“Between Us” Forges New Paths, at TheatreFIRST, Berkeley

“Between Us” Forges New Paths, at TheatreFIRST, Berkeley

Viñas, Sakata, Tracys’ Heroes Inspire

by Robert M. Gardner

TheatreFIRST steps out boldly in its premier production of “Between Us,” Part B–with three solo plays by Bay Area artists. Part B forcefully tells the stories of three neglected U.S. historical figures. These remarkable politically charged works question U.S. imperial politics, and sound the alert.

In “La Profesora: The Story of Nibia Sabalsagaray,” written and directed by Noelle Viñas, we learn about the United States’ covert CIA Project Condor in Uruguay. Virginia Blanco portrays Nibia, the revolutionary, and her sister La Profesora Tachi, bringing both to life, emphatically.

Virginia Blanco as Tachi in “La Profesora”  All Photos by Cheshire Isaacs

Tachi delivers the lecture that gets her fired, one last time. We learn the lurid details of the torture and murder of rebels, tearing the mask off Uruguay under thumb of the CIA.

Focusing poignantly on the tragic case of Nibia, Viñas leaves us wondering how many Nibias have been lost in the depths of time–and under U.S. covert interference.

In “Turning the Page: The Story of Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga,” Jeanne Sakata recounts the despicable forced removal of Japanese-Americans to so-called “relocation camps” in the 40s. Under the direction of Jeffrey Lo, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinga (emotional Heidi Kobara) rends our hearts with her vivid memories of being transported to the desert. The Japanese-Americans were actually deprived of their rights and property simply because of their heritage.

Heidi Kobara as Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga in “Turning the Page”

Amid horrible conditions in the camps, Aiko’s family suffers from the dust that permeates their shabby shelters. Playwright Sakata highlights the links between the 1940s Japanese internment and current American xenophobia.

In “The Racket: The Story of Smedley Butler,” by James and Jon Tracy, directed by Robert Parsons, we see historic photos illustrating the U.S. invasion of Nicaragua in the 1920s—on behalf of the United Fruit Company. Powerful U.S. Army Major Smedley Butler (dynamic Aaron Murphy), reveals the chilling facts of his career. Butler, an acknowledged war hero, in fact, became an outspoken critic of America’s overseas wars on behalf of U.S. corporations!

In his book War Is a Racket, Butler reveals: “I served in all commissioned ranks from second lieutenant to Major General. During that period, I spent most of  my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers.” Butler exposes the U.S. military’s unholy alliance with Big Money. “In war,” he explains, “the profits are reckoned in dollars, the losses in lives.”

Major General Smedley Butler served in in China, Latin America, the Philippines, and WWI–he knows what he’s talking about. Like all the “Between Us” plays, “The Racket” offers us a unique awakening to U.S. racism and corporate greed. These plays tell us what we need to know.


“Between Us” by TheatreFIRST, Artistic Facilitator Jon Tracy, at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California 94709, through Saturday, March 10, 2018. Info: liveoaktheater.org

Program B:
“La Profesora” written & directed by Noelle Viñas
“Turning the Page”
by Jeanne Sakata, directed by Jeffrey Lo
“The Racket” by James Tracy and Jon Tracy, directed by Robert Parsons

Casts: Virginia Blanco (Tashi), Heidi Kobara (Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga), Aaron Murphy (Smedley Darlington Butler).

Program A:
“Laveau” by Brit Frazier, directed by Margo Hall
“Pussy Hat” by Katie May, directed by Phoebe Moyer
“Seven Fingers” written & directed by Jeffrey Lo
“Just One Day” by Cleavon Smith, directed by Elizabeth Carter

Casts: Dezi Solèy (Marie Laveau), Mike Sagun (Larry Itliong), Jennie Brick (Sharon), Sam Jackson (Esther).

Banner Photo: Aaron Murphy as Smedley Butler in “The Racket.”

Theatrius review of “Between Us”–Part A: theatrefirst-berkeley/

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