Friday, November 2, 2018


A group of men wandered around the stage at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley as we walked to our seats. The curtains were open and the men bantered and jostled each other. I wasn't sure if they were part of the crew or the actors. Then, they High-fived each other, broke into dance, and pretended to cut each other's hair. A few came out into the audience to invite someone to come on stage with them. The audience member would sit down in a barber chair, the actor would throw a covering over them and proceed to "trim" their hair. Some of the audience members got right into the action by holding hair towards the barber as if giving instructions while others hunkered down and glanced quickly back and forth across the stage. They all took cellphone photos with their barbers when their hair was "trimmed." Slowly as the auditorium filled, the audience members on stage disappeared, leaving a group of actors from England in a center spotlight.

Barbershop Chronicles was about to begin.

Courtesy of Leeds Playhouse, UK

An unusual way to start a play? Yes, but what a intriguing tactic to draw the audience in. The play revolves around barbershops in England and Africa and shows both the effects of the African diaspora, and how important a barbershop can be in any community as a place for men to meet, seek advice, and develop friendships.

We love going to plays. We have seen Shakespeare's Tempest in an outdoor theater. Just as the play's pretend-tempest swirled across the stage, real fog and mist dropped down around the actors and the audience.

At the end of Fairview, a play about a middle-class family, the actors turned the tables on the audience and invited us on stage.  They moved into the aisles and faced us. As we stood under the bright lights, they reminded us, still in character,  to let them be themselves, not to judge them, to release our opinions and prejudices that we often develop when we encounter the Other.

Courtesy of Berkeley Rep Theater

We noticed in the last few years how well the theater productions reflect the world around us and continue to have important messages. We've seen Ibsen's Enemy of the People, written in the 1880s, about a doctor in a small town whose income depends on the tourists who visit the town spa. The doctor discovers that the spa water is polluted. His dilemma: to tell the truth about the water and ruin the town's financial livelihood or to keep silent as he is pressured by the town officials to do. The characters in the play display their humanness by showing the audience both their sympathetic side as well as the side we often want to deny. The play also reminds us of the Flint, Michigan waters. Put in the same spot as the play's characters, would you do the same?

Courstesy of Triangle Arts

Plays give us a chance to see the world through another's eyes. We have a chance to consider major themes, such as understanding our relationships with family and friends, finding ourselves, understanding betrayal and love, and the complexity in each of us. As Hamlet said, "the play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."

I hope you will join us for a play that can lift your spirit, make you stop and think, and allow you to see how related we all are to each other.

Courtesy of Cal Shakes, CA

Other plays we've seen in the last couple of years:

Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, a play written in 1935, is a good reminder how easily democracy can slip from our grasp.

Black Odyssey by Marcus Gardley, a retelling of Homer's epic using events in American history such as Hurricane Katrina, Fruitvale BART Station, and the assassinations of civil rights leaders. The main character wanders through these events trying to get back home, but we realize that on the way he is trying to find himself.

Doll's House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath. This comtemporary play describes what happened to Nora after she leaves her husband and children in Ibsen's Doll House.

If you are Northern California, check the schedules at

Cal Shakes:

ACT Theater:

Berkeley Rep Theater:

Cal Performances:


  1. It's about time. I would love to see a good play. I was recently asked by my writer friend to be in his play and when I found out that I would only have but one line - I backed out. (can't help being a diva after my big role in high school) So I went to see that very play and one of the characters skipped four pages of lines and they had to stop the action and basically go back to that part and start over again. It was mostly a disaster. I felt very bad for the playwright and will forever remember him up on stage, prone on a couch and and shaking his head in horror.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jan. I've finally figured a work-around so that I can reply to comments again. Yeah!


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