The newly formed Open Book Productions opens its first official show on Friday at the Voice Shop: Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to be Pretty.” This Fresno premiere reached Broadway just a few years ago, and it promises a thoughtful and provcative examination of society’s attitudes toward beauty.
You can read about the show — one of four opening this weekend in Fresno — in the cover story in Friday’s 7 section. Here’s an extended interview with director Miguel Gastelum.
Question: Tell us the premise.
When Greg is overheard admitting that his girlfriend Steph is no beauty, but that he wouldn’t change her for the world, a chain of events begins that sees his world and his relationships completely reshaped. He is confused and can’t see what he’s done wrong, but Steph is devastated: she doesn’t want to be with a man who doesn’t think she’s beautiful, whatever she may think of herself. Meanwhile, Greg’s best friend Kent alternates between boasting about how gorgeous his wife, Carly, is and chasing after a hot new colleague.
Reasons To Be Pretty examines our perception of beauty and asks whether it is as much of a curse to be conventionally attractive as it is to be considered ugly. It asks whether beauty itself is important, or if its import is in the judgment itself. In a world where appearances are used as benchmarks of achievement or at the very least the foundation of a judgment about who or what another person is, “Reasons To Be Pretty” questions the very judgments we make. It is a play as much about hearsay and misunderstanding as it is about trust and love – the elements that go into achieving that trust and love, the foundations of human relationships.
As for Ashley’s farewell, which was held at The Voice Shop, it was “Astonishing.” (That’s the title of the song from “Little Women” that Ashley picked as her last song, minus all the trumpets. Move over, Sutton Foster.) Two of my favorite moments: Danielle Jorn offering a cross-species performance with the song “Velociraptor” and Kyle Lowe closing the evening with an exquisitely performed version of “I and Love and You.” No one knows how to send off a person to New York in style like the theater community.
My, how those “Peanuts” characters have grown up. In Bert V. Royal’s play “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead ,” which opens tonight at The Voice Shop for a four-performance run this weekend only, we see what Charlie Brown — known in this show as “CB” — and the gang are up to in high school. It’s not exactly Sunday morning funnies material. For one thing, Snoopy just died of rabies, and indications are pretty strong that in one last fit of delirium, he ate Woodstock. Serious issues are addressed as well in this 2004 black comedy: depression, drug use, sexual identity. Let’s put it this way: It’s certainly no “Great Pumpkin” TV special.
I sat down with Randall Kohlruss, who plays CB in the show, to compare and contrast his character’s world in the original “Peanuts” and this parody.
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.)
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.)
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]
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.
UPDATED: It turns out that California Public Theater, which had scheduled the show “Lonely Planet” to open tonight, has postponed that production to June 10. (An earlier version of this post had reported that two shows were kicking off tonight.) That still leaves us, however, with this opening:
THOUGHTFUL FAMILY FARE
At the Broken Leg Stage, 1470 N. Van Ness Ave., “The Boy Who Stole the Stars” is a family show suitable for children ages 7 and older. It tells the story of a young boy who sees his hero falling and turns to the sky for help. But can it do any good? Brandey Steiner directs. Plays 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 28. $12. Details: brownpapertickets.com, (559) 492-6504. (After the jump, you’ll find more info on the production.)