High times with Ram Dass

Courtesy PhotoWarren David Keith plays counter-culture hero Ram Dass in the enlightening “Acid Test” at The Marsh in Berkeley.

Courtesy PhotoWarren David Keith plays counter-culture hero Ram Dass in the enlightening “Acid Test” at The Marsh in Berkeley.

It’s not unusual for monologists to open with the line “Thank you for being here.” In “Acid Test: The Many Incarnations of Ram Dass,” Warren David Keith starts off by saying “Thank you for being here … now.”

It’s an apt introduction to Lynne Kaufman’s humorous, gently affecting one-man show about the former Richard Alpert, who dropped acid with Timothy Leary, changed his name to Ram Dass and wrote the 1971 book “Be Here Now.”

#link_box { width: 150px; height: auto; margin: 0; padding: 0; margin: 10px 20px 10px 0px; padding: 10px; background-color: #fbfade; /* ecru – light yellow */ border: 1px solid #343a25; /* green – for summer arts */ float: left; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-size: 11px; } #link_box img, #link_box a { border 0px; border-style: none; outline: none; } #link_box h1 { margin: 0; padding: 5px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; text-transform: none; color: #8A0808; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-weight: bold; font-size: 12px; text-align: center; } #link_box h2 { margin: 0; padding: 5px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; text-transform: none; color: #000; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-weight: bold; font-size: 10px; text-align: center; } #link_box ul { list-style: none; margin: 0; padding: 0; border: none; } #link_box li { margin: 0px padding: 0px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; border-bottom-width: 1px; } #link_box li a { display: block; padding: 5px 5px 5px 15px; /* Padding for bullet */ /* border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; border-bottom-width: 1px; */ color: #000; width: 100%; width: auto; /* height: auto; */ /* border: 1px solid blue; */ margin: 0px; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-size: 11px; line-height: 14px; text-decoration: none; } #link_box li a: before { /* background-position: top left; */ } #link_box li a:hover { background-color: #ddd; color: #000; }

The 90-minute play, which made its world premiere last weekend at the Marsh, features Keith as the onetime Harvard professor who encouraged a generation of spiritual seekers to follow their bliss.

He led by example. Along with Leary, Ram Dass began experimenting with LSD at Harvard — and was sacked after he dispensed it to his graduate students (the college, he proudly notes, hadn’t fired another tenured professor since Ralph Waldo Emerson).

From there, he and Leary blazed a wild trail. The show’s early scenes recount their adventures in rollicking detail — a hallucinogenic baseball game in Mexico, the commune they started in provincial Newton, Mass.

Eventually, he heads to India, where he meets the Hindu master who gives him his name (Ram Dass means servant of God).

Yet he’s unable to follow the guru’s advice to “love everyone.” An old rift with health writer Andrew Weil nags at him, as does his split with Leary (Ram Dass is bisexual; Leary didn’t approve).  When it’s time to call up his higher self, he says, “I’m flunking the test.”

Compassion comes when he returns home to care for his dying father — and when he himself has a stroke. Still suffering from aphasia, he settles into a kind of peace.

Kaufman, a San Francisco playwright, builds the narrative in short, effective scenes, and director Joel Mullenix paces it for maximum impact. Lighting by Erich Blazeski and projections by Kelley Watts enhance the sparely set stage.

Keith, one of the Bay Area’s most versatile actors, makes Ram Dass an intelligent, agreeably mild-mannered character. It’s an engaging performance, whether he’s describing a rosebud opening on his very first high, or recalling his dad’s final words.  

By the end, he admits that he still doesn’t have the answers. But “Acid Test” suggests that just being here may be enough.

Acid TestartsentertainmentRam Dass

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Police seized ghost guns and other firearm manufacturing items while executing a warrant in February (Courtesy SFPD)
Ghost guns linked to rise in SF shootings as numbers jump

San Francisco police are seizing an increasingly alarming number of untraceable firearms,… Continue reading

San Francisco Giants pitcher Gregory Santos (78) makes his major league debut against the Marlins in the 6th inning at Oracle Park on April 22, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Giants post fifth shutout of 2021, all caught by Casali

After going the entirety of 2020 without shutting out an opponent, the… Continue reading

Shock G of Digital Underground performs during the BET Hip Hop Awards '10 at Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center on October 2, 2010, in Atlanta. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images/TNS)
Rapper Shock G of Digital Underground found dead in Tampa

Rapper Shock G, who was famous for the hit single “The Humpty… Continue reading

Students walk around campus near the Cesar Chavez Student Center at San Francisco State University. (Steven Ho/Special to S.F. Examiner)
California’s massive UC and Cal State systems plan to require COVID-19 vaccinations this fall

Nina Agrawal, Teresa Watanabe, Colleen Shalby Los Angeles Times The University of… Continue reading

From left, Esther Gulick, Sylvia McLaughlin and Kay Kerr started launched one of the country’s first environmental movements. (Courtesy Save The Bay)
Sixty years of Saving San Francisco Bay

Pioneering environmental group was started by three ladies on a mission

Most Read