“Bamboozled” Steals Your Heart, at Central Works, Berkeley
Patricia Milton’s Comedy Pits Southern Comforts v. Black Values
by Barry David Horwitz
Central Works has scored again with their World Premiere #58. Director Gary Graves has burnished Patricia Milton’s legal spellbinder to cast a bright glow over Black rights and Civil War history.
Playwright Patricia Milton has a deft touch with comedy and with legal reasoning. By the end of her two act quasi-courtroom drama, we know who has done the crime—but no one does the time. Though justice is elusive, the wonderful upstart lawyer Savannah (explosive Chelsea Bearce) unearths the truth and leaves us with a hearty laugh, and a lingering smile.
In her sharp and revealing new play, Milton covers race, nostalgia, corruption, gender, and greed, all mingled with comedy by four outstanding, superb women actors. Each actor is a treasure in herself. As they look out the office window at the Tennessee KKK demonstrating to defend a Confederate general’s statue, Savannah says to Abby: “You don’t need the KKK in California, you’ve got the L.A.P.D.”
Young California antique appraiser Abby (noble, powerful Jeunée Simon) is accused of falsely appraising Confederate War collectibles. Her male-suited Tennessee lawyer Rochelle (quirky, defensive Stacy Ross) offers shifty legal arguments to defend Abby. The complication here is race and dignity: Abby is an African American Northerner, and Rochelle is a hard luck Southerner. They argue brilliantly in Rochelle’s office in Shelby County, Tennessee. Civil War values and valuables are up for grabs, as the two brilliant actors triumph.
And Girl! do they have issues—theft of goods, money laundering, false appraisal, South versus North, Tennessee versus California, love, lust, and lies. What more can we ask? It’s pure joy to watch Jeunée Simon as the swaggering Abby, fresh from California, arguing with her gender-defying lawyer, Rochelle. Evasive Rochelle evades questions, circling round the long lawyerly table. Actors Simon and Ross are fire and water, brilliant in battle, a treasure to witness.
It’s fascinating to watch the perceptive, sharp-eyed Savannah, Rochelle’s reluctant assistant lawyer, pierce through massive lies and hypocrisy. Watch Savannah to find the heart of “Bamboozled”: Savannah is full of wisdom and passion–a Force of Nature.
The cherry on the cake is Opal Anne (imperious Susan Jackson) who rolls in with her hilarious, haughty Daughters of the Confederacy attitude and a lilting southern accent. She ignores the African American lawyer Savannah, and condescends to the quick-witted Abby. Opal Anne evokes her share of laughs, displaying her condescending Old South manners, as she re-fights the Civil War.
In fact, the four women tell four brilliant stories, adding up to our larger U.S. picture. They represent four parts of the country, four points of view: two educated Black women, and two Southern apologists. They are black and white and passionate.
“Bamboozled” offers a heady mixture of laughs, surprises, and rewards: “Bamboozled” fills in the blanks in our present quagmire. Well-worth seeing again–the conspiracies of “Bamboozled” remind us of current legal trickery. As Savannah says, “Justice bats last!”
It’s a tiny theater, so grab your ticket now, and take a seat in the Berkeley City Club’s delightful jury box. It’s a hit!
“Bamboozled” by Patricia Milton, directed by Gary Graves, at Central Works, in the Berkeley City Club, Durant Avenue, Berkeley, California, through Sunday, March 18, 2018. Info: centralworks.org
Cast: Chelsea Bearce, Susan Jackson, Stacy Ross, and Jeunée Simon.