Archive for June 2014

Two New Shows at the Frye Museum

Conceptual art, art that is created mostly for political consideration rather than aesthetic gratification, has been a dominant force in contemporary art for some time now, and the Frye as well as the Henry have brought many important conceptual artists to Seattle. The recently opened dual exhibition now at the Frye, “The Unicorn Incorporated: Curtis R. Barnes” and “Your Feast Has Ended; Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Nicholas Galanin, and Nep Sidhu,” are both highly political. Their purpose is primarily “searing social commentary.”

Curtis Barnes, long time Seattle artist, is represented by work that spans five decades. Included are his drawings, paintings, mixed media pieces, and sculpture. As an African American male, he’s interested in the place he and other non-whites hold in American society. That issue dominates his work.

Of particular interest in this exhibition, is a room dedicated to the “Omowale” mural that decorated an exterior wall at the Medgar Evers Pool in the Central District. Barnes and his collaborator Royal Alley-Barnes conceived of the mural, campaigned for the funds to create it, and designed and painted it. The actual work took four years of warm weather work from 1971 to 1974.

“Omowale” is a Yoruba terms that means “children return home.” The home Barnes envisions is a spiritual place where self determination and self-preservation as defined by one’s own terms are possible. Not everyone understood this, and, in 1995 when the mural needed extensive restoration, it was decided not to spend the needed money. The mural, an important piece of history and art, was destroyed. The photos, news clips, and signage in this show remind us of it’s conceptual breadth and provide testimony to its significance.

In “Your Feast Has Ended” Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Nicholas Galanin, and Nep Sidhu explore myths and ancient concepts. They, a generation younger than Mr. Barnes, are even more focused on the political content of their work. The concept that draws them together is their distaste for the destructive nature of our species, its parasitic quality.

Of the three Nep Sidhu most successfully combines social commentary with visual satisfaction. His massive textile wall hanging, “An Affirmation, as It Was Told by SHE” is a loving tribute to his mother. Its painted image of a woman is surrounded by intricate designs that include beadwork combined with rope, copper and brass elements. The overall effect is spellbinding.

His three large wall constructions are both architectural and literary. Hard-edged, complicated metal pieces of geometric design surround a large square of non-western narration from storytellers significant to the artist. In these pieces his use of color, space, and the combination of forms is brilliant.

Maikoiyo Alley Barnes addresses social and environmental issues with a broad range of materials and methods. His collection of fiber and hide “animal cartoons” in “Pelts” combine iconic western and native elements that appear archetypical but for the creator represent specific individuals and situations.

Nicholas Galanin celebrates his Tlingit culture and addresses environmental issues of concern with sound, video, pelts, and mixed media. “Inert” combines two visions of a wolf. Half is a trophy or rug, and the other half appears to be a live wolf clawing its way back to its natural life.

For each of these artists, the exhibition offers a far greater range of work than described here. If you are a fan of conceptual art, politically infused art, you’ll find much to savor in this show.

Through September 21, at the Frye Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, free admission and parking, (206 622-9250 or fryemuseum.org).

“The Hunchback of Seville” produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre

It’s a fairy tale, history lesson, political commentary, laugh riot, and it’s sheer magic! Though I must issue a warning. If Fox News is your favorite TV experience, this isn’t for you.

In this, their last production in the small theatre on 19th Ave. East, before their move to a more central Capitol Hill location, WET is offering the world premiere performance of this inventive and sly tale. Playwright Charise Castro Smith would probably have been totally at home with the Monty Python crew. Their work has much in common.

Although some of the humor (for example, a plethora of cats in the beginning) doesn’t quite make it, the flaws are minor. What we are offered here are exaggerated expressions and lunatic actions combined with the slamming doors and physical humor that creates laugh-out-loud farce. Yet the playwright has cleverly inserted within this tomfoolery a powerful assessment of the horrors of colonialism and pertinent reminders of contemporary issues.

Director Jen Wineman sees that the timing is just right and offers numerous stage tricks that reinforce the madcap milieu and more serious messages. Every one of her truly fine actors, led by Sami Detzer as Maxima, the hunchback, are up to the demands of the script. Detzer scurries around the stage, her hunchback wobbling as she goes. She of the brilliant mind and amorous proclivities has to contend with both Queen Isabella (the regal Maria Knox) and Infanta Juana (Libby Barnard).

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Cast of “The Hunchback of Seville”
photo by Cassandra Bell

Infanta Juana is as dumb as Maxima is smart, and, at one point, she has a temper tantrum that is the pièce de resistance of all temper tantrums. You’ve heard the term “tear up the stage.” Well Barnard does that and more. Meanwhile her mother, HRH Queen Isabella, schemes, as she is slowly fading away, and kudos to the production team that masterminded that demise.

Maniacal humor played by an outstanding cast is what you get here, along with a lot more.

Through June 30, Thurs.-Mon., The Little Theatre on Capitol Hill, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle, (206-325-5105 or washingtonensemble.org).

“Passing Strange” at ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret

If you love or loved rock concerts, if you thrill to the boom of the music and don’t care if you can understand the lyrics or not, then “Passing Strange” is the show for you. The music pounds through the relatively small Bullitt Cabaret, and every audience member is close enough to feel it, if not interpret the words. I would suggest you look the show up on the Internet before you go so that you understand all that is going on. As in opera, having read the libretto or superscript words above the stage greatly enhances understanding, hence appreciation of the performance.

In this picaresque tale, a young African-American man ventures forth to find himself, winding up first in Amsterdam and then in Berlin. Of course he meets all sorts of people who help or hinder him on this journey toward self-enlightenment. Among the issues he grapples with are: religion, sexuality, “passing”, drugs, materialism, love, family relationships, and grief.

Sidecountry Theatre presents this local production under the direction of Tyrone Brown whose cast members are in fine voice. The musicians, led by Jose Gonzales, cause the space to throb with their overpowering sound. The minimal stage set with its ever-moving instrument cases works perfectly well. What’s really interesting is the light and image show projected onto “boxes” affixed to the wall above the musicians. The changing colors and occasional depictions of scenes are subtle but effective, and do make one think of the light shows at rock concerts.

When this show appeared on Broadway in 2008 it won the Tony for Best Book of a Musical as well as three Drama Desk Awards and numerous nominations. Spike Lee made a movie of the staged performance. So if rock concerts with a story appeal to you, you’ll probably like this. But do your homework first or you’ll probably have difficulty understanding all the dialog.

Through June 29 at the Bullitt Cabaret in ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” Produced by Book-It Repertory Theatre

I was not looking forward to this production. Five hours! Five hours long including two short intermissions and a 40-minute dinner break! I love theatre, but really, that’s expecting too much. How wrong I was. This is scintillating, emotionally powerful, entrancing theatre that speeds by.

Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel (2001), has been a best seller for years. In it Chabon brilliantly interlaces two seemingly unconnected realities—the Golden Age of comic books and the rise of Hitler’s evil empire. Jeff Schwager adapted the book for this production.

It’s an epic saga in which love, sexuality, ambition, loss, war, and magic are all woven together. The story focuses on two Jewish cousins, one an artistic Czech refugee (Kavalier) and the other (Clay), an entrepreneurial dreamer and writer in New York. They create a new comic book: “The Escapist.” It features a many talented superhero that fights Fascism and all its evil components. Despite this success, Kavalier can’t be completely happy until he frees his family whose sacrifices allowed him, and only him, to escape from the Nazis. This is not an easy or inexpensive endeavor.

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David Goldstein, Opal Peachey, and Frank Boyd
photo by John Ulman

Book-It’s production directed by Myra Platt sparkles with good acting and terrific sets. For this play, the open Center Theatre is configured as a traditional theatre in the style of the 1930s with a wonderful Deco proscenium arch and deep blue velvet curtains separating audience from stage. The sets cleverly evoke the skyscrapers of Manhattan, interiors within the Empire State Building, as well as the streets of a post-war Levittown-like suburb. There are simulated subway rides and a plane trip, magic tricks to astound and delight. And throughout the production, music from the ’40s reinforces the sense of the era.

Frank Boyd as Kavalier and David Goldstein as Clay are fine foils for one another. They reinforce each other, yet each has private reasons for brooding silences as well as spirited enthusiasms. And Boyd’s mastery of magic is impressive.

Richard Arum as Sheldon Anapol, the gruff, loud, comic book publisher who gives them a chance but exploits them financially inhabits his role. He’s the epitome of the guy with the glad hand and warm heart whose self-interest is primary.

We first meet Opal Peachey, the love interest Rosa, in a state of undress. With or without clothes, she’s lovely to look at, and she gives Rosa just the right amount of piquancy mixed with vulnerability.

Sometimes, five hours is scarcely enough.

Through July 7 at Center Theatre at the Armory in Seattle Center, Seattle, (206 216-0833 or www.book-it.org

“The Lisbon Traviata” produced by Theatre twenty-two at Richard Hugo House

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Stephen (Daniel Christensen) and Mendy (Eric Mulholland)

If this, their second production, is any indication of what to expect from Theatre twenty-two, we have much to look forward to. Currently playing at Hugo House, and offered to coincide with Seattle’s June Pride Celebration is Terrance McNally’s “The Lisbon Traviata.” Though it is certainly a play featuring gay men and the passion many of them have for opera, at heart it is a play for everyone with its focus on friendship, love, jealousy and heartbreak.

The renowned Maria Callas performance in Lisbon of “la Traviata” obsesses Mendy (Eric Mulholland) at whose apartment Stephen (Daniel Christensen) seeks solace. Stephen senses that his doctor lover is about to end their long-term relationship. Large-scale images of Maria are very much present, and operatic angst fills the stage. When Stephan leaves Mendy and returns to his apartment, a little earlier than expected, he finds his lover in the arms of another, and to make it worse, it’s a younger man! Obviously this is not going to end well.

McNally is a highly regarded contemporary American playwright, and this is one of his finer scripts. Although it portrays the gay scene in New York in the 1980s, it has the sensibilities of a current work. The production team here has worked miracles with the space. Gerald B. Browning’s sets are stunning with their integration of Callas images within modern apartments. The deep red/maroon velvets of the first act set, the overwhelming number of CDs and records, as well as the appurtenances create a scene that says almost as much as the dialog does. And the Act II set with its sharp lines and preponderance of black symbolically matches the play’s action.

Browning also directed this production, and here too, his work is up to the material. He and all the actors mine McNally’s script for every possible laugh and all its pathos. They cause you to feel deeply for the characters, to be charmed by them, flawed or fey though they may be.

And there’s Maria, always in the background, perfect Maria who some say never sang a false note. But she knew, just as these characters know: opera is about us—our life and death, our passions.

As the circus barkers of the old days used to say, “Step right up; see it here.”

Through June 28, Thurs.—Sat., also Mon. June 23, at Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., Seattle, (brownpapertickets.com/event/575647 or info@theatre22.org or 206 257-2203).