Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lacey Reuter’s “Harlem Renaissance” paintings
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 23, 2017
Harlem Renaissance,” oil on canvas by Lacey Reuter, courtesy American Art Company
Tacoma artist Lacey Reuter was only 17 years old when she created the “Harlem Renaissance” paintings now on display at American Art Company, says gallery director Tammy Radford. It’s an impressive body of work for anybody, especially a 17-year-old. There are five large paintings, each measuring 5-foot, 5-inches by 5-foot, and one mural-size painting at 6-by-11 feet that dominates one wall of the gallery.
On the downside, as representative of the Harlem Renaissance, a major force in America’s cultural history, they are little more than a kind of scrapbook with pictures of a lot of the famous artists and writers and musicians who lived and worked in Harlem at the time, and the faces are not even recognizable but are identified by name, which seems childish to this reviewer.
On the upside, these are vibrant, energetic and engaging paintings. Reuter’s drawing style is unhesitating. She combines flat areas and modeled areas and line in ways that provide an intriguing balance of variety and unity. They are colorful and exciting, a visual representation of the jazz music that was the music of the time and place — much like what Mondrian did in a more subdued and abstract manner with his “Broadway Boogie Woogie.”
Compositionally they dance right up to the edge of chaos. Faces and objects easily get lost in the clutter. The only unifying elements are the color schemes (a predominance of blues in the smaller works and of tan in the large painting), meandering lines that move throughout in most of the paintings, and in the smaller works a circular arrangement of faces and other images.
The Harlem Renaissance was an explosion of music, literature and visual art centered in Harlem, New York City, in the years between the world wars. Each of Reuter’s paintings celebrates one aspect of the Renaissance: art, music, writing, and theater; and the large, mural-sized painting combines them all.
The “Harlem Art” depicts artists Sargent Johnson, Palmer Hayden, William H. Johnson and others with their names handwritten by their pictures and quotes from some of them such as from Hayden: “I decided to paint to support my love of art rather than have my art support me.”
“Harlem Music” celebrates Fletcher Henderson, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and others; “Harlem Theater” pictures Ethel Waters, Bojangles Robinson and Eubie Blake; “Harlem Writers” memorializes Booker T. Washington, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston. It also pictures book spines with titles and quotes from works by some of the writers.
The largest painting and by far the most impressive combines all the elements of the others. Dark brown and black figures flow across the bottom half of the canvas in a circular swoop while lighter, multi-colored concentric circles in the background solidify what would otherwise be chaos. The thin paint application and many transparencies are enjoyable to contemplate because of their subtlety and complexity, as are a series of almost invisible light tan faces that meld into the background. This is a sophisticated painting.
Finding all the figures and words can be entertaining, but it is the exuberance of these paintings that make them worth seeing.
Harlem Renaissance, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Feb. 28, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327,

Friday, February 24, 2017

Doubt at Lakewood Playhouse

Kait Mahoney as Sister James and Blake R. York as Father Flynn, photo by Tim Johnson.
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 23, 2017
John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, A Parable has earned the rare honor of taking home the trifecta of awards: the Tony, the Academy Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Chances are you’ve seen the film starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, but if you have not seen it live on stage — or even if you have — you should see Lakewood Playhouse’s stirring production.
For starters, Shanley’s script is as tightly written and as full of intelligent insights and surprises as anything you’re likely to see on stage, and Erin Manza Chanfrau’s set design is outstanding. It is comfortable and attractive with three scenes set at an angle to make for easy viewing from any seat in the house, where there is seating on three sides. No set changes are required, so there is no distraction and no waiting between scenes. There is the high alter in a Catholic church, the principal’s office in the school next door to the church, and the garden bench between the two. On the back wall are painted stained glass windows. The height of the altar lends majesty when Father Brendan Flynn (Blake R. York) ascends it to preach, which is how the play opens.
With quiet dignity, the priest ascends the altar and preaches a homily about doubt, saying it is all right to not know, that everyone must wrestle with doubt. Thus, he announces the theme that asserts itself throughout the play.
The school principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Connie Murray), suspects Father Flynn of inappropriate behavior with a student who is talked about but who never appears in the play. He is the first and only black student in the newly integrated school. She questions Sister James (Kait Mahoney), a young and innocent teacher, about the relationship between the priest and the boy. Sister James believes in Father Flynn. The boy’s mother (Diane Johnson in a single but powerful and surprising scene) comes to school at the invitation of Sister Aloysius, who is now more convinced than ever that Father Flynn is carrying on relations with the boy. Anything more said about the confrontation between Sister Aloysius and Mrs. Muller would be a spoiler.
Finally, Sister Aloysius confronts Father Flynn, which he, of course, denies.
York underplays the role of Father Flynn. He portrays him in a manner that invites the audience to like and trust him — as gentle, kind and self-assured, but with a tightly controlled underlying tension. From the beginning one wants to believe in him.
Murray plays Sister Aloysius as cold and calculating, and so convinced she is right about her suspicions that it makes the audience suspect she is out to get Father Flynn, regardless of where or not he is guilty.
The doubt stated in the title and in the priest’s opening sermon turns out to be about the moral character of each of the people in the story. Is there is a power struggle going on between the priest and the principal? Is his loving demeanor a mask?  No clear answers are given; the audience is left to puzzle it out for themselves, as the central mystery is not only Father Flynn’s guilt or innocence, but the motives and morality of each character in the play, not just Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, but to a lesser degree Sister James and Mrs. Muller.
Each of the four actors does an outstanding job of realistically portraying the unique personalities of these four divergent characters.
Doubt was originally written to be performed not as a one-act but as a full-length play. It is my understanding that it is often broken into two acts, but Lakewood Playhouse’s managing artistic director John Munn said he and director Victoria Webb decided to run it as originally written, for which I applaud them. Breaking up the action for an intermission would have been damaging to the dramatic thrust. I was thoroughly engaged from the moment York walked on stage and ascended the alter, and I think an intermission would have taken the audience out of the action and lessened the dramatic impact.
The play runs about an hour and a half. It is intense, emotionally demanding, and intellectually challenging. There is nothing light and playful about Doubt. It is heavy drama of the most intense sort, and beautifully produced.
Doubt, 8 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. and 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 12, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $15, 253.588.0042,

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Me and Pat Conroy

I never read anything by Pat Conroy until a reviewer compared one of my books to his. Linda Linguvic, an reviewer from New York City wrote in her review of The Backside of Nowhere:  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!”

After reading that, I naturally I had to see what Conroy was all about. I’ve since read Prince of Tides, Beach Music and South of Broad, and I see the similarities. Same kind of quirky humor, same love-hate of the South. And we both go into detail about the family histories of our characters. Now I fear readers will think I’m copying him.

Ned Hayes, author of the best-selling The Eagle Tree, wrote in his review of my latest: “Tupelo is a haunting and personal tale, reminiscent of the best of Pat Conroy.”

I hesitate to say anymore because I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but as a self-published author with no money for promotion, I have to brag when I can. Here’s the thing I am exceedingly proud of: I think my “Freedom Trilogy” and Tupelo are in many ways better than anything Conroy has written, mainly because he over writes, and because his narrators are always too easily identifiable as Conroy himself and he/his narrators come across as both prideful and humble, but the pride is overarching and off-putting.

I hope you will read his books and mine and compare them for yourself. You might think I’m right, but maybe not.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Contemporary portraits from the Smithsonian


The Outwin 2016 American Portrait competition winners
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 9, 2017
“Alison Bechdel,” charcoal, mixed media and 3-D collage on paper, by Riva Lehrer, collection of the Sandy Hindin Stone, © Riva Hehrer, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
“Alison Bechdel,” charcoal, mixed media and 3-D collage on paper, by Riva Lehrer, collection of the Sandy Hindin Stone, © Riva Hehrer, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
The development of photography in the early 19th century almost killed portrait painting as a fine art and forced artists to find new ways of making art. Prior to the advent of photography, the purpose of portraiture was to memorialize or honor the subject of the portrait. The subject (the person pictured) was more important that the object (the painting — composition, color, technique, elicited emotional response and so forth). To my way of thinking, that change made artists become better artists, and it made traditional portrait painting become an almost obsolete art form.
The 43 portraits in the traveling exhibition, The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery offer answers to the question of how portraiture can still be a significant contemporary art form. For starters, the exhibition includes photographs as well as paintings, sculpture and video. Curator Dorothy Moss said modern iterations of this competitive portrait exhibition have often included abstract and conceptual art, but this year’s show is much more traditional.
At first glance, my impression was that the show was dominated by portraits from the tradition that began with Manet and went through Pop Art and photo-realist portraiture as exemplified by works by Chuck Close, Alex Katz and Andy Warhol — isolated figures facing forward with flat backgrounds, no context. One of the two galleries given over to the show is almost exclusively this type of portraiture, including the first, second and third place winners (in order: Amy Sherald’s acrylic painting “Miss Everything (unsuppressed Deliverance)”, Cynthia Henebry’s digital photograph “Mavis in the Back Seat)” and Joel Daniel Phillips’ charcoal and graphite drawing “Eugene #4).”
"Miss Everything,(Unsuppressed Deliverance)" oil on canvas by Any Sherald, collection of Frances and Buton Reifler © Amy Sherald, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
Works in the second gallery somewhat belied that impression because that gallery contains more variety in style and media and more works depicting subjects in environments, including the People’s Choice winner, Adrian “Viajero” Roman’s charcoal-on-wood portrait of Constancia Col√≥nde Clemente. This may be the only time I have ever agreed with a people’s choice selection. This portrait is of an elderly Cuban woman. It is drawn on a box measuring 48-by-48-by 49 inches and hung high from the ceiling, drawn on all four sides with no bottom. Viewers can walk under it, look up, and see mementoes from the woman’s life attached to the inside of the box. It is skillfully executed and may be the most inventive and honest portrait in the show.
Also outstanding is Sherald’s first-place winner. It is a portrait of a young Black woman wearing a black and white dress, solid black on one side with white piping and white polka dots on the other side. She daintily holds an oversized coffee cup and wears a jaunty red hat. Her face and arms are painted with smooth shading, while her dress and the coffee cup are flat in a style reminiscent of Alec Katz portraits. I also see reminders or influences from Kehinde Wiley and Roy Litchenstein. The composition is subtle and exquisite.
Another portrait that absolutely blew me away is Riva Lehrer’s portrait of the cartoonist Alison Bechdel (famous for the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” and one of the few portraits of famous people in the show, another being Brenda Ziamany’s portrait of David Hockney). Lehrer’s portrait in charcoal, mixed-media and collage creates an alluring sense of mystery due to strong light and dark contrast, a cast shadow and blue lines that play in a provocative way with illusory space.
Most the portraits in this show are skillfully done and realistic in a modernist tradition. There is a lot of identity art with depictions of the poor and marginalized, ethnic and racial minorities, a gay couple and a transgender teenage girl wearing a dress for the very first time.

Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through May 14, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Starry Messenger at Olympia Family Theater

Published in the Weekly Volcano Feb. 9, 2017
Oliver Garcia as young Galileo and Wendy Hendrickson as his mother. Photo by David Nowitz.
Olympia Family Theater is known for delightful plays aimed at children, but every once upon a time they do a serious adult play such as Animal Farm and Orphan Train from previous seasons. Such is the case with Starry Messenger, the story of the father or modern science, Galileo Galilei — set to music, no less. It is not a musical so much as a play with music, and it is my guess that music was added to make it more entertaining for young audiences that might find the very serious subject of science and the intransigence of authority too ponderous. The youngest cast member is nine years old, and it is my judgement that anyone younger than that was not be able to understand much of the story.
The story covers 70 years in the life of Galileo, beginning with the future scientist as a young boy (played by Oliver Garcia) who dreams of the heavens and talks to the stars and the moon. As a middle age man (Christian Carvajal), Galileo makes important scientific discoveries and is forced to defend them against the religious leaders and entrenched scholars of the day, the 17th century. He discovered proof of the Copernican theory that the earth and all the planets in our solar system revolve around the sun, but the Catholic church stubbornly opposed that and claimed it was a sin not to accept that Earth was the center of the universe. Finally, we see Galileo as an old man (Tom Lockhart) reluctantly giving in to demands of the leaders but holding out hope that the world will eventually come to see the truth of his discoveries and accept scientific proof over religious dogma — a thesis which we cannot help but see as having strong parallels in today’s world.
The writer, Kari Margolis, avoided any direct religious references. The name of God is never used, but is referred to as “the Maker,” and the head of the church, clearly a red-robed cardinal, is called “the Leader.” I can only speculate as to why. The writer might have wanted to soft-pedal potentially offensive religious conflict to avoid controversy or to make the story more understandable to children who may or may not come from Christian families. Intentional or not, avoid specific religious references makes the play seem more poetic, more universal, and in keeping with the dreamlike quality of the set. Carvajal pointed out that Galileo considered himself a devout Catholic his entire life, despite his house arrest. “He simply agreed with Cardinal Baronius, who said the scriptures ‘tell us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.’"
The populous and the philosophers, as well as anthropomorphized stars and moons, are played by a chorus who sing or chant their beliefs and their opposition to what they see as blasphemy from Galileo, often in catchy rhymes that, to me, often sound like a marriage of Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss. They represent the forces of repression in ways that are funny and poetic, not only in the words they use but in their ways of moving in chorus (a choreographer should have been listed in the program, but I can only guess that director Brian Tyrell gets credit for the “dance” of the scholars). Many of Olympia’s more well-known actors can be seen in this ensemble, including Rich Young, Sara Thiessen, Keith Eisner, Tom Sanders, John Lyons Beck, and Amanda Stevens.
There is also a chorus of students played by young actors: Hattie Hummel-Church, Annabelle Samson, Loren Kattenbraker, Serean Kim, Xander Ligtenberg, and Derek Jenson.
The cast is ably rounded out by Ian Forster, Peter Rushton, and Sabrina Husseini.
The music was composed by Daven Tillinghast, lyricist and local jazz guitarist who appears frequently in the band at Harlequin Productions. The beautiful set was designed by Jill Carter and brought to starry light by lighting designer Olivia Burlingame.
Starry Messenger, 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 12, $19 adults, $16 military, $13 youth, ,, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638

Friday, February 3, 2017

Of Mice and Men at Tacoma Little Theatre

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 2, 2017

from left: George (Mason Quinn), Curley’s wife (Margret Parobek), Crooks (Jack House, and Lennie (Chris James), photo by Niclas Olson
Tacoma Little Theatre continues an outstanding season with John Steinbeck’s classic tale, Of Mice and Men, directed by Niclas Olson, founder and managing artistic director of New Muses Theatre Company, and starring Mason Quinn as George and Chris James as Lennie. To be clear, this is not just an adaptation of Steinbeck’s novella. The play was also written by Steinbeck in 1937, the same year the book was published.

Set during the Great Depression, it tells the story of two migrant workers, George and Lennie, who go to work on a ranch owned by “the Boss” (Eric Cuestas-Thompson), who is never named, and his son, Curley (Derek Mesford), a despicable little strutting rooster of a man who picks on Lennie unmercifully. Lennie is a giant who never fights back. He is intellectually challenged. All he wants to do is pet soft things such as velvet and furry animals — mostly mice, which he accidentally kills because he doesn’t know his strength. George’s dream is to someday get a stake and own a little farm with a garden and some animals, including rabbits; Lennie’s dream is to tend the rabbits.

Curley’s wife (Margret Parobek), befriends Lennie with tragic results.

I can’t imagine a more perfect actor to play the part of Lennie than James. He fits the part physically and acts with confidence. His slow, hesitant and well-articulated speech and his gentle but clumsy movements bring the character to life. When he gets mad at Crooks (Jack House) for saying something not nice about George, and when he fights with Curley, he is explosive and frightening. If it had not said so in the program, I would have never believed that he has not acted since his youth. Of Mice and Men is his theatrical debut.

Quinn is a veteran actor, having performed in such shows as The Great Gatsby, The Rainmaker and A Few Good Men. He is outstanding as George.

Mesford, another veteran of many stage appearances, is terrific. He makes audiences hate Curley, as they should.

Curley’s wife is often depicted as a vixen. George calls her a tramp, and other ranch hands call her “tart” and “bitch.” Steinbeck wrote in a letter to Claire Luce, who played the part of Curley’s wife in the first stage version, “she is not a floozy. …She is afraid of everyone in the world.” That is how Parobek plays her — as a lonely and fearful young woman who longs for human connection. Parobek plays her as a woman who is much more complex that she appears.

Other actors who shine in this production are House, Roger Iverson as Candy, and Jacob Tice as Slim.

Blake R. York does his usual outstanding job of set designing. The walls of the bunkhouse and barn made of moveable wooden slats are highly effective, as is Olson’s lighting.

Of Mice and Men, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, special school matinee Jan. 26, Jan. 20-Feb. 5, $24 adults, $22 seniors /Students/Military, $20 12 and younger, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,