Review: ‘Toke’ lights up Berkeley
It’s an ambitious undertaking, with the two-act play even taking us to the Garden of Eden — a place that, on this evening, felt quite Barbarella.
Produced by Michelle Sinhbandith
An “adult romp” is right: Sister Pat N Leather (aka the Pot Fairy); a chiseled actor in skimpy underwear striking poses as Arnold Schwarzenegger; and a love story between Woody and Weedee. Welcome to Friday night theater in Berkeley!
Where else but the Ashby Stage could a play like Toke, an epic celebration of all things Mary Jane, premiere so successfully?
It was the kind of evening out I revere; there is possibly nothing more satisfying than witnessing a vibrant, new work come to life before your very eyes, without the assistance of big marketing budgets, or lavish VIP soirees. Dare I suggest that this is a grass roots movement worth latching onto.
“If you roll them, they will come.”
Playwright Deedee Kirkwood weaves a semi-autobiographical tale into a frenzied curiosity that explores pot culture, post Vietnam trauma, and German anarchist collective bong fests. It’s an ambitious undertaking, with the two-act play even taking us to the Garden of Eden — a place that, on this evening, felt quite Barbarella.
Weedee (Tenaya Hurst), the proverbial All American 50s Mom, is at the center of the journey. The one constant in her life is hemp (“everything is better when smoking pot”), and she’ll do anything, including using towels in the yard as camouflage, for a trip. It’s love at first toke when she meets Woody (Jake Vincent) at a drive-in. Time and space, though, challenge their relationship. The ride gets pretty wild and furious with stops at a health clinic, sorority house, a country commune in Germany, Vietnam, Afghanistan, a supermarket, and, of course, a polyamory workshop. It’s enough to make your head spin, what with all the slick costume changes, accents.
“Loving two people is a condition, not a decision.”
Acting is top-notch, driven by a strong lead performance by Tenaya Hurst (a Geo-anthropactress). At times she channels Reese Witherspoon with her starry-eyed ambition — just substitute the legal papers with rolling papers. Jake Vincent, who we’ve seen over the years in other impressive roles (Speed-the-Plow at Pear comes to mind) is again spot on; his timing — not rushing lines — and apparent on-stage comfort help anchor some of the craziness. The supporting cast brings plenty of energy to roles that require numerous costume changes. Kelly Sanchez, in particular, is a stand-out, applying just the right amount of camp. If I were casting a Re-animator remake I’d know where to start.
Obviously there is a strong point of view here. So the inevitable, celebratory march to Hempfest 2000 is all but assured. As one more familiar with espresso, Diet Coke, and wine, there were no doubt several in-jokes and references lost on this tenderfoot. Still, you don’t need to be a Jack Herer historian or total counter-culture radical to enjoy such a well-staged production… just be sure to bring a Berkeley state of mind.
San Francisco has Beach Blanket Babylon, and Berkeley has Toke. It may not be a pure apples-to-apples comparison, but both are thoroughly entertaining, grin-inducing, and unforgettable experiences.
By Deedee Kirkwood
Produced by Michelle Sinhbandith
Directed by Patricia Miller
3.5 out of 5 stars (Good)
Starring Mark Curtis Ferrando, Tenaya Hurst, Paul Jennings, Jennifer Marie Kosta, Sister Pat N Leather (Victor Rivera), Pamela Rosin, Kelly Sanchez, Jake Vincent, Maria G. Castro, Carol Queen Bio
Swirl Media Group, Berkeley Patients Group
Ashby Stage, Berkeley
Through September 11, 2011
2 hours, one 15 minute intermission
STARK ME UP
- Grand vision? The late Jack Herer — “Father of the Hemp Movement” — believed that cannabis (if completely legalized and commercialized) would prove to be the means of saving the planet from acid rain, global warming and the depletion of our precious forests and fossil fuels.
- Creative press kit – In addition to a beautiful Toke poster, it also contained “TOKE the SOAP” – Maui Wowie!
- Ashby Stage blazes a trail – Producer Michelle Sinhbandith told the audience that the theater has three restrooms: male, female and “gender neutral.” Further, we learn, it’s the first in Berkeley to be green (in more than one sense of the word!) thanks to a solar panel system.
- And it gets better… This is the first time I can ever recall being offered lumbar support at a theater. Small pillows are available from a basket next to the entrance, and provide additional comfort in a venue that has excellent sight lines courtesy of the steep seating arrangement.
- Killer wrong turn – Watch that 80 split, if you’re coming up 880 North to Berkeley. For years since we’ve begun covering theater on Stark Insider I’ve made the trip countless times with Droid the trusty navigator. It’s taken us to Berkeley Repertory Theater, Aurora Theater, Impact Theater and others in our quest for all things stage. This time, for some reason, I had the smartphone on mute, and I was busy probably trying to sing Ring of Fire (again). So I accidentally took 80 West towards San Francisco instead of veering right (East) at the split. Bad News Bears! This is not a wrong turn you can correct one or two exits later. This one takes you on to the road to hell, otherwise known as the Bay Bridge. There is no turning back, until after you pay the $4 toll, sit in traffic, and make a u-turn miles later on Treasure Island. This all about 5 minutes before the start of the show. Good thing Toke was running late (relax, man!) and we miraculously made it in time for the opening.