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Weekend pick: ‘Virginia Woolf’

There are lots of theater options this weekend, but I want to give a last shout-out for Artists’ Repertory Theatre’s impressive “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” now in its final weekend at California Arts Academy’s Severance Theatre. It plays 8 p.m Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. From my review:

This is an exemplary production — one of the best of the year locally. Long before there were games involving hunger, George and Martha set the standard for weird, memorable and dangerous antics.

And if you’ve never seen the stage version of this acclaimed show, you owe it to yourself to see a great piece of American theater.

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

The first real dagger of the evening comes early.

“Lay off my father,” snaps Martha, aka theater’s most famous frustrated 1960s faculty wife. Leslie Martin, who brings the character in Edward Albee’s classic “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to life in an outstanding Artists’ Repertory Theatre production at the Severance Theatre, imbues her words to her husband with a steely, razor-sharp menace that could be the precursor to a “Game of Thrones”-style killing spree.

Up till this point the slings and arrows in this whimsically ferocious outing have been of the play-fighting variety, as we watch one of the famous sparring couples in American theater history — Martha and her professor husband, George, played with towering skill and feeling by Brad Myers — spar with each other in an evening of “fun and games.” Martha’s father is president of the small New England college at which her husband works, and even though both enjoy mocking the old man, there are lines that can be crossed.

One of the great strengths of “Virginia Woolf” is in the way it can turn dangerous on you in a split-second. I love how this production, directed by Myers, makes you feel that danger. But this is more than the story of an alcohol-fueled raging couple. The play is built on a toxic relationship, and yet Albee keeps us guessing throughout as to where these characters truly stand.

There are far wider more perilous lines than sniping about Martha’s father that are crossed later in the play, but even when things get uglier — and, oh, how ugly they get — there’s always a sense of ambiguity.

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The Beehive Interview: Brad Myers talks about ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’

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In Friday’s 7 section I have an interview with Brad Myers about Friday’s opening of Artists’ Repertory Theatre’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It’s been 30 years since this classic play was seen in Fresno. Myers directs the show, which runs through July 27 at the Severance Theatre, and also stars as George, one-half of the play’s famed George-and-Martha-married-couple sparring duo.

Here’s an extended version of Myers’ interview.

Question: For those who aren’t familiar with the play, give us a brief synopsis.

Answer: George, a professor at a small university, and his wife, Martha, the daughter of the university’s president, return home after attending a faculty party at the home of Martha’s father. It is after 2 in the morning. However, Martha informs George that she has invited over a new young faculty member (Nick) and his wife (Honey). The unsuspecting couple arrives, and is introduced to the remarkable wit and sparring of the older couple. The banter between George and Martha is initially playful. However, their well-exercised games begin to cross dangerous new boundaries. Through the course of the evening, the party antics whirl out of control, careening from eruptive humor to dramatic intensity. Ultimately, George is forced to conduct a drastic and final game.

You played George when you were in graduate school at the University of Arizona. Tell us about that experience.

I remember two things most vividly about the experience. The first was working with Glenda Young, who played Martha. We spent many hours outside of rehearsal working to incorporate a rich biographical history into our portrayals. Immediately after we closed in “Virginia Woolf,” Glenda and I went into rehearsals for a local dinner theatre production of “I Do! I Do!.” I suspect there was an unintended transfer of the “Virginia Woolf” dynamic that gave that frothy musical an eerily dark undertone. Secondly, I recall Edward Albee attending one of our “Virginia Woolf” performances, followed by a talk back with the playwright. Of course, I was terrified given Mr. Albee had a reputation for being painfully blunt. However, he was very kind. Or, at least, forgiving.

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Win tickets to ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

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Edward Albee’s 1962 drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is a great American play — and, for the first time in more than 30 years, you’ll get a chance to see it in the Fresno area. The Artists’ Repertory Theatre production, directed by Brad Myers, opens Friday at the California Arts Academy’s Severance Theatre. I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to the opening weekend performances. If you win, you can choose between the 8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday or 2 p.m. Sunday shows.

To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: What is your favorite Brad Myers-directed production from his long and illustrious tenure on the Fresno theater scene? (If you aren’t familiar enough with his body of work to answer, no worries: just say his “Assassins” at Fresno State, one of my favorites.)

Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Friday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winners by email on Friday at 10, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by noon Friday, I reserve the right to pick another. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the theater box office. Rules are on the jump.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Rocky Horror Show Live!’

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Ah, “Rocky.” You’ve become an annual affair, and perhaps it’s inevitable there are years when you slump a little compared to previous outings.

While the Artists’ Repertory Theatre production at the Severance Theatre offers plenty of the wild “Rocky” fun for which it’s come to be known, it had some problems at Thursday’s opening night performance. The choreography and ensemble work was not as crisp as I’ve seen in the past, with even “Time Warp” coming out a little messy. A few of the leading performances were weak. And the sound, credited to designer Jerry Phanthamany, was simply awful.

I’ve harped on the sound at “Rocky” before, but I’ve never heard it this bad. The small live band, conducted by Katie Steinhauer, pounded merrily away at top volume throughout, managing to drown out not only many of the solo vocals but even vast sections of the ensemble singing as well. Yes, many of those gorgeous harmonies in Richard O’Brien’s surprisingly lush score were swept away on an aural tsunami of drums and keyboard. Forget about trying to understand the lyrics in a show that already has an almost unintelligible plot (which is, of course, part of its campy charm). There were times I couldn’t even hear the voices, much less try to consider the articulation.

It even reached the point when I started to contemplate: Could recorded music work at a live “Rocky Horror”? Generally I’d be appalled at such a suggestion, but if ART can’t get the sound balanced in the small Severance Theatre space, perhaps it should be a matter worth pursuing.

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Welcome back, Rocky

If you somehow missed the rousing Artists’ Repertory Theatre production of “The Rocky Horror Show” in its recent October-November run — what were you thinking? It’s a smart, tart experience that explodes with enthusiasm. Luckily, you have a second chance. The company is bringing back “Rocky” for a five-performance encore run at the Cal Arts Severance Theatre. The production opens 8 p.m. tonight and continues through Monday with a closing New Year’s Eve performance.

This version is basically the same cast — with one well-known local theater name replacing another in a leading role. Terry Lewis will play Riff Raff, replacing Brian Pucheu, who was committed to perform in California Public Theater’s “RENT.”

To remind you of just how good this production is, here’s my Beehive review. Here’s my 7 cover story on opening day, and here’s a fun chat with director/star Daniel Chavez Jr., “Fresno’s most flexible hot dog.” Maybe what you need to spice up your New Year’s weekend is a little “Time Warp.”

Theater notes

  • Schedule change: The Shine! Youth Theatre production of “Miracle on 34th Street, the Musical” will open Sunday instead of Friday. Director tony sanders tells me that a cast member had medical issues that resulted in the cancellation of the first two performances. The show — which is the inaugural Fresno production for the company — will open 1 p.m. Sunday at Break the Barriers (8555 N. Cedar Ave.) and continue through Dec. 16. [Details]
  • Hot-diggity dog: If you haven’t heard by now, the Artists’ Repertory Theatre production of “The Rocky Horror Show” at the Cal Arts Severance Theatre is coming back for a New Year’s Eve-week run, thanks to popular demand. Five shows have been added Dec. 27-31. [Details]
  • Sad news: Pamela Dyer reports that Fresno State’s theater family has lost an icon. Jeanette Bryon — professor, costume designer and a key architect of the Child Drama Center and the London Semester — passed away on Sunday, December 2, 2012. She was a beloved figure in the department and will be much missed. Services are private.

Donald’s weekend picks

Who needs shopping, anyway?

1. SAY GOODBYE TO ‘ROCKY’
If you haven’t yet seen the Artists’ Repertory Theatre production of “The Rocky Horror Show,” what are you thinking? It’s a great evening. Here’s my review. There are two more performances: 8 p.m. today and Saturday.  [Details]

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A chat with Fresno’s most flexible hot dog

We had a great time last Friday in The Bee’s photo studio preparing our big cover-story package on the opening of “The Rocky Horror Show” in tomorrow’s issue of 7. For the shoot, we had (appropriately enough) seven of the leading cast members show up in full “Rocky” regalia. (Or, in the case of Rocky himself, a costume that can be measured in mere square inches of fabric.)

Because of our fancy photo treatment of “Rocky Horror” in 7, I didn’t have enough space to go into all the details I would have liked after talking with Daniel Chavez Jr., who is both director and the leading character of Frank ‘N’ Furter (above; Bee photo by Mark Crosse). So consider this post an addition to my 7 story.

The look of the show: Chavez’s “steam punk” aesthetic will best be seen in the costumes, which have been completely redone from the 2008 Severance Theatre production. An example: the Phantoms four years ago wore leather corsets and fishnet stockings. The updated look replaces the leather with satin brocade and adds peasant blouses, garters, hose, puffy sleeves and ruffles. “I kind of feel like my tastes have refined,” Chavez says. “We’re taking it away from the whole garage-band grunge look.”

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Win tickets to ‘The Rocky Horror Show’

Are you ready to do the Time Warp again?

When Artists’ Repertory Theatre presented the stage version of “The Rocky Horror Show” in 2008 at the Severance Theatre at California Arts Academy, it was a smash success. People flocked for tickets. Now the same “Rocky” is back, with some new faces and new costumes, and it’s sure to be a big event. You can look for my cover story in Friday’s 7 section.

In the meantime, let’s give away some tickets! I’m giving two pairs of tickets to the opening weekend of “Rocky Horror” (either 8 p.m. Friday or Saturday, your choice). To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite “Rocky Horror” character. I’ll select two comments at random as winners. Deadline is 3 p.m. Thursday. If you enter, please remember to check your email, because that’s how I’ll be notifying winners. Tickets will be available at Will Call. Complete rules are on the jump.

(Can you believe that’s Brian Pucheu, above, as Riff Raff? Quite the stretch from “Calamity Jane,” wouldn’t you say? Bee photo by Mark Crosse.)

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ROGUE REVIEW: ‘Pillow Talk/Best Half Foot Forward’

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It’s raining men at Artists’ Repertory Theatre. The company, which over the years has developed a finely tuned sense of the mechanics of an effective Rogue show, cranks up the testosterone this time around, presenting a very funny duet of one-act plays by “Rescue Me” creator Peter Tolan.

The topic: goofy guy stuff.

In the first one-act, “Pillow Talk,” we meet two dorky guys (Luis Ramentas and Jason Bathauer) who have to share a very small mobile-home bed. Following is “Best Half Foot Forward,” in which four best buddies (Greg Taber, Hal Bolen, Travis Sheridan and Max Debbas) sharing a cabin for a week get up close and, um, personal with each other. (We’ve watched Sheridan get a tattoo and wear a wrestling singlet. Now we’re here when he gives himself a nipple massage. This is not a shy man.)

My favorite of the two is “Pillow Talk.” Director M. Justin Red coaxes wry performances from his actors, and the big laugh lines (including a mid-scene interruption by an off-stage grandmother) are nicely staged. “Best Half Foot Forward,” directed by Anthony Taylor, is fun, too, though the opening moments need a little more zip. As “Half Foot” continues and the locker-room atmosphere builds, however, the show gets very funny. And silly. And bawdy. Which makes it a Rogue crowd-pleaser.

ROGUE REVIEW: Parallel Lives

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I am so happy I saw Artists’ Repertory Theatre’s “Parallel Lives” Friday night. It really made me laugh. A LOT.

“Parellel Lives,” a satirical play by Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy, is one of those comedies that you never get bored with. Even if a couple scenes that seemed to drag on a bit too long, such as the cowboy bar, there are these tiny nuggets of genius that bring a smile and chuckle. And in the scenes that were fantastically funny, such as the one about tampons, and incredibly portrayed, like the bathroom grooming scene, you’re sorry to see them end. After 50 minutes of laugh after laugh, I was sorry to see this play end. The sister-woman-sister scene near the end is so over-the-top funny that it reminded of an old-school Saturday Night Live skit.

This comedy pokes fun everything from menstruation to religion and could upset some viewers. The audience Friday night really roared with laughter and the content didn’t seem to bother anyone.

The six actresses that take us through the scenes of coping with everyday life, really nailed the comedic timing. The set was easy to follow. The changes from scene to scene are seamless. The music prompts fit perfectly. There was really very little to quibble about in this production.

If you want hilarious during this Rogue Festival run, go see “Parallel Lives.”

SHOW INFO: x 1 p.m. Sunday, 8:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Severance, 1401 N. Wishon. Admission: $7.

More on ‘All in the Timing’

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First off, here are our two winners for the “All in the Timing” ticket giveaway for this weekend: Amy Hance and Kelly Hawthorne. Each wins two tickets. Congrats.

I talked with some of the show’s creative team last week and wanted to share some of their answers to give a little more background for people not familiar with the show:

Question: For people who aren’t familiar with the Rogue “All in the Timing” productions, fill them in. Are you now presenting the full David Ives script?

Answer: “All In The Timing” is a collection of hilarious short comedies by David Ives, and we are presenting an evening (or afternoon) of our favorites. Think of it as sketch comedy a la “Saturday Night Live”, but with an irreverent appreciation of relationships, language, and philosophy rather than politics and pop culture. There are 14 plays in the complete collection, and presenting them all would be too long for a single evening. We selected 8, including 4 we performed at Rogue Festival 2008 and 3 we did at Rogue 2009, plus 1 that is entirely new for us. Each play has humor on all levels as well as light but poignant commentary on the human condition.

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Round 2: Win more tickets to ‘All in the Timing’

Last week we gave away four tickets to last weekend’s performances of the Artists’ Repertory Theatre production of “All in the Timing.” We have four more tickets to give away for this weekend as well. The show, which brings together the David Ives short plays that were a hit at the last two Rogue festivals, plays 8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Cal Arts Severance Theater.

I’ll pick TWO commenters to this post at random and give them two tickets each. I’ll be picking the winners at 10 a.m. Friday, which is the deadline for comments. The tickets will be available at the door. Winners will be notified in an e-mail, so leave a real one. No repeat comments. You’re ineligible if you’ve won something in the past 30 days. We won’t post any comments until we have a winner. Complete rules after the jump.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘All in the Timing’

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“All in the Timing,” a collection of short plays by the very talented playwright David Ives, was split into a couple of parts by Artists’ Repertory Theatre and presented at the past two Rogue Festivals. Both outings were big artistic successes. Ives’ gently absurdist contemplations of time and language fit perfectly into the Rogue’s breezy, fast-paced format. Sharp performances abounded. The direction crackled. Audiences seemed to walk away exhilarated.

Now ART has brought back all the Rogue short plays, plus one bonus offering that hadn’t made the cut, in an evening-length performance of “All in the Timing.”

In this incarnation, the magic is harder to find. The laughs are still in evidence, but the wit and precision of the evenings is diminished.

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Win tickets to ‘All in the Timing’

UPDATE: We have our winners: Robert Boro and Lauren Bagato. Thanks for playing!

ORIGINAL ENTRY: This is absolutely last-minute, folks, and a golden opportunity for those of you hanging out here on a late Friday afternoon. I have FOUR tickets to give away to the Artists’ Repertory Theatre production of “All in the Timing,” which continues this weekend at the Severance Building. (This is a combination of the two wildly popular Rogue Festival presentations.) Tickets are good for the 8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday or 2 p.m. Sunday performances. I’ll give two tickets to the FIRST commenter to this post and two tickets to the THIRD commenter. The tickets will be available at the door. Winner will be notified in an e-mail, so leave a real one. No repeat comments. You’re ineligible if you’ve won something in the past 30 days. We won’t post any comments until we have a winner. Complete rules after the jump.

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Donald’s weekend arts picks

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Sure, it’s Easter weekend, but don’t despair about entertaining that houseful of relatives. There are definitely some cultural options if you look:

  • Top of the list, especially if you have kids in tow, is a FREE live theater performance of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” part of the Fresno County Public Library’s “Big Read” program celebrating the Mark Twain classic book. I have a story about the show in today’s issue of 7. (Pictured above are Andrew Golden, left, and Rob Lippert). It plays 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
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    At the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, you can get a blend of Easter frivolity and fine art. “Bunnypalooza,” held 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, features an Easter egg hunt, photos with the Easter bunny and games, crafts and other activities. And a new exhibit beckons: The Met on Saturday opens “The Dutch Italianates: 17th Century Masterpieces from Dulwich.” The touring show features 39 influential paintings by the famed masters of the Dutch Italianate style.

  • And don’t forget about Fresno’s Tower District theater scene, which rolls along with performances of “The Fantasticks” at the Severance Theatre (review here), “Little Women” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre (review here) and “The Man Who Came to Dinner” at the 2nd Space Theatre (review here). Holiday weekends traditionally have light audiences, so it should be easy to get some good seats.

THEATER REVIEW: The Fantasticks

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Here’s the easy-to-remember version: I don’t much care for “The Fantasticks.”

Before I watched the Actors’ Repertory Theatre stage production at the Severance Theatre, the only version I’d seen of the world’s longest running musical — it opened in New York only slightly after the dinosaurs died, finally closing in 2002 before reopening in yet another run that continues to this day — was a slick 1995 film version starring Joel Grey on DVD. I’d been decidedly ho-hum about that experience, and I can say the same thing after watching the admittedly competent and assured production that the ART folks have put together.

To me, “The Fantasticks” (playing through April 19) is a show that has one amazing blockbuster song (“Try to Remember,” as reliable as onions in the tear-provoking department) and a lot of bluster. Its small-scale charm and simplicity wear well for 20 minutes or so, then grow stale. Many of the songs themselves come across as tinny and tuneless. My suspicion is that the show became famous for running a long time not because it’s such an exceptional evening of theater but that it, well, managed to run a long time. In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Win tickets to ‘The Fantasticks’

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UPDATE 9:50 p.m. 3/25: We have a winner. Thanks for playing.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: “The Fantasticks” might have played FOREVER in New York — we’re talking about 17,162 performances from 1960 through 2002, when it finally closed — but it never quite got the same never-ending Fresno exposure. (Actually, I can’t remember the show having played here in recent memory, but I’m sure it must have been performed numerous times over the years.) Now’s your chance to see what all the fuss was about. “The Fantasticks” is the newest production from Artists’ Repertory Theatre, opening Friday at the Severance Theatre. And I have two free tickets to give away.

The tickets are good for either Friday or Saturday night’s 8 p.m. performances. I’ll give them to the FOURTH commenter to this post. You can pick up your tickets at Will Call. No multiple entries are allowed. We won’t publish comments until we have the winners. Rules are on the jump.

More tickets: Keep an eye out Thursday morning, when I’ll be giving away two prime seats for the Lively Arts Foundation’s 20th anniversary gala, which is set for Saturday at the Saroyan Theatre.

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