Play This Jukebox

Part storytelling, part improv, part acoustic concert and all entertainment, Impact Theatre?s highly original [tag]Jukebox Stories[/tag] features a talented pair of artists who draw inspiration from their own lives. Their wit and candor results in the dynamic world premiere production now playing at La Val?s Subterranean Theatre in Berkeley.

Comic monologist Prince Gomolvilas and soulfully sardonic songwriter Brandon Patton casually inhabit a bohemian underground ?pad? in the bowels of La Val?s Pizza. The intimate space is perfect for the deeply personal stories and innovative construction of the piece. While some vignettes are performed every night, the rest of the evening is left to members of the audience who draw titles from a box. Alternating between songs and stories, those titles become the show, making the experience unique every time.

Prince (after sharing the oh-so-intimate theatrical evening, it seems fitting to use first names) spins culturally infused yarns that offer insight into his Asian-American heritage, sexuality, and socio-political consciousness. Pieces like ?What My Sister?s Breast Implants Have to Do With Golf? and ?Guilty as Hell? bring plenty of laughs, but the humor is coupled with keen observation of human foibles. Prince?s comfortably tattered jeans and button-down shirt paint an understated picture belying his compelling charisma and intelligence.

An equally gifted storyteller is Brandon (with him, too, it seems right to use the familiar). Ably utilizing his guitar and a knack for catchy choruses, the grungy poet ranges from self-effacing humor (?Help Me Get Paid to Talk About Myself?) to poignant social commentary (?What?s The Worst That Could Happen?). The singer/songwriter uses not only lyrics but a range of musical styles to complement his stories, drawing on country and folk influences as well as modern rock. The audience quickly sings along as Brandon urges them to join him on the journey.

It?s hard to tell if director Kent Nicholson guided this talented duo to such a wonderfully kinetic, organic, and one-of-a-kind performance, or if he was just brilliant enough to leave them alone to play. Either way, Nicholson deserves high praise. His collaboration with Prince and Brandon draws a young crowd, so some of the subject matter for 20-something audiences ventures to an R rating.

Just one small quibble with Jukebox Stories: these young performers speak almost entirely in first person. It would be amazing to see what they could do stepping into the shoes of the characters that people their tales and lives. They are painted so vividly, it?s hard not to long for more.

One such character in Prince?s stories is the village elder who says, ?I will be your jukebox,? before sacrificing his earthly being to illuminate the spirit of his people with music. Something similar happens with Jukebox Stories in a unique combination of ways on any given night. Sort of like a jukebox full of great tunes with the numbers all jumbled. You?re not sure what you?re going to hear, but you know it?ll be good. For tickets or info on Jukebox Stories, playing through December 13, visit www.impacttheatre.com or call 510-464-4468.

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