Geoff Sobelle’s Family Festival Telescopes Time
by Barry David Horwitz
It’s like watching the set do acrobatics. Only the circus can compete with the inspired building and raising of a two-story house onstage in front of our eyes. Theater magic at its finest—the genius of Geoff Sobelle transforms Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre into a tall box of marvelous illusions.
Creator Sobelle, himself, starts by banging together framing for a wobbly wall. Sobelle chats with us, working on the big stage. As he hammers and staples, he draws us into his project.
After a sudden blackout, Houdini-like we are facing a two-story open front house and masked workers in overalls are bringing in furniture, stove, sink, frig, counters—making a home out of mere objects.
The seven master performers appear: they circulate through the operating kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, dining room. They do not talk or see each other because they come from separate generations, separate eras. They are united by the home they lived over many decades. The home makes a family in Time.
We see the long arc of time that includes many lives that pass through one house. The kitchen gets furnished, pictures get hung, a young boy appears—and they each remind us of our own homes, of moving in, growing up, making connections. Relations spread out to include many generations and types of diverse people. Age and color and type don’t matter, they all live their lives in a magical pantomime in front of us—making patterns, taking showers, shedding clothes, making choices, day by day, as the light rises and falls on the home—a beautiful ballet of daily lives.
Even in the bathroom, folks crowd in, enter the shower naked as another exits, perfectly timed. It’s the Boilshoi Ballet of Bathrooms. They dance in and out, all ages, colors, genders. The present and past intermingle in a marvelous minuet bringing Life to our home.
A strolling troubadour (Elvis Perkins) in a white suit and white wide brimmed plays his autoharp, singing original music for the silent dance:
In the unrecorded moments your will star in
your own life
In love all entwined
should it spill into the daylight
they would call it a crime
We are guests—or even participants—in marriage and graduation, break-ups, parties, dinners, birth, and death for many generations. Four or five people back out of the fridge in identical white robes, looking for a snack or a lemon, as we dissolve into laughter at the familiar poses.
That could be us in that kitchen, doing that laundry, crowding into that bathroom—all of life is there. We get involved in a spectacular cooperative stringing of lights—an enterprise that bonds us with the stage. We take joy in joining the celebrations, breakdowns, scandals, and a wonderful birthday party.
Join the delightful family of man that these touring performers prepare for us. Each visit is new, each hug includes us, as we who occupy that space, sunrise to sunset. I love living in our common “Home.”
Photos by Kevin Berne
“Home”–created by Geoff Sobelle, scenic concept by Steven Dufala, directed by Lee Sunday Evans, original songs by Elvis Perkins, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, through Sunday, April 21, 2019. Info: berkeleyrep.org
Cast: Sophie Bortolussi, Ayesha Jordan, Jennifer Kidwell, Justin Rose, David Rukin, Ching Valdes-Aran, Geoff Sobelle, and Elvis Perkins.