Arts Listings

Marsh Berkeley Opens With Reed Solo Show

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday February 04, 2010 - 08:53:00 AM

When Don Reed hits the stage at the Marsh’s newly opened Berkeley venue, he traverses it in slow motion—running, dancing, winking and giving thumbs up to the audience—before he grabs the white hat hanging from a street sign that bears the name of his show: East 14th. 

He doesn’t resemble the self-image of its subtitle, “True Tales of a Reluctant Player.” But, popping his fingers, getting a beat going, he launches into his story of growing up in the 1970s around different ends of what’s now International Boulevard in Oakland, and how he migrated from his stepfather’s strict Jehovah Witness guidance, knocking on doors at 7 a.m. (to the derision of his schoolmates), to his natural—way natural—father’s abode farther south in the ghetto, a party house presided over by the humorous man with a huge afro and white cape who Reed says he didn’t recognize as a career pimp for quite a while. “I thought he was just into hats!” 

In between these “bipolar” but proximate worlds, Reed captures his fellow students, the ladies of the evening, neighborhood characters—and himself, “Blinky”—syncopating the quick-change mimicry he manages with fluid ease with his long-lost ocular tic, a shyly inquisitive witness, though not for Jehovah. 

Don Reed is a professional entertainer with an impressive resume. He knows how to catch and hold an audience’s attention, how to build a rhythm and bring everybody into it. By halfway through his show last rainy Friday, Reed had the audience laughing steadily, including those who’d just been smiling a few minutes before.  

Whether it’s teenaged Reed doing up his hair with butter, the only thing in the house, then skating to a meltdown and the attendant flies around Lake Merritt, or his ultra-gay brother beating up any attacker, because he used everythong in his arsenal without scruple, Reed teases out every odd situation as a chapter in his own tale, sidestepping stereotypes without downplaying the evil undertow of the street, or the unapologetic self-awareness of some of its direst hustlers who try to nudge Reed into a better scene. 

It’s not your usual coming-of-age story, much less your usual ghetto coming-of-age story. But it drew laughter and cries of recognition, not necessarily dependent on where any responsive spectator grew up. The eccentricities of Reed’s tale touch on quite a few truisms, and that’s what keeps it flying—the interest in something unexpected, yet discovering the familiar even there.  

It’s really an articulated stream of bits and routines, Reed narrating and playing tout le monde. The way he articulates the quick scenes, casting back sometimes for a sly reference or repetition, lifts the show above mere tour-de-force or open-ended stand-up. 

While not exactly theater, Reed’s polished riffing has become an autobiographical cabaret, a gallery of the faces, voices, walks that surrounded him—and as he points out in conclusion, if “it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes the ghetto to make a man.” He then dances out his characters one more time, not so much for a curtain call, but to tell the audience, amusingly enough, “What I guess Donny learned from me,” through their mouths and mannerisms. 

Like Rabelais’ motto over the gate of the Abbey of Theleme, the slogan for Don Reed’s solo undertaking might be his father’s recurring jibe, “Can you dig it? It can be dug—by me.”  

Making his last bow, Reed referred the audience to information in the lobby and the website for, which helps young women get off the streets, a message Reed’s pimp father made sure got delivered to his son--who got out, but forgot nothing. 


East 14th: True Tales of a  

Reluctant Player 

A solo show by Don Reed at 9 p.m. Fridays and at 8 p.m. Saturdays through Feb. 13 at the New Marsh—Berkeley, 2120 Allston Way. $20–$35 sliding scale. Reserved seats, $50. (800) 838-3006.