Stagebridge serves it up hot and tasty with a heaping side of laughs: ‘Counter Attack!’

(Charles Kruger)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“Counter Attack” a world premiere by Joan Holden, produced by Stagebridge. Director: Sharon Lockwood. Set: Dan Chumley. Costumes: Cassandra Carpenter. Lights: Will Springhorn, Jr. Original Music: Richard “Scrumbly” Koldewyn. Musician: Bruce Barthol.

Marlene: Joan Mankin. Courtney: Sarah Mitchell.

Ensemble (each in multiple parts): James Brooks, Hugo Carbajal, Angela Dosalmas, Franklin Hall, Tara Heckathorn, Lynne Hollander, Charmaine Hitchcox, Lew Levinson, Bora Max Koknar, Marilyn Leavitt, Bill Liebman, Agnes Lyons, Billy Pond, Miyoko Sakatani, Mel Terry, Shannon Veon-Kase.

Thrilled. Flabbergasted. Slap happy. Astonished. Delighted. Enlightened. This is a bit of how I felt encountering Stagebridge and its unique brand of theatre for the first time a few days ago.

Since 1978, Stagebridge has been pursuing its mission of bringing theatre to seniors, by seniors, for seniors, and about seniors to the Bay area. What is this about? From their website: “Stagebridge is changing how people view and experience aging.”

How is it accomplished?

Stagebridge projects include acting and singing classes for seniors, theatre performances and training for folk who work with seniors, and full out productions featuring senior actors (from complete newbies to retired professionals) such as the current production Counter Attack!

On the night I attended the Ashby Stage the house was packed to the rafters with enthusiastic elders. Some were typically stylish theatre goers dressed in traditional evening costume. Many were stereotypical “old ladies in tennis shoes”. There were plenty of last gasp hippies with grey hair tumbling over shoulders or tied back in pony tails behind shiny bald pates. The atmosphere was more like a party than a theatre.

Years ago, I remember attending a wondrous production of The Gospel At Collonus. For the first (and only) time in my decades of theatregoing, I encountered an almost exclusively Black theatre audience, obviously thrilled to the bone to see, for once, themselves as they knew themselves performing the best theatrical work for their own community. Another time, I had a similar experience when I attended, with the great Luis Valdez, the opening night performance of his Corridos in downtown Los Angeles and saw a mostly Latino audience discovering and celebrating themselves with their own actors and stories onstage. This shit doesn’t often go down on Broadway and we need more of it. Call it activist theatre, call it community theatre, call it agit prop, call it political, call it alternative. I call it damn good and refreshing.

You can also call it “Stagebridge”.

The company of Counter Attack! is all over the map in terms of experience. The playwright and lead actress, and one additional company member, worked for years with the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Original compositions are contributed by the great Richard “Scrumbly” Koldewyn, a founding member of the Cockettes. The program notes identify other performers who have been doing theatre for as little as two or three years. One is a retired nurse, another a retired psychologist, yet another a retired Muni supervisor. All are excellent.

At one point, early in the evening, the diner setting on stage was packed with no fewer than 14 actors, working together in comic ensemble. Imagine! 14 actors, mostly seniors, many just entering the theatre in their 5th to 8th or 9th decade of life, acting he hell out of a complex scene in the style of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Words fail, but it’s something else.

Joan Holden‘s script (inspired by Candacy  A. Taylor‘s ethnography of American waitresses, Counter Culture: The American Coffeeshop Waitress) tells the story of a senior coffeeshop waitress who is threatened by a new young hotshot taking over as manager. The young one, predictably and enjoyably, gets her comeuppance over the course of a few challenging shifts. Customers and staff are carefully portrayed with interesting characterizations and engaging back stories. It all works.

Don’t miss this.

Counter Attack! continues through March 4 at The Ashby Stage in Berkeley. For further infomation, click here.

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