Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Cinder Edna returns to Olympia Family Theater

Olympia Family Theater brings back a local legend
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano

from left: Justin Valdez as Prince Rupert and Mandy Ryle as Cinder Edna, photo by Alexis Sarah
Olympia Family Theater premiered Cinder Edna five years ago, almost to the day, and now they’re bringing it back with some revisions and a larger cast. A local actor not involved in either production called it a legend and wondered if it was too soon to bring it back. I think not. I think the time is just right.
Based on the children’s picture book by Ellen Jackson and adapted for the stage by local actor and writer Ted Ryle, with music by Ryle and Miriam Sterlin and arrangements by Mark Thome, Cinder Edna offers a wise modern version of the Cinderella story that, among other delightful twists, points out that marrying a prince might not be the best thing a young maiden can aspire to.
from left: Mark Alford as Prince Randolph and Mandy Ryle as Cinder Edna, photo by Alexis Sarah
Cinder Edna (Mandy Ryle) is Cinderella’s next-door neighbor. Both are poor step children who slave for their heartless step mothers (who, in this modernized version of the fairy tale spend all their time on their cell phones as do their other daughters). That’s where the similarity ends. Unlike her pitiful neighbor, Cinder Edna is a budding young entrepreneur who cooks delicious dishes and sells them, with the cooking and the sales transpiring behind her clueless step mother’s back. While Cinderella (Corissa DeVerse) wears her glass slipper’s and a beautiful gown to the Prince’s ball, transported in the magical pumpkin coach (a sweet nod to magical tradition), Cinder Edna wears a sensible dress and loafers and catches a bus to the ball.
And there are two princes, one for each of the Cinders. Prince Randolph (Mark Alford) is a narcissist in love with his image in the looking glass. Prince Rupert (Justin Valdez) is the practical brother who runs a recycling business.
The arrival of the pumpkin coach — in sections that are danced in by actors — is a magical moment that could rival any big-stage production even though it is simply painted cut cardboard.
There are lines that are hilarious because they are so true, such as when it is pointed out that the glass slipper is just a shoe that would easily fit at least a quarter of the women in the kingdom.
The ensemble cast is great. DeVerse was a great choice for Cinderella. She has an outstanding voice. Valdez is a likeable Prince Rupert. In an amazing range of roles from Johnny in American Idiot at Lakewood Playhouse to Kyle in OFT’s Fishnapped, Alford’s acting ability continues to amaze. He is captivating as Prince Randolph, but this prince is too one-dimensional for an actor of Alford’s statue, and his preening and looking-glass gazing becomes a little too often repeated by the middle of the second act. Other actors in supporting roles stand out, notably Jesse Morrow as Edna’s step sister and Jennifer Cariaso as the fairy godmother. And, of course, there is the title role of Edna, played marvelously by Ryle. She brings this made-up character to life and makes her real, down-to-earth, big-hearted and lovable. And she sings up a storm.
Finally, a big shout-out to director Jen Ryle, choreographer Vanessa Postil, and set designer Jill Carter.
Cinder Edna, 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through June 3, $19 adults, $16 military, $13 youth, http://olyft.org/tickets, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

My Fair Lady at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, May 25, 2018
From left: Eliza Dolittle (Leischen Moore), Col. Pickering (Gary Chambers) and Henry Higgins (Jonathan Bill), photo by Kat Dollarhide
For a fun three hours of musical entertainment you can’t go wrong with a well-staged production of Lerner and Lowe’s perennial favorite “My Fair Lady” – even if you’ve seen it many times before. This one never gets old. And Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s production is as good as any you’re likely to see from a regional company.
The story, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” recounts what happens when an arrogant, self-centered but brilliant professor of phonics bets he can teach an uneducated woman who butchers the queen’s English to speak and act so graciously as to be passed off as a high-class lady.
The gentleman professor is Henry Higgins (played marvelously by Jonathan Bill, most recently seen as Frank Abagnale Sr. in “Catch Me If You Can”). The “guttersnipe” (Higgins’s descriptive term) is the poor cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Leischen Moore). The friend with whom Higgins makes the bet is Col. Hugh Pickering (Gary Chambers). I can’t imagine better casting for these three major characters. Bill plays Henry Higgins as snooty and full of himself, but with a subtle undercoat of well-concealed humanity. Chambers, who has been outlandishly good in many recent plays at Lakewood Playhouse, nicely underplays Col. Pickering as one of the most down-to-earth characters in the play. And Moore shimmers and captures the audience’s heart as the delightful Eliza. She is funny and loveable, she sings wonderfully and handles the changes in accents with ease – or seeming ease, as she probably worked like the devil to make it look easy.
Outstanding in supporting roles are Andrew Fry as Eliza’s drunken, scheming father, Alfred; Diane Bozzo as Henry’s mother; Colin Briskey as the simpleton Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who falls helplessly in love with Eliza; and Marion Reed as Henry’s house servant, Mrs. Pearce. Reed’s strong voice stands out distinctly in ensemble songs.
As it happens in many musicals, there is usually some star-quality ensemble actor who stands out in the big production numbers. In TMP’s “Catch Me If You Can” that stand-out ensemble actor was Cameron Waters, and here he is again as an unnamed drunk cohort of Alfred Doolittle. I could hardly keep my eyes off him, especially in the song and dance “With a Little Bit of Luck.” Watch for him to start showing up in leading roles soon.
What makes “My Fair Lady” so enjoyable is first that the story, while being a bit of fluff on the surface, skewers the pretentions of the upper class and pokes at the lower classes in a delightful and non-judgmental way; and second because it is filled with great music. How could you not enjoy songs like “Wouldn’t it be Loverly,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “On the Street Where You Live”?
John Chenault’s lighting, John Douglas Rake’s direction and choreography, Jeffrey Stvrtecky’s music and Bruce Haasl’s sets hardly need mentioning, as they are always terrific. To that list of worthies, I should add Jocelyne Fowler for outstanding costume designs.
“My Fair Lady” is a long show at three hours, but the time flew by for me.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through June 10
WHERE: Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$31
INFORMATION: (253) 565-6867, http://www.tmp.org

Friday, May 25, 2018

Pastel Society International at American Art Company

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 24, 2018
“Contemplating Conservation” pastel by LaDonna Kruger, courtesy American Art Company
Two big shows are running simultaneously at American Art Company, Women in Wood and the 32nd NW Pastel Society International Exhibit. As if that were not enough, they are also showing some excellent fiber art, including some terrific work by local favorite Jill Nordfors Clark.
Women in Wood features wood pieces by 13 women woodworkers from around the country, including turned wood, bent and carved wood and more. 
The pastel show is precisely what you might expect from a pastel invitational, highly traditional work executed with admirable skill. Landscapes abound, along with a few portraits and a smattering of abstracts. The exhibition is all about color, light and texture. The colors are predominantly in the warm spectrum and glow like sunlight on a field of flowers, of which there are many examples in this show. Take, for instance, the dappled light in Mary McInnis's "Shadow Spread," a forest scene of light through leaves casting shadows on a dirt path, or the blinding sunlight in Lynda Lindner's "Unschooling," a picture of two children wading in the surf. Or the subdued light of Deborah Henderson's "Departure," a painting of ducks taking flight from a pond depicted in subtle shades of gray. Or the scorching hot purple, pink and orange of LaDonna Kruger's "Contemplating Conservation," a picture of crowds standing by a body of water (there’s an ominous quality to this, as if the people are marching lemming-like to their execution).
Texture becomes a driving force in some, such as the velvety softness of Janice Wall's "River of Dreams," depicting sunlight through heavy clouds on a mountain stream, or the gritty texture of Kathryn Fehlig's landscape "Hillside of Rabbit Brush," which looks like the artist coated the paper with gesso or some kind of gel and gouged it with a fork, let it dry and then painted over it with chalky pastel colors. Or Eve Miller's "Marsh Textures," which looks like it was painted though the mesh of chicken wire.
The wood pieces include a lot of abstract work, many pieces inspired by animals and seed pods, and a lot that seem to have been inspired by Northwest Indian art. There are also a lot of intricately carved miniature sculptures that are fascinating in their detail, such as Tania Radda's intricate and colorful "Leaf Tea,” a carved teapot with sensual tendrils growing out of it. And there are a lot of pots, some that look like ceramics and some that look like glass, but all of which are made from wood.
One of my favorite pieces in the wood show is "Quadrant" by Merryll Saylan, an iconic wall-hanging, target-like sculpture with soft and subtle color modulations. Another favorite is Kristin Le Vier's "Talisman for the Home," two bent wooden spoons with little green snakes winding around them. This one is funky and clever, and its simple forms are lovely.
Co-curator Betty Scarpino is represented with some fine works, including "Eggs & Crate," a carved white egg with curvilinear forms like a yin-yang symbol in a nest of shredded paper inside a wooden box. She did this one in collaboration with Dixie Biggs.
If you like your art traditional, recognizable and pretty, these shows at American Art Company might be exactly what you’re looking for.
NW Pastel Society International Exhibit, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through June 16, Women in Wood, through July 7, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327, http://www.americanartco.com/.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Photo: “Cathedral” mixed-media sculpture with headphones, table and chair by Andy Behrle, courtesy 950 Gallery

The Light We Hear
Andy Behrle’s audio sculptures at 950 Gallery
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 18, 2018
“Cathedral” mixed-media sculpture with headphones, table and chair by Andy Behrle, courtesy 950 Gallery
I introduced Andy Behrle’s audio sculpture show The Light We Hear in this column last week but did not see the show until after that column was printed. Now, after seeing the show, I offer a more in-depth look at it.
Behrle, who lives near Yakama, seems to be something of a scrounger who haunts flea markets and garage sales for old radios and record players and cameras, refinishes them, guts them and turns them into multi-media, interactive, music-making sculptures and installations with modern technology. (The music in some pieces consists of various electronic sounds unlike what many might expect of music.) Many of them include film or video, particularly images of moving water, and each comes with instructions for playing. Gallery manager Gabriel Brown says each one is specific to a place.
A few examples:
“Cyclone-o-phone” mixed-media sculpture with headphones, table and chair by Andy Behrle, courtesy 950 Gallery
“Cyclone-o-phone” is one of the most beautiful pieces in the show. It is a radio-turntable in a highly polished wooden cabinet. A hinged door opens to the inside where a turntable once sat, but instead of the turntable there are chemical-lab beakers, flasks and test tubes, and inside the largest flask is an active water spout or cyclone which casts rainbow reflections.
Nouveaualso resides in a beautiful old wooden radio cabinet, this one from the 1940s, but instead of the interior workings of the radio there is a video screen with footage from two cameras at Lake Celilo on the Columbia River, one filming the movement of water on the lake’s surface, and the other filming the sky as seen from under the water. The audio portion is the sound of the water.
Some get quite complicated. A record player called “Magnavox Astrum” contains a modern sound board visitors can play with to adjust record speed and choose between classic or electronic modes of play and change the rhythm. This one was a lot of fun.
Not all the pieces are in old radios, record players or cameras. There is one quite beautiful and meditative piece involving sound and moving images in a modern flat screen television, and Behrle’s most recent piece is a video projection on a wall that looks like a modern mandala but is, in fact, made up of images of the sun seen at different wavelengths.
I confess that the science and technology involved in many of these works are beyond my comprehension, and I was not overwhelmed with the beauty of the audio aspects, but I loved the visual elements. The water images are mesmerizing. I appreciate the nostalgic element and the classic design of the old radios and record players. Like me, I suspect that each viewer will find certain parts of this show more interesting than others; but all, I’m sure, will find much to like.
950 Gallery is the renamed Spaceworks Gallery on Pacific Avenue (entrance on South 11th Street).
The Light We Hear at 950 Gallery, 1-5 p.m. Thursdays (until 9 p.m. Third Thursday), or by appointment, through June 21, reception 5-9 p.m., May 17, 950 Pacific Ave. Suite 205, Tacoma, 253-627-2175, www.spaceworkstacoma.com/gallery.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Talley’s Folly at Olympia Little Theatre

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 3, 2018
from left, Jeremy Holien and Silva Goetz, photo by Jim Patrick
Talley’s Folly is a sweet romance with an unlikely couple, the daughter of a wealthy garment factory owner in Missouri and a Jewish immigrant from the East Coast. This two-person, Pulitzer Prize-winning play takes place during World War II in one act (97-minutes long with no intermission) and in a single setting, a boathouse on a river not far from St. Louis.
Matt (Jeremy Holien) and Sally (Silva Goetz) had an affair a year ago that did not end well — he calls it an affair; she denies it was any such thing — and now he has returned to try and win her back. Like so many love stories, it starts off as an apparent comedy in which the lovers are at each other’s throats, gradually evolves into a serious drama, and of course, ends with a kiss.
They meet in secret at the boathouse down the hill from her family home.
Before going any further, I need to say something about the boathouse. Constructed by Chester Derry, Evan Froyland, Mike Gurling and Paul Malmberg (no set designer credited), it is a boathouse built to look like a gazebo. It is a beautiful set, far too beautiful to ring true. If nothing else, it should be more rustic with wood flooring instead of the white sheet board that didn’t exist in 1944. The use of a green tarp for water was ingenious and looks very much like a river thanks to lighting by Jacob Viramontes.
The play opens with Holien in character as Matt breaking the hell out of the fourth wall by walking into the space from the lobby onto the water where he stays to tell the audience what is about to happen, including how long the play is going to be and that it will be presented as a waltz in three-four time. And then in a truly funny comic bit, albeit stolen from The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), he repeats everything in fast motion for the benefit of people who came in late. 
Giving credit where credit is due, a play that is nothing but dialogue between two characters, with no action and no set changes (think My Dinner With Andre), is a huge challenge for the actors and the director (Jim Patrick), and all three rise to the challenge. Goetz plays Sally as feisty, sweet and loveable despite being angry throughout much of the play. She excels at the small gestures that create character. One gets the impression there’s much more to her than just the angry young woman frustrated with this man who has come back into her life. And when she finally lets her frustrations and anger explode, it is deeply affecting. Holien plays Matt as an intellectual who uses humor as a weapon. He displays talent for mimicry as he imitates the voices of other people in Sally’s life. His mannerisms are, well, a bit overly mannered.
The end of the play, after about 90 minutes of verbal war, is taut, heart-wrenching and ultimately sweet. And then Matt breaks the fourth wall for just a moment to tell the audience goodbye. These moments at the beginning and end when Matt talks to the audience are totally unnecessary. Pulitzer Prize or not, Lanford Wilson’s script would be better if he had cut those bits. 
Talley’s Folly, 7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through May 13, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, $11-$15, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., 360.786.9484, http://olympialittletheater.org/

Senior Art Show at University of Puget Sound

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 3, 2018
painting by Kiri Bolles, courtesy University of Puget Sound
If the 12 artists represented in the Senior Art Show at University of Puget Sound’s Kittredge Gallery are an indication of what the future of art in the South Sound holds in store, the future shall be bright.
The Senior Art Show is Puget Sound’s annual exhibit of studio-based senior thesis projects by studio art majors represent the culmination of their studies at UPS with anywhere from a single piece to a dozen or more from each artist, with each artist’s work expressing a theme of their choosing.
Mairan Smith’s four oil-on-canvas paintings deal with “the ideas of intimacy, power and consent.” They are paintings of sleepers. Two of the paintings picture individual sleepers, vulnerable and alone, unaware they are being spied upon by the voyeur-artist. Apropos of the stated theme, the artist wields the power; the subjects have ostensibly not granted consent. The other two paintings are of couples sleeping together but with their bodies positioned at angles away from each other. The light and shade in all are dramatic, and the paint is applied in flat blocks of color with little modulation. Stylistically they teeter somewhere between the photo-realism and the more painterly realism in the Edward Hopper mold. I wish Smith had gone more in one direction or the other, either of which would have been more confident statement.
Similar to Smith’s paintings are Kiri Bolles’s surrealistic paintings of isolated figures, one male and four female. They are each carefully painted and realistic, like Smith’s paintings but leaning more toward trompe l’oeil painting. Each figure could be a fashion model, but for the addition of something strange. Bugs, flowers, and other things foreign to the body are seen crawling on or emerging from the bodies. These foreign invaders represent illnesses both physical and emotional, as indicated by the titles. One includes real (or perhaps silk) flowers projecting out of holes cut into the painted body of a woman. These are shocking images skillfully painted.
The most beautiful and most personally revealing, intellectually and emotionally challenging, are Emily Katz’s relief collage pictures of vaginas, each constructed of newsprint, rice paper, other papers and flower petals. There are eight of these, each a constructed vaginal shape on a white board standing on an arc of sculpture stands. On the backs of each are engraved stories of the artist’s thoughts as she studies herself in the mirror over time, beginning as a young girl, expressing confusion, shame, and eventual acceptance and strength. As an example, she writes on one, “I never thought sex was supposed to be pleasurable for me.” Looking at the eight as a group and then studying the slight variations in each can be an enrapturing experience in purely visual terms. Combining this with the experience of reading the stories may be eye-opening and even embarrassing or frightening for some viewers.
Sam Crookston Herschlag displays strikingly beautiful minimalist sculptures in wood, steel and copper leafing. The shapes are elegant, and the contrasts between the deep brown of the wood and the brilliance of the gold leaf enhances the purity of shape, color and texture.
No matter your taste in art, you will surely find something to like in this show of future art stars.

Senior Art Show, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., through May 13, Kittredge Gallery, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701