The scene: a Wednesday lunch reception at the Saroyan Theatre in honor of beloved humorist Dave Barry, in town for the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall lecture series. At the head table, Barry is seated next to Good Company Players artistic director Dan Pessano, who’s been known to crack up audiences of his own over the years.
The backstory: Along with writing his Pulitzer-Prize winning columns for the Miami Herald, Barry is author (along with Ridley Pearson) of the book “Peter and the Starcatchers,” on which the Broadway play (changed to just one Starcatcher) is based. On the day Barry is in Fresno, Pessano’s company is in the finishing throes of preparing its production of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” with the dress rehearsal scheduled that night. (It opened Thursday.) Is that a coincidence or what?
The goal: Pessano wanted Barry to sign the show’s poster, and the Town Hall folks graciously helped set up a meeting before the lecture. (Barry wrote, “Boy voyage, Good Company Players – Dave Barry.”) What Pessano didn’t realize is that not only would he be invited to lunch but get to sit next to the funny man himself.
The conversation: The pair talk at lunch a little about the genesis of the “Starcatchers” series of books. The idea was born when Pearson, while hanging out one day with Barry, speculated: “How did Capt. Hook meet Peter Pan?” The rest, as they say, was history.
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The insight: Barry is the same offstage as he is onstage: a genuinely funny guy. “That’s the most laughter I’ve heard at the Saroyan,” Pessano says of Barry’s talk. “It was continuous and totally at ease. The rarest thing is to be honestly funny and let the audience come to you.”
The cute “Starcatcher” reference to all this: “The starstuff was in the right place, there’s no doubt about that,” Barry tells Pessano at lunch. (To fully comprehend what starstuff is, you’ll have to 1) read the book; or 2) go see the GCP show, which runs through May 14. But suffice it to say it has to do with the magic of life.)
The takeaway: “It was a great day,” says Pessano, who is not often given to superlatives. “It really was one of the better days I’ve ever had.”