By Juan Luis Guzmán
On most weekdays, the Selma Arts Center buzzes with the excitement of rehearsals – there isn’t an inch of wasted space in the beautiful Arthur Dyson designed theatre. From the stage to the lobby to the rehearsal rooms upstairs to the area in the basement, you’ll find members of the various Selma Arts Center (SAC) companies hard at work. To date, SAC is home to three acting companies including SAC Teen and the Cool Kid Players. Today, the cast of A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder takes their work to the main stage while the cast members of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time wait for the second weekend of their run.
Randall Kohlruss dodges through a crowd of children in the lobby rehearsing for the junior company production of Cinderella Kids. For his role in A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder, Kohlruss plays a total of eight characters that make up the entire D’Ysquith family, an aristocratic group whose members keep dying off in strange and mysterious ways. At the center of their mysterious deaths is Monty Navarro, a charming and ambitious gentleman, ninth in line to inherit their earldom, Highhurst. Played by Aaron Pierce, Monty Navarro is charming and clever, if not a little flighty, something Pierce enjoys playing on stage opposite of Kohlruss. Already inside the theatre when Kohlruss arrives, Pierce is eager to talk to his castmate when he sees him enter.
“We share a lot of stage time together,” Pierce says, remarking on the multiple characters Kohlruss plays. “We are constantly engaging in a battle of wits, and the intricacies that come with Randy’s eight characters force me to prioritize connections with each of them in fresh new ways. As a result, every day we are adding and making discoveries together.”
This Selma Art Center production marks a Central Valley premiere of the show, save a national tour that played a two-night run in Fresno during the 2017 Broadway in Fresno series. The show opened on Broadway in 2013 and received nine Tony Award nominations, ultimately winning four, including Best Musical. For local directors Michael C. Flores and Dakota Simpson, it’s an opportunity to bring the show to new audiences and put their individual spin on the production.
“I think we’ve kept true to the humor the show already possesses,” says Flores. “We have also enhanced it by incorporating stylized movement throughout the show. Everyone in the cast has a specific physicality they bring to the characters they play. They move and intertwine with each other throughout the show in ways that will be visually appealing to the audience.”
When the actors finally come together and the rehearsal begins, one can start to see the sparks fly. With only a few weeks before the curtain goes up on this group, they move about on stage, share scenes, and discover new moments together as if they’ve been on stage together for years. This is a chemistry that reveals itself on stage.
“We were really fortunate to bring together this group of actors,” says Simpson. “They allow us to tell the story, but they also bring a sense of togetherness that’s difficult to teach. For this cast, it comes naturally.”
A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder will show March 22 – March 30 at the Selma Arts Center. Tickets are available online at SelmaArtsCenter.com or call 559-891-2238