Archive for February 2013

“These Streets” at ACT

“These Streets a rock’n roll story” offered by The Central Heating lab and Harley Rudinoff Productions will appeal to you or not depending on your demographic. If you came of age in the early ‘90s, if grunge, garage, and club music was seminal to your growing up, this is a production filled with memories you’ll enjoy. If you followed the start-up bands of Seattle, especially the girl bands, this is for you. If you are into that scene today, here’s an opportunity to listen to a great concert. If you are in none of those categories, skip it.

This is not so much a play as a concert. It offers well-played music of the period within a script that gives little new insights into that or any other world.

We learn that it’s hard to get a break. Club owners can screw you. Democracy is hard to achieve even in a small band. Collaborations work well until they don’t. Then there’s likely to be accusations of stealing one another’s work. We’re even told that it’s hard to combine motherhood with career.

Not much new and exciting in those revelations. But this really isn’t an evening of theatre per se. It’s a tribute to Seattle’s women musicians, a good concert built around a slight story.

Through March 10 at ACT, 700 Union Street, Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org)

“Nicolai Fechin: A Russian Master” at the Frye Museum

Nicolai Fechin, younger contemporary of painters like Monet and Renoir, isn’t a name that comes directly to mind when one thinks about European art in the early years of the 20th C. His wasn’t work that Charles and Emma Frye themselves avidly collected, but as the years went by, Fechin paintings and drawings were added to the Frye’s permanent collection.

Now, we have an opportunity to see just how important and thrilling they are. Thanks to clever curatorial work done by Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, the Frye’s Director, we have an exhibition featuring 60 Fechin paintings and drawings, some from the Frye’s own collection and others from museums and private owners worldwide.

Fechin’s impressionistic techniques were greatly admired for their “barbaric mastery of form and color,” They imbue his paintings with mystery. His portraits, mostly of women in this show, look deeply into the soul of subjects who all seem to have secrets, secrets they are not yet ready to share.

This exhibition includes quiet landscapes of Taos, New Mexico, and Russia as well as many of his portraits. “Lady in Pink (Portrait of Natalia Podbelskaya)”, owned by the Frye, is one of the most arresting. Though she lived many years after Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, she exhibits the sexual ripeness and self satisfaction that Anna might have felt in her youthful days. If you go to Book-It’s current production of Anna Karenina, see if you agree.

Born in 1881, Fechin grew up in Russia, but moved to the United States in 1923, the year he had a solo show at Chicago’s Art Institute. Initially, he set up residence in New York, though ill health forced him to relocate to Taos, New Mexico. There he quickly became a member of Mabel Dodge Luhan’s salon where he rubbed shoulders and exchanged ideas with D. H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Ansel Adams, Marsden Hartley, and so many other intellectuals and artists of the time.

This is the Frye’s first overview of Fechin’s work since 1976 and well worth a visit.

Through May 19, at Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, (206 622-9250 or fryemuseum.org)

“Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows” at the Photography Center NW

Like the work of another Chicago artist, the outsider collage and story genius Henry Darger, Vivian Maier’s brilliant photographs remained hidden throughout her lifetime. Though she took pictures wherever she lived or visited, most record the streets and places where she roamed…New York and then Chicago and its suburbs in the ‘50s and ‘60s. She captured rich and poor, children, trees, street musicians, markets, discarded newspapers, transportation hubs, and all else that makes up urban life.

Maier supported herself as a nanny (even for a time with the Phil Donahue family), but taking pictures was her passion. Yet more than 100,000 of her negatives wound up in storage lockers whose contents were auctioned off in 2007 for failure to pay the rent. The ill and impoverished Maier died in 2009 at 82.

Fortunately the buyers, John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein, recognized the significance of what each had acquired. John Maloof, an amateur historian, bought as many as he could and has since reconstructed most of the Maier archive. Mr. Goldstein who is now president of Vivian Maier Prints organized the exhibition currently showing at the Photo Center NW. Master printers Ron Gordon and Sandra Steinbrecher created the silver gelatin works on exhibition by adapting the aesthetics and technologies of the 1950s and ‘60s to give them historical authenticity.

The exhibition has humor and pathos. We get a sense of the grit of the city as well as the calm and abundance of the suburbs. Whether it’s a pair of rubber garden gloves lying in front of a window, or the grizzled face of the old lady in the flowered hat, the pictures draw you in as they demand a story. You have to wonder whatever happened to that amorous couple in the midst of the crowd on the sandy beach. Did the police eventually arrest that disheveled man they were talking to? And what became of that plump baby testing out the waters of Lake Michigan?

Maier, in the tradition of the great street photographers of the past, gives us a window through which to look at a time and a place. And just think, she never saw any of her work printed as art photography.

Through March 23 at Photo Center NW, 900 12th Ave., Seattle (206 720-7222 or www.pcnw.org)

“5 X TENN (or so)” Six one-acts by Tennessee Williams at Stone Soup

In addition to writing brilliant full-length plays, Tennessee Williams, was a prolific author of one-acters. Stone Soup’s offering of six of these, written over a number of decades, reveals Williams’ genius as well as his weaknesses. Though the quality of the plays and the productions vary, the program provides an opportunity to see short works that are rarely performed today.

In one of Williams’ later works, “The Municipal Abattoir” we meet a man who’s lost all power to make decisions. As a citizen in a totalitarian state he is submissive even when told to report to the abattoir where he’ll be killed in a gruesome fashion. Advised by others to take steps to avoid the painful death, he refuses. “I do what I’m supposed to do.” Terrence Boyd as the doomed man is appropriately robot-like as he delivers the playwright’s lesson.

My favorite piece is “Kingdom of Earth,” a noir bit of southern dysfunction. The main character, Chicken, played by a sneering, nasty, self-interested Gianni Truzzi, lives in a ramshackle house that he stands to inherit if his half-brother precedes him in death. As torrential rain pours down outside, the brother appears at the door with Myrtle (Brynne Garman), a floozy he has just married. The brother is desperately ill, actually dying. Chicken would like nothing better than that, but the new wife complicates the inheritance. After the brother is half pushed up the stairs, Chicken and Myrtle begin their contretemps. Truzzi is positively creepy as he reveals his viciousness and sexual hungers. Garman imbues her slutty character with a neediness that is wrenching. Their interactions are spellbinding.

“Sunburst” shows an older woman at the mercy of two thugs who want her sunburst diamond. “The Big Game” reveals a hospital scene where life and death play tag. “Chalky White Substance” and “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen” round out the program.

Directed by Ellen Graham, the program gives evidence of Williams poignant and sometimes darkly comic revelations about human emotions and motivations.

Through March 9, Stone Soup Theatre, 4029 Stone Way N, Seattle, (206 633-1883 or www.stonesouptheatre.org)

European Masters at Seattle Art Museum

Those of us obsessed with the PBS series “Downton Abbey” are in awe of the opulence and grandeur of English great houses. Well, right now, you can savor some of that splendor right here in Seattle at the Seattle Art Museum.

Kenwood House in North London is a treasury of 17th to 19th C. European paintings. Last owned by Edward Cecil Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh, it was bequeathed to Britain in 1927 along with its art collection. The estate is currently closed for major renovation, and 48 of its masterpieces are traveling to three American museums, and SAM is one of them.

Paintings by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, van Dyck, Turner, Reynolds and other masters are included. Wonderful portraits and splendid landscapes fill the walls of SAM’s temporary exhibition halls. When you go you’ll want to look carefully at the workmanship—the brushstrokes, use of color, chiaroscuro, composition, and all the other artistic techniques. But for me, equally important is the story that each painting tells or hides.

Among my favorites is Emma Hart as “The Spinstress” one of George Romney’s late 18th C paintings of Emma. She’s clothed in virginal white before her spinning wheel. With head modestly covered, she looks at the viewer with a sweetness and innocence. In real life Emma was anything but innocent. Born the daughter of a lowly blacksmith, she took advantage of her good looks and talents. For a time she resided in a high-class house of prostitution, then became an attendant at what might now be called a sex club. She was mistress to noblemen and probably Romney too. She became the wife of Sir William Hamilton, a much older man. Simultaneously she was the great love of England’s naval hero, Lord Nelson. So much for sweet innocence.

Another portrait that I love is Joshua Reynolds’s depiction of Mrs. Tollemache as Miranda. It was common in the 18th C. for painters to place their subjects in pastoral or classical settings. Here we find Mrs. Tollemache playing Miranda from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” See her father Prospero peeking out from behind a tree and the nasty Caliban crouched behind her.

Pieter van der Broeche, painted by Frans Hals in 1633 reveals all the wealth and vitality of the Dutch Golden Age. This portrait shows a successful man who wanted his world to make note of it. His ruddy face, rimmed by a mass of tousled black hair, smiles out at the world. He’s dressed in black but his exquisite lace collar and cuffs as well as the massive gold chain that crosses his chest assure the viewer that this is a man of note.

Among the landscapes, I’m particularly fond of Isack van Ostade’s 1645 A Canal in Winter. Scenes that depict the daily lives of people have always fascinated me. This charming scene, so like the work of Breughel shows a frozen canal with skaters, wooden sleds, muffled children, and a horse-drawn “ice taxi.”

Many of these wonderful pieces, typical of the tastes of the wealthy at the end of the 19th C., have never traveled to the United States before. Enjoy them while you can.

Through May 19, SAM Downtown, 1300 First Ave., Seattle (206 654-3100 seattleartmuseum.org)