Hurry Hurry: One-man show set for two-night stand

Hurry Hurry: One-man show set for two-night stand

Patti Cary

Photo by Adam Mercer. Poster by Rich Black.

Englishman. Artist. Fisherman. Carny. Oh, and a huge Giants fan.

All of these words describe Oakland actor and author John Mercer, who’ll be sharing his collection of true tales in his one-man show, Swearing in English, at the Altarena Playhouse this month.

Don’t let the title of the show fool you: This is not a showcase for bitter rants and ravings punctuated by expletives. Mercer’s tender style and stories reflect a genuine sense of wonder and reverence for the people and the world around us. A child of the ‘60s now in his 60s, Mercer talks about life then and now.

“I still believe in love and peace and don’t apologize,” Mercer said. “I wasn’t a hippie, I’m not nostalgic; I’m just engaged in a lifetime looking for love.”

This “lifetime of looking” started early on when, after graduating from the University of Manchester in England, his search for a more genuine self veered him off the path leading to a career in law and onto another one, which led to a small fishing village in the southwest of Scotland. This unexpected, profound change in course, he knows, was a life-saving gift, giving him an opportunity to see a bigger picture.

His time surrounded by Scots – a people renowned for their skill at storytelling – was time very well spent, an observation Mercer said even his dubious mother had to admit after visiting him in Scotland and finding him strong, happy, and thriving at “the fishing.”

Another fateful change in course came in 1979 when he came to the Bay Area, fell in love and decided to stay. Here, he focused his energies on acting, eventually joining up with the Shotgun Players, a community theater group in Berkeley dedicated to artistic excellence, social relevance, and community engagement.

“Theater is everywhere. You just have to open your eyes,” Mercer said.

Mercer is, by definition, a Renaissance man - acting since the age of 15, pursuing higher education, tending sheep, and designing and making custom furniture - but that somewhat lofty label makes him laugh out loud.

Taking a P.T. Barnum approach to his art, Mercer said he’s not bothered by the suggestion he is also bit of an ol’ fashioned carny. “I love it! I’d still run away with the circus in a minute,” he said.

Although Mercer has told the true tall tales of his life for years, it wasn’t until a friend convinced him to actually write the stories down that Swearing in English took shape. Essays like “John Travolta Goes Fishing” and “Magic Carpet” come to life on stage with this talented storyteller at the helm, navigating the sometimes tranquil, sometimes choppy waters.

A common thread in all of Mercer’s works is the idea of the “absolute unity of existence,” a philosophy he has studied extensively over the years and a belief he strives to incorporate into everyday life. This astute sense of spirit has clearly guided him through good times and bad, he said, including a recent brush with a debilitating illness.

“Death makes you dance,” he likes to say.

When asked what he’d like his audiences to take away from his one-man show, he smiled. “Were they entertained?” he said.

The gentle beauty of Mercer’s stories is his keen ability, in his humorous and honest way, to point out the commonality of our life experiences, knitting everything and everyone together. It’s one thing to sit and read the book of his memoirs yourself, but the true joy is in the hearing of his telling, and making those connections.

Swearing in English director Christy Crowley compared Mercer’s stories to the limbs of a tree.

“They grow and branch off in all kinds of directions and you think, ‘Where is this guy going?’” she said. “Then he weaves it all back together. It’s magic.”

Mercer will perform Swearing in English at 8 p.m. December 12 and December 13 at Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High Street. Directed by Christy Crowley. Tickets are $24 for adults, $21 for students and seniors, and are available on the Altarena Playhouse website or by calling 523-1553.

Comments

Submitted by Glenn Carlson (not verified) on Thu, Dec 4, 2014

John is a true talent and -- while he'd wave this comment away -- is deserving of the attention and accolades.