Thursday, July 26, 2018

Broadway Olympia Productions

A new theater comes to Olympia
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 26, 2018

Season introduction celebrations, from left: Lexi Barnett (holding child), Kyle Murphy, Matt Posner, photo by George Dougherty

A new theater company premieres its opening season the weekend of August 16 to 19 with the popular musical Legally Blonde, to be follow by other hit musicals: The Rocky Horror Show in October, The Wedding Singer in February, Young Frankenstein in March, and Cabaret in May. For the first season at least, they are sticking to musicals with broad public appeal, and each show will run one weekend only. But founder and managing director Kyle Murphy has indicated a willingness to tackle some less sure-fire properties in future seasons. “
We hope to partner and collaborate with as many local performing organizations as possible, not limited to musical theater,” he says.

Shows will be performed in the historical Capitol Theater, where the company has added new lighting fixtures and taken steps to ensure the best possible audio.
Helping get the new company rolling is an all-star group of local theater professionals, including Lexi Barnett; Amy Shepherd; Bruce Haasl; Heidi Fredericks from Apple Tree Productions; and Chris Serface, artistic director of Tacoma Little Theatre.
“It took me four years to find a creative partner, Lexi, who shared my vision and had the experience to execute it,” Murphy says.
Barnett says she loves Murphy’s “intention to create opportunities for the Olympia community — and really that is our focus. We put out an all-call for anyone to submit resumes and letters of interest to direct, choreograph, music direct and design for our shows this season. We ended up really getting a mix of people who hail from Olympia and from other areas of the Pacific Northwest, which to me is also inspiring. I love the idea of the theater community in Washington getting to broaden their scope and work with people from many places.”
“I approached Bruce Haasl about designing and building sets before I ever spoke to a director. He was the first person I asked to work with me,” Murphy says. Haasl is known as the longtime designer for the old Capital Playhouse and has more recently designed sets for Harlequin and Tacoma Musical Playhouse.
Amy Shepherd was the first local person to step up and offer to help and has continued to be one of our strongest connections to the existing theater community.” Shepherd is the group’s community outreach director and will choreograph Young Frankenstein. “It is one of my favorite musicals,” she says. “I'm really excited about Broadway Olympia, I think that the more theater Olympia has the better.”
Barnett says, “We have Chris Serface and Jimmy Shields returning to the area to direct shows for us. We also have some amazing Olympia natives on our team in people like Bruce Haasl, Mishka Navarre, and L.M. Attea. We saw the same thing with auditions for Legally Blonde. We got a lot of great Olympia talent coming out, and we got some actors who have come out from other towns as well. We had about 50 actors come out for auditions.
Murphy originally intended to launch with two small-cast shows, but he credit’s Barnett’s “experience, confidence and council” for the decision to launch with a full season.
Murphy says Legally Blonde, the season’s opening show, “has a much deeper message than appears on the surface.” It is the story of Elle Woods, a supposedly superficial blonde who becomes a law student at Harvard. Elle will be played by Jessica Furnstahl. Her arrogant and stuffy boyfriend, Warner Huntington III, will be played by James Padilla. Molly Quinn will be Elle’s friend, Paulette, a gutsy and streetwise hairdresser; her friend, Emmett Forrest will be played by Henry Talbot Dorset; and Professor Callahan will be played by Andrew Fry.
Legally Blonde, 8 p.m. Aug. 16-19 and 2 p.m. Aug. 18-19, Capitol Theatre, 206 East Fifth Ave., Olympia, $20, 253.961.4161  

Nicholas Nyland’s Reliquary at Feast Art Center

Photo: glazed ceramic sculpture by Nicholas Nyland, photo by Alec Clayton

A merging of painting and sculpture 
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 26, 2018

glazed ceramic sculpture by Nicholas Nyland, photo by Alec Clayton
Nicholas Nyland has been showing art around Tacoma for quite some time, and I thought I was familiar with his work, but the raw stoneware and terracotta earthenware in his show Reliquary at Feast Art Center offers some things I’ve not seen from him before. His explosions of primary colors and jagged, chunky forms are typical of Nyland, but I’ve never seen such forms and colors combined with clay that has not been glazed. Or, to be more accurate, clay that is glazed only in strategic areas.

Predominant in the colors he uses are a soft baby blue combined with dark metallic grays and blues, delicate pink and lavender in at least one of the wall-hanging pieces, and in a few pieces a clash of every primary and secondary color on the color wheel. He contrasts these colors with the natural clay in exciting ways.
There are ceramic works best described as plates and relief paintings (descriptively, not literally) that hang on the wall, and there are freestanding ceramic sculptures displayed on tables, and paintings and drawings on paper and canvas. I think it would be accurate to describe the three-dimensional works as painterly sculpture or sculptural paintings.  Imagining Jasper Johns painting on ceramic sculptures by Peter Voulkos might give you a mental picture of these works.
The forms are rough, and the colors are bright and highly contrasting. Many of them have a look that I associate with Mexican art, primarily because of the colors and the exuberance, which is, of course, not typical of all Mexican art.
The art is abstract but inspired by the real world. You might not be able to identify what is depicted, but you might well sense the presence of architecture or playing cards or animals. The title of the show, Reliquary, also hints at what inspired many of the forms. There are solid looking containers that look like they are made to hold relics, and the decorative surfaces on some of the wall-hung pieces look like either symbols on shields or coat-of-arms.
In a written statement, Nyland explains, “I’m particularly interested in bringing antique motifs and elements of craft or applied art practices into a fine art context.”
One of my favorite pieces looks like a beast of burden, a burro perhaps, that is wrapped with golden looped chains upon which have been stuck pendants of many colors. The beast’s head is a color wheel. What I like about this is that it hints at representing something recognizable without giving away what it is — more importantly, perhaps, without the meaning of all the reliquary items being made clear. I get the feeling all the connected items have deeply held personal meanings, but an element of mystery remains. 
The drawings and paintings have much the same quality as the sculptural pieces. They look vaguely like interior scenes, but items in the scenes are not recognizable in every instance. There are a couple of large works on paper that have as central figures what looks like a drum sitting in front of a window or door. There is a distinctive Matisse-like quality to these, but they are sketchier and more loosely painted. But yes, they do look quickly thrown together, but in an expressive and exciting way.  
Feast has limited gallery hours, so I suggest planning your visit ahead of time, and by all means make it a priority to see this show.
Nicholas Nyland’s Reliquary, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, through Aug. 12, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Review: Beauty and the Beast at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune, July 20, 2018
By Alec Clayton
Belle (Cherisse Martinelli) and the Beast (Brandon Hell), photo by Kat Dollarhide
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by and Tim Rice and Howard Ashman is now playing at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It is a big production with an elaborate set and lighting, fabulous costumes and a 36-person cast, all of whom are on stage at once during some of the large production numbers such as the show stopping “Be Our Guest” with complex choreography by director and choreographer Jon Douglas Rake.
Set designer Judy Cullen returns with an amazing set featuring a delightful backdrop painting of a small French village and a stunningly beautiful castle replete with a broad staircase and rich blue and purple and gold colors enhanced by lighting director John Chenault’s shadowy effects.
The costumes by Jocelyne Fowler are wildly inventive, as they must be for humans turned into walking and talking clocks and candles and teapots. Belle’s dresses are luxurious and beautiful, especially a white gown that looks like a layered wedding cake.
Prince Adam (Brandon Hell) is turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress (Kathy Kluska). For years he has hidden his grotesqueness in his castle. His servants are turned into animated pieces of furniture and household items such as Cosworth the clock (Chris Serface), Lumiere the candle (Mauro Bozzo) and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Diane Bozzo). They know the spell can be broken, and everyone will become human again only if the beast can learn to love and be loved.
Meanwhile, back in the village, the beautiful Belle (Cherisse Martinelli) is being relentlessly courted – stalked and harassed by today’s standards – by an arrogant, self-centered hunter named Gaston (Jimmi Cook) who thinks he is God’s gift to women. Belle’s father, the eccentric inventor, Maurice (Joe Woodland) is captured and imprisoned in the beast’s castle. Belle goes to the castle in search of her father and offers to be the beast’s captive if he will let her father go, which he does. Instead of being put under lock and key as her father was, she is given a private room in the castle and asked to dine with the beast. She resists at first, but gradually she learns to see the humanity underneath the beast’s outer shell. What this leads to is, of course, what the audience knows will happen, and it is beautiful and magical and romantic despite being totally predictable.
Cook, who has the physique of a body builder, is perfectly cast as Gaston, who spends all his time with muscle poses when he is not pursuing Belle. Beyond looking the part so perfectly, he is a good actor and singer.
I like the choice of Martinelli for the part of Belle because she is befittingly beautiful, not in a trite fairy-princess sort of way, but with the beauty of a down-to-earth, sensible and intelligent young woman, which is precisely how Belle is written. She also has a strong voice.
Hell does a terrific job of acting, and he has a beautiful deep and mellow voice. My only complaint is he is not large enough and his costume is not ugly or frightening enough to be the beast as described (at one point, Maurice says he is eight feet tall). On the other hand, since it is a play that appeals to children, it is probably a good thing he isn’t more frightening.
Also deserving of special note are Bozzo as Mrs. Potts and Karen Early-Evans as Madame de la Grande Bouche, both of whom sing stupendously.
The only actor I found to be somewhat disappointing is Woodland as Belle’s father, who should be more animated. My only other complaint is I wish it could be about half an hour shorter. It did drag a bit in parts of the second act.
All-in-all, it is a wonderful fantasy romance beautifully staged.

Beauty and the Beast
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 29
WHERE: Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$31
INFORMATION: (253) 565-6867,

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reading Pete Dexter

By Alec Clayton

When reviewing/commenting on the first draft of my novel Tupelo, Ned Hayes made reference to Paris Trout by Pete Dexter. I had read it years before, and I remembered I had been greatly impressed with it at the time, but I couldn’t remember much about the actual story or Dexter’s writing style. (One of the great things about getting older is you can re-read stuff and it’s like you never read it.) So I read Paris Trout again and was astounded at how good it was. It’s a book that turns Southern Gothic inside out and creates a whole new genre unlike anything else ever written. The title character is the strangest and most horrific character I have ever come across in literature. It’s a cliché to say “I couldn’t put it down.” But if it were not for having to eat and sleep, I would not have been able to. Paris Trout is horrifying, hilarious, and compelling.
I mentioned it on Facebook, and my friend Ned (a great writer in his own right and the person responsible for me reading it) commented that Dexter is a writer’s writer. Damn right he is.
I loved Paris Trout so much that as soon as I finished reading it I picked up another Pete Dexter novel, Deadwood. For the first third or so of Deadwood, I was slightly disappointed, partly because I could not sense much of a story arc, and partly because a major character and an American legend, Wild Bill Hickock, didn’t do much of anything except get drunk, play poker (usually losing) and shoot things off the head of a doga circus-type performance played out in a bar with an accommodating and trusting dog. But then, starting with a chapter called China Doll (a Chinese prostitute) it started getting increasingly more compelling. It’s a true story, and I’ve been told it was meticulously researched and accurate. The town of Deadwood is beautifully depicted as what must have been one of the rawest and wildest towns in American history, and some of the characters such as Calamity Jane and an unnamed “soft brain bottle fiend” should stick in my mind for as long as I livein direct contradiction to my earlier statements about not remembering well.
And again, as soon as I finished that one, I started another Dexter novel, Spooner. I’ve barely started it, but already I am floored with Dexter’s writing, the uniqueness of his characters and how skillfully he weaves together the elements of a story. If I were a writing teacher, I would use Dexter as an object lesson in the art of writing. I would talk about how well he uses similes that are creative and the result of careful observation and memory. For example, in Spooner he describes a profound and sudden silence as being like when you dive into water and the moment you go under all sound ceases. When I read that I immediately recalled when I was a teenager diving off the high board at the swimming pool in Tupelo, the sounds of all the kids shouting and splashing and laughing melded together as a kind of symphony as I descended toward the water and became utter silence once my ears were under water. I had not thought of that in half a century, but Dexter brought it back to me in such a way that I didn’t just understand the silence his character experienced, I heard it.
If I were teaching Dexter, I would talk about the opening paragraph of Spooner. It is two sentences long; the first sentence is convoluted and poetic and packed with information. It is followed by a short, bare-boned sentence that hits with the force of an ax chopping wood. The next paragraph follows the same kind of pattern, so by the time you have read these first two paragraphs you are hooked, and you are dying to know about the boy named Spooner who has just been born. That’s good writing. If you’re looking for books to sink your teeth into this summer, give Dexter a try.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Puget Sound Book Artists Eighth Annual Members’ Exhibition

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 5, 2018
"A Work in Progress" by Mary Preston, courtesy University of Puget Sound
Book artists, meaning artists who create books conceived as works of art, combine many of the most fascinating elements of books — stories told with words and sometimes illustrated with pictures — and elements of visual arts such as drawn, painted and sculpted images. When these elements are skillfully woven together, the results can the magical.
The Puget Sound Book Artists Eighth Annual Members’ Exhibition at Collins Library, University of Puget Sound offers 57 unique and original books by 36 different artists displayed in a dozen glass cases in the library. There are folding books, books in boxes, books that are stand-alone sculptures, accordion sheets of paper and cloth and other materials with drawn, painted, sewn and sculpted images and decorations, and elaborate pop-up books. Many of the books look as if the pages are meant to be opened, and I wish they could be opened to see what, if anything, is on the hidden pages; but they can’t be touched.
Some of the books tell stories with words and images, whether fiction or non-fiction. Some only hint at stories and thereby stir the viewer’s imagination, and some are purely decorative or abstract with no attempt at storytelling.
The complexity of these works of art and the patience, skill and inventiveness of the artists who create them are truly impressive.
“The Puget Sound Book Artists have a following and now an excellent reputation in the South Sound and beyond,” said Jane Carlin, director of Collins Memorial Library and vice president of the organization. “It is truly an honor to host this exhibit and each year. I am astonished at the creative and inspiring art on display.”
Jan Dove’s “The Horseman” captured the Curator’s Choice award. It is an accordion-fold book with illustrations of horses and people in sensitive line drawings over fields of color. There are a few lines of poetry that talk about hearing approaching hoofbeats and the line “Let’s hope it’s not those four horsemen,” indicating, as I interpret it, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Stylistically, the drawings harken back to Roman art.
A work that is similar in that it features staccato line drawings over other images is Bonnie Halfpenny’s “With a Compass, Without a Map.” It is also an accordion-fold book. The first page features written text that briefly tells the stories of four accomplished women in the post-Civil War era. Drawings of each of the women are created in black thread over collaged images. The materials are tule, paints, thread and more. The craftsmanship is admirable, as are the women whose stories are depicted. I would like to find out more about them.
One of my favorite books is Sandy Tilcock’s “Opening the Mouths of the Dead,” a two-sided accordion in a clamshell box with images in intaglio, letterpress and hand painting. It illustrates the story of a third-grade girl in North Carolina in the 1960s who used the Egyptian Book of the Dead to “navigate her complicated relationship with her father.” This one is a clear example of what I was thinking of when I said book art combines elements of books and art. There is history, drama and beauty galore in this show.
There will be a panel Discussion Thursday, July 12, from 5:30- 7:30 p.m. in the Archives Seminar Room, second floor.
Puget Sound Book Artists Eighth Annual Members’ Exhibition, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday and Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, through July 27, Collins Library University of Puget Sound, 1500 N Warner St, Tacoma

Marilyn Frasca exhibit