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Local theater vet Corey Fischer tells life story in ‘Lightning’

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Corey Fischer’s solo show “Lightning in the Brain” is onstage at The Marsh. (Courtesy Ken Friedman)

“The thing is,” begins writer-performer Corey Fischer in his new solo show at The Marsh, “Lightning in the Brain,” “I woke up a few months ago and my memory was gone.”

It’s not just that: he also recently suffered a couple of seizures that left him feeling strangely empty.

Fischer, a longtime staple of the local theater scene — and one of the three founders of the late, lamented Traveling Jewish Theatre — is a ferocious and powerful actor: tall and imposing of stature, with a resonant voice, a skilled physicality and a gift for creating complex characters.

This time, he himself, at 71, is the character.

For better and for worse, he takes on the challenge of examining the twin conundrums of aging and memory loss by way of a non-linear journey through his own life.

Along the way, he stitches together the various segments with poignant original songs (accompanied by a recorded score; arrangements by Ross Gualco and John Hoy), some in Leonard Cohenesque style.

So we learn a little bit about his background: his grandmothers and parents; studying Yiddish and starting TJT in the mid-70s with Albert Greenberg and Naomi Newman (the latter is the director of this piece), scuba diving at 53 and much more.

In one especially yearning melody, he sings, in Yiddish and English, “I want to hear the missing Jewish poets … ”

He talks of his marriage (to writer China Galland), how it doesn’t occur to young couples that “chances are you’ll see each other get old.”

But to cover so much of his life in merely an hour dilutes his most important material.

The real heart of the piece is in not in his discovery of flamenco music as a kid, or getting his first big break as an actor (playing Don Quixote in a skin flick) or stealing his best friend’s girlfriend in high school.

Rather, the heart is in his revelations about aging, garnered through the (thankfully) brief bout of amnesia; that curious emptiness after a seizure; fears of the profound memory loss that his father went through; the ever-changing marital relationship; and ultimately his new understanding of what all that means for his own identity as a creative artist.

Some careful culling among the stories, and a deeper exploration of those that enhance his theme, would turn an entertaining autobiographical sketch into a more universal and potent memoir.

Lightning in the Brain
Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes July 9
Tickets: $20 to $100
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org

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