Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Fortunately for Corey Fischer and for his many fans accumulated over forty-five years in theatre (including the thirty-four spent with Traveling Jewish Theatre which he co-founded), that terrifying loss was short-lived. However, that episode and a subsequent surge of electrical charge in the brain that left him in a seizure on his bedroom floor led him to begin exploring on his guitar songs about forgetting, remembering, and (in his words) being "a newly old man" at 71. Two years later and after collaboration from his TJJ co-founder Naomi Newman, the result is his one-man, theatre-music show premiering at The Marsh with a title that describes that seizure-initiating surge, Lightning in the Brain.
In a half-speaking, half-singing voice that is often grainy, wavering, and well-worn in sound, he begins to walk through a life of stored memories, ticking them off in a manner as if to prove there are still many that are accessible when he puts his mind to it. With big hands and long arms extended, the tall, lean troubadour sings, "Traveling with ghosts on the road trip of the past, I've learned the stories are my only map." We hear of Great Grandma Sally dressed in black playing Solitaire, Grandma Ceel on hands and knees in her garden pulling weeds, and Aunt Adeline in North Hollywood who introduced him on her handmade record player to Theodore Bikel's first recording and to Danny Kaye's crazy song about Russian composers.
Music is not only the medium Mr. Fisher chooses to unwrap his memories for us, it clearly is core to his whole being. Learning the "magical language of song" from summers spent with the likes of Pete Seeger, he sings/speaks, "The river of music runs deep in my soul ... sometimes it dries up and sometimes it flows." When visiting the South at one point and expecting the worst from the Jim Crow territories, he discovers a lot that he actually likes in the people and music he encounters. As he half raps, half sings, "I learned some blues from the Delta
For sixty minutes, Corey Fisher runs through the resume of his life, time-jumping and often announcing a year and something that happened that year (perhaps proving to us as well as himself that he can still recite details and dates together). He covers a lot of surface but rarely pauses long enough to expound beyond one or two sentences at any one stop. The people he introduces we actually do not get much chance to meet or to know. Life events are often just rattled off with little to no exposé on life impact or learning. ("That year my first grandchild arrived, and now we have six." So?)
When spending time as a young man in New York, Mr. Fischer says it was like "walking through layers of history that were sliced as thin as pastrami." While Lightning in the Brain is a pleasant, harmless hour of hearing this delightful man of the arts run through some life highlights, maybe he has sliced the history too fine to make the evening as meaningful and memorable as it might have been otherwise.
Lightning in the Brain continues July 9, 2016, Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 5 p.m. at The Marsh, San Francisco, main stage, 1062 Valencia Street. Tickets are available at themarsh.org or by calling 415-282-3055 Monday - Friday, 1 - 4 p.m.