Monday, September 30, 2013

The 39 Steps at Centerstage

In his review of The 39 Steps at Centerstage Michael Dresdner puts the word “plot” in quotes, explaining: "There is one – the plot of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps – but it’s really quite irrelevant, especially in this version. The feeling you walk away with is that it’s merely a structural excuse for this excellent four person cast to stage something remarkably close to a series of Monty Python sketches. If you like that sort of thing, and fortunately, I do, you’ll be delighted with how very well they do it."

Read Michael's review here..

 Also read Christian Carvajal's review here..

I didn't get to see this one - either one- but it seems my fellow critics are having a field day and tons of fun with it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hart James at Olyphant

The Weekly Volcano, Sept. 26, 2013

The gallery at downtown Olympia’s Olyphant Art Supply seems to attract artists who are new to Olympia. Case in point: Hart James, who is certainly not new to art but is new to Olympia. Her first Olympia show at Olyphant features 20 small assemblage/collages with surrealistic images, lots of gilded frames, butterflies, Renaissance figures, leafs and feathers. They appear to be delicate, and are meticulously constructed in the tradition of Joseph Cornell boxes and Kurt Schwitters collages.

One of my favorites is “the Gift,” a pair of white plaster hands extending from the frame and holding a bird’s nest as if offering it as a gift. I see it as death giving the gift of life, primarily because of the black lace veil.

The central figure of “In a Flutter” (pastel, bird wing, sticks and paper) is a stark white female nude with heavy contour lines and feathers covering her face. It is an ominous figure, yet lyrical.

There are three similar pieces called “The Woman That Flew,” “Side Stroke in Heaven” and “The Space Between.” They are fantasy images of butterflies or other fanciful creatures with women’s faces. The faces appear to have been taken cut out from pictures of 16th century frescoes. They are beautifully done but to me a little too sweet and otherworldly.

A group of pictures on the left wall walk a tightrope between abstraction and figurative work. There is one, for instance, that has a form that looks something like a cocoon that stands as a woman’s torso, recognizable as such because of two rocks for breasts and a white rock for her head. Part of a butterfly wing could be moving arms or angel wings. Next to this is a similar piece with white sticks for legs. The figures in these pieces verge on being overly obvious. They might have been better if they had gone more in one direction than the other — either toward more abstract or more recognizable. I think trying to walk that tightrope detracts from the beauty of the design and texture. It is James’ fine sensitivity to design, to materials, and her polished craftsmanship that make her works outstanding, so she doesn’t need the recognition of figures in abstract configurations as a hook to catch viewers.

The best of her works are a couple that are more clearly figurative and narrative such as “One Called Woman,” which has a cutout of a figure identified as from a painting by Raphael, and “Innocence Escaped,” which has a group of figures from a Renaissance painting and a much larger figure of a woman who seems to be emerging from the bodies of the background figures. The skillful ways in which these figures are integrated with fine drawing, butterfly wings and other collage elements is simply wonderful.
This show has only a few more days to go, but Hart James will also have a show at Breathe Yoga Studio during Olympia’s Arts Walk.

[Olyphant Art Supply, Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Sept. 30, 117 Washington St. NE, Olympia, 360.556.6703]

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Quirky Ladies

Arsenic and Old Lace at Lakewood Playhouse

The News Tribune, Sept. 20, 2013

Aunt Martha (Rebecca Lea McCarthy), from left, Mortimer Brewster (Jacob Tice). Photos by Kate Paterno-Lick
Mortimer (Jacob Tice) and Jonathan (Chris Cantrell).
Lakewood Playhouse opened its 75th season Sept. 13 with a gala celebration followed by the opening night of the classic comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace,” directed, fittingly, by Dale Westgaard, who last directed a Lakewood Playhouse show in 1971.

There is a fine line between hilarity and stupidity, and that’s a line the cast of this play walks with surprisingly good balance, falling off the tightrope only occasionally with, at worst, tiny stumbles.

Since its debut as a stage play in 1939 and the popular movie starring Cary Grant five years later, “Arsenic” has been a staple of comedy. It is the tale of two sweet little old ladies whose hobby is murder and their trio of nephews who are eccentric at best and insane at worst. There’s Mortimer (Jacob Tice), the theater critic who hates theater; his evil brother Jonathan (Chris Cantrell); and dear Teddy (Jeffery Weaver), who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt.

The old ladies, Abby (Diana George) and Martha (Rebecca Lea McCarthy), characterize a clichéd parody of little old ladies, which is this production’s biggest downfall. To some audience members this characterization may be hilarious in a “Saturday Night Live” kind of way, but I found their constant bird-like chirping and their quick way of walking with hands held up like chipmunks irksome. Both George and McCarthy show flashes of talent, but the decision to portray Abby and Martha this way was an unfortunate choice, doubly so because they are the linchpins around which the story flows.

Tice as Mortimer is the other major character in the play and he is outstanding. Tall and thin with dimples and a toothy smile, Tice’s physicality is perfect for the part. His comic timing is great, as are his jerky, stumbling movements.

Teddy is such an absurd character that he’s like a bad pun: You either love him or hate him. The idea of a character who believes he is our 26th president and who, furthermore, believes Panama is in the basement of his house is comical genius as a concept, but played out on stage, it is hard to take a big, loud man periodically blowing a bugle badly and shouting, “Charge!” as he runs off stage.

Evil brother Jonathan shows up unexpectedly with a dead body and a weird assistant named Dr. Einstein (Tony Onorati) who skillfully plays the character with an accent reminiscent of Peter Lorre, who played the part in the movie. Dr. Einstein is a plastic surgeon who repeatedly changes Jonathan’s face to hide his identity from the police, leaving scars that make him look like Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster.

Cantrell is marvelous. His malevolent facial expressions are comically demonic. This is over-the-top comic acting as it should be done.

Mortimer’s girlfriend, Elaine Harper (Ana Bury), is the one normal person among the major characters, and Bury plays the part convincingly as a woman whose only role is to be a foil to Mortimer, who does not need another foil.

Outstanding in supporting roles are Mark Peterson as the police officer who wants to be a playwright and Steve Tarry as Lt. Rooney, possibly the most gullible police officer in the history of theater.

The impressive set designed by Amanda Sweger is beautiful with rich colors, lovely antique furnishings, nicely detailed props by prop master Virginia Yanoff, and a back wall with a staircase to the second floor bedrooms — all placed at an angle to best use the arena space. This is a set you might expect to find in a proscenium theater with a bigger budget.

Kristen Zetterstrom’s lighting works well with this interior set. Something that seldom happens on stage: When a character flips the switch to turn off the lights in the room, the set actually gets dark, yet the audience can still clearly see what is going on. Kudos for that.

“Arsenic and Old Lace” is light entertainment that provides a happy start to the Lakewood Playhouse’s 75th season.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 13Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
Tickets: $19-$25, pay what you can Sept. 26
Information: 253-588-0042, lake

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The 11th Annual Local Juried Art Exhibition at the gallery at Tacoma Community College

The Weekly Volcano, Sept. 19, 2013

The 11th Annual Local Juried Art Exhibition at the gallery at Tacoma Community College may be their biggest ever, with 40 artists and some of them represented by multiple pieces; yet the show does not seem crowded.

As with all juried exhibitions, there is some good stuff and some not-so-good, but the good outweighs the mediocre. Following are comments on just a few of the better works.

“Sensory Ecstasy,” painted construction by Nathan Barnes
Nathan Richolt has two dark and moody photographs of rotting ancient barns in abandoned fields with stormy skies overhead. He captures a feel of rot, decay, loneliness and threat in these photos. Next to Richolt’s pictures are two similar photos by Greg Erickson. In his photos the abandoned buildings are school houses that look as if they might have last been used around 1920. The amazing sky behind the buildings present a view of what appears to be an arced ribbon of cloud but which, judging by the titles, is the milky way.

"Blue Counterpoint," metal sculpture by Don Haggerty
Don Haggerty, known as a painter, is represented with a small metal sculpture that, nevertheless, uses two-dimensional design principles in its brilliant use of negative space. It is modest in scale and composition but I can easily picture it 20 feet tall outside on campus.

I love the use of energetic swipes of color — most especially the thin, watery washes — in William Turner’s brightly colored abstract landscape “Caliente.”

There are two small pieces by Becky Knold. As with Haggerty’s sculpture, I can picture these much larger. They are cloudy and atmospheric, and if done big would draw he viewer in like the paintings in the Rothko Chapel or like the best of Jules Olitski’s color field paintings. Her pieces in this show are typical of her latest paintings, which are all based on the idea of two panels stacked or placed side-by-side. This is the kind of thing that usually looks contrived or that makes me ask “Why not just make one painting the size of the combined panels?” But she usually makes it work. Knold has come a long way since starting her art career late in life and I would encourage her to take the next step into boldly working on large-scale paintings with more color.

untitled painted construction by Ron Hinson
Becky Frehse’s pastel and gauche  “Act II Scene 2” features highly expressive abstract bugs and bees. I like the painting but do not like the burnished frame, which detracts from what it frames.
Andrea Erickson’s sumi “Crane Dance” is a masterpiece of restraint — so much said with so little, and the negative white space makes it come alive.

I could write a long essay comparing Gerry Sperry’s abstract assemblage “BRĀV” and Ron Hinson’s untitled painted construction. Both are colorful painted constructions that jut out from the wall. Sperry’s uses geometric shapes like triangles and circles and squares, with a target and blue and white wave forms. Hinson’s shapes are more organic and curvilinear, his construction more complex, and his textured surface is marvelously lush. I like Sperry’s piece; I love Hinson’s.

David W. Murdach is an artist new to me. His “Drone (The Magnificent Killing Machine)” is a steam punk sculpture with beautifully crafted shiny metal parts. It looks like some kind of 1940’s vision of a futuristic space ship.

Also new to me is Nathan Barnes, whose paintings “Emergent World” and “Sensory Ecstasy” are outstanding, semi-surrealistic, humorous and skillfully painted. “Emergent World” is a contemporary fantasy scene with realistic people, houses, stacks of tires and industrial factories in the background that, although painted in a photo-realistic manner, defies any sense of reality. “Sensory Ecstasy” is a mixed-media painted construction that is hypnotic and hilarious. There’s an eyeball and a tongue that… well, you’d have to see them.

Irene Osborn’s “Chemotherapy” is a chalky white clay sculpture of the bust of a bald-headed woman with haunting black holes for eye sockets. It is fear and pain personified.

I have mixed feelings about Tom Gross Shader’s “Avalanche,” a painting of a man trapped in a box that is covered with an avalanche of snow. The paint application looks like a paint-by-numbers picture. I think if I spent more time with this one I’d grow to love it. The same is true for Alain Clerc’s “Green Dog,” a pop art-style painting of a dog with a green-and-white face and a toothy grin.

Overall this is an enjoyable show. Do yourself a favor and go see it.

[Tacoma Community College, Juried Local Art Exhibition, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through Oct. 18, reception Sept. 19, 4-7 p.m., Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma.]

Friday, September 13, 2013

Landscape and Transformation

Photos of Doha, Qatar by Kristin Giordano and engravings by Paul Landacre at UPS

Weekly Volcano, Sept. 12, 2013
"Children's Carnival" wood engraving by Paul Landacre

"Transplanted Tree," photo by Kristin Giordano
Kristin Giordano’s photographs of Doha, Qatar at Kittredge Gallery on campus at University of Puget Sound are haunting, lonely and disturbingly beautiful. Paul Landacre’s wood engravings in the smaller back gallery represent a fine sampling of works by a little known but leading engraver of the early 20th century. Together they constitute an engaging exhibition.
In a wall-text Giordano writes about the strangeness of this place where modern skyscrapers and shopping malls are interspersed with vast acres of rubble and nothingness. She speaks of photographing the “places in-between.” It is a world that I imagine is foreign in more ways than geographically to most Americans. The images as sparse and monolithic. Most are printed in sepia tones, with a few in full color and a small group in tints of blues and browns. It is the kind of show one wants to look at slowly, letting the feelings that are evoked slowly seep in to consciousness.
Typical is “Georgetown, 2008,” a photo of an ultra-modern building set in a field of gray rocks. It is like something lifted out of a metropolis and set down on the moon.
I enjoyed the contrast of “Transplanted Tree #1” and “Transplanted Tree #2.” Number one pictures a field of widely spaced trees of a species I do not recognize. They look like giant pots caked with mud that has been left out in the sun to dry and crack. And the leaves sprouting from the massive trunk look like some kind of malignant growth. Number 2 pictures a similar tree but without the leaves.
Giordano’s photographs are quiet surrealism and engaging documentary.
I was surprised to read that Landacre, who was born at the end of the 19th century and lived until 1963, was considered one of America’s preeminent wood engravers. Somehow he got left out of my many years of art history study. It was a pleasure to discover his work for the first time.
At first glance, his engravings bring to mind the drawings and paintings of Grant Wood. They are highly detailed and studiously executed landscapes and figure studies with dramatic lighting that bridge abstraction and illustration. With his frequent use of fine white lines on a black background, many of his engravings have the sparkle of scratchboard drawings. The subtle manner in which he alternates between white on black and black on white is fascinating.
Some of his engravings are totally abstract and reminiscent of Lyonel Feininger and Charles Demuth, while others look more like book illustrations from the early 20th century. One of the more interesting pictures is “Forest Girl,” a fantasy landscape in which only upon close inspection do you see the reclining nude on the forest floor. Two other nudes, “Siesta” and “Demeter,” offer an interesting study in the ways in which Landacre bridges abstraction and realism. They could be two versions of the same model in similar poses, but one is realistic and the
[Kittredge Gallery,  Landscape and Transformation,  through Sept. 28, 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 7, 2013

The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged (Revised) at TLT Again

Pictured from top: Coleman Hagerman, Luke Amundson and Blake York. Photo by DK Photography (Olympia, WA)
Tacoma Little Theatre returns to the bard with another version of The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged, (Revised) and Michael Dresdner was on hand to review it. Dresdner wrote:  

"The opening night audience adored them, as did I, laughing and applauding from the opening salvo to the anything-but-bitter end. Nor were they spared; during the second act the three actors goad everyone into becoming part of the raucous insanity."  

Read Michael's complete review here.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Natural History of the Surreal

Otto Younger at Handforth Gallery
Table of Desire
Otto Younger’s sculptures in the Handforth Gallery spill out of the gallery space to inhabit sections of the entire gallery, first and second floor, and even the windows above the main entrance. They are big, bold, hysterically funny and insightfully satirical. What Youngers has created is a parody of museum diorama with fantasy creatures — dragons and dinosaur-like skeletons, many of them wearing boxing gloves and Dutch-style wooden shoes.

Younger’s sculptures are all made from reclaimed wood. Much of it is left in a natural finish and is roughly carved, giving the pieces the look of chainsaw sculpture or primitive craft. Many of the pieces are huge, taking up large sections of the library, such as the “The New & Improved Four Horsemen of the apocalypse” on the first floor, which comprises menacing skeleton men riding giant wooden horses. They would be frightening if they were not so funny.

The titles give hints of the whimsical and quirky nature of Younger’s art. For example, such pieces as “U.S.S. Miss Fitz,” “Moose Lodge Bible,” “Confusion Daze” and “Future, Past Now.”
Incredible Supreme
“Queque" is a roped off area as in a bank or airline ticket window, but the rope is made of wood and what is inside is not people lined up but rather their shoes. Heavy wooden clogs on a checkerboard-patterned floor. Is there an ominous quality to the shoes as in when soldiers use empty boots to stand in for dead comrades? Yes, that is probably intentional, as there are hidden threats or dangers underneath all of his humor.

The checkerboard floor is used again in the display of dragon skeletons in the main gallery space. These floors have a worn look as if they were last painted 20 years ago and have been walked on for decades.

One little piece that I like is “Table of Desire,” a small table on spindly legs upon which sits an open book (wooden) and a hand grenade. On the floor under the table is a single wood clog and a brain perched atop a stump.

Among the most artistic pieces are a series of six wall hanging pieces with post-pop surrealistic images drawn and assembled with images that remind me of both Peter Saul and Red Grooms. There are no labels identifying media, but they appear to be wood burned etchings and paint.

There is much to see in Younger’s work. You could easily spend a whole day just scoping out all the little surprises and details and wondering about the many visual puns and symbols. And if you can spend that much time with it, you will certainly be rewarded for your effort.

[Handforth Gallery at Tacoma Public Library, Natural History of the Surreal, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays-Saturday, through Oct. 5, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S, Tacoma]