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My weekend pick: a play reading

UPDATED: I love live play readings. To me, they’re like a super-special version of listening to a book-on-CD in your car. It’s exciting that StageWorks Fresno and The New Ensemble are partnering in Sunday afternoon’s installment of the popular Hot Off the Stages play reading series. The title: “A Month in the Country” by Ivan Turgenev.

When I originally put up this post at about noon today, a different title was planned: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which is a hot title on Broadway right now. But things didn’t go as planned. The rights to perform the reading were rescinded at the last minute, forcing StageWorks and The New Ensemble to scramble.

They came up with an intriguing replacement. “A Month in the Country” is currently playing to rave reviews at the Classic Stage Company in New York City (starring “Game of Thrones’” Peter Dinklage and “Orange is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling). From StageWorks/New Ensemble:

Our informally staged reading of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY will feature the talents of Joel Abels, Chris Carsten, Tessa Cavaletto, Hayley Galbraith, Miguel Gastelum, Mitchell Lam Hau, Amalie Larsen, Terry Lewis, Jennifer Goettsch, Dillon Morgan and Heather Parish (as the servants!), who have all gamely stayed on for the ride!

Turgenev’s masterpiece chronicles the comic and erotic turmoil that befalls an otherwise quiet country estate when a handsome young tutor arrives to teach Natalya Petrovna’s young son. Soon Natalya is interested in a tutelage of another kind, much to the consternation of her husband and her long suffering friend, Rakitin, who is hopelessly and secretly smitten with her. It’s a beautlly nuanced meditation on the nature of unrequited love.

The play we originally scheduled, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” is a terrific piece that we hope will make its way to audiences in the Central Valley soon.

The reading is 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, at the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium. Admission is free.

My pick tonight: ‘Freud’s Last Session’

I’m a big fan of The New Ensemble Theater Group’s play-reading series. If you’ve never experienced one, a play reading might sound like a dry-as-dust time suck that will have you fidgeting in your seat after 15 minutes. But when they’re done right, like with The New Ensemble, they can be an invigorating way to absorb a new play. Don’t worry: the actors don’t read the script cold. They’re as invested in developing their characters as if they were in a full-fledged production.

The company’s latest offering in its Hot Off the Stages series is Mark St. Germain’s hit Off Broadway play “Freud’s Last Session.” Can a Christian and an atheist have a frank discussion about the existence of God and still respect each other in the end? Jaguar Bennett and James Sherrill star.

The reading is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Revue Cafe,  620 E. Olive Ave. Admission is free with purchase of snack or beverage.

“Freud’s Last Session,” an Off-Broadway hit, is receiving its West Coast debut at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica through Feb. 10. Who knows? If you like the reading enough, you could make a road trip to see Judd Hirsch and Tom Cavanagh in the leading roles.

Tonight: An opening at 2nd Space, a reading at The New Ensemble


NOT-SO-WEDDED BLISS: Good Company Players opens the classic comedy “When We Are Married” at the 2nd Space Theatre. The 1938 play by J.B. Priestley is about three Yorkshire couples who were married 25 years ago in the same ceremony. When they gather to celebrate the anniversary, they learn they weren’t actually legally married — which sets off a comic scramble.

Noel Adams, Joyce Anabo, Karan Johnson, Larry Mattox, Henry Montelongo and Laurie Pessano play the “happy” couples. Dan Pessano directs. The show continues through April 15. [Details]

‘GOOD PEOPLE’ READING: The New Ensemble tonight offers the latest in its “Hot Off the Stages” contemporary-play-reading series:

Nominated for a 2011 Tony Award for Best Play, Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” takes an affectionate look at the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ through the eyes of characters who won’t be ignored. Margie Walsh can’t catch a break. Laid off from her job at the dollar store, Margie is faced with the reality that South Boston is providing her the same level of opportunity it always has: none. Ready to make a change, she finds herself in the ‘burbs and out of her element, facing the question – is opportunity granted or earned?

Kristin Lyn Crase, Jaguar Bennett, Anthony Rico Nan and Gabriela Lawson perform. [Details]

Thursday: ‘Venus in Fur’


This one should be a scorcher.

The New Ensemble presents the next in its “Hot Off the Stages” play-reading series with a presentation of “Venus in Fur” 7 p.m. Thursday at The City Arts Gallery, 1475 N. Van Ness Ave., between Floradora and McKinley. From The New Ensemble:

“Venus in Fur” is currently performing on Broadway at the Lyceum Theater and is the sexiest, funniest, most acclaimed new Broadway play of the season. Written by theatrical mastermind David Ives (“All in the Timing”, “A Flea in Her Ear”), “Venus in Fur” introduces us to Vanda, a talented young actress determined to land the lead in Thomas’ new play based on the classic erotic novel, Venus in Fur. Vanda’s emotionally charged audition for the gifted but demanding playwright/director becomes an electrifying game of cat and mouse that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, seduction and power, love and sex.

Local theater veterans Brooke Aiello and Terry Lewis will read.

The play-reading series continues Feb. 23 with a reading of “Good People” — another recent hot Broadway title — featuring the talents of Kristin Lyn Crase, Jaguar Bennett, Anthony Rico Nan and Gabriela Lawson.

If you’ve never attended a staged reading before, they can be a great experience. As I’ve written, there’s something invigorating about listening and watching skilled actors read a play rather than perform a fully staged version. The experience tickles your imagination.

To-Do Tonight: a free play reading


I’m three for three when it comes to plugging The New Ensemble theater company’s “Hot Off the Stages” play reading series as a “To-Do Tonight” pick.

The final of three readings in the spring series will be 7 p.m. Tuesday featuring Sarah Ruhl’s “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.” The reading is at the Revue Cafe, 620 E. Olive Ave.

Heather Parish of the New Ensemble writes:

An incessantly ringing cell phone in a quiet café. A stranger at the next table who has had enough. And a dead man–with a lot of loose ends. So begins “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” a wildly imaginative new comedy by Pulitzer Prize finalist, Sarah Ruhl, author of “Eurydice.” A work about how we memorialize the dead–and how that remembering changes us–it is the odyssey of a woman forced to face her own assumptions about morality, redemption, and the need to connect in a technologically obsessed world.

A 2008 Drama Desk Award winner, Dead Man’s Cell Phone is a whimsical, magical delight.

Arrive early to grab a coffee and pastry to enjoy this reading by local actors Gabriela Lawson, David Otero, Jessica Reedy, Kristin Lyn Crase, Jaguar Bennett and Suzanne Grazyna.

I attended the first two readings — “Red” and “August: Osage County” — and got caught up in the wonderful writing and excellent acting. There’s something invigorating about listening and watching skilled actors read a play rather than perform a fully staged version. The experience tickles your imagination.

To-Do Tonight: a free play reading


The New Ensemble theater company is in the middle of a series of readings of new plays called Hot Off the Stages! at the Revue Cafe in the Tower District. I caught last week’s reading of John Logan’s “Red.” It was a nice experience with great ambiance in the generous expanse of the Revue’s back room, which has a theater-like feel. I highly recommend the series.

Tonight is the second in the series: Tracy Lett’s “August: Osage County,” which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. It starts at 7 p.m. Arrive early to order beverages and food to support the Revue, which is providing the space for free. The event is free.

Heather Parish, artistic director of the New Ensemble, writes:

A vanished father. A pill-popping mother. Three sisters harboring shady little secrets. When the large Weston family unexpectedly reunites after Dad disappears, their Oklahoman family homestead explodes in a maelstrom of repressed truths and unsettling secrets. Mix in Violet, the drugged-up, scathingly acidic matriarch, and you’ve got a major new play that unflinchingly–and uproariously–exposes the dark side of the Midwestern American family.

The New Ensemble brings together an exciting cast of local actors (recently in “The Pillowman,” “The Light in the Piazza,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Godling” and various shows around town) to read this explosive drama: Joel Abels, Jaguar Bennett, Chelsea Bonilla, Kristin Lyn Crase, Terry Lewis, Candace Metzler, Thomas Nance, David Otero, Jessica Reedy, Erica Riggs, Amelia Ryan, James Sherrill, and Christina Tellifson.

Again, if I can get out of work in time, I hope to be there!