Thursday, January 30, 2020

Man Out of Time: Student written Musical at PLU

The student written and student performed musical Man Out of Time will be performed this weekend only at Pacific Lutheran University. A production three years in the making, Man Out of Time, is written and produced by senior Gunnar Johnson, directed by Kylie Steves, with music written by Gunnar Johnson, Megan Johnson, and Carl Johnson. The musical is the story of Dr. Sherrie Amberson. 
After being hired at the secretive Finistech Institution, she discovers the journal of a brilliant scientist who mysteriously vanished and was erased from all other records. As she tries to piece together the narrative of the scientist's life, it becomes evidently clear that no one can give her the full story. When the Institution comes crashing down on her and her investigation, who will Sherrie trust?
“When I began working on this show, I had no preconceived ideas. However, when we began rehearsals, I was excited to see the actors take their characters and make them come alive. It’s cliché, yes, but it’s true. This show has never been produced before and for me, it’s been an amazing experience. I will admit, that when I was asked to do this show, I was a little concerned. I’ve only directed one other show and it was a lot shorter. However, putting this show together over the last four weeks has been so much fun and I’m grateful for the opportunity

7 p.m. Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2 p.m. Feb. 2
The Cave, Anderson University Center, Pacific Lutheran University

Friday, January 24, 2020

Review: “Heathers: The Musical”

By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 24, 2020

from left: Annelise Martin as Heather Duke, Taylor Colvill as Heather Chandler and Juliette Hollified as Heather MacNamara. Photos by Kyle Sinclair and Mathew Price. 
Based on the hit 1980s dark comedy with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, Heathers: The Musical” is certainly dark, and there are a few funny lines, but it is not a funny play.
Lakewood Playhouse’s production is well acted, with a large and talented cast of mostly youth actors who are relatively new to South Sound stages, and there is good music. Both the film and the musical have developed something of a cult following. The night I attended there were diehard fans in the audience who knew the lyrics and sang along and clapped and stomped their feet to the beat of the music – like a slightly less boisterous version of a “Rocky Horror” audience. And many of them laughed at so-called punch lines that were not only not funny but were vicious.
“Heathers” is a story of bullying, homophobia, sexual harassment and assault, suicide and, ultimately, murder. No laughing matter. To the writer and producers’ credit, the play makes a clear statement to the effect that bigotry and bullying and homophobia are wrong, and it ends on an uplifting note when the former bullies and their victims, including the ghosts of the dead ones, come together in forgiveness and mutual support.

from left: Christine Choate as Martha, Molly Quinn as Veronica, Annelise Martin as Heather Duke, Taylor Colvill as Heather Chandler and Juliette Hollified as Heather MacNamara. 
Also to their credit, writers, composers and lyricists Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy replaced the original song, “Blue” with a boys-will-be-boys message with the more sensitive “You’re Welcome” because they realized, as Director Ashley Roy noted in the program, “Blue” “validated a toxic culture of male entitlement and freedom from consequent while further dis-empowering their female lead.”
Students at Westerburg High School in Sherwood, Ohio are dominated by a trio of bullying mean girls, all named Heather: Heather Chandler (Taylor Colvill), Heather McNamara (Juliet Hollifield) and Heather Duke (Annelise Martin) and a duo of bullying football players, Ram Sweeney (Austin Payne) and Henry Temple (Kurt Kelly). Their primary targets are misfits Veronica Sawyer (Molly Quinn), J.D. Dean (Avery Horton) and Martha Dunnstock (Christine Choate). Veronica and J.D. fight back with disastrous consequences.
All the actors playing high schoolers are themselves teenagers, except for the Heathers, who are in their twenties, and they all display acting chops such as you’d expect from more experienced actors. The only actors with longtime stage experience are Eric Strachan, who plays the football coach, Lydia Jane, who plays two adult roles, and Kyle Murphy, who plays Principal Gowan and a couple of dads. All of them turn in fine performances. Quinn and Horton are truly outstanding, as is Colville as Heather Chandler.
The song “Freeze Your Brain” a tribute to, of all places, Seven Eleven, featuring J.D. was one of the funnier and more enjoyable songs, and “My Dead Gay Son” featuring Strachan and Murphy with the ensemble is an uplifting celebration of love and acceptance.
Viewers should be aware that the play contains adult language, simulated sex, gunshots and smoking of non-toxic prop cigarettes. This play is not recommended for young children.
The house was sold out the night I attended, and considering the cult nature of “Heathers,” it might be wise to get advanced tickets.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 9
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse
TICKETS: $31.00, $29 military and seniors, $26.00 students/educators), pay what you can Jan. 23
INFORMATION: (253) 588-0042,

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Revolutionary African-American Men

Men of Change: Power, Triumph, Truth
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 23, 2020
“Monumental” (Ta-Nehisi Coates) by Robert Pruitt, courtesy of the artist and Koplin De Rio, Seattle / Adam Reich Photography
Iconic African-American men are saluted in this traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian.
“We are honored and thrilled to feature Men of Change: Power, Triumph, Truth. As of now, we’re one of only two museums on the West Coast that will host this phenomenal exhibition (from the Smithsonian). We encourage everyone to come see it and to learn about these change-makers,” says Washington State Historical Society Director Jennifer Kilmer.
“These are some hard truths,” says Mary Mikel Stump from the Historical Society.
Featured in the exhibition are portraits, biographies and little-known stories about many of the most important Black men in America’s history. These iconic figures are pictured with written words, photographs and 29 original works of art made especially for this exhibition. Included are boxer and activist Muhammad Ali, writer James Baldwin, writer Ta-Nehisi Coats, political powerhouse W.E.B. Du Boise. The lives and works of famous and the little-known men alike are highlighted. Such as historian Carter G. Woodson and Black Panther writer and director Ryan Coogler; basketball star and activist Lebron James; artist Romare Bearden and jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis; civil rights leader Andrew Young and comedian/activist Dick Gregory; and one of America’s greatest playwrights, August Wilson, who made his home in Seattle.
"Lost and Found (August Wilson) by Radcliffee Bailey, courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

"Romare Bearden" by Patrick Earl Hammie, courtesy of the artist
Visitors will be inspired and awed by these towering men of history and will be enlightened by many little-known stories. For instance, who knew that Bearden, admired for his daring art, was once a baseball player? Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Bearden was given a chance to play in the majors — but with one stipulation: being light skinned, he was asked to pass as white. He turned down that opportunity.
There is a wonderful painting of Bearden by Patrick Earl Hammie, who breaks Bearden’s face into prismatic sections.
Basketballer Lebron James is depicted by artist Shaun Leonardo by larger-than-life-size hands, not handling a basketball but during a speech at the opening of his school.
Painter Robert Pruitt depicts Ta-Nehisi Coates with a painting called “Monumental” which pictures not Coates but an unidentified woman with a colorful map covering and hiding her head. Her dress is antebellum, and the map outlines redlining for discriminatory housing practices. “I have attempted to emulate Coates' spirit of clarity through my approach and references to ideas of home, property and architecture," Pruitt writes. 
A museum statement summarizes: “The exhibition weaves a collective tapestry of what it is to be an African American man and the shared experience of African American men across generations.” 
Men of Change: Power, Triumph, Truth, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. third Thursday, through March 15, $14, $11 seniors, students, military, free to Washington State Historical Society members and children younger than 5, Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma,

Noises Off at Harlequin Productions

The most farcical farce of all
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 23, 2020

Photo from left: Helen Harvester as Belinda, Jason Haws as Garry and Megan Ahiers as Poppy, photo by Shanna Paxton Photography.

The verdict has long been in: Noises Off is funny. New York Post critic Clive Barnes called it “the funniest farce ever written,” and Frank Rich in The New York Times said it “is, was, and probably always will be the funniest play written in my lifetime.”
For directors and actors, it is one of the greatest challenges ever. It’s like a Marx Brothers movie with nine Marx Brothers. Building the set and manipulating set changes, plus the complicated pratfalls and complex choreographing of the movement throughout would tax the best of actors and directors. Director Corey McDaniel and his nine-person professional cast at Harlequin Productions is more than up to the challenge.
An error prone theater produces a comedy called Nothing On, and — no surprise here, this is the oldest comic trope in the book — everything that can possibly go wrong does. Doors won’t open or won’t stay closed, props get lost or misplaced, costumes fall off, people trip, fall and constantly miss maiming each other by inches. They swing axes, sit on plates of sardines, stuff sardines down their shirts, and get stuck in the rear end with a cactus spines. Plus there is a plethora of backstage romances involving much deception. Simultaneously, in another classic comic trope, people go in and out of the multiple doors and windows, narrowly missing each other.

Photo from left: Lisa Viertel as Dotty, Jason Haws as Garry and Rebecca Court as Brooke, photo by Shanna Paxton Photography.

One of the actors, Rich Hawkins as Selsdon Mowbray is a drunk who plays an incompetent burgler who keeps getting lost backstage and making his entrances at the wrong time. Yet it turns out that Mowbray is the best actor in the play within a play, which explains why the cast works so hard to keep him sober. Jason Haws plays Garry Lejuene, an actor who argues constantly with the Nothing On director Lloyd Dallas, played by Alexander Samuels. When Haws’ character is forced to adlib, which is practically every line, he can never complete a sentence. Aaron Lamb’s character keeps fainting at the most inappropriate moments and getting tripped up and losing his pants.
In Act One the troop is in the final dress rehearsal. The set is the living room of a country home. The homeowners are away. The housekeeper, Dotty (Lisa Viertel) sets a plate of sardines on an end table and answers the telephone and fights with the director who corrects her when she drops props and forgets to hang up the phone or pick up the newspaper or do whatever it is she’s supposed to do with the sardines. When she’s out of the room, Garry, a real estate agent, comes in which a girlfriend, Brooke (Rebecca Cort) with hanky-panky in mind. Somehow Brooke loses her dress and spends most of the play running around in her lingerie and striking ridicuous “sexy” poses — intentional over acting at its absolute finest. Unfortunately, it is hard to understand some of what she says due to the character’s accent and exaggerated histrionics.
In Act Two the set is turned around, and we see what’s happening backstage during opening night at the Grande Theatre. There are signs everywhere warning actors and crew to be quiet when the play is underway, so what we see is mostly pantomime, whispers, and fleeting glances through a window of the actors on stage as they perform for an unseen audience - while actors, the director, stage hand and stage manager fight with each other backstage. This is one of the most inventive things ever in theater, a stroke of genius by writer Michael Frayn.
Act Three is the final performance of Nothing On, and by then the cast and crew are at each other’s throats and have been in and out of each other’s beds, and the play within a play is absolutely delightful pandemonium.
Noises Off, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through March 8, $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, January 17, 2020

Invasive Species

Unusual theme show at Tacoma Community College
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 16, 2020
"Bless This Mess" by Miles Styler, photo courtesy Tacoma Community College
As themes for art exhibitions go, Invasive Species might be one of the most intriguing imaginable. It’s a horror show in the making — animals brought in from foreign countries that destroy local plants and animals, plants such as kudzu from Japan that overrun everything in their path, species of living things that carry deadly viruses. But according to evidence presented by the artists shown in the Invasive Species exhibition at Tacoma Community College, humans might be the most invasive of all.
According to a collage by Olympia artist Lois Beck called “Caucasian Homo Sapiens,” overpopulation seems to be the culprit. Beck’s collage is a seemingly random mashing together of many photos of people with no apparent structure. It is not one of Beck’s better works, but it makes a point. The fun thing about it for me was spotting local theatrical personality John Munn among all the faces.
One of the more haunting images is a hydrostone and acrylic sculpture by Jeanette Otis titled “Unknown INVADER.” It is a cracked egg with two shining eyes of some frighteningly unknown creature peeking through the crack, possibly an alien from another solar system, about to be birthed.
Miles Styer’s “Bless this Mess” is a hoarder’s doll house crammed with stacks of old newspapers, barrels and boxes and plastic containers of all shapes and sizes, a Christmas tree in the attic, broken furniture and broken lamps made of clay, glaze, polymer, paint and other materials. This piece is fascinating to look at if for no other reason, just to see what all you can find in the house of hoarder horrors.
The prize for the best title must belong to Sharon Styer’s construction, “When the Gods leave, do you think they hesitate, turn, and make a farewell sign, some gesture of regret?” This piece is a wooden box with pictures glued to the outside and an interior overtaken with moss and vines and images of people at leisure at a lake that is being overtaken by its surrounding flora. What’s left, perhaps, when the Gods leave. Maybe their farewell sign was an evil wink.
There are six paintings and a charcoal drawing by Jeffree Stewart, all of which are nicely done — especially the charcoal drawing — but I can’t see how any of them relate to the theme. There are also a number of works on loan from Stewart’s personal art collection, the best of which is a haunting black-and-white photo by Mary Randlett called “Clear Cut: Coastal Hills.” It is a picture of desolation following clearcutting that looks like something seen on an alien planet.
It’s not the greatest show TCC has ever done, but it’s certainly worth a trip to the campus.

Invasive Species, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Feb. 7, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Family theater family

Photo: Ted and Jen Ryle, selfie by Ted Ryle

Ted and Jen Ryle, Olympia Family Theater
by Alec Clayton

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 9, 2020
The Ryle family at the awarding of the Achievement in the Arts Award, from left to right: Alexa, Jen, Mandy, Ted and Lu.

Olympia Family Theater is a family affair in every possible meaning of the phrase. The company was co-founded by Jen Ryle, along with Samantha Chandler, in 2006, and Ryle is the company’s artistic director. Her husband, Ted, has written and co-written many OFT shows, including the original adaptation of Cinder Edna with music by Ted, Rich Sikorski, Miriam Sterlin and Ryle’s daughter Mandy. He directed the world premiere of 3 Impossible Questions by local playwright Christian Carvajal and directed for the first Tales Told in Ten festival in 2016, and he has acted in more than 20 OFT productions.

“I grew up a theater kid,” Jen Ryle says. She met Ted at an audition at Shoreline Community College. “After grad school, Ted and I moved to Olympia with our daughters where I was a stay-at-home mom and they attended Lincoln Elementary. I enrolled at Evergreen once my kiddos were all in grade school and that is where my vision for creating a theater for young audiences crystallized.”

Ted and Jen Ryle
She graduated in June 2006, and they staged their first show, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, at the Midnight Sun in October of that year. “I directed the production. Samantha and my whole family were in the show (Ted and daughters Lu, Mandy and Alexa). That early, we had to rely on ourselves and our friends and families to fill many of our volunteer roles as actors and for help with costumes, sets, painting, hanging posters, and everything. ‘What a great show! It’s too bad there is no way this can last’ I remember hearing from one audience member who came to see the show with his wife and two children. Many years later, that same audience member's kiddos were enrolled in our education programs, acted on our mainstage, and he even served on our board of directors.”

For eight seasons, OFT performed both in the South Puget Sound Community College and Washington Center Black Boxes, with a few shows at the Midnight Sun. In 2014, they got their own theater space in the old Capital Playhouse on 4th Avenue, downtown Olympia. “It is such a luxury to have costume and prop storage, a shop, and our theater all in one space,” Jen says.
Their first show in their new home was the musical Busytown. They have now produced 63 mainstage shows, 27 at the current location. These include many adaptations of well-known children’s classics with some of the area’s best actors.

Jen was honored by Masterworks Choral Ensemble in their Salute to the Arts Award for outstanding contributions to the arts in our community. In the Summer of 2018, the Washington Center honored Olympia Family Theater with its Achievement in the Arts award. 

“I’ve worked with the Ryles and OFT since 2008 in varied capacities: as an actor, OFT board member (then President), writer, director, and parent,” Andy Gordon says. “I think they do an incredible job in the community, providing a place for families to experience and enjoy theater, and the educational opportunities that go along with that. As a director, I was very impressed with the company’s commitment to collaboration and support of every production. Where I think they go above and beyond is their fostering of original local work. It’s a joy to work with a company that’s so committed to championing new material. As a creator, I couldn’t be more grateful to OFT for their support. Jen’s leadership in this regard has been amazing; new work can be risky, and she manages to both be supportive and maintain the high quality for all productions. Ted’s a fellow creator, and I’ve always appreciated his support and willingness to collaborate.”

Actor John Serembe, seen in The Wind in the Willows, says,Jen and Ted Ryle have moved and inspired countless Olympia children, as well as those who perform on their stage.”

The next show coming up at OFT is Number the Stars directed by OFT's co-founder Samantha Chandler.

Number the Stars, 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 31-Feb. 16, $15-20, Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave E., Olympia,, 360.570.1638.