Monday, March 31, 2014

Java Tacoma – Episode 4: The Merry Wives Americano

Opening night of Java Tacoma at Dukesbay Theatre was a lot of fun.
That’s Java Tacoma Episode 4 — or so it was listed on the program even though the previous episode was Episode 38. You just can’t trust these home-grown soap operas for truth in advertising.

Rehearsal for Java Tacome. Aya Hashaguchi Clark (left) and Chevi Chung. Director Randy Clark in background.Photo by Jason Ganwich

from left: Aya Hashiguchi Clark, Marie Tjernlund and Chevi Chung. Photo by Jason Ganwich
The show was written by Matthew L. Anderson, directed by Randy Clark, set in Tacoma, and  performed by a fun ensemble cast featuring some well-known and well-loved actors. I won’t risk spoiling it by saying anything about the plot (thin but interesting), because there are surprises and a mystery at the heart of the story. I will say, however, that it is a parody of . . . well, just about everything from murder mysteries to soap operas to Broadway musicals. I will also venture to say — because this doesn’t give anything away — that at least one character in the story hates show tunes so much that if you wanted to torture him or her the best way to do it would be to force him (or her) to listen to show tunes. And I will also say that there are some political shenanigans going on and threats of bribery, and karaoke and a war between vegan and paleo cookies.

Did I give away too much? There’s a lot going on in this show.

Susan Mayeno, whom local theater-goers will remember from The Joy Luck Club at Tacoma Little Theatre, plays Jeri “Effen” Rockwell with unbridled intensity.

Aya Hashiguchi Clark plays Linda, the frustrated and put-upon owner of the coffee shop where all the action takes place.

Chevi Chung plays Anna, Linda’s headstrong daughter. To my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve ever seen Chung on a South Sound stage. She’s a graduate of the Guildford School of Acting in England.

Jack House, known for his roles in August Wilson’s great drama Radio Golf at the Broadway Center and for The Color Purple at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, is great as Linda’s clueless husband, Bert.

Longtime Tacoma favorite Micheal O’Hara is outstanding as the sleazy cop, Frank.

O’Hara’s equally renowned and much loved wife, Sharry O’Hare, proves to be a karaoke queen and a dancing fool as Phyllis, perhaps the worst barista in the West.

John Pfaffe, another local favorite, plays the thespian wannabe John, and does screamingly funny impersonations of a slew of popular movie stars.

And finally, Marie Tjernlund is commanding as Kate, the ultra-vain entrepreneur who lost a recent city council race to Bert. How could anybody lose to Bert? He can’t even go to the store to buy coffee without screwing up.

During the first scenes I thought the entire cast was over acting, hamming it up like self-absorbed amateurs, which surprised me because I knew most of the actors were better than that. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I decided that maybe they seemed overblown because the seats were so close to the action. But quickly I realized they were lampooning overly dramatic actors and doing it well, especially when they burst into song and even more so when they went into stop-action poses.

Anderson’s script is clever and rife with insider references to Tacoma. It is a short play, about an hour in length with no intermission.  It starts early, at 7:30 p.m., and lets out early enough for patrons to go out for drinks or an after-show dinner.

An interesting thing I noticed opening night: The theater seats around 30, and most seats were filled. In the audience I counted five actors and three critics, a potentially critical crowd. They were laughing throughout. This tells me two things: 1) that local theater folk support one another, and 2) that it was a funny show. (Full disclosure: I didn’t see if the other critics were laughing, but I certainly was.)

WHERE: The Dukesbay Theatre, 508 S. Sixth Ave #10, Tacoma (3rd Floor Merlino Art Center)
WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 13
TICKETS: $10, advance tickets at
INFORMATION: 253-267-0869,

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gallery Hopping around Tacoma


The Weekly Volcano, March 27, 2014

If you plan on doing some gallery hopping in the coming weeks, I suggested you wear some springy shoes because there’s a lot of hopping to do, starting with The Art of Wayzgoose in the gallery at Pacific Lutheran University through April 9. The exhibition represents six years of steamroller prints—the work of more than 20 artists—all printed on the sidewalk at the Tacoma Wayzgoose by running a steamroller over printing plates. Wayzgoose is an annual letterpress and book arts festival held at King’s Books.

Kittredge Gallery at University of Puget Sound has a show of photos using Instagram by Los Angeles Photographer John Arsenault running through April 12. Arsenault isolates exquisitely beautiful details of flowers, adding a 21st-century twist to 19th-century precedents and ideas about art and aesthetics. Also showing at Kittredge is American Qur'an by Sandow Birk. Birk has hand transcribed an English-translated text of the Qur’an. His lettering is based on the urban graffiti he finds around his Los Angeles neighborhood. Using a style that draws upon historical Arabic and Persian miniature painting, he creates images that pair each handwritten sura with relevant scenes from contemporary American life. The exhibition includes a selection of ten multipanel suras from American Qur’an, as well as two collaborative works Birk has created with his wife, artist Elyse Pignolet.

More unique photography can be seen in Sent from Somewhere Else: The Black & White Photography of Gary Lappier at Fulcrum Gallery through April 5. “Time is fluid and photography grants me the power to freeze a moment for endless revisiting,” Lappier says. “I can share a specific feeling, share exactly how I saw the subject at that specific time, in that specific moment to others. Through my photographs I hope to expose others to people, places and things they might not normally have the chance or desire to visit themselves. To show beauty from the fringes, from the smallest detail to the largest, that is my intent.” (I will review this show for next week’s Volcano.)

Look! See? The Colors and Letters of Jen Elek and Jeremy Bert at Museum of Glass is a joyful and colorful show! This pair of Seattle artists has collaborated to create an exhibition that encourages visitors to not only touch but wear some of the artworks in the gallery. The exhibition features a variety of glass sculptures combined with approximately 50 large, refurbished neon letters that visitors can touch, rearrange and wear like apparel. The primary color palette is reminiscent of children’s play equipment. “Abstract artworks are often considered less accessible than figurative or narrative work, but with Look! See? the artists create a hands-on opportunity to engage with conceptual ideas,” says Curator David Francis.

Also at MOG is Bohemian Boudoir, a collection of cut glass creations from the Bohemia region of Czechoslovakia including candle sticks, powder boxes, perfume bottles, atomizers, ring trays, soap dishes and covered jars. “These relics from a glamorous era are an amazing reminder of the dramatic effects of geo-political changes,” says Katie Phelps, curatorial assistant at MOG and curator of Bohemian Boudoir. “With the recent fascination with 1920s popular culture such as the new version of “The Great Gatsby” and BBC’s “Downton Abbey,” these exquisite pieces serve as reminder of the quality of goods that rarely exists with today’s disposable consumer products.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Strutting My Time Upon the Stage

Yeah, Right

I had a strange dream last night. OK, they’re all strange, but this one especially. I was in a Shakespeare play, or a Shakespeare-like play. I didn’t recognize it. It seems now that it might have been King Lear or perhaps The Tempest. It’s not clear because I never read either one and can barely remember ever seeing them, unlike, say, Romeo and Juliette, which I have seen way too many times. At least one scene was set in a library and I was Prospero. It seemed upon waking that some of the words and images were from the Peter Greenway film Prospero’s Books. The library was filled not with books but with DVDs, and I was unpacking new DVD players and stacking them on shelves while reading my lines.
In the dream I was filling in for another actor and I was “on book.” Now here’s the thing: even though I was reading my lines in the dream the words poured forth in a torrent without pausing to try and remember what comes next, meaning my unconscious mind had either memorized and stored away lines from a play I hadn’t seen in approximately 20 years or I was unconsciously writing the script as I went along, with page after page of Shakespearean words tumbling out in a tempest of language. The thing that astounded me when I woke up was the realization that the unconscious mind could do such a thing, which I could never come close to doing while awake. Perhaps there was a half-awake moment when I realized that, and maybe that’s why I was reading my lines instead of reciting them. In whatever part of my mind the words came from I knew that I could not even read so many lines without stumbling, so in the dream I did stumble at one point but recovered nicely with passionately dramatic gestures.
Hey, I’m an actor. In my dreams. In my waking life I think I’ll stick to reviewing the work of real actors.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Boeing, Boeing at Olympia Little Theatre

left-Bernard (Zach Holstine), center from top Gretchen(Teresa Forster), Gloria (Michaela Hickey) and Gabriella (Maisha Gannie), right Robert (Ken Luce).
 The first thing that struck me when entering Olympia Little Theatre to see Boeing, Boeing was the gorgeous set designed and constructed by Matthew Moeller. Like nearly all sets at OLT, it consisted of a back wall with doors and some furniture and various props. The design of the space with seating on three sides makes such an arrangement practically the only thing that can be done. But what Moeller has done with these simple tools is marvelous. On the back wall hung a triple portrait of one of the characters, Gloria (Michaela Hickey) in vibrant tones of blue. Everything in the room — from 1960-style ultra-modern furniture to the beautiful marbleized floor to the just-so cushions — was in cool shades of black, white and blue. It was ultra-cool in both meanings of the word (cool as in hip and laid back, and cool as in the blue and violet side of the color wheel). Even the lighting was in tones of lavender.

What I did not know before the play started was that all of this was going to change in simple but ingenious ways, so ingenious in fact that in the first act some of the props got more laughs than the actors.

Berthe (Lanita Grice) with Robert and Bernard
Here’s the set-up: Bernard (Zach Holstine) is a debonair ladies’ man living in a upscale apartment in Paris and engaged to three different women at the same time. All three women are flight attendants, or stewardesses as they were called back then. They each work different schedules on different airlines and are never in Paris at the same time. None of them know of the existence of the others, and none of them suspect that Bernard has no intention of every marrying anyone. Bernard, naturally, keeps careful tabs on their schedules, aided in his deception by his maid, Berthe (Lanita Grice). She is disdainful of her boss but goes along and even helps him keep up his deception because he’s the boss.

Robert and Gretchen
Where the changing set-up comes into play is that Bernard changes the apartment to suit each of his fiancées, swapping photographs and even color schemes to match the colors of their home countries, down to their countries’ flag embroidered on a cushion. The woman are: Gloria from New York, Gretchen (Teresa Forster) from Germany, and Gabriella (Maisha Gannie) from Italy.

Thrown into the mix is Bernard’s best friend, Robert (Ken Luce) who is at first shocked and then takes part in helping him deceive the women.

Written by Marc Camoletti and ably directed by Kathryn Beall, Boeing, Boeing is a romantic farce that begins slowly as a sophisticated comedy and progressively gets wilder and wilder, with the three women in and out of the apartment and in and out of various rooms, never running into each other until ultimately they do with surprising results.

Holstine is a young actor and not quite experienced enough to pull off the part, although he gives it his all. It is too easy, especially in the first act, to see that he is acting. Grice, playing the part of the maid, is much more believable and natural; although it is a shame that she spends so much time with her back to one-third of the audience, and unfortunate drawback of this type of thrust stage. The three fiancées are all charming. Finally, it is Luce who brings on the belly laughs. Not only is he the most outstanding actor in this cast, but when he is on stage the rest of the cast members elevate their performances in reaction to him. In the absurdly comic scene in which he drags a too-heavy suitcase to his bedroom his acting is almost equal to some of the great silent screen stars like Keaton and Chaplin, and his sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle facial expressions while standing in the background while others are talking could easily constitute scene stealing but actually call attention to the others.

Overall I thought it was slightly uneven but mostly hilarious. It’s a three-act play, and it runs almost three hours.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through April 13
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$14, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

Friday, March 21, 2014

Current Work at the Brick House

The Weekly Volcano,
March 20, 2014

"An Assemblage for Rats" by Alan Hopkins

“Floating Island Estates” by Gabriel Brown
The current show at Brick House Gallery is an eclectic selection of current work (all done since 2013) by more than 20 artists including many old friends who have shown often at this and other Tacoma galleries. My overall impression was that there are three or four excellent works and a whole lot that are good but not outstanding.

Bill Colby’s two woodcuts, one with acrylic and one with acrylic and water color, “Stone Wall: Beach 1” and “Sun River,” are excellent — possibly the most accomplished works in the show. Both are simplified, semi-abstract landscapes with the flattened, scraggly look of woodcut illustrations but sparked up with the addition of high-keyed blue, orange and green. In both pieces there are bodies of water, land and sky, and in both clouds are as solid as boulders. Reading too much into these subject-wise would not be the best way to appreciate them. Seen as simple abstract shapes on a flat surface they are exciting yet placid with good color contrasts and a unity of mark-making and directional thrust.

Alan Hopkins’ “An Assemblage for Rats” is intriguing and well-made but not placed well in the gallery. It is an assemblage of wood, something like women’s hosiery filled with unidentifiable materials and hanging heavily beneath a shield-like shape covered with a dense montage of pictures of rats. An artist’s statement says it celebrates something called a “rat rod” from hot rod culture.

Suspended over a coffee table in the back room is Gabriel Brown’s “Floating Island Estates,” a lovely fantasy of little houses on green grass and earth that has been plucked from the ground like roots of dirt. They are made of corrugated cardboard and cut and pasted bits of containers such as milk cartons and cereal boxes and all hang from monofilament line amidst fluffy white clouds made of cotton.

Sharon Styer is represented with a couple of outstanding photographs printed on aluminum. Both “Fog at Thea’s Park” and “Dungeness Spit” are moody and atmospheric scenes in soft sepia tones that capture the look of the Pacific Northwest on a foggy morning just after sunrise (for all I know they could have been taken at noon, but there is an early morning feel to them).

Also likeable is Margo MacDonald’s little tapestry “Ozette River.” It is a peaceful scene of a river mounted on a board that is covered with what appears to be rice paper and angel hair but is listed as cotton and wool.

I also like Richard Turner’s “Virgin Du Guadalupe,” a wall-hanging relief sculpture of conch shell, rivets, pine board, lizard skin and Mexican popsicle sticks. It is a strong, simple and reverent image.

Just a few of the other artists of note in this show are: Jeffree Stewart, Jada Moon, Peter MacDonald and Cathy Fields.
[Brick House Gallery, Third Thursday 5-9 p.m. and by appointment, through March 31, 1123 South Fawcett St., 253.230.4880 or 253.627.0426.]

Photo: “An Assemblage for Rats,” mixed media by Alan Hopkins. Courtesy Brickhouse Gallery.