Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Opening tonight: ‘The Crucible’

Selma Underground Productions opens a new version of “The Crucible” tonight at the Selma Arts Center. Expect some interesting staging. From the company:

“We are looking to produce a fresh take on this classic show,” says director Juan L. Guzmán. “My vision is to stay true to Miller’s intentions, to honor the script, and to let Miller’s words take center stage.

Set in the 1600s, amidst the infamous Salem witch trials, a community must grapple with their morals and faith as they set out to vanquish an evil that has permeated the wilderness they inhabit. “The Crucible” tells the story of one man’s fight to clear More his conscious and save his name, no matter the cost. The Selma Underground production will take liberties with staging and costuming, and will be set outside of the time period in which it is written. Even the stage itself will be altered, so as to provide a different viewing perspective for the audience.

The show runs through Oct. 26. Ticket information here. Here’s Guzmán talking about the show:

B.J. McCoon, 1932-2014

Fresno lost a major figure in its art history last week when painter B.J. McCoon died at age 82 after a long illness. From the Bee obituary I prepared for Thursday’s print edition:

For decades she was an integral part of the local art scene, and her paintings made their way into many local collections — and some around the world. Her friends were a who’s who of Fresno artistic talent, including Rollin Pickford, Darwin Musselman, Stan Bitters, Pat Hopper, Jean Ray Laury and Clement Renzi.

Mrs. McCoon was prolific, and her interests were so varied that she never stuck to just one medium.

Cathy Craycroft-Glenn, a longtime family friend, remembers visiting Mrs. McCoon as a young girl and seeing works in various states of completion scattered about her house: drawings in one room, a huge portrait in oil in another, a just finished watercolor drying on the back porch with the paints still left out on the table.

Services are Saturday.

You review: Tony Bennett


I’ve mentioned before how difficult an endeavor it is to book the two weeks of entertainment for the Big Fresno Fair.

It should be applauded for the job. This year for instance, the fair managed a strong draw for its second weekend with KONGOS (by all accounts a young band making moves), REO Speedwagon (the definition of “classic” rock) and La Ley (arguable one of the tops in the rock en Espanol scene).

It also scored a humdinger of a closing-night show with jazz crooner Tony Bennett.

At 88-years old, Bennett is still at the top of his game. Earlier this month he released a duets album with none other than Lady Gaga and earned the distinction (for the second time) of being the oldest performer to have a No. 1 album on the Billboard chart.

Bennett played last night at the Paul Paul Theater and and was every bit the entertainer he was 20, heck even 40 years ago. At least according to our friend (and Fresno Film Commissioner) Ray Arthur, who sent along this review:

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Art and ghosts at the Hatchery

The scene: Quinn Gomez-Heitzeberg and Astri Swendsrud, curators of the performance-art exhibition “God Will Not Have His Work Made Manifest by Cowards,” stand surrounded by a circle of several dozen art enthusiasts. Dressed in somber black attire, the pair holds between them a small framed chalkboard upon which is written the words “Extinguish the Candle, Unbuild the Fire, Clean the Slate.” A simple wooden holder shaped like a pyramid adorned with thin lighted candles sits at their feet. They ask the audience to recite the chalkboard mantra — it sounds like a ritual response in a church worship service — and they put out the candles. Then they “break” the triangle of the pyramid by separating the pieces of wood.

The setting: We’re in the big, sprawling, dilapidated interior of the Hatchery, former home to the Church of Synanon, the 1970s era drug-rehabilitation program that morphed into a cult. Located about 80 miles or so east of Fresno in the mountain town of Badger, near the entrance to Sequoia National Park, the compound is a weird and restless feeling space. Most of the windows are broken, ceiling insulation dangles precariously over our heads, walls and joints ominously sag, and about a third of the vast, airplane-hanger-sized space is structurally unsound and off-limits. (You have to sign a liability waiver before entering.) With the sun streaming in on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the feeling isn’t so much ominous as unsettling. But I wouldn’t want to be there after dark. Knowing that this was the command center of a famous cult — and reading about some of the activities that took place here – you can’t help but sense the history.

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Fajita Fiesta is out, Papi’s is in

Fajita Fiesta is officially no longer with us. But don’t mourn them just yet. The family behind the restaurants is running two other restaurants in town.

To catch you up: Fajita Fiesta once had three locations — one on Shaw Avenue, another at Cedar and Nees avenues and the little one downtown that was open for 25 years. They’re all gone now. The Shaw Avenue one is now Guri’s GrubHouse, a farm-to-table gastropub that we’ve written lots and lots and lots about. The Cedar and Nees location closed in 2009 after 10 years (and then became Mateo’s and most recently Uncle’s Bar & Grill, which last week had an eviction notice on the door and a disconnected phone number).

The Fajita Fiesta at Van Ness Avenue and Divisadero Street is now Papi’s Mex Grill Express, with the same family running it. Owner Raul Gutierrez saw the changes happening downtown — new lofts and young people coming in — and decided to tweak his restaurant. Instead of the traditional sit-down meal with waiters and waitresses, the restaurant is now a faster-paced order-at-the-counter affair.

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Farewell to the ‘King’

UPDATE 10/13: Services will be 6 p.m. Oct. 20 at North Fresno Church, 5724 N.  Fresno St.

ORIGINAL POST: George Akina’s last role in theater was one he’d always wanted to play: the King of Siam in “The King and I.” Even though he’d been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, he spent much of the last year of his life on stage, appearing with Good Company Players in “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Shrek” and — in a witty, heartfelt and beautifully crafted performance —  the King in “The King and I,” which closed May 16.

Mr. Akina died Friday. He was 63.

I had the privilege of sitting down in April with Mr. Akina midway through his “King and I” run and talking about him for my Sunday column about the challenges and joys of performing the role. (Sometimes it was hard. Very hard.) His gentleness of spirit, love of family and towering Christian faith shined through on that late Friday afternoon. I suggested to him that his love of theater was remarkable, and he told me: “The theater has been life-giving to me. When I think ‘What would I be doing if it weren’t for ‘The King and I’ right now?,’ I think I’d be much sicker.”

A few days later, he sent me a follow-up email, and that’s how I ended my column:

Yes, I do love theater, but not perhaps in the same way you meant. The truth is I love God first above all else. He has given me gifts which I can express on stage. It’s when I’m on stage using those gifts that I feel the most fulfilled, most alive, and most in His will. Add to that that my work entertains, engages and touches others and there is nothing else that can surpass it, save the love and support of my wife and children.

He will be missed.

Updated 10/14: Revised information about remembrances to come.


Is this real life? Scary clowns invade Central Valley


Stephen King really tapped into something when he made the main baddie in his 1986 novel “Itan evil clown named Pennywise.

The proper psychological term is coulrophobia, or “fear of clowns.” It is no doubt in full effect here in the Valley after stories like this.

This has been posted up all over Facebook in the last week, though I was reserving judgment on the validity of the story, because I don’t believe anything that gets posted on Facebook. Ever.

It is obviously getting picked up by proper media at this point, so … What the hell?

If this is some kind of magnificent subversive art project (as some have proposed), kudos, I guess. There is something oddly fun in putting the creep to people (without you know, hurting anyone).

The super jaded part of me, the part that sees everything as an elaborate media set up (because what isn’t these days?), wonders if this is publicity stunt for FX’s latest season of “American Horror Story,” which just happens to feature a creepy-clown. Michael Banti, a local tracker of all things odd and-or creepy has his own theory over on his blog site “Weird Fresno.”

Does it freak you out that someone is “sending in the clowns,” so to speak?

DIY: Candy ‘poisoned’ apples

Autumn is synonymous with apple season. Halloween is synonymous with spookiness. Ergo, what better items to grace your Halloween party table than some spooky apples?  And the spookiest, of course, is the infamous poisoned apple — a slick, irresistibly shiny red “treat.”

Many a kitchen witch has recreated a confectionery version in candy apples, traditionally red and cinnamon flavored. But with the plethora of gel food colors available, why not kick your apple color up a notch and go for full-on creepy? Made with small, crisp Granny Smith apples, these treats will have your little princesses (and princes) clamoring for a bite.

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Weekend pick: performance pieces at the Hatchery

Utopian ideas often sound so good … and so easy. But actually implementing them in the real world can be trickier than it seems.

In a collection of performance pieces titled “God Will Not Have His Work Made Manifest by Cowards,” a group of artists — mostly from Los Angeles — on Sunday will gather at a Valley location well known for its history with utopian movements: the Hatchery, located in Badger near the entrance to Sequoia National Park. The program starts at 2 p.m., with arrival suggested by 1:45 p.m. The Hatchery’s address is 50616 Highway 245 in Badger. Check out the details online so you know what you’ll be getting into: No open-toed shoes allowed, watch out for rattlesnakes, watch out for broken glass, and you have to sign a liability waiver before entering the property.  

If you’ve never been able to experience the Hatchery, it’s a really interesting place. I was last there in 2011 for a big and wonderful art exhibition titled “The Hatchery: East of Fresno.” 40 artists from around the world displayed their work in a vast building that used to be an aircraft hanger from the days of the Church of Synanon, the 1970s era drug-rehabilitation program that morphed into a cult. Most of the site-specific works riffed off the Synanon theme.

Later the compound was converted into an Islamic community known as Baladullah.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominates Green Day, The Smiths and … N.W.A.?


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced nominees for its 2015 class this week.

Gut reaction? I am old.

Is it possible, that Green Day, a band whom I loathed in high school (because I was too cool and they weren’t the Misfits or Minor Threat or even the Riverdales) is eligible for induction in the hall? In order to be get on the ballot their first single or album must have been released in 1989 or before.

Looking at the rest of the field (which includes Nine Inch Nails, N.W.A., the Smiths, Lou Reed, Sting, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Kraftwerk, Chic, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the Marvelettes, the Spinners, Stevie Ray Vaughan, War and Bill Withers) one wonders what definition of “rock and roll” is being used here.

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Win tickets to ‘Jersey Boys’

UPDATE 10/16: We had a robust turnout for our “Jersey Boys” giveaway with 293 total entries (including Beehive comments and mailed-in comments). Our winners are Jennifer Heintz and Susan Gilbert.

ORIGINAL POST: “Oh what a night” it will be on Oct. 28 when the national tour of “Jersey Boys” swaggers into the Saroyan Theatre for a six-day run. Broadway fans have waited for years for this big-deal jukebox musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to reach Fresno. The title is one of the highlights of the season, along with the upcoming “Book of Mormon” in July.

Here’s the exciting news for Beehive readers: Two lucky winners will each receive a pair of opening-night tickets PLUS the original Broadway cast recording CD. I’ll pick the winners randomly. To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: What’s your favorite Four Seasons song? (If you’re not sure, just say “My Eyes Adored You” — it’s my favorite.)

Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Thursday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winners by email on Thursday, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard back from a winner by 10 a.m. next Friday (Oct. 17), I reserve the right to pick another. You’ll need to be able to pick up your tickets and CD at The Bee. Rules are on the jump.

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Five Things You Should Do This Weekend


Fresno State football is in Vegas this weekend. Catch the rundown on Twitter while you’re doing any of these …

1. The Big Fresno Fair
It’s your last chance. Until next year.

2. “The Judge”
Robert Downey Jr. proves he can do more than the eccentric billionaire bit.

3. Vintage pop-up shop
And book swap. You know how I feel about books.

4. Blimprov LIVE!
Zen and the art of funny.

5. “Avenue Q”
Did someone say “puppet sex?”

For a music specific list, check out this week’s BANDGEEK!

You review: The Eagles


It’s been close to a decade since the Eagles stopped through town. The band — whose greatest hits album is one of the 10 best-selling records of all time — played the Save Mart Center two years running in 2004 and 2005.

Both times there were close to 10,000 in attendance.

The band returned to the Save Mart Center last night as part of its “History of the Eagles” tour. We want to hear from those who were there.

How was the crowd? Were locals fans as excited for the band as they were a decade ago? Given that this tour is supposed to span the band’s entire career (and promised some songs that have never been played lived before), what was the set-list like? Any unusual choice? Any of the hits get left out? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section. Then, click over to The Bee to see our photo gallery from last night’s show.

Bandgeek!: The Eagles, The Experience and Tony Bennett

While you are locked in your house worrying about whether it’s ebola or tuberculosis that will kill you first, the rest of us will be enjoying some live music. If you care to join, here is a list of happenings through next week. We call it BANDGEEEK!


  • The Eagles.
    At the Save Mart Center. 8 p.m. $49.50-$149.50.

  • Katchafire.
    W/White Glove Service and Jordan T. At Strummer’s. 7 p.m. $18. All ages. (Flier link)

  • Lisa’s Big Night Out.
    At the Patio Cafe. 6 p.m. Free.

  • The Body.
    W/Sandworm, Inside the Sun and Keeper. At Audie’s Olympic. 8:30 p.m. $8. (Flier link)

  • Justin Moore.
    At the Big Fresno Fair. $21-$26.

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    Arts roundup: Arts Council may assume Water Tower lease, Matt Black in the New Yorker

    WATER TOWER: Bee reporter George Hostetter has an interesting Fresno City Council preview story in Thursday’s paper about the likelihood of the Fresno Arts Council assuming the lease and management of the iconic downtown Fresno Water Tower. From the story:

    The deal is a no-brainer, of course. The nonprofit Arts Council would pay no rent at the city-owned tower, but would foot the bill for things like electricity and the janitor. The lease is for three years, with two one-year options.

    The Water Tower already is a magnet for visitors in search of tips on stuff to see and places to visit. The tower’s interior is chock full of work from the area’s finest artists, all sensibly priced.

    The Arts Council will retain both missions. City Hall is the big winner — it won’t suffer the shame of having what is perhaps the city’s best-known landmark shuttered by municipal stinginess.

    If you haven’t stopped by the Water Tower recently, by the way, put it on your list of downtown things to do. It’s a cheery environment inside, and don’t forget to look up and see the beautiful ceiling.

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    TONIGHT: Portland doom-bringers The Body


    It seems a bit odd, calling The Body’s upcoming release (out Oct. 21 on Thrill Jockey Records) a split LP.

    Yes, the Portland doom metal band shares the record with its comrades in noise Sandworm (a thrashish metal band from Providence, RI), and technically, each band does get the same amount of vinyl space.

    But Sandworm has 10 tracks on its side of the record. The Body has just one — a 16-minute blast of expansive darkness call “The Manic Fire.”

    This tells you most of what you need to know about The Body.

    Formed in 1999 by drummer Lee Buford and guitarist Chip King, The Body has forged its place as one of underground metal’s most brutal bands — incorporating avant-garde composition and elements of noise and experimental electronic music with doom and black-metal. Pitchfork describes King’s vocals as “the sound of exaggerated nightmares, his shrill scream so anxiety-inducing that it puts your animal brain on high alert for imminent danger…”

    It’s tough to give the band’s music a fitting description, says Buford, in town tonight for a show at Audie’s Olympic Tavern with Sandworm and locals Inside the Sun and Keeper.

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    THEATER REVIEW: ‘Avenue Q’

    You never forget your first visit to “Avenue Q.” Eleven years after the irreverent musical opened in New York, I’m long past the days when puppet sex can shock me. But there’s still great joy in repeated viewings of this show. The best part about Fresno City College’s accomplished production is watching it with an audience that obviously includes lots of first-timers. As they discover the silly joys of this clever, tuneful musical — a decidedly adult-oriented take on “Sesame Street” —  it’s like reliving the experience for the first time. 

    No question about it: There are a lot of moving parts required to deliver a satisfactory version of “Avenue Q,” and for the most part director Charles Erven and his creative team bring it together with flair. The biggest weakness is the sound. (I’ll get to that in a moment, alas.) But in terms of acting, direction, vocals, choreography and general stagecraft — and the very fine live band — I found a lot to applaud at the Saturday evening performance I saw.

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    Win tickets to: REO Speedwagon at the Big Fresno Fair


    Classic rock fans keep on loving REO Speedwagon.

    The band — which plays 7 p.m. Saturday at the Big Fresno Fair — is one of the most successful to come out of the ’70s arena rock scene and continues to be a staple on classic rock radio (and at karaoke joints, no doubt).

    We have tickets to Saturday’s show we’ll be giving to away to a Beehive reader. To enter to win, leave a comment in this post. What is your favorite radio rock hit (the songs you sing along to every time it comes on)? This contest is another quick one. You have until noon tomorrow. Winners will be chosen at random, notified by email and must be able to pick up tickets at The Fresno Bee office (1626 E. Street) during normal business hours.

    Check out a video from REO Speedwagon (and complete contest rules) on the jump.

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    Rosemarie DeWitt takes role very seriously

    The first thing Rosemarie DeWitt does after walking into the small room at the Beverly Hills Hilton is introduce herself. That’s really not necessary as she’s built up a long resume of work that includes the cable series “The United States of Tara” and “Mad Men.”

    I also had just seen her in “Kill the Messenger,” the movie that has brought together the actress and the press.

    “I just wanted to make sure that you didn’t mistake me for Jeremy Renner,” DeWitt jokes. Renner is her co-star in “Messenger” and he’s also at the Hilton to meet with the press. “He’s got that whole sexy, bad-ass thing but I think I’m a lot cuter.”

     She’s right. But, DeWitt has also show in past work she can play a bad ass when necessary.

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    Win tickets to: R5 at the Big Fresno Fair


    When the Lynch siblings — Rydel, Riker, Ross and Rocky — moved to Los Angeles seven years ago, they were looking to start their careers as actors and dancers. Maybe they would sing some, maybe land in a commercial or two.

    Instead, the group — with the help of family friend Ellington Lee Ratliff — started its own pop-rock band, R5 (though Riker landed a spot on “Glee” and Ross has his own series on the Disney Channel).

    The band — which plays 1 p.m. Saturday at the Big Fresno Fair — released its Hollywood Records debut last year.

    We have tickets to Saturday’s show we’ll give to away to a Beehive reader. To enter to win, leave a comment in this post. Would you ever play music with your siblings? Why or why not? This contest is another quick one. You have until 5 p.m. tonight. Winners will be chosen at random, notified by email and must be able to pick up tickets at The Fresno Bee office (1626 E. Street) during normal business hours.

    Check out a video from R5 (and complete contest rules) on the jump.

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    “Race” checks the platitudes and niceties at the door. Walk into the inner sanctum of the law firm depicted in David Mamet’s brusque and provocative drama, which continues through Saturday at Fresno State, and you’ll get the “fly on the wall” treatment – people speaking in brutally frank terms about what the play refers to as this nation’s most incendiary topic.

    I know there is nothing a white person can say to a black person about race which is not both incorrect and offensive,” the grizzled white attorney tells his young black associate. Within these walls, however, the politically correct rules of the game are suspended. Those things do get said. In very frank terms.

    In several ways I like the Fresno State production of “Race” more than the actual play itself. Director Thomas-Whit Ellis has crafted a hard-hitting, thoughtfully staged outing that effectively captures what is at the essence of any Mamet play: a slugfest.

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    Win ticket to: Justin Moore


    Justin Moore’s life is a country song. The 30-year-old country star singer grew up in (and moved back to) Poyen, Ark., a town of 300 people. He dreamed of playing baseball or basketball until he realized he was 5-feet-6 and 140 pounds. He went to college for all of three weeks before he finally moved to Nashville to try his hand at music.

    It proved to a good move. Moore was named New Artist of the Year at the American County Music Awards in April. That’s a year after the release of “Off the Beaten Path, ” and five years after his self-titled debut hit No. 3 on Billboard’s Country charts. The singer headlined Visalia’s JugFest 2014 in May and plays 7 p.m. Thursday as part of the Big Fresno Fair’s concert series.

    We have tickets to give away to a Beehive reader. To enter to win, leave a comment in this post. Tell us why you love country music (doesn’t need to be specific to Moore). The contest is a quick one. You have until 5 p.m. tonight. Winners will be chosen at random, notified by email and must be able to pick up tickets at The Fresno Bee office (1626 E. Street) during normal business hours.

    Check out a video from Moore (and complete contest rules) on the jump.

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    TONIGHT: Mind Forum — The Fresno General Plan


    Back in July, I told you about the City of Fresno’s updated 2035 General Plan, which lays out the policies and procedures that will determine how the city grows and develops in the next two decades.

    The plan (which should come before the council by early next year one hopes) is being hotly debated by two camps. There are those who believe “in having a development guide that attempts to rebuild older, deteriorating neighborhoods and finally apply the breaks to urban sprawl” (as per The Fresno Bee) and those working to retain the status quo (zero infill and an ever-expanding sphere of influence).

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    New Grilled Chz restaurant open in northeast

    Grilled cheese fans in northeast Fresno can get their melty goodness on at the newly opened Grilled Chz restaurant at Cedar and Herndon avenues. The restaurant opened last week at 7059 N. Cedar Ave., in the same shopping center as John’s Incredible Pizza. This location is technically a move, as the owners closed the Grilled Chz at Willow and Nees avenues, opting for a more high-profile location. (The Grilled Chz on West Shaw near West Avenue is still open.)

    But enough about real estate. Let’s talk about the food. If you’re unfamiliar with Grilled Chz, the menu includes just about any kind of grilled cheese you can imagine, along with tomato soup, chili, fries and dessert sandwiches. The gooey sandwich pictured at right is the restaurant’s best seller: the “extreme grilled chz” with cheddar cheese, macaroni and cheese inside, along with caramelized onions and smoked bacon with cheddar crusted onto the outside of the bread. The restaurant’s “molten extravaganza” of double-cream French Brie, bacon, sliced almonds, and homemade fig paste got some attention from AAA’s magazine “Via” last spring. See the full menu here.

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    Food reviews: Guri’s Grub House, Jack’s Urban Eats and Beer to the People


    Officially, I’m a music blogger.

    I also love to eat and this is an exciting time for food lovers in Fresno. No, I’m not talking the Fresno Fair.

    As my colleagues Bethany Clough and Bob Rodriguez have reported, several hip new restaurants and drinking establishments have opened in the last month or so, including a gastropub, a small-chain modern-day Hof Brau and a bottle shop.

    Below are my reviews of each. If you’ve been to any of the three, we’d love to know your thoughts. Add your reviews in the comments section.

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