Production tackles political climate

Martinez News-Gazette Columnist

In The Great American Sh*T Show, Brian Copeland and Charlie Varon are now engaging audiences through meaningful monologues revealing their own deeply disturbing concerns about where America is morally and materially heading today, by combining wisdom and witticism in making Americans Think Again! Their new show, of which I saw a preview work in process this past week, will (I believe) open later this year I will have the firm dates available in my review next week.

Since I have not seen the final and approved version of this collaborated production, I will only state at this time, that this is pure unabashed Brian Copeland, a man who has drawn extensively on his life experiences as a highly regarded Bay Area talk show host, actor, comedian, playwright, and his childhood memories while living in San Leandro, California. He tells the unabashed truth as he has experienced it, regarding relationships between people of color and Caucasians in this country. I’m also quite impressed with Charlie Varon, who like Brian, is incredibly astute, sensitive, and forthright in telling his own personal experiences in this current political climate.

I must say that I cannot and will not present my political opinions or feelings through my writings in this paper because that is not my objective. I can tell you that if you see yourself as a provocateur in or for the political narrative consuming our country today and you are a strong advocate of the POTUS in his verbal staccato resonating off the walls in every bedroom, boardroom and jail cell in America, then you will probably not be a happy camper should you attend this show when it does officially open.

Me personally, I love the show because there is more truth than whimsy, because these two brilliant communicators do not deliver this story in a brown paper protective wrapping. They tell their stories with great heartfelt gusto and passion about what they’ve experienced and where they hope to go because of that experience. Do they step on toes? Yes! Do they break any knees in the process, not likely? But this is not the first time in our country that tribal hostility has pulled people over a painful precipice. We must all learn to walk in other men’s moccasins, as I believe a true original American, non-immigrant, might say. Because until we do, we will never fully understand the full impact of what this show, the Great American Sh*t Show, can possibly mean to us. I strongly urge everyone to go with an open mind and listen before you decry your position and final decision.

California Shakespeare Theater has been the epitome of consistent, powerful, meaningful, and artful theatrical productions in the hills above Orinda. While for many years their productions were primarily Shakespearean in nature, they have been broadening their vision to include other great works that inspire greater love of the arts and history. This past week, as part of their New Classics Initiative they have presented the world’s premier of House of Joy, by Author Madhuri Shekar. What is unique to this action-adventure tale first, is that this fictitious story is based on a very powerful East Indian Empire that truly existed between 322 BCE and 185 BCE, the Maurya Empire. It became the largest political entity to have existed in the East Indian subcontinent at that time, extending over 1.9 million square miles. However, the play is a fictional tale which plays in part upon history in such fashion as to allow us to examine a once extremely powerful nation, its rulers, and it servants in such a way as to make their time period somewhat familiar to and contemporary with our own turbulent times. The characters in this story are forced by impending rebellion to choose how they justify the actions and policies of their ruler, and whether or not they will continue to support an oppressive system.

In the Emperor’s eyes, his Empire is a paradise on earth, which he characterizes as “The House of Joy”. His bodyguards are female who are trained to excel in archery, swordsmanship and military wrestling arts, all for the purpose of protecting their polygamist monarch. The bodyguards in this play include Gulal (Nandita Shenoy), Roshni (Sango Tajima) and Hamida (Emma Van Lare), having been acquired from many regions and countries adjacent to this nearly 2 million square mile wide kingdom, who subsequently reflect an incredible spectrum of cultural and gender identities. The two competing power females in the Emperor’s Harem are his youngest wife, Mariyam ((Rinabeth Apostol), and Noorah (Lipica Shah), his most beloved daughter. Thermometer (Raji Ahsan) is the doctor assigned to treat the harem women. Of course, in this male dominant pleasure palace, we also find Salima (Rotimi Agbabiaka), a castrated concubine cop (or eunuch) who is dedicated to protecting the ladies from extracurricular male observers. Demonstrating disdain for her emperor overlord and his self-serving need for gratification, the young wife, Mariyam, rebels against “the good life” in the harem, and her life in Paradise! The question must now be asked, is the rebellious Mariyam becoming a beacon of hope to her culture, and will she succeed?

This beautifully decorated, wonderfully orchestrated, and superbly acted production continues Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM with Sunday matinees at 4 PM (and one Saturday matinee on July 20 at 2 PM) now through September 1. Set designer Lawrence E. Moten III and costume designer Oana Botez must be recognized for their design excellence in this production. A café and a full bar are available on site. The theater is located in the Bruns Amphitheater at 100 California Shakespeare Way, Orinda, CA 94563. (Just off Highway 24 at the California Shakespeare theater way/Wilder Road exit, 1 mile east of the Caldecott tunnel.) Tickets range in price are now between $20 and $94, depending on the night of the performance and seating, and are available through the California Shakespeare theater box office, at 701 Hines Ave., Berkeley, CA, by telephone at 510-548-9666 or available online at

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