Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

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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Three new bakeries means more sweet treats

You’re in the mood for something sweet, right? Three new bakeries have opened in the area selling not just cakes, but individual-sized sweet treats. Each has a pastry case full of goodies where you can pick up a 99-cent cream puff, for example, on your lunch break or on the way home from work. You can read all about what’s driving this trend in today’s food page story, but here’s the skinny (or not so skinny?) on where the bakeries are and what they specialize in.

Baked Sunnyside, 6105 E. Kings Canyon Road, next to Sunnyside Bicycles. This new bakery specializes in cakes with licensed Disney characters on them, but also has a pastry case full of goodies: cupcakes, mini strawberry pies, sugar cookies and more. The sugar cookies are the top seller here. Baked also sells 25 flavors of Hawaiian shave ice and 12 flavors of Fresno State ice cream. They’re open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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VIDEO: 10 Hours of Princess Leia Walking in NYC

Last week’s viral video, “10 Hours of Walking in New York as a Woman,” captured undercover, depicted the street harassment a young woman endured while walking the streets of New York City while moderately dressed in black jeans and a crew neck T-shirt.

Today’s comedic answer is “10 Hours of Princess Leia Walking in NYC,” whereupon a young woman dressed in “a simple white dress with her hair in space buns” is summarily harassed by… well, watch the vid.

WARNING: For Star Wars fans (mostly).

Obama, Ted Cruz, weigh in on net neutrality

Those following the ongoing battle over net neutrality got a super dose of political back-and-fourth as Senator Ted Cruz took to Twitter Monday to decry President Obama’s call for the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband service as a utility — a move that would protect net neutrality by giving the FCC authority to keep those service providers in check.

The tweet quickly met with some harsh reaction from supporters of net neutrality, including the online comic blog The Oatmeal, which put together a this nice tutorial on the subject for Senator Cruz.

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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.

Would you wear these?

While touring the new Tower District location of Bebe O’s Boutique (in the former dojo, more on that here), I stopped in my tracks when I saw these babies. See the big furry things on the boots at left? They’re not boots, but leg warmers slipped on over a pair of boots. This is apparently a thing. It’s quite the fashion statement, that’s for sure. Would you wear them? Are they crazy cool or just Bigfootesque?

Cast your vote in the Fresno Bee’s People’s Choice Awards

Voting is now open for The Fresno Bee’s annual People’s Choice Awards — which lets The Bee readers voice their opinions on the best of what Fresno has to offer. The ballot (which you can see here) is more than 120 categories long and features everything from best yoga studio and car dealership (foreign, domestic and luxury) to radio personality and mortgage company.

These types of awards (both from The Bee’s and others) can be frustrating in that they aren’t always reflective of … actual reality. Taco Bell does not have the best Mexican food, anywhere. Just. No.

That said, anyone who believes that Fresno has some awesome, authentic businesses (and chain stores), should take this chance to get the word out. Just, don’t waste the vote on Walmart, Starbucks or Taco Bell, please.

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)

Vets get free and discounted stuff Tuesday

Veterans Day is Tuesday and many restaurants and retailers will be saying “thanks” by offering freebies and discounts to veterans. The list is long this year and involves more than just free meals. (Times, days and identification needed vary, and some meals are dine-in only, so you may want to look up where you’re going online before heading out). Check it out:

Pizza Factory: free lunch special or free lunch buffet.
Applebee’s:   Free meal from one of seven menu items.
Hooters: Free meal up $10.99 with drink purchase.
California Pizza Kitchen: Choose from five free pizzas, three pastas or five salads.
Denny’s: Get a free build-your-own-Grand Slam from 5 a.m. to noon.
Famous Dave’s: 25% off.
Texas Roadhouse: Choose from one of 10 free entrees.
Dollar General: Get an 11% discount on your purchases.
Dutch Bros. Coffee: Free drinks.
Starbucks: Veterans and military spouses can get a free tall coffee.
Jojo’s Yogurt: 50% off yogurt or shaved snow.
Dough Ray Me: The Madera bakery has free coffee.
JCPenney: Get a 20% in-store coupon valid from Nov. 3 -15 at
Central California SPCA: Discounted rates on dog and cat adoptions.

Led Zeppelin won’t be reuniting for $800 million


At this point, who knows if the news of Robert Plant turning down $800 million for a 35-date Led Zeppelin reunion is true.

The story is a few hours old and already it’s being updated to quote Plant’s publicist. He says it’s “rubbish.”

That’s the (sad) state of current news media for you.

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Cars will be demolished (hopefully) at Fresno Fairgrounds derby


Here’s an event that didn’t make my “Five Things You Should Do This Week” post. It almost slipped my radar altogether. Thankfully, Big Fresno Fair has Instagram (and uses it).

The 2nd Annual Bill Babb Demolition Derby comes to the Brian I. Tatarian Grandstand at the Fresno Fairgrounds 6 p.m tomorrow (Nov. 8).

Demolition Derby is a throwback to (or leftover from) the Wide World of Sports days. It’s auto sport wherein drivers compete to see who is the best at crashing cars into each other. The last-man-standing (or driving in this case) wins.

Any event that publicizes the possibility (the likelihood even) that cars will catch fire gets my vote. Gates open at 4 p.m. Tickets are $5 ($30 for pit passes) and available day-of-show only.

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.

DIY: Place card holder

Creating a beautiful holiday tablescape has never been in my wheelhouse. In fact, at the first extended-family Thanksgiving my husband and I ever hosted, I didn’t even know that decorating the tables was a “thing.” I thought I was done when the tables were set…until my husband asked if we had any flowers to “add color the tables.” I looked at the white plates upon the white table cloths with white napkins perched atop, and I saw his point. But with only minutes before the guests were to arrive, I wasn’t sure what we could do. It being fall, we sent our enterprising 12-year-old boys to the park to gather as many nice, colorful fallen leaves and acorns they could find. Those, along with some dark brown, polished river rock and pillar candles I already had, did the job.

That said, I am from a family of clever, decor-minded women, and each holiday brings on ever more table-setting ideas. My sister Denise has been known to take burlap, plastic fruit and a bed sheet and create a table fit for royalty. And my sister-in-law Karen’s table decor leaves you feeling as though you’re feasting in a space created by a professional set designer. Even peanut butter & jelly amid such fanciness tastes Michelin-star quality.

Over time I’ve learned to step up my game. One very simple way of glamming up table decor is to add place cards for your guests, each in its own special place card holder. 

If you are, however, like me and dread putting a lot of time and energy into something that will get used just once (place cards necessarily change with the guest list), have no fear: I have a solution.

Check out these simple place cards that can be used — and reused — every holiday. The trick? Chalkboard tape and a chalk pen. Tutorial after the jump.

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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.”

Five Things You Should Do This Weekend


Aside from buying Taylor Swift’s new album …

1.Monsters of the Deep
Fresno’s nationally-known literary magazine celebrates seven years with a nautical- (and obsession-) themed book reading.

2. Kearney Renaissance Faire
Welcome to the Shire of Kearney! Have some mead and a turkey leg.

3. Fresno High Flea
Another week, another trash-to-treasure sale.

4. Fresno County Wine Journey
Save the Napa trip and drink local.

Bike Through History
A 6-mile bicycle tour of some of Fresno’s most historic locales.

And a bonus five for music fans.

1. Hot for Teacher
2. The Kin
3. Cheers Elephant
4. The Beetles
5. Sharon Anderson

For a full list of music-specific events check out the weekly BANDGEEK! post.

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.

Win tickets to: Fresno Filmworks screening of “Levitated Mass”


Levitate Mass” (which Fresno Filmworks screens next Friday at the Tower Theatre) is a film about the enduring question of what makes art, art? The documentary, from filmmaker Doug Pray (“Art & Copy,” “Surfwise”), follows the literal journey of a 340-ton granite boulder as it becomes a conceptual “land sculpture.”

Based on the trailer, the film will surely be a conversation starter. There will be discussion circle after the 5:30 p.m. showing with visiting filmmaker Katie McNeill, who was a co-producer on the film.

We have a tickets to give away to a couple Beehive readers. To enter to win, leave a common on this post. Give us your definition of art. You have until noon Wednesday, Nov. 12. Winners will be chosen at random, notified via email (so check yours if you enter) and must be able to pick the tickets up at The Fresno Bee office (1626 E. St.) during normal business hours.

Watch the trailer (and get the complete contest rules) on the jump.

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Shuttered Fresh & Easy to become a library

Have you seen the post flying around Facebook about McAllen, Texas turning an empty Walmart into a giant library? Well, Fresno is doing something a little bit smaller, but just as cool. Remember the Fresh & Easy stores here that closed? One of them is going to be a library. The Cedar-Clinton branch of the Fresno County Public Library will move into the former Fresh & Easy store on Cedar Avenue, south of Shields Avenue. The new library could be open by next summer.

Here’s the story with all the details that ran before the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted on it. They agreed Tuesday to move forward with the process. It will cost $2.6 million to buy the property and $1 million to renovate it. (The reporter who covered the meeting tells me that they need to do quite a bit of tinkering with the heating and air conditioning system, because apparently not having grocery store coolers helping to cool down the interior changes things.)

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Wolfe Manor kittens need new home


First: This picture keeps making me smile.

With the demolition of Clovis’ Wolfe Manor, there are no doubt a few spirits looking for a new home.

Also: These cats.

The calico kittens (and their mother) were living on the roof of the manor and were rescued just before the haunted house’s demolition. They were taken in by The Cat House on the Kings and are currently in a foster home.

For the time being. But the Cat House is full and needs help finding them permanent homes.

“We are seeking help with donations for this special cat family,” the cat sanctuary said in a release. “The kittens are about five weeks old and they will go up for adoption as soon as they are old enough to be spayed.”

If you are interested, contact The Cat House on the Kings online, or by calling (559) 443-9124.

BANDGEEK!: Winter Jam, The Kin and “Kittysiclosis”

The election is over (sort of). Feel free to go back to not caring about politics for another two years. That’ll leave you plenty of time to enjoy any of the live music happenings this week.

Here they are, compiled in our weekly BANDGEEEK roundup. Enjoy!


  • Sahab.
    “Kittysiclosis,” release show. W/Zee Will. At Peeve’s Public House. 9 p.m. Free. All ages. (Flier link)

  • Soft-Spoken.
    W/WaterBox Inc. and The Morning Drive. At Fulton 55. 9 p.m. $6-$8. (Flier link)

  • Fortunate Youth.
    W/The Expanders, Thrive and One Oz. At Strummer’s. 8 p.m. $10. All ages.

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    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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    THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Maids’

    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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    New place to eat downtown: Take 3 burgers

    There’s a new burger joint on Fulton Mall. In fact, there’s several changes downtown, including the opening of Cafe Aroma Coffee House, Big D’s Tri-tip and the closing of Indian Heritage Express and Trendy Pasta Co. (for now). You can read that wrap up in my column here. But let’s focus on Take 3, the newest restaurant to open on the Fulton Mall.

    The movie-themed restaurant opened last week two doors down from Antojitos and across the mall and a little south of Peeve’s Public House. The restaurant serves burgers, jumbo hot dogs and a fried chicken sandwich, along with milkshakes. The burgers — you can get a single patty for $4.75 or a double or triple burger for more — come with lots of toppings choices. You can get a fried egg, sauteed mushrooms, avocado, pineapple, onion rings, chili, a sliced beef hot dog, pastrami and more. They’re taking suggestions on more toppings, by the way. Take 3 is open for lunch, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 8 p.m. on Fridays.

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