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SD Fringe: Red, White, and Blacklisted

  • RAW Space, 921 First Avenue, downtown
  • $5 - $10

Ever hear of the Weavers? No? Well for over a decade the government wanted to keep it that way.

The Weavers were a folk music group long before it became popular. They composed and sang songs “of labor and the American people.” They supported the unions and being anti-the-one-percent, they preached economic elevation of the poor.

The HUAC tribunal labeled them commie subversives, banned their music. Even though their original informer, Harvey Matusow, later recanted, they had to break up in 1952. They became exiles on Main Street.

Lee Hays co-founded (and named) the Weavers in 1948. The other members: Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman, and Pete Seeger.

Legend has it that while Hays and Seeger were at a political rally, they passed a notebook between them and wrote the iconic “If I Had a Hammer.”

They also popularized Zilphia Horton’s “We Shall Overcome” [you might want to Google her; she was a genuine source].

Kent Brisby may be one of San Diego theater’s least-known icons. He directed breakthrough productions at the old Marquis Public Theater in the early 80s. Currently the writer/director for Great Bear Productions, he served as Artistic Associate for Teatro Máscara Magica, and artistic director of Asian Story Theater.

Though he’s written several plays, among them The Musical Paul Gaugin and Salon (which is part of the SD Playwrights/Actors Alliance’s Breaking Waves #2 entry), and directed many, he rarely appears on stage. What he does as Lee Hays will make you ask "why?"

Hays sang bass for the Weavers. Brisby’s bass resonates through the RAW space as if from the bell of a tuba.

With his gray hair slicked back, and now-gentle, now-curmudgeonly demeanor, he looks and acts like Hays (and, as t’were, imbibes “artificial stimulants” like him as well).

Though there are times when the backstory feels a bit excessive (most of the biographical entries at the Fringe have this problem: undramatic swaths of exposition drag momentum down, especially in the late innings), Brisby’s a natural storyteller, engaging, personal, and always in character.

The bad news: Blacklisted has only one performance left (though Salon has several).

The good news: maybe people could, um, encourage Brisby to remount it here soon?

More good news: the RAW space is a makeshift marvel. It looks a bit like Peter Brook’s Les Bouffes du Nord theater in France. Paint peels from the walls and the 30-plus foot ceiling. Bleacher seats can accommodate maybe 100. The acoustics are vibrant.

Maybe people could, um, encourage the Spreckels to keep it going after the festival? For, like, many years, maybe?

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