Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Sept. 29)

Choices include ‘The Tempest’ at Fresno Soap Co., chamber music at Keyboard Concerts and ‘Scoundrels’ in Visalia

Here’s a roundup of promising cultural/arts picks for the weekend:

‘The Tempest’

Think you’ve already seen “The Tempest”? Probably not with an all-women cast. An enthusiastic band of actresses take on the challenge of Shakespeare’s island-adventure comedy in a production that opens Friday, Sept. 29, at the Fresno Soap Co.

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An all-women “Tempest”: Bridget Paul (Ferdinand), Casey Ballard (Prospero), and Paige Tucker (Miranda). Photo / provided

The performers bring to life all the characters in the play: men, women and all those famous other-worldly characters. (Plus, there’s one inanimate object making a debut: Stephano’s companion, Trinculo, is a hand-puppet.)

The cast includes Bridget Paul (Ferdinand), Casey Ballard (Prospero), Paige Tucker (Miranda), Patricia Fretwell (Alonso), Sara Smith (Antonio), Kayla Weber (Caliban), Tania Haigounian (Stephano with Trinculo) and Kathie Mollica (Gonzalo).

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Heidi Blickenstaff nabs starring role in ‘Freaky Friday’ Disney movie

Today’s big news for those of us who follow All Things Blickenstaff is exciting: The Fresno favorite is going to be starring in a TV movie version of “Freaky Friday” in the role she originated in the new stage musical.


From the studio:

Actresses Heidi Blickenstaff (“The Little Mermaid” and “Something Rotten!” on Broadway and the stage production of “Freaky Friday”) and Cozi Zuehlsdorff (“Dolphin Tale,” “Liv and Maddie”) will star in an update of the American classic “Freaky Friday, a Disney Channel musical comedy set to begin production this fall for a 2018 debut as part of the Disney Channel Original Movie franchise. The movie is based on Disney Theatrical Productions stage adaptation of the celebrated novel by Mary Rodgers and Disney’s popular feature films of the same name.

Three reasons why this is wonderful:

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A salute to Sam Shepard

Fresno State’s theater department tackles the playwright’s last work, ‘A Particle of Dread’

Fresno State’s theater department selected Sam Shepard’s most recent play, “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations),” to open its fall season many months ago, long before the playwright died on July 27. What was intended as a chance to celebrate one of America’s great living playwrights has become a valedictory of sorts.

“We were saddened to hear that he had passed, and I knew immediately that I wanted to honor him because it was his last play,” says director and theater professor J. Daniel Herring.

Final Sam Shepard play: Steven Weatherbee plays Oedipus/Otto in “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations).” Photo / Fresno State

The play might be the last he wrote, but it’s still vintage Shepard: sharply drawn and eccentric characters, disturbing subject matter, twists that shock and surprise. The playwright added a compelling narrative twist: He reimagines the classical Greek story of Oedipus (who famously was prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother) as a modern murder thriller.

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On the road with Sierra Art Trails

The annual open studio tour gives you the chance to meet nearly 100 artists and enjoy the scenic Sierra foothills

One of the joys of this time of year is the Sierra Art Trails Open Studio Tour. The annual event is a great excuse to drive up into the beautiful foothills of eastern Madera and Mariposa counties and be invited into the home studios and display spaces of nearly 100 artists in a variety of genres. If you luck out, you get some nice, crisp, fall-like weather. And I’ve always enjoyed the friendly atmosphere you find at the different venues, with artists taking the time to explain how and why they work the way they do.

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Mixed media: Susan Mitchell-Van Slyke’s “Bend on the Road.”

This year Sierra Art Trails, which opens Friday, Sept. 29, and continues through Sunday, Oct. 1, celebrates a major milestone: its 15th anniversary. To mark the occasion, I’m introducing a newcomer artist, Susan Mitchell-Van Slyke, who recently moved to Mariposa from the Bay Area — but whose Sierra roots run deep.

First off, a few details about logistics:

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Quick pick: ‘Claiming Face’ at Fresno State

Here’s a chance to spend part of a day with a noted illustrator, author, progressive educator, activist and publisher. Maya Christina Gonzalez is the second winner of the artist-in-residence fellowship prize given by the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Fresno State. As part of her week-long residency at the university, Gonzalez is offering a workshop using self-portraiture titled “Voice is a Revolution: Personal Healing to Change the Larger Narrative.” It is free and open to the public.


The workshop is 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, in Room 140 of the Kremen Education Building. Lunch is provided. A description:

Participants are asked to bring a photo of themselves. This begins the journey. Using exercises from her “Claiming Face” curriculum, Gonzalez leads people through beautiful portraits to personal stories and finally toward larger healing narratives as the day’s workshop progresses. No creative experience or proclivity necessary, only the call to attend and claim your voice.

I like the the three rules of “Claiming Face”:

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One confusing ‘Mother!’

On how I learned to love the year’s most divisive film, now making audiences swoon and sputter

Every now and then a film comes along that divides critics (and the public) so rigorously that I want to become part of the larger discussion. “Mother!” fits the bill for me.

This weird, violent, preening, metaphorically pugnacious and downright disturbing movie from director Darren Aronofsky is both loathed (The National Review’s Kyle Smith called it “the vilest movie ever released by a major Hollywood studio”) and admired (the New York Times’ A.O Scott, stressing the film’s creative energy and “highly symbolic, pictorially overloaded” style, said it made him laugh “harder and more frequently than just about any other movie I’ve seen this year.”)

Put-upon wife: Jennifer Lawrence stars in “Mother!”

The granddaddy of bad reviews came from the New York Observer’s Rex Reed, who called it “the worst movie of the year, maybe the century.” Then, in a snub of the usual convention in which critics ignore the existence of others of their breed, Reed spent the rest of the piece bashing Scott’s Times review. He made particular fun of Scott’s use of the term “hermeneutic structure,” — a reference to a scriptural or Biblical interpretation — in an effort to out him, I suppose, as a pretentious intellectual.

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A must-see ‘Drowsy Chaperone’

Good Company Players revives one of its best (and funniest) productions of the decade at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, and it’s just as good the second time around


As we stumble along on life’s crazy journey, let us give thanks for Jessica Sarkisian and Good Company Players. They make us laugh. A lot.

And laughing, along with loving, is what makes life worth living.

Why single out Sarkisian? Because she has the good fortune to play the title character in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the supremely silly and accomplished musical theater experience now on stage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. It isn’t just luck on Sarkisian’s part, of course: She brings to the role a wonderful voice, a crackling good sense of comic timing, a sardonic expression that could curdle almond milk, and an expert ability to approximate a slow-burn of low-level inebriation throughout a two-and-a-half hour show. (Either that, or she’s constantly sipping real vodka backstage.)

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She wants to show off: Emily Pessano, seated left, and Jessica Sarkisian, seated right, and the cast of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Photo / Good Company Players

When Sarkisian gets to the big finish in “As We Stumble Along,” her first-act show-stopper of an anthem, my favorite moment was an expertly rendered circular-path wobble in time to the music, rather like a drunken dosey doe. It’s as if her brassy vocals were saying “I’m sober enough not to slur my words,” but her feet were declaring, “I’m permanently buzzed.” I consider it a fairly magnificent accomplishment.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Sept. 21)

Options include new exhibitions at the Fresno Art Museum and Armenian Museum, two chamber music concerts and a closing reception at Corridor 2122

(Note: I’m posting this a day earlier than usual because of a Thursday night option.)

The Fresno Art Museum has a venerable tradition: Each year a museum group called the Council of 100 selects an outstanding woman artist over the age of 60 to celebrate. The artist traditionally lives 100 miles or more away from Fresno. This year’s honor goes to a prominent Bay Area fiber artist who just had her 80th birthday. (What a way to celebrate!) The exhibition “Joan Schulze: Celebrating 80” opens with a reception on Friday, Sept. 22.

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Delicate quilting: Joan Schulze’s “Not So Long Ago.” Photo / Fresno Art Museum

There’s another exhibition opening as well: selections from the famed AIDS Memorial Quilt cared for by the NAMES Project Foundation. The show is a partnership by the museum and the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

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