From ‘Awkward’ to ‘Red Hot,’ Rogue Festival picks for final weekend

As the 15th annual Rogue Festival heads into its second and final weekend, it’s time to get strategic about which shows you want to see. Should you continue experimenting and seeking out titles you know nothing about? Or should you rely on the buzz?

Both approaches can be a lot of fun. If you’re up for the buzz, The Fresno Bee staffers saw 17 shows over the weekend and picked seven for you, in alphabetical order. (You can read longer reviews at www.fresnobeehive.com.)

1. “Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve ——”: The best thing about the Rogue: You can see shows that challenge, provoke, titillate, outrage, uplift or just plain confuse you. My biggest fear when walking into an unknown quantity at Rogue isn’t that I’m going to have any of those reactions. It’s that I’m going to be bored.

Which is one reason why I’m so taken with Joshua Ryan Taylor’s completely surprising and, yes, outrageous, one-man piece about bestiality. It’s a fine piece of theater, beautifully acted and directed (by Kayla Weber), and a sturdy realization of the complex script by Rob Hayes, who debuted the show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Bobby, whom Taylor plays with an anxious, sharp-witted self-deprecation (dogs are “man’s best friend with benefits!”), recounts his “love life” in five episodes, each building in psychological self-disclosure. For all the hoopla the play’s title might evoke, the play itself is rather coy about the actual acts themselves (thank goodness), focusing more on Bobby’s back story and tenuous relationship with the outside world. Through it all, Taylor more than holds his own in a role that requires baring a lot of soul (and skin).

– Donald Munro

2. “Bull---- is My Native Language.” Jaguar Bennett’s show, which is less obscene than the name, or his own PR, lets on, is great. The show hit a bit close to home, as Bennett revealed how PR professionals (and he himself) work journalists (like myself) into peddling their “bull----” as legitimate news.

The bulk of the show was actually a fun and well-recounted history of advertising and how it’s been used to shape society and individual tastes. It all seemed very researched and believable, but then Bennett admits he’s a bull----ter from the beginning, so who knows?

All in all, the most rehearsed, best produced show I’ve seen so far at the Rogue and a must-see. Oh, it’s pretty funny, too.

– Joshua Tehee

3. “Fringe Factor: Rogue Edition”: This game show, which pits local Roguers against their traveling counterparts, brings loads of interactive, mostly PG-rated fun. It’s a lot like “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” – except the points really do matter. It’s a great change of pace from the dramatic, musical and comedic performances found in most other Rogue shows. It is not to be watched; it is to be experienced. The host’s quick wit keeps everybody chuckling, and he masterfully moves six contestants across four rounds of on-the-fly competitions. Bring your friends, wife and (teenage) kids.

– Rory Appleton

4. “The Hula”: For Hawaiians, “aloha” is more than a greeting. It’s a motto that stands for kindness, unity, humanity, patience and “being agreeable,” explains hula teacher Joydee Padua.

This spirit shines through performers with The Hula School in the Sun, or “Halau Hula I Ka La” in Hawaiian. The school opened in northeast Fresno two years ago.

Their Rogue performance tells the story of hula’s evolution. I think my grandfather, who was born and raised in Oahu, would be proud of this group. I’ve seen more acrobatic, action-packed hula in Hawaii, but I’ve never been so touched by a performance. This is a soothing, sweet, simple, lovely and intimate family-friendly experience.

– Carmen George

5. “Red Hot Mama”: Melanie Gall is one hot mama. Her cabaret/comedy/musical show “Red Hot Mama: A Sophie Tucker Cabaret,” which tells the story of vaudeville star Tucker, will make you laugh out loud and touch your heart. It’s one-part storytelling, one-part stand-up comedy and one-part concert.

The jokes and innuendo add character and fun transitions between songs and the progression of the story – and give the show that naughty, but not-too-naughty, flirtatious feel. But the music is the real star here. Gall has a powerful, commanding voice. There’s a line in the story where Sophie is described as “having pipes,” and Gall certainly delivers along to a peppy piano track. I’d say it’s a Rogue must-see.

– Kathy Mahan

6. “SHEnatra”: Last year, Sadie Bowman and Donna Kay Yarborough captivated the Rogue with the brilliant satirical act “The Famous Haydell Sisters.” Now they’re back with another triumph. In “SHEnatra,” the Portland-based duo ups the theatrical ante in terms of difficulty level by posing this very funny premise: What if Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin have been stuck in Purgatory all these years because of the way they treated women? And what if, to make things even more interesting, their souls had been squeezed into women’s bodies?

The show features plenty of Rat Pack songs with razor-sharp parody lyrics. (Example: “Luck be a Lady Tonight” becomes “Chuck Me a Baby Tonight.”) But the real heart of the show is the characters and the banter between them. It’s a blisteringly funny show – and a must-see. (DM)

7. “Water”: Benjamin Boone and friends offer a multidisciplinary approach that combines live jazz, dance, theater, recordings of Philip Levine, audio tracks of water-themed pop music and a 44-quart water bowl dramatically lighted as a constant focal point of the show.

All this could have felt like a mishmash, but it all seems to flow together in a way that feels right and strong. Boone, who usually performs at the Rogue with the jazz quartet bearing his name, is joined by Eva Scow on mandolin, Kate McKnight in an acting role, and four dancers choreographed by Debra Parola. The entire production is notable. Go ahead and jump in. The water’s just right. (DM)

15th annual Rogue Festival

  • Through Saturday, March 12
  • More reviews: Go to www.fresnobeehive.com for reviews of “An Amorphous Spaced Whale,” “Boomshakalaka!,” “The Life of a House Plant,” “One Song,” “Barnacle: A Salty Love Story,” Blood Harmony, “Art: Why Do We Bother?” “Apocalypse Songs,” “I’ve Accepted Everyone’s Death but My Own” and “One Song.”
  • Tickets: A Rogue bracelet (one-time fee of $3, available at all venues) is required for admission to all performances, plus a ticket ranging from $5-$10. Tickets can be ordered online at www.roguefestival.ticketleap.com. Half the tickets for each show are held back for sale at the door (cash or credit card) starting 30 minutes before performance.
  • Check www.roguefestival.com and www.fresnobeehive.com for updates, schedule changes and other news