and John Pratt as her college professor – recently did this show at The Driftwood Theatre in Aberdeen.

First, a word about The Evergreen Playhouse. This is not your typical small-town amateur theater. It is a beautiful space with a large thrust stage and comfortable stadium-style seating.

It draws experienced actors and directors from throughout the region, including some of the best from Tacoma and Olympia. The director and the actors in this show have performed in many venues throughout the South Sound.

“Oleanna” is tough. It is a no-holds-barred look at sexism and political correctness.

It generally is considered to have been written as a response to sexual harassment charges brought against now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas by Anita Hill. The story played out on television shortly before Mamet wrote the play, which debuted in 1992.

This show is so intense and the subject matter so volatile that when it opened off-Broadway, fierce arguments broke out in the lobby at intermission and after the performance. The director of this performance related a similar experience when he first saw it at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “The passionate debate was immediate and intense ... we barely got out the door of the theatre when it began,” Morean recalls.

Carol, a student, fearfully and hesitantly confronts her professor with complaints about a paper she submitted and about his teaching methods and philosophy.

The professor is arrogant, didactic and defensive. He also is under tremendous pressure – constantly being interrupted by phone calls having to do with an offer on a house that might or might not go through – and worried because he is under review by his college for tenure. He is rather sure at first that he’ll get both the house and the tenure, but his confidence quickly erodes.

In each act of the three-act play, the confrontation between Carol and the professor intensifies, culminating with her getting him fired and charging him with sexual harassment and attempted rape.

Mamet builds in a lot of ambiguity, leaving it up to the audience to decide whether the professor is guilty of any of the things she charges him with or whether she is guilty of twisting his words and actions out of revenge or political correctness gone to the extreme.

The set for this production is as sparse as can be, with nothing but a desk and two chairs in front of a black curtain. The sparse set puts the attention squarely on the two actors, which is where it rightfully should be in this two-person battle.

Henry and Pratt are excellent. They create realistic characters through body language and tone of voice and allow us to see these characters change through subtle details of demeanor, hair, clothing and posture.

In the first act, the professor is dapper in a coat and tie, and sure of himself. He lounges in his swivel chair, paces the floor and sits on the edge of his desk – an academic in full control of his world. Meanwhile, the student hugs her notebook to herself and repeatedly glances at her notes while her hair keeps falling in her face. She is fearful but determined.

In the second act, her hair and clothes are neater and she sits more erect, more in control, while the professor has removed his jacket and has become more fidgety.

As the play continues, she becomes stronger and more defiant, and he becomes more frail. She seems to grow while he shrinks.

The language is typical of what has been called “Mamet speak.” Characters talk over and interrupt each other and sentences trail off and are left unfinished, which is the way a great many people in real life normally speak. On the phone, the professor says, “Call me back in ... yeah (pause) thank you.”

Mamet also is famous for liberal use of curse words that are not allowed in family entertainment. Although there is some of that in this show – the show announcement carries a warning “adult language, not suitable for children” – the cursing is sparse and very appropriate.

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Evergreen Playhouse, 226 West Center St., Centralia
Tickets: $15 evening, $10 matinee
Information: 360-736-8628

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Glimmering Gone

A winter wonderland in glass
Published in the Weekly Volcano, November 17, 2010

"Landscape" is a 12-foot-high by 25-foot-long by 18-foot-deep installation of sculpted, slumped and fused plate glass. Photo courtesy Russell Johnson and Jeff Curtis

The perfect show for winter, Glimmering Gone is the new three-part exhibition by Ingalena Klenell and Beth Lipman at the Museum of Glass. The three parts are Landscape, Mementos and Artifacts.

Upon entering the gallery viewers browse, as if window-shopping at exclusive gift shops or jewelry stores, a series of clear glass objects in square recesses. They are parts of cups and bowls and other domestic items that have been broken apart and reassembled to create glimmering abstract forms (more accurately, formed to look that way). Only upon close inspection do the objects become recognizable. Intentionally or coincidentally there are a lot of phallic objects that jut out at odd angles.

This leads into the gallery where the "Landscape" part of the installation can be seen. Inspired in part by the landscape paintings of former Tacoman Abby Williams Hill (1861-1943), "Landscape" is a 12-foot-high by 25-foot-long by 18-foot-deep installation of sculpted, slumped and fused plate glass. It looks like a winter wonderland of shimmering ice. There is a forest of dense trees, a mountain range, a shimmering brook and waterfall and a large evergreen tree, all made of clear glass. It can be viewed from three sides. From the most extreme side angles the forms appear to be giant snowflakes hanging from the ceiling and big sprays of glass sprouting like stalactites and stalagmites from the ceiling and floor. It is a magically beautiful installation. Slight differences in transparency and surface textures loom large in this installation. I especially like the look of shimmering mirror fragments that form the mountain stream.

The final part, "Artifact," comprises 100 everyday objects from contemporary life - a spool of thread, a change purse, a paper coffee cup, a teddy bear and a lot of hats - all cast in opaque and dull white glass, fractured and slammed into the white wall. Imagine, if you will, glass objects thrown against and partially embedded into a Styrofoam wall, or ghostly white hats and cups and other items poking through a white wall. There is an eerie quality to this wall. It's like a butterfly collection left out in the snow.

"Moving through these installations is like a walking meditation," says  Museum of Glass curator Melissa G. Post. "It heightens our awareness, urging us to look inward and approach life more thoughtfully."
Glimmering Gone

Through Sept. 6, 2011, Wednesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Third Thursdays 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Sunday noon–5 p.m., $5–$12
Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma

Monday, November 15, 2010

'Drive': Difficult to watch, tough to ignore

Published in The News Tribune / The Olympian, Nov. 12, 2010
Pictured: Tim Hoban and Heather Christopher. Photo by Elizabeth Lord.

It's hard to imagine a more difficult challenge for an actor than to play a perverted, evil or disgusting person sympathetically. Tim Hoban does just that with skill and conviction in Prodigal Sun's production of Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "How I Learned to Drive" at The Midnight Sun Performance Space in Olympia.

What might be almost as difficult is for a woman to play a teenage girl and, furthermore, to play that same girl from age 11 to 35. That’s what Heather Christopher does in this play, and it is the best performance I’ve seen from this veteran actor.

Inspired by “Lolita,” which Vogel said she has read many times, “How I Learned to Drive” is difficult for both cast and audience for a number of reasons. First and most obviously, it is difficult because of the subject matter: incest and pedophilia. Second, it is difficult because the play is staged in an innovative manner with the use of a Greek chorus that presents humorous lessons in driving, with random jumps in time, and with actors stepping in and out of character to speak to the audience.

The writing is smart and poetic, especially in its extended use of driving as a metaphor for life and love, and in the light it shines on these complicated characters.

Christopher’s character, Li’l Bit, has been shaped by her family’s crude obsession with sex. (They all have nicknames based on their genitalia.) Everyone, from her grandfather to her school chums, relentlessly tease her about her big breasts. She is uncomfortable with her body, and she is simultaneously attracted to and repelled by sex. She is romantic, rebellious and highly intelligent. Christopher poses provocatively, bats her big eyes, pouts, and goes instantly from flirtatious to angry to wounded. She is absolutely believable as a pre-teen and as a grown woman, as a dreamer and as a frightened child.

Hoban plays Uncle Peck as a smooth operator and a sleazy manipulator who nevertheless loves his niece and is perhaps somewhat ashamed of his pedophilia. He speaks with a slimy Southern accent and never looks anyone in the eye. Uncle Peck is the only person in Li’l Bit’s life who treats her with respect and tenderness, which, of course, makes her susceptible to his advances. But his gentleness seems sincere, not just a way of manipulating her.

His molestation of Li’l Bit is handled in an ambiguous manner as he says he will never do anything sexual without her consent and not until she is of legal age; yet it is obvious he already has been sexual and continues to be. The only ambiguity is in how far they take it, which is left to our imagination.

The Greek chorus of Thomas Neely, Pamela Arndt and Brittni Reinertsen bring in the comic relief and provide for smooth transitions between scenes. As with Christopher, these ensemble actors have the challenge of playing many different ages as they double as Li’l Bit’s mother, aunt and grandfather, and as teenage school mates.

Neely was great as a teenage boy making clumsy sexual advances, but he seemed strained and artificial as the obnoxious grandfather. Arndt and Reinertsen are outstanding as the older women.

The molestation scenes are acted out fully clothed and are in no way salacious, but they are very difficult to watch because Christopher and Hoban are so fully in the skin of these characters. When they kiss, it is not two mature actors kissing, it is an older man and an innocent young girl, and it sets your teeth on edge.

“How I Learned to Drive” is a short play running only about an hour and a half with no intermission.

How I Learned to Drive

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through Nov. 20; special performance at 8 p.m. this Sunday

Where: The Midnight Sun, 113 Columbia St. N.W., Olympia

Tickets: $12, available at and at the door


Friday, November 12, 2010

Sweet and morbid

Justin Hillgrove at Mineral

Published in the Weekly Volcano, November 10, 2010

"THE RAVEN": Acrylic on canvas by Justin Hillgrove

In last week‘s column I made a distinction between fine art and illustration. That distinction applies to Justin Hillgrove's paintings at Mineral featured in a show with a title both clich├ęd and appropriate: Black, White and Read All Over.

As illustrations for books and movies, or homages to the same, the paintings in this show are entertaining and well executed; but as fine art - not so much. The defining differences in this case are the overall composition and the relationships between figure and background. In a narrative sense the figures and backgrounds relate, but visually they seldom do. The figures are inventive and delightful, but the backgrounds are ... well, just backgrounds.

Hillgrove is showing a group of small acrylic-on-canvas paintings illustrating some of his favorite books and movies, and all done in a style associated with Hello Kitty and Japanese anime married to macabre sci-fi. They're very cute in the way Tim Burton movies are cute. The drawing is precise, the paint application is smooth and almost flawless, and his color choices and subtle modulations are beautiful. The paintings are all in tones of black, white and gray with touches of red (or, in some cases, all in red with touches of gray). These colors lend a softly menacing quality to the pictures.

Among my favorites are two based on the Harry Potter books titled "Expecto Patronum" and "Priori Incantatem." Harry is a round-faced cartoon, but he's still recognizable as Harry. Same goes for "Boo's Escort," a homage to Harper Lee illustrating the scene in "To Kill A Mockingbird" when Scout escorts Boo Radley home.

The most fully composed in the sense of integrating figure and background is "Lullaby," an illustration of a kid (he looks like a character in "The Simpsons") having a horrendous nightmare. My favorite literary homage is the painting of Edgar Allen Poe riding a raven as if it were a horse. Notice especially how subtle the red on the raven's beak is.

Through Dec. 2, noon to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Mineral, 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Just the perfect book

From Lambda Literary: "Amos Lassen doesn’t think of himself this way, but he is one of the most influential Amazon reviewers in the nation."

He's also listed as one of the top 100 book reviewers on

And he just posted an amazing five-star review of my new novel, Reunion at the Wetside.

I love it, I love it, I love it.

Here's what he had to say:

Alec Clayton who wrote the very funny "The Backside of Nowhere" is back with a new book, "Reunion at the Westside", a murder mystery and a love story. It all begins at Barney's Pub in Washington State when Alex Martin reunites with Jim Bright. Jim is a right-wing Republican while Alex is a left wing Democrat and they had been friends some fifty years earlier. One would think that the two would have no future together but despite their political affiliations, they fall in love. Just about the same time a string of murders began and former performers at Barney's (drag queens) were being picked off.

Clayton draws us into the book immediately with a mooning in a courtroom and it gets wilder as the story continues. With an epic cast of characters who come and go, this tale of romance between two elderly lovers is one of the most fun reads I have had in a long time. I laughed through "Backside" and was not expecting to have a repeat occasion to do so but I was wrong. Clayton uses his wit to give us, of all things, a murder mystery and it is replete with twists and turns as well as romantic interludes. There are subplots and more subplots in this amazing novel.

Jim thinks he knows who is responsible for the killings and the only thing that might hamper him in catching him is that he might be killed first. We see that the past is not easily forgotten in this novel because it rears itself again. In such a preposterous set-up, one would think that this novel is a bit "far-out" but the opposite is true. Clayton gives us characters that he has drawn with skill and I found myself rooting for our heroes while trying to figure out how to figure out who committed the murders. This is a fun read that is skillfully written and wonderfully related and just the perfect book for one of these cool autumn nights.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Olympia Little Olympia Little Theatre's ‘Harvey' hits, misses

Published in The News Tribune / The Olympian, Nov. 5, 2010
Pictured from left: Terence Artz as Dr. Sanderson, Hannah Andrews as Nurse Kelly, Ryan Holmberg as Wilson, Tom Sanders ad Elwood P. Dowd and John Jackowich as E.J. Lofgren in "Harvey" at Olympia Little Theatre

Photo by Toni Holm

Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Harvey” has been entertaining audiences since 1941, and the movie starring Jimmy Stewart since 1950.

Understandably, it comes across as somewhat lightweight and dated in 2010. It is still joyful – guaranteed to raise some chuckles and maybe even two or three outright guffaws, although the crowd was strangely reserved on the night I saw it, which probably made it hard for the actors to give it their all.

I suspect Dave Marsh’s performance as Dr. Chumley was somewhat flat because of a less-than-responsive audience, and Ryan Holmberg as his orderly, Duane Wilson, seemed to be trying too hard, probably for the same reason.

They’ve both proven in other shows to be excellent performers. I remember Marsh was fabulous a few years back as the crazy brother who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Holmberg, a relative newcomer to the stage, was amazing in multiple roles in the recent production of “The Laramie Project Ten Years Later” at South Puget Sound Community College.

In “Harvey,” Holmberg started out wonderfully as a braggart with a kind of a stereotypical Bronx tough-guy accent and streetwise swagger. He nailed a comical take on a type of character it is fun to hate.

But in later scenes, when he expressed anger, he was over the top. Rather than eliciting laughter, his anger made me cringe. And Marsh simply did not bring anything personal to his performance. He brought none of the little things that define character – a shrug, a wink, a twitch, an unusual walk or posture.

I have no such complaints about the other principle characters. Silva Goetz is believable and enjoyable as Myrtle, the niece who is painfully embarrassed by her crazy uncle Elwood (Tom Sanders), and Martha Guilfoyle is wonderfully complex and delightful as Elwood’s sister Veta.

Elwood is a classically eccentric character. He’s a moderately well-off drunk who never gets too drunk and a lovable man who loves everyone and is never perturbed by anything, living by a simplistic philosophy of life that serves him well and seems to uplift everyone around him.

Sanders inhabits the role of Elwood so thoroughly and naturally that he lights up the audience every time he appears on stage. He has such a warm and welcoming smile that you can’t help but feel he’s not acting but simply being himself.

You go away feeling like the actor must be, in real life, just like the character he is playing. Plus, his natty clothes and jaunty hat (costumes by Allison Gerst) are as comforting as Elwood himself.

Veta is the most complex character of all. She’s haughty, stuck up, an unlikable social climber whom you nevertheless like, and despite her frustration and embarrassment over her brother’s mental condition (seeing and believing in a giant rabbit who talks only to him), Guilfoyle makes it abundantly clear that she truly loves her crazy brother.

Also very entertaining is Hannah Andrews as Nurse Kelly. She doesn’t have a lot to say other than in one scene in which she is interviewing Elwood, but whenever she is on stage (usually in the background), her facial expressions convey her emotions – especially when she knows her professional superiors are dead wrong, but being a lowly nurse, she can’t express it.

The choice by director Toni Murray and the set designers (Gerst, John Abbott, Jeff Plett, and Kathy Gilliam) to have two sets visible at all times works well with OLT’s thrust stage. I especially liked the citrus green walls.

“Harvey” is fun family entertainment suitable for all ages.

When: 7:55 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 1:55 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 14
Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., Olympia
Tickets: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Co. on Harrison Avenue, 360-943-7500 or www.
Information: 360-786-9484, http://

Announcing Ricker Winsor's Pakuwon City

We just helped my old friend Ricker Winsor publish his first book. Here's the letter he sent out to all of his friends:

Dear Friends,
After many years of writing my first book has been published and is available on Amazon. The link is given below. You can see the front and back covers in the attached photos or by clicking on the link to my website below. I will be doing book signings and readings here in my home territory over the next few months but I hope you will buy the book on Amazon and review it there too. Two of my stories were published recently in France and I include the links to see them. I was very gratified by the response they got there and surprised too I guess. Thank you for your support. Many of you have seen my writing over the past ten years. Ricker
Link to front and back covers of Pakuwon City on my website:

Amazon link:

Two stories published in France in "Reflets du Temps"

Story “Catskill Bill” published in Reflets du Temps in France
Story “Ma’s Face” published in Reflets du Temps in France

Ricker Winsor

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Street Botany

MARIA JOST: Tellima Flora (sort of)

Maria Jost and Bobby Smith plant an awesome show at Fulcrum Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, November 3, 2010

In "Street Botany," the latest show at Fulcrum Gallery, science meets art with a little humor thrown in. It features drawings and posters by Maria Jost and an intriguing installation by Jost and Bobby Smith.

In wall statements Jost explains that she approaches art from the viewpoint and experience of a scientist: "Don't worry I'm a scientist. I am a product of scientific training, I make the measurements, crunch the numbers and compile the data."

But she's also an artist - an illustrator to be more precise. Though I grant the distinction is growing ever slimmer, some, like myself, still make a distinction between fine art and illustration.

Jost's drawings in India ink and collage are highly decorative and amazingly precise. I like the strong black and white contrast, the lyrical movement, the fact that you almost have to study them with a magnifying glass to see which elements are collaged on and, most of all, the educational value (applied with dry wit) in her titles and the written elements within the drawings.

Most of the drawings are of plants and the titles appear to be their Latin names. I say "appear" because I don't know enough Latin to be sure, and variations of the titles are often repeated in printed words within the images in English, or a combination of English and Latin, and typically with a humorous twist. I suspect some deviously witty twists in meaning that only people who know Latin will get.

"Figure 8: Taraxicum officinale" has the printed statement, "What is this Taraxicum officinale poster about?" followed by a series of multiple choice answers, all but one of which have to do with botany and one of which is the challenge of working with a light image on a dark background. I suspect the correct answer is all of the above.

One of the more intriguing images is "Figure 9: Pisium sativum and Homo sapiens," which features the visual trickery of bean pods that are actually naked women and the clever statement "You are what you eat. All living organisms are made of the same stuff. ..."

There is also a series of postcard-sized drawings of clouds.  These are weak in comparison with the botanical drawings, and I wish they had been left out to allow room for more of the larger drawings and posters.

In the back room is a dome built by Jost and Smith with actual plants and written information about botany stuck to the interior walls with a shiny gel or varnish; there are also images projected onto the walls. Viewers can walk into the dome, sit on a padded bench and study the walls. Spending time inside is both restful (meditative) and informative. Too bad one of the projectors was not working when I was there.

Through Nov. 13, noon–6 p.m. Thursday–Saturday and by appointment
artists’ talk Nov. 11, 6 p.m.
Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tacoma Little Theatre's 'Eleemosynary' an astonishing story

Published in The News Tribune, Oct. 29, 2010
Pictured: Samantha Camp and Jody McCoy. Photo by Dean Lapin

“Eleemosynary” at Tacoma Little Theatre is astonishing in many ways – from the hauntingly poetic title to Lee Blessing’s intelligent script; from the strangely sparse set and direction by Elliot Weiner to the trio of actors who breathe life into the story: Danielle Powell, Jody McCoy and Samantha Camp.

Like a memorable poem or a great painting, there are layers of complexity within a disarmingly simple story. Artie (Camp) – a brilliant but confused, sad and ferociously independent woman – ran away from her domineering mother then later abandoned the care of her child, Echo (Powell), to this same aloof and eccentric mother, Dorothea (McCoy), who accepts the responsibility while living blissfully in a la-la land within her own mind. Artie wants connection with Echo and keeps reaching out to her and drawing back at the same time, unable to love her as her own. Echo’s response is understandably ambivalent. She is in turn petulant, angry and aloof. When in desperation she asked her mother if she ever loved her, Artie’s answer is yes and no. “It’s always yes and no.”

The actors tell the story directly to the audience, smoothly alternating from narrators telling a story to characters acting it out. The story begins with grandma Dorothea in bed after a stroke has left her immobile and speechless, and it goes back and forth in time from Artie’s childhood to teenage Echo’s triumph in the National Spelling Bee and beyond.

In playing Artie, Camp displays an amazing range of emotion through subtle body language and facial expressions. She manages to make the audience root for her despite her seemingly callous abandonment of her child.

Powell is the same age as the adolescent character she plays. I mention her age because it is difficult for an actor of any age – even a 16-year-old – to convincingly portray the expressions and mannerisms of a proud and sullen teenager, especially one as complex as Echo. Powell does it beautifully, displaying acting skills one would hope for in a much more mature actor.

McCoy plays the grandmother with grace and wit. Her character is not as emotionally complex as the others. She subsumes all emotion into a fantasy-based attitude of hope expressed in her stated belief that man (or woman) can fly.

Playwright Blessing was a poet before he turned to writing for the stage and it shows in great lines like “I spent my spare time being thrilled not to be around my mother” and “Life is a long apology” (Artie) and “Grandmother never throws anything away ... even the things she was sorry for” (Echo).

Blessing stipulated sparse sets with few props so there would be little to distract from the words and the emotions. He also allowed for great latitude in interpreting the actions and emotions suggested by the dialogue. After having seen how director Weiner and his cast chose to stage this play, I can’t imagine it being done any other way. I applaud Weiner’s choice to build the few set pieces out of pipe, and I loved the wings with which Artie tries to fly.

“Eleemosynary” is a powerfully emotional play filled with great one-liners and intelligent humor expressed by complex and eccentric characters – and yet it is simple and fast-moving, with no intermission, running a quick hour and 20 minutes. I heartily recommend this play and congratulate the cast and crew on a job well done.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 14
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
Tickets: $15-$24
Information: 253-272-2281,