Rogue 2018: I review ‘S’will,’ ‘The Dish,’ ‘Flower Tome’ and ‘ASS’

Fun stuff: I don’t work at The Bee anymore and can use ‘ASS’ in a headline

Once you’ve seen a show at Fresno’s Rogue Festival (which continues through Saturday, March 10), it’s become something of a tradition for audience members to offer their own quick reviews. The Rogue website makes it easy for you to do just that. There are a couple of hard-working websites that have already posted a number of their own reviews, too: Kings River Life and Marc Gonzalez’s “The Road to 1,000.”

UPDATE: I’ve added my review of “The Dish.”

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Casey Ballard performs in “The Dish” in Marcel Nunis’ backyard. Photo / The Munro Review

‘The Dish’

The performer and concept: In this one-person show, Casey Ballard plays Coco, a free-spirited foodie (though the character loathes that term) who shares her remarkable story of traveling the world in search of the “perfect dish.” What follows is part travelogue, part culinary school history class and part bizarro gourmet episode of “Black Mirror.” All the while Ballard performs in writer/director Marcel Nunis’ backyard surrounded by a bounty of ingredients and kitchen implements. As she talks, she cooks, which is pretty cool.

The high points: The writing is clever, the food details tasty, and Ballard’s disarming, low-key performance is strong. I love how the conflict sneaks up on you. And the surprising ending is a wallop. The backyard setup is a big plus, too. (It isn’t every theater venue that includes a neighbor’s lemon tree.) As I watched on a windy, sunny Sunday, every now and then I’d get a blast of chilly air. It was the stuff of Fresno dreams on an August day.

The not so high points: “The Dish” could use some trimming in the first half (the food history can feel a little too much like a lecture), and while my delight in the backyard experience likely made me more patient than usual, it does take a while for the show to hit its stride in terms of the plot.

The takeaway: Nunis is a Fresno one-of-a-kind, and it’s a pleasure to experience his oblique take on the world in an offbeat setting and with a talented actor leading the way. Oh, and the fusion dish that Ballard cooks is available for tasting afterward. It isn’t often you get a culinary souvenir at the theater.

The details: 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday, March 10, 416 E. Brown Ave., Fresno. Tickets are $10 (pay what you want).


‘S’will’

The performers and concept: Six sterling local actors (Casey Ballard, Kristin Crase, Miguel Gastelum, Camille Gaston, Randall Kohlruss and Haley White), known together as The Fools Collaborative, offer a lovingly mangled condensation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The twist is that one cast member an hour before performance is randomly chosen to get really, really drunk.

The high points: Where can I start? From the introduction to our inebriated thespian (at last Saturday night’s performance, the designated drinker was Gastelum, who informed us he’d already consumed two shots and five mixed drinks) to the complete and total malignment of AXE Body Spray for Men (think of it like reverse product-placement), the  show’s elevated blood-alcohol level and astute, witty script made for a riotous time. Gastelum, wearing a bright-red cardigan and “Wish You Were Beer” T-shirt, made for a ruddy and magnanimous drunk. And he’s able to hold his liquor: Apart from a few roughed-up lines, one pregnant pause that stretched past the length of even a pachydermian gestation, and a tipsy encounter with the solitary set piece (yes, benches can sneak up on you), I was impressed with his ability to spit out Shakespeare in a coherent manner. Plus, each and every other (over)actor makes the most of his or her silly moment in the spotlight, with One Hair Swish to Rule Them All, performed with Olympic dexterity by White, my personal favorite.

The not so high points: I only regret that I couldn’t see this show six times and witness a different inebriated performer at each. (Kohlruss’ father said on Facebook that he’s a lightweight. That’d be something to see.)

The takeaway: Inspired, hilarious, literate and AXE-trordinary. A must see.

The details: 7:15 p.m. Friday, March 9, and 8:45 p.m. Saturday, March 10; at The Stargazer’s Lounge, 1292 N. Ferger Ave., Fresno. (Yes, it’s a backyard, so be prepared for that.) Tickets are $10.


‘Flower Tome Companion’

The performers and concept: The Five Guys Drinking Beer, who are a lot more than five and include several women as well, offer “Episode II: Wine Not Be Friends” in a localized spoof of Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” radio show.

The high points: With the sell-out crowd crammed into the small VISTA Theatre, it really did feel like were in a recording studio of some sort. I loved Debi Ruud’s rendition of the song “You Might Be Wrong,” and the extended radio skit (about a mysterious hum emanating from the Flower District) was filled with lots of amusing local-landmark media references. (I won’t be able to get the radio jingle “B.S. in the morning” out of my head anytime soon.) Most of all, there’s a genuineness and warmth from the large ensemble cast that comes through.

The not so high points: In this hypersensitive age, you have to be careful poking at racial stereotypes, even when it’s done with a high level of self-awareness as it is in this show. And you have to be especially aware of how you’re coming across if your cast does not include a large percentage of persons of color. Skip the accents.

The takeaway: Silly, homespun, nostalgic and sassy.

The details: 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 9, and 8 p.m. Saturday, March 10, VISTA Theater, 1296 N. Wishon Ave. Tickets are $10.


‘ASS’

The performers and concept: Joshua Taylor’s original play “ASS: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bong” stars local actors Maria Monreal, Hannah Weyant and Dakota Simpson. In the fast-paced production, Monreal and Weyant play roommates who get involved in an extended caper involving magic, masturbating orangutans, gay nightclubs, millennial philosophy, lots of profanity, and Tilda Swinton, not necessarily in that order.

The high points: Taylor’s script, which he directs, is an absurdist hoot, and it’s fun to see him play with language and theatrical conventions to create a blitz of humor and wry social commentary. The versatility of the actors is superb, and I got to see different sides of all three talented performers. The rapid-fire allusions (everything from acknowledging the next Rogue show coming in 40 minutes to 9/11 conspiracy theories) crackle with confidence. (Favorite line: “Cate Blanchett: Is she good or just tall?”) Taylor’s style is sort of like Beckett meets “Saturday Night Live.”

The not so high points: The first time we hear a scene-change ditty sung to “A Lion Sleeps Tonight” is funny. The third and fifth time is, too. The ninth time? Not so much. And there’s a sense of overkill with the impossibly twisted plot. A thread involving a killer clown roaming the sewers produced not only one of the show’s few thuds of a laugh line but also a sense of biting off too much. I understand the temptation to just keep throwing more stuff at the wall to see what sticks, but an audience can only take so much randomness before starting to check out.

The takeaway: Clever, extremely well acted, fully realized, deftly directed, filled with youthful vigor (and a lot of Tilda Swinton), and boasting oodles of originality and talent. Very fun stuff.

The details: 10 p.m. Friday, March 9, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 10, Cal Arts Severance, 1401 N. Wishon Ave. Tickets are $12.


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Author: Donald Munro

Covering the arts in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

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