During most of the swift, sweet hour that Blue Collar Diaries fills, playwright-performer Michelle Myers Berg beckons to us to step inside her memory and look around. She invites us to study and regard verbal snapshots of a dozen or so people who loomed large in the poor but secure childhood she lived in a downscale neighborhood in St. Paul, Minn.
She recalls tough, rough-tongued, tender-hearted neighbors. She pictures some of her seven siblings and the small house they shared. She speaks lovingly of her nurse mother and her machinist father. He had come through three of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War, physically surviving but emotionally damaged for life. Once home he told no stories of his days as a “forward observer” (otherwise known as a sniper). His marksman trophies stayed hidden away in an attic. His pain turned into silence but not violence.
The assembly of Blue Collar recollections that Berg is performing during the Cincy Fringe is her third foray into the material. Two years ago she presented a somewhat different, 45-minute version at the Minneapolis Fringe. Then she expanded the album to a full-evening version for performances at a small Minneapolis theater. Now she has shrunk it to a rich and thoroughly satisfactory hour.
She knows her people intimately, respects them and loves some of them. All of that knowing and loving and respect radiates from the tiny Media Bridges stage when she slips inside one of the characters and lets him or her speak.
The portraits are carefully crafted. Many are freshly unexpected though never improbable. There’s the church lady who saves souls and dispenses unlikely advice from a tiny radio station in her basement. There’s the ancient Jazz musician who plays trumpet and dispenses quirky wisdom in a neighborhood saloon. And there are cheerleaders offering thoroughly loopy, seriously funny comparisons of cheerleading styles between inner-city public high schools and up-market suburban schools.
Berg is somewhat less effective a performer when speaking the introductory, explanatory dialogue that introduces her characters. Happily there’s little enough of that and much more of her characters speaking from inside themselves.
(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)
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