Wayne Harris’ soulful poignant show “Mother’s Milk” is onstage at the Marsh in Berkeley. (Courtesy Doug McKechnie)

Wayne Harris’ soulful poignant show “Mother’s Milk” is onstage at the Marsh in Berkeley. (Courtesy Doug McKechnie)

Music, memory meld magically in ‘Mother’s Milk’

In “Mother’s Milk,” a tender tribute to his late mother, performer Wayne Harris so beautifully embodies her as a character that you may find yourself loving her just as he does. “She was like a warm blanket,” he says.

Harris is just as skilled at conveying the other characters in his 75-minute solo show. They include his stepfather, Uncle Bill, an elderly member of the Baptist church in which Harris was raised, and even his crazy sister “lost in a religious psychosis.” He depicts each of them in carefully observed, empathetic detail, even Uncle Bill, whom, as a kid, he hated.

Billed as “a gospel blues riff in three acts,” “Mother’s Milk” is in an extended run in The Marsh Berkeley’s intimate cabaret space, with Randy Craig at the piano and John McArdle on bass.

As Harris relates through song and non-linear narrative text, he was raised in St. Louis, one of five siblings, and couldn’t wait to leave the oppressive home life controlled by Uncle Bill. Harris escaped by joining a drum and bugle corps, eventually winding up here in the Bay Area.

The songs—largely composed and arranged by the talented Craig, some sung in fragments and later reprised — provide wistful, joyful and affecting counterpoints to Harris’ story, the music enriched at times by Harris on a baritone bugle and sometimes with a tambourine. The accompanists add dramatic and often humorous sound effects.

Harris skims lightly over his life as a kid on the streets in the 1960s idolizing the Black Panthers (especially their cool black jackets). We’re told of his mother’s mastectomy (as a kid embraced in her arms, he’d thought her warmth emanated from her breasts), and of her funeral, where a nervous Harris was a pallbearer.

He also shares his down-to-earth view of religion, an ever-present motif in his story.

Directed by David Ford, the Bay Area’s pre-eminent guru of solo shows, “Mother’s Milk” is a simple and, thankfully, unsentimental story that slows down at times but is wonderfully uplifted by Harris’ charm, easygoing stage presence and deep, resonant singing voice. In fact, best of all are the vocals; whether he’s channeling various characters or just singing as himself, he mesmerizes.

You may not necessarily wish that Harris’ mother were your own (disturbingly, she beat him with the branch of a tree), but you will certainly wish you had a child who could immortalize you so passionately.

Mother’s Milk

Where: Marsh, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley
When: 5 p.m., Saturdays-Sundays, closes Jan. 31
Tickets: $20 to $120
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org

John McArdleMarshMother's MilkRandy CraigWayne Harris

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

Lowell High School is considered an academically elite public school. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Students denounce ‘rampant, unchecked racism’ at Lowell after slurs flood anti-racism lesson

A lesson on anti-racism at Lowell High School on Wednesday was bombarded… Continue reading

Members of the Sheriff’s Department command staff wear masks at a swearing-in ceremony for Assistant Sheriff Tanzanika Carter. One attendee later tested positive. (Courtesy SFSD)
Sheriff sees increase in COVID-19 cases as 3 captains test positive

Command staff among 10 infected members in past week

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23), shown here against the San Antonio Spurs at Chase Center on January 20, was ejected from Thursday night’s game on a technical foul after he yelled at a teammate during a play. (Chris Victorio for the S.F. Examiner).
Warriors 119-101 loss to Knicks highlights Draymond Green’s value

Team struggles with fouls, lack of discipline in play

Scooter companies have expanded their distribution in neighborhoods such as the Richmond and Sunset districts. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board signs off on changes to scooter permit program

Companies will gete longer permits, but higher stakes

A health care worker receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images/TNS)
City sets ambitious goal to vaccinate residents by June

Limited supply slows distribution of doses as health officials seek to expand access

Most Read