Virtual Rogue Reviews: Reality is Optional/I Sit on My Arse And Play Piano/#FresnoWriters Live/Elizabeth Started All The Trouble

Mar 10, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Mallory Moad, Music, Rogue Festival, Theatre

by Mallory Moad

Virtual Rogue Festival has one more weekend to enjoy some great shows! Just like Rogue is different this year, we are posting our reviews differently this year–we won’t be posting them all together, though they will still be in groups. Here is our first group of reviews! You can find all of our Rogue Festival Performer Preview articles and reviews by going to our Rogue Festival section, and you can also learn more on the Rogue Festival website and purchase tickets there.

Reality is Optional
Review by Mallory Moad

Things aren’t right, and Jaguar Bennett is going to tell us why.

In his latest Rogue production, Reality is Optional, Jaguar initially appears as an X-Files-worthy paranoid conspiracy theorist, broadcasting a desperate warning. For the next fifty minutes, he ties our brains in knots with attempts to help us determine the difference between what’s genuine and what’s concocted in a time when all information is given equal merit. Through a tangled web of fake news and conspiracy, Jaguar bombards us with such topics as the Bavarian Illuminati, sacrificial news reporters, child-eating pedophiles, Rene Descartes and lizard people. It’s a hybrid of insanity (maybe) and hilarious absurdity (definitely). His derailment into a patter about spy squirrels pretty much floored me.

Compelling and timely, Reality is Optional could serve as a companion piece to Jaguar’s Rogue offering from 2016, B******t Is My Native Language. This could be the slick ad exec from that performance gone to social media hell, glassy-eyed and on the verge of losing it completely. The virtual format suits Jaguar’s style perfectly and is especially effective for this piece. With his constant eye contact, he creates a feeling of being spoken to directly while blurring the line between madman and motivational speaker. I recommend watching on your phone for the full effect of being on an inescapable, seriously intense video call.

As with all of Jaguar’s best performances, there is truth beneath the rant. There is always an “ah-HA!” moment when the method to his madness becomes clear and the words line up instead of going in zigzags. His words of advice on fighting the war on conspiracy and corruption are solid and worthwhile, our weapons humility, caution, and scrupulousness to facts. In other words, reality is the only option.

Reality is Optional
Remaining performance is Sunday, March 14 at 4 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased here.

I Sit on My Arse And Play Piano

Review by Mallory Moad

In his first Rogue show, I Sit on My Arse And Play Piano, Mark Nunis does more than that – much more. The pre-recorded production from this Aussie singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist is part travelogue, part autobiography, many parts musical performance and a great big kick in the pants.

With mad keyboard skills, and a vocal style that sounds like what you’d get if you put the voices of Billy Joel and Elton John in a blender, Mark grabbed our attention with his opening song and didn’t let go for fifty minutes. In addition to original songs, some written during lockdown, Mark shares stories about musical influences, family, and working as a professional piano bar entertainer. They are funny, touching and insightful. Photographs and personal mementos are cleverly interspersed to serve as illustrations, adding a sense of intimacy and familiarity.

Mark Nunis

But it’s the music that really drives the show. All but two of the songs Mark performs are original compositions that range from rockin’ boogie-woogie to pop to jazz. There are tunes about cars (“Blue Bella”), his pets (“Alley Cat,” a New Orleans-style blues tune reminiscent of Dr. John) and his wife (the Billy Joel-ish “Heart Smile”). “Nothin’ I Wouldn’t Do For You” follows a sweet story about Mark’s parents’ immigration from Singapore to Australia, an especially touching segment of the show.

A charming and personable performer, Mark uses video editing to his advantage. Thanks to modern technology, he is able to change clothes in the blink of an eye, be his own backup band, or add family members to the mix (his father sings lead on the energetic “Jinkli Nona”, a traditional Malaysian song, in the language of Kristang). It’s another component of what makes the show so much fun.

A rarity in the Rogue Festival, I Sit on My Arse and Play Piano is appropriate for pretty much everybody. It’s a rocking, rolling, sentimental journey that had me off my arse and on my feet!

I Sit on My Arse And Play Piano
Remaining performance is Saturday, March 13 at 8 p.m.
You can purchase a ticket here.

#FresnoWriters Live
Review by Mallory Moad

It has been said that Fresno is the world capital of poetry, and the young performers in #FresnoWriters Live validate this point of view. Four members of HAIS, the Hmong American Ink & Stories club at CSUF, came together to share their work. In pieces that contained both traditional and contemporary elements, the performances were captivating and intriguing.

A common theme shared by all the writers in this show was familial relationships. In her short fiction story, “Mai Poj Nxtoog,” Lee Lee took a feminist approach to a folk tale. Her relaxed and poised demeanor was in direct contrast to the conflicts her characters faced, enhancing the story’s tension. Laura Thor shared two very personal poems, “Strength and Steps,” about her maternal grandmother and “In Memory,” the story of the dangers her paternal grandfather faced to attain a better life. Her work was descriptive and detailed, and her confident stage presence gave life to sights and sounds. Maiyang Lor’s excerpt from her short story, “Alexa’s Gift,” examined gender roles, loss, and visitation from the spirit word. Telling this tale of modern mythology, her style was powerfully direct and no-nonsense. Experienced performer, Tony Vang, launched into two pieces, “Dragon Song” and “My Heart is Made Up.” Employing the traditional Hmong oral storytelling technique called “sheng,” he combined English and Hmong languages in a melodic, staccato vocalization that was compelling and mesmerizing.

The second performance by #FresnoWriters Live will feature four students from the Chicanx Writers an Artists Association in another enlightening demonstration of using words to connect generations, languages, and cultures.

#FresnoWriters Live
Remaining performance is Sunday, March 14 at 2 p.m.
You can purchase tickets here.

Elizabeth Started All The Trouble
Review by Mallory Moad

So you think history is boring? I’ll let you in on a secret: Teatro Asamblea’s production, Elizabeth Started All The Trouble, might just change your mind.

Adapted from Doreen Rappaport’s book of the same name and originally sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Fresno, this fast-paced video play celebrates 100 years of women’s right to vote and the women who made it all happen. Narrated by First Lady, Abigail Adams (delightfully played with sparkling wit by Alyssa Benitez), she introduces us to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Sojourner Truth, who tell their stories about the roles they played in the fight for women’s suffrage: their battles, challenges, and successes. Along the way, we meet other women who talk about perseverance in the face of adversity – inventors, activists, medical professionals, and organizers.

Under the direction of Gina Sandi-Diaz, the performers bring these historical figures to life with energy and skill. Emily Kearns portrays Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a brave, unstoppable force. Kenia Morales’s Lucretia Mott is fiercely focused. As Sojourner Truth, Arium Andrews shows us a woman who is angry but fearless. Her monologue about racial and sexual inequality is stunning. Additional cast members are Jacob Gonzalez and Cha Yang in multiple roles.

This show was staged entirely with Zoom during lockdown but the hard-working company (everyone collaborated on this piece) has prevented it from looking like a work-from-home staff meeting. The performers relate to each other as if they were on the same stage. All six cast members play several different characters, defined with a simple change of hats, the addition of glasses or change of vocal inflection. Teatro Asamblea has accomplished a lot with very little to give us a show that is exciting, timely and entertaining. Boring? No way!

Elizabeth Started All The Trouble
Remaining Performance is Friday, March 12 at 7 p.m.
You can purchase tickets here.

Keep an eye on our Rogue Festival section for more reviews to come soon.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors–many of whom you will have seen on local stages. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play, and also on Podbean. A new Christmas episode went up this week!

Check out more local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.

Mallory Moad is a visual/performance artist, vocalist in the jazz band Scats on The Sly and a proud Central San Joaquin Valley native.


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