With ‘Lydia,’ Fresno State straddles more than one kind of border

Gina Sandí-Díaz makes her Fresno State directorial debut with Octavio Solis’ searing drama


So just who is Lydia?

In Octavio Solis’ fascinating and exasperating play “Lydia,” set in the 1970s, the title character is a Mexican maid who has slipped across the border into El Paso, Texas. There she finds a job in a dysfunctional household. (Which is putting it mildly. The Flores family is better described as cataclysmically broken.) Most apparent of their woes is the teenage daughter of the family, Ceci, who is brain-damaged after an accident and unable to care for herself. From early on, through the play’s moody shifts in tone and Ceci’s periodic transformations from vegetative state to cogent narrator, the play appears to be more than straightforward realism. Things happen that can’t quite be explained rationally.

Ruby Arreguin, left, plays the title role in “Lydia.” Her character becomes a caretaker for Ceci, played by Kenia Morales. Photo / Fresno State

And thus, in a work of magical realism, there are fair questions here to ask: Is Lydia simply a maid imbued with a dramatic gift of empathy? Or is she more than a mere mortal, some magical or extraordinary being — a Latinx Mary Poppins, if you will — whose role in the universe is to hone in on each family member’s deepest psychological wounds, gain their confidence and set things right?

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In Fresno State’s ‘Lydia,’ strong women navigate their Mexican-American identities

Gina Sandí-Díaz and Ruby Arreguin discuss the Latinx theater production, which opens Friday, March 16

Fresno State’s theater and dance department welcomed a new director last fall: Gina Sandí-Díaz, originally from Costa Rica by way of the University of Kansas, where she received her doctorate in theater. She is the university’s first Latinx theater specialist, a welcome appointment for an officially designated Hispanic-serving institution. Sandí-Díaz’s first production for Fresno State is “Lydia,” opening Friday, March 16. The 2006 play is by Octavio Solis.

I got the chance a few weeks ago to feature a preview for “Lydia” on the March TV episode of “The Munro Review,” my monthly arts talk show produced by the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC). I featured Sandí-Díaz and Fresno State student Ruby Arreguin, who plays the role of Lydia, on the program. I’ve trimmed the show down to just their interview in the clip above. It’s approximately 11 minutes. (You can see the entire episode here.) Here’s a brief rundown as explained by Sandí-Díaz and Arreguin:

The play: “Lydia” is a story of a Mexican-American family set in the early 1970s. The mother and father crossed the river from Mexico and settled in El Paso, Texas, to raise a family, which now includes three teenage children. A horrible accident traumatized the family, and they have a disabled child who needs care. They make the decision to hire a maid, and the person who shows up is Lydia. She’s an undocumented immigrant, and develops a special bond with different members of the family. In fact, Lydia is so chummy that deeply buried secrets are revealed. “The secrets unleash the rage of the family, and unfortunately, they take their rage out on Lydia,” Sandí-Díaz says. “What we are witnessing as audience members is how each member of the family is dealing with the accident and the aftermath of that accident.”

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Now streaming: the March episode of ‘The Munro Review’

A special thanks to Gina Sandí-Díaz, Ruby Arreguin and Lupe Perez for being my guests on the March installment of “The Munro Review,” produced by the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC). Gina and Ruby talk about the new Fresno State production of “Lydia,” which opens March 16. And Lupe gives us an update on the new public art that was just unveiled at downtown’s Mariposa Plaza.

Also, I recap “Trashique 2018,” tip my hat to Children’s Musical Theaterworks for bringing the original Elle Woods to Fresno, and preview lots of March events to come, including concerts from Soli Deo Gloria and the Fresno Philharmonic. Enjoy!

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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. 23)

Options include an art song festival at Fresno State; and new theater productions in Reedley and Hanford

Here’s roundup of promising openings this weekend:

Focus on vocals

Art Song lovers, unite. Maria Briggs, a voice professor, has organized the first Fresno State Art Song Festival, which she’s calling “On Wings of Song.” The festival features a number of master classes and guest instructors. Here are three public highlights:

• On Friday, Feb. 23, Briggs offers a recital (7 p.m., Wahlberg Recital Hall).

• On Saturday, Feb. 24, there will be a student showcase recital and presentation of the “best singer” award (4 p.m., Concert Hall).

• Also on Saturday, guest faculty artist Vladimir Chernov of UCLA will give a recital (6 p.m., Concert Hall).

Briggs says that she started the festival because that while there are several opera programs locally, there is no current platform to showcase and enjoy the Art Song.

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Fresno State’s ‘Epistêmê’ offers a whirlwind of motion and emotion

You can win a pair of tickets to any of the final three performances of the Contemporary Dance Ensemble


The Contemporary Dance Ensemble at Fresno State continues its run of “Epistêmê,” every night this week through Saturday. There was a very small audience in the John Wright Theatre at the Sunday matinee I attended, which is a shame. These hard-working dancers deserve a bigger spotlight.

A moment from the Contemporary Dance Ensemble concert “Episteme.” Photo / Fresno State

A few thoughts from the show:

The opening: “Project Solo,” which introduces each dancer individually, is a clever appropriation of the tropes we’ve come to expect from “Project Runway”: the focus on personality (we’re bombarded with multiple images of each dancer as he or she gets a moment onstage alone to shine); the confident, fashion-strut-style of interaction with the audience (each move telegraphing “Look at me!”); the music putting a pep in everyone’s steps (with an overall techno-beat feel). Stephanie Bradshaw’s idiosyncratic costumes help pump up that sense of individuality, and Liz Waldman’s projections have a nice, grainy feel, with complexions and hair colors posterized almost to abstraction. Most important, the dancers, guided by choreographer and CDE artistic director Kenneth Balint, exude a sense of basking in our attention — which is what the “Runway” is really about, right?

Win two tickets to any remaining performance of the Contemporary Dance Ensemble’s “Episteme.” To enter this giveaway, leave a comment on this post telling us why you’d like to go. Deadline to enter is 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21. If you win, you can choose from any of the following three performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23; or Saturday, Feb. 24.

The student choreographer: Kudos to Nathalie Quiros for her weird and transfixing “Esoteric Flux,” which began with some of the dancers huddled squarely under a white sheet, like a shuddering ice cube, moved to ribbons of fabric flinging bodies around, and ending with a kinetic, twitchy sense of disrupted time. I liked the fearlessness of the choreography and the impatience of it all, with dancers at times literally being yanked off one side of the stage or the other. Brisk, unsettling and infused with a sort of jittery zombie menace, I found myself drawn to Quiros’ distinct visual language.

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For Fresno State student choreographer Nathalie Quiros, time flies in special ways

Quiros debuts her piece “Esoteric Flux” in the annual Contemporary Dance Ensemble concert

Nathalie Quiros is sitting a few feet across from me in a room next to Fresno State’s theater box office. We’re chatting about the dance she choreographed for the annual Contemporary Dance Ensemble concert. To demonstrate a move, she flings out her arm in a razor-sharp motion.

“I call that an outward flick,” she says.

I like that word: flick.

A scene from Nathalie Quiros’ “Esoteric Flux,” part of Contemporary Dance Ensemble’s lineup. Photo / Fresno State

So does Quiros.

It sounds quicker than a brushing motion. It’s more abrupt than a sweep or a graze. To flick is to dart — to pounce and then retract. The word makes me think of a motionless frog whose tongue suddenly snaps out to catch a fly.

Quiros is the designated student choreographer for the concert, and she’s poured heart and sole into the creation of “Esoteric Flux,” an 11-minute work she calls “very abstract.” To her, the piece is about how time can skip and start.

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World-class piano on Valentine’s Day: What could be more romantic than that?

You can win a pair of tickets to the Feb. 14 concert featuring Yefim Bronfman with the Fresno State Keyboard Concerts season

The Chicago Tribune once described pianist Yefim Bronfman’s style as “a marvel of digital dexterity, warmly romantic sentiment, and jaw-dropping bravura.” That “romantic” part is a good sell for Bronfman’s Valentine’s Day performance as part of Keyboard Concerts at Fresno State.

Yefim Bronfman, pianist
Yefim Bronfman performs Wednesday, Feb. 14, at Fresno State. Photo / Keyboard Concerts

Bronfman regularly plays the world’s top concert venues, including Carnegie Hall in New York, Hertz Hall in Berkeley, the Schiller Theater in Berlin, and Symphony Center in Chicago, among others. The Israeli-American pianist is a regular soloist with the Vienna, New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras, and the Boston, Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco and Seattle symphonies.

He last performed for the Keyboard series in 2016.

His program for the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at the Fresno State Concert Hall includes Beethoven’s Sonata in F major, Schubert’s Sonata in C minor, Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque” and Stravinsky’s “Trois Mouvements de Pétrouchka.”

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