Monday, December 12, 2022

Deck the Hall with Dickens


Deck the Hall with Dickens 

By Tom Wachunas

   “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”  Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

   THEATRE: A Christmas Carol, from The Players Guild Theatre, at Mary J. Timken Theatre in the Fine Arts Building of Kent State University at Stark, 6000 FRANK AVENUE NW, NORTH CANTON, OH/ Performances through December 18, 2022 / Box Office 330 – 244 – 3224 / Dates, tickets, and performance information at:

   Background, and cast/crew information at:

    As a consumerist society in a mad world, what practices have we adopted to truly honor and savor the who and the why of Christmas? Conversely, how many of us have become souled-out and surrendered to the what of the ‘holidays’ - namely all the feckless commercialism and trivial superficialities we routinely heap upon them? For the moment, let’s forget jolly old elves, Rudolf, and Red Ryder Range 200-Shot BB guns. For the moment, let’s celebrate the efficacious conflation of classic literature and enthralling live theatre as one powerful device by which we can embrace the essence of Christmas.

   To that commendable end, The Players Guild Theatre is currently presenting, for the 41st year, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This year’s exhilarating new production, in its new home, was adapted for the stage by  Beth Knox. The impressive scenic and authentic costume designs by Joshua Erichsen include meticulously rendered architectural facades and interior room sets that rotate scene-by-scene on an ingenious, large turntable. Beyond the luscious choral harmonies delivered by the Dickens Singers, the superb live music from the six-piece orchestra was arranged, composed and conducted by Steve Parsons, who also directed the amply talented cast.

  As the dark, sullen Ghost of Jacob Marley, Henrick Sawczak will sting you to your bones as he whips and cracks his heavy chains through the air and on the floor like bolts of lightning. Ashley Luli plays the Ghost of Christmas Past with charming, childlike innocence, imbued with a healthy dose of grown-up wisdom. Robert Trushel’s magnanimous Ghost of Christmas Present is all infectious ebullience until he leaves Scrooge on a very loud note of angry warning. As Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, Sam Marazita gives us a heartwarming picture of irrepressible optimism and willingness to love his unloveable uncle. Equally heartwarming are Matthew Heppe as Bob Cratchit, and Gabriel Amiot as his son, Tim, in their earnest and tender portrayals of high-spirited gratitude even in the face of cruel, humbling circumstance. All of the cast members – adults and children alike – perform with palpable, invigorating credibility.   

   Finally, then, Jim Graysmith’s presentation of Ebenezer Scrooge is an absolutely compelling embodiment of one man’s cathartic transformation from vitriolic misanthrope into lifelong disciple of selfless generosity and dispenser of joy. Even in the scenes when he’s not directly a part of the action, as he looks at the proceedings from a distance, we can still see clearly the sharpened, captivating expressions of genuine delight and wonder, or sorrow, or painful soul-searching on his face.

   In the 1843 introduction to his popular novella, Dickens wrote to his readers that he hoped his “Ghostly little book” would “haunt their houses pleasantly.” Did he have any idea of the urgency and relevance his story would still have nearly two centuries later? Talk about timeless storytelling.

    The Players Guild’s production isn’t about capturing the spirit of the tale only for the sake of feel-good entertainment. Call it a benevolent contagion, releasing that spirit into our active lives. The continued tradition of keeping this beautifully faceted, lustrous gem of a narrative shining is truly a necessary labor of love. Maybe all we should want for Christmas is to see more of us become redeemed Scrooges - instruments of hope, healing and light for those who desperately need it in an ever-darkening world.  

   Meanwhile, Thank You, Players Guild Theatre, for the blessing of your artful and inspiring agency in haunting our lives pleasantly.

Monday, December 5, 2022

With Eyes to See and Ears to Hear

With Eyes to See and Ears to Hear 

 …Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will… – Romans:12:2 

    Holy Season’s Greetings to all of you! Here’s my annual “Christmas image.”

    At one point in painting it, I thought very deeply about what the writers (scribes, actually) of the Gospels must have experienced as they wrote God’s own words. I am certain that the faithful scribe pictured here was utterly transfixed and forever transformed, filled with an indescribable joy and an awesome hope beyond words. This image represents John, a most beloved disciple of Jesus, in the midst of delivering (in Greek) what we read today in Scripture as John 3:16: 

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

Not a fantasy. Not a fiction. A fact. The perfect gift. The perfect peace and good will.


Saturday, December 3, 2022

Confabulations Extraordinaire


 Confabulations Extraordinaire

Sherri Hornbrook, (left) Honor, (right) Wings

Emily Vigil - Doing Dishes Together: Portrait of Us

Emily Vigil: Skipping Stones

Eleanor Dillon Kuder - Enduring Influence

Eleanor Dillon Kuder - Places She Called Home

Sherri Hornbrook -
 (clockwise from top left) Blossom, Departure, Nest, Pendulum

By Tom Wachunas 

  “Stop thinking about art works as objects and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences. What makes a work of art good for you is not something that is already inside it, but something that happens inside you.” ― Brian Eno

   “Nothing as drastic an innovation as abstract art could have come into existence, save as the consequence of a most profound, relentless, unquenchable need. The need is for felt experience - intense, immediate, direct, subtle, unified, warm, vivid, rhythmic.”   - Robert Motherwell

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. - Plutarch


EXHIBIT: CONVERSATIONS – paintings by Sherri Hornbrook, Eleanor Dillon Kuder, Emily Vigil / The Lemmon Visiting Artist Gallery, in the Fine Arts Building at Kent State University at Stark, 6000 FRANK AVENUE NW, NORTH CANTON, OH, THROUGH DECEMBER 9, 2022 / Gallery hours Monday – Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

   When it comes to paintings – whether making them, looking at them, or talking about them – I confess I’m an inveterate Romantic with an “unquenchable need.” Like many of us, I look for more than facile faithfulness to the familiar, or something more than skillfully rendered prosaic realism devoid of poetic spirit.

  The most compelling paintings aren’t just mute, decorative wall ornaments. They transcend static, generic images of mundane banalities. Rather, they’re events still forming, conversations still transpiring, or on the verge of commencing.

   Those conversations begin with the painters’ often intuitive methods for responding to their own mark-making - their storytelling, as it were. Such personal narratives are born out of a call-and-response process which evolves in real time across the picture plane.

    On one level, a “finished” painting is a private dialogue between marks and mark-maker. But the dialogue need not end when picture is mounted on wall. It can grow and expand when we viewers become third-party makers by virtue of our practiced, intentional looking. When we allow ourselves ample time to free our own intuitions, we can hear with our eyes. We can interpret messages or meanings as we see fit, or if not, find sublime contentment in savoring the potency of pure mystery. Either way, paintings can in fact speak in our real time if we imagine them first as inhaling our willful gaze, and then exhaling the “words” – indeed the life - of the painter. It is a powerful agency, stunningly present in this spectacular exhibit, bejeweled as it is with 56 works by three remarkable artists: Sherri Hornbrook, Eleanor Dillon Kuder, and Emily Vigil.

   Eleanor Dillon Kuder’s mesmerizing, mixed-media figural pieces are airy and mystical portraits of a kind, aglow with saturated, vibrant color. Recumbent or ascending women (perhaps self-portraits?) float, seemingly immersed in deep meditation, seeking or already embracing beauty at once electrifying and serene.

   There’s also an aura of meditation and spirituality in the soft chromatic translucency of Emily Vigil’s small-scale watercolors. In one series, her grid motifs of gently modulated colors are pixelated, in-the-moment flashes of personal encounters and memories. Additionally, there are equally elegant works from another series of compositions more directly representational in nature, called “Dishes Done.” These still-lifes from the kitchen are intriguing metaphors for intimate domesticity.

   Sherri Hornbrook’s canvases are dense, dazzling adventures. They breathe with both visceral and delicate painterly gestures amidst all manner of complex organic shapes and lines, rich color harmonies and dissonances that dance together, all enmeshed with intricate, pulsing patterns. Dichotomies united: finite with infinite, calm with conflict, light with shadow. The stuff of being alive.

   To Eleanor, Emily, and Sherri, thanks for talking with us. Your eloquence is enlivening.