The San Francisco Fringe Festival is part of a long tradition of giving the stage to less mainstream indie performers. From slapstick to satire to the one-person show, Fringe performances are ones you are unlikely to see at A.C.T. or Berkeley Rep. This year’s line-up offers 30 choices.
Cat Brooks artfully presents the tragedy of Natasha (Tasha) McKenna, a woman with schizophrenia who was killed in police custody in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 2015. Representing her mother, one of the officers, the sheriff in charge, other characters, and most notably, Tasha herself, Brooks takes the audience on the journey that leads up to and includes Tasha’s death.
Actual footage from the events plays intermittently on screens between Brooks’s portrayals of different characters, never letting the audience forget that this is fact not fiction.
The most moving scene for me was Tasha’s mother after her daughter’s death. Her pain is so present and personal; yet set within the larger context of police violence against black people, we know that despite the specific details that make this case distinctive, it is a story that plays out far too often.
Through tears, I gave a standing ovation for Brooks as a playwright, a performer, a storyteller, and an activist. Afterwards, Brooks gave audience members the chance to ask questions in the limited time we had until the next show needed to set up. I think we were all glad that we had that time to process, if just for a few moments, before going back out into the world.
I was disappointed that the small house at Exit Theatre wasn’t full. Everyone should see this piece. I think it deserves a longer life than its four showings at the festival and hope it finds a home on one of the bigger stages in the Bay Area.
If you see only one SF Fringe performance, let it be this one.
Sometimes I’m lucky and see a play early enough in its run that I can recommend it to others. I am so glad that is the case for “The Other Place,” directed by Taylor Korobow.
I don’t recall even hearing of Symmetry Theatre Company before last weekend. But the play featured my favorite local actress, Stacy Ross, so I was excited to be able to get tickets because I will see her in anything.
In fact, the whole cast was very good. Robert Parsons always gives a solid performance in everything I’ve seen him in. Lisa Morse and Michael Barrett Austin are both versatile actors who play a range of roles well. Within the play itself, Morse portrays three distinct characters, though her role is listed simply as “The Woman.”
Ross plays Juliana, a smart and confident research scientist, who opens the play by addressing the audience as if we were attendees at a conference where she was presenting. With skill, she smoothly goes back and forth between her presentation and her thoughts as she speaks. We meet her doctor (played by Morse), her husband, Ian (Robert Parsons), and hear her account of events. But clues are steadily dropped, and gradually the audience learns what’s really going on and also discovers the trauma in her past that makes its way into her present. The combination of the script and the staging let us know different facets of a complicated situation a little bit at a time, rather than building to a big reveal all at once, which provided a more realistic feel that this story benefited from.
It comes as no surprise that the “other place” of the title represents not only the vacation home where the trauma originally occurred but also the alternate reality in which Juliana finds herself. Expressing that complicated transition from one reality to another on stage can be hard to portray convincingly, but Ross does so exquisitely.
The program, though glossy and professionally printed, gave little information about the theater company and even less about the playwright, which seems like lost opportunities to me. (It did have the largest print I’ve ever seen in a program, which was a refreshing change for my eyes; but I would have given up a few font sizes to have more content.) I’d have thought the playwright was a woman, knowing only the name–Sharr White–which to my ear sounds like a diminutive of Sharlene or Charlotte. But I discovered that Sharr White is a man by googling the name while we waited for the show to begin. And after the show I went online to find out more about the theater company, whose mission is
to create professionally produced theatre that will excite, stimulate and challenge our audiences. The plays we choose will always have at least as many female characters as male, and in any given show there will always be at least as many Equity contracts given to women as to men. In addition we will produce plays that acknowledge that women’s stories are as important as men’s and in so doing we will hope to bring about further awareness to the public and the theatre community at large of the need for more “balance on the boards.”
Now that wouldn’t have been so hard to put in the program, would it?
The program aside–and I realize that most theater-goers wouldn’t be bothered by its shortcomings–I highly recommend this production of “The Other Place.” It is playing one more weekend at Live Oak Theater in Berkeley. If you appreciate a good story, excellent acting, and thought-provoking theater, go buy your ticket right now! https://www.symmetrytheatre.com/.
Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, and Chipotle had a buy one, get one free special offer for all teachers. I hadn’t gone grocery shopping and it was a particularly hot day. The last thing I wanted to do was cook, so I decided to take them up on their offer.
I’d put my pay stub in my pocket to prove I was an employee at Prospect Sierra, so at 6 pm, shortly after the last child was picked up from After School (where I’m the director), I headed to the El Cerrito Chipotle, which is on my way home from work. The parking lot was a madhouse. People were stuck, trying to get out, and cars were coming in through the exit, making it even more congested and confused. I drove a block and a half away, found a spot on the street, and walked there. The line was as long as I’d ever seen it, but I was content to play Two Dots on my phone while I waited.
Twenty minutes later, I finally arrived at the counter and pulled out my pay stub to show the server. He didn’t even look at the paper I was holding in front of him; he just called over another guy who told me I needed to show a school ID. I explained that my school didn’t issue ID cards. He looked skeptical, as if that just wasn’t within the realm of possibility, so I must be trying to scam him. I told him I taught at a private school where we didn’t need IDs. He shook his head and said the only way it would work was if I could show him an ID. He didn’t even say he was sorry. I was angry, but I walked away without causing a scene.
I got in my car, vowing to never go to Chipotle’s again. But I was really hungry too. Then I got an idea.
I called the Chipotle in West Berkeley–the one I’d visited often when I worked off Gilman. I told the man who answered that I was a teacher and had a pay stub to prove it, but the El Cerrito Chipotle wouldn’t honor the special offer for me. Then I asked if I came to the Berkeley Chipotle, would my pay stub be enough to prove I was a teacher. He said he thought he could make an exception and asked my name.
“When you get here, tell the person at the counter your name, and I will make sure you get your free burrito,” he assured me.
So I drove to the Berkeley Chipotle and waited in line again, but only for about ten minutes this time. True to his word, the Chipotle employee made sure I got the teacher deal. I thanked him and changed my vow to never frequent the El Cerrito Chipotle, but the Berkeley Chipotle would continue to get my business.
I took home dinner for my husband and me and didn’t have to cook. Thank you, Berkeley Chipotle!
Adam Strauss is a stand-up comic from New York. But right now at S.F. Marsh, you can see his one-man autobiographical show, The Mushroom Cure, which focuses on his personal struggle with OCD. Funny, vulnerable, and engaging, Strauss is willing to laugh at his own flaws, share painful moments, and offer up his darkest fears in what feels less like a monologue in front of an audience than it does an authentic self-portrait in progress. He reminded me of a younger, more intense Marc Maron with a bit of Paul Rudd thrown in. I was moved by his honesty and impressed with his stage presence. He’s a talented performer who doesn’t seem like he’s performing. Which is the best kind, right?
Don’t be fooled by the title–it’s not a tale of how to successfully treat a seriously disabling condition with psychedelic fungi, though that is a major plot point. It’s a man trying to find his way who allows us to watch part of that journey.
Definitely a thumbs up. I hope to see more of Adam Strauss in the future.
The three of us–Dave (my husband), our friend Peggy, and I–headed to Justin Herman Plaza via BART and arrived just as the speeches were starting. I don’t know how many people were there, but it felt pretty full. We looked in vain for the rest of our group, Indivisible Berkeley, but settled on a spot on the steps where we could sit. We figured we could join up with them later.
There were scientists, teachers, engineers, and just a lot of people who appreciate science cheering on the speakers. It’s crazy that in this day and age we have to march to show our support of science, but it was encouraging to see that plenty of folks still value it in the Bay Area.
And the Clif Bars company had people handing out free Clif Bars to everyone. Thank you, Clif Bars!
As the speeches were ending, Peggy, Dave, and I moved to the back of the plaza where we found our group with the Indivisible Berkeley banner unfurled and ready to go. About a dozen of us positioned ourselves behind or alongside the banner ready to march. And we waited. Because we were at the back, it took quite a while before we actually got to move, but we had fun taking selfies and pointing out all the great signs.
In fact, I think the signs were my favorite part of the march. So much creativity, thought, and humor went into them, and many were handmade and unique. Several used scientific language and symbols to bring home their points.
I loved one that read “You know it’s important when even introverts march.” A girl of about five years had a sandwich board-style sign on her front that read “Be part of the solution” and one on her back that read “Don’t just be a precipitate.” But I hadn’t seen the one in front and couldn’t actually remember what a precipitate was, so I was puzzled until Dave explained it to me.
I saw a sign that was just a cut-out of the Lorax, one that featured two stranded penguins, a few that read “I’m with her” and pointed to Earth, and lots that just pointed out the ways that science is a good thing. I liked the simplicity of the one that said “Hug a science teacher,” held presumably by a science teacher.
Some people, like me, were there as part of a group and proudly held banners or wore matching t-shirts. Others came with friends and/or family. A group of elementary-school children chanted jubilantly WE LOVE SCIENCE!
There were atheists and religious people there with different views of god but who marched together for science.
Of course, as at any protest, a few people used the opportunity to spout their particular beliefs. Hence the sign held by a guy sitting on the side of the march route that claimed “9/11 was an inside job.” To which my husband, Dave, replied, “Well, the planning probably did take place indoors…”
But most of the signs were on point and even spelled correctly. And everyone was in a pretty good mood, despite looming climate change and the impending decimation of the EPA.
I saw one person in a polar bear suit and another in a brown bear suit. Luckily it was a cloudy day, and the temperature stayed in the low 60s. Otherwise, those would have been some hot bears…
Alongside the marching route was a trio portraying some of Trump’s cabinet picks, some people selling homemade baked goods to hungry marchers, and some people who preferred to watch as the parade went by rather than march in it.
We landed at the Civic Center where there were tents set up and a Brazilian dance group was just starting to perform. But we were tired, and we’d done what we’d come to do. So we found the closest BART station and headed home.
It’s tiring having to march for something that should just be a given. But if it makes any difference at all, it was worth it.
Al Letson is the Peabody Award-winning host of the insightful radio show and podcast Reveal, but his show, “Summer in Sanctuary,” is not investigative journalism. Currently at the Marsh in Berkeley, Letson’s one-man show is an autobiographical account of his summer teaching creative writing to at-risk teens.
He takes us on his journey, one he began somewhat reluctantly but in the end was life changing. It could not strictly be referred to as a monologue because although he was the only one on stage, he embodied several people in addition to himself. He begins his show with a short video to introduce some of the kids he will be talking about, but he doesn’t really need to because he does a fine job playing each one distinctively, sometimes even when they’re all talking in quick succession.
The language Letson uses is often poetic, and he repeats lines to emphasize, clarify, and bring home certain points but never in a gimmicky or overdone manner.
Humor is mixed in with heartbreak, and he expresses both with raw honesty. I admit that I did not remain dry-eyed, and neither did Letson. But his tears were not those of an actor eliciting an emotional response from his audience; they erupted naturally from the memories he was sharing with us.
This was not a passive sit-back-and-enjoy-the-show kind of theater experience–I was engaged from the beginning and hung on each of his words until it ended with a well-deserved standing ovation. I highly recommend this show.
The night before the march we got out the poster board and broad-tipped Sharpies in five different colors. I spent way too much time looking for catchy phrases to put on my sign. We’d heard that in New York no rulers–or anything that could be used as a weapon–were allowed to hold signs. So I punched tiny holes in mine, inserted string, and planned on wearing mine sandwich-board style. In the time it took me to make one sign, Dave had made six–enough to make three two-sided signs so that he’d have some to give away to people who didn’t have any. Dave’s two-sided ones were “Ally/No Bully,” “Resist/Fight,” and “Free Melania/No Country for Old, White Men.” Mine was “No Hate. No Fear. Everyone Is Welcome Here.”
The day began with scattered showers, so we wore our raincoats and put clear packing tape on our protest signs to protect them from the rain. I’d looked online for what to pack for a protest march, but it wasn’t actually that helpful. I already wear sunscreen every day, and I generally carry a water bottle. I honestly didn’t expect to get pepper-sprayed, so the suggestion for vinyl gloves (so you won’t spread the pepper spray via your hands) didn’t seem relevant to me. And writing your emergency contact number on your arm in Sharpie (because they take your phone away from you in the slammer) seemed like overkill. Besides, I know Dave’s number, and if I got carted off to the hoosegow, he probably would be too.
I packed some Band-aids, a portable container of hand sanitizer, an ear-warmer, and a kazoo. Dave was really smart and brought cashews. We picked up our friends at their house and headed for the North Berkeley BART station. By the time we were halfway there (near Monterey Market), we were already seeing people walking with their signs toward the station. So we parked and walked the last half-mile to the station. It was early in the day, and we had energy to spare, so why not?
We saw the lines around the BART station from the moment we turned the corner onto Virginia Street around 10:20 a.m. I wish I’d thought to take a picture, but I was focused on getting to the march. Luckily, Berkeleysidedid it for me. The pic below was taken just a few minutes before we arrived there. We were so glad that we had clipper cards and got to bypass the lines buying tickets. Apparently there were still lines to board BART an hour later.
Once inside, the atmosphere was festive–people reading each other’s posters and discovering friends among the crowds on the stairs and platforms. I heard my name called from above the escalator and turned to see a friend who’d moved to Connecticut years ago!
Unbelievably we snatched some seats in the last car of a train that was heading toward San Francisco but stopping at Oakland’s 12th Street station. Many people had stayed on the platform to wait for a train that would head further east and drop them off at the Lake Merritt station, which was closer to the beginning of the march route. But it turns out that the train that followed us couldn’t even stop at its scheduled drop-off point because of overcrowding at the station; so I guess we were lucky we’d gotten on the car we were on. With each stop, protesters piled in until we were surely beyond any capacity that train had ever seen. But everyone was kind and cheerful.
We emerged from the 12th Street station and set out to join the march already in progress. Streets were closed to traffic to allow the hoards of protesters to march down the middle of Oak Street up to Grand Avenue and along Lake Merritt. The march’s destination point was Oscar Grant Plaza (officially Frank Ogawa Plaza), where a rally would feature speakers, music, and other performers at 12:30.
It was really less a march and more a shuffle as thousands of people came together as one to take to the streets and express our deep disappointment in the presidential election’s outcome. But rather than spouting rage, we were espousing peace in a hundred different ways. The variety of signage was a testament to our boundless creativity and was evidence of our various passions. There were humorous ones (e.g., We Shall Overcomb), and the ones children carried (e.g., Be Nice), were the sweetest. Some used Trump’s own words against him (This Pussy Grabs Back!), and some relied on wordplay (Truck Fump). Some stated what should be obvious but isn’t (Women’s Rights Are Human Rights), and more than a few depicted ovaries and vaginas. I personally liked the alliteration in Viva la Vulva! As an editor, I also appreciated that 99 percent of the ones I saw were spelled correctly. And as Dave pointed out, maybe “facism” is a thing.
I was impressed by the range of people represented–women and men; infants to senior citizens; humans of every ethnicity and religion; folks in wheelchairs; some with canine companions; some with musical instruments; and lots with pink pussy hats. We were chanting, laughing, even dancing. We were all in such a good mood, so happy to be surrounded with like-minded people who might not have identical political views but who all agreed on one thing: we were mortified that Donald Trump was our newly elected president. For some, it was their first march; for others, it was the latest of many.
There were those who staked out a spots along the route and watched the parade go by rather than become part of the swarm, but we all waved to each other. Several people lined up along the Oakland Museum, and many cheered us on from the second and third stories of their apartment buildings along Oak Street. We passed the courthouse, the library, the Scottish Rite Temple, and hugged the north shore of Lake Merritt. As some marchers split off down other streets to take shortcuts to the rally, the crowds thinned enough that we were able to pick up the pace a bit.
Around 1:30, when we turned from Grand Avenue onto Broadway, I was ravenous, so we stopped at The Old Brooklyn Cafe and Bakery for sustenance. The little corner shop was filled with other similarly hungry protesters, and we all made room for each other. Dave and I got two of the last three bagels and gobbled them as we rested briefly.
On our way out of the bakery, we ran into friends who were coming from the rally. Was it over already? It was supposed to go until 3:00. They said they enjoyed the music and the dancers, but they couldn’t really hear the speeches from where they stood. So they decided it was time to grab a late lunch and march back home.
It was 2:00, and we were four blocks away from our destination. We could definitely still make it before it was over. But if we weren’t going to be able to hear the speakers, did we still want to go? Of course, if getting to Oscar Grant Plaza was really our goal, we could have walked the one block from the 12th street station and arrived there long before the rally began. Dave’s back ached and my feet hurt from all the standing on pavement. What can I say? We’re getting old.
No, being part of the march was our true aim. We were among the thousands in Oakland and over a million nation-wide that marched on Saturday. I didn’t know it at the time, but people marched all over the globe in solidarity. We are part of a movement that is going to fight back. We didn’t need to stand at the rally to prove that.
We passed the Paramount Theatre and entered the 19th Street station, where many marchers had propped up their signs in a row as a visual record that they had been there. We waited on the platform with dozens of others who were done protesting for the day. When the train’s door slid open, and nobody in the packed car seemed to be exiting, I asked if anyone was getting off. A voice behind me urged me to get on, so I started to step inside the car. Just then a man emerged from the crowd and pushed me angrily back onto the platform. I wish I could say I channeled Gandhi and practiced passive resistance.
But I pushed back. And I may have said a bad word. Luckily, it ended with him grumbling under his breath that I was there for a stupid reason as he brushed past me and went on his way, apparently to accomplish something more important than defending women’s rights. In my head I had a few more choice words for him, but I ignored them and made my way onto the train to take us back to Berkeley, a little shaken and steamed but too tired to care about one dissenter in such a positive group.
Once on the train, a dad discovered that his toddler had lost a shoe and nicely asked if we could all look on the floor around us. Packed too tight for people to bend over, I assumed the shoe was gone-daddy-gone. But seconds later, an arm shot up holding a tiny sneaker, and everyone around us cheered. We were a team, a force to be reckoned with, a finder of shoes, and advocates for justice. We were a part of history, dammit!
If Saturday’s protest was any indication of the passion, resolve, and cooperation we are capable of, we have a good chance of making our voices heard.