Friday, November 22, 2019

A mesmerizing show at South Puget Sound Community College

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
reviewed by Alec Clayton
left to right: Bitsy Bidwell, Christine Goode, Nicholas Main, Jamie Flynn Keenan-deVargas and Rebecca Rogers. Photo by Kuo-Hao Lo.
Under the direction of Lauren Love, the theater at South Puget Sound Community College has become one of the region’s premiere theaters, presenting challenging and professional-level shows one after another. Witness last year’s two-part Angels in America and earlier this year, Fun Home, both of which were the talk of Olympia’s theater realm. And now comes the quirky, innovative and emotionally captivating The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time based on the prize-winning novel by Mark Haddon, adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens and directed at SPSCC by Love.
Although not clearly stated in the script, 15-year-old Christopher (Nicholas Main) is clearly a young man on the autism spectrum. Haddon wrote, “Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger's... if anything it's a novel about difference, about being an outsider.”
When upset, Christopher moans loudly and often lies down in a fetal position. He is a math whiz and loves science, but can have difficulty relating to other people. And he never lies. One of his personal rules is things happen in patterns, which is illustrated with his speech and with the light patterns that are beautifully projected on the screen at the back of the stage throughout to create an other-worldly atmosphere — projections by Joe Griffith and lighting design by Olivia Burlingame.
The story is narrated by Christopher, augmented by his mentor, Siobhan (Jesse Morrow) reading from Christopher’s personal journal, which he calls a murder mystery novel. At one point, she even wants to produce a play from it starring Christopher, an idea which he vehemently rejects.
The play opens two years after Christopher’s mother disappeared from his life. His father, Ed (Tom Sanders) explained that she was hospitalized and then died of a heart attack, which turns out to be not true. Christopher discovers that a neighbor’s dog has been killed with a garden fork, and he sets out to solve the mystery of who killed the dog. In the process of trying to solve the mystery, he interacts with neighbors, assaults a police officer and is arrested but let go, finds unexpected things out things about his mother and father and discovers much of importance about himself and his abilities.
The cast is a mixture of SPSCC theater majors and local actors. All but Sanders, Main, Morrow and Shannon Agostinelli as Christopher’s mother, Judy, play multiple roles — policemen, a street lady, a preacher, and others. Some of them even play animals and a machine.
Main does a remarkable job of portraying Christopher, and Sanders and Morrow are outstanding, as are Agostinelli and the entire ensemble cast.
Despite heavy personal and family drama, The Curious Incident is a fun show filled with a delicious mix of comedy and tragedy, and it is technically marvelous.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 24, $16, free to SPSCC students, faculty and staff, Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Main Stage, main entrance to South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.753.8586.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Jeff Olson Making His Mark

Abstracting the World with dashes and X’s and V’s
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 14, 2019

painting by Jeff Olson, courtesy Tacoma Community College

After viewing Jeff Olson’s exhibition, Making my Mark at Tacoma Community College, I visited his Web site out of curiosity and discovered statements from the artist that seem at odds with what I observed in his exhibition. Olson stated, “My paintings offer a unique vision of the landscape and the inspirational forces of nature which shape it.” And “The canvases are boldly colored and the brushwork energetic, reflective of the physicality of the land and the processes of painting.” Bold colors and a reflection of landscape are in keeping with what I observed, but the claim of energetic brushwork is not. He went on to speak of his “direct and rapid technique.”

Olson’s paintings are all about the marks, thus the show title. But to my eye these marks are controlled and laid upon the canvas with a certain amount of deliberation — anything but rapid and energetic brushwork. To me, his brushstrokes look more like those of Robert and Sonya Delaunay and some of the early American abstractionists such Stuart Davis.
Despite questioning his claims about the speed and exuberance with which he applies paint to canvas, I was impressed with his paintings. They are joyful and colorful. Seeing groups of them together with their slight variations on similar images is like walking through a desert landscape with here and there a change in light and shadow or a surprise outcropping of vegetation.
Olson’s show is a large exhibition with a striking consistency of style.  All the paintings are abstract but evoking landscape.
Olson paints with short dashes and X’s and V’s of color laid side-by-side on the canvas with no blending or overlapping. Each brushstroke is self-contained; each color stands out clearly and reverberates against its adjacent stroke. These marks are, in most instances, lighter or darker values of the same color and are grouped together to form shapes that read as hills or cliffs or clumps of bushes, or in some instances forms that don’t so much look like anything in nature but which evoke the feeling of being out of doors. Most of them have flat backgrounds that are seen as sky or water and are of solid or almost solid colors that are loosely brushed.
Behind the counter as you enter the gallery are two large paintings of hills reflected in water, one in shades of blue and the other in shades of yellow and gray. Other paintings that look like hills, some with roads or rivers winding through them, are displayed in the front part of the gallery. In the middle area groups of paintings with brilliant, sun-lit forms are hung — one with a white shape like a funnel cloud or a drill digging into an orange ground. Another in this area looks like a torn curtain with yellow light shining through. The back section of the gallery is filled with paintings in more muted tones with X’s and V’s forming shapes like clumps of sticks — bales of spikey hay.
To me, it is a feel-good show.

Jeff Olson: Making my Mark, 10a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Aug. 9, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Proo(ƒ) reviewed

Photos by Jason Ganwich

Proo(ƒ) at Dukesbay
reviewed by Alec Clayton
Chevi Chung as Catherine and Amy Van Michelen as Claire
David Auburn’s drama Proof won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play. Dukesbay Productions’ treatment is proof positive that this play deserves all the awards it has earned, and after almost 20 years it is not at all dated.
Director and Dukesbay co-founder Randy Clark wrote what is probably the most succinct director’s note ever published in a playbill. He wrote, “Proof is one of my favorite plays. I think it is perfect. Fortunately, I have a talented ensemble to bring this gem to life. I hope you enjoy it.”
I should not have to say any more than that, plus listing the names of the cast members, to entice theater lovers from around Western Washington to flock to the little Dukesbay Theater. But I can’t resist the urge to say more.
Chevi Chung and Nick Fitzgerald as Hall

Chevi Chung and Erik Hill as Robert
Proof is intense, sad, angry and surprisingly funny. You will love and definitely root for its protagonist, Catherine (Chevi Chung), feel loads of admiration and empathy for her father, Robert (Erik Hill) and his student and her friend Hal (Nick Fitzgerald), and I’m afraid you might want to strangle Catherine’s sister Claire (Amy Van Mechelen), the epitome of a meddling, manipulative do-gooder family member. And you will be emotionally swept into the net of their tangled lives as you sit mere feet away from the actors in the tiny space of Dukesbay Theater.
Auburn’s script is a masterpiece of structure and insight, complex, multi-layered and easy to follow, and the acting by the entire cast is superb.
It opens the day of Robert’s funeral. He and Catherine are sharing a bottle of champagne. Whether it is her hallucination, a memory or a fantasy doesn’t matter. It establishes the complex relationship between father and daughter. He was a mathematical genius who suffered from mental illness and was unable to function during the final years of his life while Catherine was his sole caretaker. Catherine has inherited his math genius and, she is afraid, his mental illness.
Enter Hal, one of Robert’s former graduate students who has been given Catherine’s permission to examine the hundreds of notebooks Robert has left behind.
Catherine’s sister Claire flies in from New York and tries to take over Catherine’s life, and wants to take her home to New York with her and has made plans to have her examined for mental illness.
The relationships between these four characters are explosive. There are tears and laughter and incriminations, and the “F-word” is tossed about liberally.
Each of the cast members brings extensive experience to the stage, and together they are incredible. Chung is an accomplished actor, director and fight consultant. She was Assistant Director, dramaturg and fight choreographer for Dukesbay’s recent production of Agnes of God. Hill is a member of SAG/AFTRA and has appear in film and television. He was seen in Lakewood Playhouse’s recent two-part Angels in America. Fitzgerald is a recent Theater Arts graduate from Washington State University and has appeared in such shows as Twelfth Night, Newsies and The Glass Menagerie. Van Mechelen played Hiromi in Dukesbay’s Calligraphy and is an opera singer who has performed as a soloist in Seattle Opera’s Porgy and Bess. Clark called this foursome a “talented ensemble,” which is an understatement if there ever was one.
Performances are selling out quickly. Buying tickets quickly and online is recommended.

7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 17
Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Ave., Tacoma, above the Grand Cinema
(253) 350-7680,

Admission includes your choice of coffee, tea and an assortment of cookies.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Broadway Olympia’s Songs for a New World

From left - Loucas T. Curry, Steve Barnett, Elise Tarasova, Brynne Geiszler, photo by Kyle Murphy

by Alec Clayton

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 1, 2019

For two weekends only, Broadway Olympia is producing the musical Songs for a New World with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, directed and choreographed by Lexi Barnett.

Songs for a New World is unlike other musicals, although in spirit it us akin to the great tribal rock opera Hair. Many commentators have said it is a musical review rather than a play, because there is no real plot and the same characters do not appear throughout. The four actors — listed as Woman 1 (Elise Tarasova), Man 1 (Loucas T. Curry), Woman 2 (Brynne Geiszler) and Man 2 (Steve Barnett) — play various characters, from lovers to a prisoner, to Mrs. Santa Claus, each with their own story.

Instead of a traditional plot line, there is a consistent theme that carries throughout and is expressed in songs with styles that range from ballads to rock to gospel to show tunes. The spirit that carries throughout the play is epitomized by Curry in the song “King of the World” when he is shackled in prison and sings the defiant lyrics “Nothing can stop me from tomorrow, Keep me from my destiny.” These characters each face the hardships and challenges with hope and courage for a new world.

From left: Elise Tarasova, Steve Barnett, Loucas T. Curry, photo by Kyle Murphy

The set is a jumble of trunks and suitcases symbolizing travel, and they become vehicles, ships, beds mountains to ascend, and at least one of them hides a bottle of whiskey that one of the characters drinks. They are worn and beat-up trunks from an earlier era, and even though the setting is ostensibly contemporary, it works in a quirky sort of way.

At the back of the stage is a four-piece band consisting of popular local musicians who have been seen in many area shows, including most of the musical reviews at Harlequin. They are Jeff Bell, musical director and piano; David Lane, keyboard; Andy Garness, drums; and Rick Jarvela, bass — a first class band that melds rock and jazz with just a touch of whimsy.

Lexi Barnett sums up the entire experience in a program note: “I hope that you can rest well in the words of our final song (“Hear My Song”), “I know it’s dark right now, but just believe somehow that soon there will be light.”

The show is happening at the State Theater, home of Harlequin Productions.

WHAT Songs for a New World
WHEN 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1-2 and 7-9 and 2 p.m. Nov. 2-3 and 9-10
WHERE The State Theater, 202, Olympia
HOW MUCH $29, student night Nov. 7 half off

Review: “Evil Dead: The Musical”

Welcome to the splatter zone
By Alec Clayton
The cast of Evil Dead. Photos courtesy Tacoma Little Theatre

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 1, 2019
There are things about “Evil Dead: The Musical” that people need to know before venturing to Tacoma Little Theatre to watch it. It is a parody of bad horror movies, specifically of one of the cheesiest of all time, the 1981 film of the same name written and directed by Sam Raimi. Called “Gross out collegiate humor” by Director Niclas Olson, Evil Dead” is quickly becoming a cult musical. TLT Artistic Director Chris Serface said it has a “Rocky Horror level following.”
Opening night, the theater was filled with boisterous younger-than-usual patrons, some of whom wore bright yellow “Evil Dead” t-shirts. There are splash zones on either side of the stage complete with transparent plastic poncho-type rain gear and goggles. the splatter zone seats were sold out and are close to sold out for the run of the show.
In the splatter zone
The play is replete with exaggerated blood and gore on the level of the black knight fight scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Typical of bad horror movies, the thin plot involves a group of five college students on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods which is protected by trees and a bridge that suddenly becomes impassable once the students cross it, and the cabin is invaded by zombies.
The students are Ash the hero (Zachary Edson), his girlfriend Linda (Ashley Roy), a drunken, loud and obnoxious friend named Scott (Guy Taylor Simpson III), his girlfriend Shelly (Annelise Martin, who doubles as Annie), and Ash’s meek little sister, Cheryl (Molly Quinn). Odd and comically frightening characters who show up later are a “bit-part demon” named Ed (Aleks Merilo) and Jake (Eric Strachan).
For the first 10 or 15 minutes, the play is as dumb as the movies it makes fun of; yet the opening night audience was howling at the sophomoric comic bits. And then it began to get funnier and funnier, beginning with Strachan, Martin and Merilo singing “Good Old Reliable Jake,” and from that point on it is insanely hilarious.
The set by the inimitable Blake York is terrific, from the blank off-white curtain to the interior of the cabin with its silly mounted moose head to the projected Star Wars-style fast rush through the woods to the many detached and animated body parts.
Most of the seven cast members are new to South Sound stages and have never performed at TLT. Let us hope they will soon become regulars at area theaters. There is a huge amount of talent here. Edson’s mock heroics are great, especially when he strikes poses with chain saws and other implements of destruction held high. Quinn shows great acting talent as she morphs from a whimpering misfit to an evil zombie. Simpson’s wide-ranging expressions and loose-limbed movements are outstanding. And the rocking music throughout is infectious.
Anyone who can take comical excesses of blood and gore and loud audience reaction should love TLT’s performance of “Evil Dead: The Musical.”

Evil Dead: The Musical
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 10
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I St., Tacoma,
TICKETS: $19-$39
INFORMATION: (253) 272-2281