Lucia Berlin: Stories at Z Space Below by Word for Word misses the mark.

L-R Delia MacDougall, Indiia Wilmott, Ryan Williams French, Phil Wong, Gendell Hernández, Cassidy Brown. “Code Blue.” Word for Word’s Lucia Berlin: Stories; photo credit, Julie Schuchard

Lucia Berlin: Stories. By Lucia Berlin. Directed by Nancy Shelby and JoAnne Winter. Word for Word, Z Space Below, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco, CA. 415.626.0453 or www.zspace.org.

February 14 – March 11, 2018

Lucia Berlin: Stories at Z Space Below by Word for Word misses the mark.

For those who are unfamiliar with Word for Word this is their 25th year of producing theatrical works of mostly short stories or sections from larger works without altering a single word of text. This form of dramatization requires intricate conversion of the written word to create a stage worthy production. The “he said or she said” and descriptive passages are often split between two or more characters while performing appropriate stage action to compliment the words. The key is to “compliment” the words. On opening night of Lucia Berlin: Stories the hectic movement of box like objects to create a new scene often made the words secondary amplifying the miscues of the dialog. To the credit of the cast and the director the fine second act almost salvaged the evening.

The term “functioning alcoholic” is an appropriate description of Lucia Berlin and her stories are more than semi-autobiographical. Berlin died in 2004 and did not receive acclaim as a short story writer until after her death with the publication of the critically acclaimed, “A Manual for Cleaning Women.”  Word for Word has selected the stories “Her First Detox”, “Emergency Room Notebook 1977”, “Unmanageable”, “502” and “Here It Is Saturday” that are probably chronologies of her life. Word for Word has taken the very unusual liberty of: “Though those stories have protagonists with different names, our show follows one ‘Everywoman’ whom we think of as “Lucia.” Jeri Lynn Cohen in that role gives an uneven performance that has more high points than lows.

“Her First Detox” sets the frightening tone that permeates the evening and is a solid start that is marred by the moving of generic prop boxes that interfere with the flow of the story as well as detracting from words that often do not extend beyond the imaginary stage apron. In “Emergency Room Notebook 1977” the cacophony is over amplified but the individual stories of the ER denizens become very distinctive and occasionally memorable.

After a brief intermission the quality of a Word for Word production shines through. “Unmaginable” will grab you by the throat as Lucia scrounges up coins to buy a half pint of vodka in the early morning hours before her two sons awaken and she sends them off to school.

“502” is a charming interlude during a period of sobriety that is a perfect lead in for the pièce de résistance “Here It is Saturday.”  The protagonist is now sober teaching a writing class in prison. Her eclectic students’ reticence is gradually overcome and eventually put in writing their personal thoughts leading to a prison magazine publication to celebrate their success.

As befitting the tenor of Lucia Berlin’s short stories the evening at Z Below offers glimmers of hope tempered with a blocks of despair.

CAST: (Alphabetical) Cassidy Brown as Chaz, Ensemble; Jeri Lynn Cohen as Carlotta/Lucille/Mrs. Bevins (Lucia); Ryan Williams French as Joe, Otis, Ace, CD, Ensemble; Norman Gee as Willie. The Champ, Ensemble; Gendell Hernández as Pepe, Mr. Adderly, Little Ripple, Karate Kid, Ensemble; Delia MacDougall as Nurse McCoy, Clara, Dixie, Ensemble; lndiia Wilmott as Volunteer AA Lady, Marlene, Mo, Kim, Ensemble; Phil Wong Mac as Mme Y, Officer Wong,Vee de la Range, Ensemble.

DESIGN: Scenic Design Oliver DiCicco, Naomie Kremer, Jacquelyn Scott; Lighting Design,, Jim Cave; Sculpture Design, Oliver DiCicco; Choreography, Christy Funsch; Video Design and Scenic Design Naomie Kremer; Costume Design, Michelle Mulholland; Props Design, Jacquelyn Scott; Art Design, Julie Schuchard; Original Score Composition Marcus Shelby.

Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.

Kedar Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com

L-R Delia MacDougall, Indiia Wilmott, Ryan Williams French, Phil Wong, Gendell Hernández, Cassidy Brown. “Code Blue.” Word for Word’s Lucia Berlin: Stories; photo credit, Julie Schuchard.