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A final performance for Leslie Martin

My Capture

Talk about retiring from an acting career on a high note. Leslie Martin, who imbues the Organic Theater Factory’s production of ” ‘Night, Mother” with an astonishing, aching sense of verisimilitude, will hang up her acting hat with Sunday’s final performance. (The site-specific show, held at a private home in Prather, has long been sold out.) I caught up with Martin to confirm the news.

Question: Is it true that you are retiring from acting? (Please say it isn’t so.)

Answer:  Yes, it is true.

Why?

My father died a year ago. I was very close to him and felt lost. My close friend, Jennifer Hasty, encouraged me to do something that I have always dreamed about, and that is write a screenplay. She is an actress as well but has always wanted to write.We began working on a screenplay. For now, that is my passion. We are doing rewrites now and plan on having a table read in Los Angeles in the winter.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Night, Mother

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What really got me was the coffee creamer.

The scene is in the kitchen of the Cates household in the Organic Theater Factory’s unforgettable site-specific production of “ ‘Night, Mother.” Jessie, the daughter, is refilling the creamer while having an intense discussion with her mother.

It took only a few seconds for the sharp odor to float over to where I was sitting, about 15 feet away.

Up until that point in the production, I was perfectly well aware on an intellectual level that I was experiencing Marsha Norman’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play in a private home. But it wasn’t until the creamer that the full emotional impact hit me: that I was there with them, these two troubled women, as if I’d somehow been rendered invisible and was being allowed to peek in at a very private moment in their lives.

This ” ‘Night, Mother” (continuing through Sept. 8) is a grand experiment, and you should feel privileged if you get to take part in it. Director Adam Schroeder, working with two exceptional actors — Leslie Martin as the mother and Danielle Jorn as the daughter — provide an experience that makes you feel both a voyeur and a confidante.

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An unforgettable ‘Night, Mother

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I saw a preview performance of the new Organic Theater Factory production of ” ‘Night, Mother,” which in a site-specific production is being staged in a private home in Prather, and I’ll describe it in one word: unforgettable. (The show opens tonight, and my review will post by Monday.)

For more on this ambitious production, which has space for just 20 audience members a performance, check out my cover story in today’s 7 section. 

It’s best to treat going to see this play as an experience, from the drive up to Prather (listening to the playlists of songs that you can download after purchasing the ticket), to opening the front door of the house and just walking in sans usher to find your seat, to actually smelling the hot cocoa one of the characters makes in the real kitchen during one scene, to driving home, likely overwhelmed with emotion, and listening to the recorded talk-back with the actor and cast.

One more thing: With only 20 seats a performance, that means 180 people in total will get to see this production. I strongly recommend buying tickets early. They’re available online.

Notes from the theater beat

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‘GREY GARDENS’ CASTING NEWS:  Joel Abels, artistic director of StageWorks Fresno, had hoped to feature Fresno native and Broadway professional Jacqueline Antaramian, who charmed audiences in last year’s “Master Class,” in the leading role in the upcoming “Grey Gardens.” Antaramian would have made a lot of hometown fans happy, but she ended up having a scheduling conflict.

Abels found a big name to fill Antaramian’s shoes, however. Sara Gettelfinger originated the role of Young Little Edie in the original production of “Grey Gardens” Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. (Which I saw!) She’s also featured in the cast recording. Now she’ll be tackling the demanding dual roles of Big Edie in the first act and Little Edie in the second act — the roles played by Christine Ebersole in her 2006 Tony Award-winning performance.

That’s a real coup for StageWorks. Here’s Gettelfinger’s bio:

Most recently appeared as “Morticia” in the first national tour of The Addams Family. BROADWAY: “Dona Athene” in John Guare’s A FREE MAN OF COLOR at Lincoln Center. Suessical the Musical,The Boys from Syracuse, “Carla” in NINE with Antonio Banderas, “Jolene Oakes” in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opposite John Lithgow, as well as the first national tours of FOSSE and 101 Dalmatians “Cruella De Vil”. Other NYC area credits include: “April” in Company (Helen Hayes), “Fastrada” in Pippin (Papermill Playhouse), Tenderloin and Carnival at City Center ENCORES!, Anything Goes at Lincoln Center, and “Little Edie Beale” in the world premier of Grey Gardens at Playwrights Horizons. In 2009, Sara starred as “Fastrada” in the Deaf West production of Pippin at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum. Television:The Big C, Georgetown, Guiding Light, Ed, and Without a Trace, Film: 10 to Midnight, Sex In the City, Forbidden Love. In 2006 Sara was signed to DECCA/Universal Records with the classical-crossover trio Three Graces. Their self-titled,debut album was released in stores/online in March 2008,reaching the top 10 on the BILLBOARD/CROSSOVER Charts, followed by a world wide, critically acclaimed concert tour.

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Donald’s weekend picks

If you thought last weekend was busy, wait till you see this one. Be sure to see our full coverage in Friday’s 7, including a roundup of classical music concerts.

1. SEE ‘ORDINARY DAYS’
It’s beautiful. There are only three performances left: 8 p.m. Friday; and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Director Anthony Taylor’s Q&A interview is here, and my review is here. [Details]

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Ordinary Days’

How to pinpoint the most exquisite moment in the excellent and moving “Ordinary Days” from the Organic Theater Factory at The Voice Shop? There’s so much in this spare, nimble and intimate musical about four New Yorkers grappling with life in the city to contend for that honor.

It could be the part when Dominic Grijalva, playing a relentlessly sunny artist named Warren, lets his optimism brim over the day he meets a new friend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (Grijalva sports an expression on his face somewhere between cloyingly naive and wisely philosophical.) Or it could be when Terry Lewis, playing a lovestruck suitor named Jason who can’t quite bring himself to declare his love for his live-in girlfriend, sings of his “Favorite Places” in the city. (Lewis’ tender high tenor lines ache with frustration.)

Another candidate for triumphant moment: when the wonderful Taylor Abels, portraying an acerbic and self-involved graduate student named Deb, has a mini-breakdown and longs for an antidote to Manhattan’s chaos in the song “Calm.” (Abels hits musical-theater heights in the solo, immersing us in her character’s woes and wishes as she conveys the narrative as a master storyteller, all while belting it out in gorgeous voice.)

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Interview: Anthony Taylor on Organic Theater Factory’s ‘Ordinary Days’

If you attended Audra McDonald’s ravishing concert last year at the Warnors Theatre, you probably were captivated by her rendition of “I’ll Be Here” from the new musical “Ordinary Days.” Now you have the chance to see the show itself in Fresno. (It opens Friday and continues through Dec. 8.) I talked with director Anthony Taylor about his new Organic Theater Factory production for a story in Friday’s 7 section. Here’s the extended version of that interview:

Question: What is the show about?

Answer: “Ordinary Days” is the story about the relationships and connections of four people living in New York City. Some of the relationships are direct and some of the connections are passing, but it’s a story about how we DO all connect and how we find friendship and love in the most obvious AND most surprising places.

Pictured: Ashley Taylor, Terry Lewis, Dominic Grijalva and Taylor Abels. (Photo by Kristin Goehring.)

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Win tickets to opening night of ‘Ordinary Days’ at The Voice Shop

As I told you a few weeks ago, Friday is awash in theater openings. There are five: “A Year with Frog and Toad” at Severance Theatre, “Tape” at Fresno City College, “White Christmas” at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium, “Beauty and the Beast” at the Reedley Opera House, and “Ordinary Days” at The Voice Shop.

I’ll have details about the shows in Friday’s 7 section. In the meantime, to get you in the theater mood, I’m giving two tickets away to “Ordinary Days” for opening night 8 p.m. Friday. This production from the Organic Theater Factory is an intimate musical about two couples whose lives intertwine in New York City. The cast is stellar: Terry Lewis, Ashley Taylor, Taylor Abels and Dominic Grijalva.

Because people don’t know much about this 2009 musical, I won’t ask any specific questions about it for the giveaway. But here’s a twist: To enter, leave a comment on this post picking a cast member and telling us your favorite local theater performance from that actor. (If you aren’t familiar with their work, no problem, just leave a comment saying you want the tickets.) I’ll pick one comment at random as winner. Deadline is 3 p.m. TODAY.

If you win, you’ll be able to pick up the tickets at the door.  Please don’t enter more than once. Check your email at about 3:30 p.m. today to see if you won, because that’s how I’ll be notifying winners. Complete rules on the jump.

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Upcoming theater

As we look ahead to the end of November and early December — always one of the busiest cultural times of the year — here’s a quick glance at local theater you don’t want to miss.

‘ORDINARY DAYS’
This new musical from composer Adam Gwon is a last-minute addition to the schedule. I just received word today it will be staged Nov. 30-Dec. 8 by Fresno’s Organic Theater Factory at The Voice Shop. From the company’s website:

Ordinary Days tells the story of four young New Yorkers whose lives intersect as they search for fulfillment, happiness, love and cabs. Directed by Anthony Taylor and performed by Terry Lewis, Taylor Abels, Ashley Taylor and Dominic Grijalva; Adam Gwon’s vibrant score rings startlingly true to life.

The cast recording has received prominent priority on my iPod ever since I bought it. The show includes the beautiful song “I’ll Be Here,” which Audra McDonald sang at her most recent Fresno concert.

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Donald’s weekend picks

1. GET DIRTY WITH ‘LES MIZ’
For today’s 7 cover story, I feature the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Les Miserables.” Director Skyler Gray has decreed this production be as gritty as possible, and when I visited the set earlier this week, the young cast — most in the 16-20 range — was having fun getting as dirty as possible. The show opens today and continues through Aug. 13. Meanwhile, check out this gorgeous cover photo shot by Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss for 7:

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Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

While you’re not jaywalking

1. SEE REGGAE ROYALTY
The Wailers — you know, they played with that dude Bob Marley, perhaps you’ve heard of him? — headline Tower Theatre on Sunday. It’s a special matinee show, starting at 3 p.m., with a number of local acts starting things off, peeps like Patrick Contreras and More Than Without. [Tickets]

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Glory Days’

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You can’t get theater much more exposed than the new production of “Glory Days” at The Voice Shop: A bare stage sporting little more than a bare wall, a bench and some Astroturf. Four actors dressed in contemporary street clothes. A tiny venue in which the front row is so close to the performers that you can see every pore. A book and score in which nostalgia and introspection is key but very little action takes place.

Yet something impressive happens in this intimate production from the Organic Theater Factory. You forget about the smallness and simplicity of the space as you’re slowly absorbed into the lives of four beautifully delineated characters. Thanks to stellar casting and top-notch vocal direction, this tale of four high school friends who reunite after their first year of college encompasses the audience just as surely as if director Anthony Taylor had been able to replicate an entire high school football stadium on stage.

The storyline is familiar to anyone who ran with a certain crowd at a certain time in their lives and then regrouped for a reunion. The chemistry between then and now can be tricky. Will (Taylor Babcock) asks his friends to meet up at stadium to share an evening together. The place has a special significance. In high school, none of the four could make the football team. Instead, they became — as the slightly outcast and “different” in high school often do — a fiercely bonded foursome.

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Donald’s weekend picks

1. PUT A LITTLE OPERA IN YOUR LIFE
The best opera deal in town returns as California Opera Association’s performance-packed summer festival opens 7 p.m. today with a “Festival Artists Showcase” at the Fresno Art Museum. Admission is free. I have a rundown on the festival, which includes seven smaller-scale performances at the museum and two fully staged operas at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis — all free! — in Friday’s 7 section. You can find a complete schedule on the festival’s website. Below, Zachary Sheely — who will star in this year’s “Lucia de Lamermoor” — is pictured in last year’s “Madama Butterfly.”

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‘Glory Days’: the interview

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The Organic Theater Factory opens the musical “Glory Days” opens tonight at The Voice Shop in the Tower District. I chatted with director Anthony Taylor about the show for an interview running in Friday’s 7 section. That interview will be condensed because of space limitations, but here it is in full. (Meanwhile, this is obviously Taylor’s big Beehive day. Check out his hilarious dramatic reading of one of Mike Oz’s pieces of hate mail below.)

Question: What’s the show about?

Answer: “Glory Days” is the story of four best friends from high school who come back to their alma mater’s football field after their first year away at college. It’s about the four of them reconnecting and discovering how they’ve changed and trying to figure out if they can adapt to these new and “grown up” versions of themselves. The show is told in one act with no intermission.

Photo: Melissa Olson

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I Hate You, Mike Oz Vol. 8

Cut-and-pasting hate mail? Meh. I figured we could step the game up a bit.

After my column about Starline last week, I got a scathing e-mail from a guy who has been hating me for a while. I decided it would be best presented in a dramatic reading, so I asked Anthony Taylor of Organic Theater Factory to do the honors. (Plug: OTF’s “Glory Days” opens tonight, runs through the weekend and starts again next weekend. Go here for tickets.)

PREVIOUSLY:
I Hate You, Mike Oz: Vol. 1 | Vol. 2 | Vol. 3 | Vol. 4 | Vol. 5 | Vol. 6 | Vol. 7

To-Do Tonight: ‘The Last 5 Years’

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You’ve read about it on the Beehive, and now there are only three more chances to see the Organic Theater Factory’s production of “The Last 5 Years” at the Star Palace at Warnors Theatre: 8 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. Wednesday and 8 p.m. Friday. And think about it: When was the last time there was something to do on a Tuesday night of a holiday week? Or on the day after Thanksgiving?

THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Last 5 Years’

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The stars aligned at the Star Palace last night for Ashley Taylor and, by extension, the strong inaugural performance of the Organic Theater Factory.

For years, the hard-working Taylor has tackled one character role after another on the Fresno community theater scene — from Mary Sunshine in “Chicago” to Gertrude the Bird in “Seussical” — as a solid performer. But something special happens in Jason Robert Brown’s intimate musical “The Last 5 Years.” As Cathy Hiatt, the struggling actress whose story of a disillusioned marriage is told in reverse chronological disorder, Taylor gives a transluscent performance. Her voice is absolutely gorgeous — there were times when I closed my eyes and thought about how often it matched the level of Sherie Rene Scott’s version on the original cast recording.

Just as impressive is the way Taylor mines the emotional territory of her character, never overplaying the sentiment or joking up the giddy moments, always relating on a fiercely human level. She’s a wonderful fit for the role, and she gives an already moving play even more of an impact.

My singling Taylor out for special notice isn’t in any way meant to slight her partner on stage, Peter Allwine, or the production overall, which has a scrappy, low-key charm. It’s just that when it comes to Taylor, it seems this is one of those rare times for an actor when everything truly clicks — performance, type, spirit — and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

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More on ‘The Last 5 Years’

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I caught up with Anthony Taylor, artistic director of the new Organic Theater Factory, to ask him some questions about the inaugural performance tonight at the Star Palace at Warnors Theatre. (The show continues various nights through Nov. 27.) Here’s the interview:

As far as you know, will this be the first theater production at the Star Palace?

I’m not sure if this is the first theater production in this space, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a very interesting space though and part of the mission of the company is to find new places to produce theater in Fresno. It doesn’t have to be in a traditional theater to be enjoyable and in some cases the unique nature of the space can add to the overall product.

How will you use that space? How many seats?

We will be seating 100 people in the space and using the stage that exists there for concerts as the primary space for acting. Our director, Danielle Jorn, has really brought a fresh perspective to using space in exciting ways too. The first thing she told me was that we were going to need a projector, and so we are using a projector to enhance scenes and speak to where characters are throughout the show. In the future I’d love to do a show with the large floor to ceiling windows as the backdrop and the skyline in the background, but we’ll save that for another show.

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Win tickets to ‘The Last Five Years’

UPDATE 5 p.m. 11/19: We finally have a winner: Steve Hernandez. (Please, folks, if you enter these giveaway contests, be sure to check your email to see if you won!!!)

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Fresno welcomes a new local theater company Thursday when the Organic Theater Factory opens its first production, the two-person musical “The Last Five Years.” It plays 8 p.m. at the Star Palace at Warnors Theatre on various nights through Nov. 27. We have TWO tickets to give away to Beehive readers for opening night. For the winner, I’ll pick one comment at random among those posted to this entry. You have until 9:30 a.m. Thursday to enter. 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. Complete rules after the jump.

In the meantime, check out this promo video about the play:

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