Place/Settings: Berkeley

Place/Settings: Berkeley

Place/Settings: Berkeley

By Eisa Davis, Philip Kan Gotanda, Daniel Handler, Aya de León, Adam Mansbach, Richard Montoya, Itamar Moses, Kamala Parks, Sarah Ruhl, and Sean San José
Sound design by Madeleine Oldham and Lane Elms
Debut January 12, 2021
10 episodes; 1 episode released weekly

Running time: each episode is approximately 10 minutes

Stories surround us everywhere, whether we can see them or not. Ten writers, inspired by events in their own personal histories, take us on an aural adventure to specific locations around Berkeley. You will receive, via snail mail, a physical map (or a digital version if you’d like to save a tree) of the locations illustrated by a New Yorker cartoonist, lifting you out of the virtual realm and inviting you to explore the past hidden beneath the present.

  • “The Fundamental Kiss, With Overtones” by Eisa Davis
    A young oboist kisses a pianist on a street corner. At long last! But the kiss unlocks pressures, expectations, dreams, and fears. Can we learn to live with uncertainty? To ask for what we need?
  • “night fishing” by Philip Kan Gotanda
    On a chilly autumn night, an old fisherman makes his way to the lake in the dark. He casts a line…and reels in the ghost he’s been seeking.
  • “The Black Mass Sonata” by Daniel Handler, read by Lance Gardner
    Bored, lost, and lonely, a teenager stumbles into a café. While eating a cup of soup, he hears a wondrously inscrutable sonata, and begins to sense that being lost might not be such a lonesome condition after all.
  • “West Berkeley West Indian” by Aya de León
    How do you find your people in middle school—especially when you don’t quite fit the mold? A girl experiments, assimilates, adapts, and journeys towards genuine self-love and community.
  • “20 Weeks” by Adam Mansbach
    Hope, fear, excitement, and a dizzying array of possibilities unspool across an expectant dad’s imagination, as he and his partner navigate medical uncertainties and rediscover each other as almost-parents.
  • “Suicide on Telegraph” by Richard Montoya
    It’s 1959, and tobacco smoke snakes across the bustling café from its prized corner table, where artists and students debate political treatises, muse on philosophy, and share thrilling new poetry.
  • “The Slide” by Itamar Moses
    A neighborhood park—its playground, sloping hillside, and basketball court; its tunnel to a rose garden and many paths—bears witness to a boy, growing up and growing old.
  • “The Third Sphere” by Kamala Parks, read by Denmo Ibrahim
    Straddling the worlds of her divorced parents, Yasmine doesn’t feel fully at home in either. Desperate to see her best friend in San Francisco, she embarks on the voyage across the Bay alone, exhilarated at her newfound independence.
  • “The Character Actor” by Sarah Ruhl
    From a perch beyond this life, an actor observes as a group of masked people finally return to the courtyard of Berkeley Rep—to the theatre, the place we made to gather, breathe together, and share the stories that remind us of our humanity.
  • “For the Record” by Sean San José
    Sometimes music becomes indelibly linked to specific memories, invoking the people with whom we shared them. Songs by Isaac Hayes, Peter Tosh, Stevie Wonder, the Doors, the Knight Brothers, and Patti LaBelle conjure a deep friendship, one that began on a hot night in 1986 outside Leopold’s Records.

Small Plates

Is there a place in Berkeley that’s especially meaningful to you? Share your story with us in 100 words! These stories, which we’re calling Small Plates, will be displayed on the Berkeleyside website, a sponsor of the project. Submit your stories here.

Season sponsors

BARTPeet’s Coffee

Lead sponsor

The Bernard Osher Foundation

Place/Settings sponsor


Listening price

$10 for all 10 audio stories plus the illustrated map; audio stories released weekly

Free for 2021 Rep 7-Play subscribers (includes 10 audio stories plus the illustrated map)

Extra Mile package: This $50 package goes the extra mile to help support Berkeley Rep, so we can continue to provide work for artists like those involved with Place/Settings: Berkeley. The package includes all 10 audio stories, the illustrated map, and a special treat from Berkeley Rep and Peet’s Coffee to show our gratitude, which you’ll pick up from a Peet’s Coffee location in Berkeley.

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Purchase includes all 10 audio stories plus the illustrated map; audio stories released weekly. After purchase, log in to your Berkeley Rep account to access the stories.

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Support Berkeley Rep and get all 10 audio stories, the illustrated map, and a special treat from Berkeley Rep and Peet’s Coffee; audio stories released weekly.


2021 Rep 7-Play season subscribers get free access to Place/Settings: Berkeley. Log in to your account to renew online or select the Rep 7-Play subscription package of your choice.

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Creative team

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Eisa Davis · “The Fundamental Kiss, With Overtones”

Eisa Davis is a performer, composer, and writer working on stage and screen. A recipient of the 2020 Creative Capital Award, the Herb Alpert Award in Theater, and an Obie winner for Sustained Excellence in Performance, Eisa was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play Bulrusher, and wrote and starred in the stage memoir Angela’s Mixtape. She has recorded two albums of her original music, Something Else and Tinctures, and performed her songs at numerous venues in New York and across the country. Current projects include her music theatre piece The Essentialisn’t (Ground Floor 2017), the libretto for an opera adaptation of Bulrusher, and the songs for a musical version of Devil in a Blue Dress. Eisa has appeared in Theatre For One’s virtual platform performances, The Secret Life of Bees (AUDELCO Award), Kings (Drama League nomination), Julius Caesar (Shakespeare in the Park 2017), Carrie Mae Weems’ Grace Notes, Dave Malloy and Rachel Chavkin’s Preludes, The Cradle Will Rock, The Piano Lesson (Berniece, music director and composer), This, and Passing Strange. Television work includes Pose (upcoming), Betty, Succession, Bluff City Law, Rise, Mare of Easttown (upcoming), God Friended Me, The Looming Tower, House of Cards, Hart of Dixie, and The Wire. Eisa wrote the narration for Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal and episodes for both seasons of Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, and is presently writing and executive producing a Little Rock Nine limited series for UCP. Eisa was born in Berkeley and lives in Brooklyn.

Eisa Davis

Philip Kan Gotanda · “night fishing”

Over the last four decades, playwright Philip Kan Gotanda has been a major influence in the broadening of our definition of theatre in America. The creator of one of the largest canon of Asian American-themed works, he has been instrumental in bringing stories of Asians in the United States to mainstream American theatre as well as to Europe and Asia. Mr. Gotanda has specialized in investigating the Japanese American family writing a cycle of works in theatre, film, song, and opera that chronicle Japanese America from the early 1900s to the present. Mr. Gotanda holds a law degree from Hastings College of Law and studied pottery in Japan with the late Hiroshi Seto. Mr. Gotanda is a respected independent filmmaker. His three films: Life Tastes Good, Drinking Tea, and The Kiss, all have been official entries at the Sundance Film Festival. A CD of Mr. Gotanda performing his original songs in a 1980 concert with violinist DH Hwang is now available for purchase. Mr. Gotanda’s libretto for the opera, Both Eyes Open, with composer Max Duykers is scheduled to premiere later next year at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco. Mr. Gotanda is presently working on music projects with composer Shinji Eshima, and multi-instrumentalist David Coulter. Mr. Gotanda is the recipient of a Guggenheim as well as other honors and awards. Mr. Gotanda is a professor with the Department of Theater Dance and Performance Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He resides in the Berkeley Hills with his novelist wife, Alameda Arts Commissioner, Diane Emiko Takei, and their new dog, Cosmo Finn McCool.

Philip Kan Gotanda

Daniel Handler · “The Black Mass Sonata”

Daniel Handler is the author of seven novels, including Why We Broke Up, We Are Pirates, All the Dirty Parts, and most recently, Bottle Grove. As Lemony Snicket, he is responsible for numerous books for children, including the 13-volume A Series of Unfortunate Events, the four-volume All The Wrong Questions, and The Dark, which won the Charlotte Zolotow Award.  He has received commissions from the San Francisco Symphony, Berkeley Rep, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has collaborated with artist Maira Kalman on a series of books for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, including Girls Standing on Lawns, Hurry Up and Wait, and Weather, Weather. His books have sold more than 70 million copies and have been translated into 40 languages, and have been adapted for film, stage, and television, including the recent adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events for which he was awarded both the Peabody and the Writers Guild of America awards. He lives in San Francisco with the illustrator Lisa Brown, to whom he is married and with whom he has collaborated on several books and one son.

Daniel Handler

Aya de León · “West Berkeley West Indian”

Aya de León directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley, teaching poetry and spoken word. Kensington Books publishes her award-winning feminist heist series, which includes Side Chick Nation, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In May 2020, Aya published her first children’s chapter book, Equality Girls and the Purple Reflecto-Ray, about an Afro-Latina girl who uses her superpowers to confront the president’s sexism. In December 2020 Kensington will publish her first standalone novel, A Spy in the Struggle, about FBI infiltration of an African American eco-racial justice organization. Aya is a founding blogger with The Daily Dose: Feminist Voices for the Green New Deal, and she organizes with the climate movement and the Movement for Black Lives. Her work has also appeared in Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Bitch Magazine, Mutha Magazine, VICE, The Root, Ploughshares, and on Def Poetry. In 2004, she was named Best Discovery in Theater by the San Francisco Chronicle for her solo show, Thieves in the Temple: The Reclaiming of Hip Hop. Aya is at work on a YA black/Latina spy girl series for teens called Going Dark. She is an alumna of Cave Canem and VONA. Visit her online at, on Twitter at @ayadeleon, and on Facebook or Instagram at @ayadeleonwrites, where she writes about race, class, gender, sexuality, culture, and climate.

Aya de León

Adam Mansbach · “20 Weeks”

Adam Mansbach is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Go the Fuck to Sleep, the novels Rage is Back, Angry Black White Boy, and The End of the Jews (winner of the California Book Award), and a dozen other books, most recently the bestselling A Field Guide to the Jewish People, co-written with Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel. Mansbach wrote the award-winning screenplay for the Netflix Original Barry, adapted his middle grades series Jake the Fake Keeps it Real series for Disney+ and DL Hughley’s How Not to Get Shot (and Other Advice From White People) for Comedy Central, and for the last six months has served as the artistic director of Colehouse Walker Political Outcomes, where he has written, produced, and directed videos starring Samuel L. Jackson (“Stay the Fuck at Home”; “Same Old Dirty Tricks”), Daveed Diggs (“What to My People is the 4th of July?”), Sarah Cooper, Sarah Silverman, Craig Robinson, Lewis Black, and W. Kamau Bell (“912, What’s Your White Emergency?”). His memoir in verse, I Had A Brother Once, is forthcoming from One World/Random House in January, and his next feature film, Super High, starring Andy Samberg, Craig Robinson, and Common, is forthcoming from New Line. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Esquire, The Believer, The Guardian, and on National Public Radio’s This American Life, The Moth, and All Things Considered.

Adam Mansbach

Richard Montoya · “Suicide on Telegraph”

Richard Montoya is a co-founder and principal writer for Culture Clash, the nation’s leading Chicano/LatinX performance trio established in 1984. Culture Clash began their performance history in the Bay Area at the height of many political movements and a performance art stand-up comedy boom, born in an art gallery in San Francisco’s Mission District under the direction of curator and social justice warrior Rene Yanez. With Culture Clash, Montoya has appeared on the Berkeley Rep stage with Culture Clash in AmeriCCa and Zorro in Hell, both directed by Tony Taccone, and more recently Culture Clash (Still) in America, directed by Lisa Peterson. As a solo playwright he wrote Anthems, Water & Power (‘07 LA Drama Critics Circle Award), Palestine, New Mexico, and American Night for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His potent collaboration with Campo Santo Family and comrade Sean San José has led to a trilogy of plays: The River, Nogales, and Translating Selena, all produced by the amazing Joan Osato. A filmmaker and screenwriter of several films, including Almaraz: Playing with Fire currently on Netflix, Montoya is an alumnus of the Sundance Institute Director and Writers Labs and is an Annenberg Film Fellow. He studied at American Conservatory Theater an entire summer. The son of a poet and school teacher, he lived the first years of life at the Lockwood Housing Projects in Oakland’s Fruitvale Section at East 14th Street while his father Jose and uncle Malaquias Montoya attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in the early ‘60s. Montoya comes from a long line and family tradition of art and social justice. He is thrilled to be a part of Place/Settings: Berkeley—it brings great comfort to be working with Comrade Johanna Pfaelzer and the BRT Reptiles in these uncertain and critical times. Viva Berkeley Storytelling!

Richard Montoya

Itamar Moses · “The Slide”

Itamar Moses is the Tony Award-winning author of the full-length plays Outrage, Bach at Leipzig, Celebrity Row, The Four of Us, Yellowjackets, Back Back Back, Completeness, The Whistleblower, and The Ally, the musicals Nobody Loves You (with Gaby Alter), Fortress of Solitude (with Michael Friedman), and The Band’s Visit (with David Yazbek), and the evening of short plays Love/Stories (Or But You Will Get Used To It). His work has appeared off Broadway and elsewhere in New York, at regional theatres across the country, and in Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Venezuela, Turkey, and Chile, and is published by Faber & Faber and Samuel French. Other awards for his work include Lucille Lortel, New York Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle, and Obie awards in New York, as well as awards from the Portland, San Diego, Dallas, and Bay Area Theatre Critics Circles. He has received new play commissions from The McCarter, Playwrights Horizons, Berkeley Rep, The Wilma Theater, South Coast Rep, Manhattan Theatre Club, Lincoln Center, and The Goodman. Television work includes Men of a Certain Age, Boardwalk Empire, Outsiders, The Affair, and Brave New World. He holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU and has taught playwriting at Yale and NYU. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild and a New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect. Born in Berkeley, CA, he now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Itamar Moses

Kamala Parks · “The Third Sphere”

Kamala Parks lived in many San Francisco Bay Area cities growing up, but she always considers Berkeley to be her childhood home. She was raised by music lovers, resulting in equal passion for a diverse range of genres such as Stravinsky, the Beatles, and the Ohio Players. When Kamala was 15 years old, however, the punk scene of the 1980s was where she found the perfect combination of cathartic music, political activism, and strong community spirit. She became an eager scene participant, playing drums in bands, volunteering at and writing for MaximumRockNRoll zine and radio show, organizing gigs for local and touring bands, and booking international tours for acts as diverse as Operation Ivy, Citizen Fish, Neurosis, Dead and Gone, and the Offspring. She co-founded 924 Gilman in 1986, an all-ages, nonprofit, volunteer-run community space for music, art, and activism in Berkeley. Kamala served on the 924 Gilman fundraising board from 2014 to 2017 where she was instrumental in raising over $150,000 for the community space’s operation costs. She was featured in the 2017 documentary, Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk. She currently plays drums in Plot 66, a noir wave punk band that released its first record in November of 2020. She still “manages” bands she adores, like one of the most dynamic and under-appreciated Bay Area bands, The Love Songs. Kamala works as a senior station planner for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District and has been in the transportation profession since 2002. Previously, she was a Math and French teacher at Berkeley High School and an employee at Peet’s Coffee and Tea, among other money-earning jobs.

Kamala Parks

Sarah Ruhl · “The Character Actor”

Sarah Ruhl’s plays include In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Clean House, Passion Play, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Melancholy Play, For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, The Oldest Boy, Stage Kiss, Dear Elizabeth, Eurydice, Orlando, Late: a cowboy song, and a translation of Three Sisters. She has been a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Tony Award nominee. Her plays have been produced on and off Broadway, around the country, and internationally where they have been translated into over 15 languages. Originally from Chicago, Ms. Ruhl received her MFA from Brown University where she studied with Paula Vogel. She has received the Steinberg Award, the Sam French Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Whiting Award, the Lily Award, a PEN Award for mid-career playwrights, and the MacArthur award. You can read more about her work on Her new book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write was a New York Times notable book of the year, and she most recently published Letters from Max with Max Ritvo. She teaches at the Yale School of Drama, and she lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Sarah Ruhl

Sean San José · “For the Record”

Sean San José is a writer, director, performer, and co-founder of Campo Santo, a new performances company for people of color in San Francisco. Founded in 1996, Campo Santo is an award-winning group committed to developing new performance and to nurturing people of color centered new audiences and has premiered nearly 100 new pieces. For 15 years he was the program director of performance for Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco’s oldest alternative arts space. He co-created Alma Delfina Group-Teatro Contra el SIDA and “Pieces of the Quilt,” a collection of 50+ short plays on AIDS. His writing commissions and productions include Play On! for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, American Conservatory Theater, Ictus Productions, Kronos Quartet, Kularts, and others. In his multi-genre work, San José has developed and directed the first performance pieces and plays with Jimmy Baca, Junot Diaz, Star Finch, Chinaka Hodge, Denis Johnson, Luís Saguar, Vendela Vida, and more and has enjoyed ongoing collaborations with creators Luis Alfaro, Jessica Hagedorn, Richard Montoya, and others. San José is a proud part of Colman Domingo’s new production company Edith Productions. He frequently teaches in the Theater, Dance and Performance Studies Department at University of California at Berkeley. @camposantosf

Sean San José

Tom Toro · Mapmaker

Tom Toro is a cartoonist and author. He has published over 200 cartoons in The New Yorker since 2010. He wrote and illustrated the children’s picture book How To Potty Train Your Porcupine (Little, Brown 2020) and he illustrated the civics book A User’s Guide To Democracy (Celadon Books, 2020). Tom is currently illustrating Simon Rich’s debut picture book I’m Terrified Of Bath Time (Little, Brown 2022). His cartoons appear in Playboy, The Paris Review, the New York Times, American Bystander, and elsewhere. In 2020, Tom was a finalist for the National Cartoonist Society Reuben Award for gag cartoonist of the year. Tom’s published writing includes short stories for the New Haven Review, Slush Pile, and Litro (UK), as well as a dozen essays for the New Yorker Cartoon Encyclopedia. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Disquiet International Literary Prize. Tom was an inaugural fellow at the Orchard Project Episodic Lab in screenwriting, where he developed a mixed animated TV series The Strip. He was also awarded a playwriting residency at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Ground Floor. Tom is a lecturer on cartoon art, represented by the Cassidy & Fishman speakers’ bureau, and he has given presentations at Columbia University, the Kansas City Art Institute, Litquake San Francisco, and Day of Knowledge in Mexico City. Tom attended NYU graduate film school, where he co-created films that played at Sundance, Tribeca, and Cannes. Tom graduated cum laude from Yale, receiving the Betts Prize for his literary work while also serving as captain of the national-champion lightweight rowing team and cartoon editor for the Yale Herald. He grew up in El Cerrito, California, where he was valedictorian of the local public high school. Tom currently lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, kid, and cat.

Tom Toro

Watch now

Introducing Place/Settings: Berkeley

Ten writers, inspired by events in their own personal histories, take us on an aural adventure to specific locations around Berkeley. Podcasts released weekly starting January 12, 2021.

Behind the scenes: Place/Settings: Berkeley “The Slide”

Writer Itamar Moses shares more of his thoughts on his story “The Slide,” now available as part of Berkeley Rep’s new podcast series, Place/Settings: Berkeley.

Behind the scenes: Place/Settings: Berkeley “The Slide”

Writer Itamar Moses tells us the inspiration behind his story “The Slide,” now available as part of Berkeley Rep’s new podcast series, Place/Settings: Berkeley.

Live from the Peet’s

A conversation with Artistic Director Johanna Pfaelzer and Director of The Ground Floor Madeleine Oldham with three writers from Place/Settings: Berkeley—Itamar Moses, Eisa Davis, and Sean San José—took place on January 12, 2021.



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