The Bright River ran in the Bay Area for 24 weeks from 2004 to 2005, to overwhelming critical acclaim and standing ovations from sold-out audiences. Featuring the full Everyday Theatre ensemble, River truly showed the innovation and virtuosity of our company, and paved the way for more ground-breaking productions to come.
Audio and Video Reviews Artist's Statement
The Bright River is a hip-hop retelling of Dante’s Inferno by a traditional storyteller, Tim Barsky, with a live soundtrack performed by some of the best hip-hop and klezmer musicians in the Bay Area. A dizzying theatrical journey through a world spinning helplessly out of control, the show sends audiences on a mass-transit tour of the Afterlife. Guided by a fixer named Quick, and moving through an urban landscape that is at once both intensely real and fantastic, the show is a deep-rooted love story, a profound meditation on mass transit, and a passionate commentary on the current war in Iraq.
THE BRIGHT RIVER is a unique blend of hip-hop theatre, Jewish folklore, and beatboxing performed by playwright/performer Tim Barsky, bassist Safa Shokrai, cellist Jess Ivry, and beatboxer/vocal percussionists Carlos Aguirre (aka: Infinite) and Tommy Shepard (aka: Soulati).
Debuting at the Ashby Stage in 2004, The Bright River ran for six weeks, and sold out for the last three. Voted "Best theatrical production of 2004" in the East Bay Express Reader’s Poll, the show’s success came almost entirely from word-of-mouth. This success captured the attention and collaboration with the Traveling Jewish Theater leading to the show’s sold-out San Francisco premiere in 2004/2005. A 7-week run received critical acclaim from such diverse sources as the San Francisco Chronicle, at-risk youth, Jewish grandmothers, and SF Supervisor Matt Gonzalez.
Audio and Video
Audio Clips from the Dec 2004/Jan 2005 TJT/Epic Arts Production
at Traveling Jewish Theatre, San Francisco, CA:
Der Yiddische Bhangra
Video Clips from the February 2004 Workshop Performance
at the Transparent Theater, Berkeley, CA:
City of The Dead
Drum 'n' Beatbox
Video Clip from our DVD, filmed at the Julia Morgan Theater, Berkeley, CA:
The Bright River (10 minutes).
You need to have QuickTime Player installed to view these movies.
If you do not have it you can download it for free here.
"River of Rage and Hope: Tim Barsky's hip-hop-klezmerized The Bright River returns, with reinforcements." by Susan Kuchinskas, East Bay Express (1/5/05)
"The Bright River flow of street lore and Jewish mysticism is not an anomaly, but part of an emerging genre-bending style. 'There's a marvelous, incredible explosion of beatbox and Jewish theater in the Bay Area that's a very strange consonance of Jewish theater culture and beatbox culture,' Barsky says." (full review)
"Barsky's 'Bright River' flows to beat of beatbox" by Chad Jones, Oakland Tribune (12/23/04)
IN HIS SHOW "The Bright River," Tim Barsky spins yarns, plays amazing music with equally amazing musicians and cracks open the afterlife. Denizens of the East Bay may have seen Barsky's show last spring when it began to take shape at Berkeley's Ashby Stage. By the end of that run, the show was selling out, and all the buzz attracted the attention of San Francisco's Traveling Jewish Theatre. "Bright River" was added to the company's 2004-2005 season, and with the help of director Jeff Raz, the show has been shined up a little but still retains the odd charm that made it so beguiling in Berkeley. (full review)
"A Hip-Hop Tour of the Afterlife" by Loolwa Khazzoom, Forward, 12/24/04
Barsky drew on his life experiences as a street performer, beat boxer (one who engages in vocal percussion), flutist and student of Islamic and Jewish mysticism, creating "The Bright River" — a 21st-century hip hop theater spin-off of Dante's "The Inferno," co-produced by the Everyday Ensemble, Epic Arts and A Traveling Jewish Theatre, all in the San Francisco Bay Area. The production tells the story of a young American Jewish soldier — a mixture of Yemenite and Ashkenazic heritage — killed during battle in Iraq...(full review)
"Get on the bus: Next stop hell" - by Tiffany Maleshefski, SF Examiner (12/10/04)
Get out your Fast Pass out and get ready to go places you've been, never been, should've been, and could've been. "The Bright River," written by Tim Barsky, a genius retelling of Dante's Inferno, is a fantastic bus ride through eternity, where octopi are the drivers and Purgatory is a treacherous transit terminal. (full review)
‘The Bright River’ fuses mouth magic and hip-hop shtick - by Jay Schwartz, J Weekly (12/10/04)
It’s not clear which is more impressive, the words that come out of Tim Barsky’s mouth or the sounds that emerge from the throat of his cohort Kid Beyond. This is how you experience “The Bright River,” the theater piece by Barsky and the Everyday Ensemble currently playing in San Francisco. Half the time you’re engrossed in the remarkable story laid out before you; the rest of the time you are utterly transfixed by the virtuosic beatboxing of Barsky and Kid Beyond. (full review)
"Hop a subway to a restless hip-hop underworld" - Robert Hurwitt, SF Chronicle (12/9/04)
"Genre-mixing hip-hop musical...a curious and often transfixing amalgam of Jewish, Greek and other folklore, film noir narrative, adventures in mass transit and riveting, beatbox-driven rhythms."
"The music of the Everyday Ensemble is unceasingly compelling." (full review)
'River' is playwright's idea of purgatory" by Suzanne LaFetra, Contra Costa Times (1/6/05)
A couple of years ago, with the country embroiled in a war and his own life coming unglued, Barsky mused on the possibilities of a topsy-turvy, looking-glass world. "What if nothing works any better in death that it does in life?" he posits. "I dreamed about the afterlife. I started asking people about their own deaths. I became very unpopular at parties," quips the South Berkeley resident. And voila, it's Barsky's version of purgatory -- a bus station filled with homeless people and refugees -- a mirror version of what the performer sees as contemporary life in America." (full review)
"WORD BEAT" - Sam Hurwitt, SF Chronicle (12/5/04)
"The latest and most epic expression of Barsky's desire to craft new folklore out of the old tradition is 'The Bright River,' his transcendental beatbox journey opens today at A Traveling Jewish Theater." (full review)
Nextbook.org: Gateway to Jewish Literature, Culture & Ideas (12/9/04)
What if the afterlife were as corrupt as our present reality? This is the brilliant conceit behind Tim Barsky's The Bright River. The play, now at San Francisco's A Traveling Jewish Theater, mixes jazz, hip-hop, storytelling, and klezmer to take us on "a mass transit tour of the afterlife." (full review)
Reviews of Epic Arts' Feb/March 2004 Production:
SF Bay Guardian, March 23rd, 2004
SF Weekly, March 17th, 2004
East Bay Express, March 10th, 2004
Jewish News Weekly, Friday February 20, 2004
SF Flavorpill, April 5th, 2004
I started working on this project at one of the lowest points in my life, when it seemed like the world was literally collapsing. The country was swinging so far to the right I almost felt as if I didn't recognize it anymore. We had a puppet for a president. And all around me, I felt like I was watching my friends, peers, and collaborators get pushed to the brink, and in some cases past it. A lot of things happened: I saw my first drive-by shooting. I got arrested for filming the Oakland police flee the scene after beating my neighbor until she went into a seizure. One of the best musicians I knew started shooting amphetamines and lost his mind. America sent an army of poor people to Iraq to kill other poor people. I started to feel like I was living in a looking-glass world- as if everything was upside down, as if night had become day, and day had become night.
The show really came out of that experience, out of wandering around in a fever dream, and starting to wonder if maybe the whole thing wasn't breaking down. What if heaven and hell had been downsized? What if nothing made any more sense in death than it did in life? What if even after death the rich kept getting richer and the poor kept getting prison? I started to worry what if I had to pay rent even after I died? I started drawing diagrams of purgatory as a bus station, started mapping out the toll system on the bridge between life and death. I sat on the bus and dreamed about the afterlife. I started asking people about their own deaths. I became very unpopular at parties.
We put the show up at the Transparent Theatre in Berkeley in the spring of 2004, with a $0 budget, and about $5,000 in fiscal guarantees that we did not actually have. Andrew, Shyam, Jess and I wrote the score, and the words fell into place around and inside it. The folks at Epic Arts ran a production team out of a commandeered bedroom, on a shoestring and less than a prayer.
The Bright River ran for 6 weeks and sold out for the last three. Over 1600 people saw it. I'm still surprised - I never wrote anything that had such a strong response. But I guess that's the power of fairytales. Because the Bright River is after all a fairytale for people who can hardly bear to believe in fairytales anymore. It's about a boy from South Berkeley who dies in Iraq, and the girl from North Berkeley who follows after him. It's about her struggles to breathe, and his struggles to love. It's about the corrupt government that sent him to war, and the evil that sent the government. It's about a fixer, named Quick, who tries to find them, a man who can't remember his own death, and who knows every story but his own. It's about a raven born in a prison who can't get free, who falls in love with flying. And it's about the reality of their surroundings, about the cabs, buses, and subways that form the stage on which our lives and deaths are lived. It's a story about mass transit, and the people on it. I guess really, it's about what I know: Love. Death. War. Life. Transit.
- Tim Barsky, Oakland California, 2004