Arts & Events

Theater Review: David A.Moss in 'Cracked Clown' at the East Bay Media Center

By Ken Bullock
Friday November 18, 2011 - 09:06:00 AM

"I'm so glad you came to see me ..." 

Turning on the ebullient charm of the seasoned performer, David Moss smiles broadly at the spill-over crowd in the East Bay Media Center, seemingly welcoming them, more than a little unctuous ... 

But quickly it's apparent that only the face is Moss'; the figure standing before us is the personification of crack cocaine, the greeting to Moss himself, alone except for his obsession and its specter in a motel room ... 

Playing it half as a joke, half in deadly—vicious—earnest, the figure of crack rubs it in to his victim that he knows "you love me" and what that exacts: "See that smoke? That's your soul." 

Then paranoia in a motel room: "Hide me in the Bible!" 

And all the ghosts, the demons of a life leading up to the moment of attempted escape flash before Moss' eyes—and ours. 

Retrieving memories—some very funny; others sad, even pathetic—Moss succeeds in that great histrionic search—he makes time stop, onstage and off. Mixed in with observations, declarations, running gags and repetitions of gestures, behavior, he parses out a life that questions itself, having run aground. The mood swings become part of the stagecraft—'way up, and 'way, 'way down ... The dynamics of 'Cracked Clown' can be vertiginous. Moss isn't just the clown, he's an aerialist, a contortionist, the whole circus. 

Acting out a plethora of characterizations, from caricatures to well-rounded portraits, Moss morphs from himself and his tormentor to his younger self, to that kid's GI Joe action doll ("a POW" when confiscated at school), his "nine-foot tall German teacher with purple lips" ("Ever see anybody who has purple lips who ain't dead?"); his alcoholic—and increasingly sympathetic—black father, condemned to drink "not because he married my [white] mother, but because he had a country name ... he had to wake up every morning and say, 'Goddam! My name's Elwood! I need a drink!'"); his "white—Catholic!—stepfather," another alkie, who takes it upon him to show his stepson how badly the world can treat someone of color ... 

And taking it up a notch, Jesus, a little plastered at the wedding in Cana, complaining about having to turn the water into wine ... "I'm not an alcoholic; I'm a Christian!" Moss cries out in an epiphany—for somebody else. 

"Half-white, half-black—what does it mean? My first car was a Cadillac with a gun-rack in back!" 

David Moss has been acting in plays—the last I saw him in: 'War Music' at ACT, in which he was vigorous, mercurial, arresting—and gigging around the Bay and elsewhere in stand-up comedy for years now. In this, his most personal performance, he brings the same intensity to playing himself, acting out his own thoughts and obsessions as he's brought to great roles, both comic and dramatic on the stage—to Malvolio; to Mack the Knife, to an American muslim held as a terrorist in Central Works' 'Enemy Combatant.' 

This isn't something easy. Exactly the point of Moss' play: the real person you are is hard to catch, never to be impersonated. 

He's performed 'Cracked Crown' before, most recently in August at the Media Center, to sold-out crowds, which provoked his return over two nights last weekend. He'll be doing it again before long, somewhere around here—and it should be seen. It's an unusual solo show, more intense, thoughtful and funny that most. And it's funniest in places where most unexpected. And in the midst of hysterical humor, Moss turns on a dime to confront the most sobering of realities. Then laughs! 

The East Bay Media Center has presented four live performances recently, according to co-founders Mel Vapour and Paul Kealoha Blake, and there're hopes of many more, plus screenings, discussions—and a remodeling, or at least, rearrangement of the house. A sometimes neglected community gem, surrounded by more recognized venues of different sorts, the EBMC is one with maximum integrity and intensive usefulness, on Addison near Milvia "at the frontier of the Berkeley Arts District," as Vapour puts it with a smile.