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‘Oh No’ amusingly details 1970s lesbian journey

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Karen Ripley reminisces about being a lesbian in the 1970s in the Bay Area in her funny solo show at The Marsh in Berkeley. (Courtesy Karen Ripley)

The title of lesbian comic Karen Ripley’s solo show “Oh No There’s Men On The Land” comes from her remembrances of attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival decades ago. It was a warning cry that echoed through the wilderness the only time males came on the premises of the outdoor feminist event – to remove the waste from the Porta Potties.

That’s just one hilarious tidbit from her amusing and nostalgic monologue, which she’s presenting at the cozy cafe in Berkeley’s Marsh theater.
In just over an hour, she journeys down memory lane, beginning with the assassination of Martln Luther King Jr., ending with the advent of AIDS, and telling her story from her singular point of view, of a lesbian coming of age in the Bay Area. The travels are anything but sad, though.

Her audience on a recent Saturday – mostly women, but a few men, too – laughed heartily at reminiscences they had in common, and hearing tales of people and places of local legend: comedian-musician Jane Dornacker (who hired Ripley to play drums: “We pay gas, bridge and all the cocaine you can snort”), and a guy named Bill Graham (who helped her move her drum kit on the audition for that San Francisco gig).

She worked as a bartender at The Bacchanal in Albany, a place for women of all stripes, she said, and a “great training ground for a baby dyke.”
In 1977, she started washing dishes at the Brick Hut, then became part of the one-of-a-kind Berkeley collective (where “eight people share one salary”), the only all-woman lesbian owned-and-operated restaurant in the country.

Sausages often flew around the popular, and political, breakfast joint, which stopped serving orange juice when Florida Citrus Commission spokeswoman Anita Bryant made national news with her anti-gay views.

Wearing a necklace with a peace sign and a clothes not dissimilar to the lesbian “work shirt uniform” (“well, we had a lot of work to do,” she said), Ripley isn’t the most polished actor, and “Oh No” is more of a standup act with a story thread than a tightly written theater piece.

Yet it ends nicely, as Ripley once again enters new territory: making a go of being a gay comedian in the early 1980s, in front of an audience of “beautiful young men” with blue and red splotches on their faces, and sunken cheeks.

Then, and now, people chuckle at material like this: “How do you stay so clean? I have a woman come in twice a week.”

Oh No There’s Men On The Land
Where: Marsh, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley
When: 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes Oct. 3
Tickets: $15 to $100
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org

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