There was no valet parking on Mission or Valencia streets 15 years ago. No one was no waiting 10 minutes in line for Tartine or Ritual coffee. The only slightly gentrified business on the Valencia strip was Val 21 – (now Dosa) right next to the lesbian bookstore. 23rd Street was inhabited by Radio Valencia (serving up pre-mp3 mixed music), instead of people drinking absinthe at Beretta.
But across the street, The Marsh was pretty much the same as it is today. The Mission District’s hole-in-the-wall theater has been bearing its funky, divey, swampiness proudly for years. The Marsh made good on its mission to serve as a breeding ground for emerging artists. And this month (and next), the Marsh brings back home some of its most celebrated performance artists.
The Marsh's first staged workshop was Marga Gomez’s "Memory Tricks." Josh Kornbluth’s "Haiku Tunnel" was The Marsh’s first full-length production and Charlie Varon’s initial solo piece "Honest Prophets" saw its debut there.
Next week, Marga Gomez returns with her work in progress, “Long Island Iced Latina.” The show traces Gomez’s awkward adolescence on Long Island, where she was the “new brown girl in a white high school.”
Also returning to the Marsh (January 16 - February 14) is Brian Copeland, whose ever-extended smash hit – “Not a Genuine Black Man” is indeed the fertile poster play of Marsh intentions -- Copeland’s monologue about growing up black in San Leandro (one of the most racist suburbs in the 1970s) holds the record for the longest running solo show in San Francisco theatre history. It ran for two and a half years at the Marsh before productions in New York and LA.
In February, Charlie Varon is back at the Marsh with his first new full-length play in nine years. Varon’s, “”Rush Limbaugh in Night School’’ – a one man, 20 character mockumentary --also was a huge hit at the Marsh and wound up in New York and DC in 1995.
His new play “Rabbi Sam,” tells the story of a man who wants to reinvent American Judaism, and the congregation that hires him. The play started as a sermon, Varon was asked to give at his synagogue; not being a rabbi himself, he wound up talking about the Old Testament – but also about Hurricane Katrina, and Cindy Sheehan.
Josh Kornbluth was also a founding performer at the Marsh back in the day. His play Haiku Tunnel was The Marsh’s first full-length production and went on to become a feature film., Kornbluth's shows Red Diaper Baby, (which also became a film) The Mathematics of Change, Ben Franklin: Unplugged, and most recently Citizen Josh, are all funny forays into Jewish nebbishiness, most often by way of intellectual curiosity and father-son fixations.
His new show “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” is his first commissioned piece and will debut, not at the Marsh but at the Contemporary Jewish Museum January 10-18.
Hapless and chroniclly discontent, the 1990s Kornbluth lived in the Mission, not far from the Marsh and could frequently be found strolling down Valencia street. These days, he’s a married dad living in Berkeley.
So much has changed. But The Marsh, thank goodness, still does not provide valet parking.