Geneva Anderson digs into art

review: Dael Orlandersmith’s “Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men”—a powerful one woman show that probes the lingering wounds of abuse— at Berkeley Rep, through June 24, 2012

Pulitzer Prize-finalist Dael Orlandersmith is back at Berkeley Rep with the world premiere of “Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men.” Photo courtesy of

From the moment the formidable Dael Orlandersmith steps onto the barren floor of the Thrust Stage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, her intensity is hypnotic.  In her new solo work Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men, which had its world premiere last Wednesday evening, Orlandersmith transforms herself into five young men of varying ages and races to take us on a dark journey that probes the lasting trauma of childhood abuse.  Wearing simple loose-fitting black clothing and her signature braids loose throughout the entire 100 minute performance, Orlandersmith shifts her weight, changes her accent and seems effortlessly, from someplace within, to call forth five young men of varying races, origins and ages who tell their stories.  Having lived through horrific abuse—recounted in graphic detail—the common enemy these young men now face is the power of history and painful personal experience.   Adulthood, especially for children from homes with recurrent abuse and violence, presents varying levels of growth and regression.  Orlandersmith takes us a journey riddled with turbulent emotional shifts as acts of self-sabotage and unintentional abuse undo significant gains.  As these young men question the choices they’ve made and the patterns they’ve enacted, we can’t help but applaud the strength it took for Orlandersmith to give voice to their demons and the sliver of hope residing in the dark corners of their awakening self-awareness.

Orlandersmith made an indelible impression on local audiences in 2004 with Berkeley Rep’s production of Yellowman.  That play, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, explored the complex dimensions interracial prejudice through the story of a young black couple.  It was commissioned and originally produced by McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey and was the first play Orlandersmith wrote for other actors.  Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men has the potential to be every bit as biting as Yellowman but it needs to be tightened and honed, much of which will happen during its road-test at Berkeley Rep.  Orlandersmith pours every once of her soul into these young men, giving a raw, haunting and audacious performance.    

Special Events:

Free 30-minute docent presentations about the show take place at 7:00 PM on the following Tuesday and Thursday evenings: June 5, June 7, June 12, June 14, June 19, and June 21, 2012.  Docent talks are also held in three local communities: at the Orinda Library on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 7:00 PM, at the Lafayette Library on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 7:00 PM , and at the Moraga Library on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 2:00 PM.

Post-play discussions moderated by theatre professionals follow the 8:00 PM shows on Friday, June 8, 2012 and Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

Free tastings: Join Berkeley Rep for complimentary pre-performance tastings! Sample wine and other delights.  New tasting events are being added all the time, so be sure to check back often!

  • Friday, June 8, 2012: Urbano Cellars / 7pm
  • Saturday, June 9, 2012 Dr. Kracker / 7pm
  • Friday, June 15, 2012: Semifreddi’s / 7pm

Creative Team:  written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith; directed by Chay Yew; designed by Daniel Ostling (sets), Anita Yavich (costumes), Ben Stanton (lights), and Mikhail Fiksel (sound)

Details:  Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men runs through Sunday, June 24, 2012. The Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Thrust Stage) is located at 2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.  Tickets start at $29.  Additional savings are available for groups, seniors, students, and anyone under 30 years of age – meaning discounted seats can be obtained for as little as $14.50. For tickets and info: or phone 510.647.2949

June 4, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Like father??? Lorenzo Pisoni’s “Humor Abuse” reflects on his life as a clown and the son of Pickle’s founding clown Larry Pisoni─ at A.C.T., extended through Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lorenzo Pisoni as his father Larry Pisoni, one of the founders of the Pickle Family Circus. A.C.T. presents “Humor Abuse,” Pisoni’s one man show about growing up as the youngest member of the Pickle Family Circus. Historic photo featured on set by Terry Lorant. Production photo by Chris Bennion.

Ahhh… men and their fathers….one can’t can’t help but be a reflection of the other.  What makes Lozeno Pisoni’s one man show, Humor Abuse at A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theatre) so special is that it is hilariously funny, packed with dazzling tricks, and, at its core, it’s all about growing up with a very controlling dad and making peace with it.  Lorenzo Pisoni is the youngest member of the Pickle Family Circus and the son of Pickle co-founder Larry Pisoni.  In  Humor Abuse, Pisoni not only shows off the tricks of the trade he learned from his father, he also relates the complex relationship he had on and offstage with him.  Pisoni first appeared onstage at the age of two.  He became his father’s clown partner not long after, and he continued to perform with the troupe during his teens.   A natural storyteller, Pisoni’s recollections are centered around physically demanding tricks (both newly created acts as well as and reenactments of his father’s famous Pickle performances) that show off his skills as a juggler, acrobatic, clown, and physical comedian.   This is one show where it really pays to sit as possible to the stage, to get a good glimpse of the vein-popping, sweat-drenched rigor and special protective padding involved in pulling off a clowning stunt like casually tripping down a flight of stairs or jumping off a platform into a bucket or performing a series of handstands, cartwheels and body-slamming vaults and then juggling.   

Lorenzo Pisoni with an old photo of his two-year old self. Historic photo by Terry Lorant. Production photo by Chris Bennion.

Breathtaking and funny, Pisoni’s show also contains several bittersweet moments when he reflects on his father’s perfectionism and how he was forced to practice a trick for several hours, days on end, to master it.  No matter how perfectly he performed it, he would always garner criticism, rarely praise, from his father.   Sound familiar?   The show is aptly titled—you get a good sense of the physical abuse that these daring comedic feats impart on the body and a sense of the deeper current of torment that Lorenzo experienced growing up under the thumb of such a perfectionist.  And it will come as no surprise that, aside from the circus, the father and son have little in common.   It seems that what lay at the bottom of all these physical acts Lorenzo performed to perfection was disappointment, something missing, some essential emotional territory that the relationship didn’t meet.  But it’s not a downer, at least not anymore…Pisoni, actually seems to be cherishing the opportunity to express and revision himself…because underneath it all is the quest for his own unique identity.  Larry Pisoni was one sour Pickle but Lorenzo has emerged a sweet one.      

Lorenzo Pisoni performs "Humor Abuse," his one-man show about growing up as the youngest member of the Pickle Family Circus. Historic photo featured on set by Terry Lorant. Production photo by Chris Bennion.

 Pickle Family Circus History:  Pisoni was born into the Pickle Family Circus shortly after his parents, Larry Pisoni and Peggy Snider, founded the alternative big top in 1974 with their juggling partner Cecil MacKinnon.  After Bill Irwin and Geoff Hoyle joined their ranks—creating the incomparable clown trio of Lorenzo Pickle (Pisoni), Willy the Clown (Irwin), and Mr. Sniff (Hoyle)—the Pickles became a venerable and beloved Bay Area institution.  They toured the West Coast (and beyond) through the 1980s and ’90s and led the charge in the renewal of the American circus, exchanging animal acts and pyrotechnics in the supersized three-ring format with daring acrobatics and its famous show-stopping group juggle, all presented on one intimate stage so audiences would not miss a single moment.  

Bill Irwin opened A.C.T.’s 2010 season with Scapin.  Pisoni last appeared on the A.C.T. stage in 2005’s in the hugely popular The Gamester.  He also recently performed in Broadway’s Equus alongside Daniel Radcliffe and says: “Ever since Erica (Schmidt) and I created Humor Abuse, I’ve wanted to do it in San Francisco…I know many A.C.T. audience members will have a deep, nostalgic connection to what happens in the play because the Pickles were a part of San Francisco’s culture for so long.”

Humor Abuse  runs 80 minutes with no intermission. 

Humor Abuse: Created by Lorenzo Pisoni and Erica Schmidt.  Directed by Erica Schmidt.

Creative Team:  Hannah Cohen (stage manager), Randy Craig (composer), Bart Fasbender (sound designer), Ben Stanton (lighting designer)

Featuring Lorenzo Pisoni

Related Events:  A.C.T. Family Series (NEW this season!): Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, before the 2 p.m. performance.    Join A.C.T. at 1 p.m. for a fun preshow event!  An A.C.T. artist will lead a lively, interactive workshop on clowning and physical theater.  Visit for information about how to subscribe to the A.C.T. Family Series throughout the season.

Details: Humor Abuse has been extended through Sunday, February 5, 2012.  The Geary Theater is located at 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Tickets (starting at $10) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at  

Up Next at A.C.T:  February 1-19, 2012:  The world premiere of Carey Perloff’s Higher, directed by Mark Rucker.

In this smart and sexy new play, two American architects dive into a high-stakes competition to design a memorial in Israel. They’re also in love—but don’t know that they are vying against one another. Higher whisks us from sleek New York studios to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, as the architects confront their own pasts in a race to make their mark on history. Faith, family, desire, and design fuel this thrilling new work, featuring A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen and A.C.T. favorite Andrew Polk (The Homecoming, November). (Learn more.)  Note:  Performances of “Higher” take place at the The Theater at Children’s Creativity Museum (formerly Zeum Theater), 221 Fourth Street, San Francisco.

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment