Two Exhibitions at the Frye Museum

Some art is an experience that speaks to one’s aesthetic sense. Other art calls more to one’s intellect. It speaks more to the mind than the eye. The Frye offers both types currently. “AMIE SIEGEL Interiors” is for the mind, a cerebral excursion (Through Sept. 3). “Between the Frames” offers far more aesthetic appeal (Through July 23). Together, the shows offer an interesting juxtaposition, but also an appropriate commentary on the Museum’s development since its founding in 1952.

Siegel’s work investigates what the curator calls “ideas about objects and their perceived cultural value, and the power systems that evolve from connoisseurship, collecting, and image making.” Using film, slides and video she explores our relationship to things. Through examination of the things in London’s Freud Museum she points out parallels between the scrupulous care given to Freud’s collection of archeological objects and his conscientious process of analysis—removing the dross to reveal the essence.

Another work consists of two black and white 16mm films simultaneously projecting a sequence of shots of Le Corbusier’s white Villa Savoye outside of Paris and a black copy of the building in Canberra, Australia. Each film is printed in a manner that reverses dark and light. Here too the artist is mapping out “the interior mechanisms of the mind as well as the museum . . . that define aesthetic and social worth.” It’s food for the intellect more than delight for the eye.

The other current exhibition, “Between the Frames,” consists of art that speaks directly to one’s aesthetic sense. It features works acquired under each of the directors of the Museum since its founding in 1952.

The Frye’s had a vision. They wanted to create a free, public art museum for the people of Seattle. We are still enjoying the benefits of their generosity. This exhibit offers a retrospective of the growth and change in the collection since the Museum was established. It highlights the development of the Museum’s collection from the original 200 representational works donated by Charles and Emma Frye to today’s much expanded collection that includes cutting-edge contemporary works.

Wheat Gatherer by Winslow Homer, acquired in 1958.

“Between the Frames” showcases examples of the acquisitions made by each of the six directors. Through their oversight and vision, the museum has, decade by decade, reframed the past, informed the present, and speculated on the future.

The first Director, Walser Sly Greathouse, maintained the focus on representational art,  as did his wife Ida Kay who succeeded him after his death.  Interest in local artists and those from the Pacific Northwest, including women artists were hallmarks of her tenure.

Girl in Striped Robe by Philip Pearlstein

The next director, Richard V. West oversaw the major remodel in 1997 that resulted in the building we have today. Under his direction the collection continued to grow with representational works like Philip Pearlstein’s “Girl in Striped Robe.”

In 2003, Elsa “Midge” Bowman assumed leadership and soon brought in Robin Held as head curator. Together they reinvented the exhibition program. Video and performance art were presented. The whole question of how to define representational art was examined and the museum’s mission statement was revised to more adequately reflect both the intentions of the Fryes and the vision of its board.

When Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker was appointed director in 2009 new collaborations and further expansion of the exhibitions program were initiated with a continued focus on contemporary art. Her tenure set the stage for current director Joseph Rosa who will build the collection, just as the Fryes built their collection—on the contemporary art of the time. “Between the Frames” offers a splendid summary of how the Frye has broadened its collections since its inception.

Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, fryemuseum.org, 206 622-9250, free admission and parking.

“Dreamgirls” at Village Theatre

Just what do you have to do to make your R&B all-girls group stand out among the rest? You need lots of talent…yes, of course, but also fantastic good luck, probably that most of all. “Dreamgirls” is the story of a female trio that entered a talent show at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. They didn’t win, but given their talent, and after lots of conflicts, double crosses and heartbreaks, success was theirs.

It has been assumed that this is the story of the Supremes and Diana Ross, though no one will verify that. The musical first opened on Broadway in 1981, won six Tony’s and was made into a movie in 2006. Now Director Steve Tompkins’ extravaganza bursts forth on the Village Theatre’s stage.

Lauren Du Pree (Deena Jones), Charles Simmons (C.C. White), Alexandria Henderson (Lorrell Robinson), Angela Birchett (Effie White), and John Devereaux (Curtis Taylor, Jr.). Dreamgirls Production photo. © 2017 Mark Kitaoka

If you like R&B music, this show offers lots of it. It’s a concert wrapped around a story. The voices are big, and the orchestra, directed by R.J. Tancioco, is booming. Salvo after salvo of sound waves blast through the theatre, and almost every number is accompanied by a dazzling light show. Featuring mostly red, white, and blue lights, the beams shoot out from all sides of the stage as well as the ceiling. This lighting (created by Tom Sturge) also provides a mood that is equally effective for those tender numbers that speak to the anguish that sometimes accompanies love.

Meanwhile, the three girls who try to make it big (Angela Birchett as Effie, Lauren Du Pree as Deena, and Alexandria Henderson as Lorrell) belt out the numbers and astound us with their range, and evocation of deep emotions. The route to stardom isn’t equally successful for this threesome. Their relations with men aren’t always to their advantage. But the women are determined.

Their stage costumes are noteworthy (thanks to Karen Ann Ledger’s creativity). Most of the numerous outfits they wear are spectacular. They glitter; they shine; they flounce; they miraculously transform into something wholly different before your very eyes.

I repeat: this is a concert wrapped around a story. The story is almost too convoluted, too secondary to the music. What you have in this production are remarkable visual effects and a potpourri of R&B music well presented.

Through July 2 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, and from July 7 to July 30 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425-257-8600 or VillageTheatre.org.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Presented by Seattle Shakespeare

This is not Shakespeare as you’ve come to expect it. Oh no, this is Shakespeare as a Broadway musical, and what better of his plays to present in this fashion than “Midsummer Night’s Dream” where mortals meet fairies and magic is in the air? Director George Mount has created a lollapalooza, crowd-pleasing delight that he suggests is “a celebration of all things theatre.” And it’s a celebration you won’t want to miss.

You’ll find wonderful physical humor incorporated throughout. Do pay special attention to MJ Sieber who seems born for the role of Bottom, a role that gives him ample opportunities to be the clown with exquisite timing. His scenes with the Queen of the fairies (Vanessa Miller) are by themselves worth the price of admission.

But there’s so much more including dancing, from tap to tango, and lots of it. Do you like acrobatics? Here you’ll find some amazing stunts, and most of them are performed to music provided by an orchestra above and behind the actors that is directed by Dayton Allemann.

What can I say? I, who love to laugh, loved this production. It features a remarkably skilled cast, marvelous stagecraft, a clever set, lovely costumes, and surprising special effects. The ending is so ridiculous, so over the top that I still giggle thinking about it.

Shakespeare wrote for the masses, for simple people as well as highly literate ones. He would give two thumbs up to this production.

Through May 21 at Cornish Playhouse, 201Mercer Street, Seattle, 206 733-8222 or seattleshakespeare.org.

“Skin” presented by Deaf Spotlight

“We need to find the courage to tell the stories that lie beneath the surface, under our skin.” So says Crystal L.M. Roberts about her play currently being offered at 12th Avenue Arts. And courage was indeed required by all those associated with Deaf Spotlight, the producing partner here.

This is a play about deaf lesbian life. The entire play is performed in sign language. It’s a theatre experience devoid of sound except for the occasional garbled noises from some of the characters at taut moments. And there are many of those, both emotional crescendos as well as heartbreaking lows.

Director Alexandria Wailes has made sure that her four characters have very different personalities, obsessions and sexual experiences. They scrutinize the topic of sex almost without stop. Rose (Rhonda Cochran), the elder in the group, looks back on her sexually active days with longing. Ash (Michelle Mary Schaefer) who is butch knows that there are two basics in every life: love and hunger, and she’s out to satisfy both. Sammie (Amelia Hensley), the beauty of the bunch, loves sex in almost any form and has no trouble getting it. Then there is poor Quinn (Kalen Feeney) who is still tying to recover from being gang raped by fraternity guys on Gay Pride Day.

Good acting here, brave acting. I’m sure for the non-hearing, gay audience members, the play is a wonderful telling of real life. For others, it provides a good entry to another culture, a reminder of how diverse all cultures are.

A huge blank screen above and behind the actors serves to print out the dialog as the play progresses so that those in the audience who don’t speak with their hands can follow the action. It is not without it’s problems, however. There is lots of dialog, and reading it makes it difficult to see the action. The system would be more helpful if some adjustments were made by condensing the screened text or changing the speed with which the text moves.

I so frequently think about how lucky we are in Seattle to be exposed to theatre of enormous diversity. With this production we gain an insight into the lives of a subculture that is unfamiliar to most of us.

May 5, 6, 7, 12, 13 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, Strangertickets.com

“Chitrangada” Presented by ACTLab and Pratidhwani

A feast of color and movement! A tale of love! “Chitrangada” an Indian dance story is brought to Seattle audiences by the local South Asian cultural organization Pratidhwani. It’s an extraordinary performance featuring more than 40 dancers directed by Moumita Bhattacharya.

The tale originated as a minor story in the Mahabharata, the great Sanskrit epic of ancient India. It was revised and embellished in the late 19th Century by India’s most beloved poet and author, Rabindranath Tagore. It’s Tagore’s version we see on this stage. A love story about a princess, the only child and heir to her father’s kingdom. Thus it was necessary for her to learn martial arts, so she assumed the countenance of a man and became a great warrior. All would be well but she fell in love with another great warrior, Arjun. He, of course, didn’t know she was a woman. When that is finally revealed, true love ensues, and it’s a happily ever after story.

It’s a nice story, not terribly different from folktales of our own society. Ah! but it’s not just the story that’s the enticement of this production. What is so unforgettable about this is the dance in all its varieties, the music and costumes. “Spectacular color and movement” hardly do it justice.

The dancers utilize all parts of their body in a fashion unfamiliar to western audiences. Their hands are as significant as their feet and legs. Integral to most dances are gracious and elaborate finger movements that far exceed anything we see in western ballet. So too are the eyes used extensively as elements of the story telling.

The costumes are sumptuous. Golds, oranges, greens, shades of colors you’ve never seen before, all are integrated into glorious creations that not only look beautiful but allow the dancers a full range of motion.

If you have any interest in dance, this program is a must. So too for those who are interested in non-western cultures. And for anyone who just enjoys a great diversity of fast paced action this production is simply mesmerizing.

The wonder is that the enormous production crew, the large number of behind-the-scenes functionaries, and the huge number of highly skilled performers are all volunteers. How lucky we are to have them here in our region.

Through May 20 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or acttheatre.org.