An appealing ‘Proof,’ but it doesn’t quite add up at the 2nd Space Theatre

THEATER REVIEW

I envy people who are about to see David Auburn’s “Proof” for the first time. This smart and engrossing 2001 play, which captivated Broadway audiences (and won the Pulitzer Prize and best-play Tony Award) with its tale of high-level mathematics and debilitating mental illness, is masterfully constructed. On subsequent viewings of “Proof,” it probably isn’t possible to replicate the tension and surprise of the first go around. But while I’ve seen it several times, I find myself still admiring the way Auburn manages to mash together a nerdy, numbers-oriented mystery plot together with a moving portrayal of father-daughter interdependence and liability.

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Catherine (Bailey Johnson) and Robert (Gordon Moore) in a scene from ‘Proof’ at the 2nd Space Theatre. Photo / Good Company Players

I have some mixed thoughts and reactions after viewing the new Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre:

The relationships: Integral to “Proof” are the connections between Catherine (Bailey Johnson), the 20-something protagonist, and the three other characters in the play. Robert (Gordon Moore), her father, was a famous and troubled mathematician. (You find out very early in the play how he ended up.) Catherine, who is justly proud of her talented dad, has also worried for most of her adult life about his mental stability. It’s more than just a feeling of filial responsibility: She’s concerned that she, too, might have inherited the same tendencies. Catherine’s relationship with her much more together sister, Claire (Marikah Christine Leal), is more fraught. Claire has left Chicago, where their father taught and did his research, to make a notable life for herself in New York. Catherine feels diminished by comparison. And, finally, there’s Hal, a graduate student of Robert’s, who brings his own baggage to the proceedings: He wants to honor his mentor’s genius, but his own stalled career brings out conflicted feelings.

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Opening weekend: ‘Guys and Dolls’ in Sanger, ‘Proof’ at 2nd Space

A reminder about two local theater openings:

♦ Sanger’s Blossom Trail Players presents “Guys and Dolls,” its fourth-ever mainstage production. This is the classic tale of Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler who bets that he can make the pious Sarah Brown his girlfriend. The score includes such favorites as “A Bushel and Peck,” “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

The Sanger company offers a couple of special additions to the program nightly: The BTP Jazz Combo (comprised of members of this year’s orchestra) perform Broadway and jazz standards as audiences arrive and take their seats. At 7:15 p.m., the brand new BTP Junior Company (founded through a generous grant from The Wonderful Company) will take the stage in “its debut performance presenting an original show that’s an ode to New York itself, comprised of original music and a medley of some all-time favorite songs about the city that never sleeps.”

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A charming ‘Heiress’ navigates love and money at 2nd Space

Good Company Players production is an adaptation of Henry James’ ‘Washington Square’

THEATER REVIEW

Is the matrimonial-minded Morris Townsend, with his smooth talk and good looks, every father’s nightmare? Or is he a principled and upstanding young man who only cares about marrying for love — and not a big, fat, juicy inheritance? Just what do we know of his background, his education, his propriety?

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Suzanne Grażyna, left, as Catherine, and Amelia Ryan, as Aunt Lavinia, in “The Heiress.” Photo / Good Company Players

In 2018, these questions could probably be answered in about 0.37 seconds. But in the 1850s, the era in which Henry James set his celebrated novel “Washington Square,” Ye Olde Ghoogle wasn’t available. The uncertainty of Morris’ intentions — is this guy a gold digger or not? — helps give “The Heiress,” a resilient 1947 theatrical adaptation based on the James novel, a crisp dramatic punch.

But the bigger appeal in the well-done Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre, co-directed with aplomb by Karan Johnson and Elizabeth Fiester, is the chance to watch two fascinating women characters portrayed in strong performances.

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Suzanne Grażyna finds female empowerment, 19th Century-style, in ‘The Heiress’

Good Company Players presents this classic adaptation of Henry James’ ‘Washington Square’ at the 2nd Space Theatre

THEATER PREVIEW

When Catherine Sloper falls for a guy, she falls hard. And that complicates her life in “The Heiress,” a new production at the 2nd Space Theatre of the 1947 Broadway play. Catherine is rich. Her new beau, Morris, isn’t. And Daddy doesn’t approve.

Though the premise might seem soapy, the inspiration isn’t. “The Heiress,” which opens Thursday, April 26, is based on the classic Henry James novel “Washington Square.” This lavish period piece might be full of 19th Century angst, but its sense of female empowerment is more than relevant today. I talked with Suzanne Grażyna, who plays Catherine, about what it’s like to play such a challenging character.

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The cast of “The Heiress” at the 2nd Space Theatre, including Suzanne Grażyna, center. Photo / Good Company Players

Q: Congratulations to you for being the heiress in “The Heiress.” It’s certainly a step up, socially speaking, from playing an insane street vendor with no teeth in last year’s “Fools.” Is it fun to play someone who is rich and, as they said back in the 19th Century, of “marriageable age”?

A: I loved playing The Yench! Those blacked out teeth were my idea, I don’t remember what gave me the idea! It IS fun to play someone so wealthy. Catherine’s costumes are the most luxurious I’ve ever worn, and as a clotheshorse in actual life, I feel like a princess. A vegan cupcake, even. Cathie’s got style.

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In ‘Star-Spangled Girl,’ these guys flunk the #MeToo test

Good Company Players offers vintage Neil Simon at the 2nd Space Theatre

THEATER REVIEW

Some of Neil Simon’s plays still sparkle — and they will for generations to come.

“The Star-Spangled Girl” is not one of those plays.

At its best, this Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre offers a few amiable moments and amusing one-liners. At worst, it’s lackluster in terms of laughs, dated in terms of its humor and — to be blunt — eye-rollingly sexist, at least by today’s standards.

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Norman (Joseph Ham), left, and Andy (Anthony teNyenhuis), duke it out in “The Star-Spangled Girl.” Photo / Good Company Players

Here’s the setup: Andy (Anthony teNyenhuis) publishes a protest magazine in San Francisco. He runs the business side of things while his roommate, Norman (Joseph Ham, who alternates the role with Aaron Gomes), is the writing talent. When Sophie (Paige Tucker), a Midwest “girl” (this is, alas, a world in which all women are “girls”), moves next door, Norman instantly falls for her.

That’s when things get weird.

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Good Company serves up a Neil Simon fix with ‘Star-Spangled Girl’

Director J. Daniel Herring talks about the 2nd Space Theatre production, which runs through April 22

Sometimes you just need a little Neil Simon in your life.

Good Company Players takes us back to the 1960s with Simon’s “Star-Spangled Girl,” a period comedy that mixes laughs and politics — but in a way that’s far removed from the partisan rancor of 2018. Don’t worry: Your after-theater cocktails won’t end in fisticuffs.

Fresno State theater professor J. Daniel Herring is directing this vintage Simon experience. He took a break out of his busy schedule to chat about the show.

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Paige Tucker plays Sophie Rauschmeyer in “The Star-Spangled Girl” at the 2nd Space Theatre. Photo / Good Company Players

Q: Set the scene for us. What sort of “America,” in terms of time and place, does the show take place in?

A: “The Star-Spangled Girl” takes place in the late 1960s in San Francisco at a time when the search for truth, defining patriotism and the roles of men and women in a changing world are in the daily headlines. And, just as with many 1960s television shows, like Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In,” these topics are examined in a humorous and somewhat lighthearted manner with a biting truth underscoring many of the scenes.

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In quick and witty ‘Sense,’ Jane Austen meets the 21st Century

Good Company Players production of “Sense and Sensibility” at the 2nd Space Theatre is a breezy adaptation

THEATER REVIEW

I’ve had the pleasure of watching Mary Piona and Patricia Hoffman portray many characters in 2nd Space Theatre productions over the years, but on this night they’re playing a type of role I’ve never seen them do before:

Nightstands.

You read that correctly. In one of dozens of charming bits of theatricality you’ll encounter in the new Good Company Players production of “Sense and Sensibility,” Piona and Hoffman literally play furniture. They’re human manifestations of a late 18th Century bedroom set.

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Tight-knit Dashwood family: Julia Reimer, left, as Mrs. Dashwood; Na’vauge Jackson, as Marianne, Gigi Dickerson, as Margaret; and Jessica Knotts, as Elinor.

In a comic tableau that upends the audience’s point of view, it’s as if we’re looking down from the ceiling upon the marital bed of the noxious John and Fanny Dashwood, who are staying up late figuring out new ways to treat John’s half-sisters badly. (One of the key plot points of Jane Austen’s classic tale of love and money is that after the death of their father, John inherits the whole estate while Elinor and Marianne, his wonderful sisters, get booted out of the family home.) If you’ve seen “Hairspray” on stage, you’ll recognize the visual perspective: It’s just like when a propped-up Tracy Turnblad in the opening scene is depicted lying in bed as she belts out “Good Morning Baltimore.”

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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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