Thursday, August 29, 2019

Blackbird - Sexual assault examined

A harsh and beautifully produced play at Harlequin
By Alec Clayton

Frank Lawler and Colleen Litchfield, photo Photos by Jessica Weaver

The hard-hitting two-hander Blackbird by David Harrower at Harlequin Productions is emotionally draining and not for everyone.
It begins with shocking fury when Una (Colleen Litchfield), a 27-year-old woman, and Ray (Frank Lawler), a 55-year-old man, storm into a horribly trashed conference room in Ray’s business office — strewn with pizza boxes and trash and fast-food containers. Ray and Una are at each other’s throats, and the tension is unrelenting throughout the hour-and-a-half play. The complex reasons for the tension unfold only gradually as they relive their past through accusation and confession. Two decades earlier Ray sexually assaulted Una, and over all this time she has nursed her hatred and he has wrestled with his guilt, both of which explode on stage.
This production of Blackbird as directed by New York-based guest director Kimberly Loren Eaton is an acting tour de force.
Interestingly, in an extensive program director’s note, Eaton writes much more than is common about the technical crew: scenic designer Bruce Haasl, lighting designer Christina Barrigan, Costumer Jocelyn Fowler, sound designer Gina Salerno and properties designer Rob Taylor, all of whom add immensely to the atmosphere and sense of authenticity of the play. Their behind-the-scenes work grabs the audience by its collective throat and does not let go.
Eaton says her approach to Blackbird was “very much one of a female lens on the piece. I believe that every choice we make as storytelling artists is a political act; that art and advocacy are inseparable… I'm particularly drawn to stories relevant to major issues in the zeitgeist, which move social and cultural conversations forward, to work which brings marginalized voices into the mainstream, and to women-driven work.”
If there is any doubt that Harlequin is a professional theater the equal of any big-city companies, this play should dispel that error. Litchfield has starred in many top New York shows and was a recent Best Leading Actress Award winner in the SheNYC Festival. Lawler, a Harlequin veteran is an Equity actor who has performed at Seattle Public Theatre, Taproot Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company and many others. Eaton has extensive directing experience on New York stages, including work with the producing teams of Fun Home (Broadway- 5 Tony Awards including Best Play, and National Tour), The Velocity of Autumn (Broadway), and Freud’s Last Session (Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Play).
Also appearing in a brief but effective scene is 12-year-old Olympia actor Lola May Havens, most recently seen as Small Allison in Fun Home at South Puget Sound Community College.
Blackbird is an Olivier Award winner and was nominated for three 2016 Tony Awards. Although not easy to take, it is theater at its best. Warning: there is frank and graphic discussion of sexual situations. “Mature Drama - Includes discussions of sex and sexual assault. Ages 14 and up, under 18 with guidance.”

Blackbird, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 14, $35, $32 senior 60+/military, $20 student/youths Under 25, $12-$15 rush tickets (half-hour prior to showtime), State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.0151,

Friday, August 23, 2019

Shakespearean storm at Olympia’s Port

The Tempest in summer
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 22, 2019
John Serembe as Stephano and Drew Doyle as Caliban, photo by Mishka Navarre

Shakespeare’s The Tempest performed in front of the viewing tower at Olympia’s Port Plaza is a beautifully staged outdoor performance of one of the Bard’s last and most challenging plays.  It opens with the crash of thunder and lightning in a chaotic scene of a storm at sea performed in front of the scenic background of the Port of Olympia. From there, a cadre of Olympia’s finest actors perform magic and find love — and get drunk and obnoxious for an hour and a half in a play significantly and expertly adapted by Director Kate Ayers from the much longer original script, cutting out characters and entire scenes to leave a core of exciting drama.
Silva Goetz as Arial, photo by Mishka Navarre
Twelve years earlier, Prospero (Brian Tyrrell), the former Duke of Milan, was deposed by his brother, Antonio (Michael Christopher) and exiled to a deserted island where he lives with his daughter, Miranda (Kate Anders), a magical creature named Ariel (Silva Goetz) and his hideous enslaved monster, Caliban (Drew Doyle).
It is Prospero’s magic, aided by Ariel, that causes the storm, which wrecks Antonio’s ship and strands Antonio and his companions on Prospero’s island where Prospero conspires to use his magic to restore himself to his rightful Dukedom.
The Tempest has been called a comedy and a romance. It is a highly dramatic play with elements of comedy and tragedy (although minus the usual bloodbath). There is love, there is intrigue, and there is excitement akin to that of a disaster movie or a Star Wars-type adventure.
Tyrell is one of the South Sound’s most celebrated actors. He recently retired from 25 years as a teacher and director at Centralia College. He has acted at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and has toured with the National Shakespeare Company in New York.
As Prospero, he is majestic yet fully human. Kate Anders is lovely and exciting to watch as Prospero’s daughter Miranda.
Michael Christopher’s Antonio and Christian Carvajal’s Sebastian are a joy to watch as they conspire together and sword fight with nothing and no one (thanks to Prospero’s magic which causes swords to become impossible to lift).
The trio of the hideous monster Caliban (Doyle with a shaved and painted head), the king’s jester, Trinculo (Heather Christopher), and the king’s drunken butler, Stephano (John Serembe) provide comic relief beyond belief. In one of the funniest scenes ever, Trinculo lies down on top of Caliban and the drunken Stephano stumbles upon them and thinks he’s seeing a monster with two heads and four legs.
Goetz’s Ariel is a joy to watch. She wears beautiful blue robes and runs all over the Port Plaza with incredible speed, arms spread and gown flowing like wings. She makes you believe in magic.
The setting with the tall viewing tower and the water in the background is ideal for a play about a shipwreck on an island. Seagulls calling throughout the play lend realism to the setting but can be a distraction. You get used to it easily, however. Boats passing by and people strolling Percival Landing can also be a distraction, but that is all part of charm of outdoor theater.
Audience members are encouraged to bring chairs and or cushions. Extra clothing is also recommended since it tends to cool off considerably when the sun goes down. Food and beverages are allowed on site during the show, but alcoholic beverages are not allowed.
The Tempest, 8 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays, through Aug. 31 (except Aug. 24), Port Plaza, 701 Columbia St. NW, Olympia, free,

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Review: The Seagull

By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Aug. 14, 2019
Angela Parisotto as Irina and Joel Thomas as Konstantin, photos courtesy New Muses Theatre Company

Konstsantin and Nina (Lara Dohner).
Niclas Olson, founder of New Muses Theatre Company, frequently adapts classical plays for a modern audience, directs the plays and more often than not performs in them – sometimes in the lead role and sometimes as a member of an ensemble cast.
He also frequently designs sets, lighting and other technical aspects, a true Renaissance man of the theater for the 21st century. He does all of this in the current production of Anton Chekhov’s classic comedy “The Seagull.”
“Seagull” features a quartet of central characters rounded out with an ensemble cast that is much more than background. Each is a unique individual with fully realized personality traits as written by Chekhov, who skillfully opens the human heart.
This play dramatizes the romantic and artistic conflicts between writers and artists and between family members. Irina (Angela Parisotto) is an actress past her prime. She invites popular novelist Boris (Olson) to her husband’s lakeside estate in Russia. Irina’s brooding son, Konstantin (Joel Thomas) is a would-be playwright with ambitions to create a new form of symbolist play, “without characters” he says at some point to Nina (Lara Dohner), a neighbor who has ambitions to become an actress and who performs in a strange play written by Konstantin and presented on a makeshift outdoor stage for the family and guests. Everyone except Dr. Dorn (Edward Medina) makes fun of the play and humiliates Konstantin. Dorn thinks the play shows evidence of genius.
Chekhov called “The Seagull” a comedy. Olson said, “I agree with Chekhov that the play is ultimately a comedy. Although it takes a tragic turn towards the end, the bulk of the action is about a loving family spending time together enjoying one another’s company.”
I saw very little humor in this production of “Seagull.” What I saw was a penetrating drama with two strains: comparisons between two writers, Boris and Konstantin, and a conflagration of mixed-up relationships and love triangles.
I can’t help but wonder if the look into the methods and ideas of the two writers is self-analysis on the part of Chekhov. As for the various love triangles, here’s a brief summary:) Masha (Jazmine Herington), the daughter of the estate's steward is in love with Konstantin, who is in love with Nina, but Nina falls for the writer, Boris. Paulina (Kristen Blegen Bouyer), married to Ilya, is in an affair with the doctor. These mixed-up relationships provide, perhaps, the basis for comedy, but I see them as more tragic than comedic.
As with most New Muses shows, the set is minimalist: two doors, a tattered curtain for the makeshift stage, and some benches and chairs. The production is all about the acting, which, at least in the performances of the major characters, is excellent. Olson is believably droll in his portrayal of the somewhat aloof writer, and Dohner is marvelously expressive as the overly dramatic Nina, especially in the play within a play. In the earlier parts of the first act, I thought Thomas was straining too hard, but as the play progressed he was quite grounded in the role of Konstantin.
The story and the characters are realistic with well fleshed-out human characteristics. This is a play first performed in the final years of the 19th century that set the standard for much of what was to follow in modern theater.

WHAT: The Seagull
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 25
WHERE: Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Harlequin Productions Announces Uncorked!
Harlequin Productions’ annual fall fundraiser Uncorked! will be held Friday, Sept. 13, from 6-9 p.m. at The Heritage Room in downtown Olympia.

The evening will begin with a champagne reception and a silent auction and continues with a buffet by Occasions Catering. Special guests including members of Harlequin’s artistic community will present throughout the evening. Dinner will conclude with a live auction.

To close the night, members of the Harlequin board, staff, and Artistic Director Aaron Lamb will address the guests with special announcements regarding the artistic direction of the theater. During the announcements, guests will enjoy coffee and a dessert provided by Bittersweet Chocolates.

     WHAT:         Uncorked!
     WHEN:        Sept. 13,  6-9 p.m.
     WHERE:      The Heritage Room, 604 Water St SW, Olympia
     ATTIRE:       Dress to impress
     PRICE:        $75 per person & FREE for Members at the Benefactor level or
                         above who RSVP by August 31
     TICKETS:    Tickets and info available at, or
                         by calling 360-786-0151

Friday, August 16, 2019

Welcome to the Circus

Douglass Orr’s paintings of circus posters and William Turner: A Tribute to the Artist
By Alec Clayton
Installing circus poster paintings at Minka
Continuing in its quest to bring new and unusual art to Tacoma —typically and often works that may never be seen elsewhere—Minka is now showing paintings by Douglas Orr of early 20th century circus posters and upstairs in MU Gallery, a tribute to William Turner.
A California transplant now living in Aberdeen, Orr is co-founder of the Aberdeen Art Center and Alder Grove Gallery.
Lisa Kinoshita of Minka says, “If you're weary of the relentless sideshow of partisan politics, we invite you to rest your orbs on this spectacular show of paintings by Douglas Orr. These fiercely colored canvases of early 20th century circus banners inadvertently capture the zeitgeist without an overt reference to clowns or mimes of the elected kind. Orr's companion piece ‘Windows to the Soul’ is inhabited by the eyes of friends – but also a homeless man in the uppermost panel who lends it a somewhat dark inflection in the era of Orwellian politics and homeland surveillance. It is a symptom of the times that paintings of such contrasting style and content both lead the viewer back to muse on the state of society and country.”
William Turner “Playing (Cuenic)”
Upstairs at MU Gallery, you can visit a show of paintings by William Turner. MU curator Brian Ebersole invited Turner and his wife, Josie (a former Poet Laureate of Tacoma), to choose paintings that trace Turner's long career.
This exhibit touches on many phases of Turner's career, with an emphasis on figural work and landscape abstracts. "I paint to jazz, and the rhythms that play in my ear give my paintings movement and velocity," says Turner. "I have many different series, some that focus on the environment through aerial and/or exploratory landscapes, some on jazz and dancing figures. I am drawn to the human figure and love to sketch it in all its perfections and imperfections."
Turner is also known for his plein air painting, “reflecting memories of home and travels. In my current series, I have returned to my first love, oil paints. In this series, I am playing with the luscious sculptural elements that only oil paint can create." 
Turner’s little painting “Playing (Cuenic).” Was a hit in the recent Tacoma Community College Juried Exhibition. I wrote about it in my review for the Weekly Volcano: “At first glance, this painting brought to mind paintings by the great British abstract painter Howard Hodgkin, but Turner’s painting is much grittier and more complex that anything of Hodgkin’s, and to my way of thinking, more exciting. There are shapes within shapes. A deep cerulean blue rectangle in the upper left corner plays off against a large backwards ‘L’ shape filling the rest of the surface. The blue area is like a window into the depths of night. The rest is like old city billboards that have been ripped and tattered showing multiple layers. Both sections are filled with architectonic and organic shapes and marks. The colors range from burning bright to shadowy dark areas, and the paint application is gritty and heavy in places and smooth and blended in others. Seldom will you see so much variety of shape, color, line and mark-making in a single little painting. If I were the juror and were tasked with choosing “Best in Show,” I would have to give this one serious consideration.
I highly recommend seeing Welcome to the Circus and William Turner: A Tribute to the Artist at Minka.
Thurs-Sun, noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment, 821 Pacific Ave., through September 22, 2019.

Funhouse V in Seattle

Funhouse V at Annex Theatre in Seattle is a collection of short plays that explore the shifting cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest through an absurd, irreverent, and satirical lens. 

Featuring the work of local playwrights Rachel Atkins, Marie Biondollilo, Rachael Carnes, Marcus Gorman, Jake Foerg, Levi Friedman, and Seayoung Yim. Directed by Alex Garramone, Francie Mylet, and Brian Toews. Assistant directed by Andrew Davies and Kiefer Harrington. 

The Funhouse Family is a Seattle-based production company creating irreverent and experimental original theater in multi-genre format reaching beyond traditional theatrical norms.

For mature audiences only, ages 18+. 

Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sept. 19-28, Annex Theatre, 1100 E Pike St, Seattle, $20 online, $25 at box office,

America’s most popular show

The Simpsons invade TAM
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 15, 2019
The cloud wall with “The Simpsons” animation cels, photo by Gabi Clayton

There’s never been a show like Bart at TAM: Animating America’s Favorite Family at Tacoma Art Museum. One of the larger galleries at TAM has been turned into the home of the Simpsons: Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa and Maggie, and many of the 80 some odd supporting characters from America’s longest running family show, “The Simpsons.”
Museum visitor contemplated Marge's hair. Photo courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
Not only does the show feature more than 100 created-by-hand animation cels, scripts and drawings by Matt Groening and his team of animators, but visitors are greeted by a life-size sculptural recreation of the living room sofa featured in the opening scene of every “Simpsons” episode, brilliantly painted walls, fluffy cartoon clouds suspended from the ceiling and many other additions to the art on display.
Wall texts and hands-on displays provide a history of the show, now in its 30th season, and examples of how the art is developed from preliminary sketches to finished animation.
Full-color animation is created by painting on cels, transparent celluloid sheets that can be overlapped with other painted cels to create changing scenes. A background of a swimming pool, for example, can be overlaid with cels that picture Lisa and her friends swimming, or a scene picturing the town of Springfield can be overlaid with various pictures of Bart skateboarding. This prevents the artists from having to laboriously recreate each scene over and over. The fascinating thing about seeing the cels displayed as art is that you see actual three-dimensional images complete with cast shadows, which is marvelous to look at and something never seen in the televised cartoons. As another example of this, there is one on view in which one of Bart’s eyes is on a separate cel from the rest of his face and casts a shadow on his cheek, and another in which each of his legs is on a different plane.
The gallery walls have been painted in the colors of the cartoons, brilliant blue and yellow and pink. The large cut-out clouds hang from the ceiling in front of a sky blue wall upon which more than 15 animated cels are displayed. The adjacent wall bright chartreuse. Elsewhere are vivid yellow and fuchsia walls and standing panels, and these primary colors are offset in the cels by more muted tones of blue and purple and teal that keep the overall effect from being too bombastic.
It is well known in this part of the country that Groening is a native of Portland and a graduate of The Evergreen State College in Olympia. He created the original series as a series of animated shorts for “The Tracy Ulman Show” in 1987. “The Simpsons” as a stand-alone series began in 1989.
Throughout the run of the show there are ongoing activities such as studio facilities that allow children to make their own flipbooks and cartoons, a special day for homeschool children, cartoon trivia night, and an illustration-drawing rally where visitors can watch local illustrators at work and talk to them about their processes. All special events are detailed on the TAM website.
This show is a laugh riot, and the art, if not on a level with the pop imagery of Warhol and Lichtenstein, is pretty darn close.

Bart at TAM, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, through Oct. 27, $18 adults, $15 students and seniors, free for military and children 5 and younger, free Neighborhood Nights Thursday from 5-8 p.m., Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 253.272.4258,

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

StoryOly Grand Slam is coming

Michelle Alany . Photo by Kim Still.
Those crazy storytellers at StoryOly are at it again. The 4th annual StoryOly Grand Slam Competition is coming to Rhythm and Rye Sept. 7.

StoryOly is Olympia’s premiere Story Slam event. Community members come together every month to share, compete, and tell true stories based on a monthly theme. Past themes have included such as most embarrassing moments, getting even and getting what you deserve. Past stories have been sexy, funny, sad and enlightening. These storytellers have a penchant for revealing their darkest secrets.

Storytelling competitions are held once a month at Rhythm and Rye. Every month a winner is chosen by a three-person panel of volunteer judges, and the winner of each month’s slam throughout the years goes to the Grand Slam in September.

According to co-founder Elizabeth Lord, StoryOly aims to encourage and develop community engagement and connection through the medium of storytelling.  Co-created and produced by Amy Shephard, the first StoryOly Slam took place in November 2015.   

Judges at the Grand Slam will be:

Beth Doglio, State Representative for the 22nd Legislative District
Tim McLeod, Community Health Educator with Planned Parenthood of the Great NW and Hawaiian Islands
Jill Barnes, Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Each month half the proceeds from the door are donated to a local nonprofit organization.  Half of the Grand Slam proceeds will be donated to: Interfaith Works.

Not only will there be great stories, there will be live music featuring Michelle Alany & The Mystics — a fiddle-driven caravan of klezmer, Balkan, Sephardic & Eastern swing music, with original soul. With a musically diverse and highly skilled cast of musicians, violinist & vocalist Michelle Alany creates a mesmerizing performance that will stir your soul, lift your voice, and ignite your spirit. 

What: 4th Annual StoryOly Grand Slam Competition
When: Saturday, September 7, 2019
Time: 8pm,  Doors open at 7pm
Where: The Rhythm and Rye 311 Capital Way N. Olympia WA
Cost: $10-$20 at the door
Advance Tickets: (new this year)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Jasmine Brown Collaboration

Jasmine Iona Brown and Jazz Brown at Tacoma’s 950 Gallery
by Alec Clayton
"White Man's Burden" painting by Jasmine Brown. All photos courtesy 950 Gallery.
950 Gallery will be open only one more day for the run of this collaborative exhibition of works by Jasmine Iona Brown and Jazz Brown. The gallery is open Thursdays only and by appointment. Thursday, August 15 is the last day for the show, and there will be a closing reception for the artists that night from 5 to 8.
sculpture by Jasmine Brown

painting by Jazz Brown

Jasmine Brown is known for her paintings, photography, illustrations and works in many other media incorporating poetry, symbols, landscape, much of it inspired by international travel, African masks, voodoo textiles, Native American and Black American cultures. In this show there is a little bit of everything. Portraiture is incorporated into most of her works.

Her technique is varied and inconsistent. Some of the painting and drawing looks less than refined, but that clearly does not come from lack of skill, as evidenced by other works that display competence in drawing and in the use of color and form—meaning those works that might appear clumsy in execution are done so for emotional impact. For example, on one wall there are adjacent portrait paintings, one of a woman surrounded by a field of abstract forms and symbols and the other a portrait of a man surrounded by words. The former looks almost primitive and untutored in execution, and the latter is beautifully rendered with skilled paint application. The latter is titled “White Man’s Burden.” The words and phrases written on the canvas are racially and politically inciteful: phrases such as “Eat like Dahmer, explode like McVey” and “too many blacks driving big Cadillacs.”

On pedestals along the adjacent wall stand four small wood sculptures that look like African figures from an earlier era combined with collages of faces and other imagery that is highly distorted and clearly more modern than the carved figures. This combination of carved figures and odd collages is stirring and exciting, and the dark wood pedestals they stand on, donated to 950 by Museum of Glass, match the figures in color and texture as if made as part of the sculptural work.  
"Psycho-logical Path," acrylic on panel by Jazz Brown
From Jazz Brown presents  a group of 14 acrylic paintings inspired by both minimalism and bebop jazz. Think of Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie Woogie” but with interlocking circular shapes instead of square grids. Many of them use white or high-value paint that look icy cold and shimmering as laid over darker colors. Following the circular shapes in these colorful paintings is like riding a roller coaster. Also showing among these is a group of small paintings with more solid color areas and stronger contrasts that Jazz Brown   created by painting paper and then cutting shapes and gluing them on wood panels. The push-pull of the interwoven shapes is great, and they are so skillfully done that only upon very close inspection is it possible to tell the shapes are not painted directly on the surface, thus creating sharper edges and enhancing the shapes and colors. 
If you attend the closing reception at 950 Gallery you will be glad you did.

950 Gallery950 Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave. Suite 205, Tacoma, 253.627.2175,

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Tacoma Little Theatre Season Opening Gala


Tacoma, WA- Tacoma Little Theatre is excited to welcome the community to join us at our special Gala and Silent Auction celebrating our 101st Season.  This special fundraising event will be filled with fine drinks, fine hors d’oeuvres, and fine entertainment. 

The evening will begin with a social hour and then move into the auditorium where staff and board members will present a sneak peek of each of the shows in our 101st season which include: Calendar Girls, Evil Dead: The Musical, Holmes for the Holidays, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Shattering, A Chorus Line, Terms of Endearment, and The Manchurian Candidate.  Throughout the course of the evening attendees will be bidding on silent auction items and enjoying musical entertainment from local performers.

Tacoma Little Theatre’s 101st Season Opening Gala and Silent Auction will take place on Saturday, September 7, 2019 from 6:00pm-9:00pm. 

Tickets are $35.00 per person (includes hors d’oeuvres and one drink) and may be purchased online at, or by calling our Box Office at (253) 272-2281.