In 2006, Impact Theatre debuted the very first edition of “Jukebox Stories” — a two-man show featuring stories and songs performed and written by playwright Prince Gomolvilas and singer-songwriter Brandon Patton, respectively. What began as an experiment in the basement theatre underneath La Val’s Pizza, which Impact calls home, is today a critically-acclaimed theatrical spectacle which has been performed on stages all over the United States.
This month welcomes the arrival of the third installment of “Jukebox Stories,” cleverly titled “The Secrets of Forking,” which premiered on the Impact stage this past weekend. Unlike the previous two, this version incorporates the audience through fortune-telling rather than audience-interactive games. This time around, Gomolvilas and Patton are not merely performers but tarot-card-slash-mind-reading extraordinaires.
Tucked beneath the modern-day pizzeria is a theatrical space decorated with Chinese calligraphy wall art, Maneki-neko cat figurines and Asian lanterns — they evoke a feng shui ambiance as if one has just set foot into a dingy fortune-teller’s cave in Chinatown.
Throughout the course of the performance, Gomolvilas and Patton allow audience members to draw tarot cards from a deck. Each of these corresponds to a particular song or story, as well as an audience member, all of whom are given tarot cards when they first enter the theatre. Not only do these cards dictate the content of the show, they also allow for audience members to be entered in prize drawings. All in all, “Jukebox Stories” is entirely audience-based, creating a theatrical experience like no other.
Gomolvilas performs soliloquies of sorts that tell stories based on the events and interactions he’s experienced throughout his life. These stories range from the time he spent mistaken as an expert in Eastern European cinema to his first and last semi-professional ghost-hunting experience. While some stories resonate in humor and cleverness more so than others, Gomolvilas executes each with character and charm.
One of Gomolvilas’s most memorable rants chosen for the opening night performance was one in which he narrates and provides commentary on (in a hilarious Rifftrax fashion) a music video titled “Get Down” by ’90s Canadian boy band B44. ’90s. Canadian. Boy. Band. Enough said.
In between the spoken stories, Patton plays the guitar and sings songs he wrote himself, also based on his past experiences. Think Flight of the Conchords with a more personal touch. The musical repertoire ranges as extensively in topical variety as Prince’s monologues. One song tells of Patton’s tumultuous upbringing with cheating parents and even touches briefly on his grandmother’s vagina (“Mixed Up Modern Family”). Another, titled “The List: 5 Celebs You’d Sleep With,” is an online forum thread set to music. The list goes on.
Rarely is there a dull moment in the show, as there’s simply too much variety. If you grow tired of Gomolvilas’ voice, no worries, because a musical serenade from Patton is sure to follow. The two differ completely in character and bring separate forms of performance art to the table but manage to balance each other out perfectly. It is this harmonized dichotomy that gives “Jukebox Stories” its individuality and makes the show one of such high caliber. So hats off to both of you, Prince Gomolvilas and Brandon Patton, for crafting a fantastically sublime theatrical experience.
“Jukebox Stories: The Secrets of Forking” will be playing at Berkeley’s very own Impact Theater from Thursdays to Sundays every week up until June 9. Songs will be sung, stories will be told and fortunes will be read.
Contact Michelle Lin at [email protected].