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California Public Theater sets the stage for a Lonely Planet

IN THE April 30 ISSUE

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by Heather Parish

In recent years, Fresno has yielded a bumper crop of independent theater companies creating exciting and invigorating work around the Tower District and Downtown. One of the forerunners of this phenomenon is California Public Theater, under the artistic direction of S. Eric Day.

Cali-Pub, as it is affectionately known, was founded on the principle of “doing work we find important and sharing that passion with the audience,” says Day. “The key to CPT and most of our productions is simplicity in it’s delivery of the script and the performances.”

The cast of California Public Theater's "Fahrenheit 451

Their upcoming show, award-winning playwright Steven Dietz’s Lonely Planet, should highlight those values in the most effective way. Opening May 13th and staged at The Voice Shop, a new Tower District performing arts studio, the audience seats 50 people in an intimate setting. Lonely Planet is a two-hander (a play with only two actors) about Jody, an agoraphobic map store owner, and Carl, a regular visitor to the store who challenges Jody to face his life and potential death from AIDS head on. The play is a compassionate look at friendship and fear in the era of AIDS.

Such work is important to Day, who stars in the production with longtime friend Brandon Weis. “The play has been a favorite of mine and Brandon Weis for over a decade. We have been wanting to produce the play and now have the opportunity,” says Day. The connection between Day and Weis is a strong one, going back many years. Day explains, “Brandon Weis and I are the co- creators and founders of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival. It’s been like old times back in college. The work is fun and charged with intensity.”

California Public Theater is known for its variety of work and its literary underpinnings. The company has a relationship with the Fresno County Libraries and has produced three of its “Big Read” themed theatrical productions: Tom Sawyer, Fahrenheit 451 and Poe’s Tales of Terror. The library productions are some of the most highly attended in the city due to the Library’s amazing relationship with the public.

Poe's Tales of Terror

“The public”, in fact, is a nod to that very institution. In the past, Day has said he was inspired by Joseph Papp who created New York’s Public Theater in honor of the hours he spent in the public libraries of that city. Day’s California Public Theater, working with the Fresno County Public Library, attempts to make theatrical adaptations of novels accessible to the public at a low cost.

Other shows produced by Cali-Pub include Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy, The Rocky Horror Show (New Year’s Eve edition), and Day has directed shows for other companies in the past. A graduate of the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts and Fresno State’s theater program, Day has worked for Missoula Children’s Theater, been a founding member of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival and Artists Repertory Theater in Fresno, and has performed with these companies and Good Company Players. Most recently he directed GCP’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

California Public’s reputation for diversity will continue in 2011-2012. According to Day, “At the Voice Shop, Cali-Pub has four more productions planned, which include Careless Love, Three Tall Women, I Love You Because (musical), and Art”.

But next up is Lonely Planet which runs June 10, 11, 12*, 17, 18, 19*, 24, 25, 26* 2011 at The Voice Shop, 1296 North Wishon Avenue, Fresno. Fridays & Saturdays evening performances begin at 8 pm, with Sunday matinees* at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12 and are available by calling (559) 907-2676 or purchasing at the door. Cali-Pub is also running a special: $2 back on general admission if you have Dinner/Brunch at Livingstones or Landmark Restaurants in the Tower District the day of the performance. You can find out more about California Public Theater by friending their Facebook page.

Heather Parish is a contributor to our Area Arts & Entertainment section & a part of KRL’s editing team. She is a freelance writer & theatrical director. Originally from Visalia, she is the artistic director for The New Ensemble in Fresno. Heather can be found on Facebook.

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