Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The good, the sad, and the ugly.

"Oliver" at Lakewood Playhouse

reviewed by Michael Dresdner

With outstanding production values and a big, energetic cast, “Oliver” at Lakewood Playhouse equips itself very nicely, all in all. Thanks in large part to an upbeat treatment by director/choreographer Casi Wilkerson, the musical manages to be a more lighthearted experience than you might expect. After all, it is a dark and depressing story, replete with hunger, homeless children, orphans, kidnapping, arrests, and four deaths, two of them killings.

Based on Dickens’ story “Oliver Twist,” it’s the tale of a thirteen year old boy sold by a cruel orphanage operator to an undertaker, then adopted by a gang of young pickpockets led by the avuncular Fagin. Oliver eventually gets arrested and ends up in the care of a rich man who we later discover is actually… Never mind. Go see it if you don’t already know the happy ending.

I’ve commented before about musicals with casts chosen for their singing ability in spite of weak acting chops. This one, if anything, is just the opposite with excellent actors whose singing prowess pales by comparison. That, and a few casting weaknesses, were the flaws in an otherwise well executed production.  

Fortunately, weak lead vocals were, with few exceptions, less of a problem than you might imagine. The rousing and popular “Food, glorious food,” “Oom-Pah-Pah” and “Consider Yourself” are ensemble numbers. Thanks to musical direction by Deborah Armstrong Evans, choreography by Wilkerson, and a wonderful support cast laced with better vocalists than most of the leads, these pieces were all delightful. That’s no small feat, as the logistics of such production numbers can be daunting.

Most of leads were strong actors playing slightly exaggerated characters drawn with broad strokes. Luckily, their various lead songs and duets were mostly rough hewn numbers that came off just fine without operatic voices behind them.

Mr. Bumble (Jeffery T. Weaver) and Widow Corner (Jen Aylsworth) as the orphanage adults pulled off a blustery, bawdy duet that was just perfectly shy of over the top. Ditto for the undertaker couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (Alexander Smith and Kaelyn Langer). Smith, who later neatly morphs into the old, stooped Mr. Brownlow, was, as he always is, hysterical, endearing and a joy to watch. Langer adroitly matched him in talent, character and style, which I assure you is nothing to sneeze at.

Fagin was played by veteran Steve Tarry, who turned in yet another excellent performance, something we’ve come to expect from him lately. Bill Sykes (John Munn) was the quintessential dark and dangerous villain, underplayed just enough to be even more menacing. Paired with lover Nancy (Deya Ozburn), their scenes, culminating with his murdering her onstage, were the most intense of the evening.

What was arguably the best overall performance, though, and certainly the most surprising for a young actor, was by Coleman Hagerman playing The Artful Dodger. Another surprise tucked away in the ensemble was Bianca Ponnekanti, a young woman with enough ├ęclat to have caught my eye repeatedly while otherwise buried in large production numbers.

The titular lead, played by Mason Lahd, was sadly weak, if only by comparison to the rest of the adult cast. Such a role, like that of Annie in “that other” orphan musical, cries out for a singer and actor with talents well beyond his apparent age. Mason may get there, but at least the night I saw him, he was not there yet.

The other disappointment was “As Long As He Needs Me,” easily the most famous song that came out of “Oliver.” Like a rose growing amidst a garbage heap, this hauntingly beautiful torch song provides a welcome counterpoint to an otherwise dark setting. It wants a Susan Boyle treatment, delivered with a soaring, sweet, powerful voice. Instead, whether by actor’s or director’s choice, it was done with more angst and less heart wrenching beauty than I would have liked.

As for the production support, it was excellent across the board. The set by Blake York was one of the best and cleverest of a long line of remarkable Lakewood sets, expertly painted by a team led by James Venturini. The costumes, in spite of the enormous cast, were universally superb, thanks to Diane Runkel. Nic Olsen’s lighting design not only worked beautifully, but contained some subtle delights, like a gobo that made Fagin’s chair, with him in it, look like he was perpetually behind prison bars.

On the whole, though it has its less than perfect moments, it is a musical worthy of your time and attention, and one of those classics that everyone should see at least once.

Nov. 25 through Dec. 23, 2011
Lakewood Playhouse

Photos by Dean Lapin 
Top photo: Nancy (Deya Ozburn) on the right, The Artful Dodger (Coleman Hagerman) on the left
Center photo: Fagin (Steve Tarry) in the chair, Nancy (Deya Ozburn) standing
Bottom photo: Mr. Bumble (Jeffery T. Weaver) on the right and Widow Corner (Jen Aylsworth) on the left.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The final Stardust

Alicia Mendez as Bonnie Kent kisses NYPD Police Officer Owen Duvall (Michael Lengel) as Kate Gallagher (Alison Monda), Ginger Hart (Megan Tyrrell) and Charlie (Christian Doyle) watch.
Matt Posner as W.C. Fields, Christian Doyle as Charlie, 
and Megan Tyrrell as Mae West.

 From left, Alison Monda, Matt Posner, 
Alicia Mendez and Ryan Holmberg as Lt. Joey Malloy.

Coffee with Charlie (Christian Doyle) 
and IRS Agent Hobson Bierce (Scott C. Brown)

 Jack Steiner as Jimmy Sutton, second from left, 
with the cast of "Stardust Serenade."

Harlequin Production’s “Stardust Serenade” is the 17th and final show in a holiday tradition of rollicking 1940s-style musicals written by Harlowe Reed and directed by Linda Whitney -- all set either on Christmas Eve or within days of Christmas and all but one set in the Stardust Club in Manhattan during World War II. This is the seventh show in the series I have reviewed, and it is the most innovative and entertaining of those. Credit that to clever writing by Whitney (Harlowe Reed is her pen name for this series), to a great cast, lush and swinging music, and to an inspired and magical Charlie Chaplin impersonation by Christian Doyle. It is Doyle’s character and his running battle with IRS agent Hobson Bierce (Scott C. Brown) that makes this show so entertainingly different from others in the series.

In a risky move that paid off handsomely, Whitney chose for two of the major characters dramatic actors who have never before performed in a musical: Ryan Holmberg, who was outstanding in Harlequin’s recent “The Love List,” is the romantic lead, Army Air Corps Lt. Joey Malloy; and Brown, who played notable roles in “Sins of the Mother,” “End Days” and “The Last Swartz,” is Agent Bierce. Holmberg nicely underplays Lt. Malloy whose love for bargirl Bonnie Kent (Alicia Mendez) is very touching, and as a singer and dancer he holds his own with the much more experienced musical performers in the show. 

Brown plays the uptight but likeable tax man as a kind of swaggering bully with a big heart, and as a foil to Charlie Chaplin’s playful antics he does pratfalls and double takes with skill and excellent timing. (How many times have we seen people “accidentally” bump butts, and we see it coming a mile away? But Brown and Alison Monda make it look truly comical.)

Doyle’s character Charlie is never specifically identified as Chaplin, but his dress and makeup emulate Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, and as a silent film character he does the entire play in pantomime. And what inspired pantomime it is! There is a drawn-out scene with Brown in which Charlie keeps stealing the tax man’s briefcase and making him fall that is so funny I was crying with laughter. Brown and Doyle have magnificent timing in this that brings to mind great comic actors such as Chaplin and Buster Keaton, not to mention pratfall masters such as Dick Van Dyke and Chevy Chase. 

Another skit that brought tears of laughter to my eyes was when Doyle imitated every instrument in the band on his violin, a skit that should be played on television and go viral on YouTube.

It is just before Christmas, 1942. The people who run the Stardust Club are going to throw a party for Lt. Malloy. The entertainers at the club plan on impersonating a host of celebrity guests -- Mae West (Megan Tyrrell), W.C. Fields (Matt Posner), Marlene Dietrich and Lena Horne (Monda), Judy Garland dressed as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” (Mendez), John Wayne (Brown), Edith Piaf (Mendez), and Errol Flynn (Posner) – all of whom either serenade Malloy or perform stand-up comedy routines. And Errol Flynn and Charlie Chaplin have a swashbuckling sword and cane fight.

Just before the party is scheduled to start the IRS agent shows up with the intention of closing the club and charging the owner with tax evasion. 

Posner plays club owner Harry Hamilton, and Alison Monda plays Harry’s assistant, Kate Gallagher. Posner and Monda are two of the best musical theater performers ever to grace South Sound stages. Together and separately they have wowed audiences at Tacoma Musical Theater, Centerstage in Federal Way and Harlequin in shows such as “Summer in the Sixties,” “Sixties Kicks,” “I’m Into Something Good,” “Rent,” “Hello Dolly” and countless others. They are both brilliant singers and actors who give every performance their all, and Posner is a natural dancer who obviously feels the rhythm and lights up the stage with his moves.

The other two women in the cast -- Mendez and Tyrrell -- are strong singers. Mendez does a beautiful version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Tyrrell does a great Mae West impersonation and sings beautifully on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which holds special meaning for her because when she was a little girl she saw her mother, Jana Tyrrell, perform the same song in the first show in the Stardust series.

Other entertainers in the club are Michael Lengel as police officer Owen Duvall, and 14-year-old Jack Steiner as Jimmy Sutton. Lengel is a crooner with a soft and engaging voice, and Steiner holds his own on stage with the more seasoned performers, plus he’s a great dancer.

Hit songs in the show include “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “Stormy Weather” (a knockout performance by Monda impersonating Lena Horne), “Over the Rainbow ” a surprise rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and a big song-and-dance number on “I’ve Got Rhythm” with the whole cast led by Steiner.

Music is provided by Harlequin’s regular house band, with some of the South Sound’s leading jazz and rock musicians led by Bruce Whitney. Band members are: Keith Anderson on drums, Dan Blunck on sax, Andy Omdahl on trumpet, Daven Tillinghast on guitar, and Whitney as Nikolai Feodorov on piano and clarinet. 
If you want to make your holidays bright, go see “Stardust Serenade.”

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Dec. 31
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

For more about this show see Thurston Talk.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hybrids and Colorbandz™ The artist currently known as Troy Gua

The Weekly Volcano, November 22, 2011

Troy Gua's work is worth the drive to Joe’s Bar in Seattle.

Head north to Seattle or go to the Internet to see Troy Gua. You'll be glad you did.

I was impressed when I first discovered Gua's work in a show at Fulcrum Gallery back in January of 2010. But there should have been a little voice in my head whispering, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

The Fulcrum show featured two extremely different types of work: a haunting memorial to war dead and portraits of historical and pop culture icons in which two or more faces were overlapped, such as Elton John and John Wayne, Martin Luther King and the King of rock ‘n' roll, or the King of Pop and King Tut.

With this show I started to get intrigued by Gua ... even friended him on Facebook. Then I mentioned him in the Volcano's Best of Tacoma issue as one of the "best Seattle artists who sometimes goes slumming in Tacoma."

And then I started seeing posts of paintings Gua called ColorbandzTM, which were minimalist abstract paintings that he called portraits. For example: "Portrait of Ernie and Bert as Colorbandz" and "Portrait of Lady Gaga as ColorbandzTM." They were purely abstract paintings in bands of various colors.

It would be a stretch of think of the ColorbandzTM in anything other than purely formal terms. Why call them portraits? There are no visible heads or eyes or hair, nothing to relate them to any person living or dead, and yet Gua's friends on Facebook started trying to guess whose portraits he was posting, and some of them seemed to be able to figure it out based on the number of bands or the particular colors and combinations. In some very personal and enigmatic way, Gua was distilling the essence of known personalities into beautiful bands of color.

Getting more and more intrigued, I began to see humorous and profound works such as the "Pissing Contest," which consisted of sculptural forms that, like the ColorbandzTM, appear to be formal and abstract but carried more profound meaning, reflecting Andres Serrano's infamous "Piss Christ" and pitting giant egos against one another in a royal battle. And then Gua wrapped a house in clear plastic in a kind of homage to Christo. In a statement about the project he says that Christo always denies any meaning beyond the purely aesthetic, but that his own work does have greater meanings. You just have to ferret those meanings out.

Gua's art is both conceptual and formally aesthetic. It is filled with humor (except when it is deadly serious such as in the war memorial show at Fulcrum) and with art world references. It is smart and skillfully executed. I urge readers to check out his website at

Gua's pop hybrid images are currently showing at Joe Bar, 810 E. Roy St. in Seattle. He will also in a couple of group shows in December: a video works show at Interstitial Theatre in Seattle and ‘Matryoshka' at Ghost Gallery. And in January Gua will have a show at SOIL Gallery.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


John Miller and Friends at Museum of Glass

“QUATRO HOMBRES AZUL”: A work of blown, painted and hot-sculpted glass by John Miller and Therman Statom Photo courtesy MOG
This exhibition of collaborative work by John Miller and a dozen or so friends is cute and well crafted. Some of the pieces - all giant goblets - are beautiful, most are inventive, and a lot of them are funny. The exhibit, Gathering: John Miller and Friends, combines traditional glass art with a wide variety of art genres such as Pop Art and Color Field painting and Surrealism.

The sheer size is impressive. I'm told most of the pieces are around four to five feet tall, which is an astounding feat for glass blowing. But for all it has going for it, I have a hard time thinking of this show as serious art.

Nevertheless. Does art have to be serious? Can't it just be fun? It's also hard to take seriously the work of artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Red Grooms and Jeff Koons, yet they're all respected artists. So let's give a little respect to Miller and his friends.

Each piece in the show is a goblet. Miller created a few on his own, perhaps with a team of hot shop helpers. But most were done in collaboration with other artists, many of whom are already familiar to Museum of Glass patrons. Martin Blank, for instance, who did the huge outdoor installation "Fluent Steps" in the plaza pool. And Rik Allen and the brothers Jamex and Einar de la Torre and Paul Stankard, who has his own solo show, The Beauty Beyond Nature, which just opened in another of the museum's gallery.

In most of the pieces traditional goblets sit on top of stems that are glass sculptural forms that can range from abstract to figures to hamburgers and rocket ships. The wall labels do not explain it, but it seems obvious from looking at them that Miller did the vessel parts and the other artists did the stems. In most of the pieces the primary visual device is the contrast between the two parts, but in some, such as "Quiver Cup," done in collaboration with Blank, and "Quartro Hombres Azul" by Therman Statom and Miller, the art is in the beautiful blending of contrasting styles.

Statom's piece is a simple, classical goblet with surface drawing in a roughly expressionistic style with soft colors and expressive line work. It looks like pastel, but it's obviously not. This is a truly beautiful piece and perhaps my favorite in the whole show.

The piece done with Blank features a contrast between a minimalist goblet in clear glass and maximalist crinkled, bubbled, twisted, translucent stem by Blank that is clearly similar in style to the forms in his "Fluent Steps."

Rik Allen has shown his blown glass space ships in other MOG shows. They look like a 1950s idea of what the space ships of the future might look like. Think Jules Verne and Lost in Space. The forms are bulky with a darkly metallic, opaque surface. In this one a blue goblet sits on top of the rocket, and the coloring and surface quality the goblet matches that of the rocket ship.

Another favorite is "Cupping Elegant" with Ross Richmond. It is a smoothly sensual figure with a single arm and hand not connected at the shoulder but extended outward from the side of the figure's chest. Very strange yet lovely in a dark red color that is almost black.

This is a fun show, and you can see it and the new Paul Stankard show in a single visit. What a bonus!
[Museum of Glass, Gathering: John Miller and Friends at Museum of Glass, through June 10, 2012, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, $5-$12, 1801 Dock St. Tacoma, 866.4MUSEUM]

Rebirth of a city

Howard Ben Tre’s “Water Forest,” 
photographed by Peter Serko

Peter Serko documents how art has helped build Tacoma

Cover story in the Weekly Volcano, November 16, 2011
Peter Serko's photography exhibition at the Museum of Glass artistically documents the brief history of the museum since 2006. It also shows different aspects of the building, and of the adjacent Chihuly Bridge of Glass, taken during different times of day throughout the seasons. Plus there's a video montage featuring pictures by other local photographers.

While putting the exhibition together, Serko discovered some interesting facts about the museum.

"Former Tacoma mayor Karen Vialle told me how controversial the purchase of the land where MOG sits was and how it subsequently led to her reelection defeat," Serko says. "I discovered that at various stages many different groups and individuals came forward to put all the pieces together, often with great difficulty and considerable controversy." Among those people was Dayton Knipher, a longtime local artist who at the time was known by the name Karen Knipher.

Vialle, now running for the Tacoma School Board, says that while supporting the Museum of Glass may not have single-handedly caused her defeat when seeking reelection as Tacoma's mayor in 1993, but it was certainly a major contributing factor.

Burlington Northern owned the land the museum sits on, and Vialle recalls purchasing the land for the museum was very controversial.

"People thought it was a waste of money," Vialle says. "The crime rate was really high at the time and people thought the money should be spent on hiring law enforcement, but the money used to purchase the land was capital bond funds that could not be used to hire police."

Vialle says she spearheaded the move to purchase the land "and would do it again."

"History has proven it was a wise thing to do," she says. "Any city that has a beautiful waterfront like that, it's a real asset."

Vialle says the museum has been "a great tourism draw for the city."

Locating MOG on that waterfront property also contributed to the renovation of the old Albert Mills building, which houses the very successful William Traver Gallery. New apartment complexes and retail outlets on the other side of MOG have also contributed to the city.

"A major thrust during my term was the impact of the arts on the economy," she says. "We saw arts as a major form of economic development."

As further evidence, Vialle points to the renovated Theater District.

Serko says he hopes his show will prove to be an acknowledgement that art really has changed the city, and that the people, such as Vialle and Knipher, who stuck their necks out were right. He hopes the exhibit will show that "this has been a wonderful thing for Tacoma. The Museum District has changed Tacoma for the good and in time I am certain it will be a thriving area for artists of all levels."

A stroll along Dock Street, through the Theater District or along the section of Pacific Avenue that's home to Tacoma Art Museum, the University of Washington Tacoma, Washington State History Museum and Union Station should be enough to convince any skeptic that the arts are vital, not only to economic development but to the very life of the city.

Knipher recalls that directly prior to MOG's opening (1998-2002 particularly), "There was a lot of focus on bringing folks back downtown and there was a grassroots effort on the part of a lot of people to make that happen."

She was part of that effort. Knipher was also secretary of The Tacoma Architectural Foundation, which focused efforts on saving historic buildings. "One of the strategies to revitalize downtown Tacoma was to use art," she recalls.

One of The Tacoma Architectural Foundation first projects on this front was bringing in artist Iole Alessandrini to create a light installation called "Winter, Season of Light."  Knipher points out that the installation "was an amazing and miraculous success" and it ultimately inspired the renovation of that whole part of town.

"Truth be known, it was both art and historic preservation that truly turned things around," Knipher says.

Serko says that while researching for his show he got to look at lots of old images of Tacoma and realized how important art has been to the changes in the area. Hopefully the evidence of all this development will convince those with their hands on the money that the arts are vital to the economic health of the city.

Serko's exhibition at MOG is called Transformation: Art Changes a City. It runs through Jan. 8.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Represent South Sound

Maybe South Sound artists just aren’t good enough for the Tacoma Art Museum. In many ways TAM is a wonderful institution, and I’ve been overjoyed at the many wonderful shows they’ve brought to Tacoma throughout the years. But wouldn’t you think that once in a while they could represent South Sound?

The only time TAM shows works by contemporary regional artists is during their every-other-year biennial, which is always heavy on Seattle and Portland artists. It’s easy to say that those are bigger cities with more vibrant art markets and therefore more deserving artists. It’s easy, but it just ain’t so. We have plenty of outstanding artists in Tacoma and Olympia whose work is every bit as good as the best in those bigger cities, but they are seldom given a chance to show their stuff. A local artist recently told me that most Tacoma artists no longer even bother to enter the Northwest Biennial because they know they haven’t a chance of being selected.

Here’s what I wrote in my 2007 review of the 8th Northwest Biennial:

I think it’s a wonderful show featuring an all-star lineup of the best contemporary artists in the Pacific Northwest. It’s just not what I think a regional juried show should be -- the key word being juried.

If it were an invitational, well that would be a horse I could saddle up and ride with pleasure. But I had always been led to believe a regional juried exhibition was an opportunity for and an introduction to emerging artists in the area.

Traditionally this show has been an opportunity for little known but deserving artists to rise to the next level. But this show features artists such as Michael Spafford, Juan Alonzo, Chris Bruch, Joe Feddersen and Robert Yoder. We’re talking well established artists including Neddy Award winners and artists whose work is owned by the museum. Spafford is a Northwest icon.
Almost 900 artists sent in their $20 entry fee in hopes of getting their moment in the spotlight, and most of them never had a chance. Curator and co-juror Rock Hushka said, “The goal of the biennial is to revisit accomplished bodies of work. We wanted to offer the opportunity to explore the powerful images that have shaped contemporary dialogues about the region’s art.” I don’t believe that many, if any, of the artists who entered the competition had any idea that was the goal of the exhibition. Had they known, most of them would not have entered.

In my 2009 review of the 9th annual I was a little more succinct. I wrote, “…there’s too much photography, and it would be nice if there were at least one South Sound artist in the show.”

And now we get the announcement of the selections for the 10th annual biennial, which is slated to open Jan. 21. There are 10 artists from Portland, six from Seattle, and only one from Tacoma. Juliette Ricci. The only other South Sound artist is Jeremy Mangan from Fife. Congratulations to Ricci and Mangan.

To Rock Hushka, curator, and Stephanie Stebich, director: Isn’t it about time that TAM represents South Sound artists? Please, you’ve got to do better by us. I’m just about ready to call on area artists to occupy TAM.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nothing Like a Local Soap Opera

Jeri and Kate (Samantha Camp and Betzy Miller) get nasty with the dead guy (Demetrick Louis) in Perky's Coffee House (top). From left: Customer, Bert (Mick Flaaen), Jeri, Linda (Aya Hashiguchi), and Kate. Photos by Jason Ganwich.

Dukesbay Productions’ Java Tacoma: Episode 38

“Java Tacoma: Episode 38” is a laughable light confection live soap opera set in Tacoma replete with local digs. You may have seen Episode 37, but if you didn’t it doesn’t matter. In the tradition of all good TV drama they start off with a recap of the last installment. The audience is informed that in the previous episode Jeri accidentally put her dead husband’s ashes in the coffee at Perky’s Coffee House and it turned out to be the best coffee anyone had ever tasted. Bert and Linda are going to have to close the coffee house. In this episode we find out that they’re not going out of business after all; they’re just moving to dreaded Federal Way, where children are born without souls.

That’s the premise. It’s a simple and ludicrous story with imaginative plot twists and loaded with double entendre and other word play, well written by local playwright Curtis B. Swanson and nicely directed by Randy Clark.

The cast is outstanding. Betzy Miller plays Kate, a crazy, outspoken local character who is convinced that she drives men wild with her sexual allure. Samantha Camp plays Jeri, a real estate agent who easily matches Kate in the appeal department. With sly facial expressions and posture she manages to make the simple act of giving out her business cards seem like an indecent proposal – with the running joke “I buy and sell. I go both ways.” The coffee house owners, Bert and Linda, are played by Mick Flaaen and Aya Hashiguchi. They serve as the (somewhat) straight characters (i.e., second bananas) off of whom the comics bounce their jokes. But they break out of their roles for one briefly insane scene when they appear as a Latin lover and an Asian woman. This strange interlude is totally out of context and seems to be not real but perhaps Jeri’s hallucination. It borders on offensive ethnic stereotyping but is more of a jab at the stereotypes than at the characters. Furthermore, the jabs at Asian women are softened because Hashiguchi is Japanese.

The final cast member, Demetrick Louis, plays an unnamed customer and a dead man. The previous sentence is not true, but it is necessary in order to describe Louis’s acting without giving away a major element in the story. As the dead man he does ‘nothing’ hilariously and we cannot but admire his ability to remain motionless without bursting into laughter as Kate and Jeri try out their sexual allure on him. As the mysterious customer he makes wild statements with astounding deadpan dramatic flair.

Kudos to Allan Loucks, composer of the original theme song and original score.

Subtitled “Friends, Neighbors and Siblings,” “Java Tacoma: Episode 38” is a one-act play that runs just about an hour and is over far too soon. It’s pure, inspired silliness, that does not aspire to anything greater than light fun, and while it may be a little too far out for some people, I found it totally enjoyable.

Tickets are $15, and that includes your choice of coffee (decaf or regular), tea and an assortment of baked goods. If I had the time and didn’t have to commute from Olympia, I’d go back to see Episode 38 again, and I hope there will be an Episode 39.

JAVA TACOMA: Episode 38
"Friends, Neighbors and Siblings"
November 4,5, 11,12, 18,19,2011 
Trinity Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall
1619 6th Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98405
Show starts at 7:30pm.

For reservations: By phone (253) 267-0869,  By email:
Reservations are recommended. Tickets payable at the door, cash or checks only.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mexican Folk At

Miguel Linares, Skeleton Street Vendor, mid 1970s. 
Papier-mache, paint, wire, cord, 39 x 14 x 12 inches. 
San Antonio Museum of Art, 
The Nelson A. Rockefeller Mexican Folk Art Collection.

David Villafanez, The Ascension of Christ, ca. 1975. 
Wood and paint, 34 x 22 x 6 5/8 inches. 
San Antonio Museum of Art, 
The Nelson A. Rockefeller Mexican Folk Art Collection.

A fiesta of Mexican culture at the Tacoma Art Museum

The Weekly Volcano, November 2, 2011

What a fun show! Folk Art Treasures of Mexico at Tacoma Art Museum, I mean. Nelson A. Rockefeller, former Governor of New York and former Vice President of the United States, owned one of the world's largest collections of Mexican folk art, which was given to the San Antonio Museum of Art and The Mexican Museum in San Francisco after his death. The San Antonio museum has loaned TAM some 80 major pieces from its collection for this comprehensive survey of Mexican folk art.

There are paintings, tapestries, toys, miniatures, painted wooden chests, water bottles and much more featured in this show - including many pieces that were made for Day of the Dead celebrations.

Almost overwhelming in their size and bright color are two eight-foot-tall paper-mache devils that hang high on the wall and a painted backdrop of the Virgin of Guadalupe measuring 11-by-13 feet. This colorful painting has elements similar to surrealistic landscapes, with distortions in size and perspective that almost create vertigo in the viewer. The image of the virgin, as large as the buildings, hovers over the city like a guardian angel. This is a beautiful painting. Interestingly, it was never intended as "art" as North Americans think of art - nothing in this exhibition was. It was painted to use as a backdrop for professional photographers. The work was transported all over Mexico and people posed in front of it for family photos. It was often used as a backdrop for photos documenting religious pilgrimages.

Many of the artists represented in this show are unknown, and none of them were professionally trained. Most of the pieces featured in the show were made for storing or carrying things, for wearing, for play and entertainment or for religious sacrament or celebration. Although made for practical purposes and not for show, the artists display amazing inventiveness and aesthetic sensibility, and in many instances a bizarre sense of humor balanced by reverence for tradition and sacrament.

All pieces are made by hand, often with meticulous detail, and most are made from cheap materials. Nothing in this show was created with the hope that it would someday end up in a museum, but we can be grateful to Rockefeller and the participating museums that they are here now and suitably preserved (many of them are very fragile).

There are beautifully decorated spurs and a meticulously carved saddle and machete case, playful children's push toys, and a number of miniature figures in a glass case that are so small you almost need a magnifying glass to see the intricate detail. One of my favorite pieces is "Huichol Indian Portrait," made of broom straw and wax. I thought it was painted until I got very close and then read the label.

The wall labels are instructive, and I wish there had been more of them, because I wanted to know a lot more about the culture and history and how some of these works of art were made. There is a comprehensive catalog for sale in the museum store, available in both English and Spanish.
Folk Art Treasures of Mexico

Through Feb. 19, 2012, Wed.–Sun., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
$10, student/senior/military $8, children 5 and younger free
Third Thursdays free from 5-8 p.m.
Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Imagine I’m a writer

Part four – Avoiding screw-ups

The pages of a novel offer the novelist countless opportunities to screw up.

In my first novel, Until the Dawn, I wrote a scene about Marybelle going home after Chuck and Janet’s wedding reception. She was secretly in love with Chuck but was trying very hard to be happy for the newlyweds. This was a scene leading up to when she met the man she was going to marry. She had caught a ride with some friends, and to lend the story verisimilitude I wanted a popular song of the day to be playing on the car radio. I thought the Marilyn Monroe song “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” because it seemed to resonate with what was in Marybelle’s heart. But for some reason – I can’t remember why – I changed it to a Hank Williams song. After the book was published, my friend Larry Johnson informed me that the song had not yet been published when the scene was set. Oops! I screwed up. I wonder how many people caught that mistake.

In a second edition I changed it to Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow,” which I don’t think had the same kind of resonance.

In The Backside of Nowhere I looked back at the history of the Lawrence family to when Pop Lawrence’s great grandfather, Jedadiah Lawrence, founded the family store in 1856. Nice little back story. The only problem was I had said the town was founded by former slaves right after the Civil War. Check the dates. I screwed up. Fortunately I caught that one.  

Such mistakes are easy to make because the people and events in a novel aren’t real. The writer makes them up as he goes along, and it’s very easy on page 230 to say somebody was overweight while forgetting that on page 12 you said he was skinny. Mistakes like that are why God made editors.  Unfortunately she didn’t make them flawless.

I’ve learned from my many mistakes to keep notes on each character, what they look like, how they dress, what kind of car they drive and so forth, and to keep a timeline of what happens when. I even draw maps of fictional towns such as Freedom, Mississippi and Wetside, Washington, and floor plans of houses, because I don’t want someone looking out across the deck when playing the piano that was not on the deck side of the house in earlier chapters or catching the bus to go home from Barney’s Pub when they live only two blocks away.

See? You thought writing a novel was easy.

A novel may have a dozens or more characters, each with his or her personal quirks and speech patterns, etc., and the story has to take place in a specific time and place, and if you don’t get it all right you can rest assured that somebody is going to call you out on your screw-ups. There are two things I’ve done to, if not eliminate embarrassing errors, at least keep them to a minimum. One is to have major characters be my age so that at any point in their lives they will be listening to the same popular music and watching the same movies and wearing the same fashions as my friends and I did at the same time (although for the life of me I can’t remember what kinds of dresses my mother wore in 1954). Since my memory of those things can be faulty, there’s always Google. Thank you, Google. I don’t know how writers managed to write without you. The second thing I’ve done that makes it a little easier is that in my last two novels and the one I’m working on now, I’ve set the stories in fictional towns. Since the towns don’t really exist, they can have floods and hurricanes and riots whenever I want them to. But I still have to maintain internal consistency, and that ain’t easy.

Now I’m working on a sequel to Backside, and that presents a whole new set of problems. I have to keep going back and re-reading the first book in the series to avoid stupid inconsistencies. For example, at the end of Backside I said that Beulah discovered she was a lesbian – oops, I gave something away – and that she broke up with her longtime boyfriend, Abdul, and fell in love with another woman (never identified by name). Well, in the new book Beulah and Abdul got married and he was a rookie linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, and then they got divorced, and finally met the new love of her life, Marcia – a street performer who showed up one morning at Little Don’s Diner riding a unicycle. I wrote big scenes with these characters and then went back and re-read parts of Backside and discovered things I had written and forgotten. Such as, Abdul turned down the offer to play for the Saints and Beulah’s new lover was an old friend from high school. In the new book Beulah and Marcia had never met before that morning when Marcia came riding up to Little Dons. So I had to rewrite big sections of the book. Yikes. Sometimes this crap can be very frustrating.