Monday, April 28, 2014

Chamber Music at Midnight Sun

left o right: Kate Ayers,   Alayna Chamberland, Kim Holm

from left: Kim Holm, Priscilla Zal,
Vanessa Postil
For the first play in their new permanent home, the Midnight Sun, Theater Artists Olympia presents Arthur Kopit’s 1962 absurdist play Chamber Music directed by Pug Bujeaud. I must say that I left the theater at the end of this hour-long, one act-play with indeterminate feelings. I had laughed hard at many of the insane bits, and I admired the talents of the ensemble cast, but I had to mull over the story line and the meaning of the play for quite a while before it began to make sense; and some of it never did and probably never will — that’s the nature of absurdist theater. It’s absurd. It’s not supposed to make sense. And yet it does. It’s like something written by Gertrude Stein, and the reference to Stein is not coincidental.

There were many moments in this play that were laugh-out-loud funny, some funny-when-you-think-about-it parts, and some parts that just left me perplexed. It’s the kind of play highbrow snobs might walk away from unwilling to admit they didn’t get it all. And what is there to get? For starters the whole thing is a metaphor for the cold war between Russia and the United States, which was pretty hot in 1962 (even though the story is set in 1938). It is a feminist play that exposes the vast unfairness in the way women are treated and equates that with the manner in which colorful, eccentric and creative people are deemed insane by the rest of society.

Set in an insane asylum, eight inmates in the women’s ward come together to plan their defense against the men of the men’s ward, whom they believe are planning to attack them. Each of these women believes that she is some famous woman from history, thus the play is filled with literary and historical references. The women are:
  • ·         Amanda Stevens is “The Woman Who Plays Records” and believes she is the wife of Mozart
  • ·         Kim Holm is “The Woman in Safari Outfit” who believes she is explorer Osa Johnson (her outfit looks like Teddy Roosevelt)
  • ·         Kate Ayers is “Woman with Notebook”; i.e. Gertrude Stein
  • ·         Vanessa Postil is “Girl in Gossamer Dress” or silent film star Pearl White
  • ·         Cheyenne Logan is the “Woman in Aviatrix Outfit,” aka Amelia Earhart
  • ·         Priscilla Zal is the “Woman in Queenly Garb,” aka Queen Isabella I of Spain
  • ·         Alayna Chamberland is the “Woman in Armor” who thinks she is Joan of Arc
  • ·         and Debbie Sampson is “Woman with Gavel” or Susan B. Anthony.
A couple of men also make appearances. They are “Man in White,” the doctor (Michael Christopher) and “Assistant to the Man in White” (Christopher Rocco), who sort of mimics Igor in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.

The women are all clearly insane — all but Amelia Earhart, played with restraint and class by Logan, who may or may not truly be the pilot who disappeared in 1937.

Opening night Heather Christopher filled in for Zal in the role of Queen Isabella. I’m moved to comment on her performance even though she is not slated for subsequent shows. She enters the room with help in a catatonic state with red-rimmed eyes and a haunted stare and mouths silent words non-stop until she explodes with madness.

Holm is over-the-top wild in her energetic performance as the explorer.

Perhaps the most believable, painful and humorous portrayal of insanity comes from Stevens, who constantly moves her fingers as if playing an instrument and has countless tics and quirks, and a wild, upswept hairdo. She also gets an opportunity to display her operatic voice in song.

Ayers’ obsessiveness and her halted, sing-song way of talking is a spot-on lampoon of Stein, and strange enough to be funny to people who are unfamiliar with Stein’s work.

Postil’s “Girl in Gossamer Dress” is supposed to be a beauty, and she certainly comes with all the physical attributes augmented by a blonde wig and the sheer white dress, and she plays the part in a manner that walks a tightrope between madness and sanity.

Chamberland’s Joan of Arc is outrageously funny. She enters with a classical bit about trying to squeeze a big white wooden cross through the door, and throughout the play she engages in an ongoing war with the voices in her head. With the face shield that she keeps opening and closing and other problems with her armor she brings to mind the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Simpson plays Susan B. Anthony, the leader of the women’s ward, with dignity.

Rocco and Michael Christopher turn in solid performances as the only men in this women’s play.

Nobody is credited in the program for hair, makeup and costuming, so the assumption must be these were a joint effort by cast and crew. They did an excellent job.

Chamber Music is a dark and disturbing farce. I am still ambiguous in my assessment of the script, but I greatly admire the work of the entire cast.

Shows 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St.
Tickets: $12.00. Available at door night of show or online at href="" target="_blank">

Friday, April 25, 2014

Figures and abstractions by Michael Kaniecki

The Weekly Volcano, April 24, 2014

Michael Kaniecki draws with authority.

Folks like me who have spent a lifetime in and around college art departments might say his figure drawings are like the stuff you see in every figure drawing class, and there’s some truth to that; but Kaniecki does it better than most. He has a sure stroke. It’s like there is an electrical current that runs directly from his eye to his hand. The proportions of his figures and their placement on the page are faultless, and every stroke of pen, brush or pencil appears to be effortless.

There are two basic types of figure studies in his show at Moss + Mineral. There are the very expressive, energetic and gestural drawings and the more studied drawings with slow, sure strokes delineating the contours of the body. The more gestural drawings are open, meaning the white space of the paper meanders in and out of the bodies. The more studied drawings consist of closed forms, be they parts of bodies or entire bodies. In both types of drawings he often uses areas of wash in ink or tempera that are superimposed over and integrated with the line drawings.

And although figures predominate in this show, there are other types of drawings and prints including accordion-folded scrolls large and small. The largest of the scrolls winds downward along one wall in an S shape with repetitive circular forms in tempera (labeled as tempera but looking for like sumi ink drawings in quick, flowing motions with subtle variations in tones of gray). And there is a group of smaller accordion-fold scrolls that sit on a table and are painted with architectural forms that appear to be city streets looked down upon from a helicopter. Against one wall there is a similar small charcoal and pencil drawing of an urban scene sans people and cars, and next to it a drawing of the underside of a highway overpass.

On the back wall is a suite of four prints made from charcoal. These are abstract images of circular forms in the blackest of black fading to soft gray edges. Called “Creation Story,” this four-part print is both explosive, like nebulae or amoebas or a depiction of the big bang, and soft and meditative like balls of cotton in black on white.

Moss + Mineral is a design store featuring jewelry, botanical art and other unique gift items including works by artist-owner Lisa Kioshita. It is a tiny space, but big enough for Kaniecki’s drawings and prints, which grace the walls and are stacked in bins on the floors.

This is an exciting show. You owe it to yourself to stop by and see for yourself. There are a lot of red dots next to drawings, meaning they’ve been sold, so hurry.
[Michael Kaniecki, Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m., and by appointment, through May 31, Moss + Mineral, 305 S. 9th St., Tacoma, 253.961.5220, .]

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tacoma youth present "Little Women"

Read Michael Dresdners review of Little Women at Tacoma Youth Theatre.


TACOMA, WA – National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa announced last week that Tacoma Art Museum is one of 886 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. A total of 30 NEA Art Works grants were awarded in Washington State, and only two of those in Tacoma (Tacoma Art Museum and Broadway Center for the Performing Arts). The $20,000 grant recommended for Tacoma Art Museum will support the exhibition of the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art, including public programming, symposia, and the collection publication.

Tacoma Art Museum announced the gift of the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art in July, 2012. The museum will receive 295 paintings and sculptures by masters such as Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, John Mix Stanley, and Georgia O’Keeffe, along with works by contemporary living artists such as John Nieto and Bill Schenck.

"The NEA is pleased to announce that Tacoma Art Museum is recommended for an NEA Art Works grant,” said NEA Acting Chairman Shigekawa. “These NEA-supported projects will not only have a positive impact on local economies, but will also provide opportunities for people of all ages to participate in the arts, help our communities to become more vibrant, and support our nation's artists as they contribute to our cultural landscape."

The new Haub Family Galleries and first exhibition of the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art at Tacoma Art Museum will open to the public on Sunday, November 16, 2014.

“We are so pleased that our work with the Haub Family Collection has been recommended for this grant. We will invest the grant funds in creating new experiences around the art of the American West. We are grateful to the NEA for recognizing the level of excellence in Tacoma Art Museum’s programming and supporting us in offering more to the community,” says Laura Fry, Haub Curator of Western American Art.

Grants are awarded to projects that meet Art Works’ mission of supporting the creation of art that meets the highest standards, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancing the livability of communities through the arts. More than 1,500 eligible grant applications were received in the Art Works category. Among those, only 886 have been recommended for grants totaling $25.8 million.

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, visit the NEA website at


HOURS – Wednesdays–Sundays 10 am–5 pm, Third Thursdays 10 am–8 pm
ADMISSION – Adult $10, Student/Military/Senior (65+) $8, Family $25 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18). Children 5 and under free. Third Thursdays free from 5-8 pm. Members always free.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Odd Couple at Lakewood Playhouse


Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple is probably best known from the 1968 movie starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau and the 1970s TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. I mention this because of a conversation I had with the director, Steve Tarry, in the Lakewood Playhouse lobby opening night. He said that if you watch the old movie or TV series you would see that neither Oscar (played at Lakewood Playhouse by Christopher Cantrell) nor Felix (Jim Rogers) were very likeable. They were, in fact, quite irritating. But despite having all the same quirks and saying the same words, Felix and Oscar are both likeable in this version. It’s all in the way Cantrell and Rogers portray the characters.
In spite of their constant bickering, these two men care deeply for one another. That is clear through the show, and it is shown through tone of voice and gesture as Felix and Oscar scream invective at one another—a triumph of these actors’ ability to bring out the humanity in otherwise difficult characters.
To a lesser degree, the entire ensemble cast brings out the humanity in each of the supporting characters, each of whom is, on the surface, as neurotic and irritating as Felix and Oscar. Murray (Jed Slaughter) is a cop who is slow on the uptake but actual much more observant and intelligent than he seems. Speed (Gabriel McClelland) is a chain smoking, angry man who doesn’t put up with anything, except he’s really willing to forgive and forget. Vinnie (Martin Goldsmith) is a nervous wreck who obsessively brings up the same things over and over and over, and Roy (Joseph Grant) is also rather obsessive. He can’t stand smoke yet he is always seated next to chain-smoking Speed at their weekly poker games. The beauty of these characters is that each is a unique individual; they all clash with one another yet they all truly care for each other. And that comes across strong due to the ability of the actors.
The other two ensemble characters are as similar to each other as the men are different from each other. They are the Pigeon sisters, Cecily (Kadi Burt) and Gwendolyn (Palmer Scheutzow).  They are silly, constantly giggling women. I would say they are clich├ęd characters who could have been left out of the script or written with more depth of character but they provide one of the funniest scenes in the play.
Oscar is a slob who drinks excessively and lives in the most unkempt eight-room apartment in Manhattan. He’s been divorced for years. Felix’s wife, Frances, has just asked for a divorce and kicked him out. Despondent, Oscar takes him in as a roommate. Felix is a neat freak with a litany of irritating habits. Living together, they become the oddest of couples. Thus the title.
The set consists of a lot of furniture and a huge amount of props that are true to the time, 1965 and to the kinds of things Oscar would have in his apartment — record album covers from Sinatra and other pop favorites and sports magazines (Oscar is a sports writer).
Finally, I would like to add a nod to the director, stage manager Sarah Ross and company for the way they handle set changes. Set changes, especially for theaters that don’t have massive budgets, are often problematic. Stage hands often have to come out between scenes and move things, which is nearly always a distraction. What this cast and crew does, however, is so inventive that the stagehands were given a great ovation. I don’t think I can remember ever seeing that happen. In this play it happens twice, but the second time it happens so quickly that if you blink you might miss it. Obviously I’m not going to spoil the surprise.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 11
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $25.00, $22.00 military, $21.00 seniors and $19.00 students/educators
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Meaning of Wood at SPSCC

The Weekly Volcano, April 17, 2014

"Cedar Iv" painting by Kathy Gore Fuss

Mark Scherer’s “Back Saw”,” Broken Saw”, “Painted Saw”, and “Sharp Saw”
The Meaning of Wood at the gallery at South Puget Sound Community College is one of the best theme shows I have seen in a long time. This spacious gallery in the Kenneth J Minnaert Center features sculptures, paintings and drawings from many artists in a wide range of styles, all commenting on trees, wood products and the ecology of our forest lands, and nearly all of excellent artistic quality. The curators of this show chose wisely.

Well known Olympia artists in the show include Kathy Gore Fuss, Susan Aurand and Jeffree Stewart, plus there are many excellent artists from other areas, most of whom I am not familiar with but hope to see more of. There are many large and impressive works such as Seattle artist Julia Haack’s “Escher’s Rabbit,” brightly colored patterns on oddly shaped wooden panels. Haack’s flat but eccentrically shaped paintings remind me of early work by Frank Stella but her patterns are more decorative, and she uses old wood and matt paint that lend to her work the look of signs painted on the sides of barns and weathered by years of wind and rain. It’s great to see her work in this show.

Gore Fuss’s large painting of a tree seen from a close-up vantage point in a tangle of vines and leaves is a slice of Pacific Northwest forest personified with wonderfully expressive brushstrokes and impasto.

I was particularly impressed with Cheri Kopp’s “Forest of Yesterday,” a sculpture made up of five pyramids of stacked toilet paper tubes on corner pedestals, a paper clip attached to every tube with each set of tubes with its own color scheme — little specks of blue here and yellow there and so forth. Described verbally it may not sound so great, but to see it is a joy.

Karen Hackenberg’s “Deep Dish Ecology” is a circle like a surrealistic merry-go-round of match sticks with burnt tips and little cone-shaped evergreens made of match sticks with green tips and a pile of fallen trees in the middle made of more match sticks. Sadly, however, she slightly dilutes what would otherwise be a powerful image and a powerful message by adding a bunch of tiny toy people and equipment, making a great ecological statement cute.

Suzanne DeCuir’s “Skagit Boneyard” may be the best landscape painting in this show of many landscapes. It is a sparse bit of land with a winding river and scattered logs with thinly brushed-on oil paint applied with what looks like a dry brush and lots of bare canvas showing through.

Stephen Kafer’s “Horizontals 36, 37, 38” comprises three elegant stick-like sculptures that reach ceiling to floor and are simple, streamlined shapes with nuanced variations in textures and changes in shape with salvaged cedar, redwood and lacewood.

Cami Weingrod’s “Multigrain Sampler 1, 2, 3” comprises three stacked prints with what appears to be differently colored circles printed to show tree rings on squares and all three stacked so that the white of the paper between the shapes makes negative forms into positives. The patterning and color choices have a lot in common with Haack’s painting.

Also outstanding is Aurand’s “Home Fires” a house on fire constructed with cut and painted wood panels and other materials. Her soft blending of brilliantly fiery colors and both architectural and curvilinear forms is exciting.

This is a wonderful show well worth a trip to SPSCC from anywhere in the South Sound.

 [South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. and by appointment, through May 2, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.]