Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Out of Character
Also see Patrick's recent review of A Chorus Line
As the show opens (on a gorgeous, simple set by Afsoon Pajoufar), it's Tonys night and Ari'el is overwhelmed by the attention he receives as a winner. He retreats to the men's room over and over again, trying to escape the anxiety attack his victory has brought on.
Later in the show we will learn how the Tony changed his life (addictions, easier access to sexual hookups, recriminations from fellow Middle Eastern actors who are peeved a Jew is playing an Egyptian Muslim), but first Ari'el will take us back in time to his first visit with the psychiatrist who diagnoses his OCD and asks him to give a name to the voice inside his head that tells him to tap the table nine times or walk backwards across the street or not to eat when disabled people can see him. He chooses "Meredith," the villain from the Lindsay Lohan film, The Parent Trap.
Meredith controls Ari's life. No matter how hard he tries, or what meds he takes, he can't shake Meredith's voice; she's an ever-present harridan, demanding one bizarre adaptation or tic after another. As you can imagine, this would be a challenge for anyone, but especially for a young boy who doesn't fit in at his lily-white school in Orinda. And things get worse after 9/11, when Ari and the rest of the kids at school notice just how much he looks like the Saudi terrorists.
Regularly switching schools, Ari isn't looking so much for a place where he fits in, but transforms himself, changing his clothes, his hair, and his attitude in order to adapt to new surroundings. When he enters Berkeley High as a freshman, he even pretends to be half-Black. It will take many years before Ari finally embraces his heritage. In one very funny scene, he travels to Uganda, where he is shocked when a local woman he meets calls him "white." Even when he asks a man of Nordic descent to stand next to him to illustrate the difference in their skin tones, she says they both look "mzungu" (white-skinned) to her. In drama school at NYU, one of his professors tells Ari "it's unbelievable what burdens the world puts on us for being us."
One of the challenges with solo shows is that they are often too static. Like Spalding Gray sitting at a desk for the near entirety of Swimming to Cambodia, many monologists will stay rooted to one spot on stage. Not Ari'el Stachel–he is a dynamo of energy: running, jumping, shooting a basketball, or miming pulling paper towels from a bathroom dispenser to wipe the sweat from his brow (flop sweat being among the worst of his OCD symptoms). Just as he moved from school to school, Ari is almost never still. He probably expends as many calories (and drips as much sweat) as the entire two-dozen cast members of A Chorus Line do.
Stachel and director Taccone collaborated for four years on the development of Out of Character, and the result is a thrilling ride through the challenges of identity, race, ambition and self-discovery.
Out of Character runs through July 30, 2023, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Peet's Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA. Shows are Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m., Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., with matinees Saturdays and Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. There is also a 1:00 p.m. matinee on July 6. Tickets are $39-$119, with discounts available for students, seniors, and groups. For tickets and information, please visit www.berkeleyrep.org, or call 510-647-2949.