Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Best of the Best in South Sound Theater

More than a year in review, this is a look back at my entire career as a theater critic . . . so far, to honor some of the best actors on South Sound stages.
This is not a competition, and I am sure I will forget some deserving actors. My memory is spotty at best, and even after reviewing all my old “Critic’s Choice” columns and skimming years of reviews posted here, I’m sure I missed some.
By category and not in any particular order, the best of the best are:
Dennis Rolly in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol at Olympia Little Theatre, Chris Cantrell in background,
Best actors, male
Scott C. Brown for his performances as Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and as Saliari in Amadeus at Lakewood Playhouse.
Christian Carvajal as the professor in Oleanna, a Theater Artists Olympia production at Olympia Little Theatre.
Steve Tarry as Richard M. Nixon in “Frost/Nixon” at Tacoma Little Theatre.
Brian Wayne Jansen as Renfeld in Dracula at Tacoma Little Theatre.
Ryan Holmberg as Bogle in Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol at Olympia Little Theatre.
Dennis Rolly as Marley in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol at Olympia Little Theatre and as Captain Ahab in Moby Dick at the Assemblage Theatre.
Jason Hawes as Sharky in The Seafarer at Harlequin Productions.
David Wright as Richard Harken in The Seafarer at Harlequin Productions.
Liberty Evans-aqgnew as Helen Keller and Deya Ozburn as Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker at Lakewood Playhouse; photo by Kate Paterno-Lick 

Best actors, female
Deya Ozburn as Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker at Lakewood Playhouse.
Pug Bujeaud as Sara in The Ascetic at Theater Artists Olympia.
Samantha Story-Camp as Artie in Eleemosynary at Tacoma Little Theatre Samantha and as Tamora in Theatre Artists Olympia’s Titus Andronicus.
Brynne Garman as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Lakewood Playhouse
Sara Beth Puett as Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy at Dukesbay Theatre.
Best actors in a musical or comedy, male
Rafe Wadleigh as Che “Everyman” in Evita at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.
Bruce Haasl as Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar at Capital Playhouse, and as Jesus in the same show at Harlequin.
Mathew Posner as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.
John Serembe as the creature in the closet in The Head That Wouldn’t Die at Theater Artists Olympia.
Smantha Story-Camp as Tamora in Titus Andronicus
Best actors in a musical or comedy, female

Kristin Burch as Nancy in Oliver at Capital Playhouse and as Roxie Hart in Chicago at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.
Stacie Calkins as Effie White in Dreamgirls at Tacoma Little Theatre and as Celie in The Color Purple, also at Tacoma Musical Playhouse
Cayman Ilika as Patsy Cline in Always Patsy Cline at Centerstage.
Finally, here’s another category I threw in just for fun.
Helen Harvester in Hedda Gabler at Harlequin Productions
Sexiest actors
Michael Christopher in Macbeth at Olympia Little Theatre and as Tartuffe in Tartuffe at Theater Artists Olympia.
Brian Wayne Jansen in the title role in Agamemnon at Dukesbay Productions.
Jessie Smith as Tommy in Tommy at Centerstage.
Alison Monda as Poonah in Poona the Fuck Dog (yes, that was really the title) at Theater Artists Olympia and as Kia in The Last Schwartz at Harlequin Productions.
Helen Harvester as Abby in Mating Dance of the Werewolf and in the title role in Hedda Gabler at Harlequin Productions.
Heather Christopher in Reefer Madness at Theater Artists Olympia.
Jenifer Rifenbery as Brooke in Noises Off at Tacoma Little Theatre
Jess Allan as Martine in The Physician in Spite of Himself at Theater Artists Olympia.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

30 Americans Free Community Festival at Tacoma Art Museum, Sunday January 8, 2017

Tacoma, WA – The nationally acclaimed exhibition 30 Americans made its West Coast debut at Tacoma Art Museum and has been widely appreciated by local visitors. Enjoy a free day to see it before it leaves Tacoma. Celebrate the positive impact of this exhibition at a festival on Sunday, January 8, 10 am – 4 pm.
Participants can help make a collaborative mural, take part in dance, hear spoken word, tour 30 Americans and TAM’s other exhibitions, and more.
A festival highlight will be "Bebop in Basquiat", an original live musical performance by the Steve Griggs Ensemble. Listen to dynamic renditions of the jazz that inspired artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, including compositions by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. The band will introduce tunes with biographies and references to Basquiat’s paintings. The Steve Griggs Ensemble has created original site-specific programs of jazz and stories that have twice won the ASCAP/CMA award for Adventurous Programming in Contemporary Music. They have performed at the historic Panama Hotel, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Bumbershoot, Jazz Alley, Vashon Island Allied Arts, and Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.
Spoken word has been very popular with TAM visitors. The festival provides another opportunity to hear relevant, powerful performances in the galleries by Seattle writer Georgia McDade and poet Jacqueline Ware, both members of the African American Writers Alliance. Listen to their tag team poetry performance while you wander through the 30 Americans galleries. Their words will amplify and build upon the themes presented in the works of art.
Painter and dancer Barbi Leifert will facilitate an art-making activity inspired by dance. “When I began seriously painting and showing my work in galleries, I returned to dance as the theme of my pieces. It is what I know; dance is universal, everyone can relate to it and there is a dancer inside each of us. The African American community's contributions to dance, art and music are a triumph we have all enjoyed,” she said. Leifert’s project will be followed by a dance-along with Chris Daigre, a major force in the Seattle dance scene, with music created by African American musicians.
Visitors can make transformational masks at the Breaking Stereotypes/Redefining Identity workshop led by Beverly Naidus and Carol Rashawnna Williams. They’ll talk about how media and institutions can shape stereotypical thinking. Workshop participants will explore the stereotypes they've encountered, then envision new ways of thinking about identity through the mask making process. Pre-registration for this workshop is encouraged.
Shurvon Haynes of Shurvon Shaynlincia Fashion and Fine Arts Designs will lead a collaborative mural project in the TAM Studio. Haynes is a visual artist whose style varies according to supplies and mood as she makes collage assemblage paintings. She studied visual art at the University of Washington. Visitors can also make art with artist Jasmine Brown, who will facilitate a Kehinde Wiley-inspired portrait activity.

Schedule of events:
§  10:00 am: 30 Americans Free Community Festival begins
§  All day:
·        Kehinde Wiley-inspired portraits with Jasmine Brown
·        Collaborative mural with Shurvon Haynes
·        “What does it mean to be an American?” community response activity
§  11:30 am – 12:00 pm: Tag Team Poetry in 30 Americans galleries with Georgia McDade and Jacqueline Ware
§  1:00 – 3:00 pm: Breaking Stereotypes/Redefining Identity workshop with Beverly Naidus and Carol Rashawnna Williams
§  1:00 – 2:00 pm: Stephen Griggs Jazz Ensemble performance
§  2:00 – 3:00 pm: Artmaking inspired by dance with Barbi Leifert
§  3:00 – 3:30 pm: Interactive Dance performance by Chris Daigre
§  4:00 pm: 30 Americans Free Community Festival ends
The last day to see 30 Americans is Sunday, January 15, 2017. This critically acclaimed traveling exhibition showcases 45 works including paintings, photographs, installations, videos and sculptures by prominent African American artists who have emerged since the 1970s as trailblazers in the contemporary art scene. The artists weave evocative themes of race and identity in America, the struggle for civil rights, history, gender, popular culture and media imagery through many of the works. The exhibition invites viewers to consider multiple perspectives and to reflect upon the similarities and differences of their own experiences and identities.
30 Americans is drawn from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami – one of the largest private contemporary art collections in the world.
30 Americans Free Community Festival is generously supported by Portland (OR) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated; Tacoma (WA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated; and Tacoma Arts Commission. Seasonal support provided by ArtsFund.

# # #
Image Credits, top to bottom:
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bird On Money, 1981. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 66 × 90 inches. Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection
Kehinde Wiley, Equestrian Portrait of the Count Duke Olivares, 2005. Oil on canvas, 108 × 108 inches.
Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection

30 Americans is organized by the Rubell Family Collection, Miami. Support for this exhibition provided by Union Bank and ArtsFund. 30 Americans is endorsed by the following community groups: Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. (Tacoma Alumnae Chapter); Jack and Jill of America, Inc.; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Tacoma Branch; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Seattle King County; Northwest African American Museum; Portland (OR) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated; Tacoma (WA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated; Tacoma Pierce County Black Collective; and Tacoma Urban League (TUL). Program support for 30 Americans is provided by Stephanie Jordan State Farm Insurance; Portland (OR) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated; and Tacoma (WA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated. 30 Americans Free Community Festival is generously supported by Portland (OR) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated; Tacoma (WA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated; and Tacoma Arts Commission. Seasonal support provided by ArtsFund.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Physician in Spite of Himself

Sara Geiger as Lucinde and Robert McConkey as Sganarelle, all photos courtesy Theater Artists Olympia

Jess Allan as Martine and Robert McConkey
Once again Theater Artists Olympia has taken a classic and updated to make it if not better than the original, then at least more enjoyable and laughable for contemporary audiences. Philip Wickstrom with Pug Bujeaud with the TAO collective have updated Molière’s 17th-century farce The Physician in Spite of Himself, setting it in Louisiana in the 1880s. 

Tonight, Dec. 17,  is the final performance

George Daugherty as Thibaut, Mark Alford as Robert, and Robert McConkey

Marko Bujeaud as Geronte, Sara Geiger and Robert McConkey

See the complete review 

Published in Oly Arts and the Weekly Volcano.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Confessions of a Theater Critic

I’ve been writing theater reviews since 2003. In that time, I have reviewed approximately 650 plays. Does that make me an expert? Not really. It makes me a fan who happens to be a pretty good writer and is lucky enough to get free tickets. I get paid for going to plays. Oh boy!

So how did I get this enviable gig? I was working as an assistant features editor for The News Tribune. It was a part-time, temporary job. At the same time, I was writing a freelance art review column for the Weekly Volcano. My editor at the Trib asked if I could write theater reviews. I assumed that she assumed I knew something about theater, which I didn’t. But I didn’t tell her that.
Here’s a rundown of my theatrical experience:

In the first grade I played one of the dwarfs in Snow White. In high school I joined the drama club because I had a crush on one of the girls in the club (also on the teacher who was the faculty advisor for the club; she was a former beauty queen, Miss Louisiana as well as I can recall). I was never in a play and never worked backstage, but being in the club got me a job years later. It happened like this. I was hired as an art teacher in a school in Clarkton, Missouri (pop. Approximately 3,000). On the job application, it asked what high school clubs I had belonged to, and I listed the drama club. On that basis, they offered me $200 to direct the school play.

Somebody, I don’t know who, had already chosen the play and bought the rights to it from wherever schools got plays back in 1970.  It was a terrible play, a silly teenage comedy about a bunch of boys who dressed as girls in order to crash a spend-the-night party. Even the kids through it was horrible, and they promptly started mocking it in rehearsals. Their ad-libs were much funnier than anything in the script, so I told them to keep them in. The high school thespians under my so-called direction practically re-wrote the entire script, and the result was hilarious. The principal and the head of the PTA both told me it was the best play the school had ever done and said, “You have to direct again next year.” That was shortly before I was notified that I would not be hired again—not as the play director, not even as a teacher.

I still remember the exact wording of my failed evaluation. They praised me for my knowledge of subject matter and my effective but unorthodox teaching methods, but said, “The noise from Mr. Clayton’s class, especially the laughter, Is disruptive of other classes.”

Back to theater. I never got to see many plays, because I could not afford the tickets, but I did enjoy the few I got to see. I also absorbed some theatrical experience second-hand through my son, who acted throughout his school years, majored in acting in college, and has been a professional stage hand since the late 1990s. That encompasses the whole of my theatrical experience and knowledge at the time my editor, Linda Dahlstrom offered me the job of reviewing community theater. I love you, Linda, but I must say I do not think it was very professional for the largest daily paper between Seattle and Portland to give me that job. The Tribune makes a distinction between community theater and professional theater. I was assigned to community theater and the more established staff writer, Jen Graves, covered professional theater. I suspect the paper did not hold community theater in high regard, so my qualifications or lack thereof were of little consequence.

Linda’s boss, Sam (can’t remember his last name), gave me one piece of advice, and that was to be specific. The only other advice I got from any of the various editors I have worked for over the past 13 years was to avoid synopsizing plays unless they are obscure plays, assuming, for instance, that most readers already know what The Sound of Music is about; and to not say things like “I think” or “in my opinion,” because readers already know it’s an opinion column.

In the beginning, I was nervous. I felt like a fake. But actors and directors that I met treated me as if I were an authority. I was surprised to hear that actors were all abuzz backstage when they got word I was in the audience.

I did not even know what people meant when they used terms like “going up” or “chewing the scenery” or “upstaging” or “breaking the fourth wall.” I didn’t know stage left from stage right or upstage from downstage.  I played it by ear, and I learned from doing. And I learned a lot from reading other critics. We have some great ones in the South Sound: Jen Graves, Rosemary Ponnekanti, Michael Dresdner, Dave Davison, Adam McKinney, and the one I probably learned the most from before he quit writing theater reviews, Christian Carvajal.

When I “confessed” to a few friends that I didn’t know diddly squat about stagecraft, they said I had something more important to give the readers. I was able to write about plays from the point of view of a typical, albeit intelligent and hopefully sensitive, audience member. They said reading my reviews is like asking a friend who has seen a play if they think it is worth seeing. Really, that’s all a review is, and I think that . . . well, I know that after reviewing those 600 or more plays I’m beginning to get the hang of it.

The one thing my colleagues have criticized me for is sometimes going too easy on bad plays, and I know that it is true. Sometimes I’m too easy on them because I know how hard they work at putting on a play, and most of them—actors and crew alike—do it without pay or for very little pay, and while holding down full-time jobs and raising children; so I don’t want to criticize them. On the other hand, I’m painfully aware that audiences are paying for tickets, and it would be unfair to them to indicate a play is worth paying money to see when I don’t truly believe it is. Balancing all this is the fact that I’m really easy to please. I love theater, and we’re lucky to have a lot of great ones in the South Sound.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Tuna Christmas

A Southern fried Christmas tale
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 8, 2016
Helen Bedd (Katelyn Hoffman) and Joe Bob Lipsey (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson), photo courtesy The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest
The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest has migrated from the Kitsap Peninsula to Tacoma to present two popular Tacoma actors in the Southern fried Christmas fare A Tuna Christmas.
What a romp! And what a change from the usual holiday stage shows. A Tuna Christmas is a satire with heart. It skewers small towns and small minds, but in a kind and gentle way.
It’s Christmas Eve in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas and radio station OKKK’s disc jockeys Arles Struvie (Katelyn Hoffman) and Thurston Wheelis (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson) are updating their listeners on the annual holiday lighting contest, which has been won by Vera Carp (Hoffman) 14 years in a row. Meanwhile, there are threats of vandalism to the yard displays by the “Christmas Phantom,” and local theater director Joe Bob Lipsey (Ferguson) is having a hard time wrangling the cast and crew of A Christmas Carol. A drama queen of the first order, Joe Bob complains, "I haven't had this many problems since the all-white production of Raisin in the Sun.” He also brags that he’s “bigger than Tuna,” and to prove it he declares that he’s even been to Waco.
Other humorously stereotypical small-town Texans who make appearances are Didi Snavely (Hoffman), the chain-smoking proprietor of the local gun shop; Helen Bedd (also Hoffman), whose name is an obvious pun and who works for the Tastee Cream with Inita Goodwin (Ferguson), and Didi’s mate, R.R. Snavely (Ferguson). R.R. gleefully stepping over the line Didi tells him not to cross is one of the funniest bits in a play full of funny bits, and you can’t help but laugh when Helen shouts, “Inita, I need a . . .”
Traditionally two male actors share all 22 roles, but in this production women play all the parts, which is a delightful change. The last time I saw this play the many characters were played by Scott Campbell and the late Marcus Walker, who were truly outstanding and hilarious. The big difference with having woman play the roles is that with men much of the humor comes from the outlandish drag performances; whereas with women it is the characters themselves and not the drag that is funny, although their costumes and wigs are definitely too good not to laugh at. Hoffman and Ferguson are amazing in how completely they inhabit so many different characters.
There is a plot of sorts, but it is not so much a story as it is a series of loosely connected skits such as might have been seen on the old “Carol Burnett Show” or the original “Saturday Night Live.”
The series of “Tuna” plays written and performed by Jaston Williams and Joe Sears were created in 1980 and a set loosely in that time period, which means it is slightly dated and somewhat lacking in political correctness, and doesn’t come across quite as wild as it originally must have because audiences have become more accustomed to this kind of humor.
For all the satire and digs at small-town Southern culture, A Tuna Christmas is sweet, and there is at least something to admire in each of the citizens of Tuna, Texas.

A Tuna Christmas, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 17, The Spire, 710 S. Anderson Street, Tacoma, $18 advance, $20 at the door, 253.565.6867.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Who's Hamlet

On average, I see a play a week, sometimes as many as three plays in a single weekend. So it’s no wonder that I sometimes confuse one play with another or can't remember and actor's name. All of us 70-something guys have Swiss cheese memories.

So I’m like what was that play we saw Friday night? Was it the one at Harlequin of the one at TLT? Oh yeah, it was that murder mystery. You know, the one with what’s her name in it. Remember? She was in that other play with that other actor, the guy from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Can you believe I write theater reviews for reputable publications? Three of them currently. It helps that I write my reviews the next day, even if it’s a week or two in advance. And I always take home a program so I can check on actors’ and crew members’ names, and I can find reminders of plot points online, and as a last resort I can email the director for clarification. And still I get reminders of mistakes after my reviews have been published. And then a month or a year later I'll be at a party and somebody will ask me something about a play I reviewed and the only thing I can remember is whether I liked it or not and maybe how sexy such-and-such actor looked.

Now I’ve been asked to co-host a podcast on local theater. Me. Mister What Did I Have for Breakfast and What Happened to my Gloves. Thank God my co-host will be Christian Carvajal. Carv is like J.K. Simmons in the State Farm commercials. He knows a thing or two because he’s seen a thing or two. And he remembers them. We’ll be like the Abbott and Costello of podcasts. Instead of Who’s on First it will be Who’s Hamlet. I can hardly wait.

Check out Oly Arts' 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Janet Marcavage prints at Tacoma Library

“Multiply,”  screen print and intaglio by Janet Marcavage, courtesy the artist

“Veil,” screen print and intaglio by Janet Marcavage, courtesy the artist
Janet Marcavage’s latest prints at the Handforth Gallery, Tacoma Public Library are intelligent and aesthetically pleasing — intelligent because the combinations of colors and patterns are clearly well thought out, and pleasing to the eye because they are bright and engaging.
I am not one to go around looking for real-world references in abstract art. When other people do so, I want to cry out: Can’t you people just appreciate it for the colors and shapes and textures, for the use of balance, contrast and harmony! But in these prints, which I appreciate for all those reasons, I enjoy seeing cliffs and clouds and flags, and decorative cloth blowing in the wind or crumpled into intriguing forms that can be seen as figures or animals.
These prints are mostly hard ground etchings combined with screen prints; a few are screen prints alone or other print media. Her basic trope is to print thin lines or broad bands in color or in black and white over other patterns that are similar but with slight variations, such as thin lines over heavier bands of color or colorful striped patterns over similar striped patterns of a different color or a lighter value of the same color. In nearly every print there are two layers, and the lower layer is broken into various shapes that are often like sheets of paper or cloth that is folded or bent; and these shapes rest or float on white backgrounds. The result is an almost musical or dance-like play between similar and contrasting elements that alternate between figure and ground or flat and voluminous. Her color choices are bright, fine and nuanced, and the stripes, lines and bands of color are precise and skillfully drawn.
On the left as you enter the gallery there is an untitled print in black and white with meandering vertical lines that look like the sides of cliffs that almost completely cover the surface of the paper with only a thin open area or “sky” at the top. Farther around on the same wall is another untitled print with waving purple and blue bands of color that overlap on what looks like a sheet blowing in the wind. Above this shape is a cloud shape made of tiny, staccato black and red lines. There is a happy feel to this as if you’re watching a striped bedsheet slip free and blow away in the wind, guided by a little cloud.
A print called “Bands” pictures something like a curtain of red and blue horizontal bands in an all-over pattern that covers the entire surface. As with many of her prints, there is a slight optical-illusion as if the curtain is being moved. This op-art effect, which can be found in many of these prints, is never blatant or tricky or overwhelming, but is a subtle added pleasure.
A screen print called “Heap” consists of one large shape made up of red and purple bands that break up into many smaller shapes like a many-faceted boulder rolling across the whiteness of the paper.
On the right-hand wall, there are two adjacent prints that from across the gallery look like American flags, but with the star fields on the wrong side. One of them is called “Veil.” In it, a triangular form filled with red stripes (the star field) floats over a flat field of horizontal bands of lighter red and white (the stripes of the flag). “Pull,” which hangs next to it, is similar but smaller and in black, white and gray.
Over the years I have seen Marcavage’s work in many exhibitions, and every time it is different, but always thought-provoking and pleasing to the eye.
Lines by Janet Marcavage, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tue.-Wed., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., through Dec. 31, Tacoma Public Library, 1102 Tacoma Ave.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Little Red Riding Hood

A Christmas Panto at Centerstage
Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 2, 2016
The cast of Little Red Riding Hood with Red Riding Hood (Helen Martin), Dame Hood (Alan Bryce), and Robyn Hood (Taylor Davis), photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis
Theater goers who have not yet discovered the insanity of British-style pantos should get to Centerstage Theatre in Federal Way to see Little Red Riding Hood.
A panto (short for pantomime but nothing like mime as we know it) is a traditional fairy tale presented as rip-roaring musical filled with puns and bad jokes, cross-dressing actors, and lots of audience participation. Children are encouraged to boo the bad guy and cheer the good fairy and to shout out key phrases whenever certain cues are given — and wow!, do they ever respond with wild enthusiasm.
Yes, pantos are for kids, but there are many jokes and double-entendres that only the adults get, most of which are either risqué jokes or local references.
Red Riding Hood (Helen Martin) and Prince Brian (Zack Summers), photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis
The panto has been a Centerstage holiday tradition for 10 years now. The latest installment is Little Red Riding Hood, which features a good fairy called Fairy Dust (Trista Duval) in life-or death battle with the evil wizard, Magithor (Olivia Lee). And of course, the traditional story of Little Red Riding Hood (Helen Martin) and the Big Bad Wolf (Adam Minton). Only in this version, the wolf is no longer bad. He’s a vegan, and he’s nice to everybody until Magithor puts a spell on him that turns him bad again.
Little Red Riding Hood is a lot of fun, but not quite as hilarious as some of the earlier pantos. Or perhaps I’ve simply become jaded after seeing so many of them. Zack Summers as Prince Brian sings terrifically, but his dancing and acting needs to be more animated. The same can be said of Minton’s wolf, although his singing on the bad wolf song with Magithor rocks, and Lee belts out her part on this one with the kind of gusto a Tina Turner could be proud of. Her performance as Magithor is captivating throughout. Also captivating and as loveable as any character in the play is Red Riding Hood’s brother Robyn (Taylor Davis).
Another panto tradition is to have a large man in drag play a very amorous woman who usually picks out a man in the front row to flirt with – so, gentlemen beware of front-row seats. In Little Red Riding Hood that character is Dame Hood, Red and Robyn’s mother, played by Centerstage artistic director Alan Bryce, and the lucky man she picked on this time was Randy, a gracious audience member.
Pantos also feature set pieces that are like Vaudeville routines and which have absolutely nothing to do with the story. Bryce and Taylor do the honors on a couple of these. In the first, they attempt quite incompetently to put up wallpaper in a routine like something from the Marx Brothers or perhaps a duet with Buster Keeton and Charlie Chaplin in which they keep trapping one another between two boards and end up covering each other with glue. The second of these Vaudeville routines involves city names and highway signs. I never would have believed it possible to come up with so many silly puns based on Washington city names.
Little Red Riding Hood is a laugh fest and a joy to watch, with great pop music (with fractured lyrics). It is loud and exuberant, and rather long at almost three hours, but the kids in the audience at the opening matinee did not get tired. I suspect they could have happily gone another hour or two.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., through Dec. 22
WHERE: Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $35 adults, $30, Seniors (65+) and Military: $15; Youth (18-25): $12 17 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Git back in the back by the cypress knees

I love this descriptive sentence from Samuel Snoek-Brown’s novel Hagridden:

They held their weapons perpendicular like circus artists on a tightrope and walked swiftly along the narrow ridge of earth until they came to a shallow lake, a lonely cypress rising from water at the edge, a tribe of woody knees surrounding the trunk like a congregation.

The phrase  “a tribe of woody knees surrounding the trunk like a congregation” brings to mind fishing among the cypresses in the swampy end of Lake St. John in Louisiana when I was a child—dark, peaceful, and mysterious; those cypress knees worshipful like congregants in a Southern Baptist prayer meeting. It also brings to mind an experience when trying to market my first novel that was both funny and frustrating—a real pisser at first, but funny now that I look back on it.

I was lucky, or thought I was, to have a family connection with a successful and well-respected New York literary agent. She agreed to look at my book and offer advice but said she couldn’t handle it herself because she did not represent novelists, but only non-fiction authors. But she did read it and even sent the manuscript to a fellow agent who represented novelists, and she reported back that he said he couldn’t sell it. Sorry.

She did offer three bits of advice. The first was that the main character was not likeable and that nobody is going to read past the first few chapters if they don’t like the main character. Looking back, I’m not so sure how helpful that criticism was. The character in question was Red Warner, who proved to be one of the most popular of all the characters I have peopled my novels with.
The other critical comments were just flat-out wrong. She said she had never heard of a cypress knee, said there was no such thing in nature. Maybe they can’t be found in Manhattan, but they sure as hell exist in the lakes and streams in Mississippi and Louisiana.

And she objected to my use of the phrase “back in the back.” I wrote about a boy shoplifting. When he got caught the store employee took him back in the back of the store. I guess she thought that was illiterate or redundant or something, but it’s a phrase I’ve heard all my life. Is it colloquial? Perhaps, but when you’re writing about a particular time and place, colloquialisms are just things everybody says. I must admit, I felt a little insulted by that criticism. I wonder if any insulated New York literary agent every criticized William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy for their phraseology. I remember one critic praising McCarthy for writing that one of his characters said he got something “at the gittin place.” I suspect the gittin place might be back in the back.

I think that’s enough bitching and moaning for now.