Creature From the Marsh
I am more than a little embarrassed to admit that in the five years I've been writing about theater in the Bay Area, I've never seen Josh Kornbluth perform. My motives were pure, I thought. I had formed the opinion (without any actual knowledge — what can I say, it's a gift) that Kornbluth's performance style was overtly hostile, loaded with crass vulgarity and heavy-handed misogyny. Why, I asked myself, should I volunteer for that?
I was saved from my grossly uninformed opinion at the party Theater Bay Area threw last week to celebrate its first 20 years. Amid lots of reasons for its being a grand affair (wonderful guests, good food, elegant speechifying, and great performances), there was, surely you've guessed by now, Kornbluth, performing an all too brief story of his Communist Christmas. It's days later, and I'm still laughing every time that I remember a line or a moment. But was this typical Kornbluth? I decided to investigate.
Stephanie Weisman is the chief-in-charge at the Marsh, where Kornbluth developed and premiered Red Diaper Baby and The Mathematics of Change. His latest, Pumping Copy, is being presented as a workshop through Nov. 10. “This is the first time,” Weisman says, “that a show has been workshopped in the Marsh's prime time, and it's a fascinating opportunity for the audience.” Unlike other actors who write first and then fine-tune in performance, “Josh doesn't work from a script. He develops the work onstage, finding the show and its structure as he works before an audience.” And that audience is in for the extraordinary experience of seeing the act and the effort of creation. “You may see stories that won't make it into the final show, but are hysterically funny,” Weisman says. Although Pumping Copy is based in autobiography, Kornbluth never loses sight of his obligation to the audience. “The work is often deeply personal and highly emotional but always theatrical,” Weisman explains. After the workshop period ends, Pumping Copy will open on Nov. 11 as a completed work.
Lots more than Josh Kornbluth is going on at the Marsh. In addition to the Monday Night Marsh (works in progress by a variety of artists), there is a Tuesday night sing-along, a chance for anyone with the performing itch to get onstage and “sing out, Louise.” And you can take home a professionally produced audiotape from the Live From the Marsh series, the first of which is Rush Limbaugh in Night School. What impresses me most about Weisman and the Marsh is her recognition that the audience is as important a contributor to the creative process as the performer. In providing a place for artist and audience to interact, the Marsh lives up to its promise to be a breeding ground for new performance.
By Deborah Peifer