Call it Being Something. The whole unwieldy title of the production we’re concerned with here is actually Being Something: Living Young and Growing Old in Oakland and it opens this Friday night at the Metro Theater on the corner of Broadway and Second Avenue in Oakland, two blocks short of Jack London Square.
The first thing that has to be established here is that this is definitely not a review that you’re reading. Since the play has only a two-week run, closing on May 1, this writer visited a rehearsal. And even then it was only one act that was being worked on that night. Most directors would clutch their throats in horror at the idea of a reporter showing up to see that unfinished fragment of a play but the surprisingly easy-going, award-winning director, Ellen Sebastian Chang, was unfazed.
The second thing is that this writer fully intends to do absolutely everything necessary to get back to see the whole production when it opens this weekend. If what was rehearsed on Wednesday will be equaled—or even bettered—in the complete version, it should be a very good experience indeed.
The omens are good. Being Something has been developed by a socko collaboration between two long-time, much respected theater companies, StageBridge and Opera Piccolo, both of which have more than a slight bent toward social consciousness. In addition to more conventional venues, they each use their talent in such things as taking playreading and story-telling into the schools.
At 27 years of age, Stagebridge is the oldest theater group in the country specifically designed for seniors. Opera Piccolo, also well established, was started in the ‘80s for the purpose of using theater skills for the community welfare. It’s a multi-racial group involving children in acting and other theater related activities. Not surprisingly, Stagebridge’s founder, Stuart Kandell, and Susannah Wood from Opera Piccola have long considered the idea of developing a production involving their two communities: the children and the senior citizens.
The idea seemed like a clear winner when they approached director Chang. But it was much more difficult to work out than any of them anticipated. The problem was getting the plays. Their original plan to have the kids interview senior citizens didn’t pan out. Time was running short when they had to resort to seeking out “writers who can take the existing cast and create for them.” As it now stands, each episode is written by an entirely different playwright.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the episodes are somewhat loosely held together by narrator Jay Chee, (from Stagebridge) who establishes a framework about houses and possessions being symbols for our lives. Another uniting force is “the spirit” (Jane Chen), an awesomely talented physical theater artist, whom the director describes as giving “a level of playfulness and transition to all the short works.” Part dance, part gymnastics, Chen’s movements in and around the steps are graceful, extraordinary and indescribable.
Two other actors, Kenneth Foreman and Isabel Ferguson, also come from the senior company, with Ferguson aweing the rest of the cast not only with her acting, but with her 85 years of age.
From the other end of the spectrum, the production has two experienced actors who are eighth graders, La’Sharae Williams and Kenneth Foreman. Tia Hicks, a 15 year old who is a graduate of Oakland’s Carter Middle School, has performed with Opera Piccola for the past five years. In addition there is an impressive group of kids who perform a dance/gymnastics group in the second scene.
You could argue that if the first half of the production is as good as it seemed to be in Wednesday’s rehearsal, the entire finished production might be worth the $15 ticket price. And, don’t forget, Thursday night is pay-what-you-can night.
Being Something: Living Young and Growing Old in Oakland runs April 22-May 1, Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. at The Oakland Metro, 201 Broadway, Oakland. For more information, call 658-0967; for box office, call 444-4755.