Friday, May 31, 2013

Confrontational Theater Project Presents Two Rooms

Scott C. Brown and Brittni Thoreson
The taut drama Two Rooms presented by Confrontational Theater Project at Eclectic Theater in Seattle has a very limited run – only through this Monday, June 3. Directed by Beau M.K. Prichard, it features Scott C. Brown, Brittni Thoreson, Taryn Pearce and Julia Nardin. It is a drama of political intrigue and personal conflict and anguish that is a perfect vehicle for a tiny fringe space the likes of Eclectic Theater, a black box space in the middle of Capital Hill that seats about 25 patrons.

Two Rooms was Time Magazine's play of the year in 1988, and is one of acclaimed playwright Lee Blessing's most recognized plays. A woman, Lainie (Thoreson), sits in an empty room and waits for news of her husband, Michael (Brown), who is being held hostage in Lebanon. She imagines conversing with her husband, and she deals with a representative of the State Department named Ellen (Nardin) and a member of the press, Walker (Pearce). Nardin plays the officious and not-at-all likeable state department staffer, and Pearce is brilliant as the feisty reporter who clashes constantly with Ellen while walking a delicate tightrope between consoling and challenging Lainie. 

This trio of women actors draws the audience in as they portray a range of devastating emotions. Thoreson is particular exposes the depths of emotion and conflict as she opens Lainie’s heart to the audience as she creates a space in their home where she can feel Michael, write letters to him in her head and speak to him. Nardin’s Ellen came across as too officious and off-putting. You would think the State Department would send someone who could empathize with Lanie a little more. Was that the writing, the acting, the direction or a combination? I couldn’t tell.

This play explores the personal cost of large-scale political conflict, and measures the power, or lack of power, that governments have over individuals. The State Department wants Lainie to stay quiet, to not get in the way of their ongoing negotiations. The reporter wants to share her story with the world. Lainie just wants her husband back, and she suspects that Walker is after a Pulitzer Prize and the State Department really thinks of her husband as an expendable tool in a larger war. 

Michael just wants to survive. He narrates his story of captivity while handcuffed and hooded so he cannot see. He feels his way in the dark speaking with Lainie – and to an audience he cannot see . With nuanced inflections of voice and subtle movements of his manacled hands Brown expressively conveys Michael’s hopelessness, fear and anger, and his love for his wife. 

Periodically the hood comes off as Michael and Lainie play out scenes that happen only in their minds.
In this riveting performance Brown reminds me of why I have twice named him Best Actor in my annual Critic’s Choice award, first for his depiction of Salieri in Amadeus and then for his portrayal of McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The program does not credit anyone for makeup, but Michael has a bloody lip and bruises and his tight handcuffs cut into his bloody wrists so realistically that it was painful to watch. That is a masterful makeup job.

Two Rooms runs through June 3 at Eclectic Theater, 1214 10th Ave., Seattle.
Tickets at or at the door

Going on the Road for one night only

If South Sound theater goers can’t make it up to Seattle they will have one other opportunity to see Two Rooms when it goes on the road for a single performance at Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd.,Lakewood (253) 588-0042, on Sunday, June 16 at 8 p.m. -

Muh Grog Zoo comes to Capital Playhouse

Muh Grog Zoo, is a Long Form Improvisational Theatre cohort that creates improvised plays. With an emphasis on strong character and story development, audience members will experience a range of emotions. Muh Grog Zoo provides their audience the opportunity to connect with Improvised Theatre on multiple human levels.   Adam Utley, Dylan Twiner, Paul Richter, and Sam Duchin are the founders and performers of the Tacoma, WA based group.”

Capital Playhouse is thrilled to offer Olympia audiences MUH GROG ZOO’s unique brand of Improvisational Theater. MUH GROG ZOO debuted recently at Capital Playhouse with a special late night showing, delighting the crowd with their special blend of comedy and on-the-spot entertainment.

 SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2013 @9:00PM

Tickets available at or by calling 360-943-2744.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

TCC Student Show

The Weekly Volcano, May 30, 20132

I enjoyed visiting the student art show at Tacoma Community College. 

The first thing to catch the eye upon entering the gallery is a large, two-part print project created as a collaboration by printmaking students. A series of black and white prints — they look like etchings or woodcuts — fill two good-sized, unframed and unstretched canvases. The images range from Northwest coastal Indian masks to Beavis from the TV show “Beavis and Butthead” (or maybe it’s Butthead, I never can get those guys straight). It’s a strong and impactful graphic image.

The other drawings and prints in the show are inconsistent: some pretty good, some lame, and everything in between. The photos, some of the sculpture, and the commercial graphic arts projects are much stronger.
Ali Abedi’s “Spring,” wood, paper and plaster, is disturbing and impossible to ignore. It is a blood-splattered plaster hand with cut-off fingers. A powerful image.

I like J. Gordon Rudolph’s “Musical Landscape With Trees.” Spoon-shaped metal objects are mounted on a board in a grid pattern. The board is painted in wavering bands of dark blue, purple, orange and yellow. The contrasts of colors and shapes and the slight variations within repetitive forms make for an intriguing image.
There is a group of drawings of letters forming patterns in black ink on white paper. The best of these is Cindy Aldrich’s “Letter Vomit,” a cascade of the letters “h” and “y” that are solid black on top melding into line shading and to outlined letters at the bottom. It is interesting how the identical letters “h” and “y” depending on the way they are positioned.

There are a lot of outstanding photographs — I counted 34 in all — filling two walls of the gallery. Among the best of these are three by Zenia Rodriguez; a strong image of sunlight and shadows under a pier by Michelle Jackson; two photos by Logan Pederson, one of a figure standing in front of a market sign and another of a figure, feet only, standing on wet pavement with that same market sign reflected in the water; and a great picture of a woman seen from waist down seated on a concrete slab in front of a graffiti-filled wall.

There is a wall of graphic art projects including announcements for this show designed by Xavier Lebron and Kara Woodstock, and a design for a Museum of Glass logo painted on a car by Justin Holaday.
My favorite piece in the whole show is a sculpture by Chris Nokes of a suspension bridge made of wood and metal. The towers from which the cables hang are anthropomorphized with “heads” like camera lens, and all of the wood framing is wrapped with some kind of parchment-like paper. It seems to simultaneously reflect ancient and futuristic cultures.

As in all student shows, there are hits and misses. The hits make the entire show worth visiting.

[Tacoma Community College, Student Art Exhibition, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through June 13, Building 4, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma.]

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cinder Edna: A World Premiere at Olympia Family Theater

Cinderella’s (Ingrid Pharris Goebel) coach arrives to take her to the ball. Photo by David Nowitz.

What a feat! What a coup! For the second time Olympia Family Theater is presenting a world premiere musical written by a local playwright. And it is fabulous!

Playwright and composer Ted Ryle adapted the play from the children’s picture book by Ellen Jackson. Guitarist Rich Sikorski, composer Miriam Sterlin and Ryle’s daughter Mandy Ryle all pitched in to help with the music.

Ryle says the project began more than 15 years ago when he and his wife, Jen (OFT co-founder) read the book Cinder Edna to their daughters, who are now all grown. It is a labor of love pulled together with a Kickstarter campaign and the help of many dedicated Olympia theater folk.

The favored son, Prince Randolph, (Xander Layden) can't imagine anyone finer than himself. Photo by Dinea DePhoto.
The story is about Cinderella’s next door neighbor, Edna, who, like Ella, is a maid. But there’s a big difference between the two young women surviving degrading servitude and poverty. While Ella (Ingrid Goebel) is a self-pitying whiner who cries a lot and dreams that someday her prince will come, Edna (Carolyn Willems-Van Dijk) is a go-getter, an entrepreneur who bakes and sells casseroles and revels in telling jokes that are as silly as they are funny. And there is more than one prince, oh yeah. Prince Randolph (Xander Layden) is the most narcissistic character since Narcissus himself. He prances and preens and spends a whole lot of time looking at his most gorgeous reflection in the mirror. Prince Rupert (Harrison Fry) is the misfit in the royal family. He runs a recycling business, wears clothes pieced together from recycled materials and loves puns. And he may be the only person in the kingdom who thinks Edna’s jokes are funny.

Now matter how hard Cinder Edna's (Carolyn Fry) stepsisters (Meghan Goodman and Priscilla Zal) try, they just can't seem to make her life miserable. Photo by Dinea DePhoto.
Everyone knows what happens when Ella goes to the ball. What’s not quite so well known is that Edna also goes to the ball, and she meets and falls in love with Prince Rupert.

It is a delightful children’s story played for adult laughs too with lots of topical humor and with 23 original songs, mostly done in styles reminiscent of pop songs from the 1950s, played by a six-piece band which provides scene transitions with perfectly-chosen pop standards like “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” and the wedding march at just the right moment.

Kate Ayers’ direction is spot-on. The set by Jill Carter is and gorgeous, with beautifully painted backdrops marvelously bathed in pastel colors — magical lighting also designed by Carter.

Cinder Edna (Carolyn Fry) and Prince Rupert (Harrison Fry) discover a true happy ending doesn't require uncomfortable footwear. Photo by Dinea DePhoto.
Goebel and Willems-Van Dijk turn in outstanding performances as Ella and Edna. They’re both good comic actors and both sing well — and nobody cries like Goebel. Fry and Layden each make their characters absurdly believable.  

In supporting roles, Amanda Stevens and Priscilla Zal stand out. Stevens, who plays the queen and the fairy godmother and other roles has a great voice, and she achieves haughtily disdainful looks with style. Zal plays the voice and puppeteer for a smart-alecky parrot, and her expressively screechy parrot voice is hilarious.

Cinder Edna is a show for children and adults that fits beautifully in the intimate space of the Washington Center’s black box but could play equally well on a major stage. I can imagine it being a hit at Seattle’s 5th Avenue or Paramount. I’d love to see it go forward to productions in other venues, but don’t wait for that to happen. See it now while you can. You’ll love it.

Performances May 30 and 31 at 7 and 9 p.m. and June 1 at 1, 3, 4:30 and 6 p.m., The Washington Center, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia. Tickets online at or at the box office. 360.753.8586

Friday, May 24, 2013

Student Art Exhibit at South Puget Sound Community College

The Weekly Volcano, May 23, 2013
Plaster and pastel sculpture by Caitlin McDonald
Of course there are a few clunkers in the 8th Annual Student Art Exhibit at South Puget Sound Community College, but there are plenty of impressive works as well. Most impressive of all may be a large cardboard forest against the back wall of the gallery. It’s a collaborative work by students in the 3-D Design class.

Also impressive is a small figure drawing in sharpie and vine charcoal by Colin Johnstone. It’s a reclining nude with a nice blend of expressive and lyrical contour drawing and flat shaded areas. The drawing and the position of the figure suggest exhausted collapse. It reminds me a lot of drawings by Rodin.

And then there is a group of three plaster sculptures by students Melyssa Wilder, Ashley Gunderson and Caitlin McDonald. With realistic heads and rough arms and hands, these figures hang on the wall and each is doing something thoroughly contemporary: talking on a cell phone, playing a Nintendo, napping with head on the keyboard of a netbook — good work both individually and collectively.

Hauntingly mysterious and atmospheric is a black and white digital photograph by Jennifer Watts of a group of figures that appear to be chess pieces, kings and knights and bishops, brought to life to wander zombie-like in a fog-shrouded world. The atmospheric mood is created by the artist’s use of selective focus.

Like some kind of iconic monolith, a cigarette butt stands upright in Brandon A. Cartwright’s digital photograph “Tree Cig.” It takes a strong imagination and artistic vision to create such a monumental image from a piece of trash.

One of the nicest works in the show is Winona So’s ceramic mug called “Graiff Mug.” I don’t know if the odd spelling was intentional or not, but I do know that the excellent graphic image of a giraffe with his neck as the mug handle is clever and enjoyable to look at. Another piece that’s definitely worth mentioning is Patricia McLain’s “Boy With Antlers, Experiments in Relief Printing.” It is a handmade artist book fanned out for display with on each page the same picture of a boy with antlers on his head, each printed in a different color. It’s an attractive piece.
You may not go to a student show with high expectations, but this one is certainly worth a trip across town to SPSCC.

[South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Thursday, noon-4 p.m., through June 6, and by appointment, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.]

For another student art show visit the gallery at Tacoma Community College and watch for my review of that show to be published in the Volcano May 30th.