Friday, October 28, 2016

Dracula at Tacoma Little Theatre

Photo: from left and back to front: Jacob Tice, Christopher Rocco, Joseph Grant and Brynn Garrett,  photos courtesy of Dennis K Photography

Fear hemorrhages deliciously within you.”
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 27, 2016

from left and back to front: Jacob Tice, Christopher Rocco, Joseph Grant and Brynn Garrett,  all photos courtesy of Dennis K Photography
Tacoma Little Theatre’s rendition of Dracula is creepy, funny, horrifying, and hauntingly beautiful. A highly stylized presentation as directed by Pug Bujeaud with outstanding sets (Blake R. York), lighting (Niclas R. Olson) and costumes (Michele Graves); this production is the epitome of theatricality.

Often throughout there are overlapping and widely spaced scenes and foreboding figures moving behind a scrim, all of which lends to the production the dreamlike feel of a moving balletic tableaux.

Michael Christopher as Dracula and Jacob Tice as Harker

Brian Wayne Jansen is Renfield
York’s set design features columns and a riser painted to emulate stone with two large and equally stone-like boxes that double as beds and coffins, all dramatically highlighted by floods of blood red and cold blue light and a profusion of smoke. Cast members rather than stage hands move props and set pieces. The way this is done, rather than being a distraction, set changes become integral to the action.

Director Bujeaud wrote in a program note, “[Dracula] is often portrayed as a creature of romance and loss. While I have enjoyed many of the forays into that version of Dracula … this is not that. This script by Steven Dietz neither embraces that romantic tint, nor does it delve into camp that productions are often laced with. What we have here is a story that relies heavily on Bram Stoker’s original text.”

While it is true that this version is not romantic, and thankfully not camp —there’s been quite enough of that — it is highly eroticized.

Early on there is a sexy romp in bed between the leading female characters, Mina (Jesse Morrow) and Lucy (Brynn Garrett), both of whom behave in a sexualized manner with each other and with Dracula (Michael Christopher). Also highly erotic are the slivering and cavorting of the unnamed and silent Vixens (Ariel Birks and Kadi Burt).
The cast is great. Jacob Tice displays a range of acting skills as Harker, Mina’s hapless lover and repeated victim of horror. Christopher Rocco, new to Tacoma stages but a favorite in Olympia, primarily in Theater Artists Olympia productions, is convincingly humane and human as Seward the doctor who is in love with Lucy; and veteran actor Joseph Grant is believably obsessive as Professor Van Helsing.

Other than dramatic poses in caped majesty and the viciousness of his attacks, Christopher plays Count Dracula with subtle undertones, resisting the natural tendency to camp it up.

And then there is the madman, Renfield, played by Brian Wayne Jansen. Oh my god, Jansen is a force of nature. He plays the mad, immortal, Renfield like a combination of Hannibal Lecter and King Lear. He is funny, frightening and full of surprises, lurking in his little asylum cell off to the side of the stage and then bursting onto the main stage in explosions of insanity. If he were doing this on Broadway, he would be a surefire Tony winner.

This show is not for children, and it is not for the squeamish. It is sophisticated, intelligent (and a little bit funny) adult fare.

Dracula, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 6, $20-$24, pay what you can Nov. 3, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Saturday, October 22, 2016

30 Americans at Tacoma Art Museum Part II

African American Art Since the 1970s
Robert Colescott, “Pygmalion, 1987, acrylic and oil on canvas, 90 x 114 inches, courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 20, 2012
I reviewed 30 Americans in this space two weeks ago. With 45 works from 30 of the best African American artists since the 1970s, this exhibition needs more than one column. So here’s part two:
One of the more impressive paintings I did not touch on in my first review is Robert Colescott’s “Pygmalion,” a large painting at nine-and-a-half feet in length and seven-and-a-half feet in height. Colescott’s interpretation of the Greek myth (upon which the play by George Bernard Shaw was based) has an interesting twist. The sculptor, Pygmalion, is a black man with gray hair and a heavy gray beard, identified as a self-portrait of the artist (or it could also be a caricature of Frederick Douglass; Colescott’s cartoon style leave a lot to the imagination). The sculpture of the beautiful woman which the mythological sculptor created and then fell in love with is usually depicted in white marble. Here she is presented as a Black woman — not the alluring nude with no arms, that’s the Venus de Milo, also depicted as a Black woman — but the woman in the flower-patterned house dress Pygmalion is dancing with. His expression is angry or intense, not loving. The other figures in this crowded scene all appear as everyday people in everyday situations. Some might even be viewed as stereotypical.
It is difficult if not impossible to read the artist’s meaning. Nevertheless, I love this painting. I like its exuberance and energy and bold use of color, and I am fascinated by its ambiguity.
Speaking of Frederick Douglass look-a-likes, Rashid Johnson’s black-and-white photograph “The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club (Thurgood)” pictures a handsome Black man in suit and tie surrounded by swirls of smoke. The title refers to Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice. I’m not sure that I get the meaning, but it is a dramatic photograph.
A striking photo with a similar appearance is Hank Willis Thomas’s “Who Can Say No to a Gorgeous Brunette?” — a part of his “B®randed” series, which critiques the advertising industry by presenting twists on the types of images often seen in ads. Of this series Thomas said, “I believe that … advertising’s success rests on its ability to reinforce generalizations about race, gender, and ethnicity, which can be sometimes true, and sometimes horrifying, but which at a core level reflect the way culture views itself or its aspirations.” Pictured in this photo is a beautiful, strong, Black woman with a sad expression and a huge Afro that blends into the background with a strong use of chiaroscuro. The viewer is asked to contemplate her image in light of the title and with advertising imagery in mind.
Kara Walker asks viewers to think about the history of slavery with her mural-size (eight-by-55 feet) frieze of silhouetted, cut-out cartoon figures dancing. They are designed to illustrate the old Stephan Foster minstrel song, “Camptown Ladies.” The frieze presents the style of demeaning images of Negroes that were popular during the time of minstrel shows. The contrast of black figures against the white wall and the rhythmical movement draws the viewer into a deceptively lighthearted visualization of a history of horror.
Many of the paintings, photos and sculptures in this show employ irony and insightful references to history and the art of the past in order to comment of the realities of racial relations then and now. It is a powerful show that should be perused slowly, in depth, and often.
Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Jan. 15, 2017, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

We Call This Home: Kathy Gore-Fuss at Salon Refu

Photo: “And They Call This Home,” oil on linen panel by Kathy Gore Fuss, courtesy of the artist

Reviewed in the Weekly Volcano and Oly Arts

“And They Call This Home,” oil on linen panel by Kathy Gore-Fuss, courtesy of the artist
“Windswept,” oil on paper by Kathy Gore-Fuss, courtesy of the artist
The exhibition of drawings and paintings by Kathy Gore-Fuss at Salon Refu offers proof positive that practice makes perfect. Gore Fuss has been making art for a long time. She was one of the first artists I met when I moved to Olympia in 1988. She was good then, and she’s been getting progressively better ever since. When she started plein air painting in the dense forests in and around Olympia and later at the gritty, industrial Port of Olympia a few years ago, she found her truest voice and her raison d’etre. She and the subject of her painting have become one. 

Read the complete review inOly Arts.


Elephant & Piggie's "We are in a Play!" at Olympia Family Theater

Joanna Gibson as Piggie and Isaac McKenzsieSullivan as Gerald, photo by Alexis Sarah
Joanna Gibson plays Piggie in her OFT debut. Gibson is an acrobat and circus aerialist who teaches at Olympia Community School. She is a bundle of energy, running and jumping and dancing all over the place with a smile that lights up the world. Her exuberant acting reminds me a lot of another OFT favorite, Kate Ayers, who happens to be the director of this play.

Read the complete review on Oly Arts


Friday, October 14, 2016

Kathy Gore Fuss

Dear Friends of Salon Refu,
Below is an invitation from Kathy Gore-Fuss, our artist this month. 
Please come and join with her in conversation.  We might have some snacks for you.    
The gallery is open for quiet viewing every Thursday through Sunday from 2 to 6

We're selling a lot of work,  so if you've always thought about owning something by Kathy, this is no time to dawdle.  
All the best, Susan Christian Salon Refu

Hello Arts Walk fans!   On October 22nd, 2016, I will be giving a talk about my work from 4 – 5PM.  Come early to assure yourself seating!  
The gallery will be open from 2 – 6PM that day.   
Please come and join me for some thought provoking ideas
about this place we call home.     
Thank you so much for turning out to see the art shows last Friday!  
Cheers – Kathy Gore Fuss

Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Wandering Mind

The Fab Four

We saw on the news the other day that Rod Stewart was knighted. Congrats, Rod. The reporter reminded us that Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger are also knights, and my immediate reaction was: What about Ringo? Come on, Britain, get it right and honor Ringo.

Coincidentally, on that same day my wife and I won tickets in a raffle to see In My Life, a tribute to the Beatles with the band Abbey Road. Actually, someone else won but they had to turn down their tickets, and we were second in line.

It was a fun show—not the Beatles, but a pretty good proximity. The best musicians in the band, by far, were George, played by Zak Schaffer, and Ringo, played by Axel Clarke. Schaffer’s solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was a knockout, and Ringo—I mean Clarke—played the hell out of the drums. The guys playing Paul and John were good, but not as good. All of them were better musicians and singers than actors. They lacked the energy and impish humor and charisma of the Fab Four—not that there weren’t some great songs. They did a knockout job on the tunes from Sgt. Pepper, and “Blackbird” was great.

Letting my mind wander back to my youth when the Beatles first exploded on the scene, I have to admit I was not impressed. I was a big jazz fan back then, and something of a snob. I thought rock ‘n’ roll had reached its pinnacle in the first years with Bill Haley, Elvis, Roy Orbison, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry. I thought the Beatles were second rate and silly. As for Ringo, I thought he was ridiculous. I should have known better. I was a drummer. My heroes were Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich; later Joe Morello, the great drummer with the Dave Brubeck Quartet; and later still, Art Blakey. The only rock drummer I admired was Ginger Baker, who I still think is one of the greatest.

My wife, 10 years younger than I, was no Beatles fan in the early days either. It was not until Rubber Soul that she came around. For me it was Sgt. Pepper. Only years later did I come to realize that those early tunes, despite their lovesick teenage lyrics, were damn good and musically much more sophisticated than they seemed to me at the time.

Anyway, I’m happy for Rod Stewart and all his fans, and I hope Britain gets around to knighting Ringo before he kicks the bucket.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Two Gentlemen of Verona at Harlequin Productions

Reviewed for Oly Arts, Oct. 5, 2016

There are inspired scenes of comic gold, as when Jason Haws first appears with his dog, a puppet manipulated alternately by Haws and Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe. You may recall Ferguson-Wagstaffe was the living presence inside the puppet flower in Harlequin’s recent production of Little Shop of Horrors. There’s also a scene in which everyone mounts make-believe horses and gallops around like knights inMonty Python and the Holy Grail, and a marvelously funny super-slow-motion fight scene near the end of the second act.

Read the complete review

Proteus (Adam St. John) and Valentine (Jeffrey Painter)

Silvia (Jessica Weaver) and Julia (Kira Batcheller)

Speed (Andrew Scott Bullard) and Launce (Jason Haws)

30 Americans at Tacoma Art Museum

African American Art Since the 1970s
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 6, 2016
Jean-Michel Basquiat, "Bird On Money," 1981, acrylic and oil on canvas, 66 x 90 inches, courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection
The traveling exhibition 30 Americans from the famed Rubell Family Collection in Miami makes its first West Coast stop at Tacoma Art Museum. With 45 works from 30 of the best African American artists since the 1970s, this is one of the more important shows to ever grace the galleries at TAM. Imagine, if you will, that in the early days of pop art you had been able to see — many for the first time ever — works by Lichtenstein, Warhol, Oldenburg, Indiana, Rauschenberg, Johns, and Thiebaud. That is the only thing I can imagine that could have a similar impact to this show.
Adding to that, the sheer scale of many of the works is stupendous.
Sadly missing, perhaps because they emerged before the 1970s, are Sam Gilliam, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, Martin Puryear, and Gordon Parks. Some of these artists have been around for quite some time, but in many cases have never received their just recognition.
Many are up-and-coming young artists, and few are more up-and-coming than Kehinde Wiley. Wiley’s paintings are a 21st century updating of romantic and baroque art done in monumental scale with brilliant colors and a photo-realist style. Typically, he riffs on classical art by replacing heroic European figures with young black men and women. Wiley’s “Sleep” is the largest painting ever mounted on the walls at TAM. It is 25 feet long and 11 feet tall. It is a reimagining of a painting of the same name by the 18th century French artist Jean Bernard Restout. In this version, a beautiful, Christ-like black man sleeps on a bed of intricate floral patterns, naked but for a sheet draped across his midsection. This painting is mesmerizing because of the rich color, the balance and contrast of figure and background, and the monumental scale. It is one of two Wiley paintings in the show.
“Duck, Duck, Noose,” a sculptural installation by Gary Simmons, depicts in stark simplicity the darkest era in United States history. Nine stools are arranged in a circle 132 inches in diameter. Each of the stools is topped with a Ku Klux Klan hood. Hanging from the ceiling in the middle of this is a noose. Seeing this was like listening to a dying heartbeat.
I was greatly moved by Mickalene Thomas’s acrylic, rhinestone and enamel wall hanging that graces the entrance to one of the two galleries. It is called, “Baby, I Am Ready Now.” In two panels measuring a total 11 feet in width, it pictures a self-possessed and strong woman seated on a bed with bejeweled and densely clashing patterns.  Mickalene is similar to Wiley in her manner of immersing figures into elaborate settings, but her figures are much more in-your-face seductive. They ooze sensuality and pride.
Nina Chanel Abney is an artist new to me. She is young, born in 1982, and just beginning to make a name for herself. Having not previously known her work, I visited her website at and saw scenes of Black life in America with mostly flat figures in solid colors, strong and decorative work exhibiting shades of Jacob Lawrence and Stuart Davis. Her large painting in this show, “Class of 2007,” pictures the students in her class at Parsons The New School of Design. Abney was the only black student in the class. In this painting she pictures all the other students as Black and herself as white. This painting is more expressive in its application of paint than any of her works that I saw online.
There are two works by the late, great Jean-Michel Basquiat. Often symbolic of Black life and critical of commercialism, Basquiat’s paintings are sardonic and angry. The two in this show, “Bird on Money” and “One Million Yen,” are outstanding examples of his work. Had the wall text not told us, not everyone would know that the bird in “Bird on Money” represents the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker.
This show is too big and too important to limit my review to one column. I will follow up with a part-two review in mid-October. But even with two reviews I will not be able to touch on more than a small sampling of the art to be seen.

Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Jan. 15, 2017, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

My Wandering Mind

From Duchamp to the N-Word
To segue from Marcel Duchamp to the use of the n-word in life and in literature might seem quite a leap, but it came about quite naturally as I let my mind wander away from the art review I was thinking about writing.
I’ve referred to Duchamp often when talking about how we got from the art of the 19th century to the art of the late 20th century and beyond. I’m convinced that without Duchamp — more specifically, without his “ready-mades” and even more specifically his “Fountain” — there would have been no Andy Warhol, no Allan Kaprow, no Marina Abramovic, no Joseph Beuys, no Christo, no Jeff Koons. Some might argue we’d be better off without any of those.

Thanks to Duchamp, art today is anything you can get away with, which is liberating but which also opens up the hellhole to terrible crap that passes as art. The good, the bad, and the what-monsters-have-we-spawned.

Everybody who has studied modern art history knows about his “Fountain,” from out of which all of post-modern art has flown. Duchamp purchased a urinal from a plumbing supply store, signed it R. Mutt, and entered it in an art exhibit. When it was rejected. An anonymous letter sometimes attributed to Duchamp and sometimes to Beatrice Wood explained: “Whether Mr.Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.

This opened the floodgates for found art, performance art, and conceptual art. Ironically, Duchamp often stated that he had no interest in aesthetics, but only in the idea; and yet many artists and critics have talked about the formal beauty of “Fountain.”

While thinking about this, I recalled my graduate thesis written in 1970. It was called A Ground for Today’s Art: An Alternative to the Frame-Pedestal Aesthetic. Pretty grandiose sounding, huh? In the book were some illustrations, including a collage I created. It pictured an African-American kid wearing a football uniform and a white youth in a baseball uniform. The caption reads: “Now son, you go down this way for two blocks and turn right. That’s the n….. ball park.”
I didn’t use dots or dashes after the n.
Today I would be embarrassed for anybody to see that collage because it contained the n-word. But at the time it was intended as a statement against racism and as an illustration of how insidiously that word had been insinuated into society and how casually it was used in my native South.

Thinking of that led me to a remembrance. It was 1977. I had recently returned home to Mississippi from New York with my new bride. There came a time in a conversation when my mother, a kind soul who would never intentionally hurt or belittle anyone, said something about “that sweet little n….. girl.” My wife was shocked at that. I was a little put off by it as well, but I knew she did not mean it in a vicious way. She was as casual about it as Mark Twain was when writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — one of the greatest books in American literature, which has been banned in many places because of Twain’s use of the n-word.

At the time I was having these thoughts, I had recently finished my latest novel, Tupelo, which is set in the Deep South during the time of lunch-counter sit-ins and protest marches and the forced integration of schools and other public places. I could not write an honest book about that time and place without using the n-word, and yes, I spelled it out; I felt like I had to. During the time I was working on it I re-read a lot of Eudora Welty’s stories and Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline, and I was surprised at how often they used the n-word. In my book, only racist characters use that word, but with Welty and Conroy it came out of the mouths of their narrators and characters who were not depicted as racist, but was used in the way my mother used it when she said “that sweet little n….. girl.” That was the way of the South. I wonder if Welty and Conroy and many other Southern writers of the mid- and late-20th century would use that word more sparingly or in different ways, if at all, if they were writing today.

In art and life and literature, from Duchamp to whomever comes along next, I guess we never stop changing.