John Fisher, award-winning actor and playwright and Theatre Rhinoceros Artistic Director, where A History of World War II: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin was first developed, is one talented, energetic and educated solo performer. His take on World War II in this acclaimed 70–minute one-person show is an absolute treat, a rare combination of comedy and gravity, with war particulars and trivia interspersed with anecdotes about his childhood that explain his fascination with World War II.
Opening on Aug. 9, 2019, at The Marsh Berkeley, after successful runs at the Pangea in New York City and The Marsh San Francisco, Fisher’s animated performance, co-directed by Jerry Metzker, begins with bits about the best of the World War II movies. He recalls his thrill in seeing the youthful Ryan O’Neal in A Bridge Too Far when he was 8 years old. He accompanies his memories of seeing male war film stars (“the Nazis were always the best dressed”) with small sounds of pleasure and teeth-gnashing. The comedy continues as Fisher acts out the movies’ soundtracks, complete with audience participation (“I’ll be the London Symphony Orchestra, you be the machine guns”).
As the title promises, Fisher does indeed recount the war from June 1944 through the end of the war in Europe. He seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of this one-year period and even recommends books for further reading. But Fisher knows his audience and keeps A History of World War II on the upbeat side, as, for example, blaming the failure of the Hitler assassination plot on the assassins’ decision to break for lunch. Fisher tamps down the comedy with short serious interludes about sad truths of the war; he blames Churchill and FDR for prolonging the Holocaust.
Fisher’s mixture of World War II history and his childhood stories might seem unusual at first, but the juxtapositions worked well for me as effective mood and narrative transitions. Fisher and his older brother shared an interest in the war, which formed the basis of their youthful relationship. Apparently, that link wasn’t enough to sustain the closeness as they grew up.
It’s not a surprise that Fisher won the 2017 United Solo Festival in New York City. It’s a rare talent who can conquer the diverse realms of erudition and comedy in one performance, but Jon Fisher succeeds admirably.
The Marsh, with a branch in San Francisco as well as in Berkeley, refers to itself as “a breeding ground for new performance.” It specializes in presenting solo shows and in helping writers, comedians, and actors develop their material. The Marsh has several classes where students can write and hone their craft. It’s an excellent venue for novice and experienced entertainers to work.
A History of World War II is playing through Sept. 28, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and 5 p.m. Saturdays at The Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley. For tickets ($20-$35 sliding scale, $55-$100 reserved) visit www.themarsh.org or call 415-282-3055.