Friday, December 31, 2010

Year end and Sea Marks

I'm taking a break from my community theater column this week. Next up will be a typical year-end column, my "Best theater moments of 2010" to be published Jan. 7 and next after that will be a preview of "Sea Marks" by Gardener McKay at Olympia Little Theatre.

From their website:

(Romantic Drama) All ages
January 13 - 30, 2011: The humorous, poignant and romantic story of Colin Primrose, a lonely fisherman from the sea bound island of Cliffhorn Heads, Ireland and Timothea, a lovely young woman from Liverpool, who meets him on a rare visit to the remote island for a relative's wedding. Although they've met only once, he is taken with her and writes her a letter beginning a correspondence that change both their lives. Can this man,  who has known only the sea and a woman very much of the city make a home and a life together?  Director - Terence Artz.

Also watch for my Top five (or maybe six) South Sound art exhibits in next week's Volcano.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Big brag

I love, love, love was Jim Patrick posted on my Facebook invitation paqe:

"Give yourself a treat and read Alec's new novel. Don't let the long (and I mean long) list of characters at the beginning of this fun, intriguing and surprising tale of a small town scare you off. It is one of the best reads I have enjoyed this year. And see some of these characters come to life on January 13th. Guaranteed fun!"
Full disclosure: Jim is one of the four actors who will be reading from Reunion at the Wetside that night. (It's a 6 p.m. at Orca Books in Olympia.) Jim also posted a nice review on amazon.

And speaking of amazon, I also love, love, love what Jack Butler wrote in his review:

"The Wetside" is what Washington-states call the part of the state west of the Cascades. It's also the name of a fictional town and the iconic bar of that town in Alec Clayton's new mystery novel, "Reunion at the Wetside." There's a series of killings which the two main protagonists gradually realize are the work of a serial murderer. Sixtyish Alex Martin meets again and falls in love with her sixtyish long-lost school chum (and sometimes antagonist) Jim Bright, the former holder of the state record for the mile. She would be considered left of center, and he's a (libertarian) Republican.

But before you start making assumptions, you should know that there has been a regular drag queen show at The Wetside bar ever since the sixties, one of the bar's most popular features, and that the serial killing victims have all been female impersonators who have appeared in the show, and that Republican Jim Bright was one of the stars of that show when he was young, still legendary after all these years.

And that he may be the intended next victim.

This is a more complex and more satisfying account of humans involved in a murder mystery than you may be accustomed to. The story turns out to be a history of the town. The neighbors, the kids that Alex and Jim played among, the crazy affairs, the man with two wives, the cops--it all percolates and simmers. There are reveals you never see coming, but it's fair to say you will applaud the unveiling of the culprit, and you will not be surprised but the ending won't be anti-climactic.

That's because this is a mystery with a difference. These are real people with real lives, not the cardboard cliches of most mystery fiction. No stereotypes allowed. Jim may have been a highly successful drag queen, but he's all male. And so it goes.

In retrospect, the murders pretty obviously grow out of the vindictiveness of some, the confusion of others, the mistaken assumptions of the times, and more. That's where the satisfaction of the book comes from. It isn't the satisfaction of the loud click of an empty mechanism. It's the double satisfaction of reading a full-blooded mystery and a true account of human nature at the same time.

Highly recommended.

Reunion at the Wetside

Oly art quest

Olympia's modest is showing
The Weekly Volcano, Dec. 30, 2010

"Signet Ring" by Tom Anderson: One of the four artworks selected for the new Olympia City Hall. Photo courtesy Tom Anderson

The quest for art at the new Olympia City Hall is becoming a soap opera.

A year ago a jury of arts professionals chose a proposal by Seattle artist Dan Webb for 10 bronze sculptures meant to represent speaking bubbles like those used in comic strips. Called Thought Bubbles, each piece would be two feet tall and they would hang on pillars outside City Hall. A 40-inch thought bubble sculpture would be inside the building. The whole thing was budgeted at $180,000. People were outraged. Letters of complaint poured in and the city council turned down the proposal.

Now, a year later, the arts commission and selected jurors and a citizens' advisory panel have chosen four less controversial works of art to go inside the building with a slimmed-down budget of $35,000 - and actually the selected works came in some $15,000 under budget at $20,505 for the four art pieces. But that was not good enough for the council, which voted to table the vote until the Jan. 4 meeting.

At least one council member, Karen Rogers, complained about spending so much money in these lean economic times despite the fact that the budget was already approved and purchase of art is required by law in the Art for Public Places program, which mandates that one half of one percent of the construction budget for public buildings be used to purchase artwork.

There was also some question about "Street Corner Passing" by artist Lela DePaolo, a collage that included pictures of people taken at Olympia's Arts Walk. The question was did the artist have permission from all the people in the photo-collage - a non-issue because photographers don't have to get permission for photos taken at public events.

The whole thing is getting ridiculous (see comments from local artists posted on the Volcano's blog Spew).

Personally, I thought the "thought bubbles" looked silly, although the idea was kind of cool, and I'm glad that work wasn't installed. On the other hand, it might be appropriate for a town where the local collage boasts of its geoduck school mascot. Come to think of it, given the opportunity to vote, I'd cast my vote for a giant geoduck sculpture in front of City Hall.

As for the newly proposed work, I haven't seen much of it, but I have seen other works by some of the selected artists and they are safe and non-controversial.

The Olympia Arts Commission did what they should have done in selecting work. They used a time-honored selection process and reached out to the public. If anything, they went overboard in trying to please everybody - which, of course, can never be done and should never even be tried. As for the city council, they have displayed a shameful level of trepidation.

After seeing what Tacoma has done by way of public art recently - most notably the Spaceworks program and the newly installed "Projecting Drop" by Jill Anholt at Pacific Plaza - I am embarrassed by Olympia's lack of vision. Tacoma is showing some guts and creativity while Olympia is stuck in the muddy muck of conformity. (Coincidentally, I just received an announcement that the Tacoma Arts Commission just approved funding for 21 different arts projects, and in contrast to Karen Rogers in Olympia, T-Town's commission chair Sarah Idstrom said funding such programs is "particularly important during the current economic downturn."

Meanwhile, the Olympia City Council gets another chance Jan. 4 to vote on public art for City Hall. It would be nice if they could start the New Year by approving a modest proposal of art that will enhance the new building and not offend anyone.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Swirling light

John Fisher’s "Algorithmic Drawings" at Mineral

Published in the Weekly Volcano, December 22, 2010

Pictured: "Green Spiral Stairs,[Murray Morgan Bridge, Tacoma]" a digital print by John Fisher currently on display at Mineral Gallery. Photo courtesy Mineral Gallery

I don't pretend to understand or even care about the science or math behind John Fisher's art at Mineral. There are nine digital prints on the wall and one interactive audio-visual presentation. The digital prints are beautiful and fascinating. In layman's terms they are time-lapse photographs. The other thing, which he calls the "Number Tree," is an animation played on a television monitor that is hooked up to some kind of high-tech computer and a soundboard contraption.

In the interactive piece, viewers enter a series of numbers into the computer and the numbers generate animated pictures of trees and leaves and snowflakes. To math geeks it may be fascinating, but visually the images are boring. Not so the prints. They are terrific. The colors and shapes are electric. They are photographs, but he calls them and the show "Algorithmic Drawings". The photos are of industrial scenes with streaks and bursts of light created by long exposures of moving lights and perhaps other techniques. The photos were all taken in Seattle and Tacoma.

"Tideflats Ghost Semi" is a time-lapse photo of trucks passing by a warehouse. The lights from the trucks create a dense network of swirling filaments overlapping the architectural structure of the warehouse in the background, which is almost obliterated by the brilliant light streaks. We have all seen time-lapse photos of car lights; they are usually streaks that logically follow the direction in which the cars are going. But the streaks of light in Fisher's photos explode and crackle into amazing strands and bursts like electricity in a mad scientist's lab.

"Ghost Semi Diptyc"h is another version of the same photo. In this case there are two photos mounted one above the other. In the top photo there are very few of the light effects. The warehouse building is in sharp focus and there are a mere three horizontal and parallel streaks of light at ground level. In the bottom photo the lights explode more like in "Tideflats Ghost Semi," and the building almost vanishes behind the bursts of light. In "Murray Morgan Bridge", Tacoma the lights on the stairs beneath the Murray Morgan Bridge swirl into strange spiral cones like some kind of deep space wormholes and almost everything is tinted with a deep, electric blue-green.

Numbers march up and down the sides of buildings and seem to hang in the air on long cables in "Seattle Public Library". I haven't the slightest clue as to how he created this image, but it is beautiful. It is a lot like the images in the television commercial that has numbers buzzing all around people's bodies. The perspective in this shot of an alley is disorienting, as it is in another fascinating work called Overpass Moss. All of the photos are solidly designed and full of crackling energy, and the colors are great.

Twice in this column I have indicated that I am not interested in his technique. For those who may be more curious there are printed sheets of information available that provide some explanation, but I like the mystery of not knowing. It enhances the magic and wonder of the images.

Beside those that are framed and for sale, there are a lot of unframed and reasonably priced photos in a bin at Mineral.

Note: If you see this show you will notice that the titles on the wall labels don't all match those given here and on the gallery website. "Murray Morgan Bridge" is called "Green Spiral Stairs" on the wall label and "Seattle Public Library is called "Alley Numbers, 2010."

Through Jan. 29, noon–5 p.m., Thursday–Saturday (hours may vary, so call first), Mineral, 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma

Harlequin Productions' swing-era 'Stardust Christmas' saturated with silliness

The News Tribune / The Olympian, Dec. 24, 2010
Pictured (top) Bruce Whitney as Scrooge with Erica Penn, Anjelica Wolf and Rian Wilson background; (bottom) Matthew Posner with Erica Penn, Rian Wilson, Debbie Evens and Tracey Lewis background.

The swinging holiday musical romp “A Stardust Christmas Carol” is not the greatest thing Harlequin has ever done (the “Stardust” series is nowhere near as remarkably raucous and rocking as their similar summer music reviews), but for random silliness and great swing-era music it might be hard to beat.

This is the 16th edition in the series, nearly all of which are set in the Stardust Club in Manhattan on Christmas Eve during or right after World War II. The conceit that drives them all is that the employees of the club present a radio broadcast for Christmas, usually with some famous crooner as a guest star and often with the amateurs taking over.

In this version, it is 1945. The boys have just come home from the war – “the boys” represented in this case by Calvin Brody, a sailor, played by Rian Wilson. W.O.R. Radio station manager Irene Hunter (Deborah Evans) shows up with radio personality Chuck Odell (Matthew Posner) to broadcast Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with celebrity guest Basil Rathbone, who doesn’t show up because their schedule was off by a week. They decide to go ahead with the broadcast with the Russian band leader Nikolai Feodorov (Bruce Whitney) playing the part of Scrooge.

The script is credited to Harlowe Reed, a writer who is either as mysterious as J.D. Salinger or a pseudonym for the collective work of Harlequin cast and crew. The mood, the jokes and the plot devices all come across as prime examples of professional-level actors – quite purposefully and with tongues firmly planted in cheeks – sinking to the level of a high school drama club improvising a comic take on the classic Christmas tale. If that analogy doesn’t work for you, imagine the cast of “Glee” deciding to do a Christmas story and act it out as poorly as possible. Note: it takes good actors to play bad actors well.

This cast could rival the one just alluded to for musical talent. Tracey Lewis as Danny Scofield is a talented dancer and choreographer. He does a couple of beautifully smooth and rhythmical dances with Ruby Conrad (Erica Penn). He’s a good singer, too, although I longed for the more traditional high tenor when he sang “Danny Boy.” Penn also stands out on the beautiful “The Very Thought of You” with bluesy solos from saxophonist Dan Blunck. Wilson and Hunter, along with Anjelica Wolf and Megan Tyrrell, fill in the chorus and shine on their few solos. I especially wished that Tyrrell and Hunter could have had more solos.

The Posners – Matthew and Alison Monda Posner – steal the show. These two are expressive, energetic and in great voice. Matthew captures the somewhat slick and sleazy personality of an egotistical radio personality. He shows great comic acting chops when he appears in the guise of the ghost of Jacob Marley, and his singing is great from crooning “Serenade in Blue” to rocking the house on “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.” Alison brings the house down with her exaggerated Texas drawl (I could barely understand her, and I grew up in the deep South) and her enthusiastic bounciness.

The surprise hit was Whitney stepping out of his role as band leader to play the part of Scrooge. He has similarly stepped into other roles in previous shows, but never into quite such a large part. Another band member, Blunck, also stepped out of character to play small parts in the play-within-a-play. He made for a quite enjoyable Tiny Tim.

As usual, the band was great, and people of all ages should enjoy all the old familiar tunes. Patrons who enjoyed this show four years ago might want to see it again. The story line is the same but the cast is new and some of the songs are new.

There are only four more performances of Harlequin Productions’ “A Stardust Christmas Carol,” so if you’re looking for lighthearted seasonal entertainment, call for tickets right away. There will be a special New Year’s Eve show to ring in the New Year on New York time – starting at 7 p.m. our time.

WHEN: 2 p.m. today and Sunday, 8 p.m. Dec. 30 and Jan. 1, 7 p.m. Dec. 31
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; www.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tush! and Sirens

Burlesque in the South Sound

Published in the Weekly Volcano, December 23, 2010

The Gritty City Sirens officially debut today at The Swiss.
Pictured: Tush! Burlesque at top, Gritty City Sirens below

I had a very erroneous concept of burlesque before the ladies of Olympia's Tush! Burlesque set me straight. I thought of it as a sleazy and sexist art form that denigrated women and turned men into slavering beasts.

I was surprised when women I knew from the theater world began raving about Tush! and I began to wonder if stripping was becoming mainstream. Hell, there was even a Hollywood movie about it starring Cher, no less. I began to think that maybe feminists had appropriated what was once anti-feminist and claimed it as their own. But Tush! member Bettie Beelzebub explained, "Burlesque actually has a historic tradition of beauty, sophistication, humor and class. It comes from the parody plays of the Victorian era, done with humor and often based on political or social issues of the time."

She said it is not the same as what is done in strip clubs and for the performers it can be "a very empowering undertaking." Burlesque tells a story. Each performance has a theme that is carried out by each of the performers, and it involves elaborate costumes and choreography. Most importantly, perhaps, it is funny. It's good sexy fun - more like Vaudeville than stripping, and in some ways similar to musical theater.

Tush! member Frida Fondle said, "We spend around six to eight weeks preparing for each show. Each of us is responsible for making and designing our own costumes, and we all choreograph our own dance moves."

In addition to Beelzebub and Fondle, current Tushies are Black Bonni, Ginger Smack, Lowa de Boom Boom, Nani Poonani, Princess Lucky Buttons, Prudence Payne and Mistress of Ceremonies Hattie Hotpants.

Tush! is described in their promotional materials as "a collective of sexy, vivacious, and creative women brought together by a shared vision to rebel against commercial beauty standards" representing an "unconventional array of body types, ages, colors, and cultural identities in a powerful, intelligent, and humorous way."

Hattie Hotpants said there are three important elements to what they do: "beautiful, naked, unfettered nudity," plus humor and spectacle.

"You are expected to hoot and holler, and to let it all hang out," she said.

Now, about that movie. Fondle said, "It really is a shame that the representation of burlesque in that movie is exactly what the title means, ‘to make a mockery of, usually by caricature.' This movie does exactly that. I think that the whole burlesque community is up in arms about this bastardization of what we all thought was still an underground counter cultural art movement. It is unfortunate that the masses are now being force fed this watered-down, sleazy, sexist version of burlesque."

A new burlesque troupe called Gritty City Sirens has recently come to Tacoma, and will have its debut performance at The Swiss Dec. 23. They are Ava D'Jor, Tizzy Van Tassel, Rosie Cheexx, Funny Face Fanny and Polly Puckerup.

Van Tassel has been doing Burlesque in Texas, and she said Rosie Cheexx is a "hometown sweetheart."

The others are new to burlesque. "Our Polly Puckerup just debuted her very first solo acts at Hells Kitchen the other night," Van Tassel said, adding, "We have two more beautiful burlesque debutantes who will be dancing solo for the first time as burlesque dancers on Dec. 23 at the Swiss."

There will be multiple solo routines and group acts. "Prepare yourself for a night of glitz, glamour, humor and plenty of T&A!" Van Tassel says.
Gritty City Sirens

Thursday, Dec. 23, 9 p.m.
The Swiss, 1904 Jefferson Ave., Tacoma

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Tannenbaum Christmas

I thought “Oh yes!” and then “Oh God no, not another Christmas show!” when I was invited to Saul Tannebaum’s “Claus for Celebration” with The Jingle Belles and special guest Mona Van Horne at the Eagles Ballroom Saturday night. I had been wanting to see one of Saul’s shows for quite some time but I didn’t think I could sit through yet another Christmas show. Just the night before I had seen Harlequin’s “Stardust Christmas Carol” (watch for my review Friday in The Olympian and The News Tribune), and in the past two weeks I had seen more holiday shows than I could count on my fingers.

Somewhat reluctantly I dragged my also somewhat reluctant wife down to the Eagles. We got there long before the show started but still too early for good seats. We ended up sort of behind a post where I could see Saul but not all of the other performers. So I moved one seat to my left where I could see all but Saul. The Eagles Ballroom does not have the best seating in the world.

The show was late starting, but nobody seemed to mind because they were all drinking and chatting, and the star of the show was wandering around in the audience talking to everyone.

Saul Tannenbaum is the creation of actor, singer, musician, musical director Josh Anderson, who, once he gets into his Tannenbaum wig and glasses and white suit, never breaks out of character — not even off stage, not even away from the venue. For example, last summer he went to the Pride celebration to promote his show and wandered around in the crowd introducing himself, even to personal friends, as Saul. When Anderson gets in character he IS Saul. And what a character he is — brash and loud and loveable, and maybe just a touch unconnected to reality.

Tannenbaum introduces his guests: a trio of girl singers called the Jingle Belles, brother and sister Ricardo and Carlotta Fishman, and special guest Mona Van Horne. He tells a few tales and plays piano, but mostly turns the show over to his guest stars who entertain the audience with mixed-up medleys of holiday songs.

Like Anderson/Tannenbaum, the other show folk stay in character on- and off stage and the actors are never introduced.  Molly Gilmore named some of them in a recent article in The Olympian, specifically Anderson and Christina Collins, who does a wonderful Marlene Deitrich. Gregory Conn played Ricardo and Lauren O’Neill was one of the three girl singers, but I still don’t know who played the other parts. I just know they were all incredibly talented, funny and sexy. (It was hinted that the show was going to be risqué, but there was only the slightest hint of the risqué.)

This is the fourth Olympia show for Saul, and there’s another one coming in the spring. If this show was any indicator it will be a performance not to be missed.

Pictured: Christina Collins as Mona Van Horne and Josh Anderson as Saul Tannenbaum.

Read Molly Gilmore’s article in The Olympian.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy Happenstance

I was editing photos to post on this blog and to send to my editor at the Weekly Volcano when these two pictures ended up randomly side by side. I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition to say the least: the "angle choir" from "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" and the ladies of Tush! Burlesque in Olympia.

I wrote an article on Tush! and the new burlesque troupe in Tacoma, Gritty City Sirens. The article is scheduled to be published Dec. 23, the same day that the Sirens have their debut performance at The Swiss in Tacoma. Watch for next week's Volcano for more.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Warm glow of nostalgia

"A Christmas Story" at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle
Published in The Olympian, Dec. 17, 2010
Pictured, (top) from left: Frank Corrado as Jean Shepherd, John Bolton as the Old Man, Clarke Hallum as Ralphie, Matthew Lewis as Randy, and Anne Allgood as Mother; (bottom) Ralphie, Randy and the Old Man. Photos courtesy 5th Avenue Theatre.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical” at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle is a rousing new holiday musical with lots of heart and humor based on the stories of radio humorist Jean Shepherd and adapted from the hilarious 1983 family holiday film of the same name.

In this newly adapted stage version by Joseph Robinette, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Shepherd (played with subtle style and dry wit by Frank Corrado) is on stage throughout, telling the story to his radio audience as it is acted out by a fine cast headed by John Bolton (“Curtain’s,” “Monty Python’s Spamalot” on Broadway) as the Old Man, with Anne Allgood as Mother, Olympia’s Clarke Hallum as Ralphie, and Matthew Lewis as Ralphie’s little brother, Randy.

This is the first major role for Hallum, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Washington Middle School. Locally he was recently seen at Capital Playhouse as Charlie in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The theater conducted a coast-to-coast search for the perfect Ralphie that included auditions in New York and Los Angeles, as well as video submissions from across the country. Hallum auditioned in Seattle hoping for one of the smaller roles, and landed the role of the central character in the show. I can see why.

In the opening night performance, Hallum made the leap from community theater to performing with a professional cast in a major theater look effortless. His voice was strong and his demeanor confident. His opening solo on “Red Ryder” highlighted his singing talent, and then he really wowed the audience with “Ralphie to the Rescue,” in which his school classroom becomes the scene of countless fantasies, with Simon Legree tying the hapless school teacher to the railroad track, and villains ranging from pirates and cowboys to witches and Frankenstein’s monster all defeated by Ralphie and his trusted Red Ryder BB gun.

The show stopper was Bolton as Ralphie’s klutzy father. From his first pratfall down the basement stairs to his cursing rampage that precipitates Ralphie’s famous “Fuuuuudge!” curse, Bolton is uproarious. His drop-jaw expressions and loose-limbed dancing is a combination of Dick Van Dyke and Ray Bolger in “The Wizard of Oz.” His dance routine on “A Major Award” – complete with a chorus of dancing leg lamps – is as funny and joyful as anything you likely will see in a long time.

And Hallum’s style of moving subtly mimicked Bolton very nicely.

The best production numbers come in the first act. The action drags a bit in the second act, with enough moments of hilarity and nostalgia to hold attention, interspersed with a story line that limps toward a satisfying, predictable climax.

Walt Spangler’s set is stunningly beautiful and is set off with lighting effects designed by Howell Binkley that have the warm glow of the season.

As an interesting side note, Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie in the 1983 movie, was introduced from the audience opening night. He recently signed on as a producer on this production.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with extra performances at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 and 27, through Dec. 30
Where: 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle
Tickets: $78-$108
Information: 206-625-1900,

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at Lakewood Playhouse: Flawed seasonal favorite

Seth Tribble as Bob Bradley and the Angel Chorus star in Lakewood Playhouse’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

The News Tribune, Dec. 17, 2010

Reviewing “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at Lakewood Playhouse was tough. I greatly admire artistic director Marcus Walker and his staff and very much want to see this theater thrive, but I can’t recommend this particular play.

It is a seasonal favorite that is trotted out by one theater or another every year, but it is a weak script that pokes fun at a stereotypical welfare family, thereby reinforcing common misperceptions, and it relies on an unbelievable Christmas miracle to tug at the heartstrings.

The Herdman kids epitomize the quintessential family of leeches and delinquents. They’re all painted with a broad brush as mean and dirty; they fight, steal, smoke and curse while waiting for the welfare check and the charity Christmas ham to arrive. And then, inexplicably, they’re touched by the spirit of Christmas and become loveable and worthy of sympathy.

For all of its flaws – and the flaws are mostly in the script, not in the production – credit is due to the actors and director Maggie Knott for pulling off a challenging play. There are 32 actors in this show. Most of them are kids, some as young as 5 or 6 years old, and most of them have very little theatrical experience. There are scenes of controlled chaos with practically the whole cast entering and exiting from all four corners and two other entrances of the theater-in-the-round space. And there are big fight scenes (choreographed by Christian Doyle, who will be remembered for his spectacular physical comedy in “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” also at Lakewood Playhouse). Blocking the movements and getting everyone to say their lines on cue had to have been a major accomplishment, and for the most part, they did it without any hitches.

Blake R. York, who designs many of the sets at Lakewood Playhouse, did an outstanding job this time by essentially not designing anything. That might sound tongue-in-cheek, but this minimalism is a smart decision. In the first act, there is no set at all. There are seats on four sides, with the audience looking down on a floor-level stage area. Moving set pieces in such a space is often disastrous, but with no set, the actors can move about more freely. When props are needed, they are carried in by cast members without breaking character and in such a way as to seem part of the action. There are no disruptions. In the second act, there is a typical manger scene set up in the corner where the kids perform the birth of Christ story for the pageant.

The lighting and sound by Alexander Smith is also very effective. With the exception of two brief scenes, which I will not mention because I don’t want to give away the surprise, the lighting and sound effects are as minimalistic as the set. As actors pop in and out to talk to each other on the phone from the corner entrances, they are simply spotlighted in a darkened theater; for the longer action sequences, the entire stage area is lit. The lighting is as simple as that, and it is very effective.

The only actors who have extensive experience are Karen E. Christensen as Mrs. Armstrong and Virginia Yanoff as Mrs. McCarthy. Both of these are very small roles and both of these actors are very good. The lack of experience on the part of the rest of the cast shows. The other adult actors are not bad, they just don’t bring anything unique to their parts. Some of the young actors are quite good, and the youngest ones are charming. Katie Hackett as Beth Bradley, the teenage daughter who also serves as narrator for the story, is excellent. Jeremy Bode as her little brother, Charlie, is also very good, as is Ginny McClure as Imogene Herdman.

When: 8 tonight , 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
Tickets: $23, $20 seniors and military, $17 students younger than 25
Information: www.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

White Hole

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 16, 2010
Pictured (top) "I remember quiet nights trembling close to you," acrylic painting by Roz Inga, next to a part of "White Hole," installation by The Dead End Boys; (bottom) installation shot showing part of "White Hole." Photos courtesy of Viceroy Gallery and the Weekly Volcano.

Viceroy Art Gallery owner Scott Olson told me they like to show young artists who are just getting started. But sometimes they feature more experienced artists. Roz Inga falls somewhere in between. Olson said Inga  has been painting for about 10 years. That still qualifies as a relative beginner, and I suspect (based solely on looking at her paintings) that she's pretty much self-taught.

Inga's paintings fit squarely in the Abstract Expressionist mold. Some of them are very gutsy, and a lot are painted on found materials such as one on an old door with the doorknob left in place.

Most of the paintings in this show are abstractions that look inspired by urban landscapes. Circular and elliptical forms cluster into shapes that look like buildings with more open areas looking like streets. Some are rough and raw looking with harsh contrasts and lots of drips and splatters. In others the forms are more carefully controlled. Overall the more controlled forms work best.

There's one that looks like a Jackson Pollock drip painting. A word of advice here to any artist who may be thinking of painting a Jackson Pollock drip painting: don't do it. No matter how good you might be in other respects it will just look like a second-rate copy of the master. In Inga's "Pollock" there are veins of blue paint that sit on top of everything else. In a Pollock every drip and lacy skein of paint is fully woven into the whole. Nothing sits on top.

By far the best painting in the show is one called "I remember quiet nights trembling close to you." I was told it is one of her more recent works. If so, she's on the right track. This one is loose and atmospheric, with an overall dry-brush effect and delicate line work. Unlike the other paintings, it has the look of a Monet water lily. It's nice, very nice.

You'll notice the long poetic title. That's typical of all the works in this show. Olson said Inga is also a writer, and it shows. Another one with a poetic title is "You leave me breathing like a drowning man," which also has calligraphic writing in the painting. Two unrelated but rhyming sentences: "Water, water as far as I can see" and "I wonder if you will ever come for me."

Another outstanding painting is a small one titled "It really takes a lot out of me". Inga's paintings are uneven in quality, but mostly well done.

Also on display is a huge sculpture called "White Hole," a collaborative effort by the architects at Viceroy (which, yes, doubles as an architectural studio) who call themselves the Dead End Boys. It's made out of old sheets wrapped around chicken wire with little white lights and covered with white cotton flowers. It winds its way across the ceiling, appears to go through the ceiling and back down again, and it is quite attractive.

While there to see this show ask if you can see the works in the back room that are left over from previous shows. They include a number of paintings by owner Scott Olson and an amazing brick wall. And if you don't know what a white hole is, ask. It's quite interesting.

Roz Inga and The Dead End Boys
Through Jan. 20, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday–Friday, Viceroy Art Gallery, 711 Court A, Tacoma, 253.572.9818

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol

Top: Dennis Rolly and  Christopher Cantrell. Bottom, back to front: Ryan Holmberg, Tim Goebel and Christopher Cantrell. Photos by Toni Holm

“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” now playing at Olympia Little Theatre is a refreshing change from the usual theatrical Christmas fare. It turns Charles Dickens’ classic tale inside out while remaining true to its spirit and meaning. It’s quirky, irreverent and theatrically extravagant. For actors it provides a golden opportunity to ham it up to the high heavens – or hell as the case may be. Performing in this show must be an actor’s dream come true. And what a cast of actors it has: Dennis Rolly, Christopher Cantrell, Ryan Holmberg and Tim Goebel under the intelligent direction of Pug Bujeaud.

This is the back story to the familiar tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his visitation from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future told from the point of view of Scrooge’s dead business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley (Cantrell) lands in hell, where he obviously belongs, and is brought up before the judgment of an ancient accountant (one of many roles played by Goebel, who is billed as “Actor 4”). The accountant tells him he can be saved from an eternity in hell if he can convince Scrooge to willfully and permanently change into a kind hearted man.

Marley shouts, “Scrooge? I have to redeem old Scrooge? The one man I knew who was worse than I was? Impossible!”

Reluctantly he sets out to at least try and get Scrooge (Rolly) to change his ways. He’s accompanied by, helped by and sometimes thwarted by Bogle (Holmberg), an impish cockney sprite.

The set, designed by Cantrell, is dark and foreboding. It is a set of flat risers made from a series of black boxes on the floor with a bleak looking four poster bed. Everything is painted with lusterless black paint. Lighting effects by Cecil Sommerville consist of some starlights or snowflakes on the backdrop and a few spotlights in an often dark arena, and throughout the actors carry small candles and multi-colored lights that eerily shine red, green and blue on their faces.

The actors play multiple roles and constantly step out of character to address the audience, reminding us that this is, after all, them telling the story of their own adventure. They change voices so quickly that it is occasionally hard to tell who is speaking. When Cantrell, who was gravelly and stentorian as Marley, mentioned a young boy and then spoke in the boy’s tiny voice for a moment I thought it was a recorded voice coming from who knows where. And Goebel’s mouth turns down on one side and he speaks in a crackling voice as the old accountant, and then he rises from behind his desk and seems to physically grow larger while his voice becomes deep and full throated.

All four actors are excellent, and they seem to be having the time of their lives. Both Cantrell and Rolly are veteran Shakespearean actors, and their large expressions lend a classic air to this Victorian comedy-drama. I’ve enjoyed Goebel in many other plays, most notably “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “Don Juan in Chicago.” He displays greater range in this production than I have seen before. Holmberg might be the least experienced actor of the quartet, but he is absolutely astounding as Bogle.

Bujeaud is a fine director with years of experience in every aspect of theater. I suspect she had the sense to block out the action and give them her ideas and then get the hell out of the way and let these fine actors do their thing.

There’s only one weekend left for this show, and they are almost selling out every performance, so get tickets now.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Dec.19
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or
INFORMATION: 360--786-9484,

Friday, December 10, 2010

Silliness reins supreme

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 10, 2010
Pictured: Roger Curtis, from left, Dale Bowers, Alicia Mendez and David Bestock star in Centerstage Theatre’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

Centerstage Theatre’s show “Sleeping Beauty” continues the company’s custom of producing a traditional English Panto for the season.

South Sound theater-goers are beginning to catch on to what a Panto is. It’s pandemonium. It is fractured fairy tales played out for both children and adults.

Kids like the wild costumes, fabulous puppets and audience participation; adults love the groaner puns, pop-culture references and slightly risqué jokes.

There are loveable stock characters that show up in almost every Panto such as “the dame,” an ugly old hag always played by a man, and “the boy,” a swashbuckling hero always played by a long-legged woman. And it wouldn’t be comeplete without the evil witch and scary monster.

In “Sleeping Beauty,” the monster is a giant puppet built by Steffon Moody of Zambini Brothers on Vashon Island. The Dame is Nurse Nellie (Roger Curtis, who has played the dame in all of Centerstage’s Pantos and who is delightfully campy but not in a drag queen sort of way). Hilary Heinz is Prince Michael. She is fabulously strong, loud and expressive and really rocks out on some of the musical numbers. Sally Brady plays the nasty witch Vuvuzela.

Other stock characters include a storyteller or narrator who connects personally with the kids in the manner of a kids’ show host and tells them to cheer the good guys, boo the bad guys and shout out warnings and other things on cue.

For example, he tells the kids that every time Prince Michael of Normandy Park is mentioned, the boys should shout “Hoorah!” and the girls shout “Woo Hoo!”

Normandy Park is one of many silly local references. Another is when storyteller Merlin (David Bestock) says Sleeping Beauty is in “a dark, foreboding place where time has stood still for a hundred years.” Nurse Nellie says, “Yes, Enumclaw!”

Among the groaner puns is this one: “I have a strange foreboding,” Merlin says. The king (Dale Bowers) responds, “Well, I have a strange foreboding as well.” Merlin replies, “That’s eight forebodings.” Then they both say, “That doesn’t bode well.”

The silliness continues with audience participation that starts when a bunch of kids are called up on stage to sing crazy lyrics held up on giant cue cards and ends with the actors giving them bags of chips and tossing candy into the audience.

In between, there are other vaudeville-type routines, including a funny twist on the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first” routine and a marvelous song in which each actor sings a verse while almost hitting and kicking every other actor in an amazing bit of choreography.

I was told the choreography was worked out spontaneously with each actor devising his or her own moves. It has to be seen to be believed.

In addition to all of this insanity, there are great pop songs, some of which are slightly altered for this show, such as “For Once in My Life,” “Another Brick in the Wall,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and the theme song from “Ghostbusters.” Plus there is one noncomical song in the show: a lovely rendition of “Time After Time” with solos by Beauty and Prince Michael.

This is a world-premiere performance. There will be a couple of productions in England this year, but the Federal Way production went up a month earlier. The tradition of 12th Night is more honored in England, so families celebrate after Christmas. Traditionally, Pantos in big theatres in London run through January.

“Sleeping Beauty” is the third Panto I’ve seen at Centerstage, and I’ve enjoyed them all. There are not many performances left and tickets are going fast. ‘Sleeping Beauty’

When: 7 p.m. tonight and Saturday plus Dec. 17-19 and Dec. 22; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday plus Dec. 18 and 19
Where: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
Tickets: $10-$25, depending on age; group discounts availableInformation: 253-661-1444,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Michael Kaniecki at Spaceworks Tacoma

Michael Kaniecki's endless drawing is on display at 1114 Pacific Ave.
Review published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 9, 2010

The Spaceworks project continues to show innovative works by some of Tacoma's most interesting artists in some of the town's more interesting (if not always easy to see) venues. One of the more fascinating works in the program comes from Michael Kaniecki, a recent transplant from Moab, Utah, who said he picked Tacoma as his new home on the advice of artists friends in Seattle, who recommended it because Tacoma's art scene is vibrant and exciting. He's right. It is. After 15 years of reviewing art in T-town, I have noticed the scene has exploded in the past few years. And Spaceworks is at the heart of that explosion.

Wearing a coat and gloves with cut-out fingers to work in the unheated space at 1114 Pacific Ave., Kaniecki is creating a large drawing in ink and red-earth pigment that the Spaceworks program is billing as a never ending drawing. At an earlier stage the drawing flowed down and forward toward the window as seen in the photograph pictured here. But now that long scroll has been stood on edge and it weaves horizontally across the space like ocean waves. In front of it similar drawings are seen on other long sheets of paper that have been cut into sections and arranged like a line of cubes, and in front of it smaller drawings are laid out in a straight line on the floor. According to Kaniecki, the installation is complete as it stands, but he keeps on drawing every day. The new drawings, however, are not part of the installation but go back to his studio for possible inclusion in some future installation.

The drawings are gestural and abstract. The primary design element is a repetitive pattern of abstract shapes in a grid that plays out like still images on filmstrips. He could easily rearrange them day by day and thereby create a metamorphosing drawing, but that is apparently not his intention.

The forms within the big drawing, while not intended to represent anything other than shapes and gestural marks, have an architectural or industrial look. Some look like hieroglyphics or schematics for circuitry. Other forms appear more organic and flexible. I recall noticing one section with a floating oblong shape that looked like a pancake tossed in the air with one big twist in the middle.

The artist drapes long sections of a big roll of coated paper across a table and draws pencil guidelines to break it up into evenly spaced grids with three rectangular "frames" on each section. He draws a different form, each repeated three times, in each section. Within the precision and exact planning of each grid are almost identical drawings that are very freely drawn in direct contradiction to their precision.

At least one side of the series of interconnected cubes on the floor looks like an urban street scene. Each shape is an invented and self-contained form that relates to other shapes and to the whole only in visual terms. That is, not in terms of symbolism or meaning or reference but in color, line quality and tone. The interaction of loosely flowing washes, formal structure and delicate line work is that of an accomplished artist at work.

The installation can be seen through the window, and if you spot the artist at work you can tap on the window and he might let you in. Then you can get a better view, and he will gladly talk to you about the work.

Kaniecki's "endless drawing" is one of many works in the ongoing Spaceworks Tacoma project. Others of interest include Alice DiCerto's photographs entitled My America, and Kyle Dillehay's Lines of the Earth (both installations in the Woolworth windows at 11th and Broadway) and Barbara DePirro's vortex plastica at 912 Broadway through Jan. 5.

[Michael Kaniecki, through Jan. 5, Spaceworks Tacoma, 1114 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, website]

Friday, December 3, 2010

‘White Christmas’: Silly, sentimental fun in store at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Sharry O’Hare entertains the troops in “White Christmas” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

The chorus tap dances to "I Love a Piano" in Irving Berlin's "White Christmas."
Photos by Kat Dollarhide

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 2, 2010

I’m almost old enough and sentimental enough to be a sucker for schmaltz, nostalgia and old-fashioned Christmas cheer, all of which is served up in heaping buckets-full in Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

The musical is based on the beloved 1954 movie of the same name starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney, which was loosely based on an earlier movie, “Holiday Inn,” also starring Crosby. It was the earlier movie that introduced Berlin’s famous Christmas song.

The musical is filled with familiar songs backed by Jeffrey Stvrtecky’s accomplished 14-piece orchestra and hot dance numbers choreographed by director Jon Douglas Rake. The story is silly, sentimental, heart-wrenching, filled with bad jokes (intentionally bad) and just about every Christmas tradition you can imagine, plus a huge heaping of the World War II-era patriotism for which Berlin was famous.

Mark Rake-Marona stars as Bob Wallace, a popular crooner and the strong-voiced half of a song-and-dance team. Vince Wingerter plays Phil Davis, the lead dancer of the duo. Wallace is the hero of the story and has the stronger voice. Wingerter’s dancing – most notably when coupled with Jennifer Weingarten in the role of Judy Haynes – sparks this show. (Wingerter and Weingarten are partners in life as well as on stage, which might account for how well they anticipate each other’s dance moves.) Their lovely, smooth ballroom dancing to the tune “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” is the highlight of the show, inevitably bringing to mind Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The other dancing highlights are the big tap dance numbers “Happy Holidays” and “I Love a Piano,” featuring Phil and Judy and backed up by a chorus line big enough to fill the large TMP stage.

The other lead and major love interest is Kim Lavoie as Betty, the other half of the Haynes Sisters. Lavoie has a powerful and melodious voice, and she’s very attractive despite a ludicrous blonde wig. Also of note is a strong performance by Sharry O’Hare, the Ethel Merman of South Sound, in a comical role in which she pulls out almost every trick she’s learned in her half-century of musical performance.

From the love story and overblown patriotism (apropos to the time period) to the sentiment and silliness and all of the snappy tunes, this play is a Christmas card in song and dance, and commemoration of times long past. The run of this show is almost sold out. Make sure to call before going and get your tickets early.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 19. Additional matinees at 2 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18.
Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Tickets: $20-$27
Information: 253-565-6867,

A sweet yet tragic tale

Little Women at Capital Playhouse

Published in The Olympian, Dec. 3, 2010

Pictured, Seated from left: Bailey Boyd as Amy, Jana Tyrell as Marmee, Christie Murphy as Jo, Alisa Tobin as Beth; standing: Carolyn Willems Van Dijk as Meg in "Little Women" at Capital Playhouse.
Photo by Dennis Kurtz

Director Adam Michael Lewis wrote of “Little Women,” playing at Capital Playhouse: “A musical? Well, why not? It’s been a movie (three times), an opera (two times)...”

Actually, according to a news release I received, there have been more than a dozen movie versions and even a Japanese animé production. The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2005, is only the latest in a never-ending parade of “Little Women,” all based on Louisa May Alcott’s classic and timeless 1869 novel.

This latest version is a sweet play that is tragic in part, with some wonderfully outlandish comic relief. That relief comes in the form of the characters acting out scenes from Jo March’s “blood and guts” stories and from some amusing songs with operatic flair from Holly Harmon, who is entertaining in the dual roles of the social climbing Aunt March and the boarding house proprietor Mrs. Kirk.

Christie Murphy, in a commanding performance as Jo, stands on a riser and dictates her melodramatic short story in song early in the first act (and again in the second act). Bruce Haasl and Stephen Anastasia mime the actions of two swashbuckling rivals who fight for the love of the heroine, Clarissa, played by Carolyn Willems Van Dijk, who is also delightful as Jo’s romantic sister Meg. Played out in an exaggerated pantomime of bad acting, these mini-plays are hilarious.

Not all of the singing is as entertaining. Some of the songs are overly long, and Steven Wells as Professor Bhaer strains to hit some of the notes in his solos. He does, however, act the part of the sweet German professor very convincingly.

The most outstanding songs are the sad and lovely “Here Alone” sung by Marmee (Jana Tyrell) and Beth’s (Alisa Tobin) tragic swan song, “Some Things Are Meant to Be,” performed as a duet with Jo.

There are a lot of strong performances, but the actors who carry this production are Anastasia, whose sweetness in the role of Laurie is infectious, and Murphy, whose smile lights up the set. He reminds me of Matthew Broderick, and like Broderick, he makes you want to root for him.

The set designed by Haasl is marvelous. It is the parlor of the March home, with lovely windows and big beams that make the stage look much larger than its actual size. With a few projected images and by moving a few pieces of furniture around, it is transposed into Mrs. Kirk’s boarding house, the attic of the March home, and other settings. The projected images are scenic photographs manipulated by Haasl to look like Impressionist paintings. The only downside to the set is that the constant moving of benches and chairs between scenes is terribly distracting. It would have been better if they had left the scene changes to our imagination.

The enjoyable choreography by Danny Boman effortlessly moves the action, and the costumes by Audra Merritt are a joy to see, from the plain Civil War-era house dresses the sisters wear, to the elaborate ball gowns, to the bustle worn by Amy (Bailey Boyd), who transforms herself believably from a bratty teenager to a sophisticated young woman.

“Little Women” is a period romance, a tearjerker, and ultimately, an uplifting story.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 19
Where: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
Tickets: $28-$41
Information: 360-943-2744,

Note: The following sidebar was added by the editors, not written by me.

What: Capital Playhouse is struggling financially. To raise cash, the playhouse’s board is hosting a gala performance. The evening will include wine and hors d’oeuvres, a chamber music concert and a performance of “Little Women.” Champagne and dessert will be served at intermission, when a raffle drawing will occur. After the show, Bruce Haasl will talk about set design, and the cast will lead a sing-along.

When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5
Where: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., OlympiaTickets: $100 per seatInformation: or 360-943-2744

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Shuffle at Fulcrum Gallery

Mural and prints by Nicki Sucec

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 2, 2010

Big Brother is watching. He peers out from the walls of Fulcrum Gallery. In this instance “Big Brother” is the brother of artist Nicki Sucec whose show at Fulcrum is an homage to her brother and a testament to the variety and creativity that can be unleashed by taking a single image or idea and pushing it to the limit.

One wall of the gallery is completely covered with a large steel and copper mural featuring a haunting portrait of Sucec’s big brother. The image is rough and confrontational. It looks like a photographic negative in dark brown and copper tones of an aging hippy. He stares vacantly, his hair is disheveled, a cigarette dangles from his lips. He’s wearing on a chain around his neck what looks to be a military dog tag. Behind him is a starry night sky in which strange items float — a boxing ring, inside the ring a couple of big pillows; a toothbrush and many another esoteric little item. Although not stated in any overt manner, I get the impression that each of the objects relate somehow to Sucec’s brother. Mementoes, each of which carries strong familial references.

The artist has made many lithographs and embossed etchings from various images in the mural. Some are around 15 by 20 inches and other are a mere inch or two square, including variations on her brother’s portrait and prints of the individual items that are in the mural.

One of the more interesting of the prints places side-by-side a metal-plate portrait of the artist’s brother with a negative image of the same portrait, this one done as an embossed lithograph. The negative image is striking in its strong contrasts of stark white where the face should be dark staring out of darker areas. The eye balls are almost square. In the positive image he looks sad and perhaps frightened. In the negative image he looks threatening — from frightened to frightening by the simple expedient of reversing light and dark in the image.

Without spelling anything out, but rather leaving it to the viewer to do so, Sucec seems to delve deeply into memory and identity and the complex relationship between a brother and sister. Some of the pictures hold clues to the lives of this brother-and-sister duo either in the items depicted or in the titles, some of which are very strange and enigmatic such as (I love this title but have no idea what it means): "Seymour the Great vs Muffy Doodle Weird."

For quite some time now I, and most of Tacoma’s arts community, have been impressed with how Fulcrum Gallery keeps coming up with new, exciting and challenging shows month after month. This one continues the tradition.

[Fulcrum Gallery, Shuffle: Mural & Prints by Nicki Sucec, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and by appointment, through Dec. 31, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520,]