Brilliant Mind – Marin Theatre Company

WE’RE BACK AFTER A PANDEMIC HIATUS! WE LOOK FORWARD TO BEING YOUR GO TO FOR ENTERTAINMENT NEWS AND REVIEWS AGAIN!

If you’re looking for an entertaining live and interactive experience, look no further than Brilliant Mind, created and written by Egyptian American playwright Denmo Ibrahim. Co-produced and presented by the Marin Theatre Company from now until June 13, 2021. There is a live segment, pre-recorded footage, live text messaging, and a choose the next story path option at certain points in the play.

The play tells the story of Dina (Denmo Ibrahim) and Yusef (Ramiz Monsef) after they learn of their estranged father’s death. The audience gets to meet their dad in the afterlife, Samir (Kal Naga), he is the only live performer, streamed via Youtube. The scene is integrated onto another platform that mixes the streamed live performance with pre-recorded footage of his children dealing with funeral arrangements. Samir is often making comments on his children’s conversations about him, their past, and family secrets finally revealed. The heart of the story is that of the siblings making sense of their past, present, and where they are headed. 

The siblings were not treated equally due to their birth genders and Arab traditions. In many ways, it’s your typical immigrant story of battling dual identities when you’re a first generation American. Do you assimilate just to please your neighbors and protect yourself from violence and judgement? When you can’t shed your skin, it sometimes doesn’t matter. And when you have an opportunity to break traditions that limit you, do you keep them to please your family? When the answer is no, the distance you must sometimes create or are forced into, leads to a lonely place. Deep down, you do all you can to be successful, to be a good person, with the hope that you’ll come home one day and be accepted as you are. 

Denmo Ibrahim as Dina and Ramiz Monsef as Yusef in Marin Theatre Company and Storykrapht’s live and interactive premiere of Brilliant Mind by Denmo Ibrahim.

Dina is a super busy and successful lawyer. She’s often texting and writing work emails while Yusef is trying to connect with her in kid ways. When they finally have a moment of laughter together, frustrations start to come out. Dina recalls how she didn’t have the same freedoms as her brother Yusef, and he constantly dismisses her experiences. Besides not being allowed to go out, she was also policed on the clothing she wore and given less useful gifts than her brother. For example, for his sixteenth birthday he got a car and she got jewelry. She also finds out that in her mother’s will, she went with tradition, having her son inherit two times more than her because female children get less than males. The will is a lingering storyline because her mother and brother keep avoiding the topic knowing she will be upset but, don’t necessarily think it’s wrong. 

Yusef, although the spoiled one, is also a bit older than Dina. He remembers how his family tried to hide their true selves to protect themselves. He also knew about his dad’s other family. Despite Dina being a lawyer, he’s also entrusted with knowing the legal aspects of his family’s affairs. Yusef, also goes through bouts of depression. Mental health is oftened dismissed in immigrant families and in this Arab American family, the response from mom is no different. She tells him to appreciate what he has, family, a good wife, a job, a house, a car. Old school parents rarely had time to stop their routine even if they themselves were going through depression. This is also a good example in which gender norms are harmful to men, they’re not supposed to express their feelings let alone be depressed, often seen as a weakness.

Playbill photo for Storykrapht’s live and interactive premiere of 
Brilliant Mind by Denmo Ibrahim.

Ibrahim and Monsef had good chemistry as siblings. However, Ibrahim’s portrayal was felt more. Her frustration really comes through in her mannerisms and facial expressions. Naga also showed a good range of emotions for his character. He had a serious demeanor and came off as someone who didn’t have many regrets. If he did I missed it, as I was more enthralled in the siblings emotional turmoil.

The only downside of this multifaceted presentation is that you wonder about the other choices you didn’t make during the “what do you want to happen” next opportunities. Another lingering thought when it comes to the immigrant experience. What if I didn’t take the path I did take? 

May 22–Jun 13
by Denmo Ibrahim
Co-produced by
Marin Theatre Company & Storykrapht

AN ORIGINATING PREMIERE
Tickets: $30 For more information, go to: https://www.brilliantmindshow.com

The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective – Is Jack the Ripper Back?

VicLadies-Zvaifler_Ross_Bearce-1Another day, another body, could Jack the Ripper be back? In The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective sisters Loveday (Stacy Ross) and Valeria (Jan Zvaifler) run a boarding house in which many of the neighborhoods theater actresses live. One by one they turn up dead. The fear results in less patrons, and inevitably a cut in pay for the actors which leads Katie (Chelsea Bearce), an American actress and lodger, to ask Valeria for a break from her rent.

Loveday who was once an actress herself, is alone when Katie arrives. She notices Katie’s curiosity over the research she’s been doing to find the murderer. Loveday tries to reach out to police to no avail. as the Constable (Alan Coyne), spends more time pointing out the supposed inadequacies of the female gender than solving anything.  Loveday and Katie have no choice but to take matters into their own hands with some financial help from Valeria.

VicLadies-A.Coyne_-1As the show progresses the audience is taken on a whodunnit roller coaster. Was it Jasper, the butcher, the police themselves (all  played by Alan Coyne)? Jasper is exceptionally triggering as he’s not only sexist, but also a rapist. Ladies being able to take care of themselves and having their own thoughts is too much for the men to handle. They constantly belittle women physically and mentally. This only strengthens the women and their goal of finding the murderer, to protect themselves and future victims.   

All the actors are wonderful and Chelsea Bearce as Katie often steals the show. She has multiple types of martial arts training including Tessen, based on the use of the solid iron fan or the folding iron fan. There is a serious tone to many parts of the show given the storyline, but not without some humor at the outrageousness of the men and their small egos. The show is written by the local award-winning  playwright Patricia Milton and  directed by Gary Graves. This is their fifth writer/director comic collaboration.

Update on May 16th: The show has been extended for 4 more performances!

May 4–Jun 9
World Premiere #63: from the Central Works Writers Workshop

Advance tickets are $22-$38 online or $38–$15 sliding scale at the door. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit
http://centralworks.org.

Weightless at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater

Weightless, a rock opera by local Bay Area band, The Kilbanes (Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses), and directed by Becca Wolff, returns home following sold-out shows at The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival at BRIC in Brooklyn. Produced by Z Space and piece by piece productions – the show will play a limited engagement at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater (1127 Market St., San Francisco) April 30—May 12, 2019.

Weightless3The story is a retelling of the love that exists between sisters Procne (Kate Kilbane) and Philomela (Lila Blue) from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It is described as “part concert, part play, and part dream”. Procne’s father is about to marry her off , the sisters  are not having it and run away. The darkness they encounter causes some hesitation to continue, but God (Julia Brothers) takes an interest in the sisters, and brightens up the moon to help them find their way. They end up at a cabin on the ocean where they live freely until a hunter named Tereus (Josh Pollock) shows up. Procne’s curiosity is peaked and she leaves with him to an isolated island. She promises Philomela she will return but never does.

Philomela gets an urgent feeling to get to her sister when she senses new life growing inside Procne. She must see her sister and creates wings to take her to her. She successfully flies to the island, unbeknownst to Procne as Tereus finds her first and locks her up in a shed.

The Kilbanes did a great job at weaving in this mythical story with their music. The joy of being able to bring this rendition of Metamorphosis to the stage is evident when they thank the audience at the end. However, it still feels like more can be done.

Weightless2The introduction to the sisters is a laid back musical performance, similar to what you would experience in a small coffee shop venue. They are dressed plainly, one in a blue jumper (different from production photos) and the other in a dress. At one point, lights beam down on the stage, and it makes you think, this is it, time to rock and then, it goes back to the previous tone. This story of sisterhood, love, betrayal and rebirth has moments that make you laugh and moments that make you gasp but the in between makes the show feel a little stuck in comfort.

It’s enjoyable and a great addition to the Bay Area stage as it was born and nurtured here. However, it can use a little more creative direction when it comes to the costumes and lighting. God in her tailored suite and boa at the end is the only character that had a part rock, part dream feel to her.

Playing at The Strand Theater the tickets range from $15–$70 and are available at the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or online at act-sf.org. Prices are subject to change without notice. Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission

The Jungle at the Curran

The Curran has brought “The Jungle” to the Bay Area after having sold out shows in New York and London. The play is based on a self made refugee camp that was located on the outskirts of the French city, Calais, from January 2015 to October 2016. Calais’s proximity to the UK, the desired final destination, is why many refugees continue to arrive there today.

The Jungle 2The show was written by British playwrights Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson whom lived at “The Jungle” for seven months, by choice. They created Good Chance theater in the middle of the camp. At the time of their arrival, there were already thousands of people from 25 different countries who had built restaurants, churches, and small living spaces on top of an old landfill. These great feats existing in terrible conditions made them want to get people to tell their stories. 

The show is set in an Afghan restaurant located in “The Jungle”. It took over three weeks for the Curran to transform itself into the final intimate space. Seats have been pulled out and the floor has been leveled with dirt. There are wood beams set up, small tables and benches. Due to the limited space to create the atmosphere, the audience is limited to 600 per show. Those with tickets near the stage area, will find themselves in the middle of the action, as actors go up and down aisles during intense meetings, protests, celebrations, and the final destruction of the location.

The Jungle 3The powerful performances bring to light the humanity behind the faces of many of the refugees, often just seen as pictures in the media, statistics, or charitable cases. It touches on the background of a few personal stories but, mostly revolves around the story behind the arrival and building of “The Jungle”. As everyone is desperately trying to hold on to hope, tensions arise. The countries each person represents also have political conflicts that fuel some incidents, but circumstances force them to acknowledge that they now have more in common. They need to get along to survive, and they do. It’s that unity, drive, hope and creativity that attracts the authorities, ultimately leading them to destroy the camp. Their public reasoning, it was getting too established and would attract more refugees. A falsehood similar to the situation here in the United States at the Mexican border. People do and will continue to arrive despite harsh conditions as they’re often not as bad as the situation the refugees are fleeing from. Also, They. Have. No. Where. Else. To. Go.

CQ_PGgQcThe play also gave voice to some of the uninvited volunteers that started to arrive after “The Jungle” started getting media attention. There is a discussion about wether they should be allowed. Most welcomed the potential help and exposure, while others hesitated. They stayed one night, two nights, and then they didn’t leave.

In a poignant moment in the play, these two entities confront each other. Okot (John Pfumojena) a 17-year old refugee, gives a speech to 18-year old volunteer, Beth (Rachel Redford). He takes off his shirt exposing a multitude of scars. She is asked why is she there. She speaks through tears and confusion. He tells her some of the reasons he had to flee his home, his family, and how each tragedy takes a toll on a person, on your identity. How parts of you die with each trauma. This is one of the most revealing parts of the play. Giving someone a few clothing items is not going to bring humanity back to a person. What’s legal is not always moral. Sometimes, the only choice, is to survive.

The JungleThe show is very emotional and honest. Those who consider themselves an “Ally” in these situations, should definitely see this play. A volunteer’s “help” can remind someone that there is good in the world. It can provide a temporary comfort. However, good intentions don’t often lead to progress. Understanding what leads people into these circumstances, not thinking you know a person’s situation better than they do, and speaking up before it happens does, as the countries often being fled too, are often part of the cause that created these unfortunate circumstances. 


Playing until May 19th 

Tickets and Location: https://sfcurran.com/shows/the-jungle/

Runtime: 2.5 Hours, 1 15 minute intermission

SPECIAL PERFORMANCES:

Open Caption: Sunday, April 28, 1pm

ASL: Saturday, May 11, 2pm

Audio Described: Saturday, May 18, 2pm

Watch the stage transformation


 

Dear Evan Hansen – You’re Not Alone

Dear Dear Evan Hansen Potential Theatre Patron,

You may cry some tears as the show deals with tough topics like suicide, depression, anxiety, and divorce. Multiple characters explore the feeling of not belonging regardless of their situation and the everyday persona they present to the world. A great show for parents to watch with their teenagers, if you can get them to be seen in public with you. That was a joke.

Dear Evan Hansen PhotoThe story centers around Evan Hansen (Ben Levi Ross), he has social anxiety and can’t help but act awkward around his peers. He’s from a single mom home and one of the feelings explored is his desire to spend more time with her. As young people, we often forget that our parents are human beings. They taught us all that we know so we expect them to be perfect sometimes, they’re not.

When Evan gets an assignment where he has to write a letter to himself, it’s full of feelings of isolation. It also introduces us to his crush, Zoe (Maggie McKenna), the thought of her is what keeps him going. He pins his hopes on her in this letter. Her brother Connor (Marrick Smith), who also has issues of his own that no one knows about, finds it and gets upset. Connor’s parents find Evan’s note after he commits suicide. This leads them to believe that Evan and Connor were friends. Evan sees how happy this makes them given that Connor was a loner, and the lie spirals out of control from there on out.

Dear Evan Hansen PhotoBesides dealing with feelings of isolation, it also delves into social media and the validation that people can become addicted to. It can never be enough since you’re still physically isolated. When things spread mouth to mouth, they often tone down after a week. With the internet, things can be explored further and spread to people outside of your zone. In this case, a lie spreads that brings good, but still, it’s a lie. Although, it can help prolong a cause, story, or provide someone with a few more minutes of recognition, it will also eventually be forgotten.  

It touches a lot of elements that will strike a chord with many. It also has a catchy soundtrack reminiscent of Rent. The stage set and how they present social media is intriguing. They have multiple screens representing different online networks with voice overs for posts that you will see scrolling through.

So, does Evan get found out for lying? You have until December 30th to find out. If you leave the show with anything, may it be knowing that no matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone.  You Will Be Found.

Sincerely,

Me

Details:

Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. most Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1 and 7 p.m. most Wednesdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes Dec. 30
Tickets: (415) 358-1220 or sfcurran.com

*There is a digital lottery offering fans the chance to purchase a limited number of $25 tickets. For details and to enter, go to: www.luckyseat.com/dearevanhansen. Good Luck!

Men on Boats at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater

MOB_058“Men on Boats” tells the story of the 1869 expedition by one-armed ex-soldier John Wesley Powell. The playwright, Jaclyn Backhaus, was inspired by Powell’s published journals. The historic expedition to explore the lower reaches of the Colorado River, via the gorges of the Grand Canyon was the first sanctioned by the U.S. government, one of many tongue in cheek facts pointed out throughout the play. These aren’t unexplored waters, but those previous expeditions, weren’t government sanctioned ones! 

MOB_093_ePowell, a Civil War veteran, assembles ten men for the journey with varying skills and temperament. Represented by a cast of ten local racially diverse female identifying, trans-identifying, gender-fluid and/or non-gender conforming actors. Some may ponder on why a play called, “Men On Boat’s” included no male identifying actors while others, are laughing at the ridiculousness of the hyper masculinity of it all and thinking, that could only have been portrayed this way. There is chest bumping, exaggerated cheers over found whiskey, and a blind following of their leader.

There are also moments of bluntness about the countries past in which Native Americans and their knowledge of their land is dismissed unless the “brave” explorers needed help and/or food. One of the quirkier moments brought to stage involves the men naming areas after themselves. How about we name that after you moments followed by writing it down to make it official.

In the end, Powell and his crew of 5, 4 drop out early on, find the camp they were directed to. They are welcomed by one of the dwellers with a hysterical speech about MOB_020_ePowell’s future place in history. As for the other crew members, they went down in history nameless, and probably died in undesirable circumstances. We’ll never know what happened to them but, who cared, not the historians. Regardless, they stuck it out and helped their one armed leader survive and have his place in history, because that’s what men do, tough it out. Ahhh,, bromance. 

All the actors brought their A game in roles that required a macho bravado they would almost never get to play in other shows. They had good comedic timing, movements and great chemistry with one another. That and the minimalist set makes for an enjoyable theater experience full of laughs. 


WHERE:

A.C.T.’s Strand Theater (1127 Market St., San Francisco)

WHEN:

October 17–December 16, 2018

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE:

Tuesdays–Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Sundays at 2 p.m.

TICKETS:

$15–$110

INFO:

415-749-2228 | act-sf.org/boats

Sweat at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre

Sweat is a poignant story about a group of steel factory workers living in Reading, Pennsylvania, whose lives are transformed in the midst of a recession. Written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, the play reveals the chaotic results that stem from insecurities among a group of once tight-knit co-workers, bringing to light their distrust, entitlement issues, prejudices, and their struggle to retain and define the American Dream.

sweat3The play begins at a parole office where two young adults have recently gotten out of prison and are now reflecting on how they got there – the story unfolds, flashing back to where it all began. The stage then switches over to a lively bar scene, we see billboards above the set with images of dates and video clips of events that run from 2000 through 2008.

The local watering hole depicted, is where we see the characters tell their raw stories of struggle and hopes and dreams for a better life. The bar is their second home, where they find refuge after work and celebrate life with one another, but it’s also a dark place where they are confronted with conflict, disagreements, and tough conversations.  

The play provides a lens for understanding unscrupulous government policies and their trickle down effect on people’s livelihood, relationships, and the choices they make. It’s a thought provoking insightful look at many of the issues Americans faced in the 2000’s and continue to face today such as, drug use, unemployment, worker safety, poverty, gender issues, discrimination, anti-union businesses, and racism to name a few.

sweat2The entire cast did a great job in their portrayals, however Lise Bruneau who plays Tracey and Tonye Patano, who plays Cynthia – stood out in their roles. Tracey couldn’t shake her entitlement beliefs stemming from the fact that her family had worked at the steel factory for generations. This makes it exceptionally hard for her to transition as factory work is all she’s ever known, it’s become part of her identity. And then there’s Cynthia, a black hard working woman dealing with her husband’s drug use while continuing to manage pressures at work in a new lead role. As the days slowly lead towards the end of their current livelihoods, they must each find the strength to move on.

Sweat does not disappoint, it’s filled with drama and candor embedded with humor. The script will resonate with many, especially since it doesn’t sugarcoat racial tensions, nor the complex human emotions it portrays. I really enjoyed the play and feel that it can spark integral conversations about race, gender, immigration, and politicians and their policies. I also appreciated the diverse cast, it didn’t erase or whitewash anyones experience. For those that lived through 2000 through 2008 and the current generation, it will have you contemplating how life has changed since then, if at all.

You can catch the show until October 21 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre (415 Geary St., San Francisco). Tickets range from $15-$110. The running time for Sweat is 2 hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.

For more details go to: act-sf.org

sweat4

‘Head Over Heels’ Has Got the Beat!

Taylor Iman Jones and company (Joan Marcus)Bay Area the Go-Go’s fans won’t want to miss the new musical ‘Head Over Heels’ playing until May 6 at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. The show comes to the Bay stage with an impressive team including Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry InchSpring Awakening) as director. After its short run in San Francisco it will head to New York for its Broadway debut at the Hudson Theatre.

The musical is based on a long-form poem/play by Sir Philip Sidney called ‘The Arcadia’. The story revolves around a royal family in which an oracle has predicted a prophecy of doom. The patriarch of the family tries to prevent these by re-locating the family. The audience is then taken on a campy journey full of sexual innuendos and gender non-conformity. The drama unfolds with mistaken identities, jealous lovers, sexual awakenings, scandal and self-discovery. Interwoven throughout are the iconic hit songs “We Got the Beat,” “Get Up and Go,” “Cool Jerk,” “Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Lust to Love,” “Head Over Heels” and Belinda Carlisle’s solo hits “Mad About You” and “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”

Peppermint as Pythio - (Joan Marcus)Not only does the musical feature tunes from one of the most successful all-female rock bands but it also includes the debut of Peppermint (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”), set to become the first transgender woman to perform in a principle role on Broadway. Peppermint plays the character of Pythio who’s preferred pronoun is “they”. It was great to see a non-binary role played by someone from the LGBT community.

There are plenty of toe tapping moments as well as those that lead to mini-burst of laughter. It’s a great show for a light –hearted night out on the town but can’t promise that it will be everyone’s cup of tea. The references to pop-culture and the innuendos are what make the show enjoyable and may go over the heads of some.

headoverheelsWhen: Catch Head Over Heels until May 6.
Where: Curran Theater, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: $29–$175

Season subscriptions are also available. Packages range from $116–$744, SFCURRAN.com or calling 415-358-1220.
headoverheelsthemusical.com  


 

Vietgone at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater – A Story of Love and Loss

The American Conservatory Theater is presenting Qui Nguyen’s “Vietgone,” at the Strand Theater until April 22. The story revolves around how two Vietnamese refugees fall in love, one is a fighter pilot, Quang (James Seol) and the other a U.S. Embassy worker, Tong (Jenelle Chu). In the beginning, Nguyen slyly alludes to the characters being based on his parents, “Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. That especially goes for any person or persons who could be related to the playwright. Specifically, his parents. Who this play is absolutely not about”.

VTG_215Tong is given the opportunity to escape the violence and politics caused by the Vietnam War via her job at the embassy, she’s allowed to take one other person with her. She chooses her mother (Cindy Im), forcing her to leave her brother behind. Quang has two children and a wife he’s barely seen as his pilot duty calls, but he intends to be with them as soon as he can. Unfortunately, his plane is discarded and they force him to stay in the U.S. Tong and him both end up at the same refugee camp and that’s where the emotional rollercoaster begins.

The story is told through a mix of humor, intermittent musical set changes, and rap numbers. The dialogue is also sprinkled with a little bit of “shade” towards racist tropes and the fake “woke”. No matter what one believes about a situation or history, there’s nothing more important than having the perspective of a person who’s directly affected by it.  Our parents, and how they tell their story becomes our history.

VTG_171Quang first meets Tongs mother who relentlessly flirts with him and lies about her age, one of the more comedic parts of the show. They establish a friendly relationship and while looking for her, Quang meets Tong. Tong likes to pretend she’s unaffected by emotions and lives as detached as possible, and immediately has a fling with Quang. Her mother walks in conveniently after they’re done and Quang is gone in a flash. And that’s how their love story begins.

VTG_014However, Quang is on a mission to go back to his family in Vietnam and exposes this truth right when Tong is starting to have feelings for him. The story then takes us to the motorcycle adventures of Quang and his friend Nhan (Stephen Hu) on their way to California to catch a flight back “home”. Nhan questions that belief, is it still home after all it’s been through, all that’s been lost? After all they’ve been through, and all they’ve lost?

Although, the story centers around commonalties that we share as humans like love and friendship, the main crux of the story is to not assume that you know what someone feels about their history and experience. This is pointed out when Quang and Nhan meet a couple of hippies on the road and when Quang is being questioned by his son.  

VTG_047People don’t choose to be in a country torn by war. It happens to them not because of them. This harsh reality is one people don’t seem to quite understand. Two people fall in love in this story but two people also have great losses in this story. They were torn apart from their families, their home, everything they’ve ever known.

In situations like this, people are left behind and the only way one can move forward is by accepting the choices that one was able to make regardless of how hard they were, and the ones forced upon you. Through humor, Nguyen explores romance, family, tragedy, regret, abandonment, guilt, and pain. Vietnam was not a “mistake,” Quang tells his son, it is a country. Catch it while you can as this is not a perspective you’ll read in your history books.  

Tickets and Info: 

A.C.T.’s Strand Theater (1127 Market St., San Francisco)
$25–$90

415.749.2228 | act-sf.org
Tuesdays–Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Sundays at 2 p.m.
*Ticket prices are subject to change without notice


 

 

 

 

 

Bamboozled – Kicks off Central Works 2018 Season

Central Works opening production of its 2018 season, Bamboozled by award-winning playwright Patricia Milton, has been extended through March 25th (originally scheduled to close March 18). Milton is a Resident Playwright for Central Works and a long-term member of the Central Works Writers Workshop. Bamboozled is Central Works 58th world premiere.

Jeunée Simon as Abby

Jeunée Simon as Abby

Bamboozled tells the story of Abby (Jeunée Simon), a black appraiser from Los Angeles who’s touring with the show “Antiques Roadtrip.” While traveling in the south – Shelby County, Tennessee, she becomes involved with a man who’s Aunt, Opal Anne (Susan Jackson), accuses her of defrauding the family by appraising her family heirlooms (Confederate artifacts) at 60,000 and then selling them for a million to a museum.

Opal Anne, manages Civil War reenactments and sees the Confederacy and her family’s involvement as a positive legacy. She justifies her family history of slave ownership by claiming they were treated nicely and were simply “field hands” who were provided with food and clothing. In her mind, they were the ones that suffered during the war and are being attacked in current times.

Abby is looking to trace her roots and ends up meeting Savannah (Chelsea Bearce) at an archive library. When Savannah is made aware of Abby’s lawsuit she refers her to her place of work where she ends up with Rochelle (Stacy Ross) as her lawyer. Savannah does minimal tasks for Rochelle due to her being barred after being a target of racism at a nightclub that Rochelle represented her and her partner in.

Stacy Ross as Rochelle & Chelsea Bearce as Savannah

Stacy Ross as Rochelle &
Chelsea Bearce as Savannah

Rochelle is interested in gaining a public personae a la Gloria Allred and makes excuses for the negative results of her approach to Savannah’s case. Rochelle faces prejudices of her own as a lesbian but it was nice to see the fact pointed out that white gay women may face prejudice but it’s not the same prejudice that a person of color faces, even worse for gay women of color, you can’t take off or cover up your skin. For instance, there’s a protest outside by white supremacists and it would be a risk for Abby to get to her car however, Rochelle can get it for her without incident.

Another topic not often touched upon is how black women from different regions deal with racism. The two black characters in the play have different views of what is and isn’t important. Abby believes historical items should be preserved and Savannah thinks they should be taken to the trash and forgotten. Savannah has less expectations of white people than Abby seems to. There’s several microaggressions realistically infused into the show and Abby’s reaction is one of shock but Savannah’s reaction is one of no surprise at all. 

Susan Jackson as Opal Anne

Susan Jackson as Opal Anne

There are many things touched upon on this show in addition to racial bigotry in the United States, the legacy of slavery, and prejudice against gay women. There’s a moral component that touches upon self-interest and how each person rights a wrong. “Most of my plays deal with what we value, and what it costs us,” says playwright Milton. “The premise of Bamboozled is simple: we live in a country haunted by slavery and the Civil War. The nation emerged from conflict burdened with trauma and resentments. We have, in the generations since, continued to sustain unjust systems directly traceable to the institution of slavery. I wanted to write a play that challenged stereotypes we hold of the South, North, and West. I wanted to write a play about Southern women that didn’t erase women of color. I wanted to write a play that might start a conversation about our nation’s systemic economic injustice, stemming from our cotton slavery past.”

The cast was great but Chelsea Bearce and Stacy Ross really made the show. Their characters were also fleshed out more than the others as we learned about their past, their struggles, their various viewpoints and their sense of humor. The play is a perfect conversation piece about where we are today. It’s funny without devaluing the countries current truth, racism is alive and kicking, not in the past. Don’t miss it!

 

BAMBOOZLED

A new comedy about family valuables

written by Patricia Milton and directed by Gary Graves

Feb 17 – Mar 25  EXTENDED Central Works opening production of its 2018 season

(originally scheduled to close March 18).

At: The Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue, Berkeley.

Performances: Thurs, Fri & Sat at 8 pm, Sun at 5 pm

Ticket prices: $30-$35 online at centralworks.org, $35–$15 sliding scale at the door.

Previews and Thursdays: available seats are pay-what-you-can at the door.

Tickets & info:  510.558.1381 or centralworks.org