Arts & Entertainment, Gallery Beat

A Rainy Weekend, Elvis, and a Harbor Called Gig

By F. Lennox Campello

As I look back at 2022, it strikes me once again as to how important things like art, family and small things become a cornerstone of lives.  I am just back from a quick Friday-to-Monday visit to the Great Pacific Northwest to see my daughter Elise perform at the Tacoma Playhouse’s most excellent adaptation of Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat, more on the show later.

But first some thoughts on the surreal beauty of this part of the country. Both my daughters, Elise and Vanessa, live in Gig Harbor, Washington. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful and scenic small towns on the planet.

When I use the words “on the planet”, I mean it. There’s nothing in France, Spain, or Italy, that is ahead of Gig Harbor when it comes to a natural, in-harmony-with-Nature, beauty. There are certainly plenty of beautiful places and small towns in those ancient nations and others that I’ve been lucky enough to visit, but in my experience, Gig Harbor stands toe to toe with any scenic spot on our blue world.

Lenster, this is an Old Town Alexandria publication… why are you yapping about Washington State? Hang with me.

Back to Gig Harbor. In the winter there’s a brooding beauty that I suspect is rare to find elsewhere, maybe Japan, or Norway, or Sweden. That beauty is not only rare, but also needs the accompaniment of people who can adapt and add to it. It is no mistake that three of the most brooding cultures on Earth settled in this part of the world when immigrants began to arrive from all over the world.

The Gig Harbor waterfront, in downtown proper, is a classic fishing town turned into an impressive seaside town full of life and small-town charm. But I feel that it is the fact that there is such different feels – all related to weather – associated with this part of the world, its closeness to water, and its omni-present formal dress of pine forests everywhere, that adorns the area with a mystic prettiness that is hard to duplicate elsewhere.

We always stay at the same place: the Best Western Wesley – we’ve been coming here for years, and in spite of being part of a huge hotel chain, this particular Best Western is so charming and welcoming, its employees and workers so nice and hard-working, that it always makes us feel at home.  At the risk of sounding a little corny, it is a homey and family place! The morning breakfast is also old-fashioned and generous, the sort of breakfast that hotels “used” to do. Whether it is Alejandra or Lani manning the kitchen, there’s always plenty of eggs, sausages, links, waffles, cinnamon buns, cereals, yogurts, breads of every kind, hard boiled eggs, oatmeal, raisins, cranberries, etc.

The skies are gray and the street wet on our first morning on Saturday, and the breeze from the water cold and damp. My wife goes out running early in the morning and comes back with a report of lots of fellow runners braving the chill but enjoying the beauty of the town.

Later in the day we go visit the grandkids, all full of the joy and vigor that a three and two-year-old can bring to new visitors. Afterwards we head out to Tacoma, cross the spectacular bridge across the Narrows, take the first exit onto Jackson Street in Tacoma and arrive at the Playhouse.

The theatre is packed! It is the next to the last performance and attendance is excellent.  The show starts with Elise, as one of the two narrators, bringing two loads of kids onto the stage, and the play begins. She enthralls the audience from the start, and expertly guides them to the ancient world where the play starts.

It is an impressive display of not only theatrical skills but also athletic prowess, the actors do not disappoint. It is a fast-moving play, and the director has also introduced the angle of sneaking in nuanced homages to multiple Andrew Lloyd Webber plays – and the audience has been challenged to detect them! I pick up on “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

In addition to a powerful performance by Carlos Barajas in the lead role, I was also impressed by Richard Cubi as one of the brothers, and by Steve Barnett’s skits as an Elvis Pharaoh! The wives were all spectacular, but I was especially impressed by tiny Liza Morado – later on I discovered that she’s still in High School! I see a bright future for this actor!

Tacoma is lucky to have this place, and clearly this Playhouse is one of the jewels in the art scene not only of this city, but of the Great Pacific Northwest as a whole!

On Sunday Argentina wins the world cup and then we meet my daughter Vanessa at Table 47 for lunch – I am still somewhat full from the as-usual-spectacular breakfast earlier at the hotel. Nonetheless we enjoy tasty flatbreads, butter squash soup, a gigantic burger and the best, tastiest roasted Brussel sprouts that I have ever consumed!

Vanessa travels through her private world accompanied by a fancy Russian cat named Myska, and our conversation reveals how she ended up as my daughter’s commanding pet.  The Covidian Age has not been kind to this part of the country as far as jobs, but she raves about her new job tending bar – a gigantic bar build for tall bartenders at the same restaurant.  At one point, we converse so much, that someone reminds her that her shift started three minutes ago!  She goes to work at the bar, and we depart to go visit the grandchildren again for a little bit and then it is back to the Tacoma Playhouse for the party that the actors are giving themselves as the last performance has taken place earlier that day.  It is a joyous scene full of laughter and plenty of drinks!

A late night of TV-watching and ice cream eating at Elise’s house follows – is there anything better on the planet that chocolate ice cream with a generous dollop of peanut butter?

On Monday, we prepare to depart – it is the breakfast ritual, followed by a last visit to see the grandkids, and then Elise’s amazing husband drives us back to the airport, braving unexpected heavy traffic, which as I recall from my days at the University of Washington, is historically terrible.

We arrive, Alaska Airlines is wonderful, and lets retired veterans hop in first, as modern air travel now always introduces the specter of full airplanes resulting in a dearth of available storage space for your carry-on – Thank you!

Our plane gets de-iced by a machine which was clearly inspired by the drop cannon pod of the Millennium Falcon, and the kid seating behind us immediately makes the connection.

My wife is a world-class sleeper, I have never seen anyone be able to fall asleep so fast! At night, she has a ritual where she reads the Washington Post (yep, the old-fashioned print edition) for a bit, then turns the light off, and I am pretty certain that before the light photons dissipate, she’s already out! Essentially out like a lamp, but before even the lamp is out!

We’re airborne as I wrote this somewhat odd and unusual column, sitting in row 21 of a 737, which puts us right over the wings. The roar of the engines drowning everything else out, and I think about that fact that the sound produced by the mighty Boeing is now and always a perennial part of the universe, traveling in all directions forever, perhaps to be picked up by alien and faraway sensors, who will perhaps also wonder as to the origin of such mighty sounds.

Have a great 2023!

About the Author: F. Lennox Campello’s art news, information, gallery openings, commentary, criticism, happenings, opportunities, and everything associated with the global visual arts scene with a special focus on the Greater Washington, DC area has been a premier source for the art community for over 20 years. Since 2003, his blog has been the 11th highest ranked art blog on the planet with over SIX million visitors.

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