Cello adds emotion to 92-year-old’s story in ‘Second Time Around’

It’s too bad that not all storytelling theater pieces can have a soundtrack as eloquent as the one in “Second Time Around.”

Compositions by Jean Jeanrenaud of Kronos Quartet fame beautifully complement the greatest generation tale told by Charlie Varon in their new “duet for cello and storyteller” onstage at the Marsh in San Francisco.

Varon, the veteran solo performer (from “Rush Limbaugh in Night School” in the 1980s to “Feisty Old Jew” in the 2010s) has charmed audiences with his spot-on monologues and characterizations for decades.

But Jeanrenaud’s rhythms and tunes give “Second Time Around” added emotional depth, taking the story to, well, places that go beyond words.

Even though it touches on multi-generational issues, “Second Time Around,” directed by Varon’s longtime collaborator David Ford, resonates most with elderly folks and baby boomers.

The main character is Ben, a, 92-year-old War World II bomber pilot who, as a favor to Adele, a resident in the retirement home where he lives, agrees to be interviewed by her teen grandson, Seth, for his school project.

At the outset, the session doesn’t go well; it’s signaled, even before Varon speaks, by Jeanrenaud’s evocative, tension-building cello prelude.

Ben, an example of many men of his generation, vividly recalls his war days with vigor and enthusiasm (foxholes, bars, Winston Churchill’s speech, a bombing mission), even though he’s not convinced that Seth, who initially has technical issues with his camera, is really gaining anything from the exercise.

As the tale progresses, Ben does find that there’s more to the Seth than the lazy, video-game-addicted, friendless teen he first encounters.

Along the way, Varon and Jeanrenaud elucidate other details about Ben’s life, particularly his infatuation with Selma, his friend — or possibly something more? — who also lives in the seniors’ residence. His reveries reveal a deep yearning for her.

On the other hand, Ben only briefly mentions his apparently estranged son Danny, who lives in Israel.

While it may be realistic that a man of Ben’s background wouldn’t go into detail about such an emotional void, the lack of information about his son (or about Danny’s mother, for that matter) leaves the audience wondering, and wanting something much more. (More about Seth would be nice, too.)

Given that “Second Time Around” is part of a cycle focusing on residents at an old folks home in a San Francisco, perhaps “more” will come in a future installment.


Second Time Around
Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes April 17
Tickets: $30 to $45
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org

Leslie Katz

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