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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pinter Festival at A.C.T. Begins With Two Gems—Reviews of "The Dumb Waiter" and "Celebration"

Photo: Multiple - ACT Theatre
I took my seat at A.C.T. Theatre in Seattle and found myself transfixed by a feature of the darkened stage set below. My husband and I had come to see two one-act plays, The Dumb Waiter and Celebration, both by English dramatist Harold Pinter (1930-2008) and the mood of The Dumb Waiter pulled me in at once.

Even before the lights come up, you can see that the backdrop is a facsimile of a stained and dirty concrete block wall with a door in the middle and pipes and conduits showing—typical of a basement in a commercial building circa 1930s. In front of that sit two jail-style metal beds. Through a vent above the door, light glows from an unknown source behind the slowly turning blades of a fan. The light slices a long, angled wound through the darkened space and casts a shadow of the fan onto the floor of the stage where the shadow’s own turning blades seem to continue slicing, in unison with the others.

ACT- The Dumb Waiter - Darragh Kennan, Charles Leggett
Photo: Chris Bennion
The plays we were about to see are the first two of four presented as part of The Pinter Festival running July 20-August 26 at A.C.T- A Contemporary Theatre. We expected comedy, and we found plenty to laugh at in the verbal jousting and actions of The Dumb Waiter’s only two characters: Darragh Kennan as Gus and Charles Leggett as Ben. They sit or recline on the beds, Ben often reading the newspaper and talkative Gus often up and moving about nervously, as they wait for something. The more Gus tries to communicate with Ben, the more irritated Ben becomes, and the comical banter takes on an edge of foreboding.
ACT- The Dumb Waiter - (close up) Darragh Kennan, Charles Leggett
Photo: Chris Bennion
Meanwhile, those fan blades continue to turn. They suggest the presence of things unseen and dangerous in this dark comedy, such as whoever keeps sending messages down by way of a toy monkey in the dumb waiter. Each trip increases the terrible tension, even as this pair, so reminiscent of Abbot and Costello, make the audience laugh.

ACT- The Dumb Waiter - (pointing with monkey) Darragh Kennan, Charles Leggett
Photo: Chris Bennion
Pinter was the master of tension, uncertainty, and the struggle for control, famous for his pauses between lines. In the program for the plays, Mariel Neto—a member of the cast of Celebration—offered her favorite Pinter quote: “Below the spoken word is something known and unspoken.”

All evening we felt the power of those somethings. In The Dumb Waiter, the characters of these men and the ugly nature of their jobs (as well as the hints of danger to Gus) are revealed one disturbing hunch at a time. The messages from the dumb waiter add to the sense of frustration and confusion. In Pinter’s dialog, every word carries the double weight of its surface meaning and another, hidden, meaning. Absolutely superb acting by Kennan and Leggett add to these and captivate the audience.

ACT-Celebration (Getting into it) Anne Allgood, Julie Briskman, Frank Corrado, Randy Moore
Photo: Chris Bennion
 Celebration offers comedy of a lighter nature but still flaunts and manipulates those unspoken somethings in human relationships. In this case, we study relationships between two long-married couples. The action takes place in a restaurant where these couples (oddly, two brothers married to two sisters) have come to celebrate the wedding anniversary of the couple named Julie and Lambert, played by Julie Briskman and Frank Corrado. Their companions are Prue and Matt, played by Anne Allgood and Randy Moore.

ACT-Celebration (Gold chains and wine) Frank Corrado
Photo: Chris Bennion
Waiters keep the wine flowing as the foursome keeps consuming and revealing truths about their relationships through their words. Corrado’s generous servings of profanity are too funny and well placed to offend and Allgood’s hilarious comments and behavior could cause death by laughter. Briskman and Moore also excelled in their roles.

At a table nearby, sits another couple. Sexy former secretary Suki (Mariel Neto) confesses her behind-the-filing-cabinet adventures to Russell (Jeffrey Fracé) and soon recognizes Lambert as a past office acquaintance. Eventually all three couples end up at the same table where awkwardness combines with drunkenness in a delightful mess.
ACT-Celebration (Jump) Julie Briskman, Randy Moore, Frank Corrado, Mariel Neto, Jeffrey Fracé
Photo: Chris Bennion
But all through this play, the restaurant owner and employees weave in their own issues. Darragh Kennan, who played Gus in The Dumb Waiter, reappears as a waiter in Celebration, a waiter who just can’t help interjecting his own points (exaggerated claims about his ancestors) into the diners’ conversations, while trying to avoid the attention of his boss. Each time he does, it seems funnier, yet we also see something pathetic about him. In both plays, Kennan shows what I believe is one of Pinter’s major points, and that is the human desire to be genuingly heard and recognized.

Cast pictured (Left to Right, Back Row First): Peter Crook, Benjamin Harris, Darragh Kennan, Charles Leggett, Cheyenne Casebier, (Front Row) Frank Corrado, Randy Moore, Mariel Neto, Jeffrey Fracé, Anne Allgood, and Julie Briskman
Photo: LaRae Lobdell
The struggles for power, the tensions, and the barriers created by veiled communication keep these two plays moving forward with mounting interest and never a pause in the pleasure, regardless of how many appear in the script. Like the space good jazz musicians put into their solos, words and silence hold equal importance. They balance, pull back and forth, and keep us captive in our seats with the wish that it will never end.

I highly recommend these plays and cannot imagine a more talented or engaging cast. Don’t miss the rare chance to experience this special event.
 For information and tickets, please follow this link: The Pinter Festival at A.C.T.

Monday, July 30, 2012

AIDS, Anarchy, and Survival — A Review of "RENT" at The 5th Avenue Theatre

When Jonathan Larson's rock musical RENT debuted at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1994, it brought the subject of HIV/AIDS to the stage. That was the same year during which approximately 49,600 Americans died of this disease. Four of the principal actors in Larson's cast had been diagnosed, with effective medications still two years away. Even as they acted and sang, they faced death.

Mark (Daniel Berryman) and Roger (Aaron C. Finley) in RENT at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Tracy Martin
That kind of relevancy in a time of intense fear and moral judgement led to the spectacular success of RENT and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama it won the following year. It quickly reached the heights of acclaim, and Broadway, where it ran until 2008. Now Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre presents a revival of RENT July 21 through August 19 and this begs the question of whether or not people still care about its original themes.
Producing Director Bill Berry believes they do. He wants to give viewers the profound experience he had when he saw it decades ago. RENT still tells the story of a group of young artists, writers, actors, and musicians—some straight, some gay—living a Bohemian lifestyle in an abandoned building in Manhattan's Lower East Village during the late 1980s, the height of the AIDS epidemic. The story begins on Christmas Eve. They still have no heat, still can't pay the rent, and face eviction, even while many of them are weakened by the disease. It's a relatively simple plot but holds powerful messages.
The cast and director of RENT at The 5th Avenue Theatre: Jerick Hoffer (Angel), Aaron C. Finley (Roger), Bill Berry (director of RENT), Naomi Morgan (Mimi), and Daniel Berryman (Mark).
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
"Rent is the musical that defined a brand new generation of theatergoers and has since become an anthem of youth, vitality, and rebellion," Berry said in a press release. "But more than anything, this is a musical about survival and about embracing every moment as thought there will never be another. I think that's why it has such universal and timeless appeal."
The company of RENT celebrates “La Vie Boheme” at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka

Berry didn't need to worry about relevancy when he directed, with such perfection, the delightful musical First Date—which debuted at A.C.T.—A Contemporary Theatre in April 2012, a co-production with The 5th Avenue. Everything about that smart, witty and very current comedy guaranteed a hit. But in some ways, RENT is just as current. HIV/AIDS hasn't gone away. Neither has the rebelliousness and risk taking among our nation's youth. And the idea of young lives being cut short remains as tragic as ever.

In these days of the Occupy movement, high unemployment, deep divisions in politics and ideologies, and a general sense of frustration, we find ourselves surrounded by evidence of the gaps between rich and poor, culture and counterculture, young and old, the powerful and the powerless, government and anarchy. That evidence pervades our national consciousness.

Mimi (Naomi Morgan) and Roger (Aaron C. Finley) in RENT at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
Beyond the important themes, this presentation's artistic merit makes it well worth the price of a ticket. I loved the dramatic lighting which added so much ambiance to the sets, both so suggestive of life in a loft. I applaud the costume designs and choreography. Casting choices included the liberal use of amazing talent of an appropriate age, much of it local, giving Rent the "youth and vitality" of which Berry says the musical has become an "anthem."

Aaron C. Finley as Roger in RENT at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
Those strong young voices met the demands of the score, generally speaking, and with exceptional power and poignancy in some cases. In both singing and acting, Aaron C. Finley, as Roger Davis, and Naomi Morgan, as Mimi Márquez excelled, especially on Davis' One Song Glory and their shared performances on Light My Candle and Without You. In the story, both characters suffered from AIDS, and Mimi from addiction, meaning they knew they had little time together, even as they fell in love.

In spite of that drama, I could not romanticize these young characters to the degree some might.  Although I appreciated both their desire and their right to pursue the artistic life and be true to who they were, at times, my practical side wanted them to quit defying convention, grow up, take better care of themselves, and find more security for their own sakes. But the tragedy of their lost futures moved me deeply, not only as a human being with compassion, but also as a parent.

And that brings up one of several problems. I could not relate to the characters representing the parents, all of whom seemed terribly stereotypical and shallow  in the intermittent "voice mail" segments. Whereas I would normally appreciate the contrast between seriousness and humor, in this case the humor often came across as just plain silly and superfluous, adding extra bulk to a production that bogged down at times during its three long hours. In addition, those three hours contained too many moments that seemed like dramatic climaxes, but weren't. By the end, I felt at least as drained by the length and intensity as I was appreciative of the messages. But the acting and singing deserve praise.

Mark (Daniel Berryman), Collins (Brandon O’Neill), and Angel (Jerick Hoffer) in RENT at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Tracy Martin
Charismatic young Jerick Hoffer, as the transvestite, Angel, and Brandon O'Neill (one of my favorites from First Date, Saving Aimee, and Guys and Dolls) as Angel's lover, Tom Collins, both gave excellent performances. So did Daniel Berryman, as the young videographer Mark Cohen, and Ryah Nixon and Andi Alphadeff, as the Lesbian couple, Maureen and Joanne, respectively. Logan Benedict made a great Benjamin Coffin III. All of the many "East Villagers" in the cast did an excellent job, but I wished I could have seen and heard Heath Saunders in a major role. There is something about his expressive face and wonderful voice that make him stand out as a magnetic presence on the stage.

Angel (Jerick Hoffer, center) and the company of RENT at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
From the moment I first saw the young Bohemians living the life of squatters in a vacant building, I felt sad and a bit depressed because I knew the dreams of many would turn out to be illusions, especially in the face of the epidemic. But I enjoyed their moments of laughter, sense of unity, and their youthful energy. And I appreciated the reminder that life is often harsh, always too short, and filled with human frailty that requires our compassion. Most of all, this story communicated the power of love to quell hopelessness, the different ways people find to connect and survive, and the importance of each day of our lives. In that respect, this revival of RENT is a great victory.

Tickets start at $29.00 and can be ordered by phone at (206) 625-1900, at the box office at 1308 5th Avenue in Seattle, or online through the online box office.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Business is "Blooming" for Northwest Glass and Metal Artist

A magical jewel-like garden will dazzle the crowds at the West Seattle Summer Fest's street fair this weekend, July 13-15. Just north of "The Junction" of California and Alaska streets and right in front of Jak's Grill, beneath a banner that says Moss Studio Metal Art, metal flowers, large and small, with centers of brighly colored glass, will shine, shimmer and glow in the sunshine.

And that's not all. There will be colored butterflies, perched on slender posts. Lifelike metal dragonflies, hummingbirds, and elegant cranes can be found among metal leaves and vines that wind gracefully through sculptured garden trellises. Light will shine through a glass birdbath.This might sound like a scene from a science fiction fantasy, but all of these beauties grew right in the neighborhood, in a local artist's garage.

That artist is Mike Pond, a man with vast experience at wood-working, stained glass, metal sculpture, and glassblowing. He retired recently, but the business called Moss Studio Metal Art that he runs with his wife, Gayle Garvin Pond, has blossomed into a full-time job. It all started when he decided to make a few pieces of yard art for their own home. Then friends wanted some too. Now enough people want his unique creations to keep both Mike and his wife Gayle  busy, each in their own way.
Gayle, who still works full time at another job, said, "I find the glass, and I set up the events, and I get to do the bookkeeping—and he does the actual making of the stuff." Among the types of glass she must constantly seek are vintage 12" railroad stoplight lenses that Mike uses for the centers of large sunflowers made to hang in windows or on walls.

"Everything’s glass," Gayle told me. Daisies on 15" stems have centers made from tealight candle holders, installed backward. "We started out with reproductions of old bowls and plates. Now, whenever I find cool bowls or something like that, from the junk store, we get those too. But because they’re clear, he’ll sandblast the inside and then paint them with translucent paint. That’s how he gets the color on the butterflies too." The paint will last, even in rainy Northwest weather.

No two pieces are alike. When a woman ordered three hummingbird trellises, Mike made each one a little different. "The herons, they are gorgeous," Gayle said. "It’s all hand done. He doesn’t use any machines. They are all unique."

By now, Mike's work has made its way into a large number of Northwest homes and gardens, but the audience for his creations keeps growing. "We have shipped them to Colorado and Florida," Gayle said. "Yesterday, a lady bought three and was taking them to Alaska." With every sale, the Pond's request that buyers send them a photo of how their art looks in its new environment. Some do, and you can see those through their "Found a Home" link.

Prices vary greatly according to style, size, materials, and the hours involved, but you can own one of Mike's butterflies for only $25 and the daisies on 15" stems cost $35. Because of the unique nature of each item, it's best to buy them in person or custom order.

A week after the West Seattle Summer Fest, this couple will bring their magical garden to the Vashon Island Strawberry Festival July 21-22, and among the people they meet there will be many dear old friends. Gayle's family came to the island several generations ago, and Mike's family moved there during his early childhood.
"It's so much fun to be at the fairs and meet people," she said. She would love to meet you too.
Here are some other upcoming opportunities to find Moss Studio Metal Arts:

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Seven Essentials For Growing Healthy Roses — Tips From Raft Island Roses Owner Frank Gatto

At the Proctor Farmers Market in Tacoma last Saturday, I found Frank Gatto in his usual situation—surrounded by roses. The massive display of healthy, blooming potted plants from his Gig Harbor nursery, Raft Island Roses, draws its own crowd in a marketplace full of many competing sensory delights. He surrounds himself with roses at home too, with about 300 in his own yard.

"That's not much," he told me in an interview, "after 950 at our other house."
"Fourth of July"
While many of us find our garden roses in a slump in mid-summer, one look at the plants from Raft Island Roses proves this man knows how to keep his favorite flowers happy. Gatto is well-known and highly respected among rosarians all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond, often called to be a guest speaker or consultant. At the nursery, he and his son Michael have created 250 crosses from the many varieties they sell.

The popular "Julia Child" rose.
For my own sake, and that of readers of Good Life Northwest, I asked Gatto for some pointers. He shared the seven essentials for growing healthy roses. In spite of constant threats from insects and disease, if you follow these tips carefully, you too can enjoy success with roses. And it is possible to do so without chemical sprays that are hard on humans and the environment.

1.) SELECTION — "It all starts with selection," Gatto says. "Pick disease-resistant varieties, and get some expert advice. Don’t choose from photos in catalogs, and avoid packaged roses. The roots are cut short, crammed in, and often broken.”
"Day Breaker"

2.) WATER — "Five gallons per week per rose" is Gatto's advice. "Water deeply," he stresses. "When you pour on five gallons and it soaks down deep, your roses grow roots to reach that water, and they can survive even if you're gone a few days and can't water them." 

"Red Intuition" is a very long stemmed florist rose adapted to the home garden.
Many people think that the decline in blooming during the heat of the summer is
just a natural circumstance with roses, but that is not true. With proper watering they can stay lovely and productive throughout the season, as proven by those he offers for sale. "If you water only near the surface," Gatto says, "they develop shallow roots and can dry out quickly and then they go dormant."

Deep watering starts with planting. I listened to him giving advice to some buyers at the market. "First water the rose in the pot. Then dig the hole and water the hole. Plant the rose and water again," he told them.

Note: Be sure your roses have excellent drainage! "Roses love water," Gatto says, "but they hate wet feet."

"Sally Holmes"is a musk rose that can produce as many as 75 huge blooms per cane. This is Gatto's favorite.

3.) SUN — "Roses need at least five hours of sun daily when actively growing. Six or seven is better, and preferably morning sun, because it dries off the dew," he says. "It takes about eight hours for blackspot sporesin contact with stagnant water—to cause disease, so keep the leaves as dry as possible, and clean up dead leaves on the ground.” 

"Shock Wave"

4.) SPACING Gatto considers spacing a “critical choice” for healthy roses. He says a distance of five feet is the minimum. Planting bushes six or seven feet apart is optimal. “Don’t put in a deep rose garden. A single row, where you can walk around them, is by far the easiest to water and maintain and gives the best air circulation, making it harder for diseases to spread. It isn’t uncommon to see roses planted 18 inches apart, and that guarantees disease.”

5.) SOIL For planting, Gatto mixes 50 percent native soil and 50 percent organic compost or good potting soil and adds a cup each of bone meal and soil sweetener per bush. He also gives established plants a cup of lime in March, for optimal soil pH, which allows plants to make better use of food.

Every week you will see a different selection at the market.
6.) PROPER FEEDING — Gatto advises giving roses small but frequent meals, as opposed to large amounts of fertilizer less often. He uses a balanced granular fertilizer with an N-P-K number no higher than 20 (such as 15-15-15), along with a blend of organic meals including alfalfa, cotton seed, fish, blood and kelp. "I give each one a handful (about a half a cup) every three weeks." Water thoroughly after feeding.

A "Day Breaker" bloom poses for a portrait.
7.) PRUNING “How you prune, it isn’t critical,” Gatto says, “but do prune. And if a rose looks sickly, move it and see how it does.”

Gattos gives expert advice to customers at the Proctor Farmers Market
Frank and Michael Gatto both offer customers plenty of personal attention and are happy to answer any questions. One or the other can be found at several Puget Sound area farmers' markets:

Proctor Farmers Market
Puyallup Farmers Market
Burien Farmers Market
Lake Forest Park Farmers Market
Kirkland Farmers Market

Whether you shop at the market or nursery, prepare to succumb to temptation when you find yourself, like Frank Gatto, surrounded by roses. You would be smart to listen to all his advice, but only you will know when you meet the rose with which you'll fall in love. Gatto smiled and shook his head as he told me that no matter how many questions he answers or suggestions he makes, it comes down to this: "The heart rules."  

For the perfect summer day trip, plan a visit to the Raft Island Roses nursery, 7201 Rosedale St. N.W., Gig Harbor, WA 98335. The phone number is (253) 853-7900.

Read more here:
Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown