In a must-see show, Brad Myers gives his weightiest performance yet

Fresno City College production of “The Whale” is haunting and compelling


You hear Brad Myers in “The Whale” before you see him. The wheezing from the darkened stage is alarming and disorienting, like in the middle of the night when you wake from a deep sleep to hear one of your kids throwing up. As the lights slowly rise, we begin to focus on the source of this unhealthy sound. That’s when we first see Charlie, a troubled man. He thinks he could weigh 600 pounds, though it’s been years since he’s been able to get on a scale to know for sure. In a culture in which obesity seems ever more common, Charlie’s physical condition is still enough to alarm.

whaleposter2In Fresno City College’s fine production of Samuel D. Hunter’s play, which ran off Broadway in 2012, Myers — a Fresno State theater professor appearing in this production as a guest actor — gives a performance as Charlie that is revelatory. It’s a terrific, mesmerizing and deeply affecting piece of work.

You might be tempted to attribute my over-the-top praise to something similar to the Oscar “disability effect,” in which actors playing characters with physical or mental disabilities — often gut-wrenching roles involving extensive makeup or prosthetics — have an edge in terms of critical acclaim. Yes, perhaps that is a factor. But at its core, Myers’ performance seems so much more than a couple of hours in a fat suit. (And what a well designed fat suit it is, thanks to Debra Erven). With limited mobility other than from the neck up, he relies almost exclusively on his voice and eyes to make the character work.

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At Fresno City College, a ‘Whale’ of a tale

Samuel D. Hunter’s play tackles such themes as broken families, obesity, homosexuality and religion

Charlie is 600 pounds. And he wants to die.

Samuel D. Hunter’s play “The Whale” is a nuanced and provocative social commentary that sneaks up on you. This is much more than just the odd story of a morbidly obese man. I caught up with director Charles Erven to talk about this startling contemporary piece of theater, which opens Friday, March 2, at Fresno City College.

Brad Myers plays Charlie in “The Whale.” Photo / Fresno City College

Q: You knew you’d have the chance in this production to feature Fresno State theater professor Brad Myers as a guest artist. Did that affect the selection process of “The Whale”?

A: We try to select plays that are relevant and, hopefully, resonate with an audience. With the exception of having a guest actor, the selection of “The Whale” was really no different. We simply wanted to find the best vehicle for Brad and our students. I sent him a few possible scripts to consider and it was quickly narrowed to The Whale. It’s turned out to be the best choice we could have made.

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5 picks for March ArtHop

Options include Maxine Olson at 1821 Gallery & Studios, Linda Zupcic at Fig Tree Gallery, and April Grigsby at Clay Hand Studios

An exhibition of works by Kingsburg artist Maxine Olson is always worth your attention. Nine of her paintings are featured at 1821 Gallery & Studios in a show titled “It’s All About Sex.” It’s one of my picks for Thursday’s March ArtHop, the monthly open house of galleries and studios in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods. (Most venues are open 5-8 p.m.; check the Fresno Arts Council’s site for details.)

Olson’s work in this show is mostly from the 1980s. Gallery owner Bruce Kalkowski says the paintings have a lush and magical feel, and they suggest Portuguese influences mixed with the Old Masters.

maxine olson

“The Visitation” features “satyrs from Rubens, and they have a real mythological look,” Olson says. “They also look a little naughty with twinkles in their eyes and a girl lying prone on the bed in the background, giving the piece a Bacchanalian tinge. The painting deals with issues of fear, innocence, cunning and dominance.”

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Feb. 9)

Picks include Fresno State and Fresno City College choirs, a scrappy version of “King Lear” and a chance to see the Oscar-nominated short films at Fresno Filmworks

Some promising options for a busy weekend:

‘Walk in Peace’

This sounds like a beautiful event: The choirs of Fresno State and Fresno City College collaborate on the concert “Walk in Peace,” which celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King and Black History Month. Fresno State’s Cari Earnhart and Fresno City’s Julie Dana conduct. Guest artists include Mike Dana, Richard Giddens and members of the Fresno State Jazz Ensemble.

walk in peace

If you’re a fan of choral music, this is a chance to hear two strong collegiate music programs for the price of one!

Details: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, Fresno State Concert Hall. Tickets are $5.

‘King Lear’

Just three performances of the Shakespeare classic remain in Theatre Ventoux’s run. This taut adaptation, directed by Broderic Beard and starring Greg Taber in the title role, runs just 105 minutes including intermission.

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5 picks for February ArtHop

Options include Dixie Salazar at Fig Tree Gallery, Suzanne Bertz-Rosa at Bitwise, and the new show “Kindred” at Arte Americas

Dixie Salazar turns her attention to a prominent issue in her new show at Fig Tree Gallery: global warming. It’s one of my picks for interesting sounding exhibitions in ArtHop, the monthly open house of galleries and exhibitions in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods.

I checked in with Salazar to get a preview of “Summer 2017: Fire and Water.”


Q: How many works are there in the show? Tell us about your approach.

A: There are four quite large painted collages. They are abstract but with much perceived water imagery and fire also. I also collaged burned paper onto the pieces. I was working on this piece in the summer of 2017 and was affected at some level by all the devastation caused by natural upheavals. I work intuitively, so much of this became apparent to me after I finished the work.

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Star power

‘Silent Sky,’ in its final weekend at Fresno City College, offers a fascinating glimpse of a woman who made astronomical history


There’s a certain whimsy to the fact that “Silent Sky,” the delicate and meaningful new Fresno City College production about a prominent and mostly unknown woman astronomer, takes place inside at night.

Yes, there are a few matinees in the Studio Theatre, but the majority of performances are staged when the stars are just out of sight above us. When you’re sitting in the audience, it’s tempting to gaze skyward and think of those myriad bright points of light just beyond the ceiling. Many of us spend most of our time under roofs, both night and day, so it’s a chance for the theater to make us look at the world in a slightly different way.

Jessica Knotts, left, as Henrietta, and Quincy Maxwell, as Peter, in “Silent Sky.” Photo / Fresno City College

Playwright Lauren Gunderson conceives of “Silent Sky” as a thoughtful and poetic homage to Henrietta Swan Leavitt, a trailblazing astronomer who died in 1921. She was mostly forgotten to history, or at least to popular culture, which isn’t all that uncommon for scientists. (I just finished reading a fascinating book about Alexander Von Humboldt, who essentially invented the idea of ecology — and predicted global warming — and who during much of the 19th Century was the most famous man in the world after Napoleon. He’s barely remembered today.)

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Nov. 10)

Options include Keyboard Concerts, the Fresno Film Festival and Fall Dances at Fresno City College. Plus: events at Bitwise and Sequoia Symphony

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

Keyboard Concerts

This highly regarded series has brought some of the world’s most famous, seasoned pianists to Fresno. But the series is also a way to experience some of the most accomplished young talent as well.

Daniel Hsu, pianist

That’s the case with Daniel Hsu, who will perform as part of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State. Hsu is winner of the bronze medal at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which made him an instant star. The 19-year-old Bay Area native on Friday will present a virtuoso program consisting of works by Schubert, Chopin, J.S. Bach/Busoni, Rachmaninoff, and Marc-André Hamelin’s Toccata on “L’homme armé.

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Theater roundup: Andrew Jackson gets ‘Bloody,’ while Fresno City explores a ‘Silent Sky’

Weekend openings also include “And Then There Were None” at Fresno State; and “Twelfth Night” at Fresno Pacific

Before there was “Hamilton,” there was “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” (Or, as it could have been alternatively titled, “Old Hickory: The Musical.”) President Jackson might not have been one of the Founding Fathers, but the creators of “Bloody” knew back in 2008, long before “Hamilton” conquered the world, that mashing together American history and rock music could mean a big creative payoff. That’s why I’m leading off my roundup of a very busy theater weekend with a much-awaited new production at Visalia’s College of the Sequoias.

Illness as Metaphor
Let there be blood: Cheyenne Breshears as Rachel Jackson and Michael Seitz as Andrew Jackson. Photo / College of the Sequoias

College of the Sequoias

First Fresno City College and director Charles Erven broke new ground this season with a premiere production of the Broadway musical “Green Day’s American Idiot.” Now it’s time for Chris Mangels and the top-notch theater department at COS to offer another local hard-edged musical premiere.

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