Arts & Events

'In Search of My Father ... Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins'--W. Allen Taylor at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts

By Ken Bullock
Friday March 02, 2012 - 03:25:00 PM

"Hey, Daddy-oo!" Allen Taylor's brought back his one-man show about the search for his father, the first Black disc jockey in Cleveland, Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins. He says it's for the last time onstage—at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, a fine venue off Macdonald near Richmond BART, which originally commissioned it and where it premiered in 1999. (I reviewed it for the Planet, January 10, 2006, when it was at the Marsh, Berkeley.) 

If I urge you to go see it on its three final weekends it's not only to mark the end of a long journey on a worthy project. I mentioned in the review six years ago that Taylor had vowed to hone down the play. And—with the ongoing collaboration of director Ellen Sebastian Chang—he's not only done that, but come up with a very special thing: a show that's gone from very engaging to being a work of art. There's something of perfection about it now, which accents Taylor's considerable abilities as a performer—and Chang's as a director—and takes its riveting material—the important questions it asks about paternity, maturity, family and culture—beyond just laying it out there for passive consideration, into the realm of constantly active apprehensions and ideas about the world, energizing the audience's imagination ... and even further than that: to a performance that doesn't rely, as most autobiographical solo shows usually do, on its own material and the persona of the performer, but one which wraps all those potential riches up into a seamless whole that can't be paraphrased, something unique unto itself, illuminating the source of its own inspiration and its own making. 

Taylor's career of over 30 years includes Broadway (August Wilson's 'Seven Guitars') and Off-Broadway credits, as well as film and TV roles. He's the head of the drama department at College of Marin and has mentored young people at the East Bay Center and elsewhere. He's taken his show to venues around the Bay, as well as to Cleveland and to the New Federal Theatre in New York City. Taylor's story was featured on National Public Radio. The show enabled his father's posthumous induction into the Ohio Radio/Television Hall of Fame. (Postwar Black DJs not only influenced their white contemporaries—Taylor's father undoubtedly influenced Cleveland, then New York DJ "Moondog," Allan Freed, often credited with launching the craze for Rock 'n Roll—but also influential comedians like Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce, and certainly helped keep hip-talk alive for future generations, down to hip-hop and beyond.) 

His seemingly effortless gliding in and out of the characters of his search is remarkable, from his mother and his uncles to a piano teacher, a club owner who was a pallbearer for his father, his father's widow ... himself as a college DJ, not yet knowing his father was one ... and The Kid, an imaginary hipster alter ego who channels the awkwardness of Taylor's pain, pent-up anger and confusion into the slanginess of his own generation's strivings for hipness, yakking and dancing the moves and the grooves of being with it, of not caring. The Kid jangles up the show, an unreal character shoving it into reality—theatrical and human reality ... 

Taylor's been united or reunited, often unexpectedly, with family friends, unknown relatives and memorabilia of his father. (A recording of his father on the air and photos of him, including live broadcasts from his record storefront window, are included in the show.) He says there may be a film forthcoming—but this is, above all, a live performance. Catch it while you can. 

'In Search of My Father ... Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins' Held Over 

Saturday, March 3rd at 8; Sunday the 4th at 3, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, and at 8 p..m on both Saturday March 10 and Saturday March 17,338-11th Street (just off Macdonald), Richmond. $10-$15. 221-6353,,