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Rosie in Richmond

Richmond Rosies serve as inspiration for riveting stage production

By Carah Herring
For the Contra Costa Times

Posted: 10/15/2009 06:54:47 PM PDT

Updated: 10/15/2009 06:54:48 PM PDT


The iconic picture of the muscular World War II-era Rosie the Riveter permeates popular culture and art.

And through performing arts, award-winning playwright Marcus Gardley is trying to educate people about the origins of Rosies in Richmond.

Gardley, a West Oakland native, penned "This World in a Woman's Hands," which chronicles the story of the female workers in the historic Richmond shipyards. The stage production by the Berkeley-based Shotgun Players opened in early September with a special presentation at the Nevin Community Center in Richmond; its extended run ends Sunday.

Gardley's grandmother, who moved from Louisiana to Richmond in the 1940s for a better life and better wages as a Rosie, served as the playwright's inspiration.

Growing up, Gardley had many friends in the Bay Area who also had grandparents who had worked in the shipyards.

"(Our grandparents') story is still here, but no one really talks about it," said Gardley, 31, who now lives on the East Coast as an assistant professor of African-American theater and playwriting at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. "I've always wanted to tell that story and also do research on the history of the community."

The play explores the relationships and friendships, struggles and triumphs of Richmond's female shipyard workers. It brings to light that Rosie not only represented middle-class white women but women of all ethnic backgrounds. The shipyards were celebrated for their high efficiency and production during the war but had more than their share of workplace issues: dangerous conditions, racism in the form of pay inequity and job assignments, husbands fighting overseas.

"This World" pairs these complexities with a chorus of jazzy skats underscored by a lone string bass.

It took Gardley three years of writing, research and collaboration with music director Molly Holm to bring the play to the stage.

Before they debuted on the Ashby Stage, Gardley and the Shotgun Players agreed that performances in Richmond were important. The Nevin center, in the city's Iron Triangle neighborhood, hosted three free performances over Labor Day weekend.

"I hope the audience will walk away with a sense of pride about their community and that they learn something about the history of this period and these women," said Gardley, an alumnus of the Yale School of Drama and San Francisco State.

This is Gardley's second collaboration with the Shotgun Players. The first, 2006's "Love is a Dream House in Lorin," chronicled the history of a South Berkeley neighborhood. Gardley said all his plays are based on historical events, usually not so widely known.

His next project, he said, will deal with the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

Carah Herring is a correspondent for Richmond Confidential, a community journalism project of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in cooperation with the West County Times. On the Web at www.richmondconfidential.org.

If you go

  What: The Shotgun Players perform "This World in a Woman's Hands"

  Where: Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley

  When: Today at 8 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30

  More information: Call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org/index.cfm


John Wayne film fest come to Richmond

By Chris Treadway
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 10/13/2009 02:15:33 PM PDT

Updated: 10/13/2009 02:15:33 PM PDT


RICHMOND On the heels of its successful summer showings of films related to the World War II home front, the SS Red Oak Victory is launching a new series screening John Wayne films from the war era the last three Thursdays of October.

Featured on Thursday is the 1940 film "Three Faces West." The quick summary: "While leading a town out of the desperation of the dust bowl, John Phillips (John Wayne) helps a doctor and his daughter who've fled Nazi-annexed Austria find a new life (and love).

The series will continue with "Flying Tigers" (1942) on Oct. 22 and "They Were Expendable" (1945) on Oct. 29. The showings are free and start at 7 p.m. (6:30 p.m. boarding) in Hold 4 of the historic Red Oak Victory ship anchored at the former Kaiser Shipyard No. 3, 1337 Canal Blvd., Berth 6A in the Port of Richmond.

Call 510-232-5050 for details.

Reach Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784.