Saturday, February 28, 2015

Angels in America Part 2: Perestroika

This weekend is your last opportunity to see Olympia Little Theatre’s staged reading of Angels in America Part 2: Perestroika.
I attended the opening night performance. That night there were almost as many actors on stage as there were audience members in seats. Come on, folks. We can fill seats for light musical comedy and other forms of theatrical pabulum but we can’t fill seats for Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning drama?
Tony Kushner’s Angels in America will go down in history as one of America’s great theatrical experiences.
This will be a brief review as I already said most of what needs to be said in my review of Angels in America Part 1: Millennium Approaches at Olympia Little Theatre. Suffice it to say that everything that made that performance outstanding—a marvelous cast comprised of Christian Carvajal, Anthony Neff, Bonnie Vandver, Phil Folan, Austin C. Lang, Terrence Lockwood, Sarah May, and Andrea Weston-Smart; and a unique set and outstanding direction by Niclas R. Olson—is here in abundance.
If anything, Part 2 is more intense, more outlandish and funnier. Everything is kicked up a notch. Vandver shone in multiple roles in Part 1 and shines even brighter in this one as Hannah Pitt and as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. Lockwood and Weston-Smart have bigger parts and connect more intensely with the audience. Roy Cohn, a despicable human being played convincingly by Carvajal, is even more loathsome in Part 2.
The humor . . . well, it’s hard to say how such deathly serious themes can be handled with such outlandish humor while still driving home serious commentary. The sex scene between Prior Walter (Folan) and the angel (Weston-Smart) might be the funniest and most graphic sex scene ever performed with clothes on.

Angels in America is subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” It offers a harsh and unflinching look at the worst years of the AIDS crisis with ghosts, an angel, and adult language. It is an adult-only production. I salute Olympia Little Theatre for doing it.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through March. 1
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
INFORMATION: (360) 786-9484,
Tip jar - With the exception of reviews reprinted from my monthly theater column in The News Tribune and my weekly art criticism column in the Weekly Volcano, I do not get paid for reviews. There’s a tip jar in the sidebar to the right. Tips help cover my expenses and every little bit helps. Thank you.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Georgia O’Keefe and Still Life Art in New Mexico

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 26, 2015

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887−1986), Mule's Skull with Pink Poinsettia, 1936. Oil on canvas, 40⅛ × 30 inches. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Gift of The Burnett Foundation. 1997.06.014. (O'Keeffe 876) © 2015 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy International Arts ®
I can hardly wait to see “Eloquent Objects: Georgia O’Keeffe and Still-Life Art in New Mexico” at Tacoma Art Museum. As a matter of fact, I won’t wait; I’ll preview it now instead of writing my regular review column, and then I will review it for the March 12 Weekly Volcano. 

Twenty-two Georgia O’Keeffe paintings will be shown alongside 42 additional works by her New Mexico contemporaries. That alone should be enough to make you mark this show in your calendar.
O’Keeffe escaped New York to live and work in the desert near Taos, and many of her fellow artists followed suit.  From the 1920s to the 1950s New Mexico was to New York artists what Tahiti had been to Gauguin—a place of refuge, retreat and inspiration. Many of these artists are in this show, artists such as Stuart Davis and Marsden Hartley, and artists from each of the major art centers in New Mexico, including Gustave Baumann, Catherine Critcher, Eliseo Rodriguez and more.

Alexandre Hogue (1898−1994), Studio Corner-Taos, 1927. Oil on canvas, mounted on wood, 36 × 34 inches. Philbrook Museum of Art, Inc., Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gift of Mrs. Joan Calder-Malouf in memory of Leroy "Skip" Malouf. 2001.10.  © Olivia Hogue Mariño & Amalia Mariño. Courtesy International Arts ®
"Eloquent Objects takes a different look at the American Southwest through still-life paintings. If asked to describe an image that symbolized New Mexico, most people would likely talk about a landscape or the vibrant cultures of the area,” says Margaret Bullock, TAM’s Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions. “The paintings in this exhibition instead focus on objects. They ask us to pause and think about how the things that interest us or surround us in our daily lives reveal something about us and the place and time we live in. These are deeply personal images.”

I have not yet seen this show, but TAM included a few images with their press release, among which are the oil paintings “Yellow Cactus” and “Mule's Skull with Pink Poinsettia” by O’Keeffe. Both are large paintings in a typical O’Keeffe style. She is famous for pictures of a single giant flower that takes up the entire canvas and emphasizes the similarities between flowers and female sex organs. “Yellow Cactus” pictures two such flowers in yellow on a soft blue background. It is sensual and lyrical and practically invites the viewer to sniff it up close. “Mule's Skull with Pink Poinsettia” features another still life item that O’Keeffe painted frequently, an animal skull, and two delicate flowers floating in air above sand dunes that emulate the sensual curves of a human body, as do the white clouds in the blue sky. 

Also pictured is Alexandre Hogue’s oil painting “Studio Corner-Taos.” This painting from 1927 looks like it could have been painted today. In fact, it looks like one of Phillip Pearlstein’s paintings of figures in interiors with intricately patterned rugs and other objects, only minus the figure. It is an Indian blanket draped over a blue chair with a rattle and dolls on the floor. This painting is colorful and beautifully designed. 

Dorothy Morang’s “Garden of Eden” from 1937 is a striking abstract painting in gorgeous tones or orange and blue, and Maurice Sterne’s painting of peppers on a chair looks like a Cezanne painting.

The painters of this era in America were deeply influenced by Cezanne, Picasso, and the French modernists who came along in an earlier time but many of whom were still working. Americans like O’Keefe and the others who went to New Mexico took these influences and Americanized them.
This show should provide an exciting and in-depth look at a lot of major art from the first half of the 20th century. It is a national touring show and TAM is its only West Coast stop.

Eloquent Objects: Georgia O’Keeffe and Still-Life Art in New Mexico, Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursday 10 a.m. to –8 p.m., $12-$14, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Angels in America at Olympia Little Theatre

Under the direction of Niclas R. Olson and with super performances by a cast including Christian Carvajal, Anthony Neff, Bonnie Vandver, Austin C. Lang, Terrence Lockwood, Sara May, and Andrea Weston-Smart, Olympia Little Theatre’s staged reading of Angels in America Part I: Millennium Approaches is a new high for local theater.
It is a huge show in more ways than one. It is huge in concept and in length (it is a two-part, seven-act behemoth; part one is three acts, approximately three hours in length including two 10-minute intermissions), and it is monumental in the manner in which the controversial-for-its-time subject matter is handled. It is the story of the early years of the AIDS epidemic when President Ronald Reagan refused to even acknowledge the existence of what was then often referred to as the gay cancer. Written by activist playwright Tony Kushner, Angels in America (the two parts combined) captured two Tony Awards, two Drama Desk Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.  
Olympia Little Theatre is doing it as a staged reading. Unfortunately, the run of the play is so short that I can’t post this review of part one before its final production. I can only hope that my review of part one will encourage theater goers to see part two, which runs Feb. 26 to March 1.
Being a staged reading, the actors are “on book.” But most of them have their lines down so well that the scripts they hold in hand are almost props. They rarely glance at the words, and in almost every other way it is a fully produced show.
The set design by Olson is ingenious. In his director’s notes he quotes Kushner: “It’s OK that the wires show, and maybe it’s good that they do, but the magic should at the same time be thoroughly amazing.” Olson’s set design enhances this concept. It looks like a warehouse of sorts, with stacks of trunks, suitcases, tables and chairs, a fold-up bed, and cardboard boxes representing various offices and apartments in New York. The back wall is unfinished, with exposed studs, and a huge stack of boxes fills in one large gap in the wall. This set makes no sense in terms of accurately depicting the various settings, but it marvelously creates the mood of the play and allows characters to interact without having to change sets.
Joe Pitt (Neff) is an up-and-coming political operative who is married to Harper Pitt (May) and who quits his clerking job in New York to go to work for Roy Cohn (Carvajal). Cohn was a ruthless political operative and one of the few actual historic characters in the play. He helped Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Communist witch hunts and helped prosecute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Cohn was also a semi-closeted gay man—in the play he says he’s not gay but he fucks men. He says it repeatedly and defiantly. Joe Pitt is also gay, but has not yet come to terms with his sexual orientation.
In contrast to Cohn and Pitt, Louis Ironson (Lang) and Prior Walter (Phil Folan) are an openly gay couple who desperately love one another. Prior is dying of AIDS, and the role of caretaker is more than Ironson can handle.
I will not get in the plot any further except to say that there are heavy religious themes (Cohn and Prior are both Jewish, and Pitt is Mormon), and many of the characters interact with ghosts and angels.
Carjaval, Lang and Folan turn in excellent performances. In supporting roles, Bonnie Vandver does a yoman’s job of playing numerous characters, including a rabbi, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, and Joe Pitt’s mother, and May nicely handles the challenging assignment of portraying Pitt’s somewhat mentally ill wife, Harper. Weston-Smart is believable in a variety of roles, including the angel of the title. Lockwood manages to be campy without going overboard as a former drag performer.
This is a powerful, disturbing and intellectually challenging play about gay and religious themes and liberally sprinkled with adult language.
Part II: “Perestroika” opens Feb. 26.
WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26 - March. 1
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
INFORMATION: (360) 786-9484,
Tip jar - With the exception of reviews reprinted from my monthly theater column in The News Tribune and my weekly art criticism column in the Weekly Volcano, I do not get paid for reviews. There’s a tip jar in the sidebar to the right. Tips help cover my expenses and every little bit helps. Thank you.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Building the Future: Collections at Evergreen

Entry to collection, prints by Rick Bartow. Photo courtesy The Evergreen State College

Building the Future: Collections at Evergreen" highlights not only works of art from the art gallery collection at The Evergreen State College but also collections from the Malcolm Stilson Archives and Special Collections, the Chicano/Latino Archive, the James F. Holly Rare Books Collection, the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center and Evergreen Pictures.

In the space allowed for this column I cannot begin to describe all that is in this exhibition. There are books authored by Evergreen faculty and students/alumni; and prints and photographs from famous artists such as Andy Warhol and Diane Arbus. There are crafts from Northwest Native Americans.

As you enter the gallery you see woodcarvings and masks by Native artists and two wonderful lithographs by Rick Bartow, a Native artist well known in the area whose art skillfully combines contemporary and traditional forms of expression. Along the right wall are photographs depicting the history of the college from the Evans Library collection, and facing back toward the entrance is the "Chained Library," a display of books connected by chains and written by TESC alumni. There are two short films on a continuous loop: "House of Welcome" produced and directed by Sandy Osawa and Yasu Osawa, and "Mary Hillaire: A Lasting Vision" by Barbara Smith and the late Marge Brown, former faculty member. Hillaire founded the Native American Studies Program at Evergreen.

Polaroid photot of Keith Haring and Juan Dubois, 1983. Gift from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Andy Warhol: Keith Haring and Juan Dubose 1983.

Along the back wall is a richly colored and glowing line of fabric wall tiles from Liz Whitney Quisgard's "Wall Hanging Series." It is a series of 10 squares lined up to fill an entire wall with overlapping geometric patterns in burning tones of red, orange, purple and yellow. It is quite beautiful and deceptively simple; i.e., much more complex than it looks at first.

Another wall is filled with photographs, mostly black and white, and prints by a variety of artists. Among these is a strong portrait of Helmi Juvonen by the great local photographer Mary Randlett. There is a lovely photo by Judy Dater of a woman, "Twinka," in a see-through dress in a wooded setting with deep, dark eyes and a fierce expression. There are two famous photos by Edward Weston, "Nude" and "Bell Pepper." Both the food and the woman become strong abstract sculptures due to Weston's lighting and camera angle. Surely everyone will recognize Andy Warhol's color portrait of Keith Haring, but how many will recognize his lover, Juan Dubose? They are pictured along with Miquel Bose, the jokey Willie Shoemaker, and Bracka Weintraub. These four Polaroid portraits by Warhol are mounted in a single frame. On a stand nearby is a book of 50 photos by Warhol donated by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts including portraits of many of his friends - some celebrities and some unknown.

Also showing is Diane Arbus's famous and haunting image of a boy with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, and finally an iconographic lithograph by the great Jacob Lawrence, "Builders: Man on a Scaffold."
This is a show worth seeing. The only thing missing is work by past and present faculty members and students such as Marilyn Frasca, Joe Fedderson, Matt Groening and Lynda Barry, just to name a few. Maybe those can comprise a follow-up show.

"BUILDING THE FUTURE: COLLECTIONS AT EVERGREEN," 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 12:30-5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, through March 4, The Evergreen State College Gallery, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Library 1st floor, Olympia, 360.867.5125

Boy Meets Girls – new world premiere play by Bryan Willis

Jessa Dian (L)
Brynn Ogilvie (R)
photo courtesy Bryan  Willis

A new play by local and nationally acclaimed playwright Bryan Willis will premiere in a one-night-only performance at Oly Underground in Olympia with two shows on Monday March 2.
Boy Meets Girls is billed as “a play about love, human trafficking and growing up at the speed of sex.” The play is based on 10 different stories—all true, according to the playwright. A dancer in a local strip club considers giving a bikini barista some survival tips before she signs a contract. Willis says, “Boy Meets Girls provides a realistic glimpse of a world that may be closer than you think.”

It is a one-act running 25minutes. There will be two performances, each with a different cast:  
Cast #1performing at 7 p.m.:  Jessa Dian, Brian Hatcher, Brynn Ogilvie
Cast #2 performing at 8 p.m:  Brian Wayne Jansen, Cheyenne Lorraine, Mariah Moore
Known locally for his many plays produced by Harlequin Productions and other performance groups such as Theater Artists Olympia, Willis is now playwright-in-residence at Northwest Playwrights Alliance at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. His plays have been included in the past two evenings of one-acts at the Midnight Sun.
He quit his day job in ’92 and has been a working playwright ever since. His plays have been workshopped and produced off-Broadway, on the London fringe, throughout the U.K., Israel, and in theaters across the U.S. and Canada, including ACT, New York Theater Workshop, Seattle Rep, Milwaukee Rep, Unseam’d Shakespeare Co. and Riverside Studios in London. His work has also been featured on NPR and BBC Radio (commission for Sophie). Willis is the recipient of a theater fellowship from Artist Trust and has also received the Kennedy Center Gold Medallion for his work with the American College Theater Festival. He has worked in the literary departments of many theaters, including Playwrights Horizons and Lincoln Center (NYU’s Playwright-in-Residence) and Tacoma Actors Guild.
He lives in Olympia with his son Zach in their new home:  Willoughby, Significantly Close to the Sea. 

Boy Meets Girls
Oly Underground, 109 SW Legion Way, Olympia, WA  (360/352-7343)
Tickets:  $5 suggested donation at the door, or reserve seating by writing
Age Restriction:  21+ only  (Oly Underground serves alcohol)

Plus - A comedy by Bryan Willis, Seven Ways to Get There, opens Feb. 24  and runs through March 15 ACT's Allen Theatre in Seattle.

Can you tip? With the exception of reviews reprinted from my monthly theater column in The News Tribune and my weekly art criticism column in the Weekly Volcano, I do not get paid for reviews. There’s a tip jar in the sidebar to the right. Tips help cover my expenses and every little bit helps. Thank you.