Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pug Bujeaud and Christian Carvajal Pick Their Fab 5

Some time ago actor Rick Pearlstein asked fellow actors and directors on Facebook to pick the favorite five plays they’ve been involved with. The responses were many and fun to read. I asked two local theater personalities if I could reprint their responses (originally intended for publication in the Weekly Volcano but now appearing here).

Pug Bujeaud has acted and directed more plays than Carter has little liver pills (who’s old enough to remember that?). Christian Carvajal is also an actor and director, and until recently a theater critic. Bujeaud and Carvajal each graciously shared their comments (slightly edited).
Ryan Holmberg (back) and Dennis Rolly (front) in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol. Photo Matt Ackerman CrimsonFlick Photo.

Pug Bujeaud
Ten Years ago I directed my first Shakespeare for Theater Artists Olympia. Macbeth. It was the first time I really put my own spin on a concept, WWI never ended and it is modern day. It was a study of what happens to good people living in terrible times. Something I have continued to explore in various shows and writings. I hope to get my hands on this one again someday soon.

Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol was a joy to work on. The script was a find. The cast was full of some of my favorite people who were all working at the top of their game. Ryan Holmberg, Tim Goebel, Chris Cantrell, and Dennis Rolly. The sound design was Matt Ackerman, the first time we actually worked together on something.  And Cecelia Sommerville's   lighting design was sublime. I was especially proud of the opening moments of that show. OLT didn't know what hit 'em.
I have put Reservoir Dogs on the list. And I am going to have to tap both productions. Because well, I directed them simultaneously, so for me it was one very large show. What I was thinking I ...don't really know. But man what a wild ride. A great study in what actors bring to the table, and how they affect the direction a show takes. Same director different actors totally different shows.
Inherit the Wind was one of the first shows I was in back in High School, I never fell out of love with it. When The Evergreen Playhouse gave me a chance to direct it I jumped on it.
from left: Tom Sanders, Michael Christopher and Deya Ozburn in MacBeth. Photo by DK Photography.
There were almost 30 people in this, I think. And the world they built was amazing. I totally believed them as a township. I particularly loved the church rally and the way the congregation was intermingled with the audience the way it moved one emotionally because you were totally a part of the action. I tried very hard to portray both sides of this story without vilifying either side. Keeping my own personal politics out of it. I think I managed it quite well. And Scott Petersen and Dennis Rolly as Drummond and Brady were a joy to watch every night.

So for my final entry on the Five Day Artist Challenge I am going to have to cheat. I gotta have three. I have a three-way tie. Three totally different pieces as my favorite for totally different reasons.
The Weir at The Tacoma Little Theatre was hard, it was frightening, we were swimming upstream for the majority of the rehearsal process. The script is brilliant. It had been on my bucket list for a long time. The final product ... as close to perfection as I can ever hope to come. Just five actors sitting around telling stories and listening to each other. And it was magic, theater at its best. I never got tired of watching them spin their yarns. Special thanks go out to David Wright for saving our collective bacon on that one.
The HEAD! that Wouldn't DIE! with TAO of course. What fun. What a freezing our butts off, what the hell are we doing, lets just jump into the deep end, labor of love. The writing, the music, and the wonderful cast made all of the sleepless nights and near frostbite worth it. Such funny, funny people. And the reception was the frosting on the already tasty cake. So gratifying. Can't wait to do it again in the fall.

Titus Andronicus with Theater Artists Olympia! Titus was a raging blaze of over-the-top, brutal performances. Everyone pushed their comfort zones in commitment to the cause. I am honored that folks trusted me and allowed me to take them to such hard places. I miss this show more than any other. I got to become real friends with a number of people who to this day are some of those closest to my heart. It was an audacious production and boy did that cast embrace it. Special thanks to the amazing Matt Ackerman  for scoring the whole thing. I miss it really all the time.

from left: Robert McConkey, Brian Jansen, David Wright, Ellen Peters and Gabriel McClelland. Photo by DK Photography.

Christin Carvajal

As some of you may very well have expected, this brings us to Frost/Nixon at Tacoma Little Theatre (January 2011).

I'd been wanting to play Nixon in Peter Morgan's riveting play for several years. In fact, after Don Juan in Chicago, I lobbied to have Keith Eisner direct it in the Midnight Sun. So when I heard some yahoo named Brie Yost was directing it for TLT, I decided to squelch my anxiety about some kid fresh out of PLU helming a show about events that transpired before she was born. I auditioned in a 1960s style suit with my hair slicked back. I didn't perform an actual Nixon monologue, but I may as well have. It was pretty on-the-nose, but frankly, I thought I crushed it.

When I arrived at callbacks, I felt even better about my chances. None of these guys looked anything like Richard Nixon, I thought. I got up on stage, did my scenes, and there was an audible mumble of approval. And then ... friggin' Steve friggin' Tarry took the stage, and my dreams jackknifed clean off the 405. I knew he had the part before he finished his first scene. I was so crushed that when Brie offered me another part in the show, I told her it was too small to justify the drive back and forth from Tumwater. Jerk move, I know, but you can understand my feelings.

Brie called a few days later and asked if I'd play another part, ABC News producer Bob Zelnick, instead. Having rethought my letdown and refusal, I said yes. And so it was that I found myself sharing a stage, and dressing room, with Curtis Beech, Charlie Birdsell, James A. Gilletti, Bob Gossman, Josh Johnson, Brian Lewis, Gabriel McClelland, Paul Neet, Duane Petersen, and the inimitable Mr. Tarry. That's a hell of a lot of talent in one dressing room. It's also a lot of warm, smelly bodies and clothes, so after a week of that I bid a hearty adieu and promoted myself to the much more spacious women's dressing room. Luckily, those actresses were game, so I spent the next two months in the half-dressed company of Sarahann Elizabeth Rickner, Alleena Tribble, and Anjelica Wolf (now McMillan). I can tell you I've never had a better time rehearsing or performing a show in almost four decades on the boards.

Consider: I had a couple of fun scenes to perform, including a comically over-the-top impersonation of Richard Nixon. I got to bitch out David Frost and wear an awesome suit selected by Naarah McDonald. Then I got to sit there and emote with no lines for most of an act—which meant limited memorization! I believe that was the show on which I met Nic Olson, who was stage managing for Brie. I found Brie herself to be knowledgeable, passionate, smart, engaging, and in all respects the perfect ringleader for our merry circus. It was, at least from my point of view, a charmed show. It was how I met ASMs Jess Allan and Sergio Americo Vendetti. I'm looking at the program now and realizing how many wonderful people came together behind the scenes to make that show a success. They were all at the top of their game, and crowds were gracious and responsive in post-show Q&As.

Mostly, though, I remember the undergraduate-style camaraderie. I hadn't felt as joyous in my work since ECU. It brought back all the feelings of being in my HOUSE, the place I was meant to be at the time I was meant to be there, and I saw very clearly how my talents meshed with so many others to form something richer than its parts. Four years later, I still consider most of these people dear friends, even the ones who drifted away on distant orbits. Shortly after Frost/Nixon closed, I was able to propose to Amanda Stevens, so I felt I'd been gifted with a two-month-long bachelor party. I would've done that show for years if it'd been an option. Amanda and I were married in May of 2011, and Brie Yost performed our wedding ceremony.

In the years since, actor Carv has had his ups and downs. As I said previously, I loved doing radio shows at Lakewood Playhouse. Performing 12 Angry Men there was a blast, and I have nothing but good things to say about the cast and experience of Angels in America, Parts 1 and 2 at Olympia Little Theatre—directed by Nic Olson. I directed Steve Tarry as the Great Detective in Sherlock's Last Case at Lakewood Playhouse, and Jess Allan as Susannah in Laughing Stock at OLT. Both shows were wonderfully rewarding experiences for me and, I gather, their fine casts.

I intend to direct The Credeaux Canvas somehow, somewhere, by the end of 2016. I might even self-produce in a found space, with attendance by invitation only. Amanda and I are currently rehearsing Tartuffe for Theater Artists Olympia, a rehearsal process that in some ways reminds me of that of Frost/Nixon. Maybe it's all the corsets. (Note: this was written before Tartuffe was performed. See my review here.)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Solving the Mystery of Edwin Drood at Lakewood Playhouse

  Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 25, 2015

Steve Tarry (Chairman), Gary Chambers (Jasper) and the ensemble cast. Photo by Kate Paterno-Lick
The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Lakewood Playhouse is a deliciously funny romp through merrie olde England. Based on an unfinished novel by Charles Dickens, Drood is a musical comedy that asks the audience to vote on whodunit. What a fun and ingenious concept by Rupert Holmes, who wrote the book, music and lyrics. Holmes is a Gilbert and Sullivan fan and a lover of Victorian mysteries and English music hall, all of which play prominently in this production. 
It is ably directed by Chris Serface, who played the part of Nick Criker in this same show at Capital Playhouse in 2004. 
In the English music hall tradition, actors mingle with the audience as they are taking their seats, cajoling them to vote for them and to boo and hiss the villain, John Jasper (Gary Chambers). These antics prior to curtain seemed to be uproariously fun for most of the audience, but from where I was seated in a the middle of the middle section is was a babble — so I urge you to get seats close to the aisles if you want to join in the fun.
The story is a play within a play, with each actor playing an actor in London’s Music Hall Royale, so Chambers plays Mr. Clive Paget as John Jasper and Christopher S. Cantrell plays Mr. Nick Criker as Durdles, and Brynn Garrett plays, plays Miss Alice Nutting, London’s most famous male impersonator, as Edwin Drood. As in pantos and other English stage nuttiness, there are cross dressers and an emcee (Steve Tarry as Mr. William Cartwright) who constantly stops the action to deride the audience with quips both improvised and scripted. There is even a set of identical twins who are of different races and different genders (DuWayne Andrews, Jr. as Mr. Victor Grinstead as Neville Landless, and Heather Malroy as Miss Janet Conover as Helena Landless).
Lex Gernon’s set replicates a seedy 19th century music hall with its box seats in the wings and tacky red curtains and his brilliant use of a moveable thrust. The costumes by Alex Lewington are both authentic looking and funny.
Steve Tarry is an absolute natural as the emcee who pokes fun at actors and audience alike and appears to be having a wonderful time doing it. 
Chambers seems to equally enjoy playing the villain, plus he is articulate and sings wonderfully.
Another actor who falls into his role so naturally as to become the character is Cantrell. His every move and facial expression is entertaining, down to the slightest movemen
Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson turns in a stellar performance as Miss Angela Prysock as the happiest of hookers, Princess Puffer. 
Also outstanding are Jed Slaughter as Mr. Cedric Moncrieffe as Rev. Chrisparkle and Derek Hall as Mr. Phillip Bax as Bazzard. Like Malroy as Helena Landless and Noah Goucher as Master Nick Criker as Durdles, Hall overplays to the hilt and does it like a pro. Plus his voice is astounding on the solo performance of “Never the Luck.”
There is some great music in the play provided by an eight-piece orchestra directed by Deborah Lynn Armstrong and some acrobatic dancing that is a treat to watch. The big numbers performed by the entire cast are particularly enjoyable. On some of the smaller numbers the music almost drowns out the singers.
At almost three hours, Drood is a little longer than I would have liked. By the time we got to the voting at the end I just wanted it to end. I wish Holmes had edited his script down closer to two hours. Other than these minor objections, I think it is a marvelously entertaining and delightfully bawdy musical romp. This weekend (((June 26-28) is the last chance to see it.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through June 28,
Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $29.00, $26.00 military, $27.00 seniors and $24.00 students/educators, pay what you can June 1, 253.588.0042, www.lakewoodplayhouse.org

Jean Mandeberg’s ‘Now or Never’

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 25, 2015
"Gameboard" mixed media assemblage by Jean Mandeberg

"Keepers" mixed media assemblage by Jean Mandeberg. Photos courtesy Salon Refu

 If you don’t study them carefully, Jean Mandeberg’s metal and mixed media assemblages at Salon Refu appear to be sweet wall decorations and little more, but if you make the effort to look carefully you’ll see there’s much more to them that meets the eye in a cursory glance.
There is a wry pop sensibility to Mandeberg’s assemblages. They are inventive and full of surprises, and well composed. She employs classical balance and a creative use of repetition and, most enjoyable to me, a visual trope I always highly admire: the subtle and often surprising use of variety within unity. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and suddenly there’s something different and unexpected.
By way of analogy, it’s what Warhol did with his countless celebrity portraits with color changes and patterns within patterns of endlessly repeated images that were exactly alike yet different. Mandeberg does the same thing, but hers are much more nuanced.
Featured in this show are numerous assemblages made of what I would call cages, square boxes made up of a dozen or so inner boxes in a grid pattern that extend three or four inches from the wall with found or made objects inside each inner box. The boxes are made of woven wire, and the objects within repeat in alternating patterns. Also featured are similarly made objects that hang like totems on the wall with repetition and variety within a vertical pattern, and boxes covered with decorative tin sheeting taken from commercial containers such as coffee tins or lunch boxes.
She fills these assemblages with objects that in her hands become talismans, such as balls, dice, and enameled fortune strips of the kind found in cookies. The object in each seems to be a prayer for good luck. 
There is a group of four that go together and represent popular games: bingo, bingo, bingo, and tic-tac-toe.
“Measuring Up” is a box made from four corner pieces made of wood and covered with decorative tin; they fit together to form a bowl. The printed images are of a boy in blue that looks like Gainsborough’s famous “Blue Boy” and a similarly romanticized girl in a red dress. On each corner of the box is a length of tape measure, which hints at the double meaning of the title.
Another classically balanced piece using patterns within patterns is called “Dirty Roll.” It’s a square cage of woven wire with a die in each section in alternating red and blue. Many of them (again in alternating patterns) are stamped with the words “Olympia Washington” in gold letters. Along the outer edges are buttons with the word “Luck” on them. But in keeping with her penchant for subtle surprises, two of the buttons have finger prints instead of words.
Only one piece breaks the pattern of repetition within a grid. It is titled “Keepers,” and it is a seeming random collection of various amulets such as a star cookie cutter, a bullet, dice, and a gloved hand. They are like the trophy heads of animals killed in the hunt.
These are interesting works of art with multiple meanings open to many interpretations.
Salon Refu, Jean Mandeberg Now or Never, Thursday-Friday-Sundays 2-6 p.m., Saturdays 2-8 p.m. through July 4,114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia