It's always impressive to see just how much comedic and poignant material Berkeley monologist John Kornbluth mines out of being Josh Kornbluth. Past monologues have explored his work as a proofreader (Pumping Copy), growing up communist (Red Diaper Baby), temp jobs (Haiku Tunnel), unpaid taxes (Love & Taxes), unfinished school work (Citizen Josh), even his passing resemblance to one of the Founding Fathers (Ben Franklin Unplugged). As a character in his new show, Sea of Reeds, puts it, "Josh has made a living telling stories about things he failed to do."
One of the interesting things about Sea of Reeds is that it has its roots in one of Kornbluth's earlier monologues. Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? had a relatively straightforward start as a commission from the Contemporary Jewish Museum to write a short piece responding to an exhibit of Warhol portraits of famous Jews. But it blossomed into a 2010 full-length show filled with an unexpectedly deep consideration of his own previously unexamined Jewishness as a lifelong atheist.
Sea of Reeds shows just how deep that experience of embracing that side of his heritage was for Kornbluth. One of the people he connected with while making Warhol was Berkeley's Rabbi Menachem Creditor. As Kornbluth recounts in Reeds, he enjoyed his talks with Creditor so much that he didn't want them to end, so he decided to belatedly study for the bar mitzvah he never had, only at 52 years old rather than the traditional 13.
Kornbluth ties that experience, which in his case involved a pilgrimage to Israel, together with his long-stalled progress playing the oboe, especially making his own reeds for the instrument. The title is a play on oboe reeds, of course, but also on the Book of Exodus ("Red Sea" was a mistranslation of "Sea of Reeds"), which also plays a big part in the narrative. In explaining how he came to pick up the oboe in the first place, Kornbluth delves into hilarious and touching reminiscences about his childhood experiences with faith -- in his parents, in communism, in Santa Claus. Explaining why Christmas was such a big deal in his childhood, he says, "My father was a Jewish communist, and Christmas was the birthday of a Jewish communist."