Saturday, June 28, 2014

If this had a longer run and if I could stay awake long enough I'd review this, but the last time I went to a late night show was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and that was a long, long time ago.

Natural Spectacle at Moss + Mineral

  The Weekly Volcano, June 26, 2014

 Moss + Mineral is an easy-to-overlook design store tucked away in a small space on 9th Street near a now-empty bail bondsman store. They show art and photography by some of the area’s best. Featured through July (no closing date set) are works by Carlos Taylor-Swanson (fine woodworking); Claudia Riedener (ceramics); the design team of Adrienne Wicks and Jeff Libby (fine woodworking); Holly Senn (sculpture), and Harriet McNamara (photography).

Taylor-Swanson’s “Mossy Bench” is a heavy coffee table (top about two inches thick) made from walnut scavenged from an arson fire. Its “legs” lean severely to one side, but the top is perfectly flat, and extending from one end is a square metal shelf approximately two feet square with a glass top, and under the removable glass is a built-in terrarium filled with living moss. This is a sturdy, practical and beautiful piece of ultra-modern furniture by a craftsman known for his work with Madera Woodworking Studio.

Also by Taylor-Swanson is a small bureau (jewelry box size) made from reclaimed Douglas fir. It has two drawers and an eccentric shape, wider at the top than the bottom, and a beautiful combination of colors and textures.

Another well-known local craftsperson featured in the current show is Riedener with a few of her popular giant ceramic heads. These heads are somewhat cartoonish and bear a striking resemblance to the famed heads of Easter Island, which I probably would not have noticed if they had not been pictured with a comparable photo of the Easter Island heads on the shop’s website at

The walls of the shop are adorned with a series of about nine black and white photographs by McNamara picturing people and places, mostly urban, which are nicely composed with strong black and white contrasts. Among my favorites are “Mort in Painter’s Loft” and “The Meme (The Same).” “Mort” pictures a cluttered corner of a painter’s studio loft with a painting propped up on the floor and dominating the picture. The photographed painting is of a man holding a gun that is aimed directly at the viewer. Compositionally it fits within the clutter of its environment like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The confrontational pose of the figure with the gun reminds me of images by Andy Warhol, and also of some of Roy Lichenstein’s comic book figures. “The Meme” pictures a nun in an old fashioned nun’s habit standing next to a hobby horse. This odd juxtaposition coupled with the severe downward twist of the camera angle lends to the image a disturbing surrealistic feel.

The furniture by Wicks and Libby of the Birdloft Design Studio are ultra-modern, slightly eccentric and sleek; lovely in design and faultless in construction.

Senn’s paper nests delicately balance an almost scientifically detailed reproduction of nests found in nature (bird’s nests, hornet nests, etc.) and an avant-garde use of recycled pages from old books.

Nature and Spectacle, Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m., and by appointment, through July, Moss + Mineral, 305 S. 9th St., Tacoma, 253.961.5220.

Pictured above: ceramic heads by Claudia Riedener
Pictured below: shelf of reclaimed wood by birdloft,
black and white photo of a Paris art studio, "Mort", by Harriet McNamara,
walnut table with metal shelf and moss bowl by Carlos Taylor-Swanson
wasp nest by Holly Senn 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My brief, illustrious theatrical career

My first time on stage was in the first grade as one of the dwarfs in Snow White. I can’t even remember which one. All I can remember is that I loved “Whistle While You Work” and Snow White was the most beautiful girl at Church Street Primary School. All the boys were jealous of Brett Rogers, who got to play the prince and got to kiss her

For my second time on stage my identical twin brother and I sang and danced to the song “Sisters” from the movie White Christmas. Only we changed it to “Brothers.”  Neither of us could even begin to carry a tune — couldn’t then and still can’t. Nevertheless, the audience loved it simply because we were so damn cute.
I was also in a few dance recitals. I can’t remember anything about them, but I was reminded once. I was interviewing for a job, and the woman who was interviewing me had a daughter who had been in dance class with me. She told me that I once bit her daughter on the butt. Yikes! I didn’t get the job.
After that I never again performed on stage, but I did join the drama club in high school. Why? Because (1) a lot of my friends were in it and (2) the faculty advisor was a beautiful young teacher who had not long before been Miss Mississippi. I joined the club to be close to her.
Ten years late when I was hired as an art teacher in a little town in Missouri the principal saw the drama club listed on my application and asked if I could direct the high school play. The job paid $200. I was about as well qualified to direct a play as I was to perform surgery, but an extra 200 bucks sounded awfully good, so I accepted the job.
The play had already been chosen and paid for. It was an incredibly stupid comedy about boys who dress up as girls in order to crash a girls’ spend-the-night party. The students were not stupid. They immediately saw how bad it was and starting riffing on it in rehearsals, improvising lines that were much better than what was written in the script. I told them to go for it. Improvise to their hearts’ content. I didn’t so much direct the play as allow them to do what they wanted to do. It played one performance only and was a huge hit. The principal and many of the parents told me it was the best play ever done at that school, and since many of those parents had six, seven and eight kids who had all gone to the same school and they had been attending plays there for years, I figured they were good judges.
That was it for my theatrical career. Never again did I step foot on or behind stage, but I spent a lot of time sitting in the audience. And yet, in 2003 The News Tribune offered me the job as theater critic. I guess they figured if I could write about art and literature I should be able to write about theater.
Since then I’ve been learning about theater on the job, and I’m still astounded that people in the business consider me some kind of authority. Little do they know. Oops! Did I just let the cat out of the bag?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Touring Hotel Murano

Lobby with “Pianist’s Dress” by Karen LaMonte and chandelier by Massimo Micheluzzi

I recently enjoyed a docent tour of Hotel Murano in Tacoma with docent Kathy Hillig and my wife and sister-in-law. As regular readers of my column in the Weekly Volcano know, I am not a huge fan of glass art per-se but I am a huge fan of good art in any form or media, and the glass art in the Hotel Murano collection is among the best in the world. It is beautifully displayed in the lobby, the restaurant, all public areas including a featured artist on every floor, and even in the public restrooms. The Murano is a welcoming place. Its art collection is not there just for the enjoyment of hotel guests but is displayed for anyone who wants to see it. Feel free to wander into the lobby at your leisure, take the elevator up to the 25th floor and work your way down to see artworks by Martin Blank, whose massive sculpture graces the pool outside the Museum of Glass; Dante Maioni; Susan Taylor Glasgow, an artist with whom I was not previously familiar but whose work bowled me over; Miriam De Fiore’s funky-funny “Remember Me in January”; and William Morris, perhaps my favorite glass artist of all time.
Viking Boats by Vibeke Skov in the Grand Corridor
Step out of the elevator on the top floor and you are immediately faced with a black glass wall. To the left is a lighted, recessed display case with one of Morris’s mysterious and shamanistic animal figures. On the black glass is engraved information about the artist, which is strikingly dramatic. On the walls throughout the hallway are large photographs of Morris at work in his studio.
Morris creates sculptures in glass of animals, skeletons and other artifacts that appear to be from an archeological find which look like they are made from metal, rock and bone — anything but glass.
Each floor of the hotel features the same set-up: one highlighted work of art, engraved statements about the artist and photographs of the artist at work.
Preston Singletary on the 19th floor is well known in the Pacific Northwest as a Native American artist who combines traditional Northwest Coastal Indian art with modern glass techniques.
Glasgow’s 14th floor exhibit features a woman’s bustier of the type that might have been worn in the 1800s in white glass. She creates women’s clothing in glass that mimics the look of cotton and lace, and she creates glass household items such as irons and toasters from earlier eras in similarly “stitched” glass.
Guest floor display – William Morris
Marioni’s blown glass vessels on the 14th floor are elegant, tall and flawlessly constructed with a bright yellow surface.
Di Fiore”s “Remember Me in January” is a glass sculpture of a bowling pin that is bent to lay across a bowling ball like a passed-out, drunken man. It is a cartoon-like object in red, white and black.
In the lobby there is a marvelous glass figure by Karen LaMonte, who locals might remember from her show at Museum of Glass a few years ago. She makes “empty” dresses with figures in them — hard to describe in words. The dresses have openings for arms and neck and are positioned as if there is a body inside but no body parts can be seen except for very realistic body shapes underneath the flowing material of the gown. Anyone who has never any of her work should avail themselves of the chance to see her “Pianist’s Dress” at Hotel Murano.
Also shown in the lobby and Grand Corridor are works by Brent Kee Young, Dale Cihuly, Davide Salvadore, Cappy Thompson and many others.
The art collection at Hotel Murano is something unique in all the world. Tacoma and South Sound residents are fortunate to be able to visit it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night at Harlequin

Josh Krupke as Malvolio

Christian Doyle as John Lennon/Feste

Mark Alford is an explosive Johnny Rotten
Harlequin Productions’ original musical A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night (with apologies to William Shakespeare) has become a modern classic dear to the hearts of Olympia theater lovers. It is now playing for the fourth time, and it has been far too long since the last time — 2003. That was so long ago for the cast of relatively young actors that only one of them has ever even seen the show, as stated in a program note by Scot Whitney. It might be further noted that the actors have to be relatively young because the energy required of actors in this frenetic musical could be the cause of heart attacks in older actors.
A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night is unlike any musical you’ve ever before seen, although it does bear a slight resemblance to parts of Spamalot and The Rocky Horror Show. It is also unlike any other version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (although the story line adheres fairly closely to the Shakespeare comedy).
Imagine this: Shakespeare set to music with original rock ‘n’ roll tunes performed by the likes of Elvis Presley, Madonna, Janice Joplin and Little Richard. Crazy, huh? But that’s what Whitney and his brother Bruce have created. They wrote songs based on lines from Shakespeare’s play, put them to music in the style of rock icons, and inserted them in appropriate places in the play — fairly closely sticking to the bard’s words and plot lines but with occasional pop references thrown in (like suddenly bursting into a bit of “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror, and a line from the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”). In other words, controlled insanity.
Scot wrote the lyrics and Bruce wrote the music, with lyrics to “Electrocution” by Bob Hart and lyrics to “The Way I Feel Tonight” by Linda Whitney. There’s a grungy, industrial look to the set by Linda Whitney and dramatic lighting by Amy Chisman, and some wild costuming by Darren Mills — check out Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s yellow socks.
The cast is outstanding, from Kody Bringman as a spot-on Elvis playing Duke Orsino to Josh Krupke’s crazy and very changeable Malvolio. Most of the cast members are easily recognizable as rock stars, but a few I could not place, either because I’m not that hip to singers of certain eras or perhaps because not all of them were meant to be specific stars.
Stacie Calkins, for example, as Viola. If she is playing her role as a particular singer I could not place her, but that doesn’t matter; all that matters is that she has a voice that rocks the house. Calkins has been wowing audiences at Centerstage, ArtsWest, Tacoma Musical Playhouse and other venues north of here for years, and Olympia audiences are blessed to finally get to hear her sing on Harlequin’s stage. She is astounding.
Lindsey Larson is unmistakable as Madonna playing Lady Olivia, and Gina Marie Russell is clearly Janice Joplin, recognizable by her costume even if her voice, while powerful enough, does not sound like Janice. Christian Doyle as Feste looks and sounds like John Lennon and quietly commands attention whenever he is on stage. Gabriel McClelland is a dead ringer in sound and movement for John Belushi’s Jake Blues playing the perpetually drunk Sir Toby Belch. Miguel Pineda is hilarious with outsized moves and expressions as Little Richard playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek (with a few moves recognizable as lifted from Michael Jackson and James Brown thrown in for good measure). Mark Alford is explosive as a bright-orange-haired Johnny Rotten.
As with Calkins, I could not recognize which rock icon Jordon Bolden was playing in the role of Sebastian, but he is entertaining and has a terrific voice.
Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s funniest comedies. It tells the tale of a brother and sister, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a storm at sea when Viola falls overboard and is washed up on the shores of Illyria, which is renamed Dyleria for this production. Each believes the other is dead. Viola pretends to be a man and falls in love with Orsino, which creates  difficulties because Orsino thinks she is a man, and furthermore he is in love with Olivia, who falls in love with Viola, whom she also believes is a man.

This play contains some typically Shakespearean hijinks and great music, and if you pay very close attention you’ll hear Shakespeare’s dirtiest joke.

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through July 20
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;