Thursday, December 19, 2019

Crows and Ravens, oh my


Group show all about these ubiquitous birds
By Alec Clayton
Note: This review was written for the Weekly Volcano but there was a schedule mixup -- my fault -- and they were not able to publish it. Instead, watch for my writeup on Art House Designs next week in the Volcano.

"Hero & Trickstermixed media by Christopher Mathie, photos courtesy Childhood’s End Gallery
Images in art of crows and ravens are ubiquitous and often dramaticwe if not downright frightening. Myth and legend hold it that they are prescient, and they are known to be highly intelligent birds — revered as tricksters by some Native tribes.
Childhood’s End Gallery’s exhibition Crows & Ravens features interpretations of the clever tricksters by a dozen area artists, most of whom are well known and are regularly shown at Childhood’s End. On the upside, these are all accomplished artists. On the downside, too many of the works look too much alike, and taken as a whole the show becomes rather trite.
Please excuse me if I call them all crow paintings. Having said that, here are a few words about some of the good stuff.
"Visitation" pastel by Judith Smith

raku pot by Dave and Boni Deal.
Tom Anderson’s “Eight Points of View,” mixed media on board depicting one majestic bird in flight surrounded by seven much smaller birds, is bright and exciting with intense yellow and black-and-white contrasts, with energetic lines set off against large black masses and — the little touch that sets it above the commonplace — cast shadows in the sky as if the birds are cut-out figures set in from the surface. Anderson is mostly known as a painter of abstract forms. His crow paintings have the same kind of texture and structure his abstracts are known for.
Christopher Mathie is also known as an abstract painter but also often ventures into seascapes and animal paintings, and like Anderson, his paintings of recognizable subjects include all the same heavy impasto and energetic slashing of paint on canvas as his abstracts. In this show he has one large painting, "Hero & Trickster," and two smaller ones that look like they should be sold as a set and displayed together. "Hero & Trickster" pictures two birds perched on a limb with a turbulent sky in the background. The colors and the stormy look remind me of both J.M.W. Turner and Joan Mitchell.
One of the nicest pieces in the show is a raku pot by Dave and Boni Deal. It is a large, almost perfectly round pot with a picture of a crow on the surface. It has monumental presence and would actually be better if the images of the crow had been left off.
Judith Smith is known for her crow paintings, prints and pastels. There are at least seven of her pictures in this show. A large pastel on canvas called “Visitation” dominates the entrance to the gallery. It pictures three birds in flight, possibly fighting, over an abstract background that looks like a scene of war with fiery orange fading to brown and black and sharp orange outlines on one of the birds while the other two have see-through bodies drawn with white lines. The rich variety of lines and shapes and colors and the interaction of imagery and background make this an exciting painting.
The one piece in the show that is quite different from all the rest is Sara Gettys’ carved sintra, a type of etching, titled “Before the Storm.” This is an iconic image in black and white with bold lines and stark contrasts and an eye that hypnotically stares at the viewer.
Other artists included in this show are Kristen Etmund, Doyle Fanning, Jonathan Happ, Beki Killorin, Chris Maynard and Graham Schodda.

Crows & Ravens, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Dec. 31, Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Tacoma Arts Live does A Christmas Carol

Here it comes again: Scrooge, Tiny Tim and the Christmas ghosts, as Tacoma Arts Live presents two performances of a new stage adaptation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol on December 21, 2019 at 3:00 and 7:30 p.m. at Tacoma’s historic Pantages Theater.

This brand new, original production of A Christmas Carol is adapted, directed, and performed by award-winning theater veteran Scott H. Severance who  is accredited with a long list of productions throughout his 40 year career, including Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple and a role in the 2005 20th Century Fox film Fever Pitch.

Severance wrote the adaptation, directs the show and stars as the miserly Scrooge in this annual production, now in its 6th year. "Our goal is always to tell this classic well-known story in a way that audiences have never seen before,” Severance says. “Ours is a traditional version to be sure, but it may be funnier, scarier, and more spiritual than folks would commonly expect. Lots of music, puppetry, and fully realized emotional arcs throughout. Scrooge is not the villian, he is, in fact, the hero."

Tickets for A Christmas Carol are $19, $40, $55, 69 and are  on sale now. To purchase advance tickets, call Tacoma Arts Live Box Office at 253.591.5894, toll-free at 1.800.291.7593, visit in person at 901 Broadway in Tacoma’s Theater District, or online at

Friday, December 13, 2019

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 13, 2019
Jill Heinecke as Puck, photo by Pavlina Morris
There is much debate as to where “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” ranks among Shakespearean comedies, among the funniest or near the bottom (pun intended), but there is little doubt that it is the most popular and most often performed. And it’s easy to see why. It is among the frothiest of romantic comedies, and few can resist the magic that takes place in the enchanted woods. In other words, it is a most delicious guilty pleasure.
Changing Scene Theatre Northwest is now performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Dukesbay Theater in Tacoma, directed by the company’s founder, Pavlina Morris, who is also responsible for the outstanding lighting, costuming and set design, and who appears on stage as Petra Quince, the director of a ridiculous play within a play.
The plot summary provided in the program is as succinct and clear as any I’ve seen, and since Shakespeare’s plots are often convoluted, it might serve patrons well to read it before the play begins.
Typical of Shakespearean plays, the plot is complicated by a large cast of characters, many of whom appear in various guises. Theseus (Nick Fitzgerald), the Duke of Athens, is preparing to marry Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Marsha Walner, who doubles as Titania, queen of the fairies). Hermia (Cori Deverse) arrives with her two young suitors, Demetrius (Ton Williams) and Lysandra (Emily Saletan). Hermia is in love with Lysandra and does not want to wed her father’s choice, Demetrius. But she’s been warned that if she refuses to marry Demetrius she can be put to death or sent to a nunnery for life.
Further complicating the plot and turning it into a farce are (a) the makeshift theater troupe featuring a highly comical Bottom (Laurice Roberts) and (b) a group of mischievous  fairies led by Oberon (Fitzgerald) and his henchman, Puck (Jill Heinecke), who cast spells on the Athenians making Lysandra fall in love with Helena, turning Bottom’s head into the head of a jackass, and making Titania fall in love with Bottom (jackass head and all).
In the play-within-a play, Francis Flute (Mason Quinn) is forced to play a woman’s part. Further gender bending is provided by Morris’s casting women, as Lysandra, Puck and Bottom.
Roberts is hilariously perky and energetic as Bottom. Among the funniest moments in the play are the scene in which Quince is casting the play and Bottom insists on playing every part; and when Bottom dies – usually a delightful bit of over acting but in this case made comical by a hyperbolic prop, which can’t be explained without spoiling a great moment.
Saletan is highly expressive as Lysandra. The scenes between her and Hermia are very sensual and includes an uproarious bit of grabby hands.
Heinecke’s Puck moves with the grace of an accomplished dancer. Williams is fierce and funny as Demetrius. Fitzgerald as Theseus and Oberon and Quinn as Flute could put a bit more oomph into their acting.
Morris’s set and lighting are gorgeous, especially the large flowers and hanging drapery on the backdrop and the glow-in-the-dark paint on costumes, sets and masks.
For holiday fare worth the price of admission, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” might be just the ticket. Advance tickets are recommended because seating is limited.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, through Dec. 21
Where: Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Ave., Tacoma, above the Grand Cinema
Tickets: advance tickets $18, adult, $15 seniors, students, military, all tickets $20 at the door
Information:, (360) 710-5440.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tyler Budge Installation at 950 Gallery

photos courtesy 950 Gallery

Whichever way the wind blows
By Alec Clayton
Liminal at 950 Gallery is a fully immersive art installation by Tyler Budge, who
teaches sculpture at University of Washington Tacoma. The term “liminal” is defined as the space between what is and what’s yet to come. Budge’s installation explores these spaces both literally (physically) and metaphorically.
“Our paths are filled with liminal moments — doorways/thresholds that transport us from a structured understanding of where and who we are to an undefined space,” Budge writes.

This multi-media installation explores these transient moments. The gallery is a house under construction with two-by-four studs for walls and openings for windows and doors. Open windows — both within the construction and the actual windows of the gallery — invite visitors to look out, in or through. Visually, it is abstract art, like a three-dimensional Mondrian painting. Metaphorically, it represents the uncomfortableness of not knowing exactly where you are or which way to go. There are tiny red-orange windsocks everywhere being blown in one direction or another by fans controlled my motion sensors. Standing in the interior space looking at the windsocks, I was reminded of the line from Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “It don’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
There are many birds: porcelain birds perched on shelves, a video of birds on a wire, delicate line drawings of birds in complementary colors drawn directly on the wall. Some of the studs are both geometric and organic, straight along one edge and curving sensuously on the opposite edge, and many of the stud edges are lined with simulated moss.
There is a very large moose head mounted on one wall with its shadow painted in a beautiful cobalt blue — the same blue repeated across the gallery where flocks of birds perch on shelves. And finally, mounted to a window are 27 photographs of houses with attached windsocks.
“The space is found under construction, divided into smaller rooms by classic wood house framing construction. One is confronted with familiar structures, while maneuvering thru framed doorways and glancing thru framed windows,” Bulge writes. “Expectations are curbed by contradiction — the outside is structured, predetermined, confined and orderly, but the interiors are vast, open vistas — serene yet placeless. The interior spaces speak of possibility yet provide no destination… One is left directionless.”
Visitors to the gallery are invited to feel the unsettling lack of direction, and perhaps relate it to the hubbub of modern life and their own place in it.

Liminal, 1-5 p.m. Thursdays (until 9 p.m. Third Thursday), or by appointment, through Dec. 19, 950 Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave. Suite 205, Tacoma, 253.627.2175,

Friday, December 6, 2019

Paintings by China Star at All Sorts

By Alec Clayton
I See the Mask, painting by China Star
“layers of paint hide and synchronize in an agglomeration of evocative landscape / mind-scape / dreamscape that welcomes the observer to reference their own imagination. i see many things framed in the details and overall image, what do you see?” Thus, China Star describes her paintings (all in lower-case).
A large selection of her densely packed and colorful paintings graces the walls of Batdorf & Bronson Coffeehouse. By the time you read this, the show will be gone, but most if not all will be shown at All Sorts Gallery this weekend and next weekend. I visited the show at Batdorf in order to preview the show at All Sorts, and I’m glad I did. I plan on going to the reception at All Sorts on the 8th because I want to see these paintings again, and because I want to hear China’s talk.
I See the Music Seeping Out, painting by Chin Star
Star’s paintings are eye-popping, decorative abstract paintings filled with stripes and dots and splatters and puddles of black, white, orange, yellow and green paint in black and white frames upon which she has painted dots and dashes to match the patches of color on the canvas. In some of the paintings, parts of the paintings overlap onto the frames.
One of her larger paintings is an abstract painting titled “I See the Synapses Taking Form.” It brings to mind street celebrations such as Mardi Gras or Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, with floats and balloons and celebrating crowds. The colors are slightly more muted in this one than some of the others. There are floating ghost-like images with bold zebra stripes and yellow and green blobs that crawl out onto the frame. Another of her paintings has long, lacy skeins of paint such as in a Jackson Pollock painting and large lozenge-shaped white balloons with black stripes and more black stripes on the white frame.
Much of the paint, primarily acrylic, looks like enamel that has been poured and allowed to puddle. Contrasting with this, there are areas where the paint is thin and transparent and soaked into the canvas.
There is so much going on in her paintings that they would seem chaotic but for the definite patterns and groupings of forms and colors that keep it all unified.
Star says, “my technique is the process of mark making, pouring, brushing, scraping, repetition, trance, releasing a desire towards the referential, allowing things to happen in a collaboration with the unknown to manifest the purest abstraction of form . . .”
She was born in Los Angeles and now makes Olympia her home. Her visual art, animation, word-smithing and musical performances have been exhibited in 25 cities nationally and internationally, and her work has been added to public and private collections.

Evocation and Transformation: The Art of China Star
5-7 p.m. Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 12-13, reception 4-7 p.m. Dec. 8 with artist talk at 5 p.m.
All Sorts Gallery, 2306 Capital Way S., Olympia

The Wind in the Willows

Lively anthropomorphic animals in river and woods
A holiday treat at Olympia Family Theater
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 5, 2019
from left: Badger (John Serembe), Rat (Mandy Ryle), Toad (Jordan Richards) and Mole (Hannah Eklun). Photo by Alexis Sarah
The Wind in the Willows at Olympia Family Theater offers a respite from the usual spate of Christmas stories this time of year. It is a delightful romp in the woods and trip down a river by a loveable group of anthropomorphized animals who demonstrate the power and beauty of friendship. “At its heart, it’s a story about community and the connections we make with each other, which is pretty Christmassy,” said director and playwright Andrew Gordon, as quoted in The Olympian by Molly Gilmore. Gordon adapted the musical from the 1908 children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame and co-wrote the lyrics with Bruce Whitney and Daven Tillinghast.
Set in pastoral woods in England at the turn of the 20th century, The Wind in the Willows is the tale of Toad (Jordan Richards), who is fun loving and adventurous, and something of a klutz who constantly gets in trouble and must be helped out by his friends — even to the extent of helping him escape from jail by dressing him up as a washer woman who doesn’t know how to wash clothes in a tub; doesn’t even know it requires water. The scene in which Toad attempts to prove to the barge woman (Reva Rice, who also plays Chief Weasel and Pilot) is uproarious. And this is but one of many Vaudeville-style skits Richards pulls off enthusiastically.
None of the actors use animal masks. Rather, they wear delightful period clothing by costumer Mishka Navarre from a time when automobiles were a rarity and driven only by the wealthy and adventurous, and they act more like humans than animals. Toad is almost fatally attracted to motor cars, to the point of stealing one, wrecking it and getting tossed in jail.
This is the second time OFT has produced Wind in the Willows. The 2012 production featured Jason Haws, Kate Arvin and Ryan Holmberg, and was directed by Jenny Greenlee. This new version is directed by Gordon and stars, in addition to Richards as Toad, Hannah Eklund as Mole, Mandy Ryle as Rat and John Serembe as Badger. This new version has been updated with an added a Christmas Carol and three other new songs — nice additions to their earlier hit.
Richards is terrific. His wild expressions and physical humor crack up the audiences. Eklund plays Mole as a shy and loveable character audiences can easily relate to. Ryle is a likeable Rat, and she sings beautifully. And Serembe is crusty and funny. His immense stage presence undeniable. Every time he stepped on stage opening night the audience broke into laughter.
The large supporting cast is also noticeably good. Their fluid handling of many roles and their easy movements into an out of an often-crowded set is flawless, thanks to Gordon’s direction and choreography by Amy Shephard.
At right at two hours including an intermission, Wind in the Willows is slightly longer than the usual children’s show at OFT and has more adult appeal than many of their shows.
Wind in the Willows, 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Dec. 22, $15-20, pay what you can Dec. 5, Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave E., Olympia,, 360.570.1638.

The Wind in the Willows
Jordan Richards, Hannah Eklund, John Serembe
Directed by Andrew Gordon

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Review: An Iliad

Published in The Weekly Volcano, Nov. 27, 2019
by Alec Clayton
Nancy Curtis as the muse. James O'Barr, director; and Scott Douglas as The Poet in a talkback after the preview performance at South Puget Sound Community College
“An Iliad” by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare, not to be confused with “The Iliad” by Homer, is a one-person, one-act play, and it is as powerful and as intense as anything you’re likely to see this year. Peterson and O’Hare’s “An Iliad” will be performed two nights only in December at Olympia Family Theatre, starring Scott Douglas as The Poet with musical accompaniment by Nancy Curtis as The Muse on flute and other instruments, directed by James O’Barr.
Loosely based on “The Iliad” translated by Robert Fables, “An Iliad” tells the tale of a small part of the Trojan War with all the gods and warriors including Agamemnon, Achilles, King Priam, Paris and Menelaus―complete with great acts of heroism and copious bloodshed (but no actual or even stage blood.) The scenes of war are told by the Poet and mercifully not acted out.
An Iliad combines the classic hexameter verse of Homer’s epic poem with modern speech, and tells the story of Agamemnon’s battle with Achilles and Achilles’ battle with Hector. And it tells much more than that. It tells the tales of every war ever fought. The gods have forced The Poet (ostensibly Homer) to sing the story of the war endlessly down through the ages. Douglas as The Poet looks tired and angry. He’s dressed like a veteran of some modern war, perhaps Iraq. At one point early in the play he says:
Fighters from Coronea, Haleartus deep in meadows,
And men who held Platae and lived in Glisas,
Men who held the rough-hewn gates of Lower Thebes,
On-kee-stus the holy, Poseidon’s sun-filled grove,
Men from the town of Arne green with vineyards . . .
And suddenly he pauses and then says:
Ah, that’s right, you don’t know any of these places . . . and many of you, unless you’re old enough the remember your war in Vietnam, don’t know about registration and the draft, and when your name came up, you had to go . . . but these names—these names mean something to me. I knew these boys . . . The point is, it’s like, on all these ships, are boys called up from every small town in Ohio.
Fortunately, I got to see a preview performance done for Lauren Love’s theater class at South Puget Sound Community College, performed in the black box theater with no set, no lighting or sound effects, no orchestra, but only Douglas telling the age-old and ever-new tale with Curtis as the muse sitting on a stool playing her flute. Nothing was needed beyond Douglas’s voice and his powerful expression of emotion as he talks about war and love and heroism throughout the ages. The writing is brilliant, and Douglas’s acting is mesmerizing. It is a powerful and exhausting hour and a half.
For Douglas, it is an acting tour de force and a monumental challenge as he is faced with a huge memorization load and has to assume many personas and voices including gods and mortals, male and female: Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Andromache, Hecuba and more.
An Iliad will be performed Dec. 7 and 8 at Olympia Family Theatre. The Saturday show is a fundraiser for Orca Books, which is in the process of transitioning to a multi-stakeholder, member co-op business. The Sunday show is a fundraiser for Animal Fire Theatre.
An Iliad
7:30 p.m. Saturday=Sunday, December 7-8
Olympia Family Theatre, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia
$25 at the door (Sunday show suggested donation)