Thursday, September 24, 2015

Faculty and Staff Exhibition at SPSCC

Photo: “tv kills u,” mixed media painting by Liza Brenner

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 24, 2015

"Happy Hour" mixed media painting by Liza Brenner
This year’s faculty and staff art exhibition is one of the better shows they’ve had in quite some time and the best faculty exhibition since I’ve been reviewing them.
The first thing to strike the eye when entering the gallery is Joe Batt’s installation, “Oculus.” It is a dramatic, inventive and skillfully executed grouping of a stoneware sculpture and hanging mobiles made of wood and painted with pastel. It’s a slight variation on a similar installation readers may remember from Batt’s show at Salon Refu a year ago. The stoneware figure is a young boy dressed in white sweats and white running shoes with pale blue toes and Velcro straps. He’s wearing some kind of charcoal colored visor over his eyes. The mobile hanging above him is a group of eight satellites made of plywood and lightly colored with pastels. I love the worn-wood look of the mobile contrasted with the pasty white of the figure. Batt is also showing three nicely done mixed-media digital collages which expand on the themes of “Oculus.”
Liza Brenner is new to the SPSCC faculty and the South Sound arts scene - a most welcome newcomer. Her three mixed-media paintings with collage in this exhibition are a joy to look at. They are comically surreal with odd juxtapositions of people and objects that do not belong together — the juxtaposition of disparate elements being the very definition of surrealism. Her “What Makes Hannah Snell So Appealing?” (what a wonderful title!) is a picture of a 16th century man wearing a red smoking jacket in the interior of a house. Sharing the house with him are monkeys, one riding in a baby carriage and one wide-eyed monkey hanging from the ceiling and holding a camera, a modern camera of a type that did not exist when men dressed like the one in the painting.
Brenner’s “Happy Hour with Friends” depicts a couple seating at a table having a friendly drink. In front of them is a group of deer, and on the wall behind them are portraits of people, presumably the friends of the title. The deer and the portraits are all contour drawings done with a brush and fairly heavy paint. All of her paintings are roughly executed in a nice manner.
More decorative are Jane Stone’s oxidation-fired ceramic tiles, each mounted in groups of two, three or four and each grouping united by theme. There’s one with images of flowers, one with landscape scenes with bodies of water, and a two-tile set with a crow and a bird’s nest with eggs. All are delicately painted; my favorites are the streams of water.
There are three paintings by Nathan Barnes, two of which I have reviewed when they were in previous shows, and one new one that is a double-faced portrait of his sister, a pianist. There are clever references to pianos. His painted constructions are always inventive and beautifully crafted.
There are also some great works by Daniel Meuse that are dark and ominous, and works by Colleen Gallagher, Liza Mellinger and Nicole Gugliotti. I wish I had space in this column to write more about all of them. But you don’t need to read what I have to say; just go to this show and see for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. through Oct. 30, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.]

Friday, September 18, 2015

Review: A Few Good Men at Lakewood Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune, Sept. 17, 2015

(L to R):  JACOB TICE (Kaffee), JIM ROGERS (Sam) and CASSIE JO FASTABEND (Jo)  from the Lakewood Playhouse Production of "A FEW GOOD MEN"

All photos by Kate Paterno-Link
Celebrating 50 years in the same building at Lakewood Mall, Lakewood Playhouse opens its 77th season with the compelling courtroom drama “A Few Good Men” by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Beau M.K. Prichard and featuring a world-class performance by Jacob Tice and an outstanding ensemble cast, notably Aaron Mohs-Hale, K.E. Jenkins, Christian Carvajal, and Jenifer Rifenbery.
Sorkin, of “The West Wing” fame, never backs away from controversial subjects. In “A Few Good Men” he highlights the worst aspects of military culture, most dramatically, blind loyalty and unquestioning obedience to the code of “Unit, Corps, God and Country.”
In program notes, Prichard wrote, “The script also cleverly side-steps nakedly criticizing the armed forces by having other service members, not civilians, ask the hard questions.” But whether the questions are asked by the military or by civilians, the macho, misogynistic attitudes and unquestioning obedience to authority are put on stark display in this play.

(L to R): THE ENSEMBLE of the Lakewood Playhouse Production of "A FEW GOOD MEN"

The set by Prichard and James Venturini and lighting by Daniel Cole establish a dark and foreboding world unlike any world known by people who have never been in the military. Upstage left is a guard tower dimly lighted with a red-orange glow and manned throughout the play by soldiers who never say anything other than the oncoming sentry saying he is relieving the other sentry from duty. This, coupled with offstage voices and sound effects and the sharp movements of nearly all actors (with the notable exception of Jacob Tice as a Naval lawyer, lieutenant junior grade Kaffee who disdains military formality) creates a tense atmosphere that intensifies the already intense conflict Kaffee and his team of defense lawyers and everyone else – namely the prosecutor, Lt. Ross (Tom Phiel) and the soldiers based at Guantanamo Bay from the lowest ranked enlisted men to base commander Lt. Col. Jessep (James A. Gilletti). The rest of the set is an almost bare stage with a few tables and chairs, and off to one corner upstage right are the iron bars and hard bunks of a cell in the brig.
Tice is funny, loveable and, when need be, strong and magisterial as Lt. Kaffee. In the beginning he is a fun-loving jokester who seems to care nothing for his job or for the military, but this is all façade masking a deep commitment to justice. He is forced to take onto his team a female lawyer from Internal Affairs, Lt. Cmdr. Galloway (Cassie Jo Fastabend), who is aggressive and determined and who, at first, can’t stand Kaffee. And he brings in as a back-up and yes-man his best buddy, Lt. Sam Weinberg (Jim Rogers), who turns out to be a much better lawyer than he at first seems. The repartee between these three elevates the humanity factor.
Two young marines, Lance Cpl. Dawson (Aaron Mohs-Hale) and Pfc. Downey (K.E. Jenkins) have been arrested on murder charges and have confessed to the crime, but first Galloway and later Kaffee are convinced that the death of their fellow marine, William Santiago (offstage voiceover by Jacob Henthorn) was an accident caused by a hazing incident ordered by the base commander, Lt. Col. Jessep (James A. Gilletti). Jessep is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense commander who thinks the rules are for everyone except him. He is stiff and formal and harbors a lot of anger that comes out explosively in the trial scene when Kaffee questions his motives and methods.
“A Few Good Men” is a harsh drama acted with intensity by a large ensemble cast and sprinkled liberally with adult language that may be offensive to some audience members. The acting, the directing, and most of all Sorkin’s superb script are of the highest quality. I can’t recommend it enough.

WHAT: A Few Good Men
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 11
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $25.00, $22.00 military, $21.00 seniors and $19.00 students/educators, pay what you can
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Also see Travis Earl Warner’s review in the Weekly Volcano and Michael Dresdner’s review

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Betty Sapp Ragan Retrospective at UPS

Photo: Boxed,” hand-colored photo collage by Betty Sapp Ragan, collection of Mac Ragan, photo by Ross Mulhausen.

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 17, 2015

Boxed,” hand-colored photo collage by Betty Sapp Ragan, collection of Mac Ragan, photo by Ross Mulhausen.

I regret that I did not get to see more work by Betty Sapp Ragan or get to know her personally before she died in May 2014. I reviewed a couple of group shows she was in, and I had the pleasure of visiting her studio during last year’s Tacoma Studio Art Tour, where I talked to her about the latest series of paintings she was working on. Now, having seen her retrospective exhibition at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, I am convinced that she was an underrated artist — a talent worthy of celebration and honor.
The retrospective surveys  45 years of her paintings, prints, mixed-media objects, and photographs. It was curated by Becky Frehse, instructor, and Janet Marcavage, associate professor in the Art Department at UPS, in collaboration with the artist’s son, Mac Ragan.
Untitled (from Geometry Rising series), by Betty Sapp Ragan, photo by Ross Mulhausen
That final series I saw in the studio tour included paintings with collaged digital prints of buildings in their environments, an inspired series that involved extensive research and meticulous craftsmanship. These large works in acrylic on board, now fill the back room of Kittrege Gallery at UPS.
Painted are the scenes where the buildings were, are, should be, or might have been located. The colors are bright and sunny with a predominance of blue. Everything is painted with precise detail but softly focused, like a cross between photo-realist paintings and pastel drawings. The buildings themselves are digital prints of architectural drawings, mostly black and white line drawings that are collaged into the paintings.
The actual buildings are not in the paintings. Rather, what we see is the settings before the buildings were built. These settings range from open fields to a coastal village to a dense urban scene. In one titled “Bonehouse Here?” we go back to prehistoric times to see a pair of mastodons standing on a glacier, and the drawing of the “house” is an igloo-shaped hut made of animal bones. The two mastodons are the only animals left from the herd, and the bones of their brothers and sisters have been used to make a house. Works such as these may not be exactly surrealistic, but they call reality into question. 
In the front room are photographs, photo collages, prints and paintings. One group of five photo collages depicts buildings that could be from ancient Greece or Rome with women’s dresses in doorways and windows, some hanging and some on dress dummies. They seem natural in the settings and appear to be posed photographs rather than collages, but they jar the senses because the styles are out of keeping with the architecture and the scale is all wrong. Most of the dresses are relatively gigantic, but due to the artist’s careful cropping and arranging it is only on a second or third look that they appear outsized.
Similarly, another wall features five hand-painted photo collages of contemporary women in Renaissance or Middle Age architectural settings. They look hype-realistic but anachronistic.
All of Ragan’s figures and portraits are women or are represented by women’s clothing. Her son said she was a staunch feminist all her life. “As a member of the Guerrilla Girls group in New York in the mid-1980s she worked with other women artists to promote gender and racial equality in the fine arts,” he said.
There are two large abstracts with bands of dripping monochromatic color, one all blue and one all red. The blue one has a few women’s faces collaged into it, one of which is almost totally hidden behind cut-out strips of paper.
Among a group of intaglio prints are a couple that remind me of Matisse’s large dance paintings and his paper cuts from the “Jazz” series. One of these with intertwined bodies being crushed by flat, multicolored coffee cups is particularly exciting.
Ragan’s work is inventive, thoughtful and skillfully executed. We have only this weekend to see her exhibition before it closes. There will be a closing reception Friday, Sept. 17, from 5 to 7 p.m.

[Kittredge Gallery,  A Life in Art: Betty Sapp Ragan Retrospective, through Sept. 19, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701]

Hot New Shows in Federal Way

Centerstage Theatre’s Fall Shows

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 10, 20154
from left: Roger Curtis, Dale Bowers, Alicia Mendez and David Bestock from the 2010 production of Sleeping Beauty. Courtesy Centerstage Theatre.

Not enough people south of the King-Pierce County line know about Centerstage in Federal Way. I could not count the times over the past 13 years I’ve been writing theater reviews that I’ve recommended a play at Centerstage only to discover the person I’m talking to has never heard of the place. I tell you, folks, you’re missing something grand.
Centerstage, located in the Knudson Family Theatre at Dash Point Park, is a professional theater on a level with ACT and Seattle Rep and comparable to Harlequin in Olympia, but what makes it stand out is its decidedly British flavor. Managing Artistic Director Alan Bryce worked for years as an actor, director and playwright in London’s West End, which is England’s version of Broadway.
Most uniquely and enjoyably, he has brought to Puget Sound the delightful winter holiday tradition of the panto or pantomime, which has nothing whatsoever to do with white-faced, speechless mimes. The British panto is an outrageous, tongue-in-cheek form of musical comedy. The stories are always based on popular children’s stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk or Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. They’re narrated by a fairy godmother and feature ugly-as-homemade sin witches or ugly stepsisters who are always played by men in drag, and the jokes are aimed at children and adults alike — loved by the children for their outlandishness and loved by adults for risqué use of double entendre and sly sexual innuendo.
They are audience-participation shows with candy thrown to the children and with hard-rocking pop music with comical lyrics added to hit songs of the day.
This year’s panto is Sleeping Beauty, scheduled for Nov.28 to Dec. 20. It’s back by popular demand, having played at Centerstage five years ago. In that performance there was a giant puppet and a slew of popular songs with twisted lyrics, such as the every popular “For Once in My Life,” “Another Brick in the Wall,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and the theme song from “Ghostbusters.” Plus there was word play like the following exchange: “I have a strange foreboding.” “Well, I have a strange foreboding as well.” “That’s eight forebodings.” Then they both say, “That doesn’t bode well.” That’s just a small taste of the insanity you can expect from this fractured Sleeping Beauty, directed by Vince Brady, who has directed several pantos before. Has directed shows for Greenstage and Seattle Musical Theatre and played King Lear for Greenstage.  “Sleeping Beauty herself is played by Sarah Mather. Sarah is the youngest leading lady we have ever had at Centerstage (17) but we believe we have a star in the making,” Bryce says.
Also coming for a two-night production Sept. 12-13 is Albert Einstein: The Practical Bohemian starring Ed Metzger from the Los Angeles and Off Broadway productions.
And then for one performance only Sept. 27, Centerstage brings back David Duvall's Purple Phoenix Orchestra featuring Meg McLynn as Judy Garland in I Could Go on Singing: The Judy Garland Songbook. McLynn, who sang the National Anthem for the Seahawks game against the Denver Broncos, is well-known to Centerstage audiences from her performances in Girls' Night, It's only Rock and Soul, and Pinocchio the panto. On Nov. 7-8 Centerstage will bring in Randy Noojin from New York with his multi-media one-man show Hard Travellin’ With Woody, portraying the legendary Woody Guthrie.
Squeezed in before Woody will be the murder mystery fundraiser The Object, “about a trailer trash family who are not-so-prominent members of the local Spiritualist church,” Bryce explains. It is scheduled for Oct. 23 at the Twin Lakes Country Club in Federal Way.
Centerstage at the Knutzen Family Theatre 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way,