It’s exciting to see a brand new play. And, as Central Works writes, develops and produces only world premieres, every audience shares the thrill of experiencing completely fresh and novel productions.
Now beginning its 27th season, Central Works is presenting Bamboozled, written by Patricia Milton, and it is a thoroughly entertaining two-act drama with lots of humor that confronts racial bigotry, the legacy of slavery, and prejudice against gay women in modern-day Collierville, Tennessee. Oh, and it mocks lawyers, too.
Directed by Gary Graves, the engaging plot involves Abby (nicely played by Jeunée Simon), a young black antique appraiser from Southern California, who finds herself in a legal morass in Collierville. She’s being sued for fraud for One Million Dollars by the town’s archetypal Daughter of the Confederacy matron in Chanel-type suit and pearls, Opal Ann (effectively acted by Susan Jackson). Opal Ann accuses Abby of intentionally undervaluing Opal Ann’s family Confederate heirlooms on an Antique Roadshow-type program and then cheating her out of the proceeds. But could the actual defrauder possibly be Opal Ann’s nephew, who is Abby’s former lover? “But he gave me a promise ring,” Abby moans naively.
The action of the play takes place at the offices of Bright & Ashworth, the firm defending Abby, while the KKK rallies outside to prevent the removal of a Confederate statue. The formidable Stacy Ross acts as Rochelle, Abby’s arrogant, gay attorney who is more interested in media coverage than her client’s best interests. The voice of reason is Savanah, an attorney whose law license is currently suspended and is now relegated to serving as the firm’s administrative dogsbody. Skillfully played by Chelsea Bearce, Savanah has the savvy and compassion to try to help Abby with her legal quandary and with Abby’s search for her slave ancestors.
Author Patricia Milton, the resident playwright at Central Works, whose family was from Tennessee, is particularly talented with dialogue; the humorous and arch exchanges among the four characters seem natural and alive. She has also woven a complex plot and has crammed a lot of ideas into the 110-minute production. And there are some surprising twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. I guess I was a bit bamboozled myself. The ending left me with the question: “Was justice served?”
Milton was inspired by the actual wrongdoings of two Antique Roadshow appraisers who, in their private capacity, defrauded a descendent of Confederate Major General George Pickett of his family’s Civil War treasures by undervaluing them in an appraisal, then surreptitiously buying them cheaply and reselling them at their actual, but undisclosed worth. By 2002, both appraisers pleaded guilty, with one ordered to serve a year and a day in federal prison and pay $830,000 in restitution.
It’s a shame that the Central Works theatre can hold only about 50 people at a time, since Bamboozled is a winning play, with a bright cast and an entertaining and meaningful story.
Bamboozled is playing Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at the Berkeley City Club, that marvelous Julia Morgan-designed building, at 2315 Durant Ave., through March 18. Advance tickets are between $30 and $35 online, with a sliding scale of $35-$15 at the door. Subscriptions are also available for the new 2018 season. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Central Works online.