Monday, February 28, 2011

Charlie's interview

I just listened to Charlie Sheen rant on a "Today" show interview about how special he is. He thinks his $2 million per episode salary on “Two and a Half Men” should be bumped up to $3 million. When I heard that I thought that it’s really not Charlie’s fault that he believes he’s so freaking special. He’s a product and a victim of the cult of celebrity, the deification of stardom, and everybody from the public to producers and studio executives have bought into it and reinforce it. They seem to think a series lives and dies with its star. Tell that to the producers of the many James Bond films. And exactly how many actors have successfully played Doctor Who?

Don’t they know that a star, no matter how talented and hard working, is just a product of collaborative efforts of dozens – in Charlie’s case, hundreds – of writers, directors and technicians? I’m a writer, so naturally I’m biased, but I think that’s where it all starts. With the script. Without the script nobody would laugh at the antics of Charlie Harper (Sheen’s character for those who don’t watch the show). Charlie just repeats the words the writer wrote, and he does it in the way the director tells him to. So what’s the big deal?

OK, I know that often actors contribute to the writing. They sometimes write their own scripts or offer helpful changes or even improve scripts through improvisation. And yes, a star can bring a certain charisma to a role. But I don’t believe any actor is irreplaceable. For example: Was it just John Wayne’s magnetism that made the first “True Grit” a great movie? Apparently the Cohen brothers didn’t think so.

There are many actors whom I greatly admire, from Oscar winners like Sean Penn and Jeff Bridges to local actors such as Christian Doyle and Scott C. Brown and Dennis Rolly and many others. And you know what? I think any one of them plus at least a half dozen other actors from Olympia and Tacoma could play the part of Charlie Harper and the sitcom would be just as funny. Why heck, you could put Lauren O’Neill in the part of one of Charlie’s girlfriends and the show would be immeasurably better. And none of them get $3 million per gig. They all work day jobs to make ends meet.

One other thing: Charlie’s father – another actor I admire – should tell his son to get over himself.

Charlie Sheen paraphrased from various statements made during the NBC interview: I'm tired of pretending I'm not special. I’m a total freaking rock star from Mars with tiger blood and Adonis DNA You can't process me with a normal brain.

Watch the interview.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Two players, 34 characters, 15 tales

Elizabeth Lord, left, and Lauren O’Neill become all kinds of colorful characters in “Parallel Lives.”
The News Tribune, Feb. 25,2011

Shows at The Midnight Sun Performance Space in downtown Olympia nearly always are provocative. “Parallel Lives” is more than provocative. It is insanely funny. Like all good comedies, it can be like salt to a raw wound as it takes an unflinching look at the lives of women and satirizes men, childbirth, menstruation and the Catholic Church.

This play was written by Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy. It is a two-person play starring Elizabeth Lord and Lauren O’Neill playing 34 characters in 15 loosely connected stories. It is directed by Josh Anderson.

Each scene is a separate sketch or dialogue or monologue. In one case, a mime performance by Lord is set to music. It begins with two angels (listed in the program as “Supreme Beings”) working on the creation of the world. In this stage of the creation story, they are figuring out how to create procreation and what that means.

Next, we meet Kris and Jeff, a pair of whacked-out and possibly drug-addled youth on a date at a gay bar. O’Neill plays the guy with a backward baseball cap and a low-pitched voice and street-tough gestures. This guy is not too bright.

In another bar scene, Lord plays the man – a drunken urban cowboy named Hank with a cigarette seemingly glued to his lip. The man repeatedly proposes to Karen Sue (O’Neill). Lord is totally believable as the man in this scene and O’Neill nicely tones down her comic antics to play Karen Sue.

Comic scenes involve sisters seen at different ages as they struggle with conflicts over the teachings of the church.

There is more religion-based satire in a confessional, a Shakespearean scene and dialogue between a street prostitute (O’Neill) and the wife of Kenny Rogers (Lord) or someone fantasizing about being Kenny Rogers’ wife.

Breaking out of the comic mold is a shocking and intensely dramatic scene with O’Neill playing a protestor outside an abortion clinic. In yet another break from the mold, Lord makes magic by silently portraying a woman’s morning ablutions to classical music.

The manner in which these two actors assume so many different roles is amazing.

They bring to mind the early one-woman performances that first brought Whoopi Goldberg to prominence, and Lily Tomlin’s performances in the guise of multiple characters from “Laugh-In” to “The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” They are rubber-faced, loud and brassy.

Most of this show is insanely funny, but there are scenes that are intensely serious. Because of language and subject matter, it is recommended for mature audiences.

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday
Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. N.W., Olympia
Tickets: $12, available at and at the door

Budget cuts force changes in my newspaper columns

I have bad news for readers of my theater reviews. The Olympian and The News Tribune are having to severely cut their features budget, and as a result I will not be doing as many theater reviews. Effective March 1st my reviews will not run in The Olympian, and they will be published in The News Tribune only three times a month instead of once a week.

I feel especially bad for Olympia area theaters, fringe theaters and the smaller theaters in outlying areas because they are the ones that will probably be affected most. When possible I will review shows for my blog that I can't review for TNT, but that will be limited also because I don't get paid for reviewing shows for my own blog and can't afford to travel when I'm not getting paid.

If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my reviews, I suggest subscribing to my blog and please tell your friends to do the same. If you subscribe you will get every post to this blog as an email sent directly to your in box. The reviews will usually show up in your in box on the day after they are published in the newspaper.

Believe me, this cut is certainly not my choice. If I had my way I'd review more plays not fewer.

When the Tribune first hired me to do reviews it was an every-other-week column. After a couple of years it was extended to every week, and after a couple more years The Olympian picked up my reviews of Olympia shows.

I consider myself lucky to have been able to do as much as I have. I am extremely grateful to these newspapers for giving me the best job in the world, and to the South Sound theater community for treating me so well (even when the reviews were less than flattering).

I will still write art reviews and features for the Weekly Volcano.

Going big with small

Selinda Sheridan show to benefit Nativity House

The Weekly Volcano, February 23, 2011
"Contour Intervals," by Selinda Sheridan, on display at Mineral in Tacoma

Selinda Sheridan's exhibition at Mineral, Contour Intervals, is a nice little show with a nice big purpose. From 2004 to 2008, Sheridan was the art coordinator at Nativity House, a daytime shelter for the homeless in Tacoma that operates an art room where guests may come to make art with materials that are provided for free. Sales from works in this show will be used to support that project.

While running the program at Nativity House, Sheridan began collecting blobs of paint that were left behind on palettes and blotting them with paper and then drawing back into the Rorschach-type blots with ink. At Mineral she has assembled these drawings - each about the size of a business card - into an installation that covers most of one wall. 

With a quick rough count I determine there are about 80 of these small drawings. The arrangement looks random, but it is not. An overall pattern emerges, and the little pictures are grouped together according to color schemes and similarity of shapes, etc. It is the title piece of the show. Seen as a single image this installation looks like a large grouping of topographical map sections. The individual pieces can be seen as mountains, rocks and lakes, or abstractly as an interweaving of soft color areas with meandering black lines.

To the left of this work are three small drawings in ink and acrylic, all delicate and simple landscapes.

Six larger framed pieces in Sumi, some with subtly added color, fill the rest of the small gallery space. These are more typical works with a decidedly Asian flavor. Most of them are derived from landscapes, with views of mountains, lakes and streams reduced to a few simple semi-abstract lines and shapes.

As I have often noted in my reviews, when natural elements are abstracted, the more abstract they are, the better they are. When objects taken from nature are included in what is essentially abstract art, these objects detract from the work and lessen its impact. But sometimes there are exceptions. In this instance, one of the best works has a picture of an apple in what is otherwise a completely abstract work. It is called After the Storm: Summer, a title that, so far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the imagery. Five odd, black, circular shapes march across the bottom of a white page, each touching the other, with one gap, and resting on top of the stack by the gap is a red apple. This work is all about contrasts of open and closed spaces, contrasts between color and black-and-white, and slightly off-kilter balance.

Another of the strongest works is a piece called Still Humming. It is a large dry-brush circle of black ink with a group of smaller and more clearly delineated circular forms like seeds or purple fruits clustered inside the circle. As in After the Storm: Summer, this one is all about contrasts and balance.

All of the works in this show are reasonably priced, and 100 percent of the income from sales will go to Nativity House.

Through March 26, noon to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and by appointment
Mineral, 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Kid-filled ‘Wonderland' a sweet delight at OFT

Morgan Hanrahan plays the White Rabbit, from left, Sofia Sanchez is the Duchess, Rheanna Murray is Alice and Jude Huston is the Queen of Hearts in Olympia Family Theater’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

The Olympian, The News Tribune, Feb. 18, 2011

Olympia Family Theater’s annual all-youth production this year is “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” based on the stories by Lewis Carroll.

It stars 15-year-old Rheanna Murray as the girl who goes down the rabbit hole – or in this instance, steps through a picture frame. Murray is a student at Tacoma School of the Arts. She plays Alice with dignity and grace, displaying a suitable amount of surprise and wonder at the crazy things and even crazier people she encounters in Wonderland, yet accepting every absurdity as just the way things are.

Why shouldn’t she drink from a bottle that says “Drink Me”? After all, it doesn’t show “Poison.” It must be safe.

In some ways, this is a Ryle family production. Jen Ryle directed it; her husband, Ted, is the stage manager; and her children, Mandy and Emmalene, worked on the production crew.

The cast, however, is all youths, so it is not as polished as some other OFT shows, including “Winnie the Pooh,” the last OFT play I reviewed. Nor is it as uproariously funny. But it’s great fun to watch the kids perform. Children in the audience have a good time watching the antics of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Mock Turtle and the smiling Cheshire Cat.

Like the adventures Lewis Carroll wrote about, this Alice appeals to children because of the vibrant characters and colorful costumes and to adults because of the sophisticated wit.

Fifteen-year-old Morgan Hanrahan, also a student at Tacoma School of the Arts, seems quite sophisticated and grown up as the painter who first lures Alice into Wonderland and later runs and bounces about quite frantically and entertainingly as the White Rabbit.

Karli Kooi plays the mouse. She’s a first-grader at Boston Harbor School, and she pouts and squeaks with expressive charm. I love the way she jumps up and claps her hands and squeals “Eeek!”

Katie Sellars is Tweedle Dee and Kylie Charney-Harrington is Tweedle Dum. They are hilarious together as they share the same costume. They are each quite accomplished actors.

Nick Melton, who attends Capital High School, really puts his heart into his role as the Mock Turtle. His outlandish sobbing brings the house down.

The set by Mandy Ryle is colorful, and the costumes designed by Becky Scott and put together by the team of Sally Fitzgerald and Shelle Riehl are delightful. Particularly enjoyable are the Caterpillar’s extra arms, the queen’s robe and crown and Humpty Dumpty’s outsized body and legs. It’s not really a costume, but you have to see how Alice grows larger.

This show is relatively short at 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission, and it is fast-paced. The time flies by.

When: 7 p.m. tonight and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts Black Box, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia
Tickets: $8.50 to $15.50
Information: 360-753-8586,

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Through March 26: "Cubistic Embrace"

B2 Fine Art Gallery

The Weekly Volcano, Feb. 17, 2011
"Cubistic Embrace," pastel by Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt, courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery

Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt are phenomenal. They do pastel paintings working in tandem - not taking turns working on the paintings but working side-by-side and simultaneously, and, from what I've heard, with hardly any planning or discussion but reacting to one another with what has been described as a collective subconscious.

But it is the quality and inventiveness of their art, not their working method, that makes these partners unique. Their art is mostly dark and ominous, combining elements of Surrealism and Cubism with imagery reminiscent of Ben Shahn, Jacob Lawrence and Walt Kuhn. Figures are broken up and recombined, and fingers are knife-like such as those in some of Picasso's most threatening images. And like Picasso, there is underlying sexual tension in many of their images.

I've been following their work for many years. Their latest show at B2 Fine Art Gallery, called "Cubistic Embrace," is different from other Hall and Schmitt shows in a number of ways. First, it's the largest show of their work I've ever seen. Second, there's more variety in style and subject matter than I've seen in any of their earlier shows. And finally, for the first time they're each showing individual works, not just the collaborative pastels.

Schmitt is showing a group of five pastels that range in style from abstract to surrealistic to naturalistic. Each is of a single figure. There's one called "Birth" that is very dramatic picturing an infant and a man with a green face. Another one called "Jungle Ballet" is of a nude in a severely contorted position. Her body is naturalistically modeled with heavy shadows and a beautifully drawn white line is superimposed on her body. The line follows the contour of her body in places and contrasts with it in other places. Hall is showing some carved wood sculptures that are interesting but not as good as the pastels.

The best work remains the work they do as a team. I particularly enjoyed one group of similar paintings with intertwined bodies that are more rounded and organic that most of their work. When you go, look for the wall with "Constituents Collected", "Dimensional Escape" and "Heat Wave".

Another fascinating piece is a man with jigsaw puzzle pieces covering his face and flying off into a blue sky with fleecy white clouds. This one reminds me of paintings by René Magritte. Even more Magritte-like is a piece called "Proxies". A woman's head opens up to reveal a blue sky and to her left are three figures that are folded and bent like flowing strips of ribbon.

B2 is Tacoma's newest gallery. It's a beautiful and spacious gallery, and the art in this show is tastefully displayed. Let's extend a big T-Town welcome to gallery directors Gary and Deborah Boone.

Through March 26, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thursday–Saturday, till 8 p.m. Third Thursdays
B2 Fine Art Gallery, 711 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stuff I can't review

Sorry, folks, I can't review everything. Here are a couple of upcoming shows that look promising.

'No Child…' at SPSCC

Nilaja Sun’s insightful and hilarious play “No Child…” will be staged March 3-13 at South Puget Sound Community College's Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts.

This play takes an inside look at issues facing students at a Bronx high school. It has been hailed as an off-Broadway hit, earning Sun 17 different awards. It's based on the playwright's experiences as a teaching artist in New York City’s public schools. In “No Child…” a group of students at the fictional Malcolm X High School prepare for a play of their own, “Our Country's Good,” a 1988 play by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

The play will run from March 3-6 and again from March 10-13 in the Black Box Theater. The March 6 and 13 performances are at 2 p.m., while all other performances will take place at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.50 for the general public and $7.50 for students, staff and faculty. Tickets are available online at or by calling (360) 753-8586

Theatrical Sit-Com About Tacoma!

There's a new live sit-com coming to Tacoma, and it's all about Tacoma.

Dukesbay Productions will soon launch their inaugural show, a live situation comedy taking place in a coffee house somewhere in Tacoma.

This March, Dukesbay Productions’ Java Tacoma: Episode 37 “Ashes to Ashes, Cup to Cup” will open at the Trinity Fellowship Hall. Java Tacoma is the first installment of a comedy series that is peppered with local Tacoma references.

Written by Federal Way playwright Curtis B. Swanson, Java Tacoma is the continuing tale of three best friends who meet daily for hot coffee and even hotter gossip.

Dukesbay Productions is a brand-new company founded by Tacoma theatre artists Randy Clark and Aya Hashiguchi Clark. Their mission is to showcase the works of local playwrights and theatre artists of all ethnicities.  Java Tacoma: Episode 37 is directed by Randy Clark and features the talents of Mick Flaaen, Joseph Grant, Aya Hashiguchi, Betzy Miller and Laurie Sifford.

Java Tacoma: Episode 37 will run March 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, & 19 at 7:30 p.m. at The Trinity Fellowship Hall, 1619 6th Ave., Tacoma.

Tickets are $15/person, which includes an assortment of coffee and tea, and locally-prepared pastries by Corina Bakery in Tacoma.

Reservations can be made by phone: (253) 267-0869 or email:

Monday, February 14, 2011

A new reading

Yipee! We’re going to do it again – another staged reading of Reunion at the Wetside with “The Reunion Players” (just made up that last part).

I was amazed at how much fun it was when we did it at Orca Books. The turnout was great. They had seats for somewhere between 25 and 30 people and all were filled and there were folks standing in the back. That may not be the same as filling the seats at Carnegie Hall, but it was good enough for me.

And the laughter was loud and enthusiastic. I was astounded and understandably overjoyed.

I don’t think anybody was expecting it to be so funny. After all, the book is billed as a murder mystery. But it is a funny book, and it sounded even funnier hearing actors read it. Even after sitting through a rehearsal, I was surprised at how funny the reading was. The audience was laughing loud and often, and the actors were feeding off the audience. There was one shocking moment when… well, I’d better not say. If you weren’t there and haven’t read the book, I don’t want to spoil it.

When it was over a bunch of us went to Ramblin’ Jack’s to celebrate. Unfortunately we couldn’t get seats together, so we had to do some table hopping. All the actors said it was a blast, and they said they wanted to do it again. Now we’re going to get to, thanks to John Munn at Comic Book Ink in Lakewood.

I’m lucky to have such a fine bunch of actors reading the parts of three characters and “the author.” Dennis Rolly is magisterial and funny as hell as the author. Dennis has been thrilling audiences around the South Sound for at least 15 or 20 years. He’s a fine Shakespearean actor and a great character actor, most recently seen in “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” at Olympia Little Theatre.

Jim Patrick brings to life the womanizing Republican hero Jim Bright — yes, Republican. I think the first time I became aware of Jim’s acting ability was in the musical “1776” at Tacoma Little Theatre. Or was it in “Amadeus” at Lakewood Playhouse or Theater Artists Olympia’s fine production of the Scottish play? He was thoroughly professional in all of those.

Jennie Jenks manages to magically grow taller and older as Alex Martin without losing her youthful beautiful — ah, the magic of theater. South Sound theater goers will remember her as Sheree in “The Dixie Swimclub” at Olympia Little Theatre.

Chris Cantrell reads the part of bumbling crime reporter Harry Drews. Recently seen in “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” (with Dennis Rolly) and “The Goat or Who is Sylvia” at Midnight Sun, Chris is one of the area’s most versatile and entertaining actors.

Reunion at the Wetside is my fifth novel. Here’s what a couple of highly respected writers had to say about it:

“This is a more complex and more satisfying account of humans involved in a murder mystery than you may be accustomed to. ... These are real people with real lives, not the cardboard clichés of most mystery fiction.” – Jack Butler

“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. … 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.” – Amos Lassen

The reading will be March 21 at 7 p.m. A Q&A and book signing will follow the reading.

Comic Book Ink
Lakewood Cinema Complex
2510 S. 84th
Suites 15A-B
Lakewood, WA

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Impressive Harlequin ensemble cast brings 'Schwartz' to life

The News Tribune / The Olympian Feb.11,2011

Pictured from left: Scott C. Brown, Alison Monda and Deya Ozburn in "The Last Schwartz."

What do you get when you take a great play, perfect cast and spot-on set and lighting? The answer is “The Last Schwartz” by Deborah Zoe Laufer as produced by Harlequin Productions.

The set by Linda Whitney, who also directs this show, is the richly decorated living and dining room of an old country home in the Catskills. The muted colors are wonderful, and the lighting by Jill Carter goes from natural to dreamily supernatural when Simon (Casey Brown) steps out of his usual trance to speak directly to the audience (or whatever gods or alien beings he might be addressing). There also are transitional lighting effects between scenes that simulate the shadows and moving light created by the movement of clouds. These effects are worthy of a fine film.

I can’t say enough about the cast. As an ensemble, they become the Schwartz family. The group is as funny, spiteful, loving and dysfunctional as any family in recent literature.

Ann Flannigan is Norma, the eldest of the Schwartz siblings, who feels it is her duty to keep the family and its religious traditions intact. Flannigan plays her as controlling and uptight, but there’s a spark of something decent that makes you not so much dislike her as wish she would loosen up.

Herb, the oldest brother, is played by Scott C. Brown. His facial expressions are hilarious yet so subtle that he tends to lull you into complacency until he explodes with passion, jumping up on a coffee table, for instance, and defiantly claiming the beat-up and worthless piece of furniture as his personal property. Everybody is funny in this play, and he is the kind of funny that makes you want to slap your head and shout, “Wow! Where did that come from?” He makes Herb seem wonderfully ludicrous yet genuine.

Simon, the middle brother, is so shut down and otherworldly that playing him is a real challenge to an actor, and Casey Brown plays him beautifully. His movements and speech are excruciatingly slow. He conveys the idea that it is a major challenge for Simon to break out of his private world and react to anyone.

Deya Ozburn plays Herb’s wife, Bonnie. She is the most complex character in the play. She is confused, scared and burdened with secrets. The range of emotions both nuanced and dramatic that Ozburn conveys is huge and authentic.

The youngest brother, Gene, is played by David Brown. Like Bonnie, Gene often seems discombobulated. Brown plays him as down-to-earth and likeable in a fine bit of underplayed acting.

The one character who is not part of the family is Gene’s girlfriend, Kia, a small-time actress portrayed with unbridled joy and energy by Alison Monda. She lights up the stage with her physical antics. She just wants to have fun, and she is enjoyable to watch. Her outfits (costumes by Darren Mills) are wild and perfectly match her unbridled exuberance.

“The Last Schwartz” balances comedy and drama. We ache for the Schwartz family members. We love them and hate them and laugh all the way to the family patriarch’s grave and beyond.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Comfortably familiar

Impressive group show at American Art Company

Published in the Weekly Volano, February 9, 2011

Pictured: "AFTER CALDER" and “AFTER CALDER II” mixed media baskets by Jill Nordfors Clark. Photos courtesy American Art Company

I had not visited American Art Company in a long time, but when I dropped in Thursday afternoon it was like coming home, because so many of the artists in their current show are artists I've seen in many other shows at American Art Company and in other galleries.

There's something very comforting about seeing familiar works and something very nice about seeing slightly new directions from familiar artists.

Works by Jill Nordfors Clark are a prime example. Her sculpted basket "After Calder II" is done in a signature Clark style with her signature hog gut and other unusual materials. It has the classical cylindrical form with the slight variations in surface decoration I've come to expect from her work - and the same delicacy and beauty. But her other works in this show, while similar in form and style, have a brand new element: color. Bright, vivid color. At first blush my tendency was to prefer the one with the natural tones because the natural tones highlight the uniqueness of her materials. But I can't deny the appeal of the bright colors. Clark's works are among the best in the show.

But the absolute best, the one that just knocked my socks off because of its grand scale and nuanced forms and color changes, was Toot Reid's quilt titled "April 1, 2009-September 25, 2010." The title represents the start and end dates of working on this monumental quilt, which consists of six panels, each approximately three feet wide by five feet tall. Within each panel are intricate yet simple square shapes in subtly changing colors that look like ceramic tiles until you get close enough to the surface to see the weave of the cloth and notice the loose and almost invisible threads that extend inches beyond the surface. This is truly a beautiful work of art.

Another powerful piece is a strange steel cabinet by Timothy Leonard with fused and painted glass doors in a soft, cloudy blue by Susan O'Brien. One of the open doors reveals a golden chalice in blown and carved glass by Stephan Cox. The chalice didn't particularly impress me, but the cabinet did. It has qualities of old fashioned diving gear and also of caskets and an odd shape that twists and tapers from a small base to a broad square top.

The rest of the show consists of highly skilled but predictable quilts, turned wood, glass and paintings by familiar names such as Erika Carter, Art Hansen and Michael Ferguson. One other piece that I thought was particularly impressive was Merryll Saylan's turned wood "Still Juggling Balls." It is a round, flat bowl with circular indented lines following the circumference, and an opening in the middle that holds five little wooden balls. It is all in beautiful shades of blue and the lines create the impression of fast centrifugal motion on the outside with perfect stillness in the middle.

Through March, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Third Thursday until 8 p.m.
American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lady Day and the Blues

You know her from "Dreamgirls" at Tacoma Little Theatre (my pick for best actor, female, in a muscal in 2006) amd from "Ain't Misbehavin'" at Centerstage and many other outstanding musical performances around the South Sound. Now she's doing a Billie Holiday tribune performance at Centerstage.  

Here's a shortened version of the press release (which, incidentally, quotes me and calls me a "noted  theatre critic," thank you very much):

(Federal Way, WA) - Purple Phoenix Productions is excited to announce return of a new concert tribute to the music recorded by the legendary Billie Holiday, LADY DAY AND THE BLUES: The Billie Holiday Songbook. This one-woman concert is performed by gifted vocalist/entertainer Stacie Calkins, accompanied by a live 5-piece jazz ensemble, and is a Benefit for CenterStage  - a semi-professional theatre company that performs at the Knutzen Family Theatre, located at the Dumas Bay Center in Federal Way, WA. 

Billie Holiday is considered one of the iconic jazz vocalists of all time. Influenced by the jazz instrumentalists of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, she pioneered a new way of manipulating vocal phrasing. Most jazz aficionados consider that she changed the sound of popular singing forever.  

The tribute will include songs that Ms. Holiday enjoyed great success with: “Lover Man (Where Can You Be)”, “I Cover The Waterfront”, “Them There Eyes”, “I Cried For You”, “You’ve Changed” and “Good Morning Heartache”. While known as a vocalist, Holiday was also a prolific songwriter and poet, and the concert features many songs written by her, including “Lady Sings The Blues”, “Tell Me More and More and Then Some”, “Fine And Mellow”, “Billie’s Blues (I Love My Man)”, “Don’t Explain” and the legendary “God Bless The Child”.  Also included will be the controversial classic “Strange Fruit” which Holiday recorded in 1939. The lyrics were originally a poem written by a Jewish poet in New York, who later set it to music. When it was brought to Billie’s attention, she initially resisted singing it because it reminded her or her father’s death. When she finally decided to sing it, her record label didn’t want her to record it because of the serious political nature of the song – a vivid description of the aftermath of a lynching. Eventually she got a release to record it elsewhere. Even though many radio stations refused to play it, it became a cult classic and she included it in her nightclub and concert repertoire for the remainder of her career. 

“[She] inhabits the stage the way Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith inhabited nightclubs in their heydays” says noted theatre critic Alec Clayton.

Centerstage is located at The Knutzen Family Theatre, Dumas Bay Center at 3200 Southwest Dash Point Road in Federal Way.

The March 5 performance of LADY DAY AND THE BLUES will begin at 8:00 p.m. There is a $15 per person donation requested.  Seating is on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The word is H-U-M-O-R-O-U-S

Odd, fun characters: Laughs abound in 'Bee'

Conventional wisdom has it that it's the music and dancing that makes or breaks musical theater, not the plot. A notable exception is "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," winner of the Tony and Drama Desk awards for best book of a musical in 2005.
Left to right: Elise Campello as Olive Ostrovsky, Patrick Wigren as Leaf Coneybear, Harrison Fry as William Barfee, Danny Boman as Chip Tolentino, Bailey Boyd plays Marcy Park, on the floor between Barfee's legs Stephanie C. Nace as  Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre.Photo courtesy Capital Playhouse.

The book by Rachel Sheinkin is funny, but not so funny as to deserve those awards. Typical of Shinkin’s humor is when contestants ask for a word to be used in a sentence and outlandish examples are given. For the word “phylactery,” we get: “Billy, put down that phylactery, we’re Episcopalians.” For “fandango,” we get: “Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango” from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

This play humorously brings to light a whole host of foibles, fears and yearnings that plague teenagers, as well as a couple of screwball adults: Deanna Moon as Rona Peretti, who keeps reliving her long-ago win at the third annual spelling bee, and Jerod Nace as Vice Principal Douglas Panch, who tends to inexplicably go berserk from time to time.

Seldom has such an odd assortment of characters been brought together in one play. Just a few examples:

Vice Principal Panch is a buffoon of a school leader. Nace plays him deadpan, even while improvising, and he truly looks the part in his ridiculous wig and moustache.

Patrick Wigren, whom I loved as Rooster in “Annie,” is equally amazing as Leaf Coneybear. (What a great name.) Leaf is something of a savant who is plagued by thoughts of not being smart enough. Wigren plays him with facial plasticity and weird arm movements that remind me of Dick Van Dyck at his klutzy best.

Harrison Fry is a great William Barfee (pronounced bar-fay, but everyone calls him barfy). William has a rare mucus membrane disorder and spells out his words with his foot in a funny little dance.

Stephanie C. Nace as the overly earnest Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre – who should win the spelling bee simply by spelling her name – reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s classic Edith Ann from “Laugh In.” Nace’s Logainne speaks and sings with a pouty little-girl voice that I found endearing.

Also very earnest is Danny Boman as Chip Tolentino, last year’s spelling bee winner who is constantly frustrated and complains the contest is unfair. Boman also helped choreograph the show.

Bailey Boyd plays Marcy Park as confident, cute, perky and a fierce competitor.

And Stephen Anastasia is endearing as the juvenile delinquent Mitch Mahoney.

The songs are not as memorable as the odd assortment of characters, but a few do stand out. Boman’s solo, “Chip’s Lament,” which opens the second act, is all about an embarrassing moment that affects almost every teenage boy. It is fall-on-the-floor-laughing funny, and Boman belts it out.

On a more serious note, Elise Campello as Olive Ostrovsky sings beautifully and powerfully on “The I Love You Song” with backup by Moon and Anastasia, and in duet with Fry on “Second.”

Audra Merritt’s costume design added immensely to the flavor, and kudos to whoever did the hair and wigs.

The play might be a bit too silly for some, but if you like outlandish humor, it could be for you.

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

Review: Lakewood Playhouse's complicated comedy has heart

Published in The News Tribune, Feb. 4, 2011

Top: Alison Wiles plays Isabelle, from left, Jamie Pederson is Romaineville, Syra Beth Puett is Madame Desmortes and Jill Goodman is Capulet in Lakewood Playhouse’s “Ring Round the Moon.”

Bottom: Matthew Vail as Hugo with Alison Wiles as Isabelle.
Christopher Fry’s adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s “Ring Round the Moon” fell out of favor some years back and is seldom performed, according to Lakewood Playhouse director David Domkoski, who is leading a production there. That’s a shame.

In its send-up of the pretensions of the wealthy class, this play is like a comedy of errors, but less formulaic. Its wit, charm and clever wordplay remind me of Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare. Indeed, numerous Shakespearean references can be found and an all’s-well-that-ends-well ending.

The in-the-round seating at Lakewood Playhouse lends itself well to the many entrances and exits of the large cast. I particularly like the way they use brief but lush glimpses of a grand ball to transition between scenes.

As was typical at the time it was written in 1947, “Ring Round the Moon” is a fairly long three-act play. It might be better if it were shorter.

The plot is so complicated that Lakewood Playhouse saw fit to include in the program an outline of how each character is related to the others. It was fun to read but didn’t help much in sorting it out. It took me a while to figure out who was who, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the comedy, which was funny from the opening line and got funnier through the second act. It grew preachy and bogged down a little in the third act, but became lively again in the end.

It is the story of a heartless and conniving man about town, Hugo (Matthew Vail), and his kind-hearted but ineffectual twin brother, Frederic (also played by Vail). Diana (Nicole Lockett), a beautiful heiress, is engaged to Frederic but in love with Hugo. Practically everybody except Hugo, who has no heart, is in love with Isabelle (Alison Wiles), a poor ballet dancer. Meanwhile, the beautiful Lady India (Kat Christensen) is carrying on with Patrice (Brandon Brown) while secretly in love with Hugo. There is a subplot about people pretending to be who they’re not; the surprise reunion of two old friends, Capulet (Jill Goodman) and Isabelle’s mother (Kathi Aleman); and a separate subplot about a millionaire, Messerschmann (August Kelley), who renounces his wealth.

Vail does an amazing job of playing the twin brothers. The women say they always can tell the twins apart, even though they look identical, because they can see into their hearts (or where Hugo’s heart should be). In keeping with this concept, Vail distinguishes the brothers with gesture and expression. He never resorts to costume or hairstyle changes or anything physical to distinguish between the brothers, yet there is little doubt as to which brother he is playing at any given time.

Wiles plays Isabelle with style and restraint. She starts out quiet and shy but gradually gains self-confidence, and Wiles makes her subtle changes in personality believable and natural.

Goodman and Aleman are outstanding in supporting roles. Goodman is charming and Aleman is really funny as Isabelle’s overly expressive and not-too-bright mother. Also outstanding are Andrew Fry as the butler and Syra Beth Puett as Hugo and Frederic’s aunt, Madame Desmortes. These two are the only level heads in the household.

Despite being asked to accept that otherwise intelligent women will fall helplessly in love with the heartless Hugo and not be attracted to his twin – who is just as handsome and charming and a much kinder person – I thoroughly enjoyed “Ring Round the Moon.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

What fun!

"Pop Art to Post-Pop" at Tacoma Community College

The Weekly Volcano, February 2, 2011
Pictured, top:
"Bogo," painting by CJ Swanson, center: "Snack," painting by Frank Dippolito, bottom: "Water Lilys," photo by William Mitchell. Photos courtesy Tacoma Community College.

The Gallery at Tacoma Community College is celebrating Pop Art, the movement that revitalized American art half a century ago and has never quite gone away. Elements of Pop keep joyfully popping up.

Students from area schools and anyone else who wants to make a Pop Art piece to be displayed in the front section of the gallery may do so - supplies provided - while the selections from professional artists are displayed in the back gallery. I'll keep my comments to just the back gallery.

There are a lot of clever images and sly humor. The artistic quality ranges from "How fabulous" to "He's got to be kidding." There's some really bad drawing, and most of it is grouped together along the back wall, the grouping indicating that perhaps these works were purposely done badly. Like, for instance, a clumsily drawn portrait of a blue-faced Lee Marvin holding a pistol and an equally klutzy painting of Richard Nixon that is really funny and politically astute.

There is also some outstanding painting, and like the really bad paintings, many of the really good ones are grouped together along one wall. Most notable of these are a group of paintings by Frank Dippolito that combine words and images in beautiful ways and a similar painting by CJ Swanson. Dippolito's "Snack" shows a Hostess cupcake on a blue field with all the snack's ingredients spelled out. Swanson's "Bogo," also on this wall, is the best painting in the show. The words "Buy One Get One" in yellow and green are repeated to fill the canvas over a gray background. There's a fascinating peek-a-boo effect of back-and-forth movement in shallow space and the paint application has the kind of lush look of Wayne Thiebaud's paintings of cakes and pastries from the early 1960s. Dippolito's paintings have a similar lush quality.

On the same wall is a wonderful group of photographs of flowers in Monet's garden by William Mitchell. The color in these photos is described by the artist as "over saturated." These are strikingly beautiful pictures.

Bret Lyon has a lot of fun work in this show, including the largest and the smallest works. The largest is a sculpture of a fork with a ripe red cherry skewered on the tines. It stands seven or eight feet tall and rotates on a motorized base. It's like a Claes Oldenburg sculpture - not very original, but lots of fun. The smallest is Lyon's sculpture of strawberries and other fruit in a spoon jutting out of one wall.

One of the most intriguing works is Lavonne Hoivik's "Read the Label," a homage to Andy Warhol made of sculpted Campbell's soup cans with something else that I will not mention because to mention it would be to ruin the surprise.

"Pop Art to Post-Pop" - through May 3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday
The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, Building 5A,
entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Louise Williams: A Second Look

By Your Own Sweet Skill (top) Children in Sunlight,  both pastels by Louise Williams done in 1994

Published in the Weekly Volcano blog Spew Feb. 1, 2011

I'm still enjoying the book about the artist Louise Williams that I wrote about for this blog two weeks ago, Louise Rae Williams: Her Life and Work 1947-2004. It's a fascinating book partly because her art is so inconsistent. Frankly, she sometimes can't draw worth a flip, but other times her drawing is superb. How do you account for that? I surely don't know, but I know that such inconsistency is not uncommon among artists (including me back when I was actually making art and not just writing about it). Heck, even the great master Pablo Picasso turned out some perfectly horrible drawings and paintings.

This could be an object lesson in art appreciation. It's a comparison of two Louise Williams paintings.

"Children in Sunlight", a 1994 pastel, pictures three children at play in a sandbox. It's overly sweet, trite, clumsily drawn and strangely disturbing in an unintentional way. "By Your Own Sweet Skill," another pastel from the same year that's printed on the facing page in the book, is intentionally disturbing, beautifully drawn and mesmerizing. I wish I could own this painting.

One thing I like about both works is that each is color-keyed to a narrow value range. The colors in "Children" actually remind me of Pierre Bonnard, the great Post-Impressionist colorist, and the colors in "Sweet Skill" remind me of another great painter from the same period, Paul Gauguin. (The imagery and drawing in this one also reminds me of Gauguin.)

There is some clumsy drawing in "Children" that detracts from its sweetness. Both of the boys in the picture have legs that don't attach at the hip the way they should, and their hands look like claws, and the girl's face is harsh, mostly because of the dark shadows around her eyes. On the upside, the contour line on the boy on the right from his shoulder to his hand is exquisitely drawn with nicely flowing marks.

The composition of "Children" could stand some improvement. One thing I do like about the composition is that each of the four corners is different, a device artists often use to keep the viewer's eye from getting stuck on the central figures. I also like the circular edges of the sandbox seen at top right and bottom left. But the rest of the composition seems haphazard and unplanned, especially the harsh angle of the slide that touches the boy's head. If Williams was working from a photo or an actual scene, I suspect she just painted what was there with little thought about how the placement of objects might affect the design. But here again there's an upside. The chance quality of the composition lends to the painting the unpretentious feel of a snapshot; it's an unposed and natural moment.

"Sweet Skill" is a powerful image. The chunkiness and strength of the figure is like Picasso's gigantic classical figures and also like Gauguin's paintings of Tahitian girls. It's monstrous and sexy at the same time. I love the way she clings to the tree trunk and the way she seems to be one with the tree due to the similarity of colors between body and tree limbs. The colors set an ominous mood, and the dark-light contrasts and that strange mask-like face add dramatic impact.

I wish everyone reading this could get a copy of this book, and I wish I could sit down with each of you and go through it and talk about all the of the pictures. We might disagree on many of them, but I suspect we would like a lot more of them than we dislike. There are a limited number of copies left. While supplies last you may get yours by e-mailing Thomas Lineham at