Arts & Events

Two Staged Play Readings Ready to Draw Back the Curtain in Berkeley

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday March 25, 2009 - 06:22:00 PM

Two local organizations, Oakland PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists), a branch of PEN USA and internationally, and Berkeley’s Subterranean Shakespeare, will be presenting staged play readings in the coming week. 

PEN (co-sponsored by the Daily Planet) will present 4x4 Plays—Under Burning White Sky by Boadiba; The Murder of Mother Mike by Clare Ortalda; Jack in Ghost-Town by Gerald Nicosia and Bathroom Graffiti Queen by Opal Palmer Adisa, tonight and Friday. 

Subterranean Shakespeare will present The Bard’s King John Monday at the Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship to kick off an unusual series of all Shakespeare’s histories, performed in historical order, followed by the rest of the plays in the Shakespearean canon, as well as an evening of sonnets and a panel discussion on the playwright—and a concert of Shakespearean and Elizabethan songs—wrapping up early next year. 

“Imagine a place without phonebooks/where if you call the operator/An echo answers/Imagine a place where you have to jump out of a car/And flag somebody down/To ask for somebody else’s phone number ...” Boadiba sways and moves her arms elegantly, singing, dancing, intoning her Creole piece about Haiti, “Flung from the slingshot of the Bermuda Triangle,” with Vodou invocations. Clare Ortalda’s The Murder of Mother Mike, the most playlike of the pieces, and the most humorous, has Teasha Gable as a Young Woman learning the bitter lesson of how to say the simplest, most common coin of “words [that can] bully, heal and perhaps kill,” assisted by Ayodele “Wordslanger” Nzinga, Shubhra Prakash and Andrew Leslie. Anyone who had to learn, conscientiously, to smile and say polite, banal things will smile again—or shudder—at the result. Gerald Nicosia, well-known for his journalistic and historical work on Jack Kerouac, in Jack in Ghost-Town crowds in a great deal in a few minutes, with Kerouac in middle age, an alcoholic, remembering his youth and the friends he made famous—Allen Ginsberg (Andrew Leslie), Neal Cassady (Lucas Buckman)—and the women in his life. Perhaps the best moments are Old Jack (Chuck Heinrichs) arguing with his conventional wife while his French-Canadian mother (never seen) pounds on the wall, bedridden in the next room; he speaks to his dead little brother Gerard (Caleb Alexander)—and Young Jack (Ashley Jeffrey) knocks on the door. With Gigi Benson, Joseph Ehling, Amanda Rawnsley and Elaine Pinto, directed by Hal Gelb. And in Bathroom Graffiti Queen, poet-storyteller Opal Palmer Adisa creates a sardonic character out of a kind of roving reporter of a bag lady (Ayodele Nzinga again), “the Dear Abby of the Women’s Lavatory,” looking for her lost daughter and reading what a slew of other women, from a church lady to a hip young thing (all played by Teasha Gable), have scribbled in the stall, with tart advice following.  

Carla Blank, who directed three of the four, Gelb, and producers Kim McMillon and Clare Ortalda for PEN deserve much credit for a diverse evening of moods and exclamations coming from all over. 

“Nobody’s done Shakespeare’s whole canon since Theatre Bay Area, about 10, 11 years ago,” remarked Geoff Pond of subterranean Shakespeare, about the plan to cover The Bard’s canon over the next year in five-week series. “We used to call them Shakespeare Intensives ... This year, we had no main production, so thought we’d do them all! It’s the 20th anniversary, since Stanley Spenger started SubShakes at LaVal’s, and we thought we’d do it in the Fireside Room at the Unitarian fellowship—very informal, comfortable--to celebrate. Then have a panel with some of the scholars on our board, an evening of the sonnets—and a concert, based on our CD and shows of a few years back, SHAKESPEARE’S GREATEST HITS. The CD’s still available!” 

After King John, Richard II (with Spenger as Richard) will be staged April 6; April 13 will see Henry IV part I; part II on April 20; with Henry V on April 27. The following five-week series start on May 11 (with Hamlet), June 29 (with Henry VI part I)—then after asummer break, resume Sept. 14, with titles to be announced.  


4x4 Plays—Under Burning White Sky by Boadiba; The Murder of Mother Mike by Clare Ortalda; Jack in Ghost-Town by Gerald Nicosia and Bathroom Graffiti Queen by Opal Palmer Adisa 

Oakland PEN 

Thursday, March 26, and Friday, March 27, at 8 p.m. 

Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Ave. 

Tickets $7-10  


King John  

Subterranean Shakespeare 

7:30 p.m., Monday, March 30 

Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship 

1924 Cedar St. 

Tickets $8, call 276-3871