Friday, June 28, 2013

Two tapestry shows

The Weekly Volcano, June 27, 2013

"Mates" by Cecilia Blomberg
Two tapestry shows opened simultaneously in Tacoma. Small Tapestry International 3: Outside the Line at Handforth Gallery in the downtown Tacoma Library is a show of international tapestry artists, which will be on display until Aug. 3. TAPS Contained at Brick House Gallery features the works of local and regional tapestry artists.

I visited the Brick House and will try to get to the Handforth at some point during the run of the show.
There is noth
ing flashy or startling in the Brick House show, but it is a nice showcase of members of Tapestry Artists of Puget Sound featuring such local and area artists as Mary Lane, Julie Rapinoe, Joyce Hayes, Inge Norgaard, Margo MacDonald, Ellen Ramsey, Cecilia Blomberg and others.

I was particularly taken with two pieces by Blomberg.  “Birch Rolls” consists of nine almost floor-to-ceiling strips of white fabric with black bands woven into them to mimic the look of a stand of birch trees. They are hung in front of a window and near a ceiling fan, and they gently move in the wind from the fan. 

Blomberg’s “Mates” would be my choice for best in show if there was a prize. It appears to be a strong abstract painting with references to water. Only upon closer inspection do you see that it is not abstract at all but is clearly a picture of a boat tied to a pier with rippling reflections in the water. It has the effect of a photograph taken at such close range that you can’t see the whole for the parts… and then the whole emerges. As an abstract configuration it has strong contrasts and asymmetrical design.

I also very much like Mary Lane’s “Untitled #40,” a pop-like image of a green striped shirt standing upright as if hung on a line with some kind of sheet or fence in front of it with a subtle tan and white checkerboard pattern. You get the impression that there’s a boy in the shirt and he’s spying on you, but you can’t see his face.

Norgaard’s “Nesting #3” is a splash of brown lines like twigs tossed in the wind with a background of lighter brown with an almost invisible diamond pattern. 

Rapinoe and Hayes are each showing groups of abstract patterns similar to Native American basket-weave patterns that almost move optically. The works of both are similar, the main difference being that Hayes’ colors are shimmering blue and green tones and Rapinoe’s are more muted earth tones.

Another piece that has a strong graphic appeal is Ramsey’s “Awakening 2012,” a large banner-like wall hanging with black stitching that mimics sumi painting. It is energetic and carries a lot of punch, but the flowery background patterns detract and seem contrived.
If you enjoy tapestry you should make an effort to see both shows. Call first for the Brick House show because it is open by appointment only except for during Art Mingle.

[Brick House Gallery, TAPS Contained, Third Thursday and by appointment, 1123 South Fawcett St., 253.230.4880 or 253.627.0426.]

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Abolitionist's Wife

Mary Day Brown (Samantha Chandler), Oliver (Jeremy Holien) and Mrs. Epps (Ednonya Charles)

Writers Barbara Gibson and Sky Myers have done a masterful job of telling the story of a little-known historical figure: the wife of legendary abolitionist John Brown.

John Brown was the megalomaniacal abolitionist who led the attack on Harper’s Ferry, which lead to the start of the Civil War. His life story has been told in books and movies, but little is known about his wife, Mary Day Brown, who was many years younger.
Mary and John Brown (Keith Eisner)
Mrs. Epps and Mary

Gibson, who had studied the life of John Brown, said: “I began to wonder about his wife, Mary. I knew that she was a woman whom John both loved and respected.  I visited their cabin in N. Elba, near Lake Placid, New York, where I got a vivid picture of their simple way of life. And eventually I began to imagine what happened between this man, obsessed with a righteous cause, and his wife, who bore him 13 children, several of whom died as infants, and who came to oppose his use of violence after his experiences in the bloody Kansas wars. Mary and John's life together came to a tragic end as a result of the unsuccessful raid he and his comrades waged at Harper's Ferry, for which he was executed by hanging.  … as we know from the popular old ballad, ‘John Brown's Body Lies A'mouldring in the Grave... But His Truth Goes Marching On...’  And Mary Brown's dedication to non-violence, and her interest in the independence of women, are issues of importance that remain unresolved today.”

Gibson wrote the story and then gave it to Myers to make it into a play. The final version was a collaborative work.

John Brown
The Abolitionist’s Wife is the third world premiere to be presented by Olympia Family Theater. The other two were adaptations of children’s books. This is their first fully staged adult drama and the first to be staged in the OFT space on State Avenue in downtown Olympia — a building that previously was used as rehearsal space and office, now fully outfitted with stage lighting, sound board and stadium seating.

Samantha Chandler, co-founder of OFT, plays the part of Mary, and Keith Eisner plays John Brown, and they are each excellent in their interpretation of complex and unusual characters. John Brown is in many ways a one-dimensional character obsessed with ending slavery no matter the cost and an autocratic and unforgiving patriarch of his family although he claimed when they became engaged that he wanted a freethinking wife.  In one scene, whips his son Oliver (Jeremy Holien) for an offense he did not commit — refusing to listen to his defense —and then flagellates himself because he cannot do to his son what he would not do to himself. As an historical figure Brown is a man we can simultaneously admire and abhor, and Eisner captures his personality well. Mary is an even more complex character, strong and meek, tragic and joyful, and Chandler brings her to life wonderfully.

Much of the story is dramatically intense to the point viewers need relief, and relief is offered through some lovely little scene such as Brown’s courtship of Mary and their tentative wedding night when she is like a frightened school girl both longing to make love to her new husband and afraid of it, and he is admirably patient and understanding.  Also providing much needed relief is a chorus of singers and musicians who perform early American tunes and Negro spirituals between scenes.

The performers, called the Front Porch Players, are: Michael Hays, guitar, percussion and vocals; Steve Mazepa, piano, autoharp, harmonica, percussion and vocals; John Morgan, vocals and percussion; Donna Pallo-Perez, piano, flute, percussion and vocals; and Molly Robertson, vocals and percussion.

The actors also sang at times, in chorus and in a most notable from Edsonya Charles, who played the Brown’s neighbor, Mrs. Epps.

It is a joy to see performances that are entirely written, produced and performed by such inspirational local talent.

Olympia Family Theater Playspace, 112 State Ave NE, Olympia, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through July 6. $12 in advance-through Or $15 at the door.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lakewood Playhouse’s The Importance of Being Earnest

The News Tribune, June 21, 2012

The cast of The Importance of Being Earnest
Oscar Wilde’s comic skewering of the British aristocracy The Importance of Being Earnest has not lost a whit of its charm in 118 years. Wilde’s wit and sarcasm is ageless, and Lakewood Playhouse’s staging of this comic classic is truly delightful. Marilyn Bennett’s direction is excellent, and the entire cast is loveable.
Starring Bryan K. Bender as the oh-so-earnest John Worthing, Andrew Kittrell as the fey and jaded Algernon Moncrieff, Syra Beth Puett as the imperious Lady Bracknell, Deya Ozburn as the highbrow beauty Gwendolen Fairfax, and Cassie Jo Fastabend as the down-to-earth if insanely silly country maiden Cecily Cardew, this version of “Earnest” is masterfully cast. 

Cassie Jo Fastabendas Cecily and Andrew Kittrell as Algernon
The play is a silly but highly intelligent comedy of manners filled with witty barbs. Worthing, who pretends to be Jack in the country and Earnest in the city, is in love with Gwendolen, and she is in love with him; but primarily because his name is Earnest. She says she could not bear the thought of being married to a man named Jack or John. His young ward, Cecily, is also in love with the name Earnest, and Algernon courts her by pretending to be Jack’s wicked brother, Earnest. 

Puett nails the personification of the stuffy Lady Bracknell with spot-on accent and diction (credit her extensive acting experience and excellent dialect coaching from Aaron J. Schmookler, who plays the part of the Rev. Cannon Chausuble). 

Ozburn, a South Sound favorite for her intense performances in such roles as that of Martha in The Children’s Hour at LPH and her devastating portrayal of the student Carol in Theater Artists Olympia’s production of David Mamet’s Oleanna, proves here that she has a masterful touch for comedy with impeccable timing and super-fast changes of attitude.

Algernon with Cecily  and Gwendolen (Deya Ozburn)
Bender seems to have been born to play the role of John Worthing. He portrays John with the dignity and stuffiness suitable to his class and upbringing, but his underlying sincerity and insecurity shines through.

Fastabend, a Theater Arts and English major at University of Puget Sound plays Cecily as loveable and flighty and is quite enjoyable to watch.

Kitrell, a recent UPS graduate in his first out-of-school performance creates an outrageously pretentious Algernon with confidence.

Performing in the round is nearly always a challenge because actors necessarily have their backs to the audience during much of the action, yet in this performance Bennett’s blocking of the action is such that it is never a problem and intimacy with the audience is achieved. There are even a number of snide asides to the audience that are delightful.

Costume designer Alex Lewington has done a masterful job with the period costumes, most notably with Algernon’s ridiculously ostentatious outfits and the dresses worn by Lady Bracknell, Cecily and Gwendolen. Her color choices for the women beautifully match their personalities and station in life – virginal and delicate for the country maiden and deep, rich colors for Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell, and they nicely complement the actors’ hair color and skin tones.

The house was almost sold out opening night, so I would urge readers to purchase advance tickets.

Photos by Dean Lapin

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 14
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $18-$24
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Pruzan Collection is a treasure

The Weekly Volcano, June 20, 2012

“Big Fish-Small Pond,” acrylic on paper, mounted on board, collection of Herb and Lucy Pruzan, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum

Featuring more than 100 artworks from the collection of Herb and Lucy Pruzan, Creating the New Northwest is a stunning exhibition of works by many the most famous artists in the region, including William Cumming, Gaylen Hansen, Paul Havas, William Ivey, Fay Jones, James Martin, Alden Mason, Ginny Ruffner, Preston Singletary, Akio Takamori, and more.

Just a tiny sampling of the pieces that took my breath away while perusing the show: Louis Bunce’s oil painting “Apple,” with its brilliant color and stunning simplicity; Gaylen Hansen’s acrylic “Yellow Jar and Glove,” with its surprisingly lurking power of two simple forms; Sherry Markovirz’s “Double Donk,” a painting of two donkey heads, one brown and one white, in beads and mixed media on canvas; Rudy Autio’s glazed porcelain “Beltane Bull and Yellow Horse,” a Picasso-esque take on Greek pottery.

The art is grouped by style and media: landscapes, abstractions, figures, glass, ceramic and so forth. Among the most striking figurative works is Lauren Grossman’s “Hide Body,” a ceramic sculpture enclosed in rawhide. The term “Hide” takes on double meaning. The body is hidden, and if you look closely you’ll see that it is trying to claw its way out.

Gregory Grenon’s oil and Plexiglas “Shoot to Thrill-Shoot to Kill,” a large head of a woman with evil yellow eyes painted on concave Plexiglas, is hypnotic.

Michael Spafford’s “Day and Night” is a tiny oil on paper of two contrasting upside-down figures. It is wonderful. Next to it is a small study for his famous (and controversial) mural “The Labors of Hercules.”

Michele Russo’s recent acrylic “Hop, Skip and Jump” and her untitled painting of two dapper men are delightful studies of line and pattern, and they contrast beautifully with her much earlier “Brown Nude.”

Louis Bunce’s “Nude With Seated Woman” from 1934 is a strong image in the style of Picasso’s rose period. The nude, a woman, looks a lot like the naked boy in Picasso’s “Boy Leading a Horse.” There are an inordinate number of Picasso-influenced paintings among the figurative works, but they are not merely derivative; they are each strong works.

It would take two or three more reviews to discuss the landscapes and abstract paintings. I’ll mention only two that blew me away: Paul Havas’ untitled painting of a view out a window with strangely tilted perspective, and William Ivey’s untitled painting of rectangular shapes, with its mastery of color, balance and texture.

This is a fabulous show. I look forward to seeing it again. 

 [Tacoma Art Museum, Creating the New Northwest: Selections from the Herb and Lucy Pruzan Collection, Wednesdays–Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 5–8 p.m. through Oct. 6, adult $10, student/military/senior (65+) $8, family $25 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18), 5 and younger free, Third Thursdays free from 5-8 pm., 253.272.4258,]

Photo: “Big Fish-Small Pond,” acrylic on paper, mounted on board, collection of Herb and Lucy Pruzan, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum