Give a hand for Hedda

Brooke Aiello leads a consummate cast in a memorable production of Ibsen’s classic “Hedda Gabler”

THEATER REVIEW

“Let me go,” Hedda Gabler says softly, almost imperceptibly.

You might in this moment think of a cranky child trying to escape the clutches of a doting elderly relative. The truth isn’t far: In this early scene in Ibsen’s famed play, Hedda’s new aunt by marriage has dropped in unannounced on the new couple the morning after Hedda and her husband return from a six-month honeymoon. So much for a bit of time and space for Hedda to get used to her new marital digs: Here’s selfless Aunt Julia, the titaness of social respectability, wrapped up in a great swath of a formal dress and wearing a brand-new hat, barging in to make sure everyone in the household knows of her smotheringly good intentions. In a moment of forced intimacy, Aunt Julia has grabbed Hedda’s hands without permission. In Hedda’s world, that’s a no-no. And it captures, early on, a sense of the entrapment that she feels as she begins this new marriage.

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Bearing arms: Brooke Aiello is outstanding as the title character in “Hedda Gabler.” Photo / The New Ensemble

Is it any wonder that the title character in “Hedda Gabler” has a snippy side?

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‘Park’ it right here in Sonora

After years of listening to the cast album, I make the trek to Sierra Repertory Theatre for “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”

THEATER ROAD TRIP

SONORA — Sometimes I wait for years to see a show. Example: I bought the cast album of a sweet and tuneful off-Broadway offering called “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” probably close to a decade ago. I loved it. And whenever I listened, I’d idly think that at some point I’d finally get to experience an actual production.

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This side of the tracks: The cast of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Photo / Rich Miller, Sierra Repertory Theatre

Which is why I’m at Sierra Repertory Theatre at a Saturday matinee in the cozy East Sonora Theatre, all pumped up to — finally! — see “Trailer Park” the way it was meant to be.

Live.

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A charged ‘R&J’ puts a spin on Verona

Curtain 5 production of Joe Calarco’s adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” is ending soon at Fresno Soap Co.

THEATER REVIEW

Blink and you might miss the stellar “R&J,” a CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP production at the Fresno Soap Co., which finishes up its brief one-weekend run with a 7:30 performance tonight (Saturday, Aug. 12) and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Aug. 13. This intriguing adaptation by Joe Calarco of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” imagines four boys in a strict Catholic high school who perform their own modified version of the tragedy after hours. Having a male play the role of Juliet adds a gay angle to the storyline — and it’s one that’s amplified and celebrated — but it’s also an interesting nod to the tradition of having young boys play female roles in Shakespearean times.

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Director J. Daniel Herring creates two snugly believable worlds on stage using nothing more than a few wooden benches, a bright-red tablecloth and a smattering of hasty props used by the boys, including a bottle of what looks like prescription cough syrup for Romeo’s death scene. There’s the school itself, squared off by those benches, in which order and discipline prevail. And there’s the Verona of the play, a Wild West of two warring families, in which love seems bigger and danger seems brasher than anything a bored schoolboy could ever imagine. One of the most fascinating things for me is when the two worlds of the play bump into and bleed into each other. In the heady moments of love at first sight between Romeo (Steven Lee Weatherbee) and Juliet (Aaron Lowe), the reaction of the other two actors on stage (Sam Linkowski and Anthony teNyenhuis) is hard to pin down: Is the taboo they’re reacting to the scandal of a Montague falling for a Capulet, and vice versa? Or is it the realization that same-sex attraction is part of their schoolboy circle? At what point are these characters participants in a Shakespearean drama and when are they standing outside it, projecting their own contemporary attitudes onto the moment? It’s the ambiguity of it all that keeps things taut and engaging.

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Hot, hot Norwegian repression

A freewheeling discussion between star Brooke Aiello and director Heather Parish of “Hedda Gabler”? We’ll drink to that

THEATER PREVIEW

It’s Hedda Gabler’s birthday morning, and she’s kicking off the celebration with a mimosa. The thing is, I’m so clueless about alcohol in the a.m. that I get to the end of a 90-minute breakfast interview at Irene’s Cafe before I realize that the grand dame of 19th century theatrical realism sitting across from me isn’t drinking straight orange juice. Champagne before 9 a.m.? I’m shocked. Aghast. This is no mere woman … this is a monster!

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Past fling: Ted Nunes is Eilert and Brooke Aiello is Hedda in “Hedda Gabler.” Photo / The New Ensemble

Actually, Brooke Aiello — one of Fresno’s most passionate acting talents — is nursing not one but four beverages as we talk about The New Ensemble’s new production of “Hedda Gabler.” There’s coffee from Irene’s, black tea from Starbucks, a glass of ice water and her tall, frothy birthday drink. There’s a method to all this, even though I don’t quite understand it: something about sweet followed by sweeter. Or is it sweet followed by bitter? It doesn’t matter; she has a process in mind. This is someone who has definite views on many things, including the liquids in her life.

“I’m going to be very well hydrated today,” she happily tells me.

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These star-crossed lovers go to the same school

An intriguing adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” at Fresno Soap Co. puts a new spin on a classic

THEATER PREVIEW

In Joe Calarco’s “R&J,” four students at an ultrastrict Catholic boy’s high school ditch their dreaded Latin conjugations, take out their hidden copy of “Romeo and Juliet” and act out the story among themselves. In this rigid environment, Shakespeare’s play is forbidden, just like the love between the title characters in a dangerous Verona dominated by two feuding clans. The result is an interesting twist on gender and sexuality that circles back to the tradition of boys playing female roles in Shakespearean times.

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Acting out Shakespeare: Aaron Lowe, left, Sam Linkowski, Anthony TeNyenhuis and Steven Lee Weatherbee in “R&J.” Photo / CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP

J. Daniel Herring, chair of Fresno State’s theater department, directs Joe Calarco’s unusual and provocative 1999 adaptation in a CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP production opening Friday, Aug. 11, at Fresno Soap Co. The one-weekend run is just four performances, and limited tickets are available. (Opening night is already sold out.)

I caught up with Herring via email to talk about the production.

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Revenge on the menu

An intense and cerebral “Titus Andronicus” at Woodward Shakespeare Festival skips most of the gore, to mixed results

THEATER REVIEW

How important is it for a stage production of “Titus Andronicus” to be gory?

Descriptions of recent high-profile productions in England of Shakespeare’s arguably most violent play — at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe Theatre — make it sound as if explicit brutality is the expected theatrical order of the day. These productions offered severed hands served up on silver dishes and prisoners hung upside-down with throats slit, the dripping blood collected in bowls. If you stage “Titus” without at least a few of your patrons fainting, it seems, you aren’t doing your job.

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The end is near: Joshua Taber, left, Jay Parks, Jessica Reedy and Daniel Serrano in “Titus Andronicus.”  Photo / Victor DesRoches

Director Greg Taber takes a different approach in the more restrained and introspective Woodward Shakespeare Festival production.

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(Updated) Instagram photo contest: Win tickets to ‘Lion King’

Enter by posting an animal from your own “savannah” on Instagram

UPDATE: Congratulations to randomly selected winner Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young! She receives a four-pack of tickets to the closing weekend of Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Disney’s Lion King, Jr.”

As promised, here’s a menagerie of contest entries, starting with Dorina’s. (They are all so sweet. I wish I could have given tickets to each and every entrant.)

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