Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First run-thru

I’d like to share a few video clips from the first run-thru for the staged reading of my screenplay “The Backside of Nowhere.”

But first, a warning. Someone asked if it was suitable for young children. No, it’s not. I wrote it for and about adults. The characters talk the way adults talk. What’s worse, there are flashbacks to when David and Sue Ellen and their friends were teenagers, and they talk like teenagers. David and Sue Ellen (Bryan Bender and Jennie Jenks) remember their first rather disastrous sexual encounters and talk about them in detail.
And Pop, the crusty old patriarch of the Lawrence clan, (Scott C. Brown) peppers his speech with most of the seven deadly words you can’t say on TV.

A few other thoughts: First, the three Ms - Melissa (Deya Ozburn), Murabbi (Mark Peterson) and Mary (Christine Goode) - do not have speaking roles in these clips, but they do have plenty to say. Melissa in particular has a gut-wrenching speech that I couldn’t include because it would give away too much of the story line. Also, don’t let the absurd humor mislead you; it is a dramatic story, but as is true in life, drama and humor go hand-in-hand.

Pictured from left:Syra Beth Puett as Shelly, 
Jennie Jenks as Sue Ellen and Christine Goode as Mary.

I was blown away by these actors. They had skimmed the script to highlight their parts, probably just looking for character names without actually reading much of it, and they had not had a chance to discuss it with each other or with the director. Yet they nailed their parts on the first reading, even convincingly playing multiple characters with different voices and getting the Southern accents. (Having grown up near where the story is set in South Mississippi, I expected to have to coach these Northwestern actors on the accents, but what little coaching there was came from Syra Beth Puett, who also grew up in the Deep South and plays the part of Shelly.

One final note: The director, Scott C. Brown, did most of the casting, with a few suggestions from me. He also reads the part of Pop Lawrence and “Fat Man.” Somehow Scott started calling “Pop” “Pops,” and that sounds so much better and seems to fit the character so much better that now I want to go back and do a search and replace all in my script.

Watch the video clips

Friday, May 27, 2011

It's Friday

Today is the first Friday in eight years that I haven't had a theater review either published in The News Tribune or posted on this blog.

My next scheduled review will be "Sweeny Todd" at Lakewood Playhouse in TNT June 10. Tentatively scheduled for after that will be "Play On" at Olympia Little Theatre and Theatre Artists Olympia's "Oleanna," also at OLT, "Proof" at Tacoma Little Theatre and Harlequin's "Summer in the Sixties." 

I feel kinda at a loss for what to do on a Friday if I don't have a review to post, so I'll go back to my previous life as a painter and share a couple of old paintings. The one on top is called "Dervish." I painted it in 1997 and it won Best in Show in the annual Commencement Art Gallery's South Sound Juried Exhibition that year. The other one is a really early painting, a portrait of my son Bill done in about 1985. I don't know if it's clear from the photo or not, but the figure and chair are cut out of a wood panel and attached to the canvas, and the picture frame and stuffed duck are real.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pr3v1ews & Pr0totyp3s"

Contemporary glass at Fulcrum
Glass art by Oliver Doriss 
Photo courtesy Fulcrum Gallery

The Weekly Volcano, May 25, 2011
How many typos can you count in the title above? The answer is none. That's the correct title for the new show at Fulcrum Gallery, complete with the threes in place of E's and weird capitalization. And the title is about as weird as the art, which is to typical glass art what one of Lady Gaga's outfits is to a typical Sunday-go-to-meeting dress.

Featured are glass art by gallery owner Oliver Doriss (it's about time he featured his own work) and neon artist Galen McCarty Turner - including a preview of "Bike Jump" by Gaytron the Imploder (aka McCarty).

First, about "Bike Jump": On Aug. 13 there will be "a life-defying implosion of rare stimulated gasses combustigated from 90,000 volts of raditude," in the alley of Sixth Avenue and I Street. In other words, McCarty Turner will jump a bike through a wall of neon. The wall of neon, a work of art in itself, can be seen in the back gallery at Fulcrum. The front gallery features glass and neon art by McCarty Turner and Doriss.

McCarty Turner is showing a dozen glass and neon wall-mounted pieces, each on a framed panel that looks something like the mounts for taxidermy fish. His pieces are either vertical and tend to look like alters or like little men made of glass tubes and bubbles or they are horizontally oriented and look like boats or ray guns. The tubes and bubbles are filled with neon that either glows softly in vibrant pinks and violets and phosphorous blue and green or crackles like lightning. Seen as a group in the gallery setting, they look like some mad scientist's laboratory.

Doriss is showing a group of three small pieces called "Clotched City" and four larger glass vessels from his "Botanical Series."

The "Clotched City" pieces are little amber and clear glass rock formations or stalagmites inside of clear glass jar-like containers. They remind me of Superman's ice cave. These are beautiful little works of art.

His larger pieces are open vessels with very thick, transparent-to-translucent walls with the forms of ferns and leaves etched into the surface by a process involving foil sheets that are heated to leave a kind of golden residue (Doriss explained the process to me, but it was too much for my non-scientific brain). These are like jewel-encrusted rain forests encapsulated in glass.

This is definitely a show worth seeing.

through June 11, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday–Saturday and by appointment.
Special G.A.S. Open House Wednesday, June 1, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma

Latest work by CJ Swanson
See my comments on the latest works by CJ Swanson on the Weekly Volcano blog Spew.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Young stars find a little ‘Fame' at Capital Playhouse

Fulfill your inner dreams of stardom at the musical “Fame,” Capital Playhouse’s latest production.

The News Tribune, May 20, 2011
Producing “Fame” gives Capital Playhouse an opportunity to trot out the considerable talents of their “Kids at Play” graduates in a rousing musical featuring a crowded stage of mostly adolescents.

The talent displayed by some of these teenagers and young adults is amazing. I can easily picture a few of them going on to much wider success in musical theater.

But the stage play by Jose Fernandez is a less-than-successful adaptation of the hit movie from 1980. While the music is infectious and production values are outstanding, individual performances range from incredible to mediocre.

There are a few too many clichés and worn-out jokes, such as when Carmen (Sierra Campbell-Unsoeld) says the three things she cares about are “me, myself and I” or the repeated joke about the “seafood diet” (see food, eat it).

Fernandez can’t be forgiven for writing those lines. There also are scenes of overwrought emotion that are not properly developed.

But perhaps that can be forgiven because it’s all about the singing and dancing, which is marvelous in moments.

Campbell-Unsoeld electrifies the production. She is comfortable on stage with the poise of a veteran actor. She is saucy and self-assured. At one point, Carmen says she wants to be like Anita in “West Side Story,” and Campbell-Unsoeld’s Carmen reminds me a lot of Rita Moreno’s Anita in the film version of that show. Toward the end, after she goes to L.A. and returns strung out on drugs, she captures the look and nervous twitches of an addict so well that it is painful to watch.

Ryan Tunheim is well-cast as the romantic lead, Nick Piazza. He has a soft and well-controlled voice, and his love ballads with Serena (Bailey Boyd) are sweet and sincere.

Boyd is outstanding. She plays a mousey, squeaky-voiced, shy and impulsive girl who is strong and commanding when she sings. Her rendition of “Let’s Play a Love Scene” is lovely, her solo on “Think of Meryl Streep” is poignant, and her reprise of “Love Scene” in duet with Tunheim is very moving.

Also outstanding is Holly Harmon as Miss Sherman the English teacher. Her rendition of “These Are My Children” is moving, and her acting is convincing.

Of special note is Antonia Darlene, whose character, Mabel, is a bit silly and adds little to the play until her one big solo on the comical “Mabel’s Prayer,” a gospel-style tune that brings the house down. Wow, can she ever belt it out!

Carolyn Willems Van Dijk’s ballet talents are on full and delightful display throughout, and she is very expressive.

On the downside, DuWayne Andrews Jr. appears stiff and unnatural in the role of Tyrone, the lead male dancer, and Jason Hodges almost overdoes it as the outrageously pretentious Joe Vegas.

The set by Bruce Haasl is up to his usual high standards, and the movement of rolling set pieces (typical of Capital Playhouse) is beautifully choreographed, albeit with unnecessary set changes. Matt Lawrence’s lighting effects are electrifying.

Despite the uneven script, this production of “Fame” provides an exuberant, toe-tapping evening’s entertainment.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and May 26-28 (the May 26 show is tentative); 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
Tickets: $28-$39
More information: 360-943-2744, www.capitalplayhouse.com

Friday, May 20, 2011

Screenplay reading The Backside of Nowhere

You are invited to a reading from the full length feature film script adapted from my novel "The Backside of Nowhere" directed by Scott C. Brown and starring a dozen of the best actors in the South Sound region.

This is a free event. I will be autographing copies of the book.

Wednesday, June 15 · 7:30pm - 9:30pm
Lakewood Playhouse
5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd.
Lakewood, Washington

"The Back Side of Nowhere is a wild and funny Southern novel set on the Gulf Coast in range of New Orleans. It deals in floods and hurricanes, not all of them natural." --Jack Butler, author of Living in Little Rock with Miss Littlerock and Jujitsu for Christ

"From movie stars to the Ku Klux Klan and from lovers to haters, Clayton's characters leave quite an impression." -- Linda Delayen, from her amazon.om review.

For more information, see http://www.claytonworkspublishing.com/Backside.html

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Coyote Forward"

Contemporary Native American art at B2

The Weekly Volcano, May 19, 2011

"Stone Giants Sleeping Under the Bear Star": Acrylic painting by Gail Tremblay

Three nationally prominent Native American artists and one quickly rising new Native art star are featured in the latest show at B2 Fine Arts.

Joe Feddersen, of Colville heritage from Omak and an art teacher at The Evergreen State College, is best known as a printmaker, but also makes baskets, glass art and sculpture. Readers may recall his recent outstanding solo show at Tacoma Art Museum. In the current show at B2, Feddersen has an installation called "Codex - 2009," consisting of 11 amber-colored, cylindrical vessels, each decorated with patterns and symbols that the artist says can be read in any number of ways, suggesting landscape, street signs and a forest of tree stumps. The symbols are very sparse and the colors muted. It is a quiet, contemplative piece that in a different setting could be seen as a sacred meditative alter. Feddersen acknowledges that it was influenced by a similar work by Eva Hesse.

Feddersen is also showing a couple of small prints (nice, but nothing like the amazing prints in his TAM show), and a beautiful large vessel with a mirrored surface. I wish there were more of his prints in this show.

Gail Tremblay, a descendant of Onondaga and Micmac ancestors and also on the TESC art faculty, has one of the most powerful pieces in the show, a two-panel acrylic painting called "Stone Giants Sleeping Under the Bear Star." Giant heads that look like craggy mountain ranges sleep under a black sky with perfectly circular stars. The silver, gold and light gray colors are particularly striking, as are her edges and brushwork. There is a monumental quality to this painting that is almost creepy.

Ironically, one of the least impressive works in the show is also by Tremblay. It's called "Grandmother Moon Reflecting Elder Brother Sun," and while the legends and the history of forced relocation it refers to are important stories, the painting with its clichéd man-in-the-moon image has none of the impact of her other works.

Tremblay is also showing some beautiful and well-crafted works made of cut and folded paper.

Lillian Pitt is one of the most highly regarded Native American artists in the Pacific Northwest. For her part of B2's current exhibit she's showing a lot of small sculptural figures, mostly in glass, and a group of callographs - a type of print that has many different applications, but in this instance look similar to monoprints and resist techniques. There are some medium-sized ones of stylized sunbursts with subtle colors and textures that give it the look of ancient drawings inscribed in rock walls, and a couple of large ones called "Visitors" and "The Old Ones" with figures like sarcophagi. These are very strong images.

Alexander McCarty, I'm told, studied with both Tremblay and Feddersen - and fits the "rising new Native art star" part of B2's current bill. The Feddersen influence is obvious in McCarty's prints, which are colorful and employ repetitive patterns

B2 is a large, beautiful space that lends itself nicely to a big show like this.

There will be a lecture and panel discussion with Tremblay and regional arts professionals Thursday, June 16, from 7-8 p.m. at the Broadway Center For Performing Arts Theater on the Square.
Coyote Foward

through June 18, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
open until 8 p.m. third Thursdays
B2 Fine Art Gallery, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma

Living icon

"THE PROBLEM WE ALL LIVE WITH": The Rockwell painting that made Ruby Bridges iconic. Photo courtesy of Lisa McKeown/Tacoma Art Museum

Civil rights icon Ruby Bridges brings her story to Tacoma

JIM STAFFORD: The Chehalis resident is forever linked to Rockwell. Photo courtesy of Tacoma ArtMuseum.

The Weekly Volcano, May 19, 2011

There is no formula for creating an iconic image of an age or event. Certain images simply touch a nerve. Such is the case with Norman Rockwell's painting of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted by U.S. marshals into William Frantz Public School in New Orleans in 1960. It was not the first school to be desegregated, nor the most famous (that honor belongs to Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957), but Rockwell's painting stands as a major icon o
f the civil rights movement. And the little girl, now almost 60 years old, remains a civil rights activist.

Rockwell's painting of that historic event is on display at Tacoma Art Museum along with many other original Rockwell paintings and all of his Saturday Evening Post covers. Ruby Bridges will be at the University of Washington Tacoma Saturday, May 21, to speak about her life and about those tumultuous times.

 RUBY BRIDGES then and now. Photos courtesy of Tacoma Art Musum.

Rockwell's depiction of Bridges' brave walk to school, The Problem We All Live With, was his first assignment for Look magazine in 1963 after ending his 47-year working relationship with the Saturday Evening Post. The painting, along with another, Murder in Mississippi, was the start of a new era for Rockwell, when he chose to depict more socially conscious and sometimes controversial issues. According to a museum statement, letters to the editor in response to his artwork in Look were a mixed bag. Some complimented the work and expressed hope for the future while others called Rockwell's work "vicious, lying propaganda." Still, Rockwell felt that the young girl's story needed to be told. Fifty years later, her story is no less powerful.

It was a violent time, three years prior to the murder of Mississippi's NAACP field secretary, Medgar Evers, before the fire bombing in Birmingham that killed four young girls and before the infamous murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss.
Ruby's story

Bridges was born in Mississippi in 1954, the year the United States handed down its landmark decision ordering the integration of public schools. Before she started school her family moved to New Orleans, where her father worked as a service station attendant and her mother took night jobs to help support their growing family. "As I got a bit older," Bridges says on her website, "my job was to keep an eye on my younger brothers and sister, which wasn't too difficult. Except for church and the long walk to the all-black school where I went to kindergarten, our world didn't extend beyond our block."      

Suddenly her small world expanded. Under federal court order, New Orleans public schools were finally forced to desegregate - six years after segregation was outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Bridges was chosen to be among a handful of black students to start first grade in New Orleans. She writes that her mother was all for it, but her father wasn't. She quotes him as saying, "We're just asking for trouble." He thought nothing was going to change, that blacks and whites would never be treated as equals. But her mother was excited that her daughter would have an opportunity to get a better education in the new school and a better chance for success later in life.

"My parents argued about it and prayed about it. Eventually my mother convinced my father that despite the risks, they had to take this step forward, not just for their own children, but for all black children," says Bridges

Six black children were chosen to integrate New Orleans public schools that day. Two of them backed out and the other three went to a different school. Ruby was the lone black student marching into William Frantz Public School. Federal marshals drove her to school. Her mother accompanied her.

"Mama had taught us about God, that he is always there to protect us. ‘Ruby Nell,' she said as we pulled up to my new school, ‘don't be afraid. There might be some people upset outside, but I'll be with you,'" recalls Bridges.

The crowd was noisy, but Bridges later recalls that "it wasn't any noisier than Mardi Gras."

She held her mother's hand and followed the marshals through the crowd and up the steps into the school. Her mother is not shown in Rockwell's painting. In the painting she is alone with two marshals in front and two behind. That is not a distortion of the facts, but is a depiction of a different day; the marshals had to continue escorting her into school day after day until they deemed it safe to let her enter alone. She didn't even go to class that first day. She spent the day in the principal's office while from outside white parents pointed and yelled at them, then rushed their children out of the school.

The next day she saw someone had a black doll in a coffin. She says that scared her. There were reprisals. Her father was fired from his job. The white owners of a grocery store told them not to shop there anymore. Even her grandparents in Mississippi were asked to move from the land they'd sharecropped for 25 years.

But there were supportive people as well, most significantly her new teacher, Mrs. Henry. At first, Mrs. Henry taught her alone in an otherwise empty classroom.

"The people I passed every morning as I walked up the school's steps were full of hate," says Bridges. "They were white, but so was my teacher, who couldn't have been more different from them. She was one of the most loving people I had ever known. The greatest lesson I learned that year in Mrs. Henry's class was the lesson Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tried to teach us all: Never judge people by the color of their skin."
The present

Bridges now teaches about racism through regular speaking engagements throughout the country and in Canada. In an article by Louise Elliot in the Toronto Star in 2000, Bridges insisted on telling her story to children only, without reporters present, "because she believes children are the only hope for stopping racism before bigotry has a chance to set in."

"We as adults have to create the environment that brings us all together," Bridges says. "Children can do something that we adults haven't been able to get past yet. They can change the world."

"There is much we can learn from Ruby Bridges," says TAM Director Stephanie A. Stebich. "Her courage as a first-grader helped to change this country. Her continuing message of hope and community is truly inspiring."

Museum curator Margaret Bullock says Rockwell's commissions for Look left most of the content and subject matter up to the artist. "Having been given almost complete autonomy for his first subject, Rockwell chose desegregation as vivified in the story of a young African-American girl he had never met, and whose name he did not even know. ... Rockwell's impetus to paint The Problem We All Live With came from a passage in John Steinbeck's book Travels with Charlie.

Steinbeck wrote: "The show opened on time. Sound of sirens. Motorcycle cops. Then two big black cars filled with big men in blond felt hats pulled up in front of the school. The crowd seemed to hold its breath. Four big marshals got out of each car and from somewhere in the automobiles they extracted the littlest Negro girl you ever saw, dressed in shining starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round. Her face and little legs were very black against the white. The big marshals stood her on the curb and a jangle of jeering shrieks went up from behind the barricades. The little girl did not look at the howling crowd but from the side the whites of her eyes showed like those of a frightened fawn. The men turned her around like a doll, and then the strange procession moved up the broad walk toward the school, and the child was even more a mite because the men were so big."
The window washer

Bridges is not the only living subject of a Rockwell magazine cover who has visited Tacoma during the run of the Rockwell exhibit. Jim Stafford has also made the trip. Stafford, a sculptor who lives in Chehalis, posed as the window washer for Rockwell's September 17, 1960, cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Stafford grew up just west of Chehalis. In 1960 he was a young soldier stationed at what was then Fort Devens, west of Boston, Mass. Stafford was an artist and an admirer of Rockwell. He wrote a letter to Rockwell and was surprised when Rockwell wrote back. It turned out that they had some common friends in the art world and Rockwell invited Stafford to come out to his home in Stockbridge. Stafford said he took a friend with him to visit the artist. Rockwell picked them up at the train station. "I did a little sketching while I was there," Stafford says. "And he critiqued it. He finally looked at me and said, ‘You'll do.'"

At first, Stafford didn't know what he meant, so he asked him and Rockwell explained that he wanted him to pose for a cover. "I posed outside his studio window while a press photographer took pictures of me from the inside," says Stafford. "Rockwell stood behind the photographer, twisting his face in the best ‘winking' animation he could muster."

The painting pictured a business executive at his desk with a pert, redheaded secretary taking dictation. Behind them is a window washer winking flirtatiously at the secretary, who seems more interested in the window washer than in her boss. Stafford got $30 for his work as a model, and Rockwell tried to line him up with a date with the young woman who posed as the secretary in the picture. Stafford and Rockwell remained friends and continued their correspondence over the years.

"It was a glorious time," says Stafford. "Rockwell was more than an illustrator. His work was always art first. He composed each work to tell a story and could capture the essence of a person."

He says Steven Spielberg now owns the painting.

Stafford later had a career in commercial art and got an MFA in Sculpture and has worked as a sculptor for more than 40 years in his studio near Chehalis.
Painting method

Another local connection with the Norman Rockwell exhibition is painter Peter Sheesley who has recreated Rockwell's artistic methods in painting demonstrations at the museum. He led a painting workshop on May 14 and 15 teaching others the process by which Rockwell worked. The workshop focused on painting genre scenes from photographs.

Sheesley graduated from the New York Academy of Art in 2004 with an MFA in Figurative Painting. "In graduate school we studied artistic anatomy, painting and drawing from life, history and techniques, among other academic approaches to making figurative art." Sheesley says. "Rockwell's artistic training at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York City likely had similarities. Like Rockwell, I'm interested in telling a story through people in my work. I find Rockwell's work interesting for its iconic depiction of historical details and evocative idealism. My own work doesn't have this emphasis - it's more of a personal response to life - but I am learning from Rockwell's working methods. I'm finding his at-size, fully-tonal preparatory drawing phase to be especially important. Ever since I delighted in the visual gags of Rockwell's Post covers on my grandparent's bathroom wallpaper as a kid, I have appreciated Rockwell's ability to make his depictions both completely believable and completely his own."

Sheesley taught college art classes in drawing and painting at a few colleges in the Midwest for three years. "I decided that being a college art professor is not for me right now, and moved to the West Coast to start a portrait painting business," Sheesley says. He's been living and working as a portrait artist in Centralia for a little over a year.
See It

Ruby Bridges will be at the University of Washington-Tacoma Saturday, May 21, at 2 p.m. A book signing with Bridges will follow the event. The event is sponsored by KeyBank and Eisenhower & Carlson.

American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell runs through May 30 at Tacoma Art Museum. To read Weekly Volcano art critic Alec Clayton's review of the show, click here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dog Sees God

Top: Hannah Tripp as Marcy and Meagan Develos as Tricia
Bottom: James Asmus as CB and Michael Korosec as Van
Photos by Laura@CyberTimesMedia
It’s not your father’s Charlie Brown
Review: "Dog Sees God" at South Puget Sound Community College
by Alec Clayton

Director Don Welch and the theater students at South Puget Sound Community College deserve a lot of credit for taking on such a risky production as Bert V. Royal’s biting satire “Dog Sees God.” It is a play that will make you laugh and make you cringe and shudder.

Imagine Charlie Brown and Lucy and the other kids from Charles Schultz’ comic strip “Peanuts” years later. They’re teenagers now, obsessed with sex, drugs and booze. Issues such as bullying and gay bashing rear their ugly heads.  Just as when they were six years old, these almost-grown kids are given to philosophizing on God and the nature of the universe.

The ads for the play teasingly state: “Drug use, suicide, eating disorders, teen violence, rebellion and sexual identity collide and careen toward an ending that's both haunting and hopeful.”

That’s putting it mildly. The cursing is over the top. There is also violence that is depicted so realistically that it is very hard to watch. This play presents a strange mixture of humor and harsh realism with, unfortunately, a few too many bad jokes and clichés. Early on in the play I thought they had captured the teenage jargon and mannerism well, but then I began to realize that perhaps what I was seeing was not so much realistic portrayals of teenage life as depictions of life as viewed through the lens of movies about teenagers. I could have been watching stoners and valley girls from the ’80s.

In spots this play is as clever as its palindrome title, and some of the many references to “Peanuts” are also witty. Nobody is specifically identified as a character from the popular comic strip, but CB’s initials and his immediately identifiable yellow shirt are unmistakable. Remember Schroeder, the kid who played a toy piano with a bust of Beethoven? His avatar in this play is a kid named Beethoven who plays the piano. Linus is no longer there, but there’s a kid who used to carry a security blanket like Linus and another kid who always had a cloud of doom following him – you get the idea. The cleverest take on the “Peanuts” character is Van’s Sister, based on Lucy van Pelt of “The Doctor Is In” fame. She is an inmate in an insane asylum who says (admitting it’s a cliché) that there are just as many crazy people on the outside as on the inside, and from her hospital room she continues to dispense wise psychological advice.

There are numerous themes, plots and subplots, but the overriding theme has to do with the one kid who gay and is tormented by the other kids. I don’t want to reveal what happens to him, but suffice it to say it’s a tragedy. Such things happen all too often, and sometimes the tragedies that take place on stage, no matter how dramatic, are dwarfed by similar tragedies that happen in real life; and yet, the depiction of a gay bashing in this show seems contrived. That statement, as many readers of my columns know, comes from someone who has experienced this story personally. Nevertheless, there’s an old rule of thumb in literature that says just because it happened that way in real life doesn’t make it believable in drama.

The actors are relatively inexperienced, but well directed, and they all seem comfortable on stage.
James Asmus is excellent as CB. He is sincere, believable and natural. Too bad he couldn’t have been bald headed and a little bit chubby.

Alex Bergman handles the tough role of Matt well. Matt is obnoxious and sexist, and has a violent temper. The best thing I can say about Bergman’s acting is that I could not stand Matt.

Kyle Musulas plays Beethoven with quiet dignity.

Hannah Tripp as Marcy and Meagan Develos as Tricia, as a couple of airheads, are delightfully ditsy, even if their characters are too Valley Girlish.

Jennifer Woodruff turns in a fine bit of restrained acting as Van’s Sister. Her timing and speech patterns were spot-on.

Kortney Molle plays CB’s spaced-out sister moved with grace but I didn’t find her character to be particularly interesting.

Finally, Michael Korosec as Van captures the gestures and speech patterns of a typical stoner, but after his initial scene the character becomes predictable and boring.

There are glaring faults with most of the characters, but in each case it is the fault of the writer and not the actors. I can see why this is an “unauthorized parody” of “Peanuts.” I doubt seriously Schultz would have given it his blessing.

Due to strong language and sexual themes, the play is recommended for mature audiences.

Where: Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Black Box Theater at South Puget Sound Community College
When: May 19-21 at 8 p.m. and May 22 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $12.50 for the general public, $7.50 for students, faculty and staff, online at OlyTix.org or by calling (360) 753-8586.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Into Something Good

Top from left: Matt dela Cruz, Alison Monda, Jeremy Adams and Alicia mendez

Bottom from left: Stacie Calkins, Alicia Mendez, Jesse Smith, Alison Monda, Jenny Shotwell.
Photo by Michelle Smith Lewis

Review: “I’m Into Something Good.”
May 13 to June 5, 2011
Centerstage Theatre
Tickets and Information: 253 661 1444 or www.centerstagetheatre.com 

The British are coming, and it’s a cause for celebration.
by Michael Dresdner

“If you remember the 60s” goes the stoner expression, “you weren’t there.” No matter. Centerstage Theatre gives you a do over with “I’m Into Something Good,” but in this case, “good” is a staggering understatement. This show is flat out stupendous; a tour de force that truly earned the full standing ovation the opening night audience gave them.

“Something Good” is not a play or even a musical, but a fast paced, exhilarating, flawlessly executed concert of non-stop song, dance, costumes and moods showcasing more than 50 of the best sixties songs from the “British invasion.” Every element of this Alan Bryce and David Duvall collaboration is perfect, with costumes, choreography, lighting and a skillfully cast group of four men and four women not just mimicking the period, but convincingly recreating the experience we white hairs remember.

David Duvall, a brilliant musician with an encyclopedic knowledge of genres, is both musical director and on stage band leader, and his skilled fingerprints are all over this production. A five piece band, with David covering several keyboards, sits on a riser at the rear of the stage. They segue seamlessly from one set to the next without a gap, adroitly nailing each group’s endemic style perfectly, from light and airy to the powerhouse sounds of much larger groups. As my wife put it, “trust David to make a five piece band sound like a full orchestra.”

He faithfully recreates the actual sounds of the originals without the sort of latter day stylizing that can sour memories for us old timers. A tough and exacting director to work with, he spares no effort to get it right, and it shows. Nor does he make it easy for the cast; I could swear we heard eight part harmonies during Blackbird and Time of the Season, and the finale group numbers had all the power and complexity of a full blown choir.

David also has a knack for placing just the right singer in his or her perfect song. His cast rose to the challenge, doing so perfect a job of becoming those halcyon wonders that I was midway through the first set before it dawned on me that, astoundingly, none of these singers were even alive when this stuff was new.

The cast comprises what is now called a show choir, trading off leads, backup and choral numbers while dancing nonstop. “Glee” has nothing on this troupe. Each a polished and powerful singer alone, they meld flawlessly in chorus.

James Padilla, who nailed Donavan to a tee on “Mellow Yellow,” repeatedly filled the role of handsome front man, a sort of Mick Jagger meets James Dean. Sporting an almost Dana Carvey look, Jeremy Adams did justice to everything from Herman Hermits’ “I’m Into Something Good” to the Beatle’s “Ticket to Ride.” Jesse Smith was completely believable in the cool guy role on songs like “Wild Thing.” Rounding out the men was Matthew Dela Cruz, the talented boy next door you brag about knowing when his group makes it big.

The women, if anything, were even more impressive. Alicia Mendez – think Twiggy, but with a better figure and vastly more talent – kicked things off skillfully channeling Petula Clark on “I know a Place,” then hit home again with versions of The Seekers “Georgy Girl” and Lulu’s famous “To Sir With Love.” Alison Monda started strong and sassy on Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” then in act two morphed into that achingly sensuous girl who always got invited to dance on stage with the band. Powerhouse vocalist Stacie Calkins, undoubtedly the best torch singer in this area and well beyond, brought us to tears, literally, with a gut wrenching version of “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Jenny Shotwell, whose very talent answers the question “what happens when you turn a well trained opera singer loose on pop music,” dialed it down for the coy “My Boy Lollipop,” then let loose with her own show stopper on “You’re My World.”

And the dancing! There’s no set as such, and no props, but choreographer Amy Sennett-Starner recreated a range of moods with just movement. She hit all the old hokey dances spot on, recreated the dreamy acid and stoner feel during the psychedelic era songs, and brought back the sexual abandon of the free love era in the second act. Christina Barrigan provided excellent support with lighting that ranged from the stark spots on early groups to evocative kaleidoscope swirls and subtle ranges of color for acid era music. Like all really good lighting, you don’t so much notice it as feel its effects. Adding to the look were Julia Evanovich’s absolutely perfect period costumes, fitting both the musical eras and the personalities of the various characters the actors created.

You get the picture. This may well be not only the best theatre, but the best concert you’ll see in a long time. To borrow a phrase from the era, run, don’t walk, to get tickets for this one. Trust me; you do not want to miss this show.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It’s a constant juggling act

I’ve always worked this way: work on project B for 10 minutes, switch to job 1 and then to job 2 and back to project B; make a call to confirm a name or date and while waiting for the call-back do some more work on job 1.
I was able to do it without getting confused until I reached my 60s. Now I confuse what I’m working on at the moment with what I was working on half an hour ago. But I keep operating in the same way because it’s the only way I know.
When I worked for Ranger Publishing (the Ranger, Weekly Volcano and previously Choices and Tacoma City Paper) I did a lot of non-work-related stuff on the job. My editor never suspected, and it was cool anyway so long as I got my job done on time. (Ron, are you reading this? Now you know.)
I wrote freelance articles for The Olympian and Art Access at my desk at Ranger Publishing. I even wrote an entire novel, Imprudent Zeal, at that desk. I would go out and conduct an interview, cover a sporting event or an awards ceremony or school event at Ft. Lewis, snap a few photos, see an art exhibit in Tacoma, head back to the office, drop the film off at the photo place around the corner, and write my article. I was quick and didn’t make too many mistakes. I always finished my work on time and had time to kill, so I volunteered to help the copy editor.
When I offered to take on other jobs, my editor said he was asking too much of me already, and I didn’t argue with him because I could use that extra time to work on my own stuff.
BTW, the copy editor helped edit that novel, but she didn’t do it at work; she did it at home on her own time.
Now I’m working on a sequel to The Backside of Nowhere and an adaptation for the stage of Reunion at the Wetside, and I keep wanting to call Marcia from the new book Alex, a character in the last book, plus I’m trying to promote the upcoming reading from my screenplay of whichever book it is I did a screenplay of and in between working on those things and websites for customers I’m writing theater and art reviews.
It’s no wonder that when I asked Jennie Jenks to be in the screenplay reading she thought I was talking about another reading from Reunion, which she had already done twice. Did I tell her the wrong title? Probably. I do seem to be making more mistakes these days than I used to, but I have good people around to correct me.

On another subject, tomorrow I will post on this blog my first review by a guest reviewer – Michael Dresdner’s review of “I’m Into Something Good” at Centerstage.  On Wednesday I’ll post my review of “Dog Sees God” at South Puget Sound Community College. Thursday comes my review in the Weekly Volcano of the new Native American art exhibit at B2 gallery and Friday in The News Tribune my review of “Fame” at Capital Playhouse.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: By golly, Tacoma Musical Playhouse's ‘Hello, Dolly!’ is still fun

Diane Bozzo plays Dolly and Dan Engelhard is Horace Vandergelder in “Hello, Dolly!” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. The four young lovers are, left to right: Minnie (Dannielle Krehbiel), Barnaby (Brad Walker), Cornelious (Matt Posner) and Mrs. Molloy (Leischen Moore). 

One of the more iconic moments at the end of the so-called Golden Age of musical theater was Dolly Levi’s majestic entrance to the title tune of “Hello, Dolly!” But it is not Dolly’s big entrance or the song’s even more dramatic reprise in the finale that lights up the stage in this perennial favorite. It’s not even the story of her conniving to win the heart of Horace Vandergelder (Dan Engelhard).

It’s the secondary story of Vandergelder’s clerk, Cornelius, and his sidekick, Barnaby, and their comedic love affairs with Mrs. Molloy and her employee, Minnie. Matt Posner as Cornelius provides the spark that ignites the Tacoma Musical Playhouse production of “Hello, Dolly!”

Posner’s voice, his expressiveness in both body and face, and his absolutely perfect timing define excellence in musical theater. And his cohorts in this quartet of silly young lovers are also outstanding. Leischen Moore is delightful as the widow Molloy, and she sings beautifully. Brad Walker as Barnaby and Dannielle Krehbiel as Minnie are both sweet, funny and engaging.

The story line of “Hello, Dolly!” hardly needs explanation. Dolly (Diane Bozzo) is a matchmaker and a larger-than-life character. She’s supposedly going to match the rich Vandergelder, who doesn’t really want to get married but does need a housekeeper, with the widow Molloy, who doesn’t particularly like him and who quickly becomes smitten with Cornelius. But, of course, Dolly’s true intent is to get Vandergelder to marry her.

The story is silly and outdated, but there is some great singing and dancing with the kind of big production numbers TMP excels in and musical theater audiences love.

One of the funniest and most joyful song-and-dance numbers comes near the end of Act 1 when Cornelius and Barnaby pretend they don’t know how to dance and Dolly teaches them how. Posner and Walker have some great comedic moves here. Then Bozzo steps in front of the curtain to do an outstanding job on the opening refrains of “Before the Parade Passes By,” which is a much better song before all the other singers and dancers come on to make it into a celebratory march.

The big restaurant scene in Act 2 – ostensibly the comic highlight of the play – is just stupid. The jumping back and forth from Dolly and Vandergelder’s private dining room to the private dining room shared by Cornelius, Barnaby and their dates is like an insipid precursor to the inspired insanity that was done many years later in the final of each episode of “Laugh In.”

Fortunately, that is followed by the best vocal solo in the play, Posner’s “It Only Takes a Moment,” which is Cornelius’ love song to Mrs. Molloy.

Bozzo is outstanding in moments, but also uneven in her portrayal of the title character.

While the set is uninspired, the costumes by Joan Schlegel are magnificent, with great rich colors in the women’s gowns. The orchestra directed by Jeffrey Stvrtecky is as good as ever, and John Chenault’s lighting is up to his usual high standards.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 29.Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., TacomaTickets: $20-$27

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Susan Aurand and others at Childhood’s End

"Dwelling Places" - mixed media construction and oil on panel by Susan Aurand

The Weekly Volcano, May 11, 2011

While driving past Childhood's End Gallery too quickly to get a good look through the window, I spotted some house-shaped boxes on the wall that were very colorful. My first thought was, "OK, birdhouses - cute and kind of trite, but at least they're brightly colored."

First impressions of art are often misleading. When I went back the next day to take a closer look (which I wouldn't have done if something hadn't grabbed my attention), I was surprised to see the birdhouses were mixed-media constructions with oil painting on panels by Susan Aurand, a longtime arts faculty member at The Evergreen State College. These pieces are much different than anything I've previously seen by Aurand, and they are much better art than I first suspected. In fact, they may be the most inventive art I've seen from her.

I counted 11 birdhouses (I use the term lightly; they're wall-hanging sculptures that look like birdhouses to me). Each is approximately 18-to-20 inches tall and about a foot wide. They are relatively flat wall hangings shaped like houses with paintings and objects attached. The edges are either black or natural wood colors, each has painted flat panels in front, and each has a peak roof with various objects either painted on or attached to the eaves. The paintings are mostly landscape scenes or paintings of grasses, feathers or clouds. The attached objects are such things as feathers, sticks, rocks and glass. Many of them look like items seen in Native American carvings or like the collected oddities seen in Joseph Cornell sculpted boxes. There is definitely a strong affinity for nature in these pieces and a feeling that they are almost shamanistic.

And the colors glow like embers in a campfire. Brilliant sunshine colors - mountaintops at sunset or streaks of sunlight bursting from behind stormy clouds in blazes of celestial fire.

The objects and the imagery may verge on the cliché, but they are finely crafted and beautifully painted, and there are some unique combinations of objects that are fun to contemplate.

"Dwelling Places I" is a black frame house and within the eaves there is a bird's nest built of sticks with golden eggs in the nest. A stormy sky with a fiery sun is painted on the flat panel below, and right in the middle of the sky is a shelf with a single golden egg on it, as if it is the golden jewel amongst the golden eggs.

In "Dwelling Places II" a jawbone and three feather quills rest in the space under the peak of the roof, and on the flat front panel is a painting of clouds and sun with the diagrammatic drawing of two constellations, one in the shape of a bird.

"Leaving Ohio" is a brown frame house with a nest of twigs and the cut-out silhouette of a bird flying away from the nest. There is a set of doors in front covered with painted stalks of wheat or grass. The doors open to reveal a painted backdrop of feathers and a tiny little house stuffed with grass or straw. This is one of the best pieces in the show.

Also showing are a number of linoleum block prints by Mimi Williams, a number of playful and decorative batiks by Lisa Kattenbraker and segmented and turned-wood bowls by John Shrader.

Through May 29, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday–Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Unexpected Tenderness at Harlequin

Pictured, top: Jackson Jones as Roddy and Jason Haws as Archie in  "Unexpected Tenderness" at Harlequin Productions.
Right: Kate Parker as Molly and Jason Haws.
Photos by David Nail

In a world in which priests molest little boys, in which teenage boys and girls post videos on social network sites of their friends getting drunk and having sex, in which kids take automatic rifles to school and mow down half their classmates it should not be too difficult to envision a man as emotionally crippled – and crippling – as Roddy Stern’s father, Archie. Archie is the father in Israel Horovitz’s semi-autobiographical play “Unexpected Tenderness.”

This is the third Horovitz play Harlequin Productions has done in as many years. Like the others – “Sins of the Mother” and “Six Hotels” – it rockets rapidly between outlandish humor and extreme emotional agony. People who cannot take riding an emotional roller coaster should not see this play.

In an awe-inspiring acting tour de force, Jason Haws plays the grown-up Roddy narrating the story of his youth, and he plays his own father, Archie. The adult Roddy looks back on events in his youth in 1953 as his family struggled to deal with the unpredictable behavior of his father. When we first see the father he seems to be a good natured and loving husband and father. Quite charming in fact, and clearly in love with his wife, Molly (played by Kate Parker). Even as they grow into middle age with teenage children and taking care of elderly parents, they remain tenderly romantic. They talk and giggle late into the night, dance with each other in the kitchen, and kiss so passionately you get the feeling they’re about to make love on the kitchen table right in front of the whole family.

But early on Archie gives hints that their family life is not so charmed as it might first appear. When it is time for him to go to work, he can barely force himself to leave for fear of what his wife might do while he’s gone. Suddenly Archie is revealed as a pathologically jealous, controlling and very creepy man.

Also very creepy is Willie (Aaron Hobbs), the mysterious man who works with Archie but is never allowed in their house. Local theater-goers will remember Hobbs from his outstanding performance in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” at Olympia Little Theatre – a performance for which I named him “Best Comic Actor 2009” in my annual “Critic’s Choice” column. In this show he is not so likeable. He plays a loud, boorish, obnoxious and dangerous man, and he plays him very believably. We’ve probably all know people like Willie and hope we never run into them again.

There are two excellent young actors in the roles of the Stern children. Katie Griffith as Sylvie and Jackson Jones as young Roddy are each about the age of the characters they play, meaning early teens, and they each do a very good job with their roles. The cast is rounded out by Walayn Sharples as the grandmother and David Wright as the grandfather. Wright convincingly stutters and shakes with an illness with symptoms like Parkinson’s. Overall it is an excellent cast, well directed by Scot Whitney.

The play is organized in an odd manner. The first act is all of a piece with the action in the Stern home flowing smoothly from scene to scene. The second act is more episodic and disjointed with first a scene almost out of context with Willie, young Roddy and Archie in Archie’s truck, and then a dialogue between young Roddy and his grandmother, a horrifying scene between Molly and Willie with an even more alarming intervention by Archie, and then back to the big family drama. These slightly disjunctive scenes mirror Archie’s psychological and emotional states.

From Jill Carter’s usual fine scenic design to David Nail’s lighting, the direction and ensemble acting and most especially Jason Haws’ powerful acting, “Unexpected Tenderness” is a brilliant and emotionally wrenching play.

An afterthought
Every time I see a play at Harlequin I think about saying this: The essays Artistic Director and co-founder Linda Whitney writes for the programs constitute some of the best expository writing published in the South Sound. I thoroughly enjoy her essays.

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through May 28
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; http://www.harlequinproductions.org/

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Changes, changes, changes

Once again local arts coverage is on the chopping block, and the butcher’s cleaver landed squarely on my theater reviews. I’d already been ousted from the pages of The Olympian, and cut back to three reviews a month in The News Tribune, and now the cuts are going deeper. Last week I got the word that my column has been downsized again and effective June 1 The Tribune will only publish one review a month.

I don't blame my editors – the papers are really hurting financially, and many staff writers, freelancers, editors and staff are being let go completely so I'm lucky to have a gig at all. The papers are becoming mere shells of what they once were and talented and hard working writers are finding themselves unemployed – you know, just like teachers and fire fighters and factory workers.

I have been reviewing area theaters for eight years. It has been a dream job. I get to take my wife on a date to the theater sometimes up to two or even three times a week, and then tell people what I thought about the plays, and I get paid for it. What could possibly be better? Now I still get to do that, but only once a month, and how long before even that gets taken away?

People in the theater community have come to expect my coverage as a way to get the word out about their productions, and I've always felt a responsibility to cover as much as possible, even reviewing plays in my blog that I haven’t been able to review in print. This is a responsibility I welcome, and I intend to keep that up to the best of my ability so long as theaters are willing to comp me. I don’t get paid for reviews published in my blog, and it costs me time and money, especially when having to commute now that gas prices have gone through the roof. I live in Olympia and have to commute to review plays in other towns. With this in mind, what I will do is sometimes get guest writers to review shows in Tacoma and elsewhere that I am not reviewing for TNT. For instance, Michael Dresdner is going to review “I’m Into Something Good” at Centerstage for my blog.

My scheduled reviews for the rest of this month are:
May 11 – “Unexpected Tenderness” at Harlequin Productions, reviewed for my blog (hint: already seen it and loved it)
May 13 – “Hello, Dolly!” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, The News Tribune
May 18 – “I’m Into Something Good” at Centerstage, reviewed by Michael Dresdner for my blog
May 20 – “Dog Sees God” at South Puget Sound Community College, my blog
May 20 – “Fame” at Capital Playhouse, The News Tribune

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: Tacoma Little Theatre's 'Patsy Cline' is one crazy good time

Sharry O’Hare plays Louise Seger and Emilie Rommel-Shimkus is Patsy Cline in “Always ... Patsy Cline” at Tacoma Little Theatre. Photo by Dean Lapin

The News Tribune, May 6, 2011

Opening night at Tacoma Little Theatre’s “Always... Patsy Cline” was one of the most enjoyable evenings of musical entertainment since this same show played at Centerstage in 2008.

After seeing the same show at different theaters, it is always tempting to compare. I usually avoid that temptation, but here I’d like to say that if you saw this show at Centerstage and loved it, I can promise you that this one is just as big a kick – same wonderful songs, same spot-on acting and singing (Cayman Ilika as Patsy at Centerstage, Emilie Rommel-Shimkus at TLT) and the same outrageous humor from Patsy’s friend, Louise (Kate Jaeger at Centerstage and Sharry O’Hare at TLT). You’ll love O’Hare’s take on a downhome Southern gal and Rommel-Shimkus’s mellow and plaintive voice, and the true love between the singer and her number one fan will bring a lump to your throat.

When Louise invites Patsy into her kitchen, there is the feeling that we in the audience are being invited in as well, to smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and talk through the night about spouses and children and hard times. The homey feel is as natural as the set with the chrome-edged table and black-and-white linoleum floor (set design by director Micheal O’Hara).

The story by Ted Swindley is based on actual events. Louise Seger was a huge fan of Patsy Cline, and she met her hero one night when Patsy was playing the Esquire Ballroom in Houston. She invited the singer home after the show, and they became close friends. Over the next three years, they exchanged heartfelt letters, then Cline was killed in a plane crash, at just 30 years old.

Louise tells the story, speaking directly to the audience during most of the play, but occasionally acting out scenes with Patsy, who rarely speaks but rather tells her story through song. And what wonderful songs they are – hit tunes including such greats as “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Crazy,” plus standard classics such as “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and wonderful religious hymns such as “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”

With a dark wig, bright red lipstick and wonderful costumes, Rommel-Shimkus captures the look of the famous country singer. Her costumes by designer Michelle Graves run the gamut from traditional and showy country outfits to a prim pink 1960s suit. She captures her mannerisms well but does not so much try to imitate Patsy’s voice as interpret her songs in her own way. On the ballads she sounds more like Patsy, but on the more upbeat tunes she sounds more like herself, and does not, for instance, even attempt the yodeling on “Lovesick Blues.” Her voice is more round-toned and subtle than Patsy Cline’s with a husky, sultry quality that is particularly effective on “Walkin’ After Midnight” and the very soulful “Faded Love.”

O’Hare plays directly to the audience, encouraging audience members to sing along on some songs and even dancing with one man in the audience. (Avoid aisle seats if you’re afraid of audience participation.) She throws herself into the role, she is thoroughly engaging and she nails the Texas drawl. It’s impossible not to love O’Hare’s Louise.

Both actors capture the essence of their characters while still expressing their own personalities, and both seem to thoroughly enjoy themselves.

Music is provided by the Bodacious Bobcats Band, a terrific five-piece country band comprised of Terry O’Hara, conductor and piano; Bill Golterman, guitar; Michael Martinez, bass; Caitlin Upshall, fiddle; and Peter Tietjen, drums.

Director Micheal O’Hara (no relation to Terry but married to Sharry despite the different spelling of their shared last name) doubles as a stagehand in a cowboy outfit and manages to inject subtle humor into his job of moving a microphone on and off stage.

I left the theater with “Bill Bailey” in my head and woke up the next morning with those great songs still in my mind, wishing I could go back and see the whole show again.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 29. Actor benefit is at 2 p.m. May 28
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
Tickets: $17-$26
This is a painting by Julia Haack. Check out my article about her on the Weekly Volcano blog

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sweet abstractions

Paintings by Angela Wales Rockett at Amocat Cafe

“Dazed Spring.” A painting by Angela Wales Rockett
The Weekly Volcano, May 5, 2011

Drink in a little art with your coffee at Amocat Cafe, where throughout the month of May you can view paintings by Angela Wales Rockett.

Rockett's paintings are richly colored and expressively textured but very subdued abstractions inspired by landscape minus any overt references to land or water - with the one exception of a painting of the Tacoma Dome.

It has been a long-held belief of mine that abstract art should resonate with the forms and colors of nature without overtly referencing the appearance of actual objects (be they trees, ocean, human or animal or even man-made objects). If you're going to paint a tree, then paint a tree. But if you're going to make abstract art that attempts to capture the essence of a tree, don't paint the damn branches and leaves. That's a cheap concession to viewers who insist on something recognizable; it's gimmicky, and it perverts the intent and spirit of abstraction. That's why I don't like Rockett's "Tacoma Dome." Besides which, there's very little of interest in the shape, color and texture of that structure.

But enough about that. I truly like everything else in this show. When you sit at your table you might be tempted to overlook these paintings; there is nothing bombastic about them - no weird or sexy imagery or exciting colors, just simple and solid painting in muted tones that will grow on you if given a chance.

I like her use of color, mostly dark blues, black and white, with peek-a-boo slashes of brick red or dull orange or tan. Most of her colors are toned down. One gets the feeling of seeing bits of houses or barns or boats with scraps of paper and other debris blown about. We're viewing a world right after a storm.

All of her paintings are atmospheric. In many there is a sort of horizon line with turbulent soft forms at top and deeper tones toward the bottom - her only reference to sky, land and water, but just enough to create the needed resonance with nature.

"Equinox" has a jagged form in dark blue of the type Crayola calls "Midnight." It could be an oil platform or a wrecked ship. Its rough form is reflected in the calmer blue below.

There are subtly energetic scratches in the area at top and wet drips of paint below.
There are two small collages that work well. One has a slip of paper like some kind of ticket with Asian writing on it glued to a field of atmospheric blue. It's a nice painting, but the collage element separates from the rest too much. The other collage, "Lunar Phases," works better because the collage elements mesh more with the painted elements.

The best works in the show are those in a group of paintings with semi-opaque white painted over darker colors. The best of these is "Elks Lodge." Also very nice is a group of four smaller paintings, each about six inches square. These are more dramatic than the larger paintings, with more intense colors and stronger dark-light contrasts.
Angela Wales Rockett

Through May, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday
7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday– Friday
7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Amocat Cafe, 625 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma