The Marsh Berkeley returns to live theater with fan favorite Don Reed in the solo show “Going Out.” (Courtesy Daniel D. Baumer)

The Marsh Berkeley returns to live theater with fan favorite Don Reed in the solo show “Going Out.” (Courtesy Daniel D. Baumer)

Unfailingly funny Don Reed takes on COVID in ‘Going Out’

Solo artist shines describing ‘adventures before and after the pan-pan’

The best parts of writer-performer Don Reed’s hilarious new solo show “Going Out,” now at The Marsh, are the silent parts.

But that’s not because the script itself is not an utter delight.

It’s simply because Reed, from the moment he creeps nervously onstage, masked, taking little, hesitant baby steps — he’s inching forward on a long, slow-moving line to get a COVID vaccination — is such a wonderful physical performer. Every gesture, every position his lanky body assumes, every expression on his wide-eyed, rubbery face — it’s all elegantly precise. A screaming fight on a crowded dance floor between a young man and his girlfriend in which he mimes both roles; a series of sly glances, smirks, scoffs, anxiety-ridden contortions, drunken stupors, angel-dust-generated craziness and much more —Reed can do it all, with grace, humor and empathy. A longtime local talent whose solo shows have been staged at The Marsh, he has an extensive background as a TV and film producer, writer and actor, and is clearly a Bay Area treasure.

The 80-minute show takes place on that slow vaccination line, where Reed, having quickly discarded his mask, relates a series of personal stories around the theme of “going out” (the show’s subtitle is “Adventures Before and After the Pan-Pan”).

He riffs on what going out meant pre-pandemic and what it means now, choosing, among other examples, incidents from his childhood in Oakland — how his parents gussied up in party clothes for a night on the town; how he and his brother went clubbing when he was a teenager; how his father took him to an anti-Vietnam War rally on the Berkeley campus when he was a kid — that illustrate all the different meanings of the phrase.

Along the way, he embodies various characters, complete with specific accents and body language: the debate-team coach who encouraged him to think of himself not as winning awards for his alma mater, UCLA, but for “the University of Oakland.” His grandmother, who lowered her voice to a whisper whenever she referred to white people. A clerk at Walgreens. Snippets of musical numbers along the way help define mood and time period. (Amusingly, his favorite record as a kid was “Afternoon Delight,” a soft rock standard of the ’70s, to the utter disgust of his much hipper brother.)

Toward the end, Reed wonders if any good can come out of this pandemic, and concludes with a sober and emotional tribute to celebrities and personal friends who’ve died of COVID.

He’s earned this moment of gravity, having won us over with his good-humored, deftly executed personal stories and wry observations.

REVIEW

Going Out

Where: Marsh, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; through Sept 19

Tickets: $20 to $100

Contact: (415) 282-3055, themarsh.org

Theater

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