La vie boheme of the 19th century was not limited to the Latin Quarter of Paris. The new Bohemianism, with its emphasis on literature and the arts, flourished in the San Francisco of the 1860s as well. The locus of that activity was a weekly newspaper, The Golden Era. Edited by Bret Harte, the paper included such contributors as Mark Twain, Adah Isaacs Menken, Charles Warren Stoddard, Ambrose Bierce, Ada Clare, and Ina Coolbrith. While researching the Bohemian Club for his doctoral dissertation, Gary Graves discovered this amazing congruence of artists and writers. The result is his new play, The Golden Era, which opens at the Berkeley City Club July 12.
Graves, who also directs the piece, says that "the title is ironic; the play is not a nostalgic look at the good old days. The seven remarkable people who met at The Golden Era all went on to their own remarkable careers. But at the time of the play, they were all interested in writing about the city and its people. Herb Caen is part of a long history of columnists writing about San Francisco." But some did more than write. Menken was famous for appearing naked in her spectacular horse play, Mazeppa. According to Mark Twain, the climax of the performance occurred when the star was stripped and tied to the back of a live stallion that charged up a ramp "over the painted mountains, in a brisk, exciting way." Graves explains that the word naked had a slightly different meaning in the 19th century. "She had at least a body stocking on. But at that time, any clothing that revealed a woman's figure was considered very shocking." The poet and columnist Ada Clare was also a woman far ahead of her time. Graves calls Clare "a prototypical feminist. She introduced herself as Miss Ada Clare and son. She did not hide his illegitimacy." Is the play historically accurate? Graves insists that "truth really is stranger than fiction. There is some invention in the play, but I tried to remain very respectful of history." Call (510) 649-7477 for tickets.
We Are Family
In his newest solo piece, ATTACHMENTS, Michael Kearns (intimacies, ROCK, more intimacies) explores the questions, "Can an openly gay, publicly HIV-positive white man create a family with an orphaned African-American girl? What is a family anyway?" ATTACHMENTS runs July 11-13 at New Conservatory Theater. Call 861-8972.
Making It Up as We Go Along
I usually think of improvisational comedy, but I guess that's because my imagination is limited. True Fiction Magazine presents improvs around the themes of romance, crime, adventure, and horror, July 11-14 at NCT. Call 861-8972 for tix.