Monday, January 28, 2019

The Alphabet Caper

A staged reading at Olympia Family Theater

Ted Ryle and Miriam Sterlin will host a staged reading of their original musical, The Alphabet Caper one night only, Sunday, Feb. 10.

They hope to fill the OFT space with friends of the theater who can offer insights on how they can continue to shine it up! It's a work in progress. Theater people, they're seeking your input. "We’re hoping to produce this project in the next OFT season," Ryle says.

The play transpires in Halonah’s bedroom. She’s a whip-smart, super creative elementary-aged girl. The letters (most of the characters in the show) are a figment of her imagination, and an expression of her creative and emotional life. Everything is peachy in her playground - she and the letters are making up songs, X and Y are helping her with her algebra homework- nothing but good times. Until Halonah learns she is having a baby sister, and her well-ordered world is turned upside down. Things start to go sideways in the alphabet. The vowels revolt against the consonants. Then one of the letters disappears entirely, and the caper commences! 

From Ted Ryle:

Halonah loves letters, and the sounds they make. She just loves letters, and their twisty, turny shapes! “A, E, I love U, O yeah!” This magical, musical caper in two acts takes place in Halonah’s bedroom. Animation and live-action characters bring to life the Alphabetastics - a performing ensemble directly out of Halonah’s imagination. Halonah frolics with her frenetic, phonetic friends during most of the first act, exploring language and word play, figuring out her algebra homework with X and Y, and dancing the ‘Hopscotch, Hokey Pokey, Hand Jive’ with her favorite letter H, the female lead of the Alphabetastics.  

The alphabet is an expression of Halonah’s creative prowess, as well as a soothing salve when she is distressed - "All  you have to do is breathe." H sings to help her calm her nerves. Then, the world shakes, things fall out of place, and Halonah’s well-ordered, letter-filled universe is turned inside out when she learns she’s having a baby sister. Soon the roil of her emotions explodes in to chaos amongst the alphabet, vowels revolt against consonants, tension abounds, and then H disappears altogether, launching us in to the caper of the vanishing letter: "A malevolent deed! Are none of us safe?  Can someone please explain the disappearance of H?" 

Who is the alpha-culprit? Was it G, H’s neighbor? H modifies her, and sometime when H is around it’s as though G’s not even there! How about C, P or T? She modifies them too? Maybe it’s sticky fingers S.  He’s always pocketing things- ‘More, mine, plural, possessive!’  Then suspicion centers on the eccentric end of the alphabet. Is it the inquisitive W, who aspires to the ingenue role currently played by H.  Or X, who envies H, and misses being Halonah’s favorite letter, who loved her exotic, exceptional, mysterious ways. Y is the male lead of the alphabetastics.  Maybe it’s him. And then there’s Z, as suspicious as can be . . . and not much else to do at the end of the alphabet. 

This play looks to be a unique, highly interactive, fantastical experience for the whole family. Silliness, and numerous sight gags will play to the youngest among us. Abundant word-play will enrapture those in the midst of expanded language discovery, and the nuance of the alphabet world with relational drama and occasional entendre will engage the olders in our audience. 

We hope you can join us. Please bring little people, if you have any handy! 

The Alphabet Caper
February 10, 6 p.m. 
Olympia Family Theater
612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Measure for Measure

A staged reading at Tacoma Little Theatre
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 24, 2019
More than 100 years ago William Shakespeare wrote a play, Measure for Measure, about the power differential between men and women. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, actor, writer and director Christian Carvajal wrote an adaptation of Measure for Measure that will be performed as a one-night-only reading at Tacoma Little Theatre.
TLT Artistic Director Chris Surface, who is also one of the actors in the reading, says, "TLT's Off the Shelf program is a wonderful opportunity for pieces that might not fit into a normal season for us. It gives directors an opportunity to play with topics and treatments and work with actors who might not be able to commit to a full run of a show. When Carv brought his idea for Measure to Measure, I knew it would be a great fit."
Andrew Fry
Carvajal says, “I'd never seen or read a production of Measure for Measure before 2017, but I read about a surge of interest in the play as a result of the #MeToo movement and found that intriguing. The moment I read it I understood the connection and resolved there and then to produce a reading of it. It's often categorized as one of Shakespeare's ‘problem plays’ because its conclusion is seen as ethically unsatisfying. Duke Vincentio (Andrew Fry), ostensibly the play's moral center, wraps up the plot in a way that seems counterproductive to the legitimate goals of its heroine, Isabella (Cassie Jo Fastabend, memorable as Ophelia in New Muses Theatre Company’s recent productions of Hamlet and as the title character in Lisistrata). I think the lesson we've learned over the last few years is men cannot be counted on to cede power and treat women fairly.”
Typical of Elizabethan dramas, the cast is huge, and Carvajal has chosen some of the area’s best, including Fastabend, Serface, Fry, Jess Allan, Silva Goetz, Andrew Gordon, Xander Layden, Gabriel McClelland, Robert McConkey, Kathryn Philbrook, John Pratt, Mason Quinn, Drew Doyle, Jed Slaughter, Amanda Stevens and James Wrede.
Cassie Jo Fastabend
Fastabbend says, “I consider finding relevance in scripts a crucial job as a theater artist, especially when working with Shakespeare. In Measure for Measure, there unfortunately isn't a lot of digging that needs to be done to reveal how strikingly similar the characters and story are in today's MeToo era. As an actor and feminist, one who has been subject to sexual manipulation and assault like so many other colleagues and friends, I find deep and important resonance in Isabella's voice. She stands up for herself against all odds, demanding to be heard regardless of the consequences: ‘Most strange, but yet most truly, will I speak... it is ten times true, for truth is truth to the end of reckoning." 
Fray says, "Several things excite me about performing Measure for Measure for Tacoma Little Theatre's Off the Shelf series. First, though I have enjoyed several Off the Shelf performances I have never done one.  Secondly, even after little over a half century of acting in countless plays, this will be the first time I will be doing Shakespeare. Finally, it is a blast working with Carv."
Fry has performed in more than 45 productions in the South Puget Sound area including three at TLT last season, as Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar and Tupolski in The Pillowman.  He was last seen as Scrooge in Scrooge the Musical at TLT and as Callahan in Broadway Olympia's Legally Blonde, and Alfie Doolittle in Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s My Fair Lady.   
Carvajal says the lessons Shakespeare wrestled with in Measure for Measure are questions we’re still wrestling with in 2019.
Measure for Measure, a staged reading, 7:30 p.m., Jan. 31, $10, free to TLT season ticket holders, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N I St., Tacoma, 253-272-2281.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Metaphor into Form

The new Benaroya Wing opens at Tacoma Art Museum
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 23, 2019
“Reconstruction of Pluto and Persephone” glass, steel and photographs, gift of Glen Stewart, photo by Richard Nicol, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
On Saturday, Jan. 19, Tacoma Art Museum celebrated the opening of the new Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Wing, with its 4,800 square feet of new gallery space including the gorgeous vista gallery with its 46-foot-wide window projecting six feet out from the building’s north face. On display in the new wing donated by Rebecca and Jack Benaroya is a collection of selected works from their collection of some 353 glass-art pieces, one of the largest such collections in the world. The entire collection is earmarked to eventually go to TAM.
With this collection, TAM now has more than 900 works of glass art in its permanent collection. The opening exhibition, Metaphor into Form: The Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection, includes iconic works by Dale Chihuly, Howard Ben Tré, Lino  Tagliapietra, William Morris, Dante Marioni and many other artists mostly associated with the Pilchuck Glass School.
“Current,” a 30-foot long glass sculpture by Martin Blank, is installed in the museum lobby. Blank is the artist who created the “Fluent Steps” in the reflecting pool at the Museum of Glass. “Current” is a series of rough aquamarine slabs of glass mounted on and behind metal strips and standing wood beams. It represents the flowing waters of Puget Sound. It is monumental and stunning due to the sparkling color of the glass, strong material contrasts and sheer size.
The first piece to greet viewers upon entry into the new Benaroya wing is Stanislav Libenský’s “Green Eye of the Pyramid III,” a minimalist sculpture in cast, cut and polished glass: a luminous, translucent and mysterious pyramid that seems to bend magically as you look at it from different points of view.
Morris’s blown glass and metal animal sculptures that look for all the world like creatures emergent from some prehistoric slime. These creatures are displayed behind non-reflective glass in a display case that is interesting in itself, being an integral part of the building built around a load-bearing post.
Another display that appears to be an integral part of the building is Charles LeDray’s dark and foreboding “Jewelry Window” fabric, wood, glass and other materials set between glass sheets 42 inches apart in a case that is built to look like a window set into the wall. Any further description would spoil the effect of seeing it in person.
A large part of the gallery — essentially a gallery within the larger gallery ― is set aside for Debora Moore’s four almost-ceiling-high glass trees, each tree representing one of the four seasons of the year. The technical expertise required to make these trees, with their limbs and details such as sprouting flowers and ice crystals and moss on trunks and limbs, is astounding.
No ending date has been set for this inaugural exhibition, but some of the works should be up throughout 2019, and other works from the collection will be brought in.

Metaphor into Form, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, $15 adults, $13 students and seniors, free for military and children 5 and younger, free Third Thursday from 5-8 p.m., Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 253.272.4258,

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Review: “Hamlet”

by Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 18, 2019
Niclas Olson as Hamlet, photo courtesy New Muses Theatre Company
Another practically flawless production by New Muses Theatre Company, and this time it is what many consider the greatest play ever written: William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Director Niclas Olson, who also wrote this adaptation and plays the leading role, downplays the “Melancholy Dane’s” histrionics in much of the play, portraying him as a brooding and more inward-looking young man – not to mention a spoiled and arrogant rich kid – so that when he does give way to histrionics, it is explosive.
Common wisdom says a director should be wary of directing himself, especially not in a leading role, but Olson does just that quite regularly, and he does it spectacularly.
 Juan Aleman II, Niclas Olson, Xander Layden, and Dayna Childs in Hamlet. Photo courtesy of New Muses Theatre Company
The small black box space of Dukesbay Theatre lends itself perfectly to this “Hamlet.” The closeness of the seating to the actors, each of whom enunciate clearly, make it easy to hear every word, which is a real bonus because audiences often have difficulty understanding Shakespeare.
The set and lighting (also by Olson) is simplicity itself, a backdrop of starlight against a black curtain and a single throne chair and no props other than a crop-down curtain and folding chairs that are brought in for the play-with-a-play scene, and of course the fencing foils and masks used in the bout between Hamlet and Laertes (Xander Layden, who doubles as Guildenstern).
The setting is the present day. The actors wear modern street clothes with no special adornment other than the battle helmet worn by the ghost of Hamlet’s father (Juan Aleman II, who doubles as King Claudius).
The lighting and costuming on the ghost of King Hamlet is perfectly ghostly. He is barely seen, and in his overcoat and helmet he looks powerful. Later, the dim lighting on the ghost of Ophelia (Cassie Jo Fastabend) is a tad too dim but still effective.
There is a lot of double casting in this version, and the cast members who double up do a credible job as becoming totally and believably different people. Layden is excitable and expressive as Laertes and more self contained as Guildenstern. When he performs as a declarative actor in the play put on for the benefit of the king and queen, his preening and posing seemed a parody of actors at the time. Angela Parisotto is nervous and fluttery as Ophelia’s mother and becomes a quite comical character as the grave digger.
Fastabend plays Ophelia marvelously. In earlier scenes when she speaks of her love for Hamlet, her eyes and her smile sparkle, making her adoration of the prince palpable.
Newcomer to South Sound stages Victoria Ashley plays Rosencrantz and Barnardo with an intensity to match that of Olson’s Prince Hamlet. This is cross-gender casting at its finest. I look forward to seeing more of Ashley in future performances.
I attended a Sunday matinee along with a handful of other audience members. There were far too many empty seats in what is already a tiny house. Every show should be sold out; my recommendation is get thee to Dukesbay.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 27
WHERE: Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma
TICKETS: $10-$15

Friday, January 18, 2019

Everybody gets skewered


Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits at Lakewood Playhouse
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 17, 2019
 Katheryne Elliott as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, photo by Tim Johnson

I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so much as I did at opening night of Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits at Lakewood Playhouse. Forbidden Broadway is a musical review spoof on almost every big hit musical in the past half century and longer in which everybody gets skewered — from Ethel Merman to Carol Channing to Steven Sondheim to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Since opening Off-Broadway in 1982, there have been more than 20 editions of the show in New York, London and Los Angeles, and each edition spoofs different shows from Chicago to Fiddler on the Roof, to Rent, Hello Dolly and Hairspray. Show business personalities are known to wait in delicious anticipation to see if they’re going to be spoofed next.
from left: Alexis Dyson and Katheryne Elliot in "Rent,"photo by Tim Johnson 
It is a show filled with great music, fabulously skewed lyrics making fun of Broadway. The six-person cast in Lakewood Playhouse’s performance are not only outstanding singers, they are skilled actors, impersonators, and dancers (choreography by Ashley Roy, who is also in the cast).
Sharry O’Hare, who said she did not want to even audition because she didn’t think she could do impersonations, was talked into considering it and changed her mind. She does a spot-on and knockout funny impersonation of Carol Channing.
Micheal O'Hara displays singing chops that will make you go ga-ga when he performs as Mandy Patinkin singing "Somewhat Overindulgent" to the tune of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Dawn Padula as Chita Rivera makes fun of Rita Moreno in a medley of songs from West Side Story, until Katheryne Elliott as Moreno joins her on stage to sing her version, and the two stars (Moreno played Anita in the movie and Rivera played Anita on Broadway) trade insults to the tune of "America" and other songs from West Side Story.
O'Hara makes fun of the great Bob Fosse with the tune "Hey Bob Fosse” sung to the tune of "Hey Big Spender."
The entire ensemble is insanely hilarious doing “Ambition” to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof.
Roy does a long solo impersonation of Liza Minnelli in which she repeatedly brags that her mother is Judy Garland, and Padula does an equally impressive impersonation of Barbara Streisand. The way she brushes her hair away from her face is worth the price of a ticket.

Elliott also performs as Elle Woods from Legally Blonde while cuddling a dog, Alexis Dyson goes Into the Woods with style, while Timothy McFarlan is a comically majestic as Cameron Macintosh, legendary producer of such hits as Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Les Misérables, the latter of which gets more stage time than anything else.

I could go on ad infinitum naming songs and stars but suffice it to say it is two hours of non-stop song and dance, and every number is funny and performed with knock-’em-dead skill.
As a bonus to all that laughter and music, there are countless costume changes throughout with a myriad of inventive costumes designed by Lauren Wells.
Forbidden Broadway is the perfect post-holiday entertainment.
Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m., Sunday, through Feb. 3, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Lakewood, $30, $28 military and seniors, $25 students/educators, 253.588.0042,

Friday, January 11, 2019

Exploring Cultural bias

A powerful group show at Tacoma Community College
by Alec Clayton
published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 10, 2019
 “Foundations” oil painting by Hart James, courtesy Tacoma Community College
Culture, the new exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, is billed as “an exhibition exploring the idea of cultural biases and its influence on the outlook of other cultures.” This is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful group show ever to be mounted at TCC. This is not to say that every work of art by every one of the 28 participating artists knocks it out of the park, or even that every piece even belongs within the theme; but there are enough that are stimulating, that have the capacity to touch the hearts of viewers, and that are aesthetically praiseworthy — starting with Bobbi Ritter’s series on the micro-brew culture of the Pacific Northwest.
There are five small assemblages in Ritter’s series, each with beer bottles and other objects attached to boards and painted. It is as if brewpubs had been wiped out by a volcanic eruption and this is the detritus that remains, stuff stuck to walls and covered with lava and ash. And within the ash are painted images, which relate to or are visual puns on the brands displayed. The one with an Irish Death bottle features a painting of a skull; the one on Wingman Brewery features Wingman beer cans, a model airplane and the painted face of the pilot. With an extra eye. The series as a whole and each individual piece is marked by visual variations and surprises within a unified whole.
Miles Styer’s entry is a model of a covered wagon that serves as a lamp and reminds us about the lives of those who trekked across the country in wagon trains. A wall label proclaims, “One side is a vision of opportunity and life; the other is a vision of destruction and death.” 
"Foundations" ceramics by Irene Osborn, photo by Alec Clayton
Irene Osborn’s ceramic sculpture “She Thought They Would Be Safe Once They Crossed The Border” is an emotionally intense commentary on the plight of refugees crossing into a new homeland where they are not welcomed. Roughly sculpted in chalky white clay, it depicts a screaming woman with arms and hands torn away, one unattached hand clutching an infant to her breast. Like Osborn’s startling and poignant sculpture “Refugee” in TCC’s juried show in October, this figure is hollowed out. The woman’s back opens into a deep cave, and inside the cave is another figure of a mother holding a child. It makes you want to cry or shout out in anger. 
David Keyes’s “King Leopold II’s Legacy” is a harsh reminder of the genocide of the Tutu tribe by the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda. It is a dark construction in rusted metal with a row of six metal cage-like structures with wax hands in them, in recognition of
Belgian plantation owners’ practice of cutting off the hands of workers who didn’t produce enough. 
A light-hearted but penetrating look at a common American cultural phenomenon is Frank Dippolito’s oil painting, “Welcome to Missouri Milepost.” It is a beautifully rendered painting of a billboard off an interstate highway, standing in tall grass. The billboard advertises an “adult superstore.” A smaller sign on the ground at the base of the billboard says “Christ died for your sins.” The adult superstore ads are common in parts of the country. I recently saw many of them in the drive through Louisiana and Texas. In addition to being a telling image, Dippolito’s painting is a great example of contrasting large and simple forms in complementary colors, in this case vibrant pink and green.
Hart James’s “Foundations” is simply a great painting, although I’m not sure how it relates to the theme. It is a dark and foreboding image of a man emerging from rocklike formations. 
Other pieces I enjoyed seeing were MaryBeth Haynes’s three sculptures of strong and defiant woman and Lavonne Haivick’s “Coyote’s ‘End of Day,’” sculptures of five long-legged and sad creatures that look vaguely like a cross between coyotes and anteaters.
I can’t recommend this show highly enough.

Culture, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through March 15, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G.