Adsense for search

Custom Search

Monday, January 28, 2013


As any parent knows, a gestation period of nine months seems long, but the result is worth the wait—even when the result is a production of Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull.

photo by Candace Brown
It took nine months of work for this masterpiece to be ready open at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle on Jan. 25. It did so with a waterfront scene where two men and a woman in folk costumes warmed up on violin, accordion, and guitar. Add to this the realistic sounds of gulls, symbolizing a fresh cry of new life for a play first staged in 1896. But life is short. The show runs Thursdays through Sundays, ending on Feb. 10, 2013, in ACT's Falls Theatre and tickets could disappear.

The current production developed from a workshop called The Seagull Project, driven by a group that describes itself this way: “We are a company of theater artists committed to staging vital and enduring work through long term exploration in our rehearsal process, and creating a uniquely prepared and cohesive ensemble.”

Cast with Piano
Photo: LaRae Lobdell

Ten of Seattle’s finest veteran actors—among them John Bogar, Peter Crook, Julie Briskman, Brandon J Simmons, and Mark Jenkins—and an outstanding artistic team devoted nine months of their lives to weekly sessions filled with intense study and seemingly endless rehearsals. Their shared love of Chekhov’s work—The Seagull in particular—brought them together and bound them all to a common goal.
The project also received support from Chap and Eve Alvord, Brad and Linda Fowler, and ACT. The Central Heating Lab at ACT, self-described as “an incubator and catalyst for new works,” stayed true to its mission here.

The play takes place on a lakeside country estate in Russia before the revolution and examines how its characters, although distinctly different from each other, share common curses. They suffer from unrequited love, total self-absorption, bad decisions, and the inability to find satisfaction in their lives. Director John Langs masterfully wove the talents of his actors into Chekhov’s vision, to create a timeless tapestry of human interactions, longings, and insecurities.
Julie Briskman, as the middle-aged but youth-obsessed actress Irina Arkadina, impressed me most of all. I loved watching her character’s expressions and the way she revealed jealousy and vulnerability with so much subtlety and finesse, even while publically fanning the embers of her former fame.

Julie Briskman, Peter Crook, Hannah Victoria Franklin
Photo: Chris Bennion

Brandon J.Simmons, portrayed her son, Konstantin, a troubled and frustrated young playwright who rejects the established forms of his art and seeks the new, resulting in Irina’s ridicule. Simmons and Briskman deftly handled the complicated dynamics of a destructive mother/son relationship, fraught with equal parts of attachment and rivalry.
Although Konstantin’s need for attention and dramatic behavior seemed excessive at times, Simmons portrayed this disturbed and difficult character so realistically that the character haunted me. I felt the tension created every time he stepped onto the stage even while his complexities drew me in. I won’t forget him.

Alexandra Tavares and Brandon Simmons
Photo: Chris Bennion
John Bogar, as Irina’s trophy lover, the successful writer Trigorin, succeeded well in his role as a man both charming and morally weak, and he delivered a long speech with great eloquence. Alexandra Traveres, as Nina, the innocent girl from a neighboring estate who tragically falls in love with Trigorin (even while Konstantin falls tragically in love with her) dreams of a life in the theater. Traveres, was faced with the challenge of being a highly skilled actress playing the part of a not-so-skilled actress, which felt schizophrenic at times, but she had many moments of brilliance that provided dramatic impact.

John Bogar and Alexandra Tavares
Photo: Chris Bennion
Hannah VictoriaFranklin gave a fine performance in the role of Masha, the estate manager’s daughter, hopelessly in love with Konstantin, who pays her no mind. I enjoyed the way she took a character easily disliked for her constant negativity, neglect of husband and child, and chronic drunkenness and made me appreciate her sharp wit, intelligence, and the perverse integrity she showed toward her dedication to gloom. For reasons of escape, rather than love, she marries the poor school teacher Medvedenko, played by CT Doescher, who created a bumbling appeal as the least respected but probably most stable and morally fit character in the play.
Doris Black’s costume designs thrilled my eye with her use of color, line, and historically accurate detail. And we obviously share a passion for textiles. The sets were simple and few, just the dock and a room's interior, but they both seemed more than enough when filled with imagination's details. Robertson Witmer, music director/composer and sound designer, and Brendan Patrick Hogan as sound associate, created just the right moods to match Jennifer Zeyl’s beautiful scenes. The live violin, guitar, and accordion music, though used with a light touch, added flavor. So did Andrew D. Smith’s lighting design, the way he created the feeling of the lake shore and the stormy night when the play reaches its dramatic conclusion.

Pushing Konstatin
Photo: LaRae Lobdell
I applaud the entire cast. Each member should be proud of their performance as individuals as well as members of The Seagull Project. Even if I had not already known about the nine months of work behind this particular production of The Seagull, the difference between that amount of preparation and the usual (about three weeks) clearly showed. I felt the cohesiveness of the cast. I felt the heft of all those rehearsals. I saw how well the actors understood their characters, all of whom came to the stage as real people—complicated, contradictory, sometimes irritating, mostly pathetic, but lovable in their own way, and definitely unforgettable. After nine months spent absorbing every nuance of the script, this cast offered delicious subtleties of expression, gesture, pacing and tone, expressing as much with their non-verbal acting as with their lines. (Learn more about The Seagull Project here.)
Driven more by character than plot, The Seagull fascinates by slowly revealing the deeper motivations and personalities of those who occupy this micro-society living in isolated luxury. Even the mysterious lake, implied but never seen, plays a part. To me it symbolized the delicate balance between the characters’ ability to exist as they appeared on the surface or risk drowning in the dark depths of their hidden souls.

Chekhov referred to The Seagull as a comedy, but he must have defined that word differently than I would. If you see it, and I recommend you do, expect a satire and the kind of humor related to irony, more than any knee slapping, although it will make you laugh at times. Think of the fine line between the humorous and the pathetic, or the kind of humor that causes us to laugh at others from the safety of our own supposedly wiser viewpoints.
Here in Tacoma, I often see seagulls. And having been around these birds all my life, I feel a mix of emotions when I hear their long, haunting cries. They draw our attention to our own yearnings for the freedom of flight. But the seagull must always come down to earth again, where human relationships happen. Those relationships can take the shape of pale golden agates in the sparkling sand, or broken shells on a slippery rock. Did Chekhov, in writing this his so-called comedy, hear the seagull’s cry as laughter or pain? You decide.

Good Life Northwest now has a Facebook page

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Excited humans crowd the railings of a Washington State ferry to point and shout to each other about what they see in the water. Dark, smooth, wet, and glistening, the rounded shapes of orcas, sometimes called killer whales, curve up from the water’s surface, their blade-like dorsal fins erect as they forge ahead. 
photo by Howard Garrett
 These elegant creatures, if they chose to do so, could leap in graceful arcs and twist their white undersides toward the sun, let out their haunting high-pitched cries, or dive below. But at the moment, they travel, showing just enough of themselves to mark their passage through the Salish Sea, the combined waters of Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia. In this delicate ecosystem— increasingly endangered by the effects of human activity—they forage for salmon and communicate with each other in distinct dialects we cannot understand.
If your curiosity about orcas goes beyond snapping a digital photo, you might want to connect with like-minded people at an exciting workshop happening this coming weekend. “Ways of Whales,” will be presented on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 by Orca Network, a 502 (c) (3) non-profit that, according to their mission statement, is”… dedicated to raising awareness about the whales of the Pacific Northwest, and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitat.” Fortunately, a growing number of people do care. This popular workshop, now in its tenth year, is the perfect place to begin or expand your knowledge of our region’s whales.
Photo by Howard Garrett

Howard Garrett and Susan Berta co-founded Orca Network and devote themselves to this cause. Garrett, the board chairman, is also the photographer who provided the beautiful images in this post. When I contacted them to learn more, he and Berta eagerly shared photos and information for the benefit of readers of Good Life Northwest and hope many of you will attend.
“The ‘Ways of WhalesWorkshop’ is intended to offer a chance for people interested in whales, from any vantage point, to hear directly from whale researchers and experts about their findings and experiences,” Garrett said. “It’s a chance to ask questions and hear personal insights from a variety of areas of expertise, and it’s a chance to meet lots of other people who share our interest and passion to learn more about whales, especially the orcas that live among us.”

And they do live right among us. I've even seen orcas while dining at Anthony's restaurant at Point Defiance in Tacoma.

Orcas swim in Elliot Bay, close to downtown Seattle    photo by Howard Garrett

Here are the details:

Coupeville Middle School Performing Arts Center
501 So. Main, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, WA 98239

Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 9:30 am - 4:30 pm
$30/person ($25 for students and seniors) $10 Lunch (optional)

For more information and to register, following this link:

Workshop topics for 2013 include:
• Dr. Peter Ross - Toxins and other threats to Southern Resident orcas
• Film maker John Gussman - Elwha River dam removal& restoratio
• Steve Mashuda, Earthjustice Attorney - Petition to de-list So. Residents
• Presentation on Emma Foster‘s Paper - Menopause in Killer Whales
• Researcher Mark Malleson - Transient Orcas and Humpback Whales
• Environmental education displays
Garrett added, “Much of what we do as Orca Network depends on active reporting by people all over the Salish Sea, and this gathering is a way to connect and give back to them.

See my previous blog post, "Video of Orcas Swimming in Puget Sound"
Please "like" Good Life Northwest on Facebook.
Thank you!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ice Storm Art: A Winter Garden Tour Revisited

If you think it's chilly outside this weekend, let me remind you of the weather we experienced during the third week of January last year. I'm republishing this blog post from Jan. 20, 2012 because so many of my readers enjoyed the photos of plants encased in ice. All day today, people had to listen to me whine about being cold. Then I remembered this.
Original post:

Here on Good Life Northwest, I've shown photos of my Tacoma garden in every season, but never any like these. To anyone watching me yesterday, I must have looked crazy, hunched down next to my plants to take photos while trying to protect my camera from frozen rain.
I can still hear the crunch of my boots through the crust of ice over what had started as 8-9" of snow but had condensed into a treacherous mess. That sound is preferable to the sound of breaking branches. We lost three huge tree limbs and can't tell yet what damage might be done to our shrubs. But at least we didn't lose power, like so many others, an estimated 230,000 across the state, according to Puget Sound Energy.

I hope you aren't one of them. I want to be able share with you these images of the beauty that can be found on even the most miserable day, if you take the time and have the inclination to notice. So pour another cup of coffee, feel gratitude for the roof over your head and all the other things we too often take for granted, and enjoy the show.

Don't worry. The feeder was thawed and refilled immediately after taking this photo.

All photos and text copyrighted 2012 Candace J. Brown

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Vashon Island's Emergency Preparedness is a Model For All

My Tacoma neighborhood seems safe in most respects, but I'm still nervous. Here in the Puget Sound region, we all live in an earthquake fault zone, and "the BIG ONE" we keep hearing about could happen any time. On Jan. 2 of this year, the Seattle news source published this excellent but disturbing article by staff writer Jake Ellison: "Will a megathrust earthquake strike the NW in 2013? Some clues emerging"

Earthquake damage to a sidewalk created a six-inch drop.                  photo by Candace Brown 

With so many unpredictable factors involved, even the best preparations can't guarantee safety. However, preparation does save lives, maybe yours. I just wrote an article about Vashon Island's emergency preparedness plan, and while doing my research, I acquired a new sense of urgency when it comes to adding to my home's emergency supplies, making a kit for my car, etc. But I'm far from done.

The article was published in the online neighborhood improvement journal called Neighborhood Life and you can read it here:

You will learn what is involved in starting a CERT, a Community Emergency Response Team, and receiving training from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The concept of CERT began with the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985, based on the realization that civilians will always try to help during emergencies, but without proper training the consequences of their efforts could be injury or death. And by training civilians to assist effectively, in the of a disaster, a community can leverage the response capabilities of their more highly-trained first responders, who might be overwhelmed. 

There is a Tacoma CERT, and your community might have one as well. To find out, please follow this link to see all the CERTs in the state of Washington or search for CERTs nationwide here. 

Vashon CERT training - blanket carries          photo by Catherine Cochrane

Vashon's plan has become a model for other communities. It received the Washington State Governor’s 2012 Volunteer Service Award and the King County Executive’s 2011 Award for Community Preparedness. The isolation factor Vashon faces motivated farsighted individuals in the island community come together to develop their impressive and comprehensive plan. But it wasn't easy. Among those who were instrumental in reaching this goal were retired Brigadiere General Joseph "Joe" Ulatoski and the dynamic duo of Michael and Catherine Cochrane, a married couple who lead Vashon's CERT program.

The island's plan involves an Emergency Operations Center at the main fire station, command centers at smaller local fire stations, and many "partners" such as the Vashon-Maury Island Radio Club (VMIRC) made up of volunteer ham radio operators, a Medical Reserve Corps, and even a new equestrian CERT, plus many others. They also have NEROs, Neighborhood Emergency Response Organizations, groups of about 20 homeowners each, in clearly defined neighborhoods, who designate individuals to assist by checking on others and reporting damage and injuries to their local command center. An umbrella organization called VashonBePrepared brings all the resources together and educates the public.

photo by Candace Brown

Here are some excerpts from the article:

When individuals are prepared, the limited number of responders can focus their efforts on those who need the most help, not the general public. “That allows those people who are prepared, to hunker down and not be part of the problem, but just take care of themselves,” Ulatoski said. “That eliminates about 60-70 % of the problem.” ~
“Can it be done? You bet,” Michael Cochrane said. “Does it take a lot of motivated people who are willing to spend their time, energy, and effort, and a lot of support from the community, and people who are willing to train, and so on? It takes a bunch.” ~

Ulatoski summed it up by saying, “The most you can do is to prepare yourself the best you can, recognizing these two factors: 1.) Disasters can happen, and what has happened in the past does not necessarily mean that it’s the worst that can happen. 2.) Bad things can happen to good people.~

You can learn more by reading LIFEBOAT VASHON on Neighborhood Life. 

Also, visit the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. Then get ready.

The latest news, is that now...
You can "like" Good Life Northwest on Facebook!