Sunday, April 30, 2017

Exit Laughing at Tacoma Little Theatre

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 27, 2017
 from left Carol Richmond, Sharry O’Hare and Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson. Photo courtesy Dennis K Photography.
What’s wrong with these people? Why are they laughing so hysterically at stuff that’s only slightly funny? Have they never heard a risqué joke, or am I just totally jaded? Those are the thoughts that often go through my head when attending comedic plays that rely on titillation humor.
Not so with the opening night performance of Exit Laughing at Tacoma Little Theatre. I was laughing right along with the rest of the audience whose howls of hilarity became so loud during the final scene of act one that nobody could hear what the actors on stage were saying.
Margret Parobeck and Carol Richmond, photo by Dennis K Photography
Yes, Exit Laughing by Paul Elliott and ably directed by Rick Hornor is laugh-out-loud funny. In retrospect, the writing is only a little bit funny. It’s a predictable fluff piece with jokes that might have come from television ‘70s and ‘80s sitcoms. Mostly these jokes are hilarious because they are told with perfect comic timing and delivery by a trio of grand dames of Tacoma theater: Carol Richmond, Sharry O’Hare and Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson.
Connie (Richmond), Leona (O’Hare) and Millie (Ferguson) have been getting together for a weekly bridge game for 30 years. Now their fourth player, Mary, has died. The three surviving players get together in Connie’s house, and Millie brings along Mary; i.e., Mary’s ashes in an ugly urn she stole from the funeral home because Mary’s relatives have insisted the ashes be buried and the trio of old dames know that’s not what Mary wanted. The burial is scheduled for the next day.
A sub-plot involves Connie’s grown daughter, Rachel Ann (Margret Parobek), who is mad because her date has stood her up.
In a not surprising twist, a police officer (John Naden) shows up at their door saying a complaint against the three women has been filed, and pandemonium ensues.
The plot is a silly bit of fluff, but the acting is outstanding. Each of the three older women is a stock characters, and the actors manage to capture them as stock characters while making them believable as real people. For the audience it is as if we’re seeing women we know, but exaggerated just enough to be ludicrous. Richmond’s Connie is proper and uptight but itching to let loose and have some fun. O’Hare’s Leona is hard drinking and fun loving. Ferguson’s Millie epitomizes the phrase “ignorance is bliss.”
The younger actors, Naden and Parobek, hold their own on stage with the seasoned veterans.
As usual, Blake York’s set design is outstanding and Jeffery Weaver’s props are fitting, even though I really think the urn they repeatedly call ugly is actually quite attractive.
Exit Laughing is a lightweight comedy on par with a good television sitcom, and it will not only leave you laughing, it will have you guffawing for the better part of two hours.

Exit Laughing, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 7, $24 adults, $22 seniors /Students/Military, $20 12 and younger, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Friday, April 21, 2017

Art Faculty exhibition at Tacoma Community College

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 20, 2017

 “Acropolis Museum” oil on panel by Marit Berg, courtesy Tacoma Community College
Talented artists all, members of the art faculty at Tacoma Community College are showing some of their latest works. Exhibiting artists are: Kyle Dillehay, Alice Di Certo, Jenny Roholt, Melinda Liebers Cox, Anthony Culanag, Frank Dippolito, Karen Doten, Rick Mahaffey, Reid Ozaki and Marit Berg.  
Probably the most engaging piece in the show is a collaborative work by Dillehay and Di Certo that greets the viewer upon entering the gallery. It is called “U.S.A. Cabinet.” This piece is an old index-card file cabinet with 60 drawers. The drawers are labeled with headings that refer to contemporary issues surrounding the Trump presidency and both local and national political and social issues in the year 2017 — for example “Initiative 1552,” the proposed Washington state initiative to restrict public bathroom use to persons of the gender assigned at birth; a more generic label, “Trumping the Constitution”; a “Russia Drawer”; and a “Human Rights Venting Drawer.” Stuffed into these drawers are drawings, photographs, newspaper clippings, and a whole lot of other objects — most if not all of which are verbal or visual political or social commentary. Blank index cards sit on a nearby table, and visitors to the gallery are invited to write or draw on them and add them to the appropriate drawers. Visitors who have the time to do so can easily spend hours studying the contents of these drawers.
Cox is showing a couple of nice little acrylic paintings called “Pick Up Stix” (numbers one and two). In each, sticks from the game are scattered on a patterned rug or mat to create overlapping patterns in candy-bright colors. They’re like Philip Pearlstein paintings without the figures.
Also nice to look at are a group of graphite drawings by Doten. These are drea-like abstractions based on landscape with soft modulations of gray shapes and lots of white space. They are dream-like. Also in the group is one slightly different piece with collage and a line drawing of a canyon superimposed over the soft graphite drawing. It’s at the beginning of the line of drawings and nicely serves as an introduction as if to say “See what follows.”
Berg fills one long gallery wall and part of an adjacent shorter wall with drawings and paintings made during a trip to Athens, Greece. Along one wall are 11 pages from her travel journal with sensitive line drawings and written notes about her trip. There are also three small oil paintings on wooden panels. Viewed  from left to right, these paintings become increasingly surrealistic. First is “Taking a Break in Athens,” a naturalistic painting of a girl sprawled out on a couch reading a book. Behind her is a window overlooking the city, and to her right a larger window offering a larger view of the city. I love the contrast of the restful picture of the reclining reader and the congested city scene. Next is “Acropolis Museum,” a painting of a girl (most likely the same girl) meandering through columns and statues in the museum. What is striking is the girl is wearing a colorful dress, as is one of the statues, while everything else is white. It seems a piece out of time that resonates with the girl, thus making ancient works seem timeless. The last painting is also of a museum, and in this one everything overlaps and seems to be reflected as in a fun-house mirror. Seeing the three of them side-by-side is like looking at still from a movie in which reality and imagination merge.
I wish I could describe all of the work in this very rich show; I encourage readers to see the whole thing for themselves.”
Art Faculty, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through May 5, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with The Fifteen Minute Hamlet

Tom Stoppard comedies at Lakewood Playhouse
By Alec Clayton
published in The News Tribune, April 21, 2017
(L to R) FRANK ROBERTS (Rosencrantz) and PAUL RICHTER (Guildenstern) photo by Tim Johnson
Tom Stoppard’s The Fifteen Minute Hamlet is like a thinking person’s Marx Brothers movie. His Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is that same thinking person’s version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” with a dose of Waiting for Godot thrown in to sweeten the stew. These companion pieces, so different yet so alike, are playing at Lakewood Playhouse.
The evening leads off with The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, which is just what the title implies: Shakespeare’s Hamlet pared down to a mere 15 minutes, with a talented and perfectly in-sync ensemble cast delivering rapid-fire the most famous lines from Hamlet, with a big helping of physical comedy, in the tradition of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)
As soon as the ensemble quickly skewers the classic tragedy, they follow with a five-minute encore (fewer words and everything speeded up), immediately followed by a one-minute version. It is slapstick of the highest order.
The troupe is led by a droll Nathan Rice as The Player and Dylan Twiner as Hamlet.
That is the appetizer. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is the main course. It is a long, complex and brilliant comedy featuring Frank Roberts as Rosencrantz and Paul Richter as Guildenstern, two characters from Hamlet who did not appear in The Fifteen Minute Hamlet. Roberts and Richter play off each other like musicians who have been improvising together for their shared lifetime.
The play opens with a crazy routine in which they investigate the laws of probability by tossing coins with an insane amount of repetition. One might think that too much repetion would become boring, but as Stoppard wrote this scene and as Roberts and Richter perform it, it is crazy funny. In a similarly funny scene later on, they turn philosophical discussion; i.e., debate, into a game of tennis with points scored according to a set of rules only they comprehend — rules they change at will.
Throughout the show they tackle such deep subjects as the nature of life and death — what would you prefer, being locked in a little box forever or being dead in the box (at least you wouldn’t know you were suffering, or do the dead know they’re dead?) What is the meaning of life? What are we doing here? Where are we going, and who are we? Throughout, they get confused about who they are. Am I Rosencrantz or am I Guildenstern? Perhaps they are neither. Perhaps they are actors waiting to go onstage for their brief appearance as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Stoppard poses these questions, but R & G do now answer them or can’t agree on the answers. That is up to the audience.
Familiarity with Hamlet helps to understand Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but understanding might not even matter. It might be enough to simply get swept up by the verbal fireworks, of which there are plenty.
For readers who might want a little more explanation, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were minor and forgettable characters in Hamlet. They were childhood friends of Prince Hamlet who were sent to spy on him and who accompanied him on a trip to England. In this play, they are the main characters, but they have no idea why they have been cast in these roles. Along the way on this mission they don’t understand, they run into all the main characters in the Shakespeare play, from Gertrude (Dayna Childs) to Claudius (Ben Stahl) to Polonius (W. Scott Pinkston) to Ophelia (Gabi Marler) to a cast of stock characters in the traveling theatre troupe. These are all the same actors, in the same roles, as in The Fifteen Minute Hamlet.
Stoppard’s writing is inspired, intelligent and hilarious. The acting throughout is outstanding. Blake York’s rough-looking set — a brick wall and a bunch of boxes — and Aaron Mohs-Hale’s lighting are wonderful. Rochelle-Ann Graham’s costumes are suitable for the characters, time and place, except for the modern tennis shoes worn by the main characters. These out-of-place shoes are harbingers of a great running joke.
The two plays together are long, but worth every minute of it.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 7
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood TICKETS: $15
INFORMATION: 253.588.0042,

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Retrospective

40 years of making art

I was asked to write a statement for the announcement of my upcoming retrospective show at Tacoma Community College. Here is what I came up with:

In the early 1970s while living in a one-room walkup in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, I did a series of small crayon drawings on paper. Many of them were city scenes taken from memory and imagination or from sketching what I could see from my fire escape. I loved the bird’s-eye view, and I fell in love with layering, scraping, and layering again with the crayons. I gave away hundreds of those works. The only one I still have is “Deli,” which I gave to my then girlfriend, now my wife of 43 years.
A little more than a decade later I discovered oil sticks or oil bars. The artist who told me about them said they were the ultimate crayon, and he was right. I discovered that marvelous effects could be made by pushing the oil bars around on a hard surface and that the layering and scraping away I had so enjoyed with crayons could be done much better with oil bars and oil sticks. At first I did figurative works on paper, and gradually the figures became increasingly abstract, and I started working larger on canvas with acrylic underpainting. I would fill the canvas with random brushstrokes, often pushing the paint around with trowels or scrapers, then let it dry and draw into it with the oil bars. The work became completely abstract, but every once in a while, a recognizable figure would sneak back in. I began to mix the oil bars with oil paint, pouring, scraping and working with brushes and sticks or whatever I could find to push the paint around.
My abstract paintings reflect influences of the abstract expressionist movement, which was the predominant art movement in the country when I was studying art. Although abstract and formalist, they are informed by nature. I try to capture the essence of movement and struggle as seen in nature — the way a baby bird reaches up for a worm in its mother’s beak, the way a fish leaps out of water, the sensuous way plant tendrils wind around one another, and the way human beings walk, run and dance. I do not try to copy the look of these things but try to capture their essences through gesture.
Recognizable parts of human and animal bodies and plant life show up in my paintings – an arm here, a breast there, a snake, a fish, tree limbs; but these paintings should not be interpreted in any literal or narrative sense. The importance of these forms is not so much what they may look like or remind the viewer of creatures both human and animal. Rather, what is important to me is their emotional impact and the way the forms react in an abstract way to one another; that is, in the harmony and contrast of visual forms.
Patterns such as stripes, dots and checkerboard squares, are used as a contrast to and a means of visually holding in check the more amorphous gestural forms. A primary visual element is the contrast and balance of opposites such as rough and smooth, intuitive and planned, hard and soft edges, bright and dull colors, and so forth.
The paintings are colorful and often bring about a feeling of joyful celebration — the spirit of dancing or improvisational music. But, at the same time, many of them have an ominous or threatening feel perhaps thinly veiled beneath the celebratory surface.
I rarely have an idea of what a painting will look like when finished, but rather I discover what it is about in the process of painting. The titles are added after the works are finished, after I see what the paintings remind me of after they’re done. Sometimes the titles are the names of songs I was listening to while working.

In 2002 I had open heart surgery. For a long time after that I did not have the energy to paint, and even after I started back, I painted much less than before. I am also a writer. I have been writing art reviews for area publications since 1995 and have also written novels. After my heart attack, I discovered that writing satisfied my creative urges as well as painting did. In 2009 I finished my last painting in preparation for a show at the Convention Center in Seattle. I have not painted since and doubt I will ever go back to it.

The show opens June 28 and will run through Aug. 11.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lucy Gentry Meltzer's Biophilia Collection

Read my

OLY ARTS review of Lucy Gentry Meltzer's amazing installation at Salon Refu and then go see the show.

photos by Scot Whitney

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

 One woman, one night only at Tacoma Little Theatre
Published in the Weekly Volcano April 14, 2017
Kati Aleman

My first reaction when I saw that Tacoma Little Theatre was doing Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington was “What a great title” — a switcheroo on the famous Jimmy Stewart film of the same title, but with “Mrs.” Instead of “Mr.” I had never heard of the play, but assumed it must be a political satire. So I Googled it and discovered that it’s not a satire. It is a one-woman play about Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected to both the United States House of Representatives and to the Senate.
Kathi Aleman and Joseph Grant in Death of a Salesman at Lakewood Playhouse. Photo credit: Tim Johnson
Mrs. Smith was written by Linda Britt, and is directed by Ellen Peters with Assistant Director Chevi Chung. Kathi Aleman plays the senator from Maine. Both Peters and Aleman are well known to local theater patrons. Peters was recently seen in Night of the Iguana at Dukesbay Theatre and has been seen in The Weir and Second Samuel at TLT. Aleman scored memorable performances in last year’s Death of a Salesman at Lakewood Playhouse and in the little known but excellent Terminus at Assemblage Theatre.
Peters grew up in Maine. “I've known about Margaret Chase Smith since elementary school. She was not only notable as a woman politician, but also had a reputation for advocating for the people she represented, and speaking her mind,” Peters says.
Peters collaborated with the author, who also hails from Maine, on productions of To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Laramie Project in the mid-2000s and was her assistant director on Mrs. Smith, which Britt directed, at Out of the Box Theater Company in Lewiston, Maine, in February of 2010. That production of the play was followed by a Q&A with the actor who played Margaret Chase Smith staying in character. The number of Mainers who cited their personal or their family interaction with Senator Smith was both astounding and touching,” Peters says. Margaret Chase Smith made a mark not only for women in politics, but in the lives of countless citizens. At the same time, I was struck by how important the messages of the play still are.”
Brill describes Mrs. Smith as “an intimate look at the life and times of Margaret Chase Smith, told in her own words and in the words of the people closest to her. It tells of her journey from humble beginnings in Skowhegan, Maine, to a position of power and respect as a United States Senator. She relates personal anecdotes and recites from her “Declaration of Conscience,” sharing both private and public moments with the audience. Senator Smith was a woman of courage and integrity, and this production brings her to life for a new generation.”
Aleman says, “Ellen first approached me to do the project in the aftermath of the Presidential campaign and election. I wanted to work with her on it because I felt it has something to say to all women, including my daughter who had just voted in her first presidential election, grieving over the loss of a woman becoming President. It is storytelling in its truest form, and the story it tells is of a true public servant, who fought for the rights contained in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the needs of her constituents and for what she knew was morally correct even when it meant going against her party. Margaret Chase Smith was a pioneer who knew that women belong in politics, due to their humanity, passion and determination. It is a story that I feel honored to bring to Tacoma.”
Following the production of the play there will be a post-play panel discussion with State Senator Jeannie Darneille; Councilmember Lauren Walker Lee; playwright Linda Britt who will travel from her home in Maine to be here; and University of Puget Sound Associate Professor of Politics and Government Robin Jacobson.
Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 27, $10, free to TLT members, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Waltz of the Toreadors at Dukesbay Theater

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 6, 2017
Aya Hashiguchi as Madame Pé and Eric Ray Anderson as General Léon Saint-Pé, photo by Jason Ganwich of Ganwich Media
Randy Clark, co-founder of Dukesbay Theater and director of the French farce The Waltz of the Toreadors, said he saw this play years ago at The Seattle Repertory Theatre and loved it, and that he has never seen it performed anywhere since. He said he does not understand why it is not being produced by other companies.
I agree. It is side-splittingly funny, and it is intelligent and well written.
The show is set in 1910 somewhere in France. Retired General Léon Saint-Pé (Eric Ray Anderson) no longer loves his invalid wife (Aya Hashiguchi), whom he suspects of being a hypochondriac. In fact, he seethes with hatred of her. For 17 years, he has been madly in love with another woman, Ghislaine (Kathryn Grace Philbrook), with whom he danced only once. She is equally in love with him. Over those many years, Léon remained true to his wife (except for some moments he managed to spend off in his garden with the household help, perhaps). Ghislaine has remained a virgin.
When Ghislaine unexpectedly shows up at Léon’s home, pandemonium ensues. And she joyfully loses her virginity ― to say how and with whom would be a spoiler of the worst kind. Other scenes that would constitute spoilers, were I to tell about them, include many hilariously inept attempts at suicide by multiple characters.
The Waltz of the Toreadors is a turn-of-the (last)-century sex farce that is as funny today as it was when it was first performed 66 years ago. Although a contemporary version could benefit from a little trimming.
The set designed by Blake York with scenic painting by Jennifer York is gorgeous. I love the almost exclusively black and white furnishings and backdrops and white fleur-de-lis pattern on the black floor.
Beyond the terrific script, what makes this comedy shine is the acting of the two major characters, Anderson and Philbrook. Anderson portrays the general as so overly excitable that I feared he would have a stroke, and Philbrook is appropriately ditsy and absurd, not to mention libidinous underneath an oh-so-proper facade.
Anderson is the only equity actor in the play, and his resume is golden. He has appeared in such popular television shows as “Northern Exposure,” “Grimm” and “Twin Peaks,” and on stages throughout Western Washington — including (I’m quoting from his program bio) every stage in Seattle. This vast experience is clear in his depiction of General Léon Saint-Pé.
With subtlety and grace, Joseph Grant creates in Dr. Bonfant a character who is wise and witty, and who secretly thinks everyone else is an idiot. Hashiguchi, co-founder of Dukesbay, spends most of the play either in bed or shouting at her husband from off-stage. She plays Madame Saint-Pé as nasty and manipulative (no wonder her husband wants to kill her).
The physical affectations of the secretary, Gaston (Tim Takechi), seemed in the early scenes to be a bit wooden, but as the play moved through time his demeanor made more sense and Takechi’s character became more vibrant.
Other actors in the show are Jeffery Weaver as Father Ambrose, Maria Valenzuela as Madame Dupont-Fredaine, and Jackie Villava-Cua and Audrey Montague as a pair of sisters who are models of shy decorum until they become screeching shrews.
There is reality and even sadness beneath the hilarity of this French farce which, as Clark said, should be produced much more often. I am glad Dukesbay Theater is doing it.

The Waltz of the Toreadors, 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through April 9, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, WA 98402,

Behind the Pines

Photo: Video still and drawing in ink on newsprint by Isabelle Gresser, courtesy Kittredge Gallery

Isabelle Gresser installations, drawings and videos at UPS
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 6, 2017
Video still and drawing in ink on newsprint by Isabelle Gresser, courtesy Kittredge Gallery

All the way from Berlin, Germany, comes multi-dimensional artist Isabelle Gresser with a multi-media installation on the theme of pine trees, humanity, and international cultures. There are multiple videos with found footage and brilliant editing, drawings, photographs, and one wall featuring student work from a project called Nocturn Encounters: Utopian Affirmation, wherein the students came together for a few hours to exchange ideas and make drawings and print poems and other works on paper and attach them to the gallery wall.
Gresser’s video work is inspirational and filled with a density of ideas expressed through a variety of video techniques combined with music and literature, including quotes from many famous poets and novelists. Her videos are stunningly beautiful.
The drawings, both Gresser’s and those by the students, are mostly sketchy and often crudely executed. The best are from a group of small drawings in glass cases along with photographs, and passages from poems and other literary works.
There are five large video works, some projected on large screens and some shown on monitors, all with head phones for listening to accompanying music and poetry. All place modern life, mostly urban, in natural scenes to present complex looks into various cultures and mankind’s relation to both natural and built worlds.
“Nietzsche at Nice” is a surrealistic video that pictures a large video screen (a video within a video) set up on what appears to a boardwalk overlooking the beach at the French town of Nice. On the beach are two sunbathers, one male and one female. A Jeep drives by where sand meets ocean, and an airline flies overhead. A huge cruise ship slowly traverses the scene. Two spacemen appear on the beach next to the sunbathing man. It is a moment wherein reality and unreality meet — the essence of surrealism.
“Iris 2.0” is a smaller video with a Renaissance-style portrait of a woman whose face continuously deconstructs and morphs into various abstract patterns as it is overlaid with concentric circles, geometric patterns, prisms, and a more modernistic collage-like rendering of the mouth of an archetypical model with a toothy smile superimposed over the Renaissance woman’s mouth. The model’s mouth, which is beautiful by most modern standards, becomes horrifying in this image.
“Smart Seoul Poem” is a video of a street scene in Korea. On the street, there is a wall with a mural painted on it. The mural is of trees, and in front of the wall are actual trees which look so much like the painted trees that the only way to tell the difference is to notice how trunks of the painted trees are cut off sharply at the top edge of the wall. Behind the wall is a building under construction. Pedestrians walk past, and some of them fade into shadowy ghost figures. You can see through them. It is a poem in motion.
The other videos are equally intriguing, with multiple meanings and many beautiful and startling special effects.
Showing in the smaller back gallery is Painting the National Parks: Preserving A.W. Hill's Experience, an exhibition of landscape paintings from the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s and 30s by Abby Williams Hills, a popular artist at the time who lived and worked in Tacoma.

Behind the Pines: Isabelle Gresser, Kittredge Gallery, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., through April, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701. 

The Funeral of Sir Francis Rottenfoot Sr.

This looks like a helluva lot of fun.

The Funeral of Sir Francis Rottenfoot Sr. is an experimental spoken-word piece written and performed by Rachel Lionheart. Lionheart is a writer and spoken word artist.

"I have been developing The Funeral of Sir Francis Rottenfoot, Sr. over an 11-year period, through many phases and relationships in my life and after my brother died of psychedelic mushrooms. in 2001," Lionheart says. "I did not have words for his loss, but I did have an extremely heightened imagination and training from NYU in physical-based theater. Each performance of Sir Francis is a dedication and commitment to listening to the distinct, and at certain points of grief, unrecognizable inner-voice that makes sense out of the nonsense of life and death. This current evolution is dedicate to my Aunt Ruth and her daughters and grandchildren."

Rachel Lionheart
Saturday April 8th at 7 p.m, $10 suggested donation

Tacoma Community Arts Center located at:
1102 MLK Jr. Way
Tacoma, WA 98405