Joan Mankin's 'Counter Attack' offers service with a smile 

click to enlarge Works hard for the money: Stagebridge’s new show, opening Friday on the Ashby Stage, is about a waitress who has been serving the same customers for decades. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Works hard for the money: Stagebridge’s new show, opening Friday on the Ashby Stage, is about a waitress who has been serving the same customers for decades.

The description of “hardest-working performer in showbiz” is widely used, but in the case of Joan Mankin, it really is apt.

Last year, she appeared on more than a half-dozen stages all around the Bay Area, running the gamut from modern comedy to Shakespeare. On Friday, she opens a monthlong run of “Counter Attack” for Stagebridge.

The play is adapted by Joan Holden from “Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress,” by Candacy Taylor, and is being directed by Sharon Lockwood.

“It was interviews with waitresses in diners all over the country” Mankin says. “It was people who’d been doing it for as much as 40 years. There were a couple of waitresses in their 80s and they were still working, and still alive and cogent and together because they kept working.”

Mankin plays the central character, Marlene, who has been serving the same group of customers for decades. While Mankin is not in her 80s, there are interesting parallels between her life and the role  because she works continually, a rarity for an actor in the Bay Area, and has been performing here since the 1970s, when she started with the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

“Acting is just so much a part of who I am right now,” Mankin says. “There are parts of me that come out in acting that don’t come out in any other situation in my life. Now my body is so used to it, and my mind, that if I don’t get to act for several months, I kind of pull back into the strange place.”

She considers herself a character actor and she often plays more than one role in a show, so this play is a bit of a change for her. “She is quite a character,” Mankin jokes about Marlene, “but in many of the other shows that I do I’m playing a character who adds to a story that is someone else’s story.” This time Mankin plays the show’s anchor.

Stagebridge is self-described as “the nation’s oldest senior theater company,” and no, that’s not a typo or a joke. They offer a wide range of arts classes and projects for aging adults.

“I love the people from Stagebridge,” Mankin says. “I know a lot of [the people in ‘Counter Attack’] from the first play I did there. This plot about them coming into the restaurant and me talking to them and me being part friend, part adviser is how I feel about a lot of them. So, it makes it very real for me.”


Counter Attack  

Presented by Stagebridge

Where: Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley
When: Opens Friday; 7:30 p.m. most Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes March 4
Tickets: $18 to $25
Contact: (510) 444-4755 or

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
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