Saturday, July 25, 2015

Heroes and Survivors

Two important exhibitions coming to TAM and MOG

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 23, 2015
Kia Labeija, “Mourning Sickness,” 2014. Inkjet print, 16 × 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Hey Tacomans, do you know how fortunate you are to have two world-class art museums? Few cities the size of Tacoma have such treasures Tacoma Art Museum and Museum of Glass. These museums not only bring great art and great artists to town (and show the works of great artists already living and working here), but they also touch our hearts and minds and educate the populace about critical social and political issues and events that touch the lives of everyone.
Scheduled for fall openings are two exhibitions that should be of interest to many Tacomans and, particularly, to the soldiers and their families at JBLM.
Art AIDS America at Tacoma Art Museum
Art AIDS America at Tacoma Art Museum explores the AIDS epidemic from the early days in the 1980s when no one fully understood what it was, how it was contracted and spread; to today when many people have now lived with HIV/AIDS for decades —albeit with drug regimens that are themselves devastating.
Ten years in the making, and featuring more than 115 works of art created over a 30-year span, Art AIDS America is America’s first comprehensive exhibition of art by and about the AIDS epidemic. Throughout that 30-year history, artists have created AIDS-related art that is angry, sad, hopeless and hopeful, including political protests against the lack of government reaction to the epidemic and against drug companies that were more concerned with the bottom line than the lives of fellow citizens.
Hot Shop Heroes: Healing with Fire at Museum of Glass
In 2013 Museum of Glass piloted a new program called Hot Shop Heroes: Healing with Fire. Led by glass instructors, soldiers from Joint Base Lewis McChord’s Warrior Transition Battalion worked in the museum’s hot shop to fire glass art expressing their experience as warriors. Hot Shop Heroes is an exhibition of work created by JBLM soldiers who are veterans of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers in the program have all served at least one deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan; some have multiple deployments
Not all work created in the program is included. The exhibition is from spring and summer classes in 2015, classes that are ongoing at the time this article is being written, meaning we do not yet know what works will be included.
A MOG press release states that the works includes personal expressions of the soldiers’ personal experiences and feelings about war and life in the military and also "a few pieces that are more lighthearted and are representational of the basic glass-working skills acquired during their participation in the program."

Hot Shop Heroes opens Sunday, Nov. 8 at Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock Street, Tacoma,

Art AIDS America opens Oct. 3 at Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma,

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wordstock Olympia

I just finished reading ebook/dp/B00UW51OLW/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1437672910&sr=8-3&keywords=the+protest" target="_blank">The Protest
by Dianne Kozdrey Bunnell. Wow! What a powerful and moving story. It’s a classic tale of good and evil with the good personified by a na├»ve and open hearted young mother and the evil in the guise of a charismatic and manipulative fundamentalist preacher.  And it is a fictional memoir, meaning it really happened, only the names (and maybe a few other things) have been changed.

I was lucky enough to get to read an advance copy of The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes. It is set in Olympia, Washington and is the self-narrated story of a teenage boy with severe autism who takes on big-time developers who are dead set on destroying a part of a local nature park. Hayes is the author of previous novels Couer d’Alene Waters and Sinful Folk (a 2014 Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Award nominee).
I was also honored to be able to read an advance copy of Christian Carvajal’s Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride, an hilarious adventure in a theme park devoted to sexual pleasure. Imagine Disneyland for swingers. Forget 50 Shades of Grey, this is a rainbow of primary colors celebrating libidinous pleasure. Carvajal is a well-known local actor director as well as a writer for the Weekly Volcano and author of the novel Lightfall.
So why am I introducing these novelists? Because they will be joining me as featured writers at Wordstock Olympia 2015 at the Midnight Sun in Oympia on Wednesday, July 29 — graciously hosted by Theater Artists Olympia whose Improbable Peck of Plays IVopens  in The Midnight Sun Aug. 7.
Wordstock will be an evening of readings by local actors from these books plus my novel Visual Liberties. Carvajal and his wife, Amanda Stevens, will read a selected scene from Visual Liberties. Deya Ozburn will read Carjaval’s short story “Retreat,” a “funnel” story for Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride written under the pseudonym Lynn Savage (no secrets here). Bunnell will read from her own novel, and actor Jackson Jones will read a selection from Hayes’s The Eagle Tree.
Following the readings there will be book sales and schmoosing with the authors.
If you’re anywhere near Olympia, you don’t want to miss this. Tell your friends about it.
Wordstock Olymia 2015, Wed. July 29, 7 p.m., the Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia Street in downtown Olympia.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

4000 Miles

A little gem at Olympia Little Theatre

Randy Graham as Leo and Sharry O’Hare as Vera. Photo by Austin Lang

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 23, 2015
Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles at Olympia Little Theatre has a you-are-there feel to it. It’s a smart script with a naturalistic mix of drama and humor without bombast, and it is performed nicely by four young actors and one seasoned professional, Sharry O’Hare, who has been in more plays than Carter has little liver pills and is old enough to know what that means, yet is at least 20 years younger than the octogenarian she portrays.
Directed by Jim Patrick, 4000 Miles is an intimate portrait of the sometimes touching and often irritating relationship by a 91-year-old grandmother (Vera, played by O’Hare) and her young grandson, Leo (Randy Graham in his OLT debut). After a 4,000-mile bicycle ride from Minneapolis via Seattle, Leo shows up unexpectedly at his grandmother’s Manhattan apartment and makes himself at home with apparently no plans to ever leave or get a job or do anything but exist at her expense.
Vera is a widow. Leo recently lost his best friend, Micah, killed in a bicycling accident. He also has a somewhat estranged girlfriend, Bec (Jodie Chapin) who is now in Manhattan, and he attempts to start a relationship with another woman, Amanda (Mae DeChaine).
In comedy, drama and musicals, O’Hare never fails to thoroughly become whatever character she portrays, and she is certainly believable as the feisty old grandmother in this show. With a slumped and slowly shuffling walk, little or no makeup, and nothing other than a gray wig to hide her red hair and make her look like a spry 91-year-old, she transforms herself into Vera. If I didn’t know better I’d swear the character was written with her in mind.
Since O’Hare is such a pro and the rest of the cast members are newcomers just starting their acting careers, you might expect her to carry all the weight in this play, but Graham’s role is just as big — he actually has more stage time than O’Hare — and he is utterly believable and enjoyable as Leo. Leo is infuriatingly self-absorbed, somewhat slow on the uptake, but well-mannered. He has a big heart, good qualities that are slow to manifest. It takes all of Vera’s patience and love to bring out the best in him.
Both Chapin and DeChaine act their parts with naturalness and comfort unusual for young actors with limited experience. OLT regulars will remember Chapin as the outlandish young Sissy in a silly blonde wig in Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean. In 4000 Miles she plays a much more mature young woman and is thoroughly delightful.
It’s a small play ably directed by Patrick and presented with a nice and unobtrusive set constructed by Paul Malmberg and Chet Derry (no one credited for design) and equally simple and effective lighting by Austin Lang.
There are only four more performances, tonight, July 23, and this weekend.

4000 Miles, 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through July 26,Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $10-$14, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360).786.9484,

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tacoma Musical Playhouse Does West Side Story

Published in The News Tribune, July 17, 2015
Anita (Melanie Gladstone) and the Shark girls. Photo by Kat Dollarhide

Tony (Ryan Anderson) and Maria
(Melissa Maricich). Photo by Kat Dollarhide

I tend to think everyone in the world has seen West Side Story, yet I wonder if people younger than 40 know the story. After all, it’s been 58 years since is premiered on Broadway and 55 since the popular film starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn rocked America’s movie houses. With music by the great Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins, it was a sure-fire hit. Yet it seldom plays regional theaters. In the nine years I’ve been reviewing plays in the South Sound I’ve not seen it once until this week at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.
I suspect it’s too big for local theaters to handle. Robbins’ choreography, and the athletic dance moves as adapted locally by Jon Douglas Rake and co-choreographer Jimmy Shields, is probably as tough a challenge as that of any musical. At TMP the dancing may not be as sharp or as smooth as it was in the movie, but these are amateurs and they don’t have multiple takes as in the movies. The set is also a challenge, but designer Bruce Haasl does a superb job of creating a 1950s Manhattan Upper West Side street scene that smoothly converts to the interiors of Doc’s Drugstore and Anita’s apartment.
What everyone should know by now is that it is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in a slum area of Manhattan with Puerto-Rican and Italian street gangs instead of Montagues and Capulets. Maria (Melissa Maricich) is the modern day Juliet and Tony (Ryan Anderson) is the modern day Romeo.
An interesting point that says a lot about the time and place is that the Italians were not called Italian, but simply American; whereas the Puerto-Ricans were called Puerto-Ricans. By the 1950s Italian immigrants had assimilated into the American culture, while the Puerto-Ricans had not, and there was hot debate among them as to whether or not they wanted to assimilate, as humorously illustrated by the catchy tune “America,” a duet between Anita (Melanie Gladstone) who wants to be American and Rosalia (Brynne Geiszler) who longs to go home to Puerto Rico.
The street gangs, the Jets (“American”) and the Sharks (Puerto-Rican) are at war. Tony is a former leader of the jets who has outgrown the gang activity. He meets Maria at a dance and they immediately fall in love and try tragically to consummate their love amidst the ongoing rival warfare. Tony tries to be a peacemaker, as does Doc (Joseph Woodland) and the cops, Lt. Schrank (Martin Goldsmith) and Officer Krupke (Chris Serface), who are stupid, incompetent and racist.
The story is romantic and tragic, but there are wonderfully comic moments such as the aforementioned song, “America” and the most comical bit in the whole play, “Gee, Officer Krumpke,” wonderfully sung by Action (Jake Atwood) and danced with great style by the Jets.
The songs “Maria” by Tony, “Tonight” by Tony and Maria with the entire cast, and “Somewhere” with solos by Tony and Maria plus Clarice (Maggie Barry) and Francisca (Francesca Guecia) are among the most beautiful love songs ever written.
There is a lot of fighting and a rape scene, all of which are executed with highly stylized yet tasteful dance moves. Bernstein’s music, which blends the operatic with popular music, and Sondheim’s inventive lyrics go a long way toward making this among the best of musicals.
While TMP’s production might not place this among the top two or three musicals of the year (I’d give that honor to TMP’s Evita, Cabaret at Tacoma Little Theatre, and Center Stage’s For All That), it is certainly more than worth the price of admission.
West Side Story, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 2, Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $20-$29, 253-565-6867,