Arts & Events

Eye from the Aisle: STRANGE TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS takes you for a lovely trip without leaving the Berkeley Marsh station

By John A. McMullen II
Wednesday January 26, 2011 - 11:27:00 AM
Jeff Greenwald
Dwayne Newton
Jeff Greenwald

Used to be, people painted pictures with words. The verbal description of a place is a staple in literature and travel books. In an age of streaming video, in STRANGE TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS at Berkeley’s THE MARSH, Jeff Greenwald transports you with his imagery as he paints the scene anew. In an age where the imagination needs do little work, it was a pleasure to use the mind’s eye to view the sights he lyrically describes. 

I must admit initially that it was like flipping the remote to the Comedy channel and getting the Travel network. I went with expectations of theatricality, multiple characters, big laughs and poignant plot twists. Those qualities and format seem to be the meat and potatoes of monologists these days.  

But that turned out to be a good thing, because I got a whimsically touching and artistic travelogue from a master raconteur. And no slides! 

There is a difference between a traveler and a tourist which he sorts out for us. Greenwald has made his life from traveling and telling about it. I think that service is ancient. It makes you want to travel.  

So here’s how the evening goes: 

Greenwald calls up an audience member to spin a colorful wheel. He chats with him or her for a moment about his or her travels, then gives out a little box of Belgian chocolates as a thank-you. 

The wheel has that hypnotic spiral on it, with 30 icons worthy of the Rosicrucians. Greenwald provides a Rosetta Stone dropout leaflet in the program identifying what these icons stand for, e.g., a delta for “Meeting the Buddha,” a theta for “Friends Like These,” an udjat eye for “The Kindness of Strangers.” The story he tells is cued by the topic. 

From the subject the wheel lands on, he spins a story that takes us by turns on his travels to the Himalayas in search of a reincarnated female saint, to LA and Tom Cruise’s party for MI-1, and to Iran for the last total eclipse of the 20th Century.  

Greenwald has written books you may know: “Shopping for Buddhas,” and “Size of the World,” and co-founded The Ethical Traveler, a human rights and environmentally conscious alliance of “freelance ambassadors” worldwide. 

All Jeff’s stories are personal and have a spiritual and ironic twist to them that is subtly touching. Once the spinning of the story begins there is never a hesitation and his droll tales just flow right out of him. It seems improvisational and is the sort of show you can go back to countless times for it seems he has a bottomless cracker barrel of stories. 

There is a little Saturday morning NPR tone to the show in its laid back fashion, in his introductions, and his banter with the guest spinners. It’s really perfect for the Berkeley and Bay Area crowd. 

(NB: I should disclose that I volunteered to spin the wheel. There’s not much I won’t do for chocolate.) 

The Marsh Berkeley - Cabaret 

2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 5 pm through Feb. 26 800-838-3006 

John A. McMullen II, MA, MFA, SFBATCC, ATCA, likes having lots of letters after his name. Elizabeth Dunne edits. Comments to