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‘Stroke of Luck’ a story of family, survival

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Diane Barnes, a single mom and doctor from San Rafael, describes how her brain injury affected her family in her one-woman show at the Marsh (Courtesy Harris and Mattei)

In her solo show at The Marsh, Diane Barnes asks some provocative questions, such as: “Did I need a stroke to connect with my son?”

The Marin radiologist-turned-actor answers it in a compelling 80 minutes in “My Stroke of Luck,” in which she reveals how her complex life as a single working mother of two boys became even more challenging on July 2, 2005.

It was the day she had the worst headache of her life.

She was riding her horse, Mr. Z, who knew it first, who seemed to have a mind of his own and would not follow her lead when she had the brain hemorrhage.

Interestingly, it was nearly a day before she sought medical attention. Instead, she drove her 12-year-old son, Takeshi, to summer camp in the Gold Country.

She re-enacts the erratic, tense ride, when he repeatedly asks to her stop the car as they pass more than one Kaiser hospital along the way.

Her interaction with her 14-year-old son, Logan, who was diagnosed with learning challenges as a young child, is even more fraught. Still, he takes charge in the household during her recovery, when her brain-injured words are indecipherable and she can’t be trusted to remember to turn off the stove.

Barnes jumps back and forth in time in the thoughtful performance, first developed at the Marsh with David Ford and hit at Fringe Festivals in 2016. The new version, with added sound and lighting effects, is directed by Rebecca Fisher.

Unflinching, she discusses fears and problems, opening with her experiences with young Logan, whom she adopted: “What parent bargains for a child with differences?” or sharing glimpses of her not entirely sympathetic sister and mother.

Sometimes she takes on her doctor persona, showing a diagram of an injured brain. The edema in the picture is enlarged several times; hers was the size of a peanut, she says, tossing a nut to a person in the audience. She asks viewers if they have advance directives.

In the most heart-wrenching scene, as two tough men come at 2 in the morning to take Logan away to boarding school (he had become a “cop magnet” and had gone missing for a week), she declares: “He was mine to raise and I didn’t do it right.”

While that, and other moments in “My Stroke of Luck” are harrowing, as a whole, the show decidedly isn’t. It’s actually a heartening illustration of Barnes’ sentiment, savvy and survival skills.

If anything, it could use a sequel, offering even more details about her journey to recovery, about her transformation from unfulfilled medical professional (“I didn’t want to go back to reading X-rays,” she says, offering a hint) to a career telling stories and opening up discussion for millions of people (and their families) dealing with the consequences of brain injury.


My Stroke of Luck
Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, 5 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; extended through Feb. 3
Tickets: $20 to $100
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org

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