Model Citizen makes its way to Magic Theatre

Josh Kornbluth is known throughout the Bay Area as a popular playwright, humorist and TV talk show host. Now he intends to add another title to his curriculum vitae: citizen.

That’s the gist of Kornbluth’s latest play, “Citizen Josh.” Like his previous works for the stage — including “Ben Franklin: Unplugged” and “Love & Taxes” — the new piece is an extended comic monologue with plenty of theatrical bells and whistles thrown in.

“Citizen Josh” opens its one-month premiere run Saturday, May 12 at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre.

Kornbluth often weaves a subtle Jewish sensibility into his monologues. As he once said at a panel on Jews in the arts, “I have a lot of the Jewish sexiness that makes gentiles smolder.”

So what’s “Citizen Josh” about? Ten days before opening night Kornbluth was still working out some of the details, but essentially it’s about a playground.

“I live next to Ohlone Park in Berkeley,” Kornbluth says. “One of my neighbors got active in a playground there. It was in disrepair, so the neighborhood organized and it got revamped. More people started hanging out there and it became this public space. I thought, ‘Oh, this is how things happen in a democracy. People gather in public spaces and talk through their disagreements.'”

The idea for the play first took shape in the wake of the 2004 elections. “I was frustrated and feeling helpless,” recalls Kornbluth of the outcome. “I’d vote every four years, but that didn’t seem to be enough. I needed to do more to be a real citizen. And that was the beginning for me.”

As with his previous plays, “Citizen Josh” emerged out of improvisations Kornbluth conducted with director David Dower. It’s a free-association method of playwriting, and much of it centered on Kornbluth’s prior unease with social activism.

“When I try to do something active, it inevitably has an element of silliness or ridiculousness,” he says. “I’m trying my best, but it happens that way.”

Proudly Jewish, Kornbluth says the new play has some Jewish undertones. “This show is almost completely word for word a parallel of the Talmud,” he says with a laugh. “It’s just that the promised land is a playground.”

Though left of center politically, the playwright feels keenly the sting of living in a polarized society. Even encamped in the liberal Berkeley bubble, he sensed something was terribly wrong with the body politic.

“The country is presented as hopelessly divided into two colors,” he says. “We couldn’t talk to each other. But the keys have been local, when I start to interact with other parents and neighbors about things that are important to us locally.”

In addition to any critical or commercial success he hopes for the new play, Kornbluth has another surprising reason for staging “Citizen Josh.” He hopes it will help him finally get a college degree.

“I never graduated,” he says, referring to his days as a Princeton University undergrad. “I had done everything but my senior thesis. But they have a policy that you can submit it anytime for the rest of your life. I actually now have gotten official permission to do this piece as my senior thesis.”

If the show does well, Kornbluth can count on touring the region and perhaps the nation. Luckily, his popular KQED talk show is on hiatus now, but he’ll be back. He loves the challenges of playing host.

“The show is fun and so different,” he says. “With the monologues, I develop and develop them to a certain point, but in the show, it just happens. It’s a letting go of control. That’s good for me.”

Also good for him, he says, was his getting more involved with social and community action. It’s not just the stuff of players who strut and fret their hour upon the stage.

“If you care enough about something, and there are things we care so deeply about, then we feel we must do something. If you get up and connect with people, that’s the beautiful promise of democracy.”

“Citizen Josh” begins previews 8:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12, then opens Saturday, May 19, running Wednesdays through Sundays until June 10 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D., S.F. Tickets: $20-$45. Information: (415) 441-8822 or online at

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.