Monologuist Mike Daisey premieres two new works for Shotgun Player’s Blast Theater Festival through February 26. He sits at a table, with a glass of water and notes on yellow paper, then launches into a two hour polemic on the history of journalism, intertwined with personal stories and observations. The piece is pure meta. It’s storytelling about storytelling. He critiques the larger scandal of the rise of a reality show president, and mentions his own media scandals in passing. He refers to the title of his own show as “clickbait” and structures his verbal tirade around the metaphor of a dying friend. The trajectory of thought is so nuanced and acute, we find ourselves inside the mirror looking out, astonished, as he peels apart the onion of America’s journalistic traditions.
Daisey, a theater artist, understands how theater works. He scrutinizes how journalism perpetuates itself through various theatrical devices, and how it constructs what he deems “the myth of objectivity”. The myth began after the invention of the printing press, he says, and persisted and reinforced itself through the developments of radio and TV. It obeyed strict, unspoken codes for which voices carried news and how, and consolidated power along the way.
However, because of journalism’s fundamentally unquestioned status for most of the 20th century, it became vulnerable to the invasive rot of Fox News, a network that deliberately told untruths and mixed up opinion and fact. Because mainstream media failed to question its own mythic underpinnings, journalism lost credibility and its hold on a certain audience. Daisey traces its fall, blow by blow. He asks, has it burned down yet or are we still burning? When do we reach base level? I am eager to see part two: This is Not Normal, and perhaps find out.
Tickets to The End of Journalism (February 15-19) and This is Not Normal (February 22-26) here.
On the surface, Grand Concourse tells the story of four individuals at an urban soup kitchen, and their struggles with God, love, and mental stability. Cathleen Riddley plays Shelly, a nun who runs a tight ship providing meals for the homeless, but who struggles to pray even five minutes a day. Enter nineteen year old Emma (Megan Trout), a new volunteer who brings complication to the lives of Shelly, hired help Oscar (Caleb Cabrera), and Frog, one of the regulars, an insightful man on the edge of mental illness. Kevin Clarke portrays Frog with a charming sensitivity, offering a full-rounded treatment of this vulnerable and likeable character.
Heidi Schreck‘s play is anything but feel-good, though the dialogue is playful and enjoyably real. In one of my favorite scenes, Emma relishes the features of her makeup kit, then refreshes her eyes and lips to shake off the unsavory feeling of her first night serving soup to the poor. It’s a delicate, yet telling moment. As we move further in, her actions signal a gentrifying, invasive force where forgiveness is simply not an appropriate response, even for a nun.
As such, at its core, Grand Concourse represents a deeply political play, but not in a conspicuous way. Its wider lessons seep in slowly as we witness the emotional wreckage left when privilege meddles with the underclass, unconsciously exploiting the needy, and the sincere. Without giving too much away, let’s just say, some of the best plays are about liars.
Show ends on August 21. Get tickets here.
Helen Meyer of Meyer Sound and Susie Medak, Managing Director of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, ceremoniously demonstrated a lightning storm to an invited audience today in their newly renovated thrust theatre. This beloved 35-year-old stage, renamed Peet’s Theatre to honor an almost 50 year relationship with Peet’s Coffee, doesn’t look so different as much as it sounds different. It now features the first North American installation of Meyer Sound’s Constellation Acoustic System for live, unamplified theatre. Made up of 84 speakers, the new system creates a genius map of sound that can literally change the acoustics of the space instantaneously.
I look forward to their upcoming production of Aubergine, a Berkeley Rep commission, and how future sound designers use a system that can pan sounds through the room in intricate ways, as well as simulate the acoustics of the Grace Cathedral, as we heard today. Other renovations include a skylight in the lobby, a larger box office, and a courtyard cafe with a mini-stage for after-show musical acts.
Peet’s Theatre Grand Opening is free and open to the public on Saturday, January 9, 2016 at noon-3pm.
Photo by Cheshire Isaacs