Sunday, August 23, 2009

"East 14th Street": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Of the long list of one-man and one-woman show performers that have graced the stage at the Marsh over the last several years, perhaps no one else can make their face do what Don Reed's can. The cast of characters from his early life includes his buddy Steak Face, the sage pimp Trout Mouth, Little Donny's two brothers, one a player constantly dispensing awful advice and the other the toughest kid in the neighborhood, though so gay that he embarrasses other gay people. And let's not forget his father, though with Don Reed's dad it's not the face but the voice that makes us love this man. Of course, the story is centered around little Donny himself, known throughout his childhood as "Blinkie," for obvious reasons.

East 14th St. is the coming-of-age story of little Blinkie, as he moves from one end of Oakland's East 14th St. to the other, from the middle-class home of his mother and stepfather, where knocking on doors for the Jehovah's Witnesses is a way of life, to the heart of the ghetto, where his father lives, who just happens to be an excellent and efficient pimp. That's P.I.M.P., for "Put it In My Pocket."

Donnie doesn't realize his father is a pimp at first -- "I just thought he was really into hats." But it doesn't take him too long to realize that partying is a whole lot more fun than proselytizing for Jesus.

The arc of the show is the same as many other one-person shows where a comedian is the focal point -- early childhood, joke, joke, joke, a little older, joke, joke, joke, and looking back, joke, joke, joke. The form can feel dated at this point, especially the apparently-mandatory section towards the end where the performer chokes back tears before loosing another joke or two.

Don Reed overcomes the form by being funny, by nonstop motion and some really good dance steps. His audience is younger and blacker than most Marsh shows and the material feels a little like a profane sit-com, which makes sense since Reed got his start in television.

But it's all good. "East 14th St" offers a fun evening watching a terrific performer. There isn't a lot of meat on these bones but there is still plenty to chew on. We have to agree with Don Reed's father: "Can you dig it? It can be dug by me."


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "East 14th Street" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. The material is good, Reed is a seasoned performer who knows how to please an audience and you just have to love Steak Face. The BANGLE of PRAISE is for the really funny segment where Donny is forced by his stepdad to knock on the door of his friend Steak Face's house, on whose sister Donny has a stuttering crush. Delivering the Word was never quite this embarrassing. It's one of several excellent moments as we travel up and down East 14th Street.

"East 14th Street"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Fri-Sun, through October 10
$20-$35 sliding scale

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