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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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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