Seeing Stars

Steve Budd's Personal Memoir at The Marsh Berkeley

By: - Jun 18, 2024

For better or worse, most of us are raised in families. It doesn’t take much observation to realize that few of them are ideal. In his welcomed return to solo performance at the stage of The Marsh in Berkeley, actor, writer, and general factotum Steve Budd shares insights into his father’s rapid and dramatic personality change that prompted hospitalization. The son melds it with episodes of his own growing up, career, and broader life experience. At least with the benefit of great distance in his rear review mirror, Budd dapples these misadventures and adversities into a striking and empathy-inducing canvas. And don’t get the wrong idea, as the performer notes, this is a comedy!

Growing up in Boston, Budd got the bug for acting, foregoing the family business, Budd's Beverages. Perhaps it was that his father was so uninvolving that the son needed an escape. In Budd’s characterization, his father seems to have aspects of Archie Bunker, but without the personality. From the actor’s apt physical portrayal, you sense an unchanging affect, seated in an easy chair in the parlor, faceless behind an open newspaper. Responses to external stimuli are met with grunts, or at best, one syllable replies.

But one day, his father’s personality transforms. He becomes a gregarious, back-slapping optimist, and the change is so radical that he is taken to the hospital for observation, where he is held without the opportunity to return home. Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that mistakes are made in the diagnosis and treatment, and that other vignettes reveal that the father is not the only one in the family treated for psychological illness.

Back to Steve’s predilection for a life in entertainment, he tells of the usual parental comments about “when are you gonna get a real job?” or “does this actually pay enough to live on?” He goes to Israel, where he does find some promise with interesting gigs, but then, the Gulf War hits. Rather than continuing to dodge incoming Scud missles, and with his mother’s concerned noodging, he returns home, at first as a boomerang kid and to menial jobs.

The performance runs a brisk 60 minutes. The three characterizations are quite distinct, and the timing of the delivery is right on. Objectively, many of the situations seem traumatic or depressing, but Budd manages to dispatch them with a light touch and mostly with an engaging smile on his face.

Sound and lighting design add to the limited staging, but the most significant add-on is the projections, which could be used even more extensively. An acting video is understandably delivered with sardonic humor. The showing and analysis of the night sky is a recurring event, effective and appropriate as it relates to a part-time job that he held. Moreover, it serves metaphorically for his aspirations and for the life cycle of celebrity.

Given the fragments of Budd’s family life that are shared, the show is clearly expandable, or sequels could be added. We look forward to more of his interesting and funny material coming our way.

“Seeing Stars” is written by Steve Budd and performed at The Marsh Berkeley Arts Center, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA through July 13, 2024.