‘Times Unseen’ captures perspectives on life, politics

David Ford
David Ford/Courtesy

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Talking about one’s past can be both daunting and personal. But the performers in “Times Unseen” make it seem easy, bringing raw emotion into the spotlight as they tell their own touching tales on the stage of The Marsh in Berkeley.

The “Times Unseen” series is a one-person-at-a-time show that brings new performances to the table with each monthly group, featuring a buffet of storytellers talking about their experiences as observant individuals of politics and social stigmas throughout the past century.

Directed by David Ford, the June 4 presentation was more of a series of four women’s personal monologues than one singular narrative. There was no elaborate stage with action-packed scenes and a full cast. Instead, there were intimate conversations between the small audience of roughly 10 people and each woman on stage sharing her story.

The perspectives of these women were powerful, emotional and real as each woman commanded her audience’s attention onstage with the sheer inflection of her voice. Every woman who performed was from an older generation, and as a result, not every joke or reference appealed to younger audience members. The June show would have benefited, therefore, from presenting a younger woman’s perspective, which the Aug. 2 performance promises to do. Nevertheless, the show provided impactful messages for people of all ages.

The first performer on June 4 was Harriet Patterson, sharing her piece, “Unfriending Texas.” The skit presents an interview between Patterson and her friend from high school, Greg, who now lives in Texas. Patterson plays both roles, utilizing a spot-on Texan accent to voice Greg, who struggles with being fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

While the play is not without its serious aspects, Patterson spurs much laughter from the audience. She jokes about the character’s incessant Facebook arguments, pointing out how social media increases the political polarization of society.

Annette Roman also voices her political concerns in “Inauguration Vacation,” in which she attends a March for Our Lives protest and comments on gun wielding in the Bay Area. Roman joins a group of adolescents at a booth advocating for the First Amendment, yielding onstage her own homemade sign that she actually carried during the protest. The performance opens up conversations about how political views evolve as people age and experience the world differently.

Roman vulnerably evaluates many of her own personal conflicts about not being “progressive enough,” constantly asking herself, “Am I getting old?” with her hands pressed against her cheeks. Roman’s intensity and confliction were perceivable by any member of the audience.

“The Happiest White Lady in the Whole Wide World” by Pearl Louise explores what it’s like to be a Black woman in a white world. Louise dreamily recounts her childhood experience of watching Julie Andrews prance across the silver screen in “The Sound of Music,” making audience members feel the childlike spirit underneath her tough exterior through her storytelling.

When Louise watched, she thought, “This is wonderful white lady happiness” — she spent the rest of her life wishing she could have it. Real life struck her not too long after, and she used this experience to impart her wisdom onto her newly graduated daughter, whom she addresses throughout. Louise gave the most heartfelt performance of the night, ensuring that the production remained intersectional through providing her perspective as a Black woman.

Lastly, Linda Joy performed “On the Brink,” which comments on the stigma surrounding living in subsidized senior housing. Joy learns firsthand the negative connotations that affect people living in these developments, who are seen as impoverished and often encounter gentrifying individuals who try to fix up their lives.

Joy’s performance was engaging and entertaining, using minimal props and small wardrobe changes to its advantage. While her message is less relatable to millennial audiences, it presents a lesser-heard viewpoint, one drastically needed in the midst of the Bay Area’s housing crisis.  

As the stories were geared more toward a baby-boomer audience, many of the messages and references seemed to go over the heads of college students sitting in the crowd. Regardless, people of all ages who appreciate the voices of strong, outspoken people will appreciate this show for its stripped-down showcase of these moving storytellers.

The next “Times Unseen” project will be held Aug. 2 at The Marsh in Berkeley.

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that all performers in “Times Unseen” are women. In fact, “Times Unseen” hosts perspectives from people of all genders.