Kornbluth entertains again in 'Sea of Reeds' 

click to enlarge From left, Olive Mitra, Jonathan Kepke, Josh Kornbluth, Eli Wirtschafter, Amy Resnick and El Beh appear in "Sea of Reeds." - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • From left, Olive Mitra, Jonathan Kepke, Josh Kornbluth, Eli Wirtschafter, Amy Resnick and El Beh appear in "Sea of Reeds."

Apparently the correct translation for Red Sea— that body of water that, according to the Bible, parted so the Jewish slaves could escape Egypt — is actually Reed Sea.

So says Berkeley monologist, red-diaper baby and now-52-year-old bar mitzvah boy Josh Kornbluth in his latest piece, "Sea of Reeds," at Ashby Stage in Berkeley.

The ways in which Kornbluth connects that little-known fact to the various threads and strands that have led him from his frightened 5-year-old self to this time and place in his life are often ingenious.

In "Sea of Reeds," Kornbluth's thoughtful and humorously self-deprecating examination of his own struggle to grow up, emotionally and spiritually, is partly represented by his longtime efforts to master the playing of the double-reed oboe— an instrument, he jokes, that's neurotic, unstable and flaky, just like he is.

The oboe, he explains, demands that the serious musician craft his own reeds by hand. Which he proceeds to do in the course of the 100-minute show, as he gathers his courage to perform a difficult Bach cantata.

Along the way, he braids in stories of life with his atheist, communist parents (one Christmas story is familiar from a past show), of learning to play the oboe at summer camp, of the particular — and particularly loathsome — text he was required to recite and explicate during his recent bar mitzvah in Jerusalem, and others, including the Exodus story itself.

Images of water and reeds illuminate his tales in metaphorical ways.

"Sea of Reeds," gracefully helmed by the performer's longtime director of choice, David Dower, is Kornbluth's first go at sharing the stage, and he's chosen wisely.

The gifted, although underused, Amy Resnick introduces Kornbluth (claiming she's his personal trainer), and, in the stories that he re-enacts, she steps in to play several roles, including a rabbi-mentor, the camp music teacher, even God.

And an onstage musical ensemble — Jonathan Kepke, music director Olive Mitra and Eli Wirtschafter, with golden-voiced El Beh on the cello — play relevant folk songs plus original music by Marco d'Ambrosio.

As in his previous half-dozen or so pieces — from "Red Diaper Baby" to "Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?" — Kornbluth is a comic, intelligent presence onstage.

If "Sea of Reeds" is a bit less tightly knit than his previous pieces, a bit more meandering, its stories, themes and images ultimately coalesce and reverberate in wonderful ways.


Sea of Reeds

Presented by Shotgun Players and Jonathan Reinis Productions

Where: Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 18

Tickets: $20 to $35

Contact: (510) 841-6500, www.shotgunplayers.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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