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REVIEW: The Cake

Photo: David Chick

by Steve Desroches

After 16 months of no live performances the Provincetown Theater delights with their first full production run featuring playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s culture war comedy with a heart, The Cake. The pandemic obviously produced anxiety on a variety of levels, including the uncertain future for the arts with stages dark all over the world. But the Provincetown Theater’s ability to adapt proves that under the leadership of artistic director David Drake and the board of directors it is in capable and dynamic hands. Shifting to outdoor performances the Provincetown Theater provides a comfortable summer venue of compelling theatrical work, with The Cake being the perfect story for a July run. Funny and tender-hearted, engaging yet light, The Cake is delicious from start to finish.

Photo: David Chick

Set in current day North Carolina, Della is living her dream operating her own bakery and is on the cusp of reality TV competition fame as she’s soon to appear on The Great American Baking Show. At first a welcome surprise, but then causing internal turmoil, Jen, who’s like a daughter to Della, returns home after many years in New York City with good news; she’s getting married. But her fiancée is a woman, which throws Della into a crisis of faith as she revisits deeply held beliefs that she considers to be a faith in God, while others think her a bigot as she wrestles with whether or not to bake the cake for her dear, late friend’s daughter’s wedding. It also causes her to reexamine her own marriage to her plumber husband Tim, which is childless, but loving, yet stale.

Photo: David Chick

The performances by Jennifer Cabral and Ian Leahy as Della and Tim are nothing short of stellar. A married couple in real life, Cabral and Leahy give full life to their characters never relying on cheap stereotypes of southerners or Christians, but creating people who are challenging yet not villains or monsters. They, and especially Cabral’s performance, provide the most important ingredient to The Cake: empathy.  While Leahy has an extensive background in theater this really marks only Cabral’s second time on stage after 2019’s August: Osage County. As a duo and as individual actors they are stars, plain and simple.

Photo: David Chick

Jackie Marino-Thomas and Vanessa Rose, as the young and in love Macy and Jen, give performances that equally challenge, skating between being bright and focused on changing the world and at the same time revealing a rigidity that itself can be as sanctimonious as the people they criticize, or in Macy’s case, not exhibiting much self-awareness. It makes for a sweet tango for the four characters with the voice over of George, the host of The Great American Baking Show, provided by Fred Jodry as an otherworldly Greek chorus challenging the sugar and spice views of Della in an increasingly gluten-free world. As director of The Cake, Drake brings this story to life, pulling top-notch performances from all in this tight 90- minute show. And if there was another character in this play it’s the set by designer Ellen Rousseau, who consistently wows audiences with her creations. Make sure to take a slice out of this fabulous theatrical confection.

The Cake runs at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Monday through Thursday at 7 p.m. until July 22. Tickets ($40/$50) are available at the box office and online at provincetowntheater.org. For more information call 508.487.7487.

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REVIEW: Joyride

Paige Turner

As Paige Turner bounds onto the stage it’s as if a Lisa Frank sticker has leapt off the page of a 1980s collector’s album and into real life. Bright, glittery, bedazzled in neon stars, Turner’s energy immediately lifts the crowd up and unites the audience at Pilgrim House into a collective good mood. From beginning to end of Turner’s show Joyride she is always fully in control of what is really a party in a drag show, allowing longtime fans and newbies to relax into a really great time. A perfect blend of spectacle and showmanship, the “Showbiz Spitfire” masterfully takes the theatrical legacy of her native New York City and runs it through a cabaret and drag cyclone of high-energy queer comedy, but with a manicured hand extended to all.

Paige Turner is the creation of Daniel Kelley who developed the “love child of Pee Wee Herman and Barbie” 15 years ago at East of Eighth, a restaurant cum nightclub in Manhattan. Turner achieved a Herculean task in that she managed to work her way to the top of one of the most competitive drag scenes in the world in the age of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Fiery, yet friendly, Turner’s performances are not so much a stage show, but one that fills the room. Don’t get it twisted, there’s only one star of the show and it’s Turner. But Joyride delightfully defuses any tension or stress an audience may bring in with them and turns it into a piñata of sparkle and laughs.

Paige Turner

Testament to the disguised ringmaster quality of Turner’s performance style is her use of audience participation. By the time she pulls somebody on stage the audience is so relaxed that no one is staring at their shoes or scurrying to the bathroom to avoid being chosen. Rather, the room is so in unison and so fully simpatico with Turner herself that it’s an unusually chill affair. In lesser hands utilizing the audience in a show can be a disaster, or a dud. But Turner’s vitality is delightfully infectious. Turner made her Provincetown debut back in 2013, returning here and there joining a crowded field of drag entertainment. However, it was during the confusing and jarring summer of 2020 that she secured firm footing here in town, performing in the Pilgrim House parking lot, entertaining tense audiences during uncertain times of pandemic and political tumult. With better days upon us, Joyride is all the more celebratory as it is indeed a welcomed change to blow off some steam with Turner as the perfect driver of the party bus.

Paige Turner presents Joyride at Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St., Provincetown, Wednesday through Saturday until September 4 and then Friday and Saturday until September 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($40/$50) are available at the box office and online at pilgrimhouseptown.com. For more information call 508.487.6424.

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Review: Shipwrecked

Photo: Michael and Suz Karchmer

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Top Image: Rodney Witherspoon II as Louis de Rougemont. Photo: Michael and Suz Karchmer

After the 2020 season that wasn’t, Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) returns with its 2021 season opener Shipwrecked, performed outside the main theater, due to an abundance of caution. This particular production is well-suited to the smaller stage and outdoor ambience, with its cast of three actors, two of whom perform multiple roles, and a single set.

The full name of the play is Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself), which basically sums up the plot, although a later twist points to a deeper meaning. We begin with Louis de Rougemont (Rodney Witherspoon II) as a sickly young boy in London growing up with his overprotective mother (Jackie Davis) who reads him adventure stories each night. When Louis turns 16 he decides he wants to get on a ship and have his own adventures, much to his mother’s dismay. And adventures he has! After being shipwrecked on a deserted island alone save for the ship’s dog Bruno (Jackson Goldberg), his life takes on many twists and turns that later make for an extraordinary story to tell.

Playwright Donald Margulies makes an attempt at added depth in the second half of the story, however it comes a bit too late and is never developed to its potential as an investigation of truth, reality, and fiction in storytelling. This is unfortunate, however, as an entertainment, it is an engaging tale of adventures and Witherspoon is so thoroughly absorbed in his role as Louis that one can’t help but hang on his every word. In fact, the performances in Shipwrecked, under the direction of Daisy Walker, were all outstanding and kept a Thursday night audience of people in all age ranges (from 10 to 90 probably) entertained throughout the 90-minute show. Davis and Goldberg marvelously support Witherspoon with their various roles. Goldberg has wonderful comic instincts that bring a fantastic absurdity to the script and Davis demonstrates great range playing everyone from the doting mother of a sick child to a drunken sea captain with total commitment.

Whatever other aspirations Margulies may have had for revealing deeper truths about humanity, Shipwrecked is first and foremost an engaging story. Sometimes that’s all a play needs to be, and there is a delightful simplicity in this one. That combined with the stellar cast and direction makes Shipwrecked an excellent return for WHAT in these uncertain times.

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself) is performed Wednesdays – Sundays at 7 p.m. through July 25 at WHAT, 2357 Rte. 6, Wellfleet. For tickets ($35/$15 students) and information call 508.349.9428 or visit what.org.

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Announcements: July 15, 2021

Lefty Lucy

The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival announces 2021 Tennessee Williams Institute Programming

The 16th Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival is pleased to announce the 2021 Tennessee Williams Institute (TWI).  TWI 2021 offers workshops in creative responses to censorship and a symposium on attempts to censor theaters from Ancient Greece to Soviet Russia – and to America during Tennessee Williams’ lifetime and now. This year’s discussions will be framed by Williams’ decades of engagement with censors, and will consider the question: When, if ever, is censorship appropriate? The event, which runs September 22 – 26 this year, features scholars and practitioners of resistance to censorship:  Sharon Marie Carnicke, Gregory S. Carr, Felicia Hardison Londré, and Rebecca Mark, with interactive workshops featuring Penny Arcade and Lefty Lucy.

Four TWI scholars will participate in this year’s symposium and will present scholarly context for the 2021 Festival’s focus on Williams and Censorship. Sharon Marie Carnicke is a professor of critical studies and acting at the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts. She is considered the world’s foremost expert on Stanislavsky and is founder of the Stanislavsky Institute for the 21st Century. She is also a master teacher of Active Analysis, the rehearsal technique created by Stanislavsky in the 1930s, banned by Stalin, and kept alive by Maria Knebel, the renowned Russian director. At this year’s Institute she will be presenting on how Stalin’s censors altered Stanislavsky’s writing, an influence that continues today. Gregory S. Carr is an instructor of Speech and Theatre at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, MO. His essays have appeared in the Routledge Companion to African American TheatreTheatre Symposium Volume 21: Ritual, Religion and Theatre, and Theatre Symposium 26. At the 2019 Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis he led the panel on “Progressive Politics in Tennessee Williams’ St. Louis.” At this year’s Institute in Provincetown, he will be presenting the history of the “Black” Lysistrata closed down by the Federal Theatre Project in 1937 despite sold-out performances. Felicia Hardison Londrй is Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Theatre Emerita at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She served as literary manager for the Missouri Repertory Theatre for 22 years. Her scholarship, specializing in American, French, and Russian theater, as well as Shakespearean dramaturgy, includes publishing over 60 scholarly articles, 25 journalistic publications, and 14 books. Dr. Londré is co-convener, with Kip Niven, organizing KC Moliиre (400 in 2022), a celebration of Molière’s 400th birthday in 2022. At the Institute, she will be presenting the parallels between Moliere’s 17th century battles with the Jesuit order and Tennessee Williams’ 20th century battles with the Catholic Church. Rebecca Mark is the Director of the Institute for Women’s Leadership and a Professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University. Formerly, she was the Chair of the English Department and Associate Dean and Director of the Center for Academic Equity at Tulane University. Her books include Ersatz America: Hidden Traces, Graphic Texts, and Mending of Democracy. Professor Mark is known for the Mae West portion of her “She Who Laughs Last: Standing Up to Patriarchy” course at Tulane. At the Institute, she will be presenting context for the festival’s presentation of Mae West’s play Sex.

Lefty Lucy

Educational programming at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival includes two interactive workshops providing creative responses to censorship. All workshops are 90 minutes long. Workshops are included in Carte Blanche passes and are an option for Flex Pass and Day Pass-holders. Individual workshops cost $40 each or $30 for currently enrolled college or university students. This year’s Institute workshops includes Penny Arcade’s Newest Writing —Arcade, along with her longtime creative partner Steve Zehentner, develop their newest work with input from a live audience. As calls for silencing expression grow, Arcade has been focusing her thoughts about censorship as self-righteousness. Become a part of the creative process as the project moves from page to stage. Also included is The Institute’s Burlesque Workshop, Lefty Lucy’s Create Your Own Burlesque, which will be hosted by Lefty Lucy, Miss Coney Island 2011. She’ll strip away preconceptions and reveal some of the classic moves of this uniquely American art form, including tassel twirling and a number of the titillating moves that make burlesque empowering, fun, and threatening. Workshop participants will discover the silly and sordid history of striptease, learn just how many different ways there are to burlesque, and explore how to put together their own act.

TWI participants will include scholars who specialize in Tennessee Williams, providing context on the playwright in performance at the Festival and elsewhere.  These scholars include: Mark Charney is Director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Texas Tech University; Thomas Keith is consulting editor in charge of the Tennessee Williams titles for New Directions Publishing; Tom Mitchell is Chair of Acting in the Department of Theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Kristin Leahey, Assistant Professor of Dramatic Literature & Dramaturgy at Boston University, will moderate the discussions.

Participants attend Festival productions and participate in symposium discussions of the Festival’s programming. The cost to attend the Institute, including tickets and symposium, is $450.  More information about the Tennessee Williams Institute programming, including Williams 101 and Festival Internships can be found at twptown.org/study.

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House of Monty’s

Photo: Jaiden van Bork

There is a place where floor lamps and tapestries come alive, where Christmas ornaments hang from the ceiling 365 days a year, where strange objects enchant you and every shelf is lined with trinkets full of magic.

Monty’s started as just a home goods store. Following his time as vice president of finance in Time Inc.’s fine arts division and some extensive travel, Fred Schulenberg was inspired to open the magical House of Monty’s in 1994, boasting exquisite pottery, candles, wall art, and more from artisans at home and abroad. Crafting a wonderland of interior decor, Schulenberg had already set himself up for success, but his vision did not end there.

You see, Schulenberg really loves Christmas. Growing up in a poor family, Schulenberg treasured the holiday from a young age–undoubtedly more than most. This love eventually translated into what would be the next big Monty’s project. “I put a Christmas tree in the corner… and the story grew from there,” says Schulenberg. Within a short time, a small Christmas section became large enough for another floor entirely, and Schulenberg opened up Monty’s Christmas downstairs from his original location. Soon after, this secondary shop got even bigger, and was moved back up to the top floor, switching places with the home goods store. And as if that weren’t enough moving around, Monty’s expanded again, moving the home goods store across the street to make room for Monty’s Boutique–a women’s clothing outlet.

Schulenberg credits his success to the people of Provincetown. “I like the small town atmosphere here,” he says, “I don’t think a Christmas store in a regular city would do as well as it does [here].” Perhaps that uniquely Provincetown character is exactly what makes Monty’s so incredibly special.

House of Monty’s • 508.364.0805
349 Commercial St.
Monty’s Boutique & Monty’s Christmas
508.487.6667 • 508.364.0805
350 Commercial Street
montysprovincetown.com

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July 15, 2021

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Thunderstruck!

Photo: Magnus Hastings

Alaska Takes Over Town Hall

by Steve Desroches

The one thing Alaska Thunderfuck wished she’d known before going on RuPaul’s Drag Race was all the standing that is required to be America’s Next Drag Superstar. Fans of the show may think that the judge’s critiques are only a few minutes, but in reality the actual process is at least 20 minutes for each queen, with the others standing until all is complete. And that means standing for cumulative hours, in full drag and high heels under intensely bright and hot studio lights. For such a glamorous show, the actual filming process is a bit grueling. Nevertheless, starting as a fan favorite on the fifth season of the cultural phenomenon and then winning the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars has Alaska doing anything but standing around. She traveled the world before the pandemic and is ready to do it all again as theaters and clubs reopen, starting with two shows this Sunday night at Town Hall, Provincetown’s largest venue.

“I don’t really know how to comprehend it,” says Alaska of her celebrity. “I’m just grateful I get to do drag. I love it so much. How lucky am I that I get to do this as my job and at this moment when drag is receiving so much attention. I’m so grateful that I get to do something in this world that makes people happy and spreads joy.”

Photo: Santiago-Phillips

Known for her record-breaking method of saying hello with elongated cries of “Hiiiiiiieeeeeee” and quirky, sometimes spooky, but always hilarious ways, Alaska has parlayed that television fame into a variety of drag pursuits from recording dance music to theater to her own streaming comedy special and, of course, touring with her stage shows. That road to drag stardom started in an unlikely place, as most great tales of making it do. Drag performers often leap out of famed and storied scenes in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. But for Alaska it all began in Pittsburgh.

Once a classic Rust Belt city, Pittsburgh continues to enjoy a cultural renaissance and economic boom. Home to an outsized number of important cultural institutions for a smaller city, such as the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh drew Alaska (whose given name is Justin Honard) from her native Erie , Penn., for college. He initially went to Los Angeles, where he now lives, to try his luck in a career as an actor, but returned home not long after and joined a drag queen troupe called the Haus of Haunt that included future RuPaul’s Drag Race champion Sharon Needles.  They found a home at the Blue Moon, a small gay bar on Butler Street, and began to do their shows weekly. What started out as a group of drag queens who didn’t fit in exploded into a heady scene of imagination and creativity making the Blue Moon a hot spot and propelling the group well beyond the confines of the Steel City.

“OMG, we definitely were a fascinating bunch of individuals,” says Alaska. “I think of my early years in Pittsburgh and I think of that time as when I learned how to do drag. When I think of my Haus of Haunt sisters Sharon Needles, Cherri Baum, Amy Vodkahaus, Veruca la’Piranha and those nights at the Blue Moon we, we just had an audience every weekend that was our community. We were a bunch of outsiders, misfits that didn’t fit in really anywhere. We could experiment and play. We once did a show called Golden Girls, Interrupted where the Golden Girls are in a mental asylum. We could just be as weird as we wanted to be. We did some crazy shit.”

Photo: Magnus Hasting

The credo of the Haus of Haunt became “when in doubt, freak ‘em out.” And while that performance aesthetic has evolved to be more glamorous and sophisticated, it remains at the core of Alaska’s work. Releasing albums with titles like Anus and Vagina and suddenly reaching up under her gown and tossing out a wooden leg on a Drag Race reunion special prove that she still comes at the world from a delightfully rakish angle, stating that her biggest role models for drag are Marilyn Monroe and Divine. Her shows are an appropriate blend of the essence of The Seven Year Itch and Pink Flamingos. On stage Alaska can be fully herself, something that she plans for her show in Provincetown, joking that its secret what she’ll do as she says that when she doesn’t know what she’ll do. She does, as she’s a total pro, but she adds an air of playful mystery about a night of comedy, song, and surprises. One thing is for sure, without the pesky rules of the FCC, she can go by her full marijuana-inspired drag name that she decided upon while a theater student at the University of Pittsburgh.

“I was in college and there was no way I could afford or find Alaskan Thunderfuck,” says Alaska. “I was really stoned at the time, though, and a friend was telling me about a trip to Amsterdam and this weed she smoked, Alaskan Thunderfuck, and it was just like a thunderbolt. I hadn’t even done drag yet, but I wrote down in my notebook that someday that’s going to be my drag name. By the way, you can still find that weed and it’s really good.”

Photo: Magnus Hastings

Alaska’s show at Town Hall is the first to grace the stage of the historic auditorium since 2019 and is also the return to the storied venue for Mark Cortale, the artistic director of the Art House, who moves his biggest acts down the street for maximum capacity. Symbolically, it’s a big moment for Provincetown as it’s another step toward the town firing at all cylinders. And the sly and stylish Alaska, Ms. Thunderfuck if you’re nasty, is the perfect ambassadress of glitter and grit to celebrate this occasion. And it’s also Alaska’s Provincetown debut, as she gasps with self-aware disbelief that she’s never been here before.

“I’ve never been, can you believe it?” says Alaska. “I hear that it’s the gayest place in the world, which is all the more shocking that I’ve never been as I consider myself one of the gayest people in the world. I’m so excited. It’s going to be like a homecoming.”

Alaska Thunderfuck performs at Town Hall, 260 Commercial St. on Sunday, July 11 at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Tickets ($50 – $150) are available at the Art House box office, 214 Commercial St., and online at ptownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.

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Spilling the Tea

Photo: Steve Desroches

DJ Maryalice Keeps the Good Times Going at the Boatslip

by Steve Desroches

It would be hard to overstate the importance of the Boatslip, in particular the afternoon tea dance, to Provincetown’s culture and economy. While open to all, it is a living presentation of the town’s LGBTQ+ history and current ethos. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, calls such things “intangible cultural heritage,” identifying expression and practices of people that undeniably represent the continuing customs of a place or group. Tea dances are a tradition that became positively queer come the 1960s when what had once been the realm of high society or senior citizens shifted to gay and lesbian neighborhoods and hotspots like Fire Island, Key West, and of course here in Provincetown. In those days in many jurisdictions it was illegal for people of the same sex to dance together and to serve alcohol to homosexuals. Organizing an afternoon party and calling it a tea dance was a way to throw the police off and to form an LGBTQ+ community.

As time passed tea dances fell out of fashion, but not everywhere. In particular here in Provincetown, where the Boatslip has been the place to be each summer afternoon, this important, and fun, LGBTQ+ ritual continued, becoming an indisputable town institution by the early 1970s. Tea dance was not only popular within town, but it further put Provincetown on the map for the LGBTQ+ community as word of the bacchanalia by the bay spread nationwide. Despite changing tastes and times, tea dance still reigns supreme, and an enormous reason why is Maryalice Kalaghan, a.k.a. DJ Maryalice, who, since 1994, has been the resident DJ as well as “vibe manager” of the storied venue.

Tea dance emanates the energy accumulated over the years. Yes, it’s a blast, but there is a gravitas to it, a connection to history that makes it feel like a homecoming over and over again to so many people.

Photo: Steve Desroches

“I want it to be welcoming, to be accessible,” says Kalaghan. “I don’t want it to be over-the-top, unless it needs to be, like for Carnival. It’s consistent. I try to make it consistent. There’s a consistency here that we’ve kept whether we’ve had new owners or management. That’s important. Of course things have changed, but the vibe stays the same. We manage to balance changes with tradition. Whether you’re 81 or 21 you’ll feel welcome here. And every time you come back you get that feeling, that vibe of this place.”

With a sense of fun and a laid back demeanor DJ Maryalice demurs when credited for the thousands she’s entertained over the years with her keen sense for what a crowd wants and just when and how to keep a dance-floor hopping. It’s the people that bring that energy with them, says Kalaghan. But from the perch of her DJ booth Kalaghan can see, and read, the vibe and respond accordingly, musically. Innovative and fresh with an eye for the classics, the music at tea dance dives deep, reaching back to the heyday of disco and bringing it into today. Thus the vibe. And that’s important to Kalaghan herself in relation to her own Provincetown adventure.

Kalaghan first came to Provincetown in 1975 when she was 18. That was the drinking age then in Massachusetts, and she and a friend, both claiming to be heterosexual, came to town for a weekend. “I wasn’t gay on my first visit,” laughs Kalaghan. “But I was gay on my second trip.” The two friends were eating dinner at the old Howard Johnson’s in the East End when the waitress said they should check out the Pied Piper, a fun bar “for lesbians.” Kalaghan chuckles when she remembers how they protested they were straight and the look on the waitress’ face. Nevertheless, they made a beeline to the Pied and decided that to blend in they should hold hands. She was so nervous that she spilled the Tom Collins she was drinking as her hands shook uncontrollably. Within weeks she and her pal came out and were girlfriends.

Soon Kalaghan fell under the spell of Provincetown, moving here permanently in 1980, which was still the heyday of disco, which she loved in everyway. One night while hanging out at the Governor Bradford the DJ for the evening didn’t show up. Kalaghan thought, “How hard could it be?” and offered to fill in. Upon getting in the booth she didn’t even know how to turn the system on, but by the end of the night she had the packed venue hopping and it became a regular gig. She spun all over town, landing at the Boatslip 27 years ago becoming an integral part of Provincetown’s community and culture.

She’s seen a lot over the years, and recalls the good times and the bad. It’s where the town assembled after walking down Commercial Street the day after the Pulse nightclub massacre and held hands as she played Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” During the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Boatslip hosted memorial services and she was often asked to play Donna Summer’s disco hit “Last Dance” for the often gone-far-too-young person who not long prior had danced the afternoon away. Now the song has become a beloved marker of the end of Labor Day Weekend and the last tea dance each Halloween weekend. The Boatslip has a soul to it. It also has a touch of salaciousness, and that’s not just because of the “lower lounge”—what the staff calls the Dick Dock—but also because of the shenanigans seen over a season, never mind 27 of them.

“Most of it I can’t tell you,” says Kalaghan. “That’s the God’s honest truth. First of all you couldn’t print what I could tell you. Nothing shocks me anymore. And then when something does I’m gobsmacked that there’s something I’ve never seen before to shock me. Around here we often say, ‘You can’t make this shit up.’”

Tea Dance is daily at the Boatslip, 161 Commercial St. from 4 to 7 p.m. through September 13 and then weekends through Halloween. For more information call 508.487.1669 or visit theboatslip.com.

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Something Wild

Rebecca Hutchinson’s Five Part Bloom, fired and unfired porcelain paper clay, handmade paper, organic material, 68” x 68” x 12”, 2017. (Detail) Photograph by Carly Costello, from the permanent collection of Lawrence & Marie Wolin.

Rebecca Hutchinson’s Flower Sculptures

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Top Image: Rebecca Hutchinson’s Five Part Bloom, fired and unfired porcelain paper clay, handmade paper, organic material, 68” x 68” x 12”, 2017. (Detail) Photograph by Carly Costello, from the permanent collection of Lawrence & Marie Wolin.

Flowers are underestimated. But they are actually layered in their meanings. They can simultaneously evoke funerals and weddings and new life and birthdays and prom corsages and romances and apologies and love and loss and regret. They can be used to signify femaleness, reproduction, and sex, and yet they are fit to grace any table in our sharply divided country, without a hint of controversy. But beneath the pretty and conventional veneer, in the right hands, flowers can be extremely potent messengers, as they are in the Art of the Garden: Double Bloom exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM), which pairs the work of Joan Snyder and Rebecca Hutchinson and was curated by Cherie Mittenthal.

The first thing you’ll notice about Hutchinson’s wall sculptures in the show is the tension between the wildness of her paper and clay flowers and the structure of the frames out of which they seem to grow. A flower garden mixes together these ideas of chaos and order; plants are sown in lines, but they blossom into great bursts of life that cannot be contained—not really—even within the willow-branch lattices and frames they push through. As Hutchinson puts it, it’s “determined growth that moves beyond structure.”

Hutchinson’s sculptures are magnificent, evoking the beauty of flowers in a dense garden of roses, wildflowers, and even tulips, but in a subdued, pretty palette. Within these pieces there is a commentary however; the tensions between natural wildness and containment are palpable.

Rebecca Hutchinson’s Five Part Bloom, fired and unfired porcelain paper clay, handmade paper, organic material, 68” x 68” x 12”, 2017. Photograph by Carly Costello, from the permanent collection of Lawrence & Marie Wolin.

“There is a sense of order with the grid format. The wood is gridded, that gives me a structure to build on. But, conceptually the work is about embracing the defiance of order, and the growth patterns defy the section of the wood,” Hutchinson explains. “So there might be three sections of wood made, or four sections of wood made, but the growth pattern defies those boundaries, and that is intentional. Conceptually, that is what has interested me in the last several years, that there’s a homogeny, there’s a sense of… collective harmony to the overall piece despite that the framework is made of three or four or five different sections of wood structures.”

Hutchinson’s work hangs alongside those of Joan Snyder, whose mixed-media paintings also incorporate materials that push them into three-dimensional space and play with this idea of geometric lines coexisting with the chaos of nature. For example, in her Rose Grid (2014), she paints a grid of 16 boxes— four across and four down—defied by the organic, swirling, unruly patterns drawn within them, some of which even boldly cross the gridlines. Both artists are focused on flowers and gardens, however it’s not only a thematic connection.

As Hutchinson puts it, “For me what’s important is not just the imagery of the bloom activity, it’s kind of the raw, direct choice of material and the way material is used,” she says. “It’s like confident and raw and bold in both of us.”

For Hutchinson, the materials and the processes by which she creates these works are important and connect strongly with her artistic goals. Each piece is constructed of various materials she’s harvested, as well as ceramic or clay, combined together in a layered process that’s important to the work itself.

Joan Snyder’s Rosefield, oil, acrylic and twigs on linen in two parts, 36 x 72 in, 2016, Photograph by Alan Hoffman.

“All of the materials are either ceramic or handmade paper, [and]  I harvest willow from my property, and that’s what the woodworking is. There’s always a woodworking frame that I build on,” she explains. “I’ll just share that harvesting is a real key component to the philosophy of the work, harvesting with some sensitivity. So what I’m doing is I’m choosing fast-growing wood, which is the willow, and then the handmade paper is also involved in harvesting. And I’m going to thrift stores, and I’m choosing 100% natural fiber old clothing. So blue jeans and flannel shirts, linen shirts, or perhaps stained and torn table linens, and all of that is cut up and put into my papermaking beater.”

The process of making paper from the pulp is a complex one, but this pulp is not only made into the paper used in her sculptures, it is also incorporated into the clay, making it much more lightweight and therefore better suited to these hanging sculptures. It is only after the materials themselves are made that Hutchinson begins actually making the flowers we see.

“I love not only gardening, but also observing how plants thrive, how they meet a boundary, how they defy the boundary, how they deal with excessive aspects in the environment,” Hutchinson says.

As the child of two parents who were scientists, Hutchinson stresses the importance of observation in her process, as well as a rich understanding of her materials. “Looking at you know, species, how they build nests; it’s a combination of mud and fiber, it’s collected material from site, or often I say, from ‘the vernacular,’” she explains.

All of this amounts to work that is not only about process and form, but also translates to a deeper meaning that is intrinsically connected to her choices in material and the blending of those materials.

“The sculpture has evolved, in all honesty, in scale and in all aspects: in my investigation and experimentation of shape, of my sensitivity to the concept of defined boundaries, particularly right now where we are all overly involved, politically, in thinking about siloed activities and homogeny. And I’m interested in the blend of hybridity. So that blend of hybridity becomes also socially relevant to me,” she says.

Hutchinson is a professor of ceramics at University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth and she has also taught locally at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill, where she and Snyder were first exhibited together some years back. Her work has been shown widely, including in the Taiwan Ceramics Biennale, the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design, the National Museum for Women in the Arts, SOFA (now Intersect Chicago, represented by Duane Reed Gallery), the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, the Vendrell Biennale (Spain), the Danforth Museum of Art, the Lowe Museum of Art, the Canton Museum of Art, and the Fuller Craft Museum.

Art of the Garden: Double Bloom is on exhibit at PAAM, 460 Commercial St., Provincetown, through July 18. To reserve a timed ticket or for more information call 508.487.1750 or visit paam.org.

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Q & A with Tori Scott

Photo: Da Ping Luo

Top Image: Photo by Da Ping Luo

Tori Scott is the first person you think of to call when you feel like getting into a little mischief. She’s the kind of friend that makes making bad decisions fun. The singer, actress, and comedian is a knock-it-out-of-the-park cabaret performer in New York City, and in particular at gay haunts, as vodka and glitter just seem to course through her veins. Scott is that gay gal friday that always has rolling papers, nips, and poppers in her purse, you know, just in case. The super talented performer is hitting the stage in Provincetown this week, the first time since the world shut down in March of 2020. She took a moment to chat with Provincetown Magazine about how Captain America helped her through lockdown, missing annoying tourists in New York, and how deep her love is for Provincetown.

Provincetown Magazine: We’ve missed you in Provincetown! Is this your first live gig since the world shut down?

Tori Scott: I have missed Provincetown!!! I’m so thrilled to be back! And yes, this is my first live gig since the “before times” and I’m so excited I could burst! I can’t think of a better place to make a return to the stage than the Art House!!

PM: What was life like for you since March 2020?

TS: I would say in the beginning of the pandemic, during the first month especially, I was in a total vodka haze! It’s all a bit of a blur. Spiking the coffee in the morning and watching the press conferences with Governor Cuomo in New York, wondering if this was the day the world would end! I mean can you believe what we all just went through? Once it was clear this was going to last for a while, I eventually sobered up…. slightly. I wasn’t very “creative” during the pandemic…unless you call watching all the Marvel movies in timeline order creative. Also, how hot is Captain America!? I tried finding new hobbies. I attempted to bake banana bread, like everyone, and it was so tragic I’m still embarrassed. I don’t know what I did wrong, but it didn’t taste like anything! Completely tasteless banana bread!! So, I didn’t become a baker, or a better cook, or more organized. But I’m now a total nerd when it comes to Marvel movies.

Photo: Da Ping Luo

PM: Where or in what did you find solace during this crazy past year and a half?

TS: I discovered my passion for meditation. I know! Who am I? It’s not my brand! I had an entire bit in one of my shows a couple years ago where I made fun of meditation! I mean I’m not gonna live, laugh, love or eat, pray, love or anything, but it’s amazing what a pandemic will drive you to. And it was truly a lifesaver in easing anxiety. Sometimes I needed a bit more than meditation to ease my mind, so I made sure to always have edibles on hand. It’s the perfect combo.

 PM: To make the pandemic experience even crazier it coincided with political tumult and a high-stakes presidential election. People spontaneously spilled into the streets in Provincetown to celebrate President Biden’s win. How did you celebrate?

TS: I EXHALED!!! I also kept saying, “Thank god!!!” randomly out of nowhere for a good month after the results. When it was first announced, I was living in Brooklyn at the time and was out taking a long walk and you could hear people honking and shouting in the streets. It was an incredible sense of relief. Then, I met up with a friend and we split a bottle of wine on her stoop and got weepy. Thank GOD!

PM: Once pandemic restrictions were lifted what was the first thing you ran out and did?

TS: I got my roots done!! I had been dying my hair out of a box and it always turned out too dark and sad looking, which I guess was fitting for the times we were living in. It was such a relief to get a professional to fix it, even if she did look at my hair and say, “Wow! You’re like 90% gray!”

PM: New York got hit hard and early. How do see the city coming back?

TS: I’ll have a better sense of New York City coming back once Broadway and off-Broadway theaters reopen. And, it will come back, but I worry it’s going to take a while. The city has changed. We’ve all changed. There are no tourists right now in Times Square! I used to dream about what it would be like to be able to walk through Midtown without having to zigzag around tourists who just stop in the middle of the sidewalk! But, now, I miss not having anyone to be mad at when I walk down the street! It’s funny the things we took for granted.

PM: You’ve been coming to Provincetown for quite some time now. What do you love most about it?

TS: I can’t name just one thing! The energy and the community is amazing! I feel like I’m at the edge of the world with really close friends. I love the food and entertainment. I love people-watching along Commercial Street while eating a slice in front of Spiritus or spotting Tony Kushner while getting a coffee at Joe’s. Or drinking too many frosés at the Canteen!!! I also love staying at the Anchor Inn and sitting on the porch with the dogs. I am very lucky to have Mark Cortale in my corner and an invite back to the Art House. I’m so happy that all these venues have reopened and so many performers can do their jobs again. And I appreciate you reaching out and asking me these questions! It’s really quite emotional thinking about it. Everyone just found their own way to “hang in there” during a really difficult time, and now we get to do what we love again. I’m so grateful. I love Provincetown.

Tori Scott performs at the Art House, 214 Commercial St., on Friday, July 9 and Saturday, July 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets ($35/$45) are available at the box office and online at ptownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.

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