Press:

Sierra Star: 100th birthday melodrama

Feb. 28 show is twist on real story of name change from Fresno Flats to Oakhurst

By Elizabeth Gabriel / Special To Sierra Star

"A Fastidious Finagling Fixing Fresno Flats" will have its first performance at the Golden Chain Theatre at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, the 100th birthday of Oakhurst.

An open house and reception will be held at the theatre's Grub Gulch Saloon at 5 p.m. with cake, merchandise commemorating the centennial and local historians prior to the stage production.

Although the production, written by Roger Clugston, deals with a name change of the town, it is not a historically accurate account, rather his 'melodramatic' twist on the actual events that led to the name change from Fresno Flats to Oakhurst on Feb. 28, 1912.

Clugston says his version of how Fresno Flats lost its name includes "a big fat lie or two ... or three ... or four..."

Here's playwright Clugston's fictional version of how the town's name was transformed:

When Al Wahnee, Esq. (Mykael Mitchell) came to Fresno Flats, the town was pretty happy with the way things were -- including the name, which they found suitably descriptive: "Fresno," the Spanish word for ash trees and "flats" for ... well ... flats.

The unscrupulous Wahnee had been a partner of the Oakhurst Trust and Deed Co. in Tombstone, Ariz. until the untimely and suspicious death of his partner, John "Black Jack" Oakhurst. Wahnee and his sidekick, Shifty Sands (Chris Moore), headed west.

They wanted a new town in the name of the late partner to secure matching federal funds for the township and to create a haven for criminals. Wahnee, ever the villain, starts a rumor amongst the townsfolk that the water is poisoned -- arsenic or uranium anyone? -- and and when they leave, he buys up all their property.

Then, Wahnee circulates a rumor that there's gold in them thar flats and sells land to arriving new folks with gold fever. When they all go broke trying to find the gold, he'll foreclose, putting all the land back into his Oakhurst Deed and Trust and changes Fresno Flats' name.

But he's not done yet. He'll buy the old folks home and kick the old folks out, open a toothpick factory run by all his crooked cronies and force the townspeople to work for pennies.

Not so fast, says Postmaster Sue Kell (Devin Faucettel), the anchor of the town who knows everybody. She has her allies, like her sweet, shy and smart friend, school teacher Mary Posa (Shanna Strange).

The production will also include dancers directed by Patti Law Poggi.

The performance will be repeated March 3 as a benefit for the Cadet Corps of Yosemite High School. The mini-melodrama is this year's traveling show, which is shorter than a regular play and may be booked for performances through Mary Lou Finley, (559-683-3789).

The real facts of the town's name change involved stage robber Charlie Myers, who after be acquitted on the fourth trail, high-tails it to Oregon and comes back with a wife. She soon becomes sick of hearing about the Fresno Flats stage robbery, which always included her husband's identity. That's when she finagles the United States Post Office to change the official name of the town -- without much of the town knowing about it. That change was recorded Feb. 28, 1912.

There will be a year-long celebration of Oakhurst's centennial, with events supported by the Sierra Historic Sites Association, which runs the Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park and the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is producing a 'then and now' 18-month calendar featuring historic photos which will be available the night of the play.

For a full list of centennial events planned in Oakhurst, visit Oakhurst100.com, sponsored by Sierra Tel.

"It's fantastic that the community will come together during the year for an occasion of such historical importance," said Finley, vice president of the theatre's board of directors and a co-director of the mini-melodrama.

Details: Adults, $12; seniors, $10; students (13-18) and active military, $8; children, $6. Reservations, (559) 683-7112.

 

   
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