My Top 20 cultural events of 2017

I offer my picks for the best of the year in theater, classical music, dance, opera and visual arts

For more than 15 years, I’ve written a year-end piece I refer to simply as my “Top 20.” The full title, I guess, would be “Donald’s Top 20 Cultural Events of the Year in the Central San Joaquin Valley.” Or, because there’s only one of me and far more offerings each year than I could ever attend (even if I went out almost every night), the most realistic way to describe this yearly endeavor would be “Donald’s Top 20 List Out Of All the Stuff He Manages To Get To.”

“Cultural” is a pretty broad term, and I have to narrow that down a bit, too: In this case think of it as shorthand for “theater-classical-music-opera-dance-poetry-visual-arts.” As in years past, I declare up front that I cover more theater events than anything else because they’re the most likely to be repeat performances, meaning that my reviews can be useful to readers trying to decide whether to go to a future show.

In the end, does love prevail? Laurie Pessano, as Mrs. Tottendale, and Charles Rabb, as Underling, in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Photo / Good Company Players

I’ve also fiddled a little this year with the structure of this list: Rather than a hodgepodge of 20 events, I’m grouping my shout-outs by three categories: theater (with 10 entries); and music/dance and visual arts (with five each).

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In ‘Hold This Stone,’ a generation keeps important memories alive

Nikiko Masumoto and Brynn Saito open an innovative theater piece about Japanese-American internment camps in World War II

Nikiko Masumoto and Brynn Saito are yonsei, or fourth generation Japanese Americans. They’ve often talked about the reality that theirs will likely to be the last generation to know family members who lived and survived through the American internment camps of World War II.

In “Hold This Stone,” an innovative theater piece scheduled for just two performances this weekend (it opens Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Fresno Soap Co.), the two friends and artists collaborate to explore the ramifications of memory — and more. I caught up with Masumoto to talk about the show (which is sponsored by CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP) and the Yonsei Memory Project, which she and Saito founded.

Brynn Saito poses at the monument to Japanese Americans at Simonian Farms.

Q: When you were growing up, how much did you know about the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II? How old were you before you got the complete story?

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Catching up with John Scalzi

The well-known science fiction writer — and former Fresno Bee movie critic — returns for a quick visit and update on his career

Earlier this month I was perusing a New York Times interview with Tom Hanks about his reading habits. I always eat these kinds of stories up. The reporter asked Hanks who his favorite novelists are.

His reply? Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, Amor Towles, John Scalzi.

There was a time early in the career of Scalzi, my friend and a former Fresno Bee colleague, when I would have been stunned to see his name bandied about by beloved actors in the national press. But I’m used to it by now. Scalzi, who preceded me as movie critic at The Bee, has had great success as a science-fiction author. He’s probably best known for his book “Old Man’s War,” which kicked off a popular series. He’s won a Hugo Award, served as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, is a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and writes the widely read blog Whatever.

Old friends: John Scalzi and I talk about old times and new books at Fresno’s Radisson Hotel.

He was passing through Fresno last week with his wife, Krissy, and I got the chance to hang out with him for a couple of hours. What a treat!

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In the ring with Joseph Rios

In his debut book of poetry, Fresno City College alum uses boxing as a literary device

Boxing is in Joseph Rios’ blood. So is poetry.

Which makes the location for the launch party celebrating “Shadowboxing: Poems and Impersonations,” his debut poetry book, rather appropriate.

Rios will give a reading 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at Heartbeat Boxing, 155 Van Ness Ave., Fresno.

Boxing and poetry: Joseph Rios will launch his new book Thursday. Photo / Rafael Cardenas

“It will be my first time reading from a boxing ring,” he says.

The Los Angeles resident grew up in the Fresno area and has strong ties to his hometown. The book uses an autobiographical-style central character named Josefo, a Chicano adolescent working and becoming a poet in the farm territories of Central California. In a daring stylistic move, Rios borrows the poetic language found in boxing lore and in the “Rocky” films.

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Quick pick: ‘Claiming Face’ at Fresno State

Here’s a chance to spend part of a day with a noted illustrator, author, progressive educator, activist and publisher. Maya Christina Gonzalez is the second winner of the artist-in-residence fellowship prize given by the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Fresno State. As part of her week-long residency at the university, Gonzalez is offering a workshop using self-portraiture titled “Voice is a Revolution: Personal Healing to Change the Larger Narrative.” It is free and open to the public.


The workshop is 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, in Room 140 of the Kremen Education Building. Lunch is provided. A description:

Participants are asked to bring a photo of themselves. This begins the journey. Using exercises from her “Claiming Face” curriculum, Gonzalez leads people through beautiful portraits to personal stories and finally toward larger healing narratives as the day’s workshop progresses. No creative experience or proclivity necessary, only the call to attend and claim your voice.

I like the the three rules of “Claiming Face”:

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (July 20)

Cambridge choir makes a stop at Fresno’s St. James Cathedral. Plus: It’s the kickoff of California Opera’s summer festival, “Angels in America” hits the big screen, and Inner Ear poetry does its thing at Bitwise.

There are two Thursday evening events this week I want to make sure you know about, so I’m offering this version of “Donald’s List” a little early. Here’s a rundown on promising cultural events for the weekend:

selwyn college
California tour: The Selwyn College Cambridge choir performs Thursday, July 20, in Fresno.

Cambridge choir

If you love choral music, you don’t want to miss the Thursday performance of the Selwyn College Cambridge choir visiting from England on a West Coast tour. The ensemble sings a concert titled “One Equal Light: A Celebration of European Choral Music” at St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Fresno.

Sarah MacDonald conducts the choir, which is made up 29 singers (16 female and 13 male), who are undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Cambridge. She is the first woman to hold the post of director of music in an Oxbridge Chapel. MacDonald is a longtime friend of Fresno State opera professor Anthony Radford — they were both in the Ontario Youth Choir when he was 20 — and when she knew she was coming on tour to California, she wanted to visit Fresno.

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Donald’s notes: Summer Arts, Week 1

Saturday update on the CSU Summer Arts program at Fresno State: tonight’s event is an evening with Vicki Lewis

This is a roundup of news, reviews and notes from the opening week of the CSU Summer Arts program, which is back at Fresno State after a five-year absence. I’ll be updating this post as the week progresses. If you have Summer Arts tidbits or thoughts on a performance you’d like to share, email me at For the public calendar of events, click here.

An evening with Vicki Lewis

vickilewissummerartsSaturday’s public event (7 p.m., John Wright Theatre) features actress Vicki Lewis, who is teaching in “The Voice Actor’s Ultimate Toolkit” Summer Arts class. Known for her roles on the TV series “NewsRadio,” “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” Lewis is also an accomplished Broadway veteran and voice actor.

At Saturday’s event, Lewis will be doing something similar to an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” format with a discussion of her career, video clips and an opportunity for questions.

(Updated 1 p.m. Saturday, July 1)

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Donald’s Book Club: Southern discomfort

In two books focused on the American South, a look at the Red/Blue State divide both in the present day and in a dystopian future

I love books. And because The Munro Review consists of things I’m passionate about, it seems only natural to share at least some of that love with my readers. Thus I thus offer my first “Donald’s Book Club,” an occasional feature. I’ll be writing about books that I’ve read recently — some that lots of people are talking about, others that maybe had their moment in the sun long ago. (John Updike, anyone?)

Book cover of 'Strangers in Their Own Land'

I call it Donald’s Book Club for a couple of reasons. One is that I hope that after reading what I have to say, people will share books they recommend. You can do so in the comments for this post. Some of the best book recommendations I’ve gotten are from readers.

The other is that I’d like to do a series on book clubs in the central San Joaquin Valley. My idea: I will join different book clubs on a temporary basis, read one book and gather with the club members for the discussion. Then I’ll profile the club and my experience. If you have a book club you want to nominate, send me an email (

Let’s get on with the books.

I’m focusing on two today: “American War,” by Omar El Akkad; and “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Both are predominantly about the American South, and I happened to read one right after the other, which added to the thematic impact.

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Strangers in Their Own Land

By Arlie Russell Hochschild. New York: The New Press, 2016

The author is an acclaimed UC Berkeley sociologist who set forth on an earnest mission to bridge the gap between the Blue and the Red in this country. To do so she took an intensive, deep-immersion fact-finding tour of various parts of Louisiana. She didn’t disguise herself as anything but a liberal West Coast type (lots of good-natured hippie jokes), but she also didn’t try to push her own views. Instead she listened and participated — at potlucks, church services, political rallies — in an effort to get out of her liberal bubble and climb over what she calls the “empathy wall” to really get into the mindset of her fellow U.S. citizens.

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