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Oakland Tribune, October 5, 2006


A teen's perspective: Hope is born in Shotgun's powerful 'Lorin'

-- By Leslie Ribovich

Leslie Ribovich, a 17-year-old senior at Albany High School, is the co-director of the Berkeley Rep Teen Council. As our teen theater correspondent, she will occasionally offer her perspective on local productions.

Sometimes in this world of war and corruption, community feels like a lost cause. We complain about our schoolmates, our coworkers and our neighbors. We feel like other people just don't get it.
Shotgun Players' newest offering, "Love is a Dream House in Lorin," doesn't say otherwise. The play spans eras from the time of the Ohlone Indians, who first inhabited South Berkeley, to the present day and shows how poorly people have been treated in the neighborhood throughout history.

In one minute of stage time, up-and-coming playwright Marcus Gardley juxtaposes scenes that cover hundreds of years. On the same stage, Coyote first has his way with the Ohlone woman, housing developer Mr. Harmon decides to build up the neighborhood, Japanese couple Rufus and Lorin McGee receive the message "Japs Go Home," and a husband is fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting.

Community feels like a lost cause.

And yet, this is community-based theater. It brings actors and audience together.

How does it do it?

Through language, through emotion, through music, through action, through art. Community-based theater is not theater in the typical aesthetic sense because it's made for and by a particular community. "Lorin" uses local actors and residents who've acted to tell the story of Berkeley's Lorin District. The distinction between the character the actor portrays and the individual behind the performance is often vague. Some actors seem to play themselves. For example, local poet Tony "Born" Allen plays Tyler, aka Poet.

The performances aren't powerful because of the actors' abilities to transform themselves, but because they're so personal.
Aaron Davidman, artistic director of Traveling Jewish Theatre, directs his cast so well that the community members blend in with the professional actors. Some, like Emily Rosenthal, who plays central character Adeline Wheeler, are clearly professionals, but high school and middle school students hold their own.

One moment that's emblematic of Gardley's overriding message is when Jesus responds to someone who "hollas" at him rather than to a Spanish missionary.
The missionaries who take the land from the Ohlone believe in a different Jesus than Prince, the son who fights in Vietnam, does. People from different generations of Lorin believe the same thing but perceive their faiths differently.

When a community is at odds, bringing its members together in some type of expression is very powerful. Art creates community.
The "winds" in "Lorin" act as the chorus that ties multiple stories together with music. The only time the entire Lorin community is peaceful is when they're singing. I have absolutely no rhythm, but even I felt like I belonged when the whole cast turned into a gospel choir.
This play left me silent, breathless.

Community-based theater is representative of our time. We don't completely understand community and must create it onstage to capture its essence.

The growing violence in Oakland, the fact that homicide is the No. 1 killer of American teens means more than ever, we feel like our neighbors are missing something. Like we're missing something.
People in this country are calling out. In an ever-standardized and corporate world, community-based theater humanizes us and makes us feel like we have the power to overcome this force.

Can we actually overcome it?

As Gardley writes, "Happiness is always a holiday."
The community-based style is not only contemporary in its message but also in its interweaving plots. The structure of the play is designed for an audience that's used to processing multiple storylines.

"Lorin" expects its audience to understand a complicated plot but remains emotionally accessible.

In the eyes of the "Lorin" cast, there is a desire to be part of something greater than they are. A hunger to change something in this country. The play doesn't directly state any political beliefs, but the Lorin community's need for a play like this makes it political.

Community-based theater doesn't solve the world's problems. Solutions seem more likely while you're inside the theater, but then you walk outside into the neighborhood depicted in the play and realize that the world is much more complex than any play anyone could write.

"Love Is a Dream House in Lorin" does, however, inspire hope.
Teens are invited to the next Target Teen Night at Berkeley Repertory Theatre to see "Passing Strange," eat dinner and chat with a theater professional. E-mail for information.

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