Monday, August 24, 2015

This Holiday's No Picnic

This Holiday’s No Picnic

By Tom Wachunas

     Seat Of The Pants Productions and The Plain Local Community Center For The Arts present Picnic, by William Inge, in the Black Box Theatre, located in Glen Oak High School, 1801 Schneider St. NE, Canton, Ohio / August 28- 30/ Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 2 / Tickets are $16 for adults and $12 for students, and can be purchased at

    A recurring sound in this production of William Inge’s 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Picnic, is that of the plaintive whistle from a passing train. Signaling both a place left behind and a future destination, the sound becomes a role unto itself - a haunted harbinger of jarring changes that transpire in a Kansas small town neighborhood preparing for a picnic (which, ironically enough, we never actually see) on a sweltering Labor Day.
   Once again, director Craig Joseph (with several notable past Canton Players Guild productions to his credit) shows his remarkable acuity for drawing out compelling realism from his cast members. They truly own their roles, imbuing Inge’s language - which on paper can sometimes seem hoakey and histrionic – with visceral authenticity. Additionally, The Black Box Theatre is made all the more intimate by Micah Harvey’s artful set that cuts across the floor so that we in the audience, viewing it from two sides, feel like neighbors peering into the shared back yard where most of the story unfolds.
   Justin Edenhoffer plays Hal, a scruffy, college-dropout drifter who rolls into town like a Kansas twister. For all of his bad-boy strutting and shirtless posing, he’s complicated and essentially an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. Mr. Edenhoffer embodies Hal’s lithe sexuality and swagger with masterful agility even as he realizes his shortcomings. He’s hired by the amiable Helen, who is apt to see the best in anyone - and played here with a spirit of wisdom and endearing tenderness by Kathy J. Boyd - to do handy work around her house where she cares for her (unseen) ailing mother. Living next door are her neighbors, single-mom Flo (April Deming), her two daughters,  18 year-old Madge (Anna Gallucci) and younger sister Millie (Natalie Welch), and a school teacher tenant, Rosemary (Jacki Dietz).   
   Anna Gallucci’s Madge - the proverbial prettiest girl in town - is an arresting portrait of melancholy and vulnerability as she negotiates an identity crisis. When Flo complains that Madge spends too much time in front of the mirror, Madge replies that it’s only because she wonders if she even exists beyond the physical beauty that everyone else is so crazy about. When she hears that lonely train whistle, she imagines journeying to a place freed from the constricting conventions of life in rural Kansas, and finally liberated from her mother’s agenda for her to marry the sophisticated, clean-cut and monied Alan (Tim Carmany), Hal’s former fraternity brother.  She’s perfectly positioned to fall for Hal’s “dangerous” charms, if only because he (of all people!) sees her not as a pretty doll to be coveted and claimed, but a real person to be cherished.
    As the doting mother Flo, April Deming effectively exudes quiet desperation and pensive urgency, eager for Madge to marry into a life she herself couldn’t acquire. Meanwhile, Natalie Welch nails the role of the scholarly tomboy Millie, resentful over all the attentions paid to her older sister, with an infectious, animated mix of sass and woundedness.
    Some delightful moments of comic relief are provided by Jacki Dietz, playing Rosemary, along with Angeleina Valentine and Jeannie Clarkson, who play Irma and Christine respectively, Rosemary’s chatty teacher compatriots. Dietz is also central in some of the play’s most emotionally volatile scenes. In one, fueled by a few swigs of bootleg whiskey, she unleashes an explosive verbal assault on Hal - a no-holds-barred condemnation of everything she finds objectionable about him. Later, she surrenders her dignity in a pathetic plea for marriage to her reluctant suitor, Howard (Andrew Knode), a plainspoken if not clueless store owner. Particularly memorable there is Knode’s demeanor of numbed acquiescence in the face of Dietz’s euphoria.  
In his role of Alan, Tim Carmany renders a convincing transformation – from an initially genuine enthusiasm at his reunion with Hal, through growing irritation at Hal’s bravado, and ultimately into devastating heartbreak over Hal’s inevitable seduction of Madge.

    Indeed, the operative energy in this story is inevitability. In the end, you get the sense that even for young Millie, earlier teased and harassed by the gadfly paperboy named Bomber (Kyle Burnett), romance waits somewhere in the wings.
Picnic isn’t just a dated snapshot of 1950s Midwestern life tinged with despondency and sexual repression. Alternately poignant and searing, it is a timeless reminder that in any quest for real personhood, the only certainty is change itself. Dreams can be born and broken with all the regularity of a train running right on time.

    PHOTOS by Jeremy Aronhalt, from top: (1) left to right, Kathy J. Boyd, Natalie Welch, April Deming, Justin Edenhofer (center), Tim Carmany, Anna Gallucci; (2) Anna Gallucci (left), April Dening; (3) Natalie Welch (with cake), April Dening (seated), Kathy J. Boyd

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Oh Gaud

Oh Gaud

By Tom Wachunas

    From Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary:
    Gaud, n.
1.   a worthless or trifling ornament; a trinket; a bauble

2.   [pl.] showy gaieties

3.   a jest; trick; sport; fraud [Obs.]

    “I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.”  -Andy Warhol 

    EXHIBIT: Oxytocin – works by Maxim Rossett at BLISS Gallery, 334 4th Street NW, downtown Canton, THROUGH SEPTEMBER, Tuesdays-Fridays Noon-4 p.m.

    First, a caveat about reasonable art gallery protocol. At the time I closely viewed this exhibit, it was several days after the artist reception and public opening (which I could not attend). Some works had already sold and were out of the building. It’s possible that if you stop by to see the show in the coming weeks, you might not see the same show I saw. I think that professional etiquette in the context of the Arts District requires fairness to the interested viewing public – and the artist – by leaving all the work intact and viewable until a clearly stated end date. After all, we’re talking about art exhibits here, and not just glorified garage sales. ‘Nuff said.
    File this review under confessions of a conflicted voyeur. There’s a certain irony in naming this art exhibit “Oxytocin,” after a hormonal neurotransmitter that reportedly dispels anxiety or fear while engendering feelings of affectionate bonding. While I’m loathe to “love” these mixed media works on paper and canvas by Maxim Rossett, there are marginal aspects I “like,” if only in the Facebook application of the word. Liking something in that electronic universe is an ambiguous signifier, and not necessarily a clear indication of a wholeheartedly warm embrace of a specific idea or content. I respectfully ask that as you read on, hold that thought.
   The July 29 posting at tells us that “noted influences” in Rossett’s art include such modernist luminaries as Henri Matisse, Jean Dubuffet, Philip Guston, and Cy Twombly. Yet based on the pictorial evidence we see in this exhibit, the influence of those particular painters often seems more incidental and peripheral than consistently substantive.
    I think a more revelatory exploration of historical precedents for Rossett’s punk-funk, “low-brow” approach can take us as at least as far back as the “anti-art” shenanigans of the Dada movement, which emerged just after World War I in Europe. The prevailing spirit among the Dadaists was one of vociferous disgust with what they perceived to be the utter corruption of Western culture. Their dismantling of traditional academic definitions and practices of art-making essentially climaxed a process that had begun during the last few decades of the 19th century. The seeds of their discontent would nevertheless grow into the daunting diversity of other ideas and methods that would shape all of 20th century Modern Art.
    Additionally, the frenetic drawing energy apparent in many of Rossett’s configurations, combined with the loose, spontaneous painting style (though too often appearing diffident and arbitrary) is in many ways a throwback to the “Neo-Expressionism” of the 1980s. In particular, the graphic impact of his figurative renderings at times brings to mind the urban graffiti character and brutally raw stylizations of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s (1960-88) paintings.
    Rossett’s works aren’t really “compositions” in any ostensibly elegant or traditional (academic) sense, though his black and white drawings do employ a relatively more sleek cohesiveness. They are, rather, sprawling juxtapositions, or panoramic collisions of disparate (and desperate) cartoons, appropriated imagery, cryptic symbols and frenzied, obsessive patterns often interspersed with textual content. Whether single words and phrases, or snippets of dialogue between the zany residents of these montages, they seem to constitute a collective sociopolitical commentary (sometimes with religious undertones) or philosophical treatise on…you name it.
   In one of the black and white drawings (unfortunately, there are no titles posted with the pieces), a thought balloon, hovering over the profile of a grimacing man holding a smiley-face mask on a stick in front of him, reads “Emotions grow hysterical beneath the passivity.” Just to the right of that passage, scrawled in jittery letters above the headless body of a nude woman, are the words “GAWD IS NOT DEAD.” And neither is gaud.
    Rossett’s pictures are meandering streams of consciousness (his, ours, or both?) that might describe a disjunctive flea market of the mind. Their compositional anarchy, and their sheer density of visual data is perhaps a symbol of, or messy paean to the dizzying manifestations and functions of contemporary social media. Therein, searching for the sublime and meaningful amid the ugly, the absurd, and the just plain silly, can be an exasperating exercise.  
    For that reason alone, I’ve often been tempted to unfriend the entire institution of Facebook, for example. Yet like many of us, I am easily hooked. Similarly, despite my ambivalence toward the brand of art practiced by Mr. Rossett, I can’t seem to stop looking at his derivative doodlings.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015



By Tom Wachunas

    “For that is the power of the camera: seize the familiar and give it new meanings, a special significance by the mark of a personality.”
   -Alfred Stieglitz
   “…Walking through some of these spaces, you could almost feel some of the spirit that this town grew up with so many years ago…”
   -Michael Barath, speaking to Dan Kane, The Repository, Aug. 6, 2015

   EXHIBIT: Interiors, photographs by Michael Barath -  on view THROUGH AUGUST, at Julz by Alan Rodriguez, 220 Market Avenue N. in downtown Canton / Tues.- Fri. 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. / Sat. 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

    The 20 photographs by Michael Barath in this exhibit, presented by TRANSLATIONS at Julz by Alan Rodriguez, constitute a ruminant journey through abandoned buildings from bygone days in Canton. The images depict various interiors of the now dormant Hercules Engine plant (its original building dating to the late 1800s), as well as interiors of other unspecified Victorian residential structures. Barath’s deftly composed images of atrophied architectures are certainly a nostalgic unveiling of sites long hidden from most of us, and a sobering witness to the ravages of time and neglect.
   Yet curiously enough, the character emanating from these images isn’t strictly one of doleful ruination. There is an aura of enchanting hauntedness that makes these “dead” spaces breathe with a mystical light. The factory interiors, some of them cavernous, such as Factory Afternoon, are imbued with a hushed luminosity that softly illuminates their structural rhythms and shadowed recesses. The sensation of dysphoric emptiness is delicately balanced with a misty, even reverential light that borders on the Gothic. And for that matter, Barath’s approach can additionally seem almost painterly in the way it captures, not unlike Romantic-era artists, a dramatic atmosphere.   
   A similar ethereality is at work in many of the residential spaces depicted -  Victorian Bathtub and Victorian Blue Bath, for exampleframed to focus on their strangely intricate geometries and textures. These pictures are both pragmatic and poetic records of evanescence. People lived here once.
   Amid the tactile grotesqueries of fallen plaster, rubble-strewn floors, or layers of peeling wallpaper, Barath’s compelling images of domestic relics arrested in time nonetheless leave us with an uncanny sense of lingering elegance, and of dignity in the deterioration.

 PHOTOS, from top (courtesy Michael Barath, ): Factory 20, Factory Windows, Factory Afternoon, Victorian Blue Bath