Friday, April 29, 2016

Marit Berg & Melinda Liebers-Cox at Tacoma Community College

Myth, the Mundane and Many Animals
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 28, 2016
Made in Japan: Bulldog” by Melinda Liebers Cox. All photos  courtesy Tacoma Community College

Made in Japan: Bulldog” by Melinda Liebers Cox. All photos  courtesy Tacoma Community College

“Halycon Malimbiaca” (blue-breasted kingfisher) from the Halcyon Kingfisher series by by Marit Berg , oil on panel
First impressions upon entering a gallery are often misleading. Art that might dazzle at first glance often turns out to be flashy but with“Halycon Malimbiaca” (blue-breasted kingfisher) from the Halcyon Kingfisher series by by Marit Berg , oil on panelout substance, and works that may be off-putting could be too new or too outside the ordinary to be appreciated until you’ve had time to study it and let it sink in. 

My first impression of paintings and prints by Marit Berg & Melinda Liebers-Cox in The Gallery at Tacoma Community College was the misconception that it is not a particularly good show.  With the exceptions of Berg’s painting of a horse, which hangs behind the reception desk and a sensitive and airy graphic drawing by Liebers-Cox titled “Endangered Species,” the works appeared to be mostly competent but not outstanding illustrations of animals as might be seen in an encyclopedia or textbook. But after having let the show digest a bit, I’ve decided there’s more to it than meets the eye. There are levels and levels of meaning that are not apparent at first. There can be found visual commentary of the relationships between the natural and artificial worlds, a look into other cultures, such as in Liebers-Cox’s series of paintings of Japanese ceramic dogs, and symbolism and mythology such as in Berg’s series on the Greek myth of Alcyone and Cyex.

Thirteen small paintings in gouache of the Japanese ceramic dogs line the back wall of the gallery. These are odd-looking little toy dogs juxtaposed with mundane household items such as jars, cups, note pads and whistles, set in front of decoratively patterned wall paper. If identifying information had not been provided, it would be easy to think they were not quite successful attempts at realistic depictions of actual dogs; but once you realize they are pictures of ceramic dogs they become more interesting, and the visual interplay between the dogs and the other objects and background patterns, and the balance of open and closed space becomes intriguing.
“Endangered Species” by Liebers-Cox is a picture of a woman’s alligator purse and shoes thrown out into a tangle of vines and leaves along with what looks like fox pelts, and there is an alligator head poking out of the top to the purse — all making for a strange and striking marriage of nature and the creatures of nature with the fashion items created from their sacrificed bodies. This, to me, is the hardest-hitting social commentary in the show, and it is nicely composed in that everything is locked together in an endless circle created by the leaves and vines.
Berg’s paintings on the myth of Alcyone and Cyex is her Halcyon Kingfisher series, 12 small paintings of Kingfishers in oil, a single bird in each painting, with a 13th painting centered in the row on a wood panel with a shelf at the bottom holding a nest with an egg in it. Each painting in the series has a bright sun in the background. They are painted in a semi-realistic manner with luscious brushstrokes. On an opposite wall are four relief prints of rabbits and hares. They were inspired by Dürer’s “Young Hare,” but stylistically are more like some of Dürer’s etchings, but with pointillist shading on both the animals and the backgrounds.
In many of Berg’s paintings and drawings the animals are enclosed in (perhaps even imprisoned in) house shapes. I don’t know if this was intended to symbolize the clash between the natural and the man-made or not, but it sets up an effective visual dichotomy. The horse painting I mentioned earlier, which you’ll find behind the reception desk is an excellent example of this dichotomy and also an example of Berg’s sensitive use of space and contrast between drawing and painting.
This show will remain on view for only another week.
The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through May 6, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Smokey Joe’s Café Comes to Tacoma Little Theatre

Photo: Poster for Smokey Joe’s Café. Courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre.

A preview

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April28, 2016

Smokey Joe's Cafe is a musical revue showcasing 39 pop standards by the great songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s rock and roll; it’s rhythm and blues; it’s the song track of the 1950s and early ’60s with dancing and costumes but no story line or dialogue.
When it played on Broadway 20 years ago it won five Tony awards, including Best Musical, and the next year the original Broadway cast recording, Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs Of Leiber And Stoller, copped a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. The show became Broadway’s longest running musical revue, and over the past two decades has continued to thrill audiences of all ages in community theaters and school performances. Unbelievably, it has never played in Tacoma, but in May it is coming to Tacoma Little Theatre with a nine-person cast under the direction of Micheal O’Hara and a six-piece band directed by Terry O'Hara.
The 39 songs are presented by various members of the cast in different combinations, with no dialogue. There are novelty songs ("Charlie Brown"), romantic ballads ("Spanish Harlem"), and infectious melodies ("There Goes My Baby"), and the great standard "Stand by Me," with music and lyrics by Ben E. King in collaboration with Leiber and
Among the many rock classics featured in Smokey Joe’s are such hits as “Yakety Yak,” “On Broadway,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Fools Fall in Love,” “Young Blood,” “Kansas City,” and “Poison Ivy” — a tiny teaser of what’s in store for Tacoma audiences. 
Director O'Hara is a mainstay in Tacoma theaters. He has performed in countless shows including the charming Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks with his lovely wife, Sharry O’Hare, and also with his wife the two-person Love Letters at Lakewood Playhouse. He also played Dr. Jekyll in Jekyll and Hyde at Lakewood Playhouse, and was the engineer in Miss Saigon at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. As a director at TLT he has helmed Lend me a Tenor, Annie, and Always Patsy Cline.
“It’s all music and dance,” O’Hara says. “It’s really just a musical revue spectacular of Leiber and Stoller music, with songs from Elvis to the Coasters and the Drifters. One of the nice things is everybody in the cast is a fresh face. None have performed on the TLT stage. And it’s a mixed-race cast with five blacks, one Hawaiian and three Caucasians.”
TLT Managing Artistic Director Chris Serface says, "This is an amazing show that has not been performed by any Tacoma theatre. It is a beautiful celebration of the Leiber and Stoller songbook. I have always enjoyed the show, and felt that Tacoma should have the chance to see it. The right creative team was available so I knew it was time.  You will recognize every song and be amazed by the dancing."
Singing and dancing in the show will be: Melanie Gladstone, Ashanti Proctor, Jermaine Lindsay, Ashley Jackson, Nancy Hebert, Eric Clausell, Bruce Haasl, Loucas Curry, and
Kawika Huston.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday, May 20-June, $22-$26, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I just put down The Prince of Tides

Warning: self-promotion

One of the most treasured things ever written about one of my books was the title of an review of The Backside of Nowhere written by Linda Linguvic, a reviewer from New York City: “Move over Pat Conroy. There’s a new Southern writer in town.”

I just finished reading Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, and I am stunned. The emotional impact of that book is akin to what I imagine someone might feel after electroshock or after recovering lost memories.

I have enjoyed the three books of Conroy’s that I have read, but not uncritically. His humor can be wonderful, but sometimes a tad slick. His descriptive passages are often marvelous and lyrical, but he is overly verbose (is that redundant?). As a fellow Southerner (I’m an ex-pat Southernerner; he has mostly stayed there), I am blown away by how deeply he loves the South while being horrified by its racism and small-mindedness and stupidity. The thing that bothers me the most about Conroy is that he seems to be full of himself. Each of his books that I have read—Beach Music, The Prince of Tides, and South of Broad—is written in the first person by a protagonist I can’t help but see as Conroy himself, and while his narrator/protagonists are extremely self-critical, their self-criticism comes across as prideful. This I do not like about his books, and yet . . . and yet, not since reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden have I read such a powerful novel as Prince of Tides

When I finally reached the epilogue on page 554, I could hardly wait to find out how he was going to wrap things up, but at the same time I dreaded reaching the last page. What could I do then? Find another Conroy book to read? Go back to page one and start over?

I am flattered that the critic chose to compare me favorably to Conroy, but I cannot help but feel inadequate in comparison. I certainly do not have his gift of language, nor do I have the guts to open myself up in the way he does. I don’t think I could ever express in writing the kind of passion his characters express, because I have never felt such passion.

So thank you, Linda Linguvic for your kind review. I hope I can live up to it in future books. Here is her review of The Backside of Nowhere:

 Set in a Gulf Coast town, this novel does more than just give us a story typical of the region. Yes, it includes high school romances, a competitive football game, corrupt political leaders and a devastating hurricane. And yes, it deals with the endemic racism inherent in such towns. But yet the story is so engrossing that I could not put the book down. I loved the characters, including a Hollywood star who comes home to visit his ailing father. Naturally, he meets up with his old-time girlfriend and they reignite their high school romance. We learn about his parents' background and his adopted sister with a secret. Then there is his sister who loves her hard drinking husband no matter how much he strays. All these characters came across as very real and there is a slight comic nature to the book which made it even more interesting to me and kept the story moving.

Frankly, I loved this book and actually found it better than Pat Conroy's latest, "South of Broad" because the characters seemed more real and not just stereotypes. Alec Clayton hit the mark perfectly, held my interest throughout and even surprised me at the end. Bravo! This is a really good book. - Linda Linguvic (New York City),

Friday, April 22, 2016

Noises Off

Out of Control Bedlam at Lakewood Playhouse
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 21, 2016
From left (back): Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson, Gary Chambers, Jim Rogers, Jennifer Davy, Jonathan Bill, Ana Bury, Nick Fitzsgerald and Diana George; on couch, Steve Tarry. Photo by Tim Johnson
There is practically an entire genre of theater about theater, typically farces about bad theater companies doing bad theater. Often these are as bad as the plays they lampoon, but there is one exception — the mother of all farces about theater: Noises Off by Michael Frayn, now playing at Lakewood Playhouse.
Ensemble cast. Photo by Tim Johnson
Here’s the thing I’ve noticed about farces: they usually don’t wear well. See one for the first time and it might be funny; see it again and it’s just stupid. But I’ve seen Noises Off three times as produced by three different companies, and every time I have laughed like a madman.
At the opening performance at Lakewood Playhouse, the show ended with a standing ovation from a full house with screaming and whistling the likes of which I have never seen in that space.

From left – Steve Tarry as Selsdon, Ana Bury as Poppy, Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson as Dotty, and Jim Rogers as Frederick. Photo by Tim Johnson.

It’s the story of an inept theater company directed by a harried director named Lloyd (Jonathan Bill) who struggles to temper his urge to kill half his cast and who is having affairs with the assistant stage manager, Poppy (Ana Bury) and with one of the cast members, Brooke (Jennifer Davy), who pulls off a funny dumbfounded look, loses her dress in the first act and runs around in her underwear and stockings throughout the show. The director also has to contend with, among others, a drunken actor far past his prime (Steve Tarry as Selsdon Mowbray); an actor who has constant nose bleeds and is a walking disaster (Jim Rogers as Frederick Fellowes); and another, Dotty the housekeeper (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson), who never knows where she’s supposed to be or what to do with props.
The play-within-a-play opens with a disastrous dress rehearsal less than 24 hours before opening night. The set, designed by Larry Hagerman and Dylan Twiner and built by Hagerman and Art Fick, is a two-story home with at least nine doors. It is a marvel of planning because it is almost too big for the little thrust stage space and has to turn completely around between acts — a great design. It’s a shame that the walls are of such dull unfinished wood, looking more like the interior of a barn than an upscale country home.
The dress rehearsal is like a Marx Brothers movie on steroids, with props misplaced, forgotten lines, pratfalls, and wild improvisations. Playing out underneath the farce of a rehearsal are the rivalries and the love lives of the cast and crew, and the wild struggle to hide the whiskey from Selsdon.
The second act takes place backstage during the opening night performance. Everything is done with silent gestures, since the cast and crew can’t make noise during the show. What we do here are the bungled lines of unseen actors on stage, while cast and crew run around backstage like chickens with their heads cut off, fighting with each other (even with an ax at one point), making fast costume changes, and entering through the wrong doors and windows.
In the third act, the set is turned around again for the final performance of a play that has progressively worsened.
The ensemble cast does a good job, and the real life director — not “Lloyd” but Lakewood Playhouse Artistic Director John Munn — has managed to do what “Lloyd” was unable to do: herd his troop of actors through almost three hours of beautifully choreographed chaos.
Noises Off is a play everyone should see at least once. Performances are expected to sell out, so get tickets early.
Noises Off, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 8,
Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $25, $22 military, $21 seniors and $19 students/educators, pay what you can April 21, actors’ benefit April 28, 253.588.0042,

Edvard Munch and The Sea

 See Beyond the Scream at Tacoma Art Museum
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 22, 2016

“Neutralia (Girls Picking Apples)” 1915, color lithograph. Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester: Marian Stratton Gould Fund . © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum.

“Summer Evening” 1895 aquatint and drypoint, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum.
Edvard Munch and The Sea at Tacoma Art Museum includes 25 prints and drawings and one oil painting by the Norwegian expressionist and symbolist master. Like most people, I have seen very little of Munch’s art other than the two or three pieces that habitually show up in art books, so I am grateful to TAM for pulling together this important exhibition.
Not included are any of the four versions of Munch’s most famous work, “The Scream,” two oil paintings and two pastels. There is, however, a beautifully executed large silk- screen version by Andy Warhol, which is not a lampoon but rather a respectful homage.
Munch was a methodical and masterful printmaker — drypoints, etchings, lithographs. He worked with a few simple and highly personal images including portraits and figures on the themes of love and death, nearly all of which were set on the coast of Norway. He did countless versions of these pictures, and this exhibition provides an excellent opportunity to compare prints of the same images with slight variations. For example, many of his pictures include a moon reflected in water, which in his treatment becomes an iconic lower case letter “i” with the moon as the dot and the stem of the “I” as the reflection. In some it is very bright, and in some almost invisible; often it looks like a Roman column, and in a few instances it becomes a crucifix.
Another Munch trope that shows up in many of the prints is pictures of women with heavily shadowed eyes that look morbid or threatening. His wife of 20 years died young, as did a beloved sister, and he was known to have had tumultuous and tragic relationships with women, all of which shows in his complex depictions of women in his art. 
Other stylistic devices that show up repeatedly are flowing hair that blends
with the flowing waves in the sea, and white figures or figures in white dresses next to white backgrounds and figures in black next to black backgrounds, so that figures and ground merge. His compositions are masterful in their balancing of dark and light for dramatic effect.
Among the most powerful images in the show are two lithographs of the Madonna, one in black and white done in 1895, and the other in color from 1902. Other than the color, the images are identical. Each is of a nude with a stark white body and black hair. Heavy waving lines in the background follow the contour of her head and body. There is a frame with sperm swimming around it, and in the lower left corner a little skeleton that looks like the figure in “The Scream.”  
This figure shows up in many guises in a number of his prints, perhaps most clearly in “Alpha’s Despair,” one of a group of images that illustrate the tragic myth of the love between “Alpha,” a woman, and “Omega,” her lover who murders her.
Another strong image is “On the Waves of Love,” picturing the head and shoulders of a woman floating in water. Typical of Munch, the waves around her mimic the shape of her flowing hair. The woman looks like a corpse. If you study this print carefully, you’ll see that there is a man’s head on her shoulder. Such hidden images are not uncommon in his work.
This is a most fascinating show that, once seen, should linger in your mind.

Edvard Munch and The Sea, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through July 17, $12-$14, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Friday, April 15, 2016

Lois Beck, Becky Knold, and Mary McCann at Allsorts

"Nighfall," acrylic by Becky Knold

"Milange," oil on panel by Mary McCann

"Ryba," monoprint by Lois Beck
Allsorts Gallery is Olympia’s newest and perhaps most unique art venue. It is a gallery set up in the front two rooms — living and dining rooms — of a private home. They are opening Sunday, April 17 from 4 to 47 p.m. with only their second show, this one featuring a trio of Olympia artists: by Lois Beck, Becky Knold, and Mary McCann.
Beck and Knold are known for their sensitive handling of landscape-inspired abstractions. With Beck we get strong but simple shapes in contrasting colors. With Knold fields of subtle color and textural variations, often in the form of diptychs with one section being a solid color that contrasts in value or hue with the brushed-on forms of the other section.
McCann’s paintings are landscapes that also verge on the abstract but also contain more recognizable imagery — mountains, sky and water rendered in solid planes of brilliant color.
With shows curated by Lynette Charters Serembe and lavish openings with good eats provided by Lynette and her actor husband, John, events at Allsorts Gallery are social events of the best sort.
The show will remain up for a couple of weeks. Allsorts Gallery is located at 2306 Capitol Way S., Olympia. Visit the gallery’s Facebook page at

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Embroidered Spaces

Worlds of floating thread by Amanda McCavour at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 14, 2016

Photos: installation shots of Amanda McCavour's Embroadered Spaces, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College

Canadian artist Amanda McCavour’s installation, Embroidered Spaces at South Puget Sound Community College is a magical, gossamer world that is, quite frankly, unlike anything I have ever seen. And believe me, I have seen a lot of art. A lot. But nothing like this.
McCavour draws with thread by stitching on water soluble fabric. Once the fabric is dissolved, what’s left are line drawings in thread with no support, which she then hangs from the ceiling on long threads. In appearance they are incredibly delicate and see-through because there is nothing but air between the drawn lines, and yet they are sturdy enough to hold their shape.
"Thread (is) a metaphor for memory and how we remember the spaces we call home," the artist writes. She says the rooms depicted in this installation are interiors she once called home.
In the center of the gallery is a field of flowers in pastel tones of pink, yellow, blue and white, with green stems. I could not count them, but it looked like hundreds — a shower of flowers raining down from the ceiling on shimmering threads and reflect in the wet-looking black floor.
On the periphery and visible through the flowers are drawings of the artist’s apartments (having not read that statement at the time I saw it, I saw the entire installation as a single home with many rooms).
The rooms or apartments are drawn in a delightful manner reminiscent of children’s book illustrations. Everything is slightly misshaped like images in a funhouse mirror, but everything other than some of the smaller items are clearly recognizable.
The largest or these rooms/apartments has three chairs, a desk, a small table with animal dolls on it, a stack of suitcases (is she preparing to vacate this apartment?), three pairs of shoes and other oddments, with pictures of people on the wall. Of course the pictures are not actually on the wall but are hanging in front of the wall.
There is a smaller room nearby that I saw as a den or study. There’s a small oscillating fan sitting (almost) on the floor, and there are stacks of books. It is homey and casual, and clearly home to an intellectual. Outside is a flower garden like the one in the center of the gallery but much smaller.
Another room or apartment seems to belong to a dog lover. There is a couch and chairs and more suitcases (this artist seems to be constantly on the move) and three framed pictures of dogs.
I mentioned earlier that the drawings look like children’s book illustrations. They also remind me a lot of scenes painted by the artist Red Grooms, except the worlds Grooms creates are more hectic, more cluttered, and inhabited by people. McCavour’s apartments are empty of people. I don’t know if she is single or if she lives with somebody else, but the obvious implication of the rooms in this installation is that they were occupied by a single person who happily enjoyed the quiet pleasures of home. Wandering through this installation is like taking a walk through another person’s past. And her life has been a life — or so it is conveyed through her art — of comfort and simple pleasures. She treasures memories of  every place she has lived, of the pets she has owned and the flowers she enjoyed looking at out her window.
Technically the work is impressive. Creating these images and putting them together was obviously labor intensive and a labor of love. We in the South Sound are lucky to be able to see this inventive recreation of Amanda McCavour’s former homes.
South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. through May 6, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.]

Friday, April 8, 2016

Blame it on Beckett

New Comedy Drama at Olympia Little Theatre 
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 7, 2016
John Lyons Beck as Mike Braschi, Rick Pearlstein as Jim FoleyBonnie Vandver as Tina Fike, and Jessica Weaver as Heidi Bishop . Photos by Austin Lang.
Blame it on Beckett is an intelligently written comedy-drama by John Morogiello and directed for Olympia Little Theatre by Kendra Malm. High on irony and insider theater references, the humor is esoteric and the drama realistic.
Rick Pearlstein as Jim Foley and Jessica Weaver as Heidi Bishop. 
Jim Foley (played by Rick Pearlstein in the biggest and best performance I’ve seen him in yet) is a dramaturge at a small regional theater that has a reputation for finding great new plays that make it theater heaven; i.e., New York City. The playwright responsible for most of their biggest successes is Tina Fike (Bonnie Vandver).
Bonnie Vandver as Tina Fike and Jessica Weaver as Heidi Bishop .
Jim is a bitter cynic who thinks the only playwrights worth their salt are George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare. He blames Samuel Beckett for the downfall of modern theater and is disdainful of the countless would-be playwrights who send scripts his way. He is high-strung, drinks coffee and whiskey almost nonstop, pops prescription pills like candy, and constantly tries to light cigarettes in defiance of the smoking ban in his office. He also refuses to answer phone calls from as many people as possible, especially his boss, Mike Braschi (John Lyons Beck), the theater’s business manager.
Into Foley’s fiefdom walks wide-eyed and idealistic Heidi Bishop (Jessica Weaver), a recently graduated dramaturgy graduate who works in the box office. She idolizes Tina and wants to learn from Jim. She talks Mike into “hiring” her as an unpaid intern. The dramatic arc set up by this clash of characters is obvious, but the ways in which it plays out makes for smart and snappy theater.
The humor is not so much roll-on-the-floor humor (this is not a farce) as it is thoughtful humor that audience members will take home and think about and tell their friends about — the gift that keeps on giving. The more you know about theater, the more you’ll like it. There is also a lot of adult language that may be offensive to some audience members, and there are more subtle jokes that not everyone will get, as for example the scatological twist characters give to the mispronounced word dramaturge.
Weaver and Beck are both relative newcomers to the Olympia theater scene. This was my first time to see Weaver on stage, and I’ve seen Beck only once before, in a small role in Theater Artists Olympia’s Improbable Peck of Plays. They are both outstanding. They each seem so comfortable in their roles that it is absolutely believable that they are the characters they play.
Pearlstein masters a whole repertoire of tics and quirks and emotional changes, and makes them all seem a natural part of Jim’s personality.
Vandver was ill the night I saw Blame it on Beckett and her part was played on-book by the director, Malm, who did a good job of filling in. Based on previous performances I have seen by Vandver, I have no doubt she will be great when she returns.

Blame it on Beckett, Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through April 17, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $11-$15, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484,

Sgwigwial?txw at 20

 Past, Visioning Into the Future
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 9, 2016
“Young Naton,” mixed-media painting by Ka'ilaa Farrell-Smith. All photos courtesy The Evergreen State College.
The Evergreen State College is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Long House with an exhibition called Sgwigwial?txw at 20: Building on the Past, Visioning Into the Future, featuring works by more than 70 Native artists in paint, print, sculpture, glass, basketry and other crafts. Each of the artists has in some way been connected with the Long House, having either taught workshops, exhibited, or done residencies there.
It is a crowded show with much more than I can possibly write about in this column. I’ll mention a few pieces that caught my attention in one way or another and then encourage the reader to make the trip out to Evergreen to see the rest.
“Prisma Owl Totem” by Dan Friday (Lummi)
Just inside the front of the gallery is a large sculptural piece by Sean Gallagher and Teressa White from the King Island Inupiat and Yup’ik tribes respectively. Standing taller than an adult person, the piece consists of three wood and mixed-media sculptures that look like dreamcatchers. There are three large, stacked pieces with bent wood circles with masks suspended in the middle; the two outer pieces are shaped like fat canoes. One of the masks is a fierce-looking hawk or owl (it’s hard to tell which), and the others look more human. It is a powerful and mystical piece.
“120,” an encaustic painting by Melanie Yazzie (Diné) is an abstract painting with multiple amoeba-like shapes floating in a field of milky green. The colors are muted in a marvelous manner. The subject, which is understandable only upon reading the artist’s statement, is living with diabetes. The number represents the artist’s blood-glucose level. I enjoyed this painting for its purely abstract qualities.
“Traditional Cedar Storage Basket” by Haila Old Peter (Chehalis)
As with many of the other pieces in this show, I would not have understood that Ivy Maile Andrade”s glass and mixed-media “Cap Soul” represents a native Hawaiian worldview of people’s relationship with land. All I could see was that it was a set of attractive, semi-transparent glass squares with concave circles and a subtle dot-and-weave pattern that was very attractive.
One of the strangest and possibly most comical pieces in the show, although I suspect the comic aspect was not intentional, is Richard Rowland’s “Coyote Meets the Queen/ Kookaburra/Recalescense,” a ceramic and mixed-media sculpture of a baldheaded man with a bird’s beak for mouth and nose and a big black umbrella growing out of his head. The umbrella is festooned with many little animal bones (ceramic, I presume, or perhaps bird bones).
One of the most attractive works in the show is a fused glass work by Lillian Pitt of the Warm Springs/Wasco/Yakima tribe. It is a translucent green arc that rests on an edge
and is decorated with iconic symbols in light and dark blue that changes color depending on which side you’re seeing it from. The colors are eerie and lovely.
Ka'ila Farrell-Smith of the Klamath/Modoc tribe has two impressive paintings in the show. The smaller of the two, “Young Nation,” is an expressive and colorful painting of an Indian a white robe with an American flag and a cross printed on it. The wall text explains that it has to do with the dominant culture’s attempts to erase Native culture. Her other painting, “Heyoka,” is similar. It depicts  an Indian in full-feathered headdress; on the Indian's shirt is written “REEL NDAN.” His face is painted black around his eyes like a raccoon. Both of these are strong paintings, but look perhaps a bit too much like illustrations for my taste. 
There’s also a great little lithograph of a cow skull with strong black-white contrasts and subtle green and yellow washes by Rick Bartow that is stylistically similar to Farrell-Smith’s paintings but even stronger.
The Evergreen State College Gallery, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon., Tue.,Thurs., Fri., closed Wed., through May 11, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Library 1st floor, Olympia, 360.867.5125

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Night With Janis Joplin

Kacee Clanton stars as Janis. Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

A Night With Janis Joplin at the 5th Avenue Theatre surpassed my expectations, and my expectations were awfully high.

Not only does Kacee Clanton stand out on every one of Janice’s great hits with backup from a band that is like Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmik Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band all combined into one rocking ensemble, she sounds damn close to exactly like Janis and has her moves down pat. I expected as much after finding out that Clanton has made a career of playing Janis. But this show far surpasses my expectations because (first) there can be no comparison between a live performance with the full 5th-Ave-style production values and the records and video clips which were my only previous ways of experiencing Janis’s electric presence, and because (second) in addition to great Janis Joplin hits like “Down on Me” and “Ball and Chain” and “Me and Bobby McGee,” there are a dozen great songs by the pioneering women blues singers who influenced Janis—Etta James (Aurianna Tuttle), The Chantels, Odetta (Sylvia MacCalla), Bessie Smith (MacCalla), Nina Simone (Yvette Cason), and an “every woman” played by Nova Payton and identified simply as Blues Singer.

Janis Joplin (Kacee Clanton, center) and Aretha Franklin (Yvette Cason, right) with Franklin's singers (l-r Sylvia MacCalla, Aurianna Tuttle and Nova Payton). Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka
First, a word about Clanton. She was an alternate Janis in the original Broadway production of this play and played the same role in the Pasadena Playhouse, ZACH Theatre, and San Jose Repertory Theatre, and performed as Janis in Love, Janis at the San Diego Repertory, Kansas City Repertory, and Downstairs Cabaret Theatre. Plus she has toured as a vocalist with Joe Cocker, Luis Miguel and Big Brother & the Holding Company. That resume alone should send every Joplin fan in the Northwest running to the 5th Ave.

A Night With Janis Joplin is more concert than play, with 25 songs including versions of “Summertime” performed first by Blues Singer and then by Janis, and versions of “Down on Me” by Odetta followed by Janis (hearing earlier blues versions of these great songs followed immediately by the familiar sound of Janis’s rocking blues versions is breathtaking). There is also the theatrical element of Janis telling her life story in short speeches (while sipping whiskey)  between songs, from her childhood in Port Arthur, Texas to her final songs recorded shortly before her tragic death at the age of 27.

It is a feel-good look at her life with no mention of drugs and very little mention of how lonely she was throughout much of her short life (she did talk about feeling fully alive and loved only when performing in front of an audience.

Act 1 ends with something that never happened outside of this play and never will: a duet between Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin (Cason) on “Spirit in the Dark” which had the audience on its feet and screaming. Another song that had the audience on its feet was Payton’s mesmerizing rendition of “Today I Sing the Blues.” In all my years as a theater critic I can’t recall any other show that brought the audience to its feet so often.

Warning: This show is loud, and the spectacular lighting effects are slightly overdone. But who cares?

A Night With Janis Joplin – through April 17. 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue Seattle, Washington,
Note: Understudy Kristin Piacentile plays Janis April 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14 and 16.