Don Reed still tells funny ‘True Tales’ 

Don Reed seems to be entering 2011 in fine form.

The Oakland-bred comedian apparently is spending weekdays warming up audiences for Jay Leno’s show in Southern California, and on weekends, he’s back in Berkeley doing his one-man show “East 14th:True Tales of a Reluctant Player.”

The show is a bona fide hit. It began at The Marsh in San Francisco in May 2009, enjoyed a successful run in New York and has been extended again and again in its current weekend East Bay venue.

One particularly funny episode from the show, called “Butter,” in which he describes an ill-fated hairstyle, is about to air on Oprah Winfrey’s new network, and already is online at her website.

Like many offerings at the Marsh, “East 14th” is autobiographical and intensely personal. It’s Reed’s unlikely coming-of-age story of growing up between two households in 1970s Oakland.

Life with his mother and stepfather was filled with rules, rigidity and the ongoing opportunity to join his Jehovah’s Witness stepdad as he knocked on neighbors’ doors early Saturday mornings.

Having had enough, he went to live with his father on East 14th Street, where the atmosphere was decidedly different. Although he didn’t realize that dad was a pimp, the household was full of fun, excitement and lively characters.

Throughout the 100-minute performance, Reed deftly brings many characters to life, not just his family — his contrasting fathers as well as half-brothers, one macho, one flamboyantly gay — but people he runs into, from friends and girlfriends to pimps and prostitutes.

Moving like a dancer, with impeccable style, Reed is supremely fun to watch, and his stories manage to be both wild and sweet at the same time.

The only things missing are an overarching theme that might tie them together, and, perhaps more background information, explanations and descriptions (mom is mostly missing in action) that would provide more context and depth, and help audiences better understand how a kid with such an unorthodox childhood wound up with a successful career in show business.

Nonetheless, Reed’s “Tales” are highly entertaining and a delightful theatrical diversion.

THEATER REVIEW

East 14th: True Tales of a Reluctant Player

Where: The Marsh, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 13
Tickets: $25-$50
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

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Leslie Katz

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