In 'Can You Dig It?' Don Reed Goes Back to His Pre-Jehovah's Witness Oakland Roots
After doing two extremely successful solos shows at the Marsh, "East 14th: Tales of a Reluctant Player," which told the story of Jehovah's Witness stepfather's and pimps, and "The Kipling Hotel," about being a live-in waiter at a retirement home while attending UCLA, Don Reed is back with sort of a prequel to East 14th - "Can You Dig It?" It's about his time in Oakland before his parents split up.
Photo by Mommy Don Reed
Reed, who is a comedian also (he lives in Los Angeles where he warms up the audience at Jay Leno's The Tonight Show), said he realized he had a lot of other stories to tell.
"With the first show, I was so focused on sharing the pressure of the door-knocking process and the transition to my father's house," Reed said. "After I did "The Kipling Hotel," I thought, 'Wait a minute, a whole lot of other amazing things happened back then.'"
Reed's mother has a more prominent role in this show, as Reed tells stories about her wigs, her desire to travel (especially to Paris), the outfits she made for him and his siblings, and how her favorite color was lavender, not purple, as they found out when they painted her entire kitchen that color as a surprise.
"I had zero contact with my mother for as long as I was living with my father in pimp-land, and she was a Jehovah's Witness," he said. "Then my father was such a scene stealer in our lives. It was really great to bring her layers to the stage, and I got a lot of enjoyment and release with that. She was this super creative person, and she had this drive that she instilled in me."
Painting her entire kitchen -- including the refrigerator and stove -- purple when he was a kid may not have made his mother happy, but as an adult, Reed has been able to take his mother to many places she had dreamed of visiting.
"It's kind of cool that my mother and I spent a lot of time together because we wanted to, not because we had to," he said.
A story from one of those trips didn't make it into the show: Reed had bought a piece of red luggage in Curacoa, an island in the Caribbean, which he ended up having to drop as he and his mother ran away from taxi drivers fighting over a fare -- with knives.
"Then whenever people said they were thinking of going to the Caribbean, we'd say, 'Better not go to Curacao, there might be a little knife fight going on," he said.
Photo by Ric Omphroy Don Reed in 'Can You Dig It?'
One story Reed said he liked remembering was when his uncle babysat for them and took them to see a James Bond movie, Goldfinger, which they didn't see in a theater. "My uncle took us down into this ghetto basement laundry room," Reed said.
"People were doing laundry and drying it and smoking weed and talking, and it was being projected on this pee-stained sheet. And then we're watching this high-level espionage on the screen with Goldfinger.
Other stories in the show include the crushed velvet outfits his mother made him and his sister for a school talent show, a kid who took Reed's lunch money and gave him Black Panther buttons, and his stepfather's advice to his brother to carry his schoolbooks from largest to smallest.
There's plenty of drama to see.
Even though he lives in LA, Reed has gotten involved with 51Oakland, an organization with a goal to keep arts and music in Oakland public schools. He recently spoke to kids at Fremont High School, where he went to school and will perform "The Kipling Hotel" at Yoshi's in Oakland on Monday, August 12, as a benefit.
Things will open up for Reed next February when his job with The Tonight Show ends as it moves to New York where Jimmy Fallon will host. He's thinking of taking his shows to venues beyond the Bay Area.
"I absolutely love the gig," Reed said about his day job. "I get to see all these incredible acts. I feel like I got a Master's or a PhD in entertainment. But it's ending at just about the right time for me to tour these shows around the country."
"Can You Dig It? plays at the Marsh Theater, Saturdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 7pm through August 18th. Tickets are $15 -$50. For more information, call 415-826-5750.