Marin life vs. Oakland’s is basis of one-gal ‘fairytale’
“Dragon in the Drop-Off Lane” is a serio-comic, offbeat fantasy/fractured-fairytale view of parenting.
It sharply contrasts living in the “gentle, safe,” homogenized fairyland of upscale Marin’s even more upscale Belvedere, where everyone’s white, with life in not-so-white Oakland where gunshots in the park threaten her kids.
To make her surreal presentation at The Marsh Berkeley slightly more real, writer-performer Lisa Rothman populates it with family members (including her dad, who becomes a symbolic shrunken chicken) and herself, a semi-hysteric who becomes a magic-wand-toting, glitzy-tiara-wearing purveyor of insights, a fire-breathing dragon and other trickery.
The 80-minute one-woman show can, I believe, be judged in three ways:
- It’s a brilliant tour de farce that flays life in Marin via snarky but amusing references to lululemon yellow yoga pants and ritualistic decorating of no-rough-edges gingerbread men with stevia icing, carob chips and unsweetened coconut flakes. And it’s a piece of complex theater, with projections and sound-and-light cues timed to perfection, that demands the audience face weighty issues such as how to be a good parent and how to cope with a dying parent — while simultaneously stretching as much as the monologist.
- It’s an irritating, spasmodic, ultra-wordy piece with too many characters and bumper-sticker morals likely to force a disgruntled theatergoer to check her or his watch with some frequency. Some messages are incredibly heavy-handed and über-obvious: “The darker the woods, the more teachable the moment.”
- It’s a sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, at times mesmerizing trek through the challenges of being responsible for others.
I’m firmly in the third camp, firmly entrenched in the middle.
I gave Rothman’s previous Marsh show, “Date Night at Pet Emergency,” a mixed review in December 2015, noting, however, that “whiny one-liners Rothman wrote provide both insight and giggles.” I also maintained that her “best weapon is probably her rubbery comic face — bug-eyed, wide-mouthed, big-toothed.”
“Dragon” likewise offers a combo of savvy and chuckles, and her best weapon still seems to be that pliable face.
To some degree, the new show is a sequel to “Pet” — at least insofar as it further develops the characters of her husband Kevin; her sons, young Murray (who now always wears pajamas) and the older, fearful Ezra; her mother, who loses the battle with breast cancer; and her vital but mega-cautionary father.
David Ford, who’s worked with solo performers such as Brian Copeland, Marga Gomez, Geoff Hoyle and Charlie Varon, directed “Dragon,” which sometimes spits out concepts and one-liners as fast as an assault rifle — covering items as diverse as eating disorders, puppets, flu vaccines and singing Chinese opera to a poodle.
Although “Dragon” is a frantic one-gal exercise by the ex-producer of KPFA’s “Morning Show” that culminates in a cry of “Marin makes me crazy,” it does insert the voice of Varon as Carl Jung, Swiss founder of analytical psychology.
In keeping with the often wacky nature of Rothman’s words and movements, the sonorous voice interjects periodic crumbs of wisdom, hoary maxims and advice worthy of “The Simpsons” or “South Park.”
“Dragon in the Drop-Off Line” has been extended at the Berkeley TheaterStage, 2120 Allston Way, through Feb. 23. Weekly performances, 5 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets: $20 to $100. Information: 415-282-3055 or http://themarsh.org.