Friday, March 27, 2015

Olympia Family Theater’s ‘Our Only May Amelia’

Cast of Our Only May Amelia. Photo by David Nowitz

Our Only May Amelia at Olympia Family Theater is adapted from the Newberry Award winning novel by Jennifer L. Holm. It is a pioneer story in the vein of Little House on the Prairie and the works of Willa Cather, set in Southwestern Washington and told in a series of episodic scenes.
Thirteen-year-old May Amelia Jackson (Kate Hayes) is the only girl in the Jackson family. They’re living a hardscrabble life on a small farm in the Naselle River Valley. Her mother, Alma (Samantha Chandler) is pregnant when the show opens. Her father, Jalmer (Keith Eisner) is overwhelmed by the demands of running the farm and is overly hard on his family, especially his daughter. Her brother Matti (Jeremy Holien) wants to escape to Astoria and marry his love, Mary O’Casey (Stephanie Kroschel), but fears he’ll have to run away to do so because Pappa hates everyone Irish. The other brother, Wilbert (Adam Peters), is a dreamer with a poetic soul.
Kate Hayes as May Amelia. Photo by Dinea Dephoto
May Amelia’s brothers tease her unmercifully, her father treats her far too harshly, her grandmother Patience (Diana Purvine) shows up and it soon becomes clear that she hates her venomously and for no apparent reason. It seems her only allies are her mother, who is sick and pregnant and has a hard time caring for her, and her Aunt Alice (Debbie Sampson) who lives in Astoria. This is not a happy life they live.
Harsh and unrelenting tragedy follows harsh and unrelenting tragedy in this gritty story, but familial love triumphs in the end— and I say “love triumphs” with reservations, because life was tough on the frontier and there is no grand exaltation in this story. It is a sad and touching story beautifully acted by the entire cast.
It may be the toughest role I’ve ever seen Eisner play, and it is definitely the best acting I’ve seen from Purvine, who, much to her credit, makes the audience despise grandmother Patience. Both Peters and Holien are likeable and convincing as the brothers who alternately tease and support their sister. The other women in the cast, Sampson, Chandler and Kroschel have smaller roles but play them well.
Hayes is simply amazing as May Amelia. What a treat it is to see a promising child actor begin to mature into an accomplished adult actor—she and the equally amazing Clarke Hallum as May Amelia’s cousin Kaarlo fit their respective roles as if they were written with them in mind. Both already made their marks in impressive performances as younger children and prove here that they can play more grownup roles (young teens in this show, but teens who forced to grow up in a hurry). In 2010 when he was 11 years old, Hallum was outstanding in the leading role as Ralphie in A Christmas Story at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. He was last seen in Olympia, if my memory is correct, in The Full Monty at Capital Playhouse. Hayes was a knockout in The Secret Garden in 2011, also with Hallum, and was great in her cross-gender performance as the Artful Dodger in Oliver in 2014. In this show both Hayes and Hellum tug on heartstrings. Both are utterly believable as teenagers trying to survive an almost primitive life in the Pacific Northwest wilderness at the beginning of the 20th century.
Also deserving special recognition are set designer Jill Carter, prop artists Jan Rocks and Wendy Eisler, and costumer Becky Scott.
Some of the material is heavy and may not be suitable for young children.
Our Only May Amelia runs Thurs.-Fri., 7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m. through April 5. Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Her Story at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 26, 2015

Behold Fire by Doyle Fanning

The latest art exhibit at South Puget Sound Community College is a group show called “Her Story.” As described in the show announcement, this exhibition “contributes a verse to the volume that is the creative feminine. The works of six invited artists … consider the multiple facets of the creative feminine experience — personal, contemporary, art historical, and visionary.”

The artists are Yukiyo Kawano, Jeana Eve Klein, George Le Masurier, Doyle Fanning, Erika Navarette and Joyce Polance. All but one are women.

Most dramatic and most outstanding to my way of thinking are Kawano’s two hanging sculptures and two paintings, and Fanning’s “Behold … A True Story.”

Kawano’s “Little Boy,” 2011 and “Little Boy,” 2015 are actual size depictions of “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Kawano’s bombs are made of kimono, bamboo, hair and dye. The pieces, like sections of a kite, are sewn together with hair. They hang from the ceiling in the middle of the gallery. The delicacy of the materials in contrast with knowledge of the destruction of property and human life wrought by the explosion of the bomb creates a mind-boggling spectacle with the added shudder brought on by learning that the pieces are sewn with strands of the artist’s own hair. She is a third generation hibakusha (nuclear bomb survivor) who grew up decades after the bombing of Hiroshima.

In addition to these, Kawano is showing two paintings in oil on canvas. One is a picture of a woman, probably a geisha, being dressed by a servant. The other is a single female figure with three crustaceans pictured above her. In both paintings the figures are partially obliterated by paint applied in such thin washes (most likely with turpentine) that the running drips eat away paint in multiple tiny rivulets. In the one with the crustaceans, the canvas is burnt or ripped away in places. As in the two “Little Boys,” the image is of destruction combined with feminine delicacy.

Fanning’s “Behold … A True Story” is a suite of 10 small images, each with a little white girl in a natural environment. When I say white I do not mean Caucasian. I mean the figures appears to have been cut out, leaving the white silhouette of a figure in each. Each image also has printed on it a sentence or two from a story, so that reading left to right, by the time you get to the last image you’ve read the entire story. It is an intriguing and well-presented series.

By the way, you can see more work by Fanning in the current exhibition at Childhood’s End Gallery in downtown Olympia.

Le Masurier is a retired newspaper editor and photographer who is showing a set of six black and white digital images of contemporary people in everyday settings and activities, each indicative of their own personal story.

Navarette is showing six pop-art paintings of women engaged in activities such as cooking and planting potted plants. Her lush and luminous colors glow like the cheeks of a girl by Renoir. Polance is showing a 12-by-nine-inch and a 12-by-16-inch oil painting of nudes with similar lush pink tones in heavy impasto paint. These are like Navarette’s paintings but with better use of negative space and even more luscious colors.

Finally, Klein is showing a series of small works in fabric with hand-stitched French knots on cotton. The formats look like doilies but the clusters of knots look like abstract paintings — difficult to describe but amazing to look at. Be sure to study them closely.

Her Story, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. and by appointment, through May 1, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, South Puget Sound Community College,
Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Persistence of Vision

Theater Artists Olympia is presenting a one-time viewing of Kevin Schreck’s animation documentary Persistence of Vision, the critically acclaimed, award winning film about the making of Richard Williams’ unfinished masterpiece, The Thief and the Cobbler, billed as “the greatest animated film of all time.
Williams, probably best known for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, worked for more than a quarter of a century on his masterpiece “only to have it torn from his hands.”
TAO says, “Filmmaker Kevin Schreck has woven together mind-blowing animation, rare archival footage, and exclusive interviews with key animators and artists who worked with Williams on his ill-fated magnum opus to bring this legendary story to the screen.”
Persistence of Vision includes archival footage of Williams combined with interviews with his co-workers.
Lynette Charters is an animator who worked on the film. She now lives in Olympia with her husband, actor John Serembe, seen recently in TAO’s The Head That Wouldn’t Die and Harlequin Productions’ The 39 Steps. There will be a Q&A with Charters after the screening, as well as an exclusive Q&A via Skype with filmmaker Kevin Schrek.
Charters said:
I worked at Richard Williams Studio in Camden for a little under two years. I worked as a special effects animator which in those days involved working with the camera department to create effects, occasional rendering (moving sketches such as the sand scene in the opening sequence) and  making key animation drawings for elements such as water, clouds, fire, dust etc. At RWS this was particularly involved as Dick used to take great delight in making full-scene animated backgrounds such as swirling clouds. We used to jokingly call it "moving wallpaper." Some of these drawings would take two-to-ghree hours, and given Dick’s fondness for putting things on 24 frames per second as opposed to the general 12 frames per second, plus the 10 hour day before overtime we signed up for, this was no mean feat resulting in me laughing hysterically under my desk more than a couple of times as means of a release. The crew was passionate and enthusiastic. We used to sometimes work all hours just to get a scene done. There were other jobs available in London at the time so we were there by choice, it was a labor of love and it was going to be beautiful.”
All proceeds from the screening will be donated to filmmaker and to the Midnight Sun Performance.

WHO:           Theater Artists Olympia
WHAT:         Persistence of Vision
WHEN:         April 18th, 2015 at 8:00PM (Doors at 7:30)
WHERE:       The Midnight Sun Performance Space
113 Columbia St. NE, downtown Olympia
PRICE:         $15 (No one turned away)
TICKETS:     Available at the door (cash only) the night of the performance or in advance at (via More information and updates available at

Christian Carvajal is no Laughing Stock

Christian Carvajal in David Mamet's Oleanna. Photo courtesy Olympia Little Theatre

Christian Carvajal is an actor, director, and writer; and an original thinker who throws himself with unbridled passion into everything he undertakes. For quite a few years he was a theater critic for the Weekly Volcano. Since I am also a theater critic and have reviewed many of the same plays, we have naturally met in lobbies many times, and although we seldom talked in depth about plays we were reviewing prior to writing the reviews, we have always read each other’s reviews and sometimes talked about them afterwards.
As an offhand observation, I would guess that we agree on our assessment of plays about 95 percent of the time, the one difference being that he has tended to be a tad more critical than I. He has joked that I always get to be the good cop to his bad cop. But joking aside, he has said, and I know this to be true, that it hurts him to have to give a play a bad review. He’s in the business. He knows many of the actors, directors, scenic designers and theater managers. He knows how much of their lives they devote to the incredibly hard task of putting on a play—and always with little or no pay. How can a guy like that, who is more sensitive to others than others might expect, trash in print an endeavor that others have given so much of their lives to? Yet as a critic he knew—as do I—that his reviews would mean nothing if he were not honest, if he were simply a cheerleader for local theater companies. After all, you pay money to see stage shows and you don’t want to be told something is good when it’s not.
When he tried to be gently honest, he and the newspaper he writes for were sent nasty emails, perhaps not always but enough to make reviewing a thankless job. That may not be the only reason he no longer writes theater reviews, but it is surely a factor.
Here’s a little something he wrote about directing Laughing Stock, opening this week at Olympia Little Theatre:
In the past few weeks, we've exhausted ourselves to the point of shaking. We've left literal blood, sweat and tears on the boards at OLT. In a month it'll all be gone and we'll move on to other projects. So why do we do it? What drives us to kill ourselves for ephemera? We do it so both we and you can laugh. We do it to tell and enjoy a good story. We do it because your inexpensive ticket helps keep OLT's lights on for season 76, but more importantly, because coming together to share adventures and emotions is what makes community an actual thing. And my God, this is an emotional show. I feel safe in saying it's crawled inside all of us. We can feel we've made something special. And part of what we've made, an important part, is the coming together of "another little temporary family." And that, Gentle Reader, has been the story of my life, over and over again. (Read the complete article..)

In the near future I will review this show. I will also review Olympia Family Theatre’s production of Our Only May Amelia. There are friends in the cast and crew of both plays. I surely hope they will do a good job. It would kill me to have to pan either of them, which thankfully and realistically I don’t expect to happen.