Last night I saw the Shotgun Players new production, Love is a Dream House in Lorin, by Marcus Gardley. It is an amazing piece of community-generated theater. The production is important to see, especially if you don’t usually go to theater, because it can turn your whole view of the possibilities of theater as a tool for dialogue within the community. Lorin was the name of a town that was annexed by Berkeley in the early 1900’s. It goes from Dwight to Alcatraz, Sacramento to Telegraph. The neighborhood was one of the only places people of color were allowed to own property — as such this area of South Berkeley developed a complex multiracial composition and was one of the first neighborhoods to voluntarily desegregate its schools. As a student, I am far too ignorant of the environment surrounding where I study — Berkeley is a temporary stopping place for me on my road through life, but this neighborhood, in and around which I have lived my entire time, has a complex history that is not at all apparent from its modern-day incarnation as the ‘hood.
The play is centered around a house in the Lorin district and its history. The play’s characters, residents of the Lorin District, are all named after streets in the neighborhood. The story starts with the house being bought by Russell and Adeline Wheeler, a biracial couple ready to start a family in the early ’80s. As we follow their story the history is revealed, from the original Ohlone inhabitants of the area through the building of the first Victorian homes, the internment of the Japanese-Americans who lived there, the black families who made their homes their and on through to Vietnam. The narrative is not linear — although the play is grounded in Adeline’s experience, it is not merely a story being told to her. Each stage of the story is paced differently — the heterogeneity keeps the play breathing and unpredictable. Aaron Davidman has created a physical language for the piece using recurrent physical patterns and motifs that helped the stories maintain their individual consistency while drawing parallels between the different residents of the house (as when a couple in love dances in the living room). The overall effect is hauntingly beautiful but not sentimental. Always looming over the production is the current situation of the neighborhood — drive-by shootings, gang problems, and drug abuse. The play reminds us that everyone who lives here has a story to tell.
I could go on rambling about the play and spoil details of the production but I won’t. If you are in the area, you have to see this play — it is probably the most important piece of theater I’ve seen in years.