Arts Listings

Shotgun Tells Story of South Berkeley District

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday October 03, 2006

From an Ohlone woman’s menage with a zoot-suited Coyote, through a Japanese ex-houseboy and his picture bride eating pickled plums while awaiting relocation, a pair of Cain-and-Abel brothers who end up as Black Panther and strung-out Vietnam vet to the hip-hop kid of an interracial couple who bought a fixer-upper amid the drive-bys, the Shotgun Players’ premiere of Marcus Gardley’s Love is a Dream House in Lorin employs a cast of 30 to play 40-some characters that personify the story of the South Berkeley district in something like the narrative style of a WPA mural, all chromatic persona and event, motifs overlapping in time and space, recurring in gesture and song. 

The elaborate and engaging show, a true group effort to reflect a community’s reemergent identity, reads like a staged mission statement for the Players, who have called the Ashby Stage home just over two years. 

It began right after Shotgun had settled in, when Aaron Davidman, artistic director of San Francisco’s Traveling Jewish Theatre (who directs Dream House), a resident of Lorin in the early 1990s, read Melody Ermachild Chavis’s neighborhood memoir Altars in the Streets, and approached Shotgun founder Patrick Dooley about working together on a show that featured the community itself. Oakland-born Yalie playwright and Columbia U. teacher Marcus Gardley was comissioned last year, local people’s stories were gathered by the Shotgun team, Gardley’s many drafts of the play that he workshopped with the cast during his residency swelled (“We told him, let your imagination run wild,” said Dooley), and an exultant yet fiery public reading and discussion of a late version in July set the stage for last week’s triumphant opening night. 

Dream House, with its broad spectrum of present-day and historical (and mythic) local characters, its elliptical leaps between interlocking events from all eras, its language that ranges from Sunday sermon to rhymed street talk to song, sprawls—yet is tightly interlaced in all its vignettes and incidents, completely coherent, until at the end the crowd of previously divisive locals steps forward to tell their stories, their spirit eliciting a glowering gunman to put down his piece, have his say, and join them. 

“In some ways it was a lot easier than writing a play from my own imagination,” Gardley told Shotgun’s literary manager Liz Lisle. “For one, the stories were already rich and moving; I just had to thread them together.” 

But Gardley’s script is indeed rich with imagination, following a pattern he saw emerge from the research: a place where all kinds of people came to live, all with dreams they watched crumble. “’This land is cursed,’” Gardley recalls saying out loud, adding, “It wants to be healed.” 

Whatever they see in it, the stories Dream House provides a mirror to stimulate imaginations of locals and visitors alike, touching on both the dreams and hard times, and just suggesting current controversies. It’s an evening-long paean to that time-honored but neglected injunction, “Love Thy Neighbor.” 

Across the board—cast of 30, all ages and levels of performing experience, and production team of half that size—everybody has delivered to the best of their considerable abilities, costumed variously and choreographed across a set of a house undergoing remodelling under a backdrop of hills and swirling clouds, with quick, dramatic changes in light and sound. 

It would be unfair to single out anyone without naming all of them. Or maybe provoking a roll call of Lorin itself, past and present—of which only a dozen or so residents came to greet the opening of the Ashby Stage two years ago, but as of now, according to Dooley, “the biggest zipcode in our database is South Berkeley.” 



Love is a Dream House in Lorin 

8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through Nov. 5 at the  

Asbhy Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. $15-$30.