Archive for June 2016

“Bren Ahearn Strategies for Survival” at the Bellevue Arts Museum

What comes to mind when you hear that there’s an exhibition of finely embroidered cloth samplers? Most of us think of needlework done by young girls in previous centuries. Girls were required to sew samplers so that they might learn the important feminine art of stitchery and also learn their alphabet, numbers, and important moral and religious lessons. Charming and beautiful, today these exercises in domesticity and femininity make lovely accompaniments to museum exhibitions or period rooms, but very few young girls maintain this art form. Bren Ahearn, however, keeps the tradition alive.

The samplers by Bren Ahearn show all the precision and artistic merit of those earlier pieces, but his work (yes “his” work for Bren is indeed a man) addresses modern issues and speaks to the fact that needlework need not be the purview of women only. His works are charming, wry, unexpected, and even humorous with their comments on contemporary life especially as it relates to manhood, its expectations and realities.


Sampler 13 (detail). Photo: Miles Mattison

Most of the 11 samplers on display are large, very large. And although most have beautifully cross-stitched alphabet letters and numbers, it’s their exploration of issues in his own life as a male that resonates. With needle and thread he puts the spotlight on masculinity’s conflicting messages.

I was particularly taken by Sampler 10 about the aftermath of meeting his lover:

He stole back home via the roof
Lost his footing and died in a poof.

And you are sure to want to read the sampler called “The Pussy Chronicle.”

Through Jan. 15, 2017, Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, (425-519-0770).

Silent Films at the Paramount Theatre

If you have any interest in film history or just wonder what it must have been like before “talkies” were invented, you need to know about “Silent Movie Mondays” at the Paramount. There you can sit in a darkened theatre, listen to the majestic “Mighty Wurlitzer” and watch movies without sound, movies with exaggerated gestures and frequent text panels, movies with stars whose names you may have heard but whom you have never seen.

Usually three times a year the Paramount offers “Silent Movie Mondays.” For three or four consecutive weeks films from nearly 100 years ago are projected and accompanied by a master organist. Each series has a theme, and the selected films are well-restored classics. Before each showing, an expert presents a short lecture on the “who, what, and how” of the film (an ASL interpreter is always present). And for those who just can’t get enough, there’s an after show discussion in the Paramount Bar led by the visiting expert.

There are always surprises in addition to the movie. This week when the movie was “The Flapper” (1920), in addition to the charming full-length feature and Donna Parker’s magnificent organ accompaniment, the audience was treated to a fashion parade featuring men and women dressed in elegant (and original) clothes of the Roaring 20s.

Next Monday, June 27, pre-film Charleston lessons will be offered in the lobby and a dance performance and live jazz music will precede the film “Why Be Good” (1929). It is the final offering in the current series, “Flapper Era.” But mark your calendars for Halloween when the vampire classic “Nosferatu” will be shown.

June 27, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle, (1-877-STG-4TIX or

“9 Circles” produced by Strawberry Theatre Workshop

Ah, the rationales provided for war! We say we’ve come to some far off land to give help, but what we actually do is kill people. And poor PFC Daniel Edward Reeves, the main character in this play is one who has been trained to do that dirty work. He’s being sent home with an honorable discharge before his tour is up, but he doesn’t want that. “Sir, I took an oath! I don’t want to be sent home. Please do not make me break my oath.”

This young, somewhat disturbed, high school drop out who never should have been inducted into the army in the first place murdered an Iraqi family and raped and murdered its young daughter. His superiors have found a way to quietly get rid of him. If he won’t go, he must face a court martial. And so poor PFC Reeves begins his journey through the circles of hell.

Along the way he encounters a Christian minister, a psychiatrist, army lawyers. Each has recommendations; each has preconceived notions; and, of course, each has a personal agenda. Reeves can scarcely understand much of the jargon, can’t distinguish those who really want to help him from those who have other plans.

The personal becomes the political. Truth becomes snared in fiction. The actions of civilian Iraqis that resulted in deaths and torture of U.S. troops are juxtaposed to the actions of PFC Reeves. Reeves knows soldiers who were killed for revenge by noncombatants . . . but who and where are the noncombatants? This is a play you won’t soon forget.

The acting couldn’t be better. There’s not a weak member in the supporting cast. And Conner Neddersen as Reeves is a presence! I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He’s haunted. He’s confused. He twitches. His hands move as if they are disconnected to his body. He is of course on stage throughout the play, and this is a play where acting is paramount.

There is almost no set, just a table, a couple of chairs, no backdrop. But the lighting, what wonderful lighting Reed Nakayama provides. He brings it from above, from below, straight on, subdued. There’s no need of elaborate set with that lighting.

This is the last week of this thought-provoking production. You’d be wise to hurry and get your tickets.

Through June 25 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle (, 800 838-3006)

“Sorry” presented by Thalia’s Umbrella

In Rhinebeck, New York, a modest city in the Hudson Valley, the four Apple family siblings are gathered to deal with a looming family issue. Dear Uncle Benjamin, formerly a highly regarded actor, is suffering from a dementia that can no longer be handled at home. It’s time to settle him into a care facility, though he hasn’t yet understood that. He’s perfectly happy living with Barbara, one of his nieces and won’t move happily.

“Sorry” is the third of Richard Nelson’s plays about the Apple family. It takes place in a large living/dining room. Roberta Russell’s set and lighting provide both intimacy and expansiveness, an ideal setting for the sometimes loving, sometimes fraught conversations that take place.

As in the other plays, it’s Election Day. Nelson’s first two plays about the Apple family have been highly lauded for their integration of governmental politics and family issues. He’s a master at connecting the personal and the political. Yet, for me, “Sorry” is much more about family. Of course, the playwright proves that family politics can be and are as intense, as self serving, and as complicated as state and national politics, but it’s this family and their interactions that speak for us all.

The three sisters and their brother banter with each other, tease one another, disagree with one another, laugh together, become frustrated by one another’s quirks. Yet their love for one another is palpable. The playwright so wonderfully captures family dynamics that it’s impossible not to see ourselves in their interchanges. There’s no cataclysmic denouement; rather we find quiet reinforcement of one another during time of need.

Given that relationships are so important, it’s a pleasure to announce that the acting in this production is first rate. Director Daniel Wilson has chosen and worked with his actors well. Macall Gordon, Leslie Law, and Jeanne Paulsen as the sisters are distinct personalities. Terry Edward Moore is the brother who clearly has learned how to navigate within a female roost. William Hall, Jr., effectively waivers between reality and illusion.

Of course, one can play around with symbolic possibilities, say Chekov’s “Three Sisters” or “Uncle Vanya.” Then there’s a jigsaw puzzle that one sister diligently works at. Interestingly it’s Renoir’s “Boating Party,” a painting filled with happy lovers enjoying life’s pleasures. You can look for such things, but it’s not necessary. The nuanced relationships among the siblings are rich enough to make this a good night or afternoon at the theatre.

Through June 26 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (

“The Mystery of Love & Sex” at ACT

“All the complications of being human…” that’s what ACT’s Artistic Director John Langs suggests this play is about. Laced with marvelous humor throughout, the playwright, Bathsheba Doran explores religious, racial, sexual, and familial issues, and weaves it all together in superb fashion. Does this play try to cover too much ground? Maybe it does, but it certainly worked for me.

Doran has a grand time playing with stereotypes, and Director Allison Narver has honed her cast to sharp perfection as each reveals a type. Shining through it all is truth about growing up, growing older, growing to accept yourself and your loved ones, and growing beyond your preconceived notions and prejudices.

Photo by Shawn Baker

Charlotte and Johnny, friends in high school, go off to college and room together. She’s Jewish. He’s a black Baptist. Like an old married couple, they entertain her parents (pretty much on the floor, with vegetarian food. You’ll enjoy seeing how the older couple adjusts to that!). But Charlotte and Johnny are indeed not a couple in the romantic way. She’s exploring her sexuality. He’s got religious and other issues as well.

Emily Chisholm as Charlotte brings sauciness to the role and mixes it with confusion. As she comes to realize things about herself, she also gains insight into her family. There’s a mountain of unexplored emotional angst in Mom and Dad’s relationship too.

Ray Abruzzo as Charlotte’s Jewish father exudes love for his darling daughter whose decisions trouble him. He’s wired! He’s neurotic. He wants so much for her life to be right yet he sees it going so wrong. Mary Kae Irvin as Charlotte’s mom, the frustrated southern WASP (think low key Tennessee Williams) married to the New York Jew brings a cool sensibility mixed with her own personal angst to the role.

Lorenzo Roberts as Jonny also has a whole lot of questions about who he is or what he is. He covers the insecurities with a charming innocence. You can see why Charlotte would want to room with him, would turn down a place in an Ivy League school to do it.

This is a darkly funny play where many secrets are held and some are even revealed. It’s loaded with emotional fireworks, yet they are interspersed with tender moments. The writing is sharp. The acting is unassailable. Try it. I think you’ll like it.

Through June 26 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle (206 292-7676 or