Rogue Festival Reviews: Ashes to Ashes/Hmong Class 101/The Real Black Swann/Through the Veil/Rosegold

Mar 7, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Music, Rogue Festival, Terrance V. Mc Arthur, Theatre

by Terrance McArthur

Here are more of our Rogue Festival show reviews! There will be more to come! We also have several Rogue Performer Preview articles that have been going up over the last few weeks. You will be able to find all of them, along with a preview article about the Festival itself, in our Rogue Festival category and you can find more info on our Rogue Festival event page over on KRL News and Reviews. Tickets for the Rogue Festival can be purchased on their website and you can find this year’s schedule.

Ashes to Ashes
Review by Terrance McArthur

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”—1549, Book of Common Prayer.

In the Rogue show with music Ashes to Ashes, presented by the talented performer/director Kate McKnight, this funeral prayer refers to the death of her father and the ashes of love.

This is a tragicomedy loaded with questions—What do you want to be? Who do you want to be? Where do the dead go? Do we lose someone, or are we the lost ones? Kate’s quest for answers is musically aided by her sister, Sarah Serafimidis, and Abigail Nolte (the Rogue program booklet lists Debi Ruud), with their singing and guitars. The audience even gets a chance to sing along. The songs are a part of the story—commenting, illuminating, gently mocking. It’s an interwoven dance of words and grace.

McKnight is a luminescent figure onstage. She commands attention without demanding it. I greatly admire this woman. You should have seen her, last year, in the Good Company Players production of I Remember Mama, as Mama. Many of the qualities she showed in that play—kindness, strength, resilience—shine through in this one-woman show (with a Greek-chorus duo of helpers).

Ashes to Ashes is a wondrous part of the Fresno Rogue Festival, playing on the Veni Vidi Vici patio behind 1116 N. Fulton Street in Fresno. Remaining performances are Friday, March 10, 5:30 pm, and Saturday, March 11, 3:30 pm. Tickets are $8—money well spent.

Hmong Class 101
Review by Terrance McArthur

A people without a country. The Hmong people left China to settle in the hill-country of Laos. Their help in the CIA’s secret war marked them for death, so they escaped to refugee camps in Thailand. From there, they made it to the United States, settling in Minnesota and California’s San Joaquin Valley. Jasmine Vang explores where she belongs in Hmong Class 101, a show in Fresno’s 2023 Rogue Festival.

Using the framework of teaching a Hmong language class, Vang delves into the differences between the Hmong culture, and life in the USA—and its similarities. Mothers are always mothers, with their own expectations for their children. She takes classes and learns traditional Hmong dance, but she finds a stronger pull in the realm of theatre performance. Is this a rejection of her heritage? Is she a part of her Hmong culture—or is it safer to identify as “Asian?”

She doubts her ability to teach Hmong…and so does her mother. Her students don’t see the point in learning the language, or reading and writing it, but she keeps going. Vang is bright and cheerful, unsure and morose, and altogether human. You may not learn any words in the language, but you will gain understanding and appreciation of a part of Fresno you never knew.

Hmong Class 101 has its final performances Saturday, March 11, at 12:30 pm and 5:00 pm, at LAByrinth Arts Collective, 1470 N. van Ness Ave., Fresno. Tickets are $15.

The Real Black Swann: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen
Review by Terrance McArthur

William Dorsey Swann—born a slave, grown to throw elegant parties in the late 1800s of Washington D.C., Queen of Drag, arrested, the first gay activist in America. Les Kurkendaal-Barrett “meets” him—in an anesthetic-powered dream—in The Real Black Swann: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen, part of Fresno’s Rogue Performance Festival.

For much of his life, Les has wrapped himself in Glinda the Good Witch’s pink bubble to insulate himself from racism and homophobia. Swann’s goal is to deflate Les’s bubble and get him to face the truth of life for a black, gay man in the 2020s. There are Ghost-of-Christmas-Past-like visions of moments where Les experienced hate and shame for being himself, and glimpses of Swann’s world and his battles. These scenes are interspersed with events that fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. Swann wants Les to get mad, to get angry, to get rid of the pink bubble and feel the rage that he should accept. Can he do it?

Les has taken this show to fringe festivals on multiple continents. It has grown, becoming more complex, more relevant in a time when more black people die and legislatures contemplate banning drag shows.

The final performances of The Real Black Swann: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen at the LAByrinth Arts Collective, 1470 N. Van Ness Ave., Fresno, are Friday, March 10, 10:00 pm and Saturday, March 11, 3:30 pm.

Through the Veil
Review by Terrance McArthur

Christopher Alocern wants to see if you can travel beyond this reality to another place, a place you might not believe in. He wants to pierce the barrier between here and there, to go…Through the Veil.

In 2020, Alocern and his assistants brought the Victorian Séance Revisited to the Rogue Festival. Is this year’s presentation a magic show, a paranormal investigation, an invitation to explore where no one has gone before (and returned)? The stage is set with flickering candles (battery-powered), 1800s costuming (Black Is the New Black?), and a genteel approach to the question of what is out there, and where is it?

Tarot cards are chosen and read, locks and keys are locked and opened, and playing cards are revealed. It’s a dark journey, but not too dark, and it’s over too soon, to return us to a mundane, work-a-day world. Did we get a glimpse of something beyond this life? Through the Veil? That’s a good question.

Through the Veil finishes its run with performances at Vista Theater, 1296 North Wishon Ave, on Friday, March 10, 10:00 pm, and Saturday, March 11, at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $10.

Review by Terrance McArthur

“They” are back!

When you enter the theatre, you see a seated woman, nervous, haunted, her leg jiggling like it wants to go somewhere else, be somewhere else. She avoids eye contact, but she knows you are here. When she speaks, we are in a 12-step meeting, and she is an alcoholic—but her story takes us into dark places where nobody belongs. This is Rosegold, Donna Kay Yarborough’s harrowing horror story that returns to the Rogue Festival to infest your dreams for another year.

(Originally, Yarborough was scheduled to perform a new show, Titillated, a comedic reading of inept erotica, but life got in her way. She tentatively canceled, but decided to return with a tried-and-true fantasy fiction that will curl or straighten your hair…depending on your personal persuasion.)

The story starts out innocently enough—five co-workers head for a remote cabin to do all the things they didn’t do in high school. Then, things change in chilling fashion. Fire, death, blood (lots of blood!) and one survivor. And “They.” Do we understand who or what They are? Do we understand why They seem to follow this woman as she hides the truth in the bottle? What happens to people who hear her tale? You will try to answer these questions for nights to come.

Yarborough has scared a lot of people in many festivals with this tiny tidbit of terror. Snarky, haunted, haunting, she is feral and frightened…and frightening.

Rosegold’s final performances are Friday, March 10, 7:00 pm, and Saturday, March 11, 6:30 pm at the LAByrinth Arts Collective, 1470 N. Van Ness Ave., Fresno. Tickets are “Pay What You Will”…and it’s worth a pretty penny to be frightened.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur worked for the Fresno County Public Library for three decades. He is retired, but not retiring. A storyteller, puppeteer, writer, actor, magician, basketmaker, and all-around interesting person, his goal is to make life more unusual for everyone he meets.

Check other local arts & entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section. You can also find more theatre coming up on KRL’s Local Theatre event page.


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