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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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Oct. 27)

Options include Fresno State’s new production of “Native Son,” Arte Americas’ big “Cala Gala” festival, theater openings in Oakhurst and Visalia, and the National Chamber Choir of Armenia

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

‘Native Son’

Fresno State’s theater department opens a new adaptation of Richard Wright’s classic novel about a poor black man living in 1930s Chicago accused of killing a wealthy white woman. I caught up with director Thomas-Whit Ellis for a rundown on the show.

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Joshua Slack and Arium Andrews star in “Native Son.” Photo / Fresno State

The new adaptation: “Native Son,” which Wright wrote in 1940, was adapted into a play soon afterward. (It was directed by Orson Welles and opened on Broadway in 1941.) In 2014, a new adaptation by Nambi Kelley opened in Chicago. Ellis had become a fan of Kelley’s work when he directed “Hands Up,” a 2016 Fresno State production written by seven playwrights. He saw the new “Native Son” in a production by the Marin Theatre Company. Fresno State is one of the first universities in the country to produce it, he says.

The format: Kelley adapted the novel into a compressed, taut, 90-minute series of vignettes in a “hard hitting, fast-paced manner,” Ellis says.

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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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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Oct. 12)

Options include a Fresno State lecture-recital about a memorable woman scientist, theater openings in Merced, Visalia and Reedley, and a photo exhibition about Afghanistan

Here’s a rundown on promising arts/culture picks for the weekend. (Note: I’m posting this a day earlier than usual because of a Thursday night option.)

Remembering Hypatia

Earlier this year I got to wander the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, and there I learned about a remarkable woman: Hypatia, who is said to be the first woman philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. She was renowned for her intelligence and scientific insights. But she got caught up in the religious battles of the times. Hypatia was a pagan, and she was (horribly) murdered by an angry Christian mob in the year 415 A.D.

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Hypatia’s life story is the focus of a fascinating sounding interdisciplinary lecture-recital on Friday at Fresno State. The event is an exploration of the ways in which women use their voices and are silenced in male-dominated societies.

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For cello fans, a wonderful weekend

Fresno State’s cello festival and Fresno Musical Club offer concerts

There are two promising classical music events this weekend I’d like to share:

Cello festival

The 2017 Cello Fresno international festival features two gala concerts:

8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6: The Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and an all-star lineup of professional guest artists perform at the Fresno State Concert Hall under conductor Thomas Loewenheim. The program includes Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture,” Von Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant Overture,” and works for cello and orchestra by Bragato, Bruch, Dvorak, Elgar, Offenbach, Popper, and Saint-Saens. Tickets are $5-$15.

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4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8: The Youth Orchestras of Fresno, conducted by Loewenheim and guest conductor Emilio Colon, performs a program at the Shaghoian Concert Hall that includes the Pfitzner Cello Concerto, Paganini’s “Moses Variations” and winners of the concerto competition. Tickets are free.

The Sunday concert includes two notable highlights, Loewenheim tells me:

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A bloody but sterile ‘Particle’

Fresno State production of Sam Shepard’s final play, ‘A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)’ is ambitious and bewildering

THEATER REVIEW

Sam Shepard’s “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations),” his final work, is something of a bewildering experience. The play is best appreciated, I think, by two groups: stalwart fans of the playwright; and people who are very familiar with the classic Greek tale of Oedipus, which Shepard intertwines with a modern-day retelling of the narrative. By the conclusion, the old and new versions have tangled into a strange and nearly incomprehensible knot.

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Seeing red: Steven Lee Weatherbee plays Oedipus and Otto in Sam Shepard’s “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations).” Photo / Fresno State

The new Fresno State production, which continues through Saturday, Oct. 7, is stylistically ambitious and earnestly presented. It’s also a nice dedication to Shepard (known for such classics as “Buried Child,” for which he won a Pulitzer, and “True West”), who died just a few months ago. But the production also can feel sterile and fussy, as if it’s daring the audience to keep up with its intellectual games.

There’s a lot to unpack in the premise. Oedipus — whom the playwright Sophocles immortalized — is the baby famously prophesied to one day kill his father and marry his mother. Such a horrific human tragedy would seem to be a calamity we can safely relegate to ancient times, you’d think. We’re much too “civilized” today to entertain such possibilities.

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