Stachel on stage in a spotlight on his knees looking up plaintively with his hands between his legs
Tony Award winner Ari’el Stachel in the world premiere of his new solo show, Out of Character. Credit: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Rep

One of the thrills of being an opening night theatergoer is the chance to be an early witness to the emergence of a significant talent in a memorable new production. And the opening night audience at Berkeley Rep on June 28 was treated to such an event — Ari’el Stachel’s astonishing solo autobiographical show, Out of Character.

Out of Character, Berkeley Rep, through July 30

The Tony Award winner (best featured actor for The Band’s Visit) not only displayed his exceptional gifts for acting, impersonation and singing but also courageously revealed his cultural challenges as well as deeply emotional and personal physical issues. Although the 31-year-old Berkeley native has succeeded as an actor, Stachel sometimes struggles with disabling anxiety, manifested in mannerisms of obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as uncontrollable and excessive sweating.

At the play’s start, we see him after winning his Tony award, feeling forced to hide his extreme sweating in the men’s bathroom. His OCD, first diagnosed when he was 5 years old, took the form of a witch-like voice he called Meredith (after the evil stepmother in The Parent Trap), who seems to command him to perform the oppressive repetitive movements that haunt him.

It is impossible to keep one’s eyes off the charming, dynamic, often comedic Stachel. He performs and imitates many diverse characters from his past, accompanied by perfectly executed accents, body language and facial mannerisms. And this is while Stachel shares his most personal limitations with the audience. And he sings beautifully and soulfully.

Resembling his dark-skinned Yemini/Israeli father more than his white-looking Ashkenazi Jewish mother caused Stachel not to fit into any easily recognizable racial group. Stachel was 10 years old in September 2001. To avoid being taunted as a terrorist and threatened at school, he hid or minimized his Middle Eastern background. For example, Stachel was considered Black by his Orinda classmates and an Arab while in school in Berkeley. He played along. His code-switching and testing of various identities continued well into his adult life. When Stachel acted in The Band’s Visit and joined a group of other actors of MENASA (Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia descent), he broke with them over artistic and philosophical differences.

After working on the precursor of Out of Character for several years without finding the support he needed, Stachel took a chance and “cold-called” Tony Taccone, Berkeley Rep’s long-serving artistic director, who had retired in 2019. With help and involvement from Taccone, Stachel wrote and rewrote his solo show. Eventually, he became an artist in Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor residency program. And then Taccone agreed to direct the show — a testament to his support and belief in Stachel. And the production has a lot of creative muscle and dance-like artistic movement. The scenic design (Afsoon Pajoufar) and sound design (Madeleine Oldham) are outstanding.

The one-act production seemed to fly by because of the diversity and depth of Stachel’s talent. Seeing Out of Character is a very intimate yet expansive experience — breathtakingly autobiographical, meaningful, and funny all at the same time —a theatrical trifecta of excellence. 

Out of Character runs through July 30 at Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison St. It’s approximately 80 minutes with no intermission. Mask-wearing is required in the theater. Tickets $39–$119, subject to change, can be purchased online or by phone at 510 647-2949.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...