Jovelyn Richards, who brings her one-woman show, "Mrs. Pat's House," to Berkeley's La Peña Cultural Center Aug. 10-12, is a storyteller.
Weaving her magic in an interview, the Oakland writer offers a clear beginning, middle and end, while the actress fueling her rich imagination adds a healthy dose of drama and humor.
"The themes of Mrs. Pat's House are ageism, in a woman between the ages of 95 and 100 who has no place to go; racism, in another character burying her (African-American) history to pass as white; and sexual identity, with female and male characters who struggle with their identities," she says.
There is also a belief in magic, in Sweet Baby, a character who recently appeared to Richards during her most vibrant hours, between 3 and 7 a.m.
"These people come to me in the early morning. Last year, a character showed up two weeks before the performance. This time, (Sweet Baby) intrigued me and she's been helping me to understand her vulnerability, the place she has held onto from when she was 5 years old."
Set in the 1930s Black Renaissance, the black bordello at the center of the story radiates a message of love, adorned in the tragedy of enslavement.
"Black love and intimacy right after the Civil War was dealing with this thing called 'freedom,' " Richards muses. "How do you define love for people who were considered nonentities? It's not the knight in shining armor that we in Western culture have been exposed
Touching audiences is what playwright and Arts in the Valley radio host Kim McMillon says Richards is born to do. Calling the show "incredible" and "brilliant," McMillon writes in an email, "Jovelyn is a writer who creates stories and brings them to wonderful life on stage."
The 60-minute show features 15 different characters and includes band members Patrick Anseth (guitar), J.T. Davis (bass and piano), Mike Wilson (sax and flute), and Kimberly Turner (vocals). Lighting design by Stephanie Anne Johnson -- who collaborated with Richards in providing direction and expertise regarding the Harlem Renaissance -- carries the work from story to stand-up comedy to musical manifesto. Richards' declarations about equality are mercurial, but she insists that is realistic.
"Human equality is a math problem, and there's no way we can understand the form of our spiritual, intellectual history until we understand it through all the parts. On a practical level, do we function differently than we did 50 years ago? Well, yes, but we will function differently tomorrow too," she emphasizes.
Performing is a rich love affair that Richards equates to encountering a deity and describes as "all the energies that I can hold, including some that have taken me to my knees."
While social media allows dialogue to transcend distance in today's world, Richards remains convinced of her chosen genre, saying, "Nothing can replace talking to each other. When we tire of telling each other a story, we'll just disappear."
WHAT: Jovelyn Richards in "Mrs. Pat's House"
WHEN: 8 p.m. Aug 10-11, 6 p.m. Aug. 12
WHERE: La Pena, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
TICKETS: $12 advance; $15 at door.