Sunday, January 9, 2011

Jeff Greenwald: "Strange Travel Suggestions": ☼ ☼ ☼

It's tricky business to see one of Jeff Greenwald's "Strange Travel Suggestions" shows, playing currently through January 22 at the Marsh Berkeley. You listen to him talk of faraway places and part of you wants to stand right up, throw down your pencil and get on the next plane to anywhere. Everywhere. Whatever, let's go.

Then he gets to the luggage carousel at Calcutta International Airport and you sit back down, thinking: "Maybe let's just sit on the sofa and rent a movie about it."

Seeing Jeff Greenwald is like renting the movie. He talks, you listen. Greenwald is a gifted storyteller. The best travel stories, like the best travels and the best stories, usually involve something weird popping up unexpectedly, and Greenwald doesn't disappoint you. You wait for the weirdness. You're ecstatic when he crosses his legs and drops the chicken. You love the leather-bound "COMPLAINTS" book. You prefer it when he has some attitude, and somewhat less when he is simply describing something gorgeous, as in his dawn scuba dive in the Philippines.

This is the yin and yang of Jeff Greenwald. He's the kind of guy you want to come over for dinner. You want to listen to him laugh and spin his tales, even though you know perfectly well that the details change over time. He's a little preachy, tossing off little nuggets like "I spoke Nepali quite well," as if you should just accept that a Jewish guy from Oakland would OF COURSE speak Nepali, but he is also respectful of the local cultures he is visiting, and of his place in them.

Above all he's funny and fun. An evening at the theater listening to Jeff Greenwald makes you remember that the world is divided into travelers and visitors. Listening to Jeff you are a visitor, but he makes you want to get out there and hit the road.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Jeff Greenwald's "Strange Travel Suggestions" Three Stars. It's a low-key affair, with Greenwald taking audience volunteers to spin the travel wheel which will more or less determine the story he chooses to relate. It is less satisfying when you end up hearing the same story you have heard before at a previous show, because it was a lot funnier when it was new.

Maybe Greenwald should sell Story Cancellation insurance. If he tells a story you have heard him tell before, you get a free cookie. Hey, it works for the airlines.

Jeff Greenwald's "Strange Travel Suggestions"
The Marsh (Berkeley)
2120 Allston Way, Berkeley
Through Jan 22
$20-$35 sliding scale

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