Marga Gomez squished through it. Josh Kornbluth shook its cattails. Charlie Varon has been a swampy denizen for years. It's the Marsh, a San Francisco insitution dedicated to the development of new theater, and now it has oozed on over to Berkeley's Gaia Building. Pulitzer Prize nominee Ron Jones is inaugurating the new space with When God Winked, the story of his thirty years working at a San Francisco recreation center for the disabled. Jones is a busy guy; he has written thirty-odd books, including The Wave, which deals with his 1967 classroom experiment in fascism and has been translated into nine languages, made into a play, a television film, and a musical, and is required reading in German classrooms. The Wave stemmed from a history student telling Jones he didn't understand how fascism could arise, and Jones setting out to show how easily it could happen. There are no budding fascists in the current work, however. Instead we meet Vanishing Man, the Pope of the Sunset, the Woman That Speaks for God, and other people who have surprised and humbled Jones in his work at a place he calls heaven. A solo multimedia performance, When God Winked promises poignancy and grace as it explores themes of religious zeal and disenfranchisement.
The Marsh began humbly in 1989 in the backs of bars and coffeeshops, eventually moving to a small space on Valencia Street. Events like Monday Night Marsh and the Mock Cafe gave audiences a chance to experience brand-new works as they were birthed, and soon those audiences wanted to try it too. So Charlie Varon (Rush Limbaugh in Night School) and David Ford started a popular series of monologue writing and performance classes.
Roughly half of the Marsh's guests and students come from the East Bay -- some commute from as far away as Santa Rosa and Livermore to take the eight-week performance workshops -- so it was a no-brainer to expand, in PR guy Shawn Ferreyra's words, "like a virus" across the bridge. So audiences moved by Jones' work--or any of the other performers scheduled to add a new flavor to Berkeley's burgeoning arts district -- will soon be able to try mucking through the fecund Marsh themselves. For more info, visit TheMarsh.org or phone 415-826-5750. -- Lisa Drostova
Social upheaval? In Lafayette?
The East Bay suburb of Lafayette is generally regarded as a hotbed of social rest, a place where, as Kevin T. Morales notes, "No one would ever debate politics, religion, or even the price of gas. It could be rude." But Morales' new play Love Lafayette thrives on differences, as in a Meet the Parents-style comedy about the son of conservative Christians marrying the daughter of liberal Jews -- and learning valuable lessons about tolerance. It opens Friday (8 p.m.) at Town Hall Theatre, 3535 School St., and runs through September 24. Tix and info: THTC.org or 925-283-1557. -- Kelly Vance
It's not easy being a fabulously wealthy, internationally famous, superhot socialite. Just ask Paris and Nicky Hilton. The dynamic debutante duo gets the full-fledged satire treatment in Impact Theatre's new production Nicky Goes Goth, which details what happens when Paris' sister begins to question her high-profile but superficial life. To her sibling's dismay, Nicky starts dating a suburban Goth named Shithead (a homage to Steve Martin's The Jerk?), while Paris schemes to restore the balance to the Hiltons' self-absorbed universe with the help of her flamboyant makeup assistant. The play previews Thursday, opens Friday, and runs through October 1 at LaVal's Subterranean in Berkeley. ImpactTheatre.com or 510-464-4468. -- Eric K. Arnold
What the Butler Thawed
Merchant Ivory's 1992 film Enchanted April is the quintessential coffeetable picture -- a demure, actorly story of four middle-class Englishwomen escaping their drab and dreary country (and their d&d husbands, too) and going off on holiday at a lush villa in sunny Italy, where they have various epiphanies. It's sort of a sober Edwardian chick flick, starring Natasha Richardson and Alfred Molina. The concept evidently refused to die. Elizabeth von Arnim's novel, the basis for the film, was turned into a stage play in 2003 by Matthew Barber -- and now it has turned up at the Masquers Playhouse in Richmond (105 Park Pl.), where it opens Friday for a run through October 1. Arthur Atlas directs. Masquers.org or 510-232-4031. -- Kelly Vance
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