Originally published at www.theatrius.com
In “Out of Character,” Ari’el Stachel, 2018 Tony Award winner, pulls out all the stops. He unfolds his life as an actor in a dynamic, 90-minute memoir using creative stories, song, and dance.
The 9/11 catastrophic event precipitated a major shift in Stachel’s life. Born half-Yemeni Israeli and half-Ashkenazi Jew in Berkeley, his father jokingly calls himself Bin Laden, heightening his son’s sensitivities about his middle eastern identity.
Fearful of being teased as a “terrorist,” Stachel changes schools and adopts personas of different cultures, displaying his versatility as an actor. In one of his funniest scenes, Stachel imagines himself as Black and as Shaquille O’Neal playing pro basketball. He slips into the roles of a Hip-Hop dancer, an Asian, and a White person—all with the dexterity of Gumby.
Yet, Stachel falls into cultural stereotypes during his sketches. In Uganda, a Black friend exclaims that Stachel is White. He balks at the insinuation. He later asserts that we suffer “the burden the world puts on us for being us.”
The actor points at cultural stereotypes as a basis for his heavy burden. The struggle to find his identity as a Jew stretches over many years, many identities, and culminates with what it means to be mixed race in America.
America’s so-called “melting pot” of cultures, races, and religions did not prevent George Floyd’s murder or the attacks on Asian Americans. Can mixed race people ever find a sense of belonging in America?
At times the message becomes confused with his intertwined artistic accomplishments and the challenges facing a person uncertain of his identity. In addition to his cultural woes, Stachel is diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). His obsessive thoughts shout orders at him though a venomous, dominatrix-like, female inner voice named “Meredith.”
He is seized by an unbridled compulsion to escape to wash his hands. He confesses that stress makes him sweat profusely, motivating these bathroom runs. The anxiety consumes him throughout the show.
Stachel’s turnstile of personas morphs effortlessly in and out of characters, but they are of no comfort to him. Domineering “Meredith” promises that lava will consume him and destroy the world if he does not obey her every demand. Although the confrontation is entertaining, the resolution of his relationship with Meredith is underdeveloped, and the ending feels contrived.
Skillful Sound Designer Madeleine Oldham creates Meredith’s booming voice and exceptional environmental sounds. Listen for the ominous, swiping sounds of paper towels from a dispenser.
Scenic Designer Afsoon Pajoufar’s bare stage highlights a background of bold geometric shapes. Lighting Designer Alexander V. Nichols’ fluctuating floor and wall colors enhance the moods of Stachel’s journeys.
“Out of Character” is masterfully delivered under the sharp eye and expert direction of Tony Taccone. We feel Stachel’s anxiety as he strives to better understand his cultural identity. His personal anxiety collides with feelings of belonging in America, a conflict shared by many immigrants.
Come see Stachel’s diverse talents, incisive message, and ability to keep a 90-minute solo show vibrant. The acclaimed actor certainly captivates his audience.
“Out of Character” —written & performed by Ari’el Stachel, directed by Tony Taccone, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Info: BerkeleyRep.org – to July 29, 2023.
Cast: Ari’el Stachel
Photo by Kevin Berne