The List: From ‘Book of Days’ to Harriet Tubman, some promising picks for the weekend

Welcome to The List, a curated offering of promising events for the weekend. Why stay home with basic cable when there’s a whole world of local stuff to enjoy and support?

1. Spend a few hours with ‘Book of Days’

J. Daniel Herring knows his small towns. He grew up in a bitty one in Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and he’s well aware of the intricacies of daily life in a place where everyone knows everyone else’s business.

That’s one of the things that drew him to direct Lanford Wilson’s “Book of Days,” now in its opening weekend at Fresno State. Here’s a rundown:

The playwright: Wilson’s play “Fifth of July” won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He’s known for such works as “Burn This,” “The Hot l Baltimore” and “Talley’s Folly.” He wrote “Book of Days,” one of his last plays, in 2000. He died in 2011.

The plot: The small town of Dublin, Missouri, is dominated by three institutions: a cheese plant; a fundamentalist church; and a community theatre. When a murder rocks the town, a woman begins a quest to find truth and honesty amid small-town jealousies, religion, greed, and lies.

The characters: Another reason that Herring was drawn to the title is that it has an ensemble feel with 12 roles that are similar in size. “What’s so interesting about how Wilson writes is that he always puts together a variety of quirky personalities, but then he makes them deal with serious topics,” he says. “The students get to play really interesting, diverse characters. Every single character is on a journey of self-discovery. While they’re trying to find themselves, they also start pointing fingers at other people.”


The cast: The lineup of Fresno State students includes Arium Andrews, Diego Barba, Alyssa Benitez, Kai DiMino, Jimmy Haynie, Sebastian Huerta-Alvarado, Cassidy LeClair, Erik Olson, Evangelia Pappas, Madeline Rydberg, Joshua Taber and Andrew Trevino.

The relevance: Though the play is almost 20 years old, it still feels particularly relevant today in terms of how religion and politics can clash, Herring says. “It’s about how religion and society place rules on us that we don’t always agree with.”

If you go: Continues through March 30, Woods Theatre, Fresno State. Tickets are $17 adults, $10 students. 

2. Salute Harriet Tubman

The Fresno Master Chorale’s Coro Piccolo ensemble on Sunday performs a piece by Bakersfield composer Ron Kean that sounds fascinating: “The Journey of Harriet Tubman.” The five-movement work tells the story of the escaped slave and abolitionist responsible for bringing so many others to freedom. It’s a multimedia experience.

Ron Kean, composer

“A video tells the essence of the story of Tubman and we sing music that supports the storyline,” says conductor Anna Hamre. Teresa Gipson, a Master Chorale member and well known local theater performer, is featured soloist in this first Fresno performance of the work. A bonus: The composer will join the musicians to play the mbira, also know as a thumb harp.

This will be Hamre’s first time conducting a mbira. “Actually, I have one and occasionally fiddle with it, but I will leave the playing to the composer’s real technique,” she says. “He spent years studying the music of West Africa, and is something of an expert in African drumming.”

Hamre says she learned a lot about Tubman during rehearsal of the piece, including the terrible beating Tubman received when she was a slave.

“The head injury gave her visions,” Hamre says. “There is a real mystical element about the voices that guided her to save so many—without losing anyone.”

There’s more on the program. This is the first collaborative concert between Coro Piccolo and the Fresno Pacific University Women’s Chorale, conducted by Bethany Alvey.

Also featured will be Quintus, a five-man ensemble from Coro Piccolo. It will feature the spiritual “Steal Away Home,” arranged by Stacey Gibbs.

Hamre is known for putting together concerts with powerful themes and social messages, including one focusing on Alzheimer’s. And Kean’s piece is getting a lot of buzz.

If you go: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 24, Hope Lutheran Church, 364 E. Barstow Avenue, Fresno. Tickets are $15.

Fresno Pacific University

3. Lose your heart with ‘Emma’

Fresno Pacific University presents a mainstage production of “Emma,” the classic Jane Austen novel. The adaptation is by Michael Bloom. Brooke Aiello directs.

The cast includes Madison Alley, Allison Calhoun, Luke Fredette, Alyssa Gaynor, Alexa Hardy Heinrich, Robbie Hill, Trey Jones, Parker Lewis, Annelise Lyman, Michael Mason, Joseph Medina and Gracie Robinson.

Writing in her local theater blog “What’s My Call Time,” Heather Parish features an interview with the director. One of Aiello’s insights:

As a director, I want the audience to be entertained by the story of a community where everyone has the ability to achieve perfect happiness, if only they can find their right “fit” in the community. I have used the idea of an English garden, a climbing rose without a trellis is a sad thing indeed, a shade plant in the glaring sun will never flourish. Emma is the story of a gardener figuring out how to listen to her garden.

Sounds like a wonderful directorial concept.

If you go: Continues through March 31, North Hall 123, Fresno Pacific University. $14 general, $10 students and seniors. 

4. Serenade your Sunday

The chamber group Moment Musical performs its latest “Sunday Serenade.” The program features Anton Bruckner’s Intermezzo in D Minor for two violins, two violas and cello; Beethoven’s String Quartet in D Minor; and Madeleine Dring’s Trio for flute, oboe and piano.

Madeleine Dring was an English composer and actress (1923-1977). She studied violin, piano and composition at the Royal College of Music. Her teachers included Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gordon Jacob and Herbert Howells. She was also an actress. She studied mime, drama and singing. Her compositions were small-scale, usually piano and chamber music. The compositions were clever, lyrical and witty.

If you go: 3 p.m. Sunday, March 24, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 50 E. Santa Ana Ave, Fresno. Tickets are $10 single, $20 family of 3 or more, $5 students. 

5. And don’t forget …

“Wicked” is raking in the green at the Saroyan Theatre. Here’s my review. (And if you’re not up to speed on how the leading Munchkin in the play dissed Fresno on Instagram and then had to apologize, I get into that, too.)

It’s a big weekend for theater openings: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is killing off D’ysquiths at the Selma Arts Center; and a new production of “Hairspray” is dancing away at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre. The beat goes on.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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