Spirit of the ’60s alive in Richard Stockton's entertaining 'Are We There Yet?
They say if you remember the ’60s, you weren't there. But don't say it to Richard Stockton. The longtime stand-up comic, monologist, and chief perpetrator of the Planet Cruz live comedy revues not only remembers the 1960s (and the postwar decade that spawned them), he traces the influence of that era on the popular and political culture of today in his entertaining one-man comedy extravaganza, “Are We There Yet?” now showing at Broadway Playhouse.
Three years in the making (not counting the lifetime of experience distilled into the show), “Are We There Yet?” is a multimedia celebration of the Baby Boom generation. While the show is mostly storytelling, Stockton has also composed a handful of songs to highlight certain themes (like the title tune, which metaphorically refers to the Boomers' progress through life, and "Things We Had Then We Don't Have Now"), which he sings con brio, accompanying himself on guitar or banjo. He also employs a video projector which sets the tone with newsreels, pop culture montages from the era, and a reel of vintage TV commercials.
The resulting show is a sort of Boomer Hit Parade of cultural touchpoints from the ’50s, ’60s, and into the ’70s. And even as the Boomers age (Stockton salutes the generation's collective passage “from Hi-Fi to WiFi ... from ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ to crow's feet”), he traces the ways that the seeds sown in our youth have borne fruit in the socio-political landscape of today. There's plenty to resonate with people of a certain age; on opening night, audience members were shouting responses like “Amens” in a Baptist church.
According to Stockton, the two major influences in shaping Boomer culture were Dr. Spock (who advised parents to kiss and cuddle their babies and raise them as unique individuals) and John F. Kennedy, whose youthful energy inspired (if briefly) their formative years. The Cold War and Vietnam created a sense of urgency about meeting personal and political goals “now,” and Stockton shepherds us through inevitable tales of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll that include funny stories about guerrilla warfare against a hated stop sign near his high school grounds in Sacramento, and what could have been a potentially life-changing encounter with the legendary Janis Joplin backstage at the Fillmore—if only!
In some ways, this is an overly ambitious project, with the video clips referencing way more in terms of events and issues and personalities (The Beatles, Martin Luther King, Women’s Lib, gay rights, Kent State) than Stockton can adequately address in his scattershot stories and songs. (A chirpy “Duck and Cover” PSA, for instance, advising people to put a newspaper over their face to protect them from nuclear fallout is so funny—in a horrible way—all by itself, it almost doesn't need the droll ditty Stockton sings as punctuation.)
But just as often, Stockton hits the mark with his easygoing storytelling style, physical clowning, and wry observations. It's priceless when he re-enacts his panic as a 13-year-old when his irritated older brother goes into gory detail about what a nuclear bomb will do to him. Citing how, in his teens, everyone tried to look as cool as Keith Richards, now, he notes “we're trying NOT to look like Keith Richards!” He regales us with tales of his tenure as the only non-black cast member of the Los Angeles-based TV sketch comedy show, BET Live (complete with clips, illustrating that his role in the show was always “the white guy,” the others' foil). And among the “Things We Had Then We Don't Have Now,” he suggests, “... like a Democracy.”
Stockton's primary mantra throughout the evening is "Win the cultural wars and the politics will follow." He cites (among other things) a celebrated African-American golfer, the hit movie Brokeback Mountain, and a black U.S. president as the kind of ongoing change we dreamed about in the sixties. Not that the fight is over yet, he reminds us. Having riled up the audience with pictures and stories of its idealistic youth, Stockton finally answers the question “Are We There Yet?” with, “No—we're not done.” Whether to restoke your memories of activism, or just enjoy the trip down memory lane, this evolving show may be just the thing.
‘Are We There Yet?’ plays Friday nights through Feb. 28 at Broadway Playhouse, 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz. $15. For info and tickets, visit arewethereyetshow.com. Photos: Woody Carroll
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