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Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Any time is a good time to visit Tacoma's Proctor Business District, but this Saturday, August 3, the 18th annual Proctor Arts Fest will give an extra 10,000 people a great reason to make one of the city's most charming neighborhoods their destination. With the intersection of 26th and Proctor as it's hub, this delightful event spreads out to provide room for 160 vendors, three music stages, a demonstration area, and more. The fun takes place between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The Arts Fest committee has been meeting and planning for a year, all to provide another great experience for those who attend. Each festival surpasses the one before it.

"Come by to experience art in many different forms," said Nancy Frederick, who co-chairs the committee with Eugene Kester. "We have local musicians, a juried art show, a film festival, artists and crafts people selling their original works."

The juried art show represents 60 artists displaying 85 pieces. Kids activities and a demonstration area are other attractions. For a great slide show of the festival, by ZenDezignz, click here.

Kester added, "The Proctor Arts Fest is a family friendly community event celebrating the arts." 

Wouldn't you love to join the celebration? It's so easy to find. Here's a handy map.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


 Jessica Skerritt and David Foubert "Patter for the Floating Lady"
Photo: Chris Bennion

When I attended “An Evening of One Acts”—a trio of one-act plays at ACT Theatre, in Seattle, running through August 17—I never expected to also experience this trio of reactions: indifference, fascination, and irritation. Playwrights Steve Martin, Woody Allen, and Sam Shepard, whose works appeared in that order, have all found fame and fortune in the world of theater and beyond. However, only Woody Allen’s play was worth my having left home knowing a good book sat on the lamp table beside my favorite chair. 

Martin’s “Patter for the Floating Lady” seems more about his need to work through a personal crisis than anything with a message relevant to others. A magician (David Foubert) explains endlessly why he wants to levitate a woman (Jessica Skerritt) with whom he has had a failed relationship. At first, the play teases with hints of Martin’s humor, then quickly flattens into a confusing and—I’m sorry to say—boring middle followed by a who-cares ending. Fortunately, it ends quickly, allowing more time for the next two plays, for better or worse. Or, perhaps I should say better and worse.

Chris Ensweiler and Eric Ray Anderson "Riverside Drive"
Photo: Chris Bennion 
Let’s start with better. Any discussion of Woody Allen’s merits as a writer and director, and/or human being, can divide a room full of people at a party faster than a skunk wandering in from an open door and sashaying through the crowd. Folks take sides, in a hurry. I don’t know the man personally, although we did once end up face-to-face in the hallway of Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle. I was on my way to the ladies’ room and he was on his way back to the stage to play clarinet with his jazz band. He walked between body guards and wouldn’t make eye contact. In spite him ignoring me completely, when it comes to his work, my opinion usually ranges from good to brilliant. In the case of “Riverside Drive,” the second play in the trio, I was spellbound. 

There’s something so fascinating about listening to the talk of people who are both highly intelligent and crazy. I’m not making light of mental illness. It’s just that there’s a fine line between so-called sanity and insanity, and part of the fascination is wondering who deserves which label. In “Riverside Drive,” a scruffy looking, presumably homeless man (Eric Ray Anderson) strikes up a conversation with a nervous married man (Chris Ensweiler) waiting at a park bench alongside a river to meet with his mistress (Jessica Skerritt) and break off their relationship. The overly talkative indigent won’t leave this nervous fellow alone. 

Eric Ray Anderson, Chris Ensweiler, and Jessica Skerritt "Riverside Drive"
Photo: Chris Bennion 
The married man is obviously a caricature of the playwright himself. All three actors perform their roles well, but Anderson delivers Allen’s perfectly crafted lines with a skill that captivates, as he draws one conclusion out of another in a convoluted but strangely logical, hilarious, and nightmarish sort of way. We watch him take control of the situation. This is Woody Allen at his best, his anxious character finding that each sentence he speaks somehow makes things go from bad to worse.

Eric Ray Anderson and Hana Lass "The Unseen Hand"
Photo: Chris Bennion
Speaking of worse, we finally come to Sam Shepard’s play, “The Unseen Hand,” a ridiculous sci-fi fantasy which takes place in a junkyard along a dessert highway in the American West during the 1960s. It opens at night with a man (Eric Ray Anderson) seen curled up in the back seat of a rusted 1959 Dodge convertible. Tufts of dry grass and litter surround it. The set and lighting were masterful, and it began with promising tension. The long wait for something to happen, for this man to at least move, had me intrigued. Was he dead or sleeping? Then, the growing roar of an approaching vehicle never seen, its headlights momentarily gliding across the darkened scene, built anticipation. However, that was merely the first of many cars and trucks to pass by in the night, as this man does awaken, drinks, and rambles on forever, as if talking to a ghost. 

In a story so whacky as this, it should have been no surprise that an alien being from another planet suddenly appears, even though it might not be clear at first just who or what he is. (I'm assuming it's a "he.") The alien wants the old guy to help free his enslaved people, although I wondered how he would know of him and why he thought this person could do the job. On his head is a tattoo of a hand ("The Unseen Hand"), the mark of his masters who can squeeze his  brain painfully should his thoughts stray into forbidden territory. 

Chris Ensweiler as Sycamore "The Unseen Hand"
Photo: Chris Bennion 
In addition to the drunk guy living in the apparently haunted car, the cast includes his returned-from-the-dead brothers, one looking like Wyatt Earp (Chris Ensweiler) and the other just a punk outlaw, (David Foubert). They seemed to have come straight out of the 1800s, even though they make references to twentieth century culture, an era in which their brother appears to belong. This added to an already confusing situation.

Quinn Armstrong as The Kid "The Unseen Hand"
Photo: Chris Bennion
The next one to crash the party, literally, is a young male high school cheerleader (Quinn Armstrong) complete with letter sweater, megaphone, and a passion for all things all-American. It seems he’s been the victim of some kind of hazing incident, then dumped off on the side of the road with his pants still down around his ankles. And folks, that’s just where they stay, for the duration. You will want to beg him to pull them up when you get tired of looking at what is not a pretty sight, one mercifully not shown in this press photo. 

His bare legs are covered with pale red stripes we are told are marks from a beating, but look like blood, and his sweater is stained also. When he turns around, we get to occasionally see his bare behind peeking out from under his shirt tail. He immediately begins to spew a long, loud stream of profanity,pummeling us with the "F" word, and tells more than we ever want to know about what happened to him. One of his distastefully graphic lines caused a wave of audible groans to drift across the auditorium. After his original tirade, he later jabbers in a manic fashion about the finer points of guerrilla warfare. Huh? My husband and I, who are not prudish and like comedy, wondered why this character appeared and what he was meant to contribute, other than to add to the steady and annoying buzz of nonsense that went on and on and never made a point or made us laugh. 

Hana Lass as Willie (The Space Freak) "The Unseen Hand"
Photo: Chris Bennion
It seemed obvious that Shepard meant for us to laugh while the gun toting brothers simultaneously tell the cheerleader to keep his hands in the air and also to pull up his trousers, but this play offers far more stupidity than humor. The script made no sense. In my opinion, it did not entertain, enlighten, or provide a new perspective. It did not cause me to feel anything but annoyance. Within the first five minutes, I wanted to go home because there was nothing in it for me. My husband felt the same. It brought up the subject of freedom and control, but beyond that, the explanation of this play must be left to those who will surely consider me ignorant, who see merit where I see none. Sorry, but I can’t help you. 

On Sam Shepard’s website, I found these quotes: 

"If plays were put in time capsules, future generations would get a sharp-toothed profile of life in the U.S. in the past decade and a half from the works of Sam Shepard."   ...Time Magazine
"One of our best and most challenging playwrights... His plays are a form of exorcism: magical, sometimes surreal rituals that grapple with the demonic forces in the American landscape."  ...Newsweek
"His plays are stunning in their originality, defiant and inscrutable." Esquire
I hope Shepard’s plays never do end up in a time capsule, because I’d hate for future generations to think his particular view is one all Americans share. Not all of us crave defiance and inscrutability or see how excessive profanity and crudeness improve art. That fact that something is original doesn't necessarily deem it good. Maybe we don’t feel the need to be shocked, sharp toothed, exorcized, or made to grapple with demonic forces. Can’t it not sometimes just be enough to laugh or cry or cringe for good reason, to be touched, moved, saddened or thrilled, and encouraged to look at things more deeply or in a different way? I have come away from this theater feeling enriched and uplifted more times than not. The idea of a triple billing appeals to me. I hope we see this again at ACT, but out of all the one-act plays available, this seems an odd mix. In spite of my feelings about the scripts, however, the actors excelled in every case.
To those of you who choose to see “An Evening of One Acts,” I only ask one thing; think for yourself rather than participate in pluralistic ignorance. You are not stupid. There are plenty of critics who would look down on me for having the audacity to dislike the work of the acclaimed Sam Shepard. We all see things differently. Who knows? Maybe you will love it. I did not.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Jann McFarland's lifestyle includes close contact with wildlife, growing her own fresh produce, swimming, fishing, or a boat ride whenever she wants, right in the middle of a large city. McFarland lives on a houseboat in Seattle, on Lake Union. In some ways it sounds like paradise, but in the decades she has been there, she's seen and taken part in the fight to preserve what has come close to being lost because of political controversies, growth and development, and other threats. My recent interview with this lucky woman has been published in the online neighborhood improvement journal, Neighborhood Life, shown below. 

Seattle’s Houseboat Neighborhoods Stay Afloat on Seas of Change
by Candace Brown

Busy Interstate 5 runs right through Seattle, Washington, but below the freeway and crowded hills, close to downtown, the surface of Lake Union shines like a misplaced mirror. When the first white settlers arrived in 1851, a forest of giant old growth evergreens surrounded this 571 acre lake, but before long, the loggers’ saws would claim those firs and cedars. Settlement on the shores of Seattle’s bays, lakes, and waterways was soon followed by the appearance of houseboats—houses constructed on rafts and semi-permanently moored to a dock. Originally crude shelters on rafts intended for loggers, fishermen, and other workers, later ones were permanently occupied “floating homes” that ranged from makeshift shacks to regular houses. On Lake Washington, the wealthy built more elegant examples to use as summer homes.

  The former Hospitality House from Seattle's Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exhibition

Lake Union to begin to change from a pristine gem between forested hills to a scene of industry, commerce, and even military use. It had a Naval armory and training facility, a steam powered coal gasification plant, shipyards, such as Lake Union Dry Dock Company, which opened in 1919, a car assembly plant, shipping terminals, and more. Throughout all of that, the number of houseboats grew. It reached about 2,000 by the late 1930s and about 2,500 by the end of World War II. Many were occupied by respectable poor or working class, people. Later, the demographic changed to include a more Bohemian crowd—society’s non-conformists, those with radical political views, artists, musicians, and college students.

Older style houseboats

These days, all the houseboats must be connected to public utilities, including sewer. However, in the past, their raw sewage went straight into the water, in addition to industrial wastes already polluting the lake. That fact added to the controversy over their very existence. In the early 1960s, the future of these floating homes seemed grim, as development eliminated their moorages and they were considered to be eyesores and polluters.

As a long time resident of one neighborhood of floating homes on Lake Union’s east side, Jann McFarland has seen it all. In spite of the challenges, the lifestyle is one she and her husband, Sid McFarland, love. They wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Looking down the dock 

To read the rest of the story, please click here.