Word for Word

“Lucia Berlin: Stories”
February 14-March 11, 2018
Z below, 470 Florida St. SF

Eleven years after her death, a volume of selected stories by Lucia Brown Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women, was published and applauded. Now, Word for Word, the story telling theater company has brought those stories to the stage.

The company is at its best when the scripts are said, not enacted. But in these stories, “Her First Detox”, ”Emergency Room Notebook 1977”, “Unmanageable”, and “502” the group tended toward more dramatic presentation than usual. Only in the last offering, “Here it is Saturday,” did the straightforward presentation prevail to great effectiveness.

All the stories center on the autobiographical episodes that Berlin experienced or created. We see a women in the hospital during “Detox” and her continued trials and struggles through the other stories. Jerri Lyn Cohen handled the lead character admirably for the most part, but, this being opening night, sometimes stumbled on lines and delivery.

The supporting cast, Cassidy Brown, Ryan Willams French, Norman Gee, Gendeli Hernandez, Delia MacDougali, Indila Wilmoff and Phil Wong supported Cohen admirably.

The last offering, “Here it is Saturday,” was the most effective. Cohen plays a teacher offering writing classes to prisoners. Each prisoner has something valuable to say and does so, to persistent encouragement.

The stories are described, not told, so we the audience can imagine the details. There is real drama thus offered both for the cast and us.

The plays are nicely directed by Nancy Shelby and JoAnne Winter. Following the “Word for Word” tradition, they would make a more effective mark, for this reviewer, if the presentation were in the old tradition … storytelling prevailing over drama.

Joanna G. Harris