Sunday, September 30, 2012

Not to miss South Sound art

Area galleries feature stellar lineups for fall

Works by Richard Turner

There's a lot of exciting stuff coming up in area art galleries.

Flow will host a show honoring artist and co-founder of Puget Sound Sumi Artist, the late Mary Bottomley in October. In November and December they'll have a retrospective of Fumiko Kimura's artwork featuring pieces not shown in years and some work never before seen by the public. This show will also feature artwork by Andrea Erickson, owner of Flow. The gallery is open Third Thursdays and by appointment.

Brickhouse, also open only on Third Thursdays and by appointment, promises to have a very cool show this month featuring new work about the Mexican drug wars by Richard Turner, who lives part-time in a house he built in Southern Mexico. Brickhouse owner Peter MacDonald says Turner's works "illustrate the horrors that have befallen Mexico as a result of our ‘War on Drugs,' our appetites and the resulting drug wars between Mexican gangs that are fed by both." On the lighter side, there will be works of fantasy, also by Turner, that MacDonald describes as "colorful and lighthearted ruminations on kings, queens and spirits of many kinds." Photographs of Turner's work seen on the show announcement have a graphic-novel look and truly indicate the extremes of darkness and light in his art - Darkness and Light being the show's title.

Childhood's End in Olympia will feature Don Tiller, acrylic landscapes; Marie Hassett, mixed media fiber; Dave & Boni Deal, raku, for the month of October.
Andy Warhol's Flowers for Tacoma, will be the featured show at Tacoma Art Museum Nov. 3 through Feb. 10. Also, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Tapete and Altars will be on view Oct. 21 through Nov. 4 - the big Día de los Muertos Free Community Festival is Nov. 4.

One other exciting show this fall will be the annual juried exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College with Becky Knold, Don Haggerty, Ron Hinson, Dayton Karen Knipher, Dorothy McCuistion, Jason Sobottka, C.J. Swanson, Jeffree Stewart and others Sept. 17 to Oct. 26. A reception will be held in The Gallery Sept. 28 from 4 to 7 p.m. Fall gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. If you've been following my reviews at all over the past few years you'll know this is one of the more exciting lineups of artists to be seen anywhere in the South Sound region.
Ray Turner coming to Museum of Glass

Ray Turner's Population opens Nov. 3 at Museum of Glass. It's described as a unique, community-engaged touring exhibition that comprises a series of painted portraits inviting viewers to contemplate notions of both collective and individual identity - approximately 150 painted portraits rendered in lush layers applied to glass. In 2011, Turner visited Tacoma and photographed members of the community whose portraits will be included in the exhibition.

Finally, I was unable to get information on Fulcrum Gallery, but in an earlier email Oliver Doriss assured me they're going to have some great new shows this fall.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Is there such a thing as autobiographical fiction... and is it a good thing?

Lew Hamburg reviewing Imprudent Zeal for The Olympian in 2005 called it “a tour de force of autobiographical fiction.” 

I like that description but I could argue how autobiographical it is or if it is, if that’s a good thing or not.

There must be millions of wannabe writers out there who have never taken a writing class and have no experience in writing but who think their life experiences are unique—which they may very well be—and they write their stories either as autobiography or disguised as fiction. Like me, they tend to be self-published. The point being that there’s a huge difference in having a good story to tell and being able to tell it well.

There are also literary icons who sometimes walk a tightrope between fiction and non-fiction who have written autobiography that is as engaging as the best of fiction. A great example is Earnest Hemingway’s Paris is a Moveable Feast. It’s non-fiction but when I bought a copy many years ago it was in the fiction section of the bookstore. It differed from Hemingway’s novels only in that it happened to be true. Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again and Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place caused firestorms of protests from people who grew up in the writers’ home towns because they recognized themselves in fictitious characters.

Despite some of the greats like Hemingway and Wolfe and the hundreds of other novelists who have drawn from their own life experiences, there’s enough really bad autobiographical fiction to stigmatize the genre (if I may call it a genre), and the stigmata has exploded now that we’ve entered the age of print-on-demand / anybody-can-be-a-published-author. So I had mixed feelings about Hamburg’s review of my novel. He did, however, say some really nice things that I still treasure.
Hamburg wrote: “This book is the great circus train wreck that was America from the 1950s to the 1990s. It moves not only in time, but also in space, from the Deep South to New York City and Seattle. This landscape is populated by artists, art gallery owners, possible saints and a prostitute redeemed by the love of a good man. Now there’s a bit of gender role reversal. Characters are straight, gay and bisexual. Sex, drugs and the last taboo, creativity loom large in the tale. If this book had a soundtrack, it would be rock and roll played on a calliope.”

One of the major characters, Scully McDonald, is a recovered alcoholic who founded a service organization in New York City that provided meals and clothing and housing for poor people. Scully was based on an actual person named Jack Scully who did, in fact, found an organization by that name. And there was a guy who worked for him named Lane Felts whom Hamburg, who knew a little of my personal history, took to be me. The chapter on EFE was not fiction. Almost everything in that chapter happened just as written—only the names were changed to protect the innocent. The only fictitious element in that chapter was the relation between Lane and Scully’s daughter, McKenzie, which was 100-percent a product of my imagination.

I made no bones about that chapter being autobiographical; I even said so in the front section of the book. But that chapter is a tiny part of the book. Everything else is either made up or is such a blending of pure fiction with bits and pieces of people, places and events from my life that even I can’t sort it out. And from what I know of other writers that is pretty much true of every novelist. Even sci-fi and fantasy writers draw from their own experiences.

Assuming similarities between my experiences and other writers, it may be interesting to look at what’s true and what’s made-up in my novels.

Lane Felts was not based on an actual person, but he did things that I did. He grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, studied art at the University of Southern Mississippi, played drums in a country band and went to New York and worked at Everything for Everybody. That’s me to a T. But Lane’s relationship with Palmer Jackson is 100-percent imaginary. I’ve never known anyone remotely like Palmer.
Within the small chapter on Everything for Everybody, Scully McDonald’s actions and mannerisms are those of Jack Scully. But everything about him from childhood until he started EFE is a total invention. He was never a boxer, he didn’t go to Korea and witness his best friend being blown up by a land mine, and he didn’t see his wife and child killed in a freak accident. I made all of that up. Nor did he father a child with a prostitute, and that prostitute did not hitch-hike from New York to the West Coast and marry a soldier, and her daughter did not grow up to become an art dealer in Seattle, visit New York in search of her father  and fall in love with Lane Felts. I made all of that up.

Imprudent Zeal was my second novel. My first, Until the Dawn, was even less autobiographical. There is not a single character or event in it based on anyone I’ve ever known or anything I ever did. The settings, however, and the cultural milieu are totally based first on my childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi, and later on life in Manhattan in the mid-1970s. The character Red Warner truly came to me almost whole with all his quirks in a moment’s inspiration. There’s a scene with him fishing on the Mary Walker Bayou near the Mississippi Gulf Coast (where my parents had a fishing camp when I was a teenager). It’s a wild scene where he’s catching fish as fast as he can cast out while speed rapping like Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road. That was the first scene I wrote. It came to me in a flash and I wrote it in one sitting, having no idea how it would fit in the novel. Over time I re-wrote it many times and moved it from the opening scene to near the end of the book.

I wanted Red Warner to have some distinguishing characteristics; I decided to give him a missing finger, cut off at the first knuckle. Once I did that I realized that… oh crap, now I have to explain how he lost the finger, and that eventually became a major plot point in a story and the dramatic climax to the story.

For other characters I took bits and pieces of people I knew. Travis was named after my brother-in-law but was absolutely nothing like him. Both Marybelle and Janet had physical characteristics borrowed from one of my sisters, one of whom was a dancer like Janet, and there was a scene involving a cruel practical joke played on Chuck on his wedding night that was inspired by a story another of my brothers-in-law told me—a story that I’m sure was pure fabrication even though he swore it was true. Maybe that brother-in-law should have been a writer.

For truly autobiographical fiction you have to go to my third novel, The Wives of Marty Winters. Of all the characters I’ve ever written, Marty is probably the most like me. But I was careful not to make him into any kind of hero. If I was going to have an avatar in one of my books, I wouldn’t want people to think I was idealizing myself. Robert Heinlein and Pat Conroy both do that and in each case it ruins otherwise excellent books. So, suspecting that readers who knew me might recognize me in Marty, I actually exaggerated in him some of my worst qualities. I made him something of a pushover.

I set the story in Olympia, Washington, where I have lived since 1988. Marty grew up in Olympia but left twice. First he did a hitch in the Navy and was stationed on a ship in Norfolk, Virginia, as did I, and then he spent a year or so in a communal household in Nashville, Tennessee—again, as did I.

There’s a reason these first three books were set in locales where I have lived and a reason that the main characters were all about my age. Both were to create a palpable sense of place and authenticity. Write what you know is the old axiom. I made the main characters my age so it would be easier to get facts right: getting the popular songs, books, movies at any given time right and ditto for hair styles, fashions and automobiles.

The “wives” of the title were an amalgamation of my three wives. Maria was my first wife, only much more devious and manipulative. She was a liar and she was unfaithful, not a nice person at all. My first wife was not like that—well, maybe a little, but then I was no saint either. Marty’s second wife, Marigold, was even more manipulative, and so was my actual second wife. Marigold underwent a huge change of personality after she and Marty moved from Nashville to Olympia. She changed her name to Selena and became an entirely different and much better person. Marigold was a flighty airhead hippie-dippy chick who followed a religious charlatan; Selena was a mother and a leader of the community who became the epitome of a PFLAG mom after their son came out as gay. The whole hippie scene in Nashville was like the year I spent there in 1970-71, and the Pride marches and other such events in Olympia and Seattle were just like the actual events except for the shooting. Selena was a combination of my third wife, Gabi, and Caroline Wagner, an activist friend who was one of the bravest and most loving people I’ve ever known.

After Wives, I decided that I was—to a much greater degree than I felt comfortable with—just telling my own stories with a few imaginative episodes thrown in. That’s what John Irving does in nearly all of his books, and although I dearly loved many of his books, especially The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany and Cider House Rules, I reached a point in reading Irving that I got tired of reading about the same characters: wrestlers and writers and bears and flatulent dogs, and I didn’t want to end up doing the same things with my books.  So I determined that my next book was going to be totally invented, no characters or events or settings from my life.

At the time I was reading, for the second time, a book by Larry Brown—dubbed the kind of grit lit by Barry Hannah (both Brown and Hannah died too young). Brown writes about wonderfully nasty and eccentric Southern characters, and I thought: why the hell don’t I write about more people like that? I certainly knew enough of them growing up in Mississippi. Once before I had invented a really fun redneck eccentric in Red Warner, and I decided it was time for another; and thus Earl Ray “Pop” Lawrence was born, a central character in The Backside of Nowhere. Pop was like every redneck I’d ever known all rolled together with a dash of Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. For contrast, I gave him a son who was much more sophisticated, a son who clashed with his father, left home and became a movie star. Suddenly, to a greater degree than ever before, I was creating purely imaginative fiction, and I was having a blast with it. I even decided to create an imaginary town. I created the town of Freedom, Mississippi. I placed it in what is really the location of (or close to) Back Bay Biloxi, and I made up an entire history of the town beginning with a bunch of freed slaves and former white sharecroppers and Civil War deserters who founded the little town in the bayous shortly after the war. I even drew a map of the town so I’d know, for example, exactly how far it is from the Lawrence house to the high school and Little Don’s Diner and what you’d drive by on the way. No more autobiographical fiction.

But then I went back to bits of personal memory in my next book, Reunion at the Wetside. Like Freedom, Mississippi; Wetside, Washington is a fictitious town. It’s a combination of parts of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I grew up, with bits of Olympia and Tacoma, Washington thrown in. It’s located approximately halfway between Seattle and Portland. It sits between the forks of two rivers, neither of which exist in the real world. As with Freedom, I drew a map. This time a much more detailed map, and printed it in the book. To create the map I copied a Google map of my home town and changed it. There’s a section of the town called The Old Neighborhood that is an exact replica of the neighborhood where I grew up, and I could tell you who lived in every one of those houses. In the book they are Jim Bright and Alex Martin and Ophelia and the Delk boys and Bubba and Nancy, etc., etc. etc. None of the adult characters in Reunion are based on real people, but they reminisce a lot about their childhood, and all of the characters as teenagers are based on different people—or sometimes combinations of traits from one and another—that I knew when I was growing up. I can’t seem to resist the temptation to elaborate on remembered stories from my youth.

My next book is a sequel to The Backside of Nowhere with many of the same characters and a few new ones. They’re older now, and nothing in the new one is based on memories or people I’ve known.

So, I go back and force between drawing on memory and drawing on imagination. I suspect this combination of memory and imagination, which Hamburg called autobiographical fiction, is pretty much what nearly every writer does. I hope they all have as much fun with it as I do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Improbable Peck of Plays

Combining resources, connections, and talent, three different theater organizations present a selection of plays from the Northwest Playwrights Alliance, directors from two theater groups, Prodigal Sun Productions and Theater Artists Olympia, with actors from all over the Puget Sound area. 

The plays:

Playground Confidential
by Bryan Hawthorne
Directed by Samantha A. Camp

A New Life In A Lifeless World
by Dan Erickson
Directed by Mark Alford

A Thousand Words
by Evan Sesek
Directed by Tom Sanders

Poor Shem
by Gregory Hischak
Directed by Vanessa Postil

The Course We Set
by Amy Tofte
Directed by Tom Sanders

Evolution of Chaos
by Bryan Willis
Directed by Samantha A. Camp

by Stephan Austen II
Directed by Tom Sanders

The shows run Oct. 12-27at The Midnight Sun Performance Space  113 N. Columbia Street Olympia. Tickets are $12-$18.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Two shows for the price of one

Jessica Bender and Susan Seubert at Kittredge Gallery 

reviewed by Alec Clayton
The Weekly Volcano, Sept. 20, 2012

"Coimetrophobia” by Susan Seubert
Jessica Bender’s mixed-media installation Dejection fills the large front room at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, and Susan Seubert’s modest photo exhibition Nerve-Wracked fills the smaller back gallery space. The two shows complement each other in that both are highly emotional and deal with the darker and sadder side of human emotions. Bender’s Dejection is also as personal as an art exhibition can get, and Seubert’s photographs feel personal while expressing universal feelings.

Each of these shows deserves individual attention, so I will review them separately, starting with Seubert’s photographs, which can be seen through Sept. 22. I’ll save Bender’s installation, which continues through Nov. 3, for a later date.

Seubert uses a variety of photographic techniques including wet plate collodion, tintype, and platinum printing to achieve deep, velvety blacks and a mysterious, antique look to photographs about fear. Phobias, to be exact. Ten of the 13 photographs in the exhibition illustrate or stand for specific phobias, and each evokes a dark mood due to the rich blacks and grays and the soft focus.

"Neuresthenia No. 9" by Susan Seubert (not in show but representative of series of similar photos in the show)
It takes skill and a highly tuned artistic sensibility to capture the overwhelming feelings associated with Aichmophobia, a morbid fear of sharp objects. She does it with a photo of a tool I could not identify but which I think is a tool seamstresses use for pulling stitches. Soft, gray and floating in a sea of black, this instrument seems both ancient and threatening.
A doll on a black background evokes images from horror movies — there’s nothing more horrifying than a child’s doll turned menacing, unless it’s a clown. The title is “Pediophobia,” fear of dolls or, more literally, fear of children.

There are two photos depicting homophobia, each is of a nude couple embracing, one male and one female, with their heads cropped so they are universal rather than individual. These images are a challenge to viewers who may, indeed, be homophobic to look at them and examine their own feelings.

Others include a photo of a rat titled “Murophobia,” and there’s one of a cemetery titled “Coimetrophobia.”

The three non-phobic photographs are a series of large tintypes called “Neuresthenia” I, II, and III. They are soft-focus and barely visible heads that force the viewer to study them very closely. One medical dictionary I consulted defined neurasthenia as “a virtually obsolete term formerly used to describe a vague disorder marked by chronic abnormal fatigability, moderate depression, inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, insomnia, and other symptoms. Popularly called nervous prostration.”

Seubert’s photos are moody, mysterious, thought provoking, with just the slightest twinge of humor.
[Kittredge Gallery,  Nerve-Wracked by Susan Seubert  through Sept. 22, Dejection by Jessica Bender, through Nov. 3, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701]

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sherlock's Last Case

John Munn, left, as Watson and Steve Tarry as Holmes

Not your father’s sleuth

reviewed by Michael Dresdner

Lakewood Playhouse often opens the season with a classic whodunit by Christie or another major writer. If you think that’s what they’re doing again this year, disabuse yourself of that notion. Sherlock’s Last Case, written not by A. Conan Doyle but by Charles Marowitz, is a far cry from a classic Sherlock Holmes story.

Yes, it contains deception and mystery, and offsets it with humor, mostly of the one-liner variety. But while it is overlaid upon the familiar Doyle characters and Baker Street set, the resulting play is not typical.

Where most mysteries dole out clues and let you discover them along with the detective, this one has almost none of that. In fact, except for the opening dialogue, a recap of a former case that includes a clear foreshadow of one of the play’s surprises, there is little true sleuthing to be found.

Instead, the mystery involves not a case per se, but a dark corner in the relationship between Sherlock Holmes (Steve Tarry), Dr. Watson (John Munn), and the specter of nemesis Moriarty in the guise of his offspring (Rachel Gamello/Mark Adam Rud). The small cast is rounded out nicely by the familiarly brusque Inspector Lestrade (Terence Artz) and ditzy housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Cassie Cahill). 

The clues we’re given are for deciphering what is really going on in front of us, rather than to unravel a crime that has already taken place. And what is really going on is very unusual indeed, at least to diehard Baker Street fans.

That’s in large part because the author redefined both Watson and Holmes as very different people than the ones Doyle created, at least insofar as director Christian Carvajal has interpreted him. The agreeable, stable Watson is replaced by a seething, scheming factotum more resentful than convivial. Holmes, usually a coldly focused genius who blithely but benignly dismisses anyone not pertinent to the case at hand, becomes a more likeable fellow on the surface, but one saddled with a disturbing streak of petty vituperation.

The acting is what you’d expect from a very seasoned cast, and all cover their parts well. Tarry’s Holmes is charming and believable, while Munn’s Watson is stolidly consistent, except perhaps for a limp that hasn’t decided whether to come or go. For better or worse, both inject good bit of their own personas into their respective characters. Cahill creates a notable contrast to what one expects of a housekeeper, adroitly executing Mrs. Hudson as a delightfully batty, easily inebriated charmer.

The set, done in deep thrust, is lovely; an artful combination of the skills of designers Larry Hagerman and John Munn, props master Jeffrey Weaver, and set dresser Hally Phillips. They managed to create a Baker Street that is both comfortably familiar and brimming with delightful eye candy. Much of it does not get used as part of the play, so take time to drink it all in before the opening curtain. Blocking is done so that there’s no advantage or disadvantage in any of the three seating sections surrounding the action. No matter where you sit, you’ll see it all.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t outline the plot, since figuring out the plot itself is mostly where the mystery lies, and I don’t want to ruin it for you. Instead, I’ll just say that nothing is completely what it seems to be, but then, isn’t that true of all mysteries?

Sherlock’s Last Case
September 14th to October 14th, 2012
Lakewood Playhouse

Eclectic modernism at Childhood’s End

Blake Flynn at Childhood's End
reviewed by Alec Clayton
for the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 13, 2012
Madonna of the Lilies by Blake Flynn

I usually know what I think of the art I see, and I can express my opinions fairly clearly. After all, that’s kind of my job. But some art leaves me scratching my head. Such is the work of Blake Flynn at Childhood’s End Gallery. Is it profound and inventive or is it just gimmicky and slick? I can’t make up my mind.

And where does this guy come from? According to his website he’s had exhibitions in New York and Kansas and Colorado. His show at Childhood’s End is apparently his first in this part of the country. I had never heard of him before I got the invitation to this show, and frankly, I was not at all impressed with the image on the invitation, a painting titled “Madonna of the Peppers.” I had no intention of reviewing the show but then I happened to drive by and briefly sighted some of his paintings through the gallery window, and they looked pretty darn impressive. And then I Googled him and found an intriguing mix of photo-realist eclectic surrealistic paintings. He calls them Magic Surrealism.

Flynn appropriates images, ideas and visual trickery from a myriad of sources — from Renaissance and Medieval paintings to Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo and MC Escher, and even those sidewalk chalk artists everybody loves but nobody knows who do all the tricky perspective stuff where it looks like people are going down into a hole in the sidewalk.

He also does a lot of very coy nudes. Beautiful woman skillfully painted with all the lady parts carefully covered. A fig leaf by any other name is still a fig leaf. The most beautiful of these is “Madonna of the Lilies,” which shows a woman right out of Gauguin’s Tahiti surrounded and covered by huge lilies.
 The modeling on the figures is flawless, and his colors are crisp and bright.
Ascend/Descend No. 2 by Blake Flynn

Ascend/Descend No. 3 by Blake Flynn

In this show he has four versions of a painting called “Ascend/Descend,” each of which shows an archway and a staircase in brilliant red and yellow tones, and in each there is something on the wall, a heart in some and a portrait of Frida Kahlo in another. These are probably the strongest images in the show, but they would be better without the Frida and the hearts, which are just gimmicky.

There’s also a painting called “Cog” that looks like a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times.”

Some of his work — especially on his website — are marvelously inventive, but overall I think there’s not much art beneath the gimmickry.

Also showing are a selection of crow paintings and drawings by Judith Smith — the two black and white pastels are particularly powerful — and a continuation of Tom Anderson’s show from August.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 30, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]

Friday, September 14, 2012

‘Sylvia' unleashes her inner canine

Angelica Duncan as Sylvia and Micheal O'Hara as Greg in "Silvia" at Tacoma Little Theatre. Photo by Dean Lapin

Greg (Micheal O’Hara) picks fleas off Sylvia (Angelica Duncan) in “Sylvia” at Tacoma Little Theatre. Photo by Dean Lapin

Tacoma Little Theatre opens its 2012-13 season with the very adult comedy “Sylvia” by A.R. Gurney, directed by Elliot Weiner.
The News Tribune, Sept. 14, 2012

Tacoma Little Theatre opens its 2012-13 season with the very adult comedy “Sylvia” by A.R. Gurney, directed by Elliot Weiner.

Sylvia is a dog, and pre-opening promotions led me to expect something like “Animal Farm” or “Winnie the Pooh” or a canine version of the rabbit in “Harvey.”

But Angelica Duncan as Sylvia doesn’t wear a dog costume and she portrays Sylvia in a manner that is simultaneously all-dog and thoroughly human.

She is absolutely delightful and hysterical. I loved her every move, from nuzzling and licking her owner to wiggling her hind quarters and humping the guests. And when she spots a cat under a car and starts shouting profanities at it, she is quite shocking and funny. Bits like this one are so startling that you can’t quit laughing long enough to realize she just did something nasty.

The thing is, Sylvia’s reaction to almost everything is surprising and funny like that.

The program warns that this play contains adult language and crude humor, and it most definitely does. Yet I can’t imagine anyone being offended by any of it because it’s just what normally happens with dogs and humans. I do think the language is too rough for young children.

Greg (Micheal O’Hara) and his wife, Kate (Dayna Childs), are upper middle class New Yorkers who have moved from the suburbs to the city to address their empty-nest syndrome. She’s an English professor and he’s a disgruntled financier.

He brings home a stray dog, Sylvia, who disrupts their marriage and forces them to re-evaluate everything. In many ways, Sylvia is a metaphor for the other woman in Greg’s life. It is amazing how human Sylvia is while simultaneously displaying canine characteristics any dog owner should easily recognize – a tribute to keen observation of both humans and animals on the part of the writer, the director, and, of course, the actor. Seldom in my years as a theater critic have I seen an actor bring such enthusiasm and energy to a part as Duncan brings to this role.

The rest of the cast is equally good.

O’Hara plays Greg as alternately ridiculous and loving. He goes completely overboard playing with Sylvia and then becomes very tender and vulnerable with Kate – when he’s not arguing with her.

Kate is not as engaging a character simply because she’s the only supposedly normal person in the play. She’s the glue that holds it all together, and Childs plays her convincingly.

The only other actor is Blake R. York as Tom, a man Greg meets at the dog park; as Phyllis, a hysterical friend of Kate’s; and as Leslie, a psychiatrist of ambivalent gender.

He beautifully and humorously melds into these three very different characters. When he comes on stage as Phyllis, he is not just a man in drag; he is as believably female as Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire” or Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie.” And when he becomes Leslie, he becomes a person who appears equally male and female.

York also is the set designer, and he has designed a lovely set with sparse furniture and door and window frames suspended in front of a black backdrop that becomes a lovely field of stars for night scenes.

And costume designer Michele Graves has created some marvelous outfits for Duncan and York.

The only thing about this play that isn’t praiseworthy is the maudlin talk to the audience in the final scene when Greg and Kate wrap everything up in a neat little package. Fortunately, it’s very brief.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 30
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N I St., Tacoma
Tickets: $14.50-$24.50
Information: 253-272-2281,

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Clouds on Broadway

The latest installation in the Woolworth windows

The Weekly Volcano, Aug. 30, 2012
The Woolworth windows on Broadway and on Commerce are filled with cloud-themed art beginning with the northern most windows and an installation called “Fabrication” by Janet Marcavage. The walls and the floor are filled with boldly striped patterns in cherry red and plum and blue and white and a wonderfully soft lavender. Printed mostly on paper to emulate the look of folded and billowing cloth, the patterned cloud shapes that hang from the ceiling and cling to the windows set up a challenging interplay between real and fake materials. Some of them are made from fabric and others by cut and folded paper, and it is almost impossible to tell which is which. 

“Spaceworks gives the opportunity for experimentation, so I took the opportunity to play further with illusion,” Marcavage says. 

She explains: “The paper elements in ‘Fabrication’ are all printed by hand, including the large red-violet striped paper (meant to look like bunched fabric) on the rear wall in the right window. All of the smaller paper elements are printed and cut out by hand. I included some real fabric in an attempt to combine illusion with the real thing. (The work) celebrates the topography of textile pattern imprinted upon daily life. The work is inspired by striped patterns used on a multitude of items from tablecloths and towels to button-down shirts for men and women. I enjoy the way that lines can render fabric’s mutable form, shifting at the folds of everyday life. This installation also stems from my long-term investigation of printmaking’s visual language, particularly the use of line hatching in prints dating back several hundred years.”

"Fabrication" by Janet Marcavage

The Marcavage installation is playful and delightful.
Heading toward 11th Street, the clouds settle to the ground like billows of fog in Jennifer Renee Adams’ installation, “Equus Cirrus.” Cottony clouds hug the floor in this set of windows, and moving through the ground layer of fog is a herd of paper horses. The horses are colored in tones of off-white and tan, and rest on thin legs. Each of the horses stands approximately a foot in height. Rosemary Ponnekanti writing in The News Tribune compared them to sculptural horses by Deborah Butterfield. That’s a stretch for me. Butterfield’s horses are majestic and monumental; these are more like delicate little toys. Adams extends the cloud theme with photographs of clouds taped to the windows. Unfortunately, they add nothing and are a distraction.
The next set of windows, on the corner at 11th, was a work in progress by Kenji Stoll when I visited but should be completed by the time this review hits the streets.
The Commerce Street windows feature an installation by Laura Foster called “Strawcloud/Parlour.” The main part of this is a massive swirl of straw woven into rope and meandering through space, twisting and overlapping and circling back on itself, filling the space in front of a wall of early American-style wallpaper. In the next window is a snow-capped mountain sculpted from what appears to be plaster and straw on a bed created from a window shutter on wheels. It does not add anything significant to the installation, which would be much better if the meandering straw rope continued into that space.
[Woolworth Windows] Broadway at 11th and Commerce, through December