Star power

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

THEATER REVIEW

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.

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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.

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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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5 picks for November ArtHop

Options include the Fresno City College Art Space Gallery, the Fresno Arts Council, Chris Janzen at Fresno City Hall, Enrique Meza at Jeffrey Scott, and ‘Nudes in November’

Elena Harvey Collins is in her first semester as curator of Fresno City College’s Art Space Gallery, and she’s excited about the new exhibition she put together for November. Los Angeles-based Rebecca Campbell is the featured artist. Her intriguing sounding lineup of paintings and installation pieces leads off picks for ArtHop (5-8 p.m. at most venues Thursday, Nov. 2).

Here’s a rundown:

The show’s title: “a little breath that always goes the distance longing requires.” It’s from the poem “Oklahoma” by Fresno-born poet Larry Levis.

art space gallery

The themes: Campbell explores the complexity of identity, the nature of memory, and the representation of women in the art world.

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A weekend for supporting the arts

Charity events include “Toasting the Arts” at Fresno City College, the “Shinzen Stroll” at Woodward Park, and a benefit for the Lund Foundation scholarship fund

If you’re looking for a good cause to support, you won’t have any problems finding one this weekend. I’m highlighting three charity events: the annual “Toasting the Arts” dinner and celebration at Fresno City College; the “Shinzen Stroll” fundraising brunch at Woodward Park; and the Edward O. Lund Foundation’s art auction and Scotch tasting at the Mad Duck restaurant.

Here’s a rundown:

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Beautiful setting: Last year’s “Toasting the Arts” event at Fresno City College.

‘Toasting the Arts’

When: 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, Fresno City College Old Administration Building courtyard.

This venerable fundraiser is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a dinner, live music and entertainment, and both live and silent auctions. Friends of the Arts (FOTA), founded in 1985, sponsors the event. Money raised provides scholarships for students in Theater Arts, Music, Dance, Fine Arts and Communication. FOTA also assists with the costs associated with Fresno City College theater, dance and music productions, literary journals and fine arts gallery events.

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All across the alien nation

With a stellar production design and pumped-up ensemble, ‘Green Day’s American Idiot’ is a stomping good time

THEATER REVIEW

Fresno City College’s incendiary production of “Green Day’s American Idiot” opens with the cast singing a raucous version of the title song. The number unfolds with thrashing choreography on a grunge-punk-industrial set pulsing with video projections and drenched in moody lighting. Near the end, one of the show’s pivotal characters, Johnny (Josh Taber), takes a flying leap and lands on a bare mattress in the middle of the stage.

It’s a sliver of a moment in a show filled with visual and aural excess, but it caught my eye.

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Visual and aural spectacle: The cast of “Green Day’s American Idiot.” Photo / Fresno City College

Why? Because it’s so playful.

Sure, there is grit and angst aplenty in this punk-rock tale of generational disaffection. How could there not be? Its characters fight for a chance to make a difference in a country that is embroiled in two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), mired in economic inequality, and pandered and sold to by a relentless corporate media. Not to mention the murky torrent of alcohol and drug abuse that washes through the show like a raging river.

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Now exploding at a City College near you

‘Green Day’s American Idiot’ makes its local premiere in a hard-charging Fresno production

THEATER PREVIEW

A decade or so ago, if you’d had the chance to peek into the childhood room of 11-year-old Marcus Cardenas, you would have seen something very important to him on the wall:

A poster for the Green Day album “American Idiot.”

Not that the young Marcus really understood all the lyrics in Green Day’s passionate and political songs. He was still pretty young. But he listened ravenously to such oft-played tunes as “Holiday” and “September.”

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Three friends: Marcus Cardenas, left, Josh Taber and Dylan Hardcastle star in the new production of “Green Day’s American Idiot.” Photo / Fresno City College

Besides, kids can still pick up on the emotionality of so-called “adult” lyrics, even ones such as Cardenas, whose parents tried to shield him from the images of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were streaming into living rooms across the country via the nightly news. When Green Day, in “Holiday,” sings, “Sieg Heil to the president gasman, Bombs away is your punishment,” it’s pretty clear that it’s no love song for George W. Bush, who was in office at the time.

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StageWorks is bringing ‘Fun Home’ to Fresno

The company announces its 2018 season, which includes “The Fantasticks.” Plus: recaps from CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP, Shine! Theatre, the Selma Arts Center, College of the Sequoias, Children’s Musical Theaterworks, Good Company Players, Fresno City College, Fresno State and Reedley’s River City Theatre Company.

UPDATE 6 (Sept. 27): The CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP cancelled its production of “Frida” at the Fresno Art Museum.

UPDATE 5 (Sept. 12): I’ve added the Fresno State theater season, which originally had its own post in May, into this roundup.

UPDATE 4 (Sept. 11): I’ve added the remainder of the 2017 season for CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP.

UPDATE 3 (Sept. 4): I’ve added the 2017-18 season for Shine! Theatre.

UPDATE 2 (Aug. 28): I’ve added the 2018 season for the Selma Arts Center.

UPDATE 1 (Aug. 13): I’ve added the seasons for Children’s Musical Theaterworks and Visalia’s College of the Sequoias.

ORIGINAL POST: Stop the digital presses: StageWorks Fresno has snagged the rights to perform “Fun Home: The Musical.” The show was nominated for an impressive 12 Tony Awards in 2015 and won five, including best musical.

In “Fun Home,” composer Jeanine Tesori and writer-lyricist Lisa Kron transform the cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s popular graphic-novel memoir, subtitled “A Family Tragicomic,” into a spare and beautiful musical.

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National tour: “Fun Home” continues on the road through the end of the year. A local production opens June 29 in Fresno. Photo / “Fun Home” tour

Bechdel’s adult self is narrator, looking back at herself as a 9-year-old navigating through childhood and as a 19-year-old college freshman embracing the fact she’s lesbian.

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