Thursday, December 27, 2018

1940s Radio Hour at Harlequin Productions

An old-fashioned Christmas musical
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 27, 2018

From left: Edsonya Charles as Ann Collier, Miguel Pineda as B.J. Gibson, Bruce Haasl as Clifton Feddington, Xander Layden as Wally Fergusson, and Christie Murphy-Oldright as Ginger Brooksphoto courtesy Harlequin Productions

Christmas might be over, but Harlequin Productions continues celebrating the season until New Year’s Eve. For this year’s holiday show, Harlequin dove deep into their archives to re-stage their first holiday show, The 1940s Radio Hour. First performed in 1993, this is the one that inspired the theater’s “Stardust” series, the ever-popular series that has run for 22 seasons.
It is Dec. 21, 1942, one year into WWII, in the Algonquin Room of Manhattan’s Astor Hotel where the radio show “The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade” is being broadcast. Station manager and show host Clifton Feddington (Bruce Haasl) is frantic because most of the performers and band members are late or are not doing what they’re supposed to do, house manager Pops Bailey (Gerald B. Browning) is running a bookie operation in the station, featured singer Johnny Cantone (James Dean) is nowhere to be found, and young and pesky delivery boy, Wally Ferguson (Xander Layden) is begging him to let him sing on the show.
But the show must go on, and go on it does, complete with a cavalcade of hit 1930s and ’40s songs including “I Got a Gal from Kalamazoo,” “Blue Moon,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and Christmas standards including “Jingle Bells,” “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with on air commercials and a live broadcast of “A Christmas Carol” complete with sound effects by sound man Lou Cohen (Nathan Rice). Drummer Biff Baker (Andy Garness) provides a note of sentimentality and patriotism because he is in the Air Force and it is his last night. Tomorrow he is being shipped overseas to fight in the war.
Throughout the broadcast there are endless miscues and other silliness, and star Johnny Cantone gets increasingly drunk.
The play is lighthearted, shmaltzy and outdated. The Cantone character is a shame, because drunkenness ceased being funny a long time ago, and Dean is too good an actor and singer for that unfortunate role. His voice is clear, deep and resonate — a crooner to equal the best of the big band era or any other era.
Compensating for the dated script, the music is outstanding, the commercials are funny, and the radio play-within-a-radio-play is a joy to behold. Singers Carolyn Willems Van Dijk as Connie Miller and Christie Murphy-Oldright as Ginger Brooks both have strong and melodious voices, Miguel Pineda as singer B.J. Gibson is outstanding, Layden as Wally is the comic hit of the show.
As always, the band is outstanding with Garness on drums, Rick Jarvela on bass, David Steadman on trumpet, Aaron Wolff on saxophone, and show Director/Musical Director Aaron Lamb on piano.
1940s Radio Hour, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 31, State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $49 general. $45 senior/military, $25 student/youth, 360.786.0151,

Plein Air panting at American Art Company

The Journey
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly  Volcano, Dec. 27, 2018
 “Falling Through the Cascades,” oil painting by Patricia Clayton, courtesy American Art Company
Now on view at American Art Company is The Journey, an exhibition of Plein Air Washington Artists.
I can’t honestly review this exhibition without stating my personal bias — and yes, critics always have personal biases, no matter how they might try to be objective. The paintings in this show are of a type I usually disdain. They are slick, commercial, calendar art: warmed-over Impressionism, a kind of art that has been done to death over the past century.
Having stated my bias, I will now talk about some of the better pieces in the show. But first, one more general statement: This show does something I have never seen. It shows plein air paintings next to identical or almost identical paintings of the same subject that were painted back in the artists’ studios, as opposed to out in nature, which by definition is what plein air painting is. The only difference in most cases is the size and the price. 
Patricia Clayton’s “Falling Through the Cascades” holds down a prime spot, making it the first thing most visitors see when entering the gallery. It is a large painting at 30-by-40 inches. It depicts a rushing waterfall with luscious, heavy paint strokes applied with some kind of knife or scraper — heavy globs of paint that look as wet and shiny as the rocks and rushing water depicted. It is a highly dramatic picture. There are three other paintings by this artist, one a smaller but similar painting of a waterfall and two paintings of golden sunsets over the ocean, one with misty skies and one with golden water. Like “Falling Through the Cascades,” these are bold and dramatic paintings that are executed with great skill, even though the scenes are clichéd it might be noted that heavy paint application is typical of many paintings in this show. There is also a preponderance of mist, water, and sunset themes. Brilliant orange, gold, pink and violet are everywhere to be seen.
Kathryn Townsend’s “Miner’s Cabin” and “End of the Road” have the same kind of heavy impasto, brilliant colors and dramatic scenery as Clayton’s paintings, but with richer color combinations. The brown tones in the foreground look like rich chocolate, and the tiny blue roof on the outhouse dead center in the combination is a real attention grabber.
Karen Bakke’s two paintings of a lighthouse remind me of Edward Hopper’s paintings of lighthouses, but a comparison with Hopper would be unfair to Bakke, because Hopper’s honesty and inerrant sensitivity to spacing and composition is beyond the reach of mortals.
Perhaps my favorite painting in the show is an unpretentious little watercolor by Felicity Chastney called “Silence in Echo Bay. It is quiet, soothing and not so showy as many of the other paintings in this show.

The Journey, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Jan. 26, closing reception 3-5 p.m., Jan. 26, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327,

Friday, December 21, 2018

Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol

A joyful ghost story for all ages

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 20, 2018
Note: It has been announced that remaining performances of this show are sold out.
John Serembe as Ebenezer Scrooge and Zachary Clark as Tiny Tim, courtesy Olympia Family Theatre
Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol is a not-just-for-children adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas ghost story. Olympia Family Theater shortened the play to one hour plus a 15-minute intermission, reimagined all the scary stuff and used puppets for ghosts to make the tale child friendly. Which it is. But it is equally and wonderfully enjoyable for adults thanks to terrific acting and singing, a delightful set (the design team of Jeannie Beirne, David Nowitz and Jill Carter), and Mark Gerth’s non-scary puppets — which don’t have a lot of moving parts but look terrific.
The cast is headed up by the one and only John Serembe as Ebenezer Scrooge. It is highly unlikely that there has ever been a more loveable Scrooge. From his perfect timing to a range of voice and gesture from the subtlest (like blowing out an electronic candle) to the most histrionic (like his reactions when his door knocker turns into the ghost of Jacob Marley), Serembe makes acting the part of this bigger-than-life character seem as natural as downing a delicious mug of tap water. Yes, he even makes the simple act of drinking water hilarious.
In this version of the story, Tiny Tim (Zachary Clark) is 15 years old and no longer needs his crutch. He tells the story of what happened the night mean of Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Be. It turns out it was all a trick played on the old man by Tim, his cousin Charlotte (Emma Thomas), and his friends the bookseller (Peter Rushton) and pie seller (James Wrede) and puppet seller (Andrea Weston-Smart), who pretend to be ghosts.
Clark, previously seen in Charlotte’s Web, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and 3 Impossible Questions, is a 10th grader at River Ridge High School. He is excellent as a sweet, articulate and almost grownup Tiny Tim.
Thomas is also a youth actor, a student at Olympia High School. She is delightful as the teenage Charlotte.
Rushton and Wrede are each over-the-top funny with exaggerated voices and Cockney accents, and Weston-Smart is a natural as the London street vendor and puppeteer.
There are so many versions of A Christmas Carol that no matter where you may be there is sure to be one or more near you, so many in fact that Serembe has now played Scrooge in five different adaptations. This version by the writing team of Ken and Jack Ludwig and directed by Michael Christopher is one of the more enjoyable. It is a funny and heart-warming story filled with good holiday cheer, and it flows so quickly that it is over almost before almost before you know it.
During the run of Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol, OFT is doing a Winter Coat Drive. Donated coats will be given to folks in the community who are without one. Most needed are youth and teen sizes. Bring a gently-used warm coat and get a concessions voucher!

Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol, 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, with one Thursday performance Dec. 7 at 7 p.m., through Dec. 23, $15 $20, Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638.

Roads and Rivers Unseen

Perspectives from Around the World
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 21, 2018
untitled oil painting by Brian Ebersole, photo courtesy the artist
Former Tacoma Mayor Brian Ebersole is a painter and owner of Art Above Gallery, located upstairs in the back of Minka on Pacific Avenue. Ebersole pursued painting in his twenties, and after entering politics he started collecting art in his travels around the world. The current show at Art Above, Roads and Rivers Unseen: Perspectives from Around the World, features landscape and portrait paintings in oil and acrylic, many by Ebersole and many by other artists whose work he has collected over the years.
The paintings are in a style similar to works from the Ash Can School of artists from early 20th century America — Robert Henri, Theresa Bernstein, George Luks, John Sloan and others whose work was a gritty kind of post-impressionist realism not so much celebrating as documenting the real world of working class Americans, warts-and-all portraits and landscapes not of grand scenes but of city streets, working waterfronts and non-idealized vistas. The paint application is heavy and opaque, and their colors tend to be darker than the Impressionists who preceded them.
Along the left-hand wall of the gallery are nine acrylic paintings by Ebersol. Most are landscapes depicting everyday scenes, some of which are almost totally abstract, with clouds and bushes depicted as blurs of color. At the time of the Ash Can School, such paintings were revolutionary in that they pictured subjects that had seldom before been considered worthy of fine art, but today they are more run-of-the-mill. I do wish Ebersol and the others in this show used more vibrant colors and perhaps approached their scenes from more radical viewpoints.
There are two untitled portraits in this group of paintings. My guess is that he did not title them because he did not want to call attention to the subject, which in turn calls attention away from the painting. One of these pictures a strong woman with black hair and black clothing on a dark background. The lighting is like that of a Rembrandt or Carravagio, single source from one side with strong chiaroscuro. There is also a Madonna by Ebersol on another wall who looks rather fierce.
The other walls feature works from Ebersol’s collection and more of his own paintings. There are small luminous landscapes by Vova DeBak and one strong abstract by K.R. Moeher with orange clouds and a slash of bright crimson representing hills.
There are two interesting paintings of boats by Vahe Yeremyan, one picturing fishing boats painted with short, choppy brushstrokes with blue sky and orange-pink clouds, and another with dark brown boats on a yellow beach and hazy sailboats in the background. Many people on the beach are painted with an economy of short brushstrokes. Elements of these paintings remind me of van Gogh (the angular boats on the yellow sand) and of a less turbulent J.M.W. Turner (the misty background scene).
The paintings in this exhibition are neither bombastic or exciting, but they are painted with confidence and quiet dignity. 
Roads and Rivers Unseen, noon to 5 p.m., Thursday-Sunday and by appointment, through Jan. 31, Art Above Gallery, inside Minka, 821 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.961.5220

Friday, December 14, 2018

Review: Rapunzel” a Holiday Pantomime

By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune Dec. 14, 2018
Joshua Jerard as Prince Caspian and Jessie Selleck as Rapunzel, photo courtesy Centerstage

Few people in the United States know about British pantomimes, also known as pantos, but they have been a beloved holiday in London for decades and at Centerstage Theatre in Federal Way for the past 11 seasons.
For those who still do not know, a panto is an outlandish fairy tale retold as an extended Vaudeville routine for children and adults with stock characters. There is always a fairy godmother and a friendly character who narrates the story , and one or more overly ugly “women” (men in outrageous drag), sometimes beautiful women playing men, a handsome prince (often played by a woman); bad jokes and worse puns; tons of local references and topical humor such as slams on places like Rife and Enumclaw and jokes like being mad because the Seahawks traded Richard Sherman to the Forty-niners; a lot of audience participation; and finally a lot of rocking music, often popular music updated with comical lyrics.
“Rapunzel” is the story of the beautiful princess, Rapunzel (Jessie Selleck) who was locked in a tower all her life and grew her hair absurdly long – it has to be seen to be believed – and how she was rescued from her imprisonment by the handsome Prince Caspian (Joshua Jerard).
The humor, which is both topical and local, begins with the names of some of the characters, such as Dame Fanny Smalls (Brad Cerenzia), Fairy Good (Jenna McRill) and Fairy Nuff (Michelle Abad).
Cameron Waters as the narrator Sammy Smalls (Dame Fanny Smalls’ son) primes the audience like an announcer on a TV show warming up the audience. He tells them when to applaud and cheer and to boo and hiss whenever the evil fairy, Gothel (Deanna Martinez) comes on stage. These two, Waters and Martinez, are the life of the performance. Martinez nails the stereotypical evil witch character with her snarling and sneering and her attempts to romantically snare willing and/or reluctant men in the audience. She is big, brash and wonderful. And Waters is as loveable as a character can be in the role of the narrator. His energy and his range of expression is perfect.
Selleck as the title character displays an ability to run words together in breathlessly long sentences that will rattle your head, and she sings beautifully – especially mesmerizing in her solos on “How far I’ll Go” and “When Will My Life Begin”. Jerard as Prince Caspian also sings terrifically and is funny and loveable.
Also notable are performances by John Kelleher as King Bertie; Barrett Penrod, a member of the large ensemble whose dancing and broad gestures are delightful; and Leila Neidlinger as the Fairy Queen and a member of the youth ensemble. Neidlinger is a fourth grader with acting chops worthy of an experienced adult. Watch for her to light up stages for years to come.
The wild antics appeal to children in the audience, while the ridiculous puns and topical humor appears to the adults. In previous years a lot of the adult humor took the form of slightly risqué barbs and double entendre, but not so much this year.
Two warnings: first, you might not be able to escape the audience participation, and second, at almost three hours including intermission it is long for a show appealing to children – but it did seem to wholly hold their rapt attention.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through Dec. 23
WHERE: Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $35 adults, $30, Seniors, Military: $15; Youth (18-23): $12 17 and younger (plus 5% City of Federal Way admission tax)
INFORMATION: (253) 661-1444,

Kanani Miyamoto’s ‘The In-between’

A new kind of print installation at Feast Art Center 
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 13, 2018
Detail of Kanani Miyamoto’s ‘The In-between’, photo by Alec Clayton
Currently on view at Feast Art Center is an installation called The In-Between by Kanani Miyamoto. It is an installation of printed images that is nigh on impossible to describe because to the best of my knowledge it is a print process that’s seldom if ever before been done. According to the Feast Website, “Miyamoto pushes the standards of printmaking in the form of large-scale mixed-media original prints and installations. She combines copper plate etchings with screen prints and wooden block prints to create rich and unique installations.” What ends up on the walls are images that look for all the world like paintings executed directly on the walls — but unlike mural paintings, they can be removed without doing damage to the images or to the wall and installed again on other walls or in other configurations. (I would love to see Miyamoto come into the gallery weekly or even daily and remove the images and rearrange them.)
Also printed and mounted on the wall, presumably by Miyamoto, is a statement describing “the in-between” as “a mysterious place maybe a place of tension, maybe a place to create new stories. A place between now and the next thing.” That description would certainly hold true if Miyamoto did in fact change the work on display.
Also printed on the wall is a quote from filmmaker Sabaah Folayan: "I'm tired of seeing pictures of men with flowers and the title is Redefining Masculinity. Boy if you don't put that bouquet down and start demonstrating emotional respect, communication skills, and support for women.” These statements are printed in all capital letters and are quoted here with punctuation transcribed verbatim.  
How this relates to the printed murals on display is left to the viewer to interpret.
The printed images are of flowers and vines with heavy, snake-like tendrils that bend around corners and expand onto the ceiling. Could this be called “redefining masculinity?” Perhaps. The heaviness of the vines could be perhaps be viewed as masculine and aggressive, but I will not make that assessment.
It looks like paint, but it is not. The edges of leaves and vines appear hard and precise as do the lines. The leaves and flowers look like watercolor paint, and the patterns on the vines look like snakeskin. Only upon close — very close — inspection does it become clear that what looks like flat areas of color is actually transparent, and other forms, shapes and colors can be seen below the surface as if things seen through colored glass.
The images are sensual, and there is much more to them than appears at first glance. They can be easily dismissed as decoration, but should not be.
This exhibition is part of a yearlong project in partnership with yehaw celebrating indigenous artists in cities across the Puget Sound area. For more information of yeehaw, go to
Kanani Miyamoto’s The In Between, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, through Jan. 11, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

barry johnson at 950 Gallery

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 6, 2018
untitled painting by barry johnson, courtesy 950 Gallery
barry johnson’s paintings at 950 Gallery are unlike art seen anywhere else in Tacoma. Judging from what I was told, johnson is self-taught and has been painting only five years. There is an amateurish quality to his paint application, which I suspect is more intentional than not, but his sensibility and his honesty are  those of a seasoned professional.
johnson says the show is “built atop of the backbone of soul music from the past 30 years.” He further describes the show as “life growing up in the ’80s and ’90s and the party lifestyle that accompanied it.”
The gallery is jam-packed with paintings. Most are large portraits, presumably of family and friends. Some are painted directly on the walls, and some painted on canvas or other supports and hung on the walls. In the smaller front gallery hangs a group of figure paintings. The faces and clothing are painted with flat areas of lush colors with little or no modeling, and the backgrounds are colorful abstract patterns in flat geometric shapes. Painted directly on the walls around them are more geometric patterns that appear to be coming out from behind the paintings. At first glance — until you notice the edges of the canvases — the entire wall appears to be one large mural painted on the walls. There is a fascinating contrast and blending of positive and negative shapes on and around the paintings.
As you entire the larger gallery space, you’ll see three large portrait heads to your right with chunks of wood, mirror and other materials glued onto the surface. The faces are almost featureless silhouettes, and the collaged materials interact with the shape of the faces in ways to make the spaces in between become positive abstract shapes. This is especially evident in the one with the chunk of mirror in the upper right corner.
Also in this larger room are a number of abstract paintings with zig-zag shapes and open spaces where the white of the wall bisects the paintings to create an interesting dance between inner and outer or positive and negative shapes.
There is one wall-size mural that differs from all the rest because instead of figures and faces it is filled with cartoon ghost figures in a jazzy dance of bright colors. All of the shapes in this one are rounded, in contrast to the more angular and geometric shapes in all the other paintings. It is a joyful, celebratory image.
johnson’s use of space and color is sensitive and strong. His colors are vibrant. His paint application tends toward crudity and sloppiness, but as indicated earlier, that looks to be intentional, as if he’s making the point that precise painting skill is not the point. His sloppiness is, in fact, a celebration of the naturalness and exuberance of painting, although in a few of the paintings he’s right on the edge of pushing the slap-dash quality right to the edge of bad painting.
I’m F.I.N.E, 1-5 p.m. Thursdays (until 9 p.m. Third Thursday), or by appointment, through Dec. 20, 950 Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave. Suite 205, Tacoma, 253.627.2175,