Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's all about Molly

I woke up at five o’clock this morning thinking about my new book, Visual Liberties. I had a kind of mini-revelation: everything has to revolve around Molly Ashton. That means, among other things, going back and writing a new chapter near the beginning of the book that establishes her character more firmly. Molly is a freshman in college when the book starts. It is the day before her eighteenth birthday. 

I’ve already written an informal and not-quite-finished synopsis and 44,000 words (118 pages) of the book, but that’s just a start. It begins with the introduction to and back story of a new character who was not in the previous novels in the series, John Givens, an artistic genius who is woefully inept in social situations (he hasn’t been diagnosed with Asperger’s, but he displays classic symptoms). John becomes Molly’s closest friend. Then comes the new chapter I woke up thinking about this morning. It is the afternoon of the day before her birthday. Sunlight is flooding through the curtain-free window in her dorm room at the Mississippi University for Women Gulf Coast Campus (a fictional college, there is a college by that name but no Gulf Coast Campus). Molly has just moved her possessions into the dorm room but has not put anything away yet. She’s afraid to put anything away because her new roomie hasn’t shown up yet and she doesn’t know which side of the closet the roomie will want, which of the identical beds or which of the identical dressers. 

I got on my computer and started writing that scene even before my first cup of coffee. Now I’m writing this while Gabi is making oatmeal.  I’ll stop writing to eat breakfast and then I’ll post this and get back to work.

By-the-way, if you don’t know Molly—meaning if you haven’t read Return to Freedom—she is the daughter of Malcolm and Bitsey Ashton. In R2F she got involved with an evangelical church and had a crush of the youth minister, Sonny Staples, and the two of them ran off together and spent a night in a cabin at a fishing camp on the Mary Walker Bayou. Since Sonny was in his forties and Molly only seventeen at the time he could have been imprisoned for having sex with a minor, but they both denied having sex and nobody could prove otherwise. The book ended without any definitive answer to the question: did they or didn’t they. But Molly was clearly devastated by whatever happened with Sonny, and as this new book begins she is still trying to recover.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Prickly prints

Haley Bea at Salon Refu

The Weekly Volcano, July 25, 2013

Artist Susan Christian has opened her downtown Olympia studio space for exhibitions and events. She calls the space Salon Refu after the famous Salon de Refus├ęs that made the French Impressionists famous.

The latest show in the space is an exhibition of prints by Haley Bea. I never before heard of her or saw her work, but I was enticed into going by an email from Christian. She wrote, “(Her prints are) not like anything I recognize, but they're charming and a little unnerving.” That was enough to send me down there to see for myself, and I discovered that her monoprints were indeed charming and if not unnerving at least a little prickly and edgy.

I was told she is a young artist, and I assume just starting out. I see that she has a lot of talent and a strong sensitivity to form and surface. I didn’t count the pieces in the show or take notes but I recall that there were around a dozen prints, each approximately 18-by-20 inches with abstract forms delineated by fairly heavy contour lines and a few delicate fine lines, muted colors and rough, velvety surfaces.

The drawing is sparse with minimal shapes floating on almost solid backgrounds. The balance between contrasting and harmonizing forms is impressive.

A few of her pieces appear to be architectural, like blueprints or drawings of unreal structures. One group of prints employs collaged sheets of paper and odd shapes that jut out of the frame in nice ways creating a teetering asymmetrical balance and nuanced changes in surface quality. 

All of her works are abstract, although many of them hint at recognizable imagery. I see urchins and anemones, trees and cacti and  — perhaps with a stretch of the imagination — human body parts. There are indefinable aspects to her art that remind me a little of Paul Klee and, a little closer to home, of Chauney Peck, a Seattle artist originally from Olympia whom I have greatly admired for years. 

The show runs through July with a closing party July 28 from 7-10 p.m., and will continue by appointment only through August.

Salon Refu, Tuesday-Saturday, 3-6 p.m. through July. 28, or by appointment through Aug., 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, 360-280-3540. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Critic's Choice 2012-2013

Every summer since 2004 I have published my Critic’s Choice, my choices for the best in South Sound theater. This year I am going to do it differently. Since The News Tribune has cut back on the number of my theater reviews they publish, I have not reviewed as many plays in Tacoma and Lakewood as I used to, and I have had to completely stopped reviewing shows in smaller venues in places like Puyallup and Gig Harbor. I live in Olympia and cannot afford the commute for reviewing plays I don’t get paid for. I reviewed only 38 plays this season. In the not too distant past I typically reviewed 50 to 60 plays in a season.

Picking the best actor or best director would not be fair to the theaters whose performances I did not review. So, instead of ranking I am honoring those actors, directors, set designers and so forth whose work is worthy of special recognition.

Jana Tyrrell turned in an award-worthy performance in “Next to Normal” at Capital Playhouse, which was directed by her husband, Brian Tyrrell. This stylized and hard-hitting musical-drama was made surreally beautiful by Bruce Haasl’s set and lighting by Matt Lawrence.

Kristin Burch electrified audiences with her portrayals of Nancy in “Oliver” at Capital Playhouse and as Roxie Hart in “Chicago” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

Bruce Haasl as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar at Harlequin Productions. Set by Linda Whitney
Bruce Haasl knocked my socks off four years ago as Judas in Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar at Capital Playhouse, and did it again as Jesus in the same show at Harlequin. Put this guy on stage, any stage, and he owns it.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Harlequin and Next to Normal at Capital Playhouse both took South Sound musical theater to a higher level. (I’ve heard that the same can be said for Ragtime, now at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, but I did not get to see it.

Deya Ozburn is the South Sound’s Meryl Streep. She grabbed our hearts and wouldn’t let go as Martha in “The Children’s Hour” at Lakewood Playhouse.

The Children’s Hour at Lakewood Playhouse was as riveting and heartfelt as a drama can be. Teen actor Kira Zinck’s portrayal of the hateful Mary Tilford was breathtaking. Zinck is a young actor to watch for.
Kira Zinck and Carol Richmond in The Children's Hour. Photo by Dean Lapin

Joy Luck Club at Tacoma Little Theatre, directed by David Hsieh, was a wonderful show with a large ensemble cast and unique staging.

Ingrid Goebel’s comic stylings in The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood at Olympia Family Theatre clearly puts her in the rank of best comic actors.

Olympia Family Theatre is a new theater company that has taken big risks with world premieres of locally written plays and has blended professional-level adult and children’s theater in the most exciting and entertaining ways. Kudos to OFT for their hilarious The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood and their world premiere of Cinder Edna by playwright and composer Ted Ryle, adapted the play from the children’s picture book by Ellen Jackson, and their world premiere of The Abolitionist’s Wife by Sky Meyers and Barbara Gibson. Ryle, Meyers and Gibson are all local playwrights.

Kate Hayes’ knockout performance as The Artful Dodger in “Oliver” at Capital Playhouse puts her in the ranks of the best youth actors in the South Sound area if not anywhere.

The great Scott C. Brown proves that Fringe Theatre is still alive and vital in his disturbing portrayal a hostage in Lee Blessing's Two Rooms, which was performed in both Seattle and a one-night-only performance at Lakewood Playhouse.

Pug Bujeaud’s originality of vision as a director was something extraordinary in the presentation of not one but two versions of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, with separate ensemble casts, one all-male and the other all-female.

Jon Douglas Rake beautifully cloned Bob Fosse’s choreography for Chicago at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

Brie Yost turned in a masterful job of directing the excellent ensemble cast in a soul stirring The Laramie Project at Tacoma Little Theatre.

(From L to R Michael Cooper, Jeremy Thompson, Martin J. Mackenzie, Mark Peterson, Jefri Peters, Rachel Fitzgerald, Russ Coffey). Photo by Galen Wicks Photography
Linda Whitney is superlative in so many ways. Her set design and direction of Jesus Christ Superstar at Harlequin was phenomenal and was aided by outstanding lighting and video by Amy Chisman. The work of the tech gods on this production was comparable to that of much larger theaters with bigger budgets.

Special recognition goes to director Marilyn Bennett and the cast and crew of The Importance of Being Earnest for outstanding staging and ensemble acting.

Musical reviews, mostly bombastic rock shows have become standard fare at both Centerstage! Theatre in Federal Way and Harlequin in Olympia. This year’s It’s Only Rock and Soul at Centerstage with performances by DeWayne Andrews Jr., Bobby Barnts, Stacie Calkins, Trista Duvall, Jesse Smith, Ashanti Mangum, Meg McLynn and Zack Wheeler was the kind of musical event I wish I could have videotaped to enjoy regularly at home.

OK, I said I wasn’t going to do a “Best Of” this year, but how about the best musical to play at two different theaters. That honor goes to the smashingly delightful Legally Blonde at Tacoma Musical Playhouse and Capital Playhouse, starring Leah Wickstrom at TMP and Bailey Boyd at Capital.

The Israel Horovitz Award for outstanding drama goes to… Israel Horovitz for Gloucester Blue. Credit Scot Whitney for making Horovitz and honorary citizen of Olympia.

Congratulations to all for a stunning season!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Animal Fire Theatre’s Julius Caesar

 Political intrigue and murder on the Capitol Campus

Ryan Holmberg and Katy Dixon

Rick Pearlstein and Ryan Holmberg

Kate Arvin and Morgan Picton. Photos by David Nowitz
Animal Fire Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park has moved from Priest Point Park to the Washington State Capital Campus. This year’s production is the historical play Julius Caesar directed by Jenny Greenlee.

Near the Korean War Memorial stands a maze of platforms and wall-like structures that was once a water feature but hasn’t been used as such for decades. It makes for an ideal stage for a play set in ancient Rome. Actors are able to enter and exit from a myriad of directions and dramatically climb over and about the many layered structure. The setting and lighting courtesy of the sun provided for a happy byproduct of an outdoor performance that I was able to enjoy—at one point in particular opening night when the sun happened to be low on the horizon as Anthony (Kate Arvin) was giving a speech from one of the higher platforms. She was majestic against a blue sky and cast a strong shadow that resulted in a scene more dramatic than it could have been if staged indoors with professional lighting. The same setting was also ideal for the appearance of the spirit of Caesar (Scott Douglas) high and distant against the sky after his death.

Intrigue, ambition, jealousy and murder have been integral to politics as long as men have sought power, and no writer has looked at it with such honesty, insight and poetry as William Shakespeare. The plotting and the murder of Caesar resonates in today’s world as much as it did 400 years ago when Shakespeare wrote the play.

Animal Fire Theatre presents this play in modern garb with knives for swords, and in a refreshing twist with women playing two of the pivotal roles that have traditionally been played by men: Anthony and Brutus (Katy Dixon). The gender role reversals seem natural. In fact, when Anthony speaks of her love for Caesar and Brutus speaks of her love for Cassius (Ryan Holmberg) it takes on a romantic cast that is not there when they are all men, and it seems even more pertinent and real. I do have to admit, however, that since I know at least some of the words and tend to mentally say them along with the actors it is somewhat jarring when, for instance, Anthony keeps repeating that Brutus was an honorable woman. It doesn’t seem unnatural or wrong; it’s just jarring to my expectations.

Douglas is physically well cast as Caesar. He has a majestic appearance and the deep, resonant voice of a man so proud as to think of himself as a god.

The leading roles are those of Anthony, Brutus and Cassius—and Arvin, Dixon and Holmberg are each riveting in these roles. Holmberg slides effortlessly in and out of snide and tender remarks, and fierce anger with appropriate changes of voice, especially when he is mocking others. And speaking of fierceness, if anyone thinks women cannot play strong warriors, Arvin and Dixon’s performances should once and for all put that notion to rest.

The supporting cast was very good. Morgan Picton played strong roles as a Trebonius, Lucilius and the soothsayer (if I had been Caesar, his “Beware the Ides of March” would have scared the hell out of me). Tim Samland portrayed Decius Brutus and Octavius with just the right touch of madness. Rick Pearlstein was also a standout in multiple roles, most notably as Casca.

Come prepared. Portable lawn & camp chairs or pillows are recommended for the two and a half hour show with no intermission, and mosquito repellent may be a good idea although we had no need on opening night. And if our typical Olympia weather holds up during the run of the play you should probably come in summer clothes but bring an overshirt. And know that there will probably be distractions from overhead airplanes, bicyclists and skateboarders. Just take the distractions in stride and pay attention to the play. The play’s the thing.

Performances are scheduled to run Thursdays through Sundays, through Aug. 5. All performances will be at 6:30 P.M. Information about how to park for free or use Intercity Transit’s Dash Shuttle is available on the company’s website:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ron Hinton Soars

The Weekly Volcano, July 18, 2013

"Shadow and Pink" pastel by Barbara Noonan

"Streamer" metal sculpture by Ron Hinton
The latest works by Ron Hinton (not to be confused with Ron Hinson) at Childhood’s End are more dynamic than anything of his I’ve seen before. At least the wall-hanging sculptures. The free-standing pieces on pedestals are more of the same stuff I’ve seen from him I the past — angular abstract forms in a variety of metals that depend for interest more on color and texture contrasts and etched surface patterns than on form. With a few exceptions these are too fussy for my taste, but the pieces hanging on the walls soar dramatically. They also feature texture and color contrasts but depend more on form, which to my way of thinking is what sculpture, particular abstract sculpture, should be all about. They are sheets of copper, steel, bronze and other metals that wrap around each other in shroud-like forms and seem to be about to take off like birds in flight. Many are hung diagonally to enhance the sense of flight.

Hinton has about 25 pieces in the show including some small metal jewelry items in a display case. The best by far are the wall pieces. One of my favorites is “Finnel,” patinated bronze, copper and stainless steel. It is a unified and simple form in tones of silver, green and deep blue. The best of the standing works is “Tatlin’s Tower,” a tribute to Vladimir Tatlin’s famous “Monument to the Third International.” Like “Finnel,” it is a simple and self-contained form in beautifully muted colors.

Also showing are a number of nice little pastels of people and homey scenes by Barbara Noonan. They’re pretty traditional and typical, but a couple of them stand out. “Surf Play” is a dramatic picture of an old man at play in the surf with his figure strategically located in the upper left corner of the picture. “Summer Swing” is an unoccupied tire swing with cast shadow. It has a Hooper-esque feeling of loneliness. Noonan’s best work is “Shadow and Pink,” which is a bird’s eye view of a little girl in a pink dress tightrope walking the crack in a sidewalk. The great thing about this one is the way if comments on balance both in terms of placement of the figure in the two-dimensional space of the format and how it illustrationally comments on the girl’s precarious balance. This is a little gem of a painting.

There are also some funny and playful acrylics by Ann Schreivogl. Her “Once Upon a Time” is a delightful picture of a girl with big cartoon feet reading a book. One of the better paintings in the show is Schreivogl’s “Glance.” It is a standing figure on a beach amidst a profusion of elliptical dots that play in a lovely way with spatial peek-a-boo. 

Also showing are nature studies in pastel by Randena Walsh.


[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Aug. 31, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]