Jessica Rose Knotts finds her inner Norwegian — and much more — in the Good Company Players production of ‘I Remember Mama’

For Jessica Rose Knotts, there’s a certain familiarity – and wistfulness – in her role as Katrin, one of the daughters in the new Good Company Players production of John Van Druten’s play “I Remember Mama.” (It runs through June 19 at the 2nd Space Theatre.) She’s the narrator of the show, and, hence, the character reminiscing for the audience.

Pictured above: Jessica Rose Knotts plays Katrin in ‘I Remember Mama.’ Photo: Edgar Olivera/Good Company Players

I used to be an eyes-forward-to-the-future type, but now I find myself increasingly looking back,” she says. “Whether this is due to getting older, familial losses in recent years, or just the general ennui that settled after 2020, who knows. I still look toward a brighter future, but I cannot seem to help looking wistfully in the rearview mirror.”

Knotts, an 18-year veteran of GCP, is enamored of “I Remember Mama,” now in its opening weekend (and conspicuously close to Mother’s Day). I caught up with her in a phone call and email to get the inside Norwegian scoop.

Q: Your character is the daughter of immigrants, in this case from Norway. Though the play is set in the second decade of the 20th century, do you think it resonates 100 years later?

A: Oh, absolutely. ‘I Remember Mama’ is very much an ode to the strength of family and tribe. The costumes and set may be early 1900’s, but the struggles and triumphs of the Hanson family are the same many still face today. “Papa” is on strike at work, fighting for better conditions and wages, “Mama” is the wrangler not only for her own four children, but her three sisters and an ailing Uncle as well. The “children” want an education and to find their voices. This is truly a story of finding one’s own place in this world, about knowing when to forge ahead alone, and when to ask for help.


Q: I’ve heard that members of the Grand Order of Fresnans Who’d Rather Be Norwegians will be flocking to the show. What sort of Norway “payoffs” in terms of customs, sayings, food references, etc., does the script include?

A: Wow! Really?! How fun! “I Remember Mama” packs plenty of Norway. All of the older family members retain their accents, the Aunts discuss marriage traditions from the “Old Country,” Uncle Chris knows a Norwegian lullaby or two, and Lutefisk and Kjodboller get their own scene. Hahaha.

Q: The play was written in 1944, and it inspired a movie and a musical. Why do you think it was so popular?

A: The trials and achievements of an immigrant family in search of their American Dream has been, and is still, so prevalent. Whether today or more than a hundred years ago, the dream is the same. To live peacefully, to raise one’s family, to find/make a safe place in this crazy world.

Q: I know that your director, Karan Johnson, was in the show at 2nd Space before. What kind of insight do you think she brought to the show?

A: Karan is amazing! She’s been a part of Good Company Players from the very beginning. She spent decades acting and teaching and has brought that wealth of knowledge to her directing. She has a keen sense of stage movement and knows when to be a leader and when to give her actors their head. I love, love, love working with Karan.

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Q: Your “mama” is played by Kate McKnight. I am of the general opinion that the world would be a better place if everyone’s mother was Kate McKnight, although that might create a logistical problem in terms of her mailbox on Mother’s Day. Do you agree? (With the Kate-as-mother part, not the postal issue.) 

A: May my own mother forgive me, but YES! I have been in love with Kate for almost 20 years, We used to joke about setting me up with her son, Logan, so that she can be my mother-in-law. I don’t want to give up my own wonderful mother, but the world needs more Kate McKnight!

Q: Your own ethnic heritage leans Italian on one side, but you never knew your great-grandparents, who immigrated from Sicily. Do you ever wish you’d grown up in a big, boisterous hustle-bustle household with old folks chattering away in Italian and throwing cooked noodles on the walls?

A: I think that would have been fun! But we had no end to big and boisterous in our house. I am the middle of, all together, seven children. There were always aunts, and uncle, grandparents, and adopted family/friends hanging around, siblings fighting for and against one another, just a lot of love and community. Do I wish my parents would have let me throw pasta at the walls? Heck yes! But we had a lot of fun regardless.

Q: Let’s talk about Jessica Rose Knotts the actor. If you were stuck with one other person on a BART car in the Transbay Tube for 72 hours, and that person had to be a character you played in one of your Good Company shows, who would it be? And why?

A: That’s a hard one. Good Company Players has gifted me with beautifully strong and intelligent characters to play. But if forced to spend 72 hours in such close proximity with just one, I would probably have to go with Katrin Hanson. This character resonates so much with me. We have similar goals, fears, and childhood trials. And she loves books! Katrin and I could happily spend 72 hours or 72 years discussing books and stories.

Q: You manage the Shep’s Club Coffee Shop downtown. Tell us about it. Two pressing questions: Do you drink more coffee because you own a coffee shop or less because you’re surrounded by it all the time? And what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done and blamed on too much caffeine?

A: The Stone family owns the business. They had Shepherd’s Inn, a Basque restaurant and bar, in the same location for quite a few years. During the pandemic lockdown they had to close their doors and were approached by Discovery Channel to be part of their second season of “Undercover Billionaire.” It was a whirlwind, and a lot of changes were made, one of them being the sweet little coffee shop I now manage. I have always and shall always LOVE coffee. There is no such thing as too much coffee! The craziest thing I’ve ever done and can blame on caffeine is this show. Hahaha! We are in rehearsal until 10pm most nights, and I open Shep’s Club at 5:30 a.m . . . I would be unmanageable without the steady caffeine flow.

Q: You want to get a master’s degree in library science. Do you think there’s crossover between loving libraries and loving theater?

A: 100%. It’s all stories. Theater is just another way for me to immerse myself in stories. To feel that I am truly living them, if even for a moment. Stories and storytellers (sometimes called actors) are so important. They teach us empathy, and curiosity, they take us on adventures we may otherwise never be able to take. They show us the universe from infinitely different perspectives and allow us to immerse ourselves in the entire world. To me, a library and a theater provide the same outlet and magic.

Q:  Fill in the blank: Jessica __________ the party.

A: Brought 😉

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

A: Come down to the theater! Sink into a different world, let your cares float away and feel what it is to be a part of someone else’s journey for a while. And call your mother!

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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