Archive for October 2016

Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power

Bellevue Arts Museum is now offering an exhibition of Kara Walker’s work, especially her phenomenal, provocative, in-your-face silhouettes with their stinging social commentary. If you don’t know her art do get to the Museum before Nov. 27 to be introduced to her genius, and, if you are familiar with her work, go and be reminded of just how powerful her art is.

One of the youngest recipients of the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Genius Award, she delights and disturbs viewers with her images that shine a spotlight on issues of race and gender in the American past and present.

the-keys-to-the-coop

The Keys to the Coop, edition 39/40, 1997, Linoleum block. 46 X 60 1/2 in. Photo: Courtesy of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation

Although this show contains video, sculpture, and a mural, it’s the stark black silhouettes that most enthralled me, especially the depictions of white plantation owners and their black slaves. She cuts detailed images that mock the stereotypes of both races. They are powerfully funny at the same time that they are effective representations of an evil history and a disturbing comment on contemporary race relations.

As one major collector has said about Walker’s work, “It’s provocative and impossible to view passively.” It does indeed cause the viewer to question his or her own preconceived notions. First you’ll laugh at the image before you, then you’ll be overwhelmed by what it all means.

Walker’s work is in major museums in this country and abroad. How nice to have some of it here, even if only for a short time.

Through November 27, Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, (425-519-0770 or www.bellevuearts.org).

“Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” Produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre

Gender equality! That’s what most of us want, isn’t it? Society has come a long way from the days when sweet domesticity co-existed with male superiority. But it’s more than 50 years since the beginning of the most recent women’s movement, and we still have a long way to go. Playwright Alice Birch suggests that to achieve equal rights bold action is necessary. “Revolt!” she says. Revolt “because we have to, because sometimes the thought is not enough.”

And in this West Coast premier, that revolt plays out on WET’s stage. The action takes place in a series of short bits that shed light on the contemporary male-female relationship. Some are very funny. All contain a gut punch. Director Bobbin Ramsey makes sure that the sharp edge slices through many of our still-accepted sexist concepts up until the very end of the production where chaos break loose.

The opening number concerns a horny male trying to make-it with his luscious companion played by Ayo Tushinde. The problem for him (Joe Cummings) is that she’s reversed the anticipated model. She’s not his bait. He’s hers, or at least they’re equals. The politics here is heavily overlaid with humor, and it’s one of the most successful of the vignettes. Needless to say, he just doesn’t get it.

In another vignette, Alyssa Bostwick informs her boss (Arjun Pande) that she prefers not to work on Mondays. She really needs Mondays to walk her dog or sleep more. And once again the man just doesn’t get it. No matter how many times she tells him that she’d like not to work on Mondays he can’t understand her. The vignette truly takes off when he starts offering all the “perks” that so many of the “with it” corporations now provide. Does she want a swimming pool right there in the office, a massage therapist, a running track, comfy chairs, free snacks? No she just wants not to work on Mondays.

All the vignettes are well paced, cleverly presented, and well acted. The final piece was a bit over-the-top for me, a melee that seemed more suited to a circus or actor’s lab than this very funny collection of thought provoking sketches. But the rest of the program truly makes its point, and does it extremely well.

Through Oct. 10, Washington Ensemble Theatre, Twelfth Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (206 325-5105 or Washingtonensemble.org).

“On Clover Road” by Steven Dietz at Seattle Public Theatre

Don’t think you’re going to sit back, settle in your seat, and be comfortable watching “On Clover Road.” Oh no! The play, directed by Kelly Kitchens, will cause you to grip the arms of your chair while your body tenses and your pulse elevates. It’s the noir story of a desperate mother seeking her runaway daughter who has been in the clutches of a cult for the past four years.

She’s hired a man who claims to be one of the best at deprogramming and returning such offspring to their parents and a wholesome life. But all is not quite as it seems on Clover Road where she and Stine, the deprogrammer, meet in a filthy, broken-down room in an abandoned motel to prepare for the anticipated encounter with the daughter. Kudos to set designer Christopher Mumaw and lighting designer Andrew D. Smith who create the grungy scene.

Mike Dooly as Stine is hard as a rock. He’s aggressive and brusque, a man who has mastered ruthless efficiency. He’s the expert at this illegal operation, knows just what to do, and reminds Mama Kate that he’s calling the shots, and she’d better obey. It’s a mesmerizing performance.

Meg McLynn as the mother captures all the required neediness and desperation in her first encounters with the commanding Stine, but gradually we get hints that there’s more to her quest than just finding her daughter. Everyone in this play has a game on. Part of the fun is figuring out what they are, or being surprised when each one is revealed.

The play ends on a brutal note. Double crossing and double dealing as well as shocking torment. The final scenes go on a bit too long. I would say it’s “over kill” but that might be a poor choice of words.

For those of us who love good old-fashioned “noir” this is a treat. It’s got all the necessary tension, and there’s a surprise or two also.

Through Oct. 16 at Seattle Public Theatre (The Bathhouse), 7312 W. Green Lake Ave. N., Seattle, (206-524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheatre.org).