Weekend theater roundup: Final performances for ‘The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong.’ Plus: Happy openings to ‘Rumors’ and ‘Cinderella.’

It’s a very busy theater weekend, with two big shows — “Rumors” at Good Company Players and “Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” at Selma Arts Center — in the middle of their opening runs of performances. It’s also the closing weekend for Fresno City College’s “The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong.” I’ll catch up with the director of that show in a moment, but first, a reminder of our openings:

“Rumors” — It’s only fitting that this Neil Simon play has a proud place in Good Company Players’ 50th anniversary season, considering 1) the number of laughs the playwright has generated in Fresno over the years; and 2) the love and expertise of director Dan Pessano, who met the playwright, wrote his master’s thesis on him, and in general knows more about landing a Simon punchline than anyone on the planet. “Rumors” is that rare non-musical show to grace the Roger Rocka’s stage. Boasting a veteran cast, this farce depicts a dinner party for four New York power couples that goes topsy-turvy and was famously written as a way for the playwright to cheer himself up. Here’s a link to a Facebook promo video. The show runs through May 7.

“Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” — One of the most exciting things about this Selma Arts Center show is the promise of a live 15-person orchestra. The company has featured live pit bands occasionally, but this is the first full live orchestra in its history. Nicolette C. Andersen and Frank Velasco co-direct this production, with Velasco also serving as orchestra conductor/music director. The show runs through April 1.

Now, a few notes from “The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong,” which runs through Sunday, March 19, at the Fresno City College Theatre. This madcap farce is a recent smash hit in London and New York, and I’m sure you’ll be seeing it pop up like wildflowers after this rainy season at colleges and community theaters.

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The storyline adheres to the beloved “play within a play” structure: Members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society valiantly attempt to stage the a “thrilling whodunit, ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor,’ after a donor gives a sizable bequest to stage the play. And, of course, everything goes wrong with the production.

Director James Knudsen notes that the play involves numerous comedic moments involving the set, designed by Christina McCollam-Martinez. Making it all work is technical director Johnny Cano.


I posed a few “Wrong” questions to Knudsen:

Q: What is the thing that has gone the most wrong (ever!) in a play you’ve been in or directed?

A: Great question. Until recently, it was performing through a termite hatch while playing the role of Tony in “Dial ‘M’ For Murder.” However, I think a bat flying into the dressing room a year ago tops that. No, I won’t disclose the theater.

Q: If Fresno City College received a huge bequest to do an obsolete 1920s murder mystery play, would you take the money and volunteer to direct? Or would you stand tall for artistic independence, reject the money and opt for something by Lanford Wilson?

A: That’s easier to answer than one might imagine. We would produce “It Is The Law” by Elmer Rice, on a shoestring budget. With the balance of the huge bequest we would produce something that will pack the house, like the stage adaptation of “Fast and Furious.”

Q: I note that one character is described as the “play within the play’s” director, set designer, costume designer, prop maker, box office manager, press and PR person, dramaturgy, voice coach, dialect coach, and fight choreographer. How many of those job titles have you ever had at the same time?

A: I try to limit myself to one job per production, usually actor. I think most directors, especially those with more experience than me, will tell you the key to success is getting people who do their job extremely well, and let them do it. On the few occasions I have worn two hats, they were actor, and providing firearms for the stage.

Q: Would drinking paint thinner kill a person instantly, or would they have a chance if someone called Poison Control within 35 seconds?

A: I don’t know who told you we are drinking paint thinner onstage, but they are mistaken. Drinking does occur; what the actors are drinking is known only to Mistress of the Prop Realm, Elizabeth Hodges.

My follow-up response: In my defense, I snagged that reference from this description of “The Play That Goes Wrong”: “Cast members are seen misplacing props, forgetting lines, missing cues, breaking character, having to drink white spirit instead of whisky (paint thinner in the U.S. production)” and other such hijinks. However, I now realize that City College is doing the one-act version (hence the title), which has slightly fewer hijinks than the two-act version, explaining why Knudsen thinks I am obsessed with ingesting petroleum-derived painting solvents. My bad.

Q: If someone hurts themselves (or someone else) from laughing too hard at this show — if they break a rib or rupture a spleen, say — is Fresno City College liable?

A: That would be a question for the legal department.

Here’s a promotional video:

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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