We can confidently call this weekend’s election a theater wave: I tell you about six new productions
If you are a lover of live theater and live in the greater Fresno area, I say this to you with fervor and a dose of tough love:
You have to go to at least one show this weekend or next. Preferably two. There are actually six shows that I’m going to tell you about opening this weekend alone, plus a holdover from the week before. Sure, you might gripe that it’s too many productions, considering the potential pool of audience members, and that theaters should better coordinate opening dates so they don’t cannibalize each other’s audiences. But figuring out when to open a play is tricky. Academic schedules, holidays and other variables can mean some dates are much more popular than others.
So I say, suck it up and count your riches. Instead of saying that you support live, local theater but then stay at home to stream the latest season of “The Crown,” get yourself up off the couch and fill a theater seat.
There. I’ve said my piece.
I’ve already written about two of the opening productions. You can read my interview with Miguel Gastelum, director of The Fools Collaborative’s “Every Brilliant Thing,” an interactive show about how a child’s list of wonderful things in the world transforms a family’s life. The show opened Nov. 11 and continues through Nov. 19 at the Vista Theatre in the Tower District. (For another take on the show, here’s Ashley Flowers’ article in the Fresno State Collegian.)
You can also read my interview with Darren Tharp, director of the CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s production of “All Is Calm,” a musical set in the days of the 1914 Christmas Truce in World War I. The production’s opening performance is 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, and continues through Nov. 19 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Building auditorium.
Other openings are Robert Askins’ edgy “The Squirrels” at College of Sequoias in Visalia, Fresno City College’s “Love/Sick,” Fresno Pacific University’s classic “Harvey,” and the sure-fire audience pleaser “Beauty and the Beast,” a revival at Good Company Players just in time for the holiday season. A roundup:
This 2018 cutting-edge allegory by Askins is in its opening weekend at COS. It’s described by the San Diego Union-Tribune as “a witty black comedy about a mixed-race squirrel family decimated by prejudice and greed. Writ large, it’s an apocalyptic tale of America’s cultural divide.”
Co-director Christopher Mangels calls “The Squirrels” a “wild show with an absolutely epic plot, real heart, and one of the most fun (and challenging) conceits I have ever tackled as a director.” I checked in with co-director Christopher Mangels to ask a few questions about this biting satire:
Q: Are your actors in full squirrel costumes, or is there just a suggestion of squirrel-ness?
A: Though the actors are not in head-to-toe squirrel suits, our resident costume designer, James McDonnell, has embraced some very ‘squirrely’ elements so each actor sports a large bushy tail and squirrel ears and maintains some very specific physicality throughout the performance.
Q: I understand the show is for mature audiences. Have you ever blocked a squirrel sex scene before?
A: Ironically, though I have long been a fan of ‘blue’ comedy, my co-director, Tamla Quipse, (a 2018 graduate of our program who is pursuing work as a professional intimacy coordinator) has been in charge of all the staging of those scenes while I – as resident fight choreographer at COS – have supervised the squirrel movement and combat. Basically, Tamla directs the sex, I direct the violence, and (hopefully) The Squirrels is brought to life with all the boundary-pushing elements that made me fall in love with the script in the first place.
Q: Joking aside, it sounds like the play tackles some relevant and fiery issues. What sort of themes can audiences expect?
The most obvious narrative focus is on wealth inequality, but – under its zany facade – The Squirrels really thoughtful play explores classism, racism, and fear-mongering. What most drew me to it, however, would be its deconstruction of tribalism, which I believe to be the root cause of almost every issue that plagues our world.
Q: Is it possible to take a play like this and apply it at the local level? (The rich gray squirrels are wealthy Tulare County farmers, say.) Or is it more effective to think of it as an allegory in more general terms?
A: I absolutely think we could have done that, or even mimicked some infamous national figures, but it all felt a little too ‘on the nose,’ to our production team. Instead, we sort of reached into the not-too-distant past to draw upon some music and fashion styles in hopes of keeping the world recognizable to our audience without slipping into parody. Our production is one-part Wes Anderson, one part Norman Lear, and one-part “Game of Thrones.” You’ll have to come see the show if you are curious as to how that all gels.
Nearly 10 years ago, Fresno City College presented John Cariani’s charming “Almost Maine,” a collection of nine absurdist vignettes about romantic love. Now it returns with the playwright’s “Love/Sick,” which continues Cariani’s vignette structure but with a slightly darker theme.
“It’s darker because some of the scenes end with heartbreak,” says director Leslie Martin. “It is more romantic and less sentimental. The last scene, a culmination of all the others, is called ‘Destiny.’ tony sanders (who does not capitalize his name) and Suzanne Grażyna are featured in this one. It is about two exes who meet at a superstore in the produce section and revisit their past desires and pains.”
The production is in its opening weekend (performances are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13) at Fresno City College and continues through Nov. 20.
Fresno Pacific University’s theater department used to have to improvise in terms of performance space. But no longer, now that the university’s beautiful new Warkentine Culture and Arts Center Lin Family Performance Studio is open. The inaugural production for the space is the class “Harvey,” about a man with an imaginary friend in the form of an invisible 6-foot-tall rabbit. Elizabeth Fiester directs.
The production is in its opening weekend (performances are 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13) and continues through Nov. 19.
‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’
This now classic family musical was first produced by Good Company Players in 2005 and was so popular it was immediately followed with a revival in 2006. Now, 16 years later, it returns, with Laurie Pessano directing.
Meg Clark is Belle, and Peter Hartley, one of GCP’s talented younger veterans, gets a starring role as the Beast. The rest of the principal cast includes Michael Fidalgo (Lumiere), Adrian Ammsso (Cogsworth), Tracy Jones (Mrs. Potts), Jeremy Marks (Gaston) and Zachary Kelley (LeFou).
The production is in its opening weekend (performances are Saturday evening and Sunday matinee) at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater and continues through Jan. 8.
ALSO PLAYING: ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”
Good Company’s holiday show at the 2nd Space Theatre opened Nov. 4 and continues through Dec. 23.
The Herdman family is back! This holiday favorite, based on the 1971 book by Barbara Robinson, is about six naughty children who volunteer to star in their town’s Sunday school Christmas pageant, and end up teaching the town the true meaning of Christmas.