Monday, January 30, 2012

South Sound arts guide

This might be worth looking into:

Writer Ken Miller and artists Chris Sharp and Sean Alexander are collaborating on the South Sound Users Guide, which has just launched on, and already has 15 per cent of its budget pledged by 46 backers.

A recent article in The News Tribune said the guide will feature well-known and out-of-the-way cool places in Pierce, Thurston and Mason counties.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Hilarious antics keep laughs coming during Lakewood Playhouse production

Top: Alison Monda as Linda Christie and Alex Smith as Allan Felix star in “Play It Again, Sam” from Lakewood Playhouse.
Bottom: Alison Monda, Alex Smith and Matt Garry as Bogey.
Photos courtesy Lakewood Playhouse

The New Tribune, January 27, 2012

“Play It Again, Sam” at Lakewood Playhouse is in many respects a typical Woody Allen tale, full of urban angst and featuring a frustrated and bumbling Woody Allen avatar. It’s a small comedy of romantic absurdity filled with hyperbole and wittily pseudo-sophisticated dialogue.

Allan Felix is a neurotic writer who is recently divorced and on the hunt for romance, but he’s a bumbling sack of nerves who falls apart in the presence of women. If only he could be as cool as his hero, Humphrey Bogart. On disastrous dates and in his fertile imagination, he asks himself what Bogey would do, and Bogey materializes to goad him like a devil on his shoulder, whispering, “Make your move. Kiss her.”

With over-the-top slapstick and situations that stretch reality beyond imagination, this is a play that could easily fall into the abyss of stupidity. It skirts the edge of enough’s enough, but it’s saved by outstanding acting by the two major characters, Alex Smith as Allan and Alison Monda as Linda Christie, Allan’s confidant and the wife of his best friend.

Smith is a master of physical comedy. His pratfalls are worthy of Dick Van Dyke and his facial contortions are in the mold of Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey (but not quite that rubbery). From the opening scene when he flops on his couch to watch “Casablanca” on television, we see the entirety of his personality in the way he moves his body. His comedy is very much in his body, the sometimes shockingly unexpected wild moves and perfect timing. There are moments, however, when he pushes the edge of overacting, especially when he shouts, which he does a lot. But just when you’re ready to say, “Come on, enough’s enough,” he goes even further over the top with insanely hilarious moves, and it works.

Monda also can go all out. Throughout the first act and halfway into the second, she is calm and controlled. She plays her part with understatement, and projects sincerity and genuine empathy. She seems so natural in the role that she appears not to be acting at all. Watching her you feel that at last here is a character who is real and sensible, and anchor for all the ridiculousness of the other characters. Then there’s a fantasy love scene between Linda and Allan that shatters that illusion, in which Monda lets loose her considerably wild comedic acting skills. What a wonderful scene.

Matt Garry pops in and out as the imaginary Humphrey Bogart. OK, he’s no Bogey. In fact, Smith does a better take on Bogey when he quotes a line from “Casablanca.” So Garry turns Bogey into a straight man setting up Smith’s comic antics.

Jacob Tice plays Allan’s best friend, Dick – a not very enviable role, since most of what he does is make stupid telephone calls. Dick is not a likable character. He’s blustery and self-important and he ignores his wife, and Tice rushes through his lines with very little inflection – which is the way the character was written, so it’s not bad acting so much as a boring character who finally, near the end of the play, drops his guard and becomes human.

Ronee Collins is enjoyably sassy as Allan’s ex-wife, Nancy. The remaining characters are Allan’s dates and fantasy lovers (Portia Stacy and Katelyn Hoffman). They are funny when they’re vamping, but otherwise rather flat characters.

The set, lighting and sound are all underplayed with the only lighting effect being a dull red glow for the fantasy sequences. The best thing about the set is the inclusion of two gigantic movie posters – Bogart movies, of course. There’s a third poster in the lobby and all three will be auctioned off as a fundraiser for the theater. The highest bidders will get to take home a unique memento.

“Play It Again, Sam” is short for a two-act play, zipping by at about 90 minutes and seeming even shorter, so hang onto your seats and enjoy the ride. It is a lot of fun.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 12
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
Tickets: $23, $20 seniors and military, $17 students younger than 25
Information: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Regional identity

The 10th Annual Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum

The Weekly Volcano, January 26, 2012

top: Paul Kuniholm Pauper: "Cardboard Commandments, 2010." Single-channel video with coin mechanism, 4 minutes, 5 seconds, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.
bottom: Susie J. Lee "Still Lives: Helen," 2010. Single-channel high definition video portrait. Courtesy Lawrimore Project, Seattle, and the artist. Artwork supported by funding from 4Culture Site Specific.

The theme of the 10th Annual Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum is identity, described by the museum as "a vision of regional identity that revolves around how communities interact, intersect and overlap."

These interactions, intersections and overlaps extend in intriguing ways to resonances between the works of art, many of which are coincidental or are byproducts of similar interests and concerns by artists working in the same region and in the same time. Such resonances are highlighted by strategic placement in the gallery. For instance, images of redacted government documents face photos of censored writing in a book and of a redacted tattoo on a man's arm. The image from the book is an enlarged photo. Near it is the actual book displayed in a glass case, which sits in front of a series of photos of the edges of abandoned and empty commercial signs which, coincidentally, repeat the angular forms of Jeff Jahn's sculpture, "Canopy II" that hangs on an adjacent wall. Such juxtapositions can be seen throughout the show. They are the result of happy accidents and the keen eye of curator Rock Hushka.

The show leans heavily toward installation art, photography and video with very little traditional painting or sculpture. Among the painters represented are Tacoma-area artists Jeremy Mangan and Juliette Ricci.

Mangan, a Foundation of Art Award winner, is represented by two paintings, "Tent City" and "Trojan Horse." The former is a small acrylic painting of a circle of multi-colored tents surrounding a campfire. The latter is a gigantic painting of the Trojan horse, his hide painted in such a way as to look like hundreds of photos of old buildings stapled onto his side. People who are familiar with Mangan's work will recognize these buildings as typical of the ancient and weathered buildings that show up in many of his paintings (this painting or version of it was shown at Fulcrum Gallery in 2010). The scale is impressive and the brittle surface quality is mesmerizing.

Ricci is represented by three works: "Hustler," "No Rest for the Weary" and "We Are Our Brothers Keeper." All are paintings on panel with photo-collage and writing. The writing is moving and poetic and the painting is juicy.

Among the more fascinating works are a series of videos by Susie J. Lee called "Still Lives" with subtitles indicating the subject, such as "Still Lives: Helen," a portrait of an elderly woman named Helen who doesn't speak and barely moves. This and similar videos by Lee are like Renaissance portrait paintings but with contemporary subjects and high-definition digital imagery.

Another very fascinating piece is Sean M. Johnson's "Family Portrait," an old couch suspended high on a wall and held there, literally, by Scotch tape. This thing defies gravity and represents the most archetypal of family images, the family gathered on the couch to watch TV. And one must wonder: is the family held together by nothing more substantial than Scotch tape?

This biennial exhibition is highly conceptual in nature. It's not just pretty pictures; it's a collection of thought-provoking interdisciplinary works that require long and careful study. For your own enlightenment and enrichment, please do not rush through this exhibition. Read the wall labels and take the time to really look at the work.
10th Annual Biennial

Through May 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. third Thursday
admission $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

Wish you were here

Here are some more images from the Postcard show at South Puget Sound Community College. You can scroll down to find my review for the Weekly Volcano.

Pictured top to bottom are postcards by Steven Suski, Linda Eitel, Gail Ramsey Wharton, and another Steven Suski.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

So busy I want to stop everything and write about being busy

After next week you might as well take me out behind the barn and shoot me. If I survive the week.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week I had nothing to do and couldn’t do it anyway. I was snowed in and with no Internet connection. So I read a lot. I read half of the newest anthology of Barry Hannah stories. Damn that man could write. It’s a shame he died young.

Now that I have my connection back and can actually get out of the driveway, work is piling up as deep as the snow.

Today I went to a press preview for the Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum. My review will be in the Weekly Volcano next week. Tonight we’re going to the opening of “Play It Again, Sam” at Lakewood Playhouse. My review will be in The News Tribune next Friday. Tomorrow I’m going to a rehearsal for “Seafarer” at Harlequin to write it up for, and next week I need to go to a rehearsal of “Hair” for another thurstontalk article, and Monday I hope to attend a meeting on a community art project (details hopefully to come in yet another TT article).

Wednesday is a PFLAG board meeting. Thursday Steve Schalchlin arrives prior to his performance with The Righteous Mothers, and he will be staying at our house. Naturally we’ll be going to the Steve S and RM show Friday and Saturday nights.

That kind of wraps up the week, except I forgot to mention I just got asked to write an article for GLASS Quarterly, an international glass art magazine. My deadline is early next week.

Maybe we could have another snow storm after next week.

Wish you were here

The postcard show

"Wish You Were Here" at the Minnaert Center

This untitled piece by Gail Ramsey Wharton is part of the "Wish You Were Here" exhibit.

There are a lot of artist-made postcards in the Wish You Were Here postcard exhibit at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery at South Puget Sound Community College. More than 75 local and regional artists submitted more than 250 works. Sorry, I didn't count how many made the cut, but there are a lot of them and they run the gamut, from sweet and sentimental to corny, wise, clever, beautiful, stupid and amateurish. The postcards include paintings, prints, photography, drawing, ceramics, sculpture and mixed media. (There are no wall labels to indicate media, so if I say it's a watercolor or a photo-collage or whatever, that's my best guess.)

A few of the postcards in this show are clich├ęd, and there are some that are badly done; but for the most part the works are very inventive and skillfully executed. Since there are so many, I'll just mention a few of my favorites to give you a taste of what to expect.

Steven Suski brings back the '60s with a series of brightly colored photo collages, some with images viewers will recognize from famous album covers (such as the Hair cast album), and some with recognizable rock icons like Ringo Starr and George Harrison. These cards are dynamic and expressive.
Patricia McLain has done cards with images of Olympia scenes that are dark as night with brightly colored contours that glow like neon. Very beautiful. I suspect they are night photos manipulated with a computer. My paint program has a similar effect that can be done with the click of the mouse, but being that simple doesn't lessen the effect.

Frank Frazee has done a number of collages and drawings on brown cardboard with a strong graphic appeal. I particular like the one with the cartoon rabbit saying "Wish You Were Hare," and the very sensitive drawing of a moody woman resting her chin on her hand.

Linda Eitel has some very nice works with drawing and collage. One of the strongest images in the show is one of hers that shows a cut-out image of a face with huge, green cat eyes hovering in a bright blue sky over a desert scene. And I really like another one of Eitel's that pictures a frantic little man with a bright orange shirt standing amidst a bunch of socks scattered on the floor, perhaps desperately searching for a mated pair.

Some of the most inventive cards in the show are by Gail Ramsey Wharton, most of which include clever plays on the "Wish You Were Here" theme - many of the artists in this show use variations of those words on their cards. Wharton's include one with a reference to the Occupy Olympia movement and another bizarre little image of the old hangman's spelling game.

Amanda Miller has one very stylish card with a two figures, one a featureless silhouette and the other a simple outline in white on a textured background, and a nicely executed studio nude in what looks like graphite.

I like Robin Ewing's face with a cat, a line drawing with simple washes of flat color. It looks like possibly a silk-screen print.

Jane Stone has a group of painted and scratched images on clay stone that look like archeological finds from Egypt. Very nicely done.

Finally, I really like Karen LaGrave's painted photo collages. I particularly like the heavy impasto look of her brushstrokes, which is highly exaggerated due to scale and contrast with the glossy-print photographic images. My favorite of hers is a yellow house with a blue van parked in front.

There will be a special opening reception Friday, Jan. 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The opening reception kicks off the six-week silent auction, with all proceeds from benefiting the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery. A "People's Choice" award will also be announced at the closing reception.

Wish You Were Here

Through March 2, noon-4 p.m., and by appointment
South Puget Sound Community College
2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Love in the Northwoods

Almost Maine, a review

by Alec Clayton

Pictured from top: Ken Luce and Priscilla Zal, Jason Downer and McKenzie Clifford, Logan Cheyne and Korja Giles, Steve Vocke and Brittni Reinertsen. Photos courtesy Olympia Little Theatre.

For starters I must say I enjoyed “Almost Maine” at Olympia Little Theatre as much as I had hoped and far more than I had expected.
I would have expected even less had I discovered this little tidbit of information from a New York Times article: “It closed a month after it opened Off Broadway. Entertainment Weekly selected it as one of the worst shows of 2006.” And then it became a phenomenal success in schools community theaters across the country. If I had read that before braving a snowy night to see it at OLT I probably wouldn’t have gone. I probably would have expected something like “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” which everyone else seems to love but which I hated.
But “Almost Maine” is nothing like that. It is funny. Really, really funny. And touching and sad and poignant. It was cleverly written by John Cariani of “Law and Order” fame (Google him if you don’t know who he is.)
Tim Shute does a fine job in his directorial debut with a cast of actors that is new to me. The only one of these actors I’ve seen before is Ken Luce, whom I saw in “Love, Sex and the IRS.” A lot of the others were in “Welfarewell” and “A Few Good Men,” neither of which I was able to review. (Shute was also in “A Few Good Men.”)
It’s an ensemble piece and it is difficult to single out any single actor. They were uniformly outstanding. From a back-woodsy couple trying to sample the joy of kissing to a pair of dumb jock types questioning relationships to a hippie-dippy chick carrying her heart in a bag and traveling to the primitive Northwest to say goodbye to her recently dead husband whose spirit is being carried away by the northern lights — every one of these actors inhabit their roles with expressiveness and a sense of naturalism that is convincing and delightful. Never mind that some of the things they do are absolutely absurd, magical, stupid or unbelievable — and in some of scenes all of those combined — these actors make their characters totally believable.
“Almost Maine” is a series of eight short stories of vignettes with eight actors playing 18 different characters - plus stage manager Vanessa Postil, who appears briefly as a bartender but is not credited in the program and did not take a curtain call. The actors are: Logan Cheyne, McKenzie Cifford, Jason Downer, Korja Giles, Ken Luce, Brittni Reinertsen, Steve Bocke, and Priscilla Zal. There are no connections between the different scenes other than they all take place at approximately the same time on a cold winter night in the fictitious little town of Almost Maine, and each of the stories is about love.
One of the most interesting and delightful things about Cariani’s writing is that many of his vignettes are based on the clever idea of taking metaphorical statements literally. When people fall in love they fall on the floor, when hearts are broken they’re… well, you’ll see; and if you’re waiting for the other shoe, well, you’ll see.
“Almost Maine” is sweet without being cloying. It is absurdist, yet underlying the absurdities are truths about the workings of the human heart. I highly recommend it.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 5
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$14, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or
INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nostalgia at Tacoma Art Museum

"At Home Across America: Scenes from the 1930s to 1950s"

"Tobacco Farms," an original color serigraph by Robert Gwathmey Courtesy Tacoma Art Museum

At the risk of sounding snarky, I have a hard time imagining why anyone would want to see At Home Across America: Scenes from the 1930s to 1950s in Prints at Tacoma Art Museum. Unless they're writing an art history thesis. Or very nostalgic for the 1940s.

On the other hand, people who are going to TAM for the Mexican folk art show or the Chihuly show or the Northwest Biennial (opening Jan. 21) should stop in anyway just to see what American art was like between the beginnings of modernism (which happened in Europe and kind of missed America) and the advent of Abstract Expressionism (which changed the whole world of art).

Nostalgia is the key word now, and it was then too. America was recovering from the Great Depression and was engaged in a World War. People were moving from the bucolic countryside to the hectic cities, and it seemed like everyone was seeking reminders of quieter and less threatening times; artists obliged them with images of an America that never really was. The art of the day glorified country life and working men and women - a romantic and unrealistic view of the world.

There are more than 80 prints in this show - all from Associated American Artists, a gallery that marketed to average Americans rather than wealthy collectors, meaning they catered to popular taste. Nearly all are in black and white, and most can be described as regionalism or American Scene art. Other than Thomas Hart Benton, Howard Cook, John Stuart Curry and Robert Gwathmey, there are hardly any recognizable names in this show.

The show isn't completely comprised of American Scene prints. There are a couple that are modernistic or Cubist-inspired, most notably Alexander Archipenko's "Bathers" and Donald E. Thompson's "Space and the Structure of Sorrow," not to mention Gwathmey's "Tobacco Farmers," which forecasted works by Romare Beardon and Jacob Lawrence. The wall text for "Bathers" talks about the influence of European moderns on American art. Both Thompson's and Archpenko's art are heroically abstract in the tradition of Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler. They're nicely designed, but the silly-sad faces in Thompson's print are too corny, even for 1949.

The one thing I have to salute these artists for is their strong sense of design, even if it is, in many instances, too obvious. They mastered the art of using line and direction to lead the eye and of using strong dark and light contrasts for dramatic effect, even if they had to distort natural forms in unnatural ways to create such effects. Storm clouds swirl about and human figures bend and stretch in dramatic but contrived ways.

It's amazing how many of these artists seem to have been influenced by Benton. He may have had a stronger impact on his generation of artists than I ever realized. Jackson Pollock studied with Benton and later said he was a model of what not to do. The images in this show may well be the models against which a whole generation of American artists rebelled. Most of the artists in this show were contemporaries of Stuart Davis and John Sloan, and the later ones contemporaries of Motherwell and Pollock. They do not stand up well in comparison.

These were not the giants of the time, but viewing these prints is an interesting look at history.

At Home Across America: Scenes From the 1930s to 1950s

Through Feb. 26, Wed.–Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., $8-$10, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma