Author Archive for: ‘GuestReview’

Word For Word plays “Lucia Berlin: Stories”

Word For Word plays “Lucia Berlin: Stories”

Carol Benet

Lucia Berlin was an under-appreciated Bay Area writer who became well-known posthumously. Eleven years after her death, her short stories were published in a volume called “A Manuel for a Cleaning Women” and were praised and put on the “Best Seller List” of the “New York Times” in 2015.

Word for Word, that original and excellent theatre troupe that takes shorts stories and magically produces them as plays while they keep to the story “word for word” with all the “He said”, “She said” included, has chosen five of the stories from Berlin’s book in their show “Lucia Berlin: Stories”. And what a good job they do of recreating the life and work of Berlin, mother of four, ex-wife of two jazz musicians, alcoholic, survivor who managed various jobs, as nurse, teacher, cleaning woman, addict.

Founding member of Word for Word, Jeri Lynn Cohen, plays the protagonist in all five stories, which are always episodes from Berlin’s life. Starting with “Her First Detox” with police cars on a video in the background and sirens screeching, the shaky hand woman is in drunk tank In “Emergency Room Notebook 1977”,” she has become a head nurse who has to deal with other crises other than her own and a mean-spirited co-worker, a rich Chinese family as well as a gypsy one. There are lots of suicides, especially in finals’ week at Cal. The Lucia character comes out with many wise thoughs such as is “seems like a shame to do a heart replacement on an old person”.

“Unmanageable”, “502” and “Here It is Saturday” follow in a tense display of scenes from her stories, the detox, the AA meeting, her slipping back into old ways and the friends she meets on the way, many of them street people or prisoners. Yes there is some humor in these dire tales, such as the people trying to cure her and the vagrants.

The last story shows some hope. She is teaching writing in a prison and helping them publish a book. Localisms such as the 7/11 in Oakland, the liquor stores on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, the prison situated in a former Speckles estate down the Peninsula. The characters are taken right from her life and so are the places. This is what makes her short stories so vivid. The direction of Nancy Shelby and JoAnne Winter and the actors inventions of gestures and facial expressions and their roles as nimble stage crew moving around the multi-use boxes for the stage sets are all brilliant.

Word for Word is a San Francisco tradition. Their next production features stories from Tobias Wolff and George Saunders with a special evening on August 15, 2018 with both authors in conversation. All works are done at the Z Below, the alternate San Francisco venue for Z Space, on 470 Florida Street. This summer, as they have in the past, Word for Word takes “Lucia Berlin: Stories” on the road to France with stops in Paris, Angier and Nancy. “Lucia Berlin: Stories” runs through March 11, 2018.