Making sense of a new ‘Sensibility’

With its new “Sense and Sensibility,” Good Company Players gives a fresh coat of paint to the Jane Austen classic

Jane Austen’s classic “Sense and Sensibility” gets a rousing and quick-moving new adaptation at Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre. How quick? Just as in the recent New York production, the furniture in the Fresno version is on rollers — which makes it all the easier to whisk the set pieces around.

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Na’ Vauge Jackson, left, is Marianne, and Jessica Rose Knotts is Elinor in “Sense and Sensibility.” Photo / Good Company Players

Director Kathleen McKinley is known for her long career working with students at Fresno State, but she’s getting out into the community with this production, now in its opening weekend. I caught up with her to talk about the show.

Q: Tell us about this new adaptation.

A: Written by New York City actress Kate Hamill, this adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” premiered in 2014 to rave reviews. The play compresses the action of the book to focus on the adventures and plight of a widow and her three daughters who are left penniless due to British inheritance laws of the 1790’s. They are evicted from their manor home by a greedy daughter-in-law and must rely upon the generosity of enthusiastic, but nosey, boisterous relatives who are intent upon finding husbands for the daughters. As the Dashwood women resettle in a tiny cottage, the two older daughters, Elinor and Marianne, are thrust into the company of bachelors, both eligible and not, along with intrusive socialites both in the country and London.

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In appreciation of Good Company’s ‘A Christmas Carol’

Director Dan Pessano finds holiday magic in a happily streamlined version of the Dickens classic

THEATER REVIEW

Dan Pessano directs a brisk and bountiful production of “A Christmas Carol” at the 2nd Space Theatre. Ever since the show opened the first week in November, a large and holiday-spirit-filled cast has been entertaining audiences with the classic tale.

It can be hard for me to get into the Christmas mood that early in the calendar, which is probably one reason why I put off seeing the production near the beginning of the run; Thanksgiving travel plans out-of-state and lots of other theater commitments also impacted my reviewing schedule.

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Noel Adams is Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Photo / Good Company Players

But I finally got over to see the Good Company Players production last weekend. It’s a joy. Pessano uses a bare-bones adaptation of the Dickens novel by playwright Romulus Linney to streamline and focus the show. (The running time is less than 90 minutes, including intermission.) But this just isn’t a case of slicing away text to make a shorter show. Linney condenses things, yes, but Pessano also finds his own way to make the experience feel fresh and newly insightful. (It actually reminds me of what Brad Myers at Fresno State managed to do with his crisp new production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”) The result is a production that feels sleek yet cheerily old-fashioned, a nice combination.

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What makes Scrooge tick?

Noel Adams, who plays the leading role in the Good Company Players production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ muses on playing the famed butt of cranky jokes

Noel Adams, who stars in the new Good Company Players production of “A Christmas Carol,” is a first-time Scrooge. But he brings a lifetime of theater experience to the role. I checked in with the longtime GCP actor about his highly appropriate first name, his favorite Christmas Ghost and his take on playing the most famed cranky guy in literature. The play runs at the 2nd Space Theatre through Dec. 23.

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Noel Adams, left, plays Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Photo / Good Company Players

Q: What is your earliest memory of “A Christmas Carol” as a child? Was it the book, movie or a play?

A: My earliest memory of “A Christmas Carol” goes back to maybe 4th grade and a Classics Illustrated version of the story. CI was a graphic novel (comic book) series of condensed, illustrated versions of classic literature. I was struck mostly by the love and goodness of the people around Scrooge, the Cratchits, Fred, Fezziwig, in the face of his wretchedness.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Nov. 3)

You can win a pair of tickets to New York-based Ballet Hispánico, which performs Saturday at the Saroyan. Plus: It’s time for ‘A Christmas Carol’

Here’s a roundup of promising arts/culture picks for the weekend:

Ballet Hispánico

Simply put, this is one of the prime dance events of the year, and it’s thanks to the Lively Arts Foundation. The New York-based Ballet Hispánico is making a special “run-out” to the West Coast just for Fresno.

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Direct from New York: Ballet Hispánico performs Saturday in Fresno.

Plus: I’m giving away a pair of tickets to Saturday’s Saroyan Theatre performance to a lucky reader of The Munro Review. (Details on the giveaway are below.)

Diane Mosier, artistic director for Lively Arts, who prides herself on keeping up on the contemporary dance scene, has followed Ballet Hispánico for about six years.

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Ain’t nothing but a hound fog

Top-notch scenic and costume design help elevate Good Company Players’ snappy “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a Sherlock Holmes mystery

THEATER REVIEW

I’m going to flout theater-criticism etiquette and tell you upfront “whodunit” in the new Good Company Players production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”:

David Pierce and Ginger Kay Lewis Reed.

Before you get huffy with me, no worries: You won’t actually find these two folks on stage, of course. (What, did you think I was going to give away the killer in this Sherlock Holmes mystery?) These theatrical wizards are the scenic and costume designers, respectively, for the show, and their names are so familiar to GCP patrons that their names are likely to fly right by when you’re perusing the program or reading a review. Perhaps behind-the-scenes artists can be too proficient at their jobs: If you keep churning out excellence, show after show, it just becomes expected.

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Deadly game: Gordon Moore, left, as Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” In the background: Alex Vaux as Sir Henry and Henry Montelongo as Watson. Photo / Good Company Players

So what did Pierce and Lewis Reed “do” to deserve being singled out in the brisk and enjoyable “Hound”?

I’m not exactly sure why this GCP show is different from the dozens upon dozens of times I’ve seen their work before, but something about it makes me want to call out and take notice. Pierce’s handsome set perfectly captures the feel of a melancholy English manor house, from its jumble of tapestries, stone facings and wallpaper on the walls to the glass-doored exit leading to the mysterious (and deadly) moor beyond.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Aug. 25)

Three theater openings this weekend at Good Company Players, Selma Arts Center and River City Theatre Company

Here’s a rundown on promising arts/culture picks for the weekend:

Suddenly Sherlock

You’d get a little antsy, too, if you inherited a grand English estate that includes a scary beast with glowing eyes determined to chew you to a pulp. That’s the premise of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a Sherlock Holmes thriller in its opening weekend at Good Company Players. After talking with director J.J. Cobb, I offer with five things to know about the show:

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Elementary casting: Gordon Moore as Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Photo / Good Company Players

1. For Gordon Moore fans, it’s a must-see. Moore plays Sherlock Holmes. He’s a longtime GCP veteran actor, and if you’ve seen him in enough shows, the role seems like perfect casting. Holmes, with sidekick Dr. Watson (Henry Montelongo) arrives at the estate of Sir Henry (Alex Vaux) in Devonshire, England to help solve mysterious deaths all linked to a gigantic, demonic hound. Adding to the intrigue: a set of servants with questionable loyalties and several peculiar neighbors.

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2nd Space plays it smart with inane ‘Fools’

Good Company Players cast gives a rousing effort in this weak Neil Simon comedy

THEATER REVIEW

In Neil Simon’s “Fools,”a centuries-old curse turns everyone stupid in the small Ukrainian village of Kulyenchikov. Not just mildly ignorant, such as someone who sits all day watching reruns of “Arrested Development” on Netflix and can’t name the three branches of the U.S. government. We’re talking more in the realm of seriously mentally impaired, as in not knowing how to open a front door when someone knocks, or thinking the water that falls periodically from the sky (i.e., rain) is thrown upon them in buckets by the dastardly nobleman who lives up the hill.

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Student and teacher: Bailey Johnson, left, as Sophia, and Alex Vaux as Leon, in the 2nd Space Theatre production of ‘Fools.’ Photo / Good Company Players

For the first few scenes, maybe even half an hour, Simon blankets us with enough crisp one-liners to keep things amusing. But then the extended joke starts to feel as if it’s been left out on the counter too long, and a faint odor of decay starts to waft through the theater. The comic framework of the play starts feeling more and more rickety.

The saving grace of the new Good Company Players production of “Fools” at the 2nd Space Theatre is brisk direction (this summer smoothie glides by quickly) and a cast that wrings every last bit of humor out of a flawed script.

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‘Fools’ rush in

Chase Stubblefield and Alex Vaux, familiar names to 2nd Space audiences, will duke it out for a change in Neil Simon’s ‘Fools’

THEATER PREVIEW

Chase Stubblefield and Alex Vaux didn’t just fall off the Russian-novel turnip truck. They know a good theater home when they see it. The pair is often found together in shows at the 2nd Space Theatre, an example of the fiercely loyal troupe of actors often found in Good Company Players productions there.

Their latest joint adventure is Neil Simon’s “Fools,” directed by Karan Johnson, a silly 1981 offering set in 19th century Russia from the famed comic playwright. Last year they played characters who were friendly with each other in three productions at 2nd Space. Now, with “Fools,” they kick off an antagonistic streak that will continue this season with “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

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Dynamic duo: Chase Stubblefield, left, and Alex Vaux in ‘Fools’ at the 2nd Space Theatre. Photo / Good Company Players

I caught up with them via email to talk about the show and life offstage (what little there is of it).

Q: Let’s start off with a burning question, and please be honest with me: Are you two sure that you aren’t being held hostage by the folks at the 2nd Space Theatre? It seems like nearly every time I go to a show there, one or both of you are in it. They don’t chain you between shows and make you live in one of the dressing rooms, do they?

Alex: Haha, it certainly feels like I never leave there! I did escape briefly to Roger Rocka’s this season.

Chase: Living in the theater wouldn’t be so bad, I would save a lot on gas! It’s almost a full-time job especially when rehearsing and performing two shows at once. I like keeping myself busy though.

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