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Author: Tyler Jeffreys

“Polaroid Stories” Exposes Street Life, at CAL Playhouse, Berkeley

“Polaroid Stories” Exposes Street Life, at CAL Playhouse, Berkeley

Naomi Iizuka Mingles Myth with Modern Pain

by Tyler Jeffreys

Some youths are at risk, others passed that threshold before birth. We may not know their names, but we will certainly know their tales. “Polaroid Stories,” written by Naomi Iizuka and directed by Margo Hall, tells the stories of street kids who turn to myth-making to survive their harsh reality. In “Polaroid Stories,” staged by TDPS at CAL’s Zellerbach Playhouse, the street kids embody ancient Greek gods and myths, like Eurydice, Orestes, and Semele. But they are trapped in the most degrading street hovels, still declaring they are gods.

The characters in “Polaroid Stories” are inspired by interviews that playwright Iizuka conducted with young prostitutes and street youth. If only Americans would bother to look, zoom in, they would see poverty, sex trafficking, and drugs haunting our Bay Area ‘hoods.’ That may feel like old news, because it is! In 2017, our scattered street kids still need help: that’s no myth. Maybe people will pay attention if the god of wine and theatre, Dionysus, needs our help or perhaps even Zeus, the king of the gods?

“Polaroid Stories” by U.C. Berkeley Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. Photo: Alessandra Mello.

Iizuka sets “Polaroid Stories”in a mythological Underworld that looks like our very real slums, in Oakland, Richmond or San Francisco. The brilliant, realistic, ruined concrete set holds three levels of destruction. On Level One the homeless bottom feeders lurk, hiding in holes and corners. Levels Two and Three are the two storied, cold, gray cement buildings, creviced with cracked plaster. These are hovels of despair, worthy of Hades or Lear’s Heath.

On one end of the set, the lights pick out a hidden room for seduction, a false paradise for the kids who live on the streets, with cool colors that highlight the darkness. On the other end, fires flash from Hades, fencing the characters behind wire fences, keeping them apart.

Izuku’s “Polaroid Stories” presents Tartarus as a haven for drugs and desperate love. Narcissus (the princely Akash Patel) and Echo (the humble Jessica Li-Jo) are woven through a series of peoms and monologues. Neon pink and flashy, Narcissus shuns his only hope of real connection with his lost girlfriend, Echo.

Narcissus, the conceited son of a nymph, leaves behind a string of broken hearts. As he stares longingly into his own reflection of bouncy ringlets around a boyishly handsome face, he faces grief from unrequited loves. Narcissus delivers sassy rants, excuses for his douchiness, as he denies his grief.

Narcissus (Akash Patel) and Echo (Jessica Li-Jo) at U.C., Berkeley. Photo: Alessandra Mello.

Main characters are highlighted by their bright colored hair and costumes, set against the gray, run down, cement tenements. Persephone (the savvy Jordan Don) is queen of the underworld and queen of the streets wears delicious cherry-colored knee-high boots with matching cherry underwear over fishnet tights. Classic. Jordan Don’s Persephone delivers horror, sorrow, and anger while allowing a regal denial of the truth. Don’s no nonsense streetwalker dominates the Underworld with wisdom and poise. Her lyrical monologue provokes tears and awe when she reluctantly reveals her story.

In this mythological mashup, some characters have only the name given to them by streets. Nameless and misguided Skinhead Boy (the edgy Baela Tinsley) exemplifies the forgotten identities of at risk youth. Too hooked on drugs to manifest his own godliness, he adopts the name given to him by the unforgiving streets. He races through life depending on speed. Skinhead Boy delights us with his fast paced monologues as he loops his body across the second story of the set.

“Polaroid Stories” has hit the stage in Director Margo Hall’s fast-paced production at CAL, in the Zellerbach Playhouse, by Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS). Iizuka is showing that the most outcast among us are gods who can save us. If only we will reach out to the street people, and treat them as the people and gods they are!

Persephone (Jordan Don) at Univ/Calif/Berkeley. Photo: Alessandra Mello.

“Polaroid Stories” by Naomi Iizuka, directed by Margo Hall, by Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS), at University of California, Berkeley, the Zellerbach Playhouse, Berkeley, California, through Sunday, March 12, 2017. Info:tdps.berkeley.edu

Cast: Jordan Don, Joe Ayers, Ciclady Rodriguez,Paris Shockley,Sarah Handler, Akash Patel, and Baela Tinsley.

 

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“Heart of Spain”–Hidden History at U.C., Berkeley

“Heart of Spain”–Hidden History at U.C., Berkeley

Millennial Notes

Heroes of Spanish Civil War Celebrated in Song

by Tyler Jeffreys

Seriously, there should be a soundtrack of “Heart of Spain: A Musical of the Spanish Civil War” on sale right now! The moving voices of Fernando, the poet (Yohana Ansari-Thomas) and Alice, the journalist (Claire Noelle Pearson), give the audience goosebumps. Thanks to Malcolm Ruhl’s vocal and instrumental arrangements and the musical direction by Mark Sumner, a medley of traditional Spanish guitar and classical western compositions fill Zellerbach Playhouse, at CAL, Berkeley, in a premiere production by U.C.’s Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies.

heart-of-spain-05-750
Claire Noelle Pearson as Alice

“Heart of Spain,” co-written by U.C. faculty member Peter Glazer, with music by Eric Bain Peltoniemi, introduces an original story set during La Guerra Civil Española (The  Spanish Civil War). Glazer brings to life a snippet from his own family history. A story about camaraderie and the selflessness of human compassion, “Heart of Spain” brings 30s history to life, and it’s about time: this is the war that led to WWII, with Hitler on the side of Spain’s fascist military upstart, Francisco Franco.

Glazer’s writing makes it easy to keep up with the history and timeline of events leading up to the war. “Heart of Spain” takes place in 1936, during the bitter struggle between fascism and democracy in Spain. The musical relives the tale of an international volunteer battalion loaded with reporters, nurses, poets and soldiers. They come to the aid of the Spanish people from all over the world–in a stunning display of social conscience. The story is told from the perspective of the U.S. workers workers who volunteered to defend Spain. They became known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, among them Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and e.e. cummings. During the Great Depression, a diverse group of Americans crossed the ocean, leaving their families and offering their services to democratic forces in Spain.

Eric Hamilton, Yohana Ansari-Thomas
Eric Hamilton, Yohana Ansari-Thomas

The stirring anthem “Arriba, Mis Companeros!  highlights the sense of adventure as the volunteers take up arms against the takeover by Franco, a military general turned dictator—aided by Hitler. Our hearts melt when the U.S heroes are joined by English, Germans, Italians, and Cubans who form the International Brigade.

True to history, the ensemble serves as the main character in “Heart of Spain” in a poignant homage to the Brigade’s comradeship.We love the classical Spanish ballads like Vientos del Pueblo (Winds of the People) that bring up silent tears as we begin to understand the grievances of war.  Never forced, the characters’ motivations slowly unfold. One of the American soldiers, Arthur (Harry Fahn), brings us into his world before the war in his memorable monologue to his comrades. Along the way, we develop distinct relationships with each volunteer.

The sparse set makes a statement of its own, with a large white Constitution-like parchment backed by a wall slathered with blood. The bloody Constitution represents the struggle of people devoting their lives to democracy for Spain, not even their own country. The actors themselves adorn the setting as scenes evolve; their movements contributing to the stage pictures.  During a scene where the actors travel through Europe, they sit and sway to the motion of a train, taking us with them on an historic journey.

Thanks to playwright and director Peter Glazer for sharing and dramatizing an intimate part of his own heritage. Glazer, who sits on the board of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Educational Foundation, is obviously inspired by the men and women who fought. The world shrinks everyday as people connect and realize we are not so different from each other.

We must step outside our national bubble at times to fight for what we believe. Everyone can save lives. Heroism is giving, acting, educating, and simply knowing right from wrong. We cannot do it alone. As we go forth and vote, let “Heart of Spain” remind us of the bigger picture as does the International Brigade.

TDPS’s Heart of Spain brings this important moment in history to life through song. Photo: Alessandra Mello
TDPS’s “Heart of Spain” brings history to life through song. Photos: Alessandra Mello

“Heart of Spain,” written and adapted by Peter Glazer, music by Eric Bain Peltoniemi, directed by Peter Glazer, at Theatre, Dance, & Performance Studies, at the University of California, Berkeley, California, through Sunday October 30,2016. Info: tdps.berkeley.edu

 

“The Brothers Size”: Mythological Masterpiece at Theatre Rhinoceros

“The Brothers Size”: Mythological Masterpiece at Theatre Rhinoceros

Millennial Notes

McCraney’s Brothers Battle “Big Brother”

by Tyler Jeffreys

The Theatre Rhinoceros’ production of “The Brothers Size” presents a hot-blooded, choreographed drama, lyrically directed by Darryl V. Jones.  Set deep down in Louisiana’s Bayou country, three men are connected through trial and betrayal. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney reveals the story in the “distant present,” connecting Black roots from the U.S. south to the Motherland of Africa.

McCraney tells his story in African folklore style, with the classic “trickster” as hero and child who needs to be taught a lesson. In this case, it is a lesson of freedom and responsibility for one’s choices. But what to do when you cannot attain freedom, what about freedom denied? How is oppression enforced in the most subtle of ways? We watch as Ogun Size and Oshoosi Size confront their angst and their oppression.

Gabriel Christian as Oshoosi, LaKeidrick S. Wimberly as Ogun

The cantankerous older brother, Ogun Size (the smartly disciplined LaKeidrick.S Wimberly) owns a mechanic’s shop, works hard, and is proud of it. But Ogun finds himself, once again burdened with his zealous younger  brother Oshoosi Size (the bright, breezy Gabriel Christian). Fresh out of prison, the naive Oshoosi longs for adventure and pleasure—the exact opposite of his older brother.

No soon does Oshoosi begin to accept his older brother Ogun’s strict rules, but  in slides Oshoosi’s former prison-mate, Elegba (the sultry Julian Green). Elegba reminds his prison-brother of the temptations of the world and flesh. The older brother and the prison lover engage in a subterranean battle for the younger brother’s love. Lust and brotherhood tear Oshoosi between adventure and duty.

Laura Elaine Ellis’ choreography vividly illustrates the physical struggle, holding onto Black culture with fearless movements and Ebonics. The men break down the fourth wall, with their remarks and their verbalized stage directions.

The diverse music selection, also directed by Darryl V. Jones, unveils the story: slave hymns, southern blues, African drums, and even some R&B. Each has its own poetic place inside the large silver link chain circle on the stage, which represents the entrapment of all three characters. They dance their hopes and fears inside that Dream Circle. We witness their inner world, fighting and loving in dream-like movement. As they dance to African drums, we feel their longing, and the slave hymns make us feel their pain.

“The Brothers Size” exhibits Black lives from a secret place. Here in California, we can forget about lives down at the Bayou.

Julian Green, LaKeidrick S. Wimberly, Gabriel Christian
Julian Green, LaKeidrick S. Wimberly, Gabriel Christian

McCraney reminds us that Black oppression in the United States is real, no matter where you are or what news channel you watch. The play reminds us to both fight for our freedom and then use it wisely.

With its African mythological background, this fable-like story can be told over and over again—done as well and as gracefully and sensually as this Rhino version.  Bravo to actors and director. I would sure enough go see the Rhino production of “The Brothers Size,” again.

“The Brothers Size” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Darryl V. Jones, by Theatre Rhinoceros, at Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco 94111, through Saturday, October 15, 2016. Information: therhino.org

Cast:

Ogun Size: LaKeidrick S. Wimberly.  Oshoosi Size: Gabriel Christian.  Elegba:Julian Green.

Tyler Jeffreys

Tyler Jeffreys

tyler2Tyler Jeffreys, the thespian, studies acting and advertising at CSU East Bay. She works as one of those wine snob bartenders in downtown San Francisco, and loves talking about theater and plays to unsuspecting patrons. Her favorite thing is to learn something new, debating Harry Potter theories, studying Greek tragedies, and eating cookies.