A fond adieu to 2017

I’ve already told you my Top 20 favorite cultural events for 2017. Now here are a couple of year-ender wrap-up lists that I can’t resist:

My favorite stories of the year

My criteria: It’s completely subjective. I just like how these stories came out. For some, it was the fun in reporting them, and for others the joy in writing them. (Note: Because of my hybrid year — working through May as the Fresno Bee’s arts reporter, and the remainder of the year in my new role at The Munro Review — you’ll find stories from both platforms.) Here they are in chronological order:

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In the moment of totality: my photograph taken from Mary’s Peak in central Oregon on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Photo / The Munro Review

In Delphi, a mysterious past provokes navel gazing: In this travel piece from Greece, I visit the strangely moody location where the famed oracles changed the ancient world.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Dec. 15)

Weekend options include GCP holiday cheer, Playhouse Merced, an exciting look at Latinx Theatre at Arte Americas, “A Bob Hope Christmas” and “Another Night Before Christmas” at Sierra Repertory Theatre

Five picks for the weekend:

Good Company cheer

You couldn’t ask for more talented Christmas entertainers. A group of veterans from Good Company Players will perform favorite songs Saturday at Sequoia Brewing Co. in the Tower District. Join Teddy Maldonado, Shawn Williams, Tim Smith, Emily Pessano, Sara Price and Paddy Myers for a lineup of Yuletide vocals.

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From left, Paddy Myers, Teddy Maldonado, Shawn Williams, Tim Smith, Emily Pessano and Sara Price.

By the way, I love the above photo. Emily and Paddy look like they’re naughty, Tim and Sara are being so nice, Teddy looks ecstatic that it’s December, and Shawn has a smile as big and white as the North Pole. The whole tableaux just seems warm and jolly.

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For Fresno State’s ‘Gentlemen of Verona,’ a rousing update

Fine acting and direction make Shakespeare’s comedy feel fresh and relevant

THEATER REVIEW

Let’s do something different and focus on the ending of Fresno State’s accomplished production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Usually critics avoid writing about the end of a play because they don’t want to give anything away. But I think I can do it without diminishing the audience’s appreciation for this well-acted and conceived comedy.

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Alyssa Benitez, left, as Julia, and Steven Weatherbee, as Proteus, in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Photo / Fresno State

I’ve long been a fan of well-crafted endings and feel they’re far more important than some directors give them credit for. I’m not talking necessarily about a show’s climax — that moment of highest tension when a narrative starts sparking into resolution — which is very important, of course. I’m thinking more about the final seconds of a production, when all the elements of stagecraft come together: the lighting and sound cues, the positioning of the actors, the directorial choices that coalesce to give the audience that crucial ending impression. Give us confidence and precision, and it can make a powerful impact. Give us sloppy and bland — a light cue a second out of sync, an awkwardly delivered final line, a less-than-punchy closing visual tableaux — and it can cut a production off at the knees.

Which brings me to Brad Myers and his “Verona,” a charming and deftly directed show.

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Heading off to the big city

Fresno State opens Shakespeare’s ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’

THEATER PREVIEW

Brad Myers is a master director of Shakespeare, so it’s always a must-see event when he tackles a play by the Bard. The latest outing for the Fresno State director is the comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” which opens Friday, Dec. 1, at the university’s John Wright Theatre. Myers took time out of his busy tech week for the show to engage in a dialogue about the production.

Q: In “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” two best friends are parted when one leaves his hometown for the big city of Milan. Am I the only one who immediately thinks of high school kids wanting to get out of Fresno for San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York?

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Aaron Gomes, left, and Steven Weatherbee in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Photo / Fresno State

A: Yes, Proteus and Valentine are facing the same decisions that high school grads are facing today. One of the gents chooses to leave his hometown and head off for the big city; the other wants to stay at home because he is head-over-heels in love with his girlfriend. This is one of the many elements of the “Two Gents” storyline that makes this play very accessible for high school and university students.

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Promising singer ups Fresno State’s opera game

Tiffanie Trujillo gives her undergraduate recital with a program that includes a work by Coarsegold composer Barbara Ulman

Local opera fans attending productions at Fresno State over the past few years have definitely taken notice of two talented singers: Mezzo soprano Alejandra Tejeda, a graduate student; and soprano Tiffanie Trujillo, an undergraduate student. I certainly have. Both are graduating. It’s hard to tell what will happen in the years ahead, but I’d say chances are very good indeed that both will be able to break into the ranks of successful professional singers.

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Fresno State student Tiffanie Trujillo.

Tejeda already gave her recital a couple of weeks ago. (And I’m sorry I missed the chance to publicize it.) Trujillo gives her recital 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, in the Fresno State Wahlberg Recital Hall. Admission is free.

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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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In fresh and relevant ‘Native Son,’ audience might ask: Has anything changed?

Fresno State production of a new adaptation of Richard Wright’s classic novel is troubling and well-done

THEATER REVIEW

Fresno State’s provocative and worthwhile “Native Son” begins with the nearly naked form of Bigger Thomas, the play’s troubled protagonist, lying motionless on a table. Is he a dead body on a slab at the morgue? That’d be a pretty good guess. The audience is seated on all four sides of the stage, like a boxing ring, and as we stare at the character (played by Josh Slack) under the fierce stage lights, dressed only in flesh-colored briefs, a thought occurs: In these opening moments, it as if we are being asked by director Thomas-Whit Ellis and his cast to take on the role of voyeurs.

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Inner turmoil: Josh Slack, left, Emily Kearn and Jalen Stewart in “Native Son.” Photo / Fresno State

The object of our focused attention is the black body in U.S. society. Specifically, the bodies of black men like Bigger: products of abject poverty, blatant racism and diminished prospects. Bigger has spent his life under the gaze of a society that sees him first and foremost as a black male, and thus he is to be placed under careful and constant surveillance.

Eighty years in Chicago, when the play is set, that scrutiny was blatant. Under the social norms of that era, black men were to be cordoned off, kept in their place, pressed firmly under the greater culture’s thumb.

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