Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

The Beehive Asks: Should I give movie-style ratings to plays?

I received a polite but semi-irate phone call a few weeks back from a reader very disappointed in the recent national tour of “Jersey Boys.” She was not aware going into the production that it would include the amount of profanity it did. Nowhere in the print advertisements for the play, she pointed out, was a movie-style content rating (such as PG, PG-13, R, etc.) provided. Nor did my advance piece about the production or my subsequent review. Wasn’t it my responsibility, she asked, to provide readers with this kind of information?

I hemmed and hawed a bit, because, frankly, the thought never crossed my mind that a Broadway musical about a bunch of New Jersey minor criminals wouldn’t include rough language. Thinking about it later, I guess I figured that anyone with a passing familiarity with popular culture would know what to expect walking into “Jersey Boys.”

Then again, sometimes I make too many assumptions because I’m so familiar with the material I cover. And the songs in the show are squeaky clean, after all.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Boeing-Boeing’

Meet Robert. At first glance he seems to be someone for whom the term “quivering jelly of a man” was invented: He fidgets, stammers, stumbles, says the wrong thing and practically self-immolates when he’s talking to women. At a party, he’s the one who will trip on an end table and go head over heels off the back of the couch.

In Fresno City College’s well crafted and very silly “Boeing-Boeing,” the hapless Robert — played by an amusing Kai DiMono — pops up on an old friend’s doorstep in Paris. There, to his shock (and delight), he discovers that his friend is trying to run one of the oldest scams in the book: being engaged to three women at once.

Set in 1965, this translated French farce by Marc Camoletti straddles two decades: An old-fashioned sensibility bumps up against the more free-wheeling mores of a new generation. Bernard (an energetic Steven Weatherbee), a wealthy transplanted American, is able to pull off sleeping with three women because they’re air hostesses for different airlines.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’

When you’re lucky, you get a moment in a musical that soars into the stratosphere. The Good Company Players production of the musical revue “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” boasts two.

When Janet Glaudé, a veteran of more than 40 GCP shows, takes the stage to sing the reprise of the song “Fools Fall in Love,” her voice swells with such emotion and virtuosity that it’s like a comet streaking to a fiery climax. I sat riveted on opening night, so caught up in the interlude that I forgot to breathe.

Spine, meet chills.

But the surprise of the evening could be summarized in the song that comes before Glaudé’s. Isaac Brown, just 13 years old, a member of the Junior Company making his GCP mainstage debut, leads the ensemble in an exhilarating rendition of “Jailhouse Rock.”

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Big changes at Fresno Grand Opera

UPDATE 1/18: Here’s a combination story from Modesto Bee reporter Marijke Rowland and me that goes into greater detail on the departure of Ronald D. Eichman from Fresno Grand Opera and a new arrangement with Modesto’s Townsend Opera. The companies will share a new general director, Matthew Buckman, and present the same productions (same cast, sets, costumes but different choruses and orchestras), but budgets will remain separate.   

ORIGINAL POST: For the second time in less than two weeks, one of Fresno’s major cultural institutions will be undergoing a major leadership change.

Ronald D. Eichman, who has led Fresno Grand Opera for 16 years as general director, is resigning at the end of the year, opera officials announced today. Also departing is Thi Nguyen, the company’s associate director, who joined the company in 2008. Nguyen is departing to join Eichman in expanding an entertainment business venture the pair started three years ago.

Matthew Buckman, the general and artistic director at Townsend Opera in Modesto, will assume the general director’s position on Dec. 1, the Modesto Bee reports.

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UPDATED: Fresno Phil’s Theodore Kuchar to step down in 2016

UPDATED 11/14: When I received word yesterday about Theodore Kuchar stepping down, I posted right away. Then I followed up with interviews with Kuchar and Stephen Wilson, executive director of the Fresno Philharmonic. My story for today’s print and online editions includes this news:  A major concern of Kuchar’s is that he feels his role as music director has been diminished recently. Here’s the updated story.

ORIGINAL POST: I just received word from the Fresno Philharmonic that Theodore Kuchar, its acclaimed music director, will step down at the end of the 2015-16 season. By the end of his tenure, he will have completed 15 years at the helm of the orchestra.

In a press release, Kuchar says:

I am extremely proud of numerous memorable performances we have given. Many of these, such as major works of Beethoven, Bruckner, Dvorak, Mahler, Martinu, Nielsen, Revueltas, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky will always remain as standards in my memory. The collaborations with distinguished guest artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Chang, Joshua Bell, Lynn Harrell and many others continue to be discussed today while some of the popular initiatives such as Cirque de la Symphonie will always remain a part of our legacy.

During the past several years, the Fresno Philharmonic has also presented innovative music education initiatives, including being one of the first sites for the San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score program and becoming a national partner of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in presenting Link Up: The Orchestra Sings. I have no reservation in saying that the Fresno Philharmonic and I have often delivered performances that are not typical of a regional American orchestra but those of a standard to be expected in a major musical capital.

J.D. Northway, president of the board of directors, had this to add:

We are grateful for the outstanding work Maestro Kuchar has done here in Fresno over the past thirteen seasons. The orchestra sounds better than ever. By informing us of his decision now, Maestro Kuchar has given us plenty of time to ensure a smooth transition in the artistic leadership of the Fresno Philharmonic.

This is a big deal. Kuchar’s expertise, connections (all important in the world of classical music) and — most of all — his enthusiasm have all contributed mightily to the orchestra’s recent successes. His shoes will be hard to fill.

Details on the search process for a new Fresno Philharmonic music director will be “forthcoming soon,” orchestra officials say.

More on Fresno Pacific’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation’

Kate McKnight is guest directing Fresno Pacific University’s fall theater production of “Truth and Reconciliation,” a play by Etan Frankel. It’s playing off-campus at the Severance Theatre in the Tower District. I excerpted parts of our discussion in my big theater roundup in Friday’s 7 section. Here’s the extended interview:

Question: What is the plot?

Answer: The play is set Cartuga, a fictitious Central American country. A young American doctor goes to the country to provide medical care for local peasants, is mistakenly associated with the CIA and is murdered. His parents are asked to return to the country three years later for a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission based on those that Bishop Tutu organized in South Africa. Instead of revenge for their son’s death they get answers and some healing.

What is the play’s production history? Do you know if this is a local premiere?

Yes, it’s a Fresno premiere. It won the Willamstown Theatre Festival 2006 L. Arnold Weissberger Award, selected out of 300 nominated plays. I couldn’t find any theatre company that had done a full production except for the staged reading when it won the award. A company in British Columbia is mounting a production this winter. Starting in 2008, the playwright started writing mainly for television: “Gossip Girl,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Shameless” … Hollywood got him!

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Opening tonight: ‘Company’

I don’t think I’ve ever seen College of the Sequoias theater instructor Chris Mangels direct a show written by Stephen Sondheim, but my guess is that the pair makes a pretty good combination. Mangels opens Sondheim’s “Company” tonight (Nov. 14) in a production that celebrates the dawn of the sexual revolution for the middle class. I excerpted parts of my discussion with Mangels in my Friday 7 section theater roundup. Here’s the extended version.

Is this version of “Company” based on the latest Broadway version? (I know in that production the actors played musical instruments, but I’m assuming that yours is more traditional.)

The John Doyle version from 2008 (with the actors playing their own instruments) is a really unique beast that is best left to Doyle’s aesthetic and to a very cosmopolitan audience that probably already knows the show. While I respect what he did with it, I most connect with the show as a Hal Prince originally directed it; that is, as a ‘Musical Comedy’ that gets surprisingly serious and sober-minded throughout the story. I don’t think that it needs to be made ‘darker’ or more ‘urbane’ as is often the case with recent revivals. I am embracing it as a period piece (circa 1970) and not apologizing for the glorious pop sensibilities of that original score or the surreal nature of much of the script.

What time period are you setting it in?

1970. It was the dawn of the sexual revolution in the middle class and this show really explores the ideas of that time in a unique (but still universal) way. Our set, costumes, and live orchestra are really enforcing that aesthetic and I absolutely LOVE it. I think audiences will have a blast!

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Opening tonight: ‘Boeing-Boeing’ at Fresno City College

It’s a very busy local theater weekend, with me highlighting five openings in Friday’s 7 section. In my roundup, I chat briefly with Bob Creasy, director of the new production of “Boeing-Boeing” at Fresno City College. Here’s the extended version of my interview:

Question: What is the plot?

Answer: This 1960’s French farce follows Parisian Bernard, a Lothario, who has Italian, German, and American fiancées, each beautiful airline hostesses with frequent “layovers”. He manages this trick by having one in the air, one on the ground, and the other awaiting arrival. Everything falls apart when his friend Robert arrives and the airlines employ the new, faster Boeing aircraft. Robert and Bernard have to keep the girls apart and unaware of each other’s presence.

What year was the play originally written?

My research shows that the French play was translated into English by Beverly Cross in 1962, but the original French script was written in 1960 by Marc Camoletti. A widely acclaimed 2007 London revival of the play brought the show back to life. With an updated translation by Francis Evans, minor script changes were made to make the farce resonate with contemporary audiences. For instance the three fiancées went from Judith (German), Janet (American) and Jacqueline (French) to Gretchen (German), Gloria (American), and Gabriella (Italian). This version of the play opened on Broadway in 2008 winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play and Best Actor in a Play (Mark Rylance in the role of Robert).

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Classical roundup: Karen Shahgaldyan talks about the Khachaturian Trio

I devote the Friday 7 section cover story to four notable classical music events taking place this weekend. Here’s an extended version of my interview with Karen Shahgaldyan, who has traveled from Armenian with the acclaimed Khachaturian Trio to perform tonight (Nov. 14) with Fresno’s Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series.

Question: The trio was founded in 1999 with the name Arsika. How did the three of you get together?

Answer: It is an interesting story. Karen Kocharyan, our cellist, is a founder of the trio, he plays here from the first day and that time name Arsika was formed by two first letters from the names of each member of the trio: Areg, Sibil, Karen. But then crew changed and in 2004 Armine Grigoryan came to the trio as a constant member. The same year I met Karen Kocharyan during my concert tour in Armenia. We played together the “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi and mentioned the same musical feelings. And two years later Karen offered me to join them to try to play together. So, since 2006 we are together.

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Classical roundup: Alan Peters talks about ‘Messiah’

I devote the Friday 7 section cover story to four notable classical music events taking place this weekend. Here’s an extended version of my interview with longtime Fresno Community Chorus member Alan Peters, who performs “Messiah” with the chorus Nov. 15 and 16.

Question:  How long have you been a member of the Fresno Community Chorus?

My wife and I joined the chorus in early 1967, with our first concert in May 1967 being Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Fresno Philharmonic, under Maestro Thomas Griswold. That began a long association with the chorus that has continued until today. There have been seasons when we were not able to sing with the chorus, but we have sung without a break since the coming of Dr. Hamre, whom we both consider as the finest choral director we have ever known.

What is your first memory of hearing “Messiah”? Did you hear it as a child?

Music has always been a part of my life. I remember sitting by my mother’s side in church—and my Mennonite background has a long history of four-part congregational singing—with her singing the soprano melody, and me singing the alto line of every hymn. I was lucky to attend public schools in my childhood that included music in the curriculum, so I learned how to read music early and, like most of my friends, took piano lessons as a child, and also learned to play a number of musical instruments—all as part of my public elementary school education here in California! I can’t remember the first time I heard the Hallelujah Chorus—I have always known it from hearing it in church. This includes “knowing” that it was customary—and expected—that we always stood when the Hallelujah Chorus was performed! The first time I heard the whole oratorio was as an elementary school student in San Jose, when my church choir sang it, with full orchestra. Since that first time, I have heard it regularly over the years. One of my sharpest memories was attending a performance of Messiah as a seventeen-year-old in San Jose, with the director solemnly announcing that his teacher and mentor, the composer Jean Sibelius, had just died, and dedicated the performance to the great composer’s memory!

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Opening tonight: ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe,’ ‘Truth and Reconciliation’

Two theater productions open Nov. 13 in Fresno. At Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, Good Company Players is reviving the sultry musical revue “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” From the company:

This smokin’ hot revue, spanning the ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s, features the toe- tapping, hip-swiveling, soul searing music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The duo burst into the music industry as teenagers and launched a body of work that runs the gamut from rhythm and blues to novelty with romantic ballads, doo-wop, and rock-and-roll liberally sprinkled throughout. The score of Smokey Joe’s Cafe includes songs like “Stand By Me,”  “Yakety Yak,”  “Spanish Harlem,”  “Kansas City,”  “Trouble,” Jailhouse Rock,”  “On Broadway,”  “Fools Fall In Love,” “On Broadway” and a myriad of other hits.

At Severance Theatre just up the street, the Fresno Pacific University Theatre Department opens Etan Frankel’s “Truth and Reconciliation.” Director Kate McKnight explains the plot:

The play is set Cartuga, a fictitious Central American country. A young American doctor goes to the country to provide medical care for local peasants, is mistakenly associated with the CIA and is murdered. His parents are asked to return to the country three years later for a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission based on those that Bishop Tutu organized in South Africa. Instead of revenge for their son’s death they get answers and some healing.

“Smokey Joe’s” runs through Jan. 11. Details here. “Truth and Reconciliation” runs through Nov. 22. Details: (559) 453-5586.

On the jump: a photo from “Truth and Reconciliation.”

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Fresno Philharmonic recap

I enjoyed the Fresno Philharmonic’s intimate concert over the weekend. (I attended the Saturday evening performance at the Shaghoian Hall.)

The good: Zuill Bailey, master cellist, wowed the audience with his cello acrobatics in Prokofiev’s difficult Sinfonia Concertante. Bailey was cool yet intense as his runs exploded at thrice-roller-coaster speed and his fingers skipped over the fingerboard so quickly they blurred. The composer threw in every trick other than making the soloist stand on his head while playing. It was an impressive performance. Another highlight: the orchestra’s Brahms Symphony No. 4 was strong, from Janette Erickson’s rousing flute solo to Maestro Theodore Kuchar’s emotive conducting.

The so-so: Perhaps it was where I was sitting in the auditorium, but the orchestra’s well-known opening piece, Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture,” seemed out of balance to me, with the percussion overwhelming other instruments in some parts with a clangy, tinny dominance.

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Facebook photo of the day: cute dog alert

OK, the Facebook photo of the day is mine. I posted it on Facebook and received more responses than any post I’ve ever done: 134 “likes” and 26 comments as of 1 p.m. today. So I thought I’d share it with Beehive readers. Here’s my Facebook explanation:

I’m not one to post lots of dog photos, but this one is special: Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary that we picked Tillie up and she became part of our lives. To mark the occasion, we brought out every one of the stuffed toys (and a dog bed) that she chewed up over the past year. (Not included: my brother’s bedroom rug, two pairs of glasses and the electric shaver foil from my Braun.) We wouldn’t have it any other way: She’s become a treasured member of the family.

Needless to say, I’ve started buying tougher dog toys.

West of West Center is born

In my Sunday Spotlight column, I introduced Bee readers to local author Mark Arax’s ambitious plan to create the new West of West Center. He envisions the center as a virtual history museum — with a major focus on agriculture — consisting of recorded interviews with prominent central San Joaquin Valley historical figures. Another component is a book-publishing arm, as I explain in my column:

And then Arax thought: Why not broaden the West of West concept to make it a sort of virtual history museum? And then — those Arax wheels are always turning — why not include a regional book-publishing component? Some of the books could be underwritten by local figures with worthy stories to tell, and those funds and proceeds from sales could subsidize books — fiction, memoirs, histories — from other worthy authors.

The first major release from the center is Betsy Lumbye’s “Beyond Luck: The Improbable Rise of the Berry Fortune Across a Western Century” (West of West Books, $25). Lumbye, a former executive editor of The Bee, got to dive into the remarkable story of Clarence Berry, a poor Selma farmer who struck it rich in gold at the turn of the 20th Century in the wilds of the Yukon Territory, and then returned to the San Joaquin Valley to make a second fortune in oil. (Berry Petroleum in 2013 was sold for nearly $5 billion.) The story of the Berry family’s fame and fortune is bookended by the oldest living descendant of Clarence Berry’s grand-nephew, Peter Bennett, now 92, who received a big chunk of inheritance. Bennett lives in Fresno today and is a prominent local philanthropist, but he’s avoided the spotlight.

As for the book itself, I devoured it in just a couple of sittings: It’s a good and fascinating read. (And I’m not just saying that because the author is my former boss.)

The launch of the West of West Center will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, at the Fresno Art Museum.

Pictured: Peter Bennett and Betsy Lumbye. (Bee photo by John Walker)

Weekend pick: Zuill Bailey with the Fresno Philharmonic

I got a chance to chat with acclaimed cellist Zuill Bailey for an advance piece in Friday’s 7 section. He’s returning to Fresno to perform for the second time with the Fresno Philharmonic, and he and musical director Theodore Kuchar have picked a doozy of a piece for him to demonstrate his cellist chops: the very difficult Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante. The music — which Bailey plans to record next year — brings back childhood memories of attending performances of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. Mstislav Rostropovich, considered one of the great cellists of the 20th Century, was the conductor, and Bailey realized just how special the sound of a cello could be.

Bailey performs with the orchestra in the intimate Shaghoian Hall, which puts you that much closer to the music. The program also includes the Brahms Symphony No. 4. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Friday (Nov. 7) and Saturday (Nov. 8), and 3 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 9). Check out the Fresno Philharmonic’s website for more details.

Opening tonight: ‘Ashes’

The final production of the first season of Curtain 5 Theatre Group opens tonight at the Fresno Soap Co. (formerly the Broken Leg Stage) in the Tower District. 

A description from the company:

“Ashes” features two “Behavioral A” sisters who meet a few weeks following their father’s funeral with the intention of determining who will be keeping his ashes. Rebecca and her obedient husband, Tom, live in a high rise Manhattan apartment, while Bridget, a unpolished free spirit, and husband, Danny, are unemployed school teachers living in New Jersey. Danny is recovering from laser eye surgery and unable to temporarily see.

Cordiality turns into a bitter round of name-calling, then a hair-pulling knock down drag out between the two sisters. Rebecca is played by Lori Gambero, director of the Roosevelt High School of Performing Arts, Bridget is played by Tania Tran, who has been featured in every production this season except “The Underpants.” Tom is played by Mathew Vargas, who was Ben in “Ben Minus Jake,” and Danny is played by Daniel Pena, who was in “Sunrise! Sunet!” and “TMI.”

Jerry Palladino directs. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday (Nov. 7) and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 8), with the same schedule Nov. 21 and 22. Tickets are $10 in advance at and $15 at the door.

Pictured: Lori Gambero, left, and Tania Tran in “Ashes.”

Opening tonight: ‘PLACAS’

Sorry for the lateness of this post, but I was tied up all day on deadline. 

The play “PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo,” which was first produced at the San Francisco International Arts Festival, makes its Fresno debut Thursday in a production partly sponsored by Fresno Building Healthy Communities. The play stars Ricardo Salinas of the performance troupe Culture Clash.

Playwright Paul S. Flores developed the title, which has traveled to New York and Los Angeles, as “a pro-active community response” to the issue of gang violence while presenting positive elements of Latino and Central American culture. It tells the story of one man’s determination, transformation and redemption as he leaves gang life and tries to reunite his family after surviving civil war, deportation, prison and street violence.

“PLACAS” continues 7:30 p.m. nightly through Saturday at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium. You can order advance tickets here.

ArtHop highlight: Tim Anderson’s ‘Morphic Traces’

You’re never quite sure what you’re looking at in one of Atasacadero artist Tim Anderson’s “techno-biological” drawings. Machine components? Plant or animal life? Human body parts?

In his new show “Morphic Traces,” which continues through Dec. 4 at Fresno City College’s Art Space Gallery, you have the chance to let Anderson’s complicated imagination wash over you. The show is organized by the regional Central California Museum of Art.

The artist will be on hand at 4 p.m. Thursday as part of the evening’s ArtHop festivities. I chatted with him via email for an interview and include excerpts in a story that serves as an ArtHop advance in Thursday’s Life section. (At the end of this post, you’ll find a few more of my ArtHop picks.) Here’s the extended version of the Anderson interview:

Question: You begin one of your works by extending a loose and random matrix of lightly limned lines over a large sheet of paper. What happens next?

Next I just let my mind and eyes relax, and try to stay open to whatever shapes and images step forward. After that I start to take more control, mostly so I can achieve a good composition.

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Steeped as we are in a culture of all-consuming capitalism, I think it’s challenging for Americans to fully get where French shock-till-you-drop playwright Jean Genet was coming from. The playwright got pretty wound up — to put it mildly — about the class struggle between the overlords of society and the peons who attend their every whim. In his 1947 play “The Maids,” Genet practically froths about the indignities of human power structures. To the playwright, who spent his early years as a vagabond and petty criminal, it doesn’t matter if the mistress of the house treats her hired help with a benign-fakey warmth instead of a whip to the back — at the end of the day, she retires in comfort to her flower-strewn bedroom with couture-filled closet, and they retreat to the plain attic servants’ quarters with rough pine dresser drawers. For Genet, it only makes sense for the maids to spend their free time fantasizing about plotting the gruesome death of their employer.

Considering that most of us work for someone else, I’d imagine that if Genet were around today, he’d envision an abundance of violent role playing going on behind closed American doors.

There’s a sass and a grace to the Fresno State production of “The Maids,” which certainly falls into the category of one of the weirdest recent shows at the university in a while. (And more power to the theater department for taking it on.) Director Ruth Griffin has said she wanted to stage the show as sort of a melodrama. That choice, paired with Griffin’s natural choreographic affinity for putting movement front and center in her shows, works well in this production — up till the final third of the show. As Genet’s play spins into a semi-absurdist whirl of anger and genuine suspense, however, Griffin’s stylized direction detracts from the bewildering climax instead of enhancing it.

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The stars of today’s 7 section: the Bulldog Marching Band

In my cover story, the band — which of course in a football-centric world is rarely covered by the media — gets the ink it deserves. I sat down with the Fresno State Bulldog Marching Band’s new director, Steve McKeithen, to talk about his vision for his hard-working musicians, who sometimes only get four rehearsals to perfect a field show performed in front of tens of thousands of people.

If you’re at Saturday’s home game against Wyoming, you’ll see and hear the band perform a routine saluting America’s veterans. Says McKeithen:

We’ll be playing all the service tunes. There will be great designs on the field: You’ll see planes and tanks and submarines and all sorts of fun stuff.

Check out Bee photographer John Walker’s video of pre-game festivities at the Nebraska game:

The Beehive Interview: Ruth Griffin on ‘The Maids’

In 1933 France, two maids who were sisters brutally murdered their employer and her daughter.

From that real-life event, Jean Genet in 1947 crafted his provocative play “The Maids,” a feisty and (at the time) scandalous show that emerged as a scathing comment on relations between the social classes. The maids regularly indulge in a ritualized game in which they act out a revenge fantasy involving the death of their mistress. Will this be the time they play the game to its conclusion?

Fresno State theater professor Ruth Griffin is directing the Genet classic. Known for her interest in physical and avant-garde theater, Griffin is describing her production, which opens Friday, Oct. 31, as a melodrama. We caught up with her via email to talk about the show. There’s an excerpt of the interview in Friday’s section; here’s the extended version.

Question: What is “The Maids” about?

Answer: “The Maids” constellates a situation between the haves and the have-nots, the entitled and the outcasts. They are a duality that exists together. Genet was inspired by a case in the news of 1933. The Papain sisters were maids who committed two brutal and ritualistic murders, slaying their mistress and her daughter. The French intellectuals of the time interpreted the murders as a compelling symbol of class relations.

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What happened in Jersey didn’t stay in Jersey. It finally made it to Fresno.

Which makes fans of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons very happy.

The central San Joaquin Valley waited a very long time indeed for the national tour of “Jersey Boys” — which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary — to get to the Saroyan Theatre. And judging from the enthusiastic reception at Tuesday’s opening night performance, I’d say there’s a lot of pent-up demand for the smooth harmonies and Garden-State-sized angst that this jukebox musical provides. Valli and his bandmates over the years churned out an amazing number of No. 1 hits, and the evening at the Saroyan floated along in a sort of nostalgic cloud of goodwill, with songs like “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man” eliciting appreciative murmurs from the audience.

This national tour features an Equity cast — the same union to which Broadway performers belong — and the depth of talent is clear from the beginning. Compared to some of the other smaller, non-Equity tours that come through Fresno, this production is clearly a rung above. (It plays through Sunday Nov. 2.)

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Can Fresno send ‘Janka’ to New York?

I have an in-depth Sunday Spotlight column for Oct. 19: a look at a push by people in the Fresno community to send the Holocaust one-woman play “Janka” to New York for an off-off Broadway run. From my column:

That dream is coming together thanks to a core of Fresno-area supporters. In a move that’s quite novel in the theater world, Noga and Speace are raising the $40,000 needed to finance a run at an Off-Off-Broadway theater. To kick off the campaign, benefit performances of the show will be held Oct. 25 and 26 at the 2nd Space Theatre.

“Janka” is a remarkable story featuring remarkable people, including the title character herself — who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp while most of her family died — to Janice Noga, Janka’s daughter-in-law, who has played the role for 12 years. I’m excited to think that “Janka” could be playing at the June Havoc Theatre on West 36th Street in Manhattan next May.

Bee photo: Eric Paul Zamora

Weekend pick: Collecting Rollin Pickford

There’s an intriguing underpinning to the new exhibition of works by famed Fresno watercolorist Rollin Pickford at Fresno State’s Madden Library. From my 7 cover story:

Collectors are an integral part of the artistic process. When they buy, the artist eats. Through the decades, the prolific Pickford always appreciated the people who supported him (and his family) by buying his art. The artist’s son Joel, who curated the show, tracked down 21 watercolors from 21 different collectors for the exhibition, held in the library’s Leon S. Peters Ellipse Gallery.

I’m making this my weekend pick, but there’s plenty of time to see the show: It runs through Jan. 16.

Above: one of my favorites from the show, a 1948 watercolor of the unfinished Friant-Kern Canal. 

Opening tonight: ‘The Crucible’

Selma Underground Productions opens a new version of “The Crucible” tonight at the Selma Arts Center. Expect some interesting staging. From the company:

“We are looking to produce a fresh take on this classic show,” says director Juan L. Guzmán. “My vision is to stay true to Miller’s intentions, to honor the script, and to let Miller’s words take center stage.

Set in the 1600s, amidst the infamous Salem witch trials, a community must grapple with their morals and faith as they set out to vanquish an evil that has permeated the wilderness they inhabit. “The Crucible” tells the story of one man’s fight to clear More his conscious and save his name, no matter the cost. The Selma Underground production will take liberties with staging and costuming, and will be set outside of the time period in which it is written. Even the stage itself will be altered, so as to provide a different viewing perspective for the audience.

The show runs through Oct. 26. Ticket information here. Here’s Guzmán talking about the show: