Monday, September 29, 2014

Welcome to Busytown

Olympia Family Theater’s Season Opener

Attending Olympia Family Theater’s season opener in their brand new space was a special treat—heartwarming and funny. For starters, walking in to the former home of Capital Playhouse was a fun kind of déjà vu. Everything was the same, yet nothing was the same. No longer partitioned as in former days, the lobby was much more spatial, and bright with beautiful wall murals designed by resident scenic designer Jill Carter, who also designed the beautiful set with a backdrop of a crowded scene painted with bright colors depicting the hustle of a busy little town in a style typical of children’s book illustrations with moveable and rotating set pieces to allow for easy scene changes engineered by scenic engineer David Nowitz.
The lighting and sound systems are also new (the Capital Playhouse equipment had been auctioned off); lighting and sound for OFT’s opening show is by Kate Arvin. I have nothing but the highest praise for the staff and volunteers who pulled off the giant feat of readying the space for opening night audiences.
And now on to the play itself: Busytown by playwright Kevin Kling with musical compositions by Michael Koerner. It is based on the book by Richard Scarry, directed by Jen Ryle and musically directed by Stephanie Claire.
Unlike many of the younger actors and audience members who grew up with Scarry’s books or whose children did, I was unfamiliar with them and grateful that notes in the program explained how his books differ from those of most other children’s book authors. They do not so much tell stories as ask questions to stir the imaginations of readers—complete with enjoyable but definitely not exclusive answers to those questions, answers that are designed to further stimulate thought. The big question is “What Do People Do All Day?” —a musical question about the residents of Busytown posed by the ensemble in a song following the opening number, “Busytown Theme.”
The residents (anthropomorphized animals) are letter carriers and bakers and fire fighters and a pickle car driver and Lowly the Worm, a hand puppet operated by Harrison Fry; and a very inquisitive cat named Huckle (Kate Ayers) who endlessly poses questions.
Her questions are answered in a series of musical vignettes presented by the large and talented cast with a backup trio that sings in the style of the Andrews Sister and occasionally breaks into do-wop harmony. The trio is Terri Charles, Emmalene Ryle and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk.
The entire cast is so good that I want to list them all, starting with the trio, each member of whom doubles as other characters:
·         Charles as Grocer Cat, Ryle as Bananas Gorilla and Van Dijk as Stitches
·         Ayers as Huckle and Train the Dog
·         Jeff Barehand as Alfalfa Dig Pig, Dr. Lion and Mate
·         Eric Crawford as Sgt. Murphy, Construction Worker and Airport Worker
·         Christine Goode as Nurse Nelly and Able Baker Charlie (the baker, of course)
·         Ryan Holmberg as Captain Salty and Humperdink
·         Vanessa Postil as Betsy Bear and Jason the Mason
·         Levi Somers as Mr. Frumble and Sparky
·         Chris Traber as Grandma Bear, Blacksmith Fox and Sawdust Carpenter
·         Priscilla Zal as Postman Pig, Farmer Pig and Firechief
Ayers is one of the most expressive, joyful and energetic actors you’ll ever see on stage as she has proven in her performances in OFT’s Lyle the Crocodile and her depiction of Gertrude Stein in Theater Artists Olympia’s Chamber Music. Her antics in the song “Grandma a Letter,” sung in duet with Postil, had audience members jumping out of their seats (Postil’s contribution on this song was great and Ayers was insanely funny).
Another of the many standout performances was turned in by Goode in a scene depicting her crush on Lowly Worm, and another that had kids in the audience going wild was Holmberg’s song, “Captain Salty.” I’ll forever remember him singing the line, “My favorite letter is Rrrrrrrr.”
Among many others who deserve special notice are costumers Becky Scott and Sally Fitzgerald, and scenic artist Jeannie Beirne who brought Carter’s design to life.
Following the show there was an impromptu tribute to Jen Ryle, co-founder of Olympia Family Theater, which brought her and a good portion of the audience to tears.
Busytown  runs Thurs.-Fri., 7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m.  through Sunday October 12. Arts Walk Open House with selected scene previews every half hour and a kid disco from 5-9 p.m., Oct. 3. The art of Angela Yoder in the  lobby.
612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638

Top from left: Christine Goode as Nurse Nellie, Jeff Barehand as Alfalfa Dig Pig and Kate Ayers as Huckle the Cat. Photo Credit: David Nowitz

Bottom: Kate Ayers as Huckle the Cat and Harrison Fry, ensemble member who puppeteers Lowly the Worm.  OFT’s Lowly puppet was designed and created by Jamie Jenson. Photo by Dinea de Photo

Friday, September 26, 2014

Juried Local Art Exhibition at TCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 25, 2014
"Patty Cake" stoneware sculpture by Joe Batt
Olympia painter Barlow Palminteri tops the list of Juror’s Choice Award winners in the 12th Annual Juried Local Art Exhibition at Tacoma Community College with his painting “Trailblazer Landscape.” Palminteri has made a big splash in the area art scene with his realistic interior scenes (part Phillip Pearlstein and part French impressionism), and now he branches into new territory with colorful landscapes. This is a joyful painting. It is a garden scene with an odd perspective seen from above but too close-up to be a bird’s eye view, painted with large strokes of vibrant color laid down in an almost pointillist manner.

The gallery is loaded with outstanding paintings, sculptures and photographs from what constitutes a who’s who of regional artists — many familiar names here.

Among the photographs is a nice picture of a fallen tree by Sharon Styler called “Reclining Tree II.” The viewpoint makes the dead tree look like a massive sculpture of a reclining figure. Thus the title, if I’m reading it right.

“The Poet’s Instrument” painting by Nathan Barnes
Nathan Barnes’ “The Poet’s Instrument” is without a doubt the most startling image in the show. It is an image of overlapping faces with other body parts and with a line of poetry printed on a ribbon of paper that winds in and out of the face: “so the water took the pure in hand and laid them gently on the land.” It is painted on what appears to be layers of canvas board cut to shape and a few inches in depth. This one should have been a juror’s choice winner.

Also startling are two mixed media sculptures by David Murdach, both elaborate steam punk configurations of imaginative objects. One is a fantasy chandelier mounted above what looks like a basket made of cane. The other is a sleek and shiny futuristic wheeled machine with a rocket ship like one of those seen in 1950s sci-fi movies.

Joe Batt’s “Patty Cake” is a stoneware sculpture of two babies with big heads looking like little old man. It’s a funny depiction of kids playing patty cake with something in their hands. (I’m not going to divulge what they’re holding. OK, the photo gives it away.)

Jeffree Stewart’s “Northwest Landscape” is a small painting with loose, expressive brush strokes not so much looking like trees and rocks as moving energy that creates the feel of walking among trees and rocks. There’s something of Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles” in this, as well as a bit of Mark Toby.

There are two semi-abstract paintings by William Turner that are colorful with a rough, expressionistic application of paint in flat areas of color. Barely recognizable among the abstract shapes are figures and still life objects.

Local favorites Ric Hall and Ron Schmitts are represented by three of their modernist, post-German-expressionist-surrealistic pastels created in collaboration. They are darkly humorous and take a penetrating look at contemporary social and political issues such as gay marriage, the kinds of meaningless debates that clog the airwaves, and more personal issues the likes of empty nest syndrome.

All-in-all, this is an outstanding show with quite a variety of local talent on display.

"12th Annual Juried Local Art Exhibition," noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through Oct. 24, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ at Lakewood Playhouse

 Published in The News Tribune, Sept. 19, 2014


CURTIS BEECH (Mr. Rogers) and JANE McKITTRICK (Mrs. Rogers) from Lakewood Playhouse's production of "Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE"

Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” at Lakewood Playhouse is a classic whodunit adapted by Christie from her novel of the same name. A mysterious and never seen man, U.N. Owen invites nine guests to his island home. None of them know each other, and none know Mr. Owen, but they each have something in common that is soon revealed. Each one of them has killed someone or has been responsible for someone’s death through negligence, and they are told that they have been brought to the island in order to force atonement for their guilt.

In classic murder-mystery fashion, each of them is killed off, one-by-one, and it is evident that one of them is the killer. Suspicions grow and the guests begin to fear and to accuse one another as their back stories are revealed; and as their numbers dwindle due to deaths in ways that are reflected by the framed poem “Ten Little Soldiers” that hangs on the wall.

MATT GARRY (Lombard) and JULIE SEIBOLD (Vera) from Lakewood Playhouse's production of "Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE"

For example, the first stanza of the poem is Ten little soldiers went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine,” and the first murder victim dies by choking.

Despite all the murder, it is not a dark or disturbing story. There is ample humor and a fascinating variety of characters, each with his or her unique personality quirks as nicely portrayed by the large ensemble cast. The fun in the show is getting to know these characters and trying to figure out who is going to be killed next and who the killer is.

MATT GARRY (Lombard), THOMAS COOPER PHIEL (Marston) and ERNEST HELLER (MacKenzie) from Lakewood Playhouse's production of "Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE"

But how can there be none left at the end as the poem says? Wouldn’t the killer have to survive? That is the clever twist at the end that I can’t give away. Interestingly, Christie devised two very different twist endings, one for the novel and a very different one for the stage show. Both are complex and inventive.

The set by scenic designer Art Fick is the simple but elegant front room of a country estate with four doors leading to the outside and to bedrooms and kitchens (many of the murders take place off stage; they are not gruesome). One drawback to the set is the plain curtain hanging behind the double doors. There should have been rocks or trees or some such indication on the out-of-doors island setting.
The lighting by Kristen Zetterstrom nicely depicts the natural lighting of sun, darkness of night, interior lighting and candle light, and enhances the dramatic impact of the acting.

First time Lakewood Playhouse director Rick Hornor does a great job of placing and moving about 11 actors in difficult situations such as when a character is murdered in sight of the audience in such a way that no one sees the actual murder.

Best of all, the cast members do a great job of portraying each of these often eccentric characters in such a way that they do not appear to be acting, the one exception being Xander Layden as Sir Lawrence Wargrave. In Layden’s defense, Sir Lawrence is, in fact, playing a role.

Among the standout performers are, first and foremost, Michael Dresdner as William Blore, a police inspector who at first pretends to be a wealthy South African. Dresdner’s acting is the most natural and unaffected, and more than anyone else on stage he manages to enunciate clearly in a British accent.

Dresdner’s wife, Jane McKittrick, is also outstanding as the alcohol-loving maid, Mrs. Rogers. She is the funniest character in the play, and McKittrick portrays her in a most delightful way. To her great credit, this is only her fourth time on stage.

Another husband-and-wife acting team that stands out is the team of Christian Carvajal and Amanda Stevens as the nervous and guilt-ridden Dr. Armstrong and the uptight and puritanical Emily Brent. Her costume and hair style, by-the-way, add immensely to the enjoyment of her character – kudos to costume designer Alex Lewington.

For those who truly appreciate good acting, I encourage paying attention to what these actors do when they are in the background and others are speaking, most notably Carvajal and Ernest Heller as General Mackenzie.

The set-up in act one is necessarily slow to develop, but once they get going it is a roller coaster ride of one surprise after another.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 12
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,