Thursday, January 29, 2015

Postcard show at SPSCC

untitled by Emily Zabronski, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
untitled by Indigo Althea Mahira, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
Published in the Weekly Volcano Jan. 29, 2015

South Puget Sound’s most popular annual art exhibition returns for 2015 and it’s bigger and better than ever. It’s the postcard show. Artists are invited to enter postcard-size works of art. Size is the only limitation, and artists are encouraged to respond to a theme. This year’s theme is “Out of Sight.” No entry is turned down, and artists are encouraged to interpret the theme in whatever way they want, no matter how far out.
More than 100 artists are included in this year’s show, most with multiple submissions. The art stretches around three walls of the gallery in three tiers.

It goes without saying that when no entries are rejected there will be some duds. There are. But I won’t dwell on the duds; I will simply describe some of the works that particularly tickled my fancy and mention that a lot of Olympia’s better artists are in this show and that few of the pieces look anything like postcards, but they do look like good, solid paintings. (There are also some sculptures and even stained glass.)

Emily Zabronski’s “#3) features cutout figures of soldiers and courtiers in Mediaeval or Renaissance dress that are like old-style colored etchings raised above the surface in a most striking way.

Shirley Stirling is showing a painting of a man sticking his head in the sand ostrich-like with his rear end raised to mimic the shape of the mountain peak behind him. It looks like acrylic or oil on canvas board and is a nicely humorous interpretation of the theme. (Note: none of the works listed media, so when I mention media it is guesswork based on appearance.)

Britt Nederhood is showing six pieces that appear to be stained glass with, in each, shapes that look like eye glasses, all in exciting colors with marbleized color modulation.
Indigo Althea Mahira’s bas relief sculpture is a little technical marvel enhanced by its small scale. It is the sculpted figure of a baldheaded man wearing glasses and reading the New York Times. It is constructed with ceramic, paper and cloth. The detail work is outstanding.

Becky Knold, always a favorite who is in this show every year, has entered a couple of landscape-inspired abstract paintings with collage or assemblage elements that look like boulders made from rusted metal. There is a heavy, heavy, heavy look to these well-designed paintings, and textures that demand to be carefully examined.

Hart James, who currently has a one-woman show of landscape paintings at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts, is showing semi-abstract landscape paintings with expressive impasto paint application.

Diana Fairbank’s “Capital Lake Cupcake” and “Sylvester Park Cowgirl Boots” are paintings of proposed public monuments in the spirit of Claes Oldenburg’s giant ice cream cones, typewriter erasers, hamburgers and countless other pop items. If that description combined with Fairbank’s rather literal titles don’t tell you anything, then you need to see them for yourself.

I truly love Susan Christian’s three entries. They are nuanced abstract paintings in dull green and black on weathered strips of board. The textures, colors and mark-making are wonderful. In one of them we see a mountain peak, which is a theme Christian has explored for years. The other two are non-objective.

Finally, Marilyn Bedford has two mouse traps painted and mounted on boards, one Pepto-Bismol pink and the other baby blue on a yellow and purple background. This is funky pop art.

"Found Photographs," noon to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and by appointment, through Feb. 20, The Gallery at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527,

Photo: untitled by Indigo Althea Mahira, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Great Gatsby at Tacoma Little Theatre

Photos, left to right: Gatsby (Rodman Bolek), Tom (Jacob Tice), Daisy (Veronica Tuttell), Nick (Kelly Mackay), and Jordan (Ana Bury)

I have never been particularly impressed with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, which I know may be sacrilege to some and puts me in a minority among lovers of literature. That’s not to be considered formal criticism; it’s a quirk of personal taste. I can’t objectively find fault with the novel. In fact, as I review the story in preparation for writing this review of the stage version now playing at Tacoma Little Theatre, I am impressed (objectively) with the depth of Fitzgerald’s perceptions and with his story structure. But subjectively the story just never clicked for me. The same can be said for the stage play.
The acting is good overall, the direction by Dale Westgaard is good, the costumes are great, the set (I could almost say lack of set) by Blake R. York works well, as does Pavlina Morris’s lighting design. The Great Gatsby has everything you could ask for in a dramatic show, but it didn’t grab me.
The death scene, only Nick left standing
All Photos courtesy of DK Photography
The story plays out on an almost empty stage with projected images of Jay Gatsby’s house and the idyllic landscape of the fictional Long Island community of East Egg, and a few chairs, a drink cart and an armoire are brought in by costumed servants instead of stagehands, and moved about as needed to stand in for furniture and car seats. Having servants move props was an excellent way to solve the problem of how to create a millionaire’s home and other settings on a community theater budget.
Nick Carraway (ably played by Kelly Mackay) is a nice Midwesterner who has moved to New York to make his fortune in the financial boom of the jazz age. He’s a Word War I veteran and an upstanding young man on the verge of being seduced by the lavish life of his high rolling neighbors. He lives in a rented cottage next door to Jay Gatsby (Rodman Bolek), a mysterious millionaire. Gatsby is in love with Nick’s, cousin Daisy (Veronica Tuttell) who is in a lousy marriage to Tom Buchanan (Jacob Tice), an abusive, self-centered and a politically conservative racist jerk who is having an affair with Myrtle (Stacia Russell), the wife of his mechanic, George (Mason Quinn).
Gatsby throws the most lavish of parties imaginable with everyone who is anyone in attendance, but he never takes part in his own parties. Nick watches from next door and wishes he could be a part of the fun. He periodically steps out of the action to narrate parts of the story. In his scenes with the other characters, especially in portraying his love affair with the sultry Jordan Baker (Ana Bury), Mackay does a solid job of acting; but it is in his role as the narrator that he especially shines. That is no mean feat, because a narrator seldom if ever has a chance to act out dramatic scenes. But as Nick in the role as the story teller Mackay creates an authentic and loveable character. Through simple and nuanced expressions as he talks to the audience he shows Nick’s charm and sincerity, his fascination with Gatsby, and his conflicted emotions.  
Most of the principal cast members give strong and nuanced performances. I could not help being attracted to Jordan for her demeanor, even while being aware of how shallow she is, and I despised Tom Buchanan—as I should. Tice’s portrayal is creepy and infuriating. In smaller parts, Quinn as the mechanic George Wilson and Russell are outstanding.
So, with all this going for this performance, why was I not captivated by the story? First, the pacing was slow, especially in the first act, and ironically the very fine and admirably nuanced acting contributed to the slow pace. I wanted more drama, which did not come until near the end. Second, most of the characters were not likeable enough for me to care what happens to them. Other than Nick, who was more observer than participant, and George the mechanic, I did not like any of them. I also did not like the party scenes. They were too obviously staged. It looked like the actors were trying way too hard to appear to be having fun. And the dances they did looked nothing like the popular dances of the roaring ’20s. At Gatsby’s parties they would have been doing the charleston and the lindy hop and the tango. Even the foxtrot and the waltz were still popular in the 1920s, but the actors in these scenes were doing no recognizable dance steps. That’s a minor point, but it irritated me.
I must reiterate that my objections are subjective. I know many people in the opening night audience loved it (including my friend and fellow critic Michael Dresdner — see his review here).
WHAT: The Great Gatsby
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday (early 1 p.m. matinee on Feb. 1), through Feb. 8
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$15
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Schedule change to accommodate Seahawks fans on Super Bowl Sunday
Due to overwhelming requests from patrons who are Seahawks fans, TLT has moved their matinee start time on Sunday, February 1, 2015 to noon, and are offering a $12.00 ticket special for anyone who uses the code SEAHAWKS either at online checkout or at the box office (in person or over the phone). This special applies only to new ticket orders.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Reviewing Bare: A Boudoir Exhibition. It’s a conundrum

I can’t very well review my own paintings for my “Visual Edge” column in the Weekly Volcano, but to not review the show I’m in would be unfair to the gallery. It would be like punishing them for including me in the show. So I will review “Bare: A Boudoir Exhibition” at B2 Fine Art Gallery, but with a disclaimer explaining that I am in the show but cannot mention my own work.
The truth is, it is an honor to be in an exhibition with the likes of Guy Anderson, Marsha Glaziere, Marianne Hanson, and the Penn and Teller of visual art, Ron Schmitt & Ric Hall.
We’re talking Guy Anderson for Christ’s sake. If you don’t know who he is, you’ve been sleeping under a moss-covered rock. From Wikipedia: “Guy Anderson (1906 -1998) was an American Abstract Expressionist painter. Along with Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, William Cumming, and Mark Tobey, Anderson was identified in a Life Magazine
 article as one of the "northwest mystics," also known as the Northwest School.”
The other artists in this show are no slouches either, yet the opening reception was sparsely attended. It was mostly fellow artists standing around talking to each other. I had enjoyable and informative conversations with Ric Hall and Marianne Hanson and fellow artists not in the show Sharon Styler and Barlow Palminteri. But as participating artist Nina said, “Where are the clients?”
Hopefully they’ll show up. The show runs through March 14, so there should be plenty of opportunities. My review will be published in the Weekly Volcano either next week or the week after.

The 39 Steps at Harlequin

John Serembe and Aaron Lamb
Harlequin co-founder and director of The 39 Steps Scot Whitney calls this slapstick melodrama “Monty Python does Hitchcock” — a perfect description.
The play is a comical retelling of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film that, we’re told, follows the movie script closely, but is done with only four actors. Richard Hannay (Aaron Lamb) is an English gentleman who is bored to death, but not for long as he gets swept into an espionage caper. Lamb and the other three other actors play a combined 139 characters including men, women and children, with lightning fast costume changes and equally quick prop changes between and in the midst of scenes. Two actors, Jesse Hinds and John Serembe play 135 of those 139 characters. Lamb is the only one who plays only one character, while Alyssa Kay plays the three women in Hannay’s adventure.
Alyssa Kay and Aaron Lamb

Jesse Hinds, John Serembe and Aaron Lamb. All photos courtesy Harlequin Productions.
One of the spies is murdered, and Hannay is accused and must go on the lamb accompanied by and frequently tied up with or handcuffed to one of the women. Complete insanity ensues.
This fast-moving play incorporates practically every comic bit known to stage and screen from Vaudevillian hijinks to silent film techniques to the afore-mentioned Python. It may well be the most physical play I have ever seen as Hannay runs, climbs in and out of windows and doors that drop from the ceiling and fly in from the wings, makes love, climbs across laps in crowded railway cars and runs across the top of a speeding train jumping from car to car — mostly done in a kind of jerky pantomime of silent film action.
Woven into all of this are clever references to other Hitchcock films such as North by Northwest, The Birds and Psycho, mostly done as shadow-show projections with sound effects.
One of the oldest comic bits in the business, and one which never ceases to be funny, is when two people get tied up together in silly ways such as trying to put on a coat and ending up with arms and legs in the wrong sleeves and pant legs. Not afraid to milk the obvious for all it’s worth, Lamb and Kay do numerous versions of this bit through a death scene, a love scene, and climbing out windows while handcuffed together. Their contortions are hilarious, and just watching them wore me out.
Both of these principal actors are outstanding, and Hinds and Serembe show off an awesome ability to look and sound like a whole city full of divergent characters.
Lucy Gentry-Meltzser’s costumes are outstanding, and the dressers and stagehands do such a wonderful job that four of them are brought out for a bow along with the actors at the end of the play, something that rarely happens in theater.
The set by Jeannie Beirne is also inventive and nicely constructed. Mostly it is an empty stage with red curtains and box seats on the wings that look like an old Vaudeville house, and a few props such as trunks and window frames and an easy chair. And a brick wall with a door marked “Way Out.”
If you like Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, Buster Keeton, spy movies and Alfred Hitchcock, by all means get yourself down to Harlequin Production’s The 39 Steps.

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Feb. 14
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Building for the Future: Collections at Evergreen

Due to the short-sightedness and outright stupidity of some people in the state legislature and The Evergreen State College administration, TESC is in danger of losing its art gallery, a most valuable asset of the college and a boon to the community and the South Puget Sound region.

As one small step in the fight toward keeping the gallery, TESC putting on a special show to highlight what a marvelous collection they have to share.

Evergreen Gallery presents - 'Building for the Future: Collections at Evergreen' from January 22 - March 4, 2015.

Artists Include -
Diane Arbus, Rick Bartow, John Divola, Lyonel Grant, Allan Houser, Ester Hernandez, Helmi Juvonen, Jacob Lawrence, Larry McNeil, Ramon Murillo, Richard Misrach, Susan Pavel, Lillian Pitt, Mary Randlett, Charles Stokes, Andy Warhol, Edward Weston, and more!!!

Find out more here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Special note to people who want to comment or ask questions

If you want to comment

I welcome and encourage comments on anything I post here. All comments are moderated; i.e., must be approved by me.

If you have a question

If you want to ask a question about any of the shows reviewed here please email the producing venue (theater or gallery) or email me at If you post questions in the comment section the answer might get lost.

August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson at the Seattle Rep

(l to r) Stephen Tyrone Williams, Derrick Lee Weeden, Yaegel T. Welch and G. Valmont Thomas in The Piano Lesson.
Photo: Michael Davis, Syracuse Stage.
The Seattle Repertory Theatre has enjoyed a long relationship with playwright August Wilson, working closely with him during the productions of his plays before his death and continuing to produce his works since his death. Because the Rep had such opportunities to work closely with this master playwright they have a unique grasp of Wilson’s intents and ideas.
The Rep is the only theatre in the world to have produced all of Wilson's work, including every play in his Century Cycle, as well as his one-man show How I Learned What I Learned.
The Pulitzer Prize winning The Piano Lesson, which opened Jan. 21 at the Rep, is the fourth work in the cycle. This is the Rep’s second time to produce it. It was last seen there in 1993.
The Century Cycle, also known as the Pittsburg Cycle, is a group of 10 plays written and produced out of chronological order, which examine African-American life in the ten decades of the 20th century.
Stephen Tyrone Williams and Erika LaVonn in The Piano Lesson.
Photo: Michael Davis, Syracuse Stage.
Set in the late 1930s, The Piano Lesson is the story of the Charles family and friends from Mississippi. Berniece (Erika LaVonn) and her daughter, Maretha (Shiann Welch) live with their uncle Doaker (Derrick Lee Weeden) in Pittsburg. Berniece’s good-for-nothing brother Boy Willie (Stephen Tyrone Williams) and his buddy Lymon (Yaegel T. Welch) show up in the middle of the night in a broken-down truck loaded with watermelons they intend to sell. They have recently been released from the Parchman prison farm in the Mississippi Delta. Boy Willie also intends to sell the piano that he and Berniece jointly own, but she adamantly refuses to let him sell it because the piano has a family history carved on it in the form of bas relief images going back to slavery days. Berniece believes a ghost has haunted the piano, but Boy Willie says that’s dumb superstition. He insists on selling it and threatens to saw it in half and sell his half if she doesn’t come to her senses.
Fighting over the piano opens up old family wounds and occasions the dredging up of old tales and new suspicions of murders. It also provides openings for some great blues music with Boy Willie playing boogie woogie and his uncle Wining Boy (G. Valmont Thomas) playing and singing the blues. There is one fabulous scene in which all of the men join in singing an old chain gang song while providing percussion by slapping a table, clicking on a whiskey bottle and stomping their feet in a complex rhythm. This scene alone is worth the price of admission.
The entire cast is outstanding. Their authentic and slightly exaggerated gestures and speech patterns fill the Rep and grab the audience. I grew up in Mississippi not far from where the family is from, and the speech patterns and gestures brought me home.
Ken Robinson as Avery the preacher, who is in love with Berniece, poetically captures the rhythmic speech of revivalist preachers. Boy Willie’s moves might have combined into a racially demeaning picture if Williams hadn’t imbued him with so much dignity and authenticity. His performance is amazing to watch. Welch plays Boy Willie’s sidekick, Lymon, with sweetness and class.
Set designer William Bloodgood has created a home that feels right for the time and place. Helen Q. Huang costumes go a long way toward establishing personalities, from Boy Willie’s coveralls and crushed hat, to Berniece and Maretha’s sensible dresses, to the wild green silk suit Wining Boy sells to Lymon. And Geoff Korf’s lighting is dramatically effective, especially in the ghostly scenes.
It is a complex story filled with good humor and high drama. It’s only weakness may be in the final scene, which I felt was too melodramatic and less than satisfying.
The Seattle Repertory Theater, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, through Feb. 8


Yellow Dog - The Yellow Dog and Southern are legendary railroads referred to in songs by bluesman Robert Johnson. In Wilson’s play the Yellow Dog was a railroad company whose car was set on fire because of the theft of the piano and the men in that car died, but their ghost was said to have come back.
On a personal note, when I was a child I heard this story about my uncle:
            In World War II he was in a trench somewhere in Germany and he shouted out, “Where does the Southern cross the Yellow Dog?” Another soldier in another trench shouted back, “Yazoo City, Mississippi.” He never knew who the other soldier was but assumed he was a fellow Mississippian. (The actual location of the crossing is in Moorehead, Mississippi near Yazoo City.

Shoutout for Shiann Welch – Tacoma area readers may recognize the name of the actor who plays Maretha. She is a student at Truman Middle School in Tacoma. When she was 8 years old she appeared in Wilson’s Fences at the Rep, and she has performed in many community productions with the DASH Center.
Also see info on community events in conjunction with The Piano Lesson.