An appealing ‘Proof,’ but it doesn’t quite add up at the 2nd Space Theatre

THEATER REVIEW

I envy people who are about to see David Auburn’s “Proof” for the first time. This smart and engrossing 2001 play, which captivated Broadway audiences (and won the Pulitzer Prize and best-play Tony Award) with its tale of high-level mathematics and debilitating mental illness, is masterfully constructed. On subsequent viewings of “Proof,” it probably isn’t possible to replicate the tension and surprise of the first go around. But while I’ve seen it several times, I find myself still admiring the way Auburn manages to mash together a nerdy, numbers-oriented mystery plot together with a moving portrayal of father-daughter interdependence and liability.

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Catherine (Bailey Johnson) and Robert (Gordon Moore) in a scene from ‘Proof’ at the 2nd Space Theatre. Photo / Good Company Players

I have some mixed thoughts and reactions after viewing the new Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre:

The relationships: Integral to “Proof” are the connections between Catherine (Bailey Johnson), the 20-something protagonist, and the three other characters in the play. Robert (Gordon Moore), her father, was a famous and troubled mathematician. (You find out very early in the play how he ended up.) Catherine, who is justly proud of her talented dad, has also worried for most of her adult life about his mental stability. It’s more than just a feeling of filial responsibility: She’s concerned that she, too, might have inherited the same tendencies. Catherine’s relationship with her much more together sister, Claire (Marikah Christine Leal), is more fraught. Claire has left Chicago, where their father taught and did his research, to make a notable life for herself in New York. Catherine feels diminished by comparison. And, finally, there’s Hal, a graduate student of Robert’s, who brings his own baggage to the proceedings: He wants to honor his mentor’s genius, but his own stalled career brings out conflicted feelings.

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Opening weekend: ‘Guys and Dolls’ in Sanger, ‘Proof’ at 2nd Space

A reminder about two local theater openings:

♦ Sanger’s Blossom Trail Players presents “Guys and Dolls,” its fourth-ever mainstage production. This is the classic tale of Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler who bets that he can make the pious Sarah Brown his girlfriend. The score includes such favorites as “A Bushel and Peck,” “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

The Sanger company offers a couple of special additions to the program nightly: The BTP Jazz Combo (comprised of members of this year’s orchestra) perform Broadway and jazz standards as audiences arrive and take their seats. At 7:15 p.m., the brand new BTP Junior Company (founded through a generous grant from The Wonderful Company) will take the stage in “its debut performance presenting an original show that’s an ode to New York itself, comprised of original music and a medley of some all-time favorite songs about the city that never sleeps.”

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Debating if you should see ‘Joseph’? Go, go, go, go!

Good Company Players brings a beloved musical favorite back to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater

THEATER REVIEW

If you have a pulse and are into musical theater, chances are you’ve seen the ever-popular “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” not once but multiple times. It gets done a lot. The reason is obvious: It’s tuneful, warm-hearted, silly, low-tech, has a wide range of musical styles, features an enormous cast (you can’t skimp on Jacob’s 12 sons) and is based on a Biblical story so far removed from our contemporary lives that you’d have to try really hard to find anything at which to be offended.

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Tim Smith, as Joseph, enjoys his Coat of Many Colors. Photo / Good Company Players

Even though I’m a repeat (and I mean repeat) viewer, I never put up a fuss when it’s time to see another production of “Joseph.” Particularly one by Good Company Players. As I’ve written at length in the past, this is the perfect-sized show for the intimate space of Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Productions of “Joseph” in bigger theaters tend to get too show-biz glitzy as producers and directors try to pump up the fun but slight material. This show doesn’t need elaborate stagecraft and expensive moving scenery to impress an audience. The most important thing is the quality of the singing and acting.

Which the latest “Joseph” has in abundance.

Is it my favorite “Joseph” ever? It could be. I’m tempted greatly by my recollection of the 1996 Good Company version directed by Fred Bologna, whose “Go Go Go Joseph” first-act finale is probably my most prized “Joseph” memory. (The cheerleader moves in that number had a giddy verve and precision that remain with me to this day, though I also freely acknowledge that the mists of nostalgia might have something to do with it. Seeing a choreographed bit like that the first time is always the best.) That said, I like this current “Joseph” a lot as well. Here are 5 Favorite Things I offer from the show:

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A charming ‘Heiress’ navigates love and money at 2nd Space

Good Company Players production is an adaptation of Henry James’ ‘Washington Square’

THEATER REVIEW

Is the matrimonial-minded Morris Townsend, with his smooth talk and good looks, every father’s nightmare? Or is he a principled and upstanding young man who only cares about marrying for love — and not a big, fat, juicy inheritance? Just what do we know of his background, his education, his propriety?

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Suzanne Grażyna, left, as Catherine, and Amelia Ryan, as Aunt Lavinia, in “The Heiress.” Photo / Good Company Players

In 2018, these questions could probably be answered in about 0.37 seconds. But in the 1850s, the era in which Henry James set his celebrated novel “Washington Square,” Ye Olde Ghoogle wasn’t available. The uncertainty of Morris’ intentions — is this guy a gold digger or not? — helps give “The Heiress,” a resilient 1947 theatrical adaptation based on the James novel, a crisp dramatic punch.

But the bigger appeal in the well-done Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre, co-directed with aplomb by Karan Johnson and Elizabeth Fiester, is the chance to watch two fascinating women characters portrayed in strong performances.

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Suzanne Grażyna finds female empowerment, 19th Century-style, in ‘The Heiress’

Good Company Players presents this classic adaptation of Henry James’ ‘Washington Square’ at the 2nd Space Theatre

THEATER PREVIEW

When Catherine Sloper falls for a guy, she falls hard. And that complicates her life in “The Heiress,” a new production at the 2nd Space Theatre of the 1947 Broadway play. Catherine is rich. Her new beau, Morris, isn’t. And Daddy doesn’t approve.

Though the premise might seem soapy, the inspiration isn’t. “The Heiress,” which opens Thursday, April 26, is based on the classic Henry James novel “Washington Square.” This lavish period piece might be full of 19th Century angst, but its sense of female empowerment is more than relevant today. I talked with Suzanne Grażyna, who plays Catherine, about what it’s like to play such a challenging character.

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The cast of “The Heiress” at the 2nd Space Theatre, including Suzanne Grażyna, center. Photo / Good Company Players

Q: Congratulations to you for being the heiress in “The Heiress.” It’s certainly a step up, socially speaking, from playing an insane street vendor with no teeth in last year’s “Fools.” Is it fun to play someone who is rich and, as they said back in the 19th Century, of “marriageable age”?

A: I loved playing The Yench! Those blacked out teeth were my idea, I don’t remember what gave me the idea! It IS fun to play someone so wealthy. Catherine’s costumes are the most luxurious I’ve ever worn, and as a clotheshorse in actual life, I feel like a princess. A vegan cupcake, even. Cathie’s got style.

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Vocals soar in Good Company’s big-hearted ‘Mamma Mia’

THEATER REVIEW

“Mamma Mia,” here we go again …

And that news makes me chipper.

Fresno last got its “Mamma Mia” fix in 2015 when the third visit of a national tour rolled through, and it wasn’t at the top of its class. (Previously, much more polished national tours stopped here in 2006 and 2008.) Now Good Company Players brings us a homespun version of the title, and I’m happy to say it’s better (and a lot more intimate) than the version that most recently played the Saroyan Theatre. An energetic cast, clever design and buoyant vocals all help GCP deliver the ABBA fix that fans expect.

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Kay Wilkins and Nicholas Nunez are charming in “Mamma Mia.” Photo / Good Company Players

There were some weak spots, mostly among individual actors, in the opening-weekend performance I attended, but I’m hoping that as the run settles in, many of them will get stronger. Some observations:

The vocals soar. The best thing about this “Mamma Mia” are all those deftly performed ABBA songs, which are delivered to the audience with the layered tracks, rhythmic intricacies and percussive vocalizations that everyone expects. Vocal coach Judith Dickison whips all those parts — as many as 15 in some songs — into a pleasing ensemble. I like how the vocals seem to surround you in the intimate space of Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater.

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Lay all your love on those backup vocals, because they’re one of the stars of ‘Mamma Mia’

Jacquie Broach and other members of the ensemble in the Good Company Players production play a crucial part in the show

THEATER PREVIEW

Take a chance on me, please, as I try to paint this “Mamma Mia” mental image for you in vivid detail:

It’s backstage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater during the show (now in its opening weekend). Jacquie Broach, a Good Company Players veteran and an ensemble member, is dressed like a “Greek grandma.” Think layered peasant garb meets Ninja warrior: black stockings, black shoes, black skirt, black babushka. She and her fellow ensemble members have just come offstage after singing the ABBA song “Under Attack,” which involves lots of energetic dancing around the daughter character, Sophie (Caitlyn Lopez), while she has a nightmare about her upcoming wedding. Now that they’re backstage, everyone is shucking off clothes to change for upcoming numbers, in Broach’s case the wedding scene. As she puts it, “We strip right there down to our undies.”

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Alex Figueroa and Paige Parker, center, get frisky in “Does Your Mother Know” in the new production of “Mamma Mia.” Photo / Good Company Players

Off comes her sweaty Greek garb. On goes her wedding wear: dress, jewelry, high heels.

But as all this controlled mayhem unfolds, the ensemble comes to one of its most important duties. The actors rush to one of two microphones. There, with garments dangling, they start singing the layered backup vocals for “One of Us,” performed by the mom character, Donna (Emily Pessano). To make sure they’re in sync with the recorded instrumental track and the live singing on stage, Broach gets down close to the monitor on the floor, so she can be sure to hear, and becomes a de facto conductor, pounding out the beat.

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In ‘Star-Spangled Girl,’ these guys flunk the #MeToo test

Good Company Players offers vintage Neil Simon at the 2nd Space Theatre

THEATER REVIEW

Some of Neil Simon’s plays still sparkle — and they will for generations to come.

“The Star-Spangled Girl” is not one of those plays.

At its best, this Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre offers a few amiable moments and amusing one-liners. At worst, it’s lackluster in terms of laughs, dated in terms of its humor and — to be blunt — eye-rollingly sexist, at least by today’s standards.

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Norman (Joseph Ham), left, and Andy (Anthony teNyenhuis), duke it out in “The Star-Spangled Girl.” Photo / Good Company Players

Here’s the setup: Andy (Anthony teNyenhuis) publishes a protest magazine in San Francisco. He runs the business side of things while his roommate, Norman (Joseph Ham, who alternates the role with Aaron Gomes), is the writing talent. When Sophie (Paige Tucker), a Midwest “girl” (this is, alas, a world in which all women are “girls”), moves next door, Norman instantly falls for her.

That’s when things get weird.

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